Finally packed, Pieder slung his backpack over his shoulder and trundled downstairs, the lynx leading him with an erect, frequently flicking, tail.

"Hello, my good sir!" the Magician called across the fairly small lobby, his voice filled with pleasure at the sight of Pieder. "You have a pet? How quaint!"

"Osmund is only sort of a pet," Pieder said awkwardly. "I wouldn't recommend trying to pet him, for instance."

"Is he house broken," the Magician asked half jokingly.

"Of course!" Pieder said slightly insulted.

The Magician laughed. "Then he can come along on our journey without a problem."

Pieder smiled weakly. He wasn't sure that leaving Osmund behind was an option at all, much as it tempted him. For one thing, Osmund wouldn't allow it.

"Definitely not! Especially with that girl along for the trip," Osmund said mentally.

For another, Pieder wasn't sure he'd be able to manage without the lynx's advice. There was so much to learn that he had had no idea he didn't know.

The journey went swiftly. the Magician watched as Iris and Pieder flirted with the idea of flirtation. There was no awkwardness, no overt staring. The attraction between the two was largely a subtle one, mostly because Iris's outgoing spirit forbade long looks of painful desire. Pieder was too caught up in having a friend, an equal with whom to enjoy life thoroughly, to consider too closely the notion of romance.

The small party, Iris, Pieder, Osmund and the Magician, arrived in Opana within the expected timeframe. At first Pieder did not realize that they were in the city proper, for towns along the road had grown more and more frequent and larger and larger. The border between towns eventually vanished, only signs along the roadside notifying travelers of their progress through the settlements. "Welcome to Glorious Opana!" a sign proclaimed beside a rundown factory, derelect due to lack of sufficient infrastructure.

"This is Opana?" Pieder asked Osmund mentally, disappointment radiating through him. It looked the same as everything before it.

"These are the outskirts. The city center will impress you, have no fear," Osmund reassured Pieder.

They spent more than an hour traveling within the limits of Opana proper before the Magician found a place he was happy to stop and settle in. It was in the part of Opana which began to truly exceed Pieder's grand expectations.

The buildings rose hundreds of feet into the sky, each looking as though it was grown from glass and iron. Bricks and stone carvings decorated the buildings. Nothing here looked built, and nothing was being actively built. Each building was bespelled to change and grow as the Queen saw fit. Pieder had known this for years, but had never truly believed till he saw. Nothing in Opana was as obviously alive as the Witch's home, with its shell-like structure and the flow of water through its veins. In a strange way, everything here was more alive, more interconnected, and definitely bigger.

The streets, the usual glass-look-alike covered cobblestone, were clogged with traffic. It was very orderly though, which kept it moving at a fairly rapid pace. Pieder saw no altercations on the streets between the pedestrians and the various magical creatures, and he wondered what happened when an inevitable spilled cart and fallen human blocked the road. He had read of police, peacekeepers in the large and violent city, but he was not sure if they intervened in traffic affairs. He hoped so, as many of the larger magical creatures scared him and the possible mediation of a police officer would be welcome in the event of a problem.

The Magician guided the beast that he, Pieder, Iris, and an unhappy Osmund rode. It was a Maglub, and was much like a Glub but longer and segmented. the Magician sat behind the head and used reins and small magics to control the large creature. Seeing his destination, he guided the Maglub into an alley and entered the bottom floor of one of the many tall buildings. It had a sign declaring this to be a stable for a fine hotel, and welcome to all non-human creatures for a fee.

The small group descended from the fairly comfortable back of the Maglub and collected their belongings. They walked from the stable into a small entryway which had a floor covered by stiff carpet to clean the feet of travelers, and then upstairs into a grand lobby. Windows looked out onto the main street that now was below them, and the teeming colors and energy of the street was a strangely silent tableau through the thick glass.

"I must make a trip to the palace tonight. Would the two of you care to join me?" the Magician asked.

"I'd love to go! Oh, come with us, please Pieder!" Iris begged Pieder.

"I don't know, I'm really tired," Pieder said.

Iris pouted. "You've never seen the palace though, and who knows if you'll ever get another chance? You're sure we won't be in your way, Uncle (name)?"

"Of course not. Just be sure to wear something suitably formal and try not to flirt too much with each other," the Magician said with a chuckle.

"You really, really oughtn't go," Osmund told Pieder sourly. He had hated the ride, hated the Maglub, hated traveling, and hated watching Pieder and Iris interact.

Largely in response to Osmund's negativity, Pieder smiled tiredly and agreed to go. "We must clean the dust of the trip from our clothes," the Magician said.

the Magician had arranged, through a magical bird he had sent ahead of them with a message before they left Picctal, for a suite for the three humans to stay in. "Your pet will have to make do with the streets while we are in the capital. So long as he steers clear of the animal patrol which keeps the streets clear of strays, he should be fine," the Magician had told Pieder.

"I think he'll manage," Pieder said with confidence. Osmund had been unhappy, but was unable to convince his creator that the cat should be kept close by as often as possible.

The three retired to their suite, and Pieder was astonished at the size of the rooms. the Magician had the main bedroom, as befit the employer of the expedition. Pieder was to sleep on the couch in the front room, and Iris got the slightly more luxurious twin bed in the secondary bedroom.

To change, the men each got one of the bedrooms and Iris got the bathroom with the full length mirror. Pieder and the Magician were happy with the situation because they had more room than Iris, and Iris was happy because she got the full length mirror and a sink to help her apply makeup and organize her hair to her satisfaction.

Pieder and the Magician waited impatiently for their turn in the bathroom as Iris wrapped up her ablutions and preening. Finally all had had their turn to pretty themselves up to their best ability. In Pieder's case, he had a turn to pretty himself up to the best of Iris' and the Magician's combined abilities, as Pieder was unaware of style in any time or place outside of his limited scope within the Woods. While he knew how to look pleasant to the people around him there, the city was a different place entirely with different expectations and requirements. More people who interacted more frequently in the city created an ever changing collective taste in what was stylish and what was frumpy. Tastes in the Woods were more static, changing surprisingly little from generation to generation.