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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...


A book in his lap and the mouth of a smoking pipe cinched between his fingers, the simple alchemist, Miles McClain leaned back in his armchair. Gently scratching his beard, he puffed softly on his pipe, blowing plumes of grey, swirling smoke into the air. With a long, satisfied sigh he flipped open his book and adjusted his reading glasses. As his eyes found settled on the page and found their spot, there came a rapid, urgent rattling at the door. He held a mouthful of smoke for a brief moment before exhaling. "Uhhh..." he groaned and rubbed his eyes. "What pain comes knocking at this time of night?"

Setting aside his tome, Miles regretfully pushed himself out of his armchair and loped out of the small sitting room and into the cluttered workshop. Meanwhile, the late night visitor maintained a continuous thumping at the door.

"Ease off, you caught me in the middle of something," said Miles as his hand clasped over the doorknob. "I'm not expecting guests at this..." Pulling the door ajar, the alchemist's voice trailed off into silence. "You again?"

In the threshold stood a paler than normal Laurelei, her hair and clothes in comparative disarray. Behind her was Nigel with a struggling Rolf in his arms.

"Crimson haze," said Laurelei. "We need it, please."

Miles peered over the rim of his rectangular optics, his brow furrowed and his hand scratching the blond stubble on his chin. "Crimson-...? The hell are you on about girlie?"

In a flash, Laurelei's cheeks puffed up, her hands clenched into fists and she stamped her foot down hard. "I know you have it!? We need crimson haze now! I have no time for your lollygagging as my necronom's mind is fading ever faster!"

"You're joking, yeah? How does a little one like you even know about the Crim? It ain't exactly common know-how and I ain't some shifty shadow mixer. Only mad men and Castle Umbra torturers craft that lethal mess."

"Do you have it or not?"

Miles rolled his eyes and sighed to himself. "Let me get me kit." With a small gesture, Miles waved the others inside and hurried toward the back of the shop. "Take him upstairs and put him on my bed. I'll be up in a moment," he called out while rummaging around in a small, cluttered shelf.

Nigel stumbled uncomfortably through the little shop, rattling shalves and slamming into tables, all the while attempting to keep the struggling, growling Rolf contained.

The pig man practically had to squeeze himself into the bedroom, a quaint chamber with a wide bed, a small collection of books and yet more assorted potters full of multicoloured herbs. In the far corner stood a large chest, nearly as tall as Laurelei and as wide as Nigel, locked with a bizzare and highly complex looking clockwork mechanism.

With a simple motion, Nigel placed Rolf in the middle of bed and Laurelei ran to his side. In a blink she was sitting on her knees at the edge of the bed and placed both hands on Rolf's shoulder.

He frothed at the mouth and tossed his head left and right, struggling in vain against Nigel's might. His growls became roars and he thrashed into a series of violent spasms.

"Nigel, keep him pinned," she said. "His mind is falling apart, we need to keep him here with us and anchor his mind to his body for just a little longer."

"And how do you plan to do that?" the pig-man asked.

"He needs something to focus on or think about. Something other than what he experienced in there." With both hands she clasped onto Rolf's head and forced him to look her in the eyes. "Rolf! Can you hear my voice?"

His lips peeled back to reveal clenched teeth and his eyes strained themselves to stay open but slowly he managed to whisper out a coherent word. "Y-yes."

"Good. Hrodwulf Von Zeigel, you are still my servant and as such you will obey my every order. Do not even think about giving in yet. Just hold on for a little while longer... please."

He tried to form words but found he could only produce slurred groans. His eyes threatened to roll  back and his head lolled weakly.

Laurelei returned his attention with several hard smacks on the cheek. "Rolf! You need to stay with us. You're not in there anymore; they can't reach you. Focus on me, talk to me. Who was your father?"

"You're okay?" Rolf asked. "After what they did to you!?" He began screaming again, his fists clenched in rage and his body shooting up with a jolt, only to be forced back down by Nigel. "All of us! Everyone, they never stopped! I couldn't make them!"

"Rolf!" Laurelei snapped, cutting him off. "I asked you about your father."

"M-my father," he stammered through wheezing breaths as his eyes made wild, vain attempts to centre themselves. "Rieker Von Zeigel."

"Good, good. You talk to him sometimes, when you think I'm sleeping. He meant a lot to you, didn't he?"

"He... He did. He's here now, I can see him." Rolf said through clenched teeth. His body gradually grew less tense and his struggling reduced.

"You can? How?"

"I-I see him every day. Every day since he died I see him and... I don't know how."

Laurelei instinctively looked around the room, surveying it for some sign of something, anything else besides Nigel, Rolf and herself. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing. "What happened to your father?"

"Six years ago. Killed by werewolves, like so many others. Like my mother." Suddenly Rolf's eyes grew bloodshot and his body returned to its desperate flailing. "Hrraaahhhhhh! No! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!"

"It's okay Rolf, It's okay," Laurelei said, trying her best to raise her own voice above his. She bit down on her lip nervously and immediately regretted bringing it up. Rolf's mind was so tender and stripped down right now that negative thoughts and memories seemed to pull something mad out of him. "Your mother! What was she like Rolf? Tell me, I want to know."

His breathing was hard and he fought to silence his own screams. Slowly he wound himself down to a point where he could speak again. "Her name was Sylviid. I never see her, not like dad. I don't know why. I want to see her so much."

Laurelei nodded and forced a smile. "Go on."

"She was strong, I remember her carrying barrels of ale out of the kitchen and telling tales of the battlefield from before I was born." He couldn't speak for too long at a time without at least a small spell of groaning to interrupt him. "M-music. She loved music. She... she made me learn it."

A look of genuine surprise appeared on Laurelei's face. "Music? You don't mean to tell me that you can play an instrument, do you?"

Through seething breaths, Rolf continued. "Violin. Years ago but I think I still remember."

As quiet as a practised house cat stalking a mouse, Miles appeared in the doorway with a wooden case in hand. He marched straight past his guests and dropped his kit on the the bedside table. Popping open the lid, he scooped up various vials and little leather bags of this and that. Inside the case there appeared to be numerous little tools and ingredients. With skillful hands and unwavering focus, Miles set about mixing a cloudy concoction in a rounded flask. "You're awfully smart to know about this stuff. I presume you're clear on what it does."

For the first time since entering the little room, Laurelei took her attention away from Rolf. "I know. It wipes the recipient's mind clean for a length of time dependant on the dosage. It's very dangerous and It requires very precise measurements. One mistake mean the difference between losing hours and years."

"I'm impressed. How long do you want him to lose?"

"One hour should suffice."

