Episode 5

A split unit air conditioner in the two bed hotel room hums up to speed as the vent blades slowly open. Seconds later the electronic door room beeps loudly and disengages with a solid thunk. The door swings open, and Samantha rushes in with Gerald following immediately behind her. Gerald hurries over to a desk near the large room window, places his camera down, and flips up a laptop screen. As the device springs to life, he eagerly connects the camera to the computer. Throwing herself onto one of the beds, Samantha pulls herself to the edge and fishes a laptop out of a carrier bag with an excited grin. "I can't fucking believe it! Howie is going to love this! When you get the video downloaded, send it straight to his aethermail."

Gerald swiftly slips into the chair near the desk and concentrates his full attention to the screen. "Will do! Howard is going to flip when he see this in his mail tomorrow."

A wicked smile emerges on Samantha's face, and she toggles the speakerphone on her aetherphone. "Tomorrow?! Oh, he's seeing this tonight!"

Blinking from a flit of shock, Gerald halts mid key presses and spins his head to face Samantha. "Are you sure about that? It's pretty late his time where he's at right now. And... Last time we called him late... It wasn't with good news."

Samantha places the phone next to her, taps the screen, and situates herself on the bed with a smug perk of her posture. "Oh, he'll be fine once he sees the video."

The phone rings, rings again, and again. After a few more chimes, the device clicks loudly as sounds of ambient quiet from the other side of the call filter out. A loud cough, a phlegm choked growl, and begrudging groan blasts out from the speaker. "Oh gods... Who the fuck is it at this hour?"

With her sweetest and most innocent voice, Samantha cheerful chimes. "It's me, Howie!"

A long pause hangs in the room. A long strained sigh breathes out from the other side of the connection and the voice dreadfully pleads. "Dear gods... Please tell me one of the lemmings hasn't gotten themselves killed already-"

Samantha squirms annoyed and blurts out with tinges of disappointment. "NO! They're all alive. Check your mail, Howie."

The phone resonates with the sounds of Howard stirring around on his side of the world. Grumbling to himself, he directs his frustration over the phone. "GERALD. Are you there?"

Gerald cringes, pauses from his work on the laptop, and chuckles uneasily. "Yes. I'm here. And I warned her!"

Sounds of movement stop, and Howard sniffs up groggy congestion and sighs long. "Okay, I'm opening it. I swear this had better be good. I'm coming down from a night I may not remember in the morning, and my head is pounding. If this isn't good, I'm booking you two rooms at the roach motel the new team are-"

The sudden drop into silence steals the attention of Gerald and Samantha. Loud gasps from the phone interrupt the glances Samantha and Gerald exchange. Gleeful cackles prompt Samantha and Gerald to curl celebratory fists to each other with growing smiles. A pleasureful moan rolls in from the phone. "Oh... Oh my. This... THIS is why I keep you two around. You two can find the speck of pure gold in a sea of shit."

Samantha lowers her head to her phone with an inquiring curl at the corner of her mouth. "So... How should we proceed?"

A few hums and clicks of the mouth play over the speaker before settling, and Howard drawls in a contemplative breath. "You two keep on task. I'll mail over a copy of the mission our adventurers are going on at the start of the work week. It's just some simple survey of some musty old ruins. There's a few on the list they had, so I got the one closest to town. I'm going to pound down two aspirin and a liter of water, and sleep some happy dreams thanks to you two. I'm going to call in a few favors from certain people who didn't realize they owed me. Then... We'll go from there."

With a sly smile, Samantha sinks into her pile of hotel bed pillows. "Will do. Oh, and they've already had some encounters with each other."

Howard's anticipation exudes from the speaker. "Oh? Do tell."

A fully evil grin overtakes Samantha's face. "Deedri held up Aristespha. I swear Aristespha was about to draw the sword. And, Trakenthin flirted with Dretphi... and got shut down."

Howard releases a satisfied breath and chuckles darkly. "Oh my, dear. If you talk any dirtier to me, I might need to start paying per minute."

Samantha laughs and reaches over to her phone. "Then, I guess I need to let you off. If we get any more goodies, we'll let you know."

Gerald directs his voice towards Samantha's phone. "Hey, Howard. You wouldn't happen to know who the new guy is in the group? I've never seen him before."

Samantha nods in confirmation to Gerald and waits for Howard's response. After a very long stretch of silence, a whisper of genuine surprise finds its way over. "Oh my. That has to be Sebastian's brother! Bach Warwick. I remember seeing his name mentioned in some material about Sebastian. Oh, I am interested now... What is he doing around with them now?"

A collection of documents litter the dining in the living area of the house with a few tables and a holoplayer in the mix. Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sotalia debate between each other and shift their attention between different quest information packets. Bach sits back in his seat, occasionally glancing towards his brother curiously. A faint reverberating sigh slips out from Sebastian, and he grants an understanding nod to Bach. After some time, he manages an ethereal whistle and grabs everyone's attention. "Okay... So, I think we're all in agreement that we'd all like to slum it a bit with a whole bunch of easy jobs. Correct?"

Throwing her head of dark red hair back, Sotalia lifts an eyebrow and huffs. "Yes! Just some straight forward gigs for once. Preferably anything that a good fireball could fix. I'm starting to feel out of practice?"

Bach momentarily furrows his brow and narrows an incredulous stare. Cideeda stretches her arms out across the table and rests her head on the tabletop with flicks of her furry ears. "That would be nice. Though, I still like mine. It's not everyday a local government gives free reign to crack open an old military installation. Just think of what we could find..."

