Merrikye - Lord Commander of The Grasp
The path was sweltering. They were walking deep within the cavernous pits of Mount Rhydor. His journey had started in the cellars of the castle keep that had been carved from the top of the giant mountain. Their torches burned bright at first, but soon their eyes watered from the smoke and the heat pouring up from below them. Their footing became perilous as their vision decreased and the smooth stonework of the castle gave way to the jagged, cavernous windings. Merrikye had felt himself cooking beneath his own steel. He took off a gauntlet and brushed the sweat from his brow.
"I warned you of wearing steel in these halls," the man said with a shrug and then lead them deeper.
"My brother is rarely without his armor," Merrikye said defiantly as he pushed on.
This made the man chuckle, Lizard, they called him. "Valeer's heart beats as the Red One. He suckles at fire as if it were a whore's teat. His armor is no longer steel anyway."
Merrikye was almost surprised at this, "Then he has found-"
"Dragon's Obsidian, yes." Lizard confirmed. The man was small, and squat and bald. He was heavyset and nothing about him gave credence to his nickname.
Dragon's Obsidian was a queer substance and had little resemblance to it's two namesakes. Obsidian was brittle, but this was not. They were both black however. Its magic was held from the old ways and did not hold heat as metals did. Smiths could not work it as they did steel or bronze. A Shaper must be found, and few who knew the way of it were left in the world. Obsidian armor, however, was lighter than any metal and seemingly flexible. It was said that one could swim in it without sinking like a stone, but it was also harder. It would deflect heat and steel easily but provided easier movement. All the benefits of both boiled leather and steel with none of their weaknesses it seemed.
Merrikye was tempted to strip down to his own boiled leathers, but his pride overcame his discomfort. He would not meet his brother looking like a squire or some commoner. He had a waterskin with rice wine and he pulled from it occasionally to combat the heat. Rice wine was often served hot and was thus the preferred drink of the Rhydors. Merrikye would've been happy with water to keep his head clear, but this was what they offered and it would not serve to appear the ungrateful guest.
It was a while later before they began to hear the jingle of the chains and the low murmur of chanting. The heat was suffocating and the smoke so thick that Merrikye was stumbling across the rocky, uneven path with every step. He could still see Lizard in front of him, but his features were little more than a silhouette.
"We're here." The fat man mumbled and they stepped through a final passageway into a huge, cavernous opening.
Merrikye stared for a moment, then looked back to the entrance. Smoke had been pouring through the tunnels but this room was clear as daylight.
"Sorcery." He muttered with distaste.
Around thirty men in red robes stood in a large circle around a huge rune where the lines were trenched into the ground. Molten rock swirled through the markings like a river. Emerging from deep within the rock at one end of the room and dripping out at some unseen crevice. The men were mumbling words in a forgotten tongue. They each were shackled to one another at the wrist. Another manacle wrapped around their necks and the chain lead to the center of the runes. A large circular plate sat in the center attaching to all the chains. On the metal disc sat a man, naked but for a small cloth covering his manhood. In his lap was an egg the size of large dog. It was scaled and glowing eerily under the molten light.
"He will die soon." A calm voice drifted from beside him. "Did you intend to cook yourself for Magreddon? He does not care much for the taste of human flesh."
Merrikye turned and smiled. Valeer was motioning towards the armor. "A little discomfort is nothing for the chance to see my little brother."
Valeer laughed. He was now taller than Merrikye by nearly half a foot, and he had clearly aged better. His hair was still jet black and his skin smooth. The new armor looked immaculate. A deep black that seemed to drink the light, covered with red runes that glowed like the molten rock.
'Inside his chest beats the scaled heart.' He reminded himself. Dragon riders lived much longer than the average man.
"You say this man will die?" Merrikye motioned toward the man in the center.
"Unfortunate, but yes."
"Then what is the point of this?"
"Each Rhydor is given the opportunity to hatch an egg and scale their heart. Few choose it for the risk is death and too few are chosen. Many are content to roam the skies on their gryphons" He waved to the man in the center. "But, Greggor is vain, he is strong, yes, but his heart does not beat to the rhythm of the beast."
"Did you tell him this?" Merrikye frowned.
