Episode 17

Resting her elbows upon the layers of padding upon the dining table, Dretphi props her head up and wanders her gaze over the battered minigun. Glints of early morning light bouncing into the living space reflect off the few shiny specs of intact finish on the ancient weapon. Between Cideeda shifting her inspect to another part of the machine, Dretphi reaches out, grasps onto the barrels of the minigun, and slowly torques the circular assembly. Cideeda holds a flashlight at an exposed section of the machine and squints her emerald green eyes at mechanisms inside. Wagging her long fluffy tail with her thoughts, her furry ears flick with each pick of a claw tip into an internal device. Seconds later, a plotting grin cracks onto her light brown face, and she nods confidently. "Yeah... I think we can do something with this."

Dretphi stops rotating the barrels idly and glances over, running her hand hopefully over the weapon. "Can it be adapted to our use?"

A full, toothy grin appears, and Cideeda pats the minigun. "I think so. They removed the delinker and added a return path for the spent casings."

Searching the top of her head, she grimaces between mental calculations. "Finding an ammo belt will take some time... But, it seems to take the older rifle rounds..."

A sly smile sneaks out from Dretphi, and she examines the security robot's minigun upon the pads on the dining table with growing interest. Cideeda briefly grits her teeth, sighs out with ponderous grumble, and examines a note covered pad of paper. "But... Then there's rigging up an ammo backpack, reducing the weight, designing handles, and safety features, and..."

Each of Cideeda's bullet points chips away at Dretphi's smile, and reality looms over the project. With a mildly frustrated acceptance, Dretphi sighs and eyes over the minigun, and rests back into her chair. Cideeda winks to Dretphi and addresses a point encouragingly. "We'll have to figure out a rate of fire you can handle, too."

The sly smile returns to Dretphi, she nods with eager gaze at Cideeda. "That step will be fun."

Cideeda chuckles and flips back the pages folded over on the notepad. "Yes, it will. We'll probably have to get Bach to help brace the thing for the test firing."

Walking through the hallway archway, Bach glances over to the dining table and blinks confused. "Why is my name being mentioned this early on a Sunday?"

He stops and recognizes the minigun on the table. Quickly tracing the path of the barrels, he notes the firing line and swiftly steps back. Cideeda snorts and shakes her head reassuringly. "Don't worry. The firing pins are in a bag and I've put safety plugs in the chambers."

Resting her hands on her hips, she narrows a playfully accusatory gaze at Bach "Plus after what you did to it, anyone will have a hard time doing anything accidental with it."

Dretphi grips onto the barrels and manages a slow spin. Muscles in her arm flex to definition with each partial turn of the device, and she smirks. "Significant amount of force required. Hopefully... Repairable."

Bach scratches his head of brown hair with a nod. His gaze drifts over to the nearby wall, and he points a thumb over to the large plasma projectile cannon. "So, any big plans for that thing?"

Turning around in her chair, Cideeda crosses her arms upon the top of the back and rests her head down with disappointment twisting her mouth. "Unless I somehow get a working micro-fusion power pack, probably nothing anytime soon."

Her furry ears droop down, she releases a long sigh with a drop of her tail. "Anyway... If I somehow got my hands on a micro-fusion power pack, there's a number of other things I'd use it for first. But, I can't bring myself to just pawn that cannon off."

Eyes wander to Bach, and he darts his head between the curious and expectant gazes of Cideeda and Dretphi. Cideeda props her arm up on the tabletop and rests her head on her palm with a toothy grin. "Do you have any plans for it? COULD you have any plans for it?"

Bach squints uneasily at the cannon and returns a wary expression to Cideeda and Dretphi. "Uh... I won't say no. But, I'll be honest..."

Lifting a brow, he contorts a reluctant grimace on his face. "I'm not quite there with my abilities, yet? And, I'm not really that keen on giving that thing life, so soon after it almost annihilated me. Just saying."

Dretphi rocks her head side to side while her mind judges and grants Bach an accepting nod. "Understandable. In the future, we will ask again."

Cideeda settles back in her chair and starts cleaning up the area. Turns her head slightly towards Bach, she grins devilishly with a wink. "Just make sure you have a few plans when we ask."

Bach lowers his eyelids and grumbles. "No pressure, I'm sure."

Cideeda playfully puts her hands up in the air and shrugs. Dretphi lifts the weapon off the table onto the floor and Cideeda clears the space that was beneath the minigun. The sliding glass door opens up. Sotalia leans into view midway of the door's height from a patio chair and scans the room. Her golden eyes lock onto Bach, and a smile appears on her face. Shuffling the rest of her body around in the chair, she raises an arm in front of her face, and gestures a curling finger at Bach. "Bach, could you come out here? Aristespha and I were having an interesting discussion... And since you're awake..."

Groaning, Bach cautiously pivots to meet Sotalia's overtly delighted face. He lifts an eyebrow and points over his shoulder towards the refrigerator. "Before I play guinea pig, I'm getting a breakfast shake."

Dretphi eyes Cideeda, and motions her head slightly towards the sliding glass door. Cideeda nods and leans closer to Dretphi over the table to whisper. "This could be fun to watch."

