Episode 38

A small, blue, brightly glowing orb drifts up towards the tallest part of the dusty, old wall, touches the rune inscribed surface, stops in place, sticking to the smooth stone. A circular arc of illumination glows out from the point, and small shadows stretch out from the edges of finely detailed carvings, darkening the depressions. Another ball of light floats towards the engraved stone, halts upon contact, and shines out another source of light in the mix. Aristespha squints her violet eyes at the shapes and glyphs carved and studies the writing further, pointing out another spot of interest. Bach carefully aims his hand at the target and gently launches another small blue, glowing orb out. Sotalia's golden eyes scan the wall, her head stops along points, and she leans her scrutinizing stare forward, closer. She taps Aristespha's shoulder and motions towards a section of aged inscriptions. Nearby in the ancient chamber, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian cautiously examine a large, round platform in the middle of the huge space. Dretphi aims a high-powered spotlight out upon the intricate stonework and traces the outlines of the many smaller structures surrounding the platform, glints of light reflecting from the materials embedded. Cideeda deftly examines the strange, familiar console, obvious cabling leading to other equipment near the central system. Hovering around overhead, Sebastian surveys the vast interior from above and fights the building, uncomfortable recognition between grimaces. "This... This is REALLY similar to the Orth Ridge site. I can't shake that feeling any more."

Sotalia nods uncomfortably and crosses her arms tightly. Sighing, she cocks her head to the side in thought and idly drums her long nailed fingers on her arm. "Have to agree... This writing is almost the same as the bits and pieces I saw inside that damned chamber Noxian was pulling power from."

An eyebrow perks on Aristespha's ivory face, and she places her hands on her hips with a curious gaze upon the litany of engraved script on the wall. "Yes. But... The context seems... Different. I would have to sit down and decipher the proper translations."

She wanders of gaze around the dimly lit chamber and sighs. "But, I get the distinct impression that this place's purpose is not exactly the same as the Orth Ridge site. There are certain differences."

Stepping away and shaking his stare away from the inscribed stone surface, Bach scans his blue eyes across the area and ponders the situation out, twisting the corners of his mouth with his contemplation. "Well, it looks like it has a smaller version of that elder energy collector chamber? Thankfully, it doesn't have that nightmare factory attached to it. So, maybe... It's just an energy gathering site? A remote collector? Or maybe, something for a local project?"

The large spot lamp shines a huge, bright circle of light around the chamber. Dretphi pauses her sweep, gradually backtraces along the path, and focuses the beam upon a crumbling wooden pallet of canisters. partially hidden under a decay tarp. A glint from a small, dark window in the sides of the half meter tall cylindrical containers contrasts the dull sheen of faded warning labels adorning the quarter meter wide exterior. Dretphi's steely gray eyes narrow. Her attention locks onto a small detail. Approaching cautiously, her eyes spring wide open. In the moment, she confirms her suspicions and directs her voice back to the rest of the group. "Dust has been disturbed on these vessels."

Standing back from the control console, Cideeda places her hands on her hips and nods to herself, confirming her own theories. She glances over her shoulder and calls out to the team. "Same with the controls over here. Someone stood here, and worked on this system. You can see the contrast between how thick the dust buildup is."

She takes another step back, lightly scratches a toe claw tip through the layer of age upon the stonework floor, and narrows her emerald green eyes at the differences nearby. "The dirt on the platform has been stirred up, too. Nothing too recent. Still... A lot sooner than I'm happy about."

Sebastian flies down between Dretphi and Cideeda, glancing between the two. "Okay. So, any guess at how recently it was all mixed up?"

Turning her head back from Sebastian, Dretphi faces the lightly dusted hand mark in the thicker coating on many of the containers and furrows her brow thoughtfully between examinations. Squinting her emerald green eyes down, Cideeda squats down and studiously compares the different surfaces of the ancient equipment, stone platform, and recent marks. She lifts her head away and glances over to Dretphi. "Um, again, it's not recent. You don't get this much build up that quickly unless something is adding or stirring dust to the area."

Wrestling an uncertain frown, she shrugs her shoulders under her vest towards Dretphi and Sebastian. "I'd guess over a month? I don't think much more than two?"

Seconds later, Dretphi nods and sighs out her mild frustration. "Agreed. Not enough information. Hard to tell. Would need to observe the rate that dust collects."

Aristespha stares at the containers and tips her head back, recognition springing up in her mind. "Those... Those are old magical energy storage containers."

Snapping a surprised stare towards the containers, Bach steps closer and flicks his eyes to a glowing blue. "Huh. They're empty now. But, they do seem like they have some significant capacity."

Sotalia narrows her eyes, a dim golden glow flickering, and struggles to maintain the gaze, grimacing the whole time. Aristespha blinks out her violet illuminated eyes, and gazes over to Sebastian's ethereal form. "I think Noxian was certainly here, Sebastian."

An awkward smirk curls Sebastian's transparent face, and he sighs with a weak smile. "It makes sense. Given the possible time frame, where this is located, and recent information about what Noxian has knowledge of..."

