Episode 22

In the brightening morning light, a figure stirs under the covers of the bed in the small bedroom. Bach groggily lifts his upper body off the bed, and sheets roll off. Rising up sleepily, he cracks his eyes open. He slowly pans a stare across the room, blinking hesitantly against the sunlight filling the space. He throws the bed covers off and slides to the edge of the edge, waiting for the consciousness to stand. Yawning, he leans forward, rises up on his feet, and wipes the last remnants of sleep out of his eyes. His hands work out the tangles from his long brown, graying hair and guide the white streak to one the side over an ear. Blue eyes search around the space, and Bach surrenders to another yawn with stretch of his back. Briefly standing tall with proper posture, he sucks in his gut and puffs out his chest in front of the tall wall mirror. For a few moments, he enjoys the heroic ideal in the reflection. Releasing his breath, he slouches and slumps his shoulders. Inspecting the farmer's tan on his forearms in stark contrast to the rest of his fair skin under his shirt, he scratches the forming beard at the chin. A sigh of disappointment slips out, and he places his hand upon his stomach. He stops in surprise. Glancing down, he notices the difference of where his hand rests, expectation twisting confusion on his face. "Huh..."

He darts his curiosity around the room and eyes the door, lifting an eyebrow. "... there is a bathroom scale..."

Bach opens the nearby dresser drawer, puts on a new shirt and pair of shorts over his underwear, and opens the door to his bedroom. He peeks out into the hallway and spots the morning slipping out from the bathroom. Swiftly claiming the space, he closes the door behind him. Minutes pass, and the bathroom door opens to a content Bach, wearing a satisfied smirk upon his face. Stepping out into the hallway, he turns and walks back toward his room. Sotalia's mumbling voice drifts out into the hallway from her room. Bach halts with his curiosity, slowly spins around, and cautiously approaches Sotalia's open room door. He peeks around the door frame, peers into the room, and surveys the situation. Sitting upon her bed legs crossed, Sotalia resides in the middle of a sprawling collection of trinkets, folded space frames, shopping bags, and labeled boxes. Her attention jumps between a single red crystal in her hand and the semi-circle of labeled boxes around her. Biting her lip with blatant deliberation on her face, she gestures the red crystal towards one box. Her head sways and leads it back over to another box. The debate in her mind continues. She idly grabs hold of her foot while her other foot unconsciously fidgets. Blinking hard, she straightens up her back and opens her eyes, noticing Bach in the doorway. Wrestling down a reflexive awkward grimace, Bach weakly waves. "Oh... Hey... Uh, sorry. I didn't want to interrupt anything."

Sotalia perks her brow with a smile and points the crystal at Bach, punctuating her thoughts. "Actually... Perfect timing. YOU might be able to answer this one for me."

Rolling the red crystal in her hands idly, she secures it between a finger and thumb and shows it to Bach. "If you were a seven year old boy, would you be interested in a magical artifact that charges by sunlight and produces an illusion of a flame with light and warmth when tapped?"

Easing fully into the doorway, Bach braces a hand on the frame and ponders the inquiry between furrowing his brow. Lifting an eyebrow, he quizzes back. "Okay... Can it light stuff on fire?"

Sotalia shakes her head slightly and keeps her curious gaze upon Bach. "No. Just light and safe to touch warmth."

With a shrug, Bach crosses his arms, leans his shoulder against the door frame, and hums in thought. "I mean... Sounds neat. BUT, I remember being a bit more into the more dangerous sounding things when I was that age."

Sotalia nods satisfied and carefully deposits the crystal into another box nearby. "That's what I was thinking. Well, to Dellena that one goes. I think I got something for Kalant..."

Her golden eyes flick over to a labeled cardboard box, and she grimaces briefly. "BUT, I need to make sure Sontaila has enough small things to keep her distracted from anything I give Kalant."

Sotalia wanders off in a dialog of thought to herself. In the lull of conversation, Bach studies the space and walks into Sotalia's room, closer to her bed. "Just curious. Um. But, what are you doing, exactly?"

Seconds pass before Sotalia registers Bach's question. She blinks away from an internal debate and breaks free from the task with a shake of her head. "Oh. Yes! I'm figuring out what to gift my nieces and nephews from everything I've found and bought."

Bach glances down with a questioning quirk to his brow. Peeking inside the boxes with names written upon them, he furrows a suspicious stare at Sotalia. "So... You are gifting your nieces and nephews possibly potent magical artifacts?"

