Iron Chef World-Builder: Finished Product Sample

Continuing yesterday’s topic:  the dwarven Apology to the Abandoned Picks, an example of ways to do New and Interesting Ceremonies for an invented culture.  Enjoy!

The first ones into the Meeting Hall are, of course, the musicians. Barefoot and in pairs, they carry in the instruments from their respective access tunnels: bronze-keyed marvels, each one’s frame carved with a family’s seal ringed by a sequence of runes. An outsider wouldn’t be entirely sure how they decide where to place the instruments, but they seem to know perfectly: they pause, reverently set each one down, and strike a single key with their mallets. Sometimes they hear the echo, then shake their heads and shift the instrument one way or another, then try again; other times, they will listen, nod, reverently place the mallets on the instruments, and then move away to allow another pair to place theirs.

As the space begins to fill with the instruments, others appear and enter. Some come in groups of four, oblong stone tables hoisted over their shoulders; these are shod, and dressed with little ornamentation. Some move about the edges of the cavern, tending to the dripping of the cave walls over the limestone gardens. Others, their clothing and hair embellished with crystals and highly polished silver disks, move about the periphery, adjusting the mirrors that bring sunlight from the world above into the cavern or reflect the spells for light cast in the center of the crystal clusters that jut out into the room in places. Still others—mostly women, garbed in ceremonial armor polished so brightly that ghostly reflections play about the walls of the cave every time they walk near a light source—wheel out two portable weapons racks, one empty and one loaded with picks. Though the bustle is constant, and necessary materials are set down and picked up at a moment’s notice, a pathway between two of the caves stays clear.

Once all the instruments are in place, and the other arrangements are made, the motion of the hall ceases. The musicians sit down next to their instruments; though they continue to talk amongst themselves, their voices are hushed, and barely move past the group, let alone echo. The women in the ceremonial armor move to the mouth of one of the side tunnels; the mirror-adjusters sit down at the tables with most of the rest of the city’s inhabitants. Soon enough, about the hushed conversation come the sounds of heavy footsteps and creaking wheels, and the drummer taps out four staccato beats on the smaller of her two drums, the one lying across her lap and not on the stand. Another musician, this one cradling an upright, two-stringed instrument, begins drawing his bow across the strings, creating an almost nasal-sounding vibration; he is soon joined by the mellow, cloth on bronze tones of the rest of the ensemble, and the whole group decreases its tempo to about a walking pace just as the foraging party enters with their cartloads of wood.

The initial procession is quiet, subdued; they march across the cavern with their wood and vanish for a bit. When they return, the drummer ends the first song, and the string player starts a second, a slower, more melancholy-sounding number. In response, one of the women in the armor paces out to the empty weapon rack, then turns and beckons forth the foragers. They return, one by one, removing their axes from their backs and placing them reverently in the empty case as she whispers over each. Then she moves to the rack of picks; she whispers over them, pauses. It’s hard to tell where the resounding ping that results comes from—it might be the picks themselves, it might be the smug-looking young woman behind one of the smaller mallet instruments (though how she could do so given that she’s playing eight beats for the lower instruments’ one, nobody can tell), it might be one of the singers, or the gong player. Whatever the source, though, she nods, and beckons the first of the foragers up.

He approaches step by step, his head bowed; two feet away, he drops to one knee and extends a hand to the first pick on the right. More whispering, a nod from the armored woman, and he steps forward and removes it from the rack, cradling it in his arms as he steps away. The others follow suit, one by one, until finally all of the exchanges have been made, then move to the tables and sit down with their picks. Then the music ceases, and the hall fills with talk.

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