Session 57: Demise of the Bugbears

As Brother Martin's spiritual shield extinguished the columns of radiance like candles on a cake, the group braced themselves for the onslaught of bugbears descending down the stairs towards Lawrence.

A female bugbear charged onto the far side of the landing, but staggered toward the exit after it was stuck in the shoulder with an arrow from Jess, and in the chest with another from Yanliz. Prynhawn cast searing smite, but missed the hairy male that ran into the room. Vernim summoned the radiance of the dawn on the bugbears, felling the wounded female and injuring many others on the stairs. A flash of light streaked toward Vernim from the top of the stairs, blasting Vernim with radiance and leaving him glittering with a dim, mystical light. Philip dropped the lead male with a kick to the groin, dropped a female behind it with a staff to the head, and kicked another in the legs before rolling back into the room. Lawrence cast burning hands, scorching four bugbears on the stairs, two of them fatally. Valeria cast shatter on the stairs, blasting eight bugbears, and dropping three of them. Brother Martin hit a charging female with sacred flame, and Jess finished it with an arrow.

A young bugbear swung at Lawrence, but Prynhawn blocked its morningstar with his shield. Before their eyes, the bugbears wounds began to heal. Yanliz transferred his hunter's mark and dropped the bugbear that attacked Lawrence. Vernim blinded one bugbear with a warding flare and blocked another's morningstar with his shield, but the third's weapon smashed into him. Prynhawn similarly defended himself from two bugbears, but was smashed by a third that avoided his counter.

Vernim smacked one of his opponents with his warhammer, and cast healing word on himself, before being hit by another streak of light from the top of the stairs. A young bugbear swung at Philip, overreaching, and the halfling tried to capitalize, but the creature bobbed under the swing from his staff as well as the back-swing, only to get dropped with a flying knee. The monk flipped over the falling bugbear, kicking another in the face, and scrambled through the crowd of bugbears to the top of the stairs, where he saw two bugbears waving their arms and chanting. One looked ancient, its yellow skin creased with wrinkles and its fur-like hair gray with age. It had an ugly scar on its left temple, as if a blow from a blade made an actual dent in the skull beneath. The other was a younger female. Both had shaved the hair in a strip encircling their necks, leaving a band of pale yellow skin. Philip also noticed two corridors branching out farther beyond the stairs before he turned and jumped down the stairs.

Lawrence cast burning hands, careful not to catch Philip, scorching two nearby bugbears. One swung at Lawrence, but the sorcerer leaped back. Valeria cast faerie fire on the stairway, surrounding the area and four bugbears in a violet glow. Brother Martin dropped a bugbear with sacred flame and Jess dropped another with an arrow from her shortbow. Once again, the bugbears' wounds began to heal before their eyes. Yanliz dropped a glowing one with an arrow between its eyes. Four bugbears swarmed at Philip as he scrambled down the stairs, but he evaded all of them. Prynhawn slashed into a glowing bugbear, blocking the swings from it and its companion. Vernim missed the companion, and cast healing word on himself. He was scratched by a small flame-like radiance that descended from above him.

As he scrambled to the bottom of the stairs, Philip kicked a glowing bugbear in the knee and drove his staff into its neck, killing it. Lawrence caught four bugbears with burning hands, avoiding a morningstar in the process. Valeria dropped a glowing bugbear with an eldritch blast. Brother Martin's target was too quick for his sacred flame, but fell to Jess' arrow in the eye.

Again the bugbears' wounds began to heal and this time three of the fallen bugbears were revived. Yanliz promptly dropped one that had risen just as it had gotten to its feet. Another rose next to Lawrence and swung at the sorcerer, but Prynhawn deflected the blow with this shield. The paladin had reached too far, and could not counter the swing of another that smashed its morningstar into him. Vernim swung wild with his warhammer, and was slightly burned by a flame-like radiance that fell from above.

