-54-

Deedri sorts through a pack of medical supplies and inspects the contents thoroughly. Her furry ears flick along with her investigation and she resettles her seat upon a blanket near the camp fire. Trakenthin flips to the next page in his book and rubs his back against the trunk of a tree. The dimming dusk sky illuminates the area, but the glow of the fire light gains dominance every second. The lightly armored form of Daedrican walks up calmly to the camp site and waves to Deedri. “Good evening, Mage Preeta. I hope your day went well.”

A smile appears on Deedri’s face and she nods happily to Daedrican. “It did. Nothing too exciting today. Overall, very quiet.”

Daedrican sighs in pleasant agreement and tilts his helmeted head. “It was for me, too. I get the feeling that whatever bandits we didn’t capture, we have mostly certainly scared off this road for a while. We have yet to find any signs of them trying to set up camp again.”

Trakenthin glances over from his book, bows his head slightly to acknowledge Daedrican, and calmly adds. “I concur. Heavy team has not found anything new. They have made their presence known. Doubt observant bandits will stay in the area.”

With a light chuckle, Daedrican shakes his head in good humor. “Well, that’s what they do. And, that’s why we have them. If you ever want to make the enemy reconsider their plans, you release some of the heavy armor team out.”

Keeping modest attention upon the conversation, he gazes through his visor and scans the general vicinity. “It seems like you all have found yet another a good spot to make camp for the night. Hopefully, there are a few more good places left along the way for the next few days.”

Lifting a curious brow at Daedrican, Trakenthin quickly surveys the secluded alcove under a lush tree canopy. “Smaller layout. Better choice of sites. We should have options.”

Daedrican nods slightly in agreement and turns his head slowly in a final visual sweep of the camp before waving again. “Well, I don’t want to keep you all. Again, it has been pleasure having your group along with us during this patrol. I hope these last few days end the patrol nicely. A good night to you all.”

Deedri bows slightly to Daedrican. Trakenthin nods and resumes reading his book. Daedrican pivots precisely and continues his patrol away from the camp, sneaking one last check of the area. A few minutes later, Deedri bites her lip in thought and directs her voice to Trakenthin. “I’m not the only one who thinks he was looking for Tassilda, right?”

Trakenthin rests his book down on his chest, turns his head to meet Deedri’s gaze, and nods slowly. “He was looking. He hid it well. Still was looking. Do you know what happened?”

Cocking her head to the side, Deedri’s ears perk contemplatively and she eventually shakes her head. “No. She hasn’t said anything... Which is kind of weird, since she has been coming up with reasons to talk about him.”

She grits her teeth briefly and twists her lips. “She’s been acting odd lately. It seems there’s something on her mind.”

Trakenthin nods in agreement and hums in thought. “I have noticed. There is a grath word for it...”

He speaks a single word of grath in his native dialect and searches his mind for the correct translation. “It means... Thoughts which hinder progress of thoughts.”

Deedri blinks her auburn eyes, brushes back her multi-colored hair over her shoulders, and idly picks her claws as she process the definition. “That actually describes it nicely. She’s thinking about something and she can’t get past it for some reason.”

Trakenthin shrugs his shoulders and lifts up his book, tugging the corner of his mouth. “Those thoughts are not easy to resolve. You can avoid them. Temporarily. Easy at first.”

Rolling her eyes at her memories, Deedri releases a long sigh and shakes her head. “Gods. I know that feeling.”

She closes up the medical pack, taps out a few notes on the aetherphone on her lap, and eyes Trakenthin thoughtfully. “Do you think we should ask her about it? We are a team and we should try to help each other out.”

Trakenthin’s hazel eyes widen and he winces briefly. Recovering to an uncomfortable grimace, he gazes warily at Deedri and sighs uncertainly. “I do not know. Those are affairs we should not needlessly pry into.”

He searches the more obscuring spots around the campsite’s perimeter and sates his paranoia after assuring himself that the areas are empty. With a mildly frustrated grumble, he frowns at Deedri. “We are not in ideal... circumstances... to discuss those topics. Privacy is a luxury currently.”

Deedri darts her eyes around, irritably squirms, and groans in defeat. “I know. I’m so tired of checking for a damn camera crew out here. At least at the house, I’m afforded some peace.”

Trakenthin shrugs his shoulders and smirks nonchalantly. “They have not followed me on patrol. I think the crew are afraid to get squashed by the heavy team.”

A dry grin cracks from the corner of his mouth. “I can confirm. It is a valid fear.”

A brief, dark giggle slips out from Deedri. She blinks back to awareness, resumes her previous demeanor, and exhales longingly. “I’ll just be glad to get back to house for a bit. I just hope we get a few days to rest for a bit before the next mission.”

She pauses in thought, glances over to Trakenthin, and perks her furry ears. “By the way, have you heard anything about our next mission?”

