The massive estate rises above the slums of Titantale city, a noble fortress guarding against the encroaching forest of leaning shacks and failing masonry. A light rain, steady throughout the night, has made knuckle-deep canals out of the alleyways leading to the mansion.
Moving too slow to splash, Colgrevance steps to where his alley meets street. He sniffles and settles a hood over his lantern before placing it in front of a crouching bald man wearing simple clothes.
“Jacob.” Colgrevance shifts his shield from back to forearm and broadsword from hip to hand. “Are you feeling heroic?”
“Always.” The bald man contorts into a stretch worthy of a circus act.
Colgrevance points his sword at the curved corner of the fortified residence dominating the estate grounds. “Clamber up, quiet as you can, and drop a rope. We’ll skip the outer security and try breaking in from the courtyard.”
Jacob uncoils, tucking a quarterstaff under his arm and a roll of silk rope over his shoulder. He salutes Colgrevance, nods to their three other bandmates further back, and slinks across the cobbled street.
Drunken laughter echoes from the mansion’s entrance. Coachmen and guards mingle with servant girls and ladies-in-waiting, oblivious to the bald shadow trespassing like an alley cat around the corner.
Beorn, a bulky half-elf in green-tinted scale mail, shuffles up to where Jacob was. “We could fight through them, Boss.” He hefts a warhammer in one hand and fingers the hilt of a war pick with the other.
Colgrevance shakes his head. “We’re here to collect evidence.” He pats his helmet clipped to a loop hanging off his breastplate, kept off to keep his senses sharp. “Harmony Threehands may have been joking when she invited us to her vampire ball, but it was witnessed. I won’t have us violating hospitium without provocation.”
Messoack, a short grey-skinned magician, chuckles behind them. “But breaking in and crashing the party doesn’t betray her hospitality?” He swirls his hands around a hovering sphere of blue light. “I worship your logic.”
Next to the short man, Solaris sighs with hooded irises, silver as the quarter moon peeking through the clouds. “I’d rather stay here.” The sea witch swirls her hands around a lighter sphere of light and wiggles webbed toes. “It’s nice and wet.”
“Fine,” says Colgrevance. “Watch from here. Distract as needed.”
Beorn splashes his blunt weapon, cleaning off dark stains. “What if there’s more drakewolves prowling about?”
Colgrevance waves his broadsword at Jacob, crouched on the mansion’s roof. “We’ll leave the rope hanging. Solaris, follow if you have to. Mess, bring the lantern.”
He leads Beorn and Messoack to the curved edge where the silk rope swings. Sheathing his sword, Colgrevance climbs to a curtained window.
Squinting, he nods. The hall beyond the glass and cloth is dark. Metal boots scrapping on the window sill, he stretches for Jacob’s hand.
Crash. His helmet smacks the glass.
Voices at the entrance hush and then rise, curious.
Back at the alley, a ray of frosty white connects Solaris to a rundown shop in front of the inebriated crowd. Men shout at her, as Jacob pulls Colgrevance up.
Beorn turns. “I’ll help her.”
“No.” Colgrevance lies on the roof with his hand out for him. “She’s in her element. Trust your bandmate.”
Growling, the warrior hangs his warhammer from his belt and climbs. Messoack tucks the hooded lantern under an arm and comes up next.
The courtyard is small, relative to the sprawling mansion. The grass is high and the flowers dead.
Jacob says, “All three doors going in are locked.” He points at the closest. “That one’s my pick, farthest from entrance.”
“Fine.” Colgrevance slides down the rope into the yard with the others. “Mess, pop it.”
Messoack clears his throat. “Remember, the tougher the lock, the louder the knock.”
Colgrevance nods. “I’ll trust fate and your magic over some hired-hand thief with rusty picks.”
Messoack rubs his hands together and mumbles. A thin string of glowing blue connects his palms to the door. He claps, and there’s a soft, gong-like ring.
Beorn reaches for the handle. “Not too bad—”
“Wait.” Jacob hurries over and puts his ear to the hard wood. “Still quiet.” He wiggles the handle and gives a thumbs up as he pushes the door open a crack. “Shine some light.”
Messoack eases behind the bald man and lifts a corner of the lantern’s hood.
Jacob gasps and stumbles back. “The floor’s wet, and it ain’t water.”
Colgrevance puts on his helmet and draws his blade. “Back away, gentlemen. Let your heavy infantry in first.”
The door swings inward on oiled hinges, silent until it catches pieces of broken clay pots that scrape across a speckled granite floor.
Rising to his tippy toes, Beorn peaks over Colgrevance’s shoulder and sniffs. “Smells like what my mother said my father smelled like.”
Colgrevance steps over a red puddle. “What is that?”
“Good wine spoiled by puke and piss,” says the stoic warrior.
More than a dozen pots are scattered around the room.
Colgrevance sticks his blade in an open one and stirs the liquid inside. “Just red wine.”
Patches of Messoack’s skin darken like the storm clouds above, blue-gray to a dim violet. “Disappointing.”
Colgrevance moves to a closed door. “Don’t worry, Mess. The Ultramarines are smuggling vampires into the city. I’m sure we’ll find something to satisfy your macabre mind at a party they’re hosting.”
“Poking my head into the endless abyss of madness is my bedtime story.” Messoack yawns. “Don’t raise my expectations beyond breaking life’s tedium. You’ll awaken a sleeping hunger that’ll put a vampire’s bloodlust to shame. My mind is ravenous. My soul—”
“Got it.” Colgrevance slaps the flat of his blade against the short man’s leather-covered forearm. “Jacob, check this door.”
With light feet, Jacob hops over and slowly lifts a knocker hanging as the necklace of a sculpted woman’s face. “Unlocked.” He pulls open the decorated door. “No traps.”
Beorn snorts. “I could have done that.”
Colgrevance shushes him as snores come from the other side.
Jacob steps through and then comes back with a big grin. “A couple of fools passed out in the hallway.” He chuckles. “A musician with a broken banjo and a nobleman that pissed himself.”
Beorn frowns and spins his warhammer by its grip strap. “Did we miss the party?”
“It’s still a few hours before dawn.” Colgrevance slips his shield on again. “For this kind of ball, I’m happy to be more than fashionably late.”
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