Part Six – Go Now If You Wish To Live
Nhaqosa had watched as Elad landed in the pavilion, cutting down first the lord and then his guards. The sheer audacity of the attack had amazed him, but Elad’s survival could no longer be a concern of his. He retrieved his maul and strode back towards the gates that led into the caverns beneath the pits. The gates were remarkably flimsy wooden affairs. Nhaqosa took his maul to them, splintering wood under the force of his blow. A second strike smashed through. Nhaqosa kicked the remnants out of the way, seeing two guards waiting on the other side, nervously facing him.
“Go now if you wish to live,” Nhaqosa rumbled at them, muscles beneath his white hide rippling as he tightened his grip around the handle of the maul. The two men backed away, then ran rather than face the awoken fury of the giant, battle hardened minotaur who loomed before them.
Another guard, braver than the first, ran at Nhaqosa from further back in the caverns. A gladiator, waiting his turn to fight in the gloom, stuck out a leg in the path of the guard, sending him sprawling. A second, shaven headed gladiator dived onto the fallen guard, driving an elbow into the back of his head with a sickening crunch.
Shouts of alarm rose from the remaining guards, and vengeful cries from the gladiators as they turned on the guards, overpowering them in a vicious brawl in the darkened caverns, in the sort of brutal, close quarters fighting that the gladiators excelled in. Guards were borne to the crowd and beaten lifeless with rocks, chains, fists and feet, anything that the gladiators could lay there hands on. The guards fought back with terrified fury, stabbing and slashing at any that got close, trying to cut a path along which to escape.
Cells were wrenched open, chains broken and more gladiators freed, taking up the weapons of the fallen until such time as the armoury was taken so that proper armaments could be equipped.
There were screams and shouts that echoed through the caverns, the sound of iron striking iron or impacting on flesh, bodies falling, some lifeless, others moaning and writhing, and everywhere was blood, staining the ground and the walls. In the dim light, chaos reigned.
Nhaqosa pushed his way through the brawl, stepping over bodies as he headed for the gates that lead out of the caverns, the gates to freedom. There at least the guards still held sway, six men with spears and shields blocking the gates. The bodies of three men lay sprawled before them in growing pools of blood. Nerves showed on their faces, fearing the moment that the horde would spill their way, but they stood resolute none the less.
Nhaqosa stalked towards them, maul held high, droplets of blood beading on it to drip to the ground. “Be gone,” he rumbled. A couple of the guards licked their lips, glancing at each other apprehensively, but none moved. Nhaqosa pawed at the ground with his hoof then bellowed with all his strength, an ear rending sound that reverberated around the confines of the cavern.
He charged. The guards were taken back by the terror of the bellow and the suddenness of the charge, two and half metres of killing machine bearing down on them in all its fury. The maul swung around at the height of the charge, crashing down on one guard’s head, reducing it to a battered pulp of bones and blood and gore, broken teeth clattering across the ground. A spear stabbed at Nhaqosa, slicing across his chest, crimson blood seeping down from the cut over his white fur. Horns arced through the air as Nhaqosa lowered his head and tossed it, slashing open another guard, then a third went down as a backhanded blow smashed aside a shield and crashed into the man’s chest, caving it in.
A woman’s scream sounded from behind Nhaqosa, filled with hate and anger and rage, white hot in its intensity. A gladiator, her hair long and pale, threw herself onto a guard, snarling, clawing and biting. The man stumbled back into the gate, his spear falling from his grip. He tried to draw a dagger as she raked at his eyes, blood swelling from the claw marks across his face. The dagger stumbled free and stabbed, plunging into the women’s body. Despite the blow, her attacks never faltered until a second and then a third blow stabbed into her, while another guard drove his spear into her back.
It was the last attack he made, for a massive fist closed around his neck in an iron grip and lifted the struggling man off his feet. Nhaqosa slammed the guard’s face into the wall, leaving a bloody smear. He dropped the body, letting it slide down the wall.
Other gladiators arrived, joining in as their shouts keened for blood, the last guards dispatched with the brutality born of the vicious existence that the gladiators had been forced to live.
The gates that led to freedom, to the town beyond the pit, were barred by a heavy wooden beam. It proved no obstacle to Nhaqosa. He took a hold of it, heaved and tossed it aside, while cheering gladiators pulled the gates open. A smell of smoke lingered in the air, drifting down to the caverns. Somewhere a fire burned.
The gladiators, led by Nhaqosa, surged through the gates, their stolen weapons ready to be used if need be. They were in an enclosed courtyard, with high walls to either side of them and an iron gate at the far end. A wagon had been parked up against one wall, filled with straw and rushes. Through the gates they could see people running, shoving one another and screaming as panic gripped them. Nhaqosa looked back up at the pit, seeing pillars of smoke pouring into the sky, ashes and embers sucked upwards. A figure stood above them, sword in one hand, the other engulfed by fire to the elbow. It was Elad, and for a moment Nhaqosa thought that the Knight had become a victim of the flames. Yet the man showed neither signs of pain nor attention to the flames that wreathed about his arm.
Elad stepped off from the wall above, flames trailing behind him as he fell to the wagon below. He made an ungainly landing, sword spinning free, tumbling onto his face in the rushes. The flames at his arm flickered and then the wagon began smouldering. Elad rolled off the wagon, picked up his sword and smiled broadly at Nhaqosa. “Shall we depart this villainous place?” he asked.
“How is it that the flames do not affect you?” Nhaqosa asked.
“I am a Knight of the Order of the Ardent Flame,” Elad replied, even as he strode towards the iron gates. “They do not touch me, but instead answer to me.”
Nhaqosa strode after the knight with his long legged gait, the escaped gladiators following in the wake of the giant minotaur. “But control of fire, that is not possible, at least where I am from.”
“It is here.” Elad reached the gate, giving it a solid kick. It rattled, but a heavy lock prevented it from being opened. “Break it down,” he ordered.
Gladiators leapt onto the gate, wrenching it back and forward. Grinds and groans came from the protesting metal, but to no avail, for it soon had been torn open, accompanied by loud cheers.
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