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  1. So is the Iron Quill still happening? I thought the new directions for this months entry would be up by June 6th?
  2. Iron Quill Template: Introduction The Iron Quill is a writing contest that takes place every month. It’s an exciting competition and a great place to hone your skills and get some constructive feedback. The Rules  You must post your story in The Writing Room by the submission date with the following posting format: Iron Quill – Name of the round – Name of your story. Nothing else is needed to sign up, but please post in this thread with a link to your story when completed.  Your story must be no more than 1,750 words and be a self-contained story set in the world of Malifaux.  Any story must include at least two of the Ingredients for the current round. When you use the ingredients, keep in mind they don't need to be literal, please feel free to be creative with them! As the stories are completed, this post will be updated to contain a listing of all the submissions. You are welcome to edit your story up until the submission date. Winning The winner will be selected by overall score, as determined by two methods:  A public poll will be created where anyone can vote on their favorite story. Each vote will be worth 1 point. Authors of submissions can vote in this way.  A private poll of the authors where they pick their favorite story and a runner-up. These votes are weighted; the favorite story gets 3 points, the runner-up gets 2 points. These votes should be submitted to me by forum PM. All votes must be submitted by the voting date or they won’t count for scoring. You cannot vote for your own submission. If you are an author, you must submit votes for the private poll or you will be disqualified. Name of the Round: Rebirth Submission Date: May 13th Ingredients:  Theme: Rebirth  Character: Ratty  Line: "I didn't mean for that to happen."  Item: Loaded dice  Location: An intersection
  3. Here is my entry. Ingredients Used: Loaded Dice, Rebirth, Intersection Words: 1,744 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Choices Choice? Daniella had made up her mind to stop believing in choice a long time ago. Much longer from her perspective but she was always telling herself to live in the moments of others and not the exaggerated spaces she created. It wasn’t easy; seeing things from anyone else's point of view was hard enough for normal people. Normally you would have a few positions to deals with, your own and the other sides, but what if you could see all the sides, know all the possible views and what came with them? What would you do; pick the most optimal and hope for the best? Not so hard, except that just because you can see where all the viewpoints are coming from it is truly hard to see where they are headed to. Daniella ducked through an alley and leaped over the daily refuse that had piled up. She was careful to plant her feet this time, the other two times she had just tried making the leap ended in disaster. She could feel her ankle throb in her mind from where she had twisted it and at the same time she could feel the infection creep up her arm from where the rat had bitten her when she landed in the debris. She shook her head, and tried to push past the phantom injuries and ignore them. She reached down and cradled the die in her pocket. The ancient die was heavy for its size; smooth to the touch on its face but well worn around the edges. She shivered, she didn’t know if it was the chill air or her realities realigning, layering on top of one another and sewing themselves. Men of science would probably have fancy words to describe what she was experiencing but she was neither. All she could guess in the time she had it in her possession is that whenever she was faced with a possible choice… Her brains made a sickening slapping noise as they splattered onto the wall next to her, the bullet punching through and lodging into the brick. Half of her head was gone, a gaping crevasse full of loose skin and singed blood-matted hair. The smell nearly made her retch as she ran past with her head down, the slapping noise replaced with a loud crack as the bullet hit the wall unimpeded. A quick side step past where she had fallen by ducking too low and she was almost at the end of the alley. She reached the end of the alley and prepared to bolt off down the street, shielding her eyes against the sudden sunlight. She looked back and watched as the group of guardsmen chasing her stopped and inspected her corpse at the same time as she watched them chase after her. This was getting out of hand and they were closing in. She ran out into the street just as they made it to her prone form and planted a bullet in the back of her head. They breached the mouth of the alley and she knew she was running out of time. Up until now she had assumed she was reflexively using the die, but she decided it was time to put the choice out of her hands and try to follow the path that hopefully would open up for her. The plan was ludicrous, but what choice did she have? She heard shouts and orders for her to stop as she was about to reach the market square, full of the vendors and their carts, so she weighed her options. She could veer left at the intersection and take the street down to the river docks, she could run straight through into the garment district, or she could take the hard right but that took her dangerously close to the Quarantine Zone. All in all not the best choices, but she was almost at the crossing and needed to make a decision. “This next part is going to hurt,” she told herself as she gritted her teeth and gave the die in her pocket a jumble. [Left, to the docks seems like the best option] ---------------- [Straight, into the Garment District is the best option] ---------------- [Right, towards the Quarantine Zone is the best option] ---------------- [Surrender] ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Let me know what you think. As Always, The Grue
  4. I am sorry for the late entry but my internet went down so I had save it to a flash drive and wait until I could get to work to post this here. If it is too late I understand, but either way this story had to get out of my head as I've been singing along with it for a while now. But Wait, There's More! The wagon shifted from side to side as one of its wheels rolled over a corpse in the middle of the road. Dr. Montemore looked back to make sure his cargo hadn’t shifted too much, and after a brief once over was satisfied that his barrels had not shifted too much. He looked down to the corpse, clicked his tongue and sighed. “There was a time when those Necronnoisseurs would have more class than that,” he said to his driver next to him, “like children with their toys this lot, leaving their discarded toys strewn about.” They were approaching the Guild gate that would lead them out of the Quarantine Zone and into Malifaux proper. The guardsmen watching the crossing saw them and picked up their rifles but didn’t bring them to bear, probably more shocked than alarmed, that something that was coming out of the Zone wasn’t actively trying to kill them. They still were alert though, as Malifaux had a way of punishing a false sense of security. “Halt,” the first Guardsman said, “what is your business here?” His face was scarred and pock-marked, eyes scanning them and the surrounding area, a veteran most likely Dr. Montemore thought, and a hard sell, not that that ever stopped him before. Dr. Montemore looked over at the second guardsman, young, clean shaven, with fresh spit on his boots he’d wager. Ah, the rookie, easy, impressionable, loaded with scrip and not much in the head. A walking mark if he ever saw one. Farmer’s and outliers were easier of course, and far more trusting, but there was something exhilarating about selling to someone who should be cautious and had been told to distrust exactly this sort of thing. “Gentlemen,” Dr. Montemore said, with a wave of his arm sweeping out to greet them both, “I am Dr. Montemore, professor and purveyor of all manner of exotic goods and curios.” He rested his hands on his lapels, pulling them back and open as he leaned back and laughed, revealing he was not armed in the conventional sense, trying to put them at ease. “What you see before you is my latest invention, a time saver and life changer. The thing you didn’t know you needed but won’t be able to live without.” He smiled and gave his mustache a little twitch, tipped his top hat forward and bowed. The rookie was already dumbfounded and was staring at Dr. Montemore, but the other guard was less amused. “What do you got back there?” He motioned with his rifle at the cargo they were carrying. “Show us.” Dr. Montemore kept smiling, and as he turned he put a hand on the tarp they had covering the load. “I was hoping to save the unveiling for the townsfolk, but for the good guardsmen of Malifaux, I can let you have an exclusive early view.” With that he tore back the tarp. The guardsmen both jumped, rifles trained and ready, the rookie’s more by surprise and with a bit of fumbling, the veteran’s with an instinctual snap from years of surviving Malifaux’s mean streets. They both had confused looks on their faces when they saw that the wagon was stacked high with barrels. “Dr. Montemore’s Marvelous Miracle Barrels,” the rookie started reading the large painted words on the side of the barrels next to the caricature of Dr. Montemore with exaggerated features, “a feast of fun for the whole family.” The rookie smiled when he finished, clearly excited. The veteran guard was less amused, “What’s in the barrels?” He leveled his rifle at Dr. Montemore. “What a good question. Though the better question would be what isn’t in the Barrels,” He carefully pulled one barrel loose and shimmied it to the edge, tipped it over and knelt down and removed the lid. The veteran guard had pulled back as he opened it, but when the moment passed he crept forward and peered inside, “Huh, there ain’t nothi...hey-ack!” “Now there is,” Dr. Montemore smiled and put the lid back on the barrel, a soft crunching noise sounded from inside the barrel and Dr. Montemore frowned, he had gotten it to be a lot quieter, using various fabrics and rubbery tars in the lining but he still couldn’t reduce the noise all the way. “One day I will figure it out and be able to add ‘Silent’ to the label, Customers always pay more with ‘Silent’ on the tag, oh well,” he turned as the rookie came around the wagon. “What was that noise, where’d he-“ He started before Dr. Montemore cut him off. “You young sir, you look like a man of taste, would you like a barrel?” He rolled the now quiet barrel towards the young guardsman and motioned him closer. When the rookie came forward Dr. Montemore pulled back the lid. Somewhere in the slums of Malifaux… “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome. I am Dr. Montemore, and I am here to show you how wondrous life can be.” He had amassed a crowd, with the festive banners he hung from building to building and brightly lit lanterns he had hung, his wagon was hard to miss down this dead end street. He gave a point to the organist he had hired and as the organist spun the crank the pipes started to wheeze out a jaunty melody. [Musical number] “How many times have you found yourself riddled with piles of trash?” “You’ve pushed, you’ve shoved, you heaved, you’ve huved but you still just need it gone fast?” He was pointing to different members of the crowd as he sung along. “You’ve thrown it in the streets, you’ve hid it in your sheets, you’ve fed it to your pets and kids,” “But it wasn’t enough, it keeps piling up, and you don’t know where else it can be hid?” He lingered on that last word, pulling the crowd in, when they leaned in to get a look under the tarp he grabbed he knew he had them. With a flourish he pulled back the tarp and the crowd gasped in awe. “What you see before you are Dr. Montemore’s Marvelous Miracle Barrels, a feast of fun for the whole family! Anything you put in them goes away, never to bother you again,” he was buying time as the organist was rewinding the organ, when the music picked back up and a man came forward Dr. Montemore smiled. “But can it get rid of this muck,” a man brought forward a handful of refuse that he seemed to be covered with. Dr. Montemore grabbed it from him and threw it in the barrel and shut the lid. He opened it a moment later, showing it was empty, “You’ll see the barrel’s not stuck!” The crowd murmured sounds of approval. “How about meat that’s gone bad?” a lady sadly holding a rancid chunk of what he thought was horse came forward. In the barrel it went, lid on top then off, once again empty, “It’s something you won’t remember you had!” The crowd cheered softly. He could feel the vibe of the crowd and knew he had them going now. “But what about me bratty Kids?” a man said in the front row, surrounded by half a dozen of what must have been his aforementioned kids. The crowd laughed, and those around him jibed him in the ribs. Dr. Montemore tapped his lip for a minute, appearing to be thinking, teasing the moment out, “Put em in, give it a spin, and don’t forget to close the lid!” The crowd roared and began to sing along. As they sung Dr. Montemore jumped down and marched in place in front of the children. He swept his arm out and snatched a cane from an old man and began to twirl it like a baton as he marched. The children smiled and began marching behind him. He took them in a circle first, gathering a few more children from the crowd before leading them up the stairs and onto the stage. He lined them up single file in front of the barrel and stood beside it. A little girl was first in line and looked up to him while she marched in place. “Little Suzie here was a naughty girl and didn’t clean up her toys,” he picked her up, placed her in the barrel and closed the lid, he continued singing as he opened it, showing it to be empty, “Now she’s gone, with nary a song, and you’ll never again hear her noise!” The crowd laughed and cheered. He picked up the next child, a small pudgy boy, “Now this one’s fat and as fat as that he must cost a lot to feed,” in the barrel he went, lid down, then up, “But now he’s off, with all that fluff so now there isn’t a need!” The crowd was eating this up. A little girl was next, he picked her up and she cut him off before he could begin. “That wasn’t nice, making the others go ‘way.” She said with a pout. Dr. Montemore stopped and knelt with one knee up and sat her down on it. “My dear, there are times in life when you must pay a price, and sometimes nice isn’t nice.” He picked her up roughly and lowered her into the barrel. The last thing she saw before the lid came down were the sides of the barrels, black and charred, and moving and chewing with teeth and mouths too numerous to count, she tried to scream but as the lid shut the opening rimmed with teeth and closed down on her and you could hear soft chewing and crunching if it wasn’t for the din of the crowd singing along. Dr. Montemore had them now, enthralled and enjoying the spectacle. He threw his arms out with a flourish, silencing them as he spoke, “But wait, there’s more!” __________________________________________________ Let me know what you think. As Always, The Grue
  5. So here I am again. At a crossroads. One path to salvation and three to different kinds of misery. The trick is picking the right one. The path is always clear, but the destination is wrapped in fog. A burning ship behind me, waters churning with Gods know what kind of monstrosities in front. To the right, a lifeboat filled with people that wouldn't mind using my skull for a soup bowl and on the left, the Guild boat that set fire to the one I was stowing away on. I'd be angry with me too, all things considered. This smuggling operation didn't need the attention of the Guild that a stowaway of my caliber will get you. I let out a breath. Let it rustle my mustache. Smell the burning wood in the air, the fluttering sparks slow down... and I see the paths. Everything is peaceful at the Crossroads. The old man sits at the center, playing a banjo, like he always does. "Fine mess you're in this time, old timer," he sniggers at me with that toothless grin. Like he always does. "Where do the paths lead?" It's the same question I always ask, but this is where the pleasantries end. This is where it gets interesting. The old man's face shifts in flickers. Anger, sadness, annoyance, mirth. That's just how he gets to the emotion he wants to display. Mirth it is, then. He points at the path behind me "well, that one is no good. I'll give you that for free." I glance behind me to see flames engulfing what looks to be the entire world. "As for the other three. What do you bring in offering?" I let out a breath. Let it rustle my mustache. Kick at the dirt under my boots. "You know I've only got one thing left, old man." The old man nods. Surprise, indifference, anger, sadness. "Yeah, I reckon." It's the endgame, and yet he doesn't seem happy about it. I was hoping I would avoid this, but I thought he would enjoy it when it came. "Are you willing to pay the price?" Giving myself over to the Neverborn, unconditionally. It doesn't sound good, I agree, but sometimes the Crossroads have no good path. We make the best of the path we take. I nod. It doesn't matter anymore. I've been defeated. He starts playing the banjo again, a mournful tune. A hangman's tune. "You're gonna want the path that lies straight ahead then, old timer." I take one step on to the path and life swirls back into focus. The water quickly takes me, and the roaring fire is replaced by roar of water pushing past me as I drop ever deeper into the dark waters. I see the black shapes of monsters circle me, but everything will be alright. For the monsters are me and I am them. Suddenly all the Crossroads are laid out in front of me. All the paths are clear, all the destinations obvious. I am the Crossroads. I am He Who Leads The Innocent Astray. I am The Bad Path Taken. And Malifaux is ours.
