On their journey to what they hope is a ‘ Lawstone’ of the Meridian, the Starhunters approach the Silverstrike mountains in the northwestern reaches of the far Pallengothe. Beyond these mountains, lies the great Myhtan Empire. There is smoke on the horizon and soon it hangs low in the air. A massive fire, perhaps caused by the eruption in the distance, moves to wipe out the forest before them. The travelers back-track, and change their heading numerous times, but the fire encircles them. The sheltering magic of Leonidas saves them again—keeping the heat, smoke, and flames at bay while the forest is incinerated around them.
Fendrys notices that the dread presence clinging to A’Kelah’s strange key, which is ever patient, seize this vulnerable moment. By now the key has collected another phantasm, the spirit of dead Andre Yeremough, who the Starhunters could not save from the risen thing in the swamp (or from themselves). Fendrys calls the alarm as the key-bound specter rifles through Aodh’s pack and tosses his map out into the blaze. Meanwhile, Andre’s vengeful ghost takes possession of Leonidas—using his body to call away the magic shelter that protects them all. Aelish, however, wastes no time in calling upon the grace of Eladriel to banish these phantoms.
With the shelter cancelled, the smoke and heat rush in. Leonidas, his body his own again, races to re-cast his sheltering spell. As he does so, Aelish summons water and douses everyone to stave off the flames. A’Kelah vomits up the vapor held within her and cajoles it into a funnel to whip away the tongues of fire. The bard manages to create his shelter again and when they’ve cleared the tears from their eyes and finished coughing up smoke and soothing their burned skin, they discuss A’Kelah’s key. Leonidas angrily tosses it out into the blaze. A’Kelah rolls her eyes and explains that it will dutifully return within a day. A day is all the time Aelish needs in prayer however to break the curse—and when she does so, the object shatters, releasing its imprisoned spirits.
What the Starhunters do not realize however, is that a febrile spiral of death in another part of the world is calling wayward spirits like these to it, as moths are beckoned to a flame…
It will later come to light that A’Kelah’s use of the vapor has again changed her, this time altering the shape and color of her eyes. Her pupils are now slivered like a serpents, her irises are the color of garnet. The great fire burns down, leaving an alien landscape of ash and smoldering stumps in its wake. They press on. A’Kelah takes daily sojourns into the sky to view the surroundings. Fendrys is at a loss to properly guide his companions now that everything has been ravaged by fire and rains of ash. Aodh and Fendrys are scryed upon just as Leonidas and Aelish were a few days prior.
Only a day out from the mountains, during her time in the air, A’Kelah spots a dozen riders headed their way. The Starhunters scramble for what passes for high ground and take cover behind some boulders. A dozen goblins mounted on cruel worgs ride forth. In reserve they have an ogre carrying the cannon that was previously fired upon them. The goblins misjudge both the range and deadly accuracy of Fendrys’ arrows and are unable to fire their cannon with impunity. There is a fierce melee of cannon fire, criss-crossing arrows, and slung spells. Goblins die to bolts of magic. Arrows find their marks. Slavering worgs topple their quarry. The Starhunters slip and fall on the loose field of pebbles and stones but they are victorious in the end. Had A’Kelah not scouted for this party, the battle would likely have been their doom.
Among the spoils they find on the dead goblins are dossiers and fine chalk portraits of each of them, both most likely made by human hands, but in a language they do not understand. They also find a crystal ball, the magic of which locates only the five of them; it cannot locate Gage. Leonidas relies on his magical artifice to decipher the writing, and although he is successful, his spell reveals something else (that he does not share with his companions).
A’Kelah gets back to her aerial reconnaissance and spots what looks to be an ocean-going ship hovering in the air, but miles away. She also finds magical ‘fire-flags’ which mark a trail up the mountain. Much of the trail has been buried or ruined by slag, mudflows, and other debris from the recent eruption. While following the fire flags, A’Kelah is arrested by an invisible force which steals the ‘orb’ from her very lungs and dashes off with it at a speed they cannot match. Leonidas gives chase nonetheless and sees it slip through the cracks of a pair of large stone doors worked into the mountainside.