Episode 3

A pile of heavy leather bound books slaps down upon the dining table and a wooden echo bounces off the living area's walls. Brushing off her hands dismissively, Aristespha angles a hard stare at Bach and watches expectantly. Freshly rattled from his early morning haze, Bach perks a confused eyebrow at the literature before him and glances up at Aristespha from his seat. With a swift pivot, Aristespha walks with a rigid properness to an opposing chair. Presenting a cool confidence, she settles into her seat, stiffens her posture, and locks her violet eyes with Bach. Backing further into his chair, Bach averts his blue eyes for moments to avoid the pressing glare. Aristespha draws in a long breath, folds her ivory hands on the tabletop, and dons a faint frown on her blue and gray hinted face. "I am a Master Sage of The Grand Library, caretaker and researcher of the Sword of the Spirit Realm, and specialist in magics dealing with the mind, body, and spirits. I serve as the doctor, historian, and the spirit expert for this team. None of which I expect you to learn, as those roles take significant knowledge, experience, and discipline. Any questions?"

Bach searches his mind for a question, pauses in thought, and narrows a puzzled gaze edging close to insulted. After a tense few seconds of quiet, he points at the books on the tabletop and furrows his brow. "So, what are these for?"

Aristespha lifts the front cover of the book resting at the top of the stack and reveals the title page and rotates the book to face Bach. "These are books that will provide basic knowledge of first aid, psionic magics, and spirits. I expect you to read them as soon as possible."

Cocking his head, Bach flips through a few pages and blinks at the material. He returns his incredulous gaze to Aristespha. "Is there going to be a test or something? I mean, you just said I wasn't supposed to learn all this?"

Focusing a stern glare at Bach, Aristespha chills her violet eyes and twists her frown with subtle hints of irritation. Bach gives the stack of books a more concerned inspection between glimpse of the change expression on Aristespha ivory face. Tossing her lengthy silvery blue hair over very long, pointed ears, Aristespha groans into a sigh with a slight shake of her head. "No. There will NOT be a test. But, if you want to be a productive member of this team, I expect you to retain some of this knowledge. Knowing even a cursory amount could mean the difference between life and death."

Mixing understanding and wariness with a nod, Bach carefully closes the book and neatly rearranges the stack. He ponders a moment and summons up honest sincerity in voice. "Okay. I'll get right on it. It sounds important and I think I see why. And, I'll do what I can. Uh, I can start right now if you want me to?"

Despite the minute shifts in her expression and body posture, Bach notices Aristespha's mood lighten with her exhale. While initially confused, Bach's blue eyes glance around uncomfortably, and he pushes close against the back of the chair. Aristespha slides over an electronic tablet from nearby on the table in front of her. Tapping on the screen a few times, she presses a side button and sweeps up a released pen stylus. "Read them and retain the knowledge you can. That's all I can ask given current circumstances. I want you to be prepared as we have encountered much in our adventures."

Straightening her posture, she perks an eyebrow at Bach. "On to the next order of business... I have already filled out the information I know. But, I will need to ask you questions of a medical nature. We have found that keeping medical histories when we travel is vital, since we never quite know what clinics, hospitals, or facilities will be around."

Bach nods in agreement and sits up in his seat at the ready. "Yeah, that makes sense. Uh, I guess ask away?"

An ethereal voice beside Bach mockingly questions him. "When was your last sexual encounter?"

An audible slip of breath squeezes out of Bach when he winces reflexively in shock. Blinking bewildered with a flushed face, his mental processes resume from the abrupt halt, and he snaps his head towards the source of the familiar voice. Sebastian's ghostly face hovers with a prying grin. "So, bro? When was it?"

Realizing the originator of the question, Bach rolls his gaze away into outright irritation. "Fuck off, asshole."

Drifting his ethereal form down into the chair next to Bach, Sebastian smirks amused. "Morning to you, too! So... When was it?"

Bach grimaces, defensively crosses his arms, and defiantly glares at Sebastian. The brothers stare at each other, and the silence weighs down. Sebastian rolls his eyes with an exaggerated throw his head away from Bach. "Oh! So a Not Applicable, still? Why am I not surprised?"

Remaining silent, Bach stares sternly at his brother as a flit of irritation creeps out on his light tan face. Sebastian shrugs nonchalantly and shakes his head dismissively. "Oh, lighten up! It'll happen for you. You don't have to be so uptight about it. I mean, bro, I'll help you out-"

While smiling slyly Sebastian notices the devious smirk forming on Bach. Slowly turning his head to face Aristespha, the smirk grows to a full grin on Bach's face. "Has he ever told you the one time I was working at the bowling alley when he stumbles in drunk or high... Maybe both? And he has each arm around an emin woman-"

As ethereal hands desperately phase through and fail to cover his mouth from speaking, Bach pauses the story and smirks smugly at his brother. Sebastian halts his flailing arms and simmers his anger and embarrassment. "BRO. Shut. Up! Brother to brother confidentiality..."

Bach twists his upper body with an arm upon the back of the chair and studies Sebastian transparent form glowing light red, curling fingers in frustration. Flicking up two middle fingers to Sebastian,Bach cackles while waving. "Whacha gonna do ghost boy!? Haunt me?! Too late! We're already there! What else you go up those transparent sleeves of yours-"

A stern and cold voice resonates throughout the room. "AHEM. Can I continue?"

