Episode 29

Late morning sun creeps through the blinds into the bedroom. Upon a neatly arranged desk, aged tomes lay open, dense text upon the weathered and yellowed pages, and sticky tags of hand written notes adorn the margins. Notepads and journals intermix with tablets and encircle a neatly kept laptop. On a collapsible table against the wall, an arrangement of medical equipment and magic devices sprawl out upon the smooth surface, arranged in an methodical order. In its ornate scabbard, the Sword of the Spirit Realm rests against the corner of the bed between the nightstand. Sebastian's ethereal forms crouches next to a figure underneath the layers of covers. "Morning, dear."

A slight stir accompanies a halfhearted grumble, and the mass of sheets tightens defiantly around someone within. A playful smile emerges on Sebastian, and he leans closer to the covers. "Come on. Time to get up, dear. You know if you just lay in there, sore and in pain, for much longer..."

He softly warns with a direct whisper. "I'm just going to have to get Sotalia to come in here with a potion or two for you."

The blankets retreat and reveal a disorganized mess of silvery blue hair and a pair of violet eyes peering through it. "No..."

Sebastian grins slyly and perks an eyebrow, chuckling softly. "No, what?"

An ivory hand grasps the edge of the covers tightly and pries the sheets away from Aristespha's face. "No, I am getting up, Sebastian."

A warm smile spreads on Sebastian's face, and he hovers to a seat on the bed next to the stirring Aristespha. "Well, you are moving a lot better today. No curses in Evuukian I couldn't understand..."

He slides a translucent blue glance over to Aristespha. "So far."

Aristespha gradually rises with the bundle of sheets and rights herself on top of the bed carefully, fighting a grimace. "I still can NOT believe I am this sore, STILL."

Sebastian averts his eyes away briefly with a sympathetic grit of the teeth and laughs into a sigh. "Well... You did go all out on Bach with sword fighting. And... You were really conservative with the magical healing yesterday on yourself."

With a hint of concern, he stares lovingly at Aristespha. Releasing a long embarrassed sigh, Aristespha rolls her eyes at herself. "A proper medical mage should not be their own patient. You are supposed to reserve healing magics for your party unless you are in dire circumstances-"

A hard, eye wincing cringe seizes her, and the covers slip off down of her. Feeling along the back of her nightgown, she reaches for a particular spot in the middle of her back between the shoulder blades. "Gods, of all the spots for a muscle ache... Argh..."

Placing his elbow on his knee, Sebastian props his head up on his hand, and covers a knowing smirk. "Can I at least have her get you a fresh cold pack?"

Determined defiance bolsters Aristespha's self-reliant desires, and she carefully stretches her body out from under the covers. "I can get it MYSELF. I just need to stretch out, take some regular aspirin, and tough it out for another day. It is just a few spots that are still painful. I can manage just FINE."

Working herself to a seat upon the bed, she rests her feet upon the floor and gently flexes a number of sore and stiff spots across her body between blends of grimaces, cringes, and winces. Sebastian's ghostly figure slides next to her and smiles warm, lovingly. "Okay, dear. You know I'll do what I can for you. Even when you completely overexert yourself by beating up my brother."

Aristespha playfully rolls her violet eyes and fights off a wave of embarrassment with a self-aware smirk. "Well... I could not help myself. I actually got an attack through and hit your brother, repeatedly. Unlike someone who would only let attacks go through when he felt like placating my ego..."

With a sultry smile, she eyes Sebastian and perks an amused eyebrow. "For absolutely ulterior motives."

With a dismissive sigh, Sebastian jokingly crosses his arms and shakes his head. "I would NEVER let you win for such a thing as ulterior motives."

He gazes into Aristespha's eyes with a charming smile and a soft tone. "That was just your natural talent shining through."

The two stare at each other for seconds. Aristespha laughs softly, biting her lip. "Gods, how that still works on me I will never know."

Sebastian perks a sly brow and smugly smirks at Aristespha. "How WHAT works on you?"

Aristespha snorts dismissively and rolls her eyes away from the question. A melodic digital chime rings out into the room and softly bounces off the walls. Both Sebastian and Aristespha spot the aetherphone on the desk, vibrating and flashing its screen. Sebastian's ghostly form zips over to the other side of the room and examines the phone. Aristespha leans forward and prepares to stand up, stretching a stiff back muscle. "Who is it, Sebastian?"

Sebastian snaps his head up in surprise. "OH. It's Nash, dear!"

Launching from the bed, Aristespha steps forward normally, initially. Her motions quickly stiffen and grow more awkward the further she travels across the room. The lingering sore spots stagger her progress, and she stubbornly powers through the stiffness, gritting her teeth. Grasping hold of the desk chair, she pulls it out and flops upon it. With a quick snatch of the phone, she presses the answer button and places it to her very long, pointed ear. "Nash! Grant me one moment. Please."

Aristespha taps the hold button on the phone screen and searches around the area for Sebastian. She locates him at the door, gazing at her expectantly. A pain tinged sigh escapes Aristespha, and she pushes aside her pride for a meek smile upon her ivory face. "Tell Sotalia to mix up a mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory with the weakest alchemical muscle relaxant potion. Use the topical delivery salve. Bring the adhesive gauze pads. Please?"

