Chapter 1: Visions of a Bygone Future
The metallic smell of blood was overwhelming. The dull crash of steel striking wooden and steel shields and ringing off of enemy swords was loud enough to all but drown out other noise. The twanging of bowstrings could just be heard at the edge of the city as the defending archers desperately tried to hold what remained of the walls from an army that more than ten times outnumbered the meager forces still inside of the city. The gate of the city was broken and hanging on its hinges, and large portions of the walls had fallen down, the results of the combined efforts of Deshika siege engines and sappers, letting Deshik warriors pour into the city by the thousands. No matter the number of defenders elsewhere in the city, the Deshika were still laying siege to the hundred foot tall battlements from both sides in an attempt to take away the last high ground that the defenders still had. And louder than anything were the roars of gigantic beasts, like small, wingless dragons with hard blue scales and long sharp teeth. In the centre of this riot of death stood Taren Garrenin the Second. Though the fight had been dragging on for over fifteen hours, he was as of yet unmarked by the battle. His blue great sword was dyed crimson with blood as it flashed to take yet another life of his enemy’s, too weak to stand before him. The roaring of the beasts did not unnerve him, he had heard it many times, on many different battlefields throughout his long life, but he flinched as yet another of his guard, Morschledu all, and every one Tai-Aren Coda, fell to a Deshika arrow. Almost thirty out of the hundred Ringlords who formed The Spear of Drogoda had fallen, and he winced once again as his fallen man’s Mordak, the dragon-like beasts which Drogoda’s soldiers often rode into combat, let out a savage roar somewhere outside of the city and began to rampage throughout the battlefield in front of the great gates, or one of the holes in the wall, making no distinction between friend and foe.
Taren’s examination of the battle ceased when over one hundred Deshik warriors charged around a corner in an attempt to ambush The Spear. ‘You almost have to feel sorry for them’ he thought, but all pity vanished completely as he remembered the slaughter of the Armies of the Sun on the plains of Ra-Diavere two years earlier. The monsters were from some god-forsaken land on the other side of the sea, and they had attacked from the north, moving southward. Taren had given them more than one fight along the way. The Deshika had had to bypass Drogoda completely and take Caladea and Armanda first. Only when the Drogs could retreat no further did the Deshika turn their attention towards the land of the Mordak Riders. No sooner had Taren banished all thought of the two nations to the south than the giant, many-limbed warriors, whom he considered little more than beasts, were upon him and his men. But by the time the Deshika reached The Spear, The Spear was ready for them. Though he himself cut through the horde of Deshika with little difficulty, not all of his guard fared the same. Taren almost felt as he himself was dying as he watched two more of his guard, both women, fall to Deshika swords, and then again as a man suddenly went insane and began charging forward into a knot of Deshika warriors and Morschen soldiers. He had known all of the fallen by name. He had hand-picked every one, after watching many of them grow from youth. ‘It must be a terrible thing,’ thought Taren as he watched the one man, ‘to have one’s Mordak killed.’ The magical bonding between a Mordak and its Rider was powerful, and the breaking of such a bond through violent death created nothing less dangerous than an arms master who knew no restraint, neither that of friend nor foe, save that of death. Or if it was the Rider who died, a savage beast bent on nothing except for the destruction of everything that stood in its way before it too passed into the void beyond death. Turning to the man at his right, Taren spoke for the first time since giving orders that morning.
“General Druoth, send out The Spear. Tell them to gather every living soul that they can find to the palace. And then sound the retreat.”
“But Morschcoda, Alquendiro …”
“Alquendiro is lost, Makret. I won’t wait for my army to follow its fate.”
Bowing, High General Makret Druoth moved among The Spear, giving orders for them to search different parts of the city to try to find any survivors, civilian or otherwise, and bring them to the massive palace that dominated the north-western quarter of Alquendiro. As most of the seventy remaining men and women moved off to search the city, five guards, three men and two women, with Makret leading, moved closer to Taren, ready to sell their lives if they must to ensure that their Morschcoda survived the little that was to remain of the battle. They knew that they would not need to. Taren was highly praised as a swordsman throughout the Ten Nations of Anaria, held as one of the greatest who ever lived. Sword-mastery was one thing, however, and a pitched battle was quite another.
The blood on Taren’s sword was beginning to harden as he and his five guards walked into the massive courtyard that opened up among the buildings and lead to the palace. The courtyard was one of the few places in Alquendiro that the battle had yet to reach, but with his men retreating, the peace it had enjoyed could not last for long. Already some of The Spear had brought civilians, a family of small children huddled closely around their mother, back to the courtyard, but they were standing around, unsure of whether they should go out and look for more, or stay to protect the ones that they had found already. The three women saw Taren enter the courtyard and one ran over for orders.
“Take them through the tunnels that lead out of the palace, and then to the mountain holds east of the city,” Makret told her. “Gather anything you think might be useful,” the woman had already turned to sprint back to her companions, but Makret called her back. “Captain Reeshnar,” the woman stopped and turned, “don’t waste time searching. There aren’t enough of you to search thoroughly anyway.”
As the Spear Captain Edya Reeshnar ran back to her charges, four men of The Spear entered the courtyard, carrying a dead man on their shields, and another three walked beside them, guarding the procession. Every one there recognized the dead man, either by his face or his armour, which marked him as a member of Drogoda’s Morschcodal House. It was Elich Garrenin, Taren’s youngest brother. His other two brothers had died in the Drog Civil War long before. “I thought I told you to run, Elich” said Taren to himself as he started to walk over. One of the men who had been guarding Elich ran over to meet Taren.
“We found no one alive, but we can tell that your brother died a hero’s death. There were almost thirty dead Deshika around him, and no other Drogs.”
“Small consolation, for now I am the last of my House,” said Taren through clenched teeth. “I would have him buried properly at sea, but that is not possible. If you can get to the docks, though, send him out to the waves in a small boat. He would like that better than to be left as carrion.”
“It will be done, my lord” the man said as he turned back to his fellows.
Before any more of The Spear returned to Taren, before even the three women had escorted their charges into the palace and out of harm’s way, harsh war horns, like the screams of the gore crows who were already circling high above, but deeper, longer, more menacing, could be heard coming from outside of the city. And then a rain of large, heavy arrows fell among the few men and women in the courtyard. Nobody had time to cover themselves with shields, though several tried. Taren looked up and saw that Deshik archers had scaled several tall towers inside of the city. He cursed them silently as he saw one cast a torch at the giant Drogodan flag flying on the pinnacle of the Topmast, Drogoda’s tallest tower. As the first of what likely would be many arrows pierced Taren’s flesh, he woke up, sweating, panting, in a bed far to the north of Alquendiro.