Tipping back the plastic bottle, Bach scavenges the last bit of the breakfast shake, and rests the container on the patio table. He rubs the last vestiges of sleep from his eyes with both hands. Dragging both hands down underneath his jaw, he scratches his shadow of a beard. He gazes between Aristespha and Sotalia lounges in the patio chairs and the morning sun. "Okay... What experiment am I going to be a part of today?"

Aristespha settles into her patio chair, sips from a mug, and sighs with a roll of her violet eyes. "No experiments. Just questions."

A low grumble escapes from Bach, and he narrows his stare at Aristespha. "Right... Yeah, that's how it starts."

Sotalia crosses her arms and confidently straightens her posture in her patio chair. "Can you do a flight spell right now?"

After traces of contemplation wandering around his face, Bach draws in a deep breath in and shrugs with a long exhale. "No... Haven't managed that, yet."

Blinking blankly, Sotalia's jaw hang open, she ponders in disbelief. "You don't have a flight spell?"

With her golden eyes searching her mind, she briefly bites her lip and draws a scheming grin across her face. Aristespha smiles, swelling with intrigue, and drums her fingers upon the mug near her face. A few strands of silvery blue hair blow free, and she furrows her brow. "If I may guess, sustained generation of force to counter gravity, pushing against wind resistance, and creating acceleration is a bit much right now?"

Nodding in agreement, Bach scratches the back of his neck, and grimaces, averting his embarrassed gaze. "Yes. I haven't figured out the optimal means of doing all that. And, well..."

Stepping out in thought across the patio, he reaches the border between brickwork and grass. He turns to face Aristespha and Sotalia, and notices Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian curiously watching from the open sliding glass door. "It's also REALLY dangerous to experiment with flight without safety equipment, an open area, and someone to spot you. I mean, there are really good reasons those normal flight spells take so much to cast. A LOT of safety features woven in there."

Pulling a hand free from her arms, she points quizzically at Bach with an honest question. "Then, how did you clear that courtyard so quickly when running from the security bot?"

Dretphi pivots in place gradually and perks her brow at Bach. "You outran me when we pursued you."

Placing her hands on her hips, Cideeda stares, playfully sneering with a hint of accusation. "AND, you dodged that net shell from my shotgun. That was an EXPENSIVE shell you completely avoided..."

She squints and curls a toothy grin. "Magically."

Closing his eyes momentarily, Bach reopens them with a slight blue glow. Small flecks of dirt tumble upon the bricks, and blades of grass sway away. Drifting centimeters off the ground, Bach hovers in place. He shifts his body around with brief twitches and centers his balance back. The longer he maintains the height, the more he wiggles with his fight for balance. Swaying side to side, Dretphi positions herself near Bach to catch and Cideeda readies on the other side. Bach gradually lowers back down to the solid patio brick, and his eyes dim back to normal. "So that's about all I got when it comes to hovering. Now... I'm able to generate force and use it to move parts of my body. It works. It's not the most precise. But, it's less riskier than other options."

Dretphi briefly squints her suspicion at Bach, and glances off to her thoughts. Sebastian shakes his head and floats closer to Bach. "Damn. Well, we'll have to work on that. Not to put any pressure on you, bro. But... It would really be nice to have someone else who can do some flight spells."

Lifting an eyebrow, Bach stares at his brother with a smirk. "Yeah, I know. But, that might take a while."

He feels long-nailed fingers slip in between the back of his neck and the collar of his t-shirt. The front of the t-shirt collar tightens against his throat as someone pulls. Twisting in his own shirt, Bach spins around. Sotalia grins wide and eager. Her golden gaze meets Bach's confusion with an oddly calm, cheery tone. "What are you waiting for?"

He squints incredulously directly at Sotalia. "Um, well... An explanation?!"

Placing her free hand on her chest, Sotalia smiles smugly. "Well... You see, I can spot you during your training..."

She waves her hand wide out towards the open field of the backyard. "And, we have a very open area for you to do your training in..."

She snaps a point to Cideeda with a sly smile and winks. "And... We have safety equipment?"

Cideeda's green eyes dart around searching her mind. After a spark of memory, she perks up with a similarly sly smile and nods excitedly. "Yes, we do! We still have those climbing harnesses from that one mission in the mountains."

Dretphi tilts her head down to Cideeda. "Mine will fit."

Shifting his desperate stare to Aristespha, he eyes the other team members and settles a silent plea upon her. Wrapping her hands around the mug on the patio table, she slides the patio chair back and stands up from the circular metal mesh table. "I think I'll need another cup for this. Anyone else?"

Cideeda and Dretphi follow Aristespha inside. Both quickly walk to the hallway, and Aristespha nonchalantly picks up a few more mugs and packets of tea. Bach shifts his attention to Sebastian and awkwardly grimaces, falling short of a smile. "Brother? Come on... It's too early for this stuff."

Sebastian hovers up to Bach and releases an ethereal sigh, looking right into Bach's eyes. "Bro, you are in capable hands. We have the means. We got a lot of ground to cover before we go up against Noxian. And really, bro..."

He leans closer to his brother and whispers. "I can only make strong suggestions to everyone else at this point, given my lack of a solid body."

Narrowing his eyes halfway, Bach stares all his irritation upon Sebastian, sounding a low, defeated growl. Sebastian shrugs with his hands to his sides. "Personally, I'd really like to see that Air Catapult spell of yours again."