He glances around the ancient chamber, lingering upon the platform, control panel, and energy vessels. "This was probably a stop for him right after we confronted him in Anta. Wouldn't be surprised if this was secret stash, or something he got working to charge himself back up a little. Shit."

A brief smile cracks upon Sotalia's light tan face and fades, the whole of the situation weighing upon her mind. "Well, he was here. And, maybe he did something similar to what he was doing at Orth Ridge. SO, what's the plan now?"

Surveying the various texts, pieces of equipment, and other items in the area closer, Sebastian shrugs his translucent shoulders and releases an ethereal grumble. "WELL... Wish I had more of a plan. But..."

He rolls his eyes at himself and sighs, motion generally over the area. "Take pictures, regroup back at the hotel, and see if we can find any more clues?"

A collective agreement passes over the group, and each pauses in the moment, idly staring out to the task at head. Various alert chimes echo out into the cavernous space from different aetherphones. Everyone, except Sebastian hovering next to Aristespha, draws out phones and examines the bright red alerts flashing on screens. Eyes widen in shock. Tremors down her hands shakes Cideeda's phone, and Bach stares in grave silence at the warning. Sebastian quickly darts towards the exit and signals the rest of the group to follow.

On the aetherphone screens, the message refreshes under a shrill chime.

"GUILD ALERT BROADCAST: Nightmare Geist confirmed heading towards Hatten. All able groups are requested to assist in evacuation efforts. DO NOT ENGAGE THE NIGHTMARE GEIST. Respond to get contact information for authorities in the area."

In the Hattan city downtown, another long convoy of buses, trucks, and military transports roll down one of the main streets, pushing past the town hall towards a highway onramp going a southeastern direction. Police cars ride ahead, clearing traffic and ordering people out of the way. Other groups of adventurers and emergency personnel usher people into awaiting transports. Above the chaotic din of frightened people and traffic drone, Veevi stands on top of a truck bed and yells out instructions with an animated, cutesy flair, motion onlookers towards one of many forming queues. Searching for stragglers, Chad marches and bellows out orders to half-listening crowds. Deedri assists medical professionals evacuating patients out of the hospital nearby. Trakenthin hoists up equipment and supplies into cargo vans. Off the street in a large park, at an old city perimeter wall, squads of people form on top of the raised walkway and ready mounted weaponry facing the southwest. Captain Hackle and Captain Hays examine a holographic map together and study it carefully, quietly. Hays sighs tensely with a hint of a growl and shakes his head. "Gods. Well, as destructive as that bastard thing is, it's at least consistent with its direction."

Nodding solemnly, Hackle narrows his brown eyes at the estimated path projection overlaying the three dimensional city map. "Yes. Given the information we've collected, it is on a route to cross near the center of Hattan. If it's any consolation, it seems to be the sparser northern district. That will be far less people that need to be priority evacuated."

After a long draw of air in, Hays sneers into gritting teeth and faintly hisses a slow breath out. "IF it just walks through. we may be okay... But, it could honestly go into a full rampage at any time. I'm surprised it hasn't yet. Though, it could be that the damned thing hasn't reached the spot it wants to rampage yet."

Hackle lifts his hand up and traces the route with a finger into the holographic projection. "Hopefully, we've been able to evacuate out a majority of those in the direct path. Still trying to move as many people out of the surrounding areas, but it's, unfortunately, taking longer than I'd hoped."

Glancing over to Hays with a serious tone, he fights a frown curling at the edges of his graying mustache. "I have sent a few of my scouts with your rangers and that infiltration specialist from the group on that show to double-check and make sure we don't have any stragglers. Or, gods forbid, people trying to hide out."

He furrows his aged brow with a sigh. "But, being thorough takes time."

Hays shakes his head, and his grimaces sours, the pulse of the moving target indicator closing the gap between it and the town. "Dammit. We don't have enough time to do this right. If we could just slow this thing down..."

Pulling his aetherphone out, he holds up nearby with his cybernetic arm. He taps an entry on a list and waits for the device to connect. Seconds later, Kaleb's voice calls out from the speaker. "Hello?"

Rubbing his forehead, Hays speaks firm and calm. "This is Captain Hays, again, with Captain Hackle. Question. Have you noticed anything that's slowed that geist down? Even a little?"

An awkward silence of background wind drones over the phone, and Kaleb recounts uncertainly. "Uh, well, not really. This thing just breaks through buildings like they were wet paper bags. I think about the only thing I've seen that slowed it down, even a little, was when it tore through a machine shop."

In the lull of the conversation, background wind blasts out the speaker, and Kaleb calls out over the din. "Judging from the explosion, I think some of the acetylene tanks went up."

Thoughtful moments later, Kaleb fights down hints of defeat in his voice. "I mean, if anything, it looked like chunks of it were blown off. Definitely staggered it, but... It... I guess, reformed? It's hard to say from this high up, but it's like the black fire mist just collected back on it. Then, it just moved on after that."

