Kataashi Kikku kept a watchful eye on the 6 bakemono he had tethered to ropes that bound their hands. The bakemono prisoners were strangely compliant. Every once in a while they would get unruly but a swift command from Subotai Korusu at the creatures in their crude language of adeddo put them back into line. Soon enough the large collection of wagons, horses, camp fires, and merchants of the Tanaka Trading Company came into view. The guards at the periphery of the encampment greeted the party and quickly led them to General Hu Ban.
The General’s private tent was surrounded by guards and many high level merchants looking on to see if they could find out if the bakemono threat was dealt with and if the caravan would be moving again any time soon. As the bakemono were led through the throngs of onlookers, they were occasionally shoved and spat upon or at least had profanities in Soburin yelled at them. But the crowd gave each party member approving nods, claps on the back, and Soburin words of thanks and appreciation as each passed by. Finally the private guards of General Hu Ban took the end of each rope leash from Kataashi and roughly moved the bakemono into a line in front of the general’s tent. The guards also directed each party member to stand in a line opposite the bakemono.
As Kataashi scanned the assembled caravan folk he catches the eye of a Soburi woman in silk robes with an ornate Katana sitting under a large tree by herself off to the side of all the commotion but with a good view of all the goings on. Her long red hair is quite striking as it is an unusual hair color for the Soburi. But suddenly the flaps of General Hu Ban’s tent fly open and Kataashi’s attention is drawn away as a hush of respect falls over the assembled caravan folk. General Hu Ban walked out of his tent with long confident steps. His elaborate O-Yoroi armor comprised of layers of silk, lamellar, chain, and plate looked extremely heavy requiring one of enormous strength to avoid being crushed by its components. But the old man underneath his immaculately clean O-Yoroi moved with grace and ease. The General’s thick left hand rested on the hilt of his Wakizashi just above his Katana on his left hip. He strode down the line first looking at each Bakemono in turn. He stopped at the end of the line and turned to face the party. General Hu Ban’s black mustached face was stern and stoic. In a deep and commanding voice he asked, ‘Who is responsible for bringing these filthy Bakemono into my presence?’
Kai Winding clasped both her hands in front of her hips and brought her feet tightly together. She then initiated seiritsu (standing bow) keeping her back perfectly straight and inclining at the waist deeply towards Hu Ban. Keeping her gaze downward and avoiding eye contact she said, ‘General, it is I who am largely responsible for their presence before you. We had met them and their comrades in battle, however, these bakemono were affected by some spell or magics of resident kami during battle. I refused to let this one…’ Kai gestured to Kataashi ‘…from slaughtering them while they slept. I do not kill needlessly. The blood of countless centuries of war and death have decimated our land. I mean to cleanse it, not to further degrade it with meaningless slaughter. If you must assign blame for this, I will accept it.’
General Hu Ban moved to stand directly in front of Kai. She continued to keep her gaze low and to avoid eye contact as she slowly moved into a seiza (seated position) by putting both of her knees on the ground at the same time. With the tops of her feet flat on the ground and her toes pointed straight back behind her, she rested her hindquarters on her calves and heels. Kai’s arms gently drifted to her sides and she put her hands palm-down on top of her thighs. Keeping her back perfectly straight she bowed again to General Hu Ban completely prostrating before him.
In an incredible gesture for one of his station, General Hu Ban bowed ever so slightly towards Kai in return and said, ‘Your words of wisdom temper an old man’s anger. Rise and speak your name then explain to me more of what happened on your mission.’
With delicate graceKai Winding seemed to float up from her seiza to stand before the general continuing to keep her gaze lowered and spoke…
Again initiating a seiritsu, Kai began, ‘you honor me, great general. I am Kai Winding, a healer who seeks to tread on the path of light in these troubled days. Per your order, the five of us took to the mountain pass to discover and ensure the path for the trade caravan was clear. With little grace, this one’ Kai gestured to Subotai, ‘walked into an ambush in a ravine and was quickly surrounded by a small group of these bakemono. We were surprised by flanking bowmen atop the ravine. Many other bakemono joined the fray along with a huge shikome warrior wielding brutal, cruel Odachi. Notwithstanding the inartful tack and much spitting from this one,’ again extending a long arm towards Kaatashi, ‘they proved their mettle and many fell. But many more of these beasts fell, we believe,’ Kai gestures to Wang ‘from the kami who inhabited that ravine. As I mentioned many fell asleep inexplicably during the battle. Afterwards, the spitting monk found traces in and among the underbrush in the ravine that seemed to have been recently disturbed as well as the slightest hint of tobacco smoke on the wind. Believing that this confirmed our suspicion as to the presence of the kami, we consecrated a small shrine in thanks and in the hopes that the kami would grant us, and this caravan, safe passage through the area.’
With that Kai, brought her long limbs back in, bowed deferentially and waited for the General’s response….
General Hu Ban nodded with respect to Kai and said, ‘Thank you Kai Winding. You bring great honor to this trade caravan and the Tanaka Trading Company. You defeated a foe with much greater numbers and with the advantage of terrain and surprise. The rest of you would do well to follow the lead of Kai Winding and learn from her honorable example. These bakemono are filthy savages but they hold information that could be of great value to us.’ (Due to Kai Winding’s actions in sparing the bakemono and her dignified exchange with General Lo Ban, Kai’s dignity score goes up by one point and her Haitoku score goes down by one point.) General Hu Ban then turned to face one of the bakemono prisoners. In Soburi he said, ‘You there. Are there more of your kind nearby? Do you have a village or settlement?’
