Reuben ran for maybe twenty minutes, but still had not found the Heart-Eater. He wondered if his Brother changed directions when they split up.
“Great,” Reuben grumbled.
He had no concern for Wulfrik, who was fully capable of handling himself in the face of peril. If the Executioner could handle four manticores with a tremble in his hilt, Wulfrik, a prodigy of the blade, would make a battle with two seem like child’s play.
In another quarter mile, Reuben’s path was blocked. A parlor trick of the accursed wood, branches protruding between the gaps in the bark. Reuben was stubborn, but not senseless. Præmos barely dented them last time, so he saw no point in trying to hack his way through. He had no other choice but to navigate around it.
“Brother!?” he called out, but received no answer. Only the slight breeze and the rustling of the leaves.
South was the direction he chose, allowing the gentle gusts to waft him forward. He stopped running so he may conserve energy. If Wulfrik certainly did go as far as he did, Reuben would remain diligent, anticipating the forest’s next sleight of hand.
Reuben never got the chance to truly admire the woodlands’ beauty. The foliage comprised of a variation of conifers and stalwart oaks, all of which could manipulate their copious appendages. Even the ground he strolled across grew a healthy grass. It bore a green that could not be experienced in Austantis. This world was verdant and vivid. Natural. Austantis reminded him of the plague that civilization has become to the universe’s beauty, like the Woods of Pytham.
Wulfrik and his people settled harmoniously with nature. It baffled Reuben that now, something of such exquisite allure strived to ensnare us in Obitulem’s grip, and lay waste to us in his inferno. His Brother loved the natural world, and after relocating to Roktar, Reuben came to appreciate its elegance as well.
It seemed like twenty minutes, perhaps longer, until Reuben approached to glistening objects in his path. They reflected the sun crisply, forcing the Execution to shade his eyes.
A passing cloud blocked out the sun for a few moments for Reuben to discern the objects’ odd shape. They were certainly the shape of poniards, but who left them there? Reuben lifted one into his hands. His fingers wrapped perfectly around the hilt, and it was the perfect weight. It was definitely silver, Reuben’s preference for daggers, as it is a light metal, but powerful enough to satisfy his swift swordplay.
He examined the hilt, and it bore a camellia, the insignia of Reuben’s former homeland: Austants. It was crafted extravagantly, certainly from a pompous blacksmith residing in Upper Yeagnir.
Reuben had a revelation, and widening his eyes, muttered, “Inedia. Siti.”
The Austantan Sisters of the Blade, Inedia and Siti. These were certainly Reuben’s daggers, which was why they felt so familiar in his grasp. At last, he could sheathe Præmos in favor of his beloved Sisters.
So someone did steal Reuben’s blades from the campsite. Pieces began adding up. The breeze led him towards his Sisters. But there was still no sign of Wulfrik. There was no way someone would leave them strewn across the ground unless to lure Reuben to this spot.
Enraged, Reuben yelled, “How dare you snatch my blades from under my nose! Show yourself, so I can slit your throat!”
The breeze died immediately, and Reuben dashed for Siti, which still laid on the ground beside Inedia. His grip was tense, anticipant. “I said, ‘Show yourself!’”
“But I am already in front of you,” a dark, yet polite voice flooded Reuben’s ears, as if the culprit was within striking distance.
“Enough of these parlor tricks! Where is my Brother!?”
The voice laughed, “Perhaps you should find me before searching for your Brother. After all, he is quite capable, but...you know him better than I do.”
Aggravation boiled Reuben’s blood. The only way to curb his anger was to launch Inedia at the tree in front of him. The tip lodged into the bark, casting a shadow on its surface. The shadow quickly spread, until it began to morph into a humanoid shape. A sizable grin appeared in a small gap. It was as if the wood between the space made up the shadow’s teeth.
“Oh look, you found me!” the shadow chuckled like a child.
“You toy with me! Where is my Brother!?”
The gap in the shadow shifted with his words, “Well, last time I saw your Brother, he was writhing in pain and falling in and out of consciousness. Manticore stings are fatal, you know.”
Impossible, thought Reuben. Wulfrik could never be defeated.
“D-do not lie to me!” A stutter of doubt found its way into Reuben’s response. He could certainly handle two manticores. Reuben took on four and left unscathed. And yet, Reuben studied the shadow’s inflection. If it was lying, it concealed it very well.
“What was that? It seems you are shaking.”
Reuben’s hand clutched Siti’s hilt ridiculously hard, enough to force his entire arm to stiffen and quake. He was not afraid of the being in front of him, so why did he shiver?
“This forest, and all of Pytham, is my playpen. You and your brother shall be my newest toys. Well, perhaps only you. The other one probably won’t live long enough to amuse me. Farewell, and try not to die as quickly as your Brother.”
The shadow shrank and dissipated in a matter of seconds. Reuben froze with distress. He began to sweat profusely, and still could not pinpoint the source.
He experienced true fear, not at the sight of the shadow, but at his words. Wulfrik was dying.
But why? Why did that fact eat away at his will? Death meant nothing to Reuben. He vowed to give up himself to Obitulem, to become his most memorable meal. But what of Wulfrik, who, alongside Reuben, took to hunting the living for spoils, brooding death everywhere the pair traveled? Why was Reuben so afraid of losing him?
“WULFRIK!!” Reuben roared with a combination of fear and anger. Anguish filled his eyes, rendering them bloodshot. His veins popped from under his skin, and his ginger hair stood on end.
His older brother would soon meet his end. Reuben needed to find him before it was too late.