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What's the DEAL with bacon? You don't bake it, you fry it!…
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some ppl be high on life but ya'll ni🅱️🅱️as be high on chromosomes 👀🙊
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Most Recent Posts

Lad's a tastee feller I'd wager. Yessiree. Wouldn't mind to cook his meat on the surface of an upside-down iron like a hobo skillet, shooting the occasional puff of steam into a fillet of Jocko sirloin to keep it from drying out. I'd also consider coating a shank fillet in a generous layer of coarse kosher salt, peppercorns, and herbs de provence. Then again, I'd also consider eating a slug just because they're mollusks like clams and octopus hoping that they taste like scallops and not the literal garbage that they eat so what the fuck do I know LOL
I started a new job and moved recently, but I finally got my post up. I will do a collaborative post with you Vampiretwilight but I just had to get this one out
Castle Bathory shuddered and groaned under the very weight of its stones, relieving some of its stress in showers of dust and grit from the vaulted ceilings fracturing overhead. The constant, cacophonous din of battle had died down to sporadic clanging of swords and agonized shouts of dying men echoing through the ravaged corridors and halls of the castle between stretches of relative silence. As the deathly silence descended over the dying castle, a single pair of bootfalls against clattered against the cold, polished floor of the castle as Ulrek Bathory returned to the family's home and seat of power for the second time in five months.

When the Baron had come here five months ago to protest his father's announcement of the ill-fated inheritance challenge, the castle was a different place to be sure. An army of Royal Guards - each clad in standard issue, excellent quality armor and brilliant crimson cloaks - stood vigil at regular posts throughout the castle's corridors and grand halls. When Ulrek left his father's court in a fury, his protests against the inheritance challenge rebuffed, those guards ushering him from the throne chamber seemed such an invulnerable and monolithic force, as unyielding as the Castle they garrisoned and the King they defended. Now the Baron stepped over the crumpled and bloodied corpses of those same guards strewn across the floor of the citadel his own army had all but leveled.

The guard had fought savagely to defend the castle and its master, for each royal guard slain upon the floor was accompanied by the bloodied corpses of one or two of Kharald Halfbeard's mercenaries or the Baron's knights. Each of the guards died heroically, facing their foe head-on until the bitter end to keep them from reaching their rightful king. Edward, Ulrek deduced, would be found in whichever direction the slain guards were facing away from. Ulrek stepped over their corpses and pressed on into the interior of the citadel - to the throne chamber.

Ulrek made his way through the castle's library on his way to the inner stairwell, and was greeted by the stomach-turning sound of papers being rustled quickly and carelessly, interspersed by the sharp tearing of parchment. The vampire prince was dismayed to find a half dozen dwarven mercenaries tearing through the library's collection with the avarice of hogs rooting through autumn leaves in search of acorns. The mercenaries climbed atop stools and ladders to reach the highest shelves of King Zachaeus' private collection of books, scrolls, atlases, and almanacs. The dwarves tore through each and every book, grabbing each tome by its often-delicate binding and vigorously shaking it, hoping to dislodge any valuables that might be wedged within the pages. Individual pages separated from their bindings and fluttered down to the floor before the rest of the tome was unceremoniously cast off to the side. Ulrek was not sure what valuables the dwarves were even hoping to find hidden in the books. Perhaps some of the alcohol-embalmed specimens of deep-sea serpent fingerlings or atlases of distant archipelagoes of the Orient might be sold for a modest sum in a curiosity shop in Aepiranth or some stall in the Grand Bazaar, but there was nothing here that these brutes could hope to quickly pawn off in these lands.

Ulrek watched as the same pages of books he read as boy centuries ago tumbled unceremoniously to the floor as the dwarves- only now aware of the Baron's presence - ceased their pilfering in stunned awe of the vampire in their midst, glancing expectantly at one another for some indication as to whether they should attempt to kill the Baron or flee. Ulrek too regarded the dwarves as he trudged through the litter of pages strewn across the library floor, considering for a moment cutting these dwarves down as punishment for despoiling his father's library - one of the few things that Ulrek cherished in this world. Ultimately, Ulrek decided to leave the dwarves to their looting and continued on toward the throne chamber. Their castigation could wait, but Edward's could not.

As Ulrek progressed into the heart of Castle Bathory, the looting carried out by the surviving remnants of his forces became increasingly widespread. The slain guards were fewer here - perhaps the guard had withdrawn to more defensible portions of the citadel, or perhaps the royal guard had simply given up hope and abandoned their posts to join Ulrek's forces in plundering the castle. In the absence of a substantial defense, Ulrek's knights and mercenaries tore through the various chambers in search of anything they desired. The crashing of furniture being busted apart echoed down the corridors as the Baron's forces began to ransack the castle. Shrill screams rang out somewhere behind Ulrek as a handful of his yeomen discovered a pair of servant girls and set about having their way with them. He paid no mind at all to the complete breakdown of order among what remained of his forces. The levies, knights, and mercenaries got Ulrek inside Castle Bathory; whatever happened to them afterwards was no concern of his.

Ulrek reached the inner stairwell of the castle, whose polished limestone ran with coursing rivulets of congealing blood trickling from guards cut down on the stairs in defense of the throne hall somewhere above. Clashing steel and shouting up the stairway suggested that the guard was still fighting off the attackers attempting to breach the throne room. The last of the guard fighting to protect the throne hall and Prince Edward within, Ulrek assumed. The Baron climbed the stairs and, at the top, encountered a gaggle of dwarven mercenaries weilding bloodied axes and swords and each wearing several pounds worth of fine golden necklaces and amulets around their necks and over their armor. Clearly they had just looted the royal jewelry collections and were making for the exit when they met Ulrek Bathory. The Baron did not need to probe their minds to know their intentions as he practically felt their avaricious eyes crawling up and down his suit of silver plate armor.

"Well if it isn't our esteemed employer, Baron Ulrek Bathory," said a dwarf wearing a ruby-encrusted tiara of rose gold upon a greasy brow. "We succeeded in winning ya yer daddy's castle. Time to pay up."

"Sturin's Beard," another dwarf remarked. "That's a full suit of dwarf-made silver armor. Whaddya think that's worth? Chestpiece alone's probably worth 100 gold vespers."

"'Fraid it ain't gonna fetch that much," yet another dwarf said, lowering his halberd and moving to engage the Baron. "Not when I poke a hole in that pretty piece of foppery and nab the bastard's heart."

