The trade caravan was making good progress and was getting closer and closer to Nakabuki. When one morning, the party was hastily summoned to the tent of General Hu Ban. A large crowd of caravan guards and merchants were standing in a circle around something and talking in hushed tones. As the party approached the all went silent and gave way revealing a gruesome site. The bodies of 3 men were on the ground. But they were completely stripped of their skin leaving only muscle and organs behind.
General Hu Ban greeted the party and explained that 3 men had been found murdered in the night at their camp site. Their flesh had been completely stripped away. The General tasked the party with investigating this horrendous crime and getting to the bottom of it. Those responsible must be brought to justice.
Kai Winding performed a ritual casting of detect magic and scanned the bodies. She found faint traces of necromantic magic. Wang Shu used his medicine skill to examine the bodies. They were definitely fresh having died some time in the night. He also found evidence of severe blunt trauma and piercing damage to certain tissues. It appeared to Wang that the men had been killed first and then their skin had somehow been removed with some sort of magic.
The party returned to the scene of the crime. Wang Shu looked carefully for tracks. There were human sized booted tracks all over the area. But 1 set of tracks was much larger – at least 1 large size humanoid creature had walked up to the fire pit and walked away again. Wang also found some strange clawed quadruped tracks of a very large creature. As they studied the scene, Kai Winding quietly said, ‘There are 6 bed rolls – not 3.’ Subotai Korusu frowned and rounded up some of the caravan guard sergeant in charge of the men in this area. It turned out there were indeed 6 men who had been sleeping there last night. After a quick sounding off 3 of the men were unaccounted for. There was a chance they could still be alive, so the party set off immediately to try and fin them.
Wang Shu did an excellent job following the tracks. They led into the thick wood and then up into the mountains. Little drops of blood were occasionally found along the way which was encouraging that the party was on the right track, but discouraging that they might not find any survivors. After about an hour of travel the party found themselves at the edge of a large chasm spanned by a stone bridge. The tracks went across the bridge.
Kai Winding flew out first over the empty expanse to look down and examine under the bridge. She saw it dropped 100 feet down to jagged sharp rocks at the bottom. The Stone bridge looked sturdy and safe and she could see clearly that nothing was hiding underneath. She did spy a cave entrance on the other side of the bridge, however, next to a thick copse of trees. Kataashi Kikku volunteered to cross the bridge first. He boldly strode across, checking for traps as he went. Wei Tai had a readied kunai attack against anything that he should see, Subotai had readied a Yabakuji blast. Wang Shu had readied a spell attack. Kataashi found no traps but half way across the bridge he heard some rumbling and looked up right into the gaping mouth of a gray render who appeared out of thin air right in front of him.
The invisible creature took Kataashi by surprise at a full run biting down hard with its huge teeth and trying to drive the monk into the ground. The massive jaws damaged Kataashi greatly but he resisted their twisting action to drive him to the ground and the jaws released. But then two claw attacks smashed into him. The first knocked him to right and the second knocked him to his left and fully off the stone bridge. Kataashi snapped out a hand to try and grab the edge of the bridge but only managed to slide his fingertips across the stone as he plummeted down into the crevasse. The monk slowed his fall but the damage was too great he hit the hard sharp ground and everything went black.
Kai Winding flew down in seconds to check on the fallen monk frightened of what she would find after so terrible an onslaught and how nasty a fall. But she found a bloodied Kataashi propping his broken body up through sheer will. Kataashi had chosen to make a haitoku saving throw to cheat death and keep himself alive and fighting through sheer force of will. This left him to gain 1 haitoku point and gain a level of exhaustion. Kai cast a healing spell on Kataashi and took his rope. She then proceeded to fly straight up back towards the bridge 100 feet above them.Kataashi tested the stone walls. In his exhausted state he was in no shape to reliably climb the walls, so he waited patiently at the bottom as the battle raged on above him. Likewise Kai WInding’s fly speed of 15 was keeping her from rejoining the fight any time soon.
So Subotai, Wei Tai, and Wang Shu were left on their own to battle the intimidating Grey Render. The beast charged forward across the bridge to attack Wang Shu. Luckily Wang managed to dodge the ferocious attacks and keep the beast at bay with his Calligraphy staff and a well timed shield spell for two out of the three of the attacks. But the one of the claws made it past his guard and put a huge gash in his chest as the force of the blow knocked him sideways. Subotai came running out to set up a flanking position for Wang if he could get back in the fight. Subotai teed up for a big swing against the creature but his feet slipped on some loose rock and his trike missed its mark. But he did manage to get a shield of faith spell off as a bonus action to protect Wang Shu. From a hidden position, Wei Tai unleashed some devastating kunai strikes that did sneak attack damage. However, when the damage was done the grey render lashed out in a bloody rampage attacking Subotai. But Subotai’s armor protected him from the strike as the deadly claws did not penetrate his Tosei Gusoku armor. Wang Shu righted himself and got into a flanking position and unleashed a booming blade attack with his calligraphy staff. The blade of his naginata cut deep into the hide of the Grey Render further fueling its rage.
