MOSS: Tunnels

Voiced by Amazon Polly

Just a little preamble before we get into it.

I, the author, humbly apologize for the inconsistent update. I know this is literally the fourth post ever (not to mention Red Moon Azure Wolf is supposed to be a three-chapters story). I should’ve worked on these girls faster, but various things happened in life which gives me many excuses to stay away from them. I can promise nothing since I’m fully aware of how unfaithful I am to my promises, but do know that I enjoy writing and having my work being read. Hope the next MOSS can be posted safely… and sooner than the previous ones. Well then, best regards.


 

As she opened the door in front of her, an unexpected chime of a small bell ringed through the air. She found the bell hiding above her head, thinking that maybe it was a mechanism to alert the shopkeeper. Despite the racket, she couldn’t find the figure of the shopkeeper.

Glass jars filled with various wonders lined on shelves and cupboards, assorted herbs hanging from the ceilings, various organs and body parts of various animals and monsters placed here and there, many sizes of pearls glittering with colors from all spectrum of the rainbows, and gems glittering with multiple colors peeking out from chests lined on a shelf, and a strong smell of unknown origins lingered throughout the room. She couldn’t help but be mesmerized by what was revealed before her. Awed, she tried to decide whether to call this store messy, wondrous, or both, despite the seemingly opposite quality of the two words.

However, standing still and appreciating the art that was this mess wouldn’t help her to reach her objective. Excusing herself, she walked further in. She pushed forward, despite the hardship presented by things scattered on the floor and the distinct smell that kept getting stronger. She assumed that the shopkeeper might be busy brewing a potion or simply tending the hearth, though she was not sure what could produce this sort of smell.

She looked for the handbell that was usually placed to call a clerk, but she couldn’t find it anywhere. Either the bell from before played its role or the handbell was buried somewhere in these pile of stuff. Either way, she was now confused at how to call the shopkeeper, she couldn’t possibly return to the door only to swing it back and forth.

However, her worry ended up unanswered. A figure of a man emerged from behind a curtain draping on the wall on her left, surprised her if she was not already surprised. Apparently, there was another room hidden beyond it, as she caught a glimpse of a wide space in the back.

“A customer, huh. That’s rare.” Claimed the man rudely instead of welcoming her. Her first impression of him was that he was just as messy as his shop.

From her observation, she could tell that he was a foreigner who had lived in the Empire for a long time. For an adult man, he was in the shorter side. His raven black hair was being neglected for so long she started to doubt if it was actually accumulating dirt instead. Black patches were covering his tanned yellow undertone skin every here and there. For someone who looked like he had been holing up himself in his man cave, his body was unexpectedly quite toned. Tracing his figure from top led her to a palsied foot he had. This man was disabled.

“Are you perhaps lost? I’m not sure a maiden knight like you have anything to do with whatever left in this workshop.” Said him, subtly chasing her away. As his sharp remark snapped her out, she remembered that she still had her objective to be fulfilled of.

“I’m here looking for a potion. I heard there’s a skilled alchemist who makes it for a living.”

“Then you come to the wrong place. Potions are distributed through general stores. You can even get them from Adventurer’s guild for two silver each, if you are an adventurer that is.”

“I see. Pardon my rudeness.” Knowing that she no longer had business in this place, she turned her heels and headed for the door. Being in this room somehow made her dizzy, maybe the smell was the cause. Maneuvering through the many things lying about on the floor was quite a task, but she still pulled it off as she had done the same thing before.

When her hand reaches the door hinge, just a step before arriving outside, the man called her out. “Hold on.”

“I can tell you’re new around these part. First-time adventurer huh. May I inquire where did you hear about this workshop?” She looked back to him. The shopkeeper was lighting a pipe and not paying attention to her.

Maybe the man only wanted to start small talk, thought her as she answered. “A man named Grove, he runs an orphanage in the capital.”

“Ah, him, huh. No wonder.” He spoke as though he was recalling something. “I had been in his care before. You may take the pouch on your right, think of it as a token of moral duty from me.”

