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"What was that you said earlier about saving someone?" Les asked as he reached down from his mount.

Melchior shook his head while he grasped Les' forearm and clamored atop the horse. "I suppose I won't be hearing the end of this anytime soon will I?"

"Not until the day I die. As a matter of fact, I may even have it as my epitaph." Les continued with a grunt as he stabbed his heels into the sides of his rouncy. "Here lay the humble Les Rehon, who once plucked the mighty Melchior from certain doom upon the field at the battle of Bascan river."

"I hope you don't expect me to pay for that. You know they charge by the letter don' t you?"

They laughed together, winding through the melee toward the hilltop where Stahll's party was locked in combat with Rook's mounted bowmen and the remainder of the Irregulars' Cavalry.

Every now and then Melchior dropped his blade into an enemy's back or parried a flanking blow. As they grew nearer to the General's breaking entourage, his eyes narrowed. “This is close enough Les, I need you to remain mounted if we're to get out of here alive. Circle back and try to stay out of trouble.”

“I'll be back to get you.” Les said, grasping his friends knee. “On your feet, or on your back.” He peered over his shoulder briefly to see into the eyes of the man he had come to love as a brother.

“Preferably on my feet right?”

“Hah. Otherwise I'd have to spend the energy of actually carrying your lifeless corpse, and you know how lazy I am.”

Melchior patted him on the back.

“I'm about as lazy as -” Les turned back to see that he was speaking to no one. Melchior had already leaped from the horse. He thought he noticed the fleeting glimpse of a dark cloak piercing into the melee but couldn't be sure, amid the chaos, that it was anything but his imagination. “Good luck my friend.” He said to himself, tugging the reins and urging his rouncy into a sharp turn.

In the fray, the beast clawed at Melchior's mind. It wanted nothing more than to have control, to rip the flesh of his enemies in a frenzy of blood and violence. Though he wanted, in part, to give in to its pleas; there was work to be done. As he raced through the fighting men, his aim stayed true, and his mind focused.

Periodically, enemies broke from their engagements to meet Melchior in combat. Every time, he denied them the satisfaction. Instead he would throw a blow into their defense, all the while not slowing his pace. By the time they had recovered, he was gone. At least once, the flicker of steel had shone in his periphery and his shoulder dropped to the ground as he rolled beneath the sweeping blade.

His breath grew heavy, and sweat tumbled from his brow. From within the hooded cloak, he could hear nothing but the stomping of his feet and the beating of his heart. The fighting men surrounding him were a mere backdrop; the ancillary actors in a grandiose play. There, as if lit up by a column of sunlight piercing through a darkened sky, was the lead. Racing toward the General, Melchior rehearsed his role one final time. He had no lines, for he was not so much an actor as the stagehand come to usher Stahll from the scene.

He came from behind with such speed that none of the surrounding guards were even aware of his presence.

Stahll peered over his shoulder in the final moment, to make eye contact just as Melchior's black blade severed his head with a single masterful cleave.

The End

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