  6. "Eeeeeurgh," the girl complained, "Is the river going to keep rising? The mud is disgusting." "It will rise another foot," her mentor replied, "We must come here while the machinery is underwater or it will not function properly. Which is precisely why we spent so much buying you such expensive oilskin boots at yesterday's market, child." "I know!" she protested, "What's the point in getting nice boots if they're just going to get covered with muck and scum?" The older man shook his head and ignored the complaints, "Are the machines all prepared?" "Which ones, the weird moving pipes, the big stompy robots, or the creepy little bells?" she replied. "All of them, as I said." She gestured all around at the assembled machinery, insulted that he might even question it. "Look for yourself." The older man frowned and walked among the machines: the steam-powered harpooner, once silver and bright but now orange with rust. The howling artifact that spawned little screaming dust devils. The pieces of flesh and gears. The spiked bells. The assorted levels and contraptions. He nodded thoughtfully at them. "These will do," he concluded. "They are rusted but still functional." "I'm going to ignore that jibe," she replied snappishly. "And you know the plan?" She rolled her eyes and sighed and repeated the plan for the fiftieth time, "Direct the critters to add the valves along the central pipeline. Make sure they do it right. And if the Neverborn come out of the forest to stop us --" "When they come out to stop us." "-- stick the bells onto them." "The chimes act as a damper field. While attempting to interfere, they will in fact make the machinery work even better." "I knew that," she complained, almost by impulse, "And what about when your creepy doll-girls start tripping over everything?" The old man did not answer, except with a sad little smile. * * * The forests watched. So much to see here. So much to learn. Pandora opened her iron box, and new Sorrows came forth: disgust at a plan gone awry, the loss of machines turned to rust, the fear of a lost child. So much to learn. Kade sat nearby on the forest floor, idly stabbing the legs off the fireflies with a vicious precision. "Are you ready?" Pandora asked. Kade snorted and giggled, and ignored the question. "This whole thing is for your benefit, you know, so pay attention." "Bear," the infant Woe demanded insolently. He held forth his toy bear. Pandora smiled, "Very well." Green smoke poured from her hands and seeped into the stuffed doll. It grew and twisted quickly, growing enormous fangs and claws and a primeval hunch. Kade hugged the bear tightly. "Bear!" Among the shadows, another Pandora stood, examining her own rippling hands. "He isn't ready yet, you know." Pandora frowned, "I will decide that. And do not suppose on my form." The other Pandora looked nervous and let her skin ripple and take on yet another woman's form. There was no benefit in angering the Mistress, and much to be lost. "How may I repay my slight?" the doppelganger asked nervously. Pandora tilted her head and looked out toward the river with a smile. "In blood, of course." And just then, the two were distracted by a gleeful malevolent cheer, "Bear!" Kade the Innocent followed the lumbering monstrosity quickly out to the river. "The ambush starts now, then," the doppelganger said with wry amusement. But Pandora was already gone, floating across the floodplains along green mists. * * * The machinery was not much set up when Alyce heard the first rumblings of trouble. "They are here!" she said. She walked among the centuries-old ruins that were eroding and crumbling under the river's yearly force. "Take care of them," Leveticus said to the girl, not looking up from his workings. There were valves to connect, and machines to direct, and problems to handle. This was a crossroads of sorts, here. A place where the lines of aether met and crashed against each other, just in the same spot where the waters of the two rivers crashed and collided. There was more turbulence in a crossroads like this, but more potential as well. Shots rang out from the girl's pistol, and Leveticus looked up. "No, the bells!" he told her sharply, but then he saw the child, quite well surrounded and terrified. The girl stood atop a hill, firing in every direction into the green mists, panicked by giggling voices and twisting apparitions. Looming shapes would leap out at her and terrify her, only to disappear again. "Distract them," the woman called out to the mists, "Distract them, torment them, alarm them, devour them." Leveticus pointed his staff toward the woman, to unweave her and unmake her, but she moved too quickly, and Leveticus found to his horror that he had struck his own pupil, Alyce. The girl screamed in confusion and anger, turning around too many times. In the mists, one of the woes took the form of a leering imitation of her trusted mentor, his face contorted in strange menace. Another took the form of a giggling child. Others shrieked and moaned. She faced every way and could do nothing. The hulking form of a bear lunged out from among the ruins, but Leveticus could sense the magic of its animation -- a construct made from equal parts cloth and fear. He managed to unweave the thing with some concentration, leaving only a heap of fabrice and two enormous button eyes where the thing once stood. While he was distracted, though, the mists had gotten everywhere. His waifs were moaning and falling to the ground. His constructions were melting in fear. There was too much happening. He saw Alyce clutch her own neck and crumple to the ground, and he knew what it meant to fear. * * * Pandora swept through the battlefield, riding on the terrors of the newly sentient. These machines were such a wonder of the human age. She could feel their mechanical minds roil with new awareness. The rusted things, once mindlessly efficient, were confused by the rising sensation of emotions they had never known before: memory and ambition, dread and doubt. What utter satisfaction, the experience of these new minds awakening into torment. And what an honor to be the conductor of such a symphony of anguish. These minds, these innocent new minds, suddenly awakened and distorted and tearing themselves to shreds. That one, on mechanical horseback, shaking herself apart with new feelings of awareness. Those strange soulless half-humans no longer drifting about, but devouring themselves with anguish. The rusted lumps of half-flesh forgetting their duties and instead wailing with anguish. The girl fell, surrounded and consumed by mists, screaming at imagined or perhaps real betrayal from the old man she had trusted. The machines tore themselves apart. She advanced on the old man, barely noticing when one of the dying machines pinned a bell to her sleeve. She was uninterested in individual machines -- focusing her attention instead on the feast of emotions from the wrecked human expedition. She hoped that Kade was paying good attention to all of this. This was a lesson for his benefit, after all. * * * Leveticus felt himself slip free from his dissolving body, untethered for the moment. Alyce was lost, hopefully unconscious but perhaps dead. The machinery was falling apart. The Neverborn had torn the machines asunder. He had no anchor nearby, and so he floated free and watched over the ruins and the floodplains. A bell chimed. The valves churned. Everything would be alright. Alyce was gone, the Waifs were gone, and Leveticus was gone, but the machinery still churned. It was well-designed salvage, Leveticus thought with a bit too much pride. The artifacts milled about, still trying to set the machinery right. One particularly ancient piece of machinery tore across the field along a gust of dirty wind, and choked out a once-giggling Neveborn creature in the form of a pale and frightening infant. The woman screamed at the infant's loss. She scooped up the infant and drifted back into the forest along the green mists. Everyone was departed, one way or another. The machinery churned on, pumping aether through the crossroads to its true and secret destination. The river waters rose and washed away the corpses, and in time they would run dry again. Fate's purpose was served. Everything would be alright.
  7. "Looks like you have much to learn." The wizard said to me as I failed the spell once again. I wondered why it went wrong. In the months I had been the apprentice to the wizard, I haven't gotten the ability to even cast the simplest spell right. I could gather the power with easy, but using it was something I haven't managed yet. "Yes, it looks like it" I forced the words out of my throat. I hung my head in shame, feeling the dissappointed glare of my teacher. The apprentice hung his head in shame. Being send away would make me lose my last chance. Ihad nowhere else to go. With my head hung low, I scuffled back to my chair, looking for the book I found yesterday. The seller claimed it would help me learn magic, but I doubted it. Yet, at this point I was desperate enough to almost try everything. I opened the book, and started to read the runes near the vivid, almost living illustration of a forest. The sun was setting when I woke up, gasping for fresh air. Looking around, it appeared I fell asleep at the roots of a giant, mangled tree. I wondered how I ended up here, not knowing anything about this place. I vaguely recalled my teacher sending me on a errand, but this memory was already fading. Though it didn't matter. I needed to get home quickly, else my apprenticeship would surely be forfeit! Following the road through the strange forest, it was more and more clear that this was a nightmarish place. The trees were leafless and boney, the shadows they cast were malformed, and didn't follow logic. Further down the road, I see the first sign of life in this strange forest. A traveler, not unlike me, with a brown leather coat and hat. I decide to walk towards him, and find out what place I have arrived in. "Greetings, traveler" I greet the stranger "What kind of pla-" My voice froze, for when he turned towards me, I could get a clear look at his face. His face! Gaunt and blue toned, with slint, yellow eyes. Sharp ears flanked his head. When he saw me, he sported a wolfish grin, full of sharp, pointy teeth. "Brothers" he said in his low, almost hissing voice "Seems like we have found new blood" He laughed a terrifying, high-pitched laugh while several small, purple demons came down from the trees. Their oversized heads and high-pitched voices would be almost comical if they didn't sport sharpened claws and even sharper teeth. While the drumming sound of their hooves came closer, I came to the conclusion that I could never outrun them. More desperate measures needed to be made. Having no other chance, I pulled one of my teacher's soulstones from my pocket. The glowing, whispering stone was full of promise, full of power and magic. Concentrating, I slowly gathered the power from the stone. Somehow, it was easier now, quicker. I could feel the power in my veins, in my soul. "Away!" I shouted, and threw the power at the demons. While I intended to throw a firebolt, the spell went awrey, and turned into a blazing gust of wind instead. The wind blew the demons away, and collapsed several trees. I could hear their high-pitched shrieks, and their leader voice unspeakable profanities. With their path blocked, I ran. I ran and ran, desperatly in my attempt to get away. I couldn't hear their high ptiched voices anymore, but I was sure I wasn't out of danger yet. If not these demons, something else was sure to be around here. Not looking ahead, I ran into something large and soft. What do we have here Some tasty morsel it seems hurrying to get in my belly Well, that I can help. What I ran into was a stuffy teddy bear. But unlike those I knew from back home, this one was tall and large, it's frame was massive. Malice gleaned from it's buttoned eyes, blood dripping from it's stitched mouth. One of his claws grabbed me, it's mouth splitting open, revealing swaths of teeth, ready to devour me alive. "Wait!" I blurted out "Why do you talk so strange?" Desperate to make it out alive. The teddy stopped, and looked at me with a puzzled look in his buttoned eyes, my terrible fate stopped for a few moment. Why, isn't it clear You uncultured one? I speak in rhyme and song for I am a Poet Bear "Poetry? That is no poetry, Bear. You are just throwing words together in a sentence. That isn't how you make a poem." Speaking more clearly now, feeling a chance to get out of my predicatment, I continued. "Exactly, those are no poems. Real poetry has a rhyme to it." I took a deep breath "So you should do something like this, Without a hiss Having similar identty in sound So the sentences can be bound" The bear nodded, clearly agreeing to what I did say. You are right This is no rhyme Now let me think For something better than this. With those words, the teddy put me back, and started to think. Sensing my chance, I ran