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(RP) "Two Minutes to Midnight" (Story)

Discussion in 'UO Baja' started by WarderDragon, Oct 11, 2010.

  1. WarderDragon

    WarderDragon Babbling Loonie
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    Lord Lorenzo Franz Von Caelum wore serenity like a Venetian Masque, his placid facade betrayed only by the murderous glare in those steel blue eyes.

    The tall, swarthy aristocrat strode down the cracked and broken streets at the foot of the Luna Acropolis, struggling to unclench his white knuckled fists. Anger swelled in him like a tempest. Closing his eyes, he called to mind the image of waves crashing against the shore, quelling the thoughts of murder and public disembowelment dancing through his head.

    Mayor Dekim Gorrow, that insufferable Britannian dolt, had informed the Council of Patricians that it was in their Best Interests to reestablish friendly relations with Queen Dawn - Dux et Princeps Britannicus - and in no uncertain terms, again accept the Britannian hegemony long endured by the People of Latinum. Lorenzo's hands quaked. He closed his fists and swallowed his ire like a bitter pill, fighting the rage that threatened to again boil over and consume his every thought.

    The man does not know insult when he offers it, and he believes he is helping! Lesser men would have run the foreigner through. Von Caelum wasn't sure he wouldn't.

    He reached for his money purse, reminding himself of the one thing he loved more than anything else in this depraved New World, even more than his two wives and six children. Gold. He forced a smile, the single golden denarius dancing back and fourth between his slender bronze fingers.

    He kept walking for an hour, and then an hour more, unconcious of the passing of time as he wandered aimlessly amongst the bazaars and opium stalls of that ancient sandstone fortress. When afternoon faded to twilight, he became cognizant of the melancholic tune that he had begun to murmur almost an hour before, the ancient hymn dancing across his dried lips. It - along with so many other songs and mournful dirges - had been carved into the bedrock of his mind with a persistant chisel. It was that way for all young Latins, who were taught the sons of the Mithraic Cult long before they were old enough to comprehend its meaning. It was meant to remind them of the glory of their civilization, and the impending defeat of the Infernal Legions by the Holy Light and its Champion, Mitra.

    Von Caelum had long since lost all faith in that congregation of superstitious old hierophants and their fanatical followers. These days he could buy himself a place in Heaven.

    "Dirty Plates," someone shrieked behind him, bringing Lorenzo out of his self imposed trance, the gold coin spilling to the ground. To a foreign observer perched upon the walls above, it might have appeared that everyone within hearing distance stopped to watch the gold coin clang across the paving stones, eyeing it with a lust uncharacteristic of what you might expect from "the City of Paladins."

    Von Caelum barely noticed. Peoples faith in the Light had long since given way to wealth and a host of decadent pleasures that would make a Oriental libertine blush.

    "C'mon! Come get'ch yer diiiiiiity plates! Rare! Cheap! 'Tis a limited time offer! Three-hundred and fifty thousand denarii," the peddler squealed in a loud voice. "Buy now and we will throw in a couple bricks from the Fallen City of Magincia." Lorenzo unclenched his fists, resisting the urge to reach for the dangerously-curved knife at his hip and slit the peddlers throat.

    It never ceases to amaze me, what some people spend their fortunes on, Von Caelum mused with a sardonic twist of his lip, bending to retrieve his coin. The peddler, sensing opportunity, began to approach the man, only to be stopped in his tracks by a scathing glance.

    Lorenzo had grown to love, and loathe, the place of his birth. Luna, once called the City of Holy Light in the Heathen Tongue, had long withstood foreign invasions from Umbral, Grimswind, and even the Minotaur Clans. He had been born amongst these stalwart, albeit prideful citizens more than three decades past; the product of an affair between a Silversmith and the Consuls wife. Von Caelum had been named Claudius, then. In the thirty-two years that he had walked these streets, he had personally bore witness to the massive social upheavals that would sweep in and change his people forever.

    Once, long ago, the small metropolis had been considered a sacred and holy site to the Arcadians. Its people were the faithful servants of the Ecclesia of the Holy Light, its Paladins wielding the life-giving and omnipresent force of Creation with talent eclipsed only by their Swordsmanship. Once, a proud warrior culture had dominated the Republic, one in which men prided themselves on personal honor and adherence to the outmoded virtues of "Chivalry" and "Courtesy Towards Women." The youth were taught the tenants and hymns of their faith within the upper chambers of the Parthenon, and would be introduced to Swordplay before the razor first graced their features.

