Episode 25

Emerald green eyes peer out through the small, ajar door within the larger modern doorway. A furry ear flicks out and scans the soundscape nearby. A few sweeps later, Cideeda narrows her focus upon an opaque safety panel upon a balcony railing. She lowers herself to a cautious crawl across the ancient stone flooring and slinks silently up, placing her back against the mounted surface. Wrestling moments of suspicion, she hunts for threats around the long walkway, overlooking a massive cavernous space. Satisfying her paranoia, she edges her head close to the gap between panel and railing post. Her eyes spring wide open in surprise, and she snaps her shocked stare at the doorway. Holds a finger to her lips, she jerks a thumb over her shoulder. She points to either side of herself down the walkway and nods silently. With care to angle the contact, a heavy boot slowly presses down up the stonework floor, and Dretphi cautiously creeps in, ducking down low into a crouch next to Cideeda. Her hands secure her sub-machine gun and the large rifle on her back from rattling against hard armor plates. Kneeling next to her railing panel, she watches over the area. A faint ethereal glow illuminates near the door, and Sebastian's transparent face gazes at Cideeda in anticipation. Nodding with a calm, serious stare, she points to the huge circular opening above to the sky, and mouths. "Open air. Bright."

Sebastian reaches his arm out low and watches his visage's glow blend with the ambient sunlight in the area. He silently floats just over the floor to another railing panel. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia creep out in a loose line and fan out to positions in the shadows behind Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian. Pairs of eyes peek around the gaps between panels and railing posts, and dart wide-eyed upon the vast area. Aristespha mumbles to herself. "Gods... What is this place?

Beams of sunlight flood down upon the massive circular platform, and the shade from overhead clouds drifts across the long diameter. Intricate meshes of ceramic, glass, metal, and advanced polymer form concentric rings around a central disc. Faint waves of white light flow inwards in sync to the low resonating hum. Wavering, snaking shadows develop underneath and contrast the warps of space just above the surface of the platform. From beyond the outer edges, translucent white energy flows into the twisting air and swims through the space towards the middle. Upon the central point, a humanoid figure stands within a gentle vortex of magical flow, energy constantly merging into the person's body. Heavy leather boots shift for a wider stance. Worn cotton dress pants faintly ripple with the waves of power swirling around. Long sleeves cover rising arms, and fingers flex within form fitting leather gloves. The hood of the pullover jacket lifts, revealing wisps of white hair fanning in the aether breeze. A bright blue scarf in a tight wrap obscures most of the tan face, and a pair of gray eyes pulsate white with the waves of energy. Jaw hanging, Sebastian opens up his eyes fully, astonishment overtaking. "Noxian."

All other pairs of eyes immediately lock on to Noxian in shock and awe, certain pairs glowing blue, violet, and flickering gold. A minute later, heads turn back away from the gaps, and the team exchange uncomfortable glances. Aristespha slowly releases a tense breath and blankly stares off in uneasy thought. "I did not recognize him immediately. But... That handle of Elder magic flow is his. With what the sword said..."

Furrowing her brow, she wrestles down her grimace. "That has to be HIM."

Sotalia narrows her stare towards the rest of the team and sneers, confusion tainting her doubt. "How? I've felt his presence before. I would have been able to sense him well before this point if this was him."

Shaking his head, Sebastian frowns tightly and swallows hard. "It's HIM. I know those eyes. He may not have that old mask and outfit anymore."

Glancing over his shoulder, he squints through a nearby gap, a mix of natural sun and magical light casting through his ethereal form. "But... That is HIM."

He attempts a reassuring smile to Sotalia, only managing a reserved smirk. "He's changed his tactics from the last time we ran into him. Even the sword didn't pick him up until now. He's been very stealthy and sparing with his magic lately."

A daring grin pushes away the sneer and doubt, and Sotalia perks her brow with a bright, eager glint in her golden eyes. "He might be low on elder energy."

A curl of a lip quivers on Aristespha's ivory face, and her glowing violet eyes analyze the gentle vortex flowing around and into Noxian. "Might HAVE been. He's drawing in energy from that device."

She squints through a gap and sighs. "It must be a collector? A storage system of sorts? I don't know at the moment."

Peeking through the gap near her, Sotalia gazes over the team, determination bold upon her face, and harshly whispers. "Well! We can't just let him charge back up! We HAVE to stop him!"

Sebastian stares at Sotalia, lifts a calming hand, and nods. "I know. BUT, we are facing a HUGE unknown here. We have no idea what he's like after he tried his power against that rift down in Anta."

