The heroes are in danger. After carving a bloody path through the western part of the Cragmaw stronghold, the adventurers are wounded and spent, and King Grol and the mysterious drow must be somewhere near at hand.
Two goblins toil sullenly at the rubble piled in front of the west gate while Stedd revives the heroes' goblin companion, Droop. He sits up with a start and a sharp gasp, and the enormity of what just happened overwhelms him. "You save Droop!" he says, and his eyes well up. He embraces the cleric's leg.
Assessing their predicament, the adventurers look around, and the elf catches sight of a worn and faded symbol above the door to the northern tower. Recognizing it as the sacred symbol of the elven goddess Sehanine Moonbow, he points it out to the others. Stedd too knows this symbol of the Lady of Dreams and the Guardian of Travelers. What exactly it signifies in this structure they cannot discern, however, and they turn their attention back to the blocked passage. The goblins are close to completing their task, and the party assumes a defensive posture to wait for the humanoids to finish digging out an escape route.
But the work is not finished soon enough! King Grol appears in the doorway at the end of the hall, dragging the dwarf at his side. "Drop your weapons, or the dwarf dies!" he roars.
The heroes are not inclined to disarm themselves, but unlike Grol, they are well aware of their current tactical weakness. "Parley?" asks Artex. "Lower your bow, elf!" he barks back, but unexpectedly, the bugbear seems to be in a mood to negotiate. The group reminds him that they've slaughtered many, perhaps most of his forces, but what they really want is Gundren, whom they have come to rescue. Grol agrees to ransom the dwarf for 100 gp. Surprised at the low price, the party readily agrees, and the swap of dwarf for gold is made.
They now demand safe passage out of the castle. "You will leave by the west passage. Finish your digging and be gone!" says Grol. And so the group, taking over for the goblins that have long since fled, resumes digging out while Gertrude and Artex keep a watchful eye on the bugbear. The king growls in disapproval as Gertrude picks up a shield from a fallen hobgoblin, but takes no action. At last Ad reaches daylight, and he and the rest clamber out of the tunnel of rubble one by one, with Gundren helped out by Stedd. Trudy is the last to go, and as she crawls out, she turns to say, "I hope we never see each other again." Grol only laughs in reply.
Artex leads the heroes south toward the edge of the forest. Hoping that they have put enough distance between themselves and King Grol, they decide to rest in the shade under the canopy of trees that marks the southern border of the ancient woodland realm. As they settle for a well-earned break, all eyes turn toward Gundren. Artex feeds him some goodberries and asks, "what happened to you?"
Gundren is revived by the ranger's magic, but still looks gaunt and pale. "I was with Sildar, and we were waylaid by goblins. We were separated and I was brought here; this was about a tenday ago. They have my map… King Grol took my map."
"Can't you find Wave Echo Cave without it?" the warlock asks.
"Well, it's very cleverly hidden, and I need the map to be sure. I suppose I might be able to find it, but we could get lost. And if they have the map, they could get there before us."
A summer breeze rustles the leaves of the forest. Trudy looks at Gundren. "Where are your brothers?" she asks.
"I don't know exactly… " Gundren replies.
"They've been gone a long time," Trudy observes.
"Really? That's interesting. Alarming. They were supposed to be camping outside of town."
Ad turns the conversation back to Gundren's experiences as a prisoner. "Was there a wizard in the castle? A drow?"
"I didn't see a drow. I was mostly unconscious for the last few days. I've had nothing but filthy goblin rations and a few spongefuls of sour wine."
"What were your brothers' names, again?" Artex interjects.
The dwarf hesitates for a moment, but then replies, "Nundro and Tharden."
Artex seems somewhat placated by the answer, and whispers to Trudy, "just making sure it's really Gundren. Something's not quite right with him."
Trudy nods and continues, "so, when was the last time you saw them?"
"Ahh, it was several months ago, I think…"
"So, how are you feeling, Gundren?" Stedd puts in.
The dwarf seems a little confused by the question. "Hungry..? The goodberry helped."
"Do your brothers know how to get to Wave Echo Cave?" asks the warlock.
"Yes, I believe they have a copy of the map. They should."
