Episode 20

Rows upon rows of dealer booths sprawl out along the set paths of the grand hall. People ebb and flow through the aisles between the booths, with individuals stopping to admire merchandise or hear a sales pitch. Magical baubles, reproduction weapons, games, artwork, crafts, and other sundry prominently present themselves upon elaborate booth displays. Their owners praise their products and elaborate on their qualities, hoping to bolster customer desire enough to drive the elusive purchase. Sotalia excitedly zips through the spaces between people from one booth to another, brushing her dark red hair to the side to gaze in wide, golden eyed wonder at what awaits in the next booth. Bach wanders aimlessly in the sea of people, searching the crowd a few aisles over. Scratching his head of brown hair with strands of gray, he expresses honest bewilderment and scouts out the area. "How the... Where the hell did she go?"

Cideeda blinks her emerald green eyes, with the faintest hint of a wince in the very corner of her eye. Her pupils track the energetic Fvalian in front of her. She calmly guides her short cut, patterned mix of brown, white, tan, orange, and black hairs back over her long furry ears. An ear briefly, reflexively flicks against a stray hair tickling the fur inside and levels back to point out from the side of her head. Maintaining a toothy and outwardly cheery smile, she occasionally darts her searching eyes around, and the forced facade wanes thin for a moment. She nods calmly with the conversation washing upon her from a very enthusiastic Deedri. Her light brown hand slides purposefully and slowly into her shorts pocket and retrieves her aetherphone. Aiming the screen of the phone to her glance, she quickly taps a message with claw tips of her other hand and reflexively flexes her toe claws into the flat hall carpet. With a few flicks of her tufted, fluffy tail, she shits her lithe, fit frame to a slightly different standing pose. Noticing the acknowledging nod from Cideeda, Deedri finally stops her long explanation and sighs. "Oh, gods. I'm so sorry... I've been talking your head off. I'm just not used to meeting other Fvalians that aren't family. Especially other adventurers!"

Cideeda grants a nonchalant smile and tilt of the head. "It's okay. I understand, really. It sounds like you've been doing some very exciting things with your group."

Deedri attempts to mirror the expression but honesty sabotages. She settles for an amicable shrug. "Well, you know... They really do try, despite our... interesting... dynamic."

A crack of a grin forms in the corner of Cideeda's mouth, and she perks an amused brow. "That I have seen."

Deedri's eyes awkwardly avert from the subject in her mind. She drops her focus down upon Cideeda's feet and pushes herself to broach the subject. "I HAVE to ask you something... Um... Where DID you get those shoes?"

Blinking through the puzzling moment, Cideeda flutters her eyes back to the subject. She glances down herself and examines the rubber and fabric, individual toed shoes with holes for her claws. Deedri bites her lower lip, takes a deep breath, and sighs with a pleading hint. "I've seen you wear them. And, I'm honestly really jealous."

A faint squirm travels up her body, and she genuinely smiles. "They look so nice. I bet they are SO comfortable, too."

Sliding her gaze up, Cideeda studies the plain canvas top shoes on Deedri's feet. Her attention wanders up, and she scrutinizes the regular knee socks, the tasteful, mundane skirt, and matching blouse upon Deedri. Settling her gaze upon Deedri's pleading, auburn eyes, Cideeda presents a genuine smile and relaxes her body language. Tapping up an aethernet site on her phone, she reveals it to Deedri and scrolls through a gallery of products. "This is the company that makes them. They specialize in custom clothing for Fvalians, for all kinds of jobs and activities. I've used them for many years, and they work with you to get the sizing just right."

Beaming with a bright smile, Deedri shuffles through her few pockets, extracts her phone, and quickly notes the site. "OH! Thank you, so much! These last few small jobs we've been on have left my feet aching. I swear I've spent hours stretching and massaging out all tension."

A commiserating smirk grows on Cideeda, and she nods in agreement. "Yeah... When I first started adventuring, I only had boots that were two sizes larger than my feet."

Darting a surprised glance over, Deedri perks her tufted ears up and cocks her head curiously. "How were you able to walk around in those? Much less RUN?"

Rolling her emerald green eyes, Cideeda snorts while searching through the aethersite's listing of products. "A lot of socks... But, that caused OTHER problems."

Glancing around, Deedri leans closer to Cideeda and whispers with hints of embarrassment bubbling up. "Um... Are there any, um, tail-friendly pants and... panties you recommend?"

Cideeda's furry ear twitches at Deedri's tone, and she smiles reassuringly with a nod. She guides Deedri through the aethersite on Deedri's phone and navigates to the right garment section. Discreetly switching to a dialect of Fvalian, Cideeda regales a bounty of information. Waves of discovery and relief wash over Deedri, and she commiserates back in the same dialect in a natural cadence. Cideeda briefly furrows her brow curiously, and returns to explaining the benefits of another piece of custom tailored clothing. Bouncing their attention between aetherphones, the two share and compare different products in the comfort of the space out of the flow of traffic, within the relative privacy of the ambient drone.

