The sky was darkening quickly. The cottage was quiet and dark, but Myrtle and Ickim were ill at ease. They could not see the Blood Knight inside. And yet, they could still feel an inkling of its presence. “We should go,” suggested Myrtle. “Let’s get out of here.”
Ickim stowed the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath and followed Myrtle away from the cottage. “We need to find a place to camp for the night,” he said. “I can see fine, but you can’t.”
Myrtle nodded. The dim light was already making things hard for her to see. Ickim led her beyond the cottage through the forest, with Simon the badger not far behind. Myrtle looked up at the sky as they traveled, noting that they would lose all light within an hour.
Ahead, the adventurers heard the sound of a stream. Thoughts of catching a fish for dinner swam through their heads as they approached. Around a corner was the stream. Beyond the stream was a strange human-like being, not much taller than Myrtle. He sat lazily by the stream, staring up at a strange winged creature in a nearby tree. At his feet was a crumbled statue.
“Um,” stammered Myrtle. “Hello…”
“Hello, there!” said the mysterious man. His voice was deep, commanding.
“Do you live here?” asked Ickim, stepping in front of Myrtle. He wanted to reach for his weapons but felt this would be a mistake. The man was just mysterious, right? Maybe not dangerous.
“I do,” replied the man. “I talk to the trees, the birds, the woodland spirits. They are my friends.”
“That’s neat,” said Myrtle, confused. “What’s with the statue?”
The man’s gaze left the winged creature and focused on the adventurers. His calm demeanor disappeared and was replaced with a sudden anger. “How dare you?” he demanded. “You come into my land and disturb me?” The strange man pointed at the statue at his feet. “Do you see this? His fate will be yours if you are not careful!”
Myrtle and Ickim exchanged glances. What was with this guy? They moved beyond the path, tryting to avoid the man’s eyes. “We’re sorry, we didn’t mean to pry!” said Myrtle. The path led alongside the stream away from the man. Ickim led Myrtle by the hand while she looked back to make sure the mysterious man was not following them. He had stood up and stepped into the stream, still watching. But he did not follow and was soon gone from sight.
“It’s hard to see, Ickim,” said Myrtle. “Can you find us a place to camp?”
“I think so,” replied Ickim. “Up ahead, there’s a crossroads in the woods. It might be a game trail or something.”
“That will work.”
They approached the crossroads cautiously, watching ahead and behind. There was no sound anywhere near them but the quiet skitter of squirrels and the occasional screech of an owl. The crossroads had a slightly beaten path and may have been a well-used road many years ago. Now, small bushes and vines were growing across the ground.
“I’ll go find us something to eat,” said Myrtle, lighting a torch. “You start setting up camp.”
Ickim lit a small campfire while Myrtle began following a path. Concerned about getting lost in the woods, she went south. She remembered that the entrance to the woods was in this direction and felt fairly confident that she could find her way back to Ickim if something happened. The light of her torch lit up the trees and foliage around her well enough that she was able to identify edible berries on some bushes without much difficulty. Only a few moments had passed before she had enough berries for each of them to have a small snack.
As she turned around and stopped dead in her tracks. A massive hole in the ground was only a few inches in front of her. She almost stepped right into it! Waving the torch over it, she found that the pit descended at least fifteen feet straight down. The injury from the fall would have been horrible.
Myrtle quickly lit another torch and set it by the hole. She went back north, watching for Ickim’s campfire. A few minutes later, she emerged into the clearing at the crossroads and found that Ickim had spread out their bedrolls already. He was going through their rations when he saw Myrtle coming back.
“What’d you find?” he asked.
“A hole in the ground!” she said, excitedly. “Maybe there’s something in there. Like a Death Knight. Oh, and a handful of berries.”
Myrtle left Simon at their camp and led Ickim through the forest back towards the other torch she had lit. They found the hole in the ground right where Myrtle had left it, marked by the torch. Ickim looked inside and agreed that it wasn’t overly deep.
“So you think the Death Knight is down here?” asked Ickim.
Myrtle shook her head. “I imagine he’d be somewhere more… deathy. I don’t know. But in a cave? Probably not.”
“We should check anyway,” suggested the kobold. “I don’t want to be surprised in the middle of the night by some crazy bear or another big spider. Here, let’s tie a rope and go down.”
The hole in the ground turned out to be a short cave. The short cave turned out to be a tunnel. The tunnel led to a large opening lit by a single lit brazier. The cave was inhabited, they figured, by someone intelligent. Monsters or goblins would have just lit a fire. But a brazier required setup.
The cave was full of many different things. There were bedrolls and some containers of food. A locked chest was in the corner of the room. A few expensive and inexpensive gemstones were stacked in a corner hear some silver and gold goblets. Paintings of various people were stacked against the wall. Scrolls and books were on a small makeshift table.
“This is great!” whispered Ickim. “This is a thieves’ den!”
“Yeah, I know it’s a thieves’ den!” hissed Myrtle. “Where are the thieves though? This isn’t good.”
