-57-

Bach alternates his gaze between Aristespha and Sotalia. After a few rotations, he blinks his eyes with a grimace, shakes his head in disbelief, and leans his back against his chair. “Wow... Just... Wow...”

Aristespha nods thoughtfully, agrees in a similar bewildered fashion, and sighs as she runs her hands through her long, silvery blue hair. “From what Deedri described, these golems weren’t as well constructed as the one we fought. But... Fighting multiple constructs of that variety at once. That’s an absolutely frightening thought.”

Sotalia settles her elbows upon the dining table and props her head up with her hands. “From what I heard, they were nothing as large as the ONE we fought, thankfully. Even then, I think five was the final number. At least that's how many piles of leftover parts they saw.”

Still processing the scope of such an endeavor, Bach glances over to Aristespha and twists his mouth uncomfortably. “Well, if we haven’t sent over anything official about that ancient golem factory to the authorities, now might be a good time.”

With a few taps upon a tablet in front of her, Aristespha sighs with an uneasy smirk and gazes down upon paragraphs of text on the screen. “That’s exactly what I’ve been working on today. I figure sending copies over to both Captain Hackle and Captain Hayes would be good, too. Maybe bypass a few of the usual hurdles.”

Bach and Sotalia nod with Aristespha’s idea. Grumbling out her irritation, Sotalia sneers her upper lip and narrows her eyes down at the table. “It’s GOT to be that Terra Priest group around there. What the fuck are those nature nut jobs thinking? And, how the hell did they get them working?”

Searching his mind for possibilities, Bach shrugs his shoulders and gazes over to Sotalia. “They probably got enough working parts and just slapped them together to see if anything would happen. I mean, that’s what it sounds like from what you all told me.”

Sotalia drops a hand down on the table and drums her long, black nails upon the tabletop. “But... I thought they needed Faelatelia for their plans?”

Aristespha shakes her head slowly and sighs as she realizes situation. “I believe they needed Faelatelia to bind spirits to the golems. But... It is very likely that Meredosia has enough working knowledge to get the constructs together from the parts. She did spend some significant time in that hidden factory. Not the ideal solution she probably wanted, but still viable.”

Gritting her teeth, Sotalia’s ire briefly flares and she growls. “It was probably her that got that big one working and put it on patrol. That fucking bitch.”

Bach ponders a moment, tilts his head to a side, and searches his mind with his eyes. “Yeah. I could totally see that. She probably either found it inactive or missing just a few parts, and reprogrammed it to attack anything that wasn’t with her.”

He quirks his brow towards Sotalia. “Because, I doubt she would have stayed long enough to get anything useful if that thing was stomping around like it was for us. And, from what Chelindia and Faelatelia said about her... I doubt she’d leave that facility unguarded after finding it.”

Sotalia nods slowly and taps her fingers upon the table in sync with her frustrations. She lifts her head up from her propping hand, settles back into her chair, and slowly shakes her head of wavy, fiery orange hair. “Still... WHY are they doing anything like this now? It seemed like they were perfectly content to sit around in the woods and feel superior to everyone. They’re going to attract A LOT of attention now.”

Bach curls the corner of his mouth down with a hint of worry. “I hope Chelindia’s group got out. Sounds like things have gone from crazy to completely insane.”

Drawing a deep breath, Aristespha rubs her temples and frowns. “Unfortunately, that’s probably why the attack happened.”

Bach and Sotalia shift their attention to Aristespha. After a few moments of collecting her thoughts, Aristespha explains with a saddened tone. “Chelindia and the old members were very likely THE major regulating element in that organization. If they’ve left, you’ve got a leader that no longer has someone to question her.”

Bach rolls his eyes at the situation and groans. “Ah shit... And, there’s no longer enough people in the group to keep the rest from going too far.”

Sotalia cringes and crosses her arms uncomfortably. “Oh, that’s never a good recipe for anything. I know THAT from personal experience.”

Aristespha aims her gaze upon the tablet in front of her and slowly shakes off the dour mood. “Regardless, I’ll be getting the report together to send off. I don’t know what the official response to this all will be given the location and situation, but... At this point, we NEED to report it now.”

Sotalia nods her head and tinges of concern leak into her expression. “Yeah. Gods. Still so strange to have seen how distraught Tassilda was. I mean, I understand completely. I don’t think I would have been much better. But, just to see her in that state...”

Bach smiles at Sotalia with an encouraging tone. “That was pretty nice of you to talk to her and help her out.”

