An old man sat cross leg upon a rock on a vast auburn plain. His rice hat cast shade against his tan brown skin and his hooked pipe lit with blue tobacco. A metal goblet sat in the sunlight with an odd fruit on its rim, filled to the brim with ale that would kiss his lips every so often. His face was buried underneath locks of white hair, but if anyone could see the same sight as the smoker, they would cower in fear.
An army of silhouettes darkened the plains with their poisonous shadows, as if they were rot and decay. Flowers that were blossoming would loose petals with fear, trees that reached the sky for thousands of years would wilt as if it were kneeling subjects. These demon of men would make any magician jealous, for they knew a magic trick that few could master. They could change a river of water into a flood of blood.
Behind the old man's tattered robes was a poorly embroidered flag of a fox surrounded by roses, and a small village of three hundred people, give or take. Friends like: Alik, Bon-bon, Cletus, Deb, Phineas, and Zachary. Each man and woman flashed before the man's eyes. The selflessness of Alik popped into the codger's mind, the boy would always be a hand in the field when the old man's back wasn't up to it. The kindness of Bon-bon eased the veteran's heart, she would make her sweat tarts for every worker and child to enjoy after a long day's work and play. The slothful Cletus could make any man's vein pop straight from the forehead, he would always slack off underneath the Tigerfruit tree instead of tending to the sheep and always with the complaints about the calendar missing a date. The playful Deb washed the venomous thoughts from his mind, she would always play Hide-and-Peek with the child tricksters Bung and Yung. And how could the man forget about Phineas, the man who helped him forge the foundation of this small village of Wadana. What shone the brightest among the old man's memories was his son Zackary, how he pulled at his heart strings, begging the old coot to stay at home and let them peacefully surrender to the invaders.
Father! You must'nt go! As chief of this village, I command you to remain at home! Salvador! If not, don't...EVER RETURN!
For as proud as Salvador was of raising such a strong and dependable man, his greatest weakness was his lack conviction to follow-up on his word. Ever since the blond child promised to bring Daddy-Dor a golden cherry to cure his old age illness; shaking, popping joints, and hair loss. He just kept on repeating that promise until he became a man.
When vision returned to the wild-haired man, a shadow cast its chilling touch all over his body. Every soldier had a helm shaped like a wolf and one knight had black armor that blocked the sinking sun and replaced it with a simple yellow dot emblem painted on the chestplate. A gleaming gold sword bit the ground, acting as a cane to the soldier as he rested his metallic hands rested upon the moon-like pommel.
"You stand in the way of the empire, stand aside or be treated as an obstacle," The blond man wasn't even twenty, yet he spoke as arrogantly as if he were a crotchety veteran.
Salvador puffed from his pipe and let loose blueberry tasting cloud, as he chose to remain still. "How smart you think you be, sonny?"
"You stand in the audience of the youngest general of the Lunar Empire, Prince Luden Von Yark Ghalahan, my wit is sharper than any sword," his face twitched from his question being dodged, and his intelligence being brought into the conversation. "Will you step aside, or be stepped on?"
"Young Ghalahan, how confident are you in a game of wit?" the old man posed his question as he scratched his beard.
"Only one man can surpass my intellect, and unfortunately for you, he's sitting on the throne, waiting for my report about the massacre of your...petty village," the young man lifted his sword from its burial, and walked pass the ancient gargoyle of a man.
"I see, too rambunctious for bloodshed and too cowardly to play a simple game, the young are as dumb as I remember, hehe," that alone was enough to make the soldier shake with fury.
"You senile fool, what do I gain if I win this...game of yours?" Luden fixed his gaze at the village, away from the old man. A sadistic grin formed on the knights face, as flashes of fire, blood, pillaging and grandeur flooded his vision.
Salvador scratched his foot before answering, "Sonny, do ya know what the ultimate form of war?"
"Bah," the knight spat, "to win of course!"
The old man began to chuckle, while supporting his frail back. "No sonny, a perfect war is won without fighting at all."
"Preposterous!" the young soldier glared a fiery gaze, "How is any war won without blood spilt?"
"Simple, ah yes, ever so simple!" the old man turned around on his stone seat to face the black knight, "with golden opportunities such as this, we play a game, if you win, the town will submit without struggle."
"Pfft, they will submit regardless when they see my men," he rose his sword towards his army, "numbers are my weapon, should they raise a fuss, I let slip the dogs of war!"
"And few less men under your majesty's reign," the old man pointed out, "when one man falls in such a close knit community, many others will throw their lives away to fight for revenge or liberty, an unneeded sweat on your men's brow when submission is a guarantee, and a better report to send to your liege."
The knight raised a quizzical brow, "Less work and a better report you say? And what pray tell, do you gain if you win this game of yours?"
"The Lunar Empire leaves this village alone, and when I mean alone...I mean no harm to anyone, or step foot in the village, nor try and starve us out by burnin our crops or killin our cattle. Absolve us of any ill-intent you mean to inflict."
"My, my, what a tall order for such a short man," the sleazy knight chuckled, "with a boon like that, I doubt a dragon's claw could twist your wish."
"Do you accept the terms," the gravely tone of age tainted his voice.
"Before I accept, what game do you hope to win?"
"A simple game of Two Truths and a Lie," smoke dripping from the old man's mouth like venom, "A child's game, each round a player is given three questionable statements about the speaker that consists of two true and one false statements. The player is allowed three questions to ask for hints that should be answered yes-or-no. Winner is declared when the opponent fails to guess what the lying statement was in a round, should both participants win or fail, another round will break the draw."
