Episode 33

The drone of light city traffic settles into the background around the tall business towers. Well marked and lighted intersections cycle through their different patterns, allowing vehicle and pedestrian traffic through. Wide sidewalks surround blocks of tightly packed structures between the streams of traffic. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia walk along a long row of decorative trees within huge planters next to a very tall brick building rising above the sparse urban center. The group searches around the area, bouncing between unique landmarks and the dense signage posted. Cideeda's furry ears flick towards a point in the distance and lead the rest of her along. "I think the park is over there. Sounds like a lot of activity is happening."

Aristespha nods quickly to Cideeda and shields the sunlight off her aetherphone with her hand, squinting her violet eyes. "You are most likely right. We are in front of the city hall. So, that should mean that is the right direction. Lord and Lady Valentropen said on the phone they would meet us there near the community market."

The team moves ahead down the path between other groups of people going about their days. Sotalia nearly skips with each step, excitedly fidgets, swaying, and smiles eagerly. "I can't believe this is a mission! I never thought anyone would contact the guild to find fancy whelps! Oh! Their pictures in the mission brief were so CUTE."

Sebastian's ethereal voice resonates out from the sword at Aristespha's side, reservations tempering. "REMEMBER, we have to return them to their owners."

With a grinning roll of the eyes, Sotalia sighs in mock defeat and waves a playfully dismissive hand, averting her gaze elsewhere. "I know. I know. We EVENTUALLY have to return them... But I'm certain a half hour or so with one won't be too much trouble."

A slight smile cracks upon Dretphi, and she leans over to Sotalia, pointing to a picture on her phone screen. "The Golden Gale is impressive."

Turning a picture on her aetherphone towards Dretphi, Sotalia smiles wide with a bite of the lip. "I know. BUT... I still LOVE this Nocturne Nightmare. Just look at those little horns and yellow eyes!"

Bach rolls his shoulders in a stretch and rocks his head slowly shoulder to shoulder with a nonchalant smirk. "Well, I hope I'm not too rusty at baby dragon wrangling."

With a ghostly laugh, Sebastian speaks out from the sword. "Bah, after all the times we had to catch Lagi when he got loose, I think you'll be fine, bro. Though, I remember it being a lot easier when he got bigger."

After a flash of memory crosses Bach's mind, he blinks back to awareness with a slow shake of the head. "Well, yeah... Right before his wings grew out to match his body. Then, he started maintaining level flight, and EVERYTHING got a lot more difficult."

A series of pained chuckles sound out from the sword, and Sebastian emits a distorted sigh. "Yeah... Gods... How we didn't get into any more trouble than we did, I will never know, bro. I always wondered if it was easier for the campus to pretend they didn't notice anything going on and let us clean it up out of fear of getting caught."

Bach tilts his head to the sigh, furrows his brow, and darts his blue eyes between memories. "You know... You might be right. There's no fuckin' way they didn't know about half the stuff we did... Huh."

The group approaches a street intersection, check both ways, and quickly cross to another stretch of sidewalk bordering ancient, decorative fencing. The long ironwork row twists and turns in intricate patterns, for artistic intentions and from eras of neglect. Over on the other side of the fence, tall green grass unrolls underneath the canopy of gigantic, ancient trees and supports a carpet of bright flowers and landscaping. Next to a large stonework "Centenn Park" sign, a flagstone path branches out into the natural flow of the land, partitioning large sections of stonework and alcoves of benches along the way. People travel along the walkway to and from sections the park with friends, family, and leashed pets. The group strolls along the trail and navigate closer towards the source of the growing background buzz of activity. Winds rustle untold numbers of leaves above and sway waves of sun speckled grass below. In a large open, paved area, colorful booths and tents contrast the plain civilian architecture and simple natural surroundings. Small gatherings wander through the crowds to visit the booths of artists, craftspeople, and performers. Off towards the perimeter of the fanfare, an elder evuukian couple sit on a park bench in the shade. Spotting the couple, Aristespha moves up to lead the group and glances back. "That is likely Lord and Lady Valentropen. I will lead ahead and do the formal greetings. From what I remember, they are the heads of a minor house. We will figure it out from there."

A silent acceptance spreads through the rest of the group, and they hang back. Aristespha inspects her attire and checks appearance over. Assuming a proper posture, she gracefully approaches the elder evuukian couple. She grants a small bow, pleasantly recites an elegant series of phrases in a very proper Evuukian dialect, and stands up straight awaiting a response. The elder evuukian man rises from the park bench, his commanding posture contrasting his business casual attire. Examining Aristespha carefully with a proud stature, he nods his head with a slight smile. He holds his hand out for the elder evuukian woman, and she promptly pulls herself up. She brushes her elegant sundress off, grants a slight bow to Aristespha, and smiles appreciatively. Grasping hold of Aristespha's hands, she converses quickly with a genuinely appreciative color in her voice. The elder evuukian man notices Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia nearby and lowers his head down next to the older woman. He speaks softly and eyes towards the group, motioning his head. The woman blinks to awareness, briefly covers her mouth, and waves in the rest of the group. "Oh my! Where are my manners? Please come over. I just haven't been myself lately. Forgetting my basic courtesies of all things."

Aristespha waits for the rest of the team, directing the couple's attention to each member. "Lord and Lady Valentropen, this is the rest of my team. Sotalia Feratosia, Dretphi Veranattin, Cideeda Garadra-Deeseeni, and Back Warwick."