Sotalia lifts an eyebrow and smirks with a bit of embarrassment. “Well... As much as I wanted to be the superior queen bitch and get back at her... It was... It... It hit close to home. I don’t know. Didn't feel right to be an ass to her.”

She shrugs her shoulders and holds her hands up in the air as she smiles genuinely. “Something in me just wanted to maybe help her along like I wished someone had done for me.”

Bach nods and chuckles lightly. “Yeah... Well, you did good in my opinion.”

Sotalia grins appreciatively to Bach. After a few seconds, she blinks back to awareness and scans the area. “Well, are we going to do magic drills today or what?”

Bach glances around the room and turns his attention towards the archway leading into the hallway. “I’ve seen Cideeda today. She borrowed of the latest issues of Tales of the Orion from me to read. But, I haven’t seen Dretphi leave her room yet. The was door was open though.”

Sotalia laughs and snorts with a sly smirk. “Oh! She’s catching up on all her stories. It seems like all the series she’s following had new issues. Might be hard to pull her away from them.”

A flash of frustration rises upon her face, and she crosses her arms tightly. With a pout, she grumbles petulantly. “It’s still not fair that Cideeda keeps me away from the issues of Tinkering Tina until AFTER she gets done reading them.”

Bach narrows his eyes at Sotalia and cocks his head to the side. “You did spoil that one major reveal for her.”

Sotalia groans and dramatically rolls her eyes. “Once! I did that once. How long is she going to hold that over my head?”

With a shrug, Bach glances around again and lifts a curious brow at Aristespha. “Do you know where my brother is? I actually haven't seen him today either, now that I think about it.”

Aristespha blinks, lifts her head up from the tablet, and thinks for a moment. She smiles and laughs. “Oh. Sebastian is probably hovering nearby Cideeda reading along. He can’t turn the pages himself, right now.”

Sotalia grumbles to herself quietly with an occasional clear mention of unfairness and special treatment.




In a brightly sunlit room, Dretphi fidgets with anticipation as she slowly turns to the next page of the graphic novel. She bites her lower lip lightly, and adjusts the pillows propping her back up on the bed quickly. Her steely gray eyes scan the pages of dramatic scenes and elaborate dialog, and she smiles eagerly. Expectation gradually sways her body side to side, as the literary tension builds.

Bach glances through the open bedroom door into Dretphi’s room and watches her pore over the book. He scans around the room and settles upon the significant stacks of reading material next to Dretphi on her bed. Squinting at the collection of paperback books, he notices various bookmarks in one stack, none in others, and then one stack of older volumes. Dretphi blinks her eyes wide and reflexively mutters loudly a few phrases of grath, swirling with incredulous and astonished sentiments. She puzzles to herself in mumbles of grath and quickly flips back through a number of pages in a frustrated search for explanation.

Bach gently knocks on the door frame and smirks with a laugh. “One of those plot twists?”

Dretphi shifts her attention towards the doorway, subdues a flit of embarrassment, and smiles warmly to Bach. “Yes. You can say that. Trying to find justification for this recent decision.”

She cocks her head to the side and curiously gazes at Bach. “Is there something you need?”

Bach points a thumb over his shoulder down the hallway and shrugs nonchalantly. “Oh, Aristespha wants to do some magic practice drills outside, since it’s a nice enough day. We just wanted to know if you’ll be joining us?”

Dretphi nods happily, glances at the book currently in her hand, and picks up a bookmark off to the side. As she places the bookmark in the volume, she grumbles with an unamused smirk. “I am at a stopping point. I will... Process it later.”

Lifting an intrigued brow, Bach focuses his gaze at the book in question as Dretphi rests it on top of one of the stacks, and inquires. “So, what’s that particular one about?”

Sliding off the bed carefully and resting her feet on the floor, Dretphi stands up, stares at the book, and describes in a calm, thoughtful tone. “It is multifaceted. Political intrigue in the background. Primary plot about a young lady caught between choosing the interests of two men.”

Bach blinks a moment and puzzles at the statement. “Interesting...”

Dretphi braces herself against her bed, works on her shoes, and smirks curiously. “You seem surprised.”

Shrugging his shoulders, Bach smiles awkwardly as he stumbles about his point. “Oh, I’m trying to figure out the draw of such book. I mean... I guess that sort of situation is a bit of rarity in Grath society?”

Straightening up and tapping her shoes upon the floor, Dretphi smiles with blatant amusement and shakes her head. “Similar happens. Joining a house is significant. Choosing one between multiple can be stressful.”

Bach nods as his understanding develops, and crosses his arms as he leans against the door frame. “Yeah, I can imagine having to choose something on that scale can be daunting. Especially, if you have significant relationships with two houses.”