A toothy grin graces her light brown face, and a greedy spark glints in her emerald green eyes. "That really wouldn't be worth reporting to the government officials.

Dretphi nods with both her hands propping her head up above the table and stares inwards contemplatively. "I am interested in that job. Not now. Later. We need a simple, safe job now."

Uncrossing her arms, Aristespha shrugs her shoulders and idly with her silvery blue hair. "I'll admit that after all we have been through, a few easy jobs would be nice. BUT... We will need to start thinking about looking for signs of Noxian after this."

Sotalia, Cideeda, and Dretphi nod in agreement, while Sebastian ponders quietly and Bach remains uncomfortable in his seat. Sotalia swings her attention to Sebastian and narrows her golden eyes in anticipation. "So, what's the plan?"

Sebastian points to three packets and motions for Dretphi and Cideeda to group them together in the middle of the table. "Well, these three seem simple and straight-forward. Since this will be Bach's first mission, I think he should choose."

Startling back to the awareness, Bach glances around at the situation around him and uneasily notices the attention upon him. He leans forward slowly and pulls the three stacks of paper closer. Reading over the summary texts, he furrows his brow as memory flips back to the recent. After deliberation and swapping between the packets, he summons up a bit of confidence and places down his choice in front of his brother. "I think I like this one best."

Sebastian's ethereal form leans closer to the document, and he nods with a intrigued smirk. "So, tell us, why that one?"

Bach sits up straight in surprise. Sorting through a flurry of thoughts, he draws in a deep breath and ponders out loud. "Um... Well... It's a survey job. The place is an abandoned outpost for a long dead government. It was last reported inactive. All the job says is they want a group to go out and make sure it still is inactive. If all goes well, we tour a piece of history, take some pictures, and go home without any trouble. Also... If this one isn't too much trouble, it looks like they've got a few similar places that need surveying, too."

Sebastian surveys the rest of the team's reactions and gauges their expressions. When agreement manifests upon Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia's faces, Sebastian crosses his arms and smiles proudly. "Alright. If there's no objections, let's do it. We'll see how this one goes and pick the next one from there."

Reaching over the table from her seat, Aristespha plucks up the job and keys identification numbers into her tablet. "I'll send our bid in. I should get confirmation sometime tonight, and we'll set off tomorrow morning."

Sebastian drifts down and gazes at Bach with a grin. "How does it feel choosing your first mission, bro?"

Bach blinks with his thoughts, breathes deeply, and groans uncertainly. "I don't know. Excited and worried? I don't know which is winning out right now."

With an understanding nod, Sebastian throws his hands to the sides with a shrug. "That's par for the course. It means you're keeping all possibilities in mind."

Tipping her head back, Sotalia laughs while guiding stray bangs over her horns and slyly grins. "Oh, don't worry... If the mission is a bust, we'll just blame you."

Cideeda furrows her brow at Sotalia from across the table and tilts her head into a hand with a smug smile. "Yes. And, we'll always remind you just when you think everyone has forgotten about it. Right, Sotalia?"

Averting her eyes away from the group briefly, Sotalia narrows her golden eyed stare and briefly sneers into a defiant grimace. "Gods damn it, girl... ONE time. Just one time. None of you will let me live it down."

A low grumble emanates from Dretphi, and her attention goes into the internal distance with uncomfortable memory. "Dried slime in my hair... WEEKS... Afterwards."

Bach scans around the group and furrows a curious gaze at Sebastian. "Um, do I want to ask? Or should I leave that one alone?"

Sebastian chuckles with a few snorts and rubs the back of neck as his bravado fades. "Oh... THAT... Uh, that was NOT one of our finer missions. Admittedly, there were moments. Funny moments to remember... Now."

Aristespha cringes with a shudder down her spine and shakes her head side to side as memories surface back up. "Gods... We went to check out an unexplored ruin for a newly formed county, since the ruin was in their land grant from the state. The only history we could find was that a very strange mage from the second era lived around there. A VERY strange mage indeed..."

Sotalia groans with traces of disgust surfacing and raps her long, black fingernails upon a paperwork packet as her discomfort simmers. "It turned out that mage had some crazy idea to find a commercial purpose for this breed of ooze he found on some trip. It was a herbivore slime that was harmless."

Narrowing her emerald eyes with a stubborn muscle twitch forming, Cideeda grimaces and squirms in her chair with irritated wags of her tail. "Harmless, physically. Mentally, on the other hand..."

Bach wanders his expectant gaze between the team, pausing with hopes of new information. Dretphi meets Bach's attention, closes her steely gray eyes, and monotonously speaks. "They spit slime. Excessive amounts. EVERYWHERE."

Aristespha sinks back into her chair with a slight frown on her ivory face and sighs as she crosses her arms. "That was such a nice top and matching skirt. It was such a shame what happened to it."

Sotalia nods somberly to Aristespha. "Girl, I know. It really looked good on you. But, there was just no saving it."

She glances over to Dretphi. Both shake their heads in unison, and Dretphi grits her teeth briefly and sighs. "I am skilled. Not that skilled."

Sebastian draws a breath in and grins sinisterly. "But, destroying that spawning pool and the lab was fun though."

Sotalia giggles evilly and flexes her hand in spell casting motions. "Oh gods, we were on our WORST behavior. I fried SO MANY of those little snot ball shits. We absolutely wrecked that place."

Glancing at the near devious and manic shift around the table, Bach witnesses the displays of satisfaction and vindication around. Aristespha breaks away from her reminiscing. "You will have to understand that while it was certainly destructive and immensely cathartic, it was within mission parameters. The slimes were an invasive species and would need to be destroyed. And despite filing it to the Grand Library, that mage's notes read worse than a fetish fanfiction."

