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Opening The Door
by Philip Greaves


“So, what can we do?”

“We don’t have much choice. This town is gradually getting poorer and poorer. We need all the money we can get to attract people to Zema and survive, even if it means these Piata people enter Birth Valley…”

“But, it’s the Sacred Valley of Life! A holy place to the citizens of Zema! If we violate it, we will get punished! Mr Mayor, please…”

“I know the facts, Mr Horn, but we have no choice. If I did, I would not be letting Piata stomp all over Birth Valley, but we are desperate. It will just be a risk that we shall have to take… I will contact the Piata headmaster immediately and give him my authorisation. Good night, Horn.”

*     *     *      *     *

Piata was in a festive mood. Even the students and citizens were filled with joy at the adventure that the excavation teams would soon be embarking on. However, it was naturally amongst the professors and the rest of the Academy staff that excitement was at its paroxysm. Lunch hours amongst the professors were filled with passionate talks about what could be found in such a mysterious place, and many evenings were filled with parties, celebrating. A couple of nights before the big day, such a party was organised by the Academy, this time open to the whole of Piata and to anyone else willing to come. The mayor of Zema had naturally been invited, but he had bitterly replied that he was busy.

Hahn Mahlay was present, being part of the Academy’s staff, but this time, he had been able to bring along his fiancée Saya. It was the first time that Saya had been to Piata, or for that matter, to another city other than Krup or Nayla, where her mother lived. She found it very exciting, not the reason of the party (of which Hahn had abundantly talked about), but being in a big city like Piata, and enjoying to be at a big social event where she and Hahn were officially labelled as a “couple”.

“Ah, hello Hahn! Glad you could make it.”

“Hello, Professor. I’d like you to meet my fi…fiancée Saya.”

“Ah, delighted! A pleasure to meet you, miss.”

“Hello. I’ve heard a lot about you from Hahn. It’s a wonderful party, isn’t it?

“Splendid, splendid. Well, I see a friend of mine over there, so I’ll go over to greet him. Enjoy the evening, children.”

Once he was out of earshot, Saya asked Hahn: “So, who was he?”

“Well, you really are a good actress, aren’t you?” said Hahn, chuckling. “That was Professor Holt, my boss. I’m his assistant, remember?”

“Oh, stop it!”, giggled Saya, pushing him playfully. “How can you expect me to remember the name of every single Professor in the Academy? Here, have a drink.”, she added, handing him a glass of champagne. “So, what’s his place on the Zema trip, then?”

“He’s the Head of the Archaeology Department and in charge of the whole expedition. Basically, he’s the one who organised the whole thing. He’ll be supervising the excavations, compiling and classifying all the finds… Everything that is related to the Birth Valley expedition goes through him.”

“Wow. So he’s a big cheese?”

“Not really. He should be though, and I’m not saying that because he’s my boss, but because it’s true. To put it blatantly, he’s one of the few Professors who’s remained a human being in this place. And he’s a cheerful one, I can tell you that… Nothing hits him. Someone could go right up to him, insult him right to his face, and knock him to the floor, and Professor Holt would just think that the guy’s hand slipped and had an unfortunate and sudden tongue twister. Honestly, the guy’s a marvel.”

It took Hahn a few seconds to realise how serious and over-praising he’d been.

“Uh oh, am I turning into a snitch?”

“Yes, but don’t worry about it. After a few drinks, you’ll have forgotten all about it. C’mon, I want to dance.”, said Saya, dragging Hahn onto the dance floor before he could protest and resist.

“How long are you going to be stuck in Birth Valley, then?”

“I’m not really sure. I’ll be part of most expeditions, but not all of them. My role is mostly going to consist of compiling Professor Holt’s notes and recording everything to paper. I won’t have to be there all the time.” he answered, in an attempt to be reassuring, detecting a note of sadness in Saya’s voice.

“Do you always call him Professor, even when he’s not around?”

“I called him that when I met him. Didn’t occur to me to change later on. Old habits die hard, I guess…”

“Do you even know his first name, Hahn?”

“Of course. It’s… Err, it is… Uhh, what’s his first name?”

“Darling, you’re hopeless.”, said Saya, laughing. “Three years, and you still don’t know his first name?”

“I should, shouldn’t I?”

“Yes. Highly recommended.”

They looked up when they heard a spoon tap against a champagne glass. All the main staff of the Birth Valley expedition were sat at one long table, on a little stage. Professor Holt was tapping his spoon against a glass. He looked at the whole room, beaming.

