The group reconvened the following morning in the Sunrise District, the location of the Taxidermist’s Guild. Passing by in the early morning hours, they noted that the location, facing a narrow road adjacent to a canal, was closed. The old, creaky buildings sitting on either side of it appeared to be condemned, their doors and windows boarded over. Consulting the back of the guildhall, a triangular alley surrounding a well called “Dead Dog Alley”, they found the guildhall secured by a pair of large doors barred by a massive chain and lock. Resolving to try again later in the day, they reconvened to a local tavern.
Growing restless after a couple hours, Dorian decided to take a solo stroll back towards the Taxidermist’s hall when, en route, he was intercepted by a smartly-dressed human of about thirteen carrying a festive package. He asked somewhat clumsily if Dorian was “one of the guys from Parrot Island” and “looking for a bunch of thieves”. Not sure what to make of the odd intrusion, Dorian almost let the boy go, but managed to get out of him that someone named “M” wanted to speak to he and his cohorts and that, if they were interested, they could find her at Last Ditch Lovers, a brothel in the Shadowshore that was known for being perhaps the worst in the city in terms of quality of employees. Intrigued enough to tell the others about it, Dorian reported this to everyone at the tavern they’d been using as their impromptu meeting place, but not before finishing his walk past Dead Dog Alley, where he saw that the Taxidermist’s Guildhall was now open for business, the front door ajar and anticipating business.
The group decided to visit the brothel for their mysterious meeting first, making the trip to the Shadowshore to the dumpy, run-down home of a stable of four or five prostitutes who were either past their prime, never prime to begin with, or bore the weight of two prime women that was known as “Last Ditch Lovers”. Cautiously, they inquired after “M”, which only confused the madam, as the only one in the building with an ‘M’ name didn’t “entertain” clients. They asked to speak to her nevertheless, and after a moment of arguing with someone behind a nearby door, thumbed the party over to a softly-lit room.
Inside, they met an attractive young woman of about sixteen or seventeen who was dressed like an adventurer, wearing studded leather armor that was custom-tailored and dyed black, with a rapier resting on her exposed hip. While she appeared mostly human, she clearly was something not quite. A half-elf, perhaps? They asked what she wanted them for. The young woman, whom they still knew only as “M”, claimed that she had become aware that they were searching for the Lotus Dragons, and had information that she believed might be beneficial to them. Her stake in this, she revealed, was that the Lotus Dragons were “competitors” for certain interests in the city, and she’d delight in seeing them come to ruin. Furthermore, one of her men, a halfling named Lucas, had recently attempted to infiltrate the Lotus Dragons but not returned. She charged the party with finding and recovering the halfling or, in the case of his death, returning with his belongings. In return, she gave them information that she believed would be crucial intelligence for their siege on the Lotus Dragons: she knew of at least twenty-two individual members, that they were funded by one of the noble houses in the city even before Vanthus’ inclusion to their ranks, and that the nature of the guild was such that they would only get one punch; to that end, she emphasized that before they venture after their prey, they be well-fortified with healing and weaponry and be steeled to fight at least thirty men.
Taking heed of this advice, the group set out to acquire enough healing potions and alchemist’s fire to outfit a small squad, and returned to the Taxidermist’s Guildhall, now open. Inside, they found a quiet showroom displaying a wide variety of taxidermied wares, everything from small, common animals to massive and fearsome beasts, including a small black dragon wyrmling. A bell on the counter proclaimed “RING FOR SERVICE!”, which Nemian Roblach, a lanky, hook-nosed human man of about fifty with a salt-and-pepper moustache and goatee dressed in a green tricorn hat and captain’s coat, the guildmaster, from the back room where he’d been working. After a brief but confusing conversation where Dorian attempted to engage Roblach about his wares under the pretense of offering him business, Othar allowed his nervousness to overcome him, and he spontaneously attempted to blind the man with a color spray. Momentarily fazed but mostly just angered by the attempt, Nemian blinked out from behind his small, circular classes and hopped over the front counter, shouting “Watch! Watch! Some fucking maniac just assaulted me! Arrest this asshole!”
The watch made short work of arriving, already somewhat on guard from seeing Kizziar, clad in full armor, wandering around the rather subdued Sunrise District. Demanding to know what happened, Othar didn’t even pretend at innocence, rather just attempted to feebly apologize. Eventually it was resolved that Nemian would neglect to file charges if Othar paid him for his inconvenience, and 50gp later, the watchman escorted the party out of the shop, with Roblach closing and locking the door behind them, turning the ‘OPEN’ sign over to ‘CLOSED’ as if to emphasize the point.