"Easily doable," Miles said while carefully portioning out his ingredients. "So you must also be aware that it's a poison, yeah? Recipients run a high probability of suffering incredibly painful deaths." He held the flask against the lamp light and swirled it around. "So, you need to explain right quick what's going on here, because I don't fancy torturing this young man to death."

"As you can see, he's already dead."

"Then what seems to be the issue?"

"His mind is deteriorating after..." Laurelei balked in mid-sentence and chewed at the inside of her cheek. "He had an encounter with an otherworldly entity."

"I see," said Miles. "So you think clearing out those memories could stablize his mind then?"

"I hope. I've been doing my best to keep him with us."

Miles produced a large syringe and jammed it into the mouth of the flask. Drawing back the plunger, the tube filled up with a bright red liquid. "Well keep at it for just a little longer because this is not going to be pleasant." Miles then turned his attention toward Nigel. "You, weird pig-man thing. No idea what you are, been meaning to ask but obviously we are not in a situation that facilitates much small-talk. There's some rope in the shed, grab that for me. We'll want to keep the boy bound while the crim does its job. It'll take a few hours and I don't trust that you'll endurance will last the whole night."

Nigel huffed with indignation and looked to Laurelei for confirmation. The vampire gave him a little nod and thus he obeyed, swiftly departing for the time being.

"You, girlie," said Miles. "You're gonna keep playing nurse up here. Make sure he stays calm as you can get him until pigsy gets back with the rope."

While not exactly pleased with being referred to as 'girlie', Laurelei agreed nonetheless. She wanted so hard to look this man in the eyes and scream [i]"Do you have any idea who I am?"[/i] but this was hardly the time and place. Her annoyed gaze softened as she returned her attention to Rolf. "Listen to me, you're not going anywhere because I need you to do something for me. After this, you're going to play your music for me, do you understand?"

Rolf managed a nod.

"Promise me."

"I-!" Rolf's jaw tightened and it seemed a new wave of visions washed over him just at that moment. A low, gurgling start of a scream was building in his throat but not before he could push out one last word. "Promise."  

Nigel returned with the ropes only a few short moments later. Rolf lay with his arms splayed out and his whole body twitching. He screamed through jaws clamped shut, half words and the fragments of sentences forming in his mouth but never quite resolving into anything coherent. With a little assistance from Miles, Nigel had Rolf bound up and pulling at the ropes without even an ounce of restraint.

"We're just about ready over here," said Miles with syringe in hand. "Just one question, how's it going to circulate to his brain? Sure, I can stick this in a vein but he's dead, it's not going anywhere."

Laurelei closed her eyes in concentration for a brief moment. Miles was right but she wasn't convinced that she could't figure something out. "His organs are just inert, they're still there and very much intact. His whole body is magically preserved to stave off rigor mortis and rot, the heart especially. If we simply pump his heart manually, the mixture should move through his body as expected."

"On this I defer to the little girl in the frilly dress. The details of necromancy aren't exactly in my range of knowledge." Approaching Rolf's flailing body, Miles gripped the syringe tightly. "With no blood running through them and all the struggling he's doing, veins won't be easy to find. Suppose I'll just need to strike at the source." Arm raised into the air he slammed the needle onto Rolf's chest. It penetrated his stone grey flesh with a loud 'thunk' and Miles's thumb depressed the plumber, draining the crimson haze directly into Rolf's heart.

He stopped moving or screaming for but a moment and just stared at the ceiling.

The alchemist yanked upward and withdrew the needle, leaving a little, trickling red hole in Rolf's skin. He tossed his syringe aside and placed both palms against Rolf's chest, pushing down hard and in rapid succession. It didn't take long for Rolf to feel the effects of the concoction spreading through his system. His screams started anew and the faintest hint of colour returned to his skin. Fresh blood coursed through his veins for the first time in months.

Miles kept at it for several, long minutes and signs of exertion started to show on his face. Just as a few rivulets of sweat began to pour down his face, Miles took a step back, breathed hard and shook out his hands. "That should do it. The crim should be in his brain now, it'll do the rest."

"How long?" asked Laurelei.

Miles shrugged. "Hours at least. Likely for the rest of the night."

Laurelei nodded and stood firm at Rolf's bedside. "Then I'll stay here."

"Don't suppose I'll be getting much sleep tonight with all of his racket. Pig-man, care to join me outside for a smoke? Perhaps you can explain this whole situation a little more thoroughly," Miles said as he busily packed away his supplies.

Nigel crossed his arms and nodded in agreement. "Certain elements will need to be withheld until I have my lady's permission to release them."

"Fair's fair," said Miles. With his kit in hand, he moved around the room and promptly pulled the drapes closed over all the windows.

Then, Laurelei heard a small 'clack' behind her and turnedo see Miles placing a chair at her back. She stared at it for a long moment and noted the wide smile on Miles' face. With a little nod of appreciation, she took a seat and then found a thick blanket cast over her shoulders. Despite the tired look in her eyes and the ragged state of her appearance, she found herself smiling at him as she pulled the blanket tighter around herself.

"Keep warm, it's fiercely cold this far North."

Outside, on the porch, Miles took a seat in a wooden chair while Nigel's towering form leaned back against the wall of the house.

"So," said Miles as he prepared a pair of wooden pipes. "You'll need to start by tellin' me what you are. I'm not particularly familiar with any giant pig-men."

"I'm human," said Nigel, taking an offered pipe and placing it between his lips.

Miles contemplated the answer while lighting his smoke. "Excuse me for being skeptical of that answer."

"I'm Cursed but I was born looking just as you were."

"Hell of a curse it must've been. Don't think I got your name yet and I can't keep calling you pig, now can I?"

"Nigel P. Hawethorne."

Miles shook his head and pushed the bridge of his glasses up on his nose. "I'm expected to believe that too?"

Nigel chuckled to himself, issuing grey plumes out of his nostrils. "So you've heard of me then?"

"I've heard of the great general from decades ago that you claim to be."

"I couldn't care less whether you believed me."

"Good attitude to have, because I really don't. What I do believe however is that the three of you barged in on me and have used up a fair amount of hospitality and a rather expensive compound. I'd like to hear the story behind it all, at the very least."

Nigel replied with a slow tilt of his big boarish head. "Over drinks?"

"Why not."

So, the two men spent the rest of the night smoking, drinking and telling tales. After several hours the sun was just beginning to rise on the horizon and the sound of Rolf's screams slowly dwindled into silence.

It was a strange thing, to suddenly regain consciousness after having gone months without sleep. The very sensation of waking up felt foreign to Rolf now. It might have been comforting strangeness however if not for the fact that his arms and legs were painfully bound to the bedpost. He looked left and right, trying and failing to identify the room in which he found himself. His eyes then settled on Laurelei, wrapped in a blanket and fast asleep and slumped over in her chair, lying face first on the mattress.

