RESCUING A NIGHTMARE FROM A DREAM: in which we discover a crab and Team Swan Dive assembles

We’d been traveling for two days or so on the road when we saw the well. Along the way, we’d discovered a few new things about our companions.

“The dragonpriest is my patron,” Awk clarified as several of us looked on, horrified. “Hey, I sold my soul to save your butts!”

This did not go over as well as he’d thought it would. Felegum waxed poetic about dragon civilization being the best civilization (debatable) and Awk was amazed that, despite making a pact with an entity that spoke Draconic, he had been unable to pick up on the fact that Calcryx was female.

“There are pronouns,” Felegum said comfortingly to the gnome.

“If only you knew them,” Harry added.

The well was just outside of a small town along the road called Borne. The well itself seemed pretty disused, but according to Helli, the three standing stones around it were a universal symbol of “water here.” There was a rope on it that once held a bucket and it appeared to have been used by the town at some point, but no longer.

“Ah, civilization,” Felegum said, breathing a sigh of relief.

Harry, meanwhile, tickled the back of Awk’s neck with a grass stalk. “Tell me, druid, what does the grass tell you?”

Awk ignored the grass tickling, which only served to drive Harry to do it more. “Can you purify water?” he asked Felegum and raised an eyebrow as the sorcerer pulled up five feet of rope. “I’m not really sure the water down there’s going to be any good.”

It was then that a small voice drifted out of the well: “Help, help, I’m stuck.”

I cast Light on a piece of wood and Felegum threw it down.

“What if it’s a trap?” Harry asked us, quietly. Then, louder, he leaned over the well: “Do you have a name?”

“Help,” the well replied. Whoever was down there sounded like a little kid and they sounded hurt. “My name is Pinch. Please help.”

The light bounced off a wall and landed too far from where the kid was stuck for us to see it.

“Guys,” Felegum said, “let’s just tie a rope down there and get some help.”

Harry and I were both pretty wary about it, but ultimately the desire to do good and help won out. We tied Felegum’s rope to the ledge, threw it down, and found that it didn’t reach all the way down. So, we tied on another rope and Felegum commanded Dronie to go down.

Dronie nosedived into the well. He was able to pick up the glowing stick that I’d made, but the nature of his bond meant that he couldn’t travel very far from Felegum, which meant that while Pinch could see a light the monodrone couldn’t get closer to the kid unless Felegum also moved into the well.

It was actually pretty cool– with enough concentration, apparently the sorcerer can see through Dronie’s eyes. He can’t do much besides sit and concentrate on his familiar, but that’s pretty cool. I’m not sure how Kheryph would feel about me seeing through his eyes. He doesn’t lick them or anything, but we also just don’t have that kind of bond.

According to Felegum, there was an open cavern below the well with rocks and a deep pool of water at the bottom. There was also an opening in the wall about fifty feet down with a door on the landing beyond. Harry took a look around, checking for bandits, and we decided we’d leave Zeno to himself out here.

Ever since Helli had given him the tin whistle she’d found earlier, the bard had been committed to learning it (and hinting that he wanted the obsidian dragon whistle Helli had taken from an altar in the citadel earlier) and truthfully, I’d had enough of whistle practice. Zeno could practice to his heart’s content and warn us of any incoming danger. For good measure, Felegum gave the bard half of his cube thing to hang onto in case of emergency.

Helli and Felegum were the first down onto the landing, and Helli went to the door as Felegum, now lower, could send Dronie for a more in-depth survey of the cavern.

“I see, I see the light again!” The child’s voice drifted up as I climbed down the rope. “Please, can you help? I can’t move. I’ve been down here for days.”

Awk rolled up his sleeves and got ready to shapeshift. “I am your giant spidery salvation.”

And with that, he became a giant wolf spider. It was honestly disconcerting watching that crawling down the wall next to me, but I kept going. Kheryph was tempted, though. Helli attempted to open the door and having little to no luck on it.

“What’s wrong?” Felegum asked, letting go of his connection with Dronie for a moment. “Do we have any tools?”

“Oh,” I said, “we have tools for days.”

