The PCs (including the mysterious Zelia) make the 4-day trip east to Ekarriel in the Zarak Mountains. When they arrive, they are quickly recognized and offered a place to stay while they await Artos’ arrival. They turn over the two captured members of the Order of Ariakis, but aren’t told what will happen to them. Maksim doesn’t think they’ll be punished in any way since they wield more political power than he does; as long as they are out of his way for a while, he’ll be happy. Quiron explores the city, looking for buyers to purchase the old Elven items they found in the ruins, a magic weapon that adapts to his need, and for an item to increase his endurance in melee combat (Amulet of Endless Strength). He is able to find a buyer for the old Elven items and the Amulet is easy to find. He finds someone who can craft his weapon, but unless he’s willing to pay more to expedite it, it will take 5 days to complete.
They finally see Artos who is slightly disturbed by what they’ve found so far. He knew the outcast dwarves had been rallying the orcs of the Orclands, but they are using the orcs to gather old items of magic from the Elven ruins is even more troubling. In the last 100 years, there have been 10 dwarves driven from Zarak; how many of these still live is unknown. Galen’s name is mentioned, but Artos labels him a coward and not capable of organizing anything effective and large enough to be a threat. When Zelia mentions having seen a large force amassed just outside Castle Defiant, Artos is confident there is a dwarf or several dwarves working together since the orcs would not be willing to organize such a major attack force without destroying each other in the process. He does not think they would immediately attack Zarak; however, Wallace and Ferrier are two cities in Caithness just south of the southernmost trade city (Ginnrel), but they’d have to cross the Great Desert (no mana). Caithness is a low mana zone, so the items they found in the Elven ruins would be less effective there but probably not ineffective if they were crafted by the Elves centuries ago. Their siege engines would still work just fine and hundreds if not thousands of armed orcs would be much more eager to attack a city where magic is less effective (and wizards are fewer in number). Artos tells them they may keep whatever they find at the Castle; he wants the outcasts either brought back to him alive or proof that they were slain. He promises to make it worth their time and trouble.
The PCs discuss how to approach the Castle and determine what kind of force they are up against. Zelia sends her bird out to view the camps from above. There must be dozens of camps, each with at least one completed catapult and more under construction. Maksim takes a quick spin around the Castle in his raven form, but his trip is cut short as he flies into the Castle’s courtyard and is spotted by an Orc, dressed more like a shaman or caster than a warrior. He flies away and manages not to get perforated by archers on his way over the walls. Quiron recognizes most of the major orc clans and after some observation sees that the Death Birds are not present. Through the use of magic and stealth, they capture two orc sentries and learn that Bulgaren is the dwarf in control of Castle Defiant. He has maybe a few dwarves who stay in the Castle as advisors and some actual orc mages/wizards/like these guys can tell the difference.
Using Maksim’s earth elemental as a tunneling device, they all decide to follow the tunnel from the nearby forest and come up inside the Castle walls. They estimate the distance and figure they’ll come up underneath the keep. Their luck holds up and the elemental’s tunnel takes them to the cellar under the keep; their luck runs out as the elemental bursts through the cellar wall like the Kool-Aid man and knocks down the shelves holding supplies. Zelia’s keen ears and basic knowledge of the orc tongue alerts her to the fact that whoever was upstairs heard the crash and is headed down to investigate…