Subotai and Wang Shu continued to battle the grey render in melee flanking positions with Wei Tai hiding in the dense foliage and hurling kunai to score sneak attacks against the beast. Subotai’s shiel dof fath spell made the difference in preventing the grey render from successfully attacking Wang Shu and they fought on. It was not easy but eventually Wei Tai managed to hurl a kunai through the gaping maw of the creature and out through its head. The beast was instantly silenced and fell to the rocky stone dead. The next round Kai made it to the top and healed Wang Shu. Wei Tai and Subotai tied their ropes together and lowed it for Kataashi. Kataashi was still in an exhausted state, so instead of climbing the rope, he tied it around his waist and Subotai and Wei Tai hauled him up from 100 feet below. As they worked, Subotai related to the group that he had read stories about the grey render beasts. They are rare creatures but have a strange bond with humanoids. They typically pair bond with a humanoid almost like a pet dog and will fight for their master. These creatures have no penchant for magic. The fact that it was invisible and the necromantic magic lingering on the bodies clearly pointed to some other foe being involved. Kai Winding nodded grimly pointing to the cave entrance, ‘Gentleman I believe our answers lie in that cave.’
When everyone was back together, they healed the wounded and crossed the bridge gathering at the entrance to the cave. The sunlight only went in a few feet before being consumed by the inky darkness. Wei Tai said he could see further in with his darkvision but the tunnel turned out of sight only 20 feet or so in. It was a greed that Wei Tai would sneak in and scout out the cave to see what they were getting into. The ninja slipped into the inky blackness of the cave and vanished. Wang Shu cast a dancing lights spell to prepare for everyone else going into the cave, but kept the lights away from the entrance to not spoil Wei Tai’s reconnaissance.
Wei Tai crept through the cave not making a sound. He kept his body close to the walls to use them as cover in avoiding detection from those who could see in the dark. The tunnel curved around and then split into 2 main chambers. There was not much to this cave system. It was small and had very little furnishings. It seemed to Wei Tai that whoever lived here had not dwelled here long. Wei Tai did not see any immediate threats but what he did see greatly disturbed him. In one cave 6 complete human skins were stretched out and affixed to the walls. He also saw the remains of 3 humanoid shapes without any bit of skin upon them tossed carelessly in the corner of the cave.
The total silence was suddenly pierced by a deep and dark laughter that began echoing through the cave. Wei Tai listened intently trying to pin point where it was coming from but it seemed to be all around him. A sharp pain erupted from Wei Tai’s chest as a huge naginata blade pierced his body. A large creature materialized in front of him. It was a large Oni whose face, horns, and hair were all snow white. The creature laughed and said, ‘Welcome to the cave of Zendar Oni. This will be your final resting place, ninja. Look upon the walls. Your flesh will soon join that of those you seek to rescue. You should not have come alone’ Zendar Oni viciously twisted his naginata and it crackled with electricity shocking Wei Tai’s already severely wounded body. The Oni then yanked his naginata free tearing open Wei Tai’s chest and the ninja crumpled to the ground unconscious and bleeding to death.
Outside everyone heard Zendar Oni’s words and the deathcry of Wei Tai. Kai Winding was first to react. She ran into the cave and cast a light spell to illuminate it further. Wang Shu went next running in to the newly lighted area and moving his dancing lights in to illuminate the rest of the cave. But he looked around and only saw Wei Tai lying in a puddle of blood. There was no trace of the Oni. Kataashi came charging in with his adrenlin pumping and on high alert. But he too saw nothing to attack. He readied a kick and called out a challenge, ‘Zendar Oni you hide like a coward. I will destroy you like I destroyed Yorozu Oni. Look his teeth and horns decorate my necklace and yours will soon enough.’
Subotai Korusu then ran in to the cave and seeing no one to attack, knelt by the side of the fallen Wei Tai and pumped him full of healing from his lay on hands ability. Suddenly Zendar Oni appeared in the southern cave as he unleashed a cone of cold spell that bloodied everyone. Subotai was surprised it didn’t kill Wei Tai for the damage was more than he had cured, but for some reason the ninja seemed to ignore the cold better than everyone else. Zendar Oni cackled and said menacingly, ‘No Kataashi Kikku it is I who will destroy you. Yorozu Oni was my friend and you will pay dearly for embarrassing him before all of his ancestors and disgracing him after his death. My plan to get you to this cave has worked perfectly and soon your skin will decorate the walls with the others. And in so doing Yorozu Oni will be avenged.’ Kai Winding responded by unleashing a torrent of healing energy. Her magic bathed each party member in restorative bliss making their many wounds fade away.