Trakenthin searches his mind, blanks at the lack of results, and shakes his head. “No. Chad mentioned he did not know. He said the crew was going to choose?”

Deedri sneers her upper lip, droops her ears, and rolls her eyes. “Oh. Great. That fills me with confidence.”

Modoran appears out from a shady region behind a tree, casually strolls up to the low campfire, and takes a seat on a nearby log. “Good evening. Anything new or exciting?”

Deedri presents a happy smile to Modoran and rests her head on her hand. “Not really. Just talking about things we can’t get the answers for easily.”

Shifting his gaze between Deedri and Trakenthin, Modoran grimaces awkwardly and attempts an uneasy smile. “Does this discussion involve politics or religion?”

Trakenthin snorts and smirks. “No.”

With an exhale of relief, Modoran relaxes and gestures to Deedri to relay the information. “Oh, good. Thank you. I avoid those debates. So, what are these things you can’t get answers for?”

Deedri crosses her arms, rolls her shoulders, and twists her mouth thoughtfully. “Well. We’ve been trying to figure out what’s happened between Tassilda and Daedrican. And... What’s our next mission going to be?”

Modoran tenses a bit, scratches the back of his light gray and white haired head, and grits his teeth. After telegraphing obvious knowledge of the subjects, he notices the eager gazes of Deedri and Trakenthin upon him. Following a few idle fidgets and false starts, he slumps slightly with sigh and shakes his head. “Oh gods. I have theories for both of those based on what I’ve found while... doing my usual... um... information gathering...?”

Deedri and Trakenthin exchange glances and focus their full attention upon Modoran. With an awkward grimace, Modoran bites his lip, shrugs his shoulders, and mumbles. “So... Uh... What theories do you want to hear about, first?”




A few large white clouds overhead cast massive shadows across the land near the ranch style house. Gentle wind blows both grass blades and trees leaves equally, and a faint drone fills the vicinity. Sebastian’s ghostly form stands in front of Bach. Crossing his arms, he grins eagerly and nods towards his brother. “Okay, bro. I think it’s about time to show you how to activate THE sword and some of the main features of it.”

Aristespha walks up to Bach with the Sword of the Spirit realm in its scabbard. She places the weapon in Bach’s awaiting hands and presents a calm smile. “Originally, I would have told you there’s not too terribly much to the sword. But, as Sebastian found out along with the rest of us, it seems to have some... undocumented features.”

Bach carefully examines the magical item and alternates his gaze between Aristespha and Sebastian. “Have you found out any more info about the now not-so-hidden functions?”

With a long sigh, Aristespha shakes her head and grumbles as she rests her hands upon her hips. “Not as much as I would like. Good or bad, it seems this sword was unique, even for magical swords.”

She cocks her head to the side, tosses back her silvery blue hair, and dons a smirk upon her ivory face. “One interesting thing I did come across in some research was how many of the magical activation locks worked during the era the sword was made.”

Lifting a curious brow, Bach follows Sebastian’s instructive gesture and slowly slides the sword out from its sheath. He smirks in amusement and his voice grows sarcastic. “Neat. So what was it? Some special sequence of words? Secret magical arts unique to the device? A dark, morally questionable blood bonding ritual?”

Aristespha lightly chuckles, steps forward, and places her finger firmly upon the top of Bach’s forehand. She curls her finger around the white streak contrasting his brown hair and guides in down into Bach’s vision and rolls her eyes in amusement. “Nope. Simple detection of Pre-Cataclysm genetic modifications.”

Incredulously frowning, Bach eyes his white streak of hair and combs it back with his fingers. “Really? Wow... I’m not going to lie, I was kind of hoping for something a bit more significant than that.”

Sebastian snorts ethereally and shrugs his shoulders with his hands out to his sides. “Same here, bro. At first, the sword was really vocal about the whole chosen one thing and we thought there was something more going on with its decision process.”

He scratches the back of his head and averts his eyes away in a fit of shame. “We really didn’t dig too deep, since we were busy chasing Noxian around. It was only after Noxian blasted me we really tried to figure things out. And well...”

Aristespha frowns slightly, sways her hips, and sighs out her frustration. “The sword has always been awkward and brief with its messages. When it... captured... Sebastian, it got even more brief... and less helpful in some regards.”

Bach examines the blade, squints as the sun glints off a sharp edge, and puzzles at Sebastian. “Maybe it’s redirected its power to holding or supporting you?”

Sebastian nods slowly in agreement and furrows his brow. “That’s my best guess, too, bro. I think its elder energy detection range is a lot less than it was, or at least it’s not as sensitive? Also, it seems to be trying to inform me of things by... feel? I don’t know. I’m still sorting through all of it myself and it’s really abstract about it. But, the sword definitely keeps informing me about you.”

