The constant tremors that rippled through the area helped hide our clandestine investigations, though it made navigating the shifting landscape treacherous at best. The Earthshakers had dug in fairly substantially, both barricading their own camp and limiting avenues of approach through the use of their magic. As Verse and I watched the movements of their guards, the shifting wind brought brief snippets of conversation across the chasm to our ears.

“I can’t believe Basilon’s staff is fitted with pure Azurelith,” one bored guard mused. “The fool’s as likely to lose it as he is to actually bring it here. And if he does lose it, what’s to stop anyone from just picking it up and waltzing into our camp?”

We looked at each other. Basilon was the leader of the Earthshakers who had been harvesting crystals out of the Stonestalker’s territory back in Stone Down Gorge – the same ones we ran out of the area as a favor to Red-Fang in exchange for her help. We shook our heads; the key to stopping whatever ritual was about to begin had been right under our noses and we let it slink away. We regrouped with the others to discuss our options.

“What if we could find a large cache of pure Azurelith here?” Eb suggested, looking to the many small outgrowths of purple crystal among the rocks. “Maybe that would suffice?”

I shook my head. “The wizards would have collected anything big enough to help them in their ritual by now, I think. We may just have to go back and relieve Basilon of his staff.” I sighed with a mix of exasperation and resolution. “It’s back to the Gulfglow Oldwalls for us.”

We turned around and marched back across the long miles we had traveled in the hours and days previous, grim determination on all of our faces. We barely spoke, even while setting up late-night camp or cooking our first-light meal; none of us wanted to be on this road, knowing full well that we would have to traverse it for a third time, in as many days, after we appropriated the staff. We had done a great deal of travel during our adventures, but this trek felt almost punishing.

We each of us certainly resolved to keep a sharp eye out for opportunities to reduce the amount of retracing our own steps we would have to do in future.

Covered in grime, our expressions sour, we met up with Basilon at the camp he and his fellow Earthshakers had erected just outside of Gulfglow. They seemed to be having a great time, singing battle songs and studying what Azurelith they had been allowed to remove from the canyon. Either our appearance was too shocking for them to stop us or our bleak countenances enough to encourage guards to stay away – we weren’t challenged as we marched up to their leader’s tent and entered, uninvited and unannounced.

Wisely the other Earthshakers didn’t say a word as we departed the camp, pure crystal in hand. Basilon hadn’t wanted to be relieved of the “priceless reagent,” but the mirthless suggestion that I throw him back to the Stonestalker tribe shut up his protestations. Tact was not the only approach taught at Tunon’s Fatebinder school.

We turned our attention back to the long road that would lead us to Howling Rock. That road we knew so well, and so frequently.