-62-

In the front yard of the ranch style house, Dretphi paces near the steps leading to the front door. She occasionally glances out to the road and visually follows routes down each direction. Staring out to the horizon, she searches and waits. Moments later, she slowly walks around idly and investigates the opposite way. The wind picks up to a gentle breeze, blows the grass, rustles the leaves, and sways Dretphi's platinum blonde hair braids. The front door opens and Sotalia leans her head out to peek around. She tracks Dretphi's repetitious path and smirks with a sigh. "You know you can wait inside. It's not like there's many other houses out here. I'm sure they'll find this place and knock on the door."

Dretphi perks up, pivots in place, and smiles appreciatively with a tinge of embarrassment. "I know. Just can not wait. It has been a while."

Sotalia slides out from behind the door, steps down the stairs, and stands next to Dretphi. "Oh, I totally understand. Back when I had a more permanent address, I'd always run around the place making sure everything was perfect for my little nieces and nephews when my sisters would visit."

She rolls her eyes at herself and grumbles playfully with a grin. "Now, there's more and they're older, too. So, it's harder to keep them all entertained anymore."

Dretphi nods in agreement and sighs with a twist to her mouth. "Similar to my brothers. Hard to keep their attention now."

Sotalia lifts her brow, and glances over to Dretphi inquisitively. "How old are they now?"

With a slight groan, Dretphi rolls her eyes and slowly shakes her head. "Twenty. Nineteen. Still frustratingly immature."

Sotalia snorts, chuckles, and twists her mouth in commiseration. "Interesting. And, they're just now looking for schools to go to?"

Dretphi grumbles out her dissatisfaction, crosses her arms, and shrugs her shoulders. "Decided to take a break from schooling. Work part time at menial jobs. Party the money away."

Cracking an evil grin, Sotalia puts her hands on her hips and laughs. "Ah, so the fun times have run out."

A satisfied smirk grows on Dretphi's face. She chuckles to herself and nods slowly. "Yes. Tekennin is first. Arrenten is next. Go to school funded... Work proper jobs to fund the house... Their choice."

Sotalia rolls her eyes with a sly smile. "Oh, I bet I know the answer to the question."

Dretphi glances over with a humored smile and nods. "You do."

In distance, a large passenger van drives down the road. It slows down as it approaches the mailbox in front of the property, and turns into driveway. The vehicle rolls to a stop right behind the humvee and the engine cuts off. Dretphi waves excitedly to the people inside the van. "That is the rental my mother negotiated."

She rushes over with a skip to her step as the van doors open and slide. Sotalia quickly steps up the stairs, pushes the front door ajar, and calls out inside. "They're here!"

From the drivers seat doorway, a tall, fit grath man steps out of the van, brushes a leaf from a nearby tree off his graying, short brown hair and gazes to Dretphi happily with steely gray eyes. Dretphi rushes over to his open, gray striped arms, and both hug, exchanging loving greetings in the same dialects of grath. From the sliding door, two other older grath men work their ways out, one similar height to Dretphi and heavier, and the other shorter and wiry. Following behind from the very back seats, two young grath men with similar features awkwardly crawl out. Both stand for a few moments stretching and muttering complaints to each other.

After hugging and greeting the older men, Dretphi walks over with a hidden smirk to the two young men, and focuses a questioning gaze upon both. The heavier young grath notices the attention, and pats the other young, thinner grath quickly to point out Dretphi. Both straighten their postures and wait patiently when Dretphi approaches. Silently, Dretphi dons a stoic posture and stares at the two, visually scrutinizing them. As the examination continues, Dretphi's expression softens to a delighted smile and she pulls both of them close. During the group embrace, Dretphi sneaks her hands to the top of their platinum blonde heads and musses up both their hair styles. The thinner man grumbles annoyed as he quickly tries to brush his hair back to how he had it. The other young man laughs, mocks the vanity before him, and a quips a joke in grath to Dretphi.

Walking calmly and confidently around the front of the van, an older grath woman with long braids of platinum fading to dirty blonde passes the older men, and stands behind Dretphi with a collected smile upon her tan face. "Dretphi."

Dretphi reflexively tenses a moment, slowly pivots around, and meets the woman's piercing blue eyes at the same level as her own steely gray eyes. She presents a stoic front in response to the strong presence before her. The two stare at each other for seconds before the older grath woman smiles warmly and embraces Dretphi. Both share a laugh. The woman poses a question to Dretphi. With a roll of her eyes, Dretphi shrugs her shoulders and sighs her response. Nodding in agreement, the older grath woman comments a similar sentiment.