Trudy considers this. "Any idea why Grol kept you alive if he already had the map?"
"I think he planned to ransom me to Black Spider."
The paladin looks at her companions, then turns back to the dwarf. "That raises an interesting question. Do you know who this 'Black Spider' is?"
"A drow, I think."
Gertrude is not satisfied. "But then why didn't he just hand you over to the drow we saw? He was there, and you were there, and that should have been that."
"I'm not sure…" is all the dwarf can manage in reply.
Artex studies the dwarf for a long time. "I feel like this is not Gundren," he mutters quietly. The elf's suspicions spread to others in the party, and Trudy asks, "where did we meet?"
Gundren pauses for a moment, looking around the circle at the heroes. But he clears his throat and says confidently, "well, of course we met at Ottos Shrunken Head!" Trudy looks at the others and shrugs.
Following up, Ad asks whether he knows Halia. "The head of the miner's guild in Phandalin, right? Sure I do. She's a hard-nosed lady, that one."
During the discussion, Gertrude produces a piece of chalk and sets to work on the shield that she picked up on her way out of the castle. As the conversation with Gundren trails off, she finishes her etching and addresses Droop. "I saw what you did for us back there in the castle," she says. "You stood in the doorway, defending us from the hobgoblins while we were down." She presents the shield, now emblazoned with a white gauntlet symbol, to the goblin. "This is the symbol of Torm," she says. "He's the patron of heroes, and you are a gosh-darn hero yourself." A moved and humbled Droop gratefully accepts it.
The party tarries in order to recover more fully, and the afternoon wears on. Artex asks the dwarf more questions. "Did you know Sildar was a member of the Lords' Alliance? And do you know who else was?" A general discussion of Iarno Albrek opens up. As another question about Iarno is directed at him, Gundren blurts out, "you mean Glasstaff?"
Ad immediately latches on to this apparent discrepancy. "How did you know his name was 'Glasstaff'?"
"Didn't you just say?" stammers the dwarf.
"No! No, I did not," replies the warlock.
Gertrude raises an eyebrow at this exchange: she senses deception on the part of the dwarf.
Using his telepathic ability, Ad relays his thoughts and the thoughts of his companions in a psychic roundtable discussion. They cannot understand what is going on with Gundren! What is he hiding?
"I gotta piss," says Artex aloud, breaking the tension. He wanders away from the group's conference.
Ad shakes his head at the elf's remark and turns back to Gundren. "Can you tell us more about Iarno?"
The dwarf regains his composure and says, "yes, Sildar told me a lot about Iarno while we traveled to Phandalin. Iarno was supposed to be there, but he had been reported missing. And Grol talked about Black Spider's agent 'Glasstaff' being in Phandalin and trying to subvert the town from within. I guess I just associated the two."
Wondering if Gundren could somehow be a drow in disguise, Trudy tries to notice whether the dwarf is avoiding the sunlight, as the drow shun the full light of day. But he does not appear to be.
Ad asks about the general location of Wave Echo Cave. "East of Phandalin in the Sword Mountains," the dwarf replies.
The warlock continues on this line of questioning, probing for more answers. "So you say you've been to Wave Echo Cave. What did that journey reveal? What's there?"
"Well, there are quite a few hostile monsters that need to be overcome."
"So you weren't able to get very far."
Gundren shakes his head.
Trudy sighs. "So, what do you want to do?"
"I would like to try to get my map back from King Grol, if we can. But if you feel it's too risky, then we should retreat to Phandalin and confer with Sildar and our other friends there. Maybe we can locate my brothers."
Stedd taps Ad on the shoulder, and the warlock picks up the cleric's thoughts and relays them to their companions: he has no trust in Gundren, and wants to bring this issue to a head before nightfall. Telepathically, Ad facilitates another discussion of the dwarf's unusual behavior.
Aloud, the party considers its options: return to the castle to take the map, or head south to Phandalin? Trudy is dubious of the first option: "we did make a deal, and Grol held up his end of the bargain. So I don't think we should go back. There'd need to be some kind of instigation."
