-61-

Cideeda slowly drags a finger tip along her aetherphone, and watches the text scroll on the display. Her furry ear flicks towards the television, and she rolls her head over towards the screen from the couch. She lazily reaches a hand out on the coffee table, grabs hold of the remote, and presses a clawtip onto a series of rubber buttons. Satisfied, she settles back on the couch, stretches her body out along the cushions, and wags her tail with a yawn. Her attention returns to her aetherphone and she releases a long, relaxed sigh. "Well, I think all the easy jobs got snatched up yesterday. There's nothing I really want to do left."

Aristespha turns her gaze away from her tablet, and glances from the couch chair over to Cideeda. "Yes. It certainly seems the case. I tried looking last night and didn't see anything new."

Adjusting the pillow under her head, Cideeda shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly and smirks as she drapes a blanket over her from the back of the couch. "Yeah. Wouldn't have minded doing another day of small clean up jobs. But... What remains is too scattered to bother."

She grins comfortably as she rests her phone down on her chest and shifts her attention to the television. "And... Well... I'm already settled in for this marathon."

Aristespha smiles understandingly with a chuckle to herself, switches her focus to her tablet, and studies the information prompts on the screen of her game. Sebastian's ethereal form reaches out a hand and points out an area of the game map. "I think you need to build fortifications here, dear."

Waving her hand to playfully shoo Sebastian off his perch near her shoulder, Aristespha twists her mouth and grumbles. "I know, Sebastian. But, not yet. I want to get the refinery going now."

Sebastian drifts back slightly, rolls his eyes with a smirk, and mumbles. "The computer is going to start poking your defenses soon..."

Aristespha angles the tablet screen slightly away from Sebastian's prying eyes, and he floats above to get a new view. Aristespha's long pointy ear twitches at Sotalia's frustrated groans and she glances over towards the dining table. Sotalia narrows her competitive glare at Bach, and points accusingly at the last block on the wooden tower. "Oh, come on! You KNOW that should have fallen off..."

Bach grins widely, weaves his fingers upon the table top, and waits patiently, expectantly. "Maybe... But... It didn't. So, now it's your turn to pull."

Sotalia focuses her golden eyes upon the smug smile of Bach, cracks annoyed smirk, and sighs through her gritting teeth. "Fine. There's just no good choices."

Rolling his eyes, Bach slowly shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. "Well, you probably shouldn't have been trying to stack it so badly to trip me up."

Staring a few seconds at Bach unamused, Sotalia groans in a partial acceptance and gradually nods to a begrudging smile. "I know... I know... Gods... There's just nothing obviously good to work with."

A tinge of evil satisfaction creeps into Bach's demeanor as he watches Sotalia's hand hover indecisively around the barely stable wooden block structure. She summons a flow of magical energy to her finger and presses a long nailed tip to a loose piece in the tower. The block flickers to a purple color to Sotalia's surprise, and pushes away from Sotalia's finger. The tower sways back and forth while Sotalia struggles to stabilize the purple glowing block, but eventually the structure's high center of gravity pulls it down. Sotalia crosses her arms upon the table top, lowers her head down, and quietly curses to herself. Bach maintains a muted grin and watches Sotalia slowly scoop her arm out to gather all the pieces near her. Heavy, energetic foot steps sound out from the archway leading to the hallway, and Dretphi nearly hops out with a bright grin on her face and brushes a few stray braids off to her shoulders. "Have good news!"

Attention from the other team members turns to Dretphi. After taking a few moments to temper her excitement, Dretphi collects her thoughts and focuses on her words. "House traveled to investigate a school for my brother. Storm delayed original flight back a week."

Dretphi breathes out, averts her eyes with a humored smile, and shrugs. "Mother... negotiated... with the travel company. They will arrive in an Amaranth Valley hotel tomorrow night. Free Saturday. Fly out Sunday."

A bit of anxiety slips in her expression and she gazes out to the group with a bit of tension. "Would it be okay to invite them here Saturday? For the day?"

Sebastian responds quickly with a delighted smile. "Well, of course! I don't believe we have anything going on Saturday? Any objections?"

Aristespha shakes her head and nods pleasantly to Dretphi. "None from me. I'd be honored to meet your house."

Cideeda gives a thumbs to Dretphi and grins toothily. "Fine with me. I mean, they're all the way out here. They may as well stop on by."

Sotalia smiles to Dretphi and chuckles to herself. "I've only seen pictures of them, so it'll be interesting to see the family resemblance in person."

Bach nods to Dretphi and tilts his head curiously. "Sounds good. By the way, where are they flying to Sunday?"

Dretphi gazes at Bach, thinks a moment, and plainly responds. "Verdan. In Radotahin. My home town."

