Wild Abandon

Splitting Hairs

Chapter 7

Having descended into the mines below Zakkencrag, Nylah and Jimothy come face-to-face with Jimothy's former employer, Zahadara the dao.

The genie asks Jimothy if he has done as she asked, and he points out that he… actually doesn't remember what she wanted. Zahadara sinks into a stone chair that spontaneously rises from the floor beneath her. She looks at Nylah and asks who this tiefling is, "A friend of yours? A representative of the King? What?"

Nylah's answer does not thrill the dao, but her interest in the ancient tombs (and their possible relation to Quagmiran's signet ring and the demon lord, Fraz'Urb-luu) gets Zahadara going off on a scholarly tangent about how amazing the survival of these ruins actually is, especially given the reckless excavations of "these wretched dwarves". Nylah smiles at the dao's passion, "I love when they have hobbies."

Taking a closer look at the ring, Zahadara informs Nylah that the crystal has the same type of structure as those in the stone all around them, motioning to the walls of the geode-like chamber in which they sit. Undoubtedly, it is a soul gem—and an occupied one at that! Zahadara licks the gem, and says that it tastes demonic, although she isn't able to discern whether it is the enchantment on the ring, the soul within, or the tiefling who was carrying it that gave it that flavor. She notes that such gems are very valuable commodities, and says that this is why she needs the mining rights to Zakkencrag!

"My hopes of finding a piece of the Rod may have been dashed, but I have struck the motherload none-the-less. Even the Great Khan himself would blush at a find such as this!"

Nylah doesn't understand why Zahadara has to get the legal rights to the mines or why she needs servants like Jimothy to petition the dwarves for them when she could go herself. None of the genie's explanations satisfy the tiefling however, and she accidentally lets slip that there's a dragon in the city (catching the dao's attention for a moment). Zahadara quickly loses her patience however, summoning up giant stone hands that shunt Nylah and Jimothy backwards, out of the mines, where they suddenly find themselves plummeting back down Zakkencrag's central shaft!

Meanwhile, Roland Leopold, on his way to meet up with Nylah and Jimothy, passes by the party's boat. He notices a commotion up ahead, where guards have cordoned off a staircase carved into the cliffside that appears to have broken. He also hears what sounds like rustling on the boat however, and turns to see two xvarts wearing colorful wigs walking down the gangplank towards him, holding a wiggling sack between them. They nearly run into the monk before noticing him, dropping the satchel and grabbing for their weapons when they do.

Roland reacts first though, hitting the nearest xvart with his palm, knocking it on top of the sack, and sending its wild orange wig spiraling onto the deck of the boat. The other xvart, this one wearing a red beard, leaps over its comrade and slashes Roland, but the monk kicks the little creature off the gangplank a moment later.

Down below, the falling Jimothy holds out his arm and is able to scrape his gauntleted hand against the rock wall until friction stops his descent. Nylah, using her skill as an acrobat, grabs ahold of the goliath's waist with her legs, and hangs upside down as he begins to climb up. Suddenly, they hear a scream overhead as the xvart Roland kicked goes falling past them.

As they climb, the trident, Wave, points out to Nylah that she's "pretty unlucky for a girl with some kind of special thing with Beshaba."

At 'The Dirt Nap', Mye-kuhl Jancer gathers up his companions as they begin to come to after their experience with Stygian black ice. Pleedleplop takes Krog and Elspeth along, while Brublind picks up Sporp. Just as they are about to go however, there is a commotion from across the bar, as a band of humanoids that almost look like sickly elves with skin the color of a speckled banana peel flip over their table and begin pointing to something scurrying across the floor towards the party—a cranium rat.

Jancer scoops up the little creature with his 'Mage Hand' and gives it to these "banana warriors" (as Brublind calls them). Brublind laughs and asks why they're freaking out over a little rat, and the war-leader explains that this is not simply a rat, but the "eyes and ears of the Enemy." Jancer asks who that is, and, after many metaphors, learns that cranium rats are creations of the mind flayers. These hunters intend to use the rat to "track the Enemy back to their hive."