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Sebastian, and Sotalia stand in a loose grouping near the steps leading to the front door, and wait curiously around the tall, large congregation of grath. Dretphi's situational awareness returns and she fights a flit of embarrassment as she lead the grath group over. "I am sorry. Got carried away. This is my house. House Veranattin."

Dretphi straightens up her posture, smiles proudly, and gestures to the older grath woman. "This is my birth mother. Meranni Karrenna Prakkenten Veranattin."

Meranni gazes over the team before her, stands with pride, and bows slightly. "Please. Call me Meranni."

With a happy tone, she stands next to the older graying grath man with excitement leaking out. "My birth father. Commander Ralthetanen Heri Reti Veranattin."

Ralthetanen sighs with a smirk, chuckles to himself, and bows to the group with ease and calm. "Ralth is enough. My parents gifted me syllables. I will not burden you with them."

Dretphi stands between the two older grath men, nods to the larger of the two. "My house father. Doctor Kettan Arrentit Crettaken Veranattin."

Kettan grins jovially and chuckles has he put his hands in his pants pockets with a hint of shyness. "Kettan please. Gods. Have not felt this official for a while."

Dretphi turns to introduce the other older, shorter, wiry grath man. "My house father. Matakinen Prezzanit Arvenerrin Veranattin."

Matakinen smirks nonchalantly and raises a hand to wave to the group. "Just Mata."

Dretphi glances over to the two young grath men behind the front lineup. The two whisper to each other. The thin one gestures towards the ground at stray gravel rocks, hides a thumb flicking motion from others, and asks the heavy young man a question as he eyes Sebastian's transparent form. The other young man pauses in thought, weighs the idea in his head, and shrugs with a curious glance over to Sebastian. The thin young man begins to kneel down with a plotting grin. Both young men freeze in place when Dretphi's hands firmly grip their shoulders from behind, and she directs the two up to the front with everyone else. "These are my brothers."

She narrows a suspicious stare to the heavier young man, and recites with a stern tone. "Tekennin Prakkenten Crettaken Veranattin."

Tekennin stands up straight, bows properly, and innocently replies. "Tekennin is fine."

Dretphi's attention shifts over to focus upon the mildly defiant expression of the thin, young man, and she plainly speaks. "Arrenten Prakkenten Arvenerrin Veranattin."

Arrenten grumbles quietly to himself, musters up the posturing, and briefly complies with a bow. "Arrenten."

The team exchanges greetings with House Veranattin in full and sparks of small talk lead into the starts of larger discussions. A few minutes later, Sebastian glances above to the overhead sun and addresses the group. "Hey, everyone. While the heat doesn't bother me as much in this form, we do have air conditioning inside."

The collective pauses, briefly ponders this fact under the near noon sun, and organize to filter through the front door. Dretphi waits with her mother as they discuss an important topic in grath. After being informed by her mother, she squints towards the van and notices two large, full, canvas sacks in the back. Pointing to the bags, she asks a question, gestures to herself, and motions towards the house. Meranni grins, pats her daughter's shoulder, and shakes her head. She narrows a stare to Tekennin and Arrenten as they are about to climb up the steps, and recites their names in a motherly, commanding cadence. Both brothers halt, pivot to face their mother, and wait. Meranni glances over to the van, instructs them with a snap of her fingers, and walks to the front door. Dretphi follows behind with a hint of a sly smile. Tekennin and Arrenten maintain their silent compliance until both Meranni and Dretphi go inside. The two commiserate in mocking tones as they gather cooking supplies from the vehicle.




A large gathering converses around the dining table. Dretphi's house and the team exchange many individual conversations while sitting on a mix of regular dining chairs and extra seating pulled from other places. Meranni and Dretphi work on a variety of tasks in the kitchen areas. Performing their jobs by memory, they converse in grath about many other topics as they carry out their responsibilities. Occasionally, in between flurries of activity, they pause for a breather, coordinate the next steps, and listen in on the current discussions going on. Arrenten and Tekennin competitively play a fighting game on the old gaming console attached to the television, with playfully antagonistic bouts of banter.

Ralthetanen chuckles lightly, glances over Sebastian, and slowly shakes his head. "Quite the story. Must have been an adjustment to that form."

Sebastian shrugs his shoulders as he hovers nearby, and sighs ethereally. "Tell me about it. It still is an adjustment. I wouldn't say it's great, but... Could be worse. Being kind of intangible has been useful, though. Still don't think it's worth it in the long run."

Nodding in agreement, Ralthetanen smiles calmly to Sebastian with a compassionate tone. "Sentiment I can understand. Never let unique benefits sway your judgment over undesirable situations. Why I resigned from my position in the military."

