-56-

Isaac adjusts the blue scarf around his neck and relaxes his white haired head onto the car’s driver’s headrest. Maintaining the wheel near the center, he watches the long road ahead and taps buttons through a number of radio channels. After minutes of surfing the few stations coming through to the remote vicinity, his gray eyes squint to a number of stopped vehicles ahead in the distance. As he drives his sedan closer, the Chrome Crusader logos grow large enough to see upon the many cargo and military vehicles. A uniformed man holds up a stop sign and signals Isaac’s car to a halt. Isaac slowly brakes the sedan and cocks his head curiously at the parked convoy. After passing a minute pondering the situation, he rolls down his window, leans out, and waves for the man’s attention. The uniformed Chrome Crusader walks up to Isaac’s window. “Hello, sir. Apologies for the delay. Once another truck passes through, we’ll hold it clear for you.”

Isaac nods understandingly and directs his query to the activity ahead. “That’s perfectly fine. Thankfully, I’m not in that much of a hurry today. But, I must admit I am quite curious as to what is going on... If I might inquire?”

The man thinks moment and acknowledges the request as he sorts through the information in his head. He stands up straight and points out to both forested sides of the highway to Isaac. “Last night the convoy was attacked from the forest. The threat has been dealt with by our forces, so you are not in any immediate danger.”

He bows forward towards Isaac’s window and shows a bit of concern in his tone. “Though I would highly recommend not stopping in these woods until we’ve fully completed our investigation of the area.”

Isaac’s eyes widen and he frowns slightly at the information. “Oh my! I do hope your group fared well against such an attack.”

The uniformed man nods appreciatively with a bit of sadness slipping through his professional facade. “There were some injuries, but thankfully no one was killed. Our medical staff and nearby clinics made sure of that.”

Pondering the new information, Isaac focuses an inquisitive gaze upon the rear guard. “Oh, good. That’s excellent news to hear. I do hope everyone recovers full as soon as possible. Admittedly, that must have been a significant threat to have done anything to your sizeable, well-armed group. Is there anything I should be on the lookout for?”

The man searches his mind for a moment and sighs with tinges of uncertainty. “I am not authorized to release much information. But, the attack involved magical beings. So, if you notice strange magical phenomena... First, evacuate to safety as quickly as possible. Then, please contact local authorities with as much detailed information as you can provide. Apart from that I can’ t say much more at the moment. Hopefully, an official release will be made public with more details soon enough.”

Isaac nods in agreement and presents a smile to the man. “Very interesting. If I am unfortunate enough to see anything strange, I’ll be certain to report as soon as I get to the safety. But, let’s hope fortune is on both our sides today.”

The rear guardman acknowledges and turns his attention to the large truck rolling through the last stretch of the roadway near the convoy. As the huge cargo truck rolls through, a wiry man with short white hair nods to the uniformed Chrome Crusader, while a head bandanna wearing fvalian woman waves energetically. When the cargo truck clears, the rear guard confirms the clearance on his radio and directs Isaac’s attention. “The way is cleared for you, sir. Try to keep it on the slow side, there’s still a number of personnel about. You have a nice, safe rest of the day.”

Isaac nods, rolls up his window, and accelerates his sedan into the clear lane. The vehicle rolls through the corridor on the highway at a modest speed. Isaac takes moments to glance to at the various Chrome Crusader vehicles around the area during his passage. His attention shifts to black sports utility vehicle in the middle of a group of “Next Adventurers of Nexus” vans. Next to the black vehicle, a brown haired man in a “Flames of the Phoenix” breastplate stares in a mix of frustration and resignation at the massive hole in the rear bumper of the sports utility vehicle. Isaac accelerates his sdean upon noticing the number of camera crews in the area and moves through the rest of the route quickly.

Near the exit point, he spots a large flatbed truck and strange debris upon it. He unconsciously slows his car down and watches as another heavy utility truck’s crane hoists up the mostly intact remains of golem over the flatbed. A few power armored Chrome Crusaders stand at the ready to assist and maintain a protective perimeter. Isaac gawks in disbelief as recognition over takes him and his eyes search between the familiar construct components. Situational awareness calls him back present surroudnings and Isaac remembers to drive his sedan. Clearing the exit checkpoint, Isaac stares out his windshield distantly and searches his mind. A mix of thoughts telegraph their struggle upon his face. Soon determination overtakes his expression and Isaac reaches a hand out to rummage through his backpack. Balancing his attention between driving and searching, he finds a collection of maps, flops the mass of papers upon the passenger’s seat, and focuses his gaze at the road ahead. He spots a few road signs indicating an upcoming intersection. A frown grows upon his face as he idly taps upon a highlighted spot in the middle of a dense forest north of an access road.




