The party stood indecisively staring at the teleporter that would take them down to the aboleth's cave, dreading the coming confrontation with "Master". Ash passed out a number of protective amulets that he had made with Grimnir's help--simple devices that he said should guard against at least one use of the Aboleth's enslavement powers. Traithe handed his gauntlets over to Melastasya, passed Krar-Nu-Get's sword to an undead barbarian who had been given command of their detachment, and drew the sword of Halfrek. Tactics were discussed, if not quite agreed upon, and numerous spells were cast in preparation.
Finally deeming themselves to be ready, the large force joined hands and plunged into the portal.
They appeared back in the vast cave where they had first met the aboleth. The black lake stretched out before them, the great pipe in the center still siphoning off the black, viscous water to be deposited in the river above. Traithe and Kevorkian lit up their weapons with continual flame spells and Dame cast faerie fire into the water, outlining their massive, tentacled prey in cheerfully flickering pink lights.
Mel and the Barbarian dived into the water. Mel slipping the Amulet of Vulnerability onto one of the thing's tentacles, and the barbarian hacking gleefully at it. As soon as his massive sword bit into the thing's flesh, the colossal beast simply vanished.
While the party tensed and readied for the aboleth to return, Mel suddenly felt a sharp pain in her ankles, looking down to see a crazy-eyed, white-skinned, water-gulping halfling armed with a carving knife and fork gnawing on her achilles-tendon.
The aboleth reappeared, only to take a barrage of lightning bolts from Ash, Zorch, and their mephit allies, and promptly disappeared again.
Mel kicked the halfling away and dropped her own protective amulet over his head, freeing him from the Aboleth's control. The halfling, dressed for a dinner party and sporting an outrageous accent, briefly introduced himself as "La Bouche of Tadoussac", and made it clear that he was suddenly of a mind to eat some calamari (and that the party looked similarly "meat-like" to him), before the Aboleth appeared again.
This time the party was ready, and the entire undead brigade attacked as one, pounding into the flickering tentacled mass with everything at their disposal. Spears, swords, axes, and pikes bit into the Aboleth rending massive wounds. Traithe called down a burning moon beam and Dame once again lit it up with faerie fire. When it vanished once again, La Bouche pointed out that there was no displacement of water when it appeared and disappeared and Ash informed them that they were battling some kind if phantasm or projected image.
A quick locate creature from Ash pinpointed the actual aboleth as being deep below them, in the faintly phosphorescent, coral-like sahuagin city on the floor of the underground lake. Traithe, Kevorkian, Melastasya, La Bouche, and their undead hordes dove, sucking in the aboleth's taint so as to be able to breathe the water and swimming down as fast as they could. Ash tried to stay dry, water-walking and directing them with message spells, but was yanked under by a pseudopod which manifested from the water itself. With a harrumph, the elf swam after them. Dame was the last to follow, transforming herself into a reef shark and darting after them at top speed.
As they swam in, their minds were assaulted. La Bouche and their undead barbarian companion immediately turned on them, striking out at Melastasya, who was the closest target. Dame darted between the combatants and sunk her shark's teeth into the glistening flesh of the aboleth who waited just inside the cave.
Traithe passed Verittanattukkut to Mel, the sword offering less resistance in the
water than her axes. Aided by a sudden burst of speed from the sword, Mel dove away from her more-humanoid assailants and swam directly into the aboleth's gaping maw, stabbing at the insides of its mouth. The thing bit down on Mel with its many rows of jagged teeth, then grabbed Kevorkian with a tentacle and deposited him in the mouth with Mel.
Ash, ever the extremist when it comes to his toys, pulled out Yarash's Spoon and transformed the poor aboleth into an ogre. The sudden writhing of the colossal tentacled monstrosity battered many of the party, and the collapsing size of the thing's mouth bit into Mel and Kevorkian again. Mel slashed a hole in the not-quite-humanoid cheek for them to get out before it had completed shrank.
As if things couldn't get worse for our poor-saving-throw rolling tentacled hero, Traithe then promptly paralyzed the aboleth-turned-ogre with Cyllibrym. Kevorkian freed Le Bouche from domination again using protection from good and evil, Mel ran interference against the dominated undead barbarian, and everyone else proceeded to beat the paralyzed ogre to a fine bloody mess.
