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Message from the Underground · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
The Brave and the 'Bold
Below most any city in the realm of Verlecia you would find them, if they desired to be found. No rude bumbling creature such as you or I would stand a chance, for they can detect the slightest vibration in the ground and make themselves blend undetectably with the soil and rock, or slip away through a myriad of hidden tunnels. Cunning and stealthy, burrowers in the deep and dark, delvers of secrets that humans and elves can only guess at, their lives are like an invisible shadow of those who dwell in daylight, and the mysteries they keep may never be revealed…

“Agh, keep your frickin’ tail away from my arse, ratbreath!” hissed Mebgarv the kobold, digging her sharp-scaled elbow into the ribs of her sibling as they crouched together in the tiny rocky nook.

“Go choke on a moldy pickle, toad-for-brains,” hissed her brother Slatgarv, kicking her rather lamely on the shin with a clawed foot. “And keep it down! They’ll be coming this way any minute!” He peered through his hooded cloak into a small peephole in the floor of the tiny chamber, viewing the dim tunnel below with his infravision.

Mebgarv growled, her grip tightening on the coil of rope she held. “If we were packed any closer together we’d be committing incest. How do you come up with these stupid plans anyway?”

“Look, we ain’t getting the password to the Brewfest by any ordinary means. You and I have already tried being polite. We just gotta be a little more direct, right?” He checked the peephole again. “Oh, fuck a frog, here they come,” Slatgarv hissed “Quiet now!”

In the tunnel below, two dim figures approached, hauling a small cart of food. They were victuallers Vartnado and Squim, scavs of great distinction, who had been raiding many pantries and trash piles for the past week to prepare for the Brewfest, and were now transporting one final cartload of hors d'oeuvres.

As they passed below, Slatgarv gave his sister a sharp look, and she nodded. She tapped the floor of the little chamber in one precise spot, and it crumbled into dirt and rock fragments. Her mastery over dirt and rock was quite powerful, even among her fellow kobolds.

They fell together on top of the victuallers, their cloaks and masks making sinister figures of them. Vartnado screamed and tried to reach for his cudgel, while Squim took hold of the cart handles and tried to push it backward down the tunnel, bleating in terror.

Slatgarv grabbed Squim by the tail and hauled him back, still clutching the cart. Meanwhile, Mebgarv snagged Vartunado’s cudgel with her coil of rope, and soon had him trussed up.

“Who the hell are you mugs and whaddaya want?” shouted Vartnado. “We got important places to be. Hey, take it easy there on Squim, he got his tail kinked last week!”
“And you was doing the kinking, eh?” said Slatgarv, reaching under the canvas covering of the cart and picking through the viands. “It’s real simple. All we want is an in at the Brewfest. Just give us the word and you’ll be on your way.”

“Can’t do that, they set the passwords for a reason,” sighed Vartnado. “Last year some pair of idiots got schnockered so badly they climbed the tapestry of Queen Brustak, couldn’t figure out how to get down, then barfed and pissed all over it until they fell face first into the buffet.”

“Idiots, huh,” said Slatgarv, munching on a stale cracker covered with some dubious and mephitic fishpaste. “Well, don’t worry, we ain’t nothing like… those two. We just got overlooked, see, so just be so kind as to refresh our memories, and we won’t have to get any rougher than this.”

“Go lick your tailhole, I got nothing for you,” said Vartnado, glancing anxiously at the whimpering Squim as he tried to crawl under the cart.

“Quit wasting our time,” said Mebgarv. She shoved Vartnado into a nook in the wall and started summoning rock, the hard kind of rock she was good at creating and which gave other kobolds so much trouble to dig through or dissolve. She swiftly started to wall him in. “Or we’ll waste yours. You’ll be stuck in here for hours, until the party is over.”

“Aw, for the lovva Zarg!” he wailed.

“Yeah, for the lovva Zarg,” she snarled back. “Gonna give us the password? I can wall you in here for the whoooooole night…” She conjured more rocks around him, letting a few bounce off his head and land on his toes.

Vartnado growled in frustration. “Okay, fine, it’s ‘Poodleguts.’ But fat lotta good it’s gonna do you. They’re really tightening up security this year. They’ll bounce ya all the way to Redtide Harbor on the tips of your tails!”

“Whatever, that’s our lookout,” said Slatgarv. “Don’t worry your skeevy little heads about it. Now just count to ten, backward, and don’t move until then if you know what’s good for you.” He grabbed a handful of slimy things from the cart, gave Squim a friendly shove on the ass with his scaly foot, jamming him in further under the axle, and left Vartnado cursing and clawing his way free from his bonds and the halfway completed wall.

Slatgarv and Mebgarv strode off, munching on bits of dead things that were quite tasty and which couldn’t have been that much more than a week old.

