Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login
About Literature / Professional Jaykob Storey24/Male/Canada Group :iconscribblers-anonymous: Scribblers-Anonymous
your ever-friendly lit club!
Recent Activity
Deviant for 4 Years
Needs Core Membership
Statistics 215 Deviations 1,644 Comments 11,776 Pageviews
×

Newest Deviations

Favourites

Critiques


Hi, I'm Dread. I'm going to give a detailed breakdown of this prologue and tell you how I think it can be improved. So first I'll start...

Activity


Guul'Zaroth finale was just posted. Super excited to get this edited and get started on my new project in the next month. Special thanks to everyone's who's read it and know that I really appreciate it.

I



With weak, desperate beats of her wings, Laurelei fluttered over the forests and found herself above Ulfenmoor. Pain and exhaustion wracked her body and it was all she could do to keep herself aloft. Swooping low, she dove toward Silvercoat Hall.

Over the gate and toward the grounds, only scant feet above the earth, Laurelei's magic gave out and she reverted to her human form. The snow broke her fall only enough that she managed to remained conscious. "Ughhh," she groaned. She pushed against the ground with all the might in her arms and managed to lift her head. She lay prone, several metres from the door, while the sun hovered on the horizon's edge.

She could already feel her skin growing hot, her head aching and sweat forming on her face in spite of the cold winter. She tried to stand, but her legs wouldn't permit it. And so, she crawled. On her elbows she pushed herself forward, dragging her fine dress across the through the snow and dirt.

Hand over hand, Laurelei clambered toward the stairs and up to the door. With the last dredges of her energy were gone, she sprawled across the front porch and lay her head on the top step. The princess's face was still wet with tears and fresh ones still formed. The sun would be upon her at any moment now, scorching her flesh and leaving her a pile of ash.

Gritting her fangs together, she reached out with every ounce of will and stretched her hand toward the door door. Her vision was already fading into a black haze and she could feel her mind letting go of its hold on the waking world. 'Thump, thump, thump!' she pounded on the door before slumping and fading away entirely.

II



Rolf was flat on his back, atop the river of souls. He stared into the empty white expanse of the world and felt the blood slowly trickle out of his body. He had lain on the ground for several hours now, his consciousness fading in and out.

One moment his eyes were open, the sky above was empty. His vision clouded and the next moment he found himself staring up at the spectre of death itself. A reaper hovered toward him, skeletal hand outstretched.

He didn't scream nor panic. He didn't resist or struggle. He couldn't if he tried. "So, this is how it ends," he said to himself. "Sorry. Dad, Laurelei, Lavinia. Edwin, Karina, Miles, Nigel. A lot of people were counting on me and... This is it. I failed them all."

The chill touch of the reaper grasped his shoulder and Rolf's vision went black. All at once, everything was gone.

Just as fast as the world around him disappeared, he felt himself draw another breath. With a sharp gasp, his eyes flew open and he sat straight up. He looked down to see his wounds already healed. His hands scoured his body, feeling for scars, deep gashes or even bandages. They were gone, every wound he suffered since stepping foot in the Afterlife had miraculously vanished.

"What the hell?" he breathed. He immediately looked around at his surroundings and found himself somewhere else entirely. A beautiful garden filled with fruit-bearing trees, pleasant streams and huge swaths of red roses. Roses everywhere, all around him a field of rose bushes, save for one, small, circular clearing where he sat alone with a swarm of white moths swirling in the sky above.

"Where am I?"

"The garden of death," replied a strange voice. It was a shrill, warbling noise that came from below. Then, a small white flower bud sprouted from the ground.

Rolf leaned down close, getting a better look. It was about ten centimetres tall and had little thorns on its stem. Then, it splayed its petals to reveal a skull within.

"Whoa!" Rolf cried as he scrambled back.

Suddenly, the little flower snaked forward and grew exponentially, expanding until its skull was nearly human sized. It was squat and arrow shaped with fanged teeth and narrow eyes.

"What the hell are you!?"

"I am called Death, and I'm your new best friend," it said as it slithered closer and hovered only inches from his nose.

"How do you figure that?" he said as he pushed himself up.

The flower creature followed, darting after him and coiling around to cut him off. "To start, I'm a demon. And you? You've got one inside of you."

Rolf scowled at the thing and tried to shoo it away to no avail. "What do you mean by that?"

"Yes, just a little tiny piece. A shard, trapped in your soul. A shard of Fury. But let's not get sidetracked, my reapers brought you here for a reason. Care to make a deal?"

END
Guul'Zaroth Epilogue - Fate of All
This is only the beginning of Rolf and Laurelei's adventures.

Writing part one of Guul'Zaroth was fantastic fun and I'm so glad that it's finished and available for everyone to read. From here, I'm going to work on editing this story and then see about publishing soon. Thanks all for reading, hope you enjoyed.

First: great-lord-dread.deviantart.co…
Loading...

I



With a splash, Rolf's hand cleared the surface of the pond. Gripping the - for him at least, solid mouth of the river, he pulled himself onto the stream of souls.

Kneeled down, nearly fifty metres away, was a mysterious figure. A hairless, gaunt, gangly looking man with teeth filed to points and black burns all across the right side of his body. His eyes were wild and unfocused and his limbs were covered in sleek muscles. The figure directed its head toward Rolf, eyes steering off in different directions and lips spreading into an impossibly wide smile. "Hahhh," it breathed, fingers slowly locking themselves around the hilts of the twin swords on his belt. "Raggedy boy!"

"Gutterwink!" He knew that it couldn't possibly have been anyone else. "Where's Laurelei!"

"Hahahahahhh!!"

Maintaining a grim stare focused purely on Gutterwink Rolf pulled off his coat and tossed it aside. "It's new, and I don't wanna get your blood all over it."

Simultaneously, both warriors unsheathed their weapons. Then, from below, sweeping up from the river, came the reapers. With a series of splashes, they burst forth, one after another, arriving in droves. The swirled through the air and came to hover at the edge of the river. Forming rows upon rows of skeletal spectators, Reapers lined the river's entire length on both sides, numbering in the hundreds. They made no movements, or attempts to interfere. They just observed.


Rolf and Gutterwink alike gawked at the spectacle for a brief moment, before returning their attention to one another.

"Good," said Rolf. "I'm glad I'll have an audience for when I finally kick your ass."

Gutterwink replied with a taunting laugh, Rolf answered with a battle roar, and the combatants surged forward.

They met at the centre of the river, Gutterwink delivered a cross slash and Rolf blocked. Immediately, Gutterwink followed up with a flurry of rapid strokes. One after another, he rained down diagonal slashes, left and right. Rolf was forced to practically hide behind his blade to protect himself.

There was an instant of pause in Gutterwink's assault and Rolf raised his blade to capitalize. Gutterwink was quick as an arrow and before Rolf could bring his weapon down, the assassin darted low and delivered twin slashes.

He did his best to get out of the way, but Rolf could barely manage a side step before suffering a pair of deep cuts along his ribs. "Gaaah!" he gasped. His blood spilled from the wounds, spattered against the river and disappeared below.

Gutterwink darted past his target and stood at Rolf's back, smiling ear to ear with bloodlust.

Both men whirled to face one another and yet again, Gutterwink was faster. Both curved blades swung downward, but Rolf blocked high, one hand on the hilt of his sword and the other braced against the blade.

Without a thought, Gutterwink kicked Rolf in his fresh wound.

He let out a sharp breath and stumbled back, leaving the assassin free to attack again. He unleashed another flurry, his swords a dervish of steel. He twirled his blades and swung out of a backspin, striking from every angle imaginable.

"No!" Rolf roared aloud. "I won't die again! NOT! TO! YOU!!!" He did everything he could to parry, but the twin swords were nearly impossible to counter. He suffered an array of deep cuts across his knuckles, forearms and biceps. In a matter of seconds, Gutterwink's steel had left Rolf's arms drenched in red. He had managed to keep any attacks from connecting solidly, but he was in a living body again, he could still die from blood loss if things continued like this.

But he wasn't the only one suffering in the battle. Gutterwink's face was drenched with sweat and laboured breaths poured from between his bestial teeth.

Rolf turned his blade suddenly and deflected Gutterwink's attack. He readied to swing, but Gutterwink's second sword struck Rolf clean across the crook of his leg, and buckled him down to one knee.

Gutterwink's eyes lit up with glee and he swung both swords in a pair of powerful, horizontal strokes. His steel connected with Wulfsever and drove Rolf back.

Rolf used the force of the blow to his advantaged and rolled with it. He hit the ground shoulder first and swung his legs back, performing a full roll and coming to stand on his feet again.

Bent over, chest heaving and with sweat dripping from his body, Gutterwink looked completely exhausted.

It was Rolf's turn to smile. "Idiot!" he roared as he lunged forward. His body turned as he moved, building up as much momentum with his sword as possible before arcing it down on his foe.

Gutterwink attempted to parry, but the blow was so powerful that it knocked his blades aside. Before he could recover, Rolf followed through on the momentum completely, performing a second, complete revolution and bringing his blade up over his head once more. Gutterwink leapt backwards, but Wulfsever was already descending. From his right collarbone, to his left hip, Gutterwink's flesh was sliced and his blood poured out in a massive gout.

The assassin staggered back, looking upon his own wound with horror. "... No," he gurgled. "Nooooo! NO! NO! NO!!! RRRRAAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHH!!!" His scream was a rattling, wrenching noise, but worse yet was his counterattack. Blood spraying everywhere, and adrenaline fired up, he lunged back into the fray, shrieking all the while.

As Gutterwink closed in, Rolf shifted his stance in preparation. Squared shoulders, feet spaced apart, and sword held firmly.

The assault was vicious and swift at first. Gutterwink became a torrent of biting swords and sweeping legs. His attacks darted low one instant and came from the air the next. But Rolf kept backing up, parrying with the most minimal movements and wasting almost no energy. Meanwhile, his opponent left a long trail of blade as they fought up and down the river. With every passing moment, Gutterwink's attacks got more and more sluggish.

Getting nowhere, he screamed and roared in frustration. He leaped into the air, somersaulting over Rolf's head and dropping toward his back, swords first. But Rolf need not even turn, bracing his sword across his shoulders and deflecting the attack.

With a whirl, Rolf flicked Gutterwink's swords aside, spun to face his foe and swept his blade across the ground, aiming for the ankles.

It took the last ounces of his energy, but Gutterwink backflipped over Rolf's attack. His usual agility abandoned him as he hit the ground feet first but immediately fell prone.

Scampering and struggling, he got back up, but found that Rolf still wasn't pressing his attack. He just waited and maintained his guard. "How!?" Gutterwink roared. "Raggedy boy was weak, weak, weak! How!"

"Still haven't figured it out?" Rolf said with a smirk. "It's been a long time since you were human, hasn't it? Centuries, right? Well it's only been a few months for me. I still remember how to fight like one. But you? You don't even understand what exhaustion is anymore. You just swing as hard and as fast as you can until your opponents are dead. That might work as a necronom, but not here."

Gutterwink gurgled, coughed and snapped his jaws, barely able to stand anymore without the aid of his swords.

"You tired out quickly, too. You look pretty weathered in fact. You must have been an old bastard before you died."

Then, over Gutterwink's shoulder, Rolf spied something in the portal. Laurelei had crawled into view and was looking in on the battle with awe.

"Time to finish this," Rolf said, sword held at the ready.

Gutterwink seemed to agree and with a mad howl, he stepped to Rolf's left and leapt forward once again. Rolf dove in, Gutterwink whirled in air. Rolf thrust his sword forward, Gutterwink slashed with all the weight in his body. Gutterwink's blade torebetween Rolf's ribs, carving out a clean slice from front to back, right where his heart should be. Wulfsever tore straight through the right side of Gutterwink's torso, skewering torso, extending from his back and embedding itself down to the hilt.

Both warriors spat up a mouthful of blood and stumbled forward, leaning on one another for support.

