Omar, Kenshin and Takeshi have made their report on the former jade mine; the mysterious caverns and reservoir below the mine; and the zokujin and nosloks. The Crab leaders would disbelieve the entire account, were some of their own Hiruma scouts not present to witness it. They need time to review the information. The three bushi are ordered to take a short holiday from adventuring, and remain in Shinsei’s Last Hope pending further questioning.
This directive is a relief. The bushi will not admit it but they need the down-time. Kenshin and Omar recover quickly from their minor wounds. Takeshi requires more time. Fortunately a healer is assigned to him, so the disabled bushi’s convalescence is shortened.
In his off-time, Kenshin asks around at the gate. No one has seen any sign of the twenty mounted ronin and their leader, nor does anyone seem all that interested in the topic. It is most likely that they have earned their place in the Crab Clan and moved on, with no need to remain in Shinsei’s Last Hope any longer.
Watching the activity at the gate, with ronin bands returning with goblin heads and others on the march into the Shadowlands, Omar and Kenshin realize that their time in Shinsei’s Last Hope is drawing near its end. They and Takeshi have achieved their goal and won admission to the Crab Clan. Other ronin of their original band, and their blacksmith, have as well. Tensi is already a member of the Wasp Clan. Akihiro, Huni, and their shugenja associate are still short of their goal.
After two days, the Crab scouts recall the three bushi for further questioning. The information provided in their initial report must have been troubling, for this time the Crab officers interrogate each bushi individually. The interrogators are grim, intimidating, accusatory. For an hour they grill each bushi on the specifics and details of their story, looking for contradictions or deception. Kenshin takes no offense and offers up answers with his usual complete honesty. Omar banters with his interrogator but it is good-natured. Takeshi gives as much surly as he gets.
The Crab ask if the bushi believe flooding their lair permanently ended the nefarious plans of the nosloks. Omar is doubtful. Takeshi is certain the answer is No. Kenshin is optimistic and believes that the flooding certainly constitutes a major setback to whatever the nosloks were up to. The interrogations end with that question.
No sooner back at their barracks than the group of ronin and former-ronin receive their marching orders. Their company is to return to Crab Lands. Their destination is a place called The Razor’s Edge. The induction ceremony to the Moshibaru family will be conducted there. After that, the samurai will be permitted to train at their chosen School.
There is little time to pack, but the bushi have little to pack. A Crab War Band is forming to make the perilous trek through hostile territory from Shinsei’s Last Hope to the Wall and Crab lands beyond. The bushi pause a moment to take in a last look at what had been their home here. Then they hustle off to the assembly area.
A Crab War Band is an impressive sight. Experienced Crab samurai in heavy armor assemble in tactical ranks. Several companies of shugenja mass at the center of the column, flanked by archers and mounted bushi. Wagons loaded with equipment stand ready, sides armored and mounted with more archers. Scouts on horseback jostle at the perimeter, as spearmen and shock troopers fill the gaps. Takeshi spots a familiar face among the shugenja sheltered in the crowd; it is venerable Kuni Yutagi. The other shugenja do not seem pleased that Yutagi is among them. Yutagi is blissfully unaware of their discomfort.
Takeshi, Kenshin and Omar find a position and take cues from the Crab militiamen. Attendants filter through the crowd, providing War Band members with slivers of jade to protect them from the harmful influence of the Shadowlands. Those who do not possess quality weapons are also offered powdered-jade oil; applied to weapons before combat, it will overcome the damage reduction of oni.
The War Band marches out of Shinsei’s Last Hope. For Takeshi, Omar, and Kenshin it is a time of triumph in their accomplishments here. For Akihiro, Huni, and their shugenja associate, leaving Shinsei’s Last Hope without meeting their goal of winning admission to a family only underscores the uncertainty of their future.
Within an hour of departure, a menacing swarm of flying oni circles the sky above the War Band. Crab archers watch them carefully; taking shots at any that dip close to the company.
Hours later, Crab scouts return to the War Band. An army of zombies heads their way. Not the sort to avoid a fight, the Crab commander orders the band to ready for war. When the zombie swarm appears with their oni allies, Mass Combat begins.
Kenshin, Omar, and Takeshi begin at Engaged. One of the Crab shugenja bestows a Fire spell upon Kenshin; the virtuous bushi is covered in a protective coating of magic flames.
Quickly dispatching a wave of zombies, Takeshi and Kenshin move up to Heavily Engaged status. In response, some bizarre type of oni, a hulking mass of muscle and teeth, charges them. Kenshin pauses a moment then delivers a fire-enhanced katana strike so devastating that it kills the oni in one shot.
Another oni of the same variety takes its place. Takeshi batters it with his tetsubo and Kenshin kills it. More zombies harass them. These are easy to cut down.
As the rank-and-file bushi battle the zombie hordes and their oni lieutenants, the enemy’s commander makes itself seen. Clad head to foot in heavy black armor, this dark general watches from atop a hideous demonic mount.
At the peak of the fighting, this Shadowlands commander is drawn into magic combat by Kuni Yutagi. Yutagi’s zealous attack on the evil commander sparks recollection in Kenshin and Takeshi. They have seen this confrontation before. Kuni Yutagi had been fighting this very same dark entity when the party first encountered the legendary Crab shugenja. This time, the Kuni spellcaster clearly intends to finish the fight.
Spells and counter-spells of staggering power flash between the paragons of Light and Dark. Yutagi gains the advantage; the dark general attempts to retreat. The commander is cast down and exploded into thousands of tiny fragments.
The momentum is well on the Crab side. This battle is in their hands. Omar moves up to Heavily Engaged status, displaying his prowess with a spear. Many zombies wind up in pieces by his skill.
The battle is ended. The victorious bushi set to clearing the battlefield, burning the zombie and oni corpses. The human side has lost only a few of its men. Archers keep vigil over the few oni still circling high above, not yet resigned to their defeat.
The War Band reforms, and sets off at forced march for the Wall. For two days and nights the Crab company presses on, fighting paltry knots of plague zombies along the way. The Wall looms ahead. Digging deep into their stamina reserves, the War Band reaches a gate at the Wall. The War Band passes into unblemished Crab lands. Here the exhausted company may rest.
(end Part 19)