“Gentlemen! I am honored by your presence,” Tara Geonette said.
She smiled widely and spread her arms in a welcoming gesture. The three mages, the members of the Order of the Black Worm, all turned and nodded at her. An Imperial and two Bretons. Tara knew Mannimarco’s influence had spread all over Tamriel at the height of his power. Now that he had supposedly been brought into Coldharbour, that part of Oblivion controlled by Malog Bal, she wondered if his influence was waning. Rumors claimed he was still alive. Somewhere.
Tara spared a glance for Bedore. He looked nervous. Lysona had probably said something to him about not seeking Tara’s approval before bringing Black Worm worshipers here. She sent him a soft look, hoping it would lull him.
“Bedore has told us much of your order,” the Imperial said, as if he led the small group. He bowed deeply. “I am Rufinus. This is Theodyn and Noleon.” He pointed to the two Bretons, who both bowed.
“We’ve heard wonderful things about you,” Noleon said. His voice was high-pitched, which somehow fit his hook nose and thin face. “A leader unlike any other.”
“We’ve been looking for someone worthy of our devotion,” Theodyn said. He was taller than Noleon, with heavy eyes. “Mannimarco had his time. We look for someone new.”
Tara smiled again. “Then, you have chosen the perfect day to come,” she said. “Today, all followers of the Fire Queen learn the next evolution of our order.”
She reached out and lightly placed her hands on the backs of Theodyn and Noleon, who she’d carefully stepped between. She quickly traced the pattern with her fingers, keeping her touch light, so they wouldn’t feel it through their mage robes. “I hope you’ll stay and listen.”
“Perfect,” Rufinus said, smiling. Tara stepped over to him, and also placed her hand on his upper back, as if guiding him forward towards the meeting hall they stood outside of.
“If you’ll indulge my preference, please sit in the last row of chairs,” she said as she quickly traced the same pattern. “I’ve already arranged for my followers to sit in a particular order.”
Everyone, Bedore followed behind Tara and their guests, stepped inside the large library and meeting room Tara had ordered her followers build in the bottom of the tower. The walls were lined with floor to ceiling bookcases, which were slowly filling up with various volumes members were collecting. Only about a third of the bookcases stood empty now.
The center of the room was filled with a mix of benches and chairs, all facing the raised flooring, which was the stage, and podium. The entire tower was built of stone. The stage had been built with stone as well, complete with short, stone steps leading to it. The podium was made of the same wood as the bookcases and benches. All built new. The chairs were temporary, waiting for more wood to be sourced for new sets of benches. Tara insisted they switch sources after a few purchases for any supplies purchased outside the property. This included lumber for building. She didn’t want any supplier to wonder at the volume they needed. Best the order not stand out in any way. So far, there had been enough stone on the land, from extra the previous owners had never used, or could be dug up along the edge of the property.
Tara had wanted the room configured so up to seventy-five people could sit and listen to any speech. There were fifty-six followers in the order now, besides Tara, Bedore, and Lysona. The size felt perfect. The time was now.
Most followers were already seated as they walked in. The rest stood around, chatting.
Several followers bowed deeply at her, and she smiled and nodded back. Others nodded slightly to the guest mages. They were curious.
“Please, gentlemen,” Tara said and pointed to the final row of chairs on the right side of the room. This row sat empty, as did the row in front of them. Perfect.
“Here?” Rufinus asked. He was eyeing the closer row, or perhaps he thought guests should sit all the way in the front.
“Please,” Tara said. She gave him a look of steel, to cut off any thought of argument. “When I signal, please stand, and I’ll introduce you to everyone,” she finished.
All three sat in the chairs, any offense they might have been mustering seemed sated.
Tara and Bedore continued forward. She whispered to him, “Thank you for bringing them.”
Bedore looked confused for a split second, then smiled at her. He must’ve felt vindicated. “They’ll be a great addition. What we can learn…” he started.
Tara cut him off. “Later.” They’d reached the foot of the stage. She turned to face him, knowing the entire room was watching them. Everyone knew they were a couple, but Tara had heard the murmurings that Bedore’s eyes wandered. Their actions while being watched would speak volumes.
She rested her hands on his chest, set her eyes soft, and leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Today’s speech is important. You’ve given me the greatest gift by bringing them today. Thank you.” She pulled back and gave him a quick kiss on the lips before stepping up on stage.
Bedore sat in his reserved spot, on the right front row, closest to the aisle that ran down the center of the room. Lysona sat in her spot, on the left front bench, also closest to the aisle. Perfectly positioned. Just as Tara wanted.
At the podium, she reached into the single pocket her armor had, pulled out what she needed, and set them on the podium. She then stepped in front of it. She didn’t want to be half hidden behind it. Everyone needed to see her fully. To be captivated.
She took a moment to survey the room. She smiled. Bedore smiled at her, happy and relieved at his success. Lysona smiled also, in her usual rapt way. The rest of her followers showed various degrees of smiles and curiosity. The three mages studied her. Curious and reserved.
Tara held out her arms. “Thank you all for coming. Not that I gave you a choice,” she said.
Genuine laughs greeted her. She turned and pointed to the two banners behind her, one on each side, flanking her. They hung from the ceiling, and waved slightly as the air in the room shifted. They’d been installed this morning. Each banner was made of a thick, durable canvas, which had been dyed red. Woven into it with black thread, was an emblem. A circle resembling the sun, with lines as rays, sat above a single tree. The tree was tall, with branches reaching up from a single trunk, outside of a few which curved away, then back into the trunk. The overall effect was a tree, reaching for the sun, as if the sun were its only goal.
