Episode 1: The Task

The Sword Coast is a dangerous realm if you don’t know where you’re going. But that can be said of just about any place if we’re being honest. People get by, obviously, or there wouldn’t be anyone that lives there. A lot of their protection comes from wandering adventurers, the sort of folk that make their living by performing heroic deeds as great as vanquishing dragons, or simple acts like protecting a merchant’s wagon through the Sword Mountains. Adventurers are a common sight on the Sword Coast. This is a story of new adventurers, eager to make a name for themselves and find their way in life.

Just about a year ago, two creatures met by chance in the streets of Neverwinter. A halfling girl and her badger companion were passing through the city, having just come through Neverwinter Wood. The girl, Myrtle Shortwick, was a ranger from the High Forest. She and her badger Simon were looking for work. Life in the High Forest was both dull and thrilling, but Myrtle longed to see the Sword Coast and become an adventurer.

She met a street urchin lurking outside some of the nicer homes in Neverwinter. He was a young kobold named Ickim, and he looked hungrily into the windows, watching the people eat. He muttered in his native draconic language, and some passersby mistook his speech for evil plans to break in and attack the people. Guards were called. Swords were drawn.

The kobold shrank back instinctively, putting his hands up and surrendering. Unfortunately, Ickim had two long and tarnished curved blades strapped to his back and the guards thought he meant to fight. They surrounded him and raised their weapons, but Myrtle jumped between them.

“He said ‘please don’t hurt me!’” she cried.

The guards stopped and looked suspiciously at Myrtle and Ickim. “You understand his twisted and foul speech?” they asked.

“You mean draconic?” said Myrtle. “Yep, I understand it. He was just wondering to himself where the market was because he wanted to buy some pancakes.”

The swords of the guards still pointed at the kobold, but Myrtle firmly stood between them. Ickim stared at the ground, visibly shaking, his hands still raised with open palms. After a moment, the guards sheathed their swords, cursed the kobold under their breath, and walked away. The crowd gathered around them dissipated.

Myrtle and Ickim became quick friends. Ickim thanked her over and over. When they eventually found the market, Ickim purchased the ingredients and Myrtle helped him make pancakes. They introduced each other in turn, with Ickim describing how he lived in Luskan for a time before moving to Neverwinter to find a peaceful place to live. He spent most of his time in the shadows of street allies as the guards did not trust his kind. He introduced her to his own animal companion, a strange mouse that lived in his oversized clothes. Its name was Mouse. Ickim was not good at naming things.

For a few months, the two of them lived together in a small tavern on the edge of the city. Ickim taught Myrtle how to fight with a sword, and Myrtle taught Ickim to speak common. Myrtle found the occasional odd job for them. Most of their work involved helping merchants with transportation to Helm’s Hold, about a day away from Neverwinter. The money was coming in slowly, and the cost of their room at the tavern was becoming burdensome. In addition, they wanted to join a guild but could not ever afford the entry fee. They would need to either find cheaper accommodations or find work elsewhere.

One night, a group of adventurers came through Neverwinter and settled in the tavern. Myrtle and Ickim overheard them speaking. They were part of an adventuring guild and, while getting drunk, began to let rumors slip of a treasure trove in the Greypeak Mountains. It seemed that some goblin keep was in the mountains and it had been abandoned.

It was a rumor and nothing more, but the naivety of youth drove Myrtle and Ickim to believe the rumors. An abandoned goblin keep with a treasure trove! That would be more than enough to fund their entry fee into an official guild! Better yet, they could start their own guild with that much coin! From that point on, their goal was now to start their own guild: the Short Stack Guild.

With the little money they had with them, Myrtle and Ickim purchased supplies and provisions for the road. They set out from Neverwinter and headed southeast towards Orlbar, a town at the foot of the Greypeak Mountains. Months passed on the road while they traveled and it was in the midst of the month of Deepwinter before they finally arrived in the snow-covered hamlet.

Orlbar was busy during the day that the Short Stack Guild arrived. The town was known for its lumber and mining operations, and it was very apparent as Myrtle and Ickim moved through it. Cartloads of longs, planks, and quarried rock cut across the streets, often right in front of them as the drivers did not see the short halfling and kobold.

Wearied, Myrtle and Ickim looked around the town and found the first inn they could find: The Silver Flask. The inn was quiet, but the food was delicious, and the room was warm. Myrtle and Ickim stayed up late despite sleepiness trying to overtake them, chatting about their guild and where they could purchase a guildhall. They daydreamed of inviting others to join them, but only short people. Dwarves, goblins, gnomes, maybe a short orc or human, too.

At length, they fell asleep on their beds. But only an hour later, they were awoken by crying. Perhaps sobbing was a better word. It was high-pitched and very distressed. Ickim tried to roll over and ignore it, but heard Myrtle get out of bed and put on her jacket. Irritated and tired, Ickim followed her out into the hall where she knocked on the next door. The sobbing lessened a little. An elderly and very well-dressed man opened the door. “Yes? What is it?” he asked.

