Episode 27

In the ranch style house, morning sun slips around the vertical blinds concealing the sliding glass back door and flows across the floor. A few specks of dust drift up in the heat from the sun-warmed couch and tumble in the glow from the light. Shining through the glare, the morning news silently plays on the wall-mounted television, the scenes changing between different show anchors. In the middle space between the dining and living areas of the large room, Sebastian's ethereal form hovers, his translucent blue eyes darting between thoughts. Surrounding the dining table, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia idle in the chairs and quietly tend their own ideas between sips of coffee and tea. Drifting closer to the group, Sebastian twists his mouth into an uneasy frown and crosses his arms. "Okay... SO... Before everyone got started out on all the usual Monday chores, I just wanted to get everyone thinking about how we need to change our tactics with Noxian."

With a ghostly echo, he sighs against a flit of pride and scratches the back of his neck. "Any suggestions are valid at this point. Anything we've dismissed in the past, we can revisit now. I really think we need to explore all other options, since what we've been doing..."

Gritting his teeth, he averts his glance from the team and grumbles out his stale frustration. "Hasn't been working all that well. Not at all..."

Withdrawing attention away from Sebastian, the group quietly ponders. Expressions and postures shift with their thoughts, and brief moments of possible revelation wane into dissatisfied grimaces. Glancing over the assembled team, Cideeda shrugs her shoulders and leans forward upon the tabletop, resting her elbow down. "We NEED to go to the other places Noxian has been spotted at. After Orth Ridge, we have to assume he's gone to those places for a good reason. Every place he's touched is a possibility now."

With her chin resting on top of the skin patterns on the back of her hand, Sotalia exaggerates a nod and seconds the idea, turning her approving gaze to Cideeda. "OH, definitely, girl. Definitely."

She swallows a hint of pride and sighs through a flit of old embarrassment. "Sorry I doubted you on THAT one. GODS. I just didn't think that much would be out there. It's the middle of nowhere."

Cideeda grits her teeth with a tug at the corner of her mouth, and bites her lip with a humbled frown. "Well... To be honest... Me neither. At least not THAT much."

Waving her hand with the thought, she rolls her emerald green eyes and wrestles down a grimace. "I was just hoping for maybe... A shack? Campsite? Or, just an old building out in the woods. Even just a hidden stash of supplies. BUT..."

Furrowing her brow, she leans into the back of her chair and drums her claw-tipped fingers on the tabletop, her fluffy tail flicking. "A whole damned town?! Not even the ancient ruins of one, something RECENTLY abandoned."

Aristespha tightens down an uncomfortable curl at the corner of her mouth and grumbles to herself. Her crossed legs fidget more intensely and match the visible unease flowing inside her. She hisses a sharp breath through her nose and tensions her neck. "I am STILL looking into THAT. I've sent my official report to the Grand Library and a copy of the information to Nash."

Slowly exhaling a small amount of relief through clenched teeth, she uncrosses her legs and rolls her shoulders, attempting to relax the rest of body. She catches Sebastian's concerned, loving gaze at her and manages a small smile. "I apologize. He's taking a lot longer than usual to get back to me. Especially with something like this."

Sebastian focuses upon Aristespha and directs a calm, soothing tone to her. "Could he be in danger or trouble? Anything we need to do to help him, dear?"

Summoning up a smile, Aristespha fends off the tension in the air and gently shakes her head of silvery blue hair. "Oh no, Sebastian. I'm sure he's fine. It's just..."

She wanders her violet eyes inside her mind and sighs out hints of worry. "If he takes this long, then I think he found something well beyond normal expectations. I do not think it will be the best of news for us."

A comforting smile appears on Sebastian, and he nods in agreement. "Well... I hope the information he finds will give us some idea of what was going on there. And... What Noxian was doing there..."

Bach blinks his blue eyes and lifts his head back, prominent thought rising to the front of his mind. He glances around the assembled team and raises a curious eyebrow. "So... Um... Do we know Noxian's end goal? Like, what he's actually trying to pull off?"

A wave of uncertainty sweeps through the group. Collective self-doubt stymies the discussion to a tense quiet. Sebastian breaks the silence through the embarrassment bubbling up into his translucent form. "Uh... That's the one thing we haven't been able to really figure out."

He defensively raises his hands and awkwardly smirks, vainly attempting to reassure. "I mean, we have a few theories we've been operating under."

Gazing over to Bach, Dretphi furrows her brow and twists a frown on her tan face, struggling to collect the right chain of words. "We have been able to... determine what are NOT his goals. That has eliminated the common possibilities."

Cideeda idly drums clawtips upon the dining table, aimlessly directing her eyes up to the ceiling. Drooping her furry ears down, she gently shakes her head, and her tail waves with occasional twitches. "Well, it's always been like that with him. He'll go on a particular route, and you totally think you've figured out his plans. The evidence points that way, too.

Throwing her hands up in the air, she twists on a frown on her light brown face and groans into a grumble. "THEN, he- he just diverges off completely in another direction no one expected."

Sotalia leans an elbow upon the table and angles her gaze to Bach, wagging her finger in sync with her thoughts. "For example, this one NEVER hit the news. He just walked in through the front door of some secret Greater Azure Alliance missile silo. Went straight to THE ancient second period magic nuke they had somehow..."

An uneasy frown forms upon Bach, his attention jumping between Sotalia and the uncomfortable ideas in his head. Sotalia narrows her golden eyes upon Bach and points a black nailed finger at him. "You know what he did?"

The pause into silence grants Bach the freedom to ponder. The hairs on the back of his neck up, and he visibly tenses in his seat. Bach slowly shakes his head, keeping his unnerved stare upon Sotalia. "Uh... No...?"