Blinking in thought a few seconds, Bach gradually turns his head as he processes the information and eventually quirks his puzzled brow. "Oh. Okay. Where is that exactly?"

After pondering a few seconds, Dretphi points westwards and adjusts her aim a few degrees to the north. "Approximately one thousand seven hundred kilometers that direction."

Bach's blue eyes widen and he blinks astonished. "Wow..."

Sebastian chuckles, flies across the room, and lands next to the dining table. "Yeah. That's a story right there."

Dretphi grumbles slightly, sighs briefly, and resumes a happy expression on her face. "Another time. Now... I want to make a nice lunch to celebrate."

She quickly walks around the dining table into the kitchen area, opens the refrigerator door, and inspects the contents. Seconds later, she frowns, and sighs with disappointment. "Missing certain ingredients."

Cideeda begins to stir from her rest upon the couch and under her blanket. "I guess we could make a run to the store..."

Bach blinks back to awareness, glances over towards Cideeda, and gazes through the sliding glass window to the pleasant glow of the sunny, calm morning. He slides back his chair, stands up, and looks around to the group. "You know. It's a nice day. I'll run out on my bike. The sidecar can hold the groceries easily."

Halting her rise from the comfortable spot on the couch, Cideeda slowly lowers her self back down and grins approvingly. "I'm not going to argue. Saves us the extra synth diesel, anyway."

Bach smirks to Sotalia with a competitive perk of an eyebrow. "Rematch after I get back?"

Sotalia presents a scheming grin and interlocks her fingers together. "Of course. I'll stack it nicely for you."

Rolling his eyes in amusement, he walks around the table into the kitchen, retrieves his aetherphone, and stands next to Dretphi. "So, what do I need to get?"

Dretphi lists off a few items, waits for Bach to record them in his phone, and peeks over his shoulder to double-check. After Bach reads off the list to Dretphi's approval, he steps over towards the kitchen door leading to the garage. "Cool. I'll get the bike warmed up, throw my gear on, and I'll be off."

Dretphi smiles warmly to Bach as the door closes. Sotalia eyes over to Dretphi with an ill-humored smirk. Moments later, Dretphi rolls her shoulders uncomfortably, notices Sotalia's gaze, and puzzles. "What?"

Sotalia snorts, waves it off, and rolls her eyes to Dretphi's confusion. "Oh... Nothing."




Isaac flexes his grip upon the steering wheel of the sedan and glances over to large metal sign indicating distances. Brushing a few stray white hairs out of his face, he focuses upon the single digit number next to Amaranth Valley at the top, and then studies a few of the other locations. He stares out at the highway and modest amount of traffic, and hums to himself as he thinks. Glancing over, he checks over his supplies, and sneers uncomfortably as he realizes the unfavorable ratio of open containers to full ones. Turning his head forward, his eyes drop down briefly, and he notices the fuel gauge indicator moving closer to empty. Grumbling at the circumstances, he stares off into the distance and surveys the scattered stores in the area ahead. While scouting a fuel station along the opposite side of the road, he squints his gaze down the highway as a sidecar motorcycle catches his attention. Issac's eyes open wide in sheer surprise when he recognizes the familiar helmet, duster, and face of the rider as it zips past the gas station. Quickly tracking the motorcycle, he watches as the vehicle and rider turn into a grocery store parking down the road.

Isaac resumes his attention forward and maintains control of the sedan. His mind spins up with thought and his face plays out a mix of apprehension and intrigue. The wind from the cracked window flutters the edges of pictures in his open backpack upon the passenger floorboard. Pondering the photographs, determination swells within Isaac, and he cracks a smirk. Slowing down into the middle lane, he steers the vehicle around in a tight turn and guides the car down the road towards the grocery store. Surveying the area, he spots a secluded section of alley road behind the gas station and turns into an entry. Checking the vicinity, he finds a obscured section of access road, parks the vehicle out of the way, and stares down the long stretch that leads towards the large market parking lot. Slowly breathing out his nerves, Isaac searches his mind, contemplates his options plainly upon his face, and... Pulls up his blue scarf to hide his face. Noxian opens the door, steps out, quietly pushes the door shut, and walks quickly towards the parking area.




Bach exits the market holding two stuffed paper bags by the handles. Dodging around traffic and other customers, he eventually manages to get to his motorcycle between two large, tall vehicles. He glances to either side of the spot and sighs at the encroachment upon the dividing lines of paint. "Really people?"

He shrugs off the annoyance, maneuvers through the remaining space, and lowers each bag into the sidecar. After carefully arranging the contents and securing the cargo, he stands up, brushes off his duster, and fans out some heat. From behind a familiar voice stuns Bach motionless. "It is a nice day for a ride, Mr. Warwick."

