Just outside the cave, the bandits were recovering from the earlier ambush. Patching themselves up they complained about the headaches they’d be having for the next several days.
“Damn, that hurt.”
“None of us expected to be the ones who get ambushed.”
“Chief’ll probably work us like dogs after this as punishment.”
“By the way, anyone hear when those two will be here?”
“So sorry for being late~. It was just too nice of a day to not take a walk through the woods~.”
“Oh no worries, it’s alr-...”
The bandits went wide-eyed and their heads slowly turned to face the half-elf and dwarf as they’d been caught with their pants down.
Where once there was a pleasant breeze through the leaves, cheerful birds chirping, and gentle sunlight from above fell upon the forest. It now crackled with burning embers on the elled trunks of felled trees as black smoke and the smell of sulfur filled the sky above the cave’s entrance. Crimson life pooled in the dirt as one of the surviving bandits crawled towards the cave. One of his legs was perforated and the other broken and missing everything from just above the knee down.
Hei slowly walked, taking his time to enjoy the bandit’s fear as he desperately sought refuge from the monsters behind him.
“It’s so hard to find a good party these days, so sorry we had to ruin yours~.”
Hei stepped on the side of the bandit's head just to stare into the man’s eye.
“P-please let me go...I-I beg of you, L-lord Ryu!”
The bandit hoped that by pleading and groveling to an alias Hei used before would bring some semblance of mercy.
Torgrak laughed, “I’s been ah while sin’ anyone call’ ye that!”
Hei smirked, “You’re right, it has been a while~.”
Kicking the bandit onto his back, Hei inspected him closer.
“I remember you~. You’re that unlucky son of a noble~.”
“Y-yes! I-I’m so glad you remember me Lord Ryu!”
“I'm surprised ye ‘member him at all half-blood!”
“This is quite the reunion~.”
“Y-yes! Th-this is certainly a pleasant reunion, isn’t it Lord Ryu? B-but would you mind showing me some mercy today, f-for old times’ sake?”
The bandit wore a pained smile from cheek to cheek. All he could do was beg for his life, even when he hated it to the core of his being.
“Hmm, mercy you say~? Oh~! How is Lady Mercy~? I’ve fleeting thoughts about her since the night I stole her heart from you~.”
The former noble bit his tongue nearly to the point of it bleeding, “L-lady Mercy has been well, s-she’s currently raising my son as we sp-!”
Hei drove the tip of his sword through the man’s chest.
Leaning down with a devilish smirk, Hei couldn’t resist but rub salt in this noble’s biggest wound, “We both know it’s my son~.”
Unable to contain his fury, the noble-turned-bandit reached for Hei’s neck, “Y-you bastard!”
Hei put his free hand on the pommel of his sword, relishing this fool’s last words, “I know~.”
Driving the blade through him, Hei watched as all the bandit decayed before him. What shine he had in his eyes fell to a dull glaze as his head turned and hit the cold ground. Taking his sword out, a blue energy was robbed from the bandit’s corpse. The body shriveled and dried the moment Hei’s blade left and the glow disappeared into the sword with a ghostly wail of pain and suffering.
Torgrak scoffed,“Always one for theatrics ain't ye?”
Leaving the devastated scene of blood and destruction behind them, the two approached the cave and wondered how they would make an entrance. They could just walk in the front door and enjoy the surprise party set up for them, but that’d be boring.
“Think they have a back door hidden somewhere in case the party doesn’t go according to plan~?”
“I's probably disguised as some rocks or somethin’ nearby so unwan’ed guests don’ walk in by accident.”
Hei shrugged and started walking to the right, “I’ll go this way and maybe let you know if I find something~.”
Torgrak chuckled and walked to the left, “Don’ get caught now.”
Walking along the rocks Hei looked for any oddities, but all he could see were more. Nothing in particular stood out on this side, and even tapping a few areas didn’t yield anything. It was doubtful the bandits would take the time to excavate a second entrance. Turning back around, Hei took his time walking back to the front of the cave.
Meanwhile Torgrak followed the left side, and it didn’t take long for him to find a section of the stone that didn’t look right. There was a slight difference in color in the stone, and getting closer there was a small section had been cut out as a peephole.
Grinning and chuckling to himself, Torgrak took out a large, black ball made of metal and reeked of sulfur that had a hole in the top. Placing it next to the irregularity, he then took out some strange string. After stuffing it into the ball’s hole Torgrak started walking back and let out more of his weird string until he was a good distance away. Cutting the string he then pulled out a match and lit it before transferring the fire to the string. The flame quickly ran along the string, hissing loudly and leaving soot behind it.
