At the end they simply told her off and said "Next time we won't be so nice!" She sauntered off in an annoyingly smug fashion, and they returned to the business of clearing out the Redcloak hideout. It was probably a good thing that they returned when they did, because the one Redcloak down in the hideout who surrendered and was tied up would probably have started getting fidgety and calling for help if they had taken any longer. Not that it would have helped him that much, probably: when they returned, the PCs came down on the remaining Redcloaks and their recently-acquired bugbear shocktroops like the hammer of the gods. Most of the Redcloaks barely had time to pull their swords out before they were mowed down like so much wheat, with Gimlet's silence spell delaying the arrival of reinforcements long enough to wipe most of the bandits out. Even the mighty Klarg the Crusher didn't get a chance to refer to himself in the third person before he'd been toasted by a burning hands, slashed with Zweihänder, sneak-attacked, had an arrow sticking out of him, and was bonked with a dwarven warhammer. So, yeah, he died.
That left the thing in the pit, which for all its creepy telepathy, was clearly panicked. It offered up a treasure in return for its life, shoving a chest out into the visible part of the pit and cowering back in a corner. Since the pit was 20' deep, the only way to retrieve the chest was to send someone down there, so they lowered the rogue on a rope to grab it, being hoisted down by the barbarian, and questioned the thing while they did so.
When they asked the thing what it was, they got the quizzical answer of, "I don't know, nobody ever asked before. I learn secrets." When asked if it knew secrets about the drow shapeshifter, it informed them "The drow shapeshifter is not a drow." This led to much blinking of eyes. Morgo asked for a secret about Glass-Staff and apparently received a whopper, which he declined to share with the rest of the party.
The treasure the thing offered up, besides the usual coins and gems, turned out to be an ancient magical greatsword named "Talon," an heirloom of the now-gone Tresendar family (probably looted from the skeleton-filled crypt at some point in the past). This was given to Mei, the folk hero, as it was a connection to the great heroes of the North Kingdom. The party piled the rest of the loot into a wagon, including some of Glass-Staff's unsent correspondence, the Redcloak treasury and armory, as well as the prisoners and some townsfolk (the woodcarver's wife and children) who had been taken prisoner to be sold as slaves, and hauled it all back to town. They turned over the Redcloak armory and stores to Lord Sildar to help establish his garrison and/or return the easily-identifiable trade goods to their owners, but kept most of the actual coins for themselves. Mei, being the folk hero, returned her share to the townsfolk to help with reparations, gaining Inspiration for a future roll.
They took the rest of the day off, and well-earned it was, too. They debated what to do next. Brannar Diamondheart, eager to go find his brother, pushed for the exploration of Wave Echo Cave, backed up by the Tylow the rogue (who is ever-loyal to his dwarven friend). Gimlet the cleric, on the other hand, argued that the dragon in Pelann was more urgent, particularly with the information the party discovered in the Redcloak hideout of there being some kind of a cult in town trying to get ahold of slaves to feed to the thing. Mei, who has been wanting to deal with the dragon from the beginning, was also in favor of this plan. Morgo reminded the party that they had agreed to the whole "barter-with-the-ghost-oracle-in-Coneybu
They finally came to the conclusion that their lack of information about Wave Echo Cave (and the potential immediate danger to Brannar's brother) was more urgent than the dragon sitting in Pelann, and decided to go at least take a look at Wave Echo Cave and figure out what was happening there, which caused Brannar to give a whoop and a holler and declare them all to be kin forever (although Gimlet literally already is). The mysterious cult will be hampered in its slave-collecting efforts at least temporarily by the fact that the Redcloaks are all dead or fled, and the potential threat of a goblin attack on the town revealed in Glass-Staff's correspondence will actually make it easier for Lord Sildar to get troops and material support for bolstering the town's defenses in the meantime.