Sebastian immediately transforms back into his normal translucent, faintly blue tinted form and snaps his attention back to Aristespha. Slowly putting his hands down, Bach settles back into his seat and meets Aristespha's violet stare. Pulling in a long, calculated breath, Aristespha addresses Sebastian and furrows her brow. "Sebastian. I am trying to get work done. You will have plenty of time to harass your brother AFTER I am done. I will only have this room to myself and Bach for another hour before everyone arrives back from chores and practice. If you could excuse yourself for a moment and attend to something else, I would greatly appreciate it."

Accepting the cue, Sebastian hovers up out of his seat and floats towards the sliding glass door. "Okay. Sorry, dear."

Aristespha glances at Sebastian and meets his ghostly blue eyes before phasing through the exit. She slyly smiles at him and concentrates quietly with her hand on the sword leaning against a nearby chair. Sebastian pauses, searches in his mind, and contorts his face. With a lift of an eyebrow and a gleam in her violet eyes, Aristespha grins subtly. A faint blush colors Sebastian's ethereal face, and he contentedly smiles while coasting through outside.

Bach waits patiently for Aristespha and idles quietly drifting his attention around the vicinity. With a sigh, Aristespha taps the pen stylus on the tablet and gazes at Bach with a professional smile. "My apologies... First question. Any known allergies?"

Aristespha finishes writing a few last notes on the tablet. "Thank you for answering my questions."

Bach sits back in his chair, wrestles some apprehension, and perks his brow. "Well, that wasn't too bad. So, uh, is there anything else you need me to do?"

Placing the tablet off to the side, Aristespha motions towards the tabletop in front of Bach. "Hold your arm out across the table."

After a few awkward glances around, Bach unfurls his arm out over the spot indicated and opens his hand palm up. Aristespha reaches out, holds underneath Bach's hand, and holds the underside of his forearm. She briefly drops her head and lifts back up with her eyes glowing brightly violet. Focusing upon Bach's palm, she calmly instructs. "I would like to examine your magical ability and control. I am going to observe as you cast a few basic spells. Start with any simple light spell."

Uncertainly eyeing his arm in the firm grip of Aristespha, Bach flexes his fingers and pushes back his hesitation. "Okay. Just curious... What are you trying to see, or find out?"

Aristespha briefly lifts up on Bach's arm and punctuates her serious tone with a collected stare. "I am trying to make sure that how you are presently casting spells won't lead to serious injury, permanent damage, or other more immediate side effects."

Morbid curiosity nudges against Bach, and he grimaces with an uncertain cock of his head. "Uh, Immediate side effects? Like what, exactly?"

Despite the faint curl of a smirk from the corner of her mouth, Aristespha's tone remains calm. "Rupturing of organs, self-immolation, and in some notably rare cases... Detonation."

Bach blinks blankly with an unsettling grimace. He stares distantly inwards, and facial twitches lead to uncomfortable twinges as his blue eyes dart between mental imagery. Shuddering back to the present, he dons an awkward smile and nods understandingly. Aristespha's gaze shifts up and narrows with a commanding tint. "Now. Cast a light spell."

With brief, reflexive wiggles of his fingers, faint flows of magical energy rise up from Bach's palm. A small blue-white orb materializes from the condensing haze, hovers above Bach's open hand, casting a bright light into the area. Aristespha stares at the glowing object and momentarily closes her eyes with distinctly uncertain body language. She tips her head back with a side tilt and trains her glowing violet eyes on the small, few centimeter wide orb of light. Her stern, stoic demeanor cracks around the edges, and genuine confusion colors her ivory face. "Please release that. And... Do it again."

Fighting an uneasy squirm in his seat, Bach searches for an answer with glances to the glowing sphere. "Ah... Um... Okay."

He reaches out with his free hand, plucks the light orb up with his fingers, and deposits it off to the side on the tabletop. The magical object remains hovering in place. Aristespha quirks her brow incredulously and focuses her confusion at Bach. "I thought I said to release it? Did you hear me correctly?"

A wave of worry tenses up Bach, he meets the examining stare of Aristespha with an awkward chuckle. "I... Um... Well, I can't. I made that one independent. It'll go out on its own in about... Ah, 30 minutes or so?"

Aristespha's very long, pointed ear twitches, and she removes her hands from Bach's forearm. Snatching the glowing orb from the tabletop and she brings it in front of her face. Studying it close, she spins and rotates it around with her ivory fingers. The violet glow in her eyes brightens as she squints her stare through it. "There is a hover enchantment, surrounded by an energy containment field, wrapped in a light conversion matrix, and all within a... Structure of some design..."

Bach sheepishly interrupts as nervousness drives his words. "Well, it's a stabilized lattice, with a static charge so it can stick to things."

Continuing the same intense violet glow from her eyes, Aristespha's attention drifts away from the light orb towards Bach. Averting his gaze from the directed eye contact, Bach stiffens his posture in the dining chair and nervously explains. "You can throw it, and it'll hover along that path until it hits something. Then, it'll cling to whatever surface until the stored energy is used up."

Aristespha blinks slowly and puzzles at the magical object in her fingers. Her expression drifts towards disbelief, and sparks of confusion fight for facial realty. Battling unease and nerves against the looming silence, Bach scratches the back of his head of brown hair and chuckles with a stammer. "I-I-I... I created it when I couldn't pay the power bill one month. I mean, I just got really tired of wandering in the dark at night. So, I crafted this spell, since I had nothing better to do."

Aristespha calmly places the light orb down in front of her and props her arms by their elbows on the tabletop. The palms of hands meet, and she rests her chin at the peak. Closing her eyes, a minute passes. She reopens her eyes and trains a studious stare upon Bach. "We will need to do different testing."

Bach nervously crosses his arms and leans against the back of his chair. "Okay. Don't know how to take that."