Withdrawing from the tabletop, Sotalia eases into her chair, pressing up against the back. She dramatically puts her hands up in the air in defeat and groans out her resignation. "He drained the thing completely of elder energy and disarmed it by ripping the warhead clean from it. Just like THAT."

The tension drops completely out from Bach. Confusion and intrigue rush into the cognitive vacuum, and he cocks his head to the side in sheer belief. "Wait- What?! But? I mean- Taking the energy is one thing. But, why go through the danger of disarming it? And..."

Furrowing his brow, he blinks in a bewildered flurry, pondering out. "I mean- How would he know how to do THAT? And, if he knew enough to disarm it, he could have easily ransomed whatever else he wanted by taking it somewhere secret...

He narrows his stare at the team. "Or, something like that? I mean, if you can be THAT bold, what's stopping you?"

Nodding with her frustration, Sotalia agrees and twists a hint of dissatisfaction on her light tan face. She flips some dark red hair back over a swept-back horn and crosses her arms with a sigh. "I KNOW. Same things I thought, too. That's what he keeps on doing. He does X. We expect Y. He then does C. And, everyone is left COMPLETELY. FUCKING. CONFUSED."

Reaching underneath her long, silvery-blue hair, Aristespha fans it back over her shoulders and squirms out some nervous energy. "Indeed. Overall, it has been very difficult to predict where he is going and what exactly he is going to do. It has proven absolutely ineffective to use any historical information about past dark lords and other malcontents, who have typically been VERY predictable. He certainly has his own unique goals."

Donning a tight frown, she breathes in quickly and exhales hints of irritation. "What troubles me the most is the knowledge he has and what he does with that knowledge. I have poured over so many resources trying to find out what the common thread is to all his activities."

She interlocks fingers, stretches her arms down under the table between her knees, and leans back into her chair. "There is SOMETHING that I am missing. Despite how scattered his activities may be, there has to be purpose behind it. The amount of effort and resources he devotes to everything... That is the only reasonable conclusion we can make."

Darting her violet eyes off to the side, she narrows her frustration distantly and grumbles. "If he simply wanted to be an absolute pain in the ass and cause chaos, there are easier and less demanding ways to do it."

Contending with some residual embarrassment, Sebastian gazes at Bach and shrugs with an uncomfortable smirk. "Yeah... Unfortunately, bro, we were really focused on catching up to Noxian to stop him... Rather than figuring out what his end goals were. It was either put effort to figure out his plans, or just stop him before he can enact them. The times we tried to fully do both, we either lost track of him or made a bad prediction."

Keeping a neutral expression upon her tan face, Dretphi ponders between hints of frustration and glances over towards Bach. "Halting his progress was the priority. His activities were dangerous. Implications seemed dire. Stop him first. Ask questions later?"

Perking her furry ears, Cideeda smirks wryly and combs her fingers through her short, multi-colored hair. "Well, you know. You go into restricted zones, steal artifacts from both public and protected places, sabotage attempts to track you down, fend off the police, military, and other adventuring groups, and THEN start messing with strange magical elements..."

She narrows her stare at Bach and frowns despondently. "It usually doesn't mean anything good, for anyone."

Weighing on the information, Bach ponders quietly and furrows his brow. Nodding slowly a few times, he hums contemplatively between different points, rocking his head slowly between his shoulders. After a few moments of reflection, Sebastian sighs and shrugs his shoulders. "But... We may need to focus on that, NOW. Because, I think we genuinely threatened him being able to achieve his goal, whatever THAT is."

Each member of the group individually agrees. Sebastian pauses in thought and frowns, glancing aside. "He's only ever gotten aggressive when we've put him on the defensive..."

A stifling silence looms over the group. Summoning up determination, Dretphi straightens up her posture and addresses everyone. "We need to train intensely."

Keeping a stoic exterior, she weathers a swell of unflattering honesty from within. "Our performance was... NOT sufficient."

Sebastian nods and glances over to Bach. "Yes. I think we all need to step up our training. Sorry, bro. But you might be getting the worst of it."

A nervous smile creeps up on Bach's face, and he chuckles half-heartedly. "Oh, yeah, what ever do you mean, brother?"

An amused grin pulls across Sebastian's visage, and he perks an foreboding eyebrow at Bach. "Well, I think Dretphi needs to mix in some close quarters combat soon. Aristespha and I will start training you in sword fighting. And..."

Darting his eyes between Aristespha and Sotalia, he returns his attention back to Bach. "Whatever you are doing with magic gave you the ability to fend off Noxian's magic. So, Aristespha, Sotalia, and YOU will all probably need to amp up the magic training."

An eager, sharp smile cracks across Sotalia, and she narrows her golden stare upon Bach with a sly tone. "Yes. We are going to have to do some real combat training. I hope your mage armor barrier is in better shape now."

A grin parting her smile, she lifts an interested eyebrow. "I would hate to burn a few more holes in your clothes."

She focuses her confident gaze upon Bach. Sebastian notices his brother's discomfort. Trading glances between the others, he smirks and addresses Sotalia. "Hey, Sotalia. Thinking about it..."

Quirking his brow, he smiles slyly and leans slightly forward, settling an examination stare upon Sotalia. "When's the last time you ever did any close combat training?"

Sotalia's eyes spring open, her mouth contorts into an awkward grimace, and she blanks to a dumbfounded stupor. "Oh... Uh, um, ah... Why would I need to know anything like... THAT?"

Keeping her head facing towards Bach, she feigns ignorance of the other pairs of eyes upon her with foreboding grins.