“Tools for days,” Helli repeated, and then slammed a dagger into the door.

It opened.

Inside was a small room with upended chairs, a table with a glowing crystal on it, and a pervasive smell of mold. A fireplace dominated a wall behind the area and a passage to the north was clogged with rubble.

I stepped toward the crystal on the table.

“Do you really want to pick that up?” The dragonborn asked.

I shrugged and picked it up anyway. What can I say? It looked cool. It was a greenish glowing crystal, phosphorescent. I slipped two pieces into a pocket as Harry urged me not to. Dronie and Awk must have been continuing to explore below, because I didn’t hear anything from them.

Harry found some papers on the table, and we read them over:

It’s working, but subjects are growing restless and insolent.

Green crystals at the bottom of the lake enhance mental powers.

Harry gave me another look, but I shrugged. Mental power enhancement sounded like a good thing. Might be useful. Helli disappeared for a moment, but then re-emerged from the fireplace, which had turned out to not be a fireplace after all but a hidden room containing a statue with a basin of weird black liquid.

It smelled pretty acrid and not unlike burning pitch. Helli made a good effort to push a piece of bark through it, but it was too viscous to want to go into a vial.

It was about at this time that Felegum yelled, “HELP HELP HELP!”

Racing back to the rope, we discovered that the knot had slipped and that Felegum was at the bottom of the lake. Dronie’s little light stick had dropped before the pincer of a giant crab and the monodrone himself was nowhere to be seen.

My breath caught. No, it couldn’t be, not again–

Harry swan-dove off into the pool below. Hastily, I whipped out my rope from my knapsack and tied it onto the rope hanging from above. I’d seen sailors tie knots before. From a distance, sure, but I definitely knew that knots were a thing that sailors did. I’d just finished tying it when Helli began climbing down.

Felegum tried to cast something on the crab but it didn’t seem to work, and Harry surfaced in the water below, unable to see. “We need a light!”

“Hold on,” I said, and, summoning my wings, flew off the rope. Above, on the rope, Helli muttered “stabra cadabra,” a good indicator that seafood was on the menu tonight.

I was kind of worried about the knot on the rope, but it seemed to be doing okay holding a gnome. And that was when I saw the crab in full, and also the small body of a child next to it in torn and dirty clothes. The child did not appear to be moving.

Felegum hit the crab with a magic missile. “Man, I miss Zeno. He always had something to say at moments like these.”

Out of nowhere, Awk dropped out of his spider form and blasted the crab with something. It was different from his usual style of doing things, and I was a little worried that maybe making a big scary dragon pact had altered our loose cannon gnome more than he’d let on.

Meanwhile, the crab just took all this very placidly and swam to the bottom of the lake to munch on some of the giant crystals down there. From below the water, a bright yellow eye appeared on the top of its head, staring directly up at Helli on the rope.

Harry threw a dart, Helli dropped a dagger into the third eye, and I decided to try hiding, despite being the main light source. It wasn’t totally implausible that a very glowy statue had been dropped down the well. It wasn’t, okay?

This whole angel thing was messing everything I’d known about fighting up.

Felegum muttered, “ugh, shit,” and then cast Heat Metal on the dagger and dart stuck into the crab.

In response, Awk gave it frostbite. “Suffer in your chilliness!”

“Wow, guys,” Harry said from the ledge he, Felegum, and I were standing on, “we’re like IcyHot.”

It was then that the crab had had quite enough of this and surfaced, the force of its extremely weird eye locking Helli and me into place. Or so I assumed, since I was facing a bit away from Helli, but the only people I heard moving around where Harry, Felegum, and Awk.

Harry bravely leapt into the water to bring battle unto the crab, and proceeded to whack it a few times with his quarterstaff. More magic missiles emitted from Felegum, and it seemed like Awk was trying to destroy the green crystal at the bottom of the lake so that the mutant crab couldn’t take advantage of more of it.

The crab reacted poorly to Harry’s attempts to smash it and made some overtures at smashing him back. It did not seem to work, but again, I couldn’t tell super well since I was still struggling with moving again. It struck me that Helli was probably also still suspended from the rope, since I hadn’t heard a splash into the water.

