All the party’s efforts seemed to come to nothing as chest after chest in the Vanderboren vault appeared to contain little more than pocket change. At last, the final alcove offered a brief reprieve: a large, unopened bag full of platinum and a sheaf of paper, which, upon Lavinia’s inspection, revealed themselves to be IOUs owed to her family by scores of guilds, noble houses, and individuals throughout Sasserine.
Disappointed with the overall results but at least satisfied that she could now pay her bodyguards their due and begin to settle her family’s affairs by collecting on the numerous debts owed it, she thanked her faithful retinue and dismissed them for the day, asking that they return early the following morning, as she already had another task in mind for them.
Injured as they were by the vault’s guardian, the group sought healing at a nearby temple. This also began their search for a freelance healer who would be willing to follow them and use his skills to keep them alive. Pooling their resources, their search ended at the temple of Irori, where they eventually settled on hiring a scholar and healer named Tobin Gray. Leaving him instructions to meet them the following morning at Vanderboren Manor, the party moved on and enjoyed the rest of their day off.
The following morning found the group reconvening at Vanderboren Manor, now accompanied by their healer-for-hire, Tobin. They were greeted by Kora and taken in to see Lavinia in the main hall again, where she offered them breakfast and explained what she needed of them: she was concerned about the whereabouts of her younger brother, Vanthus. She explained to the group that she and Vanthus were only a year apart, she being the elder, and that growing up together in Sasserine, they had been very close, getting into trouble together, playing, that sort of thing. But as they became teenagers, their parents decided it was time to send them to receive a specialized education. Lavinia was sent to a prestigious academy: Vanthus was sent to a labor plantation. When they both returned from their respective stints of schooling, Lavinia’s appraisal of her brother was that he had changed. He had become bitter, and cynical. He stayed in the family manor for only a month, and even during that time he seemed to take up drink, drugs, and loose women. Eventually he left home altogether, presumably to live his life of ill repute. He then returned shortly after the death of his and Lavinia’s parents, but stayed only a week this time. While Lavinia initially sought comfort in their mutual grief, she found that Vanthus had only fallen farther in the months since she’d seen him. He was hostile, and cruel, and he and Lavinia argued constantly until one night, when things at last came to a head when Vanthus struck her. For a moment, Lavinia said, he seemed as surprised by the act as she, but then he was back to his old self, all scowls and menace, and then he left. She hadn’t seen him since.
Not knowing where Vanthus was – especially considering the state of her family – was causing Lavinia much distress, and so she asked the party to find and retrieve him. He might not be willing to come quietly, she cautioned them, but asked that he nevertheless be brought back perforce, if necessary. The party had few questions, and Lavinia had few leads, though she knew enough to tell them that last she’d heard, Vanthus was shacking up with a woman in the Azure District. Following their only lead, the party began their search there.
Inquiring around the seedier parts of the Azure District with the aid of a sketch of Vanthus that Othar drew up during their meeting with Lavinia quickly paid off. Several sailors and thugs had remembered seeing a man matching Vanthus’ description in the company of a buxom blonde woman, a resident of the Azure District who fancied herself a sculptor by the name of Brissa Santos. No one reported seeing either of them for weeks, however.
Trying to follow up on Brissa’s trail was equally frustrating: few people seemed to know the woman, and fewer still remembered seeing her anytime recently, let alone in the company of a well-dressed man with a goatee. It wasn’t until their investigation lead them to the Shadowshore that the investigation seemed to turn in their favor, when they found a man who claimed to have seen a man matching Vanthus’ description in the company of a dwarven smuggler named Penkus. The two of them had been spotted three weeks prior renting a rowboat from Lienne at It Still Floats!, a spot the party was now all too familiar with.
Visiting Lienne at her shop proved to be somewhat humiliating, as the group had at this point still not properly accounted for the loss of Lienne’s boat, stolen by Vark’s men. Nevertheless, with some sweet-talking and exchange of coin, Lienne was coaxed into telling them that she had rented a rowboat to Vanthus and Penkus three weeks prior, at around midday, and that the boat had been returned that evening under cover of darkness. No one had collected on the deposit. Lienne had no memory of a woman matching Brissa’s description. It seemed the party had hit another dead end. They retired for the evening, deciding to meet up in the morning in the Azure District where they could begin searching for clues about Penkus, their new lead.