Bach's blue eyes open fully upon his blank expression as he stiffly stands up straight. He gradually pivots in place to turn around to the source of the voice. Noxian smiles wide underneath his blue scarf, crosses his arms, and grows fully visible. "I apologize for interrupting your shopping, but I believe we need to have a little discussion."

Every muscle in Bach's body tenses, his eyes dart around the area frantically, and he remains still, completely bewildered to what should happen. Focusing his gray gaze upon Bach, Noxian gently gestures his hands for Bach to calm down. "Put yourself at ease, Bach. I did NOT come here to a populated area to pick a fight with you."

As the din of people rises up of the background, Bach cringes briefly, grits his teeth, and grumbles uneasily. "Okay. That's good to know. Wasn't really looking forward to a fight, much less here... Much less with you..."

Noxian nods with the outline of a grin visible under his blue scarf, and unfolds his arms to place his hands upon his sides. "Good. I expected as such. Anyway... I distinctly believe that fighting would not serve to benefit either of us."

Narrowing his stare through Bach, Noxian chuckles slightly and tilts his head intrigued as Bach puzzles at the attention. "While I have grown quite the expert in manipulation of elder energies... I certainly don't have access to the RAW POWER like... YOU... do."

Bach pales as abject horror overwhelms him and trembling fits sneak around his body. "Uhh... W-what are you t-talking about? I don't have-"

Hoisting his brow incredulously, Noxian rolls his eyes, sighs with a shake of his head, and glares right at Bach. "Let us NOT do this act. I KNOW you have tapped into something. Proper evidence show even."

His expression softens, his tone lightens to a polite cadence, and Noxian gazes to Bach with genuine curiosity. "All that ask is you just tell me... How did you do it?"

Bach's mind searches for a response and he continues to stare right at Noxian completely uncertain. While Noxian patiently waits and the sounds of grocery store customers fill the ambient air, bravery swells up into Bach's face and he narrows his glare. "Well... I'm not going to lie to you..."

He grits his teeth, sneers his upper lip, and plainly states. "I. DON'T. KNOW."

Noxian scrutinizes Bach carefully, a flicker of white gracing his eyes as he contorts his face. Bach's nerves push out a further explanation and he sighs uneasily. "It's the truth. I was in a bad situation. I panicked... Reached out? Ah, that's the best way I can explain it. And... Something happened I did not expect and it completely caught me off guard. After that, I don't know. So, even if I wanted to help you, I honestly can't."

After a few second, Noxian slowly nods, relaxes his gaze, and twists his mouth unsatisfied as he shrugs his shoulders. "I see. That is very unfortunate. But, I cannot fault you for not remembering specific information in a dire situation. Oh well. No easy answers today, I guess."

He dons an apologetic tone, softens his expression towards Bach, and bows slightly. "Since we are here and conversing, I think I need to make some amends for my past behavior towards you. Let me say, I'm very sorry for how I acted before and my hostilities towards you. My ambitions got the better of me and lead me to actions I should not have even considered."

Apprehension overtakes Bach face, and he fights bewilderment as he glances around the area before focusing back on Noxian. "Um... I... Appreciate your apology?"

Noxian smiles under his scarf, nods respectfully, and stands tall with a calm voice. "Good. And, as a gesture of goodwill... I want to offer you assistance with learning how to control your elder energy, and train you how to use it more effectively."

Bach freezes solidly for seconds in outright terror, manages to force a step back, and lifts his hands up. "NO."

Carefully watching every motion of fear plain upon Bach, Noxian quirks his brow intrigued and concern colors his voice. "Interesting. Why are you hesitant?"

Anxiety rages out into the whole of Bach, and he breathes shakily as he pushes another step back away from Noxian. "Whatever I have... I-it doesn't n-need your help. Not YOUR ways."

Noxian ponders a few moments, searches Bach fearful demeanor, and sighs with a genuine worry. "Please, calm down. This is not some kind of scheme. I honestly do want to help you. You shouldn't fear this power you have access to. It's not some kind of evil thing. It is dangerous and should be well respected, but there is nothing bad about it."

He slowly steps forward, maintains his gaze upon Bach, and presents a cool, collected attitude. "To summarize a very long discussion quickly... You've been lied to. The whole Elder Energy and Dark Lords subject? It's a bunch of fear mongering crafted by ghosts of the past to keep people from exploring what they eventually should."

