It was about at that point, when Awk was unconscious, Team Red-Eye had fled, and the horses had at last finished melting, I realized I could take the stone tablets out of my shirt. They were kind of warm after the long battle, and I awkwardly divested myself of them and stowed them back in the cart. I did keep the random sword hilt and the necklace of bones, though.
Because you know, bones were pretty metal. Kind of gross, but also metal. You never knew when you’d need to look unhinged. Those went in my bag though, since they were starting to disturb Kheryph.
Anyway, it was rapidly becoming clear that we now had a new problem: how to get this broken down cart functioning.
Zeno and Helli rooted through the sacks. Their expert opinions on fine goods were that these things were a lot of the basics that you’d need to run a large camp with. Bows, arrows, weapons. Some provisions. Random little things to improve daily life like pots and pans.
It was kind of discordantly charming, to think of big bad Team Red Eye being all domestic, but it also asked a darker question: what the hell did they need all that for? What had they been planning to do before we beat them up and took their stuff?
Helli, who had been poking about more of the cart, handed me 13 gold. “For being a sneaky partner,” she said. I accepted it with thanks.
At the end of their investigations, the two of them concluded that the cart held enough to outfit a group of 10-20 people for about one to two weeks. Where could you get in that time? Probably a lot of places.
I pondered this for a few moments.
“I think,” Zeno said with his hands on his hips, “we can make a wheel.”
Zeno looked exactly like the kind of person who had never made a wheel in his life.
“I think,” Harry replied calmly, “that you overestimate the difficulty of making a wheel.”
Zeno, though, was pretty determined about taking the entire cart back, so he headed off into the dilapidated ruins of the village to scrounge up supplies. “Don’t pillage too much trying to fix the wheel!” Harry called out after him.
We briefly meditated on the last time we’d accidentally pillaged.
“You know, nothing bad happened from the oysters incident,” Felegum said.
“That,” I said, having to think about it, “is true.”
Zeno returned. “Hey guys, guess what?”
We waited eagerly for news about things that we could use for a wheel.
“Sovereign glue can stick any two objects together!”
We asked Zeno if he had found any sovereign glue. He had not. He just knew that fun fact and wanted to share.
“I fully intend to take this wagon,” the bard said, stroking his chin. “Just give me a few minutes.”
“Can we find another cart and take its wheel?” Felegum asked, clearly tired.
“Or we can find another cart and take the cart,” Helli said. I had to agree with her there. She and Harry discussed resale opportunities for the objects in the cart, and it seemed like we had about three or four hundred gold worth of stuff here. It did seem worth it to try to offload it somehow.
“We could sell it to the Goblin Shopping Network,” Zeno said thoughtfully.
Felegum nodded. “For one gold each!”
Zeno’s trips through the town hadn’t revealed terribly much besides a lot of abandoned shops without much in the way of tools. Harry, thus persuaded, sat down and made an attempt to fix the wheel. It took him a while, but he managed to carve a new wheel that, while not super beautiful, was functional.
The cart, unfortunately, was still raised about two feet off the ground, courtesy of Yuval’s rock magic forming a craggy plateau under it.
It was also about at this point that Quincy and his crew arrived. “I see you’ve found some stuff! Do you have plans for it?”
Zeno laughed. “Quincy, you’re going to get a cut of this! You still have the gems, right?”
“No,” Quincy replied.
“Did he,” Harry stammered, “did he lose them?”
“Of course I still have them,” the captain said. “But my ship sank! You all owe me five thousand gold for that ship.”
“We can’t possibly pay that back,” Felegum said. He rubbed his eyes and tried a new tactic. “You’re an honorable man, Quincy, and we had an arrangement.”
“And now, I have no ship! Your actions have led me to lose my ship.”
“Look,” Felegum said, “do you want some of this loot or not?”
“I want,” Quincy replied, leaning in, “suitable reparations for my ship.”
Zeno sighed extravagantly. “Quincy, I saved your life down there!”
