STILL, THE SECOND HAND WILL CATCH US LIKE IT ALWAYS DOES: which contains more forms, shopping, and a side of evading arrest

I woke up to a groggy Zeno stumbling out of his bed, dressing, and then blearily heading downstairs for coffee. Kheryph, who spent the night as he did most nights sleeping in the crook of my elbow, blinked and cocked his head after the bard. Zeno had led several rowdy last hurrahs at the bar before the door to our shared room slammed late last night, and he flopped onto his frankly exquisite bed.

“It’s adequate,” he’d muttered. “Not exquisite. I’ve seen better.”

I shrugged, gathered my things, and headed down for breakfast.

“Linda, Linda, Linda,” Zeno said, leaning over the bar. “I haven’t had coffee in three months, can you help?”

She smiled, polishing a glass from last night’s revelry. “What kind of roast would you like?”

Zeno tapped his lip. “Light. It has more caffeine.”

She sent for some supplies from the kitchen as I sat down and other members of our group made their way to the bar. Zeno’s drink arrived in two parts– a delicate cup of coffee and a small pitcher of warm milk. Zeno poured a little milk into his drink and then passed me the rest of the mostly full milk pitcher. I drank it, daintily.

“He’s a growing boy, he needs it,” the bard said when the rest of the party was dumbfounded.

I’d thought it was milk, but it turned out to be more like cream. This did not making drinking it easier, but since I’d already committed I just kept going.

Awk got an herba matte, some weird druidic wake-up drink, and proceeded not only to drink it but also to rub parts of it on his gums. He offered some to Zeno and the bard declined.

We did some basic planning as we waited for breakfast and boiled down our dealings in Paripas to five leads: finding Sylla Plumeria, selling the Wand of Entangle, finding Letitia, selling the huge pearl, and exploring the catacombs below the city to see if there was another conduit in there.

“We should get a second opinion on that pearl,” I said stoically between sips of hot creamer. “It seems too good to be true.”

The others agreed, and we decided to pursue a two-pronged approach. One group would try to find a brokerage for the giant pearl and the other would head to the mages’ college to try to find Letitia or Sylla (or both). We put in for who would go where and wound up with Felegum and Awk to magic school and me, Harry, Helli, and Zeno to sell the pearl.

“Can we have Set?” Felegum asked.

I sighed. “Why me?”

The whole point of this was to keep me away from magic. Seeing other people do it was just going to make me annoyed that I couldn’t. But then again, Milto had mentioned divine power when I’d talked with him. And while I hadn’t known a lot of arcane practitioners, I’d bet a fair bit that they wouldn’t like someone with divine powers being able to do more than they could.

Maybe I could lean on that.

“He needs adult supervision,” Harry said, sitting next to me.

Awk did some fancy hand-waving and a skunk smell emanated from Harry’s backside. Harry casually rolled a dart in his hand and glowered at Awk. Awk dispelled the smell.

Felegum sighed, went back upstairs for a brief moment, and then poked his head out of his room and called down. “Zeno, come up here!”

Zeno polished off his coffee. “Little early, but sure, buddy!”

I took another thick sip of milk/cream. From the sound of a sword being unsheathed, they were probably using Shatterspike to try to get something into HFVNN, a.k.a. the Bag with No Holes.

Luckily, it was at that point that breakfast arrived. Our choices were fruit porridge, vegetable stew, lamb stew, and a plate of various yogurts and cheeses.

“Any local specialties?” Zeno asked, coming back downstairs with Felegum.

Linda jotted down orders. “Our local specialty isn’t served at this hour and is only broken out at special occasions. It’s a kind of lizardfish.”

I covered Kheryph’s eyes, since I wasn’t totally sure where his ears were, but he did not need to hear or see such things.

“Oh, I see.” Zeno thought about it. “I’ll have the cheese.”

I got the porridge, as did Helli, who wanted all the toppings.

The dwarf chef who was serving raised an eyebrow and a massive scoop of various granolas and fruits. “All of it, eh?”

