Sascha, A’Kelah, and Aelish have vanished inside a collapsed vortex in space and time. Rashid lays dead. The three remaining Starhunters and the dwindling crew of the Swiftlight look on in mute horror and shock. In the aftermath of the monstrous debacle caused by the detonation of the crystal ball, Fendrys goes quiet. He removes himself from the group in contemplation and grief. None of the present Starhunters wish to return to the hovering platform of the Swiftlight, favoring the solid ground near to where their friends were lost. Perren also is heartbroken and frustrated, but the rest of the day is a blur of picking up the pieces. Gage and Hoff and Elaina pitch in to make arrangements for the burial of Rashid whose body is nearly all that remains out of the four lives lost. Rather than Perren’s usual command for a ‘sky-burial’, to honor the customs of Rashid’s people, his body in set in the ground following rites Elaina understands. This process consumes the rest of the day until twilight.
With the sun over the horizon and the first stars out, Hoff spies something strange aboard the Swiftlight. He fetches Leonidas, hoping the learned half-elf will understand what to do. Leonidas examines arcane, purplish runes dancing in their own mist and light on the main-deck of the ship. He casts a spell which helps him recognize the tracings, understanding it to be Aelish’s name. The markings impel him to touch them, and he does so. This catalyzes a strange conjuring that sees Aelish reformed before them! She arrives in a theatrical pose, dressed in glorious raiment not of this realm. She is bereft of much else; no possessions but clothes and only a portion of her wits. Through her befuddlement, Aelish tells a story of nightmares and horror at the hands of monsters, of being rescued by Marquis Almdor, and ultimately how she was sent back by his great magic. There are gaps in her memory, large enough they will later discover, that she remembers not even enough of the Verses to underpin the casting of her miracles. Aodh and Leonidas welcome back Aelish cooly, unsure of what to make of her strange tale. Fendrys, mired in his own self-imposed castigation, is perhaps the most suspicious of her new wide-eyed and vivid mien, and how it might assuage some of his guilt. Aelish is overjoyed to be free from her ‘nightmare’.
That same night, in the deep hours when the faint sickle of Embo is high, a second runic mark is spotted. This one is on terra firma, near to where the vortex had opened. These glyphs are in silver—again it is Leonidas who translates mystically—and this time A’Kelah returns from the beyond. Unlike her human companion, the veer sorceress is without a thread of clothing. Instead, she clutches onto her few magic items from the fetal position (having added a glowing, plucked cat-eye to her collection). A’Kelah’s body has completely altered in color, gone from white to black and vice versa. She looks now like a head-to-belly striped Silque rather than a cousin-to-Orca. Still hairless, she looks even more alien to these flatlanders than ever before.
She tells a similar, though also confused tale of being lost in the Astral Plane whereupon she saw Aelish ‘die’. A’Kelah is mum about exactly how she returned, citing gaps in her own memory, though she knows nothing of Almdor. Rather than grow suspicious of the veer as they did with Aelish: Fendrys, Leonidas, and Aodh all seem much more trusting of their physically altered, but acerbic as ever, friend.
Aelish wants to go the capital, as Almdor has told her that they’ve been going about their great endeavor all wrong. After long hours of talking, Aelish convinces the group to change course for the capital. Perren is not against it and agrees to take the Starhunters most of the way. En route, Aodh receives a miraculous vision of Aelish, containing a divine message from her for him. The halfling confides in Leonidas only about this, though Gage overhears with his keen hearing.
The Swiftlight deposits them in an expanse of trees and they make their way south, finding the road which ultimately leads back to Vorhon and its swamps in the other direction. Not far from the town of Etrotha where they ultimately find themselves, they lodge at an inn called Makar’s Home on Threemoon, the 8th of Terentius. The beautiful Aelish in her splendid clothes causes a stir at the inn, but she retires and keeps to herself. The rest of the group remains in the common room to plot ahead and listen to gossip.
Locals talk of a rash of strange pregnancies and monsters within the Capital’s walls after dark.