Lord Valentropen surveys the team quietly with cool, yellow eyes and nods calm, firmly. "I would like to say that I am quite pleased that an accomplished adventuring group as yourselves bid. What was supposed to be a long weekend outing has turned into a troublesome ordeal. My wife and I were here for a local fancy whelp show. Then, some rogue group decided to release the whelps outside when we were away."

Lady Valentropen gazes excitedly across the group and enthusiastically pleads through worry and concern upon her purple tinted ivory face. "We just did not know what to do! Oh, gods! We do not know this area, and the only thing that came to mind was filing a quest with the guild... And, THAT was quite the experience in and of itself. I had to explain that I wanted my fancy whelps captured safely... not... Eliminated!"

An eye roll accompanies a muted sigh from Lord Valentropen, and he keeps his lips pressed shut, stilling his golden tinted tan face. Aristespha presents a calm smile and pats Lady Valentropen's hands in hers reassuringly. "It is not a typical request. But, we excel with such atypical quests. We will be happy to find your fancy whelps and bring them back to you safely."

Lady Valentropen smiles brightly, letting go of Aristespha's hands. She pivots towards the park bench and searches inside a large purse. "Thank you so much. Let me get my tablet. I must show you pictures of my precious little dragons."

Sotalia and Dretphi gather near, and Lady Valentropen enthusiastically showcases choice photos, taking time to happily recount traits, mannerisms, and descriptive features. Lord Valentropen sternly sighs and focuses upon Aristespha. "While my wife goes into great detail about her pets, I have taken precautions for such a situation. I paid for magical markers and electronic tracking collars. I have the relevant information for you and your group to use in finding them."

With a confident, professional smile, Aristespha nods affirmatively and gestures towards Cideeda. "I and the other mages in our group can handle the magical tracking. Cideeda is our technical specialist and should be able to use the tracker information with her equipment."

Cideeda steps up next to Aristespha and both discuss details with Lord Valentropen. With the two groups conversing about different parts of the quest, Bach drifts his gaze out into the vicinity of the park. His attention wanders over to a gathering of children sitting on the brickwork underneath the shade of a gigantic tree. He notices the elaborate booth, resembling a small stage, in front of the children. Bach reads a fancifully lettered title upon the booth top banner.

"Brento and Kayleedi's Puppets Present Our Past"

The stage curtains split apart with the sound of clacking wooden rings and a pull strings rubbing. Foreboding music fills the air, and a dark mist billows out from the backdrop, rolling over the stage, fading away. Two glowing, blood red eyes pierce through the foggy veil and a sharp, jagged edged mask slowly pushes forward past the stage. A black sleeved arm directs the menacing glare of the mask upon the audience, who react in playful fight, some failing to hide their honest flits of fear. A woman's voice dramatically announces, sinister undertones shadowing her words. "Brento and Kayleedi's Puppets Present, The Scourge of Dark Lords!"

The mask retreats back into the dispersing mist, and the curtains close. The woman's voice rises up over faint noises of activity behind the scenes. "We start back in time... To just after the Abstract Prism was created!"

With a spacey, air ambient music, the curtains part to reveal a mystical, colorful swirling background and a slowly spinning prism crystal hovering in the space. An orb of bright light glows behind the prism, and rainbows project out from the refracted light into the area to the delight of the audience. A detailed wooden puppet stands triumphantly near the base of the prism. His arms moving smoothly, he adjusts his wizardly hat and brushes off his finely tailored robes. A man's voice proudly speaks with the puppet’s motions. "It took the combined efforts of thousands of mages, an untold amount of Elder magic power, tremendous sacrifice of magical potential..."

The small mage turns aside to the audience with an exaggerated eye-rolling head gesture. "AND... A LOT of bickering about how the whole Foundation Construct thing should work. Yeesh. You would think I was trying to get them to agree upon what flavor of ice cream to get."

Children not hypnotized by the sparkling prism snicker and giggle. The puppet returns to the story proper and admires the prism, his arm unfurling out to the grand scene. "Surely, with this triumphant device we shall bring forth a new age of magic energy to everyone and no longer have to fear the terrible abuses of Elder magic that so plagued us to this point."

Another puppet hops in from the side of the stage and moves close to the other. She taps her hand to her chin in thought towards the audience. "Well, about THAT..."

Pivoting to face the mage with a flare of her elaborate sorceress dress, she leans closer. "What are we going to do about the Elder magical energy already imbued in the world, power focuses, creatures, artifacts, and well a whole lot of other things?"

The mage pauses stiffly and slowly spins in place with an arm out, gesturing to a point that never comes from his mouth. He moves his hand to roughly scratch the back of his neck, and his previous confidence wanes quickly. "Uh... We'll... Uh... Oh... Um..."

Cocking his head to the side, he plainly states. "We REALLY need to do something about that!"

The sorceress repetitively nods dramatically in return with the audience laughter. The curtains draw back together, and the female voice rises up above the sound of shuffling in the back, again. "Over the years since, many have sought out the tremendous power of Elder magic for their own reasons..."

The stage opens back up to a plain backdrop of an empty room, and a fanciful, regal puppet rises up at center focus. A small spotlight shines on him and highlights his gaudy crown and flowing robes, a kingly chorus playing. The out of sight woman narrates. "The first was a former mage king! Deposed and driven mad by what ruling power he had lost from his Elder energy being sealed away, he was the first to don the title DARK LORD! He became known as Dark Lord Hellstrom."

