Episode 21

Booths and tables bookend a large Stalwart Sword display upon a riser stage. Representatives for the company excitedly urge passersby to try their luck at pulling one of the finely crafted blades embedded in different stones. A young man steps up the plate, stands behind the stonework pieces, and grasps hold of the remaining sword of his choice. Aristespha's faintly glowing, violet eyes examine and study the four swords still present. Guiding back her very long, silvery blue hair, she allows it drape wavy runs upon her back and refocuses her inquisitive stare upon the empty rocky pedestal. She idly runs her fingers along her extremely long, pointed ears, and brushes stray hairs off the tips behind her head. Resting an ivory toned hand upon one side of hip, she shifts her athletically thin frame to another foot and contorts the gray and blue hints of color upon her face with an intrigued eyebrow quirk. "Interesting..."

Sebastian's ethereally transparent form pivots in place, and he gauges Aristespha's reaction. Briefly squinting his blue eyes at Aristespha's face, he gazes over to where she concentrates. He folds his translucent tan colored arms across his shirt covered muscular chest and tilts his head to the side. The loose pompadour on his head settles, and a number of short brown hairs break free, hanging in front of his face. The free hairs distract his eyes enough for him to notice, and a quick hand rakes them back in place next to the white streak. Sebastian scratches the back of his head and leans next to Aristespha. "So... What do you see, my dear?"

A finger from Aristespha leads Sebastian's eyes, and she draws in a breath, hinting her suspicions. "The empty pedestal's magic is gone. Some residue remains, but I believe the locking enchantment is on the swords rather than the pedestal."

Her gazes wander towards the center most, largest pedestal, and stops upon it. Sebastian darts his glances between the center pedestal and Aristespha. "Okay. Makes sense. So, what's wrong with the one in the center?"

Aristespha gradually pulls her head back. Sliding her posture,she rests her hand underneath her chin with a critical stare securely upon the center, sword-housing pedestal. "Originally, I thought the different pedestal explained the slight difference in that enchantment's aura."

Narrowing her intrigue upon the stonework encasing the blade, she twist her grimace uncertainly. "But... If the enchantment is on the swords, then that means the enchantment is different for supposedly the same thing. Unfortunately, the obfuscation and shielding they've used makes it extremely difficult to discern from casual inspection."

A Stalwart Sword salesman notices Aristespha attention upon the display and waves happily. "Hello! I see you have a keen interest in our latest and greatest model. And, judging by the sword at your side, you most certainly have just as keen tastes, that Stalwart Swords aims to please. Please, come over! Let me help you find the sword for YOU."

Blinking from her focus, Aristespha flashes a polite smile and starts to wave off the representative. Sebastian hems with a faint reverb and grins slyly. "Dear. Let's see what he can offer us."

Aristespha halts, lowers her hand back down with an awkward stare at Sebastian, and she lifts a questioning eyebrow. Grinning, Sebastian perks up and eyes over at the rep. A slyness cracks the smile on Aristespha, and shes nods intrigued. Aristespha and Sebastian calmly walk over to the booth in front of the salesman. Behind the table, the representative smiles happily and bows in greeting to Aristespha. "Thank you for coming over and granting me your time. First, I must say..."

He examines Sebastian up and down with honest amazement. "That is a most impressive illusion you have with you!"

Sebastian puffs his chest out, postures proudly with a heroic flair, and winks at the salesman. "I know."

The salesman blinks and slowly returns his head to Aristespha. "Amazing..."

Clapping his hands together, he straightens his posture and grins, a faint entrepreneurial glint slipping through. "I can already tell YOU have particular desires in the swords you acquire. If it is not a problem, I would like to inspect your current sword and see what Stalwart Swords can do to exceed your needs. Do not worry, I am allowed by the convention to undo and redo peace bindings."

Aristespha and Sebastian eye each other, mischief developing in their smiles. Releasing the scabbard's lock upon her belt, Aristespha gently rests the Sword of the Spirit Realm upon the table in front of the salesman. She and Sebastian await for the salesman's response, both fighting to hide their anticipation. The salesman respectfully nods, aptly releases the convention mandated peace binding, and professionally slides the sword out from the scabbard. His gaze absorbs the details and workmanship of the sword. His mind processes the attributes. After a long thoughtful pause, he arrives at the shocking identity of the blade. The salesman's smile wavers against the building astonishment, and his eyes widen to the artifact in his hands. Seconds of stunned silence later, he slowly slides the sword back into the scabbard. Resting it respectfully back upon the table, he stands up straight and releases a composure regaining sigh. A different genuine smile appears upon his face, and he gazes at both Aristespha and Sebastian. "This is a very gracious, surprise honor you have bestowed upon me. To even examine such a fine blade is an amazing experience... As high as I hold Stalwart Swords, a unique blade as this is beyond us..."

The smile upon the salesman's face gradually gives way to an entrepreneurial grin. "BUT. A unique discount for a sword to compliment that fine blade IS well within the capabilities of Stalwart Swords."

