Oriana was anxious to make landfall, even though it was still a full day away. Her fervor for Heimdal knew no bounds, and her mission had been made most important by Cardinal Bernaldo. Never before had a brother betrayed the order as brother Anselmo had. Never before had a murderer escaped justice while in their hands. The murderer must be found. There were many places the man, Ramon, could have gone. Oriana was one of many hunters sent to find him. Her assignment, a small backwater in another kingdom called Fallwater Bay. Her friend Shadow followed her. He was a mercenary, and her missions usually had rich rewards. Following both was Aldon. She wasn’t sure why he followed, but she was glad he did. His magic had saved them more than once. Thinking of all these things, she slowly drifted off to sleep.
She was standing on a massive stone bridge. She could not see the end in either direction. And she knew exactly where she was. This was the Bifrost. This was Heimdal’s realm. A figure was next to her. She couldn’t fully make out what it was, but she could feel the power. Immense, and yet comforting. A voice rang out.
“Oriana, here me. Your current mission must change. A corruption has come into my church. Its nature is hidden from me. However, I see in the flows of time that the man Ramon Scorpio will play an important role in finding the answers. Find this man, and work with him. Do not bring him back to your Cardinal. Other than that, keep my word and follow your conscience. You shall find him in Fallwater Bay. Seek the House of the merchant Skandor at midnight.”
Oriana awoke with much to think about. And suddenly without a plan.
Ramon and Ristor scurried from the Mayors residence with their prize. Meeting up with Anya, they quickly retreated to her residence. She knew her master would not mind a few visitors. Especially since he would already be asleep. Once locked in her rooms, the group opened the box and began to review the records. On top of the records was one fresh piece of paper. Reading it, it soon answered one nagging question for the group. It was a contract of sale for the Brightwater mansion. Tremont had gained the residence for an amazingly low price, but with strings. He had to restore the residence and reside there for a year or he had to pay a large penalty. Reading further, much of the paperwork proved to be quite mundane. Most of it was a record of what the estate had contained, when it was seized by the crown, and when it was sold. There were, however, able to find a record of an unusual jeweled vial amongst the records. It had been seized at the original crime scene. Later, it was catalogued as part of the estate. Finally, ten years later it was sold at auction to a ship’s captain for a few copper pieces. No one could trace where the vial might be or knew who the captain was who bought the vial 20 years prior. Finally, at the bottom, the party found the original sheriff’s account of the deaths. It was clear he had kept very concise records, as he was confused about events. According the Sherriff, he had found the sisters dead in the study. The party recognized this as the room with the portrait. They were found lying side by side with strange vial lying between them. The cousin, one Boris Brighton Hayes, was found upstairs. The record noted that Larissa and Boris both bore signs of terror on their faces, while Elissa had appeared at peace. Unable to determine what happened and not able to find any proof of poison, the Sherriff had reluctantly closed the case as unsolved. The party now had some answers as to what had happened, and were just beginning to absorb and analyze the information when there was a sharp knock at the door.
Ramon opened the door to a strange figure. Standing a few feet back from him was a tall man with a huge sword slung over his back. The man said nothing. Then Ramon heard a distinctly female voice. Startled, he looked down to see a short, robed figure at his feet. Behind the warrior, another short figure stood grinning.
“Hello. I am looking for someone. He is called Ramon Scorpio.” Ramon was surprised to hear his name, but his friendly nature immediately took over.
“Hello, I am Ramon. How can I help you?”
She replied “May I come in? Perhaps we should talk inside.”
“Well, this is not my house, so I don’t know if I should just invite three strangers in.”
At this point, Anya arrived and, although hesitant, decided to invite the strangers in. They were quickly ushered upstairs to Anya’s chambers.
Ramon turned to Ristor, yelling quietly “You might want to put the box away. You know, the box.” Ramon was convinced he was being sneaky. The three strangers all became convinced something illicit was most likely going on. Bouncing forward, Alden broke the ice. “So, what’s in the box?” Several lame excuses followed, convincing no one. Finally, Anya turned the topic back to the strangers. “So, exactly why are you here?” The short woman answered. “I was sent to find someone named Ramon Scorpio. And it appears I have found him.” Finally, it dawned on Ramon that having three apparently armed strangers show up looking for him might not be a good thing. “Oh, indeed, it seems you….” Ramon said as he turned and leapt out the nearest window. The warrior followed to the window, looking out to see Ramon limping away into the darkness. “Should I follow him?” Oriana considered for a moment. “No, Shadow, let him go. I am certain I will be able to find him later.”
