Episode 31

With an aetherphone firmly pressing against her long, pointy ear, Aristespha paces around her bedroom, orbiting the open wooden floor from bed to desk to tables. A faint tune of a light instrumental wafts from the speaker of her phone, and she grits her teeth, curling her upper lip into an annoyed sneer. The hold music grates upon her, patience wearing thin with the seconds of loud, crisply distorted notes. The music stops abruptly, and a softer voice calls out. Blinking back to attention, Aristespha summons up the meager traces of pleasantness in his tone. "Yes. I am STILL here."

Her violet eyes wander around the room, and she idly shifts her weight between her feet, posture rigid and muscles tensing. Moments of listening to a drawn out verbiage later, she suddenly pauses and pivots slowly, wincing around her eye. Lowering her tone, she glares distantly towards the other side of the call by proxy of the wall in front of her. "What do you mean by a... Processing ERROR?"

The voice from the phone speaker maintains a polite, explanatory tone against the bubbling irritation. Boiling ire articulates Aristespha's face. Twisting her stance, she stretches out her frustration across her body. Sebastian's ghostly face phases through the bedroom door, and he presents a comforting smile towards Aristespha. Watching Aristespha's body language, he halts phasing all the way through the door and waits, cautiously observing. With angered pops of knuckles on her free hand, Aristespha's frustration slides deeper into furious. She manages a relatively neutral tone for her next statement. "I understand THAT. We SENT the information. Got a confirmation of receipt by the system. And, we were waiting for an approval RESPONSE."

Irritation condenses, and she forces out words through gritting teeth. "We were NOT denied. We received NOTHING. We STILL have NOT received ANYTHING."

With the same polite, explanatory tone, the person on the other side of the conversation drones on through the well rehearsed script, tinges of saccharine sympathy sprinkling over intention. Aristespha draws a long, slow breath in through her nose with a contorting flex of her shoulders. Sebastian's translucent blue eyes widen in dreadful anticipation, and he glances around the area, questioning the few reasons to remain as witness. Straining a painful sigh from an exhale, Aristespha rubs her forehead tightly and closes her eyes. "I think I am having difficulty expressing the situation in Americ. You wouldn't happen to have anyone fluent in any of the Evuukian dialects?"

A positive, affirmative reply chimes out from the speaker. A dark grin manifests from Aristespha's mouth and creeps along her face. A flash of violet flickers in her eyes, and an odd hint of cheer colors her voice. "Why, that is EXCELLENT to hear. I will certainly be able to express myself perfectly that way... Oh, could I request this be recorded and forwarded to the issue review department?"

With the confirmation from the representative on the other side of the call, Aristespha tilts her head forward, casting a darkening shadow upon her eyes. The evil grin spans both corners of her mouth. "Thank you."

A roll of eloquent, proper Evuukian streams from Aristespha. The tone remains polite, initially. Twists in inflection and stretches of pronunciation deviate from the surface presentation. She continues with odd spikes emphasizing parts of words and flexes in pace hinting towards contrary semantics. Sebastian stares in awkward fright, his mind piecing together excerpts he understands well between uncomfortable winces. A few very familiar terms urge his withdrawal, and he gradually pulls himself back out of the room through the door. His ghostly visage retreats from the audible barrage of uncomfortable terms, aghast.

Drifting back, he spins mid-flight and coasts down the hallway towards the living room archway. Exiting into the living room, he gazes around the large space. Bach slouches out in his stabilized magical energy chair and rests his head in the middle of the seat back. Dretphi twists her mouth and glares forward, vaguely the wall mounted television's direction. Propping her feet on the coffee table, she settles back into the cushions on her side of the couch. Cideeda's tail coils up in front of her, and she adjusts her head upon a pillow against the couch arm. From the couch recliner, Sotalia turns her head, resting upon her hand, and eyes Sebastian with a bored sigh. "So... How's it going in there?"

Sebastian tugs at the corner of his mouth and briefly grits his teeth, trying to present a positive facade. "Given what I could roughly make out..."

The front weakens, and he awkwardly chuckles, avoiding averting his eyes away. "About as good as you'd expect."

With an understanding nod, Sotalia grumbles to herself and glances over at the television. Bach tilts his head up and gazes at his brother, curiously quirking his brow. "So, I'm still new to all this. But, what the hell could have happened? I mean we were there a LONG time waiting to hear something back. I mean, we were really lucky to spot him and actually confirm who he was. I don't understand how anyone else would have been able to track him down that quickly."

Sebastian ethereally sighs with a nod and gazes ahead in thought. "Yeah, I know, bro. I really don't know how THEY of all people would have been remotely able to find him. Maybe they had some prior information? I wouldn't be surprised if a show like that had a few connections to pull for information."

Bach perks a suspicious brow and ponders out loud. "Um, maybe a mole inside the guild office?"

