Session 39: Bandits On The Road

Though a little wary, the group began to relax as they told Mendel the merchant of their adventure in the caves and ate the food and drink he provided.

Valeria and the others were careful to omit their negotiations with Harkul, the goblin king.

Vernim was suddenly aroused by Chantel's hand as it began stroking the inside of his thigh. Though concerned, he tried not to alert anyone to his discomfort. Only Prynhawn noticed him stiffen slightly.

"What's wrong?" Prynhawn asked.

"I'm not sure at the moment." Vernim began. I did not mean to—"

"Nothing's wrong." Chantel giggled, innocently.

Meanwhile, Lawrence was engaged in questioning Mendel about his business, which the trader explained varied depending on the seasonal needs in the remote caravan route he frequented. He also explained that he tended to pass by the Keep once or twice a month with a few barrels of luxury items.

"...CAVES..." They all heard someone yell from the far side of the bar. Looking ever they saw two men engaged in a conversation over ales. One, dressed in furs, was boisterous, while the other seemed much more reserved.

Vernim excused himself, with Baricus getting getting up to let him out and re-seating himself next to Chantel.

"Excuse me gentlemen," Vernim interrupted as soon as there was a break in the conversation. "I hope you don't mind. I heard you mention the caves. I thought I would ask you about them. I'm interested in learning everything I can about them. I want to explore them and—"

"Aha!" The furred patron began. "We were just talking about the caves because we heard you all talking about the caves. You went to the caves and we heard you had some success."

"Really?" Vernim asked. "Do you have any vested interest in the caves?"

"Yeah, I'm interested in the caves," the furred patron agreed. "Wherever there's adventure, I'll be there!'

"You seem like an adventuring sort." Vernim complimented. "What's your name?"

"My name's Cob," he replied, cheerfully.

Vernim introduced himself, mentioning that they're always looking for more adventuring companions.

Cob enthusiastically agreed, and they agreed to meet the next morning.

Vernim asked Cob's friend he would want to join them.

"Hmm. You're friends with Mendel. You know what?" the man started, solemnly, "it's been a long night and I think I'm going to go.

"Is there a problem with Mendel?" Vernim asked, quietly.

"No, nothing." The man replied. "It's just that I can’t think of anyone that's still alive that's been to the caves. If you ask me, it's a good place to stay away from, unless you’re really looking for trouble. And I wouldn't trust anyone who tried to convince you otherwise."

Vernim noticed him give a sideways glance back towards the table where his companions sat with Mendel and his companions. "Thank you for your consideration."

"I hope I see you again." The man said as he rose to leave.

"I hope I see you again, as well." Vernim said.

"You know Asham is not an adventurer like you and me," Cob said. "The caves are the next place to explore. You know there used to be a ton of of lizard men in these parts. It was a terrible time we had with 'em. But you know Lord Macsen, he offered a bounty—10 gp a head I think it was. Whack! Whack! You should have seen the pile those heads made. Ain’t no lizard men left hereabouts these days."

"What do you specialize in?" Vernim asked.

"I'm a hunter!" Cob announced. "They call me Cob the Huntsman!" He showed Vernim his longbow. "Are you in need of a huntsman? I can track me some goblins and I can shoot 'em dead. Where is Jess? Jess!" he called, eager for a refill.

Vernim expressed his concern that Cob might be too intoxicated to meet them the next dawn, but Cob assured him he would be there and invited Vernim to join him for a round. Vernim agreed to join him for one round.

"Tell me more about your adventures, Cob," Vernim requested.

"Well you know what else is out there?" Cob asked rhetorically. "Down south in the Spiderwood, there's spiders! Great nasty big 'uns, with teeth! And their webs are so thick you can't hardly shoot through them. But the good thing about those spiders is, you don't bother them, and they don't bother you! So I leave well enough alone.