The halberd-armed dwarf lowered his weapon and lunged at the Baron. A brief mind probe of the attacker allowed Ulrek to sidestep the polearm. The vampire's sword was unsheathed in a flash of silver and mithril and at once, Pthaalma met the shaft of the dwarf's halberd with a powerful hack. The dwarf attempted to parry Ulrek's sword, but the mithril blade cut effortlessly through the tempered wooden shaft. The disarmed dwarf beheld Ulrek with wide-eyed dismay for a brief moment as the top half of his severed halberd clattered at his feet. Ulrek swung once more and removed the dwarf's head from his shoulders. The dwarf's head blinked as it went down the stairs in a tumbling roll, the last thing he witnessed was his headless corpse collapse at the Baron's feet, dispensing the stolen necklaces and amulets around his stump of a neck into a tangled, bloodied heap on the floor. Without a word, Ulrek stepped around his attacker's stunned companions and continued toward the throne room. Behind him, he heard the dwarves bound down the stairwell in terrified flight, but not before recovering the jewelry from the corpse of their slain companion.

A red-dyed carpet guided Ulrek down the hallway toward the double doors of the throne chamber. Fierce fighting had taken place here not long before. Ulrek's dying knights bled out beside the corpses of fallen guardsmen, some of whom had just enough life in them to watch as the Baron they had given their for carelessly stepped over their bodies. A royal honor guard with a split belly sat against the wall, attempting to gather his spilled entrails back into his body. The Baron's forces had inflicted severe casualties in attempting to breach the throne room, but had only scarcely failed. All of Edward's defenses had now been breached. Now that task Ulrek had set out to accomplish all those months ago - to redress the perceived wronging perpetrated by his father and brother, to claim his rightful inheritance over the whole of the Lands Under Shadow - was at hand. His father's idiotic game would end where it began.

Ulrek threw the doors to the throne hall open and barged within - Pthaalma in hand.

"Edward!" Ulrek declared as the doors slammed against the walls of the atrium, "your hour has come!"

The only responses to Ulrek were his own echoes sounding through the vast, cavernous hall.

The throne hall was empty and silent. The damage to Castle Bathory had collapsed a segment of the far western wall - directly behind King Zachaeus' vacant throne - casting a sunbeam of orange twilight into the normally dimly-lit chamber. Dozens of expansive tapestries hanging from the vaulted ceiling high above fluttered in the breeze on either side of the collonaded walkway leading up to the throne itself.

"Brother!" Ulrek called out once again. "Show yourself!"

No response.

Ulrek examined the throne room as his echoes resounded through the space. The crimson carpet running between the doors and the throne dais was severely faded as if it had been allowed to be sunbleached for many years. The vampire's eyes went up from the carpet to the linen tapestries hanging above him. They too had been severely faded, but Ulrek could still make out the dramatic scenes sewn into the fabric. To his left, the top third depicted a monstrous hag hiding in the shadows of a darkened cave that Ulrek recognized as Nystra: the Mother of Vampires. Ulrek, being well read, knew the origin of his race as thoroughly as any scholar. Nystra was cursed by birth with horrifying hideousness. Cast out from her home and despised by all, the miserable wretch went into the wilderness and lived in a cave. Without a husband to support her and lacking the strength to hunt for her meals, Nystra would stalk the woods at night in search of sleeping beasts and bite their throats to dispatch her prey, as could be seen farther down the tapestry as the crone bit into the neck of a sleeping stag.

Nystra tired of her miserable life and her terrifying hideousness. She prayed fervently that she might be beautiful one day and attract a prosperous husband. Her prayer was one day answered, and she woke one morning to find that she was now a stunningly beautiful maiden. But when she stepped out of the cave into the sunlight, the morning sun burned her skin and sent her fleeing back into the darkness, preventing her from going out and seeking a husband. As she wept in the darkness of her cave, a winged devil appeared before her. Struck by her beauty, the demon took the cursed girl as his wife and gave her a son: Hema. Half man and half demon, he was the first of the vampires.

Ulrek glanced over to the other tapestries as he approached the sunlit throne, seeing the woven illustrations of Hema and his brothers and sisters proliferating across the land. With their demonic blood, the vampires dominated the ancient civilizations of men. Two tapestries were devoted to great battles between the Free Men and the Vampires and their enslaved warrior thralls. At the foot of one tapestry was the woven likeness of a winged vampire warlord standing atop a pile of bloodied corpses, surrounded by bowing figures presenting their crowns with open arms. Even an illiterate simpleton would have immediately recognized the likeness of Nosferas.

The next tapestry depicted Nosferas' thralls under the cracking whips of the vampire vassals. Men toiled under whips, carting blocks of stone to build their master a massive palace. Various scenes of mastery over enthralled man played over the rest of this tapestry, until the end, when a man could be seen attacking Nosferas with a silver spear. Nosferas broke off the silver speartip with his sword, only for the man to stab the vampire lord in the heart with his broken spear. That assassin, Ulrek knew, was Van: the first vampire hunter. The first man to kill a vampire with a wooden stake to the heart.

On the final tapestry, nearest the throne, man and vampire were depicted fighting once again over Nosferas' bloodied corpse. But one of Nosferas' vampire vassals could be seen fighting alongside the men. In the second scene, the vampire watched over the men as they put Nosferas' other lieutenants to silver swords. And in the final scene of the last tapestry, the lone vampire sat upon a great throne, surrounded by human vassals saluting him with their swords.

King Zachaeus, Ulrek recognized. The vampire who liberated man from their fate as cattle under vampiric tyrants.

His father had commissioned these tapestries to cement this story in the minds of the lives of fleeting humans; to paint himself as a liberator and ally of mankind. In return for the subordination of his mortal allies, King Zachaeus kept the dangerous and powerful vampires at bay and secured a peace between man and vampire. A clever machination, Ulrek could not deny. Vampires made poor vassals - they were powerful, long-lived and difficult to kill. Humans were typically weak and easily slain, and even the dangerous ones could be counted upon to die after six or seven decades at the most. They were ideal subjects.

Was that why his father insisted upon this inheritance challenge? Perhaps, Ulrek surmised, Zachaeus had no intention of ever surrendering his throne, but to offer the populace a marriage alliance of sorts between mortal and vampire to officiate his centuries-long peace. Leave his detestable son Ulrek to rot in his keep up in the Weald while one of his dimmer, more-malleable, and more-likeable sons served as a figurehead ruler for the Lands Under Shadow.

Ulrek would never truly know why his father had begun this strange challenge of his. For as the vampire prince stood before the throne, regarding a great sooty stain on the carpet at the base of the dais, Ulrek felt a sharp pain radiate up his spine.

"NOW!" A voice screamed behind him. "TAKE HIM DOWN!"

