Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.

Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.
Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.
Hello! After a long time of half-starts and uncertainty, I've decided to just start publishing my story here (and also on the Omegaupdate Forums) I'll be posting them chapter by chapter, though there isn't going to be a set schedule for when the next chapter is going to fall. Feedback, questions, critiques, comments, suggestions, and other things are very welcome! Drop a PM if you wish as well!

Note: The story may deal with some trauma, (mild) body horror, and gore. Please exercise caution when reading and take a break if things become too much.



Prologue: The Junkyard Dog

The sunset streaked sky bloomed above the haphazard corners of the scrapyard. Two children--a boy and a girl--were running from the rabid, crystal-encrusted beast that roared like no other animal they've heard before. They skipped above the rust-caked barrels and glistening oil spills that covered the land in the scent of metal. The boy tripped on a stray pipe, and the girl pulled him back up just as the diamond dog-man snapped its jaws a mere centimeters from his shirt. The girl then drew a rocket-shaped toy gun and shot the beast with pegs, distracting it enough for the boy to roll a barrel towards it. With the monster clawing desperately to get the barrel off itself, the two kids ran into the maze of tire towers and scrapped engines.

They found the old truck they have been using as a makeshift spacecraft and hid inside it. The stench of moldy cushions and the sharp springs that stuck out made them realize how uncomfortable the truck was. And when their exhaustion and hurt finally caught up with them, and the boy began to cry. "I wanna go home! I don't want to be here anymore!"

The girl, barely a year older than the boy, tried to shush him, but only made him cry harder. "Keith! Oh no, please don't be so loud. The Feral might find us!" She tried singing the song of their favorite cartoon, "Stacey Queen: Galactic Explorer" because she remembered how it cheered her up whenever she was about to cry.

"Who's that zipping through the atmosphere?
Oh, oh-oh! Stacey Queen!
Who's gonna save us from the Dr. Machine?
Oh, oh-oh! Stacey Queen!
With her trusty crew of friends they're gonna kick alien tail,
And swim through the nebula, meet some comet whales!

Oh, Stacey Queen! Oh-oh Stacey Queen!
She flies on a rocket 'cross the galaxy!
Oh, Stacey Queen! Oh-oh Stacey Queen!
She fights evil baddies and she saves the day!

When the going gets tough, she never falters
She's never gonna fail, 'cause she knows she'll prevail!"

She sang it as long and as much as she could. She did the motions and encouraged the boy to sing with her. They sang until there were no more tears needed to be shed, and they began to talk about the show, and all the capers of their favorite cartoon adventurer.

"Remember that episode where Stacey had to hide from the Quartians that wanted to capture her? We should keep quiet, okay Keith?"

Keith nodded as he tried to stop hiccuping from his tears. They could still hear the monster's yelps and protests from all the way there, and it only stopped as the first stars began to show in the evening sky.

"Hey June, do you think it's okay to go out now? I can't hear the monster anymore."

June held a finger to her mouth, and Keith clapped his hands on his mouth. When he realized he made a sound, he jumped and tried to stay as still as possible. June gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder before motioning him to stay in the truck while she looked around.

Keith got up the old cushion and pressed his face against the front window, watching for June as she slipped behind the tires. He stood like that till his back grew sore and his heart jumping for him to run after her. So he did.

His mind ran in tandem with him, telling him how June might have gotten attacked by the monstrous Feral, or how the Feral might sneak up and pounce on her. He ran--left, right, left, and left again, until he didn't know where he was any longer. He cried out for June as loud as he could. But he couldn't hear her if she did. His heart was beating faster and faster, and his thoughts wouldn't stop. He pressed his palms to his ears, and he crumpled to the floor and began to cry again.

There was a sudden crash so loud that it made Keith jump up. "June!" he cried, and ran to the direction of the noise.

But rather than find her, he stood face to face with the same ghastly Feral. He tried to run back, but the Feral spotted him. Its eyes shone with wicked malice as the air suddenly grew cold and he found his feet encased in ice along with the ground.

The cold bit at his feet as he tried to pull them out with little success, the Feral moved with arms limply swaying, and its growls began to sound like a voice. "You shouldn't have done that, you know... you shouldn't have been here in the first place."

Keith fell down to the floor, and the Feral jumped at him. He closed his eyes when he heard a yelp and a sick crunch. He saw the Feral collapse on the floor and from the other side, he found June, who had grabbed a pipe and started chipping away at the ice. Keith reached for a rock and started doing the same, until he was freed. June reached for his hand, and he got up. "Didn't I tell you to stay in the truck?" she chided.

"I was scared! You took so long I thought the Feral got you!"
"So you let the Feral get to you instead."

Keith bowed his head, "I-I'm really sorry!" He felt his breath hitch up again, and tears roll down his cheeks. "I-I know I'm always causing you trouble. But I didn't want to see you go away. I was so scared of being alone, that I-I--"

"Keith, watch out!"

June pushed him to the side, before she was pinned to the floor by the Feral, the right side of its face leaking blood that fell to the floor like beads of glass. June struggled to pull the paw off her body, but the Feral slammed its foot down her chest, knocking the wind out of her. The Feral leaned closer with teeth bared. And a second later, June's arm was being torn off from her elbow. But before it could be completely torn away, the Feral was interrupted by another rock that hit it square in the eye.

Keith felt a surge of adrenaline as he realized what he had done. The Feral roared and flailed as it began to mutate and change, crystals sprung from its skin, and the Feral yowled with greater pain, but its remaining eye was focused only at him. It charged at him. Keith grabbed June's pipe, and there was a squelch.

The sharp pipe had pierced straight through the Feral's heart, but at the same time, Keith felt a set of teeth pierce at his left shoulder. He felt them slowly give way as the Feral struggled to stay up. He remembered its accusing eye as it rasped one last word from its jaws.


Keith's head was pounding, he couldn't keep himself steady as the world around him began to swirl. His feet gave way and he was falling into a jet black darkness.
RE: Reprobus: A Story of Ferals.
Chapter 1: Fugitives

Keith thrashed and clawed his way back to consciousness from the murky pit of his sleep, taking a huge gulp of air as he woke up. He laid there, staring at the long riveted line on the ceiling that joined the two windows of the small truck. Outside, the wheels bumped and jumped on the pebble-strewn road, and he didn't have the mind to try and think further about it. He sat up and grabbed his chest as a bolt of pain arced across it. He paused, and felt the thick gauze that sharply contrasted the softness of his gray fur, and looked down to see that white band.

