After resting, the group emerges from the cellars of Pax Tharkas via the stairwell under the cover of night. From the top of the stairs, Maritta points out the door to the children’s area across from the steps – a light wood beam secures it from the outside. The group pauses as a small troop of hobgoblins marches past on patrol. Everyone checks their disguises and continues up into the hallway.
The hallway is furnished with great care, creating an atmosphere of comfort and luxury. A plush purple carpet blankets the floor, and many tapestries of rich red and golden colors decorate the walls. Each of the several doors is made of dark-grained vallenwood and has golden rivets, hinges, and latches.
Upon closer examination, however, the luxury begins to wear thin. Great, dark stains blot the carpet in many places, and a wide muddy trail mars the center of the floor. Some of the tapestries have been defaced: charcoal has been used to add a beards, mustaches, and missing teeth. Long slashes in one tapestry ruin a scene of elves and dwarves in council.
Apart from the barred door, two other doors lead out of this end of the hallway. An open set of double doors leads to a long hall with a 400-foot ceiling. Two massive doors on each side of that hall mark it as the main entrance to the fortress. A single wooden door to the right of the double doors interests the group. Almaia investigates the door and slowly opens it a crack.
The room is similar in appearance to the hallway. Some fancy chairs have been splintered, apparently so their legs can be used as firewood, since a smoky blaze struggles in a huge fireplace. Next to the fireplace are five Kapak huddled around a keg of ale. They drink greedily from the barrel and do not notice Almaia opening and promptly shutting the door.
The group decides not to take any of the doors and instead follows the hallway around a corner. Two hobgoblins lazily stand guard at one of six doors lining either side of the remaining hallway. Maritta reassures the group that if they act natural, the guards will not notice them. Kip, worried that his height might alert their suspicion, walks on the far side of the group. The guards do not even acknowledge the group until they are within 10 feet and even then, only with a casual glance.
As the group passes the two guards, Kip hears shouting voices from the unguarded door opposite the two hobgoblins. He cannot make out the exact phrase because he does not speak the language, but most Kender are familiar with cursing in several languages. He was sure that he had heard that phrase before when a goblin merchant in Solace escorted him from his shop with the business end of a broom.
Maritta would later tell them that the guarded double door leads to the throne room and the single door leads to the hobgoblin barracks.
At the end of the hallway, the group notices a decrease in mud tracks in the carpet. The hallway dead-ends with a door on either side. One door has no mud prints and the other has a few. The door with only a few mud prints has a massive lock on it. The group is confident that this door matches the description Highklahd Drooth provided them of Sestun’s prison cell. Almaia and Kip begin working on the large lock.
Minutes go by as the group stands nervously around the prison door waiting for their friends to open the lock. Suddenly, they notice the troop of patrolling hobgoblins turn the corner at the far end of the hallway. The marching goblinoids get closer and closer, but Almaia and Kip overcome the difficulties of the lock with enough time for the group to enter the cell before being questioned.
Inside the cell, there is only one occupant. The dirty, unshaven, malodorous face of the gully dwarf who saved them from the slave caravan looks up at them in surprise. Sestun recognizes the group and excitedly begins to tell them of the mistreatments he suffered from the troops of the dragonarmy. Almaia encourages him to be quiet, but the gully dwarf continues about his decision to stand up for himself. He swears vengeance on the dragonarmy and offers to help the group. Again, Almaia asks him to be silent and hand him some of dressing rags so he can disguise himself as a woman. Sestun begins to put on the rags, but stops and tells the group that he has a plan. When the group asks about his plan, Sestun simply says, " Me show you! " and quickly heads for the door. Almaia grabs the gully dwarf by the back of shirt and pulls him back into the cell before he is noticed. The group convinces Sestun to hold his plan until they can sneak him back to his people in the cellar. With the disguised Sestun in tow, the group casually walks back to the cellar stairs. They pass the roaming patrol and the two hobgoblin guards without incident.
