All for the sake of some fish...
The morning after the attack on Kryptgarten, Melastasya made her way into Phlan, carrying a collection of wooden chits bearing the mark of Kryptgarten and a tiny map inscribed on the back. She set up shop in Dockside Market, flashing her ankles at every passerby, passing out the chits which she said were good for one free drink at the Kryptgarten Tavern, and taking bets for “Will Phlan survive the week?”
It only took five minutes for a squadron of Tyrran warrior-priests to remind the girl that public betting was not legal in Phlan (private card games and dice were of course fine, but the Council seemed disinclined to have bookies in the town). Mel was escorted out of the market, only to set up a similar stand in the Fish Market a few minutes later. This one lasted a little longer, but ended with her being gently escorted to the gates. Not to be deterred, she headed to the Slums’ Market, borrowed a wagon, and set up shop right in the center, passing out free drink tokens and taking bets on the survival of Phlan, opening the pool with a 100 gold piece bet and placing 9:1 odds against the city.
By the time the market began winding down, Mel had passed out hundred of chips and taken hundreds of bets. The final bet to come in was from a long line of 50 orcs gathered from various gangs throughout the slums, each of whom wagered 20gp in favor of the city’s survival. Mel patted herself on the back for giving the orcs financial incentive not to sack the city…
Not really thinking about the fact that she had just invited 50 orcs to come drink for free at Kryptgarten, Mel then met up with Grimnir, Ash, and Traith down by the docks where she had arranged a meeting with Delbar, the fish-monger. They found Delbar, an old, leather-skinned, nearly-toothless fisherman, after much whining from the other fishermen they asked about Delbar undercutting their prices. Delbar explained that his “friends” had a problem with some Bugbears that was significantly cutting into the supplies of fish flowing into Phlan. The party boarded Delbar’s old boat and sailed out into the middle of Phlan Harbor as dusk was falling.
A makeshift raft pulled up alongside their boat, bearing a big-eared goblinoid with electric-blue skin (a Xvart). The Xvart introduced himself as Zimik and explained that a group of bugbears had recently wrested control of his tribe and forbid them from selling fish to the humans. He asked the party to come early the next morning, as the tide was coming in, as almost all of the xvarts would be out on a fishing trip. If they could dispose of the bugbears, Zimik and Delbar offered to provide them with free fish for life.
They sailed out the next morning with Delbar. Two miles west of town they saw hundreds of xvarts sailing out into the bay in small rafts and cockleshells out of a pair of massive sea-caves. Once the fishing party was clear, Zimik waved two them from the top of the sea-cliffs above the caves. Delbar sailed up to the opening of the caves and the party disembarked and swam in, carried in by the tide.
The waters in the cave were dimly luminescent, lit from below by phosphorescent seaweed. They swam up onto a stony shore, littered with nets and other fishing gear and showing signs of hundreds of small three-toed humanoids having passed moments ago. Melastasya took the lead, sneaking ahead with as much caution as she could muster. The xvart caves showed little in the way of traps, but numerous attempts to slow or control the flow of enemies—angled spikes from the walls to narrow corridors, drift-wood palisades dividing rooms, and masses of seaweed netting filling sections of hallways. They went right, right, right again—always to the right—and up, with passages cutting upwards into the cliff-face, away from the tide level.
For some time, the party met little resistance and found little of value—hand-crafted boats, seashells, seaweed, and fish seemed to be the dominant furnishings. Down one passage they discovered a deep brine-pool. Melastasya swam down, accompanied by dancing lights provided by Ash, and found that the depth and current implied that it was another outlet from the sea.
Just past the brine-pools, they came to a large cavern, divided into rooms and living spaces by low driftwood walls, and filled with a few xvart families roasting fish over cookfires, overseen by a half-dozen bugbears. One large bugbear sat on a throne of piled shells near the center of the room. Melastasya motioned for the others to stay behind and strode boldly into the room, seating herself on a rock and shaking her shapely ankles in the bugbear leader’s direction—to much argument, tsking, and harumphing from her friends.
Mel tried to strike a business-like tone, saying she was there to discuss trading fish and beer. The surprisingly articulate bugbear would have none of it, ranting about how humans only show up in caves if they have come to hunt, and asking where and how many companions she had brought. The negotiations, if they could be called that, continued for a minute or two, until Ash notices a bugbear creeping up the passage behind himself and the others. Two quick blasts of lightning from Ash’s wand ended both the conversation and the would-be bugbear ambusher, and sent the xvarts and the bugbears in the large cavern, leader included, running for the various side-passage exits.
Grimnir, Mel, and Traith rushed to the southern passage where the leader and one other bugbear were fleeing from Ash’s electrifying fury. Grimnir caught the leader in the back with a repelling blast, launching him headfirst down the sloping passage, into his subordinate, and hence both of them headfirst into the tide-pool room with a mighty splash. Traith finished the leader with a single well-placed arrow.
