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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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Despite making steady progress on Guul'Zaroth lately, a fact which I am rather proud of, I will be taking a small absence on the series. I am committing to producing physical copies of Grimoire, for a few reasons. The main one is that many publishers and agents prefer to get physical copies as opposed to digital (a fact that I find frustrating but I have to deal with it) and I need to address this issue as I am reigniting my efforts to get published. I gave up around a year ago and I have come to realize that getting a book published is just as hard and requires just as much commitment as writing the book itself, I surrendered too easily last time. The second reason is friends and family. Many of them have expressed a desire to read my work but state that they have trouble reading on a computer, it's uncomfortable and time consuming. So, I'll be creating a separate set of copies to pass around to my family.

With that in mind, I have grown as a writer since I finished Grimoire. My intent is to revise the novel again before I make physical copies. Now revisions don't take as long as conjuring new material, it is not a quick process. So I'll be taking a week or two off of producing new content in order to revise Grimoire and make it the best it can be. So, if any of you can off some critique on the novel or provide editing services, I would appreciate that immensely, as this will, hopefully, be the definitive version of the story.

This is something that I cannot say I am particularly excited about. I have so many stories I want to tell but the time required is unbelievable. I want to tell Guul'Zaroth and Teleforce and I've even got a massive space opera full of espionage and supertech just bouncing around in my head. So hopefully, someday, I'll be able to write all of it. It just won't be anytime soon.
Starting tomorrow I will be pulling all chapters of Teleforce from my main gallery. I will leave them in their own little folder for the sake of reference. This series has been stop and go for a couple of years and the reason is that while I love the world and characters, I wasn't overly fond of the story I was telling with them. With that in mind, I'll be reworking the early chapters to better suit my plans for later.
The feel of grass against one's skin was a comforting thing for some people. Rolf was evidently one of those people. He lay stretched out in a verdant field, a rustic and well worn dirt path bisecting a long stretch of green. A small lake, glistening with reflected moonlight and twinkling stars, sat to Rolf's right, the nearby bank spotted with small clusters of trees.

"Hey Princess, you're taking your time out there. Hurry it up, I know it's late but somebody could still come up this road, ya know?."

"I assure you, I am doing my best. I have no desire to be out here any longer than I must." Laurelei's voice came from behind a makeshift curtain, formed of Rolf's coat, hanging between low branches near the waterfront. "Being forced to change behind a tree, how horribly uncouth, simply awful. I have so very little privacy out here, it's barbaric."

"You could have waited until we got into town, we're not far from Vadiya."

Laurelei pulled the curtain aside slightly and poked her head out. "You expect me to go about in public while dressed in my nightgown until then?"

Rolf trailed off into a grumble.

There came a few moments of complete silence, aside from a rustling behind the trees, until Laurelei spoke up again. "How curious," she said to herself. "Rolf, come here, you should see this."

Rolf's face would have drained itself of colour had it been possible for his undead flesh to become any paler. "Whoa, what the hell!? I'm not looking at anything back there!"

Laurelei scoffed loudly at the idea, her voice shuddering with embarrassment. "Of course not, I didn't mean that! I've finished dressing, it's something else entirely!"

"Uhm, sure. Just hold on a minute." Rolf climbed to his feet and strolled toward Laurelei. He pulled his coat from where it hung and slipped into it, revealing a frowning Laurelei by the bank.

"Over there," she said, pointing toward the water. It was hard to spot from far away, but once Rolf stepped closer, he could see several clusters of dark, lifeless shapes floating on the surface of the water.

"Fish?" he said, raising his brow and dropping to one knee. Entire schools of fish, big and small, none were spared. He spied a small trout floating close to the water's edge. Rolling up his sleeve, Rolf reached out and snatched it up. He held it by the tail and examined it closely, turning it over several times. "Its got some strange marks on it." He pointed to the purple and black discolouration on the creature's scales. "Some kind of poison in the water? Any of this look familiar to you?"

Laurelei shook her head. "Not at all. This won't be good for any towns and villages that rely on this lake for food and water."

"It smells weird," added Rolf.

Laurelei crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes. "Of course it does, it's a fish. Fish have a rather distinct odour."

"I know what fish smell like Laurelei and it's not this. Not exactly like this, there's something else. It smells like decay, but it doesn't look rotten. This fish hasn't been dead for that long." His left hand went toward his knife and his right slapped the fish down on a nearby rock. The point of his stiletto sunk into the fish's belly and carved it open, filling the air with an even stronger scent of rot. There were almost none of the usual fishy entrails in the animal's belly, instead a viscous purple slime poured out. "This animal's inside's have been turned into jelly. I hope nobody planned on eating any of this."

"A shame," said Laurelei, a hand clasped over her little button nose. "I was looking forward to trying Vadiya's food."

Rolf stood up and rested a hand on hilt of his blade. "I thought vampire's only drank blood?"

Laurelei shook her head. "No, we only require blood to survive. We are however, in many ways, biologically human. While our gifts mean we do not need food, we can still process it and many vampires enjoy the taste of fine food and the social aspects of dining."

Rolf tossed the dissected fish carcass back into the water and wiped his hands off with a bundle of leaves, pulled from a nearby branch. "So, what's the plan, princess?"

Laurelei brushed a gloved hand against her meticulously curled, oak hued bangs. "Obviously, we must make haste toward Vadiya. I must find the source of this poison. I am sure the people of Vadiya are already aware of the infection coursing through their waters, but I'd make for a rather poor sovereign if I allowed such a vile thing to harm my subjects."

Rolf smiled at the girl and nodded in agreement. Rolf was more than a little impressed with Laurelei's moral inclinations of late. "For being a tyrant's kid, she didn't turn out half bad. If she ever gets on that throne, things might just get a little better in this country," he thought to himself. "Alright, but let's keep a low profile this time. We don't want a repeat of Ettinvale." Rolf absentmindedly stroked the long scar on his throat as he spoke. The skin, bone and muscle had fused remarkably well, but it had left a long, horizontal ring around his neck. Just another scar to add to his quickly growing collection. Arms, cheek, jaw and now the throat.