“Ladies and gentlemen, students of Piata Academy and visitors, I would like to take a moment of your time to give a tiny speech regarding our little expedition. I believe that our exploration of Birth Valley will provide us with great knowledge on our past, and in which world our ancestors lived. I believe that all of us will find answers to question I’m sure we have all been pondering. And lastly, I would like to thank all the people who made this project possible: Our dear Principal of Motavia Academy (polite clapping), the mayor of Zema, who I regret to say could not be here tonight, the excavations teams who volunteered so eagerly and who’ve been doing such an excellent job, my assistant Hahn Mahlay, who helped me preserve my sanity throughout the bumps of this project (polite laughs), and finally last but not least my fellow colleagues Professors Zert Plept and Asta Netasi who are investing so much work and effort in this project as much as I am. Thank you and cheers.”, he finished, downing his glass of champagne.

A solid round of applause followed this short speech, before everyone returned to their drinks and conversations.

“Well, that was a short speech, wasn’t it?”, said a male half of a couple, sat not far away from Hahn and Saya.

“A bit pathetic, if you ask me…”, said his wife.

Saya, over-hearing them, said:

“Well, aren’t you going to defend Professor You-Don’t-Know-His-First-Name Holt?”

“Admit it, it was quite a bad speech. Besides, his incapacity of giving good speeches doesn’t make him any less of a great man.”

“You sure it wasn’t because he mentioned you in it?”

“He was only referring to all the Rimits I kept casting on him to avoid him huge headaches…”

Please tell me that’s not all you do as his assistant?”

“Nah, there’s his coffee too… It’s actually hellish, compiling all his notes and all. I have to sacrifice my sanity so he doesn’t lose it. That’s basically my job as his assistant.”

“Well, enjoy your periods of rest then.”

They chinked glasses, and drank deeply.

*     *     *      *     *

Three days later, it was D-Day. An immense crowd had formed in Zema, at the supposed entrance of Birth Valley. Piata and Zema citizens alike had come to witness the beginning of the excavation. The Zemans had manifested openly their hostility and disapproval of the violation of Birth Valley, but part of them was still curious to know what could be behind that door.

Every member of the excavation team was present, with pickaxes, shovels and hammers ready at hand. Symbolically, it was Professor Holt, the instigator of the project, to give the very first blow to the stonewall blocking the entrance of Birth Valley. He made his way through the crowd, with every spectator following him with their eyes, as if he was about to uncover some incredible and impossible truth by destroying that wall. Hahn followed him, having received instructions not to let Professor Holt leave his sight, in case some fanatical Zema citizens decided to protest violently against the opening of Birth Valley. Holt, wearing a protective helmet, approached the entrance of Birth Valley, pickaxe at hand. He held his pickaxe firmly in both hands, and struck at the wall.

Somehow, the crowd had expected the wall to shatter at that blow, or at least slightly crack. Most of them started to laugh at the weak blow that Holt had administered. One of the Hunters accompanying the excavation teams as security, a rather imposing man, snickered and said to Holt “Stand aside, Prof.”. Professor Holt, taken aback, stood aside rather reluctantly. The Hunter faced the wall, raised his hand, and the Foi technique flew from his hand and struck the wall. This was more the explosion that the crowd had been expected. The rocks were smashed to smithereens, and some of them narrowly missed members of the crowd. Everyone applauded, even Holt, who was beaming, as happy as if he’d been the one to open the passageway. He said proudly:

“Well, a bit unexpected, but the breaching was successful nonetheless… It seems that was already a passageway here, which confirmed our previsions. We will now enter “The Sacred Valley Of Life”! Now, as we know not what sort of creatures we might find in there, would…the Hunters care to go first?”

A few of the Hunters laughed inwardly, but they compiled anyway. Every tech-user Hunter casted Foi on thick poles, to be used as torches, which were handed out to all Hunters and members of the excavation teams. It was quite easy to identify the Hunters from the excavation teams, as the excavation teams all wore a protective helmet and either a shovel, pickaxe or hammer. The Hunters were equipped with their own personalised armour, mostly leather, but some wore carbon bodysuits. The main body of the Hunters (composed of around five Hunters) entered first, followed by the excavation teams (with Holt and Hahn in lead), and two or three Hunters closing the march. The darkness of Birth Valley soon enveloped them all, and the crowd posted outside could no longer see them.

Inside the cavern, the hollow echoes reverberated loudly, and every single noise sounded much louder, which put Hahn ill at ease. The home-made torches only lit up the area immediately surrounding the Hunters and archaeologists, and some scuttling could be heard in the shadows. Every now and then, an indistinctive form could be seen rapidly hurrying back into some dark corner. The group had to frequently stop to make themselves a path deeper into the cavern, by knocking away boulders and large clumps of rocks that were obstructing the way. It was during one of those rock-moving sessions that the first wave of monsters attacked.

