Vlad was eager to pursue Burne’s quest with or without his associates. Ed and Kirito, two wanderers who were passing through Hommlet on their way to nonwhere in particular were persuaded to join him. Chrono the druid, whom he’dknown since Gold Hill agreed to join the party.
Burne escorted the group to the moathouse himself and introduced them to his guards. These guards, in the interest of full transparency, admitted to the adventurers that while they considered themselves braver and stronger than most men, they absolutely refused to explore the dungeon below them and were only willing to garrison the moathouse itself because Burne paid well. It wasn’t death that they were afraid of. Death, they laughed, was not the worst alternative.
Burne explained once more what he was looking for—pools of water. Not natural cave pools, but artfully constructed. With writing on the walls. They would know them when they found them.
The guards dutifully moved aside the assorted debris they had piled on top of the trapdoor that led into the dungeon. Vlad led the way and the adventurers started down the rough wooden stairs. About halfway down, a glob of bright green slime fell from ceiling onto Vlad, gliding off his mantle and landing on his leather gauntlet and his sword. Vlad flung away his sword and. More slime fell from the ceiling, this time landing on the stairs. Chrono scraped at it with his staff. To his chagrin, the slime burned away his staff. The slime was corrosive to both leather and metal and other weapons were lost before Ed scorched it with his torch. The slime smoldered and sparked and then burst into flame, quickly burning to a black smudge.
At the bottom of the stairs was a large room with two locked closets. Ed picked the locks and found storerooms filled with weapons and other supplies. Vlad chose a replacement sword, and the urged his companions to explore further. Charging down a pillared corridor, Vlad was surprised by a shuffling undead man that beat him over the head with its rotting limbs. Vlad spun on his heel shouting his war cry and destroyed the zombie with two solid strokes of his sword. As his companions rushed to his aid, more zombies poured out of the row of dungeon cells that lined the corridor.
The zombies seemed drawn to Vlad and Vlad gleefully strode into their midst, swinging his sword in mighty, reckless arcs, cleaving bones and flesh, dropping enemies in a pile around him and hardly noticing the rain of blows that fell on his head and shoulders. Kirito could see that Vlad was nearly overwhelmed and fought through the horde of zombies to assist his companion. But Vlad, in a blind battle rage, did not distinguish friend from foe; Kirito barely dodged what could have been a lethal blow. Ed and Chrono flanked the zombies but did not dare engage them in melee. Only when Vlad fell and dropped his sword did Kirito find an opportunity to plunge into the thick of the battle. He killed two of the zombies and called on Ed and Chrono to help pull Vlad to safety. Chrono tried to heal Vlad, but it was too late. Kirito held the zombies at bay while Ed and Chrono carried Vlad’s body toward the stairs.
Kirito suffered a serious wound and retreated. The zombies pursued, but slowly and without coordination; they were further hampered by arrows from Ed’s bow. Chrono reached the stairs and called for help from the guards. Two of them, forgetting their oaths of cowardice, rushed down to help carry Vlad’s body. Ed tossed his torch at the zombies and was the last one up.
All the guards helped pile stones and firewood and furniture on top of the trapdoors as the zombies came clomping off the stairs. For hours the zombies pounded mindlessly on the other side of the trapdoor.
Vlad was buried in Hommlet, in his armor, and without his hard-won mantle. It was gone.