[The great land devourer. It was once the duty of all (nogoth) such as you to contain this great beast. You are very fortunate to be born at this time. This creature had the ability to swim through stone as easily as we walk through the tunnels, and it simply ate all that it encountered. The only ones who could possibly divert its attention away from us and turn its attention to the surface dwellers instead were the strongest of the (nogoth) who could learn to swim through stone just as this beast could.]
Terlu, formerly Maxwell Johnson in his previous life before dying in a crazy car crash, listened to his mother’s bedtime story. It was the same story he had been told every night since he had demonstrated the ability to talk, and he had learned the words a few at a time over the course of many months. It had been a little difficult to learn a new language in this world he had been born in, but when it was spoken to him every day by a mother who was always by his side and talking to him it became almost a matter of course he would pick it up.
Terlu’s mother had a stony smile as she looked down at him. She never seemed to have a gentle expression on her face. She always looked haunted by something, and even in the best of times she looked almost like she was just pretending to show care toward him, it was as though it was more fulfilling an obligation than out of genuine love. She was not callous however. In fact, she seemed to dedicate a great deal of attention toward him, but there always seemed to be something off about it. He didn’t know how to describe it. It was like some of his druggie friends trying to kiss his ass so he would be more likely to lend them money. It really made him feel strange about his relationship with his mother in this world.
[That beast is dead now though. 10,000 years ago, a new god spoke to us. He told us, dedicate your strongest children to me, I will slay your greatest foe and bring you glory and war. After this, he went silent for 10,000 years. He would grant our children who we dedicated to him power, but he did not speak to us again until shortly before you were born. He came down as a pillar of light into the great underworld, slaying the land devourer in a single stroke. In the same act, he tore open a route to the surface that even the dragon lords could get through, and there we have been fighting those who live on the surface ever since.]
This was the part that really made Terlu uncomfortable. This was the only time she seemed to show any genuine emotion. It was when she talked about fighting. It seemed like he had been born into some kind of crazy warrior culture. He really did not know what to think about that. However, there was one thing that bothered him a lot more than that. As he sat in his mother’s lap, curled up on the floor, he looked down to her ankles which were placed in chains.
The room seemed decently furnished, and they were not fed poorly. Apparently, this had more to do with him being this “nogoth” she kept talking about rather than anything to do with her. He was not certain what “nogoth” meant, but going by her stories it seemed that it was had to do with some kind of ability present in some people from birth.
The technology of this place he was born did not seem to be all that advanced, so it would be reasonable to expect a dirty dungeon with a hard bench for a bed, but he had slept every night since he was born in a small bed sized just for him. It was far too small to share with his mother though, she wound up needing to sleep on the floor, simply due to lack of any bed that would fit her. In fact, there were a number of beds in this room, all child size, and on the small end of child size even at that. There were a total of six beds. One was for him, and the rest were for what his mother called “di'thang hini.” He had figured out that “hini” apparently meant “children.” He was not certain what “di’thang” meant, but going by the unpleasant and contemptuous tone in his mother’s voice when she said it he was certain it was not anything good.
Terlu had figured out this had to be some kind of fantasy world. That was about the only way to explain the pointed ears that both he and his mother had. The other children who occupied the other beds in the room had more rounded ears, like a human. There used to be a human woman in here up until a short time ago too. She was the mother of one of the other kids. She was Terlu’s wet nurse. It seemed his own mother could not give milk for some reason, so this other woman had taken up that job until Terlu could eat solid food. However, as soon as he could eat solid food, that woman had been removed from the room, and they also stopped lighting the torch on the wall. For some reason though, Terlu was perfectly able to see even without it, and it seemed everyone else was able to see as well.
This told him that, while the other children looked like human children, they were probably not. Humans can’t see in the dark after all. This raised another interesting question though. That woman was definitely the mother of one of these children. That meant a human gave birth to a child who was not a human. Is it possible then that these “nogoth” his mother keeps referring to are also a different fantasy race from his mother, who seems to be an elf? If he was not an elf, than what is he? What are these “nogoth?”
[Well,] his mother said, apparently shaking off her mania from when she was talking about war stuff. [I think it is time for you to go to bed now. Do not worry about your mother, the floor is all a (nandor) such as myself deserves.]
“Nandor.” That was another word he had heard said a lot, and this one by their jailers too. The ones who came in to give them food, lavish meals for himself, a bowl of some pasty slime for the other kids, and nothing at all for his mother, often called her this word and even spat on her. The ones who brought them food looked like they were the same race as her, so he did not think the word “nandor” referred to a race. This was something that always bothered him. He had to ask.
[Mother, what does (nandor) mean anyway?]
