Bonus Story: In The Hall Of The Mountain Kings

on February 17, 2008 in Other Tales

Here you have a closer look at two of the non-human cultures. Note to those who keep the timeline: this story probably takes place on or around the third weekend, but I have to do a bit of research before I can place it exactly.

Iona led the way through the inky black passage, the rough hewn walls illuminated in sickly green by the ball of eldritch fire she cast. The scarlet scales which covered her body from the waist down looked black to Feejee, behind her.

“How much farther?” Feejee asked.

“Not much,” Iona said. “You aren’t scared, are you, Fee-Fee?”

“Of what?” Feejee asked.

“Exactly,” Iona said “Nothing to worry about. They clear out the dangerous monsters pretty regularly.”

“So, there are dangerous monsters down here, then,” Feejee said.

“Only in the side passages,” Iona said. “Not in the main tunnel.”

“And you’re sure we’re in the main tunnel,” Feejee said. The passage had branched off many times, and while Iona had rarely hesitated at a crossroads, there was nothing Feejee could see that marked one way or another as “main”.

“Fairly so,” Iona said. “I haven’t been down here since last spring. Just, don’t touch anything that looks wet.”

“That looks what?”

“Wet,” Iona repeated. “There’s a couple of different slimes and oozes and things that look like wet rock when they’re not moving. You brush your fingers against them and slurp!”

“Ick,” Feejee said, hugging herself. Her gold chains and strings of pearls clicked against each other. Iona turned at the sound.

“Yeah, it gets pretty cold down here,” Iona said. “I always mean to borrow a coat or something, but I keep forgetting.”

“Cold doesn’t bother me,” Feejee said. “I’m from the depths.”

“Oh, right,” Iona said. “I keep forgetting you’re not a shorebird like me. You can probably see better than me, too… maybe you should be keeping an eye out in the darkness behind us? Just in case.”

“Maybe we should just go back,” Feejee said. “Just in case.”

“If you don’t trust me to find the way there, I don’t know why you’d trust me to find the way back,” Iona said. “Anyway, I feel like getting my drink on tonight.”

“We’re mermaids, Iona,” Feejee said. “We can get drinks anywhere.” She cupped her hands beneath her full and ponderous breasts. “These apparently translate to ‘free beer’ up here.”

“Funny, I’ve been talking to some of the human girls in my classes and apparently theirs only get them milk,” Iona said. “Somehow. I didn’t really follow it all. If you really want to be grossed out, ask them what their va-jay-jays do.”

“Rick’s roommate asked me what mine smelled like,” Feejee said. “I shifted to let him check for himself, but he wasn’t interested. I’m not sure what that was about.”

“I get that a lot, too,” Iona said. “Humans are weird. Anyway, you might want to arm yourself for this next little bit.”

“Why?” Feejee asked. She shrugged her shoulders, and the skin of her arms rippled, becoming scaly and ridged with nasty-looking spines. The last segments of her fingers elongated, becoming knife-like talons.

“Just being cautious,” Iona said, doing the same. Her arms were feathered rather than scaled, ending in claws suited to a raptor. “Your human fella know you can do that?”

“I showed him, once,” Feejee said.

“You ever go all the way?”

“He doesn’t need to see that,” Feejee said.

“I could never date a human,” Iona said. “At least, not a freshman. If I was going to date an airdrinker, it’d have to be somebody more mature. That’s why I like partying with the dwarves. They’re always pushing thirty before they come to uni.”

“Don’t they age slower?” Feejee asked.

“They grow up faster… dwarven boys are put to work on their fourteenth birthday,” Iona said. “They owe the clan one year of solid labor for every year spent raising and educating them, and then they’ve got some years of liberty to figure out what to do with themselves. They call them ‘Ruckusers’, in human tongue. If they go for an outside education, that’s when they’ll do it. A lot of them can go straight into a graduate program, depending on what they spent their apprentice years doing. That‘s why you don‘t see many of them in the undergrad classes.”

“What about the women?” Feejee asked.

“You know, I never asked,” Iona said. “All I know is that the ones who come here are awful lonesome and have a taste for tall, leggy women.”

“Yeah, well, I just hope I’m not expected to… you know. I need a night off from Rick, but I’m not up for grabs,” Feejee said.

“Well, I can’t promise there won’t be some grabbing but it won’t go past that,” Iona said. “My cousin Skye coupled with a couple of them before she graduated, but nobody’s ever tried to take advantage of me at these parties.”

“If it’s a party, are there going to be other women there?” Feejee asked. “I’d feel a little bit better if it’s not just us.”

“Oh, I’m sure there will be more,” Iona said. “But each clan has a different entrance, and most guests have to be escorted in and out blindfolded.”

“Why are we special?” Feejee asked.

“I did tell you about my cousin, didn’t I?”

“Oh, right.”

“Hey, I think we’re here,” Iona said as they came alongside a passage with a high, vaulted ceiling. She stopped and concentrated, sending her glowing ball of witch light up higher to illuminate an unmistakably artificial feature, an arch of worked stone buttressing the ceiling a few yards into the blackness. On the keystone was an engraved shield.

