When Moriel recovers from the shock of seeing the protector golems, she reveals that Leitus ar’Shimrael Vin was one of the greatest thinkers of the Elven people and obsessed with what came before the Elves – of which there is no history or, indeed, evidence beyond the Waygate and its immediate vicinity. He is staggeringly old, well over seven-thousand years, and once you get that old you don’t really think in terms mortals can particularly understand. Two thousand years previously, Leitus was involved in the Waygate excavation and found something that drove his obsession to new heights. It was never discussed what he found, and there is debate as to whether it was an artifact or simply a revelation, but he very rapidly began to distance himself from his peers and, eventually, left the forest altogether. There are rumors that he lives in a hovel somewhere in the wooded hills north of Karak’Fel. Moriel travels into Tir’Valar alone, as only elves are allowed to pass the guardians, and finds the city in the same condition as J’sta and Dorothea.
The party travels on to Sidarthe’minwe and finds the underground archive of the Elves protected by a fog-like barrier which both Gronk and Moriel recognize as an old anti-siege spell commonly employed by the Elves, indicating that the archive, at least, has been defended against the curse that has befallen the other Elven cities. They find indications that others had recently spent time at the edge of the barrier, but can otherwise not get the attention of anyone who may be inside the fortress.
After some discussion, it’s decided that the party will head East and attempt to find Leitus’ abode. After several weeks of searching through the goblin-infested woods East of Hillcrest, the party finally comes across the entrance to an underground complex, guarded by an Elf and a Dwarf. The party is invited in, the Dwarf mentions that his master has been waiting for “Mengst to send someone to apologize”. They are led down into the complex which appears to be inhabited by several hundred peoples of all races, all of whom appear to look very slightly ill – a condition Gronk recognizes as likely warpstone poisoning. They are introduced to Leitus in his expansive laboratory, which also contained the bodies of a Halfling and a Human who had obviously recently been tortured, Alton recognizes them as Ferris and Shep – both from Volkov’s unit. After some exposition it is found that the two rogue soldiers had attempted to infiltrate Leitus’ compound in an attempt to steal his device – which he has been developing for over a thousand years in an attempt to seal the Waygate. Leitus is convinced that he can develop a counter to the Waygate, essentially sealing it closed, but he requires vast volumes of star-metal to accomplish his goals – which is why he has been mining the region as he’s discovered impact sites – the mine behind the goblin bloom is one such mine (they collapsed and flooded it when they realized they wouldn’t be able to keep the goblins out). The neutrality of the elven peoples hit Leitus hard, and for thirty years (a moment in time to him, really) he’s harbored quite a bit of anger. So when it came time to test one of his devices – a device which shifts the very fabric of the universe around a locale – he chose Tir’Valar. The device essentially locks every living thing frozen in time. He freely offers the party all the star-metal they may need to construct Corky’s anti-cannon device, on the condition that Mengst agrees to meet him to foster cooperation.
As Moriel becomes increasingly agitated, the party withdraws from the compound to discuss their options and to avoid a confrontation. While they are discussing their options, they lose track of Poppy, who presumably snuck off during the argument to take matters into her own hands. Roughly half an hour later, a plume of smoke begins to trickle from the underground compound, and Poppy emerges with Leitus’ device, sprinting ahead of his very angry followers. The party escapes to Everwatch, where they brief Mengst and let Smoot and Corky discover how to operate the device. From there, they proceed in turn to Dorothea, J’sta, and Tir’Valar to release the Elves from their imprisonment. In Tir’Valar, Moriel is nearly set upon by Cutter, Lars, Steen, and Kirk, four of Volkov’s men who were attempting to prevent Leitus from activating his device. Detente is established and the four men plus the party proceed on to Sidarthe’minwe.
The wardens of Sidarthe’minwe recognize Cutter’s team, disarm everyone and lead them and the party in through some galleries to a small study, where they find the scholar Etari’sul, as well as Volkov and the last of his team – Shar’we, Bink, and Lassiter. It is revealed that Volkov was seeking Etari’sul to discover secrets of the Ringwielders and had been trapped when the Elves defended themselves from Leitus’ plot. When pressed about his perceived betrayals, he rubs his temples and responds:
“You idiots…Stein is a Kisharan!”
They were gone.
