Episode 39

Sitting on the hotel balcony walkway with his back against the warm brick, Bach gazes out into the Hattan cityscape from the upper story lookout. He idly taps his feet against the metal railing, attention drifting between the nearby now and recent memory. With a long sigh, he rests his head against the wall behind him and rubs his longer brown hair against the red brickwork. "Well... THIS has gone... Um, better than I expected? BUT, I really wasn't all that hopeful it would go anything other than the worst."

Working down a smirk, he rolls his blues at himself. "So... Probably not the best gauge to go on."

Hovering just above the concrete balcony floor in a sitting position, Sebastian's ethereal form shrugs, glancing over to Bach next to him. Hints of uncertainty leaks into his tone. "Well, bro... If what happened yesterday was anything like the first time you encountered a Nightmare Geist..."

He blinks blankly a few times, and grimaces between different shades of disbelief. "SHIT..."

A frown weighs upon Bach, and he cringes into introspective disappointment. "Well, the worst part about it is that I, arguably, had more control this time."

Rocking his head side to side in contemplation, he curls a faint smirk. "Well... I actually woke back up on the same day this time. So... I guess THAT'S an improvement?"

Sebastian leans forward and turns a frustrated stare at his brother. "Bro, I know you had your reasons and all... But... Seriously..."

Furrowing his translucent brow, he states harshly. "WHAT. THE. FUCK?"

A low, trailing grumble escapes Bach, and he hisses out his own irritation, trying to avert his face away. Sebastian keeps a solid, demanding glare upon him. "Why didn't you ever TELL ME, of all people?! I'm your fuckin' brother here! All the times you had my back, but you didn't trust me to do the same for you?! You damn well know I would have and would STILL do anything for YOU."

Tossing his hand up indignantly, he vents through aged pain. "But... You just ditched, and used that lame excuse that you weren't cut out for adventuring. The hell, bro?"

Gritting his teeth, Bach closes his eyes and tilts his head up against the hotel brick, up towards the noon sun overhead. "I-I-I... FUCK. I don't know, man. At the time, I was just too freaked out... I... I couldn't think straight for weeks after THAT encounter. I mean, hell, I still don't even know how I even did it. I was too scared out of my mind to commit those important details to memory. So, what could have been said, if I couldn't even explain it to myself?"

Locking eyes with Sebastian,he sharply winces with a painful sigh. "I mean, what would you do if you suddenly started spewing forth Elder energy?! And, not just when you want it. Imagine this energy creeping in when you use even a modest amount of regular, plain, prismatic energy? And, every time it does slip in... It just fucks up all the normal magic you want to do!"

He draws up his legs closer, rests his elbows on his knees, and holds his head in between hands. "GODS... I guess... It just made more sense at the time to get away from it all. Man, I- I just was so afraid to say anything about it. I mean, FUCK, the only people who use Elder energy these days like that are, like, Dark Lords, right? It just..."

Drawing in a deep breath, Bach sighs out long, sadness slipping out. "It just... It just made so much sense to not say anything. And, well, go with one of the many reasons people guessed. The theories were already there. Pick one and go with it."

His head lowers, and his fingers comb through his long brown hair, sweeping up his front white streak. He exhales another regretful breath. "Listen... I SHOULD have told you about it. I'm really sorry, brother... But... Whatever THIS is, it just feels DANGEROUS. That... I shouldn't use it at all. I mean, it REALLY doesn't help that anyone that seems to extensively use this elder energy stuff winds up becoming the next deranged Dark Lord that tries to destroy the damned world. Not the path I wanted to follow."

Seconds of stagnant silence against the Hattan background noise later, Bach rotates his head and faces Sebastian's concerned frown. "It just felt like anything about it shouldn't be known by anyone else. As if... It was simply safer for everyone else to never speak of it, again. Never touch it, again... Keep it locked away..."

Blinking through a flurry of thought, Sebastian turns his stare out towards the Hattan skyline. Breaking away from his own mind, he nods with a smirk and snorts out. "Yeah... I think I get it, bro. Thinking about it, it probably only would have been a matter of time before someone at the school would have gotten suspicious. Then, the higher ups would have gotten involved. An, eventually, the worst people would be looking for you. Gods, it would have been a real mess."

He swallows hard and furrows his brow. "Then... There's a whole bunch of other possibilities that I don't want to think about."

His smirk parts into a proud grin, and Sebastian faces Bach with a wink. "But, you couldn't just live out your life as some supposed lame mage, could you?"

Rolling his eyes away from the vague accusation, Bach groans, embarrassment slipping out. "WELL, what the fuck was I supposed to do?"

He shrugs his shoulders, stretches his arms out behind his neck, and relaxes his legs out with a weak smile. "Had A LOT of time to think about things. So, I figured out something I could do with what I could safely use. Still, it's not a lot, but I think it's worked, so far."

With a sly smile, Sebastian looses a ghostly laugh and shakes his head. "Well, bro, you've done plenty to save our collective asses. So, I'll say it's worked pretty fucking good, so far. I have no complaints about that much."

