Episode 18

Within the cab of the humvee, Golden eyes peer over the front passenger seat's headrest. Straight, dark red hair flutters with the wind venting in through the lowered door window and strays over swept-back horns. The headrest conveniently obscures Sotalia's ear to ear, highly amused smile. Sitting knees into the seat, she gazes upon Bach, almost fully reclined in the back seat. Exaggerating a breath into a pained groan, Bach winces from the last tap of Aristespha's gloved hand. Aristespha settles into her seat across the aisle from Bach and calmly removes her medical gloves. Slowly shaking her head to rest into her hand, she rolls her violet eyes and puffs surprised. "How you haven't even managed a concussion is astounding."

Sebastian's ethereal voice resonates from the sword resting next to Aristespha's seat. "Honestly, it's genetic. At least that's what mom always said about dad. Then again, dad said the same thing about mom. Depends who you asked and when."

Dretphi carefully lowers a plastic cold pack onto the red, lightly swollen patch in the middle of Bach's forehead. Slowly raising his hand up, Bach grasps the pack and secures it upon his head. "Thank you..."

Patting Bach's shoulder lightly, Dretphi leans into the far back bench. She picks up Bach's helmet next to her and carefully rotates it around, examining the fading crackle in the magical barrier. Furrowing her brow, she gazes at Bach with a humored smile. "Tried to warn you they headbutt. Did not intend for you to..."

Fighting back a humored curl, she tightens her smile. "Respond in kind."

A long groan mumbles out from Bach, and a withering sigh punctuates the embarrassed upwards wave of his hand. "I know. I- Uh... I... Got caught up in the whole moment...?"

Fluttering his blue eyes open, Bach squints through a flurry of memory and glances around inside his head bewildered. "I... I don't know- What the hell was I thinking?"

Sotalia slides her hands over the top of her seat, wraps her arms around the headrest, and plops her chin on top with a radiant, smug grin. "Well, there's a dangerous assumption right there."

Perking her brow, she barely subdues the giggle in the undertone. "Thinking?"

The cold pack gradually shifts back up Bach's head and clears his line of sight of Sotalia. He manages a weak glare at her. Deflating under her unrelenting grin right back at him, he sighs. "At this point, I'm not even going to argue. It hurts too much."

Sotalia unwraps an arm from the head rest, flips open a pouch on her belt and retrieves a vial. Holding the vial over the aisle, she waggles it in sight of Aristespha and directs her inquiry. "Is it safe for a simple anti-inflammatory?"

Aristespha glances up from the windows of text upon her tablet, briefly quirks a brow at Bach, and smirks at Sotalia. "Yes. Go right ahead. I'm sure our brave hero of the day will appreciate it."

Sotalia cranes the vial over to Bach, taps it upon his knee, and offers it. Bach flutters his eyes open under the shadow of the cold pack, spots the potion, and drifts his free hand over. "Thank you."

Briefly lifting his hand from the cold pack, he uncorks the vial, tilts the vial into his mouth, and caps it back. Securing the cold pack again, he presents the empty vessel back to Sotalia. "So... I'm not going to live this one down any time soon..."

Sotalia giggles to herself and dramatically shakes her head side to side. "OH. No. Of course not."

An amused grin widens on her light tan and dark gray face and sun from the window glints in her golden eyes. "Oh, what was the one liner? Fuck you, chicken?"

Cringing into an uncomfortable grimace, Bach exhales defeat. Aristespha closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. "You are certainly Sebastian's brother."

From the sword, Sebastian adopts a playfully defensive tone. "Hey! I don't know how to feel about that... Anyway."

Brotherly pride radiates from his encouraging tone. "I think it was pretty fucking awesome, bro! Damn, you beat that bird at its own game. You out thudkickered the thudkicker. Seriously, fuck that overgrown chicken."

Dretphi leans forward, rests a hand on Bach's shoulder, and smiles with a slight lip bite. "You have earned a rare honor. Few challenge a thudkicker. None I know have won. None were sober when they tried."

Chuckling to herself, Sotalia crosses her arms back around the head rest. "Gods, I still can't believe you won!"

She furrows her brow at Dretphi and twists a smirk. "Hey! Doesn't that mean he becomes the pack leader or something?"

Dretphi leans back against her seat and searches her thoughts with darting steely gray eyes. After uncertain contemplation, she simply shrugs. "Yes? If the pack had been awake to witness."

The driver's side door opens, and Cideeda hops behind the steering wheel. Glancing down the aisle, she cracks a smile and perks her furry ears. "So, how's patient?"

Aristespha pulls the corner of her mouth into an amused half-grin and flicks her eyes over to Bach. "Oh. He will live. Hard head intact, pride defended, sanity questionable, and ego shrinking."

Cideeda nods, flashes a toothy grin to Bach with a quick wink, and turns forward into her seat. "Well that's good. So, the thudkickers are in the hands of the relocation crew. I got our restraints and rope back, and..."

Reaching into a vest pocket, she pulls out a folded piece of paper and lifts it over her seat to Aristespha. "A delivery confirmation receipt."