Crossing his arms behind his back, Captain Hackle uneasily smirks with a lift of an eyebrow at Captain Hays. "That's what I thought. About the only thing I know that significantly slows those things down is raw magical blasts, but even that is limited-"

With renewed vigor, Kaleb interrupts from the speakerphone. "Raw magic? Um, sirs? I think I might be able to help with that!"

Hackle snaps his full attention upon the aetherphone and eagerly quizzes. "How so?"

A confident tone rises in Kaleb's voice from the other end of the call. "Lagi, my dragon, has been taught a bunch of spells. A lot of raw energy attacks. We could try to see if those do anything?"

Hackle eyes Hays briefly. Hays nods in agreement. Hackle smiles keenly and calls out to a woman nearby. "Sergeant Violet? Could you please make sure Specialist Thayal has a good view of the geist?"

Turning to attention stiffly, Sergeant Violet salutes quickly, tightly grips a radio off her belt, and keys up the device. "Specialist Thayal! Do you have eyes on the target!?"

Seconds later, static fades out to a grumbling man, managing to muster a response. "Yes, Sergeant Violet... It's the only thing of interest I see from up on this hotel roof. Well, apart from the dragon that keeps flying around it."

Sergeant Violet nods, and Captain Hackle resolutely commands. "Kaleb. Proceed with caution. This is a risk, but I'd rather try it out there right now than here later."

A loud draconic roar resonates through Captain Hays's aetherphone and echoes in from the distance, chorusing together. Kaleb's voice pushes through the din of background wind. "UNDERSTOOD! We're going to build up speed for a pass and line up for a shot!"

In the clear skies above, a blue and black scaled, white plated dragon sharply dives down, the rider tucking close and secure to the saddle. Leveling off at an altitude just above the tallest buildings of the city, Lagi swings a swift, wide turn over the cityscape, wings sweeping back and trimming for speed. Bright sun shining down upon the wingspans, flows of magical energy radiate out from his wings, course up in streams throughout his body, and merge towards his mouth. The pulses speed up and glow brighter in intensity. Opening his large mouth, the flow condenses into a brilliant turquoise-white ball in front of his agape maw, billowing out plumes of stray energy. The hum of power warping with the velocity, Lagi jets high over the old city perimeter wall. A rattling draconic shriek distracts Tassilda and a number of other mages gathered upon the old perimeter wall. Cutting through the crosswind, Lagi rockets over the suburban streets and scattered greenery below and lines up an intercept course with the Nightmare Geist. Staring through goggles, Kaleb concentrates his full attention and points his particle power blaster forward. From an underside module, a bright green laser beam paints a shining mark upon the dark target ahead. Barely a kilometer separating Kaleb and Lagi from the Nightmare Geist and closing fast, Kaleb clicks a bottom trigger of his blaster. A shrill tone chimes out.

The turquoise-white ball shoots out from Lagi, a thunderous boom of energy release ripples out, and a bright, misty trail streaks behind. Kaleb ducks sharply to Lagi's right side. Wings flare out, and Lagi breaks hard to the right. The energy projectile rips through the air, arcing towards the five meter tall, humanoid, amorphous mass of black raging fire. The brilliant turquoise orb pitches low and crashes into the leg of the nightmare creation. Magical miasma erupts out in a forceful burst, and a visible shockwave rips through the nearby suburbia. Small bits of debris tumble out onto the grass and street, nearby windows shatter showers of glass, and concussion echoes into the landscape. Within the dirt clouded, magical haze, a low, unnatural growl rumbles, strange hints of strained white noise unraveling the disturbing cacophony.

The visual chaos clears in the distance, and Sergeant Violet's radio crackles to life, Special Thayal's voice rising out of the background noise. "Whatever THAT was did some damage! It stopped moving! I think there's a big chunk out of its leg missing!"

The joy from Thayal's tone sharply drops out. "Unfortunately... it's healing back up..."

Moments later, his hope pushes forth. "BUT, it's taking a LOT longer for it to reform back together, and it is still down on a knee!"

A eager, bold grin forms on Hays's face, and he calls to the aetherphone. "Kaleb! How many of those can your dragon do?"

Over the warping crackles of static, Kaleb's returns with slight embarrassment. "I don't know, sir. We've never had a chance to find out."

Hackle smiles, determination sparking his eyes. "Consider this your chance. RAIN. HELL."

Dust covered equipment hums out warm breezes of air from back vents, and swirls of particulate stir within the few sprays of light overhead in the dimly lit room. A large flat table display glows out colored outlines of shapes through a haze of age and neglect. Idle indicator and status sounds chirps out from worn, dull speakers and form the ambient repetitive soundscape. A bright flash fights through the obscuring funk on the large table display, and a muffled chime rings through distortion. Sitting in a chair at an old metal desk, a white haired, thin man guides down his searching gray eyes upon an old manual, dense with diagrams and instructions. He flips back the hood of his jacket and loosens his blue scarf. Keeping his focus on the material, his hand wanders off to the side, pats around on a spread of plastic wrap, and finds a sandwich. Subconsciously, the hand brings the sandwich close to the mouth, and the old man calmly takes a large bite. Seconds of chewing later, his graying beard surrounded lips twist with a roll of the eyes, and the man grumbles. "... always so stingy on the olives..."