"Ha! I accept your terms old man," the young man's white pearls shined from his mouth.
"Uh-ha-ha," the old man wiggled his finger, "Promise to the gods, an oath on the integrity of this game."
The upstart general sighed as he pulled a simple yet elegant black dagger from its sheath, "Gods old and new, watch this game and curse any that breaks the oath." Before he could slice his hand, the old man shouted in disagreement.
"Don't think that I wouldn't notice that," the old man scolded, "It must be said in the ancient tongue, or else its null and void!"
A snake like smile escaped with the young one's sigh as he repeated the prayer in a dead language of the gods. Ice blue blood dripped from his hand as he slit his hand, and so did the old man. A moment passed before the world serpent hovering under the clouds let out a deep guttural moan, approving the bet as sacred.
The grizzly man beckoned for the knight to start the game, which made the baby faced man cup his bare chin, then he gave a cold stare devoid of any emotion. "I was 16 when I became a general. I was 17 when I became a general. I was 18 when I became a general."
At first thought, this would appear to be two lies and one truth, but it would be feasible to be two ages at once, but under a rare condition.
Blue butterfly flowers grew in a luminous patch nearby, catching a small gust of wind strong enough to give it flight. The petals acted as swarm of butterflies for a few short lived moments before dissipating. A couple dying butterflies disappeared between the staring contest between Salvador and Luden. The silence was deafening, nary a single soldier from invading army would move or speak.
"Are you 23 years old at the moment?" The shaggy man blew blue smoke.
"No." His face was still as a wolf before easy prey.
"How bout 21?" The old man said lazily.
There was a pause before the young man snarled, then suddenly grew a complacent grin. "What about 21?"
Salvador froze as he realized how low his opponent was going to be. "Are you 21 years old at the moment?"
The knight raised a hand to halt the man. "That's a completely different question, both those questions count as your second and third."
The old man clenched his pipe, "Answer my last question, sonny."
"You didn't become a general at the age of 18," he answered without batting an eye. "Be reminded, the gods be witness, young general."
The blond knight grumbled before muttering out, "Lucky guess."
"Not at all, not at all" the old man chuckled while patting his knee. "The night the king stole the moon, was the night before your birthday."
The old man shook his head as fond memories of Cletus emerged. "A slacker I know never shuts up about that day since it happened four years ago. The following day was a new era, a new day. It's how you're 16 and 17 at the same time. You're promoted during that special day, between two eras."
"Like I said, lucky guess!" The boy snipped. "It's your turn."
The old man cleared his throat onto his fist before beginning. "I'm your uncle, I'm allergic to tigerfruit, I'm 54 years old."
The knight blinked absentmindedly, dwelling on the first statement. It was almost too easy to spot the lie. So, he repeated slowly, "You are not my uncle!"
His impatience reminded Salvador of his best friend, Phineas. They would share a few fierce ales made with fermented tigerfruit, and magically did Phineas' gun-ho behavior and poor decision-making would double in intensity. Once he believed something, he would never let it go. Just like how he believed in Salvador's dream to make a village. Though, his impatience was his greatest vice, he thought way too far ahead and skip the basics. Just like this naive knight, he spoke without thinking, declaring the improbable as impossible.
"You lose," The old man gave a toothless smile, wheezing in an uncontrollable laughing fit. "I'm not allergic to tigerfruit, see?" Salvador held a metal goblet, with a yellow and blue striped fruit hanging off the rim. "You'd of noticed if you'd use your noggin."
"Impossible, I declare fraudulence!" The knight kept his blade in a steady form, aimed to chop off the old man's head. "What say you in your defense, decrepit fool, for I declare you have lied to the gods."
As was the custom, the old man spit on his slit hand and proudly raised his palm in front of the star struck general.
"My gods, it's still as blue as ice…" the young man mouthed out silent prayers as he tried to process everything. "What demon pact have you made to keep your blood blue?"
"When I was younger, me and your pappy were just brother explorers with big dreams," the senior began, "We were born in the wastelands and dreamt of our own personal paradise, he wanted a kingdom of gold streets and cold nights, me, all I wanted was a small town with the warmth of friends and family."
Sad eyes met the furious knight and he simply shook his head as he thought about his nephew's earlier threat, "Your dogs may be eager to bite your forgotten family with a maw of steel, but take it from me, a thousand Dogs-of-War will always lose to a Fox-of-Peace."
With those words said, Luden raised his gold sword as it burned his hands just to hold the grip, which fumbled out of his hands before touching the codger's neck. His eyes glowered with an infinite depth of murderous intent.
"What's wrong nephew? Lose your gold tooth?" the old man hacked out a storm before puffing his blue tobacco, leaving a slow trail of dust as he walked home.
Within seconds, the clanks of a single pair of steel boots followed suit. The black dagger flashed with the last of the twilight sun, as a bolt of lightning struck it with a heavenly smite.
"Like I said, rambunctious and cowardly," the old man didn't have to look back to know what happened, he was just reassured that his nephew was incompasitated the moment the loud thud filled the air. "The only comfort you and your men will have is the beasts that thrive out of darkness, lets see how cold your father's night will leave you."
The army dispersed faster than a wisp of smoke from a lit candle, only the sounds of the Wadana fox flag could be heard as slowly stopped whipping in the wind. The darkness saturated and everyone was blind, everyone except the monsters of the night.