Chapter 33: The Battle of Ra-Diavere
Makret’s plans were ready. The Deshika and the Burning Suns were still nervous of each other, doubtful about their abilities to work together to defend the city, but there had been no open hostility. They knew Vorteez was coming in strength.
Makret had been staring at a map of Ra-Diavere for so long, he could recreate it down to the narrowest alley. “Unless we can hold the walls, we won’t hold the city. That Hunter wouldn’t have known that the Deshika will defend the city. If they leave to march with his armies …” “No, General. We will not even look to serve the Master of Pain. Not anymore. We are the Lady Venda’s. We will stand here with the Morschen.” Makret stifled a groan, forcing himself not to treat these War Chiefs the same as the ones he had deliberately led to their deaths. These were his allies now, not his servants. “I admire your loyalty, War Master, but loyalty will not win this fight. The Veterans are the most disciplined and respected Deshik army in Anaria. More than that, you’ve fought with me the longest. Of all the Deshik legions I’ve commanded, the Veterans know me best. Vorteez isn’t going to be able to resist having that knowledge in his army. And then, you’ll be able to tear his hordes apart.” The War Chiefs all grinned, but Makret’s newly appointed second in command, Carrod Horshen, disagreed. “If we keep them inside the walls, the other Deshika won’t know what to expect. It will be safer for all of us. Morschen on the wall, Deshika at the gates and through the city.” “We don’t need safety. We need victory. As for holding the gates … Vorteez is coming from the north. That is the only gate we need to worry about.” “The Western Gate is—”
“The Western Gate” Makret cut in, “is heavily fortified and Vorteez doesn’t have the equipment for a siege.” Makret was going to continue, but Deshik war horns cut him off. “They’re here. Too soon.” “No sooner than we expected.”
More horns sounded. Makret and the War Chiefs heard the difference. “Those horns belong to The Kindler’s War Master.”
“So, Guinira came too. At Vorteez’s request?”
“No.” Makret shook his head and blinked, but some noticed the faraway look in his eyes. “She was coming for me long before Vorteez was.”
Guinira was surprised to find Vorteez’s army already camped outside of Ra-Diavere. She held Caladea as her land under The Kindler, so, for Vorteez to march in force was ignoring her authority.
She waved one of her generals over to her. “Send a message to the Lord Vorteez. His armies must withdraw. We have too much to deal with with Makret Druoth, and I won’t have time to ignore the Master of Pain properly.” “At once, my Lady.” He turned to leave, but Guinira called him back.
“Also, order our Deshika to put themselves between Vorteez’s army and the city.” She clenched her jaw and spoke through her bared teeth. “Makret is mine.” He turned so that he could both face her and observe the plain before the city. “Do we send our Morschenic warriors with them?”
Guinira looked up at the top of the wall above the North Gate. She thought she saw a flare of silver and blue: Makret. “No. Keep them in reserve, closer to the gate. We’ll need them more than we need the Deshika.” …
Vorteez looked at the missive that the now dead Armandan had given him. “So, Karvieck’s toy wants me to leave Ra-Diavere to her. Do we have a response ready?” Regath Encarthian the second stepped up to his master’s side, looking south at the city, ignoring the Armandan army and The Kindler’s Deshik legions in between them. “I can have something appropriate sent to her. I would be more than happy to perform her assassination myself, my Lord, if you so command.” “No, I will take care of that. There is a small hill just outside of her camp. Have her meet me there.” Vorteez thought for a moment. “We entered Caladea with how many?” “Four hundred and twenty thousand Deshik warriors, my Lord.”
“How many of those are on this battlefield?”
“Druoth only had maybe five thousand Morschen. Even if the Deshika would fight for him—”
Vorteez’s Master of War, standing at the door of the tent, facing Vorteez and Regath, interrupted the Drog. “Which they won’t. Not against one of the Seven.” Regath bowed slightly to the War Master and continued with his answer. “If they were to fight for him, he would only have at most twenty thousand. Seventy thousand was thought to be more than enough to take the city from him.” “You seem to disagree.”