Another loud chime crackles up through the background din, and another bright pulse backlights untold years of grime. The man pauses, swallows, and slowly rotates his head towards the large table display. Waiting patiently, he squints curiously at the dusted covered screen and cocks his head. A minute passes. Beginning to turn his head away, the man's eyes widen in surprise. Yet another glow pulses, another loud chime accompanying. Sliding back, he rises out of the chair and steps quickly over to the system. A disgusted snarl curls his upper lip, and he swiftly wipes his sleeve covered forearm across the width of the display. Through the clearing of dust, he pours his full attention upon the mapping information manifesting upon the screen.

A brilliant indicator radiates out from a point on the display, prompts of text rendering near diagrams off to the side. The pulse's wake outlines a starkly contrasting black void. Concern overwhelms the man, his eyes search his mind for an explanation, and he mumbles out nervous thoughts. Placing the sandwich in his mouth, he bites down to secure it. He swings the freed arm out and snatches up the manual on the nearby desk. Flopping the tome down, he speeds through a flutter of pages and backs up to a particular page, leaning in to focus. His free hand taps upon the on-screen interface, and he swiftly navigates through layers of menus. The imagery on the map shifts through different color schemes, diagrams morphing to the new context. Change after change sweeps over the visuals. One final mode darkens the screen. The previous black void glows a pixelated white noise.

Horror narrows the man's pupils, drawing in a sharp, reflexive gasp. The table display flickers out a chaotic light, projecting up the man's worn face. He slowly removes the sandwich from his mouth, lays it down nearby, and shakily presses down on the bright spot. An explosion of diagrams, details, and dialog cascade out onto the entire screen space. Warning indicators flash around red colored numbers, figures chaotically jump around between erroneous limits, and bright yellow messages caution the many unknown and missing details. The man's jaw drops and hangs agape. Shaking back to awareness from the gawk at the screen, he grits his teeth, determination fighting through the terror on his face. "But how?! When did it?! I- I-..."

Staring at the pixelated chaotic spot, he stiffens his upper lip. "I... I have to stop it... Before, any more damage is done..."

The man steps away from the table display, snapping his head towards the exit, and rushes over. He flips his hood up, guides his blue scarf over his mouth and nose, and slams open a metal door, harshly echoing down a dark hallway. The static spot moves along a straight path, the chaotic glow illuminating the surface underneath a stray olive slice.

Lagi cuts through the wind in the clear skies above the dense suburbia around Hattan. Leaning against the currents, Kaleb squints through his goggles and stares downwards, off to the side of Lagi, and searches the ground. A fresh kilometer long, straight trail of destruction scars the domestic scenery below. Repeatedly along the path of damaged streets, plowed houses, and fallen trees, a ring of scorched earth darkens an newly blasted area. Debris stirs upon the ground, scattered meters from a fresh impact point, and deep indentations mar the concrete, asphalt, and dirt. Wind whistles through blown out window panes in questionably intact buildings and stirs the waste from many shredded garbage cans.

A black fire enveloped, humanoid mass rises from the dirt plume and fresh magical residue mists. Standing just above five meters tall, a haze of loose, dark miasma condenses upon its form, manifesting the missing material from its being. The head protrusion upon its shoulders twists upwards. From the eerie, shadowy void within, it watches the dragon fly around the sky. Raising a leg up, it resumes the slow march forward towards the city center. Joining Lagi's irritated, teeth baring snorts, Kaleb shakes his head and growls in frustration. "GODS! I know! You're doing good, boy! But..."

With Lagi banking into a turn, Kaleb glances over and tensely grimaces. "This fucking thing is on a whole different level! Dammit..."

The nightmare geist stomps ahead and maintains an unyielding glare above. Stretching and warping unnaturally, the creature's long arm reaches out, and an amorphous hand clamps tightly around a nearby fire hydrant. Against unfathomable forces, the hydrant torques against its base pipe. Metal cracks and squeals. Sheared bolts rocket out, sparking off a car body, splintering through a tree, and embedding into brickwork. A geyser of water erupts out from the open pipe. From the radio system in Kaleb's headset, Specialist Thayal's voice blasts out. "LOOK OUT! It's going to throwing something AT YOU!"

Planting its feet into the dirt, the geist draws its arm back, black flames blazing out across the length. Lagi's bright green eyes snap to the hellish mass, the rest of his body tensing, anticipating. A supersonic, red blur streaks up towards Lagi and Kaleb, a thunderous boom exploding out near the ground. In the splinters of second, a protective golden bubble projects out from Lagi, and he instinctively rolls into a right angle evasive dive. The hydrant bullet plows through the prior flight path, and a torrent of air follows. Dropping altitude fast, Lagi unfolds his wings and levels out just above the treeline, powering fast away from the geist. Kaleb blinks around in a stupor and glances behind towards the monstrosity in growing distance. Scanning the sky above, he spots a red dot falling towards the horizon. "HOLY. SHIT. THAT..."