"Laurelei? Hey, what's going on? Wake up!" His efforts were of little use, she remained fast asleep. "Damnit," he grumbled. He tried to yank himself free of his restraints but found the ropes tighter than he'd anticipated.

Then the doorknob rattled and Rolf's struggling stopped all at once. With a simple creak it came ajar and Miles stepped inside, black bags under his eyes and hands stuffed in his pocket. "Ooh sorry. Did I wake you?"

"Probably not, considering I don't sleep anymore. Or at least I thought I didn't."

"Fair enough. You seem pretty calm, given the circumstances."

"I was panicking, on the inside. But Laur-... I mean Charlotte looks comfortable enough so I figured I was safe. If you don't mind, I think I'll skip ahead to the most important questions. Where am I and why am I tied up?"

"You are in my home and you are tied up for your own safety." Miles stepped into the room and pulled his hand from his pocket, revealing a small carving knife in his hand.

"That's not for me is it?"

Miles responded by simple carving through the rope the bound Rolf's right ankle. "I'm curious," he said as he moved up to headboards and cut through the rope around Rolf's wrist and placed the knife in his newly freed hand. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Rolf set about liberating the rest of his limbs as he responded. "Clearly? I remember seeing a certain doctor with his hands on Char-," Rolf started but was quickly cut off by Miles.

"Laurelei you mean? Princess Laurelei Marie Lockheart?"

Rolf narrowed his eyes curiously and pushed himself to a sitting position. "You know who she is? Why would she tell you that?"

"She didn't. Nigel did. He's awfully loose lipped after an ale or two. Go on, finish your story."

"She won't be happy about that," he said as he tried to rub some feeling back into the deep grooves around his wrists. "So yeah, I saw Foerster with hands on Laurel and I remember wanting to kill him. Did I?"

Miles shook his head no.

"Damn. Well, the rest after that is blurry and sort of fragmented. I only remember little things here and there and what I do remember. It's not good." His eyes drifted toward Laurelei. "It's terrible. Like a nightmare. As soon as I try to remember more, to think about it, it drifts away. Care to tell me what really happened?"

"Under one condition."

Rolf nodded.

"I spent all night listening to you scream bloody murder and I'm all banjaxed. Pigsy's sleepin in the den and I need to lie down. You get your arse outta me bed and I'll fill you in."

"I'll agree to that."
The otherworldly shrieks surged into the physical plane and sent tremors through the foundations of the mansion. Bodies quivered and shook, hardly able to keep their feet in its presence.

The vampire princess had all but withdrawn into herself, face buried in her knees as she screamed. “Where is that noise coming from!”

“You don’t see it?” Rolf said in a frail whisper. His eyes were transfixed in the child’s direction but he wasn’t looking at him, not quite. Rolf stared past the boy and into something else, something not quite there. While to him it appeared as plain as the creature pinning him to the floor, nobody else was looking at it or talking about it, not a single one of them. They didn’t see it, how could they not see it when to him it was impossible to look at anything else. “All those mouths, screaming and screaming. There’s no end to them, they’re all over it!”

Laurelei lifted her face from her skirts and watched Rolf’s eyes, watched them lock onto the empty space above the boy. “What are you saying?”

He tried to speak but his voice came out as a stammer. After a few stuttering, blathering attempts at forming words, he muttered something intelligible. “It’s better this way… It’s better that you don’t have to see it.”

Alone among them all, the doctor’s face was devoid of the dread that clouded Rolf’s and Laurelei’s features. “I have done it,” Foerster said in astonishment. He walked toward the boy on shaky legs, his arms outstretched. “You have returned to us! Through my work this boy has clawed his way back to the world of the living!” The doctor moved within ten feet of the child, who had not even deigned to look in his direction, and stopped as if frozen in time. His voice escaped as a soundless breath and he stood in statuesque motionlessness for several seconds.

Slowly, blood began to trickle from his mouth and nose, his body shuddering and twisting as if being crushed by an invisible force.

The creature, his wife, loosened its grip on Rolf and let out a disgruntled groan.

Head lolling to the side, the doctor's eyes darted around. It was the only sign that any life still existed in his body.

“Rrruhhhh!” the doctor's creature bellowed. Its mangled features twisted into something that resembled anger and it relinquished its hold on Rolf. With a dagger in hand it charged toward the boy in a staggering, limping dash.

Annoyance flashed across the child’s face, followed by a snarl. The wailing intensified and the moment the thing stepped near the doctor it crumpled up into a red, gushing mass of flesh and snapped bones, completely unrecognizable as the being it once was.

The doctor didn't move even an inch, he couldn't. His eyes just jammed shut and almost immiately tears began to stream down his cheeks.

Rolf pushed himself off the ground, swallowing hard and shivering at the gruesome spectacle played out before him. "Laurelei," he said with a stammer, "what are we looking at?"

Face with slick with sweat and her heartbeat was thudding in her ears, Laurelei willed herself not to say it. Not to admit to herself and to Rolf what she already knew and what she had done but willpower would only take her so far and reality came rushing forward. "A demon," she said.

The thing smiled hatefully with the child's mouth. Saliva dripped from between dry, cracked lips and low rumbles escaped from its mouth. It's little body hovered off the slab and drifted toward the ground. Its feet touched down softly but the stone floor looked as if it had been hammered by an ettin. Intricate webs of cracks stretched along the ground and the building rumbled with even the slightest of motions.

Rolf made to get to his feet but found Laurelei gripping his sleeve with a shaking hand.

"Don't," she said in as stern a voice as she could manage under the circumstances. "Don't try and fight it. It's no use. Armies of men have tried and failed to do what you are about to do. Don't."

Rolf grit his teeth together and slowly eased back down to his knee. "What are we supposed to do? There has to be a way to stop this."

"No. You saw what it did to them, didn't you? That was only the smallest, simplest fragment of a demon's power. All we can do is kneel and hope that it decides we're too insignificant to destroy us. Then we can only wait until it either bathes the entire world in blood and darkness or by some stroke of incredible fortune, something manages to stop it." Laurelei seemed to choke on something and sucked in a deep, shuddering breath. "People everywhere, my people are going to suffer and die by the millions. All because I was weak."

Quietly, Rolf reached over to Laurelei, cupped her hand in his own and squeezed gently. "This isn't your fault," Rolf said in a voice so unusually soft, Laurelei questioned whether it belonged to him or not. His eyes trailed to the collapsed and crumpled frame of Dr. Foerster. "It's his." Releasing Laurelei's hand, Rolf stood up straight and willed his trembling legs to stay still. "I'll fix this."

"Rolf stop!" Laurelei pleaded but recieved no response. "Rolf, that is an order, get back here this instant, you're only going to make it angry!"

The young necronom made no sign that he could even hear his master as he stepped closer to the entity.