Sotalia leans to the side of Bach and makes eye contact with Sebastian. "Ooo! What's that one?"

The sun pushes through the overcast sky, slipping beams of light between the thin gaps. Clouds project shadows upon the rural lands below, drifting across green forest canopies and dropping into the grass expanses between. A gentle breeze coasts through the fields and wanders along the front lawn's tall grass. Standing on the front door landing, Aristespha's violet hunts from one distant end of the roadway. She wanders her stare down at the overgrown lawn and ponders with a furrowed brow. Squinting off towards the other distant end of the roadway, she frowns vaguely. "We really need to mow the lawn."

Sebastian's ethereal voice emanates from the sword at Aristespha's side. "We? Dear, that's what neighborhood kids are for. There's GOT to be one around here somewhere that would do it for some random trinket we found adventuring."

Stepping out from the open garage door, Cideeda stretches both her arms above her head and follows her perked furry ear over to Aristespha. "I'll send an aethermail to Steve and see if he knows anyone. Most did seem really into the few things I brought."

Narrowing her emerald green eyes, she curls an entrepreneurial grin upon her light brown face. "I wonder if any of them collect coins. Still have all those penny coins from that one empire that no big collectors seem to want."

Brush bristles lightly scratch against concrete, and a cloud of dust and debris swirls up with each sweep. Bach shoves a growing pile with a push broom out from the garage floor into the driveway. Placing the broom up inside the garage near the door, he spots something contrasting the detritus in the pile. He kneels down, flicks away bits of futz, and plucks out a few centimeter wide dragon scale. Standing up, he walks over to the other side of the garage door and presents the scale in front of Cideeda. "Hey, you think you can get one to work for a dragon scale?"

A beam of light grazes the scale, and Cideeda's eyes snap to black-blue glint. Carefully pinching onto the scale, she nods at Bach, and a scheming smile manifests. "Oh, I might be able to work something out."

Bach glances over to Aristespha, traces out her stare towards the road, and returns to her quizzically. "So... What time did you all agree upon meeting up?"

Aristespha blinks back to awareness and gazes over to Bach, retrieving her aetherphone from a pant pocket. Tapping on the screen, the clock appears. "Today, Monday, at noon. When I called him this morning, he said his schedule was clear today. He still has a few more minutes."

The front door opens inwards,s and Sotalia steps out onto the front door landing next to Aristespha. Flicking a few stray dark red hairs over her horns, she leans over and peeks at the clock on Aristespha's phone. She places her hands on hips, arches her back into a long stretch, and wanders her golden eyes along the roadway. "Well, I hope this doesn't take too long. I really could go for more flying lessons today."

A loud singular laugh erupts from Bach, and he shakes his head while twisting an uncomfortable grimace upon his light tan face. "Not today! Already booked!"

Snapping her attention right at Bach, she narrows an incredulous glare. "What?!"

Aristespha puts her aetherphone away, draws a long breath, and sighs with an eye roll. "Yes. He's helping me with research and materials manufacture."

Sotalia slides her stare at Aristespha, quirking her brow. "Can't THAT wait? I finally got a chance to do more flight magic..."

Averting her eyes, she wrestles a flit of embarrassment down. "For honest work reasons..."

Tilting her head towards Sotalia, Aristespha lowers her tone and squints a stern stare. "After being swung into a tree by a tether from a hover disc, I believe he needs a break."

Sotalia defensively crosses her arms, pivots away to face the road, and bites down the embarrassment upon her lip. "I'm SORRY. I forgot how easy hover discs drift laterally. It's been a few years since I tutored in that type of magic."

Inside the garage, the door leading into the kitchen opens up. Dretphi steps down the few concrete stairs and steps behind Bach and Cideeda. Squinting at a distant military truck upon the road, she points. "See a vehicle. Maybe theirs."

A turn signal blinks yellow and the truck slows its approach near the mouth of the driveway. After a turn down the gravel entrance, the light truck pulls up just behind the team's humvee. The driver's side door swings out, and a human woman hops out swiftly. Precisely adjusting her green military uniform on her slender frame, she finishes with a corrective tilt of her hat upon her short, light brown hair. She steps around the front of the truck, promptly opens the passenger's side door, and waits patiently. A tall, thin older man stands upon the gravel and surveys the area. The woman swiftly closes the door solidly. Placing his officer's hat on neatly, the older man in high rank attire walks out from between the front of the truck and the back of the humvee. He turns and approaches the front steps. The woman immediately joins his side, maintaining a proper, official posture in contrast to the calmer stance of the older man. When the older man arrives at the first step of the front stairs, he stops. After a slight bow, he extends his hand to shake Aristespha's with an almost undetectable smile near the graying corners of his mustache. "I am Captain Hackle of the Greater Azure Alliance. Am I safe to assume you are Lady Aristespha?"

Aristespha returns the gradual bow, reaches out, and firmly shakes Captain Hackle's hand. "Yes, you are."

Captain Hackle straightens his posture and allows his smile to grow a tiny bit. "Excellent. I am happy you returned my call and offered to meet me. There's a number of recent events I would like to discuss, and a few bits of information I would like to relay. But, first... Let me introduce two members of my unit."

He sidesteps and pivots with a calm gesture towards the woman at his side. "This is Sergeant Violet, an expert on information acquisition and analysis."