Dretphi gazes at Bach, thinks a moment, and smiles with a slight chuckle. “Oh... You do not have to forgo those relationships when you join another house. Houses handle everyday aspects of family. Legal liability. Finances. Child raising. Housing. Food. Support.  Still a significant choice.”

She pauses, searches her mind with her eyes, and carefully pieces together her explanation. “A house does not bind you exclusivity to that house for personal relationships. Most have preference.  Aligns that way over time. Not a requirement.”

Bach tilts his head to the side and cracks a humored smirk. “Oh, okay. So... Keep business and pleasure separate.”

Dretphi rolls her eyes with a tight smile on her face and shrugs her shoulders as she walks up to the doorway. “Yes. It works for grath. Acceptable. Helpful in properly managed houses.”

As Bach and her walk down the hallway, she glances over to Bach at her side and hunts for the right terms to relate. “Most grath are not... Possessive? Encouraged to be mutual? Honest? Open? It is hard to translate.”

Bach gradually nods as the concept solidifies more in his mind and he arrives to a rough understanding. “I think I get the idea. It seems to work really well for most the grath I’ve run into. Though, I’ve heard of a few bad stories.”

Dretphi sighs in begrudging agreement and shakes her head. “Those serve as lessons to heed. There are no strict rules. There ARE best practices.”

She frowns gradually and glances over to Bach. “That cultural aspect gets scrutinized in an unfortunate way. Houses function like family units. My house shared vacations with other houses. We would gather for sport events. Different members from houses would get together to experience new restaurants. Normal parallels to other families.”

As Bach slides open the sliding glass back door for Dretphi, he shrugs nonchalantly and nods. “No, I get it. That sounds pretty typical. Honestly, a bit more than some families I’ve know do on any regular basis.”

Dretphi smiles warmly to Bach and brushes back her platinum blonde braids. “My mother always encouraged everyone to go out of the house. Figuratively. Literally.”

Bach furrows his brow as he notices Dretphi’s tone shift. Dretphi averts her eyes briefly with a shake of her head, and grumbles amused. “My mother’s encouragement hid an ulterior motive.”

Sliding the door shut and wincing at the drastic change from interior light to exterior sun, Bach carefully approaches the topic. “Which was?”

Dretphi sighs in good humor and rolls her eyes. “Read romance novels without distraction.”

Bach blinks in surprise and narrows an inquisitive stare to Dretphi. “Wait... Is that where you...?”

Nodding quickly, Dretphi snorts and cracks a smirk as she remembers with hints of old irritation. “Yes. Happened when I was a teenager. I grew tired of the... frustrating... antics of a boy I was dating for the night. Left. Arrived home early.”

She grits her teeth briefly and tempers her past feelings with an acceptance of herself then. “I was upset. Sought out my mother. Found her in the living room. In my birth father’s favorite chair. Wrapped up in a blanket. Reading a romance novel.”

Bach twists his mouth, raises a curious eyebrow, and puzzles. “You mean the ones with the ridiculous covers?”

Dretphi sighs and nods her head with curl in her smirk. “Yes. Got over the surprise. Told her about my dating issues. She sat me down. Handed me the first volume of a series. Told me to read. I read.”

A happy smile appears on her face and she softly laughs. “I got hooked. It is a hobby we share. My preference changed to graphic novels. We still trade titles. Seek out new books to inform the other of.”

Bach shakes his head, brushes his brown hair back, and scratches his bearded chin speculatively. “I can’t help to think there’s some aspect of taboo with the differences of cultures going on that must be the draw.”

After a few blinks, Dretphi ponders the notion, crosses her arms, and sways her head in thought. “To a degree. We have never been interested in harem themed graphic novels. Possibly an exotic allure to the strict fashions of romantic relationships in the novels?”

She snorts and glances over to Bach with a slight, humored grin. “Any appeal fades after five chapters of torturous drama.”

Bach chuckles and shakes his head as he walks up to the rest of the group with Dretphi.




Meredosia struts confidently across the shaded clearing in the middle of encircling, gigantic trees and ancient buildings. She beams out a smug grin to the world as she leads an accompaniment of thematically uniformed evuukians. As the gathering follows along, many present excited praise towards Meredosia. A number prompt Meredosia for answers to many questions in evuukian. While most of the decorated members seem eager, a few show their concern upon their faces and in their tones.

Meredosia smiles brightly, and responds boldly and dramatically to the queries presented before her. Determination floods her demeanor, and she elaborately dictates the her motives in extravagant gestures to her followers. She finishes her impromptu speech with a slow grasp of her outstretched hand into a balled fist, and grins with a dark, distant stare ahead. The group enters the largest of the ancient structures and moves down the long, tall hallway towards a set of massive double doors.

