Episode 11

The digital display on the fuel station pump flickers increasing numbers. Leaning against the side of the humvee, Cideeda wipes a few remaining bits of sleep from her eyes and holds the fueling nozzle. The pump clicks off and the hose shudders. Cideeda stares at the display, reading the final tallies. Lifting off the side of the vehicle, she removes the fueling nozzle, deftly twirls it around, and holsters it back into the pump. The pump display flicks through a series of status prompts, and the machine prints out a receipt from a slot. Cideeda closes the outside cover on the fueling port, and snatches the receipt. Stepping to the open driver's door, she stretches her arms and arches her back. She hops into the driver's seat and shuts the door. Arching herself up the back of her seat, she extends an arm over the head rest, and waves the slip of paper at Aristespha. "Here's the receipt."

Aristespha blinks away from the tablet, and slowly raises her violet eyes at the receipt. She reaches out, calmly pinches it between her fingers, and pulls it from Cideeda's light grasp. "Thank you. What's the tank odometer say?"

Cideeda slides back down in her seat and hovers her hand in front of the display in the middle of the console. Pressing a series of buttons on both sides of the display, she navigates the menus to fuel tank information and usage statistics. "Nine eight zero kilometers using that tank and filled up about fifty liters of synth-diesel."

Bach's eyes dart around the numbers processing in his head. "That's about... Twenty kilometers per liter? Pretty good for something this size. Strangely good, actually."

He sits up in his seat and leans out with a curious stare. Glancing back to Bach, Cideeda presses the buttons around the console screen, and shows off some statistics with a tap of a claw tip. "Well, the turbine powerplant is nowhere near stock anymore. The electrical drive system is pretty close to original. The batteries had to be replaced when we first found it, since they literally fell apart when I poke them with a stick. And, there's solar panels on top that I added to give us some other power options."

With a proud glint in her emerald eye, she grins. "For an ancient military vehicle, she's still doing good."

Bach leans forward and clings to the side of the front passenger's seat, focusing on the console screen. "Any particular reason you use synth-diesel? That stuff is not cheap."

Cideeda curls her upper lip into a sneer and rolls her eyes with stale regret and prior irritation. "Quality. We used to use bio-diesel..."

Narrowing her frustration into a distant stare at the side, she grumbles. "But, it seems like every place has their own SPECIAL blend that either runs okay, or tries to jam up the powerplant in this thing. Synth-diesel consistently works thanks to The Grand Library keeping a tight grip on the production."

Aristespha positions the receipt in front of her tablet and taps an onscreen button. An captured image appears on the tablet's screen, and status icons about the analysis flash up. Seconds later, a final prompt confirms with a notification showing a numeric amount. Aristespha taps Bach on the shoulder with a sly smile on her face and reveals the front of the tablet. "Also, since I am a Master Sage under the employ of The Grand Library and the group is presently on retainer to defeat Dark Lord Noxian, a healthy rebate is VERY easy to obtain."

Bach reads the information on the tablet and slowly nods in surprised approval. "Oh. Wow! That's hell of a discount in the end. Do you have to provide justification or some proof to keep getting it?"

Aristespha rests back in her seat, sets the tablet down in her lap, and rolls her hands with her thoughts. "Yes. But, they aren't very strict given the nature of what we are presently doing. We came to this region since it's around a number of places Noxian was known to be at. While it's an educated guess, this still may be a region he would fall back to try to recollect himself."

Sebastian's ethereal voice emanates from the sword near Aristespha. "But... Noxian has been REALLY quiet lately. The sword used to detect traces of his presence all the time, especially when he used any Elder energy to power his spells. Even from great distances. But lately... Nothing. No disturbances at all. So, either he's gotten really stealthy, or he's currently really weak."

Aristespha crosses her arms with frowns and sighs. "Or... He may have unfortunately decided to go somewhere else. Honestly, we theorized he would at least visit an old hideout or maybe something meaningful to him in the past before going too far. That... May have changed."

Cideeda spots Sotalia exiting the doors of the fuel station's convenience store and notices the cardboard drink carrier in one hand. Sotalia holds the door open. Dretphi steps out carrying a large tank of water over one shoulder and tightly gripping a large bundle of bags in the opposite hand. Cideeda directs her voice to both Bach and Aristespha. "Before Sotalia gets back... I STILL think we need to find and check out Noxian's old haunt, back when he wasn't a crazed Dark Lord. He's been spotted in that one area a few times."

Aristespha nods in agreement and breathes in deeply. "I have to agree with you. It might take some time to locate it. But, I doubt we are going to get lucky and find him anytime soon. Even if we do find signs of him, it is going to be extremely difficult to track him down... Without the sword guiding us."