Sotalia narrows her gaze and distinctively flits eyebrows up in return. "Oh, yes. I believe I'm not unique in the practice..."

A sly grin grows upon her light tan and dark gray face. "As SOMEONE has demonstrated recently."

Releasing a long sigh, Bach buries his face in his hand and groans, mixing acceptance of fact and defeat from counterpoint. Sotalia chuckles to herself and reaches an arm down deep into a thin rectangular frame next to her. "Don't worry. Anything I gift to my little ones I screen personally. I keep a whole stock of detection strips, meter vials, and the usual kits for figuring out what magic might be bound to these things."

Recovering his face from his hand, he glances around Sotalia's room with interest and stops his gaze upon a few square and rectangular containers in the corner. "Huh. I see. How many of those isolation containers do you have?"

Sotalia retrieves a small scroll out from the space frame and slides her glance to the containers. Tapping a finger upon her lip, she sorts out the accounting. "Aristespha and I originally got a dozen of a few different sizes. Two of them have worn out and their isolation enchantments barely work anymore. One was rendered useless when a dangerous artifact we found in a ruin exploded and sprung every safety on it. So..."

Rocking her head side to side, she wanders her gaze between the transparent vessels. "We have nine working ones, hopefully."

She squints her eyes, leans forward across her bed, and cocks her head to the side. "Is that indicator strip blue?"

Bach steps close to the glass box in question. Kneeling down, he scrutinizes the bluish strip inside next to a small metal cylinder with a bright orange cap upon its end. "Pretty much. Huh. What type of indicator strip is this?"

Lifting herself back, Sotalia plays with the small scroll in her hands and ponders the development. "It's a standard two alpha magical type indicator strip. I'm not surprised it changed, since I remember feeling something strong in it when I picked it up at the dealer room."

Bach stands back up, scratching the back of his head. He shrugs, shaking his head in confusion, and glances back. "Okay. So, what magic would be on a paint pen?"

A nonchalant smile appears on Sotalia, and she draws in a breath in, twirling the scroll over each finger of a hand. "Well... That's what I hope to find out. People have put far more powerful magics on stranger things..."

Bach keeps his face away from Sotalia. Rolling her golden eyes with a smile, Sotalia bites her lip. "Speaking of which..."

Lowering his eyelids half mast, Bach grimaces unamused. A smirk creeps out on Sotalia's face, and she tosses back her dark red hair. "I bought some lovely decorative wooden wands that would be perfect for enchanting into practice focuses."

Bach continues to face away from Sotalia, slowly breathes in, and slowly exhales. Sotalia grins with an evil tinge. "Such application of magic would certainly be a great exercise that would most assuredly count for today's magical training session with me."

Wrestling down a few twists of the mouth, Bach pivots around and smirks in acceptance. "Okay. You got a deal. How many?"

Sotalia angles her head away, brushes some of her hair over a black, swept back horn, and casually plays off her request. "Nine."

A few hard blinks later, Bach shudders his head side to side and aims a scrutinizing stare at Sotalia. "Nine?! How many nieces and nephews do you have?"

Still avoiding direct eye contact, Sotalia counts out. "Three nieces, two nephews, and one nephew on the way."

Bach turns his hands up towards him, counts down from nine, and flexes three remaining fingers on a hand, exaggerating his stare to Sotalia. "And?"

Sotalia sighs and sways her head around against a spark of guilt. "Well. My two sisters, too."

Two fingers curl down to the palm. Bach prominently holds up the remaining index finger. He glances between the finger and Sotalia. Under the incredulous stare from Bach, Sotalia crosses her arms and curls an eyebrow, pouting. "Well! One for me. I'm not missing out."

At the dining table in the living space, Aristespha presses the play icon on her tablet screen and watches another video highlighting the creation of Mylo's wand. Smiling gently, she watches the reaction of the child and his mother, Lalyanpha. She tilts the tablet up from the papers, notes, and research materials coating the tabletop. Sotalia steps out from the hallway archway with a small scroll in hand, Bach following behind. She steps next to Aristespha and peeks over her shoulder, catching the video on the tablet. "Aww. He is such a sweet little boy."

Bach leans his head around, spots a glimpse of the video, and immediately changes course for the couch. "Great... Yet another video has surfaced."

Adjusting a few pillow underneath her claim of the couch, Cideeda snorts and flashes an amused, toothy grin. With a flick of her long, fluffy tail, she lifts her arm lazily up from the side and lowers the volume on the television with the remote. "OH. THAT's nothing. You should SEE the comments on a video posted of you two and Tassilda. I've seen some aethernet forum fights..."

