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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...

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"Damn, this place looks pretty banged up," said Rolf as he appraised the scene in front of him. The sun hovered in the sky but in direct defiance of the mid-afternoon light, the world looked terminally dreary. In a wide grove on a hill, there stood a large, crumbling mansion, flanked on either side by black trees with thorned trunks. The building was large, nearly twice the size of the manor Rolf had grown up in; its craftmanship impeccable but it's state of disrepair undeniable. Half the mansion looked burned out and nearly collapsed in on the itself. The other was dusty and lopsided and it was all surrounded by a sea of brown, dead flowers.

Nigel took up the rear and stroked his chin in contemplation. "This definitely matches the descriptions I've picked up on over the years. With any luck, we should find Dr.Foerster inside."

Beyond the mansion and down a dusty road stood a large but very humble village, interspersed with bramble, winding trees and countless monuments to the dead. The whole city was mingled together with a sprawling graveyard, a minimum of half a dozen tombstones lined every street. The city of Vaulkin had a well earned reputation as being one of the centres of worship for the god death, The Lifeless. His followers were few and often looked upon as strange, but were generally considered harmless and easily co-existed with the much more dominant Shepherds of The Guardian.

Regardless of what you believed, which gods you followed, be they Braehulind of The Wilds, The Guardian, Demonblood Wulforth or Carmilla the First, everyone believed in the Lifeless. The lord of death remained the one true constant in Guul'Zaroth's many mingling mythologies and it was clear why. His presence would always be felt, death was everywhere.

With Laurelei's trunk in hand, Rolf stepped toward the great black gates around the mansion. They stood ajar and rusted, leaving his path to the front door unobstructed. Following a loud knock, the sounds of shuffling movement came from within. After few moments, the wide oak doors came open and a peculiar looking creature peered back at them.

It was a small, gaunt looking thing that vaguely resembled a male necronom in fine clothes but something was different. It's face was devoid of thought or expression, vacant and more corpselike than one might have expected. It's skin was discoloured and its face appeared heavily stitched together. The skin was different shades in certain patches and the eyes didn't even match, one brown and one blue. A man stitched together from spare parts it seemed.

"I'm looking for Dr.Foerster," Rolf said as he eyed the being with curiosity.

Its face was unchanging and its body language was completely stiff and unreadable. Still, it managed a slow nod and proceeded to shamble off, leaving the door wide open.

"Nigel, where did you say you heard about this place again?" Rolf asked.

"A few rumours found their way to my ears during my stay in High Grove."

Moments later, the creature returned with another man on its heels. The figure appeared as a tall, slender and bedraggled man of late middling years. He had pale skin, a stubbled jawline and brown, scraggly hair that hung in front of his bespectacled face.

While adjusting the collar on his tattered housecoat, the figure craned his head to look up at the towering pig monster at his door. "Well Mr.Smythe, we certainly have some interesting guests today," he said as he adopted a friendly smile. "Look at the state of me, I had no idea I'd receiving company today, as you can plainly tell. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr.Samuel Foerster, necrologist. Please gentleman, how can I help you?"

Taking the doctor's hand and giving it a firm shake, Rolf returned the sentiment. "My name is Hrodwulf Ziegel. I hear you're the man to talk to when it comes to dealing with the undead."

"Undead?" the doctor queried. "No, no, no. Nothing quite so mystical. My work is strictly scientific in nature. Please, come inside and I'll explain more thoroughly."

The doctor ushered for his visitors to follow and lead them through a wide lobby. Rolf and Nigel were flanked by the doctor and Mr.Smythe as he took them through the dilapidated corridors and into a small, circular study. Replete with a pair of large armchairs, a wide lattice window and mountains of books and research notes. The room looked as if it saw more use than most of the manor.

Laying motionlessly on the doctor's chair was a mangled, black furred cat with the lower half of its body showing a distinctly different colouration. A ring of hairless, stitched together skin had formed around the belly and separated the ebony and orange hued stretches of fur. "Now, now Charles, what have I told you about sitting in my chair?" the doctor asked. With a little shake of his head he lifted the seemingly lifeless feline and placed it on the floor. It stood in utter stillness before loping away.

Once he took his seat, the doctor motioned for Rolf to sit as well and linked his fingers together. Once his guests had made themselves comfortable, the doctor eased back into his chair and continued. "I can already guess why you're here, Mr.Ziegel. A necronom aren't you? I don't get a chance to see many of your kind very often. A fine stitching done on your neck and wrist, I must say. Who is your tailor?" The doctor let the question hang in the air for a brief moment before stifling a laugh with his hand.

"Maybe I'll introduce you to her later. But one question, if that was't a necronom then, what exactly was it?" Rolf asked.

"It? No, he. He was my manservant Mr.Smythe, such an agreeable fellow. Like I said, my work is purely scientific and a necronom exists as the result of magical intervention. Binding a soul onto its body after death, you see. But the body is still dead. My work is... quite the opposite. I take functioning organs and limbs and muscles and I stitch them all together. Through my experiments I have been able to reignite brain activity and reactivate many of the bodies vital functions."

"What exactly are you saying?" Rolf asked.

"My experiments possess the potential to ressurrect the dead. As of yet, however, success is short term and my creations do not possess what one might call a soul. Their higher brain functions remain inactive and many bodily functions are too complex for my experiments to revive. At least for now."

"Doctor, just one more question. Do you think it would be possible for your experiments to bring me back to life?"

Foerster's face turned contemplative and he drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair. "I do not know. I have never experimented with a necronom before. They are far more likely to protest than your typical corpse. Unfortunately the nature of magic eludes me. I have no aptitude for it."

"Magic?" Rolf asked as his eyes drifted toward Nigel.

The pig man remained silent but shook his head at Rolf.

"If you had someone who understands magic. Could you do it?" Rolf asked.

"Theoretically? Yes, the possibility exists."

"I know someone," said Rolf, the excitement in his voice rising steadily. "I can introduce you to her. If I do that and help you with your work, could you try to bring me back to life?"

The doctor was taken aback, eyes wide and adjusting his glasses with a shaky hand. "Well I... Yes I suppose I could." He smiled to himself and let his own excitement build in his heart. "I've been at a roadblock with my research for years now. With magical aid I could most certainly perform far greater miracles of science. Yes, Mr.Ziegel, I find this arrangement most agreeable. When might I be able to meet this sorceress of yours?"

"Tonight," Rolf replied.

"Tonight? Why, it's a little sudden but I haven't had the chance to entertain in ages. I will prepare a dinner meeting. Meanwhile, you two gentleman may have the run of the mansion. I'll have Smythe show you to your quarters and you are welcome to stay so long as you need." The doctor got to his feet and began to fumble through his pockets for something or another. "I have preparations to make so if you'll excuse me."

In a few minutes, the doctor had disappeared down the corridor and whispered a few directions in Smythe's ear. Rolf and Nigel soon found themselves being lead up a winding, creaking staircase and into a roomy guestchamber coated in centuries of dust.

It took Rolf no more than a few seconds to draw the blinds, drop Laurelei's box onto the floor and pop the lid.

The princess was already waking up with a loud yawn. She was still wrapped in a blanket and her face was buried in a silk pillow. "Rolf?" she asked, rolling over and gently rubbing her eyes. "Is it already time to wake me?" Suddenly she stopped as she looked past Rolf and at the the surroundings behind him. She popped up into a sitting position and looked around more intently. "Was this really the finest inn you could find? It is filthy and has a foul odour."