In the cellar, Sestun returns to his people amidst cheers and exaltations. The gully dwarf quickly climbs to the top of the large wooden box and addresses his clan:
" I am Sestun of the Klahd clan. And I see a whole army of my clansmen, ready to stand in defiance of tyranny! You should not live as servants, but fight as free dwarves. I says you are free dwarves! And what would you do with that freedom? Will you fight? "
In the audience, one of his clansmen responds: " With so many against us? No! We will serve – and live! "
Sestun nods, " Yes! Fight and you may die. Serve and you will live at least awhile. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young dwarves and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom! "
The chamber fills with the yelling of severely motivated dwarves. Sestun hops off the wood crate and heads for the door with hundreds of dwarves in tow. The group watches the gully dwarves scurry up the steps and scatter in the hallways above.
(Meta Note: For the following section, Shon has taken over Gilthanas while Yelfis waits in the cellar)
The startled group decides to head back upstairs after the gully dwarves depart. As they crest the tops of the stairs, they witness groups of gully dwarves leading the patrolling hobgoblin guards on a wild goose chase all over the fortress.
Part of the group decides to take advantage of the distraction to relocate the children from the dragons’ den to the cellar.
They easily unbar the door and enter a play area scattered with toys. There is a large set of barred double doors in the corner between four windows. Almaia climbs up to one of the windows; it looks out on the south side of the fortress. Two dozen hobgoblins and Kapak patrol the courtyard. Almaia also notes that the large double doors are capable of being barred from the outside, but the large timber leans against the adjacent wall. The large wooden beam barring the doors from inside is firmly in place and would take a few people to remove.
There are two other doors in this room and a massive arch. One door leads to a storage closet with clean blankets, extra toys, small cloaks, and boots for children. The other door leads to a kitchen with three stoves and assorted food stores including a barrel of apples. The twenty-foot across arch leads into a massive chamber.
As the group enters the chamber, the group experiences momentary panic as they see a gigantic red dragon over 20 feet in diameter! However, the fear subsides as they realize that Flamestrike is deeply asleep and not easily roused. The group quietly walks around the dragon and approach a door on the far end. In the next chamber are approximately 180 children ranging from infants to 12-year-olds. Some of the older children are just starting to wake for the day. The children looked confused at the heroes, but they calm down when they realize Maritta is with them. Maritta and the heroes wake up the children. As the children awake, they begin making noise like any large group of children, but the dragon seems to smile in her sleep at the noise and curls tighter in her slumber. Familiar with their daily routine, the children proceed out of the bedchamber. The children quietly walk around the dragon, but their silence is born out of loving respect for their guardian than fear.
With all of the children in the playroom, the heroes hand out apples from the kitchen to feed the children and help keep them quiet. The group coordinates with the humans in the cellar below and prepares them to receive the children as they send them across the hall in groups of 10.
The children are excited when the heroes tell them that they are about to leave to see their parents. The heroes keep a watch on the hallway and begin to send the children down to the cellar in groups of 10 with the older kids carrying the younger. About 40 children in, a group of gully dwarves come tearing around the corner of the hallway followed by a dozen hobgoblin guards. The group looks on in horror as five of the children freeze in their tracks at the sight of the oncoming stampede. The gully dwarves continue safely past the children. The hobgoblins disregard the tots as they pursue the annoying gully dwarves that have evaded them all morning. The heroes sigh in relief and continue sending children across to the cellar stairwell.
The majority of children have made it across without further incident – approximately 25 children remain. A confused six-year-old breaks away from the rest and yells down the archway: " Goodbye, Auntie Dragon! "
The heroes go rigid at the sudden exclamation. A moment passes and the group hears the deep, sleepy voice of the ancient wyrm: " Goodbye, little one. " Another moment passes and just as the group is about to relax, a more alert and slightly alarmed response echoes from the archway: " Maritta? Where are you taking the children? Maritta? Maritta? "
The group turns to Maritta who stands silently in complete terror at their discovery. Almaia shakes the woman and urges her to respond.
" Um… we are taking the children out… outside, " Maritta stammers.
" Why are you taking them outside? " asks the dragon.
Maritta turns to Almaia in alarm. Almaia calmly and quietly mouths a response. Maritta nods and responds, " We’re taking them out for a bit of fresh air. "
A moment passes like a thousand years until the dragon responds, " Very well. Make sure they keep warm. " The dragon lets out a sigh and shortly returns to the calm and constant breaths of slumber.
