Part 17: A ForestEpisode 16: A Forest
Last time, we blew up several pirates with our harmonic combos. We also freed some slaves, killed Gao the Greater, and took the special flyer our new scientist friend Kang the Mad had been forced to build for him. That, of course, means we now technically have the means to leave Tien's Landing, but there is still the matter of that wind map. Silk Fox pointed us in the direction of Lord Yun in the Great Southern Forest, so that's where we'll be going today.
(that's Dawn Star speaking, by the way)
Well, it's much like the dilemma of the centipede. If he relaxes and lets things happen, he can walk naturally all day long, his hundred legs not missing a step. But, if he thinks too hard about the complexity of what he's doing, those legs might crash into the teahouse and kill everyone. A valuable lesson.
Yes, that would be bad, so let's just let Kang do what he does and not question things too much. We just returned the teahouse to its proper owner, so smashing it now would be something of a shame. But let's not think about that, and talk to Dawn Star instead.
We went looking for our Master and perhaps another flyer. What we found... I was not prepared for how cruel people could be. Seeing those people with no control over their fates... it is similar to a pain in my past that l have not thought about for a long time.
You don't speak much about your life before the school.
I would not dream of saying my experience is similar to those poor people in Gao's fortress. but that lack of control... I know that well. One of the only things I know about myself is that on the morning I was born the sky was red, like distant mountains were on fire. Perhaps it was Dirge burning, as Zu said. I believe it was an ill omen, and that stigma is why my abilities became a burden. That's why I must have been left at the school. To be subject to the whims of someone else just because of what you are, be you slave or outsider... yes, I know that well.
Yes, you are an outsider too, albeit one with power to change your world. I think the slaves in the pirate lair would greatly appreciate your skill in defense. And I would make great use of your confidence. You inspire me to think of the possibilities, not just the problems.
I think she's doing the same "sultry" pose Silk Fox tends to do fairly often. Not sure why she is doing that, but I think it might be a case of this line of dialog and her animation during it being the same ones from the romance path.
Let's see what our party's designated scoundrel is up to.
MUSIC: Sky Theme
Three years. Three long years of tracing these slavers to their master, only to find that there were more above him. I also found a strong ally, but I'm not sure if the greater consolation lies in your ability, determination, or beauty. I look forward to finding out.
For us to be allies, you have to accept the whole package.
Of course. I wouldn't dream of breaking you down into components. Treating people like commodities was Gao's business. not mine.
How did you track Gao?
Gao's slavers took my daughter, Pinmei, and I was able to follow them. Fortunately, they didn't cover their tracks. I chased them down, trying to reach her. I was too late. Pinmei was spirited, and I'm sure she fought them. I believe they decided she was too much trouble and killed her. Five years old... and they ran her through.
I'm suddenly very glad we killed Gao and his pirates extremely violently.
There are ways to track men who don't want to be found. It's all a matter of time and dedication. Why dwell on this? Gao is dead, and perhaps Pinmei has found some peace. That's what really matters. That and what we still have to accomplish.
You still haven't told me how you found Gao.
Well, that was depressing. I don't think talking to Wild Flower will raise our spirits, but we should that anyway.
How many demons are there inside this poor girl?
I... I shouldn't say. Just by naming him... thinking of him, it draws him closer to the surface... gives him more power. The Guardian said that in all things there is balance, and for light there is dark within each of us. The Other is his darkness, for the good he has to do. Thats what he says.
Why are they in you in the first place?
The Guardian is here because of you and the amulet you hold. He is here because there is a debt to be paid. But balance must always be maintained, and so... the Other.
We're obviously making things worse for her by bringing up this subject, but I swear we're just trying to help.
I had to laugh at the "Deal with it" option because it's so incredibly dickish.
That was not particularly uplifting, but what can you do? Since we are done with all the party member dialog for now (Zu still has nothing important for us), it is time to enter the Great Southern Forest and see what the business in there is all about.
Ghosts are apparently involved, so we most likely shouldn't expect anything good.
I'm not an arborist, but even I can tell this is not how a healthy forest is supposed to look. Or sound, for that matter. The BGM for this area is super creepy, give it a listen.
MUSIC: Lost in the Wilds/The Hunt
If you can't feel it, then this feeling is as magical as it is foul. We should be on our guard.