"And take away the jeopardy? No. I could tell each man whether they would hatch a dragon, but that is not our way. Immense power cannot be rewarded without immense risk." He motioned him away from the chanting clerics and the doomed man. "But you did not come all this way to speak to me of our ancient rituals. Stand there."
They had moved to one of the darkened corners of the room, and Merrikye could hear a whispered, howling of wind. He moved to where Valeer had pointed and a strong, cool wind pushed into him, providing relief to his burning steel.
"There are strong high winds, some find there way deep into the mountains." He said seeing the relief on Merrikye's face. "Though, I fear that is the only relief you will find here. Birds from The Ivory Isles travel faster than your contingent."
Merrikye cursed silently. 'Of course father would inform Valeer of my visit. He was the Lord of Frostcrown, King of the Ivory Isles. His chamberpot could not be emptied without two ravens sent to tell the tale to all of Cooryn.'
"Rinn is not the stuttering fool these lords seem to think he is." Merrikye said taking a swig of his rice wine. The cool wind and the warm alcohol were loosening his tongue.
"I do not doubt it. But Rhydors are not lords or ladies. We're the hand of justice in Cooryn. Not a standing army to be deployed as mercenaries. It is sad that none have assisted The Grasp in their efforts. Sad and disheartening, but that does not change what we are allowed to do."
"Will your justice at least take his head after he has taken my life and the Grasp. Will you put him in shackles when he chooses to use mine own keeps as a foothold to conquer all of Cooryn?" Merrikye said unable to hide the bitterness in his voice.
"You underestimate yourself, brother." Valeer said.
"All of Cooryn overestimates themselves."
"Then you provide a healthy balance."
"If the rumored army is half the size of what my scouts report, The Grasp will fall by year's end." Merrikye said bluntly.
Valeer stared at him for a moment, about to respond then he frowned. Merrikye was about to push again, but Valeer held up his hand.
"I might be able to convince my lord to provide some help, but the cost…" He let the words float off.
"Didn't you just say you weren't mercenaries? The Grasp has little gold to hire men. We cannot afford Rhydors."
"I do not want gold." His tone made Merrikye nervous.
"Out with it then brother, what would you have of me?"
"I would get you men. Dragon and Griffon riders, but you…you would have to renounce your claim to the Ivory Isles."
Merrikye stared in stunned silence. He managed a stammered, "What?!"
"Do not make me say it again, Mer, you are not deaf." The words looked like they were causing Valeer physical pain. The way he used Merrikye's childhood nickname reminded him of when they played at knights in the Frozen Forests on Ivory Isles.
'I remember when you were a small, wide-eyed child with shit stains in your britches.' Merrikye thought.
"Valeer, you've never been the ambitious type, and your claim on the throne could fill a thimble. As well as mine. Or have you forgotten that you and I are father's sixth and seventh son." Merrikye said hesitantly.
"I know our place, brother. I will not explain why I ask this of you Merrikye. That is the offer, and as you have no ambition to the throne, it should not be difficult to give up. You are Lord Commander of The Grasp, what more could you want?"
'To be a king, to ride a dragon, to take a noble wife.' Merrikye thought, but he only said, "I will have to think on this."
"You won't believe me, but I am sorry to do this Mer." Valeer said quietly.
Merrikye tried to respond but he found he had no words. "My men are waiting."
He moved out of the cool wind and walked to the cavern entrance, the fat man stepped in toe. He could not understand what had just happened.
"Buying men for The Grasp is wise if you buy the right men." Lizard said casually.
Merrikye looked up from his thoughts. "What?"
"A unit of sellswords is useful, but for the same price you could buy one man that is worth a thousand mercenaries."
"You're worth a thousand men?" He said confused.
Lizard laughed. "Oh gods no. I speak of Ruined Knights."
Now it was Merrikye's turn to laugh. "They are just an old nurse's tale."
"They exist." Lizard insisted. "I know of a way to get them."
"And what is your price?"
"None. I come from Tridium." He said carefully. "I'm not a wise man, but I know tales of The Grasp. It seems the best place to stop Rinn, and while lords and ladies of Cooryn know little of him; I know much of his treachery."
He paused and stared at the fat man for a moment. Then nodded. "If you can put them in contact with me…I will take all the help I can get."
'What's the worst that could happen.' He thought dismissively.