She knew she was out of control, she knew she had to get a grip on herself, but her mind kept screaming at her. She forced it away, step by struggling step. The time for grief would come, but not here, not now.
Then she heard one of the humans say he would go inside to look for survivors. At first, she wanted to ignore it. If he was too stupid to realise that he had not a chance against the guardians of the city, on his head be it. But she was not sure what they would do, should he attempt to enter Tir’Valar. They might attack the rest of them as well.
“You will not find any. And you will _not_ go inside.” Her voice sounded flat and dead. She got to her feet, slowly. She would tell them once, and not again. “None of you are going inside.”
Then she noticed Poppy.
The halfling was clearly drunk, and seemed to have gotten into her head that she should go in and look for whoever had made the Elves disappear. She wondered, briefly, who would be foolish enough to get Poppy drunk, especially here and now. She turned then, to the large human, bit back the first words that came to her. While it was quiet, the disappearance of the Elves had made this into hostile territory, or at least dangerous territory. And giving the impetuous young woman alcohol now was, at best, irresponsible.
“If she dies because you got her drunk, you die.” She meant it. Poppy was impulsive at any given time, drunk, she would be almost uncontrollable. And if she got it into her head to enter Tir’Valar, she was not sure they could stop her. And then, Poppy would die.
And then, the halfling stumbled, fell, and was suddenly asleep. Moriel breathed a very quiet sigh of relief; while she knew she would sooner or later lose Poppy, she was not prepared to lose her now, not when the halfling might be all she had left of her old life, with her entire people gone.
So in the end, she went in alone. She knew, of course, what she would find. Or not find, as it were. Like in the other towns, she found nothing at all. She returned to the others, not saying much, but thinking all the more. The golems confused her, since other inanimate objects had disappeared, but she thought that in the greater scope, that was not really important. Maybe they had simply been too big. Or maybe there were magics protecting them from whatever had attacked.
“Ye alright, lass?” Gronk. And no, she was not alright. Very much not. But he meant it kindly, and she searched for the words that would not offend.
“I am alive. That will have to do.” For now. What she would do later, she did not yet know.
They continued towards Sidarthe’minwe, though Moriel did not really expect to find anyone there either. If Tir’Valar had fallen, she was not convinced Sidarthe’minwe could survive a similar attack. Of course, being what it was, there was a chance that, if they had realised what was happening, they would have been able to do _something_. Apart from Tir’Valar, she supposed Sidarthe’minwe would have the best chance of standing against an attack of this nature.
As they reached their destination, she felt a surge of hope, but forced it down. How much defense would there be in the fog surrounding Sidarthe’minwe? Oh, conventional armies would have a hard time getting through, but the thing that had been used against her town, and Tir’Valar, would the fog help against that? But at least it meant they knew they were under attack.
Gronk looked at her. “You don’t think…?”
She dared not. Perhaps the traitor’s men had come here, Sidarthe’minwe had raised the fog, and the other attack had come later? Granted, they had found traces of someone at the exact center of Dorothea, but did that mean that the weapon _had_ to be triggered from within the town? She did not have enough information to hope. But the mists surrounding Sidarthe’minwe were defensive, so clearly they had had at least some time to prepare.
They looked around, finding traces that showed someone had been here, seemingly keeping an eye on the place. It was a while ago, though Moriel did not consider that a proof that noone was in the area now.
They camped there for the night. Moriel doubted anyone would let them in. Either there were noone inside, or whoever was inside was unable to see what was going on outside, or they were watching, but chose not to lower the defenses, in which case the enemy might still be close.
She wondered, then, if she, inside the mist would have found another dead circle, and if all the treasures of the Elves had vanished as well; hidden within Sidarthe’minwe were vast treasures. Not silver and gold, though there might be that too, but knowledge and precious art, those things that defined the Elven people.
They left the next morning, heading for Karak’Fel. Leitus might have answers; he might be involved in whatever had happened. Whether they would be able to _get_ that information was a different matter, though. He was old, incredibly old. And she wondered if he would be as much of a mystery to her as the humans were.
It was a sign of how bad things had become, that they had to fight their way through goblins all the way to Karak’Fel. Not that there were much of a real danger; it was, after all, goblins. But still, that there were this many of them meant there was a nest somewhere close.
