We woke up the next morning at the Green Mug to eggs, porridge, and bacon, and something that smelled delightfully like a meat pie. Zeno’s weird bubbling thing had finished its weird bubbling, and I know this because he brought it downstairs to show off and interrupt the sanctity of breakfast.
Innard, the innkeeper, looked up from yet again explaining the vegetarian breakfast offerings to Awk. “Is it done?”
“IT IS.” Zeno set the giant keg down. “You got mugs? You’ve got to taste this. We had a deal!”
Three mugs were procured, one each for Zeno, Innard, and Layne, who emerged from the kitchens dusted in flour, ostensibly from preparing another batch of pastries. When she saw Zeno and the keg, she grinned competitively. “I see you’ve finished your doppelbock.”
The beer battle began in earnest, Zeno’s doppelbock versus the Green Mug’s Emerald Dragon. Pieces of paper were passed out to everyone, and the assembled tasters were to write A or B down depending on which of the brews they preferred. There was a great milling about and sipping of beers for some time.
When Layne tried Zeno’s brew, she got a sad look on her face. “I have to admit, this is a damn good doppelbock.”
And that was how Zeno got a free room.
Layne offered Harry and me a breakfast pie, which she said was a breakfast experiment, and far be it from me to turn down new advancements in the realm of breakfast. Harry, however, preferred more standard fare of eggs and bacon.
“That’s a very boring choice for an interesting-looking dragonborn,” Layne said.
“You’d be boring too if you were raised by monks.” Harry sniffed and accepted his non-interesting fare.
As we ate, the group chatted with Layne and Innard about local goings on. Personally, the reality of the apple situation had sunk in and I was feeling a lot of things. Angry. Stupid. Mostly frustrated. It had occurred to me overnight that one apple shard was probably not going to cut it. Not to be gross or anything, but it was already going slightly brown and considering how long it’d taken me to find this place, there was no way I could take it back before it rotted.
So, every was talking about fish not being like they used to and I was thinking about all this stuff I’d left undone. The apple slice. The lizard. All this work and planning and nothing.
“Did you say mermaids?” Zeno interjected, as Layne was saying something about fishing woes.
“Merpeople,” Felegum corrected.
Zeno looked unrepentant. It was, in fact, the same look that meant he was going to kick a poison flower, or knock on a door when we had no idea what was behind it. It turned out that there was a fishing village to the northwest that was having trouble with merpeople, and when Felegum realized that there would probably be pearls there, which he needed for his spells, he brightened and sounded into going.
I poked at my experimental meat pie. Merpeople. It hardly seemed like I’d find what I was looking for there.
Layne asked me and Zeno how we liked her breakfast experiment, bringing me back to the moment.
Zeno shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ve had better.”
I was mortified. “Don’t listen to him, it’s excellent.”
And whatever, maybe it ruins my street cred. But there you just don’t do that when someone specifically shares their experimental breakfast foods with you. That’s a privilege. If my dad–
I stopped that thought before it could go further. Layne, though, didn’t seem like she’d been offended. “That’s good to hear. My last experiment didn’t go as well, though that was tubers with goat intestine.”
I shivered despite myself. “Too many tubes.”
Zeno slammed his hand on the table, as though overcome with an idea. “Bacon bits!”
“Bacon bits!” Layne repeated, eyes alight with possibility.
“Actually, I call them bacon felegums,” said Felegum.
“You would,” said Zeno.
Then Awk asked people to teach him Draconic and things sort of devolved from there. I don’t speak it, but apparently enough people in the party do that they were able to conduct a concerted effort to only teach Awk terrible words (“immersion through lies,” Felegum called it). We also managed to broach, in Common, the delicate topic of Awk maybe not running into horrifyingly dangerous situations without us okaying it.
“People should speak up!” Awk pouted and crossed his catastrophe-inducing gnome arms.
“We DID,” literally everyone else said.