Narrowing a suspicious stare at Sebastian, Bach sneers and briefly grits his teeth uneasily. “Uh...”

Blinking in confusion, Sebastian shakes his head and laughs with ghostly reverb. “Oh! No. When we got close to your house in Tullachester, it was pinging you as a new wielder. Hence, why we were a bit over zealous... Heh...”

Returning his attention to the partially unsheathed sword, Bach lifts an expectant brow and maintains a wary demeanor. “Okay. So, supposedly because I’ve got this white streak in my hair, it’ll just work for me?”

Aristespha nods slowly and smiles with a snort. “Well, yes, I believe. The sword is a bit cryptic in how it explains itself. That must have been some style choice by the creator. But, given what Sebastian has felt and the obtuse explanation from the sword, we think that’s probably it.”

She sighs, relaxes her posture, and rolls her hand in thought. “It’s not so much the white streak as much as the genetic traces the biological modification left behind. The white hair streak is just a visual indicator. Using cosmetic genetic mods was a popular thing for First Period mage royalty to do to prevent their powerful magical artifacts from getting used against them.”

She searches her mind for further information and relays it in an explanatory tone. “Biological and genetic modifications post-Cataclysm were extremely rare as the resources didn’t exist to fashion new stocks. The mage royalty had the ruling power to acquire the remaining mods that still existed and the methods to augment their magic to detect the mods.”

Bach shifts his attention to an emerging realization and returns to the conversation with a smug grin to Aristespha. “Wait... So... Sebastian and I are descendants of ancient royalty?”

Sebastian smiles proudly, postures pridefully, chuckles with his brother. “I know, right?!”

He gazes at Aristespha eagerly curious. “Oh yeah! Dear? Did you ever find a possible royal line that may have created the sword?”

A dark, playful grin graces Aristespha’s lips and she flashes an evil gaze between Back and Sebastian. “Well, it has proven a bit difficult to track down any records. Especially, since that after the Second Cataclysm, most mage royalty lineages were systematically hunted down and slaughtered by the new commoner mages.”

Her expression morphs to an ill-humored smile and she presents facetious tone to the brothers while tapping her finger tips together. “They even more thorough and zealous than most school history books would have you believe. A few rebel organizations went so far as second and third cousins. Seems they were exceptionally motivated.”

She shrugs her shoulders with dramatic gestures of her hands and winks to the two uneasy brothers. “So, either you are descendants of unknown, illegitimate royal bastards... Or, your family line just happens to have the same genetic modification present in it.”

Bach and Sebastian remain wide-eyed, and awkwardly quiet. After a few exchanges of disappointed, uncertain expressions, the two accept their either questionable or lack of lineage. Bach shrugs his shoulders with a weak smirk. “I’m perfectly cool with just somehow having that same mod.”

Sebastian nods with a tight smile and cracks a halfhearted grin. “Yeah, bro. Let’s just say we just got really lucky by circumstance.”

Rolling her eyes with an amused snicker, Aristespha places her hands on her hips, and focuses her attention upon the sword. “Anyway... The sword activation is simple enough. Draw the blade, grip the handle firmly, and flow some magical energy into it.”

Bach perks his brow, grips the handle of the sword, and draws it out. With the scabbard in one hand and the blade in the other, Bach calmly exhales and readies himself. Sebastian quickly slides into Bach’s view and waves his hands for his attention. “Bro! Just a fair warning. It’ll feel a little weird when it activates. Nothing bad. Just strange.”

Confirming with Sebastian, Bach bites his lip, rolls his shoulders, and concentrates. A faint trace of magical flow glides along the surface of Bach’s arm and sinks into the handle of the sword. Moments later, Bach’s face contorts uncomfortably and his hand tenses up. The Sword of the Spirit Realm pulsates to a steady, faint blue glow. Sebastian’s visage warps slightly but stabilizes. Bach squirms out some discomfort and shakes off a shiver down his back. He grits his teeth briefly and grimaces. “Gods, that feels fucking WEIRD.”

Sebastian turns his head to Aristespha with an accusing stare and points to the sword in Bach’s hand. “SEE! It feels weird for him, too. It’s not just MY wild imagination or some psychosomatic thing!”

Aristespha narrows a glare back at Sebastian, crosses her arms, and briefly snarls her upper lip before groaning. “Yes, Sebastian. I SEE that now.”

After a few seconds, Sebastian softens his gaze and dons an apologetic tone. “Sorry, dear... It’s just nice to have someone confirm it. A little vindication, you know?”

A smiles graces Aristespha’s face and she nods understandingly. “I know, Sebastian. I just find it strange that would be an aspect of its function.”

Sebastian shifts his focus to Bach and inquisitively gazes over. “So, how did it feel when it activated?”

