"What is this stuff?" asked Dolt Lungren wrinkling his nose. The forest floor before them was covered with a thick carpet of sticky purple goo. It covered the ground and crept up the trunks of trees and other foliage to about waist-high. The air swarmed with black flies that seemed to be thriving on the stuff.
"That's what we're here to find out," replied Solo kneeling at the edge of the substance.
"The ground was covered with it the morning after we fled Tristram," said Griswold, "an' it seems like it's been creeping after us ever since."
"In fact, we started calling it 'creep,'" added Gillian, standing several paces away from it.
Solo removed her gloves, gingerly dipped a finger into the creep and turned her keen analytical powers on it. It was sticky like honey, and made her fingertip tingle. Slightly acidic, she surmised. She studied the dollop on the end of her finger for another moment and then tasted it. Griswold and Gillian both made retching sounds. Dolt, who had eaten much more unsavory things in his time, merely shrugged.
Solo spat. "Sweet," she said putting her gloves back on and wiping her mouth. "It's also alive and feeding on the forest. I don't think it can do any harm to large animals or plants in the short term, but I'd be worried if I was an insect or a bit of moss. It's eating anything it can and excreting sugars. Maybe to feed some other kind of organism."
"You could tell all that from a taste?" asked Gillian, visibly impressed.
Solo shrugged. In the short time she'd known the young healer, she had quickly seen that it really didn't take much to impress Gillian. "This stuff tastes like fifty teaspoons of sugar in a pint of water," she explained. "With all these flies buzzing around, it should be writhing with maggots, but it's not because they're being digested or dissolved. If I had any doubt that whatever this 'creep' is composed of wasn't strong enough to hurt me, I wouldn't have tasted it in the first place. I wouldn't eat too much of it though. A couple swallows will be enough to keep you running for the bushes for the rest of the week."
"That explains Cecilia's condition," nodded Gillian. "The poor child. Luckily, Pepin taught me a couple of good remedies that I should be able to concoct here in the forest."
"You mentioned it feeding some other kind of animal," Dolt prompted.
"I'm jumping to an educated conclusion," admitted Solo. "Most animals don't excrete sugar." She paused and realized that she was the only person present who understood what "excrete" meant. "Most animals don't shit sugar," she continued. Gillian blushed upon hearing the vulgar word. "That's because they can use sugars themselves. When plants or animals do produce sugars like this it's either to attract other animals the way flowers produce nectar to attract bees, or it's to feed something else. Since it doesn't seem to be attracting anything other than flies - who are attracted to ordinary animal droppings - I'm guessing the latter."
A louder, lower droning sound from above drowned out the constant buzzing of the flies. Leaves rustled and then branches snapped as a wasp-like monstrosity flew out of the woods. It was fully the size of a prize hog and covered with needle-like spines. In its mandibles, it held a struggling woman. The creature and its prey buzzed low over their heads.
In a flash, Solo was slicing at it, with a sword in each hand, as Griswold stabbed up at it with the sword he'd forged on the Anvil of Fury. The latter blow separated the creature from its prey and Dolt ended its twisted existence with a blow from his mighty axe.
Dolt and Solo moved to examine the dead monster while Griswold and Gillian rushed to tend to the woman it had been carrying.
Solo barely had a moment to examine the beast when she heard Gillian scream.
|The woman was beautiful and nearly naked, with flaming red hair. She also had a pair of tiny horns protruding from her forehead. A single bat-like wing grew from her left shoulder blade.|
"Sweet Mother o' Mercy!" swore Griswold.
Solo and Dolt looked up to see Griswold, his sword raised high, about to execute the woman. Solo yanked the Master Blacksmith away from the woman with a hurried Telekinesis spell.
"What in Zakarum's name are you doing?" she demanded rushing to the woman's aid, Dolt following close behind.
A moment later, they both saw. The woman was beautiful and nearly naked, with flaming red hair. She also had a pair of tiny horns protruding from her forehead. A single bat-like wing grew from her left shoulder blade. The wound where her right wing had been torn off gushed black ichor instead of blood.
"'Tis a demon!" shouted Griswold, stating the obvious and advancing again with his sword in hand. "Lemme kill it before it kills us."
Both Dolt and Griswold stepped forward to finish off the wounded demoness. Gillian, still pale and shaking a little, stepped in front of them.
"What?" asked Dolt not quite hearing what Gillian had said.
|"It is not the place of a Healer to judge the worthiness of those whom she would heal. God must judge and a Healer must heal."|
"I... I said, no," repeated Gillian. "I did not train under Pepin long God rest his soul - but he made me swear to the Healer's Code. I must honor it." She became more confident as she quoted: "'A Healer heals, always. A Healer does no harm, nor allows harm to be done. It is not the place of a Healer to judge the worthiness of those whom she would heal. God must judge and a Healer must heal.'"
Between them, Dolt and Griswold were roughly five times Gillian's size. She stood her ground, and it was Solo's turn to be impressed. "I think it would be worth our while to have the demon alive for questioning," said Solo. "We need to find out what the situation is in Tristram and what sort of creatures are being spawned there."
Dolt and Griswold growled like wolves separated from their prey. "Besides," added Solo, "I want to know what kind of creature it is that can mutilate a Hell Spawn Succubus and if we should expect any more. I'd hate any of us to lose any limbs because we turned down a chance to gather adequate intelligence."
"Very well," conceded Griswold, "but you let tha' devil-bitch know tha' she's feasted on 'er last soul an' that her hours are numbered!" He glared at Gillian. "Healer's Code or no!"
Gillian knelt beside the Hell Spawn and cast a Healing spell. "If it makes you feel any better, Griswold, I may not be able to save her. I can stop the bleeding and close the wound, but I cannot restore the wing any more than Pepin could have restored poor Toby Wirt's leg. She might still die of shock and pain."
Dolt nudged Griswold. "We can always hope," he whispered to the Master Blacksmith.
"Aye," agreed Griswold grimly.