"Well, we're not at an inn."

Laurelei focused her gaze on Rolf, fingers drumming against the edge of her trunk. "Rolf, where are we?"

Getting to his feet, the necronom stuffed his hands in his pockets and aimed his gaze toward the ceiling. "Nigel mentioned some rumours he'd heard for the last couple years. He mentioned a man in Vaulkin that-"

"Vaulkin!?" Laurelei cut in as her brow knit itself in frustration. "No, this will not do. You had strict directions, we were supposed to move further South. The longer we stay in Ossium, the better chance we have of Gutterwink locating us."

"Laurel, just listen. This man might be able to make me human again!"

The princess sat in brief silence. "No, he cannot."

"You don't know that," Rolf said. "He says he just needs magical aid and he might be able to do it."

Nigel let out a loud huff from the other side of the room. "This whole situation is despicable. Playing with dead bodies like toys and turning them into flesh puppets to do his bidding. Truly a vile practice."

"Yeah, I bet you're a great judge of morality, piggy. You spent the last two decades robbing innocent villagers," said Rolf.

"Don't test my patience boy!"

"Both of you, silence." Laurelei declared as she rose from her trunk and threw her blanket aside. "As far as I'm concerned, this fool can play with corpses all he likes, it hardly matters once they're dead. On the other hand, I will not condone and I will certainly not assist in using magic to ressurrect the dead."

"You already did once before, why is now different?" Rolf asked, arms crossed over his chest.

Laurelei shook her head in exasperation. "Timing Rolf, it makes all the difference in the world. I didn't have to tear your soul from the other side, I just bound it to your body before it departed. Trying to use magic to actually bring back someone who's dead, truly and completely passed. It goes beyond being dangerous and into the realm of pure insanity. No, I will not partake in any of this mad man's experiements, thank you. Now, before all this dust damages my lungs, I request we leave immediately."

"No." Rolf said bluntly. "You could at least meet the doctor and listen to what he has to say. He's hosting us for the night and this mansion is so far out of the way it'd be the best place to lie low in this whole town. He's preparing dinner for tonight, you could at least attend and talk to him. This could be my one chance to get my human self back!"

"You ask me to meddle in things you couldn't possibly understand," said Laurelei. "Magic, life, death, it's not all so simple. Men have searched for millennia for a way to cheat death, that's how vampires and necronoms came to be. But nobody has ever found a way to do such a thing without sacrificing their humanity, it simply cannot be done."

"Really?" Rolf said suspiciously. "So when you said that you'd help me get me body back, you never intended to have to deliver on that promise, did you?"

"I didn't say that, but... It is most likely that no such possibility exists."

"... If you can't help me, than maybe Doctor Foerster can. I'm staying hear. If you want to leave then fine, good luck on your own." Before Laurelei could get another word out, Rolf had disappeared through the door, leaving her alone with Nigel.

"Lady Lockheart, should I retrieve him?"

Laurelei pressed her fingertips to her temples and let out a long sigh. "Leave me Nigel. I have a dinner to dress for."

Later that evening, Rolf found himself seated at a spacious dining table table across from Nigel while Doctor Foerster sat at the head of the table. Behind the doctor stood a towering, muscular being with long scraggly hair and flesh so thouroughky stitched together that it resembled a skin quilt. It's hair hung over its face and a pair of big blue eyes stared out from behind the tangled mess.

A varied spread of simple but bountiful food sat on the table. Nigel was already on his fourth glass of wine while Rolf eyed the meals with disinterest.

"My apologies Rolf," said the doctor. "I may have forgotten that Necronoms don't eat. Of course Mr.Hawethorn is more than welcome to have his fill and I'm sure he will eat more than enought to compensate. I hate to ask, but when will our sorceress friend be arriving?"

Polishing off another bottle of wine and wiping his muzzle with a handkerchief, Nigel spoke up. "The lady said that she would be arriving as soon as she had time to dress appropriately."

In just a few moments, the clickety clack of footsteps came from the hall and Laurelei emerged wearing a slightly more ornate dress than usual. "Doctor Foerster, I presume?" she asked as she took a seat across the table from him.

"Indeed. I must say, you are younger than I thought you would be. You must be quite brilliant to have acquired any level of magical skill at such an age. Or perhaps you are of a longer lived persuasion."

"Both, actually," Laurelei said. "You may address me as Lady Milliciant Blackwood. Now, let me make myself abundantly clear, I have no interest in assisting you with your experiments but I have deigned it worth my time to, at the very least investigate the possibility that you may have crafted something worth the attention of my academic pedigree."

The doctor smiled habitually and smoothed his hands through his shaggy mat of hair. "I appreciate the effort, Lady Blackwood. I will have one of my servants prepare proper sustenance for you." The doctor whispered into the ear of the being at his side and in moments it lumbered out of the dining room and into the kitchen. "I must say, your work on Mr.Ziegel is excellent. He is well perserved and the stitching on his inuries has such fine attention to detail." The doctor laughed softly and began serving himself a plate. "Do you know what they call me in the village? Samuel the Stitcher. An affectionate little nickname that I've come to enjoy over the years. My experiments have done so much good for them over the years. They guard the city at nights and perform simple manual labour, the village has never been so prosperous as it has in the last decade."

Laurelei eyed Samuel's enourmous experiment on its way out, closely examining its details. "Am I expected to be impressed? Over ten years of work and all your science has been able to do is scrounge together a few rubbish necronoms? Apologies Doctor, but I could accomplish that in a matter of hours. It seems you need me more than I need you."

The doctor sighed, lowering his head. "At least you waited until she left the room. She's been very self-conscious since the accident, I would prefer if you didn't say things like that around her."

"What are you talking about?" Laurelei asked.

Just then, the huge creature reappeared with a bottle of warm blood in hand and placed it on the table infront of Laurelei. At the doctor's beckon it circled around the table and stood at his side. He reached out and gave it a gentle pat on the hand. "This Abbey. My wife... and also Ellie, my daughter."

Silence settled in around the table and three pairs of eyes slowly shifted toward the doctor.

"Let me explain," he said in a calm voice. "There was an accident several years ago, a fire. You can likely glean that from the state of my manor. My wife and daughter were both killed. I salvaged what I could from there bodies and built them a new one. A strong one so that they could never be harmed again."

"No," said Laurelei. "Not today, not ever, I'm leaving." The girl dropped from her seat and made for the corridor.

Once she was in the hall she heard someone come up behind and was suddenly turned around to face Rolf. "Laurel, wait. We can't just leave."

"Rolf, this man is evidently unwell and his experiments are dangerous. Soulless, shambled together golems of human flesh, does that not unnerve you?"

"I know but... He could be my only chance. He doesn't seem dangerous just kind of sad."

"It makes no difference. I will not partake in this mess."

"Laurelei please, we need at least see what he's doing. You said what he's doing could be dangerous. If it isn't we can learn from it and if it's not we can put a stop to it. Either way, we can't just leave."

The princess bit her lip and looked away, shuffling her feet and shaking her head.

"Excuse me?" said the doctor as he peeked around the corner. "I am very sorry that I upset you, my lady. I-I, I am aware that my methods are unconventional but..." the doctor trailed off slowly and took a deep breath. "I only want to good, I swear. If you just stay here for only a few days I can prepare something for you. I can show you what I've been working on and if you ask it of me, I will shut down my experiments. All my research notes, all my equipment, it will all be yours. I only request that you give me a chance to prove that my science is worth your consideration."