He held his wolf-like head by the bridge of his snout, much too groggy to want to remember what had caused it. Reliving that nightmare of seven years past was already a headache. He grabbed the bag on the side of his bed and rummaged for a small syringe pen and a clear vial of liquid--Probus, it said on the label. He opened the vial and screwed it onto the pen, and after finding the vein and changing the needles, he injected it right on his thigh, fully waking him up. He always hated doing that. But either that, or risk losing your sanity.

He stretched his arms and let a yawn escape his mouth and grabbed a change of clothes from his bag when he found a soft package covered in parchment paper and bound up in twine. Beneath the twine was a birthday card... with a dog on the cover. Keith rolled his eyes and opened the card, where a small video recording started to play.

"Hello Keith, happy birthday!" his mother said through the screen. "How've you been doing in the Sanatorium? Did you make any friends there? I..." Mom sighed. "I hope they're treating you alright over there.

"Things have been busy here ever since the attack on the exhibit, and the bistro's been getting a lot of customers. Most of them asking about you. And"--she paused, and held her fingers tight--"No, never mind that, we'll talk about it when we have the chance to visit."

"Oh, speaking of--your Dad got this present for you this birthday. I know it's not often that he comes by, but when he heard about what happened, he immediately came to find you. It's the HANSA space jacket you really wanted when you were young. It's got that hi-tech fabric that's supposed to be heatproof, and it's got the logo too! See?" She brought it out and pointed at the jacket's breast where a circular star-speckled logo was emblazoned. "It's one of the jackets the astronauts of Tala 5 wore. I think it was Sherwin Legaspi? Well, anyway. Happy birthday again! And, when you see Sam, please understand where he's coming from. Goodbye now."

The video gave way to a cheesy birthday song played so loud he snapped the screen when he closed it. He opened it again and winced when he realized he had broken it. "So much for watching it again..."

He peeked through the curtains to see if he hadn't bothered anyone before untying the twine, and carefully unwrapped the present in front of him. And sure as the video said, it was the same green and silver jacket he asked for. He took the moment to try it on and check himself out before realizing that it might be better to wear the rest of his clothes before going out wearing this.

After avoiding a potential embarrassing encounter, Keith climbed down the ladder and made his way to the small dining area where a couple others were already eating breakfast. "Oh hey, look who's finally up!" the wild dog Feral with the speckled, dirt-yellow fur said in a much too familiar voice. Though he wore a dark polo shirt, it didn't hide the slight chubbiness around his stomach, and discounting the tuft of fur that vaguely resembled a mohawk, he barely reached Keith's nose, even with his already slouched posture. The wild dog slapped one hand on Keith's shoulder, his tail wagging happily behind him. "Looking real spiffy there, Keith."

Keith took a step back from the dog before his cynophobia had a chance to kick in. It took another moment before he recognized the dog's scent--it was his little brother. "Wait, Sam, is that you?"

"Yep! How'd you like the brand new me?" said Sam, spreading his arms and turning around. "I look pretty good as a Feral, right?"

Keith shrugged. "I guess so? But--"

"I'd say he looks like he fell into a pigsty," said the badger-girl that was examining the back of a cereal box before placing it as far away from her as possible, she then dumped the contents of her bowl out the window of the truck. "Geez, the stuff they put in these things are atrocious."

Sam crossed his arms and turned away from her. "Oh come on, June! Did you really have to be so rude? Besides, I'm a work of art!"

"Uh-huh," June placed both hands behind her head, her right arm however, was replaced with a prosthetic limb. "I just call 'em what I see 'em. Sorry if it wasn't what you thought it'd be."

"And how about it if I just looked like this the whole trip?" Sam waved his hands in front of his face, and the speckled dog gave way to his old human face. "That any better for you?"

"Woah, wait up," Keith grabbed his brother's arm. "What are you doing!?"

"Light magic, duh! You've been stuck in the Sanatorium for the magically-enhanced, and you didn't know that Light magic uses illusions?" Sam turned his head to the side, and sure enough Keith could still see the outline of his brother's snout beneath the illusion, which itself looked as stretched out as an ill-fitting texture on the wrong wire frame model. Keith pointed it out. "Well... it still looks odd," Sam admitted. "Still gotta work on the kinks, you know? It might be better if we pull our hoods up first if we use this magic. Oh, and tuck our tails too."

Sam waved his hands a second time, and now he's back to being a scrappy looking dog. "So is it awesome, or is it AWESOME?"

"Yeah... no." Keith said, flatly. "That was dangerous, Sam. Magic is dangerous! Use it too much and there's a real chance that you're gonna end up losing your mind and turning into a Wasteland!"

Sam tilted his head. "A Wasteland?"

"They're Ferals that have completely lost their minds and bodies, turning into nothing but walking disasters," June replied. "You know those reports on the news where some out-of-luck Feral supposedly just turned into some kind of crazy-looking monster with a lot of crystals sticking out of its body and leveling an entire city block with nothing but superpowered magic? Those are Wastelands.

"That Feral in the junkyard? They found that the guy was almost on the course of turning into a Wasteland. So, if Keith didn't stop him, Westfair could've been toast."

Keith was dumbfounded. "Wait, seriously? This is the first time I've heard of it."

A tiny chuckle escaped June's mouth. "Yep, but it all worked out mostly fine, didn't it? At least we're all still alive."

"So that means, Keith's a hero?" Sam said.

"I am not a hero," Keith said, rubbing the corners of his eyes. "Look, Sam, please tell me that you took a Probus shot before using magic."

"Don't worry, I already did." Sam waved his hands idly. "Did it really have to be on the thighs though? They hurt like heck."

"That only happens because you didn't inject it properly." Keith said. "I'll teach you how tomorrow. Anyway, could someone pass that cereal over? I'm famished."

"Here you go," June said. She gestured towards the bunk beds behind her. "I'll just head over to the bunkers to check up on Lance."

"Oh, how's he doing?"

"Still knocked out cold. Those crystals on his back are starting to recede, so I'm hoping he'll be fine once he wakes up. I'm actually surprised that you had that kind of magic in you."

Keith recalled how he was able to make some kind of barrier that sent the larger Lance flying into a tree and knocking him out cold. He couldn't stop apologizing for what happened there. "You know I didn't mean to do that."

Keith flinched when June rubbed his head. "Everyone knows, Keith," she said. "You don't have to worry about it."

He shot her a glare as he patted his fur down to be as smooth as possible. Keith then took a bite of the cereal and felt his stomach churn from realizing how sweet the cereal was. He forced it down, nonetheless. "Yeah, I know... it doesn't make me feel any better though."

"That's probably just the sugar making you feel all that guilt," June said. "Anyways, just holler if you need anything. When that guy sleeps, there's no waking him."