Minutes later, Bach rounds the corner of a nearby booth back. Scanning the area with his aetherphone out, he spots Cideeda and waves. "Hey! Sorry about taking so long."

Staring out to the ocean of commercial chaos, Bach shakes his head and navigates through the thinning crowd. "I lost Sotalia SOMEWHERE in the mix. I tried to find her, but..."

Spotting Bach walking up, Deedri's eyes flit wide and her body language stiffens slightly. Cideeda pivots to Bach and rolls her eyes with an amused smirk. "Not surprised. Don't worry. She'll show back up when she's either too loaded..."

She strains out a stalely frustrated sigh. "Or, too broke to continue."

Nervous energy trickles up Deedri, and she exaggerates a glance at her aetherphone. "Oh no! I'm so sorry, I need to run and get ready!"

Briefly awaiting Cideeda's glance, she happily smiles. "Thank you so much! It was really nice to talk to you!"

She bows quickly and rushes off into the river of people nearby. Watching Deedri slip away into the masses, Cideeda rests her hands upon her hips and ponders about the sudden departure. "Interesting."

Bach bounces glances between Cideeda and the crowd Deedri disappeared into, and settles upon Cideeda with awkward confusion. "Wow... Uh... Sorry, if I scared your friend away. I didn't mean to intrude and break up the conversation."

Cideeda lifts an eyebrow at Bach with a twist in her mouth and crosses her arms. "I wouldn't say friend. More of a... Professional Acquaintance, at the moment."

Recognition dawns upon Bach, and he gawks with a quick snap of the head to Cideeda. "Wait! That was-"

Nodding simply, Cideeda narrows her eyes at Bach with a curious grin, and perks her furry ears up. "Yes, it was. She was really eager to talk to me."

Thinking out loud, she lightly scratches her chin with a claw tip. "But, she was a bit... nervous about you."

Bach shrugs with his hands out to the sides and grimaces closer to a frown. "Uh, I really don't know why. I mean, that's the second time I've actually been close enough to even talk to her."

Cideeda pivots in place, lifts her arm up to prop her chin up, and stares into the crowd, pondering. "I know. Certainly strange to say the least. If I was to guess, probably trying to keep a low profile and dodge too much attention."

Rocking his head side to side in internal deliberation, Bach sighs and scratches the back of his head. "That makes sense."

He motions towards a general direction over the crowd and glances down at Cideeda. "I'm going to stop by Steve's booth for a bit. You want to join?"

Shaking her head politely, Cideeda smirks with a chuckle. "Thanks, but I already checked his booth out."

Furrowing her brow, she pops up on her toes and narrows a scanning stare through the flowing crowds in the huge space. "I think I'll wander around a bit more... Maybe hunt down Sotalia."

Bach coasts his gaze over the swarms of people moving through the aisles and twists his mouth uncertainly. Briefly, a familiar shade of dark hair and black, swept back horns appear clearly. After disappearing back into the flurry of activity, Bach sighs. "Good luck..."

Steve rests his elbow upon the booth table and leans his large, heavy frame over, holding his tablet out in view of Bach. Grinning, he enthusiastically points out parts of the video playing on screen. "Come on, man! What's your opinion on this? I've been on a dozen forums. And, NO ONE can agree upon what is going on to make that wand!"

Bach uncomfortably watches the playback and suppresses a twist at the corner of his mouth. Shrugging nonchalantly, he carefully glances over to Steve and averts direct eye contact, focusing upon the array of merchandise in Amaranth's Wrath Game Emporium's booth. "Well... Maybe it's just... Non-standard direct casting?"

Steve sways his head side to side to the internal debate in his mind. Circling a finger over another point in the video, he squints at the pixelated details. "Yeah, I thought about that, too. BUT... THAT doesn't explain all this. This is stabilized magical energy."

He pauses a moment and shrugs with a smirk. "Well, at least, that's what a few people on a few forums think it is. Now that usually requires a whole lab or altar or some kind of dedicated setup to do. That's stuff you just don't hammer out in the field like this."

A low buzz vibrates the loose change in Bach's pocket. He pulls out his aetherphone enough and catches the brief message notification from Cideeda. Sliding out the phone from his pocket, he checks around the area quickly and settles his gaze at Steve. "Well... I'm being summoned. I'll catch up with you later."

Lowering the tablet upon the table top, Steve sits back down in his chair behind the booth and smiles with a knowing wink. "Ah! Yeah. Totally understand, man! Don't need to keep you and get you into trouble with her."

Bach nods appreciatively and pauses a moment. A thought wedges in a flash bit of guilt in his mind, and he sighs apologetically. "Hey. Uh, I just wanted to apologize for not telling you about being part of an adventuring group and everything. Kind of new to it all, so..."

A hearty laugh leaps out of Steve, and he shakes his head with a wide, happy smile. "Dude. It's cool, man! People come to my shop to get away from work. I SO totally understand. I mean, I started the whole thing to get away from doing an actual job."

Narrowing a inquisitive gaze at Bach, he grins knowingly. "But... I FIGURED you guys might be adventurers with the stuff Cideeda sells, or at least have some awesome connections. I'm just totally stoked that you guys come to my shop! Those Next Adventurers guys haven't even looked at my place. So, you all are cool in my book."

