The last time he'd tried this, the plan had been to be 'Veron Chandler, completely ordinary citizen of Waterdeep,' and look how that went. Conned into going after some idiots that didn't understand the concept of 'waiting,' conscripted to join a war in a place so foreign he didn't feel safe to drink at the local tavern, condemned to the eighth level of Hell itself as someone else's patsy. Hadn't that been fun. He had thought he'd learned his lesson about doing nice things for nice people; sure, everyone thanks you, but no one's there for you when you later have reoccurring nightmares of dracoliches. It's safe to say that he's done his time in the world saving business, he can let the world handle itself for a little while.
Except here he is again, investigating weird shit because a nice person asked him to. Did he say, 'Go ask someone else'? Or perhaps, 'Sorry, I can't help you,' or even, 'Why don't you just move somewhere safer instead of parking near the haunted catacombs of your ancestors'? He did not. He did not say any of those things. Instead he said, 'I'll give it a look,' and now here he is, tromping his way to some haunted catacombs, like he has any business poking at the dead. Ugh. His bleeding heart is going to be the death of him, one day. Possibly today. It could always be today.
"If I meet another kid," he mutters to himself as he stomps through the underbrush, swatting at a mosquito on his neck, "that looks up at me with big earnest eyes and says, 'I want to be an adventurer like you when I grow up!' I am going to tell him the story about the mindflayers." This is a lie. He would never tell any child any stories about mindflayers. He doesn't want to give kids nightmares. But saying this sort of thing makes him feel better, and there's no one here to hear him, so he doesn't feel bad about it.
Stomp, stomp, stomp - oh look, weird magic bullshit, he's so surprised. Guarded by skeletons, how novel. He neither is surprised, nor finds it novel. He decides that he doesn't want to deal with these reanimated cadavers any longer than he has to. He should just start off by shadowstepping to the far skeleton archer, then tripping up the warrior as it runs... but what if someone actually has a legitimate reason to have these corpses animated? He doesn't know the local culture, it could be a thing. Use the ethically sourced dead to work in the fields for the living, or something. There is nothing stopping a necromancer from being good, in theory. Not that he's met one.
Oh blessed Tymora he's going to reveal himself and attempt to communicate out of principle, isn't he. Damn it. That's going to get him killed, too.
"Excuse me!" he calls. "Is there a spellcaster or restless ghost that maybe wants to explain what's going on?"
"Ah!" says an echoing voice through the trees. "An intruder! More materials for my experiments! Slay him, my minions!"
Veron indulges in a sigh. Yeah, that was what he was afraid it would be. This is what happens when you give people the benefit of the doubt. People trying to kill you.
The skeletons are a breeze, the later zombies a cakewalk, and the horrific sewn together monstrosity, ten feet tall and no doubt a treasured favorite of the necromancer, a brief distraction. Very brief.
"So is it the standard 'the fools cast me out and I'll show them all' backstory, or...?" says Veron, when he has the necromancer cornered.
"You think you've won! But I'll show you, you won't be so smart then, will you, think you can kill me -"
"Listen, mate. I don't want to kill you. I wanted to say hello. What's your story, what got you to run off to the woods to play with dead things -"
"Insufferable fool! I'll show you -" the necromancer raises his hand to point a finger at Veron.
The world turns a familiar grey as Veron slides into the in-between of Toril and the Plane of Shadow. The necromancer freezes, his hand nearly extended. Time's not actually frozen, per se, Veron's just moving and perceiving the world fast enough that everything looks still. He can't keep this up forever, not if he wants to avoid getting shunted unpleasantly to the Plane of Shadow, but he can keep it up long enough to slip behind the necromancer before his perception of time rights itself and the world's color returns.
His knife, quite casually, is at the necromancer's throat.
"Pass. Listen, I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here, but you're making it real hard."
The necromancer splutters, and his spell fizzles harmlessly. "W-what?! What, you - you -"
"Yeah. Me. Say one complete sentence that isn't evil, please, I'm begging you here."
"You'll get no simpering from me, fool!!"