Bach blinks in thought, idly flexes his arms with the sword, and mulls over the recent experience. “Well... Like something reached into my arm and... grabbed hold of it?”

A satisfied smile appears on Sebastian’s translucent face and he nods in complete agreement. “Exactly what I fuckin’ felt. But, apart from that?”

Methodically moving the sword through a number of practice maneuvers, Bach gauges the weight and balance of the weapon in his hand, and finishes the motions with a final fanciful flair. “Not bad at all. Balanced. Really light, too. And, I’m sure that blade could easily slice through some things.”

His eyes flicker to a blue glow and he studies the edges of the blade closely in growing astonishment. “Oh yeah. There is some serious enchantment magic on that edge. Gods, that can do some serious damage.”

Sebastian grins eagerly and chuckles. “That sword is pretty capable. Sharpest edge I’ve ever swung on a blade. And if you lose grip of it, you can will it back into your hand.”

A mischievous, sly smile emerges upon Bach’s face. “So... Does that mean that if I throw it-”

The ethereal glare of Sebastian zips up to Bach. “You throw this sword with me in it and I’ll make sure it returns the worst way to you.”

Bach blinks blankly, darts his eyes to either side, and nods slowly. “Just... Checking...”

An amused smirk forms on Sebastian and he drifts away with a playful sigh. “Ah... Just fucking with you, bro. But, seriously... Don’t throw around the ancient artifact we need. We ALMOST lost it once.”

Bach snaps a perplexed glance over to Sebastian. “Wait- What?!”

Sebastian awkwardly grins and shrugs his shoulders. “Long story, I’ll tell you later.”

He gazes lovingly at Aristespha and smiles. “Just know that despite how things went, really good things came of it.”

Aristespha responds to Sebastian’s attention with happy smile and blushes slightly. She gazes to Bach and resumes the subject at hand. “Back on topic. The sword ultimately, from research I’ve done and what has been witnessed, is an Elder energy sink. The primary function of it seems to be to absorb Elder energy and send it somewhere.”

Bach narrows a questioning stare at Aristespha and cocks his head to the side. “Somewhere?”

Mild embarrassment mixes with frustration upon Aristespha’s face. She rolls her shoulders and gestures out her thoughts. “That part has been difficult to determine. There is NOT a lot of documentation about that aspect of the sword. Any information I have found is prone to terrible translation errors. Or, it is just too cryptic to make any sense of.”

An unamused expression bubbles up onto Bach’s face with a sarcastic tone. “And, I’m certain the sword has been the most helpful in filling these gaps of information?”

Aristespha’s cadence matches Bach’s with a wry smile. “Oh yes. Most certainly. It has been an absolute fount of knowledge.”

Sebastian crosses his arms, groans with a slight reverb, and rolls his eyes dismissively. “It certainly showers its wisdom the same on the inside as it does on the outside.”

With a shake of the head, Aristespha tosses back her long hair, stretches her arms, and sighs. “Regardless, it does have its purpose, and hopefully absorbing the Elder energy stored within Noxian will not only defeat him, but return Sebastian back.”

Bach’s attention drifts away briefly and he narrows his eyes upon the sword. “Thinking along those same lines...”

He gazes at Sebastian’s ethereal form. “Has it absorbed any ambient Elder energy, recently?”

Sebastian nods calmly and frowns slightly. “Yeah. From what I’ve felt, it’s... Kind of a... Drop in the bucket?”

Slumping his shoulders, Bach tugs at the corner of his mouth and mumbles disheartened. “There’s goes that idea for now.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Sebastian floats next to Bach with an appreciative smirk. “Hey, bro. It’s not gone to waste or anything. But, I feels like there’s A LOT more energy needed for me to get back in one physical piece.”

Aristespha rests her hand upon Back’s shoulder and presents a hopeful smile. “There is a merit in your idea to try for site of power and ancient ruins for left over traces of Elder energy. A strong enough residual source should get us closer to our goal, so we should keep an eye out. Also...”

She lifts an intrigued brow and focuses her violet eyes at Bach. “When we examine the nature of your access to elder energy further in the future, I believe the sword would serve as a convenient safety measure. Any excess energy will probably help out Sebastian.”

Bach nods thoughtfully, slowly pondering the idea. He examines the sword, and hoists up the scabbard up in his other hand. With a smooth motion, he slides the sword securely back into the sheath, and shudders as he lets his hand go from the handle. He eyes Sebastian with an awkward grimace. Sebastian shakes his head and grumbles. “I know, bro. It just feels weird no matter what you do.”

Bach twists his mouth and tilts his head to either side. “Did you get used to it after a certain point?”

Sebastian grits his teeth briefly and uncertainly ponders. “Not really? You just start to expect it and take comfort in anticipating it?”