Lifting a curious brow, Sebastian smirks intrigued and respectfully pries for information. "So... If it's okay to ask... What was the story behind that?"

Cideeda narrows an inquisitive gaze at Ralthetanen and crosses her arms. "I'm curious about that, too. I've read so many different accounts and waded through SO many aethernet arguments."

Rolling his steely gray eyes at himself, Ralthetanen sighs with hints of embarrassment, and shrugs his shoulders. "Never understood the drama. I thought they wanted me gone before that point. Seems strange they had issue with it."

Aristespha twists her mouth in thought and tilts her head curiously. "Indeed. From what I've read, your company had the lowest attrition and never permanently lost any territory they were defending during the Red Gear Uprising. An admirable achievement."

A snort spurts out of Matakinen's wiry frame, and he dons a sly grin as he chuckles sarcastically. "Oh. He was admirable... NOT VICTORIOUS. Did not lead the troops to GLORY. Whatever that may be."

Ralthetanen shakes his head, and groans out tinges of past annoyance. "True. I valued defense over offense. Trickery over... glorious battles. I believe it worked."

Kettan laughs loudly, nudges Ralthetanen with his elbow, and grins out to the rest of the gathering. "Never will forget high command's faces when we delivered the Red Gear general. Alive."

Donning a satisfied smirk, Ralthetanen shrugs his shoulders humbly and chuckles lightly. "That was our redemption. They could not ignore it. Think that is why they let us all leave."

Matakinen smiles smugly, crosses his arms, and sits up in his seat proudly. "They did not want our influence to spread. It worked out for us. Red Gear leadership destroyed. No interest in chasing stragglers."

Bach scratches his chin, glances over to Ralthetanen, Kettan, and Matakinen, and poses a question to all. "So, you all served together. I'm kind of curious... What exact positions? And, how did that lead to what you do now?"

Ralthetanen nods thoughtfully, and calmly replies. "Served as a Commander for the Radotahin Defense Force. Truth be told... Promotions via attrition. Assumed command when circumstances demanded it."

Kettan shrugs his shoulders, and smiles happily. "Field medical mage. Worked up to field surgeon. Experience helped fast track to medical doctor later."

Aristespha perks her brow in genuine interest, cocks her head to the side, and studies Kettan eagerly. "Really? That's fascinating. I have to ask, how was the transition from military to civilian medicine?"

Thinking carefully and searching his memories, Kettan mulls over the idea while scratching his head of short, dark hair, and weighs out his judgment with a humored smirk on his light toned face. "Pleasant. Only got shot at once during my tenure as an emergency room doctor. His aim was awful. My punch hit the mark."

Aristespha blinks her wide violet eyes a few times, and stares blankly, stunned. Matakinen furrows his olive toned brow amused, resettles into his chair, and relaxes his posture with a swift brush of his longer auburn hair. "Scout. Infiltration specialist. Sabotaged equipment. Wandered in the woods. Explored mountain ranges. Captured enemies."

Cideeda's ear perk up, her tail wags, and she toothily grins to Matakinen. "Did you blow up anything?"

Matakinen draws a wide sly, smile, and nods slowly with a greatly humored, thoroughly satisfied cadence. "Gods... Yes. Countless times."

Old memories of past blatantly amuse him for a seconds. Ralthetanen gazes over to Meranni, waits until she pauses from preparing food, and speaks with a directed, pleasant tone. "Meranni was known as the Crimson Sword Maiden. Terror of the Red Gears."

Meranni glances over, lifts an intrigued brow, and grins proudly with prideful tone. "Was? I am."

She gazes over to the distracted and busy Dretphi, smiles hopefully, and mouths a simple grath phrase to herself. Ralthetanen turns his attention back to the gathering at the dining table and continues to the conversation. "We left the military. We adventured for years. Settled. Formed a house. Now. I am a consultant for the Radotahin Defense Force. Baffles me. Significant pay. I cannot complain."

Sparks of excitement flash in Kettan's eyes as he explains with expressive gestures. "Went to finish my residency. Spent time in the capital at a big research hospital. Great experience. Very demanding. Still... Quite fun. After I received my specialization in regenerative medicine, rejoined the house in Verdan. Found my niche with sports medicine. Always interesting... Very rewarding work."

Matakinen pauses moment as the attention shifts to him. He glances around at the gathering, sighs with a roll of his eyes, and grumbles. "Surveying. I wander around the mountains to settle arguments about who owns what. Map the area. Place markers. Report the results. They pay me. Repeat when they argue again."

He eyes over towards Arrenten and Tekennin, snorts with a shake of his head, and smirks to the gathering at the table. "Between assignments... I try to keep those two out of trouble. It has been difficult without Dretphi."