Bach extends a hand, chuckling with a smile. He shakes Steve's strong grip and nods, walking off into the flow of people traffic. He searches the vicinity and floats through the flows people, pondering and scratching his head. Peering over the tops of the morphing crowd, he spots Cideeda towards the sidelines. Sliding between the gaps in the groups of people in the busy aisles, he navigates closer and closer to the sparser alcove. Arriving next to Cideeda in a pocket of space, he smiles appreciatively. "Thanks for the message."

Cideeda glances up with a sly grin and winks. "Well, I walked near there and saw Steve trying to get your opinion on one of those videos."

Rolling her emerald green eyes, she parts a smug smile on her light brown face with a wag of her tail. "So... Figured I'd give you an easy out."

A long sigh of relief escapes Bach, and he tilts his head back with an upward gaze. "Yeah... Gods, I REALLY didn't think it'd be THAT popular."

Placing her hands on her hips, Cideeda quirks an eyebrow with a short smile and perks her furry ears. "Didn't think that showcasing an unusual form of magic at a convention dedicated to everything adventuring would be popular?"

Bach levels his head forward and narrows his eyes at Cideeda. Slumping his shoulders down, he stares ahead, the obvious error blatant in his mind. "Point taken."

He thinks for a moment and scratches the beard hairs on his chin. Cideeda focuses her gaze upon Bach, idly shifting her weight between feet with wags of the tail. "So, plotting your next great reveal?"

Blinking back to awareness, Bach shakes his head and crosses his arms. "Uh, um, NO."

He glances to the corner of his mind and twists the contemplation on his face. "BUT, the thought did just cross my mind to maybe make a few more of those focus wands. I know Steve would be interested."

Lifting an eyebrow, he smiles at Cideeda. "Hey, I know you don't usually mess with magic, but would you be interested in one? There's a few simple but really useful effects I may be able to get working."

Cideeda slowly averts her eyes away from Bach and lets them wander around the area. She bites her lower lip and pins her frown up, hints of sadness leaking into her exhale. "No thank you. It'd be useless with me."

A positive tone reinforcing his voice, Bach reassures and gestures confidently. "Hey! Don't say that. It's frustrating initially, but once you get the basics of magical flow, it starts to make sense."

He notices Cideeda's stare into his eyes, the sadness tainting her kind smile. He halts the speech in the midst of concern and confusion. Cideeda draws in a deep breath and sighs. "I really wish I could do magic."

Fighting through a hard swallow, she props up her smile, her furry ears drooping slightly. "But... You're not the only one with a magical disability."

A flush of embarrassment floods up Bach's apologetic face, and he struggles with a few words in his mouth. Cideeda breaks the gloom with a strong grin and shakes her head. "Don't feel that way. No one told you."

She averts her gaze briefly and breathes out the last few clinging bits of melancholy. With a squirming shudder over her body, she straightens herself back to her usual confidence and gazes at Bach. "Long story short. Had a run in with a Nightmare Geist, too. I was really young, and it attacked my town. I guess it grazed me?"

With her eyes sorting through her thoughts, she furrows her brow. "I don't remember all that much from the attack. Just knew some adventurers fended it off and sealed it before I got killed."

Crossing her arms tight, she pulls in a deep breath and glances forward. "Unfortunately, I was somehow left unable to flow magic. Something always disrupts the flow no matter how hard I try. No medical mage has a real clue as to why that is."

Shrugging her acceptance and shaking her head, Cideeda rolls her eyes to Bach with a rumbling sarcastic tone. "Which is a real dampener to a young girl's dreams of being a mage, let me tell you."

Bach blinks in silence and deflates slowly, failing to find something to say. Eventually, he hides the embarrassment upon his face in the palm of his hand. "Wow... I'm sorry. I, uh, really didn't mean to bring stuff like that up-"

A sharp poke in the side grabs Bach's attention. Pulling his hand away from his face, he glances down and meets Cideeda's gaze. Cideeda grins toothy and snorts reassuringly. "Oh, don't worry. I'm okay with it. And, it was over twenty years ago. I'm, MOSTLY, over it by now."

She waves dismissively and shrugs. "I got to go to a nice local college for technology and spent a lot of time with both my parents. It honestly worked out."

With a wink, she parts an entrepreneurial smile. "Saved us all A LOT Of money in tuition that any specialty mage's college would have charged."

Bach rubs the back of his neck and sheepishly averts his eyes with an awkward grit of his teeth. "Cool... But, I still feel a little like an asshole..."

Cideeda pivots around and lifts her hand up to a claw tipped point. Gently pulling Bach's shoulder down with her free hand, she guides his gaze to a spot in the distance. "Well, you can still make something for me. Look over there and tell me what you see."

Squinting through the gaps between people and following the path Cideeda indicates, Bach's eyes open wide and his jaw drops slightly. He lifts his head back up, straightens his stance, and laughs. "Huh, I kind of wondered if that old hag of a landlord had sold my junk yet."