Bach stands several meters away from Sotalia, Aristespha, and Sebastian in the backyard and glances around at the training equipment off to the sides. Sotalia adjusts her training gear with a straightening of her posture and listens to Aristespha speaking close to her ear. Bach's head bounces between Sotalia and Aristespha, and eventually settles on Sebastian ethereal visage hovering between the two. Sebastian notices his brother's attention and only shrugs with awkward side glances between Aristespha and Sotalia. After a few minutes, Aristespha calls out to Bach and rests her hands upon her sides. "For this exercise, I need you to dispel the magic bolts we cast at you. Sotalia will cast small training bolts. I will cast larger bolts, when appropriate. We will start out slow and speed up to your limit."

Assuming a defensive stance, Bach raises his hands out at the ready. "Okay. Just so you know, it's been a while."

Sotalia playfully grins, stretches during her prance into position, and rolls the faint yellow glow between her long nailed fingers. "Don't worry! I'll hold your hand like a good little girl. I'll be nice... I promise."

Bach shakes his head and rolls his blue eyes with a faint cringe. With a few flicks of her wrists, Sotalia casts the first barrage of slow moving glowing orbs. The multi-color orbs coast roughly a meter a second in loose pairs at a time. Sotalia pauses between waves of magical flow and lines up her aim. Bach moves his hands and body to intercept the bolts, magical energy forming within his palms. When his hand nears a bolt, a pulse of energy pops and contacts the bolt. The bolt breaks down almost immediately with a faint puff of energized mist. Sotalia's golden eyes studiously track the speed Bach counters and adapts casting and bolt speed to maintain the challenge. Off the side, Aristespha observes with her violet eyes radiantly glowing.

Within the minutes, the pace between Bach and Sotalia ramps up to feverish. Despite demands of skill and focus, the two trade banter constantly. Sebastian excitedly watches the two and floats up for a better view. Sotalia whips a few bolts into trick shots and yells to Bach with a grin. "Oh my! Where's all this bravado coming from? Looks like someone's pride needs to be put into check."

Bach dispels the wild orbs and cracks a smile in return, wiping some of the sweat from his head. "You know, that's actually really funny coming from you. Don't think the irony is lost on me!"

Watching Sotalia lift an amused eyebrow with a subsequent flurry of magical projectiles, Aristespha raises her violet eyes up at the floating ethereal ghost. "Sebastian. How close is Bach to performing as he did in school?"

Sebastian glances down to Aristespha and furrows his brow at old memories. "I've seen him do faster, dear. But, not by that much more. This is just above his average."

Aristespha quickly swirls her arms and flexes hands in regimented, purposeful motions and flicks out a large potent bolt towards Bach. "Good. Time to start the test."

The large magical projectile blazes across the yard and flies towards the other bolts. Zipping through the volley, the fast moving orb startles Sotalia when it weaves into her stream of magic darts. Spotting the large bolt homing in on his center mass, surprise flashes upon Bach's light tan face, and he reflexively whips his hand out to intercept. The bolt crashes into the pulse of energy from Bach's palm and briefly pauses mid flight. Another larger emission of magical flow breaks down the orb into a fine miasma. Taking advantage of the break from Sotalia recovering, Bach adjusts his stance and readies for the next onslaught with a roll of the shoulders. "Okay! I think I still got it here. Yeah... I think."

Aristespha and Sotalia release their waves of magic Bach, and he balances his attention between the intermittent large orbs and the smaller bolt barrages. The burgeoning confidence fades when the larger bolts launch more often. With a stern and calculating stare, Aristespha throws out two large bolts. Bach's blue eyes widen, and he grits his teeth uncertain hiss. He flings his arms to intercept the two bolts. Countering blasts of energy erupt from each of his palms more violently than before and immediately disrupts the large bolts. Bach draws in enough breath between pants and uneasily chuckles. "OKAY. I think I'm at my limit. Anything past this, I don't got. We can stop now. Please?"

Sotalia halts her casting and waves the remaining magic flow of her hand. She pulls stray locks of dark red, straight hair over her swept back black horns and glances over to Aristespha. "Girl, I think that should be good. To be honest, I'm actually getting a little tired. We've been casting a lot for a while."

Narrowing her brilliant violet eyes at Bach, Aristespha furrows her brow and cocks her head of long silvery blue hair. "One more test..."

She deftly gestures, chants fast incantations, and heaves both arms towards Bach. Three large orbs simultaneously rocket out in a chaotic spiral. Too quick for shock to manifest on his light tan face, Bach reflexively flings his hands out at two of the bolts and snatches them. Sparking and warping in Bach's grip, the bolts waver against some forces and disappear. Faint trails of magical essence sink into Bach's body. Both of Bach's hands slap together upon the third bolt directly in front of him. In moments, it puffs away into another fading cloud of miasma. Bach shakes off his hands out while panting heavily, and eyes Aristespha suspicious with an uneasy curl in his frown. "Wow... Uh, yeah... Could you warn me next time! I'm pretty tired, and I haven't dispelled that much in a long time. Really not ready for that much right now."

Sebastian zip right in front of Bach and grins proudly. "Holy shit, bro! That was awesome! Oh man, that took me back to training back at school. We'll have you back in fighting shape in no time if you keep it up like that!"

Bach hangs his head down with a smile as his brother hovers around him. Sebastian tries to pat him on the back, but retracts his ghostly hand when it starts to pass through. Lifting his head up, Bach chuckles at the praise and encouragement from his brother and smirks at the attention. Sotalia and Aristespha gawk in shock with jaws agape. The violet glow fades in Aristespha's eyes as her attention shifts to other thoughts in her mind. Sotalia blinks blankly and slowly turns to face Aristespha with a narrowing, golden eyed stare. "That was... Was that... A complete spell decompilation he did right there?"

