OTAPII AND THE CAVE

A TARSHIINITE TALE

 
The Adventures of Otapii   
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Introduction. One of the many popular tales of adventure written by the celebrated Savant of Literature Umorii Sasarta, a man who amongst other things besides his writings created various musical instruments from coral and fathered the eventual polymath Monk Sasarta. 'Otapii and the Cave' follows one of the many adventures of Sasarta's recurring hero Otapii, a man with varying backgrounds depending on which of the stories is being read. As is typical of many of the Otapii tales, in 'Otapii and the Cave' our protagonist seeks out treasure, only to eventually bite off more than he can chew.
 

PART I
 

he blade stroke of the Kiiahk’s oar sliced dexterously through the surface of the clear water and tapped gently upon the rocky floor as the weary-eyed paddler himself finally saw what he had been waiting for- the Stone Maw. Otapii rubbed his eyes in disbelief as his craft drifted into the gargantuan jaws of the monstrous sea cave, quickly enveloping the man into corridors of rock as he left the expanse of sea he had travelled to get here behind him.

The paddler vacated the cockpit, lowering himself partially into the now-murky shin-deep water. Unfastening the inconceivably complex knots that bound his equipment to the front of the Kiiahk, the man quickly removed a small, copper trinket, no bigger that his own thumb: an echo whistle. Inhaling with the force of a Faen thunderstorm and exhaling with equal ferocity into the blowhole Otapii shot a single bolt of sound throughout the ever-intertwining slipways of the sea cave, delivering a rude awakening to the archaic, sleepy cavern.

‘It's no use’, remarked the man disappointedly, straining to hear some sort of correlation in the chorus of resonance. But to no avail. He would have to find another way of navigating this maze. ‘It’s a good job I brought these then’, uttered Otapii to himself, brandished an odd contraption that seemed like the warped child of a bird-cage and a greenhouse, stuffed with hundreds of odd, mobile little lights: hundreds upon hundreds of Nighttorch Moths ablaze with white light. As Otapii laid his hand on the small mechanism keeping the container closed the moths began to bustle with activity, craving their long-awaited freedom. With a simple flick of an index finger a stream of blinding light cascaded into the fissure, almost illuminating it too effectively as the insects fluttered around the area, basking in the freshness of the damp air and the infinite personal space.

Wading through the water alongside the small raft holding the burden Otapii had paddled all this way, the man decided to follow the path that the largest numbers of moths seemed to have followed, which sadly led him through a slipway with an increasingly lowering ceiling. Otapii steadily began to regret electing this path, as the man slowly but surely was forced to crouch and crouch and crouch and crouch until finally he was crawling on all fours through shallow water with just enough space for his tiny raft to trail behind: the expansive cave suddenly diminishing into a tunnel even the most flexible rodents would have trouble with.

After the tunnelling difficulties subsided however the paddler found himself in for an unexpected fall, the end of the tunnel leading to a significant, sheer drop into a small pool of remarkably pure water, glittering under the light of the Nighttorches. After consolidating his shock into determination, Otapii wrestled himself out of the pool to a dumbfounding sight nestled at the edge of the internal pond:

In perfect juxtaposition with the cramped tunnel he had used to enter this place, Otapii stood before a grand absence in the stone, a huge empty, rocky stomach. Almost creating one, single, penetrating spotlight, the Nighttorches lining the jagged walls bathed the centre of the great rough, rock-strewn bubble in divine luminosity. It was, however, what sat at the centre of the hollow chamber that interested Otapii to no end.