She glanced the pouch the man talked about, it was a small leather pouch fastened with a cord of yarn, hanging from a nail on the wall. She was not sure what was this pouch for, but not to accept it was rude, and she was taught that she had to respect anyone older than her. If it was from Grove’s acquaintance, it couldn’t be something bad. “Thank you very much.” She decides that having it with her won’t harm her anyway.

Just about she stepped out, the shopkeeper called out to her once again. “If I were you I’ll wear it around my neck.”

“I will keep it in mind.” So she said, then closed the door behind her.

The air outside was nothing fresh, but it was still better than the musty atmosphere inside the shop. After her head got clear from the previous smell, she walked toward the guildhouse.

♢♦♢♦♢

“If not for you, I might have long died. I don’t know how to repay you enough.” Said the girl with her head so low it almost touched the ground. The one who stood before her was the man she met two days ago. It was nothing weird, they both were in front of his workshop after all. Her impression of him wasn’t that good before, he was messy and smelly and all, but it took a complete turn after what happened inside the dungeon.

It was still fresh in her mind. She fell into a nasty trap, that teleported her to a random place deep within the dungeon. She was still lucky it was not a monster room where she teleported to, but the dungeon was still an unsolvable maze that could as well trap her forever. She knew no way out.

While she was grimaced of her doom, the pouch she wore around her neck suddenly lit with a gentle blue light. The pouch was moving to a certain direction as if being pulled to a place somewhere. At this point of the event, she was willing to do anything to get out of this maze, so she followed the beacon that was the pouch.

It was nothing short of a miracle. The pouch actually guided her to the outside. Never did she expect that seeing the big moon on the sky would relieve her so much. It was her first dungeon expedition, and it might have been her last if not for that pouch.

After a good night rest, the first thing she did in the morning was to visit the alchemist man that saved her life. Which thus explained the reason why she was bowing her head to him.

“Don’t bother.”

“I cannot presumably. I have to repay you one way or another, that’s how I was brought up.”

The man heaved a sigh. “Has anyone told you how stiff you are?”

“Grove had, many times over. He told me to be more flexible right before I left the orphanage, too. However, it also is his teaching to repay your gratitude as fast as you can. I believe that there’s nothing wrong with what he said.” She was aware that doing this was inconveniencing the man before her, but she just couldn’t be such an ungrateful person. It heavily weighted her conscience.

In that very off-timing, her stomach growled quite audibly. She then remembered that she didn’t have dinner last night, since her appetite was lost with what happened in the dungeon, and she rushed to this workshop right after the sun rose. She hadn’t eaten anything since she entered the dungeon. She had no chance to fill her belly, so it got back on her with a complaint.

“Did Grove also tell you not to miss your breakfast?” Teased him as he chuckled. She could feel her face getting hot, maybe it was reddening up to her ears already. “Come in. I prepared breakfast a bit too much for myself. Help me finish it, if you may.”

The girl was left with no other choice except following him into his workshop. She was expecting the smell would get on her head, but, except this mess a room, it was actually refreshing to be inside. The air was cleaner and cooler than the outside, much different from the last time she was there.

A whiff of a delicious scent found its way to her. It was a very unique scent. She could tell that whatever the source is, it used plenty of spices. An alchemist living alone who was well versed with herbs and hearth keeping, she clearly did not expect he was a good cook too.

Passing through the draped curtain, she arrived in the room beyond it. The contrast between the two rooms colored her surprised. Why, the best word to describe this room was tidy if not neat. It even had a fur carpet. From the look of it, it was most probably a drawing room. It’s apparent that anything placed here was meant to entertain guest, in the case they didn’t get creeped out by the chaos in the previous room, however.

The delicious scent was still continuing to another room further in, she also heard the sound of activities from there. It seemed like the man was really fixing her a meal. The girl walked in to find another room with a table and a couple chairs. Near to them were the hearth fixed to the wall and a single bed on the corner. There were also two doors on her right, one of them probably a lavatory. So much for a little workshop in the back alley.

She still couldn’t understand why the air in here was so fresh despite the hot climate.

“Do you plan to stand still there until noon or would you mind helping me with the table?”

The man’s words snapped her out of her daze. Right, she wasn’t here to look around. “Please allow me to do the favor.”

