Episode 36

Sunlight shines in through the small window panes within the double doors leading out to the balcony. Inside the small bedroom, Gerald lays on the modest bed and props up a thin monitor upright on his chest. His dark brown eyes idly watch the video playback. Intermittently, his finger presses a control button, pausing the progress, spins a jog dial, reverting a few seconds prior, and taps another button, resuming. Holding the display with one hand, he brushes his hand through his short, dark blonde hair, and the hidden gray hairs glint in the reflected light. A series of wooden creaks sound out from the stairwell leading up to the bedroom door. Gerald stops the video on his monitor, aims his eyes over toward the noise, and waits expectantly. Seconds later, Samantha climbs the final step of the stairs, swings into the room by the door frame, and beams a wide grin towards Gerald almost through the open bedroom door. "How are YOU on this fine Sunday morning!?"

Quirking an intrigued brow, Gerald slowly rests the screen on the side of the bed, guiding the slack of the cable leading from a large camera over the side. "Fine...?"

Samantha walks forward, exaggerating her individual steps along the wooden floor, and hugs on to her clipboard. "Well, Good. Anything interesting on the cameras?"

With a simple shrug, Gerald tugs at the corner of his mouth and eyes over at his recording equipment upon a nearby table. "Nothing too exciting. Caught Deedri wandering off into the forest again. She was by herself this time..."

Twisting a frown on his face, he briefly rolls his eyes. "Well, until Veevi followed along after her. But, both came back. Deedri looked pretty annoyed. I noticed she was holding her tail to the side. Haven't quite figured that one out, yet."

Dropping herself to a seat upon the modest bed, Samantha turns to face Gerald and holds out her clipboard, revealing a pack of documents. "Guess where we're going."

Gerald reaches out his hand, takes hold of the clipboard, and puzzles over the paperwork clipped on the wooden plate. His eyes trace the text upon the pages, and he quickly flips over the sheets, the content surprising him. "Hattan? Really? HUH. Haven't been THERE in a while."

He squints his eyes at a long listing. "WOW. There's a bunch of jobs out there, right now."

An ear to ear grin graces Samantha's light toned face, and she chuckles darkly to herself. "Yes, but not so many that a few couldn't be sniped from a CERTAIN group."

A few pondering blinks later, Gerald returns the clipboard to Samantha and shakes his head uncertainly. "Okay... Really hope Howard isn't overusing his contact at the guild. Someone might start getting suspicious."

Searching through the pages, Samantha inspects them with a confident smile towards Gerald. "Nah. Howie said he's just getting the info and using it as an advantage when bidding through the proper systems. Oddly, there's this really simple sounding pest extermination job that's just been passed over by EVERYONE."

Gerald lifts an inquisitive eyebrow and glances over up at Samantha with curious smirk. "What's the pest?"

A few pages flop over the top of the clipboard, and Samantha tips up the documents closer for her hazel eyes. "Um... Simple, harmless slimes from the looks of it. Even our group should be able to handle THAT."

A long groan rumbles out from Gerald, and he rolls his eyes over to a collection of protective clothing hanging in the closet. "Gods... Please tell me you've at least warned the crew to pack waterproofing gear."

Samantha sighs and nods dismissively. "Yes, of course! Though..."

A sinister crook twists her smile. "I did make sure to NOT remind the team. Howie's orders. He wants to see if they'll take the proper precautions... Or, learn the hard way."

A singular laugh escapes Gerald, and he smirks knowingly to Samantha. "Right... Yeah... I'm certain he's hoping for the hard way. It ALWAYS gets better ratings when they learn the hard way."

After a sigh and snicker of agreement, Samantha flips to the last packet of paperwork between the clip and excitedly displays it to Gerald. "Did you see where Howie booked us?"

Leaning his head forward off the pillow, Gerald squints briefly, his eyes darting left and right. His eyes spring wide open, and he settles his head back down. "Wow! Not bad, Howard. Guess he was in a good mood when he made the reservations. Really fancy."

Tilting over towards Gerald, Samantha amuses herself upon a thought. "Howie found out that the owner will shill himself out to anything... So long as the hotel gets mentioned excessively in the promo materials."

She leans back to level and laughs with a short grin. "Plus, one of the researchers found out that the owner's kids LOVE the show."

Twisting a smirk, Gerald snorts and shakes his head side to side on the pillow. "Now THAT is the angle that Howard used. I'm sure of it. Everything else was just a bonus to negotiations."

He puts both his hands behind his head, relaxes his arms out, and eyes Samantha curiously. "What was it that he said? If they don't want to deal with you, see if they have children they want to deal with less?"

Drawing in lungs full of air, Samantha blinks, twisting lips, and slowly exhales out a begrudging sigh, gazing upwards. "Yes... He's said that a number of times. But... It works. And does it ever work."

She throws herself forward off the bed, stands up on her feet, and stretches her arms and back. "Well, I need to go finish up the paperwork and get copies over to the team. I think we'll be able to head out Tuesday and use tomorrow to prep."

Gerald nods, pulls his upper body up from rest, and smiles at Samantha. "Sounds good. We can get the standard mission loadout ready in no time."

