The Undersea hall is wide and tall, made by a giant race of scaled men. The floor is smooth and wet, and Jacob is slow with his steps. An iron and oak box strains his callused fingers. Sealed shut by centuries of neglect, it is red with rust and soft with rot.
Metal clinks inside as Jacob shuffles forward. “This one’s heavy enough to be filled with gold.” He huffs, struggling to maintain his posture. “Not more devil-damned dwarven copper.”
Kriv, short as Jacob’s hip, scoots his bald blue head under the chest. “Need more light.”
“Get out from under there,” says Jacob.
Belazar, a head taller and a barrel wider, shuffles over with a torch and grips the side of the chest with his free hand. “May I have a turn, Sir?”
Jacob nods, and the burly orcelf tucks the box under his arm, easy as a load of laundry.
“Thanks.” Jacob cracks his back. “It’s not the weight; it’s the awkward shape.”
“Hey.” Kriv tugs on Jacob’s ragged tunic.
He pats the little beebo on his head. “Did you know I can catch arrows—”
“I was trying to read the bumps on the bottom.” Kriv points at the chest and pouts with thin purple lips.
“Bumps of the Titans’ script?” Jacob waves Belazar over and gestures for the burly warrior to set the chest up-side-down. “I don’t see anything but barnacles and warped wood.”
Kriv slaps his knee and hums. “Yes, but if I could read Titanic, I bet those barnacles would make great lyrics and the warped wood a catchy chorus.”
Jacob sighs and unsheathes his shortsword. “We bring you along, because you’re supposed to be the smart one.” He reverses the grip and smashes the chest’s hinges with his pommel.
Belazar fingers his pointed ear tip. “Solaris said we should bring all the treasure back to Carbstool Tavern.”
The hinges snap off, and the lid pops open, spilling gold coins and crafted goods. Jacob sheaths his sword and picks up a black coral-carved flute from the shiny pile.
Kriv waves his hand. “Check if it’s cursed first.”
Jacob shrugs. “Pry it from my lips, if it is.”
Fingertips holding up the dark instrument, he plays the first note of a festive Springday jig, and water gushes down his throat from inside it. He coughs and waves off his companions.
“I’m fine,” says Jacob. “It summons water when I play, a bit tangy but drinkable.” He chuckles. “A magical musical flask. Amazing that it could still be active after being in that box for an age. Must be connected to a very stable place of power.”
Belazar rights the chest and scoops the spilled treasure back into it. “Solaris said—”
“Look, guys. You’re new to Lute, so let me tell you how it is.” Jacob straightens, rolling his shoulders back. “Solaris isn’t more of a boss than me. Mess and I, we let her take the lead down here because, frankly, she needs to build up her self-confidence.”
Kriv spins his hands, forming a pulsing blue ball of mystic power. “I love Solaris! Everything she does is awesome!”
Jacob holds up his palms. “Easy, little guy. She is great… at a lot of things.” He stomps the damp floor. “But she almost drowned us with that ocean summoning.”
Belazar shakes his torch. “It was more like a river.”
“Whatever.” Jacob points back where they came from. “Leave the treasure chest here, and let’s have a truly awesome dungeoneering adventure. One where an overly-sensitive sea witch isn’t around to stop you from eating the giant crabs.”
Kriv claps his webbed hands. “Yay! I claim claw meat.”
Jacob snags the torch from Belazar. “Come on.”
The three travel down the massive hall, around corners, through secret passageways, and past a portcullis made of colossal ribs. The damp floor, turns wet, and the water deepens to their ankles.
Jacob hands the torch to Kriv. “Can you cast one-handed?”
The little blue man holds the flaming stick away from his face. “Fire is too hot.”
“Then cast a light spell.” Jacob spins his arms around. “You did that flashy show during the fight at the vampire ball.”
Kriv shakes his head. “My illusions trick weak minds.” He blinks his inner eyelids. “They don’t make light.”
Belazar splashes ahead and leans through a wide doorway. “Hello?”
Jacob hisses and comes up behind him. “Quiet. There’s still that stone devil flying around, somewhere.”
“But, Kriv says they hate noise.”
