Markham, 8th level human preserver
Khanji, 4th level human gladiator
At the top of the stairs (1-1), Group A gingerly (and invisibly) explores a very well-lit and very busy first level: the main cavern, the barracks (1-9) and front gate (1-2) to the south, a few doors to the master rooms (1-5, 1-6, 1-7) and a the Mekillot docking area (1-4) and a passages to the north. In the north-east of the main cavern (1-8), an old man in a rust uniform stands holding a quill and book, and watching sand fall through an hourglass, shaking his head furiously. Other than him, everyone on this level is dressed in Troika uniform. After a few minutes, a few sweaty rust troops come panting up the staircase. They rush to OLD MAN and quickly group into two lines. OLD MAN is angry at them, and the troops seem to be apologetic and deferential to him.
Group A continues to watch OLD MAN in uniform arguing with the young rust troops. He reprimands the troops, but eventually is compelled to listen and eventually it is them that are talking and he that is shaking his head. Suddenly more rust troops begin to emerge from a narrow passage (1-4) at the northwest corner that group A had originally sized up as some sort of pantry. Group A is confused by this, but eventually reasons that the "pantry" must somehow connect to another cavern.
[Aside: If the party had thought to get BERN to more thoroughly describe the fortress before going here in the first place, they might have realized that someone had broken through one of the walls that Ianto had made to seal off the cavern. The original caverns were made from a river which gradually over millennia moved further underground hence the deeper caverns. During the late blue age, the water level of the river had fallen to just below the top of the well on the second level, and these caves were part of a small halfling town. By the mid-Green Age, the river hit an arsenide vein in the mountains, and most halflings had left Tyr'agi to avoid the mysterious deaths of those who drank the waters. The encroaching New Races took over many of the habitations of the halflings, and cleaned up enough water sources for the renamed city of "Tyr" to thrive. But these caverns remained empty until the late Green Age, when the new Tyrian inhabitants used the many snug life-shaped caverns on the second level to hold prisoners and hostages from a long-lasting war hence the secure doors on the second level. (The gradual poisoning of the prisoners from the water supply was regarded as an incentive for the enemies of Tyr to quickly pay the extortionate ransoms of the prisoners.) Ianto never realized that the Cistern Fiend that he had placed to protect the well also purified the fort water of deadly poisons.]
The new group of rust troops (over a hundred of them) looks upset and confused; they like the other rust troops have white armbands on one arm or the other, though they are no longer separate according to right and left. An non-uniformed and unarmed mousy-looking woman also emerges from the "pantry"; the rust troops seem to move out of MOUSY's way as she walks towards one of the master chamber doors at the northeast of the cavern. The OLD MAN follows MOUSY, trying to ask her questions, which she does not answer immediately, intent on getting to the door. MOUSY seems seems upset, but so does everyone else in the cavern. The rust troops are milling about, trying to hear the story of their comrades who came from downstairs.
To add to the confusion, another set of partially dressed rust troops approaches from a north-west side-cavern (1-9) and shouts at the whole group "Do you want us to drill this loudly when you are trying to rest? " Group A sneaks a peak at the north-west area and sees nearly two hundred sleeping troops, and boxes of food and military equipment.
|Still invisible, Group A notes that the three Mekillots secured to the north wall of the cave (1-4) have Ianto brands, not Troika, and that they seem restless. Markham, who possesses animal handling proficiency, gathers that the lizards are hungry, even for Mekillots, and that their food and water troughs are empty. Unfortunately, the Mekillots are well-secured to the west wall.|
Group A is just considering how to use this information, when MOUSY walks back out of the master room in to the main cavern, accompanied by her dwarven bodyguard who happens to be holding BERN. The OLD MAN exits as well, followed by a very frightening-looking halfling, and finally, a waxy-faced and haired man apparently in his sixties, wearing black and yellow silks. The still-arguing rust troops clear respectfully out of the way as WAXY walks towards another room. Group A quickly moves to eavesdrop, but in spite of the busy, noisy, cavern, HALFLING seems to notice something amiss, and cocks his ear in the PCs' direction.
