With a powerful kick of his boot, the physically imposing Trakenthin shoves the beaten and battered drone grinding across the stonework floor of the large hallway. After he leaves the tall entryway, Chad and Modoran close massive exterior doors on the huge main building at the edge of the clearing. Trakenthin drags over a large log in front of the doorway, and guides it in place with the help of Chad and Modoran. The trio stand back, rest and stretch out their bodies. Chad glances over to both Modoran and Trakenthin, shrugs ambivalently, and grumbles. “Well. We found it. Mostly in one piece, but I don’t think they specified what condition we were supposed to keep it in.”

Modoran snorts with an ill-humored tinge, crosses his arms, and smirks. “I don’t think they’ll care. I mean, I think they were expecting us to report back with pictures of the fucking thing crashed in a burnt crater.”

Lifting a dryly amused eyebrow, Trakenthin slowly shakes his head, and sighs as he rest his hands at his sides. “It resembles that now.”

Drawing in a long breath, Chad works off a grimace, pivots around, and rolls his eyes. “Yeah. Hopefully, stuck in there, it won’t be taken for another joyride by a crazed spirit, or whatever else.”

As Chad leads the group towards a larger gathering in morning sun of the clearing, he eyes Trakenthin inquisitively. “You have any trouble calculating the coordinates to this place?”

Trakenthin rocks his head slightly from one shoulder to another, twists his mouth, and ponders out loud. “Land transponder signals are weak here. Enough to get a rough location. Refined with our route from camp today. Confirmed with landmarks. Should be enough. This large clearing would be hard to miss.”

Modoran nonchalantly strolls next to Chad, gazes across to Deedri, Tassilda, the crew, and Veevi, and pries for details. “So, what’s the plan today? I think we’ve gotten everything under enough control for now. You got any desire to explore this place further?”

Chad grits his teeth briefly, uneasily sneers his upper lip, and shakes his head. “No. Not at this point. Sleeping at camp knowing this place was nearby was hard enough last night. I think I’m okay with spending tonight at Goff’s Inn. We’ll leave this place to the Grand Library.”

A smile appears on Modoran’s dusky bluish gray face, and he releases a loud sigh of relief with a trailing chuckle. “Oh, good. Fuck this place. I’m ready to just have to deal with Veevi on the ride back.”

Trakenthin cranes his glance over to Modoran, and sympathetically smirks. “I could sit back with her. Our route back is charted already. I do not need to navigate.”

Modoran shrugs his shoulders with an indifferent attitude, and snorts. “It’s fine. If she tries anything again, I’ll just let Tassilda handle her and keep her distracted.”

Shaking his head with a mild cringe, Chad brushes his brown hair with his fingers, watches Veevi hog the camera crew attention, and eyes either side at Modoran and Trakenthin. “Speaking of which... Would one of you want to use the laser pistol? Thought I’d ask before keeping it myself.”

Modoran searches his mind a moment, and waves off the offer. “Nah. Honestly, that bow seems powerful enough for me. Also, it can be quiet and harder to track back if I need to fire it from hiding. So, it works for my tactics.”

Nodding in agreement, Chad glances over to Trakenthin and expectantly awaits an answer. Trakenthin shakes his head, pats a side compartment on upper leg section of his armor suit, and smirks proudly. “I have a suitable weapon.”

Both Chad and Modoran snap their attention towards Trakenthin, and puzzle at the new information. Chad cocks his head curiously to the side, blinks in thought, and narrows an examining gaze at Trakenthin. “Really? Why haven’t you used it before?”

Trakenthin frowns slightly, and sighs with a disappointed groan. “Not as proficient with it. Would not have been effective against enemies we faced.”

A smile appears on his dark bronze face with a warm tone. “My house mother made it for me. I am careful with how I use it. Not for trivial tasks.”

He pauses a moment, eyes the unconvinced expression on Chad and Modoran’s faces, and sighs with an embarrassed grumble. “The ammunition is expensive.”

Both Chad and Modoran nod understandingly. As the trio close in on the rest of the team and crew, Chad shakes his head and grumbles. “I’ll just keep it for now. Probably best that way.”

He steps forward of Modoran and Trakenthin, clears his throat, and calls out to the team and crew. “Everyone. The drone has been stowed away safely in the big, main building. Once we get a good signal, we’ll inform the Grand Library where to pick up their property.”

Tassilda lifts an ill-humored brow, rests her hands on her hips, and grins slightly. “Or, what remains of it.”

Chad glances over to Tassilda, rolls his eyes at the situation with a smirk, and shrugs his shoulders. “As Modoran pointed out, they were probably expecting a pile of parts in a crater. I’d like to think we delivered a little more than that.”

