Never did I imagine that I would be explaining the intricacies of Csipherian diminutives and terms of endearment to anyone, let alone Felegum, yet here we were. Was it weird? Yes. Both of us knew it was weird. For one thing, I had to explain that people called each other small doves– not “dives” as the letter said– as pigeons were a sacred animal. By the time Harry and Helli returned from fetching the others, I was deep into a steadily more awkward dissertation on how we used “breath” like “soul”, which was why calling someone your breath had deeply romantic implications.

Luckily, we were saved from me having to elaborate more by the arrival of the others.

The breath thing wasn’t even in the letter; I was just remembering things that I’d thought were cool. This had frustrated Felegum. My lingual asides weren’t always relevant, sure, but I hadn’t gotten to think about Csipherian like this for a long time.

Also, the alchemy stuff was confusing as hell. Sometimes I thought things were an extended metaphor for, uh, the transformative power of love (in my defense, there was a lot of one thing becoming another), but they actually seemed to fit better with the paragraph being interpreted as part of an alchemical recipe.

Recipe for what, I had no idea. I barely even could scent out the recipe below the surface in this bizarre letter.

But Helli knew a lot about making things, potentially also alchemical things, so we asked her help.

The three of us struggled over that for a while before Felegum suggested asking Kalends for assistance.

I kind of bristled here, because you know, Kalends was my best friend and if there is one thing guaranteed to make a friendship weird and uncertain, it’s to ask your best friend to read a love letter. You can play it off as containing an alchemical code, but you’re running a risk that they’ll interpret it totally differently.

Kal was cool about it, though, and he even said that I did a good job translating it into Common, as weird as the original letter was.

I also took advantage of this opportunity to bestow my gift on Zeno, aka the bottle of wine that I’d stolen for him.

True to form, the bard pulled a fancy wineglass from his pack and drank deeply from it.

“Eugh,” he pronounced. “This is wine. That’s about all I can say for it. Thanks.”

It was somewhat underwhelming, I’ll admit. “Hey, come with me.” I said. “I have a good surprise.”

He followed and I showed him the wine cellar.

“Check it out,” I said with a flourish. “This is a pretty sweet set-up.”

Zeno took a bottle off a shelf and examined it thoughtfully. “Huh. Well, that’s good. I hate to say it, kid, but that one you gave me was barely drinkable.”

“Oh.” I paused, listening for movement upstairs. “Hey, this is gonna sound weird but I have a relationship question.”

“Sure,” said Zeno, clearly as surprised that I was asking him about something serious as I was.

But I mean, what, was I not supposed to talk about this ever? We were mostly out of danger and it had been bothering me ever since the strange between-space we’d traveled through in Harry’s head.

“So, like,” I started then sighed, because it was doomed to be terrible no matter what way I sliced it. “Remember when we were trying to get back to the real world and I asked Lathander for help choosing what to do?”

Zeno nodded.

“When we’d been shown the vision of Csipherus falling and zombies pouring out of it if we failed, I heard his voice, in my head. It was a whisper,” I said. “And like, there is exactly one person who whispers in my head, right? It’s the girl in my nightmares. So I’m like, what the hell is going on,  why is he whispering too? So then after I ask him about what way we have to take to escape with Kalends, I’m also like, hey, good time to ask about the whisper.”

Zeno, amazingly, was listening attentively and encouraged me to go on. “And you did?”

“Yeah,” I said. “And uh, ugh it’s so awkward. I asked him if he knew the girl in my dreams and he was like, ‘oh that was me all along’ and I was like, what?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve just been feeling really confused. I feel like I’ve been catfished by god.”

I did not want to see if Zeno’s shoulders were shaking with laughter or not, so I didn’t look.

“It’s just really awkward,” I said. “Because she was scary and I liked her because she was scary, and when I like a dude it’s for totally different reasons. And now I just don’t know what to do.”

Zeno thought about it. “I mean, that just sounds complicated,” he said. “But that whole sacrifice thing? Stop, don’t do that anymore.”

I snorted. “At least if I died I wouldn’t have to think about how awkward this is anymore.”

“Set, that’s so teen angst of you.” Zeno tsked.

“Okay, fine.” I waved it off because truthfully I had had enough of people thinking that they needed to have interventions with me on this stuff. Also, yeah, it was nice to know that Zeno cared, even if that manifested in him telling me to run from danger. “But how do you deal with the awkwardness of it all, though? Like, you’ve been in relationships. And it just makes things so weird. Like, I don’t think of him that way, but now he’s there.”

Zeno held up his cup. “Just don’t think about it so much. That’s what I do.”

I sighed, thanked him, and we headed back upstairs just in time to learn that the others had discovered the name of this place: Bacchus Jolly Fermentation and Libations.

