Gerald sighs and gradually rolls his head side to side on his pillow. He closes his eyes, stills himself, and drifts his mind away from the background conversation. Samantha paces down the middle walkway in the small upstairs bedroom, and draws a plotting grin across her face as pivots at the threshold leading to the balcony. “We’ve GOT to do something with this new strife between Chad and Veevi, Howie!”

A distant chuckle sounds out, and Howard’s voice resonates into the room from Samantha’s aetherphone. “I agree. I got the feeling this was going to happen at some point, but didn’t quite expect it now. But, we can definitely use this to our advantage.”

Samantha smiles with an evil tinge, lifts a plotting brow, and ponders out loud. “I know. We haven’t pulled out the usual tricks for triggering a little drama this season. I could do some tweaking on their lodging arrangements, and get two three person rooms instead of three two person rooms.”

She giggles with sinister glee, and steps with an extra spring across the room. “Veevi facing rejection with her emotional fragility... Let’s put her with someone who actively hates her AND someone she desires. That should lead to some show worthy moments.”

Howard speaks up from the other side of the call with an agreeable tone, and pushes forth suggestions. “Yes, and Chad might get some backing from the other guys to break off his relationship with Veevi. Hence...”

With an excited hop in place, Samantha’s tone squeaks out eagerly. “Ooo! Fresh exes having to work with each other AND live in close quarters. And, Veevi on the rebound?! Oh, that’s going to make things interesting.”

A sly smirk graces Samantha’s face and she tosses back her brown hair. “SO much potential there. But, it honestly might take some time for it to... cook... properly. In the mean time, any progress on the Modoran haters front?”

An uncertain hum sounds out from Samantha’s aetherphone, and Howard relays his findings so far with hints of intrigue. “A little. I’ve gotten the community forums people using their fake fan accounts to goad them to say more, and some are trying to get on their good sides. But, no solid information yet.”

He groans out a sigh over the remote conversation and the rap of fingers on a desktop peak out from the background noise. “Despite how much they despise Modoran, it seems the whole thing about keeping outsiders out of Evuukian House politics is still one thing they stick to. They are very tight lipped about any specific details. The forums people still don’t know exactly what Modoran did to piss them off. About the only thing they’ve come up with is that Modoran MIGHT have been a member of a house.”

Samantha’s eyes widen briefly and she cocks her head to side puzzling. “Really? If he was a member of a house, he certainly doesn’t advertise it like most the prominent house members do. But, that would explain quite a few things.”

Gerald slowly open his eyes, furrows his brow, and comments towards Samantha. “Yeah, that would. I thought it was REALLY weird the looks a lot of those evuukian nobles were giving him. Some nasty glares at the archery competition.”

Searching her mind, Samantha sorts through her memories and gradually nods in agreement. “Yes. I remember that. And, he definitely seems to know A LOT about evuukian politics. But, what house? There’s so many major and minor ones out there. I’ll have to dig deeper on that one.”

A contemplative twist colors Howard’s tone over Samantha’s speakerphone, and he puts forth a suggestion. “Yes... Actually, have the crew review all the footage with him in it and see if there’s any hints in what he’s saying-”

He pauses a long time, and Samantha narrows a confused stare at her aetherphone as the call time indicator continues to increment. After many seconds, a quiet chuckle grows to an evil, bellowing laugh that sounds out into the room. Drawing a long breath in, Howard’s voice adopts an ill-humored tinge, and he plots out loud to Samantha and Gerald. “Actually... I have a better plan. Let’s have a poll... An anonymous poll... One of those goofy ones...”

Gerald lifts his head up from his pillow and perplexes over the plan. “Okay... So, what’s the poll about?”

A verbal smugness exudes from the phone in Samantha’s hand, and Howard’s voice triumphantly calls out. “What Evuukian House would each member of the Flames of the Phoenix belong to?”

Gerald blinks out his confusion and sorts through the logic. Samantha quietly pauses, searches her mind, and grins ear to ear mischievously. “Oh... That’s good, Howie. A little fan involvement and definitely could make Modoran sweat.”

Howard ponders out loud and instructs the other two on his reasoning. “That’s part of it. There’s another part. While it will take awhile to get more details, I’m going to tell the aethersite and community team to require forum registration to submit a vote. And, while it’s publicly anonymous, we’ll track who casts which vote. I get the feeling our Modoran detractors will vote.”

Gerald blinks as the logic settles in his mind, and he nods in agreement. “Yeah, they probably would. Hell, that might work better than you could ever get asking them.”

Rolling his eyes dismissively, he groans out an incredulous retort. “Well shit, you might as well set up a fan poll about which crime each member would likely be guilty of while you are at it.”

