Episode 2

Laying on the bed in the furnished room, Bach stares above at the ceiling fan, blowing down a gentle current. A modest bedroom, quality compensates for the smaller space. Bach studies the well made furniture and wanders his gaze around the room. He plays with the alarm clock on the nightstand and refreshes himself on the functions of a dedicated device, while glancing over at his old flip aetherphone. Surveying the bedroom, he nods to himself with a faint, approving smile at the stark contrast of prior living conditions. A knock sounds from behind the door. Bach pulls himself to a seat on the bed. "Um... Come in?"

The door opens, and Dretphi, the tall, defined Grath woman, steps in. She deftly balances a large stack of clothes in one hand and holds onto the straps of a backpack in the other. With a quick twist and slide of the hand, she places the clothes stack on top of the wooden dresser as Bach recognizes the garments. Dretphi walks towards Bach and calmly holds out the backpack. "I have recovered your belongings. I apologize that we went through them. Our practice from experience with capturing bounties."

Bach holds his hands up in front of him with a shrug of the shoulders. "Well... I mean... I did run and try to escape. I honestly can't blame you there."

He grasps the backpack with both hands, pulls it into his lap, and unzips the top. While he inspects it for the major items, Dretphi drops her head slightly and sighs. "I have not recovered your holoplayer. Cideeda has it. Refuses to let it out of her possession. She is stubborn when obsessed about something."

Bach pauses from sorting stuff along bed and gives Dretphi a slight smile. "Hey, I'm glad to get anything back. I mean apart from the holoplayer it looks like everything is here."

Dretphi places her hands on her hips and frowns with a hint of irritation. "We may have luck retrieving it when she finds another curio to obsess over."

Bach sighs and puts the backpack down on the floor next to the nightstand. "Honestly, I really haven't felt like listening, reading, or watching anything lately. I'm trying to process everything that's happened in the last... two days? Wow..."

Concern colors Dretphi's face, and she crosses her arms with a long frustrated exhale. "That was not how we wanted our initial meeting to go. We should have shown you respect..."

A few moments of silence punctuate the unease. Bach holds his hands up and pulls an awkward smirk at the corner of his mouth. "Well, it wasn't my finest moment either. Half an hour after I promised to help my brother, in his time of need... The first opportunity to actually get into adventuring... I tear off running like some chicken shit coward."

He lowers his head into his hands, shaking his head. Dretphi examines Bach and cracks a small smile. "You are not a coward."

Bach tilts his head up and peers over his hands with a prominent quirk of the brow. "How do you figure?"

Dretphi thinks for moment and meets Bach's blue eyes as he lifts his face out of his hands. "After years of little contact, your ghost brother demands you help him destroy the evil that destroyed him. He knows you have never adventured. Your brother's party is at your front door. You have little time to pick up everything you established to join him. It seems you have no choice."

Bach's eyes slide side to side in thought, and he directs his intrigued gaze up at Dretphi. "That... Sounds about right."

Dretphi nods and continues to explain. "An undesirable situation. You retreated. Hoped to get into a better position. Maybe force a change in the situation that would benefit you."

With a sigh, Bach grimaces with a curl of his upper lip. "Some would still say I ran like a coward."

Shifting her weight towards her other foot, Dretphi perks an eyebrow. "Some who have never been in bad situations."

Bach tilts his head to the side and focuses on Dretphi, fighting the confusion on face. "I still might run away some more-"

The slight smile on Dretphi's face morphs seamlessly into a smirk. "You will not."

Bach's puzzlement taints with an incredulous twist. "As demonstrated, I'm perfectly capable of making a good effort to escape."

Dretphi's smirk edges towards a grin. "Indeed. Still here."

Straightening his posture on the bed, Bach attempts a retort. "Well, um, I-"

Maintaining her gaze at Bach, Dretphi focuses her steely gray eyes and directs her tone. "There have been opportunities for you to escape. You can dismiss your brother. Outrun me. Dodge Cideeda. Resist Aristespha's magic. Hold your own against Sotalia. There is a vehicle you are familiar with in the garage. We are in an area we are not familiar with."

Bach opens his mouth briefly as a phrase stalls out to silence and contorts his face indecisively. Crosses his arms, he slouches forward and breaks eye contact with Dretphi. He idly scans the floor while he ponders to himself. Dretphi observes carefully and resumes her breakdown. "Did not attack us. Did not try to harm us. No attempt to sabotage us. You did not look for escape routes last night. You came back from practice with Sotalia today. I stand without armor, a weapon, in my casual clothes. I do not see a desire to attempt escape."

Bach sighs loudly and signals defeat with a slight shake of the head. He shrugs and places his hands on his knees, before gazing up at Dretphi. Confirming Dretphi's attire of a simple dark green tank top, blue gym shorts, and socks, Bach chuckles weakly. "You got me. I figuratively and literally have nothing left to hide. As awkward and weird as it was yesterday, this is honestly the best opportunity presented to me in years. I get a chance to help my brother out. I actually can get into adventuring. And, maybe we get to keep the Dark Lord Noxian from causing some kind of world ending event in my lifetime."

Unfolding her arms, Dretphi places her hands back on her hips. She gives a solid smile to Bach and nods. "Good reasons. The ones I hoped to hear."

Bach winces with a grit of the teeth as he analyzes his situation. "But, I'll be honest... I have no real idea what I'm doing. I'm just doing what little I can that makes sense to me at the moment. I don't know if that's a good thing."

Dretphi darts her steely gray eyes around and wrestle an uneasy grimaces on her tan face. "A sentiment that I share these days."

Within the quiet moment, Bach thinks and scratches his head of brown hair to briefly puzzle at Dretphi. "Not that I don't appreciate it, but you've been pretty open and straightforward with me."

Dretphi cocks head slightly and faintly twists her mouth as a few platinum blonde braids shift on her shoulders. "So have you. I hoped I would have caught you in the forest. Then, I could talk to you. Maybe explain the situation properly. I wish Sebastian had gone with my recruitment plan."