Closing in on the entrance, Meredosia grimaces and a shiver zips up her spine. The amulet on her chest shakes on its own and she reflexively grips it tightly with her hand. She speeds up to doors in a near panic and forcefully shoves them wide open.

Inside, she quickly scans the area in front of her and sees many elaborately robed evuukians on the floor, unconscious. Sounds of struggle alert the followers gathering around Meredosia to a few evuukian mages subdued in immobilizing weaves of white magical energy. Meredosia snaps glances to their faces and traces their eyes ahead to the central platform. Upon the middle of the rostrum, a thin man with wispy white hair stands calmly as thin threads of white energy swirl into him from the platform. A blue scarf floats slowly with the ethereal flows around him. The man tilts his head momentarily, gradually pivots in place, and aims his white glowing eyes at Meredosia. He curiously perks brow at the gathering.

Anger erupts upon Meredosia, and she energetically points towards the man, yelling out an order. Guards escorting her don their bows, knock arrows, and take aim. Energy flows stream into the bows and arrows heads from the archers, and they let loose a volley. The missiles streak trails of magical miasma across the length of the cavernous room and halt abruptly in front the man. Hints of amusement leak through the blue scarf wrapping the man's face, and he addresses Meredosia and her followers. “Pardon my manners. I am Noxian. I must say, you have quite an impressive setup here. It seems you’ve been very busy researching so many subjects, and have even organized a team of mages. Who am I speaking to?”

With a blatant disgust for the words and boiling ire for Noxian’s mere presence, Meredosia snarls her upper lip and growls out her demanding proclamation. “YOU speak to the Meredosia, leader of this revolutionary chapter of the Terra Priests. Now, why are YOU here in MY chambers?! ANSWER. ME. NOW!”

Noxian lifts an annoyed eyebrow at Meredosia, grumbles under his breath, and narrows a harsh, accusatory glare upon her. “Well, with that attitude... Let us cut straight to the point. I was eventually going to investigate this location in the future, but decided to make it quite a bit sooner. So, tell me... Do YOU have any involvement with the recent golem attacks upon the Chrome Crusaders?”

Meredosia grins with near manic pride and levels a dark, spiteful glare upon Noxian. She crosses arms, puffs up her posture, and turns her nose up at Noxian disdainfully. “Why? Would like to experience a demonstration... personally?”

Sighing out his frustrations, Noxian wags a finger at Meredosia and chides her with a scolding tone. “So, I am to understand, that a capable young, individual like you... Finds a source of ancient power. Educates herself how manipulate magical machinery. Learns how to use that power on magical machinery. And then... Decides to build a number of golems for some inane attempt to demonstrate some supposed superiority over others to bolster a poorly formed ego?! While, mind you, harming those that are trying to better the world for everyone else!”

He narrows a glare upon Meredosia, lifts his head up, and aims his eyes down upon Meredosia. “Such disappointing, childish, and utterly stupid use of such ability and power. What makes you think this is the right way to use such!?”

Meredosia’s ivory skin reddens, locks of her gray hair float up, and she grits her teeth furiously. She spits forth a volley of outraged evuukian and directs spiteful phrases upon Noxian. “I WILL NOT BE LECTURED BY A LOWLY HUMAN! A wretched defiler of nature. An undeserving being! I wield the power that I have gained myself. And, I will be the one to decide how I use it!”

Noxian laughs loudly and shakes his head in disbelief with a mocking tone. “Aha! So, the whole might makes right argument? Okay. Well, if you have such might... Then, let us see how right you are?”

He straightens his posture, extends his arm out, and flexes the fingers upon his hand in a challenging gesture. Meredosia’s dark crimson eyes light up manically. She stretches a wide grin across her face and commands her followers. Guards at Meredosia’s sides ready more arrows and magic users within her followers ready spells. Waves of magical energy from the mages’ spells splash uselessly upon the barrier surrounding Noxian. With a few quick gestures and white light gazes of concentration from Noxian, threads of elder energy stream out along the faint back trails, latch onto the originating casters, and swiftly tie up the mages. Archer guards unleash their arrows and watch as their projectiles halt abruptly upon the surface of the barrier surrounding Noxian. Glancing between all the suspended missiles, Noxian smiles underneath his blue scarf and his eyes emit a flash of white. The arrows spin around, rocket back a blinding speed, and target their owners. The missiles render bows broken and release concussive eruptions before impact that knock out the guards.

