Episode 7

Rubbing the fatigue from her eyes, Samantha kicks the shoes off her feet onto the hotel floor. Adjusting her aetherphone on a nearby nightstand, she groans and flops back on one of the beds in the double room. "So... After the Greater Azure Alliance specialists, that we ran into at the Amaranth Dining House, blasted the barrier off, they put their own up and sealed the area off tight. Thankfully, we got the power cell trailer back in one piece. So, that's one rental deposit we'll get back. I'm still fighting MERC about SUPPOSED damages to other equipment."

Howard's tone steady to neutral and calming cadence from the speakerphone. "Huh. Interesting. Well, I'm glad that everyone got out in one piece. Be sure to give Radnae, Urdi, and... even that Ol' Harris a week off. Give them coupons to that spa and magical hot springs we got the advertising deal with. Back to business... How much footage did you all manage to get?"

Samantha winces, drags out a heavy sigh, and draws a deep breath in. "A little. Between the military lockdown, that electrical thing which corrupted a bunch of recordings, and then not having power for most of the equipment... I'm surprised we even got that much. Gods, I'm not sure if it's enough for an episode. I mean what kind of episode is this going to be?! They boldly eat, fail miserably on their first mission, and then go home to lick their wounded egos? That's at least an early to mid season thing. You can't just lead with THAT."

After a still silence, a low laugh grows into loud cackling through the speaker. Staring at her phone, Samantha's hazel eyes bounce between confusion and concern as an uncertain squirm travels through her body. From the other side of the double hotel room, Gerald halts work on his laptop, slowly turns his head, and narrows an uneasy stare on the phone. The laughing stops, and Howard exhales with a sinister glee. "Yes... Just that... With a little twist!"

Leaning an ear closer to her phone, Samantha contorts her face curiously with anticipation. "What kind of twist, Howie?"

Howard chuckles darkly to himself and explains with a proud, plotting tone. "You see... We have a team of young, ego-heavy, special little stars that just got their spotlight stolen by another team. A team of old, experienced adventurers that made them look like complete chumps. With all that happened, soon to be on national television."

Blinking with the rush of ideas, Samantha's attentions turn inwards and her eyes frantically sort through her mind. After a few seconds, she flits her eyes wide with revelation. Gerald and Samantha exchange matching eager gazes. Samantha mutters under her breath. "Holy shit."

Howard snickers at the subtle sounds of epiphany and pride manifest into voice through the phone. "Yes! We have something to catch all these young egos' frustrations and ire. Challengers... Conflict... Catalysts... We don't have to do anything! We just need these two groups to be in the same area as each other. Then, give them opportunities."

Drawing an evil grin across her light face, Samantha listens attentively to her phone, her anticipation renewed. "So, what's the plan? What do you need?"

Scratching of chin stubble resonates through the speaker, and Howard hums to himself as deliberation tempers his tone. "Keep the crew checking the spy cameras in their rooms at that roach motel. With those living conditions and today's humiliation, I'm pretty sure they are in the BEST of moods. I want you to arrange some video journal segments and pry as hard as you can into how they feel about the other group. Dig up some embarrassing shots to really get under their skin, so they'll be encouraged to be... Honest. I've got a few informants to call up... I wonder where Sebastian and crew are staying, because it's strange they've been in the area for so long and where doing regular work so close. I got a feeling they are staying somewhere nearby."

Stepping out of the bathroom doorway in socks, shorts, and a simple shirt, Bach presses the towel on his head over his longer hair. He plods through the hallway and wanders out into space between the living area and the dining table. Scouting out a nice spot on the couch warming in the morning light slipping through the back sliding glass door, he pivots but slows to a halt. He pulls the towel down out of his face and furrows his brow suspiciously. Facing the dining table behind him, he notices Aristespha and Sotalia sitting opposite of each other. At the end of the table, a chair slides out. Both Aristespha and Sotalia watch Bach expectantly. Aristespha directs Bach to the chair with a motion of the hand and a reserved smile. "Have a seat, Bach."

Cautiously approaching the chair, Bach maintains uncertain contact between the two. He sits down and notices the still solid and stable golden shield disc and magical cord ensnaring the cyber-commando plasma rifle. Sighing uneasily, he lowers his head and grumbles. "Okay... So where do you want to start the inquisition?"

Gently lifting her open hands off the table, Aristespha cranes her head and levels a genuinely concerned gaze at Bach. "Bach. We just want to ask some questions, if you are comfortable with them."

Sotalia straightens her posture and curls a grateful smile at Bach. "Hey, you saved our asses yesterday. So, thank you. Also, we really want to help you out, but..."

She furrows her brow and narrows her stare. "Gods damn it, you've got to give us something to work with! This whole mysterious ability out of nowhere thing is fucking annoying to work with."

