Spacer Chapter 5 42
  | Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Earthdawn-ish | Chapter 5 |



    That was something Harrick could do, actually. There was a definite elemental presence to it. "What are you?" he asked.
    Glubb. Consume.
    "Okay..." He got ready to restrain it if necessary.
    There is water in you. Give it to me.
    He retreated quickly, wondering, "Who the hell built that!?"
    "Could be naturally occurring," Martin offered.
    "So there's a consumptive water elemental and a green slime, just hanging out in the same room naturally?" It didn't seem likely. At least it didn't seem to be chasing them. "There could be a water node in that room...."
    They returned to the Goblinwater and cleaned themselves up as best they could in the cold water, then camped for the night just inside the cave so Jared could rest his leg and the stone would have time to work. The brush at the entrance concealed their presence nicely, and as long as they were there the sturges kept their distance. The rat room was going to take at least the night to burn out, and there was no sense heading back to town until they had checked out the other fork. Martin looked everyone's wounds over and found them clean of rat-born disease. The next morning they forged upstream, curious to see how far the cave complex extended and find out if there were any more branches upriver.
    It was fairly narrow and shallow, and the current was brisk, but no one was in any danger of being swept away. After a short distance the tunnel widened into a sort of room and came to an end, with about a five-foot ledge on all sides of the sizeable pool in the center. Everyone but Harrick climbed out of the water; he had the breathing stone and started forward to take a look at whatever lay beneath the water.
    A few moments later he disappeared from their sight as the river bottom dropped sharply away. He'd never been a very good swimmer, and had never actually been in over his head before, much less wearing armor and carrying a pack. He wasn't going to drown, but he didn't have any way to get out; kicking frantically, he was almost able to maintain his position, helped somewhat by the slight pressure of water welling up from the source an unguessable distance below. He descended slowly, until there wasn't enough light even for him to see by.
    Seeing him vanish like that, Robin pitched off her stuff, grabbed one end of their longest rope while Jared took the other, and dove in after him. She'd almost reached the end of it when she felt something moving in the water nearby.
    Harrick sensed movement in the water above him and hoped that wasn't bad. He tried harder to go up. Almost at the end of her ability to hold her breath, Robin strained down and felt a hand wrap around her wrist in the darkness; she hoped it wasn't a lizardman and struck out for the surface.
    Above, Jared felt the rope slacken and started hauling, and eventually the other three helped them both back onto the ledge.
    "I was about to say, why don't you tie yourself off before you go exploring," she gasped.
    "There was that," he agreed gravely. "And I'm glad that you brought it up; I'll do it this time, I promise."
    "Did you find anything down there?" Martin asked. "Nothing attacked you?"
    "Nothing attacked me," he confirmed. "There's water coming up, that's all I can see." He knew there were spells that would allow one to bring a flame under the water, but he didn't know them. Maybe a flare? No, that would never work. [Ed - see this month's quote list.] Eventually, reluctantly, he resigned himself to not being able to find out exactly where the water came from, though it seemed that the water's source was magical in some way. There didn't seem to be anything else in the room, so they sloshed their way back to the slowly cooling rooms on the other branch. The secret door continued to baffle their ability to move it.
    They agreed to head back to town; they'd picked up enough stuff on this foray that Francis was going to be pretty loaded down, and maybe they'd meet some incautious bandits. Loading up the complaining mule with their loot, they set out cheerfully under the midday sun, keeping their eyes open.
    The five passed the empty Tower Hill and the washed out section of the road. As they splashed through the water, they all rather absently noticed that they had changed course and headed into the woods. A few moments after that, they heard the singing. It was almost as if they didn't have control over their bodies. But of course they did, they were just... curious. No reason not to go, was there...?
    Farther into the woods, it was entirely dark. In front of them, they saw a monstrous winged woman, taloned feet clenched around the tree branch as she continued her soft, keening song. They all gathered around the tree and stood silently, listening. There was another man there, dressed in the rough clothes of a bandit; he looked at them incuriously.
    "Pretty, isn't it?"
    She flew off a short distance and landed in another tree; they followed. This continued for an unknowable period of time, tugging Francis along with them, until they were deep into the northern forest.
    They reached a clearing with a huge tree at its center, fifteen feet in girth, with bones and other waste scattered around its roots. The harpy flapped down to the ground, peered at each of them in turn, finally stalked over to the bandit and began chewing on his arm. He didn't seem to mind, and they certainly didn't, although there was a nagging sense of something not right.
    Eventually the bandit passed out from blood loss; the harpy continued her meal. Then she began ripping off pieces, flying up into the tree, and dropping them into her nest.
    Terzin's leg felt very warm. Burning, in fact. There was something on fire in his pocket. He pulled it out, shaking free of the spell. It was a silver coin, no longer hot. He put it back in his pocket and started shaking and slapping the others, trying to wake them, to no avail. He tried putting his hands over their ears. Tried pressing the silver piece against their flesh.
    He gave up and readied an arrow as the harpy began to descend from the nest again. It took her through one grotesque wing; she screamed. The sound seemed to echo through the forest as she dove, claws outstretched. A second arrow sank into her chest, almost as if some force was guiding his hand, and she overshot him and slammed into the ground.
    The screaming woke Harrick, who had a philosophical objection to things that wanted to eat him and prepared for barbecued harpy. There was an Air spirit living inside the creature, partially protecting her from his spell, however.
    Terzin retreated a few steps, drew and released again. Right between the wings. She was still moving but obviously hurt, giving off another of those echoing wails.
    "Wake them up, we've got to get out of here!" Terzin shouted. A final shot through the throat as she began to rise again, and the others woke up. He cut off her head just to make sure.
    Those were not echoes. Those were answers. At least two. Harrick lit the nest on fire, unwilling to leave live young behind them and hoping that it would delay any others coming after them.
    They had lost hours under the harpy's spell, and the sun had begun to set. They also had no idea where they were. Robin located their trail, and they all started trotting back along it to the south, trying to keep an eye out behind them. Francis complained about the pace.
    The keening sound behind them increased in pitch as the harpies discovered the nest in flames, then suddenly stopped.
    "Close your ears!" Terzin urged. He put the coin in his mouth, just to make sure that if it warned him he could not ignore it.
    They stopped their ears, hummed, kept going at the best speed they could, felt the urge nevertheless to turn back and go north again. Harrick changed path. So did Jared and Brother Martin, all of them fallen back under the spell, moving at an ambling pace but in the wrong direction.
    Terzin swore and tripped Harrick, body-checked Jared as Robin went after Martin, who was farthest out to the north. He landed on his hands and knees; she put a foot on his shoulder in an attempt to keep him from getting back up. He got a hand behind her knee and dumped her to the ground, kept going having barely broken stride. Terzin kept Harrick down, but Jared had risen and begun moving forward again as well; Robin knocked him back down and stood on him, hands still over her ears.

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