Sebastian's face entertains a slow grimace of intrigue, and he idly scratches his chin. "Maybe? That's not a rare thing, bro. But..."

His ethereal form crosses his arms, and he hovers contemplatively, drifting to the side. "Even if they do have someone on the inside, it's one thing to provide insider information... It's another thing entirely to interfere with guild operations. That's risking A LOT, and it'd have to be done really carefully. No one likes it when you fuck up guild processes."

Grumbling to herself, Cideeda claws out towards the remote on the coffee table in front of her. "Whatever. At least I was able to sneak over and get the tracker back. Those things are not cheap to replace. Sneaking into impound lots isn't fun either."

She grasps hold of the remote, aims it at the television, and twists her head upon the pillow between the team surrounding the couch. "Anyone against me finding a movie or something? I NEED a good distraction right now."

Reaching inside her house robe pocket, Sotalia pulls out her aetherphone and taps through a series of screens. "Sounds good, girl. Let me check the listings... Something has to be on..."

Seconds of hunting later, a devious smirk cracks her mouth, and she squirms eagerly in anticipation of the discovery. "Channel one nine dash eight two."

Flicking a furry ear away from Sotalia, Cideeda presses the sequence on the remote. She briefly eyes over towards Sotalia and notices the video on the screen. Biting her lip, she squelches a snicker. Upon the large display, a tall, muscle-bound grath man sneers defiantly into the camera. He simply grunts, hoisting up twin machine guns. The camera rockets back, blazes of muzzle fire spray lead towards countless foes leaping back from impacts upon a backdrop of explosions. Bach sits up in his chair with a spark of interest and watches the screen. "Oh, wow! Damn. I haven't seen this movie in forever. I think it was back in first year? Or second?"

Sebastian hovers down next to Bach and stares at the screen in fascination. "Yeah! It may have been during the summer break when we didn't have anything else going on. I remember one movie night where everyone brought the most ridiculous movies they could find over."

He snorts with a faint ethereal echo and shakes his head in amusement. "Damn, bro. If I remember right we watched this thing a dozen times."

Bach smiles, chuckling, and snorts with memory. "Oh yeah. There's no way you can experience all the ridiculousness in one viewing..."

His voice trails off, and he notices an odd silence next to him, slowly turning his head towards the couch. Dretphi crosses her arms defensively, focusing a highly unamused glare upon the screen. Sotalia and Cideeda snicker between themselves and barely contain snorts and giggles. Slowly drawing a long breath, Dretphi sighs equally long, her tone tinged with rippling irritation. "Change it. PLEASE."

Dismissively waving off, Sotalia finally unleashes a laugh. "Oh, come on, girl! You don't want to see a big, gruff grath mow down waves of bad guys with nothing but grunts, growls, and scowls? I wonder how many women will throw themselves at him?"

Narrowing her steely gray eyes, Dretphi rolls them away from the screen with a few phases in grath under her breath. She reaches a hand out toward the remote in Cideeda's hand. With a toothy grin at Dretphi, Cideeda snaps the device just out of reach and waggles the controller. "Aww, but I like this next part where he headbutts the head off the bad guy and attaches it to his belt as a trophy. Such a classic move."

Without any effort from her, Cideeda abruptly slides down her pillow and across the crouch, feeling Dretphi's tight, secure grip around her ankle. The remote gets within Dretphi's grasp. Cideeda tosses it over to Sotalia. "Catch!"

Sotalia fumbles around to a recovery and presses the volume up button. "Oh wait! Here's a REALLY IMPORTANT bit of dialog!"

The television showcases the aftermath of inane destruction. Bodies lay on the ground in tall heaps, and piles of rubble crumble out from the partially leveled buildings, thin trails of smoking wisping off. The grath hero stands triumphantly, shirtless, with a perfectly timed breeze blowing the smoke from his spent machine guns up and intertwining in his long hair. He pans a scowl out to the devastated landscape, and... Grunts... with the faintest hint of a lip curl. Sotalia grins mischievously, dripping with sarcasm. "Quote. Of. The. Movie."

Dretphi glares at Sotalia and huffs, settling back into her side of the couch. Releasing her hold on Cideeda's ankle, she rumbles out her agitation. "PLEASE. CHANGE."

Waving her hand in a calming motion toward Dretphi, Sotalia lowers the volume and flips through the other channels. "I know, I know. Don't worry, girl. There's a comedy just coming on."

Blinking in thought a few times, Bach glances over to Dretphi and awkwardly shrugs his shoulders. "Umm... I didn't think it was that bad of a movie. But... I'm missing something, I guess?"

Embarrassment tints Dretphi's tan face, and she settles down to her typically calm demeanor. She sighs, managing a small smile to Bach. "It is not the movie itself. It is the trend the movie inadvertently started."

She momentarily averts her eyes and shakes her head at herself. "The movie is SATIRE. Parody of glory hunting grath of the past. Many grath did not perceive the satire. They saw it as... ENCOURAGEMENT. I was in..."

