Friday, October 16, 2020

Homecoming Part 5

Ginjo and Sukh, together whith Ginjo's niece Phubi, Irak and the other sohei, Shheng and Shek, and the rehabilitated bakemono made their way through the lost valley.  Everyone, ans especially the bakemono were bemused by what they found-- a series of beautiful stone villages, all deserted, and marked my signs of deliberate destruction.  Frescoes, sculptures, engravings-- all forms of representational ornamentation had been defaced.  The remnants showed that the destroyed artwork had once depicted creatures that were bakemono or at least very similar to bakemono, with the same vulpine features as the monumental statutes that had guarded the gates.  The artwork seemed to show them in a variety of sophisticated activities-- playing music, studying the stars, reading from scrolls, and designing buildings.  

The party had entered the valley from the east and moved westward.  Finding a larger village with several strucutres still standing, they entered the largest, a three-story tower..  Inside they encountered a pair of zombie, their large pointed ears marking them as former bakemono.  Phubi drove them away and the party climbed to the top of the tower.  In the courtyard below, they saw a mob of skeletons and zombies gathering, all seemingly former bakemono.  Ginjo and Sukh jammed the door at the top of the tower so that it would open just enough to allow one monster to squeeze through at a time.  The skeletons reached the top of the stairs first.  Phubi presented her holy symbol and the first skeletons stopped in the doorway.  Other skeletons and then zombies pushed them through where they met the blades of Sukh and Ginjo.  Almost laughing like a pair of drunken farmers harvesting the wheat, the two friends joyfully cut up the undead mob.

When this job was done, the party had a chance to survey the landscape.  The valley extended further to the west, as far as the eye could see in the late afternoon sun.  The orange light marked the course of a distant river and a few more villages.

The party decided to press on rather than spend a night in a place that still might hide the walking dead.  They head for the river and camped on its banks.  In the morning, they ate and pressed on.  In the late morning, they heard loud shouting and traced it to its source-- the remnants of a battle!  Three dead people-- human rather than bakemono, but neither Pasari nor Zhou-- had been killed by arrows and spears.  The people were squat and hairy with rough clothing.  Puzzling over what they found, they were surprised by the sound of approaching riders-- eight human men, mounted on giant lizards.  They resembled the dead, and their rough features was all the stranger on a living person.

The men challenged them in strangely-accented bakemono, demanding to know who they were and what they had done.  Ginjo answered, starting to tell the history of his family before Sukh urged him to let the riders they were puzzled by the sight of the dead men and had no hand in their demise.  The riders were quick to accept this, and also expressed great suspicion of why Ginjo was traveling with "tyrant dogs"-- pointing at Soft Ear and the other bakemono.  Ginjo began the story of how his friend Gunjar had converted the brutish bakemono to his religion of forgiveness and peace, but was again interrupted by Sukh.

Sukh had found tracks-- like those of a dog-- and pointed them out to the rider.  They nodded with grim satisfaction and rode off in the direction of the tracks, urging Ginjo and the others to follow.  The tracks led into a ravine, where they were ambushed by a group of fox-like bakemono, all resembling the statutes and the defaced artwork.  There was a flash of light and a flurry of badly-aimed arrows.  Several rider riders were thrown from their mounts and the fox bakemono fled deeper into the ravine.  Ginjo discouraged further pursuit. Phubi tended to the wounds of those who had been injured and the new acquaintances that they would go to Ronkan so that the visitors could meet Ben-Kraal, whose father had led the rebellion and whom all humans accepted as their war leader and chief.

Eager for answers to their many questions about the state of the bakemono hoeland, Sukh and GInjo agreed to meet him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Homecoming Part 4

 The silver needle, when inserted into Kwam-Rak carpet, slipped out of Ginjo's and, seemingly with a mind of its own, began to embroider the carpet with a golden thread.  The thread grew as the needle worked, passing over every square inch of the carpet to add line, shading, definition, even the illusion of flowing water and fluttering leaves.  The abstract shapes became a map and a beautiful landscape on which well-known landmarks were clearly visible including Lake Pasar, the Cave of Discord and hundreds of villages including the Kwam-Rak compound.  Pasar itself was only a small village and the map did not show the empires to the west or their roads.  The needle finished its work in the jungle near Lake Pasar, seemingly at the exact point where Ginjo now stood in the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path.  Ginjo and Sukh agreed that they must show the carpet-map to their bakemono friends.

