The Mostly Excellent Adventures of A-Man and J-Dog
In Which Our Anti-Heroes Are Guided By The Power Of Boredom
The characters here do not belong to me. They either belong to Wizards of the Coast or R.A. Salvatore. I am unsure as to which.
As he stood over the corpses of fifteen werewolves (the third pack this week) and watched Jarlaxle poke the half dead leader with a stick, Artemis Entreri wondered if perhaps Jarlaxle was bored.
Four hours later, when he found himself suggesting that they investigate the rumours of a black dragon in the nearby swamp, it occurred to him that he, too, might be bored. Entreri found the notion vaguely unsettling, but as he had never been a man particularly good at introspection, or, indeed, emotions, the thought quickly faded away.
Two weeks later, the feeling returned, stronger than before. It was really quite uncomfortably deep. Entreri generally tried to avoid feelings that went deep, as those rarely worked out well for him.
"I'm bored," he said, and then blinked in surprise. He had not intended to speak.
Jarlaxle looked up from his perch on a pile of gold and dropped another dozen gems into his bottomless bag (his fifth one in the last two years—bottomless just wasn't as bottomless as it used to be). He picked up a fist sized ruby and dumped it into the bag with barely a glance. The niggling feeling of wrongness grew and echoed in Entreri. Such a gem should have inspired feelings of rapturous giddiness in the glitter-happy drow, not this empty boredom.
"Do you want to help me sort?" Jarlaxle asked in confusion. "I thought we agreed you should stay away from the treasure until it's time to pack the gold."
Entreri scowled in displeasure. You accidentally throw one portal gem into a bottomless bag and you never hear the end of it. "No," he responded. He sprawled back and looked up. The light of the single torch and the patch of luminous mushrooms didn't reach the cavernous ceiling.
"What do you want then?" Jarlaxle asked, shoving an arm shoulder deep into the pile and pulling out a golden crown studded with diamonds and rubies. He gave it an absent-minded glance and tossed it into his bag.
Entreri sighed heavily and wondered what he wanted. "I want…" he let his head loll to the left and look down at Jarlaxle. "…something exciting to happen."
"This wasn't exciting enough for you?" Jarlaxle asked. Entreri noted the Jarlaxle didn't sound that surprised.
Entreri shrugged and rolled off the black dragon's back, sliding down twenty feet into another pile of gold. He dropped his pack on the ground and opened it wide, then pulled out his shovel. "You are done with this stack?" He pointed at the six foot pile of gold in front him.
Jarlaxle nodded, packing an eight-foot broadsword into his bag. "Should be good," he told Artemis, adding a bent coronet, "Though do be careful. That bag was expensive."
Entreri set the bag in front of the pile and rolled down the edges, leaving it looking like a fathomless black pit surrounded by dusty leather. Then he moved to the other side of the pile and started climbing. The gold made a metallic slithering sound as it slid and scattered in his wake.
Halfway up he stopped and started pushing. The coins and occasional small gem made a remarkably sparkly waterfall as they slid into the bottomless pack. With only one torch it wasn't nearly as impressive as it had been in the red dragon's lair three years back. There had been a partial cave-in. The sun shining off the gold had been spectacular. After Jarlaxle got over his panic attack at the cave-in, he'd gone and rolled in it. Entreri sighed. Good times, good times. Jarlaxle screamed like a little girl when he was scared.
The pile was down to its last foot or so. A significant portion of it had scattered rather than gone in the bag, but it didn't really matter. That was why they had the shovel.
"Oh, are you ready to start shovelling?" Jarlaxle asked Entreri. "I still have lots more to do, but I assure you, I'll aid you as soon as I am done." He smiled down at Entreri from his perch on a sparkling pile of silver and gold.
"Bastard," Entreri muttered, before beginning the long process of scraping the floor clean of anything valuable. Fucking gold was heavy. And gods forbid he miss a single coin, or Jarlaxle would bitch so loud you'd think he'd gone and accidentally destroyed another of his ridiculously gaudy hats. Entreri smirked vengefully. Come to think of it, the most recent abomination is getting a little old, now isn't it? He had to kill them off quick, lest they breed. He glanced up and scowled. It was such a hideous shade of orange. He was certain it was revenge for the incident with the ogre harem where the last hat had met its untimely demise. Jarlaxle hadn't tried to scavenge anything from that one.