Furrowing his brow with his racing mind, he deliberates between determination and caution. The humming peaks and suddenly dies off to silence. The group watches the circular platform and Noxian. Moments of silence later, Noxian's head levels down from basking in the flow, and he glances around in brief bewilderment. His shoulders droop, head lowers, and he pinches the bridge of nose with a grumbling groan. His low growls of frustration echo out against the surrounding, encircling tall walls of the huge chamber. Cideeda's furry ears flick to a string of complaints, and she concentrates on the muffled sounds, curling a toothy smile. "I think the machine down there is a bit cranky from age. Doesn't sound like it's going to plan."

The magic flows fade. Slight warps of light loosely follow Noxian stepping off the center disc. He walks across the circular platform to a lone control station just outside the perimeter. Standing in front of the ancient control station, he stares, huffs, and contemplates the new predicament. Thoughts play out underneath the blue scarf covering his lower face. Noxian presses a series of icons on a changing surface, adjusts knobs, and slides levers. Checks read outs, lights, meters, and other measurement equipment, he waits. Second later, he shakes his head and attempts another series of tweaks. Sebastian flashes an eager grin, turns his head away from watching Noxian, and quietly addresses the group. "Okay. This might be our chance. Cideeda and Dretphi, I need you two to sneak into some opposing cover from good vantage points."

Dretphi peeks her helmeted head just above the top of the safety railing and searches around the chamber. She scrutinizes the large evenly spaced support pillars for the balcony and small awning roof overhead. "Pillars present the better option."

Tilting her head down, she surveys the area below and searches around the circular platform. "Other options below. None grant an ideal firing position. Protective cover. Hiding spots."

Sebastian scans along the outer rim, spotting containers, relics, abandoned machinery, debris, and piles of never deployed safety platform equipment. "Okay. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia. We need to figure out how to shut that machine down enough to keep it useless for Noxian."

Narrowing his stare at ancient control station and Noxian, he grimaces with a grumble. "Preferably as safe as possible. Of course, given current circumstances, we might need to push it a bit."

He meets Aristespha's and Sotalia's gazes, and cranes his head towards Bach. "Hey, bro? Did you hear what I said?"

Bach stares silently at Noxian, a neutral expression devoid of emotion. Slow shuddering breaths escape him, and a constant slight tremor shakes his hand idly resting on his leg. Dretphi follows Sebastian's concern to Bach, along with everyone else. She calmly reaches her hand out, gently rests it upon Bach's shoulder, and firmly squeezes. "Bach?"

Her hand buffers a tense flex of Bach's back. Startled, Bach squelches an involuntary gasp and blinks back to awareness. He turns towards Dretphi's warm, worried smile. Glancing around to Aristespha, Cideeda, Sebastian, Sotalia, and Sebastian, he shudders back to his senses. "Oh gods. Sorry. Just spaced out there..."

Breathing out his relief, Sebastian nods with a comforting smile. "Don't worry, bro. None of us really expected to find him here. NOW. Maybe signs he was here at some point, but..."

He twists an uneasy smirk and motions towards the center of the huge chamber. "THIS is a bit more than what I expected, to be honest."

After grimacing the emotionally concealing blank expression off his face, Bach forces a slight smile and sighs. "Seems to be the running theme of this place."

The team shares a series of nods, head shaking sighs, and other expressions playing off stress. Noxian stands up straight, draws a long breath, and crosses his arms. Exhaling his frustrations loudly, he studies another series of readings upon a magical screen streaming ancient text. He squints his gray eyes, studies the output, and springs his eyes open, his body tensing. Straightens his posture momentarily, he bounces his eyes around the boundaries of his vision. He relaxes his form and resumes a cool, collected exterior. Calmly pivoting, he meticulously hunts around the arena, paying careful attention to the shadowy areas and the long, surrounding balcony.

Sebastian dons a confident grin and softly addresses the group. "Okay. One last time to make sure..."

He glances between Cideeda and Dretphi. "Cideeda and Dretphi, take hidden firing positions, and be ready for the signal over the radio or by me."

Gazing over the other, he instructs. "Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia, try to get close to the control part of that machine and figure out how to shut it down..."

He furrows his brow and twists an uncertain grin. "Or do whatever the hell will shut it down for good."

Pointing around, he motions towards different sections nearby. "As for getting down, there's some stairs over there. Otherwise, maybe one of the ladders down will work. We'll see. I'll try to keep watch over and be ready to be a-"

A cool, collected voice projects itself out into the area. "Excuse me. Who. Is. Here?"

Tension seizes everyone. Sebastian's jaw hangs open in shock, and his pupils shift to the corner, leading his stare over his shoulder. Noxian steps away from the control panel and walks upon the dusty stonework floor surrounding the perimeter of the platform. "I KNOW you are here. Something has changed in this area recently. You have been detected."