“And I’m eternally grateful.” The captain crossed his arms, as immovable as the cart. “But I need to commission a new ship, probably not as good as the Wind’s Pride–” He paused to compose himself. “You shall not get your pay until then.”
It was crappy, but at the same time, I could understand how he felt. He’d lost something important, after all.
Thus inspired, we all spent about an hour unloading the cart so that we could push it off its stone ledge. There was some difficulty pushing the cart–me, Felegum, Harry, and Zeno all tried to push the cart off the plateau with Quincy while Helli held the horses. We’d moved Awk to a little spot nearby, but he still seemed pretty unconscious. The cart moved a little, but the horses were having absolutely zero of Helli so Zeno, who somehow had experience with animals, decided to take over. We gave it another good push, and voila, the cart was free.
The wheel that Harry’d made looked a little more fractured, but it still seemed to be holding up mostly okay.
We took another hour and a half to pile everything back into the cart, sat Awk up next to Zeno in the driver’s seat (again since only Zeno seemed to know what he was doing with this fancy land vehicle or whatever), and the rest of us piled into the back. Somehow Felegum found a bag of oats to curl up against, and everyone else just got poked in weird places by random housewares courtesy of Durnen.
Zeno chattered with Awk’s unconscious form all the way into Janwald, and I tried to catch some bugs for Kherpyh, since we were kind of near the lake shore, but I had no luck. When we arrived, it was evening and fireflies were just starting to come out.
Zeno pleasantly turned to Quincy. “Quincy, darling, who’s in charge in town?”
Only to find that Quincy had already left, making a beeline for the docks.
Guess he really was serious about ordering that new ship as soon as possible. Zeno headed around the town, chatting up various ladies, widows, and maidens, trying to find a good place to sleep. The rest of us headed to Milto’s.
Twilight had only set in a little while ago, so while most places weren’t open it wasn’t totally egregious calling on someone. In the distance, Zeno, frustrated, knocked on another door. I bought two fish, three breads, and some spices from Milto so that we could have dinner, and Helli set about trying to find some tinker’s tools.
“Of course,” Milto said, waving an elegant hand toward a shelf, “for seventy gold.”
Helli winced. “Seventy gold? I’ll give you half off anything you want me to make whenever I come through town.”
Milto seemed unimpressed. “Seventy.”
“Do you like shiny things, Milto?” Helli leaned on the counter.
Milto leaned right back at her. “Have you seen my shop?”
“How about emeralds?” She said, holding out some gems she’d found…somehow.
“Ooh.” The firbolg examined them. “How about these and ten gold?”
Helli wrinkled her nose. I had to admire her; she did know a lot about gems. “How about one emerald and thirty gold?”
There was a brief staring contest and I guess Helli won or something because Milto accepted. “You have yourself a deal, little gnome.”
I told Milto to let people know about the meet-up with the merfolk tomorrow morning and then we headed back to the wagon, where I also managed to pour some water down Awk’s throat so that he didn’t get too dehydrated. From what I’d been able to discover when I’d checked him for injuries earlier was that he was basically fine, just really tired and having a lot of trouble coming back to consciousness after being inhabited by the spirit of that ghostly dragon.
Then I got to work setting up a fire and heating up the fish, which were a little cold by now.
Zeno returned from being rejected by every available person in Janwald. He took note of the fish and breads by the fire and said, “Felegum, where’s the green sauce?”
Felegum, at this point, was very busy looking at items and figuring out if they were magical or not and did not dignify this with a response. He’d discovered that the whistle Zeno had unearthed from the cart earlier was not magical (though it was very nice), the seeds and bark were also not magical, and that the tablets had a slight magical aura but that they themselves were not magical.
Zeno opened a bag with a bow and arrows. “Ooh, these are magical.”
“I’ll take them!” Helli said.
“Maybe those are the winged fire arrows?” Felegum said and Zeno’s mouth formed an ‘o’ shape. “But whatever, arrows are just fancy darts anyway.”
