Travelling back up to the pass from Silver Sails was mostly uneventful. Crossroads was doing fine, for once -- the ghoul fever had gotten into the local undead and made them slightly more dangerous, but they weren't wandering out of the 'graveyard' in the woods where all the bodies were dumped to keep them out of the way. Gloomwings had been spotted wandering around, but they were organized or aggressive. And most of the dwarven refugees were gone, relocated to Silver Sails.
They also ran into a new set of trolls guarding the bridge in the middle of the open field. Despite some aggression on the part of the party, and some confusion on the trolls' part about how pieces of gold were supposed to represent chickens, they were eventually granted an 'exception' by the trolls' manager and given 'exception amulets' to smooth the process if they had to pass by again. Sam recognized the 'execption amulets' as being made out of the mind-controlling blue metal, so most of the party buried theirs in the muddy ground once they were out of sight.
The dwarven inn was no longer deserted -- a new group of opportunistic and ludicrously optimistic dwarves had moved in to re-open it. "The ghoul army is going to join the Empire, right? So they won't trouble us again. And as soon as the pass is clear again, we should get plenty of customers!" They stayed the night, but Talon was woken up in the middle of the night by Blip the blink dog licking his face.
He had a special super secret missions for them! Well, for one of them. The necromancers were making progress on the diplomatic front, but as his price for joining the orcs, Shabra wanted them to provide a 'good' volunteer to open some ancient elven barriers. Only he was super-paranoid, so he only wanted one person to come. And they had to be actual volunteers -- coercion made the barrier reject people.
The party decided to check this out. They thought it was probably a bad idea, but all of them could come as far as the mine entrance at least on the pretense that travelling through the salt flats was dangerous, which was actually true. When a pack of ghouls met them halfway to 'escort' them, Sam and Hef stayed behind so as not to cause an 'incident'.
Sam: "Come on, Hef. Let's light a giant signal fire so they can find us on their way back."
Hef did like lighting giant fires.
At the (former) dwarven mining town, they found the mage tower destroyed (the mages had had teleports prepared for a quick escape, though, so they were probably okay) and being used as a nest by the zombie drake their necromancer (let us call him Megrim because I don't remember his actual name) had been riding. Liliana tried to convince him to let all of them go down to meet Shabra, but while her diplomacy would have been plenty to overwhelm his resistance, he had to inform her that Shabra was SUPER PARANOID and would just attack if he saw more than one person.
Liliana was NOT going down by herself. So they sent Talon instead, even though he was hardly 'good'. They figured that this would work out nicely -- he'd fail to open the barrier, and they'd get more intelligence on Shabra.
During the trip through the mine, he saw that it was indeed infested with undead, tenebrous worms and gloomwings, and patches of animate pink mist that had to be shooed away from the living creatures. Eventually they reached the point where the dwarves had broken through into a cave which had once had four gem-studded chambers set into the walls -- one had been right at the point of breakthrough and was shattered, the other four were intact but open.
The elven force fields were helpfully labelled in elven. "Level 11: Shabra the Necromancer. This way UP to entrance/DOWN to armory." They scanned Talon as he approached, and with Shabra standing back, lit up green. Talon touched the indicated spot, and the force-field opened.
The corridor beyond was trapped, though -- spinning blades as far as they could see (the corridor curved slightly) and more of the pink mist oozing out of the walls, although Talon was able to kill it with arrows pretty handily. Shabra turned ethereal to ghost through the blades, but soon returned, very angry. There was another force field at the far end of the tunnel!
There was also a magic trap that summoned ghostly lions, but they went after Shabra and didn't trouble Talon.
After methodically disarming pressure plate after pressure plate, Talon managed to reach the next forcefield. "Level 12: Essence of Nightmares." He didn't want to open it, not wanting to give Shabra more allies (or unleash an uncontrolled 'Essence of Nightmares' on the world), so he bluffed botching a trap roll and told Shabra that he couldn't go further because the traps were getting too hard. Shabra didn't care -- "Go until you fall, and then I will find another. I must retrieve my blade!"
