The northern members of the Dark Ring could sneak in their less civilized cousins from the barbarian wilds easier through the Lands of Mist without raising the Master’s suspicions. Their brothers and sisters to the west only needed to smuggle their brothers across the Big Muddy under the cover of darkness. But those to the east and the south had no option open to them but to open the access of their ranks to outsiders. It was this open rebellion to the Master’s decree that had brought his wrath upon his fellow mages.
He saw the opening of the Orders’ doors to new members as a threat to him. After all, he had no real Order. His lineage had been hand-picked from outside the forming Ring to be rulers. His grandfather had been a simple Mage Third Class, not a Sorcerer Supreme. Sorcerer Supremes were extremely rare. The rites and rituals one had to go through for such an elevation were dangerous, even lethal, to those not strong enough to endure.
Only in times when threatened had the Ring ever allowed one to rise so high among them. For five centuries, they had lived in relative peace. No demons threatened to destroy their cities. No madmen had risen to pose a threat. The Black Ring had been destroyed millennia ago.
Every now and then, men from Muspel would appear in the south, but the men of the flame never stayed long. Barbarians would cross the Big Muddy from the barbarian wastes, but they had no taste for civilization. Raids were rare. Alliances, no longer acknowledged.
Perhaps he had grown weak, but Olgath was still Master of the Dark Ring. He still held the office of absolute leader. No one had the right to disobey his decrees.
He frowned. His hands traced symbols in the air as he silently cast the spell to communicate with his son. He had to teach his subjects who was in command. A dose of being hunted by the Inquisition would cool their attempts to grow.
~Greetings, Father,~ came the disembodied voice of his son, before the image appeared, ~to what must I attribute this visit to? Gloating? An attempt to coerce an apology from me? What?~
~Nothing of the sort, My boy,~ he replied, trying to contain his sadistic glee, ~I have come to make a bargain with you.~
~And what bargain would that be?~ Golmagug seemed interested, but couldn’t contain an involuntary mad chortle.
~ I have come to ask a favor,~ He paused, a chuckle escaping his own lips despite his best efforts to suppress it, ~I offer you a chance to cull the populations of the Orders. All but one. The Cyrtians seem content on breeding themselves out of existence. Leave them be. But the others must be taught a lesson. They have begun going against my decrees, recruiting members from the outside. Any member of the Orders-except the Cyrtians-are fair targets. Healers, warriors, whoever they be.~
~And if they should complain?~
~I shall do nothing.~
~Then it is agreed. I will do as you ask.~
~So be it.~
The meeting had ended with the Master sealing the pact with the phrase “So be it.” The Orders had been made targets. A price had been leveed on their heads. In Olgath’s mind, it was to teach them a lesson. In reality, he had just sealed his own fate.
Toulor sat upon the Prophet’s Throne in the Grand Eastern Temple. He was the prophet of one of the numerous nameless gods of the Renge. The deities of the city of prophets had no names. Their temples were merely designated according to their position within the grand city. Some whispered that the deities of the prophets were from a time long forgotten when people knew their names and feared them, but Toulor didn’t care. He had been called to serve his god, no matter what the deity’s name truly was.
He had been called, at an early age, to prophesy all that he saw within his dreams and his visions. These, alone, were important. Not one prophet had been wrong since the founding of the great temples. Every prophecy had been fulfilled.
He went catatonic as Bezreddyn entered the holy chamber.
“Toulor?” Bez rushed to the youth’s side, then cried out. “We need a scribe! Quickly! The prophet is about to speak!”
A tall youth scurried into the chamber, parchment and quill at the ready. Bez stepped away from the prophet. He had been witness to many a prophecy. He knew that he was about to witness something grand.
“The Dark Ring is under attack,” the catatonic young prophet began, “from within. The Master has sealed his fate. The one prophesied before shall rise to defeat both Master and his evil offspring. But not before he who shall defeat both falls prey to the evil that shall spread upon the land.
“All shall fear the promised one, but he shall rise within the ring and take on the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. And he shall be known by his flaming mane and eyes as black as the abyss. One who is aged shall find him and he shall succeed the aged one. And he shall heal the lands.”
Twice, Bez’s line had been prophesied about. Twice, they had been called healers of the lands. But the prophecies had come from two different prophets. Were there more prophecies being made by other prophets in this city? He looked at the scribe.
“May I?” He motioned at the prophecy.
The scribe nodded and transcribed a copy for him, handing it to him when he was done. Bez accepted it willingly. Something told him he would end up with more than just the two scrolls he currently had before the end of the day.