“If the snot goes in the story, I swear to Goreador I will feed you your own horns.”
“Why don’t you go catch us some fish while you’re out there?” — Carenza Vega & Vesper Sespech
With not much to do while Ettorio fetches Lisayra Dusaam, the group settles in for a four-day wait. They spend some time going over the various books left behind by Iridios and his colleague. Carenza quietly tucks away Erotic Secrets of the Elves with the intention of making a gift of it to Bessari.
The imprisoned water-terror Shalperax does its best to win one of the group over to his way of thinking during the wait. He starts first with Vittorio, opening diplomatic relations.
“You’re trying to tempt a tempter,” says Vittorio with a smile. “Let’s cut out the runaround.”
Abandoning that target, Shalperax then begins to speak with Carenza when she’s alone.
“Look, I am not as charmed by you as I am afraid of Vesper.” The mercenary’s face is completely straight.
Finally, Shalperax tries the arcanist in the tower.
“I have nothing to say to you.”
The voice of Shalperax is not heart for some time thereafter, and they assume he is sulking.
In the meantime, they also spend some time caring for the mermaid. Although nobody is able to understand her mangled Elvish, she does attempt to learn some Common, and is a quick study.
On the third night in the Tower of the Heron, Vittorio hears a strange music from outside — something like bass bagpipes, echoing from underwater. The sound is barely perceptible within the tower, but it seems to reach Gullaby. The eel mermaid becomes agitated, swimming in tight circles as if chasing her tail.
Carenza goes out to the dock to have a look, while Vittorio watches from a high window. She sees lights in a pattern deep underwater, but drawing nearer. The music becomes more audible. And then the visitors surface.
The first up on the pier are a squad of four fish-creatures, something like pike or gar that had been given arms and legs and a rough humanoid posture, carrying odd luminescent lanterns before them. After them comes a quartet of pale goblins in bizarre breathing masks that hook into the batrachian-sounding bagpipes they continue to play. Then something much larger pulls itself onto the dock. It looks something like a bipedal toad the size of an ogre, dressed in lacquered armor hung about with bogweed and with a tarnished morningstar in one webbed hand. It surveys Carenza out of one eye and then the other, and then it bows as a great carriage made of aquatic plant leaves and tendrils rises up out of the water. The leaves unfold, revealing a squat amphibious beast, even less humanoid than the toad-soldier but with just as much intelligence in its eyes, its decorations a few weedy garlands set with shiny stones.
The toad-soldier offers a quick bow before the creature in the carriage, then turns to Carenza.
“Abase yourself, mortals, before his Unconquerable Dampness, Prince of the Silty Undermarch, Bufonirio Spatterditch the First and Only.”
Carenza keeps her composure. She bows slightly and explains that it will be a moment. The bride, she lies, is excited but will want to look her best. As the amphibious fey lordling strokes his throat sac in satisfaction, Carenza slips inside and finds the others.
“There is a giant faerie fish-beast outside insisting to see his new bride, which I am pretty sure is not me.”
Gullaby does not take the news well. “No,” she says in accented Common. “No no no no no.”
Vittorio agrees to accompany Carenza back out, while Vesper remains with Gullaby and calmly works out a fallback plan. The musician strides out in his true form, tall and infernal with eyes full of burning wrath. His presence is enough to cow most of the retinue, while even Bufonirio Spatterditch seems rather taken aback. The toad soldier hefts his weapon but waits to read the situation. Vittorio, in no uncertain terms, states that he will be negotiating for the bride in question.
Bufonirio, somewhat taken aback, nervously pulls up one of the cages attached to his chariot and stuffs the tiny humanoid mosquito-pixie inside into his mouth. In a deep voice with vibrating “r”s, he explains that he has come for a bride in order to further his ambition. He wishes to assume his rightful place in the Court of the Queen of Jewelled Waters, and the daughter of a river-king would be a fine consort to establish his pedigree. He nervously notes that he’s willing to offer a dowry to the potential matchmakers.
As an aside, Carenza mentions to Vittorio that she thinks the Silty Undermarch party is strong, but not beyond their own skill. The two excuse themselves to step inside and briefly confer with their companion.
“It would be nice if Ettorio was here,” says Carenza.
Vesper shakes her head. “No it wouldn’t. He would only confuse the issue.”
“I meant in case it became a fight.”
The discussion is brief. Vittorio reemerges from the tower, and announces with infernal majesty that there will be no deal. They are willing to offer some jewels as recompense, however. Bufonirio seems to be taking the offer well until Carenza adds that the jewels may allow him to find a bride “more his level.” The amphibious fey puffs up, and his throat sac swells with anger as the toad-soldier hefts his weapon. Vittorio intercedes quickly.
“I’m not certain that the lady in question would be a suitable bride for you,” he elaborates. “She has been looking rather unwell lately. Something like… a belly-up fish.”
Bufonirio settles back down, returning to a cooler pallor. He agrees to the deal.
Carenza places the three blue pearls from Iridios’ packs in the alchemist’s coffer, on a layer of gold coins. She then returns outside and humbly presents the coffer to Bufonirio with a bow. The amphibious fey chortles a bit at the sight.
“I am well-pleased. I grant you my blessing.”
While Carenza looks at him quizzically, his tongue shoots out and strikes her clear on her forehead. As the mercenary stares back in shock, mucus slipping slowly down her temples, the Prince of the Silty Undermarches pats his belly in satisfaction, then rumbles a command. His chariot casts off, his attendants follow, and soon the procession is sunken below the lake’s surface, the lights and piping fading.
Carenza, thoroughly disgusted, goes into the water wing on the first level to wash her forehead. Gullaby, now more spirited, seems excited for the mercenary.
“Good blessing. Catch many fish.”
Carenza stares at the mermaid while Vittorio laughs aloud. She then turns and gives him a warning glare.
“If the snot goes in the story, I swear to Goreador I will make you eat your own horns.”
Vesper helpfully recommends that Carenza might as well catch some fish while she’s at it.
Carenza spends the early pre-dawn on the dock, drinking wine and watching the fish jump. She idly puts one hand in the water, and closes it on a fish. She pulls the small lake trout out of the water, regards it with a sigh, and then decides to make the best of the situation by cooking it for breakfast.
The final day, patience is starting to run thin. Vittorio has moved on to baiting Carenza with allusions to telling the story to the Ladies-in-Waiting, which incenses her further. Tragically, he has also run low on alcohol, and laments that there’s none in the tower.
The voice of Shalperax is heard once more. “You haven’t asked for any.”
Vesper steps in.
“Don’t sell your soul for booze.”
“It’s been two days!”
At last a boat arrives from the nearby village, carrying the veiled Lisayra Dusaam and a dangerous-looking pair of bodyguards. Vesper takes over to give the Dusaam a tour. Lisayra seems quite impressed, and thanks the group for their help in procuring the place for her studies. She also assists them in releasing Gullaby, pointing out that the mermaid likely arrived through a fluctuating fey gate underwater that is prone to open again soon.
That evening, the group sets out to leave the tower and its vexing bound inhabitant well behind. As their boat is partway to the village, Gullaby emerges from the water, and hands an odd egg to the group by way of thanks. It has the leathery texture of a reptile egg, but vibrates slightly as if something is churning inside.
“Maelstrom egg. Be careful!”
Somewhat unsure what to make of the elemental object, the group continues back towards the shore, and eventually toward Ladona.