Regath took a deep breath and stepped over the corpse of Guinira’s messenger to face his master. “My Lord, we do not face some common mortal General. We face Makret Druoth. The man is undefeatable, not undefeated. Many have tried. Legends in their own right have fallen as if they were nothing. Seventy thousand, without the First Battalion and against strong, well-defended walls is too close a battle against Makret Druoth. I dare not think of what he could do if he had the men.” Vorteez looked through both of his military advisors. “We have the men to surround the city, if necessary. Druoth doesn’t have the numbers to defend all of it for long.” “That is only if Guinira knows that Druoth is a traitor. I do not believe she does, or Druoth would never have been allowed to take the city so easily.” “So, we recall all our forces. The First Battalion cannot help us, but the rest will have to do.” Vorteez turned to his War Master. “You have your orders.” “What of the Queen?”
“As I said,” a cruel tint entered Vorteez’s black eyes, “I will deal with her.”
Vorteez offered a small, mocking bow to Guinira as she walked up to him. “I have decided that you can have this land.”
Guinira cocked her head sideways, as if trying to hear him better. Her reply was as mocking as Vorteez’s bow. “This land is already mine. But thank you for acknowledging that.” “I only seek cooperation, my Lady.” Vorteez’ voice was softer than before. He almost sounded like he was pleading.
Guinira didn’t seem convinced. “So, you’ve decided to withdraw.”
“My soldiers will begin marching tomorrow.”
“Really? Why don’t I believe you?”
“I see no reason why you shouldn’t.” He struggled to keep the smile from his face, but he did succeed.
Guinira noticed the fight on his face. “Makret Druoth is my property. I don’t care what perceived slights you have to hold against him. He is mine.” She looked him in the eyes, daring him to lie to her. “Do you understand, Vorteez?” “You have no authority to order me to do anything or to go anywhere. Rather, I think that it is the other way around.”
Guinira crossed her arms. “My master is The Kindler. Not you. I answer to him alone. At the lowest, that makes me your equal, Master of Pain. Now, I expect you to respect my authority. Makret Druoth belongs to me. Ra-Diavere. Belongs. To. Me!” “Then keep it.” Vorteez turned to return to his camp.
“Encarthian.” Vorteez ordered the Drog to follow him as brushed the flap of his tent aside, waving over a servant to bring him wine. He waved over another and ordered that one to prepare his armour.
Regath walked in behind the Devil. “Yes, my Lord?”
Vorteez sat on the throne that always travelled with him and sipped the wine his servant presented to him. He held up the glass with an approving half-smile, then turned his attention back to his Drog General. “Karvieck’s toy is bold. And determined to hold the field and the city for herself. She believes that her place as my Lord brother’s plaything puts her beyond my reach. I want to know the second our reinforcements arrive on the field.” “Of course, my Lord.” Regath withdrew from the tent, going to his own to prepare his own armour.
“Is … Is Guinira protecting us?” Carrod was watching everything from the westernmost tower of the inner gate.
Makret came and stood beside him. “No. She wants the city herself. She thinks that no one should have more of a right to my head than she does. Vorteez doesn’t have the Whip Crackers, and he doesn’t have the strength to match Guinira’s. So, she’s just getting in his way so that he’ll leave me to her.” “She has a much larger army.”
“Rumours make it three hundred thousand.”
“And they’re all camped in front of Ra-Diavere’s largest, strongest gate. That isn’t very intelligent.”
“It will change, believe me. Right now, she’s trying to scare us. Or at least scare the Veterans so that there is no battle.”
“Why would scaring the Veterans …” He let the thought die.
Makret finished it anyway. “Because they could slaughter us.”
Carrod looked up at him. “Do you trust them?”
“No.” Makret’s reply was quick, but unconvincing. “Maybe. I’m not sure. But we need them, and that is more important. Unfortunately, they don’t need us in the same way.” “Yes sir.”
Makret continued to stare at the Deshik army. “Captain, the gates are yours to guard as you see fit. The battle will not start without us. But it’s been many long years since I’ve passed the doors of any kind of temple. The Great Temple of Lasheed is a sight that all Morschen should behold at least once. I’ve never entered its doors. If I haven’t returned when the battle starts, you’ll find me there.” He didn’t wait for Carrod’s response.