Meredosia in a fit of absolute rage, musters enough focus to draw out a ball of elder energy from the amulet on her chest, and launches a massive bolt at Noxian. The magical projectile impacts Noxian’s barrier and visually distorts the outer layers. Noxian directs his full, undivided attention upon Meredosia, and calmly walks off the platform towards her. Trails of elder energy continue to flow into him from the rostrum, stretching out into long, swirling tubes. Meredosia fights rage, shock, and disgust, and manages to maintain enough concentration to fling powerful bolts of elder energy. Noxian cautiously moves closer, and studies each impact upon his barrier with analytical inspection. A few meters away from Meredosia, Noxian throws is hand out, and unleashes fibers of magical energy out. The threads weave effortlessly through a bolt mid-flight, absorb the projectile’s power, and explode upon Meredosia into an immobilizing web that wraps her up.

Noxian slowly steps forward, moves close, and levels his glare centimeters away from Meredosia’s face. Infuriated, he stares through her with glowing white eyes, grips the Meredosia’s amulet, and yanks off her chest. Noxian explains with a cold, purposeful cadence. “You may think yourself the prettiest flower in the field... But, you do not know that you are just simply another flower in the playground of elder giants.”

He stands up straight, glowers down at Meredosia, and tightens his grip on the amulet in his hand. A loud crackle echoes out into the room and a torrent of white energy erupts out from his hand. The flows rush forth and quickly settle into Noxian, until nothing more. He opens his hand, and the crumbling remains of the amulet trickle down into a powdery coating upon the floor. He glances over his shoulder, holds a hand out towards the platform, and a pulse of energy streams through the swirling streams into Noxian. Mere seconds later, the flows fade away. The rostrum glows brightly for a moment, and shatters into a pile of rune decorated rock. Meredosia gawks utterly horrified, unable to form words in her mouth. Noxian turns his head back around, stares into Meredosia’s shocked, dark crimson eyes, and leans in close. “I truly do not know who should ultimately wield this power... But, I am DAMN certain... IT. IS. NOT... YOU.”

He steps back away from Meredosia, walks over the incapacitated guards, and calmly strolls to the doors leading into the main, large hallway. As he nears the double door archway, his form fades to transparency, and he quickly disappears from sight as he steps out into the hallway. Seconds later, the white energy dissipates in the room and the immobilizing spells fade away. Meredosia stumbles straight onto the ground in shock and stops herself before face planting into the remains of her amulet. She stares down at the dusty fragments upon the floor, until drops of water land to wet the mess. Lifting her head up slowly, she grits her teeth, and forces seething breaths through. She squeezes tears down her reddening face as intense, furious rage boils from within. She focuses upon the fractured central platform and manages to only breathe in an infuriated stupor.




Bright noon sunlight slips through the double doors leading to the third story wooden balcony. Gerald eases his back upon a stack of pillows on his bed and winces briefly as his weight settles upon the mattress. “Okay... Request from me. Oh, gods... Can we avoid any more long hauls, through the woods, in the middle of nowhere for at least THIS season? Holy hell, my back is still not on speaking terms with me.”

Samantha pulls a can of beer from a package, cracks it open, and places it into Gerald’s hand with a smirk. “Sorry to say, Howie, but I’m with Gerald on this one. The last part of that run was a bit much.”

Howard’s voice sounds out from the aetherphone upon a nearby desk and an audible worried sigh resonates. “Yeah. I was not expecting ANYTHING like that. Especially, on the very last night of the patrol. Seriously, I mean... A full out attack with multiple fucking golems?! And, just the idea of taking on the Chrome Crusaders of all people. Just... Shit... That just blows my mind. You literally have guys in walking tank suits. Why would you start something with them?”

A pause of silence allows for background noise from the other side of call to echo into the room with Samantha and Gerald. An eager tone colors Howard’s cadence and his excitement leaks through the phone speaker. “But, it will be an... AMAZING... episode tonight. We’ve needed some good action for the season. Despite running for your lives, you all did really good to record what you could.”

Samantha stands proudly with a sly smile and chimes in with a sinister giggle. “Happy to deliver as always, Howie.”

She cross her arms, pouts with a grumble, and glances over to Gerald. “I SO wish I could have caught just a few seconds of the fight between Daedrican and Tassilda versus that bull golem! But, SOMEONE decided to drag me to the safe zone, out of the action.”

Gerald pours a long swig of his beer down his throat and eyes Samantha incredulously. Samantha sighs and groans annoyed. “We had to settle with Veevi going around trying to be heroic while running away with the rest of us.”