Pivoting with a sly grin, Samantha lifts a bundle of paperwork upon the clipboard and reveals a section of interest towards Gerald. "We'll also need the promo equipment ready! Howie has booked one of the event rooms for a surprise fan meetup."

Curiously perking his brow, Gerald draws a sinister grin and narrows his eyes at Samantha. "Before... or after the slime stomping?"

With an evil smile, Samantha winks, entertaining a low chuckle under her breath. "Well, of course, AFTER! If at all possible. We have to try to give fans the genuine adventuring experience."

Two wide lanes of roughly paved road stretch out through the ongoing cleared strip between forested edges. The humvee coasts along the smooth asphalt, and the suspension occasionally shakes from the rare dip and rough patch. Along the maintained shoulder, trees pass on by with sporadic gaps between, allowing clear views of farms, open fields, access roads, and rustic houses. Within a few, hints of ancient structures appear in the distance and fade away during travel. Opposite the road border, a large, grassy median serves as a barrier from another pair of similarly wide lanes with an equivalent shoulder. From behind with a high pitched roar, a red, low profile motorcycle zips around the humvee into the opposite roadway lane. The cycle captivates Cideeda, watching it shrink into the distance. Shaking her head with an amused grin, she glances through the rear view mirror at Bach. "These roads are nice..."

Quickly flicking her emerald green eyes down at the dash, she spots the needle on the speedometer. "And to be fair, we're going a hundred kilometers per hour smoothly. But, I don't know if I'd open it up like that."

Leaning out into the aisle, Bach peers through the front windshield and snorts, settling his head back on his seat's headrest. "Yeah... That's why I stuck with my bike. Way too easy to tempt fate on those things. One bad spot of road when you aren't expecting it, and you're getting a nasty physics lesson."

Hovering in the aisle, Sebastian glances over towards Bach, cracking an amused smirk. "Remember that one guy in the dorm, bro? The one that wrecked his bike-"

Bach's blue eyes spring wide open, and he coughs out a reflexive laugh. "Up the tree! Oh, gods! I still don't know how he did it without magic. It's one of those things I still try to figure out once in a while. It was a flat stretch of road, too. How do you get that much air?"

Blinking her golden eyes, Sotalia rolls her head over on her headrest and directs her voice back. "WAIT. THAT actually happened? I always thought Sebastian was just exaggerating that part."

With a chuckle and a side to side sway of the head, Bach grits his teeth in a near smiling grimace. "No. It was UP that tree. I stood out there with everyone else trying to figure out how it happened. You should have seen the looks on the faces of emergency services crews."

Dretphi briefly gazes up from a finely carved staff in her hands, momentarily pondering the feat of physics between grimaces on her tan face and furrows of her brow. Moments later, the allure of the staff snatches back her attention, and she concentrates upon it. Seconds pass, and a glowing flow gradually creeps up the handle, navigating the grooves in the wood. Energy traveling through the pathways, the routes gradually twist and turn more complicated higher up the staff. The humvee rolls down the road, and Dretphi devotes her full focus, progressing her magical might up the wooden maze. Sebastian notices a metal road sign with a single line of text, and his ethereal form grins smugly. "Tullachester, five kilometers, bro. Still don't want to swing on by to see how things are?"

Slowly rotating his head up to his hovering ghostly brother, Bach lifts an indignant brow and slowly shakes his head side to side. "PASS. I'll just have to enjoy the sight of the off ramp disappearing behind us into the horizon."

A slight grumble from Aristespha next to him draws Sebastian's attention, and he expresses concern. Lowering his head just over Aristespha's shoulder, he peeks at her tablet's display. "What's wrong, dear?"

Aristespha brushes back a few stray, silvery blue hairs, twists her mouth with a fit of mild annoyance, and squints her frustration at the screen. "I was hoping we would win the bids on a few other small side jobs, Sebastian. But... Someone secured the bid for a few of those very quests."

Tugging at the corner of his mouth, Sebastian puzzles at the list of jobs on the tablet, granting a simple dismissive shrug. "Well... Probably a lower bid from someone else, dear. At least we secured what we really wanted. Can't fight the lowest bid on those smaller jobs. Probably some local group needing it more than we do."

His translucent blue eyes gravitate towards a job header, and he points his finger towards the particular listing. "What was this job again? I don't remember seeing a bid on that one."

Aristespha gently taps the entry, and the program interface expands the detailed information out upon the screen. An evil smirk grows on her ivory face, and Aristespha aims her narrowed eyes at Sebastian with a lift of an eyebrow. Sebastian's eyes bounce left to right with each line, and he abruptly averts his head away with an amused snort. "OH! THAT job. Wow..."

Barely holding back his ill humor, he dampens a few snickers. "Good luck to whoever bidded on THAT one. I figured THAT would stay unbid for at least a few more months."

Gently lowering the tablet down onto her lap, Aristespha stretches her arms over the back of her chair and arches her back in the seat briefly, relieving her muscles. "I would... Ah... Not be surprised if it comes back up on the guild board in a week."

