14:47 – 23:15 – The group bind their wounds, and allow Lia and Grigori to weave healing energies about them, before they head off once again along the sodden path. The path gets steeper and more slippery with the slurry like mud, but they make excellent progress.
Night falls suddenly in this place, and a dank mist creeps out from the seething undergrowth to mask the path, quivering with the deafening song of the night birds, hunting bats and cicadas. For a while, the party stagger on in near total darkness, the priest growing fearful as the after effects of this ritual he worked continue to gong through his psyche. However, all of a sudden the path take a sharp turn to the north; rising steeply for roughly half a mile. At the end of this path (which can now be seen to bear overgrown stone steps along its last few hundred feet), can be seen a shifting mass of ghostly mists and unnatural, flickering lights. A chill runs down the backs of all seeing this, for they can almost taste the supernatural disturbances creating them.
“That'll be the graveyard then.” Rumbles Shnecke, his eyes glowing with a cold, amber light.
“Indeed.” Breathes Lia, her stomach turning a little at sight of it.
The group stand a moment simply staring, feeling suddenly very tired.
“Come on then.” Growls the Ulnyrr stomping ahead, “They aint' gonna' come to us, so we'd better take ourselves to them!”
He senses them before he sees them; a collection of powerful minds bent on a single task. He moves as quietly as he can and peers down the steep road leading to these accursed burial grounds, hoping to catch a glimpse of who it is that approaches. It takes time, but in the eerie glow of the Shinen-Gaki, he can make out a weary band of Yissen moving with average stealth towards the shattered death gate entrance. None of them seem to bear the taint that he knows Hiyazaki Katazuko must bear, and so, he is content to watch them, and maybe, if they seem worthy, to help.
23:16 – 23:21 – With the graveyard in sight now – a ramshackle place of shattered or shifted markers, wildly flourishing thorn creepers and overly lush ferns, lit by floating ghostly balls of pale light – the group stop their advance, and decide to let Jaeger go ahead.
The assassin at once steps into the darkness, emerging a little further ahead in the dense jungle that borders the wide, overgrown steps leading to the graveyard's entrance. Another jump, and he is close enough to take in more details. He can see that most of the graves have been violated, their contents scattered around the place, their stones defaced, and can see that in the middle of the graveyard rise two bulky quadruped statues – possibly depicting massive lions or mastiffs of some kind – who's heads have been removed at some point. At the north-most end of the graveyard rises a once impressive mausoleum. Made from stone, it once bore a curved pagoda like roof of red clay, though this has been smashed and daubed with filth. The guardian statues that once watched over its impressive stone entrance are now rubble, and the doors themselves are marred by huge claw marks and more foul daubings.
The air of the graveyard pulses with sickly corruption, and as he stares, his sensitive ears pick up a sound coming from behind the shattered statue on the left – the unmistakable sound of sharp teeth gnawing bone, and greedy gobbling.
The assassin, almost a part of the darkness that hangs around the edges of the yards ghastly glow, is about to move even closer when a roar from back along the path brings him round. It's Shnecke, loping forwards like a terrible, lupine monster; eyes wide and luminous with bloody light. Jaeger hears the gnawing suddenly stop, and feels his stomach tighten as a foul wave of magic whispers through the corrupted ground, raising two bakemono corpses – bloated with decomposition and swarming with carrion bugs – to their feet. Axe raised, the barbarian only pauses long enough at the border of the yard to decide on his target before running, howling, at one of the zombies.
”Who are you?” Says an unfamiliar voice in the assassin's mind, “And why are you here?”
Jaeger is suddenly unsure what to do. He watches helplessly as the barbarian swings at the shambling thing, his foot slipping on a puddle of rancid flesh, his arms flailing as he fights desperately not to fall over.
“Why are you here?” Asks the psychic voice again.
“To destroy the evil that lurks here.” Growls the assassin in reply.
“Then we are allies.” Replies the voice.
Grigori and Lia run up the path towards the graveyard and join the fray, the spheres of ghostly light sweeping in to simultaneously burn and rot them with their filthy radiance. Varracuda also charges, his flesh shedding lightning, his blades wreathed in green flame. He dances into range of one of the spheres, his sword bursting it like a glowing bubble, and is about to charge another when he suddenly stops, his eyes distant and unfocused. At the same time, the keening voice of a biwa rings over the chorus of battle, and it quickly becomes apparent that it is this sound that has caught the genasai's attention. With a strange smile on his face, the swordmage begins to stumble towards the unseen source of the music, stopping only to swipe at one of the ghostly lamps that whispers in towards him, his blade missing it.