Squinting his gray eyes, he methodically guides his stare along the walls of the huge, circular chamber. "So. Please show yourself. I do not mean you immediate harm."

Noxian angles his head towards suspicious points around the vicinity and pauses, seeking out signs of activity. "To be quite honest, I am actually quite curious as to how..."

Lifting a graying eyebrow, he cocks his head slightly to the side and sweeps his searching stare. "And, WHY are you here?"

Worry weighs down upon Sebastian, and he watches the looming tension press upon the team. They remain silent and expectant. Searches his mind, he lowers his head and his ethereal eyes flip through his thoughts. He stops, lifts his head up with a reassuring smile, and nods. "Okay. Keeping almost the same plan, while he's distracted, try to do your parts."

Aristespha narrows her stare at Sebastian, reading the details on his face. "Sebastian... How are we going to distract him?"

A sly smirk boldly appears upon Sebastian's face, and he quirks his brow deviously. "Well... With the one thing he doesn't expect to see."

Tense silence weighs down upon the arena. Standing upon the platform in the middle of the cavernous space, Noxian narrows his expectant stare and hunts for disturbances or movement around him, pausing upon anything vaguely suspicious. He pivots and steps towards the control panel. Leaning forward, he squints at the status messages flowing upon the magical surface. He stares at the screen in contemplation and rereads the same numbers, text color contrasting the other values upon the display.

"So... Noxian! How's it been?"

Noxian's eyes snap wide open, and his upper body swings to the source of the ethereal voice. Glaring at the source, he rears his head back in utter shock. He shudders to his senses, focus renewing upon the visage in front of him. "S-Sebastian?!"

With transparent arms casually to his sides, Sebastian shrug nonchalantly. A smug grin shines upon his ghostly form, and he lifts an eyebrow with a faint chuckle. "Yes. In the... spirit, I guess? Maybe, in spirit?"

Stepping forward towards Noxian, he crosses his arms confidently. "Didn't expect to see me again, didn't you?"

Gray eyes sort through the rush of confusion, and Noxian contorts the bewilderment upon face, underneath his blue scarf. "Well, not exactly... Especially, considering our last encounter was less than... amicable?"

Sebastian's grin deflates to a mere smile, and he locks his stare at Noxian. "You can fucking say THAT for certain."

Straightening his thinner frame tensely, Noxian lifts his head up and returns the stare back to Sebastian. "Speaking of our last encounter, I saw the news report. I need to ask...

Faint pains of worry manifest into a grimace, and he sighs uncomfortably. "Do you know if there were any other casualties besides yourself?"

Sebastian perks an intrigued brow and tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Not really. I caught most of that blast of yours, and the whole aether rift kicked up a serious concussion wave when it slammed shut. Maybe some broken bones and I think one guy got knocked out by some debris caught up in the wave. Chipped a tooth maybe? Of course, I did hear all this SECONDHAND."

Tension eases within Noxian's body, and he relaxes into a reserve, guarded posture. "That is a great relief to hear. I'm certainly glad no one else suffered. I had difficulty garnering any reliable information after that incident."

Drifting gradually closer to Noxian, Sebastian maintains a cautious watch of him. "Most of the aether network towers in the region overloaded, and I think the network news crew's feed got cut. Nothing using the aether relay system worked for days around there, and radio barely functioned."

He sneers and groans to a trialing grumble. "I'm guessing the news producers decided to take some artistic liberties with the presentation to punch the drama up."

Noxian rolls his eyes long and sways his head side to side, the curling of his lip showing under the scarf. "Oh, tell me about it. Depraved and morbid as the usual tactic."

He eyes the control console display momentarily and darts his eyes around the area with an uneasy sigh. "Sebastian. I do not know what has happened to you, but I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to say this."

Through blue scarf, the remorseful frown's outline reveals itself, and Noxian's gaze softens. "I am sincerely sorry for the results of my actions towards you. I had to stop you... But, I truly wanted something far less than your demise."

Sebastian cocks his head and examines Noxian's covered face with an itching glare and an eyebrow lift. "I guess that's the best apology I'm going to get, so..."

Contorting a reluctant smirk, he sighs with an ethereal reverb. "Thank you? Haven't quite made it to forgiveness yet. I'm sure you understand."

With a slow nod, Noxian releases a singular laugh. Glancing back to the control system status display, he subtly seeks around the area within his field of view. "Yes. I do understand. I very well can't blame you, either."

Sebastian straightens up and eyes Noxian with a growing sneer. "OKAY. Noxian. What ARE you doing HERE?"

Noxian tilts his head and flits his brow at Sebastian, a smirk barely perceptible through the scarf. "Well... If you have been here a while, the blatantly obvious. Finding a path towards completing my goals."

