Chapter 26: The Raging Storm
Try though she did, Edya could not refute Makret’s statements. The Kindler would crush Anaria, or if he did not, others of the Seven Devils would crush it for him. It was an impossible situation, but it was her duty to ensure that, if nothing else, the fall of the Morschen was glorious, and would forever inspire awe and terror among the Deshika. Shaking her head at those thoughts, she turned once more to the detailed drawings of the Deshik camps given to her by the few Dragon Riders that dared the skies north of the Emin-Tal Highlands. The Deshik Shamans were not adept at harnessing and wielding the wild elemental magic that was powerful throughout Anaria’s wilds, but their own magic, their twisted abominations of the Morschledu’s art, was still dangerous, and even more so to the Morschen who had never fought against such things. Eight Dragon Riders had died to get these drawings. Galeth Tendornin had been one of them. His loss was a heavy blow against the Morschen and to her especially, as he was one of her last links to Taren, and only served to inflame the argument that Anaria was already lost and that if the Deshika wanted Anaria, they could have it. The Morschen could go elsewhere. Edya pulled out a larger map that showed Meclarya in detail as Kallin walked in.
“Is there any news?” She asked him.
“None that you want to hear or have not heard before.”
“Are things still going that badly?”
“No. But they are not going well.” He walked over to the map and pointed as he spoke. “Daken has decided that the Emin-Tal Plateau is far too valuable strategically to just hand over to the Deshika. He has abandoned Airachni and marched to the Highlands. Reports say that he actually drove back the Deshik front.”
“That’s not unhopeful.”
“I have heard from some of our fellow Morschcoda. Apparently, Makret has decided that his most immediate threat is Meclarya. He has withdrawn most of his forces from western Rista. Erygan believes he is able to retake it, but he waits for word from you. The southern Morschcoda are attempting to organize their armies. They mean to march north to aid Daken.”
“Despite the Serpent’s assurances, Gelida has not been seen or heard from since Daliana returned to Alquendiro from the mountains, almost a month ago. But what of Daliana? I have heard nothing from her since she went back to Eshtam-Nis.”
Edya shook her head as she answered. “Neither have I.” Kallin lowered his head, his eyes half closed, trying to push past his mental limits to call on Daliana, two hundred leagues away. Edya closed her eyes and bowed her head. In her mind, she tried desperately to find a place of calm, a flat pool as still as glass that reflected nothing, such as she did when she fought with other Tai-Aren Coda. But she could not loose herself from her thoughts. Finally, she looked up again at Kallin, who had made no progress. “Tell Erygan that he can try to retake western Rista, but he can’t hold it. We need his armies. Tell him that I need him to be at the Emin-Tal Highlands with the rest of the Morschcoda. He need not worry about his lands. With luck, we’ll draw the eye of The Kindler to the south.”
“I will do that.” He seemed, to Edya, to be against the idea, but she had no choice. If they ground this force out of existence, it might scare the other Deshik armies enough that they would not come. Unfortunately, that also meant that some of the Deshika had to survive the war to escape across the sea. The Kindler certainly would not spread the news of the Deshika being routed in a way that would inspire terror among the rest of the Deshik armies.
Edya went back to the roof of the palace. As far she was concerned, the view from the roof could not be matched by anything in all of the rest of Anaria. On calm days, the sea was tranquil, lying flat and still, and in clear air, it was said that one could see as far as the Miashny Islands that lay near the center of the massive inland sea. ‘Today’ thought Edya sullenly ‘is no such day.’ The Sea of Drogoda, tossed by the wind that was roaring down from the north, held a wild and dangerous beauty. The white caps of the waves crashing into the blue and green water, or against the grey stone and water blackened wood of the piers, reminded her and everyone else of the raw power of the ocean unchained. She leaned against the tall battlement of the palace rooftop and sighed.
“Unfortunately, such powers are of no help us,” said a voice behind her.
She jumped at the voice. It sounded so much like Taren that she had to choke back a cry as she turned around. Even then, she had a hard time believing, as before when she first saw him, that El Darnen and Taren were different people.
“That makes two questions that I need to ask you.”
“No. I haven’t managed to convince my people to remain in Anaria. I’ve argued with them for two weeks now.”
“Actually, I was more concerned with how you knew what I was thinking, and with how you got up here when it is forbidden to all but a few people.” Another question leapt to her lips. “Have you seen or heard from Gelida since you were here last?”
“I will answer three questions, then. First, Taren and I often spoke up here. The guards haven’t changed, and they remember me. As for how I knew what you were thinking, I’m a Ringlord of Water, and when I stood here last, I thought that if I could unchain the oceans themselves, perhaps that would return this land to peace. Sadly, the task is beyond me. The Ringlords of old were more powerful by far than those of us who walk the world’s weary circles today, but I think that it would’ve been beyond even them.”
Edya fell silent. As unhopeful as his speculations and musings were, they gave her a strange sense of comfort. She almost felt like a young soldier again, with her commanding officer reassuring her. Nothing had calmed her raw nerves half so well as the reassurance of a man of great experience. El Darnen may have been a criminal to most of Anaria, but he was still one of the closest things to Taren that existed, and with the death of Galeth, maybe the only real tie to him that she had left. She turned again to the sea, and saw that, though the storm still raged, the water moved with less violence than before. “And Gelida?”
