Our merry gang settles down in the Alderleaf hayloft to take their much needed long rest, rising well after dawn has broken the next day. Early morning rains have swept over the region, dousing the last embers of the burned-down townmaster’s hall, and also obscuring any tracks leading to and and from town. The party knows that a doppelganger remains at large, but how can they find her?
They consider conducting a dragnet of the town, looking for the wounds they inflicted on the doppelganger the day before, but that seems…impractical. They decide that since they’ve armed Halia with the information about the shapechanger, Phandalin is probably as safe as it’s going to get.
Since the doppelganger can only read minds and change her own shape, each member of the party establishes a unique token that they’ll carry to prove their identity. Most use their trinkets from character creation, while Gundren uses his one-of-a-kind map to Phandelver and Sildar chooses his personal sword and griffon emblazoned shield.
[Ander has a gold whistle. Hank has wolf-fur ear muffs. Danquayle has what’s probably a 9V battery]
Their packs filled with rations donated by the Alderleafs, the party departs Phandalin without incident and dives into the foothills of the Sword Mountains. Knowing they have rough terrain ahead of them, they leave Mr. Eddie Van Halen the Horse behind.
[Considering his last couple days, he’s fine with it, actually]
They follow the well-beaten mining trails leading into the hills for a few hours as the sun rises over Ice Spire Peak and dries the rain from the earth. Sildar strikes up a conversation with the party’s newest member, the Waterdhavian noble Mistria Rockerseekre. Sildar waxes about his service in the Griffon Cavalry, and how he eventually answered the call of Lord Dagult Neverember when he sought to rebuild Neverwinter 10 years ago. He is curious regarding Mistria’s family’s standing in Waterdeep, wondering aloud if perhaps they have sway with the Masked Lords of the city, or any familiarity with the Lord’s Alliance. Sildar recognizes that he may have blown his chance to bring Phandalin under the protection of Neverember’s alliance, but a Rockseeker with holdings in a lucrative regional mine might stand a better chance at challenging Halia Thornton’s Zhentarim influence.
Gundren continues to guide the party, taking them off the established trail and into rougher terrain. They’ve travelled about 3 hours when they spot a thin wisp of smoke on the horizon. Hank and Ander shimmy to the top of a hill to spy a narrow ravine up ahead, guarded by a single orc. Camp-fire smoke rises from deeper in the ravine behind him. Gundren confirms that the ravine is the only way forward, but he never encountered orcs in this region before.
While Ander acts as lookout, Hank skitters between the boulders leading up to the guard. He gets right up to the guard’s back before being noticed, but manages to knock him out cold before he can reach the orc camp within the ravine. Hank spies 6 orcs sitting around a tent and campfire, with another unfamiliar figure tied to a makeshift flagpole nearby. He reports back to the party with the unconscious orc guard.
They rouse the orc, who is surprised to find himself surrounded by the very party he and his mates were waiting to ambush. His leader, Brughor Axe-Biter, had lead them from Wyvern Tor to raid any miner’s camps they could find in the region. That morning they had caught a lone individual wandering the hills who tried to barter for their release by warning the orcs of a certain party of adventures coming from Phandalin to slay them. Instead, Brughor kept the wanderer as hostage, and vowed to destroy the party and then burn all of Phandalin to the ground.
No one likes the sound of that one bit. Sildar and Gundren hang back while the rest of the party marches forward to the mouth of the ravine. Hank tries to challenge Brughor to single combat, but as the crazed orc leader charges out of his tent, they all realize that these foes have very little in common with the honor-bound, hobgoblin warriors they fought before.
Brughor screams a string of profanities at the party and gets his berserk on. Unfortunately for Brughor, his orc buddies roll initiative very badly, and he takes a severe amount of punishment before anyone comes to his aid. He attempts to back off and regroup, but gets pounded into the dirt before he can take so much as a second swing.
Brughor’s troop is really not feeling the whole “burn Phandalin to the ground” thing, so they collect their guard buddy and scamper back off to their homeland. The party has suspicions about the orc’s captive, so Ander proceeds into the ravine alone, protected by their ring of mind shielding. They hope. This whole time, the ring has been whispering thoughts in Ander’s head, urging them to trust no one, and congratulating them on being so clever. Ander is growing to dislike this voice, but has yet to find a reason to remove the ring
The bard finds an elderly dwarf tied to the pole. He looks up wearily at Ander and begs to be let go. He claims his name is Nundro Rockseeker, and that’s he’s been through a terrible ordeal. Ander doesn’t buy it, but summons Gundren anyway. Gundren is overjoyed to see his older brother alive and wants to free him immediately, but Ander says not so fast. Earlier Gundren had stated that if either of his brothers might have escaped, it would be his younger, sprightly brother Tharden. Nundro claims that he escaped while the Black Spider was busy dealing with the monsters down in the cave. From the sidelines, Hank scribbles a note and flashes it to Ander, telling them to check for arrow wounds (a poor intelligence check means the monk misspells both words, but his calligraphy is exquisite). Ander finds wounds on the dwarf’s arm and torso, but there are many other wounds surrounding it making a positive ID difficult. Nundro acknowledges that the orcs roughed him up, and begs to be set free.
At this point, everyone except for Gundren remains convinced that Nundro is the doppelganger in disguise, but no one can prove it. They all gather round and to Gundren’s horror, Hank decides to test his theory by beating Nundro unconscious. He pummels the dwarf, who takes a surprising amount of damage before crying out “Enough already!” They find the doppelganger’s black armor and scimitars in the tent alongside Brughor’s spoils, and Nundro shifts his face to that of the female drow agent, angrily submitting to the party.
Unfortunately, no one can decide what to do with the shape-changer. If they leave her, she could escape and ambush them later, but if they take her, even restrained, she can still read everyone’s minds (except for Ander’s). Hank wants to just kill her, since shape-changers freak him out, but other argue that she hasn’t actually killed anyone (yet), and that she may be able to help them navigate the mine. She tells them that Black Spider is in fact a drow, accompanied by some bugbears, Iarno Albrek, and an unknown number of giant spider servants. She adds that the mine itself is full of dangers and monsters, and the Black Spider is down in the deepest reaches of the mine trying to unlock its secrets.
Sildar proposes a deal to the doppelganger, whose name turns out to be Vyerith: if she accompanies them and does not betray them, he will tell her where they buried her brother. She agrees to the terms. They cut the pole off at the ground, leaving Vyerith bound to the stake, and take a short rest before continuing on their way.
Defeated: 7 orcs, 1 orc berserker (dead), i doppelganger (captured)
Acquired: Doppelganger, orc spoils, 3 bottles of perfume
NPC’s met: Brughor Axe-Biter (deceased), Nundro Rockseeker Vyerith
Quests: Deal with the doppelganger, help the Rockseekers retake Phandelver, rescue Nundro and Tharden