The Bakemono simply stared blankly at General Hu Ban with an empty expression on his face. The general’s face tightened and with a flash he drew his wakizashi from its scabbard and the bakemono’s head tumbled to the ground. General Hu sheathed his wakizashi before the bakemono’s body slumped to the ground. The other 5 bakemono began babbling incoherently and tried to get away but General Hu’s soldiers kept them in place.
General Hu Ban stared intimidatingly at the bakemono and repeated his previous questions and added, ‘The first bakemono to answer my questions will live. The others will be executed.’ With the bakemono still seemingly confused he turned back to the party and asked, ‘Are there any among you who can speak their language?’
Subotai Korusu stepped forward and with his hands behind his back he bent at the waist to a 45 degree angle into a futsuurei (respect) bow towards General Hu Ban. He then said, ’General, my uncle Sho Korusu fought alongside you in Emperor Hitoshi’s rebellion. I am honored to do the same under the banner of the Tanaka Trading Company. I am familiar with the adeddo language and would be willing to translate. I am at your service.’ General Hu gave Subotai the slightest of nods in return and said, ‘Sho was a good man and brought much honor to the Korusu clan. I hope you will do the same. You may proceed.’
Subotai spoke in the adeddo language, ’Are there more of your kind nearby? Do you have a village or settlement?’ Four of the remaining bakemono shook their heads defiantly and spat on the ground near Subotai. But the fifth remaining bakemono stepped forward and said in adeddo, ‘Don’t kill me. We live in mountain cave close to where we fight. More bakemono and shikome there.’
Subotai Korusu translated the Bakemono’s response into Soburi for General Hu Ban and added, ‘General, with your permission, I can ask this one further to find their lair or even lead us there so we can make this pass safe for the Tanaka trading company.’
At this point Wang Shu stepped forward and spoke, ‘Honorable General I am Wang Shu. I wish you a good day. The pass is clear and this fiend has led us to more of his kind, but most importantly the Kami has been appeased and the caravan may pass safely through the mountain pass. We are at your bidding, how do you wish to proceed with this new information of more Bakemono near the pass?’
General Hu Ban frowned and said, ‘I do not agree with your assessment Wang Shu. But the power of the Ju-Hai Shu bloodline magic is strong. All the bakemono must be destroyed before the pass will be safe for our slow moving caravan. Kai Winding, I want you to lead Subotai Korusu, Wang Shu, and the other two back to the mountain pass. Use this bakemono as a guide to lead you to their lair. I will give you each 1 silver coin for every bakemono ear you return with and 1 gold coin for each shikome ear.’ General Hu turned to his soldiers holding the bakemono prisoners and said grimly, ‘Execute the 4 bakemono who refused to speak..’ General Hu’s soldiers quickly followed his orders and used their Katanas to behead the 4 bakemono. General Hu turned to Subotai and said, ‘Tell the remaining Bakemono that if he leads you to their lair, he will be spared. Otherwise he will be executed like the rest.’
During the entire conversation, Kataashi Kikku stood absolutely still in a relax stance, not moving a muscle – except when referenced as the ‘spitting monk’ and a barely controlled smile softened his face for a moment. His eyes, however, were carefully scanning. In particular, he kept a fascinated yet wary eye on the woman in silk robes.
Kataashi scanned the crowd. Most of the soldiers and caravan masters watched the exchanges between General Hu Ban and the rest of the party with rapt attention. Most nodded their heads in approval at the exquisite formality and respect with which Kai Winding addressed General Hu. Kataashi looked back to check on the red haired woman in silk. She was still there continuing to sit under the tree. There was a large wide brimmed straw hat laying on the ground next to her side by the tree. She removed a small flask from under her robe and brought it to her lips to take a drink. Later she filled a long stemmed pipe with some sort of pipe weed and lit it. There she sat smoking and watching and listening.
The last bakemono standing looked at the decapitated bodies of his comrades and nodded solemnly. General Hu Ban looked at Subotai’s wounds and said, ‘You fought bravely and your command of the adeddo language has helped me greatly. Rest tonight and tomorrow at dawn set out with your companions and see this done. We need to get the caravan moving again. Ikari prefecture awaits.’
With that General Hu Ban spun around and marched back into his tent. The general’s soldiers kept guard over the bakemono prisoner and the party retired to take their rest. In the morning as they were preparing to leave, one of the general’s servants approaches Kai Winding and Wang Shu. He bows to each in turn starting with Kai and finishing with Wang and said, ‘General Hu Ban would like me to ask of you a favor.’ He then carefully unwrapped a silken handkerchief. ‘This handkerchief belonged to General Hu Ban’s mother who passed many years ago. General Hu Ban wishes for you to place the handkerchief on the shrine you constructed as an offering to the Kami.’ The servant handed the handkerchief to Kai, bowed, and scurried away.
The General’s guards had replaced the ropes binding the bakemono prisoner with iron shackles around his wrists and a rope tied to the shackle to act as a tether. The prisoner was discharged into the party’s responsibility as they prepared to head out towards the mountain pass.