Standing out in the grassy field behind the ranch style house, Bach curiously checks the area, anticipation and wariness mixing through his body. Gentle winds brush over the taller blades of grass, and ripples wash over the green. Adjusting his magical sparring gear, Bach pulls the protective vest taut, checks the straps on the leg covers over his pants, and tugs at the gloves on his hands. Pausing in thought a moment, he summons up some courage and glances over his shoulder. Sotalia taps her foot impatiently, watching Aristespha stroll up from the patio. She slowly swings her head over towards Bach and flashes a confident, playful grin. Aristespha secures her artisan sparring gloves and flexes around in the matching gear, examining Bach and Sotalia. "I think we need to change up the magical training to take advantage of recent discoveries. We will keep the basics the same. But, there is some advanced training I would like to explore."

A wicked tint colors Sotalia's grin. Her eyes light up eagerly and focus upon Aristespha. "I think I like the sound of that."

She straightens her posture and levels her stare at Bach. "Maybe... I can finally get taught THOSE spells..."

Attention fully upon Bach, a barely audible, dark chuckle slips out from her, and she rests her hands on her hips. Bach smiles halfway at Sotalia and uneasily laughs. Blinking away, he glances awkwardly at Aristespha and searches hopefully for further explanation. "Uh... Yeah... So, we're just training today?"

Aristespha shifts her foot inside her boot and nonchalantly perks her brow, nodding succinctly. "Yes. What else did you expect?"

Bach brushes his fingers through his longer brown hair, ending in a scratch of the back of his head, and curls the corner of his mouth. "Uh, huh... I figured you two would be questioning me about the whole sending Noxian's elder energy right back at him? I mean, I thought that would be important to you all?"

The inquisitive gaze from Sotalia intensifies to a stare upon Bach. Sotalia briefly seeks hints for proceeding from Aristespha, granting Bach a reprieve from the attention. Smiling kindly, Aristespha shakes her head calmly. "Oh. That can wait for later. We have other pressing tasks at hand."

Sotalia's expression pops to blank faced blinking, making way for bewilderment to overtake. She squints incredulously at Aristespha and straightens her posture. "Um... Excuse me?"

Presenting a calming smile, Aristespha crosses her arms and shrugs her shoulders. "Oh, I certainly do have questions. But, those need to be answered in a different environment than this, at a more convenient time."

She lifts an eyebrow at Bach with a quizzical tint upon her face. "Though, I will say... While I am surprised by what you did, after some thought, it makes sense you were able to do such."

Sotalia tilts her head back and perks up an incredulous eyebrow, keeping a confused stare upon Aristespha. Searching for the explanation, she crosses her arms and waits expectantly, quiet. Aristespha meets Sotalia's gaze, pauses a moment, and ponders her thoughts out loud. "With the way elder energy disrupts most spells derived from Foundation Constructs, someone who creates advanced spells without their assistance might be able to counter that disruption, possibly entirely avoiding it."

Moments later, the revelation dawns upon Sotalia, and she relaxes her stature. Her golden eyes briefly spring open, and she glances back towards Bach. "Well... THAT does make a lot of sense. And..."

An eager grin flashes up on her face. "Noxian did NOT expect that barrier to stop the blast. He was actually surprised."

Walking forward with an exaggerated sway to each step, she holds her chin contemplatively, her eyes stringing together a theory. "Now, I'm actually really curious as to how good Noxian's control of that elder energy actually is."

Nodding in agreement with Sotalia, Aristespha shifts her weight between boots thoughtfully. "That is another theory I have been reviewing."

With a long sigh, she rolls her shoulders and stretches out her arms. "BUT... To focus on the training at hand, I think one way we can prepare ourselves against Noxian is to... Harden our spells."

Bach strokes his short beard and pivots curiously towards Aristespha. Sotalia spins quickly in place with an eager smile and a golden glint in her eyes. "Okay! Now THAT actually sounds interesting! How do we do that?"

With a glow in her violet eyes, Aristespha grins and rolls her hand out at Bach. "Very simple. We craft our spells, and then let Bach attempt to disrupt them."

Bach's eyes open wide in a fit of pure surprise. Slowly tilting his head, he stares at Aristespha, a sporadic twitch of the upper cheek manifesting. "Wha- Uh... Excuse me?"

Waving her hand at the objection, Aristespha attempts to dismiss the hesitation from Bach and perks her brow. "Defensive spells only. I figured our main focus should be strengthening our barriers right now, since they were inadequate."

A long exhale of relief escapes Bach, and he nods, willingness renewing. "Okay... Yeah. Yeah. THAT, that I can definitely do."

Disappointment tugs down upon the corners of Sotalia's waning smirk, and she sighs begrudgingly. Aristespha notices the drop in mood and rolls her eyes with a laugh. "Now, now. I actually want to do some offensive spell training today, too."

Lifting an intrigued eyebrow, Sotalia places her hands on her hips, straightens her posture confidently, and eyes Aristespha with a playful curiosity behind a forming grin. "OH. Really?"

Briefly averting her eyes, Aristespha sighs out traces of embarrassment and rests her hands at her sides. "Well... To be completely honest, in watching you and Tassilda face off..."

She furrows her brow and contorts an awkward smirk on her ivory, blue and gray hinted face. "I realized I haven't thrown a good fireball in a long while. So, I thought it might be good exercise to do some target practice later."

A competitive aura radiates from Sotalia. A proud grin manifests fully, and Sotalia postures confidently and eagerly. "Yes. I see. It HAS been a while. Well, let's get this spell hardening training going then."

With a single nod, Aristespha signals Sotalia to prepare with a quick wave. Stretching out her body, Sotalia flexes her joints and steps off to a nice flat section of the huge field. "Alright! Give me a minute. Need to warm up and check my spot."

Biting his lip against a surge of anxiety, Bach draws a long breath and watches Sotalia prepare. Aristespha steps next to him, leaning close to his ear. Wrestling a smirk, she carefully whispers. "I think she will probably need all the target practice after you dismantle her spells a few times. Allow her to maintain some of her pride after you dash it, please."

