Episode 30

A pair of golden eyes scrutinizes the spectrum of colorful liquids across numerous glass vials across many tube holders on a shelf. Sotalia slowly turns her head towards the next display, pausing to examine the contents listed within upon container labels. Halting suddenly, she squints at the target ahead closely and briefly springs her eyes open with a corner grin. She carefully plucks a few vials from the shelf and rests them between other reagents in the plastic shopping basket hanging from her arm. Stepping back, she scans the front area of the shop. Jars full of dry plant specimens, bins of powders, flasks of viscous fluids, and sealed plastic bags of fresh compounds bolster the reagent stocks of the magic boutique. Sotalia hums in thought, fishes her aetherphone from her pocket, and taps through a few screens. She tugs the corner of her mouth and reads the calendar underneath a colorful "Miradia's Magic Materials" banner on her phone screen. A thick, black nail taps the Wednesday square, and the animation expands out the text.

"Wednesday: Premium Protellow Parts! Fresh from the finest forests delivered to our store by expert reagent hunters."

Sotalia glances at the tall emin woman tending the antique wooden counter with a very modern point of sale system upon it. Walking up to the counter, she places the basket of items upon the surface and waits for attention. The tall emin perks up with a smile and blinks her purple on black eyes back to awareness. "Oh! Yes! Hello, I'm Lilacia."

She furrows her brow and curiously approaches a topic. "Um... Did you find everything you were looking for?"

Sotalia lifts up her aetherphone, taps the screen, and rotates it towards Lilacia. "Almost. I was looking for some protellow anti-microbial fluid sacs. Or, at least the fluid extract. Your aethernet site said you should have had a delivery of some today, but I could not find any out on the store floor. Are they in the back, or?"

Sighing, Lilacia sags her shoulders and bows her head momentarily forward, swinging a few long, dark purple hair braids forward. "I am so sorry, ma'am. My mother was really hopeful about our delivery for today. But, it looks like it'll be next week. Our normal reagent hunters are having a very hard time getting to their normal hunting grounds..."

She wrestles a concerned hint on her purple hinted, dark gray face. "And, they haven't stopped by our town, yet."

Perking up, she smiles reassuringly at Sotalia. "Which is extremely unusual, and I assure you doesn't happen, like at all, usually..."

Spinning aetherphone back around, Sotalia eyes the device contemplatively and sorts through alternatives. "Okay... Hmm... Well, I can make do, for now. It'll be a bit more prep in the process, though."

Lilacia nods sympathetically with a gentle frown. "Oh, I understand completely. That compound works so well to cleanse reagents. Just to avoid risking potency loss from boiling alone is SO useful. I wish there were more economical alternatives, but... That fluid is the best."

Placing her phone back into her shorts pocket, Sotalia curls a tight smile in the corner of her light tan face. "Gods, you got that right. It'll be an hour or two more, at least, with each batch. I just don't know what I'm going to do until next week."

Lilacia guides a small stray braid over a small side facing, upwards curled horn. Nearly closing one eye, she scours her memory, twisting the internal debate upon her face. "Now... This is only a RUMOR... But..."

She darts a wary glance around and returns her attention to Sotalia. "I remember hearing from a friend who works at the police department about a call they answered. Turns out someone's SUV got hit by a huge protellow falling down. So, there may be plants that are old enough to have large, harvestable fluid sacs in the area!"

Sotalia's expression lights up, and she dons a presentable grin with a perk of an eyebrow. "OH. That is interesting. Any word on where THIS incident happened? For someone who might be driving around today?"

A careful bite of the lip and brief wince later, Lilacia frowns with hints of frustration slipping into her tone. "I don't know exactly. All she would tell me is that it was on the road to where certain reality show adventurers live. Gods, I don't know what street that would be. It has to be in a part of Amaranth Valley I don't go to, if, like, ever. Because I don't recognize the house or scenery on the show."

A hard eye twitch yanks Sotalia's cheek, and her intrigue deflates into a slow, quiet groan. Lilacia cocks her head to the side, focusing a long, examining gaze upon Sotalia. Recognition erupts on her face, and she reflexively covers her mouth with both hands. "Oh. My. Gods! I recognize YOU now!"

She energetically squirms and fidgets, flush with excitement. "At the Amaranth Adventure Con! You got into THAT competition with that other emin mage! OH! I was in the crowd! That was SO amazing to watch!"

Smugly grinning with poise, Sotalia inflates back up with her pride and nonchalantly checks her fingernails on a hand. "Well. Admittedly, we MAY have gotten a little carried away, but think it was an excellent demonstration of true ability by the end of it all."

Purple on black eyes check side to side and quickly glance over the shoulder towards a back room behind the counter. Lilacia leans out close to Sotalia with a hushed voice. "And... I believe she called you a... Well... THAT foul term..."

An amused chuckle sneaks out from Sotalia, and she dramatically rolls her golden eyes with a humored smile and dismissively waves. "Well, I'll have to admit, I haven't heard THAT one in a LONG time."

