Milk of amnesia
I visited the Hinterlands once... I think.
Song Yejun, Gongian leecher, 1940 AoE
Mouldmilk is a drink derived from mouldroot - a tuber that only grows in the marshy lowlands of the Hinterlands. Amongst the Hinterfolk, it is their primary beverage, with most drinking nothing but mouldmilk throughout the day. The beverage has a complicated reputation amongst Hinterfolk and foreigners alike.
NonalcoholicMost who have never actually been to the Hinterlands assume that mouldmilk is a form of alcohol - an intoxicating liquor. But this is not technically accurate. It's true that many people under mouldmilk's influence appear to be drunk. But the beverage contains no alcohol. Rather, it's notorious effects can be attributed to the psychoactive chemicals that are concentrated in the source mouldroot.
UbiquitousFor a large portion of Hinterfolk, mouldmilk is the only thing they drink. They consume it morning, noon, and night. It is "enjoyed" by people of all ages - including small children. This tendency to funnel psychoactive substances into juveniles definitely contributes to the Hinterfolks' reputation amongst some other cultures as savages or cretins. However, there are two fairly straightforward reasons for the drink's ubiquity.
PreservationIt does not spoil or foster any known bacteria. (It seems as though the drink actively attacks and kills any microscopic critters unfortunate enough to be floating in it.) This quality should not be downplayed. Throughout much of the Hinterlands, rivers laze through bogs and fetid muddwoods. Drinking from these low-lying sources can be... caustic. With this in mind, mouldmilk's mind-altering properties are considered nothing more than a minor inconvenience (or a wonderful bonus, depending upon your perspective) when taken in concert with the fact that the beverage is almost always seen as "safe" to drink. There are numerous accounts of a centuries-old cask being uncovered, which is then followed by the discoverers tapping it and consuming the contents - and no harm comes to them (other than the "harm" of mouldmilk's mental effects).
HydrationMouldmilk also hydrates. Again, for those who think of mouldmilk as alcohol, this fact may be surprising. But the concoction's molecular structure traps a great deal of water and, unlike alcohol, there is nothing in the drink itself to counteract its hydrating effects on the body. In the hot, sticky, jungle environs of the Hinterlands this quality is extremely important.
Don't talk tuh may bout yer fancy swill that "smells good" and "tastes good". We aim fer stronger fare up ere.
Neteniah Plornk, Poglian courier, 3681 AoG
DisgustingDespite the drink's benefits, it is despised by nearly all who do not hail from the Hinterlands. When it is released from the cask, it is a thick-but-flowing liquid. Once it hits the mug (or any container, for that matter), it quickly creates a reaction with the surrounding air that causes it to churn, froth, and congeal. If allowed to sit for long enough, it will eventually reach a consistency similar to pudding. For this reason, many Hinterfolk chug their mouldmilk with vigor - although it's extremely rare to find any Hinterfolk who will refuse to consume a fully-congealed portion.
StenchThe, umm... "bouquet" of the drink has been compared to manure with distinct tones of rotting fish. The taste can be likened to dirt, or fetid pond water. Most Hinterfolk have become immune to its smell-and-taste, but some who have been drinking it for decades earnestly claim to enjoy it. Nevertheless, there are always a handful of drinkers in a crowded pit who conduct their merrymaking with nose plugs installed.
GlowLike the mouldroot from which it emanates, mouldmilk usually has a faint glow. Depending upon many factors (the season when the mouldroot was harvested, the particular terrain in which it was growing, the other items added to the recipe) the liquid, and its accompanying glow, is usually green, but it can also be yellow or pale blue. Those who imbibe heavily (and most Hinterfolk imbibe quite heavily) may have a residual glow emanating from inside their mouth. Depending upon the raucousness of the festivities, the glow may also be spattered along the front of shirts or pants.
InconsistentThe drink's effects are difficult to quantify. The psychoactive chemicals in the underlying mouldroot are notoriously inconsistent. Some of the factors that determine mouldroot potency are understood. Many are not. Differing methods of mouldmilk preparation are also thought to impact the psychological power of the brew. This leads to wild fluctuations in the strength of mouldmilk from one region to another, from one season to another, or even from one batch to another.
Side effects? I don't remember mouldmilk ever giving me any "side effects".
Jost Maulhaupt, Tollian ranger, 3136 AoG
Side EffectsEven if the drink's potency is considered to be constant, there are a wide range of side effects that seem to vary substantially between drinkers. Some of these differences result from a natural tolerance that can build up over years. But others are more accurately ascribed to individual biochemistry - meaning that some people simply have a tendency to react one way under the influence of the drink, while others may have strong tendencies to act in an entirely different manner. That being said, there are a handful of side effects that are commonly associated with mouldmilk overindulgence:
- Memory loss
Blackouts are a frequent side effect of mouldmilk. They're typically associated with massive consumption, but this doesn't necessarily need to be the case. Foreigners who interact frequently with the Hinterfolk are often frustrated at the fact that they need to repeat the entirety of yesterday's conversation today - because mouldmilk has erased all vestiges of the conversation from their mind.
Depending upon the individual, this might manifest merely as confidence. But it can easily spill into a ridiculous boastfulness.
There are few bloviating arseholes quite like someone on a mouldmilk bender.
- A perception of vastly-expanded mental clarity
Mouldmilk drinkers are often convinced that they have conceived of the solution to all of the universe's problems.
Cognoscenti have debated for centuries whether mouldmilk provides any true, empirical benefit of increased stamina, or whether it's just the result of people ignoring the biological signs that they are fatigued. Regardless of the underlying mechanism, mouldmilk drinkers have a reputation for being able to stay on-task for incredibly long periods. This can also lead to epic benders when the "task" at hand is: drinking mouldmilk.
- Altered gait
Since it is not a depressant, mouldmilk does not cause slurring or stumbling. But those who have drank large amounts are known to walk rigidly while swinging their legs out in regimented time - as though they are marching.
This side effect is incredibly inconsistent from one casterway to the next. Many report never having experienced a single hallucination while drinking mouldmilk. Others claim that it only happens when they have consumed far too much. But there are many accounts of people experiencing "epic trips" after only a small dose. And this susceptibility is not necessarily consistent for each person. So someone who has never hallucinated after decades of mouldmilk consumption could still find themselves in the midst of an extended psychedelic episode.