Blending reluctance and wonder, he gazes out over the platform and surrounding chamber. "It turns out this ancient place could be of service to me... Still."

Averting his head away from Sebastian, his face winces with a thought. A long mournful breath escapes, and his eyes close tightly, painfully with the exhale. Reopens his eyes slowly, he forces the traces of sadness back down and meets Sebastian's stare again. He cocks his head to the side, puzzling. Furrowing his brow, he squints suspiciously at Sebastian. "So, all in fair play... What are YOU doing HERE?"

Noxian's gray stare pierces right through Sebastian, both figuratively and literally. Sebastian works up to a grin and postures darkly and sinisterly. "Haunting you, of course! Why else would my ghostly form present itself to you? Stranger things happen all the time."

A deep smile manifests underneath the blue scarf wrapping Noxian's face. Closing his eyes hard, he laughs genuinely, echoing into the chamber. His eyes open and emit a bright white light. He widens his stare and tips his posture back, curious. Casually pointing to Sebastian, Noxian motions his hand with his pondering. "Now, that is a curious form of existence you presently find yourself in. Hmm... Interesting."

Narrowing his distant gaze to a thought, he wonders out loud and idly pantomimes a rolling gesture with his hand. "That damned sword of the? Of the?"

Sebastian wrestles down a surge of frustration and groans, blatant annoyance dipping his words in sarcasm. "Legendary Sword of the Spirit Realm..."

A faint sneer interrupts Noxian's smile under the scarf. "Gods. That has to be a translation error. I do not remember anything from that period having that fanciful of a title. But... That unique energy signature is quite unmistakable."

Leveling his head, he stares at Sebastian and draws in a slow breath. With a tinge of warmth and a pleading tone hinting, he calmly explains. "Before anything else happens... Your group has shown themselves to be the heroes that Nexus should have. And, the heroes that will still be needed. Even more so, when I set things right again. So..."

Furrowing his brow, Noxian stares right into Sebastian's translucent blue eyes. "I will make this offer again to you and your group. Stop hunting me. Let me do what needs to be done. And, I will do what I can to undo the harm I've caused."

An eerie silence presses down over the two. They keep their eyes locked upon each other. A minute later, a defiant grin splits wide on Sebastian, and he chuckles to himself. "Sorry. But I'm going to have to go with a solid... NO."

Rolling his shoulders to stretch, Noxian laughs and nods in grim acceptance. "To be quite honest, I would question my judgment of character if you had said... Yes."

He calmly walks towards the control machinery. Maintaining a watch over the surrounding area, he alternates between high balcony spots and low areas around the scattered debris and abandoned equipment. Sebastian's stare follows Noxian. Hovering closer to Noxian, Sebastian flares up his ethereal form brighter. "Stop right there, Noxian! Keep away from those controls. You can stop all this right now. LEAVE. IT. ALONE. NOW."

Noxian halts, glances over his shoulder at Sebastian, and lifts an amused brow. Returning his head forward toward the control system, he reaches out with a finger and approaches a button. "I wonder who will-"

Two blue beams flash out from the darkness near the support pillar. The streaks of light impact a warping coating of space around Noxian's center mass and refract off into chaotic scatters of illumination at his sides. Noxian narrows a humored, smirking glare towards the attack's origin. "Cideeda! I see you brought your laser pistols today."

Eying the balcony support, he lifts an open palm up to aim and furrows his brow. "I'm certain you've slunk off to another position. But, I can't very well leave that convenient hiding spot intact."

A small marble of white energy condenses in front of Noxian's palm. With a sudden flex of his fingers, a ray erupts and digs into the ancient stone pillar, flooding the area with blinding light. A spread of brilliantly glowing cracks overtake the structure completely. With a final flicker, the support crumbles into a pile of large, loose gravel. Newly formed chunks of rock rain down through balcony railing gaps onto the floor below, each impacts cracking loudly. Three pairs of eyes glowing violet, blue, and wavering gold briefly watch the spectacle. From behind the cover of a heavy cargo container, they return their stares towards the control station. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia exchange understanding glances and nod in silent agreement. Along with Bach and Sotalia, Aristespha ducks back down behind and out of view. Lifting up her aetherphone close to her mouth, she keys the radio function. "Dretphi. Shoot the control console. It drives the logic behind the system to move energy around, but does not seem to be active in controlling any other function."

From behind another support pillar opposite the newly graveled side of the balcony walkway, Dretphi peeks out cautiously. Through her helmet visor, she scans the situation below with a massive rifle in hand. "Need time to prepare the shot. I will be dangerously exposed. Arrange a distraction?"