Genuine bewilderment overtakes Aristespha as he furrows her brow in disbelief. She gradually puts together a cohesive thought into voice. "Yes. Three of them. In under two seconds."

Sotalia sidesteps close, pivots in front of Aristespha, and gazes quizzically at her. "What... What were you trying to test? Was it this? That's really rough test to throw at someone who hasn't been in the game in-"

Aristespha's very long, pointed ears twitch, and she arrives back to her senses. Shaking her head at Sotalia, she dismissively waves off the idea and frowns with a confused tinge. "N-no! I was trying to flush something out to the surface."

Sotalia leans closer and lowers her tone to a whisper. "Like what? This was a surprise, so what were we hoping to find out?"

Aristespha draws a thoughtful breath in, and her violet eyes search her mind for a proper explanation. "There is a strange feel to how he flows magical energy. I don't quite know much more. My hope was that putting a little stress on him would reveal more. Well, specifically more about his flow control. THIS was unexpected."

Sotalia crosses her arms, straightens her posture, and glances back to Bach and Sebastian talking. She raps her fingers on her light tan and dark gray patterned arm while watching. She returns to face Aristespha and perks her brow with intrigue and curiosity blatant on her face. "Now, I wonder what spells he's developed. He has to have a few that use his abilities specifically. That might reveal a lot more than just testing for things we don't know to... Or, even HOW to test for?"

A proper and collected facade reforms on Aristespha. A sly smile sneaks out for a moment, and she settles her attention upon Sebastian. "Sebastian? You once told me about a particular spell of Bach's you liked? What was it?"

Summoning up a graceful dignity, Aristespha strides over next to Sebastian's visage and beams a loving smile to him. Sebastian meets Aristespha's gaze and pauses from playfully hassling his brother. He thinks for a moment and glances over to Bach with an excited grin. "Bro! Can you do the D-Ball right now? Oh, please tell me you can pull that one off!"

Bach drops his head with a sad, embarrassed sigh and rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. He lifts his head back up shaking. "Sorry. No can do,. man. I'm really out of practice with casting anything that powerful. That's going to take me some time to get back to casting that."

He halts and his eyes light up. Bach smiles with hope and holds his hands out to Sebastian. "Wait. I got enough left in me for a Plasma Bolt. That's one I can do."

Sebastian ethereal form drifts next to Aristespha as Sotalia joins them, and he points at Bach. "Dear, this one is pretty cool. We used this one to get through a whole section of the fourth year team assessment tests."

Bach scans the vicinity and finds a thick steel plate hanging in a frame, off in the side yard with the rest of the target practice setup. He plants his feet, extends his arm out, and holds his hand up. Remaining still, he silently concentrates. Air swirls into a point above his palm and condenses to a mist, while a faint glow forms around the growing haze. The white streak in Bach's hair rises up with the charging of the atmosphere surrounding. With a loud, low thump, his brown hair drops back down. The air chills with faint specs of glinting frost. The compressed mist ignites above his palm. A low hum emerges from the background noise and the contained haze glows red. The mist glows brighter, and the color shifts to white while the noisy pitch rises. In seconds, the orb glows a bright, brilliant blue and whines inaudibly. Bach orbits his hand behind the orb and guides the magical energies with a careful aim. Bracing his hand with the other, Bach stabilizes the energy orb as it spins up fast in place. With a loud crack and boom, the newly formed plasma bolt streaks across the yard and bores into the steel plate. A mix of vaporized steel and plasma explodes from the front and erupts out the back. The remaining mass of the bolt bounces off the ground and dissipates in an expulsion of leftover gasses after a few more bounces.

Bach stumbles back a few steps and tips himself forward. Regaining his balance, he rests his hands on his knees and grimaces with gasp through his clenched teeth. He straightens back up, shakes his hand vigorously, growls out. "OW! The damned thing launched too fast! Shit! It broke the sound barrier next to my hand. Dammit, that crap stings! Gods, I can't feel my fingertips..."

Sebastian glides eagerly to Bach and laughs with a grin. "Some things don't change. I thought you'd figure out how NOT to do that by now."

Rolling his blue eyes, Bach winces while flexing his fingers. "It's not that easy, man. Release it too slow and you burn your fingers from the heat when the containment bubble drops. Better to just send it as fast as possible and hope for the best."

Aristespha and Sotalia watch with genuine intrigue and furrowing impressed stares. Sotalia rests her chin upon her propped up hand and glances at Aristespha with a sly grin. "I think he can do a simple mission with us. I mean, he's not completely helpless. There's some potential here."

Aristespha nods slowly and crosses her arms with a thought twist of her mouth. "We will need to check with the local guild office. There should be a few quests in the area that should work. We also need to stock up on some supplies. It has been too long since we have really taken inventory and replenished."

Sotalia puts her hands on her hips and perks her brow. "Cideeda mentioned seeing a few good places we could check out when she was driving through town. I think a group trip into town this weekend would be perfect."

Finishing a leftover piece of bacon from breakfast, Bach flips a page of the First Aid handbook upon his bed. His blue eyes wander down the page, drag upon long segments of biology, and backtrack after halting on terms. Furrowing his brow, Bach mulls over the concepts between blank stares at the dense literature and peels back the previous page in a hunt for context. Sebastian passes his ghostly upper body through the window above Bach and gazes down with an incredulous lift of his eyebrow. "Bro, it's a nice day outside. What are you doing in here, still? There's, like, stuff and things you can do out there."

