Bonus Story: Black And White And Read All Over

on June 30, 2008 in Other Tales


Lucinda hadn’t heard the door opening. The first indication she received that she was no longer alone in the office of The Gazetteer was when she looked up from her notebook and saw the black-skinned, cloaked figure standing in front of the desk at which she worked.

She yelped, her hand knocking over the soda she’d been reaching for. To her surprise, not only did the flimsy fast-food lid stay in place, but the drink righted itself.

“I apologize,” the white-haired dark elf said. She was smaller than Lucinda had pictured. She’d always known, intellectually, that a dark elf was first and foremost an elf, and that meant slim and petite, but it was strange to be face-to-face with one, cowl down, and realize how tiny they actually were. The voluminous cloak made her look a little more bulky, but there was no hiding her delicate facial features. “My name is Delia Daella. I am looking for somebody to speak with. It was my intention for my approach to not disturb you, but I did not mean to startle you, either.”

“‘Not to disturb’,” Lucinda said.

It was an automatic response. Her brain was recovering from the shock, and was starting to edge its way into fear. She was alone in the newsroom. The front of the room was all windows that overlooked the main hallway of the lower level of Harper Hall, but the blinds were closed.

Khersis damn it, why had Lance had to go and provoke the drow further with his stupid front page editorial?

“I beg your pardon?” the elf said.

Oh, shit. Did she hear what I just thought? Lucinda’s mind was reeling. She remembered that dark elves… particularly female ones… were supposed to have a higher incidence of telepathy than most races.

“You said ‘to not disturb’,” Lucinda said, choosing to react as though Delia Daella had been responding to what she’d said. “That’s a split infinitive.”

“I am afraid that I do not understand that term.”

“You can’t put a modifier in the middle of an infinitive phrase,” Lucinda said.

“Why ever not?”

“Because it splits it,” Lucinda said. “You see, the whole phrase denotes the unconjugated form of the verb.”

“I see. And?”

“And… it’s the rule,” Lucinda said.

“Why?”

“Um, because it’s like saying ‘disturb-not-ing’ instead of ‘not disturbing’,” Lucinda said.

“Except that it is not,” Delia Daella said. “‘To disturb’ is two separate words.”

“I just know what I was taught,” Lucinda said.

“I see. In my language, the infinitive form of a verb is a single word, so while I would hardly drop another word into the middle of it, I have a difficult time seeing the objection to placing an adverb alongside the word it actually modifies, as is the usual practice in Pax,” the elf said. “In any event, it’s not a matter I care to discuss at the moment. I came here for another purpose.”

“You’re here about the article,” Lucinda said. “Or articles. I’m afraid Kent and Lance aren’t here right now… would you like to come back later? Or I could have them get in touch with you?”

“You are here. I would speak with you.”

“I’m not the complaint department,” Lucinda said.

“Who are you, then?”

“Lucinda,” she said. “Lucinda Blake. I’m a reporter.”

“I am given to understand that it is your job to write people’s stories,” the elf said.

“Sometimes,” Lucinda said.

“Would you care to hear mine?”

“Uh… sure,” Lucinda said. She picked up her notebook and flipped through it until she found an empty section. “You want to tell your side of things?”

“I wish for people to understand why it is important to me that my name be rendered completely,” she said.

“Please, grab a seat,” Lucinda said. There wasn’t one on the other side of the desk she was using, but there were rolling chairs scattered around the room.

“Thank you,” the elf said, giving a small bow before she went to retrieve one. When she was settled comfortably in it, Lucinda began.

“So… I understand that you have a superstition about mothers and names?” she asked.

“That is an awfully loaded word.”

“I’m sorry. But that’s the gist of it?”

“I do not actually believe that my mother will die if I am not given my proper name,” she said. “No more than a human child is likely to believe that she truly will break her mother’s back if she steps on a crack.”

“Then why did you send the letter?” Lucinda asked. “Were you making a statement? Seeking attention?”

“I was… frightened,” Delia Daella said. “I do not believe that, consciously. However, this belief… as childish as it may be… is a feature of the society in which I was recently a child.”

“I guess I can understand how that might affect you,” Lucinda said. “You said your name is Delia Daella?”

“Yes.” She spelled the names out. “Though, those who are closest to me have long known me by the familiar name ‘Dee’. I offer its use to those who would think of me as a friend.”

“May I use it?” Lucinda asked.

“That is up to you.”

“Very well, then, Dee,” Lucinda said. “First off, though, the double name… the, uh, matronym. That means you’re a noblewoman?”