The group wastes no time and finishes moving the children to the cellar. They close and bar the playroom door behind them.
In the cellar, the group witnesses the joyful reuniting of mother and children. The joy is short-lived as the group realizes they are still captive in the fortress while their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons labor in the mines.
Part of the group breaks away from the reuniting to investigate more of the tower while the rest organize the women and children back into the storeroom. Almaia, Kip, Donegin, and Gilthanas head back down the hallway, past the two hobgoblin guards. The two guards are a little more alert now, but are preoccupied with the antics of the gully dwarves. Just before the two doors at the end of the hall is a stairwell leading up.
At the top of the stairs, the small scouting party discovers a large set of silver doors. One door depicts an elf and the other a dwarf – the two both have a hand on a single lute (the Krynn symbol for peace). As Almaia investigates the door, Gilthanas stands in the corner. A shiver runs up his spine and the elf turns around to investigate the wall. He cannot figure out where the draft came from, but the other notice his interest and help him look. Together, the group discovers a stone switch that unlocks a secret door!
Donegin decides to keep watch at the top of the steps as he snacks on some rations that taste suspiciously like chicken stir-fry.
(Meta Note: The following occurs after Jen leaves the room to graciously cook dinner for us)
Past the secret door, the group discovers a dwarven utility tunnel. Much like the Sla-Mori, these service tunnels act as alternate routes during the construction of massive facilities. This tunnel is just as dusty and unused as the Sla-Mori, except the floor is littered with rocks ranging in size from pebbles to medium boulders. The most obvious feature of this room is familiar. A massive chain with one-foot thick and six-foot long links runs the length of the tunnel. The chain enters the wall to their immediate left and seems to angle down at an angle. Kip believes that this is probably the top of the chain they discovered in the Sla-Mori. Since they already know where the chain starts, Kip insists they discover where the chain ends.
As they follow the chain down the tunnel, the scout group discovers a crack in the wall that admits some light. The three peer into the crack and discover that it looks down on the throne room! A figure seated on the huge marble throne wears the hideous mask of a dragon highlord. His hoarse voice rasps from behind the grotesque covering, addressing a cringing figure before him:
" Toede, you miserable rodent, you have the gift of ruining the simplest plans! As if kidnapping the elf maiden wasn’t bad enough…now thanks to your idiocy, your incompetence, that cleric has been allowed to live, bringing my opposite power back among men! Find them and slay them all…bring me their heads before the day is out! Hear me well, Toede: either your head or theirs will decorate my throne room tonight! "
The figure before the Dragon Highlord cringes even more and begins to speak in a pathetic whine, " Your most worshipful lord, I offer my hopelessly inadequate apology. If I had known that the ones you seek were imprisoned in my caravan, I would have brought you their heads personally as I brought you the elf maid Laurana. If not for the treachery of one of the loathsome gully dwarves, they would even now be kneeling before you, prisoners to your tender mercies… "
" Enough! " roars the Dragon Highlord. " You have my warning, now go! " The voice lowers, heavy with menace. " And Toede…do not fail me again. "
The group watches the pathetic hobgoblin retreat from his master under the escort of two Kapak. As Toede exits the throne room, Kip glimpses another door at the side of the room close slightly. Kip believes that they were not the only witnesses to this chastisement. A moment later, the dragon highlord also leaves the throne room.
The group continues along the tunnel and it ends in a door. The chain passes through an opening to the left of the door. The door is on a simple pivot spring, like a bar door so the group passes through confidently. The next room is another long corridor; however, on either side of the narrow path are drops. On the right side is a 10-foot drop to a 50-foot wide trough of boulders and rocks that run the length of the hallway. On the left is the massive chain, but now every link has a series of smaller chains that descend under the central path at an angle suggesting that they connect with the boulders on the right. Almaia surmises that this mechanism is a fail-safe measure that many Dwarven architect use. If the fortress was about to fall, the great chain could be released causing the boulders to fall into the great hall below. The boulders would effectively seal the massive doors to Pax Tharkas.