Early the following morning the party met up again, this time in the Azure District, to begin their search for Penkus. It wasn’t long until their searching paid off, albeit by total happenstance. While wandering through the district, the group was approached by a shifty-looking, filthy-handed half-elf who introduced himself as Shefton. Shefton claimed that he had heard about the party inquiring after Vanthus, and that he could lead them to him! According to Shefton, Vanthus had been in hiding for weeks, and was employing Shefton as a gopher to acquire him food and sundries while he hid out. Having no love for Vanthus, he offered to lead the party to him for a small fee, which they gladly paid. Shefton instructed the party to get a boat and meet him in the Shadowshore in one hour.
Reluctantly, the party again returned to It Still Floats!, where they rented another boat (this time with a grossly high deposit), and met up with Shefton, who told them to begin rowing to Parrot Island, a scrubby, rocky outcropping in the harbor pinned between the Cudgel District, the Merchant District, and the Shadowshore. The location was well known to all children of Sasserine, many of whom had spent the warm months swimming out to Parrot Island and looking for the buried treasure that it was rumored to hold. As it was, Parrot Island was little more than an outcropping covered in trees and grass with a sandbar on one side, the boughs of its native flora home to hundreds of noisy, squawking parrots.
Leading the party to the top of the island and into a clearing surrounded by large rocks, Shefton lead the party down a narrow trail and pushed aside a rock to reveal a trapdoor set into the stone. He opened it, and bid them enter, telling them Vanthus was down below. The group attempted to insist that Shefton accompany them, but Shefton seemed terrified by the idea, claiming Vanthus would kill him. Reluctantly, the part climbed the knotted rope down to the cavern beneath the island, some thirty feet down. No sooner had they reached the bottom than they heard Shefton cry out, screaming “I did what you asked, Vanthus! Why—?” before his limp body was pitched into the cavern after the party. Looking up, the party saw the sneering face of their target, Vanthus, who laughed at them as he severed the rope ladder, calling out “Say hello to Penkus for me, assholes!” before slamming the trapdoor shut. What little light filtered in through the wooden slats disappeared as Vanthus sealed the entrance shut, leaving the party to deal with the smuggler’s caves beneath Parrot Island.
Reluctantly, the party began to make their way through the tunnels beneath Parrot Island, but quickly met resistance in the form of monstrous, territorial crabs and the undead remains of the smugglers and hapless Lotus Dragons who had been stranded there, become zombies with mouths full of rows of sharklike teeth. Fighting their way through the underground stockade, they found the source of the undead, a priest of Calistria who had turned in his time trapped beneath the island, and subdued him after a pitched battle. Finally, in a barred room they reached after nearly killing themselves in the flooded, urchin-ridden natural caves beneath the island, they found the body of Penkus, still clutching a note that implicated none other than Vanthus in his death. After looting the room of the smuggler’s treasure that had been buried here (and the apparent aim of Vanthus and Penkus’ original expedition), the party waited until dusk for low tide, allowing them to swim out of the underground grotto beneath the island and into the bay.
Having liberated themselves from their intended grave, the party swam ashore in the Cudgel District and made their way to Vanderboren Manor to inform Lavinia of their findings. As they traveled, they found the city abuzz with the news of the day: Harbormaster Islaran had been found murdered in his bed the previous evening, eviscerated by an unknown assailant, leaving the Azure District without a representative in the Dawn Council and House Islaran without a head. Finally reaching Lavinia’s home, the party reported the unhappy news that her brother had apparently become a murderer, and thrown in with thieves. After a moment of grim reflection, Lavinia asked her troubleshooters to continue their search for Vanthus, with the added caveat that if he could not be forced to return home to answer for his crimes, that they at least make his end painless and quick.
With the note from Penkus in hand and their only lead the Taxidermists’ Guildhall in the Sunrise District, the party broke for the evening to rest and recoup.