Group A gathers that MOUSY is TROIKA, the leader of the troops that ostensibly seized Fort Ianto, but that she seems to defer to WAXY, as does the OLD MAN that seems in charge of training the rust-troops. TROIKA, WAXY, and OLD MAN enter another room adjacent to the master room, and the bodyguards stay outside, the dwarf blocking the door, and HALFLING peering around. Suddenly HALFLING wheels and enters the room. Group A realizes that they have been spotted.
Even Khanji realizes that she cannot take on 300 troops plus reinforcements in the next room, so they move back to between the Mekillots and Markham casts Rope Trick. No sooner are they up the rope, when they see (through the Rope Trick "window") TROIKA and WAXY walking up. TROIKA stares, slowly moving her eyes across the area. After a few minutes, TROIKA looks at WAXY and shakes her head. TROIKA and WAXY walk with their bodyguards and OLD MAN to the main room.
After an hour or so, Group A (Markham and Khanji) plan to cut the Mekillots loose, and then rescue BERN in the confusion. Or so the plan goes.
Markham hangs invisibly from the Rope Trick dimension, and tries to cut one of the ropes to the wall that holds the Mekillots. Unfortunately for Markham, the critter smells him and takes a bite of wizard, catches Markham's whole leg in his mouth. Fortunately, Markham squeezes free before losing the leg. After much risk and DM amusement, Group A manages to free the two Mekillots, causing certain amount of confusion, but not as much as they had hoped. There are still plenty of troops in front of the door where TROIKA, BERN, WAXY and company are. Markham and Khanji decide to try to burst into the room, rescue BERN, take a hostage, and escape. The best way to do this, they figure, is to clear the area in front of the door with a c, then rush the door.
Unfortunately, the Fireball fails to finish off the dwarven bodyguard in front of the door (troops firing crossbows at them all the time from Areas 1-10 and 1-11). In the two rounds it takes them to get around her tough dwarven bodyguard, TROIKA uses dimension door to bring WAXY, BERN, and OLD MAN safely over to the barracks (area 1-3); HALFLING, ever-confident of his stealth abilities, hides under a bed in room 1-6. All group A knows is that they have alerted a fortress of near 700 troops, and they are trapped in a room with no where to go but out the door and yes, the players have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The door to the room happens to be in perfect firing range of the 60 Troika archers perched in the area above the gate (Areas 1-10 and 1-11).
Time for plan B? Markham decides to cast Permanent Illusion and hide behind a false wall. HALFLING, not sure what the big wizard is casting, sneaks out and backstabs him. Markham survives, but his most powerful spell is lost. Khanji pins HALFLING, and questions him. HAFLING says that TROIKA has captured all of IANTO's troops and is holding them in cells on the second level. This checks out with what BERN had told wizard A: that there were passages of cells on the second level, since this place was a prison centuries ago before it became fort Ianto. HALFLING talks Group A into surrendering to TROIKA, assuring him that TROIKA will let them live.
Before surrendering, Markham pulls his last card, or to be more precise, his Deck of Many Things, acquired in a recent adventure. He sets out to draw six (the maximum), but due to "draw-again" cards, ends up playing nine cards, including increasing his intelligence by 2, the fates card, imprisonment, and lose-all-your-material-possessions. Markham uses the fates to escape losing his possessions, and is imprisoned by TROIKA. TROIKA has Markham and Khanji forced to drink drugged wine; Group A passes out. The last thing they hear is WAXY saying:
"There are more of them. I know it. Troika, send your troops to track outdoors, see if anyone has escaped. My troops will search the fortress, which is constantly turning up new secrets. If we cannot find IANTO or the comrades of these ones, we'll have to move at dawn, before word gets out. The element of surprise is more needful than perfect preparation of my troops."
And then, of course, everything goes black. Back to Group B . . .
Proceed to to Part Three
Return to Part One