With Lavinia saved, the Jade Ravens rescued, and Vanderboren Manor secured, the party resolved to enjoy their hard-fought rest and relaxation and advance their personal goals in the city, starting with liquidation of the booty they’d acquired from their excursion into Kraken’s Cove less than a week earlier. This they achieved with minimum fuss, selling off the bullywug invader’s possessions and what little was acquired from the Crimson Fleet, with the notable exception of a rather large bag of saffron whom nobody in Sasserine could both afford and use.
During this time, Dorian returned to the brothel Last Ditch Lovers looking to reunite with Moxie, his proposed paramour, but found instead that she had moved on, leaving the madame whom he had met there previously claiming total ignorance. Several platinum pieces loosened her tongue, and provided Dorian with a note from Moxie that claimed she set up a proper guildhall elsewhere in the city, but unwilling to say where, exactly, she impishly told Dorian to find her “or I’ll find you, first”.
These tasks completed, the Gang of Five now turned their attention on the reclamation of the derelict Crimson Fleet vessel they had seen at Kraken’s Cove. Reasoning that the three-masted caravel would be a tremendous windfall for the group and a fantastic tool for the future, they resolved to discover if the boat remained there, believing that pirate captain Harliss Javell could not have crewed the vessel alone, and thinking it unlikely that she had been able to call for help. With the expectation that Kraken’s Cove lay empty and that Javell, herself, had moved on alone, they first checked in with the Temple of Irori in the Cudgel District, Tobin’s home church, which he had retreated to earlier that day.
After explaining the plan to Tobin, the rest of the group came to the conclusion that they wanted to purchase some form of divination spell that would let them know if the boat remained moored in the cove, prior to spending hundreds of gold and nearly a week to retrieve it. Tobin put in a portion of gold to assist in the salvage and persuaded the High Priest to seek guidance from Irori, who reported “You have only to seize that which you desire.” Taking this as a good omen, the rest of the group set out to find a crew and captain, as well as a boat they could first take out to the cove. For the latter, they sought Lavinia, whom they requested the use of the Blue Nixie from in their endeavor. Lavinia cautiously agreed, knowing how treacherous Kraken’s Cove was, but relented with the caveat that she may have a task in mind for this vessel they sought to recover very shortly. Thanks to Traxen’s connections in the Azure District, finding thirteen souls to crew both the Blue Nixie and the other vessel was of minimal difficulty, but they still lacked a captain for the other vessel. After much searching, it was Lienne Tiel who stepped forward and offered to captain the other vessel, and in spite of their rough history together, the party agreed.
The following morning, four of the Gang of Five, Lienne Tiel, and thirteen sailors skirted the coast of the Amedio Region to Kraken’s Cove nearly three days later, the trip made almost easy thanks to the antique nautical charts they had acquired during their last foray into the cove, charts they had since donated to the Cartographer’s Guild for the cost of a couple of good copies. The boat, a magnificent vessel they now identified as the Sea Wyvern, remained moored in the cove, completely unchanged from where it had been left nearly a week prior. A thorough sweep of the vessel revealed it to be ship-shape, but devoid of cargo or signs of life. Apparently, the ship’s freight had been offloaded prior to Vanthus’ treachery, and her crew no doubt were counted among the scores of dead on the beach, of which now only ragged skeletons remained. With some minor preparations, both vessels were ready to sail, and the next three days were consumed by an otherwise unremarkable sail back to Sasserine, made exciting by the knowledge that the great, battle-scarred vessel they sailed astride would soon belong to them.
When at last arriving in Sasserine, the group paid off their help, including Lienne, who seemed grateful for the coin and almost friendly to the group, in a backhanded, belligerent sort of way. While Dorian, Othar, and Kizziar split up to pursue their personal agendas, Traxen, the seasoned sailor, did the bureaucratic business of having the ship logged as salvage and its ownership transferred to himself, Othar, Kizziar, Dorian, and Tobin. The group now owned the Sea Wyvern, at long last.