Hahn had never seen anything like it. To him, it looked like a walking brain, with blue feet or whatever-they-were, which had the thickness of twigs. It would’ve been a funny creature if there hadn’t been a group of around ten of the strange things, and that they were clearly aggressive. One of the creatures launched itself at a Hunter, whilst another used its thin arms as spears and hit a Hunter in the side. The element of surprise passed, the Hunters struck back, whilst the wounded Hunter used a Monomate and the excavation teams were quickly put at the back of the team. As an observer, Hahn noticed that the creatures weren’t really very strong, but were really fast. Their speed and dexterity was their main strength. They moved a bit like spiders scuttling rapidly around their enemies. The Hunters would’ve gladly used their techniques, but they couldn’t run the risk of creating a cave-in if their attack missed its target. It wasn’t really necessary, though. The steel of the swords and daggers pierced the monsters skin easily enough, and it didn’t take all that much to knock one down. Only one remained, and the fight was drawing to an end. The last creature, cornered, leaped over the small wall of Hunters and landed in front of the archaeologists. Quick as lighting, it slashed at Hahn. Blood spurted from his side and Hahn staggered backwards, everything around him spinning. The creature slashed again, this time at his left leg, before a Hunter finally managed to kill the creature.

“You OK there?”

Stupid question. Of course I’m not OK. I’ve got blood sliding down my leg and side, and I feel like fainting. Instead, he said “Yeah, thanks.” as he applied Res to his wounds. It stopped the flow of blood and made the scars disappear, but he still felt light-headed, and pain could still be felt internally. He stood up, testing his leg. He was limping a bit, but otherwise, he was fine.

“These are fascinating creatures! I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I wonder how many decades or centuries it’s been living her for?”, said Professor Plept, the leading biology Professor at the Academy. “We really have to study these creatures in detail once we get back to Piata. Maybe even try to bring one back alive!”

“Whoa, easy Mr Plept… These things nearly killed us. First let’s focus on this first expedition to explore this place thoroughly, and we’ll focus on analysing these creatures. Let’s just try to make it through her alive, OK?”, said one of the Hunters, the one who had received the first attack by the monsters.

“Hmmm, very well. We’ll be coming back here anyway, so we’d better not rush things… Why don’t we proceed?”

The excavation teams and Hunters advanced deeper into Birth Valley, encountering more of the brain-looking creatures. Sometimes, they would fight one of the creatures similar to its brothers, but which seemed to have two heads. Occasionally, a rather large fly would attack, spitting a corrosive substance similar to a strong acid. The group sometimes had to retreat their steps, as they found themselves in dead ends. At one point, they came to another dead end, but covered under rumble. Grumbling inwardly, they took their shovels and started moving the pile of rocks to one side. After several hours of work, nearly all the rocks had been put to one side and the group was amazed to find a flight of stairs leading downwards. Cautiously, they went downstairs, only to find themselves in a similar sort of cavern that they were in previously, just with far more rocks and boulders obstructing the way. Realising that everyone was probably exhausted, as much by the monster-fighting than by the rock-shoving, Professor Holt decided to call it a day.

“Alright people, listen up! I think that for a first day, we have done more than just a good job. We have discovered three brand new species (or two, depending on how you see it) and found out that Birth Valley goes far deeper than we had first imagined. We’ve all deserved a good night’s rest and I hope to see you all in Zema tomorrow morning. Just use your Escapipe and Telepipe and good night!”

Everyone took out their Escapipe and used it. A short while later, they were out in the rainy evening of Zema.

“Huh, how long were we down there?”, asked a Hunter.

“Too long, it seems…” answered Hahn “Me who was looking forward to blink at the bright sunlight.”

“Well, good night everyone!”, said Holt brightly, as he used his Telepipe.

Soon, everyone dispersed and went to their temporary lodgings.

*     *     *      *     *

The next day, as everyone was already in Zema, the excavation teams and Hunters were at the meeting point early. The sun was just rising, and no one safe them was awake in Zema. Every member, archaeologist or Hunter, had equipped himself or herself more thoroughly than the previous day. Each had two or three vials of Monomate and every member of the excavation teams had picked up anything that could be used as a weapon against the creatures, usually a scalpel or a kitchen knife. Kindly, the Hunters had provided a few of them with Hunter knifes. It wasn’t much, but at least, it was a real weapon, and would do more damage than a puny scalpel. The group retraced its steps back to the flight of stairs, and descended to the lower floor. It looked like most of the day would be pushing rocks aside, instead of exploring. However, it was without counting on the Hunters. Their techniques came in handy. Their Foi technique, used at close range, didn’t risk a cave-in and broke up the rocks far quicker than the hammers and pickaxes that the archaeologists were using. The excavation teams only had to clean a path for the group to advance. As they turned another corner, Hahn and many others became aware of a strange greyish light that was emanating from the other end of the corridor. As they drew nearer, he could see a solid-looking green door. A rather large crack was in its lower right corner. It was from that room behind that door that the light was coming for. Before they could approach the door, another surge of monsters attacked.