Straining a breath through his teeth, he grips the handles of the saddle tighter. "Was too close."

Lagi bellows out a confirming bark and gently gains altitude. Over the warping interference, Captain Hays's concern sounds out over Kaleb's headset. "Kaleb?! Are you okay? We saw you dive back there and lost sight of you. Do you hear me?"

Nervously laughing, Kaleb swiftly collects the pieces of his composure. "Uhh... Yes, um. We're fine! I guess it finally got tired of us slowing it down. Gods, I hope Shadeesa doesn't see that on the news before I get home."

Lagi lets out a rolling, commiserating whine. With a commanding but appreciative tone, Captain Hackle calls out. "Then, it would be best for you to head that way. We're going to fall back away from the projected path, and focus upon getting people further from the danger. Thank you for buying us all that time."

Lagi voices a series of barks, growls, and whines, glancing over his shoulder towards Kaleb. A stern and solemn frown weighs upon Kaleb's sun tanned face, and he watches growing signs of fatigue sneak into Lagi's eager gaze. Shaking his head, Kaleb pats Lagi's back and sighs long, adjusting the helmet microphone. "Understood. As much as Lagi and I want to keep going, I have to call it, too. We'll find a place to rest up nearby and keep in the area, just in case."

From the old perimeter wall, Captain Hays and Captain Hackle watch the distant outline of a dragon and rider fly away. Tipping his hat, Hays nods with smirk and directs his slight relief towards his aetherphone. "We'll be moving to the southern region of town. Keep tuned to the radio for updates. Rest up for now. Out."

Tapping the call end button on the phone's display, he lowers his cybernetic arm down and stows the phone away in a pocket. He scans the vicinity and observes the remaining evacuation vehicles loading a final few passengers and military trucks waiting to depart. Hays and Hackle quickly pack up the remaining bits of equipment, rush down old stone stairs, and jump into the bed of transport. Sergeant Violet follows suit, secures the tailgate up, and sits down near the front. With a few slaps on the cab exterior, the vehicle rolls forward into formation, joining the last convoy out. Mustache wrestling down a frown, Hackle shakes his head and sighs grimly. "Tell me... Is it bad to honestly hope that all it does is just level a few city blocks and moves on?"

Removing his wide brimmed hat off his head, Hays lowers it down onto his lap and wipes the sweat off his forehead. He eyes Hackle, shrugs his shoulders, and grimaces uncertainly. "Some would say that's awfully wishful thinking. Hopefully, clearing out the area of people will keep it focused on whatever destination it's going to. Best to not tempt the thing with whatever it deems as targets opportunity."

He rolls a low growl in a surge of frustration. "Gods damned, ancient fucking terror weapons..."

A distinct ring momentarily puzzles Hays, and he glances at his pocket. Quickly retrieving his aetherphone, he reads the identification. Interest piquing sharply, he taps the answer button on the screen and puts the phone to his ear. "Miss Aristespha. Good to hear from you."

Hackle lifts a curious eyebrow and turns his head towards Hays attentively. Nodding with the conversation, Hays chuckles in spite of the situation. "No. Thankfully, it hasn't quite made it to the town center yet. Before anything else, what direction are you approaching Hattan from?"

He glances over to Hackle and motions to equipment nearby. "Northeast? Okay. Let me get your group up to date with the situation. That area will be dangerous in the near future, but if you could check a few areas we haven't covered completely yet on your way to safety, we'd really appreciate it."

The humvee rolls to a stop before an empty intersection, a breeze carrying light trash across the worn asphalt. The eerie silence looms through the people devoid streets, hastily abandoned cars, and swaying open doors of buildings. Staring out from the cab of the ancient military machine, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian and Sotalia search the vicinity, the silence outside pressing inwards. Cideeda shifts the humvee into park, undoes her seat belt, and directs her wary, nervous voice to Aristespha. "S-so, um, where did they last say it was?"

Subduing her own anxious energy, Aristespha examines the map on her tablet and references a few lines of text on her phone. "Yes, uh... A few kilometers away from this position."

Holding a frown still, she sighs. "At least that is what they last reported when they had sighted it... Some time ago. It has drifted off the projected course, and they have not been able to maintain a constant visual of it."

Sebastian's ethereal form nods uncomfortably, and presents a reassuring smile to Cideeda. "Hang in there. This is the last area they needed us to check to see if anyone is still around."

Flicking her golden eyes over with concern, Sotalia rests a hand on Cideeda's shoulder. Cideeda summons up her drive and puts forth determination behind her smirk. "I know. We really need to make sure no one is left behind."

Drifting back in the cab, Sebastian aims his gaze at Bach with a calm smile. "Hey. Holding up, bro?"

Bach gazes up to Sebastian, exhales out some stress, and manages a few rocks of the head forward in some semblance of a nod. "Uh, um, yeah... Just feels WEIRD. I'll definitely be ready to leave once we're done here."

