The party, sans Moriel and Poppy, converge on a spot in a busy marketplace and observe an entire neighborhood street in Penshin completely deserted. A beggar in the street makes an enigmatic mention of how “she isn’t a goddess, just an obscenely powerful woman” and how she needs sacrifices to become free of her chains. After selling Vladimir a trinket, she seems to change subtly and become less than she was during her soliloquy.
Meanwhile, Moriel and Poppy are surprised to find a man sneaking in through the roof of the safe-house. They ambush him and slay him, but not before Moriel is poisoned. Her life is saved only by Banagher’s magical intervention after the rest of the party’s timely arrival. After some investigating (and drinking by Vladimir gathering information in seedy taverns), it is discovered that the assailant is an Elven assassin who has been down on his luck in recent years and has been relegated to doing minor courier work for a local crime lord. It is a safe assumption that the “tomatoes” left on the doorstep were intended for him.
During the time when Gronk, Vladimir, and Diego go out to research the assailant, Banagher and Moriel pay a visit to the University of Invention, posing as travelling scholars, and book an appointment with Dean Bubblesneezer in six days.
While everyone is out on the town, Poppy sneaks out on a rooftop-to-rooftop quest to secure a cinnamon sticky bun, Pedro is conscripted to dump the body of the assassin, and Alton stakes out Richelieu’s estate in preparation for a raid.
During the day, the party feels a twisting sensation, like a shudder through the air (except for Banagher who suddenly feels flush with magical power). Pedro and Diego inform the party that this is what happens when the Waygate at Tablenhelm Keep is opened as it is every few months since the invasion.
That night, the party travels to the appointed meeting-place to find a strangely dressed man with many piercings and tattoos who speaks no language in common with Gronk waiting to receive the package. The “tomatoes” are turned over and he departs without incident. On their way back to the safe-house, they encounter a large black carriage waiting for them, a man inside thanks Gronk for his service, proving trustworthy beyond most measures, and is rewarded with a palm of gems.
Moriel and Banagher, on the way to the rooming house they retained as part of their scholarly cover, encounter a finely-dressed woman who Banagher finds strangely familiar and who waves her hand in the air and causes Banagher to pass out, saying that “she doesn’t like being watched”. She warns Moriel that “she is looking for you, avidly, I don’t know how she knows you’re here, or what you’re here for, but you should do it and get out”. She goes on to warn Moriel that she is hiding the party’s presence from “her” but can only do so for another few days.
A seagull perches upon a rooftop. The seagull prefers this spot for his meditation. All the other seagulls like to stick to the hoity-toity parts of the city. But, thereâ€™s something about the aromas of rotting herring, garbage, and musty dwellings that gives the area a certain wabi-sabi. That and the solitude of being the only other gull here, makes for the perfect meditative gull- trance.
The stench of freedom wafts up and pulls at the most mysterious of black hats that has suddenly appeared amongst the run down shingles.
Some excuses are yelled, the rumbling and tumbling of little feet on old boards is heard, and the most mysterious of black hats appears again followed by the head of a Halfling.
The seagull looks annoyed.
The hatted head drops back down the hole.
More excuses are yelled, little feet bang, and suddenly the hatted head pops back up, followed by the rest of the Halfling, clad in black, a cape rippling in the breeze, despite the thick briny air.
The seagull takes a long exasperated sigh, one of those sighs that reflect wasted time due to others, but being powerless to correct the situation. The seagull has seen many human-nuts running around the city in capes and all manner of disguises, thinking they can right wrong or make wrong. Heâ€™s also seen them fall off roofs, blown up by mages, roughened up by authorities, and most of the time, whining in self-defeat. Typically the seagull would just wait until the distraction goes away, they always do. But, this is the first Halfling distraction that heâ€™s ever seen, so since his meditative trance is already broken, heâ€™ll watch the Halfling.
Poppy did a little jig on the rooftop to celebrate her new found freedom. Not a soul could see her. She was finally free! She surveyed the area, and was happy that the rooftops were so close she could spring from one to another without issue. She could go for miles in every direction! This was her key to the city!
She started off in a random direction with hopes of gaining some useful information by eavesdropping or happening upon something exciting, but after almost a half an hour she started to get discouraged. Conversations about feeding the kids, burying cousin Oliver, and whoâ€™s gonna clean up all that trash out there, seemed to be the meat of conversations. Poppy decided to head towards the market district. She was sure sheâ€™d overhear something about the ships or the war, or something!
The gull circled above the Halfling wondering how much longer until she fell off a roof. At this point he just wanted to see who would get her hands.
Poppy, quickly started off towards the market district, before she reached the outskirts, something made her eyes pop open, her ears perk, her nose tingle and her mouth water…
Was it really? Itâ€™s too much of a coincidence! Noâ€¦itâ€™s not a coincidence, itâ€™s because Iâ€™m Poppy and itâ€™s what I wanted!
