During our rest, Lionel prepared what he assured us was a healing poultice. After he took it, he promptly passed out. When we woke the next morning, he remained unconscious. I rolled my eyes and slung him over my shoulder, carrying him with us.
As we continued, Gunnar stopped us, holding a hand up to forestall us from moving further. “I smell something awful. Death, maybe.”“Stay here,” Asakku said. “I’ll check ahead.”
He returned a short while later. “There is some type of troll up ahead. I’m not sure we want to face off against this thing.”
I sighed. “This is the best direction to take to get us to the surface so far as I can tell, though we might be able to go around somehow…”
“The way you describe it,” Gunnar said, “it sounds like a rock troll. They are most assuredly not good news.”
Gunnar and Elif started arguing about the best tactic for handling the situation, and I remained silent whilst we considered the possibilities. Gunnar told us it was vulnerable to sunlight—which would turn it to stone—acid, and sound.
Ultimately, we sent Gunnar in as an ant to create a distraction. He skittered along the wall, gathering the creature’s confused attention. Not particularly pleased, the troll pawed at him from below. A second later, fog appeared everywhere followed by the hollow sound of hoofbeats filling the cavern.
A moment later, my heart leaped into my throat as the troll slapped Gunnar where he sat on the wall. Though he retained his footing on the wall, and the troll scowled, wiping its hands off after touching the massive ant.
Asakku, Elif, and I skulked along the back wall of the room while Gunnar fought the troll with the ponies, maneuvering to get away from the attack. Not that I am particularly stealthy. I don’t particularly regret it, however, since most of my time is spent smiting creatures of darkness and evil.
However, the troll heard me and vanished into the fog. Gunnar chirped repeatedly, sounding to me like a call for help. I asked Asakku to come take the unconscious man so I could go help, but he just stared at me, his expression unimpressed. Elif glanced back at me, scowling. “I’ve worked with Gunnar for years. That’s not a call for help. Besides, we need to get the unconscious man out of here. We can’t protect him from that thing if we engage it.”
I grit my teeth and growled, running toward the opening at the other end of the cave without a word. Elif was right, of course—assuming no one took the unconscious Lionel from me. As I arrived at the mouth of the next cave, I saw Gunnar drop off the wall to land beside Elif who smiled a little and saluted him with her halberd.
As I watched over my shoulder, a hand emerged from the fog and raked across one of the ponies. It shrieked behind me, but we didn’t stop to see what happened. Besides, they were summoned creatures anyway, not true animals.
Once we were certain we were far enough away from the troll, I healed Gunnar a little. We spent the next day climbing upwards. At the end of the day, we reached a dropoff and found flat purchase. Around us, we saw two lamps held by statues of humanoids. As we moved forward, we could see statues posed as though sword fighting, some looked like they were seated around the table playing cards.
Asakku pointed up ahead. “There’s light up ahead.”
Gunnar sniffed a few times. “I smell incense.”
Elif nodded. “I recognize it. It’s expensive.”
Gunnar walked over to the statues and studied them. “Their facial expressions seem… forced. They are not particularly happy, are they.”
The statutes were exceptionally realistic, suggesting either great workmanship or… I shuddered at the notion. “I’m not sure these are statutes.” I sighed and rubbed the back of my neck.
“The last stone people we saw attacked us,” Elif said. “I vote we toss them down the incline.”
“I’m not sure I… want to do that. If these are people who were forced into this position, perhaps they could be restored.” I walked over to the men at the table and studied their positions and dress. I recognized them as nobility, though their crests and arms didn’t identify them to me. Squires or knights, perhaps, but none of the major houses of Greyreach. Their clothing was perhaps within the last forty years.
Asakku walked over to the warriors and studied them. “They don’t look like they’re forced like the others are. I think they actually have been fighting whatever it was that turned them into statues.
“Mirrors?” Gunnar said, looking at me.
I laughed. “Shiny tits to the rescue,” I said, looking down at my chest. I then walked up to the entryway, watching my progress in the mirrored shine of my breastplate. The others filled in spaces around the entrance, watching my armor.
The room beyond was filled with expensive and very fine carpets. A barrel filled with some sort of liquid sat to the side. Straight ahead was a statue of a nude man holding two incense burners. Off to my left were men holding trays of grapes and olives. The whole area near the men was filled with silken pillows at the center of which sat a hookah on a table.
Elif crept forward to the barrel with Asakku and Gunnar and peered inside while I made my way over to the man with the incense burner.
“It’s lamp oil,” Gunnar said, glancing back at me.
From the den of pillows, a beautiful woman wearing clothing that looked like it belonged in a harem from the City of 1,000 Nights. She extended a hand and took some grapes from a tray. “Who is here?”
“Pardon me, my lady. We do not mean to intrude. We are just trying to get to the surface and home.”
“Hm. You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Why don’t you stay here with me for a time and tarry?”
I glanced at the others. “Take Lionel, I’ll stay with her and entertain her for a time.”
Gunnar retreated after nodding.
“Might I ask about your statue collection? It’s exquisite. I’ve not seen its like.”
“Come here, and we shall talk. I will tell you all about it.” She said, her back still to us.
I approached her rugs and engaged in discussion with her, remaining cautiously polite.
“A pity,” she said, with a smile, “There is only one true beauty among you.” She stared at me, trying to meet my eyes. The sensation made me feel cold and stiff. I looked away, breaking the feeling as I took a slow breath.
The others moved away, heading for the exit, and I reached forward, cupping the medusa’s face in a hand. I then kissed her. The medusa slid her hand into my hair as we kissed. When it broke, she pulled away, whispering, “I know you’re lying.” She then tried to sink her teeth into my neck, her teeth clattering against my gorget.
I grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her face into my armor. “I didn’t have to go this way,” I said, my voice low.
“Who’s to say it’s not going to go your way?” she whispered, her tongue flicking out and catching my ear.
I could hear the others moving around the room, but my attention remained on the medusa. “Drop your weapons. Stay. Be my pet. I will let the others go and be free,” she murmured as she squirmed. I’m sure it would have been pleasant if I weren’t wearing armor, but I couldn’t feel a bit of it. Through my armor, I could feel the heat of magic as her necklace became hotter against my breastplate.
I said nothing in reply.
She wriggled gain, trying to gain purchase on my armor. “It wouldn’t be so bad. I’m quite skillful…”
I didn’t let go. Instead, I slid my free hand down her back and squeezed her butt. “I won’t stay here forever, but I could give you a hell of a night,” I murmured, trying to keep her distracted.
“… Fine.” She sighed and went limp in my grip.
I didn’t release her. “Do you swear not to turn me to stone?”
“Yes, yes. I won’t turn you to stone. Fine.”
“Do you swear it?”
A grumble. “Fine. Fine. But if I’m not turning you to stone, they must leave. The surface is over that way through the door. They can meet you there.”
“Very well.” I said, glancing at the others. They returned my expression rather concerned, though they adhered to my recommendation and left.
Despite my objection to the company, the night passed rather pleasantly enough. Though I never imagined losing my virginity to a monster. The next morning, she gave me a gold necklace with a huge diamond in the center. “There may be more if you return,” she murmured, leaving a lingering kiss on my lips.
I smiled a little. “Perhaps someday,” I said before she settled back on her cushion.
I followed the medusa’s directions to meet with the others. When I stepped out, the fresh air washed over me in a welcoming rush.
Looking at the others, I pulled my helm off and ran my fingers over my face. “I need a bath,” I grunted. “Is Lionel awake yet?”
“Nope,” Asakku said, rolling his eyes.
I looked around, trying to identify where we ended up. “We aren’t in Greyreach. We’re further south, I think. Warmer here.”
Elif raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you get her name?”
“Nope. And I didn’t give her mine. Better that way,” I said, watching Gunnar climb a tree.
He turned his head this way and that as he looked around before returning to the ground. “There’s a town to the north,” he said, pointing.
“Well… let’s get to it.” I couldn’t exactly bathe in the swamp, and every part of me wanted to get clean. Or consecrated or… something. Anything.
After a day’s travel, we arrived in a pleasant enough hamlet with stone buildings and blue-tiled roofs. We arrived in the morning, early enough to see folk going about their business.
“Could you direct me to an inn?” I asked one of the folk milling about.
His thick accent identified him as someone far south. “Ah, good day. What brings you to our town?”
“We were travelling and have wound up somewhere further south than intended.”
“Ah, well, you are welcome here. There is an inn here with the finest wine in four towns!” the man said, sticking his chest out with pride.
“Thank you.” I bowed my head a little and trudged off to the inn. When we reached it, a sign above the door identified it as “The Cock and Arms.”
I booked a room and immediately took a bath. I spent so long scrubbing I wasn’t sure I had any skin left, to be honest. The others wandered off to do their business, leaving me to myself. After cleaning myself, I glanced at Lionel’s unconscious form on the pallet beside mine. I checked to see if he was still breathing and hefted him up over my shoulder—where he’d been for the better part of the last four days—and left to go find a cleric to take a look at the damn fool. Though I was glad he’d survived his trip out of the Underdark. Despite my finding him foolish and irritating, he deserved to live as a free man.
The acolyte woke Lionel up with some smelling salts. “Where are we?” he groaned.
“Somewhere south of the City of 1,000 Nights in the Debatable Lands, I think.”
The acolyte shook her head. “No, friend. We are in Avenfair. South of that place.”
“I see.” I rubbed the back of a neck. “Further south than I have been in a very long time.”
The acolyte smiled a little in an absent manner. “Oh.”
I sighed. “Thank you for your time. Come, Lionel. Let’s head back to the inn.” I helped him to his feet.
Back at the inn, I settled to the floor to polish my armor. Lionel cleared his throat. “Ah… I hate to be a bother, but could I borrow ten gold? I will gladly pay you back when we reach my kingdom.”
I nodded. “Yes, of course.” I pulled the money out of my purse and handed it to him. He promptly paid for lodgings.
We spent another day in town, and Asakku presented me with a canvas and a vest with an image of a nude woman wrapped in a snake on it. I could have strangled him, but I accepted them anyway. We then accepted a job to walk the butcher to the next town over for three copper apiece while he delivered meat. It was no great deal of work, and very little consequence.
When we arrived, we ate and realized the rings of sustenance began their work to sustain us. In that town, I began looking for a caravan to sign onto heading north. It didn’t take me long to find one, and we agreed to accompany them north to the port city.
In the port city, we discovered graves as far as the eye could see. Not mass graves dug by poor folk escaping plague, opulent and excessive graves designed for the wealthy. The port’s name, Le Mort, seemed apt to the surroundings. The city’s primary function and focus seemed to be death and the business surrounding it. People with greasy smiles and greasy fingers and questionable motives thronged around us. Mercenary companies dotted the city’s landscape, ready to be hired to protect graves or do work in the world around Le Mort. Also, a rather robust adventurer’s guild occupied the city to help prevent undead uprisings.
Elif could barely contain her excitement and begged us to allow her to look around before we booked passage north to both return home to Greyreach and return Lionel to his home.