Sebastian crosses his arms and smirks eagerly at Aristespha. "Ooo... He's good."

Aristespha lifts the scabbard and sword off the table, locks it back onto her belt, and smiles at the salesman. "I believe we will take you up on that discount. We do need a training blade and a weapon grade blade that's roughly the same size, weight, and shape of my current one."

Sotalia stares expectantly at the fvalian woman behind the table. With a graceful flourish, the woman signs her name "Ardere" on a Tinkering Tina comic, adding an artistic flair and a small drawing of the lead character Tinkering Tina. Ardere gazes up to Sotalia with a knowing smile bordering close to smugly satisfied. Seconds of silence pass between the two. A toothy grin springs on Ardere's face, and she tilts her head a number, loosening glinting reddish brown hairs from underneath the large bandanna on her head. "I'm so sorry. You're just going to have to wait until the next issue."

Wrestling an mildly annoyed frown, she sighs with a roll of her bluish eyes. "I already gave away WAY too much at the last panel."

Sotalia draws in a deep breath and strains a long exhale. She lifts her gaze up to the ceiling of the long hallway containing the packed booths and sprawling lines of Personality Alley. "Really?!"

Ardere slides a curious glance to Cideeda, tapping together the large black claw tips on both hands. "New to the series?"

Shaking her head with a humoring smile, Cideeda eyes Sotalia's frustration and nods slowly at Ardere. "Oh yeah. She binge read the series recently."

Patting down the bandanna on top of her head near two solid bumps underneath, Ardere tightens the knot in back. "Oh..."

An amused grin cracks forth from the faint patterns on her cheeks, and she giggles in delight. "THAT explains it. Just got through the Great Contract arc, didn't you?"

Sotalia lowers her head down, crosses her arms, and pouts. "Yes, I have."

Furrowing a seeking stare, she borders on a grumble with a vaguely unsatisfied tone. "And, I have SO many theories... And not evidence to either prove or disprove them."

The pout wears away into a mischievous smile, and Sotalia focuses Ardere. "But, I do have one theory that I do have evidence for."

Quirking her brow with intrigue, Ardere squints and dons a scheming smile. "Which is?"

A giggle escapes Sotalia, and she bounces her gaze between Ardere and Cideeda. "Tina and Byron are SO going to be couple in the future."

Ardere's eyes flit open in shock and quickly narrow to honest examination of the present proposal. "Really? That's an interesting theory."

Cideeda laughs and nods to Sotalia with a tight smile. "Well... I have to agree. There's something there between those two. I don't know what, but it more there than not."

Sotalia counts off points with her fingers, and her eyes hunt through her mind. "Despite all the times Tina's has practically kicked down the door to Byron's place, he's never mad at her for being there. Despite all the questions she asks, he'll always answer them... Even if he's grumpy about it."

Snapping her golden eyes upon Ardere, she smirks with a chuckle. "And don't forget the Embargo Arc!"

Cideeda places her hands on her hips and ponders out loud. "He FORGETS about collecting rent on her shop when business was bad. She's the first to check on him when he hasn't left the house in a few days. AND, he's the one that pushed her to lay down the contracting law upon that general."

Pivoting with a finger raised, Sotalia points at Cideeda. "AND... Don't forget who he calls FIRST when he finds some crazy technology."

Both Cideeda and Sotalia contemplate the growing fan theory. Ardere observes the conversation and listens in, great interest obvious. A muffled buzz and phone chime startles her. Pulling away from the discussion, she retrieves her aetherphone from a pocket. With a few taps of the screen, a text message from "Jasper" appears on the display.

"Hey, sorry about the silence. Just got enough signal from a radio relay tower of all things. Found something from the zone you might like when you get back from your convention. After I get this to transmit, I'm heading to back to Gateway. Here's a picture of the find."

Ardere bluish eyes focus upon the image. Fighting back a wave of giddy delight, she covers her mouth briefly with squirm in her seat. Moments afterwards, she lowers her hand down. The previous giddiness yields to a building revelation. Reading the message one last time with a warm smile, she puts away her phone and returns her attention to the winding fan theory between Cideeda and Sotalia.

Rolling her eyes at Cideeda, Sotalia scoffs dismissively. "Self worth issues? He was THE designer behind major innovations in robotics! How could he feel like he's not worthy enough for her?!"

She snorts and shakes her head of dark red hair. "Gods, why is THAT always the case?

Cideeda sighs and cocks her head. "He lost it all when that competitor company won that ridiculous lawsuit. He's got some royalties, the plot of land his house is on, and the shop that Tina is renting from him..."

A suspecting smirk materializes on her light brown face. "For half market average."

Groaning at the debate, Sotalia shrugs into a trailing grumble. "Well, I don't think we're proving it today."

With a quick nod to Sotalia, Cideeda pulls out her aetherphone and widens a toothy grin. "Before we go..."

An entrepreneurial glint sparkles from her gaze. "Are you still interested in seeing fan findings of ancient technology?"

