(This is the Second Episode — Start at the Beginning HERE!)
Sir Kyle stood guard at the fringes of the firelight. Unable to sleep – as usual – he’d volunteered to take the first watch. After a few days of slogging through the snow, the men had at last encountered a well-worn cow path, and a week later were now deep within the mysterious Black Forest of ancient yore. The close, snowy boughs of the woods hung low around their meagre camp, and would inspire holiday-themed thoughts in the men, were they not committed to such a serious mission.
Nearby the fire – and far more warm than he – Wardstein and James both snored gustily, snuggled deep into their furs. Sir Kyle grunted to himself and cursed his insomnia of responsibility.
Without warning, he sensed a presence. Something was moving towards him! He stiffened, withdrawing his trusty one-hander from its scabbard.
A glowing figure appeared before him from the trees. Enrobed in long white linens against all sense of style or function, it moved with ease through the drifts to where Kyle stood, where at last he recognized the apparition.
“McStogey!” he breathed. Reflexively, his hand flew to his head and felt where the Phal-Helm had been cruelly mounted. “How can you be here? I saw your dismembered, smoking corpse at the cabin!”
“Aye,” McStogey agreed. “It was there I passed from this plane to the next. But there are no endings, just new beginnings.”
Sir Kyle immediately accepted this hippie-like explanation. He realized the presence of McStogey annihilated forever his ideas of religion. Since everything in the Church completely discounted the existence of spirits, he knew he could finally abandon his boring, rambling digressions exploring religious sidebars. Being a pagan is way more fun anyway, he reasoned intelligently, thinking of the wild celebrations he’d witnessed at Wardstein’s retreat in Tibet.
McStogey beckoned into the woods. “Behold, Sir Kyle. There are many dangers ahead, undreamt-of in your philosophy. You three are venturing beyond our known lands virtually unprepared.” Sir Kyle squinted, and saw at last the entrance to a cave, somehow previously obscured to the men, even though it was only 10 feet away from the campfire. Anyway, McStogey drifted inside, and shrugging , Kyle followed.
Inside, McStogey was pointing towards an oaken box, in a remarkable state of preservation given it was resting inside a dank, frozen cave in the woods. A runic symbol Kyle didn’t recognize was burned into the end of the box – a black eagle with a crooked cross clenched in its talons. He wondered for what reason such an artifact was to be found here, of all places, but he didn’t think about it a whole lot, because he really wanted to see what was inside the box. Lifting the creaking lid, he excitedly peered within. McStogey helpfully poked his glowing face overhead so that Kyle could see. “Woah, cool beans!” Kyle remarked, pulling out the first item from inside the box.
“Indeed. Beans are cool,” McStogey mused as Sir Kyle flipped an enormous bow around in his hands – too enormous. It clattered to the cave floor. He winced in embarrassment, picking it up again. “Sorry, McStogey.”
McStogey ignored this. “The Elvish Longbow,” he announced. “Crafted by mysterious means by ancient elves, long ago, for only the largest of elves – or men. It has been invested with magical strength and accuracy – the wielder of this bow will have the ability to strike his targets with uncanny accuracy and power from great distances.” Kyle looked at the bow doubtfully. Only Wardstein would have the lengthy limbs necessary to use this weapon, and he tended to brag often about how much he liked his customized battle-axe. “Yep, this baby is all I ever need,” he’d been saying earlier, turning over his beloved axe in the light of the campfire. Kyle shrugged again, deciding to set the bow aside and root around some more in the box. Reaching inside, his fingers lit upon cold steel, and he drew the second item from within. He involuntarily hissed in fear.
“Yes,” McStogey mused uneasily. “The Goblin Dagger,” he said, gazing upon the wicked lines of the ghoulish blade. “Besides being intensely sharp – it can penetrate the toughest armour – when employed on the neck of an unsuspecting enemy, it will behead any opponent with a single strike. Truly, devilishly terrifying is the craft woven into this steel.” Sir Kyle shuddered at the sight of the shrieking goblin motifs engraved into the steel of the blade. He knew already he’d be handing this little beauty over to James.
“Why is it called the ‘Goblin Dagger’?” Kyle wondered.
“I don’t know, I guess goblins made it or something,” McStogey mumbled, eyes darting around. Kyle laid down the dagger with relief, and reached inside the box for a final time.
“Wow!” Kyle exclaimed. McStogey beamed with pride. “The Holy Avenger Sword,” McStogey announced, as though introducing his beloved son. “Like these other artifacts, its origin is unknown. I do know that it was carried for decades by paladins through numerous noble conquests and passed down across innumerable centuries. And, surprise-surprise, the sword has magical properties. Like its vicious counterpart, the Goblin Dagger, it is incredibly sharp and shall remain so regardless of circumstance. Also though, and this is the neat thing – it glows in the presence of undead enemies. Vampires. Zombies. Mummies. Demons. Even ghosts.” As if on cue, the sword glowed a brilliant white as Sir Kyle levelled the handsome blade at McStogey.
