Aristespha’s violet eyes pick through her mind, and she furrows her disconnected stare. Tapping her finger on the back of her aetherphone pressed against her very long, pointed ear, she nods her head upon her pillow, and contemplates. “I’m trying to remember anything else to tell you.”

She sits up upon her bed, crosses her legs, and hums thoughtfully. “If you got the books I told you get, the first few chapters will give you all the basics. Most usually start with safety protocols and identification criteria. So, for what you will probably experience, that hopefully be enough. I’d make sure everyone on the team reads up the quick rules of engagement with spirits.”

Listening to the voice at the other end of the call, she snarls her upper lip, and rolls her eyes with a commiserating sigh. “Gods, I can imagine from what I’ve seen. You’re just going to have to be blunt with Veevi. Though... Given her behavior, even the basic three rules are going to prove difficult to get through her thick skull.”

Drawing a deep breath, Aristespha releases a long, exhale with an understanding smirk, while listening to the response. She cracks a smile, and chuckles lightly. “I heard. Well, I won’t keep you. Keep me updated, and please call or message me if you have other questions. I don’t think we are doing anything too demanding for now, so I should be able to get back to you quick.”

Saying a goodbye, Aristespha taps the phone screen to end the call and slowly shakes her head. “Gods... Be careful...”

She idly glances around the room, eases out a sigh, and watches the morning sun reflect off the green leafy trees out her bedroom windows. She leans over to the edge of the bed, reaches her hand out to the handle of the sword, and taps it with glowing violet eyes. A few moments later, Sebastian’s ethereal form materializes in front of her. “Yes, dear?”

Aristespha smiles lovingly, and smirks as she pokes Sebastian’s visage. “Nothing, Sebastian. I was curious what you were doing.”

Sebastian shrugs his shoulders as he drifts to a seat upon the bed next to Aristespha. “Well, I was getting a bit too absorbed in a grath drama Bach and Dretphi are watching.”

Blinking out her surprise, she pauses in thought, quirks her brow, and stands up. “Interesting... What’s it about?”

Hovering next to Aristespha, Sebastian crosses his arms and searches his brain for comprehension. “I was just figuring out the general story... But, I think it’s about a young grath woman getting proposed by multiple people to join their houses. Honestly, I think she’s just REALLY indecisive.”

Shrugging her shoulders, Aristespha opens the door to her bedroom and walks through hallway. “Well, I’m curious now.”

In the living area, Bach and Dretphi stare attentively at the television while occasionally sorting laundry. A young grath woman on screen sits on a park bench under the yellow tinted glow of an overhead lamp post. Flakes of snow drift through the light from hazy, speckled shadows surrounding. Sniffing with tears in her eyes, she tightens her arms around her heavy coat, and slowly shakes her head sadly. A male voice off screen speaks a concerned phrase of grath, and Americ subtitles appear. “Why are YOU Here?”

The camera pans over to a young grath man gazing with concern. He patiently waits for the young woman to glance up with a frown, and sighs sympathetically with eloquent grath, as the Americ subtitles struggle. “*Pulled* *Torn* Given -choices-? NOTHING to -choose-... (Still) Your decision. (Yet) -Never- your *options*... ...?”

Bach narrows his puzzled blue eyed gaze at the screen, cocks his head to the side, and leans a whisper over to Dretphi. “So, the three dots and question mark at the end were for that trailing tone?”

Lifting a curious brow, Dretphi sounds out a similar questioning shift of her voice and awaits Bach’s response. Bach thinks a moment, and puzzles visibly. “Yes?”

With a warm smile, Dretphi shifts her attention to Bach, and nods. “Yes. Explicit prompt to respond. Different variations to match intent.”

The camera zooms out to capture both the young grath man and woman, under the cone cast of contrasting light against the dim ambient mix of night and thicker puffs of snow. The young woman bites her lower lip uncertainly and shakes her head with sad frown and depressed grath. The subtitles attempt to capture the moment, questionably. “(Yes/No)? -*Hard*-! Why is THIS **difficult**? SHOULD be delighted with ANY. (Yet) ...?”

The grath man twists his mouth contemplatively, gazes up at the falling, thickening fluff, and shrugs his shoulders under his jacket and scarf. With a hopeful, slight smile, he gazes warmly at the woman with a simple grath response, and clearer subtitles. “*None* are -owned- by YOU? -*-”

With a graceful, slight bow, the grath man pivots, and calmly strolls down the crunchy, snow-covered sidewalk towards the distant light of a diner. The young grath woman’s eyes widen with each passing second, and she stands up quickly from the bench. Watching the man walk away, the camera focuses on her contorting face and the mix of emotion bubbling to the surface. Scratching his head, Bach pauses from sorting through socks, curiously eyes Dretphi, and inquires. “That last ending tone sounded different? The subtitles were different, too.”

