I'd planned that there'd be one final battle in the Gorge of Fire before the PCs went through the waterfall of lava and met the salamanders. This fight was going to feature a bunch of fire elementals, so that Liandra could go hog wild with her quench spell and carry the day.
So, for a CR 13 encounter, I had six fire elementals: a Greater and a Huge fire elemental, a Greater and a Huge smoke paraelemental, and a Greater and a Huge magma paraelemental. I described them doing an exotic fiery dance between and around the pool of lava and the waterfall of lava coming from it, with the magma elementals and the smoke elementals coming close but never quite touching, their contact mediated by the fire elementals.
But the PCs had some misinformation that led them to bad tactics; they believed that just dipping Kotara-Nar into the pool of lava would activate its properties. (I don't think that I lied to them; I think all I said was "To the Gorge of Fire it must return...").
So, after a bit of attempted peace with the elementals that was quickly turning agressive, the PCs tried to teleport past them to the edge of the pool of lava. This was sort of unfortunate, because it put them on a narrow shore between the pool of lava and steep cliffs (though they all had fly spells on, so it didn't matter so much), and they were within reach of the ground-bound fire and magma elementals. Another problem: they hadn't cast their buff spells other than fly before engaging, so, for example, Turok had an AC of only 19 because he had no shield spell. (I did, however, remind Lori that Liandra should cast her resist fire spells.)
The PCs also assumed that the elementals would be surprised into inaction by the teleport--I'm not quite sure where they got that idea, because I certainly wouldn't let the PCs be stunned by a teleport by a foe from a visible position to a visible position.
So the elementals rushed in upon them. The fire and smoke elementals all got astounding initiative rolls and dashed in; the greater fire and smoke elementals struck at Turok, while the huge smoke elemental moved to engulf Kyle.
At this point, Turok (still believing that dipping the sword in the pool was all that was required) dipped Kotara-Nar into the pool of lava, incurring a couple of painful attacks of opportunity in the process. But Kotara-Nar kept yearning to go further down, and so he followed Kotara-Nar's lead down into the pool of lava.
Liandra cast a quench spell (defensively), and Larissa managed to cast a cold ball, so they became the prime targets of the elementals. The elementals attacked them while they cast their offensive spells for a couple rounds. The elementals were not smart enough to ready actions to interfere with spellcasting, so they just attacked the two spellcasters--but to good effect, enough to send Liandra unconscious and cause her last quench to be delayed while Kyle frantically healed her with a cure moderate wounds spell.
Meanwhile, Turok was following the lead of Kotara-Nar towards the center of the lava pit, where the lava was welling up--but the magma elementals were closing on him, and his hit points were down into the teens. He decided to retreat up towards the rest of the party, and I was generous in letting him figure out where the monsters above the surface were.
At this point, the players started thinking seriously about teleporting away, but they kept succumbing to the temptation to get a little more mayhem in on the elementals.
After Kyle healed Liandra back to consciousness, Liandra cast her last quench, which was not quite powerful enough to destroy most of the elementals--but Larissa managed to finish three of the elementals with a single casting of magic missile. This left only the greater magma elemental alive. He strode through the lava towards Turok and tried to use the Awesome Blow feat--but rolled a 1. Turok made a full attack, but was somewhat stymied by the greater magma elemental's DR 10/-. (Liandra got off a fast mass cure light wounds that was appreciated by everyone.)
Then, the greater magma elemental used its Awesome Blow again--and I rolled a critical hit that reduced Turok to -10 hit points. I ruled that Turok flew back 20 feet instead of the 10 feet usually specified by Awesome Blow, which landed him next to Liandra.
Liandra then jerked the magic pearl (a get-out-of-death-free token I'd given the party quite a while ago) from around her throat and put it in Turok's mouth. I described the pearl glowing with brilliant white light, visible even through Turok's cheeks and throat as it went down, and Turok was suddenly much revived. Mike pointed out that this was a half-dragon, carrying a Tooth of the Great Dragon, being killed and brought back to life at the Mouth of the Great Dragon--and I'm very glad that he did point that out, because that is indeed big juju and a fabulous story.
I forget the exact timing, but Kyle used the last charge of his wand of cure moderate wounds, and hurled the empty wand at the magma elemental, where it caught fire and exploded into ineffectual sparks.
Larissa then got smart, and teleported all the party straight up. (Without troubles from gravity, because of the fly spells on everybody.) With the magma elemental unable to fly, they were able to rain down spells to finish it off at leisure.
With the elementals destroyed, Turok chose to follow the call of Kotara-Nar again. He went down into the pool, fighting the pressure of the fountaining lava... and suddenly fell into a large chamber with a rising column of lava in the center, the waterfall of lava on one side, and four salamanders in the middle, who addressed him by name and said "Tonight, you are our honored guests. Tomorrow, we fight."
The rest of the PCs got invited in through the waterfall, much conversation was had about the salamanders and the impending fight, and the PCs were shown to opulent rooms and given a splendid feast, albeit without bread and salt.
I'm not 100% sure about how the twist of the salamanders worked--it's sometimes hard for me to know what Kevin's thinking when Turok is sour on things. But I don't really care, because the fight with the elementals was so exciting that I'm thrilled and happy even so.
However, as much as I'm delighted to have had such a thrilling fight, I don't actually want every fight to be that close. I'll have to think about the implications this has for my future pacing.