But first we had to fight off some random bandits.
Ash, Val, Noggin, and June stayed back with the wagon, to guard it and possibly provide long-range support, while Shalalu tried to make herself a target and the rest of the party tried to find and/or sneak up on the bandits.
Success was mixed. Elsie managed to punch one bandit out of his tree with some good-old applebucking, then climbed up into another tree and grappled with a second bandit, trying to take him alive. Kaito managed to stay hidden, mostly, but also couldn't see anyone, even if they were already shooting, and ended up running the length of the entire ambush before some of the bandits came out in the open to get a better shot at Shalalu, letting him pounce on them. Altei turned invisible and started running around in the trees like an actual ninja, and Shalalu...
Shalalu got into a duel with a hill giant. She made him drop his first boulder, but it didn't look like she'd be able to down him before he reached her once he came out and charged. Altei leapt out of the branches onto his back, and while he managed to give him a deep wound, his katana got stuck in his back, and he had to let go when he started bashing him with his club.
Kaito tried to run in to take her place, but between the arrows, the katana, an unsuccesful attempt to blind him with glitterdust, and some long-range magic missiles and lightning bolts, the giant lost his nerve and started to run off into the forest... with the katana still in his back.
Phoof managed to entangle him before he got too far -- in the forest, she could cast her special entangle at range -- and Altei gave chase in the treetops. She managed to jump on his back again and retrieve his katana, only to get entangled at his feet. "But at least I'll die with my sword in hand." Kaito tried to come help, but got entangled as well, a few feet away.
Luckily, the giant was almost dead (another reason it had tried to run away) and Altei was able to finish it off before it killed him (or got away).
Back at the roadside ambush site, the rest of the bandits had made a run for it, aside from the ones that were dead, one that surrendered to Shalalu (who they left tied to a tree), and 'Glub glub' that Elsie had taken prisoner and decided to reform.
He did not want to be reformed, and hour-long lectures on the superiority of the monastic lifestyle did not convince him to enlist in her way of life, even with Phoof providing helpful mood music. Kaito eventually suggested that he at least *pretend* to reform so that people would stop trying to kill him, and he was happy to pretend to be convinced by that argument. Elsie was not happy with that outcome, and didn't let him go.
After a couple of days they got to a small hamlet on the edge of a massive lake. It wasn't Turtleback Ferry, where they'd been heading, but the locals confirmed they were close. They did some trading, ate some turtle-egg pie, and headed on in the morning.
The next day they actually made it to the village. The innkeeper wanted 5 gold per room per night, which seemed high to most of the party, although Phoof and Kaito were willing to pay that much.
Ash: "I don't trust him."
Kaito: "Well, yeah. He's obviously going to try to kill us in the middle of the night. But how else are we going to find the cult?"
They still had some daylight, so they tried the other means first. Basically, talking to people. Various folk were able to confirm that the rangers had mysteriously stopped coming by a few weeks ago, and there was also the strange case of Paradise -- a floating casino which had sunk at about the same time.
The church did not seem to be in the cult's thrall -- the local preacher was a paragon of generosity, willing to cast any healing spells for free. Like the rest of the town, he was puritanical, despising the casino and wondering if divine retribution was responsible for its destruction.
Kaito decided to snoop around more, while the others went on to canvas the rest of the town. He found a basement full of alcoholic pickles, and discovered that eating alcoholic pickles while in fox form was a good way to get totally smashed. This led to the brilliant plan of stripping naked and dancing around in the town square, 'accidentally' revealing the magical medallion he was still wearing, which bore the cult's symbol. This didn't get him anything but dirty looks.
The others discovered that a good portion of the townsfolk secretly had seven-pointed star tatoos -- apparently, they'd been recruited into a 'secret club' on the Paradise, where paying a small fee and getting tatood meant that they could gamble and whore for free, as often as they wanted. Obviously, this was how the local cult leader had been 'cultivating' her greedy souls for the ritual.
So the question was -- had the Paradise actually been sunk by the cult's enemies, or one of the random monsters from the vicinity? Ash was certain it had been sunk on purpose, since with the fort in her hands there was no need for it anymore. Kaito thought that maybe she'd just taken it somewhere else -- why waste a perfectly good casino?
One of the ferrymen made an offer that could help them settle the matter -- he thought he knew where the Paradise had sunk, and he'd take them there for a portion of anything they managed to salvage. How could they pass that up?
The next day, they headed out onto the lake, five miles from shore, and Val cast a Water Breathing spell and some Touch of the Sea to help them swim. Phoof (in the form of an octopus) and Noggin (in the form of a floating metal skull) found the ferry first, and led the others right to it.
...and to the massive Gar, which swam up and started chewing on June. Elsie and Kaito (mostly Elsie) were able to take it down before it finished tearing him to bits, though.
Then they swum the fish up to the ferry -- it was a famous fish in the region, so the townsfolk would be excited that they'd caught it, maybe.
Unfortunately, that was the only 'treasure' they found in the ferry. It had, in fact, been scuttled on purpose -- holes blasted from inside below the waterline, and all the safes emptied out. There were the skeletons of the guests who'd been there at the time, but all their valuables had already been taken, too. The only things of any worth were the magically reinforced safes themselves, but there was no way to get them off the bottom of the lake -- they were just too heavy.
Still, at least they'd managed to settle the question of what had happened to the Paradise. And they did know where the fort was now, from other people in town, so they knew how to find the most likely location of the cultists.
prev | next