When people say that the Tonberries showed up a few decades ago, that’s exactly what happened. A slow, silent procession of them proceeding over the desert, each with no more possessions than their lamp, knife, and robe.

They were taken for an invasion at first, and maybe the whole population might have been killed there and then if not for some hurried diplomacy on the part of a now-anonymous group of adventurers. Eventually, the city came to realise that the column of marching Tonberries weren’t an invasion force: they were settlers.

Tonberries don’t own enough to be worth robbing, can’t work quickly enough to be worth enslaving, and aren’t interesting enough to be worth bullying. They moved into an area of slums and slowly, deliberately, renovated it into at least halfway tolerable tenements. And in time, the city came to learn a little more about its bizarre new neighbours.

Physically, Tonberries are a mystery. They are stunted green-skinned humanoids with no facial features barring two luminous yellow eyes, and no visible reproductive system. Tonberries are freakishly tough and resilient: while they die when cut into pieces just like anybody else, it takes a minute’s work with an axe to fatally wound a Tonberry past the point where it can recover. Dissections have shown that they have internal organs, though their biology seems unlike anything normally comprehensible.

Socially, Tonberries are intensely private and tightly-knit, solidly refusing to dissolve even a little in the city’s melting-pot. They are never seen without lantern, robe and knife. They have a peculiar aversion to the first-person singular: while they aren’t a hive mind, their society seems to have a deeply-held taboo against considering themselves as individuals. After a few false starts, they have come to understand that not everybody works the same way, and some Tonberries have even started taking names for themselves — though they do so without much enthusiasm, and mostly in an attempt to put strangers at ease.

Tonberries don’t seem to able to feel suffering or misery at all. That pain might move other beings to submission or obedience seems to be a source of endless fascination to them, though they have learned now not to request demonstrations of strangers. While they are punctual and orderly to a fault, they are also immensely slow at doing anything. If you ask a Tonberry when it will be finished with its work, the answer will often be in months: but you can set your clock by it.

Given all this, the gnomic Tonberry community has yet to provide frustrated scholars with any kind of explanation as to why they immigrated in the first place, when the city — and, it would seem, the world in general — has absolutely nothing that they need. They seek work, if they can find jobs where their inability to move with any sort of speed isn’t a liability, and accept pay, but don’t seem to have anything to spend it on. Some find demand for their meticulousness and attention to detail as record-keepers or archivists; others find more practical work in maintenance, and Tonberries are known to make excellent watchmen. Inexplicably, they also have a deep and abiding flair for cookery, and Tonberry chefs are highly-sought after, providing you don’t mind organising all your dinner parties a year in advance.

Tonberries are placid creatures, though they are starting to learn that it is appropriate to defend their community when threatened with violence. They are surprisingly effective at this: a lone Tonberry is easy to hold off or evade but almost impossible to put down for good, and while you’re busy finishing off one you can guarantee that three more are slowly, implacably advancing on you from elsewhere, knives drawn, waiting patiently to find a weak spot in your defences.

And Tonberries watch the gladiators. They attend arena fights in small, tightly-knit groups, and spectate silently clutching lamp and knife while all around them the stands erupt in cheering.


Bloodmoney flannelcat JWyatt