The torch had dwindled down to a shadow of its former self and begun sputtering uncertainly by the time Jarlaxle had finished sorting the magical items from the gold. He yawned and slid down the side of the final pile. The rush of coins and non-magical trinkets slid down behind him, several landing on the wide brim of his hat where they slowly slid down to the tip and fell into his lap, much like remarkably heavy rain. He leaned back against the gold and took a moment to watch Artemis. The man had made his way though five of the coin hills. He only has… Jarlaxle glanced around… about twenty more to do. Jarlaxle pouted unhappily. He should have procrastinated more. But there truly hadn't been that many magical items in this particular dragon's horde.
"You are done," Entreri said, as jovially as he was capable (which wasn't very. Jarlaxle only recognized the slight raise of voice and the subtle twist of lips as jovial through his long years of Entreri watching). "You can help."
Jarlaxle stared at the shovel hovering blade first in front of his throat. So rude this man was! "I was thinking, my dear friend, that perhaps we should take a break," Jarlaxle swallowed and tried to continue, but the shovel was pressing quite firmly on his throat now and speaking had become somehow harder. "Or perhaps not?" he managed to rasp out, mostly by burrowing into the stack of gold behind him.
Artemis' expression didn't exactly change, but Jarlaxle was able to tell that the anger (though it wasn't particularly strong anger. Jarlaxle didn't even have to draw a blade this time!) had dissipated through several subtle signs, such as the relaxing of Artemis' right eyebrow, the twitch in his eye disappearing, but most especially the way the shovel was no longer trying to have an intimate meeting with his spine.
Jarlaxle sighed. The gold was ever so lovely, but it was also so darned heavy.
The fire flickered, casting distorted shadows across the uneven floor. It occasionally glinted on stray coins, the sad remains of a once great treasure. The rest was securely packed away. By tomorrow, even those lonely survivors would be in one of the bags.
"What should we do next?" Entreri asked, idly stirring their dinner. Dragon stew. If you didn't use the right parts it tended to eat straight through the pot, but the heart was usually okay. And a single heart could last you a good ten days if you preserved it right.
"Add the potatoes?" Jarlaxle asked slowly, looking up from where he was peeling the aforementioned vegetables.
"I was thinking in a wider sense, such as should we head back to town or should we see if there's anything else to kill in the general area." The pot began to boil. "But yes, it is time to throw in the potatoes. Remember to chop them up small and even this time. Last time some of the chunks were still hard in the middle."
"Whiner. It wasn't that bad. Not like that stew you made out of your horse," Jarlaxle retorted, the words of an old argument coming to him automatically. "And I have no preference. You decide."
"I don't care either." Entreri reached back and pulled a silver coin out of his pack. "Heads is city; tails is go kill something else." He tossed the coin across the fire to Jarlaxle.
Jarlaxle caught it in the crook of his arm, his hands being full of potatoes and knives. He shook it to the floor and looked down. "Heads."
"City it is."
"Which one do you think?" Jarlaxle asked, leaning forward to dump his potatoes.
"Where's the coin from?" Entreri responded. He folded the potatoes into the stew. It was a bit thick, but dragon stew was best that way. Dragon gravy wasn't anything to write home about.
"Silverymoon," Jarlaxle looked up from tossing the potato skins in the fire. "We've never been there," he observed.
"The north has never taken kindly to drow," Entreri said, prodding an unidentifiable lump with his spoon.
"Only because they've never met me," Jarlaxle stretched out, posing heroically for a moment.
"I can't help but to envy them," Entreri muttered, glaring at Jarlaxle's hat.
"You don't mean that!" Jarlaxle said cheerfully. "Do you?" he said, faking worry.
Entreri glared at the greyish stew and avoided looking at Jarlaxle. "Do you think we should add onions?" he asked, changing the subject. He'd been down this road often enough to know that he'd lose if he didn't.