away from the thinking giant bear, hoping that he wouldn't catch me again. After escaping my encounter with the poet bear, I came across a clearing. But this one was even more otherworldly than the the rest of the forest. It looked like a kids toy room. Blocks, balls, and tossed away toys were lying around. In the middle was a small table, where three figures where drinking tea. The smallest of them was clearly a kid, and was berating the others in it's childish voice, like he was talking to his toys.. The largest of them I couldn't get a clear look off. I felt my eyes and mind rebelling at the mere glance of it, adverting my eyes, I saw a famllion shape. It was one of the demons I met earlier, its face frozen in horror, its eyes pleading to end his nightmare. Backing away from the scene, tI realized that several of the broken toys on the ground were dismembered corpses, broken and slaughtered for the amusement of the horrific entities there. And so I turned and left, child's laughter in my ears. Horrified and disoriented by my last encounter, I stumbled through the forest. It was getting darker quickly, and I made haste to get home soon. Lost in my thoughts, a root broke under my feet. "OW!" Looking around what made this sound, I saw one of the trees getting up, it's bark and knobs forming a nightmarish face. All around me, more of these trees did awaken. I stood there, frozen, as the forest around me came alive. "How dare you human" The tree-creature said, "To wound my child like that." Surely, the roots I did break belonged to one of the smaller trees. Quickly, I tried to apologize. "I'm sorry, sir tree, but I-" "No apologies, you fool! Too often youkind comes here, with steel and fire. Many of my friends and familly did fell by your axes and saws. You will pay for their deaths" Around him, the other trees nodded in agreement, their inent clear. I was out of soulstones, and out of tricks. This was where my story would end. I have finally figured it out Now I can now do it without a doubt It is finally time For I can at last rhyme! Powerful bellowing shaked the earth, and the teddy bear did appear. Grinning with glee, and happiness in it's buttoned eyes, he made his way through the tree-beasts, crushing those that didn't run under it's bulky weight. Those that tried to stand against him where quickly swatted away by it's powerful arms. "Away bear, the mortal is for this one!" The branch-creature said, trying to gesture the teddy away. "You don't belong here!" You are wrong For it's you who doesn't belong I have long laid my claim You have only yourself to blame The Teddy wrapped its arms around the treewraith. The beast, clearly startled, tried to stab the toy and tried it's best to get clear. But it was in vain, as the sound of breaking wood and snapping branches could attest to. Soon, the struggle ended, and the bear threw the body away. Then, he turned it's stitched, stuffed face to me. I thank you for your aid Yet it remains a debt unpaid Stitched ripped as the Teddy opened it's impossibly huge mouth, thousands and thousands of razor-sharp teeth were the last thing the apprentice saw before everything went black. With a shock I awake at my chair. Shaking my head, I wondered what did happen. Did I only dream? Then I looked at the picture of the forest once more, where I saw a waving teddy bear standing among the broken remains of trees. ------------------------------------------ Ingredients Used The Apprentice A book Lost (in the Forest) I hope you enjoyed it. (Also on my blog)
  8. The Terrible Misfortune of Intelligent Men =-= Ah, it’s you. I suppose you’ve come here, to this dusty library, because you’ve caught scent of something astonishingly awful. I don’t judge your curiosity. Malifaux is largely comprised of sideshow horrors and it is not uncommon to host a few gawkers – especially in matters of exceptional demise. Alas, dear Observer, you have arrived upon the scene too late to witness the sensational atrocity in its conception. We shall have to rely upon the evidence as presented to us to draw a clear picture of the devious acts which took place here, in Duer’s Library. The body lies there, just past the tomes on Greater And Lesser Horticulture in Malifaux Proper. The young man, barely out of boyhood, is lying chest down. His head has been turned violently around and you may experience the fullness of his terror as it is frozen within now vacant eyes. There is a curious lack of spilt blood on the scene – as if the assailant was greatly concerned with the neatness of his actions. There is, however, a fine dusting of the most startling shade of cerulean blue powder. The Observer may ask himself why such a young man – his name is Albert – would be murdered so viciously here. It can be safely assumed that the boy was not, in fact, protecting the secrets of the gardening world. If you were to look more closely, as I suggest you do, you will find something crumpled in the hand of the esteemed corpse. Please do not pull it out of the hand. They have since discovered that the body is in an alarming state of decay and is rapidly falling to pieces. The inspectors would prefer the limb remain intact for a few minutes longer. Do not fret. I, the Omniscient Narrator, know exactly what he’s holding. What the boy is clutching, with a dogged determination, is a large empty envelope. There are many crossed out names written on the front – each in a unique style of writing and in various states of fading, as ink is wont to do with the passage of time. There are at least five unique, broken wax seals. What the inspectors will not discover are the burned remains of a letter. This is to their advantage, I assure you. This Letter is, in fact, the crux of the event. Should it be discovered, even in its ashen state, the discoverers will no doubt find themselves in various states of unbeing. It is a letter which has rippled through the fabric of history, cutting a devious swath of destruction through the various Ivory Towers of humanity. It is appropriate that you have arrived here, at the Last Event. However, in order to fully grasp the Letter’s impact, you will need to travel backwards along the timeline, back to Earthside. Please do not divert from the path I will lay out for you. You may not find your way back. I will now impart you with A Brief History of the Undelivered Letter. =-= It is four hundred and seventy five years before the birth of Christ. The author of the Letter is a man who has been called the Weeping Philosopher. Many assume Heraclitus to be a great hater of humanity – plagued by his disgust and his melancholy. These things are claimed to be the reason for his tears. You may correctly assume these claims to be false as, in fact, they are. The Weeping Philosopher had discovered a thing so horrifying and so damning that he could do little else but weep for his future fellows. (How he came to this discovery is largely unimportant and I will not spend my time in its explanation.) Heraclitus spent his years furtively searching for answers, calling upon the gods of Logic and Knowledge to impart their wisdom on the Eventual Event. Here, at the writing of the Letter, the Weeping Philosopher is making one last vain attempt to impart his most important discovery to man – trusting the salvation of the world to the minds of his peers. As he hands off the scroll to the servant boy, his fate is sealed. It is mere hours later that a horrible figure appears in Heraclitus’ hovel. A figure with the darkest of intentions. Swathed in cerulean, the Weeping Philosopher is now silent and unmoving. The second great man to fall prey to the Letter is no less than the great Socrates himself. The Letter was not, in fact, addressed to him. He takes the scroll in good faith – a man with an open mind and a humble spirit. He is instructed not to open it. It is his mistake to do so. Upon opening the scroll and being fully horrified by its contents, Socrates begins to plan. He will use his status and influence to urge the sweet peoples of Greece to take action against the Eventual Event. I say ‘he will’ when of course I mean ‘he will attempt to’. The Dark Figure is quick to silence him. As Socrates falls numb to poison, he does so on a dusty cerulean floor. Before his demise, he is able to pass the letter on to his companion. The good man Crito takes the Letter from his master. Here it disappears for several centuries. The essence of this passage of time is mundane in nature. The Letter is removed from Crito by a thief and it goes largely undisturbed – passing from person to person in the bottom of an old chest. I will not bore you with the uninteresting details. Suffice it to say that this chest is delivered to a Persian Scholar named Melchior, two years after the birth of Christ. You may not recognize the name of the scholar. He is often only referenced in the larger group of three very learned men – a comradery of intellect. As with Socrates before him, the awful impact of the Letter is not lost. I realize that you must be anticipating the trend – that Melchior will die after attempting to impart his new found knowledge to others. You would be correct except that you are, in fact, not. Melchior’s attention is otherwise occupied by the discovery of Christ himself. Even as the Dark Figure enters his home, he is contentedly galloping away from the city gates. However, upon his return, Melchior will find his entire estate dusted in blue and scattered with twisted bodies. Thus the Letter tumbles through history. It spends a brief period in the Library of Alexandria before the Dark Figure disposes of the curator (causing an infamous fire in the process). Among others, it is passed along to great men such as Avicenna, Galileo Galilei, and René Descartes. As much as these men fail to prevent the Eventual Event, they also fail to survive the presence of the Letter. Inevitably, the belligerent sheet of parchment is followed by the Dark Figure and only a scarce few have escaped agonizing blue-tinted demise. History stretches along, forgetting the first addressee. Yes, I do indeed know the original intended recipient, just as I know the identity of the Dark Figure. No, I will not give you that information. The final Earthside casualty was the Marquis de Condorcet. Nicolas was a beloved Frenchman. Indeed, even I find him admirable. Looking in on his final days brings me a pang of despair. Of all of the great minds which had breathed in the understanding of the Letter, Nicolas had the very best and very last chance of preventing the Eventual Event. If you will, Observer, please take his last moments with a degree of respect. He waits in a French prison cell. The walls are dank and foreboding but you may find the locked door sufficiently protective. He will consider this place to be both a curse and a blessing – until the very end, of course, in which the cell is only a deathbed. He has had the Letter on his person for nearly a week now and has only read it twice – haltingly and with great difficulty. The Weeping Philosophers language is nearly dead but the Marquis is intelligent. He is able to grasp the full meaning of the old message. The Marquis has been running from the Dark Figure for three days and this is the very end. He hides the Letter in his cell – unable to pass it on to trusted hands. He hopes that the Letter will be found by someone who has the power to act on its words. The hope is unmerited. The Letter witnesses his death from its place between heavy stone blocks. It remains undiscovered until well past the Eventual Event. =-= And now we come back to the ending – to the musty library and the impassive inspectors and the unhappy corpse of the unfortunate Albert. The Letter finds its way past the Breach – as damned things have a tendency to do – but I will not share the way in which it travels as such knowledge is largely useless to you. Albert came to the Letter quite by accident and therein lies the tragedy. The poor man couldn’t have read the ancient Greek words. He merely wanted to know the secrets for growing the most perfect flower for his beloved. If you find yourself unsettled, Observer, you may wish to take a few moments to mourn the man – the young Mr. Albert Einstein. I will think no less of you. However, I can assure you that he was the last victim of the Letter. The very last. The Letter remains undelivered. The Dark Figure completed the task – albeit a near century too late. All that is left of the ashes is one single fragment – a weathered, worn piece of parchment, nearly black, almost unreadable. It is only a small part of the whole. I do not expect you to know the Greek but it reads: μην ανοίγετε το ρήγμα. I will translate this for you but be warned – men have died for these words. Truthfully, I do not expect anything will happen to you as you are a mere Observer and unable to act on the knowledge. Even still, do not go searching for their meaning. I would be displeased to find you suddenly cerulean. The translation is as follows: DO NOT OPEN THE BREACH.