In the distance, through the clumps of dealer hall customers, upon a prominent decorative pedestal, in a booth filled with an assortment of supposed antiquities, resides a single translucent gold cup that faintly sparkles of stabilized magical energy. The man dressed in the flowing robes of a stereotypical mage calls out to passers-by and showcases the wares in his booth with a dramatic salesman's flair. In between the pitches, his demeanor recedes towards a back alley dealer's, examining his merchandise greedily and seeking out another mark from the crowd. Upon the display cases and platforms, cards with extravagant claims rest in front of most items. The biggest and most fanciful resides underneath the golden magical energy cup. Bach squints and shakes his head after a few attempts. "I can't make it out. I wonder what the sales pitch for that one is."

Cideeda snidely pulls the corner of mouth into a half grin and narrows her gaze at Bach with a perk of an eyebrow. "Behold the ancient magical artifact from the First Period. A mysterious item said to empower the liquids poured within it..."

She squelches a snort and snickers. "Or, something like that. Gods, I stopped listening after the first few loads of bullshit."

Crossing his arms, Bach leans his posture back and inquisitively rests his stare at the booth. "So... I wonder how much he's trying to pawn the thing off for."

An evil grin creeps up on Cideeda's face. She draws a long, slow breath, places her hands on her swaying hips, and directs a fast whisper to Bach. The price flies into the air into Bach's ear and stuns him. He bluntly stifles an impulsive snort into a series of coughs, his sheer bewilderment interrupting whatever other thoughts he had. "Really?! What a fuckin' con artist!"

The evil grin pushes Cideeda's lips apart and she lifts an eyebrow to don a plotting expression to Bach. "I know... If he's charging that much to sell it... I wonder how much he'd pay for another "artifact"."

Bach's blue eyes meet Cideeda's emerald green. Gradually, he mirrors a near exact copy of her scheming grin. Cideeda holds a finger up, steps back, and lowers her head. Taking a breath in, she exhales and rolls her shoulders. She lifts her head up, presenting a bubbly smile. Her body language lightens, she cutely sways and bounces with each word from her mouth. "Oh. My. Gods! You actually have one! I've been totally looking SO long for somebody to tell what this is!"

Cideeda pantomimes hoisting a cup up into view, perking her furry ears up and wagging her tail fully for effect. With excitement rising in her voice, she giggles brightly. "Can you, like, please tell me what it is? You SO seem like an expert in this stuff, and I, totally, have no idea what it is... Also, I REALLY don't need it. SO, maybe you'd be interested in buying it?"

Bach fights to keep his hand covering his mouth, mentally processing the theatrics. Laughter escapes through his fingers. After a final perky pose, Cideeda relaxes back to her normal posture and demeanor and presents a confident smile to Bach. "I think THAT will get his greed's full, undivided attention. Hopefully, just enough to be a bit too eager to think it through."

Scans around the area, Bach searches for quiet, secluded spots. "I agree. Now, if we can find somewhere out of the way, I'll form something up real quick. I'm thinking a wine glass. Nothing too complicated."

He glances down at Cideeda with a scheming grin. "If this works, it might pay for some nice meals for all of us for the rest of the convention."

Cackling, Cideeda narrows her eyes and focuses her plotting on the con man behind the distant booth. "Ha! Once I'm done, he'll be paying for our weekend passes AND meals."

A chorusing drone of idle conversations flood the long, open auditorium. Convention assistants adjust and secure advertising banners for "The Next Adventurers of Nexus" and scurry off to sides of the large stage. One assistant positions microphones on the long table in front of seats, and another assistant follows behind placing name tags inside holders at the base of each stand. People flood in through the entry doors and filter up aisles towards the front seat. Few break from the pattern and detour towards the very back row. Aristespha, Sebastian, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia shuffle down the very back row and settle into chairs near the middle. After a minute, Aristespha glances around with a playfully guilty squirm and firmly smirks mischievously. "This feels strange. I so rarely sat on the back row of anything, on purpose. I really feel like I am completely up to nothing good."

Leaning forward, Sotalia directs her voice over to Aristespha with an evil grin. "Welcome to the back row delinquents club... Where I spent most of my school years. It's fun back here."

Sebastian chuckles and eyes Bach. "Bringing back any memories, bro?"

Bach rolls his eyes and groans, crossing his arms. "Hey! I tried that whole studious, front row kid thing all through grade school, and even high school. Back row for me after that, for the most part."

An ethereal snort sounds out from Sebastian, and he quirks a brow at Bach. "Hey, I remember you joined me up on the front row for a few classes."

With a shrug, Bach relaxes his shoulders and settles into his seat. "Well, THOSE instructors were cool and pretty fun to be around. They were nothing like that one bitch I had for basic spellcasting form that HUNTED for reasons to fail me."

Shaking his head with a long, hard blink, Sebastian exhales in agreement. "No shit, bro. She HATED you."

Cideeda laughs and stretches her legs out, flexing toe claws. "See. That's why you stick to the middle of the room. Teachers always check the front and back when they are looking for students to single out."

