“Home sweet home,” Gelik Aberwhinge said while paying the cafe owner and taking the offered glass of wine, “You have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve been able to sit and have a nice drink like this.”
“Been away for long?” The halfling politely asked while he handed the gnome his drink. A nice vintage from Taldor. Heavy with a lovely aftertaste. Perfect with the kidney pie that Gelik was waiting on in this open cafe that overlooked the University.
“Years,” Gelik confessed while he savoured his first sip of wine. “Delicious,” he sighed, “All I’ve had is rum for the longest time. Awful stuff. It’s surprising how little I miss it. Nothing but rum and fruit. My tongue tingles just thinking about it.”
“Sounds dreadful,” the cafe owner laughed. It was a slow day so the halfling gestured to a seat and asked to join his customer. Gelik smiled and his host made himself comfortable. “So where were you drinking all this terrible rum?” The cafe owner asked jovially.
“Mwangi Expanse,” Gelik replied and the cafe owner whistled softly. Absalom was a haven for traveller but to it’s residences, many of whom were use to tales of far flung places, the legendary jungle was considered the other side of the world.
“That’s some trek,” the cafe owner asked incredulously. “You a Pathfinder?”
Gelik nodded and pulled a small golden compass, his Wayfinder, from out of his tunic. It glinted in the sun while it lazily tilted it’s needle towards The Crown of The World. The cafe owner peered at the device and, although having seen one many times, smiled appreciatively. The Pathfinders were well respected in Absalom.
“Just gave my report to the Lodge,” Gelik said proudly, concealing the fact that his fellow Pathfinders were less than excited to hear from him again. The charges of chicanery where still remembered on his records, tainting his discovery of the Lost City of Saventh-Yhi. But, with a written letter of recommendation from a respected Pathfinder, there was little they could do but to evaluate his claims. Now all he could do was wait for them to finish the lengthy procedure, “Found a little lost city in the jungle. Big news, I expect. Azlanti, you see. Very old. Full of danger. Barely got out with my skin.”
“Really?” the halfling replied and evaluated his guest with new eyes. When the dishevelled gnome entered his cafe he assumed him to be some sort of cash poor adventurer, a common sight in the city. Someone who had spent the last of their coin on some magical doodad and didn’t have enough left for a sandwich or a mug of cheap beer, let alone a nice glass of wine and a plate of real food. But now, he was a soon-to-be important archeologist of some prestigious who could bring in other well heeled guests to the sleepy cafe. “Let me get you some more wine, sir,” he said, hurrying off to get the bottle and to fetch Gelik his food.
Gelik sighed and took a sip of his wine. He could see the glimmer in the halfling’s eyes when he mentioned the Pathfinders. It would be easy to convince the poor man to simply give him the meal for free. Every piece of his being told him to do so but a part niggled at him. Business seemed slow here and it wasn’t that much money to spend for a good meal. Time in the jungle had changed him, he guessed while he watched the people shuffle past the patio. A lot of them had their heads down and kept to themselves, like cattle being herded. What ever happened to the bright and alive Absalom he remembered?
The crowd sullenly parted and a graceful woman wearing a bright sky blue long robe over her dark but functional armour walked up the boulevard, her long dark hair tied up under a fancy lace trimmed bonnet. Heads turning as she passed and eyes lingered on her until they saw the ornate rapier that bounced menacing at her hip. She saw Gelik and waved cheerfully, gliding towards him like she was walking on air. “There you are,” she said happily while she easily pulled up a chair, “Nice place. How’s the food?”
“Good,” Gelik replied conversationally while he shuffled over to give her some room, “Use to eat here when I was a student. The wine is excellent. Taldor.”
Amiska Lewynn smiled and looked around for the owner, who was standing by the door to the kitchen, a look of surprise and concern on his face. He cautiously approached the table with the steaming plate of kidney pie for Gelik . “Do you have anything else besides wine?” She asked pleasantly.
“Some beer,” he said and put the heaping plate and bottle in front of Gelik. “Also some brandy,” he continued.
“No rum, huh?” She sighed and took off the large bag she wore around her shoulders, “I’ll have whatever he’s having and a mug of beer, I guess.” She pulled out a coin purse and jingled the coin within before pulling out a couple of pieces of silver, “Will this cover it?” She asked while she held them out.
“Of course,” the owner replied and quickly pocketed the payment, “I’ll go pour it for you.”
“Aren’t you the sweetest thing,” she said with a wide smile.
“Thank you,” he stuttered and melted under her lovely gaze, “I’ll be right back.”