At the end of the hall, the great chain is mounted on a screw. A large winch mechanism is next to the screw and is likely the release trigger for the fortresses’ last resort defense. The group notes the location and returns to Donegin at the top of the steps.
(Meta Note: Jen finishes making dinner)
The small group passes through the large silver doors and enters a U-shaped hall lined in tapestries. The tapestries are ancient and seem to tell the history of the fortress. The first series of paintings shows a high mountain pass glittering in the light of the sun. Snowfields flash among the peaks, and thick forests cover the lower slopes. Many streams, swollen by ponds and waterfalls, wind into the lowlands.
A large band of sturdy dwarves labors in the pass, building a low stone wall across the opening. In the next painting, many elves appear, bearing huge logs on low wagons, and the wall takes on a familiar form. First the main wall of Pax Tharkas goes up, elves and dwarves working side by side in the monumental task. Then, even as two curtain walls rise on the slopes below the main wall, two mighty towers begin to inch their way into the sky.
After a few pictures displaying the various stages of construction, during which the seasons make the yearly cycle several times, the fortress assumes its current shape. Following this series are a number of portraits displaying various elves and dwarves, usually dressed in resplendent plate mail and bearing gleaming weapons. A number of these paintings have been crudely defaced.
Then begins a series where mighty dragons rage about the towers of Pax Tharkas. Acid, lightning, fire, and cold all Flame rain down upon courageous defenders, driving them from the parapets to shelter within the solid walls. Soon, the mighty dragons land all over the fortress, and it seems that mighty Pax Tharkas has fallen.
But then new weapons appear. Long, slender, and gleaming like polished silver, these lances are carried by fighters of the utmost courage. Slowly, at a fearful cost, the dragons are driven from the towers and walls. Great gashes burrow into their scaly hides as they begin to bleed and die. Finally, although the parapets are red with the defenders’ blood, the skies are free of dragons, and it seems that peace has once again returned.
At this point, the course of history has gone halfway around the room. Several more portraits follow, this time displaying human leaders in historic poses; then the series ends.
Faded spots on the wall show that more paintings hung here at one time; a pile of blackened ashes at the far end of the room provides a clue to their fate.
Three doors exit this hall. Kip investigates the first door and discovers that it leads to a balcony overlooking the throne room (opposite the crack). The second door leads to a room with a ceiling that opens to the sky. On the adjacent wall is the third door from the U-shaped hall. Under the skylight is a dark pit. Kip peers into the pit and sees a faint orange glow. The curious light fluctuates in intensity as the group realizes they hear the rumble of deep breaths. The orange light ebbs and flows in time with the loud breaths. Realization dawns on the group as they witness a massive second red dragon uncoil below. The gargantuan beast scales the wall impossibly fast, a horrifying scene that will undoubtedly revisit them in their dreams. The group runs for the door as the great head and neck of the dragon opens its massive maw and sprays white-hot flame. The group dives to either side as the cone of flames erupts through the doorway and incinerates the tapestry of a human on the opposite wall. The group is on their feet and down the hall before they receive any superficial heat burns from being that close to dragons’ breath. The dragon, unable to fit through the doorway, does not pursue the group.
As the group heads down the stairs, they hear someone walking over the carpet below. They pause in the darkness of the stairwell and witness Verminaard walking past, on his way to the throne room. There were only two doors in the direction Verminaard had come – one was Sestun’s prison cell and the group decides that the other might contain important intelligence on the dragon army. They secure their disguises and walk calmly to the last door on the right in the hallway.
The finely made door is locked and it takes a few attempts for Almaia to open it. The group enters a sitting room filled with richly upholstered chairs and lounges. On a small table in the middle of the room is a pair of crystal goblets and a crystal decanter filled with a sparkling gold liquid. Donegin sniffs the liquid and it has the smell of wine. Almaia takes a sip and the bubbles tickle her nose. None of them have ever heard of wine that bubbled like ale.
On the far wall hangs a new tapestry depicting a huge red dragon, jaws agape, spewing flame over a small village. The group proceeds to another door next to the tapestry. Again, it is locked, but Almaia is able to unlock it on the first attempt.