"I will be the very picture of subtlety," said Laurelei.

"In that dress? Somehow I don't see that happening," he said, making his way back toward the road.

The girl wore a perplexed expression and her mouth formed a pouty frown. "What's wrong with this dress? It's the most subdued ensemble I brought." Laurelei wasn't wrong, it had significantly less ribbons, ruffles and jewellery than her previous outfits, though they still maintained a presence on the rose red dress she wore that evening.

The road stretched further Northeast and the pair walked side by side, with Laurelei scurrying to keep up with Rolf's longer stride.

"That reminds me, how many dresses did you bring? Between that and all the bottled blood, books and ink you brought, I didn't think there'd be much room in the trunk for you."

"Oh, about eight dresses and two nightgowns," she said evenly.

"What!? How do you fit all that in here?" Rolf asked, his eyes trailing down toward the box in his left hand.

"You forget, I am a sigilist of prodigious skill. Sigils manipulate the world, its elements and its planes. I brought you back from the dead, a small interplanar portal for storage is hardly an impressive feat, given proper preparation time."

"So you created a gateway to another dimension in there, just so you could bring more fancy dresses along for the trip? Doesn't that seem at all frivolous to you?"

"Not at all. I fail to see how proper presentation of one's self is at all frivolous. You ought to try doing so yourself."

While Laurelei chastised his appearance, Rolf came to a full stop and planted a hand on her shoulder. "Laurel, you might want to close your eyes."

"What, why?" she replied, her face masked with confusion. Instinctively, she looked toward Rolf and followed his eyes toward the side of the road.

A trio of animals, three deer, lay in a heap. Their eyes were rolled into the back of their heads and their fur had fallen off in wide clumps. The flesh beneath was stained dark purple and black, and suddenly the smell of rot in the air had grown thicker than ever. Beyond the deer, more little bodies lay dead on the ground, mostly rabbits and birds. Even the grass was dead, thick patches of brown growing up on either side of the road and becoming more and more populous, until it all disappeared on the horizon, obscured by a faint purple cloud of fog. There wasn't a single sign of living fauna in the area and the strangest thing was, they all faced the same direction. Every single animal looked as if it had collapsed while moving toward Rolf and Laurelei's direction, a straight path away from Vadiya.

"...Oh," she said softly, her hand slowly cupping over her mouth. A long moment of silence passed while the pair stared at what looked like the aftermath of a localized apocalypse. "What is this?"

"The miasma," Rolf said.

Laurelei turned toward Rolf and shook her head defiantly. "No, impossible. The miasma surrounds Agares, covers its borders and prevents invaders from the outside. We are nowhere near the borders of the kingdom."

"Exactly," Rolf said, his hands stuffed into his pockets and his eyes fixed firmly ahead. "It's been used as an offensive weapon before, during the rebellion, decades ago. The ultimate deterrent, it keeps the humans from even thinking about opposing the royalty." Rolf's eyes were fixed into a glare as he spoke, glossy and empty white, they almost appeared to glow when his temper was roused. "It looks like Vadiya was a little too troublesome for Methuselah's liking, so he wiped it out." Rolf's words came through clenched teeth and his fingers dug into the palms of his hands.

Laurelei stared at her shoes and brushed a stray strand of hair from her brow. "Well then, we must investigate, correct?"

Rolf nodded in but remained silent.

The further down the road they moved, the more bodies they spotted, collapsed and decayed, the stench grew more unbearable by the moment. Laurelei covered her mouth and nose with a handkerchief and her skin took on a sickly hue. The few trees that once dotted the area had been turned black and crooked, their leaves strewn across the ground in a crumbled mess.

Eventually the gates came into view. Purple fog roiled around the great stone walls and bubbled over to form a sphere of poison around the whole city. The gates stood ajar but beyond those doors, the fog was impenetrable.

Laurelei coughed into her handkerchief and took a step back. "I appear to be having trouble breathing. I won't be able to proceed any further from here. Vampires possess a certain level of resistance to this poison when compared to other beings, but it is still dangerous, especially to someone of my proportions.""

"I don't feel anything, I guess being a necronom makes me immune to the miasma. What do you plan to do while I'm in there?"

Laurelei had already produced a quill and inkwell from her sleeve and her hands moved toward the great tome hanging from a leather shoulder strap. "I believe I can produce a sigil that will ward off the miasma for a short period. I just need some time."

"Right, good luck. If I find anything, I'll let you know." Rolf moved forward, one hand gripping the hilt of his sword at all times. In a few moments he became a black silhouette wrapped in  fog, vanishing altogether shortly thereafter. The path beneath his feet became well maintained stone roads and the gates gave way to an array of shops and inns, all huddled together. Vadiya was something of an upper class city, by human standards. A town of merchants and bankers. The clink of coins was the was the anthem of cities like this.

The effects of the poison were immediately evident, as the entire city seemed completely devoid of life. Not a sound nor a sight, the utter stillness made it feel like time itself had stopped. Doors and windows stood open and soon enough, death filled Rolf's vision. Horses tied to their posts were slumped together and people lay face down in the streets. The bodies were in far worse shape than those outside the city. Their skin was not covered in blotches or patches, it was entirely discoloured. Many people were covered in scabs, sores and growths so large that they covered the victims eyes, nose and mouth entirely, leaving their faces a featureless mass.

Rolf lowered his head and ran a hand through his hair. If he could still sweat, he'd be drenched. He reached the town centre soon, a wide, decorative fountain in the middle, its water ceased to flow and had been replaced with a thick purple sludge. A great bell tower rose above the city and blanketed the streets its great shadow. One body stood out among the rest, lain against the fountain, it bore the same infectious markings as the rest, in addition to multiple, long slash marks along the chest, arms and face. Dried blood caked the bodies torso and it wore the trappings of the local guard, its chest plate and helmet battered and discarded nearby.

"What the hell?" Rolf thought to himself. He ran over to the body and eyed its wounds curiously. "Rioting from the panic maybe? But then why only one body, why is there almost no damage to the city?"