Bach blinks away from a thought and gazes curiously at Dretphi. "Um, which was?"

Drawing a long breath, Dretphi exhales slowly and fights against a frustrated grimace. "Lunches, dinners with everyone to acquaint you. A chore quest from the local guild to give you a sample of adventuring. An offer to join us on your terms."

Bach nods with a mixture of mild surprise and approval. "That probably would have worked pretty easily on me. I mean... I didn't have that much going on, and likely a lot less next month. So, why didn't he go with that plan?"

Dretphi rolls her steely gray eyes before she returns her attention to Bach. "Sebastian is impatient. Aristespha is encouraging it."

Bach twists his mouth, before gritting his teeth and hissing a breath in. "Yeah... Sebastian is easy to convince when routes opposite of his mind are taken."

Genuine amusement warms Dretphi's face. "Believe that is not recent behavior."

Bach exaggerates a series of nods. "You are most correct in that belief."

Fighting off a mix of discomfort and awkwardness, Dretphi sighs down a grimace, gazes down at Bach, and stiffens her posture. "Understand... The last weeks have been off. Not our best behavior."

Furrowing his brow, Bach sorts through his mind and returns a nod with a smile to Dretphi. "Yeah. Strange times I guess."

Dretphi glances over the shoulder towards the door. "I need to finish armor repair. Continue laundry for everyone. I wish to start on good terms. Your training with me tomorrow will be demanding. I wanted an understanding beforehand."

Blinking to attention, Bach leans over to the side, searches around Dretphi, and scrutinizes the stack of clothes. "Wait. Did you wash my clothes?"

Dretphi pivots to the direction of the clothes on the dresser. "Yes. They had a smell to them."

Bach averts his eyes while rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. Dretphi smirks slightly with humored tint. "You need a change of clothes after what Sotalia did to your current ones. I gave your laundry priority."

Bach holds out his shirt and inspects out the holes and damage. Prominent burn rings discolor the fabric and faint magic miasma drifts off the surface. Bach's light skin shows through the gaps in the shirt without a sign of injury. Poking his finger out hole, he chuckles appreciatively. "Thank you. Really. I... really do mean it."

Dretphi expresses a warming smile and walks towards the door. "We will start early. Rest up. I will fit you for armor afterwards."

Bach watches Dretphi step through the doorway and close the door. Standing up from the bed, he moves over to the clothes stack. He sorts through the pile until he finds a shirt, peels off his old shirt, and works into the clean shirt. Bach returns to a seat on the bed, and stares out the window towards the dark evening sky. After minutes occupying thoughts, he shudders back to the present and glances around the room. Settling his attention upon the clock on the nightstand, he flops over the bed, reaches out, and plays around with the alarm settings for the morning.

Early morning sun drags slowly across the open trimmed lawn and reflects off the drops of dew upon the blades of grass. Bach drags his feet with each step and moves towards the spot in the backyard where Dretphi stands. Wincing as the bright light from the sun catches his eye, he grumbles to himself and shudders against the last remnants of sleep. "...gods... ...haven't been up this early in... a while."

He groggily searches around the vicinity and furrows his brow at the plain, open space. "Huh. I thought you'd have some training gear, some kind of equipment, or something..."

Dretphi shakes her head and straightens her posture. "Not at this time. In the future. Today, we focus on an exercise routine for you first."

A reflexive cringe grips Bach's face, and he drops his head in dread. "Okay..."

Crossing her arms, Dretphi steps in front of Bach, her head craning down to find direct eye contact. "When was the last time you exercised?"

Bach raises his head back up and averts his eyes from Dretphi's examining gaze that follows his attempts to escape scrutiny. "Ah- Um... Well..."

Taking another step closer, Dretphi tilts her head gradually down to finally intercept Bach's eyes when he peers up. She stares through him. The truth finally escapes Bach, and seeks refuge far from Dretphi. "Dammit- I guess three-"

As Dretphi's head of platinum blonde braids tilts unconvinced, Bach swallows hard and sighs. "FOUR... Four years ago when I got on some self-improvement kick. I went fully into it for a day, ached for a week, and never did it again."

With a simple nod, Dretphi thinks for a moment and perks her brow. "Stand up straight."

After pondering the notion, Bach rises out of the slouch, straightens his legs out, squares his shoulders, and pulls his head back. After a minute of struggle against physically manifested bad habits, he settles into a posture with blatant discomfort showing. He stiffens his form and holds the posture along with belief waning into certainty. Dretphi circles around reaching out to adjust Bach's form with firm but gentle directions. She stops in front Bach and tilt her head down to meet his eyes. "You may be taller than your brother."

Bach darts his eyes around and eventually furrows his disbelief at Dretphi. "Really?"

Dretphi stands tall next to Bach, and gauges the height difference. "Hard to judge. Very close. You need to stop slouching."

Lowering his gaze down to his now more apparent gut, Bach wrestles his embarrassment, and a disappointed sigh slips out. Dretphi reaches a hand out and firmly pokes Bach's midsection. "If this bothers you, do what I say."

Dretphi pivots and steps away from Bach. He relaxes his posture and rubs the pain away from the prodded section of his belly. Dretphi halts, pivots towards Bach, and points to the ground. "Set up for sit-ups. Do twenty five of them."

Bach blinks blankly at Dretphi. Returning a stern glare, Dretphi gestures to a clear section of trimmed grass near the back patio. Bach warily walks over to the spot, lays down on the ground with his knees up, and puts his hands behind his head. Bach breathes in and out a few times and attempts to lift his upper body up. He closes his eyes, grits his teeth, grunts, and groans. The meager momentum dies short of halfway through the sit-up. Straining in place for seconds, the remaining hold-outs of Bach's pride and honor finally abandon him. His upper body drops onto the grass, punctuated with a sad breath forced out of him. He keeps his eyes closed, shame plain on his face. "You know you probably have exercises you need to do. I'll work on this. No one needs front row seats to witness this..."