With a long pause, Noxian searches his mind and constructs the next parts of his explanation. "There may have been good reasons for what many wise mages did at the time, but NOW... We need to move on. Those of us who can show the restraint and dedication... Like YOU have... need to not be afraid to utilize this power-"

A mental spark jolts Bach's body free, and a pressure surge of panic launches out a defiant rant from deep within. "FUCK. THAT. Just FUCK that! You don't know what should and shouldn't be utilized. The only gods damned reason I'll explore any of this power is to figure out how to one day... CUT MYSELF OFF FROM IT! Because of this bullshit, I spent YEARS of my life as a washed out, useless, lame mage. A fucking disgrace! A worthless disappointment! And, the worst joke around! I'm NOT about to turn this miserable, shitty curse into anything more than a means to its own end! I want it long gone, and just cast spells like I used to be able to! Like EVERYONE else does! ... Fuck your inane bullshit!"

Noxian rears his head back momentarily in absolute surprise and frowns as he witnesses Bach's trembling stance and anxiety stressed breathing. With a soothing, paternal cadence, Noxian meets Bach's eyes and sighs. "Bach. Listen. You have been given a unique opportunity for some reason. Yes, it was granted to you in a terribly awkward, and obviously devastating manner. But... THIS is something I DID NOT think was even POSSIBLE in this day and age. You should take this chance and do great things!"

Uncertainty drives Bach's fight against the concept and he dismissively rejects. "Nothing GOOD is going to come from using this energy. They put the Abstract Prism in place for a good gods damned reason. And, I'm not about to push my shitty luck and find out WHY in the worst fucking way possible."

A surge of irritation mixes with frustration upon Noxian's face, and he quickly closes the distance between him and Bach. He concentrates his narrowing glare through Bach and slowly, purposefully pronounces each word. "It CAN be for good. It COULD have done good... ..."

His attention shifts to a distant place in his mind and he reflects upon old memories while Bach studies the change. Seconds later, Noxian drills his stare right into Bach's soul. "And... It HAS done good."

Bach searches around in his brain in utter confusion. Noxian steps back, draws in a long calming breath, and sighs to a deeply appreciate cadence. "The Nightmare Geist in Hattan. Thousands of people spared from untold destruction... And one little girl that draws you as her hero of light against the darkness that almost took her."

Jarring memories rise up to the front of Bach's mind and abruptly redirects his focus within. Noxian focuses upon Bach and directs his voice carefully. "Also... Care to explain to me how Cideeda is flowing magical energy now? Something I've never seen or heard of her being able to do... Until you joined the group?"

Bach sifts through another collection of thoughts and mumbles an argument to himself. "But... That was an accident and... Gods, it could have seriously hurt her... It just shows that power should be used... Just sealed away..."

Noxian trains his full attention upon Bach, awaits the for moment Bach meets his stare, and explains with determination. "Bach... You should NOT be afraid of this power. Don't act like you haven't made willing, purposeful choices to use it. You could have easily not used it, stuck to those hollow principles, and tried to live with the results. But... You made a choice. The RIGHT choice... I'm sure Sotalia would say so."

An uncomfortable revelation washes over Bach and paralyzes him while he wanders through his own head. Noxian watches the perplexed Bach patiently and steps back. An awkward eerie silence looms between two. Eventually, it fades as another wave of grocery store parking lot activity rises out of the background. Noxian sighs while shaking his head of wispy, white hair, and gazes at Bach with a hopeful tone. "You still need time to accept all this. I can see and feel that it's been a serious burden upon you. And truly, I wish I had known sooner. I could have... and still will help you if you want. That's my standing offer to you. Keep it in mind."

Pondering a moment, Noxian crosses his arms and nods slightly. "And maybe, when you learn more, you'll hear me out about other things."

He searches around the area as the market gets busier, and smiles under his scarf. "But, for now, I do terribly need to take my leave. As much as you have errands to run, I do so, too. Elsewhere... Briefly... Take care of yourself, Bach. I believe Fate will have us running into each other soon enough."

As Noxian begins to fade into transparency and turns to walk away, Bach snaps to attention and stares out to Noxian. "Isaac?"

Isaac freezes in shock, slowly turns around, slips backs into visibility, and gawks at Bach. Meeting Isaac's gray eyes, Bach plainly states to Isaac's confusion. "Your journal."

Distant memories flood into Isaac's consciousness and he winces with past pain. Bach sighs earnestly and frowns slightly. "You have my most sincere condolences. I don't know what I would have done. Hopefully for the best, that place is no longer forgotten."

A long, somber silence hangs between the two. Seconds later, Isaac clears his throat, turns away to depart, and begins to fades into invisibility. He pauses momentarily before disappearing and glances over his shoulder to Bach. "Thank you..."

He thinks a moment and sighs. "Understand... There's a good reason for what I do. I think you'll understand eventually."

Isaac visage blends into the air and his presence fades from sight. Bach remains upon his feet for another minute in a tense watch of the area. His vigor wanes and he drops to a seat upon the motorcycle. Panting in shuddering breaths, he shakily retrieves his aetherphone from his pocket.