Ad offers a different perspective. "We could go back, prepared for battle, but ask for another parley and explain that Gundren should not have been deprived of his posessions."
Worried that going back would escalate into a violent confrontation, especially so soon after they had come to an understanding with the Cragmaws, Trudy is dubious. "I don't know. That doesn't strike me as fair play."
"To ask for the map back?" Ad retorts. "Maybe Grol just wants more gold for it."
Ignoring these considerations, Stedd thinks that with Gundren, the party has a more pressing problem. "I don't think we can go back until we resolve our current predicament."
Gundren has been following the conversation closely, and he asks, "and what is your current predicament?"
Stedd turns to him and says, "our party is spent and we require a long rest."
The dwarf agrees, but Stedd's thoughts are elsewhere: the cleric does not want to wait until dark to find out whether Gundren is a drow in disguise. Ad relays Stedd's concern to the rest of their group. The group then tries a ruse to see if they can draw out Gundren: the elf and the cleric hold a conversation in elvish to see if it provokes any reaction. It does not. Nevertheless, everyone senses that something is wrong with their patron, though they cannot determine what it is.
The party resolves to head south. "Let's all keep a real close eye on our friend here," the warlock announces telepathically to his companions. At dark they reach the Triboar Trail and decide to rest overnight and finish their journey on the morrow. Both Gundren and Droop offer to take a watch, and though the group rejects the suggestion, Ad tells Droop that he may join him for his shift. The night passes without incident.
In the morning, they break camp and make haste to Phandalin. They reach the town, and Gundren has a mind to freshen up and secure a room at Stonehill Inn before doing anything else. Anxious to bring the dwarf to Sildar, the party accompanies him to Barthens Provisions so that he may procure some clothing, and then the group proceeds to the inn to wash and make arrangements for a place to stay.
In the early evening, the party brings Gundren to the Townmaster's Hall, where Sildar has taken an office. "Gundren! You're alive!" His unguarded happiness at seeing his companion is short-lived, however: telepathically, Ad relays the heroes' concerns. He warns Sildar to be cautious in his interactions with the dwarf, as the party has come to believe that Gundren may be under some kind of enchantment.
Sildar cocks his head at being addressed telepathically, but composes himself and again directs his attention to the dwarf, asking him what happened. The dwarf gives a brief account of his ordeal: taken by goblins along the Triboar Trail and moved to the castle where he was starved and tortured for the last 12 days.
The conversation turns to Gundren's brothers, and Sildar reports that they still have not been seen in town. Gundren offers a sober assessment of their fate: "my brothers should have been camping near Wave Echo Cave, to keep an eye on our claim. They both knew the risks of the wild. If they are in trouble, I'd wager that Black Spider is behind it. If we are to make our own attempt at Wave Echo Cave, we need the map," he finishes.
Stedd, silent for much of this conversation, has been preparing to cast Zone of Truth, and now reveals his intentions to his companions. Trudy speaks to Gundren in order to prepare him for what is to come: "sorry about this, Gundren. I think you've mostly been pretty straight with us. But before we go anywhere, we're going to have Stedd cast a spell to help us answer a few questions. Please don't take this the wrong way."
The warlock also seems concerned about the coercive nature of this approach, and he adds, "there was a wizard in there, and maybe without you even knowing, he might have done something to you."
Gundren asks, "so how does it work?"
"He's gonna cast a spell, and we'll just talk," Trudy replies.
"It'll help your memory a little," Stedd explains.
Gundren reluctantly agrees, and Stedd's spell envelops the room. The cleric is aware that Gundren is unable to resist its effect.
Trudy begins the questioning anew: "how did you know that Iarno was Glasstaff?"
Gundren speaks haltingly, but repeats his story from earlier. "Well, Sildar spoke so highly of Iarno on the journey. And then I had heard King Grol talking about Glasstaff…"
Ad interrupts him: "so that's how you knew Iarno was Glasstaff?"
"Not exactly," Gundren replies.
Stedd presses him. "Can you expand that a little? How exactly did you know?"
Before the dwarf can answer, Ad interjects, "and now that you're feeling better, do you know if Iarno was in contact with Grol in the last few days?