It seemed indifferent to Rolf's presence at first, instead its attention was locked firmly on its own form. It stared at its hands, turned them over and then sneered at its own scrawny arms and torso. "How frail a human form I find myself in," it said in the voice of a child but with the tones of something far older. It's words shook and trembled with fury, eager to escape.

Once it had finished appraising its own body, it took a vested interest in the beings around it. The aging, sickly and now irrepairably damaged body of Dr. Foerster, the bloody mess that remained of his creation and the childlike body of Laurelei, seemingly little different than the one it currently inhabited. Then its eyes settled on Rolf. Tall, young, strong and best of all, undying. "Anger," it said as it took a slow, deliberate step forward. "I can feel it radiating from you. So much rage in your heart. As inaccurate as it might be to compare an Anciet One to a mere human, I would say that you and I are very much alike."

[i]"He almost sounds calm when he talks with the kid's mouth. So why are all the others screaming? Why won't they stop?"[/i] Rolf thought to himself.

The demon continued. "You are a perfect vessel. I think I may take you."

"Rolf! Don't talk to it! A demon cannot possess your form unless you allow it. If you speak with it, it will decieve you into giving up your body!"

Rolf fell silent, brows knit and head bowed low. For several long moments, he stared at his feet and cupped a hand over his chin. "...What do I get out of it?" he said at last.

Laurelei's entire body seized up and her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. "Rolf?"

The demon grinned from ear to ear. "Anything you desire."

"Don't listen him to him!" Laurelei screamed as she ran to Rolf's side and grabbed his arm. She tried with all her might to pull him away but she couldn't even make him budge. "He's lying to you, he is a demon he will always lie!"

"Get off of me!" Rolf roared. With a hard shove He foced the girl back and sent her stumbling off of her feet.

Lying on the ground she stared in disbelief. "What are you doing!? Stop this Rolf, please!"

The little boy rolled its shoulders and seethed between its teeth. "I cannot decieve," it said. "A demon is bound to its word. Name your price."

Rolf sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Alright, I'll allow you to possess my body. Under the condition that you let her live. You don't harm her under any circumstances!"

Suddenly Laurelei's heart beat faster than it ever had in her life and she found herself wondering if she'd truly just heard what she thought she had.

With its tongue running along its lips and its body trembling, the demon spoke again. "What is one mortal life when I have all of Guul'Zaroth to feast upon. I agree to your terms." In that moment, both Rolf's and the child's body fell limp and collapsed to the floor. The screaming stopped, the shaking stopped, everything stopped for a few utterly still seconds.

Rolf and the lifeless child sprawled next to one another, his body as motionless as a corpse under normal circumstances. Then he convulsed and his back arched. The screaming started again, surging back in full force, the chorus of demonic wails joined by Rolf's own agonizing shrieks. A mixture of fury and pain coursed together and demonic energy seemed to radiate from his body. It burned scarlet red, swirling and flickering like an intangible eldritch force enveloping him.

If the demon's presence was powerful before, it was crushing now. Laurelei could barely stand under the renewed force of its anger. It took all the strength in her arms avoid collapsing face first into the stone floor and bloodying her nose. "Rolf!" she screamed. "Why! Did you do this to yourself! To me!" Laurelei punched the ground, bruising her knuckles and sending termors of pain flashing across her hand. She didn't care, she couldn't care, not right now. "How could you disobey me!? You know that I can just relinquish the spell and..." she stopped in mid sentence her mouth agape. "...end you," she said, finishing the sentence. Her eyes suddenly jammed themselves shut and her fangs clenched together. She summoned up yet more strength she didn't even know she possessed and got back to her feet. "Is... is that what you want? Is that why you let this happen?"

Rolf sat braced on his hands and knees, throwing his head back and forth and frothing at the mouth.

"You're fighting right now. You're keeping it suppressed and it's destroying your mind." Laurelei's voice was so soft, so close to breaking but she continued. "You must be suffering more than I can even possibly imagine and now you want me to kill you! You were willing to give up your own life to correct my mistake! You would die for me again!?" She sounded almost angry now, eyes sparkling and wet as she clenched her little hand into a tight fist. "You're just too stupid for your own good! I'm not finished with you dammit! You're still my servant and I will not allow you to die! Not yet, not until I say so!"

Rolf's eyes centred on Laurelei, teeth clenched so tight that blood dripped from his gums, trickled over his lip and splashed onto the floor.

In te middle of all the commotion, the door burst open and Nigel stomped inside, Bellringer in hand. "What the hell is going on in here!" he bellowed as he tried to appraise the situation as best he could.

"Nigel!" Laurelei snapped. "We are dealing with a crisis in here; where have you been!"

"Sleeping off half a dozen casks of wine that tasted like piss until the damned house starting shaking! Care to explain all this?"

"No time, Rolf is possessed and I need you to hold him down!"

"Right," Nigel declared with a nod. He appeared baffled but cooperated nonetheless and approached the prone young man.

He reached toward Rolf with a meaty fist but suddenly the necronom sprang to his feet and visciously swatted the incoming hand away.

"Skreeee!" Nigel squealed as sharp pain coursed through his cloven hand. The simple parry felt like it had cracked the bone. Only just as the pig was recovering from the deflection, Rolf thrust both palms forward and into Nigel's volumibous belly. The strike sent ripples through the pig man's bulging fat and knocked him off his feet! He soared away in an arc before smacking into the far wall back and collapsing on his side with a loud groan.

"Uhf! Rolf my boy, I don't recall you being quite that powerful when last we met in battle," Nigel said through wincing pain. He pushed himself up to his feet, one arm draped over over his stomach and the other braced against the wall to keep himself standing.

"Grr!" Laurelei growled and pounded her fist into the wall repeatedly. "No! No, no, no, no, no! I will not lose him to you!"

His head jerked left and right and his hands yanked at his hair, all the while wailing at the ceiling. Between all of Rolf's wordless bellows and babbling in dead languages, Laurelei could almost make out something resembling human speech. "Kiiiiillll meeeee!" Then, he twisted around to stare into the portal. His empty eyes transfixed themselves on the rip in reality, the tear between the material and astral planes. Shoulders heaving, he forced his jaw shut, his screams coming out muffled between his teeth, and then broke out in a run toward the gate.

"No! Nigel, stop him!" said Laurelei

Despite severely doubting his chances of being able to do just that, Nigel pursued with surprising fervor.

Rolf didn't hesitate for even a moment as he dove headfirst into the other world and disappeared from view but Nigel wasn't far behind. The massively muscled arm of the pig man lunged in after Rolf, trailing him by only a second, and latched onto something solid. Then the screaming started again, Rolf's cries more agonizing than ever before. He even overpowered the wail of the demon with his ear splitting screams. It was unlike anything Laurelei had ever heard before, a noise so anguished and completely stripped bare of restraint or humility.