Covering a side of her mouth with a long nailed hand, Lilacia eyes Sotalia in a mix of surprise and intrigue. "Did you pick up on that accent she said THAT with? That almost sounded-"

Sotalia directs an amused smirk and lifts an eyebrow. "Laskian?"

Lilacia covers her mouth and nose with both hands in shock and retracts her hand away to speak softly. "YES. GODS, I'm not the only one that heard it."

A long sigh resonates from Sotalia, and she shakes her head of dark red hair. "I will tell you, I got closer to that area than I EVER wanted to. I didn't know I was in a sunset town until it was well past sunset."

Crossing her arms with a cringe, Lilacia nods her head down and unconsciously hooks a few fingers around a horn. "I don't think I'll ever be brave enough to go anywhere near that county. Gods, I don't think I'd be welcome there at all."

Puzzling a moment at Lilacia, Sotalia studies her form, confusion remaining after a swift check. "Really? Am I missing something? I think you'd pass just fine."

Lowering her arms to her sides, Lilacia sighs. "Well, it's because of my tail."

She lifts up her hand holding her long, thick short-haired tail and hugs onto it with a happy smile. "I've heard a few horrible names, too..."

Fighting down a frown, she grumbles. "That I'm not going to repeat with my mother nearby. But..."

She smirks sympathetically and sighs out her stale frustrations. "I know what it's like to be on the receiving end, too."

With an understanding nod, Sotalia smiles back and places a hand on her hip. "No need to repeat the small, insignificant words of smaller, more insignificant people."

Her tail sliding out of hands, Lilacia grins and moves her hands over the computer checkout system. "Amen to that. Now, let me total this up for you before I forget and get caught up in something else."

The shop door opens with a chime, and an average height man calmly walks in. His plain brown eyes scan over the store area, his face maintaining a neutral expression. Stepping forward towards a display, his typical length, brown hair gently shifts upon his tan face. Lilacia and Sotalia gossip at the counter, and the man passes nearby in route towards a shelf. With a subtle squirm, Sotalia momentarily breaks from listening to Lilacia and gradually angles her head to eye over at the passing man. She briefly glances over, nothing catching her immediate attention, and resumes her conversation with Lilacia.

Near a large central parking lot off the main road through suburbia, Bach and Cideeda stroll down the sidewalk in front of the strip mall. Opening up a paper bag with both hands, he shakes his head in disbelief and furrows his stare towards the contents. "It feels kind of strange to buy this many power packs and rounds, all at once. A few I could understand, but... Wow."

Quirking her brow, Cideeda shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly, toting a metal ammo box at her side. "You get used to it. After a while, it feels like business as usual."

Bach closes the brown sack back up and carries it at his side with an accepting nod. "I guess. Yeah, I can see that happening. Also, they were really nice and really willing to work a deal with you."

A faint sneer parting her mouth, Cideeda's light brown face settles to an unamused frown, and she grumbles. "Not as good as I've gotten before. But... In dealing with a town shop like that one..."

She rolls her eyes with a mildly defeated sigh. "It'll have to do. A certain premium you have to pay for specialist goods."

Quickly eyeing the bag in hand, Bach chuckles with a smile. "Yeah, that's true. I doubt there's too many hunters around here hunting small game with energy weapons."

A snort escapes Cideeda, and her fluffy tail flicks. Presenting a toothy grin to Bach, she shakes her head and perks up her furry ears. "ACTUALLY, those power packs aren't that uncommon..."

She searches her shorts pocket with a free hand and grits her teeth, briefly glancing at the munition container in tow. "If you want rare, it's this damn caseless ammunition for Dretphi's submachine gun! Gods."

Furrowing her brow, she grumbles into a sigh and leans opposite to the heft of the ammo case. "Outside a few vendors, no one has it in bulk. And, they want a fucking king's ransom for whatever they have. Never mind if it has been taking up inventory space for years, they jack up the price the second anyone shows legit interest in it."

She retrieves her keys with the humvee fob from her pocket and aims the device at the humvee nearby. "Then, they have the nerve to bitch and complain about how they never can sell the stuff."

Glancing up to Bach, she smirks dryly and dismissively rolls her eyes. "Oh, I wonder why..."

Pressing a button, a series of chirps emit from the humvee along with a few light blinks. Cideeda steps up, unlocks the back hatch door, and swings it up. "Anyway, one of the nice things about being registered with the guild is that you can purchase near-military grade equipment from anyone without too much trouble. Most people figure, if you are registered with guild, you probably have a good reason to buy it."

Smirking with a sarcastic tone, Bach places the paper bag within the cargo space of the humvee. "Huh. So, what about military grade equipment?"

Cideeda hoists up the ammo box securely inside the humvee and rests a hand upon the container. Rapping claw tips on metal, she gazes at Bach with a sly, toothy smile. "Oh... A little paperwork and a few days... Maybe..."

Reaching on her tiptoes and stretching her small frame out, she firmly grips a hanging pull handle and lowers the hatch, pushing it shut with a securing click. She props herself against the back hatch door, grins, and winks at Bach. "IF we go through the official routes."

Blinking thoughtfully, Bach furrows his brow, connotations emerging in his mind. Cideeda shakes her head of short multicolored hair and idly scans the shopping mall area, crossing her arms. "I'm just saying, borderlands markets are INTERESTING places."