From her lounging spot, she waves out her hands in the air with an eager glint in her emerald green eyes. "But... These? These are AMAZING."

Stretching out her foot from her half of the couch, she cautiously pokes the side of Dretphi's leg with a gentle toe claw tip. "And... There's rumors SOMEONE might make it into the next episode of you-know-what..."

A low grumble rolls out from Dretphi, and she squirms for comfort on her half of the couch, hints of embarrassment sneaking out. Attempting to maintain her stare forward towards the television, she tries to ignore the focus upon her. Eventually, she sighs with a nearly sneering curl to her upper lip. "I apologize. Did not think about the recording equipment at that time."

Sotalia snickers with a grin and glances at Dretphi. "Girl, what's there to apologize for? He asked for everything he got saying THAT to you. I just hope they got a good shot of you throwing him onto the mat, so I can see it."

Dretphi briefly meets Sotalia's gaze, and a smile gradually cracks. She returns her stare to the television. "I am certain the recording equipment functioned properly at his defeat."

Aristespha rests the tablet down upon the table and turns her chair, sliding out towards the rest of the group. Drawing in a long breath, she sighs into a serious gaze over the group. "As the one that files the paperwork for the group, I would like to remind everyone that such activities can alter perceptions of the group and could affect how mission bids are or are NOT accepted."

A sly grin emerges on Aristespha ivory face, and she perks an eyebrow, tossing back her silvery blue hair. "But... Certain sacrifices need to be made from time to time for all the right, unofficial, reasons."

Smug satisfaction wafts over the living room. Second later, Aristespha's violet eyes home in on the small scroll in Sotalia's hand. "What is that? That script on the outside seems to be... an old high Evuukian dialect?"

Sotalia lifts the small scroll up in her hand and presents it to Aristespha. "Oh. It's that decorative star chart I found a few months back. My little sister, Talelia, mentioned that Kalant is getting interested in astronomy. So, I thought he might like this."

Placing the small scroll into Aristespha's awaiting hands, she crosses her arms and grumbles. "But, gods, I can't remember what calendar it uses when you write in a date to look up. Thought you might be able to figure it out quicker."

Aristespha nods, carefully unrolls the scroll, and examines the changing chart and scripts. After a minute of reading, she reflexively groans in disgust. Momentarily sticking her tongue out, she rolls her eyes at the realization. "Bleah. I remember. I am NOT going to honor that man by saying his name. It's practically the ancient Gregorian calendar."

She wrestles down a grimace and sighs. "But, the year and day offset is based on that bastard's birth date."

With care, Aristespha rolls the scroll back up and places it on the table. "Before you gift it, let us see if we can adjust it to the proper Nexus calendar."

Sotalia snorts with a humored curl in the corner of her mouth. "I still can't believe how many Evuukian high nobles tried to push their own calendars after the monarchy was dissolved."

Rubbing the temple of her head, Aristespha groans dismissively and stalely winces. "None of them were above a vanity project, especially... THAT one."

Bach quirks his brow and gazes over to Aristespha, sarcasm heavy in his voice. "Huh. Certainly sounds like a revered historical figure you got there."

Shuddering up to her head, Aristespha draws in a long breath and exhales out tinges of irritation. "Unfortunately, revered by too many evuukians in positions of power... Even today. That man is responsible for popularizing so many terrible aspects of Evuukian culture..."

She tilts her head over and glances sadly at the paused video of Mylo and Lalyanpha. "And making life hard for those that do not follow those aspects."

Bach nods and gazes towards Aristespha with a cautious curiosity. "I've always heard intermarriage with other races is really taboo with some Evuukians."

Aristespha nods slowly and tugs at the corner of her mouth with distant dissatisfaction. "Taboo is a nice way of putting it. Most are disowned by their own families, and many are forced to change their names legally to strip both house and family names from them."

Crossing her arms, she leans back in her chair and chuckles dryly with a dismissive crack of a grin. "It's just considered the proper procedure in proper Evuukian society for anything that could tarnish a family or house. Gods, to think I was that deluded when I was young."

Sotalia pulls a tight smile and momentarily averts her eyes off from anyone, hinting past reflections. "Well. You know better now. That's all that matters."

Scratching his chin, Bach sits down in his lounge chair next to the couch, eyes Aristespha inquisitively, and ponders out loud. "If I'm not digging too much... Umm... What changed your mind?"

Aristespha smiles with a snort and gazes at Bach. "College, of course!"

