(1) “This is insane!”

“This is insane!” the young sandy-haired man scrambled back to his feet and lifted his sword to block the next attack.

“Your mother is insane!” his soot-covered friend yelled from ten steps away, dodging a spurt of flame. His laughter turned to coughing as smoke wafted through the air.

“Darren you ass, this is not the time to be making inappropriate jo- ah!” The taller man cut off his complaint as he fell into a forward roll, avoiding a large claw.

“Montgomery Menace you watch your tongue!” The dark-haired and broader man’s falsetto scolded. He clucked his own tongue disapprovingly as he ducked behind a tree. The tree took the swipe meant for him and shook ominously. Leaves and nuts scattered to the ground.

“You great ugly brute of a monster!” cried Montgomery Menace, outraged on behalf of the old oak tree.

Montgomery’s friend scowled. “Now that was just uncalled for,” he commented as he scrambled toward Montgomery and used his friend for shelter. He shook his head enthusiastically, trying to dislodge acorns and leaves, but his shaggy hair kept the fall foliage intact.

“I agree! That oak tree was probably alive before our great-great-grandparents!” Montgomery narrowed his eyes. They had nearly made it out of the forest safely but he hesitated to fully expose them to the open air away from the trees. On one hand, running into the open would remove their cover. On the other hand, these were his trees. His ancient oak trees blessed by the Blessing Man himself. To risk them was to betray the name of Menace. Besides, they were flammable and in this situation that was a bad thing. “Darren, give me your knives, quick!”

Darren, now running to the right of Montgomery and waving his arms to distract the beast, shot a confused look toward his friend. “First you call me ugly and now you want my throwing knives? Do I look insane to you?” The affronted look on his face was made silly by the leaf sticking out over his left ear. The ground trembled as the oak fell, catching the attention of all three participants for a moment.

“You know you have a – nevermind. Your knives D, quicklike. BOO,” Montgomery yelled to distract the monster from Darren, as Darren untied his knife belt while muttering what were undoubtedly obscenities under his breath. Darren tossed the belt to the ground in Montgomery’s direction and took off running.

“I’ll distract her!” He yelled gleefully.

Montgomery sighed and sheathed his sword as he thought about all the ways the next few moments would undoubtedly go wrong. As Darren hollered and jabbed and ducked and dodged, Montgomery scrambled onto the horizontal tree trunk and began to climb a branch sideways to gain height. Darren had, as always, predicted Montgomery’s plan and was leading the beast back toward the felled tree.

“Here goes nothing except my life, my pride, and the Debacle family knives,” muttered Montgomery to himself. He pulled a knife with one hand and got it in a downward stabbing position. Slowly he began rocking, a little forward, a little back, until it seemed like the branch would crack.

“I would like to make it home today please!” Yelled Darren a little squeakily. His semi-serious request told Montgomery that it was now or never. The young man jumped through the air and landed square on the back of the dragon, which immediately began bucking. Larger than a horse but smaller than a carriage, the murky brown dragon thankfully didn’t seem to excel at flying. It slithered around and hopped on its four squat legs, the black spikes along its spine allowing Montgomery to pull himself up behind its head. A knife in each catlike ear of the dragon had Darren, crouching outside the area of danger, wincing in sympathy. The dragon erupted into high pitched squealing much like an unhappy pig. A few cuts behind the neck had the dragon on the ground, still emitting high pitched wails. Montgomery slid off, drew his sword, and put a slice across the creature’s throat to end its suffering.

“Well,” said Darren as he stood up, sheathed his clean sword, and brushed off the front of his tunic. “That could have gone much worse.” He had soot on one cheek, leaves sticking out of his hair, and mud covered pants with tears on both knees.

Montgomery, clean as he was when they began their patrol that morning, looked Darren up and down. “My mother is going to kill you,” he replied calmly.

Darren’s shoulders slumped as he used his right hand to shake out his hair uselessly. “Your mother is going to kill me,” he agreed glumly. “And even worse, I’ve been running around with acorns in my pants.”

With a sigh and a jiggle, Montgomery Menace and Darren Debacle began their trudge home.

“So,” began Montgomery

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