Gathered around the dining table, Aristespha, Sebastian, Sotalia, Bach, Dretphi, and Cideeda listen to Captain Hackle’s voice sounding out from Aristespha’s aetherphone. Audibly drawing in a breath from the other side of the call, Captain Hackle releases a long sigh. “So, that’s the most up to date information I have. Isaac was in Perimeter. The Perimeter Defense Force is following up on leads, and checking what they can for more information. And, Captain Hays is tapping his resources, too.”

Sebastian’s ghostly form darts his blue eyes around his mind, and hums with an ethereal reverb. “I’m guessing most bets are on him going into the zone.”

Easing out a light chuckle, Captain Hackle contemplates. “That’s my best guess. Given what Isaac, or Noxian, has been interested in, the Perimeter Weird Zone is about the only thing that makes sense. If he wanted to disappear and lay low, there’s a number of other places I would have gone to before Perimeter.”

Sotalia crosses her arms, sways her weight between her feet, and perks her brow. “So, are we going down there next? Seems like the place to go.”

Twisting her mouth, Dretphi processes the logistics, and studies a digital map on her aetherphone. “That will require planning. Not a simple trip. Days to get near. If all goes well...”

Bach grimaces briefly, and releases an uneasy sigh as he shrugs his shoulders. “Well, I mean... That seems like the best place to at least hang out. I guess...”

He leans to peek over at Dretphi’s aetherphone, and mulls over the options. “There’s not much else going on in Sippiala Peninsula. So, if he’s not in Perimeter... I agree that he’s probably in the zone. Somewhere in that... huge thing. Gods, I keep forgetting how big that thing is.”

Pointing at Dretphi’s phone screen, he squints at the image. “Does scale say a hundred kilometers?”

Dretphi glances over with an equally amazed expression and nods. Cideeda’s furry, pointed ears flick with her thoughts, and she idly raps her hand of claw tips upon the dining table top. “Yeah, my money is on him being in the zone. Else, why would he have sold the sedan and probably gotten himself a new ride? He’s getting something he can drive in there.”

Hackle’s voice rises up from the background noise on the other side of the call. “That’s been the consensus from both Hays’s group and my own team. Why go to trouble of a shady auto dealer if you aren’t going to stick around? If he wanted to leave for another country, he could have driven up to one of the Train stations and traded in the vehicle for credit with them.”

Rolling her eyes with a smirk, Cideeda chuckles as she crosses her arms and wags her long tail. “Exactly. It’s not like the Train has problems with equipment having bullet holes and questionable pasts. Hearing stories about them from my dad, the old engineers think its bad luck if your vehicle is too pristine anyway. If it already has holes and dings, then the bad stuff has already happened to it.”

Aristespha wrestles an uneasy, nervous tinge in her voice, and rests her head upon her hands. “I definitely believe we need to get down there. But... That is quite the trip, and we will need to book a number of places to stay along the way. We will need to buy a lot of provisions, and...”

Gritting her teeth briefly, her shoulders slump slightly, and she leans onto the back of her chair. Working though the uncertainty, she combs her fingers through her long, silvery blue hair, and sighs out her reservations. “We really don’t have that much familiarity with Perimeter and all the surrounding territories. All THAT is going to be a lot to contend with.”

A reassuring, calm tone resonnates from the speaker of the aetherphone, and Hackle provides a bit comfort. “You won’t be on your own completely. With the recent cooperation of the Grand Library upon this matter and the fact that Aristespha is an official enough representative of the Grand Library, your group will have direct contractor accounts from the GAA, Borderland Rangers, and even the Perimeter government.”

He chuckles out his amusement, and continues. “As it turns out, Isaac’s behavior lately has made a lot of people very nervous about what he’s planning on next. So, they’d like to make sure the one team that’s had luck finding and flushing him out has some funding for this venture. As part of the deal, we’ll put you in contact with trusted groups that’ll help you navigate Perimeter and it’s massive weird zone.”

Narrowing a suspecting stare upon the phone on the table top, Sebastian grimaces momentarily. He searches his mind, and directs an inquisitive tone back to Hackle. “So, what’s the requirements for all this funding? We can’t exactly guarantee bringing Isaac in, at the moment. What’s the more immediate goal here?”

Hackle draws in a breath, and explains. “Well, more or less some kind of assurance that someone is making sure he isn’t left alone. Everyone has agreed to fund your efforts to find and flush him out of Perimeter, at the very least. Personally, I’d be happy to find out what he’s exactly planning on doing next. He’s done very specific things lately, and they indicate he’s got some kind of plan. If we can get enough information to narrow down what that is, the GAA can see about putting some obstacles in the way. And, hopefully that might be enough for you to stop him completely.”

Sebastian crosses his arms, nods his head thoughtfully, and glances over the rest of the team. After a few moments, he cracks a bold grin with the reassuring expressions of the rest of the team. “Well, I think we’re willing to give it a go. It’ll be a lot easier to manage with the funding, and some local knowledge. I’m not going to promise too much right now, Captain Hackle. But, I think we can keep the heat on Isaac and not let him get too comfortable down there.”

