In. Out. In. Out. Come on, Jack. Keep breathin'.

I couldn't do much else at the time. A man can only dodge so much of a Mastermind's barrage, and the bandaged bullet wounds in my side had pretty decisively put me out of the fight. Fortunately, the two mechanical monsters in the room didn't take well to each other, and their friendly disagreement had covered my crawling retreat.

I'd never heard the demons talk before - didn't think they had the brains for it, to be honest. You can only juke so many fireballs before you have to admit that the Imps, magical as they may be, don't even have the smarts to lead their shots. At first, I assumed the same was true for the bigger nasties, but they had to be commanded somehow: the assault on Earth was too well-coordinated for the forces of the invasion to be dumb animals all the way up.

The few times I'd had the bad luck to fall foul of Hell's top brass, neither party was in much of a mood for communication, but the argument making itself heard over the ringing in my ears proved me wrong where infernal intelligence was concerned. Alongside the two titans currently engaged in mutually assured destruction, I had gone up against a brutal tag-team matchup of a Baron and an Archvile, but a blast from one of my heavier weapons had distracted them enough that I could focus on running for my life from the Cyberdemon's endless missile salvos.

Disappointed that I hadn't managed to screw the beast up badly enough to kill him for good, I decided to listen in. I could do with a distraction from the pain, and who knew - maybe they might let something slip?

"I told you, didn't I? Don't just stand there and take the hit, I said - your shields aren't bottomless. And what do you do? Only take a Brontornis bolt straight to the chest!" The necromancer's rasping tirade came through clearly, though… Where did he learn the gun's name?

"I didn't see you doing much to hinder him. He was right there - you could have thrown out a flame strike at any time!" The affronted rumble of the Baron was a little harder to make out.

"What, and risk hitting you? You'd never let me hear the end of it, not to mention snatching your 'rightful victory' from your claws! I chose to let you handle him, and am currently regretting that decision... Now, hold still a moment." A crackle of twisted ligaments and a deafening bellow told me that that procedure hadn't been pretty, and I had to hold back a chuckle of schadenfreude for fear of reopening my wounds. "What in the Nine Hells was THAT supposed to accomplish?"

"Oh, nothing much - just making you suffer." Balefire crackled, and the Archvile backpedalled in a hurry. "I kid, I kid! That was a dislocation, and there's no painless way of fixing those. You should know, you've incurred enough of them by now." This last was a mutter I had to strain to make out.

"Do not think to deceive me! I know perfectly well what a dislocation feels like, and they are never so wrenching. Cease making a mockery of my recovery, or before too long, you will need medical attention for yourself!"

"Touchy, aren't we? I'll admit that tender ministration is not my strongest suit, but I do hope you didn't expect rosewater-scented towels or a handful of aspirin. I am a healer of Hell, not some glorified nursemaid."

There was a short pause, and the noble spoke more quietly. "Point taken, wretch. How much longer until you are finished? We must not delay our return to the fight."

"That was the last of your more serious injuries. How do you feel?"

The Baron took a deep breath, then let it hiss through sharpened fangs. "As good as new, or near enough it makes no difference. Whatever your flaws, Lekan, your aptitude for twisting the flesh is a talent that few I have met can match."

"Of course I'm a good medic. I didn't train under Marbas himself for nothing, you know." The preening tone in the Archvile's voice was cut off by the Baron's retort.

"Trained under Marbas? I doubt you've ever even met the man, you brazen liar." The demons' voices grew fainter as they made to leave the chamber.

"Guilty as charged, your Dishonour. Now, what was that crack about my failings?..."

I was, quite frankly, overwhelmed. I hadn't been sure that these things could think, and now I found out they had a whole society? I'd need a minute to sit down if I weren't already slumped against the wall. Speaking of which, I'd spent way too long in one place; if I didn't get moving in a hurry, something or other would make a light supper of me.

Bracing myself for the rush, I took a Stimpak & struggled to my feet. A quick once-over showed that my ZM66 rifle still had a good few rounds left in the mag, but I reloaded it anyway. Wasteful? Maybe. But I figured I might need to resort to full-auto soon; when you're up against an enemy this smart, you need every advantage you can get.

A/N: Thanks for reading, and if you liked it, please leave a review! This is my first upload to this site, so constructive criticism is also welcomed, but please keep it civil. Disclaimer: Doom is owned by Id Software. Hideous Destructor is owned by Matt of the ZDoom Forum.