She perks an eyebrow and darts her stare around. "Anyway, you see any sign of Sotalia?"

Bach surveys the vicinity over the parked rows of cars and spots Sotalia exiting Miradia's Magical Materials. "Oh, yeah. Looks like she just got done."

Cideeda turns her head towards the same direction Bach faces, popping up on her toed shoes. "Good. Should be able to get back in time for lunch. I wonder what Dretphi settled on cooking today."

Glancing up into his mind, Bach hums in thought. "She said we had enough deli meat and other stuff for sub sandwiches."

Cideeda sways momentarily in delight. "Oh, nice."

A minute later, Sotalia strolls up with a smile and waves to Bach and Cideeda. "Mission accomplished. Enough. Looks like protellow sacs are hard to come by as of late. But..."

Grinning proudly, she places a hand on the hip and lifts an intrigued eyebrow, tossing her shoulder length, dark red hair back. "Heard a rumor as to where to look for some."

Cideeda crosses her arms and narrows her stare upon Sotalia. "Really?"

Sotalia recounts her recent experience in the reagents shop, and Bach idly gazes out into the distance of the surrounding strip mall. People travel between the rows of store colorful fronts, gatherings stopping and admiring products of choice behind glass display windows. Potential customers sift in and wander out towards new destinations, a few heading towards the main street sidewalk and some filtering in between the numerous cars. Passing his stare back over the entrance of Miradia's Magical Materials, Bach witnesses an average height man calmly exit the door with a branded plastic bag in hand. With Bach's attention starting to drift away, the man glances down at the sidewalk and tenses up. Momentarily focusing upon the man, Bach follows the man's gaze to the sidewalk, finds nothing on the concrete, and shifts his curiosity back up. The details of the man's face waver to a blurry haze and quickly revert back to clarity. Blinking hard, Bach leans his head towards the Cideeda and Sotalia, a suspicious eye peeking out the corner at the man. "Hey, Sotalia? Was there a man in that store with you?"

Sotalia tilts her head in thought and glances at Bach. "Um. Yes? There was this guy that came in. Nothing out of the ordinary from what I could tell. All I remember is that he asked for a reagent I've never used before."

Retrieving her aetherphone from her pocket, she quirks her intrigued brow at Bach, scrolling through on screen menus. "I was a little curious, so I messaged Aristespha to see if she knew what it was used for. I mean, I've learned most of the ones for medicinal purposes. So, I was wondering what types of potions it was used for."

Bach slowly turns his head nonchalantly and swiftly studies Sotalia's phone screen and sent message. "I know I've heard of that before. But... Dammit. It's been so long since I've done any serious potion making."

Narrowing her emerald green eyes at Bach, Cideeda flicks her furry ears with a tinge of concern. "What's going on?"

Smoothly sliding around to the obscuring side of the vehicle, Bach motions the others to follow along. "Okay, I swear I just saw that man's face phase out for a moment. Almost like an illusion resetting. It was really strange."

Adopting a more serious tone, Sotalia taps a few buttons on her phone and holds it up to her pointed ear. "You know, I thought I felt something magic wise when he walked near me."

She twists her mouth and rolls her golden eyes. "But given it's a magical material shop and all... I didn't think much of it, at the time. Shit."

The call connects with Aristespha's faint voice from the speaker, and Sotalia responds back. "Hey, girl! Did you get that message I sent you?"

Sotalia focuses upon the phone, and Bach and Cideeda split their attention between the conversation and the man walking through an aisle of cars in the parking lot. Surprise leaping up onto her face, Sotalia's eyes widen. "A component for illusion spells? So, like a potion to help change how your face looks?"

The eerie silence between Bach, Cideeda, Sotalia, and Aristsespha on the other side of the phone call looms heavily. Aristespha quietens her voice and speaks quicker. Sotalia nods and glances around. "Understood. We'll keep a watch on him and-"

Cideeda's ears perk up and lock onto the slam of a car door. Leaning out from the cover of the humvee, she spots the average man in the driver's seat of a small gray sedan. " OH. SHIT. He's leaving in a car."

Snapping her head towards the vehicle with the man inside, Sotalia grits her teeth, growling. "He's on the move. Gods damn it!"

Rushing to the driver's door, Cideeda presses a button on the key fob and slips into the driver seat. "Get in! Let's see if we can tail him."

Bach swiftly walks to the rear passenger door, opens it, and hops into his seat in one fast motion. Sotalia zips to the front passenger door, cracks the door wide enough, and slips into her seat, placing her shopping bag behind Cideeda's seat. The humvee's power plant spins up to life, and everyone inside readies themselves. Cideeda glances into the rear view mirror at Bach. "Bach, check near the back and look for a box labeled Trackers."

Nodding quickly, Bach moves through the aisle towards the back, bracing upon the nearby seats. "So, I guess a crash course in tracking devices today?"

A sinister grin flashes upon Cideeda, and she checks for clearance, backing out of the parking spot. "Exactly! I'm going to keep an eye on this guy and try to maintain a good distance behind him. But, we're going to need to plant a tracking beacon on him. Because if he wanders off too far from city traffic or we keep tailing him for too long in general, he's going to get real suspicious, fast."