“XV?” Feejee said, reading the figures off the carved shield.

“Means fifty-six,” Iona said. “Dwarves have a different way of counting things. That was set there to celebrate the fifty-sixth anniversary of Underhall.”

“I hope your friends like me as much as they do you,” Feejee said. “Though… maybe not as much as your cousin.”

“Of course they’ll like you,” Iona said. “You’re wearing their favorite color.”

“Green?” Feejee asked.

“Gold,” Iona said. She waved her wing-like arms and the feathers and talons melted back into her skin. “Shake it off, sister… we want to look our best.”

“Right,” Feejee said, reverting her claws to hands.

They advanced down the corridor. After about twenty yards, it underwent a drastic change, the walls becoming cut blocks and the floor paved with hexagonal flagstones. At the end of it was a massive stone door, covered in ancient runes.

“What do they say?” Feejee asked.

“‘Show us your tits’, as near as I can tell,” Iona said. “We have to press them to the door for it to open.”

Feejee raised an eyebrow.

“You’re joking,” she said.

“I am not,” Iona said. “The dwarves have their own way of opening it, but guests don’t get in without showing off their goods, and it won’t open for just one pair.”

“So that’s why you wanted me along,” Feejee said.

“Fee-Fee, I promise you that you have not gotten blitzed until you’ve gotten blitzed on dwarven mead,” Iona said.

Feejee sighed.

“These are the ‘mature’ guys we’re going to see, right?” she said as they squared themselves up in front of the door and leaned forward, pressing their bare chests to it. The massive door split open where no seam had been visible before, the two halves sliding noiselessly apart.

Warm air rushed out into the corridor. Iona sighed appreciatively.

“Come on,” she said.

She took Feejee by the wrist and drew her inside. Feejee was confused to find a dead end right inside the door, but then the floor–a wide metal grate–lurched and began moving down silently.

Pleasantly hot air rose up to meet them as they descended, carrying with it a tantalizing smoky scent.

“Mmm, smell that roast pig,” Iona said.

“You said there’d be finger foods,” Feejee said.

“If you see any utensils, you can sue me for false advertising,” Iona said.

“But, meat… red meat,” Feejee said, making a face. “I tried a hamburger once… it didn’t sit right.”

“Pork is white meat, Fee-Fee,” Iona said. “So flaky and succulent you’ll swear you’re eating fish. Cooked fish, yeah, but honestly, my family’s eaten surface food forever and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

“I don’t suppose they’ll have a salad bar,” Feejee said doubtfully.

“Tell me you’ll at least try the pig,” Iona said.

“I don’t know,” Feejee said. “That burger made me pretty sick.”

“You can at least try it, though,” Iona said.

“Maybe if I get drunk first,” Feejee said. “No promises.”

Iona sighed.

“Look, you’ve eaten humans, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Feejee said. “Who hasn’t?”

“Well, pig tastes almost the same,” Iona said.

“No way,” Feejee said. “You’re pulling my tail.”

“If I’m lying, I’m drying,” Iona said. “I was going to keep that as a surprise for you, but if you’re going to be too picky to even try it…”

“You’re not serious,” Feejee said. She broke into a wide grin. “You are. You’re serious.”

“Didn’t think you were going to get more than a little taste of manflesh while you were here, did you? That’s the other reason I like to come down here,” Iona said. “Well, one of them, anyway. You’ll find out the other one when we get there. Oh, just don’t mention any of this at the party… there will be humans there. They’ve got some funny ideas about us, but it’s probably best if we let them keep them. You’ve probably seen how nuts they can get about demons and ogres.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. A lot of them apparently think we lure sailors to marry them, or something,” Feejee said, laughing a little shakily.

“Have you told Rick?” Iona asked.

“I don’t think I have to… it’s not like I’m going to spend the rest of my life with him,” Feejee said, shifting from one leg to the other.

“That’s a no,” Iona said. “So… would you eat him?”

Feejee said nothing.

“You’re not thinking of giving them up, are you? I didn’t think I’d be able to eat any more, after making so many human friends last year,” Iona said. “Then the very first time a ship ran aground, I was right there with my sisters, all like ‘OM NOM NOM’ like there was no tomorrow. I swear I stripped a whole guy to the bones by myself.” She laughed. “But… it’s not like I knew him in particular, you know? It makes a difference. Like you wouldn‘t eat a crab you raised as a pet.”

“I suppose,” Feejee said.

“Anyway, it isn’t like we go hunting them. If they’re in the water, they’re ours. That’s like, ancient law. Older than any university or empire,” Iona said.

“So, what’s the other reason?” Feejee asked abruptly.

“What?”

“You said the roast pig’s one of the other reasons you like to come down to Underhall,” Feejee said. “So, that leaves at least one more.”

“Oh, that’s the other surprise,” Iona said. “You’ll probably like it more than I do… it’s a bit cold for me.”

