64 The Cube
The town of Sand Pit was named after the place it was built into. Aside from the small sandstone mountain, the majority of the town was underground. The perforated sandstone structure that made up the structure of the town was like an iceberg, with only the tip showing above the surface.
As Zoey and Viridi entered the gates following Athena, they were greeted by a downward slope that led into a central area that was a big sand pit formed from a large cavern. This looked like the hub of the town as there were stalls and vendors set up along the sides and people coming and going from the various exits including the one they came through.
To Zoey's surprise, they had some form of magical lighting set up that almost looked like it ran off of electricity, but Zoey could tell it was magically operated. The wiring and metal light fixtures gave the area a distinct feeling that would not have been out of place in eighteenth century Gaia. In fact, there was a large amount of magical tech on display here in Sand Pit. Zoey could see neon signs advertising some of the shops and some even had fancy looking displays that looked rudimentary, but operated like a traditional TV would have back on Gaia. All of the tech was powered by a mess of wiring and piping that let to magical stones and batteries that were placed in cradles either nearby or on the tech itself, depending on the size of what it was.
"You got a place to stay hun?" Athena's question pulled Zoey back to reality.
Zoey shook her head. Nito had said to come here but had not given any other instructions after that. So she really had no idea where to go.
"Well, you can stay at my place while you figure out what you plan to do. My doors will always be open to you," Athena said as she let the way through the sandstone tunnels that made up the town's streets.
Athena's place was a cozy apartment cut into the sandstone and illuminated by magically powered lamps that gave the place a warm atmosphere. Athena had comfortable furniture and a full kitchen to boot, and there was a bathroom with magical plumbing, but sadly, no shower. There were two beds that were carved into the wall, and Athena had enough bedding to share with Zoey.
The two settled in got comfortable as Viridi explored the apartment. Athena made some food with a smaller portion for Zoey. She had become aware of the small amount that Zoey ate on the trip here, and she thought it was unnatural, not to mention unhealthy. Zoey explained to her that her body was different than a normal human's, so she needed less food. Athena had been sceptical about that explanation, but had not pressed the matter after that.
After they ate, Zoey noticed that Athena had a lot of damaged gear sitting in one corner of her apartment. When Zoey asked about it, Athena said that good gear was hard to find. Most of the gear one could buy here in Sand Pit would barely last a single trip out to the frontier before becoming useless. If you managed to scrape enough money together, you could go to one of the mercenary companies to get something made, but the craftsmen that worked for the mercs were always busy, so you may not see your order for months, depending how much you paid up front.
Zoey nodded to herself thoughtfully. She now had an idea on how to repay Athena for the kindness she had shown. Thanks to her, Zoey had food and a place to stay. If she had been on her own coming to Sand Pit who knows where she would have ended up.
The next day, Athena headed out early so she could take care of some business. She told Zoey that she would be back by noon so they could go take a look around town. Zoey in turn spent the morning repairing and improving the busted gear in Athena's apartment. She could have tried to pay Athena back with the essence stones in her inventory, but Athena would have likely rejected her, saying something about no payment needed between sisters. So Zoey would repay her this way. She would figure it out next time she looked at the pile and saw that all the gear looked brand new.
Athena returned like she said, so Zoey and Viridi followed her on a tour of town. Sand Pit was not very big, so there was not really that much to see aside from the market. The above ground portion of the town was completely controlled by the mercs, so it was not a good idea to go there unless you had business with them.
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The market was located in the sandy basin at the center of the town's structure and was the liveliest place in town. There were stalls selling everything from food to magical trinkets. The trinkets was what Zoey was most interested in as she wanted to see if there was anything she could learn from them and incorporate into her own designs.
Zoey did find some interesting items. There was a strange puzzle cube at one of the vendors. It was a four sided cube with nine squares on each side. Each square was etched with a symbol that had a specific meaning and the goal was to solve the cube by aligning the symbols so that they formed the correct structure. It was very similar to puzzle cubes Zoey had seen back on Gaia, but this one had another dimension to it. By pressing in on one of the squares you could move the symbol to the opposite side of the cube and swap it with the symbol there. One would think that this would make it easier to solve, but it actually made the cube more complex.
Zoey parted with a couple of silver for it and stored it away so she could look at it later. Athena in the meantime had actually bought a charm for Zoey as a gift. It was a necklace that was made from wood and had a faint pine scent to it. Zoey though it odd that Athena insisted that she wear it, but she liked the scent so she happily wore it and thanked Athena for her generosity.
It was nice to have a friend like Athena.