OT: Sundown

on April 7, 2013 in Other Tales

The sky was bright and blue overhead. Not a single breeze stirred the fronds of the many green plants that made up the terraced garden. The rhythmic sound of the rain hitting the slates of the roof formed an odd backbeat to the scene, making it somewhat easier to spot that the sky was a domed roof covered in illusion that made it seemed to stretch to the horizon.

Some of the clientele seemed to be as out of place as the sound of the rain, or at least at first glance. The pair of finned troglodytes laying by the reflecting pool had skin that had not seen real sun for any prolonged period of time, but they looked perfectly at ease.

Such paleness was a common feature, along with skin that came in shades of rocky gray or the color of the deep shadows that formed under mountains. There were scales, there was fur… a minotaur reclining on a chaise longue and holding a tropical drink with a paper umbrella was an unusual sight, but he looked like he was enjoying himself.

The only one in the immense room who looked uncertain about the whole thing had just come in. It didn’t help that other than some deep gnomes (whom she failed to notice), she was a lot smaller than most of the various types of people who were hanging out.

She’d never thought of herself as short before coming to the surface, and didn’t like to now. In the upper underworld, where large natural caverns are few and far between, a compact size were a desirable feature.Most of the peoples that kobolds have dealings with, good or ill, were of a similar size. Dwarves were the largest, which made it something of a sick joke that the overworld had adopted their name to mean “miniature”.

But whenever she found herself in an unfamiliar situation, surrounded by unfamiliar people, Shiel became very conscious of her size. When she was around humans or their favored ally races, she told herself that it made her look less threatening. Surrounded by unfamiliar underworlders… including races she’d only heard of, and ones she couldn’t identify… she just felt short.

She knew that she wasn’t the shortest person in the place, but that was only because she’d been brought there by Nae, who was named after those useless, tiny versions of rats that sometimes found their way into the warrens with trade goods from the surface. They never lasted long… the proper vermin would eat them even if nothing else did.

The surfacers thought her name was sweet and endearing, but it was like naming a child runt. Her parents hadn’t expected her to survive, and she certainly wouldn’t breed warriors or miners… she’d be torn apart before her brood was even properly developed.

It was no wonder that she’d left. Shiel didn’t understand why she’d chosen the life that she had… living in bondage with a dwarf, for instance. But in many ways… okay, in some ways… Nae was living the kind of life Shiel had dreamed of. She’d left kobold society behind. She’d become a lesbian… well, she was a lesbian. Shiel wasn’t even sure she had a sexuality, herself. She’d only ever thought about it politically.

“Well, what do you think?” Nae said.

“This is awfully bright for a place called ‘Sundown’,” Shiel said, because it was less embarrassing than saying what she’d been thinking. She pushed the smoky shades she’d been issued by an attendant up closer to her eyes, but they were a poor fit and she didn’t really have a nose, or the right kind of ears for them.

“Fold the arms in, it becomes self-adhering,” Nae said, demonstrating with her pair. They were speaking Kobol, a language that Nae hadn’t practiced in years but she found the words still spilled out of her mouth. If anything, it felt more natural than the Pax she had learned later in life. “And it’s ‘Sundown’ because it’s sun for the down under crowd. Some people come here for the novelty… some people like the image. Though I suppose these days, they probably mostly come here ironically.”

“The image?” Shiel repeated.

“Yeah, you know,” Nae said. “I’m sure you heard a million times growing up that the surface is dangerous, the sun is dangerous, light is dangerous…”

“Ah,” Shiel said. “So, it’s like your Tomb of Horrors but for people who can’t see in the dark.”

“It’s not my Tomb… we just go there because it’s good for her business,” Nae said.

Speaking their own language, they both knew better than to directly mention Nae’s partner in public. Old enmities ran deep, and deep was where kobolds and dwarves lived. Having a dwarf’s name overheard in a kobold’s mouth could lead somewhere awkward.

“This place must be a well-kept secret,” Shiel said. “On a day like this, the humans would flock to it.”

“It’s not a human place,” Nae. “The girl on the door keeps them out.”

“I didn’t notice anyone watching the door.”

“The gargoyle,” Nae said. “The one on the door.”

“Ohhh,” Shiel said. “So, then the people I’m looking at who look human…”

“Some of them might have been humans, originally,” Nae said.

“Is this… are we safe?”

“Of course!” Nae said. “Unless you’re worried that your hair’s going to get you mistaken for a human…”

“No, I just mean… are places like this legal?”