Sebastian checks the back row, and Dretphi holds a thumbs up. Floating up through the open top hatch of the humvee, Sebastian directs a quiet tone down towards the team. "Okay. Everyone. Hop out, quick check for any people in the area, and load back up."

Wandering a suspecting stare across the tall urban buildings, he pauses upon dark shop fronts, open apartment windows, and a silent parking lot. "Then... We drive far, far away from here."

With agreement all around, doors open in unison, and everyone exits the humvee. Sebastian flies high up into the air above the intersection, searching for activity through the windows of taller buildings. Cideeda and Dretphi rush to opposing street corners, scanning down the long city streets for signs of life. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia peer out with pairs of glowing eyes out into the area. The team spreads out slowly, cautiously, within the dead quiet. Over the tense minutes, distant sounds of destruction bounce off tall glass front buildings and echo vaguely into the space. The team pauses, waits expectantly, and resumes their work in the new wave of silence. Reaching the furthest they can remain in sight of each other, the team gradually draws back, double-checking along their routes, and gathers at the intersection. Sebastian drops down to pavement nearby the group and nods. "Okay, everyone. I don't see anything. If there's anyone still in the area, let's hope they stay hidden for a little while longer. We're pushing it close as it is."

Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia agree, walking back towards the humvee. Squinting her steely gray eyes down the long stretches of street, Dretphi scans to the horizon. She turns away and quickly steps back to the vehicle. Cideeda releases a tense breath into a wave of relief, pivoting swiftly around toward the rest of the team. Her furry ears flick back around and lock on to a distant noise. Her emerald green eyes widen, and she spins herself back around, hunting for the source. Noticing the Cideeda sudden movement, Sebastian zips his ghostly form near her. "Hey. What's up?"

Cideeda's furry ears frantically perk and twist, her eyes searching far down the street. "I heard someone! Down this way!"

With a series of waves and gestures, Sebastian signals the rest of the group to gather near. Cideeda swiftly walks down the street and carefully listens to the settling quiet. "Well... I thought I heard something..."

A few blocks down, a little girl scrambles around a building corner and topples onto the sidewalk. Lifting herself up unsteadily, she lunges forward and haphazard sprints down the intersecting street in a blind dash towards the group. Cideeda runs forward at the girl and directs a cautious shout behind. "Over here! This way!"

The rest of the group following behind, Cideeda out paces the pack and rushes on an intercept course for the child. Kneeling down in the middle of the street, she catches the blonde haired girl in her arms. The child collapses in a panicked, panting slump, exhaustion setting in fast. Sotalia slows her pace to staggering steps. A rush of unease and nervous energy wash over her. Halting, her golden eyes dart around the area, and she pants out. "OH... SHIT... What the hell is THIS feeling?!"

Repetitious, solid, low thumps emerge from the background, echoing distantly between the tall buildings. With each impact, the volume rises quickly. Wide eyed, hair raising horror paralyzes Cideeda. She stares blankly towards the rest of the group and, wordlessly, fails to hide her trembling body. Staring down the street, Bach stands rigidly and fear radiating throughout his body in fits of tensing and twitching. Riding out the wave of terror rushing through, Sebastian swiftly assesses the situation. "HUMVEE. NOW."

Dretphi sweeps the little girl up into her arms and charges forth to the humvee. A shoulder each, Sotalia and Aristespha assist Cideeda up and guide her along. Quickly regaining awareness, Cideeda's sheer, tearful fright drives her forward, subconsciously pulling both Aristespha and Sotalia along with tight grips around their forearms. Passing him, Bach bolts after the rest of the group. Sebastian flies behind and keeps a watch down toward the building corner. Within late afternoon sun from behind a building, a dark, billowing, elongated shadow stretches down the cross street. With a solid, resounding impact, the massive, black fire coated, humanoid form plants its foot. Chunks of pavement slide clean off the road, the tremendous weight sheering into the surface. The nightmare geist snaps its head, aiming down the roadway, and pauses. The shadowy void within its head stares out. Flexes its amorphous fingers out into long, sharply pointed digits, it digs its other foot into the cracking asphalt, squats down, and lunges forward. Sebastian pales and yells out. "IT'S COMING! Break right into the next alley!"

Bach checks over his shoulder and watches the nightmare geist bound forward. He glances ahead and observes the pace of the group overall. Each step from the geist shrinks the distance between it and the group, far faster than the group's approach to the alleyway. In the precious moments, Bach's blank stare barely hides the thoughts racing within. Through the chaos of hopeful possibilities and improbable plans, one option recessed far, far back glares right at him. Cutting through the mental din, it forces all other thoughts to concede and silences the competition. Bach closes his eyes hard, draws a resolute breath in, and opens his eyes to a flaming blue. Sliding to a stop along the pavement, he pivots around and faces the incoming creature, tension surging over his whole body. His right hand shakily opens. Regimented, organized flows swirl around his body into the palm of the hand. His left hand braces the other by the wrist. Passing by Bach, Sebastian abruptly halts, immediately spins around, and screams with ghostly reverberation. "BRO! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YO-"

Sebastian's ethereal visage distorts, twists to his shock, and flickers. Aristespha turns her utter confusion towards the sword shaking forcibly in the scabbard at her side.