Myrtle saw his eyes were red. He had a red gash across his left cheek and a blackened eye. The sound of crying came from within the room. “Is everything okay? We’re in the room next to yours and heard… Is there anything we can do to help you?” she asked. Ickim straightened up and stood next to Myrtle, nodding in agreement.

The woman inside the room looked up and saw the halfling and kobold. “Elric, show our guests in,” she said, pulling out a white hankerchief and drying her eyes.

Myrtle and Ickim entered and introduced themselves to Lord and Lady Brewmont. The Brewmonts explained that they were traveling on a lonely road in the east when a towering knight clad in heavy armor attacked them. He struck and injured Lord Brewmont and captured their grandson, Darek. Ickim asked if they recognized the knight, but the Brewmonts did not.

The Captain of the Guard in Orlbar did not help them. The Captain had said that the knight was the rumored Death Knight, and that he was just a ghost. Lord Brewmont fumed. He said that the Captain assumed they were assaulted by bandits and had made up the story about the Death Knight in order to get the Guard to help him. Instead, the Captain send some of his men away, looking for whatever bandits he assumed would be in the area.

“It was not a ghost,” said Lord Brewmont. “It was real enough to hit me, anyway. That knight is a lunatic who kidnapped my grandson! By the gods, he will pay for this!”

Myrtle and Ickim exchanged glances. This was exactly the sort of work that guild adventurers were supposed to do! The treasure trove of the goblins would have to wait. “We’ll find him!” said Myrtle.

Lady Brewmont collapsed into sobs again. “We’ll give you anything, anything…”

“I would go with you,” said Lord Brewmont. “But I’m afraid I’m not up to this sort of thing anymore. My sword grip isn’t what it used to be. I can offer you gold though, friends. I have two thousand pieces. We’re very willing to pay it to you to find our grandson.”

The next day, Myrtle and Ickim made their way towards the Weathercote Woods, the place where the Brewmonts had been attacked. On the journey, they met with an old man on the side of the road who offered them a drink. He told them the story of the Death Knight.

The Death Knight was once a man who fell upon unfortunate circumstances. His wife had died from the pox and the knight and his son came to this area to find a new place to live. But they met with a terrible fate, for a band of brigands fell upon them. The knight was poisoned by a dart and his son was taken. The brigands promised to return the son if the knight worked for them. They wanted money from Orlbar and demanded he acquire it for them. The knight did so, but the Guard of Orlbar followed him as he fled. The brigands, panicked, killed the knight’s son. The knight was captured by the Guard and was hanged for his crimes under a red tree.

But the knight did not pass on into the next world. His spirit lingered and he came back. He was undead now, and every few years, the knight would steal a boy from the local area. The knight is looking for a new squire, someone to help him find the brigands and exact his vengeance.

Thanking the man for the information, Myrtle and Ickim took their leave and returned to the road. The journey took them the entire day, and they made a quick camp just at the border of the forest. In the morning while the stars still lit the sky just before the dawn, Myrtle heard a strange rustling sound. She woke Ickim and the two of them peered towards the woods.

“There’s a shape,” said Ickim, able to see in the dark. “It’s about one hundred feet away. Down by the tree line. Can you see it?”

“Maybe,” said Myrtle, drawing her bow. “Should I shoot at it?”

“Probably,” said Ickim. “We’re defenseless out here.”

But Myrtle could not see in the dark. Her arrow flew wide. Disappointed and on alert, they quickly gathered their belongings and began to sneak towards the forest. The sunrise began to light the path ahead of them.

“It was just a deer,” said Ickim, pointing ahead to a fallen animal.

“But look!” said Myrtle. “My arrow didn’t hit it! Something else took it down.”

She was right. Her arrow was nearby in the snow. The deer had been killed by something else. The injury to its body and neck were lethal but not overty brutal. The Short Stacks figured Myrtle’s arrow was aiming for a predator that had just made the kill, and her arrow scared it away.

The two cautiously crept forward, now fully aware that the Weathercote Wood was dangerous and hiding fearsome beasts. But Myrtle and Ickim were more than prepared for this sort of thing. They had fought wolves and monsters together before. Myrtle could protect herself with her fey spirits (these spirits took the form of her favorite animal – a pygmy goat). Ickim could create dark shadow copies of himself that could take a hit for him. He called his dark shadow Mikci.

They were prepared to defend themselves as best as possible. Darek Brewmont was in these woods somewhere. They had to find him.

The path in the woods went on for about an hour, but the path was very dark. The foliage above them blocked most of the sunlight, much to Ickim’s delight. He had trouble seeing in the light, an offset of his keen ability to see in darkness. Because of this, Ickim led the way with Myrtle and her badger Simon following close behind.

The path diverged, and the Short Stacks opted to take the east path. It wound through the bush and the path became hard to find. Myrtle’s intuition in the woods helped them stay on track until they came to a slight clearing.

“Ickim, stop!” whispered Myrtle.

