Episode 28

In the living room, the ceiling fan spins slowly and gently stirs up waves of air sifting through the sliding screen of the back door. Sitting at the dining table, Bach concentrates upon the weathered old book from the abandoned town. He briefly examines the simple necklace and decorative blue ribbon off to the side, and returns his attention back to the journal. Carefully parting the cover with faint cracks from the spine, he turns through the blank outer pages and stops upon the first handwritten paragraph.

"This is the journal of Isaac Kurt Huxley. Truth be told, I have been prompted by my wife Sylvia to record my thoughts about our new adventure here at Orth Ridge. I must say, it has been quite the trip to get here and a delightful chaos since we arrived. They are still getting the basics of the village together. The engineers have gotten power and water working just fine, but they seem to be having difficulty getting the aethernet relays online. Some strange interference source in the area from what I have gathered in assisting them. But, they have been able to get radio links functional, enough, and even managed to bounce a signal off one of the ancient satellites the Grand Library has figured out how to reprogram over the years. The fact that something that old still functions absolutely fascinates me to no end."

"Overall, we are all settling in just fine. Even little Cynthia is warming up to the place. Once she found out she would be getting her own room and a play area in the office, I think all her reservations disappeared. I can't thank Dr. Dawkins enough for putting us on this assignment. From everything the records we have found so far have implied, there is something very unique here. I can't wait until the outer area is cleared by the safety teams. I have to say, it is a bit frustrating to see such an amazing site hinted at just outside my bedroom window and know we can't go there yet. Sylvia at least has been able to put her writing and artistry skills to use in documenting the happenings of the site. If the drafts of her latest book are any indicator, they will be quite the exciting read for the higher ups."

Bach's blue eyes follow line upon line of handwritten word upon the weathered pages. Flipping through, he hovers studious gazes over each page and follows the flow of text to the next page. He spots a section of bold and large script contrasting the prior entries and focuses his gaze upon the page, squinting curiously.

"AMAZING! I cannot relay into words how excited I am! The industrial nature of the outer area was intriguing enough, and the hours of speculation about what happened here have made for truly epic and inspiring late night debates. But after so long, we finally were granted access into the circular chamber. The pictures the safety investigators brought back do not do it proper justice. Unlike the industrial warehouse before it, this chamber is magnificent with the grand circular platform, and the strange construction is baffling upon initial inspections. The safety teams have given the area a green for our exploration and have found nothing immediately dangerous. We will still take full precautions and place a number of flow monitors in the area to detect anything that may be lingering. It is not the first time ruins have sparked to life with new activity."

"I will admit I am a bit wary of crossing the bridge through that eerily dark warehouse. Thankfully, they have put up a few layers of barriers to create a protective tunnel through, and the rest of the area is a strict red zone. The most I have heard they are doing in that area is send pure electronic drones to place sensors, and they lock down the surrounding area before attempting that much. Still, my travels through there will be at a gingerly pace. They are only allowing our team to go through the space at the moment, but if that area seems dormant enough they will open it up to others. Sylvia is very eager to see the grand chamber for herself and is very keen on drawing it. I am certain a picture will do enough for the higher ups, but she so enjoys capturing such grand things upon paper herself. From the looks of it, she will have plenty of vantage points with the encircling balcony walkway."

A breath slowly escapes Bach with a trailing shudder. Recent memories rise up into his consciousness, and he vaguely contorts the flit of discomfort out. He follows the writing to the next page and the end of the entry. The handwritten installments grow longer with each chapter, and Bach sifts through the daily logs outlining the mundane. He halts himself from turning further and stares at the current page. The entry starkly contrasts many prior, shaky handwriting, less words, and dated a week late.

"I have finally gotten the presence of mind to write into this journal. Sylvia writes to help with her thoughts, and I more than ever need any help I can muster. Something happened a week ago. They are still investigating. I don't know what happened. Sylvia and Cynthia are fighting for their lives. Something exploded in the warehouse. They were bringing me lunch so we could have a picnic in the grand chamber. They were on the bridge when it happened. By the time I got to the archway, I saw them midway on the bridge trying to get their footing to run clear. That black miasma was shredding the layers of barriers. Johnathan. Gods, he tried to keep the barriers up and keep the safety doors overridden. Gods, he blames himself, even after saving me from getting hit by that black jet of energy. Why did this happen? I need to return to their sides."

Noticing odd markings upon the paper, Bach lowers his head close to the page and examines scattered water droplet stains below the trailing path of ink dried in a faint pen tip path. Rolling the page over to the next entry, his eyes trace the wavering penmanship and irregular spacing between words.

"Dr. Malkav has a plan. I always thought of him to be on the fringes of madness with his theories. Gods, I never saw eye to eye with him. But. That man cried for my Sylvia and Cynthia. When he thought no one could see, he broke down and cursed the gods like I have every day since what happened. If he is right, then this energy can be countered enough to save them. Artifacts with some ability to emit elder energy are being located and rushed out to the site as soon as possible from the Grand Library. It has to work. It makes so much sense the more I think about it. I wish I had thought of it sooner. I have to go back, I won't abandon them."

