I CAN’T PRETEND THIS IS THE WAY IT’LL STAY, I’M JUST TRYING TO BEND THE TRUTH: in which we enter a city of magic and have a sauna study party

Moral of the story: maybe stay with the Goblin Shopping Network next time.

It started getting cold at night, plus we were running out of rations. You might say, hey, that doesn’t matter, you have a druid who can make goodberries and whatever. And yes, while we did, goodberries were kind of bland. I’d learned not to be picky about food, but others in our party were less into it.

Zeno made a face as Awk created the berries and Felegum shivered. He hadn’t bought a cloak and now that we were on the most exposed part of the trip up to Paripas, he was starting to feel the effects of it.

“These are so bland,” the bard complained. “I don’t like them.”

Awk made himself a little weather hemisphere to figure out how bad the cold was going to get and whether we’d get snow. “We should keep an eye on the clouds,” he said.

“Why?” Harry asked, narrowing his eyes skyward. “Are they readying an attack?”

Zeno held the berry in his hand, his expression shifting seamlessly from forlorn to unimpressed in only the way that an experienced performer could pull off. “I want meat.”

Awk gave him a tiny, gnomish glower. “You already made me relive the death of my girlfriend.”

“What.” Zeno blinked. We all kind of blinked, since this was entirely new information to us.

And so, Awk told the sad tale. He had, for a time, been seeing a doe named Doris and the deer we’d had last night with the Goblin Shopping Network reminded him of her untimely passing.

The day went on, not too warm, and for some reason Harry showed off a scar on his chest from the monks cauterizing a wound at some point. I was impressed, in both the good and the bad way. Monasteries, man.

Zeno had cajoled Felegum into going rabbit hunting with him when we stopped for the night. The rest of us were hanging out by the campfire when there was a small ruckus in the distance. I continued feeding Kheryph– he wasn’t eating super well so I’d dipped into the packet of baneberries from the Goblin Shopping Network since he liked those a lot. He ate one very slowly, but he did eat it.

Harry meditated, and Awk and Helli gathered some fire supplies. When she was done, Helli also tinkered a little bit and it looked like her music box was really starting to come together. At first, I wasn’t sure about the whole Wicked Arena thing (who wants to be reminded that they lost?) but now I’ve kind of gotten into it. It seemed to earn Zeno a good amount of gold and was goblin-appropriate, and that’s honestly a lot more than I can say for other tavern songs.

Zeno returned a short time later holding a pretty sizeable wolverine. “Does anyone,” he said, presenting it with a flourish, “have a metal stick?”

“Uh.” I cleared my throat. “Do you mean a sword?”

The bard unsheathed his rapier and skewered it through the animal. “Okay, go at it.”

By some inexplicable, the group determined that Harry and I would be responsible for preparing the wolverine. It was baffling, considering that I made never really lived much in the wilderness at all and had no idea what I was doing preparing food (beyond that one time Layne taught me how to make energy cubes out of bacon leftovers). Harry, whose monastery training had not included wolverine cuisine, accidentally slit its intestine and a bit of the meat was just ruined.

Somehow, though, we did cook it and did not poison the entire party.

Felegum realized belatedly that he had some skill with cooking, which I responded to by storming off and sulking, wolverine juices still all over my dumb hands. Helli was enthusiastic about trying to make something from the furry leftovers and came up with a slightly lopsided hat a little while later.

“It’s all the rage,” she told Felegum and handed it to him.

“I appreciate the offer,” he said, accepting it and donning it. He did look less miserable.

The wolverine, once cooked, was sinewy and tough, but it was meat and something different from goodberries. Zeno said it had more soul, though I’m not sure how Awk felt about that. We had some leftovers, which was also good for tomorrow, and I poked a rock into the fire to get warm so that Kheryph would have something warm to help him get through the night.

Besides me. I was really hoping that the claw marks from going underwater a million times at the taak on my neck would scab over and heal, because I did not want to have to explain them if the scarring was permanent.

Felegum checked on the crystal, which looked no different than the last time he’d checked in on it. Somehow Zeno got it into his head that I would be excellent cooking bread, and evicted some weird gooey stuff which he said was yeast from the inside of his beer cask, handed it to me, and told me to make magic happen.

“I’m not cooking bread,” I said, poking the yeast. It smelled…weird and kind of bothered me that it had been hanging out so long in Zeno’s cask.