Gradually nodding, Bach sighs out softly with a grimace, mustering his resolve. "Yeah... I'm going to have to agree with you on that one. Might need to miss on purpose a few times. Just to keep the peace."

Glancing over her shoulder, Aristespha nods in agreement and rolls her violet eyes towards Sotalia. "Thank you, Bach."

The half-fvalian girl holds her tan, brown striped arms out in front of her, flexing her sharp nailed fingers. She exhales a long, drawn-out sigh and blows long, bright pink hair out of her face. Her pink-pupil eyes wander around the backyard behind the two story house aimlessly. Her disinterested, bored stare hunts for anything of note, any kind of distraction, some spec entertainment to contrast the constant lecturing drone from Tassilda. Idly swaying with the tedium, she squirms within her boldly colored, tight fitting shirt and shorts.

A sharp finger snap sounds out and echoes off the exterior of the house. The half-fvalian girl's fuzzy, pointed ears perk, and her short-haired tail flicks up, hairs bristling. With a stern sneer, Tassilda steps forward and narrows her frustration at the half-fvalian girl. Squinting her light blue on black eyes, she nears a growl. "Veevi! Are you even paying attention?!"

Veevi rolls her eyes dramatically and cocks her head in huff, twisting her building annoyance out on her face. "YES."

Placing her hands on her hips, Tassilda's long, black fingernails firmly curl into fabric along her waist, with her irritation. "Then..."

Her eyes focus a stern stare upon Veevi, and she leans her upper body forward, sneering her upper lip. "What did I just say?"

A snarl curls upon Veevi's tan face, and she furrows her brow incredulously. Gritting her teeth, she reveals prominent canines and groans, casually defiant. "Blah, blah, blah, some fucking boring magic theory. Blah, blah, blah, you just like hearing your own voice-"

She slaps down her arms to her sides and glares outraged at Tassilda, leaning forward. "AND, I've been STANDING around for HOURS! Doing NOTHING MAGICAL AT ALL!"

Tassilda rears back her head, puffing up her chest. She snorts out her indignation and eyes Veevi, disgust bubbling up. "WELL! Whose FAULT is that? Maybe YOU just have NO MAGICAL ABILITY."

Crossing her arms tightly, Veevi postures boldly and smirks meanly back. "OH! Maybe YOU don't UNDERSTAND it well enough to teach it!"

The two stand in staunch opposition, each holding the ground in sheer stubborn defiance. Both bounce prickly commentary off each other, actively denying the other privilege of the last word. Camera crew exchange glances in the brief lull of conflict. The verbal battle escalates in a roar of insults and derision. Samantha blinks mildly surprised and writes down notes on her clipboard, a darkly content smile settling upon her face. Gerald wanders into the area from the neighboring house and steps next to Samantha. "Okay, so what the hell is going on here?"

Flashing an evil grin to Gerald, Samantha hugs her clipboard close to her chest with glee. "OH, just PRIME material for this week's episode!"

Gerald gazes at the deadlock of sneering, anger fueled glares between Veevi and Tassilda. "Gods... Okay, I was wondering since I heard it over in the kitchen at the crew house."

Lifting a sandwich up to his mouth, he bites into it, slowly chews watching the scene, and clears his mouth with a swallow. "Ungh... Skipped the mustard because I thought I needed to get out here."

Sniffing the air, Samantha eyes the sandwich and smirks with a pleading gaze to Gerald. "So, is there enough left to make another?"

Catching the endearing glance from Samantha, Gerald twists mouth side to side and grumbles. "Yes. No mayo, spicy brown mustard?"

Samantha nods contentedly and stares attentively at the verbal battle between Tassilda and Veevi. A series of distant booms and blasts echo out, contrasting the natural, mid-spring ambience of the surrounding neighborhood. Everyone halts, seeking the source. Veevi's fuzzy ears perk up and guide her steps. Her anger blinks from existence and excitement driven curiosity immediately replaces it. "What was that?!"

A far off cacophony of magical energies reverberates distantly into the nearby soundscape. Veevi locks onto the origin and speeds off with childish glee. "I've GOT to see this!"

Tassilda widens her eyes in shock, frowns sharply, and chases after Veevi with a hand out. "YOU! GET. BACK. HERE!"

Veevi precedes Tassilda in the charge ahead, with the camera crew rushing to catch up. Samantha and Gerald quickly organize the mass of equipment and people tailing behind. Cresting over a small hill at the corner of the property, Veevi peers out into a field behind a ranch style house and spots the flashes of magical energies forming. Delight and excitement growing, she watches a half-emin woman with dark red hair and swept back horns release a potent fireball at a boulder in the middle of the field. The fireball impacts and bursts into a brilliant explosion, engulfing the large rock and wilting the surrounding grass. Veevi's pupils enlarge, fascination overflows, and she squeals gleefully at the powerful display. With speedy gestures and expedient chants, the half-emin woman follows up with another spell materializing in the condensing energies. A bolt of lightning arcs from her hand to the large rock. The leftover plasma fades into a fine vapor around a faintly glowing scorch mark. The other hand swings forward, and a misty beam jet out towards the stone mass. Frost builds upon a spot on the boulder, pouring out a light fog upon the earth.

Hearing a low growl next to her, Veevi darts her eyes over and studies Tassilda, intrigued. She follows the ireful glare from Tassilda and connects it to the half-emin woman in the field. A sly grin creeps out upon Veevi, and she draws in a long breath, readying her defiant, smug pose. After a long pause, she hems with dramatic flair and feigns puzzling over a thought out loud. "Well! Maybe if you aren't willing, or CAPABLE, of teaching me magic..."

A sinister spark glints in her pink pupils. "I wonder if SHE could teach me? She seems to know some spells."