    These noble but archaic ideals, the bedrock upon which their society had been formed, were swept away seven years ago. To a man that cared little for Chivalry and Honor - one already learned in the intrigues of court and interested only in wealth and power - the invasion could not have come at a better time.

    Through the moongate they had come, people who called themselves the Britannians. To the Lunite, these 'invading' masses were little more than uncouth barbarians who wore bright and garish colors, had few if any manners, and spoke in a crude dialect that would make Bedouins of the Wasteland flinch. To Von Caelum, they were the hammer that broke tradition and ushered in a new age of wealth and power.

    The Britannians brought much needed resources from their own world, such as timber which had grown increasingly scarce on the continent, in exchange for permission to build settlements in Latinum. They also brought with them their alien philosophies, their bland cuisine that often consisted of fish steaks and moonshine, and a new set of principles that only required the slightest adherence to receive Salvation.

    Crush a rat under foot, and before you knew it you were being hailed as a Seeker of Valor. Smoke a leaf from Ilshenar and become a Follower of Compassion.

    To the youthful, it had become rather vogue to emulate the behaviors and practices of these Britannians, much to the Churches chagrin. Luna abandoned its warrior ways, the ancient buttresses that had once repelled armies of Saracens had become the haven of merchants and money-changers. The gardens and parks that had once surrounded Parthenon Hill had begun to give way to storehouses, trading posts, and numerous brothels. To the seeker, anything that a man could ever want could be found within the tapestried stalls of the Bazaar, from the shameful to the illicit. Drugs. Weapons. Slaves.

    To Lorenzo, it was no wonder the Church Bishops had chosen to send their most fanatical inquisitors south on a bloody crusade against the Saracens and Embalmers of Umbra. There was just too much temptation within the City Walls. Lorenzo himself had spied one of the Cardinals - in disguise of course - attending one of the orgies he had hosted not two nights past, sharing a dusky young slave with a Praetorian Guard.

    The Inquisition would have none of it, therefore they had to be kept away to prevent their interference with the newly liberated clergy.

    Yet there were things the aging merchant missed. Gone were the sheer ceremonial togas and vermillion stola of the past. Stifling doublets and stuffed codpieces had become all the rage, no matter how uncomfortable they remained in the Mediterranean heat. Gone were the delicacies that he had been accustomed to in his youth, for the Britannians had long since hunted all game within a hundred leagues to extinction. He had even changed his name to appeal to these foreigners; Claudius became Lorenzo. Stranger still were the things these Britannians would spend their gold upon. He had made the lions share of his newfound wealth peddling rubble from Magincia and mementoes recovered from the City of Pride, millions more on dried goat parts used as fetishes in some Necromancers rituals and paintings slashed through the center from the Dungeon east of the Waste.

    These things were trifles compared to the decadence he now enjoyed, but even he felt the occasional pang of nostalgia.

    The Republic of Latinum had managed to free itself of its entanglements with Britannia when the Parliament installed by their Lord Cantabrigian had been assassinated three years anon. Lord Casca had failed, despite his alliance with the Church of the Light and the Malleus Maleficarum, to reestablish dominance over the City of Merchants.

    That was about to change, he feared.

    Sol Invictus, the Lightbringer and the Chariot of Mithras, hung low above the western horizon when Lorenzo freed himself of his reverie, ginger rays casting the shadowy silhouette of the Parthenon over the streets beneath him. The hour grows late.

    The time for nostalgic musings was over.
     
  2. WarderDragon

    WarderDragon Babbling Loonie
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    An hour passed before Lorenzo found himself ascending a sandstone stair, climbing along the inner edge of the north eastern bastion of the Fortress.

    The ancient building - which had been built into the granite mountainside by a race that had long predated the Tribes of Latinum - was dimly lit. Tapestries covered the worn arrow slits, and few torches flickered to give some illumination to Von Caelum. It was important that these meetings drew as little attention as they could manage, considering the nature of their discussion. Still, he mused, how many of these shadows might provide ample cover for a curved knife or a listening ear?

    Few steps more bore Lorenzo to the second floor of the Tower. The meeting hall was sparsely decorated, a few embroidered tapestries depicting hunting scenes and ladies in the field as harvest clung to the mortarless walls. In times of peace - which had become abundant in recent years - the Tower was largely abandoned, providing the perfect location for trading companies (and the occasional thieving guild, he mused) to meet in secret.

