Some time after fleeing the bar tent in fear of reprisal for stuffing its owner in a beer barrel, our heroes made camp for the night. Confidentially speaking, they didn’t so much flee as mosey off, and in truth they weren’t so much fearing reprisal as a tad unsettled at their own sudden ferocity. But these are minor details.
Even though three of our four friends are city-dwelling folk, they wisely decided to guard the camp in shifts throughout the night. The first two guards, Cyricus and Keyleth managed to stay awake, even though they were quite tired. However, as the night wore on, the last two guards couldn’t keep awake. When the party awoke in the morning, there was a northern elf woman in their camp making breakfast, who seemed rather unimpressed with their woodland survival skills. In answer to the crew’s questions, she explained that her name was Papaly Mavel, and she had been sent by the few remaining northern elves in Duskswell to guide them to the source of the troubles. The northern elves are convinced that our heroes are completely insane, and hope that in showing them the source the crew is seeking, they can snap our heroes out of their crazy death wish.
While traveling to Duskswell, both An-eld and Kol become aware that the whole area is increasingly saturated with a power of a completely alien (to them) source. It seems to amplify their abilities, and they both find it something they would like to know more about. While all this is going on, Keyleth comes to a realization: if the “council” that little Randy was terrified of has stopped pursuing him so aggressively, it could be a piece of circumstantial evidence that those beings are from the same “council” as the crew has heard mentioned more than once since they left the south.
Not being able to send psychic messages herself, she approaches Kol to assist her, and by attuning their thoughts together and working a little bit of ritual into the affair, they manage to get Keyleth in contact with Randy. Randy is excited to have this contact. He is enjoying his time in the care of King Turiskel, has been given a job tending a horse in the stables, hes gotten taller, sees his parents quite regularly, likes his horse, doesn’t like shoveling poop although he only has to do it for his one special horse, hasn’t had any incidents with the men in the night, and feels quite safe. He would also like to hear from Keyleth more often, he likes that they can talk so far away and that he can still hear her, would like her to visit when she is done in the north, believes that while his special horse is supposed to be named Starblaze he’s really named Ned, and likes the chickens.
Once the talkative visitation has come to a close, our heroes find themselves approaching the northern elf settlement of Duskswell, which has sadly suffered a lot of ill effects of the troubles. There are not many buildings still standing, most of them having burned in the columns of fire that appear, grow, and then disappear. As well, rockfalls have caused a few buildings to stop existing. However, the last major structure in town is largely intact, and that is where the northern elves are concluding (slowly) their great ritual.
This ritual is the only reason any northern elves remain in Duskswell. They feel it is so important to finish this ritual a small handful of people have risk death to stay until it is complete. Interestingly, their ritual echoes a few of An-Eld’s cultural beliefs. There is some diversion from the Ir L’alde point of view, though. While An_eld believes the great story of the soul must ever continue unchanged, the northern elves seem to believe that the story must be bolstered and reinvigorated with periodic ritual songs, called the Great Song. In so doing the northern elves believe they can infuse new possibilities and new energy into the great story itself, allowing the future to become something new and different, rather than be damned to repeat history over and over without deviation or relief.
At first our heroes are rather disinterested in the ritual itself. With good reason, as “ground zero” is not far from where they are. As they approach the first scar left by a column of unnatural fire, they notice that the surrounding area has a sort of powdered residue splashed around it. When they collect this residue and do some quick field testing, they realize it is a very potent holdover from the unknown power they sensed from afar. They decide to harvest as much of it as they can in order to find out as much about it as they can, and when they show Papaly this residue, she is quite surprised and sends out a couple of the on-duty rangers to investigate other nearby scars to see if the same phenomenon is present there. While the two elves head one way, the crew and Papaly head in the opposite direction, checking out more scars.
Every one of the scars has the same residue in the same splash sort of pattern. When they return to Duskswell proper, and meet up with the rangers, they find themselves in possession of an enormous sack of powdered residue. During their investigations, An-Eld comes to a startling conclusion: the fire scars appear in an extremely complex, but mathematically explainable pattern. And in using that pattern, he can extrapolate that the “ground zero” scar must have a twin, about 6 hours’ travel to the north. To get to it, the crew must cross northman territory, and press further into the wilderness, but An-Eld is convinced they will find something of value there. This theory is further corroborated when Papaly asks a gifted cartographer left in the village to plot the rock falls on a map alongside the fire columns, and both are immediately recognizable as happening in a pattern, although the rock fall pattern is a little different than the flareup pattern.