“Sure,” Nae said. “It’s just like a social club… it’s not a crime to be walking around dead, any more than it is to be a kobold on the surface. You’re not afraid of them, are you?”

“Not of… them, or anyone in particular,” Shiel said. “I just have a hard time being casual about it… the whole idea of it. When a knocker breaks free into the warren, it’s… well, you know. People screaming and trying to collapse tunnels on it and the place never really completely recovers. But here, apparently, sometimes people just… keep going?”

“Sometimes, apparently,” Nae said. “I don’t pretend to understand it, but it’s actually pretty controversial. If your family’s rich and powerful, you can be ‘rehabilitated’… otherwise, you’re pretty much just another monster.”

“Ah. That I can understand,” Shiel said. “Do they serve food here, or is it all like…”

“Like what?”

“I was trying to think of something silly and frivolous, like artificial sunlight,” Shiel said. “But I wasn’t coming up with anything. People don’t come here to eat ironically, do they? I don’t think my stomach appreciates irony.”

“It might be a little ironic, but the burgers here are actually supposed to be pretty good,” Nae said. “I’m off meat, though. My recollection is they do a good garden salad.”

“I can’t tell if the unifying factor there is that they’re things that humans eat or if they’re things that you can’t really get underground,” Shiel said.

“Or maybe it’s just typical restaurant food around here.”

“I guess that would be about right,” Shiel said.

“If you’re hungry, just flag down someone in a yellow bathing costume,” Nae said. “That’s the staff uniform.”

“Could we maybe go someplace else?” Shiel said. “This place, it really isn’t my level. Or my scene, I guess.”

“What is your scene, then?”

“I don’t know,” Shiel said. “I haven’t ever really been to town except with Oru or the gnomes, and they’re all surfacers. I’m always the tag-along. That’s why I was excited about the idea of you showing me around. Another kobold. I wanted to see where the underworlders hang out.”

“And it turns out to be a ‘cheesy’ surface theme restaurant,” Nae said, using the Pax word that had no direct Kobol translation.

“‘Cheesy’ is just the right word… I don’t think my body can handle this,” Shiel said.

“Well, the sad truth is that the two of us wouldn’t be very welcome in the more underground joints,” Nae said.

“I guess that kind of place wouldn’t remind me of home in a good way,” Shiel said, still steering clear of mentioning dwarves. “And there isn’t exactly a kobold community around here… Oru took me to a goblin restaurant once. Some of the things they ate apparently grew in the ground.”

“You don’t eat any vegetables?”

“They don’t all… do they? I mean, I know they’re not fungus, but I see fruit growing on trees all the time. I thought it was like that.”

“The fruit is part of the tree,” Nae said. “The tree produces it.”

“Seriously? And people just… eat it?

“Yep.”

“So, when I’m eating an apple… that’s what?”

“It’s basically the tree’s womb.”

“Now you’re making things up,” Shiel said.

“No, seriously,” Nae said. “The little specks that taste like cyanide? Those are basically spores.”

“But those are the best part!”

“It doesn’t bother you to eat mushrooms, spores and all,” Nae said. “I mean, we even call them ‘fruit’. Same word.”

“Yeah, but that’s different… mushrooms are food,” Shiel said. “And now I want mushrooms. I don’t suppose they have them here?”

“They have a mushroom cheeseburger, but I think they’ll probably make it without the cheese,” Nae said. “I’ll order, if you’re embarrassed… it’s the least I can do after you helped me get my head straightened out.”

“No worries,” Shiel said. “It almost looks like it’s the right shape.”

“I kept telling them I needed an alchemist… no one here really knows how to heal our kind,” Nae said. “It’s a good thing we’re not as fragile as they are.”

“Do you really come here often?” Shiel asked.

“Oh, I don’t go anywhere often,” Nae said. “And don’t look at me like that… I don’t like going out and I do like being kept, so it works for me. But this is the sort of place the two of us can be seen together, because it’s a hangout for weirdos in general and because it’s assumed we’re mutually slumming.”

“So no one knows?”

“Oh, some people probably know, but as long as we’re discreet about it, our tastes are our problem,” Nae said. “It’s only if we start flaunting it that it’ll become a problem for the community. The whole culture of secrecy thing really works in our favor… right now it’s our secret. If someone else knows or suspects it, they can’t out us without robbing us of that. Well, I mean, robbing her. They don’t care about the secrets of kobolds. But if we were to get too public… then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”

“So they don’t gossip among themselves?”

