Betrayer the rise of azg.., p.1
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       BETRAYER: THE RISE OF AZGHARÁTH, p.1
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           Jeff Shanley
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BETRAYER: THE RISE OF AZGHARÁTH
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  They say before the World there was nothing. No life, no thought, no being, simply a hollow orb of iron that hovered within this plane of mortality. Then the Shaper took Life itself and placed it at its heart, and the World was born. But Life is chaotic, unwilling to be bound by any chains. It burst forth violently from the earth and out into the void, and the stars of the firmament brought light to the blackness. And then the Shaper covered the earth with water and the Life at its heart made lands, clouds, and soon animals took form and made their abode over all the earth. But the Shaper sought to preserve the purity of Life, and so encased seven droplets in seven crystals. Thus the Lifestones were created, and with them the Elder Ones, the White Wolves took form and being through no work of the Shaper, giving physical being to the Life within the Stones. They are the predecessors of our race, my race: the Kânín.

  We did not choose to be who we are. We had no say in the matter; it was Íne, the eldest of the Elder Beasts, who desired “peers” to commune with. Peers. If one were to ask me, we were more like subjects than equals. Though given gifts of immortality, strength beyond any man that existed before or after our time, whenever that may be, and the ability to literally liken ourselves to the Elder Beasts so as to commune with them, we were the pinnacle of the Shaper’s creation; and yet we were minute in His thoughts.

  My father was a mighty lord before he and a part of his people were brought to Kânavad. Manakh was his name in those ancient days, before even I was born. Manakh ruled wide lands, as lush as a thousand paradises and barren as a thousand deserts. Monuments of stone he built, towering structures that rivaled even those of my great city of Ak’horokaš. One tower has a name that we remember in song, Bavhæl. What it means has been lost to the winds and dusts of time, but no matter. His time was bound to end sooner or later. In the end, almost no one is truly immortal. Almost.

  So as I said, we were summoned without choice, given powers without say, and governed without reason. The Elder Beasts were revered and worshipped by my people in those times of naivety as bringers of wisdom and light. Such fools they were, so as to allow themselves to fall before beings less than us. Who was Íne to command our wills? He was nothing, a mute beast that used thoughts rather than words to command respect; snapping at our heels whenever we toed out of line like nothing more than dogs, when it was rather he who was the dog. And oh, how I desired to teach him that lesson.

  Such fools they were. In honor of his change in being Manakh adopted the name Mênecoth the First, the Kingfather of our kind, first and mightiest of the werewolves. But he still honored his former life in the naming of what later became rightfully my city: Mānakhašu, a wonder of our people. A thousand years of hard labor it took to construct that city. Those whom I have let survive my ascension have told me of the tens of thousands who came to Mênecoth’s aid to construct the great city. Carved out of a mountain of black stone, there were three branches that created vast white stairways that ascended to the summit of the hill, for my father often said that great kings must be approached by all their people rather than a chosen few. But in my mind, only the worthy could ascend those steps. Only the worthy could reach the top without faltering, only to fall before me and call me Lord. For a lord I was, even before I submitted to Ak’horos the Great. And yet I might as well have been the lord of bastards.

  The foul Wolvenfolk in later times spoke of a two-fold deity of both good and evil: Ka’én the Shaper who creates and gives light, and Ak’horos the Malicious, who destroys and finds joy in chaos and darkness. In their foolishness they call Ak’horos the “Dark Twin” of Ka’én, and they shun him as my people shunned me so long ago. But to me “good” and “evil” mean nothing, and are but a means to an end. The only thing that matters is power. And whomever holds the most power is will triumph over all who oppose him. Whoever holds the most power will be truly immortal.

  In his time as Manakh my father bore no legitimate offspring, only the bastard sons and daughters of whores and concubines. It was not until he remade himself as the benevolent King Mênecoth that he took a wife. I was born the third and youngest of his children. My eldest brother, and Mênecoth’s eternal heir, was Tisîro. Tisîro was several thousand years older than I and at my father’s every beck and call. The fool. For his so-called “loyalty” he was given his own city at a young age. Well, “young” as we reckon it. Padakis he called it. From where he got the idea for such a name I do not know and care not to know. Tisîro was Father’s favorite, and just so as the eldest.

