The first attempt to contact the bandits was to invade the elven forest, which was very near (a few hundred feet from) the dwarven mining town, and only that far because that was how many trees the dwarves had had to log for their mining operation. They searched the sharp, abrupt, nearly impenetrable undergrowth until they found a narrow animal trail, and went in... maybe... 20 feet, Hef shouting, "EEEELVES! COME OUT ELVES!" at the top of his lungs.
The path was so horrible that Talon sent his hawk to scout for a better path, while he found a tree to climb to get a look at the forest from above the canopy. It took a while to find a good climbing tree, but once he did he quickly noticed that it had been altered to be even better to climb than a natural tree would -- and 30 feet above the ground was a hidden pathway of branches that someone with good balance (better than most of the party's, but not all that good really) could travel at full speed. Looking out above the canopy, he didn't see much except for some nearby hills -- one really big one, and a few smaller ones, all covered in trees. Really, you couldn't see anything in the forest for all the trees.
When he told them about the tree path, Hef climbed up and started shouting for elves again. A crow flew up and CAWed at him loudly.
Hef: "Are you an elf?"
Hef: "We looking for elfs!"
Hef: "You want berries?"
Crow: *flies off* *comes back with a whole flock of crows*
Other crows: "Flee!" "Leave!" "No!" "Danger!"
Sam, after several tries, managed to climb up and cast detect magic, and sure enough one of the crows was magical -- someone transformed, or a familiar maybe? Talon asked the crows to fetch an elf for them to talk to, and it flew off to leave its flock of mockingbirds to continue to tell the party to leave.
A few minutes later, Talon's hawk returned, having not found any better paths. A few minutes after that, an elven ranger in camo gear showed up to talk to them.
Feather listened to their concerns, and confirmed that yes, bandits and a dragon were present in the southern forest, but more dangerous were the dragon's half-dragon brood, who were 'feisty'. Travelling through the forest was suicidal, since the bandits preyed on any non-elf, and the other forest creatures would see them as legitimate prey as well. If they wanted to talk to the elven leaders, they should go all the way around through the mountains, past Rally, north to another pass, through the mountains again, and then back south to Silver Wind which was near the northern edge of the forest.
But it was the bandits, or maybe the unicorn, that they wanted to talk to! Feather still suggested that they leave. Lily and Talon were of the opinion that the only sincere thing about him was his desire for them to leave.
Feather had heard a little bit about Shabra, but only from an old wives' tale. He'd been a necromancer who'd been outcast from elven society (for necromancy), and later sealed beneath the ground. But surely he wasn't real!
Since they had another lead to follow, they left as Feather requested, and went south to one of the destroyed dwarven caravans to track the bandits that way. The trail was easy to follow -- a dozen horses left a trail that hadn't been washed away by a day or two of blowing salt. Soon, they found an even easier trail to follow -- a series of deep, square holes in the salt crust that looked like someone had randomly set out fence posts and then removed them. That trail was clear enough for a blind man to follow, so in the interest of actually catching someone, they stopped tracking per se and simply jogged down that trail as fast as they could.
After a bit, they got to some rocky terrain, and found the bandits waiting in ambush. The ambush didn't work very well, since the party saw them first -- they sent Hef ahead to absorb the initial volley, since being a barbarian he had the uncanny ability to dodge sneak attacks. After wasting their alpha strike, the rest of the party fell on them and killed several and blinded the rest with a glitterdust... and by the time the bandits' reinforcements arrived on horseback, Sam was sitting back with a readied action to acid ball them into oblivion.
Of course, the two strongest shrugged off the acid, being half-dragons on half-dragon mounts. Lily used a wand of sleet storm to blind them, but they spread their wings and flew into the air. She tried to put them to sleep, but dragons were immune. They were not immune to arrows, though, or fireballs that hadn't been gratuitiously substituted to acid. With all their support dead or fleeing, and one of the unicorns taken down before they could even make their first charge, the unicorns hid in the sleet storm, healed each other, and then teleported away.
Obviously, the bandits didn't want to talk.
The party wasn't going to let them get away that easily, though. They started following the trail farther, and when it started going in circles, they sent Talons hawk scouting around for a camp of some sort. Soon, she spotted something that looked like what she'd been told to seek, and they left the trail to follow her towards the bandit camp. When a volley of arrows shot up at her, they knew they were close, and cast their buff spells before rushing forwards at a run!
Bandit negotiator, waving a white flag: "Stop! Truce!"
A short negotiation followed, in which the party asserted their authority and accused the bandits of murdering innocents, and the bandits accused the party of aiding and abetting the dwarves in their foolish mining efforts. When the party mentioned Shabra, the bandit seemed to think the dwarves had gotten what they deserved, and the best way to deal with the ongoing Shabra situation was to seal up the mine permanently so that nothing could get in or out.
About this time, Hef got bored and killed him. The bandits were not happy about this. It. Was. On.
This time, the party was facing the entire bandit army -- four half-dragon elves riding half-dragon unicorns this time, dozens of non-dragon archers, dozens of ineffective low-level elves riding fake unicorns, and in the back... a gazebo?
The flying archers targetted Liliana first, as an obvious spellcaster and soft target, but she managed to feign death before actually dying, and Sam (their second target) was a bit better defended and didn't quite get killed by the rest of their volley. Hobbes and Hef rushed forwards to charge the archers, and exposed themselves to the second row of archers, which had absolutely no effect on Hobbes, since he was ludicrously untouchable, but did a number on Hef. Sam fireballed the flying archers...
And then they revealed that they were not, in fact, archers -- the riders had merely been taking the opportunity to fire on the party while their mounts lined up for a powerful charge. Hobbes managed to intercept one in midair and kill the mount before it could charge, but that left three to charge Talon, Calvin, and Hef. Hef took out his, mount and rider both, but was left a hair's breadth from death, and still under fire from half a dozen archers. Calvin barely managed to stay alive, fleeing for his life while Hobbes charged down to intercept his assailants. Talon -- went down, and the rider then dismounted and charged after Liliana, who'd stopped feigning death to cast another spell. Sam webbed half the enemy mooks, and then hid behind a rock.
But in their desperation, the party had managed to fall back behind cover that kept the archers from being effective, and the remaining half-dragons, sensing blood, followed. Talon's hawk and Calvin took down one, Hobbes two more, Hef -- prone and on his last hitpoint -- took out yet another, and Lilia charmed the last, suggesting that she was his best chance for a peaceful resolution, and he had to protect her. He did this by yelling at his men instead of literally fighting on her side, but if nothing else it took *him* out of the fight.
With their strongest combatants gone, the rest of the bandits piled onto the gazebo and ran away. The party was far too beat up to chase them any further, and decided to call it a victory and start looting. With the charmed half-dragon's help, they also found some hidden caches full of gold and damning evidence that the bandits were not only bandits, but cultists worshipping 'The Dreamer', some sort of dragon sleeping atop a subterranean pile of gold and, in her sleep, handing out prophecy to the chosen few.
They still didn't feel up to clearing the mine -- which meant it was time to report back to their superiors in Silver Sails and see what they could get the orcs to do about it. And to sell all their loot, including the severed horns of the half-dragon unicorns.
They did realize that since they'd just slaughtered the children of a unicorn paladin (the bandits' leader, who didn't take a direct part in their operations) and an ancient green dragon, going into the elven forest any time soon was *probably a bad idea*.
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