Captain Hackle’s voice brightens with the acceptance. “Very good. I’ll get the paperwork and relevant information to you. Meanwhile, we’ll be trying to get you a clearer picture about what he’s has been up to in Perimeter. If we are fortunate, you’ll have a clear direction to take once you get down there. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got said paperwork to put my signature to. You all have a good day.”

Aristespha grabs hold of her aetherphone off the table top, and smiles with hints of relief. “I understand. Thank you for calling and helping us out, Captain Hackle.”

Tapping the end call button on the phone screen, Aristespha slowly shakes her head and briefly laughs. “Not a completely unexpected surprise, but still a surprise.”

Sotalia grins eagerly, and rests her hands on her hips. “Wish it was more narrowed down, but I’ll take it. At least, he’s probably there for a good reason and won’t be leaving any time soon.”

Bach blinks a few times, drifts his gaze into his mind, and hums in though. “I wonder what’s driving him down there... Things keep getting stranger.”

Aristespha perks her brow, and gazes over the team. “Speaking of strange things, I was able to find out some intriguing information from Modoran yesterday... When he was retrieving an arrow he accidentally shot into our yard. There was a lot more going on at those ruins than what we even thought.”


Leaning against the large washer machine in the utility room, Modoran grits his teeth briefly, hisses out the discomfort, and crosses his arms. “So, that’s what the other team dealt with when they went to those same ruins months back. Pretty fucked up in my opinion.”

Trakenthin blinks his hazel eyes, frowns, and slowly shakes his head as he stands near the door. “That is concerning.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Tassilda winces her light blue on black eyes closed, twists her face, and grumbles. She tosses back her raven black hair back over her swirling horns, and groans. “By the gods, GAA and Appaland KNEW about that place with that Terra Priest group... And, just let it sit there? What were they thinking?”

Drooping her furry, tufted ears low over her shoulders, Deedri briefly covers her mouth as she slowly processes the information, and cringes. “I just can’t believe that all was happening there. All those people following that... crazy ideology.”

Modoran smiles comfortingly to Deedri, and shakes his head and shrugs. “Tribalism is a hell of drug. The whole Terra Priest movement has been around for a LONG time, and just keeps showing itself every generation. And, it just gets fucking worse with each incarnation. They used to just be isolationist naturalists that didn’t bother anyone unless you wandered too close to their territory.”

Searching his through his thoughts, Chad slowly paces in the middle walkway between the team, and gradually sways his head in disbelief. “All THIS explains a lot. A lot more than what I’ve got in my head right now.”

He steps over towards the door, cracks open a gap, and listens carefully for a few seconds. Trakenthin leans his tall frame over, aims his ear to the annoyingly familiar sounds of Veevi soaking in the attention of a recording crew. Chad rolls his eyes and groans through swelling disgust. Trakenthin shakes his head dismissively. “We have minutes left.”

Chad shifts his brown eyes over to the wires hanging loose from a small overhead camera, and nods in agreement. “Yeah. The crew aren’t paying that much attention right now, but they’ll start to get suspicious if this thing remains disconnected for much longer.”

A stifling silence holds the conversation still for nearly a minute, and recent memory press down the mood of the gathering. Chad pulls in a breath, and gazes up to the team resolutely. “In the future, we demand as much information as we can get upfront. I mean, admittedly, this was outside everyone’s expectations. But, I don’t know...”

He fights back a guilt-ridden frown, and stiffens his upper lip. “Still, I’m going to try to make an honest effort to prevent this type of stuff from happening to us if I can. I need to do my job right for once. So, I’m also going to try to deal with Veevi.”

Attentions shift towards Chad, and the other members wait intrigued. Chad works through a few uncertain expressions on his face, and addresses the team. “I’m putting Veevi in timeout. She doesn’t get to go on the next mission. Period. Give her time to think about whether she wants to be on this team or not.”

Trakenthin crosses his arms, blinks in surprise at Chad, and slowly nods. Tassilda cocks her incredulously to the side, shifts her weight on the counter top, and props herself up with her arms behind her. “Do you honestly believe she’ll do anything different than what she’s done before? I will fully admit I’m glad something is being done. But, please understand if I think it’ll do nothing other than piss her off.”

An encouraging smile appears on Deedri’s face, and she gazes approving to Chad. “It’s worth a try. Maybe something drastic like that will be just enough to work? I think we can say, from experience, that gentle, subtle measures don’t work with her.”

Chad smirks at the commentary and eyes Modoran. After a few moments, Modoran glances back to Chad, nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders, and sighs apprehensively. “I appreciate the effort. I don’t know if it’ll work on HER. But, I wouldn’t mind going on a mission without her... Because...”

He wrestles down a surge of awkward embarrassment, and snorts. “Between us... I think we got a pretty workable group. Just might need a chance without that agent of chaos fucking it up all the time.”