Absent wind and air still in the vicinity, the loose and draping features of Tassilda's draping outfit drift up, and her posture stiffens. Slowly pivoting in place, she faces Veevi, lowers her glare down, and suppresses a dark glower down to a stern stare. "COME. I have magic to TEACH you."

She spins rigidly back toward the two-story house and marches firmly down the hill, stomping into the dirt with each step. Following behind her, Veevi sneaks one last glance towards the distant group of three and mouths upon a wry smile. "We shall see."

Around the dining table idling, the team awaits the connection of the call with Sebastian's ghostly form hovering nearby. An audible chime sounds out from an aetherphone, and Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia exchange expectant glances. Aristespha places her aetherphone upon the dining table in the middle of the gathering. Leaning over, she settles upon the tabletop on her arms and projects her voice down towards the device. "I have you the speakerphone, Nash. Are you there?"

Through the phone's speaker, the squeak of an office chair echoes in from the remote background noise. A long sigh escapes the man at the other end of the call. "Yes. I am. Wow... Uh, yeah, what a day it has been here."

An eyebrow lifts up on Aristespha's ivory face, and she curls her upper lip warily. "Okay. Well, did you find out anything using the information I sent you, Nash?"

A singular, understated laugh leaves Nash, and he pauses to draw an audible hissing breath. "Yes. And... Well... No."

Crossing her arms, Sotalia pulls at the corner of her mouth, briefly eyeing Aristespha. She rests her attention back upon the phone and furrows her brow, waiting. Sebastian glances over to Aristespha, gauging her reaction, and returns to watching the phone. Cideeda's furry ears flick forward, and she awaits further explanation. Dretphi cocks her head to the side quizzically. Bach leans back in his chair, examining the group overall during the silence, and freezes stiffly when the wood creaks loudly. Nash lightly whistles and eases into an explanation. "Okay. SO... Um, Good news. I checked all the database addresses you gave me. And, they all resolved to the documents you described."

The faint sound of a hand scratching the back of head of hair slips out from the other side, and Nash groans, hinting dissatisfaction. "But... I can't find anything else."

He fights to subdue a frustrated grumble. "You're right, though. Dammit, Aristespha, the things you have to be right about..."

Drawing in a long breath, he sighs sadly. "You definitely found a decatalogging. Those addresses are nowhere in the master catalog."

A tight frown weighs heavily upon Aristespha, and a mix of emotions play out on her face upon the confirmation of suspicions. "I know... And, I usually like being right."

She chuckles lightly and, noticing Sebastian's concern, struggles to a loving smile. From the other side of the call, Nash snorts and laughs. "YEAH. So, I tried my best to find ANYTHING, especially after reading the copy of the report you sent up to higher ups."

His tone shifts, and he chuckles into a humored aside. "And... just between you all, as much as I like to consider myself a brave and bold man... I'm not going to lie. From what you described of the place, it would have not only been understandable for me to shit my pants in terror, but probably expected of me. I've heard the octave I shriek when I think a spider is on me."

A few scattered snorts, chuckles, and amused smirks show up around the table. Another squeak of the office chair joins the faint sounds of movement from the other end, and Nash snorts, laughing at himself. "And THAT is why they pay you all the big paychecks. Anyway... Let me get to the STRANGE news."

The gathering around the dining table concentrates upon the aetherphone on the tabletop, ears expectant. Nash pulls in a long breath and exhales slowly. Embarrassment tinges his tone, and he struggles to roll out his thoughts initially. "Uh, yeah, so... While I can access the database node logically through various systems..."

Pride chokes him up a moment, and he relents his defeat. "I don't know where the hell it is."

Pulling back her head, blinking her violet eyes, Aristespha darts her focus between spots in her mind, trying to process the exact meaning possible. Standing next to the table, Sotalia scoffs. "Pfft-"

She sharply furrows her brow on her light tan face and drops her hands down her sides upon her hips. "Um- Wait- What do you mean?!"

Cideeda's emerald green eyes spring open, and she immediately squints at the phone with an incredulous, confused twist of her face. "Okay. I'm pretty certain those database nodes are NOT small things. I AM assuming, but..."

Tilting her head to the side, her furry ears perk against her short hair, and she lifts a curious eyebrow. "Fairly large. Power hungry. Need ample cooling. Require a physical connection to a network system. Not something that's easily moved?! Am I guessing correctly?"

With a humbled cadence, Nash grumbles. "Yep. Correct on all those things. You sound exactly how I felt when I discovered the empty spot down that node bank where it SHOULD HAVE been."

Dretphi leans forward intrigued and calmly, respectfully inquires towards the aetherphone. "Could the node have been moved? The location information not updated? Clerical error?"

Another sigh escapes, and a punctuating, implosive click of the mouth sounds out from Nash on the other end of the call. "Yeah. Yeah. I hoped for that, too. But, no move requests, no hardware change orders, and..."

He grumbles a moment and groans out his frustration. "The network pings show it is still within that particular building. I even got the network folks to check it from other locations."

Pausing a moment, a dull, wooden thud of a hand landing upon a desk resonates audibly from the background. "It's in that building. SOMEWHERE. Gods damned if I know where the fuck it is. Every trace puts it in that server room."

Aristespha rests her elbows upon the table, props her head up between her hands, and slowly shakes her head side to side. "What exactly is going on here?"

Stroking his short beard thoughtfully, Bach blinks hard and ponders out loud. "Okay. So. There's A LOT of intent behind all of this. This is just a ridiculous amount of effort. This sounds like it required some real coordination."

Nash groans, both annoyed and disgusted at the situation. "Gods, tell me about it. I mean, this is the one time I was actually hoping for some sheer incompetence to be the reason behind it all... That would have been an easy problem to solve. NOPE. Actual determination and effort."