Sebastian's voice resonates with a solemn tone. "I'm certain he knows the sword can sense big releases of Elder energy. I'd wager he's playing it very safe and reserved until he feels he doesn't need to anymore. So, we are just going to have to do some hard, tedious investigating and try to get some insight to what he may be doing. But... Mission at hand first, we'll debate it later."

The back hatch door of the humvee opens up. Dretphi plops the large water tank inside and hoists the bags inside. Bach opens his door, hops out onto the pavement, and slides his seat forward. Walking around the side of the vehicle, Dretphi nods at Bach with a smile and lifts herself through the door to her rear seat. After Dretphi crawls back, Bach slides the back and hops in with the door closing behind him. Sotalia finishes arranging cargo, closes the back hatch, and strides quickly to the front. Opening the front passenger door, she carefully steps up into her seat and sorts through the drink carrier on her lap. "Okay, everyone, I hope they got the orders right."

Sotalia picks up a covered cup and examines the writing on the side. "One fruit tea combo for Cideeda."

Cideeda taps a claw tip near an empty cup holder in between her and Sotalia. Inserting the drink into the holder, Sotalia checks another beverage. "Black tea with a shot of thick coffee for Aristespha."

Aristespha reaches out expectantly, swiftly pulls the bounty back, and greedily drinks a long, satisfying swig with a relieved exhale. Sotalia inspects the next drink. "Hot spiced milk tea for Bach."

Waving it around Bach's open hand with a playful grin, she mischievously gazes at him with a glint in her golden eyes. "What do you say?"

Bach narrows his stare at Sotalia, and a wry smile creeps onto his face. "How far forward do you want your seat?"

Sotalia lifts a humored brow, pouts jokingly, and releases the cup in Bach's hand. Reading the writing on one of the two remaining drinks, she reaches an arm far back around her seat and down the aisle. "A Grath Black for Dretphi."

Dretphi shifts forward, extends her long arm out, and grasps the cup firmly. Sotalia turns her attention to the remaining container. Happily picking it up, she cheerfully reads the long, complicated order. The litany of ingredients and processes detailed captures everyone's attention and distracts them from their beverage. Each attempts to decipher the convoluted creation in Sotalia's grasp. Sebastian's ethereal voice breaks the awkward silence. "So... There's coffee in it... Somewhere... Right? Or Tea? Maybe?"

A whine of the turbine powerplant resonates out from the sparse section canopy. Between the thick forests bordering a narrow strip of aged ravaged asphalt, the humvee rolls slowly through the brush and debris cluttered passage. Hanging out the humvee's window, Cideeda supports herself on the frame and watches the front tire roll on the edge of the overgrown path. Her hand cranks the steering wheel with the terrain and adjusts to the contours of the narrow dirt trail. She stare uncertainly against the rocky grinding and wooden snaps underneath the tires and grits her teeth. "We might want to put a note in our report that vehicle access is QUESTIONABLE, at best. I can't tell if the road really is this winding, or if it's just that overrun with the plants and dirt."

The humvee crawls on top the layers of dirt, gravel, and debris upon the obscured, ancient pavement. Bach squints at a small object in the underbrush of the forest bordering the rough drive. Leans out his open window, he points out the object and calls out to the team. "I think that's an old road marker over there. It just might be this overgrown. Anyone else seeing this?"

Sotalia swings herself from observing the front tire on her side and checks the area Bach points to. Sliding her sunglasses down her nose, she spots the same object. "Yeah, that looks like a road marker to me, too. Looks like there was at least another full lane, this way."

Aristespha breaks away from staring out her window, flips through her tablet, and zooms in on some text. "This was a major research base at one point. Old government records indicate it had significant staffing. A two lane road would not be out of the ordinary."

Sitting back in his seat, Bach quizzically eyes Aristespha with a tinge of hesitation. "Just have to ask, but... What were they researching?"

Aristespha catches Bach's expression and shows him the tablet. "Electromagnetic phenomena. Non-military."

She adopts a partial smile with a reassuring tone. "No cybernetics or genetics. I'm not going to say it'll be any better. But, we can hope some possible problems are not as likely to occur."

While Bach reads the information, Dretphi bends forward, holding onto the backs of Aristespha's and Bach's seats, and peeks at the tablet. "Above ground. Wide open. Small buildings. Multiple antenna arrays in cleared fields."

She nods with a reserved approval. "A drastic change from the previous mission."

Shrugging with a faint bit of hope, he returns to searching the treeline. "Well, I'm willing to give anything that's not a cybernetic horror filled dungeon a chance at this point."