A smiles creeps out past Deedri’s professional exterior, while Veevi tosses her pink hair back petulantly and sneers at Chad. Summoning up a bit of pride and posing for the attention of the cameras, Chad announces. “As far as I am concerned, The Flames of the Phoenix delivered, and went well above and beyond the call of duty on this one. I think we’ve honored our contract. And we certainly deserve a proper victory celebration...”

He grits his teeth, darts his eyes around the ancient trees surrounding the massive clearing, and stiffen his upper lip. “After, we get far, far away from this really creepy place. Right? I think we’ve learned enough about this place for one mission.”

A chorus of agreeable voices sound out from the rest of team and crew in the gathering.


A lone evuukian man stands in front of aged, weathered signs, and glares at them disdainfully. Focusing his yellow eyes at the various warnings in different languages, a mean smirk pulls across his light-gray, green hinted face. Drawing back his boot, he angrily punts the sign post from underneath and sends the placard tumbling through the air, the reflective GAA logos shimmering in the noon sun. Stepping through the overgrowth the of the forest, he slowly navigates down a narrow passage through the thick, old trees. Minutes later, he arrives at a simple clipped top, pyramid building, and stiffens his posture. Brushing the debris off his leather armored outfit, the evuukian man tosses his long black hair back, and eases off his backpack. He carefully approaches the decaying, concrete exterior of the structure, and maneuvers closer to a large metal exterior door.

Narrowing an examining stare at the entryway, he notices a newer locking hardware on the building, and focuses his glare upon a device welded to the door and frame. Sneering at the keyholes, keypad, and display on the front of the locking block, he lifts his hand in front of the mechanism and concentrates. With a slow, purposeful breath, faint flows of prismatic magical energy swirl down his arm, condense in his palm, and sink into the GAA branded device. Seconds later with the growing energies, the display on the system flickers to life with a warning message beeping loudly. As more flow pours into the locking block, the alert grow distorted, strained, and warped. With a faint spark of white in the evuukian man’s glowing yellow eyes, a surge of magical energy forces into the device. A loud shrill beep screams out, crackles of electricity arc inside the system, and a large plume of smoke erupts from the joints in the chassis. The display goes dark from the soot soaking through. An orange-red glow radiates from inside the unit as the torrent magical energy rips into the system. Moments later, the block drops unceremoniously to the concrete patio, and specks of solidifying molten metal splatter out.

The evuukian man kicks the smoldering mechanism out of the way, and turns his focus to another metal box. Lifting the lid up, he studies the old, worn keypad under the layers of dirt and grime. He brushes off the collected debris with his his leather gloved hand, and firmly wipes off a series of numbers and letters in the lower corner of the panel. Resting his backpack down, he rummages his arm deeper than the length of the bag into the space, and retrieves a ragged binder of paperwork. Eyeing the uncovered letters and numbers, he flips through vastly changing types of notes and documents, and stops at a technical printout. Tapping thoughtfully upon a long, highlighted series of numbers, he reaches a hand over and carefully types in the code. With the final digit entered, he presses a confirmation button.

Seconds pass in the quiet of the surrounding forest. A groaning beep sounds of from the panel, and a low hum of machinery resonates. A crunchy grind sounds out from the large metal door, and puffs of crumbling rust vent out after hard thunks vibrate the door frame. With a final chunk, the heavy closure releases and drifts slightly open. A satisfied grins appears on the evuukian man’s face, and he sweeps his up his backpack. Gripping tightly on the door handle, he slowly pries the old door open, and slips inside.

Wandering through dark hallways with a simple illumination spell in hand, the evuukian man studies the different signs. Following old architectural blueprints, he finds a route through the ancient base. Eventually, he arrives at a dusty room with multiple computer stations, and a large, full wall window into a very dark space. Hunting around the room, the man locks his yellow eyed gaze upon a series of large switches on the wall, reads the labels in the dim light, and notices power meter needle vibrating at the ready. He draws in a hopeful breath, and pulls the large arm of the main breaker. The faint hum of electrical activity resonates through the window from the space beyond. Through the glass wall, a series of loud thunks echo out, and over head lamps flood sections of a concrete floor far below. A sly, plotting grin widens on the evuukian’s face as he steps over to witness the final lights clack on, and studies the massive warehouse of bipedal robots standing on marked platforms. His gaze shifts down upon a console, and he wipes the eons of dust off a faintly glow screen. A menacing taint colors his smile as he watches the status scroll listing active units and equipment load outs. He slings off his backpack next to a chair, settles in the seat, and places a binder near the console.


