HOW BLINDLY I BELIEVED: in which a new frog emerges and we finally leave this accursed village

The kid in my hands wasn’t quite dead, which was saying a lot considering that he had endured at least two fatal injuries. Hoping that he’d last long enough for me to get him to someone who maybe knew more about what they were doing, I picked him up and ran. “Tem!” I yelled to the dragonborn guarded by zombies. “I have a problem!”

“Oh, frogs.” Tem looked up as though dazed by her devotions to the otherworldly.

This was too much to bear. “I have a dying child!”

Tem snapped to it and rushed toward me. Meanwhile, Iago and Helli received the brunt of the frogs’ attacks, but it wasn’t too bad as most of the frogs seemed pretty bad at hitting them. Iago did a dramatic “nooo!” at one of the frogs, maybe to make it feel better.

From a safe distance above the action, Zeno tsked at the blinded frog. “It’s too bad you can no longer see the error of your ways!”

The frog winced, straining its eyes in shock.

Something must have caught his eye, because he called, “Hey there, are you alright?” and then “Set, you might want to check this out!”

“Dying child!” I yelled again, because everyone seemed to be forgetting it.

Zeno made a dismissive noise, probably connected to his own thwarted attempt at keeping this kid safe, and Felegum rushed up. This was a recent development, that Felegum had more of a healing repertoire, but it made sense that after not speaking for months on end you’d want to make sure you knew how to fix it and other things like it. He performed a few perfunctory hand motions, then noted that there was a strange magical undercurrent in the kid.

Meanwhile, Dronie bashed away at an escaping frog and pounded it into the earth.

Maybe this was a complex psychological commentary; once one part of Felegum was free to aggressively unhinge at frogs, the other part was able to focus on other things, like medicine.

“Come. At. Me. Bro.” Dronie intoned to the frog, striking up a sick stance.

Helli wordlessly stabbed a blue frog through the eye, killing it instantly. Iago pulled the dead frog close, realized abruptly that it was dead, and chose to rectify the situation by climbing a roof.

The child in my arms seized. It was horrible. Sometimes I’d seen people do this at my parents’ when they were really sick, but actually trying to hold a person through it was not great. He twisted and writhed, and though I tried another healing spell, trying to show Tem that, no, I wasn’t inept, that I needed something bigger, the magic dissipated through the child’s body like water through a sieve.

Tem laid her hands on the child.

“What the fuck, Tem!” I was mad. I’ll own it. “I literally just told and showed you that wasn’t going to work!”

“Huh.” She frowned, then reached through the kid’s neck wound.

“Tem,” I said with deadly calm at the dragonborn’s claw disappearing into the child’s throat like a sick facsimile of a singular gill, “we are here to help people.”

“AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT, MY ASS,” came Zeno from above. Shortly later he was tackled by a frog. I had no idea what was going on there or why.

Bagpipes blared, and a frog danced. Its moves looked familiar, as though it just could not resist. Then it did the worm.

“Guys!” Zeno said between drones. “I need some help over here!”

“Set,” Felegum asked placidly, “do you have a diamond?”

Did I have a diamond? The answer thrummed against my chest, in a secret pocket in my cloak. I had Artemis Kalends’ diamond, bought at great price. I was already so in debt to Kal when I’d asked him to find this for me.

“All the diamonds were sold out in Csipherus,” I whispered.

“Well,” Felegum said, washing his hands of the matter, “nothing I can do.”

Transformation back to Genocide Felegum complete, he moved away, the tactician directing Dronie into position to attack a new frog.

Where the hell were all these things coming from?

The kid continued his agonies in my grasp, and I was hit with a strange sensation. He was still moving, but his soul had left his body. I cast a spell to hopefully calm the body, and then set it on the ground. “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do.”

Should I have said I had a diamond? I was saving it for an emergency. This felt like one, but my mind kept flashing back to the pyramid at Csipherus, everyone dying, my hands on someone’s chest, desperate for something, anything–

Tem blessed me and the child, and then, quixotically, Felegum.