Dark Lord Hellstrom boldly puffs out his puppet chest, waves an arm out to the audience with a dominant, bold man's voice. "I will use my former wealth of enchanted artifacts to not only regain my kingdom... BUT... I will make THE WORLD my subjects and lead them as I feel they should!"

The behind the scenes woman speaks up in a tongue in cheek tone. "His timing wasn't the best."

Two groups of mages descend down from above, hovering from nearly invisible strings, and aim dour, stern glares upon Hellstrom. After boastfully preening himself to the audience, Hellstrom notices the gathering above and meekly admits. "Oh. Right... I totally forgot all the mages that created the Abstract Prism are still alive and... Still are REALLY POWERFUL... Uh oh."

He comically dashes around the stage in a panic, the mages flying after him, and escapes off stage. After the laughter from the children, another figure moves from off stage to the center and stands proudly. The woman behind the scenes narrates. "Seeing the failures of Dark Lord Hellstrom, Dark Lord Strad worked in the shadows... Quietly converting people to his cause. He used strange Elder magics stored in his ancestral castle in attempts to extend the lives and powers of himself and his followers... At the cost of the lives of others."

A pale skinned evuukian puppet rises to a dreary music, unfurls his cape draped arms out, and pans a hard stare out into the audience. "I and my coven will continue on FOREVER and guide this world from the shadows."

In the backdrop, pairs of small glowing eyes glimmer into existence. A few average citizenry puppets move near and dramatically fall out of view when Dark Lord Strad directs his hand to them. A faint trail of light streams from each fallen puppet and collects within Dark Lord Strad. "A few peasant lives is a small price to pay for our great future."

The narrator chimes in, her tone unamused and certainly not pleased. "The supposed peasants didn't agree on that. Neither did the many bands of adventurers hired by those peasants."

The eyes retreat away. Cardboard cutout mobs of peasants with pitchforks and torches march towards Strad and adventurer figures descend from above weapons and magic at the ready. Strad acts out a slow dramatic death, crawling for the last moments of existence slipping away, and falls out of sight with everyone else. Sounds of shuffling and scurrying sound out behind the puppet show booth. Two puppets appear in the shadows to either stage side, and the woman's voice calls out. "Many more Dark Lords would try to rise to power. BUT... Not all Dark Lords started out with evil intentions."

A small spot light shines down upon a fvalian woman puppet and the narrator elaborates. "Dark Lord Reevani wanted to help the ruined environment of her home land..."

In the surrounding, calm natural music, Dark Lord Reevani cheerfully addresses the children. "I just want to make my home pleasant and green again..."

The spotlight darkens to a dark red shade with a key change, and Dark Lord Reevani claws out her fingers with a menacing grin. "BUT! It seems I HAVE to make EVERYONE STOP DESTROYING IT..."

A manic, sharp grin forms on the figurine's face. "By destroying THEM."

Dark Lord Reevani falling out of view, the spotlight flicks back to normal hue and slides over to the other puppet. The newly lit emin woman puppet tosses her long hair back over her fanciful horns and elegantly waves a hand out to the crowd, triggering the rhythmic background beat. "I, Dark Lord Decimatala, just want to be the best mage in the world and further our understanding of magic overall."

Her eyes flash red and the puppet smiles darkly, oozing evil intent. "It is just a shame that NO ONE seems to understand that they SHOULD NOT get in MY WAY."

The spotlight dimming, the Dark Lord Decimatala puppet drops out of view. A new puppet rises up in the center, standing in the misty shade. The woman's voice puzzles out loud to the audience. "Then, there are those whose motives remain unknown to us, and they continue their work, a mystery to us all..."

A spotlight from above focuses upon the center puppet. The head lifts up to show an iconic mask bordered by a hood. The audience gasps and stir, recognition taking hold in the older children and parents. Bach freezes and his eyes widen to the full attention upon the mask. Chorused whispers emerge from the audience and declare the Dark Lord's name, Noxian. The masked puppet remains on stage, and the prism rises up into the background briefly with the bright white light behind it. The prism lowers back down out of reach for the masked figurine, and the woman narrates questions out loud. "What drives these people to seek Elder magics?"

The behind the scenes man's voice presents another query. "Did they start with evil intent?"

The woman bounces off to another query. "Does having so much power just lead people down such malicious, dark paths?"

An uneasy wave creeps through Bach, and he squirms unconsciously. Without missing a beat, the man's voice presents another theory. "OR, does Elder magic now corrupt those who wield it, so thoroughly that you eventually become a Dark Lord?"

Sifting a tense breath through gritting teeth, Bach winces and remains very quiet, his eyes staring down into himself in search for something. Adventurer puppets spring forth from all corners of the stage and charge the Dark Lord Noxian puppet. The scene pauses the moment the heroes surround Noxian, and the woman proclaims loudly, triumphantly. "Whatever may be the case, there will ALWAYS be heroic adventurers that will answer the call and defend all of us from The Scourge of the Dark Lords!"

The curtains close up. The air fills with the cheers of the children, applause of the parents nearby, and the quiet commentary of passersby joining the audience. From the sides of the booth, a man and woman fvalians hop out. Both step happily in colorful jester outfits and grin with showmanship flair. The woman perks orange-red furred, pointed ears, sways her orange, white-tipped bushy tail, and tilts her head to the side, settling her long ginger hair. "I'm Kayleedi!"

With faux dignified air about him, the man stands mockingly proper. He bows forward, letting his short, dark gray hair shift forward, wags his silvery fluffy tail, and waves his gray furred pointed ears. "I'm Brento!"