Gutterwink smiled and gurgled out one last laugh through a mouthful of blood. "Gutterwink cut the heart!"

"N-not exactly," Rolf replied. Then, there came a stir among the reapers.

"What!?" Gutterwink growled.

Rolf shoved his foe backwards and pushed him to the ground while yanking his sword free. "This world is like a mirror. The dead live and the living die. But it's more literal than that, left is right and right is left."

Gutterwink was motionless, laid out upon the river of souls and slowly gushing out his essence.

"I first noticed it when my sword had moved to my right side. It's always been sheathed on my left hip. I wasn't sure at first but then when I saw you, I knew exactly what I was doing. Your burns were on the wrong side, and so was your heart."

From below the surface of the river, rose another reaper, right behind Gutterwink's fallen body. Like a puppet, dragged into the air, Gutterwink was levitated skyward. The reaper stretched it's arms out to its side and Gutterwink's body was forced to mimic the pose.

"No!" he barked.

A great scythe materialized in the air before him, hovering in place.

"No!!" he screamed again.

The scythe swung forward like a pendulum, slicing Gutterwink perfectly down the middle, and then dissipating.

"NO!!!" he screamed once more, his howl fading as his two halves scattered into hundreds of black moths. The insects swarmed around the reaper, drawn to its presence.

With what remained of Gutterwink in tow, the great reaper vanished into the river, along with the rest of its kind.

Once the flurry of movement and black cloth subsided, Rolf was alone on the river and staring through the portal at Laurelei.

"Rolf!" she cried, her face a mix of relief and concern.

"Don't worry," he called back. "I'm alright." Donning his coat once more, Rolf started the slow march to Guul'Zaroth.

II



"Dear sister!" came a voice from the entrance, tauntingly gleeful.

Laurelei whipped around to see Atticus Lockhart in the threshold, flanked on either side by the archer Orso Khan and Count Orlov. Orso's bow was drawn with an arrow knocked and Orlov stood by sneering with his hands tucked behind his back.

"Atticus! And Count Orlov, you're-! How?"

Within an instant, Rolf was already dashing for the gate, in spite of his injuries.

"Details, Laurelei. Such unimportant details," he said with a dismissive wave. "The real question is, precisely what is going on behind you?" He peered past the girl and into the portal where a sword brandishing Rolf was getting ever closer. "Orso, do handle that."

At his master's word, Orso loosed an arrow. It whipped past Laurelei's head, so close that she could feel it move her hair. It passed through the gate, into the afterlife and ended in Rolf's knee.

He gasp in pain, and collapsed a mere fifteen metres from the gate. "Dammit!" he screamed. "Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!"

Atticus strode forward and reached down, snatching Laurelei by the collar of her cloak and lifting her off the ground. "I missed you so, dear sister."

She struggled and fought against him, but there was nothing she could do. No matter how hard she kicked or fought, he wouldn't let go.

"Atticus!" Rolf roared as he struggled to get back up. With all the might in his arms, he managed to climb to his one knee. "Get your hands off of her!"

"Oh?" said the prince. "How adorable, you think you can intimidate me." With the most casual flick of his wrist, he tossed Laurelei aside and sent her body sailing across the mausoleum.

She smacked chest first against the stone wall and then fell to the ground in a barely conscious sprawl.

"Bastard!" cried Rolf.

"So you're the boy then?" said Atticus. "You're the reason my sister's still alive. The reason I've been forced to come all the way out here to finish things myself. I sent Gutterwink ahead to take care of you but it seems you've somehow evaded my best assassin as well."

"I didn't evade him, I killed him. Just like I'm going to kill you!" Rolf sprang forward and drew his sword. He made a dash for the gate and leaped toward it with sword drawn back for lunging slash.

The attack would never come, as the moment Rolf's head pass through the gate, Atticus delivered a swift, brutal kick to the jaw and sent him reeling back into the afterlife.

"Hmhmhm!" he laughed as he stamped his foot down on the sigil.

Between the exhaustion and the aching pain all through her body, Laurelei saw Orso standing over her with an arrow knocked, and Atticus ready to rub out the sigil with his boot.

"Don't! Atticus I'll do whatever you want, just please don't touch the sigil!"

He looked back at her over his shoulder, her face painted with ache and anguish. He took a long moment to carefully observe and commit that expression to memory. Then, he swiped his foot to the left and smeared the sigil.

Everyone in the room was completely silent for a long moment. The gate wavered and Atticus smiled devilishly.

All the while, small tears formed in the corner of Laurelei's eyes. "Y-you can't leave me..."

"Atticus!" Rolf howled. His voice lingered and echoed around the mausoleum for a brief instant after the gate vanished.

"...alone," she finished. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks and though she wanted to scream and fight and call her brother every foul, hurtful word she knew, she couldn't do anything. Her whole body felt completely numb.

"Laurelei," said Orlov at last, speaking for the first time since arriving.

She, along with everyone else in the room, turned to look at him.
"Run!"

Before anyone had a chance to respond, Orlov pulled his hands from behind his back and unleashed a flurry of magical energy. The first blast caught Orso off guard and battered his chest, throwing him to the ground. his bow flew out his hand and his arrow fired wide.

With Orso down, Laurelei immediately shifted into bat form and took to the sky.

The second attack was aimed for Atticus, but the Prince weaved below the blast and darted across the room. Before Orlov could ready a third spell, Atticus was upon him. The prince's hand thrust forward with with fingertips outstretched. With a single, stiff strike, his hand punctured straight through Orlov's chest and into his heart.

There came a sudden gasp and then, Orlov's entire body vanished in a cloud of ash. It coated Atticus's coat and stained the snow a sullen grey.
In an instant, Atticus turned his glare upon Orso. "What the hell are you doing!? Shoot her down!"

The vampire nodded before scooping up his bow and dashing into the graveyard. His keen eyes spotted her immediately, a tiny black shape against the twilight sky. It was nearly one-hundred metres away and getting farther every moment. He drew his bow, centred his aim and paused. The bowstring snapped, the arrow loosed and darted through the air. It seemed a difficult shot, but the arrow was on track, and arcing swiftly toward its target. But then, there came no tumbling little body, no screams of dying sorrow as Laurelei reverted to her humanoid form. The arrow simply vanished into the darkness and Laurelei continued to flitter on through the night.

"...I missed," said Orso after a long silence.

"What?" said Atticus, his voice a slithering  hiss. With both hands he snatched Orso by the collar and threw him to the ground. "You missed! You don't miss! A pin-point shot at this range is child's play to you! You missed on purpose!"

The archer laid in the snow on his hands and knees, shaking his head. "No," Orso said in a meek, simpering voice.

"Now you lie to me!" The prince kicked him hard in the ribs and proceeded to press his foot to Orso's throat. "You ungrateful little pest! I save you from torment and death! I give you a position of worth and power and you dare to disobey me!"

Orso whimpered beneath his master's boot and clutched at his pant leg, begging for breath.

With a scoff, he lifted his boot and looked away. "Get up, now. The sun is rising and there is work to be done."
Guul'Zaroth Ch.34 - Fate of One

Did it take me too long to get here? Definitely. Is a finale featuring two bitter rivals battling atop the River Styx while hundreds of grim reapers watch and wait to harvest the loser's soul, totally worth it? I think so, yeah. 

We have an epilogue to cap this off and then we're done.


First: great-lord-dread.deviantart.co…
Final: great-lord-dread.deviantart.co…
Loading...

I



The mass graveyard of Wolfsrest had once been a bustling city, nearly seventy years ago. Far larger than the humble town of Ulfenmoor, it was blessed with fertile lands, bountiful rivers and a central location that made it a hub for commerce, craft and farming in Dravinia. In the days before its fall, it had been known as Brevon.

The city became a wasteland of corpses after centuries of prosperity when Dravinia's werewolf hordes descended upon it in droves. The result was a savage massacre where the wolves slaughtered and devoured half the population in a single night. The rest managed to flee to safety but the town was completely overrun.

For the next thirty-seven years, Brevon was occupied by werewolves and hence its name, Wolfsrest. It wasn't until Reiker Von Ziegel and the Wolfsguard arrived that the town was reclaimed. Wolfsrest stands as the pinnacle of the Wolfsguard's achievements, a shining jewel of an accomplishment.

The decision was made to leave Wolfsrest as a monument to the lives lost and to the victory of the Wolfsguard. And so, the town of Ulfenmoor was established nearby and became the home of the previously nomadic Wolfsguard. Now, Wolfsrest is used as cemetery for both the lives lost in the fall of Brevon and the people of Ulfenmoor.

Ruined buildings were removed to make way for mausoleums and grave markers. Only the town's walls and a few small houses, which act as homes and offices for the gravekeepers, remain. Those homes have been emptied and absent in the past year, due to the recent resurgence in werewolf activity. Rolf suspected that the gravekeepers would return to duty soon, as the werewolf problem seemed to abate with the return of Viktor. The only risk would be from the occasional lone wolf, as opposed to the mass hordes that raided the village on a monthly basis over the past year.

Wolfsrest was layered in thick white mist, and its torches and braziers were unlit. The moonlight was clouded over and it was too dark to see more than a few metres beyond the front gate.

Rolf forced open the entrance and stepped inside with Laurelei at his back.

The young sorceress raised a finger to eye level and a small mote of light whorled into being. She made a few precise sweeps, light trailing behind her finger until she had drawn a small sigil in the air. The magic circle hovered in place for but a moment and then collapsed into a fist sized orb, illuminating the pitch dark graveyard in a single flash. Its light glinted off the white snow and shed its glow on the small homes nearby, all abandoned. Laurelei cupped the sphere in her palm and continued forward.

"My family's tomb is near the centre of the graveyard. Seems like the best place to start looking." Rolf had spoken rarely since leaving Ulfenmoor and even now his tone was grim and his expression like stone.

"You seem ill at ease, Rolf."

"I'm fine," he replied in a sharp tone. "I just don't like cemeteries."

Laurelei quirked her brow and hurried to Rolf's side. "The man who battles vampire lords, monsters and werewolves every day is uneasy in a cemetery?"

"They're too loud."

"Too... loud?" Laurelei repeated.

"Forget it." Rolf halted in his tracks as the path split, branching into multiple, winding dirt roads. The terrain around them consisted mostly of bare trees, eroded foundations and stone grave markers as far as the eye could see. He took a moment to recall his heading and scanned around before settling on the right path.

Rolf attempted to take another step forward but found Laurelei standing in his path.

"You think I won't believe you?" she said. "I followed you all this way, predicated solely on your belief that if you come to this graveyard, you may receive a message from your deceased father. I am more open-minded than you might think."

Rolf sighed and stepped around her. "It's not... just my father," he said slowly. "I see them now and then. People that aren't really there. People that died a long time ago. Normally they're quiet, like my father, but in places like this. I can hear them all. Some of them are angry, others are sad. But they're all calling out and screaming just to be heard."

Laurelei didn't say anything. She just listened, and nodded along. She didn't believe him of course. Simple delusions, she concluded. Never before had such claims been substantiated and with only Rolf's word to go off of, she had no reason to consider the alternatives. However, she'd had Rolf follow her all around Dravinia on her own whims, and nothing more. It seemed only fair that she indulge him this one.

The roads through the cemetery wore on as they passed several remaining grave-keeper outposts and many more long stretches of field filled with grey headstones. Then, appearing out of the mist and resting atop a nearby hill, there stood a wide stone enclosure. The entrance was gated shut and above the door stood was a large wolf’s head, engraved in stone.

“That’s it,” said Rolf. He marched ahead, leaving a trench in the snow for Laurelei to follow and leading them up to the mausoleum. Rolf unlocked gate and into the pitch dark sepulcher they went. Laurelei’s orb of light filled the chamber with an azure glow and revealed a square room with a pair of matching, stone coffins inside. They sat side by side, the lids bearing intricately carved impressions of their occupants, their names scrawled on plaques affixed to the base of the coffins.