Sergeant Violet bows and holds out her hand to shake. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Returning in the respect, Aristespha shakes Sergeant Violet's hand. Sotalia quirks a reserved eyebrow and stares at Sergeant Violet, curling a lip into a smirk. "Information specialist?"

Sergeant Violet pivots herself to meet Sotalia's gaze, proudly smiles back, and straightens her posture with arms behind her back. "Yes! I assist by gathering data about the where, when, why, who, and how of any assignment we are given. Then, I find relevant information to relay to others in my unit."

Twisting her mouth against the swell of defiance, Sotalia gently narrows her golden eyes and sprinkles condescension in her tone. "Okay, give me an example of this relevant information."

The corner's of Sergeant Violet's smile sharpens and clears way for a confident grin. Focusing her full attention to Sotalia, she draws in a deep breath. "Well, Sotalia Aurica Feratosia, I know you are second generation half-emin, scored eight thousand six hundred sixty nine cells when you tested at the small magic university near your home town, your current age is-"

Spring her eyes widen open, surprise completely flushes down over Sotalia's face, and she interrupts, forcing out a very respectful, pleading tone. "Let's keep it civil!"

She clears her throat and nods in begrudging agreement. "Um... I can see why your skills... Would be very useful."

Captain Hackle sways his brown eyes to Sergeant Violet, hems purposefully, and curls the corner of his gray mustache. "Now, now. We are here as guests, Sergeant. Could you please assist Specialist Thayal with removing their property out of the truck?"

Sergeant Violet flashes a smug glance at Sotalia, and exactly pivots away to face Captain Hackle into a salute. "Yes, Captain!"

She departs straight to the military truck with a stiff march. Sotalia settles back against the door frame with squirm up her spine and flex of her crossed arms. Bach, Cideeda, and Dretphi exchange tight lipped expressions, failing at suppressing their satisfied smile. A brief snort slips out of Bach and prompts a suspicious glare from Sotalia. Sergeant Violet halts near the bed of the truck, draws a deep breath in, and shouts out in a shrill bellow. "SPECIALIST THAYAL! Get your butt into gear, and get the other end of this artifact! If I for a moment do not feel you are putting your effort into carrying it, you will be on double PT until I believe you are contributing your fair share!"

Wide eyes immediately find the source of the spectacle. Panic scurrying sounds out from the truck bed, and a lanky uniformed half-emin man springs up from the bed. "Good fucking gods almighty-"

His silver eyes spot the condemnation from Sergeant Violet, and he scrambles. "Yes, ma'am!"

Specialist Thayal places a hand quickly to the side of his head in a salute, pushing away long black hair underneath a horn roughly broken short. He reaches down to lift up the end of a roughly-edged, golden sheet of transparent stabilized magical energy. Narrowing her dark blue eyes at Thayal, Violet lowers the tailgate, firmly grips the other end of the sheet, and summons a scowl on her dark tan face. "Ma'am?! I work for a living! You will address me as Sergeant until I deem so otherwise! Do you understand me, Specialist THAYAL!?"

Thayal's posture snaps rigid and straight. Assisting in carrying out the golden sheet out of the bed of the truck, he grits his teeth with a subdued sneer. "Yes, SERGEANT."

Captain Hackle returns his attention from observation and gazes over the everyone else with a long vaguely apologetic sigh and lower tone. "If you could please excuse Sergeant Violet, she recently made the rank and is establishing herself to the rest of the unit. In particular... Specialist Thayal has gone to great lengths in the past to... Earn... the particular attention he is getting."

He glances back over his shoulder as Thayal and Violet move the golden sheet up towards the front door. With a calm tone, he pauses to punctuate the moments, spending time to find the right words. "As a point of order... I wanted to return this strange bit of magic we had to... Separate from the entryway into the ruins you successfully sealed. If you would not mind, Specialist Thayal has some questions to ask."

Both Thayal and Violet set the golden sheet on the grass of the front lawn. Squinting his eyes at the golden sheet, Bach immediately recognizes it. Thayal steps up next to Captain Hackle, examines everyone present. Receiving a confirming nod from Captain Hackle, he points to the golden sheet. "Okay, first off... Who the hell MADE that?!"

Eyes sweep over to Bach, and he eventually raises his hand sheepishly, feeling the peer pressure.

Inside the living area, the team around the dining table waits expectantly and watches Captain Hackle. Gently lifting the tea cup to his lips, Captain Hackle carefully tilts the brew back for a long sip and almost silently places the cup back onto the dining table. Straightening his posture in the wooden dining chair, he gazes over the anticipating expressions upon Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia's face. Glancing over to Sergeant Violet, he grants a slight nod and addresses the team. "You are an interesting group, which I have come to appreciate in my long career. I have found eccentricity often accompanies excellence. And, I must say for your short time here, you have shown your capabilities admirably."

Hovering seated in a chair next to Aristespha and across Captain Hackle, Sebastian smiles proudly. "Well, we try to do the jobs right. Despite what some of them turn into."

Captain Hackle nods calmly and briefly gazes outside through the sliding glass door. Returning to attention to the team, he perks her brow. "Hopefully, Sergeant Violet and Specialist Thayal aren't being too nosy, but I do appreciate all of you humoring our many questions."