“The concept of ‘nobility’ is not an exact translation,” Dee said. “It means I am the firstborn of a woman of lineage. My family would likely be counted as ‘noble’ by most measures; however, my younger sisters are not entitled to use the matronym.”

“What are their names?”

“Duala and Deneira,” Dee said. “Though even their names proclaim their lineage. They are named in honor of Duala Deneira, our great-great-grandmother, who is the current matriarch.”

“How old are you?”

“In surface years, I am approximately thirty years old,” Dee said.

“I wouldn’t expect an elf, a nor…, I mean, one of the ones that lives up here… to have a pair of younger siblings at the age of thirty,” Lucinda said.

“It is not at all usual for us, either,” Dee said. “Ordinarily, a century or more would have been allowed to pass between the births, but my mother has sought… dispensations. It is her intention to bear a son. To my knowledge, she was set to try again shortly after I departed.”

“Wouldn’t she rather have daughters?”

“She has already discharged her duty to continue the line by bearing her first daughter,” Dee said. “Now she seeks to have a son to replace the one she lost… my older brother, who greeted the goddess shortly after he was born.”

“Oh?”

“He… passed away,” Dee clarified. “Nobody will speak of it, but she radiates terrible sadness when the subject is in her mind.”

“Do you have any idea what might make her feel that way?”

“I suspect the sudden loss of her infant son might have something to do with it,” Dee said.

“Sorry,” Lucinda said, blushing. “I’m sorry. My reporter’s instincts… I really want to dig at that, but of course, you don’t know yourself. You say he was your older brother, but you called yourself the ‘firstborn’?”

“Firstborn daughter,” Dee explained.

“So, sons don’t count?”

“For this purpose, no,” Dee said. “But I can assure you they count to their mothers.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucinda said. “But the impression I’ve always gotten from the literature is that your society, ah… undervalues… its men. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to your mother or your brother, this ‘firstborn’ business seems to support it.”

“Men and women exist in separate… tracks, I guess you might say. They are valued differently,” Dee said. “Like many things in our society, it goes back to the struggle for survival. Our race could repopulate itself in a single generation with a single male and many females, but it would take much longer to achieve the same were the proportions reversed. So, while military service is compulsory for all citizens, the men are the frontline fighters, and are more often tasked with dangerous jobs.”

“So, men are expendable?”

“I would not put it so bluntly,” Dee said. “We do not denigrate their accomplishments or their contributions to the group welfare. We honor and celebrate the sacrifices they make on our behalf.”

“How do they feel about their lot in life?”

“I think you would have to ask them, individually,” Dee said. “I cannot speak for them as a group. My impression, as one who is outside of their circle, is that they have a greater enjoyment of life. Outside of their military obligations, they have fewer responsibilities. They have less need to be concerned with the fitness of things.”

“It doesn’t sound as though they have many opportunities,” Lucinda said.

“Oh, but they do,” Dee said. “Our culture is… a structured meritocracy. My birth opens up to me the most prestigious positions within the house chapel. Though I still must be found fit to occupy them, other women who lack my advantages would not even be eligible for the tests. For men, the circumstances of birth is far less of a consideration, and any male soldier within the house guard may aspire towards promotion on the basis of his deeds and experience.”

“But on the other hand, you’re going to be matriarch someday.”

“If the goddess deems it so,” Dee said. “You have to remember that we are blessed with life until death. Our current matriarch outlived her own firstborn daughter and grand-daughter. By the time the question of the next matriarch is put before us, I may have grandchildren of my own, adding more possible heiresses to the line.”

“So, it doesn’t just go to the next in line?”

“No, as I said… a structured meritocracy. The potentials would discuss the matter among ourselves, and then present our recommendation to the priestesses of the house chapel. They—minus myself and any other claimants—would make the final decision, with the goddess’s blessing. Only in cases of a grave emergency would the matriarchy automatically fall upon the next oldest of the line, and that only temporarily.”

“So, you could be competing with your own mother for the crown,” Lucinda said.

“It is not a competition, and we do not wear crowns,” Dee said. “But, yes… assuming that she is still… she has not… that we are both…”

She stopped, trailing off, and lowered her head, her eyes closed. Lucinda didn’t say anything.

“I apologize,” Dee said. “It is very stressful for me. Though conflicting schedules have occasionally kept us apart for a span equal to several weeks, it has now been months since I have seen my mother, and it will be years before I return to her. The political situation was stable when I left, and there were no external crises looming, but I have no way of knowing if that is still the case, or how long the peace will last.”