Aristespha plucks the paper from Cideeda's hand and opens it for inspection. Sweeping her violet eyes over the paper, she nods and positions in front of her tablet. "Excellent. I will get a photo of it and send it along with the rest of the paperwork."

Cideeda quickly checks over her immediate area of the cab. Inserting a fob into a port on the humvee's dash, she glances over to Sotalia, still sitting knees into the seat. A startled squeak escapes Sotalia. Reflexively tensing up, she wraps her arms around herself low, guarding her sides. She searches nearby and finds Cideeda's claw tip pointing at her. Following it back, she blinks blankly. Cideeda furrows her brow, twirls a finger, points down, and motions towards Sotalia's seat belt. Pouting briefly, Sotalia spins around and sits down properly. "Aww..."

Cideeda flips a series of covered toggle switches on the dash, locks them in place, and presses the ignition switch firmly. "That's enough for now. We can remind him of this later."

A low whirl spins up to a high pitched whine, and a muffled pop erupts to muted roar as the system status lights upon the dash flick to green. Cideeda lowers her head, peers through the windshield, and stares concerned up to the clouding sky. "I want to get home soon."

Her emerald green eyes scan the darker horizon and flick between runs of graying clouds. Wrestling an uneasy frown, she straightens her posture and puts the humvee in gear. "Walking back, the clouds looked really off. I don't want to be driving in whatever they're bringing."

The constant drone of heavy rain rolls over the roof and seeps throughout the house. The intensity wavers with the gusts of wind. Rattles of water drops upon the window glass peaks over the stormy ambiance. Snoring against the surrounding din, Bach unconsciously draws up bed sheets and cocoons away from the chaos. A white flash beams in through the windows, and the room lights up brilliantly. Between winces, Bach stirs and crack open his eyes to thin slits. His blue pupils drift side to side aimlessly and wander without consciousness. An explosive, house shaking boom pulses through. Bach's eyes spring wide open, and he waits with muscles tense, surveying the situation. He watches the eerie ambient dim, green glow radiate from the windows above the head of his bed and erratically pulsate upon the plain walls. Sittings up in bed, he groggily fails to catch the warm cold pack, and it flops off his forehead onto his bed sheet covered lap. He pulls off the sheet, and stands up, facing the window. Outside through the window, the rain falls in sheets upon the glass, flooding the view in drenching waves. Dark green, omnipresent light oozes through the clouds overhead, and flickers of purple, pink, and orange streak through the same clouds. Bach slowly blinks to blank stare and clears the sleep out of his eyes, waiting for consciousness to arise. A distant low rumble vibrates the windows, and a wave of tension freezes Bach. Continuing to scan the chaotic scene outside from his bedroom window, he manages to mumble the question his mind provides no answers to. "What the fuck is this?"

Brushing off his shirt and short, he collects his thoughts and glances towards the faint light creeping in under his door from the hallway. After a few distant and muffled voices slip through the hollow door, he ambles over to the exit.

In the living room, the television casts a glow onto the couch and coffee table while a single light in the kitchen illuminates the living area. The door to the garage opens and reveals Cideeda pressing a button on the garage side of the wall. A mechanical groan of the garage door cycles, and the chorus of rain gradually loses out, eventually subsiding to the background noise when the garage door seals up. Cideeda closes the kitchen door firmly, releases a satisfied breath through the drips of water down her light brown face. She brushes back her wet short, multi-colored hair with her fingers and flutters her emerald green eyes with a whole body shiver. After a few moments of twirling the humvee's key fob in her hand, she glances down at her water soaked nightshirt and tugs it away from her figure. It clings back to her upon release, and she huffs out an annoyed sigh. Sotalia stirs within her house coat, turns her head towards Cideeda, and quietly projects from the couch. "You know we have rain coats, right?"

Cideeda steps across the kitchen floor, her bare feet softly sounding out a light, wet pats with clicks from her claws. Putting her hands up to the sides with an acknowledging smirk, she shrugs. "I know. But, honestly, I don't think it would have helped much."

Picking at the clingy and soaked shirt, she coils her water-logged tail around her waist. "I'll be right back. I got to get a new shirt and wring out my tail."

Granting an acknowledging nod, Sotalia slides her attention back to the television. Lifting up the remote at the screen, she turns up the volume, and the audio from the broadcast climbs out of the background storm drone with each tick on the on-screen gauge.

"... we are currently still waiting on confirmation from the Greater Azure Alliance Department of Meteorology. But, from all observations and our equipment, a Maelstrom Warning is very likely for cities within the projected path of the storm. Amaranth Valley and surrounding areas are presently under Severe Storm warning for the reminder of the night and..."

Bach wanders groggily out from the archway leading to the hallway, and Cideeda casually slides past him. Quickly patting him on the shoulder, she smirks. "Morning."

Fighting a yawn, Bach nods towards her. "Technically... Yeah... I guess."

He pauses in thought and notices the wet sheen of kitchen light reflecting off Cideeda's hair. "You've been outside?"

Cideeda nods and sighs with a shrug. "Didn't want to risk our only ride to this mess outside. Got it to fit in the garage. After soaking up a couple liters of water in my tail alone."