The two ready themselves, glance over at each other with a nod, and start gesturing speedy incantations. Both release magical energies simultaneously, the stage curtains swing open to the various puppets used in show taking bows, waving at the audience, and making their final presence for the show. The stage closes back up and Brento and Kayleedi take a final bow, waving to the crowd. The majority of the audience disperses. The two performers meet and greet, enthusiastically interacting with everyone. Parents and children, guided by parents, donate money into a tip box, Brento and Kayleedi excitedly demonstrating their appreciation with magic tricks and puppetry. Bach blinks back to awareness to a familiar set of claw points on his arm. Cideeda lifts an intrigued brow and releases Bach's arm. "Hey, let me see your phone for a minute. I need to get the tracker information into it."

Shaking his head back to the current reality, Bach fumbles in his pocket, retrieves his phone, and hands it to Cideeda. "Oh! Yeah. Sorry. Just spaced out there."

A sly smile graces Cideeda's light brown face, and she snorts with a shake of her head of short multicolored hair. "Don't hide it. You were watching the puppet show."

Bach shrugs with an awkward smirk and sighs in playful defeat. "Well, you got me. I was."

With a wink to Bach, Cideeda grins and taps through various menus on Bach's phone. "Hey, it was a really cute show. I caught bits of it after I got the tracker info from Lord Valentropen. It's pretty cool and amazing what they can do with magic and those puppets. I wonder what they could do with wargame figures."

Bach chuckles, glancing over to the small stage, and smirks to Cideeda. "I bet it'd save you a lot of time of having to reach over the tables to move everything into place during your turn."

Nodding with a smile, Cideeda pushes a hand on Bach's back and rotates him around towards Aristespha and Sotalia. "Yeah... Oh, you'll probably need to go over THERE. They're discussing the magic marks on the whelps. Probably something you need to be part of."

Bach nods in agreement and walks over toward Aristespha and Sotalia. Cideeda pauses from tapping settings into Bach's phone, and peeks over to the antics of Brento and Kayleedi's puppets.

A row of small, tall brick townhouses stretch down the wide side next to a quieter access street, opposite of a small community park. Sotalia strolls down the walkway under the shade of trimmed trees and passes planters of flowers, the wind rustling the leaves of the greenery overtaking the area. Brushing stray dark red hairs out of her face, she holds up her aetherphone and squints at a fluctuating bar display, lifting an intrigued brow. Slowing to a stop, she glances around the vicinity, eyeing the seclusive spots in the nooks of the building architecture and crannies within the trees and between the bushes. She places the phone into a pants pocket, rolls her shoulders in a stretch, and closes her eyes. Slowly, she lifts her arm up and sweeps her open palm around, scanning the area around her. Her hand aims towards an alley, and she pauses. She cocks her head to the side and cracks a confident smirk on her light tan face. Moments later, a loud metallic crash rings out, and the sounds of something scratching and digging in debris prompt Sotalia's golden eyes to open. She cautiously rushes towards the corner of a wall framing the alley and peeks down the shady corridor. In the midst of scattered piles of junk and strewn trash, a black scaled whelp perches itself upon the rim of a large dumpster and digs through the garbage. Fluttering open his meter wide wingspan, he briefly scratches at his collar and resumes his inspection of the bin. Sotalia smiles slyly, perks her brow, and mutters under her breath and the din of cans and bottles crashing upon the pavement. "Hello, Nocturne Nightmare."

The Nocturne Nightmare leans forward into the dumpster, carefully searching among the refuse. It sniffs and snorts with a narrow muzzle, occasionally grasping something within its front paws. Yellow eyes dart around and inspect a piece of garbage. A dismissive snort later, the Nocturne Nightmare flings the trash out of its way on the pavement, grumbling unsatisfied. Back claws grip the edge of the large metal dumpster tightly, and its pair of black, scaly wings stir, keeping balance between dips into the bin. Sotalia quietly slides out into the gap between the walls of the alley, raises her arms, and focuses her full attention upon the catty whelp. With graceful, purposeful gestures, she slowly mouths out incantations under her breath, flows of magical energy stirring around her body. An almost imperceptible warping of energy gradually stretches out from her hands and closes the distance between her and the whelp. The Nocturne Nightmare lifts his head up briefly, munching on a chunk of extremely stale and unusually crunchy, sponge cake. Picking off the sticky remnants of the plastic wrapper, it licks the cream filling off its lips with a long black tongue. A squeak of a belch later, it spots another target within the pile and resumes its dumpster dive. The barely visible field enveloping the black scaled, horned whelp, Sotalia grins triumphantly and narrows her eyes with a confident lift of an eyebrow. "Gotcha."

The Nocturne Nightmare's body drifts upwards, surprising the whelp. It scrambles around vainly to latch onto the dumpster rim with both pairs of paws, only managing to scrape off chips of layered paint from the smooth, rolled edges. The whelp flaps its meter wide wingspan, seeking escape. Despite valiant, feverish efforts, all propulsion efforts fail within the translucent magical mass, and it drifts down the shady alley towards the bright opening. The forces upon it rotate and right it towards facing Sotalia. She maintains concentration and gestures, motions guiding the energies and reeling the critter closer. The creature drifts towards Sotalia and stops within a meter, floating helplessly in front of her. Sotalia smiles happily at it and raises the pitch of her voice, heavily layering the sweetness. "Oh, hello, Ur-i-ven-no-trop-a-lin! That's such a really pretty name your daddy gave you. How about you be a nice little dragon and come with me back to your mommy and daddy. They are so worried about their little scaly son."