With a tight smile, Sebastian nods slowly and gazes at Aristespha. "Oh, I hope they make the work comments public on THAT one."

Evil tinges the grin that splits Aristespha's mouth, and she stares into Sebastian's eyes. In the front passenger's seat, Sotalia watches the road ahead, scanning out towards the horizon. Squinting at one distant long-haul cargo truck ahead, she yawns and shifts herself around on the seat, searching for a comfortable position. Her golden eyes spring wide, and she cringes slightly, a new discomfort seizing her full attention. Nonchalantly placing her hands on her knees, she pushes her legs close together and searches the upcoming shoulder. Minutes pass. Sotalia squirms slowly and momentarily curls her upper lip, revealing gritting teeth. With an idle fidgeting tap of her finger on her knees, she focuses her attention forward, hunting for something along the far off roadside. The humvee crests the top of a hill. Sotalia's eyes open wider and lock onto a large metal road sign ahead. It passes by, and she directs her voice back towards the group with a lightly suggesting tone. "Hey, there's a rest stop ahead... Does ANYONE need to stop and... use the restroom?"

Cideeda perks an eyebrow, angles her head slightly towards the center console, and notices the empty, extra large cup of fancifully ordered coffee. Returning her head forward, she conceals a wry smirk on the side of her mouth away from Sotalia. Aristespha shakes her head dismissively and stares out her window at the midday scenery below a cloud speckled blue sky. "No. I am just fine. Remember? I only ordered the SMALL coffee and tea."

Shrugging plainly, Bach watches the forest strewn world speed on by out his window. "Not me."

Dretphi briefly diverts her attention away from the magically glowing staff, glances ahead, and shrugs, resuming her focus. "No."

Sotalia twists her mouth, noticing another road sign. Drawing in a careful breath, she exhales long, tinges of stress shuddering out. She peers back over to the shoulder of her seat and dons an uncomfortable smile, pleading hints infiltrate her voice. "Is everyone sure? No one could stand to take a break, stretch out, and enjoy the local scenery...?"

An eyebrow sharply hoists up on Bach's face, Aristespha peeks over from the corner of her violet eyes, Dretphi pauses her flow progress, and Sebastian plainly stares right at Sotalia. Grinning mischievously, Cideeda mockingly sighs and watches the exit sign draw close. "Huh. Well, I guess NO ONE needs to stop. We'll just have to see what's around in AN HOUR or so..."

She aims a toothy smile at Sotalia. Grumbling to herself, Sotalia's body language telegraphs the developing unease, and she eyes the distant exit ramp drawing closer. A long awkward silence looms inside the cab. The rest of the group collectively awaits. Sotalia growls in defeat and calmly, hesitantly pleads. "Cideeda... Could you take this next exit, PLEASE?"

Easing off the accelerator, Ciddeda gazes ahead and gently turns the steering wheel. "Why?"

Drawing in a breath through her gritting teeth, Sotalia mumbles loudly. "So... I can use the bathroom."

A snort escapes Cideeda. "Yes, we can."

She guides the humvee down the exit ramp and rolls her emerald green eyes. Aristespha rotates her gaze towards Sotalia, presents a smug, triumphant grin, and giggles to herself. "I was wondering how long before that EXTRA LARGE coffee you got... AFTER I warned you... would work its way through you."

Cideeda grins wide, Dretphi smirks shaking her head, Bach rolls his blue eyes, and Sebastian snorts ethereally. Sotalia stiffly sits in the car seat and stares ahead out the windshield, glaring an unamused grimace forward. "Oh, HUSH, girl!"

A sly smile cracks upon her mouth, and she aims a teasing tone towards Aristespha. "I especially don't need a lecture from the Queen of the Hot Wings."

Dretphi stifles a snort late and averts her gaze away. Cideeda presses her lips tightly together, keeping her view squarely on the road. Examining the expressions of Dretphi and Cideeda, Bach presents a quizzical stare up at Sebastian. "Okay. I'm missing something here."

Sebastian shrugs awkwardly and works out an ill-humored smirk from his face. "Well, bro, there was this one time-"

He halts abruptly mid-sentence, wincing his cheek. Beside Sebastian, Aristespha twists a tight grip upon the sword handle and glares bright violet at him, a distinctly reddish hue blending in the light. Sebastian closes his mouth, allowing his mind to process new, immediately pertinent information, and directs a neutral expression towards Bach with a flat tone. "...that will not be discussed at this moment..."

Moments of quiet hang in the air. The humvee rolls to a halt at a stop sign intersection. Sotalia snaps her head and peers over the shoulder of her seat, a sparkle of mischief in her eyes. Her horns prominent with the downwards tilt of her head, she draws in a long breath. "So, after a LONG day of spellcasting-"

Aristespha's eyes fly open, and she grits her teeth at Sotalia into a twitching glower with the faintest growl rising up. "HUSH. YOU."

The humvee rolls between the nearly faded away markings of a parking spot in the patchy lot. The vehicle's powerplant spinning down, the doors spring open. Sotalia closes the glove box, tucking a roll of toilet paper under her arm, and gingerly hops out. Swiftly scanning the disused rest area, she stands tense, squirming. "OKAY! Where's the bathroom in this place?!"

