“Quiet that child, or she’ll be the death of us all!” Bren hissed.

Miriam glared at the soldier, but she took her youngest daughter from the maid. She swayed back and forth, singing as softly as she could, until the baby girl fell asleep again. Bren nodded and returned his attention to the peephole.

The secret passage was cramped and dark and choked with dust. Perhaps it had once lead outside the keep’s walls, but it had collapsed long before Miriam had arrived at Castle Oakdale. Now it only offered a place to hide.

It should have been louder, Miriam though. The halls should be echoing with the sounds of battle. It had sounded deafening when Bren had brought them here, but from there hiding place, she couldn’t hear anything.

Then, the sounds of bootsteps filled the air. They came to a sudden stop outside the hiding spot.

“Is it daddy’s men?” her older daughter, Eliza, whispered.

“Move back,” Bren said, his voice grim. Miriam ushered her children as far into the collapsed tunnel as they could go.

Without warning, the door burst in on them. Bren fell with a cry as the rubble collapsed on him. A large man with an equally large hammer glared through the dust at them.

“Stop,” Bren croaked. His sword was in his hand, but it was painfully clear he was in no condition to fight the raider. The big man merely sneered. He stepped into the passage and brought a booted foot down on Bren’s fingers with a horrible crunch.

“Get back!” Miriam’s oldest son said. The eight-year-old boy threw a piece of brick from the ruined tunnel at the invader. It bounced harmlessly off the wall, missing by at least a foot or two.

“Mils, no!” Miriam cried out. She reached for him with her free hand, but he ducked out of her grasp. He grabbed another stone.

“Stay back!” he shouted again. The raider merely laughed.

He stopped laughing as a giant clawed hand yanked him back into the hallway. There was a brief scream that ended abruptly as a splash of red fluid painted the far wall.

The creature that peered appeared to be made of hot coals. His skin was pitch black, but it glowed red around the edges. He was so large he had to hunch down, just to fit in the hallway, his wings bent low. Horns jutted from the sides of his head, and they glowed like red hot iron, as did his long, vicious-looking claws. Two fires burned where his eyes should have been.

Mils’s next brick hit him right between the eyes.

The demon stared at the child, his features unreadable. Miriam grabbed at him again, and he let himself be dragged to her side this time.

“Why would you do that?” the demon asked, a petulant note to his deep voice. “I am here to aid you.”

“I-I won’t let you hurt m-my mother!” Mils said, trembling.

“The one who would harm her is dead by my claws!”

“What’s going on here?” a new voice said. “Out of the way T’ranaeus.” The demon stepped back, and a man in a black robe entered the passage. He was an older man, his dark hair and beard shot with streaks of gray. He had lean features and black eyes. He carried a staff in one hand, topped with a human skull.

“Be wary,” the demon said, “The largest of the humanlings hurls stones at those who do him favors.”

Children,” the man said, with the tones of someone who’s had this conversation before. “Young humans are called children. And you can’t be hurt by mere stones, anyway.” He turned to Mils. “I would appreciate it, however, if you wouldn’t throw rocks at me for a moment.”

“G-Get out of my f-father’s house, warlock!” Mils said.

“My name is Samuel.”

Mils looked a bit confused by that. “Samuel the Warlock?”

“I used to go as the Dread Mage Verrik, Walker of the Dark Ways, and Conjurer of Suffering, but I realized it was a bit much, and went back to Samuel.”

“But you are a Warlock, aren’t you?”

Samuel nodded. “Technically, yes, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

“Are you here to steal my father’s land?”

“No!” the demon said, frustration in his voice. “We came to destroy the invaders!”

Miriam stepped forward. “I don’t know what you and your pet demon are playing at, but take whatever it is you’re here for and leave us be.”

Samuel frowned. “We’re here to make sure you’re okay. We’re good guys. Honest.”

“A warlock and his demon cannot be neither good nor honest.”

“This is unjust,” T’ranaeus muttered. “Tell them that an angel Falls, and they accept it, but the thought that a demon can Rise is unthinkable to them.”

“Where you always this whiny, Tyr?” Samuel asked. “Or did this happen after you decided you wanted to be good?”

“I was not required to come here. I did not have to rend their enemies limb from limb. I reduced the man who threatened them to naught but a pile of bones and a stain on the wall, and I am paid with fear and unkindness.”

The warlock sighed. “Try to focus more on the protection than the killing.”

“The two are the same. The sword may deflect a blow, but the battle cannot be won without striking at one’s foes.”

“Yes, but…” Samuel trailed off, looking at the women and children. “We can continue this discussion later. The Lady of Oakdale asked us to go, so we shall. In time, they’ll realize what we’ve done for them.”

Miriam felt she should say something, but she could not think of anything that fit the situation. The unusual pair left, the demon’s wings scraping lightly at the walls. When she went to peer out of their hiding hole, neither of them were in sight. Their voices echoed down the halls, though.

“You might try not making such a mess, though. Someone has to clean up these bodies, you know.”

“Such thoughts had not struck me. Do you really think such niceties will change their thoughts?”

“It certainly couldn’t hurt.”

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