Moments of mental searching later, Dretphi nods to the answer found, her mind settling on an acceptable term. "High school, when this film released. Made dealing with certain classmates..."

Furrowing her brow, she tosses a stray platinum blonde braid off to the side. "Aggravating."

Pondering the situation himself, Bach slowly nods and gradually frowns with a tug at the corner of his mouth. "Yeah... I guess I can understand that frustration. I remember a few of those trends and fads hit our hometown. Thankfully, most of those died out in a few years. Some lingered for WAY too long."

With an eye roll, Sebastian ethereally groans and glances over to Bach and Dretphi. "Gods.... I got so tired of people adopting bullshit titles for their ranks in all their cliquish clubs and expecting you to use them. It was so lame when the movie did it. So much worse when people actually did it."

Noticing the comedy start up on the television, Dretphi musters a smile and gazes at Bach. "I tolerated it. Thought I was done when I went to college. My younger brothers entered high school. They imitated that behavior."

An evil smirk emerges upon Dretphi's face. She punctuates her statement with flexing fingers and cracks of knuckles. "Behavior that ceased promptly after I returned home for summer. I will NOT suffer such anymore."

A few quick blinks, Bach grants a single tilt of the head in wide-eye agreement. "Fair. Enough."

Fading back to faint, self-reflective embarrassment, Dretphi sneaks a bite of the lip. "My response is... to a fault... in those affairs. Appropriately proportional, of course."

Aristespha steps through the archway to the hallway. Carefully rubbing the soreness out of her very long, pointed ear, she slouches her shoulders with a long, defeated sigh. "Would you all believe it was a communication systems error that coincided with a clerical mishap during a law mandated break?"

Everyone aims their confusion at Aristespha. Sebastian darts his eyes around, deciphering Aristespha's last statement. Cocking his head to the side, he stares blankly at her. "Um... The hell does that mean, dear?"

Aristespha twists her mouth and grumbles, frustration painting the pain upon her face. "It means some idiot night shift clerk highlighted the message right before he dashed off to the bathroom, which flagged it as read, and no one else noticed it."

Silence hangs over the room. The group collectively gawks, dumbfounded in utter disbelief. The movie on the television peaks in volume, and Aristespha perks up with a spark of delight. "Oh! I LOVE this movie. This is just what I need right now."

Dretphi slides the coffee table out. Cideeda scoots up into one seat. Aristespha slides through and into the middle seat on the couch. Sebastian phases behind the couch and floats near Aristespha. Both Dretphi and Cideeda pat Aristespha on the back, and Sotalia and Bach give her sympathetic gazes.

Crossing her legs, Samantha settles upon her bed in the modestly furnished room and hoists a laptop upon her lap. Her hazel eyes scan through different applications, menus, and messages layered and tiled upon the screen. Pivoting on the bed, she angles the display away from the fresh afternoon sun glare and leans over to the aetherphone resting upon one of her bed's fluffy pillows. "Okay, Howie, I just got confirmation from the editing team. They got a rough cut put together and are getting the effects crew to get it polished. They should be sending you the rough cut in a bit."

Resonating an air of satisfaction, Howard's voice sounds out from the speakerphone. "Good! I trust that our adventurers enjoyed the successful capture?"

Smirking vaguely dismissive, Samantha nods and rolls her eyes. "Oh... Yes. Chad was quite apt to boast all about his actions and even recognized the contributions of others for the successful capture. He also..."

A snort slips out, and she grins sinisterly. "Celebrated... with Veevi."

Delight oozes through the phone, intertwining a dark chuckle, and Howard takes a long breath in. "Excellent. I hoped those two would latch onto each other and... Share common goals."

Pausing a moment, his satisfaction wanes momentarily. "I was a little worried when she came on strong to Deedri. That was NOT my intention. Keep the crews' focus away from her for a few more days and give her a bit of reprieve. I feel like I need to make it up to her. Really don't need the medical mage to be on the edge too much."

Fingers tap upon the laptop keyboard, and Samantha flips up a few sheets of paper off her clipboard. "Will do. We got some nice footage from the house cameras of Tassilda having a tense conversation in the morning with Veevi..."

An evil smirk appears, and she chuckles, tinges of menace slipping out. "Right before Veevi stole the upstairs shower away from Tassilda."

Laughter echoes around the room on the other side of the call and filters through the aetherphone speaker. "Yes! Send me that video when you get a chance. I want to see it. See if I can get any new ideas about how to ramp that up. I wonder what else Tassilda will surprise us with... Given the proper motivation."

A sly smile graces Samantha's light face, and she flips through windows on the laptop eagerly. "I'll get it sent over to you in the next few minutes."

A progress bar springs up on the laptop display and slowly creeps across its background width. Samantha gazes outside through the window next to her bed and idly absorbs the bright late spring scenery of the world outside. She sighs, contorts her mouth, and furrows her brow in thought. "I still can't believe you found that illusionist guy and got him to set himself up."