Sotalia lifts her head back from staring down along the border of the path and the underbrush. "I'll second that. Never have been a fan of those underground bases. Too tight and cramped."

Curling her upper lip into an irritable sneer, she grumbles. "And they are really limiting on the spells I can use!"

Cideeda flops back into her seat as the overgrowth and treeline retreats away to reveal a far less constricting path. Checking her seat belt, she accelerates the humvee and grins relieved. "I think we're good for now. Thanks for watching the road everyone."

She angles her head towards the group and directs her voice back. "As much as I don't want to run into a situation where I NEED them, I much prefer having the explosives option. So, I'm all for avoiding underground tunnels."

Dretphi nods in agreement and stretches her arms back onto the top of the back bench seat with a sigh. "Dungeons are nostalgic. Prefer to live in the present."

Sebastian's ethereal voice resonates from the sword near Aristespha, a tinge of sarcasm hinting through. "Aw... Come on, you all! You got to love the classics! Dank, dark tunnels with enemies lurking around every corner. Traps everywhere you step and more where you don't."

Groaning heavily, Sotalia dramatically rolls her golden eyes. "Oh. Yes. Please. Please, take me away to convoluted structural design that children would question."

She crosses her arms and flicks an unamused gaze towards the team. "Gods, I don't know why people just don't fill all those tombs, dungeons, and tunnels with concrete once they clear them out."

Aristespha sighs with a shake of her head of long, silvery blue hair. "I, unfortunately, have to agree. Despite SOME historical value... Most of those places were First Period projects by egotistical mage kings that read too many ancient fantasy novels. Most were purposefully designed to be obtuse with no real function."

Flicking her furry ears back, Cideeda sneers sharply. "They're just death traps. The only places I've ever visited that had some sense of purpose were the towers."

An old memory perks up Aristespha's smile, and she giggles while covering her mouth. "Oh! Remember that one governor that pestered us non-stop to clear out that old mage tower?"

Sebastian's voice emanates from the sword with an unamused tone. "Yeah... That guy could NOT take a hint."

An ethereal reverberates into the cab of the humvee, and Sebastian groans. "No, we won't investigate the tower. No, we're not interested in whatever you want to pay us. No, you ain't going to arrest us with those bogus charges. No, begging is not going to help. No, we don't care how many other adventurers want this opportunity, too. Feel free to go bother them."

Giggling to a snort, Cideeda easily navigates the less overgrown, wider road. "That governor, or whatever his position, was so slimy. I still can't believe what he planned to do with that tower. Trying to give us a non-guild job under the table."

Dretphi briefly winces and sneers, revealing a hint of a canine. "Would not stop staring at my chest. His eyes followed me everywhere."

Sotalia twists in her seat and glances back at Dretphi. "Girl, I remember that. I think the only time he stopped staring at you was to leer at my ass."

Furrowing his brow, Bach sorts through his mind and narrows his stare distantly. His blue eyes spring open and recognition swings his head to face the group. "Wait! Was that the guy who tried to pull a Sundial Tower Scheme a few years back?"

Aristespha nods and rests her cheek on her hand, lifting her brow in thought. "To be honest, we did not know what he planned on doing. Thankfully, nothing he proposed sounded good in the slightest. It was so obviously bad. Especially when he tried to extort us with those ridiculous, made-up criminal charges. He was SO desperate."

Twisting a frown on her mouth, Dretphi slowly shakes her head and draws a deep breath with her hands on her knees. "I remember when the news showed his picture, months later. Pointed at it. Yelled to everyone in the hotel bar."

Sotalia frowns tightly in disgust and shudders. "Gods, I'm so glad we reported his sorry ass to the guild. It was sleazy enough he was trying to sucker people into a non-guild job."

Cideeda tilts her head of short, multi-colored hair to the side, flexes her claws tips on the steering wheel, and rolls her emerald green eyes. "At least no one fell for THAT scheme."

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Bach groans annoyed. "I just never get those schemes. Do they just expect no one to ever figure it out?"

Drooping her furry ears to the sides, Cideeda resettles in her seat and sighs with a trailing grumble. "It's a race against time. Get the ruin. Convince some adventurers to do a quick clear job. Doctor up some legit certificate of clearance. Hire shady contractors to clean and paint. Then, you pawn it off on the first people with more money than sense."

She glances over her shoulder and smirks dismissively. "All the while, you hope that Fate, Karma, Hubris, or Murphy don't take notice of what you are trying to do."

Sebastian's ethereal visage materializes in the middle aisle, and his wry chuckle sounds out. "Yeah, you better hope whatever remote part of Nexus you run off to doesn't have an extradition treaty."

