Tuesday 16 June 498
As nightfall approached, the group discussed their plans for the assault on Katon House. With only six bored guards on duty outside the house, it did not seem that it would be too difficult to gain entry, but they wanted to take advantage of the element of surprise. Eventually they agreed that Katra would try to quietly eliminate the two perimeter guards, and and if all went well, the remaining four guards would have very little warning.
Around 11:00 at night, an hour before the next scheduled guard change, the party quietly approached the crest of the hill, where the trail from below opened out onto the plateau where Katon House was situated. Katra took cover in the bushes right beside the clearing. When the first patrolling guard passed her hiding place, she was able to kill him before he even knew anything had happened. The second guard, however, was able to cry out and draw his weapon. The other four guards immediately reacted; three drew their weapons and began to move toward the trail, while the fourth opened the back door and called out to someone inside the house before running to join the battle.
The adventurers emerged at a run from the trail, fanning out to the left and right in order to cover both entrances to the house; Orbin circled around behind the stable to approach the rear door of the house. The four guards were clearly outmatched, but soon the back door flew open and five more guards ran out, knocking Orbin to the ground. He was now flat on his back and surrounded by five enemy soldiers.
The rest of the party continued to battle the other guards. Autumn seemed to be having difficulty scoring a hit with her bow, as did Nigel with his crossbow; meanwhile, Tagart seemed unable to hit anything with either his sword or his dagger. Fortunately, the others were doing better, and soon the four original guards were defeated. Nigel, Janis, and Jalafin ran to the back door, where Orbin was surrounded by enemies but was fighting well; eventually he managed to get clear enough so that Nigel could heal some of the wounds he'd sustained.
In short order the battle was over, and the party entered the front door of the darkened house. They were baffled to find that the entire house appeared to be dark, empty, and long abandoned. There was no indication that it had been occupied in centuries, nor any sign of where the guards had come from. But after mapping the rooms, they noticed a dead space between the kitchen and the master bedroom. Nigel cast a Detect Secret Doors spell, which immediately revealed a concealed doorway opening from the master bedroom onto a narrow stairway leading down.
Quietly, the party descended the stairs in single file, with Katra in the lead. Rounding the corner at the bottom of the stairs, she found an open doorway with light coming from the room inside. Quietly, she peered around the doorway to see what appeared to be a disused conference room; a man sat at the far end of the table, surrounded by books, parchment, quills, ink, and wooden boxes. It was Darnell, the contact to whom Orbin had delivered the wooden boxes from Thomas & Tepworth.
Darnell told the party his story. He told them that he was a member of the Kirvin magical underground, though he was more interested in the study of spellcraft and magical inscriptions than in spellcasting itself. A few weeks ago he had been hired by a man named Michan, whom he described as very strange. "He doesn't like to touch ... anything," Darnell said. Michan brought him to Katon House, where he taught him how to transcribe the glyph on the wooden boxes; apparently Michan was planning to go somewhere else, and had intended to leave Darnell to finish the work, guarded by the foreign soldiers in orange tunics, whom the party had concluded were Strocchian.
However, when Darnell discovered the letter he'd passed to Orbin -- the letter that mentioned a conspiracy against the Church of Ilvia -- he became uncomfortable with his assignment and decided to try one of the boxes on himself to see what it did. It was a new version of Michan's glyph, he said, one that Michan had been quite proud of. Rather than trying to explain its effect, Darnell suggested one of the party try it; its effect would be only transient on a person who understood the nature of the magic.
Orbin, who had already experienced an earlier version of Michan's glyph trap, volunteered. Putting down his weapons, he opened one of the newly inscribed boxes and immediately felt the familiar tingling sensation. He looked around the room until his gaze fell upon Janis, and then suddenly he remembered. He remembered, with great detail, how agents of the Church of Ilvia had abducted and murdered his brother, and for a moment -- until he recognized what was happening and shrugged off the effect -- he felt the desire to exact revenge.
As his head cleared, he explained to the party what had happened. This was not like the first glyph trap, which had caused him to feel irrational, but nonspecific, hostility at the sight of the Church holy symbol. This time, the glyph had planted false knowledge in his brain, actual memories that justified his hatred for the Church. Darnell nodded, and explained that when he'd tried the glyph on himself, he remembered that the Church was responsible for burning and destroying his family's house in Kirvin.
