The King of Oth and his Six Masters

The high ceiling of the chamber built in a gothic style, with high angled arches carved from dark stone, and encrusted in the carvings of strange creatures, celestial beings, and ghastly fiends.  Tall thin stain-glassed windows rose between the stone supports built into the walls, casting different colors of light in a patchwork upon the room.

An ornate stone fireplace 10' wide and 6' tall gaped open at one end of the room, a roaring fire casting a flickering red and orange light that combined with the light from the windows, to form colors yet imagined or named.

A long wooden table stretched the length of the room, capable of sitting a score of diners in comfort.  Ridiculously high-backed chairs matched the table in both wood-grain and decorative carvings.  The gothic design of both, making it evident that they were custom-made to go into this particular room.

All of the chairs were occupied, except the one at the head of the table, opposite from the fireplace.  That singular chair at the head of the table was empty, suggesting that those gathered waited for one absent member of their group to arrive.  Most of those present appeared to be nobility, or government ministers, or military commanders.  

But, at the head of the table, sitting three to the right and three to the left of the empty head chair, was an odd assortment of characters.  Starting with the chair on the right-hand of the empty chair...

An albino woman, of about 30 years of age, but with a beauty and purity rarely seen.  Snow white hair and skin, smooth and fine like porcelain.  Wide eyes, with white lashes and pink-red pupils.  Dressed in a white gown, perfectly tailored and with exquisite lace detailing.  In her hand, she held a magical rod made of ivory and platinum, apparently so cold that ice crystals were forming in the air around it and falling like snow at her feet.

To this woman's right, sat a older man, thin as a scarecrow, with paper-thin wrinkly skin stretched over a bony and bent frame.  Wisps of white hair were combed back over his bald scalp and his skin was marked with dark liver spots.  One would be forgiven for believing someone had sat a corpse in the chair as a joke, if not for his occasional nervous tick or coughing fit.  And his eyes.  His eyes were not the eyes of an old man.  They were blue, and alive, and young.  He wore rich purple robes, with an opulent golden necklace marking some position of importance.  On his forehead sizzled a red hot magical rune, slightly smoking and emitting an occasional spark.

To the old man's right sat a shadowy figure, that seemed to shift in and out of reality, appearing more and less real, and then more again, and less, as the seconds ticked by.  What could be seen of his features marked him a younger man, in his early 20's, with noble features, dark hair, and a well-trained body.  His clothing was dark, to match his nature, but little could be seen of their details.  Every indication that could be gathered from his demeanor, suggested a young man of great confidence...or arrogance.  

Sitting opposite the dark shadowy figure, and equally far from the empty chair at the head of the table, sat a gnome...well not just a gnome.  A gnome mounted in a clever mechanical imitation of a human-sized body.  Gears whirred, and metal rubbed on metal as the gnome shifted his weight, and the mechanical amplification of his form shifted in turn to follow along.  If the gnome and his technism form were to stand, he would be normal human height, and the technism extensions of his arms would have given him the reach of your average human.  The gnome was dressed in finer clothes, but the mechanical extensions of his body were left bare, as if to show off his handiwork.

To the gnome's right, was a girl of about twelve years of age.  Her skin was pale, and her raven hair was tied up with a silken blue bow.  Her dress was light-blue, and was more the dress of a child than a full-grown woman.  She had full red lips, and there were red stains around her mouth, and down onto her chin.  Her eyes had dark circles beneath them, and the whites of her eyes were so bloodshot as to look solid red around her light blue pupils.  Occasionally, the girl's lips would part...and in those moments, she looked more predator than prey.

On the little girl's right, and directly to the left of the open head chair, sat an ugly man.  He was in his 40's, his skin pock-marked, his features crooked and corrupted.  He had heavy eyebrows, and his brown hair was thick and oily.  He wore simple robes, in various shades of brown.  What stood out were his eyes.  Not the two eyes in his head, though they were odd and of two different colors.  No, what stood out where the seven levitating eyes that orbited around his head.  Each eye was a different color, size, and even pupil shape...and they looked this way and that, keeping vigil over his surroundings.