Philip kicked a young bugbear, avoiding its counter, but missed with his staff. Lawrence dropped one of the revived bugbears with a firebolt. Valeria missed the last glowing bugbear and cast healing word on Vernim. Brother Martin dropped the last glowing bugbear from behind with his mace. Jess dropped the last of the revived bugbears with an arrow in the throat.

Prynhawn and Philip's attackers began to heal and four other fallen bugbears were revived. Yanliz sunk an arrow into Prynhawn's attacker's gut. A revived bugbear swung at Lawrence, but Prynhawn deflected the blow with his shield. Two revived young bugbears swung at Philip, the first smashing the halfling hard in the head with his morningstar. The second caught the dazed monk and dropped him with another hard blow to the head. Another young revived bugbear slammed its morningstar into Lawrence. Prynhawn missed a young bugbear, but managed to avoid its counter.

Vernim reached down and revived Philip with cure wounds, getting hit with a flame-like radiance as he rose. Philip rose, missing his fist attacker with a kick, but crushed its skull with his staff. Then he dropped his second attacker with a back kick, and rolled toward the exit. Lawrence missed a young revived bugbear with a firebolt. Another spun around, swinging at the sorcerer, but was deflected by Prynhawn's shield. Valeria dropped a young revived bugbear with an eldritch blast. Brother Martin caught one with a sacred flame. Jess missed one of Lawrence's attackers.

The sounds of battle abruptly disappeared as Vernim, Prynhawn, Lawrence, and Brother Martin were surrounded in silence. Yanliz missed Prynhawn's attacker. A big female bugbear missed Lawrence. Prynhawn slashed into a young bugbear and blocked its wobbly counter. Vernim dropped Lawrence's attacker with his warhammer and jumped away from the flame-like radiance that fell from above. Philip ran into the fray and kicked one of the two remaining bugbears at the bottom of the stair, but missed with his staff before running back toward the exit.

Lawrence pulled out his crossbow, but missed the old bugbear at the top of the stairs, while avoiding the bugbear that Philip ran from. Valeria missed it with an eldritch blast. Brother Martin missed it with his mace. Shooting her bow, Jess missed the other bugbear, which was engaged with Prynhawn.

A glowing mace appeared in the air and swung at Lawrence, but missed the sorcerer. Yanliz stepped into the silence at the bottom of the stairs and sunk an arrow into the old shaman at the top of the stairs. Prynhawn and his attacker missed each other.

Vernim missed Lawrence's attacker, but leaped away from the flame-like radiance that fell from above. Philip ran into the silence at the bottom of the stairs, jumped up and finished Lawrence's attacker with a flying kick and landed with his staff on Prynhawn's attacker, finishing it too.

Lawrence caught the old shaman with a crossbow bolt. Valeria missed it with an eldritch blast. Brother Martin gripped his symbol and summed the energy to preserve life, healing Philip, Prynhawn, and Vernim. Jess missed the old shaman with her shortbow.

Lawrence was hit with the floating, spiritual mace, and a flame-like radiance that fell from above. Placing his back to the wall across from the stairs, Yanliz transferred his hunter's mark and sank an arrow into the shamaness at the top of the stair.

A flame-like radiance fell behind them as Prynhawn and Vernim climbed the stairs, Philip quickly catching up to them. Lawrence caught the old shaman with another crossbow bolt. From around the corner, Valeria cast sleep at the top of the stairs. The floating morningstar disappeared as the old shaman fell backward and the silence was filled with his loud snoring. Brother Martin began climbing the stairs. Jess and Yanliz both sunk arrows into the shamaness as Prynhawn reached the top of the stairs and sliced her open with his glowing sword.

They examined the two before Prynhawn drove his sword into the snoring old shaman. Brother Martin noted that they both carried spiked skull symbols.

Jess searched the bodies while she ensured all the bugbears were dead. She collected so many gold and silver coins that she had to divide it among the party, because it was too heavy for her to carry. She also noticed that the bugbear's skewers were actually swords, although blackened with soot and grease, and one of them was a ceremonial silver sword. She packed them up to bring back with them.