By now, the Hunters had gotten use to these frequent attacks, and they no longer feared the strange creatures as much as they previously had. This time though, the group of monsters was considerably larger than on the previous assaults. Hahn estimated that there must be around thirty monsters in total, many of them the “two-headed brain” and the “acid-spitting fly” (No scientific name had been thought up for the new species yet). The monsters were huddled in a solid group in front of the door, but before the Hunters could blink, the creatures had scattered rapidly to surround the group of Parmanians. This group of monsters was too large for the Hunters to fight and secure the excavation teams. They chose to fight the creatures. Again, the creatures went down easily, but the sheer number of them made it a problem. The flies darted around, attacking the neck of the Hunters with their sharp claws, or spitting acid at their face. The Leather Shields that most Hunters had could resist to only a few of those acid attacks before the shields were rendered useless. The brain-like creatures scuttled around quickly, stabbing the Hunters in the sides. The Hunters were able to put up a fight, but more and more of the creatures passed the defence line, and attacked the staff of Piata Academy. For attack, the mediocre weapons that the archaeologists had did the job, but their defence was far from enough. They could only do their best to dodge the attacks, often clumsily, and the flies caused the biggest threat. Many of the members of the excavation teams got severely hit by the acidic spits. Professor Plept soon got a bad burn on his right cheek, and the voluntary diggers got a few cuts. Once again, Hahn was the one who got hurt the most.

He was alone against a fly and a double-headed brain. All the Hunters and those who had the potential of helping him already had their hands full with the swarm of monsters. Hahn tried frantically to slash at the creatures with a Hunter’s Knife, but his inexperience of combat and lack of fighting skills rendered his attacks useless and he didn’t hit any target. The two creatures both attacked him at the same time. The fly spat a jet of acid at him. He clumsily jumped aside, dodging the acid that sizzled on a nearby rock, but banged himself against the wall of the cavern instead. Rolling on the floor, he started to get up, but the other creature leaped and landed on him, digging its thin legs into his own. Hahn let out a cry of pain, but he couldn’t say whether it had been out loud, or only in his head. As the creature’s prepared for another attack, Hahn slashed at it with his knife. The blow didn’t appear to have killed the beast, but it at least did the job of knocking the creature off him. It bounced back a few metres and got back up, seemingly dazed, but got stabbed by a Hunter. Hahn was about to thank the Hunter, but the fly came back for another attack. He darted around Hahn, and moved in frequently, slashing at Hahn’s neck. He tried to rid himself of it, waving his arms around furiously, but to no effect. Waving his arms around a bit too energetically caused Hahn to throw away his weapon and the fly now went back to its acidic spits. One of the hits got Hahn right in the face, and partially in the eyes. He stumbles around, eyes tightly shut, feeling his way around. The stinging was making him dizzy. He felt the wall of the cavern, and a bump of some kind knocked him to the ground. He could hear the fly buzzing around him, and the fact that he could no longer see his enemy was disturbing. He heard a hiss, probably from the fly, and the second later, a burning sting on his right leg, precisely there where the other creature had stabbed him. Another acid attack. The burning sting was becoming intolerable. He tried to stand up, but failed, and heard a crack in his leg. Then, everything went black.

*     *     *      *     *

When he woke up, he could no longer hear the screeching of monsters, or any noise of a battle. He wondered where he was, or even who of the team was still alive.

“Hahn, can you hear me? Open your eyes.”

Hahn was relieved to hear Professor Holt’s voice. He tried to open his eyes. He managed, but everything was blurry, and the burning of the acid forced him to quickly close them again.

“Here, pour this on his eyes.”, said a Hunter.

Professor Holt took the vial of Monomate that the Hunter handed him and poured the contents onto Hahn’s eyes. Hahn felt the healing liquid cure his scars, and the stinging soon vanished. He re-opened his eyes, blinked a few times, and glanced at his surroundings. He was still in Birth Valley, and the battle had apparently ended. Corpses of the creatures littered the ground, and Hunters and archaeologists alike were nursing minor burns or cuts. He tried to stand up, but the immense pain that he still felt in his leg prevented him from doing so.

“Looks like it’s broken, boy. A broken leg is a bit much for a simple Monomate to fix. The acid on it doesn’t help matters, either. Better take you out of here.”

“But…”, protested Hahn.

“He’s right, Hahn. You couldn’t do much with a broken leg, and you would only run the risk of getting further hurt. You can join the team when your leg’s better.”, said Professor Holt. “Mr Sherby, would you be so kind as to escort Hahn back to Piata?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t worry, Hahn. I’m confident you’ll be back on your feet very soon. It’s just precautionary.”

Yves Sherby picked up Hahn and used an Escapipe. Once they were back in the daylight, Yves asked Hahn:

“Anyone to contact?”

