“Okay,” said Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness, clanking mightily from every last joint in her platemail as she was functionally towed into the Well Chamber by a small and furry kobold. It was not, in Kelli’s mind, particularly paladinesque behavior to be “towed” anywhere, but needs must as Hextor drove. “You keep on telling me that your friend Seamon is interested in ‘drowning’ me. I’ve kinda been, y’know, working on the assumption that you don’t actually mean he’s literally interested in drowning drowning me, because you’re being really perky and friendly and everything. But on the off chance that just maybe, all this is due to my kickbutt attempts at diplomacy earlier, p’raps you can, like, tell me what it is you’re actually—”
This was the last thing that Kelli Thunderhold said before she was seized about her vambraced leg by a tendril of animate water and hauled bodily toward the grotesquely-decorated well in the Well Chamber’s center.
Kelli Thunderhold was possessed of many negative traits (a quick glance at her character sheet would readily confirm two or three right off the bat) but despite her low Dexterity, one thing she did have in spades was impressive reaction time (improved initiative: it works, beyatch). She had also mastered the art of drawing a two-handed greatsword as a free action. In a twinkling, the shining and strangely-delicate single-edged blade was in her hands and glowing with eldritch fire.
This time, there would be no intellect devourer-style weaseling out of the issue. This was quite clearly a water elemental. She was possessed of a fire sword. Balance was one of the more basic truisms of dungeoneer alchemy: see a flame monster, whip out the ice mace. Just as the old chestnut said, “opposites kill one another.” The principle held equally well in Kelli’s experiences of both love and war.
(Sure, there would always be those sniggery tricksy-written adventures that pitted heroes against white ice-dragons that were in reality red dragons afflicted with albinism, just to see of any adventurers would take the bait and spend their fire spells wastefully against the heat-impervious scales of the great flame lizards. Her great-uncle Vandal had reportedly been on one. When little Kelli had asked, eyes gleaming, how her favorite uncle had responded, Vandal had grunted, took a good long swig of sugar-free caffeine-free diet ale, and said, “Weeel, we tracked down the bastard what wrote that bloody encounter n’ made sure he never wrote anything ever again, if ye catch m’drift.” Kelli had understood this to mean that Vandal had taken away the man’s typewriter, and good riddance, too.)
At any rate. The shining greatsword—moving more quickly than six pounds of enchanted silversteel had any right to move—struck true, cleaving the water weird’s questing tendril in two with a bright hiss of steam. Thus severed from the main body of the creature, the tentacle fragment that had been wrapped around Kelli’s leg lost cohesion and splattered into a dark puddle on the rough flagstone floor.
The water weird readied another strike at the prone and presumably-helpless adventurer, but another positive quality that Kelli Thunderhold possessed was the ability to rise unaided while wearing a suit of full plate armor. The girl was back on her booted feet in a single move-equivalent action, and the water weird’s great surging lunge met nothing but empty air. Somewhere nearby to her right flank the kobold was babbling, and the low ambient psionic hum of her intellect devourer companion was growing to a deafening whine, but it was all very far away to Kelli. She was in her smiting zone.
“Hear me!” bellowed Kelli Thunderhold, her blade rock-steady and spitting fire into the dank dungeon air. “I am Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness! Remember it for the remainder of your short and pitiful life as the name of the woman who made you regret ever setting pseudopod into the Prime Material plane, and remember as well the name of the instrument of that regret: Arinya’Tavar, ‘Morningwood,’ the sword of the Elven Harbinger of Fire!”
The water weird froze. (Figuratively, not literally.) Silence filled the Well Chamber, punctuated occasionally by a drip of condensation from the damp ceiling.
From her right, there came a tiny snigger.
“Okay okay okay,” said Eidey the Intellect Devourer. “Let me get this straight. You named your sword… ‘Morning Wood’?”
Kelli’s eyes narrowed, her gaze still locked on the beast of elemental water before her. “I didn’t name anything anything,” she said, over her shoulder. “This blade was forged and given name and purpose by the great Elven smithess Kith’kanaya, who passed it down to her daughter, who passed it down to her daughter after her, who put it up on aeBay when she was a little short on cash and storage space in her apartment’s armory. You know those tree-lofts. Jack-all for space, right?”
“Okay, sure, I get the rationale,” said Eidey, barely containing his laughter now. “But ‘Morning Wood’?”
Eidey exploded into cackles. The kobold made a little snickering noise. Even the water weird burbled, low and sonorous.
“What?” Kelli fairly shouted. “What the Nine Hells is wrong with you friggin’ weirdoes?”
“Okay, here’s the thing,” said Eidey, wiping nonexistent tears away from his giant exposed frontal lobe. “Here’s the thing. Let me just… tell you… what we’re all…”
The intellect devourer gave up and rolled over onto his side, his pink and crenellated length curving and shaking with great gasping laughs.
“Would somebody here tell me what the crap y’all are Tasha’s Uncontrollable Hideously laughing about?”
Kelli looked down to see the little kobold tugging at her cuisse. “Excuse me,” he said, his eyes sparkling a little. “I think we’re all just having ourselves a good chuckle at… well, all right, do you know when boys get up in the morning?”
