While Jimothy checks the walls for footholds or weaknesses, Jancer loots the githyanki captain's mangled body. He finds 60gp on his person, as well as a skull that looks like it's had the front punched out of it from within. The half-elf also grabs the githyanki's silver sword off the ground.
As soon as Jancer's hand touches the weapon, the blade recedes into the hilt. He feels as if the weapon is waiting for instructions on what to do next. Using nothing but his mind, the necrodancer reforms the silvery blade. He wills it to take the form of a tube next, and it does so; followed by a statuette of himself—which it does!
While his knife-eared compatriot admires his own form in miniature, Jimothy smashes through a bricked-up entryway with his Mace of Disruption. He holds up the mace like a torch, revealing a figure in the darkened tunnel beyond. There's a gentle brap from the shadows as the approaching being comes into view. It looks almost like an imp formed from mud, wearing a battered dwarven helmet and wielding a throwing weapon like a battleaxe from its perch atop a vaguely jellyfish-shaped creature that seems to inflate and deflate as it takes in air. The mephit shields its eyes from the light and says, "Is that Jimothy Jones I see before me?"
Jimothy suddenly recognizes this creature as Zahadara's retainer, an ooze mephit by the name of Sir Sqludge. Sir Sqludge is honored to be in the presence of "such a strapping young warrior of the faith", and points out that the madame didn't even want his own miserable self accompanying her to a meeting, out of fear that his "disgusting exterior" would offend. "And it almost certainly would, of course, so, who can blame her, eh?"
Jimothy introduces the mephit to Jancer, who shakes the mud imp's hand (after putting on a glove), and asks if they might use his mount to help ascend back to the inn. Jancer hops atop the floating fart-creature first, using a 'Mage Hand' to brush away Sir Sqludge's, er, "residue". The mephit hops up and forcefully butt-presses the creature's inflated top, sending them upwards with a burbling burst of air.
Jancer hops off to find the two remaining githyanki looming over Sporp. The necrodancer grabs his crotch with one hand, points at the myconid's assailants with the other, and lets out a "WOOOOOOOOOO" as a 'Lighting Bolt' leaps from his fingertip.
Not far away, a group of dwarven guardsman rushing to the scene hear a loud thundercrack that echoes through Zakkencrag and reverberates in their very bones. This group's leader, Ridak Linmo, tells his lads to double their speed as 'The Dirt Nap' comes into view up ahead. A half-orc mercenary hired on to supplement the city's militia, Ridak's skills launched him into a position of responsibility after the guard force became so thinly-stretched that they were basically accepting anyone into their ranks. He busts into the common room of the inn with a "Good morning! What's going on in here?" and witnesses absolute chaos.
To one side of a giant gaping hole at the room's heart, a shirtless moustachio'd human lies motionless in a pool of blood, one fishman draped over his body while another stands a few feet back, observing. On the other side of the hole, in front of a freshly-ignited bar, an electrically-fried githyanki stumbles into the pit, while a gyrating half-elf faces down a dark-clad githyanki that appears to be holding a little mushroom boy hostage.
Ridak's natural protective tendencies kick in at seeing such a small creature threatened, and he almost instinctively fires an arrow, which sails through the air, skewering the githyanki necromancer through the kneecaps. Before the necromancer can even begin to react to these new arrivals, Ridak fires off another arrow that hits the gith right between the eyes.
"That ought to teach you to never mess with shorties around Ridak Linmo."
Sporp goes rolling towards the lip of the well as the necromancer collapses, and Jancer casts 'Mage Hand' to catch the myconid sprout before an unfortunate fall. He suddenly hears a squee of joy from the room behind him, where Nylah is greeting a new arrival of her own.
The tiefling bard pushes Elspeth out of the way as the dwarf comes over to check on her, rushing towards the hatching dragon egg. She encourages the wyrmling as it pulls itself free of the eggshell and rolls out onto the bed, loudly chirping in her direction. She picks the severed githyanki head up off the floor and gives it to the newborn, who grabs it between all four claws and begins making happy noises as it nibbles on the soft, fleshy bits. Nylah's mouth curls into a motherly smile as she says, "I think I'll name him 'Algernon'!"
Back down in the well, another githyanki corpse slams into the ground beside Jimothy with a meaty smack as Sir Sqludge descends towards him. The paladin suggests that the mephit's mount carry him up in its tendrils, but the creature is winded after only a few seconds of trying (and failing) to lift the armor-clad goliath. Jimothy takes off his armor (save for his helmet, "That, of course, stays on.") and puts them onto the much smaller Sir Sqludge, to be taken up first. The mephit descends once again a few seconds later and brings the paladin himself up.
