As dawn broke that Tuesday morning, the group had come to terms with Oren’s incredibly foolhardy plan to act as bait. Bait for whatever was stealing the children of Joy. Bait for a force completely unknown to them, and potentially more dangerous than anything they’d seen so far. But it was far too late now – the messages had already been sent to the suspect dead drops. Soon, whatever they had summoned would find them, ready or not.
The group crouched in the nearly abandoned safehouse, unmoving, for several tense hours. Captain Blackadder had crawled onto the roof through an upstairs window, hoping that his long gun may offer some potential advantage. Downstairs, Vayle kept a close watch on the streets from the parlor while Thorn peered anxiously through the peephole in the back door, wondering what could be keeping fully half their number from returning on time. They were supposed to go straight to the dead drops, and straight back – but Pajak, Pfenton, and Ptolemy were still missing. Thorn swallowed hard on “missing”, hoping it meant “delayed” and not “bloody in an alley”. Or “taken by the Black Wing”. He wasn’t sure what was worse.
The silence of the streets was slowly invaded by a strangely cheery tinkling tune, echoing down the empty lane in front of the safehouse. Wulfinia identified it as the type of instrument installed in many vendor’s carts in Feran, used to summon customers from their homes as the carts passed by. Peering out the front windows, Wulfinia identified this cart as serving – ice cream?
The cart was of large wooden construction, with thick slatted door held closed by strong metal clasps. The metal-bound wheels rumbled down the quiet lane, powered by an ancient mule and tended by an even more ancient Lowborn woman. The granny called out in a surprisingly strong sing-song voice:
Dear Ice cream,
Cold and creamy,
You taste like a dream,
And never take it easy.
Ice cream I bring,
Oh so nice,
I don’t need anything,
Just you will suffice.
The group looked at each other uneasily while the crone chanted outside. Thorn sighed audibly and turned to Oren. Crouching down slightly to look her in the eyes, he said, “Point of no return, kid. You ready?”
Oren met his eyes without fear. “I’m not a kid. And I was born ready”
“Alright then. Get out there. And bring me back a Dilly Bar.”
Oren smiled eagerly and sprinted out to meet the cart. Thorn hoped she remembered to stand where they had agreed, a place in the lane outside that gave her four possible escape routes – and provided the clearest fire lane for Blackadder and Vayle. Silently, he signaled Vayle across the room. The gestures he made were simple and few, but Vayle got the message clearly – If things go bad, kill the woman.
Whatever it takes.