Dretphi squints towards the activity ahead and focuses at the stage. "It is starting."

An announcer sounds out from the public address system. "Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention. Please give our guests of honor, The Next Adventurers of Nexus, The Flames of Phoenix, a proper Amaranth Adventure Con welcome!"

The gathered crowd cheers loud and applauds in an echoing cacophony. Just as noise reaches an apex, the announcer yells out. "Welcome to the stage, the leader of the Flames of the Phoenix, Chad Bosch!"

Chad confidently struts out onto the stage in clean, new armor with the Flames of the Phoenix logo prominently on the breastplate. He waves out to the crowd with a gleaming white smile and nods to a few select areas. Stopping center stage, he bows slowly with a dramatic flair. He stands back up and quickly tosses his head to settle his hair perfectly back in place. Winking to an attractive lady in the front row, he finishes his tour around the stage to his center spot at the table.

"The alluring, mystical enchantress, Tassilda Evernia!"

A long, flowing, form revealing robe trails behind Tassilda, and she steps with a sway in each motion. Stopping center stage, she bows down and reaches her arms inside the opposing sleeves of the robe. The room lights dim. She springs up, flings her arms out triumphantly, and releases a hundred small blue orbs of light out over the crowd, sending them up to the lofty heights of the ceiling. She waves out to the astonishment of the crowd and blows a kiss to a random person in the masses. Following a similar path to Chad and she takes a seat left of him. The lights brighten back to normal, and the glowing orbs featherfall down.

"The strong, tall, indomitable Trakenthin Brecomin!"

Solid impacts of heavy boots resonate out from the stage floor. Trakenthin puffs out his chest and stomps across the stage. Near center stage, he pans a mean glare out to the crowd and shakes his head with a boisterous, dismissive grunt. Flexing his muscles underneath the armor plates strapped to him, he snorts. He turns away from the crowd and walks around the table to take the seat right of Chad.

"The cheery medical mage herself, Deedri Preetta!"

The rhythmic ring of a small collar bell follows Deedri, and she happily rushes out on stage. Her long braided-back hair bouncing on her ornate blouse and tail flowing along underneath her dress. Smiling brightly, she waves out with both hands to the crowd. She stops center stage, straightens her posture, and bows properly with both hands on her apron. She pops back up and nearly skips her way to the seat next to Tassilda.

"And finally, the dark, mysterious, Modoran Lotherin!"

The stage remains empty, upon initial inspection. Members of the crowd search the area. A few camera operators pan around and check various points upon the stage. A faint dark shadow on the stage floor slides along steadily and slows to halt at center stage. Flowing leaks of dark miasma erupt out above the spot and spill forth out onto the floor. Moments of awe-struck gasps later, the dark cloud disperses and reveals the nonchalant stance and casual smile of Modoran. The last few bits of darkness disappear, and Modoran glances around the vicinity. Shrugging his jacket up, with his hands in the pockets of his black pants, he ambles off to his seat next to Trakenthin.

A convention-appointed host steps up to the stage, and he goes into a summary speech about the current season of The Next Adventurers of Nexus. In the back row, Bach aims his head high and studies the glowing orbs with a narrowing stare. "Huh... Why do these things look familiar to me?"

Sotalia quietly and sneakily gestures out an incantation and aims a finger point toward an orb overhead. With careful concentration, she tugs at the air and shifts the orb's drifting fall into a new flight path. Seconds later, the glowing orb lands in her hand. Scrutinizing it carefully, her golden eyes widen with each passing moment. She stops studying it and passes it to Dretphi, motioning towards Bach. Dretphi reaches her long arms over Cideeda and holds the glowing orb next to Bach's face. Turning his head, Bach's eyes flit open at the magical ball. Pinching the orb out from Dretphi's hand, he furrows his examining brow. He places the glowing orb in between his hands, and his eyes flicker a faint blue. Sparks of irritation bubble up to his face. Aristespha, Sebastian, Dretphi, Cideeda, and Sotalia watch expectantly. The orb shudders and pops into a mist in Bach's hands. A strong twitch squints Bach's eye, and irritation pulls the corner of his mouth back to a grin. "Oh... So, you're going to crudely copy my spell... And, use it for your own gain? Okay..."

The grin settles into a dark, scheming smile, and Bach chuckles. "So... You like the glowing orb..."

Over the minutes, the host sits down and reads through a list of soft ball questions to the different members of the team. Queries about leadership land upon Chad. Tassilda receives questions about magical tips and tricks, with a few attempts to delve more personal. A few attempts to get information fall short with the strong stoic and resistant Trakenthin. Modoran casually answers a few inquiries and nonchalantly dismisses a number of others. A few medical mage related questions slip through the onslaught of other general, and some more personal, pries towards Deedri. Finally, the host flips through to the last card of canned questions and speaks loudly into his microphone. "Well, that's the last of the questions I have. Members of the Flames of the Phoenix, The Next Adventurers of Nexus, are there any announcements you'd like to make to our wonderful audience?"