So Keith sat on the table with a half-eaten bowl of lukewarm, soggy cereal partly listening to the songs on the radio, partly watching the scenery of hills and plains give way to a winding forest road. Trees huddled close and tight above the walls of dirt that stood on each side of the road, giving the impression of a tall corridor. Large menhirs carved with serpentine designs dotted the natural alcove, a relic of an old civilization. Keith remembered an old history lesson concerning them. Something about how they were wards to protect travelers from unexpected dangers.

He stared as far as he could through the dense forest, the way the light seemed to dance and fly behind the shower of green and ash, reminding Keith of the long trips the family used to take on camping trips at Antoine Bay. There would be a number of these stones on the road too, but rather than serpents, there were images of bird-like creatures on them. He turned the other way and found Sam curled inside his seat on the opposite table with both legs propped on it, his hands firmly clamped onto a clam shell shaped device. "Hey Sam," Keith said. "Do you know where we're supposed to be going?"

Sam shrugged, eyes fixated on his game. "I'unno. I think we're supposed to meet with Auntie Jillian. Or at least Mom told Roddy that we're supposed to go to her place."

Keith had a picture of a slender woman with thick glasses that smelled of sea-scented candles and wheatgrass. "Oh, so we're gonna be staying with her till things settle down?"

Another shrug. "I guess so."

The cheery pop music on the radio gave way to the trumpets and fanfare of the hourly news. "Now on today's headlines, the country is on high alert today as a group of rogue Ferals had escaped the Rifu City Sanatorium with the help of infiltrators." The radio blared. Keith increased the volume to better listen. "Today, Sanatorium Director, Dr. Fredrick Aster said that they are working in close cooperation with experts from the Laelaps International Peacekeeping Corps to capture and contain these threats before they lose control. It is still unknown if the Terrorist group Alopex was involved in this latest incident."

Sam peeked up from his GoGame Player, ears tall. "Wow, look at that, we're on the news."

"...And that's a good thing?" Keith had gotten up and took his bowl towards the sink. "You do realize that every law enforcement agency is out on a manhunt looking for us."

Sam's ears quickly drooped. "Oh, right."

Keith rolled his eyes as the reporter continued. "Witnesses report that the suspects rode a large white RV with the plate number 'HRW 585'. Authorities are now searching for them as we speak. If anyone has seen the truck, please don't forget to call our hotline and we'll keep track of the progress."

Keith almost dropped the bowl into the sink when shivers raced through his arms. "Wait, they know our plate number!?"

"Woah, chill. We're taking a side road to get to Lafta... I think. But nobody takes this road anymore ever since the highway got built."

"And if the police are gonna be waiting for us around the corner?" Keith set the bowl on the sink.

"We'll find a way. We've managed to get you out of a heavily guarded Sanatorium, I think we'll manage just the same. Besides, the truck's been covered with an illusion too. So there's no way they'll find us."

Keith crossed his arms. "I wouldn't be so sure about that. They're probably gonna have checks on every road if they're competent enough."

Sam folded his GoGame Player and sneered. "Yeesh Keith, since when did you get to be such a worrywart all the time?"

"Sam, these are our lives on the line! Would it kill you to stop being so careless right now?"

Sam growled. "So what? We're not the ones driving this truck. Roddy is, so if you've got a problem talk to him!"

"That's not the point here!" Keith waved his arms, trying to form the right words. "Could you just, take a moment to--"

"Guys, stop it!" June said, standing between them. "You two are acting like a couple of animals right now, so chill!"

Sam pointed at his brother. "Hey, he's the one getting antsy about all this."

"Keith's got a good reason to be worried, and it doesn't hurt to be a little more cautious." She turned to Keith. "At the same time, you shouldn't stress yourself over something we really don't have control over. And you should have already known what might have happened if we stayed in that Sanatorium."

The brothers looked at each other for a long moment, then the eye-to-eye became an intense staring contest, they started to close the distance between them wearing such intense expressions that June was ready to split them apart if things got ugly. But then Keith suddenly stuck his tongue out, and Sam couldn't stop laughing. "Oh gods, what the heck?"

"Got you!" Keith replied.

June tried to find the words, but eventually settled with: "What... the heck is going on here?"

Keith scrubbed the back of his neck. "Ah, it's just something we do to lighten the mood."

"We try to see who can make the other laugh first." Sam added, pausing to catch his breath. He slapped Keith's shoulder. "Hey, uh... I'm sorry for not being a bit more considerate. I mean, I guess I did let it get to me." Sam paused. "You know, when Mom brought you back from the hospital, I thought she brought home a new puppy to play with. When it turned out to be you, I didn't really care. You were my brother, furry or not. So when I got turned into a Feral, I just thought how awesome it was that I get to be like you."

Keith felt his ears grow hot. "W-wait you want to be--"

Everyone was jostled off-balance as the truck shook and sped up. The faint sounds of police sirens immediately caught their attention. Keith and the others ran towards the windows. The truck had long passed the forest and was now making its way through the winding paths of the canyon ravine where a long drop to the forest below was what awaited them. Behind them were a couple of heavily armored vehicles mounted with a large gatling gun. "You are in direct violation of the Feral Custody Act for unlawful transportation of rogue Ferals. Slow the car immediately or we will be forced to open fire on your vehicle."

Sam quickly stepped away from his window. "Wait, did the man say 'open fire'?! This... this is really bad."

"You think!?" Keith said, gripping a scruff of fur from his head. "Look, we gotta tell Marie and Roddy about this." They made their way over to the front of the truck, past the door separated the living quarters from the truck's driver's room. A large, feathery raptor-like being sat on the driver's seat his sharp eyes darting back and forth between the road and the side mirror. Next to him was a human woman nose-pressed against the sprawling road map on the dashboard. "Roddy!" Keith called the raptor. "There's a bunch of cars from the Sanatarium chasing after us!"

"We know!" Roddy said. "Sam's illusion magic should've worked on cameras as well though. I've double-checked it. All I could think is that the magic might've worn off already."

Sam furiously scratched his head. "Well, what did you expect, I'm still new to the magic thing."

"Everyone and their pet rollers are." Roddy replied. "Hey Marie, do you know any other way that can lead us out of here?"

"We're on a long and narrow cliff side road," Marie said, as she continued to scour the map for an exit. "There aren't any other roads out but forward, and it's pretty likely they've already blocked the exit here. So... we're trapped."

"Great, now what? Anyone got some kind of magic spell to get us out of here? Like, I dunno, making the RV fly?"

"I don't think anyone has that kind of magic," Marie quipped.