Ardere's furry ears perk up, and her smiles brightens. "Of course! What do you have?"

Cideeda deftly navigates the phone and turns the screen towards Ardere, remaining silent. Ardere's eyes lock onto the screen, almost reflecting the image of the old security bot head. An ear to ear grin grows more the longer she studies the picture. With a toothy grin, Cideeda aims a quiet, suggestive inquiry. "Would you like to hold it?"

Blinking to full awareness, Ardere perks her head up and nods slowly with a sly smile. "Oh. You know, I think I should take my lunch break now."

Leading the way through the vendor demonstrations lining the tall intersection of the mall turned convention center, Sotalia glances between different fanciful displays of products. With a frustrated twist of her mouth, she mumbles to herself and slips between the gaps of the wandering crowds. Trailing behind, Bach lingers a gaze at interactive scroll vendor and nods to himself, a spark of interest flitting up. He searches around, spots Sotalia further down the way, and pushes though the traffic to close in. Closing in, he notices the line up of equipment, lanes of platforms paired with booth. He fights down an uneasy grimace and divert his path away. A firm grip from behind snag his shirt collar, and a tug guides him closer to the demo area. He drifting closer to the destination after each attempt to slip away. Sotalia releases Bach's shirt collar and smiles eagerly. Lifting a hand up with a wave to the goal, she motions to the row of stalls and platforms with a variety of arcane markings and electronics intermingling the structures. "Here they are! These are the magical energy measuring stations I told you about!"

Bach adjusts his shirt back to comfort and pans his gaze upon the magical measurement equipment with an uneasy smile. "Neat. Um, reminds me of the ones back in school. Must be showcasing the newer models..."

Averting his blue eyes away from the scene, he searches for a convenience and nearby divide in the crowd. "Well, that's all pretty cool..."

He warily watches Sotalia's sly grin and stare upon him. Straightening up confidently, she unrolls a wave towards two empty platforms and stalls and concentrates on Bach, an evil tinge infecting her grin. Bach pivots in place, examines the stalls briefly, and faces Sotalia with a pleading expression. "You know I can't beat you in raw power."

Placing her hands on her chest, she smiles full of delighted amusement and giggles. "Oh, I know."

Narrowing her eager stare, she grins slyly. "I figured WE could compete with EFFICIENCY."

Bach bounces glances between the platforms and stalls. He catches hints of the excitement slipping free from Sotalia's dwindling attempts to suppress and sighs with an eye roll. "I guess it couldn't hurt. I'll take the one at the end."

Sotalia rushes off gleefully to one of the attendants next to a "Merlinatech Magical Machinations" logo display. The human woman in branded magician robe gives a quick nod and directs Sotalia and Bach to the platforms. She steps up to an advertisement poster and explains the system with the visual aid. "Thank you so much for coming up and your interest. At Merlinatech Magical Machinations, we specialize in figuring out the quantities of your magical qualities! As you can see here, we have brought our latest line of flow measure suites for you to try out. With newest revisions in the detection algorithms and energy flow sensors, Merlinatech has been able to reduce the size of our professional line of flow meters to allow easy home installation! A mere corner of room is all that's needed where a whole room once was!"

The woman steps around a system and motions to the setup, smiling brightly. "All you have to do is stand on the platform and cast your spells. The system will measure the flow to, from, and within the space of the platform and stall. Then, our patented computers will calculate all the most pertinent statistics for your magical ability."

She leans forward slightly and smirks playfully. "But, for demonstration purposes here, we've put big displays up to show your energy usage. It's the most popular number everyone wants to know."

The woman smiles wide and directs Sotalia and Bach's attention to the nearby stalls. "If you have any projectile, beam, or other types of spells, please feel free to direct your power into our containment stalls. We ask that you PLEASE keep it simple and moderate for safety reasons."

Stepping back toward another group of interested people, she departs with a slight bow. "If you have any further questions, please ask. But for now, feel free to put our equipment to the test, and we'll measure your best!"

Bach thanks the woman and swings his head over, witnessing Sotalia stretch her arms up and cracking her intertwined fingers. "Simple and moderate, now. Please?"

An almost seductive grin parts, and Sotalia bites her lip with a long breath in. "I'll... TRY."

Stepping upon the platform, she gestures swiftly through an incantation under her breath and flicks out a small training bolt of magical energy. It darts from the tip of her finger into the space of the stall, impacts a barrier at the back, and dissipates. Seconds later, a status message pops up on a flat screen monitor near her platform, and a colored bar highlights around the fifty unit range on a sliding number line. Sotalia rest her hands on her hips, sways with confidence nearing pride, and eyes Bach with a smug lift of an eyebrow. Bach sighs, shaking his head. Pulling a reluctant smile, he holds his palm out towards his stall. A magical bolt manifest into existence in front of his palm, darts out into his platform's containment stall. Halting in the middle, it disperses into a fading mist. Bach and Sotalia watch the display near Bach's platform. A status prompt appears on the screen, and a sliding number line charts a much narrower range within the teens, just short of twenty units. A zealous ear to ear smile expands upon Sotalia's face. Bach's jaw drops lower with each moment, his mind analyzing the results. "Hold up. How the fuck does that shitty of a bolt register so low?"

