The Skewered Dragon
"Now that I see it," Aleina said. "I have to say that the dancer was right. Kuhl, you should go back and apologize to her."
Jhelnae had to agree. They stood in front of the Skewered Dragon. The place was a ruin. Both of its front-facing windows were smashed, and a ship's anchor really was lodged in the roof. The half-drow couldn't even imagine how the big heavy thing could have even ended up there like that.
"You know," the half-elf said. "I feel the need to point out that I never insulted the Purple Palace. I merely said we were on our way here, which was true."
"It's a little rough around the edges," Sky said, shrugging. "But all in all not too bad."
"A little rough around the edges?" Aleina said. "All of its windows are busted out."
"Well then, it won't be stuffy, will it?" the tabaxi said.
"It looks like the whole roof might collapse from that anchor at any moment," the half-drow observed.
"Oh, you're exaggerating," Sky said, with a dismissive wave. "Look at all the people inside. Would they be there if it was dangerous?"
Truth be told, it actually didn't look like the patrons Jhelnae could see through the broken windows would care. A few races were represented. A dwarf, a couple of half-elves, and the rest human. All wore smudged and rough spun tunics and trousers that made the companions' simple traveling clothes seem like the clothes of nobility. They sipped at tall tankards and stared out in what seemed like a despondent resignation to the necessity of existence.
"Oi!" A reptilian creature behind the bar yelled out to where Jhelnae and her friends stood on the street. "You're in, or on your way. My customers didn't ask for no audience to their drinking!"
She had black scales with back curving segmented horns and her hissing voice sounded feminine.
"A draco-bartender!" Sky clapped her hands together and made her way to the door.
The others followed, a little more reluctantly. The tabaxi's first pull on the door handle was unsuccessful. A study of the portal revealed the problem. The anchor on the roof had caused parts of the wall to warp, including the door frame. More vigorous tugging and a little help from Kuhl was required to get the door unjammed.
Sky dusted her hands as she entered, her tail lashing back and forth behind her. Chairs scraped against the wood floor as those sitting with their backs to them turned. Players in a game of cards in one corner, a dwarf, a half-elf, and a human, looked up. In another corner, a dagger thunked into a thick wooden target. Its surface had been gouged from many blades and the alternate red and white paint marking the concentric rings had faded over the years. One of the men standing in front of the target nudged the thrower and motioned to the doorway. Then, they too turned to look. The collective weight of a roomful of hostile gazes settled on the companions as they entered. They were, quite clearly, unwanted.
"Nice toss," Sky said, nodding towards the target, seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room.
Jhelnae knew better. The tabaxi might seem flighty and unaware at times, but she was actually keenly observant. She was just also really good at being willfully ignorant when she wanted to be. The half-drow spied an empty table and thought they might sit there. But before she could suggest it, Sky sauntered towards the row of empty stools lining the bar. Everyone else, it seemed, preferred to do their drinking away from the bartender. And from the way the dragon creature's flinty eyes watched the companions, the half-drow didn't blame them. Jhelnae, Aleina, and Kuhl all shared a look, gave a collective shrug, then followed the tabaxi.
"What will it be?" the barkeep hissed as they sat.
"What do you have?" Kuhl asked.
"Dragon Piss," the draco-bartender said, giving them a hard stare that warned them not to comment. "And Hydra Spit."
"What is the difference?" the half-drow asked.
"Nothing," the humanoid dragon spat. "It was a joke. We serve one drink here. You'll take that or get out of my tavern."
"I guess, four of those then," the half-elf said.
He flashed his disarming smile. The one they'd once told him would protect him from getting his brain sucked out by a mind-flayer back in the Underdark. But the bartender merely grunted, held up fingers to indicate how many coins, and knocked scaly knuckles on the bar top. Kuhl's smile fell away, and he dug around in his belt pouch to pay.
"Well, this is a cheery place," Aleina whispered once the barkeep moved off to fill their tankards. "The least she could do is light a fire in the hearth. It's a bit cold in here."
She rubbed her hands together in emphasis.
"You want to ask her?" Jhelnae whispered back.
"I was hoping you would," the aasimar said.
"Yeah, no," the half-drow said.
They both went quiet and put on smiles of thanks as the bartender came back and thunked tankards in front of each of them
"So, were you stabbed or something before you opened the bar?" Sky asked.
"Stabbed?" the barkeep asked.