"Speaking of the woods, there was one time when I was hiding in the woods, not the Spiderwoods, but the woods right here around the Keep, and I tell you, it was horrible. Some kind of great big mosquito-bat, as big as a tomcat, with big, horrible, insect eyes and a long sharp beak. It chased me for miles, I tell you. Finally I had to dive in the river. That was the only way I could get rid of it! Brr!"

"That sounds like quite an adventure." Vernim agreed.

"But you know what I haven't found much of?" Cob asked. "Treasure! There’s no treasure left in these parts, 'less the pawnbroker has it. Hopefully there'll be some in those caves."

"Tell me about your adventures my friend." Cob asked.

Vernim told Cob of his growing up as an urchin in the streets of the City of Splendors and how he become a devotee of Tymora, and of joining with The Outcasts."

"You mean that group over there?" Cob asked. "Yeah, those are an odd group, I tell ya."

"They might look odd," Vernim explained, "But we get the job done."

"Oh, I'm just saying, I'm glad I met you here first," Cob explained, "instead of seeing them out in the woods. I might have thought they had come from the caves if I seen those creatures."

"Well," Vernim replied, "I'm glad that I met you here too."

"Me too," Cob cheered, "because any friend of Vernim is a friend of mine!"

"You know you look like a very worthy frontiersman," Vernim acknowledged. "The reason I came here is that Sister Garaele, the priestess of Tymora in Phandalin, she went missing. And I'm hoping to find her."

"That's funny," Cob pondered. "You're the second person today that told me about someone that went missing."

"Interesting," Vernim responded. "Who else mentioned it?"

"You know that guy I was just talking to, Asham the Cooper?" Cob whispered. "Well, his daughter went missing. It's a shame, but he really doesn't like to talk about it. Well, I was going to say it's a coincidence, but it's probably not a coincidence considering... you know Tymora shines wherever you go probably, right? I mean who's to say?"

"It very well might not be." Vernim agreed. "Wow. Why does it have to happen to the most decent people?"

"He is a decent man," Cob continued, "but I'll tell you, he hasn't been the same since."

"No?" Vernim questioned. "Well, I'm going to have to keep an eye out and hopefully with you at our side we will find his daughter."

"You know, I wish we could find her," Cob slurred. "I'll tell you, she was a fine lass that Arpad, she was. Yep. Bad things happen. That's why people like you and me, we need to hold the line! So I told you about the caves, and the lizard men that used to be to the south, and the spiders. The lizard men are gone but something else out there. Gnolls! I saw them three times last month. And twice I saw the river was running red with blood. I also found some strangers kilt on the road. Kilt dead they was! Looked like they'd been hacked with axes and the one who looked like the leader, she was stuck to a tree with a spear ran right through her.

"And to the north, just be careful if you go up there. There's a mad hermit. They say he's crazy. They say he doesn't even eat meat! He doesn't eat meat! Can you believe it!"

"That's ridiculous!" Vernim agreed.

"That's what I'm sayin'," Cob rambled. "I don't even know how anybody survives without meat. Well, that's probably why he's so crazy. Well, alright Vernim. So, here tomorrow? First thing? All right. I'm thinking I'm about ready for... for another one. Jess! One more. One more?"

"I have to go talk to my friends." Vernim nodded. "And I want to tell them all about our conversation." They shook hands and Vernim returned to his companion's table with Mendel.

Meanwhile Philip was busy pounding away the strongest brew Jess could find and mixing it with the beer from the caves when Jess wasn't around, while Valeria and Lawrence were drinking wine, Baricus was nursing an ale, and Prynhawn was drinking water.

"You get in any trouble?" Lawrence asked when Vernim returned.

"No, actually Cobb, the gentleman over there is very interested in assisting us tomorrow." Vernim told them. Apparently he's a frontiersman and gave me a lot of valuable information."

Jess was still standing by the table and asked, "Are you looking for people to assist you? Cuz I'm sure there's lots of people here that would love to accompany you to the caves."