On the right, Reiker Von Zeigel in full Wolfsguard uniform and with his sword, Wulfsever, laid vertically across his chest, its hilt gripped in both hands. On the left, Agnija Von Ziegel, a robust and elegant looking woman with tresses down to her knees.

On the far wall of the tomb was engraved an image of two armies clashing against the backdrop of a village. It was werewolves and the Wolfsguard. The monsters surged forward with minimalist detail, depicted almost as bestial shadows. The humans were quite the opposite, charging into battle with fine attention paid to each of the nineteen soldiers depicted. Rolf could name and identify each and every one of them, as all members of the guard were close friends of the family. At the forefront stood his father, flanked by a woman with braided hair and a curved sword: Dragana, and a big, bearded man with a broadsword and shield: Edwin. Also depicted were his mother with twin war axes and his uncle Karl with a great mace.

“Could your family truly afford such a lavish internment?” asked Laurelei as she admired the artistry.

“No,” replied Rolf. “The local craftsmen and artists did it for free, as a gift to my family.”

Laurelei opened her mouth to reply, when suddenly she found herself stifling a shudder. The air grew colder still than the biting winter frost.

Rolf and Laurelei alike seized up and went completely quiet. They could feel it, something tugging at their attention, a force drawing them away from the carving and back toward the gate. Simultaneously they turned back to look over their shoulders and they realized they were not alone.

Wrapped in spectral luminescence stood the figure of Reiker Von Ziegel, looking a great deal like his carving and surrounded by fluttering white moths. He appeared very similar to Rolf, more aged and with clean cut hair and a thick, regal moustache above his lip. Otherwise, the two men stood at the same height, wore the same uniform and even carried identical swords at their hips. He gave Rolf a serious look, but said not a word.

“R-Rolf!” she stammered. “Is that!?”

“You mean you see him too!”

“Of course I see him, he’s… And you see this all the time?”

Rolf nodded. “All these years, I was never sure if I was really seeing him,” he said in a quiet voice.

The ghostly image of Rolf’s father opened his mouth, as if to speak. He mouthed words, but made no sound.

“He looks like he’s trying to say something. Does he normally do this?”

Rolf shook his head. “No. He normally just stands there. I get feelings from him, certain sensations and emotions. But he never talks.”

“What do you feel now?” asked Laurelei.

“He seems urgent, very serious. What do you want me to do?”

The phantasm of his father just stared back at him, continuing to mouth words.

“I came all the way here because you showed me this place. Why? Why did you bring me here!”

“Yes, why this location?” Laurelei repeated. She adopted the pose she always took whenever she was in deep contemplation, arms crossed and eyes closed. “Your father can appear to you anywhere, correct? You can see him and as you said before, feel his presence?”

Rolf nodded along, though completely unsure of where she was going with this.

“His mouth movements indicate that he’s trying to speak with you. Then there’s the curious case that I too can see your father. It is no coincidence, that he called you here, where he is interred, and the fact that he has become visible to others.” She went silent for a long moment, face scrunching up and fingers drumming against her arm.

After nearly a minute of quiet contemplation, she looked back toward Rolf. “Rolf, you are able to speak with the dead. Somehow, someway, you are possessed with a special gift. This much is clear. I am working purely from conjecture, based on my observations here today and prior knowledge of the planes that make up our existence, but I have a hypothesis. It is possible, that spirits of the dead can cross the gap from the Afterlife, to Guul’Zaroth and project very small amounts of their energy into our world. You are somehow, more perceptive to that energy. That energy is stronger in certain locations. The idea has been put forth before that ghosts of the deceased would appear at locations significant to the person in question. Place of birth, death and burial were common suggestions. We can logically assume at least one of those to be true.”

"Uhm, sure. But where exactly are you going with this, Laurel?"

"Your father brought you here presuming that perhaps, his tie to this location would be strong enough to allow him to fully perforate the wall between worlds and deliver his message to you. Whatever it may be."

Rolf looked from Laurelei, to the spectre of his father and back again. "So what do we do?"

"Nothing," the princess replied.

"Nothing!?" cried Rolf. "You're a genius when it comes to magic, and we're so close but you still can't do anything?"

"Firstly, I am a genius where most things are concerned, not solely magic. Secondly, as far as I was understood, ghosts did not exist until today. Yet now you expect me to be able to communicate with one?"

Rolf was undeterred, staring down at her with a hard glare. "If he can't make it through to us, then I'll go to him."

"Rolf, don't," she said with in a stern voice and narrowed eyes.

"You did it once before. You tore a hole between the worlds big enough for a demon to come through!"

"Yes, and I believe everyone present for that event can conclude that it was a terrible idea!"

"And there's nothing you can do to make it safe?"

"No," Laurelei said in a stammer before chewing at the inside of her cheek. "But, also yes. In a way."

"Then do it."

"It's not so simple. The issue before was that the gate Foerster had me create was an open door to the multiverse. Anything could come through uninvited. It is possible that, with enough precision, I could open a simple two-way gate, from here to the afterlife."

"So what's the problem then?"

"There are countless!" she blurted out. "Battlefields, execution grounds and the like. Places that have seen great amounts of death. It can be postulated that the mass movement of souls from our world to the afterlife could weaken the walls between worlds."

"Then we came to just the right place. Wolfsrest has been the sight of a massacre, a war and a graveyard. There aren't many places in Dravinia with a history of death like this place."

"Yes, that makes sense. Perhaps this is the true reason your father called us here. Perhaps it was always his intent to break down the walls of life and death tonight."

They returned their attention to Rolf's father and saw him smiling proudly.

"I think you're right," said Rolf.

"It doesn't matter, I won't do it," said Laurelei.

"Why the hell not!?"

"Because we have no idea what this is even about! If I make one mistake, a single misaligned symbol on this sigil, and countless things could go wrong. We could summon another demon, Rolf! Do you have any idea how lucky we were to survive last time!"

"If the risk is based around you screwing up, we'll be fine."

"... What?" Laurelei replied with a blank expression.

"You heard me," he said as he prodded her shoulder with a finger. "You don't make mistakes Laurelei. You're an annoying little perfectionist who gets everything right, all the way down to the last detail. So we'll be fine."

"Well I-I suppose you're correct but..." she said while hiding a hint of a blush behind her hood. "But we can't go in. Do you know what happens when the living cross over into the land of the dead?"

"No," replied Rolf.

"Of course you don't, no one does! It's never been done before! Nobody smart enough to understand magic at that level has ever been stupid enough to try it!"

"Well then you should be excited for an opportunity to learn and experiment. I thought you liked that?"

"Not when I am experimenting with our lives, you dullard!"

"Alright then, what if it's just my life?" said Rolf. "You can stay here and keep an eye on the portal, make sure nothing goes wrong."

"No! Not even then! Not without knowing why? Why did we come here?"

"I don't know. But I know my father. He was a hero, and he wouldn't bring me here and put me at risk if it wasn't important. Open up a portal and let me through. If anything goes wrong, seal it shut."

"But that means you'll be trapped inside!"

"Yeah, so what?" said Rolf. "You, Nigel, Miles and Karina, all of you could have died in any of the battles we've fought together. We've all taken countless risks since this journey began, but not me."`

"What are you talking about?"

"Maybe I could have died a few times, but it needs to be here," he said as he circled his heart with his finger. "So long as I protect this, I live. I'm immortal, if I lose a limb I can stitch it back on and it works just like before. I'm not really taking a risk compared to everyone else. Not in the battles behind and not in the battles ahead. So if I go through this gate and I don't come back, fine. I put myself in danger, just like you and the others do every day. If what my father needs to tell me helps us, even a little bit, it's worth it. So let me take this risk Laurelei."

Turning away, she stared at the carvings on the wall and deliberately avoided all eye contact. She took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "Are you sure about this?" she asked.

"Absolutely."

"Then let us begin."

Rolf collected Laurelei's trunk and dropped it down at her side.

She passed her orb of light off to him and began to scrounge for her materials. A bundle of notes which she laid out in front of her, a set of brushes and a big bottle of blood. "Yours," she said as she held it up to the light. "I'll paint the sigil with your essence. Logically, there is no soul in the world of the dead more similar to yours than your father's. We've no idea where the other side of this portal will lead, but blood and magic have a strong relationship. This should bind the other side to your father's location."

She established a small workstation in front of the great carving at the end of the room and started painting. She began with a ring, two feet across, and began the delicate work of crafting the sigil. It was many times more complex than any sigil Rolf had ever seen her create. So many fine details, intricate symbols, repeated over and over again. It took her close to thirty minutes of continuous, incredibly detailed work before it was finished.

The vampire got to her feet eyed her sigil up and down, over and over again, scanning for any, singular imperfection in the arrangement. Her eyes darted back and forth between her notes and the symbol she'd painted onto the ground and after several minutes of careful inspection, she sighed with relief. "It should work," she said. "I merely need to to activate it."

Standing directly in front of the sigil, she stretched her arms out and splayed her fingers, palms facing the floor. "Aportera," she whispered, and though the word was spoken low, it reverberated off the walls as if it were a shout. "Vie partis artorius!" Her voice soared to a cry and her eyes opened wide, aglow with magical energy. Blue light sparked from her finger tips and the sigil itself illuminated.

Rolf could feel the power radiating from her. It hit him like the force of a gale and whipped at his hair and coat, blowing away any snow that had drifted into the mausoleum. Never before had Rolf witnessed her magic at this level. The fact that she was speaking incantations was an immediate clue that she was tapping into something beyond her normal range. This sort of display was to be expected when one was splitting the boundary between worlds.

She appeared serious, fangs clenched and hands trembling. "Scyvallis!"

The air crackled the force of the energy intensified ten fold, throwing Rolf to the ground and then screeching to a halt. Hovering above the sigil, was a six foot, disc shaped tear in space with an endless field of white beyond.

Laurelei immediately collapsed to her knees, clutched her chest and took in heaving breaths. "It-It's done," she said weakly.

Before she could attempt to stand up on her own, she felt Rolf lift her to her feet and steady her by the shoulders. In another moment, he stepped in front of her and gazed deeply into the portal.

"So that's it. The other side," he said aloud.

"We cannot do this a second time. This gate is unstable and once it closes, the barriers will be too strong. I have no idea what will happen to you once you step through that portal."

"I know. But I have to try." He took one final step forward, vanishing in a flash as the stark white

II



The moment he stepped beyond the gate, he felt a knot in his chest, a thrumming sensation that sent tremors of shock all through his body and sapped away his strength in an instant. He collapsed against a cool, slick surface. It was wet and solid, and he could feel water rushing past him, coursing around his face and between his fingers.

His breathing was rapid, desperate and deep. But Rolf didn't need to breath, he didn't exhaust or tire. Then why did he feel as if he'd just had the air pulled from his lungs? And what was that pain in his chest?

In a struggling fit, he rolled over to his back and his hands clutched at the source of this pain. It was his heart. He could feel it beating! "W-what!?" he said between sharp breaths. There it was, thudding in his chest harder than it ever had before. "This isn't real," he whispered. "This can't be real."

Into the whiteness he stared for nearly a minute. Gradually, his heartbeat evened out, his breathing relaxed and he felt his vigour returning. With a loud groan he stumbled to his feet and stared down at that spectacle below him. He was standing atop a river, somehow. It was over teen feet across, it's waters dark and rushing forward with strange shapes darting beneath the surface. White moths, fluttered through the stream in the thousands, guided by long, black shapes.

"How?" he mused. He dropped to a knee and pressed his palm against the surface of the water. It was solid as stone, he couldn't push past it.

Then, he saw himself reflected in the surface of the river. It was blurry and unclear, but he looked different somehow. He drew up to his full height and instinctively reached across his chest, grabbing for the sword that hung from his right hip. As his fingers wrapped around the hilt, he paused very briefly and then proceeded to pull it from its sheath. There, reflected in its silvery blade, he saw himself as if in a mirror. His eyes, his skin, the colour had returned. He looked for all intents and purposes to be alive.

