After clearing the doppleganger house of hostiles and treasure, Phoof locked the doors to keep anyone from discovering the 'bodies' too quickly, although people on the street were already talking thanks to the rising smoke from the stuff the fire bombs had ignited (before it was put out). Not wanting to stand around and be gawked at, and not having any real deadlines except for perhaps the midnight meeting on Sunday they'd found records of, the party decided to split up to follow their own separate investigations.
So, Val and Ash returned to the boat, while June and Noggin did... something (since all their players were absent, some at least with the flu). Meanwhile, Kaito and Elsie starting hitting the temples in town in search of gods to worship, since the ones in Sandpoint had been disappointing (especially Lamashtu). Phoof, Altei, and Zakhar tried to gather useful information about their actual targets.
Kaito found the Cult of Ashava, an outsider with a divine spark who was trying to become the god of lonely spirits and good lycanthropes. He didn't *quite* qualify but he figured he could fake it, and the night-time rituals where scantly clad priestesses danced in the moonlight sounded pretty cool. Also, special bladed scarves as concealed weapons! What was not to like?
Elsie settled on a couple of gods that together covered all the things she was looking for in a religion -- community, competition, helping others, etc. She worried that maybe she wasn't being as Lawful as she needed to be to continue training as a monk, since she cared more about helping people than about discipline, and kept losing her temper (or playing around) and accidentally hurting people -- like the poor man she'd killed thinking he was an ordinary scarecrow.
The others found several clues -- the murders were called the 'Skinsaw murders' and a councilman named Ironbriar was in charge of the investigation. People were generally satisfied with the guard's response so far, though -- they were at least making a show of hunting for the culprits. There might have been more information they could have gotten if they had been willing to bribe people, but since they already had a lead (the 'seven sawmill') they weren't that desperate yet.
They also discovered magical monuments scattered all over the city, and once they joined up with Elsie and Kaito they went to visit the nearest one, which was dedicated to adventurers who'd saved the city from giant spiders and was right next to the worst part of town. Elsie bought a big bag full of muffins and handed them out to the poorest people she could find, while Kaito climbed on top of the spider statues and got distracted trying to follow the strange patterns engraved all over...
After lunch they decided to go and scout out the sawmill, to see how best to approach it -- was in operational? Was it abandoned? Were there actually 24 sawmills in the city none of which were named 'seven sawmill'? Unfortunately, it was the latter. Fortunately, when Phoof and Zakhar asked around about 'spooky sawmill stories' there was a rumor that a particular sawmill had lights on every Sunday night. They had dinner in a nearby middle-class residential district, and decided to try to sneak in after nightfall.
Zakhar was the least stealthy of the party, and was going to wait outside in an alleyway in case of emergencies. Phoof cast a message spell on each party member so that they could talk, and then turned herself into an owl for extra stealth and discovered that as an owl she could only hoot. Kaito went in fox form, of course, while Altei and Elsie were just sneaking, but had magical abilities to become extra sneaky (and invisible) if they needed to.
The sawmill was kind of a fortress -- it was four stories high plus an 'undermill', with no windows and only two entrances. They tried the smaller one first -- it led to the undermill which was noisy and misty and deserted, and had the waterwheels powering the whole building and a bunch of gears and belts to distribute the power. Technically, they could have climbed up through the holes where the belts and gears were spinning but that seemed really suicidal.
Elsie got impatient and went ethereal to float up from floor to floor, scouting the building out quickly from the ethereal plane. The others snuck in through the main entrance.
The first floor had a couple of wagons, and a bunch of hay where something large had rested -- Phoof thought they were ogres but couldn't actually tell anyone because hoot hoot. The stairs were accidentally guarded -- one of the employees was eating a sandwich at the top. Altei and Kaito managed to sneak past since he wasn't really trying to be on guard, and then Altei created a distraction that let Phoof fly up as well. Unfortunately, it briefly trapped him in a dead end while the sawmill employees on that floor talked about who had knocked on the door to summon who, so Kaito and Phoof went ahead.
On the next floor there was a big door to what was probably the main room on the floor, and a smaller door to a closet, tucked off in a corner. Kaito turned human to carefully open the door, and found a treasure trove of cultist artifacts! And also treasure.
He started by stealing enough robes and masks for the whole party to use if they needed them at some point (but had no way of carrying the polearms), then pried open the barrels and started filling his bags with money and gems. Phoof stared at him, and hooted incredulously. Was this really the time?
Kaito: "This is evidence! I'm gathering evidence."
Phoof: "Who whooooo..."
The barrel not full of gold was full of delicate china, which he carefully set aside to avoid making noise, and a couple of locked boxes which he figured must have the really good (or really incriminating) stuff inside if the gold and gems were left out in the relative open. He tied a rope around them and lowered them down the stairwell (which no one was watching at that exact instant) to the first floor, then dropped the ropes down after them, planning to pick them up later to take them with.