At the top of the stairs, they saw a short corridor branch to the west that ended in a door that was halfway open. Farther north, the corridor turned east before shortly ending in a closed door.

Valeria peaked through the open door and into the room, and saw that it appeared to be a living quarters. Meanwhile, Yanliz collected as many arrows and crossbow bolts as he could recover.

Yanliz was eager to explore the rooms, but Valeria was determined that they could only examine the living quarters and then must secure a place to rest.

Valeria asked Yanliz to check the room in darkness, while Prynhawn waited on the stairs and the others waited at the bottom of the landing.

Yanliz quietly approached the door and disappeared into the darkness. The smell of roasted meat greeted him from within. Entering, he saw at least a dozen of the now-familiar piles of old garments that served as bedding. In the center of the room was a small fire pit surrounded by what appeared to be chopped up venison. A few kegs of liquid were scattered nearby.

Prynhawn felt something touch him in the dark and realized it was Yanliz returning down the stairs.

Yanliz told the others what he found. He was eager to investigate the other door, but Valeria was adamant that they needed to rest first.

While Yanliz stood guard at the top of the stairs and Prynhawn at the bottom, the rest of the group entered the room.

Valeria and Vernim searched the walls. Vernim found a secret door, similar to the ones they had found before that they could not open, and showed it to Valeria.

Philip tasted the meat and confirmed it was venison. Noting that it was salty, he tasted the wine, which he said was very good.

"Tymora is smiling upon this venison," Vernim proclaimed. "She blesses this venison, so I think it’s okay to eat."

As it was already late in the day, they all decided to enjoy the meat, along with some extra sides that Philip prepared, except for Brother Martin, who only ate rations, and Jess, who activated her stone of sustenance.

"Tymora is smiling upon us in this moment," Vernim proclaimed as he enjoyed their feast. "Valeria, I was not attempting to... I understand that this might be the kind of behavior that you might dislike... I was just trying to inspire confidence amongst people, you know, with, 'Tymora was smiling upon us.' I apologize if I was patronizing. You seemed frustrated at me when I was telling you Tymora was smiling upon this venison. I didn't mean to patronize you."

"What are you apologizing for?" Valeria questioned. "I'm not going to deny I was frustrated, but apology accepted. It was not egregious."

"Thank you, Valeria." Vernim said. "Okay, I'm glad you have the best interest of the people in your heart and mind and Tymora is still smiling upon this meal, just Tymora isn't as important as the party leader to the party."

Brother Martin and Vernim relieved Yanliz and Prynhawn, who came in to eat.

Entering the room, Yanliz noted, "This looks like the same kind of meat I would catch."

When they were done eating, on their way out, Philip walked over to the gong and tapped on it, but it did not make much noise.

"Philip, what are you doing?" Valeria demanded.

"I was just..." Philip mumbled. "Sorry, I just wanted to make some noise."

"You don't want to make noise, Philip!" Valeria reprimanded. "You were nervous about eating in the cave. Why would you want to start making some giant noise."

"I'm sorry," Philip whined. "I didn't mean to be so giant with it."

They broke the chains holding the gong and lowered it to the floor. It took four of them to carry.

"There was this thing we used to do," Philip shared, "when I was young, where we would tie a big carpet to a tree, on top of a board, and you would stand on it, and you'd swing. I kind of feel like—"

"No," Valeria stated, "we're not hanging the gong from a tree."

"But I feel like I could probably jump really high," Philip continued, gesturing with his hands, "if I swung in it. I could like, like, swish! You know? And I could like really—"

"Philip, you can jump really high without the gong," Valeria pointed out.

"Thank you," Philip replied, "And you could slide down a hill in it, like really fast!"

"You can slide down a hill without the gong," Valeria stated.

"Yeah, just slide on your belly," Yanliz added.

"Valeria," Brother Martin from the intersection by the exit, "this sign here, do you think it has anything to do with Duranki?"

"It's definitely possible," Valeria replied. "I really think we would have to learn more about it."