The next chamber is filled by a polished table of gleaming dark wood. A buffet with glass doors displays a priceless collection of china and silver. Light spills from a pair of golden chandeliers, each supporting many flickering candles.
A pair of tapestries has been added to the east and south walls of this room. One shows a massive red dragon landing amid a troop of armored horsemen and wreaking gory havoc. The second shows a region of black mountains, heavy with mist and shadows, where a looming fortress rises up in the distance. Kip recognizes the black mountain regions as Neraka.
Donegin and Almaia approach the buffet. Donegin liberates several silver pieces from the cabinet that would not be immediately noticed (200 GP worth of flatware and a tea set). Almaia tries the drawer to the buffet and receive a prick on her finger; there is a moment of dizziness, but it passes. Almaia scolds herself privately for not checking the drawer first as she examines the contents of the drawer. The drawer contains two potions of cure moderate wounds, one potion of gaseous form, and one potion of invisibility. After a minute, Almaia feels dizzy for moment, but it passes as it did the first time.
The other door leading from this dining room is also locked; it takes the combined efforts of Kip and Almaia and the sacrifice of a few broken picks to open the door. Gilthanas keeps watch between the dining room and sitting room, but his anxiety over the amount of time they have spent in these quarters is visible on his face. The rest of the group enters the final chamber. It seems to be a combination office and bedroom. A huge bed, lushly canopied and quilted, nearly fills the southern end. A large wooden closet sits next to it. Spread across the floor are rugs made from the skins of many of the large carnivores found throughout Krynn: brown bears, jaguars, panthers, wolves, and a tiger. A massive gorgon horn adorns the wall.
The other end of the room is taken up by a large desk, plain wooden chair, small table, and washbasin. Three tapestries, picturing scenes of dragon-wrought destruction, add a dark touch to the walls. Several smoky torches flicker in sconces. Several candles and a lamp sit on the desk, but they are unlit.
Unfurled upon the desk are many maps of this portion of Ansalon, showing the gradual increase in lands controlled by the Dragonarmy. On top of the pile is a map of Qualinesti, showing that peaceful land pierced by three great daggers: two moving from northeast and northwest, and one advancing straight from Pax Tharkas, just as the elves had reported.
The group is unable to glean any further intelligence from the map, but does find a sketch detailing the functions of the gate-blocking mechanism they encountered upstairs. The desk has a single drawer and Almaia checks it thoroughly for traps. With no visible key hole or latch, Almaia confidently opens the drawer. There is a quick " pop " noise from the drawer and a shower of night-blue sparks spray onto Almaia. She had not suspected a magical trap! Fortunately for her, the spell had no effect on her. Inside the drawer, she finds two divine scrolls. The first contains cure serious wounds, prayer, and find traps. The second contains light, augury, and cure light wounds.
Donegin casts detect magic and investigates the closet next to the bed. The closet contains several robes, a black cape, a pair of riding boots, and a suit of masterwork black plate armor, but nothing magical. Having finished their investigation, the group quickly returns to the cellar amidst the continued shenanigans of the gully dwarves and their hobgoblin pursuers.
(Meta-note: At this point, Shon returns to controlling Yelfis)
With the humans safely hidden in the storeroom and Highklahd Drooth conducting gully dwarf movements through the tower, the group departs for the western tower. Laurana joins the group as Maritta stays behind.
The group enters the main hall separating the two towers. The wood beams of the 350-foot high ceiling reveal no hint of the megatons in loose rock suspended above. Two massive doors, each 90-feet across and 330-feet high, stand closed on the south side of the hall while a second set of massive doors on the north side of the hall are open just enough for medium creatures to pass through.
On either end of the 370-foot-long hall are thick curtain ropes leading up to a set of massive bells. The group surmises that these ropes must act as a fortress-wide alert system; however, with no obvious means for disabling them, the group continues through open double-doors into the western tower.
