“One minute you’re enjoying a sip of a potion, the next Carpa is taking a washboard to you.” — Carenza Vega
They step into the water garden as the mystical smoke dissipates. Vittorio begins poking at the lab, but Carenza and Vesper focus on the mermaid. The strange eel-woman regards them with suspicion, and when they address her, she replies in an unfamiliar language. “Her accent is terrible,” notes Ettorio. He explains that the mermaid is speaking a peculiar dialect of elvish, or perhaps a dialect of its parent tongue.
Ettorio translates his friends’ questions and the mermaid’s responses as best as he can. She claims not to be a resident of the tower. She was “left behind” in the lake, and caught thereafter. She is young, and was younger at the time of her capture. She asks if “the others” are still there, and the group is unable to say. Vesper and Vittorio are not quite able to determine whether the eel-maid is a creature of the Overworld or a resident of the elemental flows of water. They promise to return to aid her, and then move to the other wing of the tower’s lowest level.
They open the pair of doors on the southern side of the hall. Beyond is a strange cavelike grotto, its walls more raw and living rock than cut stone. A few faintly birdlike sculptures of gargoyles are carved into the far wall. Streams of water run from the walls into basins, and more of the alchemist’s equipment is set up here. Vittorio spots some lingering magic in a few vials and tucks them away. The alchemical sigils on the labels identify them as two flasks of water imperial, one marked as “echoing vaults,” and one marked “imminent relief.”
With no other immediate concerns in the grotto, the four return to the main hall and set their sights on the upper floors. As they start up the steps, Vittorio glances down and notes something peculiar: the central fountain’s heron statue appears to be wearing a golden crown in its reflection. The statue itself remains uncrowned — and even Chiro is unable to detect any invisible object on its head, unless it is also intangible — but the reflection’s crown remains.
The group pauses and discusses what this means — how indeed they could extract the crown. Or, for that matter, if they even want it. Though none present would turn down more gold to fuel their various ambitions, they determine they have greater priorities, in particular catching Iridios before he can flee.
Then a voice from the waters says, “I have things other than gold to offer.”
The group begins to negotiate with this curious voice, which speaks in pleasant and calming tones. But a scrap of half-remembered knowledge forces itself to the fore of Vespers’ mind. “Don’t,” she says. She elaborates further on the nature of the entity Shalperax, sometimes known locally as Cialaperacci, an elemental fiend of water who has corrupted other hydromancers. Vesper’s warning is good enough for the others. Although the voice attempts to reason with them further, Carenza is particularly adamant that they want nothing to do with it.
“Very well,” it finally replies. “Then I will attend to the needs of my other guest instead.” The voice does not speak again even when they address it.
They move upstairs, into another room that fills the entire floor of the tower. The level is a garden, complete with reflecting pools and trees that bear intriguing fruits, lit by a peculiar radiance. Too many childhood superstitions come to mind for anyone to take one of the fruits.
They head for the stairs at the far end of the garden hall. As they go, Vittorio see something else intriguing — a lovely ornate golden bow lies beneath the water in one of the reflecting pools, shimmering in the light. He contemplates the treasure for a moment, but then notices something ascending the stairs behind them. A strange mud creature in roughly humanoid form sloughs into the garden, the two rocky gargoyles from the grotto accompanying it. The group moves to confront their pursuers, but then finds the situation is even more complicated — a watery form erupts from one of the pools, slamming into their flank.
It turns out to be a new and interesting challenge for the blades to fight against enemies who have no clear vital organs, or for that matter, any biology to speak of. But the creatures of earth and water do have weak points. One of the gargoyles is the first to fall after an inspired bit of teamwork. Carenza sets up the gargoyle with a leading strike, Vittorio looses a pair of fate-twisted crossbow bolts into it, and finally Ettorio tumbles forward and buries his cinquedea in the back of the gargoyle’s neck. Struck through a vital flow of its animating force, the creature’s body crumbles apart and begins to soften, like clay with too much water in it.
But the elementals strike back, and hard. The water weird focuses on Carenza, enfolding her in its form and nearly drowning her. The mud grue also attempts to drag any living target into its toxic muck. The surviving gargoyle swoops back and forth, slashing at the intruders before landing and then taking off again. Carenza nearly chokes to death before Vittorio’s tampering with fate pulls away her doom.
And the tide turns. The mudman takes shot after shot, and finally explodes when Vittorio sends an ensorcelled quarrel through it. Vesper focuses a burst of her wraithly power on the water elemental, and as the Sespech glyph on it flares, its animating force losing its hold. Water rushes over the floor. The surviving gargoyle turns to flee, but does not make it to the stairs. Peculiarly, it isn’t a blade or spell that ends it. It freezes up, and water runs out of it like a thick sweat. In moment it is an inanimate carving, and the group is finally free to bind their wounds and catch their breaths.