-53-

Thin threads of magical energy weave together and form a fabric sheet between Bach’s hands. Concentrating upon the material, his eyes glow bright blue and swirls of flow condense into new, elongating fibers that blend into the growing mesh. The magical matrix slides down as each new row manifests. When the energy cloth touches the top of the dining table, he blinks his eyes back to normal and shakes his head of longer brown hair back to awareness. Glancing over to Aristespha, he passes the magical fabric to her. “Okay, I think I got the pattern you wanted, but might need to tweak the strand properties a bit. Don’t know. I kind of drifted off midway through.”

Aristespha focuses her violet glowing eyes upon the material in her ivory hands and feels the fine mesh between her fingers and thumbs. “This is very close. I think I saw how you were doing it. Honestly, it might take me a few attempts...”

She continues to inspect the cloth and bring it closer to her face. Sebastian’s ghostly form hovers behind her and he lowers his head just above her shoulder, curiously watching the process. “So, what prototype material is it today, dear?”

With a playful smirk, Aristespha lightly shoos Sebastian back from her shoulder with a toss her long, silvery blue hair and rests the magical sheet upon the table top. “A magical replacement for medical gauze. I’d always prefer using properly treated and manufactured gauze, but I can’t help wanting something that could be fabricated in the field.”

Sebastian quirks his brow and scratches the back of his head awkwardly. “Huh. But... Um... You have spells that do similar.”

Nodding in agreement, Aristespha smiles lovingly at Sebastian and shrugs. “Yes, I do, Sebastian. The idea is to have something that could be made when supplies are low, but there’s no immediate need. As they taught us, a spell saved now is a spell that saves later.”

As she starts to deposit the energy weave aside into a small tray, a clawed fvalian hand reaches out eagerly. Cideeda grins toothily and flicks her ears. “Can I see it?”

Aristespha nods and places the magical fabric in Cideeda’s awaiting hand. Initially with caution and care, Cideeda inspects the material. She tugs upon it and tests it physically with a content smile on her face. “I NEED to learn how to do this.”

Aristespha neatly readies her workspace of books, tablets, and instruments in preparation. She holds her spaced hands out, exhales calmly, and concentrates. Thin threads of magical energy grow out from her palms and weave together. A similar material manifests between and gradually extends down to the tabletop. Bach glances over to the attentive Cideeda and shrugs nonchalantly. “It’s not that hard to start doing actually. The theory is simple, but it’s just a lot of practice and experimentation after that.”

A sly smirk appears on Cideeda face and she tilts her head to side. “Says the man who can throw lines out like some kind of comic book hero.”

Bach rolls his eyes at himself and modestly shrugs in acceptance. “Yeah. But, I had A LOT of practice when I had... NOTHING else going on.”

He thinks a moment and cocks his head at Cideeda with a small grin. “Actually, you might pick it up better since you have an amazing understanding of electronics and mechanics. This really isn’t casting spells, it’s just willing flows to form in particular ways. There’s a lot of dynamics that are similar.  Capactiance, conductance, pressure, force, and so on.”

Cideeda’s emerald green eyes widen in anticipation and she dons an awaiting smile. “Well, what are the basics, then?”

While Aristespha progresses on her fabric, Bach demonstrates flow dynamics for Cideeda. “Now, the thing to do is to will the magical energy to condense...”

In the lull of conversation, the din of the living room television rises up from the background. The material in between Aristespha’s hands stop forming and she grasps onto it. After careful inspection, she frowns slightly and sighs. “Not quite there.”

Sebastian glances between the material and Aristespha. “It looks the part, dear.”

Aristespha smiles and slowly shakes her head. “Yes, it does. But it doesn’t feel right and don’t think it could handle any stress.”

A loud commercial plays out from the television and she angles her head to watch. Dretphi aims the remote to flip between channels from the couch and stares off bored. Aristespha stands up, and navigates around the table and chairs towards Dretphi. “Before I try to replicate that again, let’s see how that shoulder is doing.”

Dretphi notices Aristespha approaching, sits herself up from laying on the couch, and rolls her wrapped shoulder around freely. “I think it is healed. No discomfort today.”

Aristespha takes a seat next to Dretphi, gestures out an incantation, and methodically inspects Dretphi’s upper arm and shoulder joint. “That’s very good. Let me double-check to make sure. At this point, we can get this wrap off. It has served its purpose.”

While Aristespha gently guides Dretphi’s arm through diagnostic motions and positions, Dretphi flips through the wasteland of channels and pauses upon a talk show.

“A Grath family house is nothing more than a cover for unmitigated amoral debauchery and polygamous perversion!”

Dretphi’s narrows her steely gray glare at the screen and directs her full attention upon the show. An older human man sits in chair on a television talk show set and postures himself smugly against other guests. “I can’t even qualify it as any proper family unit as it lacks even the most basic structures. It’s so flimsy and sparse in definition, that I’m surprised they don’t yet induct furniture as members.”