“Of course they do. There are just… protocols,” she said. “It’s like any culture. Some things are done and some things are not done.”

“I never really thought of their culture before,” Shiel said.

“They were just the annoying upstairs neighbors, right?”

“They were the big hairy brutes with no respect for established mining law,” Shiel said.

“They have their establishments and we have ours,” Nae said. “So… are we staying or going?”

“We might as well stay,” Shiel said. “The weather’s nicer in here.”


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20 Responses to “OT: Sundown”

  1. Oni says:

    Nice one. I miss more of these (odd)world-building chapters.

    Current score: 1
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Getting one’s head straight
    Is easier when one’s not
    Seriously bent

    Current score: 3
  3. Rien says:

    Ohhh, I *love* Nae! I really enjoyed this 🙂

    Current score: 2
  4. pedestrian says:

    I’m guessing this occurs after Nae fought with Mackenzie?
    Shiel assisted Nae with repairs to her structure?
    After all the damaged caused to the salle’s structure
    when Frybaby and Tiger went at each with iron teeth and
    adamantine claws.

    Current score: 1
  5. Readaholic says:

    Food that grows in the GROUND! The horror!!!
    Mushrooms grow in much nicer stuff 🙂

    Very entertaining entry 🙂

    Current score: 1
  6. Athena says:

    So the…’rehabiliation’ is for – what, zombies? Something of that ilk, I gather? Is that different than having brought-back-to-life insurance, or are both technically considered zombies?

    Wait, how do you /become/ a zombie? Questions, questions!

    Current score: 1
    • Brenda A. says:

      I was thinking vampires, myself…

      Current score: 0
    • Greenwood Goat says:

      Or liches. Although we haven’t heard that any of those are still extant. They’d probably be regulated now, with the currently active ones being assessed and licenced. And the necromantic ritual to make oneself a lich probably requires a special pleading and half an imperial forest’s worth of paperwork before it can be performed legally. Heh, I could just see some creaky old revenant hunting through his musty scrolls and parchments, trying to find proof that he attained his present state prior to the legislation coming in, and thus qualifies for the grandfather clause. Or cooling his heels in a waiting room as an official panel of necromancers determine whether he counts as “unique undead” and can qualify for an exemption. Still, I don’t suppose a long and drawn out appeals procedure would faze them…

      Current score: 1
  7. Luke Licens says:

    Typo report:

    “The pair of finned troglodytes laying by the reflecting pool had skin that had not seen real sun for any prolonged period of time, but they showed looked perfectly at ease.”

    Current score: 0
  8. Kim says:

    God. Mack really did a number on her, didn’t she?

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      I’m thinking it was more the accidental impalement and explosion rather than anything Mack did directly.

      Current score: 0
  9. Arkeus says:

    Wow, that’s a great chapter.

    Current score: 0
  10. Morten says:

    I was wondering how Nae was doing. Good to see.

    Current score: 0
  11. Cadnawes says:

    I’m happy to see more of Shiel. She reminds me of some of my college friends, and perhaps a little bit of college me. It sounds like she hasn’t really found her place in the world. Plenty of us have been there.

    Current score: 0
  12. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    ‘“The fruit is part of the tree,” Nae said. “The tree produces it.”

    “Seriously? And people just… eat it?

    “Yep.”

    “So, when I’m eating an apple… that’s what?”

    “It’s basically the tree’s womb.”

    “Now you’re making things up,” Shiel said.

    “No, seriously,” Nae said. “The little specks that taste like cyanide? Those are basically spores.”

    “But those are the best part!”’

    Haha! As much as I love the main story, the little worldbuilding vignettes really are so great. Seeing these two together was fun.

    Oh, and what’s a “knocker”? Do we know? I tried googling “D&D knockers,” but it didn’t come up with any undead creatures.

    Current score: 0
  13. Rip says:

    They aren’t in D&D, but they’re from traditional Cornish fairy stories. Try searching knocker (folklore). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knocker_%28folklore%29

    Current score: 0
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Aha! Thank you, that seems about right.

      Current score: 0
  14. Krey says:

    I love this chapter, the idea of a “cheesy theme restaurant” has me tickled pink.

    Current score: 0
  15. anon y mouse says:

    “the sky was a domed roof covered in illusion that made it seemed to stretch to the horizon” – made it seem?

    “a desirable feature.Most of the peoples” – missing a space.

    Current score: 0