-59-

The warm glow of morning light radiates into the open combination living and dining room. Thomas grasps his mug of black coffee with his cybernetic hand, and slowly enjoys a long sip. Kaleb calmly grabs hold of his cup of equally dark liquid, and pours it back into his mouth. His smirk curls downwards with an overall grimace upon face, and his nonchalant facade cracks. Thomas lifts an amused gray eyebrow and snorts. “You should really stop trying to force yourself to drink the coffee black, if you don’t like it that way. You have nice things to put in coffee here. I often didn’t.”

Shadeesa brushes her dark green hair over one of her horns and narrows her green on black eyes at Kaleb. She sighs as she rolls her eyes towards Thomas with a shake of her head. “I keep telling him that. And, it’s not like I don’t put plenty in his travel pack. We have a wonderful jar of honey we got from one of the farmers at the market. Absolutely amazing in just about everything.”

Thomas’s interest piques and he tilts his head to the side. “Oh, I might try some, then. What type of honey is it?”

Shadeesa smiles while gazing down into her mug of milky tan coffee, and idly wraps her hands around it. “Protellow. Mostly. She mentioned keeping a field of protellows going in the middle of a large area of forest her family owns.”

A chuckle escapes Thomas and he slowly shakes his head. “Which usually means they found an established patch and decided to not throw their money away in trying to remove it. Good gods, all the ways my dad and I have tried to clear out stray protellow plants.”

Kaleb grins and laughs as a memory pops up to the front of mind. “Oh, yeah! Have you ever told Shadeesa about that one time you and your dad tried to use dynamite on one?”

Thomas sighs out old embarrassment, grits his teeth as he rolls his cybernetic shoulders, and glances towards Shadeesa. “I don’t actually know. Have I told you?”

He puzzles and studies Shadeesa’s flexing grip upon her cup of half-empty coffee. Kaleb notices the nervous tension in Shadeesa body language and her downwards stare. He wraps his arm around her, and gently rubs her shoulder with a calm, concerned tone. “Hey, you okay?”

Shadeesa blinks back to awareness, glances around with hints of embarrassment, and settles her loving gaze upon Kaleb. “Oh. Yes. I’m just nervous about seeing a patient here today.”

Thomas nods understandingly and smiles kindly. “You’ll do fine. From what you’ve said, it just sounds like someone needs a professional to do a check up and provide a proper opinion. Both you can provide, and then some.”

With a long sigh, Shadeesa nods in agreement and twists her mouth with hints of dissatisfaction apparent. “I know. It’s just I really wanted to have all the right things in a nice, professional looking place before people brought their pets here. Going on house calls to farms is one thing... But coming here...”

Kaleb turns his head of short, blonde hair towards Shadeesa and gives her a quick peck on her light gray, white freckled cheek. “All in a good time. You need to start somewhere.”

Shadeesa grumbles lightly and smiles with affection. “I know... I know...”

Thomas takes a long gulp of his black coffee, shrugs his shoulders, and smirks. “I learned to ride pseudo-dragons in packed mud arenas. If your day doesn’t involve getting repeatedly bucked off into a fresh pile, you’re doing just fine.”

A strong breeze blows through the back door screen, and drives a draft of air through the living space to the cracked open front windows with a faint whistle. Kaleb watches the indoor potted plants sway gently with the wind, and angles his stare towards the horizon through both outside views. “Damn. Well, I see that storm they’ve been talking about is getting pretty close.”

Thomas nods slowly and sighs with a trailing grumble. “Yeah. Been keeping an eye on that one. I just hope it doesn’t cause too much chaos on the roadways. I need to head back to High Alton, since Albert should be back in a few days.”

Shadeesa smiles happily to Thomas. “It’s been wonderful to have you here. Lagi will certainly miss having his grandfather around.”

Kaleb laughs and nods with a smirk. “Yeah, really hate to see you go. But, I guess you need to get up there and get the place back together for Albert.”

After a humored snort, Thomas rolls his eyes at himself, and holds his hands out to the sides with a shrug of his cybernetic shoulders. “Well... Back together might be asking... a bit much. I’m just hoping for cleaning up enough before we start the next project.”

He grins slyly to the couple across the table and winks. “But, if you two are still willing to host, I’m certain after we tear up half the house... We might NEED a break from the chaos. Just to remind ourselves what a nice home is suppose to look like.”

With a bright smile, Shadeesa nods, relaxes her posture, and settles a calm grip on her coffee. “Oh, thank you. Whenever you and Albert want to visit, just let us know.”