Mumbles of grath curses bubble up into clarity between the man’s continued rants as they slowly drip through Dretphi’s irritation. Aristespha lowers Dretphi’s tense arm down, squints incredulously at the television, and rolls her eyes in disgust. “Oh gods! How does that man keep getting on these shows?”

Bach twists in his chair, tilts his head to the side, and grimaces as he watches the old man’s rambling. “Wait... I’ve seen this guy before, but I always changed the channel after hearing him for a minute. What’s his fucking deal anyway?”

Aristespha sighs and slowly shakes her head with a sneering upper lip. “He’s another zealot wanting to bring back those supposed traditional values to the world.”

Cideeda flicks an ear over, glances briefly at the screen, and focuses back on her magic practice. “I lean more towards self-loathing hypocrite. He always changes his tune after each scandal he gets caught up in.”

Aristespha glances over to Bach and Cideeda, twists the corner of her mouth, and groans. “Personally, I think his real motive this time is garnering favor from a few Evuukian house leaders that like his... sanctity minded ideals. Probably some business deals he wants to work.”

Dretphi crosses her arms, fidgets out her frustrations, and spits out an angry grath phrase. Footsteps sound out from the hallway and Sotalia steps into the room. Scanning the room, she places her hands on her hips, surveys the scene, and quirks her brow at Dretphi. “Good gods, girl. What’s got you speaking those words?”

Following an a gesture from Dretphi, Sotalia examines the content on the screen and snorts loudly. “Oh, THIS asshole. Pfft... He’s a REAL piece of work.”

The host of the show regains control of the dialog with a forceful voice which quiets the old man, and redirects the camera’s attention over to the other side. “THANK YOU... Mr. Spelh. I’m certain we’ll hear more from you sooner than later. But, I’d like to give a chance for the members of two grath houses to talk and elaborate on their families.”

As the grath on the show explain their perspectives, Dretphi relaxes enough and rolls out the tension in her shoulders. She glances around, frowns slightly, and fights a bit of embarrassment on her face. “I apologize. Those were not words to speak around friends. This topic is... personal to me.”

Sebastian casually chuckles and shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’m starting to remember this guy more. He’s been kinda been a prick for years. I’m just surprised he’s on a show during these hours.”

Scratching his beard covered chin, Bach nods as his memory recalls. “Yeah. The only time I’ve ever seen that guy is in the crappy, early morning time shows. The three in morning variety.”

Cideeda smirks and rolls her eyes with a mocking tone. “Don’t forget all his televised court appearances.”

Bach nods in agreement and gazes over to Dretphi with a reassuring smile. “Also, I didn’t understand what you said. So, no harm done to me.”

A warm smile briefly graces Dretphi’s face before tinges of embarrassment color her face and she sighs at herself. “Regardless. I should abstain from excessive use of... those terms.”

Sotalia flashes a wicked grin and giggles with a hint of evil as she taps out a name on her aetherphone. “Aww, but those words are the fun ones. I found them very accurate and descriptive.”

An article appears on the phone’s screen and Sotalia’s golden eyes search through the paragraph of text. “That Spelh guy is such a hypocrite anyway. I think he’s on his third marriage-?”

She pauses, reads a line carefully, and laughs with a derisive tone. “Oh... My mistake. His FOURTH marriage.”

Sarcasm completely infiltrates her voice. “I guess that must make him an expert then. But, I would argue he really could have saved himself a lot of trouble with a traditional emin termed marriage contract.”

Sticking her tongue out momentarily in annoyed, disgust, Cideeda rolls her eyes and sneers her upper lip. “Maybe he shouldn’t keep on getting caught with his pants down.  Figuratively and literally.”

Sotalia sighs and an ill-humored eye brow. “Yeah. But, what’s the fun in that? How else is he going to get something new to dump hate on and get attention for it?”

Cideeda snorts into a chuckle and shakes her head. “I still remember his rants about fvalians. Calling us hedonistic feral beasts with the sexual habits of animals.”

Her furry ears lay down and her tails wags in short swipes. Sotalia twists her lips and scrolls through the article on her aetherphone. “Did he say that after his first or second marriage?”

A mean smile appears on Cideeda and she glances over to Sotalia. “Second. After he got caught on video in a bed with a few fvalians at quite the party.”

The old man’s jarring cadence attracts the attention of everyone in earshot. “You MUST think of the CHILDREN in these dreadfully, confusing environments. These poor children are left just to wonder who their mothers and fathers are and-”

The host’s tolerance visibly wears thin and he abruptly cuts off the old man. “Well, funny you should mention that. How about we ask one of the children?”