Howard’s voice goes silent on the other side of the aetherphone call, and Samantha blanks the expression off her face in contemplation. After a few moments, Samantha pivots to face Gerald with a devilishly delighted grin, and directs her voice to the phone. “Did you hear THAT, Howie-”

A prompt reply sounds out and Howard chuckles eagerly. “Already on it! Thank you, Gerald. We could definitely use that and similar to help the researchers out.”

Gerald grits his teeth briefly, releases a regretful sigh, and turns his head way while rubbing his forehead. “No... problem... Anytime...”

He whispers to himself and grimaces. “Gods, I’m SO sorry, you guys...”

Gerald sits up on the bed, and slides himself onto his feet. He quietly escapes the room out onto the peaceful balcony, while Samantha and Howard hash out future polling schemes.


Flying underneath the scattered clouds above, Lagi’s front wings minutely adjust to the stirring air currents, while his back wings propel huge gusts of wind behind. With calculated movements, his fanning tail sways to stabilize himself and steady his position in the thermals above a huge parking lot below. Kaleb motions between a number status screens floating in the holographic display in front of him, and drums his fingers on the saddle. He leans forward, pats Lagi’s side, and sighs into the microphone in his helmet. “Just a little while longer. Took a lot of the really high resolution pictures and the client wanted them uncompressed.”

Lagi flutters his bright green eyes back to awareness, eyes back at Kaleb, and grunts out an acknowledgment with a purr. He closes his eyes, adjusts the facing of his armored head, and eases back into a chill trance upon the winds. Kaleb chuckles to himself, settles back securely on the saddle, and sorts through the different messages on translucent screen. A few minutes later, a final prompt flashes up, and Kaleb stretches his flight jacket covered arms out. He gestures upon the screen, and the holographic projection fades away. Leaning down upon the saddle, he grips hold of a pair of handholds tightly and calls out. “Finally! Upload is done and they just sent confirmation of receipt. Damn, that took long even being this close to an aether tower. Oh well, let’s head home!”

With a powerful downwards swing, Lagi breaks from his midair coast, and launches himself forward faster with each flap. Pitching down slightly, he trades altitude for velocity, and soars above the roadways of the small town commercial district. Flying with the afternoon sun to his back, he pilots through the air towards a familiar destination, and occasionally glances down upon the ground to study the landmarks.

An elaborate chime sounds out through the drone of the wind around Kaleb, and he taps the side of his helmet. “Yes, my love?”

Shadeesa’s voice sounds out in Kaleb and Lagi’s headsets with an inquiring tone. “I’m feeling like cooking a few my grandmother’s dishes for dinner tonight. What do you think?”

Kaleb shrugs his shoulders, leans over, and notices Lagi licking his lips in anticipation. “No objections here. We just finished uploading the photos for the guild contract and are heading back.”

Traces of concern color Shadeesa’s worried hum and she pries. “Oh, damn. How far are you from home? I want to do proper emin cooking, but I’m fresh out of the right seasonings. And, you know it won’t taste right if I substitute too much.”

With a comforting laugh, Kaleb pats the side of Lagi and directs Lagi’s attention behind towards a large super store. “Doesn’t matter where we’re at. For good cooking, we’ll make the trip. And, Lagi seems in the flying mood today anyway.”

Lagi tilts his body, gracefully swings around to reverse his direction, and cuts through the air with his wings and tail. A happy chirp sounds out in the air, and over the radio headset. Kaleb chuckles while shaking his head, and replies. “We just were near the super center in town. Just message me the list to my phone and I’ll go get it.”

Shadeesa’s voice warmly rises from the call as she delights. “Thank you! If they don’t have it all there, you might try the import shop. But, they can be a little expensive...”

Kaleb shakes his head and speaks reassuringly as he points out towards an open field next to the parking lot ahead to Lagi. “Don’t worry about that. We’re getting paid for this job, so we can live a little tonight.”

After a little pause, Shadeesa sighs lovingly and giggles softly. “Well... See you two soon. Love you both.”

Lagi purrs out. Kaleb nods. “Love you, too.”

Kaleb taps the side of his helmet, pats Lagi shoulder, and glances down at the empty field far ahead. “Okay, let’s head to the store. There’s going to be some good greasy pans for you to lick clean tonight.”

The large dragon excitedly chirps, and powers his wings against the air towards the vacant grassy lot.

In front of the large super center, a young man with slicked back hair wanders between entering and exiting customers with a pamphlet and bucket. He presents a concerned smile and shows flier to a passerby. “Hello, my name is Marcus, I’m representing People for Dragons Rights. Would you like to make a donation to our cause and take a free pamphlet about how you can help let these beautiful creature fly free?”

The emin man in overalls furrows a scrutinizing brow at Marcus, slowly shakes his head, and walks into the super center. “I’ll think about it while I’m shopping.”

As the emin man walks away, Marcus fails to keep a bright grin as it fades off his face. “Not a problem. Keep us in mind if you have change you don’t want after you’ve checked out.”