From the other side of the call, Howard snorts and snickers to an amused chuckle. "Oh, Mack? I'm amazed he got the message I left with his sister. Totally did NOT expect him to actually respond back. That fraud has been on the run for YEARS. Ever since that one governor got caught trying to pull another Sundial Tower Scheme and exposed the money he was trying to launder through to the shell companies supposedly doing all the work and certifications."

He briefly hisses out a dismissive tone, resuming his explanation. "He sounded REALLY worn down on the phone. Guess he finally learned all that money is worthless if you can't stick around anywhere long enough to use it."

Samantha rests her laptop off her lap onto the bed top away from her and unfurls her legs into a stretch. Sliding herself down across the bed, she lets her brown, shoulder-length hair drape out, and tucks her arms between her head and a pillow. Seconds of idle silence pass, and she stares out the window into the spotted clouds in the sky. Rolling her head over, she furrows a mix of curiosity and concern at the phone. "So... What's going to happen to him now? Are you really going to pay your lawyer to represent him?"

Howard sighs out in defeat and groans. "YES. He's a short-sighted, greedy fool. But... Gods dammit... He's still a close enough cousin."

Hints of frustration color his acceptance of the situation, and he grumbles. "And... I promised my great grandmother I would do what I could to help him."

Drawing a long breath, faint sounds of an appliance door closing rise from the remote background. A few electronic beeps peak through from the side of the call, and he nonchalantly continues. "With my lawyer, returning most of the money he's hidden, and good behavior, I should have him working that illusion magic as a children's show host in a few years as part of his early release plan."

Samantha's hazel eyes widen, she covers her mouth, laughter escaping through snorts. Shifting her hand up to her forehead, she cackles loudly. A few quick breaths later, she calms herself down and sits up, directing her voice towards her aetherphone. "WOW. I was wondering how you were going to twist that one to your favor. A children's show host?"

A thought pings off the front of her mind, and she pauses, eyes widening with revelation. "Oh. Gods. You don't mean... THAT show?"

A dark, foreboding chuckle oozes out from the speakerphone, and Howard's voice fills with humored pride. "The favor to my great grandmother is granting him the opportunity to use my resources... At his expense. He WILL pay me back. With THAT show. Wearing THAT costume."

Shaking her head side to side slowly, Samantha whistles lightly in astonishment. "Wow. THAT is pretty cruel AND unusual."

Howard dismissively pops an exhale from his lips and slathers on the sarcasm. "Yeah. Wow. So terrible of me. Steer a group of relatively harmless rookies capture him when he's willing, provide legal defense resources, and secure him a job after he gets out. I'm such a cruel person. Yep, totally me."

Samantha rolls her eyes slowly, exaggerating each degree of rotation with a goofy smirk and sticks her tongue out briefly, punctuating her feelings. "Dammit, Howie. You're still pretty much taking advantage of his situation."

An unamused groan vents through the phone, and Howard sighs. "Well, you know where he was going to go if things didn't work out?"

An eyebrow perks upon Samantha's light face, and she curiously eyes her aetherphone, aiming an ear. "Hmm... We all noticed he was preparing for a longer trip and using alchemy to make a huge batch of components. So... Where was he going to go if this didn't work out?"

Howard plainly states with deadpan cadence. "The Perimeter Weird Zone."

Samantha's eyes spring open, and surprise washes over her blank face. "Okay. Wow. Never mind. You saved that idiot from himself. That idiot is very lucky to have you as a benefactor."

An appliance chime rings out from the phone, the sound of a small door resounds from the background on the other side of the conversation, and Howard sniffs the air loudly. "Ah. That he is. Which reminds me, we also got lucky, too. One of my favorite informants within the guild let me know that Sebastian's group was waiting for permission to pursue Mack."

Absolute shock overtakes Samantha, and she snatches her phone off the pillow, holding the device close to her whispering voice. "What?! How!? If it wasn't for the fake fan-submitted tip you came up with, Chad and crew would have never been able to spot him earlier without his disguise that day and file with the guild."

Maintaining an droning, explanatory tone, Howard's inflection reveals a forming scheme. "Yes. The report said they spotted a suspicious person with a high possibility of being Mack and followed him. They were waiting for permission to tag the car Mack had with a tracker and remote cutoff. Thankfully, Mack didn't show his real face to them. SO, they couldn't get photo confirmation to jump straight to capturing him."

Samantha flops back down onto the bed and groans out her frustration. "I guess I should be glad they are thorough. THAT was too close!"

A plotting cadence sneaks over from Howard's end of the call. "Or... Close enough."

Lifting up an intrigued eyebrow on her face, Samantha shifts her expectant gaze to her aetherphone. "How so?"