A young grath boy walks into the scene from off stage, joins his family, and takes a seat in an open chair. The host greets the boy with a smile and calmly talks to him. “It’s good to have you here today, Cettinnin. Can you tell me about your house?”

Cettinnin nods respectfully and carefully speaks up. “Yes. I have two mothers. And... two fathers. I have two brothers. And... two sisters.”

The host nods and continues with a query. “What do your mothers and fathers do in your house?”

Thinking about the question, Cettinnin responds before the old man opens his mouth. “My birth mother works for a school. My birth father manages the local guild office. My house mother takes care of us when everyone is busy.”

The grath woman next to Centinnin smiles and musses up his hair playfully. Centinnin laughs and glances over to the graying grath man on his other side. “My house father fixes everything we break at home.”

The graying grath man sighs with a smirk, crosses his arms, nods slowly. As the grath man concentrates a cutting, stoic stare at the old man across from him, Centinnin crosses his arms and mimics the expression. The host returns his attention to Mr. Spelh and smugly grins. “It seems the young boy has perfect understanding of his family.”

Mr. Spelh spouts dismissively and sneers visibly. “The poor child is deluded and obviously has been warped by these deviants! It’s just a form of indoctrination. The child has no proper concept of family and it’s just left to cling to the paltry aberration that’s been forced upon him.”

Centinnin blinks incredulously at Mr. Spelh and quips a short phrase in Grath. The grath woman snaps a surprised glare at him. The graying grath man snorts out a stifled laugh and fails to hide his approval. Dretphi covers her mouth and covers a giggle. She shakes her head while speaking a comment in grath. Sotalia snickers with a bright grin. “Again, those are the fun words to use. Really accurate, too.”

Dretphi nods in agreement with a smile. The host blinks at the child’s response and continues with the show. “Well, we are running out of time. So let me ask you, Mr. Spelh, what would be your ideal house structure of sorts?”

A scheming smile parts the man’s mouth and he draws a long breath. “Well, I would think a prime example of proper family hierarchy would be the Evuukian family house.”

Aristespha narrows her glare at the television screen, snarls her upper lip, and grumbles out sarcasm drenched works. “Why yes! Of course! It’s SO obvious... If you absolutely adore family values that involve competitive backstabbing, favoritism, and power struggles... Then, look no further!”

She crosses her arms and levels an irritated stare at the screen. The show plays out its ending segment and an information prompt pops up with the title of the next show.

“Scandal Watch 3017: Evuukian Political Meltdown!”

Bach exchanges wary looks with Sebastian and directs his voice over to the gathering around the television. “Hey, you know... There’s other channels with other shows we all might enjoy...”

Sebastian drifts around the room and hovers in front of the big wall mounted display and dons a politely authoritative tone. “Yeah. Let’s change it to something less... Irritating?”

Aristespha sighs loudly and presents an apologetic tone. “Yeah, you are right, Sebastian. Let’s put on something else. I can’t weave flow when I’m angry anyway.”

Dretphi nods in agreement and pats Aristespha’s shoulder in commiseration. She aims the remote at the television, flips through a few more channels, and the intro of movie plays. Sotalia grins happily, and moves into the closest open chair at the dining table. “Oh, Blazing Dragons! I haven’t seen this comedy in forever!”

She surveys her immediate surroundings and notices the variety of magic upon the dining table. Her golden eyes open wide and she gazes curiously at the items. “So, that’s what you’ve all been doing. I kept on feeling something going on nearby.”

Aristespha snaps her head over to Sotalia, notices her occupied seat, and hops off the couch. She twists her mouth and casually shoos Sotalia out of the seat into the next one over. Inspecting the contents of the table, she notices Cideeda’s claw tip finger pointing to Sotalia’s hands. She spots Sotalia studying Bach’s incarnation of the magical material and commands, hinting accusation. “Don’t go running off with that yet.”

Sotalia blinks, furrows her brow, and defiantly sneers in a defensive pout. “I wasn’t going to!”

Aristespha rolls her eyes as she sits back down in the chair. Bach and Cideeda share similar expressions with Aristespha as Sotalia divides her attention between the magical item and the movie.




Daedrican’s lightly armored boots sink into the forest floor as he hikes forward through the dense trees. Two other Chrome Crusader troopers maintain formation out to his sides, while a coldly stoic Tassilda keeps her distance towards the back. Daedrican glances back to Tassilda with a pleasant tone. “Not much longer, my lady.”

A brief sneer twitches Tassilda’s upper lip. Daedrican continues his statement. “It doesn’t seem like anyone has been through these wood since we came through initially.”