Zeno approached his with extreme weariness, having fought off an entire frog army single-handedly by the sound of it. He vanished in a puff of mist, then reappeared by the kid’s body, rapier drawn.

When he struck, Tem was there to block him.

“Tem, you fool!” Zeno seethed, blade locked with Bahamut’s Fury. “They’re turning!”

“This is not how we treat people we’re trying to help,” I said, though something about it bothered me. If the soul was gone, then why was Zeno trying to kill a body? He was a necromancer; didn’t he sense it?

“You fool!” Zeno repeated, this time to me. “They’re turning.”

Turning into what?

“This is a child!” Tem said, aghast, as though I had not had to shove the dying (dead?) child in her face before she did anything.

“Ah, thank you for reminding me,” came the measured tones of our sorcerer, moving his hands in a circle. A bubble of force appeared around the body of the child, still frenzied despite its absence of soul. Dronie moved into position to attack as the kid reared back, breaking his own spine and a fully grown red frog discarded his body as though a suit.

It clawed angrily at the bubble.

“As I thought,” Felegum said, and then took out his map supplies and began sketching frog anatomy and making notes.

I was agog. I ran to the square, looked around at the other new frog corpses. By every one of them was a villager, husked like a corn, divested of their innards.

“See?” Zeno fumed, sheathing his rapier.

“You were right!” I said. It was pretty gross and I really wished he hadn’t been, but this was the reality we had gotten. My wings vanished as I realized what we’d have to do next.

“Yeah!” The bard nodded. “Thanks, TEM.”

Tem chose to avoid a response by meditating. “Checking for frogs” she called it.

Finding none, she addressed the amphibian in the sphere. “Your struggle is as futile as the plight of evil, fiend!”

Zeno, vindicated at last, hopped on Lily and flew away to a rooftop again. I had no idea what was so cool up there, but it did sound like Iago had started a dance party. “You know what?” he called. “Good luck with that.”

The air stank of char and the iron tang of fresh blood. The frog continued to pound on the sphere.

“I think,” said Felegum, “that this is the first time we’ve had a somewhat safe moment to learn about the frogs.”

Much as I admired his growth mindset viewing this as a learning opportunity instead of a horrible tragedy, I could not match his enthusiasm as he drew, mumbling “warts!” and “pustules!” at occasional intervals.

Once he was satisfied with his work, he turned to a new page in his notebook and wrote, “If you want to live, clap twice” and held it toward the red frog, still bubbled.

The frog snarled.

I looked at my hands and tried to unravel why I hadn’t been able to heal that kid. Hell, Zeno had healed him and Tem, Felegum, and I hadn’t been able to. What was up with that?

A wine flask appeared at my elbow. “Hey, kid,” said the Iago that offered it.

I sighed, but not in an angry way. “I appreciate it,” I said after a thought, “but I’m okay. Just sad.”

Just wondering if I’m really doing any of this right. Was Lathander going to be angry that I’d had the opportunity to help and hadn’t taken it, fearing greater danger on the horizon?

I was saved from further self-flagellation by Felegum. “Guys, I have all the notes I want for now and this is going to break soon.”

I rose, unsheathing my knife. I could at least make it quick.

Together with Feleugm, Tem, and Iago, I got in position. We’d done this maneuver a few times: get a thing trapped by Felegum or Zeno, then pile on until it was super dead.

But today nothing was going right. I went for the heart and missed, ducking out of the way of Tem’s massive sword and a psychic bolt of energy from Felegum.

Iago, seeing a job well done, headed into a deserted house in search of spirits. The alcoholic kind, not the ghost kind, though probably those were here too after all the massacres.

Zeno yelled something mean at someone else, but it didn’t seem to be directed at any of us (“Just hurry up and go find your friends, bye”) I imagined he must have been the recipient of another villager’s kind regards.