Easing down to a spot beside Bach, Dretphi prepares for sit-ups. Bach hears movement beside him and opens his eyes to Dretphi gazing right back at him. "You are correct. I need to do twenty five sit-ups."

Without a bit of hesitation, Dretphi cleanly and properly does a sit-up and calmly sets up for the next. "Your turn."

A mix of emotions contend for a place on Bach's face. With an exhale, Bach steels himself for another attempt. "You realize I'm about to embarrass my entire lineage."

Dretphi nods calmly with a reassuring tone. "Let them be embarrassed now. You will impress them later."

Bach closes his eyes, grits his teeth, and grunts as he tugs his upper body towards his knees. Similar to the prior attempt, he runs out of strength right before the halfway point. As the last bit of effort surrenders to the strain , Bach feels a hand on his back. Gradual force pushes him forward, and the extra force eases him over the halfway point. Summoning up the little strength available, Bach pulls himself the rest of the way up. Holding himself up for a few moments, he lowers himself slowly back down. Sniffing and closing his eyes, he rests upon the grass and stares at the passing clouds above him and Dretphi. "I... I knew this was going to be demanding, physically. But, the psychological... Not something I quite expected..."

Dretphi gazes at the sky and smiles reassuringly. "When we take a break, I will tell you of my first time training with my birth father."

Bach glances over to Dretphi and perks his brow. "Does it include embarrassing the family name?"

Grinning slightly as she executes a sit-up, Dretphi readies for the next. "Does almost stabbing one of my house fathers with a magic sword count?"

Bach flashes an amused expression. "I'll count it."

Dretphi rotates her head towards Bach. "Your turn."

Bach shakes the grimace off to determination and attempts another sit-up, with Dretphi hand behind him as he strains.

With his body trembling at the rising apex of a push-up, the strain squeezes the last bit of air from Bach's lungs. "Twenty- URK. Five!"

He collapses face first into the grass. Coughs blast long mowed grass clippings upon the ground out from under Bach's face. Turning his head to the side, he gasps for breath and settles to exhausted pants. Dretphi swiftly switches from a push-up stance to a sit next to Bach. "Your other exercises need work. Your push-ups are not bad."

Bach draws the strength to roll over and face the sky, and breathes heavily in his sweat drenched shirt. "Thanks... I'm just glad I... didn't have to resort to the cheater push-ups."

He tilts his head towards Dretphi. "I'm going to ache so much tomorrow."

Dretphi calmly breathes deep and wipes a few beads of sweat off her forehead. She leans forward and lifts herself up. She holds down a hand to Bach. "Yes. You will be sore. You should still do the stretches I showed you."

Bach clumsily raises a hand to grab onto Dretphi's. He throws himself up and she pulls him up the rest of the way. Steadying himself on his feet, Bach pulls in long deep breaths. "I'll try. But, I'll be honest, the pain might be too much right in the morning... I'll try in the afternoon."

With a nod, Dretphi strolls towards the house, stretching her arms and back along the way. Gesturing Bach to follow, she reaches into the side pocket of her shorts, pulls out an aetherphone, and inspects the time after a tap on the screen. "That's all for now. Lunch will be ready soon."

Bach startles and snaps his head up to the sky to see the sun directly overhead. "Really?! Did I really take that long?"

Dretphi glances back and nods. "We did walk the laps in between the exercises."

Frowning in defeat, Bach hangs his head. "Yeah... That does make sense, now that I think about it."

Slowing down Dretphi waits for Bach to catch up to her and pats his back. "Hold yourself to high standards. Do not hang yourself with them."

Bach's eyes drift along with thoughts in his head and eventually settle upon Dretphi. "Is that another one from your birth father?"

Nodding with a smile, Dretphi sighs. "Yes. Has many. Despite all he taught me, certain he has more saved for the right moment."

Bach tightens his smile and chuckles short of breath. "Still can't believe you nearly harpooned your house father."

Twisting an uneasy grimace on her tan face, Dretphi sighs and tosses back a few darker tipped platinum blonde braids over a shoulder. "My birth father warned him to not sit close when we sparred. It is not the worst that has happened to him. I have heard tales from my mother about how wild of adventurers they were."

Lifting a hand up, Bach counts off with his fingers and ponders out loud. "So, three fathers and one mother in your house?"

Dretphi nods plainly and nonchalantly glances over to Bach. "Yes. My mother and birth father are the heads of it."

Churning over the concept in his head, Bach furrows his brow. "That sounds like an interesting childhood."

Dretphi rocks her head side to side gauging her thoughts, and blinks indifferently. "I do not know. Such seems normal to me."

Stale frustration and long buried irritation briefly rise up into her expression, and she rolls her steely gray eyes. "Only problems I experienced were from my two younger brothers getting into trouble. Having to keep them out of trouble."

Bach nods understandingly and groans out a similar sentiment. "Yeah... I know how that can go. But, I can't imagine what having TWO brothers would be like."

A subtle, sly smirk grows on Dretphi's face, and she narrows her attention at Bach with a seeking gaze. "Any tales to share about your brother?"

Bach chuckles evilly as he flashes a devious smile to Dretphi and nods eagerly. "Oh, I got plenty. I'm sure he's told you about his heroic exploits in High Alton?"

Dretphi rolls her eyes and nods begrudgingly. "Yes. Numerous times. Proud of his part in them."

A sinister grin roots itself in the corner of Bach's mouth, and he laughs to himself as old memories rush to front of his mind. "Did he ever tell you all the time he called me at three in the morning from the bathroom of another dorm with two Fvalian women fighting over him in the bedroom?"