Sotalia wedges her aetherphone in a cup holder and taps a speakerphone button on the screen. "Hey girl! We're in the humvee. I've got you on speakerphone."

Aristespha's voice blasts out of the phone. "Okay! So, he bought reagents for an illusion spell. What else happened?"

The vehicle rolls clear of the parking space, and Bach supports himself against the roof of the humvee with a box under arm. "As he was walking out of the shop, he dropped his head forward and his face..."

Leaning against the momentum of motion, he furrows his brow and frowns. "Um, it went out of focus separate from the rest of his body. Thinking about it more, man, it HAD to be an illusion spell refreshing."

Humming in thought, Aristespha calls out through the phone. "Bach, have you mage sighted it yet?"

The humvee turns sharply. Bach follows the inertia and flops right into his seat. "Not yet. I'll confirm here in a moment. I really didn't want to do anything too obviously magical, well, near a possible mage."

Sotalia directs her voice down, maintaining a casual gaze forward towards the gray sedan in the distance. "I felt something magical when he walked past me in the store. So, he's was using some kind of magic in there, and it must have been running weak."

Through the phone, background footstep echoes change inflections, and Aristespha moves around on the other end. She sighs affirmatively and processes out loud. "Okay. You all keep tracking him. I am going to update Dretphi and Sebastian. Tag a tracker, if you can safely. It is very likely, if he has gotten reagents, he may need to brew up another batch of whatever he is using to change his appearance. I would guess some kind of flow conductive medium to either target or assist the illusion spell."

Placing his hand on the back of Sotalia's seat, Bach gradually leans out with glowing blue eyes. He squints out ahead, searches between other cars on the road, and settles upon the gray sedan. Moments later, he nods confirming and eases back behind the headrest of the front seat. "Yeah. He's definitely got magic flow all around his head. I can see pretty clearly even from here."

Aristespha affirms through the aetherphone connection. "Good. That is confirmation enough, for now. Sotalia, message me all the info about his vehicle. If I correctly remember illusion magic and materials, it is going to take a while to process the reagents and mix them. He has to have somewhere to set up to perform everything he will need to do."

Cideeda eases through traffic and inconspicuously navigates around other vehicles, staring at the gray sedan a few cars ahead. "Just a guess, this doesn't sound like something you can brew out of your trunk in an abandoned parking lot."

Opening the metal "Trackers" box in his lap, Bach examines the collection of electronic devices inside. "Unless you're my cousin Eddie, NO. He's probably staying at some cheap motel that takes cash and asks no questions."

Pointing a finger back briefly, Cideeda nods in agreement. Aristespha sounds out from the phone. "I concur. I will start getting a map together, in case he runs off, so we can narrow down possible locations. I will call back soon, after I check some other information."

The display blinks out to a called ended screen, and Sotalia plucks out the device from the cup holder, keeping a nonchalant stare ahead and thumbs at the ready to message. Bach focuses upon the box of electronic devices and glances ahead to Cideeda peering in the rearview mirror. "Okay. So, where do I start?"

Vehicles burst through the busy city intersection. Stoplights alternate through methodical control programs and facilitate the passage of cars, trucks, and other means of transportation. A gray sedan slows to a stop in front of a red light. The driver searches ahead in the distance and compares the suburban scenery against a map on his phone. A few cars behind, the humvee gradually brakes to a halt, both Cideeda and Sotalia projecting a disinterested facade ahead. Bach clicks a final button on a small metal cube with a coiled wire protruding from it. Raising an uncertain eyebrow, he eyes Cideeda through the rear view mirror, reservation on his face. "Umm... Okay... Frequency set. Protocol selected. Calibrated to the local nav beacons. And... My phone is picking it up. So, uh, anything else?"

Maintaining a vigilant watch over and around the vehicles ahead, Cideeda shakes her head slightly. "No. That should be it. Write down the frequency and protocol."

She furrows her brow and twists her mouth, revealing an anxious flash of a canine. "Now... We just need an opportunity."

Squinting her golden eyes through her relaxed, carefree facade, Sotalia observes the behavior of the man in the gray sedan. "He's looking for something and checking his phone... What is he-"

The stoplight turns green, and vehicles accelerate forward through the intersection. After crossing through, the gray sedan creeps ahead of the pack, and a blinking right turn signal flashes. Sotalia's stare snaps to the blinker, and a corner grin forms on her face. Noticing the rows of fast food advertisement signs along the four lane roadway, she softly chuckles. "Oh. He's hungry. Probably going to turn into one of these places ahead, if I had to guess."

Glancing up from the device in hand, Bach scans the situation ahead with a nod. "That makes sense. Probably grabbing everything in one trip before heading back to wherever he's hiding out."

Cideeda snarls her upper lip in anticipation and flexes her claw tips into the steering wheel. "That could work for us. BUT. I bet he's going through the drive thru..."

Her voice trails off. She drifts momentarily in thought, a sly, eager smile overtaking. "OH. I got an idea. Sotalia, take the wheel and get into the driver's seat when I tell you."