"Ugghhh!"

The loud groan made Rolf leap to his feet and whip around. His hand clenched the hilt of his blade like the weapon was life itself. The noise came from a two story house at the edge of the square. It bore the town's crest on its face and a sign that identified it as the local barracks. The door stood open and in the threshold slumped an armoured and shuddering body. The man crawled on his belly, dragging his weight around with the meagre strength that remained in his arms.

In a dash, Rolf bolted to the man's side and dropped to his knee. "Somebody's actually alive?" Gently, he placed his hands on the man's shoulders and eased him into a seated position, laying his back against the wall. His face was marked in purple, the skin pulled taught and his breaths coming in a harsh wheeze. "What's your name?" Rolf asked.

The man coughed hard and clutched at Rolf's sleeve, seemingly muttering something to himself a few times over before finally speaking. "It doesn't matter, I'm all but dead now. But you, you can't be here, you're going to be killed."

"Don't worry, the miasma can't hurt me. What happened here? Why did they kill all these people?"

"Not the miasma," the man replied, shaking his head. "There's something in the fog, something that's killing us, anyone that survived the initial blast. It's killing us and it's doing it slowly. Still faster than the..." the man trailed into a harsh fit of coughing. Dark slime filled his mouth and poured onto his chest plate. He spat out the mouthful of sludge and continued. "Faster than the poison. I don't know why, nobody does. Just do me a favour boy, put me out of my misery and run."

"Hey, come on, I'll get you out of here, you'll be okay."

"No!" The man's hand shot up and grabbed Rolf by the collar. He was so feeble, Rolf felt like a small child was tugging at his coat. "I can feel my insides burning up, I am dying tonight so just do what I say boy!" He tried to yell, but it came out as a harsh rasp. His body trembled with the effort. "Grant a dying man his last request; take your knife and stick it my heart, nice and quick. Then go, run away."

Rolf closed his eyes and nodded slowly, his face wrought with solace. Without a word he unfastened the straps on the man's breastplate and set it aside. Rolf's hand found its way to his knife and pulled the long, thin blade from its sheath. It was a weapon designed for executions, slender enough to easily slip into gaps in armour or between ribs. Long enough to reach the vital organs every time. Rolf stared at the blade for a moment. He could feel his heart thudding in his chest. This weapon was meant to finish off werewolves, a small length of silver to leave an unhealing wound on their heart. He never thought he'd be plunging it into a human chest, but he knew full well that this time, it was the right thing to do.

"I've never done this before. I've never killed a person." The sentence left Rolf's mouth and he froze up, eyes locked on the suffering man's face. "I'm sorry that this happened to you," he said quietly. The point of his blade was pressed against the man's decrepit flesh and he braced the hilt with both hands. "But if I ever find the bastard responsible for this, I'll put this dagger where it belongs. Right in his goddamn eye socket."

The man nodded and stared at the ceiling. "Do it."

Rolf's hands pushed forward and the knife punched through the flesh and sank into the man's heart. His eyes widened and dilated for a but a second and he released his final breath. The trembling stopped and his body went limp.

Retrieving his dagger, Rolf turned back toward the centre of town. Something was different this time, he wasn't alone anymore. It was hard to make out in the thick fog, but a figure stood perched atop the fountain in the middle of the town, crouched like a gargoyle.

"Who the hell are you!?" Rolf said, dropping Laurelei's trunk and grabbing the hilt of his sword.

"Hehehehehhh!" As it laughed, the figure sprang into the air and somersaulted toward Rolf.

Rolf responded with a furious roar and pulled his blade from its sheath. Both hands on the hilt, he made a wild, horizontal stroke, intercepting the mysterious attacker. His blade met the resistance of tempered steel and a resounding clash of swords filled his ears.

The thing stood in front of him now, curved twin swords in hand and a wicked grin on its face. "It is called, Gutterwink," the creature replied. "Does the raggedy boy want to play with Gutterwink?"

"Five seconds and I already want to kill you!" Rolf reeled his sword back and swung it like a woodsman cutting down a tree.

Gutterwink moved more like a beast than a man, bouncing over Rolf's attack with blindingly quick acrobatics.

"Son of a bitch," Rolf said with a trembling voice. Before he could even recover from the first stroke, Rolf a pair of blades pressed against the back of his neck.

"Too slow, raggedy boy," said Gutterwink, a low, gravelly laugh pouring from its mouth. Calmly, the necronom withdrew its blades and took a step back.

Rolf ground his teeth together and roared as he whirled around. "Stop calling me that!" Rolf attempted another strike, but Gutterwink created a net of steel with his swords and deftly guided Rolf's weapon away. The blade slammed into the dirt and in a blink, Gutterwink's foot shot up and planted its boot right into Rolf's chest. The attack took the boy off of his feet and sent him crashing onto the dirt, back first.

"How!?" Rolf slammed his fist into the dirt and stared at the grinning Gutterwink with narrow eyes, ready to bubble over with fury and frustration. "How the hell are you so fast!?"

"No fun, Gutterwink will have to make it easier for the raggedy boy," it said, sheathing his swords.

"Shut the hell up!" Rolf charged his foe, sword held high. With a lunge he swung in a vertical arc, but Gutterwink was too fast. He stepped inside the range of Rolf's sword and caught him by the left wrist. The elder necronom whirled his back toward Rolf and wrenched the elbow, using his own shoulder to block its movement. There was a loud snap followed by a howl of pain from Rolf.

Maintaining his grip on Rolf's arm, Gutterwink leaned forward and hurled him forward. Rolf tumbled through the air and smacked into the into the centrepiece of the fountain, collapsing into the pool of black ichor below.

Rolf immediately pushed himself to his feet with his one good arm. His hair and clothes were coated with the foul grime. Before him, with that same fiendish smile, Gutterwink stood perched on the fountain's rim. "What do you want!"

"Gutterwink was given two orders," it said, holding up a pair of fingers. "Bring back the princess and kill whoever she is with."

"I figured this would be about her," said Rolf, as he wiped the slime from his eyes. "So, are you going to finish me then?"