However, the feeling of elation at their new acquisition was short-lived. As Kizziar returned to his old friend Mistah Dakka, Dorian searched for Moxie, and Othar attempted to speak to his former headmaster at the House of the Dragon, each became peripherally aware that something was amiss in Sasserine. Nobody sensed this more obviously than Kizziar, who found Mistah Dakka’s House of Dakka closed, and upon careful inspection, found the old Kaidan hunched in the darkness at his counter, scribbling something down. After politely gaining an audience with the old man, Kizziar learned that his wife, Kian Dakka, had been brutally murdered only a few nights prior, while the party was away at sea. Worried about Mistah Dakka’s emotional state, Kizziar swore that he would hunt down the person responsible, a promise that did little to allay Mistah Dakka’s grief.
As the group reconvened later that evening, it seemed they all had become aware of a series of murders that had started in their absence, and according to broadsheets they had collected from throughout the city, the most recent victim, discovered that very morning, was young Donalisa Lidu, granddaughter of Dawn Council Director Warrin Lidu. The other victims, it seemed, included: Stella Varonet, whom the party knew to be the obese, jovial madame of Last Ditch Lovers that they met when seeking out Moxie; Kian Dakka, Mistah Dakka’s wife of forty years; Sirinee Marcos, a noblewoman whom Othar recognized as having the same last name as Headmaster Vincent Marcos of the House of the Dragon; and now, Donalisa Lidu, Warrin Lidu’s granddaughter. All of the victims were women, all murdered between two and six in the morning, all killed close to or in their homes, but aside from that, there appeared to be no pattern, the women all hailing from different districts, being different ages, living different lives. All had been murdered in the same fashion: one decisive strike to the belly, the intestines tore out, left hanging as the victim bled to death.
Unsure how to proceed, they resolved to visit Tobin, both to seek his counsel on the matter and to inform him of the good news surrounding the acquisition of the Sea Wyvern. But to their surprise, Tobin was not at the temple, and in fact, asking around for him got the attention of the High Priest, who told the group that Tobin had disappeared two days prior. He had assumed, in spite of Tobin’s otherwise perfect behavior, that he had been called away on an emergency and not had time to inform him, but now that he knew he was not with the group, he was most worried, indeed. He went on to tell the group how Tobin had changed since he started traveling and being a member of the Gang of Five, how he had become gregarious, happy, even silly at times. None of this sounded like Tobin, but the rest of the group began to fear that he had been caught up in some bad business. More pressing, however, was the imminent nightfall, and the suspicion that another murder would follow. The group made their way to the home of Warrin Lidu, whom they hoped could shed some light on the matter.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. The Lidu home was being tended to be Noble District Watch, who, upon recognizing the group, informed them that Director Lidu was with his family in the wake of the current tragedy and not to be disturbed. Unable to get enough information to pursue the lead for the time, the group retreated to their respective quarters, with Traxen taking a liking to sleeping in the captain’s quarters of their recent acquisition.
The following morning brought more grim news, as the fifth death in as many days was reported, the handiwork of Sasserine’s first serial killer since before the Sea Princes Rule, whom the broadsheets had taken to calling the “Sasserine Gut-Tugger”. The victim, this time, was a morbidly obese, invalid, elderly woman named Matilda Roblach, a resident of the Sunrise District. Before they could investigate, however, the group received a missive from Director Worrin Lidu, requesting their presence at his home. Dutifully, the group got together and made their way to the Noble District, where a haunted, miserable Worrin Lidu bid them sit. Explaining in measured tones how there was no inter-district police force in Sasserine and how the fractious nature of the respective district watch groups made conducting an investigation difficult, he asked the Gang of Five, heroes of the city, if they would act as the Dawn Council’s arm in rooting out this murderer and bringing them to justice. To that end, he supplied the group with a writ that would get them information and clearance to perform the investigation. The group eagerly accepted, more to help their home than for the reward, and set out immediately to investigate the death of Matilda Roblach.