Helli considered, perhaps remembering the Jalapeno Charizard. “Two scoops.”

“Two scoops,” the dwarf agreed and finished preparing our meals.

Helli asked Linda about the contacts she’d wanted to follow up with. “Do you know the Glijon brothers?”

Linda could not say that she’d ever heard of them, but she said she’d ask around. Meanwhile, I poured the milk-cream over the porridge. It actually worked with it, in an odd way.

Felegum went upstairs to check on the bag and came back frustrated. “If it’s this slow, it’s useless.”

“Slice ‘er open,” Zeno said, standing. We followed him upstairs back to Felegum and Harry’s room. When we entered, it seemed like Felegum and the bag were having a staring contest.

Felegum sighed, looking at it. “Sorry, but we’re on a schedule here.” He turned to Zeno. “Cut him open.”

Zeno balked. “I’m scared now.”

The druid cleared his throat. “I’m going to advocate for the bag here.”

“When,” Harry said menacingly, “did you become an advocate for extra-dimensional beings–“

“I actually agree with Awk,” Zeno cut in. “I don’t like that crystal.”

Awk took HFVNN up and inspected it. “It doesn’t look like it’s opening.”

“Fine,” Felegum said with a sigh. “We’ll leave it.”

His mood improved considerably as we were walking through the streets of Paripas to get to the Mages’ Quarter. “Mage school, mage school!”

“Try not to eyeroll too hard, Set.” Zeno waved.

I sighed and tried to act upset but secretly feeling like Felegum as we parted ways. Felegum tried to entertain me with Dronie, I suggested a playdate between Dronie and Kheryph, and the two of them got along swimmingly, Kheryph riding Dronie around like a flying steed.

It was pleasant, until I realized that we’ve been seeing things that we’d normally seen. And not in the way that usually happens to me, when I’m using a bad map, but in the way that happens when something weird is afoot.

It was a loop.

“Oh no, everything is magic,” Felegum said.

“Not to worry, I got this.” I approached a passerby and asked them about the Mage’s College and whether or not there was some spell keeping us from reaching it.

“Oh,” they said, “you need an invitation! You can get one from the magistrate by passing the Trials of the Mage.”

It sounded like a prime Felegum opportunity if ever there was one. It was about at this point that I noticed that we’d lost Awk, a great tragedy, so we headed to the magistrate to learn about how mail worked here and also to do yet more forms for Felegum.

The helpful stranger had told us that the Trials would take place in five days, so there was plenty of time to prepare. Unfortunately, as soon as I saw the line at the magistrate, I was out of there. This place was perfect for the sorcerer– he loved order and thrived on forms. I could coexist with Paripasian rules mostly peacably, but there came a point where enough was enough. Dude was old enough to wait in line by himself, and I had things to do too.

By some miracle, I was able to find my way to the docks without too much trouble. Granted, there were a lot of docks here. I hunted out a ship heading south and got the attention of one of the sailors loading crates.

“Are you bound for Csipherus?” I asked, quietly.

The man laughed. “Csipherus? That place is closed off. It’s overrun with plague and pox. They say even the dead are walking.”

So it had gotten worse. I didn’t know they’d closed the ports, too. When I’d gotten out, they’d only closed the city itself to land traffic.

“Where we’re going is Tormani,” the man said.

I knew it; it was a trading city north of Csipherus. Not ideal, but probably my best chance. I took a breath, hoped I’d chosen the right person, and slipped into Thieves’ Cant.

“I was once apprenticed to a master chef in a city like an oven,” I began. “I’m sure you know of him, his food is famous and to miss out on it would be an optimal crime.”

No reaction from the sailor. No recognition, but also not the confused look most people would give you when you talked what seemed like nonsense to them.

“Tell him,” I said, “I made his recipe for an apple tart but I couldn’t get it to set. I’d tried my best, but the ingredients were off. When I spoke to a pastry chef about it, he said that if I wanted to feed a lot of people then any meal I made would have to be divine. Ask this master chef if he’s found a new recipe for the big party I’m going to throw. His advice will reach me in the kitchens firing an axis of pies in Paripas or making mug cakes green with envy in Greenrest.”