"I don't remember Iarno being in contact with King Grol in the last few days…" Gundren answers.
The warlock tries a different approach. "Have you ever seen Black Spider before?"
"Like, in the mirror?" Artex adds, breaking the silence.
At this, Gundren laughs. "No, I've never seen him in the mirror!"
Finally, Trudy cuts to the heart of the matter: "are you Gundren Rockseeker?" The dwarf does not answer. "It's a pretty simple question," the paladin says.
"Gundren" suddenly bolts for the door!
"Effin' Gundren," Artex deadpans, and he and the party give chase!
"Capture him! Let's find out who he is!" Trudy calls after the elf.
The ranger is fleet and runs down the dwarf, wrestling him to a standstill. Gertrude dashes forward, and smites him with the Power of Torm — a palpable hit! The dwarf winces pain but fights on. Next, Ad closes in and blasts at him with Eldritch magic. The dwarf cries out, but still strains against the elf's grasp!
Finally, Stedd approaches and lays his hands upon the dwarf, withering him with necrotic energy. Gundren collapses, and then to the party's surprise and horror, he reverts to his natural form before their eyes: where there was once a dwarf, now there lies a doppelganger!
The party binds him tightly and drags him back to the Zone of Truth. Trudy lays her hands upon the creature to revive him. They intend to question this doppelganger, who calls itself Vyerith.
"Where is the real Gundren Rockseeker?" demands Gertrude.
The creature does not answer, and communicating telepathically with his comrades, the warlock offers to cast a suggestion spell upon it.
Vyerith turns to face Ad, and says slowly, "I can read your mind."
"He does talk!" says a bemused Artex. "You talk! That's awesome. How about you talk to us?"
"I'm thinking about casting a suggestion upon you," Ad tells the monster.
"Try it," taunts the creature.
"Do you want to bargain for your life?" Ad responds.
"Yes, I want to live."
Trudy is pleased to be getting somewhere at last. "Fabulous! Let's get some answers, and Then you're free to go." To this, the creature agrees. "Where is the real Gundren Rockseeker?"
"He's at Cragmaw Castle."
"Who is 'Black Spider'?" asks Artex.
"His name is Nezznar, he is a drow."
Artex inquires further about this drow. "Black Spider is at the castle too, then?"
"No, you fool, I was disguised as Black Spider while at the castle."
"So, where is Black Spider?"
"Probably at the cave, planning your death."
"Why are you helping Black Spider and King Grol?" the warlock asks.
"King Grol is but a pawn."
Trudy thinks for a moment. "So why did you come here with us?"
"I was going to lure you to a trap at the castle, or failing that, I planned to rob and kill you."
The paladin is displeased by this answer, and says, "that was a bad plan. So where are the other Rockseeker brothers?
"I have no idea. I know that Black Spider was hunting them."
Gertrude turns the conversation back to the castle. "Say, how many other fellas were at the castle with ya?"
"It is King Grol's domain, not mine."
"Give us a number," Trudy demands.
"Twenty?" the elf counters.
"Probably not twenty."
Still a little confused, the warlock asks, "but how did you know where we met Gundren?"
"As I said, I can read minds! It is how my kind can assume the identity of others so easily."
"Are there any others of your kind around here?" the ranger asks.
"Perhaps," replies the creature with a subtle smile.
"Is Sildar one of them?"
Vyerith laughs. "Not that I know of."
The warlock inquires after Iarno, but Vyerith does not know where he is. Stedd, having been content to allow the others to conduct the interview, now weighs in with his own question. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know. I will leave here."
"Does King Grol really have the map?"
"Yes, as far as I know. I was sent to retrieve it from him by Black Spider himself!"
At this the paladin chimes in. "Well then hold on there. Here's a question, because you guys have had Gundren for kind of a while now. So, I mean, either ya have the map or ya don't."
"The Black Spider wishes to leave no loose ends. He wanted to recover the map so that no one could follow him to Wave Echo Cave."
Ad looks thoughtfully at the monster. "Why is Gundren being kept alive?"
