The room was somewhat cramped and rather musty. The only light it saw was from a few candles burning lazily on a worn wooden table. It almost seemed like a dungeon, though the only victims here were some crumbling books on ancient shelves. Three occupied chairs sat on one side of the table, and the other had one empty seat pulled close in anticipation of an unknown guest.
The center seat held the tarutaru Wiryu, leader of WTF. Sitting council on his right was the elvaan Garan, a red mage of considerable power and general of the WTF Armies. To his left, was a most shocking conspirator, a blonde hume…Yekan, former Minister of Religion from Teh Temple itself. Now a sympathizer for the WTF cause, her knowledge was an invaluable tool to further the cause. All three sat formidably facing the hallway which snaked to the forgotten room.
Around a curve, lantern light began increasing in intensity and footsteps could be heard. A robed figure, taru judging from the size, rounded the hallway and entered the room, taking a seat across from the WTF Tribunal. Wiryu looked up from his notes to the hooded guest and flatly asked, “So, have you considered my offer?”
“I have, and I have come to a conclusion. But first I must ask…what made you decide to do this?”
“As a third party, you threaten the balance of this conflict. By seeking you out, we reach for at least once common goal. Additionally, like Yekan, you hold precious knowledge as to the battle tactics Teh Army uses. Now as I have answered your question, please, answer mine.”
“I want you to know that I will not be treated any less than you treat these two,” he motioned with his hand towards Garan and Yekan, “I expect the same pay, equipment, access to magical scrolls, and other royalties. My men also wish the same treatment as your own soldiers. We are currently without territory to call our own and want a solemn vow that when this ends, we will be given a place to live.” Mastra smiled, knowing that if things go according to his own plan, it would be Wiryu begging him for a mere corner of a swamp to build a mud hut and Phyree…her skeleton would watch over the land from a steel cage atop the tallest tower in the cathedral so she could forever bask in her loss and misery.
“Done. Your ranks will also be supplied with fifty of our own troops and all will be as best equipped as we can afford.” Garan cleared his throat. “You must also vow to us that you will then in turn fall under our rule and order and take your battle commands from the General, not yourself.”
Mastra’s small lips parted in an eerily eager smile. “I accept.” Yekan shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Welcome to WTF, Commander Mastra.”
“Your grace, my lord.” Mastra hopped out of the chair and stiffly bowed before strolling casually down the hallway from whence he had just come.
The outer cloister of the Temple of Teh was bustling. Thousands had heeded the call of the heraldic bells. For miles around the castle-like cathedral, the low metallic drumming could be heard. The sky was grey but threatened no rain, an ominous premonition to the message the High Priestess of Teh would deliver to the citizenry. As suddenly as the bells had started, they had stopped with one last lone note reverberating through the heavy air. Silence fell upon the crowd. Heads turned and whispers floated throughout the masses.
"What is this about?"
"Maybe breaking news about the war!"
"Foolish woman, there will be no war."
"Yes, not if High Priestess Phyree has anything to say about it."
"I simply must know more about Wiryu."
"Shhhh, don't say that name, I hear that the commander of WTF made a pact with the dark Shadow Lord itself!"
Brass horns sounded from high atop the minarets of the temple. Once more the crowd fell silent. The summoning of the High Priestess was always an event to behold. Soon large kettle drums beat rhythmically. Both instruments built to a crescendo and the bells rang out three times. On the third strike, a figure appeared on the top balcony facing the concerned throng.
Two arms outstretched wide in a welcoming embrace.
A magically enhanced voice boomed over the cloister, "May the Gates of Paradise upon unto you all." The high priestess pressed her palms together and bowed in solemnity, the crowd responded likewise before erupting in a massive cheer at the sight of their beloved theocrat. Grey clouds passed overhead as eyes gazed up and mouths closed at the beckoning of Teh One True Phyree.
"My people," she addressed them sternly but with great concern and care, "dark times are upon us. As many of you know or have speculated," she inhaled deeply and gave a pregnant pause, "we will soon be at war with WTF."
Thousands chattered about the news, the bell rang out once to bring them back in line.
"I met their leader, Wiryu, on the field of battle. With my blessed artifacts from Altana Herself, I sent him back to his lands with a lame shoulder and burden of shame."
A tremendous roar overcame the temple, crashing against it like a tidal wave. The bell rang out once more to reign them back in to the speech at hand.
"However, I have reason to believe that at this very hour, he is holed up in some musty, ill-lit dungeon scheming and conspiring like a vengeful rat about how to destroy us. Never believe that this 'leader' is anything more than a sniveling taru with delusions of grandeur. He is a megalomaniacal midget who wishes to see your crops destroyed, houses razed, and families put to the blade. I received word that he is even coercing the mercenary band led by Mastra to aid in their plots to overthrow our entire system of living!"
Phyree paused strategically to allow her followers to mull over these revelations. After several minutes she signaled the bell to ring.