Cideeda steps onto the pavement, walks to the front of the humvee, and squints her eyes towards a number of out buildings in the vicinity. Wariness and reservation rise up into Cideeda's light brown face, and she scouts the structures, frowning slightly. "Hmm. We might want to keep on driving for another place. This rest area looks..."

Flicking her furry ears back, she twists a grimace, straightening her posture with hesitance. "Under serviced?"

In the overgrown clearing before the team, a collection weathered and battered of picnic tables, stained and storm tattered shade canopies, and cracked and dusty snack machines surround a dilapidated central park building. Long, tall grasses thoroughly obscure where each structure touches the ground and hide any connecting pathways. Aristespha stands next to Cideeda, cocks her head of silvery blue hair to the side, and fights down the surge of disgust on her face. "OH... MY..."

Panning a gaze across the wildness invaded landscape, Bach simply shrugs without a hint of surprise. "We're just south of Tullachester. This is about what I expected."

Furrowing his brow, he squints at the weather grayed, cracked pavement and kicks a loose chunk into the weeds. "Huh, actually surprised they bothered to ever pave this."

Sotalia grimaces with the stain, surveying each building, and perks up. Her golden eyes settle upon the central building. "I bet they're at the big building! I'm going to go check!"

She swiftly power walks down the winding path from the parking lot up towards the large structure. Caution tempers her speed, avoiding encroaching grasses and debris. Spotting a rabbit darting away into the woods, Sebastian floats above and drifts forward uncertainly. "Hey. You want me to check that building out first?"

Sotalia tosses her voice upwards behind her and presses onward. "NO! I'll be fine."

Sighing, Aristespha glances up to Sebastian with a smile and strolls along the same direction towards Sotalia. "Don't worry, Sebastian. I will accompany her and make sure she does not fall in."

Dretphi gazes up towards the treetops, cups a hand around her ear, and furrows her brow, puzzling. She pivots around and faces the source of a faint bird song. Bach glances over, traces her line of sight, and searches the higher parts of the forest canopy. "Um. What are you looking for?"

Seconds later, Dretphi's steely gray eyes briefly widen, and she points out a large, brilliantly colorful bird preening itself upon a tree branch. "THERE. It is a... Zone Parrot? I think that is the correct term."

Following the angle of Dretphi's arm, Bach spots the animal sorting through its brightly patterned plumage. He blinks and gawks in bewilderment at the creature. "Wow... I don't ever remember seeing anything like that around here of all places. That's not native bird I know of."

Dretphi nods, lowers her hand to her hip, and thoughtfully curls the corner of her mouth. She tilts her head to the side, letting a few platinum blonde braids shift upon her shoulder. "You should not. This place is not that creature's habitat. I do not know why it is here. Strange."

Cideeda's furry ears flick around and hunt the soundscape, concentrating on specific noises mixing into the natural ambience. Seconds of sifting later, she turns her head towards Dretphi and Bach across the hood of the humvee, twisting mouth curiously. "There's at least two other birds that sound like it in the area."

Astonishment grips Dretphi, and she crosses her arms. Leaning upon the humvee's side panel, she lowers her head slightly in thought. Bach eyes over curiously at Dretphi with caution coloring his voice. "Uh... Anything we should worry about?"

Dretphi turns her head to Bach, dons a light smirk, and shakes her head confidently. "No. Zone parrots are not hostile."

Narrowing her stare off to the side, she snarls her upper lip briefly. "Annoying. Destructively curious. Do not attack people."

She lifts her head back up, stares at the leaves, the wind rustling through the canopies, and ponders out loud. "It is just... Odd. They do not migrate. Live in weird zones. No where else."

Shrugging her shoulders, she glances over to the rest of the group. "One this far away could be excused. Maybe lost. Three?"

Suspicion guides her gaze, and she searches the forest around. "There is another reason."

Sebastian's ethereal form drifts over, rises above the group, and gazes out into the area. He catches a glimpse over near the central building, spotting both Sotalia and Aristespha disappear around the corner of the large structure. Hovering back down onto his feet next to Bach, he leans close to his brother's ear. "Thirty seven."

Bach blinks hard and swings his head over, facing Sebastian dumbfounded. "Thirty what?"

Contorting his face, Sebastian fails to contain his ill amusement and sighs with a roll of his eyes. "Thirty seven hot wings. In one setting."

Cideeda's furry ear flicks over, and she presses down the smirk. Sebastian sighs through his clenched teeth. "Yeah... We got roughed up hard, bro, on one mission. And, she spent the entire day patching us up in a remote place a ways out and worked up an..."

He furrows his brow and grimaces momentarily. "Appetite... From casting so much in one day. She DEMANDED we stop at the first food place we drove pass on the way back..."

His translucent blue eyes open wide, and he hisses out. "It HAD to be a hot wing place."

Around the corner of the central building, Aristespha and Sotalia stare into the dim entryway next to a women's bathroom sign. The corridor turns sharply at a right angle into a dark, unseen room. Sotalia cringes and grumbles, peering into the shady hallway. "Okay... I think I see the light switch on the wall there."

