I wrapped the dead kid in my bedroll.

“What about sleeping in the cart?” Awk leaned against it wearily.

“It’s full of crystal,” Helli said.


We talked out a plan. Initially, I was a little reluctant to show up in the middle of the night with a deceased child, but Zeno and Felegum made a good point: how much worse would it look to wait around until morning?

I relented, Awk became a horse for Felegum to ride, and we headed into the small town of Borne with our bad news.

It was past dinner and later in the evening so we started with the temple in town, which bore the symbol of the sun god Pelor. Felegum spoke with the priest, and we learned the kid was named Chip and that he had been the son of a townswoman named Carmen. At first, when we went to Carmen’s house to tell her what had happened, she didn’t believe us. Chip had been sent out either on a hunting trip or to carry a message, and he wasn’t expected back for several days.

But when I pulled the bedroll back from Chip’s face, her assurance vanished. She asked how Chip had died and I outlined the basics: there had been a malignant spirit at the bottom of the well who had killed him, but we’d vanquished it. I didn’t think she needed to know that it had been a crab– that seemed too distressing.

I thought I’d done a good job. I was standing there, holding the dead body of her son, and while this did not rank highly on the number of ways I wanted to end a night, it was still important. It wasn’t like my parents would know if I died, let alone get the body, and by that logic I figured that this woman would.

But her reaction was intense and not what I expected. Instead of grief, there was anger, both from her and the priest of Pelor, which was weird since usually holy people like it when you do good stuff but okay. Carmen slammed her door in our faces and the priest told us to “be gone from here.”

We stood there in the town square of Borne for a while, confused as hell, as a mournful bell began to toll inside the temple (the priest, unable to slam his door in our faces, had lightly shut it) and incense crept around us.

“What– what was that?” I asked.

Felegum shrugged. “It was pretty weird.”

The smell of incense only got stronger the longer we stayed, and taking it to be a bad sign, we left and made camp on the edge of town. Not by the well, but also not too near the temple and the houses either.

I stayed up with Zeno for the last watch, tracking the sky’s growing brightness before dawn. The bard did not prefer being around the dead kid, so I was closer to Chip. Most of it was spent in silence, wondering what had happened back there, until my eyes picked up on something in the low light.

There was a thin line of green energy between Chip’s body and the crystal and every now and again, the boy’s finger would twitch.

My breath stopped and my hand shifted toward my dagger.

If the boy was coming back or at the very least not-quite-dead, then it was probably going to end up being bad. But there were also ways to bring people back from the dead that weren’t cursed. Which one was this? Did I have to re-murder a child? What if I made the wrong choice and he was coming back okay?

As the sun rose, the green light faded with the dawn and the boy’s finger stopped moving. I exhaled, and then took out my rope and tied Chip’s body up just in case. Best case scenario: I’d get laughed at. Worst case: I’d have bought us some time.

At the dawn, Zeno at last began to play his bagpipes. He’d been hard at work practicing on the pennywhistle for most of the trip north so far, but today he returned to his native instrument. And, sure enough, soap bubbles began to pour forth from the pipes as he played.

“Ugh,” he said between stanzas, “the crystal has cursed my bagpipes with these orbs!”

I thought it was pretty funny.

Felegum, feeling refreshed and magical once more, checked the crystal for magic. It was definitely magical, but magic itself was hard to decipher. It was natural and could be imbued either with life or un-life, whatever that meant. Felegum said that this one was draining the life out of various creatures.

By that logic, it seemed odd that Chip’s hand had twitched. He didn’t have any more life to give to a one-way power source. We spent some heated discussion trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t like the idea of his family not having his body, but at the same time Carmen and the whole town had seemed very not into receiving it. Others in the party were very against having anything to do with this anymore and suggested burning the corpse and moving on as soon as possible.

But it seemed so strange that I had to know more. Harry was also of this opinion, as was Felegum, so I left Chip’s tied-up body in the care of Awk, Helli, and Zeno and the rest of us headed into town. Awk transformed into a wild beaver to begin gathering wood for a funeral pyre if need be, Helli moved the cart and the crystal far away from Chip’s body, and Zeno, probably very not into it, was put in charge of watching Chip’s body.

