Secondly, Estereal was concerned for the welfare of the mortals, Although Othniel and Athelstan were condemned to Hell and the Abyss, Estereal was convinced that the evil gods and their spawn would find a way to wreak mischief among the mortals. He wanted the other gods to help him in a plan to protect the mortals from evil.
"It is not enough for us to grant powers to our priests," Estereal told them, his blue eyes serious. "We must concern ourselves with protecting all the mortals who are worthy of our attention."
Soltana looked up at her brother with adoration. "Oh, yes. We don´t want any of them to suffer."
Torodin, sitting next to her, raised an eyebrow. "They´re mortals," he said with a wry grin. "They´re supposed to suffer."
Jvelto burst into laughter, slamming his mug of ale down so hard it shook the table. Azkal scowled at Torodin. This was supposed to be a dignified meeting.
A frown edged its way onto Soltana´s beautiful features, and she looked as if she were going to cry. "But I don´t want them to get hurt. They´re so harmless."
Wajen reached across the table and patted her sister´s hand. "it´s all right dear. We´re going to protect them. That´s why Estereal called us here, isn´t it brother?"
Estereal nodded and smiled gratefully at his demure, intelligent sister. He scowled briefly at Torodin, silently warning the impudent rascal to watch his tongue, and continued.
"While it is true that we are gods, it is also true that even we have limits. Therefore, rather than the six of us as a group watching over all mortals, we should divide their care amongst us."
Soltana batted her lovely eyelashes. "That´s an excellent plan."
Jvelto pounded his fist on the table and belched loudly. "Hear, hear, " he agreed in his booming baritone.
Torodin grinned at him. "We´re trying to, but you´re making too much noise."
Azkal frowned at the two of them. "Would you two pay attention?"
Everyone dutifully turned their attention to The One. He nodded gratefully at his twin and continued.
"There is much diversity among the mortals, even more so than that which we find gathered here at this table. There are priests and warriors, scholars and craftsmen, farmers and sailors, wise old mew and blushing maidens. And even among these there can be differences. A maiden can be cruel or kind, wise or vapid, shy or bold..."
"I prefer the bold ones," Torodin muttered quietly. Jvelto began laughing uproariously, leaning back in his chair with his mighty gut shaking visibly beneath his long, black beard.
Estereal frowned at his robust brother. "Jvelto, please control yourself. Thank you."
Soltana smiled at Jvelto, then turned to Estereal. "You were speaking of the maidens, dearest brother."
"Yes. As I was saying, there is great diversity among mortals..."
Torodin sighed, and surreptitiously folded his napkin into the shape of a ferret. Estereal´s speeches had been known to go on for days.
"...and each of these important groups must be protected. Rather than compete for their loyalties, it is my decree that each of us select a group of mortals to protect."
Torodin dropped his napkin and raised a hand. "I´ll protect the naïve, young maidens and the fools with too much money."
Jvelto began laughing again, and everyone had to wait several minutes for him to calm down. They grabbed their teetering glasses from the table. Azkal scowled at Torodin.
"We will do this in an orderly fashion, Torodin," Estereal proclaimed, frowning at his youngest sibling. "We shall choose those mortals who shall follow and serve us in order of the rights granted at birth."
Torodin sighed. "Well, this ought to take all century. By the time we finish deciding which mortals to protect, Othniel and Athelstan will have slaughtered them all."
Azkal had heard enough of his brother´s insolence. "That is enough!" he shouted, jumping to his feet and drawing his fire sword. He pointed the deadly blade at Torodin.
"Show our eldest brother some respect, or I shall burn it upon your flesh."
Wajen frowned at Azkal. "Azkal, brother, you´re overreacting. Sheathe your blade. Save your fire for those who betrayed us."
Reluctantly, Azkal nodded and sat down. "I am sorry, brother," he muttered without looking at Torodin.
Undaunted, Torodin leaned towards Soltana. "Sometimes he still forgets whose side he´s supposed to be on."
The remark was loud enough for everyone to hear, and not even Jvelto was laughing. Estereal stood and glared at Torodin.
"Torodin, since you lack the patience to sit through these proceedings, and since you as the youngest will be the last to choose, then leave this hallowed hall until your presence is needed."
Soltana placed a restraining hand upon Estereal´s arm. For all his impish ways, she adored their youngest brother. "Is that really necessary? I´m sure he´ll behave himself if you let him stay." She smiled at Torodin. "Won´t you dear brother?"
Torodin looked terrified. "No, no, our wise and noble brother is right. I simply lack the patience that these dignified proceedings demand. I am, after all, young and inexperienced. I shall go elsewhere and contemplate my rash behavior."
With that pronouncement, Torodin vanished into the shadows.
Azkal nodded. "Now we can get something done."
