The Devil's Dominion

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Chapter 16: Ra-Diavere

Makret examined the city carefully. It would be easy to hide there, but he also knew he could be more easily recognized in a city like the Caladean capital.

“What choice do you have, Makret?” he asked himself out loud. There was no one there to hear him anyway, not at that hour. The Silver Moon Celebrations had been going on for several hours already, and would continue through the night until the Red Dawn. Every city in Anaria held their own celebration, and of all of the ones he had been to, Toredo’s was by far the most interesting. There, the city’s inhabitants, nocturnal by nature, would perform many complicated rituals whose purpose he did not really understand. He had only ever gone because the Merchant’s Conclave in Torridesta was particularly powerful, and rich, and held at least one fantastic banquet. He had also hated to be in Drogoda for the Silver Moon. Too many people could recognize him easily. In other countries, he could enjoy himself. Caladea’s celebrations were rather more subdued, as the Silver Moon had less influence on their magic than it did with countries like Torridesta and Drogoda. Still, the Silver Moon was a sacred time, and Makret knew that if he was to enter Ra-Diavere, there would be no better chance. The city guards would be anxious to participate in the revelry and would not be watching for him or any other of Guinira’s more dangerous enemies. The Deshik garrison in the city would be another matter, though, but one he was confident he could get around. If he was lucky, the garrison in the city might not have heard news of his treachery yet, and would not only not arrest him, but would follow his orders. With all this in mind, bringing a small and wary smile to his lips, Makret set out on the short walk to Ra-Diavere’s southwestern gate.

The bored guard noticed Makret and decided that if he wanted to keep his job, he should pull the armed man aside and at least ask him his business. Makret was not surprised that he was chosen out of the small crowd surrounding him. He was clearly the most noticeable; taller than the average Caladean, wearing armour that was clearly not from the country’s army, and wearing a helmet easily identifiable to any soldier as one belonging to the fallen Spear of Drogoda.

The only thing that Makret thought was ‘by the gods, don’t recognize me. Just take me for some Hunter, or even a mercenary. Anyone but who I really am.’ He stopped as the guard walked over and looked him up and down.

“State your name.”

“Carish Mordo.” It was a name Makret had used several times when he was on assignments from Taren that were of dubious legality under the Anarian Treaty. The guard looked like he did not believe him, but nodded anyway.

“Country of birth?”

“Rista.” This time the guard raised an eyebrow, making a point of examining Makret’s black hair, his armour, and his sword.

“Good enough for me. What brings you to Ra-Diavere?”

“I was trailing a target. He came here, so I followed.”

“Hunter, eh? We do not normally allow your sort inside the walls. Or we used to not, when Morschcoda Marsharin was in power. Now that we have Guinira …” He shook his head. “Either way, we don’t tolerate murder within our walls. If you must kill your victim while you are in the city, at least make self defense seem plausible.” “I’ll try.”

“Good. If you are looking for a room for the night, though, well … you should’ve got here earlier. We may be under Armandan control, but we still had people lined up half a league long to get inside.” “I appreciate the warning.”

“Well then, be on your way. And,” he pulled Makret closer and lowered his voice, “General Druoth, there are still some guards who will recognize the name Carish Mordo. You’re lucky that it was me and not one of them who questioned you.” Makret did his best to ignore the guard’s change in demeanor. “Why?”

“Because some of those other guards remember when you were Taren’s right hand, and still curse you as a traitor. They don’t seem to see the parallels between you and them, if you take my meaning.” He released Makret.

“They had less choice than I did.”

“Exactly. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t be so proudly wearing that helmet. Even if other guards don’t recognize you, some of Guinira’s Morschledu Hunters might take their chances at the sight of it, without thinking about who it is wearing the thing.” The guard looked around them, trying to appear casual. “Just a warning, sir.” Makret thought for a moment. Clearly this man was on the fence about Guinira, but he would continue to do what he felt was his duty regardless of who was in control of the city. “There has been no word from An-Aniath recently, has there?” “Nothing that I have been informed of, sir.”

