In the morning, Kenshin wakes with more questions for Selekic about the Kenku Swordsman School. He discovers that his new sensei left in the night. But the ronin bushi is not worried; he knows where to go to continue his training.
The night passed peacefully. In fact, Takeshi, Kenshin, Anou and Sakamoto had an excellent rest, much better than they would have expected in the Shadowlands outside the safety of Shinsei’s Last Hope.
The bushi discuss their options. From Selekic’s description of the old jade mine, and where they are now, the party realizes they may only be a two-hour ride from the dangerous ravine and the buried trove of goblin heads. The party decides to check out the mine and retrieve the heads.
Leading their ponies down from the mesa, the group experiences a strange sensation.
When they mount up at the bottom and ride back to the main road, none of the bushi can say for sure where they spent last night. They recall Selekic, and Kenshin remembers his training, but the memory of where the “named” village was is completely gone. Some magic effect has altered their memory.
At the main road, the party turns southeast. The land grows hilly. Parallel to their route, the party notices a stream. The stream leads from the hills and mesas into flatlands, where it broadens into a marsh. A firm path winds along the edge of the wetlands.
After an hour of riding at the periphery of the swamplands, the party realizes that they must correct their course. To do this, they must leave firm ground and cut across part of the marsh.
The ground is soft and wet but not impassable. Half an hour in, Kenshin spots something up ahead. About five hundred yards away, he can barely make out a two-legged creature. This creature is moving through water deeper into the marsh. At this distance it is difficult to determine its size or intentions.
The party dismounts to reduce their visibility to the creature. As they do, fifteen eels slither out of water holes in the ground and attack. The party does not have much difficulty in defeating them.
Looking back in the direction of the creature, Kenshin urgently reports that the large humanoid heard the fight and saw them. It is now headed their way, at a great rate of speed, and with hostile intent.
Anou and Sakamoto string their bows, and hold arrows until the massive creature is within range. The creature moves with uncanny ease in these wetlands. It stands eighteen feet tall, and carries a sword half its height. The party does not know it yet, but this creature is a Troll.
The colossal creature finally splashes to within melee range. At the sight of the towering wall of fury, Kenshin is shaken with Fear. He adopts a Full Defensive stance as his allies encircle the troll and make their attacks.
Anou has dropped his bow in favour of a tetsubo. He and Takeshi engage the creature’s flanks while Kenshin draws its attacks. Kenshin’s Honour is strong and he is able to shake off the effects of the Fear. Sakamoto continues firing arrows.
The fight is daunting and brutal. Two massive hits against Kenshin have Crippled the brave bushi. He has kept the troll’s attention away from the others. Anou almost manages to Trip the mountainous foe, before he kills it with a spectacular blow. This finishes the work started by Sakamoto’s volleys of arrows.
The ronin scatter as the gargantuan creature crashes dead to the soft marsh. Anou is caught beneath its corpse but is rescued by his allies.
Takeshi attends to Kenshin, healing him back to merely an Injured state. Anou and Sakamoto behead the creature and fashion a way to cart this trophy back with their ponies.
The ronin search the dead creature’s possessions. It carried a large sack, mostly filled with junk and bones. Among the trash, they find seventeen koku coins, as well as what looks to be some metal armor-leggings. There is also something wrapped in cloth; it is a “naked” katana blade, forged and sharpened but without its wrapped grip or hilt. Takeshi also finds a strand of what might be a monk’s prayer beads.
Taking these treasures and the creature’s head, the party continues in the direction of the ravine. A creek joins them. It leads them out of the marshlands, eventually broadening and thinning to the point where the dry earth soaks in all that the creek feeds it. Kenshin and Takeshi are amazed to discover that this stream led directly to one end of the treacherous ravine, now right before them.
It is a challenge to find exactly where the goblin heads were buried. The two bushi have a difficult time locating them. Sakamoto and Anou watch for interlopers or ambush. When the heads are finally unearthed, their stench is overpowering. Kenshin barely retains his Honour, swallowing back the urge to throw up.