"If you do not slow your vehicle down, we will be forced to consider your refusal to comply as a sign that the Ferals you are harboring are now rabid and must be put down. This is your final warning."

"Geez, are you hearing this?" June asked. "The nerve of these guys calling us rabid."

"Well, they can't take chances, you know," Keith said, "I mean there really is a chance that--"

June grabbed both of Keith's shoulders. "Keith, they want to kill us, and you're seriously taking their side?"

"N-no! I just wanted to see their side of things!"

June released her hold and noticed the railings that repeat along the stretch on the side of the road, bent and rusted from disrepair, some of them already had gaps and clapped her hands. "Oh! Keith, remember that barrier you made against Lance?"

Keith tilted his head. "What are you saying...?"

The sound of gunfire and shattering glass made it very clear they had to act soon.

She pointed towards the railings. "Crash into those!"

Roddy muttered a prayer under his breath and slammed onto the gas pedal and turned. The truck crashed and flew through the air. Everyone grabbed onto each other as the world around them began to spin. Sam screamed and Keith felt an oppressive weight on his body. Paralyzed with such fear he couldn't even take a breath. He squeezed his eyes shut as the truck headed for a nosedive. He tried to recall those feelings he felt when he awakened to his magic...


The rain poured and beat against their exhausted bodies. Lance had lost control over himself. His senses had given way to something more primal. Thorny, crystalline scales had burst underneath the patient's gown he wore, and blood began to leak from his glowing eyes. And as the transformation continued, his pained screeches grew louder, and as his body convulsed with every step he took, the ground shook along with him.

June slammed her hands at the ground to summon vines that could bind Lance, but the monster simply ripped them out of the soil and crushed it under its heel. It bounded towards Keith, slamming at him with such force that he felt his ribs crack under his weight. June replied by slamming her own body, accompanied by a couple of smaller trees that had sprung from both sides, knocking him over. She then bound him with another set of vines before helping Keith back on his feet.

It didn't take Lance too long to tear the vines apart, and soon it was up again. This time, he lunged for June, and she anticipated the attack with magic that covered her arms in a thick layer of bark. They tumbled to the floor, and June could only hold for so much longer before her arms would give in.

Keith watched. Again, he stood there doing nothing as his friend was struggling for her life. Again, he needed her to save him. Again, and again, he let things go out of control, because he let his fears consume him.

Never again.

He rushed towards the feud, and threw himself between the two Ferals just as Lance was about to slam a claw down on June. There was a crackle of dark energy, and as the claw fell onto them, something black glinted in the air and sent all the strength of that attack straight back at Lance, sending him flying into a tree, knocking him unconscious.


Keith took a deep breath and summoned those feelings. He was going to protect everyone. They needed him. He imagined a large sphere envelop the whole RV, his hands moved in tandem with the image. An electric shiver coursed through his skin, as he felt the tips of his fur sway and stand with magic.

The RV continued its descent, gaining speed as the seconds ticked. He thought about every part of the vehicle, every piece and shape he could think of, making sure that their entirety was taken into consideration. He counted the seconds he remained pressed against the door, bracing for impact.

The RV passed through the forest canopy, battered left and right by branches that ran along the length of these never ending trees. Keith held on, but he could feel every impact landed on the barrier until he passed out.

Finally, it crashed onto the forest floor. And there was nothing left but the distant sounds of leaves in the wind.
RE: Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.
Chapter 2: The Coming Storm

A few months before that day…

Light streamed from a lone desk lamp onto a pile of half-finished homework on one side of the table, and a stack of documents of all the artifacts for the Westfair exhibit compiled on a folder on the other side. Marie dropped her head onto the middle of the table and let out a long groan. Every one of them had to be finished in half a week's time. She took the small picture frame of her stepfather at the corner of her table. "Why the heck did you let me deal with this mess?"

The past few weeks had been nothing short of chaos for Marie, in between juggling chemistry classes at college, acting as a substitute history teacher at Westfair High, and managing the exhibit her stepfather, Professor Aspen, had left halfway finished to answer a call from a colleague examining the Temple of Fulmina out in the Suurmi Badlands. He left the country with her sister, Amber, leaving her to manage everything else.

"Yes, I'll definitely be okay!" she said. "Yes, I can do it all just fine!" she insisted. "Uugh, why did I say yes?" she moaned. Then again, she was never the type to say no when asked politely. She knew that she shouldn't, but she felt guilty every time she tried to.

She pushed herself off the table and resolved to finish her assignment by tonight when her cell phone began to ring. She took the call. "Hey Marie, it's Amber, how are you holding up?"

"Splendidly!" It was anything but. "How about you? Are you doing alright?"

"Same old, same old. Some of the Therans still don't approve us treading on their sacred ground even though we've already made a deal with their elders. Seriously, there's no pleasing these people. Dad says hi by the way."

"Mhm, so what did you call me for?"

"Switch to video call, we gotta show you something." Marie quickly brushed her hair before pressing the small videocam button. On the other side of the screen was a dizzying maze of shelves filled with a variety of crystals, each of which are stored in small glass cups that would normally be seen holding candles. Amber brought the phone closer to the shelves to give Marie a better look, and each colored crystal polished seemed to move and flicker with images of the lives and memories of ancient Therans.

An old man with a scruffy, graying beard and wearing a button-down vest showed up on the screen. "Hello my darling, it's good to see you."

"Good to see you too dad, what are these things?"

"They're the recorded memories of people from before the Dissonance! Crystallized and preserved for record keeping. We have found the temple's memory archives! Marie, do you know what this means?"

"I'm guessing you're saying if we're able to extract these memories somehow, we'll be able to understand the lives of those who lived in that time, along with the events that led to the Dissonance."

"Exactly! With these aetherlite crystals we are able to shed some light into our world!"

"Don't you mean, 'We'll be rebuilding history!!'" Amber asked in a haughty voice, stretching out her hand as if gripping the air. A small black-feathered Korven passed into the frame, looked up at Amber and shook her head before waddling away.

"Well, of course," the professor said, adjusting his glasses. "But let the old man make the dramatic gestures, please?"

"This is wonderful!" Marie replied. "The other temples didn't seem to have such an extensive collection like this."

"Ah, that's because the Temple is dedicated to Fulmina the Herald--goddess of curiosity, communication, delivery, and in some sects, retribution. Like all other temples, they intended to portray their deity through the functions and services they provide. The temple is situated in the middle of what was a gigantic crater that had been entirely smoothed out. At first we thought it would some sort of amphitheater, but then we realized the whole structure was part of the temple itself."

