Here is the first of the vignette short stories that I got sent by one of my players. Her name is Geneva, and she's playing a rogue that multiclassed into Warlock. She seemed really taken by the warlock character class in the Player's Handbook which ties its power to some kind of ancient/old entity. Geneva decided that Valerie (her character) would have a connection to the ocean, as the setting for this campaign is around a small town called "Saltmarsh" in the Kingdom of Keoland.
The name of this piece is Tentacle.
Valerie wades in the surf, knee deep, in a secluded cove an hour’s walk from town. She is 8 years old. She has been swimming with her best friend, Oelien, a young elf boy around her age. He is still swimming out by the reef. She sees him surface, much less often than one would expect. She envies his ability to stay under the water for so long, but she is content to watch from shore for now. She may go back in for one more swim in awhile, but right now she is enjoying the feel of the summer sun drying her hair and warming her skin. She has plenty of time before she’s expected at home. Her mother made it plain that this afternoon she was to stay clear of the house until sunset, and her father is out to sea.
Valerie has been swimming almost since she could walk, and is quite good at it. She loves the way the cool salt water embraces her, buoying her up when she swims on the surface, surrounding her when she dives beneath. Moving through it feels the way she imagines flying would feel. She wishes she didn’t need to come up. She often opens her eyes in the stinging salt water to find a world of beauty below her. She can hear the fish feeding on the corals on the reef just past the shore break. The sound of the waves ebbing and flowing is the sweetest music to her. She can make small forays into the deeper water, but finds herself frustrated by the limits of her breath.
Sometimes the world of the water seems more real to her, more like home, than the world on land. Especially her own home, when her father isn’t there. Her mother is often preoccupied, and short with her if she’s underfoot. There are things in the house that Valerie only sees when her father is out of port, and she’s pretty sure she’s not meant to notice them. But Valerie has always noticed things. Sometimes, strange people come to the back door of the house for whispered conversations with her mom. Sometimes, those conversations take place in languages Valerie doesn’t understand. Once, when she was smaller, she went climbing up a shelf to reach a coin purse that was hanging from a high hook on the wall that had not been there the day before. She fell and was discovered. Her mother was furious, and, strangely, afraid. Afterwards, her mother carefully poured a few coins on the table and showed them to Valerie and explained to her that she must never, ever touch coins like this. The coins looked like gold coins, which Valerie had seen before, but these glinted red in certain light. Her mother swept them back into the purse, which Valerie never saw again.
The tide is coming in. Valerie is on a rocky bit of shoreline now, among tide pools filled with urchins, anemones, and purple sea stars. She crouches where the water is beginning to crash on the rocks, pulls off a few mussels from under the edge, pries the shells open, and picks out the tiny creatures inside. She washes them in seawater and pops them in her mouth. She chews, savoring the sweet/salty taste.
Now she is thirsty, and she realizes that she has left her clay water jug far down the beach, with her clothes. Oelien is still swimming, far out. She places her hands beside her on the rock and prepares to hoist herself up, then stops mid-motion.
There is a tentacle coming out of the water, right in front of her, and it is reaching for her foot. But it doesn’t look like a proper, fleshy tentacle. It’s transparent. It appears to be made of water. It touches her with a soft splash, and it feels like water on her skin, but it doesn’t lose its form the way a wave would upon impact. In the instant of that touch, a voice fills her mind. To Valerie it sings like the sea itself - thundering, beautiful, fierce, overwhelming. She can feel it swirling around inside her head, much the way a wave does across and between and under the rocks where she sits. The voice in her head is alive, and it flows unchecked into every part of her consciousness. She can’t stop the flow. It demands to know her.
Her body is standing now, her back arched, her arms thrown wide, her eyes sightless as the tentacle winds itself up her body and also into her mind. Angry now, she demands in return to know what thing believes it has the right to use her so. One who would give you the gift you want the most, child, answers the voice. One who is as wild as you want to be. One who welcomes you into the depths.
The tentacle, grown large and strong now, pulls her into the water and propels her forcefully away from shore and downwards. She struggles against the tentacle now, aware that the growing pressure in her ears means that she is going deeper into the water, and the burning in her lungs means that she will soon need to breathe. Then breathe, says the voice.
And then Valerie feels the seawater flowing across the sides of her neck, and the urge to inhale that she’s been fighting abruptly leaves her. The wave that had flooded her mind recedes until it is a lingering caress, a single tendril. A tentacle. The force binding her limbs eases. Open your eyes, child, says the voice softly. Look upon your new world.
She expects the familiar sting of the salt water as she opens her eyes, but it is absent. Her eyes quickly adjust to the light level. She is probably about 30 feet down, but her ears aren’t bothered. She is surrounded by sea life. Reds are dull and dark at this depth. Yellow and green and purple are still visible, if a little softened and blued in the filtered light. There is something swimming rapidly toward her that is roughly her size. Her friend? No. She sees a head and arms like a child’s, but then she sees its powerful, finned tail. Its skin is a sea creature’s skin’s texture and color, its movements more like fish than humanoid.
The creature is close now, so close she can see its eyes and its facial expression, which is hard to read. Curiosity? Concern? The eyes, though… it IS Oelien! Valerie thought she had lost the capacity for further surprise today. She was wrong. Her best friend is a… what is he, exactly?
He motions toward her neck. Valerie’s own hand follows the motion, and touches the side of her neck, gently, and she understands. She’s seen, and felt, something like this when helping her father clean fresh-caught fish. Gills. She has gills! The tentacle in her mind speaks. When she is in the water, from now on, she will have gills. They are the gift, perhaps the first of many gifts. She can now move between the worlds of land and
water freely instead of being an outworlder from the surface. Just like her best friend. The word the voice uses for him is one she has heard in stories. Changeling.
Valerie is overcome with a savage joy. She taps Oelien on the shoulder, and using hand motions, challenges him to a race. This time, for the first time ever, she matches his speed. They play under the sea, swimming through passages in the reef, plunging over the edge of the drop-off into deeper waters, watching motionless from below as several white-tipped sharks carve out a living ball of smaller fish from a school and feast.
After about an hour, Valerie heads for shore. She can breathe under the water and swim better than ever before, but the water is still cold, and swimming still takes effort. By the time she emerges onto the beach, her limbs feel heavy, and she’s shivering. The tentacle, as she has named the thing in her mind, is silent, but is still present in her head when she searches. She can feel it, now delicate and subtle, dipping into her experiences as they happen. Oelien comes ashore just behind her, now appearing as the elf child she had thought him to be up until this day. He is tentative around her. She instinctively knows why, and reassures her friend that she will protect his secret. She asks for the same protection in return. They solemnly link little fingers to seal their promise.
She cherishes the tentacle’s gift, yet she understands that telling any other person, especially a grown-up, might provoke reactions that would affect her in ways she can’t control. It is easy for her to imagine her mother forbidding her to go to the sea. She wouldn’t be able to stand that.