Bach glances over to Aristespha's hand patting his shoulder softly. Maintaining a calm and purposeful voice, she focuses her violet eyes. "I know it is an uncomfortable subject. But, to help you out to the best of our abilities, we need to know more about your abilities. How are you able to perform these feats? And importantly, why you got to this point? We can help you. You can definitely help us. First, we need some information to start with."

A strained sigh escapes Bach, and he briefly grits his teeth. Furrowing his brow, he grimaces sharply as he bounces his gaze between Aristespha and Sotalia. After a few seconds, he relaxes and resigns to an acceptance. Raising his head, he settles back in his seat and draws in a long calming breath. "Okay. I guess it's only fair. And... I don't want to leave you guys in the dark. So... Um... Here's the quick and short version. After the encounter with the Nightmare Geist, I was left with limitations on the magical energy reserves I could use safely. I could get maybe one low level spell off. Then, that was it for half an hour or more. So... I was... A lame mage."

Aristespha keeps her focus on Bach with a slight understanding nod, while Sotalia squirms uncomfortably with the subject. Narrowing her violet eyes, Aristespha dutifully observes Bach's body language. "What restrictions do you have?"

Bach pulls in a thoughtful breath and ponders quietly for a moment. "Well... My throughput from the abstract prism is limited. What I have stored on me, I can use just fine. But, if I use too much of that and tap hard on what's near me... Well, I risk a complete drain out. I just can't draw much from what's near me."

Sotalia blinks in surprise and aims her golden eyed gaze right at Bach. "Huh. That explains the physical weakness after the big stuff. But, you recover fast enough."

Scratching the back of head of brown hair, Bach shrugs nonchalantly and smirks indifferently. "I mean, I use what's on me just fine and tap a little in what's near me. But, I can't get the throughput to sustain any normal spells. Even direct casting can only help so much."

Aristespha maintains her examining stare upon Bach and taps on the golden shield disc. "It certainly seems you found a way around those limitations. Describe it to me."

The long silence looms and agitates Sotalia. She bounces a confused glance between Bach and Aristespha. Bach grimaces and searches his mind for the words while his expression drifts at a loss. Sotalia twists her mouth in the bubbling frustration and pokes Bach hard in the arm with a long nailed finger. "Well?! Describe it already."

Snapping out of the stupor, Bach rubs his arm and narrows an annoyed stare. "Ow! I'm trying to! Gods, it's just a bit hard to describe. I mean I don't know the official words for it all."

Sotalia crosses her arms and quirks her brow with an unamused twist. "Well, how did you figure it out? Start there."

Bach nervously rubs his light tan hands together, darts his blue gaze around uneasily, and attempts cohesive explanation. "I was pretty depressed about not being able to cast spells. So, I thought about it a lot and obsessed over magical energy efficiency. Direct casting helped a bit... But, it was still too inefficient. It felt like there was still too much extra surrounding the magical flows. So... While laying around in my bed one night, unable to sleep and staring at the ceiling... Um, I tried to..."

After the silence stretches out to seconds, Sotalia prods Bach in the arm again with an impatient stare. Bach reflexively shifts his body away from the poke and sneers back. Leaning towards Bach, Sotalia furrows her brow with a demanding tone. "Stop drifting off mid sentence."

Grumbling aggravated, Bach places his elbows on the table and holds his head in his hands. "I'm sorry! It's going to sound completely insane, but I tried to SEE the process of casting in my mind. To see a Foundational Construct function... To LOOK... Where the Foundation Construct connects to the Abstract Prism? Gods, that doesn't make any sense when you say it out loud, I know."

Shaking his head in defeat, Bach pauses in thought and glances around. He meets Sotalia's bewildered expression and shifts his focus over to Aristespha. Nodding understandingly, Aristespha addresses Bach with genuine interest on her ivory face. "Bach. What you are describing is called Reverse Flow Perception. It's a process many at the Grand Library have been using for years to study magic fundamentals. It's a method of back-tracing how magical energy is manipulated via willing flow back up to the Abstract Prism and interpreting the sensations visually in your mind."

Snapping her head to Aristespha, Sotalia blinks incredulously and tosses back her dark red hair flustered. "Wait! What?! This is a thing?! Why haven't I heard of it?!"

Lifting an amused eyebrow with a playful smile to Sotalia, Aristespha chuckles. "Well, how many advanced theory classes and high-level magical analysis courses did you take in school?"

Sotalia snorts dismissively, rolls her golden eyes, and flicks back stray locks over her swept back black horns. Returning her focus to Bach, Aristespha presents a respectful smile and an encouraging tone. "I would guess you studied what you saw, experimented further, and eventually got tangible results."

Bach nods within the confines of his hands and lifts his head up with a long sigh. "Yes. It took a LONG time. But, I kept on figuring out how to use magic a little more efficiently, control flow better, and perform new magical operations. The individual parts aren't hard to figure out. The real problem is applying them properly. The sheer number and speed you have to do so is really intense, to say the least. I mean, it's gotten easier as I've grown more familiar with it all."

