TIDAL WAVES, THEY RIP RIGHT THROUGH ME, TEARS FROM EYES WORN COLD AND SAD: which is entirely too full of cubes and people getting harpooned

Harry swam back and got a trident about at the same time that Dronie went off, signalling the end of our worry-free underwater time. There was an inscription on Harry’s trident but no one could read it. Oh well.

Awk hadn’t been able to squeeze through the hallway that led to dry land, not after eating the bad mer-dude and some kelp from the northern wall of the cavern we’d just been in. He was, actually, looking pretty bad.

“Guys, get out of the water, he’s gonna blow!” I yelled, just before the inevitable happened.

Awk turned back into a gnome and surveyed his vomit. “Well,” he said, “that was gross.”

Then everybody wanted to sleep but no, Zeno had to find a skeleton around a corner and then coo over it. That guy. Sometimes he’s into the dead body, sometimes he’s not. I never know what to expect.

“Awk, I must say I did not expect you were the frog,” Zeno said, nudging the skeleton with a boot. It looked pretty old. Somehow the idea of Zeno having no idea who the huge toad was was hilarious.

Felegum investigated the damp, non-skeleton area. “I could dry it out in here.”

“Wait,” Zeno said, “does this place have tides?”

“It’s a lake.”

“How ’bout the moon, man?”

For a while, they argued back and forth about the moon and then how many moons there even were, and eventually Felegum made a dry area. Since it was only going to stay dry for as long as Felegum was concentrating on it, Zeno headed back to the skeleton to snuggle in. A cozy bedspread appeared out of nowhere, which seemed hugely unfair but also something that Zeno would hide away all this time and not tell us about.

I grabbed Felegum’s hand. He was doing such a good job and trying so hard with all that ice. “You gotta promise me that you’re not going to get hurt, okay? You can’t get hurt.” It came out really intense for some reason. But this was important. I had to make him see that. “Stay safe, okay?”

“Okay, uh, sure, Set.” He smiled awkwardly for some reason, but I couldn’t figure it out. Whatever. I used my special aasimar powers and healed him anyway.

“What’s an aasimar?” Felegum asked.

Had I said that out loud?

“Um, I have wings?” I said by way of explanation. Sometimes I had wings. Not always, obviously, but sometimes.

Zeno took out his bagpipes. “I would love it if someone with an instrument would accompany me.”

I surveyed my belongings and sighed. “All I have is a lizard.”

“What did you say, Helli?”

The gnome smiled thinly at the bard. “I misspoke,” she said, and then tried to lie down on the luxurious bedspread that Zeno set up. But instead of sinking into comfortable blankets and lush pillows, she went right through it. An illusion. Helli glared daggers at Zeno.

There was some discussion of where everyone would sleep–we were all kind of crammed in with the skeleton dude anyway, which didn’t seem to bother Zeno. Harry suggested that we maybe try to all jam in there, but then he ended up meditating in a corner in the water instead. Awk tried to float on the waves, and both of them looked exhausted by the time we woke up.

I just had a really terrible headache for some reason, which was not improved when Zeno tried to play the bones of the skeleton with a xylophone. “I figured,” the bard said, proudly holding a femur over his improvised instrument, “that I’d play a song.”

“Wait, why?” Felegum spluttered. “You already have a fine pair of bagpipes!”

“Yeah, you’re right. This is a poor excuse to be playing with a dead body.” Zeno sighed and placed the bones down. He saw me and brightened. “Would you like some song?”

Everyone was incredibly loud this morning. “No,” I said, “I would not.”

Zeno sighed. “If only there was another way.”

He looked wistfully at the bones.

Morning shenanigans done, Felegum and Zeno decided to scout ahead. “Dronie,” the sorcerer said, “keep a timer.”

The little monodrone buzzed affirmatively. The two set off, holding their breath, and swam around the area to the south of us. Back where we’d come was a whole bunch of frog barf, so we decided to leave well enough alone there.

A while later, the two swam back quickly, looking out of breath. Helli narrowed her eyes at Zeno. “What happened to your skin? It’s so gross.”

