Episode 13

Through a golden, crackled, haze coated helmet visor, Bach gazes up into the fast moving clouds above. The sun nears the horizon by the minute, slipping between a clear northern sky and the darkened southern bank. Bach takes a long breath in through his helmet's respirator and exhales slowly. Laying behind the concrete barrier on his back, he rests his band on his stomach and stares upwards. A gust of wind blows through, and flutters the tears and char spots on his clothing. A few flakes of ashen cloth break free with the flow and drift away into the distance. Bach spots Sebastian scouting the area overhead. Floating down closer to Bach, Sebastian waves at him. "Hey! Bro! You alive?"

Bach gradually rolls a soot stained, gloved hand into a thumbs up and calls out through his respirator. "Yeah. Wiped out. But. Alive, man. Some fucking how."

Sebastian smiles proudly, returns a thumbs up to his brother, and points around to the surrounding area. "Cool, bro. I'm going to look around and check the area again. Make sure nothing else is aiming to join in the clusterfuck of our day. You... You rest."

Sighing, Bach glances to the edges of the vision as his head slowly lags behind. "Not going to be a problem."

Sebastian flies up and off over the top of a nearby small building. Aristespha rolls out a pack of medical supplies and brushes a flat space nearby clear for Cideeda. "Lay on your stomach. Let me work on those injuries more, and heal them properly."

Sotalia flips open a pouch on her belt, pulls out a vial, and hands it to Dretphi. Narrowing her eyes through her helmet visor, Dretphi suspiciously sneers at the vial and holds at a respectful distance. Standing up with her hands on her hips, Sotalia quirks an unamused brow at Dretphi. "Oh, don't be that way. It's cherry flavored. Drink up. It'll cut the swelling down."

Dretphi groans with heavy hesitation, lifting up her visor. She pops the cork off and slams the liquid back. Her tan face contorts in stiff disgust, and she mutters a number of Grath curses under her breath. Sotalia rolls her gold on black eyes and shakes head with a dismissive smirk. Taking a moment from tending Cideeda, Aristespha makes eye contact with Sotalia and points over towards Bach's location. "Could you check on Bach and make sure there isn't anything that needs my immediate attention?"

Sotalia glances over towards the concrete barrier near Bach. "Of course. It'll give me a chance to survey the damage around the crater."

Cideeda winces against an excited, toothy grin, slipping her arms out of the top of her body suit with help from Aristespha. "Keep an eye out for any big parts from that robot. I want its head!"

Dretphi pops the locks underneath her helmet and pulls it off, letting her platinum blonde, dirty blonde tipped hair air out in the breeze. "I call the weapons on the arms. If salvageable."

Nodding with a confirming wave of the hand, Sotalia walks confidently over towards Bach. She strolls carefully through the courtyard, casually eyeing bits of robot embedded into strange spots. Stopping in front of the barrier, she notices a number of golden stabilized magical energy shards on the ground. With a quick check side to side, she kneels down, snatches up a few handfuls, and deposits them in her pocket. In her search, she stares upon Bach's plasma pistol. Shimmers of extensive magical modifications glint brightly upon the weapon. Sotalia reaches out, picks it up, and gawks. Blinking back to her senses, she sweeps up the two power cells into another pocket and stands back up. She rounds the corner of the barrier and glances at Bach on the ground, looking up into the sky. Bach's blue eyes shift under the visor and meet Sotalia's face. Raising an intrigued eyebrow, she places her hands to her hips and smiles out of the corner of her mouth. "Cloud watching?"

Searching around, he resigns himself with a narrowing gaze and speaks through the respirator. "Kinda."

Sotalia shakes her head of dark red hair, motions for Bach to get up, and starts to turn around. "Come on. Let's get back to everyone else. Aristespha needs to give you at least a once over."

Bach sheepishly mumbles as averts his gaze away. "You go ahead. I'll be right over. I'm going to need a few minutes."

Cocking her head to the side, Sotalia's curiosity halts her step. She slowly pivots around, and lowers an inquisitive gaze. Bach watches her step to his side and sit down right next to him. Sotalia gently places Bach's plasma pistol off to the side and focuses her attention on Bach. Reaching out to Bach's helmet, she flips the visor up and detaches the respirator off to the side. Craning her head over, she hovers her face right above his with a devilish grin. "Let me guess. You tapped yourself out, and your limbs are worthlessly weak right now."

A long sigh of embarrassment grumbles out from Bach, and he meets Sotalia's expecting stare. "Yes."

Sotalia lifts her head back and covers a giggle with her hand. "Wow! Throwing all that caution to the wind in a time of crisis. You ARE certainly Sebastian's brother."