"I'm sure you're very experienced in this, but just make sure that anyone I go talk to doesn't drink too much," Vernim requested. "I mean I guess it's your responsibility to make money, but you know, anything that you can do is appreciated."

"I don't know what 'drink too much' means there, Vernim." Jess replied.

"Well, do you know how many drinks that Cob has had over there?" Vernim asked.

"I'm not sure." Jess replied, "but it looks like Philips about to pass him pretty soon!"

"Philip!" Vernim called out.

"Oh, sorry." Philip apologized. "You can have your seat back. You were here first. I'm just swinging my legs."

"I'm trying to find some new people to join us tomorrow." Vernim explained, sitting down. "So I just want to warn you all now not to drink too much. We have a big day tomorrow. First thing tomorrow we're going to meet down here and Cob is going to join us and I'll try to find some other people to join us in our adventure. I just don't want you to be in the situation where—

"Why are you trying to find other people to join us on our adventures?" asked Baricus.

"Would you not like me to?" Vernim asked. "I figured any help we can get would be a good thing."

"Are people going to be working for free?" Baricus asked. "We've got lots of people."

"We can take it out of my share." Vernim offered.

"Well that would allow you to bring one extra person." Baricus considered. "I'm just thinking, we're already dividing the treasure up seven ways. I'm just thinking. I think we have all the bases covered. I don't know why we want anybody else."

"I'm just warning you, Philip." Vernim said, seeing how much Philip was drinking and changing the conversation. "We're leaving in the morning, and we will go with or without you. I don't want to go without you, but just make sure you don't drink too much."

"Are, are you going to kick me out?" Philip asked, fearfully.

"No." Valeria declared.

"No," Vernim agreed. "I'm just concerned and I want to make sure that you're in a good spot."

"Do you want me to stop drinking?" Philip asked.

"Just pace yourself." Vernim suggested.

"I am pacing myself." Philip explained. "I didn't think anything was wrong. In fact I feel like I have a few more in me! If this doesn't offend you..."

"It doesn't offend me!" Mendel shouted. "Everybody have another round on Mendel!"

"Here, here!" Baricus cheered.

Vernim noticed that Baricus seemed much more amiable to Chantel's hand on his leg, and he had his hand on her leg.

Vernim told them Cob's tale about Asham's missing daughter, and suggested it might be connected to the other mysterious disappearances in the area.

Prynhawn was eager to rescue Asham's daughter and suggested they retire for the night.

"We're definitely going to the caves tomorrow, right?" Baricus asked. "It doesn't pay that well, but it's better than any other work around here."

"You know, I've listened to many an adventurer's tale in my day," Mendel said, "and from everything I hear, the lower caves — I haven't seen them myself, but my understanding is there are some lower caves and some upper caves — the lower ones, the ones down near the stream, the Goblin Water, those are a lot easier to deal with. The ones higher up are a lot tougher. Take my advice. Stay out of those higher caves until you've got a few more successes under your belts."

"And you got to be careful about those Bandits." Jess said. "The bandits are terrible in these parts. Most folks say they just rob you and let you go, but I've noticed every once in awhile it seems like somebody just disappears. 'The orcs got 'em' most folks say, but I ain't so sure. So watch yourselves."

"Thank you, sir." Philip said to Mendel.

"No, thank you!" Mendel replied. "Thank you for the kind tales. I always love listening to tales of adventure."

They thanked Mendel for his hospitality, and as they returned to their rooms, Philip was noticeably tipsy, swaying back and forth.

Baricus didn't get up. "You know what guys, you guys go without me. I'll be up there soon."

"Are you sure?" Valeria asked.

"Yeah, I'm sure." he smiled.

Prynhawn tried to persuade him to come up with them, but Barcus insisted, pointing out that he had not had that much to drink.

When they got to the stairs Vernim told Lawrence of Chantel's flirtations with him and then with Baricus.

"I guess that's good news, but a little concerning maybe." Lawrence wondered.

