Chronicles of Mayhem: Genesis, Chapter 1-Part 1
Terror and Grandeur
(Ten years after the fall of House Merces)
“Dere’s really only one good tavern in Lord’s Gate,” the stranger snarled through a snaggletooth grin. “Dere’s de Inn dat serves travelers in a fair common room for de patronage. Since de wars left de South, ain’t much custom to speak of.” The man spoke with a southron drawl to his speech, no doubt enhanced by his slack-jaw and pugnant features.
The interrogator he looked up at had no specific features to mark him as man or beast. Rather it appeared that a massive black shadow of cloak and metal enveloped a saddle and drained the light from the setting sun. He was a phantasm, terrible and magnificent to behold and the simpleton instructing him could feel a disquieting cold surrounding them.
Without a word, mercifully the dark rider turned from the stranger and kicked his steed in the direction of the towering fortress city of Lord’s Gate. To his eyes, still only a small pile of stones and smoke many miles away atop the climbing hills and running rapids of the Kahnslands. Lord’s Gate was tactfully situated between the Southern Kingdom and Imperium, the Imperial Capitol, and grew into the principal training grounds of the Imperial Military — The Mayhemrium.
Lord’s Gate was first built in an ancient time where men and dragons fought for glory and wrested the treacherous tides of Terranor. As one of the three Imperial cities it held no allegiance to any house, rather operated in soul servitude of The Mayhem Empire and its Emperor. It was a castle with three different temperaments displayed by her three very different towers, communing to provide safety and stability to The Mayhemrium. About the castle’s high walls a thriving township had formed, sprawled and then receded to what lay before the black rider now.
A humble market square stood equidistant from the outer curtain wall of the city and the castle behind. There were active street markets with a few storefronts and open stables with some nicer residences nearer to the castle walls. The town had a few bathhouses and a small arena for jousts and tournaments and the like though none appeared well-used recently. A few pleasure houses that would swell with custom every time a new wave of troops came through for their conditioning, seemed to be in their off-season.
The Imperial conditioning was required by any who would join The Mayhemrium — the Imperial military elite was made up of perfectly loyal troopers, regardless of birthright, station or experience. The process was a well guarded secret, though stories of stringent and in many instances fatal testing, but necessary to break any and all previous loyalties from their hearts and minds. Like a mustang must be broken before he can be put to work or war: these men and boys, girls and women needed subdued and loyalty above reproach before earning a place amongst the ranks of Mayhem’s elite. The service to The Mayhemrium was an oath taken for life, to break it was to earn imprisonment eternal within the nightmare city of Lunda.
The stranger had spoke of a tavern and sure enough, after following the music and the sounds of revelry in the air from a ways off, this dark rider found it. On this particular evening it appeared the tavern was raucous and overflowing with custom, some nameday celebration or a merchant crew come ashore from Gemerock or Virginia Island perhaps. His ash-colored charger strode wearily toward the watering trough before the tavern but her dark rider kicked again, spurred on down the lane beyond the din and rabble.
He was searching for something or someone, but his search precluded as large a crowd as that. After a few turns more than he may have intended, he found the inn to be in far less a crowded state than the tavern he’d passed up. Dismounting in a heavy thud, he handed his ride to the groom who was trembling, stricken with confusion across his humble face. The dark knight strode slowly in through the half-open door, allowing the brisk night air to cool the stone and oak corridors of the modest inn as he passed.
Inside was a simple enough common room with a few occupied tables and some stools being manned by local smallfolk. To his left was a desk with no one in particular guarding it presently and beyond a stair that led up to rooms and down to a cellar. The dark knight moved into the common room like a shadow sucking out the light of the candles and the lumineers lighting the room. Most who noticed him made sure to pretend they hadn’t while others were struck dumb by his visage.
He spied an empty table that had a very peculiar looking lioness dagger lying suspiciously about. Without hesitation he pressed to the booth and bent into the seat opposite the dagger. As he bent, his cloak revealed the pommel and hilt of at least one sword, neck high.
The dark figure was well armored; his breast and back-plate were dark as ash and inlaid with onyx and beryl studs, with a crest of two golden triangles opposing each other nearing the throat. The etch-work surrounding the edging of the dark metal was fine silver, so tight it could have been mistaken for battle scars marring the finish. His leg plates and boots were sharpened black steel into hard edges and gauntlets and bracers of thick black boiled leather and scale plated black steel, also carrying the silver etching. Draping his neck were dark metallic scales that shifted and breathed like the scales of a riverdragon covering him from chin to cuirass and down his arms.
“Been expecting you m’lord. How may I service you?” The tavern wench looked directly into the darkness of the black knight before her, but spoke evenly and comfortably in her imposing guest’s presence. He wagered he wasn’t the first scary figure to come through her life, probably wouldn’t be the last if she kept at it. What’s more the “wench” part of her title seemed far more appropriate than for most in her obscure profession.