Dretphi maintains her focus on her screen, and briefly comments out the side of her mouth. “Affection implied.”

Bach blinks briefly, snaps his gaze back to the screen, and narrows his attention. “Wait? What the hell is he doing now? I thought his role in the show was to drop advice occasionally...”

Agreeing with the same suspicion in her tone, Dretphi grumbles slightly as she unconsciously leans closer to the television. “What will she-”

The young grath woman lifts her head up, gazes at the young man with a smile, and rushes over to walk along side him. Seconds of silent, peaceful travel, she reaches her hand out for his. The scene fades to black as the end of episode sequences plays out. Dretphi closes her steel gray eyes hard and mumbles out her frustrations in grath. Bach settles back in his seat on the couch, and lifts his hands up in the air. “What the fuck? That’s just a rude thing to throw in at the last minute of the episode. Really?”

Dretphi slips out a few tight lipped comments. “They do this often. Frustrating.”

Aristespha uncrosses her arms, rests her hands on her hips, and nods. “Reminds me of a few Evuukian dramas. Always a secret heir for control of the house, or someone goes missing right at the end.”

Bach shakes his head, pairs up a few socks, and tosses them into a hamper. He glances over to Aristespha, and asks. “Did you get Deedri ready?”

Aristespha glances down confused, eyes Sebastian at her side until her mind arrives at a plausible explanation, and shrugs her shoulders. “I think so. Deedri should be fine. I don’t know about the rest of the group. At least, I think most should have the common sense to just keep their distance from spirits.”

Dretphi rolls her eyes, and snorts with a dry smirk. “Most.”

Contorting her ivory face, Aristespha sighs with dismissive waves of her hands, and glances upward mockingly. “Oh no... The pink one brought so much value to the team anyway.”

Pondering a moment, Bach gazes up to Aristespha, and motions towards the back sliding glass doors. “You think there’s anything out the forest next to us?”

Aristespha levels her head, darts her eyes around her mind, and searches the possibilities. “There’s always a chance, but... We are close to civilization, which drastically reduces the odds.”

Bach lifts an intrigued brow, and comments. “But, we are in the path of maelstroms occasionally.”

A memory springs up in Dretphi’s mind, and she points out. “We do have dire boars nearby. I heard spirits draw dires? Dires draw spirits? One of those?”

Crossing her arms, Aristespha rocks her head side to side, and deliberates out loud. “They’re still debating which it is, actually. It is still seen as a chicken and egg situation.”

She contorts her face thoughtfully and gradually nods. “Well, thinking about it... I would guess there’s a better than nothing chance, then.”

Sebastian’s ghostly form hovers next to Aristespha, and he parts an eager smirk. “It’d be good reason to educate my bro on the sword’s spirit detection abilities.”

Bach furrows a mocking stare at Sebastian and quips dripping with sarcasm. “Oh wow, a sword called the Sword of the Spirit Realm has spirit detection?”

Rolling his eyes, Sebastian shrugs his shoulders, and responds with an equally facetious tone. “I know, right? It’s namesake feature even. They totally put some time into implementing, I’m sure.”

He releases an ethereal groan and shakes his head. “I know, bro. It’s one of those things that requires YOU to be using it actively to work. It’s not running at full strength otherwise.”

Sebastian floats over towards the back sliding glass door leading to the partly cloudy morning scene, and glances back to Bach. “So, you up for an educational walk around the woods?”

Bach's interest piques, and he stands up from the couch. “Sure. Need to learn it at some point.”

He pauses a moment, glances to Dretphi, and asks. “You up for wandering around the forest?”

Dretphi smiles, lifts herself off the couch, and nods. “Yes.”

She sighs with a trailing, grumbling frustration. “Need it after that episode ending.”

Bach shakes his head and groans. “Tell me about it. I mean what the hell are they trying to do.”

Sebastian snorts and shrugs his shoulders. “I caught the tail end of that. Where did that guy even come from?”

Scratching his head of longer brown hair and shifting the white streak, Bach twists his mouth as he thinks about the topic. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to make sense. Does that guy just wander around parks at night dropping wisdom to women in troubled relationships? The fuck?”

Sebastian chuckles and perks an amused brow at Bach. “I don’t know... Seems like it’s working for him.”

Dretphi slowly shakes her head, crosses her arms, and grumbles in annoyed grath to herself. Aristespha rolls her eyes, pivots into the hallway archway, and motions down towards the bedroom. “I’ll get the sword.”


