his place smelt musty and old, like a room that had gone too long without airing. The dim, red light of hellfire illuminated the cavern in which Rifkin the Pollack stood. At Rifkin's back was the mouth of the grotto and a passage which led back to the roaring sea. Stamping his feet to remove excess water from his worn, black leather boots with shiny silver buckles, Rifkin straightened his long, woolen tailcoat, the garb of a fashionable buccaneer, and prepared himself.

An unnatural breeze moved the stale air, bringing with it the reeking stench of death and an evil much older than this world. With steel and flint Rifkin, veteran pirate and treasure-hunter extraordinaire, lit a torch. The flame burned weakly in the thin air, casting light upon the black, stone walls of a subterranean cave and putting a face on the hulking goliath that accompanied Rifkin: Thok, a Viking warrior of the wild, winter wonder-lands of Poland, half ogre, half man. Thok stood easily seven feet tall in his massive chain mail armor and fur-lined conical helmet. As the wild-man fingered the enormous bull's horns that adorned his headpiece, his eyes held a glimmer that warned all that he was not to be taken lightly. This mountain of a man held loosely in his hands a huge double-headed axe that he had affectionately dubbed "Headcutter". The torch-flame fluttered in the breeze, threatening to go out, as Rifkin began to move toward their destination: the Tomb of One-Eyed Petey. It is said that the heart of this formidable picaroon was so black that his death conjured a massive demon, the Tenebrion, whose sole purpose was to protect the contents of the tomb. And what wondrous contents they must be: gold, jewels, rare and precious artifacts, all laid to rest with the man who had pillaged them.

Thok followed Rifkin deeper into the darkness, uttering a grunt of disapproval as he breathed the acrid air. The cave quickly grew narrower and with it the unnatural, red light grew stronger, as did the stench.

In the gloom ahead Rifkin noticed movement. With his free hand he quickly drew his weapon: the Foekiller, a long sword, its edge a collection of razor-sharp teeth. Three shapes materialized before the treasure seekers: orcs, garbed in scale mail and wielding battered bastard swords. Acting quickly, Rifkin sliced at the first. The teeth of his sword bit deep and hard, separating flesh from putrid flesh. The critically wounded orc fell to its knees, eyes glazed over, black blood spilling readily from its eviscerated chest. In an instant it was dead. Rifkin felt no guilt at killing these worthless creatures, for they were scum, constructed purely of evil. Rifkin laughed a hearty pirate laugh, his eyes shining in the dim torchlight.

The two remaining orcs halted, fear filled their dark eyes as they saw their comrade fall soundlessly, but it was too late… for them. Lifting the Headcutter, Thok swung down at the vile creatures, removing heads cleanly from shoulders. Now three corpses littered the blood-stained cave floor, accompanied by two severed heads, surprise forever frozen on their distorted faces. Black blood erratically spurted from severed arteries in the headless bodies, spurred on by spasming hearts.

Thok bent down to wipe the thick blood from the large blade of his axe onto the clothes of his fallen enemies. The evil of an orc is most potent in its blood, which, when left too long on weapons, will permanently etch their blades. Rifkin did the same, then, straightening, he continued down the path. It was not long before the two valiant warriors found what they sought.

The two had come to a well-lit cave, its walls generously strew with various tattered banners and the trophies of those who had come before. This was the chamber in which the Tenebrion had taken up residence. The stench of death and decay was strongest here, thickly invisible and almost overpowering. In the center of the room stood the eight-foot-tall source of that evil, olfactory emanation, accompanied only by the festering bodies of previous adventurers. The Tenebrion's distorted face, a sick combination of man and beast, glowed evilly as it caught sight of Rifkin, its cruel mouth opened in a rotten-toothed grin. The demon's skin was black and leathery, its eyes glowed brightly crimson. As armor it wore the cured hides of lesser demons.

The massive abomination stood before an arched doorway. Beyond that arch could be seen the final resting place of One-Eyed Petey. Massive amounts of riches glinted redly in the light, taunting, tempting, teasing. This reward could be had, but only after doing battle with its demonic guardian.

Taking up a huge battleaxe, its bloodstained head serrated, the Tenebrion opened its arms wide in challenge. The two adventurers entered the room, eager to accept. Rifkin lunged with his sword, skewering the evil imitation of man in the ribs. Thick, black sanguineous fluid began to ooze from the wound, but the Tenebrion seemed not to notice. As Rifkin withdrew his bloodied weapon the huge daemon swung at him with its serrated battleaxe. Rifkin dodged nimbly and the blade missed, but the creature's massive arm struck Rifkin square in the chest, throwing him into wall which he hit with a thud. Even Rifkin's teeth felt loosened by the blow as he slumped to the floor, nearly unconscious.

Now it was Thok's turn: he swung at the Tenebrion's exposed side, ripping a huge gash from shoulder to waist. The archfiend bellowed in rage, turning its attention to the half-ogre warrior. Regaining some control, Rifkin stood. Across the cavern Thok and the Tenebrion were locked in mortal combat. The sounds of ringing metal, as blade met blade or blade met bloodied armor, sang through the room accompanied by the demonic curses of the injured villain.

Creeping behind the horrendous beast, Rifkin struck, plunging his the Foekiller deep into the unprotected flesh of the creature's huge back. Blood spilled down the sword's hilt and onto Rifkin's hands, tingling slightly. The Tenebrion screamed, spinning to face Rifkin. As the enraged brute turned the pirate's weapon was ripped from his hands. Now defenseless, Rifkin saw the metallic head of his sword protruding from a gore-gushing wound in the demon's chest.

With one arm the foul abomination swung its enormous axe; the blade passed through Rifkin like a hot knife through butter, opening a jagged wound in his manly chest. The force of the blow knocked Rifkin back, again he hit the wall and slumped to the ground. Looking down he watched in horror as his entrails freely flowed with his blood from his body.

The Tenebrion dropped its weapon, reaching behind to pry the sword from its back. But before it could, Thok swung his two-handed axe, embedding it deep in the foul creature's blackened heart. The mutilated mutation stopped screaming. Eyes wide it stood, blood gushing from front and back to pool on the already blood-soaked floor. The Tenebrion fell to its knees. It uttered a guttural cry, a curse in the foul tongue of the damned, and died, falling face first onto the ground.

The battle was over, One-Eyed Petey's guardian had been vanquished, but it was too late for Rifkin, for him the damage had been done. Blinded by the pecuniary rewards, Rifkin had come, not seeing the greatness of the peril that lurked in this cursed domain until it was too late. Now Rifkin the Pollack was paying with his life for the temerity of his actions.

The wounded Thok painfully moved to his fallen friend, assessing the wounds that had been inflicted. A long jagged cut had ripped Rifkin's torso open from waist to neck. Severed ribs stood out stark white in the pure, red blood that seeped plentifully onto the dirt floor, mixing generously with the foul, black ooze that was already there. Both Thok and Rifkin knew that death was near.

Directly before Rifkin was the archway that led to One-Eyed Petey's tomb. The injured corsair could see the fabled prize. Almost close enough to touch. About the tomb were boxes, bags, chests and jars, all filled and overflowing with precious stones, gold coins, finely-crafted jewelry and the occasional ivory cameo. And there was the ornate shrine and gilded sarcophagus that housed the mummified corpse of the greatest pirate who ever lived. From the tomb Rifkin looked to its guardian.

Seeing the Tenebrion's comatose body, Rifkin smiled weakly. He had done it; the treasure was his. There was a gurgling sound deep in his throat and he coughed blood. Then, silently, the Soul Gatherer came and Rifkin the Pollack was dead.




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