Laurelei locked eyes with the doctor and took up the most confident and noble posture she could manage. "Not for you. Not for your experiments or for academia would I even consider such an idea." she said. "But I am a lady. I will take your experiments into consideration if only to maintain my promise to Mr.Ziegel."
Guul'Zaroth Ch.15 The Stitcher
First: Guul'Zaroth Ch.1 The Wolfsguard

If anyone is curious about the different gods that have been mentioned sporadically throughout the story, I'll have the details down below.

Shepherds of The Guardian: Primary religion in most of Agares, the Guardian believed to be the protector of humanity and lord of light. The Guardian was the first man, created by the will of the planet itself to rid it of an all consuming darkness. The Guardian slew the demons that populated the earth's surface and cast them into the sky where they become the moon and empowered their dark servants. Those that survived his divine wrath become the earthly demons that prowl the shadows to this day.

The moon empowered the servants of darkness and so, after creating humanity to protect his beloved world, he cast himself into the sky and become the sun, bane of the dark creatures. This is believed to be the reason the werewolves and other dark things prowl only in the moonlight and why the sun kills vampires. In this mythology, all of humanity has a sacred duty to slay the dark creatures and remove their influence from the world. They believe that humanity was born to cleanse the world of evil.

Despite their beliefs, the Guardians are currently in a peace agreement with the kingdom of Agares. The symbol of the Shepherds is the sun.

Braehulind of The Wilds: Worshiped in Northern Agares and more commonly in the nations to the North and West of Agares, Braehulind is a nature god. Braehulind is a great hunter and priests, known as Wardens, must exemplify the might of the wilds. They emphasize family and protection. Wardens abide by a strict code of honour that entails they must always act in the interest of those under their protection (often entire villagers) and pursue swift and violent revenge against those who have circumvented that protection.

The symbol of Braehulind is a mighty oak tree.

Demonblood Wulforth: A real man, venerated as a god. Their are seven demons in Guul'Zaroth, Death, Fury, Hatred, Tyranny, Madness, Fear and Violation. Nearly 1,000 years ago there was an eigth demon, Sorrow. While the others tend to stay within their dark realms, Sorrow ravaged the world until Wulforth slayed her. He stands as the only mortal to ever accomplish such a feat and was likened to the Guardian for his power. He proceeded to consume Sorrow's heart to prevent her from being reborn.

This act drove Wulforth to insanity but granted him immeasurable power. With his last shred of sanity he crucified himself a top the highest mountain in Agares, now known as Demon's Reach, where he lays in eternal, deathless slumber. Few have ever climbed the mountain to verify if Wulforth is or ever was there (even less so now that the vampires have declared such an act treasonous and have guards on constant watch around the mountain).

Wulforth is worshipped in small sects of slayers, those who train themselves and their children from birth to destroy all they percieve as aberrant or evil. They look to Wulforth's example and hold selflessness as their chief point of guidance. Give all of ones self to destroy the darkness. The most famous of these slayers is Graveth, notorious paragon of their creed, inheritor of Wulforth's blade Demonbane and widely recognized as the greatest mortal warrior since Wulforth himself.

The worship of Wulforth is outlawed by the vampire regime. They have no symbol as their order remains very secretive.

Carmilla The First: Originally a mortal woman and powerful sorceress, Carmilla single handedly birthed the vampire race. Over 1,000 years ago, Carmilla used dark magic to become a creature of the night and spread her curse across the land. Her reign of terror was ended after a battle with newly demon empowered Wulforth injured her. Carmilla resigned herself to an endless rest in a location lost to man, allowing her vampiric children to rule in her stead.

Carmilla is worshipped as The First and the Dark Mother by her children. The battle between Wulforth and Carmilla that resulted in both immortals disappearing from the earth has created a lasting enmity between the vampires and the slayers and both groups long for the day that their progenitor will return.

Her symbol is a grey, circular crest feature a bat. It is also the symbol of the royal family of Agares as Methuselah claims to have been bit by Carmilla herself and is therefore a direct descendant of her line.

The Lifeless: God of death, the Lifeless has many roles in various religions throughout Guul'Zaroth. Sometimes a guide who fills a necessary role, sometimes a cunning villain that seeks to sow death in the world of the living and sometimes a mere observer who oversees the lives of those who pass, few things reamin constant about the Lifeless; but he is always there, always a fixture.

His symbol is a white moth.
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With a pair of steaming cups in her hand, Dragana sat across the table from Edwin and slid one of the mugs toward him. He slouched in his chair and stared into the dark pool of his drink for a long, silent moment. Despite the blazing hearth in the corner, he and Dragana wore thick fur housecoats and drank deeply from their tea.

"I haven't seen Rosealynn in the market since... that night," said Dragana while absentmindedly twirling one of her crimson braids. "The townsfolk miss her medicines."

"Draga, she's barely left the house in months. I can go days without even hearing her voice." Edwin lowered his head into his hands and smoothed down his grey streaked beard. "She misses him. Those two, they'd been friends since day one, playing together as babies, making mischief as children. Then they grew up and Rosealynn just had to be in love with that idiot. Most men would have strangled a boy like Rolf for pursuing his daughter but..."

She shook her head and downed another mouthful of tea. "Edwin, this is the most you've talked about him since the funeral."

He tried to smile when he thought about Rolf but his best efforts came up short. "Do you remember how at the end of the week, right around 8 o'clock, he'd come storming into the fort and challenge me to a duel? Every night, right around that time, my heart stops for a moment when the door opens and it's not him." He lifted his head to look Dragana in the eyes. "Why couldn't he just listen?" Edwin swallowed his cup in one gulp and got to his feet. He stood next to the window and gazed into the slowly building blizzard and the swirling zephyr's of frosty wind. "We promised Rieker we'd look after his son. I watched him grow up, I looked out for him for years and still I couldn't protect him."

He felt Dragana's hand on his and turned to see her donning a rare smile.

Suddenly, a loud rapping at the door stole Edwin's attention away. "I'm not receiving visitor's at the moment," he called out.

"Edwin, it's damn cold out here and I'll not take no for an answer. Open this cursed door!"

"Who the hell is that?" Edwin shook his head, stomped toward the door and threw it open. He was about to tell whoever it was go home but was stopped in his when he revealed the grizzled figure of Solomon, leaning on a cane and covered in a big fur coat.

"This cannot possibly... Solomon?" Edwin said under his breath.

"Aye it is, and not quite so dead as previously thought," the old man replied as he pushed past Edwin and slammed the door behind him.

By the time Solomon reached the middle of the room, Dragana was on her feet and had her sword pointed squarely in his direction. "Who the hell are you, barging in here and looking far too much like a dead man?"

Solomon stamped his cane on the ground and stood as straight as he could manage. "Miss Molotova, I would request that you put down the sword at least long enough for me to explain myself. If you want to kill me afterwards, and you probably will, then so be it. For now, sit the hell down and shut the hell up."

Edwin skirted around to Dragana's side flashed grim glare at the intruder. "Then start talking. What the hell happened that night?"