A frown upon Bach's face darkens shades grimmer, and he reads the next few shrinking entries. Pauses at a nearly empty page, he stares at the last semblance of writing, a single sentence.

"They are gone..."

A water worn trail of ink drifts aimlessly upon the bound piece of paper through a few of the many bubbles of droplet stains. The binding of the book remembers. The journal easily remains open on the moisture warped page. Bach slowly parts the stiff pages, finding many attempts to start new entries. Dates upon the header devolve into mere aimless pen marks. On top of the remaining pages, an explosion of ink and a small indentation piercing through records the final effort put into the old journal.

Releases a sigh, Bach withdraws away from the book and searches his mind, idly staring into a distance inside his head. The wooden and ceramic meeting of a mug upon the table top brings him back to awareness, and he turns his head towards Aristespha. "Oh. Hey."

He glances down at the cup next to him and watches Aristespha sit on a chair next to him with her own mug. "Thanks. I think I need the tea right now."

With a smirk, Aristespha lifts an eyebrow and shakes her head, eyeing the book in front of Bach. "If it was not midday on a Thursday, I would have put a lot more than tea in there to help you get through that journal."

Bach lifts the mug up and takes a long sip of the brew. Aristespha nods at the uneasy expression upon Bach and wrestles a flit of unease. "About the same look I had after reading it over."

Briefly eyeing the material, Bach uses a free hand to close the book up and calmly slides it away. "Yeah... It started out so nice, too. I can see why you are a little on edge lately. I just... Wow. I don't know what to think about... THAT."

Aristespha rests her head against the chair back, guides some of her silvery blue hair over her long pointed ears, and sighs with a hard blink. "Honestly, I just don't quite know, either."

The two share seconds of reflective silence. A thought surfaces in Bach's mind, and he stares at the book, squinting through a wave of intrigue tempered by fear. He gradually cocks his head to the side and slides his wary gaze to Aristespha. "You... think... that's..."

Aristespha follows the insinuation from Bach, eyes the old journal, and uncomfortably bites her lip with widened violet eyes. "I have entertained that thought, too. And..."

Briefly tensing her shoulders, she hisses out a breath through gritted teeth. "I REALLY would NOT know how to feel about THAT."

Blinking a few times, Bach pulls in a lung full of air and exhales slowly, delaying his own conclusions. He slides the book away from him a bit more and glances around for anything else. "SO... You got any more experimental materials you want to try to make today?"

A flash of interest lights up Aristespha's mood, and she smiles with an eager tone. "Oh! Yes, I do. That sounds like a great thing to do right now."

Next to the worn old journal, the plain silver traces in the simple necklace glint in the few beams of sunlight sneaking in, and the blue ribbon gently waves in the flow of air from the fan above.

In the dark space, a tall, large bellied man wanders in the walkways between towering rows of metal cases. A constant chorus of fan hum accompanies the low roll of air flowing in overhead ductwork hanging down from the high panel ceiling. Graying wild hairs freely follow the chaotic winds between different currents, and the middle aged man continues down the avenue of technology, orderly congregations of lights upon equipment bordering him. In the dimly lit region of the cavernous chamber, he stops, consults an old paper blueprint, and sharply turns down an intersecting path towards a heavy duty wall. Halting at the intersection, he eyes the map, stares overhead with a flashlight in hand, highlighting his wandering interest. He pivots to face a dead end and squints through the sea of green, amber, and blue status lights reflecting upon his glasses. His eyes trace a series of conduits mounted underneath the ceiling panels. The spotlight halts upon a collection of junction boxes, and he furrows his brow at the slightly newer sheen upon conduits, contrasting the piping nearby. Stepping forward in thought, he focuses upon a run of tubing leading straight into the concrete and brick wall. "Okay... That's not exactly what I'm here for..."

The flashlight searches along the merging of wall and conduit, and he mumbles to himself. "...but... ...that's pretty fuckin' weird..."

Glancing down at the worn blueprints, he holds them near the vented door of a server rack. The constant cooling fan suction slaps the paperwork securely upon the mesh surface. The man shines the flashlight upon detailed schematics, tracing a yellow highlighted path of wiring diagrams, and taps his finger upon the inconsistent section. Quickly checking the change date in the margin of notes, the man narrows his glare at the mass of junction boxes with annoyed grumble to himself. "The fuck did they put a junction down here for?"

Wrestling down an irritated frown, he sighs out his frustration. "What do you even go to?"

Crossing his arms, he studies the wall and darts his eyes to several other unique oddities, each new discovery tugging at the corners of his puzzling expression. He pinches the bridge of his nose and mumbles to himself. Reaching into his pants pocket, he retrieves his aetherphone and taps through a few menus. A call initiates and connects seconds later. Pulling in a deep breath, Nash places the phone on his ear. "Hey! Harvos! Got a question for YOU."

The proper, male voice at the other end sighs briefly. "Yes, Nash, and whatever would THAT be?"

Nash cocks his head to the side and lifts an amused eyebrow. "Okay... So, pretend you're searching for an artifact you KNOW should be in your possession. You go to the spot it should be and find out, it's gone."

Harvos's curious tone rises out from the speaker. "Okay. Following the analogy, I would check to see if it has been misplaced, loaned out, or something is wrong with the paperwork. I assume you have already done similar by now."