"I have his ankle!" cried Nigel. "I-I can barely hold him, something is pulling on my arm!" He struggled with every ounce of his own might to maintain his footing, to avoid falling in and seeing for himself what had torn so visciously at Rolf's soul.

"There's a chance," Laurelei said softly. "Nigel! Do not let go under any circumstances!" In moments she had dashed toward the portal, skirted around it and scooped up the errant paintbrush. Her attention turned toward the large sigil surrounding portal and she nervously bit down on her bottom lip. With frantic hands and yet still meticulous attention to detail, she went about altering the symbols on the sigil, scrubbing away some and adding others here and there.

"Lady Lockheart! I can't do this for much longer!" said Nigel.

"Please, just a little more time!"

Before Nigel knew it, Laurelei was scrambling up his back, using his belt and jacket for leverage. Soon she stood perched on his shoulder and went about making a few swipes of her brush at the top of the circle. With just a few final swipes, the demonic shrieks ended, replaced only by Rolf's own.

"Now, pull him out!" said Laurelei.

Nigel nodded and reeled back with all his might, exhuming Rolf from the beyond and dumping his body onto the ground.

Laurelei circled around to Nigel's opposite shoulder, licked her thumb and swiped away a wide star symbol at the peak of the circle. With a loud whir, the gate vanished into itself, leaving only smooth grey stone in its wake.

The whole room was quiet now, relatively speaking. Rolf lay on his back, gibbering and whispering to himself, in his own voice and his own language now.

"Put me down, now!"

Nigel quickly reached up, hand spread open, and Laurelei stepped into his palm. He lowered her to the ground and she immediately hopped down and dropped to her knees at Rolf's side. She clasped one of his hands in her own and squeezed it tight. "Rolf, I'm here," she cooed in a sweet voice. One would be hard pressed to believe Laurelei could even produce such a tone.

"L-Laurel?" Rolf asked in shock. His eyes couldn't focus, they just darted around, searching for nothing and finding only warped shapes. "Years... So long since I heard your voice." His words were hoarse and dry, his throat ragged from screaming.

"I-it's okay. I did... You did it." She bowed her head low and pressed his hand to her cheek while sniffling softly.

Rolf replied with only muttered nonsense, only the occasional words coming through. Most of it was mixed cries of 'No', 'pain', 'and stop.'

"Shhhh," Laurelei hushed Rolf and inched closer to him. "It's okay, just rest now."

Nigel placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "What's happened to him?"

"His mind is broken," Laurelei said in cracked voice.

"What can we do for him. Lady Lockheart, how do we proceed."

"I have no idea."
Guul'Zaroth Ch.17 - Broken
This is an important chapter for a lot of reasons. It was one of the key moments in my head since I started plotting this book and so I'm glad to have it paper at last.  Enjoy.

For Laurelei, the unique smell of an alchemist's shop was an immediately appealing fragrance. A thousand different herbs, minerals and chemicals all mingled together with the bubbling of a multitude of concoctions. She stepped into the cramped shop with Rolf at her back and a list of ingredients in hand. The two story building was darkly lit and piled with shelves upon shelves of little wooden boxes, jars of this or that, open tomes filled with hastily scrawled notes and a plethora of potted plants dangling from the ceiling.

Behind a small shop counter at the end of the room, stood a man of middling years. His back was turned to the customers as he fiddled with an array of vials and little chests of mixed ingredients. He mumbled unintelligibly before turning to face them with a smile. He wore small rectangular spectacles over blue eyes and his jaw was streaked with blond stubble. He smoothed a hand through his hair and adjusted his vest. "Greetings. Haven't seen a customer quite so regal in months. Got a bad dose you need a poultice for? I apologize in advance, the stuff we bogtrotters brew may be a bit rough on the taste buds, but it'll do the trick."

Laurelei was busy admiring the shelves of alchemical concoctions she'd only ever read about. The man's question went right over her head until a little shove from Rolf snapped her to attention. "Oh! Ahem, apologies but your shop is just brimming with... Science," she said in a half dream state. Regaining her composure, she stepped up to the counter, perched on her toes and produced a small note from her sleeve.

The alchemist peered at the little piece of paper, adjusting his glasses and mumbling to himself. "Witchberry, Bloodvine, stygian thistle, bleach bark, elder-root..." he trailed off as he named off a dozen or so more strange herbs that Rolf had never heard of. The shopkeeper smile and tucked the note into his vest. "Shopping for Dr.Foerster then? Not sure when he hired such a dotey little assistant and you look a touch overdressed for the job."

"Assistant!" Laurelei said, her hand cupped over her mouth in order to avoid saying anything uncouth. "Hardly. I am a," Laurelei paused as her mind conjured a suitably believable deception. "I am a fellow academic. I am on a scholarly journey and upon meeting Dr.Foerster I believed it prudent to investigate his experiments."

"I see," said the alchemist, calmly stroking his stubble. "So, my fellow academic, who might this big fella be?"

"This is my bodyguard of no consequence. Not to be impolite, but I would prefer if you didn't ask any more questions as I am something of a private person. Do you have the requested items in stock, or not?"

He smiled and let out a sharp whistle. "Katherine love! Bring out the Stitcher's usual order," he said toward the ceiling.

"Right away darling," a feminine voice called back. In a few brief moments, a woman descended a set of creaky wooden stairs at the back of the room. She was tall, almost as tall as her husband, and had long, ginger-red hair that hung to her back in thick curls. She was dressed in men's breeches and a ruffled white blouse over a dark roll-neck sweater. She wore leather gloves over her hands, leaving not but the freckled skin on her face visible. In her hand she carried a plain satchel filled with jingling jars.

"Here we are Miles dear," she said to the man at the counter. As soon as she was within arm's reach, Miles pulled her in and planted a kiss on her lips.

"You there boyo!" he said, pointing to Rolf. "Is my wife not the loveliest woman you've ever seen?"

"Uhhh... That's kind of-" Rolf stammered before being abruptly cut off.

"Oi no, forget I asked. If the answer was no I don't think my heart could take it."

Katherine shook her head while handing the satchel over to Rolf. "Don't mind my husband, he does this to every new face he comes across."

"It is a legitimate query," Miles added.

Katherine's eyes drifted away from Rolf and toward his companion. When she caught sight of Laurelei, she donned a skeptical glance and whispered something in her husband's ear.

"No, not at all," he said flatly. "Just a researcher, nothing to worry about."

"Well then, have a fine evening," said Katherine.