Peeking over the tree tops, Sebastian’s ethereal figure surveys the area, and he squints his eyes into the distance. He slowly hovers down from the top of the canopy, and flies towards Bach down a path. Keeping just below larger branches in the thin woods, he halts above Bach, crosses his arms, and glances through the wide gaps between trees. Bach stops in the shade of a tree. Gradually pivoting in place, he stares out into the furthest reaches of his vision, studies the forest, and shakes his head. He reaches into his pocket, retrieves his aetherphone, and taps through a few menus. Hearing mumbling below, Sebastian drifts back down to ground and lands next to Bach. He cranes his head over Bach’s shoulder, eyes the digital map on the phone, and inquires. “So, what are you trying to figure out, bro?”

Bach twists his mouth as he contemplates, shrugs his shoulders unsatisfied, and sighs. “Trying to make sure we’re on the right path. Because, I haven’t seen any signs of something that could be tearing up the park.”

Sebastian searches around briefly, nods in agreement, and contorts an uncertain expression on his ghostly face. “Yeah... From what they were describing in the brief, you’d think there was some kind of terror lurking and haunting the woods.”

Scanning the vicinity, Bach waves his hand out to the surrounding woods, and gazes a Sebastian puzzling. “I know, right? But, this looks like any normal park path to me.”

Grimacing as he sorts through his thoughts, Sebastian lifts a quizzical brow at Bach, and points to his aetherphone. “Anything from the others?”

Bach swipes through a few screens, selects a messaging program, and reads the latest texts from Aristespha, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. “Yeah, and they’ve haven’t found anything worth mentioning either.”

Sebastian scratches his chin and ponders out loud while he stares distantly. “The night watch reported seeing strange lights, the sounds of trees being taken down, and a lot large things moving around.”

He twists his mouth indecisively, rocks his head side to side, and hovers in place. “Maybe that’s spirit phenomena? That would explain strange lights, but the other weird noises... I don’t know. Aristespha wasn’t so certain either.”

Bach shrugs his shoulders, glances down the path in front of him, and motions that direction. “Well, maybe we’ll find something up ahead.”

Sebastian nods and floats along side his brother as the two continue down the path. Minutes of quiet walking and scouting pass on by. Bach blinks as a thought rises to the front of his mind, and aims a curious gaze at Sebastian. “So... I’ve been meaning to ask this... When did you and Aristespha decide to be become a serious couple? I mean, when did you think she was the one for you?”

Sebastian’s hovering slows, and he blinks blankly at Bach. With his transparent, blue eyes darting around for pieces to a proper answer, he grits his teeth and stumbles out a rambling response. “Well... Um... You see... I- We- Um- Well, we just came to a conclusion after so many other events that... we might actually have something worth pursuing.”

Narrowing an inquisitive stare, Bach trains his attention upon Sebastian, and pushes the question. “Yeah, but what was the moment? The key event? The thing that made you finally realize it?”

Contorting an uneasy expression on his face, Sebastian tries in vain to keep the slight squirms of discomfort from creeping into his posture. “I wouldn’t say there’s was A event. More like a series of smaller events that built up over time. And, I’d like to think it just eventually became recognizable as a relationship... And, we came to acknowledge that fact and...”

He shifts his averting gaze back to meet Bach’s unconvinced glare, and sighs out his defeat. “You ain’t accepting that bullshit, are you, bro?”

Bach slowly shakes his head, and grumbles. “Fuck, no.”

Sebastian slumps his shoulders, lifts his head up to stare at the afternoon sky, and groans as he rolls his eyes. “Fine. I was trying to dress it up, and make it sound like either of us had a clue. But, really, bro... We were doing all kinds of couple things, really. But, the both of us were just in active denial of the possibility.”

Stopping abruptly, Bach lifts a bewildered eye brow at Sebastian, and cocks his head to the side. “You, actively avoiding relations with a beautiful woman?”

Crossing his arms defiantly, Sebastian narrows an annoyed stare at his brother, and ethereally sighs. “First. Fuck you. Second. Yes. Okay...”

He rolls his eyes at himself, slowly shakes his head with tinges of embarrassment, and grimaces. “In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Cideeda and Dretphi heard about our group by my unprecedented failures at flirting with them. And, Sotalia is my ex. Where I seem to fail romantically, I oddly succeed at recruitment.”

Bach blinks his blue eyes a few times, turns his gaze away contemplatively, and processes the information. He gradually aims his curiosity back Sebastian, scratches his chin, and twists his mouth. “Wow... I mean, I had some suspicions, but I didn’t want to inquire and... Now, I REALLY don’t know how to approach these new subjects.”

With a humored snort, Sebastian holds up his hand to Bach with a calm smile. “Sotalia and I were decent together in the short term. But, we realized that long term, romantically... We’d eventually tear each other apart. So, we decided to ease it back. Stay good friends and adventuring partners.”

Nodding at the explanation, Bach pauses, draws in a long breath, and inquires further. “Okay... Still doesn’t explain the active denial thing.”

