Chapter Two: The Brown Land
Part One: Where The Dead Men Lost Their Bones
In which Scrutator Semper assembles his pawns for a grand scheme
Victus Semper, Scrutator Overseeing the Governance, Distribution, Justification, Flagellation and Sewage of Merwynn, cracked his knuckles and rose from the chair behind the desk where he spent most of his days. He strode – he always strode, he was not a man for hesitant steps – to the doors of his office and turned the key in the lock. Thus satisfied with the inviolability of his sanctum he returned to the desk and doffed the burnished mask which offered the world the haughty visage of a Sul-Menite Scrutator. The face beneath was if anything even haughtier, his thin-lipped mouth was ever downturned, his eyes could strike sparks, his nose was aquiline and pronounced.
Not a man to dwell much on his own vices when those of others were ripe for the persecuting, he flipped the lid on his desk humidor and plucked out a cigar. The cigar having been lit, he stalked across the office to the map table, the birthplace of all of his schemes and stratagems. The usual street map of Merwynn had been replaced, in its stead lay a map of the hinterland surrounding the city. To the northeast the Dark River that sustained the city refused to abide to its banks and burst all over the landscape, forming the treacherous marshland of the Darkfen. Further to the northeast the Darkfen merged mangroviously into the Darkholm, a forbidding forest which stretched for hundreds of miles. Trollkin, gobbers, and all sorts of other undesirables made this wasteland their home.
Scrutator Semper twitched his lips in satisfaction as he surveyed the changes he would bring to this maelstrom of disordered life. The Darkfen was overlaid with a network of coloured paper which linked back to the city of Merwynn, spiralling around a central hub in the very heart of the marshland. This would be the Great Works. It would use the ingenious devices first formulated by the settlers of Ancient Icthier to dredge water up from caverns below the desert to purify the fetid water of the Dark River. This cleansed water would flow back to the city of Merwynn, free from disease and blessed with the civilising touch of Menoth. It would require hundreds of miles of metal piping, which would require hundreds of tons of metal ore. This was one reason the Great Works had been held up for so long, since his initial plans when he took up his scrutatorship over the Llaelese city.
The answer to his prayers – not that he prayed to Menoth for anything, Menoth gives what Menoth wills, these are figurative prayers – had come with the recent survey conducted by that famous bleeding heart explorer Viktor Pendrake. While the good Professor was hobnobbing with the squalid denizens of the Darkholm, his keen mind could not help but notice that they carried iron weapons, so unlike the usual scrabbled-together junk that such tribes in other regions carried. He discovered that the mountains which the Darkholm surrounded and engulfed were brimming with deposits of iron ore. According to the horrid locals’ superstitions, these came from when the Devourer Wurm was trying to cook a romantic meal for Dhunia over an ancient volcano, but his frying pan melted everywhere and was forgotten in the resulting spat.
Pendrake had written up his findings and sent them in to the Corvis University Review, along with some drivel about how the inhabitants of the Darkholm had as much right as anyone to blah blah blah. Scrutator Semper was a subscriber to the Review, because all right-thinking people in Immoren are. After tearing out and burning half of the journal as offensive in the eyes of Menoth, he came back to Pendrake’s article. Usually the Cygnaran Professor’s name on a publication was enough to consign it to the flames, but it was saved this time as it was of local interest. And indeed the Scrutator offered thanks to the Lawgiver when he saw what Pendrake had found. Miles upon miles of iron deposits, and right on the front door of Merwynn! The project which Semper had planned was blessed indeed!
A knock on the door disturbed the Scrutator’s reverie, and he glanced at the clock on the wall. Whoever it was, they were early, which to Semper’s meticulous mind was as unforgivable as tardiness. Scrutators always like things arranged just so. Still, he returned to the desk, donned his mask and went to unlock the door. He waited until he was seated behind the desk again before declaiming “Enter”. It did not do to appear to be a servant in one’s own domain.
The figure who obeyed was one whose disreputability could not be masked by the fine clothes he wore. Hair half-tamed by a tub of grease, along with a scrubby beard, united with a nose broken many times over gave a portrait of a man who had grown up facedown on the streets. His eyes roved over the chamber, always giving the Scrutator the impression he was thinking of ways to rob it. In those days the Scrutator didn’t trust me as much as he came to in later years.