She swiftly took over the table preparation. After done tidying up the tablecloth, she arranged the plates and cutleries as instructed; it seems like they were only using the place spoon today. No plates for side dishes, but she was told to place two big coasters in the middle of the table. The cupboard near the tool rack seemed like storing many weird utensils, she even found thin long sticks she couldn’t discern what the use for.

As anyone would expect from someone who grew in the orphanage, her prep was quick and perfect.

The man then put two clay pots on each coaster, both were still steaming hot from the hearth. One of the clay pots contained cereal grains that didn’t seem like wheat, they were white, small, and they smelled sweet. The other pot seemed like carrying some thick brown soup that tickled her appetite.

“Have a seat.” The man poured a drink for both of them, then seated himself. The girl naturally took his offer. She didn’t know what she would be having, but she couldn’t possibly back down now, could she? “Treat yourself to the servings.” Added him before he started putting the cereal to his plate.

As she didn’t know the manner to eat this foreign meal, she followed what the man did. Mixing up the soup and the cereal in one plate felt weird to her, but she was the guest, not the master of the house. She then scooped the white grains that had painted brown with her spoon then brought it to her mouth.

One word, fantastic.

It was like a carnival being held within her mouth. Many kinds of spices were dancing and, despite being pungent individually, complementing each other. There weren’t that many slices of meat in each portion, in fact, the vegetables were clearly much more in number, but she could enjoy it just as much as any meat-based meals. The vegetables strangely tasted sweet and not bitter at all. There were too many impressions in a single bite yet she could only think of one word: fantastic.

She couldn’t believe something this delicious was allowed by the heavens. Wouldn’t the angels get jealous by this? She felt bad she savored something so luscious while the kids back in the orphanage could only taste meat once a month. Oh, how she hoped she could have them to taste this too.

“Hey now, don’t give me that look. We are on the dining table now, frowns won’t make your foods delicious.” Said the man as he chuckled again.

“I am sorry for my manners. I was so awestruck by your cooking skill I couldn’t muster any words.” For some reason, the man just kept chuckling. She didn’t understand what was so amusing.

They continued their meal until both the clay pots were empty. She didn’t know she could eat that much, she was usually a light eater. This was spice magic at work alright.

While waiting for the food to be digested, they were sitting around in the drawing room. The girl was enjoying the springy-ness of the sofa, while the man was lighting up his pipe in front of her. She could perceive that his complexion was minutely getting better when he was on his pipe.

The man was really full of surprise. Her impression of him was getting better by the seconds. She wouldn’t be surprised if he actually possessed stashes of gold in one of his drawers. He intrigued her so much she almost couldn’t believe he was Grove’s acquaintance. Compared to him, Grove was like the embodiment of plain and bland.

“It seems like you have a question for me.” The man’s words startled her a little. It feels like he could read her like a book.

She had a lot of questions she didn’t know where to start. What was that food? Why was he living alone like this? Where did he come from? When did he know Grove? Who was he really? How did the shop turn into such a catastrophe? But, in the end, her gaze wandered to the biggest question she had; his leg.

Realized that it was extremely rude, she immediately cast away her gaze from there. However, she cannot undo what she had done.

The man caught her eyes and starts to rub the leg she looked at. “This is an old scar I got in a mine when I was a slave. It still stings every now and then, so I need this guy here to alleviate it a bit for me.” Said him while indicating the pipe he holds.

Now she was even more intrigued. To think he was once a slave; that explained all the black patches he had. She wanted to hear more about it, but asking him meant just the same as opening his old wounds. It was a sensitive case, and she should be ashamed to even think to ask.

“Hey, I don’t mind telling you. It’s also the story of how I met Grove after all. I just hope you have enough time in your agenda, it will be a little bit long-winded.”

“I am free until noon.” She answered him quite reflexively.

“Glad to hear it.”

♢♦♢♦♢

When he came to, he was already in a foreign land. He was powerless, penniless, and completely ignorant of what had happened. He tried to communicate with the local people, but they were speaking in a completely alien language. The only thing he knew was the fact that he was doomed.

His only resort was the slums. However, even that was too harsh for him. The language barrier barred him out from any kind of help, and his weak physique really didn’t help either. He used to sleep in a warm bed every night and eat a warm meal every day, but now he had to deal with the cold and the hunger. It was too sudden for him. He couldn’t tell if it was fortunate or not he still hadn’t kicked the bucket. Maybe dying would relieve him from this pain.