“It’s okay,” Lucinda said. “Take your time.”

“This is why the initial piece was so very upsetting to me,” Dee said. “I do not feel that my response to it was out of proportion, or even unreasonable. For all the talk of ‘political correctness’ in the resulting editorial, it was a problem that could have been addressed with actual correctness.”

“Dee, I’m not in a position to talk about another reporter’s work, or the decisions of the editor,” Lucinda said.

“But surely, you can see that my response was not extraordinary,” Dee said. “To judge by the vulgar entertainments of a few decades back which are still replayed within your television boxes, it was not so long ago that an insult against one’s mother was the deadliest, most unforgivable of slights even among humans.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Lucinda said. “I tell you what, Dee, I think I’ve got the beginning of an article here, but if you’re not in a hurry, let’s get a little more background on you. Where do you come from, exactly?”

“The city of Durakesh, on the shores of Durakleh… or Lake Durak,” Dee said. “The house to which I belong, House d’Wyr, is situated within a rocky island projecting from the lake’s dark waters.”

“What does your house do?”

“Do?” Dee repeated.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know much about the economy of ‘down there’,” Lucinda said. “Do you have a business?”

“Like all the greater houses, we aid in the management and efficient rule of the city,” Dee said.

“Do you produce anything?”

“We provide elite troops for the common defense,” Dee said. “Our house wizards are available for hire, and our mental gifts are second to none. Everything that we have is available to the city at large, when the need is great.”

“What about food? Durable goods?”

“As a lake house, we own a stake in the output of the fishing fleets,” Dee said. “All great houses also share in the wealth brought from any mines operated from within the city, as well as the duties on trade.”

“So, it’s safe to say that you’re part of the upper class,” Lucinda said.

“No, I… yes. In your idiom, I would be,” Dee said. “But we are far from idle. Our society does not tolerate idleness. Those who do not, as you say, ‘produce’, are not expected to sit on their hands while the rest of the city feeds us. As I said, we are a house of highly skilled warriors, wizards, and more. While others toil in the mines or fungal clusters, we toil over our studies, perfecting our skills for when they are needed.”

“How about you? You don’t strike me as the wizard type.”

“I have been trained as a high priestess of Arakhis, and… unless she herself dictates another course for my life to take… will most likely become high priestess of the house chapel. While I am not likely to be found on the frontline of minor skirmishes, should full-scale war or some other disaster break out, priestesses such as myself will be expected to give our all alongside everybody else. Had my station not given me the privilege of decades of dedicated study, I would just be one more body to throw into battle.”

“So, in your mind, you’ve worked as hard as anybody?” Lucinda asked.

“I am in no position to judge how hard anybody else has worked,” Dee said. “I strive to work myself as hard as I am able to. Durakesh has known peace during my brief life, but as war is the eventuality most likely to end that life, it seems inevitable that I shall live to face it.”

“That sounds a little bleak.”

“It is realistic,” Dee said. “Surely, you must be aware of the inevitability of your own death.”

“Yeah, but… not every minute of every day,” Lucinda said.

“It is the same with me,” Dee said. “It is not given to anyone to know the hour of her own death. For whatever time I may have, I may take pleasure in the discharge of my duties, the love of my mother, and… the others whom I love.”

“How about your father?”

“We… do not track heritage patrilineally,” Dee said.

“You don’t know who your father is?” Lucinda asked.

“It might be better to say that I have no father,” Dee said. “The concept does not exist in my culture.”

“But, you know that somebody had to, uh, ‘lie with’ your mother, right?”

“We are not ignorant of the process,” Dee said.

“But you minimize the man’s part in it?”

“I cannot speak for the rest of my race, but I personally enjoy the man’s part immensely,” Dee said. “For as long as it lasts.”

“I… see,” Lucinda said. “I think.”

“In many cases, the male parent is known because the mother only has a single partner, but my mother’s sole consort is a woman, Durilla Degra. She only engages in sexual encounters with men when she has permission to ask for the blessing of motherhood.”

“She… only sleeps with men to get pregnant?” Lucinda asked.

“Yes,” Dee said. “She leaves it to Durilla Degra to choose her partners for the endeavor. There were, I think, five men she had judged to be suitable when I was conceived.”

“Do you have a relationship with any of them?”

“Two of them pursued me when I came of age, but my mother’s partners were chosen for their physical attributes, not their temperament,” Dee said. “To put it quite simply, none of them are my ‘type’.”