The Great Temple of Lasheed was indeed a sight: beautifully constructed with all the skill of the greatest of Eschcota’s master masons. Pale yellow stone made up most of the structure’s façade. Colours representative of each of the Ten Nations were expertly and intricately woven through the building’s base colour: green-stonework vines creeping up the massive, silver columns; blue waves around the entire base; black and white interwoven around the balconies and terraces; red shooting through the base yellow in no discernable pattern.
Makret placed his hand on the polished bronze door and gave a small push. Though the door was more than double his height, to Makret, it floated open, a sign of the dedication that the priests still lavished on the temple, even with the Seven Devils ruling Anaria. Though he was not a religious man, and had spent most of his life actively avoiding anything to do with Lasheed or his lesser deities, he walked slowly and reverently up to the alter.
He stood there, staring at the slab of raw gold that was the Alter. He could not guess how much it must weigh, but it reached his waist and was three times as wide as he was. He knew that it had been a gift to the temple from the Morschcoda of Noldoron almost two hundred thousand years before. It had come from high in the Garuthen Mountains, and transporting it across Anaria had cost a fortune. Noldorin records claimed that the Alter, aside from the market value of the gold itself, was by far the largest expense that the temple builders had undertaken.
Makret was about to reach his hand out and run his fingers along the edge of the gold slab when a voice stopped him.
“Makret Druoth.” The High Priest walked out from behind one of the pillars on the far side of the Alter. “I have often wondered what would have to occur to bring you to the High Alter. But it seems that great men only yield to gods for the ending of all things.” Makret’s fingers still hung in the air over the gold alter. He stroked his Ring with his thumb, then brought his hand back to his side. “If you’re trying to make a joke, it’s a poor attempt.” The Priest smiled. “All Morschen need the favour of Lasheed, especially in these times.”
“I think it might be the other way around, Indira.”
“Indira: High Scholar. Indaari is High Priest.”
Makret already disliked the priest. “The High Priest of Lasheed is almost always a High Scholar, if not Demosira, so tell me I was actually wrong.” The Priest smiled again, bowing his head to Makret. “I suppose not.”
“Either way, it matters not. This city is about to be torn apart. I’m the only person that can prevent that from happening. If Ra-Diavere falls, this temple burns. So, tell me, Indaari, do I need Lasheed’s favour? Or does he need mine?” “Walk with me, General.” The priest turned and walked around the Alter, towards one of ten trees that grew inside of the temple. A section of bark, about five feet by five feet, had been stripped from the tree, and delicate carvings had been done. “A Dothorin woman made these carvings. She did not sign the work. She did not ask that her name be enshrined. She did this work not to be remembered herself, but to endure. And so, the tree is kept alive, not by our magic or our care, but by Lasheed. A symbol of the power of pure worship.” “What is your point?”
“A service done for Lasheed is one which endures. Protecting the city, protecting this centre of our faith, is it something you do for yourself, trusting in your reputation or your strength, or is it something you do in service to Lasheed and to his people?” Makret looked at the tree again. He believed that he could see something that he thought that, maybe blinded by his faith, the priest did not see. Woven into the carvings were Dothrin runes and wards, designed to preserve the tree and sustain it unless it was felled deliberately. The carvings were beautiful, yes, but the purpose they served was to be a half-truth that the priests could manipulate, knowingly or not, to prove their faith. Makret’s response was harsh. “I know another example of this kind of pure faith that you seem to idolize, Indaari. His name was Taren Garrenin.” The High Priest crossed his arms defensively, but his response was soft and measured, deceptively calm. “Morschcoda Garrenin, King Taren, name him what you will, was many things, General. A pious, religious man was not, as far as I would say, one of them.” “To the world, it might seem like that.” Makret began to pace back and forth in front of the tree. “But Taren had a dream. He wanted Anaria united. Not just by an ancient treaty, but in reality. He wanted there to be one nation. No more meaningless border wars, no more politics, no more of everything that the Morschcoda did that only tore Anaria apart. He had wanted this for three centuries, but it became his main purpose in life when he was about … four hundred.” “Why four hundred?”
