We waited for Quincy to resurface, but he didn’t.
“He’s got a full hour.” Zeno said shrugged. “He won’t be back.”
He did have experience in that area, so we left Quincy to his own aquatic devices and turned the ship back to port. Cheri seemed pretty confident that everything would be fine, and we all had pretty much figured out not to test Cheri. Once we were back on shore at Janwald, I headed to Milto’s with Felegum.
I was a little absorbed in looking at potions to pay attention to them at first, but then things got interesting.
“Milto, it was a mutually beneficial relationship,” Felegum said, exasperated.
Milto snorted. “Well, you cannot–“
I raised my eyebrows at Kheryph and pretended to be very interested in the exact red shade of a Potion of Healing. The lizard was very blatant about his eavesdropping, which was not good form, but I cut him some slack; he hadn’t had much practice.
As they argued, Dronie floated above their heads like an anxious clockwork balloon.
“There’s going to be a water bazaar opening up,” Felegum said, crossing his arms. “I’ve satisfied my part of the arrangement.”
“Very well.” The firbolg waved a hand and a pearl appeared in his palm. “Here is a smaller, much rarer pearl for your efforts in adding to the town economy.”
Felegum took it and perused some of the other goods, business concluded and just browsing. I cleared my throat. I’d kind of intended to do this on my own, so I bought a Potion of Healing (we were bound to need it eventually) and seeing that Felegum was not leaving, I bit the bullet a went for it.
“Have you heard any rumors about panaceas?” I said as I slid the gold over to Milto.
“Oh, potions to cure poison or paralysis? I have some, certainly.” He waved an elegant hand dismissively at the shelves behind him.
“Not quite. I mean more like something that would fix any illness, no matter what. Strong enough,” I paused, “to cure even a plague.”
Milto stopped twirling the amber vial over his fingers. “To cure a community, or even,” he said, “a city? What you’re asking for would require an act of the gods, not a mere potion or cure-all.”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” I said.
“You could always try the wizarding colleges and ask them,” he mused, picking the vial back up and resuming its idle twirling. “The nearest is in Paripas.”
I sighed. As thrilling as shoving Potions of Waterbreathing down Kheryph’s throat had been, the adventure at the bottom of Lake Norka hadn’t unearthed anything that might help me. I was about to thank Milto and peace, when the firbolg cut in.
“Could I interest you in anything else? A new hood, perhaps?”
I fingered the one I currently wore. Having been underwater, soaked in weird spores and powders, generally sweaty and with a little burn mark from that flaming arrow I’d gotten shot by earlier, it had definitely seen better days. Kheryph looked up at me imploringly from inside it. These days, he kind of lived in there or on my shoulder, but the hood was pretty much where he went when things went south and he got nervous.
I’d originally got the hood to hide my glowing topaz eyes, since that tended to unnerve people, but it was also starting to function as a nice way to hide all the nervous lizard scratches on my neck.
And okay, maybe it was distinctive. Great thieves were memorable.
“What’ve you got?” I asked, nonchalant. The lizard perked up, as though sensing an upgrade.
Milto snapped his fingers and an entire wall of the store fell away, like a curtain dropping to the ground, to reveal two cloaks hanging on a wall. One was navy with a slivery-green mantle and golden trim, and the other was midnight blue with a gold trim and a design with three sharp points.
“That,” Milto said, gesturing to the navy, “is a Cloak of Protection, which, as you might expect, increases your defensive capabilities. The other is a Cloak of the Manta Ray, which allows you to swim as fast as a manta ray and breathe underwater. Perhaps it would have been more useful at the start of your underwater doings, but…” He shrugged.
I stared at the cloaks. When he’d mentioned hoods, I thought that it would just be a little replacement hood, maybe in a different color, probably smelling like fish. I hadn’t imagined this. “How much are they?”
“For the Cloak of Protection? Four hundred platinum,” the firbolg said. I hid my wince. “And for the Manta Ray? Four thousand gold.”
So, the same price, a.k.a. way too expensive for me. Sorry, Kheryph, the current one would have to suffice. I turned and raised a hand in parting, but then Milto said: “I’d be willing to make a deal, as someone with your skillset might be able to accomplish a task for me.”
I stopped, one foot on the threshold. “What kind of task?”