It didn’t take long to discover that Mitalda Roblach was the grandmother of Taxidermist’s Guildmaster Nemian Roblach, whom Othar had picked up his prized, stuffed Gut-Tugger from only a week prior. Surprisingly jovial considering his loss, the group interviewed Nemian, who explained his mirth, saying that as much as he loved his grandmother, she had succumbed to disease and her weight in recent years and become an invalid, unable to feed or bathe herself, and that he was glad to be relieved of the burden. He couldn’t think of any reason anyone would want to kill her, as she didn’t even leave the house. He wasn’t even home at the time of the murder, and when he found her, he called the guard immediately. He reported that she had already been taken to the incinerator for disposal. There was little else to report. More or less satisfied with this appraisal of events, they moved on to the one funeral home in the city, adjacent to the only park in the city, which contained the only cemetery in the city, in the Sunrise District.,
With most deaths ending in incineration and burial at sea, interment on land and all it entailed was a luxury reserved for a wealthy few, and it was here the the bodies of victims number three and four, Sirinee Marcos and Donalisa Lidu, were being prepared for burial. After showing their writ from Worrin, the courteous and respectful mortician lead the group to his cool, underground workstation where the bodies of both women lay on slabs. A respectful but thorough investigation of the bodies turned up no new evidence: as they’d been told, both women had been killed via a single stroke to the stomach, their guts pulled out. The mortician informed them of the specifics of where both women were found, but most tellingly, he pointed out that when people see an attack coming, they tend to defend themselves, and this leaves wounds on their hands, arms, and so on. Conversely, people attacked from stealth tend to bear wounds on their backside. One could extrapolate from this, he told them, that the victims all knew their killer, or were unable to detect them. It was a telling observation.
But with the other bodies all already burned and scattered and the crime scenes thoroughly corrupted with the passing of days, there remained little more physical investigation to be done. Instead, the group sat and looked at the clues, and came to the ultimately unpleasant conclusion that the only thing tying these women together is that they knew the party, or else were direct relations of friends of the party. The implication of this revelation was a terrible one; could Tobin be a murderer? His sudden disappearance, combined with what the High Priest described as a rather radical personality change, had them suspicious. It was then that Kizziar noticed a pattern in the murders; a spiral formation, starting in the Shadowshore and moving outward. From this, one could surmise that the next murder, if the series was not complete, would take place in the Cudgel District. In fact, mathematically it looked as though it was plotted for the area around the Temple of Irori!
The party’s first thought was that some horrible fate might be in store for any female friends Tobin had, though the High Priest, surprised at their ignorance, told them that they were Tobin’s friends; he didn’t have any others to speak of. He did, however, have a family, a mother and father, who lived only a few blocks away. Hurrying to the address, they were greeted by Tobin’s father, a stern and serious man who only spoke Kaidan. Retrieving a means to speak with him did little to improve things, however, as the cultural barriers between the old Kaidan fellow and the people of Sasserine became apparent. It was clear, however, that he had not seen his son in days, and that he felt confident that he could protect his own family from any threat.
Frustrated, out of options, and with night falling, the party resolved to stake out the Cudgel District near Tobin’s family home, with Traxen taking a brief run over to the Vanderboren home to check on Lavinia, whom the party had not seen since their return from their most recent excursion at sea, on account of some suspicious business keeping her out at all hours of the day. Meeting her as she returned for the evening, Traxen found what was keeping her out so long. Lavinia had been preparing for a prolonged sea voyage, one she hoped the party would accompany her on, and to that end had been spending the last week rounding up support, financiers, and supplies for the trip ahead. Satisfied that Lavinia was safe, Traxen rejoined the rest of the group, still standing about the Cudgel District, waiting for sings of trouble.