“No, it’s great!” said Ickim. “Think about it. Why did we come to Orlbar in the first place? We wanted treasure so we can build our guildhall. This is treasure!”
“But the thieves, Ickim! What if they come back?”
Ickim moved towards the chest. “I bet there’s something good in here. You look around, I’m going to try to get this thing open.”
Myrtle began looking through the treasures in the corner. She didn’t understand anything about the paintings, so she passed them by. The goblets were made for bigger folk like elves and men, and her pack was back at Ickim’s camp. The jewelry looked interesting, though!
She made her way towards the pile of jewelry, but accidentally bumped up against a small table. A single book positioned on the edge of the table fell over. Myrtle went to pick it up but saw that the book was hollowed on the inside! Where the book’s pages should be was a small black pouch with a handful of gems.
“Hey, these are worth something!” she said, noticing how the gems glistened in the light of the brazier. “Ickim, look at-“
Ickim inserted a lockpick into the chest and had no time to react to the purple vapor that came from the lock. His head became a swirl and he stumbled backwards, tripping over one of the bedrolls. Myrtle pocketed the gems and ran over to her friend, patting him on the cheeks to get him out of his stupor.
“Don’t move,” said a gruff voice.
Myrtle turned around and saw a trio of humans. The leader, an older man with gray hair, stepped forward. He had a long rapier in his hand, pointed right at Myrtle. The other two, a teenage boy and teenage girl, each had a pair of daggers in their hands. Myrtle jumped up and drew her sword, standing over Ickim.
“He’s alive,” said the man, pointing his sword to Ickim. “He’s a fool for trying to pick my lock, but he’s a living fool. Should have recognized good craftsmanship. That’s a high quality poison lock, there.”
Myrtle looked down to Ickim. He coughed and opened his eyes. “M… Myrtle?”
The other two thieves, both younger, looked around the cave. “Doesn’t look like they took anything,” said the girl.
The old man laughed slightly. “Well then, if you’re looking to steal from us, you’ve done a terrible job. Speak! Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Myrtle lowered the sword. “Have mercy, please!” she cried. “My friend and I were in the woods and we got lost. We were just looking for something to eat.”
“No, that’s not true,” the man replied. “You’re a bad thief and a bad liar.” He eyed Myrtle and Ickim for a moment. “Normally we’d just kill you and dump you in the stream, but I don’t see any reason for violence tonight. Nasty business. How’s about a trade?”
Myrtle looked at Ickim. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. “What do you mean, ‘trade’?” she asked, her hands still gripping her sword.
“You got to rifle through my possessions,” smiled the man. “In return, I get to do the same to you.”
“But we don’t have anything!” said Myrtle. As soon as she said it, she remembered the gems in her pocket. She had taken something from them, but she had forgotten about it when Ickim collapsed!
Just as she was about to say something, the man pointed his rapier at her jacket. “There’s something in that pocket, I see. Show me.”
That pocket wasn’t where the gems were. Myrtle reached into the pocket and pulled out the potion she had found on the dead man in the spider web.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “That will fetch a good price. Yes, I’ll take that.”
Ickim stood up and slowly drew a sword. He laid it down on the ground, offering it to the man.
“No, no, I don’t want your weapons,” he said. “But your armor, kobold. I’ll have that.”
“My armor?” stammered Ickim.
The man smiled as he snatched the potion from Myrtle. “Yes, I want your armor. Looks a little too big for you anyway.”
Ickim grunted and began unlatching the straps of his chain mail. He set it down next to the chest. Pleased, the man nodded and stepped aside, letting them return to the tunnel. “Go on, leave this place.”
Myrtle and Ickim ran down the tunnel and back to the entrance of the cave. Their rope was cut down by the thieves, but they were able to climb well enough. The torch that marked the cave entrance was missing, but Ickim was able to guide Myrtle back to their camp without any trouble.
“I’m so sorry, Myrtle!” whimpered Ickim. “I got us into a lot of trouble.”
“It’s okay, friend!” said Myrtle, cuddling next to Simon. “We got that potion just today, so it’s not really a loss.”
“But my armor,” said Ickim. In the light of the campfire, Myrtle could see tears welling up in Ickim’s eyes. “That armor was special. Plus, they could have hurt you!”
Myrtle moved over to Ickim and hugged him. “It’s okay, really. We’re fine, right? I’ll buy you some new armor when we get back to town. Check this out!”
Myrtle pulled out of her other pocket the gemstones she stole from the thieves. Ickim’s eyes went wide. “Whoa!” he cried. “What if they figure out you stole that!”
“I guess we could take it back to them. But you heard what they said. They think we didn’t take anything. But maybe we can see who they stole these gems from and give them back,” said Myrtle. She stood up and began kicking dirt over the campfire. “We’ll put out this fire so they can’t find us. They were humans, so they can’t see in the dark very well. It’s going to be cold, so bundle up in your bedroll good, okay?”
Morning came and Myrtle and Ickim awoke, well rested and ready to continue. They ate their rations for the morning, discussing the upcoming day. They had to find Darek today. Any longer and he might be fully lost to the Death Knight. They gathered up their camp and set off northward into the woods.