Guards armed with crossbows leapt out from hiding spots behind the columns of the throne room. Their crossbows discharged, firing another three crossbow bolts into the Baron. Ulrek was jolted as bolts impacted his body, for the crossbow bolts effortlessly pierced his soft silver armor and embedded themselves deep in his flesh. The volley was over as quickly as it began, and silence resumed over the throne chamber as Ulrek stood deathly still.

The Baron's head slowly tilted down, noting a crossbow bolt buried up to the fletching in his chest, mere inches below his heart. He grasped the shaft and winced as he deftly pulled the arrow out and inspected it. Dripping with dark vampiric blood was a crossbow bolt tipped with a silver bodkin.

"Silver?" Ulrek remarked as he twirled the arrow in his gauntlets. "That was your last hope at stopping me? Silver arrows?"

"God deliver us, he's not dying!"


As the guards furiously set about cranking their crossbow strings back, Ulrek strode over to the nearest guard with Pthaalma in hand. The guard, seeing the vampire prince approaching with arrows protruding from his body, dropped his crossbow and attempted to unsheath his own sword. His fumbling hand scarcely reached the hilt before Ulrek skewered the guard on his blade. The vampire sauntered over to the next guard. This one had wound up his crossbow and reloaded, but missed when he fired at the approaching vampire. Ulrek swatted the crossbow out of his hand when he reached him and grasped him by the throat, shoving the disarmed guard directly between the vampire and his two companions. Having reloaded as well, they fired their crossbows at Ulrek, but instead shot their fellow guard in the back. Ulrek unceremoniously cast his latest victim aside to tumble to the floor before going after the last two.

The last two guards, knowing they would not be able to reload once again before Ulrek was upon them, valiantly charged the Baron. Valiant, perhaps, but foolish and futile nonetheless. Ulrek stepped out of the way of the lunge of the first guard and then decapitated him with a chop to the neck. The final guard parried Ulrek's initial blow, but was unable to block the second swipe. Pthaalma's razor sharp mithril edge cut through the last guard's chainmail cuirass and cut deeply into his right shoulder. Ulrek flicked the blood from Pthaalma's blade as the final guard wailed and released his sword, falling to the floor to clutch his bleeding flesh wound. The vampire stood above his opponent and studied him for a moment before finally speaking.

"Where is my brother?" Ulrek asked, tapping his sword against the guard's pauldron. "If you tell me the truth, I will make it quick."

The wounded guard looked up at the Baron with a hateful glare, and then returned his dejected gaze to the bleeding gash on the shoulder.

"He's left the castle," the guard confessed. "He and his princess went through a tunnel in the undercroft that empties out at the harbor. Probably on a ship to the Orient now. You've wasted all this life and treasure capturing an empty ruin. Congratulations on your victory, Usurper." Ulrek probed the guard's mind and knew he was telling the truth. The Baron's emotionless, stoic visage suddenly contorted into a furious sneer. The vampire raised his sword and in a rage cleaved through the guard, cutting him cleanly down the torso and embedding the blade two inches down into the polished limestone floor beneath him.

"That coward..." Ulrek snarled through gritted fangs. Ulrek had not come this far nor sacrificed this much to simply exile Edward Bathory. Ulrek would never be satisfied until the entirety of his miserable family had been slain. And now, with Edward and his bride perhaps even now boarding a ship to escape the Lands Under Shadow, Ulrek would likely never get the satisfaction of killing his younger brother. Edward and Emily would likely sail away, take on false names and live the rest of their lives on the balmy shores of the Jade Islands or some other exotic locale.

Perhaps Urlek could take solace in the possibility that the reavers of the septentrional Broken Lands might well intercept Edward's ship. It would have to suffice, perhaps, that the northern pirates could be counted upon to ensure Edward met a grisly demise. Ulrek imagined how the reaver longboats might board his escape vessel, hack his vessel's crew to bit and dump their remains into the waves so as to attract the sharks. Then, surely the northern savages would take their turns with his beloved Emily, from the thanes down to the lowest deckhands until everyone had their fill, so that the last thing Edward saw was his bride being deflowered before being cast overboard amidst bloody waters teeming with ravenous sharks. That would have to suffice.

No, decided Ulrek. Revenge shall be mine, and mine alone.

Ulrek unfastened his armor, carelessly shedding his battleworn cuirass and greaves to fall upon the floor with a metallic clang, exposing the undershirt and trousers of black silk beneath his armor. It was a great relief to finally rid himself of the heavy silver plate, but Ulrek did not remove it for his comfort, but out of necessity. The armor would not accommodate him for much longer.

The vampire went over to one of the dying royal guards slumped over the basal pedestal of a column - the one who had taken the two crossbow bolts meant for the Baron - and descended upon him. Though still alive, the guard was to weak to resist as Ulrek removed his helmet and sank his fangs into his neck. The relative silence of the throne room was broken by a sickening slurping and crunching as Ulrek siphoned the guard's lifeblood through his mouth. The color drained from the guard's flesh as Ulrek's belly filled. And as Ulrek's belly swelled, so too did a pair fledgling buds on both of the vampire's scapulae.

Prince Edward, it was rumored, possessed some great strength hidden from the world. But so too did Ulrek. It would be taxing and require positively gluttonous feeding to achieve, but Ulrek - like Edward - could achieve a quasi-demonic form just as their father could. With enough gorging, Ulrek Bathory could sprout batlike wings upon which he could chase Edward across the waves.

Given time, Ulrek would have no problem achieving such power; not with a ruined city filled with corpses to feed upon.
I haven't abandoned you guys, no worries. Can't remember the last time I had to sit down and write a post. I will help you out as soon as possible
Ulrek Bathory gave a hateful grunt as he shoved the limp weight of the lifeless warhorse off of his thigh. With his legs free, the Baron staggered to his feet and gave a momentary glance at his slain steed. A crossbow bolt meant for the Baron was buried deep in the stallion's neck, bright red blood oozing from the wound matted the horse's silvery pale coat. Unhorsed early in the charge against the walls, Ulrek missed the ogres breaching the walls and the ensuing melee in the courtyard. The sounds of clashing swords resounded from inside the citadel walls, but the telltale shouting and screaming of combat could be heard all around him. In the thoroughfare behind him, Ulrek could see his men-at-arms and levies engaging the teeming throngs of armed commoners, held back from the attack on Castle Bathory by the citizenry's insatiable bloodthirst. Before him, Ulrek beheld the inner walls of the citadel, battered by cannons and ogres with a dozen ladders resting up against it. Beyond those walls rose the battle-worn spires of Castle Bathory itself: Edwards's last refuge and Ulrek's destination.

