Chapter 9. Bandits…!

"I'm a Squire! A Paladin in the making-!"

The boy's words were cut short as he began choking on his own blood.

The bandit giggled in morbid delight as he twisted the knife even further. The boy squirmed under it, futilely grasping for life, but he faltered, and slowly, his body dipped into unconsciousness, then death.

The fate of the girl was no less horrific. Her screams were muffled as the heavy man forced himself on her, a brutal, savage affair that left her broken. Once finished, he tossed her lifelessly aside, her eyes empty voids filled with shame and horror.

"Squires," one of them said. "Pft."

It had been easy pickings. Squires sleeping alongside the road, their fire a beacon for all the horrific things that traveled in the night. One ambush later, and the bandits had new toys to play with.

"Should we keep the girl?" the heavy one said. "I'm sure the boss will like her."

The other one, a scrawny creature with patches of hair across his chin, scratched his neck. "Nah…" he said. "Boss likes 'em young…but not that young!"

The heavy man shrugged, and lifted his mace, a crude weapon adorned with more spikes than logic would dictate necessary.

The little Squire girl looked up, her eyes wide in fear as she begged for mercy. But no mercy came in the real world. The mace came down once, and again, and again, and again, and again, until the little girl's pretty face was a paste on the cave floor, her body a mangled wreck that no longer even resembled a human.

The bandits had gone through all the stuff they carried. Just rations and what appeared to be a map, but the bandits couldn't make heads or tails of it. It just seemed like a piece of paper pointing in every direction, so they scrapped it.

"Kinda liked her," the heavy bandit said. "Probably woulda started a family…"

The scrawny one pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. "Dumbass." Then he pulled his heavy friend forward. "Look out there Chubb. See in the distance?" From outside the cave on top of the hill, the bandits looked over the landscape, and there, just a little far away, was a little town.

Chubb the fat bandit nodded. "Yeah?"

"That's Thelma!" the scrawny guy said. "The boss's had 'is eye on dat little town fors a wiles now. Once we getta hold a that, you'll have all da little girlies ya want!"

The fat bandit seemed a bit confused. "Why does Boss want that town anyways?"

"Simple," from farther back in the cave, a lone figure stepped forth, a massive man with skin almost gray in color.

The two bandits immediately dropped to their faces. "B-Boss?"

The Boss looked out beyond the land. "A stepping stone, boys," he said. "A stepping stone to greatness."

The scrawny guy lifted his head. "S-so…whens are we gonna take it?"

The boss looked down at his lackey. "My friend from Drasnia has arrived," he growled. "We take this town….tonight."

The two bandits' eyes lit up. Tonight!

"Round up the gang, and bring me my weapon."

"Right aways boss!" the scrawny and fat bandit said in unison as they scrambled up, limbs flailing as they ran deeper into the cave the bandits called home.

The boss looked down at his lackey's handiwork.

"Distasteful, isn't it?"

The Boss turned his attention to the side, where a woman was casually resting against a wall.

"How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to see that 'Chubb' there likes hitting it from behind."

The boss growled, a low, low growl that was more of dissatisfaction than irritation.

The woman shrugged. She was an unusual specimen. Short violet hair and matching eyes. Her choice of dress was distinctively masculine, with an open vest and trousers tucked into heavy-soled boots. From beneath that vest one could see her toned stomach, and bands wrapped around her breasts.

"I told him we don't need help. My men can handle a tiny town," the boss said, walking towards the corpses of the Squires. He began to kick them out of the cave, letting them roll down the hill unceremoniously.

"Perhaps," said the woman. She approached the giant man, a swagger in her walk that reeked of overconfidence. She rested a hand on the man's cheek. "But then, Tross, dearie, Shura-Sha wouldn't get his payment, would he?"

Tross, the bandit boss, turned his head. Shura-Sha. That name, the worst name for a bandit clan to hear. The self-proclaimed "Emperor of Bandits", once he declared you were under his rule, you either accepted it or suffered. "I don't see what he wants with a pathetic town like that…"

"Small towns make great drug operations," the woman said simply. "And besides, this place is perfect. It's just a two-day trip from here to the border, after all.

"Two days? Don't make me laugh." Everyone knew that, hypothetically, that was possible, but the border was well-defended by so many natural barriers that it easily took three-times as long to reach the kingdom of Isolde.

"Whatever," the woman stepped back from Tross. "Tonight's the night. I'll be happy to assist you. Just keep the raping and burning to a minimum degree, okay? Keep it classy."

Tross glared at the woman, this overconfident lass. But he knew better than speak out. She was under Shura-Sha's thumb, after all. That, and he knew exactly what she was.

"Mages…" the boss breathed. They all seemed to posses that overconfidence. The kind of overconfidence that got people killed.

The woman looked out the cave, looking towards Thelma. "It's gonna be fun seeing all their faces as you kill them," she said, a sadistic grin on her face.

Tross shook his head. He hated Shura-Sha. Hated him more than anyone else. But he had no choice. That man would completely eradicate his clan if he thought ill of Tross. So all the bandit chief could do was play the game, and hope he didn't lose.