She glances around, fighting a guilty smirk, and giggles in sheer delight. "If you are REALLY GOOD, we'll stop by the market and get a bunch of treats!"

Narrowing her stare behind the whelp, she twists her mouth in disgust at the dumpster. "Truth me, it'll be FAR better than all that garbage you were eating."

Nocturne Nightmare whelp, Urivennotropalin, narrows his yellow eyes indignantly, flares up his nostrils, and snarls his upper lip. Righting his head back defiantly, he flares his wings out and reveals the intricate patterns upon the webbing. He bares the sharp teeth inside his small maw and grumbles an octave higher than intent. Tilting his head, he prominently displays his elaborate main pair of horns, and holds up his front clawed hands towards Sotalia. With a puff of the chest, he draws in lungfuls of air. He breathes out a loud growling roar, dramatically shaking his head dominantly. The higher pitch matches the small size of the whelp and completely disarms the terrifying display of tiny draconic power. Sotalia's gawks in absolute joy, cupping her hands over her mouth and nose, and gasps in pure adoration. Admiration guides her delighted gazes upon the whelp, and she squirms excitedly, eagerly reaching both hands out for the whelp. "OH. MY. GODS. You are the most adorable thing EVER! That was SO CUTE! I don't know if I'll be able to give you back!"

Lost in sheer utter confusion, Urivennotropalin blinks blankly and cocks his head to the side, failing to understand the opposite of his expectations. His awareness of the situation returns when Sotalia's long, black fingernails scratch upon the undersides of his chin. He attempts to summon a defiant growl. The effort falters away into a sputtering, bubbling purr, each delightful scratch lulling him close his eyes in simple comfort. With a slight bite of lip, Sotalia grins ear to ear, Urivennotropalin falling into her hands. "OH! Your mommy was so right. You are such a big baby when you get your scratches."

Sotalia guides Urivennotropalin onto her chest and shoulders, hugging the whelp happily. The critter melts onto her under the constant attention, laying his head next to her neck and wrapping a long fan tail around her waist. Sotalia pets and scratches the whelp to his delight, carrying him clear of alleyway back down the street of brick townhouses. "OH, I am SO spoiling you with some treats from that market."

In an empty, abandoned field, Bach puzzles at the readings upon his phone and slowly pivots in place, scanning around the area and bouncing his stare between the common features. He finds nothing out of place in the wide open, grassy space, shadowed by passing clouds. An overgrown treeline weaves through an ancient chain link fence on the perimeter, and a solitary, rusted metal shed stands, the tallest structure around. Bach settles his gaze upon the shed, closes his eyes, and reopens them to a blue light. Stashing his phone away, he nods his head in self agreement, eyes dimming back to normal. He walks towards the shed, avoiding the many noisy pitfalls littering the worn path along the way. Noticing the crude, old lock upon the shed door, he stops. A child's voice calls out unseen. "W-w-who are you, and why are you here?!"

Bach pauses and darts his glance around, searching for the source. Seconds later, three middle school aged children leave the concealment of the treeline underbrush and position themselves in front of Bach, guarding the door of the old shed. Bach wanders his gaze between the school children. An emin girl with small horns and short, brilliant green hair addresses Bach. "Who are you? And, why are you here?"

The tall grath boy and tall human girl summon up their resolve and stand quietly to either side of the emin girl. Bach perks a confused and puzzled eyebrow at the group, shrugs with an awkward tug to the corner of his mouth, and sighs. "I'm an adventurer hired to find some lost fancy whelps. Have you seen any colorful whelps that match these pictures?"

Bach retrieves his phone, tapping on the screen, and presents a series of whelp pictures to the children. The images of the fanciful creatures capture their attention. Upon a particular picture of green and brown scaled whelp, blatant recognition hardens their resolve, and they muster wavering, stern stares. A slight smirk cracks from the corner of Bach's face, and he peeks at the picture to confirm. "Huh... I see. I don't suppose you've seen the Viridian Forest Racer anywhere?"

The emin girl's green on black eyes glance between her two friends on either side of her, and she cautiously answers, reservation heavy in her tone. "We have... seen it... in the area."

With a growing smile, Bach nods simply and swipes through the phone gallery to show a picture of Lord and Lady Valentropen with the Viridian Forest Racer. "Well, that's great news! If you could tell me where he is I'll be able to get him back to his owners. They're really worried about him, since he's so far from home and not used to being around here."

The children each examine the picture upon the phone, and a wave of guilt washes over them, wearing through their tough exteriors. The emin girl puffs up, glares at Bach, and holds out a hand, demanding. "I want to see your guild ID! If you are a real adventurer, you should have one!"

Tilting his head to the side at the defiant outburst, Bach reaches into his pocket, pulls out his wallet, and plucks his guild ID card out. Placing it into the awaiting hand of the emin girl, he stands tall and waits expectantly. The three children draw in close, squinting and inspecting the official identification. The human girl eyes the emin girl with reluctant acceptance. "Uh... It looks legit."

The grath boy perks a brow and eyes Bach inquisitively. "Intern?"

Bach sighs with a vaguely annoyed shrug. "It's a LONG story."

The emin girl returns the ID to Bach and bites her lower lip, a mix of frustration and moral conflict manifesting. Bach shakes his head with a knowing smile. "He's in the shed, isn't he?"

