Heavy breathing and rasping steel on leather split the silence of the entanglement that was the Branch Maze. Two figures stood back to back in a small clearing encircled by oversized branches of wood. Long swords clutched tightly in their hands, they panted heavily as they looked cautiously around them. Dressed in matching boiled leather cuirasses, over similar coats of white fur; they scan, with dark red eyes, their wooded surroundings. Both figures seem to look identical, except one had most of one ear missing. With no obvious signs of movement, they pressed away from each other towards opposite ends of the circle.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The figure with one ear shouts out to the vagueness around him.
“Yeah we only want to see what you’re carrying. Not like we have to kill you.” The other figure says. To himself he whispers with a wicked smile, “Though I would be lying if I wasn’t entertained by the notion.”
The two bandits walk a line straight through the middle of the circle from the center. Just outside the south side of their line, two figures lay in hiding, waiting on bated breath. Two young men kneel behind an oversize branch beyond a tangle of gnarling twigs and branches. The two men are about the same height and though one has considerable muscle in the torso, the other had lean hard muscle, they dressed vastly different. The one on the left wore a coat of black fur under a brown tunic. Dark green slacks cover his squat legs. He wore a nicked and crooked blade at his hip in a make shift belt of simple leather. The man to his right wore a fur coat of dour black and no other coverings aside from a simple pair of brown leather pants.
The man with the sword and lean muscle slowly raised his leg over the downed branch.
“What are you doing, Issac?!” The shirtless powerfully built man questioned in a demanding whisper.
“Shhh, I know what I am doing Alex, don’t worry.” Issac said to his brother Alex with a wink. Issac crouched low as he advanced until he was almost inside the circle, being careful to stay out of the bandits’ peripheral vision. He slowly reached into his pocket and produced a small knife. No longer than his small hand, and only a little wider than a finger. He pulled his arm past the inside of his left arm and quickly extended his arm again in a traditional kunai throw. The knife whistled through the air aimed at the neck of the one eared bandit to the right of him. In a flash of grey steel, the bandit contemptuously swatted the knife out of the air as he spun to face Issac.
Attached to the end of the knife that the bandit had swatted was a five foot cord the breadth of a hair. Tied to the other end was a small ball with a lit wick. As the knife fell away from the man, the cord wound itself around the bandit’s arm. With a smirk and a raised eyebrow, he raised the tiny ball as the wick burned into the inside the ball. A clap of thunder louder than any storm and light brighter than the sun burst from the tiny ball. Even from the long distance between them, Issac’s ears began to ring after the detonation. The second bandit had already spun at the sound of the metal on metal, and he got a small dose of light that caused him to cover his eyes with a yowl of pain. The one eared bandit’s lone ear was bleeding and he was yowling in pain as he swayed back and forth before losing balance and falling on his backside.
Issac wasting no time, launched from his exposed hiding place in the thicket drawing his crooked sword. Racing off to close with the lone standing bandit, Issac clutches his sword in his hands tightly. The bandit quickly recovered from the explosion and turns to face Issac head on. Issac’s charge falters, and he comes to a stop just outside the sweep of the bandit’s sword. He wasn’t outside the bandit’s lunging range, but it would be a televised attack and easily parried. Issac and the bandit make a small circle in the dirt at their feet as the two begin dance in a circle.
“Impressive trick with the knife boy.” The bandit says as he takes test step forward towards Issac. Issac takes a step back and brings up his sword defensively, but the bandit retreats a step and resumes his circling. Issac mirrors the bandit’s steps. He says nothing in reply as he and the bandit close with a flicker of steel. The sound of metal on metal rings out as they cross swords a few times and back off. Issac presses in on the bandit before he resumed his footing, forcing the bandit to act defensively. The bandit was too enthralled by Issac’s attack, that he doesn’t hear Alex step up behind him wielding an over sized branch. Alex brings the branch down with a two handed swing and cracks the bandit over the head. The bandit’s head seemed to cave in just a little by the Alex’s blow. The bandit collapsed where he stood, sword dropping limply from his fingers.
“Chirpin’ Aliens, Alex, you didn’t have to go and hit him over the head.” Issac panted as he slid his sword into his belt. He looked at his brother with a approving look despite his tone. “I would have made short work of him in the end.”
Alex stared down at the bandit, makeshift club clutched in his meaty fists. “I-I think I killed him, Issac.” Alex stammered without taking his eyes off the bandit’s corpse on the ground. Issac quickly stepped over to his brother, kicking the sword across the ground as he did. He put a hand on the shoulder of his kin. “If we didn’t do something, they would have killed us, and so many more.” Issac told him giving Alex’s shoulder a squeeze of reassurance. Alex finally tore his eyes from the body and let go of the club.