"What most of you do not yet know, is that he has already claimed one of our very own from here within the Temple of Teh."
There arose a collective gasp.
"Yes, our former Minister of Religion, Yekan, my protégé and minister to you all, has succumbed to the earthly temptations this warmongering tarutaru! I thought her dead at her disappearance from the diplomatic mission to the west, but her life is worse now than that of death as she is colluding with the very evil she swore to crush."
Once more the crowd reacted with high emotion; there were even some who were extracted from the main body because of fainting at the grievous nature of the news.
"It is with a stern eye and heavy heart that I bear these ill tidings to you all. But, as your High Priestess of Teh, you must know about whom it is that seeks to strip you of your lands, your beliefs, your families, and your lives. All have been decried on Wiryu’s lips. Because of this, I must ask more of you, my people. Beginning at noon tomorrow inside Teh Temple's inner cloister, we will be taking names for those who wish to join Teh Army and work alongside the glorious leadership and chivalry of the Knights of Teh!"
A boisterous cacophony wafted into the darkened sky.
"Wiryu has conscripted his armies. They fight unwilling and cowardly. He is unable to muster voluntary forces of his own and must recruit petty thugs as well as the weak of our own flocks. He is a wolf, and like a wolf, the rest of the pack will not question his authority even if it means their certain death. Join me, my fellow Tehans, and by my side let us secure ourselves once more from the threats of outsiders!"
Phyree raised her arms in the air, scanning her body back and forth so that entirety of the frothing mob could gaze upon their holy priestess once more. She proceeded back inside the looming white walls of the Temple of Teh and the horns and drums sounded once more. The bells were the only sound now ringing out as the Tehan citizens returned to internalize what Teh One True Phyree had said.
Phyree herself weighted over the results of tomorrow's recruitment, wishing that more footmen and accomplished sword-swingers and spell-flingers would come to Teh Army or join her elite guard as a Knight of Teh.
"May Altana help us all."
As Phyree walked toward the back of the temple, she heard a voice from the shadows saying, "A nice little speech you gave there, Sister Phyree, but I am doubtful that the recruitment will produce the numbers as hoped. Keep in mind, Sister Yekan was once on our side, and although the masses will want to see the end of Wiryu, they may not want to fight against their former minister."
Phyree looked for the recognized voice, and a tall and graceful beauty dressed in crimson stepped forth, her new general, Deedlit. The elvaan woman was well-versed in both magical and combative arts, and duly appointed head of the elite Knights of Teh.
"I know, Sister Deedlit, that's what worries me most. Wiryu is quite the underhanded trickster, and I am glad you resisted his temptations where Yekan could not. Now, we have some other matters to discuss...."
Phyree raised her arms in the air, scanning her body back and forth so that entirety of the frothing mob could gave upon their holy priestess once more. She proceeded back inside the looming white walls of the Temple of Teh and the horns and drums sounded once more. The bells were the only sound now ringing out as the Tehan citizens returned to internalize what Teh One True Phyree had said.
Among the roaring crowd of screaming and cheering citizens, one man stood with a blank expression on his pale face, and as Phyree departed from her balcony, he made his way to the city gates. He mounted his horse and rode off to the west, to WTF territory. After a hard day’s travel across Teh Island, he could finally dismount and report to his lord. The occupied castle loomed in front of him and the rider removed his hood as he crossed the dark violet carpet leading to the throne room. As he approached the throne, Wiryu raised his head from his hand.
"What news do you bring of the rally?" asked Wiryu.
"They plan a war, they called you a warmonger and a coward. They say you retreated from the battle in Teh Field," reported the robed scout.
Wiryu put his hand to his chin in thought again and mused, "Resorting to lies are we Phyree? Some noble priestess! I hope that cut on your arm burns with the fire that toys my emotions! You,” he addressed his servant, “I want you to collect the Seer, we have much business to discuss on this ‘war’ I am supposedly planning."
"Right away master Wiryu."
Wiryu waited for his summon’s arrival at the gate and brought the Seer to more private quarters. She was a red-headed tarutaru named Pocketpooka, or Pooka for short. She was young, or at least she looked it. She wore nothing fancy, peasants’ clothes for the most part, but all the same she had a kind face. Pooka sat in a chair across from Wiryu while the leader of WTF paced back and forth.
She looked up and chuckled lightly, "What is this? You're pacing, this is new."
"I am enraged! They call me a warmonger! She challenged me, and then lies to her community for morale, hiding her weakness, hiding her fear!
“What makes you so sure she fears you?" asked the seer.
Wiryu stopped pacing and sat down using his forearm as a support column for his head balanced on his knee. "She lies to them about the outcome of that battle. She tells them she won, where if that were true I'd be dead!"
Pooka simply smiled and stared at the irate leader.
"Seer, this war she speaks of, what do I need to do to win?" asked Wiryu.
