Rising Vengeance

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Chapter 16: Remembrance

Taren walked slowly through the streets of An-Aniath. It had been six hundred and fifty years since he had first stood within its walls, a young prince, already laden with the cares of an entire country, for even then many had called for Garrick Garrenin’s removal as Morschcoda. It was the real reason Taren had been sent away to Armanda, so that he would be out of the way. It was not the whole reason Taren had gone, however. Taren had ignored many orders from his father. Being the Prince of Morieden, the largest of Drogoda’s three provinces, largely made up of the northern Plains of Moredo and the Morieden Tribes, he had enough power to challenge his father directly, but he was unknown and had no support outside of the country. Garrick had been even more adept at lying to the Morschcoda than Taren had been. So, he had gone to gain support for himself within Armanda. Nobody, not even Garrick, would have believed that a Drog would willingly ask an Armandan for help, but that had been exactly what Taren had done. He had asked Cereva Gundara for the Flame Weavers. She had refused, mostly for reasons of tradition, but also not wishing to start a war she was not confident of winning. Not even she had suspected just how deep the Drogodan people’s hatred of Garrick had run. But, something happened that Taren had not planned on. He had fallen in love. Cereva’s daughter and heir, Nemira Gundara, had been a beautiful woman, only three years younger than Taren, and Armandan women usually married far younger than women in other countries. She had been seventy nine, and Taren eighty two, but what they shared was not meant to last. After Nemira Gundara died in the third year of their marriage, Taren returned to Alquendiro and challenged his father for the Flowing Throne of Drogoda. And now, he stood within the walls of An-Aniath once again. The city in the desert was where his conquest of Anaria had truly started, but the city of centuries later was different from his memories of it. Many of the grandest buildings were unchanged, but the market had moved, or disappeared completely. A large prison dominated the space which had once been filled with merchant’s shops, street vendors, and exotic colours, the air heavy with southern perfumes, spices, and tobacco and filled with the noises of two hundred vendors competing for attention.

He was almost speechless as he stared at the monolith of black and red rock. “What is this place?”

Xari stepped up beside her new king. “Guinira had this prison built almost as soon as you declared yourself independent from Anaria. It was originally supposed to hold those suspected of spying before their trials, and those convicted afterwards.” She shook her head slowly. “It quickly turned into a prison for her political rivals. Practically anyone who denounced her publically ended up in there for a time. I never did, but it was not because she respected me. She mentioned more than one time that she hoped that even you and Erygan would find yourselves inside of its walls. Whether she would have really tried to arrest you or not, though … I’m not sure.”

Taren accepted Xari’s statement without comment, but he turned away from the prison quickly. Threading his way through the half empty side streets and alleys, he made his way far more quickly through the city than most people knew how to. Xari ran to catch up with him.

“How do you know all of these back ways? You have not been to An-Aniath in what? One hundred years?”

“One hundred years? Maybe since I was last a guest in the city, but I have walked these streets many times, unknown and unmarked. I know An-Aniath as well as you know it, if not better.”

“What is it that you are looking for? I am sure that I could tell you where it is, and how to get there.”

“You could tell me the way that a Morschcoda or nobly born person should use to get where I’m going. That’s a safer way, yes, but it’s not as fast. And I’m not particularly in the mood for more Armandan company at the moment. You, I will allow to come with me, because I don’t think that you will let me go alone.”

“I’m not exactly afraid of you getting hurt.”

“But you will tell Flame Weavers to follow me, and the Spear will follow the Flame Weavers, and then I have two hundred guards when I wanted to share a secret with one person alone.”

“What secret?”