Aristespha incants quietly, gesturing with her hand, and a small orb of light hovers above her outstretched palm. Aristespha nods to Sotalia, and the two walk reservedly through the entry, approaching the forward wall before the right angle turn. Moving next to the light switch, both turn and face down the corridor into the inky darkness filling the echoing room before them. Only the dim glows from narrow, dirty high windows provide any direct illumination into the space, the ambient glow from outside barely reflecting in around the sharp bend. Sotalia places her finger underneath the switch and flicks it up.

Overhead lights gradually flicker to light and surge a bright shine into the room. The brightness floods the tiled public restroom. Amorphous collections of loose specks retreat chaotically away. The scattered masses crawl into the darker parts under sinks and disappear into the shady nether within the row of toilet stalls. Abject horror overloads Aristespha and Sotalia. Their jaws drop agape, and the pupils of their eyes shrink to pinpoints. Covering her mouth aghast, Aristespha slides her eyes over. Sotalia meets Aristespha attention with a cheek twitching, gritting of the teeth, and slowly shakes her head resolutely. "NO."

Both take synchronous steps away and carefully retrace their paths back outside. Well in the light of day, Aristespha pivots promptly and searches the nearby treeline. Moments later, she directs Sotalia's attention towards a large, obscuring shrub and laughs out her nerves. "I-I think that one will do just fine."

Exaggerating her nod, Sotalia quickly skips over to the target brush. "I'll make it work!"

In the modestly decorated hotel lobby, large, ornate light fixtures hang down from the tall ceiling, illuminating the open space in a gentle glow. The dusk sky casts an orange hue through the tinted windows, mixing with the warm hue of the overhead lamps. The intricate slate floor path from the entry splits the lobby into two distinct sections. Plush cushioned, wooden frame couches form small meeting spaces, groupings scattering through the area. On the other side of the huge space, elaborate chairs surround the long tables encircling a central kitchen, chefs busily working on orders for guests in the dining area. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia sit around a table, each with menus in hand.

Past the front desk off to the side, the elevator chimes out into the lobby, and a tall man with a long black beard and shorter hair steps out. Cradling a wide brimmed hat in his cybernetic arm, he brushes some lint off his jacket and secures his Borderland Ranger badge onto his jacket's front pocket. Walking nonchalantly out upon the floor in dirt speckled boots, he nods a friendly hello to the desk staff and leads himself towards the exit. He travels the divide between the dining and meeting sections. Glancing over to one side and to the other, his pace slows to a stop. Recognition dawns upon his face, and an amused smirk graces his tanned face. With a sharp pivot, he calmly approaches the table with the sitting team, stops politely nearby, and bows slightly. "Pardon me for interrupting, but I do believe I have made all your acquaintances a few weeks back."

Aristespha gazes up from the menu, studies the man's face, and smiles pleasantly. "Yes, we have... Captain Hays, I believe?"

Captain Hays kindly nods in acknowledgment. He quickly greets and shakes everyone's hand. Glancing over everyone with a smile, he addresses the gathering. "Well. It's good to see you all are in good shape. I've heard some interesting things through the... Usual Sources."

Quirking her brow, Aristespha studies Hays carefully with a faintly intrigued grin. "Oh, really? I do hope nothing too terrible. Also, I am ever so sorry we have not gotten around to contacting you. We simply have not had the chance to wander towards the border regions."

Hearty chuckling, Hays draws in a breath and shakes his head slowly. "Understandable. I'm certain you've been quite busy. And, truthfully, for a Borderlands Ranger, I've been far away from the borderlands A LOT as of late."

Lifting an eyebrow, Dretphi angles a quizzical gaze upon Hays. "Why is that?"

With a brief snarl of the upper lip, Hays quirks his brow and works through a summary. "Well... To put it simply... We've been trying to figure out why the weird zone and borderlands critters are everywhere they shouldn't be."

Casually stroking his beard, he sighs, tinges of frustration slipping out. "It's nothing like we've seen before. It not unheard of to occasionally have a few odd migrations if a zone's energies shift around. But... THIS isn't one of those."

The group exchanges thoughtful gazes, a new light shining upon very recent memory. Glancing to Dretphi and Cideeda, Bach shifts his attention up towards Hays. "We actually saw some odd creatures today."

Hays examines the concerned expressions around the table and tilts his head curiously. "Really? So, what did you all see?"

Dretphi calmly and clearly states. "Zone Parrots."

Pausing in thought, Hays furrows his brow and meets Dretphi's steely gray eyes. "Where?"

Dretphi focuses her gaze with a serious tone. "Northwest. Up the highway."

Squinting at the memory in the front of his mind, Bach recounts. "Um, yeah... Just south of Tullachester at the old, I guess abandoned, rest stop."

A long pause later, Hays hums with his thoughts, implications processing between uneasy grimaces. "That's over a hundred kilometers from where you should even start finding them normally. Hmm."

Nodding to the team, he sighs heavily. "We should compare notes. I'm here with my two scouts trying to chart the movement of all these critters. There's been a lot of unusual movement, and we've been trying to figure out WHY."

