Charlie’s eyes snapped open as she regained consciousness.

    Her hands grasped at her sides for her sword frantically. She felt warm blood running down her face and tasted the iron like liquid in her mouth. As her vision refocused, she spotted a charging mercenary with a pike aiming for her chest. Gathering all of her strength, she rose to her feet and took a step forward, grabbing for a shield stuck in the mud. It was too late by the time the mercenary realized what was happening; Charlie deflected his thrust and slammed steel into his breast. He gasped for air and reached for his shattered breastbone as Charlie crushed his face with her mailed fist. 

    Breathing heavily, Charlie dropped the shield in shock and covered her face with her armored, bloody hands. She had never killed a man before and although she was grateful she did not hesitate, she was not proud that she had taken a life. She did not have time to think. Weakly, Charlie staggered toward her borrowed sword and helm as the battle raged around her. Lurching toward her armaments, Charlie stumbled, but managed to gather the armor and weapon. She had just finished adjusting her helm when Selene appeared by her side, declaring “Oi, this is insane!”

    Finally, after coming to her senses, Charlie saw Eamon’s forces breach the main gate and exclaimed, “Come on! Our banner just breached the gates!”

    The heavily fortified walls of Castle Wyverngrad had not been conquered in nearly four centuries, but the forces of Eamon had breached their main gate, drawing closer to their keep. Unfortunately for them, the courtyard had transformed into a sea of blood as Eamon’s forces were butchered and slaughtered. The Odd Fellows, a renown company of mercenaries, controlled the courtyard; no matter how many of Eamon’s soldiers or mercenaries entered, they were quickly disposed of. In the middle of this carnage was a whirling dervish of death, the commander of the Odd Fellows, a mutilated mercenary, Nabunexus. He was missing most cartilage on his face and what exposed skin was visible had deep ritual scarring. Obsidian greaves crushed the helms and skulls of anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves beneath them, as Nabunexus took great pleasure in the grisly crunching beneath his feet. The Odd Fellows, inspired by their grotesque commander, continued to push back the forces of Eamon.

    The Knights of Dominion were the sole reason the forces of Eamon did not crumble from the onslaught. Amador, a youthful squire, was beating back half a dozen men in a furious storm of steel. Watching his flank stood Livia, impaling foe after foe on her pike. Hormoz, a decorated knight, challenged Nabunexus to single combat with a grand gesture of his blade. A man of incredible proportions, Hormoz was almost as wide as he was tall. He was strong, in his prime and, donning ridiculously heavy plate armor. The challenger brandished his two-handed bastard sword and proudly said, “You there! Demon! Beast! Come at me!”

    An unspoken truce was initiated between the adversaries, and a circle began to form around the developing duel.  Hormoz moved forward, threateningly approaching Nabunexus. The tension in the air was palpable as the warriors on the battlefield watched their two mightiest square off in honorable combat. Hormoz swung heavily at Nabunexus who parried the blow with his ragged, blood-stained, iron blade. Recoiling from the power of his blow, Hormoz steadied himself and again attacked his opponent. He raised his sword overhead, but at the last moment, dropped it and thrust it upwards towards Nabunexus’ rib cage. This move was anticipated and with a powerful overhand blow, Nabunexus sent Hormoz tumbling to the ground, blood pouring from his nose and mouth. Laughing profanely, Nabunexus reared back and swung overhead with both hands towards the stunned knight, but at the last possible moment, the errant knight Cormac, son of Eamon, deflected the killing blow.

    Hormoz cursed him with ragged breaths, “Boy! No! Damn you! No!”

    Cormac swung mightily to successfully beat the beast of a man back. Nabunexus was put on the defensive by the fresh fighter and although he was not as skilled as Hormoz, this new challenger was youthful and determined. The experience of the Odd Fellow’s commander was on full display when he masterfully disarmed the young knight with a precise, powerful strike that sent him tumbling to the dirt. Fear filled Cormac’s breast when he realized there was no way to escape death, but suddenly Hormoz charged into Nabunexus’ side, knocking both of them to the ground. Nabunexus rose to his feet while Cormac and Hormoz scuttled away from the terrifying warrior before them. The duo of wounded knights watched helplessly as they were approached with deadly intentions. Whispers of surrender began to spread among Eamon’s mercenaries, as no one stepped forward to challenge the Odd Fellow’s leader. 

    One answered the call before the final blows could be struck as Charlie stepped out of the masses of soldiers. She pointed the tip of her sword at Nabunexus and declared with all the poise she could muster, “Come… come and die.”

