The Order of the Knights Mercantile is a semi-secret organization specializing in a lethal and highly lucrative brand of (ad)venture capitalism. The origins of the Knights Mercantile are disputed, but several historians believe that its roots are inextricably connected to the organization's legendary Quartermasters, men and women with almost impossibly vast knowledge of the organization's otherwise diffuse, fractious and highly secretive membership. Though not nearly as centralized as the Aeldrum Trade Company (ATC), the Bishant Trade Company, the Bank of Valdos or the Chamber of Dalthad, the Knights Mercantile remain one of the most powerful institutions in the cosmos, with the ability to topple governments, stores of Occult knowledge to rival the Academy of Saldan and assets on the same order of magnitude as the ATC. In addition to their core organizational unit, the Planetary Chapters, members of the Knights Mercantile control thousands of private enterprises, in fields from dry goods imports to contract assassination. The labyrinthine hierarchy of the Order of the Knights Mercantile makes it impossible to truly determine who controls most of its various assets, and in some of the most absurd cases, sworn rivals have unwittingly funded common operations.
The Knights Mercantile are organized into planetary chapters, each with one or more Quartermasters and a Chapter Secretary. Most Knights Mercantile hold their membership through a specific planetary or planet-region chapter, though about one third (including Chapter Secretaries, Privateers and Auditors) belong to interplanetary organizations.
Currently, there appear to be five major factions within the Knights Mercantile.
Black Cell Lab Edit
The Knight Mercantile Black Cell Lab, resurrected by the now immortal Dr. Ingrid Gewerschmidt, is a Prussian Revivalist organization consisting of German war-scientists and their descendants, augmented by a network of Zulkirite death cultists and financed through the returns of the Schulz Arms Company and Schulz Omniemporium, among other companies. It has slowly extended its influence within the Knights Mercantile, infiltrating and capturing many of the Planetary Chapters to which the late Dr. Hans Schulz had connections. There are rumors that the Black Cell Lab has even undertaken a generations-long infiltration of the Bavarian Confederacy as a twisted act of retribution for the defeat of the Prussians a century ago. The Black Cell Lab possesses troves of experimental projects and secret knowledge, including much-rumored stores of a new strain of the Shambler Virus. In addition to its core forces of deranged cultists and barely-sentient Shambler-Troopers, the Black Cell Lab controls a sizable network of smugglers and mercenaries inherited from Doctor Hans Schulz. Owing to its connections to the Elder God Zulkir and Dr. Gewerschmidt's insane designs of political destabilization through pandemic, the Black Cell Lab is the closest to a "Rogue Faction" that the Knights Mercantile could have. Dozens of Auditors and even a handful of Quartermasters have perished in their efforts to root out and destroy the Black Cell.
Aeldrum Faction Edit
The so-called Aeldrum Faction consists of the spiderweb of assets controlled by Mimir, the Count of Lidenia. Mimir's connections within both the Knights Mercantile and the Aeldrum Trade Company have enabled him to achieve enormous returns, making him one of the wealthiest men in the cosmos (with indirect control over some 7% of the Aeldrum Trade Company, he is on par with the Doge of Aeldrum or the Emperor of Bishant) and giving him access to a vast private army of co-opted ATC soldiers. Mimir's efforts to control the government of Aeldrum through his shadow political party may be his greatest value to the Knights Mercantile. Should the Count die, whoever can claim his political network would have a very real chance of destabilizing one of the greatest rivals to the KM. Mimir's faction has been particularly hostile to the Black Cell Lab, largely owing to an apparent conflict over control of the recently re-discovered "Black Pyramids," a system of archaic superweapons devised by the Automaton-God Baradun.