Rolling his eyes, Gerald directs his voice towards the aetherphone and mockingly pleads his case with growing sarcasm tainting his words. “Yes. I did drag her away. Away from being near the fight where a POWERED ARMED, TRAINED PALADIN got IMPALED by a MASSIVE, MAGICAL STONE BEAST... I felt my actions were properly justified.”

Howard sighs, and speaks through the speakerphone with a firm, thankful tone. “Gerald. Thank you. Really. Sorry, Samantha, but I’m with Gerald on this one. You damn well know my policy about camera crews getting hurt. We already got way too close at the beginning of this season with risking the crew. If the stars get themselves hurt on by their own stupidity, that’s one thing. They signed those release forms. Crew safety comes first.”

Samantha snorts petulantly and eventually groans out in defeat as she accepts her boss’s words. “Fine... I just hate missing those opportunities.”

She gazes at Gerald, smiles appreciatively, and rolls her eyes at herself. “Still, thank you again, Gerald.”

Lifting his beer up in acknowledgment, Gerald nods briefly and sips back the beverage. “No problem. We got plenty shots, anyway. Should be able to milk these for probably another episode or two.”

Samantha places her hands upon her hips and sways her stance. “Still frustrates me that we can’t record at the clinic. Something is going on with Tassilda and damned if I have anything concrete to show for it.”

Howard’s humored chuckle sounds out from the aetherphone. “We’ll see what we can get of that. And, it might serve us better if we didn’t show anything. Let the fans speculate on that. The community team has shown me some choice debates on Tassilda’s and Daedrican’s relationship. I think we’ll just let that continue. Fan theories are always so much fun, and make for great polls the advertisers love.”

Samantha blinks to attention as she remembers a topic. “Oh, Howie, the crew have voted and pretty much all of us want to do the resort springs mission.”

Howard hums briefly and mumbles in thought for a few moments before projecting his curious tone into the room. “That works just perfectly fine for me. I get the feeling that three certain members of the crew may have pushed the vote that direction?”

Gerald snorts and shakes his head with a smirk. “Yeah. But, after that golem attack, it didn’t take much convincing. Urdi barely got through half of her description of the place before she had most of the team ready to vote with her.”

A scheming tinge fills Howard’s voice as it resonates through the speakerphone. “This will actually fit quite well with my plans. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on that particular mission. I definitely hope to capture more of the evuukian market with the... Interactions... I’m hoping will occur.”

His laugh echoes from the other side of the connection. “Also, we’ve been needing to get the Flames of the Phoenix close to... Oh, how to put it... Recreational water of some kind. Got to keep the ratings up with some fan service.”

Gerald sighs, rests an empty can upon a nightstand nearby, and adjusts a pillow underneath him. “Well, hope my back is up for it by then. Otherwise, I might get some of the younger crew to sneak around for those shots, even if they’ll probably be distracted the whole time.”

Samantha rolls her eyes, shakes her head with a chuckle, and grins impishly to Gerald. “Oh, it’s not for a few weeks. They’ll have some down time and a maybe a small job to break up the monotony. You should be ready to peep with the best of them soon enough.”

Gerald reaches carefully out with his arm, slides a laptop across the bed onto his chest, and stares incredulously at the screen. “Yeah. Hopefully, a few nights on a real bed rather than a van seat will put me back on speaking terms with my back.”

Howard laughs and presents an assuring tone. “You’ll be fine. If you don’t get better in a few days, hit the clinic. My orders. Can’t have one of my best camera guys down when the best shots are going to happen. And anyway, I want some tastefully done shots from you specifically. It's more work to censor and creatively edit when the rookies try.”

After a brief moment of silence, typing sounds out from Howard’s side of the call and he groans unamused. “Well, I must leave you two for now. Production needs me to decide some things for tonight’s episode. Before I go... Though... One thing I want to share with you two...”

Gerald turns his attention away from the laptop and focuses upon the aetherphone with an intrigued quirk of his brow. Samantha steps over to the aetherphone upon the desk, leans close, and speaks curiously. “And what would THAT be, Howie?”

Howard’s dark chuckle fills the room through the speaker. “I’ve confirmed what is in store for Trakenthin.”