In the lull of foot traffic, Marcus slumps his shoulders and slowly plods towards towards an old van. He knocks on the sliding side door and sighs. The door opens up and a young woman with dark gray skin and braided red hair peeks her head out. “Hey, Marcus! Any luck?”

Slowly shaking his head as he pushes the van door fully open, Marcus sits down on the floor of the vehicle interior, and passes the bucket of sparse change over. “Not really. Gods, I don’t know, Cind. We might need to head back to Amaranth. Don’t think people here care about dragons at all.”

Cind pats the back of Marcus’s colorful t-shirt and smiles encouragingly. “Don’t say that. I’m sure people care.”

Rising from underneath a blanket, a young emin man with chipped and broken horns yawns, and greets the other two. “Yeah, man. Don’t count them out yet. They might just not have a lot of money to just give away...”

He scratches his shaggy beard thoughtfully, shrugs his shoulders, and ponders out loud. “I don’t know... Maybe we should really give merchandising a chance. Nothing big. Maybe some cool t-shirts and air brushing. We could totally get some cheap stuff, spray some cool looking dragon stencils on it, and totally get some money.”

Cind blinks to an eager grin and cranes her head around to glance at Marcus. “Kell is right! I mean, people might not give away their money freely. But, we could totally sell them on arts and crafts!”

With a long sigh, Marcus rest his chin upon his fist, and props his head up with his arm contemplatively. Rocking his head side to side, he huffs out his frustration and grumbles. “I guess. Dammit. I thought we were doing good when we released all those whelps at that show. I mean we planned it out, it went perfectly, and it got noticed! I wanted to do another big thing before we have to go back to college.”

Kell laughs with a goofy, reassuring grin, and stretches his arms out. “Aww, don’t beat yourself up, man. It’s been a fun trip. Kinda nice to know we can get it together this much. And man, you got to stop being too focused, else your chance might pass right by you.”

Marcus groans halfheartedly at the advice, and rolls his eyes. As his gazes briefly shifts upwards, a shadow casts upon the surrounding area and a low rushing, thump whooshes past. He blinks back to attention, quickly searches the area, and watches the dark spot upon the ground quickly grow and zip across the parking lot towards an empty field. Cind’s bright blue eyes widen, and she points up into the air. “Look at that!”

Marcus shifts his stare upwards and gawks at the large dragon quickly dropping altitude for a landing. Kell squints his purple on black eyes, grins happily, and nods his head. “Whoa... That’s a big boy right there. He’s got to be pushing a fifteen meter wingspan- Dude! He’s got the second pair of wings, too! Oh man, he’s a rare one. That’s too cool.”

Shooting up to his feet on the pavement, he glances back to Cind and Kell. “Well, it looks like he’s landing over there. Let’s check this out!”

In the middle of the open field, Lagi folds up his wings, kneels down, and tilts to the side. Kaleb unbuckles himself from the saddle, swings his leg over, and slide off Lagi onto the ground. He brushes himself off, stretches out his back, and pets Lagi on the side of his head. “Okay, you stay here. I’ll try to be quick. You want anything?”

Lagi narrows his eyes in thought, darts his gaze around his mind, and emits a series of clicks, chirps, and purrs. Kaleb scratches his chin, mulls over the request, and starts to walk away. “I’ll see what I can find. But, you are going to have to ask your mother if it’s okay for you have tonight.”

Sitting upright, Lagi nods and watches Kaleb jog off towards the superstore. After a few moments, he sniffs the air as the breeze picks up over the tall grasses. He traces a faint smell close to the ground, and carefully steps around the field. Following his nose, Lagi pushes through the taller grasses, halts abruptly, and purrs contentedly. His large maw opens, and he clamps down upon a large mass of plant life with loud crunching.

Marcus, Cind, and Kell trudge through the thickening grasses and stand near Lagi in awe. Marcus glances over his shoulders at Cind an Kell, and plots. “Okay. The rider is away. Let’s see if we can get close, and get that saddle and gear off of him.”

Cind nods hesitantly, studies Lagi from a distance, and starts to approach. “Let’s see if he’s friendly. Looks like he’s eating something.”

Kell narrows his stare at Lagi and the riding equipment, and shrugs at Marcus. “Sounds good, man. But, there isn’t that much gear on him. Actually, it just looks like the saddle and a few other things. Probably got some kind of tracker and stunner gear underneath.”

Marcus leads the approach as the trio move closer to Lagi. In between stretches of munching on another mouthful of flora, Lagi’s bright green eyes dart back to observe the approach of the three people. He watches them attentively, then returns to sniffing the ground to hunt. Cind walks around towards the front of Lagi, and notices the mass of blackberry brambles in Lagi’ mouth. She grimaces uncomfortably as the dragon crunches down casually on the thorny vines, and puzzles. “Why is he eating blackberries plants?”