“What is it?” hissed Ickim, halting where he stood. He looked down and noticed a thick strand of web just a few inches from his clawed toes.

“Spiders,” replied Myrtle. “Look at the web. Giant wolf spiders, I’d guess.”

Ickim drew out one of his scimitars. “Should I cut the web?”

Myrtle nodded. “It looks like there’s just a few here. Giant wolf spiders are big, but not super scary. There’s web over there, too. Look!”

With Myrtle pointing it out, Ickim could see webs up in the trees and strewn about in the weeds and across logs. Despite his ability to see easier in the woods, he had missed all of this.

“Go ahead and cut the web,” instructed Myrtle. “I’m guessing three or four spiders are in a web like this.” She smiled slyly at the kobold. “Nothing we can’t handle!”

With a quick swipe, Ickim slashed across the web. It cut cleanly through, but the rest of the webs around them began to vibrate. Myrtle drew out her bow and a swarm of fey goats swarmed around her, glowing a soft brownish pink.

Before either of them could move, four large wolf spiders surrounded them. Ickim summoned Mikci and used his shadow to block a spider. Both Ickim and Mikci struck at two of the spiders, slashing off legs and leaving the spiders bleeding heavily.

One of the large spiders launched itself at Myrtle. She threw the swarm at the spider, bludgeoning it to death with forceful magic. At another spider, she fired an arrow. The arrow stabbed into the spider, pinning it to a fallen tree. With a wave, Myrtle commanded the swarm of spirits, smashing into the spider, killing it with a dozen magical thuds.

Mikci took a hit and disappeared in burst of shadowy magic. Ickim was prepared for this. Using Mikci’s disappearance as a distraction, he swung at the two injured spiders, cutting them both down.

“We did it!” said Ickim. He turned and saw Myrtle wiping some blood from her forehead. “Myrtle! Are you hurt?”

“I’m okay,” replied Myrtle. “His leg slapped me, that’s all. Let’s look around for more.”

There were no other spiders in this web, but Myrtle managed to find a few of the spiders’ victims. They looked through the pockets of the dead and found a healing potion, a dagger, and a heavy crossbow.

Ickim took out his own crossbow and compared it to the heavy one Myrtle found. “I don’t think I can use that,” he said. “Look how huge it is!”

Myrtle strapped it to her backpack. “Let’s take it anyway,” she said. “Maybe we can sell it later?”

The path past the spiders continued until, at midday, they came to another clearing in the woods. Ahead of them was a dilapidated cottage with a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney. For a while, they debated on what to do. That could be the lair of the Death Knight! Or, it could just be some person living in the woods who is cooking soup. Should they ignore it and go on, or should they inspect the cottage?

In the end, they wished they had continued without investigating. The cottage was unlocked and was devoid of life or sound. Somehow, the fireplace was unlit despite the chimney smoke they saw moments ago. The chairs and tables were overturned and covered in years of dust. Everything smelled like burning wood. But upon entering, a powerful force struck each of them and they fell to the ground, stunned for a moment before blacking out.

When they awoke, they were seated next to the now-lit fireplace. A large armored figure stood in the corner of the room, the smell of fire coming from it just as much as the fireplace behind them. Between the slits of its visor showed a fiery form, crackling with heat. The figure introduced itself as the Blood Knight of Kiaransalee, the Goddess of Wrath. The Goddess wants the Death Knight slain as his presence is keeping her from returning to her former power.

The Blood Knight approached Myrtle and Ickim, drawing its sword. Myrtle and Ickim reached for their own weapons but found none. The Blood Knight laughed as it approached. It thrust its sword into Ickim’s hands. The sword burned hot for a moment before feeling warm and slightly uncomfortable to the touch.

“I cannot strike down the Death Knight myself in this form,” explained the Blood Knight. “That is why I give the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath to you. Use it and strike down the Death Knight so that Kiaransalee may receive this world in glory.”

“That’s…” started Myrtle. “I don’t know…”

Suddenly, Myrtle was frozen in her place. Ickim drew up the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath right under Myrtle’s neck. Myrtle looked at Ickim, afraid, but saw that he was just as terrified as she was. He struggled with the sword as it moved against his will.

“You will accept this quest of mine, mortals,” snarled the Blood Knight. “Or you will die by my blade at your own hands.”

“We accept!” shrieked Ickim, desperately trying to pull the sword away from his friend. “We’ll do it!”

The sword dropped from Myrtle’s neck and Ickim collapsed. Myrtle was freed again, the magic holding her in place vanished. The Blood Knight loomed over them. “This pleases me and the Goddess. Go, and fulfill your destiny.”

Myrtle and Ickim ran, though Ickim found himself unable to let go of the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath. When they got outside, they saw that night had fallen. Turning around, they found the cottage empty once again, cold and quiet. At their feet, Myrtle and Ickim found their belongings. They armed themselves quickly and stepped away from the cottage.

Ickim held the Sword of the Goddess’s Wrath in front of him. “What have we gotten ourselves into?”