Dretphi takes a moment of rest from her tasks, looks up to the dining table, and places her hands on her hips with a humored smile. "How much trouble could they have they gotten in?"

Arrenten and Tekennin shift their attention away from the screen, and begin to play the game sloppily as their focus drifts over to the conversation nearby. Matakinen leans his wiry frame back against his chair, eyes the thin Arrenten, and cracks an ill-humored smirk. "Arrenten. How is your back feeling today?"

Tekennin stifles his snorts, and averts his face away. Arrenten tries to maintain his composure as his face reddens and he suppress his embarrassment. "F-fine. Feels normal."

Kettan glances over to Matakinen, elbows him lightly with a tight smile, and leans close to whisper in grath. Matakinen shrugs his shoulders as he slowly lets his chair's front legs lower back on the floor. Dretphi quirks her brow at her mother. Meranni softly speaks a few sentences of grath in Dretphi's ear. Widening her eyes, Dretphi glances at her mother, stares at her brother, and returns to her mother.

Sotalia notices the lull in conversation, slinks away from the table, and walks over near the bar area to examine the lineup of food near Dretphi and Meranni. "So... You two need any help back here?"

Meranni narrows a subtly defensive glare at Sotalia. Dretphi blinks back to awareness, studies Sotalia for a moment, and checks around the kitchen areas. "No. We are done with prep. Meat needs to marinade more."

She thinks moment, and perks up with a realization. "Oh! You can get the grill ready. It is in the garage. I think you can light it the fastest."

As a confident grin parts Sotalia's lips, she rests a hand on her hip and gestures a simple incantation to a small flit of fire with her other hand. "Well... Of course."

Sotalia walks through the kitchen examining the prepared food hungrily, opens the door leading to the garage, and steps out. Dretphi cleans her hands, lifts her apron off, and turns to her mother. She bites her lip, draws in a long breath, and carefully poses a question to her mother while pointing to the back sliding glass door. Meranni removes her apron, furrows her brow briefly, and nods puzzling. She walks past the dining table gathering, exits outside through the glass door, and turns to walk to the side of the house.

Dretphi quickly moves around living room and right through the hallway archway, her focus elsewhere. Conversations at the table slow as everyone attempts to determine exactly what is transpiring, searching each other for possible explanations. A minute later, Dretphi walks out with a stoic, determined expression upon her face and a firm grip upon her mother's flow blade. Matakinen, Kettan, and Ralthetanen immediately silence themselves, and watch Dretphi as she crosses across the front of the television. Arrenten and Tekennin halt playing the game, and witness Dretphi exit out the back sliding glass window, both dumbstruck. The two brothers stand up partially, and crane their heads around to angle a better view of the outside through the glass door.

Ralthetanen slowly returns his gaze to the team of Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, and Sebastian. He scans around at their expressions thoughtfully, and calmly inquires while fighting confusion. "I must ask. Has she been practicing her use of that blade?"

Bach glances around, scratches his head, and nonchalantly replies. "Well... I've been helping her learn how to flow her magical energies better. She's been doing a lot of the practice exercises I've showed her."

As Kettan and Matakinen turn their heads towards him, Bach smiles happily. "And yesterday, she got the sword charged up all the way. It took a bit out of her, but she's figured out the basics and..."

Ralthetanen, Kettan, and Matakinen focus upon Bach. Arrenten and Tekennin both snap their heads around to face Bach in pure astonishment. Bach grows nervous at the attention upon him, and shrinks a little in his chair. Ralthetanen weaves his fingers together, presents a delighted smile, and nods slowly. "Interesting..."

Kettan laughs loudly and shakes his head. "She is NOT going to expect THAT."

Matakinen slides out from the table, rolls his shoulders, and slinks away towards the back door while beginning the gestures of a spell. "This I MUST see."




In the side yard next to the ranch style house, Dretphi stands, and firmly grips the flow blade in her hands. Determination drives her whole body and concentration affixes her focus upon the sword. Meranni watches nearby with a cool, stoic stare. Dretphi grimaces and tenses her arms. Magical flows of energy radiate out from her, swirl down to her hands, and condense into the handle of the flow blade. A radiant red glow pulsates along the energy channels embossed into the metal of the sword, and the crimson light slowly flows up to the very tip of the weapon. Meranni's eyes widen as she witnesses the progress in stunned silence, and awaits expectantly for her daughter's next move. Dretphi releases a long exhale, summons her focus, and grits her teeth. With a sudden surge of flow, the blade expels out a magical miasma, and promptly ignites a brilliant, crimson, ethereal flame around itself. Meranni gawks in sheer, absolute astonishment, covers her mouth with both hands as joyful tears well up. From around the corner of the house's brickwork, a figure of warped light disappears around the corner excitedly.