"Gutterwink will kill the raggedy boy, when Gutterwink is done playing with him."
"So, you don't take me seriously then? Keep it up and it'll get you killed." Rolf dashed toward his opponent and snapped his arm forward in a wild jab. For the first time, he landed a blow, his knuckles rattling Gutterwink's jaw.

The force turned the creature's head but it stood its ground. Its hands lashed out before Rolf could even draw his fist back. Gutterwink's bony hands clamped an iron grip onto Rolf's head and with a sudden twist, he turned it right around.

Rolf found himself staring at the bell tower now, mind in a daze over what had just happened. With his head on backwards, he stumbled left and right, swinging his fist in vain. "Rrraggghhhh!" Before long he teetered backwards and reached the far edge of the fountain, staggering over the rim and hitting the ground on his face and backside simultaneously. "I am so damn tired of getting beaten!"

Rolf suddenly felt Gutterwink's foot slam down on the back of his head and grind his face into the ground.

"Get off of my necronom!" Laurelei's voice erupted from the veil of the fog and a page of flaming parchment came whipping toward Gutterwink.

The necronom didn't so much as turn his head when his blade appeared in his hand and swiped through the air. With effortless precision he sliced the page in half and bisected the sigil before it had the chance to activate. The two pieces of parchment harmlessly faded into ash and drifted away on the breeze.

"Oh dear," Laurelei said to herself, her voice low and trembling. She stood nervously, in the centre of the road. A small sphere of shimmering light surrounded her and warded off the miasma . It was roughly a metre across in all directions and emanated from a small glowing sigil on the front cover of her tome.

Gutterwink tilted his head in her direction, his permanent, skeletal grin parting to release a small cackle. "Princess..." he said, marching toward her. "Master ordered Gutterwink to bring you to him."

"G-Gutterwink!" With a tense glare, her hand flew toward her tome and ripped out three pages, one after another. In rapid succession she tossed them toward the approaching necronom, each bearing a different sigil. One crackled with electric sparks, another left a trail of twinkling frost in its wake and the third whistled like a powerful gust.
Gutterwink drew its second blade and made three perfect strokes. Each attack tore through the little, fluttering pages and left their magic inert.

Gutterwink slowed to a stop just a few metres away from Laurelei. Its arms hung at its sides and the edges of its blades rhythmically tapped the stone path. "The princess will come with Gutterwink."

Laurelei took a step back, trying her best to maintain a steely expression. She knew full well who Gutterwink was and how terribly bad things were if he was here. "I am Princess Laurelei Marie Lockheart. Your master is my subject, and thus you must obey my orders before all but the King himself. Leave us, now!"

"The princess will come with Gutterwink," it repeated. It took a single step closer when a roar appeared behind him, quickly followed by Rolf in mid-lunge. It appeared he had managed to twist his back around and had recovered his sword, though he swung the weapon one-handed while his left arm hung uselessly at his side.

Gutterwink ducked under the incoming blade but Rolf spun around almost immediately and forced Gutterwink further back with a second swipe. Rolf came to stand beside Laurelei, his sword resting against the ground and his companion hiding her face behind the blade.

She was huddled low and briefly peeked over the sword to spot Gutterwink, carefully eyeing its opponent. "Gutterwink," she said. "I happen to have a knife in my hands and it is poised over my heart."

To describe Gutterwink as having an expression of any sort would be inaccurate, but his face displayed the closest approximation of confusion it could manage.

"Your orders are to bring me back alive, correct? Otherwise you would've cut me down when you had the chance. Well, unfortunately for you, I have developed a sudden onset case of suicidal depression."

Gutterwink tilted its head to the side and drummed its fingers against the hilts of its swords.

"Now, I shall be exceptionally clear because I understand you are an imbecile."
Gutterwink nodded.

"What this means is that if you take a single step forward, I will kill myself and you will fail your mission."

Rolf looked to Laurelei and lifted his brow. "Laurel, what the hell are you doing?"

"Stalling for time," she whispered back. "Gutterwink is dangerous, very, very dangerous. But he is also stupid, very, very stupid. He won't be distracted for too long, he will grow tired of waiting and attack, regardless of consequence. I have until then to formulate a plan."

Rolf nodded, keeping an eye on Gutterwink. The necronom was snarling and rolling his shoulders. "Alright. How many of those sigils do you have?" Rolf asked.

"It takes a certain amount of magical energy to safely maintain a large number of sigils at once. At my level, I can handle around seven, a little more or less depending on the complexity of the spell. Unfortunately a lot of my power is going into maintaining the sigil protecting me from the miasma."

"So how many do you have at the moment?"

"None, I threw them all at him already."

Gutterwink leaned in a little closer, attempting to listen in on their hushed conversation.
"Hey, what did I tell you Gutterwink!?" said Laurelei. "No closer or I kill myself, we already discussed this."

Gutterwink, utterly bewildered, complied and eased back slightly.

Rolf frowned at Laurelei and shook his head. "This should not be working!" he hissed.

"Quiet, I have a plan. Attack him."

"Now?"

"Yes now, of course now, because he probably heard me say 'attack him', and his incompetent, half rotted little brain will be processing a response at any moment!"

"... Alright, now!" Rolf lifted his sword, terribly unwieldy under normal circumstances and made no better by the debilitation of one of his arms. Still, he managed a clumsy downward strike, but Gutterwink blocked Rolf's blade in a cross between dual swords.
Rolf growled under his breath and desperately attempted to overpower the necronom, but Gutterwink was winning out, forcing Rolf back. Something caught Rolf's eye, just then,
something about his sword. On the flat of his blade, near the end, a simple sigil had been painted in ink. When the swords clashed it began to glow a verdant green and the scent of roses tickled Rolf's nose.

"Like I said, I didn't have any prepared sigils left," said Laurelei, looking rather smug. "So I made a new one."

The sigil exploded in a flash of green light and when it cleared, Rolf, Gutterwink and their swords, had been bound together by a cluster of thick green vines, covered in thorns. The vines had lush roses growing from them and the kept both combatants firmly and tightly pinned. They remained on their feet, arms bound tightly at their sides and the vines wrapping around their legs and burrowing into the ground.

