The first stars of night twinkle above the apricot sunset. Giant dragonflies whir overhead, trailing streamers, and a low mist curls over the ground. Through a floral archway, you glimpse wondrous and vibrant creatures—elf stilt walkers, dancing faeries, and painted performers. Everywhere there is laughter, pixie dust, bubbles, and the wistful tune of a whistling calliope.
Almost all of you gaze upon this sight, and the memories of your previous visit seem to become much more vivid than they were before. For the bugbear resident, the calliope and laughter has certainly drawn him here from his rock home.
By chance or by fate, all of you stand before the entrance to the Carnival together, reunited by similar causes. Five of them remember the Carnival Owners' words...
"Silly little screeching cricket... You forgot to buy a ticket!"
"The Carnival goes round and round, The Multiverse is our Playground. Nothing's free and nothing's lost. Every visit has its cost."
With that thought in mind, they see the Ticket Booth by the entrance. There, the party sees a wrinkled old goblin running that booth. He finishes helping a customer pay for their ticket and calls to them, as though he were deaf, "Thank you! Enjoy your time in the Witchlight Carnival!"
Brutrumukk hated everything about what was happening right now. The music. The laughter. The noise. He hated it all with every fibre of his being. Ever since the Witchlight Carnival had arrived in the field and set up shop right next to the Snoring Stone, Brutrumukk's usual peace and quiet had been shattered. Yelling at them to go away had proven fruitless. Threatening to rip off their heads and shit down their necks only made them say he wasn't allowed in the carnival, as if he even wanted to go to their stupid carnival! And since there were so many carnies, simply killing them all wasn't an option. And so all the angry bugbear could do was lean against his rock and glare at the carnival as he prayed to Hruggek and Grankhul for the chance to take revenge on those who had torn away the usual serenity and solitude of his grassy field and his hollowed stoney home.
Gabriel absent-mindedly played with the basket hilt of the old rapier at his side watching passerby with vague interest, specifically keeping an eye on the grumbling bugbear leaning aways off against an old moss-covered rock 'He could be trouble.' the swordsman thought scratching his goatee with a free hand 'Then again so can anyone.' the man's gaze fell upon the others lined up to pay the ticket...
A small figure stood by the floral entrance to the carnival, bundled in a mixture of fine silk and old rags that hid every part of him save his oversized ears and the beady, reddish-orange eyes that seemed to glow slightly beneath his hood. While he was just another visitor to the Witchlight, he had set himself up beside the ticket booth an hour or so earlier and was attempting to flag down all who attempted to enter. These attempts ranged from simply calling out to them to actively getting into their personal space and shoving a variety of small, cruedly-made trinkets in their line-of-sight.
"Souveniers for sale!" the figure called. "Made by Jub the Peculiar's own two hands! Buy one now, remember visit to Witchlight Carnival forever!"
These attempts had so far been unsuccessful. Most people ignored him and would rush quickly through the archway once they had bought their ticket, or would decide to leave carnival, likely to return at a later point when they hoped he would be gone. Jub had managed to hold out so far, but even his enthusiasm was starting to wane and he had gone from loudly pestering the visitors to sulking as he eyed each one individually. He had been showing particular interest in one of them - a half-elf with a rapier by his side - when his gaze passed over to someone standing a little further afield: a rather grumpy-looking bugbear who was eying the whole carnival with a look of contempt. How long had he been standing there? Jub hadn't noticed him when he had first set up shop, but then again, he had been kind of distracted by all the colours, the smells... the whole catatrophe when he had tried to get Eighteyes to spin a banner out of silk and had ended up scaring away a couple of extremely archnaphobic customers... well, the point was, he wasn't exactly as observant as normal. But, he'd noticed now and was willing to take this lull in the current business to try a somewhat riskier venture.
Now, normally he wouldn't try something like this - especially with such a grumpy-looking fella - but he was a little desperate at this point. Business had been slow for him today... and yesterday... and the day before that... but he was determined to use this carnival as an opportunity to gain a little extra coin. So, stepping away from the ticketbooth, he approached the bugbear as confidentally as he could manage.
