Prompt: The stone people were not very pretty, but they would help a stranger in need. Written 3 February 2021
Half a day’s ride from any border town, there lies a cave in the side of a hill. To find the right hill, you must look for the one that is always in shadow, no matter where the sun is in the sky. By the time you have found it, they will have come to give you aid. If you are in a hurry, you may risk calling them by name.
However you find yourself in their presence, you must brace yourself for the sight of them. As kind as the stone people are, they are no great beauties. They will hold no offense if you gasp or even scream at their gray and cracking skin, and they will not chase you should you run from their eyeless faces and strange teeth. But if you are desperate enough to seek their help, it will save you precious time to push down your shock and ask your favor.
And it is a favor. Be it healing a friend or blessing a loved on, you are binding yourself to the stone people. And the more you take from them, the more you must give in return. Do not worry too much, though. These people are not Fae. They will not ask for your life or voice or firstborn. But if you ask of them something you cannot repay with song or prayer or magic, they will ask you to repay your debt by joining them.
Should you find yourself in this situation, there are things you must know. First is that they will not risk your family. You will not have to abandon them permanently, and while you are gone, they will be taken care of.
The second is that you will return changed. To dwell with the stone people is to become of them, and it is a transformation that you cannot hide. If you do not stay with them, you will not become the same as them, but the change will be unmistakable. Your skin will grow tough, and your features will drain of color until you are fully and only gray. Any magic you possess will morph to reflect theirs. Their gentleness is infectious, and so is their magic.
If you are in need of the stone people, but are find yourself in a city far from the hills in which they dwell, you need only look for a Gray Healer, those who returned to humanity after their time in the caves. There are many, should you know how to find them.
Gray Healers will not ask the same favors as the stone people. They will not teach you their magic. They will ask for small payments. Stories, loaves of bread, green cloaks. Some of these things are for their own livelihoods, but many are for the protection of others who seek their help. Do not ask about these things unless you need to.
Remain wary of the caves, however. The stone people are not the only occupants, merely the gentlest. To search for their aid is an act of true desperation, and a risk you should only take when no other option is available to you.