“Then I want my yeast back.” He held out a hand into which I surrendered the grossness, and he put it back into the cask.

Before we went to sleep, Awk did another check of the weather, found that it was only going to get worse, and with that, we set watches and fell asleep.

I was on the second watch with Felegum and as hard as everyone had tried to gather firewood earlier, the supply did not meet the demand. I trekked out to try to get a little more, but the fire was basically down to embers and Kheryph’s heat stone (which I’d put into a sock to be a little more comfortable and not burn the little dude) had gone cold. The lizard was pressed against my neck for warmth and clearly unhappy.

Luckily, we also had Dronie to patrol around the area and Felegum had him set to alert the mage should anything approach the camp. Zeno and Harry had warned us about wolves they’d heard howling when they’d woken us up to switch out the watches, but nothing ended up happening.

To pass the time, we put in some work to trying to improve the wind breaks that we’d dug out of the snow before falling asleep, but it didn’t seem to help much because we were all very cold and tired when we woke up.

The horses were also incredibly cold and their unhappiness also made us move slower. Awk was upset at us for not looking after them better until we reminded him that the horses were his job, and the he made quieter angry noises as he fed them and brushed them.

That day we decided to stop earlier to get wood and build a proper camp so that we wouldn’t all die of cold. I was beginning to regret not spending the extra twenty-five gold and buying the giant red cloak from the Goblin Shopping Network when I had the chance.

In the mid-to-late afternoon, we spotted a small copse of trees and pulled over a bit off the road, figuring that here would be a good place to make camp. Harry, Helli, and I went out to gather wood for the fire and Awk, Zeno, and Felegum were in charge of making camp. Harry had to plow the way for us since the snow was so high, but we managed to find a decent amount of branches and kindling.

While we were gone, Felegum took the opportunity to play around with his Move Earth spell and made this domed building for us to use as a shelter. Awk was once again in charge of keeping the horses happy and Zeno ended up wandering off to hunt.

I would have been annoyed at him, except he managed to find a reindeer that some wolves had been gnawing on and abandoned, still with most of its meat. When Harry, Helli, and I made it back to the camp, we had four or five times the amount of firewood than last night and found Zeno presenting his find.

Felegum, very proud of his dome house creation for us, attempted to do the same thing for the horses. It didn’t totally work–part of the roof of this one caved in– but as Awk couldn’t convince the horses go into the intact dome, they appeared to like the roofless one better. I put two rocks into the fire for Kheryph so that I could swap them out when Harry and I woke up for the last watch.

We talked, tended the fire, and made sure the horses were still alive (they were). I asked Harry if he thought he could punch a ghost out of me if necessary, and he thought he probably could. I was glad that he didn’t ask why I was so curious.

It was another three days of traveling like that until we could see the shimmering barrier of Paripas. The snow was falling hard along the south road where we were traveling up, making spirals in the air before us, but the city ahead looked normal. No snow fell within the dome, which was huge and encompassed the entire urban area. There were small outposts scattered along each route into the city, and as we approached, we could pick out the small shapes of people, crossing easily from the snowy exterior to the city proper. As soon as travelers passed through the barrier, the snow sluiced off them and remained outside.

When we got closer, Harry made a snowball and threw it at the dome. It hit the shield and slid off. Next, he picked up a small pebble and threw it. This time, it went through. This was also about the time when we had pulled up to the guard outpost of the city, and the guy manning it did not look amused.

Zeno shook his head. “Felegum, why can’t you do that?”

The sorcerer looked exasperated for a moment, and then decided not to bother explaining the intricacies of magic to the bard. Not long after, the guard finished with the group ahead of us and handed us some forms.

It was, actually, a surprising number of forms. You had to declare all the magic users in your party, magical items you had, agricultural imports, goods of value, and whether or not anyone had been around a disease or sick in the last six months.

Felegum, to whom this level of organization and intrusiveness was a balm, took to filling out the forms, but it was a lot of paperwork even for a very orderly individual, so Helli and I offered to help. She detailed the items of high material value and I took the easy job of filling out the disease form.

Clean bill of health for everyone.

Luckily, I caught Felegum’s eye before he wrote me down under magic users, listing instead just Zeno, Awk, and himself. Call me paranoid, but I’d rather this city not know everything about us, especially if the guard said we would be watched by its magic. I didn’t plan on doing anything stupid (I’d thought about entering the city illusioned to look like Milto, just to get a read on the place, and quickly discarded that idea when I saw the scope of the operation), but if experience had taught me anything, it paid to have an extra card up your sleeve.