With an exaggerated nod, Nash paces around the dead end of the row. "Correct. Now. The weird thing is that everything shows that it is still in the room it is supposed to be in, and there are no signs that it has left that room. So, you go to manually, physically check everything in that room. Then, while tracking it down, you find the plug for some THING plugged in, but the cord runs into a wall... Where nothing needing power should be."

A brief pause later, Harvos audibly puzzles with an exhale, his voice teetering between intrigue and wariness. "THAT would certainly be concerning... And, extremely strange."

Nash places his free hand on his side and dons a tight smile with a grit of the teeth. "YEAH. That's what I thought, too. I just really wanted to confirm my suspicions with someone else, just to make sure my initial impressions were correct."

Following his curiosity, Harvos chuckles lightly from the other side of the call. "Well, not that I don't mind helping you out, BUT... I have to ask, why did you call ME?"

A sly grin parts Nash's mouth, and he chuckles, near goading in tone. "WELL, it turns out this database node I'm missing has some of your department's decataloged data on it."

A long silence resonates out from the aetherphone and briefly pushes away the ambient fan din. A singular thoughtful hum from the other side of the call breaks the tension. Sounds of movement find their way out of the speaker, and Harvos faintly chuckles in the mix of noise. "I will be right over. This sounds FAR more entertaining than this budget spreadsheet."

A breeze floats across the field of grass behind the ranch style house, gently pushing down the tallest blades. Aristespha inspects a practice sword, feels out the balance, and swings precisely in front of her. With a well-worn practice sword in hand, Bach stands a few meters away, bubbling with apprehension between averting glances. "So... Uh... Are we doing basic drills? Practicing footwork? Um-"

Twirling the training blade into a confident step forward, Aristespha aims the tip ahead and smiles, cracking the hint of a grin. "I thought we would spar a bit."

Bach's eyes widen briefly and search around nervously, and an awkward, weak laugh stumbles out. "Ah, heh... What?"

Sebastian floats into the space between Aristespha and Bach. "Don't play dumb, bro. I know you know most of mom's sword fighting techniques. You're not completely helpless here."

A cringe starts at Bach's cheek and creeps to the corner of his mouth. "Knowledge of... Yes. Proper application... Nooo."

Shrugging his shoulders, he loosely hangs the practice sword in hand and glances over towards Dretphi and Cideeda working through stretching routines upon mats off the patio. "You know, how about we join them. I totally need to work on my flexibility a bit and-"

Sebastian snaps his gaze to Aristespha, tilts his head towards Bach, and mouths. "Now."

Aristespha focuses her stare at Bach and lunges forward, her training blade thrusting towards his midsection. Locking onto the sudden movement, Bach's blue eyes flick to the source and assess the assault. He hops back from Aristespha's attack, swipes his sword, and deflects, readying himself to a defensive stance instinctively. Slyly grinning, Sebastian crosses his arms and perks a smug eyebrow to Aristespha's piqued amusement. "SEE. He damn well knows the moves. You're going to have to force it out of him."

Bach briefly flashes an annoyed sneer to Sebastian, keeping his wary attention split on Aristespha. "Yeah. I KNOW the moves, but I've never been able to DO anything with them..."

His sentence trails off. Aristespha steps forward with an overhead swing and drops down her sword, clashing upon Bach's raised blade. Redirecting the opposing weapon to the side, Bach backs away. "Okay, you made your point. Let's do some drills. I'm really rusty and I could really use the-"

Aristespha pushes forward in a flurry of careful strikes. Startling into the defensive, he counters each attack in a tense fervor of motion. With the final deflection, Bach distances himself further from Aristespha and points his practice weapon at her. "Good gods! Stop that! Dammit, Sebastian! What the fuck did you tell her?!"

Sebastian averts his translucent blue eyes away with a humored smile and chuckles to himself. "Oh, nothing really, bro. Just how mom would always teach us sword fighting and let us spar against each other... And..."

A devilish smirk curls upon Sebastian's translucent form. "That you are probably the best one to help her practice what I've taught her."

A twitch settles in the corner of Bach's eye, and he glares, irritation welling. "Gods damn it, man! I'm not THAT good at-"

He shifts his footing, side steps, and guides his blade, diverting Aristespha's lunging thrust. Aristespha stands back up straight, glancing towards Sebastian with a sly smile, and gazes at Bach curiously. "You have defensive maneuvers. But, I have yet to see any offensive moves."

Grinning, she poses confidently, readies her training sword, and signals Bach to attack with her curling hand. Bach sighs, drooping his shoulders. He prepares himself and launches into an attack. Aristespha counters a few well executed moves with difficulty. Performing sloppy side-stepping deflection, Bach manages to create an opening. Failing to capitalize on the opportunity, clumsiness and lack of practice completely hinder his efforts. Aristespha swiftly swings and slaps her practice blade hard. A loud smack sounds from the surface of Bach's outer thigh. Yelping, he hops awkwardly back and dramatically rubs his pants leg. "OW! Dammit! Did he tell you to hit me that hard, too?! Shit!"