Down the long highway with forest bordering either side, a black, dented sports utility vehicle rolls down the worn asphalt. A few car length behind, a convoy of Next Adventurers of Nexus vans keep close to each other. In the driver’s seat of the SUV, Chad maintains a top grip of the steering wheel and stares distantly down the long road. Trakenthin studies a paper map and compares it against a similar digital version on the display of his aetherphone. Deedri glances over the text of a thick book with the title “Tobin” clear from between her clawed fingers, and gazes out drivers side window. Next to her, Tassilda tosses back her raven black hair, resettles into her spot on the middle row seat, and watches a random video on her phone with a stiff expression. Modoran squirms briefly while keeping a nonchalant, cool exterior, and eases himself against the drivers side window of the back seat. Veevi huffs audibly with crossed arms, narrows her pink pupil gaze at the back of Tassilda’s seat, and presses her foot into the seat slowly, repeatedly, and purposefully.

Trakenthin eases his hazel eyes away from the charts, and stretches out his neck. He taps through the menus on his phone, opens up the message app, and selects Modoran as a recipient. “Switch at next rest stop?”

Modoran blinks blankly as he feels his phone vibrate, retrieves the device, and sorts his way to the message. With a casual sigh, he types up a response and taps it the send button. Trakenthin checks his phone and watches the follow up message appear. “I’ll suffer for now. So far, so good?”

Trakenthin glances back briefly and gives a slight nod to Modoran. Chad stirs to full awareness, and notices a large sign indicating a rest stop services and distance. He summons up an encouraging tone, dons a smile, and directs his voice back. “Good news. There’s rest stop in another thirty minutes given how fast we are going. It’ll be a good time to eat and walk around.”

Deedri’s furry ears perk up and she gives an appreciative, acknowledging nod. Tassilda glances her light blue on black eyes up, rocks her head, and returns to her video. Modoran gives a quick thumbs up and eases back. Veevi focuses a hateful glare right into the rear view mirror, and concentrates her visible ire upon Chad. After a few moments of weathering the visual onslaught, Chad’s enthusiasm wanes, and he returns his attention to the road ahead. When Chad stops paying attention to the rear view mirror, Veevi grumbles to herself, pries out her aetherphone from her tight shorts, and opens up a colorful game. When the app loads up, the phone blares out the game’s music and sound effects, and startles everyone with the sudden contrast. In a mix of eye rolls, annoyed twists of faces, and sighs, the rest of the team tries to divert their attention away from the noise. Minutes later, a repetitive, shrill chime rings out from the game. Deedri’s furry ear reflexively twitches away from the source of the noise, and her face winces with each instance of the sound effect bouncing into her mind.

Drawing in a deep, calming breath, Deedri slowly turns her head around, aims a pleading expression to Veevi, and nicely asks. “Veevi, could you turn that down a little bit? Please? That one sound really hurts my ears.”

Veevi begins to form a defiant expression to the request, but allows it to fade when she notices Deedri as the source. After a few moments of thinking, Veevi presents an apologetic smile and turns down the volume with a cheery tone. “Of course, Deedri! I’m so sorry. I’m so used to keeping it loud when I’m in my own room.”

Deedri gives an appreciative nod, returns her gaze to the spirit guide book, and massages her ear. Veevi plays the game for another minute, sneaks peeks around the cab of the vehicle, and grows an unsatisfied frown on her face. With a weak huff, her attention drifts away from the game, and she ponders to herself. The vehicle hits a significant bump in the road and the shift briefly snags everyone’s attention. Chad calls from the front of the cab, and apologizes. “Sorry, everyone. The road is getting rougher. I’m trying to steer clear of the bad spots, but some sections are just... bad.”

Modoran visually follows a passing patch of road briefly, and glances back towards Chad. “Damn, they really give up on road maintenance after a point.”

Chad nods as he eases the wheel and pilots the vehicle around another section of road in disrepair. With a gentle lateral force, everyone swings slightly with the motion of the SUV. Veevi’s eyes flit wide, and a devious smirk appears on her lips. She eyes the space between her and Modoran, nods slightly to herself, and puts away her phone. She lets out a loud yawn, stretches her arms, and watches for acknowledgment. “I think I’ll take a little cat nap.”

Deedri pauses her reading, quietly exhales, and rolls her eyes. Modoran continues to look out the window and studies the passing scenery. Tassilda fights the urge to yawn back, and grits her teeth tightly. Chad checks the rear view mirror, watches Veevi settle for a nap against the back of the rear row seat, and enjoys some relief. Minutes pass on by with the bumpier roads, and Veevi sneaks a peek. She eyes the space next to her, and the distracted Modoran. Chad grumbles audibly, shakes his head, and eases the wheel. “Fair warning.”

The sports utility vehicle veers towards the best approach angle to the gravelly patch of highway, slows down, and navigates scattered dips in the road. With the swaying motions, Veevi’s body shifts too easily. Chad pilots the vehicle through the last section with final bump onto an intact swath of asphalt. Veevi’s form oddly breaks loose of her slumber position and accurately flops over to the side.