"King Grol wanted to squeeze a little more gold out of Nezznar for his trouble. Foolish on his part. But then you attacked the castle! When I heard that a group of invaders was laying his forces low…"
Art looks at Gertrude. "That's true."
Vyerith continues with his explanation: "I realized that Gundren would be rescued and the map would fall into your hands. So I revealed my true nature to Grol, and we hastily made a plan for me to take the form of the dwarf that we might regain the upper hand."
The heroes fall silent for a moment, and consider all the events that lead to this point. Artex turns to the old warrior and says, "Sildar, what should we do with this dude?"
Before Sildar can answer, however, Trudy asks Vyerith: "well, here's the thing. If we let you go, are you just going to go right back to Black Spider?"
Vyerith replies slowly. "Well, not if it means I will be killed by you."
Trudy seems satisfied. "All right then. that's fair."
Ad is not. "I can tell you that I would not hesitate to kill you if we see you again or if you don't do what we said," the warlock says. Stedd is also not satisfied, and he adds, "I'm mostly inclined to kill him anyway."
Trudy tries to persuade her colleagues to back down. "Well, we made a deal."
Ad smiles. "Yeah, I don't really suggest killing him. "
Stedd, however, is still not ready to release the monster. "One of the tenets of the Order of the Gauntlet is to destroy creatures such as this."
"But my Oath of Devotion would not allow me to do that in this situation," Trudy replies.
There is a pause. Finally, Ad says, "I have one more question. Is anyone else in this town that is in on your shady activities? Like Halia or anyone else?"
"If Black Spider has other agents in this town, that is between him and them. I don't know. Let me go now! I've answered all of your questions and more. I've been very cooperative." This elicits derisive laughter from the party.
Stedd is more serious. "I still don't want to let him go. Can we trust him? I don't. He's liable to make trouble, impersonating someone we know, maybe even one of us! I don't want to fight a traitor in our midst."
Artex again turns to Sildar and repeats, "what do you think?"
"I don't trust this creature either," the veteran replies. "I'm inclined to agree with the cleric, but for the fact that a bargain has been made and it must be honored. We must drive it out of town as soon as possible."
Remembering the ransom paid to Grol, Ad asks, "what about our 100 gold pieces?"
Trudy turns to the warlock and reassures him: "as for that deal, it was made in bad faith, and we are under no obligation to honor it. We'll be going back to get that money."
The cleric gives a grim and resolute look at Vyerith. "If we see you again, there will be no quarter." Vyerith returns the cleric's gaze with a cold stare. As the others untie the creature, its hollow eyes linger on Stedd, studying the shape of his face, the shape of his head, the color of his eyes, the curve of his nose, the sound of his voice. With a final glance, it exits hastily.
Without a word, Stedd follows him. As the doppelganger passes the door, it starts to run. The cleric loads his crossbow, and levels the weapon to fire. "What are you doing?" shouts Gertrude. There is a clamor and mad scrum for the door, and in the chaos Ad encourages Stedd to run forward for a better shot. The cleric advances and shoots, and the doppelganger collapses.
The cleric turns toward Trudy to give an explanation. "He was going to come back and impersonate one of us," he tells her. "We could not trust him. He was going to target us."
"Well, yeah — but you can't just shoot a guy in the back! Not after we just told him he could go!"
Ad corrects her: "no, you can't shoot a guy in the back after you told him he could go."
Stedd offers a sophistic response: "I let him go. Then, I shot him." At this the elf laughs, but Gertrude rushes out to the creature. Ad follows Gertrude and explains, "you realize that no blood is on your hands, right?"
Meanwhile, Sildar looks the cleric in the eye, and then looks down at the armored gauntlet brooch on his cloak. After a final glance at the cleric, he furrows his brow, but says nothing.
Addressing the warlock, Gertrude says, "it's not like I can pretend like this didn't happen." Calling back to Stedd, she adds, "hey buster, you can't do that!" She again heals the doppelganger, leaving him injured but conscious and stable. The creature gets up and runs.
The paladin has the last word as it disappears into the night: "seriously, if we ever see you again, if you impersonate any of us, we will kill you!"
"You humans so confusing!" Droop says.
Session XP: 200
Total XP: 2050