The party rode horses out of the elven lands with all due haste, then spent the rest of the day in the trading outpost of Tymara selling off their excess minor magical items and buying some more useful (or in Rain's case, flashy) ones. They also bought horses, except for Gennal who bought a magical figurine of a horse.
On the way out of town Rain healed the gnolls who were there to trade, and asked them why they insisted on hanging around in civilized territory. Weren't gnolls all evil monsters? They were grateful, so they patiently explained that all the evil monster gnolls had been killed during the war against the demons, since they were fighting on the side of the demons and the demons lost. The gnolls that were left were just a normal tribal folk, like Shifters.
Oh, and before leaving they'd checked for sidequests, but hadn't found anything except a warning that horse theives had been spotted on the road to Merinda.
They didn't run into any horse thieves. When they got to the town of Vanguard, on the border of Merinda, Gennal refused to go inside -- he was going to circle around cross country (since the road went right through) to avoid having to deal with them people of Vanguard, who (he didn't tell the party) had been the ones to falsely imprison him for years and years before the campaign. Rain and Loki wanted to go in to look for work, since they'd spent most of the money the elves had given them, and the 'quest' to take the evil amulet to the capital of Merinda didn't seem likely to pay much. At least, not in the short term, where they had horses to feed.
But Vanguard was a really unfriendly town, full of stuck up military who refused to admit that there was any problem that they couldn't handle. There weren't even any posted bounties, because that would mean admitting that there were suspects they hadn't instantly apprehended. A bit disheartened and frustrated, the party left Vaguard and met up with Gennal again, and they rode on into the night to put some distance between them and the city.
The next day, around midday, they found a small farming village and stopped for lunch. Rain tried to perform to entertain the farmers, but despite his enthusiasm and his new gloves of flashy but useless magical effects, his skill at entertaining left something to be desired, and everyone kind of got bored of his show.
But part of his show had involved talking about their exploits for adventurers, so they were approached by a farmer who told them that some monsters had been eating his farmhands. Yay! Sidequest! Unfortunately, he was poor and wouldn't be able to pay them much. Yay. Still, sidequest.
Kalrea thought the monsters the farmer described sounded like owlbears, mindless beasts who hunted at night. They were sort of associated with the moon, and therefore with Sehanine, but they were mostly just animals. Man-eating animals.
So the party went out that night to try to see if they'd be attacked. They weren't, but they did spot the tracks leading towards a small copse of woods to the north, and when they got nearby, they could hear something moving around inside. They doused their light and moved into the trees, with Kalrea leading since she was the one who could hear them clearly. There! Two owlbears, just like the farmers had said! The party lit its lights (or at least, Malik lit his shield) and charged!
Then the other four owlbears came out of the woods to the sides to surround the party, and it was a real fight.
It looked pretty bad for a while. The owlbears liked to grab onto people fighting them and then bite them over and over and over, and when they got to half health they let loose with a wild screech which stunned anyone nearby. Malik, Voco, and Kalrea almost went down. Kalrea *did* go down, but Gennal saved her from being immediately eaten by slamming his arrows into the side of the owlbear who'd been about to bite her head off. Malik was saved by Voco running between the owlbears near him and using his burst of evil tentacles attack to push them away... they ran back and flanked and two-teamed him, which was how he ended up getting so hurt, but his new scale armor (instead of the leather he'd been wearing previously) saved him.
At the end, everyone had burned every single encounter and daily power, their daily item powers, and their action points. But they won! Kalrea's nature lore told her that these were likely a pack of juvenile owlbears moving into new territory, so there probably weren't any others within the immediate area, so they took some time to harvest the beaks and feathers from the dead owlbears, then headed back to get some sleep and report success.
A couple of the farmhands were awake, and wanted a souvenier. The party didn't want to give up their beaks and feathers -- they were useful for ritual components and worth MUCH more than the farmer had promised them as payment! But Rain offered to give the farmhands a couple big, scary clawed owlbear paws as souveniers, so he, Gennal, Kalrea, and a couple farmhands went to the now-safe woods to harvest them.
Only, they weren't safe. When they got close, again their heard movement inside the copse, so Gennal snuck in to scout it out. Oh look. MAMA Owlbear. Apparently Kalrea's nature lore had been wrong. Gennal decided that he felt lucky, and took his surprise round, letting the owlbear's frenzied shriek alert the party (or at least the members who'd come to the woods). Between the surprise round and winning initiative, he did almost 40 points of damage to the thing, and she didn't even seem to notice the arrows. What she noticed was that Gennal was nearby, and her children were dead, and RAAAR!
"Run away!" Gennal cried, and everyone did, although the party didn't run at full speed since they were screening the farmhands and occasionally tossing an attack back the monster's way. When Rain caught sight of it, though, he could tell that THIS was a holy creature! It was too beautiful to destroy, and definately blessed of Sehanine. So he knelt down and prayed to his goddess to take away the creature's anger so that they wouldn't have to fight it.
Maybe the prayer worked, or maybe the owlbear was just satisfied with running them out of the woods, but it didn't leave the copse, and they got away. Sehanine whispered in Rain's ear that the creature was indeed under her protection, and he was not to destroy it.
Rain was very quiet after that, so it was up to Kalrea and Gennal to convince the farmer not to call the army to have the giant owlbear hunted down and destroyed -- the little ones had been the man eaters; the mother was harmless and stuff. Really. The farmer paid them the pittance he'd promised, even though they hadn't *really* solved his problem, and sent them on their way.
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