The voice of the sword stuns the group still, and they all turn to stare back. Bach stands in the path of the charging, black fire bellowing, humanoid mass of terror. Every part of his body straining against pulsing energies, he shudders out a fearful chant to himself. "Just... a little... not too much... Keep it together... Focus... You can do this... Control it... Gods... Dammit..."

Where prior magical energies swirled freely, bright white threads shimmer within layers upon layers of tubular magical constructions. The thin, faint phosphorus flows stream gradually towards the palm of Bach's trembling right hand. Bright mists steadily radiate out from the ends of the conduits and condense into the ball of pure white light near Bach's clawing fingers. The orb brilliantly shines and overpowers the presence of the sun upon the pavement, projecting new shadows. The nightmare geist fades its charge and eases into cautious, calculated steps forward. It halts short of its arm's reach from Bach, focusing the shadowy void in its head protrusion upon the growing, glowing white orb. Bach slowly drags his head up. With sweat dripping all over and his face contorting in constant strained twitches, he glares up with gritting teeth and flaming blue eyes, pinpoints of white shining from in the middle of the pupils.

Raising his braced right hand up, palm forward, Bach guides the white orb ahead of himself.

Bach steps forward.

The Nightmare Geist steps back.

The two deadlock for minutes, the brilliant light contrasting the billowing shadow. The geist's flaming form waits, idly flexing its hands. Bach wills the constant flow of energy to the growing orb against blatantly mounting stresses. Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, the girl, Sebastian, and Sotalia watch in absolute silent, stunned awe. Bach winces briefly. The nightmare geist's arm flames out. The creature's arm unnaturally extends out in a clawing swipe. Reflexively Bach swings his right hand towards the attack, aiming his palm at the monster's arm, and sharply flexes his fingers out.

Blinding light flooding into the area, a magical ray impacts the crude elbow of the geist and fractures white energy into the very structure of its being. The energies flood throughout the arm, and the limb fragments into a fading white vapor, disappearing completely. A thunderous, anguished scream bellows out from the geist, rattling nearby windows, and assaults the air with a cacophony of chaos, white noise, and rage. Stumbling back meters across the street, the nightmare geist falls off balance, crushes a parked cargo truck flat, and flails in agony, splintering the ground. Bach staggers back and snaps a glance back to the sheer bewilderment of everyone else. "We... Need... To... Ru-"

The loud crunching of concrete and pavement interrupts. Bach swings his terrified stare back. With its remaining hand digging deeply into the roadway, the nightmare geist contorts itself back upright. The shadowy void within its head glares right at Bach, clouds of darkness venting out. Jets of black flame erupt into a swirling maelstrom around its body, and its legs twist up. With an earth rattling roar, it flings itself forward at Bach, the massive figure blotting out the afternoon light. Horror darkening upon his face, the pinpoints of white light within Bach's eyes explode and blast out the blue. The thin threads of flow burst into torrents, shattering the containment vessels, and rush towards Bach's hand. A palm rises up to the nightmare geist, fingers flex, and a blinding light erupts between Bach and the monster. The ray of pure energy drills into the chest of the black fire terror. Contrasting cracks spider out throughout the hidden surface behind the dark flames, flushing over the warping form. The shadowy void ignites into a geyser of white phosphorous haze. Splintering form steams out billowing clouds of white miasma. The very structure of the monstrosity disintegrates, the light of the warm afternoon sun beaming through the widening divides.

The last fragments of the nightmare geist fades from existence.

Silence fills the area. Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, the girl, Sotalia, and Sebastian gawk in disbelief, comprehension absent. Drops to his knees harshly upon the asphalt, Bach doubles over into a gurgling groan of pain. He tightly wraps his arms around himself, his body straining agony. Through gritting teeth, his contorting face reveals the torment within. The white light shining within the glowing blue of his eyes pulses chaotically. Chokes and coughs escape Bach, and he sways erratically. Cideeda blinks back to her senses. Searching briefly for the missing nightmare geist, she spots Bach and overwhelming concern grips her. She rushes forward with her hand out. "Bach?! Are you okay-?!"

Within Bach's eyes, the blue glow surges in defiance and crushes out the bright white. A spherical pulse of bright energy erupts out from Bach, surges outwards, and expands out into the vicinity. Cideeda freezes in place, agony silencing her and seizing her body. The wave passing through, Sebastian's ethereal form flickers. He distorts with part of swelling energy diverting abruptly into the sword. Moving through the rest of the team harmlessly, the wall of the bubble thins further with distance.

Throughout the safe zones surrounding the perimeter of Hattan, many people pause, confused and curious. Radio and aether transmissions distort and waver briefly to the surprise of civilians and military personnel. Far from the city, a car speeds along an empty back road. Behind the wheel, a thin, white haired man stares widened, gray eyes towards the city, his jaw agape under his blue scarf.