The fabled ‘Needle of the Maw’, a huge obelisk crafted from Tiquaitan silver with intricate detailing, stood before Otapii, the extravagantly beautiful entity, at least eleven or twelve times the man’s height, drenched by the innumerable tiny orbs lining the limits of the cavity. ‘Hm’ indolently remarked Otapii, not quite emulating the beauty of the spectacle that lay before him. ‘So I suppose it was real…’

Approaching the dominating image with such an air of casualness it almost insulted the grandeur; Otapii dragged the small raft he had fished out behind him towards the foot of the metallic obelisk. Running his dampened palm along the slightly raised Tiquaitan runes embossed onto the surface of the silver, the paddler took a moment to savour the sheer age of what stood before him. The obelisk itself, however, was not what Otapii had come all this way for.

Rustling, once again, into the mysterious bag accompanying him on his journey, Otapii withdrew a coarse, black string with four oddly shaped copper trinkets hanging from it like strange serrated pendants. Locating one small edge on the silver obelisk, Otapii ran his fingernails down a small indent on the large structure and removed a small rectangular plate no bigger than a sheet of parchment, revealing four empty slots. After biting the string in half, Otapii proceeded to remove each individual copper figure. The mysteriously shaped pieces of metal were then placed one by one into the slots on the obelisk, causing an immediate cranking. As the metallic spluttering instigated by the insertion of the keys intensified, the huge obelisk itself opened in half as if dissected down the middle, revealing a huge network of minute, dusty cogs. At the foot of the new opening, directly adjacent to Otapii, lay a small iron disc that began to lift itself as the huge mechanical piece convulsed even further. The door was there.

 

PART II
 

Eyeing up the opening that had so cordially revealed itself, Otapii crept into the small, square hole, quickly identifying a basic ladder descending down a rocky chute no wider than the tunnel he'd crawled through before. Lowering himself rung, by rung, Otapii slowly yet surely left the comforting glow of his Nighttorch moths behind, venturing further and further from the security of their light. Eventually he found himself in darkness. Otapii, unable to see even a hand held in front of his face, found himself clinging to the rungs even harder than before. The cool, smooth touch somehow made him feel more secure in the darkness as they guided his descent lower and lower toward the treasure he sought below.

The ladder came to an end as Otapii’s feet once again met the hard ground of the rocky cavern. However, though no longer suspended from metal pipes at heights unbeknownst to him, Otapii was still standing in impenetrable darkness. Having run out of ingenious methods of illuminating the blankets of black, the man reverted bestially to his hands and knees, shuffling through the tunnel with deliberate care, not knowing he quite easily could have skipped and hopped through the gargantuan tunnel without hitting a single thing.

The man’s eyes caught the dancing luminosity of a small clutch of Firecap Mushrooms and, for no other reason than that their mystical red glow was the only recognisable source of light, no matter how iridescent, Otapii began to approach it. Removing the largest of the Firecaps from the fungal formation, Otapii began to use the small, warm toadstool as a makeshift torch, allowing himself to quickly realise he no longer needed to crawl along the floor of the tall, rocky space.

As the treasure hunter began to notice his rocky surroundings smoothen and sharpen into subterranean ceilings and walls, it became more and more apparent the path he was following was not crafted by the whimsical romance of nature’s order but the calculated precision of mortal involvement. This shaft had been made, not found. Continuing to slowly descend down the depressed shaft like a raindrop sliding towards the limit of a petal, Otapii’s confidence in his own success was growing.

The muffled echo of a thunderous splash forced itself up the shaft, at and past Otapii. Whatever had happened, something of considerable size, probably nothing more than a boulder, had fallen into a body of water somewhere at the end of Otapii’s tunnel. It was, however, through the nerve-shaking disturbance that Otapii did not notice the rocky surface of the floor had begun to shape itself into steps. Upon consolidating his shock at the splash, and eventually realising the presence of a man-craft staircase beneath his feet, Otapii began to lower himself further and further into the unknown.

Despite the help of his fluorescent mushroom, Otapii was still unable to see more than a few feet from his own face. As a result, upon reaching the foot of the staircase Otapii could spot only two things. The first, the dampness of the air- the water source he heard before was probably nearby. The second, the unmistakable scent of Slowflash. Otapii’s alchemist father had forced the boy to catalogue his various powders, and the pungent scent of the bright-burning metal could never escape him.

