Paragon Of Destruction 98 Oathbound
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He had somehow expected the Sixth Valley to be like a much larger version of Windsong's monastery, filled with nothing but mages who were constantly in training. But instead, what he found were endless fields with crops and cattle, littered with small farms, and the occasional village or town.
From what Arran had seen of the Valley so far, it might as well have been any random part of the Empire, with the only difference being the mountains he could see in the distance behind him.
Yet even those vanished into the distance as they traveled further from the valley's edges, until finally, only the thinness of the air was left to remind Arran that they were still in the mountains.
As they traveled, Snowcloud remained her quiet self. She seldom spoke, and when she did, it was about plants by the roadside. Here in the Valley, there seemed to be fewer plants that caught her interest, and it wasn't unusual for them to only exchange words a few times a day.
"Is the entire Valley like this?" Arran asked one morning.
"Like what?" Snowcloud gave him a puzzled look.
"Filled with farms and villages, like the Empire," Arran said.
She shook her head. "There's a large region within the Valley that only full members of the Shadowflame Society are allowed to enter. You'll see the walls when we reach the capital, although you will only be allowed to travel beyond them after you become an initiate."
"But I'm taking the Oath when we reach the capital, right? Won't that make me a member of the Shadowflame Society?"
"Recruits take the Oath so that novices can teach them," she replied. "But only after a year of service beyond the border will you be a true member of the Society."
Arran nodded thoughtfully, once more reminded that his path within the Shadowflame Society would be long. But there was nothing for it — all he could do was continue to move ahead, impatient though he might be.
In the peaceful lands of the Valley, they made rapid progress, and they reached the capital several days later.
Standing atop one of the hills that overlooked the city, Arran could see the capital was large - rivaling Hillfort in terms of size, but with buildings that looked older and grander.
Yet what caught his eye was something different.
Crossing straight through the city was a long wall, neatly separating the city into two distinct parts. It continued into the distance both to the east and west, stretching as far as Arran's eyes could see.
"The Shadowflame region lies beyond the wall?" Arran asked, although he already knew the answer.
"Yes," Snowcloud said. "While the rest of the Valley is open to all, only Society members are allowed to venture beyond it." She frowned, then added, "The punishment for crossing if you're not a Society member is death, so don't get any ideas."
Arran had no intention of needlessly breaking the rules, so he merely nodded at the warning. "What about the city itself?" he asked. "Is the part beyond the wall off limits, too?"
"It is," Snowcloud replied, then continued, "The greater part of the city lies outside the wall, and is open to all. The lesser part lies inside the wall, and is only open to Society members. You need not worry about accidentally crossing into that part — a single gate connects the two, and only members of the Society are allowed to pa.s.s."
With that, they continued onward to the city, and it wasn't long before they reached their destination.
Immediately, Arran could see that the city was far older than Hillfort. Although it was lively with commerce and traffic, few buildings looked to be less than a century old, and many seemed far older than that.
The environment gave Arran a strange feeling, as if he had somehow wandered centuries into the past, or perhaps into a place that existed out of time.
"We'll get the Oath taken care of, first," Snowcloud said. "After that, I will take you to an inn, where you can wait until I return."
She clearly knew the city well, expertly guiding Arran through the streets toward the city center. Although he had little time to look around, he already saw several things that caught his interest — stores that claimed to sell magical scrolls and items, alchemists, and other places where he might be tempted to part with some of his excess coin.
After a time, they arrived at a large building that looked even more ancient than the rest of the city. It was vast and ma.s.sive, built from weathered gray stone that looked like it had survived untold centuries, with several large towers, and walls so thick they made the building resemble a fortress.
At the front of the building was a wide stone staircase that led up to a large portico supported by ma.s.sive stone pillars. Beyond the portico lay the entrance, with a set of vast doors that were at least twenty feet high.
Currently, the doors stood open, and guarding the entrance were over a dozen men and women in robes that suggested they were mages. Although they didn't quite have the disciplined look of normal guards, they more than made up for it with the power Arran knew they held.
Snowcloud led Arran past the guards' disinterested glances and into the building, where he found a large entrance hall. Without pausing, she took him to the back of the hall, where a number of people were seated at large wooden desks.
She approached one of them, a middle-aged man, then gestured at Arran.
"He's here to take the Oath."
The man gave Arran an examining look and nodded. "Very well," he said to Snowcloud.
Then, he turned to Arran. "You should know that once you enter the chamber, there is no changing your mind — once you enter, the punishment for refusing to take the Oath is death."
"Death?" Arran was taken aback when he heard this. "Can I know what the Oath is, first?"
"You can't," the man answered plainly. "If you want to change your mind, now is—"
"I'll take the Oath," Arran interrupted him. Although he didn't like the idea of staking his life without even knowing what he would have to promise, there was no turning back now.
"Follow me," the man said, standing up from the desk.
Arran followed the man through some hallways, until they finally reached a large, circular chamber. The chamber was empty but for a single pedestal at its center, upon which lay a white disc-shaped object.
The man closed the door and walked toward the pedestal, taking the disc in his hand. He motioned for Arran to approach, then handed him the disc.
Arran accepted it with some hesitation. It was heavier than he had expected, and its smooth surface felt strangely cold to the touch.
"Repeat the following words," the man said, "and as you do, do not resist the power of the Oath Disc."
Arran nodded, although he was somewhat surprised at the lack of ceremony.
"I shall not teach the True Path to those unbound by the Oath," the man said slowly, then looked at Arran expectantly.
With a start, Arran realized the phrase sounded familiar — some months ago, Darkfire had told him he had once overheard his parents mention that Academy mages were weak because they followed a False Path.
Now, it seemed, Arran was finally on the verge of learning about a different approach to magic — a stronger one, he hoped.
The man coughed softly, and Arran was reminded that he was supposed to repeat the words.
"I shall not teach the True Path to those unbound by the Oath," he said hurriedly.
At once, he felt a wave of cold emanating from the disc. It lasted only a moment, but even so, he could feel it spreading through his body, seemingly reaching every part of him. Then, as abruptly as it had started, the sensation ended.
A moment later, the man nodded thoughtfully. He reached out with his hand, clearly expecting Arran to return the disc.
"That's it?" Arran asked, handing the disc back to the man.
Ignoring Arran's question, the man placed the disc back on the pedestal, then said, "Hold out your left hand."
Arran did as he was asked and extended his left hand. The man reached out and took it, then turned it over, exposing the inside of Arran's wrist.
To Arran's surprise, a small black mark could now be seen on his inner wrist, shaped like a flame. At first glance, it looked like a tattoo, but when Arran examined it more closely, he could see that it moved as if it was burning.
Paragon Of Destruction 98 Oathbound
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Paragon Of Destruction 98 Oathbound summary
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