“Yeah, my fiancée, Saya. In Krup. Could you take me there instead? I can always send a report to the Academy from there. My arms are still in working order.”

“Right. To Krup it is, then.”

One Telepipe trip later, they were in Krup. Yves, still carrying Hahn, headed to the house that Hahn indicated. Luckily, it was around four o’clock, so he didn’t run the risk of ruining her class by showing the children a broken leg covered in acid. Yves knocked on the door and, a few seconds later, Saya opened the door, a book in her hand. Just then, Hahn realised that he probably looked on the verge of death.

“Oh my, what happened?”, exclaimed Saya, motioning them to come in.

“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks… He’s just got a broken leg. Could’ve been his head…”, said Yves, as he laid Hahn onto the couch.

“A broken leg? What the heck happened?”

“Some fly spat acid on me. And a walking brain dug his leg into mine…”, said Hahn, closing his eyes.

“Is he delirious?”

“Nah, completely true. Some weird critters down in Birth Valley. Anyway, it seems that you’re going to be in good hands, Mr Mahlay, so I’ll head back to Zema. Good bye.”

Yves left, while Saya applied a wet towel on Hahn’s forehead.

“You sleep now. Need to rest. You can explain everything to me later on. I’ll be in the next room, if you need me. Just swallow this.”

“Yeah, thanks. It’s really…”

The anaesthetic took effect almost immediately. When Saya was sure that Hahn was fast asleep, she put a blanket over him, went into the next room and started to write a letter.

*     *     *      *     *

A couple of hours later, Hahn woke up, still feeling very dozy. He shook himself awake, and tried to get up. To his great surprise, his leg was completely healed and when he stood up, it no longer hurt. He could hear voices in the kitchen, two as far as he could tell. Still wondering how his leg could was magically healed, he headed into the kitchen, and was amazed to see Saya sharing coffee with no other than Viky Jones, an old friend.

Viky was the only person that Hahn had really sympathised with throughout the three years while he was a biology student at the Academy. She had been born in Piata, and had been his best (and only) friend at the Academy. She’d had some role in helping Hahn and Saya discover their mutual feelings for one another. After the three years, just as Hahn and Saya were getting engaged and that Hahn became Professor Holt’s assistant, Viky had left for Monsen to study sandworms. She’d got a grant from the Academy and was trying to become one of Motavia’s only experts on the creatures.

She’d slightly changed from when she’d been in Piata. She wore her jet-black hair longer now, and was much more scruffy than before. Many dirt stains covered her blouse and leggings, and she’d swapped her shoes for thick leather boots. She also seemed to have picked up swordsmanship, as Hahn saw a sword propped against a wall in the corner. Hahn realised just then that moving from a big urban city like Piata to a small, rural town like Monsen must bring some modifications.

As soon as she saw him enter the kitchen, Viky leaped out of her chair and hugged him.

“Hahn! Great to see you! I was starting to wonder when you were going to wake up…”

“Hi, Viky. Good to see you too… But…how come you’re here?”

“Saya wrote to me yesterday. I planned to drop by anyway, and coming at a time where you broke your leg sounded like a very dramatic moment to come, so I acted on it.”, she said, grinning. “And I brought some medicine with me to cure your leg too. Worked well, it seems…”“Yeah, it worked great. What was it?” And did you say yesterday?”

“I gave you an anaesthetic, Hahn. You needed to sleep.”, said Saya, handing him a mug of coffee.

“Though we didn’t expect it to work that well. She denies it, but I think she made a mistake and gave you three times the dose she was supposed to. And to answer your question, I brought back a few vials of Dimate with me. Far more powerful than the Monomates you get over here, and they’re far more common in Monsen than they are here. Used two or three of them on your leg and there you are, good as new.”

“Yup, worked like a charm. So how long are you here for?”

“About a week. Saya offered me to stay here, so I’ll be mostly in Krup. But your school trips got me interested. Any way I could come along?”

“No.” answered Hahn flatly. “It was already lucky that I could come along, being Professor Holt’s assistant, but I couldn’t bring a friend, even if she was interested in Birth Valley. By the way, you’ve started swordsmanship?”

“Well, yeah. You kind of have to learn to fight, with sandworms all around you. They don’t really like to be kept as analyse subjects, so you need to be able to resist an outbreak, if a few break loose. Which I can’t, but that is entirely beside the point. Why do you ask?”

“On each expedition to Birth Valley, I nearly got slaughtered by the creatures down there. Even with a weapon, I couldn’t hit a thing. I’d like you to teach me.”

Viky looked Hahn up and down, critically appraising him.

“Really? You sure?”

“What, you don’t think I’m cut out for it?”

“Frankly, no. You’re about as cut out for fighting as we have a chance of flying to Dezoris…”

“Thanks...”