Her mouth opens to contest, and she agrees with the statement in defeat. "Yes. But... How did you know?"

Bach presents his phone again and flips to a screen with a signal strength indicator. "He's got a radio collar on him."

Blinking his blue eyes bright, Bach glances over the children. "And, there's a magical mark on him, too. I saw traces of it from inside the shed."

With a heavy sigh in sync with the disappointment of the others, the emin girl pulls out a key from her shirt pocket and sadly unlocks the lock upon the door. "I guess he should go back to his home. We found him wandering around hungry and thirsty. We've been giving him water and feeding him..."

The door swings open and casts a brighter light inside the dim, rust ventilated shed. The scene before the group shocks all. Upon a bed of pellet animal feed, scattered all over the shed floor with scraps of packaging littering the area, a green and brown scaled whelp lays belly up, wings out, motionless. Fright grips the children, and guilt seizes the emin girl. "OH NO! We just got the feed because we heard that's what whelps eat, and I-I-..."

Tears well up in the distraught children's eyes. Bach steps forward, kneels down next to the whelp, and narrows a curious stare at the bloated critter. Noticing slow rhythmic motions of breathing, he perks an eyebrow and pokes the full belly of the whelp. A shrill belch escapes the little creatures, echoing between the metal walls of the shed. The whelp squirms upon the bed of feed, and nuzzles his shorter snout into the pile. His tongue lazily wanders out and drags a few more pellets into his small maw, the sounds of slow crunching following. With a shake of head, Bach rolls his blue eyes and grins over his shoulder at the bewildered children. "Don't worry. He's fine. He just over ate and fell asleep."

He lightly pats the bloated belly of the tiny beast. "Reminds me of my friend's dragon when he was little. He's just built up a bunch of gas and worn himself out eating."

The grath boy watches the whelp squirm uncomfortably upon the pellet pile and furrows the concern on his dark tan face towards Bach. "He is uncomfortable. Can we help him?"

Glancing back at the whelp, Bach nods with a reassuring smile and scoops underneath the critter. "Sure. He probably has A LOT gas trapped in his stomach. We can help him with that much."

He gently rolls the whelp over, carefully folding back his wings and guiding his idly waving legs. "So... Who wants to learn how to belch a baby dragon?"

The children gather around excitedly. Bach carefully lifts the lazy whelp up, resting his head on his shoulder, and lightly pats the lethargic whelp's tight belly. "Don't worry..."

He eyes the critter idly squirming and helplessly swimming in the air. "Everyone will get a turn. There's PLENTY of gas to get out of him."

Leaves upon the top most branches of dense trees rustle with the light breeze coasting over the top of the newer canopy. Hidden in the bushes along a disused, patchy gravel access road, Cideeda and Dretphi peer out and alternate stares between a partially open candy bar and a pair of whelps, intently observing the candy bar from the high safety of tree perch. A crimson scaled little dragonoid squirms in place and flexes small claws tips into the bark, long tail wagging in anticipation and wings stretching out. Cideeda leans close to Dretphi's ear and whispers cautiously. "Get ready. I think the red one is going to try for it."

Dretphi nods a confirmation, glances down at her hands, and sorts through the mesh of a throwing net, narrowing her eyes in thought. "Understood. Still curious as to why they are this cooperative. Typical whelps are competitive. Independent."

Cideeda's furry ears flick and sift through the series of sounds emanating from the tree top. "It is strange they aren't nipping at each other to figure out who gets first pick at the food."

She furrows her and squints her emerald green eyes along the whelps' perch. "And... It's really weird they haven't left that tree after we spotted them. Would have made sense to at least go to another tree."

A flash of red peeks through the gaps of the foliage, and the crimson whelp launches off the branch, diving down towards the candy bar. It flaps a meter wide wingspan hard into an air cushioned stop, landing short of the candy bar. Sweeping the area with its shiny red eyed stare, it slinks cautiously closer to the treat with each pass, the claws of each of its four paws tensing into the dirt. Seconds of approach later, it lowers its head down and contentedly sniffs the chocolate covered bar deeply. A series purring barks sound out from the woods, and the crimson whelp responds in kind with a few extra chirps. With the net draping in hand, Dretphi curls her arm around her side and focuses upon the candy bar consuming, little dragon. Cideeda vigilantly watches and waits expectantly, holding her hand up. The moment the crimson whelp turns its head away, Cideeda's hand drops. "Now."

Dretphi flings forth the net with a masterful spin at the last moment of release. The net spreads out wide, lofting upwards above the target. The crimson whelp lifts his head up, chocolate smears upon lips. Searching around horizontally at the surroundings, it fails to check directly above. The net splashes down on top of the whelp. Immediately sensing the weight of the net, it flutters around in a panicked flurry of shrieks and flops upon the dirt. Cideeda grins confidently and glances over to one of two cages. "Nice! I'll get the cage ready. You hoist and drop, I'll release and lock."

A loud shrill, angry screech bounces between the trunks of the trees and rattles through the canopy above. Glints of gold sparkle through gaps between greens of the tree top leaves. Fast rhythmic rushes of air swiftly sound out, and a four winged golden whelp jets down next to the crimson whelp, skating into position upon the gravel. Dretphi and Cideeda exchange glances, and both stare out, studying the situation in confusion. The two whelps trade chirps and purrs, investigating the net entrapping the red one. Dretphi tilts her head to the side, and her steely gray eyes watch, processing thought in her mind. "The Golden Gale came to rescue the Crimson Raider?"