Sebastian nods slowly and winks at Aristespha. "Will do, dear."

He floats through the door and slips out of sight. Aristespha settles to some comfort in the desk chair and takes a calming breath, pressing the hold button off on the screen. "Sorry about that. So, how has your morning been, Nash?"

Thin beams of bright light weave through the thick forest canopy and surround the outlines upon the sparsely littered forest floor. Clouds pass overhead and mask out the sun from the scattered silhouettes upon the leaf and brush covered ground. Slipping between the underbrush, Deedri walks expeditiously from one large trunk to another large trunk and occasionally stops, picking up another large seed upon the ground cover. Holding her position, she surveys the area suspiciously, her furry ears flicking towards an unseen source, and waits expectantly. Modoran steps out from behind a tree and waves with a nonchalant smile to Deedri. "Do not worry. We are not being followed."

A long sigh of relief escapes Deedri. Relaxing her tense muscles, she manages a small, contented smile. "Oh, good. Thank you so much for helping me. I just need a break from..."

Furrowing her brow, her tone roughens and her furry ears droop towards her shoulders. "Well... ALL of it."

Modoran glances back down Deedri's path and nods slowly with a sympathetic eye roll. "OH. I know. Gods, I know. I have to take breaks all the time for my own sanity."

Strolling up past Deedri, he squints his dark blue eyes ahead and idly wanders his gaze through the forest. "I will admit I felt a bit bad dodging the camera crews before. But, now... Not so much. Not. At. All."

Deedri contorts the flit of irritation upon her fair face and catches up to Modoran. "Well, stealth is your profession and all, so I understand keeping out of sight. And, gods, I really can't blame you."

Narrowing a brief glare back down the path, she snarls her upper lip faintly. "Especially lately."

A thought twitches upon the dusky bluish gray skin of Modoran's face, and he turns towards Deedri with a perplexed lift of an eyebrow. "Do you mind if I ask a personal question?"

With a quick fluttering blink, Deedri perks up and carefully watches Modoran. "You may ask, but I can't say if I'll answer."

Modoran nods with a short smile and tilts his head inquisitively to the side. "Why did you ever sign up for something like this? I have to be honest, you really do not fit in with the rest of the team."

Deedri's auburn eyes briefly open wide, the statement startling her. Her expression saddens, her ears droop down, and her posture sags. Modoran swiftly summons up a comforting smile and gazes at Deedri reassuringly. "Hey! That is a GOOD thing, Deedri. The rest of the team are belligerent ASSHOLES! AND, I've worked with plenty. These are some of the most brazen ones I have encountered yet."

An uplifting spark lightens Deedri's mood, and she struggles expressing her satisfaction against cautious humility. "Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say that..."

She averts her eyes away from the scrutinizing stare of Modoran. Evading for a few moments, she smiles tightly and carefully allows modest thoughts out into her reserved words. "But, they have proven... Needlessly difficult. VERY. OFTEN."

With the hint of a grin, Modoran rocks his head from shoulder to shoulder, accepting the response. "Oh, I will agree with you there. So, again, why did you sign up for this show of all things? YOU are a medical mage. Surely, there are better places for you to work than this disaster in the making?"

Deedri sighs sadly and slowly shakes her head of braided back, multicolor hair. She manages to keep a smile upon her face and summons her resolve. "I'm a medical mage, from a very low end school. The program is accredited and still very good, but..."

She wrestles against a frown and tenses her posture, her tail drooping. "The school isn't really prestigious or well known."

Lowering her head, she walks next to Modoran and clasps her hands down on her apron. "After SO MANY applications and interviews... I just couldn't manage to get hired on by any group or company after graduation."

Modoran gazes over to Deedri and furrows his brow, pondering out loud. "No one? No one wanted a medical mage? Every adventuring group I've ever heard of worth talking about has one. Wouldn't the public sector have positions, too?"

Deedri's shoulders sag low, and she shrinks her posture slightly with her thoughts. "Well... All the nice paying positions either wanted more years of experience than I could provide or a license from a top ranking school. I mean, I could always get a job via placement by the school and, EVENTUALLY, pay off my loans..."

Wrestling down the discomforting bubbling up on her fair face, she glances off to the side. "But, I..."

She swallows hard and grits her teeth momentarily. "I didn't want to think I worked so hard to not progress that much at all. Just to still be struggling to get ahead the same as I was before going to school."

Drawing in a long breath through her nose, she straightens up and puts forth a smile, glancing up to Modoran. "So... Watched the last season's finale of the show, saw the announcement for applications, and applied. I got accepted. And... Here I am. If nothing else, I'll at least pay down my loans a good deal, and my mother won't have to worry about me not having a job."

Modoran stares forward at a distant break of the treeline and chuckles to himself. "Wow. Well... I applied for very similar reasons, too. So, don't feel bad. I know how it feels when plans don't go your way."

