Home > Worth1000 > Day One Hundred and Thirty-one: Among the Low People (REVISED)

Day One Hundred and Thirty-one: Among the Low People (REVISED)

This is another story that I submitted to Worth100.com for their “Jewelry” writing contest. I think it’s an improvement over the original, so I thought I’d let everyone take a look.

———————

Othioto made sure to lock the door after he let Sestl in. The room was a cluttered mess, with papers, notebooks, broadsides and drawings set up everywhere. Sestl smiled when he looked around. Or at least he seemed to smile, but with the Low People, Othioto could never be sure. He still wasn’t very good at reading their expressions. “Wow, Cantur. Writing a book?”

The use of his assumed name sent a twinge of anxiety through Othioto’s chest. It mixed with the hope that today would be the last day he had to answer to it.

“Let me straighten up,” Othioto said. “It’ll only be a minute.”

While he picked up papers and tried to put them into some kind of order, Sestl moved over to the window and looked down at the street below. “Huh,” he said. “Would you look at that. A bunch of Blues in this part of the city.”

For a moment, Othioto wanted to panic. He glanced in the mirror just to reassure himself that his disguise held, and it did ”“ a flat, grey-skinned, mottled face looked back at him. He was covered in sores and warts, cracks in the skin that opened and bled. His teeth were broken and stained, his eyes were dull and flat. He twisted the opal ring on his index finger and sighed with relief.

Like the Low People he was pretending to be, he was hideous, yet he was adorned with jewels and gold and clothes of the finest fabric and cut. He wore dozens of gold hoops in his ears, pulling the lobes down nearly to his shoulders. He had a ring on every finger, and they were set with gems that sparkled in even the dimmest light. Silver thread ran through his woolen cloak and fine linen shirt, and he wore a choker of rare shells and stones. The Low People prized their finery, and for good reason.

Othioto joined Sestl at the window and watched the small group of Necoli pass by.

Strictly speaking, no Low Person was supposed to lay eyes on the Necoli. Centuries of tradition demanded that they avert their gaze, but it was hard not to look. They were tall and slender, with skin the blue of a radiant autumn sky. Bright and iridescent scales were scattered about their bodies and caught the sun, throwing off glimmering colors, and their hair shone like polished silver. Necoli wore no garments to cover their beauty, and they possessed no jewelry ”“ they never saw a need for either. They called themselves the Children of the Sky and claimed descent from the gods that oversaw their world.

“Damned Blues,” Sestl growled, and Othioto started at the disgust in his voice. “Think they’re so damned perfect.” He turned away from the window. “You ever actually meet one of ”˜em, Cantur?”

“I… Actually…”

“I did,” Sestl said. “Once. One of ”˜em came down here ”“ in person, no less – to buy some cookware, of all things.” He chuckled. “Some woman with a whole troupe of bodyguards around her. Poor thing looked terrified. Like she was going to turn ugly just by being outside the Walls.”

Othioto put down a bundle of papers. “Maybe she just… didn’t know better,” he said.

“What does she have to know?” Sestl asked. “Believe me, if she could’ve gotten her pots and pans any other way, she would have. All those Blues would be happier if we just went away, you ask me.” He shrugged. “But then where would they get their pots and pans?”

“I don’t know,” Othioto said. He pulled a chair around and Sestl settled into it with a sigh. “Maybe… Maybe if the Necoli knew more about… us, they wouldn’t be so afraid to come out here.”

Sestl’s eyebrows shot up. “You kidding, Cantur?”

“No,” Othioto said quietly. “I really think so.”

The unavoidable moment was twisting Othioto’s guts. He licked his lips. “Sestl… We’ve known each other for a while, haven’t we?”

“Sure,” Sestl said. “Since I saved you from getting the soul beat out of you at the summer festival.” He laughed. “I still can’t believe you wandered out there without any pants on.”

Othioto cleared his throat. “Yes, well -”

“You know, I still tell that story, too. I think you get drunker every time I tell it.”

