Desert Rot

His fire was a bluff of life in the withering carcass of his company. Walton stood staring at the sands around him. The dunes rose and fell with the hypnotic rhythm of ocean waves, gusts of wind scattering the nighttime sand through the air like a silver whip. Above him the sky opened in a vast display of constellations he had forgotten the names of, each star pulsing a small but vibrant light.

He had led them out here. Three hundred men wrapped in crimson robes with a sword and spear in each hand. There had been complaints of bandits in the Middling Pass; robbing, killing, raping. The Legion had been sent to quell the bandits, Walton had been placed in charge.

He had ordered a group of twenty to enter the Middling Pass at nightfall. “Bring back four or five of them,” Walton had told his Lieutenant, Jory, “We will hang them from the ravine overlooking The Pass. We will send a message to the others.”

“What of the rest, Commander?” Jory had asked.

“Kill them and burn their bodies.”

Eighteen of the men sent into The Pass returned with five of the bandits in chains; three women, two men. Jory reported back to him, his face swollen with ugly red veins surrounding a deep red gash underneath his left eye. “It was the old man at the end, Commander. He bashed a stone against my cheek and stove another boys head in through his helm. He’s got a strong arm.”

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