Frozen muscles releasing, Cideeda yelps, her emerald green eyes rolling back, and collapses limply backwards. Aristespha and Sotalia catch her motionless body. Sotalia hunts for a reason, panic exploding in her voice. "CIDEEDA!? What's wrong?! Speak to me, girl!?"

Sotalia's voice cuts through the haze impairing Bach, and he clumsily twists his head around and clearly witnesses Aristespha check Cideeda's vitals in a frantic hurry. Bach pales immediately, a sickening, horrific guilt overwhelms his consciousness. Through quivering lips, tears flooding his eyes and choking fright, Bach manages to shudder out a weak plea. "N-n-no..."

He flops upon the warm pavement, his body relaxing despite the shocked ethereal yells from his brother. The world shrinking away from his senses, Bach loses out to unconsciousness.

From the outside world, muffled sounds resonate into the cab of the humvee, and the peaks of voices leak into the still quiet of the space. Laying on the back bench seat with pillows propping his head and legs, Bach stirs underneath a thick blanket and mumbles in muted incoherence. His blue eyes flutter groggily open, and he blankly gazes up towards the ceiling. The orange cast of the setting sun beams through the windows and warms the space. Consciousness returning, Bach lightly tanned face twists with a flood of thoughts. In the passing moments, his grimace strains against each fit of guilt, misery, and despair blending together. The heat of the sunlight warming, Bach shivers under the heavy blanket and frowns, wincing with flashes of memories. Tears well up in his eyes, and his breathing shudders audibly. Dretphi's soft voice sounds out. "You are awake."

Bach stiffens sharply, startling to immediate awareness of the area, and stares frightened at Dretphi's steely gray eyes. Dretphi kneels down in the aisle, next to the bench seat, and gazes back in confusion. Brushing her darker tipped, platinum blonde braids back over her shoulder, she puzzles at Bach, concern building. Bach averts his face away and meekly mutters. "C-c-cideeda..."

Dretphi lifts her arm, gently grasps onto Bach's shoulder, and calmly states. "She is okay."

Bach's eyes widen, his face lightens, and he glances up, meeting the warm smile of Dretphi. She nods a simple confirmation and reassuringly pats Bach's arm. "She woke ten minutes after you went unconscious. Passed out from tremendous pain. Aristespha found no physical issues. Tired."

She shrugs her shoulders and tugs at the corner of her mouth. "Today has been tiring for everyone."

In a wave of relief, Bach firmly closes his eyes, and a stream of tears leak out along with a few wet sniffs. Dretphi reaches her free hand over a pile of supplies and medical equipment in a seat, grabs hold of a wash towel, and gently blots the water off of Bach's cheeks. Bach draws a shaky breath, exhales a long, relieved sigh, and sinks into the pillows supporting his head. Quiet, still seconds later, he opens his blue eyes, timidly turns his head to Dretphi, and musters his voice. "What happened after I... uh... passed out?"

Twisting her mouth, Dretphi furrows her brow with her thoughts, summarizing. "Aristespha fully focused on your care after she deemed Cideeda okay. Determined no immediate danger. We put you here. She is monitoring you."

She points out one of Aristespha's tablets upon a specialized dock nearby and lightly taps Bach's hand. "Probably knows you are awake."

With a sluggish effort, Bach moves his hand around under the blanket, feels out the monitor clips and cuff, and nods, understanding. Venting a frustrated sigh, Dretphi wrestles a frown and rolls her steely gray eyes. "Travel to proper facilities has proven... Difficult. Reversing an evacuation proving a challenge. More than the evacuation."

Weakly managing an accepting shrug, he blinks in thought and pounders out loud. "Uh... Um... What happened to the little girl?"

Warmly smiling, she motions her head briefly towards the outside. "Being delivered to her mother. Long story. She was... VERY... lucky Cideeda heard her. We would have left. She would not be..."

She quells a brief frown. "Here."

In the peaceful minute, Bach's calm fades, the full scope of the situation dawning upon him. A nervous chill sends shivers throughout his body, and he stares distantly up at the ceiling of the humvee cab. Dretphi observes her hand upon Bach's shoulder, sensing the shudder. Glancing over to the vital monitoring tablet, she focuses her genuine concern upon him. "What is wrong?"

Bach shrinks under the blanket, a frown weighs upon him, and dread taints his tone. "Explaining... Well... All that's happened..."

Patting Bach's shoulder comfortingly, Dretphi calmly reassures. "Do not worry. The truth of today will ONLY be known by US. No outsider has shown any correct knowledge of what happened today."

She leans close and gently whispers. "They will NOT learn the truth from us. Regardless of what we may tell them."

Bach nods with a smile, exhales slowly, and winces, shame long hidden, eroding the comfort Dretphi imparts. "That's... That's good to hear. But... Uh, um... THAT is, unfortunately, not the hard part..."

Lifting a curious eyebrow on her tan face, Dretphi awaits a further explanation. Bach wrestles between grimaces, fighting for the words, and remains silent. Dretphi gently pats Bach's shoulder and grants him an understanding nod.