Traces of late evening moonlight lights up the front living room through the windows of the two-story house. Dim outlines of unloaded adventuring equipment contrast against the shadowy shapes of furniture in the room. A faint, constant drone of water drifts down the stairwell from upstairs. The water fall rhythm occasionally fluctuates behind the upstairs bathroom door with the sounds of movement. Behind a frosted sliding glass shower door, Tassilda stands under the constant spray from the shower head. With her hands propping herself against the tiled wall, she releases a long, despondent sigh, and stares distantly ahead. Her light blue on black eyes blink once and shift downwards. The shower rains upon her head and shoulders. The flow of water streams through her long, straight, raven black hair, drips down off her swirling horns, and runs off her gray, patterned skin into the drain.

Over the minutes, Tassilda darts her eyes through a maelstrom of thoughts and blinks hard into pained winces. Eventually, she grits her teeth, curls her long, black nailed fingers up into her balling fists, and lifts her face into the shower stream. Water immediately obscures tears and washes away the drying paths upon her cheeks. Tassilda draws in a long, shaky breath, reaches down with both hands, and quickly shuts the water off. The drone of water fades to a chorus of wet patters upon the shower floor. Tassilda blinks out of her stupor, glances up to the late evening sky through a small skylight, and slides the shower glass door open. She plods slowly and sways spiritless towards the bathroom vanity. Her hands feel around aimlessly and eventually secure a grip to either side of the sink counter. She gradually angles her face up and levels her head at the mirror. Moment pass in silence, and soon she refocuses her sight ahead from some distant point in her mind. Tassilda makes eyes full eye, unbreaking contact with the person in the mirror.

Painful confusion infiltrates her expression and she stares harshly into the eyes of the other. Her lips twist and she frowns as she reluctantly acknowledges the reality before her. With each passing minute, she tightens her grip upon the counter, grimaces, and painfully recognizes herself. A swell of shame washes up regrets to the front of her mind. Closing her eyes hard, she averts her stare away from the mirror, drops her head down, and squeezes heavy drops of tears into the sink between raven black hair. Despite her best efforts, the sounds her sobbing trickles faintly through the bathroom door into the dark upstairs hallway.




The humvee rolls to a stop outside the main entrance of the Amaranth Valley clinic within the lines of a side parking spot. Cideeda glances over her shoulder from the driver’s seat and perks her furry ears at Aristespha. “You sure you don’t want us to wait? It might take us a while to get back here.”

Bach smirks and rolls his eyes in amusement from his rear passenger’s side seat. “I mean, we are going to the game shop after we get supplies. And very likely get purposely distracted in there.”

Cideeda smiles in guilty acceptance and shrugs her shoulders. “There’s new releases... We’ll probably take forever to gawk at everything new they have.”

From the back bench seat, Dretphi sighs in agreement and bites her lip. “Series with new installments... I need to buy.”

Aristespha nods with a calm smile and opens her rear driver’s side door. “It’ll be fine. This chore might take some time anyway. Along with the regular supplies the clinic can sell, there’s a few materials that require authorization which can take a long while.”

She glances over to Sotalia and smirks. “Also, I’ll be showing someone else on the process.”

Sotalia smiles proudly, pulls the handle, and opens her front passenger side door. She glances over to Cideeda and directs a whisper. “Remember to get me ALL latest issues of Tinkering Tina.”

A toothy, mischievous grin appears on Cideeda and she playfully winks back to Sotalia with hints of sarcasm. “Oh, but of course.”

Pausing a moment, Sotalia narrows her gaze at Cideeda’s face before twisting her mouth to a pout. “You better...”

Cideeda acts out an aura of innocence and waits for Sotalia to leave the vehicle. Aristespha steps out of the humvee onto the sidewalk leading to the entrance, pats her side, and momentarily startles. She snaps a glance back into the cab of the vehicle and calms down with her embarrassment as she sees the sword at Bach’s side. While Aristespha shakes her head at herself with a sigh, Bach nods to Aristespha. “Don’t worry I got it for the moment.”

Aristespha smiles appreciatively to Bach and rolls her eyes at herself. “Do not mind me. I’m just so used to checking for it.”

Sebastian’s ethereal voice resonates from the sheathed blade next to Bach. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure he doesn’t lose me.”

