- When the sun begins to set the adventurers track up the side of the canyon. By the time darkness has fully emerged they are in position on the canyon wall over the west tower. Durgyn holds a rope ready to pull up Rhinn in case Landen finds him while inside. Landen perches on the edge of the cliff and drinks a potion of dark vision. After he watches the next shift’s two guards come up to the tower he signals to Hillfort. The two dwarves on watch talk with the two coming to relieve them… and the tower hatch is left open. Hillfort casts a spell of invisibility on Landen and the thief drops over the edge of the cliff. He runs down the rock face using his slippers of spider climb. Landen drops quietly onto the tower and walks down, invisible to the four duergar, into the open tower hatch. As he walks down the stairs he drinks a zone of silence potion. Down the corridor and into the halls of the fortress, Landen climbs onto the ceiling, his slippers allowing him to walk along above the hallways. Landen gets to the door noted by their duergar captive and a metal grate above the closed door, which allows for airflow throughout the fortress, provides the thief a look to the other side. Inside he sees a massive room with thirty duergar training in combat. Movable walls are set up in one section where they are running through tunnel combat scenarios, in another area pairs of warriors practice combat moves together, and in yet another a group practices weapon strikes on wooden dummies. Discovering that the captive dwarf the adventurers hold had lied about the location of prisoners (no surprise there) Landen decides to continue exploring for the short duration of the invisibility spell (7 minutes). He moves through the hallway ceilings, invisible and completely silent. He looks through the grate above another door and observes duergar setting up food in a large dining hall, preparing for the evening meal. He turns the corner and comes to another door, and inside he observes three desks; some sort of office for command staff it appears. Landen attempts to pick the lock upside-down while hanging from the ceiling and is completely baffled. He decides perhaps he can’t pick locks upside-down quite yet and places his feet on the floor. Even with proper orientation, the thief finds the lock beyond his skills, nearly getting a pick stuck in the tumbler. He continues on and observes another office, this one with one large desk and shelves with various trinkets from different cultures and races. Many documents and ledgers are also held in the office… and the door is locked. One item on the desk is some strange alien looking figure which runs a chill through Landen’s spine. It vaguely reminds him of the Reality Wrinkle back in Brindonford. That had been so long ago he had not thought about it, but this reminder brought back old thoughts he’d prefer forgotten.
- Landen decides he’s lost and running out of time on the invisibility spell. The fortress is too large, so he heads back to the tower. He walks up the stairs and opens the hatch on the ceiling, giving no care to doing it quietly because the zone of silence aids him. The two duergar on watch and looking away from the door, leaning against the tower parapet having a mild conversation. Landen walks to the edge and stands between them. He peers over the edge and notes the considerable distance to the ground… then positions himself behind one of the dwarves. He grabs the duergar’s ankles and swiftly flips him over the edge. The dwarf screams as he plummets to his death and his watch companion watches him fall in panic. He draws his weapon and turns around, seeing nothing but the open tower door. He runs and looks inside, then yells out down the stairs. Weapon still in hand he returns to the tower’s edge and looks at the crumpled body of his watch-mate.
- The adventurers above notice the commotion and Durgyn fires and arrow and it bounces off the parapet next to the dwarf. They do not see Landen and are worried they had been found out somehow… but knowing Landen they have an idea he might be involved with the excitement unraveling. Franz also fires an arrow, this one landing firmly in the duergar’s back. The dwarfs gives a harsh cry from the impact and slumps dead, his body draped over the parapet. Landen plants his boot firmly on the duergar’s rump and kicks him off the tower. The invisibility spells wears off and Landen reappears. He waves up to his companions, grabs the rope dangling down from Durgyn and ties it off taught to the tower door. He uses hand signals with Durgyn asking if he is coming down or Landen should go up. Landen climbs to the top and immediately points to their captive, “he lied to us.” Landen describes his findings inside the fortress, and Hillfort questions the duergar.
“Perhaps they moved the prisoners, changed the use of space?” The dwarf claimed he was unaware of the room being used for combat training. Landen says the room was obviously always intended for training use, and appeared to never be equipped to hold prisoners.
Hillfort confronts the duergar, “It’s been a training room for a long time. Just stop lying to us.”
The dwarf becomes agitated. “What do you expect from me!? I’ve given you plenty enough.” The duergar looks at each of the adventurers, and when he notices Franz is nearest the cliff’s edge, he charges. Franz manages to step to the side, but they still become wrapped in a scuffle. Franz breaks free and kicks the dwarf in the chest, towards the cliff, but the duergar charges back. The dwarf grabs Franz and overpowers him, turning him toward the cliff and pushing the ranger back. Sapphira, the party cleric, steps forth and casts a spell, locking the duergar frozen in position. Franz untangles himself from the living statue
“He is held,” Sapphira says. Franz picks up the immobilized duergar, carries him the 5 feet to the edge and throws him over.
Their captive guide falls and impacts the tower with a sickening thud. Although his body is still frozen in the same grappling position, half of his body is crushed.
- “Now we must go in,” Landen says. “At the changing of the watch they will notice the dead guards. We strike now or our element of surprise is lost.”