If the sunken eyed stare leveled at the tabaxi had been leveled at Jhelnae, she would have gone silent. But Sky pressed on with blithe enthusiasm.
"It's called the Skewered Dragon," the tabaxi said. "And you are a dragon-like creature. So…"
"Half-dragon," the bartender said. "And no, I wasn't stabbed. Got buggered in a bet and ended up here. Someone lost a lot of coin to me and couldn't pay up. So, they gave me this place instead. Lesson learned. Always see a place first before taking it as payment."
She gave a rasping sigh that almost seemed in commiseration. Maybe, Jhelnae thought, she might have just been misreading the creature. Maybe her reptilian features just couldn't translate the same emotional cues as elves and humans, and she was actually quite friendly.
"Oh, I get it," Aleina said brightly. "It's a euphemism! How clever."
"What?" the half-dragon asked.
Her sibilant voice gave no doubt of her irritation, and the half-drow revised her opinion once again. No social cues were being missed. Definitely not friendly.
The aasimar seemed to come to the same conclusion. Her cheeks flushed and her voice became very uncertain.
"You know," she said. "A euphemism. Buggered in a bet. Skewered Dragon."
She made a circular motion with her hand as if leading them on, but received only cold silence and a questioning glare from the half-dragon in response as moments of uncomfortable silence passed.
"I have no idea what you are going on about," the bartender finally said, voice a growl. "What are you asking about? The name of the bar? Hells if I know the reason for its naming. It was named that when I won it. Now I've better things to do then listen to your yammering.
The bartender pointedly turned her back on them and retreated to the other end of the bar. Apparently, better things to do consisted of cleaning a tankard with a dirty rag.
"Euphemism? Jhelnae asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sometimes I forget that not everyone had a tutor who was drunk most of the time and had an inappropriate sense of humor," the aasimar sighed. "I'll tell you later."
"Well, this is going well," Kuhl said in a low voice. "I don't suppose you could loosen a few tongues like you did with Xoblob?"
"Oh, I see how it is," the half-drow said. "One rude bartender and suddenly you are fine with me charming people?"
"One very rude bartender," the aasimar said. "And a hostile taproom. They'd sooner stab us then give us any answers about what happened two nights ago."
"True," Jhelnae said, but she shook her head. "It's probably not a good idea. First off, the target must be someone amenable to the suggestion of being friendly, and as Aleina pointed out, they are a little hostile."
"Yeah, just a little," the aasimar scoffed.
"It worked before on a whole audience of derro," Sky said. "Remember? Do we need to do another performance of our play?"
The memory of their performance in the Underdark made the Jhelnae think of Derendil and brought a sad smile to her lips.
"Even if that would work again," the half-drow said. "Which was doubtful back then. Those I charm remember they were charmed when the spell wears off. It didn't matter with the derro. Who were they going to complain to? The Stoneguard who had sent us? And Xoblob won't complain either. He was already afraid to admit he saw something and will still want to keep that to himself. But if I charm all of these people here? There is sure to be unpleasant ramifications. I'm sure Waterdeep has laws against the charming of their citizens."
"And Gracklstugh didn't?" Kuhl asked, with a short laugh. "I seem to recall someone thinking it was a good idea to charm one of the Stoneguard."
The half-drow rolled her eyes. Back in Gracklstugh she had thought to charm a member of the Stoneguard before they were arrested.
"Fine, Kuhl," she said. "You were right to stop me back then. Happy?"
"Very," the half-elf said. "It's nice to be right every once in a while."
"Well don't let it go to your head," Aleina said. "We'll let you be right. But not often. Only once in a blue moon. No more."
Kuhl chuckled. "As Sehanine wills, then.
"Or rather Selune," the aasimar teased.
"Or Eilistraee," Jhelnae said, adding her own moon goddess's name to the banter.
"Oi!" the bartender yelled. "The way it works is you order drinks, then you drink them, then you buy more. Or you're on your way."
The companions gave a collective sigh and shared a look.
"Sure you can't charm just her?" Kuhl asked.
He kept to the low murmur they'd all been using to restrict the audience to just their group.
"Afraid not," Jhelnae said. "As tempted as I am to try."
"Well then," the half-elf said, hefting his tankard. "To all of your health...and hopefully I'm not about to ruin mine."
He grimaced in preparation and took a drink. A look of surprise crossed his face and he took another.
"It's actually not bad," he said.
