As I approached the bus stop, I mentally went over my check list one more time. I had enough clothes for the days we would be gone, as well as two spare outfits in case anything happened. I had my toothbrush, deodorant, perfume, makeup, sun block, swimsuit, my brush, underwear... I think I was good to go. The weather that Leah had forecast turned out to be true, and the next week was planned to have massive rainstorms for several days. Perfect time for me to be away. Although I felt bad for Robin, she assured me they were used to it and would have everything tented off so no damage would be done. All that was left now was to wait for my friends to join me.
Leah made it to me first, dragging her suitcase with both hands. She looked positively beat and I felt a small smile come to my lips when she let it thunk down next to me. "Hey, I offered," I teased her at once. She was wearing a long sleeve light green shirt with what looked like a blue undershirt. Her normally baggy jeans were tight now, going into brown boots. I had chosen to go with a white tee with a pink heart on the side of it. My jeans were a dirty white with pink threads, also going into boots, but covered the top of them.
"I didn't want you to go out of your way," She panted out, sitting down on the bench with me. "You had a pretty long walk too."
"I took my horse," I replied with a small smile. "He knows his way back home. Robin promised to close the gates when she left for the day, as well as making sure he had enough hay to last him." As we talked, a truck pulled into the bus stop area and we both waved to Pierre when he saw us. Abigail hopped out of the passenger side and reached in the back to grab her luggage, pausing for a moment to hug her father goodbye. "At least she had it easy."
"Hey girls," Abigail greeted us happily. "First day. Pretty soon we'll be thinking back at this moment going 'We had so much time, where did it all go?'"
"Eager to come back already?" I laughed as we all started walking to the bus. Pam turned out to be our driver and, after checking her schedule, realized she had no first class passengers along our path. She gave us a knowing look and, as quietly as a loud mouthed person like Pam could, told us she wouldn't notice if we were to take those seats. This came with above the seat luggage compartments instead of below the bus, to which we were all thankful for. When we boarded we were also greeted with personal air conditioner vents at the front of the bus. The seats had almost double the space as the others and I plopped down with a content and happy sound. I found Leah sitting next to me and leaning against my side.
"Hey no fair!" Abigail protested, pointing at her. "I was going to sit there!"
"You snooze, you lose." Leah winked at her, and I suddenly felt very embarrassed. "I claim this spot."
"Ugh, fine." The purple haired girl sat on the seat across from us and pulled out a Switch. "I wanted to beat the game anyway..."
The trip would take several hours with a few stops along the way. At first, I was content to just look out the window and reminisce of the time I first came to Stardew Valley to stay. Pam had driven me then too, but I didn't know it at the time. Back then, she was just another random face in a pool of faces I've never seen before. I, of course, took this moment to share my thoughts and play with Abigail about scarring my nose. Leah came to her defense and reminded me that their first meeting was me starving for food, and then passing out in the rain. I had certainly had an interesting first couple days in the town, and it seemed like every day was still an adventure. New places I've never seen, new community events to look forward to, and really becoming a place among the town. Even the people I didn't interact with much still knew me, as both Pierre and Gus both had signs about their locally secured produce from Kim.
As the second hour rolled around, I was starting to get bored. Leah seemed to be content sketching Abigail as she played her game, so I counted that idea out. Instead, I watched over her shoulder as her pen scratched the paper. Her lines weren't as crisp as they usually were, a side effect of the constant moving and bouncing. Despite this, it was turning out really well. I lost myself in this for the longest time, until she started to shade, the side of her pencil etching the graphite onto the paper. A particularly nasty pothole made her pencil jet across the paper and ruin a large section of it. I felt devastated at this outcome, but Leah took it in stride, using her soft eraser to smear the mark and turn it into a design onto the girl's shirt.
Leah seemed to notice me looking over her shoulder and looked back at me with a gentle smile. She leaned over and pecked my cheek before turning back to her art. This wasn't missed by Abigail, who looked over at me and gave a soft pout. I was about to say something to her but the bus turned semi sharply and we pulled into a gas station stop along the way. Pam said something about a fifteen minute break for everyone, so we all immediately took the chance to stretch our legs.