Sebastian pinches the bridge of his nose, and eases a long ethereal groan. “Long story short, bro... I just decided to not pursue any kind of romantic relationships for the time being. I mean, you know my track record up to and including college. My failings thankfully got together a really great team. And, with Aristespha... I just was not looking. For once, I decided to focus on other things. I mean, it just didn’t dawn on me that it was a possibility.”

Bach chuckles, shakes his head, and smirks. “Figures. When you aren’t looking, it happens.”

He thinks a moment, lifts his head up at a revelation, and gazes at Sebastian. “Wait. So your ex played matchmaker with you and your current girlfriend.”

Sebastian blinks, awkwardly grins, and shrugs his shoulders. “Yeah, bro. Yeah... A bit weird. But, I can’t really complain. And thankfully, Aristespha and I figured we should try being a couple when we did. Otherwise, I think Sotalia was plotting to somehow lock us up in a room and until we fucking figured it out.”

Narrowing his distant stare, Bach searches the top of his head, sorts through the possibilities, and gradually nods in agreement. “You know... I could see her doing that. Yeah... That is in the realm of what is she capable of.”

A chime rings out from Bach aetherphone, and he glances down at the new message prompt. “Huh, Cideeda and Sotalia found something weird down their path.”

Sebastian pivots in place, searches the park paths nearby, and motions towards the possible directions. “So, where do we go?”

Bach checks his phone, brings up a map, and points towards a passage at the next intersection. “That one should take us where they’re at.”

Sebastian hovers along side his brother, and the two pick up the pace down the route. During the quick walk, Bach directs his voice to Sebastian. “So, you never answered my question. When did you and Aristespha figure out you were couple?”

An amused, awkward grin appears on Sebastian’s face, and he fails to contain the humor in his voice. “Well, honestly, it was somewhere after she’d yanked my shirt off and her taking her shirt off that it dawned on me that we might have something.”

Bach shakes his head in humored disgust. “Really, man?”

The brothers travel down a long park path, and arrive at a picnic area. Sotalia stands with her hands on her hips, tosses her wavy, fiery orange hair back, and waves at Sebastian and Bach. “If this isn’t something, I don’t know what is.”

She points over underneath the shade of a large, old tree, and watches Cideeda examine a large patch of turned up dirt. “Something has been digging up the place. Some small trees were knocked down and the bark was all scratched up.”

Cideeda digs through a patch while sniffing the air, grabs hold something in her clawed fingers, and pulls up a small dark fungal mass. Studying the roughly round ball, she glances back over to Bach, Sebastian, and Sotalia, and presents her findings. “I think something was trying to dig up these truffles, maybe?”

Aristespha and Dretphi arrive from another path, and join the gathering. Dretphi steps over to Cideeda, holds her gauntlet covered hand out, and curiously inquires. “May I see that?”

Cideeda hands it over, stands up, and brushes off her body suit. Dretphi closely examines the fungus, lifts her visor up on her helmet, and carefully smells the truffle. “It is a truffle. This variety can be found in this area.”

Aristespha lifts a sly brow, and smirks. “Well, that’s certainly a little bonus for this job. I wonder if there’s any more left.”

Cideeda grins toothily, perks her furry ears, and slowly walks near the different patches of up turned dirt. “Let me check.”

Dretphi pauses in thought, lifts her head up from studying the truffle, and surveys the ground in the area. “Has anyone seen tracks?”

Sotalia motions over to the edge of the forest nearby, and waves her hands out to a muddy section of dirt. “Yeah, but they’ve all been trampled over so many times. And, I don’t know what I’m looking for.”

Quickly stepping over to the patch, Dretphi kneels down, and glances over the deep split hoof impressions in the soil. Her steely gray eyes widen, and she sits upright, searching the area. “Wait. These are...”

Cideeda’s furry ears perk to a noise coming from stirring brush, and she points a claw tip over. “Hey! Over there...”

The team readies themselves, and awaits the confrontation. From the bushes, a small dire boar casually pushes through, walks out onto the pathway, and sniffs the air. After a powerful snort, the dire boar looks right at the team, trots over wagging his tail, and constantly grunts out a series of low, happy oinks. Everyone else lags behind Dretphi’s immediate recognition of the dire boar piglet, and she holds her arms out to the large creature. The massive piglet walks up to Dretphi, and enjoys the petting and scratches. In between the attention, he sniffs blatantly around Dretphi’s side pouch. Bach cocks his head to the side in astonishment, and blinks dumbfounded. “Holy shit, that’s the same dire boar piglet?”

Sotalia cautiously approaches, leans forward to study the creature, and slowly shakes her head. “Gods, he’s gotten big. His spines and tusks have grown a lot.”

Dretphi retrieves a bag of trail mix from her side pouch, pours some into her hand, and watches the large piglet easily gobble it up. As she pets the mane and back of the young dire boar, she smiles happily and explains cheerfully. “Yes. The mother is doing an excellent job at raising them. Well fed. Well cared. Well protected. He is growing fast.”

