Weary eyes looked across the mountain range from their perch on Mount Pehrole as church bells rang in the morning. Gregor had not slept well, much as he hadn’t slept well in the past year. Today was the day. The Brothers of the Eternal Flame, a cult deemed purely a nuisance rather than a threat, were set to initiate him, convinced that he had joined their ranks fully. Gregor hated the lie.
Living earth grated against living earth as Gregor rubbed his hands together. Rumors drifted across the land that the Brotherhood was up to something and the dtorv had infiltrated their numbers as an initiate. He turned from the window of his small, bare room to look at his reflection in the obsidian lined mirror handing from the back of his chamber door. The living sculpture of earth and stone that looked back at him seemed far older than he was expecting. The stress of the mission was getting to him, aging him. Gregor licked his thumb to smooth a crack of dirt above his eyes. It was getting harder and harder to fight the passing of time, but he couldn’t concern himself with the difficulties of life now.
He took in a deep breath to rebuild his calm and pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. The heavy cloth, charcoal lined with gold and red fibers, represented his passage within the cult from initiate to Brother. It was proof that his mission was going according to plan.
A knock came at the door, followed by a voice on the other side.
“Gregor?” The voice called in a Ferian accent. “Gregor, are you in there?”
“A moment, friend Krane,” Gregor replied. He straightened his cloak and opened the plain wooden door to the hall. Krane was standing inches from the door frame. He stood a good foot above Gregor, as most humans did, and was dressed in a similar cloak as that given to the dtorv. Krane was a true initiate to the Brothers of the Eternal Flame, a member of the same group of low-level Embers as Gregor. Gregor found the young man misguided, but good. The smile stretching across Krane’s face emphasized Gregor’s preconceptions; a lost soul seeking answers.
“Oh, we will be more than friends after tonight, Gregor. Tonight we will become Brothers!” Gregor gave him a slight smile, trying to hide his true feelings on the situation. “Come! The bells are beckoning for us to go to them.” Several other Embers, dressed in their new robes, were passing them in the hall. Gregor nodded to his companion and closed his chamber door.
The dormitory of the monastery wasn’t far from the temple. Carved from the stones of the mountain and leading in, the temple was once an architectural wonder of Gregor’s people. It had been built for the purpose of worshiping what they once thought were gods, before the Fall. The Brothers of the Eternal Flame were paying homage to one of those same gods, dismissing the majority of the dtorvin race’s relatively atheistic views. There were a few other dtorvs within the cult, including their reclusive leader, and were typically hailed as family returning home after a great misunderstanding on their part. Gregor recalled his introduction into the Brotherhood had practically been a party.
“Are you well, Gregor?” Krane asked of the dtorv. Gregor, attempting to hide his true feelings, managed not to pause the cadence of his footsteps.
“I…am having doubts, friend Krane.” Gregor lied. “We have made it this far into the initiation, but tonight, there will be no turning back.”
Gregor paused his march to the temple. Krane turned to him, concerned. Gregor took the opportunity to save his friend from making a mistake.
“We could leave here, my friend. We could leave and make lives for ourselves. I know that we joined to seek the truth, but wouldn’t it be better if we did it on our own?” Gregor asked. His mission would be a failure if Krane agreed, but saving the soul of this young man would make it worth the trouble.
“This isn’t the first time you have doubted your faith, Gregor,” Krane replied. “Once again, you allow the perceptions of your upbringing to cloud your eyes. The truth lies within the Brotherhood, with those who have already made the journey and are willing to share it. The light of the Eternal Flame will burn for all to see.” He patted Gregor on the back. “You shall be rewarded for your troubles, my friend. Stay strong.”
It was of no use. Gregor sighed, nodded compliance to Krane, and continued to walk with the crowd of initiates next to his friend into the temple. Soon, he will gain the trust of more than just his well-intended companion. With his official acceptance into the order, Gregor will have increasing amounts of information on the Brotherhood’s plans. The group he was working for would then be able to circumvent the Brotherhood at any time.
The temple’s exterior, being merely a facade carved into the mountain side, did well to hide the vastness of its interior. Pillars larger than trees rose into the air around the initiates, holding back the deadly weight of the mountain. The pillars and walls were highly decorated in murals and dtorvin runes depicting the earthen people worshiping mighty, winged beasts as gods. Gregor felt ill.
