So we were in a den of sin and lasciviousness (which I knew about, obviously, since I was totally an adult), Lankin and Tem had been mind-whacked by our hosts, who had turned out to be fiends, one of whom had worked alongside or maybe had some other liaison–details to be determined later– with our tight-lipped monk friend Harry, and Zeno had just gotten a lap dance and turned into a mammoth.
Hopefully those last two things were not related.
I was taking a defensive posture to see how things played out. Caution first. Lankin, thus bedeviled, took to the stage, grabbing two fiends on either side of him and began to dance. This absolutely tracked– Lankin was not one to shy from the spotlight.
It was definitely a performance, I’ll give him that.
Meanwhile, Harry laid into the lady fiend. “You–” a punch– “are–” another strike– “not–” this time, a miss– “her.” One last punch, this time a dead ringer. He punted her in the chest and she flew back, her wings unfurling. Then, she disappeared in smoke.
But not for long: she re-materialized in one corner of the bar, just as the portcullises leading out of this place and the next hallway, as well as the one that we’d just come through, slammed shut.
“Well,” this lady, who someone murmured was the Countess, said, “I am what you have made me and you are what I have made you.”
We were really in it now, mammoth and all, so I ditched the stealth approach and instead shored up our unattended magical flank. That is to say, I dashed over to Felegum and provided some cover, taking out my knife to try to slash a succubus.
“No need for that, darling,” she said with a laugh.
“Don’t call me darling,” I shot back. “I don’t even know you.”
Honestly, everyone was so forward here.
Mammoth!Zeno bellowed and gored a succubus adjacent to him.
“No need for that,” she said, making even the blood on her look like part of her outfit and delicate. She fixed Zeno with one of those capital-L Looks and he just kind of followed her like a flower follows the sun. Weird to see in mammoth form, not gonna lie. Like, she touched his tusk? I don’t know, I had to look away, it was too weird.
Unfortunately, this meant looking at another succubus next to me who was trying to pull the same maneuver. I was still kind of being weirded out by the tusk-succubus implications, though, so the magnetism of her gaze didn’t quite have the same effect.
“Thanks for the distraction, Set,” Felegum said, taking the opportunity to move out of harm’s way.
Tem seemed to wake up from the stupor she was in and realized the gravity of her situation and ours. She held a platinum amulet aloft and energy washed over her and spread across the den of sin. She picked up her greatsword. She was ready.
She was still on the massage bed, granted, but she was ready.
Meanwhile, Helli downed the last of her fine wine at one of the tables. “Lovely,” she commented. “I’ll go get us another.”
“No, no,” responded her drinking companion, also a fiend, “I’ll go get it.”
“Oh, please, please stay here.” The gnome gestured behind her at a wildly gyrating Lankin. “Enjoy the show. I’ll be right back.”
She stood and began making her way toward the bar, flipping a copper piece in Lankin’s direction.
Lankin was thriving. Seeing Helli approach the stage, he brightened and scooped her up to dance with him. She…did not seem thrilled but also didn’t resist.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, Harry was relentless, punching the Countess with all he had, his fists moving faster than a normal person should have been able to punch. The Countess, however, was taking it all in stride.
“You are misbehaving,” she said. “You are an embarrassment to me and everything you have done.”
The she glared at him and he looked a little peaked. Like, not good.
Anyway, it was at this point that I was like, totally done being encroached on by this fiend girl, so I said no to that and invoked a nice little blessing on me, Helli, and Felegum so that we could just like, keep our heads in this mess.
Mammoth!Zeno went to the baths, not stomping me or anyone else on the way, which was nice.
What was less nice was that that one succubus was intent on me, trailing after and trying to persuade me to join her and hang out.
Obviously I was on a rescue mission, possibly a double one now that Harry was getting tangled up in his memories.
Anyway, Felegum was coming in clutch with a signature tidal wave through three of the succubi near him. At this point, Tem stood and swung her greatsword, once and then back, through the fiends who had previously been attending her.