“Woah! Easy there, chief. Anyway, the sword –besides looking supercool – possesses incredible destructive properties against all such enemies. But be warned – should you fall in the field, and the sword is wielded by such an enemy – the polarity of the sword will change such that it will become a weapon of unimaginable power for the dark forces in this world.”
Sir Kyle thought about the tremendous responsibility that attended the possession of the sword for a second. “Yeah. About that. Maybe Wardstein can have this one instead and I’ll get by with the bow? Or maybe there’s something else in the box, there? I’m already kind of stressed out right now because the king empowered me and all, and maybe I’ve got everything on my plate I can handle, and – “
But Sir Kyle was alone. McStogey had disappeared as quickly as he had appeared, leaving Sir Kyle with his thoughts.
At that moment, Wardstein blundered into the entrance. “Kyle! Watch your step, I was using this cave as an outhouse, and…whup. Too late.” He snickered.
Cleaning his shoes off with some ragged cloth, Kyle watched Wardstein wake the sleeping Archduke from the corner of his eyes. He was also doing his best to try and keep an eye out for the chest they were transporting and on his surroundings in general. His earlier encounter with the ghost of McStogey had left him a little on edge. And also the previous day Wardstein and the Archduke had conspired to place biting ants in his smallclothes. It had sucked most completely, but Kyle had to admit it was funny. He didn’t think his physician would agree, though, his fever kept on getting worse.
“Unnngh. Arrrgh,” James mumbled as he rolled around in his blankets. Wardstein stood above him using a piece of glass to reflect the sun into his eyes. “Why can’t you people let me sleep? My royal statistician did a study a few years ago and it irrefutably proved I was less likely to maim or disfigure if I slept less than 10 hours. The killing numbers stayed the same and the practical jokes skyrocketed, but I threw boiling water on 0.62 less people a day and barely amputated anything.”
“Shut-up,” Wardstein replied. “Sir Kyle has received another vision,” he said scornfully.
“Why does he always lie about stuff like that? I should have my royal psychiatrist look into it. He must feel like he is uninteresting.”
“He is uninteresting.”
“And how!” James agreed. “Yet still, I don’t see the point of these fallacies.”
“Oh, this one isn’t a fallacy,” Wardtein said, waving away the idea. “He actually did receive a vision. And swag, too,” he added, hoisting a great longbow.
“Whoa!” James exclaimed, rising out of bed dressed in his pale blue ‘jammies’. “Sweet!”
“Yeah, it’s alright,” Wardstein said, sounding unenthused. “I mean, it’s a bow, yeah? Not very manly.”
“Looks cool though. And imagined if you used it to bludgeon someone. That would be pretty manly.”
Wardstein brightened at hearing this, and a small smile came to his lips. He nodded to himself and said something that Kyle didn’t hear.
“What did I get?”
“A dagger, or some crap.”
“Sir Kyle has it.”
“Who said he got to have it!?”
“Well I mean, the ghost, I guess.”
“Who was this ghost?”
“McStogey, he says.”
“McStogey? McStogey gave us these gifts?”
“Let me tell you something about McStogey: he doesn’t give gifts, yeah? He gives curses. Remember the Phal-helm?”
“Honestly, who doesn’t?”
“Yeah, McStogey. McStogey, man. Bad mojo.” James made a sign to ward away evil.
“So I guess you won’t want this dagger?” Kyle asked. He held it up to catch the sunlight. The blade absolutely gleamed and it seemed to fight the light of the sun, slightly darkening the air around it.
“Killer!” James yelled, and ran over to where Kyle was displaying the weapon. “Hella cool,” he continued.
“I thought it was cursed,” Kyle said confusedly. Wardstein was taking practice swings with his bow, not seeming to pay much attention.
“Cursed-shmurshed,” James said. “Look at it. I mean, dude. Dude!”
“Yeah. It does look cool. In a seriously foreboding kinda way.”
James took a few practice slices with it after drawing some blood testing its edge. He made as if to put it up to his neck.
“NO!” Kyle yelled. “Not even in jest! That blade will sever from any neck that it touches.”
“Dude! How freaking sweet is that. Eh, Wardstein. I’ll be all like ‘Off with your head’ and they’ll be like ‘What? With that little dagger?’ and then BAM! Or perhaps SLICE! Yeah…SLICE!”
“What did you get?”
I got this-“
“Psyche! Don’t actually care. SLICE!”
