After leaving the farm, the party headed back to the main road and made good time towards Coreguard, until they were set upon by bandits. Kalrea and Gennal heard hoofbeats, and they'd been warned about bandits, so Kalrea started casting a ritual to make the terrain around the road difficult (she never even got close to finishing it) and Gennal headed to the top of the ridge to the south to take a peek.
When he got to the ridge, Gennal saw that the horses were riderless, being led by a lone man parallel to the road. The bandits were slinking through the grass towards him and the party. He ran back towards the others, shouting a warning, as arrows sailed into his back.
The bandits had good tactics -- two strong brutes ran up to distract the party and draw fire, while their archers hung waaaay back with their leader tossing out arrows and healing words from a distance great enough that even though everyone knew they really wanted to get the guys in back, they'd have to spend several turns getting wailed on by the brutes as they tried to close... possibly unsuccesfully, since the archers and leader called their horses and mounted up as soon as it was obvious that the fight wasn't one-sided in their favor. After they took out one of the brutes (and almost lost Kalrea), though, Gennal and Loki decided that enough was enough and shifted their focus to the enemies. Loki, by running up to point blank range all by himself, as the archers fired on him for several turns, and exploding in evil tentacles... which missed every single target.
But Gennal and Kalrea (who shifted focus after not quite dying) were a little more successful, and the leader decided to call a retreat, leaving his hapless brutes (who were by far his weakest followers) to die.
Kalrea and Gennal took issue with that. Kalrea, by using Grasping Tides to keep knocking down the horses that one of the archers was trying to ride off with, Gennal by chasing after the leader on his own horse (his summoned steed was the only war-trained horse in the party) and firing arrows into his back. And his horses' back. He slowed the mount, then tried unsuccesfully to knock the leader off the horse with a push, then just did lots of damage... and actually killed the leader before he escaped, although his horse kept running with his arrow-laden body still in the saddle. So they couldn't be *sure* he was dead.
Kalrea did manage to take out the archer she'd been focusing on as well, but the other archer escaped. They ended up with two prisoners (one of the brutes had also lived) and one captured warhorse (and one dead horse, that Loki and Malik tried to eat raw, with bad results).
The brought the brute conscious, because Rain had recognized him as the farmhand's brother who'd gone off 'adventuring', and therefore had chosen not to coup-de-grace him with healing strike (which is why Kalrea almost died). He told a sob story about how he'd really wanted to become an adventurer, but the leader of their band had ties to a pirate city and had gradually brought them around to banditry. He swore he'd be good if they let him go! But they needed to make sure the other guy they had with them was executed, since he was an actual member of the pirate nation and would be too dangerous to leave alive 'on the inside'.
Rain and Kalrea believed that he was sincere about not doing any more banditry (and about never having killed anyone -- everyone else they'd jumped had given up their possessions without a fight), and they let him go back to his family. Kalrea wanted to bring the archer to the next city to turn him in and get him executed. Rain cut off the prisoner's head, instead.
Kalrea: "What the hell?"
Rain: "Did you *see* how the authorities were acting in Vanguard? They don't post bounties and they don't trust outsiders. All he'd have to do is say we're the bandits and we'd be the ones to hang."
Gennal: "Yeah, trust me. He's human, we're not. We'd be the ones put in prison."
Kalrea was Not Happy about that, but the bandit *had* deserved death, so she didn't abandon the party just yet.
Malik (or was it Loki?): "So, how long until we're bandits for real? That's how these guys got into the business."
They buried the dead and moved on to the next city. It wasn't dark yet, even with the delay, but a storm was rolling in, so they decided to stop early and spend the night. The stablehand sniffed at the shifters suspiciously (especially suspicious from a human) and the villagers were secretive and quiet, and there was a spooky mage tower dominating the skyline, and strange howls filled the night... but in the morning, Malik and Kalrea wanted to go investigate the howls and were outvoted since they'd come from private property and they might have to fight innocent farmers if they tresspassed, and Loki and Rain wanted to investigate the mage's tower but were outvoted since all the villagers had warned them that the mages were 'eccentric'. The tiebreaker in both cases was Gennal, who just wanted to get the hell out of the stinking human city as soon as possible.
It came down to an argument in the village square that ended with Rain shouting, "Look, we *know* all the villagers are really werewolves, let's just get out of here before they eat us, okay?" After that they *had* to leave.
The next city was on a hill, and the party had to pass through a spooky fogbank (left by the storm) to get to it. There was shouting and the sounds of battle in the fog, but they decided to just hurry past without getting involved. Which was a good thing, since the military folk on the other side of the fog told them it was a training exercise.
This city was open and friendly, for Merinda, and they bought some supplies and asked about the remaining trail to Coreguard. It looked like if they hurried, they might be able to make it that day.
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