The tent was tattered, both from use and also from the dragon attack, and we had rations for breakfast. Zeno reasserted his dominance over Drybones (it was not as exciting as I’d thought it would be, unless something was happening that I couldn’t see). I possibly forgot to mention that just before Pinjin had said that he would be unable to pay us due to his losses, Helli had shown me some objects she’d picked up from a cart. I was very impressed because some of the stuff was super nice, but agreed to keep it on the down-low.
Zeno, reading the room after his zombie dominance thing in the morning, checked in on Pinjin.
“There’s no way this will be okay,” he said, “but we will get you out of here.”
Pinjin nodded, perhaps not wanting to go into it further and relive the trauma of the last night. “We press on,” he said, and so we did. On this, the tenth (possibly) day of travel, we reached the river. Or rather, the cracked riverbed where the river that fed into Csipherus should be but wasn’t.
Someone asked me if this was normal and I could say pretty confidently that it wasn’t. Maybe it had been an especially dry year. Pinjin, still in mourning for his comrades, said that he had enough water to share with us, which was very generous, and later that night, Chef Felegum brought out a melon that he’d been saving. We also had some of Helli’s port wine, which had gotten a little more powerful since the last time we’d tried it, given the Tithe of the Desert enacting its toll, and passed another night.
The next day (eleven?), we crested a dune to find a small pool of open water, with trees, grasses, reeds, and undead everywhere. The bands had been slowly increasing in size the closer we got to the city, but at the same time, the prospect of getting more water was deeply tempting. I hadn’t thought we’d find another oasis. We made a plan with Pinjin to approach the oasis.
Lankin was very keen on taking an active role. “I’d love to be bait,” he said, cracking his knuckles.
Harry quietly wrapped up his hands again, prepared to go hand-to-hand now that his staff had met its end.
Lankin outlined his plan, perhaps an old strategy he’d seen from an arena team battle: we’d do it like an ambush, where he went out front, lured the zombies away from the water, and then we’d come out and attack when they’d clustered up more.
We were also, of course, bringing Drybones with us.
Zeno cleared his throat. “Pinjin is counting on us,” he began. “The least we can do for him at this point is to get him more water. We need to leave this on a good note after all that loss and struggle.” He was actually pretty good at amping us up, I had to admit it. He closed it out with: “This is for Pinjin, getting him onward to safety.”
Felegum gave me and Lankin his Protection from Good and Evil spell, which was cool, using one of his twinspell things (cooler). Taking this as a sign that I was to do some mowing down of the undead, I got ready to go.
Lankin stepped out from the dune slowly, looking around at the oasis in wonder.
“Ooh, an oasis!” he called. “What a lovely thing to see on my way through the desert!”
He did a slow but flashy saunter, occasionally shaking his butt to draw the attention of the zombies.
And indeed, they did approach, though I think it was probably more due to the noise he was making than the butt shaking.
“Oh no!” Lankin cried. “Are those zombies? Looks like they are!”
One of them in the distance took out a double-bladed thing with little specks floating off of it and sliced into Lankin, who dropped the act and went into a rage.
Zeno yelled, “Charge!” and thus battle was joined.
Felegum, once again relying on a tried and true method, called up a tidal wave to crash through the zombies. It destroyed two of the undead, and another splashed back into the water.
Now yelling battle cries, Lankin swung his great-axe, rushing the thrower of the double-bladed weapon that had struck him before. He loped one arm right off and dispatched it with a second strike. “Fighting skeletons is so satisfying!” he exclaimed.
“Go meet your friends,” Zeno cajoled Drybones, who obediently lurched out toward the oasis. Then he surveyed the skeletons and found one dragging a stick. Derisively, he mocked it. “Your friend over there has a much bigger glaive.”
The stick-skeleton visibly deflated.
Meanwhile, Helli got out her daggers, I flashed out my wings, and I also made sure Harry, who was sure to end up in melee with someone, had my Shield of Faith on him. More undead stood up out of the water– I was beginning to realize that that was going to be super gross to have to clean after all the dead bodies in it– and another one threw its spear at Lankin.
Perhaps not keen on Zeno insulting its friend, another one threw an axe Zeno’s way as well and when it hit him, there was a weird pus going on off the blade. Yuck.
Harry, meanwhile, flung some darts with unerring accuracy and Felegum, once again, was asking for a tidal wave and received one. Dronie flew above us, scouting, and I could only assume that the sorcerer was looking through his eyes for oncoming enemies. Lankin, meanwhile, took out one skeleton and rushed up next to another, rearing back to strike.
Zeno, apparently not liking being hit, cast some sort of healing thing on himself to get rid of the black lines appearing on his arm from the axe, then looked relieved when they vanished back into the weapon. Turning to his zombie companion, he called, “Drop that dagger and take this, darling.” And Drybones took up the barbed spear and approached an enemy skeleton as Zeno skillfully stepped around another.
Helli, using Drybones as a distraction, was able to sneakily slice into skeleton Zeno’s zombie was next to, and finished it off with her next stroke.
Meanwhile, I flew over and cleaved a skeleton into pieces next to Lankin with one stroke. I felt like a badass.
Anyway, three more skeletons stepped out of the water, which was starting to really look like a lost cause unless we had some heavy duty purification (which I did not, not today anyway). Each skeleton pulled a blade from beneath the water, both the bodies and weapons coated with a black-greenish slime as they shambled out.
Several tried to hit me, but because of Felegum’s spell (awesome, by the way) they all missed. One clipped Lankin, but he was so furious that it didn’t really seem to bother him too much.
Harry moved up next to me and bashed a skeleton once, twice, and it fell to pieces. There was another one next to him that he turned to and whacked a few times for good measure.
Another tidal wave from Felegum splashed down over the skeletons, as the mage called out, “Guys, we need to wrap this up! There’s a wurm!”
Skeletons fell to the ground, toppled by the water, and Dronie zipped over to another patch of sand away from us, dancing on it in a last-ditch effort to distract the wurm.
Lankin rushed over next to me and picked up one of the skeletons nearby, ripped it in half (like, what), and then threw the halves at another skeleton. It was ridiculous. Sometimes it can be easy to think that Lankin was just this big kid who liked making sand castles in deserts, but no. He was very much bonkers.
“How far?” called out Zeno to Felegum.
The mage squinted. “Three hundred yards!”
