Chapter 4 - Scooby-Doo Time

The Following day, the heroes arrived at Vanderboren Manor, where Kora led them swiftly into the Hall, where Lavinia waited for them.

"I'm sorry about last evening,' she said, "but the mention of my brother brought back so many terrible memories of the fire and …my parents."

Idae put his hand on arm gently as if to comfort her. After a few silent moments she began speaking.

You may recall the portrait in the Hall," Lavinia gestured. "that is my brother; Vanthus."

Lavinia paused for a moment, gathered her courage, and continued.

“The two of us were quite close when we were growing up, since our parents were rarely around,” Lavinia explained to the four with a sad, far away look in her eyes, “We grew to depend on each other, and got into a fair amount of trouble together. After one particularly complex prank involving several elixirs of love being emptied into the nearby water tower, our childhoods came to an end. I was sent to the Thenalar Academy to live out the next five years of my life, and Vanthus was shipped off to work on one of my family's plantations in Rockdale."

Lavinia's mouth grew tight.

"When we both returned to live in the family manor a year ago, we had both changed. I like to think I benefited from my time at Thenalar. Vanthus, on the other hand, spent his time away nurturing both his resentment of our parents and his overall bitterness. He was not the same boy I knew. He no longer had time for me, he slept all day, and spent his nights out on the streets of Sasserine with shady characters. Eventually, he moved out of the house entirely. I believe he took up with a lover in Azure District, but I've never learned the details. When our parents died, Vanthus returned for a week to live at the manor, but he had changed even more. Gone was the easy sense of humor I recall fondly from our childhood, and in its place was a bitter cynicism and a morbid streak that sent chills up my spine. After several arguments, Vanthus struck me with his fist.”

Lavinia paused for a moment, as though the blow had just occurred. Her eyes glistened, but she continued,

“I was shocked, and for a moment I think Vanthus was shocked as well, but an instant later he was back to his new persona; all scowls and menace. He gathered his belongings and stormed out. I have not seen him since. I know something profound happened to Vanthus at some point to change him, but I'm not sure what it was. I believe he's fallen in with a bad crowd, perhaps smugglers or thieves or even killers. Although his attitude might speak otherwise, I pray that it is not too late, that if he can be brought back to my side, I might be able to talk some sense into him and redeem him before he passes forever out of my reach. The problem is, I do not know where he has gone.”

“You know I'll do all I can to help you find your brother,” Idae said, gently. “It's only fair.” If the others caught an undertone that these two had some history before they all met the other day, nobody vocalized it then. However, they all did nod their agreement to help.

“Lady Vanderboren, where should we begin?” Viselys asked, declaring the groups' intent.

Lavinia shook her head absently, “As I said, I have few clues as to where Vanthus has gone. I would recommend asking around about him throughout the city; I doubt he's hiding out in the Champion's or Noble District, but even these locations may hold clues. My suspicion that he's been living with a woman in the Azure District arose from half-heard rumors, but it remains the strongest lead I have.”

“Then here’s what I suggest,” Viselys stated, “Idae, am I to understand you have good street contacts? Okay, then why don’t you begin there trying to track down Vanthus? Ornrik…”

Ornrik looked up from the book they had found in the fault, “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on things. I hope to have this journal translated by the end of the day.”

Viselys nodded, “Alright, and Saris and I will try to find out more about the Lotus Dragons and why they were using the Blue Nixie.”

“Yes, if we split up, we can do more damage that way,” Saris spoke up.

The trio of Viselys, Idae and Saris started out together for the Azure District, following up Lavinia’s best lead. They encountered a few people who remembered seeing Vanthus in the local taverns, often in the company of a woman named Brissa Santos, a woman Idae knew by reputation as a pickpocket turned semi-legitimate artist who’d had a fair share of brushes with the law. However, like Vanthus, no one had seen Brissa lately, so this new lead was a dead end before it took them anywhere. It was at this point that Idae decided to part company and seek information among his contacts back on the familiar streets of Shadowshore.

Saris and Viselys decided to scope out the Noble District together before splitting up to with Saris going to the Merchant district and Viselys going to the Cudgel district where each had the most contacts. They planned to reunite in the Champions District, then meet up with Idae back at Vanderboren Manor.

* * * * *

After Idae had spent most of the day in Shadowshore, almost exhausting his numerous contacts, he was approached by a nervous-looking half-elf with messy black hair, a ragged suit of leather armor, and dirty hands. Idae recognized the man as an ol' Shadowshore Boy and acquaintance of his, Shefton Rosk. "Psst…Idae. I hear that you're looking for Vanthus?"

"Is it that obvious?" Idae asked with exaggerated irony.

The two men grabbed a few pints and Shefton informed Idae that Vanthus had gotten himself a nice smuggling operation going down on Parrot Island. Vanthus had apparently said that he needed some more able bodies and would pay the best that illegal smugglers can expect to make.

"If you know a couple of blokes who don't mind moving crates, it could be a good deal, and probably the most direct route to meeting up with Vanthus,” Shefton suggested.