Taren did not answer, just walked in a twisting, complicated maze through the dark, narrow alleys, doing everything he could to not be seen by anyone. Finally, he stopped and looked up at the gated archway right across the street from him. “This secret. Follow me.” Rather than cross the street to the archway, Taren began to climb the side of the building that walled in the alley, parallel to the archway. Once he was high enough up the side, he pushed himself sideways, over the wide street, landing on top of the arch. He dropped down inside, and waved his hand for Xari to follow. She looked at the arch herself before making that decision. Something on the keystone caught her eye. The sign of the Golden Flame was clearly visible. On the stones on either side was inscribed a burning torch, the symbol of her own House Gundara. She understood where Taren had led her, if not why. But instead of following Taren’s route, which he had obviously practiced to the point of perfection, but was almost certain to break her neck, she walked across the street and opened the gate with a key she had tucked into her silk belt. With a gentle push, the iron gates of the Gundara Mausoleum opened without a sound, and Xari and Taren paced along the walkway into the building with a quiet, smooth, reverent stride.

Xari had only once been to her family’s Morschcodal Mausoleum, when her own mother had been laid to rest within its vaulted halls. Now, she walked around, reading all the names of her important recent ancestors. Various titles aside from Morschcoda were engraved upon the plaques of the different vaults. Of course, no bodies were actually in the hall. Only a single ash of the body of each person whose names were written in the stone of the crypt was preserved inside. While Xari lingered on each name, from the first Gundaran Morschcoda, Cereva Gundara, to her own mother, Miana, Taren walked straight to the back. Xari wondered how many times he had made this journey. How many people had known that Taren visited the House Gundara vaults? She could not say. Possibly not even Makret could. She thought that if she could not make Taren tell her why he had come here, she would have to ask the man’s other half if he knew the reason. But then Taren did something even more curious. He turned a corner that Xari had not known was even there. She followed him.

“Behold the rest of your family, Xari Gundara. Almost every man born of House Gundara and every heir to the Throne of Fire that did not live to take their seat is remembered in this avenue. But I only came here for one of them.” Taren walked to the first vault. “Nemira Gundara, first daughter of Cereva. We shared many things in younger days, before I had a nation to rule, and an Empire to forge … Before I was me. Of everyone in Anaria who has ever lived, there is no one left who can tell you the many secrets that Nemira and I shared while I was the Ambassador from Drogoda. Morschcoda and Merchants would pay a fortune of fortunes for the knowledge of me that is represented in the single ash in this vault. And for that reason, Xari” he said as he turned towards her, “I always come here the way I do. Unseen, unguarded, it is the only way I can properly pay my respects to the only reason I stayed in An-Aniath for so long. But now, it is time to go.” Without waiting for her, Taren turned around the corner into the main hall and began to leave the tombs.

Taren thought hard as he turned his back on the mausoleum. Was the prison different from what he had done? The quick answer was yes, but that was not strictly the right one. He had not locked his rivals up. But then he paused to consider how many of his political rivals were still alive. His father was over six hundred years dead, as were two of his brothers. His sister, as the next oldest living Garrenin, was technically his heir, but she was in Rista, married off to the Lord General of the Crystal Sword, well away from him and too far away to interfere. His one remaining brother, as Prince of Morieden, was a more distinct threat, with personal control over the main force of the Drogodan Army, but he still reported not only to Taren, but to Makret as well. ‘No,’ Taren almost said out loud. ‘Elich is as dead as any of them.’ He kept forgetting that Elich had died well over a year before, but he also shed no tears for his fallen brother. Emotions were only a weakness anymore. They meant nothing to him. And what Guinira had done in An-Aniath was almost exactly what he had done in the countries he had captured. He had kept those who had power away from the public until they were ready to bow to him. His thoughts slowly turned from power and maintaining his ever growing empire to the Commander in charge of the Spear of Drogoda in Makret’s absence. Being here in An-Aniath seemed to rekindle the fire of his spirit, the fire that had kindled when he first met Nemira Gundara. ‘But my marriage to Nemira would have been acceptable. A proper marriage, not for love, the world at large would have thought, but for power and stability.’ The thought left him cold inside, any emotional stirrings originating from Edya Reeshnar fading away into nothing. He knew what Makret would have said. ‘You’re being an idiot, Taren. You know that you can’t have her, which is why you feel the attraction. And you know that I’m right.’ Yes, that was exactly what Makret would say, and had said before. Just as his thoughts turned to Makret, what he was doing, if he would be returning to the south with the ‘courier’, Galeth Tendornin himself landed his dragon in the middle of the city.