Armed with this new information, Zeno cast one of his fear spells to get the zombies to move away from him. Likewise, Drybones stabbed the skeleton in front of me, so we were making short work of these dudes. Helli went to the water to try to scope it out, perhaps to see if it could be salvaged still, and I just totally whiffed and missed all my attacks on things. I was nervous about the wurm, okay? Wurms were not good news.
The undead who were scared of Zeno retreated to the water and then dove back into it; frustratingly, that seemed to be the place where they felt was safest. Zeno managed to attack one on its way and skewered it in place, and another tried to hit me but missed.
Again, Harry pulverized the skeleton in front of me.
All while this was going on, the rumbling underneath the ground was getting stronger. Dronie intensified his dance and Felegum yelled “Wurm incoming!” at Pinjin. Then he loosed some magic missiles to try to knock off the rest of the zombies and held very still, though he was sliding a bit in the sand.
Lankin went after another zombie with his axe, missed, then hit with another blow, cutting down the last visible enemy. Unfortunately, he was so into his anger that he could not break out of it and was also not very into being stealth. Meanwhile, Zeno just sat down on the sand and had Drybones stand in place.
The rest of us held as still as we possibly could.
There was a moment’s pause. The rumbling intensified and we held our breath.
I’d hoped that maybe things would be fine, but no. It got worse. A bunch of us were having a devil of a time not falling over or making noise. Sand began to sink below the ground in a funnel shape close to Felegum and Zeno. Seeing this, the half-elves blanched.
Zeno cast a quick spell on himself and disappeared from view, leaving Felegum out in the open just as a huge segmented wurm burst up from the funnel in the sand, its endless circles of teeth snapping closed right where Zeno had just been.
Everyone, remembering Pinjin’s advice from the last wurm sighting, tried to go for stealthy and low-key again. Felegum looked around, perhaps got nervous, and then slipped a little. It was enough. The wurm sped over to where he was with shockingly fast accuracy. I was willing to bet that while it didn’t have eyes, it probably had excellent hearing.
And with that, there was really little else to do other than fight.
Felegum acted fast, also vanishing from view.
Seeing our friend in danger, Lankin got real angry again real fast. Instead of running, or helping Felegum, Lankin was wholly governed by his intense desire to ride massive creatures. He dashed to the wurm, jumped on a knob of the chitinous plate, and then grabbed on as the wurm continued to slither out of the sand.
Helli whispered “stabra cadabra” to her dagger to activate it and then carved into the wurm. It shuddered, the dagger’s venom sinking into it.
Zeno appeared from wherever he’d disappeared to on the other side of the dune from the wurm, landing face first into the sand. What arose was not Zeno, but a mammoth, rounding on the massive wurm to take it on.
And indeed, the wurm acknowledged its mighty foe, charging toward the mammoth. It bite into the large woolen creature powerfully, and then the side mandibles crunched down on the mammoth, too. I shuddered at the thought of hundreds of spicy knives attacking at once; I knew from experience that just one really sucked.
Seeing this unwelcome development, Harry laid into the wurm with his new talons, going wide on one of his swipes, connecting with the other, and then going in for two more strikes. Meanwhile, I still had my wings out, so I figured I might as well make use of those and try to get this wurm off Zeno.
I slashed with the spicy knife.
I did not, in the moment, make the connection between the spicy knife and this, the creature of its potential origin. The knife, where it had reveled and drank in the blood from me and Awk before, rebelled when I angled it into the wurm’s flesh. My mind was full of a solid two seconds of agony as the thing born from the wurm (this dagger) hated attacking the wurm, and the dissonance rattled through me like a jolt.
Shaking it off, I cast Shield of Faith on Zeno to round things out since I couldn’t really do much more to help him than what I’d done. This dagger did not want anything to do with attacking this wurm.
Felegum re-appeared out of nowhere and told the wurm to “halt!” and despite what seemed to be, similar to Nightscale, a magic-reflecting situation, the wurm paused. Looking satisfied with himself, the mage disappeared again.
Still riding on the wurm’s back, Lankin stabbed again with his greataxe, attempting perhaps to get it to cut more into the wurm. Unfortunately, the wurm was just too brawny and it did not work, though it was not a bad idea.
Then, the thing we most feared happened.
Helli stuffed some of the strips of red robe she’d slashed off the man in red into her ears and yelled, “Cover your ears!”
Then she brought out the music box.
Except the wurm did not seem to be enthralled. It seemed to be operating as normal, being a very angry wurm.
The mammoth, on the other hand, was absolutely vibing. He tried to break out of the jaws he was trapped in, but his tusk just bounced off of the side of the wurm’s mouth. I was slightly annoyed that my spell wasn’t doing anything to help with this, but I guess it’s hard to shield someone who’s already in a giant insect mouth.
The wurm couldn’t move thanks to Felegum, and it was still near the music box, its head rearing back as though to move away from the sound.
Harry tracked alongside the wurm, kicking into its side, and I (after being sure to swap daggers so that my normal, non-spicy one was in my dominant hand) sliced into the creature again, moving with it too so that I could stab into the same spot I’d wounded before. It proved super effective and wurm ichor was just getting everywhere. Very metal, very messy, I had to wipe it off.
Felegum tried some magic missiles, but unfortunately the magic-reflecting hide proved to indeed reflect them, sending some to Zeno the Entranced Mammoth and some to Lankin.
It was a lot already, and that’s when the cloaked figure appeared. Felegum saw them first.
“Hey,” he called out, “there’s a guy coming.”
They were bulky and had the most massive sword I’d ever seen, and when they closed in on the wurm, brandishing the sword, they appeared taller than most of us, maybe even Lankin or Harry. Their face was obscured by a snow white cowl, though, like mine had been (just not, you know, black).
Not to be deterred by this new interloper, Lankin attacked the wurm again, still riding it. Helli closed the music box and stabbed at the creature, and unfortunately Zeno was still stuck in the wurm’s mouth. He still had his mammoth form, and with some careful maneuvering, he was able to gore the wurm.
And maybe that was the last straw. The wurm made one last attempt to crunch Zeno, which jarred him enough to lose his mammoth form, but the bard managed to tumble out of harm’s way as the wurm burrowed deep into the earth, making its retreat. Lankin hopped off, somewhat disappointed, as the segments clicked back into the earth.
Harry made a valiant attempt at stunning the wurm to no avail. I sliced it again (again with the regular dagger because I was no fool) and Felegum tried to shatter it with a spell. I don’t think it bounced off like the last spell had, but it did not appear to slow the wurm’s retreat.
