Although I've only been with the group very briefly, I'm starting to get the impression that they are not very strong negotiators.
We knew that an encounter with the devil lord Zul'bar would be necessary if we were to acquire the two Phoenix items in his possession. Concerned about our chances of success, we left Ethan behind, with orders to rejoin the group later (whether to rescue us or ensure the safety of the Phoenix Items already in our possession, time would tell). The rest of us made our way to "The Devil's Eye", a stronghold/port set against a mountainous plateau and a river of lava. While I flew around the area, performing some light reconnaissance, I admired the crimson rockface and the carefully constructed path leading to the keep. Very picturesque, though tactically daunting.
I was disturbed to encounter duergar at the front gates. Their fiendish perversion of proud dwarven tradition never fails to nauseate me. They were predictably discourteous. The knight, Delian, was able to persuade them to allow us entry, and we soon found ourselves in a courtyard, surrounded by duergar and other friends. Eventually, a nefarious, iron-clad woman appeared and introduced herself as Baelzra. She was similarly discourteous, announcing that the master of the house was away and unlikely to be interested in granting an audience regardless. She further announced that passage through the Devil's Eye required a fee of one astral diamond. We balked at this, but she further clarified that exiting the Devil's Eye also carried a fee of one astral diamond. I believe there was some discussion of alternate payment, but Delian chose this moment to act. He summoned the fury of the Argent Fire (or whatever he calls it), burning the skin of all the devils nearby and suddenly we were in a fracas.
What followed was a tactical retreat. While secluded within the illusory cover granted by a magical candle, we were spotted by the streetfighter, Ethan. He reported that the trade contingency from Clan Ironbeard had recently entered the Keep, with plans to pass through. I am relieved that my companions are well. I can only hope that the devils choose not to engage them in combat.
Through our investigations, we discovered an entrance in the keep's roof. We entered from above, hoping to gain the element of surprise (and praying that we could somehow remove the Phoenix Items without anyone noticing). This soon turned into a remounted assault against waves of fiendish soldiers, eventually granting us control of one of the two structures that comprise the Devil's Eye. Along the way, we encountered soulless husks toiling on behalf of the devils, manufacturing eldritch cubes whose purpose is still unclear.
We have received an offer of diplomacy and parley from a devil claiming to be the Mouth of Zul'bar and the group is considering their options. Negotiating with devils is distasteful, but we are against the wall.
Moradin Guide Thee,
Helia Ironbeard, Clan Ironbeard