“This is a ruse, right?” Helli hissed to Lankin. “You have a plan, right?”
“The plan,” Lankin said, “is to dance!”
Helli sighed, one big bodily exhale. “Put me down, please.”
“Okay.” Lankin did so and Helli tossed another copper at him. Lankin, not satisfied by lifting one gnome and then putting her down, threw the nearest fiend into the air and braced himself to catch them as they plummeted.
The fiend, surprisingly, was highly acrobatic and did a double-backflip.
But Felegum and I were not swayed by such gymnastic feats. Lankin, perhaps in response, threw another fiend into the air.
Harry closed his eyes and when he opened them, they were clear. “You’ve got tricks,” he said. “I’ve got tricks too.”
He took up a defensive stance again.
The Countess summoned her glaive and whaled on Harry. One strike went wide, gripped by his talon, but another sliced him deep. The Talon made a screeching noise across the glaive and while the weapon didn’t break, it did look weakened.
She looked Harry in the eye and beckoned.
Once again, I moved out of fighting range and, taking a leaf out of Harry’s book, I got myself ready to dodge.
However, my concentration on my defense was momentarily shaken by the giant mammoth galloping through the water and splashing about joyfully. One fiend was gored into the air, another was knocked into the water– it was a delightful mess, made even more so when Zeno’s mammoth legs landed on a bag of pink powder, sending it up in a colorful poof that dyed everything around it party-colored.
The succubi looked at Lankin and he kissed her. Then he looked incredibly hurt.
“So much brain pain!” he wailed, clutching his skull.
Two of the succubi went after Helli and Felegum– Helli was able to dodge; Felegum wasn’t. The fiends around Tem transformed into weirdly draconic creatures. “Come,” they said, “do you really wish to destroy something pure, something that you’ve devoted your life to?”
Felegum, still wincing from his own close encounter with the fiend, said “ouch!” and cast a spell on himself. Nothing happened, and I hoped this was supposed to happen.
He moved away and didn’t get hit. Miraculously. Clearly Lathander was out here doing work.
Tem kept up her attacks on the dragon-like fiends, though it wasn’t hard to tell that something about having to attack fellow dragons bothered her. Steeling herself, she passed her hand over her sword and it began to glow with a divine, platinum light.
At this point, I think Helli had had enough of pleasantries; she just went right in and stabbed the succubus in front of her with her daggers.
And at last, Lankin was pissed. “You hurt my brain!” he howled at the nearest fiend and whacked them right in the face.
Harry moved around behind the bar, looking for something. “I’ll be there in a second, dear,” he called to the Countess, “I’m busy.”
“You were ever the quiet, lazy one,” she said in reply.
“I had a good teacher,” the monk shot back. “He was a drunk.”
“I’ve never known you to drink.” She shrugged. “You were a poor student.”
You know how two people are having a fraught, layered conversation and you’re like “man, the last thing I want to do is get anywhere near that”? Yeah. Was I curious about Harry’s past? Weren’t we all? Was I curious enough to go up against the Countess of Glaives? No, definitely not.
So I attacked another nearby succubus instead, like the one who had been following me constantly and trying to charm me. Over it. She dodged my first strike, but my second got her.
Zeno dropped his mammoth form and emerged covered in pink dust, as his previous self had been. “Sorry about the mess I’ve made here,” he said, brushing himself off. “Pretty beat up too.”
His healing magic did make him look a little less rough, though it did nothing to combat the dye as he wandered over to the bar. “Are there any drinks here?”
Harry popped his head up. “Drinks are over here!”
“Come,” said one of the succubi to Zeno, “sit down.”
She beckoned him to the couches in the back with its table. I don’t know, I got a weird vibe. Lankin had seemed fine with them until that kiss and then things had gone south. Being alone with a whole bunch of them at a single table? No thank you.