Dretphi's steely gray eyes shoot open wide in honest shock, and a glint of intrigue lights up her interested gaze at Bach. She points Bach to a worn path in the grass near the house that leads away from the back patio. "Could we walk around the house first? I would like to hear this, before we back inside."

Bach gives a simple nod and grins. "Oh. Yes. Yes we can."

The bathroom opens and a faint cloud of steam drifts into the hallway. Bach squirms in the loose fitting shirt and shorts as he steps out onto the hardwood floor of the hallway. He flexes his body and feels out the aches between winces and foreboding grumbles. Adjusting the towel wrapped around his head of wet hair, he glances down at the dirty clothes under his arm and ponders idly while searching the area. Walking through the archway leading into the living area, he spots Dretphi sorting through laundry. Glancing up from her chore, she points to a basket. Bach tilts the basket up with his foot and reads his name written on it. "Nice. Thanks."

Dretphi shrugs and resumes sorting through the freshly laundered clothing. "Makes it easier."

Bach deposits dirty clothes into his basket and the towels into the community basket. "So, when do you want to fit me for armor?"

Finishing the last stack of clothes, Dretphi sweeps it up and onto the couch. She reaches for a large toolbox nearby and slides it along the floor next to her. "Now. Stand here. Straight posture with your arms out."

Bach side steps under Dretphi's guidance. Flipping the toolbox open, Dretphi takes out a cloth tape measure. Standing up, she pulls out a length of the measuring tape while eyes over Bach. Tucking an end between Bach's toes, she leads the rest up to near the top of his head. "One hundred and ninety centimeters? Hmm."

She narrows a stare at Bach's posture, grabs a shoulder, and pushes his lower back. Taking another measurement, she nods satisfied. "One hundred and ninety two centimeters."

Continuing her examination, she writes down other various measurements on a notepad upon the coffee table. The sliding glass door opens, and Sotalia casually and happily strides in. "Ah... I was dubious about spending the extra coin per month for a hot tub. But, I. Am. Sold. Now."

Pausing mid walk, she ponders the situation and studies Bach standing still with his arms out. Noticing Dretphi taking measurements, she shifts her attention to the clean laundry in her basket behind Bach. She flings off the colorful beach towel draping over her onto Bach's outstretched arm. Strutting on by Bach in her two piece bathing suit, she curls a hint of a sinister grin. Bach blinks in brief confusion and twists his head to check the towel now hanging off his arm. He mutters to himself. "Really..."

Dretphi leans away from Bach and motions Sotalia towards a hamper. "Got the stains out of your cloak."

Quickly digging through the basket, Sotalia pulls out the cloak, opens it up with a flourish, and excitedly smiles. "Oh, thank you! The enchantments on this thing always interfere with any cleaning spells I try. What did you end up using?"

Directing her voice at Sotalia, Dretphi returns to writing a few figures in the notepad and readying the cloth measuring tape. "Denatured alcohol. Worked the best. Armored fabric layer required scrubbing."

Sotalia holds the cloak away from her, flips it around to each side, and admires it thoroughly. "Wow. That was tougher than I thought it'd be. Amazing work as always."

Dretphi resumes her attention to Bach, takes more measurements, and writes them down. Bach stares idly forward and allows his attention to drift inwards as the late afternoon sun filters in through the back sliding glass door. As he relaxes his arms down a little, another object flops onto his arm, upon the prior beach towel. Blinking back to awareness, Bach turns his head towards the side and glances down at the new addition. Cocking his head, Bach furrows his brow and squints confused. A rush of recognition burst forward from the back of Bach's mind and onto his face. Top to Sotalia's bathing suit lays upon the beach towel. Bach eyes widen between bewildered blinks as other parts of his mind confirm initial suspicions. A moment later, the matching bottom of the bathing suit lands on Bach's outstretched arm. Tensing his body, Bach carefully pivots his head forward and stares out into the backyard as the spring breeze washes over the field, keeping his eyes firmly affixed ahead.

Sotalia's voice oozes with a provocative tint behind Bach. "Yes... Nothing like putting on freshly dried clothes!"

A pair of strong hands firmly grip Bach by the waist and he immediately tenses. Bach snaps an unnerved stare down. While sitting on the carpet, Dretphi narrows a suspicious gaze at a few measurements on the notepad upon the coffee table. She quirks brow, tilts her head of platinum blonde hair, and mumbles unsatisfied Grath to herself. Leading with a light, nervous chuckle, Bach inquires uneasily. "Um, what's going on?"

Squinting at the written measures on the notepad upon the coffee table, Dretphi grimaces with her full focus upon the math in her head. "Need to double-check measurements on your other side."

Bach eyes the parts of Sotalia's bathing suit draped on his arm, feels Dretphi tighten her grip, and whispers. "Um, yeah, if you can just wait a moment and-"

Dretphi firmly torques Bach into a pivot, her attention fully upon solving the measure discrepancy. Spinning around, Bach greets the almost clothed Sotalia. Finishing slipping on a shirt, Sotalia pulls it down into place, lifts her head up with a sly grin, and playfully narrows her golden gaze. She steps up, reaches for her towel and bathing suit on Bach's arm, and smiles while guiding dark red hair over her black swept back horns. "Thank you. I didn't want these to pick up dust and fuzz from the floor."

After a few moments, Bach remembers to allow air into his lungs and manages a reply. "Not a problem?"

Sotalia strides to the hallway and exchanges a glance with Dretphi out of sight of Bach. Dretphi perks her brow at Sotalia and narrows a stare. Sotalia holds her hands up dismissively in the air in a grand dramatic shrug, heavy with playful sarcasm. Dretphi rolls her eyes before resuming business. "Sotalia. Could you bring out the backup equipment chest?"

Sotalia stops and alternates an uncertain point between two directions. "Is it the one in the store room or the office?"

Dretphi searches her mind for a moment. "Store room."

Sotalia slips into the hallway, loosely grips the side of the archway, and raps her long black nails on the wooden trim. "Be right back, then."