Back at the docks, Roland picks up the remaining xvart and tosses him off the gangplank, to more stable ground and finishes off the creature. The monk runs back to the wobbling gangplank and kicks the sack (which he can hear growling now, and immediately guesses is Quagmiran) onto the ship before it falls. As he charges onboard after it, he spots two more xvarts on the deck, not noticing as two MORE xvarts pounce from the sides to try and push him off.

Jimothy pulls himself and Nylah up and over the lip of the cliff, and the duo join the fray. Jimothy charges onto the boat and smashes the skull of a moustachio'd xvart with his mace, but another with a curly pink wig dings the goliath's helmet with its sling, allowing yet another (with a green mohawk) to run up and slice the backs of his knees. Nylah casts 'Invisibility' and positions herself beside the pink-haired xvart before impaling him on her trident. She tries asking the creature questions, but the only responses she gets are shrieks of pain and coughed-up blood.

"I'm here trying to have a polite conversation with you, and you're being very rude right now."

Wave complains that the blood is getting into all of its cracks—and sea water is the only fluid it wants in there! Nylah scrapes the dying xvart off of the trident like a bug and tosses its wig over the side, telling him that there's only room for one "main character" around here.

Jancer and Brublind arrive on the scene a moment later. Brublind takes a closer look at the xvart corpse left by Roland on the dock and realizes that it is identical to the xvart he met during his audience with the king. The dwarf casts 'Haste' on Roland, while Mye-kuhl Jancer uses 'Disguise Self' to look like the dead xvart and make a bee-line for the ship's cargo hold, where he finds a pair of xvarts trying to open the sarcophagus!

A xvart with dreadlocks stabs Roland, but the monk punches him in the face, causing both of his eyes to swell up. The little creature stumbles over the sack holding Quagmiran, and the quaggoth is able to get his jaws around the xvart's leg. Roland then turns his attention to the mohawk xvart, and hits him with a 'Stunning Strike' that becomes more of a 'Killing Strike'. Jimothy thanks the monk for his aid. In reponse, Roland takes the fake moustache off of the xvart that the paladin killed and places it on top of his own moustache.

Brublind hops onto the boat just as a giant bat flies by. This beast catches Jimothy's eye as it circles the boat, so he aims and tosses his mace at it, landing a direct hit. The bat lets out a screech and falls.

Below deck, Jancer accosts the two remaining xvarts (one with a blue beehive hairdo, the other with a golden combover), and he gets the feeling that neither one trusts the other as they talk about "splitting" the treasure that's sure to be inside the sarcophagus. Jancer approaches another writhing sack, and the beehive xvart tells him to be careful, "I think that's the one we're looking for!"

Jancer whispers to Bingle Bogglethorp to be ready, draws his dagger, and cuts the gambler loose. Bingle bursts from the sack, lifts the 'Wand of Wonder', and points it at the combover xvart. The already small xvart becomes absolutely tiny, and falls to the floor just as the lid of the sarcophagus is heaved free. Before the xvart can scurry away, the heavy stone lid squishes him like a bug. The beehive xvart yells "JESUS CHRIST!" and leaps out a porthole rather than stay and fight.

Up top, a cadre of dwarf guards arrive, looking to figure out what this ruckus is all about. Nylah quickly grabs the xvart corpses off the deck and runs into the cabin with them. The guards begin pounding at the door while the bard shoves the bodies out a back window. She opens up a moment later, whistling innocently while still stained in xvart blood.

The guards ask her about it, and Nylah leans in close and confides in them that it is "that time of the month", and well… tieflings have an insanely heavy flow because of all that infernal blood pumping through their veins. The lead dwarf blushes, clears his throat, and asks about the xvart corpse on the dock (which Nylah forgot to pick up). Roland says he was trying to kidnap one of their "well, not friend—traveling companion, I guess?" They are somehow able to convince the guards that the two things are not related at all though, complete coincidence.

Having had an eventful day, the party bunk down for the night. Jancer rocks Sporp to sleep, and Brublind puts the mohawk wig on top of the myconid sprout's cap after discerning that the hairpieces have been enchanted. Jimothy keeps watch over Quagmiran (now triply bound by a rope, a blanket, and a burlap sack) for the night. Roland counts his money to help get to sleep, and Bingle joins him to count his own coin.

