Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 44

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Chapter 44

Still chuckling as I went to find the aforementioned postal office, then the bar, I wave hello to a few of the ponies who are resisting the apparently almighty urge to bow to their savior. I drop off my letter with the skinny colt at the post office, and he flicks his eyes across the addresses before casually flicking them across the room. I’m rather impressed when they each land in a separate cubby, each landing perfectly stacked with the others in those cubbies.

From there, I head towards the bar.

After finding The Frosty Mug, with only minor surface scorching from the fire, I step in, getting a warm reception. There’s a stallion behind the bar, face perfectly stoic. As I step in, he nods to me, no change in his facial expression. A couple of the bar patrons also wave before going back to their drinks. There’s only about eight in the decently-sized bar, all stallions, mostly earth ponies.

In one corner, at a much shorter table than the rest, with much brighter decor than the plain, walnut panelling on the rest of the bar, sits two fillies, each playing with stuffed animals, with a little pile of juice boxes next to them. One is Noi, the other is a filly I don’t recognize.

I decide to walk up as quietly as possible, and tickle Noi from behind. This should be good. I probably have an evil grin on my face as I approach the little orange filly.

The maroon filly sitting across from her looks up and sees me, then grins when she realizes my intent. Acting quick, the delightful little traitor distracts Noi with gesture, and I pounce. As I tickle the filly she laughs and giggles, and I even hear chuckles from the other bar patrons.

I continue tickling. “Rawr, the tickle monster has found you!” Man, fingers are awesome.

Eventually, she gives up, and the other filly looks happily smug. Deciding that it would be wholly unfair if Noi had all the fun, I tickle the other filly too, getting encouragement from Noi in the process.

Shrieks of laughter and flailing filly limbs are no match for my finger’s might and dexterity, and she collapses into a giggling lump as well. I watch as Noi pulls the maroon unicorn filly into a tight embrace, nuzzling her cheek.

“Ha, he got you too, sis.” Noi chuckles as she holds the pony that is apparently her sister.

“Nobody is spared from the tickle monster!” My evil laugh eventually becomes a naughty chuckle as I slow down, giving them a break. I turn to the other filly, thank her for finding my hat, and put Noi back on my head.

The orange filly giggles as I stand up, her little hooves on my shoulders, forelimbs wrapped around my forehead. I figure that since I’ve already met the rest of the little family, I should look for Berry Punch. I am here because of her invitation. I search around for a mare that the name might match with. Unfortunately, as I noticed before, there’s just a bunch of stallions. “Hey Noi, where’s your mom?”

The filly speaks up from atop my head, “This way!” and points with a hoof towards a door labeled ‘stock room’. I feel a tug on my pant leg.

I look down to address the other filly. “Do you want a ride, too?” I ask with a grin.

“Yeah! I can ride on one side, and Noi can ride on the other.” I can feel Noi nodding her agreement from the top of my head. Agreeing with the plan, I pick up the other filly, and place her on my shoulder while Noi shifts to the other shoulder. “And what’s your name?”

“I’m Ruby Pinch! But everypony calls me ‘Pinchy’.”

“Well, then let’s go find your mom, then.” I head over to the stock room and knock on the door.

From the other side, and down a ways, I hear a mare call out. “No customers in the stock room!” I think for a moment. I was planning on buying a drink, so, I suppose I counted as a customer... “Oh well, guess we just wait for her to be finished up down there.”

I can feel both fillies as they sigh unhappily. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the bartender, Stoic Face, walk over and gently just push the door open. He looks into the room, which goes down a short flight of wooden steps, and calls out, in a gruff voice. “Berry, Anthony’s here.”

“Well, send him down already! Don’t keep him waiting!”

Stoic just nods his head towards the open door, and I head down the steps to meet the mother of my passengers.

Stepping into the stock room reminds me more of a low cellar. Due to pony physiology, they can build rooms with lower ceilings than humans can, but they tend to build them higher so that it feels more airy. This, however, was a four-and-a-half-foot room, even, so I had to disembark my passengers and crouch a bit. I continue until I see the mare. I’m really wishing my size-changing included shrinking. “Cozy place you got down here.”

