Chapter Two: The Brown Land
Part Three: Nothing With Nothing
“They knew we were coming.”
Grand Scrutator Alphonse Severius’ voice was tight with fury as he stood with his fists pressing down on Scrutator Semper’s enormous desk. He had just stormed in fresh from battle, his robes torn and bloodied. Both men still wore their masks, so Severius’ expression was one of haughty burnished indifference. But his eyes threw sparks. Semper stayed sitting behind the desk, his own eyes unreadable.
“It was a pagan site, they could have been investigating it to see what hellish energies they could consume.”
“I don’t believe in coincidence, Victus. When everything gets covered in shit, I start looking for the arsehole that did it. Those mercenaries were paid extra to be discrete, so that leaves-”
“I cannot believe that any of my people would have said anything. Not even him. He knows that death would be the least of his worries if he ever betrayed us.”
Severius was unconvinced, but he relented. He knew that Scrutator Semper would be the first to exact calamitous retribution should any of his underlings step out of line, least of all the callow young Siskington, whose loyalty was so suspect.
Seeing that his superior had calmed down somewhat, Semper considered his next move. The presence of the United Kriels in the Darkfen was troublesome, but the main force detached from the Northern Crusade would arrive that day. They should be able to roll over whatever opposition was put in front of them, no need to rely on mercenaries.
A commotion from the courtyard below Semper’s office window attracted their attention. They saw ordered ranks of Exemplars Errant fan out, still on alert even when in the heart of Menite strength in Merwynn. All around them swarmed the Zealots, undisciplined but fervent. At the centre of this maelstrom were two armoured figures.
One was unmistakable as High Executioner Servath Reznik. About the size of a trollkin, he bellowed orders and stomped about, with underlings scurrying away from his cheerful wrath. There was never a happier man than the High Executioner. When he was not tearing up the battlefield, he could be found terrorising the faithful into good works. His imposing size belied a heart of molten gold, liable to consume and destroy anyone who stood in his way. He was the sort of man you would want as a stepfather to your nieces and nephews, there to protect them from the world, and ruthlessly punish any infraction.
Beside him was a slim figure in this season’s latest fashion in warcaster armour. The war-tailors in Sul were favouring enormous ruffs combined with scarves and robes which left the wearer looking like they had just hatched from an egg. He surveyed the courtyard with the same lofty majesty as the lion surveys the savannah. It may have been the sun catching their burnished masks, or he may have known they were there, but his gaze soon alighted on the two scrutators watching him from the balcony high above. Vice Scrutator Vindictus inclined his head, greeting his superior in the Grand Scrutator, and sizing up his inferior in Scrutator Semper.
Severius stepped forward so that he would be visible to all down in the courtyard, and he threw him arms wide. “My brethren and sistren under Menoth, I bid you welcome to Merwynn, the site of the Lawgiver’s latest miracle on Caen! We stand on the brink of a time of great change, when the feral wilds will be tamed by the hand of Man. Those who stand before us will be swept away in the tides of civilisation, and the glory of Menoth will shine for all to see! You have heard that the savage leaders of the United Kriels now champion the denizens of the Darkfen. Know now that they are nothing, they deceive themselves and their allies if they think they can withstand us. Be ready, for the time of battle will soon be upon us. Glory to Menoth!”
The courtyard resounded with a chorus of “Glory to Menoth” from hundreds of throats. Even among the cacophony the High Executioner’s bass rumble could be discerned. It was impossible to tell if Vindictus joined in, but Semper would not be surprised if the Vice Scrutator stayed silent. He had always preferred observing to participating.
His speechifying done, the Grand Scrutator turned away from the balcony. “I trust there will be no issues between the two of you. It is many years since you were fledges. A great deal depends on you both.” He gave Semper a look, then headed for the door. “Please brief the High Executioner, while I get things in order.”
Semper resumed his seat at the desk, and waited for the heavy tramp upon the stairs. The building shook with the High Executioner’s advent, and although he pushed the doors to Semper’s office only gently, both of them slammed against the wall. His shoulder pads nearly brushed the lintel on either side. The man truly was gigantic, the armour was only a small layer on top of his existing girth. He did not sit – no chair could hold him in his armour – but stood to attention, inclining his helmeted head.
“Milord Semper, I am ready to serve,” as always Reznik sounded cheerful. It had ever been so. The prospect of maiming in the name of Menoth seemed to fill his every thought, not with righteous anger or fervour, but with a simple joy. His presence was always refreshing. Sometimes with all the torture and persecution that went into Semper’s daily routine, he forgot that it was a privilege to do the work the Builder of Walls had ordained. They were saving the world, one soul at a time.
“Welcome to Merwynn, High Executioner. I am sure the savages in the swamp tremble at your approach. Come and look.” They both crossed to the map table, and Semper indicated a spot deep within the Darkfen. “This is the main settlement within the Darkfen, inhabited mainly by trogs, scrogs and other kinds of ogg. Once cleared, the inhabitants will have no choice but to fall back to the Darkholm, where a force led by the Vice Scrutator will cut them off and force them to scatter. By means of this herding technique, we should force them to disperse and find another home altogether. Then the Great Work can begin.”
The High Executioner listened with a patience like that of mountains, and finally spoke, “What of the United Kriel presence in the area? Might they not intervene?” Semper waved his hand in dismissal, “We have no way of knowing where the trollkin force is based. This is also a reconnaissance mission, our best guess is that they are bivouacking either here or somewhere deeper in the forest. If your presence draws them out, so much the better. They will know we are not to be trifled with, and you will have Menite troops rather than the rabble we were forced to resort to in our previous encounter.”
A chuckle like grinding stone escaped from Reznik, and he clapped his gauntleted hands. “There will be a slaughter if I get my hands on them. Best thing for those trollkin is to run and hide, for a judgement of fire awaits them!”