A sudden burst of pristine, glassy light erupts from the eastern side of the graveyard as Grigori, logic symbol held high, unleashes a wave of radiant planar energy. At its touch several of the ghostly lights are erased (though one cluster – which differ from the rest, being paler and slightly elongated) are untouched by its caress. Those monsters not slain by the light, are sent reeling, and spend a moment unmoving, as if suddenly unsure as to what they were doing. The assassin steps through the dimensional shadow cast by the physical plane and briefly appears next to the flailing Ulnyrr and the ardent, his tenebrous blade flicking out to open a stinking wound in the zombie. Unwilling to risk a bite from the filthy things' shark-like teeth, he steps back into the safety of the shadows, and teleports back to his original position by the gates.
Lia sets about the undead with a grim, dutiful expression. Although she is no longer a scythe of Azrael, her hatred of the undead remains undimmed, and as such, her crystalline blade is veritably shimmering with her psychic power by the time it strikes; blazing a hideous wound into the monsters clavicle which ends just above its belly.
Torn stomach deflating, swollen, pussy entrails spilling like wet sacks from within, the zombie barely notices.
From the southern side of the graveyard, where the thick jungle trees hang over the rotten boundaries, a feeling of eerie pressure suddenly rises. A ball of chaotic, churning energy, somehow sluggish and heavy, but moving with lethal swiftness, erupts from the canopy to blast the second zombie. The energy gnaws at the flesh, seeming to strip it away, layer by stinking layer, leaving the thing glistening with oozing corruption. At the same time, the psychic voice rings out in the minds of all the group.
“I am Thatari. We have a shared goal it seems. I shall give you the benefit of my aid.”
Varracuda is struggling. The discordant caterwaul of the biwa is clearly some kind of psychical attack, meant to draw him in. Yet despite that understanding he simply cannot shake the overwhelming curiosity it evokes in him, and paying only scant attention to the hungry souls swooping in at him, he stumbles further into the graveyard, finally reaching the area behind the eastern most guardians' sundered base; the place the song was coming from.
...The biwa stops...
…...There is nothing there....
….The paler, elongated lights - now behind him - flare, throwing his shadow onto a stained and rotting stone next to the mausoleum....
….A terrible sense of crushing agony smashes into his soul, and with horror he watches as his ichor begins to float in a fine mist from his body, and into the hungry stone, his shadow acting as a conduit for the deadly transference.
“Help.” He groans, as a terrible weakness spreads through him...
All in all, the battle takes several minutes to conclude. The group cut down the zombies (though they take some serious chunks out of several party members), and the ghostly lights are shattered. The paler ones are simply lures used by the stones – for there are two – to trap shadows. Jaeger recognises that the rotten stones house hungry ghosts, that can use a persons shadow to drain their life force. Thatari (a strange “human”, with pale skin and an alien symmetry that reminds some of the hated aelwyn), emerges from the jungle, and uses his eldritch powers to blast the unquiet spirits to shadows. He also helps to uproot and to bury the ghost stones, ending their threat, and causing their floating lures to fade.
As for the biwa player, it makes a suicidal attack once all the other undead are slain; appearing in mid air as it leaps towards Varracuda's throat.
“Jiki-Ketsu Gaki!” Screams Thatari, his hands suddenly wreathed in smoky energy.
It is a withered, hunched thing dressed in soiled and tattered vestments. Its features are shrunken and ghoulish; slit-like eyes that burn with orange light, a narrow mouth filled with sharp, misshapen teeth, and an almost prehensile tongue that hangs, swollen and black from beyond them. Its hands end in viciously curved talons, and it emits a terrible screaming howl as it swoops in, its invisibility ended, towards the unsuspecting genasai. However, revealed, it is no match for the party, and it is quickly surrounded, hacked, burned, frozen, flensed and finally, smashed to the floor.
23:22 – 23:37 – Thatari it seems is little interested in talking, and at once turns his attention to the mausoleum. However, Grigori has been scowling, his mind wrestling with the problem of the corruption in the graveyard. He had expected it to end when the undead were slain, but can still feel the negative energy of their “life” coiling through the rotten, grey soil of the place. He realises that there must be something else that needs doing to lay the unquiet spirits to rest.
Suddenly he comes up with an idea, thinking of the hungry spirits trapped within the rotting stones. “We need to find the heads off the statues! We need to replace them, so their resident spirits can watch over the graveyard.”
Thatari nods, seeing the sense in this (and apparently possessing a good knowledge of how things work in this foreign land), and the group, limping with their wounds, begin to scour the place for the missing heads.
Both are quickly located – one buried in a grave, the other just outside the yard in the scrambling growth of the jungle – and Shnecke hefts them into place, grunting with the effort. As the assassin has assumed, they are the heads of great dog-like beings; wide mouthed, frog-eyed, and almost human. Despite their bestial appearance, there is something friendly, and welcoming about them, and Jaeger is convinced that the priest is correct in his assumptions.
The first head is slowly hauled into place, and as soon as it is aligned, a bright light blazes through the join, leaving unbroken stone in its place.
