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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It is a legitimate query," Miles added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lady Vanalay, I assure you-,"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And what?"

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

"No!" Foerster screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He grit his teeth but did as directed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So in a big way, this place is responsible for my success. See, my book is getting published. Yeah, I'm a professional writer now. Goddamn that feels awesome to say. So thanks everyone. A lot of you aren't here anymore but thank you anyway. You guys were awesome. My publishers are estimating that Grimoire will be on shelves before 2017. That's big for me. That's a dream for me. Maybe it doesn't make any money, maybe everyone hates it, that's all fine with me. What matters is that I did it and I am immensely proud of that. Thanks dA and thanks to every single person who's ever read my work.
"Damn, this place looks pretty banged up," said Rolf as he appraised the scene in front of him. The sun hovered in the sky but in direct defiance of the mid-afternoon light, the world looked terminally dreary. In a wide grove on a hill, there stood a large, crumbling mansion, flanked on either side by black trees with thorned trunks. The building was large, nearly twice the size of the manor Rolf had grown up in; its craftmanship impeccable but it's state of disrepair undeniable. Half the mansion looked burned out and nearly collapsed in on the itself. The other was dusty and lopsided and it was all surrounded by a sea of brown, dead flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What exactly are you saying?" Rolf asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Theoretically? Yes, the possibility exists."

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

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

"Tonight," Rolf replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't test my patience boy!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lady Lockheart, should I retrieve him?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you talking about?" Laurelei asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The symbol of Braehulind is a mighty oak tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Mostly curse words and threats."

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

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

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

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

"Drinking blood again?"

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

"Gross."

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

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

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

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

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

"Damnit Nigel, indoor voice!" said Rolf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course not, it's a dreadful idea but I can't exactly leave him to traipse about and wreak havoc on his own." Turning her attention toward Nigel once again, she cleared her throat with a little cough. "Now, for your first order," she said as held her plate of dessert toward her newest servant. "Finish this cake for me... It looked better on the sign."
Hey everyone, what's up? I'm keenly aware that pretty much all the friends and readers I once had around here have dried up, moved on or just stopped paying attention. I'm cool with that. I tried to break into the writing community here in dA some years ago and gave it my best shot. I made some headway, I had a few readers, a few friends and a few meager accolades in winning the occasional contest (and don't forget all the honourable mentions and 'A's for effort) but I've never been able to amass a stable readership. So I'm completely in the know that almost nobody is reading this. I'm cool with that too.

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

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

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

I primarily consider myself a fantasy writer and humorist.
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:iconnecromanticminstrel:
NecromanticMinstrel Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Professional Artist
Your critique was the  best feedback I have received for my writing, since I joined DA over 12 years ago on my old account.

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

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

You represent a trend that is sorely lacking on here, and it is nice to know it exists.
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Good to hear and good luck.
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Professional General Artist
Happy Birthday Jaykob.
Big hugs
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you, I appreciate it.
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:iconjennystokes:
jennystokes Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2013  Professional General Artist
:)
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:iconmetarex12:
Metarex12 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Student General Artist
Happy Birthday!
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:icongreat-lord-dread:
Great-Lord-Dread Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks
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:iconthelibertasleague:
TheLibertasLeague Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for joining EpicMuse!
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