Tem got in another hit on the red frog before it bolted. I tried to get it, but again, I just couldn’t seem to make contact, while the paladin had no issue. Even with three slices of Bahamut’s Fury, the frog managed to hop thirty feet away.

I sprinted after it, determined to at least contribute somehow. I tried to summon sacred fire but even that was evaded. I felt miserable. Was this a sign? It had to be.

Felegum moseyed in the frog’s direction, unbothered. “Wohlololo,” he intoned dramatically, and a mechanical arm touched the frog in a cold way. More rumbling from inside the house signaled Iago probably getting into trouble. Zeno poured himself a drink and surveyed the bodies.

Tem dashed forward, summoning her lizard steed on the way.

I repeated my sprint and flame technique with the exact same results as the last time: nothing. What a mess. Something had to be wrong with me.

Felegum nonchalantly loosed three orderly blasts of energy, each slamming into the frog in perfect tempo. It collapsed against a tree trunk, and the sorcerer nodded, as though playing out a chess match he’d already known he’d won three turns ago.

We met back up in the center of the town.

“Zeno, what are we doing here?” Felegum asked. “Do I have to vivisect these things?”

I hadn’t known he was willing to go that far, but good to know.

“Is everyone okay?” Tem said.

“Tem,” Zeno said pleasantly from the body pile, “you mind if I grab a couple of these?”

I had never seen a golden dragonborn’s scales ruffle that much. It was like petting a bird the wrong way; they knew you were trying and they were committing to showing you they appreciated it, even though every bodily reflex they showed was telling you otherwise.

“Ah,” she said after a loaded pause. “I suppose it is only fair after your zombies fell defending me.”

She was smiling, but each word sounded like she was forcing it through her many teeth.

“Excellent.” The bard waved a hand. “Go show Tem your appreciation, Vincenzo and MacNamara!”

“Ugh,” Tem said, swarmed by skeletons.

“Oh!” Zeno was charmed. “That’s good. Your imitation of rigor mortis is a sign of respect to them. They love it.”

He then animated two more of the skeletons, christening them Hickory and Mesquite. Helli returned shortly after, looking just fine.

“I think we should hurry off after the fleeing civilians,” Felegum said. I couldn’t tell if it was Genocide Felegum or Therapy Felegum speaking at that moment and that concerned me.

“But the battle of the bards!” Iago whined. “We can’t be late.”

Had he…been practicing his dance moves this entire fight? While half of us had been trying to prevent a child’s death?

What followed was a brief interval of plan discussion. Felegum examined some of the dead frogs’ claws, proving that vivisection was indeed probably in our future, and said he might have an idea on the venom delivery method. We decided to hit the road, and Felegum figured that the villagers had probably gotten too far away by now anyway, so we rested.

Iago quickly disappeared to try to find food, and, that being an actually sane idea, I followed suit. He went inside again and I traipsed through some of the few gardens unruined by frogs and battle. I managed to come up with some pretty nice summer squash and broccoli heads, close to running, so I snapped those off and began to cook. I ended up with a nice minestrone soup. Iago, on the other hand, found unlabeled jars but also saltines.

Felegum was methodically moving from frog to frog, attempting to squeeze out venom from their claws. This was weird and I could not see a good purpose for it– making more frogs? Our Felegum?– but maybe he wanted to concoct an antidote later, so I let him be.

Over soup, which was good, Helli and I encountered a somewhat upsetting problem.

We weren’t healing.

“Oh my god, I really did mess up,” I groaned.

Tem was quick to try to fix it, even though I was trying to tell her that this was probably fine and would blow over (and that I probably deserved it). Obviously I wasn’t going to rat Helli out if she didn’t want to say anything. Given how much everyone was losing it over me having gross open wounds, I did not blame her.

I thought I could do some good while helping my friends. As Tem argued about divinity and physical health above me, I doggedly applied another roll of bandages to my weepy arm and winced.

Maybe I should have stayed in Csipherus after all.

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