Dropping her gaze down, she finds a nearby patch full of berries and observes Lagi licking the mashed berry juice off his mouth. Cind gingerly picks a handful of fruit, and approaches the dragon. “Hey. You want the berries? Here! That way you don’t have to fight the thorns.”

Lagi’s attention shifts quickly to the hand of berries in Cind’s hands, and he steps close to her. Waiting patiently, he opens his mouth, and Cind tosses some of the fruit into his anticipating maw. Munching happily on the fruit, Cind distracts the large dragon, and sneaks out a gesture to Kell and Marcus. Both Kell and Marcus slink towards Lagi’s side. Kell directs Marcus’s attention to a few harness points. As the two try to reach out, Lagi side steps away. Backing away, Kell and Marcus cautiously approach, and make another attempt. Lagi’s wing shifts down and brushes the two away. Kell steps back, scratches his head, and shrugs his shoulders at Marcus. “I don’t know, man. He seems pretty against us touching that. And, you know... I’m not seeing a bridle anywhere. Or actually, like, any restriction devices on him.”

Marcus summons up his determination, dons a casual facade while gazing away, and peeks out the corner of his eye. When Cind tosses another handful of berries into Lagi’s maw, he rushes over to Lagi’s side and grips the support strap buckle tightly. A loud, reverberating growl echoes out into the area. Marcus freezes in place, slowly turns his head, and meets the glaring bright green eyes of Lagi. He slowly releases his grip, gradually steps back under the cold stare of the dragon, and holds his hands up.

Parting through the small crowd at the end of the field, Kaleb glances around with two bags of groceries in his hands, and squints at the three people around Lagi. Rolling his eyes, he shakes head while marching over and grumbles to himself. He stops short of group between him and Lagi, draws a long breath, and calls out. “Okay, what THE FUCK are you people doing to him?”

Marcus narrows his stare, puffs out his chest, and points to Kaleb. “WE are members of the People for Dragon Rights! And, WE are trying to LIBERATE this dragon from your slavery!”

Kaleb blinks, cringes visibly, and drops his head of short dirty blonde hair down. “Of course, they would fucking find me.”

Drawing in a long breath, he furrows his brow unamused, leans his gaze around Marcus and Kell, and calls out to Lagi with series of clicks, whistles, and growls. Lagi glances over munching upon another handful of blackberries, thinks a moment, and replies with a chain of purrs, chirps, whistles, and a particularly low growl. Kaleb nods in understanding, and sighs. “Listen, we got to go. I need to go home and help with dinner.”

Marcus crosses his arms defiantly, stands up straight, and narrows a glare at Kaleb while loudly calling out to the crowd. “Oh! So YOU get to go home and eat good. But, your poor dragon is left to graze the fields and munch on the pitiful scraps of vegetation!”

Kaleb cringes with an annoyed groan, glances up to the skies above, and shakes his head mumbling to himself. Focusing his gaze ahead, he notices Cind struggling to pick any more berries from the blackberry brambles, and Lagi’s drifting attention. “Lagi! You done getting fed organically grown blackberries? Ready to go home to eat nice home cooking?”

Lagi lifts his head up, sits up straight, and purrs while flexing out his wings. Kaleb quickly sidesteps wide around Marcus, snorts at the trio, and walks to the awaiting Lagi. Stowing away his groceries in the saddlebags at Lagi’s sides, Kaleb pulls himself quickly into the seat, and secures himself for flight. “Nice talking to you and all, but... WE really got SO many better things things to do.”

Excitedly unfurling his wings, Lagi stretches out his wingspans, fans out his long tail, and widens his stance. Halting mid process, Lagi coughs. Smacking his mouth, he hacks hard. Kaleb leans over to examine Lagi face’s, and rolls his eyes with a shake of his head. “Didn’t chew enough before swallowing. Come on, take a deep breath and get it up.”

Straining his neck and open his maw wide, Lagi repeatedly hacks and coughs in a long process that quickly grows wet, thick, and messy. In final gathering of strength, he draws in a large amount of air, and expels it. Turning his head sharply, Lagi releases a sticky, mass right at Marcus’s chest. The blob of sticky phlegm, sharp brambles, and dark purple berry leftovers splatter powerfully onto Marcus, and he stumbles onto the ground. Kaleb blinks in surprise, narrows an accusing stare at Lagi, and whispers. “Okay, now THAT was obviously on purpose.”

Lagi glances back, shrugs his shoulders with an indifferent grunt, and bounds off to gain escape velocity. With a few power flaps, he and Kaleb lift off into the skies. With the mix of the crowd’s snickers and cringes in the background, Cind and Kell rush over to check on Marcus. Both wince at the sight of Marcus covered in purple speckled, viscous goo, and painfully clingy, thorny bramble bits. Gradually, Marcus sits up as Cind and Kell attempt to carefully remove the sharp branches, and he huffs quietly to the two. “We are going to FREE THAT dragon.”


