I am the harlequin – diamonded costume dripping shades of green
I am the harlequin – sense strangers violate my sanctuary
Prowl my dreams
Plundering your diaries, I’ll steal your thoughts innocence
Ravaging your letters, unearth your plots innocence
To don the robes of Torquemada, resurrect the inquisition
In that tortured subtle manner inflict questions within questions
Looking in shades of green through shades of blue
I trust you trust in me to mistrust you

Our heroes have defeated King Grol, captured Yeermik, the goblin who betrayed them, and a Drow called Vyerlith that they somehow managed to put to sleep magically. They cast both into the pit trap they had dug, to lie bound amongst the bodies of the fallen goblins. Next to the pit lay the body of King Grol, torn and shattered and still faintly flickering with the light of Tyge’s wrathful gods. Beyond his huge steaming corpse the road was littered with dead goblins and bugbears, some with arrows in their backs, some burnt, some dismembered. The battle was done and the victory complete, and the time had come to learn who and why they fought.

They waited for the Drow to wake up and Mostly Smithson cast a Zone of Truth spell into the pit. Under this compulsion they slowly drew the truth out of the Drow. First they discovered that she was not a Drow at all, but a Doppelganger. As she explained to them what this meant, a slow and growing horror overwhelmed Mostly Smithson, who began advocating for her immediate execution. Who can trust a creature that can change its form to perfectly mimic any humanoid, read minds, and that works for the highest bidder? Though not evil, no one can trust a Doppelganger. Fortunately for the Doppelganger, she was able to reveal to them a secret of her kind: that if they knew her true name, they could force her to reveal her true form, thus ensuring that they could always reveal her disguise. They tested it under the Zone of Truth, revealing the truth of the Doppelganger called Horza: a hideous grey-skinned monster, sexless and expressionless, clawed and vicious-looking. In her true guise Horza offered them a promise: for this group in exchange for her life she would perform three missions as a spy, starting with a mission to destroy her current employer, the Black Spider.

They dug further. She told them that the Black Spider had found Wave Echo Cave, and wanted to explore it, but while he was beginning to explore it two of the Rockseeker brothers had arrived and he had been forced to kill one and take one captive. Concerned that more dwarves might be coming, he had withdrawn and organized for his agents in the area to look for people coming to Wave Echo Cave or Phandalin, and in particular for dwarves. Having heard that the third Rockseeker brother had been caught he decided to begin exploring Wave Echo Cave, and had sent Horza to collect the dwarf and bring him to the cave, in case he knew anything. The Black Spider’s real name was Nezznar, and he was a male Drow. He had only just begun exploring the cave, and Horza assured them that she could lead them safely to him, whereupon they could set a simple trap to destroy him when he least expected it. They would disguise themselves as Redcoats, and she would tell Nezznar that a group of adventurers had destroyed their gang, but she had brought the survivors to the cave to help defend it in case the adventurers came to the cave. While she told him this she would come close to him and ambush him, and then they could kill him.

They agreed to this plan and turned their attention to Yeermik. He was exactly the sniveling liar they expected, and after he told them that he had betrayed them because he thought King Grol was stronger and his best interests lay with Grol, they killed him.

Cragmaw Castle

Enough talk! They had killed creatures, and now they must steal their stuff! They returned to Cragmaw castle and stalked its abandoned halls, killing the last few goblins they found and searching through treasuries and grubby bedding looking for stray coins. They found a woeful, half-starved owlbear locked in one of the ruined towers of the castle, and took an hour to kill it and pluck its feathers to make magical arrows. In King Grol’s bedchamber they found Gundren Rockseeker, tied up and beaten and half-starved and alive, and freed him from his long captivity. He was shocked and amazed to find the adventurers he had paid to guard his caravan rescuing him here, in an abandoned castle, long hard days after he had given up hope, and urged them to finish their search and go to Wave Echo Cave to find his brothers. They agreed, scooped up King Grol’s paltry treasures, and set off for Phandalin.