“My lord,” he yelled, dismounting too quickly and falling onto one knee, which he turned into a bow, a formality that Taren rarely expected from him.

“Peace, Galeth. What brings the Chief Rider of Dragons so far south?”

“My lord, High General Druoth has called out the full strength of the Dragon Hearted. He has launched a full scale invasion on Rista because of insults and threats.”

“Makret, what in the three hells are you doing?” said Taren to himself, looking northward. “How long has it been since you left him?”

“Almost two weeks, though I flew as fast as I could.”

“How Marrdin will respond to this threat, I wonder. He isn’t stupid, but he has clearly done something Makret considers to be beyond forgiveness.”

“Marrdin has already given his response. The new Torridestan border is much closer to Agrista than the old. The Black Guard is out in strength, believing that in Agrista, they will have a chance of holding the lines if the Brotherhood should be unchained to win the north.”

“By all the hells!” Taren swore angrily. “Commander Reeshnar! You are in charge here. Take the Spear back to Alquendiro, and do not leave it. When you get to the city, you are to take full command of the Brotherhood of the Mordak as acting High General of Drogoda. If any of the five Masters disapprove, tell them that the shark smells its own blood. They will not question you. Send out messengers to all the other Morschcoda who answer to me, as well as to El Darnen. There are Mordak Riders who know how to find him. No one is to march at the command of General Druoth unless I say otherwise. Go.” He waited as the one hundred Mordak Riders of the Spear of Drogoda rode away before turning to Xari. “Torridestans kept Portaller Sects in every major city in Anaria. Is there still one here? Or did Guinira drive them away?”

“You may be one of the luckiest men who ever lived, Taren. Not even Guinira could remove the Torridestan Portaller Sect from An-Aniath.”

Taren was rapidly growing frustrated with the short pale man in front of him. “I need to be in Agrista.”

The Torridestan pulled a wad of chewing tobacco out of a pouch on his belt, placed it in his mouth with deliberate care, and crossed his arms as he looked up into Taren’s face. “I’m sorry, my lord, but the Portaller Sects don’t work for just anyone.”

“I’m hardly just anyone.” The man did not budge. “Name your price.”

“While that would be a welcome phrase from anyone else, my lord, I’m not inclined to open the Portal for you. Not even for one thousand paroes.”

“I don’t have time to debate this. I need to be in Agrista before the sun sets.”

“Considering you ’ve just ordered a full scale assault of the north, I don’t see it as that important we comply.”

“And, of course, I can’t threaten you, as that would strand me here as much as anything else.”

“Quite right, my lord.” The man who barred his way grinned in a sarcastic way, increasing Taren’s frustration.

“I’ll give you four thousand.” Taren watched the man try to hold his emotions back. Four thousand paroes was more money than most Morschen of this man’s status would see at any point in their lives. Greed was Taren’s ally. Or so he thought.

“I’m … I’m sorry my lord. It is most generous of you,

“But there are Torridestans at Agrista.”

“Yes. That’s why we refuse to allow you to go there. We don’t want to lose friends and relatives to a man of your power.”

“I’m not going there to kill anybody.” This caught the Torridestans off guard. “I’m going there to see if I can prevent a war before it starts.”

“You … you don’t want …?”

“Why would I be going to Agrista otherwise? General Druoth is one of the most accomplished tacticians of this age. If I wanted him to lay siege to Agrista and take the north by force, I would have given him the whole Brotherhood to do it. Now, by Lasheed himself, get me to Agrista.”

“Well then, for four thousand paroes, it shall be done, my lord.”