Aristespha lifts her brow and ponders to herself. Her violet eyes flips through her mind upon events, and she nods with a renewed understanding. "I think I see what you were telling me, Sebastian."

Sebastian sighs ethereally, shaking the head of his ghostly form. "It's unfortunately so, dear."

Bach snaps his dubious glare between Sebastian and Aristespha, a hand still protecting the sore spot on his leg. "Okay... What else has been said about me?"

A bit of shame bubbles up into Sebastian's face, and he rubs the back of his neck with a tight smile. "Well... That you are awful at offense because I always kept you on the defensive. And, well, I'd never let you get an attack off all the way, so you don't know how to follow through properly."

After a long stare, Bach's suspicious expression softens into an agreeable series of nods. "Huh. Yeah. That... That's actually pretty much it. I mean, about the only times I won is when I used some magic-"

Narrowing his gaze, Sebastian pulls the corner of his mouth into an annoyed smirk and crosses his arms unamused. "Or threw the sword at me."

Bach closes his mouth, meets Sebastian's accusatory stare, and averts his eyes in embarrassment. Grumbling, he squints at Sebastian. "OH. Well, what the fuck else was I supposed to do?! No rules against it. We were tied. And, you won the coin flip, so a draw would go to you."

He points to himself and straightens his posture defiantly. "I HAD no other choice."

A singular cackle escapes Sebastian's stoic facade. "Bullshit! You could have fought me, normally! Like you are supposed to!"

Snorting, Bach shakes his head dismissively. "Oh yeah, and lost horribly. Hey! Mom warned the camp instructor to NOT put us in competition with each other. Everyone was warned.

A wry smile creeps up on Sebastian's face, memories fluttering in his mind. His posture loosens with a humored smile on his face. "That was still pretty funny watching him dodge your sword after I smacked it out of the way, bro."

The brothers share a few snickers and chuckles. Bach snorts and shakes his head. "He SO wanted to yell at us, too. That the-fuck-did-you-expect look from mom was amazing."

Sebastian resumes a commanding stance and instructs his brother. "Yeah. Okay. Practice some offense with Aristespha today."

He glances lovingly over to Aristespha. "Be lenient on the timing. But... Don't be afraid to let him know his mistakes, dear."

A sly grin widens upon Aristespha, and she slowly aims her violet stare at Bach. "Do not worry. I will only break what I can fix."

Bach blinks hard and fights off reluctance, readying himself. "Uh, THE HELL is THAT supposed to mean?"

Clanks and clashes of training weaponry fill the air in the following minutes, with yips, groans, and grumbles of pain, aggravation, and frustration from Bach. Off the end of the back patio, a lattice door opens on the small screened gazebo, and Sotalia struts out. Faint wafts of steam radiate off her two-tone patterned skin and two-piece bathing suit. She pats her face with a towel and drapes it across the back of neck, down over her shoulders. Guiding water slicked, dark red hair over her black swept-back horns, she stops near Cideeda and Dretphi, watching Aristespha, Bach, and Sebastian. "So... How long have they been going at it?"

Cideeda inhales slowly, points her clawed toes, and flexes her legs, maintaining her full side split upon the mat. She places a hand in front and rests one behind her to steady herself, glancing up to Sotalia. "Only the last few minutes. Did you space out in the hot tub again?"

Sotalia grimaces briefly and rolls her golden eyes from her own embarrassment. "Well. Yes. Gods, I couldn't help it. It's a nice calm Friday, and it's just off the back patio.

Furrowing her brow, she rolls her eyes and sighs. "You can't put a nice thing that convenient to me and not expect me to abuse it to the fullest."

She inspects Cideeda's position on the mat and cringes with a grit of the teeth, squirming at the hips. "Girl, I do not know how you can just sit there like that. I think I'm starting to hurt just looking."

Smiling proudly, Cideeda shakes her head and snorts. "Just time and effort to get there, and little to maintain it. I could show you the exercises I did when my mom put me in gymnastics. Nothing too intense, but it's a start."

A loud smack grabs Sotalia's attention, and she watches the sparring between Aristespha and Bach. Shaking the sting out of his hand, Bach circles away from Aristespha and returns to his starting spot. He glares all his irritation at Sebastian. "Dammit! Oh, gods! It's just like fighting YOU!"

Sebastian chuckles smugly and shrugs his hands out to the side. "Hey, what can I say, bro? I taught her, and she learned quick."

Sotalia snickers to herself and shakes her head, glancing down to Cideeda. "Not today, girl. Too nice of a day to be torturing myself."

Cideeda furrows her brow up at Sotalia and motions her head over to Dretphi. "Oh. It's what everyone's doing today. Even Dretphi is doing those exercises."

Sotalia angles her head up away from Cideeda and observes Dretphi on the next mat over. Dretphi sits with her legs spread out, forming a rough ninety degree angle. Grimacing, she attempts to reach her arms out forward and touch the furthest part of the ground in front of her. A minute of struggling later, she relaxes her arms and straightens her back. Drawing her legs together, the residual cringe of pain fades upon her tan face in a slow exhale. Sotalia pivots around sharply and struts with a determined sway to each step towards the sliding glass back door. Sebastian peeks over his shoulder and quirks his brow. Coasting backwards up to a pace just in front of Sotalia, and he pries curiously. "Hey. How's your day been?"