  9. I am an improbable poet; my sword is my quill and my deeds are my stanza. In a holy garden I practice my art. I do this day and night, for one simple reason; my life depends on it. Yet it is a peaceful prison I have chosen to condemn myself too. The breeze is ever shifting but the cherry blossoms kiss my face all the same. The green sheet I compose on is wide and open, yet secluded. There are no walls. In this slice of Eden I practice. I practice for my master, so that I may kill him. When I am ready, he comes, day or night. For hours we duel in steel verses, but every time he writes the last line and I am left to practice in solitude once more. This routine has now carried on for so long that my failure has turned from pathos to bathos. Cherry blossoms spell "cabbage" on the ground. I never give up, for doing so would leave my body in eternal servitude to my master. Inspiration comes from everywhere, as the world is as much a muse as it is a canvas. The old styles of tiger, crane and dragon have long been imprinted on my mind. While my master needs no sword to beat me, my quill is my crutch. Where it goes words dart across the air, but without the ink of my foe they are swiftly erased. I often think of the past, and those thoughts guide my hand. My sword writes a tragic story of a man born into slavery. Only his name saved him from death, but during his many travels he lost even that. A slave he had been born, and so a slave it seemed he would die. The master comes and goes, the slave remains. A bird chirps "carrot". Rain falls, and the last few cherry blossoms fly freely into the mud. The clouds grow darker and despair leaves my words illegible. My mind falls deeper into the past, but it feels like I'm falling backwards, trying desperately to find something to hold onto. The master comes and goes, his last words written in blood. Never look back. The wind cries "potato". The rain and pain do not relent, but neither does my practice. I write with ferocity, this time not of the past, but the future yet unwritten. My dragon does not smoulder in regret, but ignites my desire, while my tiger stalks dreams like they were prey. My eyes see the garden melt into pulp, but my mind sees my master fold. I'm ready. The master comes. For the first time our swords are like rhymes, and our duel becomes a duet. Our tempo increases, dragon, crane, tiger, past, present, future, our quills thirst and then suddenly the master is no more. His bloods seeps into the pages and words form, words to free a slave. I say- "Gggrllfcklr..." My eyes flash open and meet the dark eyes of a man. With a whelp he flies backwards in surprise, letting me get a better look of him. He's an ugly brute. "Oh you sure got me Cabbage, I thought you were dead, I did!" My eyes dart across the scene before me. This is not my garden. The room is dank and cold, likely a basement, with a lamp creaking back and forth from the ceiling. Nothing decorates the room bar a table with some wire and a tool bag. "S'pose it's hard to tell if you're dead Potato, I mean you don't know when a vegetable's dead till it's gone rotten, right?" My mind's a blank page, I struggle to find a bookmark of sorts. "What you thinking about Cabbage? C'mon, you can tell me, I might be the last person you see. S'pose that makes me like a priest or something." He gives a wheezing cackle. "If I'm a priest then you're a Freikorpsman. Bet you'd love to come at me, wouldn't you Cabbage?" I give up trying to look back, I focus my gaze on the man. All I know is he must die. "If I'd had my way you'd been dumped in the river by now. Or maybe we aught to give you to a cook-" He burst into more laughter. Hate builds in me. I grit my teeth. He doesn't know it, but I'm already free. "What a waste of flesh and blood, there just ain't no point in you, none at all." He walks over to the bag of tools and takes out a chisel. "Least a cabbage feeds people. You, you just leave less air for the rest o' us." The man swaggers closer to me, overconfident in blissful ignorance. He draws so close I can see the veins popping on his forehead, the darkness behind his eyes. Sensation begins to overwhelm me, words unwritten pump through my veins and my muscles shake off their shackles. I fear he'll notice, but he's too close to my face to see my limps twitch and tense. "Are you judging me with those eyes?" Anger seems to build in him too. "You haven't felt pain so far, wonder if you'd feel me chisel out your eyes." I glare at him, saliva dripping from my trembling lips. "What's that, you trying to say something Onion Lips?" H presses his ear to my mouth. "I- I- I-" Is all I can manage. "What's that? I can't hear you? C'mon, speak up" He cups his left hand to his ear. My left hand grabs his right hand. He nearly jumps out his skin with shock but my other hand grabs his throat. I spit the last of my drool in his face, and words form from my onion lips. "I- Am- An im-prob-able poet." My hold on his hand is like a vice as I twist his wrist. He fights me as the chisel turns towards him. "My- Sword is my quill-" His face is red, his veins near bursting as he tries to struggle. My grip on his throat is pinning him as he struggles to breathe. Saliva froths in his mouth, and all he manages is one last insult. The chisel impales his lungs and blood drools down from gasping swollen lips that tremble to a stillness. As he goes limp I whisper "and my deeds are my stanza." I knock him over to the side like an inkwell. I stand up. A wave of dizziness washes over me as I adjust to the new altitude. Numerous sensations threaten to overwhelm me, but the words in my blood give me strength. I walk, rather than stumble, towards the table. The bag contains various tools of a carpenter or the like, nothing interesting. I take the wire without really thinking. My hand trembles over the door knob. Looking at my large hands, the hands of a killer, it dawns on me I don't even remember my face. Don't look back. My hand turns the knob and I walk out the room. A dingy corridor leads to stairs that open out into a modest house. No one is at home, but there are signs that a group was here recently. I don't hang around, I look for the back door and escape into the night... and the half dozen people watching the house. I don't see myself walking out of this one. Three robed figures stand like sentinels, their masks expressionless. Two seem to glow with an aura, both carrying a tome under one arm. The final member stands out among her companions. On first glance you might mistake her for some skinny, wounded miner. On closer inspection her mechanical left leg and right arm are far superior in design to the union's foot soldiers. Yet before one could make such an assumption, they would be immediately drawn to her face. There's charm in there, even if her features are a little boyish, but what captivates is that great big toothy grin, with two parts casual insolence and defiant optimism. She smiles at me. "Took you longer than usual." She japes. "Pardon?" I ask, caught unawares. The girl gestures to the robed figures. "Better fetch the Master his kit, he clearly ain't gonna find it himself." The figures stiffly march off to a stagecoach on the other side of the street. "I'm sorry, I-" I'm interrupted by the girl. "Best not. I'll give you the short version, cos last time I gave you the long version you took advantage and made me look a right plum." She strolled towards me, her leg sounding like a switchblade folding back and forth. "You're the Master, the boss man, and we're your humble servants." She bowed theatrically, the gesture more seriously copied by the two other men. "Problem is, you've got issues, like your body playing dead and your mind turning into a blank page every now and then." "I don't-" She interrupted me again, just as the robed figures returned with what looked like some kind of harness. "Don't worry, cos despite your issues, you're dead smart and pretty mean in a fight when you want to be, and even when you are playing plum, we're here to look after you." "If you here to look after me, why did you not come for me, why-" Interrupted again. "Wait? Cos you told us to of course. I swear sometimes you let yourself get caught just so you can practice." "Who-" And again. "Nabbed you? A local gang with ties to some plum calling himself the Mole King. In fact I can hear the rest of them coming now." The sounds of hooves on cobbled stones could be heard in the distance. Without asking, the robed figures begin securing me to the exo-skeleton. "You know you usually don't like it when I-" This time I interrupt her. "Interrupt me? Yes, Yvette, it is rather grinding." I finish the last buckle on the harness myself, my mind on a written page once more. "Roderick, Marshall, hope you did your homework on the properties of fire." The two men open their tomes like archers drawing their bow. "You wanna make the "improbable poet" speech?" Yvette grins at me and bittersweet memories return come flooding back. "No, but I don't think our quills will be short of ink tonight." I grin back at her. "The Masters back boys." She calls out. I'm back, I think, but for how long? _____________________ 1749 words. Used all ingredients. Feedback greatly appreciated, don't hold back.
  10. Here's my first try at Iron Quill. Word count: 1747. Ingredients used: All. Comments & critique welcome. High Stakes at the Bonsai Garden Callie looked down at her hand, trying to keep her face impassive. Three hours in, and four players out. The pressure was on and the stakes were high. Higher than anyone knew. A pair of Aces wasn’t going to do the trick. It had to come down to this, didn’t it? A proper duel, winner take… I don’t even know what. She leveled a cool gaze at Wire-framed Glasses, sitting across the table. He raised his eyebrows with studied nonchalance. Inscrutable bastard. She swallowed her frown long before it reached her lips. “Well?” Grey eyes glinted with amusement behind those little round lenses. Callie shifted in her seat a little, plumping her cleavage just enough to distract most eyes. She subtly ran her thumb over the Three of Tomes, channeling a tiny wisp of energy and turning it into an Ace. Three of a kind was a safer bet. “I’ll call.” The required coins clinked on the table. Wire-framed Glasses smirked and met her eyes boldly. He spread his hand – a pair of fives. Callie squinted at the cards and at him in spite of herself. Nothing. Just that same damned image again. A candle burning with a blue flame. Who the hell are you? Callie laid out her three of a kind and thought hard about a chorus line of burlesque dancers. She met his gaze with all the brazen confidence she could muster. Unbidden, a memory came to mind instead. New Orleans. Mother calls me from in from the yard. I am nine years old and wearing a yellow sun dress. Wire-framed Glasses smiled. She frowned. He’d won again. She collected her coins and stacked them neatly in front of her. She’d come to Malifaux four months ago. They say that crossing the Breach can change a person, and she knew it to be true. She’d been an accomplished card shark before, but since she crossed over she was reading a lot more than just tells. She looked at the other players who still sat around the table, all watching the game intently even after bowing out of it. Iron Hand, the foundry worker who hated the cold of his mechanical arm. Top Knot, who loved his baby girl even though she’d been born with no eyes. Grizzly Beard, the filthy-nailed Gremlin hunter and improbable poet. Eye Twitch, who’d killed his first wife in a rage and still blamed her for making him do it. She read each of them like so many books as the hands played out, but not Wire-framed Glasses. He stymied her at every turn, and yet she knew he was reading her. She wished it was just coincidence that sat them both down at this table in this bar on this night. It seemed unlikely. The Bonsai Garden was a very out of the way place way down in the Little Kingdom. She had only even learned of it by chance. It was a shameless little hole where upstanding folk could come and get a taste of the exotic orient. The two tittering ladies at the bar were dressed like geisha but acted like the whores they were. Sake and noodles were about the only things on the menu because they were the only things outsiders knew about food from the Three Kingdoms. Focus, you silly bint. She turned her attention back to the game. It was her deal. She shuffled the well-worn deck and dealt with automatic efficiency. She watched her opponent take up his cards. He had small hands and greying hair cropped close to his head. His clothes were bland and nondescript. She couldn’t place a foreign accent of any kind, which meant he’d probably been an American before crossing over. He’d come to the game with a modest buy-in, nothing high rolling. The man was maddeningly unremarkable. Callie picked up her cards. Ugh, utter dross. Not even her new tricks could save a hand that bad. She folded, drawing some murmurs from the little knot of bystanders. Grizzly Beard and Top Knot had a side bet going on who was going to take the pot. The big lug nudged his companion with a hairy elbow. Wire-framed Glasses flashed a look of mild disappointment and put down his cards as well. His deal. A better hand this time and Callie allowed herself a little confidence. She bet modestly, still trying to keep the game going. Wire-framed Glasses raised without blinking. Callie chewed her lip and weighed her options. “I’ll call.” Wire-framed Glasses laid out a lone pair of tens. Candle with a blue flame. Again. She wanted to shout at the obtuse little man, but that would break the unspoken silence of the real game. Callie gritted her teeth, emptied her mind and revealed a straight. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, you little troll. You get nothing. She shuffled and dealt. The cards were getting tingly to the touch now. It was like they were picking up the magic themselves. She swore she saw a tiny wisp of blue arc between the cards and his hand when he picked them up. This time Wire-framed Glasses folded, denying her three thirteens their moment of triumph. She cursed inwardly. No hand, no read. No read, no hope of figuring out who this man was or what he wanted from her. He took the next hand with a flush of Rams. He’s sitting at a desk with a ledger and a scale. Bookkeeper maybe? A miner walks in and dumps a glowing chunk of soulstone on the desk. Even in a memory he can feel its power. Where’s your blue candle now, you prig? Callie couldn’t hide a little victorious smile. She caught Top Knot’s puzzled expression. She centered herself and focused on the duel at hand. The deck was warm to the touch now. She saw wisps of blue energy clinging around the cards like a hazy afterglow. Apparently none of the onlookers saw them, but she was sure if she could then so could he. It took more and more discipline to keep her mind blank when she laid down her cards. There was a faint sheen of perspiration on her upper lip, and she didn’t think it was due to the warmth of the close little bar room. When he laid down four of a kind with the black joker, Callie felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. It wasn’t that there was no read. It was more like staring into the Abyss. Hungry black nothingness. Another hand – two pair against his three of a kind. Paris. I’m twenty-one. Jean-Louis squires me around the city in his private carriage so I let him in my dress. Guess I’m a real woman now. Oh god, of all the bloody things to think about. Damnation! A smile ghosted across Wire-framed Glasses’ face. A few more onlookers were paying attention now. The tittering geishas and the one-eyed bartender had stopped pretending not to notice the hottest game in the house. The original players seemed enraptured, watching each hand as if they had a stake in it. Callie found herself wondering if there were other powers at play in the cards here. Wire-framed Glasses laid down a surprise full house, crushing her triples. He’s in a lecture hall with a hundred other men all listening to a tall fellow with a mechanical hand at the lectern. Unabashed admiration. He looks at the man like he’s the mouthpiece of God. Callie looked at their respective piles of coin. They both knew the money was just window dressing, the real game unseen by the curious crowd. Her stack has dwindled in the last hour. More importantly, her concentration is starting to waver. He dealt her a full house, thirteens over nines. Callie held her impassive poker face steady. It was time to make an exit one way or the other. “I’m all in.” she said, pushing all her remaining coin into the middle. Wire-framed Glasses didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll call.” Coins crossed the table. He arched his eyebrows quizzically. Callie smugly laid out her hand and sat back. Wire-framed Glasses calmly laid down a royal flush capped with the red joker. The rush of magic washed over her with almost palpable force and pushed a gasp past her lips. The train’s just about to the Breach. My heart’s in my throat. I said I’d never look back, but I’m thinking that jumping off a moving train seems eminently sensible as we hurtle towards a hole in reality. We enter the Breach. I hear screaming in the next car, or maybe it’s outside the train. I can’t tell. I close my eyes and cover my ears. I can’t bear to look out the window. I’m so scared I wet myself. I cower and weep until the man in the next seat puts a hand on my shoulder and tells me it’s over. I made it. I made it to Malifaux. Wire-framed Glasses adjusted his spectacles and cleared his throat a little. Callie abruptly snapped out of her reverie. He looked a little rattled himself, but not half as much as she. He seemed almost reluctant to take his winnings, to allow the game to end. “Well,” she said in her breeziest southern drawl, “Looks like I’ve gone and lost my stake.” Still flustered, she lurched to her feet rather less gracefully than she’d intended. She took in the motley crew of men seated around the table, “Gentlemen, I thank you for a fine evening’s entertainment. It’s past time for me to retire, I’m afraid.” She extricated herself from the table and collected her skirts about her, “I thank y’all again. Good night.” Callie hustled out the door and waved to a distant rickshaw boy. “Miss Doucette,” Wire-framed Glasses was right behind her, close enough to grab her though he made no move, “Miss Doucette, a moment, please.” Callie waved again to the rickshaw boy who looked at her, looked past her, then retreated into the fog. Callie felt suddenly cold. She glanced out the corner of her eye in the direction the rickshaw boy had looked. A bearded man in a wide brimmed hat leaned against the wall, smoking a cigarillo. His hand rested casually on an ornate custom pistol. Shit. “Miss Doucette,” Wire-framed Glasses said again, “There is someone who would very much like to make your acquaintance. If you’d be so kind as to come with us…”