“Ale.” More of a grunt than an answer, but more than enough to get the waitress off and strutting. She was shapely, fine in both bosom and posterior with light-dark-skin and two false dimples with metal studs implanted in her cheeks. The dark knight even froze for a moment when he looked at her hypnotic metal studs, but was broken from the trance when she turned to leave. She swayed from hip to hip as she walked away and her curls bounced as much as her shapely buttocks did in the effort.
He finally pulled back the dark cloak to show a massive black steel war-helm. Crowned with jade and onyx, ringed with ruby, emerald and sapphire all webbed together with fine etchings of silver and crimson flames — it did nothing to lessen the dark figure’s magnificence. The eye holes were long triangles that fed down thinner to below his nose and thick across the brow. It was menacing and terrible to behold, but no one beheld it, fortunate to their own peace of mind. He removed the helm and placed it on the table next to him and filled it with his gauntlets as he removed them as well.
His fair-olive skin was shadowed with scruff around his neck and fierce jaw line and short cropped hair, dark and straight with touches of silver to show age. His face would have been handsome if it wasn’t exceedingly grim; his square jaw and hard features betrayed the tone and temper of his darkened mind. He lifted his hands to stretch them, now free of the metal cages and looked at them front and back. Backhand having nothing too noticeable besides nicks and scars, and patches of hair; but forehand held burn scarring, deep and vicious within the skin. It erased the lines in his palms and replaced them with jagged edges and bubbled flesh that was hard as leather.
The cool ale did its job on his thirst as he waited patiently for the dagger to produce an owner. He leered at it from behind his cup but made no effort to grab it. He knew who it belonged to and needed nothing from its edge: only its master concerned him.
To the dark knight’s chagrin, the owner of the lioness dagger entered like a lion, roaring his approval at his new company by proclaiming, “welcome, Lord Mereg! Welcome. I had not thought to see you like this. But welcome indeed, friend.”
The man, if he was old enough to be called that, was quite tall, at least two decades younger than the dark Lord Mereg and far darker in skin color. He was a dark ebony, his face gaunt and long but soft and comely. Very comely come to see it at a second glance, his tight brown curls gave a lose bounce here and there on his head and around his ears. He wore midnight-blue silks and a banded silver medallion belt about his thin waist and a gold and jade leatheren belt holding a gilded sword hilt with a silver crescent moon pommel and an empty dagger sheath.
His garb was mostly covered in a fine junglecat fur coat, clasped at the neck but his boastful smile was un-shaded by the lowered hood. “You are a fine sight for ragged eyes, Lord Mereg. These Imperial cities are so filthy but not in any of the good ways.”
“You are a fool to speak so brashly.” Mereg shot a glance around the room and again deterred half a dozen wandering eyes. “Come,” he gestured to the space across himself, “we have much to discuss. Perhaps we could in privy?”
“I’m a fool?” The brash young man’s response was incredulous as he gracefully floated into the seat in front of the silver dagger, making certain to maintain his unabashed grin. “You enter the Lord’s Gate in black magic armor and walk into a tavern, as such,” with a wave about the hall, he continued. “All for a clandestine meeting, then call me fool? You and I have very different views on foolishery.
“What’s done is done, ‘the dragon may yet burn even the sheep’.” Mereg almost grinned as the young black man sat to join him. His presence was magnetic, a field of power that clouded his visage like a glowing aura. To the smallfolk he may appear a slender lordling or jumped-up merchant’s son, but through the black magic of the Strast, his power was impressive. It made the lordling swell and gave him confidence, even in the presence of an Aphotic of the Dark Council such as Lord Mereg.
“‘The shadow fears neither day nor night,’ I come and go as I will. None shall deter the flow of the Strast. I am the Foul Flood, you’d do well to remember that.” Mereg’s words were deep and dark, unsettling to the weak hearted. His inflection implied careful thought and devotion to historical reference as he spoke with the far younger and perhaps less learned princeling.
“‘…But abides them evenly to judge all.’ Yes, the principals of Banus the Black have reached us in the East as well. I meant no offense my Lord,” the princeling spoke with an unimpedible grin on his perfect little face. “I am at your service, regardless of the setting. That said, why have you come my Lord? Last I spoke to you and your kind, it seemed clear that I would have to look elsewhere for the assistance I require. Do you come to see how expensive this endeavor has become? Perhaps to mock my folly at trusting in the legend of the Brotherhood?”
“I’m prepared to accept your offer to the council,” Mereg replied decidedly. The young black boy leaned in to question him quietly. His tone shifted completely at the revelation.
“I’m not sure I understand. Are you acting as liaison? Surely the council could have sent a…”
“ I will be accepting on my own behalf, not theirs. They are pathetic cows, oafs with asses so inflated they’ve stuck to their thrones. Unable to see the future or the present, they wallow in the past. ‘The river flows, of which no man may hinder. I will not have the same said of me as I’ve said of that supposed Council. What do you say to that?”
The ebon skinned princeling was still grinning but was working to maintain any level of enthusiasm at his disappointment. “So you will be taking on the responsibility wholly? I offered the deal to your entire order, a very lucrative one at that. I am not surprised that the entire council couldn’t be convinced, they have their traditions and tapestries to distract them from reality. I wonder though, my esteemed Aphotic Lord, if your reach exceeds your grasp in this?” The question was fair, but insulting nonetheless.
