Following the sounds of screaming, we ran over to the nearby lake. Or pond, or whatever. The exact distinction in size and artificiality of the gathering of water was irrelevant at the moment. What did matter was that the woman who had been screaming for help was nervously wringing her hands. “Pablo…”
“Is someone in the water, ma’am?” I asked quickly as I stopped next to her. I wasn’t great at swimming yet, but Water Breathing made me a lot more confident.
“Yes, my son Pablo.”
“He fell in?” I said. I was already gathering mana for Water Breathing as I spoke.
“He was yanked in by a monster… some lady dove in after him.”
“I see.” I held onto the mana for a moment, moving down the slope closer to the water to try to see what was going on. All I saw were large, dark shapes. Then the surface of the lake burst open, sending something flying at me. I caught it by instinct, which turned out to be a much better choice than dodging it. I staggered back with a kid in my arms. The good news was he coughed and sputtered and took a deep breath, so I didn’t have to figure anything out with that.
“Pablo!” his mother called out. She began to run towards us.
“Stay up there!” I called out. “It’s not safe yet!” Turns out I was more right than I knew.
I got about halfway up the slope before I felt something grab my leg and yank it. I dropped the kid immediately onto the soft grass, seeing Midnight lose his grip as well. As I was flipped upside down I was able to see what was grabbing me. An arm, but not a person arm. A squid arm. Somehow I managed to turn the mana I had gathered into the intended spell, providing Water Breathing for myself… and Midnight, if he needed it.
As I hit the water I got two lungfuls of it, and two eyefulls of the monster. A kraken? Hard to tell, really. Some sort of squiddy thing, really. What was quite clear was that it absolutely did not fit in the water it was currently occupying. Everything was completely full with tentacles and arms. Where had this thing come from? There was no way it swam here, nor was there any feeling of mana. Maybe portals to elsewhere. But this being halloween, I supposed it came from some sort of collective belief in monsters.
What a pickle. As I was pulled towards the creature’s gaping maw, I managed to catch a glimpse of a mermaid. No, that wasn’t right. It was a person in a bad mermaid costume. Some sort of fake seashells covering her chest and a bad tail flopping behind her very real legs. From the way she was swimming around, she didn’t seem to be drowning at least. Presumably she was responsible for the kid rocketing out of the water. I waved as I was pulled towards the teeth.
“Holy crap that guy got eaten by the monster!” Ceira cried out.
“‘That guy’ is a mercenary and he will be alright,” Midnight said, not quite sure of his own words. “Now if you could help that mother get her child much further away from the lake, that would be much appreciated.”
The good news was that Turlough wasn’t really panicking from being pulled in the water. The bad news was that he never got concerned enough about combat. The other bad news was that Midnight’s worry was reflecting back on himself and he was panicking and what was he going to do?
Approaching the water might be stupid, but he couldn’t just leave Turlough to die. Midnight didn’t want to think about what would happen to him if a normal friend died, let alone one in a semi-magical bond like they had.
Midnight could now see lake water splashing about and tentacles flopping from the surface. They didn’t seem to be doing anything in particular, but it sure made it hard to see what was going on. He stuck his face in the water. It was the worst feeling, but he reminded himself he could breathe and that he needed to see.
With his head in the water, he could hear… singing? It also became more clear that the thing was flopping about wildly, not just with unknown intention. Midnight wondered how to fight it. Shocking Grasp? That was good against water, right? No no no! Electricity and water didn’t mix. Especially not if people he wanted to keep out of cardiac arrest were in it.
Firebolt was a level worse. It would sputter out almost immediately. Sonic Lance was… uncertain. With that, he kind of ran out of good offensive options. He’d need some help. Time to check if any backup was available nearby.
I was extremely relieved when the squid’s large beak-thing surrounded by spikes didn’t break me in half as it chomped down. Just almost. I had enough time to cast Stoneskin as it reeled me in, so it merely punctured that and Force Armor, only a few of the extraneous spikes finding their way through my protective uniform which was what I was actually wearing. The cat thing was the Disguise spell, after all. A few puncture wounds, lacerations, broken ribs… but not chomped in half so things were good.
It would have been nice to have Stoneskin upgraded. Perhaps that would have saved me from taking any damage, or maybe not. Either way, I was alive for the moment. The next chomp would be a problem though. My strongest offense was Sonic Lance. I didn’t have a whole ton of spare mana, but this wasn’t a time to be conservative. I had a nice open target for it as well.
An interesting side effect of blasting a shockwave into the watery maw of a maybe-kraken was that the water had to go somewhere, and it was basically incompressible. So I managed to blast myself away from the maw, the arm gripping me barely holding on as teeth dragged along my stony skin. Then I heard a weird singing, and the arm squeezed tightly… then let go. Then lashed wildly around.
The lashing part went for all of the tentacles as well as the other arms- weren’t squid only supposed to have two of the longer tendrils? Oh well, this was a monster anyway. I didn’t have the ability to dodge them in the water, but the way they moved was not optimal for ignoring water resistance. They slammed into me, but not hard enough to kill me. So far, things were going great.
“Of course everyone is engaged in combat!” Midnight said exasperated, to no one in particular after requesting backup. “Five minutes? I can wait that long if Turlough doesn’t get eaten before then!”
