Jules sat up with a start. Cold water soaked through his velvet cape and he realized that his coffin had taken on water. Grimacing, he lit his coffinside candleabra and saw water glimmering.
Keeps! What a pain in the ass!
He climbed out of his coffin into the ankle-high water and felt his feet sink into the mud. It didn't matter, Jules thought, I haven't had a good night's rest since I switched to cheap pine coffins, anyway. Not like that plush chestnut one I had before. He reached into the mud and grabbed a dripping handful.
Trudging towards the stairs that led out of the basement, he heard waterlogged murmurs from the ghosts. He'd had the castle built atop the graveyard where he'd been buried and since he needed to sleep on top of his burial dirt - why not? In retrospect he wished that he'd scoped out his neighboring plots a little better.
What's the big idea?
We're ghosts, not fish.
That's the problem, Jules thought. Between vampirism and hauntings no mason worth his mortar would even come out to give an estimate on the repair of Terrorwald Keep. It didn't help that the Mason's Guild, despite their public denials, kept a register of vampire-owned dwellings.
The last person to take a look was the Mortar Guy, who was far better at selling himself than performing a service. He'd been kicked out of the Guild but the Guild looked the other way when he sold his services because one look at his handiwork sent the client running for a Guild-licensed Mason.
Jules went into his green house, dropped the lump of grave dirt into a planter, and completely failed to get comfortable enough to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.
After dawn had broken, Jules donned his sun suit with the special smoked-lenses that a blacksmith had sold him decades ago. He went to the Artisan's Quarter and asked around until he found three men who had just arrived in the city of Balliemor. They said that they were three brothers who needed money while they were waiting on their guild licenses.
Jules gathered them together in the dark corner of a tavern, beneath the stairs, where he could remove his sun suit. He gulped an icy glass of gin and tried to cool off. The men exchanged nervous glances. Nobody wanted to work for a vampire but everybody wanted to be in a position where a vampire owed them money. They were usually wealthy.
Jules explained the problem.
"Sure, we can take care of it. But you'll have to make it worth our while. We're waiting on our Guild licenses and if they find out about it, we're automatically denied."
Jules muttered a magic incantation in reply that swayed their hearts: "Expense isn't an object."
The three men could barely contain their excitement. They retrieved their tools from the room that they rented in the tavern and followed Jules back to Terrorwald Keep. It was up a long, winding path.
"I'm sorry if you're not scared," Jules said like a nervous host, "but it really is much more impressive at night. Especially during a thunderstorm, when the noise wakes up the monsters in the towers."
As they beheld Terrorwald Keep their hearts froze in their chests. This guy must be absolutely loaded with gems and gold!
Jules led them inside, where it was as quiet as a keep built atop a graveyard, an effect which only enhanced the sense of scale. One of the brothers whimpered, then dropped his tools and dashed out of the Keep. Jules raised an eyebrow.
"Sam was always made of weak stuff," the other two said, trying to keep their minds on the priceless tapestries hanging on the walls and the ornate silverware visible in the dining room.
They stood at the top of the stairs, stairing into the black basement. One of the remaining to brothers yelled "My life isn't worth the gold!" and dashed out of the keep, following his more cowardly brother.
Jules shook his head. "What do they think is down there besides ghosts?"
"I don't know," the remaining mason said with a choked voice.
"I guess that you will be getting your brothers' share of the price," Jules said.
The mason nodded, and followed the vampire into the basement. Together, they slogged through the mud and water.
Oh you've brought another one.
Terrible. They're all terrible.
This one doesn't look any smarter than the others.
"Please ignore my ghosts. They are quite disagreeable."
"O-o-o-k-k-a-a-y-y," the man said, his teeth chattering from fear. "C-can I light a lantern?"
"Of course," Jules said. The mason lit a large workman's lantern, built with a clever series of mirrors to focus a bright beam of light. He began to work his way around the basement, trying to ignore the ghosts and the cold sweat that ran down his back, when he saw something even more terrifying.
"This keep could collapse at any moment."
"What?" Jules said.
"See this? There's a profound structural problem. Something's eroded your foundation. That's what's letting all this water in. You're built on a high point and you're still getting all this seepage? It's shot."
"How much would it cost to fix it?"
"The price of another keep."
"What could've caused it?"
"What? The ghosts?"
Yes, the ghosts. We've been spending all of our time undermining you!
"But how? Ghosts are incorporeal!"
We may be incorporeal but the treasure that we buried when we were alive sure isn't! We get workers up here by day to dig out a bit more of the foundation of your precious keep and then we tell 'em where to find a pittance!
You never asked us if we wanted to eternally haunt the basement of a keep! We used to be venerable ancestors, buried in the dirt on a sunny knoll, visited now and again by the living; now we're sewer rats scraping about in the dark. Not even any new company after you! It was always nice to have newcomers arrive and we'd have a little welcoming party and exchange stories. Then we get a pretend corpse show up, someone who's still flesh and...well, not blood, but flesh, who builds a prison around us!
It's not natural!
"Oh," Jules said, hanging his head. "I'm sorry."
We hoped once the water started seeping in, that would do it, but no, you just got cheaper coffins.
A vampire with cheap coffins? That's a whole different topic!
The whole world's gone crazy.
Jules looked so downcast that the mason temporarily forgot that he was in the basement of a keep with a variety of undead creatures.
"Look at it this way: at least you don't have a masonry problem anymore, and the Demolition Guild doesn't have any problems with vampires."
The moral: if you notice seepage, resolve it as soon as possible because it could be indicative of a bigger problem.