Hei was now at the front of the cave, but heard the all too familiar hiss of one of Torgrak’s fuses.
“And he called me ‘theatric’~.”
Running over to where Torgrak had gone, Hei hoped he wouldn’t be too late.
At the same time inside the cave, the bandits had Tessa surrounded like a pack of wolves. Tessa continued to pray for salvation, for anyone to come and save her. Shutting her eyes and hoping for it all to be over soon, the air was ripped apart by an explosion. The entire cave shook followed by a rush of smoke coming in from one of the other passages leading in.
As the smoke and shaking came to a stop, everyone started to hear other bandits in the darkness crying out for help. Some couldn’t see, others panicking and screamed in pain, and the remaining begging for help. Yet it wasn’t the most haunting part of what could be heard.
One by one the voices got quieter...
Bwoom. Chuk. Pok. Schink.
The voices stopped begging for help...
Bwoom! Chuk. Pok. Schink!
The screams of pain were silenced…
BWOOM! Chuk. Pok. SCHINK!
And all at the same time, a haunting chuckle echoed out from the darkness…
BWOOM! Chuk. Pok. SCHINK!
The bandit Chief smiled as beads of sweat fell from the side of his head while the pack of bandits around Tessa turned and readied themselves. Tessa held her breath, nervous and hoping that this was her prayer being answered.
One of the surviving bandits from the passage could be heard dragging himself towards the main room. His hand reaching out for help in the light.
The hand fell limp and everyone was on edge to see who it was. Their ears rang from the thunderous explosions that came from the shadows as the stout dwarf Torgrak appeared.
He cracked his unusual weapon in half…
Taking out a red cylinder, he inserted it into it...
And snapped it back together, swinging the dangling half upwards…
From further back in the passageway, Hei’s sarcastic voice echoed out. His armored footsteps getting louder with each step forward.
“Must you always make me fashionably late Torgrak~?”
“Coul’n’ resist ge’in’ a lead in our lit’le competition.”
Just behind Torgrak came Hei, their smugness filling the air.
“Even with you shooting these fish in a barrel, it shouldn’t be too long before I catch back up~.”
The bandit Chief gripped his axe, “Finally, you’re here.”
Squinting for a moment, Hei recognized the bandit Chief, “If it isn’t Keith, I thought you looked familiar~. I must say you look so much better with brown hair than blonde~. How have you been~? My kid and wives doing well~?”
Keith snapped, “It WAS all fine until you showed up, you silver tongued snake! I’ll take your head as a trophy return to MY family once your sickening smugness is gone from this world!”
Breathing deeply, Keith calmed himself. He knew Hei’s game, and if he loses his cool now he’ll lose. Once this half-elf bastard is dead, he can stomp all over that disgustingly perfect face.
“I am a little disappointed it took this long, but finally my intricate plan bears fruit as you’ve been lured in by the q-!”
Hei interrupts Keith, continuing the explanation in his stead, “...By the quest you made with the Adventurers’ Guild, and that the moment you spotted the illusion spell I put on it you’d come to tie up loose ends! Blah blah blah and then you threw a party thinking it’d all go well the moment I walked in the front door, was that what you had in mind Keith-y boy~?”
Keith stood there in stunned silence, his eye twitching at how his thunder had been stolen by this condescending prick. Apparently his family wasn’t enough, Hei had to steal even the words right out of his own mouth.
“I hate you. I hate you and I’m going to kill you.”
All the while Tessa tried to make sense of what was going on. When she and her party members got here, they managed to ambush and knock out several bandits. Then it turned out the bandits were actually much stronger than expected and soon the tables were flipped around on them. But now the same situation was happening all over again, but with a different result.
Who were these two? Tessa pieced together that they and the bandits had a history, or at least the bandit Chief did, and that they’re also Adventurers. However, the way they carried themselves and how the half-elf talked was from a point of superiority made Tessa wonder just who these “saviors” of hers were. But she wanted to know something, how did the bandits stay hidden for so long? What use did they have for all those supplies, costumes, and such?
She pipped up, “U-um, excuse me...but if your target is them, how did you stay hidden from Adventurers for so long?”
The once tense air from earlier had already been blown to pieces when Torgrak appeared, and Hei’s condescending voice had made everything feel more like a tragic comedy upon a stage. Tessa felt like she was a member of the audience watching and piecing what was going on together as the performance continued.