Resting the book open on his chest, Bach tilts his head back and glances up at his brother. "After all the crash course training this week... I'm really enjoying not doing anything right now. And, I'm still kind of sore in spots."

Sebastian pulls the rest of his ethereal visage through the window and coasts to rest down next to Bach on the bed. "So, what are you reading anyway?"

Bach flips the book up and turns it to the cover towards Sebastian. "Not a bad read so far. Pretty dry, but it's not like I was expecting a psychological thriller or something."

Recognizing the book, Sebastian wanders gaze back up to the ceiling and wrestles a smirk on his face. "I mean, it's not bad as far as text books go. It's one of the few books Aristespha made me read I actually liked. Pretty useful stuff to know."

Bach quirks his brow, pauses in thought, and slides his blue eyes into an inquisitive stare at Sebastian. "So... I guess you and Aristespha are pretty serious? Just from my observations so far."

Contorting his face into an uneasy grimace, Sebastian groans out a wavering sigh. "It's complicated."

Rolling his eyes away from his brother, Bach flops the book back down. "Gods, really? Why is that always the case for you? It's complicated. Like how this time?"

Sebastian throws his arms up in the air and narrows an indignant glare at Bach. "Yes, it is! Bro, here's the breakdown. Aristespha is the fifth child in a moderately powerful Evuukian House."

Bach interjects and posits. "So, like, powerful enough to control some industry or a bunch of land, but not that many votes on the whole Council thing?"

Sebastian nods in agreement and rolls his eyes. "Yeah, pretty much. I think her family gets five or something votes instead of the default one all the minor ones get."

Crossing arms, he leans close to Bach and explains quietly. "So, anyway... She's the fifth child. Which traditionally means all her older brothers and sisters have taken all the cushy positions in the family affairs and drained the coffers of any easy money for upper tier school tuition or even investment capital. So, with no ruling prospects and no easy money, she goes to a discount adventuring school."

A thought jumps across Bach's mind, and he narrows an uncertain glance at his brother. "Wait, she didn't happen to go to our-"

Sebastian waves off the statement and chuckles lightly. "Nah, bro. She DID go to one of the sister schools in some Evuukian lands. Completely aced everything as medical mage, and she got a fellowship to The Grand Library. Enjoying it all. Understandably a little sad that the family doesn't give shit about her accomplishments. But, hey, no political bullshit to deal with."

Bach nods and sighs with a grimace. "Yeah, I mean if there's going to be any benefit, that's not a bad one. Still, that's crazy about her family. Medical mage programs are pretty brutal, and The Grand Library just doesn't hand out fellowships... I mean, usually people have to donate more than what the fellowship pays to get those."

Shaking his head, Sebastian rolls his translucent blue eyes. "Shit, I know! Mom and dad would be thrilled to death if we managed to be janitors at The Grand Library. So, yeah... She gets in. She's studying ancient history for old medical spells, and just has the TV on for background noise. One of those goofy ghost hunting shows had a marathon running. She notices that some of the supposed ghosts are actually spirits. And they weren't trying to scare people off by yelling gibberish but begging them to stay in their ancient, forgotten language."

Furrowing his brow, Bach sits up and searches his mind as the significance sinks in. His face blanks and he ponders the notion further. Astonishment fills Bach's face, and he looks back to his brother. "Wait... Holy shit... That was her?! I remember reading up about some new line of research over at The Grand Library about investigating popular media for signs of spirit activity."

Sebastian drifts up with a proud grin and puffs up his chest. "She wrote the grant proposals, dove head first into spirit studies, and hit a few ruins. When she came back, she brought back more historical records in a year than some of the Elders ever did in ten years."

He leans close to Bach and whispers behind his hand with a smirk. "Though, good luck getting any of them to admit it."

Catching Bach's understanding eye roll, Sebastian settles his visage back upon the bed. "But, they made her a Master Sage on the spot. The youngest one EVER."

With a righteous undertone, Bach nods in agreement. "Well, hell yeah! I mean, you make a discovery like that, you should get some recognition. I think you deserve that much."

Sebastian darkly sighs and frowns as his eyes drift down. "Yeah... Recognition she got alright..."

Noticing the drastic change in tone, Bach focuses on his brother with a quirk of an eyebrow. After a few moments, the problem dawns upon Bach. "Aw, dammit... I think I know where this is going."

Sebastian nods grimly and draws in a long ethereal breath. "Yep. The whole family recognized that achievement. Everyone now paid all kinds of attention to her... And, specifically, her achievements to tout to the other families. What's worse is the first major research assignment entrusted to her was the Sword of the Spirit Realm. It awoke and said it was instrumental to destroying Lord Noxian... The world's latest pain in the ass."

Bach holds his mouth briefly and slides his hand down to his chin. "Wow... That's some crazy Murphy's Law bullshit."

Sebastian shakes his head frowning. "I know, bro. Gods, I was really hoping we'd defeat Noxian. Then, the Sword's quest is done! We return the damn thing back to The Grand Ol' Library, and go adventuring far from the fanfare. And..."

Bach cranes his head around, and sees his brother's somber face hung low. "And?"

Sitting up with a faint hope in him, Sebastian rests his hands on his knees. "See if she would be willing go official and public about our relationship. It's not easy given how a lot of evuukians are adamantly against any kind of intermarriage. Disowning family members is not uncommon. But... Despite all the bullshit, she does still care for her family."

Bach straightens back up and sorts through the drama in his mind. "Well, maybe the man who killed Noxian would have gotten a free pass? I don't know. But... Damn. Just, damn, man. That's her call on that front and a hard one."

