“Give us yer money, or we’ll slit yer throats!” the leader of the brigands threatened in a low growl. His short sword waving menacingly at two travelers, the blade sharp and gleaming in the sun. His near dozen fellow assailants surrounded their targets and growled their agreements. Brandishing a mismatched assortment of weapons from make-shift clubs to axes to long swords, they readied to pounce hungrily if their leader gave the word.
The two victims stood side-by-side, and seemed to be exact opposites in attitudes.
The younger lad was well-groomed, richly dressed, and shaking in his soft, leather boots. His light green silk shirt sat slightly askew from where one of the robbers had shoved him toward his associate. He was terrified and just stood petrified. He looked like a rich man’s son who had never seen the business end of a weapon.
The other man stood shadowed, though it was mid day and they were under the bright autumn sun. He was all in a long, black cloak with a hood pulled up over his head, the cowl low over his eyes. Dark leather gloves with strange writing in dark red across the back. Where the other man was scared, he was indifferent to the point of being oblivious to the highwaymen.
“What do we do,” the young man asked the dark cloaked man.
“Looks like your friend has nothing to say,” one robber said, smiling a toothless grin, “perhaps he will not mind if we lessen his load a few coppers!”
They laughed, and the speaker began to move forward, until the man in black spoke. It was a simple word barely a whisper, and no one understood what he meant.
They stopped, and the toothless robber looked at the leader, who simply shrugged and waved him to continue his play. The robber nodded and smiled, yet moved tentatively toward the mysterious man.
It started as a tickle on his chest. He didn’t pay any attention, and just rubbed it away. It grew quick until it was a burning sensation across his breast.
He turned to his leader, who was likewise rubbing his heart area. The others in the thieving party all had the same feeling.
The burning grew until it was all over his body. It was an uncontrollable urge, and they scratched and scratched.
“ITCH!” the man in black screamed. Birds flew away at the sound, and his young companion jerked away and fell surprise.
Men screamed in agony as they ripped shirts away, trying to see the cause of their affliction, but there was none. It was under their skin, and bestial reasoning took place of human logic, and they began to scratch harder at the skin.
Red lines began to appear from where they dug into their flesh. They looked at each other, and themselves, in horror – but they continued to scratch, ignoring the pain.
The toothless one dropped first, bleeding to death. His face twisted in torment and pain. Chunks of skin hanging off like ripped fabric.
Others soon fell to the itch. Their bodies marred and disfigured, destroyed by the desire to stop the crawl under their flesh. As if a million tiny ants scurried along sinew and bone like they would on dirt and rock.
The leader fell last, being the strongest willed. He gave a look of hatred and fear toward the man in black before falling like the others.
“What did you do,” the young man whispered.
“I started the beginning,” the dark man said, his voice monotone and deep. He began to move off the road toward the forest.
“Beginning of what?” the nobleman called, getting off the ground and running after him. He kept looking back at the brigands, his fear replaced by contempt for these fools.
“It will be night soon,” the dark one said, looking at the sky. It would soon be dark even though it felt like moments ago it was midday.
“We should prepare,” the dark man said, almost to himself.
“You didn’t answer my question,” the nobleman called, walking toward him, careful not to step in blood, “the beginning of what?”
The dark man stopped and waited for him to reach him before he turned to answer his question.
“It is the beginning of your army.”
The young man turned toward the corpses and slowly began to smile. He’s return to his kingdom and take what was his by force. No idiot brother of his would steal his crown.
“Excellent.” he replied, spitting into the dirt and following his companion.