"In other words, the crater was a receiving dish, and the temple acted as a giant antenna," Amber chimed. "Especially when you consider how the temple's Mothercrystal juts out from the temple like one."

"Yes, now we don't know why the need for such a large structure, but what we do know is that they have also served as a sort of center of communication and information, relaying information across the planet while simultaneously keeping an archive of the then-current events. But now, we have an opportunity to understand the histories and the cultures of these people! This is groundbreaking research! Oh, I have to show one of these to you."

The professor was about to reach for a crystal when Marie yelped. "Wait, don't touch that!"

"Hm? Why do you suppose should I not?" The professor gave Marie such a coy smile that she felt as if she was studying in his class this time.

"W-well, they're aetherlite! Shouldn't you know what it can do to you if you're exposed to that?"

The professor chuckled. "Don't you still carry with you your mother's locket around?"

She produced the small locket hanging on her neck. Silver and tear-shaped, it had an intricate pattern of water lilies surrounding it and a brilliant blue gem inlaid in the center. "I've always kept it with me."

"That gem in the locket is also made out of aetherlite."

Marie cupped her hands over her mouth when she realized what that meant. Both Amber and the professor laughed.

"Relax, Marie," Amber said. "You won't get turned into some Feral unless you've been exposed to excessive amounts of it."

"And aetherlite are supposed to be inert forms of aether. It shouldn't affect you unless it's crushed into fine powder or sublimated through conducting more aether than it can handle," the professor added. "So my dear, am I in the clear?"

Marie rolled her eyes, but she was smiling nonetheless. "Alright, Dad. You may."

The professor bowed and took a violet block of crystal from the middle shelf. He urged Amber to come forwards. They made their way forwards to what looked like a screen and some sort of console. He placed the crystal on a small platform on the console, and pressed a few of the symbols on it. The platform began to glow and flicker. The screen began flashing several images of what seemed to be some kind of gathering interspersed with broken audio. The machine began to shudder, then it shut itself down immediately. Professor Aspen took the crystal and sighed. "Well, we'll eventually find a way to make it work... somehow."

"It's still good progress though!" Amber said.

"So, what are you going to do with those crystals?" Marie asked.

"We'll try to get this thing up and running," Amber said, facing the phone. "We've already asked around for a way to fix it, hopefully we'll get it running by tomorrow, otherwise we'll have to take a few samples back to Westfair for analysis."

"Alright, I'll be waiting for them!"

"Make sure you do!"

"Oh, Marie, there's one other thing--how's the exhibit coming along?" the professor asked. "Are you doing alright working on it on your own?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. The showpieces are set, the documentation's ready, I've written the opening script and," she paused. "Do you think I missed anything?"

"Have you prepared food for the guests?"

"Wait, we're supposed to prepare food for guests?"

"Of course! It wouldn't be proper at all if we don't entertain our guests on the opening."

Alarm bells rang in Marie's mind, she took out her laptop and typed furiously for the nearest catering service in Westfair. She clicked the first link she found and listed every order she wanted on a separate file. "Ah, I guess you're working on it right now?"

"Y-yeah! I'm sorry I have to drop the call, goodbye Dad, be safe!"

He waved to her. "Goodbye darling, you too."

"Don't be a stranger!" Amber added. "Really, you've been so busy we never hear anything from you."

"I promise I'll call back, see you!" With that, Marie closed her phone and let her head fall on the keyboard. She was way too tired for this.

She picked herself back up and took a good look at the site she entered. "…the Starry Plough Bistro? That's just along the corner of Ganymede and Callisto." She had never been there before, but she heard that it was quite a popular restaurant for the students.

She browsed the menu filled with enticing images of food so beautiful it suddenly made her stomach growl in envy. After boiling some instant noodles and finished listing her orders, she picked up the phone and called the number. "Hello, is this the Starry Plough Bistro?"


"…So that covers your lesson on the ancient Theran civilizations before the Dissonance." Marie told her first period class. "Now, before you leave for your next class, Professor Aspen asked me to give you a homework to be due this Monday." The whole class groaned and Marie had to shush the entire room.

"Wait, before you start complaining." She took out a plastic box filled with tickets. "Part one of your assignment is to attend the exhibit at the Westfair Archaeological Museum this coming Saturday." She handed the tickets to each of the students who then passed it backwards to the next one in line. The student on the last row, a lone Feral wearing a cloth muzzle was about to get his ticket when the boy in front snatched it before he even got the chance to lift his hand.

"Marcus, give the ticket to Keith," she ordered. Marcus glared at her before slamming the ticket on Keith's desk, leaving it crumpled. Some students whispered how much of a "teacher's pet" Keith was and started howling like dogs, but Keith tried not to pay it much mind. Marie had to shush the rowdy teens before they do something worse.

After the class had become quiet enough to be heard, Marie continued. "Good, now after visiting the exhibit, I want you to each present a report discussing one of the displays. At least one thousand words. Again, on Monday." The bell rang. And by ones and twos, the students left the room. "Class dismissed."

"Keith can I talk to you for a moment?"

Keith made his way to her. "Is there something wrong, Ms. Willow?" his voice was barely audible with the muzzle on his snout. At closer inspection, the fabric seemed tightly wound around it, just barely giving him enough space to slightly open his mouth.

"No, not really." She organized her papers, and snapped the lid of the plastic box shut. "Tell me, are you often being bullied by those kids?"

"Yeah, but so do a lot of other people." Keith readjusted the straps on his muzzle, as if he's done it a million times. "I'm used to it."

Marie decided it might be for the best to switch topics. "So, your mom owns the Starry Plow Bistro, right?"

Keith blinked. "Yeah... uh, did you want to order something?"

"Well actually, I already asked if she could cater for the exhibit. I've heard that she was the former head of the science department, and she's a big inspiration to me, and I wanted to meet her, so--" she opened the box and handed Keith three more tickets. "I want you to have these tickets. Tell your family that they're welcome to look around the exhibit for free."

Keith took the tickets and gingerly placed them in the front pocket of his messenger bag. "Um, thank you?"

"No problem!" They waved each other goodbye before heading to their respective classes. She thought about the cloth muzzle that Keith wore to school, it seemed quite uncomfortable. Yet if she recalled correctly, that was the compromise given by the school in exchange for letting him study here. She recalled similar measures were given to the Therans that studied here a few decades back before it had been lifted due to protests against it. Considering Keith seemed to be one of the very few Ferals allowed to study within the campus. She doubted that same mercy might be given to them.

After spending much of the morning teaching and the rest of the day on her studies, Marie rushed to the museum to meet with the curator, Mrs. Han, to coordinate on how to present each of the displays as well as to prepare for the opening ceremonies. But before Marie could practice her speech, Mrs. Han had called her over to her office. Two packages had arrived in the museum's mail that was for Marie.

