Massive, hidden double doors, each a full height section of the bookshelf wall of the library gently recessed with a solid thud that reminded me of an airlock, and then opened slowly and majestically.
Believe me, we were freaked out by then, ready to lose our shit, and out of the darkness this lady sort of floated in. A shebale of similar freakish design as the butler, with a conical Princess hat and a skirt made of solid brass. I told the lads to lower their fetching guns, twice before it registered. We’d be dead by now if the King wanted us dead, I was sure of that, a lonely little island of certainty in this predicament.
“Welcome”, we jumped, a cloaked figure standing in the doorway announced. Transfixed as we had been on the clockwork queen, we had completely missed the newcomer. He was a giant in a full cape of smoke and shadow, with a perfect mirror finish silver mask for face. I could feel my nervous system twitch, by reflex to kneel in front of him. The Cuirassiers twitched too. None brought up their weapons, these hardwired killers, bred and trained for war from birth.
“Bothrops, pleased to meet you, I am Alpharius. We have a lot to discuss, so please let miss Victoria escort you to your quarters and offer you refreshments” or something like that is what I heard and was compelled to do. Then darkness.
The next morning, or who knows how long I slept – there was no way to tell the time here, I woke with a sudden rush of panic, in a calm room of pastel greens, copper and oak furniture. My staff was neatly organized on a big oval desk, the plates stripped from my bionic legs, everything cleaned from the ridiculous march of death to this place. I swear it could have been a luxurious retreat on Raglan, or perhaps Lake Galad, if not for the art work. Still makes me fetching sick to think of it.
We ate with the king. In a chamber that felt like it was carved out of solid brass, the entire history of Empire of Man inscribed to it’s walls and ceiling. We ate a real feast, my appetite ravenous despite the permanent sense of dire danger. There were others at the table. All masked individuals, all purposeful, yet casual – instantly impressive to be so relaxed in the presence of the King. The King outlined his offer to us. It was bold and brilliant, utterly outrageous had he been a normal man, but of course he was everything but normal. Needless to say, not accepting would turn us into installations of his ability to cause destruction.
The King gave us gifts. Each of the Cuirassiers got a helmet made of ballistic plasteel, with intricate inner silver wiring. Each headpiece came with a different mask, a chiseled face of a warrior with a halo around it, wrought from metals unknown to me, but seemingly commonplace in the Masked King’s domain. I got a delicate set of medallions, clearly Eldritch in origin. They were made of the most beautiful bone like material, and felt warm and alive, I felt a sense of sorrow when I touched them, as if dabbing into age old sense of existential grief. Old Arnaud got scrolls made of ancient parchment, neatly rolled into bronze tubes. The Old man seemed at ease with the whole affair. Fittingly at odds with logic like his survival through the death marches.
Alpharius referred to the gifts as sigils of his protection. Which I’m sure we’d need in the Hive Hell. We’d be working for an Imperium of Fear, but at least our boss is the scariest feth I ever met.
Work and fun continues on the Masked King’s agents.