“That’s when he met Lasheed. Lasheed told him that Taren’s dream of a united Anaria was a God-given mission. Destiny. So Taren began to really try to create that united Anaria. He marched to wars he did not need to fight. He crushed dissidents that weren’t really opposed to him. Nothing was too far for him. Because he had a divine appointment.” Makret turned on the priest. The priest was taller, but Makret’s anger made him shrink. “Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people, of Morschen, died because Taren thought they were getting in his way.” Makret didn’t care that he was shouting. “Look me in the eye and tell me that that is some form of pure worship, Indaari.” The High Priest thought for several minutes, letting Makret stew in his anger. “Taren was divinely appointed, as you said. He had the right to use any means necessary. Could he have chosen better ways? Yes. We can all choose to be better. But what Taren did was not wrong, if Lasheed gave him the authority to do so.” For Makret, that was the wrong answer. “So, you tell me that Lasheed’s favour can include the right to slaughter his own people, and you expect me to defend this place.” Makret turned towards the tree once again and drew his sword. “This blade is Dwarven Steel. If this tree is protected by Lasheed, then I will not be able to make a mark on it. But, if this tree is protected by Dothrin magic, that will not be able to stop me from marring the work.” Makret stabbed into the tree, his sword driving deep into the ancient wood. He pulled the sword back, and held it under the eyes of the Priest. “Magic. Not Lasheed.” He turned towards the Alter, then slowly turned and observed the rest of the temple. “If I had the time and the men, I would destroy this place myself. A god that orders the slaughter of his own people, a god that condones slaughter and massacre as a means of worship, as a sign of faith, is not a god worthy of my service.” …
Guinira and Vorteez met again the next morning. “You’re still here.”
“My Lady, you expect me and my camp to be ready to move in one night?”
Guinira couldn’t help but taunt the Devil. She had the larger army. She wasn’t afraid. “You’re one who enjoys … motivation, Vorteez. I’m sure if you intended to go anywhere, you’d have made sure it was done.” Both turned to the east as war horns sounded. Vorteez no longer tried to hide his smile. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
More horns sounded, this time from the northwest, behind the main strength of Guinira’s Deshika, and cutting her off from leaving the hill. The Master of Pain smiled more broadly.
“Don’t be mad at me, my Lady. It is much more fun to take something that belongs to someone else.” Vorteez turned. “Give the order.”
“At once, my Lord.”
Vorteez armies began to march on Guinira’s camp.
“What are you doing?”
“Karvieck won’t recognize my authority in Anaria. I’ve been here longer than he has. And for that service, preparing this land for his arrival, he has given me neither respect nor recognition. He was the one who sent me here. Now, I’m taking what is rightfully mine. You and your army will not stand in my way. Your mortal General will not stop me. I will have Caladea.” …
Makret couldn’t believe his luck. Vorteez had just gone to war with Guinira. His reinforcements had blackened the land for miles surrounding Guinira’s now outnumbered army. The two pinching arms of Vorteez’s horde crashed into Guinira’s camp. Makret stood like a statue, watching The Kindler’s Deshika and Vorteez’s slaughter each other.
“Should we do something, General?”
“Well, you had discussed sending the Veterans to hide in Vorteez’s ranks.”
“Let’s see where this goes first. It can only help us to wait.”
Carrod stepped up beside Makret, observing the good fortune of two Deshik armies slaughtering each other instead of attacking the city. “Who do you think will win?” “The Northern Gate has seven watchtowers guarding the Great Gate, the inner wall, the courtyard, and the two inner gates. Whoever wins will still have to walk through hell before they take this city.” “That still won’t be as hard as you seem to think.”
Makret knew before he turned that Nasheem was behind him. His had strayed to his sword hilt out of habit. He believed that if it came to that, he could kill the Dread Commander, but he doubted that Nasheem had come to die. “It will be hard enough.” “Vorteez has over four hundred thousand. Guinira has fewer than three. Her army was taken at unawares early in the morning in their own camp. She won’t win.” “You are the Dread Commander, and I am Makret Druoth. We know that Guinira can’t win. Guinira and Vorteez don’t.”
