After alerting a pair of well armored and armed orcs on the pass to the gates of Karakzhar, Era and Lemaia found themselves at the mercy of their new captors. With halberds poised, the orcs lead the two up the pass, while Merle, who had managed to remain undetected, followed close behind, seeking cover behind rocks and pillars. He continued his pursuit until they arrived a hundred foot-long span that lead the the towering stone gates of the dwarven city.
One of the many crossbow-wielding sentries noticed the nimble dwarf from his perch high on the mountain, and began raining down shots. The girls were roughly forced past the gate. Merle, with few other options, fled back the way he came, vowing he would find a way in to rescue his friends.
Inside, the bard and the thief tried to press as much information as they could out of their savage subjugators, but they seemed to have little interest in talking. That is, until they mentioned that there were from Keen. The pair of orcs quickly took their captives before their warchief, for he would greatly desire hearing about anyone from Keen.
Meanwhile, Merle found himself hunted upon the mountain pass by dire wolf riders. The snarling beasts caught onto his sent and relentlessly perused him. Merle only found refuge upon a narrow ledge hanging over a sheer drop onto jagged rocks below. While the beasts could sniff him out, they could not see pas the boulder pressed to Merle’s back. The riders beckoned the wolves to continue their hunt on the trails below, and off they padded, leaving the monk to his own devices.
Era and Lemaia were lead through a sprawling dwarven city, built within the mountain, but they saw not a single dwarf. Orcs occupied the city, hanging banners bearing the familiar red claw over a blackened field. Their worst fear had been realized; the same orcs who had taken Keen had also taken Karakzhar, their best hope for liberating the small lumber town. After what seemed like a long march, they found themselves being marched into a palace and thrown before a throne, but no dwarven Thane sat here. Instead was the fearsome sight of the orcs’ warchief; Korrog, the Red Death.
A titanic orc, standing nearly eight feet tall, with shoulders half as broad. His skin did not posses the same pallet of greens and grays as his kin, but instead it was blood red. Scales like ruby adorned his neck, face, and head, and two jagged horns swept from his furrowed brow to the back of his skull, giving him a strangely reptilian appearance. He arose from his throne, bedecked in fine dwarven plate mail, and with a low, rumbling voice, demanded the girls explained themselves.
Outside Karakzhar, a lone dwarf was contemplating his next move. He had returned to the bridge he’d seen Era and Lamaia cross, but it was flat, wide, and with no cover whatsoever. He would be a sitting duck for the sentries. Then he reasoned, if he could not go over the bridge, he would go under it. Balancing himself precariously upon steep, sloping rocks, he managed to find purchase on the underside of the bridge. Summoning every ounce of strength and fortitude he could muster after years if training his body in the mountain monastery, Merle swung from beam to beam until he had navigated across the hundred-foot span. The sound of the returning wolf riders greeted him, as he peeked from his hiding place. A quick as lightning and as quiet as a shadow, the monk stepped into line behind them, and then, having avoided attention, crept into the city in search of his comrades.
Era and Lamaia, shrinking in the presence of Korrog, quickly told their story as survivors of Keen. Displeased, the warchief sent for his witch doctor. A hunched orc, wearing a strange wood mask soon arrived, with two orcs bearing massive a stone water basin. The shaman shook some bones that had hung on a necklace around his neck, croaked a few intelligible words, and suddenly an image appeared in the water’s reflection. It was not Korrog starring back, but rather the orcish commander that had snatched Fella from Merle’s hand back at the Green Dragon Inn, and set the whole place ablaze. He looked rather surprised to be receiving word from the warchief, but gave a full report on the situation in Keen.
Korrog asked about survivors, to which the commander assured him that anyone who fought against them were slain, and all others were captured. Displeased, Korrog had Era and Lamaia marched before the basin. The commander’s face became pale as he attempted to explain that their survival was impossible. The warchief had heard enough. He demanded the commander pay tribute in penance for failure, A moment later, the commander produced a dagger, which he plunged into his own eye, cutting it free. The commander held his dangling eye for his warchief to see, followed by the vow, “I will not fail you again, father.”
With that, Korrog dismissed his son, and returned his attention not to Era and Lamaia, but to the two guards that had brought them before him, and chastised them for not stripping enemies of their weapons and belongings before bringing them before their warchief. The two orcs nervously glanced at one another and apologized. Lamaia, seeing an opportunity, hoped her silver tongue would save her. She stated that they had come here in hopes of forming an alliance with the Red Claw orcs and their fearsome leader. Amused, Korrog sat upon the throne, and bid his guards to show their new allies to their quarters. Outside the throne room, Lamaia was beaten into unconsciousness and the two companions were stripped of all belongings, save for the clothes on their back.