Sotalia's smile collapses to neutral confusion, shifting towards an extremely suspicious glare at Bach. " Shitty bolt?"

Crossing her arms, she tips her head back and bares her teeth in a indignant sneer. "OH... Don't you DARE flub these on purpose.

She furrows her brow and levels a glare at Bach. "Now give me a REAL one."

Bach blinks blankly and droops his shoulders in defeat. Pulling a long breath in, he conjures another bolt into the palm of his hand and flicks into the containment stall. Sotalia's smile returns in full force, witnessing the display show a narrow bar hovering just below the ten unit range.

Over the next minutes, a small gathering forms and murmurs out a mix of conversation. A few people occasionally point towards two displays near the platforms Sotalia and Bach stand upon. Sotalia squints into a grimace, summoning intense concentration upon a forming ball of energy in her hands. Glancing up at the target ahead of her platform, she carefully launches the ball towards the containment stall and watches the ball burst on the surface of the backplate. Bach unrolls his hand out, producing a near mirror match of Sotalia's energy ball. After a gentle nudge, it drifts on its own into the designated stall, halts midway through, and pops into a faint plume on its own. Status messages appear on the displays, the bars narrow, and the indicators settles upon the lowest end of the range. The score on Bach system rattles between the single digits, while Sotalia's score drift higher to the upper teens. Gripping onto her black, swept back horns in frustration, Sotalia growls and winces. "Argh! How?! Just how?!"

Bach attempts in vain to contain the exceedingly amused grin on his face. He averts his satisfaction, dripping with smugness, from Sotalia. "Well... Just a lot of practice, I guess."

Sotalia narrows her golden stare upon Bach and crosses her arms. The few technicians behind a collection of magical machinery and computer equipment stare bewildered, readouts continuing to vex and baffle their knowledge.

"Is it a calibration error?"

"No, we just calibrated it a few hours ago. Are they just less powerful versions?"

"That's the weirdest part! They're actually slightly more powerful. At least that's what the stall sensors are picking up..."

From around the corner of the giant mall intersection, a small horde of recording equipment hauling personnel orbit a singular lone emin woman. Tassilda proudly struts across the floor, granting a small wave to those that notice her along the path. Her pointed ears detect the surge of discussion the small crowd around the Merlinatech demo space, and her head follows the lead to the source. Her light blue on black eyes open wide, spotting Sotalia. She watches Sotalia form another energy ball and Bach idly flicking, very familiar glowing light orbs into his platform's containment stall. A sneer flashes on her gray face, and she summons up a superior, dominant posture, stepping with intent over to the Merlinatech demo stations. Sotalia flings out another energy orb into the containment stall and watches the number calculations. When it barely improves over the previous, she groans out her frustration, eyeing Bach. "Oh, you stop smiling already and start telling me what I need to do!"

Crossing her arms with an upwards hoist, a condescending tone drifts into the air from Tassilda. "Maybe consider a career in stage magic? You seem quite capable of drawing a crowd."

Snapping her posture rigid, Sotalia pivots, adopting dominant pose in competition to Tassilda. She glares with the faintest hint of a grin. "Oh. You flatter me. But, I couldn't possibly compete with your demonstrable abilities upon the stage. Such a fine comedy yesterday! Did you plan all that, or do you dabble in improv?"

A light twitch tugs at the corner of Tassilda's eye, and she cocks her head to the side, allowing her long raven black hair to sway along her revealing outfit. "Interesting. It seems strange for someone of your obvious experience to be instructed by the... INTERN of your group?"

A snide smile creeps widen on her face. "Hmm. What deficiencies could you ever possibly be addressing?"

An evil grin creeps onto Sotalia, and she tips her head up, tossing of her dark red hair. "Refinements, really. As for the INTERN, I saw you have learned plenty from him yourself..."

She gestures with her goldens eyes,and sways head towards Bach. The shift in attention from Sotalia, Tassilda, the crowd, and the camera crew stuns Bach, clueless to the next action. Holding a light orb in his hand, he glances over at the many floating in the magical containment stall for his platform. Sotalia slowly returns her smugly satisfied smile back at Tassilda and tilts her head with a confident sway her of hips. A wave of unease billows through Tassilda's body. An insightful spark emerges from memories and boils up her confidence. "Well. Certainly to be expected from a lady of your... EXCEEDINGLY REFINED AGE."

A noticeable wince cracks Sotalia's facade. Tassilda delightful watches the turmoil and walks to a platform next to Sotalia. Stretching and flexing exaggeratedly to the crowd, she gestures an incantation into a small bolt of energy and flicks it into her platform's containment stall. Staring for a moment, Sotalia responds with a slightly larger bolt at her target. Bach leans out from his platform and cranes his head around for better view of the unfolding event. "Ah, shit."