“If others are speaking, little gnome,” Harry interceded calmly, “one should listen.”
Anyway, I had some errands to run before we left town, so I took advantage of the opportunity to sneak off and do them, saying I’d meet up with everyone else at the stables. Helli went off to practice throwing daggers and as I left, Zeno was asking people about the Bag with No Holes. I closed the inn door just as he was smelling it.
I left the apple slice with Francis. He was old and hobble-y, you do the math. I don’t know how much good a single slice will be, but what was I going to do, let it rot in my pocket as I traveled? Also, I figured the town historian should probably know that magic healing apples were going to stop coming. He looked sad, and like he wanted to say something more, but honestly, I didn’t go there to argue about it so I just ran off.
The last thing I had to finish up before we left was the lizard. I’d kind of forgotten to release it back at its home earlier when we’d left the citadel (you know how things are, sometimes you just don’t want to spend any more time getting attacked by bramble monsters than you really have to) and I wanted to do that alone, a little bit because it meant really and truly admitting that my plan had failed, but mostly because I didn’t want Awk to know I’d had a plan, let alone that it hadn’t worked.
So I went out to a field outside of town, a good place for a young lizard to make a fresh start. I’d intended to give the lizard to Meepo as a sort of consolation prize, a new life to raise, for having to take Calcryx from him but since Meepo was dead it didn’t make sense to keep it. As much as I’m sure everyone got a kick out of me catching bugs for the lizard, I couldn’t keep doing that forever. Awk had talked once, briefly, to my lizard and it didn’t seem like he’d liked what he’d heard.
And as much as I never wanted Awk to be right about anything, I also didn’t want to hurt this thing. It was just caught up in someone else’s mistakes, and I knew all too well what that felt like.
I unscrewed the bottle and tipped it out gently onto the ground.
There was a small pause, lizard scenting the air, tasting freedom, and then it crawled back up my leg.
“What.” I spluttered. It wasn’t like I’d never had reptiles crawl over me– that was kind of just what happened from time to time, back home– but they’d always done it as a last resort, passing over you because they thought you were asleep or because there was literally no other way to get where they were going without it. I’d never had one to climb up me and just…hang out.
I deposited the lizard on the ground again. “Okay, bye.”
But as soon as I put it down, it just climbed up me again. This went on several times.
“Fine,” I said, kneeling on the ground with lizard attached to my forearm after a last failed attempt to set it free. “I give up. I guess I have a lizard now.”
When I arrived at the stable, lizard riding on my shoulder, everyone else was discussing travel plans. Harry used a scroll he’d gotten to figure out what the yellow powder we’d gotten earlier was. Apparently it was a Bag of Sneezing and Choking refined from the most potent of the yellow spore plants we’d run into and we had enough to use it a few times. Awk took advantage of the farrier also being a carpenter, and was able to get the wooden bugbear armor scaled down to gnome-size. It won’t be ready for a little while, though, so we’ll have to come back.
Zeno seemed pleased, though. We’d decided against hiring horses or a carriage for now, but he’d apparently gotten more information about the Bag with No Holes. “Soon as we get out of town, I’m starting the…project.” He smiled.
And indeed, once we’d left Greenrest and all the people who could possibly tell Zeno not to open the Bag with No Holes, he began in earnest.
Harry watched as Zeno eagerly fished the Bag out of his pack. “Some doors are meant to be closed until they’re meant to be opened.”
“Do I have a torch?” Zeno hunted through his things for one.
“Or burnt.” Harry amended.
While Zeno couldn’t locate a torch, he did have a candle. He lit it and held it near the bag, and all the flame did was curve around it. “Huh.”
“I’d like to mention,” Felegum said, clearing his throat, “that I am now accompanied by a flying orb, Dronie.”
it was nice to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d somehow acquired a new companion. Felegum has summoned this strange spherical dude with gears, wings, and one big eye. It pretty much looked like a flying clock ball, but it could also hold a sword, which was cool.