She places her hand on the side of her face, and her violet eyes search up in her mind. "Specifically, one project comes to mind. I will never forget. It was the start of my second year, and it was a selected topics course in humanoid genetics and history. Oh, that first major project that sneaky professor gave."

Her hands reach out to gesture and demonstrate vague columns and rows of information. "He gave us a sample set of summarized genomes. We had information about the gender and race of each genome in the set. He wanted us to write up a simple ruleset to help categorize another set of genomes by race, that would be at least better than random chance."

Shaking her head Aristespha sighs, and rolls her eyes. She props her head up with her hand. "I was SO certain I had it figured out. Even tried to optimize it to use fewer rules for identification. I turned it in."

Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia crack amused grins. Aristespha dramatically drops her head forward and covers her face with her hands. Bach grits with an awkward smirk. "Not good, I guess?"

Aristespha lifts her head up, gazes up at the ceiling with her hands up, and deflates. "Significantly worse than RANDOM chance upon the greater data set. I was SO furious."

She hisses in a breath through gritted teeth. "I wrote the nastiest aethermail I have ever written to any person. And, I used my entire spring break to research and show him wrong."

Sitting in silent remembrance for a number of seconds, she pulls in air to speak again. "Sunday before the break, I started my research. Wednesday night, I couldn't process any more information. Thursday, I laid in my bed all day and comprehended how much an arrogant bitch I had been. Then, I spent the rest of the break trying to figure out how to make up for the worst aethermail I have ever written to any person."

Aristespha chuckles and smiles at Bach. "Monday after the break, I tried my best to apologize to him, and he just laughed wanting to know what changed my mind. We had an amazing time discussing all the details of what I found."

Bach nods and shrugs nonchalantly, returning the smile. "I didn't take that many biology courses, personally. But, between talking to Kaleb and Shadeesa, it never seemed like there was that much difference between the races."

Aristespha slyly grins and sits up in her chair. "Oh! There is NONE. Biologically, we are all just post-cataclysm humans. No other species have formed."

Guiding out a bundle of her silvery blue hair over her long pointed ears with one hand, she gestures towards her eyes and facial coloration with the other. "The common characteristics that most attribute to defining a race are just a collection of Pre-Cataclysm genetic modifications that have been passed on in physically, socially, or politically isolated groups for hundreds of years. And, the most fascinating part is that the modifications aren't unique to ANY race."

She eyes Bach, focuses upon the white streak in his hair, and points. "For example, that white streak. You have it. Sebastian has it. And from the pictures Sebastian has shown us, your mother has it, too."

A realization lands solidly in Bach's mind, and he blinks a few times, cocking his head to the side. "Come to think of it... My grandfather has it and my great grandmother had it. And, there's a few cousins on my mom's side that have it."

He furrows his brow and sorts through the dawning revelation. "All in the... Same... spot."

Crossing his arms in thought, he wanders his eyes around his mind, pulling down the white streak in question into his sight. Sotalia grins with a chuckle to herself and walks towards the kitchen. "Oh, that's nothing. You should have been here the first time she ranted about all of this to us."

Fighting a wave of embarrassment, Aristespha twists her mouth and stiffens her posture. "Well, I was a drink too far that night and made the mistake of watching political news. I've learned to never let the two mix again with anyone else nearby."

Cideeda flexes out her hand in front of her and examines the claw tips on each finger contentedly. "Still pretty amazing how it's the same modification that gives Fvalians claws and Emin their nails."

Dretphi raises her arm up and rotates her forearm to show Bach the gray stripes on her skin. "Never thought my skin would be similar to both Emin, Evuukian."

Sotalia withdraws her head from inside the refrigerator, takes a moment to pose her head to showcase the side, and traces the edge of her pointed ears with a finger. "Same old modification on both Emin and Evuukian."

Bach shifts his attention between the different examples with interest. Eventually, he settles down in his chair and shakes his head. "Huh. So, all the same mechanisms with just different settings?"

Aristespha slowly nods in confirmation. "Exactly. Often, modifications are present but have very mundane parameters. So, you will never know they exist normally. There's so much to be researched when it comes to how iterative generations, mutations, and magical influences have affected the modifications."

She shifts some papers on the table nearby to the other of the table and positions the small scroll in the middle of the bare tabletop. "I was VERY interested in that field, but standard and magical medicine captured my heart more. Though, I still read up on the latest developments."