Jancer is awoken early the next morning by Elspeth sneaking up to the deck. The half-elf finds the dwarf practicing with her warhammer, and spooks her, deflecting a strike with a 'Shield' spell. She apologizes, telling him that she couldn't sleep. Jancer tells her that if she really wants to wear herself out, they should pick up where they left off. After a warm-up that proves just how rusty Elspeth is, the dwarf performs a dance that even the necrodancer himself hasn't seen before.

Below deck, Nylah, having now seen for herself that the mummy in the sarcophagus is decked out in some serious bling, slips out of bed to investigate it. The tiefling double-dog dares Krog to touch the mummy. Wanting to prove himself better than Jimothy Jones, the orc is eventually goaded into it. As soon as he does, the corpse sits up, pushes its hand onto Krog's chest, and lets out a howl like a desert wind.

The orc pulls away, but the skin on his chest begins to putrefy almost the instant the mummy's hand touches. The orc lets out a roar and strikes at it with his sword, but the blade passes through the creature's body as if he were slicing at smoke. Jancer, hearing the commotion, rushes downstairs to find the mummy pulling itself out of its tomb. He tries talking to it in every language he knows, but only when he speaks Infernal does he catch the mummy's attention. The undead's own tongue is quite different, but Jancer can hear the similarities, and is able to communicate to the mummy that they mean it no harm. It eventually sinks back into the coffin and slumbers once more.

Elspeth yells at Krog for being a complete idiot while Jancer uses magic to stymie the mummy rot now ravaging the orc's body. The necrodancer knows a spell that might be able to remove the wasting disease before it turns Krog to dust, but it will take some time to prepare. He suggests Nylah not convince anyone to do anything else reckless in the mean time; she hands Jancer Quagmiran's signet ring and tells him what she learned before leaving. Elspeth voices her distrust of the bard to Jancer, and he tells her that he's certainly keeping his eye on the tiefling.

While the rest of the party stay behind to rest and recover, Nylah and Roland head back to the Hall of the Forgestewards to see the dragon Embergut. Embergut is happy to see that his "favorite slave" has returned so soon, and even more pleased when she offers to scrub him down and get him some breakfast. Being a miser himself, Roland is in awe of the dragon's hoard, and asks how much he actually has,

"Not nearly enough… oh no, never enough."

Nylah finds Undren Drakebrand and tells him to do his job. He isn't happy to see her, but sends his men to fetch the supplies. She asks him about the egg recovery job he told the party about on their last visit, and wonders how the dwarf plans on actually getting rid Embergut if he intends upon replacing him. Undren tells her about a group of constructs that the Forgestewards have on hand that should be enough to eliminate a dragon as fat and lazy as Embergut.

Meanwhile, Roland discovers what look like several tunnels leading off from Embergut's chamber—some as small as ratholes, others just big enough for a man his size to crawl through. He asks the dragon about them, but the beast says that he hasn't really paid attention to them before.

Returning with breakfast, Nylah tells Embergut and Roland what she learned. The tiefling asks Embergut if he's ever thought about flying away from Zakkencrag, and the dragon admits that he'd go anywhere if they pampered him like they do here, though it doesn't really matter, as he won't be flying anywhere anyway, rolling over for the first time to reveal his stunted and mutilated wings, cut by the Forgestewards when he was just a hatchling. Nylah gives Embergut a hug and begins scrubbing him down, telling the dragon her own tale…

It all started when her antlers began to grow in as a young girl. The people of her village believed it was an omen from Beshaba, the Maid of Misfortune—and they treated Nylah as if she were an avatar of the goddess, pampering her much like the Forgestewards pamper Embergut. Deities brook no competition however, and a string of bad luck brought raiders down upon the village to punish the people for worshipping the idol (i.e., Nylah) instead of the god.

Wave tells Nylah that he can see now why she's afraid to step out on her goddess. However, the trident points out that she could theoretically be protected from Beshaba's wrath by the aegis of another god, if she were willing to take up his offer and convert.