Estereal agreed. "As the eldest, I shall choose first. I choose to protect the most important among the mortals - the law-makers, kings, rulers, judges and sages; those mortals who must lead and command others, oversee their ceremonies, and lead them in the way of truth and justice."
With that pronouncement, Estereal sat down and turned to his twin. "Brother, you shall choose next."
Azkal stood, a perfect copy of his handsome twin except for the red armor and fiery sword. "I shall lead and guard the warriors."
Azkal sat down. Wajen and Estereal exchanged glances. "Brother," said Wajen, "you are great and powerful among us. Perhaps you could also defend another group of mortals?"
Azkal pondered this problem. "Yes," he said after a while. "I will protect all those who are strong. And the fire-makers. I shall guide them as well."
Wajen hid a smile behind her delicate hand. She nodded when Estereal asked her to choose, for in truth she had already made up her mind. "I shall protect and instruct all those who care and nurture, both the mothers of young children, and the care-takers of the natural world. I shall see that the mortals do not destroy or desecrate that which our mother loves so dearly."
Estereal nodded in approval. Wajen, the wisest among them, was also closest to their parents and still missed their presence among the pantheon.
Jvelto chose next. He stood and beamed at his siblings. "I shall protect the sailors. They are a fine group of mortals who appreciate the gifts we´ve given them and live their brief lives with gusto. And I like the sea. While I´m at it, I´ll watch over all who travel upon its waters, and all that swims beneath its waves."
Soltana smiled at him as Jvelto dropped back into his seat and downed another mug of ale. She stood when Estereal asked her to choose.
"I believe that you have all forgotten the most important, and perhaps the most vulnerable among the mortals. I shall guide and protect all those who love, both young maidens, gallant gentlemen, and those guided by love for family and friends. Love is the mortals´ finest quality, and I wish to encourage it.
I shall also encourage those who are truly loyal and devoted to their fellows, and reward those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the welfare of others." Everyone smiled fondly at Soltana as she took her seat. Her chosen group of mortals might be a little vague, but her intentions were far too noble for anyone to argue the matter.
Estereal looked at Torodin´s vacant seat. It was time to summon the youngest god back to make his choice.
"Just make him look after the wretched magic-users," Azkal said bitterly. He felt that magic gave the weaker mortals an unfair advantage over his warriors, and he had not forgiven Torodin for tricking Soltana into giving the power back to men.
"Aye, that would be just," agreed Estereal. He also blamed Torodin for allowing mortals access to these dangerous powers.
"But we must do this properly. I shall call our brother back to announce his patronage of the magic-users."
Estereal invoked his divine powers to mentally contact Torodin. But Torodin could not be reached. The eldest god grew concerned.
"Something is amiss," he told the others. "I can not find our brother."
Azkal shrugged. "He is doubtless hiding from you again," he told his twin. Then Azkal frowned at the muscular god of the sea. "Tell us, Jvelto, what has our little brother done this time?"
Jvelto met Azkal´s accusation with an angry glare of his own. "I like not your tone, brother. How could I know what Torodin has done?"
"You´re his favorite," Azkal replied. "He tells you everything."
Jvelto folded his arms before him and scowled at The Great Warrior. "Torodin confides in me because I am trustworthy. And he has done nothing of late to earn Estereal´s wrath."
Azkal was about to protest Jvelto´s thinly veiled insult when The One stood.
"Enough bickering!" he shouted. The others stared at him in alarm. The fact that Estereal had lost his temper was a sure sign that something was sorely amiss.
"Even The Shadowlord cannot hide from my powers. I fear that some ill hath befallen our brother."
Soltana gasped. "Oh, dear," she cried, her eyes brimming with tears. "He could be hurt!"
Azkal frowned in suspicion. "I can well imagine what ill has befallen Torodin. It is doubtless some new treachery committed by our evil brothers. Athelstan and Othniel have murdered him."
Although the others well knew that Torodin was Jvelto´s favorite, they were still surprised when, with a roar of anger, the mighty god stood and demolished the great table with a single, scorching blast of lightning.
"Those fiends!" he roared. "I shall find them and tear them limb from limb, and feed their cursed flesh to the sharks."
Wajen also stood, her long, dark hair flowing behind her like spun silk. "Jvelto, calm thyself," she ordered sternly. "We do not know that Torodin is injured, or that the others are responsible. We should all search for our missing brother before we hasten to any false conclusions."
Estereal approved of this plan, and he ordered the others to begin searching. They split up, scouring every inch of earth, sky and sea in search of their missing brother. Estereal, who was consumed by guilt for indirectly placing Torodin in danger, even traversed the astral plane. But Torodin was nowhere to be found.