Deedri's furry, tufted ears perk up, and she angles her head to face Modoran with a genuine inquisitiveness. "Really? I don't want to be rude and pry too much, but would you tell me your reasons?"

With a brief grin to Deedri, Modoran scratches the back of his head, tinges of embarrassment slipping out into his demeanor. "Sure. It's only fair. Um... Uh... Well, I am pretty unemployable in my homeland."

Treading cautiously, Deedri furrows her brow, blatant confusion contrasting against the sympathetic desires in her tone. "Oh... Um... Because, the demand for your skills and abilities changed and people got really superficially picky?"

Modoran laughs, shakes head of white hair, and grins slyly, crossing his arms. "Surprisingly, no. There is ALWAYS someone that wants someone to keep an eye on someone else, or acquire... Misplaced items. It's actually for more political reasons that I could not get any more work..."

Twisting away a frown, he slips a sigh under a strained breath. "... after a particular incident."

A wave of discomfort creeps across Modoran's body, and he keeps his head forward with a weakening grin. Flicking her furry ears around, Deedri studies Modoran and dons a cheerful smile, facing ahead. "Well, it's good to know that I'm not the only one that was out of work and had no great prospects. Honestly, it's actually very comforting and nice to know."

Unease fades, and Modoran smiles with an appreciative nod. "Same here. Well, the show is crazy, but..."

Lifting an eyebrow, he widens an entrepreneurial smirk. "They pay."

Leaning his head over, he inquires out of the corner of his mouth. "So, I have to ask, too. Do you really like that bell you wear around your neck?"

Deedri contorts her face, contemplating an answer. She sighs and grimaces briefly, revealing her pronounced canines. "Initially... I thought it was really cute. But, I'm a bit OVER it at this point."

Narrowing a distance glare forward, she grumbles in defeat. "Unfortunately, Samantha keeps on making me put it on when we do anything official... With the rest of the outfit."

A sinister grin creeps onto Modoran's dusky, bluish gray face, and he stares forward with a sly laugh. "Want me to relocate it for you?"

Deedri's long, fluffy tail perks up into a wag. With an intrigued gasp, she stiffens her posture and bites her lip in eager thought. "Um... I don't want to cause you any trouble..."

Narrowing an annoyed glare ahead, she flicks her furry, tufted ears back. "Unfortunately, I think the crew may have a few spares around, and I don't know where they all are."

Modoran chuckles darkly and gazes forward, furrowing his curiosity upon his brow. "I am actually curious how many spares they got. Might see how many I could displace before they start asking questions."

Squinting ahead, he scans the treeline perimeter ahead. "Huh. Looks like a clearing of sorts ahead. I am guessing, but the lighting looks off though."

Deedri focuses her auburn eyes in the direction that Modoran faces and excitedly rushes ahead. "No way! This is amazing!"

Modoran blinks in surprise and speeds up, keeping pace just behind Deedri. The two reach the forest edge and stop to survey the scene. Within a massive clearing, in the middle of a moat of tall grasses, a colony of protellow plants tower high in the air. Thick, tree trunk wide vine stalks sway with the passing breeze tugging the huge broad leaves. Atop each plant, massive circular flowers rock in the sun with their tightly packed seeds, petals full of yellow, red, blue, purple, or white shades. The protellows shift with the winds and, upon the imposing outline of the botanical monstrosities, colorful pods reveal themselves within fluffy tufts. One protellow in the middle towers above the rest surrounding. The meter thick base stays perfectly rigid against the passing gusts, and the stalk barely trembles from the force of its dozens of sun blotting leaves tugging against it. Stepping towards the sight, Deedri gazes up in joyful awe, her auburn eyes shining in delight. "I can't believe it! I knew it had to be large from a distance. But... OH, this is absolutely astounding!"

Modoran cocks his head to the side and eyes Deedri in sheer bewilderment. "Uh, what am I looking at here?"

With a near skip in each step, Deedri walks towards the huge cluster of plants through the surrounding tall grass. "It's a protellow patch! Or, technically, a colony."

Double-taking, Modoran raises a finger point toward the largest protellow and traces the up to its full height, his jaw hanging agape. "THAT is a protellow?! That thing is at least... Three... No- FOUR times the size of the thing that hit Chad's SUV!"

Carefully approaching, Deedri reaches a hand out to a much smaller protellow just over her height and examines a leaf within her claw-tipped fingers. "IT has to be very old. I wonder what variety these are? Protellow genetics are just fascinating. There is SO much variety in one ancient genetically engineered plant."

Modoran wanders forward, staring up in amazement, and trips over an exposed root. Instinctively, he balances himself upright and deftly recovers. "Whu- GODS. Look at the ROOTS on this thing! These are bigger than anything in the forest."

He blinks in surprise and leans down, squinting at the ground. "Wait... Are those... potatoes?"