By the time they reached the bakemonos' lair in the forest, the needle had moved. It had embroidered a pathway, using tiny letters in a script form of bakemono: "Now is the time for the dear ones to reconcile and return home."

Sukh and Ginjo discussed the matter with their bakemono friends and decided that they would use the carpet to find their way to the bakemono homeland together.  Sheng and Shek, plus Irak and a few other sohei would join them.

Relying on the carpet as a guide, the travelers returned to the Caves of Discord and the Shrine of the death cult, where they found a blocked tunnel.  Working diligently, they moved enough boulders and rubble to reveal a passage deep under ground.  After provisioning themselves with torches from the stores of the death cult, they ventured into the hidden underground highway.  They followed its course for many miles, soon realizing that they must conserve their torches by allowing the bakemono to lead the way while the darkness-blind humans made do with the light of glowing embers.

They spent two nights in the tunnel, crossed an underground river and found themselves in a maze of smaller tunnels.  As with the expansion of Pasar into a large town and the blockage in the shrine of the death cult, the carpet-map did not show this presumably more recent construction.  The maze seemed to be part of an abandoned mine.  The party lit additional torches to find their way and fought off attacks from an enormous, half-invisible spider.  They found their way at last by following a draft of pure air.  They came upon a wide tunnel slanted upward at a steep enough angle that a trickle of water ran steadily down it.  Following that tunnel they emerged on a blustery cliffside in the middle of the night.  After spending the night inside the tunnel, and waiting for the dawn, they ventured outside once more.  According to the carpet-map they were still on the right way, and would follow a path on the side of a cliff for several more days.  

At the end of those days, the travelers were confronted with another disconnect between the map and current reality.  The beautiful stone bridge that arched over the chasm to a pair of enormous iron doors had collapsed.  The party camped, rested, and discussed what to do.  Sukh had recovered a few magic potions from the lair of the bull monster.  According to wise woman he'd consulted in Pasar two of the potions had properties that might assist them in crossing the ravine.  

The party had enough rope that they climb down the wall of the ravine without expending any of their magical resources.  Despite a couple close calls, everyone reached the bottom safely.  They drank deeply from the river and rested on the soft grass.  Then they prepared to climb the other side.

Ginjo drank a long draught of dank, frothy liquid and within a minute, grew to five or six times his normal size.  His clothing and possessions-- including the rope-- also grew in size.  Climbing up the the other side of the ravine was a strenuous challenge, especially with Irak holding onto him.  But he was large enough and strong enough to use the ledges and outcropping like the steps on a ladder.  When he reached a large enough ledge half way up, Irak let the rope down and helped the others climb up it.  Then Ginjo and Irak repeated the maneuver to reach another ledge near the top.  The ledge at the very top was the too narrow and unstable to support the enlarged Ginjo.  He gave Irak a push and helped ther others climb up to the to ledge.  Then when the potion wore off and he returned to his normal size, Ginjo joined them by way of the rope.  

Now it was Sukh's turn to make use of a magic potion. He unstoppered a small glass vial and tossed back a dull blue liquid that turned to mist as it poured into his mouth.  As Sukh inhaled the thick mist, he too turned into mist and, in the form of a dull blue cloud, rose up and over the pair of tall iron doors.  For a moment, he took on the sight of the bakemono homeland.  His vision was blurred, but he could make out a verdant valley that matched the carpet-map, with towns and roads and other small structures dotted throughout.  He was not able to see any movement or detect signs of life.  Not knowing ow long the potion's effect would last, he descended to the ground on the other side of the doors.