Wallowing in a dark satisfaction, Howard recounts his thoughts. "They would have probably been denied pursuit because our team filed first for a capture. But, a clerical error, of sorts, left them hanging... To witness those young, upstarts take what they thought was rightfully theirs... Right in front of them."

Samantha dons a plotting smile and focuses upon her phone. "OH, I think I see what you are getting at. But, whatever are YOU scheming, Howie?"

Howard chuckles and expresses a hopeful, anticipating tone. "I think we need to present an opportunity for the two parties to work nearby each other. I'll have my associate at the guild keep an eye on what missions our other team bids on and see if that... encounter can be arranged..."

Faint footsteps echo within the room at the other end of the call, and he drifts off. With a soft thud and furniture sliding across a floor, he ponders out loud. "We'll see if that happens, but for now... I've got a more immediate plan to enact upon our lovely group of fledgling adventurers."

Samantha blinks away from watching the progress bar on her laptop, returning her attention to Howard. "And, what would that be?"

The soft, barely audible sounds of Howard pulling to an ear to ear grin cross the threshold of the microphone. "Oh... Just extending a certain intern trial period to see what more can develop."

Inside a well decorated living room, Nash and Harvos take seats upon a finely crafted leather couch upon the direction of an elderly well-dressed man. Nash scans over the area, pausing upon the many artifacts, awards, and photographs on the walls and shelves. The elderly well-dressed man calmly walks over to his aged, leather recliner and eases his thin frame down. Harvos nods towards the man respectfully, seeking eye contact. "First of all, I want to thank you, Dr. Dawkins. I wish the situation surrounding this meeting could have been better, but I'm delighted you could meet with us."

Dr. Dawkins settles into his chair, pulling a lever on the side, and reclines back slightly. Eying over at a small table, he hovers a hand over a bottle of brown liquor and carefully grasps it. He pulls the cork out, pours the dark amber fluid into a glass, and extends his arm out with the bottle to Harvos. "You young ones help yourself and keep it away from me. I don't need temptation that close to me right now."

Taking hold of the bottle, Harvos spots two glasses upon an antique coffee table. He glances over to Nash, and eyes the glasses with a tipping gesture of the bottle. Nash squints to the read label, flits his eyes wide open, and slides his glass over under the bottle's mouth. "Well! We thank you for the hospitality, and we will do our best to keep this temptation right over here."

With a dry chuckle, Dr. Dawkins cracks a short grin and lifts an intrigued eyebrow. "It is good to see they kept with tradition in picking a replacement for the computer science department chair."

Lifting his glass to his lips, he enjoys a long sip of the liquor and releases a long sigh. He sways his head and gazes at Harvos, his short white, combed hair brushing audibly against the recliner's headrest. "Despite my absence, I have kept up with my old department's progress through the years. I'm most pleased that my successor chose a proper one himself. You have handled the Archaeology department nicely so far."

Harvos bows slightly forward, keeping very aware of his tall horns and avoiding any obstacles. He pours some of the liquor bottle's contents into his glass. "I try my best. I still am trying to figure out the dark, dreadful mystery known as the annual department budget."

Dr. Dawkins smiles humored and playfully rolls his green eyes. "Oh, I wouldn't get too hung up on that one. Some mysteries are better left alone, and only subdued temporarily for another time."

Pausing a moment, he eases out a long, thoughtful exhale. With another sip from his glass, he stares forward contemplatively. "Well, on to business... I have read your message and the reports provided."

The fluid in his glass swirls around with the motions of his hand, and he gazes into the amber liquor with a mournful sigh. "I had greatly hoped I would never have to relay this information, again. But... Upon years of reflection, I have doubted much of what I did to handle the Orth Ridge disaster."

He slowly turns his age weathered face and regretfully stares upon Nash and Harvos. "I'm going to tell you everything I know and pass on the records you DON'T have... And..."

Drawing in a long breath, he wrestles with a frown and winces briefly into a tilt of his head. "I will let a generation far more current than I decide what to do with it. I don't believe we knew what to do then... Because... I still don't rightfully know today."

Harvos and Nash exchange glances, both returning their attention to the subject at hand. With a wave, Dr. Dawkins gestures towards Harvos's and Nash's glasses. "Drink up, young ones. It'll help to make this all easier to stomach."

Harvos and Nash each lift their glasses up and tip back the dark amber liquor into their mouths. Nash licks his lips and grants a very satisfied nod to Dr. Dawkins. Harvos gently blows out some relief through his mouth and briefly winces with the burn of the drink. "So... Um... Dr. Dawkins, where do you want to start?"

Tugging at the corner of his mouth, Dr. Dawkins hems and swirls his glass around. "Let us start with the information that is the most immediately useful to you right now. There's so much we can discuss after, but I don't want to overburden with irrelevant details."

Harvos and Nash indicate their agreement and wait expectantly. Dr. Dawkins draws a long breath, his eyes reading through the information in his mind. "There were some points in your report that stuck out to me. First, the Elder Energy Condenser Chamber..."