At the diner table, Bach sighs out a swell of stress from within, combs his fingers through his hair, and props his head up with his arms upon the table top. In a wavering, uneasy tone, he slowly shakes his head and meekly speaks. "Gods... Dammit... I should have followed after him or something... But... Fuck. I just wasn't thinking. I'm so sorry."

Sebastian cranes his head down in front of Bach, awaits eye contact, and presents a comforting smile with hints of fading worry. "It's okay, bro. Really. There's NOTHING to apologize for. You did the SMART thing. No need to get into a showdown with Noxian, and in a crowded place."

He dons a humoring grin and gestures towards his ghostly visage. "I'm certainly not going to criticize you for NOT going one on one with Noxian. We all know how that ended. I'm just glad you're here and safe."

Sotalia gently pats Bach on the back and leans over to smile calmly with a soothing tone. "There was no point in running off by yourself to chase after him. I mean, you only followed the same advice YOU gave me."

A slight smirk lifts up the frown on Bach's face and he glances over appreciatively to Sotalia. Cideeda raps her claw tipped fingers on the wooden top of the table, ponders possibilities in her mind, and gazes over to Bach curiously. "Did you catch how he was getting around?"

Bach lifts his head up, blinks in thought for a moment, and regretfully shakes his head. "No... I was too upset to check when I should have. But, I don't think it was anything in the parking lot I was in. Before I came back here after calling, I mage sighted an odd trace around the bushes at the edge of the lot. I followed a little of it, but it just lead to an access road in an alley behind a few stores and fuel stations."

Searching her mind, Cideeda's eyes dart around her thoughts and she nods with a plotting grin. "Oh, I bet there HAS to be camera pointed somewhere along that route. If nothing else, there's probably one angled to catch an exit or entry point."

Sebastian's ethereal form scratches his chin and he hums with a ghostly reverb as an idea grows. "Yeah. Definitely. We have the rough time frame and know the general area. If we check footage from the point from the call, we can see if anything left soon afterwards. Then, we can check to see if any of the same arrived beforehand."

Aristespha halts her pacing next to the sliding glass door, concentrates on the conversation with her aetherphone, and sighs. "No. No... I completely understand... But- Fine... Yes, don't hesitate to call his number or the guild if you get any further information... Thank you."

She removes the phone from her long pointy ear, sneers her upper lip, and groans in frustrated resignation. With a slow pivot, she steps towards the gathering around the dining table with heavy dissatisfaction looming over her. She pulls a chair out, tries to gracefully slide in, and finishes with a slump. "Well, the local police force has been notified now. I doubt they're going to do anything to actively stop Noxian."

Sebastian rolls his eyes, grumbles, and shifts to a hopeful smirk. "Yeah, dear. Well... Honestly, can't fault them for not wanting to chase after a dark lord. But, maybe they might be able to get some camera data in the area from all the store owners."

Aristespha nods in agreement with a reserved smile, and gazes at Sebastian lovingly. "That's true, Sebastian. I was hoping for a bit more cooperation. And, I haven't heard too much from Nash lately. So, I don't know exactly what's happening at the Grand Library."

She chuckles lightly to herself and shakes her head. "But, I have feeling after he listens to the voice mail I left him... He will be contacting me soon enough."

Sotalia stands up straight, rests her hands at her hips, and tosses back her fiery orange, wavy hair, gritting her teeth. "Still... How the hell DID Noxian know about everything that went on in that golem factory?! The only thing that makes sense is that he was actually THERE with us!"

She grumbles out a string of emin swears to herself and slowly shakes her head with aggravation plain on her face. Cideeda squirms in her seat uncomfortably and searches her head for explanations while she idly flexes her fingers. "He had to have been there for a while watching us to notice me flowing magical energy."

Sebastian crosses his arms with an irritated frown, groans in frustration, and rolls his eyes dismissively. "Yeah... Thanks a lot for the non-assist, Noxian. Still..."

He lowers his head in thought, mentally pieces together circumstantial facts in his mind, and cocks his head intrigued. "That list of coordinates we've got... It's definitely the list he's using. I can't think of any other reason he'd show up there."

Bach sighs, rests against the chair back, and closes his eyes with worn tone. "Well somehow that site we got the data from must be able to detect elder energy or some kind of signature of it. Wish we knew what all the other numbers meant."

He reopens his eyes, slumps his shoulders, and stares within his own head, puzzling at a memory. "Something I did not think was even possible in this day and age... Elsewhere... Briefly... Gods dammit. I can't shake this feeling he's changing his focus to something else. FUCK. I feel like I just let him know about something he shouldn't."

Aristespha smiles comfortingly and shakes her head slowly. "It's not your fault, Bach. Just because he knows something exists, does not mean he'll be able to replicate it."