“So our disguises worked so far, let’s keep it up,” he said. “Once we get in, we’ll just mingle with the other guests and even if those two rabbitfuckers complain, they’ll have no idea who we are!”

“As long as we don’t climb that tapestry again,” said Mebgarv. “I still can’t remember what the hell we were thinking.”

“The brew was kinda strong that year,” he admitted. “And ya gotta admit, the Queen looks kinda…” He made groping, curving motions with his hands in the air before him. “Kinda climbable.”

“Oh, whatever,” she said. “Let’s just try to take it a little easier this year. You know, go slow and savor it. There’s gonna be a lot of good brew to enjoy!”

The pair soon arrived at the Grand Hall, a long arched structure that had once served as a wine cellar for an ancient human distillery. The old barrels had been cut apart and repurposed as tables and benches, the Queen was seated on her throne under the high tapestry, and throngs of partiers were already lining up to enter at the gate, which was blocked by a pair of huge and muscular guards, each towering nearly four feet high.

The pair bided their time impatiently, drawing closer and closer and watching as each colorfully-garbed entrant whispered the password into the waiting ear of one of the guards before the wooden gates were swung back. Finally, it was their turn, and they approached in their brown and black hoods and cloaks. Each of them whispered the special phrase.

The guards looked at each other, then back down at the pair. “Oh!” said one. “You’re never gonna believe this, but you two’re the lucky hundredth--”

“Two-hundredth…” said the other guard.

“Whatever, two-hundredth visitors, and you get special treatment tonight!” He brought forth two pink clown hats. “Just wear these hats, and make sure you show them to any of the vendors here tonight, and they’ll make sure you get the really good stuff. Got it?”

Slatgarv and Mebgarv gave each other an astonished look, then turned their faces back up and nodded eagerly at the guards. “Uhm, yeah, we got it, thanks!”

Each guard firmly clamped a hat down upon the heads of the happy pair. “Great, you’re sure to get it good. Get on in, now!” The guards opened the gates and let the duo scamper through.

Slatgarv almost danced with glee as they mingled with the flow of kobold celebrants who were lining up at various tables to claim tankards of spirits. “It worked! My plan worked! And we’re getting the pink hat treatment!” He tapped his ridiculous little chapeau with pride.

Mebgarv shook her head slowly. “I gotta admit, bro, you pulled it off this time. Hey, shall we start here? I’ve heard good things about Yenglap Garden ale!”

They approached the table, and the kobold vendors did a small double take as Slatgarv made a point of waving his little hat. “Oh, you’re the special guests!” they said. “We’ve got some extra potent brew for you!” They bent under the table for a moment, then brought forth foaming flagons. “Please enjoy!” they cried.

Slatgarv and Mebgarv strolled off, sampling their drinks. “So this is Yenglap, eh?” said Mebgarv. “It’s kind of… on the light side, you think?”

Slatgarv sipped and made a wry face. “It’s not as hoppy as I thought,” he said. “Doesn’t hold its head much, either.” He poked at the vanishing bubbles. “Oh, well, let’s try the next table…”

They worked their way along, and though the vendors were always cheerful and happy to offer them the very best in honor of their headgear, there was a certain lack of conviviality and feelings of communal cheer. A lot of the guests seemed to be smirking at them, then suddenly looking away. And the Queen… was she actually deigning to take notice of them, with a very arch expression in her browless eyes?

Mebgarv frowned “You know, I think we’re less drunk now than when we came in! What in the eighteen hells is going on?”

Slatgarv snarled. “I dunno, but I’d swear that last drink was squeezed out of a weasel. The quality is way down this year! Let’s get in their faces right here and complain!”

He marched up to the next table and planted his claws on it with a dominant air. “Hello, we would like to register a complaint with… Oh. Hi there, Vartnado, Squim, you finally made it, huh? Good for you!”

Vartnado gave a very very cheerful smile. “Why hello there! How are you doing, O special guests? Is there anything that Squim and I can do to help you have an extra good time?” He proffered a tray of hors d'oeuvres, the cheese a suspicious shade of brown.

Mebgarv wrinkled her snout. “Why, you--” she snarled, but just then the crowd around them burst into laughter, and the vendors fell over themselves roaring with glee, and the guards approached with big smiles on their faces, and even the Queen, who was rarely known to show any unroyal emotions, had allowed a very plebeian grin to cross her face.

“It does seem that our honored guests have had their fill,” she proclaimed. “An excess of spirits may easily lead certain classes of mind astray. They will want to sleep it off, surely. Please escort them to the gates, if you would!”

Slatgarv and Mebgarv cringed as enormous hands clamped down on their shoulders, and they were firmly shown the way out of the Brewfest, surrounded by laughter and pelted bits of spoiled food.