A guttural exhale of surprise sounds out behind Deedri and Tassilda, and their curiously piques with the trailing, high-pitch gasp following. Both turn around to gaze back at the rear seat. Veevi’s head nuzzles firmly upon Modoran’s lap, and she presses her cheek upon her draping pink hair down harder. Her hand kneads sharp nails upon Modoran's leg, and each squeeze eases her grip further up and inside his thigh. Faint fabric pops sound out from Deedri’s claw tips as they sink deeper into the top of the seat. Her glare focuses upon the pink haired half-fvalian, and a flush of boiling fury reddens her face. With ears lowering back and tail fraying out, Tassilda senses the imminent overload of rage forming in Deedri, and snaps a stare at Modoran. Holding his hands up and away, Modoran meets Tassilda’s gaze with utter shock upon his dusky blueish gray face, and silently mouths out pleas of absolute bewilderment.

Tassilda shifts her examining glare upon Veevi, and studies her antics as she continues to ramp up her "unconscious" fondling of Modoran. After a few moments, she notices the oddly playful wags of Veevi’s pink, short-haired tail, and aims her suspicions. With a series of quick gestures and quiet incantations, magical flow streams to Tassilda’s hand, and she reaches out to the end of Veevi’s tail with faint electrical arcs forming between her finger tips. Snapping her grasp closed, a series of loud crackles spark between Tassilda’s hand into Veevi’s tail. Veevi’s eyes fly wide open, the fur on her tail puffs out, and she rights herself upon the rear row seat. Directing a hateful glare to Tassilda, she snaps into a fit of rage. “WHAT THE FUCK TASSILDA?!”

Narrowing her analyzing gaze, Tassilda sneers her upper lip and snorts back defiantly to Veevi. “Whatever did I do? YOU were just SLEEPING? Right?!”

Modoran relaxes slightly as the snipping and arguing between Veevi and Tassilda picks up. He releases a long, stressful sigh, and attempts to explain the situation through his dismay and disgust. “I was just looking out the window, and she dropped right in my lap- And, I didn’t know what to do- And...”

Slowly regaining her composure, Deedri focuses upon calming breaths and tries to comfort Modoran. “I know... I know...”

Chad returns his distant stare from the rear view mirror to the road ahead, and slowly shakes his head in defeat. Trakenthin turns away from watching the verbal combat between Veevi and Tassilda, pauses a moment, and leans a whisper at Chad. “Leave her behind? At the rest stop?”

Thinking more than a few seconds with hint of genuine consideration, Chad groans mildly, and rolls his eyes. “No... That would be cruel to everyone else at the rest stop.”


Pillars of bright light beam down from the thick overhead forest canopy upon the small patches of brush and debris scattered upon the ground. Bach maintains a tight grip with both hands upon the sword’s handle, closes his eyes, and concentrates. With long, slow breaths, he relaxes his shoulders and remains silent in the natural ambiance. Seconds later, he reopens his eyes, shakes his head, and glances back at the rest of the group. “Nothing, yet. I think? Still getting the feel for this.”

Sebastian hovers up next to Bach, crosses his arms, and shrugs. “You’ll figure it out, bro. Once the basics are down, the rests comes easily... Except the return to hand thing. That... That one I never used much.”

Bach angles his view over at his brother, and lifts a wary, intrigued brow. “Why is that?”

Meeting Bach’s expectant gaze, Sebastian releases an uneasy, ethereal sigh, and averts his translucent blue eyes with a grimace. “It was always unnerving to have a sword fly right you towards your hand. Tip first.”

Bach lowers his uncertain stare upon the blade in his hand, glances over to Sebastian, and returns to his attention to the sword with a tightening grip. “Yeah... No shit...”

Sebastian rolls his eyes with a grumble, and twists his expression. “I mean, it always righted and placed the handle in my hand at the last moment. But, gods dammit, it’s just fuckin’ unsettling.”

Searching the flora around the forest path, Aristespha steps on by next to Sebastian, and flashes a wicked grin with a giggle towards Bach. “You should have seen the first time Sebastian tried using that ability of the sword.”

A long ghostly groan emanates from Sebastian’s form, and eyes over to his brother. “Free advice, ducking doesn’t help. It just goes for a second pass.”

Bach blinks blankly at the response, gradually accepts the advice, and focuses upon the faintly glowing sword. He pauses a moment, squirms his arms slightly, and glances over to his brother. “Does this thing always feel like it’s reaching... into you?”

Sebastian grimaces, nods slowly, and sighs. “Yeah. You kind of get used to it. But, that’s why I always activated it only when I needed it. Still unsettling, bro. No matter how long you’ve used it.”