Aristespha rolls her eyes at exchange between the brothers and takes the scabbard and sword from Bach. “You two...”




Thomas Blaureiter stands near the back steps of a long brick house and idly surveys the worn dirt track in the middle of a field. He glances up to the expanding orange glow of the morning sky and winces briefly when beams of sunlight flicker over the tree lined horizon. Lifting one of his cybernetic arms up, he shields his eyes while they adjust. The back storm door opens with a propping push from Kaleb’s hand. Shadeesa slips past Kaleb, and walks down the few stair steps with a mug of coffee in each hand. Kaleb follows a step behind her and watches her progress. Shadeesa glances behind her with green on black eyes, tosses her dark green hair, and shows a loving smile on her light gray, white freckled face. “I do appreciate you being so watchful, but I can still manage these stairs... Even with balancing coffee cups in each hand.”

Kaleb awkwardly grins and momentarily averts his eyes in embarrassment. “I know.”

He gazes down Shadeesa’s pronounced belly beneath her apron, smiles to her, and rests a hand on her back when he moves to her side. “Just trying to be protective and all that fatherly stuff. Think it’s all starting to hit me as of late. Hope I’m not going overboard or anything.”

As the couple walks to Thomas, Shadeesa giggles and smiles happily. “You’re doing just fine.”

She presents a cup of coffee to Thomas and nods to him. “Good morning. I didn’t know how you liked your coffee, so I kept it as it was brewed.”

Thomas grabs hold of the mug, graciously bows to Shadeesa, and smirks contentedly. “That’s just fine. I learned to drink it plain and fresh a long time ago.”

Kaleb slips from the mug in his other hand and his face sours slightly. “Yeah... I’m trying to do the same. Keeps it simple when I’m out somewhere remote.”

A lighthearted chuckle escapes Thomas and he shakes his head of short, gray hair. “It only takes a few desperate times to break your taste buds to it. Don’t worry.”

He peacefully enjoys the scenic morning landscape as the sun casts its light upon the dew sparkling grasses and leaves. The trio soak up the quiet moments with coffee for minutes. Thomas sighs appreciatively and smiles. “By the way, thank you for having me for a few days. Gods. Times like this I miss being out on the family farm.”

A sly smirk creeps out from the corner of Shadeesa’s mouth and she lifts an intrigued brow to Thomas. “Hmm. So any farm related retirement plans when you get your years at the university?”

Thomas shrugs his cybernetic shoulders, slowly sways his head side to side, and mulls the idea over. “It’s come up between Albert and I. But, that’s still a number of years off. I’m going to need quite a few more years of service before I get most of my retirement benefits from the university.”

Kaleb laughs and grins towards Thomas. “I could totally see you and Albert growing food to feed a few dragon lines.”

Thomas blinks blankly, twists his lips, and mumbles barely coherent. “Don’t know about that...”

Shadeesa furrows her brow and stares with incredulous hints at Thomas. “Oh, why not? You cannot tell me you wouldn’t want to raise your own swarm of dragons.”

The thought weighs on Thomas’s mind. He indulges in a long swig from his coffee cup, and grits his teeth momentarily with an indecisive sigh. “I don’t know. Nachta was unique in just every aspect. If I’m going to have another dragon in my life it’ll have to be something special...”

A loud, rumbling snore reverberates through the open doors of the huge hangar at the corner of the field. Lagi twists and rotates his large blue and black scaled form around the confines of the massive metal building. His gaping maw opens up to a dramatic yawn that abruptly ends with an echoing belch. Following the gaseous flow, an oily mass of plant matter flies out and plops down meters away into the field. Kaleb snorts, lifts his hand off of Shadeesa’s back, and holds a finger up. “Wait for it...”

Lagi’s face contorts, a wave tension radiates down his spine, and his tail momentarily stiffens. A long, rumbling expulsion of gas sounds out against the acoustically reflective walls of the hangar. With an expression of satisfaction, Lagi lethargically rests his head upon a large, canvas pillow and resumes a droning snore with his long tongue hanging out. Shadeesa covers her snicker with a hand and tries to maintain her composure. “So... Something special?”

While Shadeesa shakes her head and guides her stray locks of hair over her horns, Thomas smiles warmly and laughs as fond memories rise up. “Nachta had similar habits. I hope Lagi doesn’t inherit her more infamous ones.”

Shadeesa lifts a curious brow and focuses her attention upon Thomas. “Like what? I’m actually curious for my own research.”

Thomas glances over and snorts out an ill-humored smirk. “Well... She was more... Um. Well, attuned? Yes, attuned... to her biological functions. ESPECIALLY, when angry. Which she was often.”

Kaleb swallows down more of his coffee with a grimace and chuckles. “Oh, Lagi’s perfectly capable of feats like that. But, he’s just usually so goofy and laid back, that I don’t think it even crosses his mind to be mean or vindictive.”

