Beorn brushes a snoring Theros, adding clumps to the fluffy gray pile of fur between his hard leather boots. As he works to smooth the gruff’s coat, the children of Badgertown creep closer.
None of the dozen boys and girls have the height to reach Beorn’s elbow, and only the boy that interrupted yesterday’s story time has the ambition to stretch fingertips enough to pet Theros who stands tall while sleeping.
The gruff bugles like a drowning donkey. The brave boy stumbles backward, and his abnormally large ears turn beet red as several of his peers snicker.
Beorn chuckles and sets his brush on a bench connected to Theros’s stable stall. “Do you kids want another story about Theros?” He points at the boy. “I know you do, Abbot.”
Abbot rubs his big ears and nods, and the other children filter in behind him. Their eyes are wide, and their lips are thin lines.
“So well behaved.” He pats Theros’s neck, quieting a fresh snore. “I must thank your parents for raising you all to be patient and respectful. It is refreshing to have an audience so unlike my bandmates.”
Tables borrowed from other taverns, piled with food and drink, boxing off the street. A breakfast feast for the victors of the ballroom slaughter.
Colgrevance sits in the dirt, apart from the others. A plate of fish and eggs cooling under the early spring sun.
“Boss, are you not hungry?” Solaris saunters over with a roasted chicken wing in hand. “I’m starving.” She peels the seasoned skin off with her teeth and slurps it, moaning. “My favorite part, especially when it’s a little crispy on the outside but still juicy fat underneath. You know what I mean?”
Colgrevance sets his food aside. “He made a deal. Harmony and her demigodess will remain.”
“ ‘He?’ ”
“Lord Valor treated with Lady Notion after destroying the vampiress. So many dead, and the Ultramarines remain headquartered in that mansion… like vermin.”
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.
Bodies bleed. Some moan, most breathe, all are dressed in finery.
Colgrevance crouches over Beorn. A matching pair of shortswords stick out of the warrior’s gut. Blood leaks out like the sap of a tapped maple tree.
Clapping his gauntlets together, Colgrevance says in Celestial, “Stable.” The silver metal encasing his hands flickers a light green, and he uses its minor enchantment to stall the bulky half-elf’s bleed and ease his gasps.
“Sorry, I froze,” says Colgrevance. “I’ve never been caught by a hypnotic rune before.”
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?”