Hello everyone, this is Asclepius, with a wonderful story from Themo Lock, entitled
Background music by Smartsound
Cavendish brushed the pine needles from his crimson pants and adjusted his hood nervously, it was time to address his men. Cavendish was the forty-second leader of the Serpent’s Spine branch of the crimson bandits, a group that had only formed two months previous. He would be lying if he were to say that he was not concerned with the average life expectancy of the groups management positions, but at least it was somewhat higher than that of the rank and file. For reasons known only to the upper echelon of the organization, his group had been charged with the task of holding the foothills and exacting a “tax” from any interlopers. The area could only be described as “hostile”, being home to countless wolves and giant bears who had their own idea on who the regions rightful owners were. And now there were the outlanders… beings of great power that would periodically pass through laying waste to the region before carrying off entire trees, piles of bandit weaponry and mountains of bloody hides. He had once seen an outlander slain by a pack of wolves only to witness the man return minutes later to resume picking at a vein of copper in the cliff side. Cavendish shuddered and pushed the memory to the back of his mind, he had business to attend to.
He pushed aside the canvas flap and stepped from his tent, confidently striding over to the nearby clearing where his men stood to attention. “Where are the others?” he asked gruffly “This meeting is not optional”. A slightly overweight bandit in shabby, torn clothing kicked at the dirt with a scuffed, unpolished boot “This is all of us sir” he mumbled. “What?” Cavendish boomed “Where is Black Greg and Olaf?”. The portly bandit winced before answering “Wolves sir… there were just so many”. Cavendish rubbed at his eye with the palm of his hand, Black Greg was his brother in law and this was not going to sit well with his sister at all. “Alright… well that is unfortunate” he stated “I am sure they did us proud and died bravely and well”. A taller bandit with hair the colour of sun dried straw spoke up this time “Not really sir, Olaf sort of panicked and tried to run but Greg used him as a human shield…” Cavendish interjected at this point “Yes well, these things happen in the heat of battle i guess “. Unperturbed, the lanky bandit continued his recollection of the fight “… and i am pretty sure Greg soiled himself”. After a brief moment of disrespectful silence, the bandit leader sighed “OK men, we work with what we have.” he declared “Caynis, what news from the upper pass?”. The portly bandit spoke up once more “Caynis is dead sir, a bear threw him off the upper pass”. At this news, Cavendish spun on the heel of his boot and marched back into his tent to compose himself.
The bandit leader breathed deeply in through his nostrils and slowly released his breath through thin, trembling lips. He was giving serious thought to the possibility that crime did not pay and wondered if his uncle would still take him on as an apprentice lamp lighter in Ardoris. Screams erupted outside, along with the chilling sound of magical fire being summoned into being. Since the bandit groups last mage had accidentally blinked herself off a cliff some days previous, this could only mean that the camp was under attack. Cavendish briefly contemplated impersonating a bedroll before drawing his short sword and launching himself out of the tent with the best battle cry he could muster, a sound that could only be described as an enthusiastic gargle.
The scene that greeted his eyes outside the tent froze the bandit leader in his tracks. A huge circle of fire was before him, within its perimeter the roasted remains of his men crackled and spat like overcooked pork. At the epicenter of the unnatural blaze stood a small girl, clad in bright pink cloth robes and playing a merry, otherworldly tune on what appeared to a home made set of bagpipes. The girl marched around in circles squeezing the instrument completely unharmed by the flames as she kicked at the lifeless bandits, presumably in search of loot. This was no mere mortal, this was an outlander and the bandit leader suddenly felt that being anywhere else but here would be desirable. Cavendish slowly began to back away but collapsed to the ground with a loud thump as his footing was compromised by a palette of week old cabbages, the bandit groups sole source of nourishment. “Don’t make eye contact” he yelled internally “don’t make.. OH SWEET LORD I MADE EYE CONTACT!”. The girl calmly raised a tiny, well manicured hand and smiled sweetly. The last thing Cavendish witnessed in his brief role as a bandit lord was a burst of flames erupting from the bagpipes and a white hot ball of fire hurtling in his direction.
Some days later, Helgrid the bandit stood at the edge of a circle of charred earth and eyeballed a group of fresh recruits. She was the forty-third leader of the Serpent’s Spine branch of the crimson bandits, a group that had only formed two months previous. Her outlook was positive and her dagger was sharp, she had big plans for this company of bandits and there was work to be done.