Indeed. If Dawn Star can feel something in the air and we can't sense anything, that is usually not a sign of anything positive coming our way. Most often, it means...
...that we are about to be attacked by ghosts any second. The ghosts in the Great Southern Forest are a bit different to the ones we've seen thus far, they look much more fucked up. What happened to this guy's right arm and left hand?
Never mind that, what happened to the top of this lady's head?
Oh shit. Oh no. Not these things.
The ghost in black is a Lost Spirit, and they are among the most hated enemies in this entire game. They fire these green projectiles that home in on you and zap your health and chi. They can be blocked like any normal attack from any fighting style, but Lost Spirits are usually accompanied by other spirit enemies (or simply other Lost Spirits) and you absolutely want to prioritize these floaty bastards at all times.
Lost Spirits also have a blue projectile, which hits hard but is easy to avoid if you see it coming. It doesn't home in, either.
Magic still works fine against them, and they don't have huge amounts of health. Apparently Lost Spirits are particularly weak to the Stone Immortal style, which we could've learned from Mistress Vo by this point (I actually did, but when I started recording this session I accidentally loaded the wrong save so I'll have to go learn it again).
Spirit enemies are immune to support styles, so no Storm Dragon shenanigans for us today.
If all else fails, use fire. Sound advice for any situation, really, but especially for fighting ghosts.
Once the ghosts are dispatched, these people run down the stairs and towards us.
Lord Yun, I presume?
My manners desert me. I am Lord Yun, owner of this land and charged by the Emperor himself to keep it safe. You should turn back south to Tien's Landing. This is the safest part of the Great Southern Forest, and even it is polluted with these strange ghosts.
Perhaps I can help you.
Help me? That's certainly a kind offer, but I'm not sure that anyone... Wait a moment. You don't look like a pilgrim or one of the poor folk trying to escape Tien's Landing. Would it be out of line to inquire as to what brought you here?
Where did you acquire a wind map that would cover the distance?
Acquiring that chart was a hard fought battle, I can assure you. The Lotus Assassins keep a tight rein on those precious documents.
It seems I need your wind map to travel north.
From your questions, I'd say you have a flyer at your disposal, which seems unusual. It would take a resourceful person to acquire a device like that, and I believe that resourceful people know how to get things done. Especially when properly motivated. Perhaps you could get something done for me. If so, I might be persuaded to foolishly risk the Lotus Assassins' wrath by making a copy of one of their precious maps.
The deal is simple. Find out why my land sickens--why it is home to so many ghosts--and you will have your map.
You have a deal. I'll find out what's wrong with your land.
Two things threaten the entire length and breadth of this forest: The trees blacken with disease, and ghosts flock to this place like no other in the Empire.
She is a powerful being, one my father considered the guardian of this forest. If this place is filled with ghosts, then I suspect that it is either because of or in spite of her.
I've heard enough about this fox spirit. What do I need to do?
I think something is wrong with the Forest Shadow, and I want you to find her and figure out what is happening. Once we know that, we'll have a clear idea of what we face.
Make your way up this ancient trail, and when you come to a fork, take the left path. That will lead you to a temple built long ago in the Forest Shadows honor. Once there, find my hunter Spear Catches Leaf, if he still lives. He claimed to remember some sort of ritual that my forebears used to contact the Forest Shadow. You might also want to keep an eye out for some small shrines that are scattered about the forest. Some of them are said to react to magic or charges of chi.
I need that wind map, so I have work to do.
I was beginning to think there may be no cure for this place. Your arrival has given me some small measure of hope.
We definitely have work to do. Something is seriously wrong with this place.
Of course, that includes more ghosts and Lost Spirits.
That is one of the shrines mentioned by Lord Yun, so let's go take a look once we destroy this ghost.
Getting close to the shrine makes these yellow magic force fields (or whatever they're supposed to be) appear. They don't seem to do anything at the moment, though.
The path leading to the south only has a spirit font.
So, only way we can go is to the west.
The path takes through a tunnel and up the hill until we reach the bridge here.
Oh, good. Two Lost Spirits. Can't blame that guy for running away.
