When Tang Li showed up previously, we neglected to mention his introduction of Sing Dog to the gang. Sing Dog is a slovenly drunkard who claims to have once been a ninja. He has no sword, no shuriken, no black catsuit to prove his claim, and the others are skeptical.
But skepticism is no reason to delay action! Without waiting for the return of their comrades Itsuki or Shì Dāwéi, our heroes commandeer a canoe and make for the dire and dangerous swamps out past the great shipyards of Bessala Day.
The shipyards are great indeed—quite awe-inspiring with hundreds of folks rushing about the immense dry-docks where the famed vessels of Chang Lao are built.
Beyond the shipyards a wide mud flat stretches across a riverbed. Keen eyes spot a clear path tromped from the shipyards, across the mud flat and into the jungles beyond. It’s a trail—it must be followed! And so followed it is.
The canoe is dragged along behind, and that turns out to be a lucky move, as the jungle is much more mangrove than jungle, and drifting between the thick trunks and sprawling roots is much easier than wading.
Soon enough the water shallows and disappears and now it’s time for dragging the canoe. Hernandez doesn’t mind. Besides, his baby pterodactyl “Ziggy” has spotted something interesting and is guiding them in that direction. It’s not clear what the interesting thing is—Ziggy’s none too bright, it turns out. But our heroes optimistically head in that direction.
Taking a momentary pause for the herd of ENORMOUS parasaurolophuses, who go past lowing like a herd of foghorns, leaving behind a trail of utterly flattened vegetation. Hernandez is love-struck by the placid beasts but his friends manage to get him to move on, but not without many sighs of regret.
The thing Ziggy doesn’t like turns out to be a burned-out fallen tree in an overgrown clearing. Our heroes push their way through the verdant growth only to find BLOWGUN DARTS whizzing past them. Quick-thinking Hernandez throws up the canoe as a shield, but more bad guys are apparently pouring out of the fallen tree, when Uncle throws up his hands, talks to the plants, and the verdant undergrowth becomes nearly impassable.
Clearly the tree is full of CULTISTS.
More blowgun darts are fired, and big Hernandez takes a few—and he’s feeling decidedly unwell after that. Captine Jaquline Highwater decides now is the moment to make peace, and with her charm she manages to calm the enraged tree-defenders-or-whatever, and is about to begin negotiations with the three representatives (who all have this curious iron torches), when Sing Dog decides to END negotiations.
By beating all three men into the turf with a blur of his staff. Before anyone can even speak, he’s knocked all three flying and our heroes (Captain Jaquline being philosophical about the whole thing) are making for the exit. Hernandez, always alert for a new loincloth, tosses a couple of Sing Dog’s unconscious victims into the canoe and drags them along, only just able to keep ahead of the pursuing cultists thanks to Uncle’s ongoing conversations with the surrounding plants.
That particular schtick runs out when our fleeing heroes run across the trail of the parasaurolophus herd, and there’s no stopping Hernandez this time as he leads the crew right into the midst of the massive creatures.
The cultists turn their torches UP TO ELEVEN, attempting to stampede the dinosaurs, which works great. Except that our heroes jump aboard one of the creatures just as the stampede begins, and ride the rampaging beast to safety.
Back at the house, there’s some kerfuffle about who’s interrogating who, but a bunch of useful things are learned:
- The cultists are NINJAS! Sort of.
- The cultists are led by a red-haired sorceress named Brigid
- The cultists do indeed know Captain Stenfahl—indeed he’s hanging out at the burned tree right now.
Well, well. It seems the path is clear. All we need now is a way into a tree-trunk fortress staffed by insane pyromaniacal cultists.