Mel raced down and dove into the water, grabbing and attempting to drown the other, much-larger-than-herself bugbear. The bugbear reached back to dislodge Mel, hoping to grab her by the neck, but merely got a handful of bra and the very large fake bosoms she was wearing. The angered bugbear then stood up out of the water—or rather, pulled himself up to a standing position on top of the water. He did not hold this position for long, under the onslaught of Grimnir and Traith.
Mel and Ash fished the bodies of the two bugbears out of the water as Grimnir and Traith kept watch, recovering a pair of rings of water walking as well as the leader’s enchanted morningstar.
They were ambushed by another bugbear while they sat in the main hall pondering over the magical rings, and another when they exited into the right-most side passage. Both were dispatched quickly through the liberal application of lightning bolts.
They continued around to the right, following a long, winding passage. After a long hike, Mel noticed a quartet of bugbears ahead of them, lurking in the shadows, weapons out, but looking the other way. She followed the bugbears’ line of sight to a spiral staircase carved out of a massive stalactite-stalagmite column, rising up into the ceiling, down which were proceeding a squadron of two score kobolds, armed to the teeth. She informed the others, a little too loudly, about the bugbears waiting in ambush. The bugbears charged the kobolds, only to take a lightning bolt in the back from the trigger-happy elf.
As the kobolds stood deaf, dazed, and blind from the sudden detonation of a lightning bolt an otherwise pitch-dark, enclosed space (something the party had gotten used to by this point), the party rushed past them into the next corridor—presuming, based on the bugbear’s reaction to them and the fact that they saw Zimik scurrying back up the staircase after having let them in, that the kobolds were on their side.
They came to a, clearly artificial, dead end—the passage was bricked up with dry-laid stone. Mel moved a few stones away to reveal a large chamber filled with bats clinging to the ceiling and a large shaft of sunlight coming in from above. Traith noticed something behind them and spun around, checking a side passage to see a family of xvarts crouching in their living quarters. They heard the kobolds, now reorganized coming up the corridor behind them, apparently attracted by the sound of Mel’s digging.
Mel tossed some wooden tokens to the xvarts, then set herself up in the middle of the intersection to meet the kobolds, again lounging on a rock and striking her best come-hither pose. Her attempts to make nice and invite the kobolds to Kryptgarten for free beer soon made it clear that the kobolds did not understand a word of Common. So the kobolds, nicely arrayed in two long lines, too ended up barbecued by Ash’s lightning wand.
They backtracked, taking the next “right” and circled around, finding another family of xvarts—who were tossed more wooden coins—and another dry-laid wall blocking off the other end of the bat-cave. They descended a long passage, then back up and to the right, ignoring an intersection or two, until they came to another dead end. Mel began examining the wall, looking for some secret passage only to be paralyzed on contact with the oddly pliant and sticky feeling surface.
Grimnir pulled Mel away, and the party proceeded to try throwing various things at the wall. The wall seemed unbothered by acid flasks, arrows, rocks, and even a chromatic orb, merely rippling like the surface of a pond or outright absorbing the projectiles. Fire, however, made the wall retract away from the heat, and a torch proved sufficient to force the living wall (whatever it was) to open and let them pass.
Beyond they found more, empty, xvart living chambers and a large room with an icy-cold fresh-water stream running through it. They continued to the right, heading down a spiraling passage which smelled worse and worse the further they went, until they came to a cesspit, filled with xvart droppings, rotting vegetation, discarded fish-heads, and a very shiny axe.
Mel waded out into the muck after the axe, only to get grabbed by a tentacle and paralyzed again. Two five-foot-long, tentacle covered maggot-like creatures burst from the knee-deep detritus. Ash once again did not hesitate to unleash a lightning bolt, which bounced wildly around the small room, searing filth and worm-beast alike, while somehow not touching the party. Traith pulled the axe and Mel out of the mess and they backtracked to the room with the stream to rest. Traith even stopped to wash off despite the hypotheric cold of the stream.
After resting an hour or so, Mel insisted that they head back to the cesspit to look for other possible loot. She dug through the muck, not finding anything, then pressed on past another curtain of seaweed netting to find a number of human-made boats, presumably stolen to be used by the bugbears. Ash, Traith, and Grimnir stayed back, then backtracked to join back by the living wall, then proceeded left from there.
They found more xvart living spaces—in one of which they found two nude male xvarts fighting for the entertainment of some females—and a room full of xvart rafts and boats in various states of construction or repair. Further down the passage they found another outlet of the underground stream. The upper half of the stream was walled off with wooden barricades and had a bridge across it, the lower half had a half-dozen nursing female xvarts and their young washing what passed for xvart laundry.
As the party approached the xvart women to make-nice, the six remaining bugbears in the caverns snuck up on them from behind. Not well enough though. The first bugbear’s swing clanged off of Traith’s armor, which was more than enough warning for Ash to roast them all with another lightning-bolt, blowing away the wooden barriers along the river with it.
They found two more of the water-walking rings on the bugbears, as well as a number of driftwood shacks on the other side of the stream which presumably were the bugbear’s homes—one of which was apparently made from the wreckage of an ancient war-galley known as “Maelstrom” which had run aground in Stormy Bay a hundred years before.