He slides his stare over to Harvos and concentrates his stern tone. "We NEVER got it working."

Harvos blinks and cocks his head to the side slightly, donning inquisitive surprise on his light gray face. "Interesting. Was it non-functional before? Incomplete?"

Dr. Dawkins perks a brow towards Harvos and strokes his trimmed, white beard. "Not that I know of. It seemed as if all the pieces were in place. We just couldn't figure out the damned thing. So, the fact that this Dark Lord Noxian was operating it is VERY worrisome."

With a long blink of bright brown on black eyes, Harvos furrows his brow and puzzles out loud. "So... Who would have had enough knowledge to even start to decipher how to use it?"

After a grimacing stare, Dr. Dawkins narrows his thoughtful gaze, tensing his shoulders. "It was a team effort to examine that artifact. I would attribute Dr. Malkav to being the most knowledgeable on the subject overall. But, his team were very skilled in their own specializations."

He lifts a finger up on his free hand and points to a framed photograph upon the wall. "On that wall is a picture of the team... when they first got there."

Dr. Dawkins pours a healthy sum of the liquor back and wrestles down a frown. Harvos motions towards the picture on the wall. "May I?"

Nodding slowly, Dr. Dawkins directs Harvos's attention towards the picture. "Yes. Dr. Malkav is the third one from the right in the bottom row."

Harvos lifts himself off the couch, walks over to the framed photograph, and examines it closely. Carefully inspecting the line up of many people, he focuses upon the man third from the right in the bottom row. The man stands proudly with a confident smile and graying hair in a professional, slightly stained lab coat. Harvos wanders his attention and notices a man and woman holding each other with a small child held between them. The man grins happily with specs of gray in his brown hair, and the woman smiles forward, long red hair flowing in a breeze at the time. Captured in the moment, with similar red hair fraying out from a blue ribbon, the little girl holds onto a bright blue scarf around her neck against the wind. Pulling his head back, Harvos turns back towards Dr. Dawkins. "Who is the couple with the girl?"

A sharp wince of long withstanding pain grips Dr. Dawkins's face. Moments later, he finally manages to allow sigh free. "That would be Isaac, Sylvia, and Cynthia Huxley. That's a tragic tale that I don't have it in me to recount, at the moment. I will say I still feel responsible for sending them on that assignment."

The old man swallows hard against a surge of regret. "Such a wonderful family..."

Harvos nods understandingly, steps back towards the couch, and seats himself back down. "That's okay. There's plenty more to cover."

Dr. Dawkins finishes another sip of his drink and eyes Harvos. "Yes. Another strange point in the report was that the description of the Formation Factory is drastically different from what I remember."

Nash furrows his brow and cocks his head. Harvos's interest piques, and he leans attentively forward. "How so?"

Experienced green eyes level a stare at Harvos, and Dr. Dawkins recounts in a calm, confused tone. "The entire floor below the walkway was filled with Nightmare Miasma. It took our best barrier teams to..."

Straining a breath through his teeth, he musters up the words. "Extract... whoever we could..."

With a wide-eyed expression, Harvos drifts back into his seat, quietly pondering in a haze of concern and worry. Nash glances over to Harvos and shifts his attention to Dr. Dawkins with a quizzical stare. "Okay. I have to say something and interrupt. You are using a lot of proper sounding terms that I've never heard of before, but you are speaking as if they were the proper names. So... I've got to ask..."

Narrowing his stare, he searches for an answer from Dr. Dawkins. "What the hell was this place for?"

Dr. Dawkins empties the last of his liquor down his throat, sighs, and levels a serious gaze at Harvos and Nash. "THAT is the most frightening thing of all of this. A fact we discovered FAR TOO LATE. Understand, we came to this site thinking the best. We initially thought the site was a magical factory of some kind. We just didn't know WHAT it was a factory FOR, at first."

Resting his empty glass upon the nearby table, he places his hands upon the arms of the recliner and tightens grips upon the worn sections. "Our first investigations showed an amazing possibility. We thought this was a fabled manufacturing lab for Elder Geists."

Shock splashes upon both Harvos's and Nash's faces, and both simultaneously reach for their drinks. After both enjoy a sip from them, Dr. Dawkins continues. "Promising signs all around. The size of the plant access, the elder energy collection and storage, and the magical structure forms seemed to fit the bill. Matched known descriptions we had compiled. It's just... Just..."

Deep sadness from the past flows over frustrations and colors every aspect of Dr. Dawkins. Manages to maintain his composure, he fights against a torrent of regret. "But... GODS. DAMN. IT. It was the exact OPPOSITE! It was a small scale factory for creation of those gods forsaken Nightmare Geists."