Aristespha nods gracefully and gradually lifts an intrigued eyebrow with a reserved smile. "It is only fair. You have given us interesting information about the area and rumors about odd events."

Captain Hackle subtly widens a slow grin and nods a tiny bit. "Yes. Rumors, simply. Nothing more. Certainly, no official validation... Officially... Of course."

Furrowing his ethereal brow, Sebastian mimics a similar nod. "Of course."

With a deft sweep of his hand, Captain Hackle takes his hat, bows forward in his chair and rises from the table. "Unfortunately, while I would love to indulge in more conversation, I must attend to other affairs today. Truth be told, I would actually prefer to stay longer, given my..."

Placing his officer's cap on his head of short graying curly hair, he strains a breath through his nose. "Next stop."

Sebastian quirks his brow and floats up to a stand. Tilting his head to the side, he narrows his curiosity at Captain Hackle. "If you don't mind me asking, what would that be, Captain?"

A faint smirk creeps from the corner of Captain Hackle's mouth, and he sighs, straightening his uniform. "Your neighbors."

A small twitch pulls at Aristespha's cheek underneath her eye. A mix of irritation and frustration trickles up into the face of the rest of the group. Standing up out of her chair upright, Aristespha calmly exhales against the swell of ire. "I can understand your... Trepidation."

With a nod, Captain Hackle walks towards the sliding glass door. He stops next to Specialist Thayal, standing at attention, and stares out diagonally across the peaceful green field. Turning his head slightly towards the team, he hides a smile from view. "Yes. A requirement of my job."

Lifting a hopeful eyebrow, he pivots to address the team at the dining table. "Speaking of jobs, I actually have an assignment I would like to send to your group through the guild system."

Sebastian crosses arms with an interested smile and perk of the brow. "We may be interested?"

He gauges the reception reactions from Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. Fighting a grimace, he meets Bach’s uncomfortable frown. Captain Hackle nods and stares outside at the waves of wind coasting over the field. "A number of days ago, a farmer provided my group shelter during one of the strong storms we unfortunately found ourselves in. In return, I gave him my contact information and informed him if he needed help, I would try to provide. He called me this weekend."

With a motion of a hand, he signals Thayal to follow and steps towards the team at the dining table. "He has an interesting problem with a pack of large bird-like creatures that now prevent him from getting to certain parts of his farm safely. Unfortunately, they seem to be a protected species and a straight elimination isn't allowed."

Noticing a inquiring glance from the Captain, Sergeant Violet straightens her posture and recites. "They are exceptionally rare weird zone birds that have proven to be very hard to study. There is not a lot of information about them."

Captain Hackle nods and gazes over the assembled group. "The local government will be happy to relocate them to an appropriate habitat, but will not do the initial capture. My group isn't particularly geared for this type of task. But, I feel your group would be... More appropriate for the task at hand."

Dretphi crosses her arms and wrestles a reserved frown with her thoughts. Flicking her furry ears, Cideeda leans against the chair back and cocks her head of short, multicolored hair. "So, you want us to herd a bunch of birds?"

Sotalia dismissively snorts and rolls her golden eyes. Bach remains silent and quietly observes the building rejection. Captain Hackle nods calmly with a vague understanding. "Understandable. I wanted to check to see if your group would be interested."

A hint of a confident smirk sneaks out onto his face. "Given the disinterest, should I forward this task to your... Neighbors?"

Silence flushes out the room and the team meets Captain Hackle's intrigued stare. Noticing the change over the team, Sebastian even spots hints of interest from Bach. Meeting Aristespha's demanding stare through him, Sebastian's ethereal form holds up a hand for a point of attention. "One moment, Captain. I think we all would like to discuss this a little further-"

Aristespha snarls her subdued ire upon her ivory face and slips out. "We'll take it."

Captain Hackle grants a nod with a vague grin and motions to Sergeant Violet. "I think Sergeant Violet will be happy to explain the situation in detail."

The humvee bounces along the narrow dirt access road, kicking up dust and the occasional rocky chunk of packed clay. Closing in on a gate within the fence row, the machine slows to a stop, a hint of squeal sounding from the brakes. The powerplant spins down and all the doors open. Everyone works their way out of the vehicle and spreads out, admiring the scenery. Cideeda steps up to the fence upon the crest of a small hill and surveys the huge, wide-open grassy field within the perimeter. "This is actually really pretty. Not a bad day for another nature hike."

Walking up next to Cideeda, Aristespha scans the horizon and checks on her tablet in between visual sweeps. "Hopefully, nothing too demanding, so we can enjoy the rest of it."

She bites her lip and sighs with a glance over her shoulder to the rest of the group. "Again... I want to apologize for agreeing up front for the mission without allowing you all to discuss it fully."

Swallow down her embarrassment, she frowns. "I wasn't exactly thinking clearly at that moment."

Sotalia stretches her arms over head and rests her hands on her hips. Assuming a confident stance, she gazes into the green field with a sly grin. "Girl! As IF we'd let THEM have anything intended for us first."

With a long yawn, Bach ambles up to the gathering at the fence row and clears the sleep from his blue eyes. "Well, it's not a cyber-zombie den, an abandoned park, or a ruin. So, I mean, it's already got a lot going for it. "

Dretphi stares off in her own thoughts, and she slowly pronounces a long scientific sounding name to herself. "Should know that name. Feels familiar."