Taking in the scene as this giant of a man rises out of the well atop a farting jellyfish-creature, Ridak Linmo turns to his men and tells them to stay on guard, "This lot looks like trouble."
The half-orc approaches Jancer and Jimothy as they, Sporp, and Elspeth rush over to where Roland is lying. A devastated Pleedleplop prays to his goddess over the monk's corpse. Jancer casts 'Gentle Repose' to preserve the body, and helps the kuo-toa back to his feet.
Ridak asks what is going on once again, and the necrodancer tells him that these githyanki attacked them and that he and his companions were forced to fight back in self-defense. Jimothy nods, "YIS, it was definitely self-defense."
The dwarf guards help put out the flaming bar while the party pick up the pieces. Jancer dumps the githyanki necromancer's spellbook into a pillowcase after realizing that the tooth-like lock will start trying to take fingers off if he touches it. Ridak grabs Roland's body, and Pleedleplop beseeches the half-orc to be careful, as he says that he grew very close to the monk over the past few weeks. Jancer asks Nylah if she's checked Krog for a pulse, and she replies,
"Nah—but look at this! I have a DRAGON now!"
Jancer confirms that Krog is dead, and casts 'Gentle Repose' on the orc's body as well. Nylah goes through Krog's belongings and finds a few sheets of crude paper with blocky, childish writing on them. Looking closer, the tiefling realizes what they are: a chronicle of the party's adventures in the Underdark. She stares at Krog mournfully and shuts his eyes. Jimothy lifts Krog's body over his shoulder and says that he misses the orc already, as he was a worthy opponent— "much better than that githyanki."
Ridak tells his guardsmen to go back to the guardpost, as he'll be keeping an eye on this group personally.
The party return to the boat and place Roland and Krog in the cargo hold. Pleedleplop stands vigil over their fallen comrades while everyone else goes about their business. Jancer says that the best way to mourn their loss is to DANCE (to the surprise of absolutely no one). Elspeth joins the half-elf, as does Nylah, cradling Algernon in her arms as she twirls around. Ridak is absolutely blown away by their show, and asks if they are "traveling performers". All of them begin nodding. Elspeth blushes and starts to talk really fast as she plays along with the ruse,
"Not at all. I suspect it's taken years of hard work to hone your craft to this level."
"Have you seen our little group? We're definitely a circus!"
Ridak asks if he can give it a go, and absolutely KILLS IT (nat 20!). Jancer and Nylah ask the half-orc if he'd like to join their troupe, but it's not until Nylah promises "adventure" that they really get Ridak's attention:
"A long while ago, I was told to leave home and have an 'adventure'… If I join you, will I see the world?"
"Two people died, so it will be a spooky adventure, but yeah!"
With that, Ridak agrees to accompany the party, lending his longbow to their cause.
Nylah tucks Algernon in, creating a blanket nest for her scaly baby, and introduces Sporp to his "little brother". The myconid tries petting the dragon, but it snaps at his fungusy arm and nearly takes it off. Bingle is interested in where Nylah got a wyrmling like that from, and tells her that he's seen some things in his time, but never a bronze dragon with scales quite the same shade as Algie does. Bingle bets that this dragon's a special one for sure, eyeing it greedily.
Meanwhile, Jancer struggles with how to proceed. He asks Jimothy about the possibility of bringing their friends back from the dead, but the paladin tells him that they shouldn't consider such things—Roland and Krog gave their lives willingly, the party should honor their sacrifice. The necrodancer cannot seem to accept that however, and thinks on the soul gems that Nylah and Jimothy encountered in the mines below Zakkencrag—and the soul gem in Quagmiran's signet ring.
The half-elf puts on the ring and feels a chill run up his arm as a presence enters his mind. This voice is pleased to have someone else to talk to after so long, especially someone with ELVEN blood flowing through their veins! Jancer admits that he always did take after his mother, clarifying that his mother was an elf. The voice says that, yes, he got that. Jancer asks who the voice is, and it introduces itself as the "Prince of Tindomeel," the very same title that Quagmiran claimed. The necrodancer asks about the quaggoth, still tied up in their cargo hold, and explains to the Prince how the ring was removed from Quagmiran's finger. The Prince unhappily notes that his ring's previous owner just sort of absorbed everything he said, instead of the back-and-forth that he and Jancer have got going on right now. Understandably, the Prince already prefers the half-elf's company.
