The Mead Party
Within a month the two foals were born. Had it been anything other than a spectral steed the horse would have been torn in half at how quick they came. The first, a boy, was strong and needed no coaxing to stand on its own, Froiadkjlalwdajs'de, Fro’do for short. Pure white, like Tasuil, but with a translucent sheen that reflected the cosmos behind moving clouds. This was the power of dragons. The other, a girl, was frail and weak, it shuddered as it tried to stand, and fell, Frodialkajinas’de, Fro’da for short. Tasuil coaxed Fro’da to stand, but the foal was not to last a full day before dying. They laid it to rest in the fires of river Pyregethon. Even the dead foal made a spectacular show when consumed by fire. Tasuil cried and left his mark upon Ashenfell there. It was the first time he had ever seen his friend cry. It was the first time he’d ever seen a dragon cry. It was unnatural to him. Unnatural in an unnatural world of a sentient comet. He longed to be back in his mead garden, but there were other things to be done here on this hunk of the comet.
Fro’do grew quickly. Within a month he was as large as his mother but not as intelligent. No speech, just power. Tasuil was saddened by this but knew it was for the best. Siring another sentient beast of great magical power was not what such a young dragon should be doing. It seemed to follow some of the laws of nature as well. At two months old it was gigantic, twice the size of its mother, as large as a dragon but wingless. Inexplicable accidents happened. A few people died. Sadly, Tasuil took Fro’do out into the wilds and something happened to it. The massive growth caused its heart to fail. As massive as the body was, it could not support all that magic. The skull of the great beast somehow absorbed all the latent magic and Tasuil came back with it clean and shining. At least that’s the story Tasuil told Atrophinius when he came back. He felt sorrow for his friend, but proud of him for making the decision. They drank mead together for two days and all was right again.
Which made him even sadder when he heard the news of what happened with Ananke. He knew his friend was still sentient and alive, just somehow merged with the soul of Maelforge. His head knew it, but his heart knew his body was gone. Physically he was nothing more than goo in a jar now. Dead in body, but not in soul. He was drinking more and more mead to drown his sorrow and loneliness. He was running out of the stores he’d brought with him. This contest was necessary. He’d need a new mead source or he was going to get grumpy, very grumpy. The ascended didn’t like him much when he was grumpy.
Faceless man popped his head into the room. “It is time Atrophinius. Let us begin.”
He sighed, “Yes, my friend.” Then he rose and walked out to the courtyard.
“MMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDD!!!!!!!!” He yelled as he stretched out his hands to the sky. “MEAD is what brings us here today! MEAD is what we’re testing today! Mead is what we’ll consume! The greatest mead in all the lands! MMMMMMEEEEEAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!”
Everyone cheered. Even Faceless Man appeared to tilt his head back in appreciation.
“Today we taste the finest meads available in all the land! I demand only the finest! I have brought you here because yours is the best of the year. I will take your year’s stock in exchange for a great prize. The polished skull of Froiadkjlalwdajs'de, celestial steed, sired by Tasuil himself!”
Again there was cheering. But none from Faceless Man. He knew he was casting this off in an attempt to further drown his sorrows. It normally worked for him. Holding onto emotional possessions was not in Atrophinius’ nature. He was a man of the moment. Yes, this would do wonders for him. His mourning would soon be over.
“For MY listening pleasure, all the way from The Dendrome T’chikk, I bring me…..” and Atrophinius turned around, pointing to the giant bug behind a strange looking music box, “T’chikky T’chikky Boom Boom!” and the music began to play.
“Hey T’chikky Boom Boom! Hit you with the ting ting! Hey Tchikky Boom Boom, mead I am drinking…brrzzz…ZZZZZ…zzzzzzz… hey!” and the party was started. Looking at the contestants, all sectioned off, they appeared mostly confused at first. Some made plans to keep watch of their private brews while the others joined in the revelry. Some stayed. Others abandoned their booths entirely. Atrophinius’ parties were known as the best entertainment you couldn’t remember the next day.
The party was in full thump and twilight was here. The sun was almost down and Atrophinius stopped the music. “MMMMMMMMEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAADDDD! Now that we’re all in the right mindset let the tasting begin!” Hundreds of fireflies lit up the sky, as if someone called last call and all the lights came on. Men, women and beasts of all kinds in all sorts of clothed and unclothed debauchery hurriedly straightened themselves out from their disheveled states in preparation for the real event. A few of the contestants had to be taken out as they had participated a tad too hard. The Eth just couldn’t hold their liquor.
“These proceedings shall be judged by myself and Faceless Man, as he is the only one I trust to catch everyone’s tricks and possible treachery.” And the faceless man rose from his isolated seat and walked to the first tasting table with Atrophinius. A quiet lute started playing in the background. It reminded everyone of a renaissance fai….I mean, a local fair out near a castle with the local peasantry.