For this ragamuffin was I, Master Siskington, Semper’s catspaw among the disreputable and damned of Merwynn. I had not completely disgraced myself in my first mission in the service of the Northern Crusade, and had been retained. I had not yet attained the good graces which I later enjoyed, but nevertheless I swaggered into the office of a man who could have me hung drawn and quartered on a whim. I was quite the young fool.
“Good morrow, milord Scrutator!”
“Siskington. You are early.”
The Scrutator’s voice carried all the disapproval that you might expect from someone saying “you are covered head to toe in dung and now dragging it all over my carpet”. He motioned for me to stand in front of him and steepled his fingers. This was a sure sign that he was preparing to make use of me, despite the holy show I was making of myself.
“The Great Work is in readiness, Siskington.”
“Well that’s good news, you’ve been planning it for so long-”
“Quite. Before we begin however, we must perform several tasks. The paramount of which is the cleansing of the Darkholm and Darkfen of its undesirable inhabitants.”
I stayed silent for a time, giving a fair impression of listening. The Scrutator was not fooled but continued.
“This is a delicate task and it requires finesse. Grand Scrutator Severius will require your help in this matter.”
This was Grand Scrutator Alphonse Severius (cousin of the Hierarch, nepotism will get you everywhere), who I had come to blows with in the past. Since the recovery of the relics from the ruins of Malathricthier we had agreed an uneasy truce, based largely on the Grand Scrutator being occupied with business several hundred miles away. We were not each others favourite people.
“While the Grand Scrutator has already arrived here in Merwynn with a small entourage, his main force will still be a few weeks in arriving. You will gather some suitable mercenary elements to bolster his first expedition into the Darkfen.”
There followed a long pause during which the wheels started to turn in my head and the Scrutator waited for me to show any signs of understanding. At last I nodded and flashed one of those trademark grins which makes all right-thinking folk itch to slap that smirk off my face.
“Shouldn’t be a problem, milord! As it happens there are some very suitable types in Merwynn at present. Saxon Orrick is just finished a contract with the Guild of Slaughter, and I’ve heard tell that a band of Idrians has just showed up looking for work.”
Scrutator Semper waved his hand in dismissal.
“I will leave the petty details to you. Report tomorrow at the same time.”
Thus ordered, I left the presence and set off on my errand. First task was to locate Saxon Orrick, that famed psychopath. Last I had heard he was holed up in a tavern on Rat’s Alley, avoiding creditors and non-blackguards. But enough about me.
Once I had closed the great door behind me, the Scrutator remained seated. The first part of his plan was now in motion, as unreliable at the hands at the helm might be. He exulted in a quiet fashion, feeling the approval of the Lawgiver touch him for a moment. The moment passed and his normal vexed and energetic disposition returned. He drummed his fingers on the massive oaken desk, and spoke to the empty room.
What you or I would have mistaken for a gold-painted statue holding aloft a potted plant resolved itself into Clarence of the Knights Exemplar Errant. This master of disguise, derring-do and other areas too numerous to mention stood to attention, shedding the leaf-of-gold toga he had donned for the part.
“He’s taken new lodgings at Hofgarten Avenue, where he’s carrying on with a young lady. Roaldia something, she used to be a dancer at the Peal of Bells.”
“No extracurricular activity?”
“Well he’s not working for anyone important. He’s got a hand in the bareknuckle gobber fights that run down by the quays, and he’s still running that boot stand every feast day, but I suppose old habits die hard.”
“Very good. Watch Master Siskington closely, Clarence. Even though he deals with the lowest of the low it must not compromise his work. The Great Work is too important to risk.”
Clarence inclined his head in the degree of respect appropriate for the scrutator caste’s most dedicated servants. He had expressed his reservations about me when I was first inducted into the Scrutator’s service, and although they had not dissipated over time he knew what the answer was: Siskington was to be protected until his sin outweighed his use.
Scrutator Semper motioned that the Errant could leave, which he did via the curtained window. Left alone once more, the Scrutator rose and studied the map with its coloured paper. Such weak tools to build greatness, but Menoth’s will would be done!
Battle Report from Game One of the Campaign will follow on Friday!