So, it might be helpful if I back up here because a lot of stuff went down while I was dead.
I mean, I guess that’s kind of what you’d expect, but I hadn’t been unalive long enough (I thought) for everything to change a ton. Still, there were like, at the very least, a lot more dragons here– like at least three– than there had been before.
Starting from the top, the most obvious difference in the Then and Now pictures were that Harry and Felegum were dead. Harry’s spirit had disappeared earlier in the fight, after he’d used the last of his ki to fight the lich and give some choice parting words. His body had continued to fight on, until it too had either run out of animation (the lich had still been around when I resumed being alive, so this was out) or had been decommissioned by someone else (the more likely option). I wondered who.
We were still in the massive hoard within the central pyramid, except there were a lot more people, both living and dead than there had been before. The lich had fled and magicians from Paripas were hard at work repairing the barrier between the plane of death (probably) that Ahkmatix had fled to and our plane.
Among their number was Sylla Plumeria, who had ridden in on this dragon that looked green but maybe wasn’t. The lighting here wasn’t great. Also newly arrived from Paripas was Albrecht, the dude that Harry had been chatting with in the Wardens arm of the Guild.
Milto didn’t seem to be around, which was kind of a downer since I’d been the one to push for writing to him, but you know. Maybe he had things.
There were also a ton of goblins. This was kind of expected, since the GSN really had gone all in on helping us, but what I hadn’t expected was for there to be quite this many dead goblins. Bodies littered the floor, both the newly dead in the wake of Ahkmatix’s leaving and the less-recent dead of the battle.
On top of that, we had a whole bunch of glimmering paladins, Tem’s people. They too had incurred some losses, though no one had lost quite as much as the goblins. Oh, they’d also brought in their own golden dragon too. Which was wild. You wouldn’t think that two dragons could hang out comfortably in this space, but the one Sylla had ridden seemed chill.
What was unchill was the vibe between the golden dragon and Atarka, who was also sitting on a pillar and looking super confused over the mess of zombies and jewels.
Also, Helli had a dragon. Or something like it? This was confusing. They were chatting about something treasure-related. I had little idea of how that creature had come to be, but it absolutely did not surprise me that Helli had bonded with it over money.
Oh, and the goblins had brought a trebuchet.
Anyway, I think that was it. Helli was talking with her dragon-friend, Zeno was next to Sylla, who had just revived him from a parting death-blast from the lich, and Tem was with her people. I was crouched near Felegum’s body. Harry lay not far from us.
All in all, compared with the newcomers, we looked pretty rough.
I used the last of my spells to keep Felegum in mint condition. There was water on the dais, which meant that he’d probably called forth a deluge again to try to take Ahkmatix out before dying himself. He’d done his best to make it this far, and I doubted that he would have pushed so far if he hadn’t thought we could win.
And I guess, as much as it didn’t feel like it, we had.
I called back my broom from where it had been floating around the ceiling. When I’d fallen from it, I hadn’t imagined that I’d get it back and it was kind of nice, feeling it return to my palm and then sheathed on my back. I was also oddly grateful that the bulk of the people who would know what my return word meant– Osiri– were zombies and therefore incapable of judging me.
“You were saying,” Sylla said, turning to Zeno, “that this could be reversed.”
“Yes,” Zeno said and took a long drink.
He explained the zombie situation, in detail and very well, especially for someone who had only minutes before been immersed in and battling the zombie situation.
A half-elven girl, presumably also of Paripas and therefore a caster, perked up. “What about the time on reversing the affliction?”
“Well,” Zeno replied, “Felegum would know better.”
“It sounds impossible,” the girl said. “Also, this just looks like rubble and trash.”
“You have a lot of smart people.” Zeno put his hands on his hips, surveying the broken piles of the instrument that could save my people. “And it’s not trash.”
“I’ve heard enough,” said Albrecht. He unsheathed his sword. “There are zombies here that need to be dealt with.”
I scrambled up the dais and explained, about as patiently as someone who had been dead and now wasn’t, that the zombies were my people and that we had to change them back.
This did not go over well. I was tired, Albrecht had a ton of his people dead, and zombies were easy targets. I told him not to kill them; he said I was an idiot.
But he laid off the zombie-Csipherians, which was a win. When it came to my people’s safety, I honestly didn’t care what a snobby jerk from an iceless city did to or thought of me if it meant their continued existence.
Tem tactfully brought up the conduit.
The half-elven magician was contemplative. “Are you sure it’s a conduit? We need evidence.”
“Well,” Zeno said, exasperated. “At least the lich was destroyed?”
“Are you sure about that either?” The half-elf squinted at where the column had been. “Liches aren’t so easily destroyed.”