A brief grin graces Bach's face, fading with the other thoughts entering his mind. "I just hope I can smooth things out with the rest of the group. This was kind of a really shitty thing to keep from everyone. I mean, I don't think it could have been super useful, but... Gods, I really hated having to keep up the half-truths and lies."

A long ethereal sigh sounds off from Sebastian's transparent form, and he dons a supportive smile. "We'll have a good group talk tonight. Sort through everything. I think everyone will understand once you lay it out. It's not like we all don't have things we don't want everyone to know."

Uncertainty twists Bach's face, and he fights a heavy frown. "I don't know. At least Dretphi seemed supportive, so that's good. I don't know about Aristespha."

Chuckling, Sebastian rolls his translucent blue eyes with an amused smirk. "She'll probably just quiz you endlessly about everything for the next few weeks, and try to figure out what's going on. Honestly, bro, she's been trying to understand why you were so dedicated in learning all this low level magic stuff, when people researching that stuff specifically aren't THAT dedicated to it even.

Leaning next to Bach's ear, Sebastian drops his voice into a whisper. "I think she's happy to get an answer more than anything. She's had that figuring-it-out look since yesterday."

Bach nods briefly, slowing to a sad hang of the head. "Sotalia... Well..."

He furrows his brow and grimaces. "She seems... Um... Angry at me?"

Tugging at the corner of his mouth, Sebastian rocks his head and echoes a sigh. "Give her time. Her reasonable side will eventually win out. From experience, she can rile herself up something fierce, but she'll calm down enough to think it out. But..."

Sliding a side eye at Bach, he briefly grits his teeth. "Don't bother her until then. I've made that mistake a few times."

A watery glint outlines the bottom of Bach's eyes, and he sniffs, swallowing back the starts of tears. "And Cideeda... I don't know what to say. DAMMIT. I can only thank the gods that I didn't hurt her permanently... Or worse."

Sebastian and Bach both face out into the city, staring distantly to the urban skyline giving away to a green and blue horizon. Minutes later, Sebastian hovers up to a standing stance upon the balcony surface and glances over his shoulder into the sliding glass door to the hotel room. "Well, I'm going to see what everyone else is up to and figure a good time to get everyone together."

Nodding slowly, Bach glances up to Sebastian with a pleading frown. "Yeah... I think I'm going to stay out here for a while. See what courage I can muster up."

Sebastian presents a comforting smile to Bach. "Understand, bro. It'll be okay. Just... Give it some time."

Above a swaying sea of summer green tree canopies, Lagi glides through the skies with Kaleb scanning around the area. Draconic shadow coasting upon the scenery below, Lagi zips near a collection of rocky spires at the top of a hill. Kaleb acknowledges the landmark and peers out ahead, spotting a distant clearing. "Not bad! Not bad at all! We made great time. In fact, it's almost the exact time I told her we'd be back this morning."

Lagi snorts and tilts his wings, navigating up his flight path towards an open area ahead. Kaleb surveys the tree bordered field ahead. Within the confines of the forest clearing, wind rustles the leaves on rows of plants growing in a large garden. A windsock flutters on a tall mast extending up from the top ridge of a huge, age rusted hangar. Sun reflects off roof mounted solar panels upon a long brick house. Recognizing the familiar structures, delight lights up Kaleb's sun tanned face, and he chuckles in relief. Lagi purrs contentedly and lines up his final approach to a worn dirt track in the middle of the field behind the house. Joy wavering, Kaleb spots Shadeesa standing expectantly with arms crossed at the end of the landing. "Uh oh, um... I get the feeling the local news ran THAT video clip. Crap..."

The stirring breeze blows some of Shadeesa's dark green hair over her light gray, pointed ears, wrapping a few strands around her upward swept horns. Maintaining crossed arms in a rigid posture, Shadeesa glares her green on black eyes right at Kaleb and Lagi, the clear expression reaching the distance. White freckles decorate the cheeks of her stern face, and a housework stained apron waves in the wind over her pronounced belly. Tracking him during the gentle glide down landing, she affixes her irritated stare solidly upon Kaleb. With a final few flaps of both pairs of wings, Lagi secures footing upon the patchy, packed soil. Waiting quietly, he watches warily. Arms still crossed, Shadeesa calmly, purposefully strolls towards both Lagi and Kaleb. Lagi glances back to Kaleb, quietly whining with worry. Kaleb slides down off the saddle, plants his boots upon the earth, and presents a placating smile to Shadeesa. "Don't worry, boy. I'll talk to her."

Lagi scoots nervously behind Kaleb, peeking over his shoulder when Shadeesa closes in. Attempting a bashful grin, Kaleb weakly laughs. "I take it you saw the-"

With a slight tip back of her head, Shadeesa flicks up her index finger and holds it in front of Kaleb and his wide-eyed, abrupt silence. Sidestepping around Kaleb, she levels her stern stare upon the worried dragon, hanging his head low and avoiding direct eye contact. Warmth fills Shadeesa light gray face, and she reaches out, scratch underneath the chin of Lagi with her long, thick nails. With a kiss on his muzzle, she smiles at the relieved dragon and pets his head, holding him close. "You did VERY GOOD, Lagi. THANK YOU for keeping him safe and bringing YOU and HIM back home to me. I love you so much."