A genuine smile appears on Chad face, and the team’s mood brightens as they exchange glances. Chad nods at the idea, and chuckles quietly. “Well, be prepared. I’m going to spring this on the higher ups and her when they announce the next mission. I think its fair play after all we’ve been through to surprise them back. But, they probably won’t be happy.”

Dismissive eye rolls and groans from the rest of the team fill the room. Chad rests his hands at his waist, and perks an inquisitive brow at Modoran. “Anyway, did Aristespha mention anything else?”

Modoran’s expression blanks, he eases in a careful breath, and twists his mouth. “Somewhat. Since we’ve been to the place, she told me everything they knew directly related to the ruins. But, there’s a few things she has been informed of that she wasn’t sure she could give out. But, she stressed two things.”

The focus from the group turns onto Modoran’s next words. After mulling over the phrasing, Modoran relays the key points from memory. “She told me to pay attention to the timing of when we crossed paths... And...”

Maintaining a calm, neutral expression, his eyes await the reactions from the rest of the team. “They were trying to force that one girl to work on golems.”

Puzzling silence floods the room, and Chad, Trakenthin, Tassilda, and Deedri ponder the two major hints. As thought processes turn towards uncomfortable possibilities in others, Tassilda’s posture stiffens and she reflexively gasps as she covers her mouth with both hands. Her light blue on black eyes widen in past horror, and her hands unconsciously drift away from her face, trembling. The stark reaction suddenly cements the answer for everyone else. Trakenthin cranes over to check on Tassilda and gazes with concern. Deedri grasps onto one of Tassilda’s hands, and rubs her back comfortingly, while Tassilda focuses on calming herself back down. Chad arrives at the realization with a long, stressed exhale. “Oh, holy fucking shit. Gods damn it. That makes sense now. Fits too perfectly.”

Modoran grimaces and fights through a flurry of emotions with a shake of his head. “Yeah. It’s the same fucking conclusion I arrived at, too. Was really hoping it would just be my wild theory, rather than the one everyone arrived at.”


Stepping through the hallway archway, Bach lugs a heavy, metal container over towards the coffee table, and lowers the handled box next to Dretphi. “One box of caseless ammo. It was tucked all the way in the back corner of the office.”

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Dretphi twists around, slides the crate over in front of her, and opens it up. She inspects the contents, glances up to Bach with a warm smile, and nods appreciatively. “Thank you. You want to help me load magazines?”

Bach shrugs his shoulders, steps over to the other side of the box across from Dretphi, and plops down to a seat. “Sure. Kind of want to sit down anyway. There were a lot of other heavy in the way of this box.”

Dretphi sorts through a pile of empty rifle magazines, stacks a few up in her hands, and gives them to Bach. She motions for his attention, holds a magazine in one hand and a round in the other, and demonstrates putting the round in the magazine. Bach nods understandingly, sets aside the rifle magazines in his hands, and retrieves a smaller cardboard box from the large ammo crate. Carefully, he inserts rounds into a magazine, and occasionally peeks over to Dretphi to watch her. After a few minutes, he notices collection of survival rations ordered near Dretphi, and lifts a curious brow. “We have enough meal packs?”

Dretphi blinks to attention from her work trance, glances over at the roughly sorted pile of packaged food, and shakes her head. “Not enough to feel comfortable. This is a significant trip. We may fall short of our planned stops. Need to be ready.”

Bach nods thoughtfully, drifts his gaze over to the large map bordered by paperwork and tablets, and studies the various pencil and highlighter marks. “Yeah... That does seem like it could happen.”

Aristespha leans forward from her seat on the couch, rests a pencil over a section of highway, and marks out a shorthand note. She slowly shakes her head, stares at her tablet screen, and briefly grits her teeth with an unconvinced curl of her upper lip. “I swear these places get more questionable the further away from civilization you get.”

Hovering upon the couch next to her, Sebastian’s ghostly form blinks hard as he rests his chin upon the palm of his hand, and sighs ethereally in disbelief. “Dear, I’m just amazed these places have working phone numbers. Even if they don’t answer them.”

Rolling her violet eyes, Aristespha guides a few stray locks of her hair over her very long, ivory pointed ears, and grumbles out her distaste. “To be blatantly honest, there are places that might prove worse than staying in the humvee, Sebastian.”

Nodding agreement, Sebastian shifts his attention to the large portion of the map with territory and political area indicators, and narrows his stare at the scattered mix of roads and regions. “Gods... I always forget how big and spread out Perimeter is.”

Bach twists his mouth and shakes his head. “And, it’s still tiny in comparison the Perimeter Weird Zone. I can’t believe enough people live in there for roads and towns to exist.”

Sebastian smirks with a sarcastic tone. “I don’t know, bro. You were living in a town that has less of a reason to exist.”

Pausing a moment in though, Bach gauges his brother’s statement, and eventually cocks his head to the side with tentative agreement. “Yeah... Actually, yeah... You could take Tullachester off the maps, and I don’t think people inside or outside of that town would notice.”