After shaking her head, Dretphi taps Bach's arm. "You can rest your arms."

Dropping his arms to the sides, he takes a few moments to roll the aches out of his shoulders. Leaning her weight back, Sotalia drags in a large metal, wheeled, machined chest of many thin drawers. "So, what are you going to put him in? Gods know, we have plenty to choose from."

Sliding the chest closer, Dretphi slides out one of the shallow drawers and peers inside the deep space within. Bach's curiosity leads him closer to the chest, just as Dretphi reaches her whole arm into the few centimeter thick drawer. His eyes widen in surprise and he cranes his head around for a better view. "Wow! A chest of linked aether pockets?!"

Sotalia quickly shakes her head and rests her hands on her hips. "Nah. Expanded space frames."

Bach moves closer to the chest and examines it. "Ah! Yeah, I've heard these are becoming popular. well, those who can afford them, at least. Those types of enchantments aren't cheap."

Sotalia gets on her knees next to the chest and opens the top lid. Beyond the magically inscribed frame, the space inside occupies a volume slightly larger than the chest itself. Bits and pieces of armor, weapons, and tools fill deceptively deeper space. Sotalia digs around and holds up a wearable, adjustable flashlight to Bach. "That they aren't. We actually had a few bags of holding and a chest of storage. But, after one bag lost connection to its aether pocket, we all decided to switch over to the expanded space frames. Thankfully, Cideeda was able to work a very nice trade for our old bag and that chest."

Taking flashlight in hand, Bach peers into the volumes beyond the framed portals. "I guess it's better to have your stuff launch out than have the pocket drift away in aether."

Sotalia groans with a roll of her golden eyes and shudders to a stale, frustrated frown. "You don't know how right you are. Gods, it took Aristespha a month of her communing with spirits every night and astral projecting before we tracked that pocket down and relinked it. Almost lost my arcane book collection."

Leaning back from the space frame, Dretphi pulls her arm out from the deep dredging and reveals what she found. "Almost lost a rare rifle in that pocket. The expanded space frames are reliable. They fail gracefully."

Sotalia and Bach shift their attention to the object Dretphi holds. Sotalia quirks her brow in surprise and smirks as recognizes it. "That's Sebastian's OLD helmet. The first one I ever saw him in."

Bach reaches his hand out to it with a smile on his face. "Wow. He kept it."

As Dretphi passes the helm to Bach, both Dretphi and Sotalia exchange intrigued glances. Bach rolls the high tech helmet in his hands, pauses to inspect signs of battle damage, and nods. "Yeah. Sebastian spent all his summer job money getting his first full suit of armor. But... He didn't have enough money for a good helmet. So, I did some research and got him this one. Titanium mesh construction, ceramic plating armor, a kevlar outer coat, ballistic visor, and attachable respirator mask. I did some basic magic deflection enchantments, too."

Holding the helmet upside down in one hand, Bach clicks on the flashlight and shines a beam of light into it. "Hell, I even personalized it a bit for Sebastian."

Sotalia grasps the helm and tips the interior to her view. Her golden eyes widen then squint as she reads the text. "With a skull as thick as yours, you probably won't need this. But every warrior needs a helmet to hold in photographs. Love ya, you shithead. Bach."

Dretphi leans close for a peek and furrows her brow in surprise. "I never knew this was written here."

Sotalia settles back on her hands, shakes her head, and snorts into a laugh. "Well! That explains why he would never let anyone else hold that helmet for very long."

Bach gazes at the helmet, rotates it around in his hands, and sighs. "Yeah. I don't know how much he used it-"

Pausing from searching further within the void of the expanded space frame, Dretphi glances at Bach and smiles reassuringly. "All the time."

Sotalia grins at Bach and nods in confirmation. "Gods. You have no idea. First sign of trouble, that helmet went right on his head. It outlasted a few suits of armor. I think he was looking for a suit to go with it for a long time."

A smile slowly grows on Bach, and he feels the battle marks upon the paint, the faint dents in the exterior, and wear in the fabric straps. Dretphi stirs around within the next drawer and glances at Bach. "There is armor that can go with the helmet. I think you should try it."

Bach familiarizes himself with the helmet again and adjusts the fit enough to get it on his head properly. "That sounds good to me. I'll give it a try."

The alarm clock beeps constantly, and the sound bounces around the walls of the small bedroom. From under the bed covers, a hand emerges and seeks out the source of the jarring noise. With a groggy strike, the hand drops down on top of the snooze button. It remains motionless until it slips off onto the nightstand. Moments later, the body attached to the hand stirs under the sheets against the morning light beaming into the space, and defiant grumbles slip out with the annoyed turns under the covers. The bed linens slide away from the head board and reveal Bach's morning adverse face. One blue eye opens and wanders towards the alarm clock. In the quiet moments with faint sounds of activity leaking in from other parts of the house, he slowly peers around the room. His barely conscious gaze settles upon a coat rack turned impromptu armor stand. Admiring the eclectic assembly of armor, Bach attention wanders between his brothers helmet, a synthetic fiber duster, composite shoulder pads, a segmented kevlar breastplate, a pair of plain plate bracers, leather gloves, combination shin and knee guards, and a pair of old alloy plated boots.

After staring at the combination of gear balance between uncertain grimaces and dismissive sigh, Bach gazes back up at the ceiling fan, and a grin gradually grows on his light tan face. Wincing against the morning light flooding into the room, Bach finally concedes defeat to the start of the day and sits up with a great surge of enthusiasm. He freezes. His eyes widen, face contorts, and a faint strangled yelp of pain squeaks out. His seized body falls to the side on the bed. Bach groans and winces, feeling every post workout ache in his body. "...every... ...thing... ...hurts..."