I was really not about that whole gaslight-gatekeep-girlboss vibe, so I just deferred to Zeno, who presumably was better prepared.
“Did you–did you see him?” the bard sputtered. “When you came in? Did you see him?”
The half-elf merely shrugged. “It could have been many things.”
This was really going swimmingly. I wanted to laugh, but not in the fun way. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if, after all that death and pain and suffering, my entire city got murdered by Paripas’ best and brightest doubting that there had ever been a lich or conduit at all?
It was so sad and so annoyingly likely that I was at a loss. I just wanted this to be over and to move toward being okay again.
Surely we had to be getting to that point, even if all these people were coming in and acting like they’d single-handedly defeated the lich and his cohorts themselves?
The dragon–the one that I had thought was green but was actually bronze now that I was closer and could see it properly– liquefied and reshaped itself into a familiar, tall form.
“Come a long way since the lake,” Milto said. Then he turned to Zeno. “I have you to thank for this.”
He manifested a tumbler and poured a drink for the bard, who was absolutely killing it at not looking totally gobsmacked. Zeno, cool as a spiked cucumber, took the tumbler and clinked it with Milto’s own glass.
“I can’t say I’ve heard of Ahkmatix, though,” the dragon-firbolg wizard said after that celebratory sip was had.
Zeno, sensing a possible win, brought up the stone tablets. Specifically, the one that Milto had that showed a way to change people back from their zombified state.
As this was happening, Sylla encased Felegum in a coffin of pure crystal. I didn’t say anything, but yikes, was nothing I did good enough?
The group discussed fairy tales and ways of bringing people back from the dead and zombies idly shuffled around.
Somehow I was once again talking to Albrecht, which was a huge mistake. I forget what I was even trying to do there, because even in retrospect it sounds like a bad idea. Probably trying to put the three rings back together, never mind that I had no earthly idea how to do that and no divine guidance either. Someone had to start figuring it out. And since a ton of people here were threatening my people, it made sense to un-undead Csipherus post haste.
I was not making much progress, and I was making even less progress when Albrecht kicked one of the already damaged pieces of the rings off the dais and into a zombie.
And you know, that was just it.
I’d died, I’d been resurrected, I was in pain, tired as hell, having to constantly argue about not killing the zombies who were actually citizens of my home, all to this dude who just waltzed in when it was convenient for him not to get super dead like me and my friends, and now he was treating the one thing that could fix everything like shit.
Reader, I stabbed him.
Or I tried to. See above: I was unwell and he really hadn’t been hurt as badly, so he was able to fend it off pretty easily. He hit me for my troubles, and I gathered up the pieces of the rings he’d kicked away.
Because whatever. I’d fix this thing even if I was tired out of my mind, even if I did it all by myself while the brilliant mages of Paripas or whatever debated whether or not my city was even oppressed or worthy being thereof.
Anyway, like usual, Zeno stepped in to deescalate that one. “It doesn’t have to be operated manually,” he said, at the end of a very long and placating speech. “It’s like a machine.”
“So a magical device,” Sylla said.
Helli knelt by Harry’s body and put the ring on her finger, closing her eyes in concentration.
This felt like a private moment, so I went back to trying to fix pieces of de-zombie machine together.
“See, look at this!” Zeno cheered. “You’re applying yourself!”
That actually did make me feel better.
Then Albrecht approached me? Like, I didn’t even know what his play was there I was that surprised. Like, there I was quietly minding my own business gathering ring pieces and contemplating, I don’t know, the possible future of my city, and all of a sudden, it’s him, the zombie-threatener and device yeeter, come back for round two?
Count me the hell out.
I returned to my work, making obviously zero progress because this would be a hard problem for me on a not-dying day and all I really wanted was to sit down and sleep. Not defend my zombified people. Or the thing that would fix them.
“I see this one still has a lot of growing up to do,” Albrecht sneered and gave up.
Personally, I felt like choosing not to stab him again was the mature path. This dude had come in here and done nothing but shit on us when we were down and now he expected civility?
Yeah. My tolerance for bullshit had ran out a while back.
Maybe Harry had been so angry all the time because this dude was constantly being an asshole in his head. Actually, that would explain a lot.
“Ojutai?” Tem asked.
“Fat or skinny?” Zeno followed up. I didn’t think he could be that drunk yet, but you never knew with Zeno. It was one of his gifts.
“You should speak more reverently,” Tem admonished the bard. “He is very knowledgeable.”
I was going to say something dumb like, oh yes, because that’s the thing that Zeno definitely keeps track of the most about people, but then Atarka spoke.