Aristespha sits up in her seat, leans out into the aisle, and focuses on some distant structures through the front windshield. She returns to her seat and flips through a few maps on her tablet. "I think we are getting close. A few of these landmarks are on the map we got from the guild. We will probably reach the main entry in the next half hour."

Cideeda scans the horizon and watches the scenery go by. Wryly smiling, she adjusts the humvee's course along the scattered bits of proper road. "You know if, I didn't know this road led to yet another abandoned relic of the past, that probably contains some unmentionable horror, this would actually be a nice drive."

Bach glances out his window and eventually nods at the observation. "If the road was a bit better, I'd take my bike out for a trip. Need to do that anyway. Next break we take."

Dretphi reaches down on the floorboard. She hoists up a shoulder armor plate and works on securing the worn piece to her under-armor. "If the mission proves easy, we should enjoy the remaining day."

An uneasy sigh slips out from her. "If the mission permits us."

Bach hears velcro pads and mechanical fasteners behind him. Turning around, he observes Dretphi locking in the shoulder plate. He checks his own equipment and plasma pistol in the holster. "So, how much do we have to check and verify at this site? How thorough do we have to be?"

Aristespha flicks through various documents on the tablet and stops on one article. "Thankfully, most of the facility has been surveyed before. There are notes about anything important to know. Only two buildings on site are still sealed. Hence, they only require inspection to make sure they still remain sealed. The only hard part will be comparing how the antenna arrays look with the pictures on file. We will likely have to take all new ones."

An awkward silence looms inside the cab. Breaking the uneasy quiet, Sebastian grumbles momentarily. "Okay. I'll say it, so no one else has to... Sounds simple enough. "

A collection of eyes rolls, groans, and sighs fill the air in the cab. Sebastian drops his head and lifts it up with a smiling bravado. "But! We all know how that usually goes. So, let's keep the group together when we get there. It'll take longer to check everything out, but I think we're okay with taking our time on it. Correct?"

Dretphi nods in agreement, leans forward, sweeps up another armor plate from the floor, and sticks in place on herself. Aristespha gives a singular nod and continues to analyze the maps of the site. Cideeda removes a hand from the steering wheel and gives a brief thumbs up. Sotalia nods and inspects her belt of pouches. Bach shrugs at Sebastian. "Sounds good enough to me, brother."

Sebastian grins proudly and sets his sights ahead into the distance. "Good. Let's see what we got today."

A strong wind blows through the decaying metal frameworks. The remnant stretches of rusting braid steel cables and synthetic strand tethers sway gently with the breeze. Breezes whistle through the heaps of many, the once towering, structures on the ground. Still standing anchors in crumbling concrete bases fence in air spaces once occupied. Defiantly against time and wear, a significant number of the unique designs stoically hold above the tops of the trees nearby. Another gust rolls through the sparse stretches of thin, high grass growing between the cracks of the treeless asphalt lot. Fencing in the desolate space, six smaller buildings oppose each other into two columns of pairs with equal wide spacing. The collection pens in a space leading from the antenna array field towards the large, single-story, bunker at the other end. Within this paved courtyard joining all the structures, concrete barriers, steel girders, and other forgotten construction fodder litter the area in pockets of order against overall disarray.

The party rounds the corner of a small building next to the large bunker. Sotalia throws her head of shoulder length, dark red hair back while plodding along and seeks something of interest in the clouds above. "Gods, I think I'll skip mentioning this mission to my mother next time she calls."

Pulling away from investigating one of the small building windows, Cideeda pivots and grins slyly at Sotalia. "What? Don't want mother to hear about all your exciting adventures in comparing pictures of metal heaps and debris piles in abandoned buildings?"

Shaking her head slowly, Sotalia dismisses with a wave of her hand up in the air. "I try to keep it interesting for her. Have to justify the years of magic courses and adventuring school somehow. Don't think she'd be all that impressed that I'm spending all my time doing stuff like this."

Cideeda steps back over to the group with a slight shrug and tilts her head at Sotalia with a smile. "Fair enough. Thankfully, my mom is happy to hear my voice... And getting any pictures of the random artifacts and trinkets I find. Dad just loves to hear about the deals I've worked out of people."

Bach puzzles for a moment and gazes down to Cideeda. "What do your parents do for a living?"

Cideeda returns a nonchalant glance to Bach while stretching her arms back. "Mom's a metal sculptor most of the time, but does contract specialty repair work for large machinery to pay the bills when no one is buying art. Dad is the owner of one of the larger scrapyards down south."

Furrowing her brow to a sudden thought, Aristespha breaks from studying a gallery of pictures on the table and glances over her shoulder to Cideeda. "Has your mother put another batch of her Second Period styled statuettes?"