Lagi purrs with the affection and assumes a prouder posture, Shadeesa letting him go. A stern glare immediately overtakes Shadeesa's face, pivoting towards Kaleb. Shadeesa's green on black eyes stare through Kaleb's very being. Sheepishly searching for the words that might help for this moment, Kaleb verbally fumbles around. "Uh- I- Um- I just couldn't leave- I had to- Uh- Help...?"

He anxiously scratches the back of his head of short, blonde hair. "Yes, I know I shouldn't be taking risks like that, and I thought we were playing it safe and-"

Grasping either side of Kaleb's face, Shadeesa guides his face slightly down to her level and pulls him close. Kaleb remains quiet, and Shadeesa gazes into his eyes. Seconds of silent communication later, Shadeesa's resolve softens. Closes her eyes, she gently, firmly butts her head against Kaleb's forehead and smiles lovingly. Her hands drop down, her arms slip underneath Kaleb's shoulders, and she embraces him tightly, resting her head next to his. Kaleb wraps his arms around her, combing the stray hairs out her face and over her horns in the close moments. "I'm sorry."

Shadeesa giggles through a sigh of tension and squeezes Kaleb. "It's okay... I'd, honestly, be very disappointed if you hadn't helped out somehow."

Rolling her eyes at herself, she twists a humored smirk. "Can't rightly fault you for what I'd want to do myself. Can I?"

Kaleb chuckles and sways gently side to side with Shadeesa. "I love you."

Shadeesa loosens her hold of Kaleb and smiles back at him. "I love you, too."

The two share peaceful seconds in the field. Kaleb blinks with a realization, ponders a moment, and quizzically quirks his brow. "Hey, by the way... Have they said anything about what happened to the Nightmare Geist? Lagi and I got clear before it hit the town. And well... I haven't heard anything useful from any of the news sources. I didn't even pick up any chatter on the radio that pointed to anything."

Puzzling over the idea, Shadeesa slowly shakes her head, furrowing her brow. "It's only just speculation from what I've heard. A LOT of wild guesses. A few involving Noxian either releasing the thing or getting rid of it... Or both. No one can make sense of it."

With a short huff, she grumbles to herself. "But, THAT doesn't stop them from trying to explain it to everyone."

Kaleb groans in commiseration, shrugging his shoulders. "And the sky is still blue, too, I guess."

Craning his head around, Lagi scans the vicinity and spots a distant shrub speckled with bright berries. He wanders away from Kaleb and Shadeesa, the two debating theories.

Dretphi pushes open the decoratively frosted glass door and steps from the hotel hallway into the large, tall chamber housing the indoor swimming pool. Sniffing the humid air, she listens to the ambient hum of water filters operating nearby. She searches the length of the pool and finds only a horned head of dark red hair leaning against the edge of the shallow end. Approaching the steps leading into the pool, Dretphi notices Sotalia residing within her own thoughts. Sotalia stares blankly across to the other end of the pool, her arms idly waving across the water's surface. Dretphi sits down cross-legged nearby on the concrete perimeter walkway and glances over to Sotalia. "Is there something wrong?"

Sotalia startles back to awareness and reflexively splashes some water. Quickly spinning herself around, she gazes up to Dretphi with an awkward smile, her golden eyes dodging the obvious. "Oh! Uh... No. Just taking a break from swimming around this really nice pool."

Dretphi studies the mostly dry hair and swept-back horns upon Sotalia's head, and focuses an incredulous stare right at Sotalia. Sotalia contorts the corners of her mouth, struggling to remain quiet. Grumbling, she sneers with hints of irritation. "Fine. I'm thinking about... Yesterday."

Pushing easily along the shallow end's bottom with her feet, she paddles slowly with her arms to a wandering float in the pool. "A lot happened. And, I'm just trying to process it all. That's all."

A blatant lift of the eyebrow telegraphing how unconvinced she remains, Dretphi concentrates stare at Sotalia and awaits an answer. Sotalia settles upon another wall of the pool, notices the examining gaze from Dretphi, and grimaces her internal deliberation. A minute later, a low growl swells out loudly from Sotalia, and she pushes forceful waves of water out with both arms. "Okay! Gods damn it!"

Slipping her feet underneath herself, Sotalia stands up from the water, crosses her arms, and promptly sits on the pool perimeter. She grumbles out a sigh and shakes her head, the water draining off her swimsuit and wicking into the darkening concrete. "I KNOW this is probably short-sighted and childish, BUT I can't help to be..."

Furrowing her light tan brow, she wrestles down a lip curling sneer. "Well... Angry."

Dretphi nods slowly and inquisitively cocks her head to the side. "At?"

Rolling her golden eyes, she sniffs in a grimacing breath. "Bach. More specifically at the fact that he, oh I don't know."