Just in case.

And hey, if it didn’t matter and we could find the vault and get out just fine? I had no doubt that even if I wasn’t using magic, I could still more than pull my weight.

Besides, I kind of wanted some distance from it after that dream. If the magic was drawing that stuff closer to me, then a little respite might be nice. Welcome, even.

As I was filling out the form, the guard was examining the giant crystal in the cart. “Where’d you get this?”

“Just some town,” Helli said, the classic ruse. “A small one along the way.”

“Name?” The guard repeated, getting more annoyed.

“It really was just a small town,” Felegum said, catching on. “I don’t even think it had a name.”

“Where’d you find it?” The guard leaned in, no longer bored and growing increasing done with this. “Really.”

“Set?” Zeno asked.

I looked up from my form. “The town’s name was Set.”

We held eye contact a moment and I tried to look as bored and equally fed up with legerdemain as he was.

“Okay,” the guard said finally and made a note. “The town of Set. Does this thing have any magical properties?”

I shrugged and grimaced, turning to the most magical-looking person among us a.k.a. Felegum. “None,” he said confidently.

Zeno and I exchanged a look at the clearly magical crystal and the clearly unconvinced guard. “It, uh, glows in the dark?” I said.

“Oh, right,” Felegum said.

I finished filling out the paper, and this was wild because while it was actively snowing and snowflakes were landing on the paper, none of them melted through the paper or on it. They just tapped it and vanished, like it was guarded, not unlike the energy barrier around the city.

We found out, for some reason, that the guard’s name was Damson, and then handed him our forms. Damson said we’d also need to provide proof of residence at an inn within forty-eight hours too, which truly felt like an excess of forms, but I swear I could see Felegum smiling.

As we passed through the barrier, the snow sloughed off our cart and the temperature was warmer inside the city. Paripas wasn’t hot by any stretch, but it was temperate, I could feel Kheryph excitedly crawling around, relieved to be out of the cold.

Harry and Felegum were intrigued by the tower that powered the barrier, but the docks caught my attention. This place was a shipping center, and it more than lived up to the hype. Surrounded by glaciers and snow, the water was calm and ice-free within the dome.

Zeno peered around, squinting at the passersby dressed in fashionable city garb. “You there!” He said to a man. “Where does one go for a good time and a bed?”

“You mean,” the man called back, “a brothel?”

“No, like a hoppin’ inn.”

“Oh, well, in that case.” The man thought about it. “What quarter of the city?”

“Mage’s college,” Felegum whispered from within the cart.

“Ah, the quarter with the mage’s college in it,” Zeno replied.

“West, then.” The man gestured in a vague direction. “Look for the Axe of Fire.”

Zeno thanked him and drove on. It was actually good that Zeno had some skill in cart-driving, since the streets were pretty crowded and more than a few times I was concerned that we were going to run someone over. Helli was also not a fan. “I don’t like it,” she said.

We did stand out having this giant cart and being all dressed in winter furs.

The bard shrugged. “The less we try, the more we’ll hide.”

As a peace offering, he handed Helli three of his small pearls and asked her to get him a good price on them when she went to find a jeweler. Awk yawned and said he wanted a hot bath, which honestly did not sound too bad.

The Axe of Fire was relatively easy to locate, even that its placard was, literally, an axe glamoured to look like it was burning with beautiful illusory fire. Magic was pretty rad.

Inside the Axe of Fire was a bustling crowd, the rafters of the inn hung with lanterns and hanging globes bathing the room in a warm and gentle glow. The proprietor was a half-elf named Linda Rueburn, and she greeted us from behind the bar. “Ah, new faces. It’s been such a long time.”

We chatted a bit and found that she’d inherited the establishment from her father. Zeno paid for three rooms for us for a week (food included, what luxury) for fourteen gold.

“Drinks’ll be on top of that,” Linda added.

Zeno laughed. “I can drink fourteen gold in a night, dear.”

“I’d love to see it,” she replied and winked.


The rooms were incredibly nice, both compared to the extreme cold we’d been living through the past few nights on the journey up to Paripas and in general. The linens were clean and comfortable, a robe set over the bed with a note that there were open-air baths in the basement and we were free to make use of them. Small red flowers were clustered in vases by the window, and like the downstairs, lantern light bathed the room in warm gold.