Makret nodded, weighing the risks. The guard wore neither insignia nor rank, so Makret didn’t know if he was someone who mattered enough to be informed if Makret was a branded traitor. “I don’t want this spread around just yet, but I’m here to take personal command of Ra-Diavere. Guinira, gods only know why, seems to believe that I need a break from the front lines, and Ra-Diavere is about as far from them as I can get.” He paused for a moment. It was believable, but missing something. “Unofficially, though, she’s less than pleased with the current Governor, and I’m here to bring the city back into line. So, I will be making the rules soon. I don’t want it known that I’m here yet, though.” “I understand, sir. No one will hear from me that you are in the city until you give the word.”

“Good man.”

Inside the city, people were everywhere. Merchants who knew where to set up had made a small fortune from their goods, one that they would continue to build upon with everything from Armandan silk to coral jewelry from the Mid-Ocean islands and Dothorin pipeweed. Taverns were overflowing with celebrants already deep in their cups. Thieves roamed at will, dipping expert fingers into unguarded pockets, using small knives to slit the bottoms of satchels to see what treasures would fall out. One made the mistake of trying to see what, if anything, the tall, armed man wearing the Mordak Rider’s helmet had hidden about him. Makret broke the man’s arm and left him sagging against a nearby wall. That got attention. Two town guards shouldered their way through the crowd towards the man’s shriek and a frightened woman’s scream, but Makret was already well away.

The night passed slowly, ending about an hour before dawn with a breathtaking display of skill from several Caladean light painters. Living up to the reputations of their art, they decorated the starless sky with strange designs, beautiful to look at, but with hidden meaning that not everyone could see. Makret found himself standing beside a Deshik War Chief who was staring upwards unblinking, drinking in the exotic display of colour over the city. Finally, as the last lines of light were fading into the black sky behind them, Makret spoke to the War Chief.

“Who is in charge of the Deshik garrison in this city?”

“Who are you to ask such a question?”

Makret knew that this was a gamble that he had to take, but one that could end very badly. “I am High General Makret Druoth.”

The Deshik’s eyes widened in shock and awe. “I am honoured by your visit, High General.” The War Chief composed himself, drew himself up to attention, and bowed. “It is I that commands the Deshik garrison here. To what do we owe this great pleasure?” “I’ve come to take personal command of Ra-Diavere, but I will do so in the morning. Right now, I am going to see if I can find a place to spend what little remains of this night. I will be inspecting the garrison tomorrow. I expect to find everything in order.” “Yes sir.” The War Chief bowed again, with upper hands outstretched and lower hands crossed over his stomach.

Makret rolled out of bed slowly after only four hours of sleep. He felt that it was important for him to get to the barracks early and take control of the garrison, but he did not know what to expect. The War Chiefs he had commanded before had never seemed smart enough to actively deceive him, and he knew that at least one of those who had been at Agrista, and had been with him at Emin-Tal, would be in the city. They had never known when they were being lied to, at least. He felt that it was safe to say that the War Chief’s reaction to him was an honest one, but if word reached An-Aniath that he had taken command of Ra-Diavere, Guinira would come for the city. And she wouldn’t come alone.

The barracks were only a short distance from the inn where he had spent the night, but he walked slowly. The Red Dawn, though a time more important to Caladea than the Silver Moon, was one of the very rare occasions where most Diavarans, as the city’s residents called themselves, did not rise with the sun. Makret savoured the empty streets and the feeling of solitude. Between the inn and the barracks, he passed two brothels, a university, three taverns which had yet to be deserted, and more than one dozen artists watching and painting the rising red sun.

Makret, though he had enjoyed his quiet walk, was glad to reach his destination. He expected guards, but he did not expect what he found when he got there. Five ranks of Caladean Burning Suns in full dress uniform snapped to attention as he entered the courtyard, while across from them stood Deshik Death Stalkers, also formally dressed in black armour, standing in ranks of twenty-one, seven across and three deep. A War Chief stood at the front of each squad of Death Stalkers, three in all, while the first line of the Burning Suns had formed completely from officers and decorated veterans. For one moment, Makret’s only thought was that he was underdressed. His second was that he might be able to convince the Burning Suns to desert and join their Morschcoda in Eshtam-Nis. After an appropriate pause, he began walking between the two forces towards the barracks door, where a fourth War Chief, the one he had met that night, stood at attention beside a much smaller Caladean General. Both bowed to Makret as he drew closer to them.

“We are ready for your inspection, General Druoth.”