Given what we saw last night, I figured if we wanted to learn anything we’d probably need to get the locals more on our side. So when we got close to the town, I cast Disguise Self on myself to look like a paladin. Battered armor, a little taller, more muscles, holy symbol above my heart, the whole deal.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter. I tried telling the town that I was here to smite the evil, but everyone already had pitchforks and they recognized Harry and Felegum from last night. It was possible that I should have thought about that, but even saying that I’d apprehended the evil-doers responsible for the well debacle didn’t tone anything back.

Instead, the crowd got angrier and we made the executive decision to leave. And naturally, we made it only a little way down the road before the temple exploded.

I found out later that Chip had sat up as Zeno was watching him, compelled Zeno to untie him, and that Helli managed to stab out one of The Being That Once Was Chip’s eyes and that the reason the other three took a while to catch up to us was because they were busy getting the eyeball into the Bag with No Holes.

Harry, Felegum, and I were about halfway back to the campsite when the explosion rocked the ground beneath us. Hastily shifting directions, we dashed back to Borne with me and Harry pulling ahead and Felegum shouting that he’d catch up with us. Luckily, Awk must have transformed into Horse-Awk somewhere along the way, because Felegum arrived shortly after we did with Helli and Zeno aboard the druid.

The town square was a mess of fearful, armed villagers with the burning remains of the temple wreathing The Entity Formerly Known As Chip in black smoke. He was throwing as many bolts of energy at the temple as possible, even though it was already pretty much rubble, and the dedication was admirable, if upsetting. “You entrapped me for four hundred years,” he seethed. “I am finally free and I shall have my revenge.”

Harry cleared his throat as we entered the square. “We have unfinished business, sir. You ruined seafood for me.”

“I knew it.” Zeno huffed and crossed his arms. “We should have thrown the body back down the well and left.”

As the main proponent of taking the corpse out of the well, I felt a little attacked. It’s not a good sign when I become the main proponent for common decency to dead things, but still. Most dead kids I knew hadn’t come back to life after, let alone started burning down temples.

Felegum clasped my shoulder. “I think the body would have teleported to town anyway even if we’d left it down there, Set.”

“Thank you, Felegum,” I said and got out my knives. I’d done my best to avoid cutting this kid up, but it looked like the inevitable was upon us. “That means a lot.”

Harry dashed off with some darts and the Super Old Dude Wearing Chip unleashed a fireball. It tore through a bunch of the townsfolk and burnt them to a crisp, which was unfortunate since we were also trying to save them. Really, it felt like a failure of communication in a lot of ways.

And then Felegum cast Haste on me and Awk.

Haste is like is having your heart swapped out for a hummingbird’s as the rest of the world around you slows down. I curled my hands around my weapons, summoned my wings, and even though Chip was fifteen feet above us in the air, he didn’t seem so far away.

I leapt up and unleashed a Thunderwave mid-air, slamming Chip higher, causing him to lose focus on his spell and hit the ground. Did I enjoy causing harm to a young kid’s body? No. Was pulling that stunt off satisfying? Yes.

Meanwhile, Zeno offered some inspiration to Harry: “Brain him, dude.”

Awk, of course, was still a horse, just a very fast horse now thanks to Felegum’s Haste. He went a little too fast past Chip to run over him the first time, but the second time he did manage to trample the body. Harry did all sorts of quaterstaffing and monk stuff. Again, it was more upsetting than not to have to watch a kid’s body get pummeled, but I think we all kid wanted it over with.

Chip moved away from us and tried to possess some of the commoners’ bodies which he had lit on fire, but unluckily for him our mage had some new tricks up his sleeve after the merpeople encounter.

He started muttering the incantation for a spell while Helli stabbed Chip with the Danger Dagger, ichor sliding off the blade and onto Chip. Then Felegum’s spell was ready and a wall of water swept over Chip and his formerly flambed flunkies. The tidal wave struck down Chip’s new recruits, but the entity himself was still kicking around, so I went in for another attack and stabbed with vigor.

Even the bard busted out Shatterspike for the occasion, inspiring Felegum as Awk trampled Chip again. This time, though, all the un-life in the child’s body ran out. Awk struck a plate-sized hoof to Chip’s head and an eyeball popped out and flew to land in the fountain in the middle of the square.