Kaleb thinks a moment and turns to face Shadeesa. “I’m all for it, and we could invite Bach, Sebastian, and everyone else down here for the day, too.”

Lagi cranes his black and blue scaled, white plate armored head close the back screen door, searches inside with his bright green eyes, and spots the three at the table. With a purposeful pattern, he weaves together a series of whirs, clicks, purrs, and whines, and gestures his front claws towards the other side of the house. Kaleb gazes out a large front window, and watches an old pickup truck roll up the long drive way. “You are right, Lagi. Thank you.”

Lagi nods in confirmation and disappears from view of the back door. Thomas perks his brow and curiously gazes between Kaleb and Shadeesa. “Has Lagi been able to vocalize any words? I’ve been curious if he’s picked up anything, since Nachta had a decent vocabulary... Well... When she felt like using it.”

Kaleb thinks moment and nods slowly, twisting his mouth in contemplation. “He’s getting a lot better with practice. But, he’s still not comfortable with words still.”

As the truck gets closer to the house, he squeezes Shadeesa gently with his arm wrapped around her, and smiles lovingly. “Time to be professional.”

Shadeesa blinks to attention, swiftly pours her coffee down her mouth, swallows hard, and scoots her chair back. She stands up with the cautionary assistance of Kaleb, brushes her apron off, and adjusts her clothing as best as she can manage around her pregnant figure. “Gods, I’m glad these scrub pants have a forgiving elastic waistband.”

She walks towards the side door of the house, picks up standard diagnostic equipment along the way, and adorns herself to professional veterinarian expectation. As Kaleb and Thomas walk from the table, Kaleb glances over to Thomas. “But, Lagi seems to understand Americ just fine and he’s actually been picking up a lot of Emin dialects from Shadeesa. He just just prefers to respond in that dragon language you taught him when he was young.”

Thomas scratches his chin, ponders for a few seconds, and explains. “Well, that does make sense. The language was designed to use easy sounds for most large dragons, and based on lot of sounds they’ve been known to make when communicating.”

He twists his mouth and crosses his arms. “But if you can, you should really get him speaking Americ regularly. His voice box should be capable with some practice.”

Kaleb slowly nods in agreement, glances out a nearby window, and hums in thought. “Yeah. Definitely on the agenda.”

Shadeesa sighs, rolls the tension out of her shoulders, and glances behind her. “I’ve been thinking of a way to magically help Lagi vocalize words... But, it’s still a theory.”

The darkening sky gets Kaleb’s attention through a window and he sneers his upper lip apprehensively. “Man, that storm must be closing in quick. You want to get your bike covered up and under the carport?”

Thomas squints towards the horizon out the same window, grits his teeth with a tinge of concern, and grimaces. “Yeah. That sounds like a good idea.”

Shadeesa stands at the side door to the house, listens to truck doors opening and closing, and draws a long breath in. She opens the door, gently swings out the storm door, and presents a welcoming smile to her clients and patient. “Hello. I’m Veterinarian Serania. I assume you are Mr. Frenzacia?”

The middle aged emin man nods his head and laughs. “I hope so, else I’ve been paying some other guy’s bills for way too long.”

A bit of tension leaves Shadeesa’s posture, she turn her attention to the young teen-aged girl next to Mr. Frenzacia. She pauses a moment to decipher the girl’s appearance and presents a happy smile. “You must be Fawna.”

Fawna’s long, pointy ear tips behind her head sway in the gust of wind as her very long, silvery, red tinted hair blows around. She contorts her face in frustration and attempts to toss her head around to sling stray locks off her horns, and eventually settles to gazing up to Shadeesa with one blue on white eye and one blue on black eye. “Um, yes. Sorry. Uh, the wind.”

Mr. Frenzacia rolls his eyes and quickly assists moving hair tinted the same color as his own off of horns resembling his own. Shadeesa sighs understandingly and moves her gaze down to the creature supported in both of Fawna’s arms. “Don’t worry. We’ll be inside soon enough. I just need to check a few things out here first with your whelp, Varan...”

Shadeesa blinks surprised and puzzles at the whelp in Fawna’s arms. The huge, pot bellied whelp sits upright against Fawna’s torso, lower feet upon on an arm, and upper clawed paws idly flexing gently on Fawna’s other higher up arm. Varan aims his calm, attentive gaze up to Shadeesa. After a few seconds, Varan glances his aqua eyes up to Fawna, and softly chirps out a few purposeful tones. Fawna kisses the top of Varan’s amber head and smiles warmly to him. “It’s okay. She’s going to see why you’ve grown so big and your wings haven’t yet.”