The receiving room of the western tower lacks the refinery of the eastern tower. Its bare walls and floor are only adorned with fragments of broken furniture too small for use in a fire. Besides the double-doors into the room, another set of double doors lay to the north and a single iron door stands on the west wall. From Marrita’s earlier recollection, the group is positive that the double-doors lead to the Kapak barracks and the iron door leads to the guardroom adjacent to the remaining prison cell.
Examination of the double-doors reveals sounds of gruff laughter and the clatter of dinnerware from the other side. Almaia notices that the handles to these doors could be barred with the bar to the children’s playroom. Kip volunteers to race back to the eastern tower. His return trip is slower under the weight of the wooden beam. Almaia and Kip secure the bar through the handles of the double-door and proceed to the iron door.
Almaia begins picking the locked iron door. The iron door supports another of the well-forged locking mechanisms of Pax-Tharkas. The lock causes a momentary delay in opening, but Almaia is less frustrated and more impressed with the artisanship of the lock – it must be dwarven-wrought. The lock eventually turns with an audible " click, " but there is no audible reaction from the next room.
Almaia slowly opens the door enough to examine the room. The room holds eight hobgoblin guards: two are guarding a barred iron door to the south, two are guarding a door to the north, two are lounging in the hall, and, on the far end of the room, one hobgoblin speaks with another. The seated hobgoblin is larger than the rest and only wears sandals, leggings, and a white sash around his waist.
The group bursts into the guardroom and attacks the unsuspecting hobgoblins. Gilthanas and Eben charge the two hobgoblins guarding the northern door. Kip and Donegin engage the two hobgoblins guarding the barred door to the south. Almaia and Laurana attacks the two loungers while Yelfis runs to the far-end of the hall. At the sight of the onslaught, the shirtless hobgoblin instructs his partner to " sound the alarm " in goblin. As the goblin turns in compliance, gray matter explodes from his ear as the deadly force and precision of Yelfis’ thrown hammer collides with the opposite ear. The goblin collapses as Yelfis squares-off with the still-seated hobgoblin. As his companions fall under the swift martial skill of the heroes, the shirtless hobgoblin slowly stands and faces Yelfis.
Yelfis, surprised by the grace of the hobgoblin, is unable to avoid two consecutive punches to either side of his jaw. Despite the phantom bell ringing from the blows, Yelfis swings his hammer in a mighty arc and connects with the hobgoblin. What should have been a deathblow against unarmored flesh only causes the large hobgoblin to wipe his lip and smirk.
By this time, the rest of the group has dispatched their opponents and heads over to aid Yelfis. The group quickly surrounds the hobgoblin, but their multiple attacks are either blocked with swift counters or ignored by the hobgoblin monk. Finally, Almaia approaches and waits for an ideal time to strike.
The hobgoblin attacks Yelfis again with a series of swift punches just as Eben attacks with his rapier from the other side. The hobgoblin reaches out with one of his hands to block the foil from piercing its target. The maneuver is successful, but exposes his large chest. Almaia grabs her dagger with both hands and leaps at the undefended area. The dagger pierces deep into his sternum and, as gravity takes a hold of Almaia, the dagger slides down along his midsection. The hobgoblin pauses to groan as its contents spill onto the bare stone floor. The monster lingers for a moment before falling to its knees and finally collapsing into the moist components that once supported his well-honed skills.
The group recovers for a moment and heads to the barred iron door. On the other side, they hear a large group of people. Although the conversations are unintelligible, the group can make out a few words in common. The group attempts to communicate in Hammertalk to determine who is on the other side. After a series of knocks on the door, they receive a knocked response. Unfortunately, the knocks are gibberish. The group decides to take their chances, slides the iron bar out, and opens the door.
The door opens onto a room of 157 Plainswomen. The women are surprised and slightly hopeful at the sight of the group. The group calms them down and explains that they are here to reunite them with their husbands. The women point out a set of locked double doors that lead outside to the southern courtyard.
Almaia picks the lock and opens it a crack. Two dozen Hobgoblins and Kapak still patrol the courtyard. Along the eastern valley wall are two cavern openings – one small and one large. Almaia can also make out a switchback trail leading up the eastern valley wall to a band of dull red streaks along a scar carved into the mountainside. She can make out several human-like figures toiling along the mine. To the south, the valley narrows and forms the southern road through the Tharkadan mountain range.