“They remembered us!” shouted Slatgarv as he paced up and down in the tunnels outside the Brewfest. “I can’t believe those sweaty-sacklickers remembered us from last year. It was just one tapestry!”

“And they not only made a fake password just for us, they watered down our drinks!” muttered Mebgarv. “At least… I’m gonna say that it was water. Ugh! Not to mention those hors t’ourdes!” She retched.

“Now they’re gonna gulp down all that fine booze, and laugh at us. There’s no way we can let this stand! We’ve gotta do something about it…” He stared off into the tunnel walls, or into the infinite ether beyond them. “You know, I think I’ve got a--”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Mebgarv said. “No more of your stupid impulsive plans. Let’s take our time and figure our revenge for next year and do it right--”

An hour later, the moon shone through the windows of the grand distillery in the human city of Morelton. The light made long curved patterns over the distillery’s pride: multiple barrels of aged Morelton brandy, a major export of the city and a spirit said to be favored by royal patronage in the remote capital of Verlecia.

In the corner of the room, there was a crumbling noise, as of stone falling, then a koboldish grunt of exertion as one of the casks moved a fraction of an inch. More grunts came from below and it moved a fraction of an inch more. Then there was a muttered discussion, and then the noise happened in a different part of the floor, which also turned out to be under a cask. After many attempts the rock finally shimmered in the space next to a cask, making a small hole a foot in diameter, through which Mebgarv crawled, followed by Slatgarv. Neither of them had remembered to take off their clown hats.

“I forgot how heavy those human-sized casks can be,” Slatgarv said.

“We shouldn’t even be up here,” she said. “The humans are really crazy jealous about these casks. I mean, they don’t like us kobolds living under their city, but it’s not like they hate us. Yet.”

“We’re just gonna take a little bit, enough to get ourselves happy for the evening and get them all jealous at the Brewfest,” he said. “When’s the last time any of them got drunk on genuine human brandy? Never, I bet, probably not even the Queen. Let’s just look for a little one and--”

He froze as he looked around, beholding the largest barrel he’d ever seen in his life. It was a massive tun, ten feet in diameter, and a kobold family could easily turn it into a two story dwelling.

“There’s our target,” he said. “All we have to do is tap it a little, and they’ll never even notice any is missing. Safer than taking a cask. Okay, let’s get the bucket ready.”

He approached an enormous tap on one side of the cask, which unknown to him was a solid wooden display tap. He twisted and turned at it, but the valve did not turn.

“What’s the holdup?” she asked.

“Can’t get a good grip on it,” he said. “Can you adjust that support there, maybe? Never mind, I can get it.”

His stone-shaping power flared out to the stone blocks supporting the barrel, working to lower them slightly. Instead, the blocks, which had been under stress for hundreds of years, finally pulverized.

With a sound louder than the moon exploding, or so it seemed to them, one end of the massive tun crashed to the floor with an echo that rolled throughout the building. Mebgarv seized her crest spikes in terror. “What the rotten carp did you just do, newt-nuts?” she hissed.

“We can fix it,” Slatgarv said. “I’ll just raise this end with some of the flooring stone and you can reshape the blocks while I hold it up--”

“Are you out of your head? Let’s get out of here now before your dumb plan falls any flatter--”

Cracks swiftly ran from the multiple entry holes they had made in the floor, directly towards the giant barrel’s impact point. They had just a split second to look at each other in horror before the floor gave way.

The massive barrel landed at the top of a wide staircase and the two kobolds, landing before it, fled down the stairs in terror as the barrel rolled after them, seemingly determined to crush the life from them and incorporate their blood into its rich red contents. Screaming in panic, they spotted the door they’d entered in the sub-basement, and headed for it, while the barrel perversely followed their every move.

They found the hole they had dug from the kobold city below, and dived into it as the massive barrel rammed itself against the stone doorway lintel and finally gave the last of its structural integrity. A flood of fine brandy poured from its sundered side and streamed right down the hole, soaking the pair and beginning to drown them in the very best brandy by which they’d ever been suffocated.

Washed through tunnels and mains, pressed through grates and drains, losing their breath and close to death, they finally found themselves pressed against a massive grille of stone. The pressure built behind them, forcing the last bubbles of breath from their lungs, and their hands reached to each other to say farewell from this life…

And then the grille broke as well, and a fountain of brandy shot out from the wall of the Grand Hall and began to wash away the Brewfest. Tables were upended, precious casks of liquor knocked over and broken to add their contents to the deluge, guests were saturated, the Queen was toppled from her Brewfest throne, and the grand tapestry was permanently stained by liters of Morelein brandy.