"It's from Professor Aspen," said Mrs. Han, the old lady struggled to lift a pair of boxes plastered with stickers labeled fragile. Marie helped her bring them on top of the table. They opened the packages and underneath the mess of shredded newspapers and packing peanuts were a number of crystals--the same ones that were from the Temple of Fulmina. "I suppose those are the memory crystals the professor spoke of frequently?"

"Yeah…" she picked up one of the crystals. This one had a surface shaped like the dome of a crystal ball. She peered into the dome and could see faint shapes dancing inside. "I wonder why they would send these here?"

"Perhaps they wish to have them analyzed. It would certainly be easier to do it here than in that dry desert."

Marie wondered if that was really the case. Didn't the professor say that he would have them viewed with the Temple's console before sending them over? Why the sudden change of mind?

Unfortunately, when she called Amber's number that night, the line had gone dead. So too for the camp. She even tried calling the professor's number even though he forgot to carry it more often than not. But there wasn't even a tone at the end of the line. She looked through her network account but the last post from them was from Amber when she had taken a picture next to a couple of crow-like Korven Therans while they all stuck their tongues out at the camera.

"No, you're probably just overthinking this," Marie assured herself. "It's already quite late in the night where they are. So they're just asleep." She could only hope it were true. Just to make sure, Marie took out her phone and sent a text message to Amber.

"Please call me when you wake up."

She took out her mother's locket and brushed her fingers over its grooved cold surface. She held it up to the light of her lamp and gazed at the jewel's shine. The way the light would dance reminded her of a clear spring or the ripples cast by a stone on a calm pool. It calmed her to gaze into it when she felt lost and troubled.

Though she never truly met her parents, only hearing about the from the stories her stepparents would tell her, she still felt like a piece of them was preserved in it. They helped to soothe her troubles away, leaving her alone with thoughts of other things.

A thought flashed in her mind. She had recalled one of the things the professor would tell her on his studies. That aetherlite crystals have a strange quirk of being able to hold memories due to the very thing they're made of, even though Marie doubted that the substance can truly hold such things.

He also told her that her mother wore the locket on her as well. If she could somehow harness the crystal in some way, would it mean that she could find a way to will a memory of her mother from it? She had to find a way.

Her phone began to ring, it was Amber. She quickly picked it up. "Amber! I've been trying to contact you, what's going on?"

"…Marie," came Amber's voice. "The Alopex group demands for the return of the memory crystals that have been stolen from the sacred temple of Fulmina the Herald," her voice quivered as she was made to read the lines given to her. "We also demand for the Westfair exhibit to be cancelled, and for all artifacts to be returned, including the crystals sent that morning. F-Failure to comply before the exhibit's opening…" Amber began to choke on her words when a gunshot rang in the background. "Failure to comply would result in those involved in Suurmi expedition to be executed… sacrificed to the goddess."

Another voice, one deep and rumbling, took the phone. "Do not tell anyone. We have eyes everywhere. You have two days left. Decide."

"Wait!" Marie cried. "I'll comply… just don't kill them." But the call had hung up.
RE: Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.
No chapter right now, but I might as well share some pictures to get a clearer picture of a few things.

Images are a bit huge, so they're under spoilers:

RE: Re-probus: A Story of Ferals.
Notes: I've actually changed or added quite a few things from the previous chapters, so now's probably a good time if you're thinking of catching up with the story. Either way, here's Chapter 3. It's been quite a while but I have to admit, this one actually caused me quite a bit of trouble.


Chapter 3: Ordinary Days

"So Freshie, how's Moony doing?" The large bear-like Dardan asked Sam as she placed her tray of pepper-tossed bugs on their table. "He's been making quite a lot of waves since the year's started."

"Moony, who? You mean Keith?" Sam asked. He scooched over to the end of the table to give Patricia some room. "Yeah, everyone's been asking me about him. Wondering if he's going to bite them or something."

"Well, it can't be helped," said the boy sitting on the other side of the table, chugging a cold bottle of milk tea while sitting cross-legged like some wannabe hotshot. "He's a Feral. People think he'd explode the moment they'd look at him funny."

Sam shook his head before taking a large bite out of a toasted chicken sandwich. "Oh come on Rico, Keith's way too much of a wimp to do anything like that."

"Not everyone knows that," Patricia added. "Want some fried cricket?"

Sam held up his hands. "I think I'll pass." Rico did the same.

"Eh, your loss." She grabbed a pawful of the insects and tossed them into her mouth. "Mm, you guys are really missing out. These are some good crickets."

Sam rolled his eyes and gestured for his friends to come closer. "Anyway, you guys have plans this Saturday? There's an escape room event at the Weber Plaza. You want in?"

"I'll have to pass," Patricia said. "We're gonna have football trials this Saturday to look for new recruits." Patricia stretched her neck and there was an audible snap. "Lots of new recruits this year. Gonna be exciting."

"I'm gonna be busy too," Rico said as he adjusted his glasses. "Ms. Willow's got us tied up to visit the exhibit on Saturday. And don't tell anyone, but I think she's desperate for visitors."

"You think so?" Pat said. "'Cause my class didn't get any."

"Huh, you think they ran out of tickets?"

Pat shrugged. "Maybe? Either way, at least it's not gonna interfere with our trials." She looked towards Sam's direction and noticed he was spacing out. "Hey Sam? Yo, you hearing this?"

Sam slapped himself. "Oh crap, I forgot about the exhibit! I gotta help Ma out on Saturday with that."

"You have an important meeting to go to and that slipped your mind?" Rico asked. "Uh priorites, Sam?"

"I've got my priorities straight. I just have a lot of ideas on my mind," Sam replied.

Sam felt something about to skewer his shoulder. It turned out Patricia had been prodding him with those long digging claws of hers. She pointed towards the front of the mess hall. "Hey Sam, isn't that your brother?" Patricia asked. She towered over the two the two humans, so Sam had to stand up to get a good look at what she was pointing at. Sure enough, Sam found that unmistakable gray wolf of a Feral wandering around the place without any idea where to go. All he got were a number of dirty looks and scornful words thrown at him. "Shouldn't you call him over?"

"Yeah, yeah," he said and raised his hand. "Hey Keith, over here!" The Feral's ears perked up and his brother made a beeline towards their corner of the hallway. "Geez, you know you could've just stayed with us if you're still not comfortable around people."