Chad straightens his posture in his chair and beams with a heroic smile. "Why yes, there is!"

Staring out into the greater audience, he leans forward towards the microphone in front of him. "First, I would like to let everyone know that the fine folks at Stalwart Sword have chosen this convention to unveil their latest model, the Storm Striker. And to celebrate... They are putting forth their classic Still Sword challenge. Five swords lay still in stone, only to be moved by their true owner. Please visit, try to pull a sword out, and find out if one is going home with you."

Chad clears his throat. A lone glowing orb, with a tint slightly off from the many above, descends from overhead and lands gently on Tassilda's head, without any reaction from her. Grinning big, Chad gazes out into the crowd. "And second, after THIS very convention, we are going on a mission of GREAT IMPORTANCE. One that is going to take us through dangerous territory as we guard extremely important cargo. Unfortunately, none of us can divulge much more, but you'll see it all on next week’s episode!"

The host nods out to the suspenseful crowd and signals a number of awaiting convention workers. "Exciting news! Okay, everyone, we are opening it up for audience questions! Please line up behind one of our wonderful assistants near you and we'll try our best to get to your question."

Turning around to glance back at the panel, the host quickly spots the glowing orb sitting on top of Tassilda's head. His eyes dart around. Shadowing his movement from the crowd, he points to Tassilda, with hands close to his chest, and gestures her attention to her head. Blinking at the host, Tassilda snaps out of her idle stare to the crowd and calmly brushes her hand through her hair. She feels the glowing orb and grabs hold of it. With a faux laugh, she flicks the orb off towards the crowd. Drifting off, it gradually reverses direction and lines up a return path to Tassilda. Her attention returns to the crowd, and she gazes aimless with a sultry posture. The glowing orb bumps right into Tassilda's forehead. Finding it extremely difficult to keep the facade up, Tassilda flutters her light blue on black eyes in surprise. "What the hell?!"

She swats at the orb, and it zips clear of her hands each time. It looms closer and closer to Tassilda, dodging her attempts to bat it away. A low rumble of laughter rises out from the crowd, and more of the audience watches the scene unfold. Gesturing through a swift incantation, Tassilda swings her hands out with a confident smile and releases a focused burst of wind. The hovering orb strafes out of the way. Blinking in confusion, she snaps a glare at Deedri next to her and harshly whispers. "What's wrong with this thing?! What did you do to it?!"

Deedri shakes her head between Tassilda's stare and the orb and nervously shrugs at a loss. "I-I-I don't know. I followed the same process as you."

Narrowing his gaze at Tassilda, Chad furrows his brow and leans close to his microphone with a smug grin. "Having magical malfunctions again, Tassilda?"

A growing chorus of laughter wells up from the crowd. Tassilda stiffly grins, nearly gritting her teeth, at Chad. Flutters her eyes, she fans an arm out at the approaching orb. "Oh. Nothing I can't handle. Just need to make a few adjustments on this one."

Chad laughs, eases back into his seat, and snidely smiles. "Well, I've heard THAT a few times."

Trakenthin snorts and resumes watching his aetherphone screen in one hand and idly toying around with a bottle of water in his other. With the crowd cheering on, Tassilda's composure cracks against the one light orb assault, despite her best efforts. The part of audience cheers on the persistent orb, and the other part encourages Tassilda efforts. Modoran calmly watches the struggle between Tassilda and magical light ball. Pondering to himself, he tilts his head, an idea manifesting with the observation. He slides his chair back quietly, leans around the back of the chair, and aim a whisper to Deedri behind everyone else. "Deedri! Deedri!"

Deedri's left furry, tufted ear perks at Modoran's voice and guides the rest of her head to meet his gaze. "Oh. Yes?"

Modoran motions to the orb and Tassilda. "I think it only dodges fast movement towards it."

Searching her mind, Deedri nods thoughtfully and blinks with a forming plan. She gives Modoran an appreciative smile and shifts her attention to Tassilda. "Tassilda."

A growl of frustration slips out of Tassilda. "What?!"

Deedri glares sternly at Tassilda and calmly commands. "Sit. Down. Stay. Still."

Tassilda draws in a breath, begins to open her mouth, and the words retreat under Deedri's stare. Lowering herself back down upon her seat, she quickly brushes her raven black hair roughly back in place and adjusts her wardrobe. The light orb gently drifts closer and lands right on the very tip of Tassilda's still, gray skinned nose. Deedri carefully lifts her hands up, keeping both open palms facing the other. Positioning her hands to either side of the light orb, she slowly and meticulously closes the gap around the magical sphere. With a fast incantation and subtle gesturing of her hands, a magical field materializes between Deedri's palms, and she pulls the field and orb away in one swift motion. Cheers roar from the crowd. Chad claps with a smile, Trakenthin pays no attention, and Modoran sneaks a thumbs up and wink to Deedri. After a small, vaguely embarrassed bow, Deedri sits back down. The host seizes the opportunity and regains control of the forum. "Thank you, Deedri! Always there to help the group!"