  But Bazôgoþ was the mightiest. If Tisîro was born a thousand years after our making, Bazôgoþ was born two thousand years after. By the time he reached manhood Bazôgoþ stood a head taller than any man in my father’s armies, and was twice as massive. By all accounts our people believed him to be carven out of stone rather than flesh, and he was not to be trifled with, for if driven to anger he was a force unstoppable. He too was given a city, which he named after himself, Bazôkaš. But whereas Tisîro was a simpleton, Bazôgoþ was clever. And the same held true for his descendants; nevertheless they were easy enough to draw to my side when the time came.

  I, Až’karhôda, was not meant to be born. This is the first thing you must know about me. I am a bastard by chance, born into nobility but treated as a pariah, for I was conceived on a Red Moon. For our people the moon was the source of our power, pure and holy. But when the moon was red it foretold of ill fortune, the malice of the Shaper’s Dark Twin trying to seep its way into our world. And so I was believed to be cursed. I was kept from sight for the first few hundred years of my life, never knowing the reason why. I lived, ate, played, and trained in the citadel of Mānakhašu, but despite the beauty of that city as I remembered it I longed for the outside world. It was not until I had reached a thousand, and Mênecoth had been Kingfather for five thousand years, that I was told the truth. As he called it, anyway:

  “The Eldest Íne spoke fearfully of your birth, my son,” my father said to me. I remember now that his voice shook as he spoke. “He saw a wave of destruction left in your wake, if you were to go down a dark road that only I could keep you from. I love you as much as your brothers, Az’ka, but my faith is in Íne and the Shaper.” Faith. I never forgave my father.

  Az’ka, he called me. Surely it was intended as a term of endearment, but to my ears it was surely one of shame, puniness, and insignificance; something to console me. It was not until a thousand years after, when I was given a small village and wife of my own, that I heard my true tale.

  “Redborn” they called me in secret, “Bloodwreaker” they whispered in the shadows. Few were loyal to me in those days. It was for this that when I hunted, I hunted with pure joy. All the anger and shame, the hatred and jealousy I bore for my elder siblings, for my father, I took it out on the stupid animals of the field. I was larger than most of my kind; more monstrous it seemed to the eye. Either way, monster or not, no one was a better killer than I. And soon, Až’karhôda became synonymous with apex and commanded fear, and my bloodlust was sated for a while.

  Mānakhašu thrived as the center of my father’s vast empire, which after ten thousand years rivaled any that had existed before or after. It was indeed glorious. Temples to the Elder Beasts and the Shaper who made us who we were could be seen all over the land, massive ziggurats that pinpricked the landscape as far as the eye could see. The people hunted as they would, lived as they pleased, and it would seem that all was good. For them, perhaps, but all was not good with me.

  My bitch of a wife resented me, ashamed of the fact that I was the lowliest of the Kingfather’s sons, and for that she refused to bear me an heir. She was so fearful of me one night she tried to run away. Such
impudence on her part, and I ravaged her the night I caught her. Her screams and pleas for mercy did her no avail; in my mind she was not deserving of mercy. In the end, my wife bore me a son, an heir. As I look back it is the one good thing I could ever do on this earth. Like me, he too was conceived under a Red Moon, and I know not where his name came from, but I knew that Kalahoth would be a name to be feared in the centuries to come.

  TWO

  Eventually my wife learned her place and succumbed to me, and in time she bore me two more sons. But Ecálos and Ekannar bickered between each other like two little girls. Where Ecálos was snide and manipulated others through persuasion and had eyes of bright gold, Ekannar was impetuous and overbearing, with eyes of a vivid blue. The nagging between them was incessant. But Kalahoth remained ever silent and vigilant at my side, and he quickly became my right hand. At five hundred years he was my perfect replica in both mood and face: dark of hair, white of skin, and irises of the deepest red, which reflected the bloodlust he had inherited from me. While his brothers were indeed capable with some tasks, it was Kalahoth alone who
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