“Oh!” Lucinda said. “I meant… a fatherly relationship.”

“Again, that is a foreign concept to me,” Dee said. “My parents are my mother and Durilla Degra.”

“Durilla Degra is a firstborn, too?”

“No,” Dee said. “That would put her and my mother in the same line. While that’s not completely unheard of, it is rare. Their… marriage… allows her to use my mother’s matronym. I am allowed to address her without it, but as these remarks may be reproduced by your hand, I include it.”

“This is interesting,” Lucinda said. “So, if you had been interested, you might have had a physical relationship with your own father?”

“I tell you again, I do not have a father,” Dee said. “They are simply five male elves. They are all of older generations than myself, but as we do not age physically past the point of maturity, that is rarely seen as an obstacle.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep focusing on the lurid details…”

“I do not see them as lurid at all,” Dee said. “I just do not see the relevance. You asking me who my father is would be like me asking you who the high priestess of your house chapel is.”

“Okay, but, even if you don’t recognize the position, you do have a father,” Lucinda said.

“Who is your mother’s brother?” Dee asked.

“That would be my uncle,” Lucinda said. “If she had one.”

“And your father’s sister?”

“My aunt.”

“Do you suppose all cultures observe these concepts?”

“I guess I’ve never thought about it,” Lucinda said. “But even if they don’t, a mother’s brother is still a mother’s brother. He still has the same relationship to her children, even if they don’t have a name for it.”

“And what is the nature of that relationship, precisely?” Dee asked.

Lucinda didn’t have an answer for that.

“There are cultures on the surface of this world which would not recognize either or both of those kinships,” Dee said. “Wherein, if a man’s sister marries and has children, they are nothing to him, because in marrying she has severed one set of bonds and forged another. Would you take it upon yourself to tell these people that they are wrong, that some chain of obligation exists between the man and his sister’s children?”

“Well, no, I suppose not,” Lucinda said. “But… a father’s different.”

“I suppose it must seem that way, to you,” Dee said. “I apologize. We are getting off track.”

“Okay, yeah,” Lucinda said. “You mentioned others who love you. Did you mean, uh, your mother’s consort?”

“I’m sure that Durilla Degra does love me, in her own way,” Dee said. “She loves my mother and I am of my mother.”

“If I’ve followed right… and please, forgive me if I haven’t… but your mother’s name is Daella Degra?” Lucinda asked.

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Is there anybody else, though? Any ‘special someone’?”

“There are a few people who are special to me, yes,” Dee said.

“Okay. If you could talk to your family… your loved ones… right now, what would you say to them?” Lucinda asked.

“That I love them very much,” Dee said. “That I include them in my prayers. That I miss them. I think about them often. That… that I am sorry I had to leave them, and I will be back as soon as I can.”

“Why did you leave them?”

“I needed something I could not find in the underlands.”

“What’s that?” Lucinda asked.

“I do not know.”

“If we can talk just a little bit more about your pers…”

The door to the newsroom opened. Lucinda looked up to see the freckled face of Lance Cedar, the senior editor, staring at her with a look of mingled shock and outrage.

“Hey, Lance,” she said, trying not to look guilty when she had nothing to feel guilty about. “I’m just wrapping up an interview. I can take it to the filing room, if you’ve got…”

“What the hell is this?” Lance asked.

“Miss Delia Daella here wanted to set the…”

“I thought I made it clear that we’re not letting any special interest groups dictate our coverage to us,” he said.

“I must be a very special interest group, indeed, to consist of a single soul,” Dee said, getting to her feet and giving the man a shallow bow.

“Nobody’s dictating anything,” Lucinda said. “I’ll write a balanced article, showing her concerns…”

“You can write whatever you want,” Lance said. “But it’s not going in the paper. We’ve already made our position clear.”

“What the hell, Lance?” Lucinda said. “You print any shit the guys bring you, including that horrible, un-proofread…”

“Hey, we don’t air laundry in front of outsiders,” Lance said. “And if our standards have been a little lax in the past, maybe it’s time to tighten them up… starting right here, right now.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Cedar,” Dee said, interjecting with a courteous inclination of her head. “Am I to understand that you have no intention of running any piece that includes my views or the background behind them, whatsoever?”

“You got that right,” Lance said. “We are an independent publication, and we do not give into terrorism.”

“And it could probably go without saying that you have no intention of issuing a correction, retraction, or apology?” Dee asked.

“It won’t go without saying,” Lance said. “I’ll say it: no, no, no. Clear enough for you?”