An eager, confident grin explodes on Sotalia's face, and an orb of fire materializes from swirls of magical flow above the palm of her hand. "OH. One distraction coming up!"

With a fanciful flurry, Sotalia pitches a series of fireballs from alternating hands, traversing the spaces between cover. Noxian cracks a brief smile, pivots towards the incoming projectiles, and extends his arms out. "There you are, Sotalia! I was quite curious how long you could actually wait before taking a shot at me."

His eyes brighten briefly and eruptions of energy burst out from his hands. Within a meter of himself, the projected power pops the fireballs effortlessly, fizzling into drifting, magical mist. Lifting an intrigued brow, Noxian hems and rolls his shoulders. "Well... These feel a little different than before. Interesting."

Aristespha peeks around the container and pulls back, securing a firm grip around the handle of the sword at her side. The sword rattles intensely inside its scabbard, and Aristespha contorts her annoyance out on her face. Tightening her grip on the hilt, she closes her eyes and exhales in concentration. Sebastian halts, briefly diverts his attention inwards, and smirks mischievously at Noxian. Zipping in front of Noxian, Sebastian keeps his ghostly visage occupying the hooded, blue scarf covered man's field of view. "So. About haunting you..."

The humor swiftly drains from Noxian's face, and he glares in sheer frustration at and through Sebastian. "Oh gods! Even in quasi-death you have figured out new ways to be an absolute nuisance."

Aristespha pronounces a fast series of incantations, gesturing rapidly to a final stance. Summon up a surge of flow through her body, she releases a powerful wave of energy across the distance towards Noxian. The narrow wall of magical power glides quickly over the stonework floor and splashes around Noxian, struggling to engulf him. The restrictive field strains against the protective barrier around Noxian. Forcing his movements through the barrier, he fends off magical orbs, bolts, and rays from Sotalia. "Ah! Yes! Your favorite trick, Aristespha! Making things more difficult than they have to be."

Another volley of twin lasers beam down from a section of balcony. Cideeda darts back into the shadowy areas and sneaks off to another spot along the balcony. With a bright flash of white from Noxian's eyes, the swell of his protective barrier rips apart the restrictive wave into misty sections. Snapping an open palm at Cideeda's previous hiding spot, another ray floods the area with light. Energy fractures another support pillar and the sounds of rolling rocks echoes out into the chaotic chorus of the chamber. Noxian focuses upon Sotalia, slight curling to his upper lip. Suddenly his concentration breaks away and he searches the area confused. "Wait..."

Arcing out from behind cover, a large orb jets out in a winding, spiraling path and weaves chaotically through the air towards Noxian. The heavy magical bolt grows closer. Noxian narrows his eyes and puzzles at the spell. "Is... Is that an oversized magic missile?"

Keeping a hand out to deflect and disperse Sotalia's attacks, he squints at the lone flying ball of energy and glances at Sebastian. "Gods. I sincerely hope you didn't drag some poor mage school dropout into this mess."

A bold grin widens across Sebastian's face. "Well... About THAT..."

Noxian holds his other hand out, angling it up high to meet the incoming vector of the missile. Readying a field of energy in his hand, he glares unamused at the target. He flits his glowing white eyes wide in absolute bewilderment. "What was THAT?!"

The singular, large orb explodes into a swirling, interweaving flurry of smaller, speedier bolts. The swarm streams outwards, navigating into an all sides approach at Noxian. Fascination filling Noxian, he watches the smaller orbs fly wildly closer with genuine wonder upon his face. He pulls his arms close to his body, and the warping coat of his magical barrier swells outwards, anticipating the missile pack. "WHO is this? There was an energy surge- I'm actually curious as to how much power is behind these."

Sotalia halts her attacks, drops back down to cover, and watches, eager for the impacts. The swarm of magical bolts zip into close range of their target. Simultaneously, they halt just short of Noxian's barrier and idly hover in place. Each projectile drifts clear of the magical shell's fluctuations and slips back into their holding position. Blinks in sheer surprise, Noxian gazes quizzically to Sebastian hovering in front of him. "Who did you find?! That initial bolt did NOT have the power to do this. And, then there was that surge and..."

He squints at a nearby floating bolt with piercing, glowing eyes and mumbles to himself. "There isn't anything standard about this... Even to the actual construction."

Calmly waving his hand out, he guides a swell of his protective barrier and observes a few bolts hovering back. "How is it reacting to my movement? OH, there's a control mechanism. But... There would be too much interference right now with all the..."

