The heroes returned to Ronegarth via Horn Gate, where they dropped off the women of Black Rock, to find the small settlement in a state of excitement. The famed trader Biturian Varosh was soon to visit Raus Fort with his caravan, bringing with him exotic goods such as the poor settlers of Weis Domain had not seen for a very long time.
Soon the fort began to fill up. First to arrive were the Thunder Bison, a warlike branch of the Bison People. To Xaraya’s dismay, they were led by Moharo Blessed-by-Waha, to whom Xaraya had been engaged at birth. Moharo expressed great delight at seeing Xaraya again, and complemented her repeatedly on her beauty, the fullness of her bosom and the length of her leg, much to the chagrin of one Karnyne Widehips, who, it transpired, was Moharo’s current fiancee. Moharo repeatedly made lascivious advances to Xaraya, suggesting that even though she could no longer be his wife, having no tribe, she could enjoy a privileged position as his most favored concubine. Xaraya rebuffed Moharo on every occasion. With the Bison was Kagrunner, a Storm Khan and warrior of renown. He insulted every warrior in the Fort, including Grom, who bridled and looked forward t a chance to duel the bully.
Next to arrive was the Lunar Provincial Survey Team led by Hazphar Pharates, who proceeded to flirt with Xaraya in front of Moharo. He said he had news for Duke Raus of Rone, who came out to meet Hazphar, whom he greeted like a long-lost nephew. Hazphar told the Duke that Stalethia the Moondancer was on her way to the fort. The Duke immediately smiled with delight – a smile that soon turned into a rictus of terror as he realized the implications.
Next to arrive was a mysterious stranger from the Far East, Hu Bao Yi, who was looking for Silver Whispers Descending and his dragonewts. The Tailed Priest told our heroes that he was looking for “the Dragonfriend,” who he was sure was here right now, but not yet (once again, the party were mystified by something SWD said). Over the next couple of days, the party observed him practicing his weird oriental combat styles with the dragonewts. Skye was particularly interested in his scimitar-like sword, which the priest called a Katana. Xaraya took the opportunity to learn the rudiments of the Kralori language, and was eventually able to learn that Hu (whose name meant “timely rain”) had obtained his weapon from the School of Celestial Defense in Lur Nop in Kralorela, but that such fine weapons were not given easily to foreigners.
Next to arrive were a dozen newtlings, led by Flysnapper, emissary of Quicktail, lord of Five Eyes Temple and the Reverend Cho’och, Priest of Zola Fel, his negotiator. It seemed that they had a grudge against Duke Raus and spent much of the next few days in heated discussions with the Duke.
Also arriving were a troop of baboons, led by Tsetse, their warrior champion, and a pair of Morokanth brothers dressed like traders, called Creechkol and Kra’hatcha, who kept trying to trade with the various parties at Ronegarth but always seemed to come off poorer. Soon afterwards Chaku Ironspear turned up, with the ten awakened herd men the characters had left with him a while back. The party decided that they should go to Rabbit Hat as freeholders. Another Agimori had also arrived, but this one had very strange clothing and a thick accent. He called himself Amur An Zed and was looking for help of an as-yet-unspecified nature that he hoped to find at the market.
Another lone stranger was a man clad in black hoplite garb, most unlike the hoplites of Dara Happa that formed the backbone of the Lunar military. He called himself Harmo, or Harmodius the Stepson, a member of a mercenary band from far-off Refuge, who was looking for a desert trader who might help him find who killed his partner. He was hoping that Varosh was that trader.
The day before the market a delegation from Sun County arrived, led by the beautiful but stern Lady Vega Goldbreath. Among her honor guard was a very strange sight – a baboon with shaven skin, painted yellow, who called himself Melo Yelo. Tsetse’s baboons teased him mercilessly, but his soldierly demeanor stopped him responding. This added another factor to the already combustible mix of Lunars, Bison warriors and Duke Raus’ men. Kagrunner in particular continually insulted the Lunars for worshiping chaos, the Yelmalions for being led by a woman, the Agimori for being “ground men,” Grom for following a cowardly god and everyone else for whatever crossed his mind at the time. Tensions were running extremely high and the Duke ordered Daine and Xaraya to be on guard for violence.
Eventually, Biturian and his caravan arrived, with his wife Norayeep of the Flower Bison, his shaman Idrith, and his warrior guards The Five, supposedly the last survivors of a tribe destroyed by the Lunars. Biturian seemed upset to see the Yelmalions, while Kagrunner seemed to have encountered The Five before and ridiculed them as losers. Biturian, however, set up camp professionally.
Finally, as the Duke’s guests were enjoying a pre-market feast, A lone horsewoman arrived. As she flung back her traveling cloak, everyone gasped. She was a short woman, clad in scarlet and silver, barefoot, with a pile of silver hair secured by jade pins. Heavily tattooed, she was nevertheless of surpassing, exotic beauty, perhaps second only to the healer Marcilla in Grom’s eyes. She swept in to the tower, but soon emerged on the arm of Duke Raus and took her place at his side for the feast. This was Stalethia, and she entranced every male present – and many of the females – when she danced for the crowd at the Duke’s request. Even Hazphar stopped flirting with Xaraya for the evening. Kagrunner got wildly drunk and insulted everyone present. The baboons disappeared completely. Finally, Silver Whispers Descending portentously announced that something terrible was about to happen and that he would Futurequest to find out what. With a Tailed Priest standing in the center of the feast area surrounded by Beaked Warriors looking klanths at anyone who came near, the feast broke up in subdued fashion.