Blinking in short-lived astonishment, Cideeda flashes over to irritation. "Shit! They're trying to bite through the net!"

Dretphi and Cideeda each quickly grab a cage and rush out to the two whelps. The Golden Gale hisses loudly, fans open both pairs of wings, and digs claws on four feet into the dirt, strafing to block off access to the Crimson Raider. Cideeda and Dretphi keep a reserved distance and maintain the tense standoff with the Golden Gale, the Crimson Raider gnawing on the tough fibers of the net. Flicking her fluffy tail swiftly, Cideeda eyes Dretphi and gestures with her claw tipped fingers. "I'll distract, you secure."

With a quick nod, Dretphi circles gradually away from Cideeda, orbiting the duo of whelps. The Golden Gale bounces its fierce glare between the two, snapping wings forward and pulsing gusts upon the gravel. Deftly dodging the small bits of debris from the air currents, Cideeda snatches the border of the net and tugs at it sharply. The Golden Gale bears its full attention down upon Cideeda and snaps a maw of small, sharp teeth at her swiftly dodging hands. In an unyielding barrage of attempts, Cideeda quickly reaches out to the net, avoiding the fast, furious nips of the gold-scaled whelp and gusts of dirt and gravel. During the tense seconds, the Golden Gale feverishly defends against each assault upon the net. It stops in surprise upon a firm, gentle hand preventing its mouth from opening. A strong arm wraps around, tightly pressing its wings against the torso of a tall, muscular grath woman. Dretphi hoists up the golden creature and away from the fray. It helplessly flails its paws out into the air, a great deal of shock in its golden eyes. Balancing herself, Cideeda sweeps up the ends of the net and props a cage door side up with a foot. Opening the door, she swiftly lowers the netted Crimson Raider inside and closes the cage door. She carries another cage over to Dretphi, and the two lead the uncooperative Golden Gale inside. Securing the cage door, the two breath out loud in relief and vent their tensions with laughing sighs. Cideeda double-checks the locks on the cages, avoiding the nips of small maws and scrambling of tiny, deft clawed hands, and chuckles to herself. "Well... Not exactly what I had planned. But, I'll take it!"

With a few deep, calming breaths, Dretphi glances around, concern directing her narrowing gaze to the unhappily barking whelps. "There is something wrong. I do not believe they are acting normal."

Cideeda kneels down between the two cages and observes the whelps scurrying around. Both peer out through the gaps in the carriers and scratch their cages towards their original tree. "Huh... Yeah... I have to agree. THIS isn't right."

Standing up straight, Dretphi walks over towards the base of the tree, watches the critters bark and growl louder, and squints curiously upwards. "Something is there. Could you climb up?"

With a confirming nod and a confident smile, Cideeda skips over to the awaiting Dretphi. Placing a toed boot in Dretphi's interlocked hands, Cideeda rides the boost up along the trunk of the tree and digs her claws into the bark. She climbs up the tree with both hands and feet, searching around each level of branches on her way up, and spots a collection of leaves and sticks high up upon a dense cluster of branches. After a few more pulls upwards, her head crests above the rough nest. Peeking inside, she smiles in delight and laughs down towards Dretphi. "HEY! We're going to need a rope and soft bags. We've got eggs."

Tall brick commercial buildings stand and border a wide walkway, the sun gleaming off the grids of tinted glass panes between decorative ledges. Aristespha strolls down past small boutique store fronts and surveys the goods arranged behind the display windows. Rounding the corner, she searches down the open avenue and focuses upon a fancifully fenced section in front of a business. Walking a few steps forward, she stops and places a hand on a hip with a smirk, narrowing her stare ahead. "Hmm. I think we found one, Sebastian."

Sebastian's ethereal voice resonates from the sword at Aristespha's side. "Really, dear? I didn't hear the phone beep. Did you sense the magical marker?"

Aristespha sways her hip to the side, glances around the empty area briefly, and taps the sword at her side. "It is clear. Pop out and see for yourself."

The ghostly visage of Sebastian forms next to Aristespha, and he traces her sight line ahead. Squinting his eyes, he reads a sign taped to a low, metal railing door, and snorts out into a chuckle. "Heh. I guess so."

A gentle gust of wind flutters the cardboard sign taped upon the fanciful fencing.

"Cafe Clarks is still OPEN! Come inside! Outside closed due to a miserable little flying beast! - Frustrated Management"

Exchanging a humored glance with Aristespha, Sebastian shakes his head, and his visage fades, drifting back into the sword. Aristespha casually steps forward and retrieves her aetherphone. Tapping up a signal indicator, she searches near the rooftops, a faint violet glow in her eyes. Reaching the entrance into Cafe Clarks, she inspects the daily specials upon a decorative chalkboard, and a mischievous grin graces her ivory face. "Ooo... They have quite the selection of teas. I wonder..."

A bell rings out from above the entry door, and an apron wearing evuukian woman server holds the door open. "Hello! Welcome to Cafe Clarks. I am afraid the patio area is closed, right now. That little sky terror is still loose."

Aristespha lifts a curious brow at the woman, navigating through a few menus on her aetherphone, and reveals a picture of sky blue scaled, white plated, whelp with a prominently pointed nose cone and peach wing membranes. "Does it look like this?"

The server's aqua eyes widen sharply, and she briefly snarls her upper lip in frustrated disgust. "YES. THAT is the little shit..."

