Sun’s full up. Time for bed.
It was a pretty walk to get here, but I wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery. I was just trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing. I found myself with a prayer to Marius on my lips – I don’t know what I want or need, but I know I could use some help. Unwind. Find Anton. See what’s up with Demias. Maybe figure out where I stand on this whole political mess, although maybe that’s stretching my luck. I don’t know if he was listening, but I hope he was.
There were guards at the entry gate. They didn’t ask to see my invitation, so I just walked in. I could see the sweep of the grounds in the fading dusk light, and the party was in full swing. Beyond the lawn packed with guests, the guest house was an explosion of light and sound. Surprisingly, although the main house was raucous on the lower floor, the upper floors looked quieter.
I joined the crowd and joined the party. There were some guests there I wouldn’t ordinarily have expected to see – that baker, some Elves – but I’d heard that the Roving Party was grabbing people from all strata of society. Making my way slowly towards the guest house, I had several great conversations with other partygoers. The servants were attentive, always showing up with offers of food, drink, and wide variety of pharmaceuticals to suit every taste. I got into a good headspace without too much trouble. Several mugs of good beer, and a Pesh/Shine drug cocktail had me walking on water, nice and floaty. Everything had a nimbus of darkness around it…
At the guest house, the bottom floor was the place for people to jump off the deep end. The ballroom was a frenzied hive of revelry and fornication. Not that it wasn’t tempting because hell, it was, but I was still clear-headed enough to remember that I wanted to learn the lay of the land before getting entirely sidetracked for an indefinite period of time. The second floor was a little mellower – where people went to crash out after they’d had their fill of the first floor. There were these guys doing pushups – apparently some shit called Bloodsap makes you feel stronger, but doesn’t actually lend strength, so you’re destroyed the next day. (The woman telling me about it seemed to be suggesting other uses as well, but when you think that one through… the chafing.) A few rooms away some people had been folk-dancing but by the time I got there they’d stopped and collapsed in a pile of giggles.
I had a deep-ish conversation with a girl about the river being the lifeblood of the city. She suggested I try Flayleaf, says it makes everything “so clear. SO clear.”
The third floor had different parties in each room. One room had a passel of pretty girls playing Dunk, a drinking game with a ball and cups. I joined them – the Beer / Pesh / Shine buzz was making me slower than usual so my reflexes were bad, but it was still a lot of fun. They seemed to get a lot of enjoyment out of my terrible playing, but they were also fun to flirt with and I got the impression that they liked me for more than my comedic value alone.
Unconscious people had been stacked like cordwood outside the guesthouse, but there upstairs it seemed like servants were taking them up instead of down. A gnarled old servant offered to show me the fourth floor when I asked about places to crash. Most of the rooms were full of sleep pallets on the floor, but a few were locked. The Duchess’ private possessions, said the servant. Disinclined to crash just yet, I headed back downstairs. As I turned back to thank the servant who was at the top of the stairs, I saw a tall, dark figure, cloaked, standing and seeming to give orders to the servant, who was nodding. The eerie thing is, I hadn’t seen the tall figure at all in the hallway with us, or heard anyone else awake up there, and it would have had to have been right behind us to be where it was when I turned back. Strange. I needed something to pep me up a bit, and asked another servitor to bring me something. He brought some warm milk with something good in it. Alert but not jittery. Yum.
The girls had changed their drinking game to Strip-Dunk by the time I swung back to that room again, and invited me to join in. That seemed like a game I could win even if I lost. As it happens the sedative effects of the first drug cocktail I’d taken had worn off and I was notably better than I had been previously, in that I still had my smallclothes by the end of the game. None of the girls were sore losers, though. A number of them were sleepy and curled up in a pile in the corner to nap. Two had some of the warm-milk upper I’d had to stay awake. Of those, one drifted off, but the other one – Magnolia – was quite friendly. And quite a good kisser. And quite thoroughly naked.
Throughout the party people were pretty much fucking all over the place, so we didn’t worry too much about finding somewhere private. And thank the gods for Eowyn, because after a good while sharing Magnolia’s pleasurable company she fell asleep with a smile on her face. I retrieved my clothes and headed downstairs.
As I was wandering some of the paths, I came up towards an open-walled house with amazing music pouring forth from it. I came around the corner and stopped in my tracks because the player was even more arresting than the music. Lithe and willowy, every gorgeous inch of her covered in clinging black, the best parts accented with a white silk corset and garters. A fitted white porcelain mask covered her whole face. She was playing the piano entrancingly, but her performance was just ending. People seemed too intimidated to talk with her; they’d just come up and stammer hello and back off. I had just missed her performance, though, so I stepped up and started a conversation, hoping to convince her to play again so I could hear a full piece. I was surprised at how willing she was to sit back down at the keyboard. Her music was breathtaking, full of tonal harmonies and imbued with deep emotion.
We spoke at some length when she finished – her name is Shae. She was clever-tongued, so we slipped into word games similar to those at court. She asked if I’d been Claimed, but initially wouldn’t tell me more. I managed to fish out of her that there’s a game, which she called Masquerade, which has several factions, taking place in the main mansion, which is the invite-only area. She seemed delighted that I had an invitation, and asked if I’d take a mask to consider joining her faction/team once I’d figured out the rules to the game. I got that different factions had different ideas about how to win, that the end-game conditions hadn’t been clarified to anyone, and that her strategy was to gather the most-interesting people on her team. A third strategy seems to be trying to build a “balanced” group, like a hand of cards. She indicated that the lower floor is where most of the hubbub of activity is, and where people figure out the game and tend to select their team. Evidently it’s poor taste to shift alliances after choosing a side. The game changes as you go up (8 floors), changing conditions and goals on each floor, getting more exclusive as you go up, and it sounds like, more serious. She playfully warned me that it could be dangerous, but she did it twice, which made me take note. I’m curious as hell what’s going on, but she indicated that one of the core principles was that you couldn’t explain the rules. When she clarified that taking the mask wasn’t a commitment to her faction, I was willing to take the mask. I tucked it away under my cloak. Something to consider.
Eventually her impeccable black-and-white guard reminded her that she had to go back to the main house,. There were an uncomfortable number of people who wanted to talk with me just because she’d talked with me, so I extricated myself and wandered a bit more. One outbuilding seemed to be the “private” place for screwing, which is to say, everyone there was screwing, so fewer people were watching at any given time. The other building had dancing upstairs, where a red-skinned Tiefling was dancing and holding acerbic repartee with the musicians. He was a good dancer, fire when he clapped. Impressive. Eventually he begged off and a delicate waif of a girl started dancing. Pretty, but I’ve seen the style, nothing special, so I headed downstairs.
The dark nimbus was still around everything, even though the first drug cocktail had worn off long since. Thinking back, I’ve had Pesh and Shine together before, and the visuals usually shift. The dark nimbus was weirdly consistent, and particularly persistent.
I rejoined the outside party, talking with people and having a good time. A couple of hours before dawn a few girls convinced me to go skinny-dipping with them in one of the pools. That evolved into a game that… well there was soft lawn nearby. And the pool there for all of us to wash off, afterward. And servants, bless their loyal hearts, with fluffy dry towels and hot bacon-wrapped figs.
It was a good night.
When dawn broke the party started to slow down, and I realized that there was going to be a run on crash space. I was coming down hard anyway, and wanted a comfy spot to rest up before starting in on the ground floor of the mansion tomorrow. I had to fast-talk a bit, but managed to get one of the last open pallets upstairs on the quiet fourth floor.
Tomorrow promises to be interesting.