The half-drow raised the tankard to her lips, sure Kuhl was playing them for fools and then would laugh when they spewed their sips back out. But the golden hued alcohol was good, with a clean, crisp taste.
"Surprised you actually like the taste of dragon piss?" the bartender cackled, eyeing them from the other end of the bar.
"She is joking, right?" Aleina asked. "You know what? Who cares? We lived off fungus and whatever creepy crawlers we could find in the Underdark, right?"
She took another swig of her drink.
"Pretty sure she is joking anyway," Kuhl said. "I think we'd have paid more for actual dragon piss. Can't imagine that would be easy to collect."
"But it would be interesting!" Sky said. "I wonder if Surash has ever needed any. I'll have to ask him, and if so, how he got it."
"More importantly," Jhelnae said. "That is one mystery solved. We now know why Volo and his friends drink here. The place is in shambles, the bartender, rude, the other patrons, surly, but the drink is pretty good. But how are we going to get anyone to tell us what happened two nights ago?"
Sky turned on her stool and surveyed the room, tankard in hand and elbows on the bar behind her.
"I've told you all where I'm from," the tabaxi said.
"Maztica?" Aleina said.
Sky nodded. "More importantly, from across the Trackless Sea. You know how I got here?"
"By boat?" the aasimar asked.
"Good guess," the tabaxi said, the roll of her eyes saying she hadn't even needed an answer. "So, I spent a lot of time around sailors and dock workers, like these people here. They aren't a bad sort, but life is often hard for them. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded that it can be fun as well."
Sky stood from her stool and pushed off from the bar. She approached the two who had resumed their game of daggers in the corner.
"You two are pretty good," she said, tail lashing as she approached. "Want to play against someone new? Put a little coin on it?"
"We're playing a private game, catgirl," one of the throwers, a middle aged man with long, straight brown hair and an athletic build said. He had a bit of a lisp. "So, no."
"It's not catgirl," the tabaxi said. "It's Red Sky in the Morning. And come on. Just give me one little toss to show I know how to play."
She held out a hand and patiently waited while the pair stared at her, game suspended. They weren't the only ones - the entire common room was watching. Even the bartender, though she pretended to focus on the tankard she still cleaned.
Finally, the long-haired man handed one of the daggers to Sky. The tabaxi, sighted and threw in one motion, arm a blur. After a twirling flight, the dagger quivered in the target, point not far from the center, and closer than any of the other daggers sticking in the target.
"Catgirl is trying to cheat us," the other thrower said.
He was around the same age as his partner, but had a long, dark beard and a shiny bald scalp. An angry murmur ran through the place, and Jhelnae felt herself tensing. What was Sky up to? Her plan seemed to be making the room more hostile, not less.
"It's not catgirl," Sky said. "I'm Red Sky in the Morning and I'm not trying to cheat anyone. You wouldn't even be playing against me. You'd be playing against my protege. I've been teaching her everything I know, but this will be her first real match."
"Protege?" the dark-haired man questioned.
"Aleina, come here," the tabaxi said.
"Me?" the aasimar said, not able to keep the surprise out of her voice.
All eyes in the tavern shifted towards her.
"Just come over here." Sky beckoned. "Time for you to finally play a match."
Slowly, the aasimar slid out of her stool and walked towards the tabaxi, steps as reluctant as someone on the way to gallows.
"We never agreed to throw with nobody," the bearded man said.
He cast a nervous glance around the room, aware he was now speaking to an audience comprising the entire tavern.
"Just give my friend three tosses," Sky said, holding up three fingers. "See how good she is. Then you can decide if you want to play her."
The two men glanced at each other hesitantly.
"What do you have to lose?" the tabaxi said, throwing up her hands. "If you think she is too skilled, you back out. If you think you can win against her, you play. Simple as that."
"Fine," the man with long dark hair said. "But if we don't want to, then you leave us alone, and let us finish our throws. No more interruptions."
He walked to the target and retrieved the six daggers, passing three to his friend and then the other three to the aasimar.
"Sky," Aleina said. "I don't think this is a…"
"Relax and throw," the tabaxi interrupted, patting the aasimar on the shoulder. "You're a natural."
"I am? Aleina asked, tilting her head in confusion.
Jhelnae was confused as well. To her knowledge, the aasimar had never even thrown a dagger. Why would she when she could send bolts of flame or scorching rays instead?
"Just throw," Sky said. "Pull your hand back like this, and throw."
She pantomimed the action empty handed.