Tassilda minimally and briefly acknowledges Daedrican’s words, and avoids direct eye contact with him. The team trudges forward and minutes later arrives at a game trail. Daedrican raises his arm to signal a stop to the group. He kneels down, and inspects the path and purposeful markings on a nearby tree. The two troopers gather on either side and perform their own investigations of the area. Daedrican glances to both the troopers and stands up. “Okay. Nothing seems to have changed. Garret, check north to that one clearing and see if anyone has returned. Yuttin, see if anyone has tried to settle back into that one spot along the access road.”

He pivots to face Tassilda, a few meters behind him, and inquires politely. “If it’s not too much trouble, we’ll go towards the stream and check it for recent activity.”

Tassilda presents a proper, emotionless exterior, and crosses her arms with a slight nod. Daedrican turns back around to his team and directs them out towards their destinations. “Okay. Radio if you find anything. Otherwise, we’ll meet up here and head back to camp for the day.”

The two lightly armor troopers, gesture in agreement, and walk away from Daedrican and Tassilda. After a few moments, Daedrican glances over and motions to a direction down the game trail. “This way, my lady.”

A brief wince sneaks out from Tassilda’s rigid demeanor and she follows behind Daedrican through the woods. Gazing through the bright sun light slipping between the forest canopy, Daedrican speaks a pleasant tone back towards Tassilda. “I think it’ll be slow, uneventful day, my lady.”

A grimace flits upon Tassilda’s face before it fades into the cold, neutral expression and a colorless voice leaves Tassilda. “It seems.”

Daedrican’s shoulders lax and he tilts his helmeted head in thought. Along their hike, his attempts at small talk with Tassilda falter against her short, terminal responses. After many failed starts, Daedrican sighs to silence and remains quiet. The minutes of looming silence eventually breaks to the soft babbling of water flowing down a small stream. As Daedrican arrives to the narrow banks of the brook, fits of splashing catch his attention. He gazes down the stream at a large pool of water and notices the colorful plumage of a bird fluttering. The creature pauses, cocks its brightly feathered head to either side, and dives underneath the water quickly in a flurry of flapping.

Tassilda slowly approaches near Daedrican, and traces the direction of his visor to the water. The chromatic parrot hops up onto the dry part of a rock, stands still for a moment, and releases a faint burst of magical flow. The short lived wave of force launches excess water off into a fine spray. Tassilda’s light blue on black eyes lock onto the creature and curiosity cracks through her cold exterior. The zone parrot blinks at the silence of the area and chimes out a long series of complex tones. From a chaotic start, it weaves the sounds into an elegant stream of purposeful song that fills the nearby forest. A small smile graces Tassilda’s face and her full attention focuses upon the music. Daedrican’s head turns. He watches Tassilda’s delight, and he slowly steps towards the bird.

As he closes the distance, Tassilda snaps her head over and flashes a mean glare at him. With gritting teeth, she halts a reflexive comment and maintains her ireful silence. Daedrican reaches into belt pouch, searches around, and removes a snack bar. As he opens the wrapper, the crisp crackle of the packaging halts the bird’s song. The zone parrot snaps an inquisitive stare at Daedrican and its rainbows eyes spot the treat. Daedrican stops his approach, kneels down, and holds the protein bar out. The zone parrot hops off the rock, waddles at full speed along the bank, and reaches out with an open beak when it gets close to the food. Daedrican gradually moves the snack bar back and carefully leads the bird up his arm. With secure footing and the treat nearby, the zone parrot pulls off bits of the bar and casually enjoys the meal. It shows indifference to anything else, even when Daedrican stands back up with the bird on his arm and walks back to Tassilda.

In absolute, speechless awe, Tassilda gawks in a mix of bewilderment and joy when the zone parrot arrives in front of her on Daedrican’s arm. After a few moments of wonder, she feels Daedrican lift her hand up to eye level with bird and put the snack bar into her hand. Tassilda blinks in confusion as Daedrican guides her other arm up to his with the bird. The zone parrot reacquires the food target, steps over onto Tassilda’s gray skinned arm, and resumes eating with reaching bites to the food in Tassilda’s other hand.

Tassilda smiles brightly as she watches the creature eat from her hand and wander along her arm. She manages to pet the bird’s colorful feathers and it weaves a few songs between breaking off new chunks of the protein bar to hold in its claws. During the parrot’s feast, contradictory emotions flit upon Tassilda’s face and swirls of shame infiltrate her expression. Consuming half the bar, the zone parrot gazes up at Tassilda’s face, chimes out a pleasant, happy series of tones. With a flicker of glow in its eyes, it unfurls its brightly hued wings. Tassilda holds her arm out and the zone parrot flaps up into the air. After it disappears into the dense forest, Tassilda slowly resumes her previous demeanor, but stops. She bites her lip, gazes at the ground fighting the torrents of thought in her head, and speaks in a genuine, appreciative tone. “Thank you.”

Daedrican simply nods and continues down the banks of the small stream. Tassilda follows behind, and maintains a closer distance to him than before.




