That day the rest of the party explored the mound, its last guardians a shadowy bear which was incorporeal but could not fly (thus making it susceptible to an extradimensional pit), a skeleton-bearing undead ooze filling up a tunnel, and a group of berserkers-turned-wights. The party discovered that this burial mound was for the great warlord Tark, who fought alongside the Army of Light and managed to turn the battle in their favor when the forces of Tsar sought to dig under the army encampment and burst up from the ground in the middle of the night. Digging up in the middle of the barbarians' tents, it was a terrible disaster...for the devotees of Orcus.
And so even though the mound was made to honor the fallen, even in death does the Desolation's taint spread. After securing some magic items and a ceremonial armor for Alexis, the party headed back to the Camp and sold off their wares for the local iron bits. While selling their wares, the party gathered some information. Arliden heard rumor of an unlucky cursed troupe of merchants wandering the Desolation to this day, as well as a sleeping army beneath the ground who will wake up one day to finish the job of cleansing Tsar. Alexis got word that the local hermit is in fact a vampire who came to town to take back the bar stolen from him by Lucky Bjorc. Finally, rumors of a mysterious midnight peddler, who seems undeterred by the land's many dangers, only sells to people he chooses and those who buy from him are blessed with good luck.
Deciding to pitch a tent and stay the night, the party was awoken when the corpse which hung from the gallows was now up and about, seeking fresh blood. A steady stream of magma and rock from Nobu rent its soul from its flesh, and soon the party became known as the people who took out the "Hanged Man" who wandered the Camp at night.
Shortly after doing so did the party come to find Griswald, the town's literally ghoulish undertaker, who was oddly well-dressed and polite for a creature of his kind. Grateful for the party "taking care of that local inconvenience" he said that as adventurers they might be interested in a local druidic grove in the Ashen Waste of fellow folk seeking to cleanse the Desolation of its taint. He also mentions that unknown forces have taken an interest in Tsar and are defending its outer walls, the most obvious a huge dragon spotted near the sandpits on the outskirts.
Thanking Griswald for this info, the party decides to visit this druidic grove, who found a way to blossom in the middle of a lifeless wasteland. While venturing in the Ashen Wastes the party found evidence of a struggle of a dwarf and human warrior who killed each other, while a third survivor's tracks led northeast, all the way to the grove.
The grove itself was a marvel, a miniature forest with pines as tall as 80 feet and thick undergrowth. After fighting off a pair of dire tigers, the party found a thorny hedge of demon skulls decorated around the entrance. Inside the party came face to face with Skeribar, the local ranger guide from the Camp. He at first claimed ignorance of any recent visitors, but when called on it explained that the woman would not recover and the only merciful option was a quick death. After some clever lies of omission, the party earned the rangers' trust, and he explained how the growth of the grove is supernatural in nature, but requires the blood of the living to flourish. He said that this was a necessary evil, for the grove does manage to hold back the supernatural taint of the Desolation.
Skeribar and the newly-arrived druids came out to show the party the specifics of their ritual, which apparently involved gathering the tears from a nearby wooden shrine in the shape of a humanoid face. Nobu recognized the "face" as the head of a stick giant, a symbiotic plant/giant hybrid whose sappy tears where being used to magically accelerate plant growth in even the most barren of environs. Reddish spots on the ground lead to another nearby grove, where Alexis' faerie dragon familiar flew off covertly to investigate.
Warned of the shrine's true nature telepathically, Arliden at first offered and then forced his way into the giants' minds. The creature was capable of sapient thought, but decades of imprisonment and torturous pain rendered him full of hatred and vengeance, uncaring of whether or not his powers were being used for any greater good. "Desolation or no, there will always be wickedness," he said.
As for the other grove, an elven maiden was inside the hollow oak of a large tree, kept in place by a rootlike cage. As the draconic familiar attempted to speak to her, she warned it not to come any closer, for the tree was a trap. At this point the tree came to life with a loud moan, alerting the druids that their grove has been sabotaged, and being none too trusting of the newcomer PCs.
And so our session ended on a cliffhanger.