© Eric Mac 2015 (Author's note: Will write more if there is a desire, please let me know..) They call me The Scoundrel—Scoundrel for short. I’m actually Bertran Jeffries, but even I can’t pronounce either of those names without feeling weakened in some way. And weak is not how one wishes to appear next to the man I’m following. “Oh joy,” I said to him, “yet another dark, gritty hole you’ve found.” And I mean following only in the physical sense. I am my own man and have been since I was about five. I ran away from my mother at that age and slipped into a caravan heading east. Personally, I don’t think she was my mother. I remember her paying money to some other woman, and I remember being lifted into her arms after the coins were exchanged. I had to have been quite the infant then because I also remember loosing my water at that very moment, wetting the purveyor of human goods that was she. Ahead, there was a grunt from Warren—War for short. Yes, we are very clever and filled with perspicuous idiom. And no one ever calls him Warren but me—and only when I’m testy and wanting to rile him. You won’t ever hear me tell him, but he is a most impressive man. I could say “mountain of a man” and that would be just as accurate, if not too widely used. You will also never hear me say I admire him. Ever. Admire in a brutish, maximum demonstration of nature, that is. Whatever he ate growing up never had a chance. “Do you think you could block the whole tunnel?” I asked. Warren looked back at me, an effort that made the metal of his helm scrape lightly against his shoulder armor. As it was, he had to turn partially sideways in order to make it down the blasted sandy hole himself. I saw a slight crinkling at the corner of his eye that told me he was amused. But he was also challenging me to move him if I wanted—something we both knew wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t stop me from raising my eyebrows and appearing playfully impatient, however. In truth, I was quite glad to he was going first. It meant I wouldn’t be able to get an arrow off without hitting him, but it also meant that whatever ghastly, slithering foulness we were to encounter would have the mighty challenge of getting past him before it got to me. I was, therefore, none too concerned. We kept moving, Warren’s armor both lighting the way and scraping against the harsh rock wall. In short time, the tunnel started getting wider, and I knew that my earlier fears of just having to extract his mass from being wedged in this place was slowly being replaced by having to keep a sharp eye on things. That was my self-appointed task. His protector. That was something he would never admit, but it was something of which I took every opportunity to remind him. He didn’t have the best memory for things like that, so I felt it was my duty to keep it fresh in his mind. The air was getting cooler, and I thanked whatever misbegotten god for that mild pleasure. The heat of the desert was pleasant only when one had the nubile flesh of a charming woman touching your hot skin and guiding you to her tent. There was another grunt from Warren. My eyes widened, and I drew my hand in the space where my bowstring would normally be. A cool, blue glowing string appeared, and a hoar-frost coated white arrow came into existence. I had to wear gloves or the thing would burn my hands from the cold. Cool mist drew off the magical arrow and flecks of frost fell, turning to moisture before hitting the ground. I loved my bow. It was the only one of its kind—a Baern Ice Bow, named after the man who created it, the man who died giving it to me. There were several grunts that defined Warren. The last was a terse expression that said I’d better be ready for anything. Warren shifted in his stance, his massive frame stepping aside enough so that I could see what lay ahead. More sand. More darkness beyond the light of his armor—which meant we had about ten feet of clear visibility that quickly faded to black. There was something in that black. My heart found its way higher in my chest against my best wishes. I exhaled. It was easy to regain my steadiness, and it would be even easier once something started. But for those damn few minutes before a fight, my body wanted to act like it was a child afraid of the dark. And then it began. A rapid shuffling, skittering presence came out of the dark. Many of them. My heart pumped wildly, my mind raced, Warren’s—I was sure—did the opposite. There was a set to his body, a relaxed readiness and an obvious eagerness to his actions that I envied in one respect, feared in another. I would also never tell him that. Fiends rushed out of the darkness quickly followed by a bunch of damn cave spiders. I hate spiders. Hate them. And these were dog-sized. Big dogs. Thin, green legs with deep red at the joints swiftly carried the characteristic bulging bodies—carapaces designed, I swear by the gods, to be grotesque. Fiends came ahead of them, most likely herding them or having some kind of beneficial relationship with the spiders. The fiends were human-like, each hairless and having light brown bodies with pot bellies. They scampered forward fast, all brandishing a bladed or blunt weapon to finish us—to add us to the shape of their stomachs. At the edge of the darkness I could see the remains of a man. I let an arrow fly without thinking, my eyes already on my next shot, my hand already drawing back and creating another arrow. The white shaft sank into the bulging form of the first spider I saw. I didn’t have to look to see that the arrow penetrated truly, sending out a shockwave of frost and ice across its body and freezing it temporarily. In my periphery, and to my disgusted delight, I saw the thing crash into the hardened sand as others crawled over it to get to us. And that was when War rushed forward. Not Warren now. War. His legendary war blade coming alive. The first group of fiends rushing forward were brutally cut in two—and not in nice pieces. Some of them lost their heads; others were cut clean across their chest and out through their shoulder on the other side. And they didn’t just fall neatly to the ground; they flew across the space of the tunnel hitting the other side in a gory mess. I crouched low for a better line of sight and fired again and again, frost flecking my cheek and cooling my skin. I stopped firing after six shots and just watched the spectacle before me. I couldn’t help a smile as War chopped and crushed spider and fiend with equal vigor. A low chant began as War worked up his barbarian lust. I found myself pulled into the sound, mimicking it. I felt the rush that was my friend express itself all over the cave tunnel. I probably beamed. As I said, I admired him. It was over soon enough. I had only to fire once more; an errant spider fell from the ceiling, frozen. It hit War’s back, though I doubt he even felt it. He stepped back to admire the disarray of bodies and crushed the thing without knowing it. The place smelled bad now—blood and spider gut goo. Warren was calming himself down, though I could feel the heat coming off his body. He was eager for more. I stepped past him and felt his eyes on me. I saw the tunnel open into a wider chamber; darkness beyond. I turned back to him and looked at his face, at his eyes that sought battle to live by. “Hmm,” I said, disapprovingly. “You going to sift through all that for gold now?” He lowered his brows and looked at the warm, wet chaos decorating the cave. He gave a wry grin and shrugged his shoulders, clearly happy with himself. I shook my head. “Fine,” I said, then proceeded to take his dagger out of the scabbard at his waist. He opened his mouth as if to say something. A look from me silenced him. “If I have to do it, I’m not dirtying my own blade.” I turned around and stepped over to a pile of still-oozing flesh and readied myself to poke through it, hiding my own grin as I did so.