Briefly pausing with a lift of an eyebrow, and Noxian launches his hand out. Snatching an orb, his hand grasps it tightly. A pulse of white energy floods the bolt, and a streak of flow zips through a barely visible, fine magical thread. The overpowering surge burns through the ethereal filament, ignites a path to the splitting point, and lights up the route to the origin. Bach crashes out from cover behind a crate onto the hard floor. "OH SHIT!"

Waving his hand frantically, he frees himself of the magical thread, the white energy burning right up to the end. He curses and flips the visor up on his helmet in a panic. "WHAT THE FUCK?!"

Noxian cocks his head to the side and scrutinizes Bach. Glancing over to Sebastian, he returns a curious gaze to Bach. He levels a longer stare upon Sebastian and opens his eyes wide in astonishment. Turning his head slowly back to Bach, he curls a smirk underneath the blue scarf over his face, fully recognizing. "The BROTHER."

Bach spins his head toward Noxian and blinks in sheer shock. "Uh?! The what?! How did you-"

Straightening his posture, Noxian crosses his arms, visibly puzzling at the situation. He cocks his head and furrows his brow contemplatively. "Of all the things... I, truly, did not expect this as a practical possibility."

His focus shifts, and he pours his full attention upon Sebastian's ethereal visage. He balances confusion and genuine intrigue upon his partially hidden face. "Why would you bring your adventuring school drop out brother into this? And... How is HE casting these strange spells?"

Noxian catches a glint of the shiny metal pommel of the sword at Aristespha's side through Sebastian's transparent form, and his ears narrow down the source of intermittent background rattling. A twitch tickles the top of his cheek near the corner of an eye. An enthusiastic glare stiffens his face under the scarf, and he draws the outline of a snarling grin, vaguely hinting at his teeth through the fabric. "WELL. That would certainly explain some of THIS. But, certainly not all of this..."

He takes a step forward away from the control console, his stare alternating between Bach and the sword. A streak of mass, fire, and light tears into the space behind him. An explosive, thunderous report violently erupts and savagely echoes within the massive chamber. A thick, foggy barrier flashes up and protectively envelops Noxian. Moments later, the last traces of the cacophony dissipates through the open air above and off the ancient stone surrounding into eerie silence. Noxian slowly pivots in place. Blankly, his wide, glowing eyes witnesses a spinning rifle round hovering a mere centimeter away from the center of the control panel. A warping field constricts and slows the rifling rotation to a halt. Noxian traces the tunnel of disturbed magical energy, following the path cut nearly across his back, and concentrates a hardening glare to a space next to a balcony column. "As patient. Calculated. And dangerous. As always, Dretphi."

He turns away and studies the rifle round and the system controls. Struggling against a thoughtful stare, he hisses a long, deep breath. Enthusiasm fades from him. A stoic expression overtakes him and barely contains the remorseful reluctance leaking around the edges. His eyes flash bright white, and the control station stirs. Underneath a fluctuating field, buttons depress, levers slide, and knobs spin by themselves. The status screen upon the magical machine streams brightly colored alerts, a shrill alarm shrieks out into the area, and the console gauges slam to their upper limits.


A low, resonant vibration pulses through the platform, rattles equipment, and shudders through the chamber. From the central disc, torrents magical flows stream out and funnel into Noxian. The sheer volume twists the air and flexes space. The loose edges of Noxian clothing ripples with the swirling energies. The current lifts the tail end of the blue scarf and feathers stray white hairs from underneath the hood of his pullover. Flinging out both his arms to his sides, he flexes his fingers and feverishly utters incantations. Two massive flaming orbs roar into existence from his palms, rocket out to opposing sides of the chamber, and slam into the balcony walls. Exploding simultaneously, the fireballs burst forth snaking jets of flame. They billow out into all engulfing blazes and erupt out along the balcony walkways.

In utter shock, Cideeda snaps her wide-eyed stare over and witnesses the fiery bright orange-red wall ignite debris along the way to her hiding spot. She reflexively bounds over the balcony railing. The flame flash-fries her hiding spot, belching out smoldering ash. Through panicked gymnastics in the air and haphazard tumbling upon piles of debris, she sticks a serviceable landing upon the lower floor and scampers frantically into cover next to Aristespha. Heavy boots stomp out upon the stonework of the balcony walkway, and armor plates rattle against each other. Throwing herself over the balcony railing, Dretphi crashes upon the top of a large wooden container. The dry rotted framework of the huge crate splinters and collapses, dumping Dretphi into a roll towards Bach. Sebastian flies back away from Noxian, glances over Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia, and yells. "Change of plans! Form up! We're getting out of here!"