Outside the confines of the alchemist's shop, Rolf and Laurelei stepped into the crisp, chilly night air. Vaulkin was not so different than Ulfenmoor where Rolf grew up and thoughts of home drifted in and out of his mind during the daily walks he'd taken in the town. Laurelei was not quite so burdened by distractions and her attention was drawn to the surprisingly lively night. Lamps around the city were flickering to life and their warm light poured out of windows and doors that stood ajar. Odd, unexpected visitors had carved out a presence in the time since Laurelei and Rolf had entered the shop.

The fluttering of a long red cloak stood out in the corner of her vision and she turned to spot an ebon-clad soldier wrapped in the crimson garment. The unique decoration of the plates and the unmistakable shape of the helmet sent Laurelei ducking for cover behind Rolf's leg.

"Whoa, what's goin' on Laurel?"

She pressed herself as tight to Rolf as she could and looked up at him with a steely gaze. "Look left and it should be abundantly clear!" she said in a hushed, hissing voice. "That is a royal soldier of Agares, a member of my father's personal army."

"The hell are they doing here?" Rolf asked as he got down to a knee.

"I would presume they're looking for us. It was only a matter of time before they managed to locate our trail after our encounter with Gutterwink." The princess took in a long breath and looked Rolf in the eyes. "We need to leave right now. Maybe we've enough time to return to the mansion and collect our things but we can't stay here any longer."

"What? No, we're not going anywhere!"

"Rolf, you must understand the situation we're in. If we stay here we run the risk of undoing everything we've accomplished so far."

"We'll hide out in Dr.Foerster's place for now. I'm not going anywhere while there's still a chance he could make me human again."

"Rolf, don't do this. If they find us they'll kill..." her voice trailed off into silence and she stared at the ground. "I will not risk losing my only friend!"

Rolf got to his feet, stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat and stared up at the white moon as it peeked through a sheet of inky black clouds. "C'mon, let's get out of the streets," he said after a long pause.

Navigating around the edge of town, the pair quietly manoeuvered their way back to Foerster's manor. Neither Rolf nor Laurelei said anything to one another.

Later that evening, the doctor reclined in his study while lazily flipping through the pages in an old book. In but a few moments, the gentle clatter of footsteps caught his attention.

"Lady Vanalay?" he asked as Laurelei appeared in the threshold and looked none too pleased. "Is there something you need?"

She stepped into the room and crossed her arms over her chest. "Dr.Foerster, I have come to inform you that you must cease your experiments immediately."

"I'm sorry?" he said in a stumbling voice. "Cease my experiments, no, certainly not. I know that you've been waiting very patiently over these last several days but I promise, I can demonstrate my progress by tomorrow evening."

"Tomorrow will be too late," she replied. "So long as we stay here, Rolf's life is in grave danger. However, he will not leave so long as he still believes you can give him his human life back. You cannot, I know that you cannot because it is not possible."

"Lady Vanalay, I assure you-,"

"I am assured of nothing. You will tell Rolf the truth and that you are ending your experiments. We will leave and things will not have to become unpleasant." Her eyes narrowed to a glare centered straight on the doctor. "For any of us. Do I make myself clear?"

Foerster sighed deeply, shoulders slumping as he eased back into his chair. Then, a little smile appeared on his face and the flickering flames of the hearth glinted in his spectacles. "Surely you can be reasoned with my lady? We are both intelligent people, we can come to a compromise of some sort?"

"There will be no compromise on this matter." Laurelei's voice remained calm and steady throughout, that ingrained sense of superiority never abating for even a moment. "Your experiments are dangerous and threaten the lives of more people than you ever knew existed. I tolerated this facade only so long as I needed to and I will not allow it to proceed any further."

"It's a shame really that you're letting petty jealousy impede academic progress."

Laurelei's fangs clenched together and her mouth formed a most perturbed expression. "Jealous? Of you?" she said, half in shock. "You must be truly delusional to think so highly of yourself."

"It's true though, isn't it? You're jealous that you can't save him and I can. You wanted to be the one that solved the unsolvable, that discovered a way to bring the dead back alive and as human as ever. Academic jealousy is truly an unflattering trait, my lady."

Her face scrunched up, cheek twitching and hands balling into small, shaking fists. "Shut up," she said curtly.

"You're angry that you cannot undo your mistake. After all, you did kill him didn't you? It's funny in a strange sort of way that you, a vampire would question the righteousness of my work. Humans die ever day to satisfy the hunger and cruelty of your people but you try to maintain a moral high ground? We lowly humans are just food to you."

Her whole body grew tense and she appeared to be building toward an earth shaking tantrum and then, all at once it disappeared. She looked down at her shoes, fingers laced together and eyelids slowly falling shut. "Not anymore," she said, her voice nary a whisper.

"Charlotte," the doctor asked. "Where is your spell-book?"

"My book?" Her eyes snapped toward her vacant hip where the large tome usually rested. "It's in my quarters. I don't carry it with me when there's no..." her voice grew quiet and gaze trailed toward the doctor's smiling face, "threat."

Suddenly he lunged from his chair, more agile than his gangly form would imply. With a bony fist he struck her across the face and knocked her to the ground. She'd never been struck before and her head buzzed with shock and the terrible sting around the left side of her face. She let out a loud cry and hoped desperately that Rolf or Nigel had heard her. She tried to call out again but found her voice muffled by the doctor's hand clasped over her mouth. She tried to struggle free, pummeling him uselessly with her fists and kicking wildly. The doctor quickly jammed his knee into her belly and pinned her to the floor, knocking the wind out of her and putting a swift end to her escape attempt.

For the first time in her life, Laurelei found herself lamenting her vampirism. Despite all its advantages, she would still be stuck with this weak, child-like body for the next several decades at the very least.

While keeping her safely restrained, Foerster's hand rifled around in his coat pocket and drew out an old rag. He clasped both hands over her face and pressed the rag into her mouth and nose.

She kicked and fussed for another minute or so, all the vigour in her body draining rapidly until she lay in an almost motionless haze on the ground. Her head lolled to the side and she found her limbs numb. The rest became a rattled mess of colours, shapes and sounds. Her addled brain did everything it could to piece them together and create something even vaguely coherent. Never had she felt quite so stupid as she did right now. All her studies and education did her little good now, she was utterly useless.

"Wake up," said the cool and snide voice of the doctor as he splashed her in the face with a jug of stale water.

She sputtered to consciousness, heart thudding in her chest and her eyes darting around. Panic quickly faded and gave way to a look of utter contempt, locked straight on the sneering face of Dr.Foerster. Her meticulously combed curls hung in a wet mess, clung to the shoulders of her dress and encircled a deep blue-black mark over her eye.

"Where!?" she gasped, desperately reaching for her senses. "Where is Rolf? Rolf, Nigel, where are they!?"