“I am fully aware of what the agreement entails.” Mereg finished his ale and signaled the vixen in the corner for another. She’d been observing them closely the entire time, and through his senses the dark Lord couldn’t shake her intoxicating presence. “You have no reckoning of the tools at my disposal, the allies I may call upon. But above all, the Strast flows in my favor. I will not answer to you, boy. You will soon know my power, then none would dare question my resolve.”
“I do not question your resolve, my Lord.” He spoke again, forebodingly, but the smile began to wane on his face. “I merely question your resourcefulness. I find that men of our stature don’t always possess the sort of tenacity necessary for an undertaking of this ilk.” He pretended to maintain his calm, hoping the dark lord made no note of his chagrin at being called boy. “If you can deliver though, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t have a deal. You give me my Empire, and then I’ll give you yours. Aye?”
Mereg’s gaze showed no sign of wavering at the lordling’s compliance. Instead, behind his eyes were gears turning, cranking and shifting to push a great machine forward. He was manufacturing something, conjuring some future world that only he could truly behold. Perhaps none else would, but in this moment, he was winning an ally that could bring that vision out of the shadows. A dark Lord of the Strast with the ambition to make an alliance that just might bring a world to its knees.
In a word he’d seal their fates together, intertwined to whatever end, “Aye.”
“I need to know that I can trust you, of course.” The young man was steady, almost defiant, but pliable. He needed his ally to want to prove himself, but ran the risk of over-stepping his bounds. Gevaller’s of the Strast were never to be trifled with, and Lord Mereg was a council member, one of the six Aphotic Lords and an extremely cunning and dangerous warlord in Nesterra. The young man danced on the edge of a knife knowing one false step meant the wrath of the elder Aphotic opposite the table from him.
“I’ll need to know the same of you. I’d be betraying my Brothers — the whole council will be looking for me and I will be looking for ‘me’ as well. You may elude the council, I’ll see to that, but I must be able to elude them as well. That task will take far more cunning, but it will be done. I have found something interesting in my early raids, something that made me believe, er. Made me a believer.”
Mereg’s words rumbled deep but soft, not nearly as boisterous as his young scheming companion. He was being careful to hide something, and there was no chance of the lordling penetrating his cunning. “I’ll ask you once, and only once,” Mereg spoke with as much earnesty he could muster, “and trust you will answer me true. Does He truly stir?” It was a question that meant more than was said, and the olive-skinned dark Lord took on a paler hue in its asking. The two knew what was meant and remained solemn to allow the words to linger in the air between them for a moment of homage.
“He does. All shall serve or perish in fire. I mean not to perish, I hope the same for you.” The young dark schemer lost his grin in the grim moment. Silence echoed between them, settling uncomfortably over the table like a thick fog. The lordling’s words “He does” wrapped themselves around the dark Lord’s heart, injecting fear into his veins.
“Then I mean to continue as your ally, in secret and in the Council. The Strast favors me above my Brothers, it will be my pleasure to keep them unawares to our movements until the noose is already around their necks. My ravens will arrive in your possession within the fortnight for safe keeping and use in the direst of need, but this shall be the last we see each other till His return.”
Mereg shifted his balance and reached for his things when his companion reached out a hand to his forearm, stilling him for a moment. “There’s one other thing my Lord. These eyes about us just won’t do. What’s to be done?” He looked around the room quickly, expecting Mereg would share in the sentiment.
“I care not about the eyes of sheep,” he replied curtly, brushing the younger man’s hand away. Lord Mereg straightened in his bench and swung his feet out in front of himself to exit the booth. Before he could push his weight back to his feet the young man’s left hand flew out to the silver dagger and brought it down with a swift crash in the tiny space betwixt Mereg’s right hand and great helm on the table.
Mereg did not recoil in fear, rather grasped the blade with his palm and squeezed till blood began to pool in the creases of his grasp. On his face an evil snarl twisted and writhed as the pain in his hand fed the anger in his eyes. No, not anger, fire. Staring deep into the heart of the young man holding the dagger he felt the dark magical energy flowing up from the both of their veins.
“These sheep may bleat to others, and those others may recognize you or I, or both. That will not do my Lord. My assistant has already made her escape, she is to be trusted if you are to see her again.”
“Trusted as much as I trust you?”
“Clearly.” The princeling’s own angry energy never subsided as he swiftly rose to his feet and pulled the dagger free from both wood and flesh. The damage had been done, his power and emotion had awoken a terrible fire within the dark Lord.
“A fire must consume,” the young man in silks quoted to himself. Pulling up his junglecat cloak’s gilded hood he regarded the older man one last time before exiting. “Thank you for your service Lord Mereg. Till He comes…” He gave a courteous half bow, turned toward the back door from whence he came and tossed the innkeep two silver moon coins before ducking out to the night air, escaping the fire that he’d kindled within.