Almaia closes the door and regroups with her companions to flesh out the final stages of their plan. They decide to trigger the gate blocking mechanism to create a distraction long enough to reunite the women and children with their husbands from the mine. After the reunion, the families should be able to fight their way past the guards into the southern mountain range.
However, once they trigger the mechanism, the only egress onto the southern courtyard will be through the children’s playroom. The children and half of the women are still located in the cellar of the eastern tower. The group decides to bring the cellar captives over to the western tower. Almaia uses her farspeaking amulet to contact Elistan. She informs him to send women to the western tower in groups no larger than 10. The group hopes that the continued antics of the gully dwarves will prevent their movements.
Elistan complies and begins sending over groups of women and children. Donegin and Yelfis direct the women into the large cell with the other women. The final group of women also contains a heavily cloaked Elistan who reports that they are the last. The group welcomes the people from the cellar and assures all of the prisoners that they will be reunited with their brothers, husbands, fathers, and sons.
Before heading to the mechanism, the group decides to investigate the other door in the guardroom outside the prisoners’ cell. The door is pathetically locked and quickly opened to reveal a well-stocked supply room. Many sturdy shelves line the walls, and a wide aisle runs down the center of the room. Three sets of doors give access to the room, and the shelves cover the rest of the wall space.
Stacked on the shelves are hundreds of suits of leather armor, a similar number of shields, rows of heavy boots, cloaks, and capes, and a number of sealed wooden crates and barrels. The crates contain jerky of an unknown meat and the barrels are a mix of lamp oil and vegetable oil. Two more doors adjoin the massive storeroom.
The first door is locked and moderately difficult to pick, but Almaia has had plenty of practice recently and painlessly unlocks the door. The locked room is the remains of the Pax Tharkas armory. Although most of the weapons were undoubtedly distributed among the red dragonarmy, enough maces, morningstars, longswords, shortswords, daggers, spears, and even a few quivers of arrows and crossbow bolts remain to equip the human prisoners.
The other door swings freely on a hinge and reveals a disgusting kitchen. The numerous spills, unclean dishes, and stale food suggest that this is a barracks kitchen. A door on the adjacent wall leads into the same room the group barred from the receiving room of the western tower. Almaia is able to peek through the keyhole of this door and witnesses a dozen hobgoblins and Kapak dining in a mess hall. The room also contains a set of stairs leading up. The hobgoblins and Kapak walk freely up and down the steps suggesting the other barracks may be located upstairs.
The group decides to leave the mess hall alone and returns to the large prisoner cell. They quickly mobilize the women to quietly remove as many weapons, armor, equipment, and food as they can to prepare for the escape.
The group decides that the gate blocking mechanism might distract the men from reuniting with their loved ones in the valley. They decide to disguise themselves again as a group of women on a feeding mission and subsequently spread the plan among the men. Disguised again, the group fetches several food baskets from the storeroom. Instead of food, the baskets are loaded with weapons.
Kip volunteers to trigger the gate blocking mechanism while the rest of the group informs the men. The group agrees and Kip skips merrily toward the eastern tower.
The group calmly exits the western tower and proceeds toward the switchback trail leading to the mine. The hobgoblin and Kapak patrols ignore the group and continue their rounds. After a dozen switchbacks, the group finally reaches the mines. Hundreds of sweating, muscular men toil across this great strip of mountainside, raising picks or pushing shovels to scrape a rusty red ore from the earth. Several dozen draconians are scattered about the area, but they seem to be taking little interest in their prisoners. After all, with their women and children safely locked in mighty Pax Tharkas, these men can ill afford any thoughts of escape.
When the miners have collected a great pile of ore, the slaves drag it on pallets across the mountainside to a hole directly above the larger cavern. Other slaves shovel the ore into the hole.
The group begins approaching the miners who look overworked and underfed. The discreetly dispense the weapons and tell the men to continue to mine until they see their families exiting the western tower. The men quickly hide the weapons under rock piles and pallets in compliance.