I glanced at the lizard. It remained on my shoulder, neck frills flapping a little in the breeze as I walked.
I hadn’t really acquired it, more just like, failed to un-acquire it.
In an inspired moment, Zeno cast Malicious Whisper on the bag. “You’re such a terrible bag,” he said. “You defeat the purpose of a container.”
He seemed pretty cocky about it, until a moment later when he looked freaked out. Had the bag said something back? I couldn’t find out, because Zeno promptly stabbed it with a dagger.
Harry coughed. “Before we begin a war with a burlap bag–”
“Too late,” Felegum muttered.
“Maybe the door is in another plane.” Harry mused.
“Maybe I need to talk to it like a bag,” Zeno said. He paused for a moment to take off his knapsack, turned it around to face the Bag with No Holes, and spoke to it in suggestive tones. “Yoo hoo~”
No luck, although romancing the bag was fun to watch.
“I mean,” I said, as Zeno gave up and put his knapsack back on, “you do have a magic jagged sword.”
But when Zeno tried cutting the Bag with No Holes, the bag just reknit around the sword’s passage. Like, the sword could cut through the bag, but only in one little hole, and then the bag sealed itself back up as soon as Zeno tried to move the sword through it.
“That’s progress!” Felegum cheered.
“Here, I have an idea.” Awk rushed up with a pebble and poked it inside the small opening in the Bag with No Holes. The pebble went inside and the bag sealed back up.
There was a small pause.
“Three is a good number,” Felegum said and nodded.
“This,” Zeno said, holding the bag up and feeling the additional object inside, “is the opposite of what I wanted.”
Felegum elbowed Helli. “There could be gems in there!”
“Ooh.” Helli thought about it. “But what if there’s something bad in there I don’t want to release?”
She had a good point. Maybe people were telling us not to open that thing for a reason.
At last Zeno gave up and sighed. “I tried flirting with it and it did not respond. I’m done trying to open this bag for now.”
He put the Bag with No Holes away and played a jaunty tune as we continued to walk and eventually spotted shanties and shacks along a larger body of water. When we got closer to the town, one of the buildings had a purple flame over it. Since that seemed like the place to go, we headed to it and Zeno knocked, in typical Zeno fashion.
The door split open down the middle, and a sign above it read Milto’s Emporium.
Milto was a firbolg and an extra jaunty one at that. He was sitting with scads of potions, notably Potions of Water Breathing. He said they were for sale for 50 gold each.
Helli sniffed. “Do you have bulk rates?”
Milto considered it. “If you contract a vessel–“
Zeno broke in. “We heard fishing wasn’t going so well.”
“Ha!” Milto said. “Understatement of the century. We can’t even sell fish except the ones from the shallows.”
The firbolg shrugged. “The merfolk became aggressive. No one can get to any of the islands in the lake. If you can contract yourself a vessel, you might be able to see them.”
Further conversation revealed that the town of Janwald didn’t really have a council or mayor, they mostly looked out for each other. We decided not to pay Milto’s 50 gold at the moment, and take his advice of contracting a vessel.
As we took our leave, Felegum called out, “Stay charming, Milto.”
The firbolg winked.
As to be expected from a fishing town, Janwald smelled like fish. A lot of fish. There were also a lot of flies, and my lizard was hopping around on the docks happily eating flies. “Oh god,” I realized, “it can’t go in the water.”
A few sailors were not terribly excited about deliberately seeking out the merpeople, but one seemed interested in hearing us out. Awk transformed into a bear, Felegum made a box of green lights, and Zeno played a song to impress him. Helli, Harry, and I stood in the back. I was still feeling burnt out after the apple and wasn’t sold on this whole mer-quest, and Harry I guess has been trying to maintain an air of modesty about his martial prowess these days.