They reached Karak’Fel in the afternoon. Outside the cave entrance, they could see two people; one dwarf and one elf, obviously playing some sort of game. One very much like the one they had found close to Sidarthe’minwe. Most likely, these were the ones who had been keeping an eye on the place. These, or others working with them.
It seemed they were expected. The dwarf led them inside, through something that was far more than mere caves. Moriel did not know how long they must have been working at this place, but it had to be centuries, at least.
As for Leitus, he was every bit as mad as Moriel feared. He did not try to deny it, in fact, he was bragging about it, justifying using her people, _their_ people, as test subjects for his new device. And although she did agree with him that the Elves should have involved themselves, should not have chosen to stand apart as they had done, she definitely did not approve of what Leitus had done.
It had not been an attack. Leitus, in his madness, or arrogance, or both, had just used the Elven towns, to test his new device. And though they were not dead, that was not much of a consolation, as they were still lost to her, and he did not know, nor care, whether they could be brought back.
She drew her sword, but did not attack. Though she wanted to, it would not help. She _knew_ she could not bring her people back, he, at least, might have a chance. And this device of his might be what they needed to win the war. She knew, though, that when the war was over, if they both were still alive, she would return, and should he refuse to bring them back, she _would_ attempt to kill him.
Standing aside, she watched, and listened, while the others spoke to him. While they treated him more like an ally than a madman he was, one who had just admitted to wiping out her, _his_ own people. Giving him far more information than she would have, but by now, she expected that of them.
As for the humans, they treated this as if it was nothing. And perhaps to them, it was. But it galled her that they met the disappearance of her entire people with a shrug, and seemingly expected her to do the same.
She would do almost anything to bring them back. She would have given her _sword_, to have them back. Her parents, her friends, her home gone, at the hands of one of her own people. And the humans shrugged it of, as if it meant nothing.
She could accept, almost, that it meant nothing to them. But they acted as if they expected it to mean nothing to her as well, and that she could not, and would not, accept. When they retreated outside, she tried to explain what it meant, to be as old as Leitus was, why they could not trust him, why he could not, not really, be reasoned with, knowing it was hopeless. Others, more eloquent than her, had tried, to an audience more willing to listen.
In the end, she walked away, rather than continue arguing. If the humans did not understand, she was not up to explaining it to them, not now, and not something like this.
She walked, heedless of where she was heading. There was little danger here; there were the goblins, but right now, she would have welcomed a run-in with them, if nothing else, then because it would be simple, straight-forward, with no need for words or explanations.
It was over an hour later when she finally returned to the others. Or tried to. When she got back, the others were gone, even Poppy. There were no signs of battle, though, and their tracks were easy to follow, so she was not particularily worried.
The trail led back to the entrance to Karak’Fel. Why, she did not know, but that was where they had gone, and so she followed. And got there just in time to see Poppy running out, shouting for them to run. So she ran for the horses, and rode, with the others, away from Karak’Fel. Explanations would have to wait; she could hear the pursuers close behind them. They were on foot, however, and Moriel and the others were riding, and soon it was quiet behind them; most likely the pursuers had given up.
They stopped, and Moriel finally saw what Poppy had done. Somehow, the wonderful little halfling had managed to get her hands on the device. Somehow, she had managed to get inside and grab the case, and get out again.
Things were looking better. There was a chance, albeit a small one, that they could figure out how the device worked, and that someone, possibly that clever little halfling back in Hillcrest, Corky, could figure out how to modify it to bring her people back.
And there was this, that she knew, or thought she knew, why Poppy had done it. Though she knew it would not last, _could_ not last, sooner or later she would lose her friend, it did help.
For once, she did not give up after one attempt to convince the others to follow her plan. There was too much at stake this time. They wanted, or some of them at least did, to go rushing off to Tir’Valar, to see if they could figure out how to work the device. That, she would not allow. The risk was too high, and she was not willing to let the one chance she had to bring her people back hinge on these blundering humans.
There were many reasons, really, to go to Everwatch first. She did not even have to mention all her arguments; that they needed to warn Mengst in case Leitus decided to attack, that if they had an artifact that might help them win the war, they could not just wander off with it, and the one thing she had planned to use, had they been unwilling to listen to what she said; that they might never find the Elven towns again without her help.