The inner wall of the citadel had been breached, though Ulrek could see a savage fight between his men and the remainder of the guard for control of the breach. The Baron had no intention of wading through the fray, intense and crowded as it was, and his eyes fell upon the siege ladders resting upon the walls. His eyes followed the ramparts over to where the spires of the castle met the interior wall, and noted doorways into the castle itself. Deciding this to be the path of least resistance into the castle, Ulrek made his way to the foot of the wall.

The fighting had moved into the castle's courtyard, and the archers up on the ramparts were now focused on firing down on the Baron's forces in the courtyard or fighting against the mercenaries who had scaled the walls. Ulrek took advantage of the shifted attention of the defenders and approached one of the siege ladders. The rungs were slick with grease that had been poured down onto the attackers, still quite warm to the touch. A pile of crumpled bodies lay around of the ladder, victims of some combination of boiled grease, arrowfire, or heavy stones meted out by defenders up on the ramparts. One of Halfbeard's mercenaries lay splayed out at foot of the siege ladder, droplets of boiled lard still steaming upon his breastplate. Gruesome blisters covered the mercenary's face and a heavy rock taken straight to the face had reduced his nose to a bloody mass, though bloodied eyes following Ulrek as he grasped the rungs of the ladder gave proof that the poor soul was still alive.

"Do a me a favor will ya?" Croaked the soldier. "Just go ahead and kill me." Ulrek ignored the dying man and began climbing the ladder up to the ramparts.

Though the fighting on the walls had died down, it had by no means ended. A few dozen feet down the wall from the Baron, an engagement between a castle guard and one of Ulrek's men-at-arms ended with the guard getting thrown off the wall to his death. The man-at-arms had little time to bask in his victory before one of Edward's crossbowmen planted a bolt squarely in the forehead. As Ulrek neared the lip of the rampart he reached for Pthaalma's hilt, knowing full well his entry into the castle would not go unchallenged.

The Baron surged through one of the crenels and up onto the ramparts, planting his feet upon the stone walkway slicked with coagulating blood. Drawing his blade from the scabbard, Ulrek proceeded along the ramparts toward the doorway into the castle on the far side of the wall. On the courtyard side below him, the Vampire prince caught the occasional glimpse of the battle for control of the castle. The castle guards were putting up a redoubtable defense against the onslaught of the ogres and Halfbeard's mercenaries, but it was clear that the guard was losing ground and would eventually be subdued. Despite the favorable course of battle, the Baron paid little attention to the fighting. It did not matter to the Baron if his forces won or lost at this point; his army had succeeded in getting him through to the walls of Castle Bathory. That was all Ulrek ever needed them for.

Up ahead was a knot of men stuck in combat - a pair of guards holding off a claymore-armed mercenary. Ulrek would have preferred to step around the fight and continue on to the castle, but the narrowness of the ramparts here precluded that option. The vampire would have no choice but to fight his way through to the other side.

The Baron came up behind the mercenary and shoved him out of the way, inadvertently casting him off the wall down into the courtyard below. The castle guards now standing before him beheld the sliver-clad being before them with wide, frantic eyes.

"That's the Baron!" Exclaimed one of the guards. "Take him down!"

A halberd-wielding guard lunged at Ulrek, swinging down in an attempt to cleave the vampire prince in twain. Ulrek didn't need to mind-probe the guard to see the attack coming long ago, and stepped off to the side and allowed the halberd's blade to clatter against the rampart's cobblestones. Ulrek planted his boot down on the flat face of the halberd and stepped down hard, pressing the polearm down against the ground. With his weapon immobilized, the halberd-wielder could only watch as Ulrek drove Pthaalma through his chest. Ulrek retracted the blade and allowed the guard to slouch over dead before proceeding to the remaining guard. This one was armed with a broadsword, and immediately slashed against Ulrek's silver and mithril blade. Ulrek probed his opponent's mind, saw in advance where the guard intended to thrust or slash, and easily parried every blow. The guard's fighting style was excessive and showy, foreseeable with predictable slashes meant to attract attention and steer the opponent's blade away from the body before spinning on his heels and delivering a slash to the body. Ulrek's swordplay was more methodical and calculated; anticipating and blocking strikes, moving his blade no more than necessary, allowing his opponent to wear himself down against his meticulous parries and waiting for the guard to make a mistake. The guard swordsman thrust at the Baron once more, but his heel slid on the blood-slicked cobblestones underfoot and overextended his reach. It was a brief error, but it was all Ulrek needed. The vampire's left hand left Pthaalma's hilt and clutched the guard's right wrist. In a brief, fluid motion, Ulrek yanked the guard in close before driving his sword down through the guard's clavicle. The defender spat a wad of blood as Ulrek withdrew his sword and unceremoniously cast his opponent down over the wall.

As the Baron watched his slain enemy tumble down over the wall, a flash of light appeared in his peripheral view. Out in the main thoroughfare, a rosette of glittering sparks manifested into being, followed fractions of a second thereafter by a burning shockwave that radiated out from the epicenter, washing over the embattled masses in the thoroughfare and market square in an infernal wave as a fireball rose skyward. A second tremendous explosion, and almost instantly later, a third. The resulting shockwave did not just fell buildings, but the ground itself. Utterly enrapt, the Baron watched the ground underneath the main thoroughfare collapsed in a billowing tempest of dust and smoke. Houses and shops collapsed and tumbled down into a fiery pit that opened up in the middle of the Capital as yet another flash of sparkling fire burst forth from the newly-formed chasm. This explosion must have destroyed the supports and beams holding up the ceilings of untold leagues of subterranean catacombs, sewers, and other spaces underneath the city, for a network of chasms and ravines radiated outward from this deep central pit, swallowing entire neighborhoods of the capital in billowing clouds of dust and fire. Another chest-rattling explosion was felt, but not seen, as the hill upon which the Old City was built heaved up and then imploded, and the Earth swallowed up the walled compounds of the vampire quarter as tongues of fire spewed out from underground. It was as if the Capital was collapsing into to the very depths of Hell.

The tremendous shaking had not left the citadel unscathed. Behind the baron, the gatehouse into the citadel's courtyard leaned in on itself - weakened perhaps by some collapsed tunnel or sewer below - and fell over into the courtyard. Two ogres thrashing against the spears and halberds of the castle guard were buried under a rain of stones. The outer spires of the castle listed too, crashing against the core structure of Castle Bathory before shattering and raining down on the lower levels of the castle and the courtyard in a rain of heavy stones and dust. A roiling cloud of dust descended over the courtyard and walls of the castle, engulfing the Baron. His mask, difficult to breathe in as it was, made it impossible for the Baron to breathe when the dust cloud descended upon him. Ulrek tore his silver mask off his head and cast it aside, exposing his gaunt, ratlike visage.