Before we rejoined them, Zeno grabbed my shoulder. “You’re stressed,” he said, “but don’t die.”

I laughed. “Oh, of all the stress I’m under, this is the least bad.”

“Get a relationship,” Zeno said. “A real one.”

I shook my head, hiding a smile. “I’m just glad I don’t have to be alone in this anymore.”

With that, I returned my attentions to the terrible code as Felegum and Helli, and then Felegum and Zeno went off to explore more of the brewery.

Tem stopped by as I was poring over the love letter for probably the tenth time. “Back at the order,” she said and I instantly was prepared to tune her out but she continued, “the master chef would make the finest cakes for us. Could these be the recipes?”

I perked up. Cake would be great after all that.

“For beer.” Tem clarified.

“Oh,” I said, losing interest.

I alternated between the letter and trying to piece together the catacomb map with Helli, Felegum, and occasionally Harry, but I was getting restless and we were low on supplies. Helli and I proposed the inevitable: a scouting trip.

“I would offer to go with you–” Tem began.

“Jingles, don’t,” Helli said.

Tem looked a little sad.

At this point it was well and truly dusk. Helli and I snuck out under the cover of darkness. I kept an eye out for cellars and basements and showed Helli some of the signs for what to look for in terms of entrances to the catacombs, or just cool secret stuff in general.

Still, there weren’t exactly a ton of cellars in a more residential area like this. In fact, this seemed mostly like apartments.

A wind blew through a strand of trees in the abandoned street, rattling their dry leaves and the bark sloughing off in peels.

Sycamores, I realized, and then I was somewhere else. A place that belonged to another time and another person, a street of sycamores.

Abruptly, Helli tackled me into an alcove.

I was understandably super confused, because hey, a guy was allowed to be sad occasionally about stuff, but Helli held a hand to her lips. “Ojutai.”

Above, very large stone blocks crashed into buildings.

“Ah,” Helli whispered next to me. “He’s bored.”

“That asshole,” I hissed. “Wanton destruction, smashing shit–“

Once the danger had passed, we split up and started to go through one of the buildings. The first floor looked pretty trashed and picked over, so I took the second floor and Helli took the third.

There was a bed, roughly made, some evidence of people, but mostly it was a modest establishment. It was a little too close for my comfort, so I was quick about my business. I took a pair of sandals and one pair of slightly larger shoes. It seemed like a family had lived here, so there were a good amount of options, from big to child-size.

Moving into the kitchen proved a bit more fruitful. I found a few jars of dried goods, one half full of beans and another about two-thirds of the way full of quinoa. Also, there was a small shaker labeled “spice mix”– bound to be good, my people knew their way around spice– and a box of bullion cubes for soups and such.

Modest, like I said, but all the essentials.

Hoping that these people had made it out of the city before things got too bad or that they’d found a safe space within it, I left for the third floor feeling deeply uncomfortable.

Helli was just coming down by the time I was heading up, so we both reconvened in the first floor together. Down there, we found an opaque bottle that seemed to be double-sealed to keep water in longer, which was great. There was also a smaller barrel down there too, and clothes.

This was relevant. I collected up a fresh set and Helli also dove in. Once we were satisfied with our collecting, we headed back. For whatever reason, Helli felt the need to slam into the back door of Bacchus Jolly Fermentation and Libation.

The door opened.

“I tried to offer help,” I said, holding my hands up, “but she insisted.”

Harry ran a hand over his face. “Just…leave all the dirt in the employee room.”

We walked in and I handed the fancy sandals to Zeno, who was thrilled that he didn’t have to squeak around anymore.

“Hey, Lankin,” Helli said, “are you cold?”

She held out a promising Csiperhian garment, a longish robe.

“Ooh,” Lankin said, giving it a once-over. “This will make a great loincloth.”

It was also at this point that I had come to grasp the uncomfortable truth that Kalends’ legs were not going to magically get better on their own, no matter how many times I healed him, and that something would have to be done. I also realized that, being surrounded by fools, if I didn’t do it with all my medical training, someone else would probably try and seriously injury him.

Kalends had already said that he didn’t want Harry doing it, and I imagined that I was probably the only one he’d be okay with and actually had the training to do it okay.

I mentally prepared myself. Then, I talked to Kal about what was about to happen and gave him Kheryph to hold onto for comfort. Also, I gave him some cloth to bite down on because I was not a monster and knew how this felt.

Even with all these precautions put in place, from emotional support lizard to having something to keep from biting through your own tongue, re-breaking legs and enduring that pain on top of the physical exhaustion of the last few days was no easy feat to endure. Kal passed out and I cast a healing spell on his legs after I’d finished.

