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“Drinks are on me. Let’s get stinko, boys.”
Podlihob and I both express gratitude, and I then ask
“What kind of food does your place serve? We haven’t had dinner, after all.”
“Fusion cuisine. I made the original menu, but the current chef has departed pretty far from it. A lot of it is food meant to be paired with drinks. Especially beer and cider. The bar has the biggest selection of taps in the nation. Maybe the world. I think we’re floating somewhere around eight hundred? I bet the least popular tap lines have crust and filth all in them. We’re ordering those first, and if they’re nasty, I’m taking away my draft tech team’s bonus for the month.” Rhynn monologues at us in his usual idiomatic fashion. He’s good at taking charge of conversations.
“Snacks to go with beer? I’m starting with those green bean things, then.” Eddie mommy? It was something like that.
“I figured you would want something like that. Pretty sure we have most of the stuff from an izakaya available. I know you like those raw fish dishes. We do a pretty good pork cutlet ramen, as well. If you’re going for those dishes, I think you need a dry rice beer. It’s ideal as a light palate cleanser to go with all that salty food.”
“What kind of fruit ciders do you have on tap? Any specialty apples?” Podlihob interjects.
“Those things change out so often I can’t even tell you what’s available right now. There’s a nice red pear cider I remember, they probably kept that because I liked it. There was also a pretty good drink with lemon cider and blueberry whiskey, what was it called? Wet Willy? Something like that. I could go for one of those.”
“You never talk about the place. Why not?” I’m curious.
“I don’t think about it that much. I get money from it and just look at that bottom line. As long as it is pulling in a decent chunk of money, it’s probably being run well enough. If it’s doing so well the management can embezzle and still pay me what I want, fuck it, I would have given them the money as a bonus anyway.” Rhynn is philosophical about his employees stealing from him. He’s never complained about money, though. How big is this place?
My question is soon answered. We pull into an unloading area, high above the street. This bar is the top floor and roof of an enormous building, with a commanding view of the city. It’s getting pretty dark, so we see patterns of light appearing all over the city drowning out the stars above in the dim urban wash. This place is also incredibly busy. There’s a line to get in, which we ignore.
A bouncer at the door, a hulking elf, sees me and says
“No animals allowed. Whoever brought the troll needs to get the fuck out.”
“Who is this unemployed dingus? Why are you standing in front of my fucking door getting in the way of my friends and I? You know what, fuck you. I’m calling Sef.” Rhynn makes a call on his phone as the bouncer gapes.
“Sef. Come out to the front now. We have some trash that needs taking out.” Rhynn hangs up. I wish I was that cool, but all my fur keeps me pretty toasty! Haha! I wish people would stop calling me an animal.
A dark elf in a suit comes out. I haven’t seen many of them in town.
“I am so sorry Rhynn, this idiot has only been here a couple months, hasn’t even hit his ninety-day review yet, he’s family with kitchen staff, I promise this won’t happen again…” Sef continues to placate Rhynn after imperiously shouldering the bouncer out of the way and leading us in.
As I walk past, the bouncer glares at me. I’m not taking crap from this guy.
“Rhynn, hold up.”
Rhynn stops and turns around.
“This guy is still giving me the stink eye. Does he work here?” He has acne and bad breath, but I am nice enough to not mention that.
Before Rhynn can respond, Sef strides back to the bouncer and stares him in the eye, smiling.
“Why are you looking at the owner’s friends? Did I assign you that duty when I hired you? Did I tell you, ‘The owner comes around rarely and has high standards, but go ahead and shit all over his friends, he likes that’? I don’t remember saying that. You don’t remember me saying that. If you look at this person again, you will be fired, and your girlfriend will be fired too because I don’t want the drama. If you want drama, get a fucking acting career. You are working the door. Look at the people who want to come in. These people, they are already inside. Now do your job or go look for a new one.” Sef maintains a pleasant smile on her face throughout this, saying it all in a low murmur that only we and the bouncer can hear.
Inside, the place is packed. A bar stretches into the distance, with a mind-boggling number of taps. Opposite the bar is a series of different gaming tables, all packed with people playing and laughing. Far in the back there are colored lights and loud music. We turn away from the bar and move instead into the restaurant section, with the music at a lower volume and packed tables everywhere.
Sef leads us to a private room in the back of the restaurant, telling Rhynn about new dishes and drinks on the menu. Rhynn is approving of some items and makes a face at some others. Sef’s even-keel demeanor never changes throughout. We reach a private room in the back, and Sef tells us a server and bartender will be back momentarily.