With the Oni now visible everyone unleashed their attacks. He had his back against the wall so he was difficult to flank but there was room enough to attack normally. Subotai used an iajitsu strike and unleashed his most powerful smite to hurt Zendar badly. Kataashi followed up with some devastating kicks that rivaled Subotai’s blows with Yabakuji. Wei Tai let his kunai fly and managed to hit Zendar in a vital area doing sneak attack damage. The combined efforts managed to bloody Zendar but his regeneration was strong. As soon as he was hurt by an attack it seemed that his wounds would begin to fade away.
Zendar Oni‘s attacks with his Naginata were deadly. The weapon was of a large size to match the giant’s size. It also crackled with electricity doing extra lightning damage. Many brutal blows were exchanged but finally Zendar Oni turned into a mist and floated up towards a hole in the ceiling of the cave to make his escape. Most of the weapon attacks had no effect and it looked as the creature would get away.
But Wang Shu yelled out. ‘You will not escape us on this day, Zendar Oni!’. The Ju-Hai Shu bloodline sorcerer raised his calligraphy staff over his head and smashed it to the ground unleashing a thunderwave spell that blasted apart the mist. The small particles suddenly reformed into the Oni’s natural Giant form and it’s dead body fell, landing in a heap on the floor of the cave.
When the body of the Oni slams to the ground after Wang’s spell, Kataashi walked over with a focused gaze, bent down, and began cutting out the horns and teeth from the flesh and bone of its skull. When that gruesome task was complete, Kataashi bowed for a moment in silence. Then he cupped his hands beneath the bleeding flesh to capture a small pool of blood. He raised his hands to his mouth, and with a grimace, drank the Oni’s blood.
Staring down at the broken body of the oni, Kataashi spoke, ‘Zendar Oni, your blood is foul. As I bested Yorozu, I have bested you. Know that you are weak and mean nothing. May your spirit crawl away to hide in folds of darkness, forever hiding from the wrath of Hachiman.’
Kataashi then stood, clenched his belly for a moment, then said to everyone with a blood-rimmed smile, ‘Well, that was absolutely disgusting. But, thank you… Thank you for your assistance in eliminating this abomination.’
As the gravity of what had just happened descended upon everyone, a small wind blew through the cave. Wang Shu’s Dancing Lights and Kai Winding’s light spell flickered as if they were flame affected by wind. A feeling of unease descended upon everyone except for Kataashi who felt empowered and good. Kataashi’s dignity went down by 1 point and his haitoku went up by 1 point. Everyone notices that whenever Kataashi goes into a fighting stance, a loud clap of thunder echoes around him due to the severe auditory effect of his misted condition.
Subotai Korusu frowned and said grimly, ‘I am glad this Oni’s presence is erased from Soburin!!! But Kataashi, take heed, absorbing more of that dark path may turn you as it did Takeda. I warn you, in front of all of us, if you turn I will be bound to destroy you. You may enjoy the so called benefits of the dark mists, but I beseech you that there is a more dignified path to reestablish your order of kung-fu. Think of your master and how he’d want it restored. Wang and Kai and myself would be honored to help you in this cleansing path. I know I cannot force you, but I deplore you as a friend and ally in this eternal struggle of making right this land from both the mists and the Ceramian menace.’
Wang Shu looked away from the bloody spectacle with a worried look on his face. The wind blew through Kataashi’s hair and his eyes grew wide at the feeling. His face seemed to flash through different emotions – satisfaction, a sense of growing power… and then fear.
Kataashi released his breath in a gush, as if he had been holding it for a long time. He looked around the cave, coming back to himself, and then spoke. ‘I do not regret my actions. The Oni, this one not even worth naming anymore, all of of their kind, deserve to feel the pain they covet in others. I do not regret it… Yet beneath it, I feel the pull of the darkness. It was almost like the sea’s edge when standing in the waves’ retreat…’
Kataashi then turned to face Wang Shu and continued, ‘I will submit to a cleansing. The pull was almost too strong for me. I will not forgo revenge, yet I do not want to lose myself… to become one of them.’
Wang Shu smiled slightly and then a serious look overtakes his face. ‘Let us begin right now my friend.’
Wang assessed Kataashi’s Haitoku at a level of 19. He then started the hour long Cleansing Fire ritual. He pulled out his Herbalism kit, lit a little ceramic oil lamp and started to boil some water and burn incense. Reading from a little book of lore he chanted throughout the hour-long ritual.