A scheming smirk graces her lips and she tilts her head to the side with a plotting expression. "In fact, it may serve to our benefit if he is distracted. Isaac worked at the Grand Library, and if has any of the bad habits that entitles... He will probably be researching this new development. Which will take him off the his previous path..."

Cideeda's emerald green eyes widen, her furry ears perk up, and she grins toothily with a chuckle. "And, while he's busy chasing something that might not turn up anything, we can go through the list and beat him to other sites."

Hope grows within Bach and he nods in agreement. "Yeah. It really felt like he was changing his focus to something else... If only for a little while."

Sotalia crosses her arms, shifts her weight, and grins with competitive spark. "It'd be nice to get ahead of his plans for once."

She glances down at Bach with a wry smirk, lifts an examining brow at him, and leans closer with an amused tone. "So, how about that offer from Noxian to help you?"

Bach blinks back to full awareness, narrows a stare at Sotalia, and twists his mouth in ill-humor. "Oh yeah. That sounded like a GREAT offer. I'm certain taking magic tips from a dark lord will REALLY help me out in the long run... And TOTALLY not set me up for an inevitable betrayal after he learns what he wants from me."

Sotalia snickers as she rolls her eyes, and shakes her head. "I'm just kidding. That was still really strange of him."

Bach nods, stares out across the table bewildered, and furrows his brow as he reprocesses recent events. "I know. He seemed genuine when he offered. I just don't know..."

Dretphi walks in from the kitchen carrying a large tray full of different, delectable lunch items in each hand, lays out the huge platters on the tabletop, and looks over the group. "Lunch is ready. Please enjoy."

She gazes at Bach with a warm smile, and asks hopefully. "Are you hungry now? I can set aside a share for later. Give your appetite time to recover."

Bach sniffs the air, surveys the variety of delicious food in front of him, and shakes his head. "No, I can certainly eat. My stomach acid has been working on me for the last hour, so this amazing food is perfect right now."

Dretphi nods appreciatively, waits as the rest of the group sits down around the table, and slips into a chair to join in the feast.




Dretphi stands under the morning shade of a tree with her hands securely gripped around her flow blade. With slow, careful breaths, she concentrates her gaze at the large sword, and affixes her full attention upon it. Moments later, flows of magical energy seep out from her arms, glide over her hands, and sink into the handle of the flow blade. Bach stands close by with his glowing blue eyes studying the energies at play, and keeps his hands at his sides. "You're doing just fine. Keep it steady and gradually press the flow harder."

Gritting her teeth slightly, Dretphi closes her steely gray eyes, tosses her platinum blonde braids back, and flexes her tan, gray stripped arms. The flows brighten, the energy channels within the blade illuminate a radiant red, and the color gradually climbs up from the hilt to towards the tip. Dretphi contorts her face as she maintains her attention upon her strenuous task. Bach nods slowly, leans his head closer to examine, grabs his shorts securely at the side around the waist, and encourages her with a soft tone. "Okay. Keep it right there for now. Focus on how it feels rather than the amount of power. Find the paths of least resistance."

The red patterns creep up the surface of the sword, pulsating slightly with occasional flits of brightness as Dretphi strains. Subtle tremors from Dretphi's arms shake the flow blade noticeably at the sharp tip. Eagerness and excitement slips into Dretphi's face and fights against her sheer determined stare as the red progression graces the end point. Bach grins, and calls out with signaling hand gesture. "Now! Full power!"

An expectant smirk sneaks out from the corner of Dretphi's mouth, her body tenses, and a rush of flow swirls across her body into her flow blade. The sword ignites in a brief burst ethereal red fire, and a solid glowing crimson lights up the long blade's edge. A brilliant grin explodes on Dretphi's face, and she watches the magical aura of the blade with recognition and familiarity. Seconds later, the energy drifts from the blade, and the glows fades from the sword. Dretphi gently lowers the flow blade back down toward the ground, relaxes the muscles in her arms and body, and releases a long sigh of relief and accomplishment. "Thank... You..."

Bach applauds and laughs. "You're welcome. Wow! Is that how you remember it looking like when your mother used it?"

Dretphi rests the blade down, props upon the nearby tree trunk, vents air through her T-shirt, and smiles to Bach. "Similar. There are differences. Does not matter. This was me. That is what matters."

Nodding in agreement, Bach blinks briefly, pulls his shorts up by the waistband, and pulls his shirt down to cover. "Definitely was you all the way powering it. Did if feel a bit easier?"

Wiping sweat off her brow, Dretphi crosses her arms, searches her recent experience, and mulls the question over. "In ways. It felt easy to... Reach? Hard to... Fill?"

