Their Scout and Delver escorts bring the Party from the Stockade room down the passageway to where the Blade Barriers had blocked Jaques from the Tavern. Lester is proud to see that his stone portcullis remains intact. They pass through the Tavern room itself, now well-lit and cleared of tables and dead Duergar to serve as a makeshift hospital for wounded Khör Dwarves.
Captain Ironhaul is found in a cleared-out space in the Storage Room not far from the stone portcullis wall. He is in conference with his remaining command staff – which at this point is two Paladins and two Lieutenants. Some senior Dwarven Defenders are present.
Ironhaul looks haggard, wounded, and weary. Seeing the Heroes enter the room, he dismisses his men to go and check their lines. The Dwarf Captain has been patched up and re-injured since the Heroes saw him last, after he fought and defeated the Duergar Commander. The Dwarf leader tries his best to maintain a strong, confident attitude.
Accepting the Heroes’ map on which to illustrate, Ironhaul marks the extent of his force’s capture of the 3rd Underground level. In the past ten hours, his Dwarves have punished the Duergar and battled back the Barbarian horde to what, for now, is a stable arrangement. The current lines can be held until time and rest recovers enough strength in his men to push again. Room by room and hall by hall, the Dwarves had fought a bitter fight against the Barbarians. The Barbarians employ different magics and different tactics altogether, compared to the Duergar.
Captain Ironhaul show the Party some of Barbarian corpses. The Heroes examine them. Lester succeeds at a Knowledge : Local check. What he finds and what it means, are unsettling.
These Barbarians, from their markings and general appearance, are of the Four Nations tribe of warriors. The Four Nations are a considerable threat north and north-east of Corinthia, on the plains and foothills north of the imposing Barrier Range, upon whose southern foothills Skywatch Tower resides.
This unruly, populous army of restless barbarians, while exceptionally dangerous in their own territory, is usually not a concern to Corinthia. The Barrier Range mountains forbid quick or secret passage by large armies. Barbarians of the Four Nations are not technologically advanced in their weapons or armor, nor do they employ horses or front any form of mounted warrior. This generally limits their movements to slow, predictable advances.
Left to their own devices in the barrens and wastes north of Corinthia’s Barrier Range shield, it is only those rare barbarian kings possessed of madness or hubris who attempt to sweep southern plains under the Four Nations banner. Maybe twice a century does Corinthia’s military find it necessary to remind the Barbarians of their place.
That a company of Four Nations warriors have taken over half of a Corinthian military fortress, re-armed themselves with superior Corinthian weapons and armor, and might soon take over the rest of Moonwatch and establish a foothold in civilized lands, is deeply chilling. Never before have northern Barbarians held any kind of stable foothold in proper Corinthian territory.
Captain Ironhaul summarizes his plan. His forces are currently resting, holding the lines they have established, and gaining back their strength. They have kept the Dwarf-held areas close to the battlefronts free from light, as had the Duergar, to better their defense against the human Barbarians. No sooner that six hours from now, and no later than ten hours hence, Ironhaul’s forces will launch another significant assault on the Barbarians, in an attempt to push through and win out more, if not all, of this floor. As yet, no unblocked stairwells to the 2nd Underground level have been found in former-Duergar territory.
Halfling Lester, growing into a leadership role, speaks his mind, evolving the strategy he has had in mind all morning. An attack against the Barbarian lines by the Party would be a wasteful brute-force effort. Lester proposes something daring; the Heroes take a small force of Dwarves, they and the Party descend to the 5th Underground level, and exit the fortress by way of the cistern outflow tunnel.
Then, on the surface, the Party will sneak overland to one of the “pillbox” lookout bunkers that encircle and connect to the 1st Underground level, and enter one of these by force or by magic. Once inside, Lester believes the party will find the 1st Underground level as sparsely populated by Barbarians as the 5th Underground level had been with Duergar. The Halfling suspects that both sides committed the vast majority of their forces to the fight on the 3rd Underground level.
If they move carefully, Lester believes the Party can check and secure the Tower of Moonwatch itself, then work downwards through the 1st and 2nd Underground levels to, hopefully, appear behind the Barbarian blockades on the 3rd Underground level in a flanking position.
It’s a pretty solid plan. No objections from anyone. Captain Ironhaul does not have much to lend, but arranges three allies for the Party : Two Dwarven Scouts, and a Dwarven Defender nicknamed “Stumpy” (an NPC played by T.D.) The Party is grateful for any help they can steal away from the efforts here.
Now to some awkward, uncomfortable business. Lester confronts Kartug Igmutin gently. The Halfling, always concerned for the well-being of his more trusted allies, politely and tactfully suggests that his Greater Curse‘d Half-Orc friend consider sitting out this sortie. There is a rearguard base of Khör Dwarves on the 4th Underground level, where Lester believes Kartug should rest and wait. With the fighter beset by the terrible curse of frequent inaction in combat, Lester does not believe that Kartug should risk joining the Party in combat.
The relative merits of Lester’s proposal are debated. In the end a majority of the Party, and Kartug himself, agree it may be for the best. In the critical thinking Lester has been doing all morning, the Halfling suggests to Kartug that it may be possible, later today or early tomorrow, for the two of them and possibly also Genive to Teleport back to the town of Meadowshade and look into procuring a Wish or Miracle spell to undue the Curses.
Given the Party’s notoriety and standing in Meadowshade, however, it may take a Wish or Miracle to even find a spellcaster and a temple willing to barter with them for services…