A faint squeak of an office chair filters into the dining area from the aetherphone, and he sighs with a trailing chuckle. "So, that will unfortunately make the next steps far more difficult. I'm going to do a proper physical trace of where this thing is early tomorrow. But, I don't know how long it'll take, since any maintenance information needs to be treated as possibly wrong. Either accidentally, or more likely purposefully. Just... Great..."

A weak smile manages to appear upon Aristespha, and she nods with an appreciative tone. "Regardless, thank you, Nash. Really. As concerning as the information is, it is good to know it. And, thank you for sharing it with us."

With a chuckle, Nash snorts. "Shit. Be careful with that mentality. Well, I'll call you again if I find anything else out. You all take care. And, if you all could keep away from any more abandoned towns with questionable histories, that would really help keep me from revisiting my alcoholism research. Also, anything more exciting is liable to kill off the higher ups from panic and fright."

His voice moves closer to the microphone, and he drops to an amused whisper. "Hey, I'm not exactly a fan of the higher ups, but they're a pretty predictable bunch, and I finally have most of them figured out. Don't do anything that'll make it in a report, okay? Let them process this, first, please?"

A laugh escapes from Aristespha, and her smile widens. She exchanges amused glances with the rest of the group, and rolls her eyes. "We will certainly try. I don't know how well we'll be able to keep it that way. But, we will do our best. Good night, Nash."

With a quick hum and playful grumble Nash finishes the conversation. "Okay. I'll believe you. Talk to you all later."

Just out of the way of the morning light beaming through the windows, Dretphi sits on her bed. She keeps her arm out and aims the screen of her aetherphone at her face, maintaining a stoic expression. Faintly furrowing her brow, she briefly sighs and speaks long, intricate sentences in a dialect of grath. She awaits with a stare upon the aetherphone screen, fighting subconscious attempts to shamefully avert her steely gray eyes. An older grath man on the video feed gazes through to Dretphi in a calm, cool demeanor. His steely gray eyes, matching Dretphi's, search his thoughts carefully. Curling the corners of his mouth, he wrinkles his forehead, his tan skin similar to Dretphi's. Tense, quiet moments pass. He breaks the looming silence in the room, and a firm, strangely soothing voice sounds out from the aetherphone. The grath accent shares many qualities of Dretphi's.

With each of his sentences, Dretphi gradually bows her head more and aims her eyes lower, a frown hinting. Noticing the souring mood, the older grath man on the screen pauses. He glances over to the corner of his mind and lifts an intrigued eyebrow. Cracking an amused smile, he speaks endearingly in a far warmer tone. Dretphi lifts her head back up with a full smile. Gazing with pride at the older grath man, she softly states a few admissions. The man on the other side of the call chuckles through the speaker and smiles lovingly, relaying a few more tidbits of humored wisdom. Dretphi verges on a grin. From the other side of the call, a woman's voice rises up from the background loudly in grath. Dretphi rigidly freezes and her eyes widen in near fright. The older grath man nonchalantly turns his head and calls back. Listening to a response, he returns to face Dretphi through the phone. He inquires with a few sentences, and Dretphi nods vigorously and stiffly. The older man laughs lovingly and sighs with a playful shake of his head. He smiles warmly with a few final words. Loosening up from the sudden tension, she smiles warmly back and returns a similar sentiment.

The phone call ends. Closing her eyes a few seconds with the happy smile, Dretphi places her phone on top of the bed near the pillows. She leans herself forward and stands up with the momentum. Walking out through the doorway into the hallway, she moves into the living area. Spotting Bach upon the couch, she steps near the furniture and aims her gaze down. "I am ready for our training. I apologize for the delay."

Bach blinks his attention away from the television and turns his head up towards Dretphi. "Oh! Yeah. Hey. No problem. Um, yeah, let me turn this thing off."

Stretching his arm forward with remote in hand, he presses the power button and rests the remote upon the coffee table. He lifts himself off the couch, stands up straight, and navigates his way out from behind the coffee table towards the sliding glass door. "So, uh, what was the delay? Anything wrong?"

Dretphi smiles at Bach and shakes her head, following behind Bach through the sliding door. "No. My birth father contacted me. He wanted to talk to me about my..."

Pausing a moment, she orbits the subject. "Recent, publicized confrontation."

Bach awkwardly contorts his face uncertainly and quirks an eyebrow at Dretphi with a tinge of concern. "So, uh, how did he feel about that whole, well... Situation?"

Concealing a soft bite of her lip, Dretphi sways her head slowly side to side, balancing her mixed emotions. "He reminded me of his wisdom to choose the confrontations I engage in with care."

The warm smile returns to her face, and she gazes at Bach. "Shared his opinion that he saw no fault in my actions. Relayed that my two house fathers are proud of me.

A sliver of grin creeps from the corner of her mouth, and her pride slips out. "My opponent had it coming in their opinion. Their perspectives come from experience."

Bach nods with satisfaction. The two travel to a large oak tree on the side of the ranch style house, and stop in the short grass area near the shade of the fresh, filling canopy. "Well, I still don't know what that Trakenthin guy said, but I'll trust your decision was the right one."

He drops down to a louder whisper. "It really didn't sound good, like, at all."

An awareness picks at Dretphi's attitude, and her amusement struggles against a looming thought. Squinting briefly, Bach lifts an eyebrow and addresses Dretphi. "So, was there something else?"

Dretphi blinks off guard, notices Bach's examination, and sighs with a tinge of wariness. "My birth father warned me my mother will call me tonight."

Bach visibly puzzles for a moment and tilts his head to the side. "Wait. Warned?"

Her eyes hunting her mind for the correct terminology, Dretphi sighs out her vague frustration. "Warned is not accurate. The original term does not have an exact translation. It is the act of informing someone with contextual foreboding not probable enough to classify as a warning."

Bach stops walking, blinks hard, and ponders out loud. "Okay... So... There's a specific word for that type of thing?"

