The Mirumoto shouts.
The waxing moon only provides a quarter of her light as we close in on the Gaijin and their Mitinaka escorts. We were sure there were six of them total. In the dark it was tough to make sure they were all there, even the lookout who had alerted the others to our approach.
Their deaths have already been determined. If not for being traitors to the Empire, if not for assisting the gaijin in their escape from North Wall City, then definitely for the murder of the peasants at Wood Bridge Village. The casual destruction they left in their wake only seals their fate, surrender would only prolong the inevitable.
Our position is good, one traitor is already down, the Shosuro with her bow ready to cut them down while out of range of their swords. Even with their gaijin magic creating a dazzling outline of light around the Hida he is still able to thwart the quick attacks of the armored gaijin fighter as our Porter assists with the defense. Their gaijin magician hangs back as well, his spells barely effective and his defenses seemingly minimal while the remaining Mitinaka traitors go on the defensive as well. I start to think we may be able to make short work of this as the Shosuro looses a fleshcutter arrow which flies straight towards the gaijin sorcerer’s head.
And then things go wrong.
Somehow the sorcerer remains unscathed and the damage is reflected towards the markswoman. Naoki is severely hurt and clutches her side. Nakamuro is unharmed by his opponents, but the light from the spell blinds him and his blows fall short of their target. Even Shinsai Mai is frustrated by the Mitinaka foes as they continue to keep their defensive line. I’ve had enough dawdling, time to put an end to this.
From behind I hear an short explosion and feel a sting across my shoulder as the third gaijin we hadn’t seen fires a pistol from behind, this is an annoying distraction so I spin around and carve a deep gash into the front of the leather jacket the sneak wears. The sneak makes a woman’s scream as she falls back and disappears into the shadows.
Our misfortunes embolden our foes, a mistake on their part. Shinsai uses a kiho to slap the water within our enemies, the effect making the sky crack with the sound of thunder which echoes against the slopes of the mountain pass. The Mitinaka who had escaped my attention until now falls from a single stroke as his allies fall back to defend the sorcerer. Nakamuro harries the other gaijin while Naoki centers herself in spite of her wound while watching for the sneak who fired the pistol.
When the sneak appears again she tries to use a dagger to stab Shinsai, but these gaijin understand as little of us as we do of them and her face betrays her surprise as the monk dodges her blow and follows with a furious kick to her head, sending her reeling as she stumbles and falls unconscious into the dirt.
Only two traitors and the gaijin fighter remain, falling back to defend the sorcerer at all costs. A relatively honorable move, I admire their presence of mind and their commitment to their tactics. Moreso when Hikozaemon attempts to assist in the attack instead of defending the Hida as he has been trained. The consequences are immediate as the Hida takes a small cut, even though the effect is easily ignored and will barely make for yet another scar.
Shinsai’s thunder knocks down one of the traitors, my sword nearly fells the other as he returns the favor and manages to get a minor strike against my own defense. Well done, even better done as he puts himself into the full defense stance. The echoes of the thunder rumble even louder across the valley where the river runs towards the northwest and I find even more respect for this last unfortunate foe, under better circumstances I would have asked him to join my banner.
Suddenly a large shape falls from the sky and wraps the sorcerer in its large leathery wings. The face is hard to make out, but the four arms on it’s body are easy to discern. Even if we didn’t have the lore of the Hida we would know this was an Oni called to aid the sorcerer in his escape.
I ignore the challenge presented by the last traitor to rush against the Oni. The Kaiu blade bites deeply, but not nearly deep enough. Naoki manages to strike it with an arrow as well as it leaps into the air, but not enough to bring it and our quarry back down.
The last traitor and the gaijin are readying themselves to face us and die when I notice Hikozaemon falling back into his old habit of running from danger and the thunder is only getting louder and is now coming from above, a familiar roar from the depths of a summertime childhood memory… oh.
Nakamuro wastes no time in scooping up Naoki and carrying her away. My prayers of thanks to the Mountain as I run and yell to our Porter, bless his eternal soul, to change his direction across the mountain pass instead of down it. I can only tell our brother monk is keeping up from the curses he makes against the earth kami as they pelt him with stones for waking them from their slumber.
Eventually the rockslides die down to no more than the sound of rain against the shutters of a teahouse as we search for each other in the darkness. I shout against my own echoes to bring our company together, the sounds of our horses somewhere in the dust and gloom. Wait, horses? I thought I had only the one. Maybe it’s another trick of the echoes from the valley. We can’t be THAT close to the Utaku border, not unless we somehow got lost. We’re not yet out of enemies, and allies such as the Unicorn would be welcome indeed.
The horse is not found, he isn’t familiar enough with me as his rider to come to my call, but here is one of the carts. Broken. Was it Naoki’s or Nakamuro’s? Once we find the other one it doesn’t matter, everything is put into the one and Hikozaemon pulls it along. There’s no sight or sound of leathery wings in the darkness, the sorcerer has gotten away. We manage to get back to the location of the skirmish and find what remains of the gaijin horse and parts of the traitors buried in the rubble. No sign of the metal armor of the gaijin fighter, either. Did he escape? Was he buried further down the slope? Maybe I should have taken the time to slay him before running ahead of the avalanche. No, I won’t second-guess myself, there’s been enough of that in the unchangeable past.
The sound of a few pebbles settling in on the slope above startles us all and as one we look up at the saddle of the mountain. Against the stars of an early evening sky we can just make out the peak of a temple poking its weary head from beneath the blankets of the hillside.
Two experience points