After a quick rinse from the kitchen sink faucet, Bach places a cereal bowl and spoon in the dishwasher. He stiffly steps over to the dining room table and watches Cideeda lay out weapons, boxes, tools, and other parts out upon the tabletop. Suffering through pained wince, he fights against strained muscles and settles into a chair across from Cideeda. "So, what's your training going to be about?"

Cideeda blinks blankly at Bach and searches her mind with a tilt of her head of short, multi-colored hair. Large furry ears on the sides of her head twitch in sync to her thoughts, she furrows her brow on her light brown face. Her ears perk and her emerald green eyes flit open with a glint. She dons a sharp smile and reaches down on the floor with a lean. Placing three small stylish wooden lockboxes on the table one at a time, she slides them over to Bach. She then balances her small frame upon the dining room chair while reaching down under the tabletop and grasps hold of something within a satchel. With a deft twirl in her hand into a flip of the bundle, she unrolls a very worn and old set of lockpicks and grins toothily. "You can help me unlock these things."

Examining the tools before him, Bach rolls a pick between his fingers and inspects it apprehensively. "You want me to open these... With these lockpicks?"

Cideeda cocks her head, lowers her furry ears gradually, and narrows a suspecting stare at Bach. "And... What's wrong with that?"

Furrowing his brow, Bach holds the pick closer to Cideeda and twists the end of the tools around the end. "This pick is almost worn to nothing! I mean, I'll try... But, don't expect results any time soon."

With a sly smirk, an amused quirk of a brow, and intrigued lift of the ears, Cideeda reaches out and pushes Bach's hand back to him with a claw tipped finger. "Good, you do have some knowledge. I still want you to try. And... No cheating!"

Bach grumbles as he pulls his hand back, studies the arrangement of tools in the roll out set, and plucks a torque wrench from a cloth sleeve. "Fine... So, what are these anyway?"

Cideeda carefully glides a metal chest on a thick rubber and felt mat along the tabletop and sets it up in front of her for the next operation. "Those? As far as I can figure, they're old personal chests we found in an old ruin. They probably don't have that much in them, especially since Sotalia and Aristespha didn't sense anything magical. But, the chests are in good shape and early era artifacts are really popular right now."

Bach drops his head down and studies the chests with an apprehensive perk of his eyebrow. "Really? I mean, I can understand some things. But, old chests?"

Cideeda lifts her head up from rummaging for something below the tabletop and nods excitedly at Bach with an entrepreneurial spark in her emerald green eyes. "Oh, yeah! I've got buyers willing to give me a couple hundred for each one, even before I do any clean-up on them. People these days are into anything retro and antique. Even these chests, since they're likely from the Second Period from the style and aging."

Bach uncertainly rotates one of the small chests around on the tabletop, examines the thing in disbelief, and flashes an incredulous glance at Cideeda. "A few hundred for this? Dust and stains included?"

Shrugging up her shoulder in her loose t-shirt, Cideeda dons an indifferent smirk and rolls her emerald green eyes with a flick of her long, fuzzy tail. "Hey, I don't make the fads. I just sell to the people who follow them."

Rocking his head side to side while examining the old chest, Bach nods in agreement. He focuses upon the small box in front of him and pokes around the hardware upon the container. Inserts the torque wrench loosely in the old lock, he fumbles around the inside of the lock with the pick in his other hand. Concentrating on the task at hand, he pauses in thought and waits for his mind to dredge up old lessons. Glancing up from her project, Cideeda narrows an inquisitive gaze at Bach and smirks with a prominent canine. "Need a refresher on what to do?"

Bach blinks back to awareness and shakes his head slowly as bubbling knowledge guides his hands. "Not yet. It's slowly coming back to me. I haven't had to do anything like this since adventuring school. And, even then, I only got any real practice when getting my brother out of weird and really awkward situations."

Flicking up an interested furry ear, Cideeda furrows her brow while reaching down with both hands below the dining table, her long, furry tail counter-balancing with subtle wags. "Hmm... What kind of weird and awkward situations?"

Twisting his mouth with the growing focus on the lock, Bach chuckles lightly and squints his blue eyes at the progress of the lockpicks. "Well, I'll tell you after I get this one done."

Sifting through relevant knowledge, he sinks himself into the task at hand. The torch wrench applies gentle pressure on the cylinder. The pick lightly slides across the heads of pins within the device. Applying the right amount of force, a faint click sounds out and the tool shifts slightly. In the moment of progress, the unmistakable whine of a high speed motor breaks Bach from his trance abruptly. Searching around the area bewildered, Bach snaps his stare ahead. Cideeda wraps a bandanna on top of her head and pulls her short, multi-colored hair out of her face. She snatches up and flips out some safety glasses from the table. With an excited, toothy grin, she hoists up a cordless power drill with one hand and slides a drill bit into the chuck.

Indignation manifests a sneer of the upper lip upon Bach's face, and he holds his hands upwards in disbelief. As a sigh of disgust leaves Bach, Cideeda's furry ear flicks towards Bach. She glances over to Bach with a confused blink and secures the drill bit in the chuck with a slow spin up. Meeting Bach stare, she wraps her claw tips around the polymer chassis of the power tool. "What? These metal chests aren't worth THAT much. I totally can get a far better price for them after I drill out the old lock and replace it with a new one. People like the wooden ones for their looks. They seem to like the metal ones more for function."

Glancing between the pick and torque wrench in his hands, Bach settles an incredulous stare at Cideeda and furrows his brow in disbelief. "Um... NO. CHEATING?"

Cideeda pauses a moment, draws a smug smirk with an amused hint in her emerald green eyes. "Oh. That. You see, you are a beginner and need to learn these skills. You need the practice. But, I am an expert."

With a swift squeeze of the trigger, the drill briefly spins up and glints against the flood of late morning light radiating into the area from the back sliding glass door. Cideeda flashes a toothy grin and a proud wink. "And, experts get to cheat."

Examining the small, stamped gold token in his hand, Bach lifts an apprehensive brow as the faded yellow sheen glints. "Are you sure? This seems really valuable."