"Why do you think it says 'all humanoids welcome?" Brother Martin asked. "It's kind of confusing."

"It's probably just a trap!" Yanliz suggested.

"I don't know," Valeria speculated. "They did only attack us after I cast faerie fire."

"No, no," Yanliz corrected. "They said 'attack!' and I said 'attack.'"

"One of them drew a skull on the floor," Lawrence recounted, "and stomped on it with his foot, and you told us, Yanliz, that he was saying 'attack.'"

"So maybe he kills necromancers," Valeria guessed, "or priests of war, maybe."

"Also, why didn't they chase us out of the caves?" Brother Martin wondered aloud.

"I think they just didn't want to leave the caves," Valeria surmised.

"Didn't the amulet of Nergal have a skull on it?" Yanliz pondered. "Do you think that's related?"

"Yes, it did," Valeria confirmed. "It's very likely."

"When you met the bugbears," Vernim recalled, "one of them put down its skewer and said 'Kakkatok.'"

"I remember, Yanliz, you said it wanted to negotiate," Lawrence added.

"Uh, oh," Philip mumbled.

"What's the matter, Philip?" Vernim asked.

"I don't know," Philip whined. "What do you guys think?"

"It's very possible that we attacked them and we were in the wrong," Valeria concluded.

"You're saying they didn't want to leave the caves," Brother Martin wondered, "but I feel like maybe they didn't want to pursue the conflict? I might be giving them too much credit, though."

"Wait, what?" Philip asked.

"Oh, no!" Yanliz gasped. "This is terrible! What if I just misinterpreted what they said? This is my fault! I did the same thing I did with Norman!"

"It was an honest mistake, Yanliz," Valeria assured him.

"Yeah, it was a mistake, but we also slaughtered a bunch of bugbear children," Brother Martin admitted. "That's messed up."

"What if he meant 'attack the skull,' as in 'attack the priests of Nergal,'" Yanliz wondered, "but we didn't know about Nergal before, but now we do?"

"That's just speculation," Brother Martin offered. "I guess we can't really know."

"We can't really know for sure," Vernim offered, "so there's no use speculating."

"We could have questioned them," Brother Martin admonished, "but now they're all dead."

"This is terrible!" Yanliz repeated.

"Don't rush to conclusions," Brother Martin advised. "I say we just head out."

"There might be more," Valeria noted, "and we can check out the other rooms, but not today."

"I think we should check on Duranki," Yanliz urged, "because if what i think is true, then he's the real antagonist here."

They all agreed and, gathering their things, they left the cave and made their way through the old orc cave to the bandit hideout.

On the way, Yanliz pulled Brother Martin aside and asked, "Is it just me, or do you think they were actually not our enemies?"

"There's no way we can know right now," Brother Martin advised.

"I don't know," Yanliz replied, "you're really good at sympathizing with everyone we meet."

"The only reason I'm sympathizing with crazy bugbears is because we slaughtered all their children," Brother Martin offered.

"I know," Yanliz agreed, "I realized that too. A lot of them were younglings."

"We don't know yet," Brother Martin considered, "but we know that they probably weren't good for the area anyway. Whether or not they were going to attack us, they probably needed to go anyway. There's no way that the bugbears are a positive force in this region."

"I don't know," Yanliz worried. "They wanted to bargain. Whether it was a ploy or not, that was the first time anyone we've faced wanted to bargain."

"Well now we know for next time," Brother Martin consoled. "We might not rush to conclusions. This is a learning thing. It's part of the experience. I'm pretty new to this stuff. I don't have all the answers."

"The skull the bugbear drew looks like the same skull on Duranki's emblem," Yanliz pointed out. "They could have helped us against these priests if they're actually bad!"

"Yeah, but Yanliz, they're still bugbears," Brother Martin replied. "It's not like they were people."

"They even said, 'humanoids welcome, let's take care of the wizards!'" Yanliz added. "Oh no!"

"I have thought," Vernim said, joining them. "I think, to be honest with you, Yanliz, they were both bad and they both wanted to use us against the other group."