"Laurelei!" Rolf roared, struggling with all his might as Gutterwink's shark like teeth gnashed only inches from his face. "What the hell kind of plan was this!? I do not like being this close to that psychopath!"

"More time to prepare Rolf, those vines won't hold you two for long. Keep him there until I say otherwise." Laurelei stepped around the wrestling mass of vines and necronoms, and ran toward the bell tower.

"Where are you going!?"

Laurelei didn't respond, but instead continued on toward the tower with as much haste as
she could muster.

Meanwhile, Gutterwink struggled and flailed violently, completely ignoring the thorns ripping into his flesh and stabbing him repeatedly. "Shut up!" it said while it desperately attempted to close in and chomp down on Rolf's face.

"What kind of crazy bastard tries to bite someone in a fight!"

"Gutterwink hates it, Gutterwink hates the raggedy boy!"

"Call me that one more damn time and when I get out of here I will tear you apart, one-handed!"

"Raggedy, raggedy, raggedy, raggedy boyyy!"

"Screw you! You are the last person I ever want to be tied to, a thousand werewolves before a lunatic like you!"

The necronoms proceeded to bark and roar back and forth at one another, all the while wrestling to be free of the vines. After several minutes of yelling and struggling, Gutterwink seemed to make just enough room to manoeuvre his swords. A few jerky slashes and some frantic sawing of his blades and he carved away a small section of the vines. Simultaneously, Rolf and Gutterwink began flailing their swords and hacking at the entanglement. The vines had been cut away and fell to form a ring of roses and thorns around the warriors.

Rolf was first to attack, but his awkward one armed strike was easily avoided. Gutterwink ducked the attack and followed up with a sudden, twin sword slash to the inside of Rolf's right leg, dropping him to one knee.

"Shit!" Rolf dropped his sword and slammed his fist into the ground. "I can't barely even land a single damn hit on you!"

Gutterwink leaned back and tilted his head toward Rolf. His right sword lifted and poised its tip over Rolf's heart, ready for the execution.

He stared up at his opponent, eyes locked on its empty black sockets. "If I survive this, Gutterwink, I will come back better and I will end you. I am done with failing and being weak."

Gutterwink chuckled to itself and pulled its sword back, prepared to plunge it into Rolf's chest.

"Gutterwink!" Laurelei called out, her voice giving the necronom pause.
It looked toward the noise and spotted Laurelei atop the belltower balcony.
"Gutterwink, if you kill my companion, I may be inclined to jump from this balcony in despair."

Gutterwink nodded and lowered its sword. Without hesitation it left Rolf on his knees and ran toward the Bell tower.

Watching his foe leave, Rolf almost felt like smiling, but he knew there was no time to rejoice yet. He pushed himself to his feet, but to no avail. His left leg wobbled and dropped him back to his knees, stinging in excruciating pain. "Okay, I'll crawl then." Down on all fours, Rolf pursued.

It seemed only a matter of moments had passed in the time it took Gutterwink to scale the winding staircase to the top of the tower. It was a tall and rather old stone structure with wooden stairs and supports, a huge, rusty old bell suspended in the middle with a long rope that dangled down the length of the tower. Gutterwink stood before Laurelei, swords in hand and the great bell hanging behind him. "Come with Gutterwink," it said. "Gutterwink is bored of it's games."

"Now, now," said Laurelei, inching ever closer to the edge of the tower. "You are a truly terrifying looking thing and I'd hate for you intimidating visage to panic my poor little heart and sent me hurtling over the balcony."

Gutterwink snarled and growled, its legs bending and its grip on its swords tightening.
"Oh how perfect, yes, just stand right there. Rolf, make yourself useful and ring the bell, would you?"

The old bell began to clang, a noise so raucous that it seemed to shake the walls of the tower. Gutterwink looked over its shoulder and down the shaft to spot Rolf at the bottom of the tower, limping but yanking on the rope as hard as he could. Suddenly a light flashed from the bell and filled the room. He hadn't noticed when he came in, due to the darkness, but the face of the bell was now host to a huge, scintilating sigil, sparking with electricity.

Gutterwink stared at Laurelei with a mix of confusion and disdian. "What did it do!"
Laurelei steepled her fingers and smiled with self-satisfaction. "Well Gutterwink, bells such as this are mostly made from copper. Copper is diamagnetic and, well the rest is rather complicated for your simple mind to comprehend and I haven't the time to explain it. Suffice to say that when I expose this bell to the correct elements, via magic, I can generate a rather sizable amount of electricity. I merely selected the motion of the bell as the trigger for the sigil. So, all that together means, I win."

Energy crackled in the air and the light grew more intense. Laurelei offered Gutterwink a patronizing wave and then, without hesitation, threw herself from the top of the tower. She plummeted through the air, the wind rushing past her and her gown fluttering in the moonlight. Her body turned in her descent and in a whirl she became a bat, flapping and soaring toward the ground in a gentle swoop.

The tower above exploded in a flash of blinding light, bolts of energy streaking across the sky in brief, violent flashes. The bolts vanished all at once and were almost immediately replaced with flames, the tower burning and pouring out thick black smoke.
Laurelei landed at the tower door and in a swirl of shadow she became a girl once again.

Rolf came stumbling out toward her, limping on his injured leg and holding his broken arm. "What just happened?"

"I took care of things for now. We must be going, before he gets back up."

Rolf's jaw fell agape and his eyes grew wide. "He's going to get back up from that!?"

"Most likely yes. Enough lollygagging, Rolf, let us away, immediately."

"Alright," said Rolf, his head bobbing weakly. "But what happens now, what does this all mean?"