The next day, Ridak is awakened by the rest of the party getting ready. The half-orc asks what's going on, and Jancer tells him that they're going to see "the wonderful dragon of Zakkencrag!" Ridak stares down at Algernon. "Not that one, silly—THE WYRMSMITH!"
Nylah leaves Algie in Elspeth's hands, telling the dwarf that if anything should happen to the wyrmling, she'll kill her, maybe even fuck her. Elspeth asks if she meant she'd do those two things in that order, but Nylah just smiles at her. The dwarf blushes and looks down at her feet. She suddenly snaps out of it when Algernon begins chasing after Sporp, she turns to Nylah, but the tiefling is already half-way up the stairs. "GOOD LUCK!"
Heading through the barber shop tunnel that connects to Embergut's lair, the party find the red dragon speaking to another familiar face, Zahadara the dao! Nylah is PISSED, and storms up to the genie, but she barely even seems to notice the tiefling, who Embergut introduces as the "best slave I've ever had". Zahadara tells the dragon to consider her offer, and reminds him that, should he accept, he need not worry about his life of luxury coming to an end ever again. With that, she sinks into the earth and disappears.
Nylah and Jancer introduce Ridak Linmo and Jimothy Jones to Embergut. The half-orc is astounded that a living thing so large could even exist. Nylah tells the dragon that they've "dealt with" the missing dragon egg and robbed the Forgestewards of any chance of replacing him in the foreseeable future. Embergut is pleased, and pulls a bag full of the party's newly-enchanted gear from his hoard. Jimothy Jones checks inside to make sure it really is their stuff, and even though he can't remember what they handed over in the first place, he's pretty sure this is it. Jancer double-checks things himself, and is happy to see what's inside:
- His jacket, now a Jacket of Scintillating Colors
- Brublind's Dust of Dryness
- Nylah's Resonant Harp-Bow
- Jimothy's new Spellguard Shield
- and… Roland's magically-reinforced coat
Ridak takes the coat out of the bag and asks, "Is this my new perfoming outfit?" Nylah says that of course it is! Jancer shakes his head and shrugs, and the half-orc drapes it over his shoulders.
Jimothy admires his upgraded shield, and decides to go and return the one he borrowed from the blacksmith down the street. The dwarf is honored to see the paladin once again, and gratefully accepts the praise leveled upon him for his workmanship. He hangs the returned shield in a place of honor, and vigorously shakes the goliath's hands, thanking him for his sacrifice in the name of Ilmater. "Suffer well, Jimothy Jones."
Before leaving, Nylah tells Embergut that he shouldn't trust Zahadara's offer— "Miss 'I have earth powers but don't want to mine without the proper paperwork' obviously doesn't have her life figured out, and I worry about you, big guy." Even though the tiefling has buttered the dragon up more than a giant biscuit, her words barely seem to phase him. The idea of doing less work for even more pampering is just too enticing to the Wyrmsmith. Jancer asks Embergut what Zahadara will get out of their arrangement—and the dragon tells him that she said something about "tempering a magic item here and there, showing off my magnificent form to her socialite friends, roasting those fools who displease her—nothing I don't already do." With that, he dismisses them with a lazy wave of his claw, pulls some gold over himself like a blanket, and goes to sleep.
The party head back to the barber shop, where Ridak and Jimothy properly introduce themselves to Wilson Tendersnip. Ridak is pleased to see a gnome fellow like him doing so well for himself down in the Underdark, but the barber admits it's difficult "bearing the pain of all of my clients while dealing with a pain of my own". This comment catches Jimothy's interest, and the barber and the paladin begin having a philosophical discussion on suffering. Meanwhile, Ridak and Jancer go downstairs to speak with the Chorus of Minds.
The Chorus are pleased to hear of the party's victory over the githyanki, though they point out that they have always had problems understanding "how obsessed bipeds can get over the loss of a single individual". Regardless, they are now willing to trust the party with a task crucial to their long-term goals in Zakkencrag, but the presence of Ridak Linmo makes them unwilling to go into further detail, as they have seen him consorting with the city guard. The half-orc, still riding a high from his last successful dance, tries to prove to them that he is now a real part of this merry band of performers, but… things go horribly wrong.
During his routine, Ridak stumbles and falls onto the hand-shaped altar in the center of the room and ends up breaking off every finger but the middle one, leaving a giant stone "Fuck you" for the Chorus. He tries to get up and recover, but slips on an animal bone, smashing into the floor like a bag of bricks. Ridak's green face goes red as he runs as fast as he can from the chamber.
"Well, that minor hindrance seems to have resolved itself."
Jermlaine comes stumbling in, a pained look on his face, claiming that he felt a "disturbance" in the funk of the universe. Mye-kuhl Jancer reassures his brother that everything is fine.