Sotalia crosses her arms and tenses her fingers. With the internal irritation rising, she squirms anxiously in her seat. Seconds later, she grumbles and slides back. "Let's take this outside. The mission yesterday bumped our training time, so let's do it NOW. I want YOU to SHOW me what the hell you are talking about."

Shooting up out of her chair, she marches to the sliding glass door, slings it open, and swiftly struts out to the training field. Bach scratches his head confused and returns his stare from the open door. Aristespha dismissively rolls her eyes and calmly rises from her seat. "Don't worry. I believe she was just hoping for an answer she should easily understand and immediately use for her own practice of magic. She's a very powerful and capable mage."

Glancing out to the backyard at Sotalia, her tone lowers and leans closer to Bach. "And she's developed quite the competitive streak and temperament to match, too."

Bach shrugs and throws his hands up in the air at a list. "Well, I don't know what to tell her. I mean, I couldn't do anything of significance for two years even after figuring out... the basics of this? Gods, only recently have I gotten the hang of the big things you all have seen. It took forever to get most my old spells adapted and working enough to function like they did."

Aristespha stands near Bach and waits for him to get out of his chair. "You have to understand... This is a woman who has always had top of the class energy capacity and throughput. She has never needed to optimize. There's spells she can cast with ease that would stress me too much. So, to phrase it nicely, her style of magic isn't SUBTLE in the slightest. Now, she wants to develop that horribly neglected skill set."

She twists her ivory face, fights against a grimace, and groans. "I have TRIED to advise her before, but she's a difficult student. She has tried so many gimmicks in some attempt to find shortcuts. Truthfully, I'm glad she has settled her focus on direct casting. THAT is an actual method to optimize your spell crafting. So, I can only hope to keep her trying."

standing up, holds his arm out, points along his forearm, and furrows quizzical gaze at Aristespha. "Okay... Are the magical runes on her arm another attempt at optimizing her spell casting? I've been wondering what those were."

Wincing sharply into a groaning cringe, Aristespha pinches the bridge of her nose. "Thankfully, they're just surface dyes that will fade out eventually. But... Gods... They look ridiculous."

In the large open field behind the ranch style house, Aristespha, Sotalia, and Bach stand near a stone boulder and propped up rocks in the middle of grassy landscape. Sotalia stretches her arms out and arches her back. Planting her feet down, she raises her palm into the air and closes her eyes. The runes on her arm illuminate, faint flows of magical energy rush out, and a flaming ball of orange hovers centimeters above her hand. She confidently grins with a wily glint in her golden eyes and glances back at Bach and Aristespha. "A fire bolt, direct cast, with runic optimization. Now show me your best version, Bach."

Bach blinks a moment, glances around uneasily, and ponders his predicament. Pulling a devious smirk from the corner of his mouth, he perks his brow. Aristespha furrows her brow curiously, places her hands on her sides, and waits in amused anticipation. Bach walks up next to Sotalia and stares forward to the target. Lifting his palm up, he firmly grabs underneath Sotalia's hand holding the fire bolt. Sotalia's confident expression pops, and she blinks dumbfounded. A blue glow dimly pulses in Bach's eyes, and the fire bolt's outer flame dissipates. The ball shrinks slightly and the orange fire blends to blue. A blowtorch hiss replaces the rolling crackles. Bach directs Sotalia's hand behind the bolt. Aiming for a stack of rocks next to the stone boulder, he releases Sotalia's hand. The bolt zooms off. A loud crack sounds, and it crashes onto the stony surface. A trail of magical gasses dissipate as a fading glow at impact cools.

Sotalia blinks in disbelief and gawks at the soot smudged rock. Holding her chin thoughtful with a slight violet glow in her eyes, Aristespha surveys with renewed interest. Bach poses a moment and nods with smug accomplishment. Recovering to her senses, Sotalia whips her hand, snatches the collar of Bach's shirt, and yanks him down to her level. She bares teeth, drills her golden eyes Bach, and punctuates each word with a resting growl. "WHAT. WAS. THAT?!"

Bach fights to keep a calm exterior and hesitantly meets Sotalia's piercing glare. "Uh, well, my best version of a fire bolt?"

Furrowing her brow to an irritated squint, Sotalia curls her other hand on the collar and draws Bach closer. "OH. Don't be CUTE with ME."

Satisfaction beams out from Aristespha, and she observes the unfolding exchange with smirking humor. Bach cautiously places his hands on Sotalia's forearms and gently pushes them away. Sotalia reluctantly releases her grasp upon his shirt collar and aims a demanding glare at him. With a nervous tremor, Bach smiles and chuckles. "I'll... Show you the best I can. It will not be easy, but I will show you some basics of what I did."

Sotalia rolls her shoulders, assumes a ready stance, and summons forth her previously confident posture. "Go ahead. I'm ready."

Bach motions his hand towards the stone targets. "So, well, get another fire bolt ready."