Sotalia stops with a hand on her hip and a nonchalant smile. "Really quite wonderful. Woke up late. Nice hot tub session. And..."

She peeks around Sebastian towards the sliding glass door and smirks. "I think I'm going to read my novels in the warmth of the sun until we watch our favorite show tonight."

Adopting a sly grin, Sebastian nods expectantly. "Yeah... Sounds good. BUT, the show's not on until much later. SO, you can spare an hour, right? Plenty hours left for reading, still."

A dark red eyebrow rises upon Sotalia's light tan face, and she squints her golden eyes. "An hour for WHAT?"

With a quick glance past her, Sebastian motions Sotalia's attention towards the rest of the group and their different activities. She eyes over her shoulder and returns with a dismissive smirk on her face. "OH. I'm good. Thank you, though."

Crossing his arms, Sebastian tilts his head to the side and narrows his eyes incredulously at Sotalia. "NO. I think you need to put in an hour doing something resembling exercise."

Both of Sotalia's hands firmly grasp her hips. She straightens her posture defensively and stares sternly at Sebastian. With his ethereal form returning the gesture, Sebastian calmly speaks. "I'm not asking for a lot. Just an hour or two a week doing some kind of physical training. Just to maintain yourself."

Sotalia's expression contorts towards a mild glare, and she tips her head back, her eyes keeping focus on Sebastian. "Maintain myself?"

Sebastian groans out a long sigh and shakes his head. "Yes. You do keep yourself up with your magical training. But, if your magic doesn't work, what do you have to fall back on?"

Thoughts within Sotalia's head tug at edges of her face, near the dark gray patches. With a reassuring tone, Sebastian continues. "Hey, you are the magical power house of the group. BUT... With me being practically a ghost and Noxian changing up his tactics... I'd really feel better if everyone was at least at a certain physical fitness."

Sotalia crosses her arms tightly and averts her eyes away from direct contact. Each moment Sotalia settles her gaze away from Sebastian, he shifts over for eye contact. Seconds later, Sotalia concedes when staring up into the sky provides no refuge from the hovering ethereal form of Sebastian. Leveling her head and she stares forward at Sebastian, following her eye line down. Sebastian sighs, closes the distance, and whispers pleadingly. "Come on, Sol. What's more of a hit on your pride? Being awkward and goofy in front of us with some exercises, or having a vine controlled by some bratty teenager interrupt your spell because you didn't know what to do about it?"

A snort escapes Sotalia. She bites a smile against a twist of embarrassment and shakes her head at Sebastian with an amused tone. "Oh, fuck you."

Rolling her eyes at herself, she snickers to a lighter tone. "Okay. I'll TRY."

Hovering a pointed finger in front of Sebastian's chest, she smiles softly. "But, I get to stop the routine when you are back to normal."

Sebastian nods with a happy smile. "Fine with me."

Another loud smack rings out with a yelp from Bach. Sotalia gazes over to the rest of the group. "I do hope you are not expecting me to fight in my bathing suit."

An ethereal laugh resonates from Sebastian, and he shakes his head. "NO. You're more than welcome to change clothes and do some sword training. But, I'd figured you could just join Cideeda and Dretphi, today."

He peeks over his shoulder and blinks somewhat surprised at the sparring match. "Plus... I think Aristespha is having way too much fun at the moment."

With a playfully evil tint, Sotalia grins and eyes Sebastian. "I noticed. You might need to go over there and make sure she's keeping it educational. Need to make sure she doesn't start exorcising some repressed frustrations on your brother."

Sebastian nods with an eye roll and drifts towards a zealous Aristespha and frantically defensive Bach. "Yeah... I really should have been easier when I taught her."

Taking a few steps toward the sliding glass door, Sotalia stops and glances down at herself in the bathing suit. She thinks for a moment, spins around, and watches Cideeda stretch herself. Observing Bach, she searches her mind and idly shifts her weight between her feet. A flicker of mischief lights her golden eyes, and she struts out towards Cideeda and Dretphi. A sinister influence infiltrates her smile, and she settles down upon a free mat near Aristespha and Bach sparing. Directing her voice to Cideeda, Sotalia slowly stretches her body out and grins mischievously. "So, what were those exercises, again?"

In a dimly lit section of a cavernous structure, Nash stands in the concrete walkway along with an emin man, between monolithic metal racks. The emin combs his short, bright brown hair back with a hand and shakes his head in disbelief, his bright brown on black eyes examining the wall ahead. "Nash, these are the times I wish you were wrong."

Nash leans his weight upon the handle top of a sledgehammer and blows air sporadically through his mouth, glancing over to the heavy brick barrier nearby. "Fuck... I know. I've been wanting to be wrong A LOT lately. Strange times, Harvos, strange times. Like the old curse..."

Harvos loosens his leather jacket off his body and hangs it on an open server rack door Nash pulls out for him. "I assume you want to take the first few swings at this wall?"

Hoisting the other end of the handle up into his free hand with a strong yank, Nash judges the weight of the sledgehammer and steps up towards the middle of the suspect wall section. "Oh, yes. Plus, I think I got an idea where to hit the thing given where all the newer concrete and mortar got put up."