She flicks her eyes over at Dretphi and projects out. "HID A CERTAIN THING FROM US!"

Gritting her teeth, she hisses her frustration and rolls the tension around her shoulders. "I don't know! A certain part of me just can't shake feeling disrespected and betrayed. Even though there was probably no intent to do so..."

She tightens her grips on her elbows. "It STILL would have been REALLY useful to know about THAT power before this point!"

Slowly pulling in a long breath, Dretphi brushes back some of her platinum blonde braids and ponders out loud. "Would it have?"

Sotalia opens her mouth, the words halting at the tip of her tongue. She sighs, past situations play out in her mind, and her face relays how unconvinced she remains. Dretphi speaks a single word in Grath. Blinking in thought, Sotalia quietly processes and slowly nods. "That translates roughly to... Death by remedy... Yeah. That might apply here."

Loosening her arms from around herself, she rests her hands upon the walkway and contends with a growing unease, gripping the smooth pool edge. "Okay. I'll admit... It was really spooky seeing him with that little control over his magic. I don't think he wanted to use that option."

Dretphi frowns and stares down at the water and the warping reflections of the overhead lights. "He was scared."

Sotalia perks an eyebrow and smirks uneasily. "I certainly was too with that thing charging at us-"

Glancing up from the pool, Dretphi levels direct eye contact at Sotalia. "Afterwards. When he woke up in the humvee. Fearful. I believe of... US. He was horrified of what he may have done."

Seconds of pressuring quiet later, a long sigh escapes Sotalia. She frowns sadly and relaxes her shoulders. "Gods... Well..."

The prior ire flickers out, and she slowly kicks waves with her feet under the water with a light pout. "I'm NOT going to let him off the hook. Still don't like the fact he kept quiet about THAT, among other things he has yet to tell me... But..."

A mischievous air surrounding her, a sly grins graces Sotalia, and she stretches out her figure. "I'll try to be NICE to him and alleviate his fears. Maybe he'll open up more now."

Leaning toward Dretphi, she tips her head back and smiles smugly. "After all THIS, what's a few other academic details about certain spells in comparison? Right?"

An annoyed groan echoes out from Dretphi, and she glares unamused at Sotalia with a slow side to side sway of her head. With a tilt of head, Sotalia playfully shrugs it off, shifting the curling ends of her dark red hair. "What?"

Dretphi dismissively rolls her steely gray eyes, and narrows a condemning stare at Sotalia.

Between the taller urban buildings in the heart of Hattan, Captain Hackle and Captain Hays walk down a blockaded section of street. In the mix of civic engineering services cleaning up, members of the Greater Azure Alliance specialists investigate the area. Sergeant Violet orders around personnel in the company and specifically focuses upon Specialist Thayal, trying to avoid harder duties. Chana and Heccaeh trail loosely behind Hays, Chana petting one of the two scout whelps clinging upon each of Heccaeh's shoulders. Hays and Hackle both stop around the perimeter of a rope barrier and stare at the encircled section of road surface, the enclosed street visually resembling the rest of the roadway. Hays furrows an inquisitive brow and glances over to Hackle. "So, your group figure anything out yet?"

Hackle draws a long breath in, puffs his thin frame's chest out, and smirks. "Apart from the obvious that initial investigations have granted us, the fading elder energy residue, notably... Not too terribly much, actually."

The wry grin pulls across his mouth and folds the lines of age on his face. "I do have my theories. And, given a certain bit of information we both know about parties possibly present in the area, I have one particular theory."

A solitary laugh escapes Hays, and he crosses his arms, drumming his fingers upon the metal of his cybernetic limb. "Well, I'd like to think we both share that theory."

Turning his head back, he examines the cordoned off pavement and directs his lowered voice to Hackle. "So... Are you going to investigate THEM further? Because, I, personally, have no professional stake in this now. Charting that nightmare's path back, with how we figured the animals were moving, it left out that weird zone roughly a week ago and headed straight here."

Quirking a brow, Hackle mulls over the information with a few twitches of his gray mustache. "Strange. What could have prompted it to travel here, so recently? It's been my experience that they tend to not move unless... Provoked?"

With a frown subtly lowering his long beard, Hays ponders and grumbles, frustrating possibilities playing out on his face. "Well, I get the feeling this one was homed in on SOMETHING, maybe not even around here specifically. Hell, this bastard may been zone hopping all the way from the Perimeter Weird Zone. Possibly, starting over a month ago. Got a bunch of vague reports to sort through on that one. Don't know if they're even related yet."

Shrugging his shoulders, he lifts his chin up, pivots around, and scans the remaining bits of destruction, pausing to admire a very flat vehicle. "But, it has ceased to be, so, again, my jurisdiction ends here."

Hackle shakes his head slowly, sneaks a smile on his face, and releases a long exhale, glancing at the tall city buildings surrounding the area. "The city still stands mostly in one piece. No reported loss of life. And, there's no longer an immediate threat. So, I believe my jurisdiction is about to end, too."

