After finishing up in Graight-on-the Crater, the party decides to mount up and head somewhere to meet up with Elspeth…. somewhere. Maybe soon. Unfortunately, the party and Elspeth all neglected to hammer out details of that. Luckily, Cyricus finds he has a compulsion to head roughly northeast toward the center of the country. As the party mounts up and heads out, the troubles have visibly lessened in intensity and frequency. Whole hours pass without sight of fire or falling rocks.
Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the almost peaceful scene of the day is shattered when a whole squad of the creepy robed guys come silently out of the woods using their weird shuffling teleport-step. This squad of creepy guys has a recognizable leader, though, who introduces himself as Zanaver Bloodbane. He then explains that the party has been declared traitorous to the Council and was to be brought back to Council lands for trial and sentencing. He then invites them to surrender, explaining that surrendering would count as their pleading guilty and they would die humanely without pain.
The party politely decline this invitation, and Elspeth shows up just in the nick of time to join in the fray.
The fight is hard, and both Elspeth and Kol eat dirt a couple of times. The enemies seem to specialize in immobilizing the party, but they prevail in the end.
A look around the battlefield after the fight reveals some very unsettling details. The Council corpses are decaying far too quickly, and leaving behind vile black goo which is drying out into some unnatural dust faster than should be possible. The obvious necromantic leavings send Elspeth into a mild panic.
Elspeth’s panic is only intensified when the party recovers a strange locket on Zanaver’s former corpse that she can’t conclusively identify, even with her extensive experience. All she can tell is that it’s obviously an artificer’s invention, but is unimaginably ancient and of a quality not even the Council can recreate.
Kol, struck by a sudden inspiration, made a mental probe of the object. While it didn’t reveal the nature or use of the thing, he was seized by a vision showing how Zanaver got it. In the vision, Kol sees the world through Zanaver’s eyes. He sees a darkened circular room lit only by corrupted spirit candles, and a shrouded, hooded, concealed figure in front of him. The figure’s face is completely hidden from his view, but the figure holds up the locket in a hand that is horrific: it is gnarled, with bones that look to have been broken and badly set, leading to gruesome folded skin and tissue. The figure gives the locket to Zanaver, while an unknown voice whispers sibiliant words in Abyssal. Kol, who speaks Primordial, is able to pick out a word or two here and there. He gets words like “death” “knowledge” “pain” “truth” and “trial”. When Kol relays this vision to the rest of the party…. Elspeth goes into an even deeper panic.
Once she has had a chance to calm herself down and focus a little, she tells the party she will need some time to find out what she can, but says this hints at some deep corruption somewhere within Council society. She references a disbanded research group as well; the group was tasked with learning everything they could about the fundamental nature of evil, but then disbanded because the side effects of that research on the researchers were so extreme that they outweighed any measurable benefit.
A few more moments of thought from Elspeth have her return the Northman brooch that she had palmed from Kol before she left them the last time, and then sniffing out the signet the party… acquired from Thomas Spriten. When she sees the signet she visibly recoils from it. She explains that the variation of the standard Council icon on this ring is the symbol of the disbanded Committee for the Research of Evil, and shows her personal Council symbol as a contrast. That they are using the old symbol as their identifier to each other shows that they’re far more organized than a recently-activated group could be. And, she says, it’s broadcasting their position to anyone who happens to be able to listen for it.
She takes the signet, performs some ritualized magic on it, and shuts the broadcast down. Once all this is done, she admits to the party that she may need to ask more of them at a later time. Keyleth is unimpressed by this.
Our heroes wander off into the evening to find a safe place to make camp. The whole party is pretty beat up, it makes no sense to throw themselves into anything without it.