He didn’t say it was a heist, but it was a heist. There had been a time when he’d been in Paripas and done something to get both kicked out of the city and to have some of his stuff locked up there, as well as in two other places, one to the south in a dwarven fortress and the other to the east somewhere no longer there. Very helpful. Paripas seemed like the most likely to coincide with everyone else’s goals and it was also the closest.
I eyed the Cloak of Protection. There was nothing pointing me to the north specifically, but the wizard college could be good for gathering information. And if we completed Milto’s errand, I wouldn’t mind coming out of it with a new cloak.
Not at all.
Felegum and I took our leave and headed back to the cart, where a droning sound greeted us before we found Zeno in front of the tablets, Awk still unconscious, and Helli still feeling sick.
“Quick, Set!” Zeno ran up to us. “What’s your lizard’s name?”
“You…know his name already.” I said, concerned.
“Yes, but say it!”
I looked at the lizard, who cocked his lizard head. “It’s Kheryph?”
“Ha!” The bard whooped. “I know what that means because I cast Comprehend Languages. Also, that’s very cute.”
Every fiber of my being was aghast with horror. Oh no.
But before I could compose myself, let alone process the tremendous damage, Zeno whirled back to the tablets and began reading them off. Felegum and I wrote them down as we went, trying to piece them all together.
for together their power you must link six together. Only then shall you be able to control the power of the
for long ago we sought to summon a god. This god brought destruction and fire upon our lands, but also great bounty.
There are three that give life and three that take life away.
conduit is near the castle that has sunken below the earth. This is the first of the conduits that give life.
location of the fourth conduit. The fifth conduit, the one that takes life, is in a desert surrounded by dunes of sand. You may find it by following the star
to gain access to the power of life cultivate the three that take life away and you shall bring great pestilence
access the power that together they combine
that never moves. Walk for three days and turn east, walk for two more days, and it shall be there
the dragonpriests sought to gain the power of the gods Bahamut and Tiamat. And they sought to gain their power
for beneath the waves in the ruins of a long lost civilization a light emerges. You may find the light where all light has gone
The second conduit is located in the heart of a volcano. it is constantly erupting, it should not be difficult to find.
a great city was built upon the fourth conduit and in its catacombs you shall find
hundreds of years of prosperity and wealth well beyond the cost of their location.
a portal is opened and from its maw spawned demons of unimaginable powers. The powers of this plane united against them and were able to
The third we have never found. There are rumors of it that are circling around the icy north.
Together they sought to continue, keep the knowledge they gained, selfishly keeping it to themselves and not sharing it with
Halfway through or so, Awk woke up and took the half of the burrito that Helli hadn’t been able to finish. He fell upon it ravenously.
“That’s… not vegetarian,” I said.
He looked at it, thought about it, and then kept eating. “I’m good with this.”
That was almost more worrying than him becoming a giant ghost dragon that one time.
Zeno tried rearranging the scraps of paper with the translations while Felegum and I discussed the star that never moved. It’s directly south, obscured about two thirds of the year on and off. Good for navigation, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Felegum glanced my way. “Hey, Set. You’re from the desert, aren’t you?”
I didn’t say anything. The silence grew awkward.
“Also,” I mentioned as we put away the tablets, “Milto wants us to do a heist.”
“You son of a bitch, I’m in,” Felegum said.
Awk took one look at our cavalry and despaired. “You haven’t been feeding these horses for two days!”
He started talking to them in Horse or something and then unhitched them and led them around the field to snack. “Felegum, can you create water?”
Zeno snickered. “I can, just give me a sec and a bucket.”
Awk exhaled loudly. “What the fuck, party, how did you not feed them?”
“Look,” I said, “I have a hard enough tie taking care of one animal.”
Awk continued to sputter and be indignant about the horse thing, so Felegum and I decided to go into town and maybe see about lunch. I saw for myself the full wonder of the tabaxi food cart and did not need much upselling at all to purchase the party platter– a wondrous dish of rice, beans, melted cheese sauce, steamed meats with mole nachos, fresh vegetables on top, and tacos around the edge. It was called a Fiery Torterra and I could not have been more excited for it.
One of the tabaxi sliced a guava in half mid-air and I put five silver in the tip urn. Performance art deserved reward.
