The LifeGuard had completed another task. This one by those of Leopard Company, where questions of morals and ethics never arose. Other LifeGuard left them be to their own small rituals. Like their sergeants and those damn pocket book ledgers. God knew what they wrote in them after every mission. At least you hoped it was God. And it was just red ink.
Rituals are always based on accounts, which usually have at least a sliver of fact in the depths of the Origin.
It was said of Rachmoregin the first emperor of The Oakhostian he risked all, not for himself but for the causes of Unity and Stability of the turbulent lands. Expediency was the gold in his war chest. Many of all ranks were drawn by his constant energies.
Now in his most private of apartments, the morning spring sun doing nothing to raise his mood. Trepidation born of anguished regret heavy upon his shoulders.
In a corner shadowed from the light, a slight man dressed in modest garb sat studying the document. In a court complementary to Rachmoregin. Master Vermittler, Clerke Senior of Provisions, could be taken as a mere functionary doing the will of others. In fact Vermittler, was known for his quietly spoken response to many a challenge of gaining resources ‘Yes. I will attend to this,’
Respected for his renowned ability to navigate through the complex turbulent world of trade and supplies was this Master of Contracts and Obligations. Negotiator and Deliverer.
Rachmoregin recognised a man for a role, whatever position they currently held. Which was, despite his gnawing anxiety why he sat, patiently. Vermittler shared with him an eye for detail. It must be so, the Emperor reasoned for the man never failed to provide. And his fortitude was rewarded as Vermittler rolled up the document looking up with due and plain respect.
‘I understand how at the time this was judged Expedient My Emperor,’ he said shorn of reproach ‘Your adherence to it however will be ruinous. Default is not an option. Renegotiation is necessary,’
‘With these?’ Rachmoregin said gesturing into an apparently emptiness. He rarely sounded aghast.
Vermittler rose and stepped out of the shadows, only the eyes on his pale angular features indicated anything, widened with a thoughtful intensity, fixed upon somewhere beyond the confines of that room. When Vermittler spoke The Emperor felt the words’ meanings were being brought from those distances.
‘Contracts My Emperor are ever transitory things. Even the most secure forged to stand firm in a Court of Law is subject to whims. A turn of Nature laying waste a nation, or a war upending the society, even something as minor as a change of governance and the whole is swept away, sending the once illustrious wealthy, barefoot and in rags to seek scraps. Contracts are unavoidable, but those who build them should ever be aware the need to adapt. All is change My Emperor,’ he considered the rolled up document.
‘Yes, I will attend to this,’
Aldebray The Mage chaffed, while accepting such was hopeless. The Contract he had signed with this Vermittler, who would supply the rare substances Aldebray required, was quite specific about being willing to offer assistance. He had not expected this though. And yet the Court of Mages would find for the trader, reasoning would not do to upset the means of supplies.
‘Each action will literally cost me three years of my life,’ Aldebray protested.
‘Look upon it as a small payment, a possible investment for your peace of mind,’
‘How can Contact with These bring peace of mind?’
‘In Negotiations you may be a minor beneficiary,’
From anyone else but Vermittler that would certainly be bombastic insanity. This fellow though, there was a distance about him, which seemed to be outside of anything other than the base practicalities of trade.
Aldebray set to work, with words, symbols and artefacts; reaching out beyond The World Physical, to The realms of The Lords of The Lands, demonic Zerstorung, creatures feasting on strife and suffering.
The landscape was cloying night, illuminated by roiling flames, sounds of battle. Ranks of hunched soldiers, faces distorted into myriad feral shapes, eyes burning offset by slackened jaws marching off into the maw of conflict, herded by larger bestial creatures wielding barbed whips a’fire.
Some yelled obscene threats at Vermittler. He did not pay heed, all emptiness.
Standing ahead a figure, cowled and burdened with meaningless decorations, a staff of bones held in a clawed hand, features mostly covered, save for a mouth curled in hate.
‘What brings you fool?’ hissed the voice, so filled with loathing it rose above the other clamours.
Vermittler said nothing, he merely produced the Contract, a bitter laugh chittered forth from the being.
‘You come to bargain?’ it mocked.
‘Negotiate,’ came the reply, sure and steady ‘For mutual benefit. Your Master has failed to appreciate this binding is ruinous to them to. They ask for quantity not quality. A poor investment in the future,’
The figure recoiled at his detached judgment, turned its back, muttering in growls, spits and shrieks. Vermittler assumed it was speaking to its masters. Vermittler felt he might have more independence, of a sort, anyhow.
There came the expected rejection, full of anger, hate and distain. Vermittler did not respond with words, only pondering what came as judgement from the Zerstroung lord and what was originating from this representative. He doubted if the demonic creatures would know either, after all there was a mutual incomprehension in what were but two races.
Whether lord or servant gave the command Vermittler was not sure, but three muscle warped things rushed at him, intent on harm.
They passed through him causing no more distress that a sudden fetid summer wind out town’s open drains. They blundered to a confused halt; the creature servant shrieked, whether in frustration or in its Lord displeasure Vermittler could not say.