Sebastian’s expression blanks a moment, and he slowly eyes the area with growing suspicion and unease. “Speaking of the mother... Where is she?”

An emerging wave of concern washes over the team and they start to eye the outskirts of the area. A loud, echoing crack sounds out, and a large protellow plant in the distant forest topples with a peace shattering crash. Through the dense trees on the horizon, a magical glow illuminates the outline of a gigantic creature and several other smaller critters surrounding. After the dire boar piglet finishes up the trail mix in Dretphi’s hand, he perks up his ears, and sniffs the air. With a final few happy grunts, the large piglet trots off enthusiastically towards the radiant figure in the forest.

Sebastian nods slowly, points a thumb over to a path, and awkwardly grins. “You know, I don’t think we should intrude on this family outing.”

With a similar consensus, the team regroups. Cideeda plucks out a few more truffles and rushes over with an entrepreneurial grin. Dretphi empties out the rest of her trail mix in a neat pile, gazes happily at the dire boar piglet going to his mother, and rushes over to the rest of the departing team.


Swiftly sneaking across the grass in a small gaps between trees, Deedri darts behind a large tree, presses her back firmly against the trunk, and waits. Her furry, tufted ears flick around the serene background of the surrounding forest, and she closes her auburn eyes to concentrate. After a minute, she eases out a long sigh of relief as her ears droop down. Stepping out from the cover of the large tree, she stares down the path she took, squints down the distance, and slumps the tension out of her shoulders. Drawing in a long, relieved breath, she slowly shakes her head and mumbles to herself. “Lost them...”

The transparency coating Modoran fades off, and he smiles with a nod. “That you did.”

The other voice spooks Deedri, and her tail puffs out with her tensing shoulders. She pivots reflexively around and glares right at Modoran. Her expression warms quickly as she recognizes Modoran. She relaxes and exhales. “Thanks the gods, it’s just you.”

Modoran grits his teeth briefly while holding his hands up, and awkwardly smiles with an apologetic tone. “Sorry... I didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

A sly smirk appears on Modoran’s dusky bluish gray face, and he perks his brow with a chuckle. “You did pretty good at losing them. Once the camera crew lost you, I lead them the opposite direction with one my illusions. They still haven’t figured out how to tell the difference yet.”

Deedri’s ear droop lower and she slumps her shoulders. “Good. I just had to get away from the constant interviews, and them asking every question in the world... again... and again... and again...”

She derisively rolls her eyes at the idea, and visibly cringes as she shakes her head. Resting her hands on the waistband of her shorts, she gazes at Modoran curiously and pries. “What are you doing out here, by the way?”

Modoran blinks briefly, nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders, and glances around at the scenery. “Well, it was a nice day, I decided to sneak out. When I saw you doing the same thing, I decided to help out. And well, now I’m here. So, haven’t really thought about it much further than that.”

An uncomfortable curl at the corner of his mouth twists his smile to Deedri, and he plays off the nervous energy. Deedri smirks at Modoran, and laughs lightly. “Were they pestering you about that bow?”

Modoran rolls his dark blue eyes, rubs the temple of his head, and nods begrudgingly. “Yes. I don’t know what part of, I just found and it used it, they don’t understand. I just needed to do something other than wait for some crew member pester me for action shots with it.”

Deedri rolls her eyes, twists her mouth, and groans. “Well, at least Veevi is distracting them for the most part with her new outfit. Have you told them about the Terra Priest symbols on it?”

With a tight, guilty smile, Modoran shrugs his shoulders, and grins with a playfully dismissive tone. “Nah. They’re big time show producers, I’m certain they know all about the current Evuukian political environment and will be able to plan the episode accordingly. There totally won’t be any blacklash.”

Lifting an ill-humored brow at Modoran, Deedri smirks and keeps a snicker to herself. “Oh, I’m sure...”

The two stand in the small, shady avenue between dense patches of trees in the peaceful quiet of the forest. A minute passes, and Modoran squirms out some discomfort, and raises his voice. “Hey, um... Deedri? I got a question to ask you.”

Deedri meets Modoran’s gaze, perks her furry, tufted ears up, and blinks with a smile. “Sure, what is it?”

Mustering up his will against a surge of awkward tension as he looks to Deedri, Modoran partially grins, and tries to maintain his nonchalant exterior. “After our show contracts are over at the end of this season... I was wondering if I could spend more time with you? Go out and do things together. Maybe share nice moments together? Especially ones that aren’t in the middle of bad situations...”

Blinking blankly, Deedri tilts her head slightly as her eyes wander though the thoughts in her mind, and a puzzled expression emerges upon her fair skinned face. A surge nerves shakes up Modoran’s confidence, and he squirms slightly during his verbal backpedal. “Uh, um- If you’re not- Um, ah...”