Walking down the hallway to her bedroom, she slips through the door. Seconds later a rolled up, wet nightshirt flops onto the floor just outside the door. Bach blinks, turns towards the television, and wanders next to the nearby arm of the couch. "Wait... A maelstrom? I thought we were too far out for those."

Sotalia shakes her head with an uneasy twist in her grimace. "So did I... But, I guess if the storm picks up enough from the weird zone, it can stay near maelstrom stage long enough to get here."

The dim green glow through the sliding glass door flickers pink with bright flashes of white slipping in. Bach and Sotalia snap their heads at the colors and gawk outside at the pulsations to many individual, constant glows. The dim green drifts between a strange range of colors, and the sky paints itself with a fading rainbow of streaks. Mixing with the torrents of rain, orbs of magical light pelt and bounce off the ground. A low distant hum resonates through the structure of the house, and a lightning strike in the distance erupts into a spidering swirl of expanding miasma. The concussion wave from the strike warps through the walls of rain and impacts the house, shaking to a long rumble. Sotalia stares in awe with her jaw agape. Bach slowly blinks in disbelief and stretches his facial muscles in search of a fitting expression. Peering out from the hallway archway, Cideeda's wide eyes and narrow pupils reflect the barrage of lighting from outside. She holds up a finger, points down the hallway, and uses her free hand to pull down her dry nightshirt the rest of the way. "So... I'm going to wake Dretphi up... If she isn't already."

Placing her sock covered feet squarely on the ground, Sotalia quickly stands up rigidly and nods slowly. "Good idea, girl. I'll go get Aristespha up. She'll want to see this."

"This is an update from the Greater Azure Alliance Department of Meteorology! We have confirmations from multiple sources that the storm is now classified a Class One Maelstrom! Residents in the path of the maelstrom should seek shelter within an interior room, basement, or dedicated storm shelter..."

While the alert scroll overlay attempts to display, the picture on the television shifts, shudders, skews, and distorts in a myriad of erratic directions and shapes. Aetherphones throughout the house fire off loud emergency alerts. Seeping into the room, a chorus of sirens across the countryside spin up to a haunting wail, echoing out to swirling glows of the sky above.

A tan hand tugs on Bach's foot beneath the blanket. After a quick grumble, Bach tosses in the sleeping bag upon the living room floor, fighting against consciousness. Another firm pull on his foot stirs him from slumber, and he groggily cracks his eyes open. Dretphi holds onto Bach's foot through the sleeping bag and nods. "I apologize. I need your help."

Fluttering his blue eyes, he slowly rises up to a seat on the floor and begrudgingly pushes through the haze of sleep fading away. He rubs his eyes, yawns, and scratches his beard stubble. "Sure... Yeah... So, what do you need?"

Dretphi gazes out towards the sliding glass door and waves to the golden magical barrier encasing the exit. Bach follows her direction and blinks blankly, his brain sluggishly loading memory from last night. "Oh. Right. I remember. Yeah, let me get that down."

Bach unzips the sleeping bag, steadies himself up on his feet, and checks the living area. Cideeda snores quietly on the couch. She unconsciously wraps blankets into the cocoon around her from another spot on the couch, and her tail flicks out from underneath the sheets. Glancing at other impromptu bedding on the couch and the chair, Bach quirks a brow at Dretphi. "So, I guess Aristespha and Sotalia are up already? Investigating outside?"

With a nod, Dretphi confirms and smiles reassuringly, tossing back a stray platinum blonde braid. "House is intact. Both checked for lingering magic. They are now outside. Assessing the property."

Bach stretches his neck side to side, fights another yawn, and scratches his side. "Probably a lot of trees down. THAT was something else last night."

Staring over towards the dining table resting against the wall, he surveys the collection of patio furniture packed in the dining area. "Well, I'm glad we got the patio stuff inside. Gods, after that first chair tried to float away, I'm pretty sure it all would have been gone by now."

Dretphi slightly grimaces with a twist of her mouth and slowly nods at the furniture. "With our security deposit."

Standing idly in a near daze, he notices Dretphi staring expectantly at him. Meeting her eye contact, he ponders through confusion and remembers the task. He rubs his eyes again and tries to mask the embarrassment. "Oh. Right. Yeah. The barrier! Uh, I'll get that down real quick and help you with the patio stuff."

Crossing her muscular arms, she smiles watching Bach groggily step to the sliding glass door. "Coffee has been made. Do you require a cup?"

With slow, exaggerated motions, Bach glances over his shoulder and confirms, fighting down a yawn. "Y-yes. Please."

A breeze rustles the leaves above, and water drops patter down upon the soggy forest floor from the canopy. Staring out between the tall trees, Dretphi slowly surveys the sparse destruction within the forest She walks up to a large fallen tree and kneels down with a studious gaze at the aged trunk. Narrowing her steely gray eyes, she picks at the spongey, rotted heartwood within an old hole. She crumbles the weak fibers between her fingers and shakes her head with a frown. She stands up tall, searches the area, and squints down a long, winding erosion in the fresh mud. Stepping over the fallen tree upon the sun spotted forest floor, she cautiously steps upon the wet earth, testing her weight. Bach notices her moving away and follows behind. He slides foot first over to the other side of the fallen tree and studies the torn, snapped roots lying above the ground. "Gods... This is scary impressive. I mean, I knew the wind was powerful, but... Wow. Just wow."