"What the hell is this!" he cried. He looked exactly as he’d remembered. Even down to the little scars on the right side of his face.

He whirled back over his shoulder to spot Laurelei, staring back at him. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell agape at the sight beyond the portal.

"Rolf, are you-!" she started, cut off by a nod from the Necronom.

"Yeah," he replied in disbelief. How could this be possible, he thought. There wasn't time to dwell on it, maybe he could get some answers when he found his father. "Don't worry about it right now," he said to Laurelei. "Just keep focused on the gate!"

Laurelei nodded, looking no less shocked than Rolf.

For the first time, Rolf gazed upon the landscape ahead and his heart skipped a beat. Before him stretched the river, a stark line of darkness in an expanse of white. The land rose and fell in the manner of sloping hills, but these were no simple bluffs and highlands. Rising from the endless expanses of white were strange, twisted faces. They resembled skulls with milky flesh pulled taught across them and demonic eyes set in their sockets. These grotesques stretched on for infinite space, staring aimlessly and unblinking.

A part of him begged to turn back, sweat forming on his brow and trickling down his face, but he would not end his journey here. He willed his feet forward and began his march down the river.

He walked in complete silence for several long minutes, keeping his eyes on the river. That was until one of the terrible faces loomed only a mere few feet from the river's edge and as Rolf passed it, it's terrible eyes, larger than Rolf in his entirety, slowly swiveled in their sockets and focused on him.

He froze up, meeting its stare and clenching his hand around the hilt of his sword.

With a creaking groan it opened its massive maw and howled into the sky. It's voice was an inhuman noise, shrieking and wailing so loud as to drown out Rolf's own thoughts and sending painful reverberations through his body.

He tried to cover his ears but it did nothing to abate the terrible, skull rattling noise. Against all his willpower, he screamed in pain. It's call only lasted a few seconds and once it abated, it left an awful ring in its wake. When he pulled his hands away, he found his gloves slick with blood and felt it trickling out of his ears and down his neck. "Wh-what the hell!"

While staring at his bloody hands and trying to shake off the chill that clung to his bones, he spied something in the river.

One of the black shapes had stopped just below him. It hovered closer to the surface and from with the shadows, appeared a face. A clean white skull, stripped of flesh and wrapped in a fluttering black cloak.

Rolf threw himself back as the spectre burst from the river and swirled into the the air above. In utter silence it stared at him with its empty sockets. Its entire body consisted of black cloth, hanging in tatters with a pair of skeletal arms extending from the whorling mass.

With twin splashes, two more of the fiends that sprang up from the river.

"What is this!" he screamed as he ripped his sword from his sheath and held it at the ready. "This whole damn world is toying with me! Just kill me if that's what you're here for!"

As if on command, the trio of shadows reached into the folds of their cloaks and produced long scythes with razor keen blades. The darted in so fast that Rolf could barely see their movements. He raised his blade to parry but all three attacks slipped past his guard and then stopped. Just as the tips of their blades made contact with Rolf's body, they seized up, as if held in place by an invisible force.

"What?" He felt an intense, tingling warmth in his chest. His eyes trailed down and he saw a faint blue glow coming from under his coat. He pulled it open to reveal a shimmering blue light over his heart. It shone through the flesh of his chest and cloth of his top..

Just as quickly as they'd appeared, the ghostly figures vanished into the river and continued downstream.

Rolf finally let himself breath once they were out of sight. He lowered his sword and bowed his head. "Thank you, Laurel," he said aloud, hand pressed over his heart.

The path ahead was clear now and Rolf made haste forward. There was nothing to obstruct his vision, and it appeared that the river came to an end not far ahead. It stretched past the valley of skulls and terminated in a wide pool. He didn't know what he was hoping to find on the other side of the pond but he proceeded anywhere. His father wouldn't bring him here without a reason.

His foot hit the surface but rather than carry him across, he plummeted below the surface. It was strange, the water didn't fill his mouth and nose, it didn't cut off his breathing at all. He just sunk as if he was made of stone. Hordes of moths and spectres parted around him and made toward the bottom, but as far as Rolf could tell, the pond had no end. It just descended deeper and deeper into darkness. He couldn’t swim upwards or influence his descent in any way. All he could do was fall.

Just as he started to wonder exactly what was going on, he was suddenly enveloped in a white light. Between moments, he went from sinking into the pool, to stumbling to his feet. His vision was a haze, but he felt solid ground under him. He started to pat himself down, but found that his clothes were completely dry.

The earth below his feet was dusty and grey as if buried in rubble, and the sky above him was endless white, just as before. He turned to see a portal behind him, identical to the one which he'd entered. All around him grew great, twisted trees with nooses dangling from the branches. Dead bodies in varying states of decay hung from the end of every rope, some skeletal and some appearing only moments dead. There must have been thousands of them.

Just ahead were the crumbled remnants of a tower. Oddly enough, it looked to be surrounded by people. Men and women, mostly dressed in armour, most of them from eras and lands beyond anything Rolf had ever seen before. The mostly sat around campfires and several stood with swords drawn. However, at Rolf's appearance, they'd all dropped whatever they were doing and stared straight at him. Hushed whispers broke out among the different little groups and they all exchanged odd looks with one another, keeping one eye on the stranger at all times.

Rolf didn't know what to say or do anymore. Who were these people? Would they attack him too? Would Laurelei's enchantment fend them off or was there going to be a battle? Before he could get an answer to any of this questions, a familiar figure stepped into view.

From inside the old tower appeared Rolf's father, looking as real and alive as Rolf had always remembered him. He wore a severe expression at first, but when he saw his son, he smiled behind his moustache.

"Dad?" Rolf felt himself freeze up. He'd seen his father as a figment for years now, but today he was actually here in front of him. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

"It's been far too long, Rolf." His voice had the same gruff quality as his son's, but older and more tempered.

They stood eye to eye, and Reiker sized up his son. "Hm...You've gotten so tall! I think you might just be a little bigger than me now!"  

"Dad I-... I missed you," he said in a weak voice. Without another word, he reached out and tried to hug his father, but he found that his arms passed right through him.

His body drifted out of the way in wisps of smoke before reforming. "I'm sorry son, but I'm still dead," he said with a shake of his head. "My body is still entombed at Wolfsrest."

Rolf nodded solemnly before donning a serious expression. He was here with a purpose. "Dad, what is this place? Why am I human again and why did you bring me here? Nothing makes any sense."

"Yes. As much as I'd like to spend time reminiscing, there's far too much to do. Come with me, and I'll explain." Reiker turned and lead Rolf back toward the tower. Beyond the front gate they came to a collapsed courtyard with a spiral staircase leading along the interior of the tower. "The reason I called you here, awaits at the top."

"Alright, so what is it?" asked Rolf.

"It's complicated. You'll see."

Rolf stifled a grumble but nonetheless followed behind his father.

Mounting the first steps, Reiker began to elaborate. "To start, I'll explain as much as I can about this world. This is the afterlife, where the dead live and living die. The best description I can think of is that it's a mirror to the living world, Guul'Zaroth."

"So that's why I have a living body here?"

"In a manner of speaking. If a living person stepped through that portal, their body would have entered a state of undeath and the reapers would have harvested their soul. You see, when a person dies on Guul'Zaroth, the reapers collect their essence and bring it to this realm. But the sigils that keep a necronom body alive exist to ward those reapers off in the first place. That's why I called you here, once I heard your story. You're uniquely suited to survival in both planes. That is about to make you very important to the future of Agares."

They were nearly halfway up the tower now and though the construction looked shoddy and worn, it held up under their weight with ease.

"Damn, dad, that's impressive. How do you know all that?"

"I didn't figure it out on my own, if that's what you're wondering. Your vampire friend, Laurelei, she's wrong."

"Wrong? About what?"

They were at the top of the tower now, and Reiker stopped near the final step, turning to look at Rolf. "You aren't the first to come to this world. There was another before you."

"What? Who was it?"

Reiker said not a word as he took that final step and lead his son to stand at the tower's peak.

There, atop the crumbling tower, knelt a man. He was bound to the floor by huge chains, emaciated and ancient beyond reckoning. His hair and beard, white as the sky, stretched to his ankles and formed sizable piles around him. So thick and wild was his hair that Rolf could scarcely spy a body beneath it, just gnarled limbs extending from the mass. The strange man lifted his head to stare at the newcomers, dry, cracked lips parting to reveal a mouth almost completely devoid of teeth. His eye sockets were sunken and his face and body had wrinkles like deep fissures.

"Is he... alive?" the man stammered in a hoarse voice.

Reiker nodded. "Rolf, I'd like you to meet, Lord Avery Lockhart."

"Lockhart! Then that means he's related to Laurelei?"

The old man smiled wistfully and laughed to himself. "Ahhh, Laurelei. Such a sweet child," he whispered.

Reiker on the other hand, shook his head. "No, not exactly."

"But he just said-"

"Rolf, this man is wracked with madness. He couldn't possibly know your friend. He's been bound here for over nine-hundred years."

Rolf stared back at his father, the confusion on his face growing ever deeper. "I'm getting really fed up with not knowing what the hell is going on here!"

"You think you're frustrated? I've spent the last five years trying to piece together everything I can from this poor man's ravings."

Finding himself a seat on a nearby slab of displaced stone, Rolf turned his gaze on the pitiful figure in the centre of the room. "Well then who is he, exactly?"

"Avery is the brother of King Methuselah, from a millenia ago."

"And he's dead? Why all the chains? What's wrong with him?"

"No," said Reiker. "He's alive, and he has been since before the Kingdom of Agares even existed."

"How is that even possible? If he's alive, then how is he here? Why haven't the reapers come by and harvested him, like you said."

"To explain, I'll need to tell you what he told me a long time ago. You see, I was like you, Rolf. When I was young. I could see the dead, and unlike you, I could hear them too."

"Wait, really!" Rolf blurted out. "I thought I was the only one."

"As did I. Until you were born. Imagine my surprise when my six year-old son started telling me of his days out playing with his grandpa. The one who passed away a year after you were born."

"Damn, really?"

Reiker nodded. "That's why I was able to appear to you all these years. We are attuned to it. I don't know how or why, but that's the case. When I was your age, I didn't see deceased family though. I saw him. He, among all the souls in the afterlife, reached out to me. He had a request."

Reiker walked to the edge of the tower and looked out across the forest below. It stretched on a great distance, giving way to yet more bizarre landscapes. Black lakes, mountains of bloody bone with great, fleshy hands reaching over the peaks, and endless battlefields strewn with fallen castles and broken blades.  "Avery wanted me to kill him,” he said calmly.

Rolf shuffled his feet and looked upon the smiling, yet utterly tormented old man sprawled across the floor. "Yeah, I can see it. But why? Why and how is he here?"

"Rolf, do you know why Methuselah, like all of Mordica's Dark Children, cannot be killed?"

"Why are you changing the subject?"

"I'm not. Just listen," said Reiker. "Methuselah is unfathomably powerful. But despite what they would have you believe, he is not a god. Not yet. His body is mortal and he can be killed. In fact, he was killed in his early days. Many times in fact, before he rose to his current state."

"That doesn't make any damn sense, dad. If Methuselah died, he'd be in here, not out there."

"He was here. Briefly. The immortality of the dark children stems from one simple fact. They are mightier than death itself."

Rolf's eyes widened and he slowly drew up in his seat. "W-what the hell does that mean?"

"It means that even if by some miracle, Laurelei’s and your rebellion succeeds, and you somehow slay Methuselah, he will return. The dark children are so powerful, than when their souls arrive here, their magic wards off undeath and they destroy the reapers that come for their souls. Then they simply open a portal back to Guul'Zaroth, just as Laurelei did, and return to their bodies, regenerating any damage done in the process."

