Wulfrik’s monotonous humming ripped through the air. An unbalanced, melancholic tone that could shatter the glass that borders insanity and willpower. Reuben feared that his Brother left cracks already, and that the structure of his mind had been compromised. A superficial wound healed, but it seemed to open existing wounds within the once intrepid heart of Wulfrik.
Now, he was haunted by the loathsome memory of Ældred, fed to the hearth of Moravi in a split second. Amidst the bloodbath, Wulfrik would normally feel at home. But for him to lose his kin, and to watch it happen…
“Wulfrik, perhaps we should return to Pyth—”
“Nonsense, Brother! We’ve nearly captured our prey!’
“We have not made a single stride closer since entering the forest. You really should see an apothecary. I’m sure the king would—”
“Request Bazurr to escort us? I would rather not die like the horses he so graciously supplied us.”
There was no convincing Wulfrik, Reuben believed. He made a valid point, nonetheless. The minister was not to be trusted after handing them two ill horses.
But the situation was grim. Wulfrik already gambled his life once, and the Brothers had not gotten any closer to their prey. They had been ripped to shreds, physically and mentally. Reuben was worried that they were pressing on towards their deaths.
At a time, they were invincible. Now, they were broken, trudging through mounds of snow, clinging tightly to their weapons.
Wulfrik stopped abruptly, and turned to stare his brother in the eye. His gaze was intense, but not threatening. Still, it was a cause for concern, and Reuben clutched Inedia and Siti in response.
After a long pause, Wulfrik let out a sigh, “Reuben, I understand your concern. But we have a job to carry out. There is a witch that needs to be brought down.”
“I see that you have no intention on giving up the hunt. However, I question heavily what your true intentions may be. Do you plan to strike down this witch when the time comes?”
“What? Of course I would! What do you take me for, Brother!? I…” Wulfrik exhaled again, then reestablished his forceful presence once again. “I no longer have the capacity to show mercy to a witch, not after what that...that monster did to Ældred.”
“If she was such a ‘monster,’ why did you spare her? She killed your brother, after all,” Reuben’s stark remarks cleaved the air.
“My head wasn’t in the battlefield after Ældred died. Every bit of my warrior instinct drained from my body the moment I saw my brother’s neck snap before me.”
Reuben could see the shroud Wulfrik had placed between them. “Wulfrik, if you were not willing to put an end to your brother’s murderer, I doubt you can do the same for the one you claim saved your life.”
Wulfrik lacked a response.
“Now I have to ask you, why are you pushing forward when you know full well that you are going to betray our con—?”
“I am not going to betray our contract. When we find her, we will kill her, as is our occupation. Do not speak of Ældred or question my resolve again. You’re wasting our precious daylight with your drivel.”
Reuben chose not to press him further out of fear of his own life. Wulfrik’s responses only added to the Judge’s angst. It was clear that the mercenaries diverged from each other. Wulfrik was walking his own path of aberration, as Reuben lumbered away from him. Neither path seemed to coalesce within the blizzard, but Reuben was sure that he would have to deviate from the safe road, for Wulfrik’s sake.
Wulfrik turned and began walking forward again. Reuben followed him closely, but made sure to keep from the Heart-Eater’s reach. Inedia and Siti were sheathed in favor of Præmos, a strategy initiated solely to counter Wulfrik’s blade. If a confrontation arose, daggers would be useless against his Brother’s hulking frame.
He hoped that it would not come to that. After Moravi blessed Wulfrik with more time, Reuben found it sacrilegious to renounce their decision.
“Reuben,” Wulfrik extended an arm to halt his Brother. “Did you hear that?”
Reuben’s ears were that of a wolf’s. Yet, he heard nothing. “Only the wind caught between my ears.”
Then he heard it: a grotesque slithering noise combined with the ear-wrenching sound of something trying to dig through the snow.
The Brothers turned towards the source, but nothing was there. Only a long ridge that formed in the knolls of snow. Unless Wulfrik was limping through the snow, the furrow seemed to appear from thin air.
Præmos’ cold steel froze Reuben’s fingers to it. His muscles tensed in anger and, for the first time since his youth: fear. Wulfrik stood his ground valiantly, or at least held his facade masterfully.
“What could’ve caused that? An insect?” Reuben shivered.
“It’d have to be pretty big if it was,” Wulfrik replied, just as stumped as his Brother.
Reuben turned back around, and in front of him was a dark shadow, seemingly cast by nothing. His hands quivered against Præmos’ hilt, but Wulfrik...he was unaffected, even though he warned Reuben of the shadow’s true nature: that of a dæmon.
In an instant, the shadow sped up the hill, leaving the same indentation that the Brothers discovered behind them. Wulfrik, almost as quickly as the shadow fled, broke into a sprint, forgetting about Reuben.
“Wulf! It’s a trap!” screamed Reuben.
“The cause of all our trouble has appeared! It must be killed!” he yelled back without turning his head.
Reluctantly, Reuben followed his Brother. If he was so obstinate to take on the dæmon, Reuben needed to tail Wulfrik to prevent a swift death. Preventing death, however, seemed like an impossibility to Reuben.