Keith opened his mouth to start explaining, but Hei took the opportunity to steal just that bit more from him, “All of the supplies scattered about were used to create fake merchant and game stalls. The bandits would dress up and work the stalls, fencing extorted goods from unfortunate travelers. While they could have used magic to stay hidden, magic is easier to detect whereas the average low-ranked Adventurer wouldn’t through a physical disguise as easily. Especially when they’re offered free alcohol and food the entire time.”
Keith’s mouth contorted with rage, “MUST YOU TAKE EVEN MY OWN PLANS FROM ME?! WAS MY LIFE NOT ENOUGH?!”
“Yes. Yes I must.”
Keith stood there, mouth agape and unsure of what he expected as no words came to describe the hatred he felt for Hei.
“Whatever, it doesn’t matter now because I am going to finally take my life back from you after I carve your head from your torso!”
The bandits all looked to their leader, hoping he had a plan to deal with Hei and Torgrak. They’d just heard their fellow brothers die while begging for their lives and needed a plan of attack.
“Hei is mine, the rest of you can have the dwarf.”
One of Keith’s minions spoke up, “B-but sir!”
“I don’t care! You can all cut up what remains of him after this is over.”
Hei grinned, “Fine with me, but let’s at least have our duel apart from the others~.”
Keith and Hei walked parallel to each other, separating themselves fromthe others. Keith watched Hei’s movements carefully, ready for any sneaky attack Hei might try. But Hei just kept his hands behind his head, seemingly leaving himself completely open as his long hair swished back and forth behind him.
Once they were apart from Torgrak and the remaining bandits, Hei stared at the bodies of Burf, Evera, and Puff.
“I was hoping we’d have a cleaner dance floor. Just a moment Keith, just going to clean up after some children~.”
Hei walked over to Puff’s body and yanked him out of where he was embedded in the stone. Puff was heavily injured and bleeding, but still had a pulse. Dragging Puff by the wrist, Hei then threw him over to where Tessa was and repeated this with both Evera’s and Burf’s body.
Hei made sure to instruct Tessa before going back to his duel, “Stabilize those idiots will you~?”
“A-alright, but don’t underestimate the bandits’ leader! My friends were all taken out in one hit each, so be careful!”
Shifting her attention to Burf, Evera, and Puff, Tessa used what minor miracles she had available to her while hoping they’d all make it out of here alive.
“Yes, yes, I’ll be careful~.”
Dusting his armored hands off, Hei walked back to Keith. Keith held his ax ready, prepared to swing for Hei’s neck and take it off cleanly. Hei, however, took out his shield and left his right hand empty with it resting on his hip.
“Satisfied with your floor now?”
“Hm? Oh! It’s much better now~.”
“Good,” Keith bent his knees, “BECAUSE I’M GOING TO COAT IT WITH YOUR BLOOD!”
Keith rushed Hei, swinging as hard at Hei’s irritating face. Tessa looked away as she awaited the sound of metal clashing followed by Hei sent flying into a wall the same way Puff had been, but it never came. Instead, all she heard was the sound of metal slightly grinding on metal. Opening her eyes, Tessa stared at how Keith’s strike came to a dead stop at Hei’s shield and refused to budge even an inch.
“Well, this is a disappointment~. All that anger and fury and this is the best you’ve got~.”
At the same time, Tessa heard the cracking of Torgrak’s weapon going off again. The bandits were attacking in turns, ones with shields jumped in first to try and block Torgrak’s attacks. And whenever the dwarf split his weapon in half, the more agile bandits would rush in and attack any way they could. But the dwarf was much more agile than he let on, fighting with deadly familiarity to the disadvantage he was at.
The bandits with shields found their arms injured or crippled, if the shield didn’t deflect Torgrak’s attack properly it would puncture and hit them directly; some were already dead after their first attempt to block. While those who tried to attack Torgrak after each thunderous boom were baited into being hit with the hard, wooden end of his weapon. The dwarf left nothing to chance and often retreated to gain some distance so the bandits would be forced to chace after him.
“Hah! I kinna wait ta see how yer gonna close tha gap after this, splicer!”
Torgrak couldn’t help but laugh to himself, relishing the pain he caused against those who could do nothing but endure it. Hei rolled his eyes and shifted his shield so Keith’s strike slid off and crashed into the ground with a heavy THOOM.
“It’s only because you get to have all the fun this time around you dirt eating gold hoarder~! That rifle of yours is so uncivilized~.”
Tessa stared at the battle in front of her with contradicting astonishment and abject horror. Watching as the two she assumed were here to save her were treating the bandits so callously. Hei would steal the spotlight of what was going on whenever he pleased, while Torgrak intentionally targeted the limbs of each bandit just to see what would happen. The two of resebled children who intentionally break their toys for fun. This was unlike any kind of heroic rescue she’d ever heard of.