Zeno hurried to get it out, popped it into the Bag with No Holes using Shatterspike, and promptly slapped Felegum. “That is EVIL,” he said, jerking his head at the fallen child and also presumably the crystal.

“It’s just misunderstood!” Felegum replied. “I think the crystal would be of great interest to the mage’s guild in Paripas. We could make a lot of money.”

Zeno thought about it. “Okay, I’m sold.”

We ran all the way back to the cart, leaving the remaining people alive in Borne to deal with the rest of the fallout. Chip’s possessor was dead (hopefully), and these people hadn’t seemed like they’d wanted us around in the first place anyway.

At first, I was a little nervous that no one had watched the cart this whole time, but the horses were just going around in circles, which was good. The crystal was still glowing, but just glowing a lot less than it had been before, also good.

And from there, we traveled. Felegum taught Awk some more Draconic (probably good considering his patron is a dragon but who knows). Harry really settled into his woodcarver mode and made one of his staffs look very nice with a pictorial diorama of our adventures so far up and down it. When not teaching Awk the language of dragons, Felegum read more of his book on Ptarmigan the Wise.

Zeno, meanwhile, entertained us with a song he’d written about that one shared dream we’d had that he called “The Tale of the Wicked Arena” and performed to great aplomb as the cart rolled on. Helli decided that she wanted to make a music box to the tune. Awk pouted at the other gnome tinkering as he studied his Draconic flashcards.

Kheryph and I mostly hung out. I worked on teaching him to stay using baneberries and pretty much exhausted all the berries I had left rewarding him, but it seemed like he got the concept alright. This probably would have been more useful to have established before the taaks, but whatever.

“I have some extra baneberries if you need them, Set,” Felegum said over his book.

“Cool, I might call on you in an emergency.”

Awk shared his jam, Zeno checked on his beer, and we camped along a small creek. I fished, by which I mean I cast Sleep on a fish, threw it out of the water and stabbed it to death, and Awk tried to teach me this thing called noodling. It’s apparently something you use to catch this one kind of fish with your hands, but nothing happened. Probably just the druid messing around.

Harry descaled the fish and we cooked it for a nice dinner. Conversation turned to more our origins and once again someone asked me about the desert. I still didn’t want to talk about it. Sometimes it’s just easier to run and not to think about what you left.

My bed roll had been lost after the Chip escapade, but Felegum was kind enough to lend me his. “I hope you can trust us at some point,” he said, and then left to take first watch.

A nice sentiment. It was too bad that I was not a nice person.

I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and fire, then woke up for my watch with Helli where we talked about potentially arranging a playdate for Kheryph and one of Helli’s mouse toys. I was feeling a little bad that he didn’t have much in the way of enrichment now that we were on the road. Watch complete, I settled back to sleep.

And maybe it was because I’d used the magic again, or maybe it was something else entirely, but I dreamed.

I was suspended in an endless expanse of sky at sunset, pinks and golds streaking the clouds as stars poked holes through the darkness above. The usual feeling of A female figure with wings whispered things to me, her voice drifting from the left to the right.

This is in your nature. Do not fight it.

Then she flew directly at me, right into my body.

I start straight up in bed, clutching my pounding heart just as Zeno was playing the first few notes of his morning reel. There was no endless sky, just the mountain forests and a misty dawn poking over the horizon.

Hardly any stars.

My breathing slowed and my hands unclenched. I didn’t feel possessed. But then again, would I know if I was?

I didn’t like the answers I came up with.

These dreams had been happening more and more frequently since I started using my wings. At least the last unsettling dream I’d had, I’d been able to use my knives. This one, though, was by turns the exhilaration of an empty space and the dread of knowing something more powerful than you lurked within it.

By this point the others were concerned, so I just made up something about not being used to the new bedroll and got up.

We spent the day in travel, with Awk practicing his eldritch blasts and Harry taking arrowheads off of arrows to make darts. On our fourth day on the road, we came across a familiar sight: a giant cart impossibly full of knickknacks, housewares, oddities, sundries, and stuff somehow tied together being pulled by some sort of huge ancient reptile thing that someone said was an ankylosaurus.

It was, of course, the Goblin Shopping Network, heading north to Paripas as Felegum had suggested they do a while back.

