Thus followed a series of assorted misadventures.

Felegum was, as a season pass holder, offered a map. He was obviously delighted. We learned that the Cemporium had embraced the letter “c” as a way to rebrand kobolds as “cobolds” and that they had devoted themselves so fully to it that basically everything had been incorporated in the scheme. The cirate chip and cood court were only some of their triumphs.

Also, everything had kind of ridiculous prices.

Perhaps it was this sudden feeling of economy that motivated us, perhaps a nobler calling, but we soon found ourselves focused back on the original reason for our visit.

“Where’s the dragon?’ Zeno whined. “Do we need to ask them where the cragon is? Ce can’t cind cit.”

“I,” Iago said, “think Zeno’s been drinking.”

“No! My name is Cel!” that person said. “With a c!”

After much deliberation, either Zeno or Felegum suggested we go to the back area where all the staff presumably was. Indeed, about forty feet back behind the main drag, there was a group of kobolds all repairing machines.

“Shall we?” Zeno asked.

I offered the group some of my cippin’ cots, because they were pretty sweet and we probably needed some fortification for whatever we were about to walk into.

“Don’t worry, guys,” Felegum said and flashed his armband. “We are totally allowed to be here. I have an all-access pass.”

Zeno squinted ahead at the kobolds. “I don’t know what else all-access would mean except this.”

Thus convinced that he was well-within the rules, Felegum jumped the fence separating the park from the employee area.

“Hey, hey!” a few kobolds shouted. “Come back here!”

Felegum obligingly held up his arm. “I have this!”

“Oh no,” said one kobold. “You cannot do that.”

“I,” the sorcerer invoked the magic words, “would like to speak to the manager.”

The kobold paled from red to a dark pink.

“Excuse me,” Tem said and stepped in. Then she said words in that raspy dragon tongue that I presumed was Draconic.

Then there was a lot of bowing from the kobolds, and eventually Zeno had to intercede.

“Companions, please,” he said. Then he turned to the kobold mob that had gathered around us. “We know the Firedrake is not doing well.”

One kobold narrowed their eyes. “What the fuck. He’s fine. He’s just gone into winter hibernation.”

“Oh, this is above your paygrade.” Felegum waved a hand.

“Praise be his leathery wings, of course,” Zeno said.

“Praise be!” the surrounding kobolds intoned.

“See?” The bard looked pleased. “We’re already building a rapport. But the real reason we have traveled here is to provide emotional support. The Firedrake cannot go on alone. He needs to find a mate.”

“But he’s fine,” another kobold insisted. “He’s just in winter hibernation.”

Oh gods. No one else was saying it, so it fell to me. “He doesn’t want to sleep alone.”

“Thank you, Set,” Zeno said. My face was literally burning and not even looking at the ground seemed to improve things. “Are you aware of how many dragons my companions and I know? Let me tell you.”

The kobolds shifted from suspicious to amazed.

“What, wow!” One jumped up.

“Oh geepers,” another said, “I’d never even thought he was lonely before.”

“We won’t be long,” Zeno continued. “It’s a short meeting.”

What we found was that 1) the Firedrake lived at the top of the mountain and 2) we needed the kobolds to operate the lift to get us up there.

Luckily, we had Zeno on hand to smooth things over. He conjured up a few examples of dragons we’d met in the meantime to awe and delight the kobolds around us, explaining how each would be a potential partner for the Firedrake. First was Calcryx (“a stunning young lady despite her icy exterior”), then Nightscale (“a gorgeous black dragon in a spire”), and then–

An image of Milto shimmered into view.

“And don’t even make me mention our friend who can turn into a firbolg!”

I glared daggers at Zeno. No. That was clearly not okay. I had trusted him with that information in a moment of probably inadvisable weakness.

Despite this deep transgression of our friendship, Zeno’s stunt had worked. The kobold scheduler had been in attendance, and while they pronounced it “highly irregular” for the Firedrake to see guests at this time, this was clearly too good of an opportunity to pass up. The scheduler, Carvink, put us on the timetable to present at the Cemporium employee meeting later that night. If we could convince management then that we had a great pitch to matchmake for the Firedrake, we were in.

We were told to gather at the west entrance two hours after sundown. When the kobolds had dispersed, talking eagerly amongst each other about the possibility of a match for their Firedrake, Zeno turned and flashed us a smile.

I had a lot of mixed feelings. Iago bought a cot cog and then suggested we all ride the ki cups.

“Iago is in his cups,” Tem commented with a quiet, wry smile.

Since each tea cup could only accommodate three people, we split into two groups. One was Felegum, Iago, and Tem, and the second was me, Helli, and Zeno.

A perfect opportunity to exact revenge.

I spun the wheel to twist the cup on top of its normal circles. “How dare you bring Milto into this?” I hissed at Zeno.

He just shrugged and drank some bourbon or whatever. He and Helli did not spin the cup any extra, which made me feel a little dumb, but whatever. This was revenge. I was only sorry Helli was caught in the middle.

I was concentrating so much on this plan that, admittedly, was not working very well that I almost did not notice Iago completely releasing the cot dog in two streams. Yeah, I didn’t pretend to know how that worked. What I did know was that Zeno and Helli had both noticed the eruption before me and I dodged both area effects with only seconds to spare. Truly, if there was anything Kalends could be proud of in training me, it would be this.

