Legion of the Sands
Part Six – Another Storm Is Coming
They raced back through the streets of Hafrata towards the barracks, the humans hard pressed to keep up with Nhaqosa’s long strides. As heavy set as he was, his legs ate up the distance with each step.
Dusk was nearing by the time they approached the barracks. The desert men and their beastly companions had yet to arrive, though not all of Nhaqosa’s band had returned from their explorations of the city yet either. Two of the small groups still remained out there somewhere.
There was barely time to get organised, to gather up weapons and take up positions on the walls overlooking the gateway into the barracks compound. The gates themselves were gone, the how and why unknown, but it left the barracks difficult to defend. Not only the lack of a gate, but their own lack of numbers made any defence infeasible.
The first sight they had of the desert men was when a trio of them rode into the square that the barracks adjoined. The riders made their way ahead with caution, scouting ahead. They rode beasts that looked much like horses, being of a similar shape and size, but they were not. At a distance one could have been excused for mistaking them for such, yet the closer they came, the more apparent it was that they were something else entirely. Instead of hides, they had leathery scales, much like those of a lizard, and their tails were long and reptilian. Their mouths bore rows of sharp, serrated teeth, while stubby horns surmounted their heads.
The desertmen riders came to a halt in the middle of the square, taking their time to look around. After a short rest and a brief talk, one of them turned about and rode off in the direction he had come from. The two that remained stayed atop their mounts, keeping a wary eye about them even as they shared a drink from a waterskin.
It did not take long for the desert man who had ridden off to make a return, and he did not do so alone. There were other men with him, some riding, others on foot. Not just men either, but beasts as well. One of them dominated the group, a lumbering beast, stocky and low slung, walking on four wide spread legs. A fan of spikes sprouted from the back of its head, while heavy scales covered its body, of red and grey and black in colour. Lashing behind it was a long, spiked tail, and it had a ripping beak like snout.
It was a creature known as a Behemoth. Nhaqosa had fought one once before, in the gladiatorial fighting pits, alongside a knight by the name of Elad. That one had been a mere twice the size of a horse; this one was fully three times as large. The Behemoths were formidable and deadly foes. Even had it been alone it would have been trouble.
Yet it was not alone. Some of the monsters with it were like huge scorpions with twin forked tails, each tipped with a deadly stinger, and clawed feet that bit at the ground as they skittered forward. Others were like hounds, yet no hound was scaled with armoured plates and sprouted horns from its head.
Nhaqosa grunted uneasily as he studied the gathering numbers arrayed before him. There were too many to hold off. It was not a fight that they could hope to win, and yet Nhaqosa was not one to abandon his friends, and nor was he the type to admit to defeat easily.
“There are a few of the,” Lakach noted dryly, reflecting Nhaqosa’s thoughts.
“That there are,” Nhaqosa rumbled. From around his neck, he unclasped the red wood wolf’s head pendant and gripped it tight in one hand.
“Abasan,” he called out.
Nhaqosa handed the pendant to Abasan. “Abasan, I need you to lead them to safety. All of them. Find the others in the city if you can, but get away from here.”
“Kwaza? We will not leave you.”
Nhaqosa shook his head. “You have to do this, Abasan, for me. If we all attempt to run they will catch us. You have to see them safe. You have to see Niati safe. I will buy you the time you need to get away safe. Now go.”
There was a short, almost reticent delay from Abasan before he collected up the others and departed from the walls, falling back towards the barracks to collect their gear before making for the back wall to clamber over and away. Nhaqosa turned back to face the desert men as they came towards the barracks with a wary caution.
Shaking his limbs free, limbering them up, Nhaqosa took a hold of his heavy maul and readied himself for the battle to come.
“You should have gone with the others,” he said, not looking aside, his eyes remaining fixed upon the approaching foe.
Lakach responded with a soft chuckle as he worked on loading his crossbow. “Funny thing, but I would never fit in with the others in a normal life. For the most, they are innocent of the crimes that saw them condemned to the pits, or committed only minor ones. They should never have been there.”
“And you should have been.”
“Yes,” Lakach admitted with a frank honesty that Nhaqosa did not expect. “I was a killer, an assassin. I took lives for money and deserved my punishment. I could never be a farmer, or a dancer or a stonemason, able to live out a life of peace. Yet here I can still be of use, doing what I do best. We will make sure the others get away so that they can live their normal lives.”
“You are a good man,” Nhaqosa rumbled.
Lakach replied with a short laugh. “Hardly, Kwaza, but it is kind of you to say so.”
Nhaqosa looked out towards the deep deserts, towards the east back across the city. The horizon there was marred by a fresh sandstorm brewing up. “Another storm is coming. If we can hold out until it hits then it will help mask the flight of our friends.”
“I will keep them off your back for as long as I can,” Lakach promised.
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