The Story of Sheng Seleris
- by Martin Laurie
Part 3 - Path to Empire I
I felt the iron chains bend as I applied my strength to them. The flames that licked around my body were of no importance. Burnt flesh would heal but the agony was an exquisite spur to my efforts. I focussed my inner strength, a strength forged by the fires of the One and willed my arm forward. Iron creaked, links gave.
The flanged mace crashed into my arm, breaking it at the wrist. Another struck my skull while a spear plunged through my burning torso. Between mists of blood and shards of torment, I listened to the bleating of my captors.
“I told you, you must maintain the torture of his body at all times!” Growled a harsh voice, grating like stone on stone.
“I’m sorry master, I was tired and needed rest.” This one was weak, sorrowful. I despised him already. Were he one of mine I would have used him to feed my horse.
“Rest! Rest! There is no rest in this Hell! Look, his wounds are healed already, strike him again, he must be contained!” The flames around me died down and I could see them around me where I lay on the table of crimson hot bronze.
The one who berated was called the Crimson Flail. He was a Prime Demon of this Hell and ruled the lesser creatures that did his bidding for fear of his ire. To me, he was a lowly piece of excrement that would be expunged at my whim, were I free of my constraints. Bloated and huge, rouge and revolting he struck me with a multitude of arms, each bearing a tool of hurt. My body shuddered under the impacts, it splattered and broke, bone shards, pumping blood, scattered organ. When my eyes burst, I lost sight of my destruction, even the beat of my heart seemed to weaken in the pulped caverns of my ears. Then beyond my body, they struck at my spirit, lashing and castigating with spell and soul of fetid hate.
Under the rending scourge of Utter Defilement, I retreated into my centre and awaited my time of return. Eventually they would weaken, eventually I would be freed, my followers would seek me eternally. My strength was unending and I would reform, as I always did, reforged by the fires of my will. Indomitable. Unbreakable. For such was my bargain with the cosmos, such was my folly. Within my shield of solitude, I searched my mind, and saw my errors. I remembered a previous moment of centre when events were in my favour.
I was aware of him the moment he entered my tent but I ignored him, staying within my place, feeling the power flow around me, through me and of me. I stayed within until I could feel the turbulent, wasted energies of impatience emanating from him. I uncoiled from my meditative position and stood swiftly, delivering a blow to his face with the back of my hand. He received my punishment without comment, nor any sign that he felt his broken cheek bone, as was correct. “Your energy of centre is everywhere but where it should be Yurdal, cleanse yourself for five days and focus before you come to me again.”
“Yes master. Before I go to do your bidding, shall I tell you my message?”
The Ninety-Four Scions of Hell that clustered around me as guards and supplicants whispered that I should slay him for his continued impudence. I dismissed their mutterings, they knew only pain and darkness, nothing of the higher purpose for which I strove. “Speak.”
“The Great Horde has crossed into Jarst, as you commanded. Other nations stand poised to raid the farmer empire along the length of its frontier. They await your presence for the main invasion.”
“Good, you may go.” He bowed shortly, as was fitting a true warrior of Pent, who bent knee to no man or god, then left to begin his penance. I pondered his message while walking from my tent. The burning Teshnosian city of Zanozar greeted my sight. I loved the smell of bloodshed in the morning. It smelt like victory. Their rebellion was crushed, their magics mine, and their foolish lords had swallowed at my command, rendering their subservience absolute for all their followers to see. Visible for 40 leagues around, the pyre that had been the Palace of Splendour gave grim reminder of the folly of resisting my power.
My two score immanent disciples sat meditating atop their pillars around my tent. They were the first of my Thunderbolts. Mostly Kralori or Teshnosians, they had been with me since the Instant Torture camp or my miracles in Boshan. They were first to experience and receive my teachings and I their worship. “Come, we ride.” And as one they displaced themselves to my side and summoned to us our mounts. Kinghoof I rode, the mount of Hell whom I fed royal morsels to as a sign of my affection. Snorting, his saturnine head rose and fell with his ferocious need for the fight.
As one we leapt to the Sky and beneath us the thunder of our hooves in the air deafened the cowering refugee camps below. Up into the Skyworld we soared, leagues passing like moments as we traversed the wonders of the Heavens, the lights of gods and the sparkle of worlds waiting to be conquered.
Plain and mountain sped beneath us until we espied the glow of fires upon the blackness of the night steppe. There the Great Horde encamped, amid the ridged and rugged lands of Jarst. Vast was the host that lay assembled beneath me. Twenty-two tribes of the Redlands formed the core of the Horde, over forty thousand warriors of great skill and experience. From the Vay-uang nation came seven tribes, from the Dovgarsh came five, the Bao brought three as did the Croft, and the Huang sent four. Every rider and warrior had ridden to war from being weaned. Each had three remounts with them and was equipped in the finest silks and armour that my slave peoples could manufacture.
With them were the vassals of my Empire, drawn to this battle from their distant lands to both aid in my victory and remove their strength from rebellious hands at home. The largest contingent was the Kralori, some of Ignorance, some of Boshan and some of mercenary heart. Eight thousand stood ready, with spear, shield and crossbow, they were all mounted but fought on foot alongside the Teshnosians. Three thousand they were iron armoured and grim. They were my city breakers for with them, on wains edged in bronze, they brought the tools of skilled siege and engineering. Then there was the rabble, some four thousand trolls, Praxian renegades, Jarst and Garsting conscripts and vengeful but informative refugees from the Lunar Empire. The camp following was small, as I’d specified, for only once the lands had been conquered would our herds be free to roam as Kargzant willed it. Until then I wished no impediment to our march.
My warband landed amid the assembled Redlands Khans and High Khans. Proud they were, excited to be waging war once more after years of peace with the Empire of the Crimson Moon. They remembered their defeats at the hands of the farmers and burned for vengeance. For long, they had swallowed that anger, for none had unified their purpose. No single brand of ire lit their way, until I came among them. They saw in my might a reflection of what they too could be. Volunteers for my Discipline were numerous from these humbled warriors and I took them gladly, knowing that their hunger and hate would fuel them during the agony that waited them during my training and instruction.
The Khans were clothed as my disciples and I clothed. We wore only the plain garb of a Pentan chief of poor means, for no finery would soften us. No comfort would make us weak to the truth of a lifetime of slavery. While their guards and lesser clan chiefs wore silks and gold, the Khans stood out in their drab garb, they had made a group commitment to our enterprise and directly to me. I could already feel their worship, see the devotion in their eyes, feel the power of their sacrifices in the thudding drumbeat of my spirit centre. Their effort pleased me greatly and boded well for our success. With such men behind me, the Gates of Heaven and the Pits of Hell were mine to storm.
“Greetings warriors of Kargzant, are you ready for war?” I asked. The expected roar of response was gratifyingly loud. “Then we ride! Let hate be our spur, let hunger be our drive and let cruelty be our epitaph should we fail!” They laughed at that, the laugh of blood that comes only from the stomachs of those yearning to kill.
And so, to the sound of that laughter we rode to war.