"Okay then," Aleina said, taking a deep breath.
She took a stance in front of the target and held up her non-throwing hand to sight, mimicking the tabaxi's demonstration. For a time, she just stood there, staring, then she whipped her hand forward and let the dagger fly. It flew across the distance, end over end, hilt end striking near the center.
"Hey!" the aasimar said, lips parting in a wide smile. "I did it! I hit the target. Pretty good, huh?"
"Ahhh…the bald and bearded man said. "It has to stick. If it doesn't stick, it doesn't count. No points."
"What?" Aleina said. "That isn't a rule, is it? Come on! It's hard enough to just hit the thing."
"Maybe not in the rules you play by," the long-haired man said. "But for everyone else, it's a rule."
Whispers hissed through the room as tables conferred. The consensus seemed to be quickly reached that it was, in fact, a rule. Something Sky confirmed.
"Yeah, that is the rule," she said. "But don't worry about it. Your aim was true. That was an amazing throw. I told you that you were a natural. Just do it again but get the point to stick.
The aasimar nodded, then resumed her stance. This time she stared even longer at the target. Someone, obviously restless, scooted their chair and earned a glance of irritation from Aleina, then she refocused. She threw, this time flicking her wrist to cause the dagger to spin more as it crossed the distance. With a thunk, it sank into the wall a little to the right and below the target.
"There," the aasimar said. "That time it stuck. So how many points is that worth?"
The two throwers glanced at each other, both seeming to want the other to speak, until finally the long-haired man relented and spoke.
"Still zero," he said, cringing a little at Aleina's otherworldly glare. "You need to be on the target."
"Well that is just ridiculous," the aasimar said. "It has to hit the target and stick?"
She blew out a breath of frustration at the long-haired man's nod.
"Aleina," Sky purred, "Just relaxed. Your first throw was on target. Your next throw stuck. These gentlemen have promised you one more throw. Just combine the two and it is going to be amazing."
She gave the aasimar a short impromptu shoulder rub for encouragement, then motioned for her to throw again.
The aasimar again took up her stance in front of the target. She took a deep breath, then released it, then took another one. Jhelnae found herself breathing in time with her, willing her friend to make an amazing throw, sending a silent prayer to Eilistraee for the same. Then she held her breath as Aleina's arm went back to throw. Her hand whipped forward, but even as she released it, the aasimar cursed in dismay. She'd released too soon, and everyone stared at the dagger embedded in the low ceiling. If it was quiet before as she went to throw, now it was absolutely silent, a silence which lingered.
"Oops," the aasimar said, shrinking in on herself in embarrassment.
Hissing laughter from the bar started.
"She's terrible," the half-dragon said.
She started laughing harder and pounded the bar. More laughter started around the tavern, which soon spread.
"Hey!" Aleina said. "It wasn't bad for my first time."
"There is a dagger," the bearded and bald man said, wiping at his eyes as he laughed. "In the ceiling. Someone bring over a chair so we can get it down."
"I believe I will take you up on that match," the long-haired man said. "And for coin."
"I'm against her next," his throwing partner said.
Challenges from other tables followed.
"She'll take on all comers," Sky said. "Kuhl, can we get a round here for the thirsty throwers and anyone who wants to watch?"
Several stood and started making their way to the dagger throwing area where Aleina was actually getting some helpful instruction from her first opponent before their match started.
Kuhl shrugged and gave Jhelnae a bemused look. "Help me with the drinks?"
"Of course," the half-drow said. "And I'm guessing also with the mingling and the asking about two nights ago?"
"That as well," the half-elf said, smiling and shaking his head. "But we need to be a little careful or we won't have any of Volo's gold left by the end of the night."
Okay...if you made it this far, THANK YOU! I know this chapter is not exciting. The module says if they get a DC 13 intimidation or persuasion roll they get more information about Floon's fate. So then I'm like, "Well, how do I write a DC 13 persuasion roll?"
This is the best I could come up with...
Now I know some of you are thinking, "You IDIOT! The answer is obvious! Intimidation. The Legend of Vox Machina started with an awesome bar fight! (I did watch the first three episodes, btw. Quite entertaining! Looking forward to more). You already skipped the bar fight in the Yawning Portal and now you give us THIS in the Skewered Dragon?
Yeah, sorry. My characters aren't really bar room brawlers. And yes I know that this makes them a bit boring...but I tried to think of the way they'd handle it.