Quincy, the captain half of us had been working to impress, was duly impressed and offered us gems as a reward for solving the mer-problem. And that’s about when I knew we were for sure, unavoidably going into the lake, because Helli’s eyes lit up. She tried to contain herself, but Quincy absolutely noticed.
“Youngling,” he said, putting the gems away, “I’ve had plenty of people try to steal from me. I suggest you don’t become one of them.”
“Oh no, not me.” Helli agreed.
“No sir, she wouldn’t.” Zeno cut in. “No one in this party would do that.”
I rolled my eyes. The lizard continued to have a great time with the flies, which was nice to see. It was kind of a relief to not have to worry about feeding the little dude all the time, though it kept coming back to me whenever it had had its fill of chasing insects around.
In order to finalize the contract between us, though, Quincy needed a name for our group. We all looked at each other. This wasn’t exactly something that I’d thought would happen.
“What about,” Harry said, “the Sovereign Dungeoneering Company?”
Quincy wrote it down, and we paid a modest fee for Quincy to take us out onto the lake in his boat. I guess I must have looked especially pathetic because Felegum suggested that I not have to pay.
“What?” Zeno laughed. “I am not paying for rich angel boy.”
“It’s not my fault you bought so much stuff in town.” I hunched my shoulders. It was more money I’d ever had in my life.
“Maybe you should’ve bought more.”
Helli, meanwhile, inspected our supplies. She held up the yellow powder dubiously. “Did anyone pick up two gallons of water just in case?”
“Uh,” Harry said. “We’re on a lake.”
Quincy escorted us onto the Wind’s Pride, provided us with emergency Potions of Water Breathing per our agreement just in case, and we set off in the mid-afternoon sun. At first it seemed almost pleasant. Water, like forests, has never been my favorite environment. I may come from a coastal city, but it doesn’t mean I like what’s beyond those coasts.
After a while, the stones and fish at the bottom of the lake gave way to murkier water and then it took on that dark blue color of unknown depth. I needed to be alone with my thoughts. What was being out here on the water going to do for me, besides keeping me with this group?
Felegum came up with Dronie to admire the water as we crossed over onto the merpeople’s side of the lake. I sighed. I couldn’t even be alone. I didn’t have a plan, and I was running out of–
My melancholy was interrupted when two tendrils of water slammed into the ship from the starboard side. Three more emerged on the port. Some sailors were thrown overboard and the entirety of the Wind’s Pride was drenched.
Never a dull moment.
Zeno cast Bane on the left three, and Felegum sent forth some magic missiles and had Dronie attack with his little dagger. Harry, since most of the tendrils were farther away from the ship, got out some darts and started throwing them at it. Helli used the opportunity to dash into the door at the stern and found the ship’s cabin. I rolled my eyes, making to light this water thing up with a nice dose of Thunder Wave.
Except I couldn’t, unless I wanted to fry Dronie in the process. And I didn’t– I mean, I was carrying my lizard into battle, I wasn’t completely heartless. But this was also water, and it would’ve been really nice to electrocute it, since that apparently was the skill I was developing.
So instead, I climbed up onto the ship’s railing and sliced out at the tendril with my shortsword and dagger, then yelled out to Felegum to move his dude. Conversely, I also found out that Dronie’s full name is Monodrone Serial Designation: X Æ A-Xii, but don’t ask me how to pronounce that.
Awk, surprisingly, did not become a bear but instead summoned the spirit of a river otter. “Her name is Chernika,” he said proudly.
Everybody’s getting familiars these days.
Anyway, Dronie proved to be really good at dodging. Unfortunately, I was not as good at dodging and a water tendril knocked me off balance and attempted to hurl me off the ship. Luckily, I was able to hold onto the ship, but I was absolutely soaked. Even the lizard looked upset.
Across the ship on the other raised deck at the stern, Zeno pulled out his Potion of Water Breathing and chugged it, then dove into the tendril nearest him. I was hanging on for my life inside a weird water cone, had an irate wet, lizard sheltering inside of my hood, and I could not look away. It was simultaneously stupid, brave, clever, and deeply confusing, but he gurgled at me with two thumbs up and I felt encouraged.