“What is?”

“You’ll see. I think we’re about there.”

The platform stopped with a clunk. All around them, the walls of the stone shaft were smooth and even. Then, a door slid open in front of them, spilling flickering orange torch light.

“Hear that?” Iona asked.

Feejee listened. There was a myriad of sounds, including the crackle of torches, the unmistakable sounds of raised voices and laughter, and even the rustling of wings and cawing birds. There was another sound behind all that, a constant sound that Feejee couldn’t place for all the noise in front of it. More torches?

“Ravens,” Iona said after an especially loud croaking call. “They keep them for luck. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. They teach some of them to talk… and more of them to drink. C’mon.”

She led the way out of the lift. The vaulted ceiling was lower in this tunnel than was strictly comfortable, though if they kept to the center their hair just brushed the top. Once they were out of the passage, the ceiling sloped abruptly up towards a dome.

The stone floor sloped very gently to the center of the room, where a low stone wall circled a large portion of the floor. Rather, it circled where the floor was cut away… Feejee realized the sound she’d been missing was coming from an underground waterfall, a never-ending sheet of water spitting out from a grotesque carved face protruding from the ceiling.

“Iona!” the dwarves cried as they entered, except for a few who drunkenly shouted “Fiona!” From around the room came croaking echoes of both names, from the beaks of the massive blackbirds.

“And she brung us a friend!” said a black-bearded dwarf, hoisting a stein the size of his own head.

“Hi, Thurkle!” Iona called. “Or are you Thorkle?”

“Fuck me, but I don’t even know any more!” the dwarf replied, lifting his mug to his mouth so fast he hit himself in the face with the rim and fell over.

“Dwarves,” Iona said. “Isn’t this awesome?”

The crowd was mostly dwarves, of course… dozens of dwarves, with about a dozen human girls mixed among them, all well supplied with drink and many of them less well supplied with shirts. Feejee thought she recognized a pair of gnome girls from her own floor, but as she’d never managed to tell them apart she wasn’t entirely sure if it was them or another pair.

Feejee definitely recognized the rock-skinned human girl, Raquel, who stood surrounded by a crowd of admiring dwarves. Though her granite exterior hardly showed it, Feejee thought she was blushing. There was also a group of three human boys, whose big round eyes locked like lodestones on the pair of merwomen from the moment they entered.

There were giant casks with wheels built on, and whole spitted boars roasting over coals. All around the circular room were banners and pennants decorated with clan symbols, with names in dwarven runic and in Pax… Ironholt, Oakenkeg, Thundershield, and more. Ravens perched on the flagpoles and on stone perches which jutted from the wall and sloped ceiling.

“So what was the other surprise?” Feejee asked, though her mouth was watering from the smell of the cooking pork… teasingly familiar, now that she was in the thick of it.

“Go take a look over the edge,” Iona said. “No, wait… watch,” she said, pointing to a naked dwarf who’d climbed on top of one of the massive wheeled barrels and turned to face the gap.

The dwarf bunched his stubby legs beneath him and pumped his arms back and forth a couple times.

CAT-A-PULT!” he yelled, jumping out in the void. He plummeted like a stone, and moments later there came the sound of a tremendous crashing splash.

“They have a private pool,” Iona said.

Feejee’s grin couldn’t have grown any bigger.


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4 Responses to “Bonus Story: In The Hall Of The Mountain Kings”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Puhleeze don’t tell the humans. You’ll spoil the surprise.
    Wait a sec, whats in that can of tuna? Perhaps we should ask, Who?

    Current score: 0
  2. Hoopla says:

    I wish I could eat some human… legally and through the proper channels of course. But sadly, when we humans find out there is a market for something. Devising a way to procure it illegally for greater profit is usually soon to follow. In this particular case, it would mean murder. *Sigh*

    Current score: 0
  3. nobody says:

    If the reactions of sharks are an indicator, humans taste terrible.

    I would think of that as a good thing though, being delicious is an extremely severe evolutionary disadvantage anyway.

    Current score: 0
  4. Anon says:

    According to the accounts I’ve heard, human flesh and SPAM taste remarkably similar.

    Anyway, I don’t see anything inherently wrong with eating human, but most methods of getting it fresh are, well, murderous. It’d be alright if somebody left their body to cannibals in their will, I suppose, but odds are that you’ll die old and sick rather than fresh and delicious unless you’re murdered. Plus lawmakers are rather squeamish about such things.

    Of course in a magical world, there’s a whole nother option. Regneration. Cut off a leg, get it regrown, sell it as a delicacy for significantly more than the healer’s services cost, and you’re basically just trading a hell of a lot of pain for a hell of a lot of money.

    Almost certainly more expensive than the stuff coming from slaughtered slaves, but I could definitely see a market for “ethically sourced” human flesh in a world like this, between the half demons and the ogre princes and the just plain weird folk.

    You’d have to get brain matter and probably hearts from somebody truly immortal though, like a nymph.

    Current score: 4