Plodding along the hardwood floors of the hallway, Aristespha rubs her eyes into a pinch of the bridge of her nose, and draws in a long breath with her aetherphone pressed to her very long, pointed ear. Twisting her mouth, she grimaces with the other side of the phone call, and gradually releases a long sigh. Regaining her composure, she rests her back against the wall, and blinks unamused while her tone remains positive. “I apologize, I know it’s hard work. We all appreciate your efforts and what you’ve done.”

A disheartened tinge leaks into her voice, and drops her head forward slightly, letting her silvery blue hair hang forward. “We were just hoping for a little bit more to go off of. But, what you’ve given me is still helpful. It will give us an idea of what to prepare for.”

Summoning up a bit hope, she straightens her posture she steps away from the wall, and walks towards the hallway archway into the living area. “Thank you, and we’ll try to be ready to act upon any more information you find out.”

With a final goodbye, Aristespha slowly shakes her head at the aetherphone, slips it back into her shorts pocket, and glances around the room. Cideeda narrows her emerald green eyes at the screen of her laptop upon the tabletop, sits back in her chair at the dining table, and taps the fingertips on both hands together. Her furry ears flick and perk with her plotting thoughts, and she grits her teeth briefly at the spreadsheet of statistics and unit points value calculations, with the latest rules errata open. Dretphi folds up a shirt, places it upon one of the few stacks surrounding her on the couch, and reaches into nearby hamper. A dramatic scene of a grath show plays out on the television, and she pauses as the tension peaks. The camera shifts for the surprise reveal, and Dretphi blinks in an incredulous shake of her head with frustrated mumbles of grath.

Aristespha’s violet eyes settle upon the empty, inviting recliner. She swiftly moves in front of the coffee table, plops down into the plush couch chair, and pulls the side lever. As the chair back tilts and the leg rest extends out, she melts in the cushions and sighs. Sebastian’s ethereal form drifts in from the hallway, floats above the couch, and lands next to the recliner. Kneeling down, he presents a comforting smile to Aristespha, and calmly inquires. “So... How did the call with Hackle go, dear?”

Contorting her face between different emotions, Aristespha settles upon an unsatisfied smirk and weakly shrugs her shoulders. “Not terrible. But... Not great, either.”

Sebastian chuckles lightly and rolls his eyes playfully. “So, about the usual for us, then?”

With a quick snort, Aristespha slowly nods and parts a gradual smile on her ivory face. “Yes, Sebastian. Typical.”

Lifting a curious brow, Sebastian releases a ghostly sigh and glances over to Dretphi and Cideeda. “Want to reveal the details?”

Aristespha stretches out on the recliner, sinks deeper into the cushions, and ponders a moment. “Of course, but I just wanted to relax a bit and collect my thoughts a little first. Plus, might as wait until Bach and Sotalia get done with practice.”

Sebastian glances out into the sunny backyard and nods in agreement. “Yeah. They’ll probably be in soon enough. Looks pretty hot outside.”

An ambient drone rises up in the background and the air conditioning hum speeds up. The gust of air from the wall unit spreads outwards and blows a few stray strands of Aristespha hair. With a twitch of her long, pointed ears, she closes her eyes and relaxes with a long exhale. Sebastian and Aristespha exist quietly next to each other, while Cideeda clicks a few keys on her laptop to study another set of figures, and Dretphi sneers at the developing drama on the television show.

Minutes later, the sliding glass door opens. Bach steps through with a guilty grin and a faint trail of frost mist wafting behind him. Sotalia follows behind, narrows an accusatory stare at Bach, and points to him. “Okay. You PURPOSEFULLY let those frost blasts hit you. I KNOW you can dodge better than that.”

Bach glances over his shoulder, shrugs simply, and reveals a guilty smirk. “Yeah... I lost the match... But, I totally won the war against the heat.”

Sotalia furrows her brow, rolls her golden eyes, and steps off to the side of the coffee table. She shifts into the breeze of the air conditioner, pulls open the neckline of her sports bra down, and tosses her damp, fiery orange, wavy hair in the cooling wind. “Well, you could have returned the favor at least.”

Bach pulls a chair out from the dining table, thinks a moment, and hides a humored grin. “Well, you said use your best attacks. So, I went with the ones that’d give you a challenge. I’m not the best with throwing elemental attacks around.”

Sotalia shifts her weight with a sway, rests her hand on her hip, and stares incredulously at Bach. “Right...”

A sly grin graces her face, and she lifts an examining eyebrow towards Bach. “Maybe you just wanted to see me sweat.”