Using focus mode makes it a bit easier to deal with multiple Lost Spirits, since you don't get bombarded with their projectiles quite so quickly. It's also rather easy to drain your focus meter big time while doing this.
He seems... simple, as well. I wonder if the horrors of this place have touched his mind.
Come on, Dawn Star, he's right there. He can hear you. I think.
Things are very bad. We starve! The ghosts cut us off from everything, but we are still up there. Tien's Landing must send people to help! Many people should come to the inn to help us. They can't let us starve!
Uh, okay then. Seems like a simple enough task.
You would be welcome there. They would have you for a most fun stay! The inn lies above, on the path to the right.
I'm looking for a temple on the path above. Can you direct me?
The temple? No! The temple is where the ghosts are worst. It is a bad place. You should not go there. You should go to the inn.
It seems this guy really wants us to go to the inn. Weren't we supposed to take a message to Tien's Landing, though?
You should come with me. I can take the message down later, and you will be safe from the Forest Shadow and her ghosts!
Tell me more about the Forest Shadow.
She is a wicked fox spirit! They are tricksters, all of them. The tricks she plays kill now! You should stay away from her. She hurts us when we leave the inn.
Others I've talked to seemed to think the Forest Shadow might be able to help.
That can't be right. She is dangerous. You should go to the inn to be kept safe. That's the only way.
He really, really wants us to go to the inn. I get that the forest is dangerous and the Forest Shadow apparently even more so, but his insistence that we go to the inn is getting somewhat uncomfortable.
She's dangerous like these ghosts. We're all afraid of her.
I should keep moving. Will you be all right in this forest?
I will go back the way I came. Knowing that there are others here, I will be all right. I must go back to the inn to tell them. You should follow! The path to the right, not the left. Left goes to the temple, and the Forest Shadow will kill you!
Okay, we get it already. The Forest Shadow will kill us if we don't go to the inn right this second.
Before the strange man is able to go anywhere, a tree root emerges from the ground and traps him by wrapping itself around his leg. Weird things are happening in this forest.
And we're obviously not done with the weirdness yet. It seems this fox spirit is controlling the forest itself, with the way she has this guy trapped by the roots. Is she the Forest Shadow?
Having taken care of that poor guy, the fox spirit turns her attention to us. Not exactly what we need at this moment in time, turning to stone and being shattered would make things considerably more difficult for us.
The fox spirit overpowers Wu with relative ease, and we probably know what's coming next.
We don't know why this fox is trying to kill us, but she's doing a pretty decent job of it so far.
Wu struggles as long as she can, but the fox spirit finally overpowers her and turns her to stone.
This wasn't the way our quest was supposed to end. What happened to Dawn Star, by the way?
Turns out we're not quite done yet.
As Wu breaks out of the stone, she knocks the fox spirit back. Let's do this.
The last of the Spirit Monks. Nice to meet you, Forest Shadow. Or possibly servant of the Forest Shadow, who can tell around here.
The fox clearly didn't expect that to happen, so she beats a hasty retreat.
These must be the two paths that man talked about before the fox killed him. He wanted us to go right, where the Pilgrim's Rest Inn is supposed to be. To the left is the Forest Shadow's temple, where death apparently awaits us. Well, we already have some ghosts expecting us right here, so let's go introduce ourselves.
We have a couple of ghosts, two Lost Spirits and what the hell is that blue and green thing?
It turns out to be a Ghost Lord, the Lost Spirits' big brother. Ghost Lords have a shitton of health and are generally stronger than Lost Spirits, but they don't have annoying projectile attacks which means they're far less of a hassle to fight.
Well, that did almost nothing. Like I said, shitton of health.
Time for a tactical retreat towards the shrine on top of the hill.
If you lure enemies to these yellow force fields, they get set on fire and take a decent chunk of damage.
Now, where were we? I suppose we could go right and see what's going on at that inn.
And fight more ghosts, but that goes without saying by this point.
The force fields helping us out once again. If you actually kill something with those, you don't get any EXP or pickups, but that doesn't happen too often.
Now that they're dead we can... what the christ, more ghosts?
And stay dead this time!
You have got to be kidding. Okay fine, let's beat up these jerks as well so we can get somewhere today.
Oh for fuck's sake. Thankfully, this is only one ghost, so he's not a problem at all unless you've exhausted your health and chi fighting the first three waves.