"You, sir!" he said, pointing to the bugbear. "You look like a man who could use..." He paused, looking the bugbear up and down as he tried to gage what exactly would interest him. "A good.. err.... erm..."
Nope, he was drawing a blank here. Probably should have workshopped this before approaching the customer.
"Erm..." Jub quickly pulled out his failsafe and showed it to the bugbear. "Shiny brooch? Only one gold piece."
Brutrumukk looked down at the either very brave or very stupid magical looking goblin who had dared to approach him. After regarding the goblin trying to sell him something for a few moments, the bugbear huffed through his nostrils. "Fuck it. Why not?" Brutrumukk said before tossing the goblin a gold piece and pocketing the brooch. After a moment of consideration, Brutrumukk looked down again at the goblin and spoke in their native tongue. "Oi, booyagh. I got a job fer ya. Four gold if you say yes an' four more if you actually do the job." Brutrumukk pointed at the carnival. "See that place? I don't like that place. So I want you to go in there, snoop around, an' see if there's any way to mess everything up. Once you've found a way, come tell me what that way is so that I can go mess it up, an' I'll give ya the rest of the gold. Sound good?"
Jub took the coin the bugbear had handed him and held it up to his face. He squinted at it for a moment before testing it with his teeth, briefly exposing rows of jagged teeth to any who may be looking closely enough. When he was satisfied, he placed it in his pocket and was about to thank the bugbear for his business when he suddenly spoke again, this time in the goblin tongue. Jub's body immediately stiffened, the glee in his eyes leaving and being replaced with panic.
How had he figured it out? His disguise was flawless! Was it the ears or... maybe his smell? He raised an arm slightly and sniffed at himself self-consciously. Did he smell more goblin-y than usual today? He didn't think so. Then again, he wasn't sure how goblin-y he usually smelled. He was still contemplating this when he noticed the bugbear had stopped talking, and suddenly realized he was probably expecting some kind of response. What had he been saying? Something about... a job... and gold?
Jub hesitated for a moment as he considered how best to respond. He could feign ignorance, pretend he didn't understand and quickly make his way back to the carnival. After all, he'd gotten what he'd come for and had no reason to humor this stranger, especially if it meant sabotaging the carnival. Jub liked the carnival. It was bright, colorful, filled with oddballs with unique costumes... Jub's kind of place!
But at the same time... four plus four gold... plus the gold piece he already had... that was a decent amount of gold, at least more than Jub had made in the last few days, and he wasn't sure how long it would be before business was ever that good for him again. He looked the bugbear up and down for a moment, weighing up in his options.
Jub gave the bugbear a double thumbs up. "You, my good sir, have a deal!" he responded in goblin.
A wide, predatory grin of anticipation stretched itself across Brutrumukk's face. His prayers had been answered. Soon he would have his opportunity for revenge. Those carnies would rue the day they crossed the Spirit Of The Snoring Stone. "Perfect." Brutrumukk said as he handed the goblin his down payment. "I'll be leanin' against this rock fer most o' the night. Wait fer me 'ere once you've got somethin' I can use. 'An don't try to cheat me, booyagh. Elsewise there'll be no magic in the world that'll be able to save you from me."
Bursting into a large open field was a particularly winded gnome. He scanned the area, alert of any signs of danger before his eyes settled upon the large carnival before him. The Witchlight Carnival. Upon seeing it memories long lost began to resurface as he buckled and knelt on the ground.
“Can’t stop, can’t stop, can’t stop.” He repeatedly whispered to himself.
He looked around and it seemed like his only choice for respite at the moment was either the carnival or a disgruntled looking bugbear. The former seemed like the better choice. Miizel slowly stood up and made his way to the ticketing booth, eyes still darting around.
“Uh, h-hello.” He said, his voice high pitched and whistle like. “One ticket please.”
It has been decades since she had seen this particular carnival. She was only ten years old when her and Xander had snuck out to go see what all the servents had been talking about. The smells of the food, the jugglers spinning firey touches back and forth, and the acrobat walking across the thin wire with no net below them. Just as the acrobat looked like they were going to fall the recovered, and Rory and Xander had been caught by one of the Carnival's owners.