The little stop was a cross between a tourist trap and a service station, holding all sorts of cute impulse buys. We each split up almost at once, looking through the aisles and grabbing a few snacks and drinks for the remainder of the trip. I knew we were going to the desert, but after seeing a flavor of soda that I hadn't had in a while, I couldn't help but grab it instead of water. Leah, on the other hand, purchased a large bottle, while Abigail got a frozen slushie style drink. I picked up some sour candy as well and checked out.
When I flomped down in my seat, I felt Abigail fall against me, half laying on top of my body. Looking up at Leah, she gave a very satisfied "You snooze, you lose," along with a peace sign. I couldn't help but laugh at this, even as Abigail pulled my arm around her shoulders so she could cuddle up against me properly. This, of course, made people look at me as they came back onto the bus. I had swapped girls at the stop and a few noticed it. Although I wasn't ashamed of our relationship, I still felt shy about it. I got embarrassed easily, and this was one of the things I wasn't too good with. My cheeks were burning and I hid myself against her hair with my eyes closed until the bus started up again.
Abigail immediately started into her game again, sitting in the seat sideways and forcing me to lean against the window slightly so she could rest her head on my shoulder while gaming. I looked across the aisle at Leah, who had her sketchbook out once again, beaming at me with those large eyes of hers. "Try not to move too much?" She asked of me. I gave a curt nod and subjected myself to being the model of her work yet again.
When we finally arrived at our destination, I let out a very thankful sigh. I was cramped, sore, and stiff from the ride, not to mention hot from the sun bearing in through the window. Stepping outside of the vehicle only offered a different type of scorched heat, though. The sun was intense, and seemed to reflect off of the sand around us. Despite being in a pretty big city, it was still evident that we were in a desert. There was hardly and foliage around, and I couldn't blame them for not wanting to grow in this blazing heat either. I was already sweating and the sun didn't seem to want to refill my mana battery as it did back on the farm. Now it felt like it was just cooking me, and I wanted to get out from it as soon as possible.
"So what first?" Abigail's voice came up as we looked around. We were on a busy street with masses of people going every which direction. There were flashing lights at every building, fountains that were shooting water jets in patterns, and in all I felt almost overwhelmed by the sheer atmosphere of the area.
"I think our hotel?" Leah offered rationally.
"Yeah, let's get checked in and go from there." I began walking, but took only a few steps before I hesitated. "Which... way should we be going again?"
"Our fearless leader, everyone." Abigail rolled her eyes.
"This way," the artist of the group lead us.
"How can you tell?" I pondered.
Leah pointed. "Because the sign over there is the same as the hotel we booked for us." I immediately felt embarrassed beyond belief. "Come on, Kimmy, I'll hold your hand so you don't get lost." I didn't know which was more embarrassing; the sudden pet name or being lead around so I wouldn't get lost. Thankfully this only lasted for a few moments before we were inside the hotel. At least I thought it was a hotel. Almost the entire ground floor was a giant casino with flashing lights and attractive sounds. I lost myself in it for a moment. Each beeping, twirling tone of slot machines, as well as the gimmicky video poker game. The dealers calling out signs and cards and numbers almost sucked me right in, wanting to experience it all for myself. This must have been evident on my face, because Leah pulled me back to reality with a little tug. "Let's go," she insisted while grinning. "Let's get our luggage upstairs before we do anything else."
After a relatively painless check in, we were given key cards to our room as well as free food coupons for their buffet. Even still, we were each handed over a five dollar voucher to use on a slot machine of our choice. I gave my friends a look and pointed with my free hand. "Come on girls, just one spin! It's free money, let's go all or nothing!"
"I'm down," Abigail smirked as she walked with me.
"Sure, why not?" Leah followed suite. Arriving at the first one I saw, we all scanned our coupons, bringing the machine's credit count up to fifteen.
"All on one line, or multiple lines?"
"All on one!" Abigail was leaning forward, grinning at the spin wheel.
Leah crossed her arms and thought a moment before shaking her head and laughing. "Okay, all on one line! Win big or bust!"
I reached for the handle and let each girl place their hands on mine before we all three pulled on it together. The dazzling lights danced to the sound of spinning and whistling of the machine. A small fanfare played as the three wheels began to stop. The first one landed on a parsnip, the middle one on another parsnip, and I held my breath as the tones playing from the machine suddenly sped up. The final parsnip was falling into place, slowly rolling down to lock into to slot, but stopped just short. The sirens still went off, though, and I realized we got a wild card instead!