“I know not how you have released me,” she said, but she still seemed distracted. I too was pretty distracted, pushing these ring pieces together. I was so tired but no one was doing anything helpful and no one would let me rest. So, here we were.
I was mildly annoyed that of all the dragons that had shown up here–four, if you’re playing along at home– not one of them was the dude I’d spoken with about a life after the Red Eyes in Csipherus and how nice it would be if he could help make that possible here in the Jewel of the Desert.
This was a bad train of thought, as it made me feel even less competent. Because man, I’d thought I’d really made some progress there. And it’s not like it’s my strong suit, talking to people. I’m not repellant, but like, I really put my all into that.
And here we were at the denouement of the battle, and it was Atarka, formerly with a mouth full of slime (momentarily alleviated by Zeno), not someone (to my knowledge) that we’d really put much effort into forming an allegiance with, who had swept in to save the city.
Not a lot was making sense anymore today.
“Set.” Tem elbowed me. “Didn’t you have a deal?”
Yeah, I thought I did, and it kind of stung that that was one more thing I’d tried and failed at. Where was Ojutai anyway? Sitting outside on the ruins of some building, scheming, waiting for us to come out?
It was easier to speak instead with Zeno about Harry and Helli, and how it might be troublesome that Harry’s body was not in great condition and that we were having reception issues with his soul.
We were interrupted by Sylla.
“There’s a reason why we are banded together,” she said. “We have fulfilled our obligation.”
“Sylla, I don’t remember you being so much like a terms and services agreement,” Zeno said, waving as though to clear the air of a bad smell.
“We have more than adequately preserved your friend,” she continued. “And we may be able to arrange resurrection rituals for him and the other.”
This was maybe the first good news we’d had since the end of the fight. Zombie logistics were discussed after, which went right back to fraught territory.
“One’s mine!” Zeno called, right before Albrecht sliced into Vincenzo.
He lowered his sword and I rubbed my temples. This guy was a walking nightmare.
Albrecht asked the dragon–whose name I totally didn’t hear and the closest thing I could come up with that felt close was Dandruff– if she was really okay with leaving zombies alive. She breathed fire into the air above all of us. Ashes fell and I beat them away from zombies.
Honestly, if we went through all that hassle to save my people only for them to die because someone got breath weapon-happy that would be so stupid.
The other thing that stood out was that the golden dragon really didn’t like Atarka. “You would offer a city such as this, the Jewel of the Desert, to those not unblemished?”
Luckily, Tem was continuing to be cool today and I didn’t have to defend my city’s honor constantly to everyone. “Not that we trust them,” she said carefully, “but we work with them. Ojutai may be the most knowledgeable being here.”
I didn’t disagree, which was why I was still kind of bummed he hadn’t shown up. Like, I’d really thought we were getting somewhere. I thought we had something okay there, in the barest sense of an alliance. What had happened that we got Atarka, the loose cannon wildcard and not the reliable, if slightly unhinged, magician?
She’d helped, though, and I owed her thanks for that. I tried to catch her eye and nod at her, but she seemed transfixed on something. Something near Helli.
Because yeah, it had been weird, that we only got one dragon and not the other when Helli had broken that gem.
“Oh,” I said, “there were two, weren’t there?”
“Oh my god, yeah!” Helli replied.
Atarka leapt off her perch and began digging through the hoard. Within moments, something shattered and a wave of emotion, so overwhelming I couldn’t even sort out what emotion it had been, rushed over us. It was gone as quickly as it had come.
Well, that was one mystery solved.
Eventually, with more negotiation, we decided to lock the zombies in the pyramid until we could figure out how to change them back.
That felt right. Tem headed up the triaging of wounds and Zeno drank until he passed out. Oddly, this was pretty comforting. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could breathe again.
I took out the book on arid climate irrigation and peered between the ranks of paladins sorting through their injured. Sylla and Milto were chatting about something and laughing.
I looked back at the dirty, dust-covered book, and put it back in my things.
Two years was a long time.
Someone called my name and I turned.
Artemis Kalends grinned roguishly from his wheeled chair. “Hey.”
I ran to him and leapt into his arms.
Maybe ill-advised, considering that he was seated, I didn’t have experience flying at people in wheelchairs, and also I was exhausted still, but none of that mattered. Kalends was alive, and Kheryph wound around his shoulders, safe.
I made some introductions between the Goblin Shopping Network and the Calendar, because those things were going to be useful later in rebuilding the city economy. There was excited talk of not just a black market, but a “dark green market.”
I left them to it, noting Helli digging through the Butcher’s things and emerging with a familiar music box.