    Caught off guard, slowly Nabunexus turned to the voice and replied in a low growl, “You will kill me? All of these knights have fallen before me and yet you? You will kill me?”

    Nabunexus laughed mightily followed by the Odd Fellows, who stood confidently behind their leader. Believing the battle had ended, the mercenaries began to lean on their shields and weapon hilts. Cormac and Hormoz took advantage of the distraction and managed to get back into the ranks of friendly soldiers. Cormac declined leaving the field despite Livia’s protest and watched this woman carefully as she confronted the monster that he could not best. Charlie took her stance as she stared down her formidable enemy. The seasoned warrior realized how deadly serious she was and said, “Very well, woman, kill me. I defy you.”

    Nabunexus closed the gap between them with astonishing speed, but Charlie was prepared and cleanly swiped Nabunexus’ head off with a single stroke. The blade cleanly cleaved his neck, followed by a loud pop as her steel severed his spine. Nabunexus’ head bounced in the dirt of the courtyard and settled a few feet from his body with a trail of gore between them. Nabunexus’ headless body stood for a moment before it released one last spurt of blood into the air and lifelessly tumbled to the earth. 

    All was silent.

    A triumphant roar from Charlie inspired her fellow soldiers and together they charged defiantly into the Odd Fellows.

    Smoke billowed around the war torn fortress as the fleeing Odd Fellows lit the city on fire. Villagers scattered as torches landed on their thatched rooftops. Chaos took hold in the city as it burned, a last ditch effort to distract their enemies from pursuit. The battle became a skirmish in the grain fields as the surviving mercenaries managed to break away from the pursuing army of King Eamon. Although the day had been won, the spoils were ablaze as fire spread unchecked throughout the city and Castle Wyverngrad.

    Charlie turned away from the mercenary she was pursuing as he desperately fled, disappearing into the grain fields. Taking in the sight of the city burning, she gasped as she saw a child weeping over a burning body. She became reinvigorated, her weary muscles fueled by raw determination. Charlie knew that before anything else, the fires needed to be extinguished. She remembered the well that she had seen when they breached the gate.

    Charlie pointed to a trio of soldiers to her left and commanded, “You three! Go to the square inside the south gate. There is a well there. Recruit as many people as you can to form a line. Go!”

    As quickly as she commanded one group of soldiers, she issued another order, then another. The soldiers responded to her directions earnestly, and performed their duties to perfection. In less than two minutes, the first group of soldiers had been organized into a firefighting force. The lines of soldiers moved buckets full of water to the fires while runners returned with buckets they scavenged from around the city. In short order, all of the fires were out. The city had been saved from destruction.

    Wiping ash away from her eyes, Charlie exhaled heavily. After a moment to catch her breath, she watched as an army that she had no authority over patted each other on the back and congratulated each other on saving the city. Every so often one of the soldiers would point at Charlie and say something to their fellow warriors. “She fights fires as well as she does monsters!” One excitable soldier exclaimed, patting her on the back with a heavy hand. As she walked back towards the grain fields, a group of thankful villagers approached. She exchanged short pleasantries with them before continuing on. 

    She received a few nods of recognition as she walked over to where the crying child had been, but they were gone. Kneeling next to the charred remains of the child’s guardian, Charlie removed her cloak pin and draped her cloak over the body. Charlie shut her eyes, allowing only a duo of tears to roll down her cheek. In a swift motion, she punched the ground and got to her feet. She stared at the rubble of the hut; there had to be something that she could do.

    Hours passed and the sun began to hang lower in the sky. With the fires out and the enemy bested, many of the soldiers had begun to unwind. One such soldier took a swig of a hand barrel of grog as he walked down a small city street before furrowing his brow in confusion. He saw Charlie, perhaps the youngest on the battlefield, covered in soot, lifting stones that had fallen from a hut and replacing them. Catching sight of the cloak, a somber realization washed over him and he understood her effort. Charlie worked at a steady pace, grunting with effort as she lifted each stone. The soldier handed off the drink as he jogged over to help her. He planted himself on the other side of a particularly large stone that Charlie was struggling with, and together they returned it to its position on the hut wall. Together they lifted another half dozen stones. They were soon joined by another helper. And another soon after that. Before long, every able-bodied person around had joined Charlie in helping the deserving citizens of the city.

Written by Christopher Tesorio

Edited by Connor Policastro