Varan blinks to a long, thoughtful pause, purrs out a confirmation, and studies Shadeesa with the same calm, attentive aqua eyes. Shadeesa's stare widens in a mix of fascination and bewilderment. Kaleb exits the side door and holds it open for Thomas. Kaleb and Thomas give a friendly wave to the father and daughter, and grant Shadeesa distance to perform her work. They both approach the motorcycle off to the side of the carport. Near the bike, Kaleb glances over, halts mid way through moving a nearby tarp, and finally fully notices the huge whelp in the teenager’s arms. He tilts his head side to side, shakes off his surprise, and chuckles with an awkward smile to Thomas. “Wow, that has to be biggest whelp I’ve ever seen. I know a few breeds got big, but... I mean he looks like how Lagi did... when he was really young...”

Thomas stops in place as he hears Kaleb’s voice trail off and watches faint recognition dawn upon his face. He pivots around to gaze over at the whelp. Varan senses the attention, cranes his head to face Thomas, and watches him with a glints of curiosity in his eyes. Thomas cocks his head back and visually scrutinizes the creature. Varan blinks, tilts his head side to side, and thoughtfully pauses a moment. He focuses upon Thomas, and chirps out purposefully with patient anticipation. Thomas eyes widen in genuine surprise, nods with fascinated smile, and whispers to Kaleb. “That’s not a whelp.”




Sotalia stares her golden eyes out into the darkening gray sky through the sliding back door. She taps her foot in frustration, sways her hips, and crosses her arms as sparse, occasional drops of rain splatter on the glass. With an irritated groan, she retrieves her aetherphone out of her yoga pants pocket and flips through the menus. “Gods, it’s just getting worse out there.”

She shrugs her shoulders, pivots around, and walks with a dissatisfied hum. “Oh well, I was hoping for even a small window to do some magic practice. I guess that’s just not going to happen today.”

Aristespha rolls her eyes, glances away from the gathering at the dining table, and smirks at Sotalia. “You can still practice a variety of magic indoors.”

Sotalia cracks a grin and lifts an amused brow. “Oh? Well... Not the type I wanted to practice. Unless, you think we can get away with throwing bolts and streams out the back window from inside?”

Shaking her head, Aristespha groans her gaze away from Sotalia back to tablet on the table in front of her. “NO. I distinctly remember a significant section of the lease paperwork from the landlord detailing extensively about magic use. We are already pushing it close, and I would very much like to see some of our sizable security deposit back in the future.”

Dretphi leans forward on the table and studies the dark gray cast to the world past the back glass door. “It was predicted the storm would be bad tomorrow, Tuesday. It is Monday. This much is already here.”

With emerald green eyes analyzing the frames of radar animation, Cideeda slides a clawed finger on her screen and watches the historical progression of the storm on her aetherphone. “Yeah. This one could be really bad. It brushed against the northern edge of the Perimeter Weird Zone and is cutting through the local weird zone, too.”

Bach shifts his attention to Cideeda and lifts a vaguely worried brow. “Uh, have they said if it’s going to go full maelstrom or anything?”

Cideeda narrows her gaze, reads through the list of update reports, and shakes her head. “Nothing headed towards us, at least. There’s sections they think are going to go that way, but those are headed above and below us.”

Aristespha pauses in thought, taps out of a strategy game on her tablet, and opens up another application with a guild logo splash screen. “We all should keep on eye on the guild job postings for the next few days. There could be emergency response jobs we might be able to do.”

Sebastian’s ethereal form nods and he floats nearby to peek over Aristespha’s shoulder. “Thanks for reminding me, dear. Yeah, if anyone spots anything of interest, let everyone know. If nothing else, there will probably be a bunch of small magical clean up jobs.”

Bach blinks a moment and glances over to Sebastian curiously. “Magical cleanup jobs?”

Nodding towards Bach, Sebastian shrugs his shoulders and smirks nonchalantly. “Yeah, bro. If it’s a bit too strange, scary, and weird for the local emergency response crews, they’ll often drop jobs to the local guild office for groups to handle them instead. Can’t blame them, since it’s not what they’re trained to handle.”

He crosses his ghostly form’s arms and twists his mouth in thought. “Most of the time it’s just some weird magical anomaly left over from a maelstrom that needs to be dispelled carefully. Sometimes though...”

Gritting his teeth, Sebastian uneasily grimaces and his past experiences make his apprehension transparent. “Sometimes... The maelstroms disturb old ruins... Or, drop something that REALLY should NOT be outside a weird zone.”

