Session 56: Assault on the Bugbear Stronghold

Only you can prevent dungeon fires. Kill the wizard first.
After many errands and investigations, it was late in the morning before the group departed the keep and headed for the caves.

"I was thinking about what we discussed," Valeria said, "and I realized that when I had that knife to my throat, we really should have kept fighting, because we could have been in a really bad situation if we all just put down our weapons. Even though we happened to be fine, but we don't know if we will be if that ever happens again. It was my fault, as the party leader. I should have said something, but I froze up. Next time, we should not put down our weapons."

"I have a question about that," Vernim announced. "First of all, all's well that ends well. It's no problem for me. I was just wondering about that — yesterday Yanliz was mentioning how if he were in that situation, he would not have wanted to surrender. Are we just going to make it a policy that no matter who is in that situation, we're just going to keep on fighting? I guess I'm a little confused."

"Yes," Valeria confirmed.

"Got it," Vernim replied.

"Sorry, I also forgot when we were in that situation," Prynhawn shared, "that I can heal poison, so we can still heal poisoned people, even if they're dead. I don't think we need to be as scared of poison as we were."

"Thank you for the reassurance," Brother Martin remarked.

"So, then to my understanding," Vernim sought, "we're not doing it because we have the tools that we can use to revive anyone from being dead, or being poisoned. That's why we would keep on fighting: for the good of the party."

"We're doing it because — we can heal the person," Valeria clarified, "but even if we couldn't — we can't risk us all putting down our weapons, because if we all put down our weapons, and we all lay down, and we all let them tie us up, it doesn't really matter if we could have saved that one person. Now it's very likely that we're all going to die."

"Oh, yes," Vernim agreed. "Thank you, Valeria. That makes much more sense. In that case, that's my mistake too. I shouldn't have — immediately after I saw you, I just kind of voted to surrender. In the future, I'll keep on fighting...unless, of course, you tell me specifically 'surrender.'"

"But what if we're up against a foe that is just obviously unbeatable?" Brother Martin asked. "Not that Sylvester was, by any stretch of the imagination. But what if...you never know. What if we just ran."

"Running is a viable option," Valeria added.

"Either way," Lawrence insisted, "we shouldn't surrender and let ourselves die."

"Unless Valeria says something," Prynhawn added, "we keep fighting."

"I want to make a distinction between surrendering and retreating," Valeria added. "It's fine to retreat, depending on the situation, but surrendering and getting tied up should never be an option. I don't know how powerful that poison was — or if that blade was even poisoned —  but if we surrender, there's a likely possibility that none of us will make it anyway."

"Yeah, it's like saving her from having a knife to her neck by having all of us with knives to our necks," Lawrence agreed. "That doesn't really make sense. I can't think of a circumstance in which it would be smart."

"It only worked, because of Lawrence," Vernim suggested. "Maybe..."

"I was also recalling all the mistakes I made in the caves yesterday and the day before," Yanliz admitted, "and I said some things about killing Norman and in the room with him, I was only saying that to threaten him, but I don't know if it came across as serious — and maybe at times some part of me was serious, and I was getting frustrated with us losing everyone, but I'm sorry if my emotions got the best of me, and I'm glad all of you were there to keep me in check."

After a long walk, they made it to the caves uneventfully and were planning on returning to the cave where Dubricus died.

"Considering the fact that Sylvester knew Ace," Lawrence considered, "I think it's likely, or at least possible, that they returned to the bandit cave, and maybe even reinhabited it, even though they went in the opposite direction."

Valeria and Brother Martin disagreed, but agreed that it was easy enough to check it out.

They entered the abandoned bandit hideout and worked their way through it. After checking all the other rooms, they entered The Catbird Seat, where they had first encountered Lady Lenore.

They found a man inside, rummaging through the drawers. They immediately recognized the startled man as the one they had freed who fled when Sylvester's bandits turned on them.

"Don't kill him," Valeria said, noting that he appeared unarmed.

As the man jumped to his feet, Philip kicked his legs out from under him. The man's legs went up in the air, and his head hit the stone floor, leaving him motionless.

Vernim and Brother Martin both cast spare the dying on him.