Jabbing conversation punctuates Sotalia and Tassilda contest, and each conjure slightly more powerful spells to edge out prior. The metrics on the displays grow with volley of growing bolts. Double digits lead the climb. Low triple digits swell with the balls of power forming. Moderate triples digits flicker, and gauges drift higher on the screens. Both maintain indomitable airs of superiority against the other and nearly sneering smiles. During a lull in the action, the two mages summon the powers and build up their finales. Sotalia scoffs defiantly and flows the prismatic energy in her hands. "I grow tired of such trivial displays. Let us make these count."

Tassilda dramatically opens her hand palm up and reveals a growing ball of brilliant green fire. "YES. I agree."

The two glare down at each other, the magical flows condensing in their hands. Merlinatech technicians glance over to the containment stalls nervously. Following the uncertain stares to the stalls, Bach eyes glow blue. He squints at the stalls, rears his head back, and blinks in surprise. He steps off his platform towards the competition. Sotalia readies her energy orb and waits. Tassilda aim her palm out towards the target in her stall. Both glare intensely at each other in silence, cameras and the crowd anticipating the release of their potent spells.

Sotalia flexes her arm muscles. Tassilda flares out her fingers-

Walking right between the two of them, Bach snatches Sotalia's energy orb with one hand and yanks Tassilda's green fireball away with the other. "Okay! I think that's ENOUGH right now."

He grins with a nod towards relieved technicians. "Looks like they need to let the stalls cool down a bit."

Sotalia's energy orb shakes for a few moments and puffs out into a cloud of energy, fading into Bach. Tassilda's brilliant green fireball flickers and snuffs out in a haze, drifting into Bach's hand. Grumbling, Sotalia seizes Bach by the collar of his shirt. "Damn it, Bach! What the hell are you doing?!"

Perking up her posture in the confusion, Tassilda curiously examines the hand that the fireball once hovered near. She blinks in absolute, sheer bewilderment and glances over, pondering the fate of her fireball. Bach narrows his eyes at Sotalia and points to the stalls. "You were about to overload the system.

He furrows his brow and sternly explains. "So. I stopped you."

Sotalia glances over to stalls and squints her eyes to a flickering gold for a few moments. Embarrassment washes over her, and she releases Bach's shirt with a light, apologetic pat on the chest. "Oh. Right. Good call. Sorry."

Rolling his eyes, Bach shrugs and sighs. "No problem. Can we get out of here? Away from the cameras? Please-"

He halts mid thought and rubs together the fingers of hand that seized Tassilda's green fireball. "What the hell? There's something on my hand."

He moves the hand closer to his face. "A powder?"

Sotalia quickly snatches his arm, and pulls his hand close to her eyes. She squints, picks at the reside lightly coating, and puzzles. A sudden flash of shock erupts on her light tan and dark gray face. Covering her mouth, she rears back with a cackle. "OH. MY. GODS! It's copper powder! She's using material components in her magic!"

Sotalia unleashes a loud mocking laugh and stares at Tassilda, incredulously amused. "OH! Really?! You couldn't manage to use magic to make the flames green?!"

Drawing in a long breath, she exhales and calm herself down. With a smug strut, she walks near Tassilda. "So! I have to ask... Which kit do you use?"

Resting a hand on her chest, Sotalia twists up a derisive smile and giggles mockingly. "I have to admit, back in high school, I used them, too. Gods, I liked the one with black candles myself! You know how all the emin girls go through that doom and gloom stage."

Tassilda's normally gray complexion darkly reddens, and she levels a twitching, furious death glare upon Sotalia. When Sotalia leans close with an expectant, smug grin, a harsh spouting of an emin dialect slip out from Tassilda, just above a whisper. Processing the words and Sotalia tilts back. She crosses her arms and chuckles darkly, her eyes widening along with a triumphant smile. "Oh! So, THAT is what you think of ME! Would mind saying THAT lovely term a bit louder for everyone else!"

With dismissive wave, Sotalia perks her brow and tosses back her dark red hair. "Gods, I haven't heard THAT one in a while. Did your racist grandfather teach you that one? I would love to know."

Tassilda whips around without another word. Rushing away in an angry huff, she nearly knocks over a camera woman along the way. Sotalia waves with a delightful smile. Sliding next to Sotalia, Bach glances at the irate Tassilda in the distance and over to Sotalia. "Uh... Um... Everything okay?"

Sotalia sways happily around, grinning satisfied. "OH. Yes. Gods... I, SO, knew it!"

Padded training swords impact loudly and echo above in the high ceilings of the enormous storage warehouse. A few people sparring crash on soft mats upon raised platforms with resonating thuds, grumbling their frustrations of defeat. Off to the side of the practice areas, Dretphi converses with two other older grath. Both wear old grath military uniforms. Many prominent awards and ranks sparsely decorate sleeves and front pockets. One grath man laughs out a few words in his native dialect. Patting the empty folded sleeve of his shirt with his only hand, he shrugs with a nonchalant smile. Other man shakes his head with an eye roll, buries his face in the palm of his hand, and rocks with a chuckle. Dretphi stifles a reflexive laugh with a happy smile and continues the conversation.

