The seven of you were brought, all at once and together, into the audience chambers of Grand Seer Nur ad-Din. The guards hefted you into the ornate, candlelit room brusquely and stood in silence.
The Grand Seer, seated cross-legged at a low table, did not turn to face you. “These are the men and women I asked to see? Very well. Leave us.”
The guards stepped outside and the heavy doors closed shut. The smell of frankincense and lily wafted through the room, around the striped pillars and through the ornate rugs and curtains.
The Grand Seer turned to reveal a face few had ever seen: under the bulbous turban, hazy eyes were set into deep ochre scales and the proud lines of an old, old dragonborn lineage.
“Surely, you know why you are here.”
You made to speak, but could not.
“Ah-ah. Listening is important. I shall tell you very many surprising things, connected by the finest web of silk. If I am interrupted, those tiny threads may escape your notice!”
“Men from the Western Lands, where grass grows wild, water flows freely, and they forge swords as straight as their arrows, will be arriving in some months’ time. They seek to slay Thranzitar, the Great Dragon of the Sand Sea. This cannot be. Thranzitar is our protector. He is our angel. That is why you must slay him before the Western Men can.”
You might have gasped, but you could not. You could not breathe!
“You see, Thranzitar has made a pact with us. When he grows old and weary of his form, as he has hundreds of times before, he wishes to die, but he does not wish to leave the mortal plane! We assemble the seven greatest warriors in our realm. Those warriors feast with the Great Dragon, and they bring him the Diamond of the Phoenix for him to eat. He will fly into a great and terrible rage, and the warriors must slay him by the Sword of Six Jewels. When this is done, he is consumed by fire and is reborn into a new body, to protect us anew!”
Your comrades, too, began to turn a sickly blue color, grasping at air, praying for breath. The Grand Seer looked out the window of the minaret, down upon the streets of Lut Antalya.
“But our very own Caliph Mehmed… he is a wicked man. He stole the Sword of Six Jewels from Thranzitar and removed the jewels! He gave one to the Western Men and the other five to his five trusted Sultans, payment to keep them silent for his deception. But I am the Grand Seer. Nothing escapes my notice.”
The seven of you sprawled on the ground, suffocating. Darkness creept into the corners of your vision.
“You are the seven great warriors of the ritual. You will find the Diamond of the Pheonix in the Golden Necropolis. You will retrieve the six jewels and the sword. You will complete the ritual of rebirth for Thranzitar, who, with renewed vigor, will oust the invaders and have his vengeance.”
As your sight faded and your mind grew numb, you heard the Grand Seer walk over to you.
“It has been twenty years since those jewels were stolen. Nine times, seven great warriors have sought to restore the Sword of Six Jewels. I pray you will succeed where they failed.”
Caliph Mehmed grew tired of the rugs and cushions of this chamber. He longed to be out in the blazing sunlight of Lut Antalya. Just out the window of the audience hall, he could see the sun-baked rooftops huddled around the tents, flags, merchants, con men, thieves, and freaks of the bazaar. His city, his pride and joy… if only business would conclude more quickly, he could indulge in it.
“That is enough, treasurer. The taxes may wait for another day. Master of Spies, report.”
The Master of Spies, Arkfang, was a lean thing with blackened scales and yellow-golden eyes, almost more lizard than dragonborn. It was unnerving to think about who he might have descended from.
“Your Grace, there is much that requires your attention.”
“The Grand Seer has assembled seven more warriors in an attempt to reforge the Sword.”
“What is it I appointed you to do again, Arkfang?”
“My sincerest apologies, your grace. The seer is an old, proud man, possessed strongly of this… notion… that the seven great warriors shall reincarnate until they succeed.”
The caliph irritably shifted his voluminous bulk across the cushions. His tail had fallen asleep.
“Arkfang, I demand this be stopped now. Kill these seven and ensure there will be no more, or I shall have your skinny little head on a plate.”
“I suppose your order still stands that I may not have the Seer killed?”
The caliph sighed. “Yes. If only we could…”
His thoughts drifted. In his younger days, he might have done all this himself! He was a warrior. His people were a warrior people. He took what was his because he was strong. He strode through his crowded city—his city!—confidently, shoving lesser men aside and proudly absorbing the awe-struck stares of passerby. He could travel to Lut Tulemein and be welcomed with a grand parade of painted warriors and exotic beasts, himself the very jewel of the procession. Wherever he went, his friends worshipped the ground he trod upon, and his enemies—and glorious battle—lurked around every corner. The closer his enemies were, the better!
“Yes, your grace?”
“We bring them to us! Arkfang, recall the sword’s jewels from the Sultans and reassemble the sword. You have my permission to lean upon them if they are reluctant. Do not kill this group of seven ‘warriors’ yet. We are going to give them their weapon.”
“And then, your grace?”
“We shall keep our friends close and our foes closer, Arkfang.”