I brought out the sword hilt that I’d kept, just in case it was cool too. “Nope, not magical,” Felegum said, and moved on.
I was a little disappointed, but Helli put a hand on my shoulder. “I can tinker with it and make it pretty.”
Maybe I would take her up on that eventually.
She moved onto evaluating our pearls: one was good for an Identify spell for sure, another was a maybe, and the last one was a definite no. Taking the definitely good pearl, Felegum cast the spell on the dodecahedron so that we’d have more of an idea what it was. It took a long time for him to do this, so we sat around eating dinner as he did.
This thing was called the Light of Mystera and apparently if you attuned to it you gained a brief connection with the god of magic. Sounded cool. Zeno held onto it, just in case.
I was starting to wonder if the goblins knew if this had been in the Bag with No Holes. Additionally, about where the Bag had come from to begin with and who’d put all this sweet stuff in there.
And whether they’d want it back.
Zeno told hold of the Light and blinked rapidly. “I didn’t understand how my magic worked before this. I thought I just played music and weird sounds came out.”
It was pretty cool, we had to admit.
“Meanwhile,” Harry said, looking through his own things, “I have sneezing powder!”
Zeno put a hand on his shoulder. “Remember, I’ve got this huge pearl we can use to figure out more about that!”
“Shh,” Felegum hissed at the bard, trying to hide the huge pearl from Helli.
“Oh, I don’t steal from friends,” she said.
“Are we friends?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes.”
He looked for a moment like he was trying to figure out if she was telling the truth or lying and eventually decided that it was the truth. Helli spent about an hour crafting a clockwork mouse with her tinker’s tools. According to her, this was a popular rock gnome toy where she was from. It zipped around our feet impressively as we cleaned up after dinner.
Felegum stepped around it and sighed. “I miss Dronie.”
I sat with Kheryph and attempted to add another word to the lizard’s vocabulary. “Field” was maybe a broad concept to hope to explain to a lizard, but I had high hopes for him and I was too tired to really notice if he got it or not. We set up watches to get through the night: first was Felegum and Helli, then Harry, and Zeno and me waiting for the sun to come up.
We slept, and Zeno’s morning song was a ballad of mer-lass mourning, and had a distinct lack of widows in it.
I tried to pour a little more water down Awk’s throat again and that went okay. He seemed to have a fever, but hopefully the water was helping. Zeno, Helli, and Felegum went to town get to some food, and Harry and I stayed behind with Awk’s sleeping body and the cart.
I waited for the rest of the group to depart. Harry was noticeably uncomfortable about this (“Young Set, they’re getting breakfast. Did you not hear?”) but waited for me to figure out what I wanted to say.
“The other day.” I had to stop and think about it again. I didn’t even want to bring this up, but Harry had been the one person to notice that something was wrong and who had followed me as I’d tried to catch fish. It wasn’t like I was screaming for attention or anything, at the moment I’d kind of wanted to be left alone.
But I’d also wanted someone not to just accept it when I said I was okay and let it go. And that had been Harry.
Even though it was hard, I wanted him to know what was happening. Also, he was a monk. He probably knew loads about this weird divinity stuff.
“So like, I’ve been having these weird dreams,” I tried again. Harry waited, patient. “And there’s this girl–I think she’s a girl?– who’s speaking to me, but like from a distance. Also, she’s whispering and that makes me so mad, because I can’t understand her, but it’s also kind of hot? And she’s never whispering from the same side either– it switches sides and it’s so confusing and weird, and I was wondering if you knew what to do.”
It all just sort of came out. I thought it would be harder, talking about this. No one else had weird dreams here or worried about the party not taking them as seriously because of them.
Harry listened, nodded, and then was quiet.
“Well?” I asked.
He sighed, expression as serene as it had been before. “I don’t have any advice to tell you, young Set. We must trust in the signs and our ability to understand them. If the divine is speaking, then maybe it is good to listen and to think upon it.”