Cideeda scratches her long, furry ear, twists her mouth in thought, and squints an eye through recent memory. "I think so? I'll have to double-check. She was excited about finishing up a few big projects last I talked to her, so she didn't spend a long time talking about what she had in stock.

She gazes with newly piqued interest at Aristespha. "Why do you ask?"

Annoyance gently bubbles into Aristespha's ivory face, and she vents out her reluctance. Her violet eyes in stare defeated to the skies above with a corner frown. "I have a cousin getting married. I am expected to send a gift in lieu of my inability to attend. Both the bride and groom fancy themselves art snobs..."

She rolls her eyes and contorts with a tinge of disgust. "But, I don't know when and where they got that idea into their heads."

Cideeda slinks up to Aristespha's side with a toothy grin and gives her sly wink. "Well, I could get my dad to bolt some random junk together, from the almost Second Era, onto a nice wooden stand. He'd even gift wrap it for you."

Aristespha bites her lower lip and internally debates with herself in vain, seeking a reason for this scheme to not work. "That is... VERY tempting. I truly doubt they would know the difference... Or care after a certain point, so long as it would give them a reason to sound like they knew what they were talking about."

The group arrives in the middle of the courtyard in front of the large bunker building. Dretphi cautiously alternates her stare between the closed bunker and last small, sealed building along another edge of the paved space nearby. "Two remain. Both should be sealed. Large or small?"

Sebastian ghostly visage hovers back from the group casually and points a thumb over the shoulder to the small building. "I'll do a fly through of this one real quick. It looks locked up as it is. I'll just make sure no one has tried to crack it open or cut a hole in the side."

After a round of approvals, Sebastian lines up for the approach and holds a hand out with a finger up. "You all wait here for a minute, I'll be as fast as I can."

He darts off across the courtyard and drifts down the space between the sealed small building and another small building. While in flight, he studies the aging concrete wall. As he rounds the corner, he hunts for anything unusual along the backside of the structure. Inspecting the other side, he drifts out towards the tall, wide front doors. Sebastian's stare follows the outline of the huge doors, making an entire trip around. He squints at the door's dead and lightless control panel. With a shrug, Sebastian spins to fly away. He halts as suspicion swirls with curiosity on his face.

Crossing her arms, Aristespha narrows her stare. She quirks an eyebrow when Sebastian reverses his course and puts his ethereal visage, head first, through the doors. "What is he doing?"

Bach tilts his head to the side and watches his ghostly brother with a shrug. "Maybe he heard something inside?"

Sebastian withdraws his head from the metal doors and launches back a few meters. Holding his hands out, he shakes his head with a resistant expression and emphatically mouths. "No"

He glides back to the group and lands to stand before them. Sotalia crosses her arms and visibly ponders with a nonplussed expression on her light tan and dark gray face. "So? What DID you find in there?"

Straightening his posture, Sebastian wrestles a grimace with an uncomfortable tint in his tone. "Well. I got this weird feeling. So, I thought I should take a look inside. Good news. The building looks sealed up. Bad news. There's two security bots in there, of the three meter tall, armed and armored variety."

Cideeda springs open her emerald eyes and darts her attention between staring at Sebastian and the small, hopefully sealed building behind. "So... What's the condition of the two bots?"

Bouncing his head between his shoulders, Sebastian fights down an uncertain grimace. "One looks like it was parted out a LONG time ago. So, that one is sitting in a pile of pieces. The other looks all together, but I don't know how functional it is."

Briefly gritting his teeth, he hisses an ethereal breath out. "I... don't really want to find out today, if that's okay with everyone."

He glances over his shoulder at the small building. "But, I didn't see anything online and active in there. It might be in a sleep mode and just completely offline. That's a mystery I'm willing to leave alone."

Aristespha pulls out her tablet and swipes to the note section of the report. She twists an uneasy frown and draws an uncomfortable breath. "Well... That is good to know. I will add THAT in the report. I hope they will get the GAA to try to secure and salvage that. But, I don't think we should linger much longer here."

Bach blinks blankly, and his attention slides over to the large, closed doors of the small building. Snapping his head to Aristespha with a nervous frown, a nervously squirm slips down his body. "Uh... Um... I thought you said this was a non-military research base?"

Dretphi maintains a careful watch of the area as mild concern creeps into her voice. "Third party defense company security robot. Bought along with the construction of the site?"

Perking her furry ears with her thoughts, Cideeda lifts an intrigued eyebrow and drums her claw tips on the waistband of her body suit. "That's probably when they would have had the money to afford such a thing. Government budgets and all."

