Rasday, Quintember 18, 358 EK
Bosabrieln, Dareisyn, Desire’lya, Godfrey, Roc, and Timber wander along the road. Travel is uneventful the first day, although the second day, they run into Zealot Shadowhate, apparently searching for them. He came to tell them that he examined another factory on the world of Toril, and believes his problem is unconnected to their problem. He plans on returning home to Rockulon Prime to see what he can uncover in his investigations there, but he is not certain when he will return to this world — although he does know he’ll have to return in seven or so months when Juvela’s child is born. Everybody clearly has to be present for that. In case he’s required sooner, however, he gives Dareisyn a copy of the planar sending ritual; contact him in case of emergency and he’ll come as soon as he can, probably within a few days. He will continue to travel with them until they reach Bahyrst, and then he must part company.
A little further down the road, the travelers hear the thundering of hooves behind them. They step off the road to allow the riders to pass, and see a group of knights, the lead of whom has a stylized crown on its armor. The rider raises her visor to reveal she is Queen Ylva Wanderheart. After greeting is given, she explains she sought to catch up with them because she consulted with the priesthood after they left. Asking about the cards and the travelers’ quest, she has determined that Desire was correct. Although some of her retinue disagree with giving these strangers her trust, she gives her the Comet card. She further makes an offer — the travelers can act as her diplomats, which will open some doors but close some others, and would require them to conduct themselves as befits her official agents. The Queen will not be offended if they refuse, but it may assist them on their journey. Desire takes Godfrey aside and suggests he accept; he reluctantly agrees. After a brief swearing-in ceremony, he is an official diplomat, and given the appropriate seals and such.
Afterward, Queen Wanderheart deigns to remain with the travelers for an hour or so. Bosabrieln meets the Queen’s sister-in-law, an elf and fellow bard named Dame Brytha Wanderheart. (The Queen’s brother, Sir Ealdrelm Wanderheart, is one of the knights skeptical of the Queen’s new friends.) They play music while the knights rest and eat. After an hour passes, they return to their horses and prepare to ride back to Leonewald. As they leave, Desire catches the Queen’s eye and blows her a kiss.
Zealot is amused to hear how they have befriended a monarch in the short time since he last saw them. They continue on their way, reaching Bahyrst the following morning. Bosabrieln, Desire, and Syn spend some intimate time with Zealot before parting ways again and heading east to find the hermit Noostoron.
They reach the village of Clegate on Thothsday, Quintember 21. They are easily welcome, having previously rescued the village from Mindfire sickness, and Desire spends time assisting the priestess Edeweil and the assigned guardsmen to try to treat the remaining sick.
The travelers continue to head east the following day, and see a thin line of smoke passing above the treetops late in the day on Rasday, Quintember 25. As they approach, they hear a wolf howling. Desire, recognizing it as a warning signal, tells Timber to howl back in greeting. The wolf howls again in response, and travelers approach.
Reaching a clearing in the woods, there is a small hut and garden. A spindly minotaur in a robe sits beside a fire, and a wolf sits beside him. Out in the clearing is a pattern of stones laid on the ground, evidently in some sort of symbolic labyrinth pattern. The minotaur gives greeting to the travelers, introducing himself as Noostoron. He indicates he was expecting them, greeting them as “the godling” (Bosabrieln), “the curse-blood” (Desire), “the penitent” (Godfrey), and “the fiend-in-flesh” (Syn). He offers them soup and tea, both of which appear to be primarily root-based and spiced with herbs, which everyone accepts and Desire helps him prepare. He seems addled, and perhaps a bit mad, but mostly harmless. They explain a bit about their quest, and inquire whether he has a card; he does not. Nor does he know anything of note about Uzgash, the Butcher of Deepwood, whom the travelers suspect to hold a card — he usually marauds around the woods farther north, closer to elflands in the Lanirilis Protectorate.
After some conversation, Noostoron intimates that the tea is made with wild mushrooms, and the travelers prepare themselves to have some manner of trip. They see a vision of the universe as a zone of total stillness, but slowly disorder is added. Eventually, as Chaos is added, the whole structure collapses, but all that is left is a single, alien eye backed by the swirling yin-yang of the deck of many things.
