Escape From Ironheart


The Baron of Gast was a particularly cruel man, made all the more so by his general intolerance and lack of humor. He was not without his pleasures, however, most of which involved inflicting pain on the weak and helpless. The nature of his desires thus mandated a constant supply of victims, which was difficult to maintain without eliciting the king’s attention.

King Tallond IV, the current ruler of the kingdom of Narle and the Baron’s liege lord, had developed a reputation as being somewhat of a do-gooder. Although loathe to directly interfere in any of his vassals’ affairs, he would certainly not look kindly on the Baron if his tastes continued to lead to the disappearance of his serfs. And there was very little the Baron could offer in order to convince the king to “look the other way”.

The Barony of Gast was a rather insignificant stretch of rocky highland positioned along the southern border that the human kingdom of Narle shared with the elves. Along the northern border of Gast the rocky highlands gave way to grassy foothills, allowing a pastoral existence for the serfs living there. Other than that, however, Gast’s sole remaining export was the meager amount of metal ore dragged from the mines dotting the mountains covering the rest of the Barony. The last and final resource the Baron had at his command could not be exported, for it was a place, not a thing: Ironheart.

Discovered several centuries ago, the ancient fortress was dubbed Ironheart by its human discoverers due to its rather unique nature: the fortress and its surrounding walls were made entirely out of hardened iron. A powerful aura of magic also surrounded the place, preventing any entrance or exit from the structure via magic. This, in addition to the fact that it was situated on top of a mountain with sheer cliffs falling away from the fortress on every side – the one winding path carved into a cliff face the only way up – made Ironheart the perfect unassailable fortress.

Since that time the fortress has remained in human hands, a powerful bargaining chip in negotiations with the elves. As a sign of good faith the king at the time of Ironheart’s discovery allowed the Barony of Gast to retain ownership of the structure rather than seize it as a national resource. No doubt the current King Tallond IV regretted his predecessor’s decision as possession of Ironheart gave the Baron of Gast a powerful bargaining chip against him. This was likely the only thing stopping the king from crushing the Baron out of hand, as rumors of his cruelty abounded throughout the kingdom. But it was not enough for the Baron’s behavior to be excused entirely, and the Baron knew that the king’s patience was beginning to wear thin.

Recognizing the need to soon develop an “appropriate” source for his victims, the Baron eventually determined that no one, not even the great King Tallond IV, really cared that much about what happened to criminals. Judged guilty by the courts or occasionally a noble, these pathetic souls were found deserving of punishment and imprisoned until it had been meted out, whether this was a specific act or the simple passage of time. Once found deserving of punishment, most criminals were forgotten about by the ones who had sent them there.

It was this quality that most interested the Baron, although the fact that criminals were often made of a bit sterner stuff than pathetic serfs also intrigued him. The fact that what the Baron intended to do to them was likely far beyond their intended punishment didn’t bother him, nor did the thought that some criminals might indeed be innocent of their crimes. Someone had deemed these hapless fools deserving of punishment and that is exactly what the Baron would provide. Once turned over to him, what that punishment turned out to be was no one’s concern but the Baron’s.

The very thought of having a nigh-endless supply of guilt-free victims excited the Baron immensely, and he immediately set to work establishing himself as the “Warden of Narle”. Unfortunately, his plans quickly hit a snag: there were no prisons in Gast, and thus no ready place to store those turned over to him for “punishment”. This might have brought about the end of the Baron’s plan altogether, as the construction of a suitable prison would have taken years, and the Baron certainly hadn’t the patience to wait that long.

But once again, the ancient fortress of Ironheart came to the evil man’s rescue. Beneath the iron structure lied a modest dungeon, with numerous tunnels stretching down into the mountain beneath that. It would therefore be a simple matter to convert some of those tunnels into additional cells, expanding the dungeon and converting a place designed to keep people out into a place that kept them in.

And so the Ironheart Fortress became the Ironheart Bastille, converted seemingly overnight as the first prisoners were locked into the dungeon and work began in the tunnels below. At first this change was kept secret, but as the dungeon cells began to swell with criminals and other “undesirables” from throughout Gast, it became harder to mask the ancient fortress’s newest function. Eventually the Baron went public, announcing his intentions and even offering room in his cells to neighboring provinces.

Surprisingly, a few nobles took the Baron up on his offer; their own prisons having been pressed to full capacity for some time. This bought the Baron a few allies, and it was whispered that he obtained still more when he discretely offered to house those secret prisoners that each noble had, but wished none to ever know about. It was these allies who gave the Baron enough support to force King Tallond IV to tolerate the Baron’s behavior for a bit longer.

But years passed, and perhaps distracted by other matters King Tallond IV never got around to dealing with the Baron. Soon after opening the doors of his prison to the outside world, the Baron realized that there were many who were willing to even pay to send their prisoners there. And thus the Barony’s new largest import also became its largest source of income: prisoners. These funds the Baron mostly returned to Ironheart in the way of further investment, keeping a small percentage to line his own pockets with. The prison below Ironheart grew ever larger and more oppressive, as its occupants began to come from further and further outside the Barony.

Today Ironheart is known across the continent as the final stop in a prisoner’s journey. Unless destined for a personal meeting with the Baron, who has only grown in cruelty and creativity with age, no prisoner ever exits its dark gates. Those sent to Ironheart are sent to die, or worse. Rumors now abound that the Baron has grown disappointed with the source of income from imprisoning other lords’ criminals. Seeking ever greater wealth, the Baron has now allowed sections of the prison to be rented out by darker powers, allowing them access to handfuls of prisoners for “experiments”, “rituals”, and other nefarious purposes.

The Warden of Ironheart, a man nearly capable of rivaling the Baron’s sadism and who has been the prison’s director for the past twenty years, has also recently started a number of programs designed to increase the prison’s income. While previously satisfied to lock the prisoners away and allow them to rot, a change has recently come over the Warden. Now, many unlucky prisoners are put to work: sent down to the mines below the prison levels or flung into the Arena to be torn apart by beasts to satisfy bloodthirsty spectators.

The mining initiative does not seem to be going quite as well as planned, however, as many prisoners say that they now only dig on the first few levels, with even the guards afraid to tred down into the deepest tunnel sections beneath Ironheart. The occasional missing guard seems to lend credence to the fear that something is living in the darkest tunnels beneath Ironheart, but no one seems to have any idea as to what that may be.

Despite these recent changes to the operation of Ironheart, it is still mainly a prison and place of suffering for those who have had the misfortune of being sent there. The days are mainly a monotony of boredom and fear, broken by occasional bouts of suffering as the guards pick out their latest victim. This is all about to change, however, because someone is about to accomplish the unthinkable, and Escape from Ironheart.

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