Holding her hand out, Sotalia concentrates and manifests another fire bolt. She maintains a careful watch of Bach. Hovers his hand next to the side of the fire bolt, Bach ponders a moment and, with a bright blue glow in eyes, plucks the flaming orb away from Sotalia's hand. He levitates the magical ball of fire between both his hands, narrows an scrutinizing stare upon it, and hums thoughtfully to himself. Blinking in pure bewilderment, Sotalia flexes her empty hand and flashes a confused glance at Bach. "What the hell is this?!"

As Sebastian's ethereal form lands nearby, Aristespha grins mischievously and scoots close. Pointing to Sotalia and Bach, and Sebastian leans close to Aristespha whispers. "So, what's going on here, dear? I heard her yelling from inside the living room."

Barely containing her amusement, Aristespha hides the grin on her ivory face behind a hand and motions between Bach and Sotalia. "Your brother is instructing Sotalia on the finer aspects of magical optimization."

Blinking in surprise, Sebastian furrows his ghostly brow. "Is she actually LISTENING to him?"

Shakes her head, Aristespha smirks with a roll of her violet eyes. "Well, not in the strictest definitions. But, his blunt demonstrations are reaching her in ways she just can't ignore. I believe it has been very effective. I've certainly learned by watching."

Sebastian squints curiously at the continuing exchange between Bach and Sotalia. "What's Bach doing right now?"

Bach points out a flicker of energy within the fire bolt spell. Sotalia furrows her brow with initial defensive flits. Her body language softens, and her golden eyes watch attentively. Aristespha giggles to herself and winks to Sebastian. "He's telling Sotalia the issues with her spell. He is quite literally picking it apart before her eyes and critiquing it."

Sebastian grimaces and grits his teeth. "Oh, he doesn't know how she gets. She'll- Wait-"

He narrows his translucent blue eyes and cocks his head incredulously. "Is she actually paying honest attention and not going on the defensive?"

Keeping her comments close to Sebastian, Aristespha nods and quietly laughs. "She has been actually receptive. Something she knows nothing about, but she actually WANTS to learn it. Bach has made it very apparent that she should shut up and pay attention. So... She actually is."

Sebastian shifts his gaze over to Bach and Sotalia. "OH... This is going to be good. Gods, I hope this will get her to stop spending money on all those magical gimmicks."

Drawing in a faintly annoyed breath, Aristespha puts her hands together and glances upwards with vague hope. "Oh, that would be so nice..."

Sotalia grimaces intensely, locks her eyes to her hand, and winces with a eye twitch. Keeping his hand underneath Sotalia's, Bach watches the fire bolt slowly form. The orb manifests into its final stage, appearing similar to prior incarnations. Sotalia gasps and exhales relieved. "Oh gods. That took forever!"

Tapping a button on her tablet, Aristespha sits on a nearby log and relishes Sotalia's efforts. "Seven minutes to be exact."

Bach pulls his hand away and nods at the stable, orange flaming ball. "So, that's just one tweak you can do. Practice that a bunch, and we'll cover the many others later."

Sotalia wipes a few beads of sweat from her forehead and brushes some of her dark red hair over a horn. "This is ridiculous! It's so excruciating! The amount I have to hold back and little details I have to handle..."

Slowly averting his gaze with a tight smile, Bach glances back to Aristespha and Sebastian, while Sotalia continues to rant to herself. He simply shrugs with an awkward grin. Shakes her head of long silvery blue hair, Aristespha rolls violet her eyes. She stands up from the log, walks over to Sotalia, and pats her on the back. "Welcome to what many of us have to contend with."

Sniffing the air, Bach searches the clouds streaming overhead in the afternoon sky. He squints over to the house and steps in that direction. "Let's go back inside. I'm getting a bit hungry, and it's getting really cloudy. The dark and stormy kind of cloudy."

Aristespha joins Bach at his side and keeps pace with him. "So, I have a question about the magical materials you create. How are you stabilizing the magical energy? I've done research into similar methods for medical uses, but longevity has been an issue."

Bach searches his mind and furrows his brow in thought. "Geometric substructures. That's what's given me the best results. I found that most spells don't bother messing with the substructures of the magical energy lattices and matrices, since they aren't intended to be permanent things. I created my first stabilized energy dish after watching a chemistry show on fullerenes."

The last statement piques Aristespha's interest, and she quizzes Bach. "Oh. So, a disc, similar to the one you created recently?"

Blinking his blue eyes, Bach furrows his brow and cocks his head of longer brown hair. "Uh, no. A dish. Like the ones you eat on. I mean... Okay, this is embarrassing... I, uh, that week I created it? Um, I hadn't washed dishes for a LONG time and didn't want to waste money on paper plates.

Averting his face from Aristespha, he uneasily chuckles. "So, I got inspired to form one. It worked decently enough. Still faded away after a week, but I refined the process. In fact, I eventually made a set of dishware for eight people that included dishes, bowls, saucers, tea cups, glasses, and spoons. The knives and forks were a bit hard to-"

Bach coasts his words to stop when Aristespha steps right in front of him. She cuts a glare right right through him and barely contains the sheer exasperation seeping out. "You mean to tell me... Your kitchen was stocked with stabilized energy... DISHWARE?!"