Behind her, a very old grath slowly steps forward with solid crane presses on the floor preceding his footsteps. With a warm smile and gaze at Dretphi, he orbits around her and stands next to the other two men. Immediately recognizing the very old grath, both men rigidly pause and salute. The elder grath eyes the two with an amused grimace. With some effort, he straightens his posture and properly fills out his uniform. Standing taller than everyone else, he lifts a strong but shaky hand to his temple. With a nod, he releases his salute from the short white hair encircling his bald head, relaxes his back, playful groaning, and chuckles, rolling his eyes. With a sly grin, he turns his head to Dretphi and shifts his support to the cane in front of him. Pointing at finger her with a slight wag, he smiles and speaks a short sentence. Dretphi blinks in confusion and her mind sorts through memories, desperately attempting to identify the man before her. The elder grath laughs, gives a comforting wave of the hand, and shakes his head with a smile. He taps the side of his head a few times to punctuate his words and shakes a point to Dretphi. Carefully lowering his hand down near his knees, he gestures a certain height. He draws himself back up, and joking references a topic. Dretphi immediately blushes in sympathy to her childhood. The other two grath snicker in fun and mercifully push to another topic of discussion.

Across the way, a camera crew catches the tumbling crash of an opponent upon the mats. A triumphant Trakenthin looms above with a practice sword end tapping the fallen opponent's chest. The referee witnesses and confirms with a hand signal to Trakenthin. "Winnner by vital hit, Trakenthin!"

A small crowd applauds and cheers, and Trakenthin absorbs the praise, holding his arms out and up during his circuit around the mat. Cameras focus upon him, and Samantha flips through notes on her clipboard with boredom assaulting her. "Again, he beats yet... another opponent."

Trakenthin scans out around the area, his eyes scrutinizing each person for a possible opponent. His search expands outwards and further out in the warehouse space full of practice mats and rings. A swift double take later, he spots his next target, a hungry grin spreading across his dark brone face. His hazel eyes settle upon Dretphi in the distance. With a loud bellowing shout in grath, he snaps his fingers and jabs a point at Dretphi, issuing a challenge. Dretphi reflexively cringes with low grumble and sighs dismissively. The one armed grath quirks his brow at Trakenthin. The other old grath sidesteps around to block line of sight between the rest of the group and Trakenthin. The elder lifts a brow at Dretphi, asking a question. Dretphi shakes her head and narrows her steely gray eyes with her pupils gesturing to Trakenthin. She gazes to all of them, pointing to the ground to emphasize her query. The old grath men nod, and the elder waves for her to leave for now with an understanding smile. Dretphi respectfully bows, steps away, pivots, and power walks straight towards the nearest exit.

Trakenthin's grimace sours, and he watches Dretphi swiftly navigate towards the exit. Narrowing his eyes, he slides his stance back and thinks. Moments later, a mean grin crackles upon his face, and fully focuses upon Dretphi. He calls out to her, words tinging with arrogance and contempt. Dretphi maintains her stoic demeanor and keeps her attention forward. A long pause swell between Trakenthin and Dretphi. Dismissively snorting, he exaggerates the emphasis on a slow, purposeful derisive grath sentence, anticipation in his eyes. Dretphi freezes in place. A subtle twitch flexes her cheek. She straightens up her posture and drags in an angry breath through gritting teeth peeking through her lips. The three old grath concentrate stoic, harsh glares upon Trakenthin, the face of eldest leaking with his boiling ire.

Dretphi's twists her head to a side and crack her neck. Pivoting to face Trakenthin, she powers forward, cracking her knuckles along the way. The elder grath smiles and examines a nearby rack of training weapons. He spots a weapon and secures his footing. With a strong grip on his crane, he lifts up a training sword with the end. Judging the weight, he calls out to the one armed grath and launches the weapon over. The one armed grath effortlessly snatches the practice blade out of the air and tests it with swings and swipes til satisfaction. Marching over to the side of Dretphi, he presents the weapon to her. The other older grath steps along side her and carefully whispers into her awaiting ear. Dretphi nods confirmingly at each paragraph of information. She gradually wills her focus, and her stare grows more serious and stoic. Finally spotting Dretphi's approach to the ring, Samantha gawks in utter astonishment. "Holy. Shit. Everyone check batteries and storage drives! I want every last bit of this covered! From every angle!"

Trakenthin and Dretphi stand near the middle of the mat, waiting with their padded training blades ready. The referee glances at both of them. He holds his hand in the middle and lifts his arm up with a step back. "Fight!"