Deedri snaps her wide-eyed gaze down onto the dirt and rushes over. She kneels close to the spot and digs into the dirt with her hands. Easing down to his knees, Modoran assists, clearing the dirt away, following Deedri's lead. A minute later, the two expose a large network of tubers within a patch of loose soil between pipeline roots. Examining her find, Deedri grins ear to ear, her tail wagging excitedly. She plucks a smaller tuber right out of the ground, eagerly eyes it, and halves it with a swift bite. Blinking blankly, Modoran stares in confusion and surprise. Deedri happily chews on the tuber and smiles in pure delight, swaying in giddy joy. Noticing Modoran's bewilderment, she fights the surge of embarrassment upon her fair face, a shade of faint red forming on her cheeks. Modoran glances down at the nest of tubers, pulls one from the bundle off the smaller roots, and inspects it closely. With a nonchalant shrug, he bites a chunk off and chews. Moments later, pleasure fills his face, and he nods in agreement towards Deedri. "Not bad. Not bad at all. Really surprised they have that much flavor."

Deedri renews her happy smile, reaches down, and plucks more off the clusters. "I KNOW! My mother has recipes for protellow tubers, fruits, seed pods, stalks, leaves, flower petals, and well... Just everything using the plant."

Modoran twists a few tubers out of the soil and presents them to Deedri. "How does your mother know so much about cooking these plants? I never heard of them being cooked that many ways."

Deedri briefly averts her eyes with a bite of the lip and sighs uneasily. "Well... We were pretty poor and lived really far out in the outskirts of town. So, you had to make due with what you had. Thankfully, there were a bunch of protellows in the area, and I'd always go foraging with my mother to gather up all we could."

With a gentle smile, Modoran nods and studies the growing pile of tubers resting upon Deedri's apron. "That sounds like it was fun. So, what are you going to do with all of these?"

Quickly checking one of the nearby larger plants, Deedri points a claw tip out to the colorful tufts around a collection of pods. "If we could get a few of those and one of the big leaves, I think we might have the rest of the ingredients for tuber wraps at the house."

A gleeful grin brightens up Deedri's face. Halting in thought a moment, she eyes the area and sighs with a little disappointment. "But, we really NEED to gather some of the more alchemical and medicinal components before we go back."

She stares up at a tall, nearby protellow, and squints to the highest point. Slipping off her apron with the tubers onto the ground, she stands up and walks over to the base of the plant. Flexing her clawed fingers, she digs her toe claws into the dirt through her new toed boots and aims her determination at the plant. "What we need is near the top of the vine where the leaves sprout from the stalk. There's usually a few fluid sacs that contain some useful reagents. It's been a while, but I think I can scale this one."

Modoran snaps his head to Deedri, up to the distant top of the protellow, and glances back towards Deedri. "If you need to get something from up there I can-"

Finding the spot Deedri was, he traces the length of the wide protellow stalk up and watches Deedri powering up the stretch of massive vine. With an impressed smirk, he steps up to the base and incants with a few gestures. Magical energy flowing to his hands and feet, he scales the plant slowly and trailing behind Deedri.

A faint drone of technology echoes in the large office. Upon shelves and desktops, bits and pieces of computing electronics liter the area and intertwine with paperwork and books. Across from a wall-mounted row of large flat panel monitors, Nash and Harvos sit opposite each other at the old, wooden desk. Nash rocks back slowly into his chair and groans in sync with the creak of his chair, idly shaking his head. Harvos props his head up with his arm, his elbow resting upon the desk. His bright brown on black eyes briefly entertain a peek at the bursts of information on the displays, and he turns his head away with a long sigh. Turning his rolling chair, he rests both elbows on the desk and grabs hold of his tall horns, defeated, frustrated. "I need a break from reading this incident report."

Wandering his focus to a computer screen on his desk, Nash taps a few buttons on a keyboard and slouches back into the squeaking office chair. "Oh gods, yes. This is just beyond fucked. And... And, we haven't even cracked open the rest of the bullshit they were trying to hide in those servers. I mean... Fuck. Tip of the iceberg shit here."

Document windows close out on the large displays and reveal a plain computer desktop upon the array. With a distant stare, Harvos shakes his head, furrowing his confused brow. "I still can NOT believe they had a server rack hidden in the old walled off stairwell. Still running, and connected to the system."

He flutters his eyes in sheer surprise and holds his hand up in disbelief. "And... it's full of decatalogged data."

Nash tilts his head forward, quirking an eyebrow. "You're amazed about a server rack and not the boxes of paperwork they had stashed in there?"

Harvos sits upright and shrugs his broad shoulders underneath his jacket. "Oh. Well. To be perfectly honest, my department is fairly desensitized when it comes to breaking into old buildings and finding dusty paperwork. THAT is almost expected. It would actually be strange if we didn't find anything. On the other hand, we typically don't find working computing equipment that contains fully detailed records of an absolute travesty. Especially, not with accounts of the following coverup operation."

Nash searches his mind in thought and nods in an unfortunate agreement. "Huh. Yeah... Point. Taken. Make sense, actually."

With a squeal of his chair, he leans forward from reclining, draws in a long breath, and grumbles. "Fuck. It's only Monday, and my week is already shot. This is going to take all my spare time to comb through these systems. There's just so much there."