Xaraya chose to stay up to keep an eye on things. Early in the morning, she heard a scream from over by Biturian’s tent. She roused Grom and Skye and they went to investigate. They found the body of one of The Five, slain by an axe. The other members of the Five soon appeared, demanding vengeance, although Norayeep soon calmed them down. Xaraya found tracks, and followed them to the West rampart of the fort, where they simply stopped. Grom started asking questions. It soon became apparent that Kagrunner was nowhere to be found. A naked Hazphar was found sneaking back to his tent. One of the Five said that he saw Stalethia creeping around the Bison yurts. A bizarre sequence of events saw the Morokanth brothers paying Xaraya for giving her the information that Kargunner was last seen arguing fiercely with Chaku, who refused to say why. The baboons were nowhere to be found. Varosh announced that some items had been stolen from his stash – mostly amber necklaces and iron spearheads.
Harmo the Stepson revealed that he had advanced scouting and offered to help look to Kagrunner and/or the baboons. Moharo was found sleeping naked through the commotion in his yurt, but Karnyne immediately accused him of sleeping with Xaraya, slapping her and kneeing Moharo where it hurt. Xaraya decided to go searching with Harmo and a couple of Raus’ men, while Grom continued his investigations. Skye threw up her hands and went back to bed.
Grom managed to get Hazphar to reveal that he had been enjoying relations with someone when the murder occurred, but discretion forbade him revealing who. He also discovered Kagrunner’s helmet in Lady Vega’s tent. She was at a loss to explain why. Hu Bao Yi’s katana was missing. The newtlings told Grom a variety of things:
*One of the Duke’s mercenaries threatened to kill Kagrunner last night.
*The short painted female mated with Kagrunner and killed him.
*Kagrunner attacked one of the survey team.
*The red moon people, fire worshippers and the Duke have reached a secret deal to hunt nomads and newtlings alike.
*This market was a trap! We will never leave here alive!
Grom left the newtlings more bewildered than before, although the Zola Fel priest did tell him that one of the newtlings, Longtongue, had gone missing.
Xaraya and Harmo searched the ramparts, and found tracks of a large Cliff Toad above where the previous tracks had stopped. Thoughts of a lycanthropic toad started going through Xaraya’s mind. They followed the tracks to near the river, where they found the headless body of Kagrunner. His head had been removed in a single swipe. The katana was found nearby. Who could have decapitated a Storm Khan in one go? At this point, a lycanthropic toad seemed like the least of their worries.
Harmo noticed that the tracks continued to the river. As he was investigating, a huge tongue emerged from the river and struck him. Xaraya raised the alarm and Grom and his men started towards the river. Harmo and the mercenaries started into the river while Xaraya cast Project Sight. She discovered a newtling riding a toad under the water. As one of the guards collapsed with glazed eyes she realized the newtling must be a shaman. Harmo sliced the toad’s tongue off the next time it attacked, leaving it a race to disable the shaman before he and his fetch dragged everyone to the spirit plane. Xaraya was able to use magic to disable the newtling before Harmo and eventually Grom slew the toad.
They dragged the newtling to the bank, where, after unsubtle “persuasion,” it told them what had happened. The newtling, Longtongue, had been sent by Quicktail of Five Eyes to cause war between Duke Raus and the Thunder Bison. While they had initially planned to kill Karnyne and frame Xaraya, the excesses of Kagrunner had provided a better option. Kagrunner had killed one of the Five in a drunken rage, then staggered off. Longtongue had summoned a Traskar, an awakened Cliff Toad, and had stalked him on the ramparts before having the Traskar entangle him in its tongue and swallow him. They came down to the river, where the Traskar vomited up the Storm Khan, whom Longtounge’s fetch then destroyed on the spirit plane while Longtongue beheaded the body with the katana, which he had obtained from the thieving baboons.
After further investigation, it transpired that Stalethia had seduced Moharo. Karnyne, on seeing this, had sought out an all-too-willing Hazphar for the night. Kagrunner had clumsily attempted to seduce Lady Vega, who threw him out (he forgot his helmet), making him so angry he killed the next person he met. Chaku and Kagrunner had been arguing over Kagrunner’s behavior, nothing more. the baboons took advantage of the Fiver’s death to raid Varosh’s stash before fleeing (they were never found).
With embarrassment extremely high all round, the newtlings left with Duke Raus’ formal declaration of war in their possession. Biturian cast his Create Market spell and the market began. The party were able to acquire some useful items, particularly armor. In return for clearing up the mystery, the Issaries priest gave the party his copy of The Journal of Federang Sandpiper. The Bison riders left to head for Moharo and Karnyne’s wedding, with both extremely annoyed with each other, and Xaraya for that matter. As the Lunar survey team left, Hazphar warned Xaraya to keep an eye on Stalethia. Biturian was forced to admit that this was his most eventful market since his own wedding.