Blinking blankly, Bach awkwardly averts his gaze away from light and dark skin tone patterns upon Sotalia’s perspiration coated back. He quickly sits down at the dining table, and shifts his focus to Cideeda’s laptop screen of calculations and rules. Sebastian glances over to Aristespha expectantly, and motions towards the rest of the team. Aristespha nods, resets the recliner back up, and stands. She stretches her back out, hems loudly, and addresses the group. “I got an update from Captain Hackle. There is some good news, but not as much as I would like.”

Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia shift their attention over to Aristespha. With a mildly frustrated frown, Aristespha relays the news. “They are still tracking down Noxian. But, the few confirmed sightings of his vehicle put him heading towards Perimeter. They don’t know if that’s his final destination. He’s been avoiding the main highways, so they only have so much information to work off of.”

Sotalia crosses her arms with an annoyed sneer of her upper lip. Cideeda’s furry ears droop with weak groan. Dretphi snorts out a sigh and shakes her head. Aristespha draws in a long breath with a sympathetic smile. “I know. Captain Hackle is contacting Captain Hays, since he has more jurisdiction in Perimeter and the PWZ. The GAA authority runs thins out there. So, hopefully, they’ll confirm he’s at least been to Perimeter.”

Sebastian ethereal form nods appreciatively to Aristespha, stands up straight, and explains to the team. “I don’t think we should make a move until we at least confirm he was recently in Perimeter... Or, at least confirmed to be somewhere for some period of time. I think we’ve all had our fill of wild goose chases, and hoping on crappy odds.”

Around the living area, everyone musters their own agreeing expressions with hints of stale frustration. Sotalia rests her hands at her hips, sighs reluctantly, and shrugs her shoulders. “As much as I want to chase him down, Perimeter is really far to just randomly visit on a hope he might be around there still. Gods dammit...”

The collective mood dims in the room, and the team idles in disappointed quiet. Aristespha measures the morale, steps towards the dining table, and calls out with a grin. “I think we need something to cheer ourselves up. I want to try that dessert place down from the game shop. Anyone interested? My treat.”

Sotalia chuckles to herself and walks to the hallway archway. “I’ll take a little emotional bribery right now. Let me get into something more presentable... and less soaked.”

Dretphi perks up with a smile, finishes folding up a pair of shorts, and digs into the laundry basket. “Allow me to find socks.”

Cideeda flicks her furry ear towards Aristespha, grins toothily, and stands up. “Definitely need to stop by the game shop. See the latest units... Maybe price out a starter army for someone?”

Aristespha laughs and shrugs shoulders. Bach glances over to Aristespha with a thankful smile. “Hey, thanks for the treat. You sure you want to pay for all of us? I mean, I got my own money... for once.”

Gazing down at Bach in his seat, Aristespha shakes her head appreciatively, and rolls her eyes guiltily. “Technically, it’s the compliments of the Evuukian Territories government. My monthly citizen stipend finally got processed out of my government account.”

Bach ponders a moment, blinks as he remembers, and nods. “Oh, right, yeah... I forgot they have a basic income system. Always seems weird that such an oligarchic government would allow that to exist...”

Aristespha shrugs her shoulders, and sorts through her thoughts with her violet eyes. “It’s a complicated issue. But, it actually serves as a bit of an insurance plan for all the oligarchs. Citizens with money tend to spend it. And, when most of the houses are centered around goods and services, they see the returns.”

With a long sigh, Bach stretches his neck out side to side and grimaces. “Okay, that makes sense. Kind of wish other governments did that. Would have made it easier to handle rent and bills a number of times.”

Blinking at her memories, Aristespha crosses her arms, and nods. “It has certainly helped me. Along with the citizen credit system, I’ve stayed out of too much financial trouble. But, admittedly, since I’m not a resident in the territories or working a job paying territory taxes...”

She rolls her eyes, and tugs at the corner of her mouth. “It’s not THAT much.”

Bach lifts an inquiring brow and asks. “How much?”

Aristespha smiles with a chuckle. “Enough to take friends out to get a few treats. Or, a bus ticket back into the Evuukian territories.”

Narrowing a distant stare, Bach thinks for a moment, and shakes his head. “Still surprised that some politician hasn’t figured a way to screw it up.”

A smirk cracks out from the corner of Aristespha’s mouth, and she lifts an amused brow at Bach. “They occasionally try. Usually, it’s some new member of a minor financial house that proposes it. Doesn’t go much further than that. They usually get REMINDED of what happened last time a financial house was allowed to dictate any important policy.”

Bach furrows his brow, and focuses a curious gaze at Aristespha. “Which was?”

Aristespha chuckles lightly, shaking her head. “A massive crash of the economy. A bunch of financial houses cooked up some scheme, and it COMPLETELY backfired. The remaining houses forced the government to nationalize banking, insurance, and investment organizations.”