There was only one small hitch, which was that while two of the three rooms had two beds, the third room…didn’t. It was just one huge bed. When we realized this, there was some debate. We had five dudes and one girl, but space-wise Awk and Helli sharing made sense as they were both gnomes and small. Zeno flat-out refused to share a bed since he’d paid for the whole thing, which was valid, and I not only slept with Kheryph but also knives.

Somehow, Awk and Helli still ended up sharing a room, just one with separate beds, Zeno and I were roommates, and Felegum and Harry, probably the two tallest and largest people in the party, split the single big bed.

Awk took his robe and headed to the saunas to bathe and Zeno traipsed downstairs for a drink. The horses, who had miraculously survived, were handed off to one of the inn’s stable dudes, and the rest of us followed Zeno downstairs to plan our next moves. Zeno was already at the bar, explaining an idea for a mixed drink to Linda.

It was a mix of mead, apple cider, whiskey, gin, and housebrewed ale and Zeno called it a beesting. It also came in two parts, one larger glass and a smaller one, and right before he drank it, he dumped the small glass into the larger, swirled, and took a long sip. He ordered a round for all of us, and wanting to look cool, I imitated him.

Harry just chugged the whole thing and Felegum waved it off. “Nah, I’m trying to stay sharp.”

It was a nice taste. I hadn’t had cider in a long, long time.

Helli, Harry, Felegum, and I headed out to find a jeweler in one of the open-air markets of Paripas. Since the city’s weather was controlled, the stalls were left set-up outside year-round through the day and night.

Before we set out, Zeno took out his instruments and asked Linda about Sylla Plumeria.

“Ah, the upper echelons of the mage’s guild, huh?” She smiled knowingly.

“She doesn’t kick it down here with the regular folk?” Zeno asked, cleaning the last of the soap out of his pipes.

Linda paused. “Her name is decently well known.”

We tried to get some more information out of Linda about Letitia, but given that we only had a first name to go off of, it was a little trickier. At least we found out that getting the forms for our residency at the Axe of Fire was pretty easy– we’d be able to drop them off at a magistrate’s dropbox at various points in the city.

Zeno began to play to a boisterous crowd, Felegum set off on his own adventure, probably shopping, and Harry, Helli, and I went to talk to a man about some gems. Really, we ended up needing to go to the merchant’s guild, which pointed us to a jeweler’s shop called the Crossed Stays. We were greeted by a dwarf jeweler who inspected our gems and small pearls and offered a thousand gold for the lot.

Helli wrinkled her nose, experienced in the trade and knowing we were getting swindled. “I think you can do better,” she said.

And lo, some persuading later, we had a deal for 1200 gold for our gems. Helli also showed the dwarf the big emergency necklace, a.k.a. the resurrection one from Quincy, and the dwarf confirmed that indeed it was what it purported to be. It was when Helli showed him the huge pearl that we’d gotten from Lake Norka that the dwarf’s eyes went wide and disbelieving.

The dwarf stared and blinked a few times. “I can offer you 17,000 gold.”

Helli said that we’d need to think about it, but we were all floored. The dwarf very much wanted us to just sell it to him right away– he had a whole drawer full of perfectly sized smaller pearls, the exact kind that Felegum tended to need for his identification spell. Since we did have several objects that we needed to have a better idea about, we determined that it couldn’t hurt to also pick up some of those, too, so we settled on 700 gold and five pearls.

I slipped Helli one of the shards of crystal I’d taken from the well. She held it up to the jeweler. “What about this?”

He revealed that it was a soul crystal and that there would be many interested buyers. He also, like the guard, wanted to know where we’d gotten it, and Helli lied and said that it got caught in the side of our cart as we were traveling. The jeweler’s name was Suz, and once again he asked us to consider selling him the large pearl. Harry was getting nervous that we were going to get attacked if we had that much money on us, but we made it out okay with our pearls a statement of credit for the 700 gold.

Disliking this immediately, we headed to a bank to cashout. The options were somewhat limited– we could get our change in either small, medium, or large denominations– and thinking that “medium” sounded safe, we opted for that. It gave us one gold bar and two silver bars, so we went to large and got a single platinum bar.

It was at the point that the teller was starting to get annoyed at us for taking so long to figure out the bank, so we had to book it with our weird unusable money back to the inn. The Axe of Fire was definitely popping, and between sets we caught up with Zeno and Felegum, who had also returned. Helli explained the situation with the huge pearl.