Erygan was lounging in a low, comfortable chair enjoying a glass of wine when Taren stepped through the portal from An-Aniath. He looked up lazily and spoke loudly.

“Ah, Taren. I was just about to lay a trap for you in Alquendiro. This is more pleasant, though, you coming here to me.” Motioning to several Tai-Aren Coda, Erygan said “take him.”

“You’re drunk, Erygan.”

“Of course I am. Do you think I would have ordered my men to try and arrest you if I was sober? I’m not an idiot.”

“Good. I already had to pay a fortune just to get here. I don’t have time to deal with you, Erygan.” Taren’s hand strayed oh so close to Mishdonkar’s hilt. “If you force me to, I will kill these men, but if you let me go, I can stop Makret before this turns into a war. All you have to do is stay out of my way.”

“You are already far too late for that, Taren.”

“Makret was not under orders to attack the city.”

Erygan stood up, steadied himself, and looked down at his shorter sometime friend. “I don’t think that your orders matter much to him anymore.”

“He’s not dead, is he?”

“No, unfortunately. But hopefully that changes soon.”

“What are you talking about?”

Erygan, already pale, went whiter. “If you don’t know, you had better come and see.”

Taren gave a small sigh of relief as Erygan guided him to the window. “At least the Brotherhood and the armies of the rest of my empire won’t be called into battle here without a reason” said Taren as he walked to the window beside Erygan.

Erygan’s fur lined cloak billowed as he too turned to face the window. “We may need those armies, Taren.” He pointed out over the once white ice fields, now covered with a massive, sprawling camp. It was not the Dragon Hearted.

“What’s going on?”

“Look and see for yourself.”

And Taren did. He turned to look out of the window, only to see innumerable banners of a single red candle on a black field. “But … those are …”

“Yes Taren. The Deshika have come back. And it appears Makret arranged much of it. The Dragon Hearted arrived, and then the Deshika. Makret went out to meet with the leader, and then stood aside as thousands of the brutes attacked the Dragon Hearted. Two thousand survived.”

“Dragon Hearted, or Deshika?”

“It’s not a joke Taren. The Dragon Hearted wanted to hold the field. I had to send out cavalry just to round up the strays.”

Taren turned from the window, and collapsed against the wall. “Makret can’t be … he just …” He could not find the words. He had lost his father and two brothers in a civil war long ago, by his own hands. “I‘ve killed so many that share my blood. I can’t kill the man who has stood so long beside me. He is more my family than any of the men I have killed were.”

“I think that the man you knew is dead now, Taren. It is, as I said before, unfortunate that Makret still lives. He will be difficult to kill.”

“And he knows almost everything there is to know about me. This is the real reason he came north. Not because I ordered him here, but because my sister, the one who will rule Drogoda when I am gone, she’s somewhere in Rista.” He had not told even Makret his greatest secret, and now, he was glad he had not. He still suspected that Makret knew that his heir was not his sister.

“We need to find a way to kill Makret. If he dies, their hope of conquering Anaria without destroying everything in it withers to almost nothing.”

“Even if we do kill Makret, and I’m not sure that even I can, we don’t have the strength to make a last stand here at Agrista. Erygan, Marrdin, I need you to get all the civilians out of the city. Take them to Alquendiro, or better yet, Dorok-Baan. I will buy you all the time I can.”

“But Taren -” Marrdin tried to begin.

“No, Marrdin. There are not buts. This must be done. Take El Kardi Morschcoda to Dishmo Kornara. And get the Dragon Hearted, what is left of them at least, back to Airachni. If there are more than five hundred soldiers left here in the city … well, I guess I won’t live long enough for you to experience my displeasure.”

“Taren ...”

Taren had not looked up from the ground since he had sagged against the wall. He did not look up even now. “Yes, Erygan?”

“I’m sorry.”