The first table was for the Ward of The Vigil. They had all stayed at their table like sheep, afraid to join in the revelry, that it may offend one of the vigil for their lack of purity and faith. Through their purity was an air of superiority as if they were above the preceding activities, judging it to be beneath them. “Lord Atrophinius. We present to you our finest, or purest…”
“Oh shut up and pour. We both know you don’t like being here in such a den of sin. You’re only here for a shot at that skull, like it’s some religious symbol. If you win you can have it, so just shut your pompous mouths and pour.”
“Yes…m’lord” and they poured two goblets. He was right of course. They hated being here amongst all these…sinful people. But they stayed for their duty.
Faceless man and Atrophinius both took their goblets. Atrophinius waiting on Faceless Man.
“Well?” Asked Atrophinius.
“There is no alcohol here. This is only grapes and honey.” He replied.
“Of course, how could I expect real mead from the followers of the vigil.” He scoffed.
“M’lord, if you would just taste it. I’m sure you would find the aged yet alcohol free grapes to be the purest of the…”
“I don’t care about your pure grapes and holy honey. This is not mead. This is sweetened grape juice, concentrate.” He poured his goblet on the ground.
One of the younger contestants spoke up “M’lord, maybe if you drank less you could appreciate…”
Appreciate? APPRECIATE! You should appreciate that I don’’t take your head right hear and have it fashioned into a goblet!” he kicked over their table. “Get out! The lot of you! Go back and pray to Thontic for a better understanding of why the sailor drinks as I do. Shoo! Away with you! FAIL!”
And they scurried off. Their cask of grape juice had been left untouched throughout the party.
“NEXT!” Atrophinius called out as he walked to the next table.
“Oh, the hive! This should be pretty sweet. By the way, thanks for bringing the entertainment. They really…” he chuckled “they really created a buzz!” and he laughed uproariously at his own joke.
“ZZzzz m’lordzzzz. Thozzze over therezzz. They come from a different hivezzz.” One said sheepishly with a hint of offence. “We aren’t all one hive you know.”
“But you all have one queen and you communicate through her, yes?” He shot back.
A more mature hive member came forward. “Yezzz. Forgive him m’lord. Since the azzzended killed the last queen and freed us there has been zzzome disagreementzzz between hivezz. We are not as unified through the new queen azzzz we once were.”
“Understood.” And he stood there waiting. “Okay, so….I know you’re making your own honey. Being the mead aficionado I am, I understand the process. Sort of a milking thing from the purest t’chikk, fed only the best, bred for this purpose. But the grapes are not yours, are they not?” and he cocked his head quizzically.
“Well, nnno, we do not farm them. At nnnnight we go into the hillzzz near the Dendrome and harvest them. These are the wild strainzzz outside of your gardenzzz proper.” He said nervously, hoping Atrophinius wouldn’t take it as they were stealing his grapes.
“Hrm, I should probably inquire about this further but no reports of small crops have surfaced. This shouldn’t be an issue. Pour for us please.”
The T’chikk who had spoken up before was made to pour for them. To teach him to keep his mouth shut and fall in line. It was not lost on either of the judges. They were trying hard to be part of civilization and not just hive.
Atrophinius looked to Faceless Man again.
“Mead, with a hint of….poison….not enough to kill. Not even enough to weaken compared to what you would consider a good mead, Atrophinius.” Faceless Man replied.
Atrophinius looked to the T’chikk angrily. “What is the meaning of this?!”
The one who had spoken of the grapes before spoke again, “M’lord, there was an incident with our honey supply some time ago. Many of them were poisoned by rebellious T’chikk. It was quelled. It appears some of that supply was…”
“WE WILL NEVER SUCCUM TO THOSE OUTSIDE OF THE HIVE!” and the young T’chikk began to move towards Atrophinius. “YOU WILL DIE BY MY H…” and he fell. A bloody mandible from one of the other T’chikk was left in its stead.
“Forgive uzzz.” Spoke their leader. “We have not fully incorporated all under the new queen. As you can see he has been dispatched appropriately.”
And with that Atrophinius drained his glass. Faceless Man took a measured sip.
“AH! Yes! This is mead! That bit of poison actually adds a bit of punch to it. A bit of malice and chaos to go with the cold calculated measure of the rest of the bouquet! Most excellent!
Faceless Man wrote down a few notes on a clipboard, judging himself but staying silent.
“ON TO THE NEXT!” Atropinius called out.
“Only the finest hydroponically grown grapes of a pure strain transported from before the first rifts.” Sylver went on, “then blended with planarite filtered tannins from each of the six planes. The honey from a synthetic mechanical process identical to actual honey but not requiring the use bees to produce. This product is pure and delicious.” And he bowed, glancing off to the crowd.
“I hope it’s not as bland and boring as all this rambling about machines. Hurry up and pour me a glass!” said Atropinius.