Walking carefully forward through the leaf and brush covered passages between trees, Bach relaxes, and focuses his concentration upon the blade. Remaining silent, he slowly sweeps the blade in a pass in front of him, pauses, and exhales his disappointment. “Either I don’t have the hang of this, or there’s just nothing spirit wise around these woods.”

Aristespha stands up from a small patch of plants with colorful leaves, places a few samples in a small wax paper baggie, and stows the packet away in a satchel. “I didn’t quite expect anything like that to be out here. But, I am finding some useful herbs out here. Admittedly, a few I would never expect.”

Dretphi appears from behind the team with little noise, stands next to the group, and presents the contents of a metal bowl with a bright smile. “Got all I could!”

The team examines the nearly overflowing container of blackberries. Bach’s gaze slides over to scratches and pokes upon Dretphi’s hands, and smirks with a bit of concern. “Wow, looks like you had to fight those brambles for every last bit.”

Working through a little embarrassment, Dretphi attempts to casually play off the minor injuries and lessen Bach’s worry. “Nothing bad. This variety has huge berries. Huge thorns. A tradeoff.”

She retrieves a lid from her under her arm, snaps it securely over the top of the metal bowl, and tucks the valuable bounty under her arm. Walking to the edge of a small sunlit clearing, Bach holds out the sword with both hands, loosens up his shoulders, and settles into a readied stance. “Okay, I’ll give this one more try. Then, I’m good for heading back.”

Drifting into his own head, he releases a long exhale, closes his eyes, and waits with the blade faintly glowing and glinting against the sun. A gentle breeze blows overhead, canopy leaves rustle into a surrounding drone, and the beams of sun shift with the movement of small branches. Seconds later, Bach’s face twitches and he turns his head a little. Sebastian uncrosses his arms and searches around the vicinity. Gradually Bach pivots in place, aims the sword a direction, and opens his eyes with a faint blue glow. “I think... I think... There might be something over there? Behind those bushes? Might be nothing, but it’s the first time I felt this.”

Sebastian nods in agreement, floats up next to Bach, and points in the same direction. “Yeah... I’m feeling it, too. Something really small?”

Aristespha strolls up next to the forming line up, and starts gesturing out an incantation. With a sweep of her arms out, a pulse of flow travels out towards the edge of the clearing in question, and she narrows her violet glowing stare. “Let’s see if we have anything...”

She searches the area, visually scrutinizes the section of brushes, and points with a smile. “There IS something. It just floated away there.”

Aristespha leads the way, and Bach, Dretphi, and Sebastian follow behind at the ready. Traveling a few meters past the edge of the clearing, the group tracks down a small, faint glowing entity zipping towards a patch of similar plants. Once near the flora, the small illuminated being casually drifts between different parts of plants, settles upon one spot, and then moves to another. Dretphi furrows her brow curiously, and cocks her head to the side as recognition dawns in her mind. “These are male cannabis plants. Not certain of the species.”

After a few second, the glowing being darts away to another cannabis plant meters away, growing in a vertical corridor of sunlight. Aristespha ponders a moment as she tails behind the moving entity, and explains her opinion. “I believe this is a tender spirit. They’re a very low level spirit that simply seems to tend to the needs of certain flora. No one quite understands the criteria for choosing the flora. But, these spirits are usually responsible for the exotic and plentiful plant life you see in most weird zones. They’re harmless to animals.”

Dretphi studies the leaves of the plant closer, checking the structure, count, and arrangement. A mix of intrigue and confusion builds on her face, and she glances over to the rest of the team with a puzzled tone. “This is a hybrid. A strange hybrid. It is healthy. Better than the environment should allow.”

Sebastian floats behind the tender spirit, observes it leave the last particular plant in the area, and watches it dart right off. “Huh, where is it going so fast?”

Following Sebastian’s lead, the Aristespha, Bach, and Dretphi track down the tender spirit to its next destination. The team travels over the bush covered crest of a small hill, and gaze down in a slight, sunlit valley. Aristespha narrows her glowing gaze, and points to the tender spirit’s new location. The team notices the entity, then become aware of the flora the it hovers around. The group gathers around a huge female cannabis plant in the gentle sun next to a small drainage stream. Dretphi blinks in surprise, and studies the colorful, huge plant closely. “Impressive. This variety I have seen in specific greenhouses only. None this large. Odd to find it here.”

Aristespha smirks with chuckle, retrieves a few wax paper bags, and examines the cannabis plant carefully. “Well, we can’t let this go to waste. THIS is quite the reagent for a number of different medical compounds.”

Bach snorts briefly and meets the similar smirk on Sebastian’s face. “Medical... Right...”

Rolling her eyes with an amused shake of her head, Aristespha lifts a targeted brow at Bach and laughs. “Oh, what do you think that particular potion that knocked you out used as a base?”