Misfortunes really came in tow. One day he was captured by the guards who patrolled the slums. Normally, the guards wouldn’t want to handle the slums, but the newly appointed captain was too straight-laced to leave any part of the town abandoned. With him already of age and held no papers, he was officially an illegal immigrant. Thus, he was sold to the slave merchant in exchange for small changes.

The slave merchant actually didn’t want him either. He was weak and had language problems. His face was unusual in these parts, and thus no brothel would want him either. Except being unusually resistant against diseases, he really had no other redeeming feature to be showcased of. Keeping a slave was not free. He was really a huge thorn on their side.

In the end, the merchant decided to throw him into the mine. He was durable and brimming with health, he should at least break even the gold they paid for him by mining away.

The mine was filled with criminal slaves. Conversely, the criminal slaves didn’t have many places to belong to. Even a war slave could be used for a transaction. At least they could keep their lives intact here if they kept their profile low. Some unfortunate ones were being made into monster feeds in the Colosseum as an attraction. The mine was really a place they should be grateful for being in. But the same didn’t apply to him.

What criminal slave? What crime he had ever done at all? He did nothing wrong, no, he did nothing at all in the first place. He knew this was wrong. It shouldn’t be like this.

However, what was he but a powerless single teenager? In fact, even kids younger than him were generally stronger than him. He could do nothing. Even ranting took strength. He was tired of hoping. He had never placed his heart in such an ambiguous concept like hope anyway.

So, he adapted. He couldn’t accept his current condition, and he knew he didn’t have to. He only had to adapt and wait. He learned the language. He worked hard and rested plenty. He obediently followed the unchanging days, but he didn’t succumb to them.

He learned it from his cellmate, Grove; a criminal slave who was sent to the mines had a chance to be freed after they served their time. In fact, that cellmate of his was going to be freed in just another year. Grove proclaimed to be the firstborn of a certain noble house. When the head of the house died, the power struggle happened and he fell victim to it. He was framed by his family. He said he had no intention to get back on them, a freed slave no longer held any rights to be a noble anyway, so he would quietly start an orphanage away from them.

A year passed, and his cellmate was truthfully released of duty.

He knew this was his way out.

A slave had no rights to speak of, but they were still under the banner of the slave merchant that sent them away. Bad behaviors would bring bad rumors to the merchant, accusing them of not “disciplining” their slaves properly. When that happened, the slave in question would immediately end up in the monsters’ belly. Conversely, a good slave would be the merchant’s golden egg; they brought them good names.

Incidentally, there were cases where the merchant bankrupted or ran away. In such cases, the slave would either be bought by other merchants or simply cast away as a monster feed if no one wanted them. A slave’s fate was always at the other people’s mercy.

With the alphabet Grove taught him, he wrote a letter for the slave merchant that sent him here. The content was mainly about his serving time in the mine, he couldn’t help the rough writing, however. A reply came two months after. Apparently, they too didn’t want him to be on their hand. They were only doing the procedure to legally release him, while also making him pay the money they used to buy him.

All those hard work in the last years paid him off. He only needed to wait for a couple months before he could enjoy the air of freedom. Oh, how he wanted to congratulate himself.

However, it was still too soon to celebrate. He should have known how the god hated him. Else, how would he explain the disaster that befell upon him?

Just a week away from his release of duty, an accident happened. An earthquake collapsed the mine and took many lives on its wake. He was fortunate enough to stay alive, but his foot didn’t share the same fate. He was rendered disabled for the rest of his life and thus couldn’t serve his time. He was called back prematurely while the procedure was still incomplete.

The slave merchant was greatly displeased. He was actually their favorite that they even prepared his identification papers early. But now, everything turned into dust. Who would want a weak and limp slave? No one. Nobody would want to buy him.

Nevertheless, they still put him on the store. They had to cover the loss one way or another. It was fortunate he could speak now; otherwise, they would just toss him into the Colosseum without a second thought.

