It was a dark and stormy night. Stark, ragged peaks frown down upon the river, which, swollen to a raging torrent, flung itself along the valley floor, clawing at the stony banks. Even above the storm, the weird wavering calls of wolves rise up from the dark forests that press close about the narrow pass.
One spark of light amongst the trees, jerks and dances in a frenzy, reveals itself to be a wildly swinging carriage lamp. The coachman, grim-faced, urges the horses on. He has no wish to be abroad on such a wild night, but the young doctor is a fool, and has paid him good gold. Personally, if he had a girl like that, he'd be wrapped up warm in an inn tonight, not...
It is by luck alone that the lightning strikes, then, a savage strike that lights up the world, shows nothing ahead but a yawning darkness. The horses rear in a last excess of terror, front hooves slipping upon the crumbling edges of the very precipice, and the coach slews wildly, slithers to a final, and splintering halt, in a welter of screams and curses.
The door of the coach finally responds to a hefty boot from within, and the owner of the boot scrambles out, blonde braids disarrayed.
"You can stop screaming now, Leopold."
Lenore Pfennigblumen had wanted more than life on a farm. As far as she was concerned, high on the hills, the local goatherd could go on being lonely. She wanted bright lights and music, and the chance of meeting a guy who wasn't, you now, actually related to her in some way. Dreams of the stage had somehow turned into her waiting tables in the bierkeller, but at least she'd met Doctor Leopold Schlüssel.
A second figure, shorter than the first, half-falls into the road, collar askew and fumbling for his glasses. He follows the blur that is his fiancee, and she grabs him by the arm before he goes over the edge. They both peer down into the foaming waters, where the last crumbled remnants of stone and timber can be seen.
"Well, the bridge is out, we'll have to find somewhere to spend the night." The storm obligingly backlights the scenery again. "Oh, we could try up there."
Perched upon the crags above them, a tall and forbidding castle. No warm and welcoming lamps show from the great windows, but an eerie pale light that echoes the storm.
Plunging and kicking, the horses contrive to break free of their bonds, and disappear into the night, heading for their distant stable with grim determination. The coachman takes one last look up at the looming walls, and decides to take his chances with the wolves – only a crazy person would enter that castle without a handy pitchfork and flaming torch.
Up close, the castle seems even less hospitable, and they huddle beneath the porch, almost dwarfed by the ancient wooden door. Leopold has a Very Bad Feeling about this. He's sure there was something very important he should have remembered about this place...
"I really don't think we should..."
"Leopold, it's blowing a gale out here, the horses have bolted and I could really do with getting warm and dry sometime tonight." Lenore grips the door-knocker firmly.
The great iron ring strikes against the wood, a hollow tolling as of some great funereal bell. Once, twice, and a third time.
"Well, it doesn't look like anybody's...urk."
The rattling of chains, the clanking of great bolts, and door swings open, a ponderous groaning from the hinges, to reveal a yawning darkness beyond, lit only by the weird, pallid glow of a strange lantern.
Leopold looks up at the tall, thin figure, dressed in a tightly-buttoned lab coat. One gloved hand shoves a pair of brass goggles up onto a high forehead, reveals a pair of intense blue eyes.
...Oh. Yeah, that was it.
Siegfried Fassbinder had been the acknowledged genius at Hassenstadt University. Young, brilliant and committed. Or should have been committed, perhaps.
"Uh...hello, Siegfried." Leopold manages a weak smile. "Surprise?"
"Leopold. You know that I do not like surprises." A shadow flickers over the pale face for a moment. "Given the circumstances of our leave-taking, I will not say that it is a pleasure to see you."
"You know this guy?" Lenore swats Leopold's arm. "Why didn't you say this was a friend's place?"
Siegfried gives them both a slightly incredulous look. Leopold avoids his gaze.
"This is my fiancee, Fraulein Lenore Pfennigblumen." He beams proudly. "Lenore, this is Siegfried Fassbinder."
"Doctor Siegfried Fassbinder." He takes in the state of them, the state of the weather, and sighs. "Let it never be said that Siegfried von Fassbinder would ever leave a lady in distress." He gestures. "Enter freely, and of your own will."
"Thanks." Lenore evades Leopold's clutching hand, already shedding her outer cloak. "It's horrible out there, been blowing up a gale since we left town..."
Leopold has no choice but to scurry after. Behind him, the door shuts with a heavy leaden finality.