Bach's eyes sort through his mind and he scratches his beard covered chin. "Yeah. That makes sense. You can guide the flow well enough to go through all those channels. Throughput is always rough, though. Especially with the worn out channels in that sword, but... A little brute force can make it cooperate for a little while."

Dretphi averts her gaze away momentarily, bites her lip, and glances uncertainly at Bach. "Does this demonstrate enough mastery for you to teach me magical augmentation?"

Bach's eyes flit wide open briefly, and he grits his teeth with an unsure groan. "Uhh... Well..."

A frown curls the corner of Dretphi's mouth, and her expression saddens quickly with hints of self disappointment. Bach draws in a long breath, sighs, and crosses his arms. He stares at Dretphi with a serious gaze, and twists his mouth questioningly. "Listen... Can you tell me why you want to learn that? You mentioned before that someone you know uses this type of magic. Who is it?"

Dretphi blinks to attention, looks around a bit, and finally presents a small smile to Bach. "My mother. I have heard tales her power in battle. The flow blade. Magical augmentation of her body. If the stories are true, my mother has defeated tanks."

Bach tilts his head to the side, and gazes at Dretphi in astonishment. "Tanks? The armored battle machine type of tank? Not the big metal container type of thing?"

Thinking for moment, Dretphi brushes her braids back over her shoulders, rests her hands on her hips, and shifts her weight idly around. "Yes. The vehicle. Probably containers, too. If she had to prove a point near one."

Scratching his head of brown hair and guiding his white streak out of the way of his face, Bach blinks in disbelief a few times and searches Dretphi's face for an answer. "How did she defeat a tank?"

Dretphi shrugs her shoulders plainly, and explains simply. "Close in. Cut the treads. Jam the turret. Slice the cannon barrel."

Bach's stare drifts off into the vicinity as his mind visualizes the scene, and he eventually lands his focus upon Dretphi's flow blade propped upon the tree truck. "That blade, has taken down... Tanks."

Dretphi glances over, meets Bach's gaze, and nods nonchalantly. "Yes. I have heard the stories. From my fathers. Soldiers who fought with her. Historical documents."

She pauses a moment, sighs heavy with shame, and lowers her head. "I have wanted to learn that ability from her. She refuses to teach me. I do not know why. That is why I want you to teach me. Basic proficiency should demonstrate that I... am worthy to learn from her..."

Bach frowns briefly, turns his head away for as he contemplates the situation, and returns his gaze to Dretphi with a reserved smile. "Okay... Wow... Alright. I want you to understand that magical augmentation of your physical body can lead to disastrous things if you are not careful or prepared. UNDERSTAND?"

Dretphi snaps her full attention upon Bach and focuses. "YES."

With a growing grin, Bach chuckles and shrugs his shoulders. "I'll show you the very basics. It's going to take a long time to get going. And, you still need to keep practicing your ability to flow magical energy. Thankfully, you certainly have the physique to handle some very simple stuff safely... I believe."

A delighted smile grows wide on Dretphi's face and her excitement leaks out into her body language. Bach holds up his hands in a slowing gesture, and sighs with a smirk. "Just promise me you'll stick to just simple running and free movement for now. This isn't like the cartoons where you can charge up start punching through walls."

Dretphi nods happily. "I know. Promise use for regular movement. Only. Thank you."

Bach nods, pauses as his attention shifts to a more immediate issues, and he pulls his shorts back up. Dretphi glances down, quirks her brow, and points. "What is wrong?"

Fighting off embarrassment, Bach rolls his eyes at himself and grumbles. "I don't know. I think the waist must of stretched out in these or something in the last wash. I've had them for a while anyway, so it's not surprising they're falling apart. But, they've just not been fitting right lately."

Dretphi slowly shakes her head amused, giggles to herself, and cocks her head to the side. "You may need a belt. I could take in the waist."

Bach blinks at a realization, lifts his head up, and gazes at Dretphi unsure. "Really? You think I'm slimming down? I haven't lost that much weigh and all..."

He continues to study the looser fit of his clothes as he notices other details, while Dretphi watches with a warm, humored smile.




Meredosia stares out from a small opening in the underbrush and slowly scans the huge clearing in front of her. Wind gently rustles the leaves of the giant trees encircling the area beneath the evening sky. Uneasy tension freezes her body still, and Meredosia's dark crimson eyes search carefully. Her face alternates between unsettling recognition and unnerving discovery as she scans her vision. At a distant part of the clearing, a number of uniformed military personnel stand guard outside a scorch mark spattered ancient structure, while other troops investigate both old and recent ruins. Surges of terrified bewilderment rise in Meredosia's expression as her focus shifts between small blast craters, long draws of laser burns, deposits of black soot, bullet holes in structures, and dark red blood stains throughout. Her stare freezes upon a faint humanoid outline intertwined within the chaotic patterns of destruction upon an ancient stone wall.