Trakenthin launches a flurry of strikes upon Dretphi. Each impact hits solidly against Dretphi's defending blade. The two circle around the surface of the mat, Trakenthin aggressively assailing Dretphi with barrages of swings and swipes. Occasionally, Dretphi attempts a strike upon an opening, and Trakenthin proficiently blocks. The constant exchange of attacks continues. Dretphi's practice sword rocks back more and more with the next wave. Trakenthin mixes in banter and derisive words between his attacks. Dretphi's serious, concentrating stare never wavers. Samantha studies the combat and cocks her head with an emerging suspicion. She catches brief amusement slip from behind the stoic front of the older grath nearby. "What's going on?"

With an elaborate overhead slam upon her sword from Trakenthin, Dretphi drops to a knee. A flare of eagerness ignites Trakenthin's hazel eyes, and he steps forward, pressing down his blade against Dretphi's defense. She maintains the shaking deadlock above her with both hands on her sword's handle. Trakenthin glares down with a clenched grin, unyielding in his desire for her defeat. Dretphi locks eyes with Trakenthin. Her serious expression shatters, revealing a wide, tooth bearing grin and a fire of sheer confidence in her stare. Trakenthin's bewilderment barely manifests, and he feels something change with the blade deadlock.

New lines of muscle definition manifest upon Dretphi's arm, and she powers her blade up toward Trakenthin. Drawsing up her knee from the ground, she puts the foot underneath her. A hand frees itself from holding the blade and sweeps forward, a clawing grip around Trakenthin's ankle. Dretphi roars upwards with the defiant flex of every muscle in her body. She yanks out Trakenthin's foot from underneath and hoists upwards. Following his leg, Trakenthin drops flat on his back. A loud resounding slam echoes out into the warehouse. Trakenthin attempts to blink. His eyes flit wide, and he feels Dretphi lever his leg forward. Openning his mouth to growl, the pain of a boot pressing down upon his sword wielding fore arm interrupts any other thoughts. The pressure of a padded training sword on the side of his neck yanks Trakenthin out of the chaotic mental haze from the last few seconds. Dretphi beams a furious glare down upon him and slowly traces the tip of the training weapon symbolically across Trakenthin's neck. The referee observes the action, nods, stands up, and motions towards Dretphi. "Winner by vital hit..."

The referee pauses a moment and directs a police whisper. "Excuse me, what is your name?"

Dretphi releases Trakenthin's leg, exhales calmly with an air sheer satisfaction, and respectfully bows. "Dretphi. Dretphi Prakkenten Reti Veranattin."

The referee confirms with hidden contentment. Dretphi calmly exits the ring. Returning the training sword to the smugly smiling old grath men, she bows and leaves quickly to the exit. Trakenthin sits up from the mat floor. Blinking in sheer bewilderment, he stares out, silently tryint to process the lsat few minutes. A camera close in too quickly. The machine suffers the full ire of a grath, and Trakenthin backhands the lens right off.

A large, loosely packed crowd hangs out near the Stalwart Sword demo. A common topic buzzes in the air from the conversations spread out, the last remaining sword in the large center stone. The other four sword stones remain on stage, empty with names and location cards in front to show the new owners of the previously housed swords. Bach steps up to the center platform at the direction of a Stalwart Sword representative. Cautiously reaching out, he firmly grips the sword handle. Shoring up his footing, he readies himself. Pulling up, his arm muscles flex and body strains. The sword remains unmoved, without a single shudder. He shakes his head and gazes up at Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sebastian with a nonchalant shrug and an accepting smile. "Oh well. Guess it's not for me."

"A valiant try! Quite impressive. Really..."

Bach stands back up and glances over his shoulder, watching Chad Bosch wave to the crowd. Camera crews disperse into the area, while Samantha and Gerald maintain a professional distance away to oversee the impending operation. Stepping up to the side of the large center stone, Chad works the crowd and smiles brightly to the masses. With the hilt of the lodged sword still in hand, Bach quizzically stares at the blade curiosity, hints of surprise upon his face. He glances at Chad and returns his stare to sword. Bach's eyes glow blue and search through his mind. Seconds later, he flits his eyes wide and narrows a brief glare to Chad. The expression fades into a scheming smile, and the glow in his eyes dims back to normal. Chad maintains a bright heroic smile and glances at Bach. "If you don't mind... I'd like to give it a try. Sir."

Nodding against Chad's intimidating, demanding stare in contrast to the smile, Bach steps away with a welcoming bowing motion to the blade. "Oh! Yes, of course, and good luck."

He exits off the stage and slips back into the crowd. Chad maintains a stare upon Bach. He only breaks off when he notices a variety of other stares and glares from Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia. When Bach slides in behind the group, Aristespha whispers over her shoulder. "I sensed something strange about that sword's locking enchantment. Did you feel anything?"

Bach grins, a dark tint looming, and laughs quietly. "Oh yes. When Chad walked up, I felt something stir. I think it was some kind of remote trigger syncing. I bet he's got a key enchantment or something on him."

Cideeda shakes her head with a dissatisfied sneer. Dretphi crosses her arms and stoicly glares right at Chad. Sotalia leans closer to Bach and comments in a low voice. "Fucking figures. I wonder how much the cheat paid for the privilege?"