Though it took some time, and many failed guesses, Otapii eventually managed to locate a small impression in the stone where a pile of the granulated light sat, placing the Firecap next to it so he could rustle into his pockets and retrieve a handful of tindersticks, a wondrous invention that caused a stick to ignite when lightly struck against anything hard and dry. Using the coarse skin of his own arm, the tinderstick sizzled, eventually negotiating the release of a small flame at its tip, Otapii quickly thrust this into the pile of Slowflash with spectacular results.

As the ignited Slowflash began to fizzle into an orb of intense brightness, the illusion of hundreds of others varying distances from Otapii did the exact same thing, as though various other piles of Slowflash were mimicking the action of the one next to Otapii. It was as the hundreds of eye-burning lights revealed themselves that Otapii realised what lay next to the Slowflash he had so recently lit- a mirror, reflecting the intense light onto another and onto another until the entire room, which took the shape of a perfect dome around tenfold larger than the stone space that housed the Needle of the Maw. Whoever had built this place, it would seem had intended for it to be found.

The space, now revealed to Otapii with such brightness a star might as well have been stuck in the centre, was gigantic both in proportion and tone. Directly in front of Otapii lay a stone walkway that bridged the gap between the arch that Otapii was standing under and an arch around fifty peds in the distance. The walkway itself, however was overshadowed by the expansive pool of water that dominated the rest of the space, the dark black water glimmering with an ominous beauty. Perhaps most disconcertingly about the water, however, was not its colour, but its movement. Rough, choppy ripples gravitated towards the left of the space, suggesting, to Otapii’s keen eye, that something had not fallen in, but was moving inside.

‘Back to business.’

Otapii wrestled his interest from the shape of the ripples to what lay before him. Walking down the narrow stone bridge with considerable pace Otapii quickly found himself at the previously distant archway, only to see that what lay on the other side was identical to what he had seen before, the complex of mirrors lighting too this dome that was roughly, if not exactly the same as the other. The only noticeable difference was the inalienable stillness of the water in this instance, which even then only grasped the attention of the ever-observant paddler for a few blinks.

Walking towards the opposite archway through another bridge, Otapii began to spot a pattern developing, which the opposite archway leading him to another, huge, well-lit dome with another grey stone bridge divided a huge circle of black water. The pattern continued for another five walkways, walking through identical rooms, almost convincing Otapii that he was walking in circles.

At the emergence of the seventh dome, however, a new turn had taken. In this instance, the bridge before Otapii did not lead to the other side of the dome, but took him directly into the middle of the water. Upon reaching the centre of the circular water surface there lay a small, glass tunnel inclined at a straight yet gentle diagonal. Stepping into the slippery, transparent neck Otapii slowly sank further and further below the surface, deeper and deeper into the comfortless, black water.

The glimmer of Otapii’s prize was the first thing he saw. Deep towards the end of the glass shaft laid an equally cold and transparent sphere, completely submerged underwater. Venturing into the stomach of the glass structure, the sight before him literally brought tears to his eyes. The large glass globe, equivalent to the size of a goldfish bowl had Otapii been the goldfish, was filled, shin-high with an array of precious stones arranged at the bottom of the sphere like a pebbled beach. The Bounty of the Maw, it seemed, was real too.

Grasping at the sense-numbingly colourful splendour of the loose blanket of rubies, emeralds, sapphires and diamantes, Otapii failed to spot the grandest sight of them all.

Nestled atop a small hill of precious stones itself, the Fist of Chima, fabled as the largest cut crystal of the entire Tiquaitan Kingdom, or any other kingdom in Kaereth or the Western Bay for that matter, sparkled delicately with a glimmer somehow superseding that of the various jewels around it, almost nullifying and dulling their beauty. Supposedly modelled on the fist of King Sarasalias himself, the diamante, around as big as a small turtle, was itself encrusted with smaller gems that only magnified the immensity of the base stone.