Our credit counter was going nuts, the numbers going up and up and up as the bells and music filled my every sense. After what seemed like ages, it finally stopped, showing a solid six hundred dollars. I scanned my room key on the machine and the balance was transferred to it immediately. "We won six hundred dollars..." I whispered out in shock.
"We won!" Abigail hugged me roughly. "Oh Kim, we did it! Check it out! What should we do with it?"
"Let's spend it." Leah offered at once. "Let's each take a hundred to use on the casinos only, and keep the other hundred each to buy our meals and entertainment. Let's not waste this chance to have a blast!"
"But we have some free lunches already," I realized, looking at our coupons. "Which means we'll have more to spend on anything at all... Girls, I think we just officially started our vacation!
By the time we had put our luggage away, I was itching to get something in my stomach. The buffet seemed like the best place for this, so I pulled along my girlfriends past the crazy sounds and lights of the casino area and over towards where my nose was beckoning me. "There's no way this is free," I gasped out when we walked past the tables towards where we registered our coupons. "Is that steak? Oh my goodness, I'm going to eat steak and lobster and not pay a dime for it!?"
Abigail was already drooling slightly. "I see so many yummy things... I 'm going to stuff my face until I can't move!"
Leah was right there with us, eyes wide as she eyed one table in particular. "That salad bar looks phenomenal!" At once, we both stopped and stared at her. She caught this after a few more steps and looked back over her shoulder, face tinted red. "What? Not all of us eat things that were alive!"
"Fish are alive," I mused, making her pout at me.
"They don't feel things like that, though!"
"Okay, okay," Abigail walked between us, having dealt with Leah's odd eating habits for much longer than I have. "Let's just all get what we want, and meet up. Deal?"
We answered in unison. "Deal." I began my attack at once, grabbing everything that I wanted, and trying a few things that I didn't even know what they were. In all, my plate was stacked and I arrived to our table first. I decided to wait on them to catch up, although I did sneak a small bite of a shrimp that looked lonely over on the side of my dish. When Leah joined, she had just what I expected: a huge salad with different types of dressings in small containers as well. Abigail landed shortly after and we all raised our drinks together to clink in a toast. "To us," I laughed out, getting the words repeated by my two friends.
Once we were done eating, and having a small battle with Abigail over who could eat the most shrimp that I won, we made our way to the casino area properly. I felt extremely excited and just itching to try everything at once. "Try to keep your phones where you can feel them," I told them a little loudly over the racket around us. "I don't think we'll hear it over this noise. Should we meet up at any specific time?"
"Three hours?" Leah suggested while eyeing the craps table. "Ooooh I've always wanted to try this after I painted a picture of dice a while back!"
"Three hours sounds great," Abigail agreed. "I'll be at the poker table, I saw it on the television a few times and always thought it'd be cool to try it. What about you?" Her green eyes turned to look at me. "What vice does Kim have?"
"I'm thinking the slots again, I'm not too good with this kind of stuff. Too much math involved." I pointed over to a section that had the farm themed slot machines like the one we had won big on. "I'll be over there, I think. Might wander around."
"Be safe!" They both told me at once, making me feel a little like a kid. Despite this, we all split up and headed to our own respective areas. I hit up the slots curiously, watching the spinning wheels and flashing lights along with the addicting sounds of coins falling into metal trays, the beeping of near misses, and the alarms of a random but semi often big winner. After almost an hour at one place, I moved to another, suddenly finding it really interesting how they incorporated games that I was used to seeing on social media. I even lost twenty dollars on a flappy bird binge that I didn't regret at all.
When the time to meet up finally came, I found Abigail already looking around at the spot where we split, and joined her after a moment. "Hey! How are you doing?"
"Sucky, I'm half way down," she admitted with a light grin. "Cards aren't my thing. It's a lot different when you can't see what the other people have." Her words made me snort out a laugh, getting my shoulder a good punch. "How are you then?" She crossed her arms, giving me a playful smirk. "Slots are rigged, everyone knows that."