Dretphi maintains a resolute demeanor, exudes a stoic grath composure, and swings the sword in a demonstration of handling mastery. She finishes, and watches her mother approach. The flow blade continues burning a bright crimson and challenges the natural light of the afternoon sun. Meranni gazes on, swells with pride towards her daughter, and observes the demonstration of magical sword prowess. A minute later, the flow blade flickers out and the glow fades. Dretphi lowers the blade to the ground, steadies her brief loss of balance, and quickly reasserts her resolute stance. She bites her lip slightly, and lowers her head in slight disappointment. Meranni swiftly embraces her daughter in a strong, loving hug, and quickly states an excited, uplifting stream of grath praises. Dretphi's stern expression melts away a in joyful smile and she wraps her arms around her mother.

Meranni pulls away slightly, gazes proudly into her daughter's eyes with a simple smile upon her tan face. Dretphi briefly shies away from the attention, but returns a similar smile on her equally tan face. Moments later, her mouth twists and her expression strains. She draws a long breath in, lifts up the blade in both her hands, and concentrates an inquisitive stare at her mother. With a gentle lead up, Dretphi asks a cautious, firm question to her mother in eloquent grath, and nods her head down to the blade. Meranni blinks thoughtfully a few times, sighs sadly as she looks upon the blade in her daughter's hands, and takes hold of it. She steps to the side as she explains, goes through a series of practice moves with the blade, and grins. While masterfully performing maneuvers with a hand holding the blade, she points at herself, gestures towards her motions, and gazes at her daughter with confidence in her own ability. A frown forms upon her face. She brushes back her long, platinum blonde braids as she lowers her head at the flow of red rising in the blades. She directs Dretphi's attention to the magical energies building up, taps the side of her head with a free hand, and grips her daughter's shoulder firmly. Slowly shaking her head, she explains to Dretphi with a sad tone, absent of previous confidence, and apologizes regretfully.

Dretphi contorts her face in a mix of emotion, studies her mother's genuine expression, and calms to an understanding gaze upon her. She inquires more at her mother's energy flow into the blade, and witnesses Meranni's demeanor grow uncomfortable and vulnerable. Her mother sighs deeply, fails to start a sentence a number of times, and slowly shakes her head at her lack of knowledge. Dretphi musters up a smile, steps beside her mother, and wraps her arm around her, leaning her head of platinum blonde against similar longer ones. In the silent moment, she whispers comforting, beautiful grath in an forgiving cadence to her mother. Meranni closes her eyes, sheds a few tears, and pats her daughter's face with her free hand.

Seconds later, Dretphi sniffs her nose clear, clears her throat, and exhales lightly. She nods in thought, and relays a question in similar context to her mother as she demonstrates flexing her arm and flowing some magical energy. Meranni grits her teeth briefly, frowns, and shakes her head as she calmly replies counter to her daughter's expectations. The response dumbfounds Dretphi, and her mood sharply drops as her worry and doubt flood into her demeanor. She averts her eyes away as fear and shame overwhelms her voice, and meekly asks a painful question about herself to her mother. Meranni's eyes flit wide open, and she snaps her gaze to her daughter. She plants the sword into the ground, takes hold of Dretphi by both forearms, and looks her directly in the eyes. Meranni smiles lovingly, proudly, and confidently. She extols every virtue of Dretphi with her motherly and assuring voice, and avidly dashes away her daughter's fears. Relief washes over Dretphi, but she puzzles at why. Meranni smirks knowingly, and states a protective reasoning. A spark of defiance ignites a bit of rebellion within Dretphi, and she emphatically retorts with a question, her tone incredulous as she motions to her physique. Meranni grins in thorough amusement at the reflection of herself, rolls her eyes, and shakes her head.

Releasing her daughter's arms, she gestures towards Dretphi's hand and points to her shoulder. Dretphi awkwardly places her hand on her mother's shoulder at Meranni's guidance, her confusion obvious. Meranni moves her arm through a series of sword handling exercises. While smooth and expertly performed, at far extensions of her range, Meranni subtly winces with painful annoyance, while Dretphi eyes widen in shock. After shaking her arm out, Meranni guides Dretphi's hand to feel around her elbow joint and the tendons as she slowly flexes with faint tremors. Dretphi's pales as she feels the motion her mother's arm. With a long, frustrated sigh, Meranni nonchalantly explains a few other joints and places on her body to Dretphi, mustering a tough smile as she lays out her weaknesses before her daughter. She regains enough confidence to grin, mentions Kettan in her discussion, and gazes to her daughter with a hopeful smile as she finishes the explanation.