Meanwhile, the newcomer attempted to plunge their sword in between two scales. A glow emanated from the greatsword and began to run along the length of the wurm as the figure clutched something beneath their robe, but still, the wurm tunneled on.
Not willing to completely let it go, Lankin took out his bow for a parting shot and Helli made a stab at it too. Zeno played it a nice bagpipe outro and it moved the rest of the way away. Ultimately, Lankin decided not to attack the wurm– perhaps riding it had been enough– though, me, Harry, and the new person got in some good hits before it left for good.
The rumbling finally ceased.
Zeno, ever the greeter and steadfast source of yoohoos, extended his hand.
The newcomer clasped Zeno and healed him, a pretty solid first gesture beyond helping us out of a wurm pickle. They introduced themselves as Tem-ho-ja-mak Arkris, which they had to sound out for us in little syllables since it was long and complicated, and they wore a snow-white cowl that covered their face and most of their body.
They also, now that they were assured that Zeno wasn’t being afflicted by anything, didn’t seem that interested in us. Instead, they walked up to the pool where the undead dudes had been popping out before Zeno scared them off and looked into it, as though inspecting it for something. Spreading their hands, they evoked a moonbeam (we were all too familiar with that spell) and made an attempt to bless the water.
It didn’t seem to do much. If there were shapeshifters in the water, then they certainly didn’t seem revealed and the water looked as gross as it had before. The newcomer huffed and put their hands on their hips.
Someone asked them what they were doing.
“A dark power has taken control of this precious, life-giving resource,” they said. “I seek to expunge it.”
“Well,” Zeno said, “that is a breath of fresh air.”
Felegum, the other half of our charismatic team, sidled up. “How long have you been our there?”
Tem had apparently been journeying for a while, and they too were bound for Csipherus. We all exchanged a look. It was, at this point, pretty commonly known that Csipherus was having a massive problem with the undead and that the bigger issue for most people seemed to be getting away from it, not getting closer to it.
“Why,” asked Felegum, “might you do that?”
“To do what I can to clean the land of evil,” Tem said.
This seemed pretty legit. Csipherus fit that bill, even if it made me cringe a little bit to see an outsider being dispatched to save my city. I mean, clearly we needed it. Things were very bad. But like, I don’t know, it’s that hometown pride thing. You kind of hope that someone from there is going to be doing something.
That was also why I was so keen to get in touch with Kalends. Kalends would help. He always knew what to do.
Felegum made a solid attempt to dispel the magic on the oasis but it must have been too strong, or maybe there was just not a good arcane solution to this.
“Did your blessing help on the pool?” Helli asked.
Tem crossed their arms. “I’ve purified several sites of corruption.”
The resistant pool lapped darkly at its banks behind them.
Lankin stepped in to help save things. “Is there evil from other kinds of things here besides skeletons?”
Tem had to think about it. “Haven’t seen anything but an occasional pack of zombies, no.”
Then Harry and Tem exchanged some words in a language I couldn’t follow and Tem pulled back their cowl, revealing that they were a gold dragonborn. Harry snorted and said something in a dry inflection (although I dunno, everything in Draconic sounds kind of dry to me) that I didn’t have to translate to know meant something like “I knew it.”
Anyway, Zeno, Felegum, and Lankin coordinated to open HFVNN again to get out an empty cask to try and get some water, and I had to reveal that, not expecting to find any water today, surprise, I hadn’t prepared the spell I’d need to make it clean. But I could do it tomorrow.
That seemed to work, so Zeno handed the cask off to Drybones and directed him to scoop it into the water. This felt smart at the time since all those zombies had come out of there and we didn’t know what would happen when we touched it.
Tem saw the zombie and nodded at it. “Ah, one left.”
They moved toward it.
We all told them to wait, that this zombie was on our side. Tem was baffled, but stayed their hand.
Zeno commanded Drybones to go ahead and scoop away. He lurched downward toward the water as other zombies rose up from underneath it and laid their hands on him, pulling him down and under. Despite Zeno’s imploring him to come back, he was subsumed.
There was a moment of silence.
“See? Zeno said, as though he had meant to do that. “A useful tool.”
Before we could deliberate about risking another another person to get some dirty water, the sand dunes on the sides of the oasis began to cave in and Pinjin called out to us that we had to go. Bringing Tem with us, we left and three or four minutes later, the oasis and its uncleansed water was gone.
“He seems to be religious,” Lankin whispered to the rest of us.
Tem considered the caravan as we came upon it. “It seems like you have such a small group to be traveling through the desert.” They made a clicking noise in the back of their mouth. “So few camels.”
Pinjin was visibly upset.
“Don’t, man,” Zeno said, seeing something on the verge of eruption.
Harry made a noise of distaste, perhaps already at odds with our new dragonborn.
“Hey,” Zeno continued, “he doesn’t know.”
Tem looked upon our meager caravan and nodded. “I will accompany you to the city.”
This was rubbing me the wrong way. Partly because this dude just walked in and seemed like they had a plan for Csipherus, not being of there, not that I knew, partly because it felt like they had a much better handle on this whole god thing and I was getting self-conscious. “So Tem,” I said, “you visit often?”
“First time,” they replied.
Perfect. An outsider.
“Okay, then where are you from?” I asked.
“I’ve been wandering for years, my child.”
I raised an eyebrow. I was almost eighteen.
“Yeah,” Felegum said, hastily stepping in as he sensed imminent disaster, “Set and I are old souls.”
“Yeah,” Helli added, “we do not really do endearments here.”
Except for Zeno, I guess, and it really wasn’t like we could stop him anyway.
“Okay, small one.” Tem nodded at the gnome.
“Oh no, don’t do that.” Helli poked the gold dragonborn with her dagger as a warning.
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “Don’t do that either.”
Harry and Tem had a little dragon talk, which hopefully smoothed things over. Common didn’t seem to be their first tongue, so maybe that was where the awkwardness lay.
Then Felegum had a brainwave. “Wait, can you shoot acid?”
Lankin slammed his hands down on his thighs and looked at Harry with new respect. “What! He can shoot acid?”
We all laughed, and then Felegum, Harry, and Tem had their little Draconic club, so Helli and I talked in Thieves’ Cant about how cool we were and how we really needed to make use of this neat ability we had to communicate more.
Anyway, we kept up our pace, walking south. Technically, we were past the city at this point, but we had to get Pinjin past the undead radius– it was honestly the least we could do for the poor guy.