Dretphi gazes forward, wrestling down an unamused grimace. "Initially, our actions may have not been appropriately justified. After an hour with the garden hose... In the fall... Before we were allowed into the hotel to shower... Believe our response was MERCIFUL."

With excited wags of her long tail, Cideeda snickers loudly and rocks back into her chair. "Oh gods! You should have seen the front desk clerk. That was a brave man to stand up to us and tell us we had to wash ourselves off before going any further."

Aristespha smirks, rolls her violet eyes, and sighs dismissively. "To be fair, they did just get new carpet in the rooms and hallways when we were there. I certainly would not want to explain the mess to my boss, if I were him."

Crossing her arms, Sotalia narrows her golden eyes and snorts. "Girl, that was probably the best job that guy had going for him in that town. So, I can't fault him for wanting to keep it."

Shaking his head with the memories, Sebastian floats away from the table and addresses everyone. "Okay... Well, lets get everything filed and get ready. We'll head on out early tomorrow and see if we can find a good place for breakfast."

The humvee rolls into a parking space behind a large diner, and the powerplant winds down. Cideeda hops out, adjusts the tactical vest over her body suit, and places her keys in a pocket of her cargo shorts. Stepping down, Sotalia ruffles through her armored cloak, unfastens her belt pouches, and places them on her seat before closing the door. Confidently exiting the vehicle, Aristespha brushes off her long sleeved top and pants combination, taps her boots of debris, and cinches the strap to the scabbard of The Sword on her side. Bach steps out and gazes around the area. A gust of wind fans his duster and blows his longer hair around. Grinning as the fluttering duster dramatically reveals the rest of his armored attire, Bach stands tall as a swell confidence washes over him. Sotalia rolls her eyes with a smile and walks towards the front door quietly snickering. Dretphi works her way through the aisle of the humvee and squeezes behind a pulled up seat to get outside. Her tall stature imposes with the dark gray soft armor plating layering her body. The group gathers back up and ventures to the front door of the diner. Bach calls ahead towards Cideeda. "So, I guess it's easier parking in the back?"

Flicking her furry ear back, Cideeda glances over her shoulder. "That, and it keeps us from tipping people off. I try to park away from the windows."

Sotalia pulls open the front door to the building and pivots to face Bach while holding the door open. "Gods, we were having the WORST luck capturing bounties when we got the humvee. Then, it finally dawned on us that even an old humvee was just suspicious enough to make people on the run nervous."

Rolling her emerald green eyes, Cideeda steps through the doorway with a wry smirk. "I don't know. I always thought the old battered work van we had was scarier than an antique military vehicle. That's just me, I guess."

Aristespha strides in front of the group to the restaurant host and greets him with a calm smile. The host perks up and surveys the group while hovering a stylus over a podium mounted tablet. "Hello! Welcome to the Amaranth Dining House, we are currently serving breakfast! Seating for five?"

Nodding in agreement, Aristespha pats on the handle of the sword at her side. "Yes, a table please, if possible. Also, is there any issue with this?"

The host glances down to the sword and shakes his head nonchalantly. "Oh, none at all. All we ask is that melee weapons remain sheathed and locked. Any large firearms will need to be unloaded and placed into these lockers over there. Finally, we kindly request no casting of powerful or dangerous spells on the premises."

As the rest of the team approve of the rules, Bach relaxes his shoulders and tilts his head curiously to the side. "Huh, wow. That's a pretty permissive policy."

The host sweeps a stack of menus, taps commands on the podium tablet, and motions the party to follow him. "Well, here at the Amaranth Dining House, we like to accommodate adventurers, mercenaries, and specialists that often operate out of our city. In fact, we even have seating geared for such groups to make it easier to enjoy your dining experience!"

Bach chuckles lightly and glances around the busy restaurant, as the group weaves through the walkways between seating sections. "Ah. Probably to keep from scaring the locals?"

The host glances back, quirks a brow, and smiles amused. "Well, actually, it's quite the opposite. There's a yearly adventuring convention at a center nearby, and the attendees have an annoying habit of bothering our adventuring patrons. So, if ever we ask for guild registration cards, that's because the convention is happening and we want to make sure you all can dine in peace."

The party enters an area with larger tables, wider gaps separating the tables, and reinforced steel chairs with extra cushioning. The host surveys the area and visually checks the two other groups dining already. A dozen of specialist military personnel from the Greater Azure Alliance converse between two tables, and a small team of three people with the markings of Borderland Rangers idle with fresh coffee between them. Directing the party to a table, the host distributes menus and bows politely. "Your server will be with you shortly. I hope you enjoy your time here."

Everyone slides the sturdy steel chairs and sits down to browse the menus. Dretphi quirks an intrigued eyebrow and twists her mouth uncertainly. "Grath style steak, eggs. Interesting. Shall see how Grath that is."

Sotalia points to a spot on the menu and squints her golden eyes down the list. "Yeah, I saw that. I think I'm going to play it safe with the pancakes, bacon, and eggs platter."

Placing the menu down, Bach nods and straightens his posture. "Think I'll have to do the Grand Tour."

Cideeda licks her lips, agrees with herself, and passes the menu down to the forming pile. "Fruit, yogurt, and juice for me."

Perplexed at Cideeda, Bach furrows his brow and cocks his head. "That's all?"

Lifting an eyebrow, Cideeda cracks a smirk and motions to herself. "I have a figure to maintain if I'm to fit in half the ducts I crawl into in most of these ruins. That..."