Stretching his muscular arms out, Harvos checks the tips of his tall, upright horns, glancing up to the overhead conduits, and satisfaction hints into his face. "Whoever certainly took an impressive amount of effort to obscure the cut lines and blend in the new concrete. What concerns me the most is that I've seen similar from old records of scouts resealing sites to prevent thieves."

Nash lightly taps a spot upon the wall with the head of the sledge, and slowly rehearses a few swings. "Shit. I was SO hoping you wouldn't find anything yesterday. Especially, nothing that would require the both of us to be down here doing manual labor on Friday night."

Glancing behind him at Harvos, he grins sly and mischievous. "Certainly hope I didn't steal a night from you that Malva wanted."

A flush of red blends in with the light gray tones of Harvos's face, and he darts his eyes around, his proper demeanor weakening with embarrassment. "Uh. Um. No. Of course not... She asked me to go to a cultural expo... Tomorrow."

An amused chuckle leaves Nash and blends into the ambient drone of equipment. Rearing back the sledgehammer, he grins with a smug smile. "Fuckin' knew it."

Nash swings forward. A shrill voice projects down the walkway, burrowing through the din down the passage. "Chair Howard! Chair Azerios! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

Nash reflexively cringes from the woman's shout and misses the wall. The sledgehammer drops down onto the paved floor, and Nash stumbles with the momentum. Awkwardly recovering his balance, he steadies himself upon his feet, slowly straightens his posture, and glances over to the surprised Harvos. "Did you?"

Shaking his head carefully, Harvos pantomimes a strong no. The woman marches up, stops right behind the two, and glares intensely with bright orange eyes. She pulls a sneer up on her patterned face, revealing sharp teeth. "What. Are. You. Doing?!"

Cringing through into a pained grimace, Nash pivots around slowly, letting the sledgehammer slide through his hands upon the floor. He projects a forced smile and shines up his tone. "Vetra! Funny to see you here, right at this very moment."

Vetra narrows her eyes, focuses her glare upon Nash, and darts her attention to the sledgehammer. "What are you doing... With that SLEDGEHAMMER?"

A glint of light from the overhead lamps reflects brightly off a property tag. She focuses her stare, reading the label. "That belongs to MY Engineering department."

Nash pulls a grin hard across his facade. "Oh! Certainly nothing of interest to you. Really."

With her glare burning upwards at Nash, Vetra stomps forward. Swiping a dark, sharp nailed hand, she snatches the sledgehammer away and drills her stare into Nash. "Explain why I had to hear from the lab assistant on duty that someone walked into my department's lab, BORROWED a sledgehammer, and dismissed any questions saying Official Library Business."

Crossing his arms, Nash grumbles out his annoyance, diverting his eyes away from Vetra. Harvos shakes his head, stepping forward, and sighs with a calming smile to Vetra. "It is a simple exploration that hopefully will not lead to any further complications. We need to get access to a section of the structure that was initially walled up after renovations for security reasons and limiting possible access..."

Perking his brow, Harvos motions towards the wall and points out the faint outline of a filled in cut into the concrete and brick wall. "But... Strangely... It has since been opened up and sealed without any known records."

The searing scowl on Vetra towards Nash pops away, and she puzzles at the suspect construction ahead. Her bewilderment grows with each step closer to the wall. Squinting, she traces the faint fill lines with a finger and cocks her head of multi-color hair. "Interesting... It has been cut and sealed."

She spots the conduit and pipes from the junction box running into the wall and suspicion drives her curiosity. "Okay... Where do those go?!"

Nash sidesteps with an evil smile and cranes his head into Vetra's view. "Well... There's only one way to find out for certain."

Bouncing an unamused stare between Nash and Harvos nearby, Vetra sighs a tentative resignation. With a growing smirk of determination, she tightens her grip on the handle of sledgehammer, muscles in her arms defining themselves. "Well. It's a sanctioned operation if I make the first swing."

Harvos grants an accepting nod, Nash grins wide and eagerly, and Vetra rears the hammer back.

Inside Amaranth's Wrath Game Emporium, people gather around the many tables in the open front space. Scaled down battlefields decorate the tabletops, portraying different types of scenarios from many historical and fanciful eras. A young evuukian cracks a confident grin and slides a clear plastic stand supporting a giant black four winged dragon with a gray-armed rider across the grid map. "Full power auto burst from Blaureiter's Particle Power Blaster to your Red Gear Master Mech."

The young evuukian sweeps up a number of dice, pauses in a count, and plucks nearby stragglers of the table, filling his hand with more. The human teenager across the table twists confusion upon his face and cranes his head around the miniature scenery. Squinting incredulously at the number of dice in the young evuukian's hand, he cocks his head unconvinced. "The fuck are you going to do with all those dice... Shallen?"

Shallen glances up with a playful, sneering grin towards the teenager across from him and laughs menacingly. "Shredding the armor right off that damned Master Mech of yours... Dace."

Dace alternates a glare between Shallen and the two prominent figurines on the board. "Bullshit! Fuckin' bullshit, man. There's no gods damned way you get to roll THAT many dice. You've got to be calculating something wrong. You can't possibly stack that many bonuses together like that."

