00:23 – 00:29 – Three ugly, hulking shapes materialise through the Maho Portal, resolving themselves into the forms of common oni, identical to the ones the group battled back on the path. These monsters bellow with fury as they are summoned to the physical, and the group get a brief glimpse of a churning, storm-riddled maelstrom beyond the door through which they arrive; a twisting, boiling place of crackling black lightning and writhing, bone coloured clouds.
The oni immediately throw themselves at the party, two of them unleashing agonising clouds of boiling copper, the metal immediately burning and hardening on the flesh of Varracuda, Lia, Shnecke and Grigori. Hiyazaki also swoops in, his eyes drizzling smoky, silvery power.
“I have something special for you. The very height of my power.”
He raises his katana, a filmy sparkling white energy suddenly swirling around his feet in a circle.
“It's a very rare technique that I ripped from the mind of a dying old man, ravaged by certain tongue loosening poisons. I hope you like it.”
The energy becomes heavy and agitated, swirling around him in a spiral, and the group realise a split second before it is unleashed that it has become a physical thing; sand-like but sparkling with millions of sharp edges.
“GLASS GHOST BANKAI!”
The writhing stuff erupts in a powdery tidal wave and rips into the party. Screams and agonised coughing fills the air as it blast them – a million shards of sharpened glass – shredding armour and warding spells, splitting flesh and gouging into muscle, bone and organs. All are struck by the horrifying attack, most of them immediately seriously wounded. Jaeger manages to warp his shadowy form enough that he receives only a single deep laceration, whilst Thatari and Grigori manage to deflect the worst of the blast with their power. Those hit by the full force of the blast are almost skinned by it, their blood oozing in thick clots through the dusting of glass that covers them. Worse, the gritty stuff is in their wounds, and every move causes them to dig deeper, worsening their already serious injuries.
Screaming with daemonic glee, Hiyazaki lashes out twice with his dark blade, opening a sucking wound across the Ulnyrr's chest. The third of the oni rumbles forth, and smashes Thatari across the head with his massive tetusbo. Grunting, the warlock is flung almost 20' across the chamber to land in a broken pile at the daemon-samurai's feet. Hiyazaki howls with more insane laughter as he sees the apparently critically wounded man before him, and is just about to begin a mocking diatribe when he is struck by a bolt of shadowy energy – a quarrel from the assassin's weapon. Hiyazaki seems about to give a disdainful retort to the small missiles apparently feeble effect. However, his words die in his throat as he feels a terrible, tenebrous venom sweep through his body, filling him with a sickening sense of disorientation. His day only gets worse when from his supine position, Thatari unleashes a fuming wave of chaotic power; the warlock arcing his back and screaming as he opens some inner portal and allows raw cosmic energy to erupt from him – a coruscating, pulsing wave of dimensional disruption, hellfire and raw psychic hate. The blast, which seems almost to be both wetly liquid and like smoke at once, hits Hiyazaki from below. It crawls over his body, dissolving flesh and armour, and strikes with such force that he is thrown 30' , where he lands hard, gasping and shivering, black vapour surging from the many wounds now torn in his flesh. Still prone, Thatari, blood streaming from his mouth thanks to the twisted syllables of his last casting, reaches towards him with a focused bolt of his purest hate. Hiyazaki screams as the mental assault explodes into his mind, shredding his thoughts and rupturing his brain, and the battle, thought a moment before to be impossible to win, suddenly has hope injected into it.
However, this is quickly stolen when Lia falls, twitching to the floor, overcome by the agony and fluid loss from her significant burns, and the heavy blood loss caused by the Bankai. Convulsing, she hits the ground hard, her eyes rolling back to expose the whites. Grigori is also knocked unconscious; the tetsubo of one of the oni leaving a dent in his skull as he flies, rag doll like, across the chamber, to smash with splintering force into the floor.
Thatari, Shnecke and the assassin all move to keep the enemy from their downed companions. The barbarian hews his axe deep into one of the oni, tearing its chahar'aina from its thick torso, and leaving a ragged, billowing wound across its guts. The assassin summons his dark power to confound another, his blows finding the weakest spots in the brute's armour, his shadowy blade sinking deep into its body before he teleports out of harms way. Thatari stalks the downed daemon-samurai, his eyes bleeding (both literally and with power). His handsome face is twisted by otherwordly malevolence, as if his body is unable to remain untainted by the dark power he focuses, and with a series of inarticulate, absolutely foul words, he summons a creeping toothed presence, which floats around Hiyazaki like a personal daemon; biting and agonising him constantly, the air in which it floats polluted with a pulsing, tainted radiance.
