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Friends until the End

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?Storm the castle!? one of the message relayers cried. Mike?s stomach fluttered nervously. This was the first time he?d experience war and it wasn?t as he?d expected.
?Finally, what we?ve been waiting for!? his friend beside him clapped him on the back. ?Draw your sword, unless you want those savages to run you through first.?
?A-alright.? Mike stuttered as his best friend?s sword scraped ominously against the scabbard at his hip. Mike had known Garret for as long as he could remember and his friend?s boisterous spirit was the whole reason that Mike had signed up for the battle and, after the carnage he?d seen, he was beginning to suspect it to be a bad move.
?Don?t be so nervous, little bro,? Garret used mike?s nickname. ?I?ll be right beside you the whole time. No one will get near you. Ready? Now, charge!?
The soldiers around Mike drew their swords and thrust them in the air as they ran towards the castle gates. Mike didn?t yell with them as they ran but he drew his sword nervously as they neared the heavy oak doors that gaped open like a mouth. Screams reached the young soldiers ears as the first of the battalion entered the entrance.
What scared him the most was some of the screams were distinctly female.
He was a few feet from the gates when he heard the shouts from his general. He couldn?t distinguish what he was saying but there was no need because the men began shouting it down the long ranks.
?Ambush! We?ve been tricked.? the message resounded so many times that it was a few moments before Mike realized what he was hearing. By then the arrows had started. Mike followed the first one with his eyes as it whizzed through the air to hit a man on his left, close to the end of his file.
?Come on, we gotta go!? Garret shouted into Mike?s ear as he grabbed some of Mike?s shirtfront and started to tug him along the way they?d come. ?If we can get to the trees we?ll stand a better chance.?
?Right!? Mike shouted back, forcing his voice to be heard over the shouts and cries that had started. He raced beside his friend as they sprinted towards the sheltering branches. His heart soared with hope, they were almost there. A smile started to spread across his lips before he saw his friend seem to dive forward out of the corner of one eye.
He turned to see Garret laying face down, an arrow protruding from his thigh.
?Garret?? Mike skidded to a halt as his friend feebly raised his head.
?Keep going, mike! I?ll be fine.? he tried to sound convincing but Mike wasn?t so naive.
He calculated quickly, his friend?s weight, his own strength, the distance to the trees, and came to the final decision.
?Garret, give me your arm!? he hoisted his friend into a standing position and began to run as fast as he could as Garret used his barely working legs to help propel them forward. An arrow barely missed Mike?s ear while another grazed his arm. He ignored the pain as he continued to run with all the strength his legs contained.
They were so close to the line of trees that Mike let himself think they?d make it. He began to think to what he?d do when they got there, how he?d take care of his friend?s injured leg, when an arrow suddenly pierced the skin of his back, right between the right shoulder blade and his spine. Mike?s step faltered and he tripped.
?Mike?? Garret?s voice cut through the noise. ?Hey, get up. Are you okay??
Mike looked up and saw the shade of the trees, so close. He pushed himself up, inhaling sharply at the pain. He gave one final push of strength to send them sprawling into the shade of the leaves.
?We made it.? Mike panted.
?Not really.? Garret said gravely. ?We have to find a medic; you won?t last long with your wound.?
?Can you take it out??
?I think so. This?ll hurt.? Garret placed pressure on the wound with one hand and quickly jerked the arrow out with the other. Mike gave a cry of pain as the pointed end cut its way back out of his flesh. He heard the sound of ripping fabric and felt his friend?s hands wrap cloth around his back to cover the wound.
He turned his head to see Garret rip out the arrow in his own leg and use the remains of his shirt to wrap around his leg.
?We have to get deeper.? Garret told Mike as he looked back and saw some of the enemy soldiers advance toward the forest. They were still yards away but the sight of them sent panic welling up inside Mike.
He pushed himself up painfully, offered to become a crutch once more, and the two friends set off deeper into the trees that neither of them had ever seen before.

?Sir, they?ve headed into the forest.? one of the opposing soldiers informed a battle-scarred and imposing man.
?Let them go, the creatures will finish our work for us.? the man?s smile was a cruel one that twisted the gruesome scars into nasty looking shapes. ?Execute the rest!? he shouted as he turned and headed toward the castle. He threw his arm up to signal that was all and the soldiers began to kill off the invaders quickly.

They stumbled along the rest of the day and into the night, all the while listening so intently for followers that they panicked at the slightest rustle of leaves.
?I think- I think we lost them.? Mike panted painfully as they paused to rest by a small stream. His shoulder ached and his strength was nearly gone. He slurped the water in the stream greedily as his friend did the same at his side.
?I don?t know how much longer we can go if we didn?t.? Garret said back as he leaned against a rock nearby. His leg felt like it was on fire as his chest labored with each breath.
?We need to sleep.? Mike said and Garret nodded his agreement.
?First, we need to get away from here, no telling what animals drink from this place at night. We?d be sitting ducks.? Garret said more steadily than before. To punctuate his statement, a howl rang out through the trees.
Mike quickly helped Garret to his feet and began to stumble off once again. They stumbled on for hours more than they planned, for every time they stopped something howled or growled and they were off again, fearing the mysterious hunters of the forest.
Finally, not being able to take any more exertion, Mike collapsed onto the leaf covered ground. Garret followed him and instantly passed out. Mike stayed conscious long enough to see a ghostly figure, cloaked in cloth and shadow, walk through a rare beam of moonlight towards them. It had the figure of a woman and, as she leaned down to study them; Mike caught a glimpse of beautifully elegant features. He exhaled heavily and finally slipped from consciousness.

The mysterious person quickly gave a signal which instantly set many more figures scurrying from the shadowed foliage to pick the boys up and spirit them further into the forest. The woman looked around to make sure no one had observed the ordeal before creeping backwards to become one with the darkness once more.
The only beings to see it were the nocturnal forest dwellers and one lone, dirty soldier from the enemy lines. They followed the injured boys and the forest dwelling peoples without a sign, leaving neither a footprint nor a cracked branch.



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