Sotalia closes her door, skips quickly around the front of the humvee, and waits next to Aristespha. With slight hints of unease, Aristespha nods thankfully and pushes the vehicle door closed. The humvee shifts into gear, and Cideeda accelerates with a wave out the window. The vehicle rolls off through the mazes of lanes and parking spaces towards the main road. Sotalia visually follows the team until she winces from a flash of late morning sunlight. Stretching her shoulders with a roll, Sotalia follows behind Aristespha’s lead and adjusts the shoulder strap to a carrier at her side. “So, anything in particular we’re shopping for?”

Aristespha pulls out a tablet from her backpack and flips through a few menus thoughtfully. “Mostly general medical supplies. But there’s a few controlled substances that I need to get to refresh my stock.”

Sotalia nods and wanders her gaze along the main clinic architecture. “For all the potions and compounds I’m not allowed to make?”

Aristespha sighs as she brushes stray locks of her silvery blue over her long, pointed ear. “Indeed. I really wish you could assist me, but they are have gotten ridiculously strict these days about who can handle what.”

With a nonchalant wave of her hand, Sotalia smiles contentedly and laughs. “Oh, don’t worry, girl. Anything with that much paperwork surrounding it, I’m perfectly happy letting you handle. You went to school to get that privilege.”

Aristespha snorts sarcastically and rolls her eyes. “Yes, quite the privilege. Nothing like your license being on the line whenever you purchase certain compounds and there's that surprise audit always lurking around the corner.”

As the automatic doors of the clinic entrance open, Sotalia shakes her head slowly and gazes at Aristespha respectfully. “You handle all that FAR better than I could ever attempt to. If they tried put that regulation crap on my higher power spells, I’d lose any license in the first month out of spite alone.”

An amused smile graces Aristespha face and she chuckles. “No offense, but I doubt you’d last a week.”

Sotalia shrugs her shoulders and sighs. “Well, can’t take offense to what I know would be the truth.”

Aristespha leads Sotalia through the public hallways of clinic and the duo reach a large counter space in front of a huge storage area. A uniformed woman greets Aristespha and Sotalia. “Hello, I’m Dr. Ricketts. How can I help you, today?”

Showing the display of her tablet to Dr. Ricketts, Aristespha directs the woman’s attention to a number of items on a neatly arranged, bulleted list. “I am refreshing and restocking medical supplies for my adventuring group. I was curious if you had anything on the list available for sale at the moment.”

Dr. Ricketts carefully examines the list and sways her head side to side as she mulls over the options. “I could have probably helped out more Monday, but we had to pull back quite a bit due to recent events.”

She narrows her eyes upon a few things and nods her head confidently. “But, I can definitely help you on a few things. I should be able to discount the overstock a little bit. And, I should have plenty of the controlled substances in stock.”

Aristespha retrieves her medical profressional identification cards and presents them to Dr. Ricketts. With a quick nod, Dr. Ricketts scans the information at a nearby computer station and begins typing. “This will take some time depending on how long the release authorization process is today. So, have a seat and make yourself comfortable.”

Sotalia glances around the area, sees a few chairs, and pauses in thought. She feels her stomach, frowns with a twist of her mouth, and gazes at Aristespha. “Hey, do you know if there’s a snack machine or something around here? I’m going to need something to keep me until lunch. That plain coffee didn’t do it for me this morning.”

Aristespha thinks a moment, checks her surroundings, and points down the hallway. “If I remember right, it’s most of the way down the hallway on the second left from here.”

Dr. Ricketts overhears the conversation and nods in agreement. “Correct. You have to try out that new fancy coffee machine. It makes damned near anything. And, it is all good.”

Sotalia perks up, rests the carrier off her shoulder into a seat, and departs with a hint of excited anticipation in her step. She disappears down the second left branch.

Aristespha paces with long stretching steps and hides the occasional yawn over the next few minutes. Deedri rounds the corner of a corridor down the opposite end the main hallway and slowly walks down the path, gradually collecting her thoughts. Aristespha pivots around, looks down the hall, and notices Deedri. “Deedri?! Why are you- Is everyone okay?”

Deedri blinks to attention and her moods lightens quickly upon seeing Aristespha. She picks up her pace and steps closer with relief. “Yes. Everyone is relatively okay in my group. I’m here to check up on a few patients I assisted in stabilizing before they were medevacked here.”

Aristespha’s eyes widen and she concentrates her concern upon Deedri. “Medevacked? Oh gods. What happened?”

Deedri sighs uncertainly and grimaces as she tries to gather the words to explain. “It’s quite the story really. All has happened in a very short amount of time. I’ll try to sum it up the best I can. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.”