A spark of surprise hitting Sotalia, she quickly nods, sneakily undoes her seatbelt, and prepares. The gray sedan slows. The front tires pivot. The vehicle coasts a right turn into the parking lot of a fantasy themed fast food restaurant, rolling past a prominent "Draco-Burger" wood and stone sign. Keeping her left hand on the steering wheel, Cideeda reaches down with her free hand, pulls the seat's adjustment bar, and slides the seat back. "NOW."

Cideeda slips out of the driver's seat into the back aisle. Sotalia grabs hold of the steering wheel, hops over into the driver seat, and assumes control of the vehicle. Adjusting the seat back up, she clicks the turn signal lever and follows the gray sedan into the entry. Cideeda gestures Bach down and out of sight. "Keep low. He shouldn't be too suspicious if it looks like only one person is in here. And, I need your help."

Bach carefully slides out of his seat and joins Cideeda in the aisle, presenting the tracking beacon to her. "Okay. Here it is. What's the plan?"

Peeking just over the dash with her furry ears low to her shoulders, Cideeda watches the gray sedan move into the drive thru lane and softly commands. "Sotalia, keep behind him, and just use the drive thru to order something. I'm going to hide under the humvee and sneak up to plant the tracker when I get the chance."

Bach blinks hard in disbelief with a brief shudder of his head. "Wait, what?! While it's moving?!"

A confident toothy grin overtakes Cideeda's light brown face, and she chuckles eagerly, wagging her hair. "Not the first time I've done it. Don't worry, the humvee is direct electric drive at the wheels. There's not that many moving parts underneath it and plenty to grab onto from all the retrofits."

Cars wrap around the castle mocked-up building within the marked off drive thru lane and periodically idle forward into the forming gaps. The gray sedan follows along the curve of the path and behind a large menu screen partially obscuring the view. Cideeda nods to herself and pats Sotalia quickly on the shoulder. She plucks the tracker from Bach's hand, summoning his attention. "Okay. I need you to open and close the door for me. Then, I need you to tap on the floorboards to warn me when you all are going to move and listen for my taps when I'm secure underneath."

Pulling the seat release bar under the rear passenger's seat, she slides it back, giving herself room. Bach scoots up to the seat, leans over the cushion, and grips onto the door handle at the ready. The humvee slows to a stop. Keeping her seemingly distant gaze forward, she calls out from the corner of her mouth with a hand casually covering. "Okay. He's still behind the menu sign. Go for it."

Cideeda nods to Bach, her long, fluffy tail reflexively coiling around her waist. Pushing the humvee door open, he steadies the gap. Cideeda gracefully zips through, gingerly swinging herself underneath the vehicle. The door closes. She latches herself to the underside, the faint clacks of claw tips hooking onto the metal chassis mixing with the idle whine of the machine's powerplant. Sliding tracker down the front of her shirt, she firmly taps the floorboard above. Reacting to the noise, Bach lowers his head down close and directs his voice to Sotalia. "Okay. She's secure underneath."

Keeping her seemingly indifferent stare ahead, Sotalia nods gradually. "Good. We're moving."

Bach firmly drops his hand on the floorboard a few times. The humvee rolls up in line, stopping just behind the gray sedan at the order kiosk. Cideeda waits, and her furry ears sift out a man's voice ahead calling out an order. Clawing and climbing underneath, she scrambles closer towards the front of the humvee. Navigating forward, she keeps herself near the center and grips onto solid supports and the edges of protective underside plating. The man stops speaking, and a voice through the intercom repeats the order in confirmation. Hanging just under the front bumper of the humvee, Cideeda judges the distance to the rear bumper of the sedan. She checks her footing and grip, extends an arm out, and barely touches the underside of the rear bumper. Narrowing her emerald green eyes along with a determined smirk, she pulls her arm back and retrieves the tracker from the front of her shirt. She readies herself, and her tail coils tightly, protectively around her midsection. Her furry ears flick to the intercom stating a price, the brakes of the sedan releasing, and a series of taps upon the floorboards. Gritting her teeth in frustration, she sighs. "Dammit."

Securing herself back into her position under the vehicle, away from the gray sedan, she lightly kicks the floorboard. The humvee creeps forward up to the ordering kiosk. A bored, completely unamused young woman's voice drones out from the speaker. "Welcome to Draco-Burger, how may I serve, your highness?"

Sotalia casually turns her head and calls out at the station. "I'll take a Lord's Meal with large fries, no onions, double pickles, and Lady's Tea to drink."

Groaning with an emerald green eye roll, Cideeda focuses upon the gray sedan ahead. The car line ahead barely shifts, affording little room for the sedan to creep forward. Cideeda grins, judges the distance, and prepares herself. The sedan starts to roll forward, securing the very little space ahead. A stubborn surge drives Cideeda, and she grins toothily. "Oh, not this time."

With both arms stretching out, she swings forward, springing herself out from underneath the humvee. She latches her clawed grip around a metal support brace under the gray sedan. Nearly flopping onto the pavement, she arches her back and tenses her legs, keeping the harsh grit of pavement upon the rubber heels of her toed-shoes. Bach lifts his ear away from the floorboard and furrows a confused brow at Sotalia. "THAT was a weird sound..."

