In Quitokai, they reunited with Kreppu-Sen who informed them Imperial guards were in the area, hunting for the traitor General Goyat and the long chain of once trusted servants who had been sent to find him and in their delay or failure, had likewise proven themselves traitors: first General Kawabi, then Gwinch, most recently Tetsukichi and Golfo. They decided together that they should leave the area and considered their options. Most obviously, they could resume their quest to find Gwinch, Kawabi, and Goyat. But both Tetsukichi and Golfo felt also a filial loyalty to Anca and the Sansar claim. There had been hints from Anca that if they were to deal with the brigand problem, the local Khan, known as Eor Brunis, would reward them with titles and herds. This seemed like the quickest route to respectability, and perhaps safer, since they might more easily hide from the Emperor’s men in the lands to the west.
So they traveled to the encampment of Eor Brunis and listened to the assembly of herders and merchants who had gathered there. Eor Brunis boasted great herds in part because he was paid tribute by the many merchants who passed through his herding grounds on their way from one trading center to another. They were happy to pay because he was fair and because he swiftly punished anyone who harassed them. But now they were not so happy. The brigands eluded capture in the Great Sea of Sand near Kumwei, once a very pleasant wayside. When they attacked, they attacked swiftly, and the merchants’ guards were seized by a strange terror.
The party agreed to seek out the brigands and destroy them. The next morning, they set off for Kumwei, accompanied by a merchant who had agreed both to pay them and to show them to Kumwei, hoping himself to profit greatly from a trip few of his competitors still dared to make. They spent the first night at what, according to their guide, would be the last Wayside before they reached Kumwei. An old seer heard were they were going and explained what was happening. According to his song, the Earth had once been ruled by great lizards, and their king Sakatha made his court in the middle of the swamp that was now the Great Sea of Sand. The race of men had replaced the race of lizards, but still the cycle turned and the race of lizards was preparing to rule the earth once more. The party listened closely to song while their guide did his best to ignore it.
The next day, crossing a bridge over a deep canyon, they were best by dozens of lizard-people who emerged from beneath the bridge. They walked on two feet; in their forelimbs, they carried shields and spiked clubs.
Kreppu-sen took command of the party’s tactics. The lizard-people were attacking from either end of the bridge. The party’s spellcasters and archers broke up the line in front of them while the entire group moved forward, those in the lead urging their horses to trample their foes underfoot. A few strong warriors at the rear held off the flank attack. Once the party had crossed the bridge safely, they wheeled on their horses and met the surviving lizard-people on a single front. Thanks to such tactics and the prowess of the individual warriors and, we may hope, the favor of a deity or deities, the humans vanquished the lizard-people without sustaining any serious casualties.
The party pressed on for a few more hours. They encountered a man sleeping by the side of the road. He awakened when they approached and declared that he was a vassal of Khan Eor. His dress, his name, and his speech all corroborated his claim. He and his men had been attacked by brigands. The brigands commanded some kind of magic so that they easily overwhelmed his group of strong men. He had escaped and now wanted to return to make a report to Khan Eor. He was glad to share what information he knew. The brigands operated near Kumwei. There was a large open grassy area between the buildings and tents of Kumwei and the shifting dunes of the Sea of Sand. A cave there, on the edge of the Sea of Sand was used by the brigands as their hideout. Kreppu-sen agreed to accompany this man—and also the merchant who was having second thoughts about danger-driven arbitrage—back to the encampment of Khan Eor. Beatriss, Tetsukishi, and their retainers would continue on to Kumwei
by Brayo on Flickr.