Makret nodded to the War Chief and turned to the Caladean beside him. “Dismiss your men. If there are any Remnant spies in the city and they see this …” He paused and gestured behind him. “It’s better not to let them know that something is going on.” “Yes sir.” Stepping past Makret, the short Caladean shouted orders. “Dismissed.” The Burning Suns separated quickly into various groups. The Death Stalkers were more unorganized, taking their time and moving with exaggerated caution. Makret knew well just how fast a Deshik Death Stalker could move. He had fought several, and their size did not hinder their speed and agility. They could move with all the grace of a Drog Tai-Aren Coda, but because of their size, they were far stronger. With the abilities of the Death Stalkers and the number of Burning Suns still alive in the city on his mind, Makret began to puzzle out a plan as he allowed himself to be lead through the compound by the two leaders.

After his tour of the barracks, Makret had his plan mostly worked out. “General …”

“General Erbin Trag, my lord.”

“I’m not a lord.” General Trag bowed his head in apology. “General, a guard on the Southwestern Gate last night allowed a Hunter named Carish Mordo into the city. I want that guard sent to me right away.” Makret walked over to an east-facing window and looked up at the Morschcodal Palace, painted red and gold in the Red Dawn’s morning light. “I am going to the palace to speak to the governor in charge of Ra-Diavere and to finish my report. Send him there.” “Shall I send a messenger to Governor Dieth, sir, informing him to be ready for you?”

“No. If he isn’t prepared to receive someone by now, a message won’t help him.”

Trag nodded his understanding, but still spoke up about a part of Makret’s orders that had sparked his curiosity. “I thought Carish Mordo was dead, sir.”

Makret stopped short. “So did I, General.” He turned around. “I want that guard. Don’t tell him why he is being summoned. He should know the reason.”

Makret had just dismissed Guinira’s pet Governor Mirrin Dieth when General Trag and the guard who had recognized Makret the previous night entered the room.

“General Trag.”

“High General Druoth. This is the guard.”

“Very good. Dismissed.”

“With all due respect, sir, if this man is to be disciplined, I should be here as a witness.”

“And what makes you think I want witnesses?”

“Carish Mordo is a dangerous man. If this guard is in league with him …”

“Carish Mordo is indeed a very dangerous man, but I can assure you that this guard is not in league with him. I am and always have been that Hunter.” That caught Trag off guard. “Now, General, you are dismissed for the moment. But I am planning on sending the Burning Suns out on maneuvers. See to it that they are prepared.” “Do you have a particular destination in mind, General?”

“Whitesun Mountain. Most of the maneuvers will take place in the forest that surrounds it.” The short Caladean bowed and left. The guard looked worried, but stood at attention while Makret examined him. “What is your name?” “Guard Captain Carrod Horshen, sir.”

“Captain? Good.” Makret stroked the beard he had allowed to grow since escaping An-Aniath. “I need your help, Captain.”

“With what, sir?”

“First, relax. Second, I need to know where your true loyalties lay.” A blank stare greeted Makret. “Tell me.” Sweat beaded on Carrod’s face. “Now!”

The man broke. His tight lips fell into a frown and his head dropped down to his chest, as if he was scared to meet Makret’s stare. “With my Morschcoda, sir.” The man took a breath and straightened, meeting Makret’s eyes. “I have no love for Guinira or the Deshika, sir. My loyalties are with my Morschcoda and House Marsharin. They have been good rulers to my people.” Makret sat down on what had once been the Sun Throne and pressed his fingers together. “Good.”

Carrod blinked several times, trying to process Makret’s one-word response. “Sir?”

“There is no love wasted between Guinira and myself, Captain.” The guard’s relief was visible. “Now, I need your help. How many guards do you think you can trust? How many do you think would join the Remnant if they could get out of the city?” “I think most of them, sir. I know that the battalion of the Burning Sun that Morschcoda Marsharin left here was dying to go with her, or at least fight for the city when the time came, but she left orders. If the Deshika conquered, we weren’t to fight. We were to surrender and continue to do our duty to the people.” “I was in Meclarya when Ra-Diavere fell. I heard it had been easy. I didn’t know that they had just walked in.”

“We wanted to fight, but we had orders, and we believed our Morschcoda would come back and free us, but she hasn’t, and all but a few have lost faith.”