Keith placed his tray next to Rico and sat next to him. Rico looked at Keith for a moment before looking away and trying to remain as stoic as he could. The blooming blush on his cheeks clear as day to anyone on the other side of the table from them. "Thanks," Keith said as he loosened his muzzle. "But I just wanted to find somewhere I won't disturb anyone."

"You'll disturb anyone no matter where you'd go," Sam said. "Why not just let yourself be comfortable in your own skin?"

Keith jabbed a pile of shredded pork and shoved it into his mouth. "Easy for you to say." He mumbled.

"Hey, I'm just trying to help." Sam tried to find the words, then something flashed on his mind. "Someone told me once, 'If you close yourself from the world, the world won't change for you.' you know who said that?"

Keith rolled his eyes. "Lemme guess, it's Xander isn't it?"

"Yeah! Xander from Silhouette Kingdom. Remember that? It was the scene after that boss battle when the Princess of Light got transformed into a dragon."

"How could I forget?" Keith lazily dipped a bread stick on some thousand island sauce and slid it in his mouth. "You've told me that one hundreds of times already."

Sam scratched his head. Why of all times did he have to be so stubborn? "Yeah well, it can't be helped. Anyway! What I'm saying is that you can't just keep hiding forever. If you want people to like you, you gotta show that you're worth liking."

Keith looked at him with those glowing eyes of his. "Sam, I'm a ticking time bomb. I panic anytime I see a dog's face. I panic when I see MY OWN FACE." Keith was panting heavily, an almost crazy look in his face.

He snapped his eyes shut and leaned back, pinching the bridge of his snout before taking a deep breath. "S-sorry, it's just that things set me off and then one moment I would wake up and realize I've got a piece of rock stuck in my back and I'm worrying my head off that I might've just infected someone without realizing it. Do you think I want people to get close to me?"

"Keith, you really have to learn how to chill," Patricia said as mellow as possible. "Maybe meditate a little, the coach taught us some breathing exercises just for that. Maybe you should try it too."

"No, I'm good. You really don't have to. My therapist already gave me coping strategies."

"Really? They don't seem particularly helpful," Sam said. "Look, maybe just ease up. Don't overthink things, maybe people won't get so scared of you if you just calm down a bit more."

Keith sighed, hiding his face behind one hand, the shadows beneath seemed to darken slightly. "Can we… just stop talking about me and my problems? I can handle them on my own."

"Hey, I said I was just trying to help. Do you want it or not?"

Keith's voice dropped to a dangerous growl. "Leave. Me. Alone. Sam."

"Alright, fine! I'm shutting up!" Sam said, throwing his arms in the air.

The group ate without so much as a word being passed. Occasionally, they would steal a glance or two towards Keith to see how he's faring. Keith on the other hand seemed focused on quickly finishing his meal. Once the plate was clean of food, Keith packed up and left in a hurry. "Well that guy has problems," Rico said.

Sam took a deep breath, as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his chest. "I'm sorry you guys had to see that."

"Hey, it's not your fault," Patricia said. "You're not the one with the chip on his shoulder. He is. So let it be."

"Yeah, I guess so." Still, Sam didn't feel right leaving things the way they are, and resolved to ask about it the next time they met.


Sam didn't see Keith till after school when they would wait for each other by the school gate. Sam waved his friends goodbye and went on ahead. "Hey!" he said, waving at Keith.

"Hey." Keith waved back. The two of them walked down the campus main road, looking past the shops that lined the area. Old Ma-and-Pa shops that sold all sorts of secondhand books and faded novels, to those chic and trendy cafés and minimalistic tech stores that seemed to come and go with the seasons.

No words were exchanged between the two of them, only half-hearted attempts at trying to say anything. They reached the corner of the road where a brick red building stood. Blue and white striped awnings decorated the large windows where customers blissfully chatted between large couches sipping cups of coffee so fragrant, the sidewalks were infused with its aroma. On the door was a sign written with a star writing out the words "Starry Plough Bistro"

The door chimed as Sam opened the door. "Hey Mom, we're home!" he said with Keith trailing not too far behind him. The restaurant was covered top to bottom with a nostalgic sunny yellow. Wooden counters topped with a selection of cookies and candy tarts were packed in plastic wrap and lace ribbons, while rows of elegant cakes and tarts gleamed underneath the fluorescent glow of the cake counters. Chalkboards hung above the kitchen window, a cute star-like alien mascot riding on a rocket ship sat snugly on the edge of the menu.

"Welcome home, Sweeties!" Their mother said after taking old Mrs. Groche's order on her computer. "How's school been?"

"It was alright," Sam said. "Not bad, but not too good either."

Keith scratched the edges of his muzzle, though Sam wondered why he wore it so tightly. "Same," he said.

"Well you boys should go and freshen up. Just hurry up and come back downstairs to help out, alright? Everything's already on the kitchen table so just heat them up and pass them over."

The two boys nodded and headed into the kitchen and straight up to the large living room. They slept further upstairs in their own rooms. One of them used to be the old guest room till Keith had it re-purposed as his own.

"Hey Keith, wait up!" Sam called out. "Why did you just fly off like that? I thought you wanted me to help?"

Keith lowered his head on the door. "Sam, I told you I didn't want to talk about it right now."

"I know, I know!" Sam spread his arms, nearly knocking down the vase nearby had he not caught it in time. He placed the vase down on the floor. "I know. But why do you always act like you don't want me around. You said you wanted help, but then you go and push us away. Why?"

Keith sighed and turned away. "Look, I appreciate the help. But just let me be. You don't want to be involved in my problems."

"Then why? I thought things were getting better now that you've started school and working here."

"Well... they aren't." Keith turned around, his back leaning on the door. "Everywhere I go, it's the same thing. People are scared of me, and they should be. All I've ever done is hurt people."

"Oh come on, Keith. Ignore those people. Don't let them bug you."

"Sam..." Keith looked down on the floor, ready to fall apart. "You don't understand what it feels like being this." He held out his hands, black and padded on the tips. "You don't understand feeling like you deserved being this because everywhere you go, you just cause trouble for the people you care for."

"Then let me understand. We're brothers after all."

Keith turned around and pressed a code on the tablet installed on his door. A series of whirs and clicks let the door swing slightly ajar. "I think... we should get to work." He went inside and closed the door carefully, never turning his back away from him. A series of whirs and clicks locked the door, and Sam walked back to their--his--old room.

They swapped their school uniforms for casual clothes and aprons, and went downstairs. The kitchen was filled with a bouquet of scents--buttery pies, earthy herbs, and a hint of fresh lemons. On the kitchen island were a number of plates with their corresponding orders pinned at the bottom. "Whew, you boys took your time," Mom said while keeping a careful eye on the fish searing in the pan. "I've got all those dishes ready, so I need the both of you to serve them. There's the table numbers there too. Let's go!"