Standing up slowly and stiffly, Taren looked the taller, pale, black cloaked Morschcoda in the eye. “I am sorry too, old friend. Sorry that Anaria will never be united under one banner, and sorry that that plan almost cost us our friendship.”

Erygan nodded slowly once, using the motion to disguise blinking back the single tear that formed in his eye. “We’re going.”

Taren watched the armies of Torridestan and Ristan Morschen as they quickly abandoned the city. Within hours, there were fewer than three hundred Ristan Morschen and Morschledu to hold the walls, men and women who would not leave, who would not let their city fall without a fight. Their sacrifice, thought Taren, should and would be honoured above anything he himself had done with his life. Taren turned and walked to the gate, which he had ordered be opened for him. He would hold it alone. Others would only get in his way, and the only blood he wanted on his sword was Deshik blood, not the blood of heroes. Turning one last corner, he drew Mishdonkar, the sword that had earned its name so many times on so many battlefields. The sword had killed his brothers. The sword had ended his father’s life. Mishdonkar would drink the blood of the Deshika warriors more readily than any Morschen blood it had ever tasted. Standing alone in the centre of the gate, he waited. And as he waited, he sang softly to himself. It was a song he had composed the day that Nemira had been ceremonially burned in keeping with Armandan custom. He had sung it for the first time as Nemira was being placed onto her pyre. He had not sung it, or any of the other, less refined poetry he had once written, since that day. He had been a different man before Nemira.

Oh Wife of mine, we hear the Heralds calling

From camp to camp outside the city walls

We know that soon now we must ri-ide forth to meet them,

May our swords be sharp, our arms be strong now in our need

Oh Wife of mine, we fear the Sleep Without A Waking

When we you lay a-board a cold grey ship,

With all our arms, and treasures piled round us

It is more than our heavy hearts can stand

Oh Wife of mine, look ever for my coming

For sound of horns, and glad voices listen well,

If I return, then with you I will tarry

And go not forth, to meet with them again

Oh Wife of mine, I hear the Heralds calling

From camp to camp, outside the city walls

I no more fear the Sleep Without A Waking

For my heart knows, I’ll wake next to you again

“Sir.” The voices of the Deshika never failed to make Makret shudder, though he was slowly learning how to mask the spasm. They were low, hissing almost, like a snake, and they horribly mangled and abused the language that Makret knew so well. Still, he preferred that they abuse his language than he lower himself to the point of learning theirs. “General, the gate of the city is opening.”

Makret looked toward Agrista, and yes, the gate stood open. But he could make out that the way was not clear. His eyesight, better than that of the Deshika he was now surrounded with, could make out one lone figure, with a long sword. “The gate is open, but the way is not clear.”

“No army can stand against us.”

Makret almost laughed. No army could stand against the Deshika? It was true from the Deshika’s point of view, but he put no trust in them. The Dragon Hearted had stood firm to a man, though they had been surrounded, outnumbered, and taken by surprise. And still, nearly half had escaped into the city. Those were probably at Airachni already, rationalizing their running by saying that they would make their last stand one of more importance on a greater battlefield, a last stand to endure through the ages as the greatest deed of the Morschen, thanks to the thousands of Torridestans who had arrived minutes before the attack on the Dragon Hearted. But Erygan had been smarter than to send his main army into the fray, though his cavalry had ridden through the mess, rescuing many Meclaryans. His main host would have lost. Erygan knew that well.

“Send in a force to take the city. One thousand should be more than enough. I will lead it myself.”

The War Chief bowed in his people’s peculiar way, with the two lower hands placed on the stomach and the two upper arms stretched outward. “As you command.”

Edya Reeshnar was surprised to see the banners of Torridesta and Rista before the gates of Alquendiro, but she had her orders. She did not believe that Taren would disapprove of her use of the Portaller Sects to move the Spear northward quicker. Still, she avoided the two large camps as well as she could. At least, until two heralds began riding towards the city, calling for whoever led Drogoda’s military to come forward and take council with Morschcoda Erygan Dalrey and Marrdin Redernin. The heralds were in front of her, so she waited until they turned around and began to ride back. “Yes?”

