Smoke. Light something on fire and wisps of ash rise into the air forming clouds, whorls, and rings. It has been used to send messages (smoke signals), hint at decisions made (smoke colors at a Papal conclave), to commune with spirits, and even walk among them. But in the Den of the Dreamers in the Zumka Market, the Dreamers have come up with better ways to use the smoke generated by their incense, tobacco, and other substances.
The pipes of the Dreamers are filled with all sorts of interesting plants for different purposes. Though many visitors to the Den use the smoke to transcend their physical bodies in a recreational sense, the deeper and more skilled practitioners have discovered that they can control their smoke through ritual and spellcraft.
The main goal of the Dreamers is to explore other worlds of the multiverse. There are hundreds of places they can reach with different recipes and mixtures. Those who safely return from such excursions tell tales of wild colors, voids of pure elemental energy, and creatures beyond mortal imagining. Some return with nightmare tales of beings who can see them on their journeys and wish to do them harm. Many of those travelers return with madness or worse, visitors of their own who inhabit their minds and bodies to explore our world. And some fail to return at all, falling into the Dreamless Sleep.
If you know where you want to go, the Dreamers can take you there for a price.
Most of the ingredients are grown in the gardens at the center of the Zumka. Bantu the Gardener knows more herbalist lore than anyone alive and uses the fertile soil where the Zumka sprang up to grow them. Among the plants here are the Purple Lotus, the Weeping Tree, Ryd Berries, Nhyte Stalks, and a group of pygmy treefolk who help Bantu keep the colorful array of living things alive. The treefolk only move when nobody is watching, but ensure that plants are watered, shoots are transplanted into larger pots, and fruit is harvested when ripe. Most folks believe them to be nothing more than stories.
Many of the visitors to the Zumka bring bags of earth from their homes, along with seeds of every possible variety. Flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees, bushes, and so much more. And though it will all grow very well here, Bantu must choose when and where the space and demand will allow it.
A pair of daughters, twins, Yhan and Yhau, work out front in the stall that sells the various ripe fruits, vegetables, and flowers to people who come to see them. Earth and seeds is just as good as coin to them. The stalls are an herbalist’s dream and a wizard’s warehouse, for even in the off season you can find components impossible to get elsewhere.
Occasionally Bantu will allow visitors to tour the gardens, but never unsupervised. Some of the plants that grow within have curious appetites. They were once open to everyone, but curious tourists were lost when they stepped too close to some of the gardens’ hungrier denizens.
It is rumored that the Dreamless occasionally deliver troublesome visitors to Bantu for use as fertilizer or food in the Garden. But I’m sure those are just rumors.
Some of the Dreamers have mastered the art of transferring a portion of their physical being into smoke itself and using it to travel. Imagine being able to send your Smokeself to a place far away to discuss serious matters with other folk in the physical world. There rumors that these practitioners can become the form of whatever they wish to become and travel with the wind to the corners of the world.
A favorite form of these messengers of vapor, soot, and smog, is to become a Smokehorse. Depending on the intent and power of the spirit invested in the smoke, it can appear almost as black as night. These nightmares can be seen traveling across the lands without a sound as they make their way to their destinations. Other messengers choose to become like the birds themselves, creating great smoky phoenixes that fly high and fast to find their targets.
Some of these messengers can deliver a physical message in the form of a thin piece of parchment to an individual or individuals. When the scroll is delivered, the messenger then dissolves and their spirit returns back to the practitioner.
Some can send their own physical shape to a destination and use hand signals to share complex messages without such paper contrivance.
And it is said that some of the most powerful practitioners can transport their physical selves through the smoke as a form of teleportation.
Smoke in the Zumka
People from all walks of life are welcome in the Zumka market, but keep your violence somewhere else. It is not allowed.
As with other gatherings of people, the occasional fight has been known to happen in the marketplace. But the people who call the Zumka home will do their best to stop it before it starts whenever possible because of the strange phenomenon known simply as “the smoke.”
There are strange tales of fights breaking out and smoke rising from beneath the ground to overwhelm those involved. Only those directly involved in the fight would fall and when the smoke cleared, they were gone. Some of the newcomers believe the smoke is a rumor or a story, nothing more.
But the Dreamers know the truth. There are beings beyond them who can do more than control the smoke. They can become it.