Alys, Chaz, and Hahn bolted down the many steps of Piata academy, nearly bumping into students and faculty as they hurried. The crowding students and staff alike watched the trio race past them in a rush. Hahn was feeling more excited than ever, relieved to know where the professor went, and was hell-bent on finally finding him. Was he really about to embark on an adventure, and travel to unfamiliar and dangerous terrain? Rushing at their side, he glanced over at the two hunters.
"How are we on supplies?"
"We have a few monomates and an antidote," Alys replied, moving ahead of the two men. She fell silent; her expression pensive.
"Okay. Should that be enough?"
"If not, there's the city of Mile on the way," The huntress quipped, in a rather quiet tone. "We can stop by if we need to."
"Mile?" The blond kid scoffed. It's more of a shithole than a city!"
"Well, regardless, if we need to stop by Mile, then we really need to hurry," Hahn pressed.
Alys's eyes were fixated on the ground as she moved briskly. "Zio," she mumbled to herself. "I don't like the sound of that... that name. This worries me."
Chaz caught up with her quick pace, and looked at her with a concerned expression, as if he read her thoughts. "Hey, Alys? When did you hear about this 'Zio' person?"
She faced the teenager and looked him dead in the eye before turning away, and averting her eyes. There was a pregnant pause before she decided to answer. "From some time ago. An... old friend mentioned his name before, in concern."
"In concern? Who? Who knew of Z-"
"I said, Chaz, an old friend," she responded, cutting him off, with annoyance in her voice. "Someone... who also studied the art of magic."
Despite her irritated, uncooperative tone, the blond kid still pressed with a grin. "Magic? Wait, you knew someone who-"
"We're due to head Northeast of here, as that is the location of Birth Valley," Hahn interrupted, the anxiety wavering in his voice. "We need to make haste."
An expression of worry still on her face, Alys nodded in agreement, while her mind seemed elsewhere. "...Yeah. Let's get the hell out of this town. As soon as we exit and hit the sand, be on your guard for sand worms."
They started to make their way towards the city gates. As the three hurried through the town, they passed the Piata city fountain, where a loud group of college kids were loitering as they blasted music, drank alcohol, and splashed each other with the fountain water. With curious expressions, they noticed the trio rush past.
"Hey dudes, check it out! That's Hahn with those hunters from Aiedo I was tellin' you about."
"You better not let him see you out here having fun, Rudo," laughed another college kid. "Aren't you supposed to be studying to get into that science program?"
"Hey, Haaaaaaahn!" Yelled one blonde student, scantily clad in shorts and a bikini top. "I could use a private science tutor – for some anatomy!" She laughed. "Call me, sweetheart!"
Cat calls and whistles sounded as laughter exploded from the crowd, and Hahn's cheeks turned a deep crimson. Saying nothing in response, it was clear he was intent on passing the city gates even quicker.
Alys bit her lower lip, tying not to laugh, as Chaz put a finger to his lips. "Private tutor? Anatomy? Wait – I don't... oh."
After getting the okay to leave from the city guards, the companions passed the gates and left the safety of the city's boundaries, their hearts heavy and intent on traveling to Birth Valley. thirty minutes quickly past as they trekked through the heavy sand, and then, an hour. The hot Motavian sun shone brightly in the sky as large dragonflies whizzed past them, and the rustling of roaming sand worms – dangerous and volatile – could be heard over the numerous, never ending sand dunes. Hahn nervously clutched his dagger. He had zero experience fighting sand worms, and, despite his skills, he knew that if he faced them alone, it would be certain death. Suddenly, he felt glad to be working alongside the kid, and the woman. Especially the woman. For her skills, of course.
A few moments later, Alys halted the group with her hand. Pausing, she grabbed a bottle of monomate from her belt and took a quick swig, then handed the bottle to Chaz. Her sharp eyes scanned the landscape. "See there?" She asked, pointing ahead. "That's the city of Mile. I'd like to make a quick stop and upgrade our weapons." She scowled at the monomate bottle Chaz had completely downed. "And, pick up some more monomates, apparently..."