More magic missiles and a moonbeam from Awk later, the crab moved ashore behind me and crunched Felegum in one of its pinchers. Upset by this circumstance, Harry threw the crab with all his might toward a wall–

Not realizing until it was too late that it would bring Felegum with it.

Both crab and sorcerer slammed into the wall and maybe something about the force of a giant crustacean hitting rock that jarred me from the spell, but I was back. I did my best to concentrate and put the crab to sleep, but was met with failure. Helli let go of the rope and dove onto the crab with her daggers out, and indeed, the crab was looking very hurt after its encounter with the Danger Dagger.

Felegum was underwater, still being grappled by this giant crab, and Awk’s blast missed both him and the crab. Now playing on its home turf, the crab crushed the sorcerer in its pincer and he fell unconscious below the water’s surface.

To make matters worse, it used its other pincer to go for Helli. Harry leapt into the water, using darts and a nasty-looking kick to get at the crab’s soft underbelly.

The situation was looking very bad.

The crab was far enough underwater that I wasn’t sure if I could get to it in time to make a difference. An image of Harry, leaping past Helli and me into the water, rushed through my head. And then Helli, letting go of the rope and slamming her daggers into the crab.

Maybe there was something to the swan-dive philosophy.

So, I dove and my hand just barely managed to reach Felegum and bring him back to consciousness.

Granted, he was still in a crab’s claw, but it was probably better than drowning and not knowing about it.

Helli unleashed her daggers again and the pincer that was gripping her went limp. Likewise, Felegum was able to break free and stab the crab with his own dagger. For a tense moment, I thought I could hear Awk debating whether or not he should Thunderwave the crab, which would have been a bit terrible, since I’d just forgiven him and literally everyone but Awk would take damage, and luckily he decided on a blast instead.

The crab tried to snap at Helli again, but she was able to avoid the worst of it. With her still caught in its pincer, the crab began to swim for the waterfall.

Harry slammed it with his staff and then head-butted it, and that was the final straw: the crab’s shell gave way and it exploded in a mess of meat and viscera, all over Harry.

Helli swam to the waterfall to investigate, Awk and Felegum went to work on the crystals, and Harry washed the crab meat from himself as best he could. Even the water was kind of meaty at this point, so it was a tough task.

I provided light for a bit, and then swam over to the body.

It was a kid, and from what I could tell, they’d died within a day or two. Probably the crab had lured them into the well and then stole their voice to ensnare future passersby. I sighed. One more thing I couldn’t fix.

Helli had discovered some cool things– she handed me some gold she’d found in a chest in a room behind the waterfall and shared more sheets of paper: The subjects are becoming a problem; a cull will be needed soon. “Also,” she said, “I found these cool statues.”

In the meantime, Felegum and Awk had somehow managed to get a large chunk of the crystal out from the lake bottom. Felegum cast Reduce on it, making it small enough to carry, and had Harry bring it up the rope. Awk helped me tie a harness to bring the dead kid to the surface, and I headed up after him. Helli and Felegum were going to take one last look at the behind-the-fireplace room, so we left them to their work.

As I finished climbing out the well, Zeno was already there with a drink. “Come on, kid, have some wine!”

“I have a dead body,” I said.

“All the more reason to drink.”

“It’s a child.” I turned away, setting the corpse down and undoing the harness. Just as Harry took his pack off, the crystal burst out of it and glowed eerily.

Helli and Felegum emerged shortly after, saying that they’d tried to insert some statues they’d found into the pedestal behind the fireplace, but that the pitch had just started overflowing instead. Maybe we’d solve that later.

In the meantime, there was dinner to be had and plans to be made.

“Hey, Harry,” Awk said, “did you bring any of that crab back with you?”

Harry grimaced. “What about returning the child to their family?”

I shook my head. “I’d prefer not to show up in the dead of night with a dead kid.”

“Yeah,” Awk said, “that might cause some misunderstandings.”

Harry blinked, as though surprised with himself. “For once, I agree with Awk.”

And as much as we could with that unsettling adventure behind us, we slept.

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