On the inside, the doors were flanked by a pair of eight-foot jade statues-- humanoids with the head's of foxes or jackals.  These figures looked like what Sukh would call bakemono but their flowing robes, haughtily serene demeanors, and especially the artistry of the statues themselves were suggestive of something very different from anything Sukh had encountered in the Caves of Discord or his kind-hearted but simple friends.  Sukh was distracted from his musings by a chortle of laughter from Dew Blossom and Gentle Foot on the other side of the doors, still held shut by an iron bar.  With a shout, he heaved the bar off its brackets and called to his companions.  They pushed their way inside as the jade statues came to life.  

Relying on battle-tested tactics, Sukh and Ginjo each attacked one of the statues directly with a flurry of aggressive slashes while their companions made coordinated flanking attacks.  The jade statues were terrifying opponents, the faces set in fearless disdain but they fell to ruin under the rain of blows. They had reached the lost valley of the bakemono.

Immediately before them was a collection of stone buildings, the beauty of their proportion and precise construction still evident in their ruined state.  For they were ruined.  Roofs were missing, walls had collapsed, moss grew thickly, and, as they wandered into the town, they found the streets strewn with rubble, a tree growing from a dry fountain.  Looking closer, it seemed the destruction was deliberate.  Carvings and frescoes were deliberately defaced and marked by graffiti, in a style reminiscent, in form, style, and substance, of the Caves of Discord.

Welcome home?

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Homecoming Part 3

 Ginjo and Sukh decided they would look for the needle in the Caves of Discord.  Based on their experiences with the bakemono, they reasoned that it would most likely be found with the strongest bakemono, the bear-like "kidnapper gang" that had captured Shek.  In their investigation, they learned that this group had only become bolder after the destruction of the Death Cult and the dispersion of the other bakemono groups.  They were regularly attacking human villages to obtain captives.  At least one village was offering a bounty.  Ginjo and Sukh decided that they would leave this problem to other adventurers and maintained a focus on finding the magic needle, which the inscription on the carpet  described as being made of silver.

They visited the "kidnapper" of "bear" bakemono and were welcomed gratefully.  The kidnappers proclaimed that they had several humans to sell. And their price had only increased slightly since the last time.  When Ginjo let it be known that they were more interested in a magic needle and that they had the carpet, the bear bakemono became talking over each other, some of them clamoring to see the carpet, with others shouting out prices to sell the needle, and one still threatening to sell the humans to another buyer who wanted to eat them. Sukh led the negotiation for the captives while Ginjo hinted that the magic needle looked like any other old needle.  Together they came up with an offer for the humans and agreed that they would come back soon to buy the needle.

The captives were a man and wife who lived on the other side of Pasar.  They required frequent rests and made repeated requests for "better food."  As they reached their home village, they chided the party for ransoming them.  "You know it only encourages them to raid us because they know they can get money.  What you should do is go and kill them all."

Sukh and Ginjo decide to leave this ambiguous and returned to the bear bakemono cave.  The needle presented was old and rusty. When Ginjo said he was looking for a silver needle, the bakemono tried to tell him it was silver, but needed to be polished.  Sukh and Ginjo debated buying the rusty needle, but decided they could always return and buy it later.  The references to people-eating monster who was also interested in buying captives made them wonder if this monster was the keeper of the needle.    If they killed the monster and didn't find the needle, they would only be in a better position to bargain with the bakemono.

Based on conversations with their bakemono friends, Sukh and Ginjo deduced that the people eater lived in the labyrinth where Liu-Po had been killed by giant beetles.  Ginjo warned that their foe would be a formidable one to live in such a strange place and share it with such  hideous creatures. But Sukh avowed that he would face any dangers with his sword ready.  Perhaps both thought of Gunjar, who had been Ginjo's first companion in exploring the Caves of Discord.  Ginjo missed the holy man, but he appreciated Sukh's wisdom in battle and felt confident knowing that together they were leading a well-disciplined group of warriors.

On an auspicious day, at about mid-morning, they entered the maze of the monster, a creature described as a powerfully-built man with the head of a bull.  Sukh did his best to map the narrow, twisty corridors, but soon found the effort made him dizzy.  They pushed onward by trial-and-error, avoiding the tell-tale red glow of the giant beetles.

