Eleint 18, 1479, Year of the Ageless One (three days before the Autumn Equinox)
“People have been seeing those bubbles rise out of the lake for almost a year now?” Tink asked Kira, the the half-elf innkeeper of Bear’s Head Inn. Despite only being in her 20s, Kira was respected as a matronly figure who always looked out for the well-being of everyone who stayed at the inn.
“Yes.” Kira answered. “We’ve been aware of it for some time, but since no guard or citizen had seen anything of a strange nature come out of the lake, we haven’t been overly concerned.”
“What does the Regent and the others think is causing the bubbles?”
“Hard to say for certain. Although some think it’s a fissure at the bottom of the lake, or perhaps an underwater cave of sorts—”
“—Could it be a creature?” Tink interrupted.
“We’ve considered that possibility, but as I said, no one has seen anything. You know very well how the guards keep a sharp eye out for trouble or any hint of it in Bear’s Head, so it’s not likely to be some ‘lake monster’ if that’s what your suggesting.”
“I suppose not, " Tink said in a disappointed tone. She takes another spoonful of cooked eggs from her plate then washes it down with a mug of warm milk Kira had prepared especially for her. She looked around the inn’s main room and saw three people cleaning and preparing the room for the day’s guests. Tink recognized all but one of the men—a young half-orc busy unstacking chairs and rearranging them around some nearby tables.
“Well, I’m sure you will eventually discover what is causing those bubble to rise out of the lake,” Kira said. “With your thirst for knowing what isn’t known and for building contraptions, I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of this mystery—no pun intended.”
Tink laughed. “You’re right, Kira. I will solve this mystery. But if only I can put together an expedition to venture into the Underdark Shallows.”
“You mentioned finding a means of entering the Underdark from the surface of the Western Vale.” Kira said. “Where is this entrance?”
“It’s 2.6 miles south by southeast of Five Hills,” Tink said. “It’s a sinkhole at the end of rather large ravine. It must have recently opened up too! I suspect the latest storm must have weakened the ground in that part of the ravine…”
Kira couldn’t help but notice how excited Tink was getting. She had known the young half-elf long enough to know that when Tink enters her realm—a world of exploration, of learning, and of building wondrous contraptions and items—there’s no stopping the young girl.
“…Since the ravine slopes to the north at a 23.8° angle relative to the surrounding surface, most of the rainwater must have accumulated there. Eventually all that weight of water—for you know that water weighs in at 8.345404 lbs. per gallon, and there must have been hundreds if not thousands of gallons of it—just became too heavy. I tried to take measurements of the exact amount of water that must have been there, but I figured it would have taken me 3.4 days to make the necessary measurements based on the density of the surrounding dirt, amount of precipitation, and—”.
“—Tink, get back to the part about the sinkhole please.” Kira pleaded. “I need to open the inn soon.”
“Of course,” Tink said. “Ergo, a sinkhole would naturally occur. Assuming of course, there was a sufficient pocket of space below the surface to accept that much water.”
“Naturally.” Kira said. “And you suspect this ‘pocket of space’ leads to the Shallows?”
“I do indeed!” Tink exclaimed. “As far as my maps and investigation has found so far, there are no known egresses or entrances into the Underdark in the Sunset Vale. But this proves that they do exist.”
“How deep is the sinkhole?” Kira asked.
“59 feet, 10 inches in depth.”
“Well, you better pack a long rope.” Kira said.
“I’m packed and ready,” Tink said. “Now, I just need others to join me in my expedition.”
“Did someone mention an expedition?” A voice asked from the direction of the front door.
Tink and Kira both looked at the direction of the door. They saw a tiefling enter, carrying several small burlap sacks.
“Well met, Skamus!” Kira greeted the tiefling warmly. “I see you’ve brought me your finest harvest, just as I had requested.”
“As promised,” Skamus said. “I brought you some newly harvested onions, potatoes, and leeks.”
“Please bring those over to this side of the bar, if you don’t mind.” Kira said.
Skamus walked over to a counter behind the bar and gently sat the sacks down. Kira handed him several coins in return.
“So, what’s this again about an expedition?” Skamus asked as his tail reaches over to a basket of fruits. He carefully took out an apple and bit into it. “Kira, it’s been some time since I’ve gone adventuring and I’m starting to miss it.”
“Skamus, I would like to introduce you to Tink,” Kira said. “Tink is Rolando’s niece.”
“Well met Tink,” Skamus said. “I must say that I don’t recall seeing you around here—although my wife Freda and I are fairly new to this town. I know your uncle but I don’t recall having heard anyone mention he had a niece in Bear’s Head. Truth be told, I didn’t think the old mage had any relatives at all.”