“It was so bad.” Felegum said, gasping. “Sticky and hard to get away from.”

“Awful, horrible.” Zeno moaned theatrically.

“Bad mojo.” Felegum confirmed.

We were going to ask what exactly had inspired all this when it came out of the water behind them. A perfect cube with a very defined edge moved out of the water. It had skeletons floating in it.

“Oh shit, it’s a monster,” Felegum said. Helli picked up a rock and threw it, but the cube just absorbed it.

Then Awk decided it would be a good idea to cast Ice Knife and threw it at the cube. Why he decided to do this remains a mystery, since he hit Zeno instead and the knife exploded into a bunch of pieces that pelted us as we were all bunched up. It stung, and it was more than Dronie could handle. The little monodrome emitted a sad eeep and vanished.

“Oh my god,” I said, “Awk killed Dronie.”

“Technically, I can re-summon him.” Felegum picked ice out of his cloak. “It’s just expensive.”

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, YOU IDIOT!” Zeno yelled, covered in ice chunks and frost.

Awk shrugged. “Ice is slippery?”

“I’ve managed,” the sorcerer replied, frostily.

“Ooh, sick freeze.” I said.

“Can I throw the gnome at the jello?” asked Harry, who had also gotten hit by ice shrapnel.

“No, don’t do that. Awk’s an idiot by he’s okay.” Felegum glummly looked at the spot where Dronie had been moments before, and Harry pulled Zeno off to the side, out of the way of oncoming cube attacks.

Sensing my opening, I attacked. No one seemed willing to risk their weapons on the cube, but someone had to, right? I sliced, I diced, and a tiny corner of the cube slipped off. I didn’t even lose my weapons.

In response, the cube made a tiny arm and tried to hit Harry, but had no luck. Then it just…moved onto us. I dove out the back of the cub, Felegum went forward, and Harry headed to the side. It was about as terrible as Zeno had made it look before. The bard in question cast a healing spell on himself. “I feel fine, darling, how about you?”

Little tendrils of smoke came out of his bagpipe. I just kept thinking that it really wasn’t supposed to be doing that, but whatever. It’s not like we really have a lot of bagpipes where I’m from.

Then the cube decided to flee. It was looking pretty cut-up, granted, but moving backward like it did sent it right back into Felegum, who was engulfed again and lost consciousness. Helli grabbed onto Felegum and tried to pull him out of the cube, but all she got was some acid on her hands for her trouble. Even though he seemed super malnourished and lightweight, it was a long shot for a gnome to pull him out on her own.

She disengaged and ran for cover. Awk hit the cube with a big stick, then Harry got it with his quarterstaff and a lot of punches. “We’re coming, Felegum!” the dragonborn yelled to the man in the cube.

Harry punched the cube really hard or something, because he managed to get it off of Felegum and onto Awk. Which, while not the greatest, seemed like poetic justice. “My idea was a great success!”

I went to work slicing on the cube again and it collapsed in sloped in on itself. I made a good try at using whatever meager medical supplies I had on me on Felegum, but no luck. I put my hand on Felegum and healed him. Again, I might add.

Awk also healed Felegum, and the sorcerer stood up and then slapped him across the face. “Think before you act!” He looked down at his repaired skin. “Thanks for the heal, though!”

“I’m so sorry that was so terrible!” Zeno called.

“Sorry for giving you the cold shoulder,” Awk said.

I narrowed my eyes. “You also colded me too, but I don’t want an apology.”

“Guys,” Felegum said, pulling us all close, “group hug.”

He just seemed happy to be alive.

Meanwhile, Zeno went over the investigate the corpse. He muttered something like he was looking for feet.

Felegum looked at the body. “Seems like a lot of things get killed here.”

“Yeah,” I said, “let’s not become one of them.”

Zeno exhaled and stood up. “I just want to find mermaids that aren’t ugly like those three.”

We were trying to figure out where to go and Awk suggested that he could transform into a toad again and see what he could find down the direction to the south.