About halfway through their rounds, Almaia is stopped by a Kapak draconian. " What do we have lunch today? " the dragonman hisses.
Without skipping a beat, Almaia responds: " The same as yesterday. "
The draconian sticks its tongue out in disgust and orders the group to carry on with their feeding mission.
The group finishes passing out the weapons undetected and returns to the western tower.
Meanwhile, Kip enters the eastern tower and decides to say farewell to the helpful gully dwarves. He approaches Highklahd Drooth in the cellar and explains how he is off to trigger the gate blocking mechanism. The gully dwarf looks at him quizzically and the Kender rephrases his mission in more comprehensible terms for Drooth. During his detailed explanation, Kip suddenly realizes that he is not particularly happy with the idea of sneaking past the nursemaid dragon after setting off a cataclysmic deluge of rocks. Suddenly, the quick-thinking Kender formulates a plan of his own. He asks Drooth if he would be interested in setting off the mechanism himself. Drooth raises his eyebrows in delight at the thought, but skeptically asks why he should do this. Kip explains that triggering the mechanism would force the dragonmen to leave the fortress and the Klahd clan could retake Pax Tharkas. Drooth finds this situation preferable and accepts the mission. Kip relays the details and location for the mechanism and asks the Highklahd to wait until he sees the humans enter the southern courtyard before setting off the mechanism. Again, the Highklahd agrees. The two part ways at the top of the cellar stair – Drooth for the release mechanism and Kip for the western tower.
Kip rejoins the prisoners at the same time the rest of the heroes return from dispensing weapons to the miners. The group informs the women of the plan:
The women and children will exit into the courtyard causing the men to revolt. The mechanism should distract any guards or archers from attacking the women and children. The men will rejoin the main group in the valley after dispatching their slave drivers. Once the men are with the main group, everyone is to continue south along the mountain road and flee the fortress.
The prisoners nod in agreement and the group begins ushering them into the courtyard. Once approximately 50 of the prisoners are in the courtyard, several of the patrolling troops begin yelling to each other and head toward them. The group starts fighting their way through the prisoners to face the oncoming troops.
In the distance, far atop the fortress wall, a lone voice yells, " Go away dragonmen! " Following the exclamation, there is a loud " ping " and the ground begins to shake. Loud crashing is heard from behind the fortress wall and dust begins to spew from the doors and windows. Cheers follow the sounds of destruction as the miners begin fighting their way down the switchback trail.
As the men begin to rejoin the women and children, there is a sudden splintering crash as the double doors holding Flamestrike fly outward. The great beast slithers out of the tower toward the crowd of prisoners.
" My children! You shall not have my children! " Her voice is shrill and strained.
" Leave me my children! " she demands, lumbering down the gradual slope.
Now another great crimson shape appears, flying above the fortress. Bellowing a challenge, a second huge red dragon lands on the mighty Tharkadan wall. On its back is the imposing figure of the Dragon Highlord Verminaard, his face still concealed by the fearsome mask. His voice booms through the valley.
" I have tolerated your impudence for the last time…slaves are cheap and plentiful. How often have I warned you all of the consequences of insurrection? " As the people scream and turn to flee down the valley, his voice thunders with growing madness: " Now I destroy your families! I destroy your children! Ember, burn them! Burn them all!! " Ember, overcome with bloodlust, roars an earsplitting war cry, a sound that would destroy the courage of even the most seasoned, valiant warrior.
As Ember leaps from the wall, Flamestrike pauses in her advance. Confusion shakes her as she looks from the children to the great engine of death above her. Suddenly, her dim eyes take on clear focus as she makes a decision. " No, " she seethes. " You will not harm my children. "
Curling her long neck upwards, Flamestrike sends forth a horrifying spout of fire, straight at the flying dragon and the Dragon Highlord. With a scream, Verminaard is engulfed in the glowing cloud, and his dragon-steed bellows in surprise. Quickly, the two dragons lock in a fearsome melee, thrashing their mighty bodies across the valley and bringing boulders tumbling from the mountainsides.
The gargantuan battle provides the distraction necessary for the prisoners and their liberators to flee south into the Tharkadan mountains.