The sudden realization crashes into Deedri's mind. Her auburn eyes flit wide, her furry, tufted ears perk up, and she reflexively gasps. Keeping her composure against an overwhelming wave of excitement, she smiles brightly, gazes right up into Modoran’s dark blue eyes, and fights back against the disbelief. “R-Really? I mean, I didn’t think you’d- Well- Ah...”

Hearing the delighted surprise in Deedri’s voice, Modoran watches her voice shy away as she blushes at the new attention, and smiles warmly. “Didn’t think I’d what?”

Biting her lower lip, Deedri averts her gaze briefly in embarrassment, and eases out a guilty sigh. “Well, I’m a fvalian and-”

Modoran softens his gaze at Deedri, and smiles with a genuine, assuring tone. “That doesn’t matter to me.”

Deedri straightens her posture, anxiously holds her hands, and cocks her head at Modoran. “Really?”

Stepping forward, Modoran lifts his hands underneath Deedri’s, and smirks as she eases her grip onto his fingers. “Yes. Not all the houses support that dated ideology. In fact, my family tends to support it as part of their business. In an unadvertised capacity.”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Deedri cracks a slight grin and tightens her hold of Modoran’s hands. “In what capacity is that?”

Modoran fights a goofy smile and snorts lightly. “Well, my family owns a bunch of different motels, hotels, and resorts... That unofficially specialize in unofficial couples wanting their privacy. Especially, from the prying eyes of other evuukian houses. Or, their own. We don’t judge. Hence, why there’s no central brand to identify them.”

Deedri’s mood brightens with Modoran’s words, she gazes warmly up at him. She ponders a moment, curiously lifts an eyebrow, and flicks her ears thoughtfully. “Okay, so how do you know all about this stealth stuff?”

Modoran grins with a nonchalant shrug, and chuckles. “I learned all that from my dad. He was with a mercenary group that specialized in remote surveillance and spying. Turns out his skills were very useful in keeping tabs on people that would bother guests, and convincing them to leave.”

A flush of shyness fill his face, and he struggles against his awkwardness to put a sentence together with an endearing tone. “Anyway... I mean, really... How could I not love the beautiful young woman, the accomplished medical mage, and the wonderful, strong personality before me?”

Firmly grasping Modoran’s hands, Deedri gazes at Modoran, perks her ears, and slowly wags her tail. After moments of a quiet exchange, she works an eager question out of her lips. “So, how long have you felt this way?”

Modoran presents a sly smirk. “Well, it started right after you threw me onto the grass.”

Deedri’s furry ears spring up, and she puzzles. “Really? But, why didn’t you say something sooner?”

Wrestling down embarrassment and pride, Modoran releases a long thoughtful sigh. “I don’t know. I didn’t think you want anything to do with a house-less evuukian that’s practically an ex-con.”

Shifting her grip upon Modoran’s forearms, Deedri smiles with a sly twist, meets his gaze, and presses her claw tips gently as she pulls down. “That doesn’t matter to me. I’m a public school medical mage anyway.”

Focusing upon each other, Deedri and Modoran’s faces gradually move closer as Modoran leans down. Standing up on her toes, Deedri closes the remaining gap and presses her lips against Modoran’s. The two move their arms into an embrace of the other, and hold the kiss tightly. The simple affection heats up, and the two shift to maintain the connection as it grows more intense. Modoran rests his hands behind Deedri’s waist, while she grasps behind his shoulders. In midst of the passion, Modoran puzzles when Deedri’s hand slips onto one of his. He puzzles when Deedri slides his hand down upon the backside of her shorts. Modoran barely manages a guilty flit of his brow, before his expression blanks in surprise as five claw tipped fingers grip firmly onto his butt and an eager giggle sneaks out from Deedri.

Eventually the two ease their faces away from each other, both panting in a daze. Modoran summons up enough composure, smiles at Deedri, and chuckles quietly. “Well... I definitely think we have something we should both explore...”

Deedri wags her tail slowly with a lazy sway, and lovingly gazes up to Modoran with a guilty smirk. “Uh huh...”

Grinning slyly, Modoran shrugs shoulders nonchalantly and sighs. “Well... We'll take it at our own pace, when we are able. I think we can manage that somehow.”

Nodding in agreement with with tinges of disappointment, Deedri cracks an hungry smirk. Stepping up upon a large tree root, she pops up on her toes, tightens her hold on Modoran, and press her lips against his for another kiss. The sudden momentum shifts her balance upon the moss covered tree root, and she slips. Deedri tilts backwards and pulls Modoran down with her. Reflexively, Modoran twists himself under and shifts Deedri over him. The two land upon the thick grasses with an unceremonious thud.