“We’re angry at you, but you don’t have to atone like this,” I said. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like Awk very much, but at the same time, we really didn’t need another person dying on us.

“Yeah, the healing went a long way.” Felegum agreed.

“It’s fine,” Awk said, waving it off. “Come if you hear an explosion.” He got ready to change into an eel.

“If you die in eel life, you die in real life,” I called after him.

“Actually, I just become a gnome,” he corrected and the became an eel.

That wasn’t really what I’d meant, but whatever. He swum off. Zeno, in the meantime, had walked off to get some beer. “I needed it,” he said, defensively.

Some time went by and it almost seemed peaceful. Then there was a large boom.

“The go signal!” Harry leapt up.

“At least he found it instead of us,” Zeno said, then turned to Harry. “Well, I do not wish for you to get injured, dear.”

Harry looked happy, then I dashed off toward the sound. My lizard was not excited to be back in the water– we’d decided to save the potions for our exit, even if it meant holding our breath and fighting things potentially underwater. I didn’t realize that Harry couldn’t see until he burbled at a distance behind me– I’d cast Light on my back again so he could see, but this far away I must have vanished.

I found Awk fighting water, until one of Felegum’s rays of frost whizzed by and froze a little slice of cube solid. Another one. Of course, at that time, it was too late to do anything other than register surprise, regret, and anger as Awk Thunderwaved again. The ice cube split into tinier drink-sized ice cubes, and a cube migrated its way over to me.

As small as they were, it was still very bad. Acid of any kind is just bad, especially if there’s a chance you might pass out while underwater from it. I also unleashed a Thunderwave on it because I was completely done with cubes today, and it was sundered into many tiny wiggly pieces.

We swam back and Awk healed me, which was nice. What was not nice was that Zeno and Helli were gone. Hopefully not eaten by another cube, but since we hadn’t seen them earlier and there was only one other direction to go in…

I sighed. “We have to swim through the vomit water.”

It was slow going, but we managed. There was a lot of kelp to the north, though some of it had been chewed away by a froggy mouth. The lizard was really upset at being underwater without breathing for so long and had clawed angry slashes onto my neck as it clung on. It would have been more metal if it didn’t resemble a weird hickey.

We climbed out onto another dry area. When Felegum emerged from the water, a voice said, “all right!” After I climbed out, Zeno called, “hey kid!” and then when Awk emerged, the bard just swore. Poor Harry got a consolation greeting, but it wasn’t quite the same. Zeno handed Helli a silver, like they’d been betting on us reaching them or not.

Everyone was tired again, so we took a short rest. Zeno played the bagpipes, which sounded okay in theory, but was a little less restful when we realized how much smoke was coming out of them. It wasn’t a lot, it’s just that I’m pretty sure that no smoke is the regular amount of smoke for functional bagpipes to emit. They still work fine, though.

I tried to soothe my lizard, and also cast Light on poor Harry’s trident so that he could actually see where he was going.

Rested, some of the group dove off into the water to our left. Since it looked mostly peaceful, I hung back with my lizard as Felegum and Zeno went down to stab clams and then showed the pearls to Helli for appraisal. Awk even helped in the pearl-finding endeavor.

“It seems like there’s a garden in there!” Felegum said happily, flush with pearls for spellcasting.

“Ooh, too familiar.” Harry shuddered. I had to agree. Definitely done with groves for at least a little bit.

Awk, once finished helping with pearls, tried to find the most vicious fish, was disappointed, and then became an otter and ate a lot instead. Helli and I caught up on the dry section about our separate adventures–how she and Zeno had found this place and how me, Harry, and Felegum had handled the Awk emergency earlier.

Eventually, Felegum swam back ashore and decided to do some spellcasting. He has this whole book of rituals now for getting some of his spells to work and I guess you have to be really specific about it or something? Because it took like almost half an hour each time to identify magical artifacts. Maybe magic is different or something, because when I want to do something I just…do.

Anyway, Helli handed over the Nasty Dagger and Felegum got to work. The pearl melted on the dagger like in slow-motion as the sorcerer waved an owl feather over it. The Nasty Dagger turned out to be a Dagger of Venom that could do all sorts of cool stuff. Like poison people you stab with it. Plus, it juts looked like it would make you a little bit better at everything.