Amiska leaned back in her chair and winked at a passing young worker carrying a large plank over his broad shoulder who blushed and hurried off. “We found something weird,” she said and handed a rolled up piece of paper to the gnome while watching the handsome young man walk quickly away.
“That didn’t take long,” he responded sardonically. He unfolded the proffered piece and scanned it quickly, “Is this serious?”
“Wild, right?” She responded with a wide grin, “Ishirou found it on a wall while we were checking out a market. I thought the poor guy was going to actually freak out when he saw it. Who knew that they were that important?”
“How is this even possible?” Gelik exclaimed while reading the poster. ‘The Feast At Marid’s Rock,’ it’s now badly faded letter loudly pronounced. ‘The Exciting Continuation Of The Adventures Of The Water Naga. Watch As The Pirate Heroes From The Shackles Battle Against Their Deadliest Foe Yet In A Battle To Claim The Island Of Empty Eyes!’
“I assume someone heard the story somehow,” Amiska replied with a shrug. She idly re-pinned her mass of long hair with a lacquered golden tasselled thin stick, “It gets better. The whole thing closed opening night because of, wait for it, some sort of attack on the theatre. People in the market called them “political zealots” and the like.”
Gelik pulls out his book and starts looking at his notes, sweat forming on his brow. “You don’t understand,” he insisted, “This isn’t possible.”
“Why?” She asked. The cafe owner returned with her mug and she smiled a thanks to the halfling, then asked, “Hey, do you know anything about this play?”
“That?” The Cafe Owner replied with a snort when he saw the title, “Bad business that. A bunch of ruffians tossed fireworks into a theatre crowd. Caused a couple of deaths. Big black eye for the Theatre Guild and the Watch, from what I heard. Never caught the ones responsible. Too bad. The plays were really popular but that just killed the series for good. I heard the whole thing is considered cursed now. Even the theatre is boarded up.”
“These plays?” Gelik asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice, “There is a series of them?”
“Oh yes,” The cafe owner replied cheerfully, “’The Ongoing Adventures of The Crew of The Water Naga’. My wife loved them. Lucky for her she couldn’t get tickets for that show, let me tell you.”
“And they’re about Captain Sandy Foundling? A halfling?” Gelik quizzed him further.
“That’s him,” the cafe owner answered breezily, “Local boy. The missus knows some of his school mates. Had a gnome playing him but the bloke was so good you couldn’t tell he wasn’t a halfling, you know. No offence.”
“None taken,” Gelik replied with a nervous smile, “And the rest of his crew? An elf, a fetchling, a sylph and a human?”
“I think that’s right. I never saw them myself,” the halfling confirmed before he left to get Amiska’s food, “Not my cup of tea. The missus talked about them all the time.”
“This is just so weird,” she commented when the cafe owner left, “I mean, I liked them but this is just so strange. A bunch of plays? Just about them?”
“You don’t understand,” Gelik said and he leaned forward to show her the poster, “Look at this date. If this is right, this thing was being staged the same night as it was happening.”
“No way,” she snorted while sipping her beer, “You have to be wrong.”
“It’s the night Jask died,” Gelik insisted, “I can’t forget. Someone wrote, produced and staged an opening night on the same night that we were at that very event. And it got attacked by explosives, just like the feast. And look at the name of the playhouse.”
Amiska peered at the small faded print. “’_The Rose Petal Theatre_’,” she read aloud and she frowned with understanding.
“’Look for the abandoned flower’,” Gelik said, “Didn’t you see this?”
“I don’t know,” Amiska said defensively, “I didn’t look that closely.”
“Okay, we need to get everyone together,” he said, ignoring her protestation.
“I left Aerys and Ishirou at the market. I think they wanted to be alone, if you know what I mean,” she told him, “I don’t know where Sasha got off to. She was in a snit when I last saw her. Who knows where she is now.”
“I think I can figure out where she’s gone,” Gelik said. He had gotten use to predicting where Sasha’s moods would take her. “We need to find out more about these plays,” he said while he scrutinized the poster, “The writer’s name is Preet Dola. We should be able to find her.”
The smell of spiced meat suddenly wafting deliciously into the adventurer’s nostrils. The cafe owner returned with another kidney pie heaped with gravy and greens. “After lunch, of course,” Gelik continued and shovelled his pie into his mouth, “We did pay for this after all. Would be a waste otherwise.”
Amiska, gingerly taking chopsticks from her bag and delicately picking at her food, agreed.