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 Barandun.
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.
- 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.