Relief grows upon Thomas’s face and he nods in agreement, curious. “I’m glad he’s kept that attitude. It HAS to be something from his father, because it DID NOT come from his mother.”

As an old subject rises up in Shadeesa’s mind, inquisitive hints bubble into her gaze towards Thomas and she ponders. “That reminds me. Any new information about Lagi’s lineage?”

Kaleb quirks his brow and glances over to the new topic. “Yeah. Did that one dragon fan club that Tellerran guy is part of it have anything useful?”

Thomas scratches his chin contemplatively, and thinks about the subject over while contorting his face. “Nothing too new. But, I was really surprised how thorough they were and how much information they had on a number of dragons. They must have some inside sources, because I distinctly remember A LOT that information being restricted in some shape or form by most government organizations.”

He pours back the last remainder of the coffee in his mug, pauses in thought, and nods. “They did have Nachta’s family tree theorized decently. They still haven’t fit Lagi anywhere yet. Last I checked, they were still bickering page after page about that.”

Shrugging his shoulders, he smiles nonchalantly and rolls his eyes. “If anything useful comes from all of it, I’ll be sure to let you two know. Still trying to keep my official distance and all.”

Kaleb furrows his brow at Thomas and cocks his head to the side. “Are THEY still keeping tabs on you?”

Thomas snorts with a dismissive smirk and shakes his head. “I don’t think so. I think they gave up trying to find out any secrets from me a few years after I gave them-”

A sly smile graces his face. “All the eggs Nachta’s nest. Plus, not having a dragon for this long and working at the school, they probably think I’ve distanced myself from my past so much, that I’m not worth the effort.”

Shadeesa grumbles unamused. “I still find that clause of that treaty so ridiculous.”

Thomas nonchalantly rests a cybernetic hand on his side. “Yeah. But, it saved a bunch of lives and kept me from spending time in some nation’s military prison. So, I’m not one to complain about it.”

The three casually watch the sleeping Lagi. Thomas narrows an analyzing stare at the slumbering dragon and tilts his head to the side. “One interesting thing I found while browsing that club’s aethersite is that many of Lagi’s traits we’ve assumed were his father’s... They’ve seen individually in other dragon lines. But, not all together in one dragon.”

Kaleb, Shadeesa, and Thomas distantly study Lagi with developing serious interest. Lagi stirs groggily to partial consciousness, lazily winks one eye after another at the group, and slowly wags his tail. Kaleb shrugs his shoulders, Shadeesa smiles happily, and Thomas grins at the goofy display.




Steam rises out of a large pot on the glass stove top and swirls into the overhead vent fan. Red rings of light pulse steadily around the large pot and two other pans, and the digital display on the appliance’s console indicates the temperature of the different items of cookware. Dretphi guides a knife down repeatedly upon a cutting board and slices up a variety of vegetables. She glances over at one of the pans, cuts off a modest slab of butter from an unwrapped stick, and flicks it onto the heated surface. Swiftly, she presses a button on the oven door, leans to study the tray with cooking slices of meat inside under the internal lamp, and stands back up. She surveys the progress of the meal, and wipes her brow with her arm. Sniffing the air, she glances over at a plate of precisely cut, caramel topped, brownies covered in draping sheets of wax paper, and smiles with pride. Her attention switches back over to the buttered pan, and she sweeps the vegetables from the cutting board onto the hot surface.

The odors of steam, frying vegetables, cooking meat, and sweet treats floods the air in the kitchen and wafts out the rest of the ranch style house. Bach plods casually through the archway leading to the hallway and gradually halts in the middle of the combined living room and dining area. He sniffs the air, guides his head to focus on the sounds, and steps inquiringly towards the kitchen entry. Stopping at the entrance point, he admires the meal in progress and nods approvingly. “It smells amazing in here. And, it’s looking really good.”

Dretphi glances over with a warm smile and idly stirs the vegetables in the pan with a wooden spatula. “Thank you. It will be ready soon.”

Bach remains clear of the kitchen walkway and watches Dretphi switch between tasks in different areas. During a lull in activity, he wanders in thought and directs an inquiry towards Dretphi. “It always seems like you’re the one cooking for the group. Any particular reason why?”

Searching her mind during the break, Dretphi thinks about her response and nonchalantly replies. “I like cooking. I am proficient at preparing meals for groups. Why do you ask?”

Accepting the answer, Bach approaches his own response carefully. “Well, I just wandered if there was any special reason. You seem to know what you are doing.”

Dretphi perks an intrigued brow, reaches over to dial down a temperature on the stove top controls, and gazes thoughtfully at Bach. “My mother taught me. She took the responsibility to feed the house. When I was old enough, she taught me. I helped cook for the house until I went to college.”