Squatting down, Dretphi examines the damp soil and traces the start of a water worn creek with her eyes. "It is amazing..."

She cocks her head to the side and wanders her investigative stare over the area. "Tremendous amount of water. Lead towards the stream."

Stepping up behind Dretphi, Bach gazes off into the distance and perks his brow. "Yeah. This must have practically been a river last night. All this fresh around..."

Standing back up, Dretphi glances towards the ambient babble of the stream. With Bach close behind, she hikes through dense forest, surveying the area. Both wander closer to the sparser run along a stream, and their footsteps sink further into the earth. Mud and dirt coat the banks, and a constant water flow churns over stones. The stream spreads out into a wide, shallow pool of silt slurry. Sunken into the middle, a large tusked creature lays on its side, murk completely covering its hide. Spotting the creature, Dretphi halts, and a frown drags down. "Oh."

Bach notes the change of mood, gazes out in the same direction, and matches with a similar expression. "Damn... Poor thing. Must have worn itself out and drowned."

A labored breath struggles to get inside the lungs of the creature, and it releases a weak grunt. Dretphi's steely gray eyes spring wide open, and she jogs over to the edge of the pool. She cautiously halts, lowers herself down, and cranes herself close, examining the creature carefully. "It is alive. Could be dangerous."

Bach stands next to Dretphi and shrugs uncertainly. "Umm... Well, even if it is dangerous, I don't think it can put up that much of a fight right now."

He offers a reassuring smirk and motions towards the sunken beast. "I've got your back, if you want to check it out closer."

Dretphi glances over with a reserved smile, nods, and steps into the pool. Her hiking boot sinks into the murk and touches solid ground halfway up her calf. She eases down to a squat next to the meter long boar and gently rests a hand upon it. Feeling the rise and fall of its breath, she moves her hand along its side. Bach trudges closer through the muck and leans down nearby. "So, how's it looking?"

Petting its dense fur, Dretphi grimaces sadly and inspects the large boar. "Do not know. It is weak. Dangerous to treat a boar of this siz-"

Her hand stops. Pressing her fingers into its thick coat around its upper back, and she traces an outline of a small boney bud. Her eyes widen in surprise, and her jaw drifts open. She scoops up water and pours it onto the thick fur. Each handful washes away a layer of the dirt coating and reveals hidden patterns and colors of the fur. Recognition rattles Dretphi, and she gasps in shock. Diving her arms underneath, she strains to dredge the boar up from the mud. "Help! Get him out!"

Dropping down to his knees into the muck, Bach digs through the watery murk. Dretphi struggles to hoist the boar free from the unforgiving mud, suction weighing down each attempt. Bach growls and slaps his hands on the surface, and a blue glow flashes from his eyes. "Fuck! To hell with this!"

With a surge of flow down his arms, a sprawling mesh of magical energy strands erupt from Bach's hands. The threads spread across the surface of the water to the boar and dive underneath the surface. Against an expanding energy lattice, the muck recedes from the body of the boar, clearing out underneath and around its legs. Dretphi quickly slips her arms underneath and hoists the critter free. Steading herself in the murky pool, she strains to pull her boots free. The energy threads swiftly pull back the murk. Stepping upon solid ground, she secures her hold of the weakly struggling boar. Bach slips out from the mire and helps Dretphi get a proper hold of the beast. After a moment of assurance, the two rush back to the house.

Staring at the bundled up boar upon a cleared section of living room floor, Aristespha covers her mouth and darts her examining violet eyes between parts of the creatre. "I can do the basics."

She twists an uncomfortable frown on her ivory face. "But... I specialized in humanoid medicine. Any specific spells may do more harm than good on him. We need a specialist."

Dretphi gently props the exhausted boar's head upon a folded towel and sighs with a concerned gaze. Sebastian floats over gathering, sorting through his thoughts, and stirs when one idea hits. Cracking a smile on his translucent face, he points at Bach. "Bro! Call Kaleb and Shadeesa."

Bach meets his brother's gazes, thinks with a furrow of her brow, and rolls his eyes at himself. He pulls out his aetherphone and fumbles through the menus to a contact list. "Dammit! That's right!"

After tapping a few on screen buttons, a rhythmic chirp sounds out from the speaker. Kaleb's voice calls out from the speakerphone. "Hey! What's going on? We were just wondering how you guys weathered that maelstrom."

Bach holds his phone out towards the middle of the gathering. "Well, we're all fine. But, we've got a veterinary emergency on our hands. I'll turn on the video."

Kaleb's voice wavers with tinges of confusion. "Okay... Well, Shadeesa just got out of the bathroom. Let me get her over here."