Rory pulled down her face cover while staring in child like wonder still lost in memory. When the goblin yelled to her she snapped out of it and looked around quickly to see who the goblin was yelling to. Off to the side she noticed the groucy looking bugbear who was leering at the carnival as of it was disturbing him. She looked around to see who else was in the line for tickets to the carnival and see a half-elf playing the the basket guard on his rapier.
"Are you ok sir?" turning the man blinked as though he was surprised by the question "Hm?" the half-elf placed his other hand at his hip giving the elvish woman a good look "Oh I'm fine," a smile spread across his face, despite the scar on Gabriel's face his appearance remained as fine as it had before "Your concern is flattering, however."
"I know how overwhelming this place can be if it's your first time seeing the Witchlight Carnival. Just wanted to make sure you didn't get to distracted. Picket pockets love a distracted crowd. Then again, it's been some time since I've seen it last and maybe they've run off any would be thieves." Aurora loosed a string on her belt pouch to draw out the needed coin to get into the carnival while stepping closer to the booth. "Name's Rory by the way.
Gabriel fished out a single gold from a pouch tied to his waistband, nodding in agreement "Well I guess I should return the favor sometime," chuckling he offered her a hand "Gabriel, duelist by trade."
A wry smile passed over Aurora's face quickly. She reached out and shook his hand. "Be careful about saying things like that around here. Carnival workers or not, fey like making deals and gathering favors. So what brings duelist by trade to the carnival?" he gave her hand a firm shake before returning it to the guard of his rapier "Whimsy, or rather a gut feeling." he told Rory with a sigh, smile dipping slightly "The life of a duelist has taken me far from a life I left behind..." Gabriel looked as though he was about to say more but instead cleared his throat and shook his head "Oh but never mind that, what brought you here?"
"Just happened to be passing through and saw the carnival. The noise and sight of it kinda draws you in. I have a few days before I need to find some work or move on anyway." Aurora stretched out her arms, and, then fingers trying to loosen up stiff muscles from having been cramped in the small inn room she was staying at.
Gabriel gave her a slight nod with a bit of amusement upon his face "Story of my life," he chuckled amicably, then scratching the hair of his chin with the hand placed upon his weapon Gabriel silently considered something with a tilt of his head "If you wouldn't mind it," returning his hand to the hilt of the weapon at his side Gabriel sounded as if he were measuring his words "I would ask if you might like my company?"
"I don't see why not." She stepped up to the booth quickly behind the gnome in line.
"You got it!" Jub responded cheerfully, this time in common. He finished inspecting his four new coins and gave the bugbear yet another thumbs up before turning away and his way back towards the Carnival. Only once he was away from the cranky goblinoid did it briefly occur to him that this was a terrible, awful idea that could very easily backfire on him. However, he didn't have time to really mull that particular thought over because, as he attempted to get in line for a ticket, he ended up tripping over his robes, narrowly avoided bumping into the people in front of him and dropping his coins all over the ground. "Oh no no no..." He quickly got onto his hands and knees and quickly attempted to scoop the fallen coins up.
Aurora stepped to the side as the next person rushed into the line, then tripping on their robes. She stopped down to help them collect their gold and hands them the two pieces she found. "Excited to see the carnival? Might want to slowdown a bit though. Won't do you much good if you get hurt."
Once the person had their coins back Aurora stood up again and looked at the person. She had not seen someone so wrapped in a combination of rags and silk robes as this person was. The sight alone drew her curiosity
Gabriel helped the peculiar little figure up "Slow down friend, it's a fair not a race." he gave them a good look as he stood furrowing his brow curiously eyeing this strange person before him "What has you in a hurry?" placing a hand on his hip Gabriel looked at the persons strange clothing then their face wherever that was with a quizzical expression.
The trip here had cost a pretty penny. Mostly because she insisted on the fastest form of travel within her wealth bracket, and insisted that it go a bit faster than it was intended to go and used money as the incentive to drive such desired speeds from the carriage driver, and that said carriage drive was in fact from Amn and they have different expectations to 'go fast' with different expectations to 'added incentives' than most people of Baldur's Gate have.
She arrived in record time, only to find herself argued into a much more destitute place than she was accustomed to being these days. Well, at least she had her wits about her.