"Artemis?" Jarlaxle leaned forward and took his hat off. He gave the assassin a sorrowful look. "You don't really dislike me… do you?" He was especially proud of the subtle tremor in his voice.
Entreri scowled and growled, "Onions?" If he could just distract him long enough the subject would be dropped.
"Artemis?" Jarlaxle tossed the rest of the potato skins into the fire, making it pop and crackle, sputtering as the moisture in the skins turned to steam. Entreri looked up, sealing his fate. Jarlaxle gazed at him with earnest crimson eyes.
"No," he grumbled. Stupid drow. He waited, but Jarlaxle didn't look away. "No I don't really dislike you," Entreri muttered grudgingly. The edges of his cheekbones flushed faintly red.
"See? Was that so hard?" Jarlaxle asked, putting his hat back on. He smiled in satisfaction.
"Onions?" Entreri asked, determined to change the subject as soon as possible.
"Only if you let me add mushrooms."
Jarlaxle frowned. He wanted mushrooms; Entreri hadn't let him add them for weeks. That human was surprisingly unforgiving of hallucinogenic mushrooms being added to soup. Jarlaxle couldn't imagine why, he had found the fluorescent unicorns quite helpful. "What if I let you add your dried peppers too?" he asked.
Entreri paused, severely tempted. Jarlaxle disliked the spicy peppers immensely and usually manufactured accidents for them before they could make it to the stew pot. "Will you leave the mushrooms whole?"
"If you chop the onions large enough that I can avoid them," Jarlaxle bartered back.
"Deal," Entreri nodded, accepting the terms.
The cavern was empty, featureless and rather bland, excluding the hundred foot long dragon's corpse. The last of the gold had been gathered, the few straggling gemstones collected. Even the glowing mushrooms were collected, as Jarlaxle quite liked them with sausage.
Jarlaxle gazed thoughtfully at the dragon's body. Even with a large hole cut into its side and sections of it almost completely gone, its hide was untouched in some parts. "You know," he said, "That hide would make some nice arm chairs." Of course they'd have to use the softer belly skin, which might be difficult given that the dragon was laying on it. "Maybe a rug, too," he mused.
Entreri looked back over at Jarlaxle and wondered (not for the first time) what was wrong with him. "Jarlaxle," he began, speaking slowly, as if to a particularly stupid child, "We do not have a house. Why would we need chairs? Or a rug for that matter?"
"We might have a house someday," Jarlaxle defended his idea. "You have to admit that they would be fantastic chairs."
"No, they wouldn't," Entreri argued back. "All of the scales have spiked ridges in the centre. You'd be stabbed every time you sat down. And that hide is not soft enough for a rug." He paused and considered briefly, "And do you really want skin a dragon? That thing is huge."
"I suppose you are right," Jarlaxle sighed, disappointed. He recognised the tone in Artemis' voice. It was the one he always heard right around the time he lost another hat to the hand of fate. One hundred years in the underdark wearing hats, he never lost a single one. Ten years on the surface and they'd suffered mysterious and massively disfiguring injuries or simply disappeared almost annually. He cast an amused glance at Artemis. One could fear a conspiracy.
Entreri looked at the beast's head, still etched with a fierce snarl. "We could always take its horns. Make a table out of them, if you truly feel so furniture inclined," he offered. Horns weren't too difficult to detach.
Jarlaxle frowned. "It would be a very pointy table."
"No, we'd use the horns as legs and put something else on top as a table top," Entreri explained, looking at the drow in amusement.
"Ah." Jarlaxle accepted the explanation. "I guess that would work." Probably easier than skinning the dragon, he thought to himself.
Entreri carefully climbed up to the top of the dragon's head, avoiding the many spikes and ridges on the hide. He settled on a flat point between the twelve foot long horns. They were actually slightly longer than the dragon's head, and had hampered its bite in combat. Mind, the horns were sharp, but they'd been a lot easier to avoid than a mouth full of teeth.
Entreri drew Charon's Claw and started to saw at the base of the horn where thick bony plates lengthened into massive horns. Weapons enchanted to slice through anything were wonderful tools. He twitched slightly at the humming buzz of pleasure he felt from the blade at his appreciation. The sentience was simply an unfortunate side effect.