The ways of the dwellers below are subtle and not easy to ascertain, but a chance collapse of defective stone in the long respected Morelton distillery revealed some interesting hints. A previously concealed chamber far below the ground was revealed; an ancient wine cellar of the Aloven period that had been adapted for Kobold use. A remarkable tapestry was recovered that reveals the skin color of their royalty to be a most appropriate rich purple, like brandy in its hue. Analysis of some of the foodstuffs left behind suggest that Kobolds may occasionally, through pleasure or necessity, seek nourishment from the fecal matter of horses, though this assertion meets with some stiff dispute.

Most interesting was a report that a pair of small barrels were launched at night in Redtide Harbor, each nailed shut and with a breathing tube mounted on the top end, but these drifted out of reach too quickly to be recovered. Each barrel was also surmounted with a pink hat, the significance of which remains as mysterious as the other deep activities of these fascinating creatures.

Whatever future discoveries may bring, scholars have certainly made advances in our understanding of these secretive creatures of the earth that may well be worth the loss of so much fine liquor. To this day, if one stands on any street of Morelton by a sewer grating on a hot day, the sweet smell of brandy may be detected arising from below. And so we all may take comfort where it may be found and make the best of our endeavors, for as with life, what one gets out of it depends on what is put into it.
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#1 ·
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Let’s start this pretty straight out: of the four fics this round, Brave and the Bold is the one that most successfully achieved its goals. Those goals are not necessarily to my liking but, in measuring terms of success as a complete and cohesive work, this goofy fantasy quasi-grossout romp did it. So kudos. There is 100% something to be said for just doing a solid job telling a story.

I do think the bookends of the story are kinda wasted space. The opening narrative bit efficiently sets some information and then allows you immediately undercut it to humorous effect. So I could live with it. The end one, however, I think, falls flat. The story, as set, is about our two moron protagonists. The introductory paragraph does not establish enough plot relevance to this scholarly presence to really justify closing out on it. It just ends up feeling a bit limp and disconnected.

Imagine if Terry Pratchett had concluded his Discworld stories with an outro that flew back out to Great A’tuin. It’d be a bit of a thud (heh) for an ending because, ultimately, that is not the story being told.

Also it means you miss out on the obvious comic opportunities of our two protagonists to snipe at each other as they drift out to sea. Which I also think would be a better bookend for what feels very much like an episodic adventure.

That said, if you did want to stick with the narrator thing, then you need to establish it as an actual narrative rather than just a brief world setting device.

I actually feel kinda bad after expending like, a million words on the last two stories, because I have a lot less to say here, because you aimed for a very straightforward narrative and you successfully executed on it.

Still, let’s look into the lines a bit.

Oh, right. This might be a somewhat unique problem, but your calling of the victuallers scavs caused a massive derail for me, because I was trying to figure out if they were supposed to be yinglets, especially since you switched to a mammal swear when referring to them too. Obviously being aware of every fantasy race name/slur/nickname is a bit hard, but it just jumped out, especially since the kobolds kinda evoke them too.

But yeah, even looking back through, I don’t really have much to say here. It’s a low-class comedy that executes its pieces well. I suppose maybe trying to work a bit more in the way of actual jokes into it? A lot of the comedy ls leaning on the toilet humor (though there are a couple other lines), so if that falls flat, the whole thing falls a little flat?

The beginning especially is a place where the fic probably plays a bit straight for its own good, with the scene being bereft of any real jokes or even humerous situations outside mildly dumb characters and a bit of silly cursing.
#2 ·
As Andrew asseverated, this is a silly romp that largely achieves what it set out to do. I got a chuckle here and there. Good work, Author, and see you next round.
#3 ·
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
In which high-class brandy meets low-class toilet.

It's a very subtle piece and, for the most part, it held solidly because the story is focused on some two goofballs trying to get in some drinking party—nothing too complex or convoluted. Just that, and the simplicity is quite fun.

The only problem I have here is the italic sections at the beginning and the end. With slight modifications, I think the story would do better without them. As is, they feel more like tack-ons in which the archaeologist(?) doesn't bear much importance at all to the story other than to offer a little humor here and there.

Overall, a great story from the underground sewers, no less!
#4 · 2
>>AndrewRogue, >>Comma Typer

To Boldly Ko...

Thanks for the gold, congrats to Comma and our unknown author, and commiserations to Andrew.

On the night before deadline, I was close to being dead in the water myself; I was a thousand words into a story that needed several thousands more to be effective, and I knew I couldn't finish it in time. I set it aside and managed to come up with a simple idea that I felt I could execute in the time I had left. I was in a snarky enough mood to comment on the ill-considered activities of venal little drunken monsters, and so the thing was done.

I regret the yinglet confusion; I meant them to be kobolds, but ones whose duties included scavenging human trash for edibles and delicacies. I did pick up the term "scav" from Out of Placers. outed as furry oh noes