Glancing over to Dretphi, Sotalia crosses her arms and shrugs, puzzling out loud. "Well, I tried searching all night. I only got a few bits here and there about these things. They sound like big angry chickens to me."

Cideeda lifts up a pair of binoculars and scans the distant parts of the field. Flicking her furry ears around the soundscape, she slowly pivots herself in a sweep of the horizon. Aristespha taps on her tablet a few times and furrows her academically annoyed brow at the annotated notes on the display. "Unfortunately, it seems that the species name applies to a number of different breeds of all shapes and sizes. Natural breeding, past genetic modification, and even magically modified. The species name is just a catchall for anything similar."

Sebastian's transparent visage materializes behind the group. and he chuckles to himself. "Yet another wonderful thing our ancestors left for us to deal with."

Cideeda halts her pivot and leans forward with the binoculars. Her tail furry fluffing out, she peeks over the eyepieces in surprise. "Holy shit. Are those..."

Dretphi rushes up next to Cideeda and taps her on the shoulder, holding out a hand. Cideeda lowers the binoculars, blinks blankly, and places them in Dretphi's awaiting hand. Dretphi lifts the binoculars up to her eyes, briefly searches the area, and then stares silently. After a minute of quiet study, she removes the binoculars from her eyes and frowns slightly. "OH."

The building attention from the rest of the group prompts Dretphi for a further explanation. "I know what these are. Their name in Grath translates roughly to... Thudkicker."

From the treeline surrounding the field, four tall, large bird-like creatures casually hop over the fence. Each of the beasts walks upon two long, thick legs, with three sharply clawed toes each. Investigating patches of grass in the field with long colorful necks, their feather covered, oval bodies show the faintest hints of small wings tucked away. Upon the front crest of their heads, a large bony crown encircles a head dress of bright plumage. The tallest of the group stands proudly to two meters tall, and the other creatures appear close to that height. Dretphi passes the binoculars to Aristespha. Sotalia casts a quick incantation, places her fingertips together, and squints through the space between. Aristespha lowers the binoculars from her blank ivory face and hands them to Bach. With the dawning situation, expressions between the group grow uncertain and mix heavily with unease. Sebastian observes the mood shift, puffs up his chest, and addresses the team with hearty bravado. "Alright everyone! Team planning on the hood. Let's get a plan together. I mean, we have recently just handled FAR more and bigger things than them."

Shaking out of their collective stupor, the team regroups around the humvee with confidence recovering by the minute.

While the wind gently blows over the large open field, the team awaits and hides in the brush at the edge of the surrounding forest. The pack of thudkickers wander through the shorter grass and hunt the field for anything edible. Peeking out, Sebastian hovers out from behind a tree and checks the current position of the pack. He slips back and gazes at the team laying low. "Okay. Final review of the plan. Aristespha and Sotalia will go invisible and move to the middle of the field. That'll give me enough range from the sword to fly around and get the leader's attention."

He furrows his brow and double checks with Dretphi. "When the leader charges after me, the rest will join up with the leader to assist."

Dretphi confirms with a confident nod. Pointing to Sotalia, Sebastian resumes to the explanation. "Sotalia should have plenty of opportunities to levitate and isolate one from the pack. Which, given how crazed they get with defending their territory... They probably won't immediately realize they are missing someone. Correct?"

He shifts his attention back to Dretphi. Nodding, Dretphi furrows her brow thoughtfully. "Yes. Thudkickers are notoriously single-minded. All will focus on the leader's target until the leader decides otherwise."

Changing his focus to Aristespha, Sebastian pounders out loud. "Aristespha will sedate them with a spell. Sotalia will drop them off near Dretphi and Cideeda, who will tie them up and drag them off into the woods. Bach you keep a lookout in the treeline near the middle of the field. Be ready to come up with a distraction in case we need one or whatever backup we might need."

Dretphi takes in a breath and gazes between the team with concern. "Thudkickers have good vision, good senses of smell. Keep hidden when possible. Watch for wind changes. They are NOT stupid. This breed lives in weird zones. Dumb one do not make to adulthood out there."

Gauging the readiness of the team, Sebastian nods contemplatively and addresses the team. "Everyone. If they don't take the bait or it becomes too dangerous, everyone scatter and regroup at the humvee. We'll figure something else out from there. Ready?"

Nods and affirmative expressions appear all around. Minutes pass, and the team spreads out to their positions. Dretphi and Cideeda sneak over to the cleared alcove pushing into the forest. Bach squats down behind a tall, leady scrub and peeks through a sparse section. A fading breeze barely trickles across the field and rattles the shorter stalks of grass. Across from Dretphi Cideeda's spot, two faintly distorted, transparent figures crouch down in the middle of the field. Sotalia's voice softly crackles over the radio. "We're in position and ready."

Cideeda sounds out over the airwaves. "Ready here."

Bach secures his helmet and gives a thumbs up to Sebastian next to him, behind some underbrush. "They're all in position from the looks of it. And, the thudkickers are hanging out in the corner over there. So... Ready when you are."

Sebastian nods, quickly zips off into the open, and flies towards the pack, diving low into the scattered taller stretches of weeds. Bach calls out over the radio. "Sebastian is going in."

