Mists of Akuma

The Mystery of the Stolen Flesh
Drinking Zendar's Blood

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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Kaiyo Nightmare

The bridge destroyed by the Ceramin’s cannon was repaired after several days and the caravan started moving again. One evening, the party was camping at night. They were sitting around their camp fire telling stories when the peaceful night was suddenly shattered by a deafening explosion. The party jumped to their feet and stared through the darkness to the south where men were running chaotically and yelling ‘Tsukumogami!’ . Chaos erupted through the trade caravan. The ground shook as a huge form moved through the night in a hopping motion. Every time it hit the ground the earth seemed to shake from its sheer weight. The moonlight glistened off something long and metallic looking. The party drew their weapons to face the oncoming threat when there was suddenly a flash of light from it and the entire area exploded. Two caravan guards standing nearby next to some wagons were completely torn apart, pieces of their bodies strewn everywhere from the force of the explosion. The chaotic noise of the camp was replaced with ringing in everyone’s ears. Amongst this shock and awe a Kaiyo Nightmare hopped into the light of the campfire.

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This huge monstrosity’s body was that of a cannon but with two legs, a mouth with sharp teeth, and a single disturbing eye. It was as if the captured Ceramian canon itself had come alive but had also changed into something larger and more frightening. In fact as it hopped around the battlefield on its two legs, it’s eye would fix its piercing gaze upon one of the party members and a wave of fear would sweep over them. The resolute adventurous were able to resist but most of the other caravan guards would flee in terror at the sight of the creature. Everyone had certainly heard the tales of tsukumogami – familiar objects that were inhabited by spirits and came to life – but this was the largest of such creatures anyone had ever heard of. It was terrifying.

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The Kaiyo Nightmare hopped across the camp site and smashed its barrel into people doing massive amounts of damage. And then every once in a while it would level its canon at a target and unleash a devastating cannon blast. It was hard to pin down with melee attacks due to its fast hopping movement. Wei Tai’s kunai seemed to bounce of the metal canon without doing much damage, Kai’s arrows likewise seemed not to slow it. Subotai Korusu’s enchanted katana, Yabakuji seeme to hurt the tsukumogami but only when he was close enough to be able to strike. But then Wang Shu unleashed a huge lightning bolt that hurt the creature badly. ‘Lightning!’ yelled Wang. ‘It is vulnerable to lightning!’

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Wang Shu’s powerful lightning magic had bloodied the Kaiyo Nightmare. Rivulets of blood were streaming down its chicken like legs and dripping from its tongue which dangled from its mouth. Kataashi Kikku had also been using his kung fu to produce lightning strikes and hurting the tsukumogami. The Kaiyo NIghtmare wanted to make Wang Shu pay for his magical assault, but the crafty sorceror had turned invisible and escaped the creature. So it took out its wrath upon Kataashi – pounding him into the ground with barrel slams. Eventually Kataashi had had enough and took cover between two wagons thinking the creature was too big to follow. Instead the Kaiyo Nightmare unleashed a cannon attack that ripped the two wagons apart and set them ablaze sending burning pieces of wood and tarp in all directions.

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The singed monk staggered backwards from the blast and strange pieces of shiny metal fell down to the ground around him. Kataashi stopped to pick up the pieces and put them in his pack before returning to the fight. Kai Winding and Subotai Korusu were busy healing the party as the damage was so extensive. But finally after continued blasts of lighting from Wang Shu and attacks from others, the huge monstrosity finally fell to the ground dead.

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Ceramians Defeated
Koleraj Escapes

The battle with the Ceramians raged on. Michiko was slicing off the arms and legs of the mutants surrounding her with well placed strikes from her razor sharp Katana.

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General Hu Ban joined her in fighting back along with archers on the far side of the bridge.

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Michiko ran fast towards the edge of the destroyed bridge and leaped across to the other side. There she began to cut down the Ceramian riflemen. The party continued to fight them as well with Subotai Korusu and Kataashi Kikku engaging the main group led by Koleraj Batelano while the rest of the party hid back in the lush vegetation.

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Koleraj Batelano took a lot of damage, but he gave as good as he got – firing his revolver and slashing with his saber. Some sort of technology hidden under his uniform healed him at one point allowing him to fight on, but the momentum was turning against him. The Ceramian Riflemen were falling all around him and so he bolted to the southwest into the thick jungle and disappeared into the brush.

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Wang Shu turned invisible and followed him discovering he had ran under a large camouflaged netting. He peaked beyond it to see a large and strange contraption of wood and light steel plates, a powerful engine spit to life spewing smoke and causing four insect like wings that seemed implausibly small carry it aloft into the air.

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Wang Shu used his long range metamagics to take out one of the flying machine’s wings but it still flew off as Koleraj Batelano made his escape. Together, Michiko and the party cut down the remaining Ceramians. As they lay writing on the ground gripping their lost limbs and terrible wounds Michiko yelled, ‘Those of you lucky enough to still have your lives, Pray for your ancestors to take you. But leave the limbs you have lost behind. They belong to me now!’

Later some of the Ceramians were rounded up and interrogated by Michiko. She said, ’I’m gonna ask you some questions. And every time you don’t give me answers, I’m gonna cut something off. And I promise you, they will be things you will miss!’

Michiko learned where Koleraj Batelano was headed and ran off in pursuit. She was very concerned with a Rogue Kengen General being in Ikari prefecture.

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The party rounded up all of the Ceramian rifles and Wang Shu led a ritual of destruction wherein they were all destroyed. Everyone but Wei Tai participated and their dignity increase by 1 and their haitoku decreased by 1.

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Ceramian First Contact

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Wei Tai slid the pilfered documents from Magistrate Lo Ban’s desk into the flap of his ninja suit. But as he did so, he locked eyes with the purple dragon and saw the rage build in its face. Before Wei Tai could react, the dragon was across the entire length of the room and was upon him. Its razor sharp teeth bit deep into his body and clamped down tight. Wei Tai was surprised by the ferocity of the attack and that it was magical in nature – thwarting his natural damage resistance to piercing attacks. He was lifted off the ground and shaken to and fro like a rag doll as the Dragon carried him deeper into the room and away from the secret door in the floor.

Wei Tai called out in pain over the Myconid Spore Telepathic Bond. Kataashi Kikku heard him and sprung into action. He grabbed hold of the rope and rappelled down the wall of the Torii Gate 50 feet before dropping the last 50 feet and using monk slow fall to soften the landing. He then ran off towards the secret door. Wang Shu told Kai Winding of Wei’s problems and the two of them began to run away from the tent and towards the guardhouse. As he went, Wang pulled out a scroll of fly and tried to use it, but it was beyond his current abilities and the scroll burned away to nothing, wasted.

Wei Tai was very badly hurt but still conscious. He jabbed his finger into the dragon’s nostril forcing the creature to open its jaws slightly in surprise. The nostril did not feel fleshy but rather strangely like magical force. Although it did not feel like a living creature, it seemed to react like one. It was just enough for Wei Tai to wriggle and spin free of its toothy maw. Wei Tai landed in a crouch and ran towards the door. But the dragon snapped at him taking an opportunity attack and Wei Tai once more found himself in the jaws of the beast before everything went black and he fell unconscious.

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Realizing Wei Tai had gone dark, the rest of the party continued to go as fast as they could to come to his aid. Kataashi Kikku was the fastest and he reached the secret door to the left of the main gate moments later. He shoved open the door which was held slightly open by the rock Wei Tai had left in it. Kataashi ran down the stairs and through the hall and would have set off all the traps had not Wei Tai previously disabled them. As Kataasshi burst into the room he saw the dragon looming over Wei Tai’s broken body. The dragon had opened the flap of Wei Tai’s ninja jacket to reveal the stolen documents and was reaching towards them with a claw. But its attention quickly shifted to Kataashi as he entered the room and the dragon turned to face him.

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Kataashi managed to run towards the dragon and flip over it to land by Wei Tai’s side. After needing many extra hands to help haul Wei Tai up the rope to the top of the wall, Kataashi knew all too well that Wei Tai was too heavy for him to carry by himself. So he said a prayer to Yuki Ikari as he placed a hand on his fallen ninja friend and called on her healing touch to flow through him and into Wei Tai. The ancient Kami spirit answered his call and a host of bright blue butterflies burst forth from his hands to surround the ninja. As the butterflies melted into his body, Wei Tai was renewed, his wounds vanished, and he regained consciousness. He even found his telepathic bond was still in place.

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Kataashi urged Wei Tai to get to the secret door as he snatched the stolen papers away from Wei Tai in hopes of luring the dragon away. Kataashi’s plan worked all too well as the Dragon left the fallen ninja to launch a full attack on Katashi. The creature’s jaws clamped down on the spitting monk and much like Wei Tai before him dragged him deeper into the room while shaking him viciously back and forth.

Wei Tai took the opportunity to get up and move swiftly to the secret door in the floor by the Magistrate’s desk. He opened it and jumped down the staircase it revealed. He placed a hand on the door ready to shut it as soon as Kattashi could free himself from the dragon and get through the door. Wei Tai telepathically urged Kataashi to join him.