“As for Gelida … she has more pressing concerns than sending messages back and forth between Galzeen and Alquendiro. The city is divided. Many of the Noldorin want the same thing that my people do … to leave and never come back. She is having a hard time holding the people to her, and she refuses to have her armies march against those she swore to protect as their Morschcoda.”
“The timing is too perfect.”
“You sense it too?”
“There is more to the division in Noldoron than mere coincidence. I have to go.”
“Go, and you will die. This must be what The Kindler wants. To distract us, force us to look westward even as he brings his armies down along the coast. If Drogoda marches to Noldoron, even just to restore peace, then Meclarya, Grathen Province, and Caladea will fall.”
“We need her armies.”
“You don’t need them that badly. Not yet.”
“I can’t allow Noldoron to fall. Gelida is too strong of a leader to waste her life before the war has even started.”
The two stood in silence, staring out at the raging water. “I’ll do what I can.”
“You need someone to restore order in Noldoron. The Greshida hasn’t abandoned me yet. We will do this one last thing before leaving, to ensure that everyone knows that we did our part.”
“El Darnen, I …”
“I know, Edya. I won’t likely see you again, so goodbye.”
The Kindler looked at the man before him. He knelt on his left knee, his left hand rested on the hilt of a long, nameless sword that The Kindler knew he could wield with deadly ability. His right hand bore a Ring of silver, set with a band of small sapphires that wound around the entire circle, like a small river between silver shores. The Ring reminded him of the first days of the war that had raged throughout all the long ages of the world, thought to have ended with the upstart wretch Taren that he himself had killed. It had only started a long period of waiting while the Seven still slumbered. The shores of the lands belonging to The Seven had been closer to the lands of the cursed Nations of the League of Anaria, of which there were now only ten. Those days had been a time when only a wide river had separated the two continents, and the League was made up of all manner of beings: Cartarin from beyond the mountains, humans from Alega and Acrosa, Anarian Morschen, Elves, Dwarves, and the mysterious Forgers. Now the barrier river had become a vast ocean, wider than he even cared to contemplate, and the League of Anaria was long broken. The Cartarin, if there were any left, no longer trusted the Morschen, and the Morschen had all but forgotten the Cartarin’s existence. The Forgers had been exterminated, and the Elves had fled. The Dwarves had retreated deep into their underground realms, and had not been seen since the end of The Eternal War. And the humans of Alega and Acrosa, they were under The Kindler’s rule. Even had they been free of him, the Morschen despised the humans across the ocean, if they even knew that their ancient allies still existed. The Ring on Makret’s hand was significant for other reasons than the memories it triggered. The man who bowed before him could have been one of his greatest enemies, second only to one who was now dead. ‘It is a good thing’ thought The Kindler in the deepest recesses of his mind, where not even the others of The Seven could have heard him, ‘that these wretched Morschen do not know what their ancestors were truly capable of. What they themselves are still capable of.’ Yes, he could feel the true strength of the wild currents of raw elemental magic that coursed through Makret Druoth. This was a man of incredible power, whose strength harkened back through a long lineage unbroken to the fathers of the youngest and greatest of the Morschen Nations. And Makret Druoth, the arrogance of his forefathers as clearly a part of him as it was of others in those days, long after the wars between their kind and his, met and held his stare, something few mortals had ever done and lived to tell of. In a way, the man’s arrogance impressed The Kindler. If any of The Seven should truly fall, not just be put to sleep, but die indeed, here was one who was worthy of replacing them. Finally, The Kindler spoke as he turned around, hating that a mortal could match his gaze.
“You now have the strength that you have long claimed you needed. You will march on Dishmo Kornara, and you will do it soon.”
“These petty skirmishes you have me engage in are more costly than you seem to think, my lord. The Meclaryan people will not leave this land in peace while any still live. Nor will they retreat willingly, not without dealing every last stroke that they wish to. Many of the Deshika would rather run than stand when they hear the roars and battle cries of the Dragon Hearted. So, though I have the strength to attack the great city of the Ringlords, it would hardly suffice to get us to the walls, for we must conquer Meclarya first, or leave a mighty people unfought to aid our enemies as they will.”
“I will not have these excuses. I told you-” he started, but Makret cut him off.
“If you wish to lead this army yourself, then kill me now. If not, then I will lead this army as I must to ensure that it survives.” Shock, more than anything, kept The Kindler from responding. No one had ever interrupted him before. “We’re far from reinforcements here, and the Drogodan fleet has been attacking our ships and withdrawing as only they are able to. We’ve lost many of our remaining ships. And my spies report that Drogoda’s new Morschcoda, Edya Reeshnar, also my replacement as High General of the armies of Imperial Drogoda, has both replaced her former incompetent Admiral with a man of great power and experience and has also ordered the arming of merchant ships. None of our remaining ships could leave Anaria now, even if we were desperate enough to try to send them.”
The Kindler considered Makret’s words. As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, he had to agree with his famous Morschen General. On the battlefield, Ringlords were dangerous enough. Behind massive walls as old as time, impregnated with hundreds of spells to bind the ancient rocks together, Ringlords would be beyond dangerous. Slowly, The Kindler nodded, and turned back to face Makret Druoth. “Gather all our forces. Prepare to march on the Morschen armies at Emin-Tal.”
“What if they don’t march to meet us?”
“They will, Druoth. Now, you have your orders.”
“Yes, my lord Kindler.”