Four bushi loiter on a path to certain doom, engaged in conversation with the Ratling scout.
The curiously protective Ratling has imparted three important facts to the party: Visiting the oni pit would be a very, very bad idea. No ronin, including the band of twenty mounted bushi and their leader, are dead at the oni pit. And, a particular goblin shugenja has been taunting and waylaying their group for weeks now.
The party plots ways to turn the tables on the goblin shugenja. There are few viable options. This pesky goblin holds the advantages of anonymity, stealth and concealment, and home turf here in the Shadowlands.
Huni, Tensi, Takeshi and Kenshin offer workable ideas to ambush or otherwise draw out their quarry. Takeshi’s suggestion to scout the late Sea Troll’s marsh for concealing terrain sounds best. The party parts company with the Ratling scout and travels to the ravine. On the way, Kenshin thinks he sees something following them.
In the canyon, the party sets camp as night fast approaches. This time Kenshin definitely does spot someone; two human scouts, camouflaged on the crest of the ravine, watching. The bushi quietly informs his associates but does nothing to call attention.
The next morning, the group follows the ravine floor past the mine entrance. Again, on the cliffs above, Kenshin notices two more scouts, hidden and watching. This time the bushi makes no mention to anyone. The mine entrance itself is as before, open and silent.
Coming out of the ravine at its far end, the party is startled by a sudden noise behind them. Three Crab Hiruma scouts have emerged from hiding. When the bushi greet the scouts, the Hiruma Leader berates the party for having trespassed in the ravine. Crab Clan leaders in Shinsei’s Last Hope declared the canyon and the mine off-limits to ronin.
The party explains that they had not heard this decree. The Hiruma Leader swordsman accepts the misunderstanding. He supposes there may have been a reason this party was not warned away from coming here. The other scouts, archers designated Hiruma-2 and Hiruma-3, exchange looks.
Takeshi suggests that his group could investigate the mine and see if there is anything new. The Hiruma agree, and will accompany Takeshi and Kenshin. This group of five bushi, less Tensi and Huni, returns to the mine entrance and ventures in.
When the light from outside is gone, the Hiruma scouts hand out magical glow-rods. Two of these are lit, providing a decent light source that will last a couple hours.
Reaching the tunnel junction, this time the party elects to take the right-hand path. This way proves a mirror-image of the route they followed last time, ending at another elevator shaft. Here, however, the cranking machinery to raise the platform is in much better shape. Only one bushi need operate the pulleys. The platform rises up from the darkness.
All five bushi make the five-minute descent on the platform. Contrary to expectations, the air grows colder as the platform drops deeper and deeper under earth. At the shaft’s base, the party estimates they are 500-2000 feet below their point of origin.
The elevator has delivered them to the shore of an underground lake. The glow sticks do not provide light out past fifty feet. Searching around, the party finds they are on a stalagmite island, with only the elevator base and a small stone pier above the still lake’s surface.
The pier is empty except for a pedestal near the water’s edge. It holds a metal horn, possibly meant to call a boat. None of the party touches it.
Takeshi takes a shovel from his pack and slaps the water with it. The sound is shockingly loud in this still place. He watches the disturbance spread off on the water, into the darkness beyond their light. The ripples do not return. The opposite shore is not close.
Below the surface, the water is murky and dark. Takeshi pokes at it to gauge depth, finding that the lakebed slopes off into the deep after only a few feet. However, he finds one curious spot where the water is only a few inches deep. This shallow area is three or four feet wide. Chancing to step onto this submerged ledge, Takeshi prods further and discovers a walkway that stretches away from the pier, only a few inches under the surface.
Kenshin and Hiruma-2 follow Takeshi as he carefully advances along the sunken pathway. At 150 feet from shore, he is still finding solid walkway. Then, after 350 feet of travel, the bushi reach the lake’s far shore. Here they find another pier. Beyond it, a tunnel into the cavern wall. Warm breathes out of this tunnel.
Kenshin lights a lantern to signal the other Hiruma to follow. This bright light attracts two Trolls from the eerie lake. The three bushi fight the creatures. Takeshi kills both trolls. The party heals up when the other Hiruma arrive, then venture into the tunnel.
The tunnel widens after 30 feet and then promptly forks. The party takes the right-hand path. The air grows warmer. The tunnel curves and gently descends for 500 feet. It opens into a very big and very long cavern. Unlike the tunnel, the cavern walls are natural and have not been worked by tools. A bioluminescent lichen provides ample light.
There is a nasty-smelling pit nearby. The party takes a look then moves on past the stench. They spot a crag, which is covered by an underground forest of strange trees and giant mushrooms. More unusual is the small stone house that sits near it. Something intelligent lives in these tunnels and caverns. The bushi approach cautiously. There is no light showing from inside the dwelling.
Inside, the party finds the house unfurnished and otherwise unoccupied. In a back corner room of the structure they find a dead, green-colored humanoid – a Zokujin. Its blood is everywhere, a result of what appears to have been torture. The Hiruma scouts are incensed at the sight, but will not say why.
Exiting the stone house, the party follows a pathway into the strange subterranean forest. At regular intervals along this path, they cannot miss wooden stakes displaying the severed heads of more zokujin.
At the end of the grim path the bushi come upon a second stone house. This one has light inside. Quietly peeking in the doorway, the party sees two red, horned creatures – Nosloks. These creatures are nailing a half-dead zokujin to the wall.
Without hesitation the bushi rush and attack the nosloks. From another room two more nosloks and their much larger leader crowd in to join the melee. The Hiruma scouts fight fiercely, and Kenshin and Takeshi do their part.
With courage and skill, the human bushi win the fight. The five nosloks lay scattered where they fell, dead and still. Kenshin and Takeshi hurry to free the dying zokujin so that the Hiruma Leader may use his healing skills and hopefully save the green creature’s life…
(end Part 17)