Well. Lost cause, he's wasted more than enough effort on this waste of a person. It's obvious he's not going to change his mind, or stop sewing corpses together, and it's obvious he'll graduate to kidnapping people and experimenting on them soon. Can't just leave him alone, and it's not like he has some place to hold him. The Plane of Shadow, maybe, but he's not putting anyone there if he can at all help it. He has a brief debate over if he can get this guy to some place that'll try to reform him, decides that any place that could hold a wizard wouldn't make them very inclined to reform, and promptly slits the guy's throat.
"What a waste," he sighs, at the corpse.
And then, in typical adventurer tradition, he immediately begins raiding the necromancer's stuff.
Halfway through that, as he's sorting through the potion rack, there's a cracking sound from behind him. He whirls around just in time to see the final shards of a crystal ball fall to the ground. He swears just in time to properly express his dismay at the glowing and buildup to exploding that is happening around the enchanted glass shards. On instinct, he shifts to the in-between, planning to dash to the exit before he can get caught in whatever bizarre blast is no doubt about to occur.
Veron Chandler is very fast, but he shifted as the explosion began, not before. It is a very rapid explosion, once it gets going. He is not quite fast enough to escape it.
He starts going through his checklist before he even opens his eyes. Anything injured, if so, how bad? Does he have his pack, where are his weapons, is anyone immediately trying to kill him, does he have anyone else he needs to look out for, does he need to move right now or die.
Not injured, not unless it's bad enough that he doesn't feel it. Pack's there, so are his weapons.
He sits up with a groan, and opens his eyes to see about anyone trying to kill him.
"'Miscellaneous heroics ensued.'"
"...the stories I hear usually don't skip over those parts. Maybe it's a humans thing."
"Yes, that's not at all how to tell stories about battling monsters."
"I don't think I have enough imagination to imagine out the adventures. I wouldn't have thought of an evil ritual or sneaking in or important group secrets relevant to monster-stabbing."
"That sounds fun!"
He retrieves the book titled 'Shadows of Undrentide' from its place of honor next to his journals, finds a place to sit, and opens it.
"Do you want me to start from the beginning, or from where I left off in my story?"
"...where you left off, I suppose, and then we can go back and hear the whole later?"
Veron finds the correct chapter ('A Burrow Invaded') and begins reading.
"A shadow flits from behind a rock to behind an abandoned barrel, silent as death itself. The shadow pokes his head up to peer at the gloom of the Stinger's burrow, studying the passage with a trained and discerning eye. Few things made it past such a - okay we're in purple prose territory I'm just skipping that - His observations complete, he crouches back down, hidden behind the barrel.
'Little effort made to light the place,' murmurs Veron to the smaller shadow behind him. 'That'll mean they probably have better vision in the dark, but not perfect, or they wouldn't bother to light the place at all. Think they work like, I don't know, bugs and have a queen somewhere?'
'They be part scorpion, spider-like, not bug,' points out his faithful kobold companion, sniffing.
'Okay, yes, thank you, but is this a hive-mind situation or, I don't know, pheromones?'
'Deekin not be from desert. Deekin doesn't know very much about scorpion-people. Could be?'
'Well. We don't know how long we have, I don't want to waste too much time worrying about it. They made a point of taking them alive, but I don't know how long they mean to keep it that way, or why they'd do it.'
'Living food keeps longer than dead food. They just feeds them occasionally, clean up after them...' Deekin trails off.
'Let's not let that happen,' says Veron firmly. 'We'll just have to be careful...'"
He reads on. The duo creep through the maze of a burrow, sounds of skittering legs echoing through the passageways as they try to work out where the prisoners have been taken. After a close call with a patrolling Stinger, they figure out that they've been taken down, to be sacrifices to the goddess Talona, and then -
"'... Um, Boss?' hisses Deekin.
'Do you feel wind?'
'Wind? Why would there be - oh. Oh, son of a -' not saying that in front of a lady, '- How did they even get that down here?!'