Jess didn't find any treasure on him, but Brother Martin found a dagger in his belt.

Brother Martin also found a bone carving hanging on a chain around his neck. On one side was a crude skull, and on the other was a series of adjacent right angles.

Yanliz and Vernim recognized the symbol as that of Nergal, a lesser known deity of war.

They dragged him into the tunnel with the manacles, where they locked him up and waited.

After ten minutes his eyes began to open and he looked around, nervously seeing the shackles on his wrists.

"What's your name?" Brother Martin asked.

"Duranki," he answered.

"Where are you from?"

"Where am I from?" Duranki replied. "What difference does it make where I'm from?" Are you going to kill me?"

"That depends. What are you doing here?"

"I'm looking for food," Duranki replied, "and money. Are you going to beat me or kill me?"

"We'll see how it goes. What are you doing in the area? Were you with the bandits that were in this cave?"

"I just told you," Duranki replied. "I was looking for food and money."

"Before that. Why were you imprisoned."

"I got caught with the other bandits," Duranki replied.

"You mean you were running with them?"

"I was," Duranki replied, "but I don't want to be a bandit. It's too dangerous."

"You only want to leave the life when your life's at risk," Lawrence accused. "I'm sure that didn't cross your mind when you were doing fine with all your friends."

"What are you talking about?" Duranki retorted. "I didn't attack you when I had the chance."

"Maybe you just thought you would've died," Lawrence countered. "You could have left much earlier. No one was keeping you there."

"That's easy for you to say," Duranki replied.

"How did you get caught up with the bandits?" Brother Martin asked. "Money? The rush?"

"No," Duranki replied. "I needed to make a living, and it seemed like a way to feed myself."

"Why not just go work at an inn?" Brother Martin asked. "An honest living is a lot easier than being a bandit, I can assure you."

"Well," Duranki replied, "it wasn't that easy at the time. I made a mistake getting caught up with the bandits."

"Do you know anything about the guy we were fighting before you ran away like a coward?" Brother Martin pressed.

"What guy?" Duranki asked.

"The good looking man with the rapier," Brother Martin clarified, "that hit my friend here."

"The Catbird?" Duranki answered. "He's the leader of the bandits."

"Sylvester is The Catbird?" Valeria asked.

"Yeah," Duranki replied.

"You mean the bandits in this cave?" Brother Martin questioned. "I thought Ace was the leader of the bandits in this cave."

"No," Duranki explained. "The Catbird was the leader of the bandits."

"Then who was Ace?" Brother Martin asked. "What was his deal?"

"He was just another bandit," Duranki replied. "I don't know much about him, I didn't deal with him. I only dealt with The Catbird, Nore, and Orm. They were the leaders. Are you going to let me go? Are you going to feed me?"

"It's a possibility," Valeria replied

"I don't understand why you're chaining me up like this," Duranki complained. "There's eight of you! What can I do to you?"

"Just out of curiosity," Yanliz asked, "when we found you with the other prisoners, you were the only one with a severe injury. How did you get that?"

"Those bugbears broke my hands," Duranki replied.

"Are those the furry creatures in that cave that captured you?" Yanliz asked.

"Yeah!" Duranki replied. "Yeah, where you found us. They broke my hands."

"What was it like being near the bugbears before you were captured?" Vernim asked. "Did you and the other bandits interact with them at all?"

"No!" Duranki replied. "No! They're evil!"

"Why did you plan the ambush against us on the road," Valeria asked, "with Sylvester?"

"I don't know," Duranki replied. "How would I know that? You freed me from the bugbear prison and I'd been with you ever since. I don't know what they did."

"Did you know who you were with in the bugbear cave?" Brother Martin asked. "Did you get to know the others?"

"We were just a bunch of bandits." Duranki replied.

"Why didn't you choose to fight alongside them when they attacked us?" Brother Martin asked. "You just wanted out?"

"I already told you," Duranki replied, "I don't want to be a bandit. I'm hungry and tired. I can talk more if you let me eat. I can stay in here. Where am I going to go?"

Brother Martin unshackled one of his hands and Prynhawn gave him some rations.

Brother Martin cast zone of truth and confirmed that he was under its effects.

