The journey from the village to Thunder Bluff was like a funeral procession. It was vastly different from the frantic flight to find Talida. Bregan swallowed against the lump in his throat, and straightened his shoulders instead of turning to find her, chained and glowering amidst the guards.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Thratar said casually, as the lumbering strides of the kodo swayed him back and forth. The reins were loose in his grip, and he didn’t turn to look at Bregan when he spoke.
“I do not blame myself. Talida is responsible for her own actions,” Bregan muttered, but he couldn’t even convince himself, let alone his best friend.
“How could I not have known? Look at her,” Bregan said, but not bothering to gesture toward her. “That much rage and hate is seething inside her like thunderstorm, and I completely missed it.”
“She was trained to make sure you saw only what she wanted you to. Add that to the fact you were totally in love with her, and you were left completely blind,” Thratar reasoned.
“My father did not like her,” Bregan pointed out.
Thratar scoffed. “That likely had more to do with your father thinking no one was good enough for you, than any sense of her being a spy and potential assassin.”
“Give him a couple days to get over this whole ordeal, and he will say he knew deep down.” Bregan let out a short, huff of a self-deprecating laugh.
“A couple days? You give him far more credit than me.”
“I cannot blame you, since he didn’t like you either.” Bregan laughed, a genuine one this time.
They fell silent as they reached the elevators that moved people from the bottom of the mesa to the top. As a group they dismounted from the kodos, while one of the guards helped Talida off hers. She jerked her arm out of the guard’s grip, and leveled a murderous gaze at Bregan. Bregan shook his head, and turned back to the kodo. He loosened the leather thong tying his new–new to him at any rate–weapon to the saddle. It was a two-handed mace someone managed to dig up in the village armory. Well-worn, but well cared for, it fit in his grip far more comfortably than the sword had.
They’d gagged Talida, after her constant mouthing off and spouting hateful rhetoric at the group. Even Bregan, who had the most sympathy toward her plight and guilt about the situation, quickly grew tired of it and gave only a token protest when they put the leather strap in her mouth. They removed the gag, and wonder of wonders, she remained silent.
Her hands were shackled in front of her, and her ankles hobbled with chains. It was slow going, and three guards traveled up the elevator with her, ready for any attempt to push them off. Thankfully, nothing of the sort occurred, and the trip up was incident free.
Thunder Bluff was not overly crowded most days, but today it certainly was. Nothing brought out the crowds like the potential for capital punishment, even the peaceful Tauren.
Bregan stepped off on the lift right after Talida’s, and found a disturbingly quiet crowd facing their group. Then the grumbling started, low at first, but then it grew in intensity and anger. There was nothing distinct; no words he could make out clearly or point to a specific person.
Talida tilted her chin upward, and glowered at everyone before her. “I am not the traitor here. You all deserve to be purged,” she growled. “When the time comes, I will be rewarded for my service.”
“Not if we kill you first, you filthy Grimtotem!” someone in the crowd shouted. The crowd surged forward, and overwhelmed the guards while Talida laughed, the pitch high, cruel, and with supreme satisfaction.
Something was wrong. There was an undercurrent of bloodthirsty energy weaving through the crowd, making the situation far more volatile than it would be under normal circumstances. Bregan scanned the crowd, and off the the right, barely visible behind a hut, was a Shaman. Surprise barely registered as he made his way over to the Tauren, whose black fur was liberally streaked with grey, and who couldn’t take his eyes off the crowd as he mumbled under his breath. There were stories of Shamans casting bloodlust on a group, but he’d never seen it in action before. Why, though? Shamans were less likely than others to defect to the Grimtotems, but after Bregan’s situation with Talida, anything was now possible in his mind.
It took a few moments for the Shaman to register Bregan’s approach, but when he finally did, a crazed grin contorted his visage, and he drew in a deep breath. “To arms, Grimtotems!”
Everything spiraled out of control as people hiding in the crowds drew their weapons, and began battling in the crowd. Yells of rage were now interspersed with cries of agony and fear. Bregan had to stop the Shaman from fueling the insanity infecting the crowd, but before he could get to him, the other Tauren slipped around the back of the hut. When Bregan turned the corner the Tauren was nowhere to be found.
“Bregan!” It was Thratar, and when Bregan spun to see what was going on, his heart dropped to the ground.
His father kneeled on the ground in front of Talida, facing away from her, as she gripped his hair in one hand, pulling his head backward toward her. In her other hand was a dagger at her father’s throat. The noise of the battle faded, and his breathing, shallow and pained, was barely audible over the ringing that filled his mind.
The Shaman who had slipped away was next to her, with lightning crackling over his hands, and gripping the smoldering remains of Talida’s wrist and ankle shackles. The same depraved smile still contorted his face.
She glanced behind her for a split second, and the Shaman gave a quick, curt nod, and then a wicked grin spread over her face as she turned to face Bregan again. She mouthed something to him, and his eyes widened.
“No!” he shouted, and reached a helpless hand toward the two of them as Talida slid the blade across his father’s throat.