Bach frowns briefly, shudders the expression off his face, and sighs hopefully. “Well, let’s just hope for nice clean up jobs this week. I’m not against doing a little magical janitorial work.”

Aristespha nods in agreement, and smiles with an intrigued flit of her brow. “So do I. As a team, we’re actually very well suited to do such work. We have three mages of different specializations, and now we have a magically familiar technical expert and wilderness expert. And, Sebastian, from everything we know, can safely approach anything too suspicious first.”

A toothy grin graces Cideeda’s face and her furry ears perk up eagerly along with the wags of her long tail. “We could EASILY take on a bunch of small jobs, optimize them geographically, and efficiently get decent payouts in a few days.”

A smile grows on Dretphi and her interest piques as she processes the plan more in her mind. “We will need to sort by difficulty. Easy work in the morning. One difficult job after lunch. Easy work in the evening.”

Cideeda mulls over the suggestion and gradually nods in agreement. “Yeah. Definitely need to pace ourselves and schedule possible flex time in case of unexpected problems. We could still get a lot done in even a day at that rate.”

Aristespha chimes in as particular aspects arrive to the front of her thoughts. “Also, we need to plan for containment and transport to authorities if there turns out to be something that can’t easily be dispelled or is too dangerous to do so on site.”

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sebastian exchange ideas and commentary about how to approach possible mission arrangements. Sotalia blinks out from thought, springs an excited grin on her face, and perks up. “Yes! That’ll work just fine.”

As she rushes off through the archway into the hallway, she points over to everyone at the table with a happy smile. “Stay here. I’ve got something we can do for magical training today.”

The conversation stops at the dining table, and puzzling expressions appear on everyone’s faces. Close to a minute later, Sotalia arrives back from the hallway with a game box in her hands. A guilty grin graces her face, and she shrugs her shoulders with a bit of humored embarrassment. “I originally bought this at the game store for my nieces and nephews... But... I think we could totally test it out for them. Just to make sure it works right.”

She sits down in a chair at the dining table, opens the box, and starts taking out long, rectangular wooden blocks. Everyone watches Sotalia stack up a tower out of the pieces, three per layer, alternating alignment with subsequent layers. Cideeda tilts her head in recognition, cracks a sly smirk, and flexes her hand of clawed fingers. “Oh, I remember this game... I have to warn all of you, I was always pretty good at it. Manual dexterity and all.”

Sotalia flashes a devilish grin to Cideeda and hoists an amused eyebrow at her. “That MIGHT help you. But, THIS version is the magical variant. All the pieces have been treated to be magically reactive. You have to carefully flow your energy into the piece, and then remove it.”

She taps her finger against a wooden block, wills a fine flow until the block glows a faint green, and lifts her hand up with the block sticking firmly. “There’s a few different types of blocks. These stick to your finger and allow you to pull them away. There are others that move away from you, lightly cling to other blocks, and some that get really slick.”

Fascination dawns upon Cideeda and Dretphi as they attentively watch the demonstration by Sotalia. Bach chuckles to himself, leaking out confidence. “Oh, man, this is going to be fun.”

Sebastian eyes Bach with an unamused frown and smirks with a mocking evil tinge. “Oh, really... By the way, my bro cheats in these games. Watch him carefully.”

Bach narrows a playfully insulted glare at Sebastian, and gestures back. “Man, fuck you. I never cheated, you were just terrible at these games.”

Aristespha fights to quell an ill-humored smile on her face and nods gradually to Bach. Sebastian glances between Bach and Aristespha, crosses his transparent arms, and snorts ethereally. “OH... I don’t know if I can do anything to those blocks, but I AM going to try for you two.”

Sotalia finishes stacking up the last long, rectangular piece, and happily explains the remainder of the rules. “Okay! I’ll go first. You can feel the blocks first without moving them too much. You must flow until the block glows before you move it. And, once you flow a block, you are committed to pull that block.”

She breathes out in preparation, studies the wooden stack tower, and reaches out carefully towards the tiny structure. “When you get a block free, try to stack it on top. If the tower falls you because of you, you take a point and stack the tower for the next round. Lowest score wins after how many rounds we want to play.”

With a slight, tense shake, her thick, black finger nail taps gently against a piece. A flow of magical energy sinks into the wooden block, and Sotalia grits her teeth in anticipation. She releases a sigh of relief when the blocks glow green, pulls it free from the tower, and gingerly places it up on top. The turns rotate around the table as the tower climbs higher. Flowing energy challenges Cideeda, but her steady dexterity and quick reflexes let her handle trickier pieces. Dretphi’s precise focus and strength restrain a blue glowing, slick piece long enough balance on top. Aristespha's studious observations guide her to find the most forgiving blocks. Sotalia's experience leads her through difficult spots with a bit of luck. Bach carefully maneuvers his pieces with subtle manipulations of flow to adapt to the type of block to aptly counter their effects. Sebastian provides encouragement for Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. He switches over to playfully antagonistic interference when it becomes either Aristespha’s or Bach’s turns.