Aiming his phone towards the boar with Dretphi and Aristespha tending at the side, Bach kneels down for a better shot. The phone screen displays Kaleb sitting down and adjusting his view closer to his face. Shadeesa appears behind and wraps her arms around Kaleb's neck. She squints at the other side's camera, appearing to stare out through the screen. "Huh, a veterinary emergency? What kind of-"

Tilting his head side to side, Kaleb scrutinizes the image of the mud-caked boar on his end of the call and hums thoughtfully, mentally flipping through possibilities. "Wow. Well, it looks like that boar has been through a lot. But... That coloration of its fur... I'd expect that from a baby."

Shadeesa leans forward, her green on black eyes gradually closing in on the screen. Reaching a hand out, she directs their phone towards her light gray, white freckled face. Kaleb curiously watches Shadeesa hanging over him, the pupils of her eyes widening. She bites her lip with an ear-to-ear grin and excitedly stammers. "T-t-that's a baby dire boar. An actual dire boar piglet. The coloration of the fur. The size. Does he have the start of any horns, bones, or spurs along his back?!"

Lowing her head into view of Bach's aetherphone camera, Dretphi nods and parts a patch of the boar's fur, revealing a boney bud. Shadeesa locks onto the phone with her full undivided attention. Determination fights to curb her excitement, and she draws in a calming breath. "Okay... Aristespha, could you start giving me basic vitals and information? I'll instruct you on what you need to do to make sure he's stabilized until we get there."

Blinking blankly, Kaleb turns his head towards Shadeesa and stares with a raised eyebrow. "Uh? Get there? We aren't leaving for the convention until tomorrow. I mean, our hotel reservations aren't until tomorrow night, Thursday night."

He furrows his stare concerned. "It's Wednesday, today. I don't feel comfortable with you doing that long of a round trip either and..."

Explanation fumbles to a halt the moment Shadeesa's arm around Kaleb's neck tightens by a slight but important amount. Shadeesa gazes right into Kaleb's light brown eyes. The two maintain eye quiet contact for seconds. Faint shifts in expression relay a silent conversation between the two. A long sigh escapes Kaleb, and he smiles at her with a nod. "Okay, love. I want to help the piglet, too. I just want to make sure everything is in place for you."

Shadeesa pecks Kaleb on the cheek with a loving smile. "Honey, I'm only three months along. You have my full permission to stop me in the future when I get too crazy with traveling. Okay?"

Kaleb shifts his gaze to the camera on his aetherphone and cracks a smirk. "Bach? You hear that? I need a witness here to call up in the future."

Narrowing her eyes briefly at Kaleb, Shadeesa flashes a playful defiant pout. With an uncomfortable chuckle, Bach awkwardly smiles. "Uh, sure. Yeah. Cool. Well, anyways, I'll offer my bed for the night if there's no objections. I think the couch will be clear, since we aren't taking shelter from any maelstrom."

With no objections from Aristespha, Cideeda, and Sotalia, Sebastian gazes down upon Dretphi. Petting and comforting the baby dire boar, Dretphi focus remains far from the current conversation. Sebastian smiles appreciatively at his brother. "Well, since you volunteered, bro. I don't believe anyone has any objections."

Kaleb gives a thumbs up from his side of the video feed. "Thanks, you all. I doubt we'd be able to book a decent hotel at this point."

With Shadeesa's hands sweeping around the phone, he rolls his eyes with a smirk. "Well, I'll hand the phone over, now. Got to get Lagi loaded up and ready."

Bach passes his phone over to Aristespha. Settling down into a chair, Shadeesa readies herself, and her focused, determined, expectant stare fills the screen.

Contrasting the looming shadow, pulses of condensation spread out on the sliding door's outside with each breath from the nostrils of the black and blue dragon. Lagi presses his head closer against the glass, and his bright green eyes attentively follow the activity inside the living room. Shadeesa lifts her head back, rolls her shoulders into stretch, and sighs with a smile. "If he's this goofy and worthless now, I think he'll be just fine to stay the night inside."

Dretphi holds another handful of cereal loops in front of the baby dire boar's sniffing snout. Casually licking up the cereal, the huge piglet munches down with a constant, happy wag of the tail. Aristespha props her arms behind and leans herself back on the floor next to Shadeesa. "I hope I am not asking too much, but I would love to get the recipe for that nutrient paste you have."

She cracks a humored smirk and lifts an eyebrow. "I do hope it's not a veterinary trade secret."

Shadeesa shakes her head and brushes her apron off with a giggle. "Oh no! It's something I've worked on for cases like these with exhaustion, starvation, and so forth. It’s actually very similar to the standard nutrient mixes. But, I put a few fast absorption spells on it."

Narrowing her green on black eyes, she twists an amused smile. "I'll warn you, though... It's REALLY potent. So, only use very little once a day."

With a faint shudder, she sighs. "The side effects are annoying and... Messy."

Kaleb sorts through items in a medical pack on the dining table and grumbles loudly with a sarcastic ring. "And make sure you label it clearly when you put it in a cream cheese tub."

Aristespha, Dretphi, and Sotalia glance over to Shadeesa. Momentarily gritting her teeth in an embarrassed frown, Shadeesa bites her lip and quietly whispers. "I changed up the binder and flavoring after that... Incident."

Sebastian slides next to Kaleb, pulls his gaze away from the gathering around the dire piglet, and quietly inquires. "Any more details to THAT story?"