Sam wasted no time sending the dishes to the proper tables--the chicken pot pie and apple tea set was for Mr. and Mrs. Castro on table six, the mango graham float was for Cherry on table two. Rico's here with the usual matcha toast and milk tea. ("Hey Rico!" Sam said, the two buddies giving each other a high-five) and the oyster chowder and cantaloupe cooler was for the small Unden on table one. As he was about to leave for the next order, the otter-slash-walrus-like Unden had called for him again. Sam noted the specialized glasses the Theran wore and the rather formal attire that wrapped around the small, yet long body. "Yes, is there anything the matter?"

"Well, I just happened to pass by this place because I've heard from everyone that you serve great food," he said. Rubbing his chipped tusk with a black paw, while the other took the spoon and chipped the pie crust into the soup. A rich creamy aroma wafted from the cup, and eager for a bite, the Unden scooped a spoonful of chowder and brought it close to his nose. "And I can certainly say this is going to be a wonderful meal, but--"

The Unden looked at the direction of the counter where Keith had taken over cashier duty. "--I was wondering why is the Feral handling the cash register? Aren't you afraid he might bite one of your customers?"

Sam pressed his lips flat in mild annoyance. "Sir, I'm sure he's doing his best not to do... that, and besides, he's good with numbers, it's why we have him on the cashier."

The Unden nodded and took a bite of a spoonful. "I see, I see. Compliments to the chef by the way!" The Theran chortled and made light elbow jabs at Sam's stomach. "Still, odd place to see a Feral here. Usually, they'd be locked up in Sanatoriums the moment a human turns to one. Why so?"

"To be honest, I have no idea. Sorry to cut the convo, but I gotta serve the other customers." Sam bowed to the rude customer and gave him a mock smile before taking a brisk walk to the counter.

Three hours later, the bistro had closed and Mom asked for the two boys to stay downstairs for a while. They sat on the island, with the two boys on one side and their mother leaning with hands clasped together on the other. "So boys, tomorrow's going to be the day of the exhibit. It's our first catering job. The museum was gracious enough to provide the decor themselves, so we only need to focus on serving the food. From what I've heard there's going to be at least a hundred people in the opening banquet, that means a hundred orders for each dish.

"Now I've already got most of the preparation done throughout this week, so all we need to do now is cook. Sam, I need you to start filling those trays with cake mix. Keith, help me carry all the ingredients from the pantry. We're going to be starting with carrot cake slices."

Soon, the kitchen came alive as pots burbled and clacked, mixers whipped, and potatoes sizzled in the hot oil. Every now and then, Mom would check how Sam was doing, and gently point out that he might have added a bit too much chili powder in the marinade, or to remind him to dry the wings and drumsticks before coating them in flour. And if he was at a loss, she'd encourage him to look for alternatives to the solution.

Sam wiped the sweat off his brow as he slid the pieces of buffalo chicken into the bottom oven. He made a quick detour towards the upper oven and took a quick peek. A smile came together on his face as the muffins rose and took on the scent of chocolates and blueberries. He heard a thud from the refrigerator door as Mom took out a bag of orange pastry creme and filled one of the finished pie shells with the filling. She then took a bowl of freshly cut strawberries halves and placed each of them in a starburst pattern before applying a liberal amount of strawberry glaze over her famous strawberry tart.

Sam marveled at that level of expertise ever since he was a kid. Him and Keith would hang out in the kitchen every now and then to help out with some of the snacks. He always liked it when Mom asked them to help bread some letter-shaped chicken nuggets or pour fruit juice into the ice cube tray, and when they came out looking wonderfully in their golden brown color, Sam couldn't help but feel proud of what he was able to do.


One day, when he was older, he wanted to be the one to inherit her bistro. He wanted to be able to cook just as well as she did. Until then...

"SAM! The chicken!"

The black scent of burning meat jolted him out of his daydream. He threw the oven door open and rushed to salvage the chicken from their charred fate, but it was too late. The chicken was burnt on one side and under-cooked on the other. Sam slid the poorly cooked poultry onto the table and hung his head low. "Ugh... sorry Mom, I wasn't paying too much attention."

"Sam, that was half of our stock of chicken," his Mom said. "Could you at least be a bit more careful with that?."

Sam mumbled out an apology and Mom shook her head. "Look, just don't let this happen again. I'll find a way to fix this, just go work on the shanghai rolls."

Sam shuffled towards Keith, who had been quietly filling the wraps with the mixture before rolling them. He sat next to him and followed suit. "Tough break, huh?" Keith said.

Sam grabbed a bit too much filling in his hands, and laid it down on the wrapper. "Hey, it's not like I did everything else wrong! I've followed the instructions." Sam paused. "I just got... distracted."

"Yeah, you had a stupid and giddy look on your face. What were you looking at anyway?"

"Hey, I--" Sam pressed the roll a little too hard with his palm, letting all the filling spill out the sides. He tried to fix it, but it ended up looking misshapen. He moaned. "I just wanted to see how Mom made those strawberry tarts, you know? They're her signature dish, and I wanna know how she makes them."

Keith nodded. "You know you could've just waited, it's not like she won't show you how to make them later on."

Sam grabbed another wad of filling, and tried to concentrate this time. "Yeah, but... you know how busy she is with the restaurant! She won't have time to teach me."

"I guess so." Keith said.

"And ever since the last time I made pie, I don't think she's going to let me anywhere close to the baking supplies without her."

"What happened?"

Sam bit his lip. "It exploded."

"Oh, right. I remember now." Keith said. "So what are you going to do about it?"

Sam stopped for a while and, coming up with nothing, shrugged his shoulders. "I thought you could help me find a way."

Keith smiled and messed with his brother's hair. "We'll find something, don't worry."

"Agh! My hair!" Sam cried so loud that Keith flinched.

"I'm sorry! I didn't realize--" said Keith as he tried to salvage the situation.

They continued to make rolls till they've ran out of filling. By then, Mom had already finished most of the food preparations that night, so they decided to head to their rooms. After washing his hair, Sam sat in the bottom rung of the old bunk bed, surrounded by old posters of the Stacey Quinn series and some newer ones like Silhouette Kingdom and Housetrapped. He opened his phone to make a quick search on the net about the upcoming Mash and Bash game when he found news about the exhibit. Curious, he clicked on it.

"The Exhibit on Ancient Theran Civilizations by Professor James Aspen may be closed until further notice," the article stated.

Sam had to inform Mom about what happened, and quickly.