‘This could easily be the most valuable thing those Silver-eyed enigmas ever crafted. I could buy all the lakes in Kimka with this!’

As Otapii leapt, imparting a loving embracing onto the huge nugget of wealth that he had so readily sought, the water enveloping the sphere began to move with unexplainable ferocity, accompanied by a rumbling caused by much more than a splashing rock. As Otapii searched frantically through the transparent glass to see what had caused the pervasive noise a huge, yellow oval revealed itself from the black water and pressed itself against the glass.

Otapii, overcome either by inconceivable curiosity or possessed by an emotion of much greater stupidity, ventured slowly towards the glass to inspect the oval, probably as tall and as wide as he was. Tapping the glass that the oval was behind caused two grey shields to envelope its entirety before releasing and returning the prominence of the great ellipse to full view again. Though it took a few moments to register in Otapii’s head what he looked before, it was clear the grey appendages were not shields, but lids.

What stood before him was something monstrous. Something terrible.

It was an eye.
 

PART III
 

‘Wow’.

Otapii’s gaze was fixed upon the enormous eye pressed against the transparent surface of the submerged glass bubble. Distracted from his selfish hoarding of treasure, the man leant forward to touch the glass, the gargantuan eyelids gracefully sliding across the dull yellow eye. However, as the young paddler’s hand touched the glass the monstrous pupil withdrew, descending back into the dark, opaque waters.

Otapii felt a lump in his throat as a nervous tremble began to develop. His lungs began to seize, though he still stood in the same position pressed against the glass, the shock of what Otapii had seen finally enveloped him. Within moments the man’s breath returned to normal. Whatever it was, it was gone.

The young man turned to his previous preoccupation, greedily diving for handfuls of the treasure that lay at his feet, the clinking of precious stones and metals creating a calming symphony of wealth. Once he had collected as much as he could comfortably carry, if not a little more, Otapii, still shaken, peered over his shoulder to confirm the mysterious entity in the water was no longer behind him.

Despite how determinedly he stared, he could spot nothing but grim, black water. But he still didn’t feel safe, his gaze continually scanning the impenetrable black. A shred of contrast, grey, emerged from the dark water, a small object that seemed to be growing rapidly. Similar almost to a crescent moon, the object that appeared to be no bigger than Otapii’s palm continued to expand exponentially, growing in size and sharpness. It was not until he spotted the movement of water around the glass sphere that he realised. It wasn’t getting bigger. It was getting closer.

Frozen by a cocktail of fear and curiosity the distant object was now taking a visible form and seemed around the size and shape of a small fishing boat, only with a rougher texture. The odd grey object continued to plummet towards the sphere, still growing as it approached Otapii further. It was only a few blinks before the construct crashed violently into the glass surface that he realised what it actually was. A claw.

A huge claw, as large as a tree and resembling that of a crab, struck the thick glass of the sphere, cracking the outer surface and causing the submerged globe to flood rapidly. Shrugging off the clutches that had hypnotised his interest in the claw, Otapii fled with unimaginable agility, the pockets he had filled leaking riches as he fled for his life. It was at the foot of the sphere’s exit that he paused, looking back onto the Fist of Chima, the treasure he had spent days paddling to arrive at. Quickly turning back, and picking up the diamante with strength he developed that must be similar to mothers rescuing their children, he continued his flight of the flooding glass bubble.

Returning to the expanse of the dome he had entered before sliding down into the treasure trove, Otapii staggered along the bridge, the weight of the huge gem weighing him down considerably. Reaching the walkway that cut across the diameter of the sixth dome, the man noticed a movement in the water. A bubbling. And while all of his senses told him to press onwards, to get out of here, his insatiable curiosity paused his escape and locked his legs in place, fixing his eyes upon the commotion just below the surface.