    Lorenzo smiled. On the table, two sparsely clothed damsels in sheer silks gyrated in a heathen dance once considered forbidden by the Church of the Light. Although, he mused, still practiced despite their most fervent condemnation. The brunettes hand curled in the hair of the blond, forcing her hair back as she leaned in and kissed her neck.

    Von Caelum knew the spectators well, for they were the representatives of the various companies he had been doing business with for the past five years. Christov De Lawrence and Maksim Zacchara, their eyes transfixed on the sultry brunette, were the recently elected patriarchs of the Sierra Cascade Trading Company of Southern Trinsic. Severus Torquantus, summoning the blonde with a wave of a coin, Master of the Seven Suns, Stonecutters and Masons from Eastern Latinum. William Bartheno, murmuring something rather crude as he caught the brunettes hand and slipped a silver penny into her palm, was the leader of a small slaving operation that captured young men and women from three countries and shipped them to work the mines of Kos Heb in the Lost Lands. Lestan Delacroix, a valuable friend, commanded a vast network of eyes-and-ears that operated throughout Britannia, and what they called the 'Old World.' Diethard Von Weisberg, a trader from Vesper, was the man wealthy patricians and priests sought out for the best herbs and hallucinogens. Finally, there was Voltare Alhambra, a seated mass of muscle, sinew, and bone, the leader of a group of thugs and street toughs, called the 'Marquis de Sade.'

    It was Alhambra that first noticed Lorenzo. "You finally decided to show."

    "Greetings, and well met, honored friends,' Lorenzo replied with a sardonic grin. That managed to elicit a laugh from some, raised brows from the others. "I see you have begun deliberations without me."

    "You almost missed out on the fun," Severus said with a wry smirk. "Bartheno brought these fine lasses from Magincia. 'Parently their Queen hasn't done much to ease the burden on these poor refuges, and everyone needs to eat, don't they girls?" Torquantus grasped the throat of the blond and flung her on her back.

    "Yes," she moaned in fear, as he poured a goblet of red wine over her face. Terror formed in the brunettes eyes but she continued dancing.

    Who summoned this meeting? Lorenzo thought to himself, realization that the thought had never before crossed his mind.

    "Enough," came a deep, resolute voice. It sounded ... scornful.

    Diethard lept from his seat, the chair falling with a loud thud. Torquantus froze.

    Lorenzo turned. There upon the balcony stood a man, wreathed in darkness, his black coat and matching mantle stirred by a cold gale. To the superstitious eye he seemed made of shadow; the realization of some nightmare. Von Caelum barely recognized his form, but he did not need to. The voice was enough.

    "Greetings to thee, Lord Lamperouge," Lorenzo said with a polite bow.

    "Sit down."

    Lorenzo knew the voice well. It haunted his dreams, both youthful and commanding. When angry, that voice could inspire dread. The man peeled back his hood, raven hair spilling down his wide shoulders. He wore a white mask that covered the right halve of his face, leaving the left uncovered, though he were the Phantom of the Opera.

    "Yes, Lord." Von Caelum clenched the golden denarii in his hand, but took his seat. The brunette quickly covered her ample bosom and took the blonds hand, leading her away from the table and down the stair. Zacchara reached out for the pitcher of spiced wine and a glass, his mouth having gone dry.

    "What is this about, Lamperouge?" Bartheno hissed, annoyed that the women had left without his explicit permission. "The courier said it was important."

    "It is." The man went silent, walking around the table with a languid stride; removing his leather riding gloves though he had not a concern in the whole wide world.

    Lorenzo could not help but stare at the basket-hilted sword at his hip; simple and unadorned. He was a finely dressed young man, but worst of all, disproportionately powerful. All here knew that Lamperouge - Magincian, or so the rumors went - pulled the strings. Those who crossed him wound up dead. Yet he did not seem so dangerous, in his black coat with silver embroidery on the cuffs and hem, riding boots extending over his knees. It was those eyes that inspired terror in men twice his age.

    "I am told the High Council of Britannia," he began, "has ordered from you a shipment of stone and lime, steel and lumber."

    "Yes," Severus choked a reply. "To restore the fortifications broken in the last years war and the recent Invasions. But how did you know that?"

    "You just told me."

    Serverus frowned.

    De Lawrence burst into a fit of raucous laughter, but was silenced by the murderous eye cast his way by Lamperouge.

    "I want you to take your time," Lamperouge continued. "Delay the shipments until the Spring."