Laurelei sighed and rubbed her temples in exasperation. "Well, judging from all the needless death and carnage I see around me, that could only have been ordered by the King of Agares himself..." she trailed off briefly and looked Rolf dead in the eyes. "This means I need to have a word with my father."
Sorry everyone but I won't be able to post a chapter this week. Such is the unpredictable life of a student. Most of my free time was eaten up by projects dumped on me before study week. I'm still working on it, just a bit more slowly than I'd like. There is a chance, a slim one, that I will be finished before Friday night, but I just don't see it happening. My work ethic has been significantly better than in recent months and I'm excited to take Guul'Zaroth to its conclusion. Unfortunately, Guul'Zaroth is likely to be a fair bit longer than Grimoire and so the conclusion is bit far off.

I still have some time to possibly work on a few critiques though, so if anyone has anything they'd like me to look over, send it my way.
Dressed in the colourful scarves and skirts of the Vega, Lavinia hopped up the stairs to the second floor of the inn, taking them two at a time. "Benny!" Lavinia said, scampering up to her friend's chambers, and kicking the door open.

"Oi, Lavi, changing!" Benny replied. The giantess's normally elaborately braided blond hair hung down loosely over her broad shoulder frame. Her hands clutched the sheet from her bed and wrapped it around body, but her size ensured the sheet covered only the most vital sections. With her brows lifted and her cheeks red, she urgently attempted to shoo the other girl out of the room.

Lavinia titled her head toward Benny and adjusted her wide, circular spectacles. "That's some nice muscle tone you've got there, Benny."

"Lavi, that means out, now!"

With a grumble, she rolled her rolls and stomped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

"Thank you," said Benny, sighing with relief. "Now what was it that was so damn important that you needed to charge in on me?"

Lavinia pressed her back against the wooden door and absently tapped her foot. "It's nothing really, I just saw something neat in town."

"Neat?"

"Yeah, neat. There were some performers, Vega, apparently they arrived early this morning. They're just getting set-up now but they'll be ready by tonight, they're putting on a show or something." Lavinia was constantly in motion, whether tapping her foot, bobbing her head, or twirling her dark curls around with her finger.

A clatter came from inside the room, something or another being knocked to the floor. Tight quarters and Benny's build did not always get along amicably."Sounds like fun Lavi, but you know I'm doing some work around the quarry today, yeah?"

"You almost done in there? Putting on your makeup and getting all pretty for... Hitting rocks with a hammer."

"Everyone has something they're good at. I'm good at smashing things, might as well do something productive with it."

Her arms crossed over her chest, Lavinia slid down the door and planted her rump on the floor. "I know, I know, but it's just so boring. Wouldn't you rather do something fun. I mean, you used to be a travelling performer, just like the troupe that showed up today. Yet you gave it up to stay in this dull little town and work in a quarry?"

At that moment, the door came open and Lavinia cleared a path. Benny emerged, dressed in a rough tunic, heavy leather gloves and boots, and a thick apron. She lifted a thickly muscled arm to block the morning sunlight that poured in the the far window and illuminated the halls of the inn. "Yes, I'd much rather be a productive member of society than a wandering freakshow to be gawked at."

"Benny, you're not a freak. You're capable of entertaining people, making them happy. Isn't that so much better than breaking rocks?"

Benny made for the stairs while busily tying her hair back. "Lavi, you don't understand. You're normal. Well, you look normal anyway." The stairs creaked and groaned under Benny's weight until she reached the final step and continued toward the door.

"I look like a Vega. In Agares, that's not entirely normal."

"You look like a pretty Vega. You'd be surprised how quickly people's prejudices vanish when you look like you do." Benny pushed past the front door and her boots hit the dirt road.

Lavinia followed right behind Benny, pulling up the hood on her colourful, embroidered shawl.

"Benny, you're always so down on yourself." Lavinia shook her head and stopped on the porch, leaning over the rail and smiling after her friend. "I'll see you tonight at the show, go and have fun hitting rocks, I guess."

Fun might not have been the best word for it, but Benny certainly did enjoy the feeling of stone shattering beneath her pick. The rock fragmented and cracks stretched across its surface until the whole chunk split in two. Grey dust filled the air and stained her apron, but that crunch she felt. Satisfying, that's what she'd call it. Her muscles flexed and she slammed the pickaxe point first into the face of one stone after another, shattering most with a single stroke. She pulled an old cloth from her pocket and wiped the building sweat from her brow. No matter how tiring it got, Benny wore an ear to ear smile the whole day through. She hardly broke for lunch most days, just went from one cluster of stone to another, leaving cracked rubble in her path. The day wore on until the sun rose from the edge of the horizon and well into the middle of the sky.

Benny let out a long breath, dropping herself down onto a nearby stone. Her head hanging and body dripping with sweat, she ran a hand though her bangs and brushed them away from her face.  Her muscles were sore, her back ached and she couldn't get the smile off of her face. [i]"Something about a hard day's work,"[/i] she thought to herself. [i]"Just makes you feel so... average."[/i] She lifted her head and looked around to see all the other men in much the same shape as herself. Sure, they all had smaller piles, but that aside, they were complete equals. She almost managed to relax for a moment when suddenly, a bright flash burst in the sky and a shuddering bang filled her ears.

Every man in the quarry immediately leaped to their feet and searched for the source in a frantic tizzy, though most of them knew quite well what had caused it.

"Dammit, Lavi, what did Mr.Zandelo tell you about throwing star stones!?" said Benny.

Lavinia appeared at the rim of deep quarry, almost forty feet up. "I needed to get your attention," she called back.

"Well ya could have just yelled, or hell, walk down here or something."

"Yeah, but throwing star stones is more fun. It's got a flair to it."

"Your father didn't teach you those Vega tricks just so you could annoy everyone with 'em. You know it makes people uncomfortable."

"Oh come on Benny, did you see that? It was a big one!" Lavinia knelt down, eyes aglow, and scooped up a handful of pebbles. She wrapped her hands around the little stones,  shook them about for a moment and tossed them into the air. The result was a flurry of crackling, multi-coloured sparkles that surrounded her with a rainbow hued glow.

Benny marched up toward Lavinia, shaking her head all the while. "Twice in one day you feel the need to come by and harass me. What is it now?"

"There's something in town Benny, everyone's gathered. You need to come and see." Lavinia grabbed hold of Benny's wrist, the moment she was within reach. She pulled on the larger woman's arm in a completely ineffectual attempt to drag her along.