Franz develops a battle scheme. “We should bottleneck those in the training hall and blast them with a fireball… or something!”
“We don’t have anything powerful enough,” Hillfort retorts. “Plus there are so many and the area is so large, that might not be effective.”
“We kill them the old fashioned way,” Landen says with a fierceness. He looks to Gerard, “blood and gold!”
Largo becomes nervous. The idea of combating a fortress full of dark dwarves seems like suicide to him. “I thought we were going to be more subtle. Isn’t that why we got the wagon? I say we use the front gate.”
“It’s too late for that,” Landen replies, his blood boiling and ready for a battle.
“Well we could split up, one team the attack force to find Rhinn and the other a diversion,” one of the adventurers suggests.
“Yeah, the wagon could be a diversion. Perhaps if there was an explosion to draw the dwarves away…”
“Wait,” Largo says, “you’re not going to set my wagon on fire again, are you?”
“That just might happen,” Landen says matter-of-factly.
Noticing a delay in time, Sapphira interrupts. “Two guards were thrown off the tower. If we do something we better do it now.”
Hillfort casts spells so everyone can see in complete darkness. Everyone prepares themselves… except Largo. He gives the party a look like they’re all insane. “Screw this plan! I’m not dying here! I’ve got a chance to get back into the merchant business, and this wagon’s the ticket. If it’s not a part of the plan and all you want to do is destroy it, I’m taking the wagon, going in that front gate, and making a bunch of gold. I’m selling the livestock and leaving this place.”
Largo begins to walk away and turns around to face the party again. “Maybe I’ll get enough to buy a boat back in the city. Then, if any of you survive, you’ll come crawling back to me to sail you home!”
At the moment of no turning back, none of the adventurer attempt to stop Largo from leaving. Ready for the infiltration of the fortress, Hillfort hands Durgyn a potion. “It would be a difficult climb for you, this should help.” Durgyn drinks and he becomes as light as air, levitating off the ground.
“Come,” the minotaur says to his companions, “I can carry you all down.” Holding three of his compatriots, Durgyn floats to the tower below. Landen runs down the cliff’s face and Gerard decides to use the rope, climbing his way down with skill despite his heavy armor. Durgyn picks up the dead duergar they traveled with and tosses his corpse off the tower to lie with the other two below. Landen leads the way inside and down the tower stairs.
- Landen’s zone of silence remains in effect and Durgyn drinks the other potion, creating two sources that move with them preventing anyone inside from hearing their movements. With their magical silence, the adventurers are able to run through the fortresses’ corridors unnoticed. They explore a hallway filled with doors; all are guestrooms. Durgyn is tall enough to look through the air circulation grates above each door as they pass by. All the guestrooms are dusty, any bedding or soft furnishings have been removed; it appears they have not been used in a long while.
- They continue their search, and Gerard peeks around a corner. He spots four duergar loudly speaking outside a fancy set of double doors.
“What are they doing?” Sapphira asks.
“I think they’re drunk,” Gerard replies with humor in his voice. “If we’re here for blood and gold, here’s our first serving.”
They quickly decide if they should attack or attempt to sneak past. Deciding stealth is not the best option, they also devise a plan to hide the bodies: Durgyn will carry them into the empty guestrooms. The party charges, and before the duergar even realize the attack they are nearly slaughtered. The zone of silence radiates from Landen and Durgyn in a ten foot radius, so once in combat with the duergar they are included in the silence… so no one else in the fortress can hear their death cries. During the charge Landen runs up the wall and stands on the ceiling, giving him a vantage point to fire his arrows down the corridor over his large minotaur friend. One of the duergar manages to draw his weapon and stumbles drunkenly toward Gerard, swinging his bastard sword and horribly missing (his balance and skills obviously hindered by intoxication). Another grabs Gerard, and with an enhanced, drunken strength, he holds Gerard’s sword-arm against the wall. The dwarves are swiftly finished off. Durgyn carries the four bodies all at once to one of the guestrooms while the party holds their position. Landen climbs up the wall and looks through the grate. On the other side of the doors is a large tavern, where a number of duergar are currently enjoying themselves.
- The party moves across the hall and Durgyn looks through another grate. inside is something that disturbs him: a chapel with tapestries similar to those in the Reality Wrinkle. Alien colors, landscapes, and creatures adorn tapestries that hang on the walls. And at the front of the chapel is an alter with the bust of a strange alien creature coming forth from it. He describes it, and Sapphira asks to be lifted up to see for herself. She recognizes the bust at the alter; it is a creature called an Illithid. The stone statute’s arms hang down, long fingers outstretched, and the tentacles hanging from its jaw are cupped down, perfectly shaped to receive the top of someone’s head. They continue to another hall and find the priest’s office/bedroom connected to the chapel. Durgyn notices a list on the desk, appearing to be a ledger. Hillfort asks to be lifted up and casts mage hand, moving the ledger from the priest’s desk and through the grate. With the large book in his hands, he casts the spell to comprehend languages again. The contents are chilling. Pages and pages of names are listed, all with a box checked beside them. Occasionally there are some without a check, and they are rather crossed out. But on the most recent page there are three names at the bottom of the list, no strike-through and no check mark. One of the names is Rhinn Ch’tishiel. The title at the front of the book: Those to be Sacrificed to the Ones Who Rule Below
“Well,” Hillfort says to Landen. “Your friend is here. Hopefully he’s alive… but it seems he’s soon to be part of some kind of sacrifice.”
