“Walk with me.” Said Cerum. The command was quiet, yet it willed the very air around my body, pushing me forward.
“Yes, Mastre.” I ducked my head, feeling my skin crawl as I fell in stride with the Lord. Beside us his hunched attends walked, tactfully blocking any chance of evasion.
Cerum held up a wraith like hand, motioning at the sleeping wood. “Behold this, my Garden. A product of my own dark creation.”
Oily black liquid bubbled in a slow flowing stream. The lane stretch before the two, clouds of sulfur stretching between dead wood.
Hooded head turning to take in the scene, Cerum continued, “Is it not a magnificent mirror for the Empire I have created?”
Gulping down tainted air I managed a,”Yes my lord it is.”
I could feel his gaze upon me, like cold dead flesh pressing upon me. Could he see through my lies? My deceit?
His next words were said with a smile, one you heard rather than saw. “You do not approve, Mernor? Is it the stench? Tell me.”
What was I to say? What was I to do? I looked around, feeling my carefully constructed walls of protection falling down around my ears. He would know soon enough the lengths I had gone to see his empire fall.
For a moment I gazed out beyond the edges of that hellish garden and saw into the true free world. Crisp blue mountains covered with snow. Fresh clear air and a wisp of cloud floated contentedly, beyond Cerum’s control.
The Lord of Filth stopped where he was. His black tar cloak clinging to the ground as he twisted to face me. Dead eyes took in my body, looking through my skin. His face was that of a man long died at sea, face translucent to the bone. Two broken horns held up his sagging cowl, framing a damned face in black pitch.
His lips parted,and a pointed blue tongue wet his lips, “Well?”
I took a deep breath and reached within myself to speak, “I do not approve of the end of this garden.”
Cerum’s eyes blinked, taking in my words. He was taking in the lie.
I raised my hand to the horizon, to the open world. “Out there, Lord, those blue mountains. They stand as a mockery to your power and prestige. Out there, the free folk of your world mock you with their rebellions. Each of their victories is a personal assault on you, my Greatness.”
Cerum raised a hand, silencing me, “What do you mean by this? Betrayer? Could this be you are fully committed? By these words you damn those you hold dear to a torment more painful than life itself. Do you wish to commit to me? To death itself? I can see through your flattery, lowly one. But I see your heart, I see the anger. Do you wish to unleash my darkness upon this world?”
I looked him in the eye, feeling the turmoil within my body. Knowing what I must say, but regretting each of my next words I spoke.
“I do, my Lord. Kill them all.”
There was a long silence as Lord Cerum looked upon my flesh. His eyes roved over me, and then to the garden around us. He stepped away from me, continuing down the path. We a flick of his hand he signaled to his attendants. They hurriedly pushed me forward. I followed, unsure of what was to happen.
A low iron wall ran round the perimeter of the garden, separating it from the rest of the palace. The Lord Commander placed a booted foot on its edge, metal grating on metal. He considered the open world before him. Trails of ash and smoke billowed up from great vents in the ground, shrouding the pinnacles and spires of his mountain fortress. Below them the foot hills crawled with savage warrior, underlings, and laborers all under his command.
Beyond his kingdom lay a lush valley surrounded by unmarred mountains. The world lay before them, ripe for the taking.
Cerum turned to Mernor a smile pulling at his grey face. When his lips parted, a smooth and confident voice rang in Mernor’s ears, “So be it. We will bring the world to it’s knees. There is no one to stop us now.”