Benny casually pulled her arm away and nearly yanked Lavinia off her feet. "Alright, I'm done here for today anyway. Let's go have a look see."

Lavinia wasn't exaggerating much when she said everyone had gathered. Windalin was not a large town, but the quarry drew potential workers in for miles. There were at least two inns packed at all times and the quarry had even set up some accommodations to put their employees in for a time. Near to a thousand people stood at the edge of the city, all eyes on a little cluster of strange looking folk at the town gates. They were difficult to make out from the back, but Benny had no trouble pushing her way to the front. Eight figures and a small but exquisite black carriage, with a pair of powerful, charcoal horses reigned to the vehicle. In the middle stood a black robed figure with a gigantic creature of a man to his right, and three necronoms in shoddy grey armour, lesser soldiers of the kingdom.

The black robed figure had most of its face obscured by a hood drawn over the eyes. It was tall and straight, smiling with a mouthful of crooked, rotten teeth. Its skin appeared to be a stony grey and its hands had long, bony fingers, constantly stroking a silvery trinket worn around the neck. The giant stood a head higher than Benny herself, its skin of subtly varying hues and stitched together like a patchwork quilt. Heavily muscled, with long, greasy black hair, hanging in wild strands over a vacuous face. Its body was adorned with little armour, but a plethora of complex tattoos and scars. In his hands, he gripped a titanic, single edged ax.

Benny's brow knitted together when she laid eyes on the figures. She bit down on her lip and observed the unusual presence.

"People of Windalin," said the robed figure, with a loud voice and a posh accent. "I am the Herald of Lord Kraven Blight. Please, do not be alarmed by our presence. First of all, I would extend the sincerest apologies of my lord, he would speak for himself, but it is yet daylight, and this is a message of urgency. He is with us and will make an appearance once the sun has set." The Herald paused to take in a breath, the corners of his mouth forming a curved smirk. "I will be brief as I can, as we have much business to attend to. Our reports have informed us that a dangerous criminal and enemy to the Kingdom of Agares has taken to hiding in your village." He played to the crowd like a veteran orator, swaying left and right, falling silent to allow a hushed chorus of whispers to fall over the people.

"We have been in contact with Mayor Tavus for a time and he has failed to produce sufficient results. As such, Lord Blight has come to investigate the matter personally, in the interest of your safety." The Herald cocked its head to the right and gestured toward his men with a skeletal hand. "Because of his failure to protect his people, Lord Blight has deemed Tavus unfit for a position of leadership."

There was a shuffle of motion among the necronoms and as they parted, they produced the struggling form of Mayor Tavus. A man of thoroughly average countenance, though well dressed by the middling standards of Windalin. Tavus's face was pale and his body trembled. The entire crowd soon adopted much the same expression as their mayor when they saw the necronom soldiers drag him over to the Herald's side and force him against a large grey stone. Tavus kicked and struggled, but he was useless against the strength of the burly undead soldiers that kept hold of his wrists.

The Herald strolled past Tavus, nose held high and his fingers running along the man's face. "Look at him, people of Windalin. He failed you, now he pays the price of failure. This is for you." Without another word, the Herald stepped aside and the golem of assorted flesh raised its ax. For that moment, the weapon raised in the air, the entire crowd was silent and still as the grave. The axe fell in a downward arc and split the mayor's ribcage, silencing his screams and spraying blood across the arms and torso of the goliath.

"Ahem," the Herald cleared his throat and wiped a single fleck of blood from his cheek. "I will be assuming the role of mayor until we can find a suitable replacement for Tavus. I will begin setting about my administrative duties at the city hall. You are all excused."

Benny turned to Lavinia with a stern face, biting her lip and taking in a hard breath. "Lavi, go home. I need to go have a word with someone about all this insanity."

"You mean the grey man, don't you?" she replied. She was staring at her feet and wiping the lens of her spectacles on her apron. "You think he's the criminal they're looking for?"

Benny shook her head. "I don't know, but in my time here, I've never met anyone else who could possibly draw the attention of the vampires. If it's not him, maybe he can help. I also think that if something isn't done, things are going to become rather bad. If our mayor getting executed isn't already bad enough."

"I'm coming too."

"No you're not Lavi. We already talked about this, the Grey Man doesn't like people. If I'm going to talk to him, it has to be alone, he seems to tolerate me more than most. Now go and check on your dad. I'm sure he needs some help around the inn."

Lavinia nodded with resignation, clumsily fitting her glasses back over her eyes. "Alright, but if anything happens, I want you to tell me. I'm not useless, I can help."

Benny dropped down to one knee and placed a hand on Lavinia's shoulder. "I know you can, but not with this. Go home, I'll be right back, hopefully with good news."

The two exchanged nods and Lavinia ran back toward the inn. Meanwhile, Benny headed toward the Western edge of town, skirting past the quarry and toward the little hovel of a home where the Grey Man could be found. She ran as fast as she could, and with legs as long as hers, it wasn't a long trip. Approaching the shack, something was out of place. The grey man wasn't waiting outside, staring at the sun, as usual.

"He doesn't go inside, not until the sun has set." Shaking her head, she proceeded to pound on the door, holding back to avoid knocking the whole rickety shack down. "Oi, Grey Man! You in there?"

There was silence for a brief moment, until the gravelly voice of the Grey Man replied from inside. "It is the sixth day. You don't come here on the sixth day."

"Something happened, I need to talk to you."

"...Enter."

Pushing the door ajar, Benny peered inside and spotted the Grey Man his back to her as he gazed down at an array of weapons, spread out on a small table. A single, lit candle sat on the table, its meagre firelight casting a glow on the dull, shodden blades. Countless throwing knives, stilleto daggers and notched machetes were laid out, hooks and chains were bound together and a set of heavy hatches sat together. In the middle of the table, the Grey Man's broadsword rested in its sheath. A cluster of old belts, harnesses and sheathes hung overhead, one for each of the numerous weapons on the table.

"What's all that for?" Benny asked, momentarily distracted from her purpose.