The winged beast approaches, whisper quiet on the sand on it lion paws, too-wide jaw filled to the brim with knife-like teeth. It spreads its tattered and underused wings, blocking the entire passageway with their size. A putrid stench fills the air as it roars, and the beast charges forward, stinger-tail raised to strike and dripping with venom.
'Actually, manticores be very low maintenance in terms of -'
The faithful kobold companion's very important explanation of manticore care is sadly interrupted, when Veron decides that keeping the kobold alive was more important than hearing the end of it. Also that he has longer legs and can run faster. He picks up Deekin and dashes down the passageway, barely ahead of the great beast.
'Rhetorical question! I have a better one! How do we kill it?!'
'Thank you, me and what room to dodge?'
'This not be enough room for manticore, would be clawing at walls and eating people unhappily, there be larger nest somewhere that it lives -'
'So we need to find and draw it back to its lair to maybe have a chance at -'
He turns a corner and slams into something with altogether too many legs, sending himself and the Stinger sprawling in a messy heap in the sand, and the poor kobold flying. For a second, the two of them stare blankly at each other, like two oxen that just wandered into a dragon's cave, unsure of quite what to do. Veron is the first to recover his wits, and he draws his sword and leaps at the half man, half scorpion. His enemy raises his own weapon, expecting and preparing for a strike that doesn't fall. The rogue parries away the waiting scimitar, diving lower than expected and twisting underneath the Stinger to kick up and back towards where he came.
Right into the charging manticore.
Deekin, meanwhile, tries to remember which way is up, a task made difficult by how deeply he is embedded in the sandy wall..."
"Yes!! That's how to tell a story!!!"
"Yeah. Deekin's a pretty talented storyteller. Granted, he's taking some liberties here - we got caught before we found the manticore, and while I did, uh, kind of feed a guy to it, I didn't do it by leaping beneath him and dramatically kicking him into it. That sounds impractical. It was more like a shoving match that I won."
"I suppose all the details would be a bit of a blur if he was scared and there was fighting."
"It still kind of does."
"Okay. And then -"
He resumes reading Shadows of Undrentide.
Novel-Veron and Deekin resume running, Deekin working out where a manticore's lair would be, and Veron working out how to keep the manticore from eating them. The tense moment is made tenser when an alarm rings throughout the tunnel system; the heroes are about to be overrun. They locate the lair, draw the manticore into a hastily made trap that utterly fails to kill the beast. The duo improvise again, Deekin weaving a song that confuses and blinds the manticore, and Veron taking advantage of this to make a daring and risky attempt at killing it. He leaps upon the beast's back, dodging poison spines and the creature's stinger to stubbornly climb his way to the creature's head. The manticore struggles and thrashes and tries to dislodge its passenger, and Veron is buffeted by a wing and at the creature's mercy. Deekin distracts the beast from what would probably be a killing blow with a well-timed magical shout, and Veron takes advantage again to drive his sword into the beast's eye, slaying it.
The duo find and fight their way to the ritual chamber, where they come face to face with the queen of the Stinger colony. She had grown into a spellcaster of impressive power, fueled from the ritual sacrifice of her minion's victims. What Veron described as the 'dramatic final battle' begins, Deekin and Veron racing to cut their way past her hordes of minions before the queen sacrifices members of their caravan for power to kill them both. Deekin embroils himself in a spellcaster duel with the queen, Veron distracts and then outmaneuvers the Stinger minions. At a critical moment when it looks like Deekin will lose against the queen's foul magic, Veron interrupts her spell with a well timed decapitation. The remaining minions are confused and disorganized, and no match for Veron and Deekin's superior skill and teamwork.
The day is saved, the prisoners are freed, and the chapter ends with Deekin asking if Veron remembers which way is out. He does not.
"Also we looted the place," says Veron, "but Deekin tends to elide over those bits, they make us seem less like heroes and more like, uh. Hobos that murder people and take their stuff."
"I mean, they seem like very terrible people and also it's not like the treasure bought you much contentment so far, so one assumes contentment is not what you were doing it for."