Blinking out of her stupor, Meredosia remembers to allow air into her lungs and shudders her head away from her view of the ancient clearing. She closes her eyes, carefully draws in silent breaths, and musters back her composure. Determination swells out from within and her focus concentrates upon the largest building in the area. She slides out from her hiding spot in the underbrush, slinks out onto a game nearby game trail, and swiftly sneaks along the path. Over the minutes, she proceeds quickly from obscuring spot to concealing patch in the overgrowth. Eventually, she rushes out from the perimeter of the clearing and arrives in a darkened alley along the side of the large main structure. She creeps to the front corner, cautiously leans out, and surveys the immediate vicinity. A few soldiers walk slowly in a long patrol up to the front entry, stop, and begin to converse with a number of other military guards.

Meredosia draws back away from the corner, gritting her teeth in frustration, and mumbles under her breath a series of evuukian swears. She finds a secluded section of the architecture, sits down, and vents out her unease. She brushes her ivory hands through her gray hair, grasping hold her very long, pointed ears, and closes her eyes to summon a moment of calm. A minute later, she gathers her awareness and investigates the structural features above. Her eyes lock onto an open window, and she cocks her head to the side as memory coincides with recognition. Quickly checking the area, she quietly mutters out an incantation and expertly gestures out a spell. Positioning herself below the high up, open window, Meredosia presses her hand onto the ancient stone building, flows a stream of energy to her hand, and pulls herself up the wall. In a careful repetitious sequence, she places hand or foot up, flows energy to secure herself to the climbing face, and moves higher towards the window.

Meredosia arrives below the open window sill, and waits with her eyes closed and ears hunting. She opens her eyes, raises her gaze above the bottom of the window frame, and checks into the room. In the dark room, an eerie silence looms. With a final pull, Meredosia hoists herself up and slides herself through the opening onto a cold tile floor. Quickly gesturing, a small orb of light forms within the palm of her hand, and she surveys the dimly illuminated bathroom around her. She stands herself up, traces the muddied footprints upon the floor, and feels the dried dirt leftover upon the sill. Trickles of hope allow a smile to form upon her face, and she stares out into the forest scene from the window.

Quietly, Meredosia slowly steps up to the closed bathroom door with a destroyed jam. She presses her long ear against the wood, waits before withdrawing, and gently pulls the door back. Her light casts out into the room and reveals a scene of chaos and upheaval. She stares blankly out into the large bed room of dumped bookshelves, emptied drawers, upturned furniture, ripped cushions, pried open chests, and shattered entry door fragments. Meredosia freezes in shock, crosses her arms tightly, and shrinks back a bit as her mind fumbles to process the scene. Steeling herself, she steps forward through the room, stepping over debris, and pausing momentarily to notice the previous stains of combat below the surface of destruction. Slowly, she navigates to a spot on the floor beside her upturned bed, and kneels down. She feels around on the stone work, guides her finger tips along the grooves, and finds a slightly different section than the rest. With an incantation and working her fingers underneath, she lifts a section of floor and reveals a hidden compartment with a modest backpack.

Meredosia gazes at the backpack, reaches out to the top, gradually unzips it, and looks upon the contents as past memories surge in her mind. She picks up a booklet, flips it open, and sighs sadly at the sight of a past picture of herself upon an evuukian identification document. Closing the paperwork, she places it back inside the backpack, zips it up, and lowers her head, her breathing straining from nerves.

A sharp crack echoes distantly down the hallway leading to the bed room entry, and Meredosia's ears twitch and lead her head to gawk in fright. A muffled conversation bounces dully down the hall and grows louder with each second. Meredosia takes hold of the backpack, puts it on as she deftly sprints to the bathroom, and gestures out an incantation. Maneuvering through the window, she leaps out of the building, glides gently onto the ground, and rushes off into the forest. She cautiously navigates between patches of underbrush, and proceeds further out. As the distance from the clearing grows, her sprints between hiding spots lengthen and her caution gives way to speed. Far from the start of her escape, terror overtakes her mind and she runs in a full out, panicked pace across the forest floor. Fear blatant on her face, Meredosia flees in blind terror. Panting harder the more distance she covers, a glimpse of situational awareness briefly graces her enough to recognize a section of forest, and guides her to a secluded patch of closely grown old trees. Without a second thought, Meredosia darts into hiding, collapses out of breath into a curled up ball, and trembles sobbing. She closes her eyes to world and focuses within, tears flowing with her horror. Time passes, her crying wanes, and she settles to a distant stare out into the forest. As her mind wanders, a thought catches her attention, and she searches her outfit's pockets. With a firm grip, she retrieves a medical supply wrapper, studies the text stamped on, and focuses her eyes upon two words.

"Amaranth Valley"