I looked down. I hadn’t really been paying that much attention to what the whispery lady was saying, just been mad that whoever she was was trying to get me to do something when I had other things I needed to do.
I didn’t need one more person or divine entity or whatever telling me that I wasn’t living up to their standards. I already knew that and I was sick of the guilt fest.
But Harry’s words still played through my mind as the rest of our party returned to camp. What if the voice had wanted to tell me something different?
“Here,” Zeno said, offering me a large burrito. “Be careful with this, there’s a flavor here I can’t name.”
I looked from him to the burrito, wondering if the flavor was that unspeakable or if it was good and he just didn’t know what it was. It was a gamble, but it smelled really good and I was hungry, so I went for it. It tasted like all the best parts of breakfast rolled–literally– into one: eggs and bacon with little slices of sausage, sprinkled with onion, and spiced to perfection.
“It’s okay,” I replied to Zeno, “I eat a lot of things I can’t name.”
“It’s called a Jalapeno Charizard,” Felegum explained as Helli flopped on her back and lay there next to the cart. She had half a wrapped up burrito next to her and there seemed to be no will in her to eat the rest of it. Meanwhile, Harry, who had lived an austere monk life, was not accustomed to spice and needed some hefty drinks of water to get through his.
Felegum went off for a little bit and came back with Dronie, which was great– he seemed to have done just fine during his dematerialized time. It was nice to have him back nonetheless.
True to his word, Milto had let various people in town know about the meeting and after breakfast, we found Quincy and two other captains waiting at the dock. One was a guy named Bryan Buttercolt and the other was a dark-skinned elf named Cheri. We’d be sailing out about a mile from the docks on her ship, The Room Where the Sausage Is Made.
Somewhere along the way, we discovered that I had about 2g of tethis plant left and that it also tastes different to everyone who has it, a pretty cool thing for a spice to do, if you ask me.
We arrived early to the merfolk parlay and Harry made the mistake of making fun of The Room Where the Sausage Is Made‘s name, which got him sent to the back of the boat by Captain Cheri. The back of the ship did not seem that great and Harry also appeared not to be feeling so good, though whether it was because of the spiciness of the breakfast charizard or lakesickness, I could not tell.
I felt for him, but I also didn’t want to go back there. Once he tried to wander forward, but Cheri yelled at him and ordered him back. It was very sad.
We dropped anchor, waited, and eventually the merfolk contingent appeared. M’shel, Zen, and three others popped up from the lake’s surface, and Zeno, Felegum, Quincy, Cheri, Bryan, and I went down to meet them. Zen was excited to see Zeno again. The sound of dice rolling on the ship’s deck reached us as our dinghy hit the water and I had a feeling I knew what Helli was up to.
M’shel and Quincy were able to reach a deal on the tethis plant: Quincy had idea to pivot his entrepreneurial venture to trying to grow it on the surface. Felegum had an idea for a water bazaar along the coast where both land and lake communities could trade their goods, and Cheri thought the prospect was “quite excellent.”
The sorcerer went one better and even organized a pearl trade, which even I had to admit was a lot better than us raiding the taak’s oyster garden.
But something didn’t sit well with me about all this. “Why are you trying to grow the tethis plant on land?” I asked. “Why not have Quincy learn to grow it underwater? It’s not a land plant, there’s no guarantee it’s going to even work up here. You’ve still got those Potions of Waterbreathing, right?”
M’shel thought about it and looked up at Quincy. “I could show you how to grow it.”
Then she winked and disappeared below the waves.
In one fluid movement, Quincy downed one of his potions and swan dived into the water after her. The crew on The Room Where the Sausage Is Made ooh’d loudly behind us at Quincy’s sudden exit, Zeno made eyes and bagpipe sounds at Zen before she waved and followed the other merfolk back to their taak, and while it wasn’t a water bazaar, I still felt pretty good about what I’d set in motion.
(Special thanks to the editorial stylings of J-Tutts for catching a few of my accuracy goofs.)