‘Tell your master this. I have not travelled here in the physical. I was allotted this spectral ability by but a simple human mage. Humanity is adapting to the Ethereal elements and events which brought you to their home world, working with The Ethereal or taking advantage of opportunities arising. The gathering of the souls of all the dead from Rachmoregin’s wars in exchange for vigour supplied to him is wearing thin. The harvest is poorer by the season. These ranks will not suit your lord’s wars and Rachmoregin is fading, others will take his place, using innate cunning and intelligence; they will not need this contract. This will not happen soon, but soon enough. Then in Rachmoregin’s demise this contract will be revealed, and there will be resolve to turn against it, in some part by religion, but in other part by Human’s knack for weaponry. In time there will be machines and devices which will lay waste these lands, a fearful reckoning,’
The servant screamed denial, shook the staff at Vermittler, energies flew at him, his only reaction was to blink, then reply.
‘Tell your masters I wish to re-negotiate. I cannot guarantee them survival, but I can extend their tenure on this world long enough for them to explore other means,’
There followed more screaming, howling and general noise, all of which Vermittler took to be threats. As he did not respond to these there were more physical attempts, all of which flew past or through him. He reflected that he would truly have to ensure Aldebray was recompensed for the reduction in the mage’s life expectancy.
Once the expected storms of outrage had passed, there came what passed for negotiation, involving more unpleasant sounds, and he noted more distress on the behalf of the servant. Vermittler continued to press his case. Instead of these wretched unfortunates swept from the battlefield he would arrange for better quality, those who lived for and off war, the ones who relished others’ sufferings, for they too were not immune to Death’s gaze. There was the obvious objection that they were here already. He countered that they were hiding in the ranks of the others, but with this arrangement they would be open to the more special treatment and melded to suit purpose. For it was obvious wars with other demonic lords were of great importance, and an opportunity to have quality folk whose being exists for the urge to kill should not be passed over.
He pressed on. Did not waver. Continued with the theme that Humanity was enduring and could never truly be subsumed by these methods, if at all. Eventually his casual persistence won the day.
‘How will you do this?’ hissed the servant.
‘To begin with, you will come with me. You will sift through those who die upon the battlefield and send only the truly worthy here,’
‘Worthy’ was the important word to sell to the lord here. All creatures had vanity.
And he sensed the change in the servant’s stance. He had the fellow, with that one swift move. Now they would an additional factor in the tying up.
There was more noise, but when he glanced down the wording of the Contract had changed.
‘Our business here is concluded,’ he said ‘You come with me,’
‘But the new dead for my Lord?’ there was near plaintiveness.
‘Tell him I will attend to this,’
As Vermittler expected his way back was not barred and his new servant followed him.
‘Was I away long?’ he asked Aldebray on return.
‘I have waited two days and one night. Who is this?’ the mage asked gestured to the hunched figure, now in rags.
‘Yes. Who are you?’ Vermittler asked ‘I quite overlooked that matter,’
A human face ravaged by torment peered out, the voice now a cracked broken thing.
‘I have forgotten,’ it said, miserably
‘Hmm. I shall name you Sorrow,’
‘As you wish,’ the fellow said with head bowed.
‘I declare Vermittler,’ tartly said the mage ‘You are showing celestial aspirations. Are you about to re-name me?’
Vermittler looked upon him with some pity.
‘I don’t think it necessary. Examine again the codicil of our contract. I am now your sole employer,’
Aldebray for the next three days and nights tried to go his own way. He could only follow The Merchant.
With scroll Vermittler knelt before Emperor Rachmoregin.
‘I can confirm this contract is now revised and binding My Emperor,’
Rachmoregin read the contents and sighed as he concluded.
‘I felt a weight lift from my being Master Vermittler, yet I must ask can we be sure these creatures will adhere?’
‘You must forgive me this one judgement My Emperor. The original business was badly constructed. These we call demonic folk have little true understanding of the complexities they ensnare themselves into when dealing with Humans,’ he made a casual gesture ‘This intelligence I have garnered from various of those wise and cautious in this field. Daemonics are trapped by this revision,’
‘Can we make good our side?’
‘I have two in my employ who are versed in the subtleties of how to implant the process,’
From once Emperor Rachmoregin discerned a slight humorous twitch of the mouth.
‘It will by folk lore and tradition. Those used to killing ensuring the more deserving cases of the fate are transported,’
Rachmoregin looked puzzled.
‘Will this run consistently?’
‘There are exigencies My Emperor best not discussed,’
In a time centuries hence, in a place remote.
‘I have collected this days ashes Sage Aldebray,’
‘Thank you Friend Sorrow,’ he looked at the gathered greying pile ‘Somehow the work never grows dull. A fortunate state in our Immortality,’
‘Aye,’ over the years Sorrow had become less ravaged, straighter.
As was often, they looked as one towards the room, wherein sat their Master Vermittler. Solitary. Remote.
As he had explained to them. He had accepted the payment of his soul as cost for being one knowing Merchant for Unknowing Humanity’s varied enterprises. Ever balancing costs against benefits. No place for a soul.