The vampire peered through the thick haze of dust, only able to make out the glow of innumerable fires raging through what had been the Capital. In the space of mere minutes, the city had been completely destroyed. Rebuilding after such thorough devastation would take centuries. A regrettable setback to be sure, but vampires lived forever; Ulrek had plenty of time to see through a two or three hundred-year rebuild of the capital. The populace, the Baron assumed, was completely lost. Good, he thought to himself. A suitable punishment for their treachery. Men were fecund and would easily reproduce to replace the lost populace of the city. Better to cull the traitorous populace outright and start anew.

Ulrek squinted through the settling dust and looked upon Castle Bathory, or what remained of it. The towers had all collapsed, but most of the core structure of the citadel remained intact, which meant that the throne chamber had survived. Expecting to find his brother there, Ulrek continued across the rampart to that door leading into the castle's interior.

"What a fuckin mess," snarled Halfbeard. "I've seen my share of sieges. I've seen some real messes. But this, boys... This is unprecedented."

Kharald Halfbeard stumbled over the thick rubble through a thick haze of suspended dust, accompanied by two of his personal guard. The scarred dwarf surveyed the devastation of the courtyard. The collapse of the spires had snuffed out all but a handful of the combatants fighting in the courtyard. Kharald had been fighting one of the guard captains when the Earth underfoot began shaking. The guard was struck by a falling stone and collapsed atop Kharald-shielding the mercenary captain from the shower of rubble. Halfbeard emerged from his fallen opponent to find most of the combatants on both sides dead or dying. Most of those that survived happened to be his mercenaries, those that weren't were finished off with a sword to the belly.

"You think the Baron survived?" Asked one of Halfbeard's attendants.

"Probly not," Halfbeard concluded in between deep coughs from the dust in the air.

"We're not getting paid for this, are we?"

"From the Baron, no," Halfbeard said matter-of-factly. "But look where we are, boys. When's the last time you 'ad an unguarded castle all to yourself? Think about all the treasures those bloodsuckers have been hoarding in there over their long lives, and with only a few dying guards to defend it. Fuck the Baron and his payment, each one of us is going to leave this place with a king's ransom."

Kharald and his companions made their way past the broken, barely-standing holly tree in the center of the courtyard on their way to the gates into the castle's interior. Laying before Kharald and his companions, half-buried in rubble, lay one of his ogres face down with a rivulet of dust-caked blood oozing out of a wound in his head. Kharald gave the ogre a tap with the toe of his boot.

"What a shame," Kharald sighed. "These ogres are going to be pain in the arse to replace. There's not a lot of 'em left anymore."

"They didn't even inflict that many casualties," complained one of Halfbeard's companions. "I seen em rout entire armies before. Here? Those five ogres mighta killed 50 men between them."

"Their guards fought like devils," noted Halfbeard's other guard.

"So they did," said Halfbeard dismissively. "And they died all the same. Just take this one 'ere for example. Fought bravely I'm sure, but for what? To die in the hand of this 'ere ogre? Not exactly-"

The telltale thwock of a crossbow discharging interrupted the dwarf mercenary mid-sentence. Halfbeard's eye widened as a crossbow bolt planted itself at the base of the dwarf's neck, just above the clavicle. Through gritted teeth, Kharald tore the arrow out of his neck, eliciting a grimacing wince as the bolt slid out of his flesh. Blood spurted quickly through the arrow's entrance wound, coursing down Halfbeard's armor and staining his lion's pelt cape. Halfbeard inspected the bloodied bolt for a brief moment, noting that the iron bodkin had been cut off, leaving only a whittled tip at the end of the wooden shaft.

Halfbeard's face twisted into a furious scowl. He drew his sword and marched over to the dying guard leader, but the profuse blood loss had already served to dizzy the dwarf. Halfbeard stumbled over the rubble and fell over, bleeding out just a few paces short of Yorrek.

"Not Ulrek," Yorrek rasped from within the clutches of the dead ogre, his crossbow tumbling out from from weak and trembling arms as his eyes shut for the last time. "But you'll do."
Looking for vat-grown sec slave. Preferably a Slime Girl?

Whatever's in the budget ☆

Sounds a lot like my ex-wife! LOL
Looking for BBW. Met via craiglist. Didn't get her name but remember she wore an old XXL Six Flags t-shirt that looked like it had been washed about 500 times. Hope I didn't knock her up LOL
Sorry for not posting yet. I meant to post yesterday but I forgot. I'll post as soon as I can. Maybe later today.

is kay
The gates leading out into Castle Bathory's courtyard creaked open just wide enough to allow Yorrek to step out from the interior of the citadel. Nervous faces of castle servants - women and men too old or weak to fight - peered out from between the iron-banded doors before pulling the gates back shut. Dull, heavy thuds sounded behind the sturdy wooden beams as the servants inside set about barring the gate shut behind Yorrek.

The manicured gardens of the castle's courtyard were unrecognizable from when Yorrek had seen them last. Lush bushes and shrubberies had been buried under a thick blanket of dust and ash, crushed underneath rubble shed by cannonball damage to the citadel's spires, and then trampled underfoot by the Royal Guard gathered in the courtyard for their final stand against Ulrek's forces. Stately trees that had stood since the childhood of Yorrek's great grandfather had been crushed under the weight of so many falling bricks and stones, reduced to splintered stumps poking weakly from underneath the omnipresent rubble. Only one tree - an ancient and gnarled holly tree planted at the very center of the citadel's courtyard - still stood. It too was heavily damaged, with entire boughs snapped off and its glossy leaves caked in dust, but it remained standing, its battered silhouette rising up into a hellish sky cast red and orange by the setting sun and by the fires burning unchecked throughout the city beyond the citadel's ramparts. Stormy gusts had bellowed the flames generated by Ulrek's bombardment and by the Madness the night before, setting significant portions of the Capital ablaze. Ash and dust carried on the wind, as did the cacaphony of battle.

Thousands of shouts and screams melded together into a single, roaring din carrying over the walls. Even now, Ulrek's hordes were charging the walls of the ramparts, their battlecries mixed with barked orders of the defenders on the ramparts who set about thinning the Baron's approaching ranks. Yorrek watched as archers fired through the crenelations on the ramparts, down onto the teeming attackers charging at the walls. Crossbowmen loaded their bows behind the cover of the battlements before pointing the bow out through the crenels, firing off a bolt, and reloading again. A few servants even filled ceramic vessels full of boiled lard from one of the boiling cauldrons placed up on the walls, covered their openings with burning wicks of cloth, and then hurled the vessel over the wall where it would burst with flaming grease amidst the attackers. Ulrek's forces responded in kind with crossbow bolts shot up from over the walls, most of which plinked harmlessly against the battlements. A few bolts from the attackers found their way through the crenels and found their mark on the guardsmen on the ramparts. Anguished shrieks rang out from atop the walls as the occasional arrow embedded itself in an archer. Yorrek winced as a servant manning one of the grease cauldrons caught an arrow to the side and lost his footing, falling with a crunching thud amidst the soldiers gathered in the courtyard.