Makret nodded, and explained his plan. “The Burning Sun is going out on maneuvers, as you heard. I need you to take a message to any of their leaders you think can be trusted that they are to await you and any other members of the Guard that you can find at Whitesun Mountain willing to join the Remnant. Then, you are leaving the country behind, and going to your Morschcoda.” “How will I get that many town guards out of duty on the same day?”

“I will be going with you. You will act as my escort.”

“But if the guards and Burning Sun were still in the city when the Remnant tries to take it back, the battle would go much better, would it not?”

“For a guard Captain, you understand strategy well,” said Makret, standing back up. “But if I have my way, then protecting Ra-Diavere from the Morschledu Remnant will be the least of Guinira’s worries.” …

Not far from the border of Caladea, the four Hunters stumbled upon a sign that Makret Druoth had indeed gone towards Ra-Diavere. A small pile of discarded armour, easily identified by Veena as the armour of Makret Druoth, was a clear message. Druoth was travelling light, with little armour and only one weapon.

“He’s going somewhere he believes he’ll be safe.”

“But where? He’s easily recognizable, even in small towns. He could hide in a city, but that means Ra-Diavere.”

“Gorshcki has a point.” Car squatted down and began drawing a map. It showed Caladea in detail, and Veena, who before she had become a Hunter had been a Demosira renowned for her knowledge of Anarian geography, could find nothing wrong with it. She knelt beside Car to see if she could figure out what Makret planned to do.

She stuck the point of her knife into the hollow dot that Car had made for Ra-Diavere. “If we assume that Makret has gone to Ra-Diavere, then he’s there by now. But he wouldn’t be foolish enough to go to the center of Guinira’s power in Caladea.” “Maybe he isn’t the fool.”

“What do you mean, Grrwa?”

“What if he guessed that Guinira has not publically branded him a traitor? What if he went there and declared himself? His status as Armanda’s High General would guarantee that whoever is in power would cooperate with him, because they would be afraid that Makret would send a message to Guinira to have them replaced, if he did not just do it himself.” “And then, by the time Guinira has found out about Makret, he’ll be in complete control of Ra-Diavere. He could order the Deshika out, and close the city.” Gorshcki did not look pleased as he said it. Veena did not seem to agree.

She was still crouching, tapping one of her fingers against the hilt of her knife. “I have no love for the Deshika, nor do I care for Guinira or her masters. I am a Hunter, and I will bring Makret in to collect my reward. Whether the city is no longer Guinira’s doesn’t concern me.” “But you work for Guinira.”

“No, Gorshcki, I work for the highest bidder. If any of the fallen Morschcoda stepped up to me right now and offered me half of the reward for Druoth dead to stop hunting him, I would take it and still be thankful for my good fortune.” Grrwa stared at Veena. “I thought you were a Guild Hunter.”

“The Guild? I stopped caring about rules when I was ‘asked’ to leave the Demosira’s Tower. Rules just make Hunting harder.” Veena stood and stretched. “I won’t stay to let Druoth kill me. We won’t take him alive. I warned you before we started, and I warn you now.” “There are four of us, Veena. There is only one Druoth.”

“That’s my point, Gorshcki. There is only one Makret Druoth. There is only one because there have only ever been so few beings like him to walk the earth. If he has taken control of Ra-Diavere, there will be five hundred guards to fight just to get to Druoth.” “Then we kill him, and take the loss.”

Grrwa stepped in. “You are not in charge here, Gorshcki. If Veena wants out, let her go.”

“We need all four of us if we are to bring him in.”

“You aren’t hearing me, Gorshcki. Druoth will kill all of us.”

“That is your opinion, Veena.”

“Car, you may be twice his size, but one swipe of his sword is more than enough to kill you. I’ve seen him fight. And Grrwa, you said yourself that no bounty is worth dying for. Well, the price on Druoth is hardly worth Hunting for. You know this.” “I have sworn to Hunt, Veena, though I hunt Makret against my will. If you want out, leave. I do not blame you, but pride and Guild Law binds me to at least have a chance at a target before I abandon the chase.” “Go Veena. We don’t agree with you, but the choice is yours.”

“If any of you live to make it back to An-Aniath, tell Guinira that I died Hunting. I don’t need one of her bounties on my head.”

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