Before discussing another mission, Jancer asks the Chorus about the xvarts that broke onto their ship, and, related to that, Quagmiran. The cranium rats explain that they sensed Quagmiran almost from the moment that the party stepped foot in Zakkencrag, as he is a 'thonot'—a quaggoth born with natural psychic talents. They tried to claim him themselves, but were too wrapped up in the beat to get much done (Jermlaine shrugs with a chuckle); so they sent a handful of xvarts to fetch him off the party's boat instead. Evidently, the creatures got too greedy though, trying to break into the sarcophagus, and make off with somebody that they seemed to believe was their "god"—Raxivort.
Back upstairs, Wilson Tendersnip opens up a bottle of wine, but Jimothy does not partake, as he made "vow of sobriety in paladin school." The barber admits that he is fascinated by the dogma of Ilmater—that the pain in one's life only serves to better them—as he's found that the pain he has felt since Miri's death has led him down a rather… "dubious path." He asks Jimothy if he has any children of his own, but the goliath says no, "made vow of chastity in paladin school too." Wilson tells him that he will never know true suffering then.
As the Chorus tells it, the entire xvart race are clones of Raxivort, and, as a result, are even more obsessed with "individuality" than most bipeds they have known. Jancer realizes that that is what those colorful wigs were all about, and Jermlaine adds that that is also why he is around—"to help teach these cats to dance to the beat of their own drum, rather than dear old dad's. Me being who I am, I guess I can sympathize, you know, bro?"
Heading back to the boat, Jancer and Jimothy take a xvart (the only survivor of the party's massacre a few night ago) with them. The xvart freezes when he sees Bingle rolling dice on the deck and points at the gnome. Jimothy tells him to "Go to your daddy", and the xvart throws himself full-speed at Bingle.
At this very moment, Brublind returns to the boat from some "personal biz", and, seeing Bingle struggling with a xvart on his back, assumes that the party is under attack again. He casts 'Reduce' on it, and Bingle tosses the creature off before rushing below deck. Jimothy asks the xvart why it has chosen to get even smaller than it was before, but it gives the paladin a confused shrug. "You are silly creature."
Brublind and Jancer follow Bingle below deck, and see him head into the forecastle storeroom. A disheveled-looking Elspeth, her fingers bleeding from innumerable tiny bites, emerges from under a bench and begs them for help, pointing towards a crude "playpen" she created out of sharp bits of metal and wood to keep Algernon at bay.
Jancer places a hand on the dwarf's shoulder and says he'll help. Elspeth smiles hopefully. He tells her that he believes in her before disappearing into the fore-store. As the half-elf closes the door behind him, he can almost hear Elspeth's smile evaporate.
Within, the duo find Bingle sitting with his knees up to his chin, staring wistfully at the wall. Brublind sits beside him and tells him they aren't going to ask—he knows why they're here. The gnome tries to play coy, but Jancer convinces him to just spill it. So… he does:
"A long time ago, your friend Bingle was quite the accomplished thief—so much so that a certain big-name Prince decided to hire me to look after his treasury for him. Who better to guard your treasure than the guy who knows the best ways to steal it, right? And I was really good at it too, until… until he ended up getting something that I just couldn't resist—a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts."
"I grabbed it and ran, and before long, I had every crosstrader around looking to scrag me for a bit'a jink. So I holed up here, in Zakkencrag… actually, the city wasn't here yet—just some old tombs. My new treasure pointed me right to them though, and not a soul bothered me 'til those damn dwarves came knocking."
"Guy steals a thing or two from 'em, and before long, they've got me in chains and are dragging me in front of their boss-man. Well, rather than have my handsome mug separated from the rest of my body, I made them a deal—I'd use the Rod's magic to cook them up an army of slaves that'd finish their excavation lickety-split, and all they'd have to give me was my freedom. And, viola, the xvarts were born, and I never looked back… until now."
They ask what exactly the 'Rod of Seven Parts' is, as Ilvara Eilservs had been asking after a "Rod" of some kind during their imprisonment. Bingle admits that he doesn't know much, only that even a fragment of the thing is enough to do some pretty wild stuff. Brublind wonders where the piece he had is now, and Bingle admits that he dropped it not long after that whole incident went down, though he bets that he's been feeling a bit nostalgic lately, taking out the Wand of Wonder. He tells them that he's "willing to take a big gamble" though, and show the party where it's at.
The gnome leads them out onto the deck, and points to the 'artificial sun' hanging over Zakkencrag's central shaft.