The many windows of the gothic mansion are curtained, blocking the late afternoon sun with thick midnight-blue canvass.
Colgrevance settles his horse as a dozen men from the Pale Crusade form up to either side. The soldiers plant shields and kneel, peeking over with helms on and heavy crossbows aimed at the tall doors of the ballroom’s entry. Their holy man stands before them, hands clasped, mumbling in Celestial until a white light glows through his palms. Behind, their leader slips on a helmet to seal plate armor fancy enough to rival Colgrevance’s and strides around humming hymns of the angel’s tongue.
“Tristen?” Colgrevance puts on his own helmet.
His armored peer pulls a greatsword off his back and rests it on his shoulder. “We’re ready. Where’s your wearebear?”
“Beorn’s fetching the big lout.”
Tristen taps his breastplate and whispers a word. A white glow spreads across his suit, like moonlight shining through a metallic window.
Colgrevance drums his fingers on his saddle. “Messoack!”
“I am present.” The gray-skinned magician steps out of the shadows of the alley behind them.
“You sure you won’t lend me that bat ring? You and Jacob will be the only ones without a demigod to summon.”
“A mortal’s chance to witness firsthand the madness of divine players.” Messoack laughs, tone varying with a manic intensity. “Death sits atop my purse. Ready to pay for hostile wonders.”
“There will be plenty to wonder out here, protected by Tristen’s men.” Colgrevance points across the grounds at a half-naked warrior by a mansion’s side door. “Or you can join the Verdant druids to aid that barbaric orcelf’s distraction.”
Messoack shakes a dark cudgel that trails smoke. “Solaris and Kriv can marinate with the fresh meat. I favor following the false logic of your suicidal valor.”
“Speaking of…” Colgrevance waves Kriv over.
“Reporting for duty, Sir.” The thigh-high beebo salutes and blinks with translucent eyelids.
Colgrevance leans down as far as his saddle allows. “Looking down at us from her tower, Bat Lady thinks she’s ready for us.” He smacks his gauntlet against his armored knee. “But we’re going to surprise that snooty vampiress. Cast your most intense illusions into the ballroom as soon as we break in. Keep it up as long as you can. Distract even one foe from attacking, and you’ll have proved your worth.”
Kriv hops up and down. “I know the perfect combo composition.” He puffs his checks and makes a popping sound, followed by a vibrating tongue and lips. “I’ll enhance that, repeat like a set of drums to match a flickering kaleidoscope—”
“I want my gold!” A massive hairy man stomps out of an alley, herded by a scowling Beorn and his snarling pet wolverine. “Now!” The brute pulls a large warhammer off his back.
“You’re late, Bolo.” Colgrevance straightens in his saddle. “And we already paid you at the tavern. Are you too drunk to remember?”
“I want a bonus, another thousand.”
“You accepted fair payment. Do your duty.” Colgrevance draws his broadsword and points at the ballroom’s exterior doors. “Rip that open and clear the way to the tower!”
Bolo strips off his tunic and pants. “Sure.” Growling, he hunches over and swells. “I will.”
Fur forms in spots, pushing aside the man’s tan skin until it’s a brown carpet. Already tall, Bolo grows until he matches Colgrevance on his horse and reforms into a brown bear-man hybrid wielding a warhammer that enlarges as he does, becoming a great maul big as an anvil on a pole.
In two strides and half a breath, the weare smashes the entry open.
A row of glassy-eyed servant girls stand holding hands, shielding dozens of guards and monsters crowding the dance floor beyond.
Colgrevance leaps off his horse. “No!”
Bolo sends pieces of the girls flying. Two swings, and the fodder wall is gone.
“By Hierophant’s faith,” says Colgrevance, “we follow.”
The wearebear presses forward into the ballroom, making glassy-eyed warriors stumble into drakewolves and horse-sized spiders. A kaleidoscope of colored lights flash and a booming sound matches. Blades and bolts strike bear fur, and the transformed Bolo roars louder than Kriv’s performance.
Colgrevance chops his sword. “Fire!”
Heavy crossbows ping. Warriors and beasts around the wearebear jerk in time with one of the beebo wizard’s mystic beats.
Quarterstaff tucked in his armpit and a shortsword in a reverse grip, Jacob sprints into the mayhem and tumbles about with whacks and slashing distractions.