Bach chuckles with evil coloring his tone and perks a knowing eyebrow. "Too much for what he's going to get."

Blinking against rising familiarity, Sebastian narrow his gaze and hovers near his brother. "What did you DO?"

Shruggin with playful guilt, Bach merely grins. "Oh. We'll see. I'll have to apologize to Kaleb later."

The group watches on with less-than-kind, anticipating stares. Chad secures his grip around the sword for his attempt. Calming himself, Chad concentrates in the drawn out dramatic tension and quiet of the crowd. He flexes his muscular upper body in an exaggerated display of strength and pulls upon the sword. The initial facade of struggle slides towards genuine strain and significant effort. The seconds wear on, and the sword remains in place. When the determination upon Chad's face cracks to desperation, the sword gradually slides up, and the crowd anticipates. The blade sluggishly leaves the stone platform, ignoring the shakes of Chad's arms struggling against some force. Sliding half out of the stone, the sword slams back into place. Chad unceremoniously smacks forehead first into the pommel. Releasing the sword, Chad stands up and assures the crowd with bold, heroic waves. "Do not worry! It's just a little shy with such a wonderful crowd witnessing."

He squats down and carefully grips onto the sword tightly. Panning a gaze to the crowd, he slows for a passing glare to Samantha and the very confused Stalwart Sword representative. He waits for crowd to quiet down and prepares himself. Mustering all his power, he pulls upon the stone embedded sword with all his strength. The blade gradually moves up, rewarding Chad's outstanding effort. At the halfway point, the binding force completely disappears. In a chorus of laughter and applause from the large cword, Chad topples backwards and crashes out onto the stage floor with a resounding, echoing thud. Sword still in hand, he summons all his being and contains the irritation swelling out onto his face behind his trademark heroic smile.

Within the near empty branch of convention center hallway, Kaleb doubles over from laughing and rights himself back up to face Bach. "Holy shit! Nicely done! Gods, that arrogant prick deserves all he gets. I so wish I could have seen his face. It was probably just as bad as when you asked about his car."

Shaking her head of dark green hair, Shadeesa relaxes in a chair and pets Lagi's head at her side. "We need to be careful. If they keep it up, they'll put our act out of business."

Kaleb glances with a shrug to Shadeesa and Lagi. "They still don't have a dragon. I think we still got them beat."

Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia join the conversation, and the groups converse about the events of the day, exchanging various stories.

"MYLO! Stop running! Get back over here!"

Mylo rushes toward the gathering, waving his glowing wand around, and calls out. "Dragon!"

Mylo's evuukian mother runs after him with human man beside her. The man calls out. "Come on, son! Slow down!"

Mother and father split out to either side, and close in on Mylo charging towards the teams in front of Lagi. After some effort, the parents manage to capture the excited child. With son in arms, Mylo's mother turns to apologize. "I'm so sorry for him-"

She immediately recognizes Bach. "THERE YOU ARE!"

Blinking in surprise, Bach weakly waves. Mylo's mother smiles and bows slightly. "You disappeared before I could thank you. Again, thank you so much! You have saved the day for all us and kept our sanity intact for a little while longer."

The human man, with the same dirty blonde hair color as Mylo, steps forward and extends a hand out to Bach. "Hello! The name is Mason Anderson. Just wanted to say thanks for helping my wife and son out."

Bach shakes Mason hand and humbly shrugs. "Hey, it wasn't a problem, really. Just couldn't leave it be."

Mylo's mother lowers Mylo back down with her hand holding his, securing him from wandering too far. "Oh! I never got your name. I am sorry to have been so rude. I am Lalyanpha. And this wild one is Mylokia, or Mylo."

Lalyanpha lifts her head up towards Bach with a smile and notices Aristespha. A tinges of unease stiffens her pose, and nervous energy seeps out into the building tension in the air. Aristespha's violet eyes widen, and she calmly raises a reassuring hand to Lalyanpha. "Do not worry. I do NOT share those biases. You do not study proper medicine without seeing the fallacies behind those prejudices."

A genuine smile graces Aristespha's ivory face, and she gazes at Mylo. "You two have a beautiful son."

A great weigh leaves Lalyanpha, and she sighs with relief, Mason wrapping an arm around her. "Thank you. That is one of the reasons why Mason and I come to these type of events. There is far more acceptance to be found."

Mason grins and winks out to the group. "Also, I get free tickets from the organizers. Helps when you're the guy they get to come out to fix everything that likes to fall apart around here."

Mylo looks pleadingly to his mother and points to Lagi. Shadeesa meets Lalyanpha's glance with a happy nod and motions for Mylo to comes over. While Lagi enjoys the new attention from little Mylo, the larger gathering converses more about the events of the convention. Eventually, the groups go their own ways, the night sky in the above skylights wearing on. Everyone takes great care to not disturb a sleeping Mylo from the cradle of Lagi's front legs.