Sebastian lowers his face into his hands and groans. "I know. So, I haven't really brought it further up to her, since I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on her. But, holy shit, I will be at her side the day she decides to tell them to deal with it."

Bach draws a smile and gazes at his brother's ghostly visage. "You know. I never would have thought you'd go for someone so serious... So seriously?"

Shaking his head, Sebastian chuckles and leans towards Bach. "Don't let that proper and uptight appearance fool you. She's just as crazy as I am, and it's amazing!"

Bach holds his hands up and twists his head away slightly. "Alright. I'll take your word on it. But, I really don't see it."

Sebastian simply shrugs with an uncomfortable, wavering grumble. "So much for those plans. I gotta get myself back together again, before I even worry about all that."

Pivoting on top of the bed, Bach sides to the edge and places his feet on the floor. He laughs to himself and wrestles a frustrated wince. "Yeah, you're not the only one with plans that got wrecked."

Sebastian's visage floats around in front of Bach, and he narrows his concern. "Hey, bro... I've been a real dick in pulling you into all this mess as hastily as I did. I promise to work with you and make things right and all-"

Bach waves his hand up and halts Sebastian midway. "Whoa! Hold up... Let me finish, man."

While Sebastian hovers nearby in curious anticipation, Bach draws in a deep breath and concentrates on his words. "I hoped that you would have defeated Lord Noxian. Because after all the fanfare was over and your group resumed normal, simple adventuring... I was going to ask if you'd let me join up."

Sebastian yanks his head back in sheer surprise and shudders at the full realization. "R-r-really?! I thought you didn't want to do the whole adventuring thing? Not risking your life and all that?"

Exaggeratedly shaking his head side to side, Bach groans. "No. No. No. That was just some bullshit I spun to hide the real problem. You know that encounter with the Nightmare Geist?"

Nodding his head slowly, Sebastian furrows an inquisitive brow. "Yeah."

Bach sniffs in a long breath and sighs. "It left me a lame mage... I... I just... I just couldn't tell people that, especially not mom and dad."

A distant glare at some point beyond the room masks Bach's face. Tears run down when he closes his eyes. Sebastian reaches out for Bach's shoulder, watches his hand through, and musters up all his encouragement into his voice. "Well... That's obviously changed... Which is fucking awesome!"

Bach dons a determined grin and chuckles. "Yeah. Something has changed. Gods, it took me over five fucking years to figure it out. But, I think I got a way, again. I just wanted to join you when I at least had it working decently enough, first. No sense in just being dead weight when you all were in the midst of chasing Noxian around."

Sebastian shines brightly with an ear to ear smile. "Bro, I think you're more than decent enough right now. Hopefully, Aristespha finds a good local job soon, and we'll get you on your first real quest. It'll be good experience, and I'm sure you'll figure it all out soon enough."

Bach rubs the back of his neck and contorts an unsure expression on his light than face. "Uh, you think I'm ready? It's only been a week of training and-"

Laying back and drifting in the air, Sebastian laughs and waves off the concerns. "Ah, bro... Don't worry. Simple task. Nothing too fancy. I looked over Aristespha's shoulder when she was browsing the job listings. There's a bunch of ruins in the area the county needs adventurers to check up on to make sure nothing moved in, or awoken there the last few years. Usually, you go out there admire the architecture, take a few pictures to confirm nothing has changed, and then go home for the day."

Bach tilts forward off the bed and nods. "Yeah... That sounds good."

He cracks an eager smile and snatches his boots over to him with a swing of his arm towards the floor. "And, you know, you're right. It's a nice day, I should at least take a walk outside. Go see what everyone is up to."

Sebastian floats off towards the bedroom door and glances over to Bach. "Speaking of which, I'm going to go see what Aristespha and Sotalia are up to. They've been studying magic articles all morning and talking about a light orb spell or something?"

Kneeling next to the steel plate in the side yard of the ranch style house, Dretphi inspects the frame holding the target at an angle. Cideeda reaches into her tool bag's front zipper pocket and retrieves a micrometer caliper. Examining the hole straight through the steel, she furrows the brow on her light brown face and picks at the charred edges with a curious claw tip. She measures with the caliper, narrows her emerald green eyed gaze, plops to a seat on the ground with legs stretched out and flick of her furry tail. "What put a twenty five millimeter wide hole through thirty millimeters of steel armor plate?!"

Dretphi investigates the outer rim of the hole and feels the surface of the metal. "Not a kinetic projectile. This was melted."

Groaning contemplatively, Cideeda lays back in the grass and huffs with a twitch of her furry ear. "It couldn't have been magic, at least not any magic we use. Aristespha doesn't care much for those types of spells. And Sotalia wouldn't be able to put that clean and round of a hole into the thing. There would just be a molten pile of slag and a small forest fire."

She throws out her arms to the air with her upper body and motions to the target. "I mean, this looks like the work of an anti-armor plasma cannon."

A familiar voice sounds out nearby Cideeda and Dretphi. "Well, I kind of modeled the spell after one."

Cideeda's tail twitches, her ears flick, and she glances back to see Bach standing behind her. Twisting and twirling herself up in an agile display, she hop ups and stands in front of Bach. Crossing her arms, she aims an inquisitive gaze up to Bach and flexes her toes claws into the dirt. "Really? Now... Mind you, I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed I wasn't here to see it happen. That had to be quite a bit of power."

Tapping the steel plate to a faint resonate ring, Dretphi stares curiously at Bach with traces of disbelief. "One of your spells did this?"

Bach slouches as the embarrassment and hangs his head with guilt. "Yeah. Sorry about the plate. I got a little carried away yesterday showing off. Sebastian and I got caught up in talking about past stuff we've done and some of the old spells I know..."