  11. Closing Time A Short Story by Lord Byron Word Count: 1750 Elements used: The Pen is mightier than the sword, A broken Clock, the Guild Quarter Jacob looked into the windows of his shop and smiled. Looking back at him was a man who had been through a lot, black hair starting to grey above a set of wire rimmed spectacles in front of bright blue eyes. A cane in one hand held up a body that had slowly begun to feel the pains of being hunched over a work bench for hours every day, repairing the baubles and toys of the people of Malifaux. The gold lettering of the sign hanging above the store front proudly proclaimed to the denizens of the Guild Quarter that here was Master Jacob’s Fine Jewelry and Clock Repair. That sign had cost him almost a month’s worth of work, but it was worth it in Jacob’s opinion. It granted the store a certain prestige, and he had certainly been seeing a few more high class customers since he had put it up. Jacob turned away and to walk down the street to his home, just outside the gates into the prestigious center of Malifaux, but someone had appeared next to him and he knew he’d be staying a few extra hours tonight. The man spoke, “Master Jacob.” Looking at him from underneath the brim of a wide hat were a pair of green eyes, and little else. He wore a trenchcoat made from a dark leather, and across his back was a large pine box, he was a Death Marshall, one that Jacob had worked with before. Jacob sighed, “Hello Mr. Smith, how can I help you tonight?” “I have something I need you to fix, and it would be greatly appreciated if you could finish it tonight.” With that said the man held out a pocket watch. Jacob took the watch, “Very well Mr. Smith, you know my fee, and I assume the Guild will be paying in the usual manner?” Mr. Smith nodded, “There’s more to it, this one has….. abilities, that we would like restored as well.” Jacob’s curiosity was piqued, to have an enchantment in such a small piece would require a true master of the art. “You know the fee for that as well, and I assume your supervisors have agreed to that?” Another nod from Mr. Smith, and Jacob was satisfied, he turned and unlocked the door into his shop, stepping in he began to lock it behind him, but Mr. Smith had walked in behind. “Is there anything else?” This was highly unusual, most of the time Jacob was left to his work. “I have been ordered to watch over you while you repair this, certain parties have expressed an interest in this device and it’s protection has been deemed a priority.” “Very well…” with that Jacob locked the door behind Mr. Smith and walked to his workbench. Placing the watch in front of him he reached under his bench and pressed a button he had hidden when he first set up the shop. From the ceiling above his windows and door a fine wire mesh descended, and a slight hum filled the air. “Be careful Mr. Smith, don’t touch the wires or you’ll disrupt my protections, and yourself.” Mr. Smith nodded and turned to face out of the window, apparently satisfied to keep to himself. Placing the watch in front of him he began to assess the problem, the hands obviously weren’t moving, and apparently something was not working in a mystical sense. The back had a deep dent in it, and upon inspection Jacob believed it had been caused by a bullet. Opening it was easy enough, and the damage had severely bent all the gears and springs, they would all need to be replaced or repaired, an exceedingly tedious but simple task. However, within the frames of many of the gears, and at the center of the springs rested a tiny crystal. Reaching into his toolbox and pulling out his magnification glasses he carefully inspected each crystal. As he looked he realized that these were not quartz or a similar metal, but each and everyone was a soulstone, crystal clear, cut with a precision to rival the masters of the trade and set inside the watch with infinite care. This severely complicated manners, Jacob would have to remove and inspect each stone, make sure they were charged, replace any damaged ones, and even after he put it back together he had no idea what the device was supposed to do. With a great sigh he took out a piece of paper and carefully began uninstalling all the pieces, gridding out the paper and writing the dimensions and location of every piece and stone next to it as he set it down. After completing this he began the process of repair. Many of the items would not be salvageable, and he had to reach into his drawers of parts to replace and modify all the inner workings. Time seemed to stand still as he crafted each piece, and inspected each stone. Luckily the stones were all intact, and he was able to put each one back in place without having to go through the trouble of trying to find a similar stone for the device. Finally Jacob hammered out the back piece, and inspected the work for completeness, satisfied, he snapped it shut, and gave a yelp of surprise as it set itself to the proper time. Before he could do anything more he felt the cold metal of a blade pressed against his neck. Shortly thereafter he felt the blade removed, and let out a sigh of relief “My apologies Master Jacob, I wasn’t sure what you had done, I had to take precautions.” The apology from the Death Marshall hardly seemed adequate for the fear that coursed through Jacob’s veins. “Of course, of course, I was simply startled, the watch has set itself you see.” With that Jacob held the watch out for inspection. “I’m unsure what else it does though, I can’t vouch for the abilities you wished to have restored to it, but I’m positive that I have reassembled it exactly as it was.” “That’s all we ever ask for Master Jacob, your aid, and discretion, is appreciated as always.” With that the Marshall reached to take the watch. Mid-reach he stopped and spun around, and grabbed his pine box with one hand, whipping out his Peacebringer with the other. Before Jacob could say anything his windows exploded inwards, covering the store with shards of glass. A loud electric buzz filled the air, and sparks flew from the mesh that he had lowered into place. Jacob dived for the ground behind his counter, grunting in pain as his knee bounced off the hard wood, clutching the pocket watch close to his chest. He heard the report of the Marshall’s peacebringer and felt a sudden heat from the watch. Looking at the watch it had lit up with a bright green light, and he saw the hands come to a stop, at the same moment all the noise stopped. Thinking the battle must be over Jacob peered over the edge of his counter, and couldn’t believe what he saw. Everything was frozen in place, he saw the Marshall, stuck in place as he leaped over the counter, his box improbably in front of his outstretched arm, stuck mid-air with the door half open, sickly green flame oozing out. In front of the shop’s window was a small group of figures, half hidden in the light of the streets with long hooded robes draped across their frames, frozen in place as they attempted to duck out of sight. Jacob stood up, unsure of what he should do next, with time apparently frozen, he had no idea how to start it again, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to with what was unfolding in front of him. It seemed that he would have no choice though, the watch’s glow had start to fade, and almost imperceptibly he noticed things beginning to move again. In a panic he grabbed the nearest thing he could find, his pen, and lowered himself back behind his counter. Suddenly time was flowing normally again, and Jacob heard his mesh scream in protest, and saw the bright flash of light as he assumed the pine box had flown through it. And he jumped as the Marshall’s form dropped in front of him, changed completely as a ghostly fire had enveloped his frame and revealed the bare features of a human skull. The skull stared directly at Jacob, and he jumped as the jaw moved up and down, “Did it work?” Jacob couldn’t move, the terror of a talking skeleton in front of him was simply too much. “Damn it, I’ll have to do this the old fashioned way then.” With that said the Marshall stood back up and fired off another shot, instantly the watch glowed, and Jacob found himself in a frozen time once again. It dawned on Jacob then, the soulstone of the watch was feeding off the death of the marhsall’s foes! Jacob steeled himself, if he could move and they couldn’t, he could do something about this, he counted the people in front of his store and realized that there was no way he would survive if he didn’t do something. He gripped his pen and painfully walked forward, time slowly began moving, and just as it started to pick back up he slammed it into the eye of the man trying to come through his front door. The man’s remaining eye went wide with confusion and pain, and just as Jacob pulled the pen out a piece of pinkish grey meat stuck on the end, his remaining eye rolled back as he fell, and time froze again. Around him the others in the group had shifted their gaze at Jacob, shock in their eyes. Jacob tried not to look into those eyes, as he jabbed his pen into the throats of the others while time stood still. As time came back to speed, Jacob walked back into his store, the men in front collapsing as they grabbed at their throats to stop the blood. “It would appear your watch is operating again Mr. Smith.” Jacob said as he approached the shocked Marshall. “Thanks…. I’ll have to ask you to hand it over, and please don’t leave. I expect the guard shall be arriving shortly after that altercation.” The Marshall reached out, and Jacob gently placed it back in his hand……
  12. Iron Quill - Time and Lies Ingredients; The Lovers, the Guild Quarter, a Broken Clock Words 1748 Almost Over She sits at the edge of the water watching small lizards dance. They send ripples across the pond. She think’s that they’re beautiful, shimmering iridescent in the emerald night. Here, alone in all of Malifaux, she feels safe. The lizards, imported from Earthside are harmless, no wide grinning mouths with rows of teeth, no subtle whispers pressing on her mind. Father would throw a fit, she thinks, but she feels more at home among the reeds than she ever has in his high towers, behind his walls of alien stone. She doesn’t jump at the rustling behind her. “Anne...” The man’s voice is husky, but he pitches it high as though he’s calming a nervous animal. “You’re late,” she says, trailing a hand through the murky water. In the depths eldritch minnows flash and flee like frightened stars. The lizards won’t eat them, or anything else, and replacements must be imported monthly at great personal expense. “I’m sorry, Shields…” “Your sergeant held you late for some reason, of course he did.” Anne still doesn’t look at him, “It has nothing to do with the flask in your coat, or the broken watch that you won’t let me have fixed.” “I’ll have the money soon. I’ll fix it, and we were pulling extra patrols thank you very much. Shields says there’s no room in the budget to hire more guards ‘till spring.” He sits beside her, and pulls off his heavy boots. His feet are long and hairy, much like the rest of him, and Anne can’t help but smile as he flexes his toes with a sigh of satisfaction. “He’s full of it. Da wouldn’t let the guards go wanting.” He’s much too paranoid for one thing… Anne relaxes, leaning into the finely spun wool of her lover’s uniform. “You should tell him to give you a rest Char.” Charles watches their reflection in the water. He looks a fine enough figure, in his long blue coat and red britches, he’s tall enough for an honor guard but his hair is too dark and wild. Anne is curled up next to him in a dress like Oxford in the summertime, floral explosions of vibrant blue and yellow, and around her neck is a brooch with two stones, one jet black, the other like bone burning with some inner light. That stone had activated the night her mother was dragged from her carriage during the winter riots when Anne was still a little girl and the winds of December brought bloodshed and cannibalism to holly decked streets. “I need the money, we need the money,” Charles says. “I have all the money we could possibly need,” Anne says, “As I’ve told you time and again…” “But…” “But nothing, so father doesn’t want me marrying some sweaty guardsman, so what?” “We’re not running away together, not in Malifaux.” It’s an argument Charles is tired of having, he tosses a stone into the pond, and the lizards begin to sing with voices like candle flames. “They don’t do that at home,” Anne says. “Sing?” Charles says. “No, their voices are silent until the cross the Breach. It’s magic, their song, it comes from somewhere far away or deep inside.” “It’s a pretty sort of magic,” Charles says, “If that’s what it is.” He kisses her on top of her head. “Most magic is,” Anne says, and she nestles back, into the crook of his arm. “Careful who hears you saying that.” “Who’s going to tell that I like magic? The lizards? You?” She laughs and tilts her head back, the moonlight nestles in the hollow of her throat and her lips are blush red. “Of course I’m not,” Charles runs his fingers through her hair and she shivers, inching closer to him, “Anne, I need… I’m serious. I save enough to buy a commission and we’re getting married, like we planned.” “But what if we didn’t have to wait? Sooner would be better, right?” Anne says. She’s staring up at him with wide, glassy eyes. “Sure.” “Tonight would be better.” “Anne, what…?” He tries to pull away but she’s wrapped tight around one of his arms. “Tonight would be better, right? Because you love me, you do, you love me no matter what.” her fingers are digging into his arm and he can feel her nails even through his heavy coat. “Of course I do, what’s going on?” “Just promise me, whatever happens…” “Whatever happens,” Charles says, “Mind, body, and soul. Like when we were kids.” There’s a moment of silence, even the lizards are still, and then Anne laughs. “Remember,” she says, “I would steal meat-pies from the kitchens?” “And we’d eat them together on the roof,” Charles finishes her thought. “I said you were too skinny to be a proper bodyguard.” “I was thirteen, I took it very hard.” He grins at her. “Now look at you, all filled out and handsome,” she knocks his cap off and musses his hair, “In your grown-up’s uniform.” “It’s what made you fall in love with me,” he says with a wry smile. “It’s not.” It’s Anne’s turn to pull away, and she looks out over the pond, distracted. “Anne, love… I was joking.” “It wasn’t funny.” Her voice is hollow, “I hate it, you know.” “The uniform?” “What the uniform means. I hate you walking the streets at night, I hate your long patrols. It’s dangerous.” “Five days out of six Shields has me walking the heart Guild quarter, because of my mom, because I grew up around you rich folk and can be trusted not to offend any potential donors… I’m probably the least at-risk Guard on the force.” Charles finishes talking and turns his head to spit into the reeds. His mother brought the family to Malifaux on a personal protection contract, now she runs a private security firm that provides specialized services to the Guild’s wealthiest paranoides. She hasn’t talked to him since he pinned on the badge, something about competing with the family business. “No one is safe,” Anne says, “There’s a storm coming that doesn’t care about walls, or guards, or guns. A storm carried on the wind like breath, seeping through the smallest cracks to freeze you in your sleep. You can’t fight it, I can’t… The only way is to run, and soon.” Her voice sounds as though it’s coming from a long ways off, hollow, echoing from the mountains. “Anne, what are you saying?” Charles feels his hairs stand on end. “We don’t have time for you to buy a commission, or save away money. It’s coming, we need to run.” “What’s coming, what are you talking about?” He wrenches himself free and stands upright. “Don’t you see, they’re already here.” “Who’s already here? Where? What do they want?” He swallows back the panic that threatens to engulf him, “Tell me what you’re talking about and I can tell Shields. Or, hell, mother. I can make it to a station in seven minutes, I can have a hundred men mobilized in ten.” Anne crumples to the ground as he’s talking, and he stoops to pick her up, “Just tell me, please, where they need to go.” “It’s too late.” Anne says, weeping, “It’s already done.” “How, what…?” “They found me months ago, riding on a breath of ice. Everything they needed I gave to them, keys, code words, the timing of the guard rotations.” “Why?” “You. They promised me, they promised they would pass you by.” “And you believed them?” Anne doesn’t answer, she’s shaking so hard he fears she’ll fall apart. “That’s why it doesn’t matter,” she says, “About the money. It just matters that you…” Her head snaps up and she fixes him with blackly burning eyes, “You said, you promised, no matter what happens...” “I did.” The voice comes from somewhere deep inside him. “And do you…” “I do.” His mouth is dry as he gathers her into his arms. The first explosions light up the night like a fireworks show. He doesn’t even bother putting his boots back on. Charles tracks the blasts, it’s reflex, trying to guess the homes being hit. It’s no one too high up, no one in the Guild inner circle. It’s all the second ring homes, the successful merchants, the bankers. The sorts of people that hire his mother. He closes his eyes and he can see blasts tearing through tiled roofs, obliterating courtyards in showers of stained glass. Now the screams are starting. Not the authoritative shouts of Guards organizing an evacuation or bucket brigade, but cries of pain and panic. Battlefield cries. He tries not to imagine how many of his brothers are out there, freezing to black on bloodsoaked cobblestones. “What happens now?” Charles says. “We wait. They won’t come here. Once it’s done we’ll be able to leave, start a new life. Together.” Anne won’t look at him. “How do you know they won’t… They promised. Whoever they are you told them you would be here and they promised not to…” He pulls away, drawing his sword. The lizards start up again, singing the only funeral dirge these people will ever get. Their song gets slower as the air gets colder, and the sound of the last explosions rolls away. Charles stands at the ready, with his back to the water, eyes probing the darkness. His fingers are already growing numb around the cold hilt of his sword. After long minutes no one comes, but the air is freezing, hoarfrost creeps along the blade of his sword and his breath clouds in front of his face, catching on his beard and mustache and freezing in splintered tendrils. At last Anne stands up. Her skin glows pink in light of the distant fires, even barefoot she doesn’t seem to mind the cold. As she walks toward him Charles tries to move, but he’s rooted to the spot, he can feel his eyes grow wide. He concentrates on his left hand, moving by inches. She knocks the sword from his unfeeling hand and wraps her arms around his neck. “It’s done,” she whispers, as the second stone on her necklace flares to life, “I’m sorry about all this, let’s go.” His vision is fading at the edges as he whispers, “Me too,” and wills his fist to close. He doesn’t hear the pistol shot, but there’s something warm drenching his arms, his front, as the two lovers sink to the ground. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thanks for reading! Questions, comments, critiques are more than welcome.
