Ilvia Episode 14: The Khazok

Thursday 18 June 498

After the light of dawn revealed the Khazok, the party spent a few minutes talking about the ship, its role, and what to do next. They were surprised when Michan, speaking Common, interrupted them. After spending a night outside his cell, he had recovered his composure enough to be more lucid than he had been the previous day.

"I don't mean to interrupt," he said, "but there's something I need to tell you. It's urgent. Those dwarves out there ... we have to do something. They are in great danger, and it's all my fault. I've been such a fool."

There wasn't time to explain everything, but Michan told them what he had been able to discover about the Strocchians' immediate plans. They were using Lord Katon's secret compound to prepare an attack against Darian (much as Katon himself had planned, centuries ago). The dwarven mercenaries on the Khazok had been hired to be part of this plan. What the dwarves did not know, however, was that the Strocchians planned a ruse. The dwarves would launch a surprise attack against Darian; a separate Strocchian fleet would then arrive from the sea, ostensibly coming to Ilvia's rescue. The dwarves would be destroyed, and then the Strocchians would establish a military presence in Darian, supposedly to provide protection.

Michan was particularly remorseful about his role in this. Normally, dwarven mercenaries would never have agreed to attack Darian, no matter how handsome the fee; it would have been bad business, and an unacceptably risky mission. So Michan had used his magical specialty to provide additional motivation. He used an adaptation of his glyph-trap magic, combined with the sort of area-effect perceptual magic he'd used to conceal Katon House from the people of Katon.

Aboard the Khazok, guarded by a small group of Strocchians, was a magical orb; as long as the dwarves were within several miles of this orb, it maintained false memories that had been implanted in their minds. The dwarves believed that their homes and families had been attacked by forces sent by the mayor of Darian; they were eager to accept the Strocchians' commission, since it aligned with their desire for revenge. Michan had provided this magic believing that the dwarves were to be part of a larger invasion force, and that the Strocchians merely wanted to ensure their dedication to the mission. Now he knew that the Strochians intended to betray the dwarves, as part of their own plans.

With this new information, the party realized they had to intervene. It was hard to predict what the dwarves would do; they had been instructed to wait to be contacted, and did not know the exact location of the secret harbor. A way needed to be found to destroy Michan's orb, but how? Attempting to contact the dwarves was out of the question because of their hostility toward Ilvians. Getting aboard the ship unnoticed seemed impossible.

After some discussion, the party realized that the magic lantern Tagart was carrying might be useful. Within its area of effect, it neutralized Michan's perceptual magic in Katon, and had allowed the party to see the house. Although he did not understand its operation, Michan believed it would similarly counter the magical orb aboard the Khazok. Any of the affected dwarves who came within its area of effect would have their minds freed from the orb's influence, and it would then be possible to convince them of the truth -- as long as they remained within that area.

They planned a deception of their own. They would leave in place the illusion hiding the harbor entrance, so no one aboard the Khazok would be able to see what happened ashore. Eventually, realizing something was wrong, the dwarves and their Strocchian contacts would find the harbor entrance on their own, and would come ashore by passing through the illusion. Meanwhile, the party would play dead: the humans (and half-elf) in the party would put on Strocchian tunics and lie on the ground among the dead Strocchians already there from the previous day's battle. (Jalafin and Orbin, who could not pass for Strocchians, would hide.) They would ambush the landing party, and then plan to return to the Khazok, disguised as Strocchian guards and prisoners.

Watching through the concealed harbor entrance, they saw a small launch leaving the Khazok with a landing party aboard. They concealed the magic lantern in a stack of construction materials near the middle of the harbor; if any dwarves were among the landing party, hopefully the lantern would make it possible to convince them not to fight. Jalafin and Orbin taught the others in the party a Dwarvish phrase they hoped might convince any dwarves in the landing party of their nonthreatening nature. The dwarves hid behind debris and construction materials while the others donned Strocchian tunics and arranged themselves among the bodies. Michan remained out of sight on the stairs above the harbor, along with Autumn's dog Fetcher.

As they waited quietly, the launch drew up to the sheer rock wall to one side of the invisible harbor entrance. After a few minutes, the launch came into view. A human soldier wearing a Strocchian tunic was leaning over the side, tapping on the stone wall; as the boat moved in front of the entrance, his hand passed through the illusion, causing him nearly to fall out. Navigating to what they judged to be approximately the center of the opening, the landing party then turned the boat and brought it into the harbor.