"You can have ten men or a thousand men, but the outcome will be the same."
"What are you trying to say?"
"Phyree is not overly confident in this war. She is scared. Scared for her self, and scared for her people. But you are also unconvinced of the outcome of this war too. But, you both have a choice: you can leave this land, but with that you will forfeit your right as a leader. She too has this choice."
"If this war is to commence, Phyree will be your greatest victory, b-" Pooka was interrupted.
"That's all I needed to know. Goodbye, Seer!" With that Wiryu quickly stormed out of the room and made his way to rally the troops with a renewed sense of battle. Pocketpooka lowered her head and her face turned to a frown. She spoke to herself in a low tone of voice. "She will be your greatest defeat as well."
That evening, Teh One True Phyree sat in her high-backed chair in front of a roaring fire. Autumn was certainly coming and a cold draft blew through the cathedral. Though her blue eyes reflected the warm red flames, she shivered a bit at her station. This chill was caused more by the gloom of recent events than something superfluous like cold weather. Behind her, a door opened and the fire sputtered for a moment before roaring back.
"Sister Deedlit, come in."
"You wished to see me?"
"I need to talk to you."
The tall elvaan woman carried herself well as she walked toward the table to have a seat. The general of the Knights of Teh sat graciously on her own conference chair and crossed her legs, leaning forward. High Priestess Phyree spun around and became silhouetted to her general, chin propped on two wrists.
"I've thought about what you said earlier. We are facing a monumental task ahead of us because of it. I can get thousands of names on the registry to fight the faceless Wiryu, but too many know and remember Yekan. This is a severe thorn in our paw."
"But Sister Phyree, have you not been training Yekan's replacement in the Temple?"
"Zephie is still young and not ready to speak to the people, let alone participate in a machine as complex as this. She is still far too venerable to the wiles of Wiryu, too. She looked up to Yekan, however this has her shaken."
"I know Zephie well, I feel this will only strengthen her resolve and empower her."
Phyree took a draw from a cup of red wine then sighed.
"Am I doing the right thing, Deedlit?"
The Tehan General steeled her eyes on the theocrat and lowered her long ears. "You listen to me, there is a threat to our lands and people. To our beliefs and ways of life. This isn't going to go away without force. We have tried other tactics and we are left with no options. Sister Phyree, I am here for a reason. I make problems like this go away. Trust me. You didn't appoint me the leader of the Knights of Teh for giggles."
The blonde looked down into her goblet, swirling the liquid out of contemplation or the vain hopes of some kind of vision.
"I must think more about this. Please see to tomorrow's registry and fill in my stead. Such an event is one that I need not attend."
"It shall be done."
"The hour is late, Deedlit. I shall send for you tomorrow night and will expect a report on the turnout. Please leave me to my meditations."
Deedlit stood up and saluted, turning on her heels and quit the chamber. On her way out, she saw a small but familiar figure approach. It was Fuzzle, Archmage of the Tehan Universitas Arcana. He had a similarly-sized tarutaru by his side.
"Fuzz," she said in passing.
"Deed," the archmage retorted.
Phyree raised her head from the cup as the door entered and her fire flickered once more. There was nobody in sight as she looked past the top of the long table. She heard footsteps approach and leaned over. It was her Archmage ally from Teh Academy.
"Fuzzle, interesting seeing you here. And I see you brought a guest as well."
"I wish to introduce you to someone, High Priestess."
She offered the tarutarus a seat, each climbed up onto the chairs provided.
"Teh One True Phyree, High Priestess of the Temple of Teh, ruler of all Tehan lands, this is Arcanis the Dire. I met him in my travels across the lands and found his skills quite adept, surprisingly so as he never attended any of my institution's classes. He's a natural."
The robed tarutaru grinned widely with fire in his eyes. "It's a pleasure-weasure."
"Tell me, Arcanis, from whence did you get your title of 'Dire'?"
Fuzzle chimed in, "I have tested him using the school's standards and practices. I felt it appropriate. His methods, while resulting in the same ends, are a little...drastic."
"I get the job doney-woney is what he means, High Priestess," Arcanis corrected the Tehan Archmage, "I wish to join your army-warmy. I listened to your speechy-weechy and it only resolved my intentions."
"I shall consider this as your application. Tomorrow you shall report to General Deedlit and show her your skills. Fuzzle, you will report to me in the meantime. Tomorrow holds a lot of answers to a lot of questions. We shall hold council tomorrow with Zephie by my side as well. May Altana bless us all in this time of trials."
Phyree was left once more to her fire and wine, warmed from within and without by both. Eventually she collapsed at the table and slept and disturbed sleep in her chair.
Will this 'Arcanis' be an asset or a liability? But in these times...could she refuse help, especially from a mage that rivaled the abilities of her own Archmage of the Tehan magical academy no matter his first impression on her? Troubling times indeed...