In light of the information from the mysterious woman, the party decides to move straight to the University of Invention in the middle of the night and attempt to interrogate Bubblesneezer about Corky. Poppy scales the tower and drops a line, Gronk folows, but Vladimir slips and attracts the attention of the Peacekeepers patrolling the plaza. Some quick thinking by Moriel and Banagher ease the guards’ suspicions, but at the end, only Alton, Gronk, and Poppy make it to the top of the tower.
Poppy swings into the top floor windows and opens the roof trap for the others. They apprehend the sleeping Bubblesneezer and collect a number of documents from his office before sunrise forces them to bundle the gnome up and flee with him their prisoner.
Back at the safehouse, an interrogation takes place, but after a time, Banagher detects a magical device on the gnome’s person, and tears a small magical ring from his chest. The session ends with the sound of troops marching down the alley to the safehouse….
Banagher and Moriel quickly made their way back to the hideout. On the way there, Moriel quickly told Banagher about the woman. When they got to the hideout, she spent some time trying to explain what had happened. She supposed the whole thing sounded strange to anyone who had not been there, but at least they seemed to believe her. She had half expected them not to. Not that they seemed to realise the importance of what the woman had told them, though.
She looked at Banagher. Not sure if she should say anything or not, she spoke in elven. She suspected that he too had realised it already. “And again they miss the point. Someone knows we are here!” They had to see what it meant, it was obvious, after all. So for some reason, they had decided it was not so, that there was another explanation. Or perhaps they suspected _her_. Or maybe it was just a human thing.
Eventually, they decided to try to sneak into the tower. Moriel thought they should wait until the next morning before drawing too much attention to themselves, but the others did not seem to agree. She thought another day with planning, not to mention getting started earlier in the night might have been smart, but since she had no idea what was normal in a city, she saw no reason to argue.
They all got to the tower without being seen, and Poppy swarmed up the tower as if she had done this all her life. She dropped down a rope, and Gronk climbed up, with little trouble. Then one of the humans, the big one, tried to get up the rope, but could not seem to get off the ground. Moriel was starting to get a rather bad feeling about this whole plan, and she tapped Banagher on his shoulder. “We go last. If we are in danger of being noticed, follow my lead.” She had an idea. A dangerous one, but she was fairly certain she could pull it off.
There had been six Peacekeepers. More than just a casual patrol, she thought. They seemed to be expecting something, or at least they were on high alert. And if they were, if they thought they heard something, they would probably not stop looking until they found someone. They might even check the tower, if they were paranoid enough; she would have, were she in their position.
The human was running out of time, something he appeared to have had realised. He turned and ran back towards the rest of the group. Suddenly he stumbled, and yelled out. Not giving herself enough time to actually think about what she was doing, she whispered for the others to hide. As they disappeared back into the alley, she stepped out in the street. The Peacekeepers had not quite come into view yet, and she started yelling in elven to attract their attention. She just hoped they would at least try to ask questions. If not, she might have just killed both herself and Banagher. But they were going to want an explanation for the shout they had heard, and she was going to give them one. She hoped.
The Peacekeepers came into view, and she kept yelling, pointing down the street, away from the others. They approached her carefully, crossbows ready. At least they were not firing just yet. Good, she might actually be able to pull it off.
Five of the Peacekeepers stopped a short distance away, weapons pointed at her. One of them approached, asking her what she was doing outside during curfew. She kept talking rapidly in elven. The Peacekeeper reacted in much the expected way, telling her he did not speak much elven, and asking her if she spoke his language.
At that point, Banagher stepped out from the shadows. A couple of the Peacekeepers turned to keep their weapons trained on him, but they still did not fire. Moriel kept pointing down the street, and repeating “They ran that way,” and Banagher took up his role as translator.
The Peacekeeper questioning her asked about what she was doing outside during curfew. She felt a foolish urge to grin as she answered: “I wanted to see the city. I have never seen a human city before.” Well, that was even true. She had not seen a human city until they came here.
She could not see the Peacekeeper’s face, but she had a feeling he was rolling his eyes. “What are you doing out during the curfew?” She thought she could detect a hint of pain in his voice, the kind people tended to get when they had to deal with fools without being rude. She was almost starting to enjoy this.
“What is a curfew?” She thought she heard a groan from one of the others, and she was certain that she heard one of them mumble something about ‘stupid elves’. The Peacekeeper questioning them sighed and told two of his men to escort them back to their inn. Moriel was relieved that they had actually bothered to set up a cover for the two of them, they had an inn to name, and two of the Peacekeepers started walking down the street with them.
