As the party made sense of the previous ambush, it seemed that prudence was in order, and Riardon, for all his mystery, was a better ally than the mercenaries in the forest. The party, with new information, trecked northward into the woods. For a couple nights, they slog out through the dry brush and foliage, attempting to keep a careful eye out for the bandits.
After 2 days, they stumbled upon a sentry post, deserted. Alert, they fanned out looking for the culprit, then laid an ambush when no signs of life were found. Later that night, sentries returned, and with stealth and guile, they were quickly dispatched by the party; no witnesses.
From there, the party was able to locate the bandit camp in earnest, and for once they had the initiative. Riardon and Sorin flanked out around the camp, settled at the bottom of a forest ridge, working to carefully traverse the steep hills and rough terrain. Before them, they saw half a dozen tents, with at least one large pavilion and an lean-to stable. Stocks of grain, food, weapons, and water littered the camp, indicating that this was a long term operation.
The group, eager about having the upper hand, launched a quiet assault on the eastern edge, near a corral. Upon inspection, Sorin discovered that a strange beast was being kept penned and caged on the camp outskirts, and set about trying to free the beast. As sentries came to investigate, the party belatedly began to take them out, not interested in leaving survivors. After several moments, a lull in the fighting as the commander emerged from the pavilion.
Garrett "Ironhand", the party would come to find, was a grizzled veteran who had a few tricks up his sleeve. An accomplished artificer and holding a powerful powerarm gauntlet, the Ironhand unleashed torrents of lightning and fire upon the party. Nearly overwhelmed, the party just barely managed to stave off the assault, with Mithrellis taking the vanguard position, and holding the attackers at bay while Jace brought Riardon back from unconsciousness.
With Sorin distracted working to free the caged beast, The rest exchanged a flurry of missile attacks at the eastern edge of the camp. Slowly, but surely, the bandits faltered, as the darkness aided the party sheltering them from the vollies of bolter fire. Despite a few desperate shots by a crack sniper, the tide seemed to turn. Yet, the Ironhand had one other asset available.
A Xianlian spy, the party would learn, snaked through the foliage, and proved to foil the parties attempt at simply assault, nearly incapacitating Kazimir and Jace. Even wounded, the spy appeared an adept fighter and possessed of unnatural speed and agility. Were it not for the quick thinking of Jace, he might have also escaped once the battled had shifted. Playing a song on the flute given by Illyana, the spell within laid the spy to sleep, removing him from the field.
After Garret was subdued, the remaining bandits fled, the camp scattered and tossed. The party searched the camp, finding a trove of stolen goods and treasures. After securing their two highest value prisoners, they sought to interrogate them for information. The Xianlian was less than forthcoming, but Garret proved to be somewhat cooperative. Bargaining for his release, and secrets on some of the treasure, he revealed that a political senator by the name of Emanuel is likely a prime actor in the creation of the camp and the banditry in the region. Garrett seemed to be reluctant or unable to reveal more than a name, but it was a enough for the party to release him with a couple rations as he escaped into the forest.
The Xianlian, agitated with Garret, appeared to be in some coordination with the operation, but attempts to scour his mind with magic or persuasion yielded nothing. The only thing of note they learned was the Xianlian appeared to be part of an elite group, a hand to the emperor, indicating the severity of the issue. Still, there wasn't much the party could learn, and with ruthless efficiency, the spy was beheaded.
With interrogations completed, the party made quickly to secure anything valuable, and make haste back to Vinne via terath. They met no resistance along the way, luckily, and arrive in Terrath the night after, loaded for bear with coin, treasure, and other easily transported goods. After some negotiation with Dilila and a few other villagers and survivors, the party decided to try and dole out a portion of the goods to those who were met with misfortune earlier. Some were upset, claiming the party did not return what was rightfully theres, but most were glad to regain something, and to be relieved that the bandit threat had been dealt with. Mikail, in particular, was elated to find the return of his trade agreements, and was able to complete his mission, if late.
With reparations made, the party returned to Vinne, to claim victory, spoils, and fame from the inhabitants. Upon returning the bounty of proof to the Trade minister, however, the party learned that the contract in question had been a ruse of sorts, and the party was shorted much of what they were promised. Sorin and Mithrellis were particular scorned, and so set about making an example out of Enrique. With a weeks work, Sorin and Mithrellis wrote, "Blood and Coin' a play detailing their exploits, and mocking the political leaders who tried to use them to their advantage. Despite some bumpy starts, the play nonetheless became popular with exposure, and within a month, the group had become local celebrities.
Afterward, the party settled on their next task, urged by the orb Eshrim, to travel north to the moutains near Algar. There, they hope to discover the lost bastion of the Aichen, and learn more about Vilnach and their resurgance.