I paused, then added: “His brother of the calendar sends his regards.”

If there was anyone in the world I trusted to help, it would be Kalends. Tiny towns like Janwald and Greenrest were great and all, but I needed cities. Things had gotten bad back home. I needed a new lead, and fast.

The sailor nodded, memorizing the words. “My contact can get your message as far as Tormani. From there, I make no guarantees.”

I bit my lip. “You can’t get it into the city itself?”

The man held up his hands. “It’s blocked off. It’ll even be difficult getting it as far as Tormani.”

“Alright. I should have another contact there.” I’d heard our network was good; time to put it to the test. “Maybe your contact can meet my contact and it’ll be fine.”

“I make no guarantees,” the sailor said. “But for fifteen gold, I’ll make sure it arrives in Tormani.”

A few months ago, that would have been an exorbitant amount. I sucked in a breath. “Fifteen gold? This is too important not to pay any price for, but that’s a lot, friend.”

He laughed. “You’ve seen this place. It’s hard sneaking anything in or out. Tormani isn’t the easiest either.”

He had a point. Man, of all the cities I had to end up in. I paid him the gold and bid him safe travels.

“Blessings of the sun upon you,” he said, speaking this time with a Csipherian accent.

I bowed my head, surprised but grateful to find a fellow countryman, and returned the valediction. “And also upon you.”

Then I melted once more into the streets and returned to the Axe of Fire.

Harry, Felegum, Helli, and Zeno were already there, and Awk came in a few moments after I did. We all sat down for lunch and once more to plan. The offering was root vegetables– I made sure Kheryph got a nice pink carrot– and squash lasagna.

The other group recounted their adventures, saying that they’d found another firbolg named Glorg who ran a gemshop, had given them a quote on the soulstone, and informed them that gem merchants in Paripas weren’t allowed to deal in larger pearls. The Mage’s Guild would just swoop in and confiscate them.

Felegum twirled a fork absently. “Why was Suz so interested in the pearl if he knew it was just going to be confiscated?”

“I don’t care to find out,” Zeno said to his lasagna.

Felegum headed back upstairs to check on how well HFVNN was doing eating the soulstone. He came back downstairs, and said to Linda, betraying no hint of what had happened or emotion about it: “My bed is missing.”

I snorted into my pasta.

Linda barely batted an eyelash. Apparently this was a thing with magical patrons– sometimes random furniture went missing. She didn’t seem amused, more annoyed, like this was a joke she’d been told too many times for it to be funny anymore. “Is it really missing?”

Felegum laughed nervously. “Uh, you know,” he said, “we can probably find it. But just in case we can’t, can we get some extra beds? Like, two of them this time, not just one big one.”

“Sure,” Linda said. “It’ll be ten gold.”

Felegum winced and decided he’d stay behind, maybe to try to encourage HFVNN to give up the bed, rug, and anything else the bag had eaten unexpectedly or to at least chat with him a little more. Zeno broke off a piece of the Cube of Reuniting and we set off to see a dwarf about a pearl.

Except it was us, and things never go that easy when you want them to.

Inside the Crossed Staves, instead of Suz the surly dwarf jeweler, was a drow.

“Maybe he’s the day-time help,” someone said. It made sense– it wasn’t like only one person had to run a jewelry store. Still, I didn’t get a good feeling about this.

“Hey,” Zeno said. “We’re looking for Suz. We have an item we’d like to sell.”

The drow inclined their head. “How much was the offer for?”

“Seventeen thousand,” Zeno said, while Helli hissed “Twenty thousand!”

“How interesting,” the drow said, “that he would compromise his position in the city for so little.”

Zeno shrugged. “I would do a lot more for a lot less.”

Helli and I took this opportunity to move to the door, but we were frozen in place by some sort of spell. Things were looking bad, but Then Zeno cast Friends. Abruptly, the situation shifted.