She mockingly holds her arms out in a casting pose and imitates Bach's voice badly. "Hey, government surplus! Eat plasma shit!"

Tossing her shoulder length, dark red hair back, she snorts. "Really? A bold leap from cover AND a one liner? We should put you on the Next Adventurers of Nexus if you keep that up."

Bach rolls his head away with an embarrassed grimace, and his pride escapes through a defeated sigh. Sotalia pats Bach on shoulder, and he turns his head back to face her. Gazing upon him kindly, she gently smiles. "All that aside. You did good getting the heat off Cideeda and Dretphi. So... Thank you."

Perking her brow, she smirks. "But, next time you piss off a battle bot... Head for cover afterwards. Okay?"

Bach weakly nods, and squints at Sotalia's eyes. "Um..."

Sotalia notices the puzzling attention. "Yes?"

Twisting an uncertain expression on his light tan face, Bach blinks. "Uh, you know your eyes are gold on black at the moment... Right?"

Sotalia momentarily frowns and groans annoyed, averting her gaze away. "I do now. I'm not exactly surprised."

She dismissively waves a hand around and drones on technically. "It's a Magically Reactive Biological Trait that is common with those with some Emin genetics in the mix. Thankfully, it only happens when I dump a lot of magic out."

A pouch snap clicks off, and Sotalia pulls the top flap open. Feeling around inside, she retrieves a labeled vial and checks the writing. She sets it to the side. Bach feels Sotalia's hand under his neck. She removes the helmet off to the side and carefully lifts Bach's head up. "Let's get this down you, it'll help get the magical flow going and electrolyte balance right."

Bach barely manages a shrug and opens his mouth. Sotalia pops the cork off and pours the contents into his mouth. Almost wincing one eye closed, Bach strains to swallow. Immediately reading Bach's reaction, Sotalia curls her upper lip and sniffs the vial. "I thought I did okay with flavoring with this batch. I followed the instructions exactly as Aristespha told me. It even smells right."

Bach stares at Sotalia. "So... What flavor is it supposed to be?"

Sotalia's gold on black eyes drop down to Bach, and she dons a very unamused expression. "Cherry."

Drifting his gaze away from Sotalia's developing glare, Bach fights down a grimace. "How do you define... Cherry?"

Sotalia lowers Bach's head back down and crosses her arms with a pout. "Dump all this magic into these potions, and you are telling me the flavoring is off?"

Bach squints into his mind briefly and narrows a curious stare. "Speaking of dumping magic... You managed to freeze the air down and pipe liquid nitrogen at that robot. Correct?"

Sitting up straighter with pride, Sotalia beams at Bach. "Yes. That is correct. It's a composite spell I weaved together a while back."

She huffs, blinks in surprise at her forearms, and plays off the discovery nonchalantly. "Unfortunately, it takes a while and a lot of energy. But... I believe you can't argue with the results."

Bach nods with a bit more strength. "Certainly can't. Completely devastated that bot. Pretty sure Dretphi could have punched it to pieces with how brittle it was."

He returns his sights to the passing clouds overhead and grimaces with disappointment bubbling up. "Damn, I really thought a D-Ball would take it out. But... I'm still not there yet."

Sotalia shakes her head, snorts, and tilts Bach's head towards her. "Bach. Take it from someone who always wanted to be THE one that saves the day..."

Her tone softens, and she sighs. "But learned otherwise. It's not important to land the final shot. It's important to make that final shot even possible."

Bach blinks between flits of thought. Seconds later, she reaches out, puts her hand on top his longer hair, and ruffles it with a warm smile. Her eyes catch something along his collar line. Running a finger underneath his shirt collar, she carefully lifts it away. "Looks like you got some burns there. I'm going to go check to see how far along Aristespha is with patching up Cideeda's ass and back. I'll get some burn cream for you, at least."

Sotalia gets her feet underneath herself and pushes up. Midway through the ascent, her legs wobble. Her arms spread out, and she braces herself against the concrete barrier. Glancing around, she shifts her weight against the barrier and gently eases herself back on to the ground. Bach turns his head with a smug smile at her. "There's no rush. Sit down. Watch the clouds for a while. It's kind of cool how fast they're moving right now. Definitely a storm moving in."

Grumbling to herself, Sotalia fetches a vial from her belt. She pop the cork and tosses back the liquid down her throat. Contorting her face into shades of disgust, she coughs and gags. "Oh gods! Wow! This tastes awful!"

She eyes the remaining red traces in the tiny bottle and fights down a surge of embarrassment. "Oh, I owe Dretphi an apology."