Aristespha smiles comfortingly at Deedri, rests a hand on her shoulder, and directs her attention to a row of chairs with the other hand. “I’m waiting for a controlled substance release authorization on a few compounds.”

A chuckle escapes Deedri with an understanding smirk. “Oh... You have time then.”

Dr. Ricketts nods with a confirming hum as she carries a list into the labyrinth of medical shelves.




Sotalia steps into a small lounge area littered with chairs, tables, and vending machines. She surveys the vicinity and locks her gaze upon the prominent, new, fancy coffee dispenser. Her attention immediately wanders across the range of colorful options that gradually scroll across the large touch on the front. Sotalia stands before the advanced coffee machine and studies the seemingly endless options with great interest.

As her mind assembles an appropriate caffeine concoction for the device to manufacture, a sad, soft sigh tickles her ear. Blinking away from her task, she notices the long skirt covered, gray, patterned legs of someone sitting in the chair row, immediately next to the machine. Sotalia leans to the side, opens her eyes wide in recognition, and narrows her gaze upon Tassilda. Sitting silently and unaware of anything else in the area, Tassilda stares down at the cold, black cup of coffee resting in her hands. Sliding in front of Tassilda, Sotalia crosses her arms, aims a glare down, and hems. “Hi.”

Tassilda stirs sluggishly from a stupor, slowly inspects the floor before her, and notices someone standing. She gradually lifts her head up and reveals her face to Sotalia. With a distant, disconnected stare, the overhead lighting showcases the regret and shame evident in Tassilda’s expression. Sotalia’s gaze softens as stark familiarity surfaces old memories, and her empathy forces her to recognize and remember. A surge of ire swells up within Tassilda. She tries to summon up spite, but falters when she focuses upon Sotalia’s golden eyes. Tassilda’s head her drops down with painful wince and she bows her distant stare towards her rippling reflection in the cold, black coffee.

Two remain in silence. Their reserved, awkward body language demonstrates how neither know how to address the situation. Eventually, a slight frown curls the corner of Sotalia’s mouth, and she sighs. “Started hating the person you see in the mirror?”

Tassilda’s light blue on black eyes open wide in surprise and she cautiously lifts an inquisitive gaze to Sotalia. After a few seconds of studying Sotalia’s intent, Tassilda bites her lip and nods with a hard close of her eyes. “Yes... I- I mean... H-How do you know?”

Sotalia dons a sad smile with a genuine tone. “I’ve seen that same look before in my own mirror... More than once.”

She averts her uncertainty around the small lounge, but settles her focus back upon the waiting Tassilda. “Okay... This might sound odd, but... Would you like to talk to someone who has been... Well... There before?”

With a nervous squirm in her posture, she twists her mouth and expresses her awkward sincerity. “I know I’m probably the last person you person you want to talk about anything... But, as someone who has been through some serious self-reflection... I just... I just remember always wanting someone to talk to each time.”

Tassilda blinks her stare away, fidgets with the cold coffee in her hands, and ponders. Seconds later, she nods her head appreciatively with a hint of hope. “Y-yes. That... That would be really nice right now.”

Sotalia relaxes her stance, smiles sympathetically, and redirects Tassilda’s attention. “Okay. First thing, let’s get you some fresh coffee. My treat. Then, let’s find somewhere nice to talk. I think they have a garden or courtyard around here.”




Tassilda rests her back against the courtyard bench and tilts her head reflectively, her eyes searching through her collective memories. “And... After that... Well, I have been mentally tracing it all back since Monday night and spent most of Tuesday in a haze. Without it becoming a long sad tale, it all grew from when my father didn’t renew the marriage contract with my mother.”

She slowly sits up straight, glances over to Sotalia on the other side of the bench, and sighs. “At first my mother was devastated as to why he would ever leave her. Then, a few months later, she found out he was dating a human woman. That’s when her devastation turned into... Absolutely irrational hatred.”

Sotalia takes a long sip of her extravagant cup of coffee and nods understandingly with a slight smirk. “Yeah. No offense, but I don’t think anyone born and raised in Laski would take THAT news nicely.”

Tassilda rolls her eyes and groans in begrudging agreement. “Oh, most certainly not. I was only six years old, but that didn’t stop her from ranting about her feelings whenever she felt like it. I guess if you hear it so much that young, it just sticks in your head.”

Shaking her head slowly, she grimaces and sighs. “When my half-sister was born, that’s when she shifted her targets from mixed couples to half breeds. Well, more accurately anyone who wasn't pure Emin in her eyes.”