"Baricus is going to get distracted." Vernim warned. "He is appreciative of the attention he's receiving from the blond woman over there and he's reciprocating in that attention and I worry that he will be distracted from us and be more focused on his relationship with her."

"It doesn't have to be all business all the time," Lawrence suggested. "We have to live our lives, make families..."

"I think you are dead right, my friend," Vernim added, "but I just want to make sure that he still puts a priority on business."

"I can certainly see the argument that these are not the most trustworthy people," Lawrence considered. He suggested they might want to hold on to his money for the night.

As Lawrence returned to Mendel's table, he saw Chantel whispering in Baricus' ear and as he approached, he realized that she was kissing his ear and nibbling on it a little bit.

"Ahem." Lawrence interrupted. "Baricus, can I talk to you for a second. It's about the money."

"Sure, Lawrence," Baricus said, pulling away from Chantel. "Give me one second," he said to the blond. "I'll be right back."

"What's up, Lawrence?" he asked. "I hope you're not going to try to drag me back to the room. It's been a long time. I just wanted to...you know."

"No, no." Lawrence assured him. "Not at all. It's alright. Just be careful, but have a good time. We were just worried that you have all the money, including the money from the ears. That was quick thinking. But maybe we should just hold on to that in the room."

"Good thinking." Baricus agreed. "I'll be right back, okay?" he said to Chantel and Mendel. "I'll be right back."

When Baricus and Lawrence got to the stairs Baricus gave Lawrence the sack of coins and returned to the table.

Back in the room, Yanliz appeared to be sleeping in the closet.

When Prynhawn awoke, Yanliz was standing by the door adjusting his bow, and eager to go. Baricus had not returned to the room.

When the group went to the tavern there was no sign of Cob, but Baricus was waiting for them, as was Jess.

Baricus quickly approached Valeria and asked to speak with her. He explained that he would not be going with them. "It's been good working with you, but I got a better offer." He explained that he would be working as a bodyguard for Mendel.

"Well, good luck," Lawrence said.

"I'm sure I'll be here every now and then," Baricus indicated. "Good luck today. Oh, and can we settle up the treasure?" he added, as an afterthought.

After they gave Baricus his share and they all said their goodbyes, Baricus went upstairs.

Jess was waiting and approached them as soon as Baricus had left. "Good morning, Philip." Gesturing to four robed people, two men and two women, sitting together at a nearby table, she added, "Philip, I want to introduce you to someone, and I guess I want to introduce you all to some people. This is Brother Martin, the man I was telling you about. Brother Martin, this is Philip, and his friends. And this is Opal and Dubricus and Aseneth."

Leaning close to Philip she added, "And don't you forget what I said...if you need someone..." Philip nodded.

Then, turning to everyone, she said, "I got to get stuff ready," and she went to the kitchen.

All four of the newcomers were wearing robes; Dubricus' were especially fine, and Aseneth's were noticeably dark. Opal wore a symbol of the moon, and Martin a symbol of the sun, and both wore chainmail under their robes.

"Greetings, adventurers," said Dubricus. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dubricus d’Ambreville, and I am a wizard. If you are in need of a wizard, I'd be happy to accompany you into whatever danger awaits."

"The more the merrier, I guess," Philip said. Then, looking around at his companions, he whispered, "Are we all in agreement here?"

"As I see it," Lawrence replied, "We don't own the caves, and if you are looking for adventure and we're looking for adventure, better to go the ten of us and have to split up the treasure ten ways than go in two half-sized groups and have to fight for each cave. So I think you are welcome to accompany us."

"Brother Martin?" Vernim interrupted. "May I speak with you?"

"Of course." Brother Martin replied. "I'm hoping to speak with you."

"I am also a cleric." Vernim declared. "Who do you follow?"

"I'm a Dawngreeter, of Lathander," Brother Martin explained.

"Excellent." Vernim decided. "That's good to hear."