Kaleb sighs and shakes his head. "Three hours at a rundown truck stop bathroom."

Lifting his hand up, Sebastian slowly nods with a tight smile. "Say no more. I know your pain. On and off, half a day, camp ground with an old outhouse."

Kaleb and Sebastian exchange mutual commiseration with glances and stale, pained sighs. Dretphi brushes the clean hair ridge of the dire boar with her finger. With a smile ever present on her face, she puts forth another handful of cereal in front of the critter's snout. Aristespha shifts her gaze over to a paper notepad between her and Shadeesa and studies it further. "I see the similarities between our professions, but the differences are fascinating..."

Bouncing her violet eyes between the dire piglet and Shadeesa, she smirks with a snort. "And, I will admit, quite challenging."

A delighted smile appears on Shadeesa, and she shrugs, resting her hands on her lap. "Some days, I don't know why I signed up for it all. There are many days more I would really LOVE to have the wealth of premade spells, potions, and procedures humanoid medicine has. But..."

Reaching her hand under the chin of the baby dire boar, she scratches underneath with her long, black nails. The boar happily responds with a series of short, muffled grunts and tail wags. Shadeesa chuckles to herself. "I'd miss opportunities like these."

Walking out from the hallway entryway, Bach sniffs the air, searching. "Huh, I still can't smell anything out here."

Cideeda steps past him with a shake of her head. "Don't worry about it. You don't have my sense of smell. Trust me, the bathroom and tub are back to normal enough."

Bach wipes his hands with a towel over his shoulder. He rolls it up and places it in a nearly full laundry basket. "Well, at least the big piglet cleans up nicely. It's amazing how well simple baking soda works for that."

Shadeesa glances over to Bach and Cideeda and returns her gaze towards the baby dire boar. "Yes. I tend to use it to not upset the natural oils in the hair and disrupt any natural scent too badly. Most shampoo detergents and fragrances are too much."

Lightly sniffing the air, Cideeda stares at the dire piglet and furrows her brow. "Its scent is certainly a bit stronger than it was before."

Shadeesa shuffles her legs underneath herself from a seat on the floor and works her way up to stand. "Oh, that's good."

Mid-way through, Kaleb moves to her side and offers assistance up, and Shadeesa lovingly accepts. She steps over and eases herself onto a chair next to the dining table, stretching her legs out inside her scrub pants. Glancing around the imposing figure of Lagi, she studies the bright afternoon scene beyond the sliding glass door. "I think the mother is still alive and well."

Dretphi gazes up from the large piglet and perks a curious eyebrow at Shadeesa. "What makes you say that?"

Shadeesa settles back into the chair and ponders her theory out loud. "Well... It's theorized that dire mothers not only use natural means to keep track of their piglets but a lot of magical means, too. I think the little one got separated in the maelstrom. The mud blocked the natural scent and magical chaos disrupted the magical tracking. So, given how calm and friendly he is..."

Smiling at the ever hungry beast, she watches the piglet devour another bowl of cereal. "He still thinks his mother is still around and has nothing to worry about. Hopefully, if he's outside long enough, his mother will pick up the scent and find him. As happy as he seems, I believe the mother will be..."

She wrestles a surge of unease on her light gray, white freckled face and darts her eyes around. "Amicable... But, we should keep our distance to be safe if she shows up for him. I would hope she'd tolerate us for taking care of her piglet. I don't expect anything more after that."

Sotalia ponders about the theory and wanders her golden gaze close to the sliding glass door, meeting Lagi's longing stare. She pivots in place and observes the dragon. Lagi bounces his bright green, pleading stare between her and the handle of the door. Seconds of inaction from Sotalia later, he repeats the gesture slower and exaggerates the individual motions, tilting his head. Blinking at the antics, Sotalia cocks her head to the side, unconvinced. Narrowing his eyes, Lagi sighs and droops his shoulders slightly, lifting a clawed hand up. With a claw tip, Lagi point at Sotalia. Humoring the creature, Sotalia directs a finger to her chest. Lagi nods, moves the claw to the sliding glass door handle, and pantomimes sliding it open. Sotalia gawks in astonishment and directs her bewilderment over her shoulder towards everyone else. "Um? Is there any reason the dragon would be asking me to open the door for him? If he wanted, I think he could do it himself?"

Kaleb exchanges humored glances with Bach, Sebastian, and Shadeesa and laughs. "Oh! Don't mind him. He's just trying to work the system... Again."

He rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "He's been taught HE can't open doors unless they've been specifically marked."

Sebastian shakes his head and hovers over to glance at the patiently waiting Lagi. "Wow. Still following that rule, huh?"

Grinning at Shadeesa, Sebastian ethereally snorts. "You certainly left some mental scars on him."

Shadeesa crosses her arms defensively and puffs up. "Listen! The first few times he opened the door to the dorm apartment bathroom and stole my clothes AND towels, while I was in the shower... was cute. Everything after the tenth time was aggravating. I HAD to do SOMETHING."

Lowering his head into his hand, Bach rubs his eyes into a pinch of the bridge of his nose. "Oh, man. That summer when he learned he had opposable thumbs. GODS, that was a rough one."