“Hey, Hahn, I was teasing you! Only because you’re not cut out for it doesn’t mean that we can’t give it a shot. I can tell that you’ll never be a great warrior but at least you’d be able to survive a fight. When do you want to start?”, she asked, laughing.

“Now?”

*     *     *      *     *

“Where could we possibly be?”

“I’m not sure, Holt. You’re the archaeologist here, not me.”, answered Professor Plept, in awe at his surroundings.

“There’s something written here…” said Professor Asta Netasi, an archaeologist, and one of the few female Professors at the Academy. “It’s faded quite a bit, but it reads Bio-Plant. Bio-Plant”?

“I think that we underestimated a bit our discovery. This is obviously from an ancient and advanced civilisation! Far more advanced than we are, too. This is the greatest thing that I’ve ever seen in my life!”

“And there are some brand new creatures here as well. This certainly demands some investigating. Let’s advance.”

The group of Professors and Hunters advanced deeper into the Bio-Plant. Their torches were no longer needed because, unlike Birth Valley, the Bio-Plant was perfectly lighted. A flashing line on the floor even indicated the path to follow. And Professor Plept was right; there were some brand new creatures here too, far more powerful than those encountered in Birth Valley. One of them was obviously related to the brain-like creature found in Birth Valley, as it was practically identical to it, except for its colour, which was a dark shade of purple.

There was no debris in the Bio-Plant, it had somehow been perfectly preserved. It was a marvel to go from a messy underground cavern and the next second, without any transition, to enter a spotlessly-clean metallic walkway. After a wave attack of yet another unknown creature, the group paused for a while to study it. Not only had it never been seen on Motavia, but it didn’t even remotely look like an animal.

“What could this be, then?”

“It doesn’t seem biological… No, it can’t be… This is astounding!” answered Professor Plept. “It seems to be a “robot”. I read a history book not long ago, and it said that these “robots” were very widely spread a long time ago. They have err…what was it called? Ah yes, mechanical components. They must have somehow maintained their functionality over all these centuries.”

“Centuries? This would mean that this place is…what nearly a thousand years?!”

“Sounds hard to believe, but yes. A millennia.”

A long walk later over a large bridge over-looking the entirety of the Bio-Plant, the teams came across another incredible discovery. They were in a long room, with dead-ends off to the left. In these dead-ends were row after row of some sort of big capsules, not unlike the ones that were used in biology classes to contain test subjects. Some strange liquid, sometimes green and murky, sometimes flesh colour, sometimes dark purple, was oozing inside of them, slowly moving up and down. After closer inspection, the capsules could be classified in six groups, each type of capsule seemed to be making something different. The first capsule group had the word Xanafalgue labelled on it. The second had the word Zoran Bult and the third had Iglanuova on it. The fourth had Gicefalgue, the fifth had Guilgenova and the final one had the word Ismounos written on it.

“Those words don’t mean anything! Heck, they aren’t even words!”, said Asta in frustration.”

“Easy, Asta…” said Professor Plept, smiling. He got up closer up to the capsules and started reading the small writing on the machines. “It seems that these capsules are breeding capsules. These capsules have been breeding those creatures for all this time… Around a millennia!”

Holt now also bent down and started to read what was written on the capsules.

“Indeed… We even know what these creatures are now. The brain-like creature is called a Xanafalgue and its two-headed brother is a Zoran Bult. Its purple-coloured cousin is called a Gicefalgue…”

“And apparently, those creatures are also produced by biological means. The creature called the Iglanuova produces the Xanafalgues whilst the Guilgenova produces the Gicefalgues.” continued Plept. “ And there is also the Ismounos, a purely artificial creation. These are the first artificially-created creatures! Incredible! We have to take these back with us to Piata! This is an incredible discovery!”

“I thought we’d discussed that… We’d agreed that we do the exploring first, and then investigate in further depth.”

“And I agree. I just think that if, during a battle, these capsules were broken or destroyed by some bad luck. The technology and knowledge that we could learn from them would be forever lost. That could be avoided if we brought them back with us. Or at least, bring back a few of them”

“Hmmm…that is true. Well, in that case, I agree. We can start by bringing back an Iglanuova capsule and a couple of the Xanafalgue and Zoran Bult capsules. That would provide you with enough research to last until we’ve finished exploring the entire Bio-Plant and retrieved more capsules. Why don’t we start the return journey now, then? Bring them back immediately?”

“Thank you, Professor Holt.”

*     *     *      *     *

“Right, you ready?”

Hahn and Viky were in a field outside of Krup with The Soldier’s Temple as background. Viky had purchased two wooden swords, commonly used in fencing or swordsmanship practice. Saya had declined the offer of watching them, saying that she had to prepare for tomorrow’s class. Hahn and Viky were standing, swords ready at hand.

“Yeah yeah… Bring it on!”

“You remember all the tips I gave you?”