Outside the ranch style house in the side yard, Sebastian’s ghostly form hovers next to Dretphi and looks at Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Sotalia. “Okay. So, since it’s been a while... I figured it would be good to do a refresher on close quarters moves and how to deal with them. And, it’s nice outside and I figured it would be something different.”

Sotalia places her hands on her hips, dons a sly grin, and glances over to Bach. After a few moments, Bach meets Sotalia’s gaze, puzzles at the attention, and resumes watching Sebastian. Directing everyone’s attention to Dretphi and Sebastian floats away to give her the stage. “And since I can’t exactly participate right now, due to my transparent state... I’ll leave it up to Dretphi to run the lessons.”

Dretphi surveys the group, notices the mischievious intent on Sotalia’s face, and gazes to Bach. “Would you help me demonstrate?”

Bach shrugs nonchalantly and steps up next to Dretphi. Guiding Bach into position in front of her, Dretphi switches her stance and holds her arms up. “I will go over each step. Raise your arms up.”

Settling into a faux aggressive posture, Bach stands at the ready. Dretphi gestures to Bach and instructs. “Grab my arm.”

With a moment of hesitation, Bach reaches out and firmly grabs hold of Dretphi’s forearm. After indicating approval, Dretphi moves in precise, slow motions and systematically demonstrates each stage of a maneuver. Throughout each segment, she carefully explains the process and reasons behind the action. Bach follows Dretphi’s guidance as she leads him with care. After a few twists and turns, Dretphi reverses Bach’s mock attack and works his limb into a standing arm lock. She rotates just enough to put pressure upon the extent of Bach’s flexibility but cautiously halts before any painful strain. “This is an arm lock. Twisting past this point will inflict pain. Can cause injury. Most reconsider fighting before that.”

She releases Bach gently and allows him to stretch his arm back to comfort. With a quick nod, she directs Bach into another demonstration scenario. With precision and care, she leads Bach through another series of motions and explains the maneuver completely. After a quick stretch and rest, Dretphi continues to guide Bach through another example situation and instructs everyone in ways to react to it. Aristespha and Cideeda watch carefully and occasionally rehearse pieces individually to refresh stagnant memories of old training. Sotalia crosses her arms, watches attentively, and presents an amused smile throughout the proceedings. Finishing the last in a series of different holds, Dretphi points out a large, thick mat nearby, and directs her request to Bach. “Would you move that near us?”

Bach nods, casually walks over, and drags the pad along the grass. “So, what is this for?”

Dretphi plainly states with a calm tone. “To cushion your falls.”

Bach freezes momentarily, slowly meets Dretphi’s gaze, and cocks his head to the side with an awkward smile. “Uh... Okay... Why would I be falling?”

Tilting her head to the side, Dretphi examines Bach’s expression and smirks humored. “It happens when you get thrown.”

Blinking blankly, Bach musters up his courage and stands up straight at the ready. “Okay...”

Dretphi smiles calmly and reassures Bach. “Not hard. Not fast. I will lower you onto the mat.”

Bach ponders at moment, relaxes a bit, and nods. “Cool. What do I need to do?”

Pointing to a spot, Dretphi directs Bach’s attention to place on the grass near the mat. Bach side steps over and waits. Dretphi swiftly closes the gap between her and Bach, pauses mid motion to highlight her grapple, and proceeds to hoist Bach free from the ground. In stunned silence, Bach remains pliable to Dretphi’s guidance as she moves his docile mass around with modest effort. After a final halt of action to allow everyone else to examine the process, Dretphi plops Bach down upon the mat with a solid but cushioned impact. Bach’s eyes dart around the area and he glances over to Dretphi. “That wasn’t too bad. The mat helps out, but you controlled it the whole way.”

A warm smile graces Dretphi and she politely inquires. “Do you want to continue? Help me demonstrate?”

Sotalia snickers to herself, quirks an intrigued brow, and mumbles under her breath. Flicking her furry ear back from Sotalia, Cideeda briefly glances over and twists the corner of her mouth. Dretphi resumes her careful, cautiously performed demonstrations with Bach. With great care, she ends the final parts of throws, locks, and holds by placing Bach on the target pad. Many maneuvers later, Dretphi holds her hand out to Bach on the mat. “You deserve a break. Thank you.”

Bach grasps hold Dretphi’s arm and follows up her assistance. “I wouldn’t mind one.”

Sotalia smirks mischievously, places her hands on her hips, and laughs playfully. “Oh, you aren’t giving us the chance to practice, Dretphi?”

Stepping off the to side, Bach brushes off some stray glass blades. A tinge of evil taints Dretphi’s grin and she eyes Sotalia. With a challenging hand gesture, she invites Sotalia up. “You can. You may take Bach’s place in my demonstrations.”