[Hmm… a nandor is someone who is weak. I did not act to kill my enemy when I could have. That is all you need to know Terlu. You are not going to be weak. You can redeem your mother’s weakness if you grow and do great things. Now, don’t worry about that anymore. You just go to sleep. You will need your sleep in order to grow. You are such a brilliant boy, even at your age. I know you will be strong. The strongest of the (nogoth,) I can tell. Your (fea) is already so strong.]
Terlu’s head was starting to hurt. There was another word, “fea.” He had not figured out quite what it meant, but he kept getting told his was strong. He had tried to ask what the word meant in the past, but the answers he got never made any sense. It was apparently the essence and source of all power and strength, but it seemed somehow ethereal to him the way they described it. He really could not make sense of it at all.
[Now then, no more talking. Get to sleep.]
She did not give him any show of affection after these words. No kiss good night, not even a reassuring pat on the shoulder or chest. He could hear the affection in her voice, perhaps their culture considered shows of affection like that something that would make a child weak.
[Just remember,] she said, turning back to him after she had already moved away. [When you are before the alter of Iuuttel, remember that your mother loves you and has done everything to make you strong.]
He glanced across the room as his mother was preparing her little tarp on the floor so that she could sleep. He then looked to the five beds of the other children lined up against the opposite wall from his, clearly placed out in a spot of honor despite being made in the same way as all of theirs. He really did not understand why they were all in there with him. Maybe to be his friends in his childhood? Maybe they were supposed to be some kind of servants in the future? He could not understand the culture he had been born into. It was clearly very war like. This always made him nervous for his future. It was not pleasant growing up in what seemed to be a prison cell, but he was slowly beginning to dread the day he left it.
Without light, it was impossible to keep track of days. They managed somehow though. Time schedules seemed to get set according to natural body processes. In this cell, it seemed all the sleep schedules were coordinated according to Terlu’s sleep schedule. All of the other kids were told it was bed time whenever Terlu would become sleepy. After some time of this, and the flexibility of youth, it seemed all the other kids had successfully adjusted their sleep schedule to his.
Without the cycles of the sun or the seasons, it was impossible to keep track of how many years had gone by. However, they still kept track of age. Terlu was 23 cycles old. He had blushed furiously when he discovered the “cycles” that were being referred to in tracking his age were actually his mother’s menstrual cycles. It seemed all time in this place was measured in terms of someone’s bodily functions, and menstrual cycles it seemed were the most reliable time standard to be used.
The guards over their prison even seemed to respect Terlu’s sleep schedule in determining what was night and day for them. They had adjusted to it well enough that as soon as Terlu was waking up, they were already bringing in breakfast. It seemed really strange to him that he would be treated this well in a prison. He really had to find out what the whole deal with this “nogoth” thing was. As usual, he was served a dish that looked like it must have been prepared by a restaurant quality chef. The vegetables in the food were mostly mushroom based, and the meats were oddly fibrous and almost plant-like themselves sometimes. However, the mere fact there was meat at all spoke to the fact it was quite a high end meal.
Each of the other five kids were served a simple bowl of some kind of pasty ghrule or something of the sort. The discrimination was very plain to see. Terlu did not know how other “nogoth” handled this kind of treatment, but in his case, it really did not sit well with him. After everyone was served their food, nobody touched their dish. They all simply looked at their jailers until they left. The very moment they were gone though, and the door was closed, the other children walked up to Terlu, meekly holding their bowls and presenting them to him. This had happened several times by now, and everyone knew the routine.
As Terlu received the first bowl, he took his spoon and his knife and used them to lift a piece of his own meal and place it into their bowl. The grey gravy of the juices from his meat seeped into the white grule and gave it flavor and color. [Thank you Terlu.] The small boy in front of him said as he scurried back to the corner to eat his meal. [Thank you Terlu.] The second child, a girl this time, said after receiving her portion, and also scurried off. [Thank you Terlu.] [Thank you Terlu.] They each said in turn as they gratefully received their portion of his food.
Finally, they were down to the last one. A young read-haired girl among the other children who had made a particular impression on him that really made her stand out from the rest. As for what was so special about her. “Thank you Terlu.” She said with a weak smile after receiving hers, and then walked off in a far more dignified fashion than the rest. Yes, she had just thanked him in English, just as she did every day. He looked after her. She was the most special of anyone he had met in this world. The way he assessed it, she might even be more important than his mother to him. As for the reason why, she was the only person he had encountered who was also from Earth.
He spent a lot of his time chatting with her about their old home as they worked out the language of this world. She had also been the daughter of the woman who acted as his wet nurse, so this was even more of a reason he felt close to her. He had heard the term “milk brother” in a book once before, someone not related by blood but were breastfed by the same woman. In this case, that would make her his milk sister.