"Nigel is being kept busy with a feast and a few good casks of wine. He'll be out of the way for the proceedings. And Rolf? He was sent a summons and should be arriving in just a few minutes."

Laurelei grit her fangs together but in spite of a potent mixture of fear and fury, curiosity got the better of her and she turned her attention to her surroundings. She found herself in a new room, made of solid stone and filled with alien technology. Brimming with mass arrays of glassware and mysterious concoctions, the room bore the distinctly earthy scent of the grave. She was positioned with her back against the wall and spotted a door on the opposite side of the wide chamber, guarded by the hulking abomination that the doctor referred to as his beloved. To Laurelei's right stood a massive stone tablet, twice as tall as a grown man and painted edge to edge with an unfinished, circular sigil.

Before the tablet stood a rectangular stone pallet where the sheet covered body of a boy lay motionless. He looked maybe a year or two younger than Laurelei's own physical age. A dozen tubes penetrated the child's skin and a variety of incisions had been made all along the flesh and stitched back together. The tubes trailed in several mechanical devices. Pumps, wheels and tall coils surging with plasma.

In a feat of sheer willpower, Laurelei managed to look even more disgusted than she had before. "You are an idiot." Her voice was weak and frail but slowly reshaping into its natural tone.

"Am I?" the doctor asked while producing a long scalpel and poising it over Laurelei's throat. He crouched down next to her, arms resting on his knees and his head gesturing toward the child on the slab. "That boy there, he died two months prior. Now, biologically speaking, he lives. Just like the others you've seen around my manor. Given some more time he could walk, talk and be a valuable asset to society again. He could return to his grieving family and bring them joy again. All he needs now is his soul."

"You are exactly as stupid as I thought you were. The sigils, the need for a sorceress such as myself? You intend to have me pull his spirit from the other side, don't you?"

"Perceptive," Foerster said and adopted an ear to ear grin. "His body is functioning again as any living beings would. All damaged organs have been replaced and preserved. All we need now is to open a gate and his essence will be drawn back to his physical form. With his soul and his living body back together, he will truly live again! I have mastered death, I only need you to finish my work."

She pushed herself off the ground and used the wall for balance. On her feet once again, Laurelei stood eye to eye with Foerster. "You have no idea what you play with. Truly your meagre mind cannot grasp the risks involved," said Laurelei. "Do you know how many people have died in this world? How many billions of people have lived and died throughout the history of existence? You expect me to be able to locate a single, solitary soul? Were I to finish this sigil and open a gate, do you even know where it would lead to?"

The doctor's eye twitched in annoyance. "Silence. Stop stalling child and finish the damn sigil."

Laurelei ignored him. "Because I haven't the foggiest idea. You cannot just open a path to the other side. There are so many worlds filled with things beyond our comprehension. You wish me to tap into planes home to beings so bizarre and alien that just bearing witness to them, just standing in their presence would break your mind and leave you a slobbering husk of a man."

"You should make yourself more aware of the dagger pointed at your throat, child."

Her eyes fixated on the point of the blade and then back to the doctor's face. "No, I don't think I shall," she said. "You're no genius but you do have something resembling a brain in that skull of yours. You should know that I've already surmised that that dagger is not a threat to me. You need me doctor. If you kill me then you've lost. Then of course there is the slow and violent death you will suffer at Rolf's hands when he walks in to find me skewered on your knife and you with no hostage." Of course Laurelei was well aware that her own death would result in Rolf's as well, but the doctor needn't be privy to that information.

"Rolf is no threat so long as my beloved guards that door and there are other sigilists in this world. If you continue to prove yourself useless to me then I will not hesitate to do away with you."

"Even so, obeying your orders holds the distinct possibility that I'd die regardless, along with a great many more of my people. Do what you will, but I won't be supplementing your frankly sloppy work."

Foerster's grimace was gradually replaced by a cruel smile. "Threat of death is not my only tool for coercion." His free hand shot forth and clutched a fistful of her hair, yanking hard and eliciting a sharp scream from the girl. The doctor pressed the tip of his dagger into her nose, not breaking the skin but slowly exerting more and more pressure. "I could carve this off. Or perhaps take out an eye? My dear's been needing some lovely new features and yours would do nicely."

Laurelei jammed her eyes shut and bit down on her lip. Her muscles tightened and she held her breath for as long as the steel of the knife remained in contact with her skin. She wanted to scream in protest and beg him not to, but she wouldn't dare let him know that he'd struck a nerve.

"Would you like that?" he asked, fingers drumming on the hilt of his blade. "Do you want me to mutilate you. Leave you a scarred, sightless thing. You're always so well groomed and never a hair out of place. So much time and effort you must pour into your appearance." The doctor's words were laced with equal quantities of malice and laughter. "You must derive such joy when others dote on you, tell you how pretty you are. To have it all torturously ripped away from you, never able to hear their praise without knowing it to be only pity and lies? I can scarcely imagine how that might feel."

Before the doctor could deliver on his threats, the door creaked open. "What the hell are you doing!?" Rolf's voice echoed into the room and drew an over the shoulder glance from Foerster. Rolf stood alone in the doorway, unarmed and without his usual travel gear. His face was locked in a look of shock, eyes wide and mouth agape.

"Rolf, finally you've arrived," the doctor said in a low voice, his back toward the door. He rose up to his full height and turned with a flourish of his arms, dragging a whimpering Laurelei by the hair. He grinned ear to ear and twirled his scalpel between his fingers. "I'm preparing for the grand experiment, the culmination of years of work. Miss Vanalay was disinterested so I opted for persuasive measures. It's going quite well."

Rolf's eyes narrowed and his face became a mask of fury. "Foerster!" he roared. "Take your hands off of her now!"

"I can't do that. She forced my hand you see. Our hand, if you ever hope to become human again."

Rolf stood in place for a long moment, watching Laurelei, watching the fear flash across her face and the dark black mark around her eye. "You hurt her! She's just a little kid and..."

"And what?"

"And she's my friend." Rolf marched toward the steps but felt a huge hand clasp his shoulder. Without so much as an instant of hesitation he whirled around and delivered a wild right hook into the face of Foerster's monster.

"No!" Foerster screamed.

The blow knocked the creature back. It attempted to retaliate with a punch of its own but Rolf sidestepped and hammered the thing's ribs with a pair of rib crunching underhand strikes. It wailed and dropped to its knees in a chorus of shrieking protests from the doctor.

"No! No, no, no, no! Stop now, right now Rolf!" With a yank of her hair, he pulled Laurelei in close and pressed his scalpel to the soft flesh of her throat. "Do not hit her! Strike my beloved one more time and I will slit this little whore's throat!"

Rolf stood over the creature as it cowered from him, covering its face and moaning loudly. His arm was raised and poised to rain down more blows. He deliberated and slowly lowered his hand. Seething between his teeth and rolling his shoulders, he locked eyes with the doctor. "What the hell do you want from me?"