Sotalia’s golden eyes open wide and a nervous wave passes through her body. Tossing her fiery orange, wavy hair back over her shoulders, she analyzes Dretphi’s imposing form. She fights an uneasy grit of her teeth and recovers to an awkward grin. “Well, you need a break, too. Also, it might be more appropriate for me to... Oh... Practice what you’ve shown us with someone of similar size...”

She glances over to Aristespha and immediately cringes at Aristespha's eager stare. Aristespha stretches her neck to either side, rolls her shoulders, and flexes the definition in body. Subconscious trepidation blinks Sotalia’s eyes for her and she fumbles for a self counterpoint. “Well... It wouldn’t be wise to put our medic into needless danger...”

Resting her gaze down upon Cideeda, Sotalia dons confident smile. “I’m bit taller and larger that you, Cideeda. But, do you think you could help me practice these moves? Please?”

Cideeda presents a toothy grin, perks her furry ears, and happily chimes. “Of course! I might be a bit rusty, since we last practiced. So, we’ll just take it a bit slow.”

A flash of evil sparks in Cideeda’s emeralds eyes and she focuses her attention upon Sotalia. “I believe I help you through the all the moves.”




Blades of grass wave with the frustrated snorts of Sotalia as she rests her chin upon the ground. Moments later, she attempts to lift her upper torso off the ground and curl herself off the dirt. Squirming and struggling, she settles her chest back onto the grass with a slight, cushioning bounce and grumbles. “Okay! You’ve proved your point now!”

Cideeda grins triumphantly and adjusts her weigh as she sits on small of Sotalia’s back. Her tail wags smugly and she squeezes up her grip on Sotalia’s hands, pinning them firmly behind her back. Aristespha, Bach, Dretphi, and Sebastian stand around Sotalia in a circle and observe attentively. Cideeda smiles sharply and cheerfully explains. “Now, most mages will attempt to cast a spell. You can fold their wrists to limit finger motion and push down on the head to make it hard for them to speak.”

Sotalia exhales out her irritation, puffs away a few stray orange hairs out her face, and groans. “Gods! I’m really trying here! You just keep winning out somehow... I even have a height advantage!”

A sly smirk cracks from the corner of Cideeda’s mouth and she secures both of Sotalia’s arms with one hand. A flash of impish intent flickers in her emerald eyes, and she lightly grabs Sotalia’s side between her claw tips. “Don’t forget weight advantage, too.”

Kicking her lower legs and squirming, Sotalia fights a reflexive giggle and yelps out. “AaHhHh! S-S-Stop that!”

Cideeda chuckles darkly, sighs, and releases her clawed hold of Sotalia’s midriff. “Okay.”

Sotalia grumbles and pouts. “You’re just too flexible or something! I don’t know. Last time we did this type of practice, I was able to get you a number of times, girl.”

With a long sigh, Cideeda shakes her head dismissively. “That’s because I had a bad headache and let you get the holds so you’d get the experience.”

Dretphi searches the top of her mind and nods in agreement. “I remember that. You were moving slow. Seemed distracted.”

Sotalia sighs her defeat and idly taps the toes of her shoes onto the ground. “I thought I did really good.”

Her voice trails off and she mumbles under her breath. “If I had known you let me win last time, I wouldn’t have asked you to give it your all this time.”

Cideeda pats the top of Sotalia’s head between her horns and grins toothily with a patronizing tone. “Don’t feel bad. You did just fine last time, and you did really good today.”

Annoyance appears on Sotalia’s face and she grumbles lowly. Cideeda sighs and leans to the side to meet Sotalia’s glance. “I had to try a few times. You need a lot more practice, but you are getting better.”

Sotalia sighs irritably and mutters a few frustrated comments in a variety of languages with hints of sarcasm and a mocking tone. A sly cadence slips into in Cideeda’s voice. “Now, there’s one last thing I want to show.”

She winks to Aristespha, Bach, Dretphi, and Sebastian. “Now, you can only do this if you have claws-”

Sotalia golden eyes widen and dart around warily. Cideeda shifts herself back, slides a claw tip lightly down Sotalia’s shirt-covered back, and stops abruptly near her side. “You find this particular spot and clamp down HARD-”

Cideeda leans forward, curls her fingers to keep her claws away, and harmlessly exaggerates her movements. Sotalia screams out, kicks her legs frantically, and tries to buck Cideeda off her back valiantly. “AHHHH! HELP! STOP HER! SHE'S OUT TO GET ME!”

Cideeda holds her hand away, watches the continuing, frantic spectacle, and rolls her eyes. Sotalia’s fervor fades and she studies the humored reactions of everyone else around her. With an annoyed glare on her face, she plops her upper half down upon the grass with a slight bounce and growls out through gritted teeth. “I think I’m done with this.”