The central chamber was already filled with other members of the Brotherhood, leaving the front pews open for the initiates. Incense burned in blackened braziers at the dais ahead of the front pews. Kneeling in front of the alter between the braziers was a figure dressed in the robes of the Father Inferno. Gregor was taken aback. Drakov was here? The leader of the Brotherhood of the Eternal Flame was going to initiate them personally? Gregor had not expected this.
The Father was flanked by two high priests, each holding a lantern burning brightly. They walked down the few steps of the dais to the floor level where one of them, a human that Gregor knew as Brother Herem, raised his lantern into the air and started the usual opening prayer.
“Glory to the Eternal Flame. We come to you with open hearts so that your fires may purify us of evil and create within us a new being.” And so it went. Gregor tried to blend into the crowd of worshipers. “We fan the Eternal Flame with our praise, so that it may grow-”
That’s when the Father held up an arm. The prayer suddenly came to a stop, and the crowd looked up to their leader. His back was still to the crowd when he lowered the hood of his robes. He turned to the crowd and Gregor had to hold back a gasp. Father Inferno Drakov, and dtorv much like himself, was unlike any other dtorv he had ever encountered. Gregor knew that some dtorvs liked to add minerals and gems to their bodies, creating different sects within the race. True dtorvs, those that were only made of the typical dirt, mud, and clay as their ancestors were, saw the practice as obscene. But Gregor had never seen anything like Drakov. His body was fused with dark, glassy stones and his eyes gleamed with the same material. By the old gods, he had obsidian eyes!
Drakov surveyed the room slowly. His emotionless eyes passed over Gregor, at which time he thought he felt the temperature of the room raise ever so slightly. Drakov looked down to his two high priests and then back to the crowd. He spoke in a voice that echoed not from volume, but from depth.
“We have…a traitor amongst us.”
Dtorvs do not sweat, but Gregor was close to the attempt. How could the Father know? He couldn’t possibly know! Gregor had been careful, almost too careful, to mask his true intentions. The chamber erupted into indistinguishable mutterings of cultists talking amongst themselves to solve the mystery. They couldn’t solve it! The plan was flawless and had been executed just as flawlessly!
That’s when Gregor felt his arms being held behind him.
“I have the traitor here, Father Inferno!” the man holding Gregor still exclaimed. The room went quiet and Gregor turned to see his accuser. Krane held the dtorv’s arms tight, his eyes ablaze with passion.
“Krane…” Gregor barely managed to utter. The knife of betrayal had struck his heart.
“Quiet, fool.” Krane barked. Gregor barely recognized him as his friend, seeing nothing but the burning hatred in his words. “This one has tried time and time again to convince me to forsake the order! I have noticed him missing from his chambers on more than one occasion, and worst of all…” Krane’s gaze bored into Gregor’s soul. “…he has repeatedly expressed doubts in the Eternal Flames burning righteousness!”
The voices of the crowd exploded into a frenzy of angry words; Burn him! How dare he sully their holy ground with his blasphemy!? Rip him asunder!
Father Inferno Drakov lifted his hand and the crowd went silent. He motioned for Gregor to be brought up to the alter. Krane forced the small spy into the aisle and started dragging him forward until the two High Priests assisted him.
The silence in the chamber was deafening to Gregor. The only sounds were of the crackling of torches and braziers, and the desperate dragging of his feet against the stone floor to keep himself away from the fate that lay before him.
Gregor was pulled up the steps with relative ease, the echo of his feet smacking into each individual step bouncing off of every wall and surface. He noticed even more obsidian within Drakov’s body than he could see before, and the power of the cult leader’s aura nearly overwhelmed him. He suddenly realized that he was now on top of the alter; the incense and other religious paraphernalia had been shoved aside to make room for him.
Gregor locked eyes with Drakov, the glossy obsidian orbs reflecting the terror on Gregor’s face. A heat unlike any other plunged into his gut. He looked down and saw that the Father Inferno’s hand was in his abdomen and reaching up. He arms was blackened and embers circled it. Gregor could feel the burning fingers search around his insides which boiled and hardened with each flick of the wrist.
Drakov’s flame empowered hand wrapped its fingers around Gregor’s heartstone. Gregor screamed in agony until it all went black as ash.