Deedri blinks back to awareness from the post tumble confusion, and finds herself safely in Modoran’s arms. She tilts her head up, watches Modoran shake off the stun, and asks concerned. “I’m so sorry, are you okay?!”

Modoran lifts his head up from the grass, smiles nonchalantly at Deedri, and chuckles. “Yeah. Soft landing really. Are you okay?”

Pushing herself up, Deedri gradually realizes her current positioning, and resettles with a devious grin forming on her face. “Yes. Are you comfortable?”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Modoran glances to either side of him and rubs his back against the ground. “Yeah. This patch of grass feels nice.”

Leaning down, Deedri allows her multi-color braids to fall foward, and rests her hands on Modoran’s shoulders. “Good.”

Kneading her claw tips gently, Deedri lowers her face close to Modoran’s while her tail unconsciously brushes on his leg. “Are you still comfortable?”

Modoran smiles as he gazes into Deedri’s auburn eyes. “Yes.”

Tilting her head and closing the gap for kiss, Deedri mutters. “Good.”


In the living area of the ranch style house, Bach eases back into his dining room chair, and rubs the fatigue out of his eyes. “So, how did that one turn out?”

Aristespha narrows her glowing violet stare upon a tiny, thin sheet of magical cloth, and carefully adjusts it on examination pad with a gentle flows of energy from her fingertips. After studying the material, she gradually nods with a satisfied smile, and directs her voice over to Bach. “Very well done. I would have to test it further and properly sterilize it, but I think I could put this to use.”

Bach winces his eyes firmly closed, flutters them open to a faint blue glow, and shudders his head. “That’s good to know. But gods dammit... That just takes so damn long to make.”

Blinking out the illumination in her eyes, Aristespha quirks her amused brow, and smirks at Bach. “Now you understand why they have dedicated enchanted tools and other devices to make it easier. Even experts in crafting these magical materials with assistance have to take their time. Hence, why it’s so expensive.”

Stretching out his arms behind his back, Bach rolls his neck around, and yawns to a groan. Relaxing his shoulders, he tilts his head to focus on a spot on the tabletop, drops his hands on either side of the area, and grimaces indecisively. “I think I got one more in me. Just really wish I could figure out to the trick to do this. Feels like I’m missing something.”

Aristespha carefully lays out the small energy sheet upon a treated wax paper, and layers a protective film on top of it. “Possibly. But, I truthfully don’t know what it could be. A whole industry has been trying to refine those processes for years. Even as slow as it is, it is unbelievably better than what it was.”

Drawing in a long breath, Bach sighs out an agreeing tone, readies himself, and narrows his brightly illuminated blue eyes. Wisps of flow travel down Bach’s arms, and condense in a slowly forming, tiny magical matrix. Aristespha rests the packaged magical material in a metal medical container. Watching the sluggish progress on the forming, diminutive sheet of energy, she glances over to find the pressure plate puzzle resting near the corner of the tabletop. With an intrigued grin, Aristespha tosses her long, silvery blue hair back, pulls the device over, and focuses her attention upon the challenge.

Concentrating on the energies swirling through his hands, Bach briefly grits his teeth through fits of frustration, and sighs out his disappointment. The magic solidifies upon the growing, thin sheet one miniscule section at a time. Cocking his head to the side as his brightly glowing blue eyes stare out distantly, Bach’s fingers slightly twitch in reflexive patterns. Streams of flow split from the main paths, and form into complex mechanical shapes around the task. Minutes later, the progress continues as tedious as before, and the magical machinery dissipates when Bach frowns with an annoyed grumble. Squinting tightly at some ethereally distant target, Bach’s intense expression eases as hints of discovery rise to the surface. Lifting his head back slightly, an uncertain intrigue overtakes Bach, and his attention refocuses upon the condensing flow between his hands.

Bach’s concentration turns fully inwards, and his face distances itself from awareness. The magical flows surge down his arms, and sections of the energy sheet materialize simultaneously. With each second, the magic solidifies faster than before. Bach’s brightly glowing blue eyes dart rapidly and sort through intangible chaos.

Moments later, Sebastian’s ethereal form phases swiftly through the wall behind Aristespha, and he glances around concerned and bewildered. He turns his attention to Aristespha and relays his worry. “Um, dear? You aren’t doing any weird magical tests or anything? The sword is resonating with something strange nearby.”

Aristespha pauses from tackling the puzzle, lifts up her head, and glances around confused. “No, Sebastian. Bach and I were just working on making the same magical materials we’ve been-”

Settling her gaze ahead, she lowers a scrutinizing stare upon the rapidly forming magical sheet, and widens her violet eyes in a mix of astonishment and fright. “That’s way too fast- Bach?”