The voice over the intercom finishes, confirming the order and stating a price. Settling her gaze forward, Sotalia's golden eyes spring wide open in surprise. She watches Cideeda cling to the underside of the gray sedan and leave faint rubber marks from her shoes onto the parking lot. Pulling herself forward, Cideeda reaches out underneath the vehicle with the tracker in hand and magnetically nestles it securely within the corner of the frame. She eases herself back out from underneath, following the movement of the ground. Releasing her grip of the sedan, she quickly signals Sotalia forward. Sotalia eases the brake off, and Bach glances over concerned. "Hey, wait! I haven't signaled Cideeda-"

With a corner smirk to Bach, Sotalia interrupts reassuringly. "OH, I know where she is. She just signaled us to move up."

Confusion seizes Bach, and he carefully sneaks a peek over the driver's seat shoulder and catches a glimpse of Cideeda upon the drive lot ahead. "OH. OKAY."

Shuffling upon the pavement, Cideeda lines herself between the wheels of the humvee and waits with open hands and readied claws. The humvee gradually creeps over and shades the bright noon sun. The middle of the vehicle coasts over Cideeda, and she latches onto familiar spots. A few dull, metallic thuds resonate from the floorboards, and Bach smiles in relief. "Okay. She's secure."

He exhales long and rests his ear on the floor of the cab. From the drive thru window ahead, the man in the sedan receives his food. Inspecting it quickly, he turns his attention ahead and drives off. Sotalia eases the humvee up to the window. A younger teenage man adjusts the shirt of his uniform, glancing unamused at the feudal servant theme print. Drained of enthusiasm, he opens the castle turret decorated window and drones the price. Handing over a company card, Sotalia waits a few seconds and receives her card back, a bag of food, and a drink. She places the food into the passenger's seat and prepares to drive off. Bach taps the floorboard and listens to the similar response from below. The humvee rolls ahead and turns into a parking spot nearby. The powerplant spins down, and Cideeda swings out from underneath the vehicle with a confident, toothy grin. She opens the front passenger's door, and Sotalia picks the bag up out of the way, inspecting the order. Plopping herself in the seat, Cideeda exhales with relief, stretching her arms and legs out, uncoiling her tail. "Wow! THAT was close! Let's head back to the house and get everyone else ready for when he settles in one place for a while."

Checking his aetherphone, Bach nods and chuckles out some residual nervousness. "Yeah, that sounds good. I'm picking up the tracker and the map app is plotting the coordinates. So, we got him for now."

Examining the bag, Sotalia starts to nod. She growls and abruptly closes the bag up in frustration, grumbling. "Gods dammit. I'll be right back, they gave me a medium fry and forgot the straw."

Night surrounds the rural area around a small, rundown motel. Just off a worn two lane highway, a deteriorated, patchy paved lot moats in the nearly derelict building. Outshining the dim, dingy exterior lights next to the doors, a solitary large neon sign occasionally flickers to life and casts a blue hue upon the sparse collection of cars. Off beyond the wooded perimeter of the property, Dretphi scans through binoculars towards the end motel unit, a gray sedan in the parking space nearby. "Nothing. Still."

In the middle of the group, Sebastian's ghostly visage reforms next to Aristespha with cool, focused expression. "Phased in there just enough to see him when he was busy. He still definitely matches what was in the file picture. And, it looks like he's busy brewing up some potions and some kind of cream."

Nodding, Aristespha checks through the messages on her aetherphone. "That does make sense. Refreshing myself on illusion magic, there are numerous alchemical components that help the details, functionality, and longevity of illusion spells. But, it still takes significant time to prepare."

A smug grin cracks across Sotalia's face, and she stares menacingly towards the motel. "Good. Then, he's not going anywhere soon."

Cideeda stretches her arms out, pats down her bodysuit, and eyes an electronic device in an open case. "Any word from the guild yet?"

Aristespha shakes her head at her phone, squinting violet eyes hint at the building irritation. "NO. I sent our report and request an hour ago. And still..."

She clamps down upon a simmering frown. "NOTHING."

Wandering his eyes between everyone in the group, Bach scratches the back of his head. "Umm... Question. What's the proper process here? I've been trying to figure it out in all the hurry."

Sebastian drifts down next to Bach with an explanatory tone. "Well, any time you get information about a bounty, it's usually proper to report the findings. This way the guild gets more information to help everyone out, even if you aren't interested in the bounty."

Narrowing a stare at the motel, he contorts his face in frustration. "If you think you have located the bounty, you are supposed to send in a Request for Pursuit to the guild."

With a long sigh, Aristespha gazes up from her phone and brushes some of her silvery blue hair back over her long ears. "Yes. Then, the guild checks with the local authorities for any limitations and allowances. After reasonable attempts to confirm the identity of the target, they will also confirm if requested methods of capture are acceptable."

Rolling her violet eyes, a smirk forms from the corner of her ivory face. "The process helps sort out confusion between multiple groups going after the same bounty and acts as a precautionary measure against most errors."