“Foo Dogs.” Mumbles Thatari, “Guardian spirits. Powerful agents of order and light.”
“Well,” Grunts Shnecke, squatting as he grabs the second lithic, “We'll find out in a minute won't we.”
The head is brought up, and as it nears its final place, a low buzzing hum begins to fill the air. Shnecke is trembling, even his unnatural strength struggling with the burden, but grits his teeth and shoves as hard as he can. The ragged edges of the stone do not marry up straight away, but with the rest of the group easing it in, they suddenly slot together...
...A deafening roar fills the air, and a blaze of glorious, crystalline light erupts from the paired statues, filling the entire graveyard with its radiance. At its touch, the air seems to grow calmer, a subtle susurrus of hateful whispers growing silent at last. The light takes a few moments to fade, but when it does, it is clear that the graveyard is now mostly purified; the stones cleared of their defilements, the soil dark and rich once more. Any traces of the undead have been burned away, and the stench of death is replaced with the smell of damp, fertile ground. No longer do unnatural lights dance in the air, and at last the spirits of those buried here can rest in peace.
23:38 – 23:48 – The party take a little time to bind wounds, take a bite to eat, and to chat with their new ally. Thatari remains quite tight lipped, only telling them that he seeks a samurai named Hiyazaki Katazuko, who has been corrupted by a Zanki-No Oni. He believes that the fallen warrior is somewhere in this area, and has come to end him.
When asked about what a Zanki-No Oni is, the newcomer tells them, his “voice” speaking directly into their minds.
“A storm daemon. A being of incredible power and evil, able to bend the tempest's fury to its will, and to ride the invisible winds that blow through the spirit world. If I am to truly end the evil here, it too must die.”
“Then it seems we truly do have a shared goal.” Replies Lia, her face grim. “For the Oni we seeks is likely the same fiend that binds this warrior's soul.”
All agree. Thatari, Warlock, joins the band.
23:49 – 00:20 (19/6/1472) – The outer doors to the mausoleum, the only structure in the graveyard not purified by the statues repair, are smashed open by the barbarian, and the group move carefully down the bloodstained steps beyond. Upturned human skulls serve as lamps either side of the steps, and the walls, once depicting the Gods of light driving back hordes of Oni and other evil spirits, have been torn and desecrated with foul symbols.
At the bottom of the stairs stand two huge hardwood doors. They too have had their once splendid designs – a pair of grinning Foo Dogs – defiled, each one covered in vile Yassan symbols which pulse with dark magic. Jaeger, Grigori and Varracuda volunteer to safely remove the dangerous things, whilst the rest of the group stand guard further back along the stairs.
It takes the combined efforts of the three men to do, but soon the unholy wards are erased, their deadly magics safely drained away without incident.
00:21 – 00:22 – With the runes removed, Shnecke is able to do his thing once more; smashing the doors open with a shoulder barge that sounds like an airship crash. The ancient doors heave in their frames, and then burst wide, allowing the stench of blood from beyond to wash over the horrified adventurers.
00:22 – The chamber beyond once housed a grand sarcophagus. Now it houses horror. Dried blood – some ancient and brown, some fairly fresh; clotted and separated – covers almost every surface. In the middle of the chamber, where its rightful occupant should lie, is a device forged of blasphemy.
It is a huge bowl of bone, 6' across, and set on the ground. From either side of it curve tapering horn like pylons, covered in dried gore and carved with runes that several of the band recognise at once as being related to dimensional travel.
“A maho portal.” Snarls Thatari, “A blood gate.”
“Quite. Right.” answers the chambers only occupant – a slight man sat against the bowl, dressed in the clothes of a common peasant, his face hidden by the brim of the wide, conical hat he wears. “The portal leads to my masters' realm.”
The head moves back, and everyone drops into a ready stance, for the man revealed bears a fine looking sword – a katana – and has the scarred visage of seasoned warrior. He is Kai'Yassanian, and even sat down, has a noble, powerful bearing about him.
“You!” Yells Thatari, his power coalescing in a sphere of oily light around his hands, “ Hiyazaki Katazuko!”
The man smiles and stands in one fluid motion.
“I am Hiyazaki Katazuko, and you are just powerful enough that you could possibly inconvenience my master. Therefore, as the guardian of this gate, I must kill you all.”
Hiyazaki draws his katana, and at once a terrible transformation sweeps through him; his flesh becoming black like obsidian, his mass increasing tenfold. Daemonic O'Yoroi armour appears around him, its mempo apparently made from human flesh. The sword itself is a vile thing; its blade stained and surrounded by pulsing High Yassan symbols (Varracuda can read these, and shudders at their messages; “The Cowards Path” “Consume the Honour” “Lost”).
Cackling with daemonic glee, black lightning crawling over his Oni form, the fallen Samurai raises his blade, and prepares to attack...