She bounces her emerald green stare between Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia with a wry curl to her grimace. "And, I don't have the convenience of being able to nuke calories like you mages."

With a perk of her furry ears, she taps a claw tip upon a colorful picture on the front of the menu. "Also... I think I'm going to get a dozen of those honey buns to go. I'm going to need a little something later if we're digging around ruins."

A server arrives at the table with a tray of mugs and a glass pot of coffee. After delivering the precious cargo to the table, she stands by ready to take orders and sweeps gaze over. "Hello, I'm Kimberly and I'll be your server. Are you all ready to order?"

Aristespha lifts a finger up to catch Kimberly's attention, points to a section of the menu, and smiles politely. "Yes. I'll have the sausage and bacon platter. And if at all possible, could they cook the toast on the grill after they fry the bacon?

Kimberly jots down the request and nods with a smile. "I'm certain our cooks can manage that."

She cycles around the table while writing down orders and leaves towards the kitchen. Pausing to talk to the manager, Kimberly and the manager both watch vans pull into the parking lot with the "Next Adventurers of Nexus" logo prominent on their sides. Samantha exits out of one of the vans and walks to the back. Gerald hops out and steps to Samantha as she opens the back doors to the equipment. He hoists up a large television camera onto his shoulder and eyes Samantha curiously. "Okay, so what's the plan here?"

Samantha flips through her clipboard, furrows her brow as her hazel sort through the maze of notes, and takes a deep breath in. "Okay... The kids will get here in the next few minutes. We'll run them through some video journal bits and get them in there. If you could, can you record some scenery bits? The editors will need some B rolls to lead from and pad with."

Gerald nods and takes a quick survey of the area. "I think I'll get the sign and go from there. You going to confirm with the manager here?"

Samantha sighs, flips over another mass of paperwork, and pats around her pocketed vest. "Yes. I'll need to get them prepared and make sure all the arrangements are still good. Plus, I need to make sure they've signed all the waivers."

Inside the reserved section, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia begin to eat their orders of food. Dretphi chews on her steak and furrows her brow uncertainly. Taking a break from his meal, Bach gazes over and judges Dretphi's reaction. "So, are the steak and eggs really Grath style?"

Dretphi swallows and balances her opinion into indifference on her tan face. "They are not bad. Do not have a proper stone slab grill. Competent despite limitations."

Aristespha devours her bacon with ravenous satisfaction, pausing only to answer the stare from Sotalia. "What? It's been months since I've been able to enjoy some greasy breakfast food. Medical magic takes energy, anyway..."

Sotalia snickers, holds her hand up placatingly, and returns her plate. "Girl, however you want to justify it is fine with me."

Cideeda's furry ear flicks repeatedly. Blinking to awareness, she perks her ears towards a source. She pops her head up and searches distantly towards the entry lobby. With a wincing cheek, she grimaces and faces the rest of the team. "Shit..."

Bach and Sotalia twist in their chairs. Dretphi focuses her gaze and frowns. Aristespha lifts her head up and angrily bites a breakfast sausage in half. Sebastian's voice echoes faintly from the sword. "Um... I'm obviously missing something here. Anyone want to fill me in? I can't see much inside the sword."

Bach settles back in his seat and directs his voice towards the sword. "Uh, the Next Pains of Nexus wants breakfast, too."

Within the small group of Borderland Rangers, a man briefly aims a steely glare over to the entry point. He grumbles and returns to his meal, shaking his head. "If you see our server, flag him down, Heccaeh."

The fvalian man nods, takes a moment to scan the area, and then resumes eating. As the sword at Aristespha shifts with her stiffening posture, Sebastian's ethereal tone rises up. "Dear, just enjoy your meal. We'll leave before they get too stupid."

Aristespha grumbles lowly in nearly silent Evuukian between bites. Dretphi glances over to Aristespha with an amused, tight smile and rolls her steely gray eyes. Cideeda resumes eating and flashes a disdainful glare at Deedri. Bach returns his attention to his plate. He stares in confusion as his fork hovers over an empty spot. Sotalia quickly sneaks in a piece of bacon between her lips and into her mouth. Straightening up, she aims the fork back to her own plate and nonchalantly continues her meal. A flurry of activity erupts a few tables down, and recording crews search for positions near their desired shots. The Next Adventurers of Nexus stride prominently to their table in the adventurers section. Chad Bosch leads the pack and stops in front of the Greater Azure Alliance specialists. "It's always good to check the local places to see what other adventurers and heroes are in town. Such as our men and women in uniform."

The specialists cheer roughly together in a halfhearted display. Chad continues down the path with a bright smile. Stopping beside Sotalia and Aristespha at the end of the table, he perks his brow with a pleasant tone. "Why hello fellow-"

Examining the group quickly, his posture stiffens, and he contorts the corner of smile. "Diverse adventurers. What brings all of you to this fair town?"

Aristespha takes a breath in and molds her posture to project an air of propriety and superiority. "Oh. Nothing significant. Just simple tasks and chores, and other bores to fine adventurers like yourselves. Hopefully, we will be moving on to other quests soon enough."

Sotalia's golden eyes size Tassilda up. Noticing the attention, Tassilda smugly judges Sotalia with a light blue on black glare. Donning a stoic exterior, Dretphi remains silent and steers her stare clear of Trakenthin. Deedri happily and excitedly waves to Cideeda, and the bell around her neck rings with the motion. Cideeda weakly waves back, and her halfhearted smile barely hangs on against the awkwardness. Bach eats slowly and sinks slightly down to avoid attention. Nodding at Aristespha, Chad's brown eyes analyze each member, and he pauses his survey upon Bach. "My knowledge of adventuring allows me to figure out everyone here... Except you..."

