The next morning the six young samurai awoke for the last time together as a group of six. Once they were all assembled at the front gate, Kitsu Kasau made his fareiells. Kitsu gave the crystal tear they had found from the Ronin pirate captain to Shinjo to take care of and told them all to send him a letter if there was anything he could do to help. He would probably be arriving in the Lion lands only a week or so ahead of them and would do his best to prepare for their arrival. With that the caravan started on its way south towards Shiden Asahina while Kitsu would be boarding a boat headed north.
The caravan spent the next four days going thru rolling hills, rice fields and spattering of bamboo forests that are the trademark of the Crane coast. Once again in the Crane lands the roads were well patrolled and maintained with wayhouses at strategic traveling spots along the way. Although they encountered several groups of Daidoji soldiers moving north they were not stopped and were left alone. In the mid-afternoon on the fourth day they reached Oni Mura. A few were curious about the strange name of the village and Isawa explained that a rampaging oni had passed thru here a few years ago and had been finally killed within the village proper. It had left behind a small tainted area with the village proper but not enough to actually corrupt any of the food, water or people from the village. Now none lived inside the village proper but in the outskirts of the village in farm homes. Because of this they stayed with the village magistrate, an older samurai who scoffed at the superstitions that the village was haunted and tainted.
Once their gear was stored and they had eaten a small meal Isawa said he was going to go to sleep early and for them to try to stay out of trouble, as unlikely as such a wish would seem over the last couple months. Once he was gone Shosuro proposed going to check out the supposedly haunted village as she was quite interested to see if she could actually see any ghosts. One by one the rest of the party reluctantly agreed to accompany her except Shinjo, who stayed firm in his wish not to go no matter the effect such a cowardly decision would have on his honor. He would await their return here and wished them luck.
The four samurai gathered their things and set off for the old village proper. It didn’t take them long to arrive and they slowly explored. A lot of the buildings were damaged by fire and even a few places where it looked like giant claws had ripped thru the building. Near the center of town they found a strange small pile of jade which upon examination Kakita explained that it was the leftover effects of either a Jade Strike or Tomb of Jade spell. Both the spells were regularly used to combat oni and would leave residues of pseudo jade at the location. Regretfully it was not real jade and no one wanted to pick any up for fear of offending the kami used to create the spell. They continued exploring for a bit when all of a sudden Hida head a strange wailing coming from the distance. He stopped and asked if anyone else had noticed the sound but it had stopped and no one else had heard it. They decided to go investigate and moved at a quick pace in the general direction of the wailing.
A couple minutes later they saw an old man running towards them in terror. When he saw them he threw himself on the ground and knelled on the ground before them. He told them some horrid creatures were attacking his granddaughter. They questioned him a bit but all he knew is that the looked skeletonish in nature and were trying to kill his granddaughter. Although they were a bit suspicious their duty was to try to protect the girl and told the old man to lead them towards the scene. Akodo drew his no-dachi as they ran and soon they came upon the scene. There was two undead samurai skeletons trying to get a young woman who had tried to get away by climbing a small tree. Hida explained quickly what they were and how the only sure way to kill them was to cut their heads off. The samurai were are stricken with fear but were able to overcome this fear and to begin battle with the undead.
One of the skeletons moved to attack Shosuro. It failed to make even its first swing before Kakita’s sword connected. The head of the foul thing tumbled through the air before both it and the rest of its body crumbled away to dust. Hida’s took the second skeleton’s arm in one mighty hand. With a grunt he brought his other fist down and severed the arm just below the shoulder. The neck of the third skeleton met the edge of Akaodo’s No-Dachi. The massive blade cut cleanly through and the undead thing crumbled to dust. To Hida’s disgust, both the severed arm, and the body to which was once attached, continued to fight on against him. The skeleton was nothing compared to the oni Hida had spent his life preparing to fight, and its blows did little to phase him. The parties eyes were suddenly drawn first to the the young girl and then to her grandfather. The girl shrieked in horror as the head of the old man tore free of its body to reveal its true form. This was the first time any in the party had ever witnessed one of the dreaded flying heads known as a pennaggolan, and none of them would ever forget it.
With a slice of her blade Kakita removed the head of the last skeleton. Now only dust and the wretched fly head remained. Hida moved to place himself between the party and the pennaggloan. The beast was quicker and its horrid dangling entrails lashed out and entangle Shosuro. Akodo struck hard, knocking the head from the air. Shosuro struggled against the squirming bonds. Her bladed obi was already in hand, but would do no good until she was free.
Akodo thrusts his blade into the ground and used it like a lever to to pin the pennaggolan were it lay. The muscle in Hida’s arms bulged as he wrestled with the tendrils wrapped around Shosuro. Together they were able to break the deadly embrace. Her arms now free, Shosuro whiped out her obi and returned the pennaggolan’s entangling favor. The beast was now held fast, but Kakita knew their weapons would do no actual harm to the monstrosity before them. She retrieved a small pouch of jade dust from her kimono and began to coat her katana in the powerful mineral.
Hida’s fists fell like boulders in an avalanche. He combined the techniques of tear giver and wear down the mountain into what would have been a deadly combination against a normal foe. The pennaggolan was left only dazed. It was enough for now as Akodo and Shosuro used their leverage keep the beast pinned. Kakita applied the last of the jade dust to her blade and locked her eyes on the pennaggolan. The roles of hunter and prey had change and the pennagglon was now just a small fish to the crane.
The beast tried to flee as Hida repeated his previous combination. Its struggled with all its tainted might but the Lion and the Scorpion held their grip. Pale blue and the glint of steel and jade were the last things the pennaggloan saw. Empowered by the jade dust, Hikaru’s sword came down in two precise strokes. Two stroke and the battle was over.
With the battle over Hida helped the young woman from the tree. Between him and Shosuro they were able to convince the woman down from hysterics and have her follow them back to town. At the outskirt of the farmland they let the girl head ahead while Hida built a small fire. Once the fire was built him and Kakita cleaned their hands and weapons with some small rags and then threw them into fire so that the tainted blood could not contaminate anything. In the meantime Shosuro used her medicine kit to heal herself from the wounds she had suffered from the fight. Once they were ready they headed back to the magistrate’s house debating how to break the news to Isawa….