With a teetering tower swaying more and more with each new wooden piece on top, Bach attempts to calm himself and breathes his nerves as he lowers a new blue glowing block towards the top. The rest of the group watches as the piece taps the top of the tower and Bach lets it go. It slides with the pillar’s gradual tilt, moves towards the outer edge... tipping the rest of the stack. The tower tumbles upon the tabletop to the cheers of everyone. Sotalia grins at Bach and giggles. “Well, you get the first point. Start stacking.”

Bach glances over to Sotalia, and cracks a smile. His eyes faintly glow blue, and he holds his hands out towards to pile of fallen blocks. He chuckles lightly and focuses his attention at the table. “Sure...”

Flows of magical energy radiate out upon the tabletop. Pieces lift up without glowing, and the horde of blocks begin to assemble into a new tower in front of the group. Sotalia eyes Bach during the process and scrutinizes him carefully. Bach glances back, perking his brow in confusion. “What?”

Sotalia hums in thought with dramatic contemplation and looks over to Sebastian. “You might be right...”

Sebastian nods in agreement, while Bach rolls his eyes back to the task.




Sheets of rain heavily splatter upon the sliding glass door of the two story house. Water flows from the narrow brick patio into growing pools in the back yard. Tassilda turns her head to watch another wave splash upon the glass, and blinks her light blue on black eyes in surprise. “Good gods, they were not wrong about this storm.”

Deedri pauses from mixing reagents in a large pot near the kitchen sink, flicks her tufted ears to listen to the outside din, and nods slowly. “I thought it got dark yesterday, but...”

She carefully taps a claw tip on her aetherphone’s screen nearby on the counter, and reads off the time. “It’s noon, and it’s almost night out there.”

Tassilda slowly shakes her head, turns her head to face the chime from her aetherphone, and reads the new message. She smiles warmly as she sits at the dining table. Tapping a few options on the screen, she aims the phone at the dreary, chaotic scene on the other side of the sliding glass door. With a quick tap and an indicator beep, she rights the aetherphone back in her hands, and swiftly types up a response. Deedri squints her auburn eyes over towards Tassilda, and cranes her head around to peek from a distance. She grows a sly grin, and directs a whisper to Tassilda. “So, what’s Daedrican saying?”

A brief flush of color fills Tassilda’s gray cheeks as she briefly startles at the attention. After a moment, a smile graces her face and she whispers back to Deedri. While the two converse, through the connecting archway into the living room, Chad resettles himself on the couch and idly watches the television. With a bored sigh, he checks his phone, stares at it longingly for new alerts, and rests it back down on the couch arm next to him. Modoran slouches deeper into the couch cushions and tilts his head back. He rolls it side to side to stretch out, and slowly lifts it back forward to stare at the television screen. When he realizes the show that’s playing, he grumbles heavy with apathy, and tilts his head towards Chad. “Is there ANYTHING worth watching on?”

Chad blinks to attention, gazes blankly at the screen, and shrugs his shoulders with a sigh. “Normally. Yes. But, it seems like every damn station we get right now is too busy covering the storm rather than running shows.”

He reaches over to a side table next to the couch, picks up the remote, and aims to the screen. “But... Let’s see if they’ve finally gotten around to unfucking some of the other channels. Storm must be disrupting some downlinks, or something.”

Veevi quickly descends down the stairs, and sticks the landing into the living room with a bit a dramatic flair and physique shaking spring. She fluffs back her long pink hair, wags her long, short-hair tail, and struts towards the couch. She hops onto the middle seat between Chad and Modoran, and gradually leans onto Chad. With a smile, Chad puts his arm around Veevi, and she quickly snuggles up to him. Modoran glances over, rolls his dark blue eyes, and shifts his attention ahead to the television. A light flashes outside through nearby windows and a low, strong rumble of thunder vibrates the structure of the house. The fur on Veevi’s tail reflexively poofs out and she squeezes her arms gently around Chad. Glancing at the half-fvalian, Chad cracks a humored smirk and comfortingly squeezes Veevi’s shoulder. The tension in Veevi’s body dissipates. She gazes ahead to the television and cocks her head to the side. “What ARE you guys watching?”