Taking that first deep breath of a fresh day's start, she watched as the carriage raced away at a breakneck pace. Soon it faded into a cloud of dust in the distance. She turned, and that first deep breath of a fresh day's start soured into a shuddering sigh of abject horror. The Carnival stood before her. It positively loomed, to her senses. The cheerful and inviting music thundered. The laughter was filled with a forlorn danger. The hints and temptations of spectacle were false masks obscuring the horrible visages of death and kidnap beneath. And there, before her, was the ticket booth. The gates to the Abyss itself. She lifted her hands to her mouth and breathed into a cup of her hands, frantically consuming and recycling her oxygen in this space for a few brief moments.
Then she threw her hands out and clapped them together in a resounding slapping noise. There was a queue forming. That was nice. Queues made sense. They were logical. They were a good thing. A bit of Order in this paradise of Chaos-
Her eyes widened in absolute horror as she witnessed the disruption of this utterly wondrous facet of organized existence. Some strange short gnome had barreled into it and sent the wondrousness into cattywampus turmoil. She slowly approached the line in slow and lilting steps. Each one was shorter than the last, whereas to her eyes the distance between her and the ticket booth seemed only to grow with each step...
Until finally she shuffled into the back of the line. Breathing a bit ragged, mind you, but she did arrive in tact. That was something to be proud of. Oh, also, there was a bugbear over there. That was almost calming, really. You knew where you stood with a bugbear. Usually it was as far away as possible, but at a time like this you learned to accept the familiar when faced with the sheer incomprehensibility of the Carnival. This meant that she was staring for a few long moments.
She soon ended this socially rude act, and focused ahead. Counting down to her arrival at the ticket booth quietly under her breath...
"...Let X equal my position...Queue length equals Y...Gait length...Transaction duration...Anticipated arrival..."
When the woman Jub had almost crashed into first addressed him, his immediate action was to flinch as if he had expected her to hit him. Instead, she bent down and helped pick up two of his coins, handing them to him without so much as a second thought. Jub looked at them, than back up at the lady. While most of his face was hidden, his eyes showed clear confusion, which only deepened when a second person, the half-elf with the rapier he had seen earlier, helped Jub up to his feet. Both of them then addressed him, neither sounding annoyed or hostile.
He placed his coins back in his pocket before looking back at the two strangers, first the man and the woman. Then, without so much as a warning, he grabbed the woman's hand and attempted to give it a shake, before turning to the man and attempting to do the same. "Oh, thank you! Thank you both! Jub the Peculiar is so blessed to come across two kindly strangers!" he said.
The goblin hands the customers who were in front of the party fake butterfly wings, one pair for each person, before they walked off and allowed the five to step up.
As five members of the party approach, they see a silver statue of a dancing faerie mounted on the roof of this ticket booth, surrounded by fluttering butterflies. The booth is decorated with an animated depiction of the night sky, with shooting stars arcing across it.
An elderly goblin perches behind the ticket counter, peering at you quizzically through a spyglass. He lowers the spyglass and calls out to you: "Greetings, fair fairgoers!"
As the first person in line, Miizel, speaks, he lifts up an ear horn so that he can properly hear him. He answers the gnome smiling, "Certainly, young man! That will be--Wait a minute...!"
He takes out his spyglass and studies Miizel closely. The gnome can hear him speak out loud, "Hmmm...Yes. Yes, you match the description,"
He then lifts up the spyglass and takes in the four people standing behind Miizel in the queue line. He is heard saying, "They match too!"
He then lowers the spyglass and he calls to the four behind Miizel, "Ah, could you four come up here, please? I need to speak to all of you!"
Once they do, the goblin addresses all of you, "Looks like it's your lucky day, folks! Someone's already paid for your tickets...and they paid the ticket fare for that bugbear over there too,"
He nods over towards Brutrumukk at the mention of the bugbear, before reaching under the booth, rummaging around a bit, before lifting himself back up and giving one ticket to each member of the party who stood at the booth.