“Yes, teach… Let’s go!”

Hahn and Viky charged at each other. It was easy to see that, even with such a light weapon, Hahn was having difficulties handling it. His attacks were clumsy and inaccurate, and only ever hit Viky by chance. He was better at dodging than Viky had expected, and his parrying was fairly good for someone learning the ropes. However, it was far from sufficient. He dodged the occasional strike, but most of the blows hit him. After many attempts at it, Viky finally chucked her sword aside and sat down on a rare tuff of grass. She motioned Hahn to do the same, and said:

“Look, I’m sure you’re doing your best, but swords just aren’t your thing.”

“Hey, give me a chance! It’s only been a day that I’m learning. You can’t expect me to be able to take down a sandworm!”

“No, but I can expect you to be able to handle a fight where I’m being as nice as I possibly can. Honestly, with your swordsmanship skills so far, you wouldn’t stand a chance in the wilderness…”

“Really heart-warming, aren’t you? So you’re saying that I should just quit? I need to survive down there!”

“I’m not saying to quit, just choose a lighter weapon. A knife, for instance. Try this.”

She tossed him a knife, the same kind that he’d used down in Birth Valley.

“We’ll give it another shot. Knife against knife.”

They started to duel again and this time, though he didn’t shine at fighting, Hahn could at least keep up. A few tips given by Viky helped greatly, and allowed him to put up a better fight than when he was in Birth Valley. It wasn’t much of one actually, as knives weren’t the ideal weapon for duelling, but it was enough to show that he could handle a fight if equipped with a knife.

After more practicing, they stopped once more for the last time and plonked themselves on the grass, sweaty and tired.

“Congrats Hahn. You did a good job. I’d say that you’re ready to face that place again.”

“Well so long I can survive down there, then I’m happy. I’ll head to Piata to see the Principal soon, and ask to be put back on the team.”

“Can I come? Not to Birth Valley, but to Piata. Haven’t been there in a while, and I’d like to see the Academy again.”

“Of course. Just got to tell Saya. You want to go ahead or come and say bye to Saya first?”

“Oh, I’ll come with you.”

*     *     *      *     *

“So, where shall we put them?”

“In the room at the back of the basement. No one ever goes there. And I’ll get the locks changed too.”

It was very late in the Academy. Only a few chosen were at this top priority meeting which naturally was about the discoveries of late that had been made in the Bio-Plant by the Professors Holt, Plept and Netasi. The three Professors were present, as was the Principal of Motavia Academy, and a few others that were mostly there only to make sure that they didn’t start divulging what had been found.

Everyone quickly left the Principal’s office and went to the basement. A large group of workers had been hurriedly employed to transport the monster breeding capsules. They had been told that is was “research material” too large to be stocked in the storage room. There was a whole team supervising the whole operation, with the three Professors and the Principal closing the march, discussing the details.

“Now I want to make it clear that none of this must be discussed with anyone else. This is top secret information. No one else but us four must know about this discovery. So that means no talking about to your assistant, Charles. Understand?”

“Very well, Donn.”

“I hope that we are eventually going to release this information, right?” asked Professor Netasi. “This is too huge to be kept in the shadows.”

“I know that, Asta.” replied the Principal, tersely. “But we first need to learn a bit more about it before we start yelling it on the roofs. We have to understand how it works, and study it in depth. Now Zert, do you think you can start your research on these…things?”

“Yes, Donn.” Replied Professor Plept. “I was thinking of testing the capsules, try to create a few creatures, return to Birth Valley for more investigation, and then study one of those bio-monsters at my return. Do you agree?”

“Yes, yes… Meeting dismissed. And remember, never mention any of this to anyone.”

*     *     *      *     *

A few days later, Hahn had decided it was time to return to the Academy. He packed a small bag, warned Viky, and they both went to say good-bye to Saya.

“And when are you coming back?”, she asked, as she sat down.

“Well I hope to get back on the excavation team, so I don’t know, and I think that Viky is going back to Monsen. She’s just coming with me because she wants to see Piata again. It’s been a while.”

“Well, I can’t stop you, can I? Just try not to get something else broken, OK?”

“Promise. I’ll be careful.” said Hahn, smiling.

“And I’ll say good-bye, Saya. Was great seeing you again.” Added Viky, hugging her.

“Drop by anything you want.”

“Bye.”

The Telepipe dropped them just outside the gates of Piata. As they walked through the town up to the Academy, they had to stop frequently, as people recognised Viky and stopped to have a chat with her. Hahn had the impression that she knew every single citizen of Piata. When they were nearly at the Academy’s gates, Hahn asked:

“How come you know every single person living here? It’s a pretty big city…”

“I don’t. I haven’t a clue who most of them were. Only recognised one or two. I’m guessing they were family friends…” she said, shaking with silent laughter.

