Prologue: An Old Enemy

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"The horrors carried out during the time of the Empire were legion.

Whole peoples were destroyed, kingdoms subsumed and subjugated.

Foul magic twisted everything, including the very air they breathed.

It was a dark time, a time of nightmare, a time of despair.

None could stand against them, such was the depth of their power."

- from 'Crimson Empire: Reign of Blood', a Cadremoor Alliance history


Osteon frowned at the tjor'riin standing guard at the doors to the council chamber, a good hand span taller than those he had commanded in the Gyren. Their uniforms too were different: breastplates in place of chainmail hauberks and boiled leather cuirasses, the steel polished until it shone. Beneath they wore red, crimson and darker, the colour of dried blood, with knee boots of black leather, heavy broadswords at their waists and halberds at exact 45-degree angles in their black gauntleted fists.

The normally grey skin was paler as well, merely swarthy now instead of slate, and the black hair was hidden beneath heavy steel helms. But the lifeless black eyes, pits that swallowed the light and returned nothing; those were the same, as were the hard expressions on their lean, triangular faces. Neither looked at him as he stepped past, focused on whatever task their master had given them.

As casually as he had noticed the bigger, stronger-appearing tjor'riin, the dark-souled acolyte dismissed them, reaching between them to push aside the massive, red-stained oak doors leading into the heart of the power that commanded his ultimate allegiance. The dark soldiers only drew interest because he had been involved in their re-creation in the breeding pits of the Gyren, using his own considerable skill to magically twist the dark elves still held captive there into the perfect foot soldier for the Shadow. Beyond that, however, they were nothing. Merely tools to be used and discarded as he saw fit. Just as the men and women he was about to face would use and discard him, once he outlived his purpose.

Tucking his hands back into his voluminous sleeves, the sorcerer schooled his face into a blank mask of disinterest and smoothly made his way down the short, shadow-filled corridor beyond the heavy doors. Purpose was a malleable thing, something determined by desire and passion. All he had to do was convince the council that they still needed him and his purpose would be renewed.

Another set of the bigger tjor'riin stood at the corridor's far end, their halberds crossed over the dark stained, wooden doors and their lifeless eyes staring off into space. They didn't react when Osteon approached them, making no move to shift their weapons out of his way even when he slowed and gave each a hard look.

"Well?" he finally hissed, staring hard at one.

"Your name," the tjor'riin grated without flinching under the heavy gaze though the sorcerer commanded more than enough magic to destroy both it and its companion with little effort.

"My ...? By the Shadow, you know who I am, lackey!" Osteon began to storm, mentally gathering what he needed to cast a killing spell.

"Your name," the tjor'riin repeated before the wiry sorcerer could go on, without changing the flat inflection of its voice. Nor did it or its companion make any move to step out of Osteon's way.

The human's face twisted and his mouth opened to begin the spell that would tear the two dark soldiers aside. But, before the first syllable could fall out over his tongue and between his lips, he paused in thought. Tjor'riin that were unfazed by the threat of violence from an acolyte? His brows knitted together. Was there something going on here that he wasn't aware of? What had changed since they sent him to the Gyren to reactivate the old breeding pits?

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