A creature approaches.
Yes. Yes. Yes. We sense it as well. Should we attack?
No. We sense the one. The one with the voice.
We agree. We do not attack the one with the voice.
Gather around. The one approaches.
Pain. Fear. And this incessant hatred! At times the intensity of the feelings supplanted all other lingering memes in Vizier's mind that he no longer felt his own being; he felt more like a cluster of disembodied thoughts drifting and spreading across space and time. Only his weight periodically pushing back up his own legs reminded him that he indeed had a physical form to manipulate.
There was a time when Vizier remembered he had more of a control over his feelings. He had felt pain, fear, and hatred before, to be sure. But he had more control over them, or at least he had enough control over how to express them. It was difficult now for him to trace back to when exactly that loss of control began. All was known now was that this hatred had taken over him.
As he walked up the incline and into the cave, an army of Tormented demons surrounded him. The ones closer to him stepped up but kept their distance, careful to make way for him to proceed further into the cave. This was as close to a welcome as these creatures were capable of conveying, Vizier thought as he glanced casually at the creatures as he walked through them. They didn't make any noise or attempt to verbally communicate with him. And he had long given up trying to do his part to talk to these creatures. Over time they had established a mutual understanding through subtle means since any verbal intonation were more for his own benefit than to serve any practical purpose. The creatures' hissing were beyond his ability to emulate or comprehend, just as his spoken word was beyond theirs. For whatever reason, he was nevertheless able to communicate with these creatures at some intuitive level. He didn't achieve a total telepathic connection with them—not in such a way that he would consider to approach having actual conversations with them; the link was more primal and basic. He sensed that they for the most part understood simple directions enough to allow him to coordinate their actions. He could even direct them to battle and implement strategies. Despite how draining the experiences were, and how exhausted they left him each time, he could tell that he was making progress in being able to achieve more and more sophisticated control over the creatures. The creatures were capable of discipline and coordination, that he knew for a long time. He saw them in action in the service of Abaddon before, and since then, he had experienced himself the command of that aspect of the creatures, if only rarely. With enough time, he was confident that he could turn them into an army far more powerful than that of the Titans.
He waved his hand to dismiss the creatures, again knowing that the physical gesture had little practical use. But the motion provided a level of comforting familiarity to him. Promptly the Tormented creatures understood enough and started moving outwards to form a defensive perimeter around the cave. Safe deep inside, Vizier returned to his human form and took in a deep breath. With the ever present red aura that acted as the sun, it was never completely dark as the night or bright as those mid-days in Orr. Ideas of day and night no longer made sense in this place. As night was now simply when he had to rest after a period of activity. And this was now his time to rest after a long day.
The Realm had become a much more unpredictable place since the fall of Abaddon. The confused and disorganized groups regressed mostly to relying on their survival instincts and typically fought anything, most often times each other, on sight. Some—like the Margonites—were more coordinated, and at times they managed to merge and combine into larger clusters. But mostly, they too had conflicts between themselves. Vizier had himself fought sizable groups of these Margonites from time to time. At other times, he observed silently as the different groups fought. It was important to observe and learn of each group's characteristics and, perhaps more importantly, its vulnerability.
Staring at one of the creatures quietly pacing around the entrance to his cell, he still didn't understand how he became such that he could command the Tormented demons to do his bidding and carry out his wars. They seemed to have a will of their own when Abaddon was in command. At times they assisted him. At other times they simply ignored him altogether. Now, it seemed he was connected to them somehow, despite the fact that he couldn't carry on the simplest of conversation with them. He sat down and subsequently laid down on the flat rock that had come to be his bed.
Perhaps it was better this way, he thought further as he closed his eyes. Conversation exchanges typically involved an exchange of ideas. And such exchanges were seldom fair; one side would always be getting more out of the exchange than the other. The other would realize this and—to be expected—would not disclose the entirety of the idea. Thus born the prevarications, the omissions, and the deceptions. He would spend all day second-guessing what others told him, and he had to also be sure that he didn't reveal too much of anything that would cost him his leverage in the future. And at the end, much of the exchange would be a waste of time. He could make the case that he had more honest exchanges of thoughts with these creatures than with any of the supposedly learned and articulate peers back in Orr.
