Koe lay on his side, atop a hill, dying.

Or so it seemed, moaning and griping as he was.

Fal felt like cutting off one of the man’s fingers to show him what real pain was. He dismissed the idea quickly, though. Mostly because Koe was his good friend and brother, partially because some snake-like bipedal, ugly son of a whore was bearing down on him.

Al caught a thin curved blade on his shield, deflecting the weapon. Before he could close the distance to the red-scaled, female creature controlling the swinging blade, however, she lashed out once more and successfully ensnared his falchion. The tip of the blade bit shallowly into his knuckles and he dropped his weapon, backpedaling.

Fal stood atop the small hill in a meager park a few blocks from the wall he and his troop had started on, Koe writhing behind him. He planted his feet and waited for the enemy, charging with terrible speed, a spear held out before it.

Al’s shield suddenly took flight, spinning through the air on a course with the red-scaled creature. She swayed aside as though her spine was more cartilage than bone. The handcrossbow he fired next, however, flew true. She stumbled backward as a bolt sprouted from her collar, injured, but not out of the fight.

His buckler certainly not sufficient to receive the business end of a spear, Fal waited anxiously, hoping he could somehow outmatch the creature with his speed and close enough to render the polearm ineffective. Al, however, would have none of that. He cast another missile at Fal’s enemy. Only, instead of a bolt, it was the crossbow itself.

The creature, caught by surprise, tried to batter it away, missed, and reeled when the solid hunk of wood and metal struck it square in the forehead. It would have shook the annoyance if Koe hadn’t assisted as well.

“Eat shit and die!” Koe snarled as he cast a fist-sized stone at the creature. The timing was perfect. As it stumbled from Al’s crossbow, Koe’s rock skipped under its foot and sent it careening toward Fal, its spear completely offline. Fal ran it through then slammed his forehead into the creature’s face, where a nose would have existed had the thing had one. It staggered away and fell back, gawking at the hole in its abdomen.

“Right!” Fal hollered. “Can we get the fuck out of here now?”

Fal indicated the female warrior clad in red plate armor, gathering her weapon in shaky hands.

“I got him,” Al relented as he bent down and lifted Koe roughly to his feet. Koe squawked in protest as his foot struck the ground, streamers of blood leaking from the hole that ran through the middle of his boot, the unlucky result of an almost successful parry of a spear.

“Take the weight off, you idiot!” Koe screamed at Al.

“Cover my idiotic ass, Fal. And Koe’s too if you can.”

They began to retreat, Fal staring down the injured female warrior, hoping she wouldn’t press forward. She took a step forward, her thin eyes narrowed to menacing slits. Another snake-like creature put a hole through a soldier then moved to join her. A few dozen more crept forward from between buildings and the wide street that led to the western wall.

“Shit!” Fal exclaimed. “We need a building to hole up in, big guy!”

“Actually,” Al responded mirthfully, “We’ll be just fine right here.”

“I know you think highly of yourself, but now’s not the time to make a godsdamned statement, Al. Move!”

“Get down!” Al thundered, shocking Fal into inaction for a moment.

Fal cocked his head to look over his shoulder as the big man flopped down, pulling a loudly disgruntled Koe with him. At least a score of Deth Uk were charging straight for Fal, arms cocked back, spears and throwing axes in hand. Starlight glimmered from the tips of several weapons as they took flight. Fal threw himself to the ground, an axe tumbling just a handsbreadth from his right ear.

Deth Uk hurdled over him then crashed into the enemy, their brute strength crushing the small army. The melee ended quickly, but half of the enraged barbarians had perished in their bloodlust, heedless of the swift strikes of the snake-like creatures.

Fal and his friends stood warily, even Koe remaining quiet.

After a few breaths, when no new enemies appeared, Fal let out a sigh and leaned heavily on a tree near the base of the small hill he’d been standing on just moments ago. “Think we’ve almost got them beat?”

“Close. But then we might be close too,” Al reasoned.

“What do we do then?”

“Guys, this really hurts,” Koe growled. “I need a medic, or some really strong spirits.” He winced and hissed. “Both actually!” he spat once the wave of pain dimmed.

“It can’t be that bad,” Fal argued, wiggling the stumps of his fingers. “Besides, at most you’ll maybe lose a few toes. We’ll match, kind of.”

“Cut your own fucking toes off if you want another limb to match yours!”

“He has a point,” Al said.

“You think I should cut my toes off? I wasn’t being serious, Al. It was a joke. You get hit too hard in the head?”

“No, you base whoreson. Like you said, ‘we don’t die on this hill’. We’ve done our part. Koe is out of commission. We’re both beat up and tired. Let’s get him help and hunker down.”

“Old,” Fal said as he pushed away from the tree, his groan audible over the din of clashing metal and screams that permeated throughout the city.


“What you mean is old. We’re old. This kind of work isn’t what we’re best at anymore. Well, it never was our strongest suit, but that’s beside the point… Am I rambling?”

“Yes, you damn idiot fuck!” Koe sputtered.

“Oh, that wasn’t even good, Koe. I expect better, even with a hole in your foot. There’s a field base a few blocks back. We’ll get Koe’s cut looked at then bluff our way back into the castle.”

“What the hells for!” Koe blurted. “That’s at least two miles away!”

“You said spirits, right? The city is dry, but the king’s storeroom is full. You saw it. Al can carry you. He can use the exercise.” Fal patted his belly to punctuate his point.

Koe’s pained visage melted for a brief moment as he considered the plan then nodded in begrudging agreement. Al threw an obscene gesture at them both and they headed off.