“Don’t throw it,” Felegum said.

Helli wrapped it back up, in awe of it.

Apparently, it also needed a word to trigger the poison. “An unsafe word, if you will,” Zeno quipped. Helli said she’d have to think of a good one.

She took a moment to identify another pearl, a very large one, and made a satisfactory sound. “Don’t sell that to any old gem shop.”

Next, Zeno got out his jagged sword, which I think he was storing in the bagpipes, to be identified next. Somehow, it ended up that Zeno tried to figure out what the green potion Felegum had on him was instead.

Zeno dipped a finger in it and tasted. “This tastes like really cooked shallots and persimmon? Felegum, this is a sauce.”

“But we know it’s magical,” the sorcerer pressed. “It’s a magical sauce.”

“But it’s delicious.”

“Okay.” He sighed, and then got to identifying the sword. Awk continued to gorge himself in the oyster garden. The rest of us had snack time while Felegum did his ritual thing and Zeno shared some baneberries with us as we waited.

The sword was called Shatterspike and it had a lengthy history of being used throughout the realm, its wielders specializing in destroying their opponents’ weapons. Felegum explained all this stuff to Zeno, but just did it…really slowly…so that the bard had to wait a painstakingly long time for each new bit of information.

“And then the other side breaks people’s weapons like whoa!”


I re-lit Harry’s trident as we prepared to explore more of the mer-palace and faced the larger problem: my lizard. The little dude was absolutely not into these underwater shenanigans and I felt kind of terrible that this involved so many forced swims, most of them without a water-breathing potion since I was saving that for the trip out.

We were definitely going to be swimming again, that was inevitable. We were probably also going into battle. The land here was dry and the oyster garden seemed pretty peaceful, and I could always come back and get the lizard once the coast was clear. It might just eliminate another underwater trip, and honestly my neck was really starting to hurt from being clawed so much.

At first, I tried bread. The lizard was not into the hardtack, which was not surprising and also showed a measure of good taste. Then Zeno let me have some baneberries and that was it. The lizard loved them. I held one in front of it and gently lead the little dude down my shoulder that way, until he was on the ground, munching away at the berries.

Thus divested of lizard, I leapt into the water.

Awk was still an otter, Zeno poked him in the stomach, and he just giggled and twirled. About what you’d expect.

Scouting ahead, Harry had found that there was a bad merdude with a harpoon like the ones before. This one seemed to be patrolling. We evolved a plan: Awk would, as Otter-Awk, would distract the guard and draw them over to where the rest of us were waiting. We’d attack without alerting the other guard, hopefully, and that would be that.

It seemed like things were going okay– Otter-Awk swum out, acted otterly, and then got promptly harpooned by the merdude.

He pretended to be dead, but the merdude kept reeling him in so Awk unleashed a Thunderwave on him. Zeno was visibly disappointed that Awk had made it out okay. Awk went back to being Toad-Awk and took a big bite out of the merdude. Harry swam to the other bad merdude. I got swept off by a current, and then Felegum sent some magic missiles to the one Harry and I were fighting.

Helli took out the Nasty Dagger and said “stabra cadabra” and the dagger began to get sticky. Meanwhile, Awk took a huge bite out of the bad merdude and he was donezo. Things seemed to be looking up, so Zeno decided that he was going to run off and chase some mermaids. The one remaining merdude, not taking kindly to this, harpooned Zeno too and started reeling him back through the water.

“I have better places to be, darling!” The bar said, despite bleeding a lot from his chest.

Anyway, Harry ushered the other merdude into the land of the deceased, and then Zeno pulled the harpoon out of his own chest. It was metal. Maybe almost too metal. How badly did that dude want to flirt with some mermaids? Enough to risk death?

I guess. I mean, they’re not really what I expected. I think I maybe prefer legs.