“Thank you, little hooded figure,” said one of the chefs. I nodded and Felegum and I both carried the giant platter back to camp. We didn’t notice Harry looming in the background until the plate got really heavy and we almost dropped it, but the monk seemed content to watch and let us improve ourselves through the struggle or whatever. It felt like a very monk thing to do.
Anyway, Awk was doing grass angels in the field when we got back. Zeno tsked.
“Hey Bernie,” the bard called, “want to get back in the cart and keep watch? Don’t let the horses run off.”
Awk patted the horses’ manes. “I promise I’ll let you out later.”
He shot us a dark look.
“Hey,” I said, holding my hands up, “this lizard is a lot of responsibility.”
“Yeah,” Felegum agreed, “sometimes I forget if things are clockwork or not.”
There was a small pause.
“Felegum, that’s terrible.” The bard winced. “Besides, I’m not feeding things I haven’t been paid to feed.”
Awk’s eyes widened. “Oh, that’s right. We haven’t been paid yet, have we?”
“Nope,” said Zeno. And so, we concluded lunch, packed up the massive leftovers, and headed back into town. We’d made some headway on the tablet order, but it was high time for a change of pace. After a small interlude of questing, we found Quincy at the docks.
“Fancy seeing you here,” he said as he cut up milky strands of seaweed. Probably tethis plant.
“Quincy, Quincy, Quincy,” Zeno said. “I believe we have an unsettled matter.”
Quincy considered. “Well, if this sells as well as I think it will, I won’t need a new boat.”
Zeno waved a hand. “Yes, your sailing days are over.”
Some part of me doubted that; I wasn’t a sailor, but I’d talked with enough to know that all of them tended to drift back to boats eventually. They just missed them too much. Besides, a boat was a convenient way to get a mile out into the lake to rendezvous with certain entities that lived under the water.
However the meeting with M’shel had gone, he was clearly in a good mood because he produced six pristine gems. Felegum was physically restraining Helli from just grabbing them. Something flashed across her face, a momentary look of “what! we nearly just drowned! there were water demons!” but all she said was: “They’re authentic.”
Then she sidled up to Quincy.
He narrowed his eyes. “Little girl, I know your tricks.”
Helli scoffed. “How dare you.”
The captain sighed and then reached under his shirt and pulled out a necklace. “Here. This should be a good gesture.”
The necklace had a gold chain and a diamond at the end of it, which Helli said was worth easily over two hundred gold. It was inscribed with the words for when bad turns to worse.
Felegum nodded. “It’s a resurrection necklace.”
I was nearly as aghast as I was with the lizard thing. He couldn’t do that! That was his accidental death necklace! Now if Quincy died, I was going to feel so awful.
Helli kept her composure and accepted the necklace gracefully. “Thank you, I wish you good luck with this bazaaar.”
“Thank you,” Quincy replied, “it’s a bizarre business of bazaars.”
We sorted out the six stones between us–Zeno took the diamond, Kheryph seemed obsessed with the ruby, so I got that one, the emeralds went to Harry, Helli, and Awk, and Felegum took the sapphire.
Then we headed back to Milto’s.
“Three times in twenty-four hours, I am blessed.” The firbolg said as we entered.
“We need more information about the job,” I said.
“it’s a bit of an embarrassing matter,” Milto replied, gesturing for us to finish coming in. “I had a bit of a falling out with the mage’s guild in Paripas.”
The story was long and winding, but basically boiled down to Milto’s woes being twofold: he’d had an affair with the Magisterium’s daughter and the guild had disagreed with some of his business practices. One issue and perhaps he would have gotten off with a warning, but both at the same time had led to his expulsion from the guild and banishment lite from Paripas.
It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t enter the city again, it was more that it would be really awkward.
There was a cache of magical items that he was hopeful we could get back for him, guarded by three wards. One was a ward by Milto himself, another by one of his ex-friends Letitia, and a last by the mage’s guild.
“Did you break the law?” Felegum asked suspiciously.
Milto had to think about it. “No laws were broken.”
“Then why can’t you go back and get them yourself?”
Milto sighed. “Well, when you’re exiled from a mage’s guild, it’s hard to enter the city with that mag’es guild, or its sanctum.”
“What about giving us letters of marque?” Awk suggested. “So that official people know we’re there on your errand.”