Bach stares unamused at Sotalia. Glancing over towards Bach, she swallows her pride. "And, sorry to you, too. I really had no idea."

Sotalia scoots over, places her back up against the concrete barrier, stares up into the sky. Bach flits his eyes back to the sky above. "Hey. Next time we train. Could you do that spell again? I'd actually like to examine that one up close."

A wicked smile sprouts on Sotalia's light tan and dark gray face, and she provocatively eyes Bach. "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours."

Bach closes his eyes hard and opens to awkward uncertainty. Lifts his head up, he glances over. Sotalia quickly turns her gaze away to a passing cloud. Bach lowers his head back down and meekly responds. "Sure."

Sotalia simply nods, hiding her sheer satisfaction away.

Through the rippling sheets of rain, the Pancake Shed sign illuminates the lone highway intersection with a hazy projection upon the mirror slick road. Within the middle of the dark, hazy night, the traffic lights simply blink red and swing with the whims of the storm. In stark contrast to the surrounding deluge, the Pancake Shed restaurant interior shines out from the large windows and casts a glow upon the encompassing parking lot. An older grath woman with gray-streaked black hair scrapes the grill top effortlessly and guides the refuse into a hole off the side. A middle-aged woman plays with her curly hazel hair and eyes the shift figures on a clipboard. "Well, Triti, I think this is it until Havok's bar closes at three. This storm is something else."

Triti nods as she finishes cleaning off the last bit from the grill top. "Big storms lately. It is the season."

The woman taps menu buttons on her aetherphone and a radar weather map cycles through an animation. She shakes head and gazes out the store front window. Flashes of light erupt in the distance and spider across the sky. Her stare drifts back to the clipboard full of sales and supply notes. "The storm probably picked up something when it passed over that damn weird zone. Oh well. It'll be a nice break after dealing with those adventurers and that camera crew."

A long growling groan fills the air near Triti, and she stabs the scraper tool corner first into a wooden knife block, away from any slot for a knife. Stepping to the side to a sink, she turns on the water and washes her hands. She faintly mutters a variety of curses under her breath. The woman spins around and narrows her gaze at Triti. "Hey! I thought we agreed. If you are going to say something bad about a customer..."

The woman picks up her clipboard and slides next to Triti with a devious glint in her eye. "Say it so I can hear it."

Triti cracks the start of a smile from the corner of her mouth and quips just over a whisper. "They were not natural."

The other woman laughs and lifts the clipboard to hide sight of her mouth. "Oh, they HAD to be magically enhanced. With the way she was flaunting them? I've paraded around dresses I got on sale less shamelessly than her."

A pair of headlights shine down the highway and beam through the rain. A yellow light blinks out of the front corner of the shadowy mass pushing through the torrent. The humvee slips out from a curtain of rain and turns into the lot. Pulling into a spot close to the entry, a fading whine sounds as the powerplant spins down. The rear driver's side door cracks open, an ivory finger pokes out, and a thin sheet of magical energy expands outwards. Seconds later, a floating barrier against the storm stretches over the humvee and forms a path to the front door.

The woman giggles in between sly snickers. "I almost wish that Rekeeka worked today. She would have flipped seeing how that fvalian girl was dressed up."

An electronic door chime rings out from a box above the entrance doors. Both the woman and Triti shift their attention towards the entry. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia stand in the small entryway as the door closes with another chime. Aristespha attempts in vain to straighten up her attire, and just accepts the state of her clothing. Bach rubs the bandage around the base of his neck and tugs a worn t-shirt away. He brushes some dirt off his pants, stopping when flakes of charred cloth break off along with the dirt. Wincing, Dretphi stretches her arms and back out in small motions. She pulls on her long sleeve shirt and examines underneath with a slight frown. Sotalia slouches forward and covers a yawn with her hand. Blinking repeatedly, she drowsily scans around the area and fights the urge for another yawn. In shorts and a tank top, Cideeda holds on to her Pancake Shed card with a pillow tucked underneath her shoulder. The woman and Triti exchange glances between sparks of recognition. Walking to the front register, the middle-aged woman places her clipboard down and gazes at the group. "I say this not just out of Pancake Shed policy, but you all can take whatever seats you want. I'll be right with you."

The group meanders towards the largest table. Bach slowly eases himself into a seat and cringes when his back settles against the chair. Dretphi slowly works her way to the seat and briefly grits her teeth for a few movements. Aristespha slides out the chair and plops down. Sotalia lazily drags out the chair and slumps down. Placing arms on the tabletop, she rests her head down upon them. Cideeda turns her chair around ninety degrees, places her pillow on the chair, and carefully lowers herself. Leaning her side on the chair back, she throws an arm over the top, her fluffy tail wagging slowly. The woman arrives with menus in hand and surveys the group. "Welcome to the Pancake Shed, I'm Clara. I'll be your server this fine early morning. Is some coffee in order or anything else to start with?"