"That sounds insane. Nobody can just decide not to die like that! It has to be possible, otherwise why is Methuselah the only one left."

"You're right, it is possible. And for Methuselah, Avery is the key."

And again, Rolf looked upon Avery with bewilderment.

"Rolf, tell me the weaknesses of a vampire."

Rolf thought on it for a long moment before continuing. "Garlic is poisonous and sunlight burns. They’re resilient but stabbing them through the heart or cutting of their heads will kill them. Running water paralyzes them, and they can't enter a home without invitation from an occupant."

"You're forgetting one."

Rolf took a moment and thought intently on the matter. Yet, he came up with nothing. "I don't know."

"Bloodline," said Reiker. "Direct, human bloodline. From before they became vampires."

Rolf furrowed his brow. "I've never heard that before."

"Nobody has. Methuselah has taken great strides to hide this information. But make no mistake, it is the single most devastating weakness of the vampires. If a member of Methuselah's own bloodline strikes him down, his powers will be too diminished and his death will be final.

That is why this man has been trapped here all these years. For fear that he or his descendants would one day oppose him, Methuselah dragged his brother into the afterlife and sealed him here, under enchanted chains to ward off the Reapers. If they cannot harvest his soul, he cannot die, but he is still mortal here. He has been left here to age infinitely and crumble into madness for nearly a thousand years."

"And he told you this?" said Rolf.

Reiker nodded.

"Why didn't Methuselah just kill him?"

"I don't know. It is possible that Methuselah, in the early years of his life, was not yet so detached from his humanity to kill his own brother. And yet he subjects him to such vile treatment," said Reiker. "Through my ability to speak with those beyond our realm, I've been in contact with Avery since I was around your age. Edwin and I searched for years to find Avery's descendants and Methuselah's true, human heir. We believed ourselves close, but we could never truly confirm our suspicious. But you can pick up where we left off.

With Avery's blood, you can use Laurelei's magic to create a compass. It will lead you to his most direct descendant."

Rolf got to his feet and took a few short steps closer to the prisoner, prostrate under the weight of mighty chains. "So that's why you called me here. You're giving me the power to stop Methuselah. You're putting the fate of all of Agares in my hands."

Reiker stood at Rolf's side and nodded solemnly. "And if what you told me about Mordica's spire is correct, then the fate of Agares may be the fate of all Guul'Zaroth. I need to you to do for him what I never could. I need you to end Avery’s suffering.

"What?" said Rolf, his face growing pale. "Why me?"

"It can only be you. You and Avery are both living beings, physical in this world. The only two in all of the Afterlife."

Rolf looked away from the man and shook his head. "I-I don't want to."

"Rolf, Avery is a hero. He just wants to die. You cannot deny him that."

"I know but... He can't resist, or fight back. I don't want to become an executioner!"

"You're not!" Reiker’s voice grew stern and grim. If he could, he'd have grabbed his son by the collar and given him a good, hard shake. "You are a liberator. Life is a torment for this soul, now do the right thing, the heroic thing, and give him peace."

The boy grit his teeth and winced at the thought of it. "Dammit!" he growled as he dropped down to his knee. "You said I... I need to collect his blood, right?"

"Yes."

Rolf took a deep breath and reached for his belt. He pulled his knife from its sheath and grabbed a leather water-skin. He hadn't needed to drink in a long time, but he'd just held on to all of his father's old Wolfsguard gear regardless.

Avery looked upon him from under thick, scraggly eyebrows and tried to reach out, only to find his arm still bound with chains. "Edgar? Have you come back?" he asked. His voice was dry and scratchy, as if his throat was coated with dust.

"Yeah... It's me," Rolf said.

"Hohoho! Took your time didn't you? But I'm still waiting here for you."

Rolf didn't know what else to say, but he tried his best. "Sorry. I meant to come back sooner."

"Hmmm," Avery nodded slowly. "Come to take away these chains? Then things can go back to the way they used to be?"

Rolf positioned the point of his dagger against Avery's throat. "You don't need to worry about the chains anymore." With one push, he pierced the flesh and sunk his steel deep into the man's neck.

Avery barely moved and he made not a sound. Upon the moment of his death, he squeezed Rolf's wrist and sighed with relief. In an instant, his flesh became stone grey and his eyes faded into a colourless haze. Then, his head tipped forward and the chains that bound him crumbled to ash. He was free.

III



In Ziegel crypt, Laurelei waited by the gate, monitoring it for any change or irregularity. Rolf had disappeared into the void some time ago and she had fallen into a state of focus. Her cloak was pulled taught around her shoulders and her eyes were narrowed intently on the portal.

"Where?" said a harsh voice from behind her, only mere inches away. It rasped and grated on the ears, immediately recognizable.

She let out a sharp cry of terror, sprang up to her feet and whirled around to spot Gutterwink crouched upon the sarcophagus of Rolf's father. Her hand darted toward the tome at her side, but Gutterwink was faster.

Balanced on his hands, he swept his leg out and struck Laurelei hard on the shoulder. The kick was so fierce and so swift that it took the small girl off her feet and slammed her into the cold stone floor.

She lay on her side, whimpering and clutching her arm. In desperation, she tried to push herself away from the necronom by kicking her feet against the ground, but she almost immediately found herself backed against a wall.

Gutterwink slinked from atop the burial and rose up to his full height. He loomed over her and grinned a skeletal smile. "Where is the raggedy boy?"

"I don’t know!"

"Yes you do!" it snarled. "Gutterwink saw raggedy boy go inside with the princess! Didn't see him leave! WHERE!?"

"He’s not here!"

"Liar! Liar, liar, little liar! Where!? Tell Gutterwink where!?"

"No!" she cried back. Using the wall to brace herself, she got back on her feet and glared at him with fiery hatred. Her jaw clenched and her hands tightened into shaking fists.

The creature seethed loudly before unleashing a low, taunting cackle. His head tilted toward the open portal and he pointed toward it with gnarled hand. "There?"'

"No!"

Gutterwink let out another guttural howl and thrust his foot forward. With tremendous might, he drove his heel into Laurelei's stomach and sent her body smacking into the corner of the Mausoleum. She sunk to the ground, arms draped around her gut and body quivering.

"S-stop," she breathed, all the air knocked from her lungs.

There was nothing she could do. Gutterwink stepped through the portal, all the while cackling his sickening cackle.

IV

Rolf, with a grim expression, uncapped his waterskin and pressed it to Avery's gushing throat. "What now," he said solemnly.

"Now, the reapers will come for his soul and he will become like the rest of us," said Reiker.

Neither man spoke for a time. Even once Rolf's waterskin was filled, he just sat and stared. This small, frail being was truly the brother of Methuselah? The terrible vampire king, mighty enough to bring low five kingdoms and forge his own empire from the wreckage? And yet, Rolf had just slain his brother with nary an effort.

Just as he was preparing to rise once again, there came a tremendous, wrenching howl from the distance.

"That noise again!?" said Rolf as he shot back up. "What is that!?"

Reiker appeared taken aback. "It's the same call that heralded your arrival in this world. That must mean that someone else has entered Laurelei's portal!"

"What!? Who?" he said before shaking off the thought. "It doesn't matter, I need to go back, now!"

"Whatever you do, son, you need to get that blood back to Guul'Zaroth. If we lose this chance, there's no stopping Methuselah. He will grow even more powerful and bring his reign to the entire world!"

"I know," replied Rolf. "No time for goodbyes but before I leave... Thanks dad."

I



Winter had come to Ulfenmoor in full force with snow piled up to the knees and forceful, chill winds that sent families scurrying inside and huddling up by their hearths.

Though the evening had grown late, Dragana Molotova stood over an anvil and hammered a blade by light of the moon and forge. The cold stung her cheeks and nose red and her breath released icy clouds into the air. Yet still, sweat from hard labour ran down her brow.

Between the clang of her hammer she could hear boots crunching in the snow behind her. She didn't bother turning to face the newcomer. "Go away."

"I'm looking for a sword," replied a gruff voice.

"Well come back in the morning. We're closed."

"Alright, but I want your best work. I think it's called, Wulfsever?"

"What?" Dragana said in a low voice. In one, swift motion she pulled the sword off the anvil, deposited it in a quenching barrel and whirled to face the would be stranger. Then, she was stunned in place and her face drained of colour. "Rolf!"

At the edge of her shop stood her apprentice. Her three months dead apprentice. At his side stood Laurelei, bundled up under a thick, hooded fur cloak. Although a young girl in such elegant finery was an odd sight in these parts, she could hardly spare the attention when all of it was firmly monopolized by Rolf's presence.

After a few moments of silently staring at him, she stumbled out a few more words. "W-we all thought you were dead," she said in a breathless voice, her heart thumping loudly in her ears.

"I am," he replied. "But why let that stop me from visiting family?" He forced himself to small.

Dragana stepped closer, carefully examining his features. His colourless skin, the variety of new scars and the foggy hue of his eyes. "You're a necronom?"

Rolf nodded.

The blacksmith watched him quietly for a time, before closing her eyes and taking in a long, slow breath. Then, she punched him hard in the ribs. His torso was already battered and Dragana's blow was mighty, her muscles toned and strong from years of tending the forge.

The boy gasped loudly and buckled over her fist, barely able to keep on his feet.

Promptly taking a step back, Laurelei winced at the sudden assault.

Dragana set on him with a fiery glare, hand trembling to hold back the desire to strike him again. "Where the hell have you been, who the hell is this and why the hell didn't you tell anyone about this!"

Rolf responded with a punch of his own, surprising Dragana with a huge uppercut just under her chest. It landed hard enough that Dragana practically bounced into the air, arms draped around the point of impact.

"Give me a minute to explain myself before you start hitting me, dammit!" Rolf roared back.

"Little bastard!" she growled. Without warning she threw another punch, scoring on his cheek and reeling his head back.

Rolf answered with a left hook but Dragana ducked it and jabbed him twice more on the jaw, hard enough to send him stumbling back against the forge.

Laurelei watched the resultant the brawl with confusion and distaste. "How terribly uncouth. Is this how you raggabrash peasants normally greet one another?" she said as they continued to trade blows.

"Alright, settle down!" said Rolf, throwing his hands up defensively.

Dragana wiped a small bit of blood from her lip and her scowl slowly transitioned into a smile. She moved in fast and put Rolf in a playful headlock. "You hit harder than before! Now start talking!"

He smiled back at her and stood straight up, lifting her off her feet and slipping out of her grasp before tossing her back toward the ground.

She landed with ease and proceeded to quickly brush herself off and wipe the sweat from her brow.

"Yeah, I'll tell you everything, Draga. After we get to Edwin's house. I'd like to talk to all of you together."

She nodded. The swordsmith quietly donned her coat and the group departed from the workshop.

The short trip through the village was mostly quiet. Rolf seemed unusually contemplative and reserved as he examined the familiar sights all around him. The old cathedral, the shops and the rugged wooden bridges that arched over the gentle rivers and streams that ran through the village. As usual, Laurelei was dreadfully averse to crossing the bridge, but with only slight prodding, she scampered over regardless.

Near Eastern edge of town, nestled atop a small hill, was the home of Edwin Bastaff. It was a wide, wooden cabin that stood one floor high and boasted a small garden of herbs out front.

It seemed that any damage since the wolf attacks had long been repaired. In fact, the whole village was oddly peaceful. The night watch of guards was unfathomably small and there were no tense men staring out their windows and nursing crossbows. It resembled Ulfenmoor but it couldn't have been. Once the sun went down, the town never quite so at ease.

"What's going on here? Why's everyone so... calm?" said Rolf.

"It's Viktor," said Dragana.

Rolf was reminded of when he encountered the hermit at the old Ettinkeep. "So he followed through on his promise," he thought to himself.

Dragana continued. "He just showed up one day, alive and well. A lot like you. Ever since he came back, we've had no trouble with wolf attacks. It's sort of a long story. I can explain when we get to Edwin's."

