Black Bart is distant during the trip, silently mourning the loss of his hand. Cornelius asks that no one “throw anymore glaives” in the future, to which Steelix notes that “it was a halberd.” The rest of the party hold back chuckles while the orc glares at the genasi.
They crest over a hill and descend into a valley terraced in rice paddies and tea fields, passing by a large stone dam as they head towards the village at its heart. The party are quickly invited to the home of the headsman, Dojotaro, who they are told likes to personally welcome all new visitors to Hanei.
Dojotaro offers them some of his village’s famous mochi, created only this morning, and Steelix is happy to accept, followed by Reyes and Atrox. They both notice that it tastes off, and Atrox’s suspicion turns into hostility. Dojotaro tastes one himself and apologizes, noting that he knew he had forgotten something when making them. Steelix shrugs and continues to eat more.
The party tells the headman their business, and he points them to the layer overhead, as it tends to attract those who enjoy their privacy. He tells them that they should make an offering at the local shrine of Inari before climbing the ‘tsuki no mu no hashira’, the pillar bridging the two halves of Bytopia, however. Reyes asks what they should leave, and Dojotaro tells them that it should be something that they have personally made or earned through their own hard work.
The party thank Dojotaro, and refuse his invitation to stay the night with him in exchange for help around the house, choosing to set up camp outside of town instead. Black Bart secludes himself from the rest of the party, while Atrox collects some sticks to use as reagents. She hears what sounds like a small animal rustling through the bushes, but ignores it and goes to bed.
Later that night, Cornelius awakens and sees a humanoid figure looming over Steelix. He silently watches the creature’s form shift into a miniature version of the genasi and disappear into a nearby field before rousing his companions. The halfling asks Steelix if he feels weird in anyway, and the fighter notes that he can’t seem to remember what’s happened since they first passed into the Astral Plane. Atrox stays at the camp with Black Bart, while Reyes, Cornelius, and Steelix chase after the creature.
They follow footprints and sounds through the fields, and realize that there are even more of these creatures about. The trio split up to cover a wider area, but the creatures continue to elude them. Atrox spots one and chases after it, but her leg gets caught in the mud and she plummets to the ground, where one that looks like Dojotaro taunts her. Just then, a loud stony crack is heard from one end of the valley, followed by the whoosh of rushing water. Reyes looks up to see a black wall of water coming down the valley towards them.
Atrox stands against the torrent, trying to stop its advance using her ’Ray of Frost’, but whatever ice created is quickly swallowed up by the water around it. The water slams into her with the force of a sledgehammer as it rushes onward across the valley floor.
Cornelius, Reyes, and Steelix make it to high ground, having found a staircase leading up into the forested hills surrounding the village. Steelix says that he’s going to check out what happened at the dam, while Cornelius and Reyes decide to follow the staircase up. They find a shrine tucked away among the trees, a statue of the fox goddess staring out from within.
Around this time, Steelix arrives at the dam, and finds that a huge portion of the stone seems to have broken away, unleashing water, but not from a reservoir behind it, but seemingly from within the dam itself. He climbs down to get a closer look, and notices what looks like a huge scaly tail emerging from the dam and down into the floodwater.
Meanwhile, Atrox struggles to get her bearings as the water rages around her. She spots dark shapes in the water around her, as a pair of kappa close in to drag her deeper. The sorceress unleashes ‘Burning Hands’ at them, and is able to reach the surface as the reel away from the boiling water. As she breaks the water however, she spots the wake of something big coming straight at her. She tries to swim away but isn’t fast enough, a massive serpent with a humanoid face rises over her, staring at her with its slit-eyes as it begins to speak, “Your pitiful goddess thought that she could hold me forever, but now, NOW, I shall sweep it all away—your village, your soil, your lives!”
Before the naga can continue however, Atrox blurts out that she is not from Hanei, and would gladly help if her life was spared. The naga laughs, and notes that it did not realize that she was a tiefling. It names itself ‘Kawaikari’, and bids her follow it onward to the village proper.
At Inari’s shrine, Cornelius and Reyes leave offerings to the goddess—for Cornelius, the Shadowknave’s signet ring; and for Reyes, a silver amulet taken from Kz’d’ira. A gust of wind blows past them and into the shrine, where the candles explode to life and send shadows dancing across the face of Inari’s statue as a woman’s voice emanates from all around. The goddess tells them that a terrible creature that was bound to the dam ages ago has been released, as it was to be locked within so long as the people of Hanei were diligent in their work. Cornelius asks if it is possible that they forgot to do their work, and Inari says it is. They ask for her help in stopping this creature, and the candles suddenly wink out as a white fox appears from the woods.
Nearby, Steelix raises his glaive and chops through the tail emerging from the shattered dam. Atrox is thrown for a loop as Kawaikari suddenly whips around and shoots back towards the dam at full speed instead of towards Hanei. The genasi stands his ground as the serpent bursts from the water and raises its head up to his level. He leaps to attack it, but is caught in a spray of acidic breath, and tumbles down the side of the dam and into the water. Before it can attack again, a white fox leaps from the hillside and bites into the naga’s neck. Cornelius and Reyes appear moments later, and begin their attack.
The fox spirit loses its grip on Kawaikari’s throat, and the naga smacks it away. Reyes fires a crossbow bolt into the monster’s eye, and it moves to strike at him, opening it up to a sneak attack from above by Cornelius, who begins stabbing into the top of its head. The naga lashes back and throws the rogue off, but then Steelix recovers and strikes from below. Atrox, inspired by everyone’s arrival, sends a ‘Magic Missile’ slamming into Kawaikari’s jaw.