Rising out of the grasses right next to the pack, Sebastian hems loudly, and projects an annoying, ethereal cough. The largest thudkicker snaps to attention and focuses an immediately angry glare right at Sebastian. Feathers ruffle up. Posture shifts straight to aggressive. And, a low, powerful honk echoes out into the vicinity, faintly bouncing off the surrounding perimeter for trees. The other three thudkickers halt and form up into a rough V-formation behind their leader. In the swell of tension, Sebastian takes a few steps back. The pack narrows the widening gap back in kind. Sebastian hovers back at a constant pace. The pack matches and maintains their distant pursuit. Sebastian takes off, and the pack charges in a full sprint. Keeps track of the progress of events, Bach announces over the radio. "They took the bait! Sebastian is moving them to staging area, get ready."

The Sebastian flies in a long circular path around the field, the thudkicker pack feverishly pursuing. The last of the pack passes between the pairings of Sotalia and Aristespha in the middle of the field and Cideeda and Dretphi hiding just beyond the brush line. The transparent distortion around Sotalia fades, and she expediently runs through a series of incantations. The trailing thudkicker falls behind the pack. Despite how fast its legs kick against the air now beneath it, the creature speeds backwards. It hovers against its comprehension towards the center of field and halts. Another distorted transparency fades off of Aristespha. With glowing violet eyes, she points an ivory hand at the bewildered thudkicker and releases a directed wave of energy at its head. The creature's eyes close and body goes limp. With a gurgling snore sounding out, the feathered beast coasts off towards the edge of the field and lands gently on the grassy alcove. Dretphi jumps out from the brush, snatches up the legs of the thudkicker, and hoists them up, placing the massive bird on it's back. Cideeda rushes out with thick rope. Quickly wrapping coils around the legs, she secures the bindings around the beast. Dretphi directs Cideeda to the thudkicker's head. "Secure the beak. Tie the neck to the legs. Prevent them from headbutting."

Bach maintains an overwatch between Sebastian's progress around the field and the rest of the team. Settling back into their mid-field hiding spot, Sotalia and Aristespha grow transparent and fade from view. Cideeda finishes her knots, and Dretphi drags the huge bird off the field into hiding. Glances over mid-flight, checks the staging area, and spots Bach's thumbs up from the top of the bush. Curling his winding path around, he tightens it up and lines up for another pass. Bach radios an update. "Okay. He's coming in for another pass. Get ready."

Sebastian blazes through with the pack in tow. Transparency washes off of Sotalia, and she rapidly works the gestures and flows for another casting. A trailing thudkicker lags behind the other two and coasts backwards towards the center of the field. Mid flight, the bird sporadically bobs down. It springs back to the previous altitude. The floating thudkicker squirms and tenses with faint flits of magical flow sparking out. It bobs closer to the ground than before. Muttering a series of curses in a few choice languages, Sotalia grumbles to herself, straining her tone. "The FUCK are you doing?! STOP doing THAT!"

From a faint, transparent distortion field next to Sotalia, Aristespha inquires worried. "What is going on?"

Grimacing with fresh frustration, Sotalia growls out. "I think the bird is actually trying to counter my spell!"

She readjusts her gestures and concentrates on the growing challenge. "And, it's doing too good of a job of it!"

The cloak of invisibility flop down from Aristespha, and she narrows her glowing violet eyes at the erratic, hovering thudkicker. "Oh my gods, it is! It's actually consciously directing magical flow against yours! Admittedly, very crude, but-"

Sotalia snaps a worried glare at Aristespha and grits her teeth with a twitch of the cheek. "Crude and effective! Can you knock it out?! I'm wasting a lot of time and energy fighting it!"

Sebastian checks over towards the middle of the field. Concern flashes over his face, and he jet down his path over the grass. Slowing down, he glances behind him, and the pack drops to a slow march. The lead thudkicker sways his head side to side and carefully examines Sebastian visage in front of him. Lowering its head to sniff the ground passed over by Sebastian, it stops walking. Keeping his head facing the beast, Sebastian eyes over to the middle of the field. Aristespha summons a more powerful wave of energy and manages to sedate the defiant, hovering thudkicker. Sebastian shifts his eyes over to the treeline and meets Bach's worried stare. Finding similar concern in his brother's gaze, Bach keys up the radio. "Problem! I think the leader has figured out Sebastian isn't physically there. They're not chasing him anymore. I'll try to distract them, and keep them busy for a bit."

Lifting his hand up, a glowing ball forms in Bach's palm, and he flicks it off. The orb zips out right in front of the leader. The light ball flits and flutters around the leader thudkicker's head. Disregarding the nuisance, the leader sniffs the air and searches the growing breeze. Peeking over his shoulder, Sebastian spots Dretphi starting to tie up the sedated thudkicker. He yells out to Bach and waves his arms at the lead thudkicker. "Bro! I don't think it's falling for that shit anymore! I think it knows something is up!"