“I’m not entirely surprised,” Tink said. “Uncle Rolando doesn’t talk about his personal life much. However, I haven’t been in town for some time now. I’ve been busy traveling through Iriaebor and visiting friends in several towns along the Dragonmere coast for the past few months. I arrived here just a few days ago. It’s amazing how much the town has changed in just the few months since I left.”
“There’s been quite a lot of changes here,” Kira said. “Especially since the undead troubles began a while back. Now that the undead incursion has been dealt with, hopefully life can return to normal around here—at least as normal as can be for a town with drows, a goliath, and a lich.”
Kursk, who had been cleaning and preparing the room for the day’s guests, couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. Out of money, Kursk welcomed the opportunity for adventure. Despite not wanting to interrupt, he walked up to Kira.
“Forgive me but I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about an expedition,” Kursk said.
“It’s alright Kursk,” Kira said. “Go on.”
“Maybe I can be of help,” Kursk said.
A short time later, the group now consisting of a half-elf artificer, a tiefling fighter, and a half-orc barbarian, made plans to explore the Underdark Shallows. Quinn Justice, a half-elf wizard, also joined the group after dropping by the inn and introducing himself.
As an added incentive, Kira offers the reward of 500 gold coins to each member once they’ve solved the mystery of the mysterious bubbles.
As the group prepared themselves, Tink shared that while she was resting at an abandoned farmstead the day before she had accidentally left her ritual book behind. She added that the book has several rituals, some of them healing rituals that can benefit the group. The group gathered their belongings and left Bear’s Head.
At the farmstead, the group came across a nest of stirges. Quinn was hurt in the attack, but the group prevailed and killed three of the blood-thirsty creatures.
After rummaging for some time, Kursk found Tink’s ritual book. The group then made its way to the ravine where Tink saw a sinkhole she suspected led to the Shallows.
At the sinkhole, the group took out a rope and secured it. From above, everyone spotted a tunnel extend away from the sinkhole far below.
Skamus was the first to descend, followed by Kursk. The damp smell of a freshly caved-in sinkhole was strong. Unable to see what lay within the tunnel, Skamus threw a sunrod into it illuminating it brightly. Seconds later, he spotted two black spiders—each almost as big as him—coming at him, their fangs dripping with poison.
“Spiders!” Skamus yelled back to the others.
Kursk, not wanting to be caught on the rope with spiders around, tried to climb down as fast as possible.
Above, Quinn prepared himself, ready to act as soon as he could see a target. Moments later, the first of two spiders scuttled into view. Keeping his focus on the spider, he let loose a mental attack on the spider. Although the wizard knew he had penetrated the animal’s mental defense, it seemed hardly phased by the attack.
The second spider crawled up the wall and onto the tunnel’s ceiling and emerged seconds later into the sinkhole. Skamus swung his halberd but struck the soft dirt wall just behind the spider. The creature moved past the tiefling towards Kursk who was still clinging to the rope. When it came with in reach, the spider tried to bite the half-orc who kicked his legs forward to avoid getting bitten. He then quickly slid down the rope.
Skamus refocused on the first spider. His halberd struck one of its many legs, cutting it completely off. A second attack struck it near the head sending a thick glob of spider ichor splashing onto the tiefling chest. Calling upon all of his might, Skamus impaled the creature, killing it instantly.
Quinn unleashed a charm spell but missed. Tink switched to a range weapon just as the spider above Kursk quickly moved towards the half-orc, hissing as it bared its fangs.
Skamus quickly turned around.
Gripping the halberd with one hand, he grabbed Kursk by the shoulder and pulled as hard as he could. As he did so, he stepped into the spot previously occupied by the half-orc just as the spider bit down. Skamus grunted as the spider’s fangs bit through his chainmail and pierced his flesh. The tiefling quickly countered, swiping his halberd in a wide arc that tore trough chitinous legs.
Somehow, the spider still kept its grip on the wall’s surface despite losing nearly half of its spindly legs.
Kursk charged at the spider, but his battle axe struck the wall just below the creature which hissed at him in anger.
Tink quickly loaded her dejada—a sling-like weapon—with a bullet and took aim at the spider below her. She spun her arm in a tight circle and let loose. The bullet zipped towards the spider and struck it. It fell to the ground dead.
“Nice shot,” Quinn said to Tink. The artificer gave him a grateful smile in return.
“Let’s get down there and join the others,” Tink said as she grabbed the rope.
Quinn took the rope away from her. “I’ll go first,” he said. He then wrapped the rope around his arm and began to repel down.
A few feet into his descend, Quinn lost his footing and fell. He landed hard but was not seriously injured.
I’m glad he went first, Tink whispered to herself. She then grabbed the rope and slowly made her way down to join the others below.