Takeshi and Kenshin debate the proper course of action. Both bushi intend to carry back their personal take of goblin heads. Shosuro Yama left for good, abandoning claim to his modest haul of heads and neither Kenshin nor Takeshi would even consider taking them.
This leaves the question of heads won by Tensi and Akihiro, neither of whom are present. Takeshi has no interest in carrying back those trophies; it is not his chore. Kenshin refuses to contribute to his allies’ Dishonour by bringing back their goblin heads. The virtuous bushi believes that doing so would corrupt his associates’ honesty and duty in their 20-Goblin Winter test.
Ultimately, Takeshi and Kenshin re-bury Akihiro and Tensi’s trophies. They will accompany their allies back to this spot another time so those two absent bushi may bring their own hard-won goblin heads back to town.
Takeshi leads the ride back to Shinsei’s Last Hope. Initially he takes the most direct route he can navigate, and they ride for twenty minutes. At the last second remembers a danger and diverts their course. The bushi recalled the warning about a site ahead, where the twenty ronin and their charismatic leader were headed to fight something of significant threat.
As the ronin again avoid the area, they hear an unearthly screeching sound in that direction. This time, Kenshin has no interest in investigating.
The party returns to Shinsei’s Last Hope. They pass the entrance gates without a problem. Kenshin does not realize it, but his adventuring in the Shadowlands has finally caught up with him. He has acquired a single point of Shadowlands Taint, at present only a miniscule drop of corruption in his otherwise virtuous soul. If left unchecked, this corruption may grow.
The party queues for the counting table. Takeshi and Kenshin turn in their putrid haul of rotting goblin heads. The Crab clerk gives them a look of distaste, but still accepts the trophies towards each ronin’s tally. It is when Sakamoto and Anou turn in the colossal creature’s head that there is controversy.
The Crab clerk takes one look at the creature’s head, and calls over a Crab officer. The Crab officer immediately summons the ranking Crab commander.
The Crab commander inspects the head, asking sharp questions of the four ronin. Takeshi and Kenshin freely admit they assisted in the slaying of this creature – though Kenshin merely acted as distraction and it was Anou and Sakamoto who made the kill.
The commander informs the ronin that this creature was an O-Umi-Bozu; a giant Sea Troll. Shinsei’s Last Hope was aware of one such creature, out of place in the Shadowlands but nonetheless a deadly threat in a marsh south of here. The commander is in disbelief that only these four ronin killed it. But the evidence is before him.
The four ronin are floored by what happens next. The Crab commander declares their remaining head-count satisfied. Takeshi, Anou, Sakamoto, and Kenshin have all passed the test of the 20-Goblin Winter.
The Crab commander tells the stunned former-ronin that they will be notified when they will be formally inducted into the MOSHIBARU Family, as vassal of the Crab Clan. Staggering away from the counting table, shock giving way to elation, the four bushi are overwhelmed by their unbelievable good fortune.
They return to their barracks, and share the good news with the blacksmith. The four bushi assist with the forge while he completes a sword. This laborious task completed, Takeshi and Kenshin show the blacksmith their finds from the troll’s possessions.
The smith examines the armour pieces, and appraises them as part of the same set as Takeshi’s helmet. These leggings will require some modification to fit the bushi, but will compliment his helm perfectly.
The “naked” sword is a very old, very fine work of art. It is a Kaiu blade, an unbreakable and devastatingly sharp weapon. The blacksmith needs a quick five minutes to dismantle the handle of Kenshin’s old, worn katana and swap it to the Kaiu blade. When the Kaiu blade is complete, the blacksmith effortlessly cleaves a stone block and iron ingot with it. The sword shows no blemish from the cut. Kenshin gratefully adopts it as his new blade.
Sakamoto and Anou have already left the barracks to engage in revelry. Kenshin accompanies Takeshi to the Temple district. Takeshi wants to find out more about the prayer beads found in the troll’s possessions. Kenshin needs healing. Both bushi are eager to celebrate tonight. They have realized a major accomplishment.
(end Part 14)