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Flash Fiction: Monster Teeth and Art Glass

The stretch of sand between The Dancing Serpent and the Jiggling Jellyfish was a great place to sell Neteilyu’s wares. Her deathfin-hide tent was temporary; the tourists loved the feeling of visiting a rustic, uncivilized life. It was all illusion, of course. Her licenses were all in order, and her house, moored as it was on land-supports most of the year, was ship-shape in the event of a storm.

But for the tourists, she kept her long hair braided with shells, and wore dreamskate-leather clothes, cunningly cut to allow the ring-leech scars (which turned paper-thin and quite see-through in the tanning process) to show skin only where she wanted to show skin. She looked quite the barbarian artist—but the image of barbarian artist allowed her to charge twice what she had when she wore respectable clothes.

She was setting up her newest lamp, the base a fanciful construction of dreamskate tails, miscellaneous shells, driftwood, and a leaping deathfin carved of green dragonwood, when Dulilm walked up. “So, you’ve found a use for dreamskate stingers?”

There were always uses for dreamskate stingers in Neteilyu’s business. But they’d become very popular since The Dancing Serpent hade taken to feeding people monster steaks, and monster marinades, and monster stews. She shrugged, keeping her voice casual, “A few.”

“I could supply you with more.” Dulilm bent over to examine the carving. “Is that your work?”

Neteilyu smiled. “My son’s. He’s getting very good, don’t you think?” She waved toward the back of the tent, where her son sat in one of her fanciful chairs, his ugly scars from the amputations where a huge [sea monster*] had crushed his legs conspicuously visible. Having a wounded veteran of the unceasing war against the sea monsters as her carver also allowed her to raise her prices substantially; Meigru had been embarrassed, but was convinced to try it by the prices she promised him. What had really convinced him it was worth it to sit in a silly-looking chair, wearing a monster-hide loincloth, with his scars showing, however, was the hero-worship from the tourists, who not only loved his work, but wanted to hear his stories in all their gory, painful detail.

Dulilm nodded. “It’s a shame he was injured.”

Neteilyu nodded, automatically. But inside, she was fiercely glad for his injury. His father had been killed by a monster; she’d cried when he’d chosen his father’s trade. Now she had his company, every day, and a grandchild on the way.

Carefully, she set the slow box with its candle into the base of the lamp, trickling a bit of honey into the joins to hold it securely, and then she reached for the leather lampshade, made from a ludicrous piece of dreamskate leather, more ring-leach scars than decent leather. She’d cut the edge to resemble sea-foam.

She spared a moment to wish, yet again, that she could bring her daughter into the family business full time as well. The girl was only thirteen, but already could blow glass into amazing, water-like swirls. But the tourists didn’t associate glass-blowing with Duurludirj culture.

Dulilm laughed at seeing the assembled lamp. “Oh, that—that’s perfect. Exactly what our ancestors would have wanted in their houses during a storm.”

Neteilyu had to admit it was an incredibly frivolous lamp. It stood just as tall as a normal person, tall enough to convince a giant tourist that it was designed for a Duurludirj home, but it was top-heavy in design, so the base was a solid cone of concrete. The lampshade would rip in any high wind; she’d have to use a different lampshade on windy nights, until it sold. “This lamp alone,” she smiled proudly, “Will pay for all the necessary fees so Megruu and I can raise his firstborn.”

Dulilm grinned. “Thank the Goddess for tourists.”

“Yes, indeed.” Neteilyu was eager to hear Dulilm’s proposal about selling her dreamskate stingers. It was much more pleasant to make art than to go scavenging, much less shopping for monster parts. But she didn’t want to sound eager. Dulilm would raise her prices, for sure.

“About those stingers,” Dulilm said.

“You got a license to sell them?”

Dulilm rolled her eyes. “I had to get a license to deal in monster parts just to buy the Snagtooth steaks.”

“So you have teeth for sale, too?”

“I’m selling those direct to the tourists, but we are building up a bit of inventory. I could possibly spare a few.”