Sebastian drifts through the sliding glass door and adjusts his altitude to coast clear of the television screen. "Well, nothing to report on the neighbors. Looks like they either are busy or not currently trying to spy on us."

Landing next to the dining table on his feet, he glances around to everyone else curiously. "So... Did I miss something?"

Bach directs Sebastian's attention to his white streak and with an amused smirk. "Talking about ancient genetic modifications we inherited."

Sebastian lights up with interest and grins, the thought welling up in his mind. "Oh yeah, bro. It's actually pretty neat stuff they're figuring out."

He smiles lovingly at Aristespha. "What was the name of that paper you got a while back, dear?"

Aristespha carefully unrolls the small scroll out on the table top, pauses a moment, and glances towards Sebastian. "I think it was called New Methods in Detecting the Propagation of Pre-Cataclysm Genetic Modifications, Sebastian."

Sebastian's ghostly form floats up, leans over the table, and peeks at the small scroll. "They talked about how most people have at least one modification somewhere in their DNA, and it reminded me of that lab partner I had for that forensics elective I took."

Moments later, Bach stops sifting through memories and gazes at Sebastian, quirking his brow. "The one with green hair?"

Nodding, Sebastian briefly grits his teeth with an ethereal sigh of defeat. "Yeah. We had a lab using microscopes to analyze hair. I jokingly suggested something about making a bet on what her natural hair was... She warned me that it was green. But, I decided to call her bluff with dinner at a nice restaurant as the wager..."

Sebastian contorts his mouth a few ways, his pride shrinking a bit. He shrugs with his arms in the air. "So. Well. After paying for a very expensive dinner-"

Bach grumbles to himself in the middle of Sebastian's sentence. "And eating all your brother's frozen dinners for a month..."

Furrowing his brow, Sebastian ignores his brother's addition. "I learned there are just some things you take someone's word for. Proved to be a lot cheaper for me when I followed that rule."

Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia sit around the end of the dining room table watching the pictures and text upon the small scroll shift and change erratically. Aristespha's glowing violet eyes dim to normal, and she removes her hands away from thick fabric. In moments, the visuals settle down to stable and consistent imagery and script. Sotalia smiles and checks her aetherphone, comparing a picture of the night sky to the diagram upon the scroll. "Looks like a match to me. Well, at least what it should look like tonight."

Bach blinks away the glow from his blue eyes and rests back in his chair at the table. "I would NOT be surprised if they had a huge stock of these and just hacked in that date adjustment."

Closing her eyes briefly, she shakes her head and dismissively rolls her eyes. "I am certain someone tried to make a quick profit by selling these as promotional materials. Thankfully, it was simple enough to undo."

Sotalia rolls the woven material back up and happily holds the scroll in her hands. "Thank you, so much. I hope Kalant likes it."

Aristespha opens her mouth to speak and halts. She glances down at her side towards a chime emanating from her pants pocket. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieves her aetherphone and furrows her surprised brow reading the screen. "It's Nash! And... He's making the call?"

She quickly taps a few on-screen buttons, rests the phone down upon the tabletop, and directs her voice. "Hello, Nash. I have you on speakerphone."

Nash's voice sounds out along with a repetitious background squeak of a rolling chair, wariness hints into Nash's tone. "Good. So... I'd like to make sure everyone can hear this. I've got... News.

Sebastian hovers closer to Aristespha. Cideeda's ears perk up, and she sits up on her part of the couch. Dretphi reaches over to the coffee table, presses the mute button on the television remote, and twists her upper body towards the dining table. After a long exhale echoes out in the distant room and the phone's speaker, Nash resumes. "We've started to figure out the system based on the data you gave us. We haven't figured out what the extra data is all about, but I've been able to map the coordinates to locations using a current standard coordinate system. But..."

The idle chair squeaks stop, light taps slip into the call, and shoes plant themselves upon a tile floor. Nash sighs and groans. "Oh, fuck it... I'll drop it now. I asked myself one of those questions."

He grumbles under his breath and pauses for a breath. "I asked myself, how the hell does anyone know a login to a system this old. Answer? They don't. They crack it."

Aristespha leans closer to the phone, concern growing on her face. "Nash? Are you okay?"

Nash coughs, collects himself, and brightens up the tone in his voice. "Me, personally? Oh. I'm fine. Really... It's just I'm about to tell you all some details that just make room for harder questions."

Tension squelches another uncomfortable grumble, and Nash clears his throat into a sigh. "But... Long story short, someone cracked this system with Grand Library software... Five years ago."