"Most likely," Brother Martin agreed.

"Maybe," Yanliz admitted.

When they entered The Catbird Seat through the secret room, Prynhawn moved aside the armoire and they found Duranki still shackled where they had left him.

"You know what, Yanliz," Brother Martin suggested, removing Duranki's gag, "the closest we can get to an answer is by talking to this guy in here."

"I'm right here!" Duranki called. "Did you kill the bugbears?"

"Yes we did," Brother Martin replied.

"Why are you guys attacking the bugbears?" Yanliz demanded.

"Why are we attacking the bugbears?" Duranki replied. "The bugbears are evil!"

Yanliz stormed out of the little tunnel.

"You've got a skull on your amulet," Philip accused. "It's just a little weird."

"It's the cycle of life and death," Duranki explained. "What's the big deal? What's this about? You killed the bugbears. It's a great victory. Are you ready to meet my superiors now?"

"I don't think we have time today," Brother Martin replied. "Maybe tomorrow."

"So where are we going?" Duranki asked. "You're going to take me with you, aren't you? Or are you going to let me go?"

"You want to go back to the keep with us?" Brother Martin asked.

"It's better than staying here," Duranki replied.

Yanliz replaced Duranki's gag and suggested they camp in the cave for the night.

Vernim disagreed, arguing that they should get back to the keep as soon as possible, because they were banged up and there might be more bugbears. Brother Martin agreed.

Yanliz argued that if they stayed in the caves, they could get an earlier start the next day. Prynhawn agreed, adding that they had done it before and it would be safer than traveling at night.

Valeria opted to stay in the cave, adding that this way they could keep Duranki shackled instead of letting him loose.

They decided they would make camp in Ace's room. Yanliz set a mental alarm over the Catbird Seat, and an audible alarm at the south side of the corridor leading to Ace's room and The Catbird Seat. Prynhawn moved the armoire back to cover the tunnel where Duranki was shackled.

Yanliz took a bed next to the door. "Brother Martin, you know with this bugbear incident and my actions with Norman, I'm really getting scared. I started this adventure trying to rid the world of bad creatures and trying to do good—"

"And now you're worried you're becoming one of them?" Brother Martin guessed.

"Yeah," Yanliz whispered, "you think I'm a bad guy?"

"Yanliz, you're not a bad guy," Brother Martin assured him, "look at what you're doing."

"We just killed a bunch of adolescent bugbears," Yanliz worried.

"Okay, but here's the thing," Brother Martin explained, "Each one of those bugbears, even if they were kids, one day they're going to grow up to be some warmongering beast. Even if the bugbear isn't going out of their way to murder someone, you can't argue that a bugbear's good."

"Bugbears killed Dubricus!" Jess said.

"To be fair," Lawrence added, "he did try to blow them all away with fire."

"But I could've avoided all of that," Yanliz cried, "if I just had interpreted them right."

"See the fact that you understand that is where you have to find the personal growth," Brother Martin explained, "because next time you come across the situation you'll have that second thought."

"Thanks, Brother Martin," Yanliz replied. "You're really wise."

"Does anybody want this?" Philip asked, tossing the magical stone of absorption in the air. "I have this stone. Does anybody want it?"

"Philip, why wouldn't you want it?" Valeria asked. "You're a major target."

"Well, Vernim was attacked with a bunch of sacred flames," Lawrence hinted.

"Actually, Lawrence got attacked with a bunch of sacred flames," Vernim countered.

The two proceeded to argue vehemently, yet agreeably about who was attacked by more spells.

Vernim argued that they should give it to Lawrence in case he got into a duel with a wizard.

"I'm not a wizard," Lawrence argued, "and I think we should give it to Vernim so he can heal people."

"I don't want to tell you guys what to do," Philip said, "but do you know rock, paper, scissors?"

Ultimately, they agreed to give the stone to Lawrence, and while they rested, Lawrence and Valeria attuned to their stones.

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