Lifting a puzzled brow, Tassilda sips her warm, black coffee and blinks in thought. “To her credit she never said anything directly about my half-sister. But, that didn’t stop her from offhand comments in general.”

Tassilda remains silent for a few seconds and sighs regretfully. “Gods, I should have asked for equal time with both my mother and father. Maybe I wouldn’t have fallen completely in line with whatever she wanted for me.”

She grits her teeth, tosses her black hair back over her shoulders, and mulls the past over with a conflicted tone. “The sad part is that my step-mother seems really nice and I truly miss being around my little sister. And, my father seems so happy being away from my mother. But, I don’t know... I just wanted to make my mother happy, despite how miserable it was at times.”

Biting her lip, Tassilda twists her mouth and sighs deeply. “Gods, I hate to admit it, but I mostly took the contract with the Next Adventurers of Nexus to avoid having to live with my mother again after graduating.”

Sotalia chuckles lightly and shakes her head with a smirk. “Well, don’t feel too bad about that one. No one really wants to head back to their parents after being one their own.”

Tassilda curls a quick smile and nods. Her emotional search plays out on her face and she tries to find an appropriate expression in vain. “It just feels so weird to... finally examine it all... And, realizing what’s happened... Fully, I guess? I had been going along with it for so long, I guess I forgot to check to see where I was going?”

Sotalia nods slowly and presents a commiserating smile to Tassilda. “Yeah. Admittedly, you got to this point a much different way than I did, but it’s the same situation. You’ve come to a point in your life where you look around and realize... You really don’t want to be on that path anymore.”

She turns her head to meet the gaze of Tassilda and sighs. “It’s a really strange place to be when you sit down and figure out why you are what you are... So, you can stop being what you are.”

Tassilda nods in dramatic, absolute agreement and tightly grips one of her horns as she sorts through her thoughts. “I know. I mean, you know you need to do something else that’s NOT what you are doing right now. But... How? And, what?”

Sliding her hand off her horn and holding her coffee with both hands, she gazes over inquiringly and appreciatively to Sotalia. “Do you have any advice to share?”

Sotalia pours a bit of her fanciful coffee into her mouth, ponders the question while swallows, and shrugs her shoulders uneasily. “Not really. Truthfully, you just have to take it a day at a time and remember what you are trying to accomplish. Well, or at least what you are trying to NOT accomplish. And, try to do what you can for those you’ve wronged.”

Tassilda searches her thoughts inbetween sips of coffee. She quirks her brow inquisitively. “Did you ever make things right with that old group you were a part of?  The one you mentioned?”

Sotalia grumbles in frustration at herself and snarls her upper lip unsatisfied. “Well... I don’t really know. I mean they basically left me behind with note and paperwork to fill out.”

With a long sigh, Sotalia squirms uncomfortably and grimaces as she stumbles to relate her feelings. “As much as you should try to make things right... Sometimes that’s not really possible. Sometimes the best thing you can do is give them the distance they want.”

Rolling her shoulders to work out the anxiety, she tilts her head side thoughtfully. “I made an honest attempt at least. I sent message to them to let them know they were right about me. I apologized, and wished them best. Then, I left that whole area. I occasionally look them up and they all seem to be doing just fine. And, I’m okay with that.”

Tassilda blinks a bit surprised and shifts her focus to her present situation. Sotalia smiles, lifts a brow, and narrows a gaze at Tassilda. “You have to understand, my situation was different. I think you have a good chance to make amends with someone here... The one you came here for anyway.”

Anxious energy fills Tassilda and she squirms in her seat as wave of unease passes through her. After weathering her nerves, she nods in agreement with a hint of a smile. “Yes. The least I could do is apologize in person to him. And, at least, leave it on a decent note.”

Pouring back the last half of her coffee in preparation of the task ahead, Tassilda turns her head to face Sotalia. Another recent memory rises up to the front of her mind when she notices Sotalia’s fiery orange, wavy hair. Tassilda bows her head ashamed and sighs. “Um, before that... Thank you for talking to me despite my past behavior. And... Also...”

She grits her teeth briefly and sighs. “I’m very sorry for putting that dispelling charge in the hot tub.”

Sotalia sneers briefly, draws a breath in, and exhales out the animosity with an accepting groan. She eventually smiles and nods. “Apology accepted. Admittedly, that wasn’t the worst prank ever played on me, but it was quite the clever one.”

Hints of pride slip into Tassilda’s smirk. Sotalia dons a genuine expression and sighs. “And, I guess since we are trying to clear the air... I’m sorry for mocking you at the convention... AND... Teaching Veevi all those annoying tricks.”