Shaking his head, Alex says, “Doesn’t change how I feel. I could have hit his sword arm, or take his legs out. But I didn’t. I swung down upon his head like a mole.” Alex trembled as he stifled a sob. He may have been big and burly, but Alex was a big softy on the inside. He believed in honest, laborious work. He worked in their father’s blacksmith shop. He spent all day banging a heavy hammer on metal, shaping swords and armor. After several years of this, Alex developed a muscular physique. Under the tough exterior and harden muscled, Alex was just a kid. Issac, on the other hand, believed if you worked hard, you deserved to be paid fairly. His father and his brother worked overly hard, and received scraps of gold. It didn’t seem fair to Issac, so he decided he would work hard as an adventurer and be rewarded handsomely for it. To this end, Issac taught himself to use a sword, and to kill only when necessity called for it. Issac would grief silently for the lives he took, but his brother would not.
Issac pulled his brother to him and embraced him heartily . He stroked his black hair and held him as Alex cried. After a few moments, Alex composed himself and straightened. Issac hesitantly let him go and examined his brother’s face. Elongated like all his kind, Alex had black eyes, average sized ears, and a snout nose. Most women of his people seemed to fawn over him than Issac, but Alex didn’t seem to notice. Now Alex’s eyes looked a little sunken and they seemed less innocent if nothing else. Issac watched as a hint of fierce determination return to them, which gave him hope.
“It never gets easier, brother. You just grieve more and more silently.” Issac whispered to his brother before turning to face the bandits. The one that Alex clubbed was still sprawled on the ground. The other was still laying on his back picking at his ear with his eyes shut. Issac took cautious steps towards him. When his shadow fell on him, the bandit faced him with eyes closed.
“Trevor? Is that you? I can’t hear anything or see! Did you get those brats that did this?” The bandit yelled much louder than he needed to as he sat up uneasily. Issac pointed to the club and waved Alex over to him. Alex reluctantly obeyed, picked up the club, and brought it over to him. It weighed way more than Issac thought it should, but he was able to heft it to his shoulder. With a grunt of effort, and a double handed swing, Issac connected club with bandit face. The bandit’s head snapped back, and he fell flat on his back. Issac dropped the club to his side and with a tug on a knot freed the sword belt from his waist. The sword fell to the ground as Issac knelt over the motionless bandit. Upon further investigation, Issac discovered the bandit was still breathing, and with rope in hand, bounded the bandit’s hands together.
“Alex, grabbed the bandits’ swords and put it with our other stuff.” Issac ordered as he searched the one eared bandit’s pockets. Amongst all the pockets, Issac found a dozen or more silver pieces, and a few gold pieces. Alex first grabbed the sword by his brother and then moved to where Issac kicked the other sword and picked it up. He then disappeared into the thicket from which they were hiding. Issac moved over to other bandit and patted him over. His pockets had more lint and crumbs than anything of value, so Issac stood up and waited for his brother. Alex came out of the brush with two knapsacks and the aforementioned swords he went in with. He walked over to his brother and handed him a sack which Issac took.
“Despite the tragedies, we made a bit of coin and have swords to sell or reuse. Not to mention possibly a reward.” Issac said looking over at the bandit that he knocked out. The bandit began to stir and sit back up, his nose bloodied and one eye swollen. Issac turned to find his brother staring at the lifeless bandit.
“We cannot leave the body there. It’s disrespectful.” Alex told his brother.
“Yeah, you are right brother, but I can’t carry him back, I am not strong enough. You can’t carry him back because you have to help me if this one gives me trouble.” Issac hooks a finger at the other bandit.
Alex was quiet for a long moment before saying, “Let’s bury him then. If not in the hard ground, than under a Great Tree in their Great Leaves.” Alex was referring to one of the hundreds of giant trees that loomed so high above them; you had to squint to see their branches. Amongst the fallen branches of the Great Trees were fallen leaves that were to scale with the trees and branches. Issac walked over to the body and got underneath it’s arms and began dragging the body. Alex put down the swords and moved over to help. After heaving and hoeing, they were able to move the body to the base of a tree and wrap it in several leaves. Many of their folk believed it was respectful to bury bodies in leaves if there were no other proper burial options. Issac and Alex moved back to find that the one eared bandit had found his feet and was stumbling around.
“Hey! Can you hear me?” Issac screamed at the bandit. The bandit looked at his general direction and yelled “What? Trevor? I think one of those bastards hit me with a club and ran. I can’t see or hear a blasted thing.”
Alex had to hold back a laugh as he said, “Battle hardened he may be, but he is a moron otherwise.” Issac carefully approached the bandit and touched his arm. The bandit jumped away from the touch, but Issac grabbed the arm and gave it a sharp tug.
“What? You want me to follow you, Trevor?” The bandit questioned loudly. Issac reached up and grabbed the chin of the bandit and made him nod. He then grabbed his arm and guided him towards the edge of the circle. Alex rounded up the swords and followed after Issac. It was nearly night fall when the three of them finally made it back to town.