"No need," said Rolf. "I already know. I met him out there, not long after I died. In the end, all it took to stop the wolves was having one of their own around to scare them off."

Before anyone could say another word on the subject, they noticed a familiar figure in the window of Edwin's house. It was still a fair distance away, but there was no mistaking it. Lavinia's masked face peered out at them for a moment, watching curiously. She was still and silent for a short time, her expression inscrutable under her guise. Then, in a flutter of fabric, she disappeared from the window and burst out the door. "Rolf!?"

Without even awaiting a response she took off down the road, the colourful scarves and skirts of the Vega people trailing behind her. She ran faster than Rolf had ever seen her move and leaped straight into Rolf's arms.

He caught hold of her instinctively as she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her head against his chest.

"It is you!" she said in a muffled voice, hugging him as tight as she could. "I-I, knew you'd come back!" Her voice was vibrant and shuddering with joy, blooming with a level of energy Rolf hadn't seen from her in over a year.

Before he knew what was happening, he found his arms around her and his hand gently stroking her hair.

Laurelei had taken a few steps back, giving the two a wide berth as she sized up the excited stranger. It wasn't long before she found herself glaring at the woman from behind her hood. "Rolf," she said in a skeptical voice. "Who is the masked wastrel clinging to you?"

Lavinia loosened her embrace, keeping her fingers laced together behind his neck, and turned to look at Laurelei, noticing her for the first time.

It was then that Rolf noticed the small, joyful tears in Lavinia's eyes.

She tilted her head toward the princess and gave her a strange look. "Wastrel?" she said in a soft tone. She almost sounded hurt by the comment.

"Lavinia!" bellowed a loud voice from atop the hill. In the doorway stood Edwin Bastaff, as broad and surly as Rolf remembered him. He was hastily garbed in a thick fur coat but nonetheless held a sheathed blade in his huge fist. "You!" he roared, jabbing a finger toward Rolf. "Take your hands off my daughter!"

"Relax, old man. It's just me!" Rolf yelled back.

"What!?" Edwin said in a bewildered voice. He stomped out the door and over to the edge of the hill, striving for a closer look. His once grumpy expression shifted into a furious glare. "What the hell is this! Some kind of cruel joke?" he growled, brows furrowed and jaw clenched tight.

Carefully, Rolf took Lavinia's hands and eased her away from him. "This is real, Edwin. Get down here and have a look for yourself."

Edwin did just that, marching down the road and coming eye to eye with Rolf. He did everything he could to maintain a sour expression, but the more he examined Rolf's face, the harder it became. His heart felt as if it would tear itself in two as his emotions struggled between joy and anguish. Finally, he smiled and small tears trickled down his craggy features before disappearing into his beard.

He reached out with one arm, slapped Rolf across the back and pulled him into an embrace. "You stand in front of me but still I was right. You died on me, son."

"Died?" Lavinia whispered to herself, unsure of what her father was saying.

Rolf's face was blank and he fought back any trace of the emotion that had welled up inside of him. "Calm down, old man. It's nothing to get yourself worked up over."

Edwin pushed Rolf away and held him at arm's length. "I've had this nightmare before. Any moment now, I'll blink or look away and you'll be gone again."

"If you need anymore proof that this is real, you could go strap your armour on and I'll kick your fat ass around the fortress for a while. Just like the old days."

"Never thought I'd be happy to hear that disrespectful, impudent mouth of yours."

Rolf smirk back at Edwin and gave him a playful punch to the shoulder. "Good to see you too, ya old bastard."

Both men laughed with mingling sadness and mirth.

Rolf continued. "There's... a lot to talk about. Can we go inside?"

"Do you even need to ask? Go on in," said Edwin.

"Actually, I do. For her," replied Rolf, pointing at Laurelei.

Edwin scratched his beard and and cast a bewildered look at the girl. "I don't understand."

Laurelei was thoroughly wrapped in her cloak and had it pulled snug around her face. Without a word, she pulled her hood down and opened her mouth wide to reveal a pair of gleaming fangs.

"Oh!" Edwin said. He shot Rolf a quick glance and then looked back to Laurelei with a nod. "Yes, of course. If Rolf trusts you, then you are welcome in my home."

"Thank you," she said politely, before immediately donning her hood once again.

Once inside Edwin's home, the group of five sat around the small wooden dining table. The hearth roared with a fresh flame and the smell of fragrant tea brewing filled the chamber.

"I guess I should start by saying you were right," Rolf said, specifically locking eyes with Edwin. "You always said that if I went out there, I'd just get myself killed. And I did." He spoke in a quiet, sombre voice.

Lavinia looked away from Rolf and just stared at her hands.

"This girl, Laurelei, she saved me. Before I could truly die, she bonded my soul to my body."

"I believe now would be a good time to introduce myself," said Laurelei. "I am Princess Laurelei Marie Lockhart of Agares."

Edwin and Lavinia responded with stunned silence and raised brows, but Dragana was a bit more vocal. "You expect us to believe that?"

"I don't care," Laurelei replied. "My title is not dependent upon your belief. I am Princess Laurelei, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not."

Dragana scoffed at the girl. "She's got some sass in her. I like it."

"Thank you," Laurelei said with a smirk.

"But why didn't you come home after she brought you back?" asked Lavinia.

"I didn't want to come back. Not like this. Laurelei and I made an arrangement. If I help her to explore the kingdom, she'll do what she can to try and make me human again..."

"It was my fault," Laurelei said, interrupting Rolf. "Rolf's death was an unfortunate incident and I took advantage of it. I forced him into my service with promises I could scarcely hope to keep and now we are embroiled in something far bigger. War is coming."

"War," said Edwin? "What war? Between who?"

"Myself and my father. While travelling across this land, I found the state of it and the treatment of its people to be abhorrent."

Edwin's face creased and his eyes narrowed as a new revelation dawned on him. "If that's true then that means the situation at Golodomor..."

"We were involved, yes," said Laurelei. "But the situation is somewhat more complicated than it would seem. A proper explanation could prove tedious."

Edwin nodded. "We've got all night. Let's hear it."

And so, Rolf and Laurelei regaled them with the details of their journeys. Everything from their encounters with Viktor, Gutterwink, Yezhev and Doctor Foerster, all the way to the battle at Golodomor and the revelations about Mordica's Spire.

By the end of the tale, Edwin stood at the window and looked out across the garden with a stern gaze. He gulped down the last of his tea and took a long, calming breath. "That is quite a story. And Viktor can corroborate at least parts of it then?"

Rolf nodded.

"It lines up well with current events, too. Everyone in Agares knows by now that Princess Laurelei has gone missing." Edwin looked back over his shoulder and cast a hard gaze on the vampire. "Word was sent out not long ago of your betrayal. I've no reason to doubt any of this but it all seems so absurd."

"Is it really so hard to believe?" said Rolf.

"There was a part where you fought against, and were then accompanied by a dead general from twenty years ago who had been transformed into a pig," said Dragana.

"Well... We did," Rolf replied.

"Enough," said Edwin, waving it off. "You know as well as I do that there are a great many inexplicable things in this world. Demons, monsters, magic, I've seen it all in my time. You've no reason to lie to me, Rolf. It's not in your character. If what you say is true, then it's likely the Wolfsguard is going to be involved at some point. Voluntarily or not."

Laurelei finished her cup, finding it enjoyable but of course no substitute for warm blood, and pushed it aside. "The sentiment is appreciated, but I don't quite see how hunting werewolves would prove a boon to us."

Both Edwin and Dragana laughed aloud at the girl's response.

"Oh really?" said Edwin. "You've seen what one boy who wasn't even good enough to make it in our ranks is capable of, wait until you see what a real wolf hunter can do!" The big man thumped his chest proudly and Dragana did the same. "Bahahah! We don't fight wolves because it's easy, princess! We do it because we're the only damn fools tough enough to manage it!"

Laurelei wondered for a moment, how she could be so blind. Rolf had to learn all that bluster and battle frenzy from somewhere. The Wolfsguard were like an entire force of Rolfs; they were all crazy!

"So, you intend to join our forces?" Laurelei asked, her voice rising and growing hopeful.

"No," Edwin replied. "I intend to consider it. There is much to think about. But as for you two, what do you intend to do now?"

"We need to go to Wolfsrest," said Rolf. "I don't know what it is yet, but there's something there. Something important."

"Before you do, I want you to meet me at the Wolfsguard fortress. I think you know why."

Rolf nodded slowly. "Yeah, I think so." His attention shifted toward Lavinia and he tried to smile at her. It was hard, trying to guess at her emotions behind that mask. He felt like he gotten pretty good at judging just from her eyes, but right now she was harder to read than ever. "Lavinia, can we talk alone for a while?"

"Yes, of course!" she said, almost too cheerfully before withdrawing into herself again. "I mean. Yes, I'd like that."

All the while, Laurelei just rolled her eyes.

II



Edwin had departed for the fortress and Dragana had returned to her shop. Meanwhile, Laurelei waited in Edwin's home for Rolf to finish his business. She sat by the window, resting her chin on her knuckles and staring at the pair of Rolf and Lavinia as they strolled down the road together. In spite of herself and even without her knowledge, she scowled at them and did her best to try and think about something else. She failed.

Then, there came a hard knock at the door.

Laurelei found herself in the strange position of being the only one in the house at the moment. A home that was not hers. And who would come knocking so late in the evening? As she understood it, Edwin was the captain of the guard and the acting mayor. Perhaps it was an emergency of some kind? "The master of the house is not in," she called to the knocker.

"I don't give a shit, princess!" the knocker called back.

She recognized the voice almost immediately. The foul tongue, the slurred speech and the Western accent, it was unmistakable. "Viktor? I was wondering if you'd make an appearance tonight."

The hermit walked in of his own accord and slammed the door behind him. Almost immediately he pulled a wineskin from his coat and swallowed a big mouthful of its contents, a strong red wine.

"What exactly are you doing here?" she asked, taking her eyes off the window for a moment.

"Came to find you and Rolf, have myself a look at the situation."

Laurelei quirked a brow at the hermit and drummed her fingers against the windowsill. "How could you have known we were here?"

The old man tapped his wide, crooked nose with a stubby finger. "The perfume and scented oils you enjoy so much are hard to miss."

"I shall endeavour to remember that in the future." Laurelei returned her attention to the window, finding Rolf and Lavinia still in view as they reached the bottom of the hill and stopped to watch the snow fall for a time.

"Ever think you might try minding your own business?" said Viktor as he pulled up a chair himself. Lowering himself into his seat, he leaned heavily on his cane.

"Are you implying something?"

"No, I'm outright telling you to stop spying. I imagine they went outside for some privacy."

Laurelei sighed loudly and laid her head against the window. "You are right of course... Rolf is in love with that girl. Isn't he?"

"Why do you care?"

"I do not," Laurelei replied dismissively. "I am merely surprised. In all our time together, Rolf never mentioned a romantic companion. To be honest, I feel sorry for the poor girl. What with Rolf's boorish temperament, I am sure she could attract a far better suitor."

Rolf and Lavinia's stroll through the snow soon took them out of Laurelei's view, and they vanished behind the trees.

The road ahead of them lead away from the village and toward Wolfsguard fort. It was a path they had walked together many times after Rolf had the taste knocked out of his mouth by Edwin. The roadside was piled high with snow and a freshly fallen sheet rested atop the path.

They hadn't spoken much yet, simply walked along and enjoyed each other's company.

"So, that Laurelei girl. She's very pretty," said Lavinia with her eyes locked firmly on her boots.

"Lavi, calm down. It's not like that. Laurelei's... I guess she's like a sister to me now."

The girl let out a long withheld breath and placed a hand over her thudding heart. "I was just worried because when she gets older... Well I don't think a Vega medicine girl can compete with a princess!" She laughed nervously, her voice stuttering and her whole stance awkward.