Sotalia steps out of the kitchen, casually struts over to Bach, and holds a vial down next to his face. “Taste this.”

Bach pivots his head over to the small container, and gradually narrows his blue eyes upwards to Sotalia. “What is it?”

With a smirk, Sotalia snorts and shakes her head. “Just water, food coloring, and flavoring. Making sure I got the potion flavoring right before I mix it with the batch. I’ve been trying to come up with some different mixes to mask some of the more potent potions’ aftertastes.”

Smacking her mouth, Sotalia grimaces and scrunches up her face while licking her tongue hard against her teeth. “Last thing I attempted still hasn’t gotten out of my mouth yet, so I need you to check this one for me.”

Bach grasps hold of the vial, sniffs the air above it, and drinks he clear, orange liquid. Searching his mind for the right word, Bach blinks calmly, feels the sensation, and hands the empty vial back to Sotalia. “Mango?”

Sotalia lifts an intrigued brow, narrows her golden eyes at the vial, and hums thoughtfully. “I was going for peach. But, mango works, too. Thank you.”

With a quick pivot, she walks back into the kitchen galley, and returns to a variety of beakers, flasks, and pots. Pulling a fresh ball-point pen from an open pack, she jots down new notes into a book, and raps her long, thick, black nails on the counter top. In the kitchen area, the door leading to the garage opens up. Cideeda carefully presses her elbows against the door, slips through the gap, and walks through with her grease covered hands in front of her. Passing through the living area, she calls out to the group. “Could someone with free and clean hands add pumice soap to the list of things to get from the store? We just ran out.”

Sotalia leans out from the kitchen galley, holds up a bottle of dish soap, and smirks. “Kitchen sink is all yours, girl.”

With sigh of relief, Cideeda follows Sotalia to clean up. “Thank you. Paper towels alone do nothing for this grease.”

Stacking up round filled magazines, Bach diverts his attention back to the map, and closely examines the details. “Still amazing how Perimeter exists so close to that massive weird zone.”

Aristespha nods in agreement, and smirks. “The Perimeter Weird Zone draws in a lot of people for one reason or another. Despite how big it is now, Perimeter started out as a campsite just outside the safest entry point to the zone. Once a few new artifact types were found and extracted routinely, everything build up from there.”

Sotalia calls out with an excited and eager tone from kitchen. “If we go into the zone, I’m allowed to keep things I find, right?”

Aristespha glances around to the rest of the gathered team, draws in a reserved breath, and eyes Sebastian. Shrugging his shoulders, Sebastian responds back. “So long as it doesn’t have the ability to kill all of at any given moment.”

A humored, facetious giggle sounds out, and Sotalia sighs. “Fine. But, those are the FUN ones.”

Aristespha rolls her eyes and smiles amused. Bach analyzes the size and scope of Perimeter and the sparsely populated surrounding region. He studies the visual differences with Amaranth Valley. “We really are going out into the wilderness this time.”

Sebastian dons an intrigued smirk, and asks. “So, bro, you excited or scared?”

Furrowing his brow, Bach blatantly deliberates between the two emotions on his face, and shrugs apprehensively to Sebastian. “Um... Both?”

Nodding his head understandingly, Sebastian smiles comfortingly to his brother. “Yeah. That’s what you should be feeling.”


Leaning all his weight into a pry bar, Chad torques the heavy steel of the black sport utility vehicle’s bumper closer to its original shape. The solid suspension flexes as the chassis rocks with each hard heave Chad pulls upon the tool. He stands back up straight, studies the fractured metal edges, and contemplatively stares. Scratching his head of light brown coiffed hair, he kneels down, inspects the narrowed hole in the bumper, and nods as he reaches for a heavy hammer.

Aiming her aetherphone at Chad and the vehicle, Tassilda taps an onscreen button, and waits for the confirmation prompt from the camera app. She pivots around as loud metal slams ring out, pushes through the front door, and quickly taps up a message into an ongoing conversation with the image attached. Shifting her focus away, she climbs up the stairs to the second floor, and walks towards her room. Noticing Trakenthin’s room door open, her curiosity leads her quiet approach.

Turning her head, Tassilda aims her pointed ears towards a woman’s voice coming from inside. Peeking around the corner, she observes Trakenthin laying on his bed. With an open book upon his lap, a video playing on his aetherphone captivates him fully. Fighting a balance between curiosity and stealth, Tassilda observes the happy smile gracing Trakenthin’s dark bronze face as he watches a young woman delve into the details of the latest book’s glaring plots holes. A genuine chuckle emerges from Trakenthin, and he nods sympathetically to the elaborately described drab middle chapters slog. Tassilda blinks in surprise, and pulls a sly smirk. With a soft hum of her aetherphone vibrating, she swiftly retreats away from Trakenthin’s doorway, and slinks down towards her room. Checking her phone, she sees the latest picture message of Daedrican standing in front of a strange, tattered bipedal robot hanging from a crane. Fascinated by the image, Tassilda finally comprehends the text below and flits her eyes wide. She giddily rushes through the phone menus and taps the call icon under Daedrican’s contact entry. Slipping into her room with her aetherphone to her ear, she greets the other side of the conversation with an elegant dialect of emin.