“I see,” Dee said. She turned towards Lucinda and bowed. “Thank you for listening to me. I apologize for wasting your lunchtime.”

“I didn’t waste anything,” Lucinda said. “I’m still going to write the article, and I’ll put it up on the weave with a foreword explaining…”

“You can’t do that,” Lance said. “That’s a total conflict of interest.”

“What with? You don’t exactly have an exclusive contract for me,” Lucinda said. “We didn’t sign any non-competitive agreements.”

“Yeah, well… maybe it’s time to review more of our policies.”

“Please excuse me,” Dee said, turning for the door. “It sounds as though the two of you have much to discuss.”

“Look at that,” Lance said, watching her disappear through the door. “She talks tough, but…”

“What do you mean, talks tough? She asked for an apology,” Lucinda said.

“It’s not what she said, it’s how she said it.”

“How’s that? In writing?” Lucinda asked.

“The point is, I called her little bluff and she folded,” Lance said. “She met a little resistance, and she gave up completely.”

“Yeah, somehow, I don’t think that’s what she was doing,” Lucinda said. “I think when you look back on this, you’re going to realize she was giving us… giving you… a chance to make things right.”

“Oh, yeah,” Lance said. “Before she busts in here with her scimitars…”

“Oh, come on,” Lucinda said. “They don’t all use scimitars. Even I know that’s a myth. Anyway, what are you even doing here? I come in here over lunch so I have a chance to get some work done, alone.”

“Yeah, I see that,” Lance said. “It’s a great time for going behind my back. If you must know, I was going to meet Julie here to talk about giving her senate beat to Angstrom, permanently.”

“What? She’s been on that for two years,” Lucinda said.

“And she’s never turned in anything like Angstrom’s piece yesterday.”

“That piece of fluff? I can’t believe…”

She stopped as the door opened and Julie came in.

“Ah, good!” Lance said. “Julie, come over here. I wanted to talk to you about…”

“This is a bunch of bullshit,” Lucinda said, interrupting him. “Julie, I want you to know I have nothing to do with this.”

“With what?” Julie asked. “The naked dark elf setting up signs in the hallway?”


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9 Responses to “Bonus Story: Black And White And Read All Over”

  1. Gavin says:

    “With what?” Julie asked. “The naked dark elf setting up signs in the hallway?”

    what an awesomely funny and dreadful way to end this story. I like it.

    Current score: 9
    • Adam Barnes says:

      I may in fact be in love with a fictional character…. meh, can’t be worse than my last girlfriend xD

      Current score: 4
  2. pedestrian says:

    be a shame if that lance got shattered while jousting

    or at least an amusing comeuppance

    Current score: 4
  3. Anthony says:

    Shouldn’t Dee say that she’s on track to become the *Low* Priestess?

    Current score: 2
    • Daezed says:

      I believe that’s why she paused and said ‘in your idiom.’ 🙂

      Current score: 3
  4. tordirycgoyust says:

    I’ve been wondering since Dee’s first appearance whether she dual wields scimitars…

    On a more general note, I wonder why all observed weapons are melee. Given how huge an advantage range is, and how much less terrifying ranged combat is (the bayonette use statistics of the American Civil War are a good example of this effect), I would expect to see much more. Mack and Sooni’s fight and the existence of melee weapons indicates that spellslinging is too mana expensive to replace weapons unless enchanting ammo is really THAT expensive and the existence of mockboxes makes that even less likely. Come to think, in real war with mixed unit tactics the pain of phantasmal ammo would be enough to act as cheap long range CC and/or force the enemy to devote resources to counter massed illusions. I suppose sampling bias is possible, but it is curious.

    Current score: 1
    • MentalBlank says:

      Well, they may have to consider the fact that a lot of the reason for the weapons training is for self defense from ‘wandering monsters’ around the campus, and since, generally speaking, a monster wants prey, they tend to get in close where a ranged weapon can be a liability. Not to mention ranged weapon classes would obviously be held separately.
      But we have had at least two examples of ranged weapon wielders that I can think of; Seth(?) the archer in the labyrinth that shot Mack, and Hazel, who had a slingshot in an earlier chapter. (Somehow I doubt her main weapon of choice is allowed by the University to be a rolling pin.)

      Current score: 0
      • Leila says:

        Fiery rolling pin of smiting.

        Current score: 2
        • Jechtael says:

          +2 Rolling Pin of Smiting Bitchy Fox-Girls. With a self-cleaning charm so the blood doesn’t get into the pies.

          Current score: 2