The party consisted of six Strocchian soldiers, some human and some half-orc, and one dwarven officer. Squinting into the relative darkness inside the harbor, the lead human and the dwarf cursed when they saw the bodies. The landing party poured out of the boat and fanned out across the beach inside the harbor, moving toward the closest bodies to examine them. Just as the lead Strocchian was about to kick Janis's apparently lifeless body, Jalafin appeared from his hiding place, shouting in Dwarven: "They are tricking you, brother!" He followed this with a Dwarven war cry and charged directly at the nearest Strocchian. Orbin echoed Jalafin's statement in Dwarven as he emerged. Tagart stood to cast a spell, Katra climbed to her feet and attacked, and the battle ensued.

Nigel, moving up to stand beside Katra, shouted in Dwarven "Stand clear! We mean you no harm!" before attacking the Strocchian leader. Jalafin, in Common, yelled "Curse you and your exploitation of my people!" The dwarven officer stood still and looked completely unsure what to do. He was clearly beginning to doubt what he had been told about the situation. Eventually, as the battle raged around him, he stepped back toward the boat. As he passed outside the magic lantern's area of effect, his expression changed; no longer in doubt, he drew his war hammer and charged at Janis. His blow connected, but suddenly in doubt again, he pulled his punch and did only half damage. Once again he seemed unsure what to do.

Responding to an order from the Strocchian leader, one of the half-orcs grabbed the dwarf by the arm and attempted to pull him back toward the boat before he was pushed back by two powerful magic missiles shot by Tagart (who was using the wand Orbin had given him). The dwarf took a step back toward the boat and hesitated before climbing in and drawing a throwing hammer. "We won't let them hurt you!" said Nigel, turning his back on the dwarf and rejoining the battle. Within minutes the combat had ended, with all of the humans and half-orcs dead.

Bringing the magic lantern with them, the party approached the dwarf, Garv, and spoke to him. He was confused; "What the hell is going on?" he demanded of Orbin and Jalafin. "How can you fight alongside these Ilvian humans after what they did to our people?"

"What exactly did they do?" Orbin asked. "When? Where did it happen? How many of them were there?" Unable to provide any details about what he thought he knew, the dwarf became even more confused. Talking him through it logically, Orbin and Jalafin eventually convinced him that what he remembered was false. "We stumbled onto what we believe is a plot by the Strocchians. They tricked you, through the use of magic that fills you with rage and hatred and violence."

Eventually convinced that what they were telling him was true, Garv was infuriated about what had been done to him and his men, and offended by the magic that was being used on his men. He offered to help wipe out the wizards aboard the Khazok, destroy the orb, and end the enchantment. The question was how to get aboard; the magic lantern would keep Garv free of the enchantment as long as he stayed close, but its effect was not broad enough to affect the entire ship.

Eventually they decided to take the launch back to the Khazok, disguised as Strocchian soldiers with prisoners along (and with Orbin and Jalafin posing as dwarven mercenary contacts). Michan stayed behind in his workshop on the top level of the underground complex, waiting for their return. They rowed out to the ship, drew alongside, and climbed up the rope ladder without arousing any suspicion from the crew on deck (although Nigel did lose his grip on the ladder, saved by Tagart from falling into the water).

Speaking to the nearby dwarven soldiers, Garv introduced Jalafin by saying "he made this deal for us." Orbin, he said, was his cousin, who was offering them some good bargains on supplies. They headed below, ostensibly to take the prisoners to the brig; instead they went forward to the compartment where Garv said the Strocchian command post -- with the orb -- was located.

The dwarven guards, under Garv's command, allowed them into the room, where the Strocchians looked up to see Garv entering the room with a group of unfamiliar people. "Get the orb," Jalafin told Garv in Dwarvish.

However, the Strocchian commander spoke Dwarvish. Upon hearing this, she ordered all of the soldiers to arms; they stood and drew their weapons, as Autumn closed the door and barred it with a sword. Battle ensued, as Garv evaded the soldiers and ran toward the small table at the far end of the room where the orb rested. He began pounding on the orb with his war hammer. Eventually Jalafin joined him, dealing the orb the final blow that shattered it.

Soon the battle ended; all of the Strocchians were dead, and the orb destroyed. Garv reopened the door and spoke to the soldiers outside, now freed from the influence of the orb. He told them to gather all of the men on deck so that he could speak to them and explain what had happened. It was time to decide what to do next.