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The spitting monk needed no further encouragement. He thrust an eagle claw strike into the fleshy part of the dragon’s mouth around its teeth hoping to find a pressure point of some kind. He too found the dragon’s mouth was not hot and wet as he expected but rather room temperature and dry. But the strike had its intended effect, the dragon recoiled enough for Kataashi to slither out of its jaws and flip away from it.

The monk disengaged and ran for the secret door in the floor. He dove through the opening and Wei Tai slammed the door shut in the face of the onrushing dragon. Wei Tai frantically tried to lock the door but found the complex lock too difficult on his first go. The Dragon tore open the secret door and snapped its enormous jaws at Kataashi, but the monk managed to dodge the teeth. Kataashi pushed the door shut with all his might and urged Wei Tai to try the lock again. The dragon pushed back against the door. The veins in Kataashi’s neck bulged out with the sheer effort of his tug of war with the dragon over the door, but the monk managed to keep it shut long enough for Wei Tai to finally use his picks to lock the door. The dragon raged on the other side but its pursuit of them was seemingly thwarted.

Wei Tai and Kataashi ran through the trapped hallway but Wei Tai paused to reset all the traps. The two left through the secret door to the outside and Wei Tai locked the outer door and replaced the vines that were hiding it further. The two ran into Kai Winding who had used her powers of flight to get down to lend her aid. In order to avoid detection from the female archer overhead who was on watch, Wang Shu chatted her up. His engaging conversation distracted her long enough for the 3 party members down below to get to the rope and climb back up.

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Kataashi handed the stolen documents over to Kai Winding and smiled. His toothy grin put on full display his betel nut stained teeth. Kai Winding returned what was at once a weak smile and at the same time a rather disgusted look on her face. She tucked the documents away into her Do-Maru jacket and checked to make sure everyone was all right. She cast some healing magic on Kataashi and Wei Tai to make sure they did not look like they had just gotten into a fight. Wang Shu used his prestidigitation cantrip to remove any sign of blood stains or the like. Wang Shu hoped the dragon they encountered was not intelligent or could not talk. He worried that it would tell Magistrate Lo Ban about the break in. But perhaps Wang’s consternation was unfounded. The next day there did not seem to be any repercussions and a few days later, the Mists of Akuma finally broke and the caravan left the safety of the Torii Gate to continue their journey deeper into Ikari prefecture.

It was good to be back on the road. The party was walking along the trade caravan in the middle of the line of wagons when suddenly a loud and fiery explosion went off followed by small chunks of stone raining down on them. They looked up to see a huge hole had been blasted through a big stone bridge that crossed a gorge with a raging river far below. The canon blast was followed by the reports of multiple rifles that ripped into a number of caravan guards at the lead who were standing on the bridge causing their dead and bloody bodies to be strewn in a macabre array across the bridge. As the party moved forward to try and get to the front, another explosion went off. Now they could see there was a large group of Ceramians on the other side of the bridge and they were firing a huge cannon. But this time the canon blast smashed into a wall of force that had been seemingly conjured up by the woman with the red hair, Michiko. She stood defiantly just on the other side of the large gaping hole in the bridge with General Hu Ban at her side. A group of three mutated looking warriors ran down the bridge and leaped over the hole to smash into the wall of force. They pounded at the invisible wall with their fists and weapons but could not get through to the general and Michiko on the other side.

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General Hu Ban suddenly shouted out for all to hear using some form of magically enhanced volume for his speech. ‘It will not be that easy to prey upon us, Koleraj Batelano.’ Everyone had heard that name before spoken of gravely in tea houses across Soburin. Koleraj Batelano was a Rogue Kengen General – a Ceramian – and one of the most bloodthirsty of those that remained. General Hu Ban continued to shout, ‘What are your terms for calling off this foolish attack and leaving in peace?’

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Koleraj Batelano put something conical and metal to his mouth and shouted back with volume equal to General Hu Ban, ‘Surrender the entire Caravan to us and we will let the rest of you live.’

General Hu Ban replied, ‘What? Complete surrender? I think you overestimate the value of your position.’

Koleraj Batelano erupted in fury, ‘Bah! Conscripting you pathetic Soburi into our glorious Ceramian Army was the biggest mistake we made in the War of Kaiyo. It was your weakness that caused The Great War to end.’

General Hu Ban shouted back, ‘Stop your foolish talk of things that neither of us can control. Clearly we are at an impasse. You cannot break our mystic shield and we cannot pass until you withdraw. What about 1,000 Imperial Gold Coins?’

And so the haggling began. As General Hu Ban kept the Ceramians talking, his page ran up to the party and exclaimed, ‘General Hu Ban wants you to sneak across the gorge to the south of the waterfall out of eyesight and launch a surprise attack to disable their cannon. The General will keep them busy with negotiations, but hurry!’

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The party burst into action, diving into the thick tropical vegetation of palm trees and bamboo, and sprinting to the south. The tree covered ledges sloped down towards a massive waterfall. Below the waterfall they could no longer see anyone at the bridge above. They looked across a wide expanse close to 100 feet across. The waterfall thundered above them falling about 300 feet down into the huge gorge below. Wei Tai and Kataashi each tied their 50 foot ropes together. Then Kataashi tied one end of the rope to a tree hanging out over the edge of the cliff. He then moved back into the thick jungle. He sprinted towards the edge and leaped into the air leaving a trail of dark smoke in his wake. Between the power of his monk Ki and his leg augmetic he quadrupled his already sizable jumping ability allowing him to soar across the chasm in a huge jump. Landing gracefully on the other side he quickly tied the other end of the rope to another overhanging tree but lower down. As the rest of the party stared dumbfounded at the incredible jump they just witnessed, Kataashi waved his hands frantically for them to come across and join him.

Subotai was the first to cross. He slid his katana out of the sash at his waist with it still in the scabbard. He placed the scabbard over the rope and held on with a hand on either side. He then launched himself and slid down the rope commando zip line style to land on the other side with Kataashi.

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One by one the rest of the party followed suit. Kai and Wei Tai using their katana’s just like Subotai and Wang Shu used his calligraphy staff. The party then used stealth to work their way up through the thick jungle to the bridge on the other side of the bridge. Using his extend metamagic to increase the range of his spell, Wang Shu unleashed a shatter spell that caused one of the canon’s wheels to explode into tiny wooden and metal bits of shrapnel. fire. The shrapnel tore through the Ceramian Bombadiers who were manning the cannon and tore through the cannon itself. The shrapnel also hit a nearby pile of cannonballs which in turn exploded with a huge cacophonous fiery blast of force. Three Ceramian Bombadiers who were manning the cannon were blasted backwards and the canon was in burning pieces on the ground. Two of the Ceramian Bombadiers got up slowly and unsteadily wiping the blood from their wounds but the third was dead.

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As if on cue, right after the explosion of Wang Shu’s spell, Michiko brought down her wall of force and leaped towards the three mutant warriors on the other side. Her Katana sliced through the air lopping off one of the mutant’s arms and one of their legs as if they were made of paper. Showers of blood erupted from the gaping holes left behind as the hapless creature dropped to the ground dead. General Hu Ban also charged forward and delivered some steady blows to the mutants on the bridge with his Katana.

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Kataashi Kikku burst out of hiding from the foliage and moved swiftly up to engage the Ceramian Riflemen. He delivered a flying kick which snapped the head back of one of them at a horrible angle before he slumped down dead. The Ceramians responded by firing their rifles at the party. Subotai Korusu was able to cut one of the bullets out of the sky with a quick slash of Yabakuji. Kataashi was able to use his monk ability to dodge the first bullet. But for most it was the first time the characters had tasted steel delivered by firearms. The bullets bit deep and hurt badly. The riflemen moved to encircle Kataashi with bayonets affixed to the ends of their rifles. Koleraj Batelano had a saber in one hand and a revolver in the other. He blasted his revolver and swung his saber twice at Kataashi.

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Document Intrigue
The Magistrate's Wooden Dragon

After the revelations outside the tent, everyone returned inside to finally take their rest. It had not been very long ago that they were racing for their lives through the Mists of Akuma down the Imperial Road being chased by hordes of adeddo-oni. Sleep felt good. In the morning Wang Shu performed an hour long yamabushi cleansing fire ceremony for Kai Winding using 60 GP worth of yamabushi incense. The Mists of Akuma had taken their toll and increased her haitoku to unacceptable levels. She used her resistance cantrip to aid in her dignity saving throw and successfully was cleansed of corruption. The minor auditory effect of Kai’s voice suddenly shifting several octaves into a deep and disturbing voice was a very vexing side effect of Kai’s misted condition. That auditory effect was now gone and Kai thanked Wang Shu profusely. Wei Tai also asked to be cleansed. Wang Shu conducted another hour long yamabushi cleansing fire ceremony using 65 GP of yamabushi incense in this case. Wei Tai’s cleansing was also successful removing the mild auditory effect of his voice shifting into a chorus of voices. So now Wei Tai sounded like any other Soburi man. Kataashi Kikku was offered several times to be cleansed as well, but he politely refused.