Darnell continued with his story. After passing the letter to Orbin the previous day, he had eavesdropped on a conversation that took place in the room across the hall. didn't know who the speakers were, and had heard only part of the conversation through the closed door.
"We should go after them," he heard one voice saying. "Clearly something has happened to them; they were only chasing a single Elf!" Darnell thought he recognizd the voice as one of the Strocchians, though he had never before heard any of them speak the Common Tongue. He speculated that perhaps they were speaking with someone who did not know their language.
"He might not have been an ordinary Elf," another voice replied. "After all, he was able to discover us here."
"Even so," said the first voice, "ten trained footsoldiers should have been able to eliminate him. And we need them back here if we are to remain on schedule. When will the khazok be here?" (Darnell was guessing at the word khazok, but Orbin said that he recognized it: it was a Dwarvish word meaning "weapon.")
A guttural third voice answered this question. "Very soon. A day or two at most."
"Very well," said the first voice. "We must clear the way by then, and we must have those boxes ready. Then we can dispose of those wizards. They will have served their purpose."
This last comment terrified Darnell. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to report this conversation to Michan, who in turn had gone immediately to confront the Strocchians. He had not returned, and Darnell now wondered what had happened to him. He pointed out that Michan had left behind his spell book, which he rarely let out of his sight, so clearly he had intended to return momentarily. Darnell could only speculate about the meaning of any of this.
From Michan, Darnell had also learned a little of the history of Katon House: that Lord Katon had apparently been preparing some sort of action against King Laurence during the War, five hundred years ago, and that this long-abandoned underground complex was part of that plan. Now, it seemed that the Strocchians and the magicians they were working with were trying to clear the way to something below that they wanted access to, but Darnell -- who had rarely been allowed to leave the conference room -- did not know what that was.
Taking Darnell with them, the party then explored the room across the hall, which appeared to be a small auditorium or briefing room. Some packs and bedrolls in the corner indicated that this room was where the Strocchian soldiers had been camped while not on duty. On the dais at the far end they found a couple of faded sheets of parchment; one was a map of northwestern Ilvia as it existed before Heyraud's blast, and the other appeared to be a hand-drawn sketch showing a battle plan for an attack on Darian -- an attack coming from Katon. It seemed that the rumors were true: Katon had been plotting to overthrow the King.
Behind the door at the far end of the corridor, the party found stairs leading down, and the cool breeze from below suggested more than just another room at the bottom. In order to see better, Orbin removed a torch from the nearby wall; but as he did so, he discovered a loose stone, and quickly determined that there was another secret door.
Behind this door they found a small room that appeared to be Lord Katon's private office, apparently undiscovered and undisturbed for 500 years. On the desk they found several scraps of paper that were still readable. The first appeared to be a sort of political manifesto, written by Katon on the eve of his doomed stroke against the King:
March 19, 1014
I cannot know what will happen during the days to come, but I feel that it is appropriate for me to set down my thoughts so that future generations might understand why I have done what I have done.
For a thousand years the rulers of our Kingdom have benefited from the wisdom of the glorious Magicians' Guild. Our rulers -- including our own King Laurence -- have enjoyed the advice of Guild magicians, while the magicians themselves have been content to remain uninvolved in political matters and subject to the rule of their nonmagical inferiors.
I have long believed this policy to be foolish. It is the right of magicians to govern their own affairs; and their natural superiority makes them best qualified to rule Ilvia. I have made no secret of this belief, and I have put it into practice here in Katon, where my benevolent rule (though without official sanction) speaks for itself. Guildmaster Heyraud, however, has refused to acknowledge the wisdom of my position, even as the King has led Ilvia into a disastrous war he cannot hope to win.
My efforts to bring about change in Guild policy have been futile, and I recognize that I have no hope of breaking Master Heyraud's grip on that body. Therefore I must take matters into my own hands and do what I must to save the Kingdom. The Guild will not assert the rightful power of Magicians, so I will do so myself. I must assume the throne of Ilvia before disaster overtakes us all. If Heyraud means what he says, he will not stand in my way; this is, after all, a political dispute over the rulership of the Kingdom.