After at least an hour of walking in circles, they found themselves in large cavern.  Their flickering torches created strange shadows that danced on the walls beside crude drawing of the foe they were hunting and the many victims he had hunted before them.  A pungent, bestial scent hung in the air, soon broken by the sounds of aggressive snorting and stomping.  Ginjo order the sohei and mercenary to spread out and find places to hide themselves.  He and Sukh stepped boldly into the middle of the cavern and drew their swords.

From out of the darkness, the monster charged, wielding a thick-shafted spear with a blade nearly as long as a sword.  Sukh whirled to miss the point of the spear whereupon the monster lowered its head and gored him with its horns.  Sukh was knocked to the floor and struggled to get up as Ginjo closed, slashing at the monster's back, opening two great wounds.  Bellowing in pain and rage, the monster turned.  Sukh and Ginjo mastered their fear and flanked the monster, taking turns withstanding its powerful blows while the other slashed and stabbed, remaining close enough to prevent it from gathering speed to charge.  Just as the monster was faltering, Ginjo was struck in the face with the butt of the spear and fell on his back.  Sukh, fighting to stay on his own feet was slow to come to his aid, and this was the moment for Phru to shine.  Chanting a prayer from the monastery of the two-fold path, he led the other sohei in a surprise charge against the monster.  Dropping its spear, it thrashed and kick like a pure animal as the sohei's spear found its heart.  The monster was dead.

They rested and explored the monster's lair, at last finding a boulder that concealed a cahce of strange treasures-- foreign coins, weird elixirs, and a small ebony box that held a silver needle with a thread of gold.  Ginjo gratefully granted the monster's spear to Phru.  Together, they collected all the coins they could carry and made their way of the labyrinth and back to Pasar. eager to test the needle.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Homecoming Part 2

 Ginjo spent a few days studying the Kwam-Rak family heirloom that had been entrusted to him, a beautifully-crafted carpet.  He puzzled over the design, seemingly abstract, but seemingly real.  He puzzled over the border, a complicated script that he recognized from the book he'd studied to learn Bakemono.  He recognized the individual words, but had trouble finding a meaning that matched the usually brutish and most often simple perspective of the bakemono he'd encountered in the Caves of Discord.

After consulting with Sukh, he decided to seek out his Bakemono friends, the four disciples of Gunjar who had helped him defeat the Death Cult.  He found them in their new home deep in the forest, in a cramped hollow beneath an enormous and vine-covered fallen tree.  When Ginjo described the carpet, the Bakemono were at-once eager to hear about it and reluctant to share what they knew.  Vanilla Rainbow sneered at the others, "Why waste our time on the old stories when we have a new one to tell?"  This confirmed for Ginjo and Sukh that there was a story and they decided they would bring the carpet to the bakemono.

When this was done, even Vanilla Rainbow could not hide her interest.  Ginjo shared the story that he had heard from Pau-Lung and the bakemono nodded.

Gentle Foot interpreted the border inscription.  The carpet was a map, a map to the bakemono homeland.

"But we need the needle," Vanilla Rainbow interrupted, "and the needle is lost!"

The needle, as Gentle Foot explained, would complete the carpet and show the way to the bakemono homeland.  "When the time is right."

Ginjo and Sukh heard four stories about the fate of the needle.

1. It was still held by the strongest bakemono.  
2. It was given to a powerful monster for safe-keeping.
3. It was hidden in a foul, disgusting place where no non-bakemono would dare to go.
4. It was lost and would never be found.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Homecoming Part 1

 Besides rescuing Irak, Ginjo and Sukh recovered an abundance of treasure from the Death Cult. Ginjo resolved to visit his family and make a suitable gift, so that he might share the honor he had recently received with the people who had given him life and a disciplined upbringing.  His family was comfortable and prosperous; they owned good farmland, which they leased to about twenty families.  But this land was far from the comforts of civilization and surrounded by untamed jungle.  As landowners, his family bore the responsibility of protecting the farmers from both he beasts of the jungle and the hunter tribes who did not respect the labor of the farmer.   Ginjo knew that gifts of gold coins from faraway places, sparkling gemstones, and fine silks would bring some excitement to lives that were honorable, but often difficult. Sukh was glad to accompany his comrade, as were Sheng, Shek, Irak, and a few other sohei.  They traveled to the backcountry in a heavy-laden small flat boat, paddling upriver over a few days.  

