"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
Howard Phillips Lovecraft
A palatial estate, tucked in gardens that come summer would be a verdant maze of hedges and topiaries, spiraling outward from the largest and most ornate marble fountain since the fall of Rome. But now the estate and its grounds were caught fast in the chilled grip of winter, the fountain dry and coated in silvery-white frost, the rows of hedges brittle and blanketed in thick, deep drifts of snow. Ahead, the estate proper loomed in the thick, velvety blackness like a sunrise. Golden light streamed from the many windows, illuminating the path leading to the entrance hall, where already guests were gathering. For a moment, if one was looking particularly closely, they would have noticed a curtain on the uppermost level shift and a shadow flicker out of sight.
Good evening, sir or madam. I am afraid I come bearing news of two sorts. Given that the first affects the second, I shall start with it, as terrible as it may be. Lord and Lady Habergam of the Manor of Tarryfordshire have fallen gravely ill. The family physician believes they will not make it to see spring's bloom, may God have mercy on their souls. The second bit of news is of a lighter consideration. The Lord and Lady wish to see their daughters married before they pass on, and are hosting a ball in hopes of finding suitable matches. Invitations have been prepared, but I was instructed to let you know personally that the ball will take place three weeks hence. The Lord and Lady apologize for such giving short notice, but taking into consideration their delicate circumstances, they believe it can be overlooked. We look forward to seeing you there.