I would like to take this moment to state that I strongly dislike this forest. We did quite well against these ghosts this time, but in the past they've been a huge pain in the ass.
Well, the inn should be safer, if our dearly departed friend from the bridge is to be believed.
Dawn Star isn't exactly filling us with confidence here, although we don't need her to tell us that this is just about the least inviting inn you could imagine. Maybe the exterior just needs some work and everything's fine once we get inside.
"Don't go to the temple, the ghosts are worst there," he said. "Go to the inn, it's safe," he said. If you ask me, three Lost Spirits are pretty much the opposite of safe.
You know, the Forest Shadow doesn't seem so bad at this point.
Ah. Finally. I hate these guys.
Now let's get in there and see what's up with the folks at the inn.
Before we get there, the viewpoint shifts to... whatever the hell this is.
I'm sure that was nothing important. Probably just a rat demon or something. What's a couple of vermin when the whole forest is infested with ghosts?
Hey innkeeper, I noticed you have a bit of a spirit problem so you probably should invest in a door or something.
Yes, the ghosts are most dangerous. We are fortunate that they have not yet ventured inside the inn. It offers us some refuge. But I've forgotten myself. Welcome to the Pilgrim's Rest, traveler. I am the Keeper, as they call me. Tell me, did you happen to come across one of us on your way up here? We sent him not long ago to search for help.
The man you sent to bring aid from Tien's Landing was killed.
It was the Forest Shadow! She has taken another from us! We hoped we had found a way to deal with the fox, but we were wrong.
Why has she been attacking people from the inn?
I mean, she does seem to be attacking people in general for some reason.
Perhaps the ghosts have driven her mad, or maybe it is her rage that changed the trees. The only way to be sure is to stop her.
Right. I do wonder how these guys are planning to take on a fox spirit who seems to control the forest itself and is able to turn a person to stone with a single touch.
Well, that is quite the thing to ask, isn't it? Quite the thing, indeed. How are we to know we could trust you? No, I do not entirely trust you with such plans. You must know fox spirits can assume the forms of... humans? How can I trust you to not be one of her servants or the spirit herself? For now, simply accept what little hospitality we can offer. These are hard times, but we would not dare treat a guest poorly.
Tell me more about this inn.
Many travelers know the name of the Pilgrim's Rest, and before long, so will many more.
With the forest in this state, how have you been surviving?
Surviving? Simple. You can still find meat if you know where to look, and is meat not the heart of any good dish?
Err... sure, but the forest is a bit ghost-y at the moment and going hunting out there seems like a surefire way to get yourself killed.
We have supplies. It always pays to be prepared.
Is there any way we could lead these people to safety?
No! I mean, there is safety of a sort here. We have had refuge here so far, and the paths below are far from safe. It is best that we stay here. Surely you will find a way to destroy the murderous fox.
Is this inn the property of Lord Yun?
Of course. This whole forest belongs to Lord Yun, does it not? He expects this place to pay him a "tribute." He doesn't call it that, but we know the truth. Mark me. Lord Yun will have his share of the proceeds from this place before long. His fair share.
How did this place earn its name?
It is an old name. The route you climbed used to be called the Pilgrim's Path, thanks largely to the temple near here, and other small shrines. Here, at the hill's summit, the pilgrims would stay and contemplate what they had seen during their climb. This place was known as the Pilgrim's Rest long before the inn was constructed.
Sounds like that might have been a nice way to relax after a long climb up the hill. Anyhow, it doesn't seem like these folks are going to be any help with the Forest Shadow, so let's just get out of here.
I wish you all the best. Travel safely and return here soon. We would welcome you for our evening meal.
Okay then. Let's just quickly look around the place and see if we can find anything helpful.
Patron: The forest is closed. None will come, except from Tien's Landing, and that path is closing.
Doesn't seem to be much of interest in here, but let's go talk to this gentleman who looks like a cook.
I am Hou, your humble cook. I'm also in charge of the few supplies the inn actually stocks, if you have need of them. Though I am weary and worked to the bone, I'm here to help you. What can I do for you today?
Show me what you have for sale.
I'd be happy to. I'm sure you understand that my stocks are limited. In fact, if you think about it, with the ghosts ﬁlling the forest, I shouldn't have *any* supplies at all.
