Kruul walked towards the tent slowly, the footsteps of his entourage loud on the bare stone that paved this place at the heart of the shaman's power. It was a power he had hungered after as long as he could remember. Hungered for the respect and honour paid to them by orc society. Now, he had that respect for himself, if not the honour. He was here as an equal, to negotiate a new balance between Shaman and Witch Doctor, a balance that would change orc society for the next thousand cycles.
At least, that's what those around him believed. They were right, to an extent, what he intended would shape orc society for a thousand cycles.
He couldn't let himself think that far ahead, right now he needed to be focussed, needed to inspire belief in those who witnessed this event, needed this event to be remembered in a particular way.
Kruul straightened his posture and pushed back his shoulders, making his cloak flutter wide behind him. The five highest Witch Doctors spread out behind him, a wall of blue-black skin and cloaks that closed in on the comparatively garish four-colour tent of Haksa. Behind them Grainjo and Zhonyja, their two chosen warriors carried their ceremonial axes, no less deadly for all of their additional ornamentation.
He'd always preferred the blue-black, in his eyes, it held a gravitas that the four colours of the old gods never could. He had never found the old gods compelling, they were so….fickle. That prayer to them undeniably worked was, he suspected, part of the problem. So hard to have faith in something so….mundane.
Pray for rain, get rain most of the time. That wasn't power. Not when anyone could effectively countermand your prayer. The gods didn't seem to care too much whether it was a shaman, a minstrel, a leatherworker or a slave doing the praying.
Edarr though, full of mystery and superstition. Plenty of room for an ambitious witch doctor to…..interpret….her will. No chance she showed up and did the opposite of what you said she would.
Haksa had to contend with gods who would respond to anyone that prayed to them. Any random orc on the street had as much chance of being responded to as a 'powerful' shaman. Although, to be fair, until he'd found the effigy Kruul had had to deal with the lack of response. Instead, now he had to wonder what the answer he could sense meant. Now, if his plan was to work, he had to hope that he imagined it.
Two guardians flanked the entryway to the pavilion, and he noted one was the hulking and familiar form of Haksa's pet guardian Sharn. The other one he didn't recognise immediately but seemed familiar. As they grew closer, he schooled his features to avoid revealing his recognition. Helda's guardian, Fodel, had already risen in the ranks so high, another agent already in place. It was his plan, yet he was surprised at how rapidly it had all come together. How successfully.
It was enough to make him suspicious that another had a hand in things.
He fought the sudden urge to look over his shoulder and see if he could spot the figure he could feel watching him, see if it had the silhouette of a minotaur.
The guardians parted the canvas doorway, and Kruul strode into the darkness beyond, the other five on his heels. His eyes took only a few moments to adjust, but he didn't trust them for a while longer because the tent appeared empty. His mind raced as he came to a stop in the middle of the space. What did this mean? The other five witch doctors spread through the tent uneasily. There were a dozen chairs loosely arranged in a circle, and he had to assume that the Shaman delegation was simply still on its way. His senses screamed that this was some sort of trap, but he contained his paranoia with an effort and maintained an outward calm, moving to a seat and motioning the others to do the same.
They were on edge he noted, that was good. He hadn't had the luxury of promoting stupid or useless followers, so he needed them off balance for the events to play out and be remembered in the right way.
"It seems they don't have enough respect for us to even turn up," Jargen spoke in a low rumble.
"Nonsense," Kruul said with more conviction than he felt. "That was Haksa's pet outside, she's never far from his side."
He sat quietly and let his mind and senses spread outwards. It was a trick that he'd gained from the shadow plane and one that none of his acolytes seemed to have, though he suspected Haksa shared it. As soon as he closed his eyes, he could feel them, so obviously that he could hardly believe they weren't plainly visible.
"Haksa, was there a point to this little game?" he spoke softly but clearly, pitching his voice across the tent. There was a physical release of a pressure that he hadn't recognised as Haksa released the enchantment that had kept him and his five compatriots invisible. He heard the other members of his entourage gasp and frowned slightly, he had thought them better trained than that.
He opened his eyes slowly and regarded the lead shaman, carefully ignoring Kaeta who stood to Haksa's left. Haksa wore no tinting on his skin today, and Kruul wondered what it was intended to mean. Generally bearing no tint was associated with a desire to mask your intentions, but rarely it was instead designed to indicate a willingness to be completely open. It was an intelligent choice, in a sense it was appropriate to any result that may come out of today. He wore his mask, the most powerful of them all, a visage that Kruul himself would love to possess. Behind it, his eyes were chips of blue that attempted to bore into Kruul.
He was a long way from a novice to be intimidated, so he held Haksa's gaze calmly and waited.
After a few moments, the shaman blinked and smiled. "I suspected your powers had grown, though I didn't realise quite how far. I'd be very interested to hear about the source of this newfound potency."
Kruul remained silent and waited. Eventually, Haksa sighed and moved to a seat, breaking the spell. The five Shaman moved with him to sit in the seats flanking his position.