Zeno drank his Potion of Water Breathing, a bold move considering that I didn’t know how we were going to get him out after an hour, Felegum drank his as well, Harry and Helli went to inspect the bodies, and Toad-Awk wafted toadishly through the water after Zeno and Felegum. I went back for the lizard. Some of us had responsibilities.

As I swum back, once again being attacked by the lizard, a few sounds carried through the water.

“If you can make it up here, please help us!” A voice I didn’t know.

“Not everyone’s here!” Felegum called.

“I’m not here for everyone!” Our bard said. “I’m here for the mermaids!”

Well. I rolled my eyes and continued swimming. Good to know where we all stood.

I caught up with Helli and Harry and we all emerged into a room with actual merpeople, most of them clustered around these four holes in the floor glowing with weird purple light. According to Felegum and Zeno, these weird purple light fixtures were mesmerizing the mermaids. Felegum had been able to break their entrancement with Protection From Evil, which seemed like a statement in itself about those holes, and Toad-Awk’s sitting on the light as a giant toad had not had an effect on the merpeople. Neither had Zeno casting various illusions of buckets and coverings on the holes.

My lizard was wet and continuously not happy. It let me know.

Felegum enlarged Toad-Awk back into Big Toad-Awk, to better support his hole-covering abilities, to little effect. Sometimes if you blocked the merms’ line of sight to the glowy holes they would get confused but often would just go back to looking at them more fiercely later.

I thought about it, and then after herding a bunch of the entranced merpeople together with the help of Felegum and Zeno, I cast Sleep on them. A bunch of weird stuff has happened of the past week or so. The panacea apple was a bust, I got wings, and now I can do magic. Weird magic, though. I don’t really want to talk about it.

I carried out a sleeping merm and yeeted them into the water with their non-bespelled friends, hoping that this would work. Helli dropped a rock down the hole and observed it. “So things fall through and don’t immediately disintegrate.”

Awk stopped being Big Toad-Awk and instead became Big Gnome Awk.

“Looking good, Awk,” said Felegum.

Big Awk tried to lean on Zeno, which was not received well.

Felegum examined the holes more as I got ready to unleash another round of Sleep. Apparently the holes were similar to other conduits. Like the tree we’d left in the Grove. One of the other merpeople managed to be broken free, probably by Felegum casting Protection From Evil again.

“Who the– what are you?” They spluttered.

“Go in the water!” Felegum waved them off. “Your people are there!”

Harry took the merdude gently by an arm. “Excuse me, merfolk, but where are we right now?”

“This was our nesting chamber,” they said, looking confused and forlorn, “where we raised our young. One day the nests turned into water and the young fell into that purple light.”

Something in my stomach twisted. Had I been fighting kids turned into monsters?

Apparently the purple light was also what made normal merpeople into the giant bad merdudes, also known as merrows. No one could see a bottom to the glowy holes, though Awk offered to jump in. We all told him no.

The two smaller nests we were able to plug up with rocks, but the larger ones were tougher to handle. Zeno tried again with the bucket illusion tactic on one of the mermaids clustered around the two big glowy holes. He lifted the bucket up. “Yoohoo, are you okay?”

Not sure if it helped, I went in for Sleep again and carried out more drowsy merpeople and threw them into the water outside of the chamber. Felegum was able to get the last two back to normal with more Protection From Evil spells, and we basically just told them to not go into that room again.

Zeno stood tall. “I think we can solve this problem for you,” he said to the merfolk.

“Oh my gosh, thank you,” one said. She explained that her name was Zen and that things had been normal, including trade with the humans of the town, until the glowy business started and the merrows started attacking ships. She went on explain the layout of the palace to us and pointed to the oyster garden. “We keep our clams over there.”

“Oh.” Awk said sheepishly, possibly still Big Awk. “I have some bad news for them about their clams.”

Felegum shrugged. “Whatever. I just did Protection From Evil for them up the wazoo.”

Zen pointed to a door next to the nesting chamber. “And this is where we grow our famous white algae.”

I perked up. That sounded like something potentially delicious and good with breakfast. And I had not survived so much of this ridiculous trip to come back empty handed.

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