Well yeah, that does sound a bit curious.
Hou doesn't have anything interesting for sale, since his supplies are limited and all that.
Over here we can find some lore on fox spirits.
Nothing much of note here in the kitchen, either, aside from a bit of silver we'll... borrow.
Huh, that looks like a door. Can't do anything with it, though, so let's get out of this dump and go check out that path to the temple.
It seems we need to find the Forest Shadow in order to do anything for the Great Southern Forest, so it might be a good idea to check this place out.
Well, we're not the only ones here.
VIDEO: The Black Whirlwind
There's a very large man beating the hell out of some ghosts with his axes. At least I think it's a man, it may also be a bear wearing clothes. Kind of hard to tell. Whoever this is, he's really tearing those ghosts apart.
His companion seems to be in a spot of trouble with the red spirit.
That's easily handled as well, as are the two other ghosts trying to sneak up from behind.
Wait, what? Oh, hell.
Well, look on the bright side; at least it's not another Lost Spirit.
Black Whirlwind, as you could probably already tell, is all brute force and no finesse. We do want to stay away from those axes, that's for sure.
This isn't really a difficult fight at all, our longsword does so much damage so fast that Whirlwind doesn't have much of a chance against us.
I finally rounded 'em up, but the farmer said the milkings were unbearable for a week after that. Milk and wine... that's bad mix. Anyway, I'm guessing you must be here on Lord Yun's business. Can't imagine why anyone would come here otherwise. You'll want to talk to Spear Catches Leaf, he's Lord Yun's man. I'm just the hired mercenary.
Ah, so that's Spear Catches Leaf. Lord Yun mentioned we should find him, and looks like we managed to do so. Mr. Leaf is supposed to know something about a ritual that might help us contact the Forest Shadow, but Lord Yun didn't tell us much more than that.
Would one of you please explain why I was attacked?
I thought you were a ghost. Wasn't that clear? Ha! And people say I'm slow.
Does she look at all like she's dead? No! No mask, not floating, clearly not a ghost. You simply wanted a challenge. You are an idiot. A deadly, drunken idiot.
What's wrong with being deadly... or drunk? You may be a lead hunter for some lord, but I'm the deadliest mercenary in the world. You do your job, and I'll do mine.
Speaking of which...
I thought that last part was obvious.
There's dozens of them, but if you didn't recognize me right away, you must not have heard them. Now really isn't the time to share them. I'd need about five bowls of wine and a soft patch of ground to even get started.
Which part of your naked, drunk, and screaming attack works best?
Forget about the attack. If you're Spear Catches Leaf, we need to talk.
Tell me more about this ritual.
I've set the fires, and the furnaces are ready, but one of the key crystals is missing. Without it, we can't even see what these furnaces are supposed to do.
Of course it couldn't have been that simple.
I examined the area when I realized that the crystal was gone, and I stumbled across some strange tracks that lead in the direction of the inn.
Some sort of animal took the crystal?
Rat demons at it again, perhaps?
When I was at the inn, they talked about some plan they had to "deal" with the fox.
It sounds like they were being cautious. Perhaps if you go ask them more specifically about the crystal, they'll realize that we're just here to help.
We could've just persuaded the innkeeper to tell us about the crystal to save a bit of time, but somehow it escaped my mind when I was talking to him. Oh well, it's not like we're doing a speedrun here.
I don't think so. He'd have to be quite strong to pull the crystal loose. It doesn't make any sense to me, but then, what in this place does?
I'll go back to the inn and ask them about the missing crystal.
All signs point to the inn, and even if they didn't mention this missing crystal before, they will have to explain themselves if you confront them about it directly. Make your way there. I will stay behind to tend the furnaces. If you need more information, supplies, or even training, you know where to find me.
Got it. We buy a few techniques (Hunter's Spirit: Chi +15, Focus +3; Boar's Strength: Health +7, Focus -3; Tracking Eye: Focus +7, Charm -1) and a Slick Gem (reduces focus cost for avoiding traps by 10%).
That statue obviously depicts the Forest Shadow. In addition to the focus shrine next to the statue, there's a couple of scrollstands for us to check out inside the temple:
The first one is some lore about the Storm Dragon style, pretty interesting but not important right now.