“I don’t think it would be useful,” Milto said, sniffing.
“If non-mgaical parties get involved, it might be.” Felegum rubbed a smudge off Dronie.
“Very well,” Milto gave in and wrote out a letter on a parchment. “Now be careful not to get this too wet.”
“What about that teleportation after the job is done?” Zeno asked. Milto had mentioned this in passing and it clearly did not sit well with the bard.
“Once the job is completed and you open the door, the objects return to me.”
“So, your exile….” Felegum approached the issue once again. “Are you on a blacklist? What kind of infamy do you have?”
Milto looked uncomfortable, but not nervous. “I’m not officially exiled from the city, but my particular dealings make it difficult to have a business there.”
Zeno had had enough. “We need the whole story here. We don’t need to be caught off-guard by you selling babies, man.”
“Very well,” Milto huffed. “It was a multi-part affair. And one part was an affair with the Magister’s daughter. Another part was that the lore I was dealing in was not bad but frowned upon.”
“What were you looking into?” Felegum asked, and I couldn’t tell if it was because he was interested or judging the firbolg.
“Sometimes,” Milto said, spreading his hands innocently, “you wish to move continents. Some mean that literally and some mean that figuratively.”
“Ooh.” Felegum snapped his fingers. “Geomancy!
That reminded me. “Hey, do you know about any volcanoes that never stop erupting?”
“No,” milto replied, “but you should ask a historian.”
“Oh no.” I winced.
“You mean Francis?” Felegum cocked his head.
Luckily, Zeno was more interested in nailing down the specifics of this deal. “How do we know that we’ll find be able to find you after you get your stuff back?”
Felegum tapped the side of his head. “That’s right, he could move continents.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a joke or not.
“I can offer you a binding pact,” Milto said, “that I will give you the cloaks. I should be here. I have been here for a while. If not, then In should think that you should be able to find me.”
“Would you like us to bring a message from you to anyone?” Zeno asked.
“Ah.” Milto pulled out a scroll. “She will know what this means.”
The Magister’s daughter was named Sylla Plumeria and still lived in Paripas. I pulled out my dagger. “So, what do we need for the pact? Blood?”
Milto asked me to put the daggers away, which was sad. I had kind of hoped there was going to be a blood pact, but okay. fine. Whatever. Not a very metal pact.
“I don’t know about a magical pact,” Helli said. “What if we end up in magic prison?”
“Helli,” I said, “do you really think I couldn’t break out of magic prison?”
“I mean,” Awk added, “I made a pact two days ago and I’m fine.”
“Yeah, and you couldn’t wake up for like two days.”
She held up her hands. “Guys, I just don’t like this magic stuff.”
Felegum frowned. “You are literally the person who says ‘stabra cadabra’ to their dagger.”
Then Harry, who had been mostly quiet for this, joined in. “I don’t like entering into pacts that I don’t understand all the way.”
“How about,” Helli considered, “he needs to answer any question we ask him truthfully?”
Felegum waved it off. “If he fucks us over, there are multiple caches he won’t have access to.”
“Also, we’re going to a city of mages.” Awk thought about it. “There is bound to be someone with Locate Person there.”
“Then are we agreed?” Milto asked.
Harry exhaled loudly. “If you screw us over, we will find you.”
“What are the items you want us to get back?” Felegum asked.
Milto was unfazed. “You will never need to encounter them, as they will teleport back here to me.”
This only seemed to make matters worse. “I do not want to mess with forces that we don’t understand,” Harry said, but didn’t stop Zeno and Milto from shaking on it.
“All I ask if that this is unlocked,” Milto said, and then detailed for us more of what that process looked like.
The first ward, the spell that Milto himself had placed on the vault, was easy enough. He handed us his ring and told us to place that on his ward to dispel it. The second ward was courtesy of Letitia, his ex-friend. She was a mage of some reknown in Paripas, and her work dealt mainly with necromancy and transmutation. In short, she worked to make resurrections more successful.
I didn’t really know what that meant, since it seemed to me if you were resurrected you either came back or didn’t, bur now wasn’t the time to ask. Letitia also apparently helped to maintain the magical field around the city that helped protect it from the encroaching ice.
Harry rubbed his scaly chin. “Is she enough of a friend still that we won’t have to do anythign untoward to retrieve her ring from her?”