Before heading out, though, Kol decides that for the sake of thorough investigation, he would like to see the people participating in this ritual of the northern elves’. His thought is to make sure the woman Thomas Spriten was told to lure into the bar is not a participant in the ritual. After some initial hesitation, the northern elves decide that as long as they are supervised and allowed to watch from a different room than the actual ritual chamber, there should be no harm. They are appropriately warned against interrupting the song, and the ritual is explained by a wizened old (and I mean ancient) northern elf.
The ritual is a whole lot of singing in chorus. However, interestingly, the song does not seem to be sung in any one language for long. Kol himself can only understand fragments of sentences in both common and primordial, but he vaguely recognizes a few snippets as being in Draconic, Halfling , Gnomish, Supernal, and so on, although he doesn’t recognize what any of them mean.
Satisfied, our heroes decide to press on and see what they can find in An-Eld’s spot. They are escorted by Papaly, who wishes them luck at the border between her territory and the Northmen’s, and explains to them that they expect to have finished their ritual in 3 days, and expect to be completely gone from the area no more than an hour after that.
In Northmen territory, the party is intercepted by a Northman at a trail crossing, who demands to know why Kol, who wears a macaroon identifying himself as an ally of the northmen, is traveling with 3 of the “damned elves”. After explaining that while Cyricus, Keyleth and An-Eld are all elves, they are not northern elves, and explaining that they have all taken an oath to find the source of the troubles and stop them, the Northman admonishes them to hide their elven natures as best they can, and throws them some cloth for hoods. He then leaves, with an assertion that he will tell the few Northmen left in the area about the party’s vow.
As the crew presses on, things go downhill. An unexpected convergence of both a column of the unnatural fire and an equally unnatural rockfall catches the party right in the middle of it all. With quick thinking, a lot of running, a little bit of psionic brainpower from Kol, and a little bit of luck, our heroes narrowly escape intact… for the most part. They were not the only ones affected by this flareup, though. As they hurry to leave the new devastation behind, they stumble across what looks like it might have been an ant at one point. Unfortunately, those selfsame troubles appear to have forced it to grow to the size of an elephant. It is seven or so feet tall, and has suffered damage to one of its legs. As Keyleth considers trying to heal it, it gets attacked by a timber wolf. It reacts swiftly, impaling the wolf with an enormous mandible and eating it whole. The party decides upon seeing this to maybe just leave it alone.
Eventually our heroes arrive at An-Eld’s predicted scar location. But, instead of another scar, they find a camp. The campfire is still going and through some more psionic searching augmented by the special residue, Kol finds not only a person who seems to be hunting for food, but two others. These others are approaching the camp in what seems to be an unhurried fashion, and are somehow exceptionally adept at either screening their minds from Kol’s thoughts, or are creepily empty of mind.
The party decides to hide An-Eld and Kol, while Cyricus and Keyleth sit near the fire, so they can both greet the person whose camp this and avoid scaring them into a confrontation that nobody really wants. When the camp’s owner comes back, though, she is terrified. She screams that Cyricus and Keyleth that they will not take her alive, and brandishes a staff. With some hurried improvised diplomacy, they manage to calm her down enough to explain what brought them to this place. An-Eld shows her the map they have, and they explain all the things that have happened to them on the trip between the edge of Northman territory and this point. When they mention that they were almost killed by a flareup and a rock fall that don’t fit at all into the patterns they’ve discerned, the woman reacts with despair and dismay.
Kol thinks it a good idea, when he realizes that the other two people he can sense seem to travel fairly slowly but suddenly and inexplicably slide forward, to mention that they’re on their way. This causes the woman to panic again and try to break camp quickly. Unfortunately, the two “slide” again, and she realizes that they will not be able to get out of their range in time anymore. When asked who these people are, she blurts out exasperatedly “the Council, you idiots, who did you think?!” as she finds a defensible postion.
Her last motions of preparations for the fight to come are to put her staff away, and brandish a very shiny stone the size of her fist and what our heroes think is some kind of tiny staff. Which strikes them as odd, since why would you use a tiny staff to fight someone when you could use a big one?
Nevertheless, our heroes follow suit and set up to defend themselves just in time for two people to arrive. They seem to step from nowhere into the camp, and are wearing loose robes with large sleeves. They have hoods, which are pulled forward and completely hide their faces. It’s not clear whether they are men, women, human or beast. And so, our heroes find themselves in a fight.
(Absolutely random bullshit I absolutely could not leave out: Do you think the Halfling language is called… Smalltalk?)