“Sestl, please.”

“And I have to confess something, Cantur.” He was able to hold a serious look on his face for a few seconds before he cracked up. “I nearly didn’t even step in. I was just laughing too hard.” He started cackling, rocking back in the chair.

“Sestl!”

The other man slowly regained his composure. “I’m sorry, Cantur. It’s just…” He reached out and poked Othioto in the shoulder. “It really was funny.”

“Yes,” Othioto said. “I guess it was.” He started twisting the opal ring on his finger. Sestl’s eyes flickered down to it and back up. “Sestl, there’s a reason why I did that. And it wasn’t because I was drunk.”

He took a deep breath and looked Sestl in the eyes. “I can trust you, Sestl, can’t I?” he asked.

Sestl seemed surprised by the question. Surprised enough that he took a moment to think, and answered without a hint of sarcasm. “Yeah, Cantur,” he said. “Of course. You know you can.”

“Okay.” Othioto stood up and straightened his shirt. “Sestl,” he said, a little louder than he meant to, “I am not who you think I am.” Sestl was looking at him with a carefully blank expression. “My name is not Cantur,” he said. “It’s Othioto.”

Sestl’s eyes went wide at the name and how it had been said. Low People didn’t have names like that.

“Sestl,” Othioto said. “This is who I am.” With a swift motion, he pulled the opal ring off his finger. In a few heartbeats, his body shifted and changed, revealing his true Necoli form. It felt strange to be wearing clothes, looking like this. He tried not to scratch.

Sestl shot out of his seat and tried to open the door. He pulled at the handle, whimpering under his breath.

“No! No, Sestl, please! Don’t do that!” Othioto reached out and took Sestl by the arm. “Look at me, Sestl,” he said. He grabbed the man’s chin and turned his face towards him. “Look at me!”

It took a moment before Sestl cracked his eyes open, and then he clenched them shut again. A moment later, and he was looking again. This time, he kept his eyes on Othioto’s face. The Necoli smiled, and Sestl flinched. “My name is Othioto,” he said again. “I’m from the university in the Inner City, and I’ve been living among the Low People for the last year, learning your ways.” He held up the ring. “This allows me to disguise myself.”

Sestl looked from the ring to Othioto and back again.

“I’ve been putting together a book,” Othioto said, smiling. “All about the Low People and how you live. It’s really fascinating, and it’ll be the first book of its kind ever published.”

Sestl just stared at him.

“You… you might say something,” Othioto said after a moment. He slid the ring back onto his finger and felt the familiar shift as he changed. “There,” he said. “That might be easier.”

“Take it off,” Sestl growled. He wasn’t looking at Othioto anymore.

“What?” He started to reach out when Sestl wheeled around and punched him. Othioto dropped to the floor, whimpering in pain. His jaw throbbed and tears came to his eyes. When he looked up, Sestl was standing above him, his fists clenched and his face red.

“You come here,” Sestl said. “You come here with your fancy ring, and you think you can be one of us?” He delivered a swift kick, and Othioto doubled over. “You think this is fun, Blue?” He kicked again. “Are you having fun writing your book about us?” He moved to kick again, but Othioto held up a hand.

“Please, Sestl!” he croaked. “Please, stop. Stop, Sestl, please…”

Sestl put his foot down and watched the disguised Necoli writhe on the floor. He crouched, his knees popping. “You have until sunset,” he whispered. “Then I tell everyone.” His hand flashed out and he grabbed Othioto’s hand. He twisted the ring from his finger and watched as Othioto changed back. Sestl stood up and put the ring in his pocket. Then he turned around to the door.

“Wait, Sestl!” He stopped, but didn’t turn around. “Sestl,” Othioto said. “I don’t… I don’t understand.” He got his hands under him and tried to get up. He dropped back to the floor.

“No,” Sestl said, not looking back. “No. You don’t.”

He left Othioto there, on the floor amidst his notes and papers. Sunset was a few hours away, but for now, Othioto didn’t feel like moving.

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