The Gnashing of Teeth
a steel reserve campaign diary story
a steel reserve campaign diary story
This is part of the Steel Reserve Campain Diary series. There will be spoilers for Lost Mines of Phandelver.
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Our heroes stand at the mouth of a cave, the Cragmaw Hidey Hole. Inside is a man whose life depends on them.
Peering into the foreboding dark, the Reserve wisely decides to exercise caution and restraint and send somebody to sneak in and scout ahead.
All eyes fall on the rogue.
Buldrick boldly strides into the dark, only to return moments later with reports of low, hungry growls, and the gnashing of teeth.
Ducky offers to provide additional reconnaissance leveraging the superior darkvision of her companion, the raven Thatso. She manipulates the magic bond between her and her familiar, and changes its physical form to that of a snowy owl.
She then sits down on the ground and as she projects her own awareness into the bird, she becomes deaf and blind to her own surroundings and starts to percieve through the eyes and ears of the owl.
Thatso flies into and through the cave, mapping the interior, carrying Ducky’s mind with it.
Immediately inside the cave is a small alcove in which are chained four large direwolves, the source of the gnashing and growling Buldrick just heard.
Further in, a narrow bridge is suspended high over a still cave river. It is guarded by two bugbear sentries.
Thatso returns to the Reserve, and Ducky’s senses return to her own body. She describes the cave, and the team resolves to deal first with the wolves.
They proceed quietly into the cave and into the alcove with the wolves. Each one is chained to its own stalagmite, and they regard their visitors with cold, hungry eyes.
There are bones and food scraps littering the floor. The goblins here obviously feed the direwolves whatever is left over from their own meals, and the creatures are hungry and malnourished for it.
Tumutch steps a little too close to one, and it lunges forward and locks its jaw shut around his leg. Tumutch fights to free himself, aided by Hiro, who starts hacking at the wolf with his samurai sword.
The wolf eventually releases Tumutch and the two of them fall back out of its reach.
Ducky cautiously approaches the wolf nearest her and starts to work some illusory magic with her hands, creating the aroma of fresh game and cooked roast and other foods, while at the same time trying to create the smell of mother wolf pheromones to comfort and soothe the creatures.
A combination of patience, kindness, and smells eventually soothes the wolves and allows the Reserve to pass among them with no further provocation.
In the back of the alcove, Tumutch discovers a fissure wide enough for a man to crawl inside, which he does, and discovers that the fissure recedes away high up into the cave. There is a ledge and several feet up, and a tunnel continuing from there deeper into the cave.
Tumutch slowly climbs his way up to the ledge and sees that the tunnel is little more than a steep chute that opens up into the corner of a large room full of bugbears, including one hulking brute wearing scraps of hard leather armor and wielding a wicked morningstar. This must be none other than Klarg, commander of the outpost and right hand man of Grol, king of the Cragmaw.
Tumutch retreats back down the chute and alerts everybody of the shortcut they have found.
They all start carefully trying to sneak up the fissure to ambush and surprise the bugbears. Fisty scoffs at their efforts as he simply flies up to the ledge.
Ducky releases the most docile of the direwolves and with a combination of some ropes and some light levitation magic, sucessfully gets the beast up to the ledge.
Everybody thus assembled and ready for the attack, Tumutch produces a set of pipes and starts to quietly play a tune on them. As the notes drift off and fade away, rats start to pour into the tunnel from all directions, marching to the tune.
Under Tumutch’s enchantment, they pour into the room and roll over and around the feet and legs of the startled bugbears. They gather into the center of the room into a tight, squirming ball and then with a wave of her hand, Ducky ignites them into a blazing ball of furry, squealing fire.
Half under Tumutch’s control, half driven mad by the flames, the rats scatter and climb all over the bugbears, biting, scratching, and burning as the Reserve launches into the room and attacks.
From the back of the room, Klarg releases two more huge direwolves who race to tear apart the indruders. The wolf that Ducky brought up into the fight runs forward to engage with them.
Hiro and Tumutch hold the front line, aided by Dug and his warhammer. Fisty and Ducky provide firepower from the back. And Mayonez and Buldrick dart around the room, Buldrick up close with his katanas and Mayo alternating between raining down from far away with this boomerangs, and closing in for crushing bites with his lizardfolk jaws.
Klarg’s morningstar is devestating to those up close, and his javelins fly true for those who are further away.
Tumutch’s courageousness on the battlefield makes Klarg pause in his advnace, and he beats his own bugbears and goblins for doing the same, hating to see in them the hesitation he feels himself.
Having the clear advantage by now, the Reserve focuses their efforts. Ducky lets fly a barrage of magical darts which bury themselves in the bugbear. Fisty, still airborn, blasts him with a beam of dark, coursing energy.
Enraged, Klag looses his final javelin, trying to knock Fisty out of the air. Fisty dodges, but the javelin lodges right into the meat of this upper leg.
Fueled by pain and anger, Fisty hurls a fireball at Klarg, who is, once again, now on fire.
Buldrick yells to Fisty and starts charging toward him. Fisty lowers himself in the air and braces himself. Buldrick leaps and grabs Fisty’s wrists as Fisty lifts with his arms and his wings and gives Buldrick enough of an aerial boost to fling him through the air.
Descending on Klarg, he draws his katanas and plunges them into the bugbear, while at the same time Ducky rings peals of devilish cacaphony directly into his head, shattering his mind.
As Klarg falls to the ground, beaten, Mayonez bounds forward and snarls, “these are my eating caves, mate,” before falling on him. The Reserve looks on in disbelief as whole pieces of Klarg disappear behind the gnashing of teeth.
In a final act of revenge, the last remaining direwolf falls on Mayonez’s back. Hiro slashes at the wolf but not before Mayo is badly wounded.
In the aftermath, a lone goblin stands cowering and grovelng at the edge of the room.