Surprise and confusion spreads through the group. Everyone exchanges reactions, returning full focus upon Nash's voice from the phone. Nash continues the explanation. "Judging from the Oh Shit gasps and silence I heard, you are just as surprised as I was. But wait! It gets WEIRDER. The software used was ten years old. AND... It's not the stolen hacking edition that most of your black market tomb raiders often use. This was the official, tagged, archaeological edition."

Bach squints and grimaces, resting his chin down upon the palm of his hand. "Um. So, what's the difference between the two editions?"

A rolling tap of fingers upon a desk resonates through the speaker of the phone, and Nash thoughtfully breaths in. "Well... The hacking edition is designed to get the job done no matter what. While the archaeological edition is designed to carefully open systems up, preserve the integrity of the target, and leave notes about anything changed for other researchers. It's the difference between drunkenly chainsawing a door open while raging about your ex, versus using precision tools to calculate and create a proper key to unlock the door."

With an understanding nod, Bach acknowledges the statement, and furrows his perplexed brow at the analogy. "That is strange. Why would someone use that software to perform that task? And, huh..."

Nash's voice mirrors the confusion rising in Bach's tone. "No, exactly! The only thing I can think of is that it was the only thing whoever had at the time. Which makes this next detail a bit frightening to think about. That recent login you all suspect that Noxian used to acquire that data set... Was the same login created by that software five years ago."

Aristespha's ivory skin pales further and shock widens her violet eyes. She covers the mouth over her dropping jaw. Sebastian blinks in sheer bewilderment. He shifts his focus to Aristespha and attempts to get her attention, checking on her. An awkward, tense silence looms above the room, and minds process out new possibilities. Nash's voice rises up from the background noise on the other side of the call. "Now! I don't know any more than that! So, PLEASE don't make any assumptions yet!"

Flit of frustration slips out, and he groans. "I want to make sure I get ALL the information first. Especially, before I have to report this to the Grand Library's Powers-That-Be."

After a few waves of Sebastian's ethereal hand, Aristespha shudders back to awareness and draws a careful breath with a nod to Sebastian. "I'll send you anything you need. This is certainly a... Twist."

Chuckling to himself, Nash humors against the stagnant stress. "Oh, yes! This is WAY too much serious business for me. I'm just supposed to babysit graduate students and play tablet games during budget meetings. But... I'll do my best. Well, I really got back to this, but I wanted to pass this info along to you all. I'll send you the mapped out coordinates we've gotten so far."

Aristespha smiles and speaks in a soft, comforting tone to her phone. "Are you going to be okay, Nash?"

A laugh sounds out from the phone, and Nash snorts. "YEAH. Don't worry. It's nothing a refresher course in all the ways I misspent my youth won't fix. You all take care. Really."

Before pressing the hang up button on the screen, Aristespha calmly speaks with warmth. "We will. You do so, too."

The prior awkward silence rises up and hangs above the team. A message notification rings out from the aetherphone. A tablet on the table buzzes moments later. Aristespha checks her phone and reaches out to the tablet. Tapping through screens to an aethermail open on the screen, she sighs to an uncomfortable grimace. "Well. Here is the coordinate list. It seems like he has figured out what timestamp format they were using and sorted by most recent activity. He has put notes on a few entries about anything located near the coordinates."

Aristespha reads out coordinate numbers from the list along with Nash's notes. After a dozen readings, her voice drifts with the monotony of the task, distracting her focus. Mentioning a series of numbers, Cideeda's ears perk up, and her eyes flash open wide, surprise tensing her posture rigidly. "WAIT! What was that one, again?!"

Aristespha glances curiously to Cideeda and carefully recounts the coordinates. Cideeda leaps up from the couch and searches the area in a driven hunt. " Where's THE map?! That sounds familiar for some reason!"

Dretphi thinks to herself briefly, pulls herself to her feet, and holds a finger up with a bite of a lip. She rushes through the hallway archway to the office. The sounds of rummaging and shifting items echo out into the living room. Dretphi steps back into the room with a large folded map in her hands. She spreads the map out onto the tabletop with Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia securing it down. Cideeda slips into a space between chairs, leans over, scans over the entire map. A clawed finger hovers above the longitude axis at the top of the map, and carefully moves down square divisions of latitude. Her claw point glides along, searching. It slows over a familiar, prior made indentation on the material. Resting her point down, Cideeda's claw tip fits onto the spot perfectly. With a toothy, proud grin, she taps the spot and gazes over the team with an air of victory. Sotalia blinks in surprise, dropping her jaw slightly, and rests her hands on her hips with a conceding nod. "Well. I'll be damned. You were right, girl."