Aristespha offers an empty seat at the table. "If no one objects, I am certain you could join us, and we would certainly discuss this further."

The rest of the group indicating their agreement, Captain Hays holds his hand up with an appreciative smile. "Thank you. I would love to oblige you, and greatly appreciate the offer. Unfortunately, I'm currently on a mission to get food for two very tired scouts and two VERY OBNOXIOUS scout whelps."

Sotalia's golden eyes light up, and she snaps a pleading stare with a bright smile towards Hays. "WELL, maybe after dinner you all could stop by so we can discuss this further..."

Suspecting eyes around the table focus upon Sotalia, and the team awaits in amusement for the rest of the statement. Sotalia flutters her eyes at Hays and colors her voice coyly. "And, you are more than welcome to bring the whelps over."

Captain Hays smiles proudly and grants Sotalia an affirmative nod. "Well, I'll just have to see what I can do. That would be up to Heccaeh, but I don't think he'd mind. It'd also give Chana a break from entertaining them, too."

Aristespha retrieves her aetherphone, tapping through a number of menus, types out a brief message, and presses firmly on the screen. "Here is my contact information and our suite number. I have sent it to your number."

With a gracious bow, Hays starts to turn away, stops, and grins at the group overall. "Before I forget, I want to thank you all for assisting Captain Hackle and capturing the thudkickers. He was doing a favor for us, since that group had left our jurisdiction without our knowledge. Thankfully, they've all been relocated to a calmer weird zone. Hopefully, they'll stay there."

His eyes narrow slightly, and he hoists an eyebrow with a hint of amused suspicion. "A few of us are a bit curious how you adjusted the attitude on that alpha male. We're certainly not complaining. That particular alpha was an absolute asshole, so humbleness didn't hurt him any."

Attention from everyone else wanders towards Bach. Chuckling, Hays smirks humored. "We just can't figure out why he's now, all of sudden, spooked by men wearing full helmets."

Down a fashionably decorated hotel hallway, Deedri and Tassilda both peek out around the frame of their room door and stare cautiously towards the intersection in front of the elevators. Tassilda grumbles, snorts out her irritation, and pouts wrinkling her nose. "This FIGURES. We arrive ahead of schedule to a very nice hotel next to a top rated day spa, with the rest of the day free... And, we have a camera crew stalking us..."

Paranoia furrows her gray brow. "Just waiting for us to leave."

Sighing sadly, Deedri's her furry, tufted ears droop down to her shoulders. "I know. I've heard it's really nice, too. But, I don't think I could enjoy it, being watched like that."

Her ears flick back, and her head swings the rest of her around. The next door down the hall opens into the room, and Modoran slips deftly around, carefully easing the door back shut. Scanning the area, he notices Deedri waving at him. Deedri energetically signals Modoran over. Slinking swiftly in behind Deedri and Tassilda, Modoran checks down the hallway with a quizzical perk of the eyebrow. "So, what are you two up to?"

Tassilda briefly glances back and grumbles, resuming her focus upon the bulky shadows projecting out near the elevator lobby from hallway lighting. "Just trying to determine if we could actually enjoy the next door day spa... while under surveillance."

Modoran slides out from the door alcove into the middle of the hallway and leans out carefully, peering down the way. Balancing himself back to a standing posture, he stretches his body,and presents a nonchalant, confident smile to Deedri and Tassilda. "Are you ladies ready to go?"

Tassilda and Deedri exchange glances and nod hopefully towards Modoran. Pulling out his aetherphone, Modoran holds it up briefly and taps upon the screen. "I'll send a message when it's clear. Just be ready to get to the elevator when you get it. Hide in your room for now."

Both Tassilda and Deedri excitedly dart back inside their room, and their door closes automatically behind them. Casually strolling down towards the intersection, Modoron's lips subtly move, his voice mumbles out extremely quiet incantations, and the fingers on his free hand trace out very minute gestures. His posture stiffens, and suspicious mannerisms infiltrate this body language. Quickly rounds the turn, he awkwardly spots the two cameramen sitting on lobby benches and blatantly averts his facefrom eye contact, rushing right up to the elevator call button. The two cameramen exchange glances between each other and focus fully upon Modoran. Puzzling when Modoran presses the upwards call button, both crew members stand up, ready their equipment, and pantomime an agreement to follow along.

The seconds pass, and Modoran's nervous ticks become more and more obvious, intriguing the recording duo greatly. With a chime, one of the two elevators open, and Modoran nervously darts inside, the two camera operators immediately trailing behind. Modoran checks his aetherphone briefly, hides the screen down from view, and presses the button for the next floor up. The doors slide shut, and a gentle acceleration pulls down on an extremely nervous Modoran and two very suspicious cameramen. The digital elevator display changes to the next floor, and the ring brightly fills the space along with a voice announcement. The doors part open to their widest. Modoran bolts clear of the elevator car, slides out along a sharp turn, and tears off in a full sprint down a hotel hallway. Both camera operators nearly crash into a pile out on the elevator lobby floor and scramble after Modoran.

