Launcelot du Coudray, known across many cities in the Empire as the Gawain of the Winged Death, was at the summit of his tower; one of the dozen that clustered around Bartram’s. The wind whipped around his skull, and it started to rain, the gentle patter quickly becoming a torrent, cutting his view down to about five metres. He snarled, and his features became bestial. Exerting his sheer will, his wing began to distort, and after an agonising minute, it was a recognisable wing. His other arm began to transform, and he began to generally more bestial. Angelique, his wife, glided up the stairs and across the floor, and whispered in his ear.
“I know, Dearest, I’m going.” His voice was deep and husky, what one would imagine a bear’s voice to sound like. He continued to change, transforming, and, after much tearing and mending of bones, he stood, but not as a man, not even a beast, but a monster; a creature the size of the horse and as feral as a dire wolf, winged and bat-faced, but with the body and hind legs of a wolf. Awkwardly, he shuffled his way onto the crenellations and leapt off, tucking his wings in and falling to the earth like a black comet in the silvered green light, before fighting the pressure and spreading his wings, leveling off just before hitting the ground. A small village lay ten miles outside the castle, and beyond that a forest ran in a huge circle around the family’s land, leaving just enough land to work to keep the blood bags alive. Trade mattered little to the vampires, and those who entered their lands without permission rarely left.
Launcelot flew into the forest, easily flying between low hanging branches, overgrown with lichen and rotted, with the dexterity of a Wood Elf. The deeper into the blackness he got, the more he was surrounded by bats, and the more comfortable he found himself. This was where he should be, and soon enough, he’d never need change back. He’d be the Vampire King of the Border Princes, ruling in this form forever. But first, he needed to overthrow his damnable brother and the rest of his undead family. They’d be loyal to Bartram, apart from maybe his own get, Lysistrata, Persephone, and Albericht, and, of course, Angelique. That still left eight vampires, including their Patriarchal leader; most powerful of the family. He’d drifted into his thoughts, and without knowing it, had reached the Barrow. It was spectacular, a hill the height of a giant and twice as wide at the bottom as it was high, a true testament to the skills barbarians of the past. Alighting on the top of the hill, he called out,
“Come out, come out, Freiderich, or must I find you? I haven’t played Hunt in a while, and my instincts may get the better of me ...” Freiderich was Bartram’s pet necromancer, and whilst fiercely loyal, extremely weak willed and self obsessed. Launcelot had managed to come to a tense agreement, basically, if Freiderich didn’t work with him in life, he would in death.
“Launcelot, I am here to serve thee,” came the necromancers dull, bored and seething reply, as he stepped from behind the trunk of an ancient oak, that hadn’t been there when the Barrow had been erected. When he appeared, the vampire jumped to the floor, changing form as he jumped, becoming more human in form than beast.
“You can open the Barrow, worm?” Venom emanated between the two, and it wouldn’t take a priestess of Shallya to realise there was no love lost between the two.
“Of course I can, but why I would is beyond my knowledge. I see no reason to release Voloch, yes, Voloch, one of the most powerful kings to have lived and perished in the Border Princes. There’s no guarantee we’d be able to control him, and, if I am honest with you, my liege, I doubt we can. Listen; you can hear his wails through the magic. That is how powerful he is. And the Volochian Guard, well, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Even you, with respect, my lord, would not be able to fight them to submission. These wights are filled with rage, the screams ... I have heard many a story of magicians trying to find this place only to lose their minds when they do.
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Worm. Open the tomb”, Launcelot’s voice hissed from the shadows. He had melted back, and only his blood-red eyes and fangs, extended, were visible in the light of the twin moons.
“Yes, your Lordship, of course. I only meant to warn you of the risks...”
“And I know them. Now, stop blathering and do it, before I grow bored,” Freiderich gulped down his fear at this, and then bowed deeply, groveling wordlessly, before turning to the Barrow and murmuring under his breath. Kneeling, he unhooked his grimoire from his belt, and, whimpering, opened it to a page filled with arcane inscriptions that seemed to move on the page, runes that shone with a light that pained mortal eyes and images so vile that even the vampire had never considered some of the practices in his many years.
As he waited, Launcelot could see a faint greenish light start, the granite that blocked the entrance to the Barrow starting to warp. As the necromancer cowered and continued his unholy work, the vampire moved towards the door, to inspect the marks of magic that sealed it, the runes that kept the King and his guard eternally from the world. As words spilled from the mortal’s mouth, the runes, one by one, became brighter and then sparked out, leaving an acrid taste in the air, before, finally, the last rune died. There was silence as the vampire’s pet fell to the floor, his work done and energy expended. Then, with a sharp grating, the granite fell backwards, slamming into the floor with a sound akin to an avalanche in the mountains. Death. Death emanated from the maw of the barrow now, not just the smell, but the feel. There was no escaping it now. From inside the black hole, there was a sound of feet, bone, slapping stone, and material running along a floor. And then the voice ... A voice that would make any mortal cower in fear, Whooooo ... Distuuuuuurbs ... Volooooooch? The words even sent a chill of fear through the vampire’s undead body.