A reddish orange cast colors the darkening evening sky outside the second story bedroom window. Tassilda glances around the corners of the room with a long pauses of paranoid suspicion. She seats herself on the floor next to her bed, rests her head against the mattress, and pulls her aetherphone off the nearby nightstand. Unlocking the security code, she opens her contact list, scrolls to a name in emin, and pauses. She holds her phone in front of her, draws a few long, deep breaths, and presses the call button on the display. The phone initiates the connection and displays status graphics. After a few seconds, the display flickers, and video stream shows a teenage girl. The girl brushes her dark hair over her swirling horns. She briefly contorts her patterned light gray and tan face in confusion and narrows her light blue on white eyes. A flash of recognition obviously surprises her and she shifts to a careful, reserved expression. “Tassilda?! Hey! How are you doing? I didn’t expect... a call from you.”

Tassilda sighs with a warm smile and calm tone. “Oh, I know... It is a spur of the moment thing. I just... really wanted to call you and... I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

The half-emin girl blinks uncertainly and glances around herself. “Um... No. I was about to lay down and maybe read. Maybe, write a bit? I really hadn’t decided. I picked up this book on magic and wanted to start on it.”

A slight frown curls the corner of Tassilda’s mouth and she continues to present a happy tone. “Well, I do hope you didn’t pick up that book I suggested a while back. That was a paid endorsement deal.”

With an awkward, nervous laugh, the teenager shrugs her shoulders and bites her lip. “Oh, no. Not this one. I exchanged THAT one and bought this one instead.”

The video feed moves off from the young, half-emin’s face and focuses upon a book titled “The Illustrated Guide to Magical History.” The teenager's voice sounds out through the aetherphone speaker. “It’s really cool and fun to read. They tell all the stuff about magic history with a really cute romance story. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m reading it more for...”

Tassilda’s smile fights against the emotional swell within and she wipes the tears waiting in her light blue on black eyes. The video feed settles back onto the teenager’s face and she narrows a concerned stare through the phone. “Are you okay, Tassilda?”

Sniffing her remaining composure, Tassilda gazes into her aetherphone screen, quivers her lips, and releases a stream of tears with a hard blink. “Tessalla... I... I...”

Fighting through a cringe, Tassilda gasps for air through a sob and wipes her eyes. “I called to apologize to you. For... Well, EVERYTHING.”

Tessalla blinks in bewilderment and focuses her attention upon Tassilda. “I, uh... um...”

Tassilda sighs deeply, summons up her resolve, and looks into Tessalla’s eyes on the aetherphone screen. “I want to apologize for being an absolutely awful big sister to you the last few years. The time you have probably needed me the most, I’ve just was too wrapped up in hate that’s not even mine own. And, I kept myself away from you for stupid reasons...”

Her voice cracks. She closes her eyes hard and wetly sobs. Tessalla gawks in sheer astonishment. Tassilda forces a breath in her lungs and focuses on her words. “I am so sorry. You never deserved any of that terrible treatment. You deserve a proper big sister that I haven’t been for quite some time. I just hope that... It’s not too late to be one for you, eventually.”

Tears well up in Tessalla’s eyes. She musters a smile upon her face against the flood of emotion and speaks in between sniffs. “It’s okay... It’s okay... Really... It’s NOT too late. I’m just- I’m just- I’m just happy to talk YOU right now.”

Tassilda breaks down in mess of sobbing along with Tessalla. Both release surges of hidden emotions up and make eye contact through their phones in the lulls between outbursts. Minutes later, both slowly regain their composure and sigh out some stability. Tassilda flutters her eyes, sniffs her nose clear, and awkwardly laughs. “Oh gods... I doubt that’ll be the last of that. But, oh wow, I guess we both needed that.”

Tessalla smiles as she cleans her face with a few tissues from off screen. “Yeah. I-I uh... Have to agree. That was a pretty big thing to drop right there.”

Rolling her eyes at herself, Tassilda smirks with a shrug of shoulders. “Well, I’m not terribly good at this. So, you’ll have to forgive me. And, also you’ll have to forgive me this next bit...”

She closes her eyes, slowly exhales, and gradually draws in a breath. With a meek, ashamed tone, she cautiously approaches a question. “I know this is sudden and out of nowhere. But, I thought I needed to check with you first before I do anything else...”

Biting her lip, Tassilda musters the courage, and presents her query. “I’ve been reviewing a lot in my life lately. And, I think... After my contract with the show is over... Um... Would you be okay if I stayed with you, father, and your mother for a while?”

She braces herself for the response. Tessalla stares blankly at the screen, completely dumbfounded. A surge of exited glee fills her face and she joyfully sounds out through Tassilda’s aetherphone. “Y-y-yYES! OF COURSE! I’d love to have my big sister here! Father would be so happy to hear that! And, I don’t think my mother would have any major problems with it.”

A wave of relief washes over Tassilda and peace tempers her tone as she calms the teenager. “Okay, Tessalla. There’s nothing official yet. I thought I should check with you first before I asked father. There might be a few bridges I need to fix first.”