“Balorma, would you do the honors?” said Sylver.
“But of course,” said Balorma, and poured two goblets with the finest court service to be seen that night.
“Balorma Pavro, am I right?” asked Faceless Man.
“Yes, yes my lord. You are very observance. Thank you.” She said, backing away from the goblets slightly.
Faceless man picked up a goblet, not taking his eyes away from hers and downed it in one pull. “It is, of course, safe to drink.”
Atrophinius understood her to be an emissary but couldn’t remember from where. It would be an insult to question the safety of anything she served. So, instead, he took care to go through the rituals of a fine tasting. He swirled the glass, inhaled the bouquet deeply, watched as the rivulets of mead trickled down the inside of the glass, everything your standard mead snob would do. It felt a tad weird, like he was at a child’s tea party but followed custom as best he could, then drank.
“Hmm, this I like. It’s complex. It has depth. I really wasn’t expecting this from the Planarite Institute. It’s sour like unrequited love, but newly sweet like a new love first budding. It’s…”
“Asha doesn’t love you.” Interjected Faceless Man. “She’ll never love you. She has other goals in life besides love now.” He paused. “But don’t give up on love. If you stop being blinded on such a singularity you may find love right under your nose,” and he nodded to Balorma, moving on to the next table.
“I…M’lord I…” she attempted to straighten the table but only serves to spill the mead. Her face goes white, then red. “I’ll just go…refillmmmhrmll” and rushed off in a panic with the empty goblets to the cask.
Sylver, still is standing there processing everything, tilting his head to one side and then the other. Finally he glances back at Balorma who’s hurrying along and a slight panic. He stands bolt upright and simply says “oh!”
Atrophinius can no longer contain himself with laughter. His booming voice is rattling and the banging on the table in hilarity isn’t helping. “You great fool!” He bangs on the table again. Later, once this is finished, we’ll toast to your harmless stupidity!” and he pats him on the back, moving to the last table.
“Ah my four hooved friends. You’ve traveled a long way for some mead.” Said Atrophinius
“Friends, HA! You’ve never been friends to us. We’re only here because we heard there was business.” Replied the Centaur.
“There is business if your drink is good.”
“Of course it’s good. We wouldn’t come all this way if it were not.” Huffed the centaur, and he sloppily poured his red sluice.
“This is rotwine.” Stated Faceless Man plainly
“Of course it’s rotwine!” Shouted the centaur. “He only drinks rotwine, not this mead you’re tasting for him.”
Atrophinius looked at him quizzically, “Who exactly are you bringing this for?” and got closer to the centaur, brow pinching together.
“We’ve been sent to supply Gristlespitt. This is where Ananke lives, is it not?” He asked, for the first time questioning himself.
“It is not.” Replied Atrophinius.
“Oh….well…we’ll just be going then.”
“You’ll only be leaving in one of your own rotwine barrels.” Said Atrophinius coldly, flexing his hands.
“You and you, go take them to…”
“MAKE WAY FOR THE TUATH’DE!” and an emissary of Tuath’de came through the crowd with a barrel.
“All of your swill is inferior to our..”
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS! Your treatment of the fae and other beasts is reprehensible! You’re definitely NOT invited to this party!” shouted Atriphinius.
“Poppycock! We have the best, most powerful brew of…”
“I don’t care what you have. Your life is valued about the same as these centaur doomed for..”
“How dare you speak to your superiors like a common…”
“Superiors! You’re nothing but overgrown vampire moths! You’re…”
And then everyone began shouting, tables were overturned, everyone was pushing and shoving, threats were made but unheard as the volume of the arguments rose.
Through the arguing a low thumping sound begins to grow, "thump-a, thump-a, thump-a" and so on. It kept getting louder, yet muffled. Everyone begins to grow silent and less argumentative. A giant Frouge appears on the horizon, hopping closer. As the Frouge hops closer the sound gets louder, yet still muffled as if coming from inside. Everyone is staring as the thumping from inside the Frouge continues. It begins to open its mouth and its long tongue darts out.
"Oppa Gangnam style!" and the thumping, grinding sound continues.
Boase, The Sparkle Faerie was at the end of the tongue with a music box. Sparkle faeries were still an enigma to everyone. They were a new phenomenon with only a few in known existence. They speculated that all the latent magics from all the different forces in play caused them to spontaneously appear, but others felt that great collectors of power became the power itself. At any rate he was a walking spectacle...that was calmly walking over to the skull of Fro'do.
The music stopped. Boase tossed a small music box to the T'chikk DJ and picked up the skull. "Set complete." And with a dart of its tongue the Frogue had snatched Boase with his tongue and was gone as quickly as he arrived. Everyone was still speechless at the spectacle.
A low thumping started again, but from behind them, near the T'chikk DJ. It was a different song, but a similar beat. "Around the world, around the world. Around the world, around the world...."