"Thirty up!" I announced with a peace sign. "I lost a lot all at once, but I built myself back up after walking around a lot. But where's Leah at? She's not normally once for being late." We both looked around and scanned the area before seeing a table that was more crowded than the others. Curiously, we walked over to it and stood in shock at the sight before us. Leah, in all her glory, was at the head of the table, rolling the dice and getting cheers from everyone around her. She was apparently doing very well, as she had two rather hot looking guys trying to fight for her attention between rolls.
When she noticed us, her eyes lit up even more and she waved over in a call. "Kim! Abby! Come look, I'm on a roll!"
"Was that a pun?" Abby pondered as we made our way over. Once next to her, Leah held the dice in her hands
"Blow for good luck!" She requested of me, making my face blush dark red. "Come on, I saw someone else do it and they got a good roll! I need an eight!" She held her hand with the two dice in them closer and I reluctantly blow softly onto them, getting glares from the guys around. This seemed to satisfy the girl and she threw the dice along the table. Seconds went by before cheers erupted again.
"Holy heck," Abigail leaned over to the stack of chips in front of her friend. "How much do you have!?"
"I don't know," she admitted with a laugh. "I keep forgetting what the colors mean."
"Did you...Did you drink?" I leaned forward and tried to sniff at her, but she started playing again. I then noticed a bottle by her chips and the girl nodded airily to finally answer my question.
"Really cute girl in a bunny outfit brought it for me! You get free drinks here!"
I met Abigail's eyes and we both nodded in agreement. "Come on, Leah, let's get you some fresh air."
"But I'm winning!" She protested with a pout.
Abigail helped her get the chips in front of herself and I laughed softly while telling the dealer we had to go. Several people complained, but we still managed to get away and over to a bench to sit on. "Geeze Leah, you're loaded! There's almost three hundred here!" The purple haired girl gasped out.
"I put my original hundred back in my purse," She admitted, grinning a little bit too wide as she eyed me up and down. "Didn't want to lose it. Hey Kimmy, you're looking rather nice tonight, I must say." Her voice got a little huskier as she leaned closer. "Hey, what say we-"
"Get some fresh air!?" I squeaked out, face red. "Lovely idea!" The three of us cashed out our chips and left the hotel/casino to go into the dark night. At least, it would be dark if there weren't thousands of lights glaring and casino signs flashing all different kinds of crazy. "The City that never sleeps?" I asked curiously.
"That's Sagev, we're in Reno." Abigail corrected me absently. "World's biggest little city."
As a gust of cold wind blew around us, our friend started to collect herself a little. "Wow, that's cold," she complained softly. "What time is it anyway?"
"Close to midnight, I'm assuming, since we had such a late dinner that lasted so long." I looked around as the wind whipped my ponytail against Abigail. "I'm not tired yet, are you girls?" They each shook their head, making me grin. "Then... On the town!"
The next several hours almost became a blur in my mind. We hit up at least three other casinos, as well as a hamburger joint to eat. Leah, who was still slightly under the influence, even ate a bite of my hamburger. Despite her moanings of how good it tasted, Abigail and I both made a silent promise to each other not to ever bring it back up again. By the time we were remotely getting ready to call it quits for the night, we all ended up staying on a high in the city to watch the sun rise. With the cold air slowly becoming warmer and warmer, and with full stomachs and energy, we decided to just power on through the day.
"Let's go to the new cave," Abigail suggested after a while of watching the sun. "We can probably catch the early morning group before they go in. I'd like to talk with a few of my friends who are over here."
Leah nodded and pointed out in the distance. "To the caves!"
The mines came into view not too long after we left the bus station. It was certainly different from the one back home, as it was crowded and seemingly harmless. Abigail was looking over my shoulder, as I sat by the window, and hummed to herself at the sight. "Looks like it's in full swing, doesn't it?"
"It's different for sure," I agreed. I hadn't thought about it, but the mines I was so used to going into had been abandoned long ago. These caves were freshly discovered, not a month ago, and several different companies were already biting each other at the heels to get the goods first. "It's kind of weird, seeing different types of places like this." I voiced my thoughts aloud as we came to a slow stop. "I lived in the city most all my life, and never thought much about the rural areas. Monsters and wars were something we learned about in books, not actually seeing. To think that there are whole corporations and guilds devoted to the things is just... Really shocking. I'm so glad our caves are so passive. I can't imagine worrying about these kinds of things every night."
