The Monastery of Arra
Following the sudden death of the latest in a line of usurper emperors, armed conflict breaks out among the heads of the great houses over succession to the Imperial throne. The struggle is soon reduced to two candidate houses, the Denir and Darelir, and their respective allies. The issue is finally resolved upon the plain of Elderis province. In an intense battle nearly won by both sides, the Denir emerge victorious. Karriden nethu-Denir, heir of his clan-house and now Emperor of Demodar, begins his reign by exterminating the rival Darelir. The only survivor is Sahiral, a priest of Demokan. Since he cannot sire a legitimate Darelir heir, the promising priest is spared on the order of Grand High Priest Kiror. Karriden then begins consolidating his rule upon the fractious empire.
Xenograg the Sorcerer returns from the Dwyndane demiplane. He soon learns of the extermination of the Darelir from his son, Kenograg. Unknown to even his son, Xenograg is of Darelir blood by his mother. Since family lines in the empire are only drawn through males, by tradition he has no claim to his mother’s clan-house. To honor his beloved mother’s memory, Xenograg decides to avenge the death of her kin. Needing secrecy in order to carry out his plan, Xenograg decides to move behind the scenes before declaring an open bloodfeud against Clan-House Denir.
Xenograg decides to go into Demodar alone; he needs information that can only be found there. Kenograg is able to aid his father in gaining entrance to the Empire. As a noble, he arranges a merchant caravan to travel there on business. Disguising himself as a caravan guard, Xenograg will be practically invisible and quickly overlooked inside the Empire. The disguise is successful, and Xenograg travels to the city of Elderis in the imperial province of the same name. The caravan proves to be a masterful tool in gaining information. With gossip running throughout the marketplaces of the city, Xenograg quickly compiles useful information. The most valuable is the existence of the priest Sahiral in the city of Genhire. Secretly in charge of the caravan, Xenograg makes Genhire its next destination. Arriving there, Xenograg begins to frequent the temple to Demokan in search of his distant cousin. Making initial contact, Xenograg arranges a secret meeting. Any reservations Sahiral has about dealing with Xenograg are abandoned in his desire to avenge their kin. Sahiral informs Xenograg that he will shortly be elevated to high priest and given his own small temple. Both men smile in realization that herein lies the foundation of the Plan.
After making a basic plan with Sahiral, Xenograg realizes he must stay close to his cousin; any opportunity must be seized quickly. Xenograg therefore decides to remain in Genhire when the caravan leaves. Sahiral hides Xenograg by making him a temple guard officer. Xenograg begins looking for a location where they can plant their seed of vengeance.
Sahiral’s elevation to high priest soon comes to pass. But he makes an unusual request of Kiror. Instead of the prominent temple office earmarked for him, Sahiral requests to enlarge a tiny, obscure temple—little more than a shrine—in a remote region of the southern province of Gortabal. Gortabal is secretly preferred due to Xenograg’s prior knowledge of the province and possible contacts within it. Its governor, General Ghernar kathu-Khirzeg, is personally known to Xenograg from their youths. The remoteness of the location will also aid in hiding the cousins’ preparations against the Denir.
Puzzled by his protégé’s unambitious request, Kiror nonetheless grants it. Sahiral takes with him his own protégés. They include his latest favorite, the “grizzled guard officer,” whom he taps to be the new captain of the guard in Gortabal. Xenograg brings along a few promising guardsmen from Genhire. These chosen few will form the core of the secret army to be created by Xenograg. He envisions a cadre of highly-trained warrior-monks.
In an empire such as Demodar, one cannot simply assume an office of influence without making certain unofficial arrangements. General Ghernar eventually summons Sahiral to discuss just such arrangements. Well aware of the high priest’s heritage, Ghernar wishes to know why he is training warriors for a claim of vengeance he cannot make. In exchange for Ghernar’s approval and public favor, Sahiral reveals to him the existence of an unnamed living Darelir. After killing Emperor Karriden, Sahiral agrees to support, with troops and influence, the governor’s play for the imperial throne. Ghernar, whose ambitions were known to Xenograg, agrees.