On the elevator button panel, the previous floor's button slides in momentarily and lights up. An unseen force pushes the second floor of the basement parking garage to the illuminated selection. A finger fading back into opacity firmly presses the door close switch. The rest of Modoran's body sheds off the transparent guise, and he smirks smugly, tapping out a message on the phone. The elevator seals back up and faintly hums down a floor. The display changes, a voice announces the floor, and the doors part, revealing an eager Tassilda and antsy Deedri. Both quickly step in at the confident prompting from Modoran, and he smiles nonchalantly. "Next stop. Freedom."

The elevator car shuts back up, sealing away the ambience of the hotel floor. With a sly grin upon her gray face, Tassilda flicks her light blue on black eyes over towards Modoran. "What ever did you do? Knock them out and stuff them in a broom closet?"

Rolling his dark blue eyes with an amused sigh, Modoran casually grins. "Nah. Just had them chase my ghost for a bit. I wonder how long it'll take them to realize it was a spell."

Spotting the light for the second basement garage level on the panel, Deedri cocks her head of braided auburn hair and puzzles. "The second parking garage level?"

Modoran simply shrugs and presents a calming smile to Deedri. "Well, I figured at least one other crew is on the ground floor, since the SUV is parked on the first level of the garage. So... They're probably monitoring that."

Perking an eyebrow, he smirks confidently to Deedri. "But, we should be safe to wander over to the stairwell leading out to the street on the second level of the garage. Doubt they're paying that much attention. If not, I've got a few other tricks."

Nodding at the plan, Deedri blinks with thought crossing her mind and gazes up to Modoran. "Um, what are you going to do, now?"

A long pause holds Modoran's tongue, and he ponders the situation uncertainly. "Huh. I... I don't know, actually. I guess, probably, wander around the city until dinner? Didn't really have any plans. I just wanted to get out of the room."

Deedri entertains a genuine smile and lifts an eyebrow to Modoran. "Ever been to a day spa?"

Modoran's dusky bluish gray skin flushes with reddish undertones around the cheeks. Attempting to avert his face, he runs his fingers through his light gray hair and scratches the back of his head. "Oh. Um. I-I wouldn't want to intrude. It seems like you two had something planned out."

With a dismissive shake of the head, Tassilda rolls her eyes and smirks. "Oh, PLEASE. Do NOT play modest now. If you help get us there, you are more than welcome to join us."

The elevator doors smoothly slide apart, and Modoran leans out into the cavernous level of concrete pillars, asphalt flooring, and cars packed into painted lines. Peeking around the parking garage level, Modoran works the awkward energy out of the smile on his face. "Well... Then, I better get you two there."

Flashing a nonchalant smirk, he steps out leading Tassilda and Deedri. "Looks clear so far. Follow me."

Beams of light shine through ancient gaps in the tall ceiling of the solid stone structure. Faint traces of dust drift aimlessly through the huge, long hallways and barely stir to the whims of the wind outside, slipping through the thin divides between heavy blocks. A flash brightly illuminates an area immediately near Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. Inspecting the fresh image on the display of her aetherphone, Aristespha shakes her head and bored sigh vents out. "I cannot discern any differences. Everything seems to be almost completely matching the old pictures."

Cideeda's furry ears flick around, and her emerald green eyes keenly inspect the nooks and crannies of the area. Sniffing the air flowing in a calm breeze, she pulls an unamused smirk into the corner of her mouth and shrugs. "Nothing. Dust, earth, some wet stone, and maybe a little mold. Still nothing out of the ordinary. I'm actually feeling a little disappointed, right now."

Kneeling down to the dirt littered stonework floor, Sotalia picks up a small, unlit magical indicator stick and rolls her eyes at herself. "Gods... I know I should be okay with this, but..."

Dretphi twists her grimace and grumbles. "This place is tediously mundane."

Staring up between the columns of light streaming from the weathered holes above, Bach's eyes wander for anything of interest. "Yeah. I'm really surprised they haven't just bulldozed this place down. I mean, there's no sealed off areas or anything hidden left. I don't think they needed adventurers for this job."

Furrowing his brow, he glances around at the layers of grime and history staining the crumbling architecture. "They really just need a building inspector to condemn it and tell them to demolish it already."

Aristespha nods in complete agreement and fights back a frown touching a gray and blue hint at the corner of her ivory face. "I know. Unfortunately, everyone is still paranoid about these old places. So, a job is a job. Also, for what they are asking of us... it is not THAT terrible of a payout. We actually have not spent that much time here, considering."

Shrugging his shoulders, Bach holds his arms out to his sides, disbelief creeping upon his face. "Yes. Can't believe I'm actually wanting there to be something new or signs that something has changed. But, man, I'd even take trashy graffiti at this point. If just to have something to report."

With a glance over her shoulder, Cideeda nods in agreement at Bach and exhales out her idle frustration. "Some days, you just bring home the paycheck and wonder if they would have even known you were there at all."

Aristespha aims her aetherphone towards another marked section of wall, firmly presses an on-screen button, and a flicker of brightness erupts out from the flash. Squinting inside a shady archway next to the wall's markings, she directs everyone's attention towards it. "Quick check that room, please. It's listed as clear on the report. Just make sure nothing has changed before we move on and mark it off the list."