Sotalia lifts her head up and yawns through the strands of hair freeing themselves from her swept-backed horns. "Coffee. Please."

Unanimous agreement chains around the table. Clara nods with a knowing smile. "I'll bring a few pots just for you all with all the fixings."

Cideeda hoists up her Pancake Shed card. Clara plucks it out of Cideeda's hand, lifts a brow, and smiles. "Shed Stack for you. Anything else before I get the coffee?"

Dretphi raises her hand up. "May I ask the cook a question?"

Clara shrugs and waves at Triti. "Hey, Triti, the lady has a question for you."

Triti slowly turns her head to Dretphi. Bows slightly and Dretphi inquires with long elaborate sentences in a dialect of Grath. Triti thinks with a long inhale, her eyes searching her mind. With a single nod, she grins with her reply. A smile sneaks onto Dretphi's tan face, and she gives another slight bow. Aristespha glances over at Dretphi with curiosity. "What did she say? I do not pick up all that."

Dretphi smiles fully with a hint of anticipation. "It is not a stone top. Should still get honorably close."

Clara steps away from the table and walks straight to the coffee machines. The group rests at the table in silence. Everyone individually drifts in their own minds and mindlessly gazes upon the menus. Clara and Triti chat briefly, and the two look over a few times. Clara returns to the table with two pots of coffee, mugs, and extras. She spreads them out to everyone at the table. Examining the group, Clara sighs and addresses the team. "Okay. It's none of my business, but I got to know what you all did today. If nothing else, the coffee is on the house. You all seem to need it more than it needs to sit in the brewing tank."

Sotalia draws a slow grin and perks up. "Government surplus. Eat plasma shit."

Bach sinks into his chair and groans as the laughter erupts from the rest of the table. Even a quiet ethereal chuckle from the sword at Aristespha side joins in. Shaking his head, Bach narrows a gaze over the gathering. "I'm never going to live that down. Am I? It was all I could think of in the moment, it's not like I have a lot of experience with that stuff!"

Clara takes orders in between hearing the different perspectives of the latest mission with Triti listening nearby.

"A near maelstrom stage storm passed over the city of Amaranth Valley. Local authorities report no casualties or injuries. The mayor of Amaranth Valley went on to praise the efforts of public services and the Greater Azure Alliance specialists that have been serving in the area lately to assist in the local guild office efforts to manage nearby ruins. Authorities still warn citizens to be on alert for flooding and to avoid travel in flooded or flood prone areas for the next few days until the water table settles-"

Flicking her furry ears away from the television in the living area of the ranch style house, Cideeda adjusts the pile of pillows under her on half the couch. Briefly wincing, she settles belly down upon the plush mass and sighs. "Okay already... I can't stand hearing the same news stories over again. Could someone next to the remote change it? I think the Research Channel is doing a marathon of Tech of the Ruins."

Dretphi eyes the remote on the coffee table from her seat on the couch. Staring at the remote, she sighs. Her tank top and shorts barely cover any of the bruises and welts across her body. She grimaces and reluctantly readies herself to lean forward. Just as she starts to get up, Bach pulls himself out of his chair, plucks the remote off the coffee table, and aims it at the television. "What channel is it again?"

Dretphi settles back into the cushions and exhales in relief. Cideeda searches around the top of her head and thinks out loud. "Four dash two nine? That's what I remember for this area. I know it's around there."

Pressing a few buttons on the remote, Bach rubs his back. Drifting between a few channels, the Research Channel title pops on the screen. Bach reaches over the coffee table and hands the remote to Cideeda. "I'll let you handle this. Anyone need anything while I'm up? Wanted to grab a drink anyway."

Dretphi retrieves a cold pack from behind her back, unwraps one from around her shoulder, and strains to pull one off her leg. She holds the lukewarm batch in the air and glances at Bach with a warm smile. Cideeda slips a hand behind her shirt and presents another pack. Bach collects all in his hands and glances over at Sotalia. "You need anything, Sotalia?"

Furrowing his brow, he cocks his head. "Sotalia?"

Snoring loudly, Sotalia startles briefly and rolls over in the couch chair. An aspect of her subconscious self tugs a blanket back over herself, and she squirms back into comfortable slumber. Bach quirks a brow and glances between Cideeda and Dretphi. "Wow. She is out for the count."

Cideeda crosses underneath her head and rolls her emerald green eyes. "Oh, she'll be fine around dinner. This usually happens when she goes all out and drains her reserves."