With some more time to get to know Tem, though, some interesting details came to light: they were not, as I had believed, a simple water purifier wandering the sands.
“I will do what I can to escort you safely with your charge,” they said nobly.
“So, Tem,” Zeno said, getting to brass tacks, “how many people have you killed?”
“More than I would like, but always for a purpose,” they replied.
“To protect this place.”
Did we sound like dicks? Maybe. We had also had to murder someone a day or so ago, and precaution about this type of thing seemed pretty paramount. I was going to feel awful about Awk for a long time; I didn’t need another one on my conscience.
No matter how much the spicy knife had seemed to like drinking up his blood. I don’t know if I mentioned it in all the chaos, but something definitely shifted in the knife. I had no idea what, whether it was good or bad, but it was different.
It seemed like we only seemed to get more to worry about these days.
“Gotta be honest with you, Tem.” Felegum cut in. “We’ve had bad relations with those who have relations with dragons.”
“That…did not translate well,” Harry commented.
“It’s hard to translate,” the mage replied.
I also feel like it’s relevant to add that Helli was sharpening her knives throughout this whole conversation.
“You’ve met other watchers, then?” Tem asked hopefully.
“What is a watcher?” I asked.
“We are an order of guardians on the material plane,” they said, “protecting it against our sistern.”
Zeno snapped his fingers. “Oh! What’s her name? Ugh.”
“Tiamat,” they supplied.
“We knew someone,” Felegum began carefully, “who served a master, draconic, with a mission to modify the nature of dragons on the material plane.”
“Seemed like a dragon supremacist,” Zeno added.
“Also,” Felegum continued, trying to ignore this, “he liked letting chromatic dragons rule cities and towns.”
“My order,” Tem began, “has maps–“
At this word, chaos.
“Do you have maps?” Helli looked up, dagger razor-sharp and glistening.
The rest of us looked at Tem hungrily.
“–of the southern regions,” they finished, a little unnerved at our response. They sighed. “I am sorry to hear about your acquaintance.”
“We tried,” I said, struggling to figure out how to put it, “very hard.”
“I think we failed him,” Felegum said softly.
Zeno shook his head. “He failed us.”
Felegum nodded. “True, true.”
So yeah, it turned out that Tem was part of a secret anti-Tiamat order. Pretty cool. They seemed super reluctant to share much more than that, though.
Eventually we all settled down for the night, and Pinjin did out his calculations and said that this was far enough south that he likely wouldn’t need guards after tonight.
It was melancholy, having our last meal of moose with him and the rest of the crew that had survived Atarka. Awk came up again as we sat down for dinner.
“It seems this passing was recent,” Tem commented. “I could offer a blessing for him?”
Yeah. I mean, I wasn’t about to stop putting Awk in my prayers for Lathander, even if that did seem a bit hypocritical after what I’d done. But having a stranger pray for your dead betrayer friend didn’t sit super well, even though I could sense that Tem was coming to it with kind intentions.
Lankin broke the awkward pause. “Do you like moose?”
“What is this creature?” Tem asked in wonder as they beheld their stew.
“A giant furry animal,” Lankin said proudly as we recounted how Lankin had slain it up north.
As this was going on, Felegum negotiated with Pinjin for some more water, since (there was no nice way to put this) with much less crew to need to support, he did have some extra. Pinjin agreed, saying that we had become more responsible, though he added: “Do not let him use it,” and jerked his head in the direction of Zeno.
Who, naturally, turned his head at just the right time to see.
“What!” the bard exclaimed. “I made porridge! It was fine!”
“If we’re ever in the area again, we’d love to hear the tale of your sword,” Helli said, then stuck out her hand. “Helli Gladstone.”
Pinjin shook it. Honestly, I was very much in support of that friendship. Team Unassuming People with Sharp Objects, for sure.
Tem, who had traveled more to the south where Pinjin was bound, gave him some advice on travel that way, talking about the southern tip of the continent, which was called Kor-Alaman.
“Good luck, Pinjin,” Felegum said. This was another top Pinjin heart-warming moment, besides the one with Helli– it was no secret that those two had had serious beef during and before the dragon siege, and it was nice to see them being cool.
Pinjin took out a flask and we all passed it around. It was stupid powerful, and somehow, maybe thanks to the alcohol, we got on the topic of the Goblin Shopping Network.
“Wait,” Pinjin said. “They don’t have a ship that’s about to sink, do they?”
“Sounds like them,” Zeno and I said, almost in unison.
It was nice to see them expanding their terrain. Of all the things we’d unleashed, probably this one was the best. Or, at least, I could see this thrive and feel like I’d done something okay in helping it along.
Anyway, part of the reason I didn’t have any water purification stuff available today was because I’d prepped this old spell that would let me detect magic, since we got all this stuff off Awk and the cart and, yes, I was curious about it. I approached Helli on the down-low, told her about my spell, and offered to check anything she wanted me to with it.
She offered the zombie dagger she’d wrapped in a blanket, and careful not to touch it, I discovered that it had a blend of magics, which was cool. I wasn’t as familiar with this spell so I couldn’t really pick out what they all were, but good to know.
I rounded out the night by attuning to my boots again– don’t knock me for wearing furry boots in the desert when we just went up against a spellcaster who nearly iced Harry or somebody, I wanted those things on my feet mid-battle– and also praying for Awk’s spirit.
Felegum once again cracked open Ptarmigan the Wise with a sigh, probably having nearly memorized the damn thing by now, so desperate was he for new reading material.
“Oh my god,” Pinjin said, having noticed Felegum reading the same book over and over even on our somewhat brief travels together, “this is so sad. May I propose a trade?”
He dug out a book from his own packs: Ptarmigan the Adventurer.
“Oh my god!” Felegum skimmed through a chapter. “This is why he’s so opposed to porcelain!”
It appeared to be a previous book in the series, recording some of the wizard’s earlier adventures before he became wise.
On this happy note, we went to sleep and then, the next morning, parted ways.
Tem took the lead and started to direct us north-west, but Harry shook his head and sighed. “It is day-time,” he said, re-orienting the other dragonborn north-east. Packs of dead wandered the sand dunes, more numerous and larger as we began to approach the city again. On that first day by ourselves, we must have seen two or three of these large bands.
The next day, the bands became even more common. For context, there were groups of six to eight at first and then we saw twenty or thirty in a single band. Consequently, they were also becoming more and more difficult to avoid.