Sebastian juts his arm out in front of Sotalia. They both stop a few meters behind Bach. Immediately recognizing THAT tone from Aristespha, Sebastian motions Sotalia around the confrontation. Sotalia unquestioningly agrees, and the two circumnavigate around at a safe distance with a cautious watch of the situation nearby. Aristespha pinches the bridge of her nose, closes her eyes, draws a deep breath, and exhales slowly. "It's okay. It's fine. A little frustrating that an intriguing development in magical materials was used to manufacture... DISHWARE. So, am I to guess that your prior landlord has them now?"

Bach bites his lip and warily nods with a defensive smirk. "Yeah. When I was ABDUCTED and then released to my room here, I called my landlord and told her to sell or keep whatever was left to pay this last month's rent.

Perking his brow, he shrugs his shoulders and grimaces. "I mean, it wasn't bad dishware. Non-stick, microwave safe, and it looked pretty. Hate to say it, but I'm pretty sure my old landlord probably has already rented the place out again. Knowing her, she probably advertised it as furnished now to scam a higher rent."

Aristespha grumpily pivots away from Bach, and stiffly steps away. Bach searches the area and follows behind her with a half-hearted plea. "I can create more. Would you like a set? I'm sorry, I don't know what is significant or what isn't these days with magic. I've kind of been out of the loop for some time."

Aristespha sighs heavily, relaxes her shoulders, and halts in front of the sliding glass door. A recognition of opportunity sparks in her eyes. She lifts her head to face Bach with an unamused, but faintly forgiving grimace. "I actually have many magical materials I've designed for medical use. I can create small batches, but they are prototypes. You help me create them, I'll start teaching you medical magic. You'll need to know it anyway to properly manufacture the materials."

Bach puts both thumbs up in agreement. "Hey, that's fine with me. Just let me know what you need."

A cunning smile emerges on Aristespha's face, and she glances at the magical cord on the dining table. "Start with ten meters of the magical cord stuck on that gun and enlightening me on its properties."

Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi sit around the dining table with roll-out pads and cloths covering sections of the tabletop. Detaching the barrel of her field stripped sub-machine gun, Dretphi runs a cleaning rod down the length. Cideeda checks the ejector of her shotgun, oils a few spots, and removes the bright orange safety plug from the chamber. Cycling it to her satisfaction, she puts the rubber chunk back in and stows the weapon into a carrying case. Bach hovers the cloud of parts for his plasma pistol between his hands. After a few final tweaks, the pistol reassembles itself and floats gently down to the pad in front of Bach. Cideeda shakes her head with a toothy grin. "That's still fascinating to me. By the way, since you are done, could you..."

Leaning over in her chair, below the table, she hoists the magically webbed up plasma rifle upon the tabletop. She taps a claw tip on the weapon and lifts an eyebrow. "Could remove the jam in and ON this thing, please? I'd really appreciate it."

Bach reaches out, grabs the magical cord attached to the rifle, and draws up the slack. Coiling the bundle in his hand, his eyes flick blue and a pulse of magical flow rush down his arm. Energy threads retreat from the gun and the excess dissipates back to the thick of the cable. Lifting the bundle off the table, he glances around with an uncertain grimace. Dretphi curiously quirks her brow. "What are you looking for?"

Bach twists his mouth indecisively. "Trying to find a place to put this. I don't want it. I'm full up energy wise, so breaking it down is a waste."

An evil smile emerges on Cideeda's light brown face, and she eagerly holds her hand out. "Hey! Let me have it! I got an idea."

He passes the coil over apprehensively. Signaling both Bach and Dretphi close, she lifts the cord up. "Sotalia has been wanting this ever since we got back from the mission. She's left it alone probably because she couldn't figure how to get it off the plasma rifle. And the only reason she hasn't walked off with the whole thing is because I'd come looking for it."

Tilting his head to the side, Bach blinks confused and narrows his gaze. "Wait, why would she want the cord? I mean, I think Aristespha seems more interested in magical materials than Sotalia."

Dretphi chuckles softly to herself, eyes the hallway, and whispers. "She likes to collect magical oddities. Of all varieties. An obsession."

Flicking her furry ears, Cideeda playfully groans with an emerald green eye roll and scoots her chair back. "Gods, that's a nice way of putting it. When it comes to oddball magical garbage, she's practically a hoarder. If it wasn't for all the folded space frame carriers we have, we'd need a separate trailer to haul it all."

She peeks at the hallway entry, wags her long tail, and walks softly into the kitchen prep and pantry area. Stepping next to the garbage can near the garage door, she waves the cord side to side at Bach with an excited grin and plops upon the tile floor. A few steps later, she directs her voice to the hallway. "Hey, Bach!"

