Wulfrik was distressed by the shadow that skulked the woodlands. Reuben, however, craved a skirmish with the dark figure that haunted his Brother. Although, he preferred to slay the incubus with his lance, or even his daggers. But even he knew from the anguish smeared across Wulfrik’s face that his broadsword would be needed.
Had the sylvan thicket not clumped together so closely, Reuben would have chosen his beautiful lance, Titania, to impale the creatures of this depressing wood. It had been ages since he laid hands on the silver hilt of the Masterson’s heirloom, the Præmos. The sword considered it his father’s inheritance, as it remained ordained in a glass casing. Reuben struck the glass and acquired Præmos the day he murdered his father, in order to incriminate himself further.
Nonetheless, a beauty such as Præmos deserved to bathe in blood.
Wulfrik tensed into a stiff walk. The dæmon must be some Roktarian myth. During Reuben’s transient stay in Roktar, he learned enough of the country’s fundamental beliefs. Apparently this shadow eluded, such being the nature of this hellspawn.
Reuben, despite the insatiable bloodlust masked by his prayers to Obitulem, obeyed Wulfrik, and followed, gathering his belongings when they arrived at their camp. He kept his daggers, Inedia and Siti, concealed within his knapsack, the same dandelion textile bearing the Austantan emblem. However, Reuben had a tailor sew a patch of similar fabric over the insignia, so he could take his new identity, Reuben Mattinson of Austantis. Perpetuating aristocratic blood was something Reuben did not want other nations to take notice of.
When he searched for Inedia and Siti, the two sister blades had vanished. Reuben recalled juggling them last night, and striking them on the whetstone.
He consulted Wulfrik, “Wulf, where are my daggers?”
“You placed them in your bag before you began on Præmos,” Wulfrik said exactly what Reuben did not want to hear.
“They’re missing!” Reuben cursed violently, shaking Præmos in the air. First he had to separate from his beloved Titania, but now his two prized sisters were poached from under his nose. He was frothing with ire; blood poured into his vision.
Wulfrik detected Reuben’s fury, but refused to acknowledge his quick-tempered brother, “Come, before the—”
The branch of a tree tied to another, obstructing Wulfrik’s path. The dæmon’s name was not to be uttered, and the forest would try anything to keep Wulfrik’s mouth shut. However, the forest had nothing to fear, because the elder had just as much intention on keeping silent.
In blinding rage, Reuben attempted to slice the thick bark with Præmos. It was futile, for the trees were much sturdier than an Austantan blade or axe could penetrate.
Wulfrik circled around. They had been limited to the campsite by the forest. “The forest is holding us captive.”
“For what? They have a dæmon at their midst but they choose to toy with me. Soon there will be three beasts to deal with!” Reuben’s ferocity matched a lion’s roar.
Twigs began to emit crackling sounds from behind the wall of trees. “Do you hear that?” Wulfrik whispered.
Reuben instantly snapped from his exasperated stupor and began to focus on the sound, “About six. Quadrupeds, with a large tail.”
Wulfrik sniffed the air around them, “I smell fur drenched in blood. Lions, perhaps.”
“In the forest? Unlikely.”
The Brothers scanned the area past the bark, and out of the corner of his periphery, Reuben made out a tail. Its menacing length lacked fur, and was enough for it to drag across the dirt, allowing the younger Brother to turn his head appropriately.
“A reptile,” Reuben deduced. “Certainly not a lion. Have you caught a cold?”
“My nose is strong as a wolf’s. Do not underestimate me.”
Behind the Brothers, a voluminous growl reverberated past the sylvan barrier, before their arms stood back at their sides. A lion’s mane emerged from behind one of the trees, sporting the tail of a scorpion.
“Manticore,” Reuben whispered.
Soon the other five that Reuben hypothesized surrounded them. Their fangs were stained in blood, and blotches of maroon coated their manes. A purple substance oozed from their tails, forcing the Brothers into a battle stance.
“It’s about time we had some fun,” Reuben chuckled.
“We cannot kill all of them. We need to separate before they engulf us. On my count.”
Reuben nodded, clutching Præmos tightly in its sheath.
“Three...two...one!” The brothers split, leaving the manticores bewildered. Reuben continued running until he reached an open field, where he halted and unsheathed the mighty broadsword. To this day, Præmos was oft unwieldy to Reuben, who was a master lancer, rather than a swordsman.
Four manticores followed him, rather than the three he anticipated. Perhaps they noticed the quiver of Reuben’s hands as he tried to balance the sword in his hands, or the slight hesitation in his left foot when he gathered momentum to flee.
Whatever it was, the manticores felt that Reuben could not overcome four. However, they must have also underestimated Wulfrik, who could deal with two of the monsters effortlessly.
It was but a trifle to Reuben, who enjoyed the challenge. He licked his lips, then taunted the beasts, “May Obitulem feast tonight.”
The manticores lifted their tails and charged Reuben. Their movements were robotic and predictable, perfect for Reuben’s inept swordsmanship. However, he could not dodge all four tails at once, so he slashed one and dived out of the way.
The beasts were dumbfounded as one of them roared in a mixture of pain and agitation. The other three growled at the remnant of the injured’s tail, and turned to Reuben again. This time, the three of them slowly circled Reuben, like a pack ready to pounce on its prey.
Sadly, Reuben would not accept being food for anyone besides Obitulem.
Reuben focused on their legs, waiting for the subtle twitch that would signal their attack. There were two in front of him, and one behind. He turned around to see the third’s calf contract, and immediately put his blade in front of him, forcing Præmos through its right eye.
The younger brother felt a breeze from behind him, signaling him to immediately drop to the warm grass underneath him. The two able manticores leaped over Reuben, allowing him to tumble over and slice through one of their stomachs.
The manticore landed on its side, bleeding heavily. Intestines sprawled out onto the ground. It would dead in a matter of minutes.
Had Reuben carried Inedia and Siti, the wound would not have been as deep, but the battle would have been finished at that point. He would have capacitated both manticores with a single swipe of his daggers. Now, he had to deal with one last pest.
The final obstruction growled at Reuben, without any disregard for its debilitated pride. “You are much like myself,” Reuben laughed, “You lack regard for those who die by your fangs.”
The manticore did not move, only growled.
“But what makes you and I different is the fact that I have embraced death. You will not approach me, because you fear what comes after.”
The beast was irate; it expelled another roar.
“Go. Live, so that you may carry on this weak pride, and create more prey for Obitulem’s insatiable appetite.”
It refused to listen to Reuben, and charged again, this time with its tail strut in front of it and a deafening outcry. Reuben sidestepped and sliced through the manticore’s neck, beheading it with a single blow.
“Stubborn, just like me,” he remarked, rubbing the blood off of Præmos with the manticore’s carcass.
However, all the manticores were not dead. Reuben had yet to put an end to the first one, who was wincing on the ground, clutching his tail.
Reuben felt merciful, “Go. You must lead the pride now. Become a chef for Obitulem.”
The manticore stood and limped away. After a few feet, it was beheaded by the wind. An intangible entity that personified death. Reuben was perplexed, but not terrified. Death had not frightened him for years.
Then, he saw a shadow slither into the thick wood. The dæmon of Roktar myth, which Wulfrik kept confidential.
Immediately he turned to regroup with Wulfrik. He hungered to slay that which seemingly could not be slain.