“We are not attacking them?” Tem asked, puzzled, as we avoided yet another grouping.
“Do you spend all your free time smashing ants or do you destroy the nest?” Harry asked.
“Wow,” Lankin said, “what a monk.”
Helli and Zeno briefly, low-key discussed who would win in a battle between Lankin and Tem. Helli had five gold on the homeboy and Zeno had five on the golden newbie. I was interested to see if this would ever come to pass.
Dronie continued to scout ahead, and one of his messages later in the day was that something was coming up through the sand.
Knowing what to do now, we all paused as a familiar rumbling passed through the area and the sand began to sink below one adjacent pack of skeletons. The wurm burst up, as we knew it would, engulfing five of the zombies whole and smashing four more.
We moved carefully for the rest of that day, slowly edging toward the city.
Felegum put up his dome and we set watches, adding Tem to the rotation now that they seemed mostly pretty okay.
Well, mostly. They did find a beetle, a scarab sort of thing, and asked my permission to offer it to Kheryph. I guess they noticed that I kept a lizard on my person. Anyway, it sucked having nothing nice to be able to offer Kheryph, so I decided that I could get over myself for a single minute if it would mean that the lizard got a nice meal.
I allowed it, and Tem held out the beetle. Kheryph inclined his head toward it curiously, and then recoiled at once, hiding in my palm. I immediately turned, shielding the little dude from the beetle.
“Oh no,” Tem said, looking visibly distraught. “But it’s very good!”
They’d even dug it up from the sand themselves, which was really kind, but yeah, no, Kheryph was having exactly none of that.
So, not wanting him to have nothing, I busted out a ration, chewed the meat and got it like, kind of gross and gummy enough (hopefully) and feed part of that to Kheryph. Like I said, this was an extremely inelegant operation, but the lizard had to eat. It took some convincing to make him go for it, but luckily I was experienced.
Anyway, after that debacle, we set watches. Lankin, Tem, and Harry would be on first watch (pretty much having people watching Tem, but so it goes), then Felegum and Helli on second, and me and Zeno to close out the night.
Zeno and I talked about the city. I was getting nervous about going back and everyone meeting each other, especially if everyone in this group thought less of me. Ugh. That sounded dumb, but it wasn’t untrue.
Luckily I was saved from having to deal with these terrible thoughts of people actually being important to me by another band of zombies passing through. Thanks to the dome, which was nicely desert-colored, they didn’t spot us and most just bopped along off the dome’s sides kind of like large, awkward sideways hail.
Except for this one dude who must have been angled just right that whenever he bounced off he would walk straight into the dome again, bounce off, walk into, etc. Vicious cycle.
This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that there was something winking in the sun.
Something large. Something that would spot an errant zombie hitting a strangely uniform patch of sand.
I swore, wondering if I should wake up the others. Or find a stick. Or something.
Zeno, more focused on the problem, gently suggested to the zombie that it move along and it cocked its head and walked around the dome and away.
I was amazed that worked. Zeno was a zombie-whisperer.
The shape flew over without incident, and I realized later that, while the dome was magical and possibly something a dragon might sense, so too was the rest of the desert. We were a little magical speck in a sea of magical specks.
It was actually pretty clever.
The next morning, Zeno told of our adventures to the group with aplomb.
“You have seen Atarka?” Tem asked in disbelief.
“Oh yeah,” the bard waved it off. “Everybody knows Atarka.”
“My order,” Tem said, “keeps track of the behavior of all dragons we know of.”
“Well,” Zeno said, shrugging, “you might be interested to know that Atarka made a bargain with those dudes in Csipherus.”
“Most unfortunate.” Tem sighed. “They do not deserve the corruption of their grandmother.”
We were all a bit silent at that once, because that sounded eerily similar to a certain gnome we’d once known.
“But,” Tem continued, thankfully, “we must judge then them as individuals.”
This felt more reasonable.
The bands of undead, you guessed it, continued to increase. It was really pretty staggering.
“They’re going around the city,” Harry observed, tracking their movements. He turned to me. “Was this how you left it?”
Not really. So, for some context, Csipherus when I’d peaced out had had a lot of dead people, sure, but really only the occasional dead person rising. Now, there were a ton of walking dead and we weren’t even in the city itself.
Helli asked me a little about the city, too, and I did my best to answer. It was weird, not having been there for so long and kind of struggling.
Tem glanced over with interest. “Are you from Csipherus?”
I was tempted to lie, as I did about most deeply important things to strangers. “Yes.”
Tem was quiet for a few moments. “We may be able to just walk right in.”
I scoffed. I’d had to escape out of there. The city had sealed itself off like a vault, even scarring out its teleportation circles. If people could come and go from there? “That would make me ten times more worried.”
Thankfully, conversation turned once more to what was up with Tem and not my hometown.
“We protect secrets.” Tem offered as a catch-all.
Unsurprisingly, it was not enough for this group.
“You protect secrets, we barely know you,” Zeno replied.
Tem thought about it. “One might be skeptical in discussing–” here was some word in what was presumably Draconic but who knows– “with those who treated with a servant of Tiamat.”
“Oh,” said Harry, “we know about conduits.”
“Oh, conduits!” Helli and I said together.
Anyway, Tem appeared to be connected to an ancient order dedicated to protecting the conduits. Getting information out of them was somewhat difficult, since this was (I guess?) a big secret where they came from, but eventually they caved when they realized we were not totally clueless.
“Our Platinum Lord,” Tem continued, “provides us with the knowledge to preserve the balance and thwart his sister.”
“What are your intentions with the conduits?” I asked, because someone had to. “Do you intend to use them or keep them from being used?”
“I’ve already said too much.” Tem held up a hand.
This was not what I wanted.
“What say you, Harold?” Tem asked.
“Um, his name is Kheryph,” I said protectively.
Harry was also looking around for this mysterious Harold. “My name,” the OG dragonborn said, “is Harry.”
“Pet names are new,” Tem said. “It is strange to address you as my lover.”
This was a bit of a shock to all of us, considering that we’d 1) had to talk Tem down from endearments day one, and 2) you could just see Harry slowly imploding internally at this suggestion.
“So,” I broke the silence, “how about those intentions? Use or prevent?”
Tem sighed. “Preventing evil uses.”
I spread my arms to demonstrate how easy that had been.
“You,” Tem said, “are walking a very dangerous path, even more danger than that one’s dabbling in necromancy.”