Recognizing that the situation was clearly getting out of control, Ristor decided it would be best to try and get the box back to the mayor’s house before it was noticed. Taking the box, he quickly headed out the door. Alden followed, while Shadow went out to try and track Ramon. In the darkness, he was unable to locate tracks to follow. But he was able to catch up to Ristor and Alden. Ristor, deciding that secrecy with these strangers would not help, quickly outlined the situation with Brighton Manner and why they acquired the box. Neither Aldon nor Shadow had a problem with the issue, and in the backs of their heads both wondered if Ristor’s wealthy patron might also reward them for helping. Arriving at the residence, Shadow and Aldon stood watch as Ristor quickly and quietly returned the box. Having nowhere else to go, the group began returning to the house.
Meanwhile, Anya and Oriana remained at the house. Oriana quietly reached out with her magical senses. It was immediately obvious that Anya was a mage. Oriana’s power was similarly visible to Anya. However, Oriana also sensed something necromantic on Anya. Making small talk, she got as close as she could, trying to determine what was happening. She soon could tell there was some source of necromantic energy in her belt pouch. Oriana was no thief, but being small and mysterious, she tried to get a hand in the pouch. He clumsy attempt was quickly noticed, and Anya pulled back readying her magic. Oriana looked at her calmly. “You have some sort of necromantic item in that pouch. I would like to know what it is.”
Anya looked back at her. “What do you know about necromancy?”
Oriana remained calm as she replied. “Heimdal grants me insight into it.”
Anya considered her options. As she did, the others arrived back from their errand, walking in on the Mexican standoff between the women. Shadow looked on, but did nothing. Finally, Anya decided it was best to talk.
“Ok, I will let you see it, but do not try to take it.”
Anya placed the black stone on the table and stepped back. Oriana stepped forward to examine it. After touching it both physically and mystically, she could tell it was a powerful source of necromantic energy, but she still wasn’t sure of exactly what it was. Anya showed her Brighton’s notes, and if finally fell into place. Oriana realized this was a necromancer’s stone. Just as alchemists had an alchemists stone, so it was once believed a necromancer could create a stone to summon and store the energies of death. Although technically workable, the creation of the stone would almost certainly kill the caster. The tension broken, Oriana and Anya began to discuss the details of the situation and to finally reach some conclusions. It was clear that Brighton had tried to summon necromantic power to extend his life. Instead, it had probably killed him. However, it didn’t explain how the power he had summoned had been used. Anya explained about the picture, and Oriana agreed that it probably had been used by Elissa to contain her own spirit, using the energy available. Oriana decided to try and bring back Ramon, and then they would go to the mansion the next day to deal with the painting.
Ramon spent a good portion of the night trying to figure out where to hide and what to do. He wasn’t sure how many people might be after him or what they were planning. Finally, he decided that his best bet would be to go to the Shanty and see is anyone had been asking about him. That might give him an idea of what he was up against. Working his way over to the docks, he was soon in the Shanty, hearing the sailors and ne’er do wells carousing. He quickly made his way to the bar and signaled to the bartender. Johann approached him, looking annoyed. “What do you want?”
Ramon tried to put on his friendliest face. “I was wondering, has anyone been in here recently asking about me?”
“Who are you?”
“Why, I am Ramon Scorpio.”
And with that, Johann walked away. Ramon took a little time to consider his situation. No one had been looking for him. So perhaps the only people who knew about him were the three strangers. They had not seemed hostile. Certainly they could have attacked him at the house. So perhaps he had been too hasty. Ramon began the walk back to the house. As he walked, he saw a bum lying on the pavement. The figure grunted at him, and seemed to be signaling to him. Ramon approached, hoping to help a fellow human now that he felt his own life was no longer in danger. The figure shuffled towards him. As it got close, it pulled back its hood, revealing a hideous, slightly desiccated face with long fangs. The creature lunged at Ramon, trying to bite him. Ramon quickly dodged back and drew his pistol. With a perfectly placed shot, he blasted his assailant in the face, shattering the head and dropping the creature to the ground unmoving. Stunned, Ramon looked up to see Oriana standing there, watching him. The own hood was off, and he could see her long Cobalt blue hair in the lights of the doc. In her hand she held a sword that seemed oversized for her, but nothing more than a normal blade to a human. Ramon spoke quickly, “That thing was a vampire. It attacked me”. Oriana calmly responded. “I know. I sensed its undead power. We need to leave here. Your gunshot will have certainly drawn attention.” Ramon considered the wisdom of her suggestion and only partially rejected it. Instead, he and Oriana found a good hiding place to watch what happened. In short order, the guards arrived and sealed off the area. Soon, more guards arrived with an office Ramon did not recognize. The officer examined the body. He did seem surprised at something he found on the man’s chest, but neither Ramon nor Oriana could tell exactly what it was. Finally, Ramon and Oriana realized there was nothing else to gain and returned to Anya’s place. Everyone decided to sleep off the rest of the night and start fresh in the morning.
