As the group heads deeper into the woods in search of the lost child, Douglas notices an oddly familiar shadow following them around. Only he can understand its words as it begs for help...
The apparition stands in front of the group, its form unrecognizable and ever-shifting as if it were trying to figure out what a humanoid even looks like. Surge tries talking to it, giving a little wave as he does; the figure waves and whispers something incoherent back.
Douglas walks up to the apparition, seeming to understand its words. He greets it, to which the apparition responds and beckons for the group to follow.
Bojangles looks to Douglas, a brow raised, "Can you understand this thing?"
Douglas nods, and suggests to the group that they should follow it. They debate it for a while, Salamander agreeing (suggesting the apparition might have a stomach ache from the branch he's perched atop), and Surge adamantly refusing.
Douglas turns back to the apparition, asking what it needed help with, telling the group it just said "lost."
Surge finally agrees to follow, only because what the apparition said was promising in regards to the lost child. As the group pushes onwards, they begin to feel this overwhelming sadness, culminating in the discovery of the Grove of Weeping WIllows; a small enclave of five willow trees, their red, decaying leaves the only splash of color in this whole forest.
The apparition stands behind an overgrown stump at the center, with a noticeable, oval gap within its center. It turns to Douglas, "Lost...stone...stolen..."
Bojangles points out the stump's gap, suggesting the stone might belong there. Douglas asks the apparition what it lost. "Heartstone." it whispers back into the wind. Surge realizes these trees are lost spirits just like they all are.
Douglas continues interrogating this apparition, learning the stone was stolen by a tiefling child, that the Heartstone, whatever it is, keeps the grove alive, and that the child went eastward.
As the group travels east, Douglas antagonizes Bojangles for reasons unknown. Amidst the arguing, Salamander spotted a tiny tiefling rifling around in the nearby bushes. They make eye contact, and she gestures him over. She takes a red, oval gemstone out of her pocket to show it off. But, before she gets a chance to explain it, Salamander takes it from her palms and runs back to show it to the group.
It takes a few tries to interrupt the group's arguing, by the time they realize what Salamander brought them, the child has already run away.
Salamander tries sniffing for her, failing and snorting loudly instead which calls the attention of a nearby wolf. The group attempts to flee, before being cut off by the wolf. Douglas gets down on his knees and sticks his hand out to the wolf, attempting to make some sort of peace. By some miraculous twist of fate, the wolf sniffs his hand and gives it a quick lick before leaning in for head scratches.
Douglas names his new friend Pinecone. Bojangles offers it some jerky, to which he and Douglas begin arguing again. Douglas asks him if he's ever loved anyone before, to which Bojangles goes silent for a while and walks off.
The group, now silent, return to the Grove, placing the Heartstone back where it belongs. They see the child there as well, crying. She explains she got the Heartstone for her adoptive mother, as thanks for all she's done for her. Salamander, in apology for the distress he caused, offers her the emerald gemstone at the base of his whip. She accepts and the group heads back to Tusnua.
On the way, Salamander finds a note under an out of place stone:
"Something big is coming, we need more people north.
Lorril gives them a night in the inn on the house in thanks for returning the child, with the promise that they keep Douglas away from her. The group accepts, then asking about the note and the Heartstone. They learn there's a bigger settlement to the northeast, Rosefell, that's needed more reinforcements lately, as well as Heartstones being a rare form of crystalized Soul Flame.
While the group is off passing time and relaxing, Bojangles looks at the note and the locked tome he carries with him. Somewhere in his past life, he remembers an M who gifted him this tome.🠜 Last Recap