Carefully turning his head, Bach meets the examining gaze from Chad and uneasily glances around. "Um... Intern. You know, just learning the ropes. I'm picking up my schooling where I left off a while ago. Figured I'd try to complete it."

Chad's expression flashes back his iconic, non-threatening smile. "Ah! It's good for a group to take on someone and help them on their journey. It was good to meet all of you, but we must be off."

Trailing behind the host, the Next Adventurers move to the final table before their own. When the Borderland Rangers get their ticket from the server rushing off, they stand up into the aisle. As the leader just manages to get his wide brimmed, pinched-front hat on, he pivots towards the exit and meets Chad. Extending a hand to shake, Chad grins proudly and nods towards the man. "I'm Chad Bosch, Leader of the Flames of the Phoenix adventuring group. Pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir!"

The Borderland Ranger leader squares his shoulders as muffled sounds of cybernetics actuate. He reaches with his right hand into his jacket pocket and hands a roll of cash and the bill to Heccaeh. "You two go pay up and wait in the truck. I'll be out soon."

Heccaeh and another woman ranger deftly weave through the crowd of adventurers and crew. The leader fixes his cold, steely eyes directly at Chad. Crossing his arms, he taps upon his right arm with a cybernetic left hand. "Captain Hays of the Borderland Rangers. Acquaintance made. Any business with me you need to discuss?"

Chad bolsters his bravado and attempts an equivalent stare back at Captain Hays. "Maybe. Any news?"

A dry corner smile cracks, and Captain Hays bows his head slightly as his hat shades his sun weathered face. "Well... Hauled what was left of some group of would-be adventurers after a supposed geist had its way with them. Thinking about it... You all look real similar to them."

The harsh silence weighs down upon the area with the epicenter between Hays and Chad. As the seconds pass, Chad struggles against his growing unease as his body fights to squirm. Captain Hays's smile widens to a thin grin across his scarred cheeks, nearly touching both gray sideburns. "Do us all a favor, and keep out of the zones for... a while."

Nodding slowly, Chad drags his iconic smile back onto his face and stumbles to finish up the conversation. "I'll... take that as advice, sir. You have a... nice day."

The Next Adventurers shuffle over to their table, and the camera crew surrounds them afterwards. Captain Hays shakes his head at the spectacle, and pivots away down the aisle. When his view changes, he stares at Aristespha, Dretphi, Cideeda, and Sotalia with recognition. Halting next to the party's table, he tips his hat and gazes over the group. "Excuse me. Am I safe to assume you all are who I think you all are?"

Aristespha perks up, studies Captain Hays, and gently nods. Dretphi, Cideeda, and Sotalia follow suit, while Bach watches uncertainly. Captain Hays reaches into another pocket on his jacket and pulls out a few business cards. "Good. I was told by my commander that if I were to encounter certain persons, I was to give them my contact information. And, I was also to give them assurance that they would have assistance in their quest to eliminate a general pain in everyone's ass when requested."

He visits each member around the table, extends a hand to shake, and gives them a business card. When Hays reaches Bach, he pauses a moment, tilts his head, and engages his piercing gaze. "You look... Similar to someone."

Bach shrugs nervously and chuckles awkwardly. "Um... I'm the brother trying to get back into the swing of things. And eventually... Take on this general pain in the ass."

Captain Hays holds his hand out and Bach shakes his hand. Flipping the last card out, he places it in Bach's hand and nods. "I can appreciate that. Good luck, and if you all need to head into the zones, let me know. I'd be happy to get you all a guided tour."

He gives a final tip of the hat and walks to the front exit, his heavy boots sounding upon the floor and cybernetics actuating when his left arm swings. Rotating the card in his hand, Bach studies it closely and glances at the rest of the team. "Huh. Neat. At least somebody else is on our side."

Chad narrows his eyes and frigidly stares over his menu, his characteristic smile missing in action.

Outside a large perimeter fence, the humvee slows to a halt and the powerplant winds back down. From inside the cab the team stare curiously out at the large warning signs, in different languages and posted at regular intervals. Opening the front passenger's side door, Sotalia hops out and groans with a roll of her golden eyes. "That woman is such an Emin Purist. Did you see the way she looked at me?! She was totally trying to figure out if I should be called a half-breed or a mutt."

Stepping out the rear passenger door, Bach glances around the parking area at the dirt and intermixed chunks of pavement. He scratches the back of his head and furrows his brow at Sotalia. "I really didn't get that from her. It seemed like two mages sizing each other up to me."

Crossing her arms, Sotalia tosses back the red hair in her face to reveal a smug grin on her light tan face. "Ha! That little wannabe has nothing on me."

Cideeda slips out the driver's seat and grumbles while securing her vest and light backpack. "Gods. I just hope they didn't record me waving to HER and use it in the show."

Rigid and stiff, Aristespha steps around the vehicle and closer to the perimeter and sighs long. Sebastian's ethereal visage coasts in front of her, and he presents a loving smile. "Hey. It's okay, dear. We're at the job, and we're away from them."

Aristespha stretches the tension out of her shoulders and takes in a deep breath with a grimace. "I'll be fine, Sebastian. I just wanted to have a nice start to the day."

Sebastian grins and gazes into Aristespha's violet eyes. "I think we handled it well. And, we got a good contact out of it. So, it's still a net gain. Let's get started on the mission."

With a calming exhale, a reserved smile cracks on Aristespha's ivory, blue and gray hinted face, and she returns a loving gaze to Sebastian. "Yeah. You are right. Let me get the access code into the perimeter fence, and let us see the entrance to this place."