Chuckling quietly, Dretphi shakes her head and flashes a smile at Bach. " She was given an opportunity. Wanted to show off."

Bach shrugs, pivots, and walks towards the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator, tosses the warm cold packs in, and digs around for fresh ones. Leaning forward, he quickly puts a hand on his lower back and slowly straightens back up with a cringe. "Not that I don't appreciate the wonders of magical medicine, but... Damn, I wish there was something for the aches."

Dretphi nods slowly and lifts her feet up on the coffee table. Cideeda tucks the remote between two pillows under her and carefully stretches her arms out. "You and me both. But, careful use of the powerful pain management magic is the best practice. I once knew a guy who got addicted to healing potions."

Bach hands Dretphi two cold packs and slowly leans over to place a third on her leg. "Really?! Damn. That's a pretty expensive addiction. I bet that didn't win him any friends."

Shaking her head wide-eyed, she grimaces with an uneasy sigh. "Well... He was fine... Until he started stealing from party members."

Bach secures the wrap around Dretphi's leg and hands the last fresh cold pack to an awaiting Cideeda. "What happened to him? I don't think anything good happens if you are doing crazy shit like that."

Cideeda slides the new cold pack under her shirt onto her back. Wrapping her arms around the piles of pillows, she flexes her clawtips into the fabric while squirming back into a comfortable position. "He eventually got help. Of course, that was AFTER he was found passed out in some small town alchemist shop with a bunch of empty potions around him. Guy had to go through some pain tolerance reconditioning for the withdrawal hyper-sensitivity. From what I heard, it's usually a one time thing for most people. Most don't go for a second time."

Blinking a few times, Bach eases back into his chair and stares at the television screen.

"On this episode of Tech of the Ruins, we take an in depth look at security robots, drones, androids, and cyborgs. How were they created and what were they used fo-"

The television flips to another show. While the twitch in her eye fades, Cideeda slowly retracts her arm back and returns the remote between the pillows. "We'll try that marathon later on. After THAT episode."

The front door opens. Aristespha strolls in, gripping a large sack in each hand. She shuts the door behind her with a press of a boot. She quickly walks to the dining table, hoists the two sacks on the tabletop, and takes her hat off. "Took three times and a manager to get the order right, but we have the finest greasy burgers this side of town can offer."

Cideeda peers over her shoulder at Aristespha with a toothy grin. "Any new dents on the humvee?"

Placing her hands on her sides, Aristespha sways her hips into a playfully defensive pose and bites her lip as her violet eyes wander. "No. But... I may or may not have cut off one of Next Adventurers of Nexus vans. I also may or may not have also used choice language and gestures, during prior possible event."

The ethereal voice of Sebastian echoes, as his visage materializes. "To which I may or may not have fully approved of. You did signal anyway, dear."

Aristespha removes various bags, cartons, and containers from the two large sacks. She spins around, steps over to Bach, and hooks a finger around the collar of his shirt. Examining around his neck, she nods. "Looks like most of the burn has healed. Back and chest feeling any better?"

Bach shrugs and waves a finger behind him. "Much better. Still sore when I move certain ways."

Aristespha releases Bach's shirt with a smile. "It should be safe for you to take a few aspirin. We'll have to wait and see to see if there's a muscle group that needs more attention."

She shifts her attention at Dretphi and sighs. "Looks another dose of the anti-contusion and anti-swelling mix for you."

Dretphi curls a lip into a sneer and grumbles. Aristespha crosses her arms and shakes her head. "Now. Now. My potions have the proper amounts of flavoring. You'll feel and look a lot better. I promise. You can also mix it with your drink."

Gracefully steps around to Cideeda, Aristespha slowly flips the back of her shirt up and lifts the waistband of her shorts up. She quickly assesses and gently releases the garments. "Probably another day and the swelling should go down. Still touchy on the upper back?"

Cideeda slowly nods and sighs. "Yes, doc. Trying to keep it elevated. It seems to help a bit."

Aristespha nods and glances at Sotalia with a wry smirk. "Has she moved from that spot since this morning?"

Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi shake their heads. Aristespha moves over to the dining table, picks up a carton, and returns to a spot next to Sotalia. Cracking open the box, she gently fans the scent of food. Second later, Sotalia sniffles loudly and stirs in the chair. She sluggishly sits up on the couch chair and squirms around as sleep releases her to consciousness. Her hands drift to her face, and she rubs the sleep out. Her eyes flutter open, and she lethargically stares at the gathering. "Hey."