Bach blinks bewildered. Cideeda points at Bach and motions her hand from mouth to the hallway. An understanding sparks in Bach, and he aims his voice down towards the hall archway. "Oh, um. Yes?"

Cideeda gracefully slides herself into her chair and raps her claw tips upon the tabletop. "What do you want me to do with this magical cord from the plasma rifle?"

Searching his mind for a response, Bach projects his casual tone. "Uh, well, I don't know. I don't want it. Just put it by the garbage can in the kitchen for now."

Grabbing hold of a chair next to her, she dramatically slides it around. After a few seconds, she moves the wooden chair back into place and whispers. "Now... Act like you're working and wait for the show."

The three work on their tasks, occasionally sneaking a peek towards the archway. Minutes later, Sotalia confidently strides out of the hallway. She casually glances over the gathering at the dining in route to the kitchen. Humming a tune to herself, she adjusts her loose fitting t-shirt in front of the refrigerator. She opens the door to the fridge and briefly darts her eyes to the dining table. She slowly dips down with the cover of the open fridge door and below line of sight bar window into the space from the dining table. Clanks and plastic shuffles sound out. In between the thinly veiled diversions of rearranging fridge items, frustrated, quiet grunts and clumsy movement upon the tile floor contrast the other noises.

The scrambling sounds stop with a relieved sigh. Sotalia pops back up with a vegetable snack pack and a sports drink in hand. Pulling her shirt down over the waistband of her shorts, she casually closes the fridge door. She swiftly steps to the hall archway with a nonchalant exterior. Cideeda winks to Bach and Dretphi. When Sotalia passes by, Cideeda flicks a part off the table to nearby Sotalia. "Oh, damn it. Hey, can you get that for me, Sotalia?"

Sotalia freezes mid step, pivots slowly, and nervously smiles. "Oh! Sure."

Squatting down to the floor, she keeps her back straight and her midsection quote inflexible. She snatches the part from the floor, carefully stands back up, and drops the piece into Cideeda's awaiting hand. "There you go. Now, back to reading! You all have fun with your, um, fixing and stuff."

Sotalia swiftly slips into the hallway, and faster footsteps upon wooden floor echo out. Placing her elbow on the table, Cideeda props her chin with her hand, and just shakes her head. Dretphi returns her gaze from the hallway and smiles humored. "She does try."

Cideeda shrugs and dismisses with a wave. "Oh, I know. Wrapping the cord around the waist wasn't a bad idea. I've got to give her some credit this time."

Scratching the back of his head, Bach bounces his confusion between Dretphi and Cideeda. "Huh. Okay. Why be so secretive?"

Cideeda laughs with a toothy grin and points towards the hallway. "Oh! It's because we've given her so much shit about collecting all that magical crap. She says all the time that she's totally going to prune her collection. But, when something catches her eye, she'll try to get it without us noticing. That way, we don't have a chance to call her out on it."

Dretphi taps Bach on the shoulder with a smile. "Matter of her pride. Similar to when she stole your last piece of bacon at the Amaranth Dining House."

Bach blinks his blue eyes and furrows a distant stare inwards. After sorting through a rush of memory, his jaw drops. His expression slips into disbelief, and he straightens his posture with the realization. "The fuck? She stole a piece of my bacon? Wait, what- Why?"

Perking her furry ears with a surprised flick of her tail, Cideeda covers mouth and giggles. "OH GODS. That's right. I thought I saw her fork move down on your plate. Wow, she actually moved quick that time. I only caught a bit of it out of the corner of my eye."

Bach leans forward in his chair, a tight frown on his face, and furrows his brow contemplatively. "But, why didn't she just ask, or just order some more?"

Dretphi locks the last part into her submachine gun and places the reassembled weapon in its case. "Pride. Image. Ego."

She uncovers something on the floor. Her arm muscles tighten, and she raises her huge machete up and carefully places it down upon the tabletop. Sorting through her repair kit, she procures a magnifying glass, and starts inspecting the glimmering edge. Bach carefully examines the section of blade closest to him curiously. "So, what are you looking for exactly? It seems like it doesn't have a scratch on it."

Gliding a metal pick along the edge of the blade, Dretphi quickly examines it to satisfaction and glances up from the magnifying glass. "Inspecting the blade. Verifying the enchantment upon the edge remained intact. Our last enemies were significantly hard."

Cideeda breaks from examining the plasma rifle and gazes at Bach with an inquisitive glint. "Speaking of which. Bach? Have you done any weapon or armor enchantments before?"

Blinking in thought, Bach furrows his brow and stares internally. Seconds later, he shakes his head and grimaces. "No. I don't think I've ever really tried any real enchanting. Never had any spare weapons or armor to experiment with."

Dretphi and Cideeda exchange eager grins. Cideeda leans close to Bach, perks her furry ears, wags her long, fluffy tail, and flutters her emerald green eyes at him. "Would you like some?"