"Are you a bandit?" Valeria asked.

"No." Duranki replied.

"Were you a bandit?" Valeria asked.

"No." Duranki replied.

"Were you running with Sylvester's gang?" Brother Martin asked.

"No." Duranki replied.

"Do you know Sylvester well?" Vernim asked.

"No." Duranki replied.

"Do you know any of the other bandits well," Brother Martin asked, "that you were with?"

"No." Duranki replied.

"What is your occupation?" Brother Martin asked. "What do you do for a living?"

"I don't do anything for a living," Duranki replied.

"How do you make money?" Prynhawn asked. "Or do you make money?"

"I don't," Duranki replied.

"Why were you in the bugbear cave?" Valeria asked.

"I was taken prisoner," Duranki replied.

"Why were you taken prisoner?" Valeria asked. "What were you doing before you were taken prisoner?"

"I was walking in the valley," Duranki replied. "The bugbears are evil and they take prisoners."

"Yes or no, do you inflict pain on people knowing you're inflicting pain?" Yanliz interrogated.

"Yes," Duranki replied. "Do you?"

"To innocent people?" Yanliz clarified.

"Like travelers on the road?" Valeria added.

"Innocent people?" Duranki questioned. "What does that mean? Who's innocent? Are you innocent? Are they innocent? Was The Catbird innocent? The Catbird was traveling on the road. I'm not concerned with travelers on the road."

"Who are you concerned with?" Valeria asked.

"I'm concerned with myself?" Duranki replied.

"Yes or no, have you ever heard of Quonzar?" Vernim asked.

"No," Duranki replied. "What's Quonzar?"

"Where do you live?

"I live in the cave," Duranki replied.

"Which cave?" Valeria asked. "This cave?"

"No," Duranki replied. "Who's Quonzar?"

"What cave do you live in?" Valeria asked.

"The caves on the other side of the valley?" Duranki replied.

"Where do you get money and food from?" Brother Martin asked.

"I get money and food from the priests," Duranki replied.

"Which priests?" Brother Martin asked.

"My fellow priests," Duranki replied.

"Are you a priest?"

"Yes, I am," Duranki replied.

"Of what god?"

"Of Nergal," Duranki replied.

"Where is your temple located?" Brother Martin asked.

"In the caves," Duranki replied. "On the opposite side of the valley. Higher up."

"Why did you lie about being a bandit?" Brother Martin asked. "That seems extremely dumb."

"Why did I lie about it?" Duranki replied. "Because I thought you would let me go."

"Did you think that being a priest of Nergal was worse than being a bandit?" Brother Martin asked.

"No, I didn't think that being a priest of Nergal was worse than being a bandit." Duranki replied.

"Then why did you say that? Why were you dishonest?"

"I thought you would let me go if I told you that I used to be a bandit and I didn't want to be one anymore,"Duranki replied.

"You didn't think that we would let you go if you told us that you were a priest of Nergal?" Prynhawn asked.

"I don't know," Duranki replied.

"When did you become a priest?"

"Years ago," Duranki replied. "Before I moved here. When did you become a priest?"

"What do you do for Nergal to spread your faith?" Brother Martin asked.

"What do you mean 'what do I do?'" Duranki retorted. "What do you do for your god?"

"He gives people second chances," Valeria replied, "like he's supposed to."

"And I'm starting to reconsider giving you one," Brother Martin added.

"We don't give people second chances," Duranki replied.

 "Nergal's a god of war," Valeria continued. "Do you fight people?"

"If we have to?" Duranki replied.

"Do you make people fight each other?" Valeria asked.

"No," Duranki replied as Brother Martin's zone of truth expired. "I think our goals are the same."

"What are your goals?" Valeria asked.

"We're just trying to bring order to the valley," Duranki replied. "We're trying to kill all these evil humanoids."

"How?" "Brother Martin asked. "With what army? You don't seem like you're going to wipe them out by yourself."

"We took care of the orcs," Duranki replied. "Just like you took care of the goblins."

"Were you engaged in conflict with the bugbears when they captured you," Brother Martin asked, "or were you just out and about minding your own business?"

"We were just out and about," Duranki replied.