Blinking in surprise, Bach scratches his chin and narrows his intrigue at Aristespha. “I bet the financial houses weren’t happy about THAT.”

With a foreboding laugh, Aristespha rolls her eyes and rests her hands on her hips. “They weren’t. But, there weren’t many financial houses with active members left at that point.”

Sebastian drifts next to Aristespha and listens in on the conversation. Bach pauses in thought, and cocks his head to the side slowly. “Wait... Active members?”

Aristespha grins darkly and giggles. “Oh. Those living and willing to run the house. Turns out a lot of the financial house members quit, died, or just went missing. For very strange and suspicious reasons, too. Only pieces of some were found.”

Bach blinks, turns his head to face Sebastian, and slowly shakes his head. “Seriously, it there not a chapter of Evuukian history that ISN’T filled with sociopolitical strife and questionable events?”

Sebastian grits his teeth briefly, twists his mouth, and grumbles at a lost. “Uh, not really, bro. It’s pretty drama filled and crazy. It just gets deeper the further you go into it. There’s some crazy stories in the just investigations about even crazier things.”

Aristespha smiles wryly and flits her brow to punctuate the point. “We tend to season it with splashes of bloodshed and steep it in unsolved mysteries, too.”

Leaning closer to his brother, Sebastian contorts his face uneasily and slowly shakes his head. “Seriously, bro. I read up about this one trade union guy and NO ONE... STILL... knows what happened to him. Even stranger kinds of magic couldn’t figure anything out. It’s fucking creepy, man.”

Pondering a moment, Aristespha twists her mouth, and hums in thought. “Yeah. I still believe someone dumped him into the foundation of a government building somewhere.”


Sitting around the coffee table in the living room, the Flames of the Phoenix team sifts, sorts, and studies documents. Chad taps a pencil down a handwritten check list, paces around, and points to Tassilda. “Okay, Tassilda, any word from Daedrican?”

Tassilda nods, scrolls through the long message on her aetherphone, and narrows her light blue on black eyes. “Yes. It seems like that particular area is really close to where we got attacked when traveling with their patrol. Strange.”

She leans over from her seat on the couch, searches the map with a finger, and taps a spot. “The predicted crash site is here. And, we got attacked...”

Sliding her long, thick black nail down the printed out map, she stops at a spot along a road. “Here. So, not too far away.”

Chad grimaces out his concern, and inquires further. “Anything else?”

Searching through the message, a bit of relief appears on Tassilda’s face, and she pulls a reserved smile. “It seems that Appaland made sweep of the area after the attack. Daedrican doesn’t know any details, but rumors are they cleared out any trouble in the area.”

Nodding at the statement, Chad flicks the pencil for a check mark on a bullet point. He searches around the room, and settles his gaze upon Trakenthin. “Anything strange in the mission information?”

Trakenthin flips through a few more pages, rests the packet down next to him, and picks up a sheet of notes. “Significant mentions of spirit activity. Not surprising with weird zones in the area.”

Deedri’s furry ears perk up. She blinks to attention, and smiles eagerly, searching for her aetherphone. “If that’s a possibility, I know someone who could give us advice on such. At least, she’ll know what we need to read up on.”

Chad smiles appreciatively, and confirms. “Any wisdom they could provide would be useful. Please check with them.”

Navigating through a few menus, Deedri brings up her contacts, slides through the list, and taps open a new message with Aristespha listed as the recipient. Modoran stretches his arms out, settles back into the couch, and rubs his eyes. Chad turns his head to Modoran, and queries. “Um, anything new on your end, Modoran?

Modoran blinks back to awareness, nonchalantly glances over to the Chad, and shrugs his shoulders. “Nothing too exciting. Still trying to figure out the best way to get out there, and the supplies we’ll need. If we get lucky, we won’t be out there too long. BUT... If this thing went too far off course or got dragged off by something, we could be out there for awhile. I hope we don’t need to do a resupply run, but that’s a possibility. So, just charting out a few options.”

Chad hovers his pencil to the bottom of his list, writes out a few new notes, and nods. “Yeah, thought that might be a possibility. We’ll see.”

Surveying the room, Modoran glances to Trakenthin, Tassilda, and Deedri. He settles an investigative stare at Chad, and casually motions him over. “Hey, could you look at this route and tell me what you think?”

Stepping over next to Modoran, Chad kneels down and studies the highlighted roads that compromise a few possible routes. “Yeah, I think one of these could work just fine. I don’t think there’s too many options to get out there.”

Modoran nods in agreement, leans closer to the map, and directs a whisper out the side of the mouth. “Where the hell is Veevi at?”

Chad eases out a defeated sigh, rolls his eyes, and gradually shakes his head with a quiet reply. “She’s still fucking hung up on being voted down. Still refusing to leave her room for anything apart from show related shit.”

