Me: "Well... yeah, you've been kind of avoiding the story."
So to summarize: They took the test to be official 'adventurers' in the orcish empire (actual orcish translation: 'Warband') and were sent out to find evil and dispense justice on their own recognizance, in the name of the empire. Their first major mission was to stop a gnollish mining operation that was extending just across the border, mining 'blue mud' that could be turned into cheap masterwork weapons (and seemed to be cheaply enchantable with certain minor enchantments) but which -- possibly unbeknown to the gnolls -- also infected its users with a subtle mind control that made them want to spread the blue metal and infect more people.
The second mission was to investigate a dwarven mine having trouble with 'unicorns', which turned out to be elven bandits. While they were there, the dwarves unleashed an ancient evil (the same one the elves had been worried about, thus the banditry) which took over the mine. The party wiped out the bandits, but was afraid to face the necromancer, and so instead arranged for a loyal orcish necromancer to negotiate with the ancient evil for access to the mine's coal.
The third mission was to clear out some monsters that were infesting the pass between the mine and Rally, the orcish capital. They were expecting to fight fire drakes and other wild animals, but instead found an organized invasion of tengu from another plane. After several fights invoving mind-controlled orcs, shapeshifters, and kobolds, they took out the portal the tengu had come through and possibly re-opened the pass, since the rest of the kobolds decided to pretend that they hadn't been secretly behind the assault.
Then they went to Rally and were attacked by terrorists from the plane of Smoke who claimed they were freedom fighters resisting an orcish invasion -- which was presumably what was occupying the orcish military and letting everything else in the empire get so out of hand. They didn't want to deal with this scenario, though, since their consciences suggested that maybe the empire was in the wrong. So instead, they headed back to Silver Sails, escorting a caravan sent to get some coal from the ex-dwarven mine to fuel some massive construction project going on secretly in Rally.
Meanwhile, they'd been getting hints that the prime material plane was doomed -- the Godslayer (original leader of the orcs) had killed all the gods 200 years ago and cut it off from most of the outer planes, and as a result people tended to come back as undead almost all the time. The orcs didn't like people talking about that, but they were doing something involving a giant portal in the middle of Rally. And the portal to the tengu's plane from theirs was unleashing a wave of necrotic energy flooding that other plane with undead, as a side effect.
Having escorted the caravan through the pass, the party debated whether to leave it there, or take it the rest of the way through the salt desert. There was some danger from salt mummies, at least, so they decided to get within sight of the mine before taking their leave. Unfortunately, while they were passing a long-dead farm (gone to salt), the horses, all the NPC guards, and most of the party decided that this would be a good place to stop and rest for a while.
The few who weren't affected thought there was something fishy about that. Fishier, when several members of the escort started looking kind of sickly. Fishiest when they finally spotted a glimmer of some unnatural color coming from inside the old, rotting windmill...
Sam fireballed the glimmer, revealing a glowing, incorporeal blob, brightly colored but in a color that no one could describe. It took refuge in the grain silo, popping out to attempt to disintegrate Talon when he ran closer to try to get a better angle on it.
Sam blue up the silo, too, and various party members were slowly doing damage to it, so it ran away to hide inside the farm house. This didn't fool anyone. Even more wounded, it tried to fake its own death and hide underground. This didn't fool anyone either, but it was harder for them to follow...
And they still couldn't leave. Searching the area, they found signs that other people had wandered past and gotten trapped by the thing, but all the remains they could find were disintegrated and useless. It seemed like a square mile or so including the farm was the radius of the effect... nothing left there but salt, though.
So, since they didn't want to wait the night, they decided to try the slow but reliable 'scry-teleport' method of assassinating the creature. It almost worked! Instead, it left Lilia, Hef, Hadriel, and Talon trapped underground in a room with no (human-sized) exits, while the creature fled through a tiny tunnel to another chamber. This time, Lilia located it with Prying Eyes and a Dimension Door, and they were finally able to finish it off. Another Dimension Door straight up (with Hef flying and carrying everyone) got them back outside, and sure enough they were able to leave, with it dead.
They rested overnight in the salt flats, and after escorting the caravan the rest of the way pushed on to the dwarven inn, where Sam offered to arm-wrestle a teenage dwarven girl, and was forced to lie about a vow of celibacy to avoid her amorous attentions after she won. The day after that -- after presenting illusionary blue-metal amulets badges to the troll-run toll bridge in the middle of nowhere -- they got to Crossroads, to find that in the week or two that they'd been gone, the town had been taken over by a new movement.