Rolf tried to say something but he spent far too long stumbling over his tongue before he managed to get something out. "That isn't true at all," he whispered.

The pair watched each other quietly for a moment. Then, she took hold of her mask and pulled it down around her neck where it formed a snug scarf, and for the first time in nearly a year, Rolf saw her smile again. She had a dark complexion with caramel skin from mixed Vega and Dravinian heritage, complimenting her chocolate coloured eyes and fluffy, ebony hair.

Rolf stared at her, stunned. To him, she had always been beautiful. Now, having gone so long without seeing her face, he was completely speechless.

"I think I'm done hiding for a while," she said at last.

Without another word, she hopped on her toes, wrapped her arms around Rolf and kissed him softly. She was warm to the touch but Rolf's undead body was almost like ice. She pulled away after only a moment, her face awash with confusion. "Y-you really are dead, aren't you?"

Rolf didn't say anything at first, still holding onto her but incapable of looking her in the eyes. "Yeah," he said in despondent tone.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" she stammered, her voice practically a squeak. "I don't mind, I really dont! I'll get used to it."

Rolf sighed and retreated from her. He ran a hand through his hair and ground his teeth. "You can't just get used to this, Lavi. I'm not even human anymore."

"It's fine," she said again, hugging his arm tight and resting her head against his shoulder. "I'm just so happy that you're not gone."

"I don't know what to say to you. You shouldn't be okay with this, you shouldn't have to compromise for me. You should be happy and... I don't think you can be happy with a corpse like me."

"Why not?" she replied, clinging to his coat. "You're the same as before. You just feel a little different.

"I won't age with you," he said quietly. "I'll look like this forever."

"I don't see what's so bad about a husband that'll stay handsome no matter how old and grey I get," she said, playfully poking him in the ribs.

"We won't be able to do normal things together. I can't eat or sleep anymore."

"I guess I won't have to cook for you or share a bed." The humour had vanished from her voice, though she tried with all her might to force it.

"I can never give you children."

"I don't need children to be happy, Rolf."

Rolf pulled his arm free and stepped away from her. "You'll never have a normal life with me! Don't you understand that!?"

Lavinia stomped forward and pushed him as hard as she could. She caught him by surprise and shoved him so forcefully that he stumbled forward and collapsed face first in the snow bank. "Who said I wanted a normal life! I don't care about any of that, you idiot!"

Sputtering and kicking, Rolf pulled himself free and cleared the snow from his hair with a shake. "W-what was that about, Lavi!?"

"Our fathers were best friends, Rolf. We've known each other since we were babies! You're not just my best friend or the boy I love. You're my only friend and the only boy I've ever even thought about that way!" she yelled. "When all the older kids would pick on me because my mother was a Vega, you'd go and start a fight with them. And after they were done beating you senseless, I was the one who'd fix you up. You were my hero, and you still are. So you don't get to decide that I'd be happier without you!... Why are you smiling at me?" she asked, her verve vanishing all at once.

Rolf was indeed grinning ear to ear. "I just missed you. That's all."

"Stop it! I'm still angry with you. Now get out of that snowbank so I can knock you back into it!"

He pushed himself back to his feet and brushed his coat down, laughing under his breath. "Lavi, you know I can't stay here, right? Even if I were human, we can't be together. Not right now, anyway."

"I-I know, Rolf. You can't just be my hero anymore. You need to go out and be a hero to everyone."

Rolf nodded. "You could spend the rest of your life waiting for me. You deserve more than that."

"Shut up," Lavinia said in a sweet voice, smiling but with tears welling up in her eyes. She tried to wipe them away before they could form, but before she knew it, they streamed down her cheeks and dripped from her chin.

"I'll do everything I can to get my body back. And if I survive this, and I become human again, I'll come back to you."

Lavina looked away, burying her face in her scarves. "But, until then?" she said between muffled sobs.

"Until then, it's over."

Lavinia spent a long, aching moment just staring  and breathing heavily . Then, through sheer force of will, she smiled at him, eyes still glistening wet. "You should go see my father. He's waiting for you."

"This is probably the last time you're going to see me for a while."

"I know," she said in a weak voice. Standing up on her toes, she kissed him again and then whirled around and hurried back to the house.

He watched her leave for a long time. Once she had disappeared from view he continued to stare straight ahead, watching the snow fall. "I'm sorry," he whispered to himself.

III </2>

Inside the training hall of the Wolfsguard Fortress, where Rolf and Edwin had met countless times before, the old captain sat alone in the centre of the sparring ring. He was dressed in his armour, and across his lap lay a long object, just under four and a half feet long, and bound in cloth. It rested atop a large square of folded, slate blue fabric, the same shade as the banners and uniforms of the Wolfsguard.

Heavy footsteps broke the bothersome quiet of the empty chamber and in came Rolf. He bore a grim expression, and appeared far more serious than when he and Edwin had parted ways earlier that evening. "Wulfsever?" Rolf asked.

Getting to his feet, Edwin nodded. "Your father's prized blade. I've kept it polished for you, son. Ready for battle at any time. Should you earn it, that is."

The younger warrior stepped down into the ring and drew his weapon. "One last fight. For old time's sake."

Edwin placed Wulfsever at the edge of the ring and returned to stand in the centre, a few metres across from Rolf. "When you were still with us, I never thought that I'd miss this so much. You kept me on my toes."

"Glad I could keep an old man entertained."

Edwin chuckled quietly as he gave his blade a few practice swings. "I'm eager to see what you've learned out in the world."

"I've picked up a few tricks."

"So what's your plan for tonight, then?"

"Overpower you and beat you into submission."

"I'm not quite sure that constitutes a strategy, but nonetheless I marvel at the simplicity with which you approach life."

After a short stare down, Rolf made the first move. He approached with a quick dash and a sweeping lunge. The great cleaver swung wide and offered Edwin significant opening.

He was out of the blade's substantial range in a single quick step, sword lifted in a defensive stance. A simple thrust later and his blade closed in on Rolf's throat.

Rolf's own weapon rose up and smacked Edwin's away before unleashing a powerful downward stroke.

The slash was avoided with a sidestep and a parry, allowing Edwin to press his attack further. "You're a necronom now! That means I don't need to hold back anymore!" he said. An array of two-handed sweeps followed, Rolf barely able to pull his sword up in time to defend himself.

Each blow sent Rolf's blade rocking left and right until his defence was all but broken. After a quick, overhand feint to the left, Edwin's sword was yet again trained on his opponent's exposed vitals. He fought in a clean cut and defensive style. His motion was never more than what was necessary, never any flourishes, nothing fancy or clever, just precise parries and powerful strokes.

But as the attack neared its target, Rolf bounced back and narrowly avoided its sting. "Hah! You're as good as I remember!" said Rolf.

"And you're far better. A few months ago and you'd be flat on your ass by now!"

Under normal circumstances, Rolf would have just attacked again. In fact, it was moves like that which cost him fight after fight against Edwin. And so, he stopped. His eyes carefully scanned Edwin's pose. He'd seen it over and over again for years now. It was ingrained into his mind. Slowly, he shifted his own stance to mirror Edwin's. He squared his shoulders, spread his feet apart and held his sword parallel to his body.

The two warriors waited and watched one another, searching for openings in the other's stance.

Edwin was first to move this time, charging Rolf with three horizontal strokes, one after another. Rolf parried them, lacking the same ease as Edwin, but still managing to deflect each attack.

Edwin kept up the assault, unleashing a barrage of slashes from varying angles. High, low, vertical, diagonal. Rolf using the same, highly defensive, minimal movement style as his mentor, was able to avoid taking a hit.

"Not attacking any more?" Edwin asked.

"Just waiting for an opening!" Rolf shot back with a smile.

"Just waiting for the old man to tire himself out, are you? Very well, but you're about to learn a lesson in using a man's own moves against him!" Edwin thrust for Rolf's chest but then reversed his motion, switched his sword to his left hand and attempted to strike.

"He wants me to parry! It's an obvious feint, I've seen him do this move a thousand times before!" Rolf wasn't going to take the bait. If he didn't parry he could strike first. This was his opening. He struck for Edwin's chest, swinging his whole body into a powerful stroke. It wouldn't be enough to cut through Edwin's armour, but it was definitely going to knock him down hard.

Edwin however, had other plans. Just as Rolf was leaning into his swing, Edwin was already ducking. It had been an obvious feint. Obvious enough to lure Rolf into an attack that Edwin could predict all too easily. The weapon passed over Edwin's head and he stepped past Rolf's range and caught his wrist. With one hand holding Rolf's attack at bay, he drove the pommel of his sword into Rolf's face with the other.

The blow sent the boy stumbling back where he found Edwin's foot jammed behind his own and artfully tripping him. In but a second he was on his back, disarmed, and with the edge of Edwin's sword pressed against his neck.

"Bahahah! Still can't keep up!"

"You haven't won yet!" Rolf's hand flew toward his sword and Edwin moved his own blade to intercept. Meanwhile, with Edwin's attention elsewhere, Rolf brought his knee to his chest and slammed it into the other man's gut with all his might.

The blow sent the him staggering back with a loud grunt. While Edwin was stunned, the more spry Rolf was up first. He had to capitalize on his opponent's opening now and he had no time to reach for his sword. In an instant he pounced into the air, reeled his arm back and descended on his target.

Edwin regained his senses as Rolf was closing in and on instinct he threw his sword up in a defensive posture. Rolf's fall brought him down on Edwin's steel. It punctured his torso just beneath the ribs and pierced through the whole of his body to protrude from his back. But still, Rolf's punch landed flush on Edwin's jaw.

After a thunderous crack and a hard impact against the floor, the rest was a daze. Edwin's head spun and his vision went black for a few seconds. By the time he came to, Rolf was standing over him with Edwin's own sword pointed in his face.

He groaned loudly and pushed the sword away. "Rolf, did I ever tell you that you punch just like your father?"

Rolf smiled and passed Edwin's sword back to him, before taking him by the hand and hauling him back to his feet. "When you and dad fought, did you ever stab him in the stomach too?"

"Intentionally? No."

After recovering his composure, Edwin left Rolf in the centre of the ring while he collected the prize for their battle. "Here, try this on!" Edwin called as he tossed the heavy garment toward Rolf.

It unfolded in mid-air and when Rolf caught hold of it, it had revealed itself as a Wolfsguard coat. It was nearly identical to the one he wore now, though his current garb hung from him in tatters.

"I noticed yours was standing on its last legs. This is one of your father's spares," said Edwin. "When battling wolves, these things don't tend to last long."

Hurriedly, Rolf discarded the shredded remnants of his coat and donned the new one. It fit just as well as the first, as he and his father were of a like size. By the time he'd adjusted it to his liking and gotten comfortable, Edwin had returned with Wulfsever in hand.

He pulled away the cloth to reveal a blade of exceedingly talented craftsmanship. The hilt was bound in black leather and the pommel was a solid silver ball. It bore a stout cross guard, wreathed in the fur of a white werewolf. Even the scabbard and belt were ornate. Crafted of black leather with silver buckles and tracery.

"This is Wulfsever. Your father's blade," said Edwin. He pulled the sword from its sheath and the gleam of its surface was astounding. The blade was more broad than a normal sword of its length, though only slightly. It was a fitting shape, as it was intended to slay werewolves, not men. The silver would ensure the wounds wouldn't regenerate, but a greater heft would still be required to sever and pierce the beast's much thicker hides, muscles and bone.

"It's a bastard sword. It's meant to be wielded with both hands, but it's not too unwieldy to use with one if the situation calls for it. It's made of silver so it's heavier than steel. Nearly three kilograms. Not difficult to fight with but for most men it can be tiring, though I don't see that as a problem for you." Sheathing the blade once more, Edwin pushed it into Rolf's hands and locked eyes with him again. "You deserve it, Rolf."

He held it in his hands, admired its form, and gripped it tightly. "Edwin," he said quietly. "Thank you. Not for the sword; for everything. When my father died, you stepped in and looked after me in any way you could."