The two men idle in silence. Civic engineers and crew continue to inspect and assess the damages, taking both technological and magical measurements. Minutes later, Hackle flashes a humored grin at Hays. "You think THAT sword did it in?"

Chuckling, Hays reveals a similarly amused smile. "About the only thing I've ever known to put down one of these things is some ancient artifact. That sword is about the only one I know in the area right now. Didn't know it could do THIS..."

He tilts his head to the side. "BUT, I'm not one to complain about a gift horse."

Hackle nods in agreement and hums, his attention settling upon a thought with a furrow of his brow. "It is good to have such in capable hands. Still, I have to wonder about what attracted this geist here of all places. Even if not directly."

Reaching into his pants pocket, Hays retrieves his aetherphone and taps through a series of menus, revealing a map. He holds the device within convenient view of Hackle. "Yeah, I thought about that, too. I wondered if maybe there was something further along the path. But, about the only thing it would have run into was a bunch of random ridges over near the United Appaland States."

Studying the map, Hackle straightens his posture, crosses his arms behind his back, and dons a satisfied smirk. "Well, I guess that will have to be another mystery left unsolved... Along with what may or may not have destroyed this particular Nightmare Geist. Without proper observations to report, I can only assume it must have self-destructed or suffered a catastrophic malfunction."

A sly grin cracks on Hays, and he places his aetherphone back into his pocket. "I mean... It was ONLY just a few hundred years old. I can't imagine they were rated to last that long."

Hackle leads a healthy fit of laughter with Hays, and the two men walk away from the cordoned section of street towards the barricade exit. Hackle directs a sarcastic tone towards Hays. "I truly wonder what wild theories the local news investigators will fill their reports with. I have been running low on comedies. Might need to humor myself a little."

Hays squelches a snicker and shakes his head. "Wait a month, there'll be a movie."

Strolling upon patterned carpet matching the neutral tones of the walls, Samantha slowly steps through the elaborately decorated hotel hallway, studying her clipboard, and flips through a number of papers. She stops riffling, throws a bundle over the metal clip, and scribbles out notes upon the page below with a pen. "Okay... I think we can make this work still. The editing team will have a bit of extra work... BUT, a few dramatic cliffhangers between the commercial breaks should make it workable enough."

Craning his head near Samantha's shoulder, Gerald skims through the paragraphs of correction speckled literature with a dubious sneer. "Uh, I guess. Most of the shots we got of the monster were from VERY far away. And, some of the videos got slightly corrupted by that weird magical wave. Mostly recoverable, but it's patchy at parts."

Tapping the pen to her lip, Samantha lifts an intrigued eyebrow with an idea forming upon her face. "Ah... We can spin it off as footage recorded by the locals of the monster with a bit of special effects work. A short clip montage. Mix in the scenes of the team helping with the evacuation efforts..."

A satisfied smirk creeps from the corner of her mouth, and a spark of inspiration lightens her mood. "THEN, throw together a dramatic narration over a mosaic of the news broadcasts and fade into scenes of the aftermath... With... With..."

Gerald dons a sly smile, directing a suggestion into Samantha's ears. "Interleaved clips of individual video journals talking about the whole event."

A delighted glint sparkles in Samantha's eyes, and she grins wide, excitement putting pep in her step. "OH. YES."

She feverishly jots down detailed notes and sketches out a few diagrams in the empty margins of the pages. "I'll need to type this up and send it to Howie for final approval, but I like it enough that we should go ahead and get the other clips for it!"

Gerald nods, pulling out his aetherphone, and navigates through the different screens. "Send the crews out to get footage of where the team members were assisting, along with shots of the destruction?"

Tapping the pen upon her clipboard, Samantha stalls in thought on the final step of a rough outline. "Yes... Still need a closure scene to finish up on..."

Seconds of travel down the hall later, Gerald blinks along with drifting thought and glances over to Samantha. "A wide shot of the site the authorities are investigating, voice over about the strange disappearance of the monster, and some dramatic music?"

Biting her lower lip, Samantha quickly writes down the sequence of events and nearly skips along the next few meters down the carpeted hallway. "OH, I'll let the editing team go all out on that one! Hide some vague old secret society symbols faintly in the background, too! People eat that up!"

She gazes up from the clipboard at Gerald. "So, how long before you can get set up for the video journals?"

Calculating the time upon the top of his mind between flicks of his eyes, Gerald shrugs nonchalantly. "Maybe half an hour or so? We have most of the equipment nearby and ready."

The two move down the hallway further. Samantha stops outside a hotel room entry, and knocks quickly and loudly upon the door. Seconds later, the inset peephole darkens briefly and the lock unlatches. The door opens and reveals the towering frame of Trakenthin, simply staring down at Samantha and Gerald. Samantha smiles confidently and gazes up at Trakenthin. "Personal Interviews in half an hour."

Trakenthin nods slowly. The door closing, Modoran's sardonic tone slips out. "Oh, my favoritest thing to do!"