The next morning, the group awakens. Bosabrieln is nude and playing music for a gathered crowd of woodland animals. Desire is also nude and has apparently hunted and torn the throat out of a rabbit. Godfrey is nude and lounging on a tree branch like a wildcat. Syn is the only one still clothed, having apparently tried to forge some manner of contract with a tree, as a partially-written contract is scratched into the dirt, although it mostly appears to be gibberish. Noostoron is nude and staring into the embers of the fire.
After everyone collects themselves and dresses, they go over the content of the vision. Discussion suggests that the eye could have been a cat or a frog, leading them to the idea that the slaadi — chaotic outsiders — may be behind this incursion, using the deck of many things to destabilize the region. Noostoron suggests they travel to the southeast, to the desert. In the Gallic Region of Khem, in the city at the end of the river, they will find a priestess to Melora by the water. She is half-dragon, and gifted with the sight; she will be able to inform them further.
While talking, and with people referencing Godfrey’s modesty, Godfrey reveals that he was not always a holy man. He used to be from Khajanarata, and when he was a young man, he used to be a bandit. He used to be known as the Black Scourge of the Gate — the first night they met, when claimed to have killed the Black Scourge of the Gate, that’s because he used to be him — until he and his bandits tried to hit a monastery hidden in the mountains. His men were slain, and he was captured and trained to be as he is now, a living weapon for the hunt.
When their business is complete, Desire asks if she can pick some herbs from Noostoron’s garden, which he allows. Bosabrieln also requests some of his mushrooms, as well. Once they have gathered what they wish, they bid him farewell.
Heading northeast to meet the road, they happen across the small village of Lundburg on Tefnutsday, Quintember 29. Asking to meet with the village elder, they are led to the longhouse of one Brunhilde. They inquire as to whether she has any information regarding Uzgash, but she notes he typically does not reach this far south. She does know that he probably has a few hundred orcs with him, so it’s a nontrivial task to try to smash his forces. The travelers thank her and continue on their way.
They find their way to the road within a day, and head south. They reach a major crossroads on Thothsday, Sexember 5, and happen to run into a merchant caravan coming from the east, the direction of Khajanarata. They resupply and speak with the caravan leader, Sitaa al-Hahai. Syn and Desire ask him about the city, and learning that they have prohibitions on weapons at the gate, they ask if there is anyway they could receive a letter of merit from him, being that he is a somewhat esteemed merchant. He suggests he might be willing to do such a thing if the pair were willing to entertain him for the evening, and so the trio retires to his wagon for the evening.
The next morning, the travelers leave with a glowing letter of recommendation from the merchant, and continue east to Khajanarata, the City of Ten Thousand Pleasures. They arrive at the gates on Nutsday, Sexember 10.
Once there, the guards ask them to state their business, and whether they are applying for residency. Indicating they are traveling, they also show their letter from Sitaa al-Hahai. They are shuttled to a bureaucrat to sort this out, a humorless fellow by the name of Altew, he explains that most activities are legal in the city so long as consent is maintained. Once he determines their papers are in order, he sends them down the hall to a woman named Mera. She seems very enthusiastic that they’re coming for the first time, returns their flirtations, marks their weapons for peace-bonding, and recommends they stay at the Harlequin and Flail. The shows at the nearby Demon’s Meadhall are fairly good. She also notes that she may try to find them at the Harlequin and Flail later.
Upon entering the city, the travelers are overcome with the sights and smells. Desire wants to go herb shopping, while Bosabrieln wants to peruse the sex shops. They all agree to reconvene on the street once they’re finished.
Once back on the street, the travelers notice a creature they’ve never seen before — a tall, lanky humanoid with vaguely reptilian features, its head topped with a crown of oddly phallic protrusions. It appears to be sitting on a street corner while smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, a satchel at its side. Despite having lived here previously, Godfrey does not recognize this creature. A nearby guardsman, seeing that they look a trifle lost, comes over to assist and direct them around the city. He explains the basics, much of which has previously been noted by Godfrey — the city is managed by the enlightened scholar-king Rajpandit Madhava Bhattacharya. It is subdivided into three ministries: the Ministry of Hospitality, in charge of tourism; the Ministry of Phrenoanalysis, in charge of managing the city’s drug trade; and the Ministry of Statistics, in charge of feeding data back into the system to ensure that everything runs smoothly. In the course of conversation, they ask him about the humanoid. He describes this as a mugwump, indicating they’ve only started entering the city within the past few years. They appear to deal a drug called “The Black,” nasty stuff, and although the guardsman does not particularly approve, they don’t harm anybody and they are allowed in the city.