Ash finally ended the thing's suffering by freezing its brain with a ray of frost. The final brain-death of the aboleth had the beneficial effect of freeing the barbarian from his enslavement. Unfortunately, it also freed the party from their ability to breath underwater--all except for Kevorkian (thanks to his bracers), Dame (who was still a shark), and the zombie (who didn't need to breathe in the first place) that is-- Leaving them breathless and nearly crushed by the pressure of being 800 feet beneath the surface of the subteranean lake.
Everyone grabbed onto Dame's dorsal fin and she swam out of the cave as fast as she could. Once in the larger lake, Ash, Mel, and Traithe activated their rings of water walking for some extra boyancy, and Ash bubbled out his last thunder wave spell which shot them all up to the surface like a cork from a bottle. Luckily their recent use of liquid ventilation saved them from decompression sickness. Kevorkian trailed after, hauling the body of the dead ogre.
When they reached the surface, they found Yarash (or his most recent clone) standing there, Zorch perched just above his shoulder, looking a little confused. He seemed to think the date was close to two hundred years prior, and had few recollections of his experiments with the aboleth or the sahuagin.
When Kevorkian surfaced, he offered Yarash the ogre body for his research, which was happily accepted. The party suddenly found themselves in Yarash's surgery room, where the old vivisectionist quickly tore the aboleth-turned-ogre down into its component parts, carefully jarring and labelling the organs and limbs and placing them on their shelves next to the rest of his collection.
Kevorkian quickly asked for Yarash to help him get rid of his tattoo, by replacing his decorated arm with a new one. The old wizard happily strapped the cleric down to his workbench, sawed off the massive clawed arm that he had installed last time, and replaced it with a fairly normal-looking arm which he said came from a relatively small orc-ogre hybrid. Kevorkian then asked for some other upgrades, gaining an attractive new pair of black, dragon-like legs.
Melastasya asked to have her tattoo removed too and Yarash was happy to oblige, cutting off her red-scaled Slaad arm and then grafting some parts from a new specimen onto it as it was growing back. La Bouche asked about livers, had some rather convoluted discussions with Yarash who was very confused that he would want to smash and eat a perfectly good wyvern's liver rather than having his own replaced with it, then requested a gastric update and was gifted with the stomach of a carrion crawler--which seemed quite appropriate given his indescriminate eating. The others, as usual, refused Yarash's hospitality and kept their own organs.
La Bouche asked Yarash whether he had any eggs, which resulted in his opening a wall to reveal a cornucopia of eggs of all kinds, carefully preserved. La Bouche fixed a wide variety of hard-boiled eggs for Mel to eat, in order to fulfill her oath: eggs boiled in vinegar with mustard, boiled in kraken blood, spiced with cinnamon and cardamom, and so on. Melastasya's small, girlish stomach was not really capable of holding that much food though, and she nearly wretched after the seventh, forcing Traithe to use a grease spell to coat the eggs and La Bouche to force-feed her to make sure she fulfilled the letter of her vow.
As the surgeries were taking place, the rest of the party relaxed and regrouped, taking a week to plan and plot what to do next. The excitable halfling gourmand fixed them a variety of interesting dishes, ranging from aboleth-ogre flank steaks to other things best left unmentioned.
They introduced the Blessed Afflictor to Yarash, who showed them that the skin he had taken from the Eraka woman was starting to decompose and show damage from their recent engagements. Yarash happily lead him to the vat room, where a pair of clones of Melastasya and Kevorkian had almost reached maturity. The Praetor took out one of the Kevorkian clones, skinned it, and worked his way into the new, pristine Kevorkian skin, turning him into a perfect lookalike of the cleric (had the real cleric not had half of his body parts replaced).
After being reminded of their oath made to the Blessed Afflictor, to see that he was safely escorted to "a place occupied by no less than eight thousand and eight living and mortal human souls", the party decided to bypass Phlan and head strait to Hillsfar with their undead army. The army could march along the base of the Moonsea, but the rest of them would need a boat. Traithe and Ash (both magically disguised) and La Bouche, who was not yet known by the council, headed into Phlan to make see about hiring, buying, or stealing a ship.
