2.3: Reflections on the Present
49 4 2
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.
ATUHOR'S NOSE: In this chapter in particular, you're probably gonna notice that our default naming strategy for species and nations is "go to fantasy name generator dot com and mash the hell out of the generation button until something arbitrarily vibes".

"So," Araceli said, taking the fourth seat at the library table, "I suppose introductions would be a good place to start, if I'm to barge in on your study session and demand your lives' stories. Araceli Calderon, owner and operator of Araceli's Tailor, as the name might imply. I like tailoring, enchanting, and especially tailoring-related enchanting. And if you didn't notice my store's operating times, I open and close earlier than everything else specifically so I have time to do stuff after work."

"Stuff like tracking down customers who look like they're from another world," Pandora said.

"Stuff like that, yes," Araceli said with a smile. "Also, another world? Do elaborate on that — after your introduction, of course."

"Right..." Pandora tilted her head in thought. "Pandora's my name. Pandora Lorana if you care about surnames, which mostly I don't. About... twenty days ago, I, a normal-ass woman, went to sleep in my normal-ass home in my original (and normal-ass) world. When I woke up, I was here — not in this region, that's a whole other trip, but in this world. Since then, I've mostly been wandering around and trying to get my bearings. No real long-term plan, yet, partly because, as you noticed, I barely know where I am."

Eiri frowned, confused. If Pandora didn't want to talk about breaking into the whatever institute, that was her decision to make, but Eiri found herself wondering why. Surely Araceli would take their side on that...?

"Thus the library trip to look at encyclopedias, huh?" Araceli said. "And an atlas, too. Trying to figure out where you were before?"

"Mm-hmm," Pandora mm-hmm'd. "Not entirely sure I can explain what happened," she said, giving Eiri a meaningful glance, "but it was a green foresty place, warmer than here but not sweltering, with pretty much just... they called 'em 'humans' back home, but I assume they have a different name here, which I haven't looked up yet. Solea minus the triangle ears plus nothing else of obvious interest, basically. Unless it turns out us two are the only species that has noses, or something."

Araceli snickered. "No, everyone has noses, I can assure you of that. Anyhow, the place sounds like Ebraria, and the people... those could be Aver." 

"Maybe." Pandora opened up a different book and flipped through it to an article headlined by a drawing of a person of the same species as Lebrook, the innkeeper, and the men in the lab coats. "... Yep, those are the ones."

"Aver live almost everywhere," Araceli said, "so that doesn't narrow things down much. But seeing only Aver is a concerning sign. I've never been there, but I was under the impression Ebraria was a fairly cosmopolitan society."

"Maybe Ebraria as a nation is a melting pot, but the city of Brooktown sure wasn't. Got my ass accosted by an axe-swinging racist-ass jerkoff with delusions of running a sundown town. Worse, he threatened the kids." Pandora scowled. "I still owe him a major ass-whooping for that."

"Sounds like a real piece of work," Araceli said lightly. "I'll make sure to stay away from there if I ever go traveling. Speaking of the kids — were you two planning on introducing yourselves?"

Eiri's eyes widened in surprise and she glanced over at Yui, who was shrinking back into his chair.

"Or I could introduce you two if you'd rather focus on your letters," Pandora said. "Third option is you remain mysterious and unknown."

That got a giggle out of Yui, and he seemed calmer, but he remained silent and just gave Eiri a look.

"Should I...?" Eiri asked, and Yui nodded. "Okay. Um, my name's Eiri... and that's my brother Yui... um, we met Pandora... three days ago? In... Brooktown, I guess." She paused and gave Pandora a look.

"It's up to you how much you want to say," Pandora said. "Anything I glossed over is cause I didn't want to blab anything you weren't comfortable sharing, but as far as I'm concerned I don't have any secrets."

"Oh! That's why you didn't mention saving us from the whatever institute?"

Araceli raised an eyebrow while Pandora snickered. "The 'whatever' institute?"

"That's not their actual name, obviously," Pandora said, "but I didn't bother checking it when I was breaking in." She tilted her head. "Oh, that's probably a crime, isn't it? Well, uh, don't tell the cops I guess."

"Don't worry about it," Araceli said. "I'm inferring from context that what that institute does isn't super pleasant."

"I didn't get all the details myself," Pandora said, "but what I did learn paints quite the dismal picture. Suffice to say, there's damn good reason I took the kids out of there." She tilted her head in thought. "Man, was that seriously just three days ago? Some days are more eventful than others, huh."

"Some days, yeah," Araceli said with a nod. "So, what's your plan now?"

"Well, uh, step one is to read up on more super basic concepts that everyone around here knows," Pandora said. "Like what umbra is, and why having a lot of it means I need to keep my hood down. I did at least guess right about keeping a clear line of sight, right?"

"Whew. Um. Okay." Araceli frowned. "Yes, you got that right, and as for the full details — you could look it up in the encyclopedia, of course, but you'd have a lot of background details on the theory to sift through before you get to the practical part. And maybe you'd be okay with that if you just wanted to know for fun, but... like I said, tonight is a high-umbra night." She took a breath. "... When the umbra's high, monsters come out."

"Monsters?!" Pandora exclaimed, sounding incredulous. "Okay, I need to look this up —" she grabbed one of the thick books and started flipping through it.

"You'll want to look under 'umbral beasts'," Araceli suggested. "The article on 'umbra' will focus on just the energy itself."