Felegum, naturally, was already on it. He pulled out a chip of mica, whistled, and three of fiends were racked with shockwaves as thunder pealed through the small space. The wooden platform that they were on splintered into pieces, and the wood of the Countess’ glaive shattered into nothing.
Seeing an opening, Tem summoned a moonbeam. Thus far, she’d been pretty good about not hitting us with it, which has been a welcome change. Felegum’s spells don’t hit us because he’s always super careful about it (exactly what you’d expect, he’s that kind of guy) but Awk was always a loose cannon and having another spellcaster actually care where you were in the melee? Priceless.
Also, the fiends were shapechangers. This was a little underwhelming of a reveal considering that we’d already seen them change shape at the start of this brawl, but it was still useful knowledge. She downed a healing potion as Helli skirted the bar to get to the door that Harry had been negotiating open.
“Guys, the gate!” Helli poked her head down the hallway excitedly. “It’s lifting!”
Then she ducked back below the bar, doing something I couldn’t see.
Lankin charged over the the succubus behind me and smashed her into the table. The bench collapsed under the weight of the fiend and the elf, and I barely had time to get a hand up to stop splinters from getting into my eyes when Harry too popped back up from the bar.
“An old teacher said that drink will always cure what ails you!” he crowed, hurling a bottle of some substance toward the bard. “Hey, lover boy, drink!”
Zeno, to his credit, caught it.
This surprised Harry too, because he followed up with a chaser. “No, stupid, come with us!”
And then he threw another bottle at the wayward musician. This time, it hit Zeno in the head, his face covered in a pretty pungent rum.
“You’re free to leave if you’d like,” the Countess said to Harry. “But I never thought you’d leave your friends behind. Or one friend behind.”
Brushing off the last of the furniture detritus from my clothes, I picked up the pink boa that had been discarded on the stage from some previous performance and slung it around my neck. Fashion. Never know where you’re going to find it. And on a budget, too.
I stabbed the succubus near me one last time for good measure, then moved toward Zeno and began pulling him toward the door.
“I think Set knows where the vermouth is,” Zeno said by way of apology to his gaggle of fiend fans.
“I don’t even know what vermouth is,” I hissed back.
One of the succubi over his shoulder seemed to believe his genuine plea for vermouth, the succubus at his other shoulder didn’t. “Very well,” she said, “you can make this drink here.”
Zeno looked at her very intently, almost like he knew what he was doing. “You’re going to let me make this drink,” he said. “And it’ll be worth your while.”
She released him. “Then make it a double.”
And then he just walked toward the bar, giving me a tap on the shoulder. “Set, let’s go.”
This would have been cooler if maybe all the fiends didn’t close in around me as he left. I scanned their ranks for a gap, but instead one of the fiends whispered, “Go, sample the food. Sit, enjoy the bath.”
And I realized that it had been a hell of a long time since I’d taken a bath– the desert didn’t exactly allow for that sort of thing, especially not with the tithe– let alone how long it’d been since I’d had food that wasn’t disgusting or stolen. This was freely offered and actually it looked pretty good. Like a cheese and crackers spread with some berries, crusty bread, and dipping oils. Absolutely nonessential and probably tasty.
I went for it.
Felegum called out something about not doing whatever they were telling me to do, but he had no idea how fast I was and also probably no idea how badly I smelled either. If it was bothering me, it was likely that it was also bothering other people. I didn’t want to be super gross.
Then there was this terrible ringing in my ears, probably another spell, and Lankin was wrestling people behind me. Typical Lankin. Then he dashed off behind the bar, which seemed to be the hot spot.
Harry was smashing some demon dude in the bar and yelling at me, an impressive feat of multitasking, but I was hungry. I sat down in the pool, got some of the dirt off– granted, there was less water in here than there was supposed to be since some mammoth had come through and displaced it– and snacked on some crackers. These were okay, but not the best I’d had.