"You don't need to thank me, Rolf. You were the son of a man I would call my brother. You were the girlhood love of my daughter. You have always been family to me. You are my son."

Rolf shook his head. "No. You were a father to me for years, even though I didn't deserve it! I never listened to anything you said and look where it's got me!"

"Rolf, stop."

"No! Damnit Edwin, you deserved more from me! You, Lavinia, the whole village. I just... I was to focused on my problems, and what I wanted, to care what anyone else said."

Edwin didn't say anything this time. He crossed his arms and gave Rolf a stern glare, waiting for him to finish.

"But I will fix this and make up for my mistakes. You won't need to be ashamed of me anymore, alright?"

"Ashamed?" Edwin repeated with a sigh. "Is that how you think I should feel?" Before Rolf knew what was happening, Edwin placed a hand on his shoulder and looked him hard in the eye. "You were a pain in the ass, Rolf. Biggest one I've ever met. And you made a mistake, just like everyone else who's ever walked the face of Guul'Zaroth. You suffered for it. You're still suffering for it. But when you make a mistake, you can't always correct it. Sometimes, it's not possible to make it go away. You need to accept it, learn from it, and leave better than before. Do you understand?"

He stared at the ceiling and spoke slowly, the gruff edge to his voice fading away. "I don't know," he replied . "But I think there's one more person I should see before I leave."

"Then go. But I want you to know that for all your faults and for all your mistakes, I've never been ashamed of you. And I never will be."

Rolf didn't know what so say anymore. And so, he just nodded and started toward the exit. He looked back over his shoulder more times than he cared to admit, just to see Edwin watching him. Before he knew it, he was outside.

Much to his surprise, he wasn't alone. Standing beside the entrance, was Laurelei. Her cloak was pulled extra tight around her shoulders and the ever growing winds whipped it about as if trying to tear it away from her.

She took one look at Rolf's face before her own expression softened. "Are you alright?"

Rolf just nodded slowly.

"Well... alright," she said with no small degree of skepticism. "Do we depart for the Cemetery now?"

"Not yet. I've got one more stop to make."

"Where's that?"

"I need to go home."

IV



Even from the street, the change in Silvercoat Hall was instantly visible. The exterior had been restored with fresh finish, the garden was properly tended and all the shattered windows were replaced. Even the fence had been completely restored. The manor was dark, and the freshly fallen snow had piled upon the roof and covered the grounds.

Rolf and Laurelei stood at the front gate, quietly admiring the estate.

The necronom was now armed with two swords. His old slab was strapped to his back and Wulfsever was belted at his left hip.

"This was your home?" Laurelei asked incredulously.

"Why the surprise?" Rolf said with a growl.

"I was expecting some sort of hovel or perhaps a bear's cave."

"Funny," Rolf muttered. From a small pouch on his belt, Rolf pulled a large key. With a heavy clink, he unlocked the gates and pushed them inwards, displacing a large mound of snow in the process. "Key still works, so it's still mine as far as I'm concerned."

"Perhaps I've merely been away from the luxuries of Castle Umbra for too long, but this appears rather pleasant."

Rolf lead the way through the garden and up to the front door. "I lived in this house all my life. Seventeen years. But it hasn't looked like this in a long time."

"It certainly doesn't appear to be abandoned," said Laurelei. "Rolf, with whom did you live?"

"For the last five years, nobody," Rolf's voice lowered as he speak, and he continued in a melancholic whisper. "I lived here alone. Edwin made a few offers to take me in but I always rejected him."

"... I see," Laurelei replied. While they walked along the path, she looked up at him with a curious glance. "In all our time together, why didn't you mention any of this? Until tonight, I knew almost nothing of your family, and your life before we met. All I knew about you, you told in a fit of a madness. Why?"

"I didn't want to talk about it. Why would I want to be reminded of all... This?"

"Do you despise your old life so much?"

"No," Rolf grumbled. "It—it's kind of the opposite."

Before Laurelei could ask any more questions, Rolf pounded on the door. There was no response from inside at first, and so Rolf knocked again, harder this time. Soon, there came a noise of fumbling and baffled murmurs from behind the door. Then, it peeked open a crack, still clasped together buy a chain, and the face of thin man in his late 30s peered back at them.

"Wh-h-ho are you? How ever did you get past the gate? I locked it myself." His voice was posh and polite but bore an ever present sense of panic to it.

"Grigori, it's me."

"Who is me!? I don't know you. The lady and master of the house are not accepting visitors at this time thank you goodbye!" he said without a single pause. With that, he slammed the door shut.

"Dammit Grigori! It's Rolf!"

There was another brief pause and then door opened a small crack once more. "Master Hrodwulf Von Ziegel died three months ago sir I would ask you leave and try not to be quite so insensitive in the future goodbye," and just as before, he slammed the door shut.

"Grigori! If you don't open this damn door, I'm gonna kick it down and rip off the ring finger on your left hand so that they match!"

After several long, quiet seconds, their was a clink and the door came open. Grigori stood in the threshold. He was a lanky and very prim looking man in a house coat. Despite being dressed as if he'd just gotten out of bed, his light brown hair remained neatly combed. And, just as Rolf had stated, he was missing the ring finger on his right hand.

He looked Rolf up and down with a furrowed brow and then slowly, the colour drained from his face. "By Domoi, it is you! I-I-I do not understand! Are you a vengeful spirit perhaps?"

Rolf tried to protest, but as he opened his mouth, Grigori stopped him a raised finger.

"No wait!" he exclaimed. "I know what this is! Oh, it does serve me right for reading those terror stories. Now I've given myself a dreadful nightmare. Well, I will not be caught off guard this evening. Do your worst!"

"Grigori, I don't have time for this. Go get aunt Mathilda."

"And who is this young lady? I understand why a nightmare would send you, but by all the spirits of this house, I cannot imagine what the aim is in conjuring her."

"Grigori!"

The butler leaped to attention and nervously adjusted his robe. "Very well, very well. I'll play along for now. Please wait here, the madam and master will be right out."

Grigori vanished up the stairs while Rolf and Laurelei waited. After a few minutes, the butler returned with a very confused looking couple. Karl and Mathilda arrived dressed in housecoats and nightwear, both looking simultaneously stunned for a moment. Mathilda adjusted her spectacles to be sure she was actually seeing what she thought she was.

"Here they are, Madam and Master Schnyder. Just as I described," said the butler.
"Y-yes Grigoiri... You are dismissed," Mathilda said, still barely able to believe what she was seeing.

"Oh, spirits thank you," he said in a dry manner before departing.

"I don't understand. What's happening here?" said Karl.

Before either of them could utter another word, Rolf stepped close and wrapped an arm around each of them, hugging them both tightly.

"It's complicated and I don't have much time," he said, before releasing the hug. "I survived that night, thanks to her. Rolf gestured toward Laurelei.

"Her?" Mathilda repeated.

"Laurelei," the princess, said.

"Well then. Deepest thanks to you, miss Laurelei," said Mathilda, sounding no less confused than before.

Laurelei suppressed the urge to correct the woman and tell it was, 'Princess Lockhart.'

"Grigori came in telling us you were here. I didn't know what to think other than our poor butler had lost his mind. But now... I-I'm sorry if I seem out of sorts Rolf. We held a funeral for you, we even set up gravestone on the grounds for you."

"I've said this a lot of times tonight, so I'll do this fast. I'm sorry. I screwed up, you were right."

"I was right?" she said, looking at him over the brim of her spectacles. "About what?"

"About me. About this house," Rolf replied. "I wasn't looking after it. All I cared about was that my parents were gone. I didn't even consider that you were suffering too. You lost a brother. We never got a long, and I think a lot of that was my fault."

They both watched Rolf, still utterly baffled by everything but a level of understanding was started to form on their faces. Karl placed a hand on his wife's shoulder and nodded slowly.

"I need to go somewhere far away, now. I don't know how long I'll be gone, or if I'll ever make it back. But I just... I wanted to make sure you knew that first."

Mathilda let out a long breath as if she'd been holding it in all night. "Rolf I... It's not all your fault. I think that maybe we both could have put forth more effort to like one another. Would you like to come in. Your cousins are asleep, but I can wake them before you go."

"Ugh, this is hard enough as it is," said Rolf. "Silvercoat Hall, it's yours."

Mathilda shook her head. "Rolf, I won't pretend to understand what's going on, but if you really are standing in front of me right now, you're still the head of House Ziegel. This is still your property."

Laurelei listened curiously and her interest piqued at the mention of Rolf as head of the family. How absurd, she thought, that Rolf is the head of a noble family. It seemed impossible that the scraggly, vulgar boy she'd spent the last three months traveling with was actually of some high blood by human standards.

"Sorry, I'm not asking. That's a command, keep the damn house. And Karl," Rolf lifted his old slab of a sword from his back and pushed it into the man's arms. "Leave this by my gravestone. If anybody asks, you found it in the woods, covered in my blood. The last of my remains." Without another word, Rolf turned and made for the gates with Laurelei trailing behind.

Karl and Mathilda stood in the threshold, looking at one another with bewildered gazes until Rolf slammed gate shut behind himself.

Behind Silvercoat Hall was a wide yard, with a stone memorial tucked away in the corner. It stood in the shape of disk with eight points extending in a compass pattern, a traditional symbol in Agares to represent the sun. It was labelled, 'Hrodwulf Von Ziegel,' and from that night forward the infamous scrap sword he carried into battle  was laid against the stone.
I've been doing some clean up work around my dA page and I recently found myself going through my old journal entries. They're mostly from the early days of writing Grimoire (which is being professionally published in 2016!) when I was excitedly documenting every aspect of my writing process. I know it sounds cliché, but those journals feel like they were written by a totally different person.

I kind of miss it. It was a motivating experience. I've tried to get back into the process of documenting my writing experiences, but I simply don't have the audience I did when I was doing Grimoire. So, writing journals has become sort of a sad experience because I put them out there and nobody reads or cares. I'm okay with that now. I've gotten through Guul'Zaroth with almost no feedback and I'm closing in on finishing it very soon. But it just felt different.

Writing Grimoire was a joyful experience I never wanted to end, while producing Guul'Zaroth has been long and sobering for the most part. I'm still happy with my work and I still enjoy writing it, but it's lacking a fundamental satisfaction I got from doing Grimoire. Maybe I'll do more journals and see where it goes. Hopefully my next book can generate some readers, but until then I'm just proud of myself for finishing my third novel. Thanks for reading.

AdCast - Ads from the Community

×

Groups

Comments


Add a Comment:
 
:iconterriojenkins:
terriojenkins Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for watching!
Reply
:iconmorbidmosaic:
MorbidMosaic Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014
Your critique was the  best feedback I have received for my writing, since I joined DA over 12 years ago on my old account.

I sincerely appreciate the time you took to assess and respond. You have no idea. That made my day. Sincerely, you rule.

- mids
Reply
:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Professional Writer
You're doing right by me with all this. Too many people just don't appreciate the hard work that goes into a detailed critique, and just get grumpy because I didn't give them a better review. Knowing that you appreciate it is encouraging and makes me want to do more critiques.
Reply
:iconmorbidmosaic:
MorbidMosaic Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014
Accepting criticism is the only way, as artists, that people grow and learn. I am tired of 'oooh neato'. I want someone to rip me a new orifice, so I can see my work outside my own egocentric view, and learn a bit.

You represent a trend that is sorely lacking on here, and it is nice to know it exists.
Reply
:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Professional Writer
Good to hear and good luck.
Reply
:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Happy Birthday Jaykob.
Big hugs
Reply
:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Professional Writer
Thank you, I appreciate it.
Reply
:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013  Professional General Artist
:)
Reply
:iconmetarex12:
Metarex12 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Student General Artist
Happy Birthday!
Reply
:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Professional Writer
Thanks
Reply
Add a Comment: