Olo in particular wasn’t impressed by the small village of Downhill. One round building stood in the center, perhaps large enough to be a common area, and six smaller huts surrounded it in a circle. A redheaded man sat just outside the fence encircling the homes knitting a pair of socks. The trio approached him and asked about the wizard. “The wizard won’t see anyone til supper,” he told them, theoretically with an Irish brogue, and so they inquired about the theft next. “You’ll have to talk to Shannon about that. She’s in the main building.”
Six small tables and a couple dozen chairs were arranged sporadically around the center room. Two human women sat knitting at one table in the front while a man calmed a crying infant in the back. One of the women looked up at the group expectantly and welcomed them with open arms. Upon learning of their interest, Shannon gladly explained what happened. Two days ago a bugbear barged and stole their knife and cup. “Wait, what do you mean?” the party asked. “Your knife and cup? Were they family heirlooms?”
Shannon raised an eyebrow. “Of sorts. You could say that, I suppose.”
“Oh, so you do have other cups and knives, just these were important to you?”
“No. These were our only knife and cup, and we kindly need them back.”
The party soon agreed to track them down and return them, though they confirmed there would be a reward first. Shannon offered to have George the druid escort them through the woods, and the four of them left immediately.
As they began their hike west up the mountain a carriage pulled up to the village, but alas, none of the characters cared much about that.
After approximately an hour they reached a well-worn path in the forest. “This is the bugbear village,” George said. He pointed to a massive mound of branches, leaves, and vines. “That’s one of their homes.” Unable to hear anything, the group decided to keep moving down the path. About three houses down they found two teenage bugbears rummaging through a larger building, its inside walls lined with shelves, barrels, and crates. “Where do we find your leader?” the group asked. The bugbears pointed them to a path up the mountainside, where they soon found a hoard of perhaps twenty bugbears gathered around a well. A much older bugbear stood apart as the leader. Svarnik asked after the bugbear who stole the items.
The leader did not hesitate to point fingers. “It must have been Stephen! If he’s a murderer, he’s probably a thief, too!” Our heroes continued to ask questions about Stephen and where to find him, and every time he opened his mouths the leader managed to throw something in about Stephen. “He’s a murderer!” “He kills his own kind!” As soon as they had their directions, Svarnik started to leave.
Olo held back. “Excuse me, but I was just wondering if this was a normal thing–pardon me for not knowing–but is it normal for bugbears to have a party around a well?”
“I mean, to all be standing around.”
“No!” the leader said in an outrage. “There are bullywugs in our well, and we can’t get them out!”
Olo did his best to convince the group to take on the job without breaking the fourth wall (“Experience points!”) and the bugbears began to leave as soon as they realized there would be violence involved.
First the group tried to speak to the bullywugs. None of them had encountered one before; they thought this was a reasonable approach. The only response they got was a bucket and the tip of a spear popping out of the water about thirty feet below them. When talking didn’t work, Voltyra used Thaumaturgy to create the sound of thunder in the well. Three bullywugs jumped out of the water and began climbing up the side of the well. The party waited, hoping to communicate once they were on the ground. As soon as the bullywug wearing a bucket on his head jumped out, the three creatures attacked.
It took about thirty seconds for the group to kill them. George the druid never did more than watch.
Knowing that this bizarre town of bugbears appalled death and violence, they dragged the bodies up the mountain and out of sight. On his way back down Svarnik noticed two fresh graves with headstones and flowers on the opposite side of the path from the well. He quickly paid his respects to “Martha,” deceased about two days ago, and “Todd,” deceased two weeks ago. Voltyra rolled her eyes.
The group of bugbears was waiting for them in front of the larger building at the bottom of the path. Though they were grateful, all they had to reward them with was a bag of moldy oats. The bugbears declined the group’s request for a bodyguard. After all, the town had virtually nothing that resembled a weapon.
Before following the directions they were given to Stephen’s cave, Olo decided to stop and take a look inside one of the bugbear homes. There he saw a table with three bowls of oats on it, three chairs in the center of the room, and three beds.