Eventually, Talon outright refused, and Shabra *grudgingly* let him go. He ran as fast as he could -- and shut the first force-field behind him, trapping Shabra in the corridor. Then he kept running, because he didn't think it would actually hold the ancient evil necromancer for long. Megrim was disappointed and thought that this had probably set the negotiations back a looong way, but maybe they could be salvaged.
Meanwhile, Sam and Hef's signal fire attracted attention, which they first noticed when a salty, acid storm whipped up around them. They recognized this sort of storm -- salt mummies! Hef charged at one mummy, moving too fast for the mummies to keep the storm on him continuously, which let him get his bearings. The mummies were 300 feet away, but that wasn't far for a raging barbarian. Sam turned Max invisible and sent him up to call out targets, and the familiar was able to give coordinates accurate enough to aim fireballs. The mummies were very vulnerable to fire, and went up like torches. Sam killed three by the time Hef finished off his one, but nothing was left of them by scorch marks on the ground.
Liliana: "I hope you two didn't get too bored while we were dealing with the necromancers."
Hef: "Hef kill mummy!"
Sam: "I killed three mummies!"
At any rate, the dwarven mine was kind of on the way, so they headed straight for the pass instead of backtracking to the inn. They didn't make the first fort before dark, but Liliana had a 'secure shelter' spell for them to sleep in that was probably better than the fort, since they'd been attacked in the fort the last time they'd tried to sleep there. They passed it the next day, and it was still deserted.
The trail through the pass went through a long, narrow tunnel, which made them nervous. Max scouted ahead, and spotted a Tengu hiding up on a mountainside, watching the far end of the tunnel. Liliana snuck up and put him to sleep, then they all ran past and out of sight before he could wake up -- hoping that he'd write off his nap to a personal failing.
They reached the next fort after dark, but it was at least manned by orcs. The orcs invited them in to share a feast and tell stories of their exploits in the pass. When the party mentioned their attack on the Tengu camp, the orcs revealed that they'd used intel from that (sent via blink dog) to attack another Tengu camp, and they'd had a great victory although they'd lost a lot of their people and even with the previous reinforcements, were kind of short-handed.
Then most of the party noticed that their food tasted funny. They might have written it off if Sam hadn't cast a detect poison cantrip and gotten back 'yes'. Hadriel was in the process of reaching the same conclusion, since he was Liliana's official food taster.
Most of the orcs were also eating the poisoned food, though...
Talon: "Maybe it's a spice for orcs, and only a poison to us?"
Liliana: "Hemlock is not a spice!"
So, Talon and Sam went to interrogate the cook, who claimed to know nothing but wasn't a very good liar. Talon dragged him out into the main room to out him to the orcs, when the leader stood up and ordered them all to KILL!
Liliana: "I *suggest* you tell your troops to stand down and settle this civilly!"
...failing his save, the leader had no choice. The cook and one of the other orcs didn't obey. "Are you crazy? We can't let them live!" They took the cook down quickly, but the other one managed to run away before Hef could fully fillet him [thanks to some bad rolls]. Hobbes was guarding the door, but didn't intervene to stop him, not wanting to break the fragile truce.
Liliana attempted to use diplomacy (and a detect thoughts spell) to figure out how to 'break the control' that was making the leader hostile, or otherwise convince them not to fight. The leader tried to use the talking as an excuse to get close enough to coup-de-grace the cook quietly, but he was spotted and Talon managed to stop him.
Sam, meanwhile cast detect magic and spotted enchantment spells on all of the orcs except for the leader and the (unconscious but still living) cook -- who had transmutation instead. He dispelled the transmutation on the leader, revealing him as a Tengu.
Liliana: "Look at who you really serve! Break free of his control!"
Tengu: "We're allied with the orcs now! Part of our price was the deaths of these murderers!"
A couple of the orcs managed to break free of their spells, but the rest attacked. The orcs were dangerous if they managed to hit, but slow to react and not very well armored (and had horrible will saves), and with some of them on the party's side it was a slaughter. The party told one of the orcs who'd broken free that he was in charge now, and he quickly seized the leader's 'cloak +2 of leadership' and 'armor +2 of leadership' and 'freezing glaive +2 of leadership', and promised to rally the rest of the orcs.
Assuming the tengu who'd escaped earlier hadn't already done that.
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