“Selling them…just as souvenirs?” Neteilyu felt inspiration growing in the back of her head, as surely as she had when she’d started including Megruu’s then-rough monster carvings in her work.

“We’re calling them toothpicks.”

Neteilyu laughed. “You might want to keep a few, at that! But,” She turned to start setting up another frivolous lamp, letting her braids fall to obscure the expression on her face. The shells clinked against each other. “I hear that the Jiggling Jellyfish is drawing away a lot of your after-drink business, still.”

“That’s true.” Dulilm looked sour. She’d been fighting for business since the Jiggling Jellyfish was established on the other end of Pebble Beach. Her current menu featuring monster meals was her counter-move to the Jellyfish featuring nude Duurludirj dancers. “Though it also cuts down on drunks breaking things.”

“What if you sold your drinks in souvenir glasses, fanciful swirly glass things with genuine monster parts embedded in the glass?”

Dulilm brightened. “You’re thinking of that daughter of yours, aren’t you?”

Neteilyu nodded. “I bet you could charge two or three times as much per drink.”

“And discount refills slightly too, on account of less dish washing to do.” Dulilm was distracted enough by the new idea to allow herself to sound very pleased.

Neteilyu smiled. “I’d have to propose it to Nefessa, of course. And she’d need start-up costs to go into a big production like that.”

“Wait a minute there. My business has been down ever since that woman from Affanumuur set up her dance-hall in competition to my restaurant. I’m looking for an income-stream, not a liability.”

“Oh, it will be—and I venture to guess you’ll be far less likely to draw the attention of licensing officials to your books if you’re mostly gaining equipment in return for the inedible parts of your monster dinners. It’s less likely to look, to them, like a second business.” The second lamp in place, Neteilyu opened her cold box and pulled out two bottled drinks, inviting Dulilm to have a seat.

Dulilm chose a driftwood chair that was nearly authentic; Neteilyu chose one of the more decorative ones, and they set to working out a preliminary agreement. They stopped, briefly, so Neteilyu could sell the lamp, for an amount that inspired Dulilm to pantomime a heart attack behind the tourist’s back.

It was very satisfying, even if it did prompt Dulilm to point out that Neteilyu could certainly afford to loan her daughter the money for the license fees she would need.

*I'm happy to hear suggestions for cool Scary Sea Monster names, both to replace this generic reference here and to fill in the monster menu at the Dancing Sea Serpent.

**Remember, this is a rough draft!  The canon board will have to discuss it before it goes up in final form on tornworld.net.  For instance, the monsters described as "deathfins" in An Irresistible Attraction are now called "dreamskates" instead, which is reflected in the terminology used in this story, even though the final version of that other story isn't yet up on Torn World.

Please let me know what you think!


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 14th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC)
That sounds like *fabulous* souvenir glassware.

Just how much tourism is there to Duurludirj?
May. 14th, 2010 05:32 am (UTC)
Being a place with a relatively durable ecosystem because the plants have to survive periodic dreadful storms and the wildlife has to hold its own against hungry monsters (which also means I figure the wildlife is well-equipped to fight off invasive species) and a constant need for adventurers willing to fight those same monsters and cash to repair stuff damaged by storms and monsters, I figure it's one of the easiest places in the Empire to get a license to visit.
May. 14th, 2010 06:05 am (UTC)
I love this. It's insane and wonderful. I am particularly fond of the ring-leeches.
May. 14th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC)
Re: *laugh*
Thank you!

The ring-leeches were even prompted--they're the parasites. :-D
May. 14th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
Re: *laugh*
That's nifty. It's fun when prompts combine just so and make the story pop.
May. 15th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
Re: *laugh*
I'm amazed how often it's not any one prompt that gets the story started, but a combination of prompts. Kind of like a recipe needs more than one ingredient?
May. 15th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
I often find that prompts stick together spontaneously is bizarre and fun ways. Other times, a whole story is contained within a single prompt.
May. 14th, 2010 06:14 am (UTC)
Just trying to follow the ecology here -- "deathfin", "dreamskate", "snagtooth", and "sea monster" are four different species of belligerent but possibly edible sea life? I suppose you don't want to get bogged down in a detailed zoology lesson, but I'd like just a teeny bit more description of what these critters are.