So the group traveled to Wave Echo Cave, fighting off an attack by a hunting pack of wolves and wargs on the way as they tromped through the forest. Descending into the cave, they discovered a pair of quaggoths squatting in what had been the Diamondheart camp. Elsa identified the white-furred things as being "wendigo" and confidently said, "I'll handle this," hoisting Zweihänder and charging in. (Newsflash, Elsa: they weren't wendigo.) Fortunately for her, the rest of the party quickly followed suit. Thanks to the party rolling well, and the quaggoths rolling badly, the monsters were quickly defeated.
Investigating the campsite, there was no sign of Thobald Diamondheart, but no obvious signs of violence either, simply that the camp had been ransacked. There were signs of activity to the north, including another somewhat-lax quaggoth standing guard at an intersection who didn't seem to notice the PCs, so they instead took the passage to the east, which is where Brannar and Thobald had previously investigated. Thinking Thobald might have fled that way, the party poked around that way, finding the caved-in former entrance to Wave Echo Cave, filled with 500-years-dead dwarves and orcs and feeling for all the world like the entrance to Moria.
They went through the two rooms Brannar and Thobald had seen before, but found no sign of the missing dwarf. Tylow, convinced they were in a safe, "empty" part of the dungeon, wandered into the next room, only to find a squadron of ancient dwarvish soldier skeletons, their sense of duty stronger than death, standing guard against intruders (including those in the form of PCs). This led to a brief but intense fight, followed by a few harsh words about opening doors recklessly ("You always make me open the doors anyway!"), but the group decided that, having cleared out the skeletons, the former guard post made a nicely-defensible spot in which to make their own camp, and set up for a long rest before delving further in.
Alas, that was probably the last session we'll be able to do for a while: December is awash in holidays and conventions. I feel bad for Gimlet, who keeps getting voted down and who, upon hearing that there was a random encounter in the forest, enquired "What kills me from behind this time?" I was somewhat surprised he didn't turn the skeletons, although in 5E that has returned to the less-useful "make them scatter" than the holy-blasteyness of Pathfinder, at least until 5th level. Given how effectively I've seen sirfox play clerics in the past, I'm a bit baffled by Gimlet's relative lack of oomph. With characters spending hit dice to heal themselves during short rests, Gimlet's role of healer has been all but removed. Instead he's spent most of his time casting bless (which has been handy but not a game changer), guiding bolt (which is nice but not spectacular), and bonking things with his hammer. His main feature seems to be his unhittability, as the monsters swarm him and just bounce off his armor, putting him in the role of tank more than anything else. (Well, except for owlbears, anyway.) Pretty much anything that hits Gimlet, crits Gimlet, because it almost had to roll a 20 to connect anyway.
Tylow the rogue, on the other hand, is a sexy shoeless god of war, using Cunning Action to practically teleport across the room and sneak attacking ALL the things. Elsa the barbarian has been a virtual damage sponge, thanks to her raging damage resistance: the quaggoths for instance hit Elsa for 18 damage and she only took 9, making her also a very effective tank. Mei, although optimized for archery, has also become quite fond of wading in with her new shiny magic greatsword, making her a versatile, reliable damage dealer, leaving Morgo as the wildcard. He's an evoker, specializing in area effect blastery, but he's also the reluctant face of the party, having high scores in Int, Wis, and Cha and a tendency to be grandiose.
Overall it's a fun group, with possibly a few more wrinkles to iron out, but shaping up nicely. I was just relieved that they didn't level-up again at the end of the session: I was prepared to rule that they got "whatever XP they earned, or 1 point fewer than necessary to hit 4th level, whichever is lower," simply to slow things down. Fortunately, the XP they earned still puts them at least one and possibly two more sessions away from that. Also, the Dungeon Masters Guide finally hits the stores on Friday, and I will be snatching it up to check out alternative XP systems. I want to get away from "combat as the XP engine," and I hope there will be some good advice there. If not, I'll just have to bake my own, I guess!
Players, any thoughts on the XP progression issue?