Cideeda twists her toothy grin in thought and glances over to Bach. "So, he can pick locked doors?"

Bach shakes his head and grits his teeth, pulling at the corner of his mouth. "No. THAT actually would have been cheaper. He used to either rip the door knob off, chew a hole into the door itself, or try some kind of magic upon it if it was still locked."

Glancing over to Kaleb with a knowing smirk, he smirks. "Never got that deposit back on the apartment I bet."

Kaleb snorts into a dry chuckle and places a hand on Shadeesa's shoulder. "HELL NO. Of course not. We were lucky after you and Sebastian left to not have to pay extra in damages."

Placing a hand on Kaleb's, Shadeesa sighs with a slow shake of her head. "Gods, I'm just glad we found something else, before he got his first growth spurt. It took FOREVER for him to realize how big he had gotten and not get stuck in EVERYTHING."

Kaleb directs a whisper to Sotalia with a sly grin. "You want him to be your friend forever?"

Sotalia glances over her shoulder and perks her brow. "Sure... I guess."

With a wink and obscured point to the door, Kaleb continues. "Open the door for him. He just wants to stick his head in for a bit, anyway."

Sotalia walks over towards the door. Bright green eyes open wide, and Lagi scoots his massive frame over towards the handle on the sliding glass door. Sotalia grasps the handle with the full attention and focus of Lagi. She clicks the lock open and slowly slides the framed glass over. Watching the door open, Lagi wobbles in anticipation and halts. He waits with eyes upon Kaleb and Shadeesa. Gradually poking his head through the doorway, he constantly checks for any objections. After a reserved minute, he nuzzles his face on Sotalia's side and purrs. Losing a fight against a smile, Sotalia shakes her head and rolls her eyes. She giggles to herself and delightedly scratches underneath the dragon's chin.

A calm breeze blows across the brickwork patio and sweeps up a mix of pollen and dirt into the nearby grass. Underneath the noon sun, Sotalia walks off onto a worn path leading towards the picnic table with her aetherphone pressing against her ear. She turns her head to shield the wind from the phone and guides stray strands of dark red hair over her swept back horns. Glancing around the open field, she sighs with a reserved smile. "Yes, mom. I know I should have called you sooner, but yesterday was pretty crazy."

She darts her golden eyes around and slows her pace upon the mix of worn gravel and dirt, waiting for an opportunity. "Anyway, I'm fine. When the maelstrom hit, we put up some wards and camped out in the living room. It was quite the light show, but didn't do too much damage to the area."

She casually strolls and rocks her head side to side with the other side of the conversation. "Well, Bach and Sebastian's old college friends are here, and I think later they're going to head off to their hotels for the convention happening in town."

Blinking a moment, she shrugs nonchalantly. "Oh, some science fiction, adventuring fandom thing. I don't quite know. We're going to go to it. See what it's all about."

With the response through the phone, a smile cracks on Sotalia's face, and she closes the distance between her and the picnic table. "OH. Don't worry. You know I'll get all my nieces and nephews souvenirs. They've sent me plenty of messages about the last ones."

Twisting her mouth, she grumbles in confidence to the other side of the call. "Gods, I still don't think they should have aetherphones at their ages."

She bites her lip into a satisfied grin and stops next to the picnic table. "Well, we'll just have to keep our opinions away from Maelvia and Talelia won't we?"

Her grin softens to a smile, and she takes a long breath in. "I love you, too, mom. I'll harass dad later when I think he's near a phone of some kind. Gods know where he's probably wandering off to now."

With a quick few emin terms, Sotalia finishes up the call, and surveys the gathering at the table. Kaleb kneels down on the ground with a professional grade camera. He aims the lens at the dire boar piglet hunting through the high grass for cereal loops and clicks a number of pictures. Shadeesa and Dretphi take turns reaching into the cereal box between them and tossing grain loops out into the grass in front of the piglet. Scratching a few more notes onto the pad of paper next to her, Shadeesa props a grinning face with an arm upon her lap. "I can't wait to write up my notes. Not many people have ever gotten this close to a dire boar piglet... And this young."

Dretphi holds open a handful of cereal, and the piglet happily presses his snout in. Petting it on his head, she ruffles the bristly ridge of fur on the back of his neck. "A rare honor. Possibly unique. How long will it take for the mother to find him?"

Shadeesa tugs a corner of her mouth and exhales uncertainly. "I don't know. I don't think long. The few people that have been crazy enough to trap and remove a baby from any dire mother usually had the mother showing up within a day or two, despite dozens of kilometers."

Scanning along the treeline surrounding the clearing, Dretphi nods, sighs, and smiles at the cereal crunching creature. Kaleb stands back up, presses a few buttons on the camera, and hovers the device in front of Shadeesa. "These came out pretty good."

Shadeesa lifts her head up, hoods the view screen with a hand, and giddily squirms on the bench. "Those are going to be great! I know I shouldn't be thinking about business at a time like this, but damn if documentation of the treatment of a dire boar piglet isn't going to get some attention for my future practice!"