A constant curtain of rainfall drops down upon the rural region surrounding Amaranth Valley. Water flows through the manmade drainage paths along with natural topography, and the trickles merge to larger currents. The creek in the nearby woods swells to the edges of its banks. The chorus of drops upon the roof drums a low background drone inside the ranch style house. Bach places down a large rifle barrel next to others on the tabletop. Tracing the length of the barrel, he rocks his head side to side uncertainly. "I... I might be able to do something. Um, anti-friction coating inside the barrel? Maybe some micro-grooves on the rifling? I not sure what you'd want on something like this."

Cideeda energetically pantomimes something bursting out in front of her. "Can you make it so the rounds sent through it explode into fire on impact?! That's possible right?"

Bach's face blanks, and he tilts his head blinking. Cideeda's excitement wanes as she gauges Bach's expression. Lowering his head down to inspect the barrel closer, Bach furrows his brow, and inspiration brews within. He mumbles a debate with himself and mutters out a grand plan. "But... Put mechanisms to... How much energy can I take from the round and convert... Then..."

Perking her furry ears, Cideeda cranes head around and focuses upon the quiet discussion. As pieces of words slip out, excitement flushes back into her face. Reading the mood shift, Dretphi waits in anticipation. Bach pulls a deep breath and holds his forehead contemplatively. He mulls over the options in a series of unsure winces and uncertain grimaces. Taking his hand off his forehead, he furrows his brow and shrugs with a hand held up. "It would take A LOT of testing to get it right. There's a good chance a barrel might get melted in the process."

Dretphi and Cideeda smile at each other. Sitting back in her chair at the dining table, Cideeda stretches her arms back. "More reasons to shoot guns? Well, I'm not going to argue."

Bach picks up a submachine gun round on the table and grabs a shotgun shell in the other hand. "I might be able to do something with these rounds. I know I need to be careful with the submachine gun stuff, since there's stuff with, like, the gasses and recoil that are important."

Granting an understanding nod, Dretphi cracks a smirk on her tan face. "Gas operated with an intricate mechanism. Do not worry. I will explain later."

Bach smiles gratefully and turns his attention to the other munitions. "Shotgun shells, I think give me a little more room to work in. We might have to do something to barrel, depending on what you want."

Sinking back into the chair, he sighs and squints distantly at the figures inside his mind. "It'll take some time to figure it out... And, I can only make so many a day. Now, if you want simple part performance tweaks, THAT I can do fast enough."

Cideeda and Dretphi discuss amongst each other, pointing out specifics in the party arsenal. During the detailed debate between the two, Bach casually picks up his plasma pistol on the pad in front of him. He removes the power pack and presses the safety discharge button a few times. Holding up in the air, he points it at the ceiling and rotates it thoughtfully. Narrowing his blue eyes, he gazes upon the workings of the device, angles different components into view, and examines the machine in his grip. As he relaxes his shoulders, a flush of blue illuminates his stare.

Flows of magical energy creep up along his arm onto and into the plasma pistol. The weapon partially disassembles. Parts shift, new magical components manifest in place, and the assembly melds together. The top lifts up, the sides of the barrel housing expand outwards, and the muzzle slides forward a few centimeters. Gaps between the outer casing fill with magical plating. Minutes of methodical process later, the last traces of flow drift off the magically bolster plasma pistol. A confident, roguish grin grows from the corner of Bach's mouth.

Bach admires the device in his hand. Furrowing his brow against flits of doubt, he fights back the uncertainty and summons up an experimenter's courage to the unknown. His blatant satisfaction fades against the awkward stares of Dretphi and Cideeda. Resorting to waving a hand in front of Bach, Cideeda narrows her emerald green eyes. Bach blanks his expression, and his eyes dart around the room with embarrassment filling in the gaps. "Uh... Y-yes?"

Cideeda exhales briefly with relief and grins toothily. "Good, you're back with us again. You zoned out for a while there, and we didn't want to interrupt you. But, I figured you were done when you started to admire your latest doomsday weapon like some kind of evil mad scientist."

Shuddering with frowns at the last part, Bach's gut tenses up uncomfortably. He eyes the plasma pistol with less enthusiasm. "Yeah. Well, this might be a bit overkill."

Dretphi pats Bach on the shoulder. "Overkill today. Enough kill tomorrow."

Cideeda nods, flicks her furry ears, and gives Bach a knowing gaze honed from experience. "Oh, don't be afraid to put a few aces up your sleeves. The key is to keep them hidden until they are needed the most. A lot of people forget that part. Don't want to give your enemies time to prepare."

An odd comfort exudes from the wisdom, and Bach relaxes. Agreeing with an accepting nod, he shifts his attention back to the plasma pistol. "Yeah. First, I have to find out if everything I did actually works. But, until then..."

The magical augments gradually vanish. The floating parts hover, reassemble themselves, and lock back into their original places. Bach places the pistol, holster, and power into a nearby case. While idly brushing her platinum braids, Dretphi eyes the glimmer edge of her machete and perks her brow at Bach. "What can you do for melee weapons?"