  13. Ingredients- Character: Sheep in Wolf's Clothing Item: An Incomplete Deck of Cards Word Count- 1750 The Searchers The pattern of blood upon the snow was almost beautiful; as striking as it was revolting. Like a blossoming flower, scarlet streaks fanned out from a pristine epicenter. The man stooped in the eye of the flower lifted the crimson frost to his tongue and then broke the silence. "Within the past half of an hour." Crouching on his haunches, the burly man kept his grizzled, bearded face cast down, so that only the wolf pelt hat peered up at the rest of the party. His bulk was composed of layers of buckskins and unwashed flannel beneath the fur - there was not ladle full of lard spread across the gaunt outdoorsman's frame. "Hoarcats drag him off?" The Death Marshal asked. "Not likely." "Why not?" "Way the blood's spilt, 'e was et right here." "You sure 'bout that, wolf-hunter," the marshal asked, "I don't see no bones nor clothes." "Sure, I'm sure," the scout said, "gobbled 'em up, every last bit. Lupescar ain't never wrong." He cast a sparkling glance at the woman nervously fingering her Collier revolver just behind the lawman. "Waste not, want not, eh, my cherie?" Sorsha consciously drew her hand from her pistol and willfully suppressed the chill creeping up her spine. 'Blood, she was accustomed to, having spilled her fair share with her pistol, and even drawn some with her Brahk blade, but this? This was no way for a man to die. Granted, the slain muleteer was more beast than man. A pig, who was ever gazing on her with heavy lidded eyes, making suggestive comments. This mountain man, Lupescar, too, had the habit of licking his lips when he deigned to speak to her, like he was anticipating his next meal. Most of the time, he didn't bother to give her the time of day. That suited her just fine, and the Guildsmen treated her with decency, if not quite equality. There was also the girl from the wagon train to converse with, strange as she was. Underdressed for the season, Sorsha had given the young woman her own coat, while she had cut a hole in an extra wool blanket and tied it at the waist to form a poncho. Sorsha could not fail to notice that the men hadn't offered any polite solutions to keep the girl warm. "We women have to look out for each other," Sorsha told the girl as she wrapped her coat around her. The girl had stumbled into town several days ago, this lost teenager with pale skin, frightened, staring eyes and coatless to tell them all about the fate of the settlers who ventured into the Western reaches beyond the badlands. The tale she told was a familiar one, though no less dreadful for the repetition. The party was three days out of Fortune Falls when the first traveler vanished. The assumption was that they had turned back. On the following day, when an entire wagon carrying a family disappeared, the outriders backtracked to find it abandoned, with no sign of the occupants. A meeting was held on whether to turn back, but with three days left to go to reach their land claims, there was nothing for it, but to forge ahead. It was on the final night that the attack came, A massive assault by hordes of gibbering creatures from the darkness. In the confusion of the battle, the girl was separated from the party and found herself, two days later, on the trail back to town. In hopes of finding other survivors, Marshal Hancock gathered four guardsmen, a pathfinder, a muleteer to carry supplies, and a mercenary to round out the numbers; all that the town could spare. Truth was, nobody else was stupid enough, nor desperate enough, to go. Sorsha was determined that she wasn't going to suffer the same fate as the mule driver. "And you didn't see anything up ahead? Marshal Hancock regarded Lupescar through narrow eyes. "Didn't say that," the pathfinder said. "Saw plenty. Just no sign of what did this." "You shooting straight me, Lupescar?" "What might you mean, Marshal?" "I mean, are you leading us into a trap?" Sorsha expected a clever quip from the trapper, but he met Hancock's accusation with a silent scowl. "Fine," the Death Marshal said. "We'll continue on to the the site of the attack, but I want you in view at all times, Lupescar." He turned to Sorsha. "We can't afford to lose any more supplies. You guard the rear, Merc. And watch the girl." He regarded her for a moment. "Can you handle that, missy?" She wanted to tell him, "Hell no!" She wanted to head back to town, rather than end up dinner for whatever was out here. But her debt to the Guild hung over her like an executioner's axe, and she couldn't think of any other way. "I can handle it." He held her gaze for a moment, then turned back to the pathfinder. "I feel like I'm playing poker with half a deck. And it ain't the half with the face cards." Lupescar finally broke his silence. "I suppose that makes me the joker." "Could be," Hancock said. "Question is, which one?" Sorsha dreaded the idea of heading recklessly into peril, but what could she do? She owed the Guild money for bringing her through the Breach, to escape her abusive husband. Now she was beholden to the Guild and the Governor. Had her fate played out differently, she might have been one of those unfortunate women on the street, paying off the Guild by selling her favors to strangers. But being a fair shot with the pistol she took when she left her husband,she had opportunities open to her. And once you've shot one man, the rest are a good sight easier. Was she truly better off than the doxies one saw hanging from the windows of the bordellos back in Malifaux City? She'd be lying to herself if she said she was. Either way, she was splitting hairs, her fate was not her own. "They don't respect you." They had been traveling half a day, and the sun was pale and distant in the noon day sky. An aloof voyeur, remotely curious about the fate of those below. Sorsha was surprised; the girl hadn't spoken more than a handful of words since she first related her story two days back. "They treat you worse than the pack animals." "I could care less, so long as they pay me better." "You care. Anyone would." She gave Sorcha a smile that mimicked kindliness, but there was a vacancy behind it. "You'd have to have a heart of ice not to." "Listen kid..." "Tina." "Tina. Look. Everybody's got to make a buck. I'll put up with these cowboys only so long as I have to." "What if you didn't have to?" "What's that supposed to mean?" But the girl didn't respond, and Sorsha let it drop. They travelled on in silence. That night, when she went to relieve Guardsman Fletcher and serve the last watch before dawn, she found him asleep and snoring. "Hey, wake up," she hissed. "You're lucky I couldn't sleep." Fletcher grunted something in rude reply and roused himself to his feet, stumbling from the glow of the fire, to the darkness beyond where his bedroll waited. Sorsha laughed to herself as she heard him stumble and grunt, as he fell heavily to the ground. She listened as he clumsily pulled out some rations and slowly and noisily ate them. A disgusting wretch, to chew so loudly. He ignored her chastising shush and continued, steadily and belligerently. The tedious smack, smack, smack drove her to distraction until the sky grew grey with first light. It was a blessing that the sight that met her stole her breath away so she couldn't scream. There, hanging over a limb above the camp, was what remained of Fletcher's body, with its steady drip, drip, drip of blood hitting the rock below with a smack. Hancock debated sending anyone out in advance of the party, but finally acquiesced, sending Sorsha with Lupescar to scout ahead, conveniently ridding himself of both problems. Sorsha wasn't sure what she dreaded more, finding what was stalking them, or being alone with Lupescar. What she did know, was that she did not want to go. Hancock wanted her gone, though, after her careless watch the night before. Did it really matter though, when they were vulnerable anywhere? What puzzled her as she trailed behind the pathfinder was, why had the creature spared her? Lupescar stopped short and turned to her. "The tracks end here. " "Let's head back then." "What's the rush?" Lupescar loomed over her. "We can have some time together." "Stay clear of me, or I swear..." The sudden scream broke the tension. Both of them broke into a run. As they approached the camp, they found a swirling blizzard obscuring the search party. Screams and gunshots illustrated the action where dim figures moved in the blinding snow. Child-sized figures with oversized heads, translucent in the filtered light and dripping with icicles, leapt up in their path as they ran. The mist and snow diminished towards the epicenter of the battle to reveal Marshal Hancock, one foot propping open a coffin, one fist grabbing Tina by the hair. Around him, like the scattered playing cards of a bad hand, were the bodies of the remaining guardsmen. "Get in there you witch! "Hancock, what the blazes are you doing?" Lupescar cried. "Something that would have saved us a heap of trouble if I hadn't been such a damn fool," he grunted,"she's been behind this from the beginning!" Something huge, horned and terrible loomed over the mountain man. He bleated a plaintiff cry as it devoured him like a sheep being slaughtered. "Don't stand there gaping, you useless cow," Hancock shouted at Sorsha, "shoot the damn thing!" On reflection, Sorsha could never be sure what surprised her more, her lack of hesitation, or her lack of remorse, as she smoothly raised her pistol and fired, neatly placing a bullet between Hancock's eyes. The death marshal released the girl as his body tumbled over the coffin. After a moment's silence, the ice creatures turned away and shambled towards the hills. "Now, what am I going to do?" Sorsha said to herself. Tina walked over the bloody snow to the mercenary and handed back her coat. "You come with me," she said.