Aristespha compares the location and the notes on her tablet. "That is a match... But..."

She squints between the listing on screen and the thick paper of the map. "That location's timestamp is ten years old."

Tilting her head to the side, Aristespha entertains a spark of intrigue and furrows her brow with the fury of thought. Sebastian ethereal form nods with determination and a growing grin and stands up confidently. "I think we found our next place to visit! It might be an old timestamp, but Noxian has been reported to have been spotted around there in the past. And now, the place he visited recently points it out, too."

Sebastian assumes a more heroic posture and smiles at the group. "That's enough to be worth the trip to me. Any objections?"

No objections present themselves over the idle pondering and figuring of the group over the new information. Dretphi enters data into her phone, squints at a sketched out route, and turns the screen towards the group. "Travel will be two days. Location is remote. Need to prepare to establish a camp. Recommend two weeks of supplies."

Cideeda nods in agreement, studying the map closely. "Yeah, that sounds good. If we're there for a week, we'll probably need to come back anyway."

Aristespha sits back in her chair, stretches her arms out with her back, and focuses upon her tablet. "I will inform all the usual people. I will also let the guild and Grand Library watchdogs know."

Bach quirks his brow and seeks further explanation. "Huh, sorry, but guild and Grand Library watchdogs?"

Sebastian gazes to Bach and motions with his hand. "Oh. Yeah, they're groups you let know when you are going on risky trips and quests. That way if you don't check in or respond to calls after a certain time, they know to send people after you."

Pondering a moment, Bach directs an inquisitive stare at Sebastian. "So... Have you ever needed them?"

Collective stale annoyance floats up to the surface from the rest of the group, and Sebastian sighs with a tangible dip in pride. "YES. ONCE."

Narrowing her emerald green eyes, Cideeda shakes her head with a growl and flicks down her furry ears. "Let's put it this way. There's a REALLY good reason there's a lock on the humvee's fuel door and mesh screen collar inserts in the fueling tubes."

Sotalia crosses her arms tightly and sneers her upper lip. "GODS! Fuck that hick town of thieving shits. I still think most courts would have seen fireballing that place as justified."

A television flickers out the bright and colorful graphics of a video game on the screen in a modestly decorated living room. Many toys litter the area with a few partially wedged between couch cushions and piled on top of other things on a nearby bookshelf. Sitting next to Mason, Mylo rocks a game controller in his hands with the action on screen. He frantically presses buttons on the controller. Frustrations slip out in grumbles and growls. Flopping back into a blanket covered couch, he frowns at the television playing a loud jingle for the game character's demise. "Not fair!"

Mylo sits back up, gazes pleadingly at Mason, and pushes the game controller into his hands. "Can you get past this part, daddy?"

Smiling at his son, Mason grips the controller and shakes his head with a laugh. "Okay. But, you really need to do these parts yourself. I can't just do all the hard ones for you."

With a quick nod, Mylo snaps his attention back to the television screen. " I know. I'll do the next hard one. Promise."

Mason smirks knowingly, chuckles, and narrows his brown eyes to the task before him. "Sure. Okay. Now, watch carefully. I'll show you the boss's pattern."

With a warm smile, Lalyanpha watches Mylo and Mason together on the couch. Turning back from the archway into the small, simple kitchen, she adjusts a few dials on the oven. She lifts a lid on a pot and inspects the food cooking inside. Opening a cabinet, she reveals a number of mixed style and theme ceramic dishes inside. She retrieves three plates from a stack inside the cabinet to the countertop, opens a drawer below the counter top, and hovers a hand over the utensils. A ring tone sounds out from her apron pocket, freezing her rigidly with the unique and familiar chime. Carefully, she slowly draws out the aetherphone, raises it up to her eye level, and stares at the caller's ID in Evuukian. Closing her eyes, Lalyanpha strains a breath in and releases to slow exhale. She opens her dark yellow eyes and musters a stoic expression upon her face. Tapping the answer button on the screen, she places the phone against her long pointed ear and responds in a monotone proper high evuukian greeting.

An older male voice replies back in an equally stoic, monotone cadence. Both sides of the conversation continue dryly, stilted at each awkward pause. The strain of the exchange wears upon Lalyanpha, chiseling away the edges of her strong facade. Summoning her resolve, she steels herself. The older male voice wavers and staggers. In the moment, Lalyanpha puzzles and clicks the volume up on the phone, furrowing her brow and concentrating on the other voice. Stammers hinder the other voice. Eventually, through the wavering tone, the question arrives to Lalyanpha's ear. Her posture relaxes faintly, her eyes search her mind for the reason, and she answers back in the confusion. "Mylokia."

