After the Plane Shift spell dropped them off several hundred miles off-target, the party rested overnight in an unremarkable goblin town, then teleported back to Rally to shop. Before they could spend a week crafting items, however, they were approached by a military courier and asked to report to Fort Trident.
When they got there, they found themselves in an arena surrounded by dozens of orcs -- who saluted them, as the commanding officer gave a speech praising them for closing the portal and then approached to pin a medal on their chests.
At which point the ground opened up into a big, smoking hole, swallowing up the orcish officers, and something inside started singing in Ignan, while other things shouted obscenities that knocked orcs over like tenpins. The party responded quickly, with a silence spell and a fireball and a confusion, and that drove some of the enemy out into the open air -- smoke mephit bards [using a cheesy bard subclass that let them kill people with harsh language], and a pair 'smoke birds' that shouted a stunning blast and then used stinking cloud.
Unfortunately for the enemies, by the time they realized the orcish horde charging them was not the real threat, Talon and Hobbes had already taken down one of the smoke birds, and the other tossed off a 'screw you' cloudkill and called for a retreat.
Hef, who'd spent the fight up until that point stunned, was not in any mood to let them go. He charged into the smoke and fell down a hole into the sewers, catching himself on a ledge and drinking a potion of fly to let him attack the retreating enemies. He intimidated a mephit into surrendering, but the smoke bird got away.
The two confused mephits in the original smoke cloud had been trapped in the silence when the retreat order was given, and eventually wandered out one at a time. One got trapped in a resilient sphere, the other was slaughtered by the waiting archer.
Liliana charmed one of the captured mephits, and it told them that they were freedom fighters resisting orcish oppression -- for some reason, the orcs had opened a 'giant rift' and were trying to conquer the city of the smoke naga. Which was hopeless -- the inhabitants of an elemental city were effectively part of the city, and would respawn as long as the city existed -- but annoying since nobody liked to respawn. For one thing, you forgot your previous life and had to start all over at level 1.
The orcs in the arena were mostly actors hired for the ceremony, but there were some real soldiers around who took charge of the confusion. One wanted to take both mephits back to be interrogated, after overhearing what 'Crackle' was telling Lily, but Lily insisten on keeping him, and Hef was able to intimidate him into backing down.
Hef and Lily tried going down into the sinkhole to find out what happened to the leaders, but all they found at the bottom was a dark pool of water filled with wraiths. Two of which had probably been the leaders, assuming they survived the fall.
So, they left the fort and did some more shopping and started planning out a week's worth of enchanting. The city guard told them that there had been problems like the terrorist attack popping up recently -- traitors were opening small portals to bring through elementals who then wreaked havoc. Crackle confirmed that 'heroic outsiders' were aiding his peoples' cause in the name of justice and freedom. They borrowed a portal finder and agreed to help search the city for traitors and portals.
After a week, the city was getting to be in worse and worse shape. They were staying in a nice hotel with fresh air provided by magic, but the lower-class areas were getting downright opaque from all the smoke, and given what they'd seen at the fort, it wasn't clear that it was all spillover from the city center.
They tried to charm their way into the city center, but couldn't get inside without an excuse or blatant treason. Liliana did use 'detect thoughts' and got that a great deal of the orcish military was in the city center doing... something. Possibly, invading the Plane of Smoke, like Crackle insisted. They thought about trying to get their superiors to authorize them to enter, but were worried about getting drafted since the orcs were obviously trying to keep their war with the smoke naga quiet. They also thought about finding a small portal and checking out the situation from the other side, but were worried about choking to death on an atmosphere made mostly out of smoke. Crackle suggested it wouldn't be *instantly* fatal to them, and might even be breathable if they were in one of the thinner areas, but they didn't want to risk it, or pay to get the high level (mass) planar adaptation spell cast on them (which would only work for a day or so anyway).
So instead, they skipped town, taking a job escorting a caravan back through the pass to see if the reports were true that the kobolds -- sorry, the 'mysterious attackers' -- had backed off after the portal there was closed. Also, to bring back some coal, although there'd be zombies and ghouls to escort it on the way back so that wouldn't be the party's job. The short answer was that the pass was mostly safe. They were harassed by Tengu tossing rocks down at them, but the only serious threat was a random encounter with the fearsome Biclops.
Talon's hawk spotted them literally miles away, though, and Max followed up with some better-quality scouting (since he could talk). So they flew up the side of the mountain, intending to counter-ambush the two-headed cyclopses waiting in ambush for the caravan. They didn't manage to get the drop on them, though, and Hadriel took a couple spears to the chest as the leader pointing them out to his underlings.
Then it was a fight. Calvin used a wall of fire to make the giants come to them (and do a little damage), while someone turned Hef invisible so that he could rampage without being attacked in return. They tried to get Hobbes to tank everyone, but Talon ended up fighting one of the giants in melee -- with a stoneskin up at least to keep from being utterly slaughtered. Crackle -- who Liliana had not only kept on since Charm Monster lasted for days, but dosed with a love potion to ensure his eternal devotion -- hung in the back, singing a bard song to inspire the party.
The giants' leader did not appreciate his music, and crushed the tiny mephit to death under a barrage of boulders.
But Hef took out one giant instantly with an obscene crit [for 131 damage], and he and talon took out another pretty quickly, and Liliana took out a third with a Suggestion spell (suggesting that he 'leave and not come back or else he'll get killed'). That left one for Hobbes to duel for a while, aided by a Spiritual Ally spell and more of Talon's arrows, while Hef ran over to duel the boss.
It was a very one-sided duel, since Liliana, offended by the death of her new pet, mind-raped the leader with a series of spells that kept him from taking any more actions (except to stab himself a few times) for the duration of the fight.
The giants had a pile of loot that the party gleefully looted, including a small ring (of spell turning) that was worth more than the rest of the pile put together. Apparently, he'd fished it all out of a mysterious well set on the side of the mountain. The party was not curious about the well, and left it behind without a second look, continuing on with the caravan.
Soon, they reached the end of the pass, and had only another day's travel over the relatively-safe salt flats before reaching the Black Run mine where the caravan was supposed to take on coal (and an undead army). Talon was pretty sure that they didn't want to accompany it all the way there, because that might mean having to fight again (Shabra might not still be trapped and might be slightly pissed off at him for trying) before getting back to a city and selling their loot so that they could spend another month enchanting stuff.
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