“Then we better find him quick,” he replied.
- The next door holds a library on the other side. Hillfort gets excited. “Can we spend a moment here?” He notices the urgency and unamused looks on his friends’ faces. “Well… at least come back to it before leaving, after we find Rhinn.”
Then a duergar turns the corner, walking down the hall towards them. He looks up to see them and stops, his surprise evident on his face. The dark dwarf turns around to run and the party gives chase. With the duergar currently outside their zone of silence they knew they had to catch him quick, but no one was gaining distance on him. Sapphira casts a spell, and a glowing spiritual weapon appeared. The blade darted after the duergar and with one swipe removed his head. Adrenaline pumping they catch up to the now dead dwarf. Durgyn picks up the body and hides it with the others, everyone still successfully avoiding anyone walking the hallways.
- Continuing the search Durgyn looks through another door’s air grate. Inside are 12 duergar, in a large room with organized crates and trays holding various ores. The dwarves appear to be processing and sorting ore. A large door is across the room, presumably to a mine. Turning down another hall, their last to check before venturing into a long corridor more roughly cut and sloping downward, they discover a dark stone door with a grate higher than the others, nearly at the ceiling. Landen climbs up to look through, and inside he sees four duergar standing guard over 13 prisoners. He’s unable to see if Rhinn is inside.
“This is it. The prison.” Landen says not even at a whisper, as the zone of silence works in their favor. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to open this lock…” he says as he returns to the floor and pulls out his lock picks.
“You don’t need to,” Sapphira replies. She steps forward and outstretches her hands. With a few words, she moves her hands apart and the stone of the door moves with their directing. What was a solid barrier is now warped open, a hole giving passage into the prison. Landen sheepishly puts his picks back into his pouch, certainly feeling outdone.
Inside the guards turn in bewilderment as the stone door seemed to turn liquid, and now attackers rushing in at them. A fierce battle erupts inside; the duergar warriors watching the prisoners are skilled and well equipped. Franz animal companion, the badger Hanz, enters the fray. Two guards flank the fierce creature and severely wound it. Hanz slumps bloodied to the ground, motionless and eyes closed. Hillfort fills the room with a flash of light as a bolt strikes from his hands to one of the guards, electrocuting him to death. After the combat is over and the guards are killed, not without difficulty, Franz checks his badger friend. Filled with grief, Franz thought he was surely dead…. but Hanz blinked his eyes and gingerly moved his legs. The badger was alive, but barely.
- The prisoners inside were somewhat separated. The majority of them where chained to the wall in one corner, while three were chained against the wall with the doorway. One lone prisoner was chained into the farther corner of the room. Landen looks to the lone prisoner in the corner. Never meeting Rhinn, he was a little at a loss on how to find him.
“Rhinn? Are you here?”
From the group of three prisoners chained to the wall comes a groan. “Uhh? Who…?” The prisoner looks up and Landen walks to him.
“Are you Rhinn Ch’tishiel?”
“Who is it that seeks me?” Then it dawns on him. “The guild! My message made it?”
“Yes,”Landen replies. The prisoners are shackled to the wall low enough that if they stand they must stoup over, and if they sit their arms are stretched above their heads. Most of them appeared poorly taken care of, so all were currently sitting with their arms dangling from the chains over their heads. Landen knelled to speak with Rhinn. “Do you have your coin?” The coin that Landen knew every member of the Night Starlings had to prove their membership.
“You understand… Rhinn could be dead. You could be some other prisoner claiming his rescue.” Landen says jokingly with a grin. He picks the locks of Rhinn’s shackles, and when free Rhinn grasps at something then present an empty hand to Landen. Landen grasps his hand and feels something resting in Rhinn’s palm. He takes the invisible coin and feels for the relief of a starling. It is confirmed. Rhinn has been found.
- Weary, Rhinn needs aid to stand. Sapphira offers some healing, and it helps him regain some energy. “Wait,” Rhinn says. “The relic I was tracking for the guild, it must be here somewhere. He knows of it.” Rhinn points to the lone prisoner in the corner. His hair has grown long, turning grey, and a long beard is grown unkempt from his face. He looked as if he’d been imprisoned here for years, but that couldn’t be true if he was captured with the caravan at the same time as Rhinn.
“We don’t have time,” Durgyn says.
“He’s right,” Landen agrees. “We need to get you out of here.”
“Then let’s take him with us,” Rhinn replies. “I’ve worked too hard to just let it go.”
With a sense of urgency, Durgyn steps over to the grey haired prisoner. The minotaur grabs the chains locking him to the wall and rips them free. He tosses the prisoner over his shoulder and the party prepares the escape.
Speaker in Dreams
The party ventures into the fortress, deep inside the cliff