A long silence looms, flooding the ornate living room. Shock grips Nash and Harvos, and loss drains Dr. Dawkins. Minutes later and a generous refilling of drink glasses by Nash, Dr. Dawkins shakes his head slowly with a distant stare. "It was never our intention to dig something like that up. But... Too much was explored by the time we discovered the damning evidence. We didn't want to draw attention or cause a panic. So, we just designated the area that stored the Nightmare Miasma as a high level hazard and redirected all focus on other areas of the facility."

Pausing to collect his thoughts, Dr. Dawkins summons up further explanation, a growing frown twisting his mouth. "Gods. We should have handled it so much better. But... None of us knew how to handle it best, in the first place. We figured a little ignorance couldn't hurt. And, we took advantage of the safety protocols we already had in place and thought it should keep it relatively safe. When dealing with sites of this nature, nothing is fully safe, but you do all you can to minimize risk using the best techniques you know."

He sighs and shakes his head in puzzlement and ponders out loud. "The strange part is that it was working so well. The area seemed stable from hourly readings, and layers of protection were there. We even had our structural engineers working on an alternative entrance to the facility. It seemed like a well managed risk."

Sinking into his recliner, he tilts his head to the side with a hard frown. "But... Something happened... Something happened to the storage container and..."

He pauses, halting the sad tone slipping out, and musters up his resolve. "We lost precious lives that day. We handled it the best way we could think of. We tried to hide that place away as quietly as possible and took advantage of another incident to obscure what loose ends we could. It was not our proudest moment, but..."

Narrowing a determined stare at Harvous and Nash, he sternly states. "I couldn't in good conscience, at the time, let that place be explored any further. It NEEDED to disappear... Back into the cursed history it came from."

Struggling, Harvos searches his mind for the parts to a response. Nash blinks blankly, and his stare drifts around the room, his thoughts overtaking him. Dr. Dawkins only manages to shake his head side to side slowly, lost to the moments of the past. Lifting his head up, he gazes towards the photograph at three members of the Huxley family and mouths to himself. "Gods forgive us."

Cideeda, Bach, and Dretphi sit next to each other on the couch in the living space, all focusing on a hovering object upon the coffee table. With a tiny cube camera on top, the dim, blue magical orb teeters side to side and drifts around on the tabletop. Squinting his glowing blue eyes, Bach grimaces in concentration and contorts his face in thought. "Wow. This is a lot more difficult than I thought it'd be. But... I think a few adjustments should get it to work right."

The fingers on his hands twitch with slight motions, and the camera carrier orb slowly stabilizes and balances out. A magical thread faintly shimmers against the natural light from the sliding glass door, and the orb's shape warps gradually. Bach nods satisfied, smirking confidently. "Yeah, I got it now."

Pulling a toothy grin across her light brown face, Cideeda aims the remote at the television, pressing down a button with a claw tip, and watches the screen expectantly. "Good. Now, I got the receiver's video output connected to the TV, so it should be able to get a feed from the camera."

The display flickers a few moments, and a view of the screen door segment of the partly open sliding glass door blinks up onto the screen. Picking up a small control console, Cideeda examines the wiring on the connection panel. "Not bad at all. Hardly any interference."

Narrowing her emerald green eyes at the wall mounted television, she flicks her furry ears in thought and adjusts a few dials on the controller. "Still need to tweak the focus and white balance a bit."

Bach watches the screen, nods, and gestures carefully with his fingers. The camera orb hovers slowly forward, swaying and balancing sloppily. A few cautious twists and turns later, the magical creation glides with significantly more precision. Smiling with interest, Dretphi places her hand near the camera orb, providing obstacles for it to maneuver around. "This could be useful."

Aristespha steps in through the hallway archway, surveys the area, and blinks at the television screen with new interest. She locks her intrigued gaze upon the hovering, camera-laden magical orb. Stepping near the couch, she watches the energy ball cautiously move on the coffee table top. Bach perks his eyebrow, sways his head side to side, and shrugs indecisively. "Uh, I guess? I don't know. Most of the time, if you want to sneak something by a mage, you want to use a pure tech solution that they can't sense anything magical off of. Otherwise, I mean, there are remote sensing spells that do a good job already."

Bracing herself on the couch arm, Aristespha leans over above Cideeda and pays careful attention with brightly glowing violet eyes. "Yes. True. But... The magical signature is very small with this."

Cideeda's furry ears flick away from Aristespha towards the magical camera orb and track it. She grins eagerly, wagging her fluffy tail. "There's very little noise."

Sebastian's ethereal form drifts into the room from the hallway, pauses upon sighting the gathering, and hovers above to watch. Bach squints his glowing blue eyes contemplatively and tugs his mouth to a corner. "Well, I don't know how you'd test it properly. It's one thing to know it's around when to try to test to see if it's detectable. You really need a blind test to really know."

A sly smirk appears on Sebastian, and he laughs to the group. "Hey, bro. Send it over to the hot tub gazebo."

Aristespha smiles evilly and touches a finger to her lip, pondering. "OH. That is not a bad idea, Sebastian."