Returning his tense stare to Noxian, Sebastian witnesses the slow side to side sway of Noxian. Briefly closing his eyes, Noxian dons a somber frown and remorsefully watches the group form up. Sotalia expediently gestures out incantations and throws an arm out, projecting a protective barrier. With a brilliant violet glow from her eyes, Aristespha concentrates and merges another layer to the forming energy shield. Noxian raises his arm calmly from his side, pointing a single finger at the dual barriers. A white beam of magic flashes out. The energy arcs, sparks, and crackles into the protective fields. Both violently warp, twist, and tear apart, dissipating into shreds of fizzling miasma. Noxian hiss in a pained breath through a grimace. Shifting his aim, he opens his hand, palm out, and sighs resolutely. "I am truly sorry. This world needs heroes like all of you. But..."

He narrows his cold, determined stare. "I need to do what I need to do. Things HAVE to be set right. Unfortunately, you were able to find me. You are trying to regain your ability to stop me..."

A flash of white light pulses from his eyes, and he twists a glare upon the team. "And... You've come TOO CLOSE to halting my progress."

Magic flow erupts out from him and condenses into a bright white ball in front of his palm. "When I am done, I will make sure that people know you all died heroes in their defense... Despite how misled you all were."

Glancing over Sebastian, he frowns sadly and sighs. "And if that damned sword survives this, I promise to find a way to free you, so you may at least join them beyond in peace."

Horror chokes Sebastian, and his translucent blue eyes widen fully in stark recognition of the forming, lethally familiar energy gathering into the orb. Bach spots the terror upon his brother. With glowing blue eyes, he gazes upon the condensing magic in front of Noxian's palm. Rushing out in front of the group, he slides to stop, swings his arms forward, and stares at Noxian. Magical flow gushes forth through and around Bach. Energy flows spin off his body and rush out to a developing hexagonal lattice in front of him. From Bach's hands, translucent hexagon panels fills out the latticework and other magical connections. In mere moments, a golden structured energy barrier melds into the floor and rises up tall, intersecting the line between Noxian and team. Shaking his head, Noxian mutters. "A noble effort."

A brilliant flash bathes the room in light and floods the chamber.

The pure Elder energy beam slams into the golden barrier and splashes explosively over the surface. Individual hexes of the barrier shudder violently, arcs of power crackle between, and the structure ripples chaotically. Magic from the beam infiltrates into structure and flushes out the golden color. Jets of the Elder flow rush through magical conduits from the shield and into Bach's body. Sparks spatter out from the clashes between Bach power and the Elder energies. Tension rips through Bach, he twists against the agonizing strain radiating throughout his being. His eyes pulse a brilliant blue, and the waves of flow push against the power overwhelming him. Noxian blinks bewildered and squints his eyes at the struggle. "What the-"

The overloading flow jolting through him, edges of white Elder power press against the glowing blue of Bach's eyes. Cracks fracture into the blue and sink threads of white closer and closer to the center. A pinpoint of bright white flickers into existence well within the pupils of glowing blue of both eyes. Abject utter terror ruptures any calm within Bach, and he gawks distantly in horror. Gritting his teeth, he winces his eyes shut, grimaces in agony, and roars out in a bellowing howl of absolute defiance. "NOOOOOOOOO!"

Opening his eyes to a solid, clear blue, Bach vents out mists of prismatic magical energy. Streams of gold, blue, red, green, and other colors blend out from Bach, bolster flows, and shove back the infiltrating Elder energies to the barrier. With the gigantic surge through all the channels of flow spiraling from Bach, the hexagonal field expels a massive wave of the invading energy back at Noxian. The powerful pulse crashes into Noxian and hoists him into the air, dropping him unceremoniously upon the floor. Noxian slides up onto the circular platform and stops at the central disc. Blinking back to his senses, he quickly lifts his upper body off the ground and manages to stand back up. In the middle of the maelstrom of white energy seeping into him, he stares upon Bach and the barrier. In addition to the golden hexagonal tiles, blue energies seal the divisions between, red threads interweave inside the tiles, and a green coating rests upon the front of the evolving shield."

Noxian gawks at the energies weaving and shaping together and ponders quietly, perking his brow with fresh interest. The ambient vibration eases into silence. The remaining specs of Elder energy from the central dais and the expulsion wave from Bach's barrier funnel into Noxian. Pausing in thought for a moment, he steps cautiously towards the control console and glances upon final messages upon screen. He stares at the shielded group and glances up into the blue sky above. A swirling vortex of air spins up around him, and he gazes over the group through the barrier. "I do believe I will take my leave now."

Sniffing in a long breath, he sighs with traces of sadness slipping out. "There's... Nothing more for me here."

He levels his full attention upon Bach just beyond the elaborate barrier, and the outline of genuine smile forms underneath his blue scarf. The ends of the cloth flutters around behind him in the air currents, and he narrows a curious gaze. "I do hope we meet again. Preferably, under far less confrontational circumstances. Your name is Bach, if I am correct?"

