Today’s blog continues my long-neglected satirical fantasy, In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
As the group made their way to their connecting train, Will was stunned to find himself in a bustling neighborhood. The streets and buildings were all technically underground, a rough-hewn ceiling could be seen high above the buildings, but in front of him he could see the bright light of open skies.
By now the teen had become accustomed to the Penny Gnomes’ preference for mountains and seclusion, so an underground town didn’t surprise him very much. What shocked him was all the non-gnomes he saw. The streets bustled with humans, dwarves, elves, and other races Will couldn’t recognize from his fantasy books. The dwarves he passed seemed to enjoy laughter and spoke in loud, boisterous voices. The elves, on the other hand, felt a bit stuffy. Their dress was immaculate, but they seemed to walk though the streets with a perpetual sneer on their faces. The humans were another matter entirely. They chatted excitedly in a language Will didn’t understand. As they spoke, sparks of light popped around them, crackling like a fire.
“Those are wizards, kid,” Bug offered by way of interpretation.
“I can’t understand them.”
“Yah, they’ve got the wizard’s firecracker. They’re speaking Wizard Tongue and that creates all the magic sparks while they chat.”
“They look human.”
Bug shrugged, “I guess.”
“But I don’t understand, why are they here?”
“The wizards? They live here, there’s a Wizard Quarter not too far from here. Probably merchants acting as agents for buyers in Boarsblemish.”
Will shook his head. “No, why are they all here. The dwarves, elves, and the wizards? I thought Gnomes didn’t like outsiders.”
“We don’t. But we aren’t inside. This is The Harbor. It’s sort of a buffer between us an the rest of The Realm.”
“And anyone can come here?”
Will thought it was an innocent enough question, so he was shocked when Bug became flustered.
“Ah, no. Not so much. There’s limited space, you see, and while this is not really in our territory it’s not really out either. You need to have a visa to visit, and go through a whole process to apply for residency.”
“Oh, that makes sense. I guess.” Will paused for a moment as he pondered Bug’s discomfort before he added, “So why are you so uncomfortable?”
“Uh, well…” Bug muttered as he collected his thoughts.
“He’s embarrassed by the refugees,” Sindy broke in, coming to her husband’s aid.
“Yah, kid, we’re at war”
“Well war isn’t all that nice to civilians. Right?”
“I guess, yah.”
“Will,” Sindy cut in once more, Bug breathed a sigh of relief. “Most of the population from the plains near the Firewall has been displaced. There’s entire towns which have been emptied, and much of that population came to the Fifty Peaks Mountains looking to get away from the Horde. And our splendid public servants decided to not let them in.”
“So where’d they go?”
Sindy sighed, “You’ll see soon enough.”
They’d arrived at their train, and Sills waved them all on to a car after arguing with a conductor for a few minutes. The others all boarded, but the agent pulled Will aside before he was able to mount the steps.
“Will you’re about to see something you probably won’t like.”
“You mean the refugees?”
Sills scowled, “So Bug was talking about that? I’d told him to leave it to me.”
“It was Sindy, actually. Bug didn’t want to bring it up at all.”
“Well, this train we’re boarding is about to pass through New Town. At least, that’s what the refugees call it.”
“What do the gnomes call it?”
Sills frowned, “Scum Town.” She noticed Will’s eyes open wide in shock, and added, “Look, I don’t agree with it, and the IBI is working with the Throne make conditions in the camp tolerable. But most gnomes don’t care. They feel like they’ve done their part for these folks and for the war, and they’ve got a lot of nerve demanding more.”
“And what do you think?”
“Like Bug and his wife I think most gnomes are clueless idiots who can’t see above their boots. It’s why I work with IBI.”
Will sighed. “OK, I guess.”
Sills caught his gaze for a moment before nodding slightly and waving him on to the train. The two found their companions in a private compartment they had already commandeered and settled in.
“Oh, I’m so excited to be getting out into the wider Realm again,” grinned Nobody. “I have so much to show to show the review board!”
Sills shook her head, “I thought you said you were at a critical juncture with your experiments and couldn’t leave, Professor.”
“Oh, that. Yes, I am. My snack chip combinations are almost ready to create full meals in a snack-chip. Imagine being able to enjoy an entire meal in a bag of chips!”
“I do that already, Prof,” Bug interjected.
“Oh, no. I don’t mean over indulging…”
“I don’t over-indulge!”
Sindy patted Bug’s belly. “You’re fat, dear. No please shut up and let my dad speak.”
Nobody took in the exchange between Bug and Sindy quietly, but then failed to continue when all eyes turned back in his direction. After a minute of uncomfortable silence he pointed to himself.
“Oh my, am I supposed to continue?”
“That’s the general idea, Professor,” Sills reponded.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I get confused with dynamic exchanges, you know.”
“I’ve noticed that,” the agent nodded.
Another minute of uncomfortable silence followed, as Nobody smiled cheerfully at his weary audience. It ended only when Sills placed her hands in her head and uttered a muffled, “That meant continue, Professor.”
“Oh!” Nobody brightened. “Of course. What we talking about?”
Sindy smiled coldly at her father. Though clenched teeth she said, “Meal in a snack chip.”
“Oh yes! That’s right. Well, I am almost to the point where my AI manufacturing process is able to create an entire meal in a back of chips! Imagine being able to have the entire experience, with all the calories and flavors, of a meal which takes no more preparation than opening the bag!”
He leaned back in his seat, beaming with self-congratulatory admiration. The others stared at each other for a few heartbeats, until Sindy finally broke the silence.
“I have to admit that sounds pretty cool.”
“It is, isn’t it?” Nobody crowed. “Now If I can just keep the chips from exploding violently when they come into contact with saliva I’d be all set.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out several bags of “Snack Like Nobody’s Business” chips. Imprinted on the bags were names like “Turkey Dinner,” “Ham and Cheese Casserole,” and “Turnip and Guacamole Stew.”
Nobody offered a bag to Will. “You you like try some?” Bug reached out for one of the offered bags, only to have his hand slapped by by a suddenly alarmed Sindy. Nobody shrugged and raised the bags toward Will.
“I’ll pass, thanks,” the teen replied as he shook off Nobody’s offer.
Sills pointed to the Professor’s pockets. “Why don’t you put those away, Professor. They’re dangerous.”
“You mean because they tend explode?”
“Yes, that would tend to be a downside.”
“Oh,” Nobody grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
The old gnome stowed the bags back into his unnaturally deep pockets just as the train began to move. Will was eager to be out from under the looming mountain, as so continued to look up as the train emerged into the open sky. He took in the bright sunlight of a clear and beautiful day for a moment before turning his attention back to horizontal matters. When he did so he was utterly shocked.
Tents of various conditions were lined up in make-shift streets. Mud and dirt were everywhere, and Will noticed children of various races playing in what looked like garbage piles. As the train pulled slowly through the makeshift town the teen saw no smiles, only misery and want.
“Why doesn’t anyone do anything for these people?”
“We do, Will,” answered Sills. “But the government can only go so far before we hit into regional sovereignty issues.”
Bug grunted, “Because the throne is empty, kid.”