Dretphi stares at her mother. The revelation ushers forth a torrent of fear, sadness, and reflection in her, when thoughts never entertained before rise up prominently in her mind. She reaches out, wraps her arms around her mother, rests her head close to hers on her shoulder, and hugs tightly. Meranni blinks in surprise, hears the sounds of soft sobbing from Dretphi, and smiles while she embraces her daughter. Patting Dretphi's back, Meranni speaks softly and comfortingly to Dretphi with motherly assurances and quips wisdom. In between gentle surges of emotion, Dretphi acknowledges and calms down. Minutes later, Meranni grins with small jokes to prompt Dretphi's light chuckles. Dretphi finally releases her hold, stands back up straight, and recomposes herself apologetically. Her mother shakes her head, and reassures there's nothing to be ashamed of. Meranni nods understandingly, places her hand on her chest, and recounts her past feelings to similar. Dretphi smiles appreciatively and rolls her eyes at herself with a comment.

Meranni glances over to the flow blade stuck in the ground, gazes at Dretphi, and lifts a curious brow with a prying query. Dretphi begins to explain, smirks guiltily, and mentions Bach. Her mother pays careful attention. Dretphi recounts the various magical flow exercises, pantomimes holding a staff during one explanation, and relays the number of practice sessions. Meranni thinks to herself as her daughter continues on, and notices Dretphi's smile. She develops a sly, evil grin, giggles to herself at her thoughts, and gazes at her daughter. She pats Dretphi on the shoulder, speaks a quick comment, and waits. Dretphi talks a few moments more, processes what her mother said in her mind, and halts mid sentence. Her face blushes bright red bashfully, her eyes widen in surprise, and she stumbles upon the rest of the words. Dretphi covers her face with her hands, searches for her mother, and awkwardly tries to unconvincingly debate the notion, while her mother walks off laughing.




The large congregation converses outside around the plank wood picnic table, snacking on plates of food in the middle of the large tabletop. Dretphi arranges the serving line on a fold out table, and readies the main course, while shooing off those who wander too close with hungry looks. Meranni surveys the progress of large cuts of meat on the grill, and grins satisfactory at the progress. Sotalia steps up, watches the flashes of sizzling fire rise up from the coals, and smiles politely to Meranni. "Oh, that reminds me. Could I get my steak well done?"

Dretphi pauses briefly from her task, stifles a snort, and resumes while biting her lower lip humored. Meranni slowly lifts her head up, angles it towards Sotalia, and concentrates an examining glare upon her. She silently stares through a puzzled but defiant Sotalia. Pondering briefly, she grabs hold of the tongs nearby, digs into the open bag of charcoal briquettes with the tool, and plucks out a single piece of black, dusty fuel. With a swift motion, Meranni picks up a transparent green plate, drops the charcoal on top of it, and presents it to Sotalia. "Here. Same taste. No meat wasted."

Sotalia lowers her stare to the solitary chunk of grill fodder upon the surface of the plate, contorts her cool composure, and eyes Meranni irritably. "Okay... Fine... Medium Well?"

Meranni cracks an amicable smirk, nods slightly in agreement, and waits for Sotalia to walk away in mild defeat. She directs a dismissive, annoyed quip back to Dretphi. Sotalia halts in place, snaps her head back to glare at Meranni, and crosses her arms perturbed. Dretphi sighs, rolls her eyes, and shakes her head. "Mother. She understands most grath."

Meranni chuckles with a greatly amused grin towards Sotalia. "Oh. There is hope for you."

Around the picnic table, conversations shift around the pockets of debate in the midst of the large gathering. Sebastian gazes curiously at Ralthetanen, Kettan, and Matakinen, and puzzles. "I'm surprised you all are looking for a school all the way out here. Any particular reason why?"

Ralthetanen nods with a calm smirk. "To get experience elsewhere. They have not lived outside their home town. Tekennin. Arrenten. Both need to see some other part of the world."

Chuckling in agreement, Kettan snorts with a smile, and shrugs his shoulders. "I just want them to get an education. ANY education will do. Prefer it come from somewhere they are NOT familiar with. That way they can learn about life."

Matakinen grumbles with a roll of his eyes, but settles to a nonchalant grin. "Taste of the real world. I have done what I can to get them ready. Time for THEM to see what Nexus has in store. Even it requires force."

Bach chuckles to himself with a humored grin, and glances over to Sebastian. "Could always suggest they go to High Alton. It's a decent enough school for things."

Sebastian snorts ethereally and twists his mouth as he eyes Bach mockingly dismissive. "Come on, bro. They don't need to be digging the bottom of that barrel so soon. Let's be honest, man... We only went because it was local AND cheap."