Felegum sent forth more magic missiles and Dronie tried to attack and missed. “He’s out of calibration,” Felegum tsked.
Then Harry grabbed me to pull me out of the water tendril and back onto the boat and he was so strong that I was sucked out of the water monster and landed on the deck with a soggy plop, half-drowned and extra sad. “Thank you,” I gasped out.
Helli struck one of the other water tendrils, then went to go check on one of the crewmen still fighting on the boat. Finally, I was in a position to unleash a little thunder without hitting anything except the water and that was incredibly satisfying. Awk hit one of the tendrils with a spell he’d cast on his stick. This was looking like we were doing okay.
The water tried to get me again and couldn’t, and gthings were looking good–until Harry got picked up by the tendril and thrown into the lake. Felegum make the two water dudes at the bow of the ship smaller and Harry commenced his work of punching himself free of the water.
Helli was running around on the lower deck again, this time finding and hurling a bucket of fishing tackle at one of the water tendrils. Pretty much all of the crew were overboard now and it was about at this point that I’d had enough. I don’t like forests, and I especially don’t like water. I thought fondly of nice, solid rocks and the desert and felt those wings of light unfold from my back again.
Awk looked at Harry, struggling in the grip of the tendril. “I want to cast Thunderwave, but…”
Harry called out, “Be the depth charge!”
“Okay,” Awk said, and then dove into the water and emitted the same kind of electricity that I had earlier. I didn’t know druids could do that. Harry, meanwhile, used some sort of crazy monk art to slam into the boat after he got pushed away by the force of Awk’s spell, and clung to the boat, slightly singed but still conscious.
Then Awk became a giant toad. We all just stared at it.
Felegum turned to Harry and smiled dangerously. “Do you want to get big?”
Harry, soaked, exhausted, and scorched, looked up as he clung to the side of the boat. “No.”
“What about you, Awk? Want to get swole?”
Toad-Awk blinked, toad-ishly.
“And you, Set?”
“Uh,” I said, glowing radiantly and soulfully.
In the end, Felegum made Toad-Awk even larger. Big Toad-Awk was truly a massive toad, even bigger than Bear-Awk. Harry finished climbing up onto the boat and plopped onto the deck. Meanwhile, Zeno was completely gone. The tendril holding him had disappeared below the waves, and he was either in deep trouble or on the fast track to mermaid town.
Most of the other tendrils had been defeated, so I decided not to let the one that Felegum had shrunk get away. Carefully, I set the lizard down on the deck. It kept trying to climb back up my leg per usual, so I deposited it on the planks again. “Look, you need to stay. I’ll be right back.”
As if sensing oncoming abandonment, the lizard starting running after me.
Luckily, I can run faster. And I did, diving off the boat and onto the small water tendril to the port side and cutting into the water with my weapons. Somewhere on the other side of the boat, Big Toad-Awk and Chernika the otter took a deep dive, probably to see if they could rescue anyone.
“You’re doing awesome, Dronie!” Felegum called to his familiar as he dashed across the boat. He wasn’t wrong. Dronie was fighting the same tendril as I was. I take back my earlier remarks. The little dude was alright.
Harry and Helli started up a dart contest, throwing projectiles from the deck at the tendril while Dronie and I continued to attack from close range. Harry missed and Helli didn’t, then I stabbed the tendril one last time and it exploded into a rainbow of tiny droplets against my wings.
We’d done it. There was still the problem with Awk and Zeno to fix, but I felt relieved. And it was almost beautiful being in the water like that, suspended between two worlds, one above, one below, shrouded by an arc of light.
Then two more huge tendrils rose furiously from the water, crashing down on to the boat and flipping it to its side.
And that was when I’d realized what I’d done. “Oh shit,” I breathed. “Not my lizard.”