Furrowing her brow under her full face visor, Dretphi rolls her armor plated shoulders. "Surprised it is together now."

Cideeda rests her hand underneath her chin, closes her eyes contemplatively, and nods slowly. "If they did part out one of them... It's feasible that the other could be functional, probably from the parts it got from the other. It has been stored in a good shelter for all these years..."

Gritting her sharp teeth, she shudders against an uneasy wave through her. "I think this falls under stuff we can talk about, on the drive home."

Dretphi focuses a quizzical quirk of a brow to Sebastian and momentarily hums low in thought. "What weapons did you see?"

Sebastian closes his translucent blue eyes and rubs the temples of his transparent head. Sorting through recent memory, he contorts a grimace. "It was dark, and I only got a quick look. But... Uh... Two arms. One had a minigun on it? The other looked like a plasma particle cannon? It wasn't a railgun, gauss rifle, or a laser. Big port, lots of venting."

Sotalia sighs as she drops her shoulders in mild disappointment. Groaning against a sensible color to her voice, she darts her golden eyes to the side. "As much as I would LOVE the chance to test out some spells... I'm perfectly fine with leaving that much firepower alone. I'm okay with checking out this last building and going home for the day."

Aristespha closes her violet eyes, pinches the bridge of her nose, and nods in full agreement. "I will gladly second that. This will be sufficient to report on."

Putting his hands on his sides, Sebastian presents a slight smile and lifts his head back towards the large bunker. "If no one else objects, let's head for the doors, check them out, do a quick look around, and double-time it home. Probably make it to town before all the nice restaurants close."

Bach chuckles with a sarcastic twist as a dry grin emerges on his face. "What? And not help keep Pancake Shed in business as usual?"

Sotalia bites her lip and sways her hips as her face wrestles with temptation. "Damn it all. We did pass one on the way here."

With a spark in her green eyes, Cideeda pats around her hip at one of the pockets in her bodysuit. She pushes her fingers inside, grips hold of something, and retrieves a stack of small rectangular cards. Flipping through a number of them, she stops on one, Pancake Shed branded. "I am one stamp away from a free Shed Stack."

Aristespha rolls violet her eyes with a reserved smile and directs everyone's attention to the large bunker. "Okay. We'll debate THAT after we take care of this last part of the mission."

The group reassembles behind Aristespha and Sebastian, and the two lead the team towards the front sliding metal doors of the large bunker. Aristespha and Sebastian step onto the walkway directly in front of the bunker.


Aristespha's tablet drops onto the pavement, bounces off the ground in its protective case, and settles a meter shy of the front sliding metal doors. Gripping the sword at her side, she gawks in shock. The sword vibrates in its scabbard as an ambient background noise rises up to nearby ears, and Sebastian's visage wavers with the sound. Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia collectively skid and slide to a halt behind Aristespha and watch the sword with anticipation.


Sebastian's ghostly visage warps and waves for a few seconds afterwards. His ethereal form stabilizes as the sword drifts off to silence along with the ambient din. Aristespha cautiously removes her hand from the hilt of the sword. Kneeling down, she grabs onto her tablet and stands back up to face everyone. Exchanging glance, tensions rise between the group as heavy quiet looms over. Dretphi readies her submachine gun. Both of Cideeda's hands simultaneously hit the power buttons for both her holstered laser pistols. The fading high-pitched whine of Bach's charging plasma pistol joins the chorus. Sotalia and Aristespha slowly adopt textbook defensive magic casting positions. Sebastian scans around the immediate area for anything blatant. "Okay. Nothing obvious, right now. Everyone... Take a minute and scout it out. Call out anything."

While everyone searches for the out of the ordinary, Bach pauses. He stills, closes his eyes, and waits. His cheek twitches, and his head leads the rest of his body towards the metal doors. Opening his eyes, his stare works up from the ground to the top of the doors. His body tenses, and his full attention focuses on the top arch of the door frame. Frowning, his eyes glow blue, and he concentrates his stare. His pupils shrink, eyes open wide, and clenching teeth yank his frown down with a reflexive gasp. Blinking spooked, he shudders, and his eyes dart around to see what the others are doing. He watches Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sotalia, and Sebastian search in directions away from him and without knowledge of what is upon the doorway. He draws deep breath in, exhales out his tension, and slowly raises his arm to point at the top of the door frame with an inquisitive, uncertain tone. "I see something up there?"