Deciding to exercise some discretion, the party left the Sunrise District until nightfall, when they returned to Dead Dog Alley, the day’s earlier events faded from memory. Thanks to some expert investigation of the empty and condemned buildings in Dead Dog Alley, Dorian found that much of the bulwarks erected to keep people out were false, and that they were able to walk right in. Inside, a vigorous search turned up a trapdoor connected to a knotted rope that lead into a series of brick tunnels beneath the district. Taking one last moment to prepare themselves, they descended into the dark with the midnight moon overhead.
The tunnels beneath the alleyway proved a confusing puzzle at first: if this was the den of the Lotus Dragons, it didn’t show. Even accounting for having (hopefully) caught them by surprise, the den seemed barren. After wrenching open stuck, swollen doors and walking down dank, dripping halls, they discovered that there appeared to be four of these knotted ropes slithering down stone shafts, all four leading up to other empty houses in Dead Dog Alley. These four tunnels surrounded a massive, natural central chamber that was home to a crocodile, though some quick thinking managed to avoid any confrontation with it.
Thinking perhaps they had simply ended up in the sewers, there were some signs of life to be found, including the chain and harness keeping the croc at bay. A thorough search turned up a secret revolving stone wall, leading into a dimly-lit series of brick-lined tunnels. Cautiously, the group moved on, believing they had finally stumbled on to the home of the Lotus Dragons.
It didn’t take long to find trouble: the first occupied room they stumbled on to was the Lotus Dragon barracks, with four men sleeping in bunks as three others played cards nearby. Raising an alarm, one of the men ran out of the opposite side of the room before the party could stop him, leaving them to deal with the other six. Four of them were quickly dispatched, leaving the last two to surrender. Notably low on usable information, all they volunteered was that their boss was “A hot redhead.” Moving on quickly to take advantage of their momentum, the party located the mess hall, adjacent to the kitchen, and next to them both a small room with a feminine kobold who was fast asleep in a hammock. Deciding to leave the kobold be, the party shut the door and explored another wing, where they encountered a monstrous wolf that turned out to be a good deal more monster than wolf, a worg named Cruncher who attacked the party and nearly killed Traxen before being subdued.
Cruncher, it seemed, guarded the prison, a long hall with pitiable cages, though no prisoners were to be found, much to the party’s dismay as they were still searching for Lucas on behalf of M. A warm glow and a sizzle could be detected coming from the door at the end of the hall, and as the group burst the door open, they found a stragly looking thief in a leather apron about to use a searing hot iron on a person tied to the rack. It seemed they had stumbled into the Lotus Dragons’ torture chamber. Quickly dispatching the torturer, the group freed the man tied to the rack, a muscular, bestubbled man who introduced himself as Kersh, a silk merchant who had been abducted while staying at the Bent Goblin, a tavern in the Merchant District.
Othar picked up one of the branding irons and jabbed it at the fallen torturer, finding he was still alive, at least for the moment. Kersh, the merchant was seen to almost smile at this, and Other offered him the hot iron to exact revenge on his own tormentor. Seemingly eager to take the opportunity, the group casually mentioned having killed the worg that guarded this room, to which Kersh became incensed, flying into a rage and striking Othar with a red-hot iron. Combat inexplicably erupted in the room as the party found themselves being attacked by the merchant, who spat racial epithets and jabbed at the group with a red-hot iron. Showing his contempt for “mongrels”, he bull rushed Kizziar into an awaiting iron maiden, and would have closed it on it him had it not been for Traxen’s killing blow which finally felled the brute. Confused as they were by the turn of events, they nevertheless breached the adjacent chambers of the torturer, where among the loot they found a set of keys that they expected would open not only the nearby cells, but the locked door to the training room where the woman whom they knew only as “Lady Lotus” or “Dragon Lady” awaited them.