Kawaikari’s tail stump smacks the tiefling away, and Steelix is nearly crushed by its immense body. Reyes and Cornelius seize the advantage and renew their assault. The naga tries to escape into the water, but the fox spirit leaps back into the fray and grabs it, allowing Steelix to drive his glaive into the serpent’s skull.
The floodwaters recede into the ground in an instant as dawn breaks, taking the river that once ran through the valley with it, and Kawaikari’s body seems to dissolve as well, leaving only bones. Atrox also finds a pair of pearl-encrusted bracers among the remains and takes them. The fox spirit thanks them, and notes that the same laxness among the villagers that allowed the naga to escape its prison seems to have weakened Inari’s powers as well, as gods thrive on the belief of their followers. The goddess offers boons of prosperity if they hunt down and destroy these creatures that they believe caused this epidemic of amnesia before disappearing back into the hills.
The party decide to start their climb up the pillar immediately, as the last time they saw the creatures, they were headed in that direction. Atrox suggests they go back to camp and see what happened to Black Bart, their mule, and their wagon, but Cornelius shrugs, and notes that it’s not so big a loss—they can always hire more help when they need it.
Following the path up the pillar, the party eventually find a cottage on the mountainside, dwarfed by a metallic sphere, surrounded by canvas and wire. Steelix knocks on the door of the cottage, and Dojotaro opens the door and greets him. Reyes notes that they didn’t expect to find him up here on the mountain, being the village headman and all, to which the man laughs and points out that they must be speaking of his “better half”. Steelix, confused, asks “You’re fucking?” The man tries to clarify that he and Hanei’s headman are “two halves of the same soul”, but the genasi simply asks again, “You’re fucking?” Reyes steps in, realizing that this must be a peculiarity of Bytopia. Dojotaro’s doppelganger nods, noting that it’s a perk shared by all petitioners on the plane.
Atrox asks Dojotaro what the metal sphere is for, and he explains that it is a device for traveling between the two layers of Bytopia. Steelix asks if he can get some food, and the man tells him that if he can get the bellows pumping on the balloons, he’ll make him a bowl of rice. The genasi does as he says, and chows down when Dojotaro returns.
Reyes and Atrox pay 5gp to take the balloon ride up to Shurrock, while Dojotaro lets Steelix on for free for pumping the bellows for him. Cornelius, being the halfling he is, sneaks on board without paying. Dojotaro begins to explain how the levers within the sphere work, but doesn’t seem to remember what each do. Cornelius and Reyes move to get out, but Dojotaro wishes them luck and slams it shut. The party quickly feel the sphere rising off the ground and into the air.
After a few quiet minutes, they hear scratching on the outside of the metal sphere, and then light floods in as a crack opens between the sphere’s two halves and the top flies off. Tiny creatures with skin like moss climb towards them, four of the five like plant-like facsimiles of the party.
Lil’ Steelix attacks the genasi, but the fighter blocks, and sweeps his glaive across the plant-him’s belly. Atrox unleashes ‘Burning Hands’ towards Lil’ Cornelius and Lil’ Reyes, and chars their mossy bodies. The wire they were standing in front of twists from the heat however, and snaps, causing the sphere to lean to one side. Cornelius loses his footing and slams into the side, where the two mosslings attack. Reyes fires a bolt through Lil’ Steelix and realizes he’d be better served with his scimitar when it leaves the creature more-or-less unscathed.
Lil’ Atrox mimics the sorceress and casts ‘Burning Hands’, catching Reyes and Atrox in the firestorm. Steelix grabs his mossling double, stomach grumbling, and bites plant-him’s head off. To his surprise, the memories he lost suddenly seem to bubble back into his mind—he tells everyone to start chowing down as he moves to engage the other mosslings. Reyes slices off Lil’ Atrox’s arm, allowing the sorceress to run past to the balloon control levers, while Cornelius attacks Lil’ Reyes, who’s busy firing his moss-bow at the party.
The balloons begin to push downward as they reach the midpoint between Bytopia’s two layers, and Reyes realizes that the gravity is switching and braces himself as he slices at the mossling that looks like Dojotaro. Cornelius climbs up towards the control levers, slashing at Lil’ Atrox. Meanwhile, Lil’ Cornelius attack Steelix as the genasi grabs him, but is unable to loosen the fighter’s grip as he bites into the plant-halfling. Memories of robbery and murder begin to fill his head as he gulps down the foul moss.
Fighting to stop themselves from falling as the gravity suddenly changes directions, the party clean up the last of the mosslings. Steelix falls, but catches himself on the snapped wire still dangling nearby. Atrox and Cornelius slow their descent using the levers, and the party climb on top of the sphere as they land safely upon the layer of Shurrock.
Reyes notes that he is feeling woozy, and Cornelius diagnoses it as barotraumatic in origin. He tells the archer to lie down, or he’ll cut his feet off and make him lie down. The halfling goes into the woods to find some herbs while Steelix and Atrox set up camp under the hemisphere. Cornelius finds what he was looking for, but notices a mossling, watching it head into a quarry and disappear down a tunnel. He decides to return to camp as the sky opens up and it begins to rain. He tells Reyes to chew the herbs before informing everyone of what he saw. They decide to rest and sit out the storm before pursuing.