Gritting his teeth, Bach rocks his head side to side. "Ah. If you get the weapon how you want it, I know how to apply a stabilization matrix onto and into it to help keep it that way. It's similar to what's on your machete right now. As for putting magical edges on things, I'm actually a little wary to experiment on that."

He twists his mouth against a grimace. "Especially after my experiences making a knife and fork with stabilized magical energy."

Wagging her tail curiously, Cideeda blinks thoughtfully. Catching a similar reaction from Dretphi, she levels an inquisitive stare at Bach and awaits a further explanation. Lowering his head in embarrassment, Bach summons his composure. "Okay. Long story short. The knife sliced through the tough steak I had... Right into the last ceramic plate I had left. The fork fell off the table, landed tines first, and stuck itself a centimeter into the vinyl and wood floor."

Dretphi and Cideeda stare in wide-eyed shock. Bach throws his hands up in resignation. "I know. After that, I've avoided that APPLICATION until I can make anything like that safe. Well, at least enough for the user. Gods, I'm glad that fork fell off before I tried to eat with it."

He holds up a finger and smirks with a tinge of confidence. "Now, spoons on the other hand... Those I can do just fine."

Inspiration glints within Cideeda's emerald green eyes, her long, fluffy tail wags eagerly, and she perks her furry ears. "Make me a spoon."

Bach and Dretphi exchange confused stares, and squint expectantly at Cideeda. Slyly smiling, Cideeda waves towards the kitchen counter with cereal boxes upon it. "We'll place it over there. Then, we'll see how long before Sotalia steals it. We can even get a betting pool going, I'm sure Aristespha will want to join in."

The collective plot manifests between intrigued glances at each other. Bach holds his palm up, and a flash radiant blue illuminates his eyes.

Dragging her wandering gaze across the dimly lit bedroom, Aristespha jots down a few lines of notes and saves the document on her tablet. She reaches behind her and rearranges the pillow stack to supportive satisfaction. Sebastian's ethereal visage materializes next to her on the bed. He nonchalantly hangs an arm around her with the ethereal form phasing with contact. "So, brushing up that sex scene in the chapter of your latest slash fic?"

Aristespha lets the tablet fall forward on her chest and gently swings her amused gaze at Sebastian, sarcasm tinting her voice. "Why, yes! I think I have settled on a surprise three-way now, with a voyeur hiding in the closet."

Sebastian grins smugly and meets Aristespha's gaze. "Ooo... Is that a double entendre?"

Pausing in thought, Aristespha snorts lightly and vainly hides a guilty smile. Sebastian peeks over and motions for her to flip the tablet back up. "So, what were you writing down?"

Aristespha tilts the tablet up and reveals a sundry of writing with magical symbols, scribbles around curious points, and overflowing footnotes. "Just my research. Nothing really that exciting. Unfortunately..."

Sebastian's translucent blue eyes wander towards the title line of a referenced paper. "Effects of counter-phased magical energy exposure? Wow. That's an oddly specific field of study. What are you reading it for?"

Furrowing her brow, Aristespha sighs and gazes at Sebastian. "Your brother, of course. So far, it's all inconclusive. Again, there's certainly more to his story he has yet to tell."

Sebastian drops his head down and ethereally groans. "In time. I'm sure he'll tell it all in-"

With faintly glowing violet eyes, Aristespha holds onto Sebastian's hand and speaks softly. "It's okay. Really. We all have got stories that are uncomfortable to talk about. And, I have gotten enough information to begin to understand how he manipulates his magic."

Against the flows of magic coating Aristespha's hand, Sebastian lightly squeezes her hand and ponders out loud. "Begin to understand? You? Don't you have it figured out? You usually figure these things out before I even know what the question was, dear."

Twisting her mouth, Aristespha shrugs her shoulders and groans. "Sebastian, I consider myself very proficient in magical knowledge and practice. To put it in a way, some of the shit your brother does would freak out the experts well above me. I honestly have difficulty perceiving half of what he does."

Sebastian blinks in astonishment, and his expression grows more concerned with a tinge of worry. "Is there anything I can do? Anything I need to look out for? Or, maybe anything I can ask him?"

Aristespha slides down into the bed sheets and sinks her head of long silvery blue hair into the plush pillows. "No, not right now. He's fine. He has outstanding control of his abilities, and he is capable. It's just..."

Gazing down at Aristespha, Sebastian turns his head curiously. "It's just...?"

Pulling up the sheets, Aristespha squirms for comfort within the covers. "I have diagnosed and treated people with magical disabilities. I've discussed advanced topics with professions who specialize in that field. People have found effective ways to treat, compensate, and work around such disabilities. But..."

She drifts off in thought, gazing at Sebastian's concerned face. "I do not believe anyone has taken the route Bach has, with any degree of success. Especially not to such an extreme..."