Chuckling, Cideeda releases her grip on Sotalia’s hands and pats her shoulder. “Okay. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist TEASING you. Just remember, your supposed advantages can just as easily weigh you down without the right skill behind them.”

Sotalia sweeps her arms back in front and underneath her. She glances back at Cideeda with a playful, mischievous smirk and quips a sentence in Fvalian. Cideeda perks her ears, lifts her brow with an amused grin, and replies in fvalian. She chuckles darkly and reaches both hands of flexing fingers out towards Sotalia’s arms. “Oh wait! We really SHOULD go over the basics of tying up captives!”

Immediate motivation sends a surge of strength into Sotalia’s arms and she pushes herself up off the ground. Cideeda deftly tumbles back and springs herself up to stand away. She places her hands on her hips, strikes a proud pose, and smiles brightly. Aristespha and Dretphi help Sotalia up. Brushing the stray blades of grass off her clothing Sotalia, resumes her confident demeanor and smirks back at Cideeda. Sebastian rolls his eyes and sighs ethereally. “Okay. I think that’s enough today. Let’s get cleaned up. Our favorite show is coming on soon enough.”

Aristespha walks towards the back of the ranch style house along with Dretphi. Sebastian tags along behind. When Cideeda leaves the area, Bach follows behind and inquires. “You know, I am actually curious where you learned all that.”

Cideeda crosses her arms and flicks her ears with her memories. "Honestly, I just took a bunch of physical education electives in college. I did learn all about tying ropes from my dad when securing scrap pieces in the junkyard. Lots of odd shapes and sizes that normal knots and wraps don’t work for.”

Sotalia catches up to Bach and Cideeda, and probes further. “Aww, so no childhood self-defense class for fvalians that you got black belt in?”

A devious chuckle leaves Cideeda’s lips and she flexes her hand of claw tipped fingers in front of her. “Oh, my parents put me in self-defense courses. But, most fvalian specific classes taught us how to use our claws.”

Sotalia thinks back in her mind and muses. “Huh. That's interesting. Anything emin specific I learned was all about using my horns and thick nails.”

Bach continues along without comment until he notices casually inquisitive glances over to him. Shrugging his shoulders, he grins awkwardly. “Uh, all I ever was taught was to throw a spell and run as fast as I can.”

Sotalia nods in agreement and rolls her eyes at herself. “To be fair, that’s usually what I’ve ended up doing anyway.”

Cideeda twists the corner of her mouth and snorts. “Yeah, most people tend to not chase you after a laser blast or two.”




A long, low creaks groans out as Nash rocks back in his rolling office chair. He sighs and levels his bored stare at the computer monitors in front of him. A calm pattern of imagery plays out on the displays and a smooth scroll of status messages rise up in output windows. Nash eyes the wall clock and witnesses the constant, slow tick of the second hand. Tilting his head back, he breathes out. “Fffffuck...”

Leaning himself forward, he glances disdainfully at the stack of paperwork occupying a significant portion of his desk. He averts his gaze away and idly stares at the placid information graphics on the monitors. He eyes over the pile of papers, narrows a glare at the clock, and slumps in his chair. “Gods dammit...”

Mustering the willpower, he guides his hand up, grasps hold of the top packet of paper on the stack, and halfheartedly holds it in front of his field of vision. A frown forms on his face and he snorts in contempt at the task before him.

A chime rings out from the displays. Green statuses flip quickly to yellow and lines of streaming log data highlight against the rest of the digital noise. Nash immediately tosses the paperwork back onto the pile and snaps his full attention to the new activity. Typing quickly, he enters a series of commands into the system and adjusts the context of multiple onscreen windows to relevant data. Nash studies the information, cocks his head to the side, and puzzles at the digital disturbance. He continues to analyzing the changes and emerging patterns with developing intrigue.

A jarring alarm echoes into the room and spots of yellow immediately turn red. New windows appear, captured data streams onto monitors, and status icons transition in sequence from green to yellow to red. Nash’s eyes grow wide and he grins expectantly. “Finally decided to check in you son of a bitch!”

An account information prompt appears and prominently shows the name “Isaac Kurt Huxley”. Nash enters instruction after instruction into the system via his keyboard. Different system functions launch status windows and indicate their progress. Database activity monitors on the office wall switch to the current queries. After a feverish spree of command entry, Nash hits the speakerphone mode button on his office phone, and execitedly taps out a number. The phone rings a few times before a voice sounds out. Nash immediately responds over the greeting. “Guess who decided to log in on this fine, quiet Friday!?”

Background din from another room resonates through the speakerphone. Harvos stumbles to an astounded response. “Good gods! Isaac Huxley?!”

Nash nods and grins with a snarl. “Hell yes it is. I was wondering if that bastard was ever going to check in again, but here he is.”

Sounds of Harvos fumbling with the phone slip out before his voice carries his words. “You ARE recording everything he’s doing right?!”