“Where’s Suz?” The bard asked. “Also, let these two go. We’re friends.”

“Likely in the tower,” the drow replied. And, wonder of wonders, the magic around Helli and me dropped.

“Inconvenient.” Zeno thought a moment. “Will he be back soon?”

“I don’t think so. I think it is unlikely that he should ever return.”

Zeno nodded, having perhaps cast another spell to make the drow let us go. “Tootleloo,” he sai and waved.

The drow rubbed his wrist as though casting a spell and we booked it out of there. Zeno did his “alakazabulous” thing and shifted his clothing to a brown commoner’s robe and we all did our best to blend in as we headed into the undercity and away from the jeweler.

Awk had told us a little bit about the undercity before, when he’d been exploring and talking to cats after I’d sent my letter at the docks, but actually being down here was something else. It was a labyrinth, full of ten to fifteen foot high walls with businesses and homes within them and on top of them. The entire thing was in a cavern under the city, and looking toward where the docks had been, also under part of the water as well.

Helli climbed a wall to keep a lookout and I followed suit, checking for any tails. Nothing for now, but you never knew. Harry, naturally, did a perfect jump onto the top of the wall. Monks, man.

Getting Zeno up there took some effort.

He threw a rope to Harry, who caught it, but then dropped Zeno accidentally as he was trying to pull the bard up.

“Fuck you, buddy,” a sore Zeno said and brought out his grappling hook instead. Helli and I watched with interest as Zeno threw the hook over the wall, hit an unsuspecting pedestrian on the other side, and then hauled himself up. “Thanks for nothing,” he said, wrapping the rope and hook up and putting them away.

Awk became a cat and jumped up, but Harry pushed him off. No doubt this was revenge for the stink cloud this morning.

Awk just fell. It was very sad.

As all this was going on, I caught sight of a familiar face heading down another stairway in the undercity. “Guys,” I said, “Felegum just came down here. I don’t think we’re being followed, but don’t make noise and let’s just go find him quietly.”

We moved gradually toward him– this place was a labyrinth, after all, and even walking on top of walls and dodging other pedestrians as they also used the walls to walk, it wasn’t easy to get close. As we moved, Helli pointed out some markings on the wall and we both nodded, confirming that this looked like the place to go to smuggle unwanted stuff.

Felegum sent a message to Harry, who all of a sudden started speaking out loud in reply, which was weird at first then cool when we realized what was happening. Then Dronie came over to check us out, since Harry had explained the drow incident, and Felegum confirmed that yes, we all had some sort of magic cast on our forearms.

Harry scruffed Cat-Awk for some reason–faster travel?– and jumped over the walls with him in tow as we at last made our way to Felegum.

One of our top priorities was figuring out what to do with the pearl.

“We need to bag it,” Zeno said.

“Okay,” said Felegum, pulling out the Bag with No Holes.

“Can your little friend open quickly?”

The mage sighed. “No.”


We found an out-of-the-way corner and Zeno Shatterspiked the pearl into HFVNN. Then we made our way back into the upper city and headed to Glorg’s shop. Zeno once again evoked the power of Shatterspike to get the crystal out of the bag, but Harry wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the two hundred and fifty pound object before it hit the floor.

“Oooooh, it’s this sort of mistreatment that makes these worth less,” Glorg tutted.

Zeno and Felegum, who had been coordinating on Team Bag Opening, looked at each other forlornly and mouthed “no.” Meanwhile, HFVNN sealed back up.

“Hmmm,” Glorg said, examining it. “It does look like a still functioning soulstone. Had been previously occupied, but no longer.”

“YES,” Zeno said.

I breathed out a sigh of relief.

“Good.” Felegum nodded.

“Ooooh, I see you encountered the previous occupant.” Glorg laughed. “It left a particularly insidious mark.”

“You could say that.” Zeno raked a hand through his hair.

“I could offer you eight hundred gold pieces,” Glorg said. In the background, Awk turned back into a gnome, and Glorg was unphased.