With a tight smile, Bach draws a breath through his gritting teeth, and eventually nods in agreement. "Yeah. High Alton University isn't terrible, but it's not exactly setting any great standards. What about the Grand Library?"

Aristespha blinks to attention, thinks a moment, and slowly rocks her head contemplatively with an awkward smile. "Um... Well, it's a great organization if you can get in. Unfortunately, they are very particular about who they take in, but they do make offers to those who distinguish themselves in other schools. But, it is still costly to attend without a scholarship. Thankfully, they have programs that forgive loans if you work for the Grand Library for so many years."

Ralthetanen quietly thinks about the suggestions and thoughtfully hums an appreciative tone. "Both worth considering in the future. Our main goal is to get them out the nest..."

Meranni glances over to the group, sighs out her frustration, and slowly shakes her head. "Love them both. Would like those rooms back."

Noticing something missing, Matakinen quickly searches the vicinity of the backyard around the picnic table, scouts out the further perimeter of the forest edge, and grumbles a phrase in grath. Dretphi directs her voice to Matakinen, motioning towards the ranch style house. "They went inside... To play the game."

With a long sigh, Matakinen turns around on the bench seat on one side of the table, stretches his back out, and shakes his head. "I should fetch them."

A grin creeps out on Dretphi's face, and she waves off Matakinen's progress. "No. I will send them here. I need to go inside."

Matakinen bows his head appreciatively to Dretphi and smiles with a thankful phrase of grath. After Dretphi quickly departs, he pivots back to the group and resumes discussion of schools. Crossing the stretch of lawn to the back patio, Dretphi opens the sliding glass door and enters. Moments later her stern and commanding tone leaks out the open doorway with a loud snap of the fingers. Arrenten and Tekennin stumble out on the back patio, glancing back as the sliding glass door shuts. Both grumble as they plod slowly towards the picnic tables, both complaining quietly to each other in grath. They watch the gathering ahead. Arrenten sneaks a point over to Bach and smirks slyly as he asks Tekennin a question. Tekennin blinks in thought, distantly studies Bach and shrugs his shoulders. Arrenten pantomimes out a belly from his thin frame and snickers. Tekennin snorts, lifts his hand up, and holds it centimeters short of his height with a chuckle. Arrenten scratches his chin in thought and mulls the ideas over. Tekennin elbows his brother with a revelatory grin. He gets his brother's attention, mockingly gestures out fake spell motions, and mumbles out gibberish words. Arrenten cackles briefly, nodding in total agreement. The two brothers continue their commentary.

Arrenten and Tekennin fail to notice Dretphi right behind them. Blushing with hints of anger, Dretphi slowly speaks their names in a maternal, disciplinary tone. Arrenten and Tekennin stop in place and wait. Dretphi firmly grips a shoulder each, draws in a long breath through her nose, and sighs out her annoyance. She regains her stern, commanding composure, and squeezes the her grasp upon each brother's shoulder. With a calm but foreboding voice, she explains what they need to do in firm grath. Releasing her grip, she lightly grasps an ear each with her fingers and recites a warning very familiar to them. With a long sigh, pats them gently on the back and firmly pushes them onward to the picnic table. Siblings rejoin the main group and prepare to enjoy the meal all together as they eventually join in the conversations.




Late afternoon sun shines down upon the green sea of forest canopy. Shadows from the clouds above project large sections of shade, and drift slowly along the leaves. A fast moving, four-winged dragon outline zips along the tree tops. Lagi flaps his back pair of blue and black scaled wings, deftly adjusts his large front wingspan, and maintains a level cruise in the skies above. Shifting his attention to Kaleb upon his back, he weaves together a series of chirps, clicks, growls, and hisses, and sighs loudly. Kaleb glances to the side of the holographic display in front of the saddle, nods his fully helmeted head slowly, and pats Lagi on his back. "I know. I know. Just one more location and you can fly as fast as you want home. Okay?"

Lagi's green eyes flit open happily, his tail wags slightly, and he releases an excited rolling chirp. Kaleb chuckles to himself, focuses his gaze towards the back of Lagi's head, and taps the side of his helmet. "Well, it looks like you can still hear me okay with the new radio. Still comfortable on you?"

Thinking momentarily and rolling his head to feel out the tiny device tucked away between white, bony armor plates, Lagi clicks affirmatively and concentrates back on flying. Kaleb returns his attention to the holographic display, controls the system through a series of handle mounted modules, and studies an interactive map. "Good. Hopefully this will keep me from wrecking my voice trying to yell out over the wind to you."