On the way, she kept chattering in elven, trying to treat it as a guided tour rather than two Peacekeepers escorting them back to their inn. They did not speak much, she suspected they did not understand elven, but just in case, she kept playing her role.
The innkeeper did not seem amused when the two Peacekeepers woke him up, hammering on the locked door. She could fairly see him double the cost of their room in his head as he let them in, locking the door behind them and before seeing them to their room. Watching from the window, she was the Peacekeepers head back towards the university. She could not resist; she waved at their disappearing backs.
Then she turned to Banagher. “Sorry about that, Banagher. But if they had found noone, chance are they would have either spread out more, or started looking for people.” She felt bad about dragging him into it with a minimum of warning, but she needed him to play his role, especially considering the cover they had spent the past day to set up.
“No problem. You have the sharper wit, it seems. It worked well enough.” She hoped the others would be as understanding. She had this nagging feeling that at least some of the others would not understand, even if she explained why she did it. That had at least seemed to be the case before. The humans kept confusing her. Either she or the others were very much out of tune with the rest of the world. Most likely, it was her. Nuances she did not catch, details she missed, strange cultural things she just did not understand. The humans kept doing things that made no sense to her. But since most of them did, and noone seemed to find it odd enough to mention, it had to be her.
The two of them decided to stay at the inn. Distracting the guards would work once, but not twice. Moriel suspected that if the guards saw them again, they would be in serious trouble. Hopefully, the others had gotten inside safely. No matter, since there was nothing more they could do. Right now, the guards thought they had found the source of the noise. If she and Banagher were seen again, chances were the guards would get suspicious, that they would realise something was going on. Better not to risk it.
The next morning, they headed to the safehouse. Moriel was worried about Poppy; the halfling did not really seem to understand the danger she was in. Granted, she was not sure if any of the others actually did either. On the other hand, most of them were reckless and rash, maybe it was just the way humans were. As for the dwarf, he was what he was. Not that she had ever met one of the children of the mountains apart from Gronk; none had visited her city in her lifetime, even before they retreated inside their mountain.
As she stepped into the building, she heard Poppy chattering. Then she spotted the gnome. Either, he had surprised them, and they had brought him with them to keep him from telling anyone, or their little excursion had been more successful than she had expected.
It soon became evident that it was indeed Bubblesneezer the others had captured. They were questioning him, but their questions made little sense. They either applied too much, or too little, pressure, and not the right kind. And they seemed to have no real sense of direction; their questions darted this way and that, like small fish in a pond. Moriel tried to ask a couple of questions herself, but soon realised it was futile. Everyone kept pulling in separate directions. She was not sure if it was intentional or not, but it seemed to her they gave the gnome more information than they got themselves.
Then Banagher stepped forward and ripped open the gnome’s shirt. He did something Moriel could not see, then held up a ring, obviously torn from the gnome’s chest. Bubblesneezer, who until now had looked fairly confident, suddenly looked less so. A tracker of some sort, then. Something that would lead searchers to them. But before anyone had time to do anything else, they heard marching feet coming down the alley.
These are the thoughts generated by the rapidly firing neurons of a panic-stricken, deranged Halflingâ€¦
Soldiers marchingâ€¦soldiers are comingâ€¦
Theyâ€™ll take my handsâ€¦.
I need my handsâ€¦.
Stupid gnomeâ€¦.itâ€™s all his faultâ€¦ backstabbing, pathetic, slimy creatureâ€¦..Inferior species enslaving us superior Halflingsâ€¦The conniving, underhanded slug slurp isnâ€™t worthy of lifeâ€¦we need to use himâ€¦weâ€™re going to use himâ€¦after heâ€™s used upâ€¦
Iâ€™m going to kill him.
I hear themâ€¦.the soldiersâ€¦theyâ€™re almost hereâ€¦
The gnome will die before I do.
Fight, hide or flee? Fight, hide or flee? Fight, hide or flee? Fight, hide or flee? Fight, hide or flee?
The rooftopsâ€¦we could go to the rooftopsâ€¦.we have the gnome hostageâ€¦we could cut off an ear and throw it to the soldiers, tell them thereâ€™s plenty more where that came from. We make the gnome call off the soldiersâ€¦
I hear their feet on cobblestonesâ€¦.I can almost hear their breathingâ€¦.
Theyâ€™re at the door.
I wonâ€™t let them have my hands.