I let my mind drift as our more magically inclined folks cleaned up the mess we found in the spawning chamber. I quietly watched as the whispers and hints of unnatural ki faded away as Felegum and Set finished releasing the last of the merfolk from their shuddering stupors. I can crush a skeleton, I can put down a kobold, I’ve even had a modicum of success punching water itself, but ki and the hidden fabric of life still escape me. Luckily, practical problems have a habit of anchoring me back to the present, and we were still stuck in a partially explored cave system at the bottom of a lake. Two large glowing purple pools still purred with malice intent, as the rogues and our druid stalked about the room.
I turned back to the nearest group of merfolk who were unaffected “Excuse me, merfolk, can you tell us more about the caves here? Our group is not well suited to the water, and I am worried more of those twisted forms or the acidic cubes are hunting us.”
One of the merfolk piped up from the low murmur of the conversation near the entrance. “Oh, the jelly cubes? We leave that area alone and they leave us be.”
“What else is back that way? Are there a lot of those things?” Our conversation became the focus of the room, my traveling partners deciding to let me, once again, open my mouth in the hope of not making anything worse.
“We do not know, we have never felt it necessary to disturb the jellies, and I suggest you don’t either until you talk with our leader, M’shel . As for the other passage, that is just our garden, where we store some oysters and mussels, as well as various fish and plants we grow for food… ” The merfolk wistfully detailed the contents of their garden, confirming what we knew.
“Yes, the gardens. We saw those, but were luckily not accosted by anything lurking.” My mind wandered back to the brilliant points of light, like nothing I’d ever seen, lighting a room not with Set’s magic, or the natural light of sun, but with their very own life, their very own ki.
“Our garden, is it okay? We haven’t been able to check it with those things lurking, forcing more us to look into the wells.”
“Uhh… I just… looked at the lights?”
Her eyes narrowed, but I couldn’t tell if she feared us or feared for her family. I didn’t lie, but the truth wasn’t going to help us here.
“But is our garden okay? What happened?” Her voice lowered.
Was she angry?
Did I do it again?
At least for the first time in a while, we’re on dry land and with only one entrance to the room, we may even have a tactical advantage? If only our bard was here, his spirits weren’t even dampened in this place, and his silver tongue may be able to get us out of this mess. My monk skills seem to be limited lately to martial prowess, putting myself between my party and my things that worship red glowing spirits, and…
“Uh, we should really be leaving now. I think we should speak with M’shel.”
“What is down here? Should I go in?” He said as he wavered on the edge of one of the larger pools.
How can Awk plunge us into fights and ruin retreats? I’m trying not to fight the people we just saved. This was spiraling fast. I did my best, my eyes closed, my hands relaxed. My arms followed, my shoulders rolled. Sometimes your nature is fighting; sometimes you only have one solution.
Set purred something from the right of me, Helli murmured, and Awk squawked?
And my eyes opened to everyone plunging one by one, back into the safe waters of the cave.
I tried not to look too eager as I followed suit, eager to dodge the merfolk’s questions. I hadn’t even gotten her name, but I was ready to fight to the death.
“Next time, I’ll do the talking, Mr. Lizard,” hissed Set as he followed Helli into the water, his hood hiding the emotion by his eyes, but even the angsty teen couldn’t resist a small smirk and a sarcastic lighting of my pilfered trident so I could take the lead as in the water. We’d been spending too much time with that bard and he was rubbing off on us…
AND WE LEFT HIM ALONE WITH THE MERMAIDS.
Our plunge back into the water was a cold shock back to our strained state of peace with the recovering merfolk, complicated by our band’s lack and overabundance of charm. We quickly reunited with Felegum in the water, who now gestured us back to the open chamber we had used to prepare for our ambush of the twisted merfolk. My quick swimming positioned me as the veritable spearhead of our floundering school of fish, but I was far from a graceful lead. This was especially true when I quietly broke the surface of the water, wielding a glowing trident and witnessing a somewhat clothed bard engaging in a significantly more effective form of diplomacy with one of the merfolk. I may be out of place in society, but I did my best to try and grab a quick breath and scrabble to slow the party.
“Hmm, an illusory door and a warm winter’s sock on the handle. Have you found Zeno?” Felegum asked as he breached the surface, quickly assembling the facts for himself. I was just gracious our bard was quick with his magic, I shudder to think of the mental damage of being interrupted by Awk.
Our gathered party made small talk until our conversations were interrupted by a blushing merfolk named Zen sashayed and a yoohoo from our disheveled bard.
“I think it is time to sort out our treaty for the town,” Set stated.
“Geeeeeeeems,” Helli whispered as Set led us as we all took our water breathing potions and prepared for an hour of chatting with merfolk.
What followed was a lengthy dance of Set and Felegum trying to discern how the merfolk tribes were structured, how we could stabilize relationships with the town, and any information we could glean on the cause of the purple rings. I caught the details I needed as I did my best to look as calm and non-threatening as I could. Red eyes, sudden twisting with dark magics, scary beasts tending gardens, it was similar to our dealings with Durden, and it pointed to him, but we had only dealt with him twice directly and I saw an unsettling pattern forming. As we concluded, we ended with a four day timer to make it back to the town, Set got some algae, and we had a back up plan to get Captain Quincy back in business and safe passage back to the surface.
Now we’re just shipwrecked.
(Guest post written by Harry, Monk of Incalculable Skill, Snatcher of Arrows, Pugilist and Gentleman.)