Last time, our heroes escaped Saarland with their lives and some new information about who’s responsible for artifacts from Saarland ending up on the black market. As they return to Sugar’s Crossing, they must decide what to do about it.
First, they return to the person who set them on this quest: Soren, the Elven storyteller who was there when the city fell. They ask for her at the theater and have to wait a while because she’s with another client. Her expertise is in high demand. She’s glad they returned safely and asks how Saarland is doing. She readies pen and paper to record the information and add it to the historical record. They report that Saarland is split between Ents trying to demolish buildings and return it to nature, and Spectres of dead residents who refuse to let go. The only people who go there are looters. Soren knew it would be bad, but hearing exactly how bad is still a blow. She’s furious that people are desecrating her home. She picks up a second pen in her other hand and starts writing a vituperative diss track.
Gleador & Lucia ask Soren how the stolen artifacts might be moving around once brought back to civilization. Traffic in such articles is illegal, but it’s not a crime that the garrison would notice, unless they were tipped off. Our heroes ask how to contact the underworld. Soren doesn’t get mixed up in such things, but the theater does employ some shady stagehands. They’re rough folks who probably know some rougher folks. Lucia says that le Grind is the buyer for many of the artifacts. Both of Soren’s pens stop suddenly. The meeting room they are in is named after le Grind’s third son. le Grind is a big financial sponsor of the theater. Each year at the theater gala, he and Lady Evelynn try to outdo each other with lavish donations. If Soren performs a diss track against him, the theater would lose his funding and have trouble surviving. Gleador and Lucia say they’ll try to reveal le Grind so that the theater doesn’t take the fall. Soren thanks them for the information, even though it was upsetting. Truth is good for history, and trauma is good for art.
Gleador & Lucia plan to gather information by touring the le Grind mill. The original mill is preserved as a museum, while larger, more modern mills do the actual work of processing beets into sugar.
Lucia joins a tour group like a normal person. Gleador transforms into a wild cat with falcon eyes and allergenic dander. The mill is built for Halflings (le Grind is a Halfling family) so even with larger hallways for moving loads and equipment about, it’s cramped for some guests. Lucia is close to the ceiling at 5’0″. The Elves in the group have to bend over, and one poor Naga has to spread most of his 11-foot length horizontally, taking up a lot of space. The tour starts in the original mill and then turns to another room with drying racks and historical displays. Finally, the tour group exits through the gift shop. Gleador skips the tour and slips between bars of the fence around the le Grind estate. He infiltrates Mill A, which is bustling with Halflings bringing sacks of beats, loading them into the mill, and collecting the pulp and juice. The beets’ strong coloration stains the millstones, the floor, and the workers’ hands bright purple. Gleador hops into a spot that he hopes is out of the way and surveys the scene but a bad roll of the dice means that his perch is right where the next heavy sack of beets goes. He leaps away at the last moment, out in the open, causing a commotion. A wide-shouldered Halfing woman with very strong hands grabs him and tosses him out the window into the river. Underwater he transforms into a catfish, avoids the churning waterwheel, and swims away as the woman starts itching and sneezing.
From the river, he investigates the docks and sees drain large enough for a Halfling to walk through. It’s closed by a grate secured with a padlock. Inside, he sees that it’s fed by many smaller pipes, as expected, but there’s also a door. Most suspicious. He swims away, returns to Elf form, and reconvenes with Lucia, whose authorized tour of the facility was uneventful. They plan to sneak in through the grate, find what le Grind has stolen, and steal it from him. It’s not stealing if it’s already stolen. They are not sure what to do with the artifacts once they recover them, but that’s a Gleador plan for you: Enthusiasm and optimism!
They wait for nightfall, and Lucia removes her heavy armor so that she can swim. They approach the gate and wonder how to bypass the padlocked grate. The bars are six inches apart. Gleador could easily transform into something small enough to fit through, but Lucia can’t. Smashing the grate and picking the lock are suggested, but their planning is interrupted by the approach of a small rowboat. Two Halflings pilot it with muffled oars and a hooded lantern, so they’re probably up to no good. Gleador and Lucia dive underwater to avoid notice. The rowboat pulls up to the grate, and one Halfling unlocks the grate and goes inside. The other Halfing remains in the boat. Lucia can’t hold her breath for that long and starts choking on water. Gleador pushes Lucia downstream and floats to the surface, using his camouflage ability to remain unseen. Lucia surfaces beyond the range of the Halfling’s lantern, but he’s aware of something out there and moves towards the drain. Gleador transforms into a crocodile with the water jet power of a sea dragon. He grabs the Halfling’s leg, but is shaken off. Both Halflings in the drain run up towards the hidden door, leaving the grate unlocked.
Gleador does not pursue them. He examines the rowboat. It can hold six people, the oarlocks are wrapped in fabric to avoid noise, and there’s a false bottom that can conceal cargo. He uses camouflage again to wait by the boat. Lucia goes to the bush just downstream of the docks where she left her armor and puts it back on. Both heroes wait for the next move from the le Grind estate.
After about 15 minutes, three night watch come out to the docks. They are official. The have fancy hats, and lanterns on poles to light their way. They spot the boat. One climbs down under the docks to retrieve it while the other two hold their lanterns out to light his way. Lucia takes this opportunity to slip away, but is noticed. She’s far away and it’s dark, so the guard only knows there was a tall person in armor lurking about. One guard is holding two lanterns over the edge of the dock while a second fetches a boat hook to help the third pull in this mysterious rowboat. As they are trying to secure the boat, Gleador grabs the boat and yanks it back into the water! One guards goes into the river with it. Another swings at the strange creature with his boat hook. The third blows the whistle around his next, raising a general alarm. Gleador disengages from the fight and swims away underwater, eventually reconvening with Lucia. They blew their chance to sneak into the estate, and they don’t know what those sneaky Halflings were doing in the drain, but they’ll try again another time!