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Hooked

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Where do you start, building a team to overthrow the gods themselves?

First, you want to find those with motivation. There is no shortage there. The memory of loved ones lost in the annual sacrifices is a corrosive poison in the hearts of many. That would be enough, even without the disasters, the boats consumed, villages destroyed. So many lives, taken too soon. Yes, there is no shortage of people with motivation.

But you need more than that. Many have suffered grief, and the process moulds and tempers men in different ways. For many, it leaves them timid. When so much has been lost they quiver and bend at the slightest breeze, begging the gods for mercy, cracking and breaking under pressure. They are not the foundation stones of a secret rebellion.

It would be easy to assume that the other extreme was where the richest hunting ground for recruits was. Loud angry people, who have nothing left to fear losing. Who sit in the market square raging at the world, explaining to all who will listen about the terror and the horror of the gods. There is great power in that anger.

But there is also risk. How long would we last, if after our first success all the world knew? Anger is dangerous. Two drinks in a tavern and the world crumbles down.

There is another group, if you know how to spot them. They have been tempered by the fires of grief, and it has not broken them. They do not spill their story on every street corner. They wrap it around them like a steely cloak, they keep their heads down, they are taut and tight and tense. But if you know what to look for, if they see in you a reflection of their own loss, they are solid down to the foundations of the earth.

So you send out hooks and feelers. Watch. Gently talk to people, find the men with the mettle you’re searching for. Judging character is never easy. But when you think you’ve set the right trap for the right fish, you ease into the water gently, you don’t jump in all at once. ‘Join us to destroy the very gods themselves with the still-beating heart of the Hidden Lady’ would have a lot of style as an opener. But you do not start there. Simpler tasks, testing missions to see who can be trusted, who keeps their head under pressure, who can take a pint the day after and not brag of their great successes.

First, a book stolen from the library of the priests. A good test of mettle, and surprisingly low risk, as I could slip it back the next morning and wait to try the same mission on our next recruit. We did not always get it right. But when ale-lubricated boasters did slip and tell of their cleverness, the blows they had struck against the gods by stealing confidential documents from the very home of the priests, it is hard for anyone to take them seriously when the books are still there.

Second, a trip to the Undersea. We would always take a second team out with her heart when we did this, to clear the area before we sent our new recruit down. I know they call us monsters, because of the sacrifices we made for our mission. But we never sacrificed wantonly. We would time our training, lure any gods away from our testbed. Some of the best failed at this hurdle. The fear drives many a man mad.

And then? Once they had proven they could co-ordinate a mission, hold their tongue afterwards, and deal with the terror of the Undersea? Well, I will admit, then I did indulge in a little high drama. ‘Join us to destroy the very gods themselves with the still-beating heart of the Hidden Lady.’ Would you begrudge a frugal priest one of his few pleasures in life? We never had anyone say no. They were hooked.