Milto needed another moment to think about it. “Probably, yes.”
“You had a falling out with her?” Felegum prompted.
“Well, you know how it is,” the firbolg said and sighed, “when you have an argument with someone and one of you agrees to go on an expedition to the icy north and the other backs out at the last second.”
“Who didn’t want to go?” Harry asked.
“I organized the mission,” Milto replied, “hired the caravan, choice words were exchanged, carnage ensued. You know how it is.”
“But you’re…conciliatory?” Felegum raised his eyebrows.
“Yes.” Milto exhaled. “No laws broken and my banishment was unjust.”
Our sorcerer tapped his fingers on the counter. “Want to write her a letter too?”
Milto dismissed the idea. “If we wished to communicate, we have magical means.”
From there, we moved into a discussion of the third ward. This one was performed by the mage’s guild and its arrangements changed every year. It was an official process, it sounded like. The guild was officially licensed but not part of government, but Milto imagined that the ward was probably different than what he’d encountered when he’d first stored things there thirteen years ago.
With that, we finally took our leave and headed back to Greenrest.
“Is the cart okay?” Awk asked as we rode.
“We should probably replace that wheel,” Felegum said, looking out over the side at it.
“Is my cart okay?” Awk said and I could not fathom why.
“I could knock you out,” said Harry, who probably had the greatest claim on ownership of the cart, given that he was the one who actually made the damn wheel.
“We should probably also talk to your patron about Durnen and corrupting the conduits,” Felegum said to Awk. “Just putting it out there.”
“Oh, I think we’re on the right track.” Awk nodded. “We’re investigating the conduits. We’re helping it.”
“Who, Bahamut or Tiamat?” Felegum asked as we clunked along over the roads.
Awk shrugged. “We’re trying to restore dragons to their full glory.”
Everyone else in the cart face-palmed. “Oh no,” someone said.
“…unadulterated by greed,” Awk finished, then blinked, like this was totally fine.
“Uh,” Harry cut in, “did I rob your patron?”
“I can ask!” Awk said helpfully.
“Maybe,” I said tactfully, “just wait for him to bring it up instead.”
Felegum nodded after some consideration and watching the horses trot in front of us. “At least we have some line to someone who might know something about what’s going on.”
It was at this point that we took a little break and Awk decided that Felegum needed to apologize to the horse whose butt he’d wronged by frosting it. Felegum crossed his arms. “I am not into it.”
Awk cast Speak with Animals on him anyway. “Come on.”
The sorcerer was silent.
Then Felegum made some horse sounds and the horse made some horse sounds back. (“Hello horse. Do you have a name?” “I have never been given a name.” “Then how do you call yourself?”) He turned to us. “He says his name is Baaxter.”
Well, that sounded like a productive conversation. I was about to suggest that we focus on getting back on the road when Felegum turned to me. “Can I talk with your lizard?”
I was a little nervous about that, but acquiesced. Felegum asked if there was anything I wanted to know, and I panicked, so I just said to ask Kheryph what his favorite food was. I was still kind of smarting from that one time Awk had talked to him and he was like, dying from being in the jar without holes, and I really hoped that Kheryph wasn’t going to say he hated being around. Although to be fair, he hadn’t exactly left me when he had the opportunity either.
Apparently, there were not a lot of foods that Kheryph didn’t like. He seemed to really like baneberries and egg. When Felegum brought up the Potion of Water Bretahing, he hid in my hood.
“What are you motivated by?” Felegum asked in Lizard.
Kheryph cocked his head, very confused.
“Oh, Set,” Felegum said to me, “he said he likes most things but he also said he likes eating other lizards.”
“Oh yikes, he’s a cannibal.” I grimaced. While metal, it was a little unexpected, but I could deal with that.
“It’s okay.” Felegum put a hand on my shoulder, trying to be comforting, I guess. “Dronie’s not really alive and neither are animals.”
I did not really know how to reply to that.
“What!” Awk squawked. “Felegum, that’s messed up.”
“Oh, Dronie’s already forgotten you killed him.” Felegum had to think about it. “Actually, he has permanent memory, but it’s okay.”