Tessalla smiles brightly and energetically nods in understanding. “I know, I know. I’ve just always wanted you around and I just hope you can stay. You just have to promise me one thing.”

Tassilda cocks her head to side and perks a curious brow. “And, what would that be, dear sister?”

Biting her lip, Tessalla grins excitedly and gazes eagerly. “You have to teach me some magic.”

With a proud smile, Tassilda chuckles lightly and nods in agreement. “But, of course! I am no longer going to deprive you of proper magical knowledge. We’ll certainly go over the basics and see where that takes us.”

Tessalla pauses in thought, guides a lock of dark hair over a horn, and run her fingers along the keratinous swirl. “Um, also... I REALLY need someone to show me proper horn care. Father does okay, but really doesn't know how to do it nice. And, my mother tries, but you know...”

Tassilda sighs with a slow nod. “It takes someone with the horns to know how.”

Tessalla speaks a few phrases of a dialect of emin in agreement. Tassilda furrows her brow, twists her lips, and gradually shakes her head. “We will need to work on your emin, too. That was very close, though.”

The two share a giggling moment and calm silence. Tessalla tilts her head to the side and inquires carefully. “Okay, um, not that I have a problem with everything that’s happened tonight- It’s been awesome so far. But, I’m just really curious as to... what... prompted all of this?”

Tassilda glances around momentarily and tries to hide her embarrassment in vain behind a bit of sarcasm. “Well, of course, it’s all over a boy.”

Tessalla’s light blue on white eyes open wide and a grin of teenage glee appears on her face. “Go on.”

Brushing back her raven black hair over a horn, Tassilda combats a her shyness to continue. “Well, his name is Daedrican. He’s presently a junior paladin of the Chrome Crusaders.”

Sheer interest and intrigue draw all of Tessalla’s attention. Tassilda draws in a long breath and smiles. “He’s tall. Young, but not too young. Fit and quite muscular. A lovely shade of dark gray skin. Thick, black horns. Beautiful, flowing long silver hair.”

Tessalla soaks in the descriptive terms and giggles. Tassilda looks upon the mental image in her head. “Of course, high cheek bones and a square jaw. And, his eyes... A wonderful shade of gold... upon white.”

Caught up in the visualization, Tessalla smirks at the description and abruptly blinks. “Wait- What?”

Tassilda grins slyly and attentively watches the video feed. “He’s quite the wonderful half-emin man.”

The view of Tessalla tumbles to her hands and surroundings as she fumbles her phone from shock. With sounds of frantic handling, Tessalla secures her phone and display centers on her face. “Okay, I’m laying on my bed and I’ve got the phone against my pillow. SAY THAT AGAIN?!”

Hiding her laughs of amusement behind her hand, Tassilda rolls her eyes at herself. “You heard me. I’ll be happy to explain it all to you soon enough. To the say the least, he’s gone well beyond any measure I had ever known to prove himself to me.”

Tessalla stares through the video feed and gradually nods. “Okay. You have picture of him, right?”

Tassilda smiles smugly and nods. “Of course. But, I’ll need to explain what all happened first before I send it to you. There’s quite the story behind it all.”

Twisting her mouth, Tessalla grumbles and sighs. “Okay. You have to tell me soon.”

She ponders a thought for a moment, gradually frowns, and gazes with concern towards Tassilda through the video feed. “I know this probably none of my business, but... Um... Have you told your mother any of this yet?”

Tassilda blinks blankly. She frowns slowly, and averts her eyes away from the screen of her aetherphone around the room. Working through a wince on her face, she uncertainly gazes at Tessalla’s face on the aetherphone display. “No.”

Tessalla nods slowly and expresses her worry. “Oh. I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have asked and-”

Tassilda smiles warmly and shakes her head with sigh. “It’s fine. I just haven’t gotten that far yet. And, I honestly don’t know what to do about her. That’s going to be far bigger problem in the future. But, well, I’ve got enough to concern myself with at the moment.”

Tessalla smiles in commiseration and weakly shrugs her shoulders. “I wish I could help you there, big sister. That doesn’t sound like it’ll be easy.”

Exhaling out her anxiety, Tassilda shakes her head slowly. “It’s okay. I should be able to get a better idea on how to handle that soon enough. But, for now...”

She smiles warmly to Tessalla on the aetherphone screen. “One thing at time, one day at a time.”

The sisters agree on the sentiment. Quickly, they move onto the subject of Daedrican and exchange knowledge in many sisterly topics as the minutes pass through the evening.