Twisting his mouth, Harvos releases his horns and squints bewildered at Nash. "The sheer amount of effort they went to... They preserved the data. They took the effort to sneak it someplace they could quietly seal away. And, still kept it active enough so the database integrity checks wouldn't fire off alerts. Premeditated does not do it justice."

Shaking his head slowly, Nash blinks a few times in a daze of thought and groans. "I KNOW. The nodes were connected, so the system watchdogs could still generate all the checksums. That made sure no system degradation alerts would clue anyone into what was going on. All this hidden for over a decade. What the fuck..."

With the gradual slide of his chair, Harvos plants his feet firmly and stands up tall in a body stretch. "Have you updated Aristespha?"

Nash rolls out from under his deck, spins the chair, and throws himself forward. "Yesterday. Gave her the quick summary of what was happening. Wish I could give her more, but between this discovery and the hornets nest of higher ups her report stirred... I have to figure more of this out before I even know if I have anything that I haven't told her yet."

Finishing the last of his stretches, Harvos pauses sharply when an idea jumps to the front of his mind. He glances at Nash with an epiphany contorting his light gray face. "Ten years ago... Ten years ago... My predecessor's predecessor retired from the department abruptly a few months after a major accident. Somewhere near that area but not this site... Officially."

The two exchange long, distant stares. Nash breaks the silence and firmly palms his face, his frustration venting out. "Oh, gods DAMMIT! I bet you anything they used that to shade out this whole place. I- I- Fuck! That makes too much sense. Why does it have to make sense?!"

He rolls his eyes and mumbles to himself. "Is this how my uncle feels when he's going on with his latest conspiracy theory?"

With a grumbling groan, Harvos nods and wrestles a frown down. "And... How many have kept their silence for all these years? I believe we may need to have a nice long conversation with one particular Dr. Dawkins."

Nash blinks hard and radiates reluctant, conflicted comprehension. "Oh, shit. Well... Before we plot any more upsets in the house of The Grand Library, can we at least get some lunch, my friend?"

A few steps and quick grasp of the door handle later, Harvos opens the office door and dramatically gestures outwards to Nash. "After you, good sir."

The two exit the office, and Nash locks up behind them. Walking through the large hallways of activity, they weave between groups of students and academics migrating between classes and around the gatherings of last minute study sessions. Traveling down the main stairwell, they exit out into one of the large walkways of campus. Once Nash chooses a direction, Harvos eyes him with a knowing smirk. "Ah, yes. The good old Wall Street today?"

Glancing over, Nash shrugs nonchalantly and continues his pace. "Well, I'm buying two half liters. I was hoping you could keep me from drinking one of them."

Harvos grins with a flash of mischief in his eyes. "Oh. Just one?"

Nash returns a similar grin and laughs slyly. "Now, THAT'S the spirit."

Within the prep area of the kitchen, Sotalia rummages inside the refrigerator, sliding items around, and clears the path for sport drink from the very back. She quickly twists the cap off and tilts the beverage into her mouth. Releasing the handle, the refrigerator door drifts back closed. Sotalia steps out from the area next to the dining table and wipes the sweat off her forehead with the towel around her neck. "I'm STILL waiting for you to teach me THOSE spells. Bach."

Bach lifts his head off the couch seat cushion and peers over his sprawled out self, glancing at Sotalia. He settles his head back along with the rest of his body. "In time. You still haven't got that fireball optimized as much as you need to before taking on something like THOSE spells."

A brief glare narrows upon Bach, and Sotalia rolls her golden eyes with a dismissive huff. "GODS. How optimized does it have to be?! There's only so much you can do with ONE spell."

Reaching for a pillow on the back of the couch, Bach stuffs it under his head and grimaces. "Well, it's not so much optimizing the spell as it is practice for you to handle magic flow better..."

Noticing Sotalia's lift of an unamused eyebrow, Bach avert his eyes away towards the television and tenses briefly. "Listen. Before I teach anyone a spell that has the potential of slicing matter to near microscopic pieces, I just want to make sure that person is prepared. Okay?"

With a frustrated groan, Bach pulls himself up to face Sotalia, stopping abruptly the moment he meets her eyes far sooner than expected. Crossing her arms assertively, Sotalia stands defiantly next to the couch and glares down. Bach sighs into a wince with a pinch of the bridge of his nose and gazes right at Sotalia. "You have to UNDERSTAND. The regular disintegration beam is dangerous enough, and that spell keeps the destruction AWAY from you. It has protections to keep the dangers effects ahead of you. The D-Ball contains that destructive force in a carefully crafted ball that DOES NOT want to stay a ball."

A wave of honest concern fills Bach, and he stares up at Sotalia. "I don't want to haphazardly hand that knowledge off, and you get hurt because I forgot to go into some detail or didn't factor in a variable. This whole spell is something I came up with on a whim and got REALLY lucky with figuring out..."

Glancing off to the side, he contorts his face uncomfortably with a squirm down his body. "And somehow, I didn't render myself a pile of... disorientated atomic matter."

The glare fades from Sotalia, and she tugs uneasily at the corners of her mouth. Her light tan face warms up with an agreeable smile, and she uncrosses her arms slowly. Placing her hands on her hips, she sighs in a begrudging acceptance. "Fine. I understand. But, can we try optimizing some other spell?"