"And who do you follow?" Martin asked eagerly.

"I follow Lady Luck." Vernim replied.

They both proclaimed their mutual respect for each other.

"Let me ask you a question," Martin began. "I've always wondered about this. Is it your belief that luck guides all things and that everything is chance, or do you follow Tymora so that good luck will be bestowed upon you? And let me just say that I don't ask this question with the intention of there being any wrong answer."

"I think it's a combination of all three." Vernim replied. "To give you some context, I follow Lady Luck because I believe that I personally got very lucky and my hope is that I can help bestow that luck upon others."

"I see," Martin nodded. "So while chance guides all things you hope that by your presence and worship and piety that you will bring good fortune to your companions?"

"It's not terribly different from your beliefs," Vernim responded. "You just don't put as much emphasis on chance."

"That is true. That is true." Martin agreed. "And certainly not everything is within our control. I mean, that would be a hard argument to make. I'm sure some could argue it, but I would not try to make that argument. And any group of adventurers would be fortunate to have a follower of Tymora in their company." Then, turning to Prynhawn, he asked, "And is that is that a holy symbol I see on you?

"Yes." Prynhawn replied raising his right gauntlet. "I'm a paladin."

"I presumed as much by your stature." Brother Martin replied. "Yeah, a paladin of Torm, that makes sense. Very respectable. And is that all the priests among you? Any one else here devoted?"

"Well, I'm a servant of Sel√Ľne, the goddess of the moon," said Opal. "If you need another priest."

"Well, you're both welcome along," Lawrence reiterated. "You can never have too many—"

"And as I mentioned, I am a wizard," Dubricus announced. "Dubricus d’Ambreville."

"And I'm also a wizard," Aseneth chimed in. "I just arrived at the Keep a few days ago and I'm staying here at The Green Man."

"There's safety in numbers!" Dubricus proclaimed. "And let me just say, while of course I would expect my fair share, I'm not in it for the treasure. My family comes from substantial wealth, and I'm not here for the treasure." Dubricus went on to explain that while he comes from a wealthy noble family, he did not bring much wealth with him, being determined to make a name for himself on his own merits. He came to the Keep several months ago seeking an adventuring party to join up with, but has found no one brave enough to venture to the caves. He's been renting a private apartment in the Keep. To supplement his cash supplies, he has been working as a scribe and scrivener, drawing up contracts between merchants and the like, which has been terribly boring. But he's also opened an informal school to any child who wants to learn how to read and write. He said his classes were very popular.

"Greetings," Brother Martin said, when Philip formally introduced himself. "So I hear you are also a student of the culinary arts..."

"Yeah." Philip answered. "Yeah, you can say that."

"That's very interesting." Brother Martin replied. "When I came here a couple of months ago, I thought that the keep might be in need of another servant of the gods, but that Abercrombie runs a pretty tight ship over at the chapel, so I've mainly been making my living here as a baker, and I've gotten pretty good at it. And I've also been renting a private apartment."

"Quite impressive." Philip responded. "I'll have to try it out sometime."

"How about right now?" Brother Martin suggested, revealing a tray of fresh baked bread, still steaming. "I think I brought enough for everyone."

Everyone tried the bread, and thanked him with compliments, though the trail-bread was simply adequate.

"My sister and niece and I run a dairy here at the Keep," Opal explained while they were eating. "We turn perishable milk into large cheeses that can be stored for long periods. My niece delivers the fresh milk to the tavern and families and other customers, while my sister and I churn the rest into butter and cheese."

"I'm a customer," Brother Martin adds. "You should try her moon-cheese pies."

Opal went on to explain that she was born here at the Keep and lived here all her life.

Before they had finished, Aseneth asked, "So when are we going to the caves?"

“Today,” Valeria answered, and they all nodded in agreement.

"Are we going to be traveling there in daylight or at night?" Opal asked.

While they finished eating the meal that Jess had brought out for them, they agreed they would be leaving right away.