Idae agreed to meet up with Shefton the following morning with a couple extra men in tow. Then he downed his drink and headed back to the manor.

* * * * *

The Noble district had been a complete bust, and the Cudgel District was no more helpful to Viselys. However, in the Merchant district, by shear chance, Saris happened upon a sailor he knew that had seen Vanthus a few weeks ago in with a smuggler named Penkus, loading up a boat at the docks in Shadowshore.

“Yea, they had a big argument,” the sailor told Saris, “I have no idea what about. They loaded up that boat with rope, lamp oil, and lanterns and headed out. Ain’t see ‘em since.”

In the Champion District, Saris reunited with Viselys. They made some cursory inquiries around town, but as the sun was setting they decided to head back to Vanderboren Manor.

Once they were all together again, they compared notes. When Saris had shared what he had heard in the Merchant district, Idae nodded, “I’ve heard of this Penkus. He’s a dwarf and he’s well known for his drunken binges and violent temper. He hasn’t been around much in the past year or so, though. I kinda thought he’d moved on to bluer waters.”

“So smuggling is the game,” Viselys thought out-loud, “and it has something to do with exotic animals and that taxidermist. We can look into that tomorrow.”

“Well, what about this gig on Parrot Island?” Idae asked, “It’s on our way to finding Vanthus.”

And Ornrik looked a bit sheepish, “And, I know I said I’d have that book deciphered by this evening, but I’m not quite done. Almost, though. Tomorrow, for sure – I just need to rest. I do think it’s relevant to Vanthus and the smuggling, though, so it’s important.”

Saris smiled, “So, it sounds like we’re splitting up again.”

* * * * *

The next morning, Idae was up early. He found Shefton waiting anxiously at the Painted Vixen; a local tavern they had agreed upon as their meeting place.

"Where are the others?” Shefton asked, “I thought you said you could bring some more. Vanthus wanted to get as much help as he could."

"More work and money for us, I suppose," replied Idae. The two gathered up their things, hopped in a small rowboat and headed for Parrot Island.

Meanwhile, Viselys and Saris set off to find Nemien Roblach, the Taxidermist. The Taxidermist’s Guildhall was a relatively modest building. There was a locked service entrance off Dead Dog Alley, and the front door was on Water Street. It was an open business, so they took the straightforward approach.

Viselys and Saris entered into a showroom containing dozens of expertly stuffed and preserved animals, ranging from parrots, monkeys, and bats to more exotic creatures like a monstrous centipede, a stirge, and even a black dragon wyrmling. A bell near the door bore the sign “Ring for Service.” Saris and Viselys looked at each other, shrugged, and rang the bell.

From the back groom came a lanky, middle-aged man with a gold tooth. “Hey boys, what can I do for you?" he asked.

“Wow, you have some really cool stuff in here,” Saris said.

“It’s all on sale,” Nemien beamed, “That bat right next to you is a steal at 5 gold pieces.”

“How much for the dragon?” Viselys wondered aloud.

Nemien smiled wild, “The bat times ten.” Then he chuckled, “Everything else falls somewhere between those two.”

Viselys nodded, “Well, that’s very interesting, but that’s not really why we are here.” He leveled his gaze at the taxidermist, “What do you know about the Lotus Dragons.”

“Lotus Dragons? Not much, but if you bring me a specimen, I have no doubt I can stuff and mount it for you and do a better job than anyone for miles around.” He was smooth, but he was clearly shaken.

Viselys slammed his hand down on the counter, causing the bat (and Nemien) to jump, “Don’t screw with us. We have Soller Vark in custody already and he’s singing like a canary. He sold you out already, so you better come clean now.”

“All right, all right,” Nemien said, “Yeah, the Lotus Dragons pay me to act as their eyes and ears. I allow their members to come and go from my guildhall as they need,” and he showed them a secret door in the floor. “I’ve never been below, but I knows that the "boss lady" has a pet dragon, or something like it. Boy, would I love a chance to stuff that beastie. Look, I know I’m dead for telling you this, so, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta get my sorry ass out of town.” With that, he attempted to return to the back room.

But Viselys drew his sword, “I’m sorry, but I cannot allow that. By order of the Sasserine Guard, you are under arrest for conspiring with thieves and smugglers.”

Nemien looked nervous, “Oh, well, in that case … Treguna Mekoides Tracorum…”

Saris had his newly acquired rapier out in an instant, “Oh no you don’t!” With one quick strike to the face, Nemien fell unconscious.

"Hmm…nice blade. Finally, something worthy," Saris muttered to himself. Then he locked the front door and turned the “closed” sign.

Pulling his hat down over his face to cover his wound, Saris and Viselys covered Nemien with some booze and carry him back to Vanderboren (Prison) Manor where they could further question him when he came to.

By the time they arrived, Ornrik had completed his translation of the Vanderboren Family journal. They talked things over and awaited the arrival of Idae.

And waited…

Continue to Chapter 5...

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