“No help for it now,” James sighed, “Let’s go see if we can find this stronghold.”
They were standing at the edge of a forest but Wain soon lead them through to where a small village sat in the center of the island. A tower stood guard over it all and they could make out a sentry standing watch at the top. As they looked out of the forest upon the village they heard the crunching of feet through the underbrush.
“Wait here,” Wain whispered and disappeared.
James listened hard but couldn’t hear anything but the tromping feet. Suddenly they stopped and a cry was cut short. James rushed through the bushes to where the sound had come from. He saw that Wain had ambushed a woodcutter and was holding him in a headlock. When the peasant saw James his face brightened.
“Let him go Wain,” ordered James, “He is just an innocent woodcutter.”
“You have come to save us?”
“We have come to exterminate the evil knights that have taken over the island. What can you tell us of them?”
“I don’t know much, except that they are frightful to even be around. You can always tell when they are near because everything goes quiet and you suddenly get scared for no reason.”
“How many men are in that tower?” asked Wain.
“I don’t know, but the Order of the Sea probably does.”
“I thought they were all dead,” said James.
“Well, some of our lads reformed them to fight the Vampires. Haven’t had much luck yet. But I can get them to contact you out here.”
“All right, have them come out here tonight. We’ll be around.”
“James, I don’t like this,” said Wain as the woodcutter walked away, “What if that man is a spy and he betrays us?”
“Then we’ll only have to fight about half of the soldiers in the tower out here and then the other half in the tower.”
“What if they surprise us?”
“We’ll keep a good watch. Besides, we are sure to hear these guys coming. They can’t be very good woodsmen.”
They made camp and settled in to await the Order of the Sea. Wain was standing first watch, sitting in front of their little fire, feeding twigs into it one at a time, when he felt a peculiar feeling of dread creeping over him. He shook James awake.
“Hmmf, is it time already?” James mumbled.
“Something is out there. I can feel it.”
“Nonsense, its your…” James trailed off.
“You can feel it too!”
“It’s like the woodcutter described. Frightful to…” a hollow laugh interrupted James and he screamed and took off like a scalded hare, fleeing through the woods. Wain was not far behind. As they dodged around a large tree they split up. James could feel that something was following him and desperately tried to regain his wits. Suddenly he felt shame pouring through him. He was a paladin and here he was, behaving like a child. A paladin stood up and fought evil, he did not flee from it.
Mustering his courage James stopped short (the sudden appearance of the cliff in front of him helped immensely) and turned. There was no one to be seen. Drawing his sword he shouted at the shadows, “Show yourself, villain!”
“As you wish,” a dark knight stepped out of the shadows, blackened sword gleaming in the moonlight, and attacked.
Wain halted his headlong rush at the edge of the cliff too. Between suddenly having nowhere to run to and nothing behind him to run from he felt that over all it was time to stop. Panting he turned and was considering his options when he realized a terrible truth. He, a warrior of the Mountain Top clan, had fled from the enemy, leaving a friend to be slain. Anger flowed through him and he drew his blade, the ringing sound it made seemed to echo the singing in his blood. Hearing the clash of swords nearby Wain strode forth with grim resolve.
Sir James was hard pressed, sword play had never been his strong point. He had always been better at leading Vespers. At the beginning of the fight he had scored a few hits against the dark knight and his sword was gleaming wetly, but now he could barely defend himself. The Vampire cackled evilly as it increased the ferocity of its attack. Knocking James’ sword from his hand, the evil warrior prepared to plunge his blade into the paladins heart. James, in a sudden burst of inspiration, prayed for light. A holy white flame appeared above his head and lit the cliff’s edge. The vampire turned his head with a cry, momentarily blinded. Wain rushed up out of nowhere and swung his sword. With his target clearly illuminated it was a simple strike to separate the vampire’s head from its body. As the headless corpse fell they could hear a rushing sound and green bale-fire flickered about its severed neck.
“Well, that was close,” said James as he tried to nonchalantly wiped down his blade.
“You shouldn’t have run away,” said Wain as he cleaned his own sword on the vampires cloak.
“I was practicing strategic withdrawals,” said James coldly, “Next time we need to stick together.”