The gull looks down at the Halfling, as she takes off at a reckless pace over the rooftops. The Halfling is singing an odd song as she leaps from top to topâ€¦
â€œI am Poppy, yes Iâ€™m Poppy!
I am Poppy the Halfling crusade!
I am Poppy, the only Poppy!
I am Poppy, on a sticky-bun raid!â€
â€œWhat a loon!â€ the gull caws.
Poppy stops abruptly at the edge of a roof and cautiously peers over the edge.
â€œHot, fresh, cinnamon sticky bunsâ€¦.â€she gasps.
She produces a wad of string from the inside of her cape, and a tiny crossbow, with needles as bolts. She ties the string securely to the end of the needle and ties the other end to her wrist. She waits until no one is looking, aims at the largest, stickiest bun on the venders cart and the needle strikes the target.
The gull watches in amusement.
The sticky bun makes its way up the side of the building, dangling precariously from the string. Oddly enough no one notices it. The Halflings eager hands grab the prize and without bothering to remove it from the string she sinks her teeth into the hot, doughy, sweetness of the bun and trots back over the rooftops she came from.
Perhaps Halflings do make better caped crusaders than the humans. The prize is certainly right, the gull pondered as he flew off towards the sea.
Moriel was sitting in the corner, watching Poppy as the halfling bounced around in the room, fighting shadows. She really did not know what to do; her friend was becoming increasingly irrational for each passing day, and Moriel had no idea what to do about it.
A sound from above made her get her bow and head for the stairs. Only she and Poppy were supposed to be here right now, and Poppy was still bounding from shadow to shadow. Most likely, it was whoever had been using this hideout.
Poppy noticed her making her way upstairs, and joined her, daggers ready. Moriel wanted to tell Poppy to stay downstairs, but that would be doing them both a disfavour. The halfling was old enough to make her own choices, and besides, since she had no idea who she had heard, having someone else with her was an added security.
As they came upstairs, she spotted the one who had made the noise. Someone dressed in black had come down through a hole in the roof, one that had not been there before. Moriel was not sure how to handle this, but she realised she could not shoot whoever it was without giving him a chance to explain himself. She carefully nocked an arrow, then spoke up. “Move, and I shoot.” Not exactly the most original, but it would do.
The person whirled around, and fired his weapon. Moriel felt something hit her arm. Even as she let her first arrow fly, she was feeling dizzy and sick. She pused the thought of poison away. If she went down now, Poppy would have to deal with the mysterious visitor alone. Besides, the humans would probably get angry again, they probably would not approve of her giving the intruder a warning, rather than just shooting him immidiately.
The last thing she saw, was the intruder going down; at least one of her arrows had hit its mark properly. Her last thought was that the humans were going to be pissed.
When she awoke, her first thought was Poppy. The halfling seemed well enough, though; apparently, the only one injured was Moriel. And it seemed that her arrows had either done their job, or Poppy had finished off the intruder after Moriel collapsed.
Then she noticed all the people. It seemed the whole team was up here, as was a man she had never seen before. “Who is he?” she whispered to Poppy, who was sitting on the floor beside her.
“Some fish guy related to Diego.” Now, that was helpful. At least she knew who had brought him here, not that it helped any.
Looking around, she saw the body. Slowly she got to her feet, trying to appear as if the room was not spinning. Walking over to the dead man, she knelt down to get a closer look. And looked right into something she had not seen for months. A face very much like her own, with slitted eyes and pointed ears.
She felt sick. She had killed before; goblins, orcs, humans, but never one of her own kind. Not that one single elf could change anything, but still, with so few left, seeing this one dead by her own hand felt wrong.
Who was he? Was he one of the elves from Ar’Marinwe? Not that it mattered. He was dead, she was not, and the elves were dying, disappearing from this world, no matter what she did.
Then she noticed his bow. It was beautiful, possibly the best work she had ever seen. She picked it up. The others did not seem to pay much attention. She should probably let them too see it, let them have a say in who should get it. But it was an elven bow, taken from someone she herself had killed. After a few moments of hesitation, she decided to hang onto it until someone asked.
They went downstairs again, discussing some human that the foppish human obviously held some grudge against.
“We are being watched. I am sure of it. The enemy knows more about our moves than they are aware.” Banagher spoke, in elven, to her, pointing at one of the humans.
He was right. They had to know. Probably not exactly where they were, but that they were there, definitely. And possibly what they were after. The enemy seemed to always have an idea of where they were; the ambush that the two Warders had saved them from, the note they found in the mountains, right after they met the other etu’sari, the attack on Riverton.
She nodded. “I am starting to think they _let_ us get this far.” That was the only thing that would make sense. If nothing else, the guards at the citygates had been bored, unattentive, and had clearly not been looking for them. The only other explanation she could see was that someone on the team was a traitor, someone was feeding information to the enemy. And if that was the case, this hiding-place was no longer safe.
