The party took some time to loot and regroup (and let the new orc leader put on his 'armor of leadership') before arranging themselves in battle formating and opening the front door. Silence washed through the room, but the spellcasters were far enough back not to be affected, and it didn't keep anyone from seeing the four orc warriors blokading the doorway, with a fifth up on the wall a ways back watching.
Talon was suspicious of the one on the wall, and tried to take him out with a volley of arrows. He hurt him badly, but didn't finish him off, and the orc fired a single flaming arrow into the air, then jumped off the wall outside the fort to be out of the line of fire.
Between Hobbes, Hef, Talon, and the orc leader, the four orcs at the front door didn't last long, although they got a couple hits in on Hef. Meanwhile, Lilia, Hadriel, and Samuel were exploring the rest of the keep. They sent their other orc to guard the back door, while the three casters went up the spiral staircase for the main tower. This proved to be a good choice, because it kept them safe while letting them cast spells at the enemies through the arrow slits set into the walls here and there along the stairway.
Another four orcs came around the sides of the building to engage the melee folks, summoned by the flare, while two archer 'orcs' cast blur and mirror image and oh my god that was the wrong choice of defense against Lilia. She blinded one and held the other, and... it just wasn't pretty.
They managed to take one of the flying, mirror-imaging 'orcs' (that is, tengu) alive (and charmed him), but all the actual orcs in the fort, except the two they'd convinced to join them, were killed in the fight. They took alchemical antidotes against the poison, and got through without anyone dying, although Hadriel memorized a lot of lesser restorations to heal people back up in the morning.
Then they looted not only the bodies of their foes, but the fort's armory, since leaving anything there was just asking for it to be claimed by the enemies. They also left a vague message for the blink dog messenger that was supposed to regularly visit each fort -- vague because, again, enemies might see it.
Then they spent the day marching down the pass, until they came to the next fort. It looked suspiciously quiet. Sam turned Max invisible and sent him flying over it to take a look, and he reported that he'd never seen so much dynamite. They found a box canyon an hour away to summon a secure shelter in, and spent the night without incident.
Unfortunately, with the pass unguarded and unpatrolled, monsters were starting to move back in, and they had a run-in with a spider-squid aberration that had a ton of attacks, including a completely independant acid-spewing tail, and was really hard to hit, and had lots of immunities and DR, and had really good saving throws, and... survived two rounds. It was only EL 13 for a level 8 party, so I shouldn't have expected it to be a real fight, I guess.
The last fort was actually there, and probably not infiltrated although how could you really be sure? The orcs there were, as they'd hoped, able to tell them about an old entrance to the underdark that had been sealed up, but not so thoroughly that they couldn't break through if they wanted to. They were also able to see that the huge column of smoke they'd noted earlier seemed to be coming from Rally, although no one in the fort seemed concerned.
Since Rally was actually in view, they decided to take a couple days to train and shop before assaulting the underdark.
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