This chapter is a long one, though little happens. But I just remembered the character I forgot to introduce. And it’s one not under the existing BotI lore.
Chapter 7: Tales and discussions
Fall of Flatness
Rage, bloodlust and despair.
Normally, these three emotions reign over a village when the blight arrives. But, with an almost poetic sense of justice, this did not happen when the Blight came to the village of Flatness. Instead, none knew they were in danger until the undead broke into their tents and tore them to shreds.
The rage of the villagers yearning for survival was absent, they could not react in time to muster up a defence, nor were rage and survival instinct strong traits of theirs. Many just gave up and accepted their fate when the undead overcame them.
The bloodlust of the immortals was hidden. One family at a time, one tent at a time. Just like how the feelings of the Nihilists who lived here, the undead kept these feelings inside the homes they invaded and kept their desires off the streets.
And despair, well, the despair didn’t appear rather than that it changed that night. It had always been there ever since the founding of the village. This night, it peaked before sizzling out completely.
A village that vanished from this world overnight. None noticed it, not even the villagers themselves. Even the last surviving villager was caught unaware by the Blight.
Flatness fell and returned to the shapeless plains it was named after, it’s people and heritage forgotten before the sandstorms erased any trace of their existence.
And the reason that they vanished in the night, was because the immortals attacked during a sandstorm. Under the guise of the elemental fury that raged Flatness and forced it to be the plains that it was, they came and they devoured. The howling of the wind drowned even the howling of the dogs and wolves as they cried for help. The eroding of the sand forced the inhabitants to stay in their tents even as the undead entered it, for going outside was just as suicidal as staying in. The sandstorms that ravaged their village eventually became their undoing.
The first village of the Nihilists seized to exist the same way as they came to be.
It was not until several generations years later, when a new group of artists called romantics came to be, that these unfortunate souls were remembered. A lone bard who caught but a whiff of Flatness’ tale mourned over their fate and saw the beauty in their tragic end. And it’s only his melancholic song through which the legacy of the Nihilists persists.
_From sand, we be
For sand, we see
No beginning, no end, no now.
From wind, we came
Wind kept, us tame
No past, no future, no now.
We did, not live
Not take, but give
No growth, no loss, no now.
No one, to rule
The other, his mule
No child, no father, no now.
So here, we be
And there, they came
No battle, no glory, no now.
They did, not live
They did, not rule
No hatred, no love, no now.
And when, they came
What kept, us tame
They brought, to us, a gift.
The winds, that came
Sand kept, us tame
And life, they brought, not now.
Denied us dreams,
And death, they brought, not now.
Despair, we lived.
Despair, we died.
And dead, we were, not now.
Flatness it was,
Flatness it stayed,
As before, as after, as now.
The back room ruler
So remember, no glaring.
And no sneering.
I mean it, kid. These are not your regular humans and dwarves, they actually know the difference between a Goblin’s sneer and normal face.
The older Goblin looked at his apprentice’s face. Even he had trouble telling if the youngster was mocking him some times. Ever since the new generation came up with something new called ‘sarcasm’, even older generation Goblins had trouble telling.
Alright, then. Make sure to keep your head low and don’t speak unless you’re told to.
Not even that.
The apprentice nodded.
The two Goblins walk into the room filled with stacks of paper and people frantically moving them. The young one looked around amazed, not even Goblin merchant houses knew such organised chaos.
There were signs suggesting a system, but this system was clearly overburdened. There were people whose only task was to pick up files from the OUT piles and deliver them where due, but these stacks were almost as high as the impressive IN stacks. IN stacks so tall they no doubt gave their owner migraines just looking at them.
This place. This trade centre. It was…
It was chaotic.
It was organised anarchy.
It was beautiful.
The apprentice looked around with amazement. Who knew that such a beautiful place filled with stressed out Goblins, Dwarves and humans trying to finish an unfinishable task of a thousand sales was hidden in an otherwise boring human Ministry?
His master was not lying when he said Park’s Ministry of Trade was a merchant’s Eden to which his home town’s trade centre could not compare. It was like comparing a simple village to the buzzling city life.
This room was as big as the throne room, maybe even bigger. But as each square inch was filled with bookshelves, desks and piles of paper, some of which might’ve been here for decades, making it feel so much more hectic and cramped.
His master explained the workings of the Ministry; The first coin master of Park had created this place decades ago with the intend of doing all finances here, but with the economic growth this task had long outgrew the hall.
The taxes and urgent business had been moved or outsourced long ago, and nowadays only the profitable and lucrative deals were handled here. As normal human employees weren’t up for that task, Park needed a much faster and more motivated workforce. And because there was money involved, that work force they got.