Chad’s brown eyes blink to attention. He focuses upon the screen, and shrugs his shoulders. “Uh... I don’t know... I was just flipping through channels to see if we could get anything worth watching.”

Modoran sighs with hints of annoyance leaking through despite his best efforts to maintain a nonchalant facade. “It’s another one of those Evuukian dramas. They seem to be REALLY popular as of late...”

He sneers his upper lip and grumbles to himself. “Haven’t the slightest clue as to why...”

Veevi smirks and muses about the subject with obvious interest. “Oh, you just don’t get it! All the plots, schemes, manipulation, and political power plays... All, so wonderfully done. You just never know what’s going to happen next! Just so satisfying to see a devious power move during all the struggles.”

Modoran briefly narrows his dismissive stare at Veevi, studies her reaction, and rolls his eyes away with a snort. “You say that. It’s not that great when you are near and in it all, from my experience.”

Veevi glances over to Modoran with a genuinely curious expression and honestly inquires. “Really? Wait... Are you part of a house?”

Chad pauses in thought a moment, maintains his head towards the television, but carefully listens in. Modoran flits his eyes wide in surprise, suppresses a bit of anxiety with his calm, nonchalant exterior, and plainly states. “Oh. No... I’ve just been close enough to all that insanity to know to stay away from it. It’s hard to avoid depending on where you live. Anyway, it just boils down to a bunch of Evuukians with too much power and too little to do.”

Narrowing a scrutinizing stare upon Modoran briefly, Veevi huffs and resumes watching the show. “Whatever. I still love these shows.”

Trakenthin steps into the room from another entry, carrying a large hamper of towels. He walks next to the couch in front of an arm chair, and places the laundry tub on the floor. Modoran glances down at the container of towels next to him, and perks a curious brow at Trakenthin. “That’s... That’s a lot of towels.”

With a twist in his mouth, Trakenthin sighs and slowly shakes his head. “Backlog of laundry. I decided to clean towels first. We may need them soon.”

Modoran nods in agreement, glances at the evuukian drama on the television, and faces Trakenthin with an amicable smile. “Well, I’ll help you fold them. Actually got pretty good at folding towels at one of my old jobs.”

Trakenthin quirks his brow and smirks amused as he gazes at Modoran. “Can you fold animals?”

A sly grin parts Modoran’s mouth and he chuckles. “Of course. You had to know a few depending on what theme you were working with.”

Brilliant light floods into the room from nearby windows in stark contrast to the previous darkness. Instantly, a powerful explosion of thunder rattles the window panes and rumbles the very structure of the house. Muffled, distant thunks echo into the area from somewhere in the house, and power completely cuts out in the two story house. The team startles briefly. Chad and Trakenthin quickly retrieve their aetherphones and tap on the flashlight function. Deedri and Tassilda both swiftly gesture out simple incantations, and present small light orbs in their palms. Chad stands up from the couch, sliding out of Veevi’s grasp, and surveys the area. “Okay, everyone. First thing. Is power out for the neighborhood or is it just us?”

Tassilda walks over to the back sliding glass window, and squints outside with an uncertain twist to her frown. “Don’t see lights from anyone across the way, but it’s hard to see right now with all this rain and haze.”

Trakenthin steps over to a window on the front face of the house, opens the blinds, and scouts the view of the street and neighboring houses that are visible. “Neighbors have power. Street lights are still on.”

Deedri leans out past the archway from the dining area, and makes eye contact with Chad. “I heard something mechanical and solid switch off hard, somewhere in the house.”

Chad nods appreciatively, breathes in, and dons a commanding tint to his voice. “Well. Let’s check out the circuit breakers...”

The group pauses to ponder a sudden, shared thought. Trakenthin tilts his head to the side and puzzles. “Where are the circuit breakers?”

Chad gazes over to Trakenthin, twists his mouth, and contemplatively hums. “I don’t know. We’ve never needed to use them before, so no one has told us.”

He sighs with a smirk, and shrugs his shoulders. “Well, I guess we need to find them. Okay. Trakenthin. You and I will check the front half of the house.”

Directing his voice towards the dining area with Deedri and Tassilda, Chad instructs the two. “If you both could check the back half of the house, that’d help. It should be on the first floor somewhere.”

Modoran ponders out loud a moment. “Yeah. Probably near the laundry room. The main run from the power poles is on that side of the house, and the breaker box shouldn’t be too far from there. Probably covered up by something knowing all the random furniture they have here.”