Yorrek made his way from the gate to a gathering of pikemen gathered in a disorganized cluster before the near-breach in the wall created by the Baron's most recent cannon bombardment. Some two hundred faced the damaged segment of the wall, watching arrows arc over the walls with wide, fearful eyes and filthy dust-caked faces. Anxious, expectant eyes converged upon Yorrek as he approached his soldiers.

"Commander," one of the guard captains recognized as Yorrek approached. "I thought you'd be staying with the Prince."

"You know I couldn't let you lot have all the fun," Yorrek said with a toothy grin, glancing around at the guards around him. Yorrek had expected a round of laughter there, or at least a few genuine chuckles. Yorrek's grin melted away in the face of silent, empty stares from his men.

"I'm not an orator, men," Yorrek admitted with a sigh. "I wish I knew how to give you a rousing address and inspire within you lot some glimmer of hope in this dark hour. But I do not have the words in me, and I regret to say that there is no hope for any of us today. Ulrek's hosts and mercenaries outnumber us more than ten to one, and those Madness-gripped lunatics outnumber us greater still. For those of us inside this courtyard, this will be our last night on this mortal plane, so abandon any notion of mercy or honor when we face Ulrek's gathered multitudes.

"For us Royal Guards, there is no hope. But for our sovereign, for our families and friends beyond those walls, for our children and their children after them, some hope yet remains. If we can destroy his army, if we can kill the Usurper on the field of battle, then our wives and children will never know life under the heavy yoke of King Ulrek Bathory.

"That is what separates us from Ulrek's gathered hosts. The men we will soon be facing are motivated by greed and fear; desire for the freely-flowing gold vespers of the Baron's squandered fortunes, desire to keep their skins attached to their bodies. We are motivated by something greater: hope for our posterity. And so in a few short hours, when death looks you in the eyes and that terrified voice in the back of your head begs you to turn and flee for dear life... drown that pitiful, mewling voice out with one last defiant cry and make death take you thrashing and screaming!

Before Yorrek could incite the men into a rallying cheer, a bellowing roar from over the wall stole the attention of the guards. Frantic eyes went to the walls as archers on the ramparts confirmed everyone's fear.

"Ogres!" Screamed an archer on the wall. "The ogres are coming!"

"Concentrate your fire on them! Give them every-" Before the bowman on the ramparts could finish his command, a giant, wart-covered arm reached over the rampart and seized him, ripping him down off the wall. The archer's command turned into a frenzied scream, punctuated suddenly by a wet, popping crunch that could easily heard even over the sounds of battle. Mammoth ogre arms thrashed through the crenels of the ramparts, clawing at any defender within reach. The defenders on the wall pressed for the guard towers and stairs so as to get down from the walls and away from the reach of the ogres. Another terrible roar, and the wall shook as something heavy on the other side of the half-breached wall collided against it. Bricks tumbled down away from the nearly-breached wall, allowing Yorrek and his pikemen glimpses of the ogre battering against the breach. Yorrek could see the terror in the eyes of the guard, some backing slowly away from the wall.

"Form ranks!" Yorrek ordered, gesturing for a long pike from one of the guardsmen standing nearby. The pikeman handed his weapon to over to Yorrek, who briefly examined its long iron tip before pointing it toward the battered wall, raising it up to a 45 degree angle.

"Do not fear, good men," Yorrek ordered as the guards closed in together in a wide U-shaped formation around the breach, their spearpoints trained against the crumbling wall. "Ogres are strong and and their hide is thick, but do not think for a second that they are invincible! Their hide is thin at the groin, under the arms, and the neck. Press your pikes against these points, and brace the shaft against the ground! Let the brutes impale themselves on our pikes! We can kill them, but we must not fear!"

The ogre roared again as it threw its weight against the wall. The wall heaved and bowed, bricks tumbled off the wall and rolled down to the feet of Yorrek and his gathered pikeman. Yorrek glanced around to his men, and watched their wide and fearful eyes narrow into a furious gaze, their gauntlets tightening upon their pikes.

The ogre gave another roar as it threw itself against the wall one last time. The wall failed at last, bricks and rubble cascading down around the ogre as it stumbled through the gaping breach in the wall. Lumbering in through a curtain of dust was a twelve-foot tall ogre, its broad meaty shouldered embedded with no fewer than 50 arrows. The beast gave a furious roar as it laid eyes upon the gathered pikemen. Yorrek responded with his own battlecry, squelching the terror in the back of his mind as he gripped his pike and charged headlong at the monster.

The ogre was momentarily stunned as the screaming pikemen charged in behind Yorrek, confused as it had never before seen an enemy run toward it. Confusion turned to rabid fury as Yorrek planted his spearpoint deep into the monster's inner thigh, wedging the butt of the pike down into some rubble at his feet. Yorrek abandoned his pike and narrowly evaded the ogre's retaliatory lunge, drawing his sword as he charged toward a second ogre pressing in through the breach.

The ogre behind him howled in pain as it foolishly pressed its weight against the wedged pike. The shaft snapped under the beast's weight, but not before the pike's iron tip was driven through the thick hide down into the bone. It was enough time for the pike-armed guards to converge against it, planting their spearpoints against the distracted ogre's throat and then jabbing in with all their might. Dark red blood gushed forth from the heads of the pikes in spurting pulses, and the ogre slumped over sideways and bled out upon the rubble.

The second ogre was now upon Yorrek, throwing a heavy fist down at the guard leader. Yorrek sidestepped the ogre's blow and hacked at its heel with his sword. It was as if Yorrek had hit his sword against a tree trunk, as his blade only cut through an inch or two of warty, calloused skin. The ogre stepped away and swatted at Yorrek, ripping his red cloak right off his shoulders but narrowly missing him. His men had now caught up with Yorrek, and surrounded the second ogre with a wall of spearpoints, trying to press their spears against the ogre's thin skin under the arms or the neck. The ogre parted through the wall of spearpoints, shrugging off a few that embedded themselves in its shoulder and sternum, and then swatted at the pikemen. Half a dozen men were sent sailing into the air, and another handful were torn apart, their torsos torn from their legs. Horrified screams rang out as the ogre grabbed another soldier and threw him hard against the wall. A spray of blood was left upon the stones where the man impacted, his body tumbled down onto the rubble in a twitching heap.