Tassilda grumbles to a similar acceptance and rolls her eyes. “It’s not like she wasn’t going to learn them at some point. I truly wish she would stick to those instead of trying whatever half-formed versions she’s learning off of random aethersites.”

Sotalia shakes her head and gazes at Tassilda with a tinge of pity. “Still, it’s already a bit cruel to have to teach such a fucking brat anyway. No one deserves having that job made any worse.”

The two spend minutes silently watching the courtyard and the wildlife wandering among the landscaping. Tassilda draws in a deep breath, and exhales reluctantly. “Well, I guess I need to start on my path of self improvement and redemption.”

Sotalia nods as she stands up from the bench. “One thing at a time. One day at a time. Just remember why you want to be better and go from there. If nothing else, just tolerate the change enough so you can complain when no one else is looking.”

Tassilda rights herself up from the seat and quirks her brow at Sotalia. “Yes. Speaking of which, would you be against keeping up some appearances with the camera crews that often stalk me at the moment? It’d be one less thing to contend with for right now.”

A sly grin appears on Sotalia’s face and she chuckles with an eager tint. “Of course. I’m not against a little professional competition. I quite enjoyed our match up at the convention.”

A smug smile graces Tassilda’s lips and she giggles confidently with a bit of excitement in her tone. “I would not mind another such event. Might be fun to drum up the theatrics for the cameras.”

The two walk down a concrete path through clinic building encircled courtyard. As they approach an entry door, Sotalia inquires. “So, a bunch of small magical constructs attacked everyone?”

Tassilda eyes Sotalia with a twist of her mouth. “Well, I certainly would NOT call them small. They were quite substantial from my experience.”

Sotalia grits her teeth and sighs. “Well, we’ve run into a far bigger one lately.”

Tassilda blinks in surprise and turns her attention to Sotalia. “Really?”




Aristespha blinks her eyes in astonishment and shakes her head slowly in disbelief. “Gods. That is unbelieveable. I’m glad no one was killed in such an attack.”

Deedri releases a long sigh, relaxes her shoulders, and droops her furry, tufted ears. “It was pretty scary overall. I’m just glad Modoran helped me evade that one and I got to Paladin Daedrican to stabilize him long enough for the medical team to ready him for transport.”

Sorting through recent memory, Aristespha lifts a curious brow towards Deedri. “I think we really need to compare notes. We recently encountered a massive, well-made war golem during the exploration of an ancient site. Judging from how you described the ones your team encountered, they are very likely to be related somehow.”

She leans close to Deedri and whispers cautiously. “The site seemed to have been a manufacturing facility and we found signs that parts had been looted.”

Deedri’s eyes open wide and her ears flick up as she glances to Aristespha. “Wow... I actually wouldn’t be surprised if this was some kind of crude test run. Despite how badly put together these seemed, they were still very hard to fight. Incredibly dangerous.”

She gazes down the hallway and shifts her attention. “Oh! I should really check on Tassilda. I totally forgot about her. She really should be to hear all this, too.”

Aristespha’s eyes widen in worry and she hops up out of her seat. “Tassilda is here?!”

Deedri cocks her head confused. “Yes. Why?  What's wrong?”

Aristespha stares uneasily at Deedri and grits her teeth. “Sotalia is here, too!”

Covering her mouth and opening her auburn eyes in surprise, Deedri meets Aristespha’s gaze. “Tassilda went to the lounge down the hall and-”

Both read the realization plain upon each other’s faces and stare down the hallway branching from the second left. As they ready to move, Sotalia and Tassilda round the corner in casual conversation. Sotalia postures confidently as she recounts a story, while Tassilda grins, delightfully amused. As the two continue their exchange of tales and prideful boasts, Aristespha and Deedri gawk in complete bewilderment. They remain wordlessly flabbergasted and watch the peaceful interchange between Sotalia and Tassilda. Seconds later, Deedri shrugs her shoulders with clawed hands out to the sides. “Okay... I have no fucking clue how this has happened. I got nothing that could explain THIS.”

Aristespha contorts her face between variations of confusion, and settles upon a clueless stare. “Gods, I’m glad I’m not the only one. To be honest, I would have expected a LOT more blood.”

Deedri glances over and nods quickly. “Yeah. Me too. And FIRE. Quite a lot of fire.”

Dr. Ricketts lifts an intrigued brow, studies the two groups momentarily, and shrugs. She hoists up an assortment medical supplies in bottles, packages, and bags. She arranges them neatly upon the counter and directs her voice to Aristespha. “Not to interrupt, but I have your order ready.”