  14. 1473 words Sheep in Wolf's Clothing An Incomplete Deck of Cards I had been lying there for a while, watching the ceiling fan complete yet another full rotation... And another. It had been a good set of years since the fan was capable of churning any air, but it was comforting knowing that it still tried. Each rotation was a testament. A stubborn refusal to give up a lost cause. It was supposed to be white, but a lifetime of heavy smoking in bed had reduced the remaining blades to a toxic yellow. And it completed another turn. The thing made a low rustling noise. Clearly not healthy, but it had made that noise for as many years as I could remember and it was still going. Another turn. It looked ready to drop on to the bed at any time, but it hung on, going through the motions. I could relate. I felt the same way. I hadn't really woken up. At some point I had just caught myself being awake, staring at the ceiling fan. There was the case to think of. The Guild had hired me to make a mess disappear. Some evidence of some wrong-doing that they were fine with doing but less enthusiastic about fessing up to. Not that that's any of my business. I was a PI back in the real world. The cases were easier then. You'd follow a guy for a dame, get some pictures of his mug where it shouldn't be, and then sit back and let the precinct boys come in with their nightsticks in the air. In Malifaux, more often than not, the backup is whatever iron you can carry on you. Everyone is out for number one, and no one agrees on who that is. The law is what you make of it. More a stern recommendation than something strictly enforced, and different depending on who you ask. I'm not one of the crazies that came here looking for the danger. I'm here because a man with my talents and lack of good looks can make more money in an evening than the show gals can strip me of in a week, and those gals have a certain talent for skinning a man with a smile and a twirl. I had slipped a kid some scrip for some information, and he had been real detailed about it too. I was going to be going in against three guys, holding what I was looking for. I knew the names and preferred weapon of each. Where he slept and where he sat around their table, waiting for a ransom that would never come. There were things that bothered me about this case, but there always was. The difference between a PI and a good PI is that the latter knows when to stop asking his client questions and start asking his informants instead. Still, something told me there was more to this case than simple blackmail. With a firestick in the crook of my mouth and a thunderstick in my holster, I couldn't think of any good reason to postpone the inevitable. I might not have come to Malifaux for the danger, but I brought a little with me. A knock at the door brought someone to the peep-hole. That would be Sam. Poor fellow had taken up post in a recliner right on the other side of the door, acting like a gate keeper to the most boring game of stud poker imaginable being played by the other two men in the room. With the amount of cheating being done, they must either be playing with an incomplete deck of cards or the most comprehensive collection of aces in Malifaux. Sam had something to say about the darkness of the barrel of my .45 in his peep-hole, but when old Betsy talks that close to your face, your arguments tend to be cut short. The other two men in the room suddenly had a lot to say to fill in the blanks, though. As it is in these cases, most of the talking was being done through steel intermediaries, and it wasn't long before the door was more buckshot and holes than wood remaining on the hinges. I, of course, had wisely stepped to the side; something the door was probably envious of at this point. "You dead yet, mister?" Came a voice from inside. "I'm afraid not, son. Would it be too much to hope for that you'd lay down your armaments and hand over what I came here for?" Another, more shrill voice cut me off "You kill't Sam, you basterd!" Well, I suppose experience should have taught me by now that no one ever makes your job easy for you if they can make it hard, but I'm just an optimist at heart. In my younger years I would have made some daring acrobatic entrance into the room at this point, but if there is one thing age has taught me, it is that there is nothing achieved through physical effort that isn't improved upon by stout refusal to do anything that makes you perspire. In this case, I found throwing shrapnel into the room to hit the window to the side of my antagonists had the desired effect of creating a perceived threat in that direction. A stout observer would note that the likelihood of an assailant outside the window on the third floor is somewhat unlikely, but seeing their friend with the better half of his face gone had made these kids understandably jumpy. I stepped into the room as they were putting their souls into the murder of an innocent window, and dispatched the angrier of the two with the snubnose I usually keep in my shoe for when bad situations take a turn for the ugly, while I kept my .45 angled at the side of the head of the last kid in the room. He had frozen in the act of reloading his boomstick, and seemed to be weighing his chances of getting it loaded, pointed at me and fired off before I could pull the trigger. "I'd put that down if I were you. Me and you are gonna have words, boy." He didn't seem to like the situation one bit, but he did as he was told. Probably the first wise move in a life full of unwise decisions. He wasn't very talkative at first, but as an old man in the game I know most of the tricks to loosening tongues. Surprisingly to some, the tongue seems to stick to the temple, but a quick pistol whip with good precision will kick it loose in most cases and this was no exception. I feel like I shouldn't have been ready for the merry ride his tale took me on, but surprise is a luxury I had to get rid of a long time ago. The whole thing was about a dame. Most things are though. But the dame herself was only remarkable in her absence. That's more uncommon. The gang of merry idiots two thirds littering the floor had gotten into some information. Information they weren't ready to handle. Instead of pretending it never fell into their laps, like they should have, they decided to devise the most brilliantly cock-brained scheme ever to have come out of three heads at once. They had found that the lover of a certain powerful Guild official had taken a lover of her own. The man may be an adulterer, but that doesn't mean he would accept the same behavior from what he considered his. How they found this out isn't important. What they decided to do with it is. Leaving town on the pretense of going to see her mother, she had taken a detour to a secluded cottage with her lover, where she intended to stay for two weeks. The trio had decided to stage a kidnapping. They sent a message to their intended victim that his lover was in their possession. How was he going to find out any different? It was the perfect crime. A kidnapping without the hassle of having to kidnap anyone. I had been hired to bring back whatever I found in their possession. It may look like I came away empty handed, but I would argue the opposite. Who knows what hare-brained schemes I could conjure out of this information. I left the room with a parting thought to my talkative friend. The last thing that went through his mind was a lead bullet, creating more movement in that second than the poor sap had managed in a life time of slow thinking. I should probably feel sorry for the boys, but let's face it; sheep shouldn't try to run with the wolves. Me, I had managed to make another turn.
  15. Discoveries By: Moxypoo Ingredients: The Price of Progress, Industrial Zone 1743 words Part 1: Results An older, silver haired man in a pristine white laboratory coat snapped his fingers, and a small, spider-like construct immediately leapt off a storage rack and raced across the floor to the man’s desk. The laboratory encompassed the whole of three rooms in the basement of an old, rundown Industrial Zone warehouse. The walls and floor were old granite, worn smooth by many years of scuffling boots and heavy machinery. A few Soulstone-powered lamps kept the worst of the darkness at bay, though the lighting in the laboratory was dim. Occasional fluctuations in power from the Soulstones caused the lamps to flicker and shadows to dance on the walls. In the main room, a solid wooden staircase led to a securely barred trapdoor in the ceiling, and a long L-shaped desk contained all manner of scientific paraphernalia. The scientist sat at this table while writing in his notebook. Sensing the construct approaching, the scientist said, “Good. We’ll pick up where we left off. Begin recording now.” After nimbly scaling the desk, the construct opened its optical iris and began scanning the notebook. October 28th 113PF Research into the soul’s powering of Soulstones con’t. It is well known that Soulstones obtain power from captured human souls. This is generally achieved as the soul leaves the body after death. In a simplistic sense, one can think of these gemstones as a rechargeable energy storage device. Is the soul the energy source, or is it a catalyst to produce energy from the stone? Continue with plan to analyze soul before its passing to the aether. March 15th 114PF Experiment to detect the soul’s passage. Success! The transanima device was able to detect Subject 3’s soul as it left the body. Soul had a lifespan of approximately 500 milliseconds in this realm. Possible to capture soul outside soulstone? Need to determine soul’s energy content. June 6th 114PF Measurement of the soul’s energy content After repeated failure to capture a soul outside a Soulstone, an apparatus was created to detect any energy spike emanating from a Soulstone upon capture of a soul (Sacrificed Subjects 4 through 8 to make these measurements). Results: E = mc2 E = 300,000,0002 = 9x1016 Joules (Soul has no detectable mass – breaks known laws of physics by being able to spontaneously create energy with no mass – or are the laws just inadequate?). How is the Soulstone not destroyed by this incredible influx of energy? Could the Soulstone prevent the soul from passing to the aether and slowly siphon off its energy? ***If the latter is true, it should be possible to slowly siphon the soul from a living human!! August 14th 114PF Soul Absorption Serum High lode Soulstones can be powdered, suspended in a dimethylformamide medium, and injected into a test subject’s bloodstream with a fatality rate of only 20 percent. ***Limited success of soul absorption serum – seemed to have no effect in surviving subjects. Need to find a catalyst that triggers the start of soul absorption. September 21st 114PF Soul Absorption Serum, con’t. A unique influx of energy last evening caused a fascinating result. The Red Star fell from the sky, and the energy wave released appeared to be the necessary catalyst. The entire stock of Serum began to glow with a bright, white light. Subsequent injection seemed to cause extreme pain, with a similar proportion of subject death. Upon certain stimuli (notably injury), serum can be triggered in the bloodstream. Appears to cause varying effects, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and increased physical capabilities. Preparing to inject Subject 15. He is more refined than the others – should produce more satisfactory results. Part 2: Awakening I suddenly became aware. It wasn’t that I awoke from sleep or unconsciousness; it was like coming into being from a state of nothingness. I had no memories before that moment. My eyes opened reluctantly, and even though the light was dim, it stung mercilessly. I squeezed my eyes shut quickly, and tears slid down my cheeks. I could feel my body for the first time. My limbs and head were strapped to some sort of upright table, preventing me from moving much. I was cold. Reluctantly, I cracked my eyelids and forced my eyes to adjust to the light. I was in a large room with walls and floors of stone. Directly across from me was a doorway leading into another room; I could see sterile light and a human shaped shadow against the wall. There was some strange, almost antiseptic smell suffusing my surroundings, and I could see dark brown stains leading to a drain in the center of the floor. I tried to swallow and my parched throat hurt, causing me to moan loudly. As if that were a signal, a small mass detached itself from a shadowy corner and skittered into the adjacent room. The human shaped shadow abruptly moved, and some piece of furniture scraped against the stone floor. A small, grey haired man in a white coat marched through the door directly at me, and I panicked, thrashing at my bonds. “Now, now, we can’t have you thrashing about and damaging yourself,” the man said. He whistled and a construct I hadn’t noticed leaped onto my chest and stabbed a syringe into my neck. A sense of calm and relaxation rapidly spread from that spot; I found myself unable to move but fully aware. “Is that better?” the man asked me. He seemed satisfied. “I will return shortly, and hopefully you’ll hold up better than the rest of the test subjects.” While I felt that should worry me, I was too deep into narcotic bliss to care. Moments later, the white-coated man returned from the adjacent room carrying a large syringe full of some viscous liquid that glowed with white hot fire. It glowed so brightly that the objects in the room cast stark shadows. I squeezed my eyes tightly to ward off the light, but I could see the man preparing to inject that noxious concoction into my arm right through my eyelids. Searing, burning pain lanced from the injection! It felt as if the lunatic in the white coat had injected molten metal directly into my veins. I screamed until I lost consciousness. When I awoke this time, I had memories. They weren’t pleasant, but at least the pain had died down to a dull ache. Taking stock of my surroundings, I realized that I was laying on a floor in a heap rather than strapped to that abominable table, and my stomach ached terribly. There were pungent lumps of cheese and bread resting on a board; I devoured the food and drank a small cup of musty water. I tried to stand and immediately collapsed – my legs were numb. Eventually, I managed to crawl through the rooms, up a short staircase, and through a heavy trap door in the ceiling. I found myself in a large, dusty warehouse that had clearly been abandoned for a long time. As I crawled to the door, feeling slowly came to my legs, and I was able to stand and shuffle slowly. I made the street and wandered aimlessly for some time. “You there! Hey you!” Two men in long grey overcoats started yelling at me. I tried to respond, but my throat was too clumsy to form the words. As the men walked closer to me, a massive humanoid construct carrying a broadsword and kite shield stepped around the corner of a building. I cowered in terror against a sooty brick wall as its gaze fixated on me. The men stopped near me and began conversing. “Wasted on ‘shine probably. Don’t even know where he is. Should we throw him in lockup?” “Naw. Pissant like this will just be back on the streets tomorrow. Probably get ate by some Neverborn monster. Kinder ter just put a bullet in ‘im and be done with it.” “Yessir, Sarge.” The larger man pulled a large pistol from his coat and shot me in the chest. It hurt, obviously, but was nothing compared to the raging inferno of pain that consumed me as the serum returned. My muscles convulsed and white light shown from my eyes and mouth as I writhed and screamed on the ground. The blood flowing freely from my chest slowed to a trickle and then stopped completely as the gaping hole slowly knitted itself over. New, incredible strength came to my limbs, and I stood as the pain subsided. For the first time, I smiled and clenched my fists. Part 3: Stimulus “Ah, so you’re back already? Did we observe anything interesting?” A small, many-legged construct deftly climbed up the scientist’s desk, small puffs of smoke venting from its miniature boiler as it climbed. An iris on the front of the construct opened, and a fuzzy image of Subject 15 projected onto the stone wall of the laboratory. The scientist watched with intense interest as 15 wandered drunkenly down Garnet Avenue. His eyebrows raised when 15 was shot by the Guild patrol, and a small smirk twisted his lips as he watched the Serum in 15’s blood activate. He watched as 15 stood, skin glowing faintly in the semi-dark of the Industrial Zone’s dusk. The Guild Guards backed away slowly, pistols trained on 15, while the Guardian stepped forward and interposed its shield between itself and the new threat. The Guardian lunged toward 15. He met it head on and smashed it to the ground. The Guardian struggled feebly to right itself as 15 repeatedly smashed his fists into its head. The steel crumpled, sparks flew, and the construct ceased its struggles as its cortex was crushed. 15 leaped twelve feet through the air, tackled the man who shot him just seconds ago, and pummeled him to death while screaming incoherently. The sergeant bolted, and the projection ceased. The scientist leaned back in his chair, pursed his lips and paused for a moment, then patted the construct as if it were a dog. “It seems that the field test was successful. Shame that we do not have more control over his actions, but I suppose that’s the price of progress.”