Syn and Desire decide to converse with this creature, asking what it is selling. It describes its wares as the Black Meat, and indicates that it’s 50gp for a dose. It produces a small bottle of some thick, blackish-brown liquid. Syn purchases one, and as he and Desire continue to speak with the entity, it starts rubbing its head protrusions rather salaciously. Desire inquires about it, and hasn’t it found someone else to do such a thing? It replies that she’s never done it before, so she and Syn proceed to assist the creature by jerking on its head protrusions until some manner of climax is achieved. It returns the 50gp Syn paid for the Black Meat.
Once the travelers reconvene, they find their way to the Harlequin and Flail to secure rooms. The innkeeper, Bhini Anad, is more than happy to waive their fees in exchange for Bosabrieln’s music, as bardic music tends to be quite the draw. The group spends a while in the common room, with Bosabrieln playing while Syn and Desire dance on the balcony overlooking the common area.
The next few days are taken with examining the many shops and shows while also trying to unravel the mystery of the mugwumps. Desire, Godfrey, and Syn take an opportunity to perform a nighttime excursion while Bosabrieln is spending time meeting a new friend, Senbo the Barbarian. In their investigation, they follow a mugwump and find that it disappears around a corner. Examining the area makes them keenly aware of a queer property of the city they previously overlooked everything feels strange and hazy, like in a dream, and the body feels almost asleep. Examination suggests the whole city feels like this, as if poised on the brink of Dream. They inquire with a few more mugwumps, and find them to have different personalities — they suspect each harvests a specific emotion to produce its Black Meat — and to come and go at different times. Godfrey touches one to mark it so that he can track its movements; over the next day or so, it moves around the city and also jumps back and forth from the Plane of Dreams, confirming what they suspected about the city being pulled closer to Dream.
Eventually, the group decides to bring their evidence before the ministries, suspecting that the Ministry of Phrenoanalysis is the best place to inquire. They travel to the center of the city, entering the ministry building and speaking to a secretary. They explain that they have encountered evidence that some force is drawing this city into the Plane of Dreams, and they must speak with someone before this threat grows worse. The bewildered secretary goes to get someone, and returns with a dwarf scholar named Kurdu. Syn repeats the tale, and the dwarf says he will report his claims to a supervisor and schedule an appointment. Sensing that he thinks they are mad or stoned, Syn and Desire become more insistent, indicating that they will submit to a drug test right now. He protests, saying the test can wait until the morrow, until Desire demands he do so. Kurdu leaves, and as Desire’s demands become more urgent, Bosabrieln and Godfrey decide to leave before the law gets involved. Kurdu returns with a young, inexperienced researcher with a brass syringe. When she seems shakey about it, Desire snatches the device from her and draws her own blood, tossing it back to her. Kurdu whispers something to a secretary, who moves out into the street. Kurdu repeats that they should return the following day around noon, and leaves them to their business as the guard arrives. They again explain their concerns, and the guards determine they do not look drugged, and so ask them back to the local guard post to sort things out.
They are brought before one Sergeant Raffolk to repeat their story. Although he is not a magician, he follows their narrative well enough, making certain to carefully write everything down for further examination. They further note that this must somehow be connected to some official faction in the city, as the mugwumps are clearly allowed to stay without issue; he notes that they just started appearing in the city, almost spontaneously, a few years ago. The guardsmen tried to remove them at first, but once their numbers grew, they just left them. Raffolk has all the information as well as their contact information, he bids them farewell and says he will look into it.
The quartet eventually meets back at the inn. Syn and Desire explain their afternoon to Bosabrieln and Godfrey, and Bosie decides that he will go out that evening and hobnob to gain audience with someone in charge, hopefully the Rajpandit. While the others retire, Bosabrieln goes out for the night.
After party-hopping several times and making connections among the city’s elite, he eventually finds himself at a party with the Ministry leaders in the early morning. After having a drug-fueled dalliance with the half-elf Daeron Larentathonel, head of the Ministry of Hospitality, he decides to speak to the somewhat aloof but rather attractive human Medicus Johano Benway, head of the Ministry of Phrenoanalysis. Bosabrieln flirts, and Medicus Benway invites him back to a hotel room for the rest of the evening. Once there, as Bosabrieln prepares for his encounter with Johano, he feels the prick of a needle, and quickly slips into unconsciousness.