"But the bugbears need to be destroyed," Duranki prodded, "don't you agree?"

"Absolutely," Brother Martin agreed.

"Why don't you come to the temple with me right now?" Duranki asked.

"We're not doing that," Valeria replied.

"Don't you want to meet with the leaders of my temple?" Duranki asked. "I can arrange a meeting. I can lead you there right now."

"I don't think that's going to happen," Valeria stated.

"Or maybe you should defeat the bugbears first," Duranki suggested. "Then you will be even more in their favor. I'm just offering to arrange a meeting. I think our goals are the same. Are you not trying to defeat all the evil humanoids in the caves?"

"Just the evil ones," Lawrence replied.

"And that could refer to you, too," Valeria added.

"Yes or no," Duranki mocked. "Yes or no."

"Why don't we leave the room," Prynhawn suggested.

Yanliz shackled Duranki's free hand again, and Brother Martin stayed behind while the rest of the group went to the hallway to confer privately.

Brother Martin asked him about his god and his temple, and suggested that it was necrotic or negative, referring to the skull on his symbol.

Duranki insisted there was nothing negative or necrotic about Nergal, adding, "Nergal is the god of war! We're trying to get rid of the evil monsters in these caves."

"If you worship the god of war, then why are you trying to end the conflict?" Brother Martin questioned. "Wouldn't you be trying to perpetuate it? I don't understand."

"You wouldn't understand," Duranki suggested. "Maybe my leader could do a better job explaining it. You should come and meet them."

After a few minutes Yanliz came back into the tunnel and insisted on gagging Duranki.

They agreed to leave Duranki shackled in the tunnel for now and return to the bugbear cave.

They moved the armoire in front of the entrance to the tunnel and barred the door with a chair. Then they exited via the secret doors and through the former orc cave.

Before they left the former orc cave, they reviewed their strategy.

Philip, Yanliz, and Jess led the way into the cave with Philip's light rock.

Comrades! Join the cause! Repel the loathsome invaders who profane our ancestral caves with their sacrificial altars! All humanoids welcome!
At the intersection, they looked both ways and saw no signs of movement.

They headed east with the rest of the group twenty feet behind them.

At the intersection above the stairs to the jails, three bugbears jumped out from the northern corridor, a male and female warrior, and a smaller bugbear.

The male smashed its morningstar into Philip's side. The female smashed the ground harmlessly where Philip had been standing. The adolescent swatted Philip clumsily, but still hard.

Vernim cast healing word on the stunned Philip. Lawrence cast scorching ray, hitting the male with all three beams. Valeria hit it with an eldritch blast. Brother Martin missed it with sacred flame, but also cast healing word on Philip. Yanliz cast hunter's mark, and missed the male with his first arrow, but dropped it with a second one between its eyes. Prynhawn squeezed by Jess, who was surprised, and cast searing smite, slashing the female with his sword. Vernim aimed his crossbow from down the hall, and accidentally hit Yanliz in the back.

Philip was hit again, now by the female's morningstar, and tried to retaliate, but missed. Lawrence cast another scorching ray, but only hit the female with one beam.

From behind them, they heard the sound of the gong from the west.

Valeria looked back, but only saw darkness from the western corridor. She missed the female with an eldritch blast, as did Brother Martin with sacred flame.

"Everyone run!" Jess yelled, as she hit the adolescent with an arrow through the crowd and fled from the cave.

The female was still burning when Prynhawn impaled it with his searing blade.

Vernim hit the adolescent with a bolt from his crossbow and left the cave to wait immediately outside. "Everyone, continue getting out, and we can corner them at the mouth of the cave. We can set traps at the cave with our area of effect spells."

The adolescent bugbear swung it's morningstar at Philip, but lost its grip on the heavy weapon. Philip kicked it and rolled backwards, through his companions just as two bugbears emerged from the darkness into the intersection by the exit. Philip hit the one in the lead with his staff, and kicked it, before continuing on, out of the cave.

Lawrence cast another scorching ray as he made his way to the exit. In his haste, he stumbled onto the floor at the intersection, and missed with all three beams.