Somehow, we traveled on, Awk practicing bird calls on the flute and Zeno playing the bagpipes loudly. When we got into Greenrest, a stableboy offered to take care of the cart and horses for us and Zeno paid him a nominal fee. Awk bundled up the tablets to study later, and I took the other object of value off the cart, the Fiery Torterra, so that we could save it for travel snacks later, since Helli was going to try to sell the stuff on wagon in town.
Back at the Green Mug, Zeno was greeted with appreciation by Layne, who said that his doppelbock had been a great hit and was wondering if he was back to make some more. Zeno pulled out the baneberry wine that he’d been fermenting. “We can sell you this– it has a more sophisticated flavor.”
Unfortunately, the “sophisticated flavor” during out to be “not great.” Layne tried it and wet her lips thoughtfully. “Two years in the cellar and it should be fine.”
Zeno sold the doppelbock recipe to the Layne and Innard and threw in a glass of half-ass wine, and we settled in for dinner. The offering was roasted duck, scallions, and pot pie, and most of us went with the pot pie. Awk said that he wanted a pot pie with as little meat as possible, which confused Layne, and did not seem to affect the outcome of his pot pie.
“Felegum,” Zeno said gesturing to the sorcerer, “can you pass the green sauce?”
Felegum, who had had enough of this joke, took out a pearl and cast Identify on the damn thing right there at the table, incanting the spell for ten minutes as his dinner got cold. It turned out to be a Potion of Bull’s Strength and Enlargement, which would last for about two minutes. As he was doing this, Awk picked meat pieces out of his pie and fed them to Kheryph, which was a nice gesture.
Once the spell was completed, Felegum put his things away, cast Heat Metal on the pot pie dish, and enjoyed his meal at a normal temperature.
“Who’s having wine?” Zeno roared. Cups were passed out. I took one, because it seemed like Zeno’s feelings were hurt by the wine tasting like ass, and I tried it. It was really not very great.
Helli already had the inn’s Flaming Dragon ale and she was on the lookout for people to try to fence the cart to. I overheard her at the bar: “I have a menagerie to unload.”
Someone in dark clothes set down his glass. “I may know a zoo.”
Ah, Thieves Cant. Their accents were a little different from back home, but it was kind of nice to hear it being spoken again after talking in Common for so long. She bought him another brandy and I left them to their business.
Awk took the tablets upstairs to his room to study them and see if he could get any more insight on the order and Helli returned just as Zeno was attracting a small following and people clamoring for the bard to play.
“Helli,” he said to her, “come back with coin.” Then he turned to the crowd. “I have stories to tell, stories of the lake!”
One of the barmaids batted her eyes at him. “But dearest, how did you accomplish your great deeds?”
Zeno cleared his throat. “I will play the song of Lady Zen of the Lake.”
“Don’t start a brawl without us!” Harry called as he, Helli, and Felegum got ready to sell the cart goods. Zeno gave them a wink that clearly said I might.
Initially, I hung around to make sure Zeno was fine, but it seemed like mostly everyone at the Green Mug was there for a good time and camaraderie, and since that wasn’t really my jam, I went to the roof. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be a triangular kind of deal, but it was, so I balanced precariously on the very top of it, and called forth my wings.
I’d never brought them out at night before–only underground or underwater or during the day– and they were much brighter than I thought they’d be around me. Oh well. I spread them out, then tried to hover a little over the roof. It wasn’t very exciting, but they held.
I tried again, this time going for a foot in the air. Things were going well at first– I achieved the height I wanted to– but then I remembered what Felegum had asked earlier over the tablets.
You’re from the desert, aren’t you?
Pestilence, stars, conduits, a city in the sand, and a terrible promise.
I drifted off the roof without meaning to, a story above the ground. Oh shit, I thought, but my wings dopily fanned out, doing nothing except catch the wind, and spiral me and Kheryph to the ground like one of those seed pods spinning to earth in autumn, unharmed. The wings vanished and the light dimmed.
I headed back in to see Zeno surrounded by adoring fans. “Set! Woo!” The bard yelled. “Come party!”
“I-I-” I stammered. “My lizard is tired.”
Kheryph looked up at me questioningly and I took the stairs two at a time to bed.
I spent a long time at the window, watching the stars. What was worse: being blindly convinced that you could overcome any obstacle, or knowing exactly what you were up against and how likely you would fail?
The stars didn’t answer. But then again, I hadn’t expected them to.