Pausing in thought, Bach searches his memories, tilts his head to the side, and gradually nods. “Huh. Yeah, that would explain that.”

Sebastian snorts ethereally, places his hands at his side, and shakes his head. “Oh yeah. That tea Kaleb brewed was always the sure fire cure for post-exam stress for the both of us.”

Bach rolls his eyes, and chuckles to himself. “Well, and that one experimental batch of magically filtered wine. It was nice to have a biologist living with us.”

He gazes down as the tender spirit hover above patches of dirt with new sprouts, and watches it go through a rough patrol of the nearby plant life. “If you could somehow get these guys to a farm and train them right...”

Aristespha nods with sigh, and smiles as she harvests useful materials from large plant. “And, THAT is what spirit mages have been trying to figure out for years...”

As Aristespha and Dretphi study the flora, Bach and Sebastian continue watching the tender spirit go through its motions.


The finely-crafted door to a long, well decorated room opens, and Goff leans in briefly. He flips the light switch on, surveys the three beds, row of windows overlooking the nearby forest, and the large bathroom at the other side of the room. He steps back out into the hallway, bows, and motions for Tassilda, Deedri, and Veevi into the room. “It’s all yours, ladies. If anything is out of place, let me know and I’ll take care of it as quick as I can.”

He signals Chad, Modoran, and Trakenthin to follow, and quickly steps down the hall. “Alright guys, let me show your room. It’s the pretty much the same layout, but flipped.”

Tassilda strolls into the room with a small travel bag strap over her shoulder, stands in the middle of the area, and surveys the beds. Deedri hauls a large suitcase in one hand, lifts up a medical kit up onto a desk in the office area, and sighs while stretching her neck. “Which bed are you going to take?”

Drifting a black nailed finger over, Tassilda settles her point towards the middle bed of the row, and lifts an eyebrow. “I think for your sanity, I’ll-”

Veevi struts on into the room, cuts in front of Tassilda, and tosses her bags onto the middle bed. Tassilda rolls her light blue on black eyes, shakes her head, and groans quietly towards Deedri with a disgusted frown. “Never mind. They’re equally awful choices now.”

Veevi digs through a number of side pouches on her luggage, grabs a few smaller bags and toiletries, and marches straight to the bathroom. “I’m taking a shower. That car ride was SO awful. If Chad had a clue, we wouldn’t have had to make such a trip.”

She slams the door closed behind her, and the sounds of running water fill the background with a subtle drone. Deedri sighs, hoists up her suitcase, and gestures to the bed closest to the hallway door. “You mind if I take this one?”

Tassilda shakes her head, walks over to the opposite bed, and places her travel bag on top. “Not at all. As I said, it’s going to be equally annoying for the both of us tonight.”

Disruptions to the flow of water sound out with splatters and splashes from behind the bathroom door. After a few moments, Veevi’s voice sings out the lyrics to a few popular songs in contrast to the previously soothing drone. Tassilda firmly places her hands at her hips, sways her weight with a unamused sneer, and glances over to Deedri. “So... Any idea what the fuck the bitch was trying to do today?”

Deedri vainly tries to suppress a surge of anger spilling onto her face, draws a sharp long breath, and eases out a calming exhale. “I don’t know. She’s just really trying to stir something up. That’s all I can guess.”

As Deedri sits down upon the bed, Tassilda draws a sly smirk on her face, brushes a few black hairs over her spiraling horns, and walks over near Deedri. Dropping in a seat on the bed next to Deedri, she leans close with a devilishly curious smile, and whispers. “So... Her antics got you pretty angry today... Any particular reason why?”

The faint red tint colors Deedri’s fair skin, and drains briefly in the moment of surprise. Deedri twists her mouth uneasily, squirms slightly as her tail wags erratic, and fights against the swelling flush of light pink in her cheeks. “Uh, um. No particular reason. At all.”

Tassilda lifts an unconvinced brow, parts an eager grin, and chuckles to herself. “You sure? Nothing you’d like to tell me before the camera crew sets the cameras in here? Or... Should I guess?”

Deedri bites her lower lip, averts her gaze briefly, and sighs while undoing the braids in her long, multi-colored hair. “Gods... I hope it wasn’t... THAT obvious to the cameras.”

Down the hallway, in another three person room, Chad, Modoran, and Trakenthin each lay on their choice of bed. The television in the room displays a random channel that no one pays attention to. In idle background sounds and relative quiet, the men try to relax. Minutes of silent contemplation, they each progress on their own methods of decompressing, and remain fairly inert. Sitting up from the bed top, Modoran blinks in thought, swings his head towards Chad, and levels a thoughtful stare. Drawing in a long breath, he rolls his eyes at himself, and breaks the vocal silence. “Okay... Chad... What the fuck is up with Veevi?”