She glances off to the side and cocks her head. "I can't believe I'm saying this. But, I'm getting bored of fireballs."

Bach lowers his head back on the pillow and nods with a smirk. "Oh, yeah. There's a few other spells that would be good practice to optimize."

Sotalia grins slyly and struts away. "Good. I'm thinking the freeze beam next time."

A nervous chuckle manages to free itself from Bach, and he briefly arches his back. Moments later, a series of alert chimes ring out simultaneously into a rough chorus around the house. Bach and Sotalia retrieve their aetherphone and search through notifications. From the hallway, soft taps of claws and footsteps upon hardwood sound out. With aetherphone in hand, Cideeda wanders into the living area, flicking her furry ears between Sotalia and Bach. "Looks like a bounty alert for the area from the local guild."

Sotalia slowly drags her finger up her phone screen and scrolls through the alert text. "Huh, strange. That's a healthy bounty for someone not considered armed and without any kind of special precautions."

Sebastian floats into the room from the hall archway with Aristespha and Dretphi following behind. "Check out the arrest record, and you'll see why."

Everyone skips through the lists of information and arrives at the arrest section in near unison. Bach's eyes flit wide open in surprise, and he reads the charges off the list. "Holy. Shit. HOW MUCH money did this guy run off with?!"

Dretphi's stoic demeanor waivers into shock, her mind totaling the fiscal amounts her steely gray eyes perceive. Slowly shaking her head, she covers her mouth lightly. "Bounty is MINUSCULE to the funds stolen. Amazing."

With Sebastian hovering near, Aristespha stiffly walks over to the couch chair and eases herself into the seat. Reclining back with phone in constant view, she studies the text, her violet eyes narrowing. "It says he may be heading to the Amaranth Valley area or further. I guess he may be trying to run for the Perimeter Weird Zone."

Perking an eyebrow, Sotalia chuckles to herself in a snide cadence and settles herself into the stabilized magical energy chair at the end of the couch. "Ha! An illusionist! Well, THAT explains a lot. That's the only type of person I figured would be stupid enough to think they could pull this crap off."

She mutters under her breath. "And stupid enough to think going to the PWZ would be an escape plan."

Scratching her light brown chin, Cideeda nods a few times and narrows her emerald green eyes, contemplating the details on her aetherphone. "That would make SOME sense. I know a few cons and scams you could do to manage some of what he's done. But... You have to have some kind of ability or serious help to pull off anything as big as THESE."

Bach pushes himself up to a seat on the couch, tucking the pillow behind his back, and furrows a curious gaze at Sotalia. "So... Don't care much for illusionists, Sotalia?"

With a dismissive eye roll, Sotalia waves off the notion and laughs wryly. "There's nothing wrong with illusion magic. I'm sure those that focus in it and practice it exclusively find rewarding jobs in the marketplace-"

She bites down a reflexive chortle and stifles a snort. Bach slowly turns his head back towards Aristespha and Sebastian with an inquisitive eyebrow lift. Sebastian shakes his head and quietly sighs. Aristespha rolls her violet eyes and mouths to Bach. "I will tell you more later."

Placing her phone back in her shorts, Cideeda shrugs with a toothy grin. "Hey, if nothing else, it might be a good payday if we find him. We've had to hunt down worse to get far less."

Aristespha nods to that sentiment and twists the blue and gray hint on her ivory face apprehensively. "If he is an illusionist, I highly doubt he will be walking around looking like his picture in public. But..."

Furrowing her brow, she cocks her head of long, silvery blue hair. "If he goes too overboard hiding his face, he may be easily detectable with mage sight. Regardless... This is something to keep in mind."

With a spark of curiosity, Bach shifts his attention around and glances over at Cideeda. "So, you all have had to hunt down worse?"

Each tail flick ushers an old memory rising up into Cideeda's mind, and she leans against the hallway archway, ambivalent. "Oh. We've dealt with a wide range of bounties. The typical scum of the earth that makes you question why there was an Alive option. The hard luck cases. And, all in between."

Sliding her phone into her pocket, Dretphi rests her hands on her hips and smiles at Bach. "We prefer Alive only bounties. Others tend to be dangerous, morally uncomfortable. Alive bounties tend to be negotiable. Workable. Often will surrender before fighting."

Sebastian ethereally laughs and snorts with a faint echo, drifting next to Bach. "You NEVER know what you'll run into, bro. There was one that was happy to be caught. Oddly happy."

An awkward silence hangs in the room. A wave of embarrassment radiates through, highlighting uncomfortable sore spots upon egos and wounded prides. Sebastian eyes the unease playfully with a sly smirk. "Oh. Don't play dumb! None of us will ever forget Leen."

Groans of old frustrations and reflective sighs fill the living room. Blinking his confusion, Bach observes the reactions, searching for an explanation. Failing to suppress an amused smirk, Cideeda waves her hand out. "Gods. I thought it was so weird he kept mentioning how loose the restraints were and only stopped when I tightened them."