Shallen grasps a packet of paper next to him and presents it over the table to Dace, smug confidence shining. "See for yourself. Third paragraph down."

Reluctantly grabbing the document, Dace's eyes follow the rules printout down the fine rows of text. Discomfort and acceptance gradually overwhelms any resistance, and growls down to a defeated sigh. "What the actual fuck? How the hell did they allow this combo?! This should cost A LOT more points to pull off. Or the bonus dice shouldn't stack with the other bonuses. This is some BULL. SHIT. Right here."

A triumphant grin beams from Shallen, and he shrugs, dice rolling out his hand into a shallow wooden, felt lined box. "They'll probably in the next errata. But... For now..."

Dace drags his hands down his face and watches Shallen count dice out of the box. Glancing over to the side, he taps through a long list of forums on an aethernet site upon his phone. "Gods dammit, there's gotta be something about this somewhere."

The shop door opens. A ring sounds from the electric chime above on the frame. And, beams of late morning light break into the store and flood into the space. Cideeda steps through and hoists up her large rectangular carrying case, gleefully scanning the tables for an opening. Bach follows behind. Sotalia and Dretphi stop after clearing the doorway, gawking in astonishment. Cideeda waves to Steve at the counter, and he looks up from studying a collection of new figurines on the counter. Waving back, he picks up a clipboard and shows Cideeda. "Hey! Sign up is right here. Just grab a table for now. Everyone is warming up with a few skirmishes and playing with some of the new units we got in. Nothing serious until later."

Zipping over to a table with space, Cideeda places her carrying case in a chair and hops off to the counter. Bach gives a quick wave and nod to Steve and wanders through the aisles between the tables, examining the various battles playing out. He pauses a moment next to the table with Shallen and Dace, and glances knowingly at the black dragon and rider figurines. Bach gives an approving nod, and Shallen grants an appreciative one in return. Dace shakes his head and rolls his eyes. "Still bullshit, man."

Shallen narrows an accusatory glare at Dace and perks an eyebrow. "Do I really need to bring up that whole transport boat landing crime against gaming you pulled?"

With a snort, Dace waves off the issue and sighs. "Nah, we're good. Just don't complain when I do... THIS."

Sotalia and Dretphi keep behind Bach, and both uncertainly survey the numerous activities and distractions around them. The trio cross over from the table filled section into the aisles of bookshelves and display stands. Bach glances over his shoulder to Sotalia and Dretphi. "Uh, the both of you should take a look around for yourselves. I mean, you've both been to a con, so you should be able to figure it out."

Dretphi nods in agreement and slowly swings her gaze out into the novels and books. Her eyes flit wide open, and a flash of joy brightens her face. She eagerly departs for that particular section of the store. Sotalia lifts a puzzled eyebrow at Dretphi walking away. Checking around, she notices Bach not nearby and pivots around, spotting him moving towards the front counter. Shrugging, her attention drifts around to the plethora of distractions packed in the area. Bach stands up next to the counter. "Hey, Steve. How's it going?"

Steve breaks from his studies of figurines and rule material and smiles at Bach. "Really good, man. Looks like you brought almost everyone from your party. Except for the evuukian medical mage, Ari- What's her name?"

Bach smirks slyly, hints of satisfaction trickling out. "Oh. Aristespha. Yeah... She didn't feel all too good this morning."

He squirms slightly against memories and cringes at stale, confirming aches. "She went all out on some sword sparring yesterday and worked a few muscles too far in the process. Needed to rest up a bit."

Steve briefly grits his teeth sympathetically and tilts his head to the side. "Man, I know that feeling. Reminds me of after my first self-defense lesson. I was sore for a week. But, can't she heal herself?"

Bach bites his lip and rolls his blue eyes. "Well... She was able to do some healing without too much trouble. But, I think it's a matter of professional pride of being the healer to not have to heal themselves too much. So..."

Steve nods and excitedly shows Bach the new figures and rule booklets nearby. Over near shelves displaying graphic novels with cover art of couples in dramatic poses upon colorful backgrounds, Dretphi collects another book and places it on the small stack in her arms. Sotalia slinks up next to Dretphi, peeks at the collection, and slides one off the top. Flipping through it, a devilish grin crosses her face. "Oh, girl. Another batch of romance books I see. Let's see what you picked out..."

Her eyes slowly shift between the cells of the graphic novel, and her grin fades to genuine interest. Dretphi leans and gazes over Sotalia's shoulder at the material. Sotalia flips to the next page and stares in surprise with wide golden eyes. She exaggeratedly lifts an eyebrow at Dretphi. A slight blush of pink colors Dretphi's cheeks. Sotalia nods slowly, understandingly. Closing the book, she places it back on the top of the stack in Drepthi's arms and leans close. "I want to read that one after you are done."

Dretphi straightens up her posture, stifles a smirk with a bite of a lip, and quietly responds. "It is an excellent series."

Sotalia winks at Dretphi and scans the display racks nearby. "Oh, I'm sure it is. Speaking of series, I wonder if-"

Kneeling down, she pulls a comic book off the shelf and stares intensely at the issue number on the cover. "Twenty eight?! But, the latest I've got is twenty five..."