They reached the homestead at the end of the day and found it bathed in an orange glow. A beautiful sunset? Perhaps, but the column of dark smoke and sound of screaming told Ginjo that his family was under attack.  Rushing to their aid, the party was attacked by a large group of well-armed hunters.  Ginjo and Sukh held them off while their associates carried their burdens through the gates of the fortified homestead. 

Once the party was safely inside, they met Ginjo's uncle Pau-Lung who briefly explained the situation. The forest hunters had long been a problem for the Kwam-Rak since they saw little difference between gathering wild fruits and stealing bags of rice, shooting a deer and shooting someone's milking goat. But this was different.  More than a raid, these were organized war parties, from at least two different tribes, with vicious dogs, flaming arrows, and incessant drumming.  One wall had been breached, several farmers had been killed, the other tenants were huddled inside the main house.

Ginjo asked to lead the defense of the walls, leaving Pau-Lung and the Kwam-Rak family to protect their tenants. Having seen Ginjo's battle prowess, Pau-Lung agreed.

Night fell.  Outside the Kwam-Rak stronghold, and screened by the trees, bonfires burned on all four sides.  The various groups of hunter-raiders took turns chanting and drumming, their menacing conversation denying anyone inside the stronghold the comfort of sleep.  Close to midnight, Sukh, from his rooftop watchpoint, called the alarm.  The hunters were making a two-pronged attack, charging two places where the stockade wall had already been breached.  Sukh led Sheng and Shek in repelling the attackers with arrows while Ginjo and Irak led the sohei in defending the breaches.  The wild and undisciplined hunters were surprised and dismayed to meet such well-armed and courageous defenders.  Those who evaded Sukh’s arrows suffered Ginjo’s blade.  The balance were routed and the forest to the south side of stockade fell quiet.

The Hunter-Raiders made several other sorties throughout the night, but all were soundly repelled.  Pau-Lung hinted that attackers were under the sway of a sinister force from outside the area.  Attacks by giant bats shortly before dawn seemed to confirm.  The raiders’ final attack, using ladders to scale the stockade wall was fearsome, but reckless, showing a disregard for self-preservation on the part of the attackers that left the defenders feeling uneasy even in their victory.  What was driving these men to throw away their lives?

Pau-Lung believed he knew the answer.  Several weeks ago, a merchant had arrived.  He was given a warm welcome.  The Kwam-Rak family had little contact with the outside world so any visitor brought the promise of exciting news about faraway places and this merchant with his rich and outlandish clothes, foreign manners, and retinue of quiet servants was especially captivating.  There was some disappointment when they learned he had little to sell and even more when they learned he had almost nothing to tell.  While obviously learned, he seemed to know nothing about the goings on in Pasar or any other town and had no opinion on the war between the Zhou empires.  Instead he asked questions and his questions soon proved intrusive and oddly knowing.  He believed that the Kwam-Rak family was in possession was in possession of a mysterious carpet with a unique design, an abstract pattern that “becomes nearly recognizable if you stare at it long enough, like a landscape visited in a dream.”  Pau-Lung could not deny that he knew of such a carpet, but refused to consider any offers to sell it, even refused to discuss its whereabouts.  No one had ever seen Pau-Lung so distraught, but the man smiled, promising to return later, “after you’ve had some time to consider all the advantages of letting it go and the disadvantages of keeping it.”

Pau-Lung explained that he did in fact own a mysterious carpet.  He had only seen it once.  His father had show it to him, told him the story of its origin and the reason why it must be kept within the family.

Generations ago, the Kwam-Rak family had been simple jungle hunters.  They were not even a family for they had no name, no land, no legacy.  But the first Kwam-Rak had met a strange creature in the forest and agreed to share his honey with it.  In honor of his hospitality, the creature taught the first Kwam-Rak all the secrets of agriculture, building, metal-working, and more, even house to read, write, and play music.  With the help of this benefactor, the first Kwam-Rak had cleared a plot of fertile land, built a solid house and established himself as the first of his people.  The benefactor promised Kwam-Rak that his family would hold the land in perpetuity.  In return, he only must promise to keep safe a beautiful carpet of exquisite design.  He could not allow it to be harmed and could not sell it or give it to anyone outside the family. 

