Roster (Party Level 8th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
The adventurers familiarise themselves with Pargsmeer House's history before venturing across to investigate. Owned by the self-appointed Lord and Lady Pargsmeer almost 150 years ago, where they lived with their two daughters Eleanour and Braid, the House was built as a counterpoint to the more stately mayoral manor and then, soon after its completion and much to the surprise of the township, it was opened as a brothel to the burgeoning foot traffic passing through Crow's Atoll.
By repute, those who availed themselves of the House's services would have their fortune read as part of the 'service', and business was good. Still, Arnold Pargsmeer managed to bankrupt himself by attempting, a few years later, to buy himself a popular mandate to take over the mayorship of the town from the Crow family.
Despite completing several essential public works (the Pump House among them), he never achieved the momentum necessary to win the people's vote and was soon in dire financial trouble. When his daughters were reported to have died in an unspecified accident, the family shut themselves away for good, and not long after that, the earth tremors which collapsed the land-bridge to the Needle struck the atoll.
No-one has ventured across since then, but Berend applies himself to the problem of actually reaching the Needle by designing a winged harness... a complex contraption that not one of his friends, colleagues, or the hundred-or-so spectators who gather around the pump-house think has a hope of working. With bets being taken and the odds tumbling by the hour, he straps himself in, and launches himself over the gulf.
The flight is spectacular, the view even more so. Updrafts from the gulf keep his little glider in the air long enough for him to reach the walls of the needle, a quartz-encrusted cliff-face that promises to smash him to smithereens and dump his body into the mists below... but as he makes contact, he hits the quick-release on his harness, and latches on with two specially-crafted rock-hammers strapped to his hands.
Memories from long ago, of Teremoen Crow and his team of mountaineers risking life and limb to build the cable-way, rise unbidden to the minds of the older members of his audience and a smattering of applause slowly rises, climaxing in an appreciative crescendo as he hauls himself up the cliff and collapses over the edge. Stringing a make-shift line across the gap, the rest of the party soon joins him.
Pargsmeer gardens have gone to ruin, a colourless, overgrown waste-land of dead or dying plants surrounded by a rusting iron fence. The house itself, a stone fortress with thin stained windows like arrow-slits, and crumbling walls, is no more inviting. Jonas scouts to the top of the highest tower, and though the view across the plain is a good one, finds no means of ingress other than a few shuttered windows, which though he might be able to de-glaze and squeeze through, would leave him far too vulnerable.
Below, the party investigates the inner courtyard. On the cold wind, it seems voices are rising from the well there, moaning in rising ecstasy and then cut abruptly off in strangled screams. A light lowered into the depths shows a deep layer of leaves and other detritus, and feebly clutching skeletal hands which the party decide to simply ignore.
Above, looking down on the courtyard from a mezzanine reached via a thin flight of steps, is an intricately carved stone statue. It shows a man and a woman arm-in-arm, and two younger girls crouching at their feet: the Pargsmeer family. It's a pleasant enough portrait, except for the fact that the faces of both daughters have been desecrated by clawed hands. Pieces of rubble around the base of the statue are all that remains of their features.
Entering the house through a collapsed doorway, they find a large reception area, it's once-plush red carpet now mangy and stained, and the whole interior reeking of decades-old entropy.
A door to one side leads to what might have once been on office of some kind. Hung askew on the wall is the original portrait on which the status outside was based, this time with the beauty of the Pargsmeer daughters intact, and on the opposite wall, hanging above two fallen candelabras, is a framed picture of nothing but purest black, the brush-strokes thick and purposeful. Elumai identifies it as a Null Portrait, a magical device whose real picture only becomes clear after the repayment of some old debt.
Amongst a pile of broken wood like an unlit bonfire, the party finds the remains of a ledger describing the last few years of the brothel's business. The numbers become gradually fewer, and smaller, towards the back of the book, and the last few pages seem to have been ripped out. Beneath the family portrait, a loose corner of dried carpet is lifted to find a simple message etched into the wooden floorboards: "I'm sorry".
Continuing their investigation, they're enticed to a room in the north-west corner. Jonas is first to take a peek inside, and he sees the ruined remains of what was once a boudoir, with several rotting beds, a few mildly pornographic portraits at crazy angles on the walls... and lying on one of the beds, a beautiful young woman, who slithers across the filthy sheets and beckons for him to enter. The rational part of his mind screams a warning, but it is overcome by the glamor and, utterly entranced, he moves towards her.
The rest of the party are somewhat dismayed to see Jonas break from his customary stealth and stroll with a dopey smile into the heart of the room, and they rush to follow. Unfortunately, they then all find themselves under attack by the wraiths, appearing in various guises as beautiful woman designed to entrap the minds of the party. Not so easily does an adventurer's will succumb to such trickery, however, and although the lingering undead enjoy brief success, rationality soon asserts itself and the denizens of the boudoir are handily dispatched.
Finding a spiral iron stair, the party ascends to the first floor. In a room overlooking the rearward garden, they are attacked by a poltergeist which flings porcelain figurines about the room with vicious force... and are privvy to an echo of the past, as two ghostly figures can be seen rushing through the gardens, pausing for a last embrace at the cliff's edge, before flinging themselves off to certain death below. Such, it appears, was the final fate of Arnold Pargsmeer and his wife Pondra.
Next-door, they find a room with a bay window which has been removed or which has simply disintegrated with the passage of time. Four pedestals arranged near the back wall carry shrouded glass globes like crystal balls, their interiors opaque and cloudy. Elumai volunteers to examine them, resists a powerful assault on her mind, and sees a distant image within the globe, a scene played out for her alone:
...the face of an overjoyed prospector, staring in disbelief at an uncut gem the size of his fist, its unrealised beauty reflected in the flickering light of his candle...
Similar visions play out from the other globes, as the rest of the party step up to search for clues to the mystery:
...a battered-looking cleric, his robes soaked and dishevilled, holding a glowing holy symbol aloft as a horde of ghouls, their ripped flesh entwined in rotting seaweed, converge on a schoolhouse to feast on the terrified children cowering within...
...a beautiful young woman, flushed with excitement and pride as she is led by a handsome prince along a procession of courtiers to meet a white-robed king with a crown of silk...
...an emerald-robed wizard, clutching a silver-shod tome, whispering a last prayer on the wind as he tumbles from the pinnacle of a jade tower...
The company pauses to consider the implications of these images...