Valeria stepped in front of Lawrence and cast shatter at the bugbears in the western corridor. Brother Martin cast bless on Yanliz, Valeria, and Prynhawn. Despite Prynhawn's attempt to defend her, Valeria was whacked by the lead bugbear's morningstar, as were Yanliz and Brother Martin. Yanliz shot wide as he made his way past the exit, avoiding a young bugbear's swing. Prynhawn slashed a female bugbear at the intersection with his flaming sword, avoiding it's counter swing as he also escaped the cave.

Outside, Jess shouted, "Vernim, catch!" and threw a flask of lamp oil to Vernim, who barely managed to catch it as he cast healing word on Yanliz.

"If everyone gets out, and the bugbears follow us," Jess shouted, "put the lamp oil on the ground in the center of the cave exit."

Brother Martin helped Lawrence to his feet and Valeria tried to shield the sorcerer with her body as the three of them made it safely out of the cave. On the way out, Lawrence hit a male bugbear with two beams of scorching ray, but was hit by a young bugbear who reached around his protectors.

"Valeria, I can throw the fireball and set the entrance to the cave on fire!" Jess called out, holding the necklace in her hand. "Hopefully it will slow them down and cause some damage. On your call. If you don't think it's necessary and we should completely retreat, tell me."

From outside, Yanliz and Vernim took potshots at the bugbears that stopped just before the cave exit, but missed, as did Lawrence with a firebolt, and Brother Martin with a guiding bolt.

"Don't throw it," Valeria called back. "They're not coming out." She dropped the big male by the exit with an eldritch blast.

"Everyone, let's just group up," Jess suggested, "and figure out what we're going to do now."

Yanliz dropped the only remaining bugbear with an arrow between the eyes as it was withdrawing.

At Valeria's instruction, Philip peeked into the cave with Vernim and Prynhawn close behind him. Philip soon heard the bugbears making noise just around the corner of the intersection. He signaled to the rest of the group to hang back, and peeked around the corner, where he saw two bugbears waiting for him and swinging their morningstars. The iron smashed into the cave wall, as Philip quickly retreated from the cave.

"If we can wait ten minutes," Brother Martin offered, "I can heal everyone." He started casting prayer of healing.

From a safer distance, the group battered the fallen bugbears lying in the entrance with arrows, bolts, and cantrips. Vernim even darted up and smashed one with his warhammer. When no bugbears came out to retaliate, Philip, Prynhawn, Valeria, Jess, and Yanliz began smashing and hacking at them as well.

As they were pulverizing the bugbear bodies, a flame-like radiance descended on Vernim.

Valeria spotted a bugbear peeking around the corner of the cave. "Look, a bugbear!" she called as she drew her wand and blasted it with an eldritch blast.

The bugbear withdrew, but soon appeared with another bugbear, and Valeria dodged two more sacred flames. "Look, there's two of them!" Valeria shouted.

As the rest of the group withdrew from the cave mouth and took aim at the opening. Valeria cast silence inside the cave mouth and the bugbears withdrew.

They continued watching the cave entrance for ten more minutes until Brother Martin finished his prayer of healing, restoring Philip, Prynhawn, Valeria, Lawrence, Yanliz, and himself.

Philip moved quietly to the intersection and confirmed that he only saw darkness.

Brother Martin cast guidance on Yanliz as the ranger moved to the intersection. Seeing no signs of movement in the darkness, he moved to the west and glanced up the stairs. Still seeing no one, he peered into the room with the gong. On the north wall he saw that the sign with the bugbear had written in goblin: "Only you can prevent dungeon fires. Kill the wizard first."

He peeked around the corner to the south of the room and two bugbears were waiting right there, and swung their morning stars. One hit him in the shoulder as he pulled back around the corner. Three more were advancing behind them.

Vernim stepped into the intersection and hit the advancing bugbear with a bolt from his crossbow. Lawrence also stepped into the intersection and hit the lead bugbear with two beams from his scorching ray. Valeria moved in as far as she could and cast faerie fire, surrounding the two lead bugbears in a violet glow. Brother Martin cast bless on Yanliz, Philip, and Lawrence. Philip and Prynhawn ran into the hall to the base by the stairs.