It felt like it would take him a long time to recover, but maybe I could help things along.

Somewhere in the background, Zeno tried to make a wheelchair but gave up before I had finished with Kalends.

Tem approached as I was getting Kalends all nice and comfortable in my bedroll and securing the last bindings on his leg splints. “Can I offer Kal some tips for avoiding torture?”

I sat back on my haunches, pausing on the last binding. “That,” I said, “would be incredibly condescending. He had a mind palace, Tem.”

Looking around Bacchus Jolly, I was able to find some old, mostly clean rags that I used to supplement Kalends’ bed area. It wasn’t as cushy as a baron’s manor or anything like that, hardly even to the standards my parents had used before everything in the city went to hell, but it was functional. My parents and I had gotten really good at using whatever we’d had on hand to make what we’d needed for patients, and I wasn’t ashamed of my effort here.

Felegum went around casting protecting alarm spells on the doors of the brewery, and then he and Lankin opened HFVNN. At first, being so absorbed in my medical work, I didn’t realize why they were doing that, but then I noticed them trying to shove statues into the bag.

Statues, I realized, that I’d seen a gnome hauling back under armloads of clothing.

“No, don’t,” Felegum grunted under the weight of a statue to the elf, “they’ll squash the eyeballs if you put them in that way.”

Lankin squinted at the bag’s contents. “I mean, the meat’s been fine?”

Anyway, after some altercation and bag shuffling, they got out a cask of water, and I created some with a spell.

“Set,” Zeno exclaimed, “you’re getting somewhere!”

It was only a little patronizing, which honestly was a huge step forward for Zeno and me. It wasn’t a ton of water either, but it was better than nothing and would help us abate the water problem for a little bit.

Once finished with that, I taught Helli the symbol for “safehouse” and “meeting spot” that the Calendar used, and we drew them around good old Bacchus Jolly Fermentation and Libation. It was strange sharing this stuff with someone who seemed to dislike my city so much, but it was also kind of a calculated risk. At one point, Helli had expressed interest in joining the Calendar. Maybe impressing her with its coolness and scope was the way to get her to buy into saving my city.

While we were out, Hat-Broom Man was flying over the city in a focused way, like he was flying away from something, not aimlessly patrolling in circles. He was going radially out from the center.

On top of that, a smaller blue shape–Ojutai– flew over, once again picking up crates and exploding them mid-air.

That was the second time he’d done that. I narrowed my eyes. Was that really a smart person’s favorite boredom activity or was there something more to what he was doing? I hadn’t thought much about it the first time– I assumed, you know, he was being a little draconic dick and taking it out on my poor defenseless city– but seeing it happen again made me wonder.

Helli and I came back inside and talked to the rest of the party about it.

Zeno steepled his hands and broached the topic of a stakeout. On Hat-Broom Man. “He’s probably the easiest for us to try to take out solo,” the bard said.

“It would be good to fight him, but just not around the safehouse,” Helli said.

“Yes,” I agreed. “We should set up a separate stake-out place, take him down, and then retreat back.”

“Show us on this map I’ve been drawing of the city where he’s going,” Felegum said, unrolling a piece of parchment.

We did, drawing out the radial path of Hat-Broom Man.

“Just to be clear,” Zeno said, “we do want to be sure that we take him down.”

“Yes, just not at the hideout.” Felegum tapped his quill on the map thoughtfully. “But then where?”

“There’s also a third avenue to explore,” Tem said. “We might be able to persuade the dragons to work with us.”


It was so loud that it was almost unbelievable that a person could produce that much sound with a single word. But Zeno was musically trained and very dramatic, after all.

“At least,” Helli amended, “we can persuade the dragons that we want to work with them. But that’s later.”

“I think that they’re waiting for the Red Eyes to do their dirty work.” Tem crossed her arms in front of her. “Once that’s done, they’ll tale control of the conduit.”

“We know that the Red Eyes care about the conduit, though.” Helli sighed. “We don’t know about the dragons.”

“I do,” Tem replied.


“We talked about this,” the paladin said, standing. “Last night. All chromatic dragons have allegiance to Tiamat.”

“Well,” Zeno said in an attempt to smooth things over, “we’ll wait to see if trouble finds us.”

Harry did not say anything but grabbed a new shirt from Helli’s clothes pile somewhat testily.

“How do you even know that Ojutai values the city?” Tem asked, exasperated.

“Because,” I said, “he told me.”

He wanted a city, a prize, something grand to add to a treasure trove. Had he been lying? Maybe. I too wanted a city, and you wouldn’t have to try very hard to convince me of this one’s value.

But in that moment, I’d felt like he’d meant it.