  16. Words: 1733 Theme: The Price of Progress, Item :Incomplete Deck of Cards Miner’s Bluff Rick looked down at the mismatched cards in his hand, and at the mix of cards layed out on the table. He had one pair of sixes, and from the looks in the eyes of his young opponents they thought they had something a lot better. Gazing at them he made eye contact with his one good eye, the other half of his bald skull was a dull steel that went down his side and replaced what had once been an arm as strong as his muscled right side, but was now only mix of steel and gears. He chuckled, his poker hand probably looked like him, a jumble of different cards slammed onto the original deck to fix the damage from blood spilled a year ago. Flexing his arm a little it made a series of clicks and a slight hiss. This always unnerved the younger members of the chapter house, they talked big about how tough they were and what they’d fight for, but the sight of the cost of standing up to the Guild to make life better always made them queasy. “I’ll Raise you two guilders,” Rick said, and threw in the chips with his good arm. He saw the hesitation in the others eyes, it was a steep bet for a greenhorn. He chuckled in his head, they had never known what it was like to not have anything. Before him and the boys had stood up and helped make the union, they were lucky to make as much money as was in that bet after six months of labor. They hadn’t been around long enough to deal with the guild, and Rick hoped they never would, but in his soul he knew that sooner or later they’d each have their own run ins with them. Two of the kids threw their cards in, sighing and leaning back in their chairs. The last one threw in two chips, “Call,” was all he said, and grinned at Rick. The smile reminded him of himself back before the riot, or “incident” as the guild preferred to call it, at this very same chapter house a year ago. He hadn’t believed the guild would ever show up, they had won the fight, the union was established. Their pumping station had just come on line and everyone was heady with the feeling of unity and power that they had shown to the guild. It had all been shattered in an instant. Rick watched the next card flip over, but his mind was elsewhere, remembering the door bursting in, he had been playing poke then too. No one had expected them, the red and black clothed guards filling the room by the door in an instant, leveling their pistols and ordering everyone to lay down. They claimed that the Union was hiding Arcanist rebels in the place, something completely ridiculous and trumped up as a reason to arrest everyone there. All of them had stood up and squared off against them, it didn’t matter that they weren’t hiding anyone, this wasn’t going to stand. “You gonna bet old man?” the kid asked, pulling Rick back to the present, he thought the kid’s name was Jackson or something. “Hold your horses, man’s gotta think things over.” Rick replied. After a moment all he did was knock on the table, signaling his check. The kid just grunted, knocking on the table as well, and flipped over the last card of the of the hand. Before either of them got a look at it there was a bang on the door. “Guild, open up!” came a shout through the door, and a repeated blow came on the wood of the door. The kids all jumped up and reached for whatever weapon they had nearby. “Sit back down you idiots, do you want to end up like me?” Rick glared at them all, and they slowly sat back down. “It’s unlocked, you can come in any time officers.” He shouted back. The door clicked and in walked a memory a year old. There stood the same Officer who had walked in the first time and read them the charges leveled against them. It was the same bastard who had cost Rick his arm and part of his face. The memory came rushing back, as he read off the exact same charges. “You are all accused of conspiring to hide Arcanist rebels, and aid them in the downfall of society! Submit yourself for arrest, or suffer the consequences.” The Officer was reading from a scrap of paper held out in front of him, a giant red rams head emblazoned on the back. That had set the group in the house a year ago on fire, and they all had surged forward to pummel the guards into the ground. The first round of fire killed all the men in front, and Rick was in the next line, he leaped over the man in front of him as he fell and tackled the nearest guard before he had a chance to get his next shot off. They rolled on the floor for a brief moment before Rick got the upper hand by ending the roll with him on top. He had punched the man’s face until it turned bloody, and his eye was swelling shut, the man’s arms crossed in front of him in a futile attempt to fend off the blows. Suddenly Rick felt a horrible pain shoot through his left side, looking down he saw a sword poking through his shoulder, slick with blood. He grabbed at the blade, trying to push it out of him, but before he could reach it he felt a boot planted in his backside pushing him off. As he fell, he twisted around to get a look at his attacker saw the Officer smiling down at him, the rest of the fight had stopped, the miners had been defeated, only Rick had been left wailing on this guard. The officer sneered at him, and raised his pistol, “Scum” was all he said and the next thing Rick felt was a rush of warmth, followed by darkness and the cold. When he woke up, he was looking at the top of a ceiling that wasn’t his own, and he’d been given his new arm, a new face, and his deck of cards lay on his chest, ruined by his own blood that covered it. Snapping back to the present as the Officer read off the charges for the second time in a year, Rick stood up and stared at the man. Everyone in the room froze and looked at him, the kids hesitantly reaching for their weapons, the Officer stopping what he said, eyes slowly going wide with recognition as he saw Rick’s face. “You came here a year ago and said the same thing, you remember what happened that day, same as I.” Rick slowly spoke the words, trying through clenched teeth to hold his anger in check. His arm hissed and clicked as the his metal fist clicked open and shut in agitation. “We aren’t as helpless as we were back then, and we damn sure won’t let you beat us into the dirt this time. There’s still no Arcanists here, just like your last walkthrough, but if you try and make us submit again you won’t make it out of here.” While he said this he had slowly come around the table, stopping only a few feet from the Officer, the other guards alternating their aim from his chest and back to the others in the room. Slowly the other miners of the house lined up behind him, those who hadn’t been in the room before had come down when they heard all the noise. As the Officer looked around Rick could see him adding up the number of men present, and the realization that him and his men wouldn’t survive a second encounter. The Officer opened his mouth to speak, but Rick cut him off, “Go now, before you make a bad decision.” “We’ll be back Miner, and next time you and your kind won’t be able to hold us back!” With that the Officer slowly backed out of the door, and waved for his men to join him. As they left, Rick stepped forward and slammed the door shut behind them. Then he turned to the room full of friends, and his brothers in arms. “Well, time to get ready boys, send a message to the Pump Station, let them know we’re gearing up for a fight and there’ll be blood if Old Ramos can’t get the Guild to settle.” With that the room burst into action, men running to lockers to get their guns, others running to make sure the windows got boarded and to rig explosives. During all the hustle Rick walked over to the book case full of Union reports and forms on the wall behind the poker table. He stepped on a panel hidden in the bottom of the shelf, and gave a gentle push against a book, labeled Union vs. Guild, a Report on the Progress of the Common Man, in the Uncommon Malifaux. With that there was a click and the shelf swung back to reveal an opening into a tunnel headed down into the earth. The rest of the chapterhouse staunchly ignored what was happening and he went down the stairs dug out of the earth. Reaching the bottom he looked around at the small group sitting down there reading by candlelight, and nodded at each of them. “The guild seems to think we’ve got some Arcanists holed up here, where they got that idea I’ll never know. Either way, you had all better get ready for a fight if they find that shelf. I don’t think when they come back they’ll be particularly chatty after what me and the boys are gonna say to them.” He smiled as he said it, noticed a few of them smiling back, and then he headed back up the stairs. He heard some chanting and felt heat, cold and electricity fill the air as he shut the shelf behind him. There might not have been Arcanists here a year ago, but the Guild would be in for more than they bargained for if they decided to push the issue this time around.
  17. “I’m seriously going to throw you off this train if you don’t start talking sense.” “It doesn’t make sense. I’d throw myself off if it did.” The two Guild Guards stared at each other, the elder of the two from what looked like an interrupted meal. The younger one was in the doorway, now and again adjusting his step with each jolt the floor gave. Lightning flickered outside, briefly illuminating the nightscape as the train steadily plotted on. The cars jittered about, causing anyone that decided to stand to take hold of a bar or wall for balance. The older Guard rubbed his temple and gave a sigh. “Alright Ferris, let’s go over it again. You found a stowaway.” “Of a sort.” “And she didn’t have any papers, identification, or give a name.” “Right.” “No one saw her enter the train, we haven’t stopped in hours, and all the compartments are locked. You found her sitting in one of the empty cars and she made no attempt to hide.” Ferris nodded, pushing back his dark hair. “She looks normal enough. If she’s some kind of witch, she probably wouldn’t want attention or would have blown us up by now. And she isn’t setting anyone on fire, if that helps. Maybe a spy…” “As if it were that simple. We are only shipping supplies that are not even worth looting. Likely she’s someone’s girl that snuck in somehow and no one wants to admit it. But that doesn’t make it less of a problem for us.” “I don’t know, Senior Yates. It just seems unlikely no one would see anything or lie about it at this point. I mean, the whole point of our passengers going to the mines is to work off jail time. Why add more to it?” Yates yawned. “What, you expect criminals to be honest? What did you do with her?” “I let her be, she’s in the third car-” “How many of these runs have you been on?” Ferris’s ears turned red. “Alright, so only a few-” “You’ve got a lot to learn about how things are done around here. Guild doesn’t take kindly to stowaways and be thankful it’s going to Malifaux as opposed to leaving. That makes it more likely we would get only a demotion and a beating instead of getting eaten by some Neverborn or other such nightmare. Anything happens and we are beyond shafted. Last thing we want is some witch hunter bothering us instead of everyone else." “She’s only a teenager at best. I think the usual procedure is a bit harsh-” “I’ll decide that, being a senior officer and all. You get back to questioning and don’t be afraid to get rough. Better them then us. And I want men with some semblance of responsibility nearby in case she causes a problem.” Ferris scowled, but gave a nod and left. Yates watched him move to the other car compartments, sighed, and got up with a heave. Carefully he made his way from car to car, looking into each compartment within as he did. It was late, so most of the prisoners were trying to sleep, each chained to their seat to insure they didn’t cause trouble on the journey. Yates shook his head, thinking that prison might have been better than working in the soul stone mines these poor bastards were heading to. After squeezing past a few more Guards, he made it to the car reserved for them when not on patrol. The girl was still there, a thin little thing in a tattered white dress. Her hair was nearly the same color as her attire, long and loosely hung. She remained silent as the guard came near. She seemed content to look out the window. Yates suppressed a shudder, the hairs prickling at the back of his neck. The air was suddenly on the edge of too warm, something that made him even more wary of this trespasser. “I am-” “The senior officer of the train night runs.” She finished softly, still gazing out the window. “That’s right. So it’s-” “Within my best interests to answer a few questions or face additional criminal charges.” “Stop that.” Yates snapped, the shudder from his neck now trickling down his spine. He felt his hand touch the handle of his sidearm, keenly aware of the smooth wood finish of the pistol as his fingers closed around the weapon. “How-” “Do I know what you are going to say?” He drew his gun. “You are truly testing my-" “Patience.” She looked at him directly. Her complexion was nearly as pale as her hair, but the eyes blazed like golden suns beneath the bangs. Yates felt his thumb slowly pull back the hammer of his gun. “You try anything, anything at all and I’ll-" “Shoot?” She murmured. She slowly stood, her bare feet making no noise on the metal of the compartments floor. Yates swallowed loudly, his mouth suddenly dry. “Sit down.” She cocked her head to the side, her expression mournful. “You are afraid of me.” “Yes.” He heard himself say, barely aware of it. The girl slowly walked forward. “I am not the only one that was forced to be here.” “What do you mean-” “So much money passes hands over the heads of those it was meant to serve.” She was now a few feet from him, her face level with his. “Your Guild needed workers fast, too fast to gather true criminals.” “How did-” “And not the first time, is it? So many souls sent to dig for their freedom, only to be confined in the treasure they seek to buy it with.” Her eyes burned into his, and he could not stop shaking. “Go away.” He whispered. “However you got here, get out.” She bowed her head. “I am sorry you did not choose a different path.” Senior officer Yates tried to say something, but ended with nothing as he pulled the trigger. The bang was loud in the confined space of the car, the bullet entering the exposed flesh where her heart beat below. Blood misted over the glass window, the girl’s body thudded against the wall before she slid to the floor, her expression… Almost like pity. Yates stepped back, unable to tear his eyes from the corpse in front of him. His mind was numb, it still trying to catch up with what happened. He heard footsteps approach, and after backing up enough he was able to turn his head. Ferris stood there, his eyes wide. “Are you insane?! What reasons have you to shoot your gun like that?” “Insane?! Boy, you must be blind to think that thing is-” he stuttered to a halt when he looked back at the girl. Nothing was there, not a trace of blood or girl. Yates blinked and put his gun down slowly. “That’s not...I didn't...” He shook his head, trying to clear it, his heart beating so fast it started to hurt. “Check everywhere for this girl. I want her found before we reach the breech-" “Sir, we passed it a moment ago.” Yates opened his mouth, and then closed it with a snap. “Alright then. Get back to your post.” “What about the girl?” “Don’t worry about it. I’ll handle the report.” “…So there are no issues to report in regards to the trip?” asked the wheezy Guild clerk. “Everything was fine. There were some mild hallucinations as we crossed, but no worse than that. Workers for the mines are ready to go, no loss or injuries to report.” The clerk pushed back his glasses as he scribbled a few notes. After stamping the papers, he pushed the stack towards Yates. “Sign here.” Yates did so, giving a short groan as he leaned forward on the battered desk. The heat was terrible, warm and thick enough to notice how sticky he felt. He scribbled his signature as quick as he could without even reading what he put his pen to. The clerk gathered the documents up, looking at the guard. “Are you feeling alright?” “Yeah, I was up all night so I’m a little winded.” He stood up. “I’m heading back Earthside as soon as there is an opening. If you could arrange for my passage, I’d appreciate it.” The air was not letting up as Yates left the clerk’s office. The sun was a shade too bright, the movement of the train station too noisy. The pain in his chest intensified. The dull throbbing from last night became sharp and steady with each passing moment. “I just need some rest.” He muttered. He walked towards the train, trying to see through the crowds even though his sight seemed to flicker and darken with each step he took. He held his chest, giving himself a moment to try and catch a breath. He tried another step and stumbled, the pain too much for him to stand as he fell to his knees. Blood speckled on the ground, a few drops here and there, his breathe ragged. People were now looking at him, backing up, pointing, watching. A few went for help. Yates tried to say something, but the pain was too much. A set of bare feet came into view as he felt a pair of smooth hands gently lift his head. The girl was back, her face serene. Blackened wings unfurled from her back, and stretched over their heads to mark this space hers. There was no wound on her chest. Yates tried to say something, but the girl hushed him. “It will be over soon.” “What are you?” He managed to whisper. Her face was both terrible and sweet as she looked at him. “I am vengeance. I am absolution. I am woe tempered with a mortal pain. I am balance.” She looked around. “So many are fearful of what you are