The following morning everyone enjoyed a big breakfast courtesy of Anya’s patron before heading to the mansion. Anya elected to remain behind and nurse her wounds. The rest of the group returned to the mansion. The first order of business was a quick reconnoiter of the premises. Having finally satisfied themselves that the entire building had been searched completely, the party made their way to the study and the portrait. Ristor and Ramon both declined to enter the room and waited outside the door. A few minutes later, a screaming Aldon came running out the door. Thus informed that the ghost had again appeared, they grabbed the panicked gnome and waited for Oriana and Shadow.
Inside the study, the ghost again tried to threaten and scare the strangers. Shadow was left uneasy, but held his ground. Oriana was completely nonplussed. After taunting the spectral figure, she decided the ghost could not actually harm anyone. Shadow pulled down the painting and placed a large blanket over it. The group decided to return the portrait to Anya’s house to find a final solution for it. Once there, Anya and Oriana put their heads together and developed a ritual that would remove the ghost for good. It took some time, but in the end, the ghost was banished as the sun set with a final desperate scream. The painting reverted to the form of an old, distinguished gentleman that the group assumed to be the original Lord Brighton. Both Anya and Oriana were certain there was no magic on the portrait anymore. They also noticed that the power in the necromancer’s stone seemed to decrease. However, the item did remain intact. Working through the possibilities, it was decided that while Elissa might be gone, Larissa might still be around. A night raid was planned on the cemetery to again check out the Brighton Mausoleum and see if any more answers could be found.
Entering the cemetery unnoticed proved an easy task. Although it was now guarded, the single guard did not seem happy with his post and was simple to work around. Working their way to the mausoleum, they again opened the vaults. Elissa’s still contained nothing but her bones. However, in Larissa’s crypt, all that remained where the gnawed bones of the sailors they found their previously. The group was confused for some time as to how to proceed. Finally, Ramon had a moment of inspiration. “Wait a minute, the undead thing I found was on the docks and the sailors disappeared from the docs…” The rest of the party was able to put together that the creature might be based on the docs. Oriana pointed out that they would not need to breath, and could easily be hiding in the water. She also pointed out that the gnawed bones would indicate it was probably some sort of Ghoul. The party decided that the only way to finally get to the bottom of the mystery would be to go to the docs and try to draw Larissa out.
Near the docs, Oriana asked the group to stop. She indicated she could possibly get more information with the powers granted to her. Focusing her will, she reached out to the local spirits, trying to call someone who could give her answers. Shortly, a shabby looking ghost appeared to her. He was clearly the remnant of a derelict. However, his head had a visible hole in it, and Oriana quickly realized that this was the ghost of the thing Ramon had killed the previous evening. She commanded it to explain what it knew. The creature was still confused about what had happened. He had been attacked by Larissa and killed, then risen up. What concerned Oriana was that the creature had spoken to the bum before killing him, and he had heard her speak afterwards. A normal ghoul should not have been capable of that. Dismissing the spirit, she advised the group that they were likely dealing with a much more intelligent ghoul, and possibly a more powerful one.
At the docs, it was decided Ristor would swim under the docs to look around. He was the best swimmer in the group and could handle himself as well. Ristor was not in the water long before he saw a figure in the water coming towards him quickly. He raced up the nearest pier, barely outrunning his pursuer. As her leapt onto the doc and ran to Ramon to recover his weapons, Three figures emerged from behind him. Two appeared to be big, shabbily dressed men. The third was a woman dressed in rotted clothing. She pointed at the group and let out a hiss, and the ghouls rushed to the attack.
Rister, Ramon and Shadow immediately stepped forward to engage the creatures. Although not overly skilled, the creatures were preternaturally tough. Several blows failed to do more than slow the creatures down. However, the creatures were also failing to hurt the party. Aldon began blasting at them with his magic to some effect. Finally, Oriana saw her opportunity. As one of the creatures reeled back from a particularly strong blow by Shadow, she leapt forward with her magiced blade. Climbing up Shadow, she leapt at the creature, swinging her blade with all her might and striking true. The creature collapsed. Larissa, seeing this threat, turned and lunged at Oriana and, with superhuman will, struck the priestess a serious blow. Oriana retreated, but Aldon now stepped up. Focusing his own magic, he hurled a mighty bolt at Larissa. Larissa, already staggered, could not resist its destructive power and she too collapsed in a heap. The fighters then quickly dispatched the third beast. The fight ended, the party looked up to realize that many of the patrons of the bar had now come out and had observed the fight. They immediately pointed out to the crowd that the creatures were obviously undead, and some in the crowd did agree. The watch quickly appeared, cordoning off the area and holding the party. In short order, the Sherriff himself appeared. He walked over to the bodies and examined them. After looking at Larissa, it was obvious he recognized her. As the party tried to point out to him that this proved they had been undead, the now shaken Sherriff ordered that the party be brought to his office immediately for further questioning.