Bach's eyes dart around, sorting through all the pieces of the situation in his mind. Dretphi and Cideeda work on wrapping up the thudkicker on the other side of the field. Aristespha and Sotalia fight a wave of fatigue and start focusing magical energies. A strong breeze pushes a branch against Bach's helmeted head, and he watches the wind coast from Cideeda and Dretphi, over the mostly visible Aristespha and Sotalia, and right towards the thudkickers. Mustering his determination, Bach secures his helmet on his head and rushes out towards Sebastian. He searches the ground, spots a clumpy patty, and cracks a devious grin across light tan face. The pack leader starts to turn its head away from Sebastian, and a loud shout from Bach seizes its attention. Snapping its glare upon Bach, a large, old cow pie smacks upon the bony forehead and crumbles over the beak of the lead thudkicker. It sniffs in the unmistakable scent of old cow manure. Rageful pride and overwhelming disgust drive the fetid odor back out the nasal passages in a furious snort. A spiteful glare pierces through all other distractions to Bach. The pack leader's eyes glow dimly dark red. Every feather ruffles out in furious tremors. And, an enraged honk bellows out, reverberating far from the field. Sebastian's jaw drops, and he gawks in pure astonishment. "WOW."

Bach stiffens with fear and blinks blankly. "Oh... He knows what I threw at him..."

Staring at Bach for a moment, Sebastian yells. "RUN, BRO!"

Snapping his jaw shut, his eyes illuminate a bright blue, and Bach tears off at speeds beyond expectation. The enraged lead thudkicker tears off in a psychotic sprint. Red flows of magical energy course around its body, and savage honks shred the air. Bach screams out into the field and over the radio. "NEW PLAN! IT'S AFTER ME! OH FUCK!"

Bach blazes down the field, a faint blue energy vapor fading behind him. Powering on with long, fast strides, he sprints up to speed and barely outpaces the enraged thudkicker. Aristespha calls out on the radio. "We're ready! Get over here!"

He frantically runs towards the staging area and flies through with the pack leader right behind him. The other thudkicker passes through the zone seconds later. It strains to a halt and floats up stiffly. A powerful energy wave blast floods over him. Tensing her body, Sotalia deposits the creature in front of Cideeda and Dretphi. She releases the spell and pants out. "No more chancing. Let's skip the cloak and use the energy for the big one!"

Aristespha nods and summons up flows of prismatic power. Dretphi and Cideeda swiftly tie up and drag the sedated thudkicker off to the others hidden in the forest. Sotalia yells over the radio. "Bring the big one in Bach!"

Bach's pace gradually slows. The distance between him and the lead thudkicker closes. His breath shortens with each second of frantic gasping. Banking around the edge of the field, he lines up for the approach. The enraged leader shrinks the divide. Bach bolts through the trap. Sotalia activates her spell, and the last thudkicker lifts off the ground. Aristespha lines up her aim and flows the powers. A thunderous honk bellows out, and a wave of red energy pulses across the huge beast. His feet touch ground again. and a wavering field of energy fades off. Sotalia struggles to perform the incantations for another attempt. Fighting for air against exhaustion, Bach slows to a stumbling run. Aristespha launches a wave of energy at the leader. It pauses for a moment, blinking and stumbling forward. With another booming honk, a red wave radiates over the densely feathered body, and it launches into sprint. Bach spins around and watches the creature charge down at him. Panic plain on his face, he scrambles inside his mind for a solution and lowers his head in exhaustion. Lifting his head up with a wild spark in his blue eyes, he calls out on the radio. "Dretphi! How do these things challenge each other?!"

Halting in surprise at the question, Dretphi's steely gray eyes speed through her mind, and she commands out. "Stare! Honk loud! Kick up the dirt! Flare out your plumage!?"

Gritting his teeth, Bach locks eyes with the charging thudkicker and screams out a strained honk. Repeatedly kicking up the dirt behind him, he flares out and flutters his duster. The huge thudkicker slows his pace, stops a few meters short of Bach, and curiously glares. After seconds of head twisting study, it belts out a different tone and pitch of honk. Scratching at the dirt beneath, it flares out its plumage. Bach maintains eye contact with the feathered beast and stiffly speaks into the radio. "Okay... What now?"

Watching the scene while rushing over with the rest of the team, she instructs Bach further. "Circle with it. Keep eye contact. Watch its head."

Readying their spells mid stride, Aristespha and Sotalia scramble across the field toward the distant face-off between Bach and thudkicker. Cideeda runs with shotgun ready, loading a taser round in the bottom barrel. Bach and the thudkicker circle around, matching mannerisms and posturing. Noticing flows of magic creeping up the neck of the creature, muscles tensing, and balance shifting, Bach inquires over the radio, worry creeping into his tone. "Uh, what's next after the circling?"

Dretphi states over the radio. "A headbutt."

Bach's eyes spring wide open. The thudkicker rears its head back, magical energy surging up to it. Curling his lip to a defiant sneer, and Bach narrows his glare, flush with resolve. A brilliant blue glow flashes out his eyes, and streams of magical energy spiral up his body to his head. Riding the sheer determination, he rears back his head, prismatic energies swelling. Bach and the thudkicker lunge heads first at each other. A thunderous, solid thud bounces off the nearby hills and back into the field. A bright flash wanes from the collision, and the two remain in contact with each other for the moment. Staggering back, the big thudkicker dizzily stumbles over itself into a heap. It releases a loud grunt before a series of gurgling snores. With cracks spidering out from the impact point on his helmet's magical, golden barrier, Bach straightens up with a triumphant ear to ear grin. "Fuck you... Chicken..."

Pain receptors finally inform him of his sheer stupidity, and his bravado disappears before reality. "Oh gods... Why did I do that... OWWW!"