The horn fell to the ground, bounced and rolled. It was light, and the top where the horn met the skull had cut open to reveal a purple-grey honeycombed center surrounded by a dense five inch layer of bone.
"Perhaps we could have it dipped in gold?" Jarlaxle asked hopefully.
Entreri wiped the sweat from his brow. His sword might be enchanted to cut through anything, but that didn't mean the slicing would be easy. "It's not shiny enough for you?" he asked, starting on the other horn.
"Well, it's not exactly a thing of beauty," Jarlaxle pointed out. "And I was thinking that a table made of gold-dipped dragon horns would be an interesting thing to have." Jarlaxle liked having interesting things. He liked having things, but interesting things were ever so much better.
"Jarlaxle, that would be ostentatious. Besides, if we dipped them in gold their veracity could be doubted," Entreri countered, hoping that the drow would drop the idea. "We could commission someone to do some scrollwork or embellish them a bit, if they are too plain for you," he added absently. Truthfully, he felt they were good enough the way they were. Of course, he doubted that they'd ever actually make a table out of them, so he didn't care too much.
"Fine," Jarlaxle sighed. Artemis was so plain! Sometimes Jarlaxle thought the human was the most interesting thing he owned, but other times (like right now), Jarlaxle thought that his ruby thumb ring ranked a lot higher.
"We should take Secomber Trail to Red Larch. That way we can avoid Waterdeep," Jarlaxle suggested. He looked up from the map, tracing a finger along his proposed path.
"What's wrong with Waterdeep?" Entreri asked. "That road is a far better one. That trail will be a mud bath."
Jarlaxle paused, confused. "Why would someone bathe in mud?" He thought about it for a moment. "Is this another of those strange human festivals? Like the one in Lundeth with the hundreds of naked men rolling in fish?" he asked warily. They had been quite corpulent men. Lundeth women appreciated a bit of meat on a body.
"It's an expression," Entreri responded sharply, blocking out the memories. "The rain will make the trail very muddy. Because there will be lots of rain. Because it is the middle of Eleasis." He took a deep, calming breath. "The main trade road is cobbled; there'd be much less mud."
"The coin said we should go to Silverymoon. We can't go to Waterdeep. That would be cheating," Jarlaxle told him.
Entreri stared at the drow. Thirteen, no, fourteen… maybe sixteen years, and he still didn't understand Jarlaxle. "It's not cheating because we wouldn't stay in Waterdeep. It would be a stop on the way to Silverymoon, not a destination."
"But we never stay anywhere, so every time we stop in a city it counts as a destination." Jarlaxle paused and watched Artemis. The human was looking a little lost. "Silverymoon has to be our next stop. Otherwise we'd be disobeying the coin."
"But your planned route takes us through Secomber, Red Larch, Triboar, and Everlund."
"I was thinking we would walk around them," Jarlaxle said, frowning at the map. Rules were hard.
"Fine." Entreri gave up. "But we're in for a wet couple of months."
As if to prove his point, a smattering of rain began to fall on the grassy hillside. The hill rose out of the thick swamp that covered the black dragon's lair, the only dry land for miles. They had settled on it to plan their route, as neither was eager to slog through the thick marshland just yet.
"I suppose we ought to get going," Jarlaxle said gloomily. It was a deep marsh. Full of leeches and mosquitoes.
Entreri kicked at the raft they'd built on the way there. It groaned warningly, reminding him that Jarlaxle was as talentless as himself in carpentry. "Yes," he agreed, without any enthusiasm. He dropped their packs on the raft and watched warily as it shivered and dipped under the weight. Once it settled he pushed it into the marsh and slogged in beside it. The water rose up to his neck almost immediately. Not for the first time he cursed his lack of height. Though at least he was taller than Jarlaxle, he thought happily, watching the drow lift his chin to keep it out of the water. Then he reached out and pinched the thick black leech off Jarlaxle's neck and threw it up on the hill.
Jarlaxle let out the breath he'd held when Entreri had reached for his throat and sighed. "I hate swamps," he murmured, turning the raft north and pushing off into scum filled waters.