"Oh," Jess said, "I almost forgot. If you're in need of another warrior, I think Third might be willing to go with you as well." She pointed to the armored woman who had been standing by the door.

"Third?" Lawrence asked. "That's her name?"

"I think that's her name." Jess replied. "I don't really understand her but it's the only thing she's said that I understood and she doesn't speak Common."

"What language does she speak?" Vernim asked.

"I don't know." Jess answered. "Right Third?"

"Third!" the warrior roared back, raising her spear.

They all tried speaking with her in all the languages they knew, but she did not reply to any of them.

"She's a warrior alright," Jess confirmed. "She arrived a few weeks ago, and she broke up a fight on her first night here. So we've been providing her with room and board since then, and she has been acting as an unofficial bouncer ever since, but she's obviously overqualified for the job."

Valeria decided communicating with her would be too difficult, and they left without her.

When they arrived at the gates they were greeted by Sabine, who was there with Laurl and Charl. The guards wished them all luck and helped them untie their weapons. The gates were already open. Much further ahead, at the bottom of the ramp, they saw an old man walking with two children. The three of them all had fishing poles over their shoulders. They crossed the road and continued straight, towards the river.

When the group got to the road, they turned east, towards the caves.

After a few hours they saw a figure up ahead on the road, hunched over. As they got closer they saw it was a woman messing with something on the road. Continuing forward, with Prynhawn in the lead, she appeared to be a damsel in distress. She must have had some kind of barrel or crate that broke, and she was struggling to put the contents back together again, but was not having any luck.

She didn't seem to notice them until they asked if she needed help. "Oh yes, help, help!" she called out. "My barrel has fallen apart and I can't get it back together again."

"There's a cooper in the keep if you need one." Vernim offered. "But we can help you to the keep."

When she finally looked up and saw them, she jumped up and screamed, "Ah! Don't hurt me!" as she ran away, flailing her arm dramatically down the road.

"We're here to help!" Philip shouted.

"I'm sure you are." They heard from the wood line. "This is a stick-up."

They saw three men come out of the wood line, over one hundred feet away, with bows aimed at them.

"There's a lot more of us, where you can't see. So just drop some gold, and be on your way."

"Wow that was very clever." Vernim said. "You guys did a good job there. You guys really got us."

"Yes we did," the bandits agreed. "Now don't try any funny business. You might think there's a lot of you, but there's a lot more of us. So just drop some gold on the road and consider it a tax, okay?"

"How much do we need to pay?" Vernim asked.

"How about all of it," the bandit replied. "But you can keep your weapons, as long as you don't give us any trouble. You look like you have quite a few spell casters in your midst. Let me assure you that we will fill you like pincushions before you can get off your first spell. So don't try any funny business. Just leave the gold and be on your way."

"You know, I'm curious, "Lawrence began, "I've never been a bandit, but if I was one, I would think I would station my men where they were clearly visible, just because — I don't want to be disrespectful — but I'm not quite convinced of what you're saying. And we are quite a large group—"

"And that's why you're not a bandit," the bandit interrupted. "Would you like us to show how many men we have with a couple of arrows?"

"No," Lawrence conceded, "but—

"All right then," the bandit continued. "Let's make this nice and simple. Just put down some gold and be on your way."

"Where are you guys from?" Lawrence asked.

"That's none of your concern," the bandit replied. "I'm not interested in where you're from, and you don't need to know where we're from. Just drop the gold. You're trying to get from here to there, so just pay your dues and we'll let you be on your way, and you can consider yourselves lucky. It's tax day!"

"I have an idea," Dubricus whispered. "Perhaps we can just drop some coppers on the road, and we'll be gone by the time they check them."

"Someone has probably done that before," Vernim responded.

"It's worth a try," Dubricus insisted. "They said they would trust us."

Lawrence suggested they might be able to crouch down and fight them with spells and bows.