Bach's interest piques, and he wanders a gaze around the room, settling his confusion upon Sebastian. "Okay... I'm obviously missing something."

Sebastian's ghostly form shrugs his arms out to the sides with an ill-humored grin. "Well... Leen was a SPECIAL case. He was an alchemical psychedelics abuser that fried his mind a long time ago. He's a bit wild but ultimately harmless. Unfortunately, he figured out how to escape the facility that cared for him. And, well, he learned he really had fun escaping, evading, and getting captured. So, he kept on doing it and getting REALLY GOOD at it."

With a twist in the corner of her mouth, Sotalia glances over and waves her hand out. "The facility guards and the local police couldn't catch him anymore. And he refused to go back until someone caught him."

She rolls her eyes and sighs, brushing dark red hair over a horn. "So, the guild has been called multiple times over the years to send a party out to get him. We were in the area at the time he escaped a few years ago and bid on the job."

A snicker escapes Cideeda, she covers her mouth and eyes Dretphi. "I will never forget the grin on his face when you carried him over your shoulder back to the campsite after he got loose."

Crossing her muscular arms, Dretphi warps her tan face between abject bewilderment and genuine annoyance. "He kept asking... Again."

From the recliner, Aristespha leans towards Bach on the couch, smirking. "Sebastian was his favorite of our group. He liked how Sebastian wanted to talk about what he wanted to talk about."

Sebastian strains out a long groan and grumbles. "Gods forbid I decide to put those psychology classes to use and quite literally talk him down... From a tree."

Blinking a few times, Bach's brain processes the situation, imagining the antics, and bounces his surprise between the team. "WOW. That must have been something else. Whatever happened to him?"

Cideeda presents a toothy grin to Bach and chuckles. "Oh. The facility got smart. Started charging bounty hunter groups to capture Leen as a training exercise."

Off to a side of the backyard behind the two-story house, Veevi idly fidgets and impatiently waits, flicking her short hair tail around with her boredom. Chad walks up to her with a box behind his back. Strutting up next to her with his trademark white smile, he glances around briefly, noting where all the cameras are. "Veevi. For whatever our next mission will be, we need to have you at the ready. You are showing promise as an adventurer, and you will come into your own in time. But, I think I can provide something that will help you out more immediately."

He presents the case to Veevi, placing a hand dramatically on the latch, and opens it at a slow, purposeful pace. Off to the side, near the back sliding glass door, Modoran, Deedri, Tassilda, and Trakenthin observe from a distance. The gathering watch with a mix of neutral, unamused expressions and direct their suspicions upon the box in Chad's hand. Squinting and narrowing eyes hunt for a glimpse of what's in the box. Excitement fills Veevi, and she completely fails to contain her giddiness, grinning brightly. Chad gently motions the box to Veevi, and she reaches a sharp nailed hand inside. Moments later, she lifts up her hand, gripping a shiny new laser pistol. "YES! I've always wanted to fire one of these!"

An immediate silence flushes out the ambiance. Shock, abject terror, and absolute bewilderment compete for realty on all other faces in the area. Trakenthin's expression blanks, an eyebrow hikes up, and one eye winces into a narrowing squint. Tassilda covers the gasp from her mouth in wide-eyed horror, blinking her light blue on black eyes in sheer bewilderment. Deedri visibly pales, her fair face lightening further, and fright stiffens her posture. Modoran reflexively swears in a dialect of evuukian and frantically searches around him, struggling to form other words. "... ... Oh, fuck this..."

Swiftly reaching a hand out to the handle of the sliding glass door, he silently glides it open and slips his thin frame in partially, staring back to the rest of the group. Feeling the fast, repetitive tapping from Modoran's finger on her shoulder, Deedri snaps out of her stupor and glances over. She watches Modoran signal her and the others to follow and hesitantly motions over towards Chad and Veevi. "But... They might need me in case of-"

Two gray skinned, long nailed hands grip Deedri's shoulders firmly and rotate her abruptly towards the two-story house's back entrance. Leaning close to Deedri's furry, tufted ear, Tassilda enthusiastically propels Deedri forward. "Oh, don't worry. If they need you, we will probably just as easily hear the screams of help from inside."

Trakenthin slowly shakes his head and grumbles to himself, following Tassilda. Deedri, Tassilda, and Trakenthin file into the house, and Modoran gently slides the glass door back shut, the group retreating further inside. Samantha blinks to an astonished grin, hugs her clipboard in anticipation, and glances over to Gerald. "Are you getting this?!"

Examining the empty spot next to her, she searches the area around the perimeter of the yard. She spots Gerald taking refuge behind a large charcoal grill. Detaching the monitor display from his camera, Gerald balances the camera on top of the grill top and adjusts the aim using the viewfinder from behind cover. Samantha glances towards Chad and Veevi and revelation hits. She stares wide-eyed back at Gerald and scurries into a crawl on the ground behind a concrete planter near the grill. The rest of the camera crew swiftly adopt similar tactics and frantically duck into cover wherever it resides. Veevi nearly hops in place with the pistol in her hands. "I can't wait to shoot it!"