Even before he was employed by King Reza, Vizier had always jealously guarded his magic from others. Mystics were plenty in his circle, and the intense competition to be the best was harsh on him over the years. Of course, only the best had the prestige and had his reputation spread around. And if he were lucky, and his dealings with the correct contacts worked out, he may get the king's attention. All that time, he looked at each young ambitious wizard with suspicion. He knew what they all wanted: power and knowledge. His power. They feigned admiration and worship to gain his trust, patiently performing duties if an apprentice would. All they while, they would observe and soak up what they saw and whatever they got their hands on. And when they had acquired what they wanted, they would disappear and move on to the next target. He knew these treachery well, for he too was once a young ambitious young man himself. And he got to where he was through methods that were less than honorable by most standards.
Eventually he did work his way up and into the king's court. And there his power grew even more. Although he did not played a direct role in the plot to eliminate his predecessor, Vizier was aware of the power struggle in the court, culminating to a conspiracy to depose the chief counselor. He knew of the conspirators and their plans, but he wisely stood out of the way and observed. Then, at that last moment, Vizier prompted the counselor of the plot, and a great battle ensued when the conspirators were caught unprepared by a surprise assault by the counselor and his aides. The battle was fierce, but it took place in one of the plotter's castles far from the main castle, without Reza's knowledge. Both sides suffered greatly in the long battle of spells that involved exchanges of all forms of elements and curses while Vizier stood idly by in the dark, watching. And once the time was right, he stepped in and, together with the counselor's aides, easily wiped out the conspirators. The wounded counselor did not have time to express his gratitude and savor his triumph before he too was struck down. Vizier could still remember the surprised look on the counselor's dying eyes as Vizier dealt him the final blow. Vizier was careful to leave no one alive. And so he had the exclusive account of what exactly happened as the news finally reached the king. Shocked at the mutual annihilation of the senior wizards of the circle over a power struggle, but nevertheless impressed by Vizier's account of how he desperately defended the counselor, albeit unsuccessfully, Reza had appointed Vizier the successor to the role of the chief counselor and to rebuild the circle of wizards. And over the years, Reza trusted Vizier enough to consult him on most matters involving magic.
Vizier continued Reza's philosophy of impartial meritocracy in the arts of wizardry. It was a good enough doctrine—provided that one had the luxury to be the one judging. The king himself, being of royalty, of course was spared the reality of living in a life of cut-throat competition. Instead, he reaped the benefit easily enough. For someone in his position, it made perfect sense. Who wouldn't want to have countless others competing for his attention and acceptance? Whether out of ignorance or apathy, the king perpetuated a culture of cold competition throughout the land. Brothers competed against each other. Teachers were suspicious of their students. For in a world where the strong triumphed over the weak, everyone was concerned for his or her own welfare above all else. The determined would reign over the ambivalent. The committed would lead the undecided. Vizier was a byproduct of this, and he dutifully reinforced this environment as he presided over the king's circle of wizards.
Although Reza trusted Vizier, he also conveyed to the counselor in no uncertain terms that, if there were a more powerful and wise wizard available, he would not hesitate to replace Vizier with the superior candidate. After all, it was only fitting that the highly coveted position in the king's court went to the best suitor. Perhaps Reza used similar tactics to keep all his staff on the top of their chosen professions by channeling their own sense for self-preservation. For Vizier, living a life of perpetual uncertainty had made him weary, paranoid, and resentful. To this day, a part of him still felt that most of what eventually became of Orr was justice doled out to its king.
A snore escaped Vizier's nostrils as the slim human frame rested while the Tormented creatures silently patrolled the cave and the perimeters.