The host starts summoning questions from the audience and directs them to different members of the Flames of the Phoenix. In between barrages of inquiries, Tassilda and Deedri examine the captured light orb. Finishing up a question with a nod, Tassilda pushes her microphone away and whispers to Deedri. "So, what is going on with THAT one?"

Deedri bites her lip uneasily and anxiously glances back at Tassilda. "Um... It's not one of ours..."

Twisting an uncomfortable grimace, she furrows her brow. "It... It's like... One of the ORIGINAL ones..."

Tassilda blinks her light blue on black eyes and rears her head back. In unison, both Deedri and Tassilda gaze out into the crowd, searching the rows upon rows of people seated in front of them. In the back row, a very amused bunch barely contain their mischievous smiles and watch the realization brew upon Deedri and Tassilda. Bach chuckles darkly to himself. "Oh yes. We are here."

Over the next minutes, the audience ask their questions, and the members of the Flames of the Phoenix answer them. Trakenthin remains a notable exception, either grunting, rolling his eyes, or completely ignoring the attempt. Standing next in line to speak into a convention worker's microphone, Bach glances at his aetherphone and awaits his turn. An imposing figure moves right behind him, and he glances over his shoulder. Blinking his confusion, he cocks his head at Dretphi. "Oh. You have a question?"

Dretphi briefly averts her eyes with a firm smirk on her face. "Yes."

The host catches a signal from an assistant up in the sound booth, turns to the crowd, and projects his voice into the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we are just about out of time. But, I think we can handle a few more questions. So, let's give the people in the way back a chance!"

The worker presents the microphone up to Bach and nods for a cue. Checking his aetherphone one last time, Bach stares out front to the stage. "Well, this one is from a friend of mine stuck watching the hotel TV feed, and it's for Chad."

Chad's smile faintly sours at the sound of Bach's voice, and he squints with a new interest towards the far back. Bach continues with a smug grin. "How's your car doing?"

Snickers and laughter echo into the open space of the tall ballroom. Each second of the din weighs upon Chad's trademark smile, pulling it down towards an unamused frown. He perseveres despite his ire. "Just. Fine. It took some effort... From all of us..."

Puffing up his chest, he forces his smile back on his face. "But, the Phoenix will rise again."

With a chime from his aetherphone, Bach nods smugly. "Thank you."

Retreating away quickly, Bach sits back down in his seat next to Sebastian. Peering over at the message from Kaleb on Bach's phone, Sebastian snorts with an ethereal echo. "Damn. Kaleb's right, bro. He IS touchy about that SUV. He almost completely dropped that smile of his."

Aristespha curiously eyes Dretphi in line, and ponders out loud to the rest of the group. "Did Dretphi say anything about what she was going to ask?"

Bach, Sebastian, Cideeda, and Sotalia offer only uncertainly shrugs and inconclusive shakes of heads to Aristespha. Dretphi steps up, and the convention worker holds the microphone higher up for her. Drawing in a breath, she pauses in thought. A flowing, fluent stream of the Grath language leaves her lips with an eloquent pace and impeccable pronunciation. At the end, Dretphi pivots and walks away from the microphone, leaving a bewildered convention worker. Grath throughout the audience laugh, gasp, and snort. Other non-Grath respond similarly, including Sotalia. Covering her mouth, Sotalia muffles a snort into a contained chuckle.

Dully glinting in the stage lights, a plastic bottle cap launches up towards the heights of the ceiling upon a jet of water. Trakenthin instinctively crushes the plastic bottle in his hand further. Snapping his head away from his phone, he actively hunting through the audience, an angry sneer blatant on his face. He bellows out a litany of Grath phrases furiously, seeking a reply. Dretphi settles into her seat next Cideeda and Sotalia, crossing her arms. With the trace of smug smile upon her tan face, she notices the quizzical gazes of the group and sighs. "Pity. He CAN speak."

The other members of the Flames of the Phoenix allow Trakenthin space and get up from their seats, leaving the stage. The host quickly calls out with a nervous smile, keeping a watch on Trakenthin enraged glare out towards the audience. "Well, uh... That's all for now folks! Please enjoy the rest of the convention! And, be sure to visit our Next Adventurers of Nexus in Personality Alley for photo opportunities and signatures."

Large, long mall walkway skylights reveal the night sky overhead. A low, distant thumping radiates through the airspace in contrast to the ambient convention din. People move between demo and game booths, trying their luck and skill with different goods or services being sold. Aristespha casually strolls down the path between the gatherings of people, flipping through a list of messages on her phone. Sebastian's voice sounds out from the sword on her hip. "So, where are the others at, dear?"

Aristespha's violet eyes sort through a few more messages, and she quirks her brow. "Seems like they ditched the concert now. The opening act was amazing. But, the main act is some pop star from another TV show.

Tossing back a stray strand of silvery blue hair, she sighs with an amused smirk. "They left after the first few songs."

Sebastian hums in thought. "Yeah, I think I remember. She's that crazy half-fvalian girl. Really likes to stir up all the shock and drama. At least, that's what it seemed like on that show she was on."