They spat on the sand to demonstrate their feelings on necromancy.
“Don’t waste water,” Felegum and Zeno said, in a near-perfect imitation of Pinjin. Still, Tem seemed to be keeping an eye on Zeno– not like, in a weird, weird way, but more like in a “very aware of him” kind of sense.
We snuck onwards, toward the riverbed. I forget when it happened, but we saw a tiny shape in the sun.
An all-too-familiar shape.
Tem stood looking at her, because this was no doubt Atarka, come back to try and make our lives hell– again– but I cast Silent Image on all of us to make us look like sand. Again, using the Felegum Massive Enchanted Desert Theory: what’s one more piece of magic in an infinitude of magic?
We all huddled down, and I really hoped that we had not just gotten lucky that one time with the dome.
The air pressed down on us as the dragon’s blue lightning breath crackled over us, not twenty feet over our heads.
Yup, definitely Atarka.
Tem started to say something, but we all shushed them because yikes.
When she’d flown off a bit, they gazed after her in wonder. “Ah,” they said, “the Sapphire Jewel of the Desert.”
I was seriously ten seconds from becoming violent. “Um?”
“Is there a Ruby of the Desert perchance?” Helli asked me, maybe to distract me from the fascinating game of smack-a-paladin.
I didn’t think there was, I said to Helli. Maybe one in the sea, though.
It turned out that the cracked, hard mud of the riverbed was much easier to walk on than the sand. The packs of roving dead rarely tracked down into the river, which was great. Finally, I felt like we had this somewhat in hand.
“Set.” Zeno nudged me. “This might be your time.”
For the scroll. Instantly, I panicked afresh. We were really that close, weren’t we?
Tem saw this moment as a perfect opportunity to talk to Zeno about the morals of zombies. “What are you thinking about the minds of your creatures?” they asked.
Zeno shrugged. “Spent physical material.”
I decided to talk to Kalends tomorrow, when we were getting ready to enter the city itself. Maybe he knew a good way in. And once we met up with him, he’d be able to show us how to make things better. It’d be great.
Just as I felt better about that again, we ran out of water. We were close to Csipherus, which was good, but this was a bit dire. Felegum divvied up fruits for us to get as much moisture out of them as possible, giving Lankin and Harry the rest of the leftover watermelon and the rest of us grapefruit.
Watches that night were carefully chosen: Harry and Helli going first, then Lankin and Tem (the grudge match!), with me, Felegum, and Zeno at the end. This was strategic. The last time Zeno and I had done a watch together, we’d discussed the scroll and how I, a person vaguely skilled in magic but not like professionally, might not be able to operate it correctly. I gave the impression that I was very smart, so maybe Ingrin had just assumed I was awesome. I, meanwhile, had never held a scroll like that before in my life.
But we had a plan.
The night passed pretty much without incident. There was a band of skeletons who came to the edge of the riverbend and then fell in (naturally) but beyond that, things were pretty quiet.
As dawn rose– again, part of the plan, I needed all the help from literally everyone I could get– I took out the scroll, Zeno clasped my arm and told me in a very inspiring way “you got this”, and I opened the roll of parchment.
And it was, you know, actually pretty easy. Like, I don’t want to say that I was insulted here but it was like Sending for Dummies. I mean, one can assume I know some magic. My primary aesthetic might have been “darkness” and also “knives” but I don’t carry this bag of spell components to surprise and amuse would-be pickpockets.
Anyway, I composed myself, read the spell, and spoke my message to Artemis Kalends.
“Kal?” I said, once I finished the spell. “It’s Set. I’m back. I brought help. Can you tell me where it’s safe to enter the city and meet us there.” Then, a little softer: “Please be alive.”
The scroll burnt up in my hands like the dawn itself was setting it on fire.
For a while, there was nothing. This was deeply concerning. But then, quietly and sounding hoarse and in great pain:
Set, is that you? Truly? It’s been two years. I wish I could help. They’re keeping me alive beneath the city. I know not why. I hope you brought help. Please–
And then the message ended.
I realized maybe he’d been waiting for a moment when people guarding him might not be around to reply and felt very, very sick.
We still had no water, though, which thankfully today I had prepared for, so I gave creating water out of nothing another shot and was able, using Zeno’s encouragement from earlier, to get about a third of a waterskin filled with magic.
We walked down the cracked riverbed, obscured from skeletal patrols until about midday when the city came into sight.
To say it was different was an understatement.
To give some background, Csipherus was a walled city and two of its most important artefacts and landmarks (besides the giant wall) were its central pyramid and a very tall obelisk called the Sunspire. The pyramid was hard to see from outside the city walls, as I had learned when I looked back during my escape, but the spire was clearly visible. It had always been my favorite place.
And now, it was gone.
No obelisk, no tall spire piercing the city’s skyline. No nothing.
And a hole, maybe a hundred feet wide, in my proud city’s walls.
It was enough to make me want to sink to my knees. It had gotten so, so much worse, and that wasn’t even counting the legions of undead milling around the area.
Or, perched atop the wall with the hole in it, a thin, stream-lined creature, tossing a dark ball of magic back and forth, absent-mindedly in blue-taloned claws.
I was so ready to kill that thing I was shaking. Also, not thinking clearly, since Helli was the only one of us who had the good sense to check for gates or entrances not, you know, guarded by a huge dragon reputed for his dalliance in the arcane.
The river before us got mucky, the clay turning more to muck and sticky, sucking earth the closer we got. It made stealth very difficult. Like, again, even asking Lathander for guidance was not helpful when our steps made this much noise.
Ojutai’s head whipped over at us.
There was a brief pause, and then we all pretended to be zombies.
Was this dumb? Maybe. Honestly, I was emotionally so scattered that I was not about to question it when that was the strategy that Zeno adopted it. And he was rocking it. Like, I have seen quite a few of the undead in my short but eventful life and he was very convincing.
And maybe I was a little too caught up in awe of how well Zeno was doing at this and not paying close enough attention to my own presentation, because Ojutai dispelled the black ball of magic and just stared at us.
“Run!” Harry yelled.
We ran. Well, most of us ran. Zeno continued to still be a zombie, because he was doing a great job at it. I, again, going with Big Desert Theory, went with another Silent Image to make the area sound me look like sand. Felegum uttered a quick spell to make him and Zeno go super fast, and Harry, the fastest, ran straight into an invisible barrier.
Felegum made an attempt to dispel this, but the wall still held.