The beebo nods and cackles. “Especially music. I read that many beasts of Desert World act progressively more crazy as melody improves.”
“Be quieter anyway,” says Jacob. “They hate water too, and yet this one’s hanging out in the Undersea.” He motions Kriv over. “I’ll go first, then you as our torch bearer that’s ready to cast. Belazar can splash along behind.”
They enter a room that was swamped earlier by Solaris’s summoning spell. Water wets Jacob’s calf as he wades by a hole in the wall where they’d snagged the treasure chest before retreating.
Belazar taps him on the shoulder. “In the far corner. It’s not moving and big as an ogre. Could be the stone devil.”
Jacob gulps. “I was hoping the water drove it away.”
Kriv slips behind the orcelf. “I love water. Solaris didn’t summon enough.”
“Okay.” Jacob pats the hilt of his shortsword and turns to Belazar. “Well, big guy, you got that mystic axe, right?”
Belazar pulls a bundled greatsword off his back and hefts it. “This is not an axe, nor does it have a mystic edge.”
“Shit logs.” Jacob draws his sword. “Okay. Next time, I grab the magic crossbow and you get that axe.”
The orcelf scratches his head. “Can we get them now?”
“No!” Jacob winces and lowers his voice. “We’ve—well… Lute has already beaten a giant stone devil, probably bigger than this one. You keep it busy straight on. Dodge best you can. Kriv, you help distract with illusions. Music too, presuming you’re right about noise. I’ll use my blade to cut through its hellish hide.”
The orcelf clears his throat. “Is this wise?”
Jacob plays a note to sip from his flute. “I’m developing a taste for this tang. Where do you think it summons water from? Can’t be Ocean World, not without salt.” He rolls his neck and point his blade. “Anyway, wisdom can come after we explore past this dank devil. Get him!”
Torchlight illuminates the giant winged statue. The orcelf roars and bounces his greatsword off its thigh, and the statue comes alive.
A scream from its mouth and claws swipe. Belazar dodges, and Jacob slashes. His enchanted blade cuts through the monster’s skin despite stony toughness and splashes its orange blood across the wall behind it. One wing flaps, the other is limp and twisted.
“Still injured from the fight with spiders.” Jacob feints and hops out of the stone devil’s reach as it hugs the air where he would have been. “Can’t fly. Maybe can’t rest in water, either.”
Belazar cracks his greatsword against the monster’s back, managing to cut into its flesh despite his weapon’s mundane nature. Snarling, the creature rears up, topping the orcelf by a full head and shoulders.
Jacob says, “Don’t let it grab—”
Massive stony arms close around Belazar. He blocks its left with his blade, but its right comes around to catch him in a clinch. They wrestle, growling and grunting at each other. Despite the stone devil’s size, the orcelf’s raging strength keeps it from drawing him into a full embrace.
“Kriv!” Jacob dances forward, leading with his sword tip. “Do your thing.”
Shadows from the torchlight take on Jacob’s shape, depth, and color. Five facsimiles smile and dance about as Jacob mixes in with them.
The stone devil whimpers as its damaged wing brushes against the wall. Jacob jabs his blade into its side, while the five copies join into to mime attacking the same spot.
He yanks his sword out and ducks under a whistling backhand that dissipates two of his illusionary brothers. “Some music!”
Kriv hums like a whale out of water, and the remaining three copies of Jacob open their mouths to echo the sound at several times the beebo’s volume.
The stone devil covers its bat-like ears, freeing Belazar to chop at its neck and Jacob to stab it in the chest. Gurgling on its orange blood, it sinks to the watery floor.
Kriv claps, puppeting the illusionary Jacobs to clap along with him. “I think it’s crying blood.” He points at a thin stream leaking from the stone devil’s slanted eye.
“To see.” Jacob buries his sword tip in the unblinking orb. “Or not to see.”
Belazar drags the dead beast away from the wall. “Sir, I think it was guarding a secret passage.”
Jacob sheaths his sword and snags the torch from Kriv. “I told you this would be an awesome adventure.”
Belazar, warrior—rugged former Verdant crusader
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Kriv, illusionist—cheerful researcher of adventure
Sylyca, druidess—elvish caster of dreams and life