Then a feeling hit her in the stomach, it was as if the ground dropped out from under her feet, a plunging sensation that made her glad she was already sitting down; she doubted she could have stayed on her feet else.
“It’s the waygate, they open it every month or two.” That was the fish guy. It headed the conversation off in a new direction, but still centered around this human that the foppish one hated. Suddenly inspiration hit, and she spoke up, surprising herself.
She repeated her earlier suggestion, that she and Banagher could go to the university. She would have a reason to ask strange questions, and maybe they could even find a way to get an invitation to see this man. He seemed to be an important figure, and Moriel figured that if they did this the right way, he might get curious.
The others seemed to listen, and shortly after, she and Banagher were heading towards the university.
They got to the university without incidents, and were allowed inside, to look at the books they had there. They had no chance to wander around though, so they spent some hours pretending to be searching through the books, before they went back to the reception.
Moriel tried to get a tour of the university, but was told that the rest of the compound was restricted. It could not hurt, she thought, and asked if they could see the dean. Maybe he would give them leave, if she explained that she was curious about this place, she had never seen a university before, something like that. The gnome at the reception told them he could set up an appointment with the dean, six day hence. She told him her name was Celebwen, and he told her and Banagher that dean Bubblesneezer would see them in six days.
It took all of her willpower to keep from grinning. Her plan seemed to have worked beyond all expectations. Of course, it was still a matter of actually getting to meet the gnome, but this was a lot faster than she had expected.
They made their way back to the hiding place, Moriel trying all the way to not let her enthusiasm show.
The first thing that struck her as they entered was the smell. Someone had puked on the floor. It was the big human, it seemed; he was snoring, stinking of vomit and alcohol.
Then Poppy came down the stairs, her face full of … icing? Clearly the halfing had been up to something. Moriel suspected she had snuck out somehow, and found something to eat. One of the humans, the loud one, made some strange comments about Poppy and the dwarf. It sounded as if he was suggesting … no, surely not. That was wrong in so many ways she could not even begin to list them.
The others were on their way out, when she spoke up, trying to keep the annoyance from her voice as she asked them if they were at all interested in what she and Banagher had found out. The humans stopped, probably to humour her, rather than actually being interested.
That changed when she told them that they had been able to get an appointment to see Bubblesneezer, though. Then she suggested she and Banagher should get a room at an inn, just in case. Since she planned to go back to the university to ask more questions, she would prefer to have a solid as possible story. She suspected that if someone asked where she lived, giving them the address to this hiding hole would be a very bad idea.
The human made some more comments, this time she was fairly certain what he meant. She just glared at him, and claimed it was a joke. She was not convinced, but let it slide. If nothing else, she supposed the joke meant that the humans had not realised how young she really was.
She and Banagher got a room on a decent-looking inn, before going to the park to watch the drop off. It went smoothly, and after exchanging a few words with the others, she and Banagher headed back to the inn.
Just outside the inn, they spotted a woman, looking at them. She did something with her hand, and Banagher dropped to the ground. The woman said something about not liking being watched. Moriel was not sure what she meant; probably Banagher’s goddess, since it was obvious that she _was_ watching over them, or at least Banagher.
“She is looking for you, avidly, I don’t know how she knows you’re here, or what you’re here for, but you should do it and get out”. Moriel’s brain raced. It seemed the woman was helping them somehow, though she did not know why. She could not remember hearing of anyone who fit the description of the woman in front of her.
“Who are you?” Not the most intelligent question, but it was better than nothing.
“It is not important.” There was something very strange about this woman. If she was powerful enough to worry about being watched by a goddess, and more, if she was powerful enough to keep… ‘her’ from seeing them, she was powerful indeed.
“Who is she?” Moriel thought she knew, but she asked, just in case. The woman avoided answering directly, but she seemed to confirm her suspicion.
“Just me, or all of us?” Maybe she had managed to attract attention after all. maybe she and Banagher had made a mistake at the university.
“All of you.” Not that, then.
“Two days.” Moriel desperately tried to think of something intelligent to ask the woman; her comment was just as much to give her some time to think as anything else.
“I don’t think I can keep her from finding you for more than two days.” She wanted to ask why the woman was protecting them, but she could think of no way to ask the question politely.
She glanced at Banagher, but the priest was still lying on the ground, motionless. “What did you do to Banagher?” Only belatedly did she think that maybe giving the woman his name was not smart. She looked back at the woman, only to find her gone.
As she turned back to Banagher, he stirred. Helping him to his feet, Moriel wondered what she was going to tell the others. Two days. Not nearly enough time. The enemy was looking for them, and would most likely find them as soon as the woman could no longer hide them.
She sighed, and realised that she would have to tell the others tonight. They were fast running out of time.