Down at the other end of the hallway, Deedri’s bedroom door opens, and Modoran casually walks out. With a happy smile, he stretches his back out, pivots around, and bows towards Deedri in the doorway. “Well, thank you for thoroughly inspecting those pains in my lower back.”

He sneaks glances out the corner of his dark blue eyes at opportune angles, and surveys the camera coverage. Putting forth a professional facade, Deedri nods appreciatively and smiles. “Of course. It’s understandable. We all got a little roughed up from that last mission, and it just took awhile of those strains to finally ache enough to be noticed.”

When her auburn eyes meet Modoran’s dark blue eyes, Deedri aims a sly smirk, bites her lower lip, and drags a claw tip lightly down the door frame wood. “If you notice any other issues, please let me know. It’s best I treat them as early as possible.”

Modoran’s nonchalant exterior fails to obscure his growing goofy grin, and he nods appreciatively to Deedri. “I will do that. I’ll be very observant tonight and see if I feel anything else.”

He glances towards his room, points his thumb over, and departs with a chuckle. “Well, I need to catch up on the latest Evuukian political dramas... and do laundry.”

Deedri eases back into her room, flashes an eager smile to Modoran out of view of the hallway, and winks to him right before her door closes. Stepping across the hallway to his bedroom door, he pushes into the room, and turns his attention to the tall, overflowing pile of dirty clothes in the hamper. Muttering a few evuukian curses, he prunes off the overflowing clothes onto the floor, grabs hold of the basket, and hoists it up. Passing through his door way, he navigates down the stairs, slows down as he approaches the bottom landing, and sees Veevi exit the dining room.

Veevi pivots towards the stairwell, spots Modoran’s descent, and cracks am evil grin. She struts up with an energetic skip to her step, tosses back her long pink hair, perks her fuzzy ears, and whips her tail up at the ready. Modoran deftly guides his body with the downwards momentum, pivots tightly around the wooden banister post, and pardon himself as the hamper brushes close to Veevi. “Oh. Sorry, Veevi. Wasn’t paying attention.”

A start of a response leaves Veevi’s lips as she licks them. “Don’t worry about it-”

Drawing in a breath through her nose for the next part, she abruptly halts. With Modoran swiftly putting the distance between her and him, Veevi's pink pupil eyes flutter in surprise, and she sniffs the air repeatedly. Sifting through the smells, she rests a hand upon the square banister cap, and stares at Modoran absolutely bewildered. As the seconds pass, the shock fades into comprehension and recognition. Sniffing the air, Veevi’s upper lip snarls slightly, her confusion gives way to volatile mix of frustration and fury, and she clenches her jaw. Flecks of wood curl away from the surface of the banister under the tightening grip of Veevi’s sharp nails.


Gazing out the humvee window, Bach views the town attractions along the side of the main city road. He settles back into his seat, and his attention drifts forward. Furrowing his brow, he puzzles at Sotalia in the front passengers seat methodically checking at hand written list. Leaning his head to the side, he narrows his curious gaze when Sotalia pauses, taps a pencil at the end of the list, and scribbles out another item. Bach cranes his head around the Sotalia’s chair in front of him, and carefully pries. “What’s that list for?”

Sotalia blinks her golden eyes, pivots her head at Bach, and smirks with a giggle as turns the list away from him. “Well, the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner.”

Bach lifts his head back, and debates between reservation and intrigue. “Okay, what are you... cooking?”

Focusing her accusatory stare at Bach, Sotalia lowers her eyelids halfway with a playfully insulted twist at the corner of her mouth. “If you keep that tone up, you can try your luck with one of those old rations. I can cook a meal just fine.”

Tossing back her wavy, fiery orange hair back, she straightens her posture defiantly in her seat, and averts her glance away with a roll of her eyes. “It's just that what I like to cook takes a lot effort and planning.”

Bach retreats into his seat, grimaces awkwardly, and stumbles to an apologetic recovery. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything like that. It’s I’ve never seen you cook food. Potions, yes. So... What do you like to cook?”

He shifts his attention behind him, and questioningly eyes Dretphi. Sneaking a point towards Sotalia, he silently inquires a second opinion from Dretphi. Reading the body language and expression, Dretphi smiles reassuringly to Bach, and nods. “It should be good. Involved preparation. Filling results. Nice for occasions.”

A hopeful spark lights up Dretphi’s steely gray eyes, and she leans forward and directs her voice towards Sotalia. “Malva pudding?”

Sotalia peeks around the corner of her front seat, and winks with a playful grin to Dretphi. “Of course. That one is a given. The rest are surprises.”

With a satisfied smile, Dretphi sits down on the back seat and smiles contentedly.