Standing up from the couch, Dretphi walks over to the sliding glass door and slides the screen segment wide enough for the orb. Cideeda contains a mischievous giggle and fidgets a little excitement out. "YES. Oh, I haven't seen her since breakfast. She's probably zoned out or snoozing, AGAIN."

Lifting a scheming eyebrow, Bach gestures his hands in purposeful, deft motions. The camera orb hovers off the coffee table, floats quickly down to a few centimeters above the floor, and glides out the back door, swaying with the momentum. Dretphi excitedly returns to the couch and watches the television eagerly with the rest of the team. The screen shows the outside world from a very low to the ground perspective and displays the route ahead of the camera orb. It flies just over the brick patio towards the tall lattice doors of the gazebo, coasting through taller blades on either side. Bach stares intensely at the television, hands directing flight path adjustments with finger twitches. The view gradually centers itself to a bottom opening between the wooden lattice slats, passing through into a dark room. Cideeda taps a button on her controller and precisely twists a dial, brightening up the picture. "That should get it. Let's see if the audio works."

The television speakers sound out an ambient bubbling from the remote space. The camera view pitches up and shows the profile of the hot tub and a hand with long black nails resting off the edge of the tub rim. Bach focuses his glowing blue eyes and exhales long, focusing himself. Moments later, the view from the camera rises up, slowly climbing close to the speckled patterned side panel of the hot tub. The bubbling grows louder. The group watches tensely. The camera's view crests the top of the hot tub. A loud snore cuts through the background din of the gazebo. Sotalia's head rests upon a water-proof air cushion, her dark red hair spread out damp and faintly wavy. Her arms anchor her partially submerged body and legs to the edge. Snickers and snorts fill the living room, mixing Sotalia's cutting snores from the television. Aristespha lowers herself down upon the couch arm and aims her voice down towards Cideeda. "Question. Can that camera make any..."

A mischievous grin cracks upon her ivory face. "Sudden, LOUD noises?"

Donning a wicked smirk, Cideeda glances up to Aristespha. "There IS a retrieval beeper that can get pretty loud."

The gathering exchange glances, and a silent agreement forms between all parties present. Cideeda gazes forward expectantly, her claw tip flipping up a covered button on the control box. Waiting a few moments for a quiet, nodding countdown, she presses it hard. A loud, shrill ring blasts out and bounces inside the gazebo, reverberating out from the television speakers. Sotalia's golden eyes spring open in utter shock. Her arms reflexively draw away from the edges of the hot tub. Her upper body slips unceremoniously into the bubbling water. Her legs and feet briefly pitch up into the air, splashing back down. She sits up in a state of utter bewilderment, her dark red hair drenched over her face. Her hands fumble around the outer edge of the hot tub. She blankly glances through the gaps between her soaked bangs around the area, the rest of her mind finding awareness between surprised pants. Dretphi suppresses a giggle and taps Bach on the shoulder. "Recommend escape NOW."

The camera's view back away, drifts down the side of the hot tube, and leaps through the hole in the lattice work, back towards the brightly sunlit, brick patio. Seconds later, the magical camera orb zips through the gap in the sliding glass door. Pulling herself off the couch, Dretphi closes the glass door the rest of the way and swiftly returns back to her seat. The camera orb slowly floats up from the floor and lands upon the coffee table. Sebastian works the excess humor out of his face and settles to a proud smile at Bach. "I think that was a successful first test right there, bro."

With uncertainty, Bach bites his lip and sighs, rolling his eyes. "Well, she was asleep. So, it really didn't test whether or not a mage could easily sense it part."

Sebastian shrugs his shoulders nonchalantly with his arms to the side and reassures with a nod to his brother. "Sotalia can feel out some really small amounts of magic. She's usually very sensitive to any magical activity. So, it's a good sign she didn't immediately wake up when it got that close to her, bro."

The back glass door slides open, and Sotalia steps through with a towel wrapped around her hair and another larger towel wrapped around her chest. Stretching out a yawn, she turns to the gathering at the coffee table. Blinking in surprise, she spots the television image and turns her full attention to the magical camera orb idly hovering on the coffee table top. Her golden eyes spring open wide along with her pupils, and she excitedly plops down to her knees next to the coffee table. Lowers her head to closely study the magical orb, she grins in delight. "OH! This is so cool! Have you tested it yet?!"

Bach tightens his lips and maintains a neutral smile. "Uh. Yes. Sort of. Tested the waters... So to speak."

The magical construct distracting Sotalia, the rest of the group fight for their outer composure. Narrowing her golden eyes, Sotalia flashes an evil grin and lifts an urging eyebrow. "So... When are we sneaking this thing over to spy on our neighbors?"

A wave of inspiration spreads through the group. Attention shifts to the magical device, and stares occasionally drift out the back window towards the two story house, just past the corner of the property.