This, on the other hand, is actually relevant to our current quest and gives us a major hint for the ritual.
Here's the pedestal for the ritual. Obviously, we can't do anything with it until we get that crystal. Let's just timeskip our way to the inn.
I'm in search of a missing crystal from the temple.
A crystal? Ah, you know about it, do you? I suppose there is no point in keeping it from you any longer. We hoped to keep it a secret, but it seems we will be tracked down no matter what we try. Yes, we have the missing crystal from the temple. We have kept it here, safe and away from the hunter.
Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?
Because we could not trust anyone else to have it! One of us here in the inn overheard the hunter and the big man, who are now at the Forest Shadow's temple. The hunter spoke of a ritual that would let him reach the Forest Shadow, but he is a fool! He thinks to find the fox and seek out her help. Her help! She will not help anyone, least of all us at the inn. To save the hunter from his own folly we took the crystal before he could reach the temple.
You stole the crystal to stop the ritual from being performed?
That is it exactly! Whatever the ritual does, if it reaches the Forest Shadow then we must take the opportunity to destroy her once and for all. He would not have taken that chance. I must know that you will use it for the right reasons. You must kill the Forest Shadow. Do so, and I will give you a half year's worth of taxes in silver.
Why are you so positive that she has to die?
This so-called guardian of the forest must be behind what is happening here. She sickens the trees and summons the ghosts. There can be no other way. The Forest Shadow must die... to save us and cure this forest.
It kinda feels like there is more to this than the Keeper is letting on. The Forest Shadow may have something to do with the situation and she (or another fox spirit) did try to kill us, but Spear Catches Leaf seems to think she can help us.
We don't trust these weirdos.
I have been carefully collecting this silver for years, but the death of the murderous fox is more important to me.
If you have those resources, why not do this yourself?
I have silver, but that money does not grant skill, not skills like yours. We need your help!
I think it's obvious what I have to do.
You will aid us. You must.
Kiiiinda creeping me out now.
Since you possess such skill in combat, we will take a chance that you will do what is right. Our offer of silver stands firm. The crystal is yours, but remember our deal.
We'll remember it. Whether or not we'll honor it remains to be seen.
There we go.
With the crystal in hand, we can return to the temple and start the ritual.
I have the missing crystal here.
You have it? Excellent! I should return and report this to Lord Yun. He will want to hear this news.
We can ask Spear Catches Leaf about the ritual in quite a bit of detail, but it's really very simple so we'll just skip that. Well okay, let's keep this bit in:
Like the scroll inside the temple said, summer and winter are important, as is the color purple. More importantly, Spear Catches Leaf decides he's had enough of looking after Black Whirlwind and foists the big lug on us.
Lord Yun paid you very well to safeguard his men, and now you're being paid to safeguard his new agent. Surely you didn't mean to go back on your word?
My word isn't worth a damn thing. That said, I'm still reeling from actually losing to anyone short of an army.
Ha! That's a good one, and probably true. All I know is that travelling with you seems a damn sight more interesting than rotting in this forest. Let me level with you. I don't lose fights, and I damn well didnt expect to lose one in this forest. Then you come along and beat me handily.
You could be useful. Glad to have you along.
My only rules are: don't touch my axes, don't touch my wine, and don't get between me and my enemies. if you can live with that, we'll get along just fine.
...I hope we won't regret this.
Let's go find something and make its day a lot worse.
Let's take him with us. Dawn Star's support ability is useful for sure, but we can't have her hogging the spotlight all the time.
The Black Whirlwind doesn't have a support skill at all, because he doesn't care about that boring shit that wastes time better spent on hitting things with axes. Fortunately he's also more useful in a fight than the rest of our band of misfits.
Right, let's do this. Shove this crystal into the pedestal...
...which activates the two furnaces nearby...
...which we can now operate...
...and that gives us access to these other two furnaces.
These two have a pair of colored orbs each. We know that the cold of winter and the heat of summer are important, so you can probably guess what our next course of action is.
That beam of light looks yellowish, but it's supposed to be red. Just in case you're still confused, the temple has giant purple banners
The pedestal rises back up...
...the light hits the orb in the statue's hands...
...opening the way ahead.
Next time, we'll go to heaven.