Acknowledging, Dretphi locks down her full face visor, lifts up her sub-machine gun, and approaches the area cautiously. Cideeda trains her laser pistol towards the archway and circles out opposite from Dretphi, gradually closing in on the target from the other side. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia ready themselves, observing Dretphi's and Cideeda's progress. With her back against the wall, Dretphi slides up to the entry point and awaits Cideeda on the other side. The two silently exchange hand signals and confirm the plan. Dretphi toggles the flashlight on her weapon. Cideeda crouches down, grabs a flashlight from her vest, and flicks it on. Dretphi sweeps the room from one direction from the archway, and Cideeda pans both her laser pistol and flashlight across the room the other direction. A few counter-balancing passes from each later, and both lower their weaponry and turn off lights. Cideeda shakes her head with an exaggerated eye roll. "We have confirmed it is still an empty room with nothing going on."

Dretphi walks away towards Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia and smirks lightly. "Additional dust. Maybe."

Following behind, Cideeda holsters her pistol and tucks away her flashlight. "Oh yeah."

Aristespha plainly nods her head, types in a few notes, and muses sarcastically. "I will certainly be sure to put THAT in the notes."

Placing her hands on her hips, Sotalia pivots around slowly in thought, her armor cloak flowing around. "Gods, I wonder what's taking Sebastian so long. He's been off scouting ahead for a long time."

With a firm grip on the sword handle at her side, Aristespha closes her eyes and lowers her head, concentrating. Seconds later, her brow furrows and contorts with the confusion playing out on her face. Sebastian's ethereal form materializes next to her, and he gazes over to everyone, gritting his teeth. "Uh... Um..."

He clasps his ethereal hands together. "I found something."

Tipping her head up, Aristespha stares at Sebastian suspiciously, searching him. "Okay, Sebastian. What would that be?"

Sebastian's ghostly visage spins gradually to face Aristespha, and he manages to muster up a weak smile. "Well, dear... It's uh... It'd be easier to show."

He points down the hallway to a nearby side branch off the main trunk. "There's a SAFE vantage point down there."

Drifting forward towards the side passage, Sebastian pinches the bridge of nose, fighting the flits of reluctant annoyance. The group follows quickly behind, down the main hallway, turns down the offshoot, and travels along to the ending archway. Cideeda's nose twitches, an odor in the air bewildering her. "What? What is this smell? It's familiar... WHY?"

The passage opens up to a walkway, above a small arena, encircling high upon the back wall. Daylight radiates a column down from a single large opening above in the center of the roof upon a strange collection of gelatinous pools of pastel colored slime. A glistening coating engulfs every surface below in a rainbow of sticky hues. With each slow, oozing pass, slime creatures refresh the layers of glossy sheen. Colorful, amorphous blobs undulate along on the floor and slop over obstacles, splatting their jiggling forms. Occasionally, a mass will stop, spray a stream of viscous liquid at a random target, and slide along. Hundreds of slimy beings navigate the ramps and steps of the arena below, with new ones sporadically congealing out from the translucent pools. Sebastian rests his face firmly in the palm of his hand, witnessing the horrific disgust upon Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. Bach gawks in absolute confusion and flounders with forming a response. "Huh? Wha? The fu..."

Cideeda visibly shrinks back and hugs herself uncomfortably. Dretphi's eye winces in erratic repetition, and she stares blankly at the scene before her. Sotalia's fingers flex on each hand, and a golden glow sparks in her eyes with each tightening of her fists. Aristespha surveys the scene, and the gray and blue hints of her ivory skin pale further. A thought crosses her mind. She blinks back to awareness. Lifting up her aetherphone, she navigates through a few menus and carefully reads a section of text on a document. Her violet eyes light up, and a wicked, smug grin reaches long, pointed ear to long, pointed ear on her face. "This is an INSPECTION ONLY job."

Sebastian shakes out of the stupor and hovers next to Aristespha. Snapping back to reality, the rest of the group congregates around, and pairs of eyes eagerly all examine the same section of text upon Aristespha's aetherphone. Sebastian snorts loudly with a ghostly reverb. A chorus of laughs, chuckles, and snickers flood the air from the team. Sotalia holds back her laughter briefly, strolling out. "WELL! Consider this place fucking INSPECTED! JOB. DONE."

Leading the group out through the entry, Sebastian shakes his head. "WELL, I guess that slime extermination job just got a lot bigger."

Cideeda snorts and grins in ill-humor, leaving with a skip to her step. "Hope whoever gets a bonus for this one."

Pausing in the rush of relief, Dretphi breathes out a long sigh and rushes ahead of the group. Aristespha finishes taking the last picture of the scene on her phone and clears past the entryway with Bach. Glancing over to Bach, she motions her head back. "OH! Could you please seal that opening off, and put a manual deactivation trigger on it?"

Bach's eyes glow blue and nods with a wry smirk. "GLADLY."

He reaches out a hand within the archway, and a golden hexagonal matrix forms out, weaving towards the ancient stonework doorway. "May the gods have mercy on whoever opens THIS up."