“Are you a military leader of Drogoda?”

“Not quite. I am recently appointed by Morschcoda Taren Garrenin as commander of the Spear of Drogoda, and acting High General of the armies of the Drogodan Empire. I have yet to take real command of the Brotherhood or the rest of the army.” The herald of Torridesta was about to say something, but a horn blew in the city, and the gate opened as the five Masters of the Brotherhood exited to meet with the heralds. The stopped a bit in front of Edya, more surprised to see her than she was to see them.

“Commander Reeshnar. We believed you to still be in Armanda with Morschcoda Garrenin.”

She knew what that meant. The Masters of the Brotherhood believed that with the Garrenins and Makret out of the country, they could assume control over the Drogodan Empire. Only she was there, as Taren’s supporter, and Commander of the Spear of Drogoda. The symbolism of the Spear was even more important than their legendary abilities. Whoever they supported, the people and the rest of the army would as well. So, she found it hard to keep the sarcasm out of her voice when she answered. “Well, Morschcoda Garrenin has gone north. He instructed me to take command of the Drogodan Empire personally, as acting High General in both his and General Druoth’s absence.” Her meaning was obvious. The five Masters were currently the most powerful people in the country, but she had just ordered them to mind their own business.

“And how do we know that these orders come from his highness? Surely you have proof.”

“The shark smells its own blood, Master Veened Coido. I do not have the time required to give you the proof you seem to need so desperately.”

The five Masters looked at each other in shock. Veened Coido looked like he was going to be sick. The others did not look much better.

Edya turned to the two heralds. “Now that I have taken the powers I was granted, I can say that I am the military leader of Drogoda at this time.”

The heralds wasted no time. “You will come with us.” She raised an eyebrow, and the Torridestan herald sheepishly changed the order to something that could pass for a request. It was not necessarily any more easily refused.

She reluctantly followed the two men into a small pavilion between the two camps. Both Erygan and Marrdin were there already.

“Who are you?” asked Marrdin, coldly. He had been given good reason to mistrust Drogs as of late.

“I am Commander Edya Reeshnar of the Spear of Drogoda. In addition to this, in High General Druoth’s absence, I am acting High General of the armies of the Drogodan Empire.”

“I think you will find your station more permanent than you thought.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Deshika have returned to Anaria. It is unfortunate, but … General Druoth has apparently been a spy, possibly for quite a long time now. He turned on the Dragon Hearted.”

“It can’t be.” She shook her head, almost laughing. “Whatever the two of you have been drinking, I would like to try it.”

“We aren’t joking.” Edya still looked like she thought it was all a joke. “Much as we hate to say it, we know what we saw.”

She was about to say something else, but she looked into Erygan’s face, and lost most of her confidence. She looked into Marrdin’s, and lost the rest. She knew then that they spoke the truth. “I have to send out messages, and quickly, to the Morschcoda and armies now under my command.”

“My men will take them.”

“Thank you Morschcoda Erygan, but Drogs must go. You, at least, could help them to go quicker.”

One of her men had followed her and spoke up now. “General, what is the message, and I will see that it is delivered.”

“Thank you, Captain. The message … The Deshika have returned to Anaria. All orders from Makret Druoth are to be ignored dating back to the start of the month.”

“Is that all?”

“I don’t think there is any need to disclose to Anaria at large, yet, that Makret Druoth has betrayed us.”

“The Morschcoda that these orders go to will know that that is exactly what they mean, Commander ... Sorry, General Reeshnar.” Erygan’s lips wrapped distastefully around the word sorry, but he hid it well.

Marrdin agreed with him. “Every one of us has had to replace a rogue commander of some kind. Thank Lasheed it was never anyone like Makret Druoth before now.” Edya looked at Marrdin, and knew he was right, but she could not think of any other way to give her message. The captain she issued them to stepped out to give orders, and then came back.