Solomon hobbled over the nearby window and reached into his coat pocket. From inside he pulled a small locket and placed it on a nearby table. Drawing the sleeve back on his coat, he raised his right arm to the window and held it under the moonlight for a moment. Within a few seconds, something started to move under his skin. The muscles in his forearms bulged and thick white hair sprung from the flesh. His fingernails grew into thick claws and his one good eye tightened shut as his body struggled with the changes. After a few seconds more, Solomon yanked his arm back and snapped up the locket. The moment the trinket was back in his grasp, the change started to reverse itself and his limb returned to human form.

The room was quiet for a time until Dragana spoke up. "He was right. I do want to kill him."

Edwin shot up to his feet looked coldly at the man before him. "What the hell is going on here!?"

"The night I disappeared, you remember the wolf that killed Bhaltair. It may have been me."

"You're one of them," Dragana asked.

Solomon scoffed at the suggestion. "Spoken like a true wolf-hunter. You have no idea what we are."

"I am not about to debate this with you!" said Edwin. "They kill our people and we kill there's. We put an end to their curse and their suffering."

"And what position do you stand in to make that decision for them? Would you end my suffering, Edwin? I'll have you know, I'm rather happy with my life."

"I don't care what they are. I care only that they are far too dangerous to treat as anything other than a threat. Now you stand in the middle of my house while my daughter sleeps in the next room. If you don't explain yourself right now, right damn now! I am going to do you in like so many wolves before you. Am I clear?"

Solomon rolled his one good eye and presented his locket. "Fresh wolfsbane, I carry it with me always. Respite from the curse. So long as I carry this, I am human. You've no worry from me."

Edwin sighed deeply and gestured for Dragana to lower her weapon. "Solomon... I once called you a friend. At the very least, I will listen to what you have to say."

And so, the werewolf took a seat and went over recent events with Edwin and Dragana while tactically omitting certain elements related to a certain supposedly dead man. Why he killed Bhaltair, where he'd been the past year and why the recent surge in werewolf attacks.

When Solomon's tale came to an end, Edwin stared into his second cup of tea for the night while slowly stroking his beard. "You mean to tell me that you kept the wolves at bay for all those years."

Solomon nodded. "They're more than just animals. They form their packs with hierarchy and certain rules. One such rule is that they respect the hunting grounds of other wolves and at over seventy years, I hold seniority over most. You don't find many old werewolves around with men and women like the wolfsguard to prune the ones that get too far over the hill."

Dragana, who'd finally removed her hand from the hilt of her sword, was next to speak up. "But why? Why do you live as a hermit? Why not join a pack like the others?"

Solomon shook his head at the idea. "Some of us embrace the beast within. Those are the pack wolves. Others suppress it and live among civilized folk while keeping a safe distance. You're looking at one of the latter and there are far more of us than you know. We learn how to hide it and of course, we look out for our own."

"So," said Edwin. "What now? Why come back?"

"Simple. The hunts need to end, on both sides. I've some work to do tonight. I'm going to let every wolf in the area know that Ulfenmoor is my territory and you shouldn't have any more issues with the pack as a whole, so long as you don't venture into their territory. Perhaps a few stragglers here or there but nothing you can't handle."

"What about us?" Dragana asked. "What about the Wolfsguard."

"Miss Molotova, if you must know, the winds of change are blowing. We will have need of great warriors in the very near future. Until then, enjoy a much earned rest." Solomon adjusted his coat and started toward the door. "And Captain Bastaff, if you wouldn't mind," he said as he placed a small, rolled parchment on the table. "Be sure that your daughter sees this."

Edwin stared at the letter for a long moment before nodding in compliance. "Good luck Solomon... And thank you."

The evening faded into morning and things proceeded as normal with one notable exception. Edwin began organizing efforts to rebuild the damaged property near the edges of town. So many homes had been left in shambles because there was little point in repairing what would only be knocked down again a month later.

The next night, Solomon found himself standing in a small clearing at the edge of town. It was here that his cabin once stood. Now it was simple a pile of blackened, scorched scraps of wood, buried under mounds of snow.

The sound of someone trudging toward him grew nearer but Solomon kept his eyes on the moon and his hands stuffed in his coat pockets.

"You came back. I knew you would." Rosealynn's voice drew Solomon's eyes back toward the ground. She was dressed in thick winter garb and her voice was muffled by the same cloth mask as usual.

"I had to. If I'd never left, you'd never have lost Rolf. I thought I'd be doing this village a favour by going."

From the moment Rolf's name was uttered, Rosealynn averted her eyes and stared at the swirling flurries that scored across the ground. "It's okay, Mr.Solomon. It's not your fault. Rolf... Rolf made a mistake and... and I don't want to talk about Rolf right now. If that's okay with you, Mr.Solomon."

"No, it's not okay," Solomon replied.

Rosealynn stood stunned for a moment but before she could utter another word, Solomon took her by the shoulders and smiled warmly.

"We're going to about Rolf because he's not dead."

Rosealynn stared back at Solomon and her eyes grew wide behind her mask. "Wh-what do you mean? We held a funeral and... He was carried away by a werewolf that night and-,"

"And he killed it," Solomon said, cutting in. "He's still out there somewhere Rosealynn. I know, because I met him."

The girl's eyes lit up and her voice came out in a trembling warble. "Wh-where is he?"

"I don't know. But he'll be back. I don't know when but he will. He has things he needs to do out there but someday soon, he'll be back."

Rosealynn's eyes lifted toward the moon and a few small tears of happiness welled up in her eyes. "D-did he say anything?"

"Mostly curse words and threats."

Rosealynn laughed softly and wrapped her arms around Solomon, hugging him tightly. "Yeah, that sounds like him."
Laurelei stared at the crumbly mess on her plate, absently poking at it with he fork. The somewhat too darkened cake was topped with soft, drooping strawberries. She stared at it skeptically with cloudy eyes, her brow furrowed and her chin resting in her palm. "It didn't look like this on the sign outside," she said with a sigh.

"Just eat it, Laurel." Rolf sat across the little wooden table and leaned back in the cushioned booth sat. He looked across the cafe floor and toward the window panelled wall on the opposite side of the building. The little two storey cafe rested on a hill, just at the edge of the High Grove woods. The moonlight streamed over tree lines and cast silvery panes of light into the room, combating the warm orange glow of the single candle resting atop the pair's table. Patrons were few at this time of night and only a single server shuffled around the floor and attended to the half a dozen or so customers. Laurelei's loud yawn brought Rolf's attention back to the table.

"Hey," Rolf said. "Aren't you the one who's always telling me to sit up straight at the table and stuff?"

Her eyelids drooped and she shook her head lazily. "Forgive my poor table manners, I was awake for most of the day." She yawned again and straightened up, simultaneously reaching for her tea cup and saucer.

"Drinking blood again?"

Laurelei narrowed her sleepy eyes on Rolf. "I am a vampire," she said before taking a short sip.

"Gross."

Their conversation was abruptly cut short by the sound of the door's bell clattering a pair of screams. "Monster!" the chef cried.

"Stand aside pastry servant, I have business inside!" a familiar, booming voice filled the entire cafe and was quickly accompanied by thudding footsteps.

Rolf peeked around the side of the booth to spot the huge pig man as he stomped through the front door. "Nigel? The hell are you doing here!?"

Laurelei remained silent, set her cup down and massaged temples with her fingertips.

"Master Rolf, Lady Lockheart, I have come forth with a request!" the general declared; his voice rattling the windows.

"Damnit Nigel, indoor voice!" said Rolf.

"And do avoid yelling my proper name!" Laurelei retorted in a chastising tone. "Rolf and I are trying to remain covert in our dealings."