The Grey Man turned to look over his shoulder, his expression grim as always. "Just as you said, something has happened."

Benny's eyes widened and she leaned back against the wall, arms crossed over her chest. "You already know? How could you possibly know?"

The Grey Man turned his attention back to his weapons with a whetstone in his hands. He began to sharpen the first knife in reach. "I was there," he said, stroking the stone against the edge of the blade.

"I didn't see you there, you'res a bit hard to miss."

"If I do not wish to be seen, then I am not seen."

"But I ran all the way here, how did you arrive first?"

"I do not consider that clumsy shuffling to be running."

Benny ground her teeth together in frustration, but continued on. "So what do you plan to do with all those, then?"

Satisfied with its edge, the Grey Man laid down the first knife and methodically reached for a second. Judging by the number of blades on the table, he was going to be there all night. "I will wait for my prey to reveal himself, and then I will slay him."

"Your prey?"

"Kraven Blight, the Wildfire."

Benny's jaw nearly dropped at the suggestion. "You're going to murder a vampire lord!? Do you understand how insane that sounds?"

Graveth dropped the knife and let it rattle against the forest of blades before him. "I will not murder him, I will slay him. Murder is the act of killing a person, the term does not apply to them."

"And what in the name of the Guardian makes you think you can kill Kraven Blight! He's a terror, a damned monster!"

"You have no idea what I am capable of," the Grey Man rasped. "Go, I have work to do."

"What, now?"

His lip curled back in a snarl, revealing a  pair of long fangs. "If they're here for me then they cannot find me. I need to draw out my prey. I  cannot make my presence known too early. I will wait."

"What do you mean, wait!?" Benny replied. "Mayor Tavus was just murdered, he was a good man and he didn't deserve to die. They could kill more any time they please and there's nothing we can do!"

"Another drop in the ocean of human blood that pours from this vile kingdom does not sway me in the least. I will wait and you will get out of my shack. Now."

The cold stare from the desiccated man sent chills through Benny's body. She pulled her gaze away and averted eye contact, her jaw clenching tightly. She stood in silence for a time, thinking to herself, trying desperately to drown out the scraping noise of the Grey Man sharpening his blades.

After minutes upon minutes of vocal silence, Benny spoke again, her voice quiet and soft. "You don't care about protecting people at all, do you? All you care about is killing your enemies, killing vampires. I thought that maybe, you were a hero once, something special. You were so mysterious and strange, people made up all kinds of stories about you. That you were a monster, a ghost, a demon. I thought they were wrong, I assumed the best. You couldn't be like that, that'd be too easy, too obvious, too simple. I thought that maybe you were good, but you're not, you're a monster, you just happen to prey on vampires, and just killing bad people doesn't make you good. It doesn't matter at all to you that they hurt people, you just want them to die for your own selfish reasons. You're as bad as they are."

"I am not like them," the Grey Man said in a gravelly growl.

"Then explain the fangs. Your skin is burned from the sun and you choke on garlic, but you eat it regardless. You are like them. I've listened to the stories, talked to people around town. You've been here for decades, never changing, never aging. Every day you stand in the sun and you eat garlic. You're trying to overcome it, but you can't. You're a vampire."

"I don't care what you believe, woman. I have surpassed all the weaknesses of their foul kind, I am not one of them. I have not fed on human blood, not once since I was cursed. Tell me, what makes me a vampire?"

Benny stepped past the door and into the slowly dawning twilight. "It's amazing that you're even still alive, but you're weak now. A vampire becomes weak after days without feeding, you've gone years. No matter how strong you once were or how strong you think you are, just look at you. Scorched skin stretched over a skeleton, what makes you think you can handle someone like Blight?"

"For every vampire you have ever met, I have slain ten. Do not doubt my power, child." The reply was followed by loud, ragged retching. The Grey Man curled over his table but stayed on his feet. He shook violently while black slime poured from his mouth and spattered the surface of the table.

Benny shook her head and took a step away from the shack. "If you're so powerful, so mighty, then what is this?" she asked, gesturing to the decrepit shed and its barren surroundings. "Why are you here, hiding for decades."

The Grey Man rose back up to his full height and rolled his shoulders. His head tilted back and his long, stringy grey hair falling away from his face. "I wasn't hiding, I was training. The garlic, the sunlight, the starvation, all preparation for my return. At first it nearly killed me, small doses. I have bled and burned and poisoned myself for longer than you have walked this earth in order to shrug off the limitations of this life. I have conquered my curse, and my reign begins anew. Blight will be the first, his death will alert this whole wretched land and make them feel fear once again."

"Who the hell are you?"

"You will know soon enough."
Despite making steady progress on Guul'Zaroth lately, a fact which I am rather proud of, I will be taking a small absence on the series. I am committing to producing physical copies of Grimoire, for a few reasons. The main one is that many publishers and agents prefer to get physical copies as opposed to digital (a fact that I find frustrating but I have to deal with it) and I need to address this issue as I am reigniting my efforts to get published. I gave up around a year ago and I have come to realize that getting a book published is just as hard and requires just as much commitment as writing the book itself, I surrendered too easily last time. The second reason is friends and family. Many of them have expressed a desire to read my work but state that they have trouble reading on a computer, it's uncomfortable and time consuming. So, I'll be creating a separate set of copies to pass around to my family.

With that in mind, I have grown as a writer since I finished Grimoire. My intent is to revise the novel again before I make physical copies. Now revisions don't take as long as conjuring new material, it is not a quick process. So I'll be taking a week or two off of producing new content in order to revise Grimoire and make it the best it can be. So, if any of you can off some critique on the novel or provide editing services, I would appreciate that immensely, as this will, hopefully, be the definitive version of the story.

This is something that I cannot say I am particularly excited about. I have so many stories I want to tell but the time required is unbelievable. I want to tell Guul'Zaroth and Teleforce and I've even got a massive space opera full of espionage and supertech just bouncing around in my head. So hopefully, someday, I'll be able to write all of it. It just won't be anytime soon.

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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  Hobbyist Photographer
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  Hobbyist Photographer
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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