Bach nods, leans against the entryway, and puzzles. “Your mother took the responsibility?”

Lifting the lid of the pot carefully, Dretphi releases a wave of steam up in to the air, inspects the fluffy rice inside a holder, and tilts her head to the side. “Yes. She prefers to eat good food. She makes sure of that.”

Replacing the lid, she rolls her shoulders into a stretch, and sighs, flitting her steely gray eyes wide. “Many house duties she defers to my fathers. Brothers for some. Cooking has been hers since house formation. By her unchallenged claim. My fathers were astounded when she let me help in the kitchen. She takes pride in that contribution. Her teaching me was significant.”

Bach gradually acknowledges the weigh in Dretphi’s tone and observes her efforts in preparing the meal. “Wow, that sounds like house duties are pretty serious business.”

Dretphi twists the corner of her mouth and grumbles. “Depends on the house. My mother is... very... exacting with her standards.”

A smile graces her face and she sighs to a relaxed demeanor. “She means well. Sought to prepare me. She taught me cooking for my benefit. Instructed me it was the right skill to keep a house together.”

Bach nods understandingly with a contented smile. “Oh, well, that makes sense. It does sound like she has good intentions there. Good survival skill.”

Dretphi glances over with an uncertain twist in the corner of her mouth and lifts an eye brow. “She said similar about sword fighting, grappling. I would consider her sentiments carefully.”

Cideeda peeks quietly through the entryway into the kitchen next to Bach and surveys the feast in the making. Her emerald eyes lock onto the caramel topped brownies and she unconsciously licks her lips. The growing toothy grin halts when she spots the wax paper covering the dessert treats. Her furry ears droop slight as her mind processes options. With a hint of resignation in her tone, she chimes out quizzically to Dretphi. “So, how much longer? Should I set the plates out?”

Dretphi stands back, analyzes the status of each part of the meal, and processes the figures. “No longer than ten minutes. Set the table. Thank you.”

With swift nod, Cideeda slips away quickly and steps long the floor with a light pats of her feet and soft clicks of her claws. Bach gawks at Cideeda’s previous location, cocks his head to the side, and shakes in disbelief. “Good gods... I didn’t hear her walk up...”

A sly grin parts Dretphi’s lips and she tosses her thick, long braids of platinum blonde hair over her shoulders. With a quiet voice, she directs her voice to Bach. “She smelled the dessert. Always tries to sneak one away when I do not notice.”

Bach quirks his gaze at the plate of brownies, and glances over to Dretphi puzzled. “Well, she probably could have gotten one. I certainly didn’t know she was there.”

Dretphi presents a proud smile and chuckles to herself. “I use countermeasures designed for my brothers. They discourage the wise.”

Squinting at the plate of brownies, Bach ponders a moment and crosses his arms with a humored smile. “So, you were the one that helped keep your brothers in line?”

Grasping hold of a tray of cooked meat from the open oven with mitten covered hands, Dretphi sets the cookware upon a clear section of kitchen counter, and groans out old frustrations. “Yes. Crettaken is five years younger. Arvenerrin is six years younger. I helped my mother raise both. Kept them out of trouble.”

A proud smile appears on her tan face and she chuckles to herself. “It took effort. They are better now. Both are searching for adventuring schools currently.”

She grumbles and slowly shakes her head. “That has been an ongoing debate between my mother. House fathers. Brothers.”

Bach blinks and contorts his face with memories of the past. “Yeah. My mother and father went to rival adventuring schools. But, they eventually settled on High Alton college since it was conveniently closer. And, mom agreed it that it was a lot cheaper.”

Dretphi quickly nods in agreement as she balances out the contents between frying pans. “Good reasons.”

Heavier foot steps sound out from beyond the kitchen and Sotalia slides into view around the entry next to Bach. She smiles slyly and visually searches the forming feast. “It’s looking really good.”

She brushes past Bach through the gap between him and the entryway frame, lightly steps into the kitchen, and maintains a watch of the busy, distracted Dretphi. “So, how much longer? Cideeda almost has the table together... Oh, I could get the drinks going... and-”

The crisp crackle of wax paper sharply contrasts the low, soft background din of the kitchen. Another fit of sheets crinkling fills the air with the sounds of clumsy struggle. Dretphi’s postures stiffens as she pivots in place and focuses a stoic glare down upon Sotalia. Bach follows the path of ire. Sotalia remains frozen, slowly turns her head to greet Dretphi’s stare with innocent, pleading golden eyes, and attempts to nonchalantly release her grip on a caramel covered brownie. Awkwardly wiping the gooey topping upon a nearby wash rag, she slinks closer to Bach in the doorway. “So... I’m going to get those drinks... Ready...”