Chad blinks back to awareness, tilts his head on the pillow in the direction of Modoran, and groans. “You meet recently, or just in general?”

Modoran searches his mind, contorts his expression, and shrugs his shoulders. “Let’s start with recent.”

Trakenthin glances up from his aetherphone, and grumbles out. “Then general.”

Rubbing his face with both hands, Chad releases a bewildered, defeated sigh, and shakes his head. “I don’t know. I guess she wants attention... Or, to wreck things... Or, BOTH? She’s been keeping away from everyone. Now, she’s just causing trouble, just to do it, I guess. Or, she’s just taking out not getting her way on everyone.”

Studying Chad’s dismay, Trakenthin hums thoughtfully, and asks directly. “Why her?”

Chad glances over to Trakenthin, and meets Trakenthin’s examining stare. Seconds of visual scrutiny and mental deliberation later, he relents and shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. She went after me. I didn’t refuse. Honestly, I just thought she was just as ambitious as me. She seemed really supportive of doing this whole thing.”

Rolling his eyes at himself, he releases a long breath of disappointment and crosses his arms. “But... Fuck me... It’s really looking like she’s just out for herself.”

Contorting the uneasy emotions upon his face, he shakes his head and just grumbles. “And, she just sees me as a gods damned tool. But, I don’t know what to do about her. I was hoping she’d get better with training and experience.”

Trakenthin nods understandingly, summons up a bit of past trauma, and sternly relays the results. “What she IS does not get better. Can not if she does not want to.”

Chad blinks at the direct wisdom from Trakenthin, settles his head uneasily back on the pillow, and releases a long uncertain sigh. “Yeah... Yeah... But... I don’t know what do. I was hoping things would stay stable until the end of the season.”

Modoran sneers his upper lip, shrugs his shoulders, and holds his hands out to the sides. “Fuck it, man. Just break up with her.”

Groaning at the thought, Chad slowly shakes his head. “Gods, I guess I should. But, then she’d probably get worse.”

Narrowing his stare at Chad, Modoran rolls his eyes and snorts with a dry cackle. “What the fuck ever, Chad. She’s going to be a bitch no matter what you do. At least, have a little pride in yourself.”

Trakenthin thinks a moment, nods to the idea forming in his mind, and relays. “Give her an ultimatum. Her choice. She can work with the team together with you. She can stay at the house by herself.”

Chad’s brown eyes flit wide as the concept takes hold in his mind, and he slowly sits up. Turning to face Trakenthin and Modoran, he furrows his brow at an odd revelation, and gradually nods. “Yeah. We can’t throw her off the team, officially. But, I don’t think there’s anything against not taking her along. Nothing I’ve read yet. Might be worth a try.”

Modoran chuckles, and eases back to lay on the bed. “Hell, knowing those depraved assholes running this show, they’d love to film that drama. And, Veevi would get a camera crew all to herself. She would probably LOVE that.”

Shaking his head, Chad snorts with a wry smirk, and sighs. “I don’t think you’re wrong.”

Slumping his shoulders, he draws in a long breath and rubs his forehead. “After this mission, we’ll have to talk about this more with everyone else. I... I got to do something. I don’t want this to fail...”

Trakenthin nods with a stoic, respectful smirk to Chad, and returns to reading the latest post on Shayuri’s aethersite. “Understandable. I do not either. It can work. It can work well.”

Modoran begins to open his mouth to speak, sits up partly from his bed, turns towards the door nearby. He squints at the shadows under the door crack, waves a signal to everyone else, and directs a loud whisper. “Shit. Crews are here to spy on us. Save this subject for later.”

A knock sound out on the door. Modoran stands up, assumes a nonchalant demeanor, and steps up to place his hand on the door knob.


Mera carefully scratches out subtle details into the latest sketch in her notebook. Staring at the lineart of a evuukian woman from behind, she picks up a colored pencil and shades in the dark green shadows of the woman’s long braids. She studies the forested scene surrounding the central figure, grabs a dark tan to fill the face of the woman glancing back. Sorting through the odd assortment of pencil colors, she carefully blends a mix of blue and green upon the page to fill in the turquoise pupils of the woman’s eyes. Mera stares at the face, sighs out a sad longing, and gradually shifts her focus to the beautifully crafted bow sling over the evuukian’s shoulder.

Surrounding the table at Fval Spice, three fvalian girls of descending ages with black furry ears draw upon pieces of paper around Mera. Katelli pauses from her drawing, gazes upon the scene Mera stares at, and flicks her furry ears curiously. “Who’s that? I see you draw her a lot.”

Mera startles back to awareness, smiles at Katelli, and stumbles with sigh. “Oh, um... That’s a friend of mine.”

Katelli glances up at Mera’s expression, blatantly contemplates with obvious hints on her face, and hums out. “What’s her name?”