Bach crosses his arms and curiously pries. “Surprises? Well, how about a few hints? There might be something I might not like?”

From the sword at Aristespha’s side, Sebastian’s voice calls out Bach. “Oh bullshit, bro. I KNOW what you’ve eaten before. You ain’t picky when you’re drunk or hungry enough.”

A flash of embarrassment fills Bach cheeks, and he flashes a scowl at the sword. Sebastian chuckles out ethereally from the blade. “I don’t even need to check to see how you are looking at me. Anyway... It’s good eating. Hate that I’m only going to be able to smell it.”

A sympathetic smile graces Sotalia’s light tan face, and she sighs encouragingly. “Well, YOU are welcome to hang out in the kitchen the whole time, then. Everyone else has to stay out.”

A sly grin grows out towards the dark gray patches below her ears, and she chuckles. “Part of the fun.”

Rolling her golden eyes away from the inquisitive gaze of Bach, she shrugs her shoulders as her attention returns to the paper list. “I figured it be a nice thing to do since we probably won’t have a chance to eat nice for a while.”

Aristespha cracks a smile, and snickers to herself as she studies a shopping list on her tablet. “And you want remind yourself how to cook it all?”

Sotalia blinks, bites her lower lip guiltily, and twists her mouth honestly against her pride. “Yeah... Not going to lie, my grandmother on my mother’s side has some amazing food, but it’s REAL easy to get end up with a different dish if you don’t pay attention to exact ingredients and preparation.”

Bach quirks his brow, cocks his head, and puzzles. “Really?”

Snorting as she shakes her head with a smirk, and Sotalia lightly groans. “Well, there’s so many minor variations on the same dish that each have a different name. For example...”

She quickly recites through different names in a variety of emin dialects, mentions the differing traits, and compares them to each other. After numerous examples, she sighs, cranes her head around the chair, and whispers to Bach. “And don’t get me started on the other side of my family. I have almost seen blood drawn between my great aunts at whether something is technically a burrito or an enchilada.”

Bach blinks out his surprise, slowly nods, and gradually attempts to process the litany of terms heard in the last minute. “Huh.”

A twitch flicks up Cideeda’s tail briefly as the humvee slows down to stop in front of a red light. Her emerald green eyes shift over to stare towards Sotalia, and she focuses upon the brief glimpses of the paper list tilting into view. Sotalia pauses a moment, catches Cideeda’s spying, and hides the list against her chest while staring at Cideeda. “What are you looking for?”

Cideeda smirks as she raps her claw tips upon the steering wheel. “Just checking to see if see all the ingredients for what I want are there.”

Sotalia presents a stoic front, nods slowly, and hums to herself. “We’ll see...”


Gerald places his hands on his lumbar, leans, and stretches out his back. Walking over to his bed, he plops down, and eyes the store brought, insulated paper cup in Samantha’s hands. He maintains his reservations as he grips it. Bringing it in close to his nose, he sniffs the air above it. After pondering briefly, he lets out a begrudging sigh, and slowly shakes his head. “Gods damn it. Well, thank you, Samantha, for the spiced chai latte.”

Slowly tipping back the beverage, he draws a long swig, and exhales. “Okay, since I’m being bribed with my favorite drink in the morning, let’s figure out these next episodes.”

Samantha smiles happily, pulls a chair over, and presents a series of notes upon her clipboard. “Good. First, I think we have plenty for a domestic episode with some mixed in highlights for tomorrow. But, I’m trying to figure out how to prep for next week’s episode.”

Continuing to sip his drink, Gerald nods as he listens, and motions with his free hand for the pitch. Flipping over some papers on her clipboard, Samantha taps a pen upon a guild mission brief, and smirks. “Something honestly simple and local. We’ve got series of straight forward update survey jobs on a bunch of quiet ruins. It requires internal exploration, but the last yearly sweep was clean.”

A sly grin parts her lips, and she perks her scheming brow. “But, plenty of dark places and quiet tension over dusty, scary ruins. With a little editing and hopefully a few dramatic shots, we can play up the thrill and danger just enough.”

Gerald narrows his gaze upon the page, and allows his eyes to sort through the literature on the document. After a few seconds, he begins to nod thoughtfully. “That actually could work out. Stage a few cinematic shots for added effect, and let the sound crews have a little fun with the audience... Probably drum up of the spookiness. Don’t think crews would have any major objections.”

A flit of joy sparks on Samantha’s face, and she sifts through her notes. “That sounds great. Maybe if we’re lucky some rodent will jump out and scare them. Without that laser pistol, Veevi is going to be a lot easier to spook.”

A dry smirk pulls across Gerald face, and he chuckles with a sinister tinge. “My money is that she tries to mend up her relationship enough with Chad to use him as a shield to hide behind.”

Nodding at the notion, Samantha rolls her eyes, and halts her page flipping to another section of official paperwork copies. “Now, Howie is finishing up the details, but we think we’ve secured a smaller appearance event with a twist.”

