With the front chamber to Lavinia’s home breached by way of a broken window, Traxen was first to attempt to crawl through, only to be met by a pair of ugly, froglike creatures of about human size who awaited him with spears. Managing to regroup outside the window and reenter the manor’s entry chamber, the group managed to get the front door open and storm the room, taking the three frogmen, identified later as bullywugs, members of a race of bipedal, tribalistic amphibians who tend to worship monstrous gods of the sea. How they came to be here none could say, though the obvious solution seemed to be that Captain Harliss’ first mate, Drevoraz Kabran, whom she had sent to execute Vanthus, had somehow signaled to this tribe or otherwise recruited them en route to the Vanderboren home to aid in his siege.
With no indication as to where Lavinia was being held – or indeed, if she was even in the house – the group resolved to systematically clear out the building from the ground up, being sure to take the basement as early as an opportunity to do so presented itself.
A cursory examination of the main chamber, with it’s dual staircases up and its magnificent glass chandelier, revealed a series of wet, sloppy footprints and tracked mud heading both upstairs and deeper within the manor, towards the indoor garden. First, however, they consulted the nearby rooms to ensure a thorough sweep, but all they found were more grim reminders of Lavinia’s dire financial straits: in the gallery, numerous empty places on the wall marked the passing of works of art, with several pieces wrapped in paper and ready for sale or transport, and in the statuary, an unfinished statue of Lavinia’s parents stood awaiting completion that may never come. Finally, the bestiary, a magnificent chamber full of stuffed monstrosities Lavinia’s adventuring parents had collected over the years contained some unwelcome guests: four more bullywug guards who likewise fell fairly quickly. In this room the party found the path to the basement, a conspicuous trail of sloshed, muddy prints scrambling out of it.
The basement was far worse off than they suspected, however, it’s floor seemingly forcibly converted to a dense, muddy soup. Deeper within this small chamber, the group could hear an odd chittering, and a woman’s screams. Rushing forward, they saw a young, rather attractive, nude human woman being harried by a sort of insectoid creature not unlike a massive lobster, which struck at her with its antennae as she attempted to dodge its repeated blows as a group of leering bullywug soldiers looked on laughing. More curious than her nudity, given the situation, was her accouterments: the woman seemed to be wearing a necklace and belt made of crude twine securing several pieces of silverware, which clinked and jingled as she moved away from the monster that pestered her. It was Kizziar alone who recognized the woman, in fact, as Liamae, one of the Jade Ravens.
This began a pitched and dangerous battle, as even aside from the bullywug soldiers, the monster attacking the beautiful Raven spellcaster revealed itself upon scrutiny to be a rust monster, an insectoid creature that quite literally eats all forms of metal. Unfortunately, this only became evidence after the creature had glutted itself on Traxen’s prized sword, and even more unfortunately, the party’s engagement drew the attention of a powerful bullywug by the name of Lorpth, a hulking monster of his kind who fought with a gnarled greatclub. While nearly killing Dorian, he was narrowly defeated, along with his dubious pet, and Liamae was rescued, grabbing her things from a pile where Lorpth had held them off on the side. While genuinely thankful for the timely rescue, she seemed vastly more concerned with the fate of her fellow Ravens than Lavinia, and demanded that the party find and rescue the rest of her coterie.
With the basement cleared, the means by which Drevoraz and the bullywugs managed to sack the manor so quickly and without incident was apparent: the rust monster that had been brought along ate through the sewage grate that allowed the water which flows through the manor’s indoor garden to drain into the adjacent canal, letting the creatures begin their siege from within the house and simply work their way upward. Taking steps to secure the grate for the time, the party returned to the ground floor and continued clearing it out. It was behind a false panel that they found the exanimate body of a dwarf, whom Liamae immediately identified as Kaskus, the Jade Ravens’ good-natured and gruff druid. While hovering on death’s door, Tobin’s intercession and some healing magic brought the man back, and he, too, offered his thanks as well as his sword in the pursuit of retaking the mansion. Unlike his compatriot, Kaskus seemed to have a vested interested in saving Lavinia, at least as much as the other Jade Ravens. He was also able to relay his part of what had happened in the previous hour or so before the party’s arrival, but it was little they had not already surmised: the bullywugs and Drevoraz, about thirty-five strong, flooded up from the basement. A skirmish broke out with the Jade Ravens, who had been meeting in the adjacent dining room, but the superior numbers of frogmen scattered them, and Kaskus was felled while attempted to open a trapped crate of healing supplies in the false room. What had happened to Lavinia, Tolin, or Zan, he did not know, but he knew their fates would lie upstairs.
