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?"
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."
"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."
"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."