"I see... Apologies my lady." Nigel took a knee and bowed his head respectfully. Despite his cursed form, his posture and pose was impeccable. Whether or not his story was true, he was definitely military. "Master and Lady, I have to come to request a position in your service."

"I'm sorry?" Laurelei said with a stunned look on her face. "You are aware of who I am? You lead the war against my father's armies, we are enemies."

"No, we're not. Your father, your brothers and all the counts in their court are my enemies. You are a child. You've never faced me on the battlefield or killed my men."

"But what could you possibly gain by joining us?"

"I do not know but I am positive that I stand to gain far more than I do drunkenly exploiting a small, terrified village in a most disreputable manner. I bring shame to my name and my house by my actions. No more. Lady Lockheart, you use your influence and power to make this kingdom a better place. You went out of your way to stop me from harming your people. I didn't know there were vampires like that. If you would have me, I will stand at your side and aid in making Agares a better place for all."

Laurelei cast her sleepy eyes toward Rolf and then back toward the pig man kneeling before her. "There are so very many reasons for me to decline. Discretion would be nearly impossible with a giant pig in our midst. And of course such companionship would hardly reflect well on one of my status. It would be remiss for a princess to be seen trotting about with a pig."

Nigel's head drooped and his eyes locked onto the ground. A long, cold silence hung in the air until Laurelei's voice cut it short. "However, an exception could be made if that pig just so happened to be a great general. Nigel P. Hawthorne, you are conscripted into the service of Laurelei Marie Lockheart from this point until I deem that you have atoned for your crimes against the people of Agares."

A smile tugged at the edges of his snout and Nigel rose to his feet, head held high for the first time in a great many years. "I thank you, your highness."

Rolf leaned in, half smilingly as he whispered to Laurelei. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Of course not, it's a dreadful idea but I can't exactly leave him to traipse about and wreak havoc on his own." Turning her attention toward Nigel once again, she cleared her throat with a little cough. "Now, for your first order," she said as held her plate of dessert toward her newest servant. "Finish this cake for me... It looked better on the sign."
"Laurelei!" The roar of Rolf's voice was accompanied by the crash of a glass bottle smashing against the wall. "Get down here you lazy brat!" Rolf stood in an old, solid log tavern. It was small, cramped and cozy with only a few tables, two employees and a humble stone hearth. A serving girl cowered in the corner and avoiding eye contact with the angry necronom.

The vampire princess appeared at the top of the stairs in yet another new dress. Soft, deep reds and small gold accents, replete with her usual ribbons, ruffles and jewels. Her mouth was pulled into a tight frown and her cheeks puffed up with impetuous annoyance. She shifted a cold glance toward the serving girl, marched down the stairs, straight up to Rolf and stood as tall as she could on her tip toes to stare him in the eyes. It lost much of its effect when she could hardly get taller than his waist. "You idiot!" she hissed, keeping her voice low. "We are trying to avoid attention but you decide to yell my name as loud as you can!?"

Rolf took a knee and looked at Laurelei eye to eye, matching her expression with a scowl of his own. "Hold the hell on Laurel, we need to talk!"

"I've told you not to call me that!" Laurelei fussed and stomped and clenched her fangs together in frustration.

"I want you to explain to me why I just drank four bottles, four bottles of wine and I don't feel anything!?"

"Is that what this little tantrum is about?" she asked, rolling her eyes at him. "You. Are. Dead. Your body no longer processes alcohol like a living person's would."

"On top of all the other crap you've put me through, I can't even drink now!?"

"I can't believe you've delayed my rest for this nonsense. This is hardly a matter of any importance."

"Not important huh!? Fine, let's see how you enjoy getting around Agares without a slave to drag you around."

"Are you implying that I need you? Hardly, any fool could do your job."

"Oh you little-!" Rolf stopped in mid-sentence, clenched his teeth and stormed off toward the door in a flurry of muffled expletives.

"Where are you going?"

"Out!"

"You may not."

"Go to Hell!"

"Rolf, return this instant! I cannot follow you out there; it's nearly dawn!"

"Good!"

"Wait, Rolf I'm sorr-..." before she could finish, Rolf was gone; slamming the door behind him so hard that he rattled the whole building.

Laurelei's face was frozen in place for nearly half a minute as she stared at the door. Gradually, she closed her eyes, inhaled deeply and relaxed. Her composure shifted back into place with but a thought and she turned to the tavern server. With the quiet click-clack of her shoes, she walked up to the girl and reached into one of her own ruffled sleeves. Laurelei produced two golden coins and planted them in the girls hand. "For the trouble. And potentially your silence on this terrible indiscretion. So long as you remain reliably reticent, you'll receive another four golden lox when my servant and I depart your inn. Am I understood?"

The woman stared at the coins in disbelief. "Oh, completely clear my lady. At the very least, it's clear that I don't make this much in six months!"

With that taken care of, Laurelei turned her attention inwards. "What did I do to upset him so much?"

Meanwhile, the tavern had disappeared behind a cluster of trees and Rolf found himself angrily pacing up and down the small country roads. High Grove was as easy to miss as a village could get. It sat nestled with trees surrounding it on all sides, only small dirt paths leading in and out and no connection to the main roads. The community was mostly small clusters of sturdy, snow dusted cottages with a few hunting lodges at the edges. The old nameless inn where Rolf and Laurelei stayed was the closest thing to accommodations this place had. Luckily it was just remote enough that its streams and animals weren't poisoned by the miasma that had ravaged Arlentis.

The weather had only grown more frigid since he'd left Ulfenmoor. The journey North was made only colder by the passing months. He could feel flakes of snow gathering in his hair and the soft crunch of frozen grass under his feet. He reflexively rubbed his chin and was momentarily curious to find it smooth. He almost laughed at himself. How stupid was he to think for even a moment that his hair might keep growing now that he was a necronom. So many little things he didn't need to or couldn't do anymore. He ran his hand through his black mane and pulled at his hair in frustration. "Last thing I needed today was just another reminder that I'm not a person anymore."

The village grew more distant and the sky turned a rosy-pink as the sun threatened to rise above the horizon at any moment. Rolf had gone to the edge of the village and circle around its outskirts in the expectation that it would be quiet, completely so. For the most part that was true but something stood out among the rustling of branches and the chirp of morning songbirds. It sounded like voices, a lot of them. Rolf's head instinctively tilted in their direction and saw the soft flicker of torchlight amid the trees. He wondered briefly if it could have been a hunting party but that didn't seem likely. Such noise and an unsubtle campsite would surely alert their prey. Curiosity got the better of him and Rolf found himself creeping closer.

The trees slid away to reveal a small clearing with a well-worn dirt path leading away from the village. In the clearing stood a group of a dozen or so villagers, heads bowed low and torches in hand. They all kneeled in front of an old wooden cart, loaded to the breaking point with breads, meats and casks of wine.

Rolf carelessly meandered into the clearing and immediately drew the attention of the villagers inside. "What is all this?" he asked.

One of the people urgently raised a finger to his lips and shushed Rolf, before pointing toward the path. Heavy footsteps rattled the ground and shook leaves from the trees, accompanied by a dark, hulking figure in the distance. With a few lumbering strides it moved into the clearing and stomped to a halt. It towered at nearly seven feet tall and its body was more than twice as broad as any man's. It was roughly humanoid in shape, but most of its figure was covered by a ragged, black fur cloak pulled down over the eyes and obscuring everything beneath the shoulders. What Rolf could see was a great pinkish snout and curved tusks protruding from the shadows.

