After cleansing Pelor's Shrine of the undead, the party does some research in what passes for the town's library.
Ancient Dwarf - "Sticky"
Something about an earthquake.
Hrunthernn arrives in town, he's a male dwarf Cleric of Moradin from the FTC. At the source of the aqueduct's water supply, high in the Firetips, the aqueduct is initially fed from ice melt, into 3 massive stone basins. Windmills there supply power to move the water from the basins into the pipes that supply the aqueduct.
The water supply at that end dried up about 1-2 weeks ago, which coincided with the arrival of bands of marauders coming out of the untamed regions (same as the goblin horde which attacked Midhaf). These bands were intermittent at first, but are growing more frequent, and stronger in size and numbers.
Pelor's direction to the group was to reassemble the Orb and return the plains to fertility.
Supplemental note - It is revealed in later sessions that in ancient times the desert plains that surround Midhaf were lush and fertile, and a great temple of Pelor stood where Midhaf stands now
It makes sense to the group in light of the knowledge gleaned from the research above that restoring the water supply and reassembling the orb are destinies which lie in the direction of the Firetip Mountains.
The group gathers provisions and makes arrangements for their duties in town to be seen to, say their goodbyes and proceed to the aqueduct.
It is decided that the easiest and safest way to go will be to backtrack along the aqueduct, walking along the centuries-old smooth worn stones of the top. This way, they will be largely unseen from the ground, can look for signs of tampering, and can make the best traveling time by taking the straightest path over the easiest terrain.
The first few days pass without incident. Conversation wanes quickly as the endless monotony of walking nonstop in a continues, ray-straight line wears upon the adventurers. But the view is nice.
On day 4, the party spots dust plumes away to the South, just barely in view. Having seen the plumes, the party (with some sense of dread, remembering the fight against the goblin horde) keeps an eye on them as the day progresses. On the 5th day, Makani spots a large black winged shape circling in the sky above. It is similar to Vixxelcurisk, but seems smaller and less elegant.
That night as they camped, the dragon-like shape returns, turning out to be an actual Black Dragon. Using concealment, the party hides in the crevices of the aqueduct's channel and manage to avoid detection. That night, camp fires can be seen much closer to the south.
Capitalizing on the tactical advantage they've gained, the party presses hard forward the next day, making much faster time than the forces approaching from the south. The group on the plain is clearly heading for the aqueduct to intercept the party, as they are headed directly for the spot which the party would be in, had they not increased their speed. It becomes clear from observations during the day that the forces approaching from the south are Goblinoids, a party of about 8 of them, likely Hobgoblins. That night, the Dragon again searches the aqueduct, but clearly has no idea where the party is, as it searches further off to the east.
The next morning, the Hobgoblins attempt to climb the tower into the aqueduct in order to ambush the party. They are ambushed by the party, largely decimated, and the leader questioned. He is a hobgoblin warrior, he works for the black dragon (known as "sir"). His mission was to intercept the party, then march east, kill, burn, loot, repeat. He says there are 6 or 7 other commanders like him.
After questioning, he is offered the chance to either take his chances running away while Makani shoots at him, or face Kiranth in single combat. He faces Kiranth and lasts maybe 2 rounds.
We take their stuff - some arrows, and a large spear w/ dark cloudy metal tip (later revealed to be +1 thundering spear). Bruk notes in his War Journal that a great part of victory is being there first and picking the terrain you're going to attack from. And - when given the option, attack from up high when you have a ranged weapon advantage.
At this point the party leaves the aqueduct and follows Hrunthernn's lead to a less-well-known entrance to the dwarf city, which runs through some old, abandoned mines. It is thought that if there's a massive army of Hobgoblins, dragons, giants and what-have-you attacking the main entrance, we'd either get pasted or not let in regardless. So we head west-southwest from the aqueduct over the plains and into the foothills. The going is relatively easy, and there are no further encounters with hobgoblin warbands.
Towards the end of day 9 out of Midhaf, we make a small, disused entrance to a mining complex. On a search of the area, our sharp-eyed scout, Makani spots tracks leading into the entrance of some non-civilized race. It is unclear what kinds of tracks they are, but they're not Elf, Dwarf, Human, Eladrin or Dragonborn.
Upon further investigation, they find that Orcs have forced their way into the entrance, and were not terribly stealthy about it. Showing that we, too can be entirely unstealthy about it, after 4 tries, we force the door to the mine open. We go through, and then make an effort to reaffix the door. We are mostly successful.
Inside, we find orc tracks, which are fresh-ish
Surprise! A gelatinous cube. Hrunthernn and Kiranth get inside it's head (literally) while the rest of us attack it. We win.
Tired and cranky, we come to the exit from the mine tunnels to the abandoned entrance into the outskirts of the great dwarf metropolis of the Firetip Caverns. Though weary from the day's adventuring, we don't feel secure enough to make camp for the night.
At the entrance there's a fork, the town lies off the toe left, and we hear noises off to the Right. We decide to go Right. Directly around the corner from making this decision, we enter a room where the Orcs have set up a delightful little ambush for us. They largely kick our asses, leading Kiranth to quip "Welcome to the Land of We're-Fucked, Population, 5." Then we manage to pull it together and defeat the orcs, led by an Eye of Gruumsh (the first of several we'll eventually face).
After cleaning up, and trying to pull ourselves into some semblance of order, we head into the town.