Chad nods in agreement to Modoran, and leads the way. The two teams of two head out, illuminating small sections of the house as they travel. After a minute, Veevi searches around the darkened room and looks over to Modoran. “Aren’t you going to go help them?”

Modoran nonchalantly replies and stretches. “No. They’ve got it. Four people is enough to hunt down a breaker box. If flipping the breakers doesn’t fix it, I’ll go outside to scout things out... IF it comes to that.”

A smile slowly creeps upon Veevi’s lips and her body language loosens up. She slinks gradually along the couch closer to Modoran in the dark room and seductively colors her tone. “You know... I’ve been really wanting to train more... with YOU...”

Pausing a moment to listen carefully and observe Modoran still seated at the end of couch, she eases her hands closer and allows her fingers to lead the rest of her body along. “In other aspects of stealth... Especially, certain night time activities...”

Within the obscuring shadow of the room and noise of the storm outside, her body lightly contacts Modoran’s form on the other end of the couch. Her arm glides along the back of the couch, and lightly caresses the back of his neck. “Hidden from anyone else...”

She flexes her figure, licks her lips, and rests her other hand upon his leg near the knee. With gentle brushing of her fingers, Veevi rubs sensually up the length. Grinning with accomplished, sinister satisfaction, Veevi slips her hand down between his legs. Perking her fuzzy ears, she turns her head to the side, leaning in for the kiss. From somewhere else in the house, Chad’s muffled voice calls out. “...the hell... ...well, here they are... Found them!”

A moment later, the lights flick on brightly, and ambient sounds of power flood the house again. Veevi winces as her pink pupil eyes readjust, and regains awareness of her surroundings. She glances over and witnesses a mass of dissipating magical miasma venting from static visage of Modoran. Seconds later, Modoran’s illusion vaporizes to transparency and leaves behind a collection of towels arranged in the rough approximation of his volume. Veevi leans away from the rough towel dummy occupying where Modoran was, and releases her grip on towels comprising the crotch section. She searches the area completely bewildered and blinks confused as she tries to understand what just transpired. But, a surge of frustration and petulant anger ceases her puzzling, and she topples over the towel collection into a heap off the couch. She stands up, shudders as the indignant irritation swells within her, and struts away with frustrated twitches of her tail.




A flash of light radiates out into the massive, dark cavern. The rolling thunder rumbles through the partially opened, heavy exterior doors. Meredosia stares out into the ongoing chaotic storm, and ponders deeply. The wind sprays waves of water through the wide gap between doors onto the concrete floor surrounding the entryway. The patter of raindrops echoes upon all the hard surfaces throughout the massive space of golem parts, manufacturing machinery, and assembly equipment. Meredosia blinks back from her distant thoughts, searches around her modest campsite away from the entry, and scoots her salvaged metal chair over to another stack of paperwork. Sorting through the pile of old loose notes, she stops at one section and draws out a collection of sheets. With a long, sad sigh, she settles her dark crimson eyes upon the material and slowly reads the old, handwritten paragraphs. Under her breath, she mumbles to herself in evuukian about the content, and occasionally squints to carefully reexamine puzzling sections.

Realization sparks in her eyes, and an intrigued smirk appears on her face. Quickly hunting around her immediate vicinity, she swiftly digs through nearby piles of books, and grabs hold of one particular volume. She flops the old tome on her lap, flips through the pages, and reads samples of the content. After a number of minutes, a proud smiles grows on her face, and she nods in agreement with her thoughts. Sliding the loose notes between the pages of the tome, she pulls out a worn notebook from her backpack, and opens it to a bookmark. With graceful handwriting, she adds a new entry to the comprehensive journal.

After a brilliant burst of light through the entryway, another concussive acoustic blast bounces around the huge cave. Meredosia startles briefly, tensing her body overall. Moments later, she finally relaxes with a long exhale, and finishes the latest paragraph into her journal. She rests back in the chair, stretches her arms out, and gazes around her campsite at the small orbs hovering midair and radiating illuminating flames. With a content smile, she shifts her stare at the other piles of notes, books, and electronic media nearby, and resumes her research.

Minutes later, a massive gust funnels through the heavy, exterior doors, and disperses into the area. The breeze eventually rolls over the camp site, and the flaming spheres flicker and waver. Meredosia slowly lifts her head from her studies, watches the orbs dim briefly, and gradually return to normal. She grimaces as worry and concern swell up, and quietly stares out into the storm. A long sigh escapes her as she gazes out distantly into the chaotic storm, and she uneasily bites her lower lip. Brushing back her gray hair over her long ears, she returns her attention to her chore and focuses herself back on task. Occasionally, she glances out to the storm, her concern obvious on her face.