Fluttering his dimming eyes, Bach pants and fights the haze of fatigue. He summons up enough of his senses and grants Noxian a slow nod. Lifting his head upward, Noxian bends his knees low and lunges up into the air, a gust of air rocketing him up into the sky. Shaking her head, Sotalia regains her senses, notices Noxian gaining altitude, and runs forward. "What the-?! GODS DAMMIT! He's getting away! NOT AGAIN!"

She straightens her posture, positions her hands at the ready for incantation gestures, and gasps breath in. Sebastian snaps a point at Sotalia and yells out. "SOTALIA! STAND DOWN! DO NOT CHASE HIM!"

Sotalia growls defiantly with a sneering glance back to Sebastian and begins to cast her spell. "I'm just going to SEE which way he GOES! I'm not THAT crazy!"

A hand clamps upon her forearm and startles Sotalia. She flashes an irritated, teeth bearing grimace towards the owner of the hand. Finding the outstretched arm of Bach, her anger pops away, and she blinks to a confused glare. Bach lifts his face up and gazes at Sotalia, shaking his head. The physical, mental, and magical drain growing more apparent by the second, he pants shuddering breaths and wobbles with his drifting balance. "No... No... More... Risks... Today. Please..."

Concern overwhelms Sotalia, and she nods slowly, placing her hand upon Bach's. "Okay."

Feeling the trembles through Bach's shaking hand, she gazes at him and rests another supporting hand on his shoulder. "You need to sit down. You can take the shield down. It's okay."

Bach slowly nods and closes his eyes. The barrier fades component by component back through the conduits of magical flow into Bach. Pants of exhaustion slow, and Bach steadies himself upon his feet, the tremors subsiding. He gradually releases Sotalia's forearm, slides his hand out from underneath hers, and lowers his head into the hand to cover eyes and forehead. He steps away from the platform, swaying off balance in the turn. Sotalia slips an arm underneath Bach's shoulder and keeps him upright. Heavy footsteps sound out behind Bach, and Dretphi secures a firm, gentle grip underneath his other shoulder, resting her other hand upon his back. "Slowly. No need to rush."

Dretphi and Sotalia support and guide Bach to a cleared spot on the floor, Aristespha awaiting with medical kits rolled out. Cideeda glances up towards the balcony and the lingering clouds of smoke underneath the roof awnings. "Good. It looks like that flame burst thing didn't catch anything too big or too important on fire."

Relaxing her shoulders, she stretches out her lower back. "We should be able to get back out the way we came in."

Sebastian releases an ethereal sigh, venting his tension. He scans around the area, nodding with his thoughts. "Okay... Okay. After Bach gets checked out, we'll get out of here-"

Attempting to roll on his side, Bach lifts his upper body off the floor and groans in stress shaken fit. "Oh, fuck that! Let's just get out of here right now. I'm okay enough to get the fuck out of here-"

A medical gloved hand grasps onto Bach's shirt collar and gently guides his wandering gaze to Aristespha narrowing her violet eyes. She stares silently, and Bach resigns himself back onto the floor. Aristespha removes Bach's helmet and lightly pats him on top of his head with a slight smile. Bach curls a wary smirk out from the corner of his mouth and closes his weary eyes. A few minutes of resting upon the stone floor later, he tilts his head towards Sebastian. "So... Brother?"

Sebastian hovers over and kneels down next to Bach with a comforting smile. "Yeah, bro?"

Bach sighs exhausted, flutters his eyes, and gazes up into the blue sky above through the circular opening in the roof. "Man, how much longer are we going to be at this place?"

Wrestling an uneasy frown back, Sebastian musters up a reassuring smile and nods to his brother. "Honestly, bro. I think we got more than what we needed."

He searches around the large chamber at the stirred debris, the scorched balcony, the fresh gravel, and the silent platform control console. "I don't think there's anything more we need to experience first hand with this place. Time to turn this over to someone else."

Sebastian slowly glances between the rest of the group, gauging opinion on their faces. "I think we should leave tomorrow. Head back to base. Objections?"

Between silent head shakes and post-adrenaline exhaustion, no one voices an objection. Late afternoon light slips through the circular opening in the roof and casts down drifting shapes of shade upon the stonework floor. The team settles down, resting up and collecting themselves. Noises of idle movement and quiet contemplation contrast the stagnant silence, echoing throughout the chamber. Sebastian gazes over the reflective and concerned expressions of the team, and stares out to the lifeless magical platform.

A large cloud passing overhead obscures the sun, and the room dims. The last flickers of light from the control console fade out.