He then goes to explain, "Now then, these tickets are good for eight ticket punches for the attractions. After eight ticket punches, it will become a souvenir on its own. The Witchlight Carnival has much to offer, so if you want to experience as much as possible, I'd recommend buying another ticket,"
He then each hands you pair of fake butterfly wings, "As paying customers, we ask that you wear these, or at least carry, these with you,"
The five pairs of fake butterfly wings are varied in colors. He handed you a blue, pink, purple, green, and yellow pair of wings.
Rory stepped back a pace from Jub at the sudden response and hand shake attempt. "Oh... um, you're quite welcome." She reached out to shake the strange gnomes hand and looked up when the goblin at the booth cakes to them.
She walked up in a few quick strides and listened carefully to what the goblin was saying. "Could you by chance tell me who paid for my ticket? She asked as she took purple wings. Her mind raced to think of who she knew that would be here and pay for her ticket. Was it Xander? Could he be here waiting to meet up with her again after two years of occasional letters.
Jub, the Peculiar was certainly well peculiar; from the way he dressed to the way he looked and talked, absolutely everything about him was so damn odd but in the most tame way possible. Gabriel couldn't properly articulate the words to respond to whatever he was just smile and accept Jub's handshake "Yes, uh quite a pleasure." excusing himself the swordsman stepped forward to the ticket booth,
"Whoever it was, we should be thankful for their generosity." he said eyeing his companion as he took the blue butterfly and put it in the pocket of his vest.
Jub beamed up at the two strangers who had helped him, and was just about to say something more to them - maybe try and persuade his new friends to buy a nice trinket? - when the goblin at the ticket booth suddenly addressed them, claiming they had all had tickets already paid for. This, apparently, included the bugbear who had paid Jub. The wizard glanced over his shoulder towards his employer, unsure if he had heard. He cast the bugbear a questioning look befoer turning back to the ticket goblin, who handed him what looked to be a pair of butterfly wings. "Oooh!" Jub said. He took the wings, holding them to get a better look at them, poking at the material with a gnarled fingernail.
"The carnival goes round and round, The multiverse is our playground. Nothing's free and nothing's lost. Every visit has its cost."
Her voice came out as a clear, if soft-spoken, declaration. Irregardless of the rest of the group's remembrance or knowledge of that phrasing it held significance to Zavakri herself. She stared at the ticket-goblin with slightly widened eyes, the showcased 'free' items of wary interest to her. He was genuine, that much was certain to her, but whosoever had purchased these items had been waiting for her.
No. Her mind clarified that detail swiftly, her eyes settling on those around her. They'd been waiting for them.
"I will take the ticket." She says at last. "But I need to buy one for my sister." She elaborates, reaching into her cloak to produce her gold pouch to pay for the extra ticket should it be affordable. "As for the wings..."
She sighed, staring at them with softer eyes.
"Purple for me, lest someone else has a preference for it. I never could decide between red or blue as a gel, and so my mum told me to stop bickering over it and just wear purple. Something lucky about purple for me, I feel-- Er, right, I'll just settle for the pink then."
And with that she removed her cloak, folding it away slowly and neatly until it was a concise square which could fit within her traveling bag. This left her new, but comfortable, traveler's clothes apparent to all- she was decidedly middle class, but practically minded- and the crossbow she carried strapped to her side also quite obvious. No longer laden by the cloak, she knelt down and began to fasten the butterfly wings onto herself.
"When in Neverwinter, do as they do, eh? Jolly good." She was mostly talking to herself at this point.
“Description? What do you-” Before Miizel could finish his attention was brought to the people behind him when the goblin managing the ticket booth called for the people behind him. Two humans, an elf, and weird looking gno-ope not a gnome. He was a gnome and he knew what they looked like. Then again he was far from his home so it could be a different subrace.
The goblin then mentioned that someone had already paid for their tickets throwing Miizel into further confusion. Someone or something had been expecting him, no, them. He suddenly recalled visiting a carnival when he was younger but there’s no way it was the same one right? After all he’s was over 100 years old.
He cast a glance at the place he emerged from. Thankfully still nothing. Might as well accept this, I was planning on going in anyway.
“Thank you and to whoever paid for me.” He said, taking the tickets and choosing the yellow butterfly wings. “You mentioned the tickets were only valid for 8 attractions. How many are there in total?”