I do this for the good of Ilvia and for the good of the Magicians' Guild itself. I cannot change the Guild from within, but once I sit upon the throne of Ilvia I will be in a position to negotiate a new relationship with the Guild. Too long have we lived in a divided society, with Magicians marginalized and denied the opportunity to fully exercise their power. Too long has the Guild maintained its aloofness.
The other paper bore a letter, written on the same date:
I believe we may have an opportunity to accelerate our plans.
The war continues to go badly, and word has reached me that King Laurence has just sent eight more ships to reinforce the fleet for some new strategy. This leaves few to defend Darian. His Majesty's misfortune is good news for us.
Of course the king is no fool, and he has not left Darian entirely undefended against a naval assault. But he imagines only an attack from the sea; an invasion from inland he will not expect. The few ships remaining will be off the coast, their vigilance directed to the west. The palace itself will be protected only by the palace guards.
If we send a small force over land to assault Darian from the east, this should serve to draw off most of the remaining defenders and divert attention away from the River. At the same time we will send our fleet to take the Palace. By the time any of the king's ships can respond to our approach, our forces will be ashore.
The time has nearly arrived for our stroke to fall. Make ready your ships and prepare to sail within three days.
Nigel recognized the old-style dates: these documents had been written only days before Heyraud's blast. Indeed, the letter seemed to be describing King Laurence's redeployment of his naval forces in order to attack Stargald, the ill-conceived attack that had brought Heyraud's wrath upon Ilvia. Katon's plot was foiled by bad timing; his fleet had been on its way to Darian when the blast hit, and it had been destroyed along with the rest of the Kingdom.
As they were studying the ancient documents, suddenly a voice cried out "WHO ARE YOU?" They turned to see a ghastly apparition: a pale, translucent figure, gaunt and shriveled, looking like the long-dead corpse of a great lord. Their horror was such that they could feel the strength draining from their limbs, but it soon became clear that the ghost -- the ghost of Lord Katon himself -- did not intend to attack them. "Who are you?" Katon repeated.
The party attempted to explain, but Katon did not seem to comprehend. He asked questions like "Have you come back for me?" and "Has Heyraud come to his senses?" He gibbered, saying "So long ... so alone ... they left me." It seemed that his long solitude, along with the devastating failure of his grand scheme, had left him insane. They were, however, able to get him to talk about what had happened to him, becase that was all he had dwelt upon for centuries.
Katon rambled about how, on the eve of his move against the King, all of the Guild wizards (including himself) had been suddenly recalled to the Guildkeeps; how he had traveled to Randa, only to have his magical supplies disappear without him; how he had returned to Katon to wait alone, apparently the only wizard left on the Ilvian continent, until the Blast destroyed the Kingdom. He had been abandoned by the Guild, punished because of his violation of the Guild's policy against involvement in political affairs. He had waited in solitude for many years (though he had no clear sense of how long), but had quite recently been disturbed. This had prompted him to look around in the town, but the people he encountered there had screamed and passed out.
He somehow seemed to recognize Tagart as a wizard, mistaking him for a Guild magician, and asked again, "Have you come back for me? The other magician would tell me nothing." Seizing on this, the party asked Katon who this other magician was, and Katon offered to take them to him. They agreed, and Katon then sank through the floor.
The party headed down the stairs to explore the complex and try to find out where Katon had gone. At the bottom of the stairs they found a large room that looked like a mess hall infested with giant centipedes that emerged from a crack running across the floor. After killing the centipedes, they continued through the mess hall to find a corridor leading to what appeared to be an armory, and beyond that an archery range. Avoiding a gelatinous cube, they walked through a series of barracks across from several smaller rooms that appeared to be officers' quarters. Here, apparently, Lord Katon had mustered an army.
At the end of the corridor, the party found another flight of stairs leading down to yet another level. Since it was already past midnight, they decided to return to town to get some rest before continuing their exploration. Returning to the top level, they gathered up Darnell's transcription supplies and burned the wooden boxes in the fireplace. They also dragged the bodies of the guards they had killed down to the mess hall where they had fought the centipedes. Unless other members of the conspiracy arrived, they felt sure no one would notice what had happened at Katon House, particularly since the magical effect still prevented anyone from the town from perceiving it.
Finished covering their tracks, they headed down the hill and returned to town, planning to return the next day.