When they heard of the incredible profits to be had here, dwarven merchants, Goblin dealers and human investors from many kingdoms away rushed to Park for a job. And if they made enough money, that job would be theirs. As long as they gave Park the agreed to % of their profits, the rest was all theirs.
And it worked. After many ambitious start-ups became rich here and Park only needed a bureaucratic staff and enforcers to make sure that the merchants paid their share. The problem of their ever-growing economy was resolved.
Soon enough the hall was filled so much that Park had to cut the fat and become critical of who was allowed in. Even errand boys weren’t allowed to be illiterate any more.
Desks became priced, and soon ridiculously expensive. There were villages producing less taxes than what a single desk’s rent could cost around here. Something the previous coin master used to his advantage, offering merchant houses desks in exchange for handling bureaucratic responsibilities that had to happen fast and reliable.
But more impressive than all that was the second floor. Above them on a floor alike a giant gazebo with clear architectural influences from both dwarven and human design, was the back room.
The room that was said to be one of the most important rooms in Park, second only to the throne room and that only in domestic terms. The back room was so influential that its decisions could shape the markets of kingdoms that didn’t even border the kingdoms that bordered kingdoms bordering Park.
A room only for the most successful and powerful economists in the world. A room that this little apprentice and all others in the hall could only dream of entering. Even his master, who had accumulated enough wealth here to buy a Goblin village, wasn’t on the shortlist of people with the potential to step in for the people allowed to enter that room.
For to overhear just a single word from the things that were said in that room could be worth more than what some of us could earn in a lifetime. And today’s meeting was just as important as any other.
Just to be allowed to stand there, looking over the Hall the way a king overlooks the crowds…
To be allowed in the presence of the Treasurer, who stands there looking over the gears that keep the kingdom running.
A little less than a hundred miles away, in a much less impressive meeting room.
‘No! Tell Ushor to wait, I’m busy right now.’ Thallal shouted to the errand boy who nearly jumped out of the tent after this vicious response.
Thallal looks back at the report in front of him. It wasn’t a long one, but the handwriting was nigh undecipherable. Must be the helmet. Well, that and a warrior’s hands usually being less skilful with a pen. Doesn’t matter.
It seemed that the Sheepdust were being bothersome as well.
He cursed under his breath. Not only was the latest war effort hopelessly delayed, its requirements were much higher than usual because of the humans’ above average garrison at the pool. And with the festival almost over, those damned Dusts saw no issue refusing an order they assumed to be outdated.
Thallal sighed. Maybe it was for the best. He had enough headaches to deal with right now, and it’s not as if they actually needed Firewell. There were rapports of a new rebellion brewing in the Encampment, maybe the new troops were better fit to suppress that?
Another errand boy runs into his chambers, panting and sweating.
‘Damn it, tell Ushor I’ll be back in a few minutes!’ Thallal shouts.
Ushor looks at the disgruntled faces. The Dusts knew better than to speak up and the Wilds had no intention of continuing the festival without the judge that favoured them, but there were outsiders among the contestants that could start a ruckus any moment now. They knew not of the rules of this place.
So when Thallal appeared again, he sighed in relief. Those outsiders would already bring back stories of the Wilds’ shameful behaviour to their tribes regardless, but if they were to fight things could get ugly. It wouldn’t be the first time Thallal made a few of them disappear into the eternal Salt desert.
‘Attention, all contestants and audience.’ Thallal spoke up.
‘The contest is hereby cancelled.’ Thallal continues.
Angry whispers are already resounding through the crowds. Their patience was already tested, and now this?
But Ushor had to show that the decision was absolute, a public conflict between him and Thallal could be most problematic. So he stood up and spoke up as well.
‘Yes, I’m afraid that’s right. A sandstorm is headed for us, and due to these weather circumstances beyond our control, we…’
‘No. The sandstorm blew past us Northway.’ Thallal interrupts him.
Ushor looks at the chieftain with such hatred that even he couldn’t hide his loathing for a moment.
‘Listen up, everyone. I’ve just got word from beyond the Wall.’ Thallal says. ‘The blight has come to the Outskirts. Death is standing on our doorstep.’
Ushor can barely produce a whisper after hearing this news.
‘But that means…’
The back room meeting
Mammon looked down on the traders, dealers and merchants buzzling beneath him. The piles of paper and vials of ink were the physical embodiment of his power, his influence, his trade. The people here were all part of one large organism.
The errand boys were like the bloodstream, the archivists the liver, the paper thrashers the kidneys. And this room was the brain. He loved standing here, watching his second body move to his commands. Standing here was one of the few past-times that he truly enjoyed, rather than a job that he had to do. And the people behind him knew that, they knew that interrupting him was a bad idea.