Cideeda glances over at the plate and snorts with a dismissive, toothy grin. "Ha! Don't worry about it. The plate was doomed the day I bought it from the scrapyard. Dretphi and I are going to sight her anti-armor rifle with a new scope we picked up some time ago today. There's a few targets around I set up at different distances, down safe fire lines."

Dretphi points over a heavy frame off the side nearby, similar to the one suspending the metal plate. "We use paper targets in front. Hang the plate at an angle behind so the rounds bounce into the dirt."

An embarrassed grimace grips Bach, and he walks over to the metal plate. "Ah. Shit. Um, let me fix that, then. Don't want any bad ricochets off that hole."

As she stands up to her full imposing height, Dretphi smiles and calmly waves off Bach's concerns. "It is okay. That hole should not cau-"

With a perk of her furry ears, Cideeda raises up a clawed finger towards Dretphi and flashes a sly, toothy grin to her with a wink. "Let him fix it, since he did offer. I'd like to see this."

Bach eases down to his knees in front of the steel plate. Glancing over the area, he picks up one of the larger chunks of steel slag poking out of the short grass behind the target. A blue glow flows into his eyes. With a flick of the wrist, the large chunk floats out from Bach's hand and hovers steadily. He guides the chunk near the ground and sweeps around near the steel plate. Small specks and bits of steel pop out of the grass and tumbles upon dirt to join the chunk. The collection of metal merges into a larger mass. Eventually, the sounds of scrap impacting the collection silence. Bach opens his free hand near the hole in the plate and closes his eyes. The metal around the hole morphs slowly. The entry and exit edges warp flush with the rest of the plate as the interior of the hole smooths. Bach opens his glowing blue eyes and concentrates his stare upon the hovering, steel fragment collection. An orange-red glow brightens within the gaps of the bits, and the mass melts into a fluid ball. Directing the molten orb into the hole in the plate, Bach guides ooze into the gap. A smooth plug forms and cools seamlessly to the edges. The heated glow radiates out from the middle of the plug to the outer edges, briefly glowing brighter before fading completely.

Waiting a few moments to collect himself, Bah wipes the sweat off his forehead and releases a worn breath. He stretches his legs out from underneath and sits down on the grass. "That should do it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find every little bit I blasted out, so there's an indentation on the back of the plate. Got most of it though..."

Blinking blank as his words wane to confused silence, Bach eyes Dretphi and Cideeda to either side of him. Both Cideeda and Dretphi stare at the plate in awe. Bouncing a gaze to either side, he settles his attention forward. A large hand rests on Bach's shoulder, and Dretphi leans in with an enthusiastic smile. "Your training now includes armor repair work."

Another smaller, clawed hand lightly grips Bach's other shoulder. Cideeda's sly, toothy grin widens, and an eager spark lights up her emerald eyes. "You are going to save this team so much money on repairs and replacement parts. I hope you are prepared to make a lot of money by fixing up and modding all the extra gear we pick up for sale."

Bach closes his eyes, grimaces uncertainly, groans with begrudging acceptance. Dretphi pats his shoulder and smiles comfortingly. "Do not feel bad. Your value to the team grows. More you can contribute to our efforts."

Grumbling to an annoyed wince, Bach lowers his head and sighs. "Yeah... Sure... As a magical multi-tool."

Cideeda playfully squeezes Bach's shoulder and chuckles with a wag of her tail. "Hey! That's not a bad thing to be. You don't see those other two mages pulling shit like this off. Anyway, we'll make it worth your while. You want to shoot guns with us?"

Bach rocks his head side to side in deliberation. After a few quiet moments, a humored smirk cracks out the corner of his mouth, and he quickly nods. "Yes. Yes, I want to shoot guns. That sounds fun."

Cideeda springs up eagerly with a hop to her step. Dretphi rises up and offers an assisting hand to Bach. After getting pulled up, Bach joins Cideeda and Dretphi as the group sort through ranged weaponry.

Leaping over the couch arm, Sotalia vaults onto the nearest cushion. Searching under the random things on the coffee table in the living area, she snatches up the remote and flips through channels on the TV. "Gods, dammit... Hey! What station is it around here?!"

Cideeda leans on the dinner table scrolling through a holographic schedule listing from the holoplayer and directs her voice over. "Channel three dash ten!"

Squinting at the numbers appearing on the screen, Sotalia presses the right sequence. Dretphi scoots over behind the coffee table and settles on the middle cushion. Placing a large bowl of popcorn on the tabletop, she scoops a handful for herself. Brushing off some fuzz on her casual clothes, Aristespha glides into the nearby reclining chair and pulls it back, releasing the footrest. Cideeda scrambles into the remaining spot on the couch and eager stares at the display across the group on the wall. Bach wanders into the area, pans a gazes over everyone, and cocks his head. "Okay... What's going on here?"

Cideeda sweeps up a handful of popcorn and explains to Bach in between bites. "The two hour premiere for the... New season of the Next Adventurers of Nexus is on tonight!"

Sliding over a chair over from the dining table, Bach sets up next the couch and furrows his brow curiously. "Huh. I've heard of the show before. I've caught it a few times on bar TVs. I'm kind of surprised you all watch it."

Propping her socked feet onto the coffee table, Sotalia stretches her arms back and sinks into the couch. "Gods, it's a total shitshow. But, we can't help but to watch the trainwreck each season. It's one of those guilty pleasures and all. I wonder what incompetent mage they got this time around."

Phasing through the wall above the couch, Sebastian glances around eagerly between the group. "Hey! Did I miss anything?"