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After the ceremonies were complete the party went out in search of replenishing some of their supplies from the trade caravan. Wang Shu purchased 100 GP of additional yamabushi cleansing incense and 1 potion of healing. Kai also purchased 1 potion of healing. Katashi and Wei Tai each purchased 2 potions of healing. The Master Treasure List was updated.

Later Kai Winding shared something she had seen with the group. Apparently Magistrate Lo Ban was hiding travel papers from her view that described someone named Shiatsu Koto leading a raid in Satsujin prefecture. Kai explained that since she is from Satsujin, this was quite alarming to her and she wanted to read the papers more thoroughly to see what in fact was going on. She stated clearly that this was a personal matter but that she would appreciate any help the party would offer. Subotai Korusu was very concerned. It was illegal to tamper with official documents and he did not want to upset Magistrate Lo Ban or run afoul of the law. He did not forbid the rest of the party’s involvement, but he asked to be left out of these plans and not included in any sort of action involving stealing anything.

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Subotai went to meet with General Hu Ban the next morning. Everyone went him except for Kataashi Kikku who went off to practice his katas. Subotai fully debriefed the General on everything that had happened during the rearguard action holding the line. The fate of Takeda Yoro was particularly difficult for the General but he was glad that the rest of you made it back to him safely. After that meeting was complete, Subotai Korusu and everyone except Kataashi went to meet with Magistrate Lo Ban in order to fully debrief him on what happened in the Mists as well.

Upon entering Lo Ban’s office for the second time, Subotai noticed a whole wall of spear racks that were empty and rather dusty. There was a large wooden carved dragon statue in one corner and 2 guards in the room. Subotai followed the cultural etiquette exquisitely by giving Magistrate Lo Ban a gift of a Korusu silk handkerchief. The magistrate was quite pleased by the courtesy and prepared a clean sheet of paper and a fresh calligraphy ink set to document, Subotai’s story. Subotai then proceeded to describe in exquisite and sometimes harrowing detail the experiences of the party from Hold the Line!, Arrival at the Torri Gate, and Climbing to the Safety of the Torii Gate.

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While the magistrate was dutifully transcribing Subotai’s words into beautiful calligraphy characters, Kai Winding, Wang Shu, and Wei Tai were looking around the room – casing it for possible ingress. The were looking for secret doors or some other means of getting into the room beside the main door. But they found nothing. Upon conclusion of the documentation of the events, Magistrate Lo Ban thanked Subotai and was about to end the meeting, but Wang Shu spoke up and complimented the magistrate on his very expensive looking dragon carving. With a skillful charismatic maneuver, Wang Shu manipulated Lo Ban to bring them over to the carving and describe who made it and the finer details of its quality.

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Magistrate Lo Ban showed off his dragon carving to Subotai Korusu and Wang Shu. Wang Shu noted that the quality of the carving was fantastic – the red lacquered wood shown with an almost magical brilliance, but he failed to notice anything more. With the magistrate expertly distracted by Wang Shu, Kai Winding tried to distract the closer guard by languidly moving towards him and showing an unusual amount of interest and possible affection towards him. She unfortunately laid it on a bit too thick and only resulted in a very awkward and embarrassing encounter between the two. It provided a little distraction but not the amount of distraction that Wei Tai needed to fully search for the documents. He was able to use his sleight of hand to search through the papers on the desk and found the papers Kai was looking for not to be among them.

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Wei Tai saw there were 6 locked drawers in the desk that could easily contain papers but Kai’s distraction with the guards was not good enough to allow him to try and pick the locks and get into them. Wei Tai did notice, however, a strange change in the pattern of the tiles in the floor in the southeast corner of the room behind the Magistrate’s desk. He thought it might be a secret door of some kind.

Before leaving Subotai Korusu asked Magistrate Lo Ban if the dusty spear racks were supposed to actually hold spears. The magistrate apologized rather sheepishly and explained that there was a shipment of Ikari spears that was to have arrived here about a month ago. A wagon transporting them along the Imperial Road in the mountains near the city of Rinku went missing. Satsuto Ikari, a noble Ikari samurai leading a squad of 10 men, was dispatched to track down the spears but they never returned.

Subotai Korusu frowned and asked if the shipment was 60 spears all bearing the mark of Ikari. The Magistrate checked his records and confirmed that was in fact the case. Subotai sighed and explained that he believed they had recovered the spears in a raid on a bakemono cavern. Subotai excused himself and went off to fetch the spears. He had some caravan hands carry the brand new Ikari branded spears into the room and place them in the spear racks. Subotai also showed Magistrate Lo Ban the armor, katana, wakizashi, and travel papers of Satsuto Ikari and explained his fate and that he wished to return the fallen samurai’s armor to his family. Magistrate Lo Ban wrote a letter of introduction to Subotai Korusu to help him gain an audience with Lady Wuguan (wowguan) Ikari. Subotai thanked him and everyone took their leave.

Later that night when Subotai Korusu had gone to sleep, the rest of the party met in secret to plan a possible infiltration of Magistrate Lo Ban’s office. A quick recon by Wei Tai showed a lot of guards and doors that would have to be opened. It looked quite difficult to get in without battling any guards which is not something Kai wanted to do. After hearing about the possibility of a secret door, Kataashi Kikku thought it was worth checking to see if the secret door possibly went outside. The Magistrate’s office was at the ground level and adjacent to the outer wall. It was worth a look to see if it somehow connected. Wang Shu got out the Myconid telepathic bond spores. They were eaten by Kataashi, Wei Tai, and Wang Shu. Since it looked like it would take them down into the Mists of Akuma, Kai Winding cast the spell Lungs of Akuma conferring on each of them 1 hour of immunity to the Mists of Akuma.

Wei Tai used Kimono Bukuro to switch from his armor to a black ninja suit. Kataashi Kikku took 50 foot of his own rope and tied it together with another 50 feet of rope from Wei Tai. The two snuck past the guards and went to a dark area of the wall where they could hide behind some battlements. They looped the rope around a battlement, securing it in place, and dropped it down into the mists below. Kataashi Kikku stayed at the top guarding the rope as Wei Tai rappelled down through the mists 100 feet until he finally reached the ground.

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Keeping in constant contact using the telepathy spores, Wei Tai reported back to Kataashi and Wang Shu. Wang Shu then passed along the progress to Kai Winding using his voice. Wei Tai worked his way along the base of the wall searching as he went for secret doors hoping that he would find one leading into the office. Wei Tai moved silently and hidden mindful of adeddo-oni lurking in the shadows as well as Ikari archers who could spot him from the ramparts above. The mists swirled around him but he could see well in the darkness using his darkvision. Wei Tai eventually got to the area just to the left of the mighty oaken door of the main gate. There he found a small key hole sized gap in the stone covered by overhanging vines. He brushed the vines aside as he pulled out some small lock picks from his ninja sash. He carefully used the tools to pick the lock. He found the lock complex and very difficult but Wei Tai’s skill and luck was strong. He felt the very satisfying click as he unlocked the lock but then felt a sinking feeling as a poison needle trap that he had missed pressed into his hand delivering a lethal dose of powerful poison. But Wei Tai just carried on as if the poison had no effect on him.

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Wei Tai reached his hand past the open lock and felt for the mechanism that would open the secret door. He finally found a small lever which he pulled. A 5 foot by 3 foot section of the wall slid away to reveal a set of stairs leading down into the darkness. Wei Tai slipped past the door and as it began to shut, he wedged a piece of stone into the doorway to keep it slightly open and ajar. Passing down the stairs like a shadow he quickly reached a narrow 5 foot by 5 foot tunnel. He looked carefully at the floor and walls with his darkvision discovering the tell tale signs of pressure plates and small holes in the walls hiding some sort of spears. He once again used his thieves tools to disable the pressure plates as he went rendering them unable to trigger the poisoned spears to shoot out.

The tunnel only went about 30 feet before ending in more stairs going up to a ceiling. Wei Tai searched for traps on the stairs and secret doors on the ceiling. He found another small gap in the ceiling that corresponded to another hidden lock. He found another poison needle trap which he disabled this time and then picked the lock. Again the lock was quite complex but he managed to pick it. The lock opened and he was able to reach behind it to find a lever. When he pulled on the lever, a 3 foot by 3 foot hole in the ceiling slid aside revealing the office of Magistrate Lo Ban. Kataashi Kikku’s hunch that a secret passage led from the outside in was correct.

Wei Tai looked down the stairs that he had just gone up. He could see the Mists of Akuma spilling through the secret door he had left ajar and swirling around on the floor below. So far they were not breaching the gatehouse but he should not tarry too long should they attempt to do so. Wei Tai put his hands on the floor of the room and silently pulled his legs up and into the room. The secret door in the floor began to silently slide shut, but Wei Tai wedged a kunai in between the stone blocks to keep it open.

He scanned the room with his darkvision and waited quietly to make sure everything in the room was secure. He saw and heard nothing so he crept forward along the floor to the desk. There he checked it for traps and after finding none began to pick the locks on the 6 desk drawers one by one starting with the top right. The lock was difficult but not as complex as the locks on the secret doors. Soon it was open and Wei Tai was rifling through the papers inside. He saw nothing regarding Shiatsu Koto or anything related to the documents Kai was after. So he closed that drawer, made sure it was locked, and moved to the next drawer down. He picked that lock and found mostly writing implements. He closed that drawer, made sure it was locked, and then went on to the next below it.

However, suddenly Wei Tai heard a strange sound from across the room. He looked up from his work to see a shimmering translucent image of a purple dragon step out from inside Magistrate Lo Ban’s red lacquered wooden dragon statue. The dragon began to scan the room but luckily did not react. Perhaps he was not detected. As luck would have it Wei Tai was crouched behind the magistrate’s desk and it was offering him excellent cover to hide from the dragon. The dragon began to sniff powerfully though the large nostrils on its snout. It floated above the ground as if hovering in the air. Wei Tai communicated this to Kataashi Kikku and Wang Shu through the telepathic bond.

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Kataashi Kikku was getting quite alarmed but Wei Tai kept calm and picked the next lock to open the bottom drawer on the right. He quietly flipped through the papers inside able to read them with his darkvision. He found the travel papers for Shiatsu Koto and read them silently in his mind to Wang Shu who relayed it to Kai Winding. There were two documents. One was travel papers that looked like Lord Benton Satsujin had invited Shiatsu Koto to visit his court as a representative of the Jade Workers Guild in an effort to discuss opening jade markets in KI-Yosa. Another document described Shiatsu Koto as an agent of Lord Isa Barto and that he was to hire ninjas and lead a raid on Satsujin palace using the invitation as a cover. Wei Tai asked what to do and through Wang Kai Winding told him to take both documents as evidence and to return with them.

Wei Tai closed the drawer and made sure it was locked before sliding the two papers into the flap of his ninja suit. As soon as the papers were on his person, however, the dragon snapped its head around and looked right at him as if it somehow knew Wei Tai had stolen something from the room. Wei Tai called out telepathically to Kataashi Kikku and Wang Shu that he had been spotted by the dragon and was in serious trouble as the creature flew across the room towards him at a blinding speed. Wang Shu slapped his forehead in dismay wondering how he could have missed that the giant dragon statue was enchanted in some way.

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The Meeting in the Tent
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General Hu Ban was very pleased with the incredibly brave rear guard action of the party to hold the line against the hordes of addeddo-oni. Without their sacrifice, the trade caravan would have been enveloped in the Mists of Akuma and not reached the safety of the Torii Gates. At Wang Shu’s suggestion, as a special boon, the general provided the rich and luxurious tent of one of the caravan merchants to be at the disposal of the party. There they met on top of the Torii Gate. Much had been seen in the Mists of Akuma and certain things that were seen had to be discussed. Each party member took a seat around a beautifully ornate table in a tent lined with silk pillows and lacquered furniture.

Subotai Korusu calmly asked Kataashi Kikku, ‘So how did you get your leg my friend, was it by choice? Remember what I heeded to you in the magistrates office, the truth will set you free my friend. I wish to know the origins of your amputee. I am not here to place judgement, just know the truth.’

Wang sat in the corner quietly while Subotai questioned Kataashi. He began a cleansing fire ritual on himself while the group talked.

Kataashi stiffened at the query. He looked around the tent, catching everyone’s eye with a hard stare. ‘What business is it…’ On the last word, his voice cracked and then paused. With slumped shoulders, Kataashi took a deep sigh, ‘I am honored by your respect, friends. Other than my companions and teacher in the monastery, no one has ever shown me such respect.’

Kataashi pulled back his robe and let it drop. He stood before everyone in the party, wearing only a loin cloth. His entire body was completely covered in complex and beautiful tattoos. He extended out one leg and pressed his fingers down, leaving a normal pressured trace along the flesh. He then extended his other leg and tapped on his thigh with a faint, metallic clinking sound. After a moment, with that knowledge, everyone’s eyes adjusted and each was surprised to see that the complex tattoos on this leg are created with subtle paint and the curves of shaped metal.

‘Were it not for this leg, and the others before it, I would be dead and buried.’ With a pained expression, he continued, ’I was born to impoverished parents and I was born with only one leg. I am told they struggled to keep me, but they had no time to care for one who needed more than most. When I reached two years of age, my parents sold me to a monastery that had the resources… and the good will to raise one such as I. ’

‘It is there, with all my maimed brothers and sisters, that we learned the art of Hagane Budo, the steel martial art. Who would I have been were it not for my Master? Who would all of us have been? We would have been beggars or prostitutes at best, dead at worst. I know the steel brings risk and taint, yet were it not for the steel, and the love of a Master willing to see beyond the superstition, our lives would be nothing, filled with death and dishonor.’

‘Judge me if you will, but I lied to the magistrate because ones such as him know nothing of the suffering, pain and difficult choices of folk who work with dirt under their nails. He would have cut me down with no thought had I told him the truth. I have seen it before…’

Kai nodded solemnly at Kataashi’s response. ‘I cannot even imagine being in your shoes, spitting monk. I am sorry for your pain and your loss.’ Kai crossed the room and gave Kataashi a hug and a smile. Tracing the line of his jaw with her hand, she continued ‘But are you being completely forthright with us about the Ceramian technology you employ? We are all entitled to our secrets, I suppose. I will trust to your discretion but be mindful of what you bring into this city not necessarily what bears you into it.’

Wang stopped the ritual he had just started and stood. He bowed to Kataashi with both hands open and spoke, ‘I have misjudged you Kataashi. The scars on Soburin run deep and touch us all in one way or another. Who am I or the magistrate for that matter, to judge one such as yourself because of the circumstances of life? You have proven yourself as a caravan guard and as a comrade in arms to all of us.’

Subotai nodded his head in agreement with Wang and added, ‘Kataashi, I am honored by your honesty. In my homeland, the taint of technology clings more to the heart than the actual limb. I have known many an amputee and have respected their station. This dictates the laws of bushido. You are my ally and I have pledged to never abandon you and you all.’

Subotai stared down at the ground, narrowing his gaze… ‘That is why we must avenge Takeda, our fellow in arms, those foul mists destroyed his soul! We shall complete our mission for the caravan and strive to cleanse this tainted word. As we cleansed the Kami’s shrine.’

Looking up, Subotai eyed Kataashi. ‘When I debrief the magistrate on our actions as rear guard, I will inquire on the laws of this land which I will follow as tenets of the samurai state. Once I know them, I may be able to give better council. In my homeland, I only saw one Ceramian executed for fell technology but only because he was illegally smuggling and implanting people of my land and many other more heinous crimes such as burglary and murder. Simply having one is not illegal, at least where I come from. Your choice to lie is yours, though I now understand why you did. You do not know what the magistrate would have done, but I am glad you are here with us. Though, that woman from the trade caravan, the one speaking to the magistrate before us seems to know your secret as well. When you answered the magistrates question, she shook her head no. Tell me Subotai, do you know that lady? How would she know your secret?’

Before Kataashi could answer, Wang Shu paused and looked to Wei Tai saying, ‘We all have secrets, even myself…as a Wizard’s school drop out, I have things that I must keep secret to the world. I am curious about your great weight, Wei Tai and ability to act underwater. What do you hide under that mask of yours? Whatever secrets you may reveal to us, I pledge to keep them secret as I pledge to keep what Kataashi just shared with us within this group of friends.’

Kataashi nodded in appreciation of Wang’s words. He then resumed chewing on his betel nut and looked over to Wei Tai with mirthful curiosity.

Wei Tai paused and stood very very still. He doesn’t seem to breathe as she stood there staring at the floor….. ‘We are searching for our lost honor. It has been many many years since we dared to trust anyone. Many many years of traveling the roads alone fighting the chaos.’ Wei Tai looked up toward the roof of the tent and began making statements each spoken in a different voice. Some female, some male, and one of a small child. ‘Looking for redemption. For revenge. For hope. For my lost children. To avenge my wife. To avenge my husband. To find my way to the light. To avenge my betrayed men. To find my mommy and daddy. To live my life. To die, God’s damn it! Just let me die! To bring hope back to the world. To return to the path of honor…..’
All the voices started talking and yelling and crying at the same time…. At least 13 distinct voices emanated from him as she stood there completely and utterly motionless…. Then they all stopped. Wei Tai lowered his head and looked slowly around at the group.
‘We are Wei Tai. We are the betrayed ones who have lost our honor and our way. The only path we see forward is to prevent anyone from doing this again and to bring peace to any who are suffering our fates..’

Wei Tai continued, ‘If you wish for me to go my way please let me do so in peace for I have work to do.’ Wei tai lowered his head and she walked out of the door.

With a look of confusion and bewilderment Subotai called after Wei Tai, ‘Come back Wei Tei! I will not impede on your mission, though I’d love to know how you came to be?’

As Wei Tai spoke to the group, Kataashi’s mouth first stopped chewing and then slowly dropped open completely. When Wei Tai walked out, Kataashi mumbled, ‘Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting…’ He paused for a moment, lost in thought and then distractedly walked out the door as well.

After Kataashi and Wei Tei left, Kai turned to the others, raised her elegantly arched eyebrow and said, ‘uh, yes, that was quite unexpected. I hope we have not lost our ninja. He or she or they or whatever Wei Tei is, is most honorable and valuable. I will try to seek Wei Tei out.’ Kai left the tent as well in search of Wei Tei.

Kataashi emerged from the tent to find Wei Tai standing alone outside a little way off gazing up towards the sky… utterly still. Kataashi stepped closer to Wei Tai and was about to speak when Kai and Wang Shu emerged from the tent. Kataashi paused and stepped back, waiting patiently for others to speak first.

Wei Tai looked at Kataashi. When he spoke, the echos of other voices could be heard sounding of a deep sadness and loneliness. Wei Tai said, ‘I could not dishonor you with less than the truth after you honored me with your secret. If this means the end of our fellowship so be it. I will seek my path back to honor alone once again if I must.’

Kai gracefully glided up beside Wei Tai and silently looked up at the sky too. After a few moments, she said, ‘I do not want you to leave Wei Tai. None of us do. What I said to Kataashi applies to you, to any of us, it would seem. I do not mean to lecture you, only the spitting monk,’ Kai winked, ‘but it is our choices that define who we are not this stuff,’ Kai pinched Wei Tai’s cheek. ‘Come back inside Wei Tai, I need your help. You honor us with your courage. We will help you find your path along the way.’

Kataashi stepped up on the other side of Wei Tai after Kai spoke. He stood there silently looking up at the sky as well. After a while, he looked down and spat, expertly hitting the center of small rock at his feet.

’Hell’s bottom, Wei Tai, I don’t give a shit how you got where… what… who you are.’ He then paused for a moment. ‘That didn’t come out right. It’s not that I don’t give a boar’s teat about you… all or what path you seek to redemption. It’s that I don’t give an jackass’s left testicle what you look or sound like. It seems our paths have connected at this time in our respective lives. I count myself fortunate.’ He then smiled wryly, spat on the exact same spot, darkening the stain, and said, ‘Well, at least until some magistrate finds out about my leg and chops it off, or finds out about your multi-faceted soul and tries to rip it out. Heh heh.’

Subotai slowly exited the tent in deep thought. He joined the group and said, ‘I must admit I have never seen anything like this. My ancestors bless me thru Yabakuji so in a way they live on thru me, but not in this way. So many stories, so much pain and loss….’

Subotai knelt, drew yabakuji and set it carefully on the ground before him. ‘You search for your lost honor my friend. I pledge on my life and ancestry that I will aid you in this quest.’

Wei Tai said, ‘I thank you all for the honor of your friendship. This is the first time since this was done to us that I have dared trust any or had anyone I could call a friend. If my presence is not too offensive or dangerous to the group we have agreed to continue with you. It was Mai Lee and Verek who felt we should trust you and we decided to bow to their wisdom.’ Wei Tai continued to stand there silently regarding the heavens.

After a moment Kataashi said, ‘Though your story is your own, as mine is mine…’ He then looked over to Wei Tai and smiled broadly with brown stained teeth, ‘Was it the Mists that did this to you all?’

Wei Tai looked around the group and then said, ‘I am sorry for being so melodramatic. You asked and I was honorbound to answer. No. The mist did not do this to me, but rather an honorless master sent Hikari No Ha to another honorless master, but that is a tale for another night. Are there others who wish to share their tales with their blood brothers here?’

Wang Shu shrugged, ‘Sure, since we are all being honest. I flunked out of Wizards school and accidentally banished myself from the library to a far away forest. I was never good at studying and while lost in the forest I found the path of the Wind, Lightning and Thunder from a naked Yamabushi…it’s a true story I swear to you all. He is probably still naked in the forest for all I know…’

Subotai frowned towards Wang and said, ‘I am of the noble house of Korusu am a descendant from a long line of military generals, including Zhiajo Korusu, who slayed a Yai sovereign, reclaimed Soburin’s eastern coast, and created the great defensive wall to repel the Ceramian invaders from the imperial palace.’ Subotai bowed his head in sudden solemnity. ‘And fell when our allies from Satsujin betrayed us and gave the Ceramians a foothold into our land and eventually began the Kengen Occupation.’

At the mention of Satsujin, Subotai looked solemnly at Kai. Subotai stayed silent, but seemed to be holding something back…. he then continued. ‘So I have been called to be a samurai and trusted with my clans legacy blade, Yabakuji, named after its first wielder Yabakuji Korusu. It has been handed down from generation to generation, from Yabakuji, to Zhaijo and now to myself. As I explained earlier the battle with the Oni has awakened this blade and it’s powers are growing and linking to me. Besides the kiss of Ikari I have never felt such joy. So my mission is to protect the innocent from evil and vanquish the plague in our lands. It seems this includes the Ceramian menace and the foul mists themselves. I know not how this will be done, but simply know that is my mission. ‘What about you Kai? What do you wish to share?’

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Climbing to the Safety of the Torii Gate

Having been surrounded by the rabid hunchlings, the party began to cut their way through the creatures. Kai Winding dropped the unconscious body of Miho Kasaki to the ground and moved swiftly and gracefully to flank one of the hunchlings. In a flash her katana was drawn and with an elegant sweep of the blade, she lopped the head off the creature. Kataashi Kikku also moved into a flanking position with Subotai and together the monk and the samurai felled 3 more hunchlings. Wang Shu lashed out with his calligraphy staff but was unable to connect. Wei Tai also struggled with the accuracy of his kunai throws because he was so exhausted from the run to the gate.

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The archers reigned down support fire from 100 feet up on the Torri Gate and continued to yell down to the party to climb the ropes to get to safety. The arrows ripped into the hunchlings. That coupled with the continued attacks from the entire party soon destroyed all the hunchlings. Kataashi Kikku swiftly moved to the unconscious body of Miho Kasaki, lifted her limp form up and over his shoulder. He then grabbed hold of the rope and began to climb. He was slowed by the weight of Miho but it seemed manageable for him. Kai Winding moved over to help Subotai Korusu and Wang Shu carry the unconscious body of Takeda Yoro. Kai looked at Subotai and Wang struggling with the Takeda’s very heavy form, she looked over to the rope dangling 100 feet below the safety of the top of the wall, and then she looked back over her shoulder where through the mists she could hear the howls and shrieks of the hordes of addeddo-oni still trying to catch them. After some quick calculus, Kai thought it was going to be near impossible to get Takeda up the rope before they were overwhelmed again by undead. Kai put a hand to her breast and another on the back of Takeda. She softly said a prayer to Yuki Ikari and called upon her Kami Blessing to heal Takeda. But to Kai’s surprise the prayer was not answered, the healing power did not flow through her into Takeda. Instead to her horror Kai noticed that Takeda’s wounds were healing of their own accord. And before she could yell a warning that the Mists of Akuma had turned Takeda into an addedo-oni, Takeda suddenly twisted out of the grip of Wang Shu and Subotai. He landed on his feet and drew his mighty Odachi. His face was now a grotesque thing of twisted mutation and horrible agony. His undead eyes glowed red with the hunger for the living as he brought the heavy weight of his Odachi swiftly down onto the unsuspecting Wang Shu. The odachi stroke cut Wang Shu down like wheat. Wang fell to the ground spilling out out copious amounts of blood.

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Seeing Takeda Yoro cut down Wang Shu, Kataashi Kikku shook his head and spat. He jumped off the rope landing like a cat despite the extra weight of Miho Kasaki’s unconscious body. Kataashi shrugged and unceremoniously dumped Miho’s body to the ground for a second time and ran over to deliver a flying side kick to Takeda’s back. The kick staggered the adeddo-oni Takeda but everyone could see his wounds were regenerating as the party closed in on him. Subotai Korusu used his skill with medicine to bind Wang Shu’s wounds and prevent him from dying. The samurai then stood over the body of Wang Shu to protect him. Kataashi yelled for everyone to subdue Takeda in the hopes that he could be saved like the mushroom people. At first Kai agreed and used the flat of her blade to try and knock Takeda unconscious. But as she thought about it, she had her doubts. She had never heard of an adeddo-oni being returned to life by yamabushi. Once the Mists of Akuma claimed someone’s soul by corrupting them completely to undeath, she did not think there was any coming back. The Myconids had been tainted with the evil of some sort of Oni magic cast by Yorozu Oni – they had not been exposed to the Mists of Akuma. It took great effort but finally Takeda was knocked down to the ground unconscious through the combined efforts of Subotai, Wei Tai, Kataashi, and Kai. As he crumpled to the ground, Kai Winding looked to the east and through the mists saw 2 adeddo-oni samurai charging towards them. She looked at the exhausted Subotai and the unconscious body of Wang Shu. She looked up at the 100 foot distance that had to be climbed to reach safety. Then she finally looked down at the body of Takeda Yoro as she completed the deadly calculus within her mind.