Dretphi succinctly nods to and plainly gazes upon Bach. "Yes. There are variations dependent upon source, target, situation."

Furrowing his brow, Bach thoughtfully cocks his head and crosses his arms, bouncing his blue eyes between parts of his mind. "I- um. Huh. Okay, you're going to have to give me some examples here. Americ has nothing like that. And, I am no expert in that even."

A warm smile grows on Dretphi's tan face, and she nods, reaching for roll out mats leaning upon the oak tree. "Indeed. Will explain during our workout."

Next to the sliding glass door, Deedri stands, leaning her back against the tan brick wall of the two story house. She stares out into the backyard and watches Veevi wildly swing with a padded training sword at the towering Trakenthin. Within Trakenthin's single handed grasp, a thick, straight branch effortlessly intercepts each crude swipe from Veevi, halting attack after attack. Clumsily hopping away, Veevi readies herself in a surge of arrogance masquerading as confidence. Believing her stance and form fit the situation, she charges into a sloppy flurry of overly animated, exaggerated swings. Trakenthin fights against boredom and unenthusiastically counters each strike from Veevi, casually deflecting them away with the large stick. Each contact of wooden weaponry breaks Trakenthin briefly from the ongoing tedium.

The sliding glass door opens, and Modoran peeks his head cautiously out through the gap. Noticing Deedri brushing off the apron of her usual medical mage attire, he smiles smugly with a tinge of sarcasm. "Well, I see that Trakenthin hasn't killed her yet."

A furry ear perks over to Modoran's voice, and Deedri follows through with a glance over. Tightening her lips, she sighs and fails to hold back a roll of her auburn eyes. "No. She's very lucky he hasn't put any effort into sparring."

Modoran gazes over to the match and watches another barrage from Veevi crash into deflection after deflection, nothing phasing Trakenthin. With a frown curling from the corner of his mouth, Modoran shakes his head of short, grayish white hair. "Hope she gets tired enough to realize she should quit.

He pulls a humored smirk into the corner of his dusky bluish gray face. "Or, angry enough to storm off, soon. At least before Trakenthin decides to finish it for the day."

Deedri nods uneasily and cringes briefly, contorting vaguely at the thought. She ponders for a moment and gazes over, puzzling at Modoran. "By the way, where were you yesterday? Veevi was looking EVERYWHERE for you. She even checked the garbage cans."

A snort escapes through the sly grin upon Modoran face, a hint of devious glee slips out. "OH. THAT."

He smugly quirks an eyebrow and rolls his dark blue eyes. "Well, after seeing how things between her and Tassilda went Monday... I thought I'd figure out a way to keep my distance. So, I convinced her that playing a game of hide and seek, that she couldn't win, was part of her stealth training."

Crossing her arms, Deedri momentarily musters a stern glare at Modoran. She swiftly settles to mild, general annoyance, and idly gazes out to the backyard. "That must have been NICE. Where did you end up hiding?"

Modoran steps out the rest of the way through the doorway and closes the sliding glass door behind him. Resting his back up against the brickwork near Deedri, he smirks amused. "Oh, over into the forest over there. I decided to spy on our neighbors for a while."

With a quick snap of her head, Deedri focuses her wide eyed curiosity upon Modoran and lowers her voice. "Wh- D-Did you see anything going on?!"

Modoran shrugs nonchalantly, presenting an unimpressed smile to Deedri. "Not really. The grath woman, Dretphi I think, was running laps around the house with the human... Um... Bach? Yeah, him. It was a pretty intense workout. He could barely keep up for most of it."

Sorting through recent memory, he blinks to a recollection and perks up, smiling happily. "Oh! I did find some more of those protellow seeds in the forest. They were a bit further in, but still close to the house."

Deedri's eyes brighten, and she grins excitedly and pops up on her toes, clasping her hands together. "Wow! OH! There MUST be a patch deeper in the forest. Even as far as they can launch their seeds, that still means they're pretty close by. We should be able to figure out where they are."

A shrill growl overflowing with ire bellows out from Veevi, and she steadies her training sword, pointing it at Trakenthin. "OH! Some GREAT swordsman you are! Always blocking, and on the defensive."

Veevi curls a mean smile and narrows a derisive stare up at Trakenthin. "So... Are you using the same tactics SHE DEFEATED YOU with?!"

Distractions within Trakenthin's mind fearfully leap clear from the burst of indignation and contempt jetting to the front of his consciousness. His posture shifts drastically. His stance changes. And, his grip on the wooden branch slides. Awaiting Veevi's attack, he focuses his cold glower down upon her. Summoning all the dramatic bravado possible, Veevi lunges forth into an assault towards Trakenthin. Her training blade halts early against an immovable object. Confusion erupts on her tan face. The large stick vanishes in a brief blur away from Veevi's sword, and she stumbles forward. An incredibly hard, overpowering back swing strikes Veevi's training weapon. Veevi spins around with the momentum of her sword and struggles to find her footing, awkwardly dancing upon the grassy lawn in an uncoordinated mess. She sinks her foot into a section of loose sod and tumbles over herself. Moments after crashing into the dirt, she curls up, both hands grasping around her ankle, and wails in pain.

Grimacing, Deedri sighs, her eyes glancing up in resignation. She pushes forward from the wall and jogs over to the downed half-fvalian girl. Lowering herself to her knees next to Veevi, she cautiously reaches through Veevi's frantic flails and panic, securing a safe grasp of the leg. Deedri's eyes glow light auburn, and she focuses upon Veevi's ankle. Granting a comforting smile to the worried Veevi and the ever present camera crew, she calmly explains. "You'll be fine. You only just twisted it a little. Let me address it with a quick spell."