Blinking back to awareness, she wrestles down a flush of embarrassment and gasps apologetically. "Oh! Pardon my manners. He's been terrorizing our customers relentlessly when they are trying to enjoy our wonderful pastries and fine drinks."

A man's voice from inside calls out. "And that bastard has been stealing anything magical that isn't nailed down!"

The serving woman sighs and points up to the rooftop of a nearby building. "He is up there, RIGHT NOW. Watching. Waiting. We are hoping he will move on soon..."

She pauses in thought and smiles eagerly. "Wait! Are you here to get rid of him?"

Aristespha nods, her bright violet eyes focusing upon the blue scaled whelp perched up on the decorative architecture. "Yes. There were a few that escaped, recently. This one is a Sky Lancer variety of fancy whelp. I need to capture him."

Thinking for a moment, she glances around the server and calls inside. "He has been stealing magical objects?"

A chorus of people confirm, listing many trinkets and larger items in irritated tones. Aristespha nods, motions to the server, and lifts the latch on the fence gate. "Follow me, and act like you are seating me."

With an understanding nod, the evuukian woman plays along, going through all the motions, and Aristespha responds appropriately. Aristespha sits down, and the server leaves after placing down a menu. After a moment, Aristespha calls out to the server. "Excuse me, where is your bathroom?"

The serving evuukian woman blinks in confusion and points inside. "This way."

Standing back up, Aristespha removes the sword and scabbard from her belt. She lays it down upon the table top, pulling out the blade enough to glint the sun bright up towards the attentive whelp, and concentrates her purple glowing eyes upon the creature. A devious smile draws across her face, and a low ethereal chuckle resonates from the sword. Joining the evuukian woman inside, Aristespha waits with her back against the wall near the door. "Let us see if he is... Interested."

Seconds later, wind cutting wings align and dart upon the tabletop. The whelp fully fans out his single pair of wings to their over a meter wingspan, keeping them at the ready. Stepping cautiously around on his only pair of legs, it hops gingerly around, bouncing between paranoia and plundering. Its silvery, greedy eyes focus upon the blade, and long claws clamp down upon the scabbard. Slamming down fast, powerful flaps, it barely lifts the scabbard off the table and strains to gain altitude. The Sky Lancer momentarily glances down at the lack of ascent and gazes up. Sebastian's ghostly, flaming form grins menacingly at him. "OOGITY BOOGITY!"

The whelp shrieks in terror, drops the sword in panic, and flurries its wings opposite of Sebastian, fluttering right into the path of an awaiting Aristespha. A wave of energy launches from Aristespha's hand and envelopes the critter in a thick, immobilizing field. The Sky Lancer floats nearly motionless, breathing freely with eyes darting around in sheer bewilderment. Calmly stepping up to the hovering creature, Aristespha finishes a series of incantations into a simple tap upon its bony nose cone. Long, high pitched snores rattle out from the whelp, remaining stuck in the air. Aristespha walks to her table, slides the sword fully back into the scabbard, and taps out a quick message upon her phone. Seating herself down, she opens up and nonchalantly reads the menu. Sebastian drifts down upon a seat next to her. The server cautiously steps around the sleeping, suspended whelp and bows slightly towards Aristespha and Sebastian. "So, um, Yes. I have been informed by my manager that anything you... Two want is on the house today."

In the tentative silence and customers wandering back out to the patio, Aristespha happily points out something on the menu. "Thank you, so much. While I wait for the rest of my group to secure the whelp, I would very much love to sample your Briley Black tea."

Dusk dims the sun's orange-red light upon closing marketplace booths and people wander out of the park. Nearby in an open grass space, an emin girl, grath boy, and human girl run happily through the maintained fields, drawing colorful trails of magical energy from their wooden wands. The team stands around park benches at the perimeter of the marketplace. Sotalia scratches under Urivennotropalin's chin one last time. "Oh, I'll miss you."

The black scaled, horned whelp settles into the cradling arms of Lord Valentropen, head upon his shoulder. A small burp slips out, and Lord Valentropen gently pats the critter's back. Lady Valentropen shakes her head at a bloated, less gassy Viridian Forest Racer squirming in disgust of itself inside his cage. She sighs in disappointment and mutters a phrase in a dialect of evuukian. Stepping up, she glares down at the Sky Lancer shamefully lowering his head. She smiles warmly at the Golden Gale and Crimson Raider together in a larger cage, both defensive over a cloth nest of eggs. Lady Valentropen graciously bows to Cideeda and Dretphi. "Oh, thank you so much for being so thorough! I knew those two have been very sweet to each other, but I did not know their relationship was that far along."

Aristespha presents a few pieces of paperwork to Lord and Lady Valentropen. "I know this is your first time using the guild system, so I will be happy to guide you through the process to close out a quest upon completion."

Bach's attention drifts away, and he spots Brento and Kayleedi closing up their stage for the night. Casually wandering over, he spots the donation box and places some money inside. Brento and Kayleedi notice the gesture. Brento bows gentlemanly. "Thank you, kind sir."

Kayleedi happily bounces and smiles brightly. "Thank you. Since you're here, we are always looking to improve our shows. Do you have any suggestions?"

Bach thinks for a moment and smiles at both Brento and Kayleedi. "Ah, not really. I mean, it was really well done. But... there's one detail you might want to update..."

Brento and Kayleedi together lean in with furry ears perking intrigued. Bach keeps his smile and lifts his eyebrow in thought. "Noxian doesn't wear the mask anymore. It's a blue scarf now."