He was just about ready to jump in himself, feeling Turlough’s pain, but at the moment at least Turlough was no longer at the bottom of the lake. Maybe he was swimming free? Going in there and getting grabbed wouldn’t help either of them.
“How can I help?” came a voice from nearby.
Midnight spun on his heels to find a bush standing there. A person-shaped one, of course. “What the hell are you doing here? Get to safety!”
“I was just trying to help!” Ceira said.
“Help from up there!” Midnight gestured forcefully as he looked up at the woman. “You’ve got plant magic, right? Use it to grab some of these tentacles and hold them out of the lake!”
“I don’t know if my magic works!” Ceira said as she began running back up the hill. “I only ever made houseplants grow!”
“Then experiment from there!”
Given my length of experience, I was pretty good at swimming in a pool. Swimming in a combat scenario was a bit more tough, especially since I was having trouble figuring out which way was up. Whenever I’d find it I would get battered by a tentacle and have to search again. Even so, I managed to slowly pull myself away from the area.
As I did so, I managed to begin absorbing one of the mana crystals in my pocket. I couldn’t see this battle going much longer, but a few mana over the next minute might make a huge difference. I wished I had a spear. I could get my gun out of Storage but it wasn’t really much use in the water or for something of this size. Could I fit a spear in Storage? They weren’t actually that heavy, so I probably could. Otherwise a few points to increase Storage’s capacity would do it.
I thought a lot about what I could do, but also about the fact that I wasn’t really prepared for underwater combat. Then again, most people weren’t. It was kind of the norm to not be in water. At least the mermaid seemed suited for it.
“Hey mermaid lady!” I knew speech didn’t work that well under water, but I tried anyway. “I’m almost away from danger, so you can get yourself out in a minute!”
It didn’t look like she heard me. She was concentrating pretty hard on singing, from what I could see through all the whipping tentacles and arms. The ones that got closer to her deflected away from here too. Some sort of water barrier? Cool!
“I’m going to try to help from the surface!” I shouted.
Somehow, I’d touched land, and was out of the most destructive radius of the wild swings. Then a few moments later my head was above water. Water spewed out of my mouth as I continued to breath, uncomfortable and weird but still quite breathable even when mixed with air.
“Turlough!” Midnight called as he spotted me, running towards me. Then he stopped and stood with his back straight. “Ahem. Mage. I have called for backup. They’re incoming as quickly as we can.”
“Someone’s still in there,” I said. “But I don’t know how to-” Even as I spoke, the grass around us and the bushes on the other side of the ‘lake’ grew and stretched towards the water. They grasped onto some sort of underwater plant there, as well as some of the tentacles. And by some I meant there were two or three that didn’t immediately break free. “Midnight!” Shouting seemed appropriate, but I was mostly focusing on casting Sonic Lance at one that was briefly visible. Firebolt wasn’t going to work against anything so extremely wet, and there was no way I could get closer for a Shocking Grasp before they broke free even if I threw out a Mage’s Reach.
Midnight seemed to have the same idea or at least sense what I was casting. Either way, in sequence I fired a Sonic Lance at one tentacle while Midnight hit what was technically one of the arms. They sort of exploded, which was why a spell like that couldn’t be used on a non-super. First, it was overkill… and second it looked bad. It was about as powerful as five Firebolts packed together, after all- and those could kill a normal person if they got hit in the right or wrong place.
“Did I do it?” Ceira said, her head peeking over the edge of the slope. “Aww man, nothing.” Then her face flopped into the grass.
“Mana exhaustion?” Midnight conjectured. I nodded.
I half walked and half crawled further up the slope with Midnight. “I don’t think that’s enough for that thing to bleed to death. I don’t have any more to give, though. Not a full one, anyway.”
“I have one more Sonic Lance maybe?” Midnight shook his head. “What about that woman in there?”
“I’m not… sure…” the flopping of the tentacles was slowing down. Normally that would have been a sign of fatigue or the like, but it seemed more like they were getting back control over themselves. “We have to help somehow. That mermaid lady has a water barrier I think, but powers aren’t limitless.”
“Water barrier?” Midnight said. “And… singing confusion powers?”
“Yep, seems right.”
“Isn’t that… Sirine?”
“Now that you mention it,” I nodded. “That does seem like her. Doesn’t make a difference though. She saved a kid.”
“I get it but…” Midnight looked wearily at the now only gently swirling water. “I don’t know how to help.”
“Mage!” feet thudded into the ground near us. “Enlarge me!”
I saw a huge cyclops standing there. But since it asked almost nicely, I decided to help. I cast Enlarge, making sure to spend the full three mana instead of the reduced cost. Every bit of boost might matter. I watched the cyclops grow to around three stories tall, a grin on my face. I looked over at Midnight. “That cyclops reminds me of Great Girl,” I commented.
“That is Great Girl.”
“Riiiight. That explains it.”
Great Girl stomped down to the edge of the water, disturbingly calm. She crouched down, arms going into the water. Then all at once, a dozen tentacles and arms wrapped around her outstretched limbs. “Rrrrraaagh!” Great Girl roared as she pulled with all her might, the lake rising up as she flipped the creature onto the slope. As she proceeded to pull it onto hard pavement where she could stomp it into a less yielding surface, I couldn’t help but grin.
I was dizzy, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the mana exhaustion or the blood loss. Maybe both. My vision was kind of blurry, but as I collapsed I thought I saw a figure swimming downstream, just under the surface.