Nodding, Kaleb rests the camera upon his chest, hanging from the attached neck strap. "Hopefully, we'll be going to conventions for just the sake of going to them more in the future... Despite how profitable presenting a dragon is."

Cideeda slides next to Kaleb, flicks out a blue-black dragon scale in hand, and presents a sly, scheming smile on her light brown face. "Speaking of which, do you have any more of these?"

Perking his brown, Kaleb nods and motions over towards Lagi. "Yes, I do. He typically loses a few when new ones grow underneath. But, I often pluck them before they get too roughed up."

He leans and lowers his voice closer to Cideeda's attentive furry ear. "People pay a lot more when they look nicer."

Cideeda rolls the scale deftly between her clawed fingers and lifts an entrepreneurial eyebrow at Kaleb. "So... How much trouble would it be to get a few more?"

Kaleb laughs with a wry smirk. "Not hard at all. There's a few that are overdue that have been bugging him."

Narrowing a curious stare at Cideeda, he smirks. "Any particular reason? Going to try to magic up your own dragon?"

A disgusted scoff escapes Aristespha, and she rolls her violet eyes. "Oh gods! Do people still believe those myths and legends?"

Bach slowly, dramatically lifts his head up and down and groans with a cringe. "OH. YEAH. There's whole aethernet forums dedicated towards finding the secret, forbidden formulas and forgotten spells to summon all kinds of things. Good for cheap comedy reads. I always wonder what random ancient tome someone is going to try to push as legit stuff."

Sebastian shrugs with his hands out to his sides. "Well, bro, you can't exactly blame them. It's kind of hard to sort out the facts from fiction with a lot of this stuff."

He waves over his ethereal visage. "I mean, I can't say anything. I'm stuck in a magic sword with a number of mages around me, a dragon over there, and a baby dire boar eating breakfast cereal in front of me. I can't fault someone for stretching their beliefs a little.

Narrowing her eyes at Sebastian, Aristespha huffs and returns her stare forward, grumbling. "I still have to question the sanity of anyone expecting to spawn anything other than a biological hazard by mixing household cleaners and yelling a few magic sounding words out of their mouths."

A loud crackling snap echoes into the area and silences all conversations. In the lull, the gathering around the picnic table search for the source. Following her perked furry ears, Cideeda points towards the forest. Out from the treeline through a wide gap between trees, a huge two meter tall creature walks effortlessly through a large bush. Bony armor plates cover parts of her head, large tusks gleam in the daylight, and a ridge of back spines rustle with each shift of her shoulders. The adult dire boar struts with pride and purpose in each step, a strange barely visible miasma wafting out. With glowing green eyes, she scans her head around and settles her stare upon the picnic table. She focuses upon the dire boar piglet and sniffing the passing breeze with her snout. In her pause, five piglets of similar size and fur patterns trot out from the cleared path and wander around her. Wide eyes from everyone at the picnic table affix upon the dire boar mother. Lagi cautiously steps next to Kaleb and Shadeesa, lowers down to the ground and motions with his head back to the saddle on him, whining out a series of low tones. Kaleb rests his hand on Lagi and assures. "Good thinking, but let's not jump to conclusions yet."

Gawking ahead, Shadeesa waves around to find Kaleb and pats upon his arm. She speaks out the side of her mouth and pokes him in the side to punctuate. "Kaleb. Camera. Record. NOW."

Slowly and purposefully, Kaleb lifts the camera up, aims, and presses the recording button. Sotalia steps carefully behind the picnic table, kneels down next to Aristespha, and maintains her watch. "Are you feeling that?"

A violet glow radiates from Aristespha's eyes, and she finally remembers to blink at the sight before her. "I am seeing IT."

Cideeda slinks back in retreat, putting the picnic table between her and the dire boar. Sebastian glances over, nods in agreement, and drifts forward. "Okay, everyone. Let's be ready to run if needed."

Bach regains his awareness enough and notices the dire boar piglet still sniffing through the grass for cereal. Leaning over the table, he reaches over and pats Dretphi's shoulder. "HEY. Point the piglet at his mother. I don't think he's paying attention."

Dretphi blinks her mind back into focus, glances down at the piglet, and rattles her head in confirmation to Bach. Putting her arms on either side of the piglet, she gradually eases him to turn around and aims his facing right at his mother. She slides her hands back onto his back legs and nudges gently but firmly forward. No longer sniffing food, the piglet lifts his head up from the grass, glances around, and stops his head in the direction of his mother. With a series of delighted grunts and a constant vigorous tail wag, the piglet trots down the slight hill, straight towards his awaiting mother. The dire boar matriarch lowers her head, meets her snout to his, and sniffs. Raising her head up, she focuses her piercing eyes at the gathering around the picnic table. The stare lingers and wanders over those present, an odd flicking of the eyes upon each. With final snort and sniff, she blinks long to a final gaze and turns around, marching off with piglets in tow. Everyone watches motionless. The dire boar mother and piglets disappear into the forest. Glancing over the general area, Sotalia strides off towards the house, fighting to keep a collected facade. "I'm going to go inside for a while, anyone is welcome to join. I'm... a bit... thirsty."

The group arrives at a quick agreement and soon make their own ways towards the house, including the dragon.