Kalas, Dortmund, and Lucine crept through the brush as slowly as they could manage.

Kalas had been up this trail a hundred times in the past. It clung to a steep face in the canyon wall, winding its way upward beneath a thick cover of hardy pines. It was the safest approach to their destination, the foot of the falls in the nook just sixty yards up the way.

But all those hundred times, Kalas been hunting, hoping to avoid the notice of a buck or boar. Today, he wondered if he and his companions would be the hunted.

A small raiding party—not quite a full warband—of orcs had taken these falls for their own, using it as a cache for their stolen goods, a source of water, and occasionally shelter during the windy autumn nights. They had come down out these foothills to attack Hilfal and the outlying hamlets almost half a dozen times now. One man had died, and another had been seriously wounded. The townsfolk were beginning to despair. Just that week, Kalas and Dortmund had spent a long, stuffy night in the town hall, arguing with the village’s landowners before the roaring great hearth over what to do. The reeve had suggested petitioning Colthyr for a knight and ranging party. A profusely sweaty man in an apron demanded that mercenaries be hired immediately rather than wait for an uncertain response from the great city. Several of the farmers suggested traps and schemes of various sorts, proceeding to bicker over the feasibility and contingencies should the traps fail… or succeed.

The height of the frustrations had been cut through by a young woman: Lucine. She was taller than even most of the men in the hall, with thick, corded arms, hair in a tight braid down her back, and searching, steady eyes. She was the out-of-towner staying with Urthia on her way to the north, who, while she waited out the rains that had swollen the Glimmering Run, went about her business as if she lived here, perfectly happy to bale hay for Urthia and cook meals at the tavern for Enaeld, even as she wore a sword at her hip and shield on her back.

Lucine, standing nearest to the fire and looking out at the rest of the townsfolk, declared that the solution was obvious: she would travel to where the orcs were camping and drive them out or slay them.

The hall, for the first time in an hour, was silent.

The man in the apron, Tomald, seemed impressed, but uncertain. “Alone? Against, what, three, four orcs? They’re strong as oxen.”

Lucine shrugged. “Erdas goes with me. But more steel at my side would be wise.”

She gestured at Kalas, the tall, shaggy man who sat in the corner of the hall. “Your name is Kalas, no? Urthia speaks well of your woodsmanship, and I wager you hunt as well. You should accompany me. And I believe the town has an arcanist I have not met. If he is confident in his spellcraft and his reflexes, he should be a great boon to us.”

Kalas wondered if she knew that he and Dortmund had worked the outdoors together in the past. They looked an unlikely pair: Kalas, the tall, hairy woodsman with dark eyes and a bushy beard; Dortmund, the portly, clumsy apprentice mage with a baggy cloak and an easy smile, but Kalas enjoyed Dortmund’s sense of humor, and Dortmund valued both Kalas’s company and his expertise on journeys long and short.

Kalas sized up the newcomer for a moment as the crowd turned to look at him. She meant it. She seemed to be sizing him up back, with a dangerous sort of look in her eyes that ordained action. He nodded.

“We’ll go. Well, I’ll go, certainly. I’ll talk to Dort tomorrow.”

Lucine beamed. He couldn’t help but let it stir a smile in himself.

The last few yards of this approach were the most delicate. The route passed over a four foot wide slot canyon, and although the view from the falls was obscured by a thick stand of trees, both the near and the far ledge of the crag were slick and covered in smooth rocks. A slight misstep could send a heap of rocks tumbling down into the slot, alerting anything paying attention at the falls. A not-so-slight misstep could send a person tumbling down the slot.

Kalas felt a tap on his shoulder and stopped. It was Lucine, whispering.

“I can cross that, but in this armor… there will be clanking. Let me go first.”


“Yes. If they hear and come around the bend, we want my shield in front.”

“But if they don’t, we don’t want them to see it glinting in the sunlight.”

“True. I’ll hide it under my cloak.”

That satisfied Kalas. He scooted aside to make room for Lucine to squeeze past and find her footing on this side of the slot. She looked over the terrain for a moment, took three quick strides, and leapt the slot, landing just past most of the rocks.

The trio stood still and silent for a heartbeat. Then, they heard what they were fearing, and worse.

A roar blasted through the air in front of them and behind them as one orc, seven feet tall and bound in muscle, thundered around the corner toward Lucine, and another split the trees behind Dortmund. Of course: the orcs had surely used this trail sometimes themselves; they were prepared for would-be attackers to attempt it too.

That was when Lucine first shocked Kalas with her strength. She swept out her shield on her left arm from under her cloak, and rather than reach for her sword with her right hand, she put both arms into a mighty heave of her shield. She caught the orc directly on the chin, and, with a tremendous crash, sent the hulking warrior sprawling backward to the ground. Only afterward did she free her sword, turning to Kalas to meet his eyes.

“I’ll be there soon!”

As she pressed forward toward her momentarily felled opponent, Kalas turned to see that Dortmund had been barely holding his ground against the second orc. The rotund wizard had just inscribed a humming shield of force in the air to intercept a wild blow from the orc’s axe. The magical force held, but the assailant threw a meaty fist around it and cracked Dortmund across the head. Kalas moved up to help, but there was no way around Dortmund on the narrow trail.

“Here! Let me help!”

That was Lucine, behind him. He didn’t look. He knew he had to act, to get Dortmund to the safety of Lucine’s shield. He grabbed the arcanist by the collar and yanked, sending him tumbling backward toward the slick edge of the slot. As he did, he stepped forward with his side sword and caught the Orc by surprise… in the hip. Not what he was hoping for. He was pulling the sword free as the howling orc drove its axe into his chest. His vision split with searing pain and then went dark as he fell.

Kalas awoke with the taste of blood in his mouth.

He tried to roll over to stand, but a mailed hand held him down at the shoulder. It was just as well, as his chest throbbed with pain even with the slight turn he had accomplished.

“Easy there.”

He forced his eyes open. His sight was sky blue, ringed by pine trees. The falls gurgled nearby. Dortmund and Lucine knelt over him. Dortmund looked for all the world like a village idiot with an enormous grin and a massive purpling bruise spreading across his head. Lucine, too, was smiling, despite a nasty gouge in her armor that showed crimson on the edges.

Kalas found it painful to breathe and speak, but he had to know anyway. “Wh-What…”

“Shhhh,” replied the young woman. “You’ve been out about a minute. Three orcs dead, one by my sword and two by our friend’s fire. There might be one more out raiding somewhere by the way their camp looks, but he’s like to flee if he sees this.”

“But… Dort?”

His portly friend replied. “Good job of that. You got me right out of the way. Didn’t know you were so happy to take one for me like that.”

“But… I threw… the ravine…”

“She caught me.”


“She caught me.”

“You… weigh…”

“Two hundred and sixteen pounds.”

“Yeah, and…”

“She’s pretty strong.”

“What the…”

Lucine shushed him again.

“Shhhhh. I meant it when I said Erdas goes with me. But you fought bravely, Kalas. Keeping Dortmund on his feet took guts, and it gave us our fighting chance. Be sure to remind people of that when you show off the scar. Think of all the free drinks you can get for it.”

Reading the look on his face when she said the word “scar,” she answered his question before he had to summon the strength to articulate it.

“I have mended your wound some, by the Gods’ grace. Enough for you to rest, breathe, and walk, and it should heal fully. But a few weeks’ rest will do you good. And not too much ale.”

“What good fortune that Hilfal should find someone like you at a time like this,” Dortmund quipped.

“What good fortune that Hilfal should have folk like yourselves! All men and women of good hearts can fight evil. They need only be bold enough to do it.”