Kruul lasted one season more before his remaining inhibitions finally broke down and the plan that he'd been fighting for so long burst free in his mind. A simple and most effective way to ensure the mark would be spread far and wide.
There remained fragments of his former self that quailed at the thought of what he was about to do. Kruul had always viewed himself as a hero of his people, despite the poor light Haksa and his lackeys cast on him. This plan though, if he went through with this…..well, even he wouldn't be able to see himself as a hero. This would certainly not benefit anyone but himself.
Looking back, he found he couldn't pinpoint precisely when his ambitions had overtaken his loyalty to his race and clan. He feared, in the corner of his mind, that the effigy was the cause of the change. Finding it had opened his mind to new possibilities, new pathways to a potential power he had never dreamed he might one day hold. From the moment he'd found it so many cycles ago, Kruul began to think bigger, darker thoughts. He made plans that he desperately wanted to believe were entirely his own and not forced upon him. The shade of Edarr had begun to
creep into his thoughts from that day forward, shrouding his dreams and visions. Taking him to dark places, he had merely brushed against in his earlier life.
Kruul had always been eager for power, so it was no surprise that he'd begun drinking from the effigy the moment he'd first seen it. The darkness had come into his soul with it, and he'd never been able to muster the will to drive it back out. That power had instead driven him, up through Orc society relentlessly, dragging his followers with him out of hiding, back into the prominence the witch doctors had fallen from so long ago. The darkness had singled him out among his kin and made him an odd blend of outcast and leader.
With that power he had shaped a chosen few, Zhonyja the foremost, creating powerful symbols which were leaders in their own right but tied too firmly to him to ever shake free. Even now, as her faith in him was faltering, he knew Zhonyja would never wholly shed the shadow he had cast on her life. He did regret how much this plan would impact her, he knew no matter what she did, she would never be able to break her link to him in the eyes of the rest of their society. His actions would undoubtedly leave her as a pariah, and though the same would be true of the others he'd empowered, none of them mattered to him as much as her.
Jargen would lead the Witch Doctors ably enough, though Kruul suspected not many of them would live through it. That too was regrettable, but necessary. Many of the others would survive well enough without him, sinking back into whatever society came from the end of the coming conflict. Aelar would continue to be one of the best blacksmiths the Orcs had ever seen, and he doubted any future ruler would be willing to dispose of her, regardless of her past affiliations.
Rakkir was a different fish altogether, he was never really under Kruul's thrall in the first place, despite best efforts. Another power had touched that soul, and Kruul had no desire to quarrel with Zaron. Regardless, Rakkir was too independent to be genuinely controlled by anyone. On the flipside, Rakkir also had no qualms with being part of a civil war. He had no love for any other Orcs really, let alone the shamans, and he was unwelcome in Orc society already. Kruul was confident he would find a pathway forward into any future that could be imagined.
In this case, if his plan was to work, then the future was going to include a civil war. He'd been inadvertently planting the seeds of it for cycles just through his rise, it was now almost inevitable even if he worked to stop it. The tricky part would be ensuring that the war had the legacy he needed it to have. That particular trick would require the last of his acolytes, the one he was expecting right now.
The seam at the back of his tent parted, and Kaeta entered quietly. He'd had his tent erected in this location precisely every time he entered this valley. The rear of the tent backed onto a set of stairs that very few knew existed providing a hidden entry for those that would rather not be seen publicly socialising with the Witch Doctors. Kaeta's colourful robes, those familiar to the shaman, snagged on the wooden post of the tent frame as she entered and she pulled it away with a hint of annoyance.
Nodding to him, she set her staff against the wall, moving to take the seat he'd left waiting for her and stretching her arms above her head.
"Hello, sister" Kruul murmured, observing her. She was an essential part of his plan, but he worried that she held ideas significantly above her station. When the war was over, Kaeta would likely rise to the top of the shaman order, assuming others failed to reveal her true allegiance was only to herself.
She watched him quietly for a few moments and said nothing. He was surprised to feel the balance of power in the room shift slightly, her skills had grown dramatically during her time under Haksa's tutelage. Now that he considered it, she might well be the only orc ever to have been taught by both Haksa and himself, an exciting experiment he was slightly sad he wouldn't get to see come to fruition.
"How goes your work?" he asked.
She considered him for a moment "I believe the work progresses well. Haksa is more willing to consider war than I had thought he would be, almost….eager at times. He really doesn't like you and feels your Witch Doctors are a vile influence on Orc society."
Kruul nodded, "We certainly try." He held his sombre expression for a moment or two and then smiled. She snorted. "Well, I suspect even you would be surprised at how deeply this organisation", she shook the hem of her robe, "has penetrated our society. I was surprised at how….intent they are at trying to control and influence….everything, schools, baking, everything. It's an attention to detail that doesn't cease to surprise me."
She breathed out slowly. "If…when, we bring them down, we will need to have something sturdy ready to replace them, or I fear our whole society might struggle to recover."
I'll be making sure that doesn't happen, he thought to himself, nodding thoughtfully. So at least in that respect, I need not feel too much guilt.
"What do you need me to do to best incite our friend?" He asked, curious to hear her thoughts following such in-depth exposure to Haksa's way of thinking.
"I believe we're reaching a point where more….obvious…. actions might be appropriate." She said slowly, "Haksa himself is willing to conceive of war, it's a matter of making the rest of the shaman see it as a real option and not a spectre in the room to be afraid of." She snorted "They are
superstitious and buried in their own traditions, jolting them awake will require something…dramatic."
He smiled, showing teeth and was a tiny bit satisfied when he saw her drawback ever so slightly in response. She hadn't yet lost her respect for him completely, it would surely hold long enough.
"Then let's discuss our options sister, I believe I have something in mind that might suit."