We rode alongside them for a bit and naturally did some shopping. Farwyn, the proprietor of the giant stuff pile, was more than happy to sell us cloaks for the cold territory ahead, and I purchased this unknown brown-gray patterned beast’s furs. The rest of the party, except for Felegum, also bought cloaks. Harry bought two (one black, one white, for variety, I guess) and Zeno got a tartan one, because he needed to look stylish.

Helli also bought a hat to go with her cloak. Farwyn had apparently been doing well enough to take on an assistant, a goblin whose name was either Blank or Blink, and he threw the hat to her across our moving carts. “Try not to let the hat touch the ground!” he called.

All of us instantly were on the lookout for another magical item. This was, after all, the establishment from which the Bag with No Holes had come from. “What happens if it does?” Helli asked.

“It’ll get dirty,” Farwyn replied. We were all a little disappointed, but had to admit that yes, that was true.

Felegum checked for magic on the sly (many things were magical in the GSN’s cart, but it was impossible to determine what specifically as the cart was loaded with things), and then bought a replacement bedroll as well.

Helli took the opportunity to showcase her clockwork mouse, which Farwyn and the other goblins were enamored by. They proposed a trade.

“Can you toss the little metal mouse up here,” Farwyn called. “I cannot see from here. Blank,” he yelled at his fellow goblin underling after Helli had tossed the clockwork toy over for inspection, “go get.”

Farwyn examined it and then offered more metal pieces for Helli to continue tinkering and creating little toys. Helli countered by saying that the mouse was already assembled and that the goblins would need to add a little extra to sweeten the pot.

“Clock parts!” Farwyn yelled. Blank obediently dove into the stuff pile and emerged with a beaten-up clock as well as a bag of gears and coils.

Helli agreed. “Good deal! If we see you again, maybe I’ll have more of these.”

“What can you make? What can you make?”

“All kinds of things,” she said proudly. I did not doubt it.

At this point, I was starting to get hungry and the prospect of the old sleep n’ stab fish trick was weighing heavily on my mind. “Do you have any food?” I called out to Farwyn. “I’d like to make a trade.”

“Hmm,” the goblin pondered. He went through several good-sounding things, mostly dried or smoked meats, before proudly showcasing freshly smoked venison. Each time an entree was mentioned, unseen goblins from within the cart would hold it aloft for inspection. I was impress with their coordination, especially on a moving vehicle.

“The venison sounds good,” I said. “How much?”

“I can trade you some beer,” Zeno cut in. “We could trade.”

“Deer and beer!” Farwyn shouted. “We have deer and beer together?”

And so, we had Deer and Beer night, both the Sovereign Dungeoneering Company and the Goblin Shopping Network making camp together and savoring deer, beer, various pickled foods, and generally having an excellent night. Zeno performed the Tale of the Wicked Arena, saying that the Ballad of Lady Zen was maybe not for this audience, even though the goblins cajoled him and tried to get him to tell it anyway.

At the end of the Wicked Arena, the goblins threw various fruit at Zeno as applause, including a package of baneberries, which he gave to me (since Kheryph was a fan).

“Goblin salesman,” Harry called, as the goblins were re-packing their items. Their cart folded down into a barn for the night and there was a mechanism to fold it back into a cart during the day. I still don’t understand how it works, but it did.

“My name,” said the goblin in question testily, “is Farwyn. Have name.”

Harry inquired about spears. This also prompted Felegum to ask about bargain supplies for summoning Dronie back, since his familiar peacing out seemed to be an unfortunately frequent problem. It didn’t seem like Dronie minded death, but it was still good to be able to call him back as needed.

With that purchased, we settled in with the night with the goblins and headed to sleep.

The goblins offered to travel north the rest of the way to Paripas with us, but after Felegum raised a good point (“It took them as long as we were at the taak to get four days out.”) we opted to travel on our own the next day. We settled in for the night, full and happy. I lay on my strange new-old bedroll, watching the night sky and thinking.

This is in your nature.

I rolled over and pulled the blankets tighter. If there was anything I’d learned, it was that the people who told you not to fight, who said that resisting wouldn’t matter, always had something to gain when you gave in.

Don’t fight it? Just watch me.

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