After finishing breakfast and giving Embergut a quick cleaning, Nylah and Roland decide to head into the largest of the tunnels to find out where it goes. It stretches on for what feels like miles, passing under worked stone floors through which the duo can hear people throughout the city going about their daily routines. Roland even overhears that the king of Zakkencrag supposedly died the night before. Eventually, they reach the tunnel's end, moving aside a flagstone overhead and pulling themselves up into a small storeroom.

The room is unlit, but light pours in under a door, behind which the duo can hear an instrumental jingle. Several barrels are in the chamber, and Nylah finds rat droppings among the barrels. Roland decides to pop a few open, finding bandages, towels, and, in one barrel, a potent rat poison. Nylah peeks out into the adjacent room to find that they are inside the barber shop.

No one appears to be home though, despite the lights and music being on. They check in the apartment upstairs first, finding a dining room/kitchen with pictures, including one of the barber looking very proud of a little girl with several gaps in her big smile; a bedroom where Nylah finds a plain golden ring and a soul gem (not unlike those in the mine) in a box under the bed; and a smaller bedroom that looks as if it is a child's room, although it doesn't look like it's seen much use recently. Nylah and Roland both get sad.

Back downstairs, Nylah notices something—the barber chair is missing. Roland takes a closer look and finds an almost invisible track cut into the floor, leading from where the chair was to the large wall mirror nearby. Nylah takes it down (after Roland, despite his muscles, proves too weak to do so), revealing a secret spiral staircase.

They sneak down the stairs to a small foyer, decorated with curtains and a large, red shag carpet. Roland spies what looks like a service bell hanging beside the far door and is very tempted to ring it. Meanwhile, Nylah checks to see if there's been traffic passing through here, lifting the carpet just to make sure. As she does, the rug twists of its own accord and wraps itself around the tiefling's body.

Roland leaps forward and punches the carpet, hurting Nylah inside it too. It squeezes tighter around the tiefling, and she channels her fiendish heritage into a 'Hellish Rebuke', setting the carpet (and herself) on fire. Roland is able to tear it off of her, and it struggles upon the ground as the blaze consumes it. Nylah runs around the room as fast as she can to put out the flames. From the far door, the duo hear footsteps rushing towards them and they bolt back up the stairs. They begin shoving the mirror back in place, but blue hands reach through the gap and begin pushing it aside again. They make a break for the storeroom and leap into the tunnel without looking back.

Nylah and Roland head into the second-largest tunnel next, this one angling upwards. The tiefling's antlers scrape the low ceiling, covering her back in dirt as they continue. Eventually, they run into a wooden wall that stretches across the passage, through which Roland can feel something leaning up against it from the other side. Nylah climbs over the monk and presses her ear to it, hearing faint whispers through the wall. They decide to turn around.

After taking dinner with Embergut, the duo decide to check up on the barber shop one more time. They enter to find the barber, Wilson Tendersnip, grooming a dwarf's beard—he turns to the new arrivals coming out of his storeroom with a confused look. Nylah runs up to the barber and tells him that she is a "mind reader" and is "picking up something about a little girl". The barber's face goes pale, he pushes his client out the door, and closes the curtains. He demands answers from Nylah and Roland… NOW.

They explain that they are interested in helping him, and Wilson says that if that is true, then there is someone they should meet. Nylah asks if this someone is "Jermlaine", but while the bard's knowledge of this name catches the barber off-guard, he says, "No, it's not him."

Descending into a series of smooth stone tunnels hidden below the barber shop, Wilson escorts the duo to a cavern with a smoke-stained altar carved in the shape of a hand at its heart. The barber takes a leech from a container on his belt and burns the creature with his torch, the flame shifting from orange to blue. Roland notices xvarts peering at them from around corners, disappearing whenever he turns to look.

The flame suddenly goes out, leaving them in total darkness.

Then a pair of red eyes appear in the shadows. And another. And another. And another and another, until hundreds of tiny red eyes stare down at Nylah and Roland from the cavern walls.



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