Priest: "It's called Unity, and it's basically a sort of neighborhood watch program, since the military presence in this area is so weak lately."
Lilia: "You know it's controlling your mind, right?"
Priest: "No no, those enchantment spells you see on all our blue-metal membership badges are just a subtle form of telepathy to help us coordinate."
Lilia: "No, we saw this before, it's mind-control."
Priest: "Well... we're inside a forbiddance here at the church, which should block any actual control. And none of the townsfolk outside have been acting particularly strange. If you're really worried, I can have some of my acolytes take off the badges and keep watch, but I'm leery about rejecting the Unity entirely since it was approved by the government."
This seemed like something for them to check out. The priest's orders were signed by someone claiming to be an Inquisitor -- which was suspicious since the Inquisitors were fairly secretive and nobody knew who they were, making it hard to verify if the document was real or not because what would you even compare it to? -- and the trolls from the toll-bridge had given them directions to the guy who'd hired them, out of a warehouse on the docks.
Sam: "In the abandoned warehouse district?"
GM: "They're not abandoned! It's a working port!"
But instead, they decided to go investigate one of the precinct headquarters of the Unity movement, where people went to get their complementary Unity badges and sign up for volunteer work. Jobs for adventurous types were posted -- which, to the suspicious eye, boiled down to 'rough up these people who are resisting our movement'. Lilia took a tour, trying to subtly get more information on the cult, but couldn't get anything out of her tour guide about the overall organization, and made him a little suspicious when she tried to press for more info. She did see a bunch of people getting records from the basement, and the corner office where the precinct boss wasn't seeing anyone at the moment.
So after dark, Max (Sam's familiar) snuck in to look around, posing as an ordinary stray cat. The building wasn't heavily guarded, so that worked. He got into the locked office and saw that it looked completely ordinary, except that where you'd expect to see a desk chair, there was a tub full of blue mud sitting behind the desk. Worried that it was an elemental in disguise, he *quietly* opened the window and *quietly* looked through the papers and then chickened out and ran to check out the basement, where he found (a) that this building used to be the district's hall of records, and the basement had all the official records like birth certificates and business licenses (as opposed to the offices above, which now had Unity-focused documentation). And (b) a chamber in the back where a huge vat of blue mud was made into various blue-metal jewelry -- not a full on forge chamber like they'd seen at the gnollish mine, but enough to make badges and infect people.
Talon snuck in after hearing that report, and stole the filing cabinet from the boss' office, without alerting the possibly-nonexistant guard elemental. The cabinet had lots of incriminating evidence -- notes on who the cult had threatened, converted, and killed, as well as Terran writing documenting a long-term plan to take over the city, open a portal to the plane of Mud, and absorb everyone in the city into becoming one with Lord Smooze. None of this looked especially imminent; they were still on the 'convert people' stage of the plan and hadn't even started preparations for the magical rituals.
Still, the party was Not Happy about this, especially when Hef rejoined them the next morning wearing a wagon wheel made out of blue metal as an 'amulet' -- given to him by the other ogres and half ogres in his old neighborhood as a gesture of respect, since he was the smartest. They managed to break him free of its control before he got violent (helped by the illusionary blue badges they were all wearing, thanks to hats of disguise they'd looted from the elven bandits long ago), and teleported (some of the party) to Rally to report this cult to the authorities that they were sure they could trust, since at least some of the government in Silver Sails had to be in on this, since it was so widespread.
Rally... was in bad shape. It was full of sickening smoke, and Smoke Birds patrolled the streets casting cloud kill on random passersby. They evaded pursuit and managed to get to the mage's guild, which was warded and still under orcish control, where they heard about the counterattack the plane of smoke had managed. The orcs insisted that everything was going according to plan -- they'd evacuated most of the population outside the outer walls, and now the smoke-plane terrorists were trapped between the inner and outer walls of the city, in one big 'kill zone'. The party didn't really buy this, but still wasn't interested in getting involved.
The orcs confirmed that the Unity was not officially sanctioned, and one of them blurted out that if another large portal was opened 'so close' it would 'tear the plane apart'. The other officials were not especially amused at that leak. They told the party that they'd offer what support they could in taking back Silver Sails -- normally, a cult infestation like this would be cause for a purge where they'd just kill everyone in the area, but they'd rather not lose their main port city if they could help it. Especially if most of the 'cultists' were actually being mind controlled.
The most *important* thing was to prevent another portal from being opened, though.
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