She furrows her brow and glances at other issues nearby. "Cideeda said she bought the latest when she gave me the last batch."

Dretphi ponders the situation and glances down at Sotalia. "Her purchase of the latest issues. You receiving issues. They can be separate actions."

A soft growl follows Sotalia standing up. She glowers across the shop distance between her Cideeda. Tilting her head forward, her horns show prominently, and her dark red hair falls ahead to frame her narrowing golden eyes. Cideeda idly chats with Bach and Steve. Grimacing momentarily, she glances back to meet Sotalia's glare. Her furry ears flick back, confusion floods her face, and she mouths quietly. "What?!"

Sotalia lifts up the issue twenty eight off to her side, points at it stiffly, and projects a demanding stare back. Cideeda briefly squints and dismissively rolls her emerald green eyes back to the conversation with Bach and Steve. Bach squirms with a strange feeling graces his back. Glancing over his shoulder, he blinks blankly spooked and returns his head forward, directing his voice towards Cideeda. "Gods, what was THAT look for?!"

With a trailing grumble, Cideeda sighs out mild disgust. "Oh. She just found out I've been keeping her a few issues behind."

Steve scratches his head and puzzles at Cideeda. "None of my business, but, why would you do that to her?"

A sneer twitches Cideeda's upper lip, and she glances between Steve and Bach. "Okay. So... The one time she got ahead of me in Tinkering Tina..."

She strains a breath through her nose, wrestling the words in her mouth. "She spoiled... you-know-what."

Bach searches his mind for the reference. Steve gasps and covers his mouth in astonishment. "No... She didn't..."

With an agitated flick of her long, fluffy tail, Cideeda singularly nods, a canine revealing grimace twisting her mouth. "Yes."

Steve sighs solemnly and offers a sympathetic, acknowledging bow. "TOTALLY understand now. Spoiler breakers can't be trusted. Justified in my book."

He checks the clock on the wall and taps the screen on his aetherphone. "Well. Need to check the sign up sheet and get all the brackets put together. You sure you don't want to do a historic scenario? You totally got a great Perimeter Defense Force unit that’d be a tough match for half the armies here."

Shaking her head of short, multi-colored hair, Cideeda smiles and walks to her army case nearby. "No. I deal with enough history as it is. THIS is my FUN TIME."

Within the next half hour, people shuffle around tables, move packs of miniatures around, and set up scenery. A few patrol around, answering questions and settling debates between players. Bach watches from the sidelines and idly wander his mind between different clashes of wargamers. Wandering next to Bach, Sotalia taps his shoulder and gazes over to a side table. She points out two people playing a card game. "Hey, have you ever played Conclave of Mages before? It seems like... You play mages with spell cards drawing mana from lands? I saw there were A LOT of cards you could get to build a deck."

Furrowing her brow, she gazes curiously at Bach, seeking a further explanation. "And... There's a chance you could find rares that are magically enchanted in the booster packs?"

Bach's eye spring wide open in fright, recognition feeding a terrifying conclusion, and his blue eyes sort through the flurry of possibilities in his mind. Calming himself down with a swift exhale, he leads Sotalia down an aisle away from the players at that table. "I... Uh... Played it a long time ago. It's not bad, but there's a number of other games like it that are a lot better to try out."

Sotalia follows along behind, quizzing Bach suspiciously. "Better, how so?"

With an awkward smile, Bach moves down the aisle, searching the rows upon rows of gaming products stuffed in every crevice. "Um, A LOT less financial investment, habit forming, and lifestyle destroying. And, I'd be FAR more willing to play them with you."

A competitive, evil grin forms on Sotalia's face, and the two travel further into the aisles of games. At the counter, Steve idly taps upon the countertop, bewildered, focusing upon a sheet of rules next to a collection of new figurines. Glancing over to a rotund man hanging out nearby, he shakes his head in frustration. "What the hell? Commander Reti's squad seems so counterintuitive to play."

Walking up to the register, Dretphi places down her large stack of books and notices familiar logos and markings on both figurine and rules material. She studies them closely, and her steely gray eyes ignite in recognition. The tactical puzzle distracts Steve. "How do you make an assault with this squad?"

A full, proud smile graces Dretphi. "You do not."

With a curious expression, Steve glances up to Dretphi and tilts his head inquiring. "Huh. Really? Then, how do you play them? It just doesn't seem to match the usual Grath military tactics."

Nodding understandingly, Dretphi answers plainly. "Skirmish. Retreat. Draw their forces out. Ambush."

Squinting down at the page of rules in front of him, Steve nods more readily, matching up tactics and rules in his mind. "Yeah... Yeah. That might just work. The bonuses and moves seem like they would support that play style. Huh. Have you played them before?"

With a slight shrug, Dretphi shakes her head. "No."

Confusion grows on Steve, and he eyes Dretphi curiously. "Okay. Then, how do you know their tactics?"

Dretphi blinks nonchalantly and smirks confidently. "I know my birth father's tactics."

Steve reflexively nods. Seconds later, he freezes in surprise, comprehension dawning upon him, and searches for an answer up at Dretphi.