Rolf watched with a wide eyed gaze and his hand inched toward his sword. "What the hell did I walk in on?"

The thing snorted and shot great plumes of icy mist from its nostrils. One huge hand reached toward a leather leash bound on either side of the cart.

Rolf's hand was on the hilt of his blade but before he could draw it, one of the villagers took hold of his arm.

"No," the man said in a hushed voice. "You cannot kill it, just let it take the supplies and everything will be fine."

"What? You just feed this thing because you're scared of it?" Rolf snarled at the man holding his arm and threw him back with a powerful shove. "Why not just deal with the problem and kill the stupid creature? Watch I'll do the damn job for ya. I felt like hitting something today anyway."

"No!" all the villagers cried out at once. Rolf ignored the chorus of protests and stomped forward, slinging his sword from its sheath and pointing it straight at the monster's snout.

It squealed angrily and reached behind its back. In a flurry of whirling snow drifts it drew out a massive, studded, sphere headed mace. The weapon was as long as most men's whole bodies and covered in countless dents, scratches and a few bloodstains.

"What the hell!? Is that even a weapon!?"

The heavy steel ball swung around with hundreds of pounds of thick muscle behind it. In a blink, Rolf found his whole body making fast and violent contact before he was tossed aside. The single smack was all it took to put Rolf on his back, his vision swimming with scattered colours and flashes of light. His undead state made unconsciousness an impossibility but the rattling that blow gave him was about as close as he'd ever get to sleep again. He couldn't see straight for what must have been minutes and when he tried to speak his mouth spilled out a slew of wordless noises in the vein of, "Habble whutta fleeper."

After a time, the ring in his ears disappeared and he blinked away all the additional images that his addled brain deemed appropriate for the occasion. "What just happened?" he groaned, looking between the bearded faces of the village men surrounding him.

"You just ran afoul the Boar-Man," said one of the the villagers as he helped Rolf to his feet. "Do you see why we just give him what he wants? Saves us a funeral or two. The village is less prosperous for it but we all get to go home to our families."

Rolf shook his head again and brushed the snow from his coat. "Where did it come from, what is it?"

The village man shrugged. "We don't know. It just arrived one day, over twenty years ago. It started by wandering into the village, stealing our food and wine, eating our livestock and scaring away the prey. It would crush fences and knock down walls after it had its fill of the drink. We tried killing it, we couldn't. It's a mighty thing. We've experience slaying the occasional wild boar but this is hardly the same. We figured if we just gave it what it wanted, outside the village, we'd be better off."

Rolf retrieved his sword and slid it into his sheath before looking the village men in the eyes. "That's a big mace it swings around. Think I'll keep it after I cut the bastard's head off."

"You'll what!?" a man said. "If you weren't already a walking corpse, you'd be halfway buried right now!"

Rolf shrugged. "He got a lucky hit. I'm not interested in losing anymore so I'm going to find this thing, stick my sword through its mouth, out the other end and roast it on a spit. Where can I find it?"

The men looked stunned, all shaking their heads and sighing in exasperation. "I don't have to wonder how you ended up dead in the first place then. If you want to do it again, that's your business. You can find him holed up in the old fort down the road. It's from the before the unification. Old as dirt and barely standing. Can't miss it."

"Thanks for the directions. I'll expect some kind of celebration in my honour when I come back."

"Aye we'll have one ready to go," said the man. "In fact, we'll start funeral preparations right away."

Back at her room at the inn, Laurelei sat on her knees with her travel trunk in front of her like a desk. "Awful. I cannot believe he'd be so stupid as to make me do this," she said to herself as she worked. Her magic tome was splayed out before her and she was performing the finishing touches on a new sigil.

It was a flowing, rounded symbol with an eight point compass running around the edges. She popped the stopper into her ink vial, tucked it away and retrieved another. This bottle had a rounded shape, a flat bottom, red contents and a label. The label read 'Dead Boy in Woods,' though that had been scratched out and replaced with 'Rolf.' Stopper removed, she dabbed her quill into the bottle and scrawled a name in the centre of the sigil. 'Hrodwulf Ziegel.'

"There we are," she said with a little smile of satisfaction, following up with a loud yawn. "Oh dear. It is well past the hour of my rest. I should be-," her sentence was cut off by yet another yawn. "Ahem. I should be retiring to my coffin at any... moment." She stumbled through her usually precise words but shook her head to clear away the encroaching exhaustion. "No, no. To work Laurelei, now is no time for rest," she said, chastising herself. Briskly she waved her hand over the page and the ink and blood dried in place instantly. Laurelei then pulled the page from the book and held it up by the corners. In mere moments, one of the arrows lit up, pointing her roughly Northwest. "Now to go outside..." Laurelei took a long, nervous breath before finishing the sentence. "... in the sun."

Out the door of the little inn stepped a most peculiar figure. Laurelei was dressed in the thickest cloak she owned with the hood pulled down over her eyes and a scarf wrapped all the way up to her nose, she carried a parasol in her right hand. Her back was pressed against the wall of the inn and she cowered in the shade, eyes wide as dinner plates and her whole body shaking. "Dreadful, terrible, awful, awful, awful!"

Never leaving the shadow of the inn, she inched along the wall until she approached its edge. The shade stopped and open sunlight stood between Laurelei and the relatively safe cover of the forest canopy. Her chest heaved in and out as she breathed so fast one would swear she just outran a pack of hungry wolves. "Hot, so terribly hot. Why must the sun scorn my people and burn our flesh so? Just take deep breaths. Deep breaths, deep breaths, deep breaths... Run!" Laurelei pulled the parasol down low and made a mad dash toward the shade. The gap was hardly ten metres across but by the time Laurelei stood at the other end, in stretch of mostly consistent shade, she looked almost ready to pass out. Her eyes were wet and what little of her face was exposed appeared red and terrified.

Immediately she felt a searing pain in her right index finger. The nail and surrounding area was aflame and that section of her white glove had been scorched to ash. Panic set in and she ripped the garment away before jamming her finger in her mouth and whining loudly. "Ow, ow, ow!" she squeaked before taking her finger out and giving it a shake. The appendage bore slight burn marks but nothing permanent. Laurelei forced herself to relax, pulled a replacement glove from a pocket inside her cloak and slipped it over her hand. "Now, to find Rolf." From her cloak, Laurelei drew her magic compass and held it out in front. She followed the arrows as they lit up, hurrying as fast as her rather short legs could carry her. She was slowed significantly by the need to circle around clearings and play hop scotch over beams of light from time to time. Even with the shade, her body felt like it was trying to torture her for being out during the day. Her head ached as if she had suddenly developed a terrible fever and she felt the occasional searing hot flash of pain streak across random points on her body.

Eventually, Laurelei saw a broad structure coming into view. It stood out between the trees, a wide, stout fortress with tattered heraldry swaying from its rooftop. The banners were near impossible to identify at this point. What hadn't been ripped away had been washed out by centuries of storms. The outer walls had all but crumbled and the entire left wing of the old fort had met much the same fate. In the distance, approaching those crumbling walls, was a ragged figure in a blue coat.

"Rolf!" Laurelei called. She dashed from the shade of the trees to that of the outer walls and cut the distance between herself and Rolf clean in half.