She glances back down at her aetherphone's screen and deepens a frown into the blue and gray hints on her face, squinting in confusion. "Typically, it does NOT take this long in an area like this. Especially after an alert."

Tapping her claw-tipped fingers upon the small electronic equipment in front of her, Cideeda groans. "AND, they usually don't have any problems authorizing trackers and covertly installing remote vehicle cutoffs."

Bach quirks an eyebrow in surprise and apprehensively eyes Cideeda. "Um... Didn't we already put a tracker on there?"

A sly, toothy grin appears on Cideeda, and she playfully shrugs with a coy tinge. "Well... Yes. Sometimes you got to take the initiative and ask for forgiveness later. Anyway, most places prefer you use a tracker rather than risk provoking a high speed car chase or standoff situation. So, the lesser of the evils."

Lying prone next to Dretphi, Sotalia glances over her shoulder and draws a dry smirk. "Turns out not many places want an epic mage showdown right on main street or in downtown."

She lifts a pair of binoculars up to her eyes and stares out through them towards the motel. Carefully adjusting focus and her aim, she mumbles condescendingly, sarcasm dribbling out. "Not that an illusionist is going to put up any kind of worthwhile fight. Ooo... I make pretty pictures of stuff I can't cast..."

Dretphi rests her eyes away from the binoculars and sighs back to the subject. "For reports, we attempt to obtain photographic evidence. Helps grant us authority to approach the situation as needed."

Bach nods and briefly flickers his eyes blue towards the motel. "Yeah. That would be nice. But, I doubt he's going to show his real face out in public. He really rushed back here from what the tracker showed. I guess he was about to run out of reagents or something."

Smirking eagerly, Sotalia scans the parking lot and the single row of motel room entry doors. "Oh... He'll mess up eventually. Maybe he forgot something in the car or wants a candy bar from the snack machine."

A small, awkward smile graces Dretphi, and she lightly taps Sotalia's shoulder with a hushed tone. "THEY are back."

Both Sotalia and Dretphi aim binoculars upon an evuukian man and emin woman wandering toward the building from separate cars. They cling upon each other mid route the motel and embrace upon the wall off to the side of a room door. Sotalia snickers, fidgeting in anticipation. "I hope they got a bed without a headboard, because she might get those horns stuck if they're not careful."

In between their excitement, the frisky couple manage to fumble the door lock open and roll in together, the door securely shutting afterward. Down the nearby highway, a convoy of vehicles approach the parking lot entry. Sotalia and Dretphi perk up from the binoculars and dart their focus over to the activity through the lenses. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Sebastian peek out from the cover of the forest brush and hunt for more clues. Seconds later, with headlights off, vans roll up through the poorly marked, faded lot aisles, stop, and unload equipment carrying crews. Taking positions throughout the area, the teams hide behind cars, overgrown landscaping, and battered vending machines. Cideeda's eyes fully open in shock, her jaw hanging open. "NO."

Squinting, she scrutinizes the side of a van, recognizing the painfully familiar logo. "Why the hell are THEY HERE?!"

A wave of astonishment and disbelief shakes the group to full attention. Through the parking lot entry, a lone black sports utility vehicle with partly reformed, large dents along the roof, creeps up behind the gray sedan, blocking it in. All the doors open, and Chad, Trakenthin, Tassilda, Deedri, Modoran, and Veevi exit. Chad and Trakenthin rush up to either side of the end unit's door with Veevi trailing behind Chad. Tassilda takes cover behind the doors of the SUV with Deedri, and Modoran disappears. Minutes later of hushed discussion later, Trakenthin steps in front of the door, rears back, and slams an armored boot into it. The door breaks free of its hinges and lands meters inside.

A strong eye twitch forming, Aristespha cringes with a reddening face. Bach blinks absolutely dumbfounded. Cideeda's remains agape, and her hands out, motioning to the scene in pure bewilderment. Dretphi growls and clenches tightly onto her binoculars, her arm shaking with muscles flexing. Sebastian blinks in synchronous with Bach, and the brothers struggle in vain, attempting to figure out the situation. Sotalia's wide-eye rage barely subsides with the firmly clasped hand of Dretphi keeping her prone.

A repetitious electronic chime blares out into the bedroom. From under the covers, a gray hand with long, thick black nails presses upon a prompt on the aetherphone screen. The alarm silences. Tassilda slowly rises from bed. Blinking the haze of slumber from her light blue on black eyes, she guides the strands of her long raven black hair off her swirling horns down upon her pajama top. Pulling a small chain, the lamp upon the nightstand illuminates the room, and she briefly shields her eyes. Minutes of idly sitting in a morning haze later, she slides on a pair of slippers and plods across the room to a satchel of toiletries and beauty supplies. Rummaging lethargically through the bag, she retrieves toothpaste and a toothbrush and wanders groggily off towards the bedroom door.

Tassilda steps slowly through the doorway into the upstairs hallway. Glancing down one path towards two doors, she listens for a few moments. In the silence, she faces ahead and stares towards the stairwell at the faint glow of morning light from downstairs. She sets off towards the open bathroom door down the opposite stretch of hall, passing a door with a brightly decorated sign stuck upon it. With a long glare, annoyance carves into each letter of the name on the sign. "Veevi Valiant."

