The Merchant’s Legacy
Part Nine – Death at Talhos
Through the morning they pushed on down from the bandits lair, the land about them broken hill and forest country, dry and wilting under the fierce summer sun.
Nhaqosa kept a close eye on Katako as they walked. Not only did he seem much improved, he appeared to be regaining strength even as they walked. Whatever it had been that Kythias had concocted, it had worked beyond Nhaqosa’s wildest hopes.
Towards the middle of the morning, the land fell away beneath them and the view opened out overlooking the broad, dusty plains that lay below them. A small village, little more than a cluster of rude houses near a shallow stream, could be seen nearby, a pillar of smoke rising from outside of it. A large fire burned, though what exactly was afire they could not tell at the distance.
Not until they moved down from the hills towards the village did the fuel of the fire become apparent to them; a tangled mass of blackened bodies. Nhaqosa hoped that they had been dead long before they had been consigned to the flames. The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh grew stronger and the looks on the faces of his band grew hard and vengeful as they came closer to the fire.
Nhaqosa growled at the sight, anger coursing through his veins, a deep seated fury that needed release. “This is what you object to us stopping?” he said to Kythias in a sharp, accusatory tone.
“This saddens me deeply,” Kythias replied, his face etched with sorrow. “It saddens me that such things occur and that you must burden your heart with vengeance.”
Nhaqosa snorted and shook his horn-tipped head. “If it is a burden, then I will gladly bear it for the sake of these slaughtered innocents.” He spoke up louder, addressing his band. “Listen up, my friends. We are going in. I want no risks, no chances, no showing off. Those we face are killers of the vilest type, their hearts black as the depths of the deepest cave. There is to be no quarter given.”
Even as they others nodded in grim acknowledgement, a look of shook revealed itself upon Kythais’ face. “You would simply kill them all with no chance to surrender?”
Nhaqosa turned and fixed him with a steady, steely eyed gaze. “What would you have us do with them?” he asked. “There are no authorities for us to hand them over to for punishment anymore, and if we were to release them, what then? They would simply return to their former ways and more innocents would die. I am sorry if this offends your sensibilities, but it is the only way.” He hefted up his heavy stone-headed maul and marched steadily forward, great cloven hooves pounding upon the ground. “Someone needs to do what is right.”
They passed the fire as they entered the village, upon which the blackened corpses of the dead smouldered, their limbs tangled together into grotesque sculptures. Features were burnt beyond recognition so that none could tell man from woman, young from old. Only the small forms of children stood out.
More than one of the hardened gladiators had moist eyes as they passed, but in those self same eyes burned a grim anger, reflecting the determination within to visit vengeance on the perpetrators of such a horrific crime.
The village itself seemed deserted, not a sound coming from within it, seemingly dead, like those who burned on the fire. Nhaqosa motioned for the others to halt at the edge of the village. He looked around, nostrils flaring and ears twitching with concern.
“I shall call you if I need you.”
“You can’t go alone, Kwaza,” Abasan responded vociferously, objecting to the idea.
“I will be fine, Abasan,” Nhaqosa told him before flicking a glance to Kythias. “Besides, they apparently need to be offered a choice.” Shouldering his maul, Nhaqosa strode purposely forward, heading into the heart of the village.
“Your ideas will be the death of him,” Abasan stated pointedly to Kythias after Nhaqosa had left them.
Kythias shook his head, face pursed as he pondered the actions of the giant minotaur. “I think not.”
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