Veevi seats herself upon the grass and props herself up with arms behind her, allowing Deedri to guide her foot onto a lap. With a series of gestures and incantations, Deedri flows waves of blue and green energies down into her palms and expertly places her hands upon Veevi's leg. The power leaves Deedri and sinks into ankle, each pulse illuminating less of the foot over time. Minutes later, the energy flow wanes, and Deedri withdraws her hands. "That should soothe the pain, combat the swelling, and speed up the healing."

She digs through the pockets of her outfit, rummaging for the right item. "But... We'll still need to provide it some support for now. I should have some compression wraps..."

Tilting her upper body forward, Veevi examines her foot. She carefully flexes the stiff ankle joint around, managing a series of small circular movements. The prior fright and nerves fade to a happy smile. Her eyes glance up to Deedri, watching Deedri inspect pocket after pocket. The happy smile mutates into a sly, seductive grin, and Veevi gazes down near her foot. Removing a roll from her pocket, Deedri locates the flexible compression bandage and pauses, blinking blankly. Her confusion leads her attention down to an odd pressure moving on top of her apron along her inner thigh. Veevi continues gently brushing her big toe upon Deedri's apron. Uncomfortable, nervous energy flows down Deedri's spine into her tail. The unsettling wave bristles the hairs down to the very tip. Slowly lifting up her head, Deedri meets Veevi's intense stare. With the bandage roll in hand, she awkwardly forces a smile upon her fair face. "I... Found the... Compression wrap."

With a flirtatious roll of the shoulders, Veevi relaxes her posture and suggestively bites her lower lip, hovering her foot up and flexing her toes. She gazes at Deedri, waiting to catch the return of Deedri's averting glance, and winks with a quick lick of the lips. Deedri's professionally stoic demeanor barely contains the internal scream resonating within through her wide-eyed shock.

Sitting at the dining table, Cideeda engages the last lock on the upper outer casing of her laser pistol. Angling the pistol to the side, she showcases the device to Bach and circles a claw tip over the mechanism. "And THAT is how you field strip the Arc and Spark Light Lance four fifty."

In the chair next to Cideeda, Bach nods impressed and strokes his chin in thought. "So, how many times have you done a field stripping... in the actual field?"

With a few wags of her tail, Cideeda darts her emerald green eyes through memory and pantomimes the math on her fingers. "Maybe twenty... five times? With this pistol at least."

She carefully raises the barrel of the device up to the ceiling and taps upon the casing. "So long as the laser core is in good shape and you don't break the case seal, it should work long enough to get you home. They're tough but not indestructible. A few good drops on hard ground can loosen up the casing enough to let dirt get in."

Glancing around the dining table crowded with parts containers surrounding both Cideeda and him, Bach lifts a curious eyebrow. "So, why laser pistols?"

He narrows a quick glance at Cideeda and smirks. "From personal experience, you're pretty good with a shotgun."

Cideeda flashes a toothy grin and rests the laser pistol back into its custom cutout within a protective case. "Well... As much as I love my shotgun, the recoil doesn't help when I need to be moving around and keeping my aim on something."

Shrugging, she closes the top of the weapon case. "The laser pistols have no recoil, burn lines at targets, and the energy cells weigh A LOT less."

Sliding the pistol case off the table onto the ground, she shifts her focus to a large rectangular container and securely grasps it with both hands, claw tips eagerly sinking to the cloth exterior. "Also, I usually use the shotgun for the specialty ammunition most of the time. I only use buckshot or slugs when I know I have to punch through something tough."

Bach nods a moment and cracks a grin. "So, like cyber-zombies?"

Shuddering briefly, Cideeda twists her face and flicks her furry ears back. "Yeah... Still, I would rather take something like that out from much further way with the specialty ammo I have."

She hoists the padded fabric box upon the table top, hooks a claw into the zipper handle loop, and flashes a sly grin at Bach. "NOW, along with your training today, I have a special task that's perfect for your skill set."

Cocking his head to the side, Bach gradually lifts an intrigued eyebrow, tugging a corner smirk on his mouth. He watches the container and waits expectantly. Cideeda undoes the zipper around the perimeter of the top flap's edges and deftly slips a hand inside, seeking something within. Her forearm muscles flex briefly, she withdraws her fist out of the fabric covered case and gently rests a cupped hand upon the table between her and Bach. In a dramatic flourish, she opens her grip and reveals a small plastic figurine upon a twenty five millimeter diameter base. The shiny details of the miniature glint from the natural light beaming in from the sliding glass door and artificial sources from the lamp overhead. The figure stands dramatically positioned in an action pose. Dark emerald green plate armor covers the humanoid. Wielding a large revolver pointing forward, it holds a translucent energy shield in the other gauntlet covered hand. Bach studies the intricate paint upon the plastic model and glances up, puzzling at Cideeda. "Huh. Okay. Um... Do you want me to paint them or something-?"

Shaking her head with a hard blink, Cideeda laughs, a defensive tinge slipping out. "OH! NO. Never. Only I get to paint them. Which I'm going to touch up, but..."

Her expression softens, and she dons a sweet, endearing smile. Fluttering her eyes, she gazes at Bach and coyly fidgets in her seat. "Could you change their poses for me? I'd really like them to look nice for the Legends of Nexus tournament this Saturday at the game shop."

Bach aims his scrutiny at the figurine and returns his reserved stare to Cideeda. He squirms in his seat, and she concentrates her pleading, hopeful gaze. Cracking a smile, he sighs amused and turns his head away. "Okay, I'll help. Just stop using that look on me. Gods, no wonder you get all those discounts."

The cute act disappears in a flash, and Cideeda widens a prominent, sly toothy grin. She flips over the top flap of the zipper container and proudly displays her rows of miniatures, removing tray after tray. Plucking a few choice ones out, she places them in front of Bach, and instructs him about every single aspect of the real world and in-game details. Bach listens with interest, watching Cideeda act out her desired new poses.