Aristespha covers her mouth and stifles a giggle. Cideeda presses her jaw down past her crossed arms into the pillow below. Dretphi tightens smile, and her steely gray eyes wander to the others. Bach and Sebastian exchange glances. Sebastian ethereally snorts while Bach laughs. Sotalia awakens fully and glares at the team, hunting for clues. "What?! Are my scleras still black?"

Sotalia fishes her phone out of her robe pocket, presses a camera app open, and stares at the screen. "What is so funny- OH GODS DAMMIT!"

She narrows her eyes at the image of herself with one black sclera eye and one white sclera eye. Putting her phone away, she crosses arms into a frustrated pout. "Always! Can't fade to shades of gray. Or change back in sync. Nope! Has to be one before the other."

In the dining part of the large room of the ranch style house, the team lounges around the dining table. In the quiet moment, distant stares wander over the leftovers of fast food destruction upon the table. Bach assesses the pile of empty burger cartons in front of Sotalia and wanders his gaze at the heap in front of Dretphi. Comparing the very similar dimensions of the refuse, he furrows his bow inquisitively and visibly ponders. He briefly opens his mouth, closes it, and shakes the thought out of his head. His curiosity retreats against the satisfaction of self-preservation. Aristespha retrieves her aetherphone from her pants pocket and places it upon the table with a sly grin. "Since everyone is here and not going anywhere soon, I wanted to share this interesting voicemail I got from Captain Hackle of the Greater Azure Alliance Specialist Squad."

While everyone exchanges confused glances, Aristespha taps the play button on the phone screen.

"Hello. This Captain Hackle of the Greater Azure Alliance. I apologize if this is not the correct means of contacting your group, but it was the only means granted to me by the local guild office. First, I would like to congratulate you on a... Successful operation in handling the rogue security robot. We are currently securing the site and surrounding areas as indicated by the guild's request for containment assistance. This brings me to the reason for this call. While we have collected most of the security robot, we are missing some components. Namely, the head and both arm mounted weapon systems."

Cideeda and Dretphi gaze at each other. They glance down to the wall behind them. A security robot head lays on its side with a plasma projectile cannon and minigun propped upon it. Dretphi smugly smiles. Cideeda dons with a wide, toothy grin and whispers loudly. "They may be looking for a while."

"As per local, state, and other such laws, you are not under any obligation to assist any further than the initial requirements of your contract with the guild. However, I would recommend that you consider providing assistance as a professional courtesy that I would happily repay when the time comes."

Another irritated voice rises up from the background noise of the recording.

"Wait a minute... Are these same assholes from that cyborg den?! ... What the fuck did they do to this thing?! Plasma burns, part of it is... Disintegrated?! Holy shit! They froze this thing and blew it up! Motherfucker. And I thought the dick who put that barrier around that base entry was troublesome enough. Where are they finding these people?!"

Captain Hackle grumbles over the sounds of a microphone readjusting.

"As I've been... Informed... by Specialist Theyal... You are the same group that rescued the... Unfortunately titled adventurers' camera crew. Again, I would strongly recommend at least a meeting between my group and yours at your earliest convenience. I strongly believe that we may be able to assist each other in future endeavors. Please contact me at the number and aethermail I have attached to this voice mail. Thank you, and have a nice day."

The phone silences and returns to another menu prompt. Sotalia muffles a burp and barely contains her sheer prideful amusement. "Wow. We're making friends in all kinds of places."

Bach warily eyes Aristespha's phone and tilts his head away. "Uh, I think friend is a strong word. Maybe, associate? I suggest if we do meet them, we do it somewhere public?"

Shaking her head, Aristespha rolls her violet eyes and brushes back her long, silvery blue hair. "It will be fine. They are a very decorated, but very offbeat group. They are just adventurers under the military umbrella for all practical purposes. I am curious if they have some information we don't have."

Sebastian hovers over Aristespha's shoulder and peeks at her phone messages. "Dear, speaking of information, any word from your friend Nash over at the Grand Library?"

Lifting up the phone, Aristespha stares at the screen and lifts an eyebrow. "Nothing new since last night when he responded to my initial message. But, he's probably just waking up. I'll send him an aethermail to call me."

Sebastian scratches the back of his head and puzzles at Aristespha. "Why not just call him?"

Aristespha taps the last few characters of the message and sends it out. Placing the phone back on the tabletop, she twists a smile. "Won't work. Being a head of a department, his official phone gets constantly rung by everyone. So, it's usually on silent. He has a personal phone he only lets family know of. For everyone else, the best route is an aethermail."

The phone plays a new chime and vibrates on the table. Grinning deviously, Aristespha answers and places the phone up to her very long, pointed ear. "Let me guess, passed out in front of the console after watching videos, waiting for something to process?"

