After having Artican do a quick pass to cleanse the mine of any remaining shadows (with some Sahaugin decoys along to help avoid shadowy death), the party quickly flew to Rally to report on the situation. They found Rally worse off than ever -- much of the population was camped outside the smoke-ridden city, and in addition to a slightly nauseating atmosphere that reduced visibiliy to about 20', there were wandering patches of Stinking Cloud and Cloudkill here and there in the streets. The cloudkill was at least a different *color*...
They tried to talk their way into the middle of the city, which had most of the mage and artificer guilds and was now a restricted area, and god sent to a military base in the outskirts instead. There, they turned over the Seed of Destruction for a selection of artifacts from the vaults. Then they went shopping.
Part of their shopping involved enchanting their equipment, which meant several days in the city waiting for it to be finished. The smoke was really annoying them so they decided to go bug the vault guys about it. To get rid of them, the orc on duty lent them a rod of locate portal -- it had a very limited range, but could be used every five minutes or so. So they went portal-dowsing.
The first portal they got a signal from was in the middle of a block of buildings covered in canvas tarps. Alex snuck up to get a look inside, and saw a bunch of people enjoying the fresh air. She decided that they'd probably just opened a portal to the plane of air to get some fresh air to breathe, and that this was not the portal they were looking for.
A bit later it led them to a building undergoing an invasion from the plane of ice. Also not their problem, although they noted down the location to tell the guards about it later.
The third thing they found was not a portal -- it was a smoke snake warning them away from a section of the city, because it was uninhabitable for 'their kind'. They tried flying low from rooftop to rooftop, but the roof was too fragile to support the dragonne (which Lily and Alex were riding) and collapsed. No one was hurt but it attracted some attention -- a smoke bird shadowing them (but not being sneaky enough to avoid being spotted) and some sinister *chanting*.
Artican, having the most experience with extraplanar critters, suggested they run away, so they did -- just in time to avoid a burst of something smokey behind them. FOOMF.
Still, although they hadn't gotten a portal reading, this was all awfully suspicious. They lost their tail (by leaving the city entirely for a while) and then Alex snuck back inside, going 'by herself' this time (with Artican and a miniaturized Ironhoof in her pockets) to avoid being detected. She was able to sneak past several perimeter guards, but when she heard more chanting decided to try to hide inside a building to avoid it instead of running -- only her Evasion talent saved her (and her passengers) from the smokey cloud that burst out of all the windows of the building after the rooftop chanting ended.
She still hadn't been seen, though, so she pushed in deeper until she finally got a ping from the portal-locator. A bunch of pings. She also saw dozens of smoke-snakes, some of which were obviously monks like the ones they'd fought before, and others which were building strange devices of unknown purpose -- a permanent portal perhaps?
This called for serious military action by someone other than the party, so they ran away to tell what they'd found.
Which at last got them into the restricted area. There, they found most of the orcish military arranged in battle lines around a giant portal, including a bunch of artillery aimed at the portal. When they reported the incursion in the city proper to the general -- a gnome in an animated metal suit with an electric claw for one hand -- he had them plot out all the enemies they'd seen on his battle map, which let them see where the rest of the army was -- on a strange globular city located on the far side of the portal, where they seemed to be winning at least...
He didn't want to commit too many of his forces, so he asked the party to handle it for him. He did offer them protection against the smoke snakes' typical attacks (alchemical antitoxin and potions of resist acid) as well as a communications device (one of those linked-earring things) that would let them call down artillery strikes from the catapults in the city center, to help cause enough chaos for a small but potent band to accomplish their task. Oh, and a rod of cancellation to destroy a permanent portal if one had been set up -- the lesser portals were easy to close by just knocking over the candles, after all.
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