"Don't move, don't resist. To both of you, so long as you do what I say, the other lives."

Laurelei looked at Rolf, took a breath and nodded. He returned the gesture and the both stood in silent apprehension for several moments.

In time, the creature lumbered back up to its feet and locked its huge hands around Rolf's shoulders.

He grit his teeth but did as directed.

It forced him to the ground, driving face first into the hard stone floor and pinning him their with one hand. With the other hand it reached into its belt and drew out a long, jagged dagger. It was nearly the size of a shortsword but fit snugly as a knife in the massive hands of the monstrous thing. It pressed the point of the weapon into Rolf's back, just over his heart.

"Now," said the doctor. With a hard shove he released Laurelei, nearly knocking her to the ground in the process. "Complete the sigil or I signal my darling to skewer his heart and put a much more permanent end to his life."

Laurelei stood completely still, unmoving and unblinking. Her gaze drifted between Rolf and the half-finished sigil on the wall. "I... I can't," she said in a breathless voice. "Why? Why are you doing this to me?"

Foerster shook his head, still grinning like a jester. "No more questions. Do it or he dies first, quickly. Then you do next, slowly." The doctor fished in his coat pocket and withdrew a small brush and a vial of ink. He forced the tools into Laurelei's hands, his smile standing in direct contrast to her despondent, emotionless expression. "And don't even think about creating some other sigil. I know what it's supposed to look like, I'll be able to tell if try to trick me."

Quietly, Laurelei moved toward the great stone slab, swallowed hard and started to paint in numerous symbols and patterns. Characters in ancient languages wrapped around the interior of the circle, underlined by a second circle. Constellations of stars and planets scored across the symbol, sweeping, arching, weaving lines in impossibly intricate patterns. Her paintbrush glided over the stone and left streaks of black in its wake until the whole stone face with one huge array of delicate of arcane runes.

"I'm sorry," said Laurelei. "I'm so very, very sorry." After several long minutes, with one last stroke of her brush, Laurelei filled in the final element of the circle. In that moment it illuminated with a pale blue light.

The air grew heavy and Laurelei could feel her breath being pulled from her lungs. In a blinding flash there appeared a wide, luminescent portal, hovering over the surface of the sigil. From within that formless, shapeless, whorling tear in reality there came a chilling sound, a thousand shrieks in a thousand different voices, all fighting to be the loudest. The sounds undulated and ripped into her ears, forced their way into her mind where they warped and twisted her senses.

"Huhhh!" Laurelei screamed and clasped her hands over her ears but it did no good. No mortal flesh could resist the terrible wail of the beyond. With eyes watering she dashed to the other side of the room and to Rolf's side.

Foerster rose up with his arms in the air and his body quivering with joy. "It's happening! It's actually happening!"

All the glassware, the beakers, the flasks and the jars in the room shattered and poured countless unknown substances onto the floor. Tremors traveled through the walls and the whole manor began to rumble at its foundations.

To Foerster's glee, the body on the slab twitched, only slightly. At first only the fingers moved but then they scraped at the stone. One of the legs kicked and the jaw fell open and the infinite wailing intensified.

"Yes! Return to your body wayward soul! Come back and live again!" Foerster howled.

The boy gasped loudly and all the equipments surrounding it was thrown against the walls by some invisible force, shattering into useless, scattered remains. The boy's body sat up with a jolt, back as stiff as a board. With glassy eyes rolled into the back of its head, it stared at Laurelei and a curved smile stretched across its face.
Hey everyone, what's up? I'm keenly aware that pretty much all the friends and readers I once had around here have dried up, moved on or just stopped paying attention. I'm cool with that. I tried to break into the writing community here in dA some years ago and gave it my best shot. I made some headway, I had a few readers, a few friends and a few meager accolades in winning the occasional contest (and don't forget all the honourable mentions and 'A's for effort) but I've never been able to amass a stable readership. So I'm completely in the know that almost nobody is reading this. I'm cool with that too.

I just wanted this on here, on the record. This place is where I got my start. Not writing, I've been doing that since I was a little kid. It's where I got my start as the kind of person that takes it seriously. I gave myself a schedule, I busted my ass to keep it and I felt ashamed of myself when I couldn't. That helped me become a real writer, not just a kid who writes. A lot of the cool people here helped me hone my skills and when I look back at my old drafts I laugh a little at how much I've improved.

So in a big way, this place is responsible for my success. See, my book is getting published. Yeah, I'm a professional writer now. Goddamn that feels awesome to say. So thanks everyone. A lot of you aren't here anymore but thank you anyway. You guys were awesome. My publishers are estimating that Grimoire will be on shelves before 2017. That's big for me. That's a dream for me. Maybe it doesn't make any money, maybe everyone hates it, that's all fine with me. What matters is that I did it and I am immensely proud of that. Thanks dA and thanks to every single person who's ever read my work.
"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.
Hey everyone, what's up? I'm keenly aware that pretty much all the friends and readers I once had around here have dried up, moved on or just stopped paying attention. I'm cool with that. I tried to break into the writing community here in dA some years ago and gave it my best shot. I made some headway, I had a few readers, a few friends and a few meager accolades in winning the occasional contest (and don't forget all the honourable mentions and 'A's for effort) but I've never been able to amass a stable readership. So I'm completely in the know that almost nobody is reading this. I'm cool with that too.

I just wanted this on here, on the record. This place is where I got my start. Not writing, I've been doing that since I was a little kid. It's where I got my start as the kind of person that takes it seriously. I gave myself a schedule, I busted my ass to keep it and I felt ashamed of myself when I couldn't. That helped me become a real writer, not just a kid who writes. A lot of the cool people here helped me hone my skills and when I look back at my old drafts I laugh a little at how much I've improved.

So in a big way, this place is responsible for my success. See, my book is getting published. Yeah, I'm a professional writer now. Goddamn that feels awesome to say. So thanks everyone. A lot of you aren't here anymore but thank you anyway. You guys were awesome. My publishers are estimating that Grimoire will be on shelves before 2017. That's big for me. That's a dream for me. Maybe it doesn't make any money, maybe everyone hates it, that's all fine with me. What matters is that I did it and I am immensely proud of that. Thanks dA and thanks to every single person who's ever read my work.


Great-Lord-Dread's Profile Picture
Jaykob Storey
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
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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LifeIsARazorBlade 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
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.
LifeIsARazorBlade 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.
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Good to hear and good luck.
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Happy Birthday Jaykob.
Big hugs
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you, I appreciate it.
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013  Professional General Artist
Metarex12 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Student General Artist
Happy Birthday!
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
TheLibertasLeague Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for joining EpicMuse!
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