(You have one typo that jumped out at me, the second time you refer to ring-leech scars you spell it "leach".)

I have to wonder how much Neteilyu paid for her tourist fleecing license. Do business licences have to be renewed regularly, and does the fee depend on how well the business is doing? If Dulilm feels that the Jellyfish opening is damaging her business (though ultimately, bringing in more tourists should be a win for both of them), can she complain to the bureaucracy that the Jellyfish should have to pay more for its license? So much to try to understand about how business would work in this Empire where you have to have a license to blink.
May. 14th, 2010 12:35 pm (UTC)
There's a whole variety of--well, I don't know that they're angry, but certainly hungry and dangerous--sea monsters. I believe an article on the sea monsters is in progress.

You are welcome to register and check out some of the Torn World forums. Good questions help develop the world!

And thanks for spotting the typo. *sigh* I'd love to be able to avoid them totally!
May. 14th, 2010 12:15 pm (UTC)
"cunningly cut to allow the ring-leech scars (which turned paper-thin and quite see-through in the tanning process) to show skin only where she wanted to show skin."

Stumbled on this a bit, It does say what it means but I had to read the sentence a couple of times to get whether it was her skin or the leather skin.

Love the story
May. 14th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
I bet I can make that sentence better!
May. 14th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Hmmm - a sea monster that can crush a man's legs with one bite. How about a 'clampjaw'. I kind of picture it as a finny sort of pit-bull that, once its jaws get hold of an object, locks into place until it is either dead or has finished with whatever it was eating.
May. 15th, 2010 12:06 am (UTC)

A finny pit-bull--what a great image!
May. 15th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
great scene! I really like this world you're creating. but yeah, all the monster names are a little confusing. Great characters though. I've totally met (and been one myself)vendors like Neteilyu; putting on a good show for the customers is what business is all about! Thanks for posting this.
May. 15th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

The problem with setting a very short story in a place where there's a whole ecology of small, medium, large, and enormous sea monsters is that you can't spend a lot of time describing them in the story. But there will be other stories for that; I'm sure eventually each one will be spotlighted.

There's a lot more stories set in this world over at http://www.tornworld.net -- stories that have been approved by the editorial board, who work to make sure the world is consistent, as well as doing at the usual things editors do.

May. 16th, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
I thought I had read this but I hadn't so I'm glad I saw your post about the picture & came back. I love it (as usual!), especially the part about how Neteilyu dressed and presented things for the tourists' sake and how she could charge more looking the part then how she would otherwise. It's true in some places/subjects I think in 'real life'.

I know I need to read more of the Torn World stuff. One day....
May. 16th, 2010 08:06 am (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! I urge you to check out Torn World when you have time. Less than half of my Torn World writing is showing up in this journal. :-D
May. 16th, 2010 08:14 am (UTC)
That's an excellent reason to read it! Maybe soon, once I catch up with friends lists at least :)
May. 16th, 2010 10:09 am (UTC)
http://mazzz-in-leeds.com says...
A sweet mix of fantasy world and real world-y marketing!

I think a pitbull-like sea monster sounds cool too
May. 16th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
Cool story
Wow, lots of interesting things going on in this one. Very neat story.
May. 17th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
The world-building is just marvelous here, from the species of aquatic animals, to the names of the characters, their occupations and internal thoughts. I enjoyed this one a lot.
May. 18th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
For the world itself, the dwarf Duurludirj people, the licensing rules, the language-base the names are based on, and most of the sea monsters, I have to give credit to my co-creators in Torn World. The characters are mine, but they wouldn't exist at all without Ellen and Ysabet and the rest.

I'm glad you enjoyed the story!
May. 18th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
Really liked the mix of entrepreneurship, monsters, and faked barbarism. Nicely done.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )


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