Another thing they discovered was that he was actually an exceptional tea brewer. He could brew teas like nobody under the heaven could. The slave merchant considered to sell him into a noble mansion, but no nobles wanted a crime slave to work in their house, even though he was one only on paper. Now they regretted the decision and should have just taught him the language instead of sending him into the mine.

After a year being a pseudo-personal tea brewer for the slave merchant, there was somebody who actually came to buy him. It was a wrinkled old man he’d hear from stories. The old man paid stashes of gold for him alone, and that made both him and the slave merchant confused. It was still a great welcome from the slave merchant, however.

He was actually anxious. He never expected anyone would pay so high for a disabled slave like him, and it was a mysterious gramps to boot. What if he was bought to be a guinea pig? Did he ever mention to anyone he was from a completely different world? Many grotesque schemes went through his head, and the fact he couldn’t deny them didn’t help him at all.

It turned out that the gramps was actually an alchemist. His worry went even wilder when he learned that. But when he was told to be the alchemist’s disciple, his mind went blank.

The alchemist said that he saw his talent in brewing potions. His age was closing, so he was urgent in finding a successor. In the worst case, he would even kidnap a brat from the slums and cram everything necessary to their head. It was a great relief he found him.

He, on the other hand, was just standing there speechless. The reality was really stranger than fiction. However, he decided to just accept it. At least he was no longer a slave.

Years being a disciple of an alchemist, he finally inherited the old alchemist’s title. His master passed away soon after. A letter came from his old cellmate; apparently, he found his address through the slave merchant. After all that happened, he was now passing his days making potions for the adventurers.

♢♦♢♦♢

The girl was just staying silent. To be more precise, she couldn’t muster any words. While she was from the slums, she knew that there are many kids more unfortunate than her, but never she imagined it could get that ugly.

Maybe he sensed what happened to her, the man once again opened his mouth. “You know, at first I thought you are a stiff and reserved maiden knight, but it turns out you have so many expressions you practically wear your heart on your sleeve.”

“Pardon me?” Now that was unexpected. She was often told that it was hard to tell what was she thinking, some even said that she almost didn’t have any emotions at all. It was not something she decided to live for, she was already like that when Grove found her in the slums.

“I said It’s so fun to see your expressions. I can see why Grove really likes to boast you in his letters. Now I wonder where did he find such a fine little lady.”

She couldn’t help but get flushed. The boys in his peer group never called her like that. They always thought of her as a tomboy lass, so she beat them black and blue in return. While the older men around her always treated her as a child despite how she had already of age. She was old enough to sustain herself outside the orphanage. The man in front of her was just different, he was one of a kind.

“Come to think of it, I haven’t heard your name. I’m Rat the Rodent.” The man, Rat, offered her his hand. He actually had a title.

“I’m Vyrl” The girl accepts his hand. Though nervous, she hid it very well. At least she thought she did.

“Vyrl, huh. It’s after Valyr the Holy Warmaiden, I presume?”

“Yes. It is my dream to inherit her Grace’s title.” It was admirable of him to actually know it. Valyr the Holy Warmaiden wasn’t exactly known far and wide. But then again, he was an alchemist, and they said alchemists were people who know every secret.

“It fits you well.”

Once again, she could feel her face got hotter. This was mysterious.

“I have been enjoying our time together, miss Vyrl. However, I have to get going. The potions won’t brew themselves.” Said the man as he got on his feet. She only then realized just how great of inconvenience she had brought to him. And she still hadn’t repaid his gratitude!

“Thank you so much for having me. I am sorry I haven’t done anything to help you.”

“Don’t be. I’m happy someone is visiting me, and it was from Grove’s orphanage even.” The man laughed heartily. “Feel free to come again.”

“I will.” She said.

Rat saw her off until the front door, where the small bell ringed when she swings it open. She could see herself returning to this workshop time after time. She couldn’t find many places she could be herself like this one. It already felt like her home at this point in time.

With a lifted mood, Vyrl headed to the guildhouse to report the incident from yesterday.


Rat: “Which part of the story that surprises you the most?”

Vyrl: “I never expected Grove is actually a former nobleman.”

Rat: “Right?”

MOSS: Red Moon and Azure Wolf (First Part)
MOSS - Figuring How an Infinite Bag Works 101