Fighting against the tremendous gusts of wind, two evuukian men in nature themed uniforms trudge through the harsh storm. With each blast of wind, they brace themselves and maintain their footing upon a water logged, mucky trail. The nearby underbrush struggles against the weight of the downpour of rain, and submits to the force of the powerful winds. One of the men spits out a series of angered curses in evuukian when he slips and drops to a knee in the thick mud. He glances over to the other man, irritably gesturing out a question incredulously. The other man shakes his head under his poncho, and throws his hands up dismissively with a commiserating reply. The muddied man growls as he gets back up on his feet with the help of the other.

The two pause their travels and stand to witness the fury of the storm around them. Tall, ancient trees flex and audibly creak and groan as they stretch to their limits. The rustle of leaves blends into the overwhelming chorus of wind driven rain. A bright eruption of distant light ignites the darkened sky briefly, and the illumination scatters down to the misty haze filling the forest below. The two evuukian men witness the chaos around them in pure awe, as the cacophony of thunder pulses past them. With a massive burst of air high above, a loud explosive snap sounds out. A tremendous, wooden crackle echoes harshly against the background drone, and a few meter long branch crashes down to a powerful, earth shaking impact. Both men tense up, grit their teeth reflexively, and freeze motionless. Seconds later, both study the large, fallen limb, and exchange nervous glances. The muddied evuukian man shakes his head, and spouts a single explicit phrase. The other nods in total agreement, and yells out similar sentiments. Both turn around, and quickly rush down another path, towards a distant clearing encircled by giant, ancient trees, and barely visible through the haze of rain and mist.

Out into the forest, hidden in the underbrush, a few camouflaged military scouts wait motionlessly against the brutal weather, and stealthily watch the two evuukian men depart. Rain rolls along their slick, form fitting polymer suits. The exterior patterns of the suits gradually blend with the environment immediately around them, and create an intricate mesh of outline obscuring patterns. One operative at the lead finally moves his visor covered face, and silently glances to both of his sides to the two members in the three person team. Synchronously, the squad precisely gestures out the same incantation, get up as their forms fade into the ambient forest haze, and carefully slink forward, closing in on the distant clearing.

Seconds later, a dozen lightly armored special ops soldiers in actively camouflaging, hooded cloaks settle into the area, ready their compact rifles, and observe the area. A few slide down advanced visors with different optics, and thoroughly scan the vicinity. Minutes pass as they remain silent and hidden in the churning chaos of the overwhelming storm. The commanding officer rises up from prone on the forest floor to kneeling stance in the center of the group. He visually confirms with his subordinates, and nods in confirmation. Resting his hand on the side of his helmet, taps upon a control panel of a radio module, and turns his head to stare behind his team.

In the hazy, stormy backdrop the forest, faint disruptions in the mist swirl around a massive volumes. Peaking out from the background din, heavy, muffled, slow, and repetitious noises sound out into the forest. Muted snaps from the water soaked, ground struggle against the noise of the constant, overwhelming drone of rainfall. A blinding eruption of light above ignites the dark sky to a brief full daylight. In the brightness, half a dozen four meter tall, angular outlines barely contrast against the mist and ambient haze. As the massive, mechanical forms lumber closer with slow, methodical steps, their existence only reveals itself with the warping view of the forest through them. Sheets of rain blast through the trees above, and splash midair upon a transparent volume. The droplets stream along the angular crevices, merge together in hard corners, and flow down upon translucent, mechanical feet leaving heavy indentations into the forest floor.

The giant forms step cautiously, weave between large trees, but show no mercy to underbrush and debris below. They arrive together many meters behind the dozen special operatives, and wait. The commanding officer at the center of the team, studies the area ahead through his helmet mounted visor, and remains still. At the quiet prompting of his soldiers, he trains long stares in different directions, and analyzes distant points of interest. Minutes of still existence pass on by.

Then, with a simple nod, he raises his fist high. Meters behind, the nearly transparent mechanical forms stir. Pairs of weaponized arms visually flicker as they raise into position and direct their arsenals, before fading back into the background. Soldiers on the ground, inspect their weaponry, ready their stances for action, and await further orders. Another arc of lightning streaks through the sky above, and brightly lights up the area. The brilliant, brief illumination, reveals hidden details of the large, mechanical forms. The flat painted, composite shells of mechs reflect back the sudden, intense light, and upon each a symbol of mountains on a flag outline contrasts the dull, dark exterior shoulder sections. Under the flag logo, one word remains clear on all before the forms fade back to transparency. “Appaland”