    "And why should we do that?" Maksim asked.

    Lorenzo understood the meeting. The Seven Suns had been hording stone, and lumber, steel and lime, that had been ordered by the Cities of New Britain and Serpents Hold. The Sierra Cascade had been contracted to ship the supplies to the Britannic Strongholds, where Bartheno would then provided the workforce.

    Von Caelum himself had arranged the whole thing.

    "The Kingdom of Britannia has grown stronger under the leadership of its Queen," Lamperouge announced, "Faster than I anticipated. Before long she will return to Latinum and demand Vassalage." He stood at the end of the table and faced them. "But gripped in a War with the Bane Chosen, vulnerable, and cut from her allies in Golden and Dawn by Pirates, the Queen will be desperate. She will have to submit to the Patricians. She will have to garner her supplies from Latinum." Those haunting green eyes swept across the men of that chamber. "You know it to be in your best interests to delay things."

    "Pirates?" Lestan inquired. "Who are these Pirates you speak of?"

    "I thought you had eyes and ears in every corner of Britannia," Lamperouge smiled. "Have you heard of Black Jenny?"

    "No," Lestan slipped before he had the chance to correct himself. It was not wise for a spymaster to reveal there was a human beneath that omnipresent facade. "I do not." He gulped, face flushed.

    "I thought so."

    "What if the Bane Chosen lose?" Zacchara frowned. "What if these Pirates do not succeed?"

    "It is a gamble you will take," he intoned. "The last I checked the Queen and her Councilors are friendly to the Church. You wouldn't want them to regain power, now would you?"

    The men all murmured, some cursing, but every single one of them agreed that a return to the days of Lord Francesco and Britannian hegemony was undesirable, no matter how their influence had benefited these merchants in the early years of their arrival. Von Caelum wouldn't be surprised if these men offered to load the cannons and hoist the the masts for these Buccaneers.

    Lamperouge straightened. "Good," he intoned. "By the time you have received my instructions, you will have received word that Magincia has been taken by the Bane Chosen. When the time is ripe, Pirates will sack Serpents Hold."

    Shocked murmurs rose around the table.

    "The Britannians will come crawling," Lamperouge smiled. "Begging for aid. You shall give it to them, and establish control."

    "Britannia will be yours, Gentlemen."
     
  3. WarderDragon

    WarderDragon Babbling Loonie
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    Lamperouge strode past them, ignoring the questions hurled through the room. Lorenzo tried not to gasp as he watched the man step on the edge of the balcony and leap.

    Maksim ran to the edge and looked down, expecting to see his figure splattered across the paving stones. "He ... He is gone!"

    Lorenzo breathed a sigh of relief, and allowed himself to sag nervously in the chair. The man gave him chills. Lestans best eyes-and-ears knew nothing of this 'Lord Lamperouge,' and yet he seemed to know everything about them.

    It was impossible to gague where he was from, but the ebon hair and accent suggested Magincian. Rumors swirled that he was caught in the Invasion of Magincia, and had lost the woman he loved because the Britannians were more concerned about looting than protecting the City. Rumors are just that, rumors, but some believed he had sworn revenge on Britannia, and had been working behind the scenes for three years, manipulating the principle players in the War of Shadows.

    Worse still, he appeared at the most inopportune times, and by his demenour, he believed the world was his. Von Caelum fully expected a small army to materialize behind him, along with bannermen and trumpeteers to herald his arrival and departure.

    When the shock had settled and confusion calmed, William turned to Diethard. "I do not like this," he hissed angrily. "This man is gambling on the collapse of Britannia. We could loose our fortunes in the exchange!"

    "We shall not," Christov said, snapping his finger. The two dancers recognized the summons and returned to the room. "We will take our time, my friends, establish contact with the Bane Chosen." The brunette presented a case of cigarillos to him, and the blonde rushed to his side with a match to light it. "It would be terrible of we rushed ourselves, and the goods arrived cracked and broken. No. We will take our time."

    "And when Britannia is crushed," Diethard added, "We will mourn their Queen, for the good customer she is, and then sell out to the new power, the Bane Chosen."

    Von Caelum hated this plan. There were too many risks; too much to loose if Britannia learned there was a conspiracy against them originating in Latinum. All he wanted to do was bury his face in the nearest bosom and forget all his troubles.

    Perhaps he would run Gorrow through. That would make him feel better.

    The gathered never noticed the shadowed figure kneeling by the window, listening to their every word.