The party wakes in their barracks with a renewed sense of optimism. Takeshi and Kenshin have met their objective in the 20-Goblin Winter challenge. They await news from the Crab hierarchy, regarding their induction to the Moshibaru family. Akihiro and Tensi are eager to win the same glory. The unnamed shugenja, too, feels today will be a good day.
The party leaves Shinsei’s Last Hope. Their pace on horseback is slowed by Tensi, who walks. The destination is the treacherous ravine; in particular, its cave. Kenshin’s sensei had called the cave a jade mine. This interests the party.
The bushi return to the narrow crevice by sunset. They scout the ravine floor and find a suitable spot to camp. The site is sheltered and defensible from all sides, except from above. Akihiro lights a lantern, and the party sets watch.
The night passes. In the morning, the group hides their horses at a secluded spot in the ravine, and cautiously approaches the cave mouth. Even by daylight, it is difficult to see any distance into the cave.
The party strikes flame to lanterns, and ventures inside. The cave is narrow for the first hundred feet, soon widening to seventy-five feet across. The bushi discover four parallel sets of mine-cart tracks. One set is in much better shape than the others are. It was recently used.
The four tracks lead deeper into the mine, then split – two tracks lead left, two tracks lead right. The active rail line bears left. The party follows this one. Beyond the junction, it runs slightly down grade for about five hundred linear feet. Cautiously the bushi follow its path. There is silence beyond those noises the party generates as they walk.
Abruptly, the rails end at a vertical shaft. This wide pit has the squared sides of a mine elevator. Takeshi finds a pulley system. He and the others strain to work it. Exerting themselves for five minutes brings a large platform up out of the dark abyss.
Tensi and Takeshi believe it a very bad idea to take this elevator down to its lowest destination. They describe the grave tactical folly that such a plan could realize. Akihiro debates this but cannot convince anyone to take his side.
Tensi runs his hand across the mine tunnel walls. He is allergic to copper, and if the wall contains that mineral ore, he will have a reaction. Nothing happens to him. Tensi concludes that this jade mine is not a copper mine.
The shugenja of their group decides to commune with an Earth spirit. He is able to ask it three questions. To the question of if the mine below is actively being mined, he receives an affirmative. To the question of the number of miners, he is given a reply that there are many who “wound the earth” down below. As to what mineral is being mined, the Earth spirits cryptically suggest that the “blood of the earth” is the treasure sought after.
The mine is not a healthy place. Kenshin and Akihiro both acquire a point of Shadowlands Taint, simply by being here. Retreating to daylight, the party sets an ambush outside the cave mouth. They suspect that whoever is mining deep under earth is bringing their haul to the surface to be carried off by associates. Strangely, there is no evidence outside the cave of any tracks, cart trails, or other means of conveyance.
Hours pass and nothing leaves the mine. The party grows restless. Realizing they have not walked the entire length of the ravine, they discontinue the ambush and go exploring.
The ravine floor leads them to the far end of the canyon. Here, the slope rises to within sight of the same marsh where the Sea Troll was defeated.
Following the crest of the ravine, looking for any trails leading up and out of the defile, the party encounters a flying creature. It is a minor oni, a Nairu. The creature looks like a primate, 9-10 feet tall, with many arms and two large wings. It lets out a shriek, and swoops down to attack.
For the first several rounds, the creature strikes with flyby attacks, staying out of melee range after making its move. Tensi pesters it with arrows. Takeshi hits it soundly, and Kenshin follows that with a targeted strike that almost severs one of the creature’s wings.
Takeshi sees his chance, and grapples the Nairu. It overpowers him, and throws the bushi toward the ravine. Takeshi is able to grab on and stop himself from sliding over the cliff edge and into a nasty fall.
Wounded and unable to fly effectively, the Nairu is now a much easier target. Kenshin’s attacks whittle it down long enough for Tensi to choose the correct type of arrow to wound and kill it. The bushi archer gladly decapitates the creature and takes its head.
Moving on, the party finds the spot where the goblin heads were re-buried. Kenshin and Takeshi sit back and let their ronin associates dig around for the cache. Unfortunately, too much time and decomposition have passed. The heads are now a completely rotted, gooey mess. Neither Takeshi nor Akihiro may recover them.
The party has gathered important information about the former jade mine and its unexpectedly active state. This news must get to Crab scouts in Shinsei’s Last Hope. The party returns for its horses, and sets out for the town.
As they travel into the night, they are ambushed. The very ground itself reaches up and grabs the party’s horses, immobilizing them. A disembodied voice demands that the bushi surrender all heads they carry, or be killed. Each bushi in turn admits that he carries no heads; except Tensi, who attempts to bluff a claim that he too is empty-handed.
The party is punished with arrows and an explosive magical fireball. The horses are badly injured, and the party is halfway dead. Tensi is very nearly killed in the attack, surviving only by divine intervention. He falls comatose.
Takeshi and Kenshin’s hastily admit Tensi’s deception, and surrender the Nairu head in exchange for the party’s safe passage away from here. The two bushi carry the unconscious archer with them as they hurry away. The party suspects they know who has robbed them.
It takes twelve hours to return to Shinsei’s Last Hope. True to their duty, the party finds the Crab scouts and inform their leader of the discovery at the mine. The scout leader is very concerned. He knows of that mine and was assured it was cleared and sealed up a long time ago. That it is active again, and in the hands of unknown Shadowlands agents, is troubling news.
(end Part 15)