An arrow came out of the tree line and landed about twenty feet from Lawrence. It obviously did not come from one of the three bandits they could see.

"That was just a warning shot," the bandit spokesman yelled."Negotiation time is over! Drop your gold. Be on your way. Don't try any funny business. If you think you're going to make it to the tree line before you're filled with arrows, think again. We've got you covered."

"You just want us to put it on the ground..." Vernim asked.

"Drop it where you stand and be on your way," the bandit replied.

"...and not give it to you?" Vernim finished.

"Just drop it down and be on your way!"

"Okay." Valeria called out. "Lawrence give him the money."

"I have an idea!" Dubricus whispered. "Perhaps we leave the coins here, travel down the road, and then some of us can circle back and see what they do and see how many there are."

Vernim insisted that they have been doing cruel and evil things and that they must be punished.

Since Lawrence's bag contained all their gold, as well as their silver and copper, he dropped his water skin. "There!" he yelled.

They all began to walk away, and the bandits did not stop them.

After a few hundred yards, they left the road and entered the woods. Yanliz led the way through the woods, with everyone else trailing a significant distance behind. Circling around, he eventually saw almost a dozen archers clustered together in the woods. He could hear the bandits talking, but could not make out what they were saying or doing, except that some of them were looking towards the road.

Vernim wanted to sneak up on them and cast burning hands on them. These bandits are robbing people and it's not right." Vernim insisted. "It doesn't sit well with me!"

"Perhaps Dubricus could put them to sleep." Aseneth suggested.

Valeria said there were too many to put to sleep.

"That's true," Dubricus stated, "sleep does not solve the problem. And besides, I don't have sleep today."

"Then perhaps I'll have to do it." Aseneth said.

Vernim and Valeria argued about the best way to approach the bandits, with Vernim advocating for burning hands, and possibly spare the dying, and Valeria insisting that it would be better to attack from a distance.

Meanwhile Philip reminded them that they were all on the same side.

"Can we just get this over with," Aseneth urged. "I thought we were supposed to be going to the caves!"

"Prynhawn, what do you think?" Brother Martin asked, "You've been awfully quiet."

"It depends on whether we want to kill them, or just stop them," Prynhawn answered, "and which presents the biggest risk."

Lawrence thought it might be best to lure them out onto the open road.

"I have an idea!" Dubricus whispered. "Perhaps we should start a fire and when they come to investigate we'll have them surrounded!"

"I like that," Vernim said, "because we want to use fear. Prynhawn, regarding your morality debate, I think we want to scare them into submission, but we're more powerful than they can really handle, but the really big question is: can we get them to stop? Can we get them to stop?"

"Right," Valeria agreed, "because we're not here over twenty gold pieces."

"Why are we here?" Aseneth hissed. "Aren't we supposed to be going to the caves?"

"We want to stop them." Vernim stated. "We want to stop their evil ways. We should do is start with Dubricus' plan and start a fire, surround them, unleash every crowd control spell we have, sleep, burning hands, stop me if you think this is immoral."

"I happen to think that we should not kill them for for what they're doing," Brother Martin said. "How about this? I'll go back to the road and I'll speak to them and I will let them know that we have them surrounded and that they should lay down their arms or else we will attack them. This way we can give them a second chance."

"Is death even a possible option" Vernim challenged. "What if they attack you? Does killing them become an option?"

"Of course," Martin agreed, "but let's give them a chance to surrender."

"But when do we start the fire?" Dubricus asked.

"We don't actually want to start a fire." Vernim corrected. "Because we don't want to burn down the forest. That would be bad."

"What do we do after we disarm them?" Prynhawn asked.

"We can take their things," Martin offered. "We can take their weapons, and we can take their money, and we can bring them to the keep and give them to charity. But they'll need to lay down their weapons and repent for their sins!"

Valeria was in agreement, but suggested that Prynhawn be the one to circle back to the road to confront them.

Prynhawn departed, going back the way they had come through the woods.

