Re: Grotto

#55029
SpymasterGend
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In short order, Sun-Ok became an experienced harvester of cotton and herbs. It pleased her to have something to do, and to produce the eminently useful healing kits—it pleased her even more as she became more skilled at making them, for she was certain, then, that she had at least found some measure of the Way.

And so, she spent day after day in the cave and its workroom—warm, fed, and newly clothed, sleeping curled up in a corner by an oven, seeing no one except on her occasional strolls into the next cavern to visit the merchants. She sold stacks of healing to the half-orc, whose name, she had found, was Noatun. She’d also learned that the merchant cave was the “Bazaar” and that her cave—hers, in her mind, because no one else seemed to go there, and no one ever reprimanded her for harvesting there—was the “Grotto.”

At times, for fun, she would practice hiding and sneaking around the Grotto, seeing if the bees could find her. She also had to practice extensively with the strange doors of this new land. They were clumsy, heavy, swinging things—not the light, elegant, sliding screens of home—and they often had bizarrely complicated ways of opening them, almost like a puzzle-box. And, of course, she followed the Way, tending to her soul by focusing on her work and producing as many of the life-giving kits as she possibly could, and of the highest quality she could. She even took to embroidering the symbol of the Way on her creations, as she had on Thrakh’s sails, hoping that in some small way its harmony would spread with the healing goodness of the kits.

She supposed some people—humans especially, and perhaps most of all humans of this realm, so far from understanding the Way—would find her life tedious. For her, though, it was glorious—days and weeks practicing the arts for which she had talent, blissfully unencumbered by any obligations other than those of her own soul.

One day, she woke in the workroom to find her peace and harmony disturbed—shouts and the sounds of spells and combat came from the Grotto. At first, she hid, unwilling to abandon her peaceful existence and uncertain about enmeshing herself in the conflicts of this realm. But it was her Grotto somebody was fighting over—they might destroy her source of cotton and life-giving herbs. And she did have that new recurved bow. So she wrenched the door open, knocking herself a bit silly with it, as she’d forgotten, in the heat of the moment, that it swung instead of sliding. And so she stepped out, dazed and no longer hidden, into the Grotto.

The first thing she noticed was that the bees were gone—dead or hiding probably, for strange rock-creatures seemed to appear from the walls and floor of the cave itself. A human man with a large staff was casting spells at them, and a slim elven girl was fighting them. She thought briefly of asking the man to not damage the plants with his spells—but she lacked the words and in any event one of the creatures was coming towards her now. It seemed angry at her, and since the elven girl was fighting them, it was clear what side she should be on. She sprang lightly away and put an arrow to her new bow.

And so passed the next minutes, Sun-Ok darting around the different areas of the cave, shooting her arrows with limited effect into the creatures’ stony skins while the others carried the brunt of the fighting. Another woman came to join the battle, which at last ended with the arrival through the wall of a giant rock creature they could barely hurt. Guardsmen from the Bazaar ran in and perished beneath its rocky fists, while the rest of them attacked the thing with everything they could—arrows, spells, and weapons—until at last the huge creature fell, crumbling into hundreds of pieces of stone.

In the quiet that followed, introductions were made—the human man Mezano, the elven girl Tam, the later arrival Lily. They all seemed to know each other, but treated Sun-Ok respectfully all the same. Still, their conversation was hard to follow, so Sun-Ok looked around the Grotto, checking in particular on her cotton and herbs. She noted some glints of metal in the stones that had made up the giant rock-thing, and called to the others. It was gold, and other metals she couldn’t immediately identify, but the others didn’t seem all that interested. She was picking them up—filling her pack so that she could barely move—when she spotted an almond tree. Surely that hadn’t been there before? She limped over and picked a few almonds, discovering yet more of the precious metal-bearing rocks amid its branches. She picked up everything she could find, counted it all carefully, and walked, ever so slowly, back to the other three.

They were just discussing how to use the valuable rocks—something about selling the “nuggets” to a dwarf who could “do rock,” and sharing afterward, but this language was still difficult for Sun-Ok—when an armored man bustled in, demanding to know what had happened. Sun-Ok listened quietly, at last determining that the man was the Captain of the town’s guards. Sun-Ok sensed that Tam had some animosity toward him, but the elf told how she had been gathering plants when the first creature broke through the wall, and then had run for help to the Bazaar, where she found Mezano. Sun-Ok sighed at the girl’s story, relieved and disappointed at the same time—it wasn’t her Grotto alone after all, but at least anyone was permitted to pick plants here. Mezano then took up the thread, saying how they re-entered the Grotto and began fighting the rock-creatures after sending a Guard to warn the Captain, whose name was Hillar.

Then, for some reason, they suggested Sun-Ok tell the rest of the story, which she did, with her broken words. When she came to the “nuggets,” though, it got confusing. Had she mistaken the words “nuts” and “nuggets”? The others insisted she’d collected “nuts,” and she had, and had found metal-rocks in the almond tree, as well. Or maybe they just didn’t want Hillar to know about the metals. Sun-Ok went along, even eating an almond to show the Captain the “nuts,” glad she didn’t have to move anywhere, since all that metal made her walk slower than a baby’s crawl. She got the feeling that the Captain knew he was being tricked, though—for he said the oddest thing about sharing any loot they had found with the dead guardsmen. As Hillar left, she wondered to herself what use a soulless body could have for metal rocks, or even for almonds.