The human population having left, the Party then set about deciding what to do about the gnolls. On the one hand, they wanted to show their sincerity by offering a little help but they weren't sure that another encounter with the tribe would be prudent...or safe. The group therefore decided to fill the spring pool with water and to leave a notice which would indicate its temporary nature.
The party decided to head north out of the Dead Forest as they had originally planned. Running low on provisions, they decided to risk travel across this area of the March but they decided they would avoid the oases where the gnolls, hobgoblins and whatever other power had arisen might gather - relying instead on their magic to produce the water they needed.
On the 5th day through the March, the group begins no notice a foul smell on the air - like something dead and rotting. As they continued, the stench grew stronger until they came upon a massive battlefield. Remains of hundreds of armor-clad figures littered the ground, picked at by desert carrion birds and other small scavengers. As they moved into the battlefield and began to look around, they noticed a group of jackals on the far side, moving in their general direction.
The figures turned out to be gnolls and another grotesque humanoid creature which Tisroc guesses are hobgoblins. Tisroc began to look through possessions - it seemed that nothing of note had been salvaged from any of the corpses. A few of the hobgoblins had some small packs with moldy but edible rations.
As they investigated the scene, they noticed the jackals moving closer and eventually noticed they were eyeless - they had seen jackals like this before. They were considering this when Tisroc happened to glance behind them and saw a blue-robed figure only 5 feet away. He was tall and dark, his head was like that of a jackal but he seemed well groomed and refined. He had a crimson scarf around his head covering his eyes. Before he could react, the figure spoke, asking them what had happened here.
The party, startled, responded that they didn't know what had happened or why. The figure seemed mystified. He told them that he had watched these tribes for many years and what he saw here was not consistent with his knowledge of them.
The group asked the figure who he was and he obliged them, informing the party that he was called Oorshal, and that he was "one of the last three". The party told them that they had heard a rumor that someone who looked like him was unifying the tribes of the March and that maybe this scene had something to do with it. This seemed shocking to the figure. He mentioned something about the others seeking to supplant him. He asked them many other questions about this rumor, but that was all they knew.
Oorshal seemed disturbed. He suggested that the party leave the area as quickly as they could and advised them not to linger in "cursed places" such as this.
The party continued north toward the Jagged Crown mountains of the north. When they reached the foothills, the turned east to head toward the Sula river that they would follow to The Crag. The foothills were rougher going, but offered a bit more cover and shelter. It had been a few weeks since they set out when they finally encountered the river and began the final leg of their journey.
The trip up into the mountains was arduous even when following the riverbank. They would often have to deviate from the river and head up into the rocky areas above before coming back down to rejoin it. In addition, they were running out of provisions and had been operating on half-rations for some time. Tisroc attempted some fishing with sparse results.
They were still a few days from Drakol when they were forced once more from the river side. Climbing a narrow path to a pass between rocky peaks, they began to hear an echoing screeching sound accompanied by a metallic rattling. They were still contemplating this when they were suddenly met by a huge creature that resembled a lion with a falcon's head and wings. "You are not welcome here!" it growled and began approaching. When they told it they only wanted to pass through, it asked them with what they would pay the "toll". When they could apparently offer nothing it wanted, it decided to attack them, but the group was able to drive it off.
Upon reaching the crest of the hill, they saw the source of the noise: There were 4 of these creatures (one of which they had already seen) in a basin below them. Leading down to this depression were rock ledges something like massive stairs. One of the creatures was bound with a metal collar connected to a chain which the largest of the group was holding, attempting to drag it along. The bound creature looked a bit different than the others - its head was humanoid instead of falcon-like. Its shrieking cry echoed through the canyon and, when it saw the party it cried out to them: "help me!"
The resultant combat was rather savage. The group did alright fending off two of the creatures, but the larger one proved to be quite powerful. It had all but shredded the metal plates from Glitch before Alina got its attention by attempting to heal and free the bound creature. After a brief standoff in which the party was able to regroup and Alina was able to restore a part of the bound creature's strength, it decided to flee as its companions had done.
The bound creature was called Thesaeya - one of the Sphinxes. She thanked them for rescuing her from her captors and rewarded them by giving them one of her feathers. She told them that they had the gratitude of her and her sister though they had certainly made enemies of the other detestable creatures.
The group asked Thesaeya a few questions, but she didn't seem to know much about anything that might be happening outside of the mountains - of Oorshal or any of the others. She was able to tell them that they could probably reach the mortal settlement in perhaps a couple of days.
The party continued on their journey and, sure enough, about 2 and a half days later come upon The Crag. As they looked out over the settlement, they could immediately tell something was not right. The movements of the people seemed rushed and there was an air of urgency and danger. They had only just moved into the settlement when they were approached by a man who began asking them who they were and all but ordering them in different directions - there had been a massive rock avalanche less than 24 hours ago and the town was still picking up the pieces. Anyone not injured was required to assist where needed.