The enlargement of the temple is completed. Using the danger in its remote location as an excuse, the building is actually a fortified monastery. It is renamed Arra after Xenograg’s mother. In order to hide the true significance of that name only the two cousins know its true reference; everyone else is told Arra refers to Sahiral’s executed sister (Arra was a favorite name in Clan-House Darelir). Also done secretly, Xenograg is made master of the new order. Sahiral will continue to play the public role of the head of the monastery.
In addition to his very-public patronage, General Ghernar sends more treasure to the monastery for safekeeping. Unfortunately, this boon brings problems. Sahiral’s former temple attempts to share in his suddenly-prosperous monastery. In response, Sahiral petitions his religious patron for full independence of the monastery. But this creates a larger problem by bringing the new, militant character to light. Sahiral must now defend his order against accusations of disloyalty and impiety. He must go to the capital city, Metsis, and see Kiror and quite possibly the emperor himself.
Sahiral soon learns that impiety is not the major concern, but politics. To achieve the independence of Arra Sahiral has to reveal the Plan to avenge the Darelir. He is even forced to name Xenograg as the surviving heir. As the price for assuaging the emperor’s suspicions, Kiror demands and receives veto power over the Plan.
A new complication arises later that year. Arra is not the first militant religious sect in the empire. That distinction belongs to the Black Temple in Metsis. Wealth and powerful, it is also jealous of its privileges. One was a monopoly in religious militantcy. Its grand master, Berherog, asserts that Arra’s flaunting of that “sacred” privilege is impious. Sahiral’s attempts to placate Berherog all fail.
There is cause for optimism, though. General Ghernar sends his youngest, teenaged son to the monastery for training as a warrior-monk. A few weeks later, a gift arrives from Grand High Priest Kiror: the gold chain and medallion of the head of Clan-House Darelir. Its delivery means that Xenograg’s familial claim and the Plan have been approved. There is a further price, however. Xenograg is forbidden to kill Emperor Karriden. Although furious, Xenograg must submit with Kiror’s veto.
With the veto, the Plan must be changed. Most significantly, General Ghernar must now be brought into the full confidence of the cousins. Instead of the general moving onto the empty throne left by the bloodfeud, Ghernar must now openly and simultaneously make his play with them. Subsequently, the cousins must wait for the Ghernar to be ready instead of vice versa. Not pleased with this new complication, Ghernar demands Xenograg’s personal oath of full commitment as well as that of the monastery’s. Again, Xenograg must acquiesce in order to attain vengeance.
Factional enmity then flares into violence during a religious observance festival in Samaden. The skirmish leaves one Black Templar and two Arran monks dead. With most of the cadre still in training, Xenograg decides to personally, albeit anonymously, retaliate against the Black Temple. Dressed as a low-rank monk, Xenograg walks alone through the streets of Samaden. He is soon accosted by three Templars. Underestimated as a lowly initiate, Xenograg quickly slays his assailants. Next to the corpses he leaves a simple note: “For every one of us killed, we will kill two of you.”
Xenograg’s reprisal is answered by the Black Temple Grand Master issuing an open challenge to fight the Arran Monastery. Sahiral declines the challenge despite apparent dishonor; Xenograg does not care. Survival and the Plan the only important concerns.
Grand Master Berherog declares that if the Arrans do not take the field, the Templars will march on the monastery and destroy it. At this announcement the emperor steps in and forbids open warfare between the two sects. The only remaining course of action for the two belligerents is a grey war. Knowing his weak position, Xenograg withdraws all of his monks behind the walls of the monastery and its surrounding grounds. All trips to the outside are only conducted in large, armed groups.
After a fortnight of peace, one of the Arran columns in Samaden is attacked by a force of Black Templars. The brief but fierce skirmish leaves three warrior-monks and two Templars dead. The entire city braces for an act of retribution by the Arrans.
Retribution is exacted, but not in Samaden. At dawn the next day, four Templar officers are found dead in the street before the Black Temple itself. Their absence was not noticed during the night. Again a note is left: “We will not defile holy ground; otherwise no place is safe. Two for One.” This reprisal was again the work of Xenograg alone. He covered the impossible travel distance in one night using sorcery. Stung by the attack at their very doorstep, the Grand Master hurls spiteful rhetoric at the Arrans but does not escalate the conflict.