Ambushing Nezznar

Their next target was the Black Spider. They spent a day resting in Phandalin and then headed east into the Sword Mountains. Wave Echo Cave was hidden in a narrow valley in one of the first jagged uprisings of the mountains themselves, just a day’s travel from Phandalin. They arrived at its entrance in the late afternoon, finding the narrow valley already cloaked in shadow and silent as the grave. Horza told them that Nezznar was based in a ruined temple on the far side of the caves from the entrance, in a location that was easily reached by safe paths from the entrance. Between the entrance and the temple two teams of bugbears who served him were camped out and trying to explore the cave, but had run into trouble with undead and monsters in the cave. The PCs could likely move past them without much trouble, kill Nezznar and then turn their attention to the rest of the cave. They agreed, though they still did not fully trust her – what if the Zone of Truth does not work on these slippery beasts – and decided to enter the cave. At the entrance they found a dwarven camp, with a single dead dwarf – Gundren’s younger brother – and a lot of supplies. Horza told them that two dwarves had come to the caves and camped here, and Nezznar’s soldiers had ambushed them at night, killing one and taking the other prisoner. They searched the supplies, and moved into the caves.

Horza led them through dark tunnels to a large cave where the path led past a limpid pool. Here stairs led down into the cave, and they estimated that this would be a good spot to set a trap – they could run down the stairs and leap over the trap, and whoever followed them would hit the trap. They chose to set a grease trap, because at the dwarven camp they had found a large tiffin full of Dwarven Cooking Grease, a concoction of goose bile and beef fat that was very viscous and completely non-reflective, so that when smeared on the ground it would be invisible in any light. Anyone rushing down the stairs would slip on the fat and slide straight into the pond, where they would be struggling to find their feet as whatever monster dwelt in the pond ate them.

Mouser was crouching by the pond waving a light stone over it, trying to find whatever monster lived in it, when in the pond’s reflection he saw a strange shape moving on the ceiling of the cave. Turning around, he realized that the entire cave roof above them was covered in a strange brownish-yellow mass that moved as if by some collective musculature and was slowly positioning itself above them. He warned the others and they stood ready as the mass began to ooze down in a column-like structure towards the ground, obviously intending to form up as a huge lump and begin attacking them. DeCantrus acted quickly, casting Levitate on the ooze so that as it flowed towards the ground it formed into a perfect blob hanging in the air, unable to move or attack. Slowly the mass gathered, forming a massive droplet, 3 metres in diameter, pulsating and hanging in the air and occasionally lashing out with ugly pseudopods of thick ochrish snot that failed to hit anyone. They stood back and rained crossbow bolts and firebolts onto it until it finally died, after which DeCantrus released his spell and allowed it to fall. The lifeless mess hit the ground with a wet slopping thud and began to ooze slowly into the pool.

They moved on. Smithson cast a silence spell at a junction near the cave and they crept in darkness past a cave full of Bugbears, moving down a tunnel to the cave where Nezznar hid. Here they put on their red cloaks, Horza took her Drow form, and they entered.

They passed through double doors into a large, carefully cut stone chamber, perhaps 20m long and 15m wide with 10m high ceilings. Stone columns supported the ceiling, but now they were wreathed in spider’s webs. A large fire burnt in a pit at the far end of the room, throwing flickering orange light over a statue of an ancient dwarven god that had clearly been defaced by the temple’s more recent occupants. Nezznar stood near the fire, a dark elf in black leather carrying a staff with a carved spider on top. In the shadows, amongst the webs covering the columns, four huge spiders lurked, moving slowly through the webs. Multiple flickering eyes followed the PCs as they entered the stuffy temple.

Horza called out to Nezznar, telling him her story, and he bid her approach. Gesturing the characters to stay back, she walked up to Nezznar, explaining that they were the surviving red cloaks from Phandalin and she had brought them here to help in the defense of the cave. Nezznar yelled something to the characters about failure and service, leaned in to Horza to whisper some conspiratorial thing to her …

… and she stabbed him in the guts. At the last moment he realized what had befallen him, and tried to throw up a shield spell to protect himself, but he was too late – the glistening cowl of the shield wrapped around her wrist as the dagger sank to its hilt in his belly. Moments later Mouser emerged from the shadows of the door and fired a crossbow bolt into the Drow’s face, killing him instantly.

The Black Spider was dead, but his spiders were not. Enraged by his attack, they stormed forward, hurling the quills on their hairy thoraces and trying to web the party. One bit Mostly Smithson and flooded him with crippling poison, but he survived the attack and hit back with lightning and vicious stabbing madness. Within seconds the spiders were dead, burnt or stabbed into oblivion. They had won – Nezznar was dead!

Time for the looting to begin!