"I spend twenty-some days in this world, sleeping wherever I happen to be when night falls, and not once did I hear a single mention of — " and she stopped, letting the book fall open to an article headed by an illustration of a slavering, vicious thing. "... umbral beasts."

"Well, you were in Ebraria, right?" Araceli said. "I'm told that's generally a low-umbra region, with dangerously high umbra something like once or twice a month. Here in Clauton, it's more like every three or four nights."

Pandora was now rubbing at the bridge of her nose. "Okay. That's... possible to believe. How big a deal are these beasts, anyway? Like you've got a working society here, so that puts an upper limit on just how bad they can get, at least on average, but they're still bad enough to be worth remembering and accounting for."

Araceli considered this. "From what I hear, an individual umbral beast is typically no more dangerous in a fight than the flesh-and-blood animal it emulates — though that is typically still quite dangerous! I wouldn't want to fight a mundane bear either, y'know? But their true danger is that, unlike flesh-and-blood animals, they actively seek out people and attempt to kill them."

"Right. Of course." Pandora groaned. "So, what, we stay indoors?"

Araceli nodded. "That usually suffices, yes. You in particular look like you could take an umbral beast if you ran across one, though of course you have your kittens to worry about..."

(Eiri wasn't entirely sure at this point whether she was trying to ignore this conversation and focus on her letters or just look like that's what she was doing, but she definitely wasn't succeeding at either.)

"Wait, you keep saying usually and typically," Pandora said, leaning forward and frowning. "What happens when things are unusual and atypical?"

Araceli gave a sheepish sort of grimace. "I'm not familiar with the details honestly — even here, it happens maybe once every five hundredmonths or so? There's emergency measures we've gotta go over every tenmonth just to make sure they stay in the collective conscious."

"Five hundred months," Pandora muttered, "what's that, about forty years? If lifespans are around the same here, most people would experience two or three of these things..."

"You'll have to explain later why your culture needs a unit for twelve or thirteen months, but that does sound about right," Araceli said.

Pandora boggled. "... You mean to tell me you don't have years out here?"

"Nope. What's a year?"

"A... a cycle of seasons, or a complete orbit of the planet around its sun. The orbit causes the seasons, which is why they're the same."

"Ooh, you lived on a planet?" Araceli said with an eager tone. "What's that like?"

Pandora's boggle increased. "... Er... what do you think the word 'planet' refers to?"

Araceli shrugged. "Certain lights in the night sky shine more steadily and move around a lot more. It's been hypothesized that they orbit the stars, but it's not proven. ... Or maybe I should say it wasn't proven."

"Well, okay, that's technically a correct answer," Pandora said with a frown. "But —"

"You said the orbit gave you a cycle of 'seasons', what are those?"

"The... the weather sorta goes up and down over months..." Pandora stammered. "You don't have seasons around here?"

"Nope! You said they were caused by your planet's orbit, right? So why would we have seasons, when we aren't on a planet here?"

Pandora gesticulated inarticulately for several seconds. "... What, do you think it is, that we are on?"

"I mean, I'm not sure what it is," Araceli said. "My understanding is that it's an open scientific question. But no, we're not on a planet. Planets are round."

"Wh — you don't think it's flat, surely? Do departing seaships not dip below the horizon?!" 

Araceli shrugged. "Ask a sailor. Clauton is landlocked, and I don't travel much, so I've never seen a departing ship. Clever test, though; if the world was round that'd definitely show it."

Pandora ran her hand through her hair, increasingly frantic. "Ugh, of course that would be conveniently not an option. How else can you prove the world is round... or isn't, for that matter! Shadows at noon, maybe? Not sure how to logistically arrange that... plus this place has been so snowy and dank that I'm not sure you'll have sun shadows to compare..."

Araceli gave Pandora a smirk. "How seriously are you taking the possibility of the world being flat, anyway?"

"I dunno, like..." Pandora idly tapped her knuckle on the table a few times. "... forty percent maybe? Like, I do get that I've been isekai'd into a fantasy world, so I can't call it impossible, but... it'd be so weird! Back home, 'the world is flat' was the domain of crackpots and snake-oil salesmen and please for the love of any gods that may or may not exist do NOT tell me that snake oil actually works out here."

At this point Pandora now had her face firmly on the table, head in hands.

"... you wanna take a break from this particular subject?" Araceli said.

"Yes! Let's do that. Let's go back to the other subject." Pandora sat back up and took a deep breath. "...What was the other subject again?"

"What you're planning to do next."

"Right! That one! Hm..." Pandora tilted her head and grinned sheepishly. "I, uh, didn't actually have a plan. Now that I've got the kids, I suppose I should work out a stable home and proper education and stuff for 'em, but like... I wouldn'ta been able to tell you what that stuff would be back home, much less here. Was sorta hoping the library here would help."

"Libraries are useful that way," Araceli said. "Though I notice you don't have any such books at your table."

"Yeah, well, I was gonna grab those after looking up 'umbra' and 'Solea‘ and whatever the hell y'all call your temperature measuring system with its 'marks'." Pandora exhaled, sounding exasperated. "But we're taking a break from that subject now, so — let's get to this one."

We didn't think of a poll question so here's a placeholder poll
  • Okay... Votes: 0 0.0%
  • This is fine. Votes: 3 75.0%
  • Maybe do less polls? Votes: 1 25.0%
Total voters: 4