Gerald abruptly halts tipping back his spiced chai latte, gradually levels it, and furrows his unconvinced brow at Samantha. “Oh, really? What inane idea has he tried to pitch now?”

Samantha grins wide, and turns the clipboard papers towards Gerald. “Invitation only appearance. And... Run a contest for the invites.”

Searching his mind, Gerald rocks his head side to side weighing the possibilities, and ponders out loud. “Huh. Okay. THAT could prove to be an interesting twist. Get more of the... dedicated fans out. Plenty of potential for awkward and awesome fan interaction moments. That could drum up the ratings, especially if you make it require watching the episodes closely for some hidden phrase or other piece of information. No... That could work out.”

Writing down the suggestions, Samantha deviously giggles and nods. “Oh, especially when Howie rigs a few of the winners to be from Modoran’s not so adoring fans.”

Rolling his eyes blatantly, Gerald mutters and starts tipping back the beverage in hand. “Gods fucking dammit, Howard. Should expect shit like this at this point.”


Bach slumps down on one side of the couch, rests his head back, and yawns. “I think that’s everything.”

He pauses a moment, tilts his head to the side, and faces Sotalia. “Is that everything?”

Sotalia cracks her eye open, stretches her arms out upon the other side of the couch, and grumbles. “Gods, I hope so. I’ve brewed fresh batches of most of the potions I know how to make. And, I’ve gone through my pouch belt inventory, twice.”

Slowly sitting herself up from the floor in front of the coffee table, Dretphi rolls her shoulders and rubs her back. “Should be sufficient. If not, we have other problems.”

Aristespha rests her head upon her crossed arms on the dining table, grumbles out a tired sigh, and groans. “At this point, if we need anything more along the way, I’m perfectly fine with buying it and sticking GAA with the bill. I’ll figure a way to categorize through their system.”

Sebastian surveys the stacks of paperwork and scattered tablets of contract literature upon the tabletop, and smiles reassuringly to Aristespha. “I’m sure you can... somehow...”

The kitchen door to the garage opens up, and Cideeda steps on through. She brushes off her hands, walks up next to the kitchen table, and pulls out a chair. “Well, the humvee is packed and ready to go tomorrow. Nothing is obviously wrong after the third inspection. So, we should at least make it to Perimeter.”

In the lull of domestic quiet, the team idles peacefully in the living area as the afternoon sun radiates in through the sliding glass door. After a few minutes, Bach rubs his stomach and queries the room. “Anyone else hungry?”

Sotalia nods, slowly her pulls her self off the cushioned back of the couch, and rubs her eyes. “I am...”

A sly smile appears on her lips, and she eyes Bach with a playfully accusatory gaze. “I’d suggest my yam shepherd's pie, but SOMEONE devastated that for breakfast this morning.”

Bach darts his blue eyes to either side of him, averts his gaze away from Sotalia, and conceals his guilt. Sotalia shifts her amused stare to Dretphi, and rests her chin upon the top of her wrist. “And someone else annihilated the leftover malva pudding all by herself.”

She chuckles to herself as her pride beams out with Dretphi's sigh of admission. Sotalia swings her glance over towards Aristespha and Cideeda. “And, the lean clean up crew made the rest of the mutton and potato enchiladas vanish. I distinctly remember someone drinking the last bits of the sauce.”

Exchanging looks with Cideeda, Aristespha rolls her eyes and smirks defiantly. “I’m not apologizing.”

Sotalia fluffs back her fiery orange, wavy hair, crosses her legs, and rests her feet on the table satisfied. “Of course not. I take it as a compliment...”

Furrowing her brow, she twists her mouth and sighs. “Still... I’m hungry, and I’m too tired to cook.”

Dretphi nods in agreement, lays herself back down on the floor, and exhales her fatigue. “I concur. Want to rest before tomorrow.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form studies the team, and hums. “So... Delivery it is. But, what?”

A spark of inspiration appears in Cideeda’s emerald green eyes, and her furry ears perk up. “Fval Spice. It’ll be a while before we can enjoy it again.”

Bach blinks a few times, cranes his head over towards Cideeda, and puzzles. “I think we’re pretty far outside their delivery range.”

Cideeda pulls a sly grin across her face, pulls her aetherphone out of her shorts pocket with one hand, and rests her other hand confidently on her hip. “Oh, I think I know a trick for that.”

Sliding through the menus, she taps a contact entry from the list, and the calling sequence plays out on her phone screen. Pressing the speakerphone button, Cideeda holds the device out in front of her and waits. Noyando’s voice sounds out from the other side of the conversation. “Fval Spice. Pick-up or Delivery?”