It was a risk, of course. Mengst might decide to not risk the device for a people who had chosen to be neutral during the war, but it was still the best option.
Until they stood there, and she was fumbling for words, trying to tell Mengst how important this was to her. One of the humans spoke up, then, explaining. She was grateful for that; she had not expected it.
Things went better than expected. Not only did Mengst allow it, Corky and Smoot also managed to figure the device out, and showed them how to operate it. Several times, as if Moriel was unable to learn from the first time. It did not bother her; in fact, it pleased her that they took such care to make certain that there were no room for mistakes.
She led them back, first to Dorothea. As they rode, she found, over and over, that her hand went to her sword, taking comfort from it. At least now they were _doing_ something, they might bring them back. It made it, not easier, but different.
She and Poppy made their way to the center of Dorothea, while the others waited outside the circle, just in case. Together, Poppy and Moriel activated the device, and suddenly, the Elves were there, some of them looking in confusion at the two of them.
Everything looked as it should, but she had to _know_. She grabbed the device and ran, Poppy at her heels, towards the home of her parents. They looked surprised as she burst in the door, a look that changed to slightly alarmed when the others, the humans and Gronk, followed shortly after. They stopped, looking uncertain, and Moriel looked at Gronk, asking him to take the others with him outside.
She and Poppy stayed, of course. Her parents stood there, clearly curious, but Moriel was not sure where to start. Then Poppy broke the ice, by holding out her hand, and saying the only Elven word she had learned: “Candy.”
A while later, the two exited the house. Moriel had given her parents a quick summary of what had happened; mostly about Leitus. She was not sure she was ready to explain the rest. And since they did not ask about the sword she carried, she did not volunteer any information about that either.
One more visit to pay, before she was done. She headed towards Tamariel’s house, ignoring the ragtag of humans, dwarf and halfling trailing after her. This time, however, she did not even let Poppy come inside.
She tried to keep the explanations short, but Tamariel kept asking questions, and it took longer than she had planned. It did not bother her, though. As long as there was no sign of trouble outside, they could wait. And as they sat there talking, she realised she did not want to leave. Not, of course, that she would remain here; she owed the humans for helping her bring her people back. But she _wanted_ to stay.
When she finally left, she did feel as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her shoulders, though. No matter what happened, her people were safe, for now. The device had worked like Corky had said it would; she would have to remember to thank him later.
After bringing J’sta back, they continued to Tir’Valar. Because of the guardians, Moriel went in alone into the eerily silent city. She knelt, flipping the switch, and suddenly she was surrounded by people, four of which, four _humans_, were charging towards her, weapons drawn.
She knew then, who they were. And for some reason, that she was perfectly safe. One of them shouted something, and they halted, as she had expected. She was suddenly very glad she was alone; from the way they had moved, it was obvious that they had tried to stop whoever activated the device the first time. And since the Elves did not seem hostile towards the soldiers, they had to be there with permission. And if nothing else, they would not kill her there, with dozens of witnesses. Not even if they _were_ traitors, something she was starting to question.
Then the others came running. She felt a moment of near-panic; she really did not need a fight here. Especially not now. And especially not over something that might, still, be a misunderstanding. Or something else. So she stepped in front of the four men; symbolic more than anything, but at least the others stopped, and did not attack. Perhaps they too saw the wisdom of not starting a fight in the heart of Tir’Valar.
They spent some time explaining to the Elves what had happened, and one of them told her they would contact Sidarthe’minwe, to let them know that they could drop the defenses. And then they went on, her group and the four of Volkov’s men.
She was half expecting trouble between the two groups, but it did not come. Volkov’s men did not much surprise her in that; they seemed well disciplined and seemed eager to get to Sidarthe’minwe, and she did not think they had any form of betrayal in mind. Her own group too kept their peace, and that surprised her somewhat. But they too might be eager to hear the explanation.
When they reached Sidarthe’minwe, the mist was gone, and the door was open. As they entered, they were told to leave their weapons behind. A wise request, she thought, but then, this was, after all, Sidarthe’minwe.
She put down her bow and quiver and dagger, but then hesitated. Had it been a real sword, she would not have even considered it. She would have waited outside rather than leave one of _those_ swords behind. This, however, was a training sword, a wooden one. Still, to leave it behind?