On that somewhat sour note, we set off for bed. We let Kalends sleep off his pain, and I got second watch with Felegum. This was strategic.

I shared with him what Kalends had confided to me and Helli the night before, since Felegum, a renowned spellcaster, would probably have thoughts on what was at work here.

“I think,” he said, “maybe the dragons are localized vessels for power.”

He said a few other things and theorized about what might be going on below the pyramid and connecting it with the conduits. We talked quietly about ideas for a bit, and then Lankin woke up.

“Oh hey,” Lankin said with a yawn. “So do we think the beetles are dragons from another world?”

Felegum gave the elf a wry look, then turned to me. “I’m assuming it’s okay if Lankin knows?”

I waved it off. “Oh yeah, Lankin’s fine. We were more concerned about Tem, honestly.”

“Yeah…” Felegum said. “I could see that.”

“Hey Set,” Lankin said, “Kalends told and embarrassing story about you last night.”

“Oh yeah.” The sorcerer grinned.

“What,” I said. Never had I been so betrayed. “Tell me what he said.”

It turned out that my best friend had told a story about me embarrassing myself in front of this cool girl at a party. She was older and I’d found out through Kalends that she’d taken down (via a well-placed knife) a corrupt city official on Calendar business. I asked her to reenact her badass moment with me as the villain and I’d ended up passed out for– Kalends had assured me at the party– only a minute, but in reality it had apparently been more like half an hour.

Someone had also used my daggers to pin my hood and cloak to the wall so that I was stuck there when I woke up. It’s the sort of thing that would have been funny if it weren’t happening to you in front of people you’d wanted to be cool with.

I glowered at Kalends’ still-sleeping body. “I told you never to talk about that again.”

Kheryph looked up from her spot curled around Kal’s neck.

“Not you!” I said. “I’m mad at him.”

Lankin tugged at my cloak. “I only asked him about you to distract him from talking about torture.”

Sometimes, Lankin knows the exact right thing to say.

“That,” I said after a pause, “was probably the best thing you could have done.”


The next day, we got up and talked more.

Felegum turned to Tem. “How long do you think it’d take for help to show up?”

Tem cocked her head and thought about it. “By dragonflight–“

“You have dragons?” Zeno asked, incredulous.

“We have relationships with dragons,” Tem said.

Helli had to fight a little to be heard over Zeno’s laughter, but after a few attempts, she asked, “Do you have standing enough in the order to get us a metallic dragon?”

“Well,” Tem said, “if the message was received…”

“I think we need to know more,” said Lankin.

“And we don’t know enough,” said Felegum, both of which were true.

“There are many gods at work here.” Tem leaned back in her chair, broodingly.

“Yeah.” Zeno side-eyed me. “Weird catfish gods.”

“Hey,” I said, “that was a secret.”

Tem exhaled, coming at last to a conclusion. “I could put a symbol of parlay on a nearby rooftop for the dragons–“

“NO,” both Felegum and Zeno said.

“If you want to stay with us,” Helli said, with an almost deadly yet jovial calm, “you will not do that.”

“It would be foolish to do that.” Felegum folded his hands. “We can learn more easily by taking out a Red Eye than a dragon. But the first order of business is getting Kal back to the Calendar.”

“Speaking of,” I said, turning to the thief in question, “Kal, how are your legs feeling?”

“Do not want to talk about it,” he replied.

Zeno raised his hand. “I have a question about Dronie. Can you still see through his eyes?”

Felegum sighed. “Yes, in a philosophical sense. Maybe if through a portal or layered plane, but I’m not sure.”

“If we’re going to do a reconnaissance mission, I can wait for Hat-Broom Man on a rooftop,” Tem said.

She seemed really adamant about getting up high.

“Maybe not on this roof,” I said.

“Yeah,” Helli said, “maybe a block and a half away.”

“Or farther,” I added. “Two or three, at your discretion.”

“Discretion is, after all,” Felegum said, “the better part of valor.”

“Patience,” Harry said, massaging his temples, after being forced to listen to all this.

“Patience,” Felegum amended, “is the better part of valor.”

Still, this wasn’t what Harry must have meant either, because the dragonborn sighed, stood up, and paced around the table. “We are not being patient hunters,” he said. “We need to return Kal to the Calendar and finish what we started.”

“Fair enough,” said Zeno. “Then let’s split into little groups and go on some missions.”

And thus, it was decided. Zeno, Lankin, and I would try to contact the Calendar. Same with Harry and Helli, though Harry was also invested in getting a water source for Bacchus Jolly. Last, Felegum and Tem would stay behind, with Felegum continuing to work on decoding the letter and Tem guarding him in case anything went sideways.

As always, it sounded like a great plan. But we all knew what happened to plans.

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