Sounds of shuffling and shifting equipment emanate from the back of the humvee, and Dretphi squeezes out. She stands tall, adjusts the hard plating attached to her under-armor, and flexes her body in the suit. Taking hold of a bullpup submachine gun, she guides the carrying strap over her shoulder and checks over the weapon. While the group congregates around the perimeter gate, Aristespha reaches over her shoulder into her small backpack and retrieves a tablet. She reads a few lines of text on the screen and presses buttons on a keypad lock. The status light turns green, a tone rings out, and the gate lock disengages. Aristespha pushes cautiously, and the gate drifts open the rest of the way. The party walks down a rough dirt path between overgrown grass to the entrance of the old outpost. Behind shrubs and vines, another series of moss stained warning signs decorate the walls near the entrance of the facility. Holding the tablet up to the group, Aristespha angles the screen to avoid the glare slipping through the sparse canopy of the surrounding trees. "Okay. This was the last picture taken of the entrance."

The team scrutinizes the picture on the tablet, compares it against the worn and aged entrance, and bounce between the finer details. After a few minutes, the group settles upon a mix of indifference and unimpressed. Gauging their expressions, Sebastian confidently poses and puts on a daring grin. "Well, that's a good sign so far. This is looking like it'll be a straight forward-"

Low, barely audible noises of utility systems powering up flood the air around the entrance. Dim lights switch on down the previous dark hallway past the entrance, with a lone exterior lamp flickering to life at the end of the chain. Sebastian's confidence wilts away into an awkward smirk. He blinks in disbelief, while holding his arms out puzzling. Moments later, he glances over his shoulder to Aristespha and furrows his ethereal brow. "This is NOT in the description of how it was, right?"

Aristespha slowly shakes her head as her violet eyes dart around seeking an answer. The group checks, primes, and readies their weapons and equipment. Sebastian hovers in front of the group and motions the team. "Alright. I'll scout five to ten meters ahead to check for anything obvious. Dretphi and Cideeda mind the front. Aristespha and Sotalia be ready with magic and range. Bach, support where you can and keep an eye on the back to make sure whatever doesn't try to pull a cheap one on us from behind. Okay... Let's do this."

The team filters through the entrance cautiously steps through the long hall, deeper into the structure. They wander down wide, dusty corridors under the glow of grime coated lamps. At each intersection, Sebastian's visage coasts down each path and carefully surveys the passages. During the exploration, Cideeda's furry ears perk towards suspicious devices, and she halts the team to investigate further. Dretphi keeps watch over the group as her suspicions bounce between the dark ends of hallways and the shadows beyond open doors. Glancing her golden gaze around, Sotalia pauses with a grimace during the inspection and frowns uncertainly. Aristespha eyes unique details of the structure and compares it against a similar picture on her tablet. With paranoia keeping him tense, Bach uneasily darts his gaze around each turn and corridor with his hand on his holstered plasma pistol.

As the party delves further in the barely functional facility, tension gives way to suspicion. Phasing through armored doors, Sebastian peeks beyond physical reach and puzzles at the findings with confusion growing. Steps upon the concrete floors echo over the still, stagnant silence. Concern and worry wanes against the waves of bewilderment and frustration washing over the team. As the team reaches another intersection of pipe and panel lined halls, Cideeda rubs her temples in frustration and growls out. "OKAY. WHAT is going on here?!"

Drifting back down the dimly lit, concrete hallway towards the group, Sebastian surveys the vicinity as he flies along. "Nothing. The lights are on, but... there's literally no one home. I checked behind the doors, and there's a few defense droids that might be functional. I mean, there was that one room with stasis pods for cyborgs or something crazy like that. But, it doesn't look like anything has moved in decades. Plenty of undisturbed layers of dust everywhere, and nothing else is on besides some emergency lamps."

Gritting her sharp teeth, Cideeda lowers her furry ears and cocks her head with a frown. "This is not right. I've found detectors and sensors not even powered up for some kind of advanced security system. Hell, I bet the cameras aren't even active."

Bach glances up and spots an aged coated dome on the ceiling within the next stretch of hallway. When he points it out, Cideeda nods, squints her emerald green eyes, and aims her furry ears at the device. Reaching into a pocket, she draws out a green beamed laser pointer and aims a dot right at the camera. "Yeah. That definitely is a camera and looks like one on a gimbal. But... normally, I would hear servos running or even high pitched electrical whines from some of the components. There's nothing."

Bach's eyes glow a faint blue, and he holds his hand out. A small glowing orb immediately forms in the palm of his hand. He glances around at the team and waits. Cideeda quickly nods a confirmation and points a claw tip down the hall. With a flick of the wrist, Bach sends the glowing orb drifting down a dimly lit passage. Cideeda carefully watches and listens with her furry ears flicking around the air. Shaking her head, she twists her mouth and contorts an unsatisfied grimace on her light brown face. "Nothing. Didn't even TRY to motion detect and track. Even if it was on some kind of standby mode that should have woken it up."

Aristespha closes her glowing violet eyes and rubs the fatigue forming in her face. She opens her eyes back up, no longer glowing, and sighs. "I am not detecting any kind of magical activity here. No recent or even past disturbances from what I can sense."

Crossing her arms, Sotalia spins in place and scans the immediate area, unamused. "I can confirm that. Absolutely nothing."

She bends over, picks up a small toothpick sized stick on the floor, and holds it for everyone. Faint traces of magic flow coast up her arm to her hand, the toothpick glows brightly, and she frowns. "The only time I've seen any of these magical detector sticks activate is when I trigger them. There's nothing magically going on here."