“Well…your dad thinks you are a disappointment”
“Children!” Wardstein bellowed. “Enough! We can’t afford more days of lost travel. This is already farcical.”
“Is that a word?” Kyle asked James, who shrugged.
“Look, we need to get going. We have thresholds to cross, and whatnot. And I wanna brain someone with this bow. Ha! Ironic.”
“Well, next the map says we will be travelling through this pretty super creepy Forest for like a week or more, still. Apparently near the middle things get a little…SPOOKY!”
“Shut-up,’ Wardstein said. “But you are right. We have to get through this forest as quickly as possible. And we are coming up on the parts where men seldom tread. Giant carnivores. Massive trees. Humongous squirrels. Average sized snakes and reptiles though, which as an aside, is kind of weird. I mean, from an evolutionary standpoint-“
“Shut-up,” Kyle and James said together.
The Baron advanced slowly and cautiously through the forest, several yards ahead of his travelling companions. Large as he was, his footsteps made nary a sound, as centuries of decay had cushioned every square inch of their unhallowed surroundings. The soft, powdery snowfall they had traversed in the open country was no longer a fixture, for the woodland’s canopy was so thick with gnarled, arthritic-looking branches that even daylight could scarcely penetrate it.
Wardstein tried to recall whether it had been hours, days, or weeks since they first entered the forest, but so beguiling were his surroundings that he was unable to even hazard a guess. Suddenly he was overcome with a feeling that was unfamiliar to him. His chest heaved with his short, erratic breathing, and with every icy inhalation he could not only smell, but taste the rotting earth. Enveloped by what he now understood to be panic, the Baron’s legs seized beneath him and his vision became clouded. Planting the lower limb of his Elven bow in the ground to steady himself, it was in this moment that he understood what it was to be dead.
Throwing his head back in what would certainly be an award-worthy scream, Wardstein found himself pulled back to reality by what sounded to him like a rhythmic beat.
“That’s it, Kyle!” said Archduke James. “Keep it going just like that! A-boom-chicka, boom-chicka, boom-chicka, boom-chicka! Yup, perfect!”
Sir Kyle wore a confused expression as he mirrored James’s now-bouncing stride, but as instructed, he kept time, rapping his gauntlets on the small chest destined for Georg the Generous. Then the Archduke began a strange chant:
“Lollipop, Lollipop, Ooh-LOLLI-LOLLI-LOLLI! Lollipop, Lollipop, Ooh-LOLLI-LOLLI-LOLLI! LOLLIPOP! …”
The Archduke paused a moment before clearing his throat and looking to Sir Kyle.
“See, that was your cue at the end there, Kyle, remember? We both come to a stop for a full beat on that last LOLLIPOP there, and then you make the little ‘pop’ noise and go, ‘BA-DOOM-BOOM-B—-”
“—HEY! What are you morons DOING back there!?” screeched Wardstein. “You interrupted my psychotic break!”
“Oh, you know,” said James. “Just trying to iron the wrinkles out of a song I’ve been writing….Kyyyyyyle! I thought those monks taught you music in your youth!”
“Never mind that now, James!” Sir Kyle shushed.
“Relax, man. You already swore me to secrecy about the horrors you experienced in the back rooms of those monasteries, remember?”
“No, not that!” said the Knight. “Look! Look at your belt!”
The Archduke glanced down at the unsheathed dagger at his waist and saw that it was emitting a dim, green light. The luminescent blade grew brighter and brighter in its intensity, ultimately reaching a staccato pulse!
“–YARRRICKKK!” cried the Archduke, reaching to shield his vision, but falling hard to the forest floor in a heap instead. The whites of his eyes shone as they rolled back in his head, while every muscle became both rigid and spastic.
“EEEAACKKK!!” James choked. “This…strobing light is causing a reaction in my—-RIEEENNNNN!!—-BRAIN! Must resist natural urge to—ERNNN!!—swallow—TONGUE! It seems the—UHHN!!—Goblin Dagger and I are—-YARRGHHHH!! — Incompatible! Must….regrettably….AHH!! Trade it for Sir Kyle’s—ERRRNFFF!!—-just-as-cool….NEEEEITTTTT!!—-SWORD!”
Sir Kyle narrowed his eyes at the twitching Archduke.
“Nice try, James—but I’m afraid you’re stuck with the dagger.”
The Archduke sighed and got up, dusting himself off with a chuckle.
“Well, it was worth a shot,” he said. “It’s really more of a short sword than a dagger, anyway. Shit, what’s the significance of the thing glowing and flashing again? I wasn’t paying attention earlier.”
“It means,” Warstein growled, gripping his enormous longbow menacingly, “that things are about to get….supernatural!”