Gerald and Samantha venture down to the next door. Rapping upon the dark wooden facade, Samantha waits. The door opens. Tassilda stands at the side of the frame and crosses her arms, hints of defiance in her posture. "YES?"

Narrows her eyes at Tassilda, Samantha assumes a more assertive stance. "Personal Interviews. Half an hour."

Noticing Deedri waving in the background, she flashes a nice smile and starts to return the gesture. Tassilda firmly shuts the door. Gerald and Samantha approach the next door and slow their pace down. Tilting his head, Gerald aims his ear at the door, waits a few moments, and snorts. Samantha rolls her eyes dismissively, the unmistakable sounds of carnal gymnastics resonate faintly from inside the hotel room. She sighs, shakes her head, and directs a sarcastic tone to Gerald. "We'll come back in fifteen minutes or so."

With an ill-humored smirk, Gerald snickers back. "That long?"

Samantha blinks, tightly smiling at the situation. "Oh, really?"

With Samantha following behind, Gerald pivots and steps down the hall, derisively snickering. "Well, let's just say... I've been noting the duration of events when it comes to the time codes on the videos... And, I've noticed a CONSISTENT pattern."

Afternoon sun beams through the sliding glass door leading out to the balcony of the hotel room. The light shines upon the sheets of the bed nearest and barely reaches over to touch the base of the next. Cideeda steps through the doorway joining another similar hotel room and searches the area, puzzling between glances at different parts of the room. Halting her stare upon the luggage and bags laying out on a pulled out sleeper sofa, she plods over, her hands on her hips. She slides over a bag, unzips the top, and rummages through the contents, mumbling to herself frustrated. Aristespha lifts her head up from a pile of paperwork and tablets upon the room desk and glances over, noticing Cideeda. "Did you misplace something?"

Cideeda's furry ears flick back and guide the rest of her head, pausing her hunt momentarily with a grumble of frustration. "YES. I can't find my headphones. I thought I packed them, but can't remember which bag they ended up in now."

Sliding out, Aristespha stands up from her chair and steps over next to Cideeda. She leans over to another suitcase and opens up pocket. "Well, for now, you can borrow mine. The ear pieces won't be quite the best fit for you, but they might be a close enough fit for a little while."

An appreciative smile appears on Cideeda, and she nods to Aristespha, resuming her exploration of her bag's contents. "If I don't find them in this bag, I'll definitely take you up on the offer. Thank you."

Digging underneath layers of clothes and other personal items, Cideeda uncovers a magic flow practice wand. Staring at it, she frowns sadly and slowly grips onto the wooden, magically inscribed stick. Her mood sharply darkens with a depressing, audible sigh. Aristespha glances over from her luggage and observes Cideeda's longing stare upon the practice wand. A compassionate, sad smile graces her, and she states in a soft, concerned tone. "As a medical professional, I can say you are physically healthy today."

Sitting down on the bed near the sleeper sofa, she places her hands upon her knees and adopts a patient, comforting demeanor. "But, as a friend, I can tell something has been bothering you since yesterday. I want you to know, I would be happy to listen."

Cideeda glances over to Aristespha, to the practice wand, and back again. Her furry ears droop close to her shoulders, a long mournful exhale escapes her, and she steps over to a seat on the bed next to Aristespha. Rolling the magical focus in her clawed fingers, she wrestles down the words between pained winces on her light brown face. "I KNOW I shouldn't be surprised... Or, even really think about it at this point... BUT..."

She stares at the practice wand, grimaces, and focuses upon her thoughts. "I don't know. Despite there not being anything... Known... to modern magical medicine that can fix my magic issue..."

Aristespha angles her head, catching eye contact with Cideeda, and waits calmly. Silent moments later, Cideeda resumes her explanation, a slight waver in her voice. "I... I just never quite gave up on that ridiculously unlikely chance. And well, seeing... Someone..."

Pausing a moment, she communicates unspoken, and Aristespha acknowledges with a nod. Cideeda draws in a breath and sighs out. "Someone struggle pass supposed limitations on them to do amazing things, I thought that maybe there was a better chance for me than I thought? MAYBE, there was some kind of hope? MAYBE, I'm not the only one? And, SOMETHING could change?"

Her eyes close, and she sniffs, tempering the emotional welling. A small cough later, she blinks her emerald eyes open and presents a faux grin. "Well, now, it seems like that I've just been building up my hopes, AGAIN. So, you know..."

Drooping her furry ears low, she swallows hard and tenses her body. "It's just... Just facing the reality of it all, AGAIN. ESPECIALLY, after yesterday, it's... It's all the same. The same as before."

She forces a smirk, pushing for a weak smile. "But, at least, I'm still ME. Still... The same as I was before."

Her voice trails off, and she drifts a distant stare at the wand. Aristespha breathes in carefully, rests a hand upon Cideeda's slumping shoulder, and squeezes gently. "I will not tell you to hope blindly. I am not going to tell you to ignore the reality of the situation. But, I will say... You should NEVER exclude the possibility."