Dretphi narrows her hard stare, crosses her strong arms, firmly nods to weak statement. Sotalia grins uneasily as she maintains eye contact with Dretphi, slips behind Bach, and shifts him over slightly by his shoulders to the middle of the entry. As Sotalia disappears, Bach blinks blankly before shuddering. “Whoa, that’s death glare if I ever saw one.”

Working the expression off her face, Dretphi bites her lip with hint of embarrassment. “I learned that from my mother. It has proven useful.”




Chad examines the edge of his Stalwart sword, squints at a few spots, and slides the weapon back into its scabbard. He places it to the side, resettles himself upon the floor mat in the large tent, and slides over his Flames of the Phoenix branded breastplate. The tent flap unzips quickly, shaking the overhead electric lamp, and reveals the dark night sky contrasting the camp site glow. Veevi ducks inside, zips the front opening back up, and lowers herself into a seductive crawl. She suggestively moves onto the large bedroll and lays herself out with a smug grin. She fluffs her long, bright pink hair to drape upon her chest, arcs her tightly clothed body into a stretch, and flicks her short-haired tail. “Gods! What a night!”

With a mildly interested perk of his brow, Chad smirks and narrows his brown eyes at Veevi. “How so?”

Veevi twists her mouth, flicks her fuzzy, upright ears, and reaches her tan, brown striped arms out to her sides. “Ungh. Tassilda.”

Chad grumbles with a sigh and tilts his head, shaking his short brown, coiffed hair. “Okay. What happened this time?”

Pausing in thought, Veevi dons an uncertain expression and squints her pink pupil eyes. “That’s the weird thing. Nothing. It was so... Weird. She’s been riding my ass to teach me the proper way to do everything and complains how I’m taking too long to do everything-”

She sneers her upper lip and scrunches up her nose in disgust. “And she’s just spacing out between every exercise she runs me through. I had to get her attention like, totally, six different times.”

Chad glances up from his inspection of the armor and quizzically stares at Veevi. “That doesn’t sound like her. Especially, when dealing with YOU.”

Veevi groans as her frustration colors her tone. “Every time I asked what the hell was wrong with her, she’d fucking snap back to her usually bitchy self for a few minutes then lose interest in teaching me anything.”

Chad searches his mind and frowns gradually as concern infiltrates his demeanor. “That’s really not normal for her. I wonder what’s happened. I probably should talk to her and see what’s going on.”

Sticking her tongue out petulantly, Veevi rolls her eyes and snorts. “Oh, I bet it’s something to do with her and that Chrome Crusader paladin she’s been chasing.”

She gazes at Chad with a smug, sharp grin and slides open the bedroll beneath her. “She was going after him so hard. Now, she’s not chasing him around anymore.”

Chad crosses his arms, draws a long breath in, and hums in thought. “That is weird. Well. Huh. We’ll see if they sort it out themselves, I guess? Any ideas what it may be?”

Veevi covers herself with the blankets of the bedroll, pauses her motions under the sheets, and shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know. Must be some serious hang up with her to stop her so quickly. But, I don’t fucking know.”

Setting the branded breastplate to the side, Chad closes his eyes, frowns, and grumbles. “Well. I don’t think I should intrude yet. Especially, if it’s of a... personal... nature.”

Drifting of into a long thought, Chad searches for an answer inwards. A minute later, a small shirt flops upon his lap. He returns to awareness, studies the garment briefly, and notices a pair of shorts landing on his shoulder. Lifting his gaze up, he watches the devilish, seducing grin of Veevi as she tosses a sports bra his direction. Smirking smugly, he catches it and waits patiently. Veevi lifts a dark pink eyebrow at him and giggles suggestively. “Well... If you are waiting for THAT to come off, you’ll be waiting all night.”

Chad cocks his head to the side and chuckles. “Why’s that?”

Veevi smiles impishly with a bite of her lip. “I wasn’t wearing anything after the bra.”

She slides out a bare arm from under the covers, grips the bedroll blanket tightly, and flaps up the sheets. Fully revealing her tan, brown-stripped, thin, and shapely form, she guides the covers back down over herself and winks with a sharp, eager grin. Chad blinks blankly as his mind recovers from the brief scenery, and smiles confidently as he approaches.

Outside the Flames of the Phoenix branded tent, other tents around the campsite reflect the faint glow of the campfire. The sounds of the forest settle into the area as lights inside darken and other members of the group ready themselves for slumber. Soon only the soft crackles of the low fire fill the quiet air. A long peace looms over the area for nearly a quarter hour. Interrupting, the familiar noises of carnal gymnastics from the Flames of the Phoenix branded tent pollute the soundscape. Faint grumbles of annoyance, frustration, and disgust punctuate the area as others recognize the current sounds. Deedri’s voice rises out of the background and she directs a whisper. “Anyone else want cotton balls for their ears?”