First, however, they resolved to clear out the passages they had thus far skipped, which proved to turn up some interesting evidence: the eastern portion of the Lotus Dragon guildhall ended in a series of natural caverns thick with tidal life and blankets of sea urchins. Of note was the northeast side, where the cavern yielded to an underground grotto with a massive sea gate shielding the cave from prying eyes, a pier in the center of the grotto that seemed designed for receiving cargo from sea bound for the guildhall, and in one far-off, tucked away corner of the cave, a pair of monstrous rhogadessa, like the ones they’d encountered while reclaiming The Blue Nixie from Vark and his men. Clearly the illegal animal trafficking in Sasserine went beyond Vark, and perhaps even originated here. Strewn across the floor near the great arachnids, Traxen narrowly spotted the skeletal, partially-digested corpse of a halfling clad in rotting, leather armor. Suppressing his gag reflex, he drug the top half of the body out of the creatures’ reach, and removed the ring and brooch M claimed that Lucas would be carrying. Their options were now whittled down to one: breach the inner sanctum of the Lotus Dragons and defeat their fearful matron.
Kersh’s keys neatly fit the lock on the ponderously heavy iron door, behind which was a modest training room staffed with around eight dummies that were clearly used to practice thievery on, some being shackled with crude manacles, other wearing scruffy clothing with bulging pockets. In the far side of the room sat a simple throne perched atop an observational dais. While Dorian set to work sifting through the keys to get through the only exit out of the room, the dummies sprung out and attacked. The thieves that had been alerted earlier had converged here, assembling their might into this one room to ambush the party. However, their combined might amounted to little: the group made short work of them, taking only minor injuries before moving on. A hallway lead into a room where still another rhogadessa, this one on a chain, awaited them. As the door opened, the chain went slack, and the monster leapt forward, leaving the group little choice but to destroy it, but not before punishing them significantly.
The next room appeared to be a sort of war room, laid out with a table, chairs, a chalk slate, and a massive, wall-sized map of the city painted across one wall. The painting, after a moment of inspection, was found to bear the signature “B. Santos”, and several locations throughout the city were marked with red, gold, and blue flags. The slate seemed to track the ships entering and leaving Sasserine harbor for several weeks, including a list of which ones had been “holed”, a scribble in one corner in a language no one could read, and in another, marked-off corner, the names of the party members with an underlined, angry scrawl beneath it reading “VANTHUS! FIX THIS NOW!”
Finally closing in on their elusive prey, they burst into an opulently-furnished room where a beautiful, green-eyed, red-haired woman sat in an expensive armchair enjoying a glass of wine, a small, draconic creature poised at her side. She greeted the group, bidding them relax and listen to a proposition. As eager as they were to fight after all they’d been through, they allowed her to speak. She introduced herself as Rowyn Kellani, guildmistress of the Lotus Dragon Guild, and offered them wealth beyond imagining if they would abandon their ties to Lavinia and serve her, instead. They’d caused a great deal of trouble for her and eliminated much of her gang, it was true, but thanks to Vanthus she had more than enough funds to rebuild it even better than before, and with the party by her side, the Lotus Dragons would become an unstoppable force. The group talked it over for a moment in hushed whispers, plotting strategy before their host ticked on to their intention, smirking “I guess that answers my question. Gut Tugger!”, she gestured towards the small dragon. “Do your thing, sweetheart.”
The battle that followed was fierce, as both Rowyn and Gut Tugger proved to be formidable opponents adept at striking vital spots, and with the party as tired and injured as they were, it seemed several times as though the group may fall. Finally, Rowyn backed away from the group after receiving a savage blow, and with an expression of genuine pity, looked at her companion and said simply “Sorry, baby”, before swallowing the contents of a bottle that turned her into a cloud of vapor, allowing her to seep through a nearby grate and make good her escape. The party finished off Gut Tugger in short order, who seemed to fight even more fiercely after being abandoned.
At last, the Lotus Dragons Guildhall was cleared out, the guild itself shattered, and Rowyn’s plans of dominating the sea trade in Sasserine destroyed. In the rooms that remained the group located Rowyn’s private chambers, which contained a wealth of personal items valued at several thousand gold, the Lotus Dragons treasury which included the wealth attained from scores of shady deals, a massive chest full of gold sorted out into neat sacks bearing the Vanderboren family crest, and – most notably – a stack of smutty love letters written from Vanthus to Rowyn that implicated him in not only having stolen a tremendous amount of wealth from his family vault, but being responsible for the outright murder of his and Lavinia’s parents!
With the lucre secured and the evidence collected, the party summoned representatives from the watch, who, after much persuasion, were cajoled into the now-empty Lotus Dragons Guildhall. Stunned at the revelation, they likewise summoned a representative of the Dawn Council to share in the news, and after a morning full of bureaucracy and kudos, the party crawled out of the sewers beneath the Sunrise District as heroes of Sasserine.
All that remained now was to pass the horrible news on to their employer…