“By the way Viky, do you know, by any chance, what Professor Holt’s name is?”

“Course. It’s Charles. Why?”

“Just wondering…”

They entered the Academy and climbed the stairs to the Principal’s office. Hahn knocked, and waited to hear the Principal’s voice. He heard a gruff “Come in!”, and he and Viky entered the office.

As usual, the Principal was sat behind his large office, doing some paperwork. On seeing Hahn, he snapped the file shut, and put it away in a draw.

“Ah, Mr Mahlay. And…Miss Jones, if I’m not mistaken… What do you want?”

“I wish to re-integrate the excavation team on the Birth Valley project. I filled in the form and signed it. It only needs your signature.” said Hahn, as he slid the form in front of the Principal.

“I…see.” said the Principal. Brusquely, he snatched the form, crumpled it, tore it into shreds, and let the remains fall on the floor. “The Birth Valley project is called off. You are to re-start work at the Academy and will now replaced Professor Holt in his classes. Do not ask any questions, just leave this room and don’t turn back.”

“Sir! What has…?”

“No question, Hahn. That is an order.”

“I want to see Professor Holt!”

“That’s the problem. Holt and the others did not return from the last trip to Birth Valley…” Hahn wasn’t entirely sure, but he had the impression that the Principal was terrified. His hand was shaking uncontrollably, and his voice was far from steady.

“Then we have to prepare a rescue team! We can’t just let them…whatever happened to them!”

“NO! There will be no rescue team sent, no re-opening of the investigation! We will all stay quiet and ignore it, understood? That is an order, Mr Mahlay and this conversation is now ended. Now get out of my office!”

Seeing that Hahn was about to protest once more, Viky shut him up with a discreet but firm squeeze on his shoulder. She then dragged him out forcibly out of the room. As they went down the stairs, they heard the Principal’s office door slam violently.

“Well that’s a visit that I’m not likely to forget…” grumbled Viky, trying to keep it light.

“Cut it out, Viky! Didn’t you hear what he said? The excavation teams have been missing for around a week now!” We can’t…!”

Shut up!

She put her hand over his mouth and made sure that no one had heard him. No one seemed to be around anyway, so she grabbed his arm and dragged him into a storage room. She made sure the door was properly shut before letting him go.

“Listen Hahn, I agree that something very wrong’s going on around here, but screaming it out in the corridors isn’t the way to go. It would only create a panic throughout the town. No one needs that. You can’t do anything now, nor should you. Wait for further developments and then act.”

Further developments?!?!?!” Hahn’s voice was becoming high-pitched. “The excavation teams have gone missing for a week now! What kind of development do you need? Someone dying? Holt’s corpse found in the Mile quicksand? What Viky, what?

“You can’t do anything about it. Neither can I, neither can anyone of Piata. When the officials come in (and they will, this can’t be hushed for long…), contact them, and tell them what you know. That’s all you can do. Now I’ve got to head back to Monsen, because, as much as I’d like to stay and help you, I have one of those irritating things called a job. And so do you now, by the look of it. So I’ll say “bye” quickly, because I wish I didn’t have to go and leave you and Piata in this state.”

She gave him a small kiss on the cheek and hugged him.

“Take care of yourself now, and please don’t do anything dumb, OK? Bye…”

A faint melody came from the Telepipe, and Viky Jones vanished.

*     *     *      *     *

From that day on, events just seemed to worsen. Unexplainably, a nest of bio-monsters had appeared in the basement. The Academy no longer felt like a safe place to be in, but constantly bathed in an oppressing atmosphere. Professors and students alike were scared, and took great care not to work late. Whenever someone passed by the door to the basement, growls and scuttling could be heard. The basement rapidly became off-limits and its door was barricaded. As bad news never travels alone, an announcement was made throughout Piata that the town was now in quarantine. No one could come in or out of it. Even the visitors to the academic city were prohibited from leaving. That meant that Saya was no longer able to visit Hahn and try to help him, and they could no longer even communicate, since letters were no longer delivered from Piata.

A few days after the application of the quarantine, the Principal made an announcement that bolstered Hahn’s spirit slightly.

Ladies and gentlemen, Professors and students, I have an announcement. I have hired the services of the Hunter’ Guild situated in Aiedo to rid us of the unexplainable appearance of bio-monsters in the basement. They will be here in an hour and I am quite confident in saying that they will rid the Academy of the creatures.

Everyone cheered and applauded after that announcement, all but Hahn. Yes, he was glad that those creatures were going to be destroyed, but the Principal wouldn’t tell them half the story, and would keep it to the bio-monsters down in the basement. The Hunters needed to know about Birth Valley, about the disappearance of Professor Charles Holt. The only way to make sure to meet them was to wait for them near the basement stairs. He opened the door and paced the room anxiously up and down, waiting for the Hunters to come…

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