Valdosian Faction Edit
The Valdosian Faction of the Knights Mercantile links the KM to the Bank of Valdos. It is unclear which organization infiltrated the other, but they have since been entwined for centuries. The matter is further complicated by the purported origins of the KM with a rogue brokerage house of the Bank. In any event, a loose collection of Valdosian Dark Angels and High Priests and Knight Mercantile grandees have formed a patchwork of alliances through which the Knights Mercantile finance and supply all manner of goods to the Fialta Princes. The Valdosian Faction has been involved on both sides of the Shantine-Fialta War, both selling to the Fialta and doing its utmost to keep the Shantine Empire fighting to prolong the lucrative conflict. In this respect, the Valdosians are at least somewhat opposed to the Aeldrum Faction, whose efforts to seize the Shantine trade routes would almost certainly leave the Shantine incapable of continuing the war. The Valdosian Faction also opposes the Black Cell Lab, largely because the Schulz Arms Company competes with the Bank for arms contracts.
The Celestial Chapter Edit
Knights Mercantile operations in Celestial space were always an affair removed from the politics of Imperial space, given the difficulty of the crossing across the Nippon states and the hostility of the Veiled Masters to all foreign influence in their sphere. With the opening of the Pin-Jump, however, the power of Celestial operatives grew enormously as the profits from the newly opened Celestial trade route poured into their coffers. The leaders of the KM in Celestial space were somewhat confused as to how to re-integrate with the rest of their brethren, and initially took an open stance towards cooperation with all of the Imperial-side factions. This soon ended with the reopening of a vendetta pursued by chairwoman Katya Morovin against the Count of Lidenia's Aeldrum faction; the Aeldrumists had previously made numerous attempts on her family as a result of the betrayal they suffered at the hands of her mother and father. Further, Mimir's support and partial ownership of the Chapter's direct rival the Aeldrum Celestial Trade Company makes him a natural foe for the Celestials, who would much prefer to have sole control of that sector of space.
Despite their increasing involvement in imperial space, however, the Celestial chapter's primary activities have centered around pooling resources with other chapters to pursue ventures deeper into the Aether, primarily seeking to subjugate the Naga.
- Main article: Skinchangers
The least understood faction of the Knights Mercantile are the Skinchangers, a secret fraternity of cursed Knights of Adarnum who began to infiltrate the KM a century ago. Despite their eldritch curse, the Skinchangers believe that they act in the interest of the Kirvan faithful, and they work within the Knights Mercantile to defend the Kirvan Church and preserve artifacts of great import to the faith (although with the more selfish goal of lifting their own curse). The Skinchangers have infiltrated large swathes of the KM, but they have been utterly unable to impersonate the Quartermasters, keeping them from seizing the highest echelons of the Order. In this respect, the Skinchangers have a broad reach but relatively shallow organizational power. Of course, the Skinchangers are unwittingly manipulated by the ancient and twisted lesser god that cursed them, meaning that their decades-long operations are truly a patchwork of schemes not in the interest of the Kirvan Church but in service to some as-yet unrealized end.
The Consortium Edit
The last and perhaps greatest faction of the Knights Mercantile is the Consortium, a shadow-council that represents the organization's closest analogue to a conservative faction. The Consortium is apparently untainted by outside organizations, instead manipulating other factions of varying power in order to extend the influence of the "True" Knights Mercantile. It combines the largest pool of assets and frequently works against both the Black Cell Lab and the Bank of Valdos. The Consortium also has its own modest ideological traits, including an anti-theist streak.
Business Model Edit
The KM's modus operandi has been described at various points as "crit-fishing on a cosmic scale." This usually means taking the most rough and capable adventurers - often outcasts too dirty for even the ATC to touch - and sending them on high-risk, high-reward ventures. Those who succeed are inducted into the higher ranks of the KM, and often become a part of the grand politics described above. By targeting the most lucrative (if far-fetched) opportunities with a low overhead of capable-but-tainted freebooters, the KM manages to earn money and influence in expectation across the hundreds of operations occurring across the cosmos.
Thus the KM succeeds through a bizarre form of natural selection; those who succeed and go on to fund future expeditions are the ones who have proven (through luck, treachery, and sheer force of will) that they are among the most capable and cutthroat in the cosmos.
This is not to say that the KM does not also have (in many places, anyway) a robust network of spies and informants to identify the most worthwhile opportunities and conduct the business of keeping the current leadership of the KM safe and secure from their rivals - both internal and external. The KM's portfolio is at this point incredibly diverse from the various acquisitions made throughout time - they have their hands in everything from arms manufacturing to aetheric piracy to national politics.