A few hours passed without incident before they found a sign that said “cemetery”, pointing west. The path north continued to a large open field.
“Which way?” asked Myrtle.
Ickim looked at the field. “If I was a Death Knight, I think I’d be in the cemetery,” he said. “Where death is, I guess. Right?”
“Makes sense to me.”
The path to the cemetery was pretty short. Within just a few minutes, they found a very small graveyard with a large crypt at the back. The gravestones and the crypt were extremely elaborate. Some very rich people were buried here. Or, at least they were rich when they were alive.
The gravestones were uninteresting, apart from the beautiful carvings on them. The crypt, however, was much more interesting. The door to the crypt was wide open. Myrtle left Simon outside while she and Ickim entered, weapons drawn.
The crypt led down a short flight of stairs down into the earth. Large coffins, dusty and reeking of rot, lined the walls of a large mausoleum. While they crept between the coffins, they heard the unmistakable sound of a cry of a boy.
“Did you hear that?” asked Ickim.
Myrtle nodded. “The kid! Come on, we have to hurry!”
They swept through the tunnels of the crypt as quickly and quietly as they could. At the end of the hall was a large hole in the smooth rock wall. It led to a tunnel, dug out over the course of many years, that led to a final room of the crypt. A large brazier with an eerie blue flame lit up the figure of the Death Knight and Darek Brewmont.
The Death Knight was dressed from head to foot in heavy rusted armor, stained black and gray from years of dust and blood. The visor of his helmet showed a dried and wrinkled face with deep recessed eyes, black as pitch. A large and notched greatsword was in his hand. He sat on an old and discolored chair, seated above a kneeling boy in fine but ripped clothing. Darek’s hands were bound by heavy cords, perhaps too tightly. A malevolent energy seemed to flow from the Death Knight, and Darek shuddered in front of him.
“Kneel, squire,” said the Death Knight. His voice was like nails, screeching and twisted. Darek shuddered again and began to kneel down.
“That’s him!” cried Myrtle.
“Who goes there?!” boomed the Death Knight, standing and raising his weapon.
Myrtle fired from her bow. The arrow struck the Death Knight in the chest, piercing through the armor. A horrid shriek filled the room and Darek fell to his knees, unable to cover his ears due to his bindings.
“Get him!” shouted Ickim, pointing to Darek. “I’ll get the Death Knight!”
The Death Knight lurched forward, using his empty hand to grab Darek and throw him aside. He raised the greatsword and swung heavily. Myrtle, however, was too fast. She ran forward and slid low to the ground, dodging the strike, and continued over to Darek. The boy’s head was bleeding from the Death Knight’s push. Myrtle drew a small dagger and quickly cut the cords on his hands.
The Death Knight turned towards Myrtle but felt a slash across his back leg, causing him to stumble and fall to a knee. Ickim fell upon the Death Knight and swung with the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath. The blade glowed like an ember, but the Death Knight expected the strike. He raised a rusty gauntlet and knocked away the kobold’s sword with the back of his hand before swinging the greatsword again. Ickim fell back, bleeding profusely from his now unarmored chest.
“Ickim!” screamed Myrtle.
She summoned the fey spirits and fired another shot from her bow. The arrow struck the Death Knight in the back. The Death Knight raised himself up and spun around towards Myrtle, raising his bloody sword. But as he did, the fey spirits from Myrtle coalesced into small pygmy goat forms and smashed into him, knocking him back against a wall. A loud clang from the armor against the stone resounded in the room.
“Watch out!” cried Darek.
The Death Knight strode forward straight at Myrtle. The dark energy from the Death Knight was too strong. Myrtle tried to load another arrow, but she fumbled and dropped it at her feet. The Death Knight loomed over her and raised his sword again.
“Come on, Mikci!” hissed Ickim, weakly.
He clapped his hands together. A dark shadow erupted from his form and materialized in front of the Death Knight. The echo, Mikci, drew its own sword and blocked the attack. The Death Knight howled as his blade ineffectively slammed into Mikci. Myrtle stepped in front of Darek to cover him as the Death Knight swung again, shattering Mikci into dust. The Death Knight rushed Myrtle again. Myrtle closed her eyes, waiting for the strike.
The strike never came. At least, not from the Death Knight. When Myrtle opened her eyes, she saw the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath stabbing through the Death Knight’s chest. The Death Knight twitched briefly, his black pools of eyes staring intently at Myrtle. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the Knight fell to its knees and collapsed onto its face. Ickim was on his back, pulling the sword out.
“Ickim!” sobbed Myrtle. “You’re alive! You saved me!”
“Hey Myrtle!” moaned Ickim. “I don’t feel so good.” He stumbled off of the Death Knight and returned his swords to their sheathes before sitting down on the ground, clutching the wound in his chest.
Darek stepped forward, staring at the Death Knight’s body. “Did you get a stake?” he cried.
“A what?” asked Myrtle.
“A stake!” he shouted. “From the Red Tree! You need to pierce his heart!”
As he said it, the Death Knight’s fingers began to twitch.