The mare, a purple-red color with fruit on her flank, was busy stirring a vat that was set into the floor, numerous pipes extending along its side. It would seem I was fated to meet Fruit Salad again, only now I know her name is Berry Punch. Makes a bit more sense, seeing as how she’s in the midst of brewing up either some normal fruit punch or the base for something harder, the sweet scent of fruit pervading the entire cellar heavily.

“Hey, I’m almost ready to get this batch simmering. It’s going to be a couple bottles of watermelon-kiwi wine. Should at least be interesting to drink, and might win me the prize at the Winepress Competition in Arborvale in about five years. That prissy Pinot Noir isn’t gonna top me again. Anyways, just gimme a sec to get the batch moving.  It’ll need to drain into the next tank to get started on the last step, and I can bottle it tomorrow- oh, sorry, I ramble when I work.” Berry shot me an apologetic glance, sparing another for the two fillies looking down into the vat from little step-stools on the side.

“Hey, no problem. I’m actually rather interested in how you guys make alcoholic drinks, honestly. Seems like it’s a similar method to the human way, but I’m sure you’ve got some differences.”

Berry nods. “Well, I’ll have to see if you like my Calamityberry or Magoberry drinks, we’ll see from there. Unless you prefer really hard stuff. If so, I’ll let you try out a Kelpsyberry Extract. Stuff beats out that gryphon potato-swill any day.”

The mare grabbed a lever bar almost a long as she was, and grunted, moving it into place. I could see the muscles in her legs rippling through her coat and along her back. she wiped some sweat from her forehead as some of the bright copper tubes began to clang and gurgle gently.

“Need a some help with that? Not sure how much leverage I can get on it, but I could try if you like.”

“Nah, I got it. It’s only two-hundred and fifty pounds resistance, tops.”

“Dang, you horses are strong. And here I thought I was the toughest guy around!”

“Hey! Watch the H-word! There are fillies in there!” Berry gives me the most terrifying look of all: Angry Mom.

“Oh... I was unaware that was a curse in your culture. To us humans, a, er, H-word is another term for a pony or a larger pony.”

“Well, that’s messed up. It’s an old Gryphon curse word, basically calling us stupid. I hear that many of the draft ponies from those lands use it as a privilege word, but I don’t like it, and neither do most ponies.”

“Ah, well, I guess I’ve been insulting you guys a lot more than I thought. I honestly don’t mean any harm, it’s just... another word for ‘pony’ to me, honestly.” I decide not to mention that pony is more of a second word for horse, as that could be a disaster. I’ll have to ask Twilight about more of this society. “So, I guess I should find out what you guys consider ‘hard’ drinks. I’ve had alcohol, but, I’ve mostly stayed with our light stuff.”

Berry began leading me and the fillies back up to the main room, and we all got seats at the bar itself, Berry’s being on the opposite side from me. Looking me in the eyes, she asks, “Well, do prefer it sweet, sour, bitter, strong, or do you want something with a bite to it?”

I give it some thought. Something sweet might be nice, but it could cover up how strong it is, which isn’t what I want, but I don’t want it to taste bad... “Let’s see what you ponies mean when you say strong.”

“How strong you thinkin’? I thought you wanted to sample first?”

“Hmmmm, good point. Alright, fine. Sour.” I’ve been able to handle some pretty sour stuff in the past. This shouldn’t be too hard to take.

“Alright, one Ghost-Buster, coming up.” she said, her husband pulling down a bottle labeled with a strange, purple fruit from the shelf. The stallion, using nothing but his hooves and wings, swept up a shotglass and the bottle, popping the top and filling the glass in one smooth motion. I hadn’t even noticed the wings on the brick-colored pony, but the guy sure knew his bartending, as the glass slid perfectly into my grip.

Heh, Ghost-Buster? Nice name, but how sour could this be? I raise the shotglass to my lips and drink it down in one gulp. It was surprisingly strong. I definitely could tell how sour it was. To be more exact, I feel like I just swallowed a stick of dynamite. “Woah! Uh, dang... that’s impressive stuff...” I exhale sharply, trying to calm down the nerve endings in my tongue.

“Heh, maybe you’d like something sweeter? I’ve got a Sweet Apple Sangria chilling in the fridge, or I can bust out a Mago Mash, your choice.” Berry shrugs. “Both are rather sweet.”