“SEVENTEEN THOUSAND GOLD?” Zeno exclaimed. “That’s so much money!”

I sighed and kept my eye out for any unsavory eavesdroppers, glaring at them, but while people were listening it didn’t seem like anyone was more interested than they should be, and quite a few people met my eyes and didn’t seem surprised that they were glowing. Harry, too, hadn’t seemed to stick out as much here as he had in other towns; we’d passed a few dragonborn already just walking around.

Awk told us excitedly about how many soaps there were downstairs in the sauna area, Felegum was hyped up to examine some magic objects, and so we headed upstairs to the room with the giant bed. Felegum sat down in the middle of it.

“Seventeen thousand gold?” Zeno said again, and his bagpipes whimpered with longing.

“We need to find the wealthiest person interested in it,” Felegum said, going through his magical supplies for the things he’d need for his spells. “Maybe a brokerage.”

I groaned. They would have something like that here.

“Meanwhile,” he continued, “we’ll just keep it secret. Keep it safe.”

He set an Alarm spell on his and Harry’s room, just in case. We talked briefly about possibly bringing the soul crystal to Letitia, since she was involved in necromancy and might appreciate it, but we decided to talk with her first and see how things went.

Awk brought Felegum one of the lotion bottles from the sauna. “Is this magic?”

Felegum examined it for any kind of magical signature. “It’s a bath lotion that’s a mix of rosemary and sage.”

“But is it magical?” Awk pressed.

The sorcerer sighed and cast Detect Magic. “No,” he said, “it just smells magical.”

Thus settled, we all headed down to the baths to get clean and to have an Identify party, a.k.a. a span of time where we sat around and allowed Felegum to identify all the random magical stuff that we’d picked up in our travels.

The wand we’d picked up way back was a Wand of Entangle with seven charges, the dragon whistle Helli had stolen was named Nightcaller and it could reanimate the dead for a bit, and the cube that split apart was called the Cube of Finding, which could be used to help relocate party members, even across different planes. There was also a dragon-eye gem called a Luckstone which seemed to make you in general better at everything.

The last pearl Felegum used on the Bag with No Holes.

At first, I’d been opposed– we already knew what the Bag with No Holes did, basically, and I didn’t see the sense in expending a resource on that. But when Felegum began to tell us what this was, all that changed.

The Bag with No Holes was actually a sentient being named HVFNN, and it was a perfect sphere in its own dimension. It itself was a pocket dimension that could fit about 100 ft3 of stuff and it liked to hold things but also was open to giving them back. Things inside HVFNN also had a much more reduced weight.

Zeno stroked it thoughtfully. “It spoke to me once.”

We all stared at him as he recalled the time he’d tried to open it the first time by mocking it and it had mocked him back.

“Maybe if you cast Speak with Animals?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “I don’t think it’s an animal.”

Awk piped up. “What if it understands Celestial?”

I squinted at the Bag and compared it to the angel from my dreams. “It doesn’t look like it would know Celestial.”

“Guess I’ll viciously mock it again,” Zeno said, and went for it. “You weren’t even worth the pearl, dude.”

The bag said something back because Zeno’s face twisted.

“Yeah?” The bard shot back. “How are you going to consume me when you don’t even have a mouth?”

It seemed like the Bag was silent then. Awk tried wrapping the vial of lotion into the bag as an offering to see if HFVNN wanted a snack, and Felegum decided to spend some more quality time with it.

At last clean, we headed back upstairs for food. Harry and I enjoyed some roasted lamb, mushrooms, and mashed potatoes, and Helli and Zeno dined on baked carp and whitefish with these little carrots in white, pink, and orange varieties.

I offered Kheryph some lamb and mushrooms, but he refused both and had me really worried. I traded some mashed potatoes to Helli for a pink carrot, and luckily that seemed to be acceptable to Kheryph.

Felegum came up to get food and explained his findings: HVFNN could only be communicated with magically, he was hungry (Chip’s eyeballs were not enough), and that he’d been with an adventuring party before that had kept him well-fed.

“So basically we have a Bag of Holding with attitude,” Zeno said.

I joked and said that Zeno had at last gotten a familiar and the bard rolled his eyes and offered it to Felegum, who looked thrilled to have a friend for Dronie. We sat around chatting for a while longer at the bar, Felegum moved the crystal into his and Harry’s room since it had the Alarm spell on it, and we all turned in for the night, at last going to sleep in a warm, if very strange, place.

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