Ash stopped by Kryptgarten, then moved around Phlan, taking in the news since their prolonged absence. It seemed that Kryptgarten was coping well, had even grown, but had regressed considerably socially, having burned down the church and tore down the bathhouses--the citizens, now numbering more than five hundred looked happy, filthy, and entirely human. Politics in Phlan seemed unchanged--the party was still the top public bounty (not counting the unspecified bounty for clearing the river), Lord and Lady Mondaviak were still quite popular (despite Squire Grimnir still being on the lamb and rumors that Markos was rather hen-pecked by his wife), and some positive construction and expansion of the walls was starting to be done into the Slums quarter.
Traithe wandered down to the docks and found that Valkur's Wake was in port. He revealed himself to Nat Wyler and Captain Stormhammer, who were very happy to see "such a lucrative partner" despite having heard of the party's persona non-grata status in Phlan. The dwarven sailors informed Traithe that all passage into and out of Hillsfar was still closed due to the plague, but agreed to get the party as close to city as possible if they could guarantee a load of settlers that could be returned to Phlan for a profit. After some more small-talk, the not-quite-law-abiding crew of Valkur's Wake agreed to pick up the party on the far side of Thorn Island in two days, in order to avoid the party having to get through the town.
La Bouche entered town in fashion, passing out dozens of tarts and chocolates made with goodberries to the starving masses of the Slums, gathering quite the entourage and even some positive recognition from the guards watching the gates. Having been informed by Ash of the bounty for cleaning the river, he made his way to the Council Clerk's office and boldly claimed that he could clean out the river forthwith.
The less-than-impressed head-clerk handed him the paper-work to fill out, which he promptly marked by stabbing his dagger through the entire stack (not like she hadn't seen that kind of bravado before). Shrugging, the woman stamped an adventuring charter for "Mr. X" and handed it to him. La Bouche asked if there was a cafe from which they could see the river then invited the clerk to dinner. He headed to the Bitter Blade, ensconced himself on the rooftop patio that had recently been built at Lady Bivant's request, and dropped a thousand electrum coins borrowed from the party on ordering a whole pig and its accompaniments.
La Bouche busied himself overseeing the preparation of his meal and invited anyone and everyone to join him. On the patio he could occasionally hear the soft thunk of an arrow from the orcs on the other side of the river. He tied a bundle of goodberries to a fat bird summoned using animal messenger and sent it over to the orcs with a message that "this bird is delicious, and so are its cargo", which stopped the incessant shooting for a time.
The river, particularly upstream, had been getting steadily clearer over the last several days as the last of the aboleth's toxin was pumped out of the underground lake and diluted by the spring thaw which was starting to swell the Stojanow. At a message from a La Bouche, the party sent their undead army, two-hundred thousand strong, marching along the floor of the river from Sorcerer's Island south and then out into the bay. The steady push of so many bodies entering the river and displacing its water built an ever growing crest of water, which, by the time it passed the city, was a great, roiling white-capped wave pushing the last of the river's contamination ahead of it and leaving the waters of the recent ice-melt clean, fresh, and pristine behind.
There was a mixture of cheering and stunned silence from the various people crowded on the roof watching the river. When the wave had passed and it was clear that the river was, in fact, clean, Markos Mondaviak made his way over to La Bouche to congratulate him and offered to personally escort the amazing halfling back to the Council Hall to see to his payment. La Bouche accepted and walked to the building along with Markos, the Clerk, and Markos' wife. There they were met by the rest of the Council, word having quickly spread through the small civilized portion of town.
La Bouche was thoroughly, if discreetly, scanned for all manner of evils, magic, or deceptions. When none was found, guards brought out a chest, and Markos proudly announced that the not-too-public reward for the clearing of the river was 100,000 gold pieces in uncut gems from the Bivant mines. The councilmen took turns opening each of the seven locks on the chest so that La Bouche could see, then closed it and passed him the keys. Markos then offered to make La Bouche the new "Squire of Kryptgarten", sighting that the property had fallen under mismanagement and needed a such skilled hands as his to guide it. La Bouche accepted, and, while he was distracting the crowd with proclamations and obeisances to the Council, Traithe quietly lifted the chest with his ogrish strength, and vanished back to the docks.