The rest of the group notices Bach's arm extending and hand pointing to the top of the door frame. Both Aristespha and Sotalia notice Bach's glowing blue eyes. Aristespha closes her eyes briefly, pauses to focus herself, and reopens her eyes with a violet light. Sotalia closes her eyes, too. She winces, cringes, and grits her teeth, straining. Eventually, she opens her eyes and they emit a very dim golden glimmer. "This is REALLY hard to maintain..."

Aristespha studies the top of the door frame and draws the corner of her mouth into an understanding smirk. "It gets easier. Eventually. I think I see... Yes!"

Her hand whips up with a finger out and traces a path across the top. She takes a step closer and squints as bewilderment flushes in her face. "It is really faint, but this is definitely left over from the use of Elder energy magic. It's significantly decayed, so it was some quick spell, of sorts. Or just raw energy manipulation?"

Trickles of suspicion slip into her demeanor, and a sterner tone filters into her voice. "But... What could he have done to the door, that would have it still be here?"

Cideeda's nose twitches, and she sniffs the air. Narrowing her eyes, repeatedly pulls in more air through her nose, and her head drops down, searching ahead. She steps next to Aristespha, squats down, and studies an odd patch of grime upon the concrete pad in front of the doorway. Her claw tip lowers into muck, and she swirls the patch to reveal an oily, reddish-brown fluid hidden underneath. Cideeda tilts her head back and glances up at the top of the doors. Spotting the control panel in the wall at the side of the door, she cracks a cornered grin. "This is hydraulic fluid. Noxian must have forced the doors open and blown out the hoses. This pool is leaking from the other side of the door."

Sotalia blinks a few times as the golden light dims out completely, and quizzically gestures at the closed doors. "If he forced them open, why are they closed now?"

Bach scratches the back of his head and carefully walks up to the side of the doors. Craning his head around to examine the area between where the top of the frame and the top of the doors meet, he squints at the construction. "This doesn't look like heavy, high-security doors. Maybe it's spring loaded enough that with the hydraulics busted, they moved back once the magic decayed?"

Darting her emerald green eyes around the mechanics before her, Cideeda nods at the theory. Dretphi traces her pointing finger up and down the door meeting point between the doors. She slightly twists her helmeted head to the side as her stare settles on the intersection between the two sliding doors. "An uneven junction. The gap is wide for this type of door. I could attempt to pull it open."

Sebastian drifts towards the doors in thought and nods. "Well, if it's been opened, we need to investigate, for the mission... AND, we need to find out what is going on here. Let me check the other side, and see if there's anything waiting for us."

Dretphi positions herself to the side of the doorway opposite to Bach. Sotalia and Aristespha get behind Bach, and Cideeda hops over with Dretphi. Sebastian gives a confirming thumbs up and floats through. The group waits in minutes of silence. Popping his head out the doors, Sebastian signals both groups in with a perplexed expression on his face. "It's clear from what I can tell. But, gods damn. Someone turned this place upside down. So, it's a bit of a mess in here. Be careful when walking around."

Dretphi positions herself in front of the doors and forces her gauntlet covered fingers in between the gap. Pushing her armored digits in, she cracks the two doors apart. With modest effort, the doors slowly slide apart. Air hissing and liquid sputtering echo from inside the bunker. Bach grabs hold of the edge of the opposing door and pulls with his weight leaning back. Once the divide widens enough, Dretphi puts both hands on her door, shifting her mass to wrench the door further back. "Not hard. Not easy. Have to coordinate going through ourselves."

Bach nods and strains as his door slides stubbornly inside of the frame. "Yeah. Agreed. Okay, watch the hydraulic fluid. I think more got pumped out."

Cideeda draws both her laser pistols. She aims them down the dark hallway leading deeper into the bunker and hops into the bunker over the oozing pool of hydraulic fluid. Sotalia braces herself on Bach's shoulder and awkwardly steps over the muck. Aristespha gracefully leaps over the obstacle and lands solidly inside. Bach glances at Dretphi and tips his head towards the inside. "After you."

Dretphi flashes a warm smile at Bach. She orbits around her half of the door frame, while pinning the door in place, and steadies herself inside. Bach attempts to copy Dretphi and slides a bit on the hydraulic fluid when the force of the door nearly gets the best of him. He manages to recover and swing inside. Releasing their respective doors simultaneously, and Bach and Dretphi watch the entry shut with another chorus of hisses and sputters from the broken hoses.

The courtyard remains silent. A breeze washes across the pavement and stirs up bits of dirt. Darkening clouds above move across the sky and project flowing shadows onto the earth below. In the lull, no signs of life reveal themselves.

A previously lightless, inactive console on the small building returns to light, active.