‘Is everyone present?’ Mammon asks.
‘Yes sir!’ His aide says.
Mammon sits down at the head of the large table and looks at the people waiting for him.
Alike a captain on a ship, none were allowed to have a conversation until he started it. And as he had not said a word yet, not a single word was allowed to be uttered.
He looked at the merchant house representatives, the bankers, the traders and the dealers. Each of them wielding incredible power through their wealth. Each holding their tongue.
‘The Exiled knights.’
‘We already prepared housing for them at…’ ‘The mercenary group Berg will welcome them in their ranks…’ ‘They’re not coming.’ ‘Their presence is a violation of…’
‘Sael.’ Mammon says. The other pleas grow silent.
‘We’ve got reports that the exiled knights have turned back to Dawnfort after encountering a fellowship of elves.’ Sael says. ‘The blight broke out there.’
The other interested parties seem disappointed. Figures, each saw profit to be had when word of Ophra’s destination came.
‘Hm, good. The arrival of a new order of experienced knights could’ve disrupted the balance between us and the Wilds.’ Mammon says. ‘And now that a new rebellion is emerging at the Encampment, it’d be unwise for a new war to decimate the Nihilists’ numbers. If they’re too sparse, the Wilds will be making strange jumps to get more slaves elsewhere.’
‘What about this Blight outbreak?’ Mammon asks.
‘Dawnfort fell to the Blight, but it’s the first seedling. Nothing kingdom-sized yet. Although the entire area is now gridlocked, of course.’ Sael says.
‘Hm, yes. I believe my nephew is around there helping the survivors.’ A Goblin dealer says. ‘While the reports are a bit old and from the earliest days when things can still change overnight, he said that the situation might be containable.’
‘Please sir, if this spreads through Gryphon’s crown it will also affect us. With their grain and…’ A human merchant says.
‘Yes, yes. I know. The immortals make for lousy traders so it’s best if the mortals win. It’s always the same situation, no need to argue about it.’ Mammon says before turning back to Sael. ‘So why would the situation be containable if a metropolis fell? Without Dawnfort’s troops and guidance there are too many places for the undead to spread to unopposed.’
‘It appears mortal resistance managed to close the gates, sir.’ Sael says. ‘And in between the troubles before the outbreak and a large amount of the military turning civilian or bandit just before the outbreak, the resistance appears to be holding steadfast.’
‘Your nephew. Is he talented?’ Mammon asks the Goblin dealer.
‘Talented enough to make it into the Hall, not enough for a desk.’ The dealer says. ‘But he’s more of an opportunist among fools than a competitive spirit, so that’s a loose estimate.’
‘If we send him supplies, will people be able to trace it back to us?’
‘Salt, bread, water and timber. And tinderboxes.’ Mammon says. ‘And make sure he knows to keep his mouth shut about their origins. If the prices of those goods don’t skyrocket, those survivors ought to hold out longer.’
‘If anyone wants to contribute voluntarily, they may either do so through this nephew or in their own name.’ Mammon adds.
A few people are already scribbling down some numbers for gifts and hand them over to the dealer, but as expected no one offers to openly send aid. Merchants known to support the Alliance’s plight could expect to be buried by endless requests from blighted countries all around.
‘Sir, Dawnfort lies near Black Park, the political ties…’
‘Are something for Lord Amon to worry about.’ Mammon interrupts his aide. ‘We’ve got more pressing matters to discuss. As I said, the Encampment is soon to have another rebellion, which means the salt production will soon come to a grinding halt. Are the warehouses properly stocked or do we need to contact our Silverdust contacts before they hear of this?’
Again, several people speak up in attempts to hoard as much of the profitable side of the situation to themselves, drowning out the aide’s words.
Somewhere deep in the eternal salt desert
The immortal was already hungry before he died, and that hunger became only more insatiable after its rebirth. But unlike its brethren, it didn’t follow the scent towards the nearby living flesh.
No, for reasons unknown to all including the immortal itself, it wandered into the eternal Salt desert. It was a strange behavioural abnormality that some had, and with the sheer amount of undead rising from the Encampment it was not strange that there were dozens that went the wrong way.
Maybe it initially followed a slave running this way. Who knows? But by now, this undead one could no longer sense its brethren who also went this way, the distance became too great. Nor could it sense the mortals it should’ve headed towards, not after the several days it had been wandering.
But it could sense the new life. The life within the desert where there should be no life. It couldn’t sense the life when it headed this way, but now the scent of sweat and faeces was getting stronger.
And the undead orc continued walking, walking towards the massive sand-ship on the horizon.