Chapter 1: Beer? Delivery
Mark looked up at the cellar door above him as it opened, just in time to see the cheery face of Ostig, the Aledigger in charge of beer deliveries to the Rest, staring back at him.
“Mornin’ Mark, you alright down there?” Ostig shouted. Mark winced, Ostig tended to think every hole was big enough and deep enough for him to need to yell to be heard. Admittedly, Ostig was a dwarf and a particularly short and stout one at that so Mark could understand it somewhat. Mark’s eardrums, however, were a different matter.
“I was! Bloody hell mate, turn it down a bit”. Mark replied, turning back to the tap he was setting up. He cursed as a splint got into his finger. Ostig and the clan were your traditional Dwarven sorts. They’d turned up in Lyonesse a few years ago and promptly settled into a part of the city that was considerably run down. While, on the face of it, the area hadn’t improved much – they’d shored up the buildings and replaced the doors but not bothered with such simple things as unboarding the windows, Mark knew they’d dug down and turned the area into a veritable fortress. With a Dwarven fort came Dwarven beer. Beer which arrived in big stout wooden barrels and needed drilling into carefully and often led to the sort of pain Mark’s finger was reminding him he was in.
Still, it sold well.
“You know Ostig, it’d be a lot easier if your guys just put a cork in so I could tap these …”
“Cork?!” Ostigs rather bulbous nose scrunched up at the thought of it.
“No, no my boy, you’d ruin the flavour. Plus, can you imagine what’d happen if we tried that with the Specials? There’d be none left by the time we delivered it, the Guard would be asking questions about why people were injured by flying corks all over the place and my reputation would be in tatters. Might as well feed me to the Orcens, it’d cause as much pain it would”
“If we fed you to the Orcen’s you’d be dead”
“… and I might as well be dead if you stick a cork in my barrels. You need to get yourself a good dwarven apprentice in here, I’ve got a few young ‘uns who might be alright.” Ostig replied as he climbed down into the cellar. “How about Fogrod? He’s only 35, he’s got a few years left on his apprenticeship before he can become a true Aledigger.”
Dwarves also lived really, really long lives so Mark, who at the last attempt at counting was 30, was the equivalent of a 100-year-old Dwarf. Time moved weirdly in The Knot so Mark wasn’t entirely sure he was 30 anymore.
“Maybe, we’ll see.” said Mark as the first barrel dropped down from the street into the arms of a waiting Ostig who carried it over to the stack, “What’ve you brought today?”
“Three barrels of Old Peculiar, three of that Rat’s Piss Phizzy Pilsner you humans seem to lo-“
“Fizzy Pilsner, we’re calling it Fizzy,” Mark said, cutting Ostig off mid-flow. The Alediggers didn’t like lager, even though it turned a tidy profit for them. Mark taught them the recipe when he’d arrived in exchange for helping set the pub up.
Ostig grunted as he caught another barrel, “Whatever, still tastes like rat’s piss to me.”
A higher-pitched dwarven voice from above cleared its throat.
“It’s actually cool brewed, simplified flavour Ostig”
“Piss off Gosgrun, nobody asked you. Send me another barrel down!”
Mark peered up the cellar entrance, “Morning Gos! How’re you?”
Gosgrun, Ostig’s partner in crime and lead brewer for the Alediggers, waved as he wrestled a barrel off the cart.
“Morning Mark! I’m fine, a bit bright up here for my tastes, you’ll like it though. Did Ost tell you what else we brought?”
“No, somehow he got distracted by the Pilsner”
Gosgrun grinned as he passed another barrel down to Ostig.
“Well, d’you remember when there was that weird storm and the city got covered in them little fruits?”
Mark frowned, “The foodstorm? Yeah I remember that”.
“Well, we swept a load up and put ’em downstairs. Too sweet for us so we kept them to feed the rats. After a bit, they started smelling a bit off, but it reminded me of some of the top skim off a barrel so I stuck ’em in and left them for a while”
Mark smiled … “Gos, have you heard of wine?”
“Whine? Only when I forget to do something”
“No, no. Wine. It’s an Earth thing.”
“… not our Earth lad!” Ostig shouted. Mark waved his hand dismissively.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Multiple Earth’s all point to The Knot. Still, my Earth has it”
“.. and why do they point here Mark?” Gos grinned, getting in on the act.
“Because The Knot’s a topological error in the Space-Time curve which has produced a connection point across an unknown number of universes resulting in it becoming a multiversal nexus. Yes, I was paying attention during the induction sessions thanks”
Gos laughed, “You sure? That sounds awfully like what Elluin yelled back at you when you woke up”.
Mark shuddered as he remembered the “Welcome!” lessons. Elluin was one of the Aelvar, the closest thing to a native humanoid species in The Knot. They weren’t actually native, just the first sentient race to arrive here. Formerly a seemingly spacefaring species, the Aelvar escaped a world-ending event on their Arks, the subsequent explosive energies pushing them into The Knot. Alas, not a lot of technology worked here for reasons Mark barely understood but the Aelvar got stranded here along with everyone else who’d followed in the time since.
“Anyway, you were saying Gos. What you’ve made there sounds like something I had on my Earth called Wine.”
“Really? It’s just fermented fruits that got juiced up” Gos replied. Mark nodded enthusiastically, if Gos had indeed mastered wine, even by accident, it’d be something he could shift in the Rest once he’d bottled it up.
“Yep, that’s wine”
“Definitely called wine? I was thinking “Zizzy Fruit Juice””
“That’s shite!” Ostig yelled.
“Nobody asked you, Ost!” Gos shouted back, equally as loud as Ost.
“Bugger off both of you shouting. It’s wine!” Mark shouted, covering his ears to stop him from going deaf at an early age.
Gos put his hands up, “Alright, bloody hell. No need to get so defensive. Wine. I brought you some wine”
“Thanks, Gos, I’ll let you know how it sells”
“Cheers, that’ll be 10 gold for it by the way”
“10? Bloody … alright. No point haggling.”
A sudden burst of laughter from the cellar caught Mark’s attention as Ostig doubled over laughing.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
Ostig took a breath and wiped a tear from his eye, “Oh, just the thought of you trying to haggle with a dwarf again. I remember the first time you tried it with me, you ended up getting that drunk you promised me “your firstborn child, a car, and the keys to your mansion”. I’m still waiting on them by the way”
Two other things Mark learned about his time in Lyonesse with dwarves. They drank a mug of ale for every point and counter during a haggle, and unlike humans, they never forgot what happened. Haggling was serious business for a dwarf.
“Yeah, you’ll get them one day.”
Ostig frowned, “Been meaning to ask, what is a car?”
“A car? It’s a bit like that cart upstairs but with no horse”
“No horse? How does it move then?”
“Something called “internal””, Mark stopped. He felt the hairs on his arms and neck starting to tingle.
“You feel that?” he asked the dwarves.
“Feel what?”, they both asked in unison.
“That? It’s like something’s filled the air with static electricity”
“Ohh, that’s why your hairs suddenly pointing up?”, Mark put his hand reflexively on his head to feel all of his hair standing on end. A sudden crack from somewhere above caused Mark and Ostig to climb out of the cellar. Mark looked around the front of the pub.
“Well, it’s not the Rest”
“Nah lad,” Ost said pointing a few blocks over and up, “something big’s coming in. Usually don’t get a tear like that if it’s someone or something small.”
Mark looked over to see a purple glow that tore the sky in two. He’d never seen or felt a tear this close. Slowly, a dark grey plane, unlike anything Mark had seen before fell out of the tear and slowly descended to the ground.
“What the bloody hells that?” Gos asked.
“Don’t know, but we’re going to find out”