Lines of computing equipment fill the huge space with rows of order. Images and text mix and flick on the screens, and similar patterns travel between the displays. At the front of the large room, huge flat monitors occasionally scroll with new lines of text or update to a new variation of a prior image. An omnipresent sound of idle computation equipment lingers throughout and secures the ambient din in the huge room. A glowing orb of light drifts up into the air, touches the ceiling, and sticks. Another similar light orb lands on the ceiling a few meters away. Bach readies another small ball, and holds it while gauging the visibility. "This must be the nerve center for the whole operation. I mean..."

Aristespha holds her hand of condensing magic up and projects a bright light across the banks of computers. "It is. There are station labels on these machines. The language isn't that old."

Sebastian floats over to a station and reads, surprised. "Wow! It's something I can actually read. The spelling is a bit weird, but it must have been before phonetic spelling got popular. Looks like these are the utility control and monitoring stations. Not much going on here."

Sotalia shines her variation of a light spell over the nearby row of consoles, and perks a brow with spark of interest. "Ooo! Security monitoring station! Looks like some camera controls and other neat stuff."

She taps the thin, dust covered monitor and drags the system's mouse across the age coated desk. After a few seconds of inactivity, she repeatedly taps the space bar on the keyboard, and waits to no response. Grumbling in frustration, she investigates the system further and halts upon spotting on dark indicator light. She sighs, rolls her golden eyes, and clicks the power button on the monitor. The screen glow lights up the area around her, and she groans with an annoyed droop of the shoulders. "Of course, they logged out. Figures, the one time there's any competency."

Lifting a hopeful eyebrow, she taps her long black nails on the desktop. "Maybe... They wrote it down somewhere."

While walking towards Sotalia, Dretphi scans the room and spots an active station on the front row. "Front right station. It looks logged in."

Cideeda rushes over to the station, inspects the office chair, and carefully sits down. She squints at the screen and examines the current state of the computer. "It looks like a data visualization station? Wait! Huh, I think I recognize this operating system? It seems like an ancient ancestor of a few of the older ones today. Hey, Bach, could you come over here?"

Bach navigates through the strewn papers, stacks of extra computer components, and layers of cabling littering the floor. Rolling a nearby office chair over next to Cideeda, he eyes the seat of it, shrugs, and carefully rests his butt in the chair. "Well, at least they spent good money on the furniture."

He watches the monitor and analyzes the interface's layout and design. "It's definitely ancient. Well, I mean, I'm sure some of the old core commands haven't changed that much."

Nodding in agreement, Cideeda rests her clawed fingers on the keyboard. She furrows her brow in thought and clacks in a command to the terminal prompt on the screen. Streaming out on the screen, a list of commands with dates unrolls up the display. Cideeda's emerald green eyes flit open, and her jaw drops. Placing a claw tip on the screen next to her recent command's date, she slides up to the date of the next command. "Oh my gods... That command was entered TWO WEEKS AGO!"

Sebastian rockets across the room and stops right over Cideeda and Bach. "WHAT?! Holy shit. He was here!"

Bach winces uncertainly and glances up to his brother. "You sure it was him?"

Frowning sternly, Sebastian nods back. "Yeah, bro. Elder energy use. In an area he's been known to be around. Two weeks ago. I mean, I can't think of too many other people right now."

Aristespha runs over, deftly leaps over debris, and squeezes in behind Bach and Cideeda, excitement overflowing. "What was he doing here?!"

Her violet eyes dance around the command list on screen, and sparks of recognition twitch her ivory, blue and gray hinted face. "He was looking for something. He picked through everything in this place, logged into this station, and did something... What was it?!"

On the other side of the room, Dretphi finishes checking a file cabinet with her flashlight and shakes her head. "Nothing."

Sotalia growls and firmly crosses her arms, unamused. "Dammit! I can't find an username and password for this fucking thing! I so wanted to get that bastard on video!"

Bach blinks as a random thought jumps to the front of his mind. He glances over his shoulder to Sotalia and gestures a flipping motion with both hands over his head. "Have you checked under the keyboard?"

Sotalia lowers her golden eyes down at the keyboard. She lifts it up from the front and lowers her head to inspect. Grinning ear to ear, she carefully peels a laminated sheet with an username and password. "Good call! Now that's the security employee I've come to know and love..."

She types in the logon credentials. The system unlocks and a number of monitors nearby light up. Dretphi wipes dust away from the screens and watches the video feeds. Recognizing most of the camera locations, she stops upon one view. Panning into view, the display shows an open exterior doorway to one of the smaller buildings. A robotic figure missing parts resides in the space within, and an empty robotic dock for another similar machine blinks with activity. Dretphi steely gray eyes spring wide open. She immediately stands up straight and yells out. "WE. HAVE. A. PROBLEM!"