Zeno shucked off his stupor and made his own attempt to work on the magical rings to fix the zombie situation, earning himself a kick from Albrecht for his troubles. I was a hair away from trying to do something reckless again, but because Zeno seemed inclined to handle this politicly, I occupied myself with helping Helli with the rest of the Red Eye bodies.
We found the Hat of Hat-Broom Man (at last), the Broom of Hat-Broom Man, the Phoenix Bow, two magical swords from the Butcher, and a magical glaive.
Slowly, time began to pass. It took a few days for us to heal up and feel like moving again after all that, and I was more or less confident that the Calendar, GSN, and the variety of other concerns flooding Csipherus could more or less handle things without me for a few days as I stopped feeling so beaten up.
When I felt like I could walk again, I began work on a temple to Lathander. I found a nice abandoned place with a sick colonnade over a roof. It was ten minutes from the Street of the Sycamores, and I foresaw it being a pretty sweet courtyard. With water. I didn’t know a lot about Lathander temples, having only been to two, but water seemed very important.
I also talked with Ojutai. I pitched the school idea again and that seemed okay. The two dragons seemed pretty attached to Csipherus, both on a material and emotional scale, which seemed okay. I talked with him about helping rebuild the un-zombifying portal. He said he admired the grit and determination of the people in the city.
In other dragon news, Tem’s boss flew off in a fit of pique, possibly because we didn’t expel the blue dragon interlopers. They were also paid 3000 gold for their services. Which like, yeah, we needed them, but yeah, wow, sure sucks to make bank to save the world.
The Paripas contingent repaired the teleportation circle and began to bring people in for consultation and additional repair. Initially, as you might imagine, I was deeply worried about this. But ultimately, I was just being paranoid. There was no weird Csipherus takeover. Maybe the blue dragons helped.
The disappointing thing, though, was despite having all these mages here, it was still taking a long time to fix things. Even with Ojutai’s help.
His specialty was more in telekinesis, he’d explained once when I asked him about how hard this really was, and then he taught Zeno a cool trick to, I don’t know, lift things better.
Eventually, the circle restoration moved outside the pyramid (the zombies kept getting in the way; they were like cats, and it was honestly hard trying to explain to even new magician not to murder them).
One day, Sylla walked up to Zeno with a man in brown robes. A priest, I realized.
“Sylla has expressed your experience and willingness to bring back those we have lost,” he said, opening two small bags he had on him, which were full of diamonds. One for Felegum and one for Harry.
The priest went on to explain that this was a more involved resurrection ritual than we’d done in the past. As time had elapsed, we’d not only need the magic and the materials, but also special mementos and testimony from witnesses in order to call back the souls. The souls had to be called back from the void and they could be difficult to reach.
It took some time to prepare for the ritual, but the day arrived faster than we thought. Candles crowded every shelf and nook and clustered in floor spaces not occupied by celebrants. There was the same priest of Pelor in the brown robes who had spoken to Zeno earlier, as well as someone representing Lathander.
Felegum’s body was there, its glass coffin open, and he was surrounded by diamonds. As the priest of Pelor moved away and gestured for one of us to come up and add our contribution to the ritual, I stepped up.
“Felegum was a friend whose maps worked,” I said, holding onto my offering. “He also didn’t choose power for the sake of power. He wanted to do things that mattered in his personal ethos.”
I held up the Robes of the Abyss. “He could have used this to gain more knowledge and protection, but he didn’t because he sensed that it would take more from him than he was comfortable with giving and he didn’t think that was right. He held strong in that belief, even when he really wanted that power and even when it could have saved his life.”
I laid the robes on the altar with the diamonds. “And he gave it to me to hold onto because I think he trusted me to make the same choice.”
After me, Tem approached. “We call him back with guidance and direction, as he so often bestowed upon us.”
She laid the map of the catacombs (lovingly crafted by Felegum) on the altar too.
Helli brought the final offering. “Felegum liked the rules,” she said. “Too much. Far too much. We had to listen to the police, research in the libraries, and that was hard. But Felegum was clever. He knew the loopholes and knew how we could make it work.”
She laid the thunder arrow alongside the map and the robes. “This had just a touch of the magic that was at his fingertips.”
A magician who walked the lines between many rules and many worlds. A guide who knew where to turn. A man with ambition and a complex moral schema.
A friend who had said, before we began all this, that in all his plans for rescuing this city he did not plan to die.
We waited as the priests concluded the ritual. The crystal of the coffin melted away as the diamonds spiraled into cloudy shapes, then mist.
And then Felegum took a small breath.
His expression was still somewhere far off, like he was still seeing other worlds than these, but that didn’t stop us from crowding in around him in a giant hug.