The ogre snapped the pikes poking out from its skin as easily as dry reeds, stomping down on another pikeman before turning his attention to Yorrek. The ogre tried to grab him, but once again Yorrek stepped just out of reach and retaliated with a powerful chop to the ogre's hand, managing to sever one of the monster's digits. The ogre withdrew his hand and inspected the bloody stump where his index finger hand been seconds before, howling in pain. Taking advantage of the beast's distraction, Yorrek scrambled for a discarded pike laying upon the rubble, hoping for enough time to take up the pike and thrust it up through the ogre's chin. Yorrek had almost seized the pike when a thick bloody hand seized him.

Yorrek winced under the ogre's vicelike grip. He could feel his ribs snapping and collapsing under the ogre's remaining fingers. The ogre held Yorrek up to his wart-pocked, flabby face, regarding the guard leader with a contemptuous sneer. The ogre opened his mouth, revealing an arcade of worn, yellowed teeth, and lowered Yorrek face down into his open maw.

Yorrek tried to wriggle free, but the ogre's grip was unrelenting. Even so, the constant flow of blood oozing out from the ogre's hand provided just enough lubrication for Yorrek to slide his right arm out from under the ogre's fingers. Yorrek felt the monster's disgusting breath hot on his face, his head just inches from the warty lips of the man-eating beast, when he released his arm from the ogre's grip and planted his sword deep into the ogre's temple. The ogre's eyes immediately rolled into the back of its head and its grip tightened. Yorrek felt his ribs all snap, and he tasted blood at the back of his throat. With a throaty wheeze, the ogre tumbled over, collapsing face-first onto the rubble with Yorrek still clenched in his fist.

From the ogre's death grip, Yorrek could only watch as another ogre made its way through the breach. Through the ogre's giant legs, Ulrek's men charged in through the breach, silhouetted through the smoke and dust against the burning city behind them. With a roaring charge, the Baron's men clashed with the guards. The jarring clanging of sword meeting sword rang out as the fighting began in earnest. With each breath tearing at his lungs, Yorrek knew that he would not be able to guide his men through the remainder of the battle.

He hoped that his men fought bravely as his breath weakened.

Lord Orrin Goutfoot watched from atop his pony as the front of the Baron's army pressed in toward Castle Bathory. The dwarven lord was far behind Ulrek and the mercenaries at the front of the army, still stuck in the market square after the city's populace turned against the Baron's forces, several hundred paces away from the walls of the citadel. The mob had succeeded in separating the front of Ulrek's army from the rear, and from atop his pony, Goutfoot could see that the Baron was making no effort to try to rendezvous with the beleaguered rear forces. Ulrek's knights and men-at-arms tasked with defending Lord Goutfoot and his cannons had done a respectable job keeping the mob away from the dwarven cannon teams. Even so, Goutfoot's patience had run out.

"The Baron has abandoned us," spat Goutfoot, turning to a few of his dwarves in earshot. "I should have never followed him into the city. This is his battle to fight, not ours. Let's turn around and get out of the gates, I'm not loosing my cannons!"

"As you wish, Lord Goutfoot!" One of the dwarves affirmed, eager to try to escape this madness. "Turn the wagons around, boys, we're leaving!"

Lord Goutfoot guided his pony through the ring of men-at-arms around the cannons toward a mounted knight holding back a gaggle of men armed with tanning knives. The knight brought his sword down on the clavicle of one of the tanners, drew it, and lopped the head off another in a fluid motion.

"Ser knight!" Goutfoot called out, not knowing the knight's name. "We are falling back out of the city to regroup."

"The Baron gave us no such orders," the knight replied.

"The Baron has abandoned us, you boy!" Goutfoot chided. "Your Baron has left us to our fate. Are you going to continue to fight for him, knowing he wouldn't come to your aid?"

"I am not afraid of some enraged serfs," said the knight. "But I am afraid of what will happen to my kin if the Baron knows I deserted him."

"The Baron isn't leaving this place alive. Neither will we if we don't leave now. Help us leave this place."

The knight gave another glance at the castle, and then back at the city gate behind him.

"Retreat!" The knight cried out. "Fall back outside the city!" Horns rang out through the remainder of the Baron's forces, now slowly ceding ground against the surge of enraged citizens. Despite the fact that the majority of the Baron's remaining men were now falling back, the citizenry had no intention of allowing them to escape alive, and their assault remained just as vicious as ever.

Lord Goutfoot watched an old man ignite a grease-soaked table with a torch on a balcony overlooking the main thoroughfare, and threw the burning table down onto the soldiers below. Windblown embers erupted from where the table landed on the cobblestones, carrying on the wind throughout the dwarves and the Baron's men. On the roof of another house, a pair of boys had assembled jars and vases full of pitch. With a torch, they ignited rag wicks coiling down into the jar before casting them down on the retreating army. The jars splattered with with a spray of burning sludge, sticking onto the shields of retreating yeomen and men-at-arms. Embers scattered from each shattered vessel, whipping through the army. Goutfoot, however, noticed some of the sparks come dangerously close to one the wagons laden with firedust. The dwarven lord's eyes widened as the danger of the present situation manifested itself.

"Cover the wagons!" Goutfoot screamed. "COVER THE WAGONS!"

Goutfoot stumbled from his pony and barged through the men at arms pressed tight around the wagons bearing the cannons and their firedust propellant. The dwarf lord scrambled up onto the firedust wagon and frantically drew rolls of leather over the firedust barrels to protect them from errant embers. But the scrambling dwarf must have presented the boys up on the roof with an enticing target, and a well-thrown jar full of burning pitch burst upon the wheels of the wagon. Goutfoot had just enough time to watch an ardent droplet of burning pitch splash up onto a barrel full of firedust. The long, smoky tongues of flame licked at a patch of exposed firedust on the top of the barrel, and in the blink of an eye the world was consumed in a brilliant flash of orange fire.
A dull roar of frantic shouting outside the citadel's walls gave proof that the Baron had begun the attack on Castle Bathory itself. The battle for the future of the Lands Under Shadow was now underway. The valiant Guard would give their last breath to repel Ulrek Bathory and his hordes, bravely sacrificing their lives to the last man to buy the Chamberlain and his sappers time to destroy the supporting pillars in the undercroft in order to bring the castle crumbling down upon Ulrek's head. The Royal Guard would be the heroes of Ulrek's War, their valor and skill at arms the subject of songs of minstrels and troubadours for ages to come.