Zeno eventually caught up in shambling pursuit of Harry. To his credit, he did not drop his character for a moment. He was just that good. Granted, the jig was pretty much up at that point, but still.
Then there was a voice, someone else’s voice, speaking in all of our heads.
Oh, please. Just do something to impress me. I’m so bored of the undead.
Zeno called out. “Business or pleasure?”
Tem cast a spell on themselves; it seemed to be about the same as the one Felegum had cast before. Zeno, meanwhile, just went for it and played a song that he’d been working on on his bagpipes, progressively faster and faster. What’s more, he started moving toward the dragon, a very bold move.
And then, he vanished.
There was no sign of where he’d gone, if he’d done something impressive enough to please the dragon or if he’d offended Ojutai.
I stepped forward, redirecting the illusion around me to show just me.
I’m not going to lie, I was briefly tempted to be super annoyed at another being in a position of authority lording it over people smaller than them. But, at the same time, I’d already seen how that story played out with the frost giant way back outside of Paripas. Sometimes things outside of me were too big to pick fights with, at least, not if I had bigger goals besides keeping my pride intact.
But this was something for Csipherus, and when it came to the city, it was easy to do what I had to.
And what I had to do was juggle.
I was actually pretty decent at this, and it didn’t hurt that I was also using an illusion to throw one, two, three fishes into the air, calico koi, blue-green sardine, a carp with whiskers, and then adding a fish with each rotation through the cycle until we reached twelve. Each fish twinkled as stars glittered on their scales at the apex of each throw, hanging in the air like they were each achieving brief weightlessness.
It was the only festival I could think of on the fly, the Festival of the Twelve Fishes, but I did my best. After a few passes of the twelve illusory fish, I caught them, one after another, and they disappeared in my hand. Once all twelve were caught, I threw the contents into the air above me and made it look like pinpoints of shooting stars, bouncing off the ground in exaggerated parabolic arcs.
One arced up over me, I raised my head to look at it, and just as it descended to hit me on the nose, I vanished.
Again, this was an extremely malleable illusion, as long as you concentrated on it. I liked playing with it.
And I thought I’d done pretty well too, until I felt something trying to get into my head.
Not like, physically, but more like, well, mentally. I threw up walls as fast as I could, but I couldn’t say what the interloper had gotten to or not.
Why have you come here? came the dragon’s voice in my head again.
I’ll be honest here, I blanked. I thought I noticed Helli and Harry making a break for a sewer entrance and realized that maybe I’d just been a huge dumbass, and all this on top of trying to answer something to a dragon that wouldn’t even up with me being killed or whatever.
Answer quickly, I grow bored.
This felt a little unfair. I tried talking around it, but that didn’t seem to work.
Eventually I just went with the first thing that came to mind: “I am what is missing.”
Ojutai was not a big fan. He read me a bit of the riot act in speaking in riddles and insoluble puzzles, which was ironic because magicians kind of famously seemed to love that stuff and obsess about it but I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t a very good one if he was bored all the time.
I think at some point I got peeved and asked him why he was even here and he said something like “What better prize than a city?” which gave me pause.
Also, it’s possible I said something less than flattering at that moment about what I thought of that situation, because he trapped me in earth up to my waist around that point.
This was also when I remembered my lizard was in my boot. I struggled with fresh determination to free myself.
Luckily for everyone, we had Felegum, who was able to rescue me and Kheryph (he was fine) from the earth. I was maybe only halfway through thanking Felegum for this clutch excavation when Tem stepped forward and took out some gold.
Ojutai froze them in place.
“Please,” they said, “take this gold as a gift.”
Ojutai must have replied in some sort of dismissive tone but I was too busy checking on Kheryph that I didn’t really notice.
Then the dragon’s voice came again: I’ll be following your exploits in the city with interest. Then he flew away.
I thought that he’d been speaking to everybody. No, as I found out later, it was just me.
Anyway, Felegum and I went to the grate Helli and Harry had disappeared through. Harry, who had been watching this whole exchange and who understandably was thoroughly done with making alliances with dragons, pressed Tem against a sewer wall. “What did you just give them?”
“A relic,” Tem said, hands up in defense.
“Be specific,” Harry said, a dangerous edge creeping into his voice.
“Just an offering to dragons.”
The two dragonborn faced off for a while more until Harry released Tem and continued down the tunnel, finding Zeno ahead a ways out of the sewers in the city itself.
Csipherus was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it, even devoid of life. It was like another artist had tried painting it and the colors were a little different, the shapes a little too sharp, the empty spaces more void than I was used to, but it was still undeniably home.
Anyway, we had to find people who could help. I got my bearings and led us toward one of the hideouts I remembered. Somewhere in the back of the group, someone commented on how I wasn’t getting lost.
“Of course not,” I said, “this is my city.”
There were a bunch of entrances to the catacombs all throughout the city. Kalends had said that he was being held prisoner, likely by the Red Eyes, below the city, but they weren’t the only people using that space. I’d also been down there with my friends, not to all the levels or anything, but enough to know that there were at least two.
But anyway, right now we needed to find this meeting spot to connect with my friends.
I was hoping that I could find the one in a bakery around here, but Zeno found a pub nearby and naturally had to go in. I was kind of exasperated but Zeno insisted on trying to find a drink, so that’s what we had to do. Empty bottles littered the floor, but when the bard tapped on a barrel, it seemed full.
Hastily, he made to try and open it, and that was when three figures appeared in the doorway, demanding to know what we were doing here.
I stepped closer, not recognizing them, and tried to figure them out as fast as I could. I didn’t want to be wrong about this, but it also felt like I was saying all the wrong things and they were pretty cheesed off at the almost-theft.
Words failed me. So, I took off part of my armor, rolled up my tunic-scarf, and showed them the tattoo on my left shoulder, the two concentric circles around a open circle sun, black dots of planets on their orbits around it. “Does this mean anything to you?”
There was a pause, and then I was enveloped in a huge hug.
“It’s so rare for those who escape to come back,” one said.
“Of course I’d come back,” I replied.
The dark clothing made it hard to recognize who was speaking or if I knew them, but I knew the group we all belonged to– these were the people I’d been trying to get back to, the group that Kalends and I belonged to.
This was the Calendar.
I put my arms around them and went in for a hug, then asked them about the others. They said that they could take me and my friends to the larger group, but that my companions would have to go blindfolded. I relayed this information to the group and everyone agreed. Some people even said that they trusted me.