A smirk briefly appears on Nash’s face and he laughs amused. “Oh, of fucking course! I got everything he’s doing logged and any data he’s pulling is being copied on the fly. And, if there’s anyone paying attention at our network egress, I should have someone trying to track down where he’s connecting from.”

Chat windows open up on a side display and Nash types in responses. “There they are. Good, it looks like they got the alerts, too. They're going to try to trace out the aethernet route.”

Harvos sighs out his nerves over the line and calms his tone. “Okay. I hope we get something useful. I just want this whole mess to be over with.”

Nash nods in agreement and grumbles. “Tell me about. I’m getting REAL tired with learning about our predecessors dirty little secrets and having to be the fucking ones to deliver the bad news to the higher ups.”

Harvos groans with disgust and frustration. “I could use A LOT less of these mysteries in my life right now.”

He pauses and his curiosity directs his tone. “What is Isaac doing right now, anyway?”

Nash flips through the numerous interface windows on the many displays in the office and hunts down a particular output. He studies the lines of text scrolling upwards and tilts his head to the side. “If I’m reading the database queries correctly, he is hammering the shit out of the system for research done by a... Dr. Malkav?”

Harvos hums in thought over the speakerphone. “I’ve heard of him, but I haven’t delved too much into his work exactly. Do you have any examples of his work?”

With a humored snort, Nash directs his computer to open up a document. “Plenty. Isaac is mass downloading everything from this guy. Let’s take a look at... Uh... This one.”

He grimaces, puzzles at the title, and scratches his head. “Post Abstract Prism Elder Energy Acquisition and Applications?”

Harvos’s cadence shifts along with a dawning realization. “It’s coming back to me. Dr. Malkav did a lot of... Well... Out on the fringes research on elder energy magic and theoretical possibilities of access to it. But... If I remember correctly, he proposed a lot of theories but none of them ever really worked out.”

Nash contorts his face and ponders audibly. “What the hell is Isaac doing now? I mean he is wholesale dumping everything Dr. Malkav we have. Does this guy still work for the Grand Library anymore?”

A long sigh escapes Harvos and handset noises telegraph the shake of his head. “Oh, no. I think he left the Grand Library officially a long time ago. But, I think he was involved in some unofficial capacity? I don’t know exactly. Honestly, after the whole Orth Ridge ordeal, I’ve been combing through this damn department’s project records for any other strangeness. So, I might prioritize that mystery. I do NOT want to blindsided by something like Orth Ridge again.”

Nodding empathetically, Nash rolls his eyes and sighs. “I know the feeling. Got sets of the original blueprints for a few buildings and I’ve been double-checking to see if they match up with the buildings now. If I don’t find revision notes or any other updates to the plans, I still got the sledgehammer from engineering.”

Harvos chuckles with a humored tone. “How the hell do you still have that? Didn’t Vetra take that back?”

Nash smugly smiles and laughs. “Yes. It was last seen in engineering. Don’t know if they’ve bothered checking to see if they could still see it where it was last seen.”

A status monitor icon flickers from red to black. Streams of data slow to a halt and capture systems close out. Nash searches the information before him and grits his teeth. “Well, he disconnected. Let’s see what the crew up the pipe got.”

He glances over to a side monitor and reads the information dumps in the chat windows. Shaking his head, Nash directs his disappointed voice towards the speakerphone. “They traced him decently. But, unfortunately, it seems like he was connecting via an aethernet tower along some highway in the middle of fucking nowhere. Roughly somewhere between GAA and Appaland territories. So, not too helpful.”

Harvos hopefully comments. “Still, it means he was around there at this time. He can only move so far so fast. It will be useful in the right hands.”

Nash slowly nods in agreement and settles back into his office chair with a long, groaning creak. “Yeah. Yeah. I definitely know some people who’ll want this. Well, I’m going to dig into this more. I’ll get you a copy and send one to Aristespha.”

Harvos replies appreciatively. “Thank you. We’ll figure it out yet.”

He pauses a moment and inquires. “Quick question, Nash.”

Nash quirks his brow and eyes the speakerphone. “Yes?”

Harvos sighs from the other side of the connection. “When the hell are you going to get a new office chair? I keep hearing that damn thing and it sounds like it’s going to fall apart at any moment.”

A defiant laugh bellows out from Nash. “Never! We got history, this chair and I... And... Well... All the new chairs feel weird to me. Strange back support and all.”

Harvos grumbles in commiseration. “Yeah... Let me know if you find any of the old ones in storage somewhere.”

Nash nods and hovers his finger over the call end button. “Will do. Catch ya later.”

With Harvos’s goodbye, Nash terminates the call and stares at the screens in front of him. He glances over to wall clock, eyes the paperwork, and settles upon the task before him. “Ffffuuucckkk...”