“Now, this is a party.” Messoack spins his hands around his body, glows blue and disappears.
Colgrevance waves his sword. “Keep close to Beorn and be ready to cast open doors.”
“Insane valor,” says an invisible Messoack. “Never right but always certain.”
Colgrevance sidesteps into the ballroom, boots slipping a bit on the blood spilled across the smooth floor. Unfazed by a crossbow bolt in his neck, a mansion guard jabs with a spear. Colgrevance smacks the tip to the side with his shield and slashes across the man’s chest, cutting through leather and metal with ease. Blood sprays, and the guard’s eyes blink with some personality, waking from the vampire’s control as he sinks to the ground.
Tristen cuts down another controlled warrior and steps over. “They’ve got powerful casters hiding behind—”
The wearebear roars. Enveloped in a silver blue light, he changes back into a man.
“Beorn!” Colgrevance waves to the ranger, who’s engaged a stone devil in a sparring match of hammer versus claw. “Retreat and climb!”
Messoack says, “What about me?”
Colgrevance kicks a solid granite door, decorated with titans holding tridents. “Open this.”
An outline of the magician appears between Beorn and Tristen. He spins his hands, and a mystic line connects his fingers to the door.
Ears ring as it creaks open, and Colgrevance charges to parry a spear that comes at Messoack. The magician fumbles with his hands and blasts the warrior with a purple javelin of mystic power. The man falls, a hole in his chest, but Messoack becomes fully visible, and worse enemies press in to replace him.
Colgrevance shields with his body. “Give me bat ring. Retreat with Beorn.”
Messoack frowns. “I obey your sour sanity.” He pulls the silver ring off his finger and tosses it as a volley from the Pale Crusade troops hit Lady Bat’s horde, allowing the magician to slip away with a limping Beorn and giving Bolo in human form a moment’s respite.
Colgrevance says, “Tristen, Jacob, protect me!”
The martial artist tumbles over, and the fellow paladin swings wide with his greatsword to clear space. Across the room, the half-naked Verdant warrior crashes in, swinging his own greatsword.
“To me!” Bolo waves, hair matted with gore and dozens of wounds dripping. “I—”
A drakewolf tears off the wearebear’s head, and a lich ghoul casts a cloud of toxic gas that settles over Tristen’s troops.
“Battle’s turning bad.” Colgrevance pulls off his gauntlet and slips the bat ring on. “Hurry.” He puts his armored glove back on and steps through the stone doorway into the tower beyond.
Glaze-eyed knights and monstrous golems wait on the stairs going up.
Tristen squeezes in. “What about your ranger and summoning his Lord?”
Colgrevance points at the ceiling. “Third floor has a window. We secure it. He has mystic gloves to climb up.”
“Why don’t we summon now?” says Tristen.
“Because.” Colgrevance slashes through a blue tabard covering plate armor of a dominated knight. “Valor matters.”
Screams echo in the other room.
“So do the lives of my men.” Tristen parries a two-handed swing and strikes behind the knight’s knee, making the warrior collapse and drop his blade.
Colgrevance sighs. “You’re right.” He taps the front of his helmet with a finger pointed up. “But for the record, we could have made it to Lady Bat ourselves.”
Warm whispers fill Colgrevance’s mind as his lord demigod starts to possess him.
Tristen taps his own helmet with a pointed finger. “Perhaps.” Metal squealing, he sinks his sword into the fallen knight’s gut. “But the loss of life would tarnish your armor of pride.”
Colgrevance fades, and Lord Valor awakens.
Colgrevance, Paladin of Valor—Leads from the front
Beorn, Ranger of Thorn—Colgrevance’s right hand
Jacob, martial artist—tumbling scout with mystic fists
Messoack, magician—loyal explorer of madness
Solaris, sea witch—whimsical lover of the grotesque
Kriv, illusionist—cheerful researcher of adventure
Other flash fiction with this band:
Black Ships Before Dawn
Crashing a Vampire Ball at Lowtide Mansion: Part 1
Crashing a Vampire Ball at Lowtide Mansion: Part 2
Crashing a Vampire Ball at Lowtide Mansion: Part 3
Crashing a Vampire Ball at Lowtide Mansion: Part 4