He works through the discomfort on this face, draws a long breath in, and presents a positive tone against waning confidence. “Maybe, she’ll be better once we are on the road... Maybe...”

Modoran glances over briefly at Chad, pats him lightly on the back, and nods. “We at least appreciate the effort.”

A weak smile emerges at the corner of Chad face.


Staring distantly, Nash eases back into his office chair with a long metallic squeak, and grumbles out a groan. His eyes scan over the long list of unread messages on his computer display. His attention wanders over to the stacks of paperwork upon his desk. His focus tries to escape from the impending work, and finds no relief upon the row of wall mounted monitors with scattered warning alert messages. He sinks into the seat further, and deflates at the surrounding, building work.

A knock sounds out from the office door, and the door opens. Harvos ducks his head down reflexively for his horns to clear the doorway, steps into the room, and surveys the scene. With an awkward smirk, he shakes his head and snorts with a commiserating tone. “So... You too?”

Nash slowly shakes his head in silence. Harvos steps over, pulls a rolling chair over in front of Nash’s desk, and sits down. Leaning back in the seat, he draws in a long breath and groans. “Good gods. Those investigators have been practically camping out in my department.”

Nash laughs, and grumbles. “Fuck me. If they keep on researching anymore of the databases, I might consider offering them residency. I mean, they’ve technically done more research than most of my graduate candidates.”

The two sit in silence for a minute and wearily idle. Harvos rubs his temple and inquires. “Relayed anything more to Aristespha?”

Shaking head, Nash rocks the back of his office in repetitious, faint creaks, and sighs. “Nothing really to say. Plus, at this point, I’m pretty sure the investigators know more.”

Harvos closes his brown on black eyes, rubs his forehand, and grumbles. The two quietly commiserate in the academic background drone of the office. A chime rings out from Nash’s computer. Nash squints his gaze at the screen, cocks his head to the side, and puzzles. He opens the message, reads the text, and flits his eyes wide in surprise. “Well, okay...”

Harvos gets up, steps around the desk, and leans to look at the screen. Nash clicks through a few programs, opens up a collection of maps and data dumps, and ponders out loud. “This is from my friend at the aetherphone network company. Since he got legal clearance, he’s been sorting through the rough data logs they collect. He found something strange...”

The two study a familiar map of the area with layered wide, color paths. Nash slowly pulls his head back at an uncomfortable realization. “Oh... Shit...”

Harvos’s confusion grows along with his suspicion, and he fights emerging discomfort coming from his subconscious. “There’s something unsettling here, what is it?”

Nash taps his finger on the screen, gazes at Harvos, and explains. “The logs don’t contain high resolution position data, just general area tracking. My friend tracked three phones. The two suspicious ones, and mine. Now the suspicious phones only came online when they got on campus. But, look at the areas they traveled.”

Harvos narrows his analytical stare upon the display, visually sorts through data, and gawks at a realization. “What the fuck? One of those phones followed almost the same route as your phone.”

Nash nods and taps an end point of the wide, general the path. “Yeah... We were riding with Dr. Dawkins during that trip.”

Blinking in thought, Harvos pulls over a chair, sits down, and ponders. He glances over to Nash worried. “You don’t think that Dr. Dawkins is...?”

Nash shakes his head uncertainly and mulling over the idea. “No... Not willingly. But, what if Isaac had been keeping tabs on his old boss? Maybe caught wind of him coming over?”

Slowly rocking his head as the theory develops, Harvos eases out an uncomfortable breath and processes the clues. “Yeah. Isaac sees the opportunity. Gets his accomplice to follow Dr. Dawkins and us. Keep an eye out. Isaac runs in, grabs the whatever he was looking for when no one is around, and clears out. A clean enough operation.”

Both settle back in their seats, work through surging unease, and grimace in unison. Nash blinks while shaking his head. “That’s so fucked up. Oh shit... We need to check on Dr. Dawkins. Maybe he’s noticed something weird at his house lately?”

Harvos nods quickly, and scratches his chin thoughtfully. “Isaac knows how to use a few our of old cracking tools. I wouldn’t be surprised if something of Dr. Dawkins has been compromised. He does live on the outskirts of town, so probably no one would notice Isaac spying on him.”

Nash studies the map again and grumbles. “Fuck, I wish they kept better logs for tracking data. It’s too big of a possible area to narrow down anything in this town. Oh well... At least, we didn’t run into Isaac.”

Blinking at the idea, Harvos cringes and shakes his head. “Gods, I wouldn’t know what to do.”

Lifting an amused brow, Nash snorts. “Fuck that, my fat ass would run. Probably have change my underwear afterwards, but I’d be alive to do so.”

Harvos nods in full agreement, and continues to stare dumbfounded at the data on the screen.