Despite his deliberate waiting, the emergence from the water onto the surface was no less sudden. Soaked by a wall of water overturned by the surfacing, Otapii tried to scan through the splash and foam to see what had caused it. As the water draped back into where it had came from, his curiosity was finally satisfied while his fear became engorged.

Before him stood a creature like none he had seen before. Some sort of crustacean, the monster bore a shell broke into two parts- a large, chest-like middle crowned with a relatively much smaller head, which itself held the single eye that had been so close to Otapii only a few moments ago. The monster’s appearance was dominated by its claws, each of which was equal if not greater than the rest of the creature in size, hulking against the rock as supports for the rest of the creature. Carved from a light grey colour with a sparkling sheen from the brilliant lights bouncing off of the wet surface, the monster stood defiantly, its single eye fixed upon the relatively minute Otapii, the tendrils hanging from its ‘face’ wriggling in salivated excitement.

Raising one of its gigantic claws, the monster struck only a mere few peds away from Otapii into the brittle, stone walkway, obliterating a hefty chunk of it in one fell swoop. Otapii knew now, finally, it was time to run.

Half-dragging the Fist, Otapii continued into the fifth dome, only to see the creature submerge itself and reappear within a matter of blinks, the lumbering beast striking cataclysmically into the walkways so close to Otapii that he could feel the damp air which the claw displaced.

The pattern continued throughout the remaining the domes, the monster’s weapons only slightly missing Otapii but crushing the narrow stone path that he was using to escape. Struggling with the weight of the Fist, the young man tripped half way along the final walkway of the first dome, the clean-cut Tiquaitan pathway only a few peds away from him.

Towering over the stumbling paddler, the monster descended, its slimy tendrils beginning to envelope Otapii’s legs. Clawing desperately at the beast that seemed to be ingesting him, Otapii dug his nails into the huge eye, causing the creature to wail and release him. Continuing to drag the Fist, only this time by its easy-to-grip metal brackets, Otapii finally made it into the clean-cut tunnel that had aided in his descent towards this nightmare. The monster, however, was quick on his tail.

Pulling itself onto the rocky shelf, the creature began to pursue Otapii up the steep incline of the shaft, and though there was little space for the monstrous crustacean, Otapii’s slow movements as he rolled the Fist up the incline made him easy prey.

One single tendril wrapped itself around the man’s ankle, causing him to trip with the large diamante by his side. Being dragged slowly Otapii struggled, squirming. Though the monster could travel no further up the channel, this did not stop it from tugging at Otapii, puling him towards its anticipating maw. The paddler looked to the Fist.

It's this or my life.

Otapii clutched onto one of the Fist’s metal brackets and reluctantly began to roll it down the incline towards the monster’s exposed eye.

With the smoothness of a pebble thrown through a sheet of paper, the creature’s monstrous cornea was pierced by the rolling gemstone, the trauma from the diamante’s impact causing the creature to wail at almost deafening volumes while it bled thick currents of black blood, reminiscent of the murky black waters that it had concealed itself in.

Looking triumphantly upon the monster writhing in pain, Otapii exhaled. He had lost the most valuable thing he had ever set eyes upon, but he had his life.

As the currents of black began to cease, and the monster’s screams quietened, the pair of grey eyelids, stained with blood, closed ceremoniously over the wound. Its heavy breathing drained out. The creature was slain.

Finally reaching the sea cave’s entrance, Otapii took stock of what he had garnered from the treasure trove. A handful of rubies and pockets full of silver.

‘Hm,’ he mustered.

As he set his Kiiahk back into the still waters of the eddie sheltering him from the currents of the sea, Otapii did not feel saddened. It would be enough to fund his next escapade, anyway.

___________________

Pronounciation Guide.
Otapii - Oh-Ta-Pi
Kiiahk - Kai-Ak (Kayak!)
Tiquaitan - Tik-Wai-Tan
 

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