Torgrak laughed to himself every time he popped a shot between a lucky bandits eyes. Laughing to himself as he yelled out, “Bullseye!” At the same time Keith was struggling to land even a proper hit, only getting more and more worked up. He struck at Hei’s shield harder and faster but nothing would work as Hei just stood there smirking.
“Hei you coward! Stop hiding behind that shield and fight me!”
Keith was bluffing, trying to buy time and recover his stamina at the same time. Hei loved to watch people suffer, so Keith wanted to bait that out.
Hei’s smirk grew wider, “As you wish~.”
A small, black void opened in the ground as Hei’s sword emerged from it. Rising quickly as Keith stared at what unholy abomination of a weapon he saw come out. The blade was black from pommel to tip, reflecting his image back at him like a dark mirror. Its edge was jagged, chipped, and serrated on both sides. This was a weapon with full intention to cause as much pain as possible while the victim watched themselves get ripped to shreds.
“I know you blame me for everything that’s happened to you…~”
This wasn’t Keith’s expected result, quickly he raised his ax to defend his vital points. However, Hei didn’t attack anywhere Keith defended. Instead he swung and cut Keith just under the waist. Hei wasn’t aiming for vital points, he was aiming for everything else.
“But if everything was so tightly locked together, how did all fall apart so easily~?”
Keith backed off for a moment, checking his wound. The injury was far from lethal, but it was bleeding. He wasn’t sure why Hei didn’t go for a swipe at his torso or head, but if this was the best Hei could do Keith had a shot at winning. Charging back in, Keith ignored Hei’s words and unleashed a flurry of blows with his ax.
But something had changed as Hei began to move differently. Instead of blocking like before, he started parrying Keith’s attacks and struck when there was an opening. Each attack only cutting or stabbing a non-lethal part of the target’s body while Keith continued his reckless onslaught.
The sounds of both battles came together and created a cacophonous symphony of war. Torgrak’s rifle leading the orchestra of metal and death with his rifle’s thunderous booms and mechanical clinks.
BWOOM! Chuk. Pok. SCHINK!
And Hei only complimented it with the continuous sounds of metal on metal, his shield deflecting Keith’s attacks as he cut more and more of Keith’s body.
KLANG! CLANK! DRONK! Vwish!
Tessa couldn’t bear the sound as it grew louder and louder inside the cave. It felt like her ears were going to start bleeding as Hei, Torgrak, and the bandits danced a discordant waltz of blood and violence.
Was this what she had wished for? Was this the price of her prayer to be saved? She could only watch as Torgrak slaughtered the bandits in front of him, while Hei continued attacking like a cat playing with its food. Both of them wore horrifyingly large smiles as unparalleled joy shined in their eyes. Who was this show she was forced to watch intended for? Was there anyone out there that enjoyed such acts just for kicks?
Tessa shut her eyes, waiting for it to all be over, when suddenly everything went quiet. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed as it all blurred together in her head while waiting for it to stop. Letting her hands fall from her ears, Tessa slowly opened her eyes and looked around.
Her eyes drifted to Torgrak, watching as he let out a relaxed sigh while atop a pile of lifeless corpses. He just sat there, polishing and admiring his rifle while the bandits’ perforated bodies bled on the cave floor under him. The smile he had on him was gone, replaced with his attention entirely focused on maintaining his rifle.
“I'm done over here, so nae need ta keep playin’ wit’ your food.”
Hei couldn’t resist being playful, “Aw~. But it’s just too much fun~.”
Tessa’s gaze moved to see what was going on with Keith and Hei, and the sheer difference in power between them made her eyes go wide. Keith was on his last legs, just barely standing. All of the hits Hei landed weren’t deep enough to severely injure, but the bleeding had only continued throughout the duel. The blood loss alone was taking a toll, and Keith’s endless attacks never allowed his wounds to close. It was only Keith’s drive to kill Hei keeping him up now.
On one side lay a pile of corpses with an uncaring dwarf atop it, and on the other was a half-elf taunting and goading his prey as it slowly bled to death. If this was the salvation Tessa asked for, was it also a twisted reward for her trying to defy fate and become a Hero? She never had the skills to be a Hero. She never did and because of refusal to acknowledge it she was now being forced to face it. Others got hurt because she was too weak to do anything more than hide behind people.
Tessa hid her face in her hands, wanting this nightmare to come to an end. She wanted to go home. She wanted Sylvie to come and save her. She wanted a Hero to save her. She was never built to fight. And she had never wanted to see anything like this.