A sadness weighs upon her, and she musters a strong smile on her ivory face against her thoughts. "I can not say it is similar to yours, but I have had to face the reality of my own situation. And, my hopes seem to grow a little less likely with each day. While I'm not making any great future plans based on those hopes..."

Tipping her head up, she carefully sniffs in a breath. "I still consider the possibility that my hopes CAN happen. That way... I keep searching for ways to make them happen and not miss an opportunity."

Lifting her head up, Cideeda turns to Aristespha staring ahead and notices the damp glint in the corners of her eyes. She straightens her posture, pulls in a breath of air, and vents out the tension. "Well, if you keep entertaining that possibility, I'll try to do the same... Despite myself."

With an honest, toothy grin upon Cideeda, Aristespha smiles genuinely in return. Shifting her focus to the practice wand, Cideeda grips it tight with both her hands, and chuckles with a snort. Cideeda closes her eyes, concentrates, and turns her attention inwards. Moments later, she opens her eyes facing Aristespha and shrugs nonchalantly at Aristespha with a facetious laugh. Furrowing her brow at Aristespha's surprise, she gazes down at the practice wand.

From the inscriptions wrapping up the base of the stick, a green illumination pulses up into a wavering glow.

Cideeda and Aristespha stare at the wand blankly in stunned silence. Aristespha's face drops to perplexed and gives way to outright shock. Cideeda's hand trembles in the dim green light, her jaw hangs agape, and her emerald eyes widen. Astonishment barely allows her a single word. "H-H-how...?"

The aetherphone screen shows a man and woman sitting behind a wide desk. The woman stiffens her posture and defiantly retorts. "How can you say it ISN'T Dark Lord Noxian?! It makes perfect sense! Release this terror upon the populace, and then triumphantly show up to destroy the beast. That way he fools people into thinking he's justified! Who wields that much elder energy? A Dark Lord! What Dark Lord is out there? Noxian!"

The man narrows his eyes, and reinforces his composure. "But WHERE is Noxian? Why hasn't he revealed himself to take the credit? And Nightmare Geists have been dealt with by other means before. There is another explanation that doesn't involve the latest magical criminal that hasn't been seen or heard from in THREE MONTHS!"

The clouds glide out of the way of the late afternoon sun, and the light shines on Bach's light tan face. In a moment of shade from a passing cloud, he stares at his faint, sad reflection in the glare upon the phone screen. Firmly pressing the close button on the video stream, he puts the device away in his pocket. The sounds of Hattan fill up the background, and Bach closes his eyes tightly, winces against the internalized frustration. Resting his head back upon the balcony brick, he stares off towards the horizon and mumbles to himself. "...dammit... ...you fuckin' idiot... What did you expect was going to happen?"

A loud, swift slide of the glass door to the hotel room snaps Bach into reality from his own head space. Dretphi quickly leans out the doorway and energetically motions Bach over. "Come here."

Bach blankly stares, blinking in the confusion. Sebastian's ethereal form zips out behind Dretphi and dramatically motions at Bach. "You have to see this, bro!"

Uncertainty slows Bach's standing up, and he apprehensively approaches the sliding glass door. Following Sebastian inside, he feels the firm pressure of Dretphi's hand on his back, ushering him towards the doors joining the two hotel rooms. He moves along the route and glances over to Sebastian, searching for an answer. "So, uh, what's going on?"

Hovering next Bach, Sebastian shrugs. "Not quite sure. It's only been like, ten minutes. We're still trying to figure it out."

The trio arrive in the other hotel room. Bach stares out in utter confusion at the scene. Cideeda sits on the hotel bed with her arm extended out. Seated next to Cideeda, Sotalia holds her hand out and slowly demonstrates a series of magical gestures, clearly voicing the important parts of the incantation. Sliding the room chair up closer opposite of Cideeda, Aristespha places her hands underneath Cideeda's arm with glowing violet eyes. "Okay. Whenever you are ready."

Cocking his head to the side, Bach puzzles at the situation. Sotalia subdues her anticipation, and calmly leads with the first gesture and incantation part. Cideeda carefully mimics the motion, pronounces the sound, and visibly concentrates. Part after part, Sotalia shows the process, and Cideeda repeats as accurately as she can. A flash of recognition sparks within Bach, and he furrows his brow uncertainly. Gesturing out the final part and finishing the incantation, Cideeda strains, focusing between grimaces on her light brown face, and flexes her clawed fingers out.

A small speck of cloudy light flickers into existence above her palm, hovering very shakily for a few seconds. A second later, it dissipates into a puff of magical miasma.

With both hands, Sotalia covers her mouth and nose in awe. Aristespha moves her hands away, lifts up her head, and blinks the glow down in her eyes with a hopeful smile. "Well, you'll need many years of practice. But... That looked and felt like normal beginner's flow."

Excitement winning out against any restraint, Sotalia wraps her arms quickly around Cideeda and hugs her tightly. "I CAN'T BELIEVE IT! OH, I'm going to show you all the best spells! And, you'll get to practice with the rest of us!"