“Ginjo, you have chosen another life.  Your brother is a good farmer and a good manager.  He will inherit the land, the farm, and family’s wealth.  But you will receive the family’s most precious legacy.  Take it far away from here.  When the stranger returns, I will show him the presents you gave us and tell him that I sold it.  And I know that he will force me to tell him where you have gone, so tell me what I should tell him and nothing more.”

Ginjo agreed to take the carpet.  Pau-Lung gave it to wrapped in rough cloth and asked him not to look at it until he had gone somewhere far away.

Ginjo spent the next few days resting and relaxing with his family.  He learned that his niece Phubi had received the gift of insight and healing.  Pau-Lung asked Ginjo to take her with him.  “She is young, but brave, and the good spirits will not allow her to come to any harm.  Protect her and allow her to protect you.”

Ginjo, Sukh, and their associates left the Kwam-Rak stronghold and went to Pasar, and to the Monastery of the Two-Fold Path.  Ginjo and Sukh secured themselves in their quarters and unwrapped the carpet.  As described, its design was abstract, bearing lines and shapes and fields of colors in no clear pattern.  What had not been described was the border of red with golden letters that Ginjo recognized as the Bakemono language.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Caves of Inharmonious Discord, Part 8 (Two Prisoners)

 The next day, the party returned to the shrine of the Death Cult.  They were met by one of the adepts and eight skeletons.  Seeing the four bakemono, the adept asked the party to wait while he summoned the supreme leader.  As soon as the adept was out of sight, Ginjo attacked the skeletons, swiftly dispatching two of them.  The rest of the party joined him in laying the bones definitively to rest; then they quickly made their way to the receiving room in which they had met the supreme leader the previous day.  When they arrived, a group of four adepts were busy summoning a large group of skeletons and zombies.  Ginjo led the attack against the adepts and their minions while Sukh, accompanied by Shek and Sheng tore through a series of smaller rooms until they found the supreme leader in his private chambers, starting to don his armor.  Relying on his evil powers, he was able to incapicate Sheng and Shek, but Sukh fought with determination and courage, slashing at him with his sword and smashing up the furniture while driving him forcefully into a corner and killing him

Out in the reception room, Ginjo concentrated his attacks on the adepts while the sohei fought the skeletons and zombies.  Using superior tactics, the four of the sohei held the bulk of the mindless undead at bay, allowing only one or two to fight at once so that they could be destroyed by the other sohei.  

When the battles were over, the party declared an uneasy victory.  The supreme leader was dead and most if not all of his minions had been destroyed.  But there was no sign of Irak.  While debating what to do next, who should run into the room but their "friend" Pana.  His robe was torn and his face bruised.  "They're coming!"  he cried.  "The other priests!  They're going to kill us all!"

Sukh pointed his sword at Pana's throat and demanded "Where is Irak?"

Pana didn't want to answer and didn't need to.  A heavy clanking sound announced the arrival of four more skeletons in rusty armor, followed by three priests in red robes and three zombies.  Ginjo ordered the sohei to adopt an defensive position against the skeletons charge.  Then he made a counter attack routing the three priests whose flight was hampered by their own zombies.  In the confusion of battle, Sukh noticed that Pana had disappeared. Quickly deciding there was one place where he could have gone, Sukh dashed through the reception room and into the chambers of the supreme leader-- sur enough Pana was there, looting the body of his fallen master.  "It's what he would have wanted."  Pana found a handful of coins and gems at Sukh and pushed a panel to open a hidden passage.

