Grasping Harold by his uniform, you drag him around the corner a few feet away from you and stash him behind an overturned table — away from any prying eyes. If someone were to search for him, they’d likely find him, but from his current location he’s not visible from any of the room entrances. He should be safe there until you can come back for him later.
You’re about to turn to investigate the light in the corridor when suddenly a strain of music catches your ear. The song is coming to an end, but you thought for a moment that you recognized the tune… something your mother used to sing you to sleep.
Intrigued, you turn and begin to sneak down the other corridor — towards the sounds of the party.
As you get closer, the chattering of the party guests gets louder and the music clearer. You begin to catch snatches of the songs being played:
The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done–
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
“To come and spoil the fun!”
The corridor brightens as you move through — and soon you have no further need for your little cigarette lighter (now dangerously low on lighter fluid) to see, so you stow it in one of your pockets. It’s not long before you see a doorway with light streaming through it. On the wall opposite the door, shadows whirl and dance — their owners, no doubt, inside doing the same. The light flickers strangely, as if it were coming from a fire rather than any artificial light source — though you don’t smell any smoke.
Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more–
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.
You peek your head around the corner and confirm your guesses. Inside the vast room (easily 50 feet across in either direction) hundreds of masked figures, male and female, dance madly. Furiously, they spin, seeming to ignore the rather relaxed cadence of the music playing. Whirling, spinning, they move from partner to partner. With wild abandon they circle the edge of the room, occasionally cutting across the floor in patterns you have a hard time understanding.
“A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
“Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed–
Now if you’re ready Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.”
Moving your eyes from the dancers, you examine the room itself more carefully. The room is covered in yellow wallpaper, the walls hung with paintings and tapestries. The ceiling extends a full twenty feet up, and in the center of the room four columns rise from the floor to meet it. On the far side of the room, hard to see because of the throng of dancers, is a decorated yellow pavilion — raised a few yards off the main floor, with a set of stairs leading up to a platform on the top. The top platform is covered by a fabric roof, supported by four poles — one on each corner of the pavilion. Atop the pavilion, in the exact center, sits an ornate golden throne. And on the throne sits a figure you assume to be a man. He’s dressed in robes of gold, and a golden mask covers his face — mouth set in a permanent smile but eyes set in a permanent frown. The overall effect is terrifying.
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter.
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?”
But answer came there none–
And that was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.”
Without turning to face you, the masked figure on the throne reaches out a hand in your direction and gestures for you to approach. The music fades out and the dancers all immediately cease their wild dance. The crowd parts, leaving an aisle for you to walk through, and every masked face turns in your direction. A voice echoes across the throng, saying only “Come in, good sir, and join the masquerade.”
There is power in the voice, and you fear what would happen should you disobey. Compelled, you step inside the room and walk slowly towards the dais. Without incident, you pass the many eyes of the party guests — all of which are focused squarely on you. Almost without conscious thought, you stop before it and kneel, head down. It feels oddly appropriate. Oddly familiar.
“Sit,” the voice commands. You look up and notice a chair has appeared next to the masked figure on the dais. Still compelled, you mount the stairs and take a seat next to the man seated on the throne.
Without another word, the man claps his hands and the music begins again. The dancers rejoin their mad dance and pay you no further attention.
After a few moments, the king speaks — again without looking at you. “I am glad you have joined us once more, my friend. It has been a long while.” Your mind briefly considers what this being must consider a long while, and the words sound to you like a cold wind blowing down from the dawn of time.
Not knowing what to say, you remain silent.
“Alas,” the man sighs “as ever, you shall not remain here long. Your trials await you, and I would not keep you from them too long. But first, as is our custom, I have a gift for you.”
He claps his hands again and three masked figures break from the dance and approach the pavilion. One figure, a woman — wears a mask shaped with the visage of a python. The other two, both men, have masks that give them the appearance of an elephant and a dragon, respectively. Each one bears a cup filled to the brim with yellow liquid. Whether or not they had them while dancing, you can’t remember. The three ascend the dais and kneel in front of you — cups presented over their heads and eyes cast downwards.
“As ever, friend, you must choose.” He shifts in his chair and points his hand, first, at the man wearing the elephant mask.
“You can choose the fullness of remembrance.”
The man looks up at you and you see, reflected in his eyes, images of your life — everything that has ever happened to you. You see flashes, both of things you had hoped never to remember and things you vowed never to forget.
“You can choose the path of wisdom.” The man points at the woman with the python mask.
Briefly, you catch the scent of her perfume and a thousand questions pop into your mind, along with a thousand answers. Quickly, however, they fade away and are lost.
“Or you can choose the path of power.” The man points at the man with the dragon mask.
From out of thin air, you hear the sounds of battle raging all around you. You hear your voice, shouting wordless orders — screaming triumph, victory, pain… loss. It only lasts a moment, but the impression it leaves on you lasts much longer.
The man puts his hand down and awaits your decision.
The choice (barely) was to go towards the party. There were no rolls this time, so there’s not much else to report.
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