Just as he was turning back into a fox, the door behind him opened and a confused employee came out and saw him. "What? What's a fox doing in here?" Kaito hissed and ran for it, trying to lead him away from Phoof, the ransacked treasure room, and then once he realized it the boxes sitting out in the open on the first floor. This was pretty easy since he could fit between the bars of the stairwell and hop from floor to floor, but the guy got friends and started to pen him in with people on all sides. Looking down, though, he saw that the boxes were already gone, and was able to jump down to the first floor and make a run for it out the door.
There he met up with Elsie and Zakhar -- Elsie's spell had run out leaving her on the roof, and she'd been there to pick up the boxes after Altei, seeing them lowered to the ground, had picked them up and set them outside, still invisible.
While Elsie talked about what she'd seen -- in particular, the office full of severed faced plastering the walls -- Zakhar popped open the locks, revealing... human hearts. And large chunks of diamond. They split up the diamonds, but let Zakhar keep the hearts.
Eventually Phoof and Altei joined them after exploring a bit more. Comparing notes, this was obviously, obviously a cult-run sawmill and the employees (at least the night employees) were probably all cultists. Phoof had also overheard them talking about the 'Skinsaw ritual' and 'Ironbriar' -- they were definately complicit in the murders. Stealing the robes and treasure was probably the right call (although it would put them on alert once it was discovered), but they needed to go back in and get the papers out of the office of faces.
While they were talking about the best way to do that, they noticed a wealthy man returning to the building -- maybe Ironbriar himself? They weren't sure. They were sure that they needed to move NOW, though. Luckily, Elsie had found a trapdoor in the roof that would let them get to the office without alerting the rest of the building. Since they weren't planning on being inside for very long, Zakhar came with them -- he had an extract of invisibility for emergencies, and if they needed to fight they'd want him close to burn down the building (or heal them).
So they climbed to the roof (eventually) and lowered a rope to pull the others up (Zakhar had to be literally pulled up after tying himself on, since he was that bad at climbing). The trapdoor was in a rookery, so Phoof put most of the birds to sleep with a spell and then convinced the last one to be calm and not to make noise. Kaito carefully opened the trapdoor...
...and the wealthy man they'd seen was at the desk in the office. They decided to kidnap him.
So, Altei used his blowgun to poison him with a knockout poison... but he didn't get knocked out. He didn't see them either, so Kaito and Elsie jumped down to try to trap him in the office and knock him unconscious respectively. That didn't work either -- he was hard to hit and soaked the punches that did hit, and then bull-rushed past Kaito and the office doors to get out into the rest of the building and call for help.
All the workers instantly grabbed giant cultist axes and came to his rescue. No, they were not innocent. The two that were right there on the top floor tried to trap everyone in the office so that their boss could get away, but Elsie was too fast for them and managed to get in front of him, blocking him from running down the stairwell, and Kaito had to kill a couple to get past but was soon right behind him, trapping him in a single space.
That's when he suddenly went incorporeal and ran right through Kaito and a couple of guards. Altei had squeezed through the bars into the shaft of the stairwell, and tried to stab him, while Kaito -- not entirely convinced that he hadn't just turned invisible and pretended to run off with an illusion -- threw a tanglefoot bag at the visible boss and stabbed at the empty space. Neither hit -- the rapier missed (if anything was even there to be stabbed) and the tanglefoot bag went right through the visible image. All the while, more and more cultists were pouring out of every level and surrounding them.
Then -- while the image became less convincing by ceasing to move or do anything -- Elsie was momentarily paralyzed by a Hold Person spell, long enough that the boss could have pushed past her without being noticed. Phoof (who'd been buffing the party IMMENSELY throught he whole fight) set off her giant Entangle spell, covering half the building, hoping to trap him while her Good Hope let her party members make their saves against the tangle and her Haste let them move around fast enough even with difficult terrain everywhere.
It didn't trap him, but it did slow him down, and Kaito never stopped blocking the stairwell. Eventually, he made a noise, and Elsie was able to chase him and punch him some more in a corner of the third floor not covered by the entangle. "You're not getting away!" she said, and Kaito rushed in to trap him in a single space again, with one of the whirring sawblades hemming him in on one side and the outer wall on the other.
Not wanting to risk any more punches, the boss decided to try to escape by acrobatically dodging the sawblades and dropping to a lower level. ... The second part of that plan worked. He was horribly mauled by the blades, however, and hasted and re-invisibled Altei was able to swoop in and stab him before he could stand up, finishing him off.
Boss, after seeing an invisible ninja appear right next to him: "It's not... fair... I never got to summon my gorillas..." *dies*
They quickly finished off the other cultists -- Zakhar had been stuck in the office wrestling with one of the minions Kaito hadn't killed before running off this whole time, having failed to kill him from range by throwing deadly books at his face -- and gathered up the portable loot. But now what?
...now it was 7:30 and the game had run very late. But at least we finished the fight!
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