An hour later and the trio found themselves lounging in the darkness of the castle’s storerooms, gorging themselves on wine, brandy, cheese, dried meats, and dried fruits.

“There’s still a battle going on up there,” Al reasoned around a mouthful of cheese, meat, fruit, and nuts, his words barely decipherable.

“Gods, man, the stuff isn’t going to up and run off,” Fal teased.

Koe laughed drunkenly, his head listing to the side. His humor turned into a pained hiss as he shifted.

Al took a large swig of wine, upon swallowing which he too winced as though he’d been stabbed through the foot. Seconds later, when he finally opened his eyes and the mass of food had travelled down his throat, he sighed. His eyes red and watering, he said, “Tastes better when you put it all together like that.”

“I’d wager a steak kills you well before a sword, big man,” Fal said. He paused considering his words, then continued, “Certainly not a bad way to go actually… Anyway, you said something about the battle?”

“Right! Although I enjoy being a degenerate as much as either of you, it’d do well for us not to get too inebriated.”

“Too late!” Koe blurted. He sniffed a block of cheese, his mouth twisting and chin quivering in response, then he sampled a bite anyway.

“Fine for you, Koe. You’re nothing more than a sack of potatoes to be lugged around anyway. Fal, we should head back up top. Tides of a battle can change quickly, no different than those of the sea. I’d rather not be caught down here with a bottle in one hand and my cock in the other if they suddenly shift in an unfavorable direction.”

“I hear ya, big guy. Mind if I hold mine, though?”

“Whatever keeps you satisfied in Sarah’s absence. Koe, get your drunk ass up. And leave that bottle.”

Koe glared at Al, his knuckles white around the neck of the wine bottle he clutched. He raised the bottle to his lips and tipped his head back. Fal darted forward and slapped the bottle from Koe’s hand, however. “Father said no, Koe! Come on, man.”

Koe coughed violently, violet liquid spraying from between his lips with each outburst. Swears and insults hitched from his mouth in spurts once he regained a semblance of control over his throat. Al smiled while he helped the injured man to his foot, the heavily bandaged one held off the floor.

Reaching the ground floor sobered Fal up real quick. A cacophony of shouts and commands bellowed throughout the castle made it seem as though the battle had landed on their heads. And it nearly had.

A handful of the King’s Guard sprinted around a corner, charging toward the trio.

“What’s happening?” Fal shouted.

“A raiding party broke past the east wall! Get your asses to the third floor study!”

“Help me with him,” Al hollered at the guards clad in white plate, indicating the bloody bandage.

They streaked past, the man at the lead barking, “Leave him! You don’t make it up there in time and we lock you out.”

With that, they disappeared through a large, arched threshold and up a slowly curving stairwell. Hisses, screams, and the clangor of metal on metal echoed toward them.

“Shit,” Fal exclaimed. He spun, put himself on Koe’s opposite side, and the trio sprinted for the stairs, Koe assisting with his one good leg.

“Pick your foot up higher, you lazy prick!” Fal barked at Koe as they ascended the stairs.

They’d reached the second floor landing of the stairs when they distinctly heard the creatures enter the stairwell below in pursuit.

“Give him to me,” Al snarled. Midstride, he wrapped his opposite arm about Koe’s waist then hoisted him over his shoulder like a child. Grunting, his face a mask of savagery, Al pounded up the steps. Fal was hard-pressed to keep pace.

They reached the third floor and burst out into the hallway. A handful of soldiers and guards were filing past an open iron door at the far end, a scowling elderly guard urging them in violently. Fal saw the man look at him, then over his shoulder, and the commander’s eyes widened. Fal shot a glance over his shoulder as a half dozen of the creatures crested the top of the stairs within the well.

“Hold!” Fal screamed.

They passed an intersecting hall as several guards were rushing down it. Then they were past it. The commander slipped inside the room and began pulling the door. A chorus of surprised shouts, hisses, and the clamor of steel exploded behind Fal. He looked back once more to see that the guards had run headlong into the intruders and were immediately entangled in a fierce and bloody melee.

He knew it wouldn’t last long, and he was sure the commander did too. But the grizzled man halted for a brief moment, watched the action, then hollered, “Move it!”

Although Fal thought it impossible, Al gained even more speed. Fal moved quicker as well, despite believing himself incapable, terrified of being left without his friends in the hall.

The commander pressed himself flat against the doorjamb as they closed. Al roared incoherently. They flew into the room and the door slammed shut behind them. Fal slammed his feet to slow himself and wound up tumbling across the floor. While he only rolled once over, Al had cleared the door and immediately pitched forward, tossing Koe from his shoulder. They careened through the room and slammed into the stone wall beyond, nearly colliding with King Elbert.

Before Fal could assess his dazed comrades or either of the two kings and the score of soldiers in the room, the enemy slammed into the iron door.

“This won’t hold forever!” the commander shouted. “Arm yourselves!”

While those with weapons lugged furniture before the door, Elbert and his soldiers went to paintings and other hidden locations and procured cleverly hidden crossbows and swords. The hissing and screeching from the other end of the door made Fal think of the demons that had once invaded Baronfall. Though he’d been fortunate – and smart – enough to avoid contact with them during the invasion, the sounds of the creatures prowling through Durthlem had carried throughout the city.

“We hold this until reinforcements show!” the commander bellowed. “Protect the lords with your lives, men!”

Fal didn’t like the prospect of throwing his life away for any man, but at present, there wasn’t anywhere for him to go hide while the battle played out. He adjusted his buckler, tried to shake the stiffness and drunkenness from his bones and mind, then assumed a stance directly in front of the rattling door, his shoulders touching the men to either side of him.