Hahn frowned at her. "Do we really need to? Because the professor..."
"Will be found," Alys interrupted. "Really, Mahlay, I'm not kidding. The new weapons will benefit us in that Birth Valley cave - and I'll make the roll into town quick. Promise." She gave the science scholar a quick wink, and shyly, he quickly looked away from her.
"Birth Valley is gonna be dangerous," Chaz added, wiping his lips with his sleeve. "Expect it to be full of monsters."
Hahn sighed, noticing that his own dagger was pretty weak. The thought of wielding a stronger blade would certainly be beneficial in a dangerous cave. He knew he had to trust the hunters' expertise. "Okay. You've presented a strong, logical case. Let's go to Mile. But really, we need to make it fast."
Forty minutes later of jogging through the sand, they entered the small city of Mile. There were no city guards, and the people who were dispersed throughout the town seemed to stare at the visiting strangers, some disapprovingly, others with fear in their eyes. The people of Mile were country folk, and most who gathered on the streets were trying to sell their wares. Looking about the scenery, it was interesting to the trio that many were curiously sweeping the streets and dusting their clothes of sand, which appeared to be blowing everywhere throughout the town.
"It's dusty in here," Chaz muttered with a small cough. "Piata wasn't this bad." Hahn took a good look around the vicinity with great interest, and he was about to elaborate on the Motavian weather problem, when an unfamiliar male voice interrupted.
"Hey hey, travelers! Come see my sand-worm ranch!" A civilian man with a full black beard exclaimed. "Hey yeah, you three! What do you think? Isn't it great? This will attract a lot of tourists!"
"Well, he's quite friendly," Chaz mumbled. "Everyone else is looking at us like we're Dezolians."
"Wait, did he say a... sand worm ranch?" Hahn asked, incredulously.
"It's my latest business idea!" The man answered, waving his hands about. "Will you check it out?"
"Um... some other time," Alys replied with an amused smile. "We're in a bit of a hurry, actually."
The rancher frowned. "That's a pity. Come back though, ya hear!"
As they walked away and past the ranch, the brunette huntress let out a laugh. "A sand worm ranch? What the hell?"
Chaz shrugged. "People sure get some eccentric ideas."
"Eccentric, yes," Hahn agreed, "But it's too dangerous."
Alys pointed to shop ahead of them. "Yeah well, in any event, we're here for one reason, and there's the weapons shop. Let's go!"
The three walked into the store, and Alys's face immediately lit up upon seeing all the metal items being displayed on the wall, and in the glass cases. "We've come to the right place, boys. Check out this weaponry!" She paused in front of some slicers, marveling at the shape of the blades, which glinted in the lighting. "Damn!" She whooped. "The skill used to make these blades is extraordinary! And the metal is top quality."
Hahn grinned at her side, noticing Alys pleased by something so simple, yet so stereotypically masculine. "It's hard to believe that a lady likes typical guy stuff."
Alys turned to him, with raised brows. "Who says this is typical guy stuff? Weaponry isn't just for guys. You know, Mahlay, for such a scholar, you say some dumb things."
Hahn though he was going to choke for a moment. Once again she put him in his place. Sure, female hunters were rare in Motavia, but he felt shame at his comment.
"You're right, Alys. I'm sorry."
Smiling, she gave him a little shove. "Don't be such a dork. Now shut up already and check out these daggers!"
As the two talked, Chaz picked up a steel sword, astonished by the relatively cheap price. "Why is it that such towns like Piata has such poor quality of weapons, and yet a small town like Mile has some amazing stuff for a great price?"
"It's them liberals," A gruff man answered, approaching the sales counter. "Them liberal towns don't know their weaponry like the people of Mile."
Alys rolled her eyes as Hahn laughed. "And a little lady like me belongs in the kitchen, right?" She plopped a fistful of meseta on the counter. "Listen up, I'll take both of those slicers, that knife there, and that steel sword Chaz is holding." She smiled, her eyes shining with amusement as she looked at Hahn.
"I think we're now ready for Birth Valley. Let's go and save that damn professor of yours."