Hearing that familiar, exceedingly posh voice would've made Rolf sigh in exasperation if he weren't to busy gasping at the fact that she had actually found a way to follow him. "What in the hell!? How did you get here; its daytime dammit!"

Laurelei stopped only a metre from Rolf and looked at him with mock indifference before replying. "It was not... Hnn!... Not without great difficulty, I assure you."

"Laurel, I do stupid crap on a near daily basis but you've got me beat this time. You're gonna die out here, I can hear you practically crying when you talk. Don't you see the huge glowing ball of fire in the sky? That's the sun! You know, that thing that kills vampires!"

"I couldn't just let you leave. You seemed very cross and I thought that you... You might not come back."

Rolf's brow lifted and he crossed his arms over his chest. "The hell makes you think that?"

"Well, you said-..."

"Yeah, I was pissed off. I didn't mean it, I just needed to go be by myself for a moment, think about some stuff. If I leave you out here you're gonna end up getting caught by Gutterwink. Besides, what else am I gonna do if not cart you around? Let's just get you inside before you catch fire and we both die."

Laurelei breathed a sigh of relief. She and Rolf quickly moved around the outer walls and ran toward the entrance to the fort. The doors had been torn down long ago and lay inside the front hall. They were in a variety of pieces and most of the wood was rotten and crumbling.

Once inside and a fair few steps away from the entrance, Laurelei pulled the scarf from her face and closed her parasol. "It may be time for me to ask precisely where we are and what we're doing here?"

"If you don't know then how did you find me?"

Laurelei drew a folded piece of paper from her bag and let it unfurl; revealing the compass sigil she'd created. The arrow pointing toward Rolf glowed a vibrant blue, indicating his close proximity. "With this. It's a necromancer's compass. All it takes is a few drops of the subject's blood and I can track anyone with ease."

"And where the hell did you get my blood!?"

Laurelei shrugged as she folded up the compass and tucked it away. "When I found you in the woods you had left a substantial amount of it lying on the ground. Keeping a small bottle of it may have proven useful for a variety of spells."

"Ugh, just don't drink any of it. That would feel weird."

"Agreed. Now, I ask again, where are we?"

Rolf took a look around for himself. The walls were old and battered and the floor was covered in debris blown in through the gates. A long hall lay ahead, decorated with tattered tapestries and crumbling statues. "It's an abandoned fortress. I ran into a monster and tracked it hear."

Laurelei Gave Rolf and appraising glance before continuing. "A monster?" With her parasol tucked under her arm she strode down the hall and gestured for Rolf to follow. "That is rather vague don't you think. Humans classify many things as monsters. Precisely what are we dealing with and why did you deem it necessary to follow it here?"

Rolf was at Laurelei's back, his hand on the hilt of his sword. "I don't know what it is exactly. It was like a big, pig man thing with a club. The villagers give it tribute so it doesn't eat them. I stepped in, it pounded me into the ground and took off. I decided I wanted a rematch."

"So it's extorting my subjects then?" Laurelei asked. "No, that won't do at all. We can hardly expect my kingdom to prosper when such offenses are allowed to continue. We will put a stop to this creature's behaviour at once."

The hall opened up into wide, sweeping chamber with a great arched roof. It had once been a grand dining hall where soldiers gathered to feast and celebrate before a battle. Long rectangular tables filled the room, more than half of them split, cracked or broken in half. All the tables were empty save for scattered dinnerware, all except for the one in the middle of the room. This table was piled high with fresh meats, casks of ale, wine and beer and empty crates and barrels scattered all around. Behind the table stood the creature, its cloak shrugged off to reveal its full form. It stuffed whole roast chickens into its pinkish snout; its white bristles stained with sauce and booze. With great, hulking shoulders and a big round belly, it must have weighed over half a ton.

Laurelei took in a deep breath but balked at the scent of stale booze that infested the room. "Oh how foul..." she said with her hand clasped over her nose.

The pig man pulled its snout from the meal in front it and stared at the duo. It maw parted and unleashed a deep, rumbling squeal. Snatching up a barrel of wine in its big, meaty fist, it hurled the object with the force of a catapult.

Rolf dashed forward and pressed a hand into Laurelei's shoulder, forcing her out of the way. "Move, move, move!" The barrel smashed into the stone floor and splintered into pieces. Alcohol sprayed in every direction and splashed the shoulders of Rolf's coat. "Damn, he's got a good arm!" As the words left Rolf's mouth, the table in front of him was upended with a swat from the pig man and was very quickly descending onto his position. "Son of a bitch!"

"Rolf, language!" Laurelei said in a chastising tone.

"Not now!" In a whirling motion he scooped up Laurelei, side stepped the collapsing table and ripped his sword from its sheath. He stood with the point of his blade pointed at the pig and a less than pleased looking Laurelei tucked under his arm. "Enough of that crap!" Rolf barked.

The pig man snorted back at him and hoisted up its massive bludgeon, letting it rest against his shoulder.

"The usual strategy then?" Laurelei said as she freed herself from Rolf's grasp and dropped to the floor. "You keep him occupied while I see what kind of sigils I can conjure."

Sighing and shaking his head, Rolf bent his knees and readied for a dash. "I hate the usual strategy." He took off at a headlong charge, a dining table on either side and countless empty barrels and scraps of decayed benches in his path. The pig creature lobbed another Barrel with surprising accuracy but Rolf weaved left and hopped onto the nearest table.

He reached the end of table and lunged into the air, his sword arcing toward his foe. The pig stepped back, of all things for a monster to do. Rolf's weapon whipped past its nose and smacked into the stone floor with a great clang. The pig returned with a blow and smacked Rolf's blade on the side, sending it sailing into the air. It came down edge first, nearly halfway across the dining hall, and bisected a stray table.

"Shit!" Rolf said.

Suddenly the pig was slamming its mace down in a series of vertical strokes and forced Rolf into a retreat. He stepped back as fast as he could and each of the pig's attacks smashed into the floor and scattered chips of stone and clouds of dust everywhere. Rolf backed up as far as he could when he felt his back slam into another heavy barrel of wine. The pig was lifting its mace for another strike but Rolf was quicker. In a swift smash he slammed his elbow into the top of the barrel and obliterated the lid. Then, summoning up his strength, he took hold of the barrel and thrust it forward, splashing it into the pig's face. Immediately the alcohol flooded its nostrils and eyes and a bout of coughing and snorting ensued and was quickly interrupted as Rolf smashed the barrel over the pig's head.

The creature staggered but it didn't buckle and in an alarmingly quick recovery, it replied by slamming its fist into Rolf's gut. "Hurk!" Rolf made a loud, pained wheezing noise and wrapped his arms around his gut. The blow hit so hard that Rolf was lifted from his feet and barely managed to remain standing after coming back down. He tried to lift his head but found a huge hand palming his entire skull. "No!" he protested in vain. The pig lifted him by his head and slammed him through the nearest table.

Rolf spent the next few seconds staring at the ceiling while lying in a pile of old dinnerware, half eaten food scraps and table chunks. "Okay, alright, you're strong. I-Gyahhhh shit!" Rolf's words were cut off as the pig placed its cloven hoof on his chest, applying all the pressure of its massive frame. "Damn, shit, hell, bastard, dammit all, prick, son-of-a-bitch this hurts!" Its foot was so massive that it encompassed the entire right half of Rolf's torso.

"Stop!" Laurelei said as she ran toward the creature, a single scrap of paper bunched up in her hands.