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Kai Winding’s beautifully serene face tightened ever so slightly as she hardened her resolve to do what she thought must be done. With a quick clean stroke she brought her katana down. Takeda Yoro’s head rolled away from his body and stopped looking face up at Kataashi Kikku. The spitting monk looked into the vacant eyes of the mutated Takeda as the red glow of undeath faded away to darkness and he considered his own possible future and dangerous dance with haitoku before quickly looking away and running off towards the Torii Gate as if to outrun fate itself.

Kataashi Kikku picked up the unconscious body of Miho Kasaki once more and began to furiously climb up the rope as fast as he could. Wei Tai tried to climb after him but found he was too overcome with exhaustion and did not have the strength. He waited at the bottom in hopes that he could be pulled up by Kataashi at the top. Kai Winding launched herself into the air and began flying straight up. She notched an arrow to her bow and let it fly towards the fast approaching adeddo-oni samurai. The arrow struck true. She called up to the Ikari Archers on top of the gate to focus their fire on the approaching adeddo-oni. Their arrows also began to pincushion the undead samurai. Subotai Korusu was exhausted but he knew what was at stake. He picked up the unconscious body of Wang Shu and tossed him over his shoulder. He ran to the rope to the right of the gate and began to climb carrying the yamabushi.

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Kataashi Kikku climbed like a man possessed. Despite carrying the weight of Miho Kasaki, he climbed with incredible speed leaving a trail of black smoke behind him as he ascended the rope. As he climbed Wei Tai tied the rope around himself and Kai and the archers riddled the approaching adeddo-oni samurai with arrows. As soon as Kataashi reached the top, he hurled Miho Kasaki onto the top of the wall. He took a deep breath of the clean air. Up this high, he was above the Mists of Akuma and was free of its foul stench. Kataashi quickly wrapped the rope around himself and called for the archer to do the same. Together they began hauling Wei Tai up the wall as fast as they could. Kai Winding let loose an arrow that finally silenced the adeddo-oni samurai at the bottom of the left rope.

But on the right side the adeddo-oni samurai jumped onto the rope and began to climb up after Subotai Korusu who was carrying Wang Shu. Subotai was stronger than Kataashi but not as fast up the rope as the monk. The undead samurai was gaining ground. Subotai looked down and saw the undead creature getting uncomfortably close. He looked up and saw the archer above trying to get a shot. Subotai yelled out for her to put away her bow and ready her sword to cut the rope as soon as he was up. He calmly continued climbing until he reached the top and tossed himself and Wang Shu over the side. The Ikari archer swung her sword and cut cleanly through the rope. The adeddo-oni samurai only about 20 feet from the top fell down and disappeared into the mists below.

Subotai Korusu looked across the way to see that Kataashi was still struggling with the surprisingly heavy Wei Tai. Wanting to help, the samurai ran around the top of the gate through the top of the gatehouse and saw 4 Ikari soldiers stationed at the their posts prepared to pour burning vats of coals down upon the adeddo-oni should they break through the gate. Subotai Korusu called out to them using his noble authority, commanding them to follow him and lend their strength to hauling up Wei Tai.

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Subotai’s short speech was quite convincing. Three of the four guards left their posts to lend him their aid. All of them came out and grabbed hold of the rope Kataashi was struggling with. Together they hauled Wei Tai up the rest of the way and got him to the top of the wall. Back on the other side of the Torii Gate, the Ikari archer took out a potion of healing and poured it down the throat of Wang Shu. The yamabushi leaped to his feet and thanked the Ikari solder as he ran over to help his friends. Kai Winding finally reached the top and landed gracefully next to everyone on top of the wall. One of the archers poured another healing potion down the throat of Miho Kasaki and she got to her feet as well. Subotai explained to Wang and Miho the fate of Takeda Yoro as they were escorted by the guards down to meet with Magistrate Lo Ban.

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As the party entered the richly decorated office of Magistrate Lo Ban, they saw the strange red haired pipe smoking woman, they had encountered previously. She was standing at Lo Ban’s desk speaking quietly to him. As the party approached, she left Lo Ban and walked in the opposite direction passing each party member and eyeing them as she smoked her pipe. As she passed Kataashi Kikku, she leaned in a little and knocked the monk back a step. Surprised, Kataashi saw her wink at him and then continue on. She tried the same thing with Wei Tai, but as she leaned in she bounced back a step. Her eyebrows raised quizzically as she continued past to stand in the back of the room with the Ikari guards.

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Magistrate Lo Ban cleared his throat and got everyone’s attention. He was a man that clearly took his station and his job very seriously. His official magistrate robes and hat were perfectly tailored and worn with nothing out of place. Lo Ban’s impeccably trimmed mustache and beard were just as sharp as his eyes and demeanor. He spoke with perfect diction and was clearly a man of much education and letters. His desk was littered with scrolls and papers sharing space with a beautiful calligraphy set of inks and brushes.

Lo Ban scanned the group. He began by explaining that he had been told of the party’s incredible bravery exhibited during their rear guard action. Their ability to hold the line enabled every single person in the trade caravan to reach the safety of the Torii Gate before being enveloped by the Mists of Akuma. He apologized that the gates could not be opened for them but it is the prefectures policy to seal the gates with shiranto sap whenever the Mists of Akuma roll in to prevent them from entering the keep itself. It may take many days for the Mists to recede. But once they do, the gates will be opened and the trade caravan will be allowed to enter Ikari prefecture and go on their way towards the city of Nagabuki.

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First Lo Ban asked Kai Winding to approach his desk. He asked for her to hand over her travel papers. He asked ‘Where are you from?’ She answered, ‘Satsujin prefecture’. The magistrate nodded his head while looking at her travel papers. Suddenly his calm demeanor became slightly alarmed. His eyes darted down to a different paper he had on his desk. With a flash he picked up that paper and slid it underneath some other papers out of view. He then straightened his official magistrate hat and composed himself back into a relaxed state and returned to looking at Kai’s travel papers as he continued his questions, ‘Where are you going?’ Kai replied, ‘Nagabuki City in Ikari prefecture.’ The magistrate nodded and said, ‘What is the purpose of your travel?’. Kai replied, ‘I am currently employed as a caravan guard and that is our final destination.’ Magistrate Lo Ban cleared his throat, looked up at Kai, and said, ‘Do you have any technology to declare?’ Kai shook her head and said, ‘no.’ The magistrate handed the travel papers back to Kai, smiled, and said, ‘Thank you Kai WInding. Ikari prefecture is always glad to welcome yamabushi to our prefecture. Please return to the others.’

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Kai bowed and moved gracefully back to the rest of the group. Magistrate Lo Ban called out the name of Subotai Korusu and asked him to come forward. Subotai approached and bowed formally. He handed over his travel papers with an eye to the more formal old ways of interacting with state officials. Lo Ban was clearly pleased by this and smiled as he reviewed Subotai’s travel papers. Subotai’s answers to the same exact questions were that he was from Korusu prefecture, was traveling to Nagabuki city, was employed as a caravan guard, and that he had no technology to declare. The magistrate declared Korusu a powerful and storied clan and that Ikari prefecture welcomed such a devoted noble son to its borders.

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Next the magistrate called Wang Shu to come forward and asked the same set of questions. Back in the group Kataashi Kikku seemed to be fidgeting and looking around very uncomfortably. Wang Shu replied to the same set of questions that he was from the forests of Sukochi prefecture. His destination is Nagabuki and he is going there as a caravan guard. He had no technology to declare. As the magistrate dismissed him, he complimented Wang Shu on his Yamabushi background and said that Ikari prefecture was lucky to have yet another yamabushi entering its territory. Lo Ban said it was his hope that you both could remove some of the horrible corruption that the Mists of Akuma had wrought this night.

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Next Wei Tai was asked to step forward. Magistrate Lo Ban asked Wei Tai to please remove his hat and his battle mask. He complied revealing a rather plain looking Soburi man underneath. He answered the magistrate’s questions saying that he was from Donyuko prefecture and traveling to Nagabuki City as a caravan guard. He had no technology to declare. Magistrate Lo Ban looked over Wei Tai’s travel papers, handed them back and finally asked Kataashi Kikku to step forward.

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Though everyone had seen Kataashi face down a huge Oni without an ounce of fear, they saw the monk walk slowly forward, his face completely pale as if he was walking to his execution. Lo Ban took the travel papers from Kataashi and looked them over. In answer to the questions, Kataashi said he was from Supai prefecture, was going to Nagabuki City, and had been hired by the Tanaka Trading Company as a caravan guard. When asked if he had any technology to declare, Kataashi said no. At this the magistrate looked up and stared at Kataashi for a moment. Lo Ban then looked over towards the red haired woman smoking her pipe in the back. The woman shook her head no. Lo Ban frowned and looked back down at the travel papers. He hastily handed them back to Kataashi and told him to be on his way.

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Magistrate Lo Ban’s guards accompanied the party back up to the top of the wall where they were led to the entire trade caravan who were set up on top of the wall safely above the Mists of Akuma. General Hu Ban thanked them for their service and said it was a great honor to have them under his command. Each party member’s dignity went up by 1 point and their haitoku went down by 1 point. Miho Kasaki took her leave and returned to her caravan guard patrol group. Wang Shu asked the general if a more comfortable accommodation could be made for their rest this night. The general ordered one of the wealthy merchants to give up his personal tent for the party to rest in. It was richly decorated with silk pillows and comfortable chairs laid out around a finely crafted table. Each party member sat down and Wang Shu led a discussion. He described to everyone that his skill as a yamabushi can be used to lower the corruption (haitoku) they all received with the exposure to the Mists of Akuma. He asked directly of Kataashi Kikku who was most visibly taken with a high haitoku, if he would permit Kai and himself to remove some of his corruption. Kataashi hesitated and replied that he was not sure. He stated flatly that he did not wish Takeda Yoro’s fate of turning into adeddo-oni. But he did like the power of the higher haitoku. His enhanced speed in particular. He stated he was not sure they would have made it through the mists if not for his enhanced speed.

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View
Arrival at the Torri Gate

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The hunchlings had overtaken Kataashi Kikku on the Imperial Road but he managed to fend off most of their viscous biting attacks. The rest of the party quickly stopped their running and rallied to fight off the adeddo-oni.

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But before they could get back to running West, 2 new figures sprinted out of the mist towards them. They looked like some sort of barbarians – scantily clad with huge bulging muscles and carrying very large hammers. But one was male and had blood dripping from his mouth.

The other barbarian was female and had red energy pouring from wounds all over her body. Her eyes glowed red with hate. They both were clearly adeddo-oni and hungered for the flesh of the living.

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The male barbarian adeddo-oni moved swiftly past Kataashi and engaged Miho Kasaki. The first hammer swing was parried with her katana but the second caught her full in the chest staggering her backwards. She coughed up some blood but got under her feet and fought on. The barbarian female leaped into the air and brought her huge hammer down squarely on the head of Takeda Yoro who crumpled beneath the viscous blow. The party fought back and managed to wound the two adeddo-oni but their efforts were partially undone by the creature’s regeneration. Not long after Miho also fell beneath the barbarian hammers.

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The party rallied and managed to fight their way to Miho and Takeda with Kai Winding using her spare the dying spell to stave their bleeding and bring them back from death’s door after 2 too many failed death saves. After the two adeddo-oni barbarians were finally felled, the party scrambled to come up with a way to carry their fellow caravan guards. Kataashi Kikku hoisted the limp body of Miho Kasaki up and over his shoulder. He was strong enough to only be encumbered while carrying her. And since he had the fastest speed, the encumbrance that slowed him by 10 feet per round was not as much of a problem. Wei Tai tried to lift Takeda Yoro in a similar fashion, however, the burly man was much heavier than the slim female. Plus he was decked out in very heavy full O-Yoroi armor. Deciding it would take too long to remove his armor and would be disgraceful to Takeda, Subotai Korusu, the strongest in the party, managed to hoist Takeda over his shoulder. The weight was barely under the maximum he could handle, which would have resulted in him being very slow with a 20 foot reduction in speed and disadvantage on exhaustion checks. So Wang Shu assisted by grabbing hold of Takeda’s body as well and aiding Subotai. This resulted in only a 10 foot reduction in speed and regular checks for exhaustion – a far superior scenario. So with Takeda sandwiched between them – Wang and Subotai started running West down the Imperial road towards the Torii gate.

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And so they ran west. Obstacles once more got in their way to slow them down – thick vegetation, hanging vines, oil on the road, a stampede of cattle, a maze of upended carts, falling tree branches and more threatened to slow them down. Even another run in with the panicked troop of monkeys tried to slow them down, but the party negotiated most of the obstacles successfully. The extra weight of their fallen comrades definitely slowed them down, however. Every minute was crucial because every passing minute brought further exposure to the Mists of Akuma and the marauding groups of adeddo-oni closer.

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The signal rockets went off again and they looked tantalizingly closer. Kataashi Kikku still carrying Miho Kasaki thought it best to sprint ahead and see if he could get help from the Torii gate. He moved very swiftly trailing wisps of black smoke behind him. Soon he began to hear the steady beat of large signal drums. He saw the first of several red torii gates loom out of the mist leading up to a large gatehouse. He turned his head back and yelled to his comrades who had fallen behind that he could see the Torii Gate. But he heard shouts of warning and battle. Wang Shu’s voice rose above the beating drums to shout that the adeddo-oni had caught up with them. Kataashi frowned. He looked to the safety of the gate to the west and then looked back into the mists to the east and sighed. He carefully placed the unconscious body of Miho Kasaki on the ground under the first Torii arch and sprinted back towards the sound of battle to the west.

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Kai Winding had purposefully slowed down to keep pace behind Subotai and Wang who were still carrying the heavy body of Takeda Yoro. The constant running had finally started to take its toll. Kai, Wei Tai, Wang, and Subotai had all fallen prey to the first level of exhaustion as their weary bodies were starting to fatigue. Kai was the first to see the small dark forms of the hunchlings running through the mists from behind them. She called out to warn the others and let loose an arrow from her bow. The adeddo-oni surrounded Kai. She managed to fend off most of their attacks but was bit on the leg by one of the creatures. Subotai and Wang Shu put down Takeda and moved to support Kai. Wei Tai also lurked in the shadows, hurling his kunai at the beasts.

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By the time Kataashi made it back to the group, the hunchlings had all been destroyed. Subotai and Wang Shu picked up the unconscious Takeda and everyone started running to the east again through the mists. Everyone could now hear the beating of the signal drums and it buoyed their spirits as they dug deep to just keep running.

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Finally the first of the red Torii gates and red laquered wood lanterns loomed out of the mists. Everyone could see the keep beyond and the large wall that marked the border of the Ikari prefecture. Kataashi scooped up the body of the fallen Miho who was right where he had left her. Everyone sprinted for the wall, but Kataashi and Kai got there first as the rest lagged behind. Wei Tai had pushed himself to the breaking point and was nearly incapacitated from exhaustion while Wang Shu and Subotai were still weighted down with the heavy body of Takeda Yoro. Kataashi got to the huge doors of the keep first and yelled, ‘open the doors! We are the caravan rear guard returning from holding the line!’ A voice yelled down from above, ’the gates have been sealed to prevent the Mists of Akuma from entering the keep. You must climb these ropes to get to the top of the walls. ’ Kataashi looked up at the 100 foot tall wall as two red ropes dangled down on either side. He then looked back at his comrades who were still moving to get to the wall. They were being chased by yet another group of 13 hunchlings who had managed to overtake and envelope the group. Kai Winding took the body of Miho and began flying straight up but the extra weight slowed her down tremendously. Her progress was too slow only flying 10 feet per round.

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View
The Race to the Torii Gate

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Readied attacks were unleashed at the approaching adeddo-oni samurai. Kunai, Yabakugi blasts, arrows, hurled axes, hurled spears, and sacred flames smashed into the oncoming monsters but hardly seemed to even slow them as they quickly moved in to the attack. Using what they had learned in previous battles, the party did well against the new foes. But they took many hits and were injured when out of the mists came a different kind creature.

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It was large with viscous claws, horns, and blue skin with mystical calligraphy characters tattooed all over its bare chest. It was clearly an Oni and it wasted no time unleashing an explosion of magic that created a huge ball of lightning engulfing Wang Shu, Subotai, Kataashi, Miho, and Takeda. Kataashi managed to somehow draw the lightning into his fists and protect himself somewhat from the damage. Miho and Takeda were bloodied but still up. Subotai and Wang Shu, however, went down under the blast of lightning.

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Wei Tai and Kataashi leaped into action smashing a flurry of kicks into the creature and burying multiple kunai into its body until it fell and moved no longer. Kai Winding managed to stop the bleeding and save Wang and Subotai but she had no more healing having used everything in the battle so far.

But suddenly the night was pierced by a myriad of tiny blue lights as glowing little butterflies came down out of the sky to land on Wang Shu. The bodies of the butterflies faded away as they seemed to melt into the fallen sorceror’s flesh, stitching it back together and washing away his wounds. Wang Shu bolted upright suddenly awake and got up off the ground. He said a prayer to Yuki Ikari, thanking the Kami for it’s gift of healing. Not long after another flight of butterflies landed on Subotai providing similar healing. He too thanked the Kami as he rose to his feet.