The kobold running the ki cups did not have an angry older teen thief training him to dodge violent sickness, and thus did not fare as well. He was in fact covered with resurrected cot cog, and it did not look any better in its second form than its first.

“Again!” Iago crowed, cot cog pieces in his beard. “Again!”

Somehow, he was allowed to ride again, this time with two dwarven kids. If there was anything that convinced me that the Cemporium was mostly lawless, it was this. Thankfully, Iago just passed out. Also perhaps for the best: he was banned from the ki cups.

“We’ll have to try a different ride,” Zeno said, annoyingly unbothered. This kind of phlegmatic shit was too much to bear, so I left.

In my frustrated peregrinations, I stumbled upon a fortune teller.

I snickered. Obviously fake. Sure, you could say that the gods prophesied– I had spoken with several– but most fortunetelling seemed like a game more than anything. Just people reading you and then telling you stories that could fit anyone. It was predictable and a little pathetic.

I went in.

I forget what I asked about specifically. I mean, I was thinking about the whole Milto thing, but also in a broader sense. Like, was all this really stupid? I’d already gotten everything I’d wanted when we saved the city. Csipherus endured. It just felt really selfish to want someone to watch sunsets and sunrises with from secret high places you weren’t supposed to climb to.

I had a really good life. I still had one living parent, which, while the dead parent part sucked, was still better than a lot of other returning people who had lost everything had it.

How much was I allowed to want?

Even asking it felt dangerous. Like, was what I had not enough? Was asking for more going to mean something I loved got taken away?

The elder kobold shuffled the cards and flicked through four of them. These weren’t like cards I’d seen before, but she seemed to pull a circle of swords in the rain, a young man with a wand and crown, a magician, and a triangle made out of coins. I squinted and tried to puzzle it out. Being torn between many directions, things moving quickly, the most magical person I’d seen in my life, becoming– what, something stable?

“You accomplished something huge,” the elderly kobold said. “A world is saved. You are a friend to magic and now you have received even more magic. Now you must choose between two options: stability and being the one to hold it all together.”

I left, still not sure what all that meant. Nothing depended on me. Even the Calendar had redundancy between me and Kal, just in case. I mean, the temple back home depended on me, but it wasn’t like I was the living surety of promises kept or anything like that. Csipherus was going to continue to exist whether or not I did.

That’s what I’d asked for, right? A chance. A gamble.

What happened after the game ended, when all the bets were called and you won?

What then?

The sun dipped below the horizon and all the park guests were gradually shuffled out as kobolds in uniform swept through and picked up trash.

“Set, you look pensive,” Felegum said.

“Yeah,” I said, “I feel like I learned something terrible.”

His face shuttered. “Is it about frogs?”

“No,” I hastened to reassure him, “I think it was about life.”

“Oh, whew.” Felegum exhaled in relief.

“Most things,” Zeno commented, “are worse than frogs.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Felegum raised both hands. “Hold up.”

Thus gathered, we headed into the employee area to make our presentation at the big meeting. It was apparently cemployee crecognition day. The main administrator kobold running the show was this dude named Philagoglius, and it took somewhere between two and three hours for him to make it to the end of his ceremonial proceedings.

At last, Philagoglius introduced us. “And now, Wyrm Watchmaking?”

There was some polite, if exhausted, applause. Zeno took the stage.

“Hi, I’m Kel,” he said. “We have provided many services to many wyrms, drakes, and dragons.”

The kobolds oohed and ahhed as he listed off various dragon-related creatures.

“In fact,” Zeno continued, pointing at Tem, “that one is closely connected to dragons. Every say ‘hi Tem.'”

“HI TEM,” chorused an astounding amount of kobolds.

I wasn’t sure if it was the fasting or some facial spasm going on, but Tem bore the attention with as much dignity as she could.

From there, Zeno somehow pivoted expertly to a pitch deck of dragon potentials for the Firedrake. There were oohs and ahhs after each option was presented. As before, he cycled through Calcryx and Nightscale, and this time when he brought up Milto’s picture I was only slightly gritted my teeth. It was just a game. Whatever.

Then he brought up Ojutai and Atarka’s images and I really did lurch forward.

“I swear to god–” I hissed.

Felegum held me back. “Set, calm down!”

After somehow lasting through this, a spectacled kobold approached and gave us the go-ahead. Our presentation had been successful in convincing them; now we would present it to the Firedrake himself. But that would have to wait until tomorrow, as it was quite late.

There was an inn where we could stay on the park property, which we did. Helli was kind enough to cover for Iago, and Tem spent a hungry evening in meditation to prepare for her big burial moment tomorrow. Zeno spent a few moments giving a pep talk to the zombie horde, then went upstairs.

In my own room, I took out the copper wire again. I unwound it and wove it through my fingers, feeling the magic ready to coalesce into a spell.

But no, that was so stupid. It wasn’t like we were actually going to set him up with anyone. I didn’t need to warn him. I’d just be bothering him.

It wasn’t like any of this was going to come to anything.

I stared at my hands and the copper winking in the soft candlelight.

But if that was so obvious, why did it make me so goddamn sad?

After a few more minutes, I put the wire away and slept.

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