The memories she cherished from when a Hero saved her in shining armor were now stained with the violence and destruction Hei and Torgrak caused. The flowing cape and sunlight she remembered were now replaced with Hei’s black sword and Torgrak’s rifle dripping with blood.
Keith panted heavily, gathering any thoughts he could in his mind. He was starting to drift in and out of consciousness as his ears rang to the point of near deafness. Only his desire for revenge kept him standing, and he would have it even at the cost of his own life.
“Damn, damn, damn, DAMN, DAMN, DAMN YOU HEI! I CURSE YOU! I CURSE EVERYTHING THAT IS YOU! I WILL SEND YOU TO THE DEEPEST, DARKEST PITS OF ZENDOR’S OBLIVION SO THAT NONE MAY EVER SEE NOR SUFFER THE PLAGUE UPON THIS WORLD THAT IS YOU!”
He refused to die a dog’s death and charged with every last bit of energy he had. Raising his ax Keith didn’t even wait for Hei’s attention. It was do or die, and this would be it.
Hei was amused while he toyed with Keith, but now he was bored. Keith had run out his welcome and now it was time to break this toy. Not even respecting Keith’s resolve, Hei thrust his sword straight through Keith’s chest and heart effortlessly.
Keith stood there, stuck in place, as his hands dropped his ax. Hei’s blade and overwhelming power made it impossible to move forward or back, and what strength Keith had before was now gone. But the one thing Keith hated most as he died was Hei didn’t end him with a smug grin, instead it was a disinterested gaze out of one eye.
Hei twisted his sword and cut his blade through the side of Keith’s body to remove it, slashing through his lung and ribs without the slightest bit of resistance. The blood from Hei’s attack splattered onto the ground as Keith fell lifeless. What blood he had pooled on the ground as Keith’s body dried and shriveled to nothing more than a decaying corpse.
With that, everything was handled. Hei dismissed his sword, sending it back into the void it had come from and he and Torgrak approached Tessa.
Tessa’s dreams were in shambles as she only just started to look up and watch the two get closer. What’ll happen to me? These two are beyond anyone’s abilities, no one could save me even if they wanted to.
Unexpectedly, one bandit remained and took Tessa hostage. Holding a blade to her neck as he stood with her in front of him.
“I’ll kill her! I swear I will! Just let me go free and she won’t have to die.”
Tessa could feel the blade against her throat, the cold steel drawing a slight bit of her blood. She didn’t want to die. Even if it meant something worse, she just wanted to live. She’d go away and never bother anyone again.
But Hei and Torgrak just looked at each other and laughed. The two wheezing and bending over backwards as though they’d sooner die of laughter than any weapon or magic a person could cobble together.
“Shut up! I swear I’ll kill her! I’ll do it! I’ll do it unless you let me leave!”
Hei and Torgrak slowly came down from their laughter, wiping away their tears at how funny this situation was to them.
Clearing his throat, Hei feigned interest in the bandit’s request, “Alright, alright. We’ll let you go free, just let the girl go. And you’ll never see us again…”
Hei’s words felt too good to be true, and yet the bandit couldn’t resist relaxing his blade just the slightest bit. Maybe everything was going to be alright for him. If he put faith in these two, they’d just let him go and no one else would get hurt. He could start a new life somewhere far away and he’d never have to see their vile faces ever again.
Tessa started to relax a bit, at least Hei and Torgrak valued life enough to save her over killing the bandit. After she got away from here, Tessa hoped she’d be able to return to Solis and become an elementary school teacher or something. She wasn’t built for adventure. It was safer to just live behind the protection of others and dream of what could be out there.
The bandit’s face turned hopeful, “R-really? You’ll really let me go?!”
He had his entire attention on Hei, looking the half-elf straight in the eyes
Both the bandit and Tessa were suddenly caught off-guard by Hei’s unexpected switch in intentions as Torgrak’s rifle rang out one more time.
Tessa felt a stinging and burning in the right side of her chest. Looking at Torgrak, she watched as his weapon smoked. They weren’t going to let anyone live, and Torgrak had shot through her to kill the bandit.
Falling to the floor and bleeding, Tessa’s vision blurred as her body was forcing her unconscious slowly. She watched as Hei and Torgrak got closer, the only thing she could see were their feet. She wanted to know why. Why? Why did they shoot her to kill the bandit as well? She’d done nothing to hurt them, so why did they do this to her?
Hei took a knee, but all Tessa could see was his black, metal greaves.
“Aww, our new toy broke~.”
“Dun’ worry, she's nae going anywhere anytime soon.”
Tessa’s vision slowly faded to black, as one last thought drifted through her mind before she passed out.