“So what now?”
“What do you mean?”
“You promise to leave, then bring in reinforcements and destroy my army. I didn’t want to bring them here.”
“So why did you?”
Guinira didn’t even answer. She drew her sword. “I haven’t lost yet.”
“You just did.”
Guinira jumped and tried to drive her blade through Vorteez’s eye. He dodged at the last second, turning away as he drew his whip from his belt. The bladed tip of one of the leather tongues caught her left hip as she fell towards him. She tried to stand, but her hip buckled and she collapsed to her knees.
“Your head will be a reminder to my brother that I rule the coast.” With one quick stroke, Vorteez coiled his whip around her throat. Pulling her towards him, Vorteez decapitated the Queen.
The battle raged. Hours passed as the Deshika belong to Vorteez and the Deshika belonging to The Kindler continued to slaughter each other. And then … They all felt it at the same time. In a broken second, silence reigned at Ra-Diavere. Even the screams of the feasting crows and the whimpering and moaning of the dying ceased. A rolling wave of evil and hate and all-consuming malevolence was descending on the battlefield, and they all knew what was coming.
As suddenly as they felt the wave forming, it crested and broke, pouring down Black Power on Ra-Diavere in the form of an echoing, resounding roar of rage.
On top of the wall, Nasheem grabbed Makret’s arm. “We need to leave. Now!”
Makret shook of the Devil and reached for his sword. “What was that?”
“Karvieck is Lord of the Seven for a reason. Now is not the time for you to find out why.”
“Any who remain here will die in learning that answer. Do you want to join them?”
Despite Nasheem’s warning, Makret was tempted to stay. He was curious about the true level of threat that The Kindler might pose to Anaria. As The Kindler came into sight, Makret regretted that hesitation.
Everyone looked west with him, towards the sound of thunder and the shaking of the earth. Makret sounded the retreat and ordered Nasheem to make a Portal and get everyone out.
“No.” Nasheem had to shout over the whipping wind that had arisen with The Kindler’s appearance. “Karvieck is angry. He isn’t coming here to destroy. He’s coming here to end the battle. But if he finds either of us here, he will kill us.” Makret was torn. It was his duty to protect Ra-Diavere and its people. He couldn’t do that by running. Then The Kindler came into view.
He had come as a Titan, casting off his mortal form. He stood thirty feet tall, shaking the earth with each step. He trailed a mane of fire, his eyes glowed and burned, and flames erupted wherever he set his feet, leaving a path of fire and ash and desolation.
“What in all the Hells …?” Makret had no other words. He couldn’t even find the willpower to put energy into the curse.
Beside him, Nasheem started to kneel. “That is The Kindler as he truly is, the Lord of the Third Hell. None of the rest of us is blessed, or maybe cursed, with such power.” “Can you even make a portal now? If he feels your power, you said …”
“If either of us stay, we die.”
“Do we have time to bring anyone?”
Another quake hit Ra-Diavere as The Kindler roared again. “No.”
Makret ground his teeth and nodded.
Karvieck felt the use of Black Power and knew that one of his lesser brethren had fled, as they should. He stopped at a hill overlooking the battlefield and, as one, the Deshika all knelt. But The Kindler was not to be appeased. At many points around the field, Deshika burst into flame. Despite their terror, not one of the survivors moved.
The Kindler nodded and walked forward, not caring who or how many he trampled.
Vorteez had not left the hill where he had killed Guinira. He waited for his brother, bowing with a reserved, almost serene expression. “My Lord, welcome to Ra-Diavere, such as it is.” The Kindler said nothing. He only stared at Vorteez, far below him, with fire in his eyes. “The Druoth has fought well, my Lord. I shall spare him and his city.” The Kindler still said nothing, and Vorteez began to panic. “What do you want?” The Kindler’s voice shook the field and the city. “I want to rule Anaria! How can I rule when my own brothers, my most trusted servants, go to war with each other for the slightest excuse?”