Afternoon light filters in through the blinds of a large window and onto the floor of the clinic room. Medical equipment lines the wall upon rolling stands and screens display vital information quietly. A few bundles of thin cables and tubing slip underneath the covers of the single hospital bed in the room. An over-dramatic gasp of actor on the current television show sounds out and wakes Daedrican from slumber. He flutters his eyes to consciousness and surveys his surroundings. After recognition reminds him of recent events, he apprehensively eyes the show on the television mounted on the wall across from him. A long grumble escapes him and searches the area immediately around him.

Spotting the remote on a nearby table, he pulls his left arm out from under the covers and reaches his hand out, shifting himself on the bed. He stretches forth until his right side moves and he winces in a sharp reminder of his current state. With the device of his entertainment freedom out of grasp, he carefully resettles into his bed, sighs, and checks himself. He cringes from the flits of pain, but curls his right forearm up and flexes the fingers of his hand. Gradually lowering his arm back down, he lifts the blankets upon him and casually examines the series of bandages and dressings wrapping up his chest and right shoulder. He hums unamused and replaces the bed sheets over him. Glancing around the room, he eyes his horns upon the nearby nightstand and frowns slightly.

The door cracks open and a male evuukian nurse peeks in. “Oh, good. You are awake.”

Daedrican smiles and chuckles lightly. “Well, just awake enough, really.”

The nurse nods, glances behind him briefly, and returns his gaze to Daedrican. “Awake enough to have a visitor?”

Cocking his head to the side, Daedrican’s interest piques. “Certainly. A visitor would be very welcomed right now.”

The evuukian nurse bows slightly and pulls back into the hallway. “You may go in. There’s a few chairs along the wall you may pull out and unfold.”

Daedrican watches the entry door curiously and waits. The door opens wider and Tassilda steps in slowly. She tries vainly to keep her shame and embarrassment from influencing her posture. Tilting his head to a side, Daedrican lifts an intrigued eyebrow and puzzles. “Hello.”

Tassilda musters the courage and meets Daedrican’s gaze meekly. “Hello.”

She awkwardly walks forward, but stops when she gets close to Daedrican’s bed. “Um... I don’t want to take up too much of your time... But...”

Drawing a shaky breath, she concentrates upon her words, gazes into Daedrican’s eyes, and relays a genuine, deeply apologetic tone. “I am so terribly sorry for how I treated you in the last few days. You did not deserve such treatment, especially from a superficial, bigoted idiot like myself.”

Closing her eyes for a moment, she contorts her face and sighs sadly. “I also wanted to let you know... That my experiences with you have made me question a lot of things and review many aspects of myself. Quite a deal that I should have dealt with long before this point.”

She grits her teeth and grimaces in self-reflective pain. “To say the least, I have a lot of personal issues to work out, in time. But... I wanted to make sure that... Well... Thank you for allowing me to accompany your team and assist you in your assignments.”

An appreciative, happy expression swells upon Tassilda’s face. “Thank you for the many fun, fascinating distractions during those assignments. I truly enjoyed them all.”

A regretful mood weighs heavy upon Tassilda and she frowns ashamed at herself. “And... Thank you... For coming to my aid when I needed you the most... Even after how disrespectful and mean I was to you.”

Daedrican blinks and only partial hides his astonishment. Eventually the stun wears off, and he slowly nods. “I greatly appreciate your words...”

He pauses his sentence and watches Tassilda’s demeanor. “...My lady.”

A smile sneaks out of the corner of Tassilda’s mouth. Daedrican smirks and draws a long breath in. “And, while the circumstances leading to it were quite dramatic, I must say I am very hopeful about you reexamining things in your life. Despite what I experienced, I do believe you have many wonderful, redeemable qualities that I have enjoyed.”

Tassilda sniffs a bit, wipes a tear from her eye, and nods graciously. “That’s very kind of you. Thank you.”

She fights off nervous energy and glances back towards to the entry door. “Well, I don’t want to bother you any more than I have to. You need to recover and all. So, I’ll take my leave.”

As Tassilda turns to walk away, Daedrican smirks and coyly pleads to her. “If you must... But, surely a fine, young lady as yourself seeking to turn over a new leaf would not leave an injured man to suffer the horrors of daytime television?”

Tassilda stops in place, pivots around, and blinks puzzled. Daedrican points his finger at the remote control just out of reach upon a nearby nightstand, next to his horns. A smile graces Tassilda’s face and she walks next to Daedrican’s bed. She picks up the remote, hands it over to Daedrican’s awaiting hand, and glances over to the television. “I do hope this isn’t the only thing they receive here. Then, again, it might be their ploy to encourage patients to go home sooner.”