He also noticed massive blood stains on the pillow and blanket on one of the beds.
Once they left they hiked for about half an hour before reaching the river. After following it upstream for a period they saw the cave, its entrance partially hidden by the waterfall. A rhythmic thumping could be heard coming from inside.
Just as they were approaching the entrance, a vine blight attacked. It first entangled Svarnik, and it attempted to ensnare the rest of the party twice. Nearly a minute passed before they bested the plant creature.
Once it was dead, Olo stealthed into the cave. In dim light he easily made out a table and a large bed, both constructed from rocks, and on the table, a knife and cup. He could also see a well in the ground where leather soaked, a pair of knitted bugbear-sized socks, and in the center of the room sitting on the floor, a bugbear, pounding away at a chest plate that looked like it was made for a much smaller humanoid. Once satisfied, Olo went back out to tell the group what he found. George the druid lingered outside while they went in to confront Stephen.
The first thing Svarnik did was to charm Stephen to consider them friends. The group began asking all of their questions: where did he get the socks, why did the village kick him out, what do the cup and knife do. They found out the village was now trading socks with the bugbears for food, the village kicked him out because of his affinity for violence, he lived with his bugbear girlfriend who was currently trading with the Idle Hands (a group that lives somewhere on this mountain), and the cup and knife are magic. Now that the village had kicked him out, he had to eat somehow. Stephen got up to demonstrate how slicing the knife against the bone produced fresh cooked meat, and told them that the cup produced an endless supply of whiskey. He then sat back down, even as Svarnik asked Stephen what he would do if someone stole the items from him. Stephen considered them friends for the time being, after all. That is, until he saw Svarnik pocket the items. Stephen then got up once more to attack with his great club.
Svarnik was knocked out in one hit.
Upon hearing the commotion, George ran in right away and healed Svarnik. Voltyra did the same whilst Olo stepped in front of them as a living shield. Once George’s Fairie Fire worked on Stephen, the group quickly knocked the bugbear out.
Voltyra began scouring the cave in vain while Olo and Svarnik tied Stephen up and discussed methods for dragging his body up to secure him to a tree. While they were distracted, the girlfriend arrived and began screaming and roaring when she saw what was going on. She barged in with a shield and a morningstar and headed straight for Svarnik, the closest to both Stephen and the cave entrance. He took a heavy blow, but this time he survived. Olo stepped forward again and told Svarnik and Voltyra to run. None of them thought they could handle a fight against a better equipped bugbear. George was already watching them from the cave entrance, prepared to bolt.
After a second round of fighting, the girlfriend was looking pretty bad. They decided to try finishing her off after all. Once she was also knocked out, the group succeeded in dragging both bodies out and tying them to trees.
Voltyra used Thaumaturgy to wake the girlfriend up first, hoping she would talk more if Stephen was still unconscious. She didn’t tell them much, though she did state that Stephen wasn’t the murderer. Once awake, Stephen didn’t have much to tell them either. In a desperate attempt to get more answers Voltyra said something to the girlfriend along the lines of, “Women are more intelligent than men, aren’t they?”
She thought for a moment. “I can’t answer that in front of Stephen.” The group started talking again before she continued her thought. “Sometimes he hurts me.”
Perhaps if they were a creature more relatable and less violent than bugbears, Voltyra wouldn’t have allowed Stephen to live.
Instead, Voltyra and Svarnik intimidated Stephen into saying he wouldn’t steal anymore. At the same time that Voltyra used her air genasi ability to make her body crackle with lightning, the handsome elf of the party came out from his waterfall shower doing a dramatic hair flip. Or so Olo’s player said. If it hadn’t been a joke, their intimidation attempt might not have worked so well.
Once Stephen had made his promise they set him and his girlfriend free, and the two bugbears ran back to their cave. Olo, Svarnik, Voltyra, and George headed back to the bugbear village to see if they could find out who the real murderer was.