The silence lingers for seconds. Sniffles lead to sobs. Almost audible tears echo from the phone's speaker. Lalyanpha dark yellow eyes spring wide open, and absolute shock and concern flood her face. Covering her mouth, she desperately searches herself for how to react. She speaks with a shaky, worried tone to the other voice with questioning and confused phrases. After a series of sniffs, the older male voice collects himself and calms himself enough to relay a long careful sentence. He pauses thoughtfully and speaks key, purposeful words. Lalyanpha gasps softly and clasps her mouth with her hand. Firmly closing her eyes, tears gush out down her cheeks. The voice on the other end of the call wanders off in audible, uncertain thought, regret rising through the lost pacing. Lalyanpha removes her hand from her face and reveals a tear covered smile of absolute elation. Her voice fights through sniffles and stammers, and a warm, cheerful statement leaves her. The conversation continues with moments of emotion that keep a smile on Lalyanpha and a happy tone from the other side of the call.

On the living room television, a final power shot and trick slide from the player character drops the boss down in defeat. The level completion screen flies up and a blitz of numbers spin up with elaborate animations. Mylo cheers out and happily rocks on the couch. "That was amazing!"

Chuckling, Mason ruffles the dirty blonde hair on Mylo's head. "Many years of practice, son."

The sounds and music quiet down for the level transition. Hearing a series of familiar sniffs and sighs, Mason glances towards the archway leading to the kitchen and concern tints his expression. He returns the controller to Mylo. Patting him on the head, he smiles and gets up off the couch. "Give the next level a shot. I'll go check to see how far along mom is with dinner, okay?"

Mylo nods quickly, faces the television, and presses buttons on the controller. Mason carefully walks at a normal pace across the living room and passes through an archway. With an immediate pivot towards Lalyanpha, he quickly and carefully approaches. Standing holding her phone to her chest, Lalyanpha stares idly, her head slightly down, and sighs. Mason gently wraps his arms around her and guides her close. "Is everything okay, Laly?"

Lalyanpha breathes out and rests her head against Mason's shoulder. "My father called."

Mason grimaces, nearly frowning, and tries to comfort Lalyanpha. "I'm so sorry-"

A renewed smile appears on her, and Lalyanpha places a hand onto Mason's face. "He- Someone sent him one of the videos of Mylo and me at the convention."

Her eyes search her mind, and she gazes at Mason. "He asked to know his name. He heard the name..."

Darting around her memory, she furrows her brow. "He cried... I've never heard him cry."

Gazing up lovingly to Mason, new tears wait in her eyes, and she wraps her arms around him. "He said... He wants to come meet his grandson. He wants to meet... His daughter's-"

Lalyanpha pauses. Closing her eyes to squeeze out new lines of tears, she concludes the sentence with delight hidden beneath old pain. "...son."

Mason gazes upon Lalyanpha, manages to fold up a clean section of his shirt off his chest, and dries off the tears on her. The two enjoy quiet moments in each other's arms and share a quick kiss. Mason gently sways Lalyanpha around in his arms with her shifting her weight in sync. Eventually, the two let each other go. Lalyanpha moves to inspect dinner, and Mason examines the area. Scratching his head with a tinge of nervous energy, he chuckles. "Well... Any time frame for when he's going to visit? We don't exactly have the biggest place. But, we can manage something... I'm sure."

Shaking her head with a smirk, she opens the oven door. "Nothing yet. We both agreed to talk about it later after we've both emotionally rested. He also has to talk to mother. But, she'll be EASY to convince."

Mason exhales in relief and studies the vicinity. "Good. Good... I just want to make sure the place is presentable-"

With over mitts on her hands, Lalyanpha stands, gripping a covered pan, and lifts an amused eyebrow at Mason. "We live in a house with a four year old. THIS is as presentable as this place is going to get for them."

The groan of an annoyed child radiates into the kitchen. Mason turns with a point towards the archway. "Speaking of which, I better go help him out, again."

A warm smile meets Mason's glance back. With a wink, Lalyanpha rests the pan down upon the counter. "Keep him occupied for ten more minutes, and we should be good for dinner."

Mason nods, gives a thumbs up, and steps through the archway into the living room. "What's wrong Mylo? Another hard part?"