A long silence follows before the speaker on the phone sounds out a response. Aristespha smiles satisfied, pulls the phone away from her ear, and presses a button on screen. "Well, wake up, you're on speakerphone."

Nash's voice resonates out Aristespha's aetherphone. "Damn, woman. Wake me up, and already put me out in front of an audience. Slave driver. So, who's all there?"

Aristespha glances at everyone at the table and says their names. Nash yawns loudly and grumbles to a more aware state. "Okay! Suppose you all want my expert analysis of the bits and pieces you sent over from those weird ruins? I mean, I got some really good soup and hot sauce recipes I'm willing to share, too."

Aristespha eye rolls with an amused smirk. "Your culinary wisdom will have to wait. What have you found out?"

Nash dramatically stretches a mock sigh over the speakerphone. "Fine. Someday, though. Well, when it comes to the tidbits you sent. All I can figure after looking it over... It's GOT to be some mapping data. The formatting and patterns just scream it. Unfortunately, I don't got much more past that. Have to figure out the exact time period, which government had their hand in it, and all the other factors. Then, there's this whole thing with all these extra vectors and dimensions it's tracking."

Cideeda leans forward and directs her voice to the phone with a bit of curiosity showing. "Could it be just part of the data set, or maybe an index?"

Nash responds with an equally intrigued tone. "You know I thought that, too. But... The formatting isn't right. It's strictly header then data, repeating. So... What is it indexing? Anyway, I'll see what I can do. I think we might have a system that might be a close match given we get the rest of the system dumps?"

Aristespha nods and places her chin on her intertwined fingers. "I think we can do that. Send me the transfer account and link?"

Keys clacks rise up from the background, and Nash hems. "Yep, I'll get that to you right about... Now. I keep a few anonymous accounts for such reasons. I'll see if I can sneak you all some Finder's Reward from the department acquisitions account. Might take a while..."

Lowering her head closer to the phone, Aristespha inquires with a vague condemning tone. "What did you DO this time?"

A long pause hovers in the air. A long drawn out groan echoes through from Nash's side of the call. "You know. I make strides in nurturing interdepartmental cooperation and worked with the materials science guys to buy a mass document incinerator. Since, they were a bit short at the end of the budget year."

Aristespha maintains her tone and focuses her inquisition. "What was it REALLY?"

Nash takes a long breath and exhales equally long, before slipping a response at the very end. "... a military surplus flamethrower..."

Cideeda snorts and breaks out laughing. Dretphi's eyes open fully, and she stares at the phone. Bach and Sebastian nod at each other with a mix of astonishment and respect towards the achievement. Furrowing her disbelief, Sotalia glares at Aristespha and mouths, "Who the fuck is this guy?!"

Sitting back, Aristespha simply shakes her head with a chuckle. "Did the deans ever stop being mad at you for smuggling those kegs of beer through the department purchasing system for the graduation party?"

Nash laughs for a few seconds and snorts. "Mad? Well, officially they do not condone such misuse. Unofficially, they've been using that same trick with that same local brewery. That place has the craziest beer names now on their hidden roster. It's made them pretty popular with a few other departments and businesses. Copier Paper is a really good pale ale. Black Toner is great oatmeal stout. Whiteboard Markers is a solid collection of different sours."

Aristespha bites her lip with a sly smile, and her eyes reflect upon memories. "That was a really good party, though."

An office chair squeaks over the speaker, and Nash gives a few trailing chuckles. "I know. Well, I won't pester you all any further. I'm going to hunt down a few graduate assistants, and press-gang them into actually doing some work. I'll message you with the progress and call you if I get any breakthroughs. Don't know how long it's going to be. It’s kind of the way these reverse engineering jobs are. Luck can go either way depending on what we try. I'll hopefully know more later."

Aristespha nods thankfully. "That will work. You take care."

Nash sounds out over speakerphone one last time. "Will do. You all do the same."

The phone switches back to the menu screen, and Aristespha tucks the phone away in a pants pocket. "So... That's Nash for you."

Sebastian crosses his arms and shrugs. "Seems like an interesting fellow. Was he an adventurer at some point?"

Aristespha shakes her head and snorts. "No. Never. I fear what he may have been capable of if it wasn't for the confines of the Grand Library."

With a smirk, Sebastian laughs dismissively. "Please. What trouble could you get into at a respected place, like the Grand Library."

The longer Aristespha tightly keeps her mouth shut and awkwardly averts her gaze, the curiosity grows from the rest of the team.