Rapping her claws tips upon the small wooden chests, Cideeda nods while inspecting the construction of the lock hardware. "Yes. You unlocked all the chests and kept the locks working. That's at least fifty or more a piece I can charge on top for them being historically intact and functioning."

Bach ponders a few moments and then swiftly pockets the token. "Well, no objections here then."

Cideeda rummages around the floor near her chair, her long furry tail occasionally flicking up into view. "Also, I saw how little you had in your wallet when I was going through everything."

Silence punctuates Bach's unamused expression, and he narrows mildly annoyed glare Cideeda. As it fades from Bach's face, Cideeda brings up another assortment of tools up onto the tabletop. After setting Bach's holoplayer off to the side, she places a simple rifle, pistol, a knife, and accessory pieces upon the table. Bach focuses upon his device, glances over to Cideeda searching the floor below between at the different containers of gear. When she dips down well below the tabletop, Bach slowly reaches his arm out and carefully watches Cideeda balancing upon the chair. Glancing between his hand and Cideeda's tail twitching up in the air, he hovers over the holoplayer. Firmly planting his hand upon the device, Bach feels five sharp points digging around his forearm near his wrist. He halts in place. Spotting Cideeda's hand, he feels each claw tipped finger curl tighter and press harder onto his skin. His stare follows along Cideeda's arm, and he finds a soft hair filled furry ear perked him. A pair of emerald green eyes greet Bach's blue eyes. Narrowing his determined stare, Bach tightens his grip on his holoplayer and pulls it back. The pressure from five claw tips increase with his efforts. Relaxing his grip, clawed grasp loosens. After a minute of staring deadlock, Bach releases his hold of the holoplayer and Cideeda loosens her grip fully. Rubbing his arm, Bach examines the five pressure marks still visible.

Cideeda draws an evil, toothy grin and hoists up a victorious brow. "Not today?"

Bach shakes his head in defeat and sighs. "Not today."

Sitting back up in the chair, Cideeda's grin fades to a happy smile and nods. "Good! Because, today I want to give you a gun."

Blinking off-guard at the statement, Bach awkwardly stumbles to an amicable attitude. "Really? Okay. I mean, that sounds good. I wouldn't mind having one given I'm not able to throw that much magic around."

Cideeda happily perks her furry ears and slides a pistol over to Bach. "Now that's what I like to hear. Here's one I picked out for you. I think this might work best for you right now. We can change it up later, if you want to try something else. "

Bach pulls the weapon closer to himself and inspects curiously. "It... It's an Arc and Spark Plasma- Um. Damn, what model is it- Ah... Crap, um... It's been awhile. The Plasma Power Pulse Six?"

Fidgeting with a spark of excitement, Cideeda lifts an eyebrow and smiles. "That's correct! And, it's yours to use if..."

Cautiously picking up the pistol, Bach checks the routine areas. "If?"

A curious air hangs around Cideeda, and she dons a sly smirk. "If you can get it to work again."

Bach sighs and continues to examine the pistol. "So, what's wrong with it? I mean, what's it not doing?"

Cideeda rolls her emerald green eyes and grumbles with a twist of her mouth. "Well... Sotalia says she doesn't know. But, I think she tried experimenting on it based some guide she read on the aethernet and fucked it up."

Gazing up from the weapon, Bach cocks his head and furrows his brow at Cideeda. "Okay. What exactly did she fuck up on it? What was she trying to do?"

She coyly rests her chin on her hand and winks with a widening, toothy grin. "Oh. That is for YOU to find out. You seem to have some basic mechanical understanding. Now, let's see how much you know about tech."

Bach pinches the bridge of nose and groans with hints of hesitance. "Okay, fine. Can you at least give me some decent tools this time? Then, I'll see if I can get it fixed."

Sliding over a flat rectangular box to Bach, Cideeda bites her lower lip with an apologetic tone. "Well, good luck on that. Here's the service kit I got back from her. There definitely was some struggle and frustration involved when they were last used."

Bach flips the lid of the kit and his expression deflates to incredulous disappointment. "What the-?! I mean, I guess these will work. But, damn... I don't know how you expect me to do these-"

Leaning in towards Bach, Cideeda focuses her stare and bluntly asks. "Oh, I expect a little bit from you. Because, how did you do the mods to the holoplayer?"

Bach blinks puzzled for a second and darts his confused glances around before settling back upon Cideeda. "Uh, what do you mean? I just installed the mod chips some guides recommended and did the tweaks they instructed you to do. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Just the standard stuff they told you-"

Genuine curiosity overtakes the expression on Cideeda's face, and she levels an honest inquiry. "HOW did you do it? I'm talking about the method. The warranty seals are intact somehow. So, the mods are installed, but there is no sign of someone disassembling it to install them. The work, from what I can tell, is ridiculously clean. You seem to know enough, and you may have done this. But, I can't quite figure out how you could have pulled it off."

A smug smirk emerges on Bach's light tan face, and he confidently sits back in the chair. He places his hands together and taps the tips of his fingers, while slyly smiling. "Well, I can show you. But, I want my holoplayer back-"

Cideeda narrows her hesitant glare and curls a lip up around a pronounced canine. Gauging the reaction, Bach furrows his brow and eases in a compromise. "In a few months, after you are done BORROWING it."

Scratching her chin softly with a claw tip, Cideeda weighs the proposition in her mind with the sways of her tail. After some more contemplation, Cideeda rolls her emerald green eyes and nods in agreement. "That, I can work with that. There's that collection of graphical novel files I want to go through and see what I don't have on my laptop."