Varracuda, still woozy and weak from the battle in the graveyard realises that unless he can bring one or both of the healers round, the battle is lost. Swiping at one of the oni, he scurries over to the unconscious priest and begins to fumble through his belongings. After a short search he finds what he is looking for – a healing potion. He rips the cork out with his teeth, and brings Girgori's head up, jamming the neck of the bottle into his slack mouth. Snarling in frustration, he upends the bottle, and watches with relief as the potion does its work – colour returning to the priest's face, his flattened skull popping back into shape with a crackling snap. Grigori's eyes flicker open, and he immediately sits up, swaying as the pain from his burns and other wounds hits him.
Across the chamber, and Hiyazaki is clawing a the ground, nausea sweeping through him as he fights to make his brain understand which way is up and which down. Growling with fury, he considers using an attack from his position, but is unable to, the poison clouding his mind and keeping him down.
Grigori scrambles over to the unconscious ardent and winces. She is burned over most of her body, her face disfigured by the cooling metal, her clothing and hair charred and wet with exudate. Blood and clear fluids pool around her, and a thick foam bubbles, pale pink, from her mouth. Gritting his teeth against his own wound's pain, he closes his eyes and begins an incantation, calling upon his potent healing prayers in this desperate battle. Seeing this, three adventurer's battling the oni fall back, eager to be close when the spell is cast, sure that it will benefit them as well as Lia.
Smoky threads of silvery light spill from his fingers as he summons healing power into himself, and soon he is luminous with its energy. Then, with a wordless phrase, he unleashes a beautiful burst of radiance which immediately restores the ardent's ravaged body, pushing out the glass shards whilst simultaneously closing many of the wounds the others have suffered. Jerking awake, Lia almost reactively releases a shimmering burst of psychic power which invigorates all her allies close by, not only accelerating their natural healing to the point where the few remaining wounds close themselves, but surrounding everyone with a tangible field of protective psionic force.
Restored, Shnecke and Varracuda move to harass one of the Oni, and the brute, despite its deadly swings, is soon chopped down. Thatari keeps attacking the daemon-samurai without mercy; unleashing more cosmic malevolence into him, snarling with unearthly hared. For his part, Hiyazaki tries desperately to regain any kind of advantage, struggling to his feet and preparing a devastating attack. However, Grigori, seeing this, unleashes a powerful command - “HOLD!” - his word charged with potent magical energy, and despite his blazing fury and his potent power, Hiyazaki finds himself transfixed, barely able to move, his thoughts once again scattered like leaves before the wind.
In truth, the battle barely lasts another minute.
Thatari takes advantage of this latest opening, and blasts Hiyazaki again, whilst the rest of the group, invigorated by Lia and Grigori's might, throw themselves at the oni. The third brute tries to exhale a cloud of copper vapour, but howls as he burps at an unfortunate moment, his flaming breath erupting within him, causing him blinding, momentary pain. Rendered vulnerable in his agony, he is quickly ended by the assassin and the swordmage. Shnecke and Lia charge Hiyazaki, but both miss badly, the barbarian almost falling over, the ardent almost throwing her sword, and it seems as if whatever dark Gods Hiyazaki worships are protecting him as Thatari tries to blast him again, and fires wide. However, this theory is quickly disproved when Grigori, his eyes pits of molten bloody light, his pale flesh seeming to pulse with unnatural power, charges him, and slashes a deep, spurting wound into the front of his head with his warped blade; ripping the life from him, sending him sprawling to the floor, blood pumping from the horrific gash.
Lightning erupts across the chamber as Varracuda, alive with corposant, unleashes a deadly arc of energy at one of the oni killing it, leaving only one alive This doomed fiend, covered in smoking wounds and heavily outnumbered, bellows in fear and anger, and is quickly overwhelmed by the combined might of the party...
...In the heat of the final moments of battle, no one has noticed that Hiyazaki's blade has changed into a focus rod – or for that matter, that Thatari has gathered it up into his robes...