I felt Abigail place a protective arm around my shoulder as she waited for the bus doors to slide open, signaling it was safe for us to disembark. "You chose that part of farming, even though its' harder," Her voice was a whisper. "You could have chosen a tractor, or purchased your tools from many different places. Instead of that, you decided to go into the mines with me, and I promised that I would protect you." She looked at me, and for a moment, I saw a really deep emotion in her eyes as she drank me in. "I hope you know how much I mean that." Just as fast as it came, the mood broke with her kissing my forehead and beaming at me. "Ready!?"
"Ready!" All three of us hopped off the bus and looked around curiously. Several people were walking around, while others were under tents looking at maps and blueprints. There were multiple adventurers around, standing out from the crowd with their armor and weaponry. I saw Abigail hold her purse closer to herself, and I knew at once she had her daggers in there.
"Abby," I called her in a serious voice. Both girls looked at me and I nodded my head to her bag. "You should let me carry those for you."
"I won't pull them out," she replied in a tone that told me I didn't have a chance of convincing her otherwise. "We'll be fine. We're just looking, not going into. I can't fight for another two weeks. If I did anything like that, I'd be barred for life. Can't take that risk." Her words made me stand my ground and when I refused to walk anymore, my friend finally let out a low growl. The purse fell from her shoulder and into her hand before offering it out to me. I gave her mine and we swapped without another word.
Leah chose to not press the matter and instead lead the way over to the entrance. We were stopped when we were close enough by a random person whose uniform I didn't recognize. "Excuse me ladies," he greeted with a smile. "There are some monsters inside the cave, so we really can't let anyone go in without protection. There are a few adventurers over to the side there," he pointed with a hand while talking. "They would be more than happy to lend a hand if you wish to go sightseeing. Be warned, though, only the first area is available for viewing. The rest is being worked on, so it's not safe in general. Please understand."
I had almost expected people to flat out refuse to let us in, but in the back of my mind I did know this place was not private property. "Thank you," I smiled at him. "We'll hire one, thank you."
We departed over to the shaded canopy where more than a handful of people lounged around. They all eyed us as we entered into the shadows and Abigail spoke up on our behalf. "Hey guys, we're looking for a big, strong, man to guide us into the mines so we can take pictures!" Her voice was super cute and she even threw in a giggle at the end. At once a few of them stepped forward, offering prices that got lower and lower and they battled themselves for our services. When all was said and done, we had a guide for only a handful of coins, even less than Abigail had charged when she was still working.
Upon entering the caves, I had thought I'd be happy to be out of the scorching sun, but instead I felt a feeling of disgust in my body. Truthfully I was more than a little tired after pulling an all-nighter, but for some reason the sun didn't recharge my mana like it normally did. Instead, I felt almost withered, as if my energy was being pulled from me instead. My two friends were looking around with wide eyes, though, and I pushed my feelings down for their enjoyment. I could sleep later. For now, we were here to have fun!
The caves were cool, almost cold coming from the heat outside. We crossed over a bridge that was recently made and stopped to look down to a pool of water a few stories under it. There were electric lights around the area, dimly lighting it up. I could tell everything was already being mined and prospected for riches, and it was really cool to see the process of it. Going deeper and deeper in, I was amazed at just how staggeringly huge it was. The first floor where we were alone was already the size of the three levels that I knew of in the mines back home. And this was only the safe zone.
"This is really cool," Leah's voice came up as we continued to walk around and explore with our guide who went by the name Matt. "I was always curious to go into the mines back home, but was too scared."
"Join the club," Abigail chuckled to herself. "That was fun, wasn't it Kim?...Kim?"
"Huh? Oh yeah, right." I rubbed my arm, looking around as I felt the cold chill move around my body. "Man it's drafty in here for being a cave, huh? Is that normal for something this size?"
"Last time I checked, wind doesn't generate from rocks," Leah laughed at me.
"You cold?" Abigail looked like she wanted to offer me a jacket or something, but had nothing to offer. "Should we go back?"
"Nah, I'm good." I brushed off the feeling and continued our self-guiding tour until we came upon a rather large group of people marching towards us. "Oh hey, I think I recognize that guy... yeah isn't that Ryou?"
"Ryou?" Abigail turned to where I was pointing and nodded. "Yeah, it is!"