These six unique individuals sat in silence, each pretending to be caught up in their own thoughts, and unavailable for conversation with the other five.  Even the dimmest observer would have picked up on the tension in the room.  The general disdain that each of the six held for each other...and disgust at being forced to gather together.  And piled on top of this, was the fear and distrust the nobles, government ministers, and military commanders felt for their six strange comrades.  This distrust manifested itself as avoidance of eye-contact and side-eye glances.   

Two wooden doors at the end of the room opened smoothly, their towering height seemingly having no effect on the ease with which they swung on their hinges.  A man walked through the gap between the doors, mildly handsome, but average in every other way.   He was of average height, and average weight, with the black hair and black eyes of a peasant.  The man walked toward the empty chair at the head of the table, followed closely by a young woman, rosy-cheeked, with long brunette hair.

Those assembled, stood in unison.  Nobles smoothing the wrinkles in their clothes, government ministers checking their coin purses, and the military commanders straightening their medals.  The six strange ones at the head of the table stood as well, but they took their time, and did so more casually.  Everyone present stood straight and tall before the average man who now took his seat at the head of the table.  The man gestured, and everyone at the table sat back down.  Rosy-cheeked Murielle stood to the average man's right, and just behind him.

The man at the head of the table leaned forward, his voice low and confident.  "The Gate of Oth has closed.  This could mean any number of things...have any number of causes, I suppose.  But, if someone tried to snatch the Orb of Om-Radeen...the magic I put in place would strand them in the Three Kingdoms.  Strand them with the Orb itself in their hands.  Within our reach."

There was murmuring between those present.  Closed after 500 years?  Had the Rangers of Oth failed to protect the Gate?  Who was left in the ruined world to attempt such a thing?

Zuc-Swaine leaned back in his chair, glancing briefly at Murielle, ever-present over his shoulder.  He listened to the rabble gossip and guess at things of which they had very little understanding.  He listened.  For 500 years he had kept a secret only he knew.  A secret that would topple his reign and destroy his power.  The secret was still safe.

Zuc-Swaine called out in a loud voice.  "I want those that closed the gate captured, be they man, beast, or god.  Round them up.  Bring me the Orb.  The Three Kingdoms stands at an epic juncture.  A moment of opportunity that will shape our destiny for generations.  Imagine what reward I will pay, to the group that brings me my quarry!  Imagine the King of Oth's limitless gratitude for securing our destiny!"

The murmuring began again in earnest, but Zuc-Swaine spoke over it in a voice that bordered on yelling.  "Which académie des sorciers will it be that fulfills this quest?  Which governmental department?  Which noble family?  Which military unit?  Who will bask in their king's gratitude!?!"

The murmuring reached a fevered pitch.  Zuc-Swaine waved his hand dramatically in dismissal.  Chair legs screeched on the wooden floor as the attendees jumped to their feet.  A chair or two toppled backwards.  The nobles, ministers, and commanders scurried from the room.  Orders to issue.  Monetary rewards to offer.  Missives to be sent.  No stone would be left unturned.  No hint or rumor neglected.

The six odd ones still stood at their seats, and waited as the rest fled the great room to begin their quest.  Zuc-Swaine smiled.  "Let them believe for a second they can win, eh?  It is good for the human spirit to have hope.  As for my académie des sorciers...will you be working together on this one...or do you too compete for your King's gratitude?"

The six looked to one another, exchanging glances.  Then the old man with the fiery brand on his forehead spoke.  "We're better off playing to our own strengths.  We'll each pursue the quarry as we see fit."

Zuc-Swaine smiled.  "Well, my Six Masters...know this.  There are no limits here.  No questions shall be asked as to methods, or consequences.  Bring me the Orb...and bring me the interlopers.  Period."