00:30 – 01:40 – The group discuss what to do next; whether to push on through the portal (which they are convinced will require blood to operate, the more they pour in, the longer the portal will remain open), or whether to destroy it and call the job done. In the end they decide to take a long rest, and then, to open the portal and to destroy whatever lies beyond. They eat a small meal, and a fire is built to give the stinking, bloody chamber some warmth. Then, they settle down to talk a little before deciding watches and sleeping...
01:41 – 01:50 – However...
Sounds of muffled female screams, and gruff, deep voices, accompanied by heavy shuffling footsteps and the distinctive snapping voices of Bakemono echo down the stairs from the graveyard, and within seconds the party are waiting in ambush, their fire kicked out with practised ease. The unseen enemy are heard thumping down the steps, the muffled screams and weeping echoing ahead, and Jaeger strains to see through the sudden darkness, his shadow-forged eyes able to clearly see what approaches.
As thought, there are Bakemono – about a half dozen. They jabber and snap around the ankles of three massive hunched humanoids; two-headed, boggle eyed, mop haired things with wide mouths filled with blunt teeth and bright blue skin. They wear rough vests of sackcloth, and the adventurer's notice that their entire bodies seem to be studded with wide, unblinking eyes. There are three, and one of them carries a squirming bundle of rags. It is from this that the desperate cries emanate.
Realising that these are raiders of some sort, returned to the lair with their latest find, the group show the monsters no mercy. With the element of surprise on their side, the fiends are quickly cut down; the larger brutes clearly oni of some kind, their ragged wounds spurting oily smoke as they scream and die, the bakemono's gore painting everything with black as it sprays from their fatal wounds. The assassin is responsible for the most kills, pouring shadowy power into his crossbow, and firing a veritable cone of duplicate bolts, shattering throats, puncturing hearts and piercing monstrous brains.
One bakemono, stood at the rear of the group, survives the battle, fleeing screaming into the night. Every other monster is slain in less than half a minute, only Shnecke receiving any kind of wound – and a superficial one at that.
With the monsters slain, the group undo the struggling, weeping bundle of rags, and find three young women from the village. Each is half out of their mind with terror at what they have endured, and what they have been imagining will happen, and they spend the first few moments simply crying and shaking. Upon seeing the party through their tears, they are initially relieved – recognising them as the Yissen who have come to destroy the Jokiro Shukai. However, as they take in their bloodstained and battered presentation, and the suddenly aroused and barely restrained hunger of the Ulnyrr and priest (both of whom pant with desire at the smell and sound of the women's thumping, fear-driven blood), they grow unsure and cowed.
“So, what now?” Asks Lia, swiping her blade through the air to get the blood of it. “We can't take the girls with us through the portal.”
“We need blood,” Begins Thatari, “they could be a useful asset.”
Varracuda stands up in shock, making the girls flinch. “No way! Over my dead body!”
“I know a ritual.” Says Grigori suddenly, “That could help keep them safe.” His eyes are huge and swollen with bloody light. He is unaware that his eye teeth are showing, and that his neck has almost extended, lending his angular head a particularly unnatural, ghoulish appearance. Shnecke sat just behind him grins, his own eyes coppery and luminescent.
“You have got to be kidding!” Snaps Varracuda, “And does this ritual involve blood letting by any chance?”
Grigori nods, shrugging as if this is not important.
“Bollocks.” Growl Lia and Thatari together.
“Certainly sounds like cow crap to me.” Adds Jaeger, his own eyes swimming with darkness.
“It is crap, you just want to drink their blood!” Yells Varracuda, his voice almost a shriek, a shower of sparks sizzling over his body.
The women, not understanding a word, but recognising the tone of the conversation, begin to curl up into a ball, sobbing and shaking with fear, hugging each other tightly in their dread.
Grigori, realising that he has failed to fool his companions calmly moves away from them, before deciding to voice a genuine plan.
“I could weave a protective circle around them, a ritual you all know I have. That would keep them safe here whilst we enter the world beyond the portal. The only problem is of course that if we die, or if we find ourselves leaving the world beyond in some distant realm, they will be left here, unable to escape until they die of dehydration or starvation.”
“So no then.” Growls Varracuda, his eyes crackling with lightning.
“And the alternatives?” Asks the priest mildly.
No one has an answer.