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The party closed ranks and looked westward again hoping against hope that the signal would come. The effects of the Mists of Akuma were taking their toll. Even Kai Winding, whose dignity was beyond reproach, began to feel her haitoku rising. But the worst, of course, was Takeda Yoro. He suddenly began to convulse and his skin erupted with a horrible physical mutation. His muscles bulged out in a sickening way leaving him stronger but horribly disfigured. It was difficult to look at him. Kataashi Kikku convinced Takeda to give up his weapons, fearful that the Mists would take him and completely turn him into adeddo-oni. But it seemed he was not that far gone yet. He took control of himself, took back his weapons and was able to fight off more hunchlings as they swarmed around the party trying to get past to cross the line. But none were able to cross as they were all cut down and smashed by kicks.

Finally, as if by some miracle, the signal rockets filled the sky to the west with bright red, green, and blue lights. Like fireworks they filled the skies and let loose a rumbling boom that rolled down across the valley. Everyone took off running westward down the Imperial road toward the Torii Gate. As they ran, Wang Shu moved his dancing lights to keep pace with them and Kai WInding held her light rock in front of her to light her way. But the mists swirled in and out making it very difficult to see and many were running at different speeds. Soon they were spread out along the road running as fast as they could, the howling sound of the hunchlings in hot pursuit.

Throughout the frantic chase obstacles loomed out of the mist to slow the party down. Kataashi Kikku found himself suddenly taking a wrong turn and running headlong into thick shrubbery at the side of the road. But with a powerful leap and flip, his acrobatic skill got him back onto the road to keep running. Wang Shu ran into an oil slick upon the Imperial Road. An urn of oil must have fallen from one of the caravan carts and shattered spilling oil over a section of the road. Wang Shu slipped on the oil and hit his head hard taking damage and falling prone. He managed to get up and continue running westward but had fallen behind. Wei Tai ran headlong into some low hanging vines. But using his exceptional dexterity was able to escape and get back onto the road. A large troop of monkeys, panicked by the Mists of Akuma, suddenly surrounded Miho Kasaki but she was able to use her animal handling skill to herd them safely out of the way and keep running. Subotai Korusu was surrounded by extremely thick Mists with the potential to blind him and slow him down, but he kept his course and trusted in his ancestors to guide him and managed to stay on the road.

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An abandoned cart loomed out of the mist directly in front of Kai Winding. Most would be forced to try and go around, slowing them down, but Kai leaped into the air and thrust her arms out wide and seemed to fly over the obstacle. She looked as light as a feather gliding effortlessly over the large cart to land gently and gracefully on the road beyond. Further on Kai spotted broken glass spread out over the road. It seemed a large number of glass bottles had fallen from one of the trade caravan carts in their haste to reach the safety of the Torii Gate. Again Kai spread her arms wide and seemed to take flight. The moonlight sparkled off her silver hair and flowing robes as they streamed behind her elegant lithe form. Further still Kai encountered a cattle stampede. A herd of cattle must have broken loose from the fleeing trade caravan and was stampeding out of the mists right for Kai. Again she held both arms wide and glided upwards into the sky as the crazed cattle stampeded below her. When the obstacle was behind her, she glided down to earth. Wang Shu remarked on how amazing it was that she was able to fly so many times. Her magic must be strong indeed.

Everyone was moving swiftly but the constant running was taking its toll. Most were beginning to tire and having to make constitution saves to ward off exhaustion. Thinking the pursuing adeddo-oni would soon be upon them, Kataashi Kikku held back. He was the fastest of the party but intentionally fell to the back of the group and looked back as his suspicions were confirmed. A group of 5 hunchlings emerged from the mists to overtake him and attack.

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View
Hold the Line!

As the last hunchling went still, the droning sound of Wang Shu’s warding wind spell continued to howl through everyone’s ears as the wind swirled around the party. It kept the murky Mists of Akuma at bay but also deafened everyone within its protective radius. Each party member gripped their weapons tightly and squinted desperately into the depths of the Mists trying to see what else was lurking towards them. Suddenly a swarm of crossbow bolts hurtled out of the Mists towards the group. The warding wind sent most of the bolts off course but a few of them made it past the wind barrier towards the group. Kataashi Kikku caught one of the bolts in his bare hand and with a flick of his wrist he sent the bolt flying back out into the Mists towards whoever fired it. Subotai Korusu cut another bolt out of the sky with his Katana before it could reach him. But Wang Shu let out a stifled cry as one of the bolts sunk into his thigh. Everyone looked with concern to Wang Shu as his concentration on the warding wind spell wavered for a moment but then continued unabated.

Six forms moved out of the Mist with terrifying speed. Black smoke trailed the creatures. They looked like Samurai. In fact they wore strong O-Yoroi armor and carried katana. But when looking closer, one saw their flesh was falling from their faces in the hideous tell tale fashion of the undead. These were once Soburi Samurai, but now they were clearly addeddo-oni Samurai with the taste for blood.

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The 6 addedo-oni samurai intelligently moved swiftly to flank Kataashi Kikku and Miho Kasaki. They each launched 2 deadly katana attacks – spilling party blood on the Imperial Road. Their gaunt lips smiled as hatred burned in their soulless eyes. Unlike the hunchlings, these creatures were much tougher and the wounds the creatures sustained faded away over time as they regenerated. As the party fought desperately to drive them off, another wave of 5 hunchlings ran out of the mist from the east towards them. Wang Shu was hurt again but managed to continue his hold on the warding wind spell.

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Suddenly a wild swing by one of the adeddo-oni samurai’s katana caught Kataashi Kikku under the arm and lodged in the monk’s chest. As the undead creature slowly pulled it free, it savored the river of red blood that poured from the deadly wound as Kataashi crumpled to a prone position with his life’s blood spilling out onto the Imperial Road. With a strange prideful swagger, the adeddo-oni Samurai stepped forward to stand over the fallen body of Kataashi and attack Wang Shu. It was almost as if the undead knew that Wang Shu was the only thing keeping the Mists of Akuma at bay with his warding wind spell and that they were purposefully trying to bring him down.

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But the wily young Yamabushi held his ground. Wang Shu fended off the attacks with his Calligraphy Staff and some well timed shield spells. Protected by the magic of a Sanctuary spell scroll, Kai Winding bravely maneuvered adjacent to the fallen Kataashi and brought him back to consciousness with her healing magic. Takeda Yoro also stepped up and brought his Odachi slashing down in a viscous swing across the addeddo-oni’s chest. The creature staggered back just enough for Kataashi to roll out from under its feet. The monk did an instant stand maneuver and leaped into the air letting loose a spinning wheel kick. His right foot smashed into the side of the undead samurai’s head caving it in and extinguishing the eerie red lights that served as its eyes. The addedo-oni that had taken him out fell to the ground at Kataashi’s feat. The monk took great satisfaction in stepping over its body to fill the gap and return the favor by standing in triumph over his fallen foe.

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The hunchlings swarmed in, a wild flurry of teeth and claws. Kai Winding stepped in front of two of them and intercepted their move to get to Wang Shu. The two hunchlings obliged Kai and tried to attack her. But in an almost inexplicable moment of incredulity they stopped and stared – entranced by Kai Winding’s beauty. Since Kai was their only possible target, the sanctuary ward compelled the hunchlings to suddenly become docile and enamored of Kai’s beauty and grace. They did not have the heart to actually attack her. But Kataashi Kikku and Takeda Yoro had the heart to attack them as they unleashed viscous attacks, cutting down the hunchlings and smashing them down.

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Miho Kasaki and Subotai Korusu maneuvered expertly around the battlefield complimenting one another with flanking positions on their enemies. Miho slashed her katana across her undead foes with her right hand and thrust her piercing spear with her left hand. Subotai was using his mighty ancestral katana, Yabakugi, to great effect scoring massive hits on the adeddo-oni samurai and unleashing devastating blasts of radiant energy from his smite attacks. The undead seemed to shrink away from the radiant attacks and be really hurt by them. Wei Tai stayed at the periphery of the warding wind hampered by its effects on his hurled kunai and often opting to use his Katana instead with advantage to launch deadly sneak attacks.

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Finally the last of the adeddo-oni were destroyed. Wang Shu had successfully made many saves and kept his warding wind going, but it would not last forever. Everyone kept looking up towards the western horizon hoping to see the bright light of the rockets that would release them from their duty of holding the line. So far no adeddo-oni had crossed the line, but Wang Shu could hold his warding wind for only so long. Eventually the spell faded away, the warding winds died down to nothing , an eerie silence descended upon the Imperial Road, and the Mists of Akuma slithered slowly in to caress each party member in a corrupting embrace.

The urge to flee was strong but each character stoically maintained their position and held the line for many minutes feeling the Fel effects of the mists beginning to take hold. Each began making dignity saves to resist the corrupting effects of the mists. Most fared well, their high dignity saving them. Others such as Takeda Yoro and Kataashi Kikku began to feel their haitoku increase. Takeda seemed to take the worst of it, failing every single save and his haitoku going very high. When he would draw his Odachi, a loud thunderclap would be unleashed. And Takeda’s form would seem to stretch and distort to make him look much larger and more powerful than he really was. But around the edges faint shadowy horns and other disturbing visual effects were noted by an increasingly worried rest of the party.

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But then out of the mists came 3 more adedddo-oni samurai demanding everyone’s attention.

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