Bach holds his hand out flat, places the plasma pistol on top, then hovers the free hand over. A blue glow flickers in his eyes. Bach remains motionless save a few facial twitches for a minute. Cideeda leans forward and watches for any signs of activity. As she starts to shift back in her seat, both her ears perk and twitch towards the pistol in Bach's hand. With a twist and turn, Bach spins his hands perpendicular to the table and slowly draws them apart. The pistol erupts in activity as it floats in the middle of Bach's hands. Simultaneously in sequential orders, screws spin out, latches depress and release, components unlock, and pieces drift methodically away. When Bach's arms stop moving, the components and assemblies of the pistol float in an exploded mechanical view of the weapon's entire composition. Cideeda's jaw drops, her emerald bordered pupils widen in astonishment, and her face brightens with sheer wonder.

Bach grins humored and rolls his glowing blue eyes. "You know this is technically cheating. Right?"

Cideeda holds a finger up and smirks eagerly at Bach. "Well, you are under the supervision of an expert."

She darts her eyes around in thought and directs a hopeful smile. "After this one... Could we do a few more?"

With a faux sigh, Bach shakes his head and frowns playfully. "I don't know. I think I'm going to be a little busy with this. I mean, I do have to check out all these parts on this pistol you gave me-"

Snapping her full attention to a floating component, Cideeda holds up a matching part close. "She fried the main power coupling. Here's a spare."

The power coupling hovers out of Cideeda's fingers. The failed component drifts down from the hovering cloud onto the table top, and the new part moves into position. Flexing his finger, Bach slides his hands underneath the demonstration. In almost perfect reverse, the pistol starts to reassemble. Within the flurry of activity, components lock in place, pieces snap together, and screws tighten. When the bit of casing locks into place, the plasma pistol feather falls down to Bach's awaiting hand. Switching the main power switch on, he presses the self-test button. After a moment, the pistol status lights blink different colors, and eventually they all turn on and stay green. A happy digital chirp signals the end of the self-test and tickles Cideeda's furry ears to her enjoyment.

Door in the kitchen cracks open to reveal a glimpse of the garage. Pushing through the doorway, Sotalia backs in, clears through it, and pivots around with a wrapped pack of sports drinks. Hoisting up the pack on the counter, she opens the fridge. Ripping open a pack with a poke into the wrapper, she loads them into the fridge and rearranges for more space inside.

Uncertainty creeps into Bach's voice. "Hmm. Um, something doesn't feel right..."

Cideeda chimes in. "You have to release the clip first."

A faint click echoes in, and Bach acknowledges. "Ah. There we go, and it's free now."

Grumbling on the verge of a growl, Cideeda eases off to a frustrated sigh. "Well, shit. The sear spring bent, again! I'm going to have some words for Ralado next time I see him. That's the second damned spring I got from him that's done that. Well, here's the replacement. Gods, where did he get this crap?"

Metal contact clacks through the air, and Bach ponders out loud. "Okay. I think that's in there as best I can get it. And so, back together we go."

Stepping back from loading the fridge, Sotalia plucks a bottle from the pack and side steps over to the nearby counter. Cracking open the seal, she pours back the beverage, her attention wandering through the bar window into the dining area. Leaning over the tabletop, Cideeda lifts up a rifle and places it in Bach's hands. Sotalia curiously perks her eyebrow, watching Cideeda sit down expectantly. Golden eyes catch the blue flicker in Bach's eyes. Gawking wide-eyed, Sotalia mentally stalls out, the now floating rifle rapidly self-disassembling. A shocked gasp sucks in sports drink. Reflex squeezing her lungs, only a small portion of the beverage returns to the bottle, and the rest spews forth uncontrollably out of Sotalia's mouth and nose. Slamming the bottle on the counter, she launches herself to the kitchen sink. Hacking, gagging, and retching, her body sorts out air and fluid between stuttering curses in different languages. Bach and Cideeda stare towards the kitchen with concern. Maintaining the floating rifle disassembly, Bach's glowing blue eyes dart around for Sotalia. "Are you going to make it?"

Sotalia yanks off a run of paper towels from a nearby roll, wipes the orange sport drink and spittle off her face, and vainly attempts to clean her splattered shirt. Darting in from the kitchen into the dining area, she points at the floating cloud of rifle pieces. "WHAT IS THIS?!"

Blinking uncertainly, Bach shrugs in confusion at Sotalia's outburst. "Uh, just something I've been working on since adventuring school. It was originally going to be my master's thesis, but I never got to really show it for that."

Sotalia draws in a few calming breaths, pulls a chair out next to Bach, and sits. She halts herself before speaking, holds up a finger, and turns her head to the hallway archway. "Aristespha! Could you come in here? Like, right now!"

Aristespha's voice disapprovingly echoes down the hall. "I am in the middle of an important-"

Rolling her golden eyes, Sotalia interrupts louder. "Just get in here! You need to see this!"

Faint footsteps hit the hardwood floors, and the proper and dignified figure of Aristespha trots out into the room. "Okay. What is this all about-"

As Aristespha processes the scene, the words halt in her mouth. Sotalia furrows her brow at Aristespha and gestures to the floating disassembled rifle. Sebastian's ethereal form passes through the wall, and he glances around at everyone, then Bach. He finally notices the target of everyone's attention and grins proudly. "Holy shit, bro! You've gotten really good at that. That's a whole lot better than you were back in school."

Sotalia and Aristespha exchange stares, then simultaneously grind their glares into Sebastian. Feeling a strange sensation, Sebastian shakes his head away from the spectacle and bounces his gaze between condemning stares of Sotalia and Aristespha. He settles on Aristespha and tries to present a smile against his discomfort. "Don't look at me like that... I told you about his research! Even what it was-"

Aristespha narrows her violet eyes at Sebastian and lifts an eyebrow. "You said he was looking into ways to take apart things."

Sebastian motions at the hovering rifle parts pleadingly. "Well... Was I wrong?"

Aristespha darkly furrows her brow. "No. You were correct."

Sebastian grimaces uneasily as he reflexively shrinks away Aristespha's cold glare. "How do you make that sound like a bad thing?!"