Pausing at the question, Mera searches her mind for a route of approach, and eases to a more comfortable smile. “Chel.”

The reserved fvalian girl next to Katelli, sits up in the seat, and leans over to glance at Mera’s drawing. “You draw her pretty.”

A faint hint of blush fills Mera cheeks, and she dons an appreciative grin. “Thank you, Natashalli.”

She gazes over at the rough dress Natashalli indecisively starts to color in before switching to something else. Picking up a few choice pencils from her scattered pile, she places them in front of Natashalli and smiles encouragingly. “Maybe one of these will work.”

Natashalli studies the assortment, lights up at a purple and pink pencil, and snatches them into her painted claw tip fingers. The youngest at the table cocks her head to the side, searches her mind with her light brown eyes, and furrows her brow. “Where is she?”

Mera glances over to the youngest fvalian girl, and flutters her eyes confused. “Who, Jesselli?”

Jesselli lifts a curious eyebrow, sits up on her knees in the chair, and leans over to place her finger on Mera’s drawing. “Her.”

Both Katelli and Ntashalli guide Jesselli’s hand off of Mera’s drawing, and Jesselli scrunches up her face at the other two before sitting back down. Mera gestures everyone to calm down, stares distantly into her mind a moment, and sighs. “I don’t know.”

Jesselli tilts her head to the side, flicks her black furred ears, and asks. “But, she’s your friend?”

Mera draws a long breath, grimaces, and tries to nonchalantly shrug her shoulders. “Yes. But, we aren’t... speaking right now?”

Drifting her attention to the stick figure drawings on her papers, Jesselli dismissively comments. “That's weird.”

Natashalli eyes over to the youngest sister, sneers her upper lip briefly, and whips her tail at Jesselli’s. The youngest sister narrows a mean glare at Natashalli, attempts to swing her shorter, fluffier tail over at her sister’s, and gives up after missing the mark a few times.

The door opens up with a chime, and Cideeda strolls in with Sotalia right behind. Noyando steps out from the back, and smiles happily at Cideeda and Sotalia. “Yes! Hello! So good to see you again.”

He steps up to the counter, places a paper sack on the counter, and checks through the other bags. “I think I have just about everything... Oh... One moment.”

Cideeda nods as Noyando walks back into the kitchen area, and glances back at Sotalia. “So, any thoughts on taking a small mission?”

Sotalia crosses her arms, sways her hips, and holds her hand off to side with her sunglasses. She gestures her deliberation. “I don’t know. I don’t want to take anything that’d be too long, in case we hear from Hackle. But, anything too light... The payout isn’t worth the effort, really.”

Resting her hands on her sides, Cideeda nods in agreement, narrows her emerald green eyes into her mind, and hums indecisively. “I know that feeling. Still, I like the break, but I don’t want to idle too long. My retirement fund doesn’t grow fast when we don’t get paid.”

Noyando returns with a small bag to add to the collection on the counter, and starts to type into the system. “There. Almost forgot. Let me bring it up...”

Cideeda inserts a card into a reader on the counter as Noyando types through a series of menus. With a few final taps from Noyando and a claw tip signature on the touchscreen by Cideeda, the system chimes, and prints out a receipt from small printer. Retrieving her card, Cideeda grabs hold of a few of the bags, and Sotalia grasps onto the others. Cideeda grins happily to Noyando. “Thank you. It smells amazing already.”

Sotalia smiles, sniffs one of the bags, and winces her watering eyes. “Gods, I think this one has yours. Wow...”

Noyando laughs delighted and bows slightly as they leave. “You’re welcome. Come back soon.”

Cideeda pushes the door open for Sotalia, and snorts out a comment. “Well, so long as the next mission doesn’t involve cyber-zombies, crazed security bots, weird giant blobs, or some secret nuke plant... I’ll be fine.”

Sotalia rolls her golden eyes, tosses back her fiery orange hair, and laughs as she clears the doorway. “Oh gods. Tell me about it.”

As Cideeda releases the door to close, she lifts an annoyed brow and groans out. “Oh yeah, let us NOT forget the whole giant dire wolf gol-”

The door seals up and the conversation outside cuts off. Mera halts drawing, blinks as her subconscious mind pesters her, and looks up. She searches around the lobby of Fval Spice, furrows her brow against her confusion, and narrows a stare at Cideeda and Sotalia walking to the humvee in the parking lot. Searching her mind deeper, Meredosia’s cheek twitches with growing suspicion. Jesselli lifts her up drawing in front Mera with a bright, missing tooth smile. “Look!”

Mera returns her focus to the now, gazes upon the drawing, and smiles encouragingly to Jesselli. “Very good. You’re getting so much better.”

Jesselli places the drawing down the tabletop, and explains at the random things happening to Mera, while her older sisters roll their eyes dismissively.