Ryou, the archer who had taken me to the tenth floor of the Pelican Town mines, was leading a small expedition of workers towards the front of the cave. When his eyes landed on us, he frowned instantly "I told them not to let anyone in," His words were a mix between concerned and annoyed. Almost at once he looked towards Abigail, who made a motion with her thumb to Matt.
"I paid him to keep us safe," she revealed with a shrug. "Should be fine."
"No. You won't." Ryou pointed to the entrance, which by now was just barely visible thanks to the light outside. "We need to leave. Right now."
"What happened?" I turned to walk along with him, rubbing my arms and exhaling a puff of fog from my mouth. "Why is it so cold, does no one else notice that?"
Ryou stopped and looked at me, eyes wide. "Kim. When was the last time you recharged?"
"I dunno, I thought the sun would do it. I-"
"You're in a desert, Kim. The sun withers plants here. Are you okay? Have you eaten?"
"I'm full. Had lots of food and sports drinks so we wouldn't get tired. Though we did stay up all last-st-st-st" My teeth were chattering now and I rubbed my arms vigorously in my stutter. "Man it's really cold!"
Abigail made her way to me, but stopped when Ryou held out his arm. "Abigail. Stay back." His hand slowly started moving down to the quiver of arrows hung on his hip.
"Ryou?" I asked, confused. "Is... is something behind me?" My vision started going more and more dim as I looked around myself. "I... don't...see... anything..." I stumbled and shook my head. "I'd... like to leave..."
"Kim!" Leah ran towards me, but Ryou grabbed the back of her shirt and ripped her backwards.
"Everyone back!" He nocked and drew his bow, aiming it above me. "I'll distract it, Abigail, you get your friend!"
I looked at Abigail for help, her eyes wide with fear. I felt the chill grip my insides and managed to take one more step before falling forward in blackness, my mana nearly depleted.
When I awoke, I felt more dead than alive. My whole body hurt, and I had a searing headache that almost threatened to make me black out again. I groaned and moved to bring my hand up to my face, but found that it couldn't move. I tried again to the same effect and opened my eyes slowly. I was in a hospital room. An IV was hung up next to me, along with a silent heart monitor showing my beats. Letting out another groan, I tried to sit up, only to find that I couldn't move my upper body either. As my senses started to come back, I realized that I was strapped down to the bed by leather belts. 'What!?' My mind raced. I saw Leah suddenly over me, mouth moving but no words coming out.
Leah? I coughed, my words catching in my throat. The stinging in my head started to pick up and I could now feel a jabbing pain in my ears. What's going on!? I demanded of her. I tried to move my arms again, now wrestling as hard as I could. Why am I tied up? What's happening!? My commotion brought another person to my bedside, also silently mouthing things to me. I don't understand! I screamed, the pain in my head making my words inaudible to myself.
Now I saw Abigail limping to the front of my bed. She was in a hospital gown, bloody bandages across one side of her face and in her hair. The loose fabric of her button up was partially undone, showing a chest wrap. Both her hands were bandaged and bleeding as well, her face showing clear signs of pain. Abby!? What happened!? She mouthed words to me, but not being able to make them out only made me struggle more. Help me Abby! Get me out! I jerked and pulled on the belts, thrashing in the bed.
Leah once more came into my view, crying as she hovered over me. Her lips moved again and a teardrop landed on my cheek. Finally, a realization dawned upon me. The heart monitor wasn't on silent. My headache wasn't making me unable to focus on my own words. My friends weren't mouthing out things around me... I can't hear...
My words made everyone stop at once. I can't hear! I screamed out louder, looking around in a panic. What happened to me!? Why can't I hear anything!? Why am I tied up!? The silence was crushing. I knew I should be making lots of noise as I struggled, but nothing was there. My friends' voices were gone, their comfort passing as if it weren't there. I couldn't focus on anything except trying to bring my hands to my head, to make any type of sound at all to see if I could somehow recognize it. Instead, all I got was silence. Crushing silence that consumed every soundless breath I took. Finally, I saw a doctor next to me, injecting something into my IV drip. I shouted for him to help me, that I couldn't hear anything, but he only looked down at me sadly. My hand was taken by Leah and I looked up at her with blurry eyes, tears streaming down my face. She was trying to tell me something as she stroked my hand. The effect must have been calming because I started to drift off into a deep sleep once more.