“Make no mistake, recruits. The journey upon which you are about to embark will be difficult. Dangerous. It will ask much of you. Your comfort. Perhaps even your life.”
Field Marshall Prenn was unlike anything I’d ever seen, riding his square-snouted trotter back and forth in front of formation on the first day of training. Most halflings are so slovenly. Ill-groomed. Paunchy. Pleasant. Prenn was none of these things.
“But if you see this journey through,” Prenn continued, “I swear on the honor of the Order of the Paw, you will do things you never dreamed of in your sleepy, lazy, village lives.”
“Things like diving to the bottom of the ocean to scout out some underwater evil at the behest of a water priestess.” He didn’t say that last part, actually. He probably meant fighting trolls or some such thing. Prenn probably wouldn’t have agreed to this madness at all.
But I have more to prove than Prenn, so here I am, dropping rapidly into the watery darkness below. I’ve never had much use for gods—I don’t doubt they exist, they just never seem to pop around when they’re needed—but I dearly hope that the sea god’s magic holds up its end of this deal. I reach the bottom quite quickly. The advantages of swimming in chain mail. The only advantage of swimming in chain mail, I suppose? And probably not an advantage under normal circumstances. Anyway.
In a field of seaweed near an underwater trench, the keen-eyed bird man finds a cow skull. It seems a bit out of place. I’ve heard of sea cows, but I think they are a different thing entirely from the moo-moo cow variety, which tends to prefer drier climes.
At the base of the trench, two more things that do not belong: Troll-hounds. We follow them back through the murk, back to a cavern entrance beset with thick, wooden roots and vines more suitable to an ancient forest floor than a seabed. It’s quite ominous, like something from the stories, expect that the stories are never underwater. No turning back now, I suppose. Mission abandonment could result in withdrawal of divine favor while we are still 100 feet below the surface.
My old gemma used to say that every biscuit has two sides. I’d correct her, explaining that every biscuit has three sides because— geometrically speaking— a biscuit is a cylinder, and then she’d cuff me one to the jaw, which I thought was unnecessary because I was really just trying to be helpful, but anyway, what she meant to say was that everything has a little good and a little bad which is exactly the case with this cave. The good? It’s full up with breathable air and our movements are no longer encumbered by water. The bad? It’s also full up with troll-dogs, a mad, spindly wizard fellow, and to the sorrow of the bird man’s left leg, a demon with sharp teeth and a gift for sneakery.
It’s a quite a good tilt, in my limited experience with such things. This non-uniformed rabble is beginning to function like something resembling a unit. I even bark a few coordinating orders along the way, doing my best impersonation of ol’ Marshall Prenn. Near battle’s end, the paladin offers the wizard a chance at surrender. He respectfully declines, howling some madness about shadows or dark forces and what all.
It occurs to me that Sugar will need yet another bath. Good dog.
At the cavern’s far end, we find the wizard’s strange shrine—a pulsating tangle of roots and tangle, the source of all the strange undergrowth that has no place here, like so many other things.