Rolling her eyes hard with a long grumble, Tassilda shakes her head dismissively and drags her sleepy self closer to the bathroom. At the very end of the hall, the door opens. Tassilda blinks away the initial surprise and mumbles to herself. "What is he doing up?"

Her eyes widen in astonishment. Veevi slides out between the ajar door into the hallway. Stumbling around in a drowsy daze, she unconsciously slides down a Flames of the Phoenix T-shirt, too large for her. Her short hair tail wags freely in vain to maintain balance. Stretching her arms up absentmindedly, the shirt rises and reveals no other clothing beneath. A few meters later, Veevi blinks to awareness and glances over, catching the glare from Tassilda. A sly smirk creeps up on Veevi's face, and she eyes Tassilda smugly. "Well... Good morning."

Tassilda levels an accusatory stare upon Veevi and slowly crosses her arms, contempt radiating. "Morning. If I'm NOT mistaken, YOUR room is on the OTHER side of the hallway."

Straightening her posture, Veevi struts forward towards Tassilda with a defiant smile on her tan face. "OH. I'm NOT mistaken. Chad invited me over to..."

A wicked hint infiltrates Veevi stare, and she softly chuckles. "Discuss... some things. We had the most wonderful... conversation."

Placing her hands on her sides, Tassilda postures herself proudly and marches slowly forward. "Oh. I'm certain much was..."

She rolls her light blue on black eyes and dismissively shakes her head. "Talked about. Did you... secure... a reference for the next group you go off to after this SHORT TERM internship?"

A sharp toothed grin parts Veevi's mouth, and she tilts her head of pink hair slightly forward, eyeing Tassilda. "Oh, much was secured. I believe we came to an agreement about the new terms of my internship."

An eyebrow sharply hikes up on Tassilda's face, and she focuses a condescending glare upon Veevi. "Interesting. I'm sure you made use of your..."

She stifles a derisive snort. "Unique... talents. Speaking of, would any of THOSE help explain the lack of any of your own attire at the moment?"

Veevi giggles and suggestively slides her hands down the oversized Flames of the Phoenix T-shirt, pulling it down by the sides. "Oh, THIS? No. Of course not. Our discussion got a little too energetic and excited, and something got spilled. Chad was ever the gentleman and let me borrow one of his shirts for the night."

She sighs playfully, rolls her pink pupil eyes at Tassilda, and struts in front of one side of the bathroom door frame. "We were just ever so relaxed that I fell asleep and just woke up now."

Arriving at the other side of the door frame, Tassilda assertively glowers at Veevi. "Well. I hoped you enjoyed your... discussion. But, I think your focus should be upon other things. For example, what other professions you'll explore in the very NEAR FUTURE."

Veevi perks a brow, grins sharply with a glint in her eye, and flicks her tail up with a dismissive lift. "Not as near as YOU think. So, you better learn to teach better in the NEAR FUTURE."

Sidestepping swiftly through the bathroom door past Tassilda, she shuts the bathroom door tightly, a click of a lock following. A wave rage flashes upon Tassilda's gray face, and a spark of blue ignites her eyes. Grasping hold of the door knob, she attempts to torque it open from sheer aggravation. An echoing snicker from inside the bathroom audibly leaks out into the hallway. Tassilda sneers and grits her teeth, growling with boiling rage. A piece of fabric softly thumps against the wooden interior door, and faucet values squeak, ushering the flow of rushing water from a shower head inside. Moments later, the sounds of Veevi singing one of her songs drifts out from the background din. Tassilda releases the door knob and slowly exhales, wavering with spite. Stepping back, she draws in a long breath and closes her eyes with the exhale. A tentative calm grounds her demeanor. Pivoting swiftly, she walks tensely away towards the stairwell. Deedri cracks open her bedroom door. Peeking out from the other far end of the hallway, she spots Tassilda and meekly waves. "Morning."

Tassilda pauses and her frustration softens to a pleasant, neutral smile, nodding to Deedri. "Morning."

Deedri glances with concern down the hallway and leans further out her door. "Is everything okay?"

Contorting her mouth momentarily, Tassilda sighs into resignation. "Yes. It is just fine. Only a brief conversation with Veevi."

Deedri's auburn eyes widen momentarily, and she bites her lip apprehensively. "Oh. Okay. I just heard a lot going on and wanted check to make sure everything was okay."

With a nod, Tassilda turns towards the stairs, pausing a moment. She gazes at Deedri and whispers loudly. "If you need to use the bathroom soon, I would use the one downstairs for now. This floor's bathroom is presently..."

She flashes an ireful glare at the bathroom door. "UNCLEAN."

Veevi's singing peaks loudly in the song's dramatic chorus, over the watery drone of the shower. Drooping her furry ears down, Deedri frowns against the discomfort. She nods, fully understanding, to Tassilda and quietly retreats behind the bedroom door. Tassilda returns her attention ahead and marches down the stairs, muttering insults in a uniquely accented emin dialect.