The pig narrowed its eyes at the approaching Laurelei. It saw her lifting the page and the streaks of light shooting across its surface. In but a moment its arm shot out and it snatched Laurelei up with its ease. She let out a scream of protest but could do nothing to stop it as her arms were pinned at he side. The pig held her at eye level and snarled at her.

Her face was a mix of fury and disgust as the smell of a creature soaking itself in cheap wine and beer for over two decades surrounded her. She struggled and and fought but she found it impossible to fight against the monster's grasp.

Rolf's free arm flailed wildly, punching the creature's ankles to no effect. His teeth clenched together and his eyes jammed shut, he willed himself to pause and think for just the briefest of moments. His hand shot down toward the dagger sheathed on his belt and pulled it free. In only a moment, the pig found five inches of silver jammed into its ankle, scraping the bone and blood coursing onto Rolf's jacket.

It let out a terrible squeal that rattled Laurelei's eardrums. Its grip loosened only slightly but it was all Laurelei needed. She pulled her arm free and held her sigil aloft. The page ignited in a blinding light and burnt out an instant. The pig reared its head back and loosed its grip, hurling Laurelei into the air and staggering off of Rolf.

Laurelei whirled in the air and as she reached the peak of her arc, she was suddenly surrounded by an inky black cloud. The smoke puffed out of existence all at once and Laurelei fluttered toward the ground in bat form.

Meanwhile, Rolf launched himself to his feet and charged the blinded pig. His silver knuckle dusters were on his fists in mere seconds and he slammed one right into the monster's snout. The punch jostled its head but it stayed its ground.

"Enough!" the pig said.

Rolf's fist stopped in mid-punch and he stared at the creature with his mouth agape.

"I have had quite enough of this today. I'm far too... inebriated to deal with this most recent monster slaying." Its voice was deep, somewhat slurred and surprisingly posh in its accent.

"What the hell!? You can talk!?"

Laurelei approached Rolf from the right, looking no less shocked. "Apologies, but what happened to the roaring and the squealing?"

The pig rubbed its watering eyes and snorted derisively. "Quite believable wasn't it? I've spent twenty years getting those monster sounds properly intimidating. Unfortunately you two decided to press the issue."

"Why would you need to practice pig monster sounds, you are a pig monster!" said Rolf.

The pig shook its big head. "Not exactly. I am Brigadier General Nigel P. Hawthorne the First. Grand warrior and recipient of a most dreadful curse," he said with his hand proffered for a shake.

"Like hell you are!" Rolf retorted as he slapped the creature's hand away.

"Indeed," Laurelei said. "Brigadier General Hawthorne died over twenty two years ago when the Agaresian Rebellion was resolved by Count Asmodeus Vaughn."

"Yeah, and he wasn't a pig either," Rolf added

The supposed Nigel was finishing up another cask of wine when he turned his gaze back toward the princess. "Like I said, I was cursed. Vaughn routed my forces and defeated me in battle. He could have killed me but he decided to make me suffer. He changed me into this. After that I went into hiding, I didn't want my family to see me as a monster and I didn't want the neckbiters to find me either. I don't care if you believe me, just leave me to my business. Usually a few swings of Bellringer and a roar or two is enough to scare your type off."

Rolf stared at the pig creature before him, taking note of the weapon in its hand. The club had looked rather unusual, but it now it was starting to become familiar. It matched descriptions of the great general's weapon very closely. "If what you're saying is true, you're one sad son of a bitch."

Nigel huffed indignantly and crossed his arms over his chest. "Don't talk down to me boy. What do you know?"

"Have you looked at my face? You're not the only one with a curse around here. Difference is, I'm not giving up, I'm not gonna stop until I'm alive again. The asshole the did this to you wanted to screw with you and you're just laying around here and giving him the satisfaction of it all? If you really are Nigel Hawthorne you'd try to find a way to break the curse."

"It cannot be broken. Not by any but the one who placed it on me."

"So what are you doing here? Why aren't you busting down his doors and beating him into submission until he reverses it?"

"Are you completely daft? Such an attempt would be a death sentence!"

Rolf turned his back and started to walk away. "Die trying or live the rest of your days as a drunken coward? I know what I'd pick."

Laurelei stayed for a brief moment longer, eyes closed in quiet contemplation. "Rolf is correct, I have a hard time believing that a man my brothers referred to as a worthy adversary would resort to such a pitiful existence. You discontinue your activities here and vacate this fortress within 24 hours. Otherwise I shall call upon my influence to have you removed."

"And what influence might that be?"

Laurelei's face had shifted to a cold frown and her eyes were narrowed to a most stern glare. "The influence of Princess Laurelei Marie Lockheart of Agares."

Without another word, Laurelei joined Rolf and left. Nigel sat alone in his old fortress in silence. He stared at his hammer and at the fortress that surrounded him. He remembered days past where he had sat in a dining hall much like this one and ate with an army of men that looked up to him and respected him. Now he sat alone, and the only man in the room despised him.
Guul'Zaroth Ch.13 - Legend
Description: To clarify on how vampires are affected by sunlight in my world. It is not instant death and only direct expose is lethal. Indirect exposure (so being in the shade of a tree or perhaps if it's a very cloudy day) is uncomfortable and painful. Laurelei's finger caught fire because her silk gloves are the thinnest protection she has and thus it burned away first.

Exposure causes the vampire to burn, magical flames spread across their body and permanently scar them. These flames can take many minutes (up to an hour at absolute maximum) to kill but they immediately cause intense pain and after only a few minutes will leave a vampire with permanent deformities. Hence why Laurelei is terrified but capable of moving around outside. Older, stronger vampires would be able to handle it better, in the same way that an adult can handle a fever better than a child.

First: Guul'Zaroth Ch.1 The Wolfsguard
Next: Guul'Zaroth - Interlude
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I am officially finished with editing Grimoire. In between all of life's other distractions, I've edited every chapter extensively and prepared for another run at publication. It's been submitted to multiple publishes and I am in the process of printing physical manuscripts for those publishers that request it. 

What this means is that I am back to weekly work on Guul'Zaroth. Starting next Friday we should see a chapter of my current project every week. So happy to back at active writing as opposed to merely editing. 
I am officially finished with editing Grimoire. In between all of life's other distractions, I've edited every chapter extensively and prepared for another run at publication. It's been submitted to multiple publishes and I am in the process of printing physical manuscripts for those publishers that request it. 

What this means is that I am back to weekly work on Guul'Zaroth. Starting next Friday we should see a chapter of my current project every week. So happy to back at active writing as opposed to merely editing. 

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Great-Lord-Dread
Jaykob Storey
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
Canada
I'm an aspiring writer with a meagre list of professional works under his belt and many years of amateur writing in the bank. I've written a few unpublished novels and I'm currently focused on producing more content so I can grow as a writer.

I primarily consider myself a fantasy writer and humorist.
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:iconnecromanticminstrel:
NecromanticMinstrel Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Professional Artist
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
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Hobbyist 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.
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:iconnecromanticminstrel:
NecromanticMinstrel Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Professional Artist
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.
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Good to hear and good luck.
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Happy Birthday Jaykob.
Big hugs
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you, I appreciate it.
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013  Professional General Artist
:)
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:iconmetarex12:
Metarex12 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Student General Artist
Happy Birthday!
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks
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:iconthelibertasleague:
TheLibertasLeague Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for joining EpicMuse!
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