After the Kreppelins had disappeared from sight, Zoey and Viridi cautiously emerged from their hiding place and headed back towards Sand Pit themselves. Zoey was worried about more nobles causing trouble, but Athena would be waiting for her, and she had something for her friend. So, they carefully made their way back, keeping careful watch over the sky as they went, just in case the Kreppelins had not left.
When they finally spotted the twinkling lights of Sand Pit, the faint light of dawn was peeking its way over the eastern horizon. Zoey could now see that the three Kreppelins had anchored on the ground close to the town, and there was some activity going on around them. Looks like she would have to go the hidden way into town if she wanted to avoid attention.
As she approached the hidden entrance to the town, she realized that someone was there already. It was Athena, and the tall woman motioned Zoey and Viridi over once she saw them. Zoey was once again caught in a bear hug as Athena enthusiastically greeted her. Viridi was not left out and got a hug of her own and a pat on the head as well.
"You seem have gotten a bit stronger since you left! You were only gone a few days!" Athena remarked with surprise as they entered the hidden cave through the illusion barrier.
"Yeah, we stumbled into a Heavy Stone Lizard habitat and were nearly put in a bad situation, but thanks to Viridi, we managed to make it out ok," Zoey told her.
Athena looked surprised for a moment, then said, "Oh, yeah. I should have probably warned you about that area before you went out, but it's good that you're ok. You got to Rank 4 then?"
"Yeah, we got to Rank 4. We also ran into Doris out there and had a little spar which was interesting, and we ran into a huge Heavy Stone Lizard too right before those Kreppelins showed up," Zoey gave her the brief rundown about what they had encountered.
"Doris was out there too? How did the spar go? He's usually really competitive," Athen asked with some interest.
Zoey smiled and said, "We didn't go all out, just tested one another a little. I would consider it a draw at best."
Athena laughed and clapped Zoey on the back, "Only you could go toe-to-toe with a veteran Rank 5 warrior as a Rank 4 yourself and come out in a draw! Do you know what his Heritage is?"
Zoey shook her head. She had no idea what Heritage Doris had.
"He has a Heritage known among the Vekt as the Celric Heritage. It has been called one of the strongest Heritages that a Vekt can inherit, and gives them access to some of the strongest known innate talents a Vekt can possess. Even though he is only Rank 5, when we spar he gets stronger the longer the fight lasts. As strong as I am, I would have some trouble keeping up with him after a while."
Zoey nodded thoughtfully as she digested the information. Doris seemed to have held back more than she initially thought.
After a moment she asked Athena, "Your innate talent has something to do with spears and staves right?"
"Sure does hun! I have a Heritage that is kind of rare called Amazorii Heritage. It was once made famous by a country of women warriors that were incredible fighters. That country disappeared long ago, but the Heritage they were known for will still appear in some of their descendants from time to time." She pointed at herself with a grin, then continued, "My innate talent that I got actually just made me better at fighting, but when Sethrii found me and took me in, she also fixed my Heritage and innate talent. I didn't really understand it, but she said something about the bloodlines losing strength over time or something.
Anyway, after she did that, I got even stronger and my innate talent gave me this staff. The staff can turn into a spear and do some interesting stuff like pop any corrupted beasties like a pimple!" Athena finished her explanation with a thump of her staff on the ground and another grin at Zoey.
Zoey was learning that this universe had a lot of parallels and similarities when compared to her old universe, but that was not important now. As they talked they had made their way to the underground waterway that would get them into Sand Pit and help them avoid the nobles. Neither of them wanted anything to do with them. The did not take long to swim through the tunnels and emerge in the lower section of the town.
As they dried themselves off, Zoey sent Viridi back to her inner world and turned to Athena. "Do you have any idea why the nobles showed up here?" she asked her friend.
Athena finished drying her brown hair before she answered, "It's probably because of the dungeon. Things like that tend to happen around here from time to time, and the southern nobles show up to trade for the artifacts. If it were the northern nobles, shit would go crazy. Nobody in this town likes the northern nobles, mostly because most of the people here come from the north. The southern nobles generally are more agreeable in Sand Pit as long as you don't insult them, so usually it does not cause trouble... but this time you are here... "
Athena furrowed her brow for a moment as she looked at Zoey, then continued, "Sammy has been telling me that there are a lot of stronger nobles here this time, and one is as strong as me, if not stronger... we should be careful. If the nobles realize that a Harmonic Heritage is in this town, southerners or not, they will stop at nothing to get to you."
Zoey agreed wholeheartedly with that statement. Nobles had been nothing but trouble since she had gotten to this world.
"Come on, let's get back to my place, I have something there that I think you will want to see!" Athena said as they finished drying off the last of the water. They quickly donned some disguises and headed into the lower tunnels of Sand Pit towards Athena's apartment. They took care to avoid the high traffic areas of the town as they went, keeping their eyes peeled for the nobles and their troops on the way.
Despite the early morning hours, Sand Pit was buzzing with activity as the arrival of the nobles stirred everyone up. Zoey could tell that the reaction the townspeople had to the nobles was mixed. Some were angry and voiced their displeasure to anyone who would listen. Others were excited and gathered up all their artifacts to go trade with the nobles for items that were hard to get in Sand Pit. She would have to ask Athena about the mercenary companies and how they would handle the nobles showing up.
They made it back to Athena's place without incident, and quickly went inside and closed the door. As Zoey looked around to see what surprise Athena had for her, she froze when she saw it. In the living room of the apartment, tied to a chair and gagged, was Nito!