"So, what is it you wish to discuss?" Haksa asked quietly as he settled.
Kruul feigned incredulity "You called this little conclave brother, not I. I'm here to hear what you have to say."
Haksa looked nonplussed for a split second, a moment of uncertainty that sent a thrill running down Kruul's spine. The head of the Shamanic order was famously unflappable, in a lesser orc that moment of doubt would have been a scream of panic.
"I received a runner from your….. order," Haksa said coldly, a reflexively defensive tone that Kruul could quickly jump upon.
"I received a runner from you. I was told that you wished to discuss the method for the transition of power." Relishing the way Haksa's frame went tense, Kruul pushed forward "when we arrived, and you were playing games, I suspected that it was instead a ruse or an assassination!" He raised his voice to a stern tone that was as close to shouting as a controlled witch doctor would ever use. "If you…" He let Kaeta's strident voice ride over his
"You DARE? Your little cult" she spat the word "will never…" She trailed off at a raised hand from Haksa who's eyes were burning behind his mask.
"You accuse me of playing games?" His voice was low and hard, rage riding every syllable. "You, who spread rumour and disinformation and poison through our entire race? You, who foment a rebellion, even war between brothers and sisters all for your insatiable love of power!"
Kruul stood abruptly. "I certainly did not come here to be insulted by an aging symbol of a past era, desperate to hold onto his stranglehold on my race even as they choke to death under his grip." He let a touch of his derision run through his tone and saw it straighten the spine of the remaining shaman, demanding response.
"You are a leech on the Orcs" Kaeta's hiss was like steel singing through the air "a terminal infection that can only be treated one way."
Haksa held his response and his breath as the moment hung in the air before Aelish, the oldest of the Shaman delegation spoke loudly into the silence. "Amputation."
Shouting broke out on both sides, threats spinning in the air as weapons were raised before Haksa or Kruul could even attempt to bring calm.
Afterwards, it was never clear who struck the first blow or made the threat that was the final straw. A melee erupted, punctuated with magical attacks that set the tent on fire. The two guardians crashed into the tent, followed immediately by Zhonyja and Gairon. All four joined the melee immediately, rushing to secure their charges and in so doing came directly into the conflict. In moments Zhonyja and Sharn were fighting, a contest both had been looking forward to from their first meeting. That was the end of any chance to bring things back under control and reconcile, and it instead became a moving battle. The forces loyal to the shaman were closer to the tent than Kruul's own, so they quickly responded to the fire and fighting. As the pavilion sides were torn and collapsed, he glimpsed orcs rushing to pick up weapons in the distance, turning to join a fight that would very quickly become one-sided.
With a word and gesture, he summoned wind that ripped into the dust around the tent and sent it flying into the air to mingle with the smoke and obscure them all. Haksa responded immediately, and he felt the wind slacken and could feel the humidity climb suddenly, moisture coalescing on the dust and falling to the ground like a tiny rainstorm.
Kruul swore and bellowed "Retreat, we are betrayed! Fall back!"
The witch doctors were already working on retreat under cover of Gairon's massive axe, but Zhonyja showed no sign she'd even heard as she threw herself at Sharn, her axe crashing into the guardians massive shield and bouncing back. She turned in the air, using the bounce as additional momentum to swing from the opposite side in a pirouette that Sharn met with unexpected grace, the shield sliding side to side as Zhonyja furiously pummelled at her.
"Zhonyja!" He called, thrusting as much command into his tone as he could. For a moment, she teetered. Almost falling into the bottomless well of rage Kruul had cultivated in her from youth. Then the moment passed, and she snarled, drawing away reluctantly and batting aside a strike from Sharn's hammer dismissively. A crackling wave of heat shimmered into existence in the air between the two groups as they split and Zhonyja was forced to leap through it, filling the air with the scent of scorched hair from her braid and a hiss of pain that pushed past her self-control.
The Witch Doctors moved away as swiftly as decorum would allow, Jargen maintaining the heatwave for as long as he could while Kruul summoned more wind to cover their retreat. Thankfully Haksa had not been adequately prepared for this outcome, and he showed no interest in pursuing their retreat. They were soon safely back within their own escort force.
Jargen swore vividly as he stormed towards the captain of their guard, determined to begin preparations for war immediately. Kruul moved through the camp at a deliberate pace, allowing the adrenaline in his system time to work its way out and his breathing to slow. The plan was indeed in motion now, nothing he could do would stop it, and it would be best if he were not even seen to be a large part of the drive for war.
Jargen was arrogant enough to go to war over an insult, for the events that had just transpired he would burn the world to the ground in vengeance if the rest of his people would follow. Kruul suspected most would, the orcs had always been a race that walked the edge of civility and could as quickly fall to savagery as to decadence. All it needed was a push.
Mindful of Kaeta's warning what seemed an age ago, the shove he'd just applied might need some correcting, just to ensure the fire igniting in his race didn't take the whole world with it.