The crusty bread was what I was really anticipating. Couldn’t go wrong with a good crust. And oil? Oh, it was going to be so tasty.
“Set!” Zeno yelled, aghast. “The drinks! You have to have a drink before you get that!”
I looked at the mess at the bar. I was not a big drinker and the slugfest over there kind of reinforced that.
Zeno chewed Harry out for breaking bottles (again, pretty typical) and the bath area started to get kind of crowded. Like, with succubi. And I mean, it was a nice albeit kind of drained bath situation, but I also like being by myself while I’m doing that.
“Set, you’ve got to snap out of it!” Felegum yelled, and the tiny amount of liquid left in the bath smacked the charcuterie board out of my reach, taking the poor crusty bread to a watery grave. Then Felegum disappeared.
That was cool. Too cool for just casual antics.
I narrowed my eyes, looked at the wet bread, and then looked at the succubi. Shit, they’d got me. The charcuterie board tapped my leg and, disgusted by my weakness, I kicked it. A simple but clever trap. I’d have to be more careful around wheat products in the future.
All that aside, I had to get out of here.
Tem’s moonbeam sliced through two fiends in the bath area, and Lankin dashed into the fray and grabbed me. “Set, time to go! Let’s get out of here!” the elf yelled.
“Keep the entrance clear,” Harry called out over the battlefield and threw a dart the incubus lying face-down on the bar. Then he ran through Tem’s moonbeam to get to me and Lankin, a truly bonkers thing to do.
The Countess seemed to be enjoying the whole spectacle, lounging by the destroyed baths on a couch and sipping a glass of some dark liquid.
Kheryph, meanwhile, ate a cracker.
I shook my head. “This was one of the saddest things I’ve eaten since I was at my parents’ house.”
I took my leave of the soggy bread and stormed over to Zeno. “What the hell, dude,” I said, “I came in to get you.”
“Yeah, and now you’ve left two people.” Zeno shook some mixture in a metal cannister.
I glanced back over my shoulder to see Harry and Lankin still in the thick of it. “Oh shit.”
“They’ll figure it out,” the half-elf said, pouring the drink into a fancy glass and garnishing it properly as he walked out down the hallway.
Another succubus exploded into a prismatic burst of incineration as the moonbeam cut through it, yet another sliced into Lankin, and still more surrounded Harry, who had fallen unconscious as I was talking with Zeno and was being dragged by fiends to one of the benches closer to the Countess.
Well, now I felt really awful just leaving him there.
Felegum popped back into existence long enough to summarize the moment with a “Well, fuck, guys!” and summon another tidal wave, appropriately refilling the bath area. He didn’t vanish again, though it seemed like he’d kind of hoped he would.
Tem skillfully redirected the moonbeam around the area, but was maybe so focused on that that she didn’t realize where she was going and impaled herself on part of the portcullis.
I heard Zeno offering his cocktail to Helli for her feedback somewhere down the hall, and Lankin, determined now to save someone, yeeted Harry over his shoulder and yelled out a blood-curdling cry.
Seeing that it was well in hand, but also not wanting to take chances, especially not when our monk was death-prone enough as it was, I leant over the bar and said, “Harry, come on, you’re slowing Lankin down.”
Also, I may have stabbed the face-down incubus. Sorry not sorry, he felt like a bad dude.
Zeno took a bottle for the road and headed through the portcullis. Felegum said, “You’ve got this, bud!” at Harry and the air around the dragonborn looked more orderly, stiffer, somehow. Then the sorcerer made it through the door, and at last, our other dragonborn also resolved her difficulties with exiting a room and left as well.
Harry kept telling Lankin to put him down, but Lankin was not in a listening mood, so the monk had to deliver his parting remarks slung over the elf’s back. “I think I’d always rather be fighting,” he said, as nobly as one could muster in that position. “Bye.”
And with that, I too flipped my newly acquired boa over my shoulder and peaced.