The bell pealed out three, and the hours had given way to a dull silence. The watch were occupied elsewhere, and the residents of the district, fearful of their lives, remained in their homes. The group had all but decided to pack it in the for the night when, rather suddenly, they heard a woman cry out from a nearby alleyway. Running to the source of the noise, the group navigated a long, crooked alleyway that ended in a small circle surrounded by the backs of two-story homes. The trap sprung immediately, and a massive gate slammed shut behind them, leaving them alone in the square with a simple light illuminating a narrow table, on which sat a vase, a flower, and a letter, addressed to the ‘Gang of Five’. Nevertheless wary, Traxen picked up the letter and read aloud to the group.
The letter, clearly from the serial killer, addressed the party, substituting villainous monologuing for a letter of explanation. In it, the murderer explained that they had chosen and killed their targets specifically to get the attention of the party, being the only ones who could have pieced together the connection they had, and more importantly, the reason why: to lure them into this very trap, in which the murderer would now kill them for the sins against the killer’s family. A signature at the bottom indicated the writer was Tegan Kellani, the apparent sister of Rowyn Kellani and daughter of Heldrath Kellani, whom the letter further implicated in the attack they’d weathered on the way to Vanderboren Manor.
No sooner did Traxen finish the note than they found themselves surrounded, flanked on all sides by crossbowmen striking from above the homes that surrounded them. The fight began with a fantastic concussive blast that shattered half the party’s healing potions, followed by a devastating follow-up attack from a short, befreckled girl of no more than fifteen who snuck up on Traxen and stabbed him twice, nearly felling him in one hit.
Though small, Tegan Kellani proved to be a fierce opponent and nearly impossible to keep down. Despite being hit again and again, she kept coming, continuing to press her assault even as her hired thugs fell around her. Finally, as the last of her mercenaries threw down his weapons in disgust and begged for his life, Tegan’s composure broke, and while the battle wore on another half minute or so, the fight seemed to have left her. After’s the party’s second offer of surrender, she made a final, feeble strike on Kizziar that failed utterly, and immediately broke down into a sobbing, bawling mess, helplessly crying “Why won’t you die!?”
While half the party went and found the watch to back up their claims and tend to the dead and wounded mercenaries, the other half bound the young woman and took her weapons, among them a masterwork rapier with the Kellani family signet and a mysterious, seemingly carved dagger all in red with a nude woman serving as the grip. Even more suspicious, they found a note on her person that included encouragement for her murder spree, directions on using the knife, and a bizarre allusion to some quality Tegan had, signed only from “a friend”.
Traxen and Othar quickly returned with several members of the city watch, but found that with their few numbers to keep track of everyone, Kizziar and Dorian had accidentally allowed a few of the still able mercenaries to flee. With the remaining mercenaries still alive and in custody and all the assembled evidence against Tegan, her guilt was apparent, and the assembled crew moved hastily with their prisoners in tow to the home of Worrin Lidu. In spite of his shock about the stunning resolution of the matter and the identity of the killer, he was quick to compose himself. “Heldrath Kellani has finally gone too far”, he finally declared, and instructed the party as well as three watch members to follow him to the Kellani estate to enact the matron’s immediate arrest.
Finding nobody to answer the door, the guards bashed the door in after a short warning, and the assembled group immediately made their way upstairs to the three bedchambers that slept the three Kellani women. Rowyn’s chamber remained empty, confirming that wherever she was, she appeared to have not returned home. Tegan’s chamber, a cluttered mess, revealed an altogether unexpected surprise in the form of the bound figure of Tobin, who explained that he had been abducted, bound, and gagged nearly three days ago by a young woman who came to the temple to ask for his help, using magical compulsion to lead him into a trap. He had been left there to die, he surmised, in an effort to remove his healing ability from the party’s arsenal when the young woman made her master stroke.
Finally, the bedchamber of Heldrath Kellani was breached, and within the party was shocked to find the only recently still body of Heldrath Kellani, a note clutched in one limp fist, an empty vial rolling out of the other. As the group neatly ascertained – and the note explained – the Kellani matron had killed herself upon hearing the word of her daughter’s arrest, already the talk of the city thanks to elated criers. Blaming the party for all her family’s ills and all the pain they’d endured, her final missive assured the Gang of Five she would greet them in hell.