The idle drone of the television fills the space and joins the soft flow of air from the split unit air conditioner. Early afternoon sun filters in through the back sliding glass door and casts a warm glow upon the carpeted floor. Lounging in his stabilized energy chair, Bach lifts the remote at the television and flips through a few more channels. "Damn... There's NOTHING on. I forgot how bad mid-week, mid-day television is. I mean, I knew it was bad. But, wow. At least I wasn't missing much when I slept in past noon."

Coiling her fluffy tail around herself, Cideeda squirms into her pile of pillows behind her back and underneath her on the couch. "Yeah, I know. But, until the holoplayer is done uploading everything into that account Nash sent us, I don't want to bother it. Connection speed is slow enough as it as, I don't want to have to restart it."

Dretphi stretches her neck side to side and glances over to Cideeda. "Should we try the marathon again?"

Cideeda droops her ears and groans with a frown. "Not quite yet. I looked up the schedule, and the whole bots and cyborgs thing is a few episodes. Out of all the things to make a multi-part series out of."

Adjusting her shirt and shorts, Sotalia strolls in through the hall archway. Gazing over at the group, she blinks her usual white sclera golden pupil eyes. "No kidding, girl. Gods, I've had enough robots and cyborgs to last me a while."

She glances over to her side along the wall and scrutinizes the robot head near the dining table. "I can guess the plans for the two big guns, but why did you take the head of that bot?"

Cideeda slowly puts her arms behind her head and widens a toothy grin. "Mostly as a trophy. And... Judging by how quick it was to target us, I bet there's some choice parts in there. Part that might be either useful or worth something..."

An entrepreneurial spark lights up her emerald green eyes. "Or both."

Shaking her head with a smile, Sotalia slowly plods over to the sliding glass window. She stares out onto the backyard and admires the afternoon sun overhead. She rests her hands on her hips and idly shifts her weight between her feet. Squinting through the glass, she grimaces inquiringly. "Huh. Sebastian is rushing back here awfully quick. What's going on-"

Sebastian phases through the sliding glass window, zips through the room, and flies down the hallway. Jetting straight to Aristespha's room at the end of the hall, he wrestles an awkward smile. "Dear, I need you to get the sword and follow me... There's... Something I think we all need to get a better look at. I can't get close enough to get a clear look."

After a minute of confused exchanges between Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia, Sebastian glides out of the hallway into the living room and signals everyone to follow. "Follow me. I really hope I'm wrong about this."

Aristespha walks out from the hallway, holding the sword in its scabbard. Falling in behind Sebastian, the group trudges across the large open field of a backyard. Near the corner of the property, Sebastian points over to the lot diagonal and motions towards the house. "You know that house I mentioned that had someone going through it? The one I saw the lights on and other activity?"

Aristespha crosses arms and squints her violet eyes to the distant house. "Yes? The one I said someone was probably getting ready for renters?"

Sebastian groans reluctantly and raises a point to one of the vehicles near the house. "Well, looks like THEY'RE moving in."

Cideeda steps forward, shields the sun from her eyes, and focuses on the distant target. Her light brown cheek twitches, and she grits her sharp teeth. "No... No way. How?!"

Dretphi quirks her concerned brow at Cideeda and searches in the same direction. Spotting a tall, unfortunately familiar figure carrying adventuring equipment from a vehicle, she growls to herself. Placing her face well into the palm of her hand, she groans. "Of all things..."

Sotalia gestures out a quick incantation and holds her hands in front with finger tips touching. Staring through for mere moments, she grimaces and grabs her horns swearing a few different languages. She steps angrily away and grumbles to herself. Bach eyes Sebastian and slowly sighs with a wary frown. "I can't exactly make it out. But... I think the mass of people with recording equipment gives it away."

Sebastian nods as his ethereal form pinches the bridge of his nose. "Yes. It was exactly what I thought. Well, at least we know where they're at. Great. Well, let's head back before anyone notices us.

He glances over to Aristespha with a smile. "Dear?"

Hovering Aristespha's side, he drifts cautiously in front of her. "Hey. Dear? Let's go back to the house. And..."

Aristespha's ivory face reddens in stark contrast to the blue and gray hints. Her grip shakes around the sword. Her head tilts to one shoulder with a crack and to the other with another similar crack. Gritting her teeth, she hisses as air draws through and screams out. "FUCK!"

Next to the house in the middle of the crews and adventurers, Samantha snaps her head toward the direction of the angry voice with a smug smile. Waves at the group in the distance, she holds her aetherphone close to her head. "Good news, Howie! Looks like the locals have just found about their new neighbors."

A dark, ominous laugh bellows forth from the speakerphone, growing in volume with each passing second. Eventually, it fades and Howard speaks through. "Good. Very good."