With a confident smile, Cideeda presents a business inquiry in a dialect of fvalian. Noyando states the current policy in kind, and wanders towards a curious tone. Cideeda proposes an exception to those guidelines, and tints her voice with a graceful, hopeful plea. Uncertainty and deliberation grips Noyando’s apprehensive reply, and he remains unconvinced. A toothy grin forms on Cideeda’s face. Directing her voice at her aetherphone, she carefully explains a generous percentage, and significant monetary amount in an entrepreneurial coloring of fvalian. A long pause from Noyando follows, and he pardons himself. His voice momentarily sounds distant as he converses with another woman in fvalian. Immediately after he relays the percentage and amount, the woman calls back in an encouraging, insistent on voice. Noyando’s voice rises out of the speakerphone with an agreeable tone.

A proud smile emerges upon Cideeda’s face, and she announces out to the team. “What does everyone want? And order extra for tomorrow, I promised a big order.”


A modern gray sedan turns into the driveway leading to the ranch style house, and parks behind the humvee. The car’s running lamps illuminates the surrounding grass and pavement with a slight highlight against the summer's early evening ambient light. Noyando exits from the driver’s side, and opens the back door. Standing up from the passenger’s side door, Mera quickly access the rear door opposite, and checks through a list. Both Noyando and Mera read off items from the list, separate marked paper bags from the collection, and divide up all between themselves. With a satisfied smile, Mera crosses off the last item on the stack of papers, and nods to Noyando. “That’s everything for the this order, and that should be last of the orders for the run.”

Noyando motions towards the trunk, perks his black furry ears, and asks. “Nothing in the trunk?”

Mera shakes her head, slips her arms through the rolled paper handles of the bags, and smiles. “No. I moved everything up here two deliveries ago.”

After a long sigh of relief, Noyando hoists up his share of the cargo, and grins appreciatively to Mera. “Thank you for helping. It is very hard to keep track of so many orders, and deliver quickly, too.”

The two navigate around the nice, gray sedan, and walk up swiftly to the front door. Noyando balances the weight of the bags of food, and manages to knock on the door. Mera levels her arm, and presses a finger against the old doorbell button. Both Noyando’s black furry ears and Mera’s very long pointed ears twitch at the sounds of movement up to the door and activity behind it. Cideeda opens the door inwards and greets Noyando in pleasant fvalian. Sotalia quickly notices all heavy loads in and on the arms of both Noyando and Mera, and starts plucking off bags from Mera. “Let me get those.”

After a transfer, Sotalia rushes back into the house towards the dining table. Mera takes a moment to flex and stretch the fatigue out of her arms. Her attention drifts and she studies the ranch style house, and idly glances around the area. Sotalia returns with her arms ready, and Noyando hands over a few heavier bags. After freeing up his arms comfortably, he produces the receipt from his pocket and presents it to Cideeda. Checking the total, Cideeda deftly sorts through a bundle of paper currency, and counts out a generous sum. She splits off the collection of bills and hands them over to Noyando with a toothy grin. “As promised, the total with an appropriate tip to compensate you for your time and effort. And, thank you so much for making an exception for us.”

Noyando passes over the final bag to Cideeda, inspects the money, and nods graciously with a slight bow to Cideeda. “A fair deal. You called at the right time. Any later, I would not be able to leave.”

A humored smirk appears on his face, and he signs with a laugh. “Also, my wife insisted I take the order after she heard your offer.”

With a wave and smile, Noyando motions towards his car, and nods respectfully. “If you excuse me, the dinner rush is soon. My wife will not be happy if she has to handle it alone.”

Cideeda smiles back understandingly, and gestures to rest of the team sorting through the food. “You two have a good night. I need to claim my food before someone does it for me.”

After the front door closes, Noyando turns to Mera and swiftly pulls a calculated sum from the cash in his hands. “Mera? Here is your share of the tip.”

Mera blinks her crimson eyes back to awareness, pivots around to Noyando, and notices the sum of funds. She grabs hold of them and flits her eyes wide in surprise. “Oh, wow. Um, are you sure?”

Walking towards his car, Noyando nods gratefully, and chuckles. “Yes. You earned it. By myself, I would not have been able to figure out the best route. And, you made sure all the orders were right.”

As Mera slowly steps down the front steps, a glint of head lamp light draws her attention away from the money her hands. She pauses mid-step, angles her head, and squints her eyes into the contrasting darkness of the open garage. Her expression blanks as she spots familiar crystals piled on the concrete floor around a box of golem parts. Her mind fights back a surge of stark recognition. Shifting between grimaces and cringes, Meredosia mentally wrestles back memories, past desires, and old ambitions. Noyando calls out from his sedan. “Mera? Is something wrong?”

Mera blinks back to the present, shakes the thoughts hard out of her mind, and pivots to face Noyando with a smile. “Um. No. Sorry.”

She sprints over to the passengers side of the car, slips into the front seat, and chuckles off some embarrassment. “Sorry, I thought saw something weird in their garage. I didn’t mean to pry, but I couldn’t help it.”

As Noyando puts the sedan in gear, he laughs with a nod. “I understand. Adventurers are strange to me. They have a habit to collect the oddest things.”

Mera partially agrees with the sentiment, but her stare lingers upon the darkness of the garage as Noyando backs the car out onto the road.