Bach continues without acknowledging Aristespha. Craning her head low to the table top, Aristespha peers up into Bach’s blank expression. “Bach?! Are you listening to me-”

Her concern spikes sharply as she watches faint sparks of white flash in his centers of his brilliantly, blue illuminated eyes, and faint prismatic energy veins spread around his eyes. Without hesitation, she grasps hold of both of Bach’s wrists, and yanks them away from the forming magical material. Moments later, Bach’s eyes flutter and dim to normal. Gradually, he pulls himself out of a groggy, hazy stupor, and recovers to some semblance of consciousness. He meets Aristespha’s stare, and verbally fumbles, dumbfounded. “Huh... What... Oh, shit... Did something happen?! Is everyone okay?!”

Wincing in pain and bowing down his head close to the table, he mutters out. “Oh gods, what did I do...”

Aristespha releases Bach’s arms, eases out nervous breath, and firmly inquires. “What do you last remember doing?”

Rubbing the temples of his head, Bach cringes, squirms in blatant discomfort, and collects himself for an answer. “I... I was just focused on forming the flows... As fast as I could. Then, I thought about trying to do the process in parallel a few times.”

Pausing to breathe and wince, Bach holds his head and rubs his eyes. “It seemed to work... After a while it felt easier. Things were... easier to follow?”

A flood of worry appears on his face, and hints of panic trickle out. “Oww... I hope I didn’t do something really stupid. Did I fry myself out or something? Fuck, my head hurts.”

Looking him over with glowing violet eyes, Aristespha shakes her head with a gentle smile, and steps around the table with a reassuring tone. “No. You just pushed yourself way too hard, in a way you, strangely, haven’t done before. We’ll have to talk about this later, but first...”

She grips the back of Bach’s chair, pulls it back with his cooperation, and helps him up. “Let’s get you over to the couch, and put on some mindless show on TV. I’ll brew something that will help.”

Leading Bach to couch, Aristespha eases him down, flips through the channels, and pauses on one show. She glances back to Sebastian and motions his attention to the screen. Studying the show briefly, Sebastian gives a quick nod as he hovers closer. Bach blinks hard, shakes his head, and mutters through the pain. “Oh gods, I’m sorry. I should really be more careful with stuff like that. Shit, I’m such a moron, should have known that was a really bad idea... Fuck...”

Sebastian focuses his worried gaze upon Aristespha. Noticing the unease in Sebastian, Aristespha glances between the brothers, presents a calming smile, and shakes her head. “Bach, you will be just fine. You just found some limits to observe and new pit falls to avoid.”

Aristespha gazes loving to Sebastian as she leaves through the hallway archway, and mouths. “He’ll be fine.”

Wading through a wave of relief, Sebastian floats over next to brother, and coaches Bach through the emerging regret and self-doubt. “It’ll be okay, bro. We just got to be a little more careful next time. And well, you know what to avoid next time.”

Bach aims a weak glare over to Sebastian, and groans out his defeat. “Fucking hell of a way to find out. Couldn’t have read something to avoid this. No, had to go head long into it like a dumbass.”

A wry grin appears on Sebastian’s ghostly face, and he chuckles ethereally. “Well, I remember someone saying that about me a bunch of times.”

Narrowing his meek aggravation, Bach sighs loudly and rolls his eyes. “First. Fuck you. Second. You TOTALLY deserved hearing it the many, many times I told you that.”

Sebastian maintains his ill-humored expression, and shrugs his shoulders to accept the fact. “Oh yeah. No arguing with you there. But, it’s good to know we have so much in common.”

Aristespha walks in from the hallway with a bottle in one hand and paper packets in another. She stops next to the couch, smiles comfortingly to Bach, and sighs. “So you’ll stop beating yourself up, most medical mages experience similar issues. With the detailed, fast, and complicated processes required to work magical flow for our purposes, pushing yourself too hard is almost expected. Every medical mage will brush against that limit at some point.”

She lifts an accusatory eyebrow at Bach, presents a stern expression, and lowers her voice. “But most medical mages don’t know the variety of strange magical tricks that can accelerate them right into the proverbial wall face first without knowing it.”

Bach grimaces, releases an embarrassed whine, and averts his gaze. Aristespha shakes her head, resumes her smile, and dons a gentler tone. “I have some ideas of what exactly transpired, and we’ll discuss them. But, I’m going to brew this remedy. And, you need to watch something mindless on TV to distract you.”

Nodding in agreement, Bach settles upon the couch, eases out a breath, and directs his voice to Aristespha. “Thank you, Aristespha.”

With a simple acknowledging wave of her hand, Aristespha walks past the dining table into the kitchen area. Sebastian turns his attention to the screen, and points out the start of a crafting demonstration show to Bach. “Huh, I always wondered how those were made.”

Bach and Sebastian idly listen to the theme music and narration upon a backdrop of industrial assembly videos.