The party was hand-delivered a message from an ancient halfling woman who introduced herself as Kora Whistlegap, servant of the Vanderboren noble family and Lavinia Vanderboren, eldest daughter of the house, in particular. The letter she issued invited the individuals to a dinner and business proposition the following evening, an offer all of them acceded to.
Arriving the following evening at the gated estate home of the Vanderboren family, a stately and expensive home in the Merchant District that was too rich for the minor noble status of the family twice over. There, they were greeted by Kora and left to wait in the manor’s parlor while Lavinia concluded business with a previous engagement, leaving the party to introduce themselves to each other and speculate on the mysterious nature of their invitation.
Their private conversation was interrupted by four individuals exiting the main hall of the estate, clad in armor set with green accents and brandishing weapons. Their leader, a human whom one of the party recognized, scoffed at them dismissively before leading his retinue out. At this time Kora lead the party inside, where they at last met their hostess and now heir to the Vanderboren family, Lavinia Vanderboren.
Lavinia explained that she had been recently orphaned by the death of her parents at sea slightly over a month prior, and since then, she had been running herself ragged in an attempt to dutifully settle their affairs, a task which the individuals who had just left, the Jade Ravens, were continuing their service to her parents in assisting her with. However, another matter had arose that required immediate and discreet attention, and it was for this that she had sought out the members of the party, relative unknowns who had nevertheless distinguished themselves such that she had heard of them from her network of friends and contacts in the city.
An employee of the harbormaster, a man named Soller Vark, had been keeping her family’s vessel, The Blue Nixie, illegally even after she had paid him a rather sizable sum of gold to settle the debt of its mooring fees. In spite of having paid her family’s debt in full, Vark maintained that he had not been paid at all, and all attempts to resolve the matter peacefully or diplomatically had met a dead end. At the end of her rope, Lavinia summoned these four to take up her cause and reclaim her vessel by more clandestine means. With the caveat that she preferred no one be killed or harmed if it could be helped, she offered the men a sum of gold to retrieve her family’s vessel via whatever means they deemed prudent.
After performing some investigation about town on Vark, himself, the party learned that he was not well-liked throughout town, and that he had at some point been connected with the sale of an exotic reptile to a citizen of the Shadowshore. During their investigation, they also discovered that Lavinia’s family’s ship, the Blue Nixie, was not moored where it should be at all, but was instead moored to a float in the middle of Sasserine Harbor. No one they spoke to knew why.
At last thinking it time to strike, the group waiting for the cover of darkness and rented a rowboat from Lienne Tiel, an elf woman and proprietor of a boat business in the Shadowshore, and rowed out to the float. It became apparent that the vessel was occupied as a young tough barked at them from the deck, demanding their business. Thinking quickly, the group claimed to be pearl divers on a midnight run, but this diversion availed them only briefly as after a few moments they saw the figure of Soller Vark atop the deck, ordering them to leave immediately lest they face the wrath of the harbormaster.
Momentarily deterred, the party began to row away, earned some distance, and then returned to the vessel on the opposite side, scaling it under cover of darkness. Fortune smiled upon them as they managed to breach the cabin without raising an alarm, having caught the deck guard attending to the chamber pot. Attempting to extract information from him proved fruitless, however, and before being seriously injured, he shrieked out, calling Vark and his men to the top deck.
In the melee that ensued, Vark found himself short of friends as the hands he hired to staff the boat (still for reasons unknown) abandoned him once they realized how straight-up real the shit was. Variants of “Fuck you, Vark! I’m not dying for you!” was heard multiple times as the men jumped overboard, leaving Vark to attempt to hold his purloined vessel alone. Attempts to intimidate or browbeat the party failed spectacularly, leaving Vark to similarly flee the vessel in his cowardice, but not before screaming out “Abandon ship! Burn them all!” to an unknown audience.
Smoke began to rise up from below deck, along with a tremendous thrashing and the combined howls and squawks of multitude birds and primates, followed by the ominous, loud trilling of massive jaws and the piercing scream of a woman’s voice. Racing below deck, the men found a massive, pony-sized arachnid thrashing about below deck with an adult woman’s slumped body clenched in its mandibles, the shattered cages and broken bodies of monkeys, snakes, parrots, and other exotic animals strewn haphazardly about the room, and a small, wet pile of straw where a fire had recently been.
This left the party free to investigate the boat, upon which they managed to get into the captain’s quarters and discover Vark’s belongings, including the money Lavinia had given him and her father’s signet ring, which she had also tasked them with finding. Between the documents found in Vark’s things and the evidence left strewn about the ship, it seemed apparent that Vark was operating an exotic animals smuggling operation and using Lavinia’s boat as a waypoint. Their task a resounding success, half of the group held the boat while the other half returned to Vanderboren Manor and, waking Kora and Lavinia, reported their success. Lavinia thanked them enthusiastically and asked them to return to the Blue Nixie for the evening, promising that she’d be at the vessel at first light with staff to crew it and a district watch representative to adjudicate the legality of the matter.
True to her word, Lavinia returned at first light and introduced the watch captain to the party, who supplied him with the evidence they acquired, as well as the barely alive form of one of Vark’s men who lay clinging to life in one of the cabins. Satisfied with the investigation for the time, the watchman dismissed the party with thanks as Lavinia escorted them off the boat, leaving it in the care of her hired hands.
With her money rightfully reclaimed, her vessel procured, and her father’s signet ring retrieved, Lavinia informed the party that she could now access her family’s vault under Castle Taraknian and pay the party their rightful sum.
Returning the following morning, the party finds Lavinia dressed in exotic blue leather armor and brandishing a beautiful rapier set with her family’s crest. She informs the party that she would like to hire them on as her professional bodyguards and troubleshooters with a monthly retainer, in much the same way her parents employed the Jade Ravens. All four men, eager for steady work and generous coin, accepted. Delighted, Lavinia told them that their first order of business would be to accompany her to her family’s vault, where she could finally give them their first payment. She wanted them along, she explained, because knowing her parents as she did, she suspected there may be some natural or magical defenses within the vault, and she wanted help just in case.
It proved to be a wise decision. After being shown to the Vanderboren family vault by Castle Taraknian’s clerk, Lavinia and her newfound bodyguards came to a large, empty room surrounded by frescoes of various monsters with the strange theme of an eight-pointed star repeating several times throughout the room. While attempting to find a way through or into the inner workings of the vault, the group was attacked by a snake construct, a beast of steel and poison that leapt out of the shadows and attacked the party, threatening them until it was realized that Lavinia could bark the guardian down by showing it her father’s ring. With the construct pacified, they moved on to the task at hand, a puzzle featuring more paintings of monsters and another eight-pointed star design. With the help of a scrap of paper they had discovered in the cabin of her father’s ship, they managed to solve the entry to the vault, revealing several recesses in the wall stacked high with chests.
Empty, empty chests.