In truth, their search was doomed to fail. For Torodin had been taken to the one place that Estereal had forbidden the gods who supported him to ever go near - The Abyss. Othniel and Athelstan had been observing the banquet from afar, anxious to learn how Estereal planned to protect the mortals from their diabolical schemes. When Torodin left alone, they seized the opportunity to capture the unwary god and imprison him in The Abyss.
Othniel both threatened and cajoled his brother. He was certain that the youngest god could be convinced to act as their spy among Estereal and his allies.
"Estereal does not respect you," he said to Torodin. "He thinks you weak and insignificant. I alone admire your intelligence; you are the only one with the wit to turn Estereal´s plans against him. Join us, Torodin. And when the others are gone, we three shall divide creation among us."
But Torodin had more loyalty to Estereal and the others than he liked to admit. And, after being fooled once, the young god knew better than to trust the evil ones.
"You obviously have no concept of my intelligence," he said, sneering at Othniel. "I will not be used again. You are both fools."
Athelstan and Othniel were furious at Torodin´s insult. Ever prone to violence, Athelstan flew into an insane rage and attacked Torodin. Before Othniel could even react, Athelstan had beaten their brother so severely that Torodin was nearly dead.
Othniel was worried. Would Torodin be the first god to perish? Despite his hatred for Estereal, the god of Death feared the divine war that this would surely cause. Even Soltana would want to see them punished for killing Torodin, and the two evil gods could not hope to withstand the combined might of the other deities - not yet.
But Othniel also knew that he could count on Estereal´s devotion to justice. Unless The Lord of Justice were absolutely certain of the evil gods´ guilt, Estereal would never condone any acts of vengeance against them. With this in mind, Othniel took Torodin´s nearly lifeless form and locked him up in the deepest dungeon of The Abyss. He devised many clever traps around Torodin´s cell, and shackled his battered sibling with chains so strong that even a god could not break them. Finally, he set demons to guard him. Othniel was certain that no one would ever be able to find the god of Shadows.
But the god of Death was wrong. Among the mortals there lived a brash and handsome young thief named Remiére. Remiére was by nature a gambler, and he was extremely arrogant. There was no challenge too deadly, no wager too risky for the young thief.
Many days after Torodin´s imprisonment, when even the gods were beginning to lose hope in their search, Remiére was given the ultimate challenge - he must steal into the heart of The Abyss and make away with evil´s richest prize. The journey was a long one, fraught with perils untold. But, through stealth and cunning, the audacious thief crept past Othniel´s demons, dismantled every trap, and stole right into the deepest dungeon in the Abyss. There he was astonished to discover, not the riches of which he had dreamed, but the dying Torodin.
Remiére was not sure what he should do. The Shadowlord was too far gone to speak to the thief, and escaping with the unconscious deity would be very difficult. Besides, if Remiére failed to leave The Abyss with something of great value, he would lose his wager. And Remiére never lost a wager.
The thief had turned around, prepared to search The Abyss for some magnificent jewel, when Torodin moaned. It was a sound of such terrible agony, that Remiére was moved to pity. He simply could not leave anyone in such misery. Abandoning his thoughts of riches, Remiére picked the lock on the eldritch chains binding the god and hefted Torodin upon his shoulders.
Torodin was large and heavy, and Remiére found his escape from The Abyss greatly slowed. For this reason, when the hordes of demons guarding the gateway saw him leaving with the unconscious Torodin, he was helpless to outrun them. Exhausted, Remiére dropped his burden and sank down to his knees, preparing himself for death. But death did not come for Remiére that day. What arrived instead, with a scowl so fierce that even the demons cowered, was Azkal.
The Great Warrior had been very reluctant to defy Estereal´s orders and come to The Abyss. But he knew the evil ones better than the rest, and Azkal was sure that they were responsible for Torodin´s disappearance. Despite his dislike for the youngest god, Azkal could never quite succeed in hating him. And even if he had, Azkal´s code of honor forbade him to turn his back upon an ally.
Remiére watched in awe as Azkal destroyed the horde of demons with his flaming sword. Then, without another word, Azkal gathered both Torodin and Remiére in his arms and hastened back to Estereal.
Soltana wept for joy and hugged her young brother as Estereal healed his grievous wounds. The eldest one gladly forgave his twin for traveling to The Abyss; if Azkal had not been so determined, then Torodin would have died.
"This is indeed a great lesson to us," Estereal informed the gods. "We six must stand together, and always be on our guard against the evil ones. We must protect one another, and encourage our servants among the mortals to do the same."
The gods did not forget Remiére in their jubilation. With Estereal´s permission, Torodin made the the young thief a lesser god, the patron deity of gamblers. And the Shadowlord, with much devotion, added one group of mortals to his list of followers. In addition to the magic-users, Torodin would always watch over the thieves.