“Special thanks goes to Madena, for designing the symbol of our order, of the Order of the Fire Queen. She understood my vision and made it reality.” Tara smiled at Madena, who sat next to Lysona. “New mage robes for all of you are being made now, with the emblem on them.” She gestured to several followers, who’d been tasked with sewing.
Tara started slowly pacing the stage, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. She knew moving around would help keep all eyes on her. Now, to give them their hope.
“You’re all probably wondering why I didn’t have an emblem filled with fire, or flames,” she said, smiling. Several giggles and laughs erupted. Most people nodded their heads.
“Two reasons,” she held up two fingers with her left hand. “First, to help our order hide in plain sight. Fire would have been predictable and too visible.” She paused. “The second, and greater reason, is that our sun, Magnus, is the greatest fire. Magnus is the architect of Mundus. Greatest of the et’Ada, the original spirits. He is the source of our magic. His commitment to mortals, to our mortal plane of Mundus, shows itself every single day, by what of himself he left behind.”
She pointed again at the banners.
“We are the tree,” she continued, picking up her pace. “We, this cult, this order, this…family, reach towards Magnus. For the greatest of glory. For immortality.” She stopped pacing and studied everyone.
About a third of her followers seemed immediately to understand the weight of what she’d said. Dawning crossed their faces like a glorious sunrise. She felt excitement from them.
“Conjuration is the greatest school of magic,” she said, pacing more. “It gives us the potential, the gift, of making ourselves immortal.” She looked at the guest mages. Theodyn and Rufinus were whispering to each other. Noleon seemed enraptured by her words.
“You’ve all come to me these last years, at different levels of magical ability. I hope, regardless of where you started, and where your skills are now, that some of what I’ve shown you with conjuration has given you new levels of appreciation for what it can do.”
She stopped pacing and stood to the right of the podium, keeping it in easy reach.
“Some of you are less gifted with deep reserves of magicka,” she said, smiling. “Fear not. Everyone in this order has a place here, a job here. A purpose to serve the order. To serve your queen.”
She gave them another smile, this one tinged with slyness.
“Everyone in this room right now will help reach our ultimate goal, the true goal of this order. To become immortal. Every single one of us.” She paused.
All her followers remained focused on her. Some seemed to still be processing what she’d said. The weight of it. The idea of becoming immortal. Everyone in the order was younger, no one over the age of thirty-two. In their prime. A time for life to feel full of possibilities. To be something you’d want to never end.
“After today, no new members. Do not invite any outsiders into our order. All future order members will come from within,” she said.
Confusion spread among a few faces. Tara didn’t mind. Details could be explained later. Now was the time to add some fear to their hope.
Tara gestured at the three guests to stand up.
Theodyn, Noleon, and Rufinus stood slowly. All looked confused. They must have wondered if they’d just been forced into the order.
“Everyone, please turn and meet our guests,” Tara said. “They’ve all come from the Order of the Black Worm.”
Muttering started. Several followers nodded at the guests.
“No new outside members from this moment forward,” Tara said. “We are all we need. I am all you need.”
Tara clapped her hands together in one large, loud movement.
The fire runes she’d placed on the backs of Theodyn, Noleon, and Rufinus exploded, engulfing the men in flames.
Their screams pierced the room, the entire tower, with agony. Tara picked up the three black soul gems from the podium and guided the men’s souls into them. She allowed herself a brief moment to enjoy the rapture that came with hearing their screams, watching their bodies burn, then collapse into dying husks. Adding to their screams were those from her followers. Those closest to the mages jumped back, afraid to catch fire. Nearly everyone looked shocked and scared. Tara doubted any had seen a rune set off that way. If one didn’t know, she’d simply clapped her hands and ignited them instantly.
Bedore looked the most shocked. He looked up at her with wide eyes; more fear than she’d ever seen from him.
Lysona was the sole follower who didn’t look scared. She was laughing and clapping. She looked up at Tara, even more rapt than before. Tara gave her a quick wink and smile.
Feeling the souls were secure in their gems, Tara cast a frost spell at the burning husks of the mages. The chairs the men had been sitting in had also caught fire. Tara made sure all the flames were extinguished before stopping the spell.
The room had filled with the odor of burnt flesh and smoke. A sharp irritant assaulting everyone’s nose. The better to hold their fear longer, Tara thought.
“Sit,” she commanded.
Everyone sat back down and looked at her. She put the soul gems in her pocket.
“We are all we need. I am all you need. Together, we will grow this order from within,” she said.
“What I mean by those words is simple.” She gave them all a smile. “Some of you have already coupled up.” She paced slowly, not that she needed to. No one dared look away. “I’ve even heard rumors there are some pregnancies.”
She paused her pacing.
“This is what I want. If you are in a relationship, have children. We grow the order from within.” She nodded for emphasis. “If you are single, come see me. I’ll match you with someone. If your natural attractions draw you to someone you normally can’t have children with…” Tara looked down at Lysona and held her gaze. Lysona gazed back, and smiled. “…come see me. I want you to fully realize your natural attraction, but I will need you to have children, as well. There are solutions.”
She paced again until she stood at the center of the stage.
“Every couple is to be registered. I must know whom is with whom. We will conduct ceremonies for everyone who wants to celebrate their binding. As you all have children, I must know who they are. Lineage must strictly be tracked. It is essential.”
She smiled wide and held her arms out, wanting to send some hope back to them.
“I am with child. My first.” She pointed at Bedore, who had a fresh look of shock on his face. She’d not told him. “Bedore and I will be among the first to celebrate the next evolution of our family. Our order.”
“Here, in your lifetime, I promise you will become immortal. Your children, and their children, and so forth, will also. It is essential to us, the original order members, to grow the order from within.”
She clasped her hands together and held them over her heart. “I will have more details for you over time. For now, I thank you for your loyalty to me. I will not let you down. Dismissed.”