“The messages will be off within the hour.”

“Good. Now, leave us, and prepare the Brotherhood for battle. I have a feeling that Makret will be coming for us soon.” The man bowed and left.

“General, there is something else you should know.” Erygan paused and looked around to make sure no one could hear him. “Taren stayed behind at Agrista. He intends to sell his life dearly, and hopefully, take Druoth with him.”

Edya sat down heavily, her limbs suddenly weak. Marrdin produced a small glass bottle, which turned out to contain rum. He poured a glass full, which, as any Drog would have done, Edya poured down her throat without even thinking. Marrdin looked impressed, but Edya’s thoughts were already passed the excellent rum. She found her voice at last.

“The thought of Makret being a traitor, it just isn’t possible. And the thought of Makret and Taren, fighting to the death.” She shook her head. “They were closer than brothers.” Marrdin refilled the cup that she held out to him.

“And with the sword, they suffered few rivals, except for each other. It will be a spectacular display of sword mastery, no matter the consequences for Anaria. For if Taren falls, not even Dishmo Kornara will stand against Makret and whoever else has joined him. If Taren succeeds, we still lose, for I doubt that he will escape from Agrista, and we shall have lost two of the greatest military leaders Anaria has ever known.”

Taren watched as the column of Deshika marched towards the city. He could clearly see Makret leading the soldiers, as he knew Makret could see him. When they were within hearing distance, he spoke. “You will go no further.” A laugh went up in response. Taren noticed in a detached sort of way that Makret alone did not laugh, maybe because he knew that Taren was right. As long as he stood there, the Deshika would not enter the city. “You will turn around and leave these shores, or you will die here, wishing you had taken my offer.”

“We do not fear you, pathetic human.” Makret winced, and he alone seemed to notice the change that happened in Taren.

“I am not human.” Taren’s voice was cold as ice, sharper than the Dwarven Steel he wielded. His next words came through clenched teeth, but they were clearly heard nonetheless. “No one. Calls. Me. HUMAN!” Taren charged, not caring that he had left the relative protection of the gates. The first thing he did was execute the Deshik warrior, a War Chief, he noticed in the same kind of detached way that he had noticed that Makret had not laughed, with extreme violence and prejudice. As a blur of blue steel and flesh, the whirlwind that was Taren chopped all four hands off of the War Chief. Next went the warrior’s arms below the elbows, all four of them. The rest of his arms from the shoulders followed bare moments after. In three strokes, taking maybe two seconds, so quickly was Taren moving in his rage, he hewed the War Chief’s feet, knees, and then the remainder of his legs off. The War Chief landed upright, his head, once towering nearly nine feet above the ground was now just five feet from it, and by some force of his own will, or some unknown malicious magic of Taren’s, the Chief was still alive. And then Taren removed his head. Deciding that the crime had not been punished enough, he waded into the Deshik ranks. Within one minute, over fifty Deshika had been so thoroughly slaughtered that it seemed there must have been one hundred attackers, not just one. Nor did Taren stop there. His vengeance was not yet complete, and he was determined, now, that everyone who had heard that one Deshika call him human should die for the simple crime of hearing the word. He was not human. He was far more, and being far greater, he held humans in contempt. They were lesser beings, weaker, short lived, and Ringless. Finally, Taren’s caution overcame his rage. He had destroyed over two hundred Deshika, and now stood alone in a field of bodies. The Deshika were retreating, routed, back to their camp. Makret stared at Taren, as if waking from a dream. Not even he had known the true depths of Taren’s loathing of humans. Their eyes locked for a split second, and it seemed to some of those watching from the walls that the two men struggled with each other, but it was over before many had noticed, and Makret turned his Mordak back to his camp. Taren watched him all the way, and then turned and walked proudly back to the gate, where he waited eagerly for the next attack the Deshika Chieftains would send towards the city.

It was not long in coming.

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