The party sleeps a comfortable night in Shinsei’s Last Hope.
Early the next morning, the group is roused and told to assemble at the Commander’s tent. At this staging area the bushi wait; Akihiro, Kenshin, Takeshi, Tensi, HUNI (played by Q.D.), and their quiet associate (played by T.D.)
The commander of the Crab garrison makes his appearance. He has made this speech many times, and will make it many more. He addresses the new arrivals, grimly welcoming them to the 20-Goblin Winter test.
The commander speaks of two rules – the first is to stay alive; the second, to bring back heads. Those ronin seeking admission to a Crab family will be credited for each head turned in. Goblin heads count as one each. Certain other creatures, such as ogres, count as two or possibly more. Bushi already members of a Clan will instead be paid for their trophies.
The commander is finished. He leaves. The party will waste no time. They plan to leave immediately and explore the Shadowlands. The ronin intend to travel on foot.
Departing the outer gate of Shinsei’s Last Hope, the party travels east. They follow the valley floor for a distance and then choose a path leading up the north slope.
At the crest the see before them the brown, withered expanse of the Shadowlands. Rolling hills and open plains offer little encouragement. The group decides to travel north. This close to the valley, they expect the hunting to be sparse.
They find nothing of interest in the first hour. Then, behind the group, Akihiro and Kenshin both spot something or someone following them. Quietly alerting the others, the group stops and sets eyes to the land behind them. They see nothing. Walking back to where they saw the shape, the party scouts the general vicinity but comes up empty. They continue on.
When that distraction is forgotten, the group spots a disturbance ahead. A good distance away, headed toward and past them, there appears to be a number of squat creatures running in a pack. The horde is moving too quickly and at an odd angle to the party’s heading so interception is not possible. None of the bushi see what the creatures were.
The group turns north-west. Takeshi builds a stone cairn every hour of travel to mark the way back to Shinsei’s Last Hope. That valley is otherwise lost behind the low hills of the Shadowlands.
A set of tracks crosses their intended path. The ronin decide to follow them. The tracks lead near to a curious place. It is a flat, open area of brown grassland. In several places, broad circles of bare dirt have vines growing at their centers. Around these vines are many skeletons. The bushi keep their distance from the edge of these circles.
On the far side of the nearest vine patch, the bushi spot an Ogre. Drawing weapons, the humans are noticed. The Ogre ducks into a cave below ground level.
As the bushi carefully trace the perimeter of the vine patch in pursuit of the Ogre, a squad of goblins surprises them from behind ! Several of these goblins have slings. They hurl stones at the party. Among the goblins are a leader and a shaman.
The humans and goblins clash in melee combat. Kenshin kills a goblin. Tensi fires arrows into the shaman. Takeshi slays the goblin he is fighting.
The shaman casts a spell. Those arrows Tensi fired into him suddenly continue their trajectory, striking the shaman’s goblin allies behind him. When Tensi hits the shaman with more arrows, the goblin spellcaster does it again. This time, a goblin ally behind him is slain.
Huni, looking to impress his allies and gain Glory in battle, sees a narrow opening in the battle line. Despite wearing Heavy armor and not being agile, Huni throws himself headlong into a tumble and attempts to elegantly dive through the combat. He fails in spectacular fashion.
The Ogre has reappeared. As the bushi spot him, they are distracted and do not notice that a sizable boulder has just dropped out of the sky and flattened the goblin shaman. The Ogre moves uncomfortably close to Tensi. Tensi withdraws slightly. He is unsure of the Ogre’s motivation.
The battle takes an unexpected turn. The goblins douse themselves with oil, and are set ablaze by their leader. Kenshin does not know what to make of this. He fells another goblin with his katana, taking fire damage in return. Huni suffers damage several times and falls unconscious.
Takeshi’s aim is true and his heart set to the fight. He kills another goblin. Inspired, Akihiro weaves and strikes and kills his goblin foe. The Ogre launches a boulder at the goblin leader, flattening it. The Ogre has not yet attacked the humans.
Their numbers depleted, the three remaining goblins retreat. Tensi sends arrows to follow. One drops. Soon the goblins are out of range, leaving only the Ogre to fight.
The Ogre, however, just looks disappointed and annoyed. It asks, either as an accusation or invitation, “You come to MY house…?” His Rokuganese is flawless.
That said, the Ogre turns and lurches back towards the entrance of his underground dwelling. He passes the vines without incident, and disappears from sight as before.
The party ponders the Ogre’s words. Consensus is that the Ogre meant them as an invitation and not an indictment. Those warriors who slew goblins collect their heads. Treading lightly, the bushi enter the barren earth circles and pass the vine clusters. The deadly plants do not move. The group finds the entrance to the Ogre’s domain. The Ogre, Takeshi suspects as they enter the cave, is a Free Ogre – a far more rational and intelligent creature than others of his kind.
Four flights of carved stone stairs lead the group down, into a forty-by-forty-foot room. It is a well-maintained and comfortable space. The Ogre is here waiting. He was displeased that the humans led goblins to this place. But the goblins are dead or in retreat, so he can forgive the offense.
The Free Ogre offers this room for the party to rest the night. Wounded and in need of rest, the party takes the offer.
(end Part 9)