Then one of the guards stepped forward. “You may keep your sword, etu’sari.” She breathed a quiet sigh of relief, nodded an aknowledgement to the guard, before following the others.
Volkov was there, in the room where their guide led them. Who else could it be? He spoke to them, calling them the new ones, mentioning Jacob. She felt cruel, but she wanted to see his reaction. That would confirm her suspicions, or deny them.
“Jacob is dead.”
His shock was real. She was certain of that. And while they spoke, while they explained, she watched him, and became more and more convinced that he was not, in fact, a traitor.
Then it was his turn. When pressed about his betrayal, he rubbed his temples, looked them, and spoke. “You idiots. Stein! Stein is the Kisharan!”
It made perfect sense. Everything fell into place; it did not for a second occur to her that he might be lying. Everything fit.
His men had broken off their attack when they had seen her; they had to know she was of the Society, and they did not want to kill her.
They had tried to stop Leitus, and that made them, if not friends, then at least they might not be enemies.
Whoever the traitor was, and it was easier to believe that it was one single person than an entire troop and more, he had kept feeding the Kisharans information even after Volkov had left, even after Volkov might have been trapped here after Leitus’ attack. She remembered having mentioned that someone knew, to Mengst, after their return from Penshin. Asked him who knew where they were going, and what way. And neither Volkov nor his men had been on _that_ very short list. Stein had, she was certain of that.
And his shock, and regret, when she had mentioned Jacob. That was real. Oh, yes, she could believe that Volkov was not the traitor.
And she wondered if Mengst would believe them, or if they too would be branded traitors now.
The case of the stolen case in case you were wondering.
Tired of being ignored the Halfling sneaks by the group and conveniently finds herself in front of the cave entrance. She smiles at the elf and dwarf guarding the entrance, skips right up to them with both hands behind her back, while singing a little tune. They both seem slightly annoyed and look up to see what she wants. Poppy just stands there, swaying to her little tune.
â€œDid you forget something?â€ asks the dwarf gruffly.
Poppy stops singing and looks the dwarf in the eye.
â€œYes, I did. I most definitely forgot something.â€ replies Poppy cheerfully.
Before the dwarf responds Poppy whips out both hands, armed with mini-crossbows and lets two darts fly, hitting both guards.
â€œNo need to get up, I can help myself.â€ she says, skipping into the cave.
Poppy becomes one with the shadows as she retraces the steps back to Leitus. No one sees or hears her. Sheâ€™s truly an immortal superpower (or so she thinks). All she needs is a bit of fire. Fire will do nicely. A couple of side trips are taken off the path.
Arriving at the room of Leitus she uses extreme caution peaking around the corner. The crazy old prune is in his chair. He hasnâ€™t moved and looks preoccupied. The case is next to him. Too close to him. The fires are too new. No one is alarmed. He needs to be distracted.
Itâ€™ll take two boltsâ€¦two exact hits and one chance. The prune is powerful and the Halflings not sure how her immortality would stand up to his magic. So itâ€™s one chance. She has to be her fastest.
She arms the Adder, cautiously peaks around the corner to make sure heâ€™s not looking and aims. The bolt slices through the rope and the body falls to the ground. The prune looks startled and jumps from his seat. He scrambles over to inspect, heâ€™s armed. Poppy scrambles around the corner, and bolts towards the case, letting another cross-bolt fly, and unbelievably, it slices through the second rope. The body falls and hits the old prune, causing him to lose his balance and fall. He lets out a wail as he goes down and Poppy hears voices, a lot of unfriendly, alarmed, shrill, voices. She grabs the case, whirls around and streaks from the room, too concentrated on speed to look back. At this point smoke has filled the halls, and sheâ€™s confident no one is following.
Her feet pitter-patter around a bend and she feels a hand make a grab for her.
â€œThis way! Sheâ€™s this way!â€Apparently the hand found a voice.
More feet, more angry voices, more yellingâ€¦the smoke starts to sting her lungs, but her little legs keep pumping through the passages. She emerges from the entrance and starts yelling â€œrun!â€ over and over again.
Her pace does not slow until she reaches her puppy, volts onto his back and spurs him into reckless flight. The others stare on in disbelief, and seem to come about when they hear the stampede thatâ€™s echoing from the cave getting closer and closer.