And while the Guard prepared for its last bloody stand, Guard Commander Yorrek looked on as servants gathered Princess Emily's belongings in preparation of the escape from the Castle. Under his vigil, the servants packed her dresses, scrolls, and books into small crates to be taken with the princess. With the royal couple and the few worldly possessions they could take with them, Yorrek and a cohort of the Guard's most seasoned and capable fighters would descend into the citadel's undercroft and then further still into the castle's sewage tunnel. There they would follow the subterranean stream of filth out from the castle, far below Ulrek's hosts and the Madness-gripped citizenry occupying the city, and emerge from a narrow crag near the city's harbor. There, they would buy passage aboard a vessel from the harbor - or commandeer one, if necessary - and sail far away from these lands and wait out Ulrek's inevitable defeat. King Edward would come out victorious, and that was all that mattered. But who would be the heroes of this war? Certainly the Royal Guard who stayed to defend Castle Bathory and the Chamberlain who gave his life to end Ulrek's.

But what of their Guard Commander? Yorrek thought.

How would history remember the Commander who orchestrated such a defense? Perhaps future historians would pen him as the imbecile who allowed the Usurper to gather a tremendous host and march on the centuries-old home of House Bathory, who allowed assassins to roam the castle and murder his King and very-nearly murder the crown prince. And when Ulrek's armies reached the citadel's walls, perhaps those chroniclers would note that that same commander fled with the Royal Couple to some foreign shore while his soldiers fought and died to deny Ulrek Bathory his father's throne.

Yorrek's fingers rapped against the pommel of his sheathed sword as he watched the servants pack Emily's belongings for the journey.

"Will you clumsy lot hurry up already?! Good men are dying out there on the ramparts," Yorrek snarled, pointing out the window of Emily's suite. "The least you could do is move lively!"

"We've been here for less than five minutes! We are going as quickly as we can but be reasonable!" Pleaded a servant woman, pale and wide-eyed with fear.

Yorrek gave an exasperated sigh and excused himself from Emily's suite. Out in the corridor, a steady stream of guards and servants were making their way out toward the courtyard in preparation for the defense. Everyone inside the castle, soldier or not, had been pressed into the defense in some fashion or another. Any man strong enough to wield a spear was now part of the defense. Nearly all of these new conscripts were volunteers; everyone within Castle Bathory knew that the Baron was notoriously cruel to his prisoners. Better to die fighting than to be captured and flayed alive.

The castle gongfarmers made their way past Yorrek down to the walls, all carrying a heavy iron kettle to be used to boil grease. Even the gongfarmers, those with the most humble and lowliest duties in the castle, were prepared to sacrifice everything to defend their sovereign and his home. And where would Commander Yorrek of the Royal Guard, Castle Bathory's most senior and powerful commander after Prince Edward, be when those brave servants gave their lives for Edward? Sailing away with the royal couple to some distant land, far removed from the impending slaughter.

"Make way! Make way!" Yorrek heard from somewhere down the corridor. The stream of defenders heading down to the courtyard parted for a cohort of honor guards clad in ceremonial plate armor and donning flowing robes dyed the brilliant crimson of King Zachaeus. Behind them were Prince Edward and Princess Emily, followed by a few more guards and a gaggle of crate-bearing servants. Edward and the guards came at Emily's suite and approached Yorrek.

"Commander, the Prince has his belongings gathered and is ready to leave," one of the guards reported. "Once Emily's possessions are boxed up, we will be ready to depart."

"All ready, milord!" The servant girl declared as if on cue, poking her head through the doorway.

"Excellent timing," said the royal guard. "Lead the way, Commander."

A deep, guttural roar could be heard outside the window of Emily's suite, widening the eyes of the servants and some of the guards. The Baron's ogres had been unleashed at last; Yorrek knew a grisly fate awaited any of his soldiers who faced those monstrosities. The thought of his men being torn to shreds by the Baron's assembled horrors stayed Yorrek's feet, even as the servants and guards began their trek to the undercroft.

"Commander?" The guard repeated anxiously, stopping the royal procession when he saw that their commander was not coming with.

"Captain Bartolomue," said Yorrek, "You know the way as well as I, do you not?"

"Y-yes, Commander," the guard stuttered. "Down through the kitchen cellar into the undercroft, then into the sewer tunnel from the southern storeroom, out into the harbor."

"Good," said Yorrek. "Bartolomue, I will be staying behind, and I don't expect that I will live to see your return, and so I'm naming you Commander of the Royal Guard."

"Yorrek the Castle is lost," said Bartolomue. "It is noble of you to stay behind and lead the defense. But the truth is that you are the greatest fighter in all of the Guard. Edward and Emily need you to protect them on their way to the harbor."

"You lot are capable fighters. Edward too is a force to be reckoned with. You will prove more than a match for any Madness-gripped lunatics."

"Yorrek, you do not have to-"

"History is going to remember me as the fool who allowed this catastrophe to occur. But I want posterity to know that at the least, I did my part to resolve it. Please, Commander," Yorrek pleaded, "let me redeem myself in the eyes of posterity. Let me have this."

Bartolomue's gaze sank to the floor. The shouting of soldiers and bellowing of ogres outside the walls carried on the breeze through the suite's window. After a moment of silence, Bartolomue placed his hand on Yorrek's pauldron.

"As you wish. Goodbye, Yorrek."

Yorrek gave Bartolomue a thankful nod and approached Edward and Emily.

"My Prince, and my Princess," said Yorrek, "With Commander Bartolomue, you and your house are in safe hands. I hope that the current calamity is but a brief footnote in your long and glorious reign. Let history forget the Baron and his war, but do remember the brave men who fought and died to secure your reign. Goodbye, Edward. Goodbye, Emily."

"Now go," said Yorrek. "We will hold the Baron's hordes as long as we can. But it is a long trek to the harbor. Make haste."

With that, Edward, Emily, and their guards and servants pressed on down the corridor toward the undercroft. As the procession of guards and servants went past, Yorrek halted one of the guards bearing a crossbow at the rear of the royal retinue.

"Your bow, please. And your bolts," commanded Yorrek.

"As you wish," the guard said without hesitation, removing the crossbow from the sling on his back and placing it in Yorrek's hands. Yorrek slung the bow over his back and drew his sword from its scabbard, and began hastily whittling off the iron heads of the bolts, leaving only a sharpened point of wood at the tip of the bolt.

"Yorrek," asked the guard bowman with raised brows, "what exactly are you doing?"

"Turning these bolts into stakes," Yorrek said as he placed the first tipless arrow back into the quiver. "If I see Ulrek in the fighting, I have no intention of squandering the opportunity."
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