Kelli frowned “Yes…?”
“And their, you know, things are really stiff because every time you dream, you get—”
“Geb’s farking Beard,” said Kelli. “Okay, so you’re telling me that when that happens, boys call it—”
“Yes’m,” said the kobold, nodding. The corners of his little muzzle twisted, the strength of his natural politeness struggling to hold out against this single act of gale-force asinine humor. Eidey had meanwhile long ago abandoned the fight, and was twitching helplessly in the corner, gasping for mental breath.
“But it isn’t the same noun sense at all!” Kelli protested, desperately trying to keep her voice from getting all loud and shrill as it naturally was inclined to in situations like this. “This is ‘wood’ like ‘forest!’ There’s gotta be a different word for ‘wood’ meaning ‘log,’ right?”
“Arinya’Turu,” rumbled the water weird, “would have been even funnier, yes. It’s still hilarious.”
“She said ‘log’!” shrieked Eidey, with a renewed set of paroxysms.
“Look, you huge dorks!” said Kelli, shaking her sword up and down. “It doesn’t flipping matter what the sword is called, all right? Can we forget I brought it up?”
“Ship’s sailed, Thunderhold,” said Eidey, still gasping and twitching. “Ship sailed so long ago that the cruise director is already explaining to interested parties about the wave machine on the lido deck and the all-you-can-eat crab b—buffet.”
“Fine!” Kelli shouted. “Fine! You know what? I don’t even care! I don’t care what my sword is called! It’s a great sword, in addition to being an actual greatsword! As far as mid-level two-handed martial weapons go, you’re really not going to do better than holy crap my sword is named after some elf-dude’s junk.” Kelli leaned back against the wall, clanging the back of her ring-shaped gorget against the stones. “Now I can’t even touch this thing without thinking of elf-batch. Thanks an enormous freakin’ bundle, guys.”
“Anytime,” said Eidey. “Absolutely anytime.”
Kelli sagged, then began punching the wall a couple times. “Stupid friggin’ elves. Dad always told me not to buy an elf sword. He was all like, ‘It’s meteoric iron or nothing, Kelli!’ And here’s me: ‘Hurr durr durr, I’m gonna go on the Aethernet and buy an elf sword because I love mithril! Holy rainbow slaadcrap I love mithril so farking much!‘”
“This keeps remaining awesome,” said Eidey. “I love the voice you do when you’re being ‘you except stupid.'”
Kelli wheeled in the intellect devourer’s direction. “You!” she said. “You’re a psionic-type thing. You can go into my brain and edit out the past three minutes of conversation, right?”
“Probably could,” said Eidey. “Am I going to? Not on your placental-breeding life.”
“Rrrgh! What even good is it having an intellect devourer around?”
“My charming good looks?” Eidey hazarded, waggling his frontal lobes in a roguish fashion.
“Seriously!” said Kelli. “I’m not even supposed to be in a party with you! Rulebook says I’m not supposed to join any party with evil characters. I keep fudging it by telling myself you’re just a wandering monster who happens to be consistently wandering in the same general direction that I am and that strictly speaking you joined me, but I think we both can see how pathetic that sounds.” Kelli slid to the floor with a clatter reminiscent of somebody taking out the recycling. “I’m a pretty terrible paladin,” she admitted. “Maybe I should, like, multiclass again or something?”
The little kobold patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. “Hey, don’t be like that. You’re a great paladin.”
“Okay, so tell me this, kobold.”
“I have a name,” said the kobold, gently. “It’s ‘Hubert.'”
“Hubert,” she said. “How many levels am I going to have to gain before this sort of thing starts becoming second-nature? All this stuff with not reconciling my bathroom habits with dungeon reality and buying stupidly-named swords off the aethernet by mistake. When does this ever get easy?”
Hubert gave a little grimace. “I have to admit, I’ve been wandering quite a while,” he said. “I keep asking myself the same question. I mean, just the other day, I opened a chest without checking for traps first. I was just wandering along when I saw this chest, and whoops, without even hardly thinking about it, I flipped it open. Could have been a poison needle or anything in that lock. One saving throw away from the Dustbin, y’know? There doesn’t come a point where you stop making mistakes altogether. When mistakes happen—and mark my words, they will—just remember this simple three-step procedure.” Hubert began ticking off points on his claws. “Step one: stop and assess what went wrong. Step two: figure out how you can keep it from going wrong in the same way in the future. And step three: above all, keep your head high.” The kobold gave a little smile. “Except in the case of horizontal spinny wheely blade things that shoot out form the walls at about neck height. Probably best not to keep your head high in that specific circumstance.”
There came a burbling noise. Kelli looked up to see the oddly serpentine face of the water weird hovering nearby. “Sorry, Hubert, but could I interrupt?” said the water weird.
“Sure, Seamon. What do you want?”
“Well,” said Seamon, “If you don’t mind, I’d really like to get back to dragging her under the water so she drowns.”
“Okay,” said Kelli, “when you say ‘drowns—'”
Seamon struck with all the ferocity of a rogue wave, clutched Kelli Thunderhold in his watery embrace, and dragged her into the well.
There was a moment of startled silence.
“Okay,” said Hubert. “Step one…”