Aristespha shakes her head and spreads out a blanket over her. "No, Sebastian. They just got done with the introduction. They haven't even announced the new party."

Bach leans back in his chair expectantly with an apprehensive perk of the brow. The entire gathering quiets down when the announcer on the television screen goes into his routine.

"Welcome everyone to the new season of the Next Adventurers of Nexus! We have an amazingly diverse party to follow this season! Without further ado, let's get to know our Adventurers! Hailing fresh out of school from High Alton, Chad Bosch!"

The show cuts to a montage of pre-recorded segments of all this season's cast with extensive editing and special effects. The other visual bits fade away until it zooms on a brightly smiling muscular human with well kept, short brown hair.

"Hello, people. I'm the heroic, all mighty leader of the Flames of the Phoenix adventuring group. Let us fight your fires with our fire!"

Struggling to contain herself, Sotalia snorts out in a cackle. Aristespha visibly cringes with a grimacing eye roll and averts her violet gaze. Snickering with a sharp grin, Cideeda shakes her head and combs the fur on her fluffy multi-color tail. Dretphi simply groans into a sigh. Sebastian glances over to Bach and points at the TV. "So... This is why we don't have a team name. Period. I used to want one. Then, I saw one episode of this. Now, I'm just happy to have the registration number only."

"A choice slogan for sure there! Next on the roster is Tassilda Evernia, the Emin enchantress!"

The show cuts to a shapely, voluptuous woman with long raven hair, swirling horns, and piercing blue on black eyes. She tosses her hair back over the shoulder with her black nailed fingers and reveals more gray, patterned skin under her form fitting robes. "No one can escape my charms... And my spells."

Aristespha incredulously quirks a brow and cocks her head to the side. Sotalia disapprovingly contorts her face and narrows a glare at the screen. "Gods... That one is just trouble. I can feel the sheer bitchy through the screen."

"Magic we have! But, what's a party without some muscle? Here to lead the charge into battle is Trakenthin Stakken Olig Brecomin, the Grath warrior!"

The camera starts at the midsection of a large Grath man and tilts up to his face. He maintains a deadpan, stoic expression on his dark bronze face and stares unmoved at the camera. After a long drawn out silence, a single, loud grunt sounds out from him, and he glares at the camera as it backs away. Dretphi pinches the bridge of nose as flits of aggravation trickle out onto her tan face. Flashing an ireful glare at the screen, she twists her head side to side, works her irritated tension, and tosses her platinum blonde braids. "Our native language contains more words than other languages. A palette of diction at his disposal. He... Grunts."

Sotalia and Cideeda pat Dretphi on the arm and playfully sooth her frustrations.

"Truly, a stunning, poignant statement... Next on the list is the infiltration specialist, a mysterious Evuukian, Modoran Lotherin!"

A nicely dressed Evuukian man steals the scene. He stands prominently, his dusky bluish gray skin contrasting his white hair. Brushing back his locks from his face, he reveals his long, pointy ears and smirks smugly with a nonchalant posture. "I've put my abilities towards the greater good, in spite of my Dark Evuukian heritage."

With sharp wince and eye twitch, Aristespha reflexively blurts out. "Oh, bullshit!"

She crosses her arms under the blanket and tilts her head back, swelling with indignation and contempt. "It's bullshit! There hasn't been a Dark Evuukian in Nexus since the last cataclysm! Gods damned children these days... Just because you have dark skin does NOT mean you have ANY ancestry to those raving, back-stabbing, psychopathic head cases! It is a complete misnomer from a bad translation into Americ!"

Listening attentively to the grumbling stream of Evuukian curses under Aristespha breath, Sotalia snickers with an amused smirk. "Oh, girl. Tell us how you really feel, why don't you?"

Aristespha squirms back into the couch chair and shakes her head with a disgusted roll of her violet eyes.

"An enthralling back story, I'm certain... Finally! The last in the pack, but the one who you want to watch your back, the Fvalian healer, Deedri Preetta!"

Blinking in sheer disbelief at the screen, Cideeda gawks with her jaw hanging open. "Is... Is... Is that bitch wearing a bell around her neck? Someone else is seeing this, right?!"

The TV shows a very excited and young Fvalian woman with auburn eyes hopping around energetically, waving to the camera. She neatens up an extravagant top matching her long skirt. Light from overhead glints off of medical magic script decorating her attire. Rings sound out from the bell necklace around her neck. She holds out a peace sign briefly and gestures her hands up in cat-like gestures. "Meow! I hope they never need me, but I'll always be here to patch everyone up in no time!"

Watching Cideeda flop back into the couch cushions, Bach waits for pause in her grumbles and inquires with a light tone. "So, uh, how many years did that set back the perceptions of Fvalians?"

With an annoyed hiss, Cideeda rolls her eyes and speaks through gritted teeth. "About fifty, if she doesn't keep the damned stupid cat routine up."

"For this season to mix things up, we've decided to set our adventurers out in new territory! Let's see how their first day went..."

The show fade cuts to a discussion between party members on their drive down the highway. The camera focuses on a grand roadside sign, and an odd silence presses down upon the room when the fanciful "Amaranth Valley" script into clear focus on the screen. Bach glances around to the stunned looks and furrows his brow in thought. Reading the sign, he cracks a mean smirk and glances at Sebastian. "So... I'm guessing this is a sign I missed, because I was asleep when we all drove through?"

With an awkward smile, Sebastian uncomfortably nods. "Yep. That's the big town we're technically in the city limits of."

Bach returns to watching the TV. Flashes of indecision and uncertainty play out on his face, and his attention wanders between his thoughts and the drama flare ups on the show.