They were taken to a dark, dank dungeon and thrown into a cold cell. They soon discovered they were not alone. A host of around a dozen dwarves stepped from the darkness. One gizzled, silver bearded dwarf with a hammer and anvil scarred into his chest introduced himself as Bouldin Shieldforge. He approached, laying a hand upon the unconscious tiefling while touching the symbol upon his chest. After saying a prayer, Lamaia awoke, the swelling in her cheek faded, and the pain of her beating almost entirely gone. They revealed to the girls that they called this city home two months ago, but one night the orcs crept in through the tunnels, from a secret passage, and caught the city guard by surprise. Before they could even take up arms, the orcs had taken the city, and subjugated the population to toil away in the mines below.
They then revealed that they had a plan to turn the tides on their captors. They managed to send messages to other groups, and coordinated an effort to tunnel their way up, through the mines, into the sewer system. Once there, they planned to retake their armory, then the city. The final stage of the plan, they told Era and Lamaia, would be taking place the next morning. Hopeful, the girls and their new dwarven companions slept and uneasy sleep.
The next day they were startled from their sleep by shouting orcs. Each of the prisoners were shackled around the ankle and lead to an elevator. Once everyone was uncomfortably crammed in, the lift descended into the darkness of the mine. After a short time, they found themselves looking at another group of about a dozen dwarves, also shackled, but they were kneeling. Five burly orcs and a taskmaster eyed the newcomers. They informed Bouldin and the rest that their escape plan had been exposed, and demanded to know who the ringleader was. When no one stepped forward, one of the kneeling dwarves was beheaded, and the taskmaster posed the question again.
Merle had spent the better part of the night avoiding patrols, sticking to back allies, and slinking his way through the maze-like city of Karakzhar. Finally, it seemed, he had happened upon what he was looking for. Two guards stood outside of what looked to be a locked door of iron bars. Throwing caution to the wind, the dwarf sprang into action, taking the fight directly to the orcs. They attempted to hold their own against the monk, but his ki was stronger than the will orcs, and they soon fell to huis stone-like fists. Snatching the keys from one of the slain guards, he unlocked the door, and slipped inside.
Meanwhile, back in the mines, Bouldin stepped forward and stated that he was the mastermind. As the taskmaster approached, Bouldin commanded him to be still, and so he was. Quickly, the dwarf snatched the keys from the taskmaster’s belt, unlocked his shackle, and gave the key to Lamaia. The other orcs attempted to land heavy blows upon the silver-bearded dwarf, but they stopped in mid swing, as if they did not posses the will to follow through.
The thief quickly unlocked herself, and drew one of the orcs’ daggers, slashing violently at him. Era too freed herself, and whistled a note that placed one orc into a deep slumber. Now in disarray, the remaining orcs did the best they could, but between Era and Lamaia’s battle prowess, Bouldin’s healing magic, and the arrival of Merle to the fray, the orcs quickly fell, one after another.
With the captors slain, Merle, Era, Lamaia and the dwarves stripped the bodies of weapons, armor, and anything else that would aid them in their escape. They reentered the lift, returned to the levels above. Any sign of orcss was quickly dealt with by the nearly 20 dwarves and the three companions. They silently stalked their way to the forge-the fastest way to access the city armory-and made a sickening discovery. Orcs were working the bellows and the forges, and burning bright were not the brilliant flames of clean fire, but the wretched green glow of hellfire.
Bouldin explained that the orcs had been brandishing weapons forged of a black steel, much like the ones the companions witnessed in Keen, and like the one hanging off of Merle’s belt. The process of creating these infernal weapons was called hellforging. The blades were corrupt and carried with them a corrupting touch that tainted any soul it severed and sent it directly to the nine hells. Now it seemed as if the orcs were mass producing these horrifying weapons.
Era moved up ahead, and with a wild gesture, crated a thunderous blast that sent two orcs sailing into the flames, and startled the rest. A moment later though, the orcs ceased to be a major concern. The flames of the furnaces roared and funneled outward, onto the floor, coalescing into a humanoid shape.This Hellfire Elemental swung its blistering fist at Era, who quickly dove out of the way. Merle and Lamaia soon joined the fight, as the towering, living inferno swung its putrid, fiery fists. The dwarves managed to chip away the stone walls of the many cooling vats around the shop, flooding the floor and dousing the creature forever.
The companions and their dwarven comrades ventured on, easily overcoming the few guards that were stationed at the armory. With the weapons and armor of the city now back in dwarven hands, they could now plan their next move.