“Could you throw in the sapphire?” The bard asked. Apparently, the last time they’d been in here, Helli had fallen under the spell of a particularly beautiful stone, to the tune of about to hundred gold.

We also traded for two more pearls, one for Felegum to figure out what spell was on us and another as an extra. Glorg produced a writ for us (joy) to exchange later for actual inconvenient money, and the seal on the envelope holding Helli’s sapphire melted into flame, burnt through the envelope, and disappeared, leaving only the brilliant sapphire.

Before we left, we asked Glorg about Letitia. According to him, she was indeed part of the School of Necromancy but she also rarely left the Mage’s Guild and he had not seen her in years. Also, Felegum invited Glorg out to a bar he’d heard about in Bureaucracy Hell, a.k.a. the magistrate’s office.

Back at the inn, Felegum performed the Identify spell on our marks and we learned that it noted us as being of interest to the Mage’s Guild, either personally or that we had objects on us that were interesting, and that it would be immediately apparent. Luckily, we had a slightly larger-than-average pearl from Lake Norka left over that we could always pass off as the pearl that had gotten us into trouble if anyone came looking.

Personally, it seemed like a shitty thing to have a traveler get in trouble for trying to sell something of value that they didn’t know was highly regulated, but whatever. Not my city.

I wondered out loud if maybe the spell would get us past the loop en route to the college of magic, and we resolved to try that out later.

What we did do was take care of pressing matters, like selling the wand–Felegum got like fifteen hundred gold for it, that was insane (“Why did I even bother hauling around that stupid crystal”)–and buying more rations and some cold weather gear in case we needed to leave the city fast. Although given how long it took us to get here in the first place, I feel like all that’s going to happen is that anyone chasing us will be magical and able to catch up fast, but at least we’ll be warm.

I tried to find a nice perma-warm rock for Kheryph, but the pet supplier I visited only had ones for like 75 gold, which was way too much. Helli did tell me about some constantly cozy socks she’d seen for 60 gold, which sounded like a good idea to stuff Kheryph into should I run into a little more money before we leave.

It would be great. The lizard could go into one sock and then I’d get the other. Problem solved.

Anyway, before we headed out to bar hop, Awk tested the mail system, sending a letter addressed only to “Harry” and saying “You smell funny.”

That pressing business concluded, we spent the rest of the night at the Slippery Penguin. Felegum had found out that their signature drink was the iceberg, and we split one. I could see why this place got such high recommendations– the iceberg was a crystal blue drink that floated around your head as your drank it with a little straw poking out of it.

Mine and Felegum’s was doing some next level aerial stunts to navigate between both of us, and our waiter rolled his eyes. “Ugh, so difficult to split it.”

“Whatever,” Felegum sassed him right back, “we’re the customer and the customer is always right.”

The waiter said no more, but instead took our orders. Zeno, after inspected the menu, got soft shell crab.

“I hate you,” said Harry.

Zeno blinked at him innocently.

Meanwhile, I got beef stew for the pink carrots, but Kheryph seemed to want to swim more through it than want to eat it. I cast my mind back to remember the last time the lizard had gotten a bath. This took a few moments and I did not like the answer, but by then Kheryph was deep in the beef and enjoying himself and I did not have it in me to evict him.

Glorg stopped by for a drink, which was lovely, and I got the feeling that Felegum was waiting for one more person, but they never showed.

We returned to the Axe of Fire and after another attack at the Bag with No Holes, we managed to get Felegum and Harry’s bed out. Also, the rug, which HFVNN had eaten in our absence. The bed landed upside down, but was quickly righted.

A note came for Harry just before we turned in, a letter from Awk telling him that he smelled funny.

“So it works without us knowing their last name,” Felegum said. “Cool.”

Now we had to wait and see if what would happen first: Letitia’s response, the drow tracking us down, us waltzing into the Mage’s Guild with our fancy marks, or Felegum undergoing the Trials. One way or another, we were getting onto that peninsula.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s