Out in the hallway, the sohei destroyed the skeletons and Ginjo killed one of the priests while the others ran away.  Ginjo backed away from the attacking zombies and ducked half way behind a corner so he could fight them one at a time.  They were much slower than his flashing blade and he quickly cut them down.  As the last of the zombies fell to the floor, a previously hidden door opened and Pana dashed out. Ginjo brought him down with a flying tackle and began punching him while the sohei gathered around to cut off any attempts to escape. Sukh emerged from the hidden passage and the party threatened Pana with death if he wouldn't take them to Irak.

Pana agreed. He led them down the wide smooth echoing corridor and down a flight of rough steps into a darker, cramped dungeon.  The passage here was narrow and twisting, and he led them through a series of barred doors to a small chamber.  He open a small window so that Ginjo could the legs of a chained woman inside, then handed him a set of keys.  Ginjo opened the door and rushed in, but the woman was not Irak, but a horrible monster with snakes for hair.  Ginjo stopped himself sort but the valiant Sheng met the eyes of the monster and was turned to stone.

Sukh and Shek seized Pana and pulled his arms behind his back before he could even think of running.  He pleaded his ignorance, and begged for another chance to prove himself, but with a more immediate crisis at hand, they simply held him tightly and ignored his argument.

The snake-lady offered the party a bargain.  Her freedom in exchange for the elixir that would restore their friend.  Sukh flatly refused.  "We don't trust you and we won't free you until we have the elixir."  Ginjo resolved the stalemate by charging at the woman, and braving the snakes until he found the elixir.  They restored Sheng and left the snake woman, reasoning that she could not be trusted.

Pana led them deeper into the dungeon and to a larger chamber filled with devices of torture.   Irak was there.  So was the torturer; he had a few words with Pana, then grabbed his axe and rushed at Ginjo.  Pana called upon his dark magic and transfixed Sukh.  Ginjo dodged the totrtured's axe and drew his sword.  Sheng and Shek fell on Pana.  With Sukh unable to speak and Ginjo engaged in mortal combat with a worthy foe, there was no one to answer Pana's last cries for mercy and he was swiftly killed.  Ginjo, tired and bloodied from his fight with the skeletons and zombies might have fallen under the heavy blows of the bloodthirsty torturer, but the sohei came to his assistance and killed his wicked foe. 

Ginjo broke the chains to free Irak.  Meanwhile, the bakemono practiced their recently learned healing arts upon Sukh and massaged his limbs until he was able to stand and move again.  

The party carefully traced their steps out of the dungeon and into the open air.  It was late afternoon and many of their number were in no shape to make a forced marched to Pasar.  They climbed higher up the canyon and far enough from the caves that they felt relatively safe and made camp.  The most wounded slept while the bakemono tended to them.  In the morning, they hiked back to Pasar.  The party thanked the bakemono for their assistance and the bakemono thanked them for giving them a chance to redeem themselves.  They would not return to the caves but they knew they would not be accepted in human society.  Instead they would build a hut deep in the forest and live out their days according to what they had learned from the kindly and forgiving Gunjar.

The Caves of Inharmonious Discord, Part 7 ("This is all your handiwork")

Sukh, Ginjo and their retinue of on-loan sohei and former mercenaries decided to go to the cavern hideout of the wicked men and demand to know what happened to their friend.  They were received with unctuous hospitality.  The men living in the cavern seemed to be far outnumbered by scores of reanimated skeletons and corpses that seemed to unquestioning follow their every command.  The men, dressed in dark red and black robes spoke gleefully of the awesome power of death and congratulated Sukh and Ginjo for the many offerings they had provided.  Indeed, most of the reanimated corpses were those of bakemono; both Sukh and Ginjo recognized certain individuals as enemies they had recently cut down with their own blades.

The leader of the death cult told them that he did have Irak and that he had plans for her.  But . . . 

He would be willing to make a trade.  He did not want money.  He wanted life for life.  Four bakemono lives would be worth it to him to surrender the prize of a brave and honorable monk.

Sukh and Ginjo agreed.  They returned to their first campsite and the shrine to Gunjar.  They met the bakemono who tended the shrine and asked for their help in defeating the Death Cult.  They would be asked to fight and they would not be turned over as sacrifices.  Sukh and Ginjo promised that they only needed their help to negotiate for Irak's release and that no one would be left behind.  The bakemono agreed.