What Zoey saw that stunned her was an underground cavern that was overgrown with a huge amount of wildflower vines and plants. There were hundreds of different blooming types of flowers growing on almost every surface. The roof of the cave was split by a gap in the rock that opened the cavern up to the sky, allowing the flowering vines to make their way into the cave from the surface. Zoey could see every single color in the visible spectrum among the flowers in the cave, but that wasn't all that was here. In the back of the cave, bathed in sunlight from above was a crystal clear pool of water that had gentle wafts of stream rising from its surface. Flower petals and lily pads along with many other plants that Zoey couldn't name floated on the surface, pulled along by the gentle current.
Zoey managed to pull her attention away from the amazing sight and back to Athena after a moment. Athena was beaming at her with a big grin, clearly enjoying the sight of Zoey being stunned by the sight.
"Isn't it nice? I fell in here one day when I was running from a pack of Blood Wolves. Since then I try to make it out here as often as I can. My little slice of paradise!" Athena said as she walked over to the pool followed by Zoey and Viridi.
"In case you didn't notice, it's also a hot spring!" Athena didn't wait for a reply as she stripped her clothing in a few fluid motions and made her way into the water, winking back over her shoulder and swaying her hips at Zoey with a grin as she did.
Zoey averted her eyes, feeling her cheeks warm slightly as she blushed. Athena noticed and laughed while she splashed water at Zoey from the pool.
"Come on! You won't find any place like this within a month's travel from here!" Athena encouraged while she floated into the deeper end with a look of bliss on her face.
Zoey was still a little uncertain, but tempted nonetheless. She did enjoy the cool rain shower she had last night, but a hot spring bath had an entirely different appeal. After a short internal battle, Zoey decided to just go with the flow. She had Viridi as backup in case something happened after all. Her mind made up, she approached the hot spring and shed her clothing, more than a little self-conscious in doing so. Even though Athena was a woman like her, she had barely known her for half a day, and now they were sharing a hot spring in their birthday suits… Needless to say, Zoey had not seen this coming.
Despite her misgivings and slight embarrassment, Zoey still ended up stepping into the heated water of the spring. As she moved deeper in she could not help but let out a sigh of appreciation as the heat seemed to relax her body and the water gently soothed her muscles she did not realize were sore till now. Zoey could not help but close her eyes in bliss as she floated in the pool. She heard a chuckle nearby and opened her eyes to see Athena grinning at her. In her relaxed state, Zoey could not help but smile back, letting her wariness go for the moment and simply enjoying the soothing current in the pool.
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The fact that Athena froze for a second when Zoey smiled at her went unnoticed as they continued to soak in the hot spring. The water had a distinct floral scent to it thanks to the multitude of flowers in and around the pool, creating a sweet smell that was not at all unpleasant. Viridi seemed to absolutely love the water as she was already floating around in what seemed like a comatose state… Some backup she turned out to be.
"So, what brings you to this neck of the woods? I don't run into other people out here often, and most certainly not down here in the crater." Athena's lazy drawl drifted to Zoey's ears. After a moment of pause, Zoey decided that she didn't have much to lose by telling Athena, as long as she did not reveal anything about her Harmonic Heritage it would be ok.
"Nobles. I pissed one off and had no place left to go." Zoey said quietly.
Athena didn't reply for a moment, then said, "Good choice. Those nobles are all pussies. A few of them died in the crater a few years back and they have avoided the place ever since. This place is like a curse to them."
"Not a fan of nobles then?" Zoey asked curiously.
"Nope. Bunch of self-righteous pricks the lot of them. If they can't control or own something, they destroy it so nobody else can, but you probably already knew that." Zoey hummed in acknowledgement as Athena continued, "I've had my fair share of encounters with nobles and every time I end up busting some little prick's face in. It's always something about how women should know their place as brain dead baby making machines or some stupid shit like that. Pisses me off." Athena finished her rant with a little heat.
Zoey could understand her perspective. Aside from being a woman herself, the physical inequalities between genders had long been eliminated back on Gaia through genetic tailoring. Gender bias had long been a thing of cultural history that professors had studied in an attempt to grasp the nuances of ancient culture from the twenty-first century. Here on Darren though, patriarchy seemed to be the dominant mindset among the noble factions and gender bias was very much still a thing.
But Zoey was certain if she got strong enough, she would be able to survive. With her resources and determination, her friends Nito and Viridi, there was nothing that she wouldn't be able to handle.