Meanwhile, Valeria divided the rest of the group so that Lawrence, Yanliz, and Opal circled around them from the east, Vernim, Aseneth, and Dubricus circled around them from the west, and Brother Martin, Philip, and her approached the bandits from behind.

As they were sneaking up on the bandits, Philip noticed that Brother Martin's chainmail was making noise. But before Philip could warn him, two of the bandits turned around and shot Brother Martin with crossbow bolts, dropping the Dawngreeter.

"Help!" Philip shouted, dropping to the ground and scrambling to drag Brother Martin farther away. Valeria was shocked at the unexpected turn of events.

"How many are there, Coins, can you see?" one of the bandits shouted.

At least eight arrows whizzed by Philip and Valeria.

"Get em, Scarface!" a bandit cheered.

"They're hiding," another called out. "Clayton, Angel Eyes go on up and get 'em!"

Two bandits ran up with their scimitars drawn.

Valeria cast cure wounds on Brother Martin, but the cleric didn't stir.

Philip lunged at Clayton, but the bandit jumped away. Philip turned, swinging his staff into the bandit's body, then stepped onto the bandit's knee and kicked him in the head. Clayton's neck cracked at an awkward angle and fell with Philip landing upright on top of him.

Vernim heard the shouts for help and ran to help his companions. Dubricus cast magic missile, dropping the bandit spokesman.

Yanliz shot his bow, but his arrow hit a tree. Lawrence and Opal began to sneak closer to the bandits.

A bandit charged at Philip, but the halfling weaved sideways, avoiding the swing, only to get caught by three other bandits.

Aseneth cast sleep, and two bandits fell.

Valeria revived Brother Martin with healing word, and shouted "filthy cowards" at the bandits, viciously.

Philip ducked under one bandit's blade and kicked the bandit called Coins in the knee. Coins buckled and Philip bashed his staff into Coins' face, finishing the bandit. Philip fell backward, rolling away from his other attackers, and lunged up on his hands, kicking Valeria's attacker in the face.

Vernim hit the bandit called Angel Eyes with a crossbow bolt, and Lawrence hit her in the face with a fire bolt.

Brother Martin cast cure wounds on Philip.

One of the bandits sliced into Philip, and two others lunged at him. Yanliz dropped the first with one shot, and the halfling dodged the other's swing.

Dubricus barely hit one of Philip's attackers with a fire bolt.

Aseneth slowly advanced towards the center of bandit's camp.

Valeria surrounded two of the bandits in a violet faerie fire. One of them swung at Philip, but could not catch the staggering monk. Philip kicked him in the leg and brought his staff down on his head, crumpling the bandit.

Vernim hit the other glowing bandit with a crossbow bolt in the gut and Lawrence hit the same one with a fire bolt.

"Drop your weapons and beg for forgiveness," Brother Martin shouted. "This is your last chance at redemption."

Philip easily side-stepped the feeble swing from the wounded bandit. Yanliz put the bandit out of his misery with an arrow in the head.

The last bandit slashed into Philip.

Dubricus missed with a fire bolt.

Aseneth killed the two sleeping bandits.

Valeria stabbed the last bandit with her longsword. Philip tripped him, and cracked his skull with his staff.

Prynhawn eventually made it to the road, but no bandits confronted him. He found Lawrence's waterskin on the side of the road.

He waited a few minutes until Philip called out to him from the trees. "Hey Prynhawn, why don't you join us for lunch while we rest?"

Valeria asked Lawrence to check the bandit's bodies and collect some silver and gold.

Opal asked if anyone needed healing.

"That was some fancy fighting," Dubricus complimented. "You are all pretty impressive."

"It's really a shame," Brother Martin, "that they wouldn't put down their weapons."

"We're still going to the caves, right?" Aseneth asked, eagerly.

They all agreed and, after a short rest, made their way to the caves. Checking the trees, they did not find any of the strange lizard monkey creatures.

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