Chad grins boldly, nods, and points out across to the fence row on the outer edge of the yard. "I set up some cans and bottles for you to use as targets. I figured you would want to get some practice in the second you got it."

Veevi's pink pupil eyes widen in delight, and she pulls a sharp grin across her tan face. "OH, I definitely DO. What do I need to do?!"

Placing the box on the grass nearby, Chad pulls a power pack out and holds it toward Veevi. "Well, first, you'll want to load it."

Veevi removes a hand from the pistol, grasps onto the power pack, and studies it and the pistol. She cutely, coyly squirms and pleadingly eyes Chad. "Could you show me how to load it properly? It's my first time with something like this, and I don't know what to do."

Bravado emboldens Chad, and he holds his hands out with a bright smile. "Oh, not a problem. Just watch carefully, I'll demonstrate-"

An alluring gaze from Veevi meets Chad, and she softly speaks. "Well... I was hoping to do it but with a little... hands on guidance from someone... far more experienced."

A sly grin creeps across Chad's face, and he nods confidently. "Oh, I completely understand. I wouldn't want to take away from your first experience."

Wrapping his arms around either side of Veevi, he gently supports her hands and guides her through the motions. "Now, you turn the pistol this way. Line up the pack up to the bottom of the grip. And, just push it in until it clicks."

With Chad's assistance, Veevi slides the power pack in with a click, and the pistol's status lights flicker to life. Chad takes Veevi through the arming steps and lines up her first shot upon a tin can on a fence post. Removing his hands from hers around the pistol, he steps back with a grin. "Now, that should be lined up. Just gently squeeze the trigger when you are ready."

The wind dies down. Tension wafts within the stale air. Veevi holds the pistol shakily. She jerks the trigger, and a wayward green beam cuts through the air, centimeters above the tin can into the grassy hill behind. Veevi squeaks in surprise, her short-haired tail fluffing up. "OH! WOW!"

The initial flush of excitement washes over her. Glancing timidly back with a flutter of her eyes, she strokes back her pink hair. "I'm so sorry. I just got nervous and a little too excited. Could you help line up the shot again? And, show me what you meant by squeezing the trigger."

The sly grin upon Chad grows bolder, and he reaches his hands out behind Veevi's. "Of course. What leader would I be without taking time to help my team members?"

Moving behind Veevi, he lowers his head above her shoulder and eyes the sights of the laser pistol. His hands over hers, he directs the aim of the barrel and lines up a shot. "Now, look through the sights. Both the forward and the rear sights should line up and be over the tin can."

Veevi closes one eye, stares down the sights, and gradually nods. "They are."

Chad's hand grips over Veevi's hand, and he rests a finger over her trigger finger's knuckle. "Now, I'm going to help you squeeze the trigger. Just feel the pressure, and learn from how much it takes."

The trigger slowly actuates, pivoting closer to the handle. The mechanism engages with a click. A beam projects out, squarely onto a tin can. With a bright green flash, it jumps off the fence post, leaving a faint trail of smoke behind it, and drops onto the ground. Chad flashes his trademark smile and confidently speaks. "And, THAT is how it's done. I think you might have some natural talent."

A sly, sinister smile peeks out from the corner of Veevi's mouth. Slowly gazing upon Chad's muscular arms around her, she glances over a shoulder to his confident grin. With a flexing motion, she lifts her head up and back into Chad's shoulder. She rolls her shoulders onto his chest, pressing her back firmly onto his torso. With a few slow, purposeful shifts of her weight, she seductively catches his gaze. Smirking sultry, she perks her fuzzy ears and resumes her stance forward. Her tail flicks up and brushes up between Chad's legs. Donning her coy exterior, she aims the pistol at a new target. "If it's not too much trouble... Could you help me shoot a few more cans just to make sure I got the hang of it?"

Her tone softens with an eager edge, alluding to her prior demeanor. "Also, I really want to pull my weight for the next mission. So, if it's possible..."

She bites her lower lip with a subtle squirm down her body. "Could you give me lessons in tactics and other useful adventuring knowledge... later tonight?"

Blinking hard out of his stupor, Chad ponders very briefly and dons bold, ear to ear grin. "Oh! Of course, Veevi! We can practice all day with the laser pistol. And, I wouldn't be a proper leader if I didn't take time to relay vital knowledge to such a beautiful and promising adventurer like you."

Keeping her attentive stare upon Chad and Veevi, Samantha lifts herself off the ground from behind cover. She directs a loud whisper off to the side towards Gerald. "How good is the night-vision on the bedroom cameras?"

Pausing a moment in thought, Gerald's eyes mentally flip through an inventory. "High resolution with IR booster."

Eager anticipation plasters a wild grin on Samantha. "GOOD. After THIS, run a test recording and verify it works... Before tonight."

Observing through the glass of the back sliding door, Trakenthin quietly turns away. Tassilda sorts through the refrigerator and perks her brow at Trakenthin. "Anything going on?"

Trakenthin glances back and shakes his head. "No."

He halts a moment pondering. "I hope."