The trail of prints and blood lead the group up the stairs to the first floor, where they encountered more bullywugs, one of them a massive female of the species who delighted in smoking cigars and taunting the group, but she, too, was brought down, in her case while trying to make a quick escape. Opportunities for fantastic wealth acquisition abounded, which the party rather heroically passed up on, unwilling to thieve from their patron, employer, and friend. No sign of Tolin or Zan, the other Jade Ravens, nor that of Lavinia or Kora, could be found, only still more sloppy, muddy footprints leading up to the second floor, where all that remained was Lavinia and Vanthus’ private chambers, and the now unoccupied master bedroom.
The topmost floor was quiet, so much so it was questionable whether Drevoraz had somehow escaped the building with his quarry while the party was otherwise occupied. A quick turn of Lavinia’s bedroom showed nothing out of the ordinary, and Vanthus’ room seemed likewise unmolested, still marked by the man’s brief time home by a pile of empty wine bottles and a stack of cheap books, and otherwise clear, a shrine to a boy who had not existed for many years.
With one door remaining, the group, now seven strong, gird themselves for what they hoped would be a final confrontation beyond the door. As Traxen threw the double doors open, the pungent, musky odor of the swamp assaulted the senses, and all could see the scene laid out before them: the room’s great bay windows were covered in sopping blankets to blot out the sun, and in the center of the room stood a hulking, one-eyed half-orc with a drawn sabre poised at the throat of a female form, one of four figures stripped of their clothes and possessions, tied to a chair and facing different directions in the room, their backs to each other. The other figures were immediately recognizable as Tolin and Zan, the remaining Jade Ravens, and Kora Whistlegap, Lavinia’s long-suffering butler. Flanking the prisoners were no fewer than eight bullywug tribesmen, and as the door flew open the grizzled half-orc called out, “One step further and I’ll cut her fucking head off! Do not test me!”
The group stood still in shock for a moment, the standoff setting in as neither party dared to take the first move and unleash catastrophe. Surely Drevoraz knew he was likely outgunned, but the party knew that their first hostile action would cause Lavinia’s death, and very likely the deaths of the other prisoners immediately to follow.
It was Othar who spoke first and broke the stalemate, remembering the earring that Captain Javell had given him with the instructions to show it to her men. “I have Harliss’ earring”, he spoke calmly, evenly, moving slowly as he pulled the earring from his pocket. “Captain Javell says you’re to call off the attack. Vanthus is not here, won’t ever be here.”
“Toss it over”, Drevoraz ordered, clearly still skeptical. Ordering one of the bullywugs to pick it up, he consulted the marilith earring and nodded to himself, then issued his commands to Othar: “Right, then. New arrangement. I walk out of here, we pretend this never happened, I never see any of you again.”
The group enthusiastically agreed to these terms in unison, but were cut off suddenly by a slobbering, gutteral noise that came from the far corner, a voice like a flaccid sack that howled, “No! We had a deal, Drevoraz! Blood for the god of the depths! The infidelsth will pay with their livesth!” Out from the corner stepped an ancient bullywug wrapped in a sopping wet silk sheet, his throat sack wrinkled and loose, hanging from his neck like a punctured bladder. Screaming, he ordered the bullywug soldiers in the room to attack, and as the melee began, Drevoraz took the opportunity to remove himself from the situation, defenestrating himself and making a getaway as the fight commenced.
The bullywug shaman summoned demons during the fight and used his men expertly, but with the combined might of the Gang of Five and the Jade Ravens, the high priest, his summoned demons, and his soldiers all fell in time, but not before Lavinia, surprisingly canny since her last meeting with the party, managed to slip free of her bonds and recover her weapon to aid them in the battle! With the last of the bullywugs defeated, Tolin and Zan were healed and drifted back to consciousness, glad to be reunited with their coterie mates.
Unfortunately, it was too late for Kora, whom Lavinia explained had been first to die when Drevoraz cut her throat in an attempt to cow Lavinia into talking.
While the Jade Ravens thanked the party for their part in retaking the manor and saving both Lavinia and their group, Tolin begrudgingly apologized for the things he had said at their first meeting, and while he was genuinely grateful, both he and Zan seemed to harbor some strange resentment for Othar. The party then briefed Lavinia on what they had found at Kraken’s Cove, and she was understandably horrified to find of Vanthus’ involvement in the strange tale, and more immediately that he had crossed the Crimson Fleet to do it. Afterward, the group moved on to set about securing the building while Lavinia showered the party with praise, asking them to stay over for the evening until the guard could be called in the morning once the festival concluded. While Dorian went and recovered Churtle, Traxen and Kizziar helped to secure the portions of the house that had been damaged during the assault. Othar, meanwhile, was requested in Lavinia’s chambers, and as the evening’s excitement wore down, Lavinia thanked Othar for his bravery and competence in saving her, and they spoke long into the night.
The following morning, Lavinia gave her loyal bodyguards a small raise and told them to take some well-earned time off. Adventure would call again soon enough.