Since I don’t know what a ‘Mago’ is, I decide to give that a try. This place doesn’t seem to water down it’s stuff, that’s for sure.

Another smooth motion from Stoic and a light pink drink in a shotglass slides perfectly in front of me, right next to my hand. That bartender is good.

Being a bit more cautious this time, I decide to just take a sip from the glass, just to give it a taste. Well, that’s definitely a new flavor to me. Some sort of tropical fruit mix. Mango and... something else. It’s not bad, but I don’t really taste any alcohol. It’s there, but still fairly subtle. I like it, so I finish it. “Okay, yeah. You ponies have some tough stuff, but this is really good.”

“Well, wanna try my signature drink?” Berry asks.

“Hmmm... alright, but I think I’ll take it slow.” I grin sheepishly, the ghost-buster having given me an idea of just how tough their stuff could get. “Let’s see what your house special is.”

She begins pulling out multiple bottles, mixing and matching them one by one, sometimes re-adding one after another’s been added. She then carefully plucks a single neon-blue berry from a dish in a small freezer behind the bar, dropping it into the rather normal-sized glass. The whole thing is like an impressionist painting done by a color-blind clown. A series of bright, clashing colors swirl gently throughout the glass, refusing to mix in the slightest. dead in the middle, the blue berry hanging suspended exactly halfway down the glass. After a moment, I realize the drink is glowing enough to light up the nearby bartop. About the time I notice this, I see a band of silvery, mercury-like liquid float past, swirling like it’s the start of a sideways hurricane.

“I give you, the Berry’s Punch. Careful, it’ll knock you flat if you don’t take it slow.” With a nod of understanding, I bring the drink to my lips and take a very cautious sip. It’s definitely impressive, but I taste practically no alcohol in it. But it’s definitely very refreshing. It’s very cold, and pretty good. But even if I can’t taste alcohol doesn’t mean it’s not there, so I take another drink, but I keep it slow. What? This isn’t... I look back at the drink. It hasn’t changed, nobody swapped it for another... but it tastes completely different! Still good, still cool and enticing, but a completely different flavor! This one is spicy, but not enough to burn.

“That’s amazing. Two flavors in one drink? Nice job!”

“Two? You wound me, taste it again.”

I take another drink. Waffles!? Holy crap, this is freaking magic! I take another drink. I don’t know what it is, but it’s fruity. Not quite like the Mago drink, but still just as interesting.

“Woah, slow down there, guardsman! That’s ninety-four proof!” Berry warns me, chuckling slightly.

My eyes go wide! “Holy... this is incredible. Magic alcohol. Heh, nice job. But uh... I think I’ll take the rest home. Not sure if I want to finish it all here.”

“Well, finish it in the next two hours, or the Frostberry in there will evaporate, and the drink’ll go bad, real quick. If you can’t see any blues, it’s a dead drink. Do come back, though. You saved my family. The least I can do is treat you to a good drink every once in a while. But you have to pay for the next of those, it’s normally an eighty-bit drink, and you got a double-sized glass.”

“I’d believe it, that stuff’s fantastic! I don’t know how you did it but... Dang, why aren’t you guys famous?”

“Oh, I’m famous alright, but I like living here in Ponyville, anonymous. Whenever I go out for sales or appearances elsewhere, I have to go with my cutie-mark disguised so I can have some peace at home. Fame is great, but peace and quiet is priceless. Especially with two kids. I’m still working on my winemaking skills, though.”

“I’d believe it. Anyway, thanks for this. I’m definitely gonna come back.” I look back at the drink. Goddamn my curiosity. I take another small sip. Heh, tastes like cotton candy. I put the drink back on the counter, and wave goodbye to the fillies. Maybe being the town idol won’t be so bad... as long as I avoid the kinkier residents. Stoic hands me a closable bottle filled with my drink as I get ready to leave. Awesome. I try to ignore my curiosity though, I don’t wanna end up wasted. But...

I take another sip, minorly disappointed that it tastes like cotton candy again. It makes me think of Pinkie again, and... goddamnit Cadence!

Next Chapter: Chapter 45 Estimated time remaining: 29 Hours, 24 Minutes

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