He manipulates the buttons and switches, and a high resolution photograph of a huge outer security doorway into a very old ruin appears. Nodding as he scrutinizes the image, Kaleb retrieves a camera with a large lens from a side bag, readies the device, and steadies himself upon the saddle. He points out a distant clearing, and gets Lagi's attention. "Over there. To your left, that clearing. Should be able to get this one quick, and then we head home."

Lagi calls out eagerly, flaps his massive front wings, and pitches into an approach vector. The dragon balances Kaleb upon his back, lines up his flight path, and holds it near perfectly stable. Kaleb lifts the camera, takes aim while adjusting the zoom and focus, and presses down the shutter button. Holding down the button, the wind obscures the camera's mechanical noises as Kaleb quickly handles it into different shots. The duo pass over the clearing with a large doorway into the hillside. Lagi gradually gains altitude and wags his tail in anticipation for a sharp turn to a familiar heading. Kaleb laughs as he holsters the camera into the saddle bag, and operates the holographic display's control system. "Hang in there, Lagi. I need to double-check to make sure I got good pictures and nothing has changed about that site."

Lagi grumbles as he waits and keeps eyeing a particular direction. Kaleb brings up the older file photo of the location, and chooses a recent one to load from the camera. He carefully studies the images, leans his head close to the bright ethereal projection, and narrows his scrutinizing stare. Rocking his head to the side, he reaches back into the saddle bag for the camera, brings the back interface screen close to his visor, and switches around to a preview of the same new picture. With an uncertain hum, he adjusts the zoom on both images up on the holographic display, and analyzes one major difference about the opening. Gritting his teeth, Kaleb sighs, pats Lagi on the back, and gestures back towards the site. "Something's not right. We gotta go back. Swing around low and wide, and bank me towards that opening. I need to get some better pictures of the entrance."

A frustrated whine bellows out from Lagi as he adjusts his wings. In between the irritated hisses, clicks, and grumbles from Lagi, Kaleb nods understandingly, rubs Lagi's back, and commiserates with him. "I know! Never fails that it ALWAYS is the last one of the day that has something off with it. Hopefully, it's just some strange magical interference messing with the camera's optics or its sensor."

Kaleb readies the camera in his arms, tweaks the complicated mechanisms of the lens, and fires off a few test shots while Lagi ferries him close. When the two close in on the site, Lagi air brakes down to a very slow speed, dives low just above the tree canopy, and banks hard in a wide semicircle along the side of the clearing opposing the ruined, constructed entrance. Kaleb balances himself in sync with the centrifugal force, steadies his camera above his shoulders, and focuses the aim right at the metal security archway, into the dark space beyond. Shutter clicks faintly echo into the area while Lagi expertly navigates his run along the perimeter. With a smooth roll back to level, Lagi pitches upwards to a safer altitude and levels off. Kaleb quickly operates the camera and holographic system, and brings up imagery on the display. Shaking his head, Kaleb mumbles out his surprise. "Well, shit... It's showing up here the same as I saw it. Looks like whatever barrier, I guess, is gone now. Must have gotten hit by something from one of those maelstroms."

He pauses to think a moment, leans over to the side, and glances towards Lagi's face. "Did you feel, smell, or see anything weird when we went by it?"

Lagi blinks, puzzles in his own mind for seconds, and grunts completely unsure. Kaleb sighs as he glances back at the clearing, growing smaller with the increasing distance. He returns his stare forward, smirks ambivalently, and places his camera securely in the saddle bag. Settling down low in the saddle, Kaleb tightens up his safety harness, and firmly grips the handles. The hologram fades off and Kaleb calls out to Lagi. "Ah, fuck it. It's getting dark. Let's go home! The GAA will get their pictures with my write ups. It's up to them to figure out how handle that place."

A loud excited shriek bellows out in the vicinity, and Lagi turns sharply to a familiar heading. His huge front wings power through the air, sweep back with the increasing velocity, and flicker with flows of magical energy. The waves of magical power synchronize into ripples of propulsion around the dragon, and Lagi adjusts his aerodynamic profile towards expediency and minimal drag. Both Kaleb and Lagi jet off towards the horizon, leaving a fading, faint trial of prismatic miasma adrift in the air behind.

From the silent clearing, obscuring overgrowth rustles against the breeze, and the wind sweeps layers of old dust from the concrete floor beyond the steel reinforced archway. Past the perimeter between daylight and dark shadow, a distant bright spark flits. A row of overhead, rotating red lights illuminate for a fraction of a second. They spin momentarily to a halt as they quickly dim. The dark corridor falls completely silent, blending back into the obscuring darkness as dusk sweeps over the area.