Flexing the claw tipped fingers of her hand, Cideeda stares blankly and watches her hand, swaying along with the enthusiastic embrace of Sotalia. A smile forms, a flow of tears roll down, and Cideeda sniffles. Trying to wipe the water off her face, she laughs awkwardly and playful struggles against Sotalia's hold. Remaining in stunned silence, Bach props himself against the nearby wall and gazes absolutely bewildered. Dretphi smiles brightly at Cideeda and rests a hand upon Bach's shoulder. Sebastian proudly grins at Bach. "Heh. Told you it'd be okay, bro."

Sotalia calms down enough, releases Cideeda, and eagerly plucks her aetherphone out. "OH! We have to take a video of all this! Give me a moment!"

With a tear soaked smile, Cideeda gazes over to Bach and watches the mix of confusion, embarrassment, and nerves play out upon his face, obviously fumbling for a response. She grins toothily to Bach and snickers. "So... How are you feeling?"

Bach stops, smiles weakly at Cideeda, and shrugs as nonchalantly as he can manage. "Well... Happy... But, very, very confused right now."

Nodding slowly, Cideeda giggles happily. "Yeah, about the same here."

Layers of conversation from the lunch crowd flood the background inside the sandwich shop. A middle aged woman with blonde hair, rearranges the area around the register. Moving a number of items within easy reach of her left arm, she pauses to survey the workspace and readjusts the shoulder strap of her arm sling. The phone rings, and she winces, fighting against habit to not move her right arm. With a quick pivot, she answers the phone with her left hand and pinches the handset between ear and shoulder. Exercising great care, she taps out the order on her computer screen and relays the cost. Waiting moment, she listens and presses the confirmation button. Hanging up, she smiles over to a small, blonde haired girl sitting on stool and steps over, gazing over the number of crayon drawings on paper on the counter. She kisses the top of the girl's head and hugs her tightly with her left arm. The little girl pauses from her art and happily returns the affection. "Love you, mommy."

The door opens, the chime sounds out, and a thin, older man walks into the shop. He calmly steps towards the counter, his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. Waiting near the register, he loosens the blue scarf around his neck and scratches his gray facial hair. The middle aged woman glances over in delight. "Isaac! Oh, I'm so glad you are okay! Gods, especially after all the chaos over the last two days."

Isaac shakes his head and laughs. "It has been quite the last few days, Lydia. I came yesterday, but your employees said you were-"

Glancing down, he notices the sling supporting Lydia's right arm, and a worried frown emerges on his face. "Oh my! What ever happened?"

Lydia glances down and sighs with a hint of exhaustion. "Well, long story short, when that monster wrecked a machine shop, some of the debris eventually crash landed through my apartment... And onto me."

Lifting some of her hair, she reveals a bandage on her head. "Broke my arm, hit the floor, and got knocked out cold."

With a wide-eyed attention, Isaac's face blends between worry, concern, and some relief. "Well... Wow... I'm extremely happy to see you standing and in one piece."

He glances over at the little girl and smiles kindly. "Well, I see that Leigh is okay. Good gods, that must have been awfully frightening for her."

Lydia draws a tense breath of air, and her posture stiffens. "Oh gods... You have no idea! After I didn't wake up for an hour, she braved out on her own to try to find some help for me. She wandered right into the path of that... THING..."

Isaac remains silent and turns his horrified, paling stare to Lydia. Rolling the unease out of her shoulders, Lydia loosely holds her hand near her mouth, looking at Leigh. "I don't know what all happened. She ran away from it. And, I thank every god out there, a wonderful group of adventurers were around the area right then and there. They swept her up, and got her to safety."

Exhaling, she rests her hand on her chest. "The poor rescue team had to nearly sedate me when I woke up and couldn't find her. But, it was less than a few minutes later she was turned in to the authorities and they located me."

She drifts off in thought watching Leigh. A moment later, She stirs back to awareness. "Oh! I'm so sorry. Let me take your order first, then we can talk our ears off. Your usual?"

Isaac confirms with a smile and holds up a finger. "Yes, but extra olives today."

With a quick nod, Lydia focuses her attention on the computerized ordering system and carefully taps the order out with her left hand, the unfamiliarity obvious. Isaac studies the nearby sheets of paper next to a large box of crayons. Happy smirking, he curiously observes Leigh coloring. "So, what are you drawing today?"

Leigh briefly glances up and taps her hand on a pile of paper. "My new friends. Look!"

Isaac chuckles to himself, and examines the drawings. Focusing more with each drawing, he studies the pictures of a green eyed fvalian, a tall woman with blonde braids, a woman with blue and gray hair, violet eyes, a horned, red haired woman, and a faintly shaded man. Blinking in thought, he furrows his brow and cocks his head, watching Leigh color in her latest drawing. "Huh... Is that another drawing of a friend?"

Shaking her head, Leigh concentrates on the picture and energetically scratches out on the page. "No. It's the monster. It's okay. The hero stopped it."

Upon the paper, a giant, solid black figure nearly fills half the page, and a solitary man with white crayon colored over him stands in the way of the dark form.