It made it harder to put the sackcloth over everyone’s heads when I had to look them in the eyes and promise it would be okay. This was, I felt, the best bet we had of an alliance in the city. And it felt so good not to have to be figuring things out from scratch.
Even if Kalends wasn’t there, someone would tell me what needed to be done for the city to be saved and then I’d do it and then everything would be okay.
Once everyone had their eyes covered, the three from the Calendar turned to me.
“I’m sorry, my child,” one said, holding out a sackcloth for me.
I shrugged. “It’s okay. Thanks for letting me be cool in front of my friends.”
I put it on and let myself be led blindly through my city, deeper and deeper into it. The Calendar members were cool, telling us when there were steps down coming and after a while, even I lost track of where we were in this place.
It took forty-five minutes of walking, which was a long time when you can’t see and you’re worried, eventually we came to a stop and our blindfolds were removed.
Before us was a human woman I’d never seen before, with seven circles on her arm. Damn. That was more than I’d maybe ever seen. I was not sure if I wanted to know what she’d had to do in order to earn those.
We talked in Common, with me explaining that I wanted my friends to hear this since we were a team (was I being passive aggressive to Tem? maybe, I really had not been pleased with all those asides in Draconic), and discussed the state of the city.
It had been the Calendar who had blown that hole in the city walls, in order to get people out or for some other reason of thwarting the Red Eyes’ and the dragons’ plans. Seven Circles did not seem any more enamored of the dragons than she did the foreigners– the way she talked about Ojutai made me think that maybe he was much more invested in making my people’s lives hell than I’d thought.
The Sunspire had been the rallying point for most of their early rebellion efforts, and the Red Eyes had seen tearing it down as a means of destroying a symbol of hope and resilience for the city. Meanwhile, their efforts had focused on unearthing something below the central pyramid, a landmark adjacent to the spire. Seven didn’t appear to know what in particular they were after, but she did know their names.
Savas the Phoenix (we were already familiar with his flaming arrows from Guara).
Durnen, who was in the same form as we’d left him the last time, a man with a big, bushy beard and long, braided hair.
Yuval, who had adopted a massive stone shape and who commanded the sands, air, water, and fire.
Ahkmatix, the man in red whose control over the undead was suffocating the city.
And the goblin, known only as the Butcher, who was a vicious duelist.
There was one more, too, a Red Eyes who visited on a broom, making the group of five into a group of six. I very much wanted to attack all of them, but I needed a plan.
Further, I needed to resolve one last doubt in my head.
I switched briefly back to Csipherian to ask about Kalends and explain the message I’d heard back from him. Seven nodded thoughtfully as I shared my information, then explained that he’d gone missing on a raid earlier and that the Calendar had so far presumed him dead. They had some idea that the Red Eyes were keeping prisoners.
Hesitating, I asked the other question weighing on my mind. “This is going to sound crazy, but humor me. I just need a straight answer because I’m worried something terrible has happened,” I said, and took a breath. “What time is it?”
Seven cocked her head, but answered me honestly.
I sank to my knees.
“Twenty months,” I repeated in Common. “We lost twenty months in the teleportation to Tormani. Kalends wasn’t speaking in code, I really have been gone for two years.”
I paused, realization setting in.
“My parents are dead.”
I had done a lot of really terrible things in my life. I’d stolen food from other people who were starving, from merchants who needed the money, who were good people unlucky enough to have something that my family needed. When my parents had given the food away to our neighbors and others in needs, then asked me to please get more, that surely whoever had been so generous to help me could maybe extend their kindness a little more, I’d nearly screamed.
But that’s just who they were. They’d work themselves to the bone to save someone’s life, even if they got sick with the same plague, and then demand no payment that the patient could not easily part with.
They would never have let me save them without saving the entire city.
And now, they were gone.
Because as hopeful as I was, I also wasn’t stupid. I was an apothecary’s kid who had seen this disease in action firsthand. And you didn’t just survive the creeping plague for two years. I’d already been gambling when I’d left the city to find a cure, and I’d fucked it up.
I’d hesitated too long and I’d lost everything.
As I was processing this, my friends asked Seven about what had happened to Egonia, the mining city we’d left. She looked somewhat puzzled, having not heard the name in some time.
It had been consumed by hellfire, about two years ago.
I stood, pocketing my grief for later, and asked what we could do.
Seven told us that it seemed like the Red Eyes were looking for red gems to power whatever it was beneath the central pyramid that they were unearthing. The Calendar’s mission to disrupt them at any cost meant that they’d stolen two such red gems from the Red Eyes (and we’d just seen them earlier with a new one that Akhmatix, the man in red, had stolen from the ruin).
Zeno mentioned at this point that he thought that the gate we’d encountered might have something to do with another realm, the Feywild.
Seven was contemplative. “If indeed it is the Feywild, then they might be attempting to build a portal.”
Tem stepped forward. “What do you know of the nature of the Red Eyes?”
Seven’s lip curled with distaste. “They use bodies. Then when they’re done with them they get new ones, or grow them.”
“Why don’t you share a little, Tem?” Felegum said.
Tem, tight-lipped about this stuff, gave a little information to Seven, but not much. “There is a great power near the city, that, if misused, could destroy entire planes.” Tem had been tasked with investigating the plague of my city, and they suspected it was tied to what was going on.
Seven scoffed. “The plague has nothing to do with what was going on here.”
Tem’s posture shifted, tightening, and their eyes narrowed. “What have you done?”
Felegum sighed and put a hand to his forehead. “They’ve literally just saved the city by keeping those gems out of the Red Eyes’ hands.”
“We can’t do much,” Seven said, “but we can slow them down and hinder them.”
And maybe that was what we needed the Calendar to do in the meantime, while we got our bearings and figured out how best to take the Red Eyes down. Csipherus hadn’t fallen, not yet, not with people who had been fighting this hard for so long to keep it alive.
I asked Seven for her name, and she told me to call her the Keeper.
“You probably already know me,” I said, “but if not, I’m Sethandriel of the Ides.”
She nodded, then invited us to check out the pyramid itself to learn more about what was going on. Bowing, we ascended a ladder and left.
Before us was the great pyramid of Csipherus, with a familiar, well-muscled blue dragon wrapped around its golden tip. Atarka.
And below her, on the ground, were the ruins of the Sunspire, also called the Osiri, the place I’d always wanted to come back to, destroyed.
So much had been taken from this city. From its people.
I’d make sure this was the last.