Sending remaining messages away with finger swipes across the screen, Aristespha puts her phone away into her pants pocket. "They are going to the humvee to clear a path through Sotalia's purchases..."

She rolls her eyes with a snort. "So Dretphi can get in the back. They'll be around the main entrance in a few minutes."

Sebastian chuckles ethereally from the sword. "Figures. Oh well. Hope she didn't go too broke-"

"Lady Aristespha?"

Aristespha slows her steps to a halt and gradually pivots herself towards the source of the voice. Lifting an eyebrow, she tosses her silvery blue hair back and levels her violet eyes upon Modoran. With a simple, casual wave, Modoran smiles in return. "Hello. I am Modoran Lotherin, pleased to meet you. I guess officially now."

Curiosity pulls an amused grin across Aristespha's face, and she confidently walks up to Modoran. With a shift of her posture, she gazes at Modoran. "Official enough. Any camera crews I need to be made aware of?"

Modoran laughs and shakes his head, rolling his dark blue eyes. "Not right now. They have a hard time finding me when I feel like it. I've got about a few more minutes before I need to make my presence, to keep them happy."

A barely audible ethereal grumble resonates from the sword. Aristespha nonchalantly taps the sword handle a few times. Modoran quirks his brow with a sly smile and crosses his arms. "I have to hand it to your group. They certainly know how to rile up the more... prideful of my group."

An equally amused smirk appears upon Aristespha's ivory face. She sighs with subtle shakes of her head and shifts her posture. "If you will excuse me, I have no idea about what you are talking about, sir. I believe you may have the wrong group in mind."

Aristespha and Modoran maintain reserved stares, analyzing expressions and body language. After a few quiet seconds, Modoran laughs into a sigh and lowers his head with a sway. "Oh my. Despite the group I'm with, let me show there's no hard feelings from me to you. How about I treat you to a few games at the archery booth here."

The young evuukian woman running a nearby archery booth perks up in her seat by the register and expectantly awaits Aristespha or Modoran. With a momentary twitch at the corner of her eye, Aristespha gradually turns her gaze and studies the booth near her. She examines the layout and contents of the displays and rests her attention upon the bows. Her chilly, contemptuous glare condenses a swell of harsh disdain upon the stylish wooden bows. With an audible sniff through her nose, she dons her previously sly smile and politely shakes her head. "Unfortunately, I am not much into archery these days. But, I do greatly appreciate the offer."

Cocking her head, she smiles shortly, vaguely dismissive. "It is charming, really."

Blinking confused, Modoran lifts up an eyebrow, genuinely puzzled. "Oh? Really? That IS interesting. I distinctly remember hearing stories of a very accomplished, young evuukian woman performing great feats of archery for the Tarikira family. The descriptions of this amazing woman seem to match you almost exactly."

Aristespha maintains her smile and shakes her head with sigh. "Oh, I am afraid you must have mistaken me for someone else. I have personally moved on from the bow."

An eager grin cracks upon Modoran, he perks an encouraging brow at Aristespha. "Oh, Lady Aristespha, you just cannot say something like that without a demonstration."

Slowly shifting her stance, Aristespha examines the booth tabletop. Her eyes faintly glow violet, and she briefly rests her hand on the sword hilt. Grasping an arrow on the table, she twirls it in her fingers and slides her grip near the fletching. With the arrow firmly in grasp, her arm extends behind her, and her legs move to balance. Her upper body whips fluidly, flinging the arrow through air. Whizzing roughly dozen meters away, it solidly sticks into the target, near the bullseye. She straightens up, brushes her hair back, and observes the dumbfounded expressions of the booth attendant and, specifically, Modoran. Aristespha pivots cleanly and strides away with a wave behind her. "Have a good night."

Once out of ear shot, Aristespha's eyes dim back to normal, and she grins satisfied. "I hope you got to see what I saw, Sebastian."

A ghostly cackle emanates from the sword. Breaking from the laughter, Sebastian ethereally snorts. "I fully approve, dear. That look on his face was priceless."

Biting her lower lip, Aristespha wrestles a grimace and rubs her shoulder, stretching out her arm. "Need to get back into practice. I can already feel that I’m going to be sore in the morning.

A confident smile parts on her face. "But... I still got it."

Sebastian lovingly encourages from the sword. "As if you could ever lose it, dear."

Lowering his hand down from a weak, perplexed wave in response to Aristespha's departure, Modoran gawks at the arrow firmly planted in the target. The young evuukian woman pronounces some incantations and gestures to the arrow. With a few exaggerated motions, the arrow frees itself from the target. It floats over towards the woman and hovers down upon the tabletop. The young evuukian woman gazes at Modoran and smiles surprised. "Wow. That was in there good."

The young woman glances over the stunned Modoran, and watches Aristespha disappear in the distance. After patiently waiting, she eyes at the later night through the skylights above and smirks humored at Modoran. "So... I'm about to close up for the night. Would you like a few free pity rounds before I shut down?"

Modoran blinks back to awareness and meets the amused gaze of the woman. He sighs with a smile and shrugs nonchalantly. "THAT... Actually sounds very nice right now. Thank you."