Dretphi furrows her brow, kneels down to the smooth, concrete floor, and drags a gauntlet covered finger along it. Countless years of dust collect during the long swipe, and the cleared section reveals the contrast between the caked on dust and floor. "I have not seen any area disturbed. No signs of activity."

Sebastian crosses his arms, stares off in thought, and ponders out loud. "Dear? Does the info you got have a map showing where the command center is?"

Pulling out her tablet, Aristespha flips through documents and settles upon a detailed image. After searching through a rough map, she points down a hallway. "Yes, Sebastian. It should be on this floor. That way, from what this says."

Sebastian narrows his determination down the corridor. "Anyone against going straight to the command center and figuring out what the hell is going on here?"

No one voices an objection and similar curiosity grows within the group. Sebastian nods and floats down the hallway, and the team follows soon after. Leading the squad down, Sebastian ethereal blue eyes dart around to the age coated wall panels, the dark recesses of the metal piping, and the faintly fluctuating lighting fixtures. As he sweeps down another intersection at Aristespha's instruction, Cideeda and Dretphi swiftly sweep the other avenues before proceeding. When Aristespha and Sotalia round the corner, Bach briefly slows his pace and stares down the still corridors into the hazy shadows beyond his sight. Shuddering back to awareness, he rushes to catch up with the group and keeps a nervous glance around at the dark corners of the concrete and metal passage. Down another turn, Sebastian coasts to a halt in front of a huge, reinforced doorway and studies the imposing steel sealing off the entry. Stepping up, Cideeda scrutinizes the massive security door and cringes as her inspection continues with a frustrated sigh. "THIS is going to be rough to open. They really only built this thing to be serviceable from the other side."

Tapping her claw tips upon the steel and sniffing the air, she presses her furry ear upon the frame and waits while her emerald green eyes search around her mind. "And... It doesn't seem like... The door is getting any power."

She steps back from the massive entry and walks along the nearby wall glancing between different panel outlines. "So, I'm afraid that there probably isn't a proper override I can do on this side. While most of the security seems to be out... There may be a separate alarm system that I don't want to trigger by digging too deep in the control circuits."

Nodding at the conclusion, Sebastian's ethereal form phases through the door. Seconds later, he slips back from the other side with a concerned frown. "The panel looks dead on the other side, too. But, this thing, um, feels like a solid chunk of steel. Well, it doesn't feel hollow for me. Also, there's definitely some activity going on with the computers and electronics in this command center."

Cideeda paces around the hallway near the doorway and mutters to herself. "Okay... So, there's probably nothing critical inside the door, which makes sense to keep all the important bits safe... We might be able to cut it. But this thick of a door..."

A thought springs to the front of Dretphi's face, and she cocks her helmeted head. Perking her brow, she gazes down at Bach for a moment and sorts through her ideas. She steps besides Bach and taps him on the shoulder. "You can precisely melt the steel into a hole. Can you precisely melt the steel out to form hole?"

Drifting off in thought, Bach furrows his brow and scratches the back of head with building intrigue. "I... I think I can. I should be able to melt a pinpoint column through the steel and extract the molten stuff out. That should effectively cut it, right?"

Dretphi shifts her gauntlet from Bach's shoulder to the middle of his back and firmly but gently pushes him towards Cideeda. Bach follows the physical hint, steps over, and kneels next to Cideeda while she examines the door. Sotalia and Aristespha watch curiously. Bach taps the door with a knuckle. "Okay. Where do you want to cut?"

A toothy grin grows on Cideeda's face, and she reaches into a pocket on her vest for a white paint marker. Deftly sketching out an outline, she taps upon the massive doors. "This should be big enough for everyone to fit through without taking out too much structure and making it too hard to remove the cut."

Watching his brother, Sebastian smiles with pride and motions beyond the doorway. "Okay, bro. I'll keep a watch in there to see if any alarms go off."

Bach situates himself, braces a hand on the door frame, and hovers the other hand a few centimeters away from the door over the sketch line. His eyes flicker to a constant blue glow, and a pinpoint spot on the door brightens from a dull red to a brilliant white. A thin stream of cooling steel specks flow from the glowing spot and spatter upon the concrete floor. As the glowing spot creeps along, it leaves a thin ribbon of space behind. Slowly the slicing dot crawls centimeters from its origin. A swell determination fills Bach's focused stare, and he opens his hand wide, splaying fingers out. Transparent outlines of objects materialize between the door and his palm, and the details fill in. They form into mechanical, technological manifestations, and traces of magical flow etch pathways upon the ethereal objects. The cutting point slides faster and more molten spatter erupts. Another series of magical objects manifest within the streams of flow wrapping around the magical machinations and weave the forming constructs. Bach's eyes glow brighter, and energy flows surges to brilliant illumination around his arm. Over the intense minutes, Bach drives the cut down Cideeda's white paint outlines faster with each lamination of magical constructs.

When Bach's hand reaches the original starting point, he relaxes his arm as the ethereal constructs break down into cloudy masses. His eyes dim, and the magical manifestations dissipate into the flows that sink back into Bach. Bowing his head down, he wipes the sweat from his brow and breathes deeply. He raises his head back up, pauses a moment, and glances around at the closely gathered audience, Sotalia and Aristespha watching over a shoulder and Cideeda and Dretphi kneeling close to the door. He tilts his head up and spots Sebastian hovers above. Furrowing his brow, he glances up confused at his brother. "Hey! Weren't you supposed to be watching the inside? For alarm or something?"