Vernim shot his crossbow again, hitting the, now glowing, lead bugbear once more. Philip rolled passed the lead bugbear and smashed his staff into the second glowing bugbear, following up with a solid kick. Lawrence dropped the lead bugbear with three beams for his scorching ray. The last glowing bugbear circled, wary of Philip, dodging an eldritch blast from Valeria and Brother Martin's spiritual weapon. Jess took aim from the intersection and dropped it with an arrow in the back of its hairy neck. The three remaining bugbears hid behind the corner.

Prynhawn stood guard at the corner, across from the stairs, waiting for them to come from either direction. Vernim cast cure wounds on Yanliz. Philip entered the room, swinging, missing with his staff, but catching one with a kick. Lawrence moved to the base of the stairs and caught the same one with two beams from his scorching ray as it chased after Philip. Valeria cast faerie fire, surrounding that bugbear and the female behind it in a violet glow. The one that chased Philip was smacked in the head with the floating star-shaped mace controlled by Brother Martin. Jess moved to the edge of the room and dropped it with an arrow in the temple.

The two remaining bugbears chased Philip, but could not catch the halfling. Yanliz moved into the room and sunk an arrow deep into the glowing female's torso, and Prynhawn gutted it with his searing blade.

Vernim moved into the room, but missed the last bugbear with his crossbow. Philip chopped it with a kick, smashed it with his staff, and landed a second kick. Lawrence finished it with a firebolt.

Lawrence continued to watch the stairs and the corridor to the east while Philip, Prynhawn, and Yanliz ensured the fallen bugbears would never rise again. Brother Martin used his spiritual weapon while he examined the gong, looking for a way to disable it, or perhaps move it. Jess searched the bodies for any treasure and collected some gold and silver coins. Valeria and Vernim searched the walls.

Flames suddenly sprang up at the base of the stairs, encircling Lawrence in columns of radiant flame!
"Lawrence, can you see up the stairs?" Yanliz asked. "Do you see anything up there?"

"Yes, I can see up the stairs," Lawrence called across the silent flames. "There's no one there."

"Let's throw a body in the flames," Valeria suggested.

Philip and Prynhawn tossed a dead bugbear into the flames and it sizzled and crackled into ashes, without creating any break in the wall of radiant columns.

"Guys!" Lawrence called. "They're coming! If they jump through these flames, should I run to you or to the exit?"

"If you run to us, I can heal you," Brother Martin said.

"Run to the exit!" Valeria shouted. "If he comes in here, he'll be trapped with us."

They saw the bugbears reach the bottom of the stairs, waiting just above the flames.

"Do you see that, in the flames?" Brother Martin asked. "There's little bugbears twirling around in the flames."

"What?" the others asked. "Are you feeling okay?"

"I swear," Brother Martin insisted. "In the flames. In the columns. There's little dancing bugbears. This is like no magic I've seen before!"

"Sounds like some shaman magic," Vernim guessed.

"Yeah, like some weird godly ritual," Brother Martin agreed.

"Guys!" Lawrence shouted. "The stairs are packed with them!"

Vernim cast thaumaturgy, but it had no effect on the mystical flames.

"Lawrence," Valeria asked, "can you see any spell casters on the stairs?"

"Not that I can tell," Lawrence answered.

"Vernim, do you see anything in the flames?" Brother Martin asked.

"I don't," Vernim replied.

"I see tiny bugbears dancing and praying in the flames!" Brother Martin exclaimed, "And I have no idea what to make of it! There are these columns of flames and inside the flames are these crazy dancing bugbears, and I'm freaking out!"

Yanliz shot an arrow into the flames and it was incinerated as soon as it hit the flames.

"I can create water," Vernim suggested. "Does anyone have any better ideas?"

"I don't think water is going to put out this magical fire," Valeria replied.

"Should we just wait for it to go out?" Brother Martin asked. "We're stalemated here."

Brother Martin transformed his spiritual mace into a large shield, similar to his own, with the same starburst symbol of Lathander, and drove it towards the mystical flames.

The columns of radiance immediately seemed to part, and he propelled the shield around them in a circle, extinguishing the columns like candles until all of them were blown out. Then the shield burst into a small starburst itself and disappeared.

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