Her mother had been taken away before they could properly learn the language of this world, so they did not know what name her mother gave her. Instead they had decided that, while he used the name his mother in this world gave him, she would go by her old name from Earth. “Sam.” He called her, short for Samantha. “How about we eat together?”
“Umm…” She responded and looked over toward his mother nervously, and then toward the door where the people who served them food just left from.
“It’s Ok.” He said. “I know my mother doesn’t like it, but they told her to stop interfering, remember?” He dipped his face and lowered his voice. Nobody but Sam could understand when they spoke English, but he still felt ashamed of what he was about to say. “It seems like they consider me to be important for some reason. More important than… her. So, I guess she doesn’t have the right to chase you off or something like that.”
Despite his assurances, she was still hesitating. However, before she could make a decision on this, the door creaked open once again. This time, several agitated looking elf women came in. One of them was holding a struggling live rat for some reason. This seemed rather strange. The sight was baffling enough that it diverted his attention away from the rather stern looking woman dressed in some rather revealing white robes who cleared her throat in an agitated manner, getting his attention.
[It looks like this one will need to be taught some more respect and discipline before we can use him properly.] The robed woman said as she looked around the room in a way that made her seem rather agitated. The other children all immediately held their food bowls tightly to their chest. One of the women stepped forward toward him and Sam, and immediately directed their attention on her.
[Show us your bowl girl!] She demands. She must have not complied with them fast enough, because a minute later the woman grabbed the bowl from her hands and kicked her, throwing her off her feet and into the side of Terlu’s bed.
“Sam!” He called out as he rushed to her side. “Are you Ok?”
He looked up with a mix of hatred and fear at the woman who apparently lead the rest. She was staring straight back at him, still with a very pissed off look on her face, but now with an eyebrow raised giving her a very pissed of but confused look. Meanwhile, the woman who stole Sam’s food shows it to the woman who lead the group.
[Hmph! So, it was true. He is sharing his food with the other children already. How old did you say he was?] The leader woman said in a high and mighty tone.
[23 cycles your grace.] A male voice comes from out in the corridor as Terlu recognizes one of their jailers standing in the doorway.
[So young. How long has this been going on for?]
[For the best we can tell, ever since he started eating solid food. He ate one or two meals himself, but he was sharing it with the others by the end of the day.] The man in the doorway announced again.
[Hmm… normally, this would mean you are ready to receive Iuuttel’s blessing. But, for it to have started so early, that is a little concerning.] The leader woman said. [Fortunately, we have a way to remedy this little problem thought up already. Give the girl back her food.]
With the way this was said, neither Terlu or Sam were entirely trusting as the woman who had taken the food in the first place approached them. Sam cringed, and Terlu was already raising his arm to protect her as they both seemed to have the same thought. But, against their expectations, the bowl of food was gently held out to Sam. After a second of hesitation, she cautiously received it back.
The woman backed away without doing anything to Sam. But, just as they were dropping their guard, another woman stepped forward and tossed that rat Terlu had noticed earlier right into Sam’s lap.
“Eeek!” She cried and wound up dumping her bowl all over herself. The rat quickly scurried away and then hid under the bed. Meanwhile, all the women were turning and walking out of the room at once.
[If you want to be rid of your little gift, you will have to deal with it yourself.] The leader woman in the robes said as she was leaving the room. [Let him keep his knife when you collect the meals.] She added to the guard, speaking loud enough for him to easily hear.
Part of one very long subscriber comment.
"Despite all that, I do find this new culture and group of characters interesting, and I look forward to seeing what you do with them. It's nice to see truly foreign cultures in fiction, especially in these sorts of isekai/portal fantasy stories where there's so much potential to explore new and interesting cultures from the perspective of characters similar to ourselves. Too many of those stories just tweak the writer's culture by adding some typical fantasy tropes, rather than developing a unique and believable culture that actually fits the setting. I appreciate you putting in that effort.
This turned into a longer comment than I initially intended. Ah well."
Yeah, that was a long comment. I actually cut out the 2 previous paragraphs that were more in response to a comment I made about not really liking how I wound up writing this chapter. (I actually did not like how I wrote this chapter, the expositional dialogue near the beginning felt a little too unnatural to me. I would have done it a little differently if I had time for a full edit, but that would have added another 2 or 3 days before I could release it.)
More (much shorter) subscriber comments.
"wonder if this kid is the twins half bro, nah whats the chances of that 0.001%."
I'm mildly curious as to which kid Roy is talking about, because the answer would change the chances of that being the case (by a factor of about 0.001%)
(Didn't bring that up in the subscriber's thread specifically because I felt like I might have accidentally divulged possible spoilers if I got into that discussion.)