“Send the newbies. Don’t tell them who I am,” Rhynn replies.
Rhynn is cold-blooded. The server is a pretty orc girl with purple hair who is incredibly polite and bubbly. She takes our order for appetizers and says she will be right back with our waters after putting in that order. Then the bartender comes. He’s some race I don’t recognize. He’s short, with an angular face, and is slightly balding. His skin isn’t light blue like Podlihob’s, and he has pointy ears like an elf. Is this a gnome? Hey, I’m supposed to be one of those!
“You guys need drinks and couldn’t tell the server.” He says this like there is a problem with us. We’re in a private room! There’s a hint bundled up in that fact you should be paying attention to, Mister Gnome!
“I heard there’s a lot of taps here and wanted some recommendations from an expert. My friend here is looking for a dry rice beer, my other friend wants to hear about ciders made from specialty apples. I want to hear about new ambers on tap.” Rhynn says this very pleasantly. Too pleasantly.
“There’s a tap list on the table. Just look at it and pick something.” Oh no, he has been hoisted by his own petard! I don’t know what that means, maybe it applies here. Here comes Sef, off they go to the corner, and the bartender is taking off his apron. Yup, he’s fired.
Sef comes back to our table, and smoothly makes several recommendations to us based on the preferences Rhynn gave earlier. Was she eavesdropping? I guess this is the acceptable kind. Before she is done, the bubbly orc girl returns with our waters and lets us know my beans will be ready soon, but the seven-layer dip platter will be a minute as they are frying a fresh batch of chips. Rhynn gives Sef a thumbs-up as she leaves, and Sef continues to recommend ciders to Podlihob.
By the time we have finished ordering our drinks, we have our appetizers. Sef is gone for what seems a single second before she is back with our drinks. We enjoy a toast for our first arena victory, a second toast to Podlihob’s prestige, and finally, a toast to Rhynn providing us with the celebration venue. The server comes back in, asking us if we wanted to order main courses, which we decline. She then asks if we want another round of the same; I do, Rhynn and Podlihob both order alternate suggestions Sef had given them.
With our fresh drinks, we attack the appetizers. My little beans are awesome. Eta money? I just can’t remember their name properly. That seven-layer dip has guacamole, so I have to eat some of that as well. We eat until we are stuffed. Finally, Rhynn pulls out some cigarettes, and places one in front of each of us.
“Boys, we had an easy time with tonight’s win. Not all of our battles in the arena will be that easy. These qualifiers are a joke because of how they’re set up. But once we get into the tournament, we’re going to see respectable opponents. People we can’t laugh off, can’t solo, and can’t take lightly. We need to keep that in mind. If we run across golems in the tournament, they aren’t going to be one experimental model with a couple of basic drones. It’s going to be highly customized golems with amazing pilots. Enjoy tonight’s victory. Tomorrow it’s back to training.”
Thanks for the victory speech, coach.
“And now it’s time for us to smoke.”
This tastes a little different. This is not the normal earthy stuff. What’s going on? Rhynn and Podlihob are both leaned back, puffing on their cigarette occasionally. I am also smoking it, but then my haste spell activates on myself. Huh? I didn’t cast that. I am staring at a fleck of guacamole on the table near me, and it feels like I can see deeper and deeper into the guacamole. My consciousness is descending into a realm smaller than my eyes can normally detect. I see the plant’s cells, masticated as they were, still each with a cell wall and tiny organelles inside. I go down deeper and see the chains of molecules enmeshed together to makes these organelles. I go down further and see covalent bonds of atoms creating these molecule chains, linking atoms together. I go down further, and there are electrons buzzing around areas too fast to see around enormous chasms separating clusters of neutrons and protons from each other in the molecules. I go down further, and there is no longer physical matter, but pure information creating physical structure, just ideas with odd attributes, and I understand that we are a world that is itself pure information, and that our physical shells are just a lie with which we amuse ourselves while the shells display intelligence, that organized information incarnated in a macro form.
“This is some good shit, isn’t it.” Rhynn’s voice snaps me out of my reverie. We have all finished our cigarettes. Podlihob is drinking water. My mouth is so dry. I also drink the water.
“I don’t know if I can drive us home.”
“I think I learned a spell to take us home. Do we need to tell anybody here or anything?” I am trying to remember what I was thinking before Rhynn spoke. I feel like there were profound revelations in there. It’s like trying to catch smoke with my hands, the smoke keeps slipping away.
“I’ll text Sef.” Rhynn says.
“Make with your monkey-magic, furball.”
I create a dimension door, and through it we can see our apartment. We go through, our victory party complete.