Daedrican grins and aims the remote, hovering a finger over the button to change the channel. “I believe it was the attending nurse that changed it when I was sleeping. I recognize the show. The other evuukians in my group seem to be hooked on this one.”

Scrutinizing the dramatic interaction of the characters and elaborate sets in the scene, Tassilda rests her hands on her hips and cocks her head to the side. “It looks familiar… But admittedly, a lot of evuukian shows as of late seem centered around that re-imagined late First Period or early Second Period.”

Nodding in agreement, Daedrican rolls his head over to face Tassilda. “They have a name for the genre. If I remember correctly, it literally translates to knifeblock backs contest.”

Tassilda meets Daedrican’s golden eyes and blinks with a humored twist at the corner of her mouth. “I must admit that seems strangely descriptive and probably very accurate.”

Her gaze wanders over to the nightstand and she notices Daedrican’s horns. She frowns as she examines their state and spots a number of nicks, scratches, and marks all over. With a disheartened sigh, she leans over to study them closer. “Oh my. It looks like your horns have seen far better days.”

Daedrican eyes over to the table and chuckles carefully. “Yes they have, my lady. Thankfully, they found both relatively intact. Unfortunately, I think they had to pull one out of a tree. I haven’t decided if they used channel locks or a pry bar to get it free.”

Tassilda steps away from bedside, picks up a folding chair along the wall, and sets it up next to the bed and nightstand. Sitting down, she rummages through her side satchel, retrieves a small glass bottle, and grumbles as she stares determined at the container. “This won’t take care of everything, but it’ll at least treat the unsightly blemishes. I’ll have to bring the rest of my...”

She pauses herself and a wave of embarrassment fills her face. “Um... If you don’t mind me mending your horns...”

Daedrican smiles happily, nods, and focuses his attention upon Tassilda’s swirling horns. “I am not going to turn down such a gracious offer. Especially, not from someone who seems to be quite the expert in horn care. Then again, you may not need to do much at all.”

Tassilda blinks momentarily and blushes when she traces Daedrican’s gaze to her own horns. She coyly brushes back some of her raven hair over her horns and presents a flattered smile. “I’ll claim the latter, but demonstrate the former.”

A dialect of Evuukian plays out loud as a heated exchange happens on the television show. Daedrican watches the scene transpire, smirks, and speaks a phrase in a form of Emin. Tassilda snickers, slips out a snort, and shakes her head. Daedrican glances over to Tassilda with a bit of embarrassment and rolls his eyes at himself. “What did I mispronounce?”

Tassilda smiles with a giggle and recites a similar phrase of Emin with a slight difference. “Still actually appropriate, but it might get you strange looks in proper company.”

Daedrican nods and sighs. “My apologies, I’ve never gotten a chance to practice the Laskian dialect.”

A slight frown forms on Tassilda’s face and she picks up one of Daedrican’s horns. “Well, that’s certainly no fault of your own. As someone from that region, I can assure you that many would very likely not bother to talk at length to you due to their own misconceptions and biases.”

He gazes over to Tassilda and smiles pleasantly. “Would you mind helping me practice? It’s actually a very lovely form of Emin. If it’s not too much to ask of you, my lady.”

Tassilda smiles as she bites her lip and shakes her head slowly. “Of course not. It’s the very least I could do for such a brave, noble Paladin.”

Daedrican smirks and sighs. “Still very much Junior Paladin, technically.”

A grin grows upon Tassilda and she flutters her eyes towards Daedrican. “Oh, I most certainly would hope a promotion would be in order after such demonstration of bravery and strength in face of such danger. If Senior Paladin Maxon is any example of what the Chrome Crusaders desire in their Paladins, I doubt Paladin is that far away for you.”

Smiling with a snort, Daedrican lifts an amused brow to Tassilda. “Well, I can’t rightfully claim to have taken on such danger alone. I’ll have to split that honor with you.”

Tassilda chuckles, tosses her hair back, and postures with a bit of pride. She articulates a few graceful sentences in the Laski dialect of Emin and smiles alluringly. Daedrican grins smugly, and replies back in an elaborate sentence of similar Emin. Tassilda vainly hides her blushing cheeks and continues the conversation while applying the bottle of horn fixer.

As Tassilda works on mending the surface blemishes on Daedrican’s horns, both converse in Emin and often pause to laugh and comment about the drama on the television.