Noticing the shift of attention upon him, Sebastian shrugs nonchalantly and nods his head towards the door. "Bro, if the first five minutes of this didn't trigger anything, I figured the last weren't either. I don't think they expected someone to be able to magically slice through this thing without someone inside taking issue with it."

Leaning forward to get his feet underneath, Bach attempts to stand up, stumbles in a daze, and partially doubles over. Sotalia and Aristespha support Bach, taking an arm each. Sotalia pats Bach's shoulder and grins slyly with an amused tone. "Okay. That's enough showing off today. I'll take care of the rest."

Aristespha ushers Bach away from the door and eases him down on the floor against the opposing wall. Dropping to a knee, she performs a simple check over on Bach. Catching her serious glare, Bach sighs. "I guess I did something you are going to be questioning me about later?"

Aristespha calmly nods and softens her serious tone. "Yes. Admittedly, your control and restraint lessens many of my concerns. Just don't forget those, and pace yourself, please."

Planting her feet back from the door, Sotalia shifts her stance and holds her arms out. She recites incantations, moves her arms with the forming flows of energy, and gestures methodically with her hands. Symbols beam brightly on arms, a golden light shines from her eyes, and streams of magic surge through the air onto her palms. Placing both hands together, she directs a beam of energy onto the cut section of the door. Translucent power envelops the massive chunk, and faint metallic clunks sound out. Tugging upon the beam of flow, Sotalia slides the steel out of the greater whole of the door, and rough scrapes resonate as the circular chunk grinds against the fresh slices. She exudes an air of confidence, glee, and accomplishment when the hundred millimeter thick, meter diameter steel plug drifts free. With grace and pride, she strides out of the way of the chunk, rotates it with a wave of her hand, and guides it down on the concrete with a heavy thud. Finishing with a dramatic flourish, she directs everyone towards the opening. "Volunteers?"

Cideeda leads the way and the team slips through the opening. Underneath the layers of dust, the command center contains rows of computing equipment, desks, and chairs. Old stationary and supplies litter the tops of tables under worn and stained whiteboards. Above the team, a complete drop ceiling remains with minimal stains coloring the tiles. As the team explores further into the space, attention shifts towards the badly damaged section of floor and the one large widening crack leading towards a corner. Dretphi sweeps the area with a spot lamp and keeps a close hand on her sub-machine gun. Sotalia searches some desk drawers near the entry. Cideeda signals Aristespha to an active terminal glowing underneath a thick coating of grime. After she wipes the display clear, Aristespha leans close. As she stares at the constant line after line of text, Sotalia curiously peeks over her shoulder and squints her golden eyes. Furrowing her brow, Aristespha cocks her head as recognition fills her face. "I don't remember the exact dialect. But... I get the rough idea. It looks like status messages and warnings about environment controls."

Sotalia follows another stream of output from the terminal and nods in agreement. "You're right, girl. That's the impression I'm getting, too. Serious looking warnings.

While wandering around in awe at the place, Bach notices a dim glow and wipes dust off a screen. "Hey! I got a working one here, too. It's spitting out a bunch of messages."

Sotalia rushes over, guides a stray strand of dark red over a horn, and reads the text. "Communications control. It received a status update from another remote site a week ago? And a full alert from another site nearby a few hours ago? Error... Security offline?"

As she edges closer to the opening the concrete floor, Dretphi stomps a foot down ahead and waits a moment. After checking the floor in front of her, she shines the spotlight down into a small chasm. Cideeda cautiously approaches and examines the area. "All these large power cables in the ceiling with data lines are running down to-"

Blinking her emerald green eyes in surprise, she smirks with a dismissive snort. "Well. That's probably the security system master control. It looks like something shifted below this place?"

Aiming the spot lamp around into the deep pit and tracing the smooth depths through the thin edges, Dretphi cocks her helmeted head and grimaces behind her full face visor. "Sinkhole. Hard to tell the cause. Limestone cave? Collapse in an unknown cave below? Significant damage regardless."

Perking her furry ears up, Cideeda squints her emerald green eyes and slink back after the edge. "Yeah... Looks like the security control system fell down and took the main power generator out with it."

Cideeda reflexively pats a vest pocket and cocks her head of short, multicolored hair. Dretphi taps control buttons on the side of her helmet, and Bach pulls out his aetherphones. Inspecting the alert on the screen, Cideeda blinks confused and puzzles at the message. "That's an emergency radio broadcast? That's strange, how are we receiving anything this deep in here?"

Sweeping his phone around, Bach watches the signal strength. "It's weak, but... I think it's somewhere around here? Is that right?"

Dretphi glances around and shrugs. Cideeda taps through a few menus, holds her phone out, and pans it around. After a few passes, she points to a direction. Bach nods, pivots in place, and motions towards slack cables hanging from torn conduits. Aristespha and Sotalia approach and their aetherphones chime when they get close. Scratching the back of his head of longer brown hair, Bach gazes curiously at Cideeda. "Uh, could it be coming from those lines?"

Carefully stepping up to the mass of torn cabling, Cideeda holds her phone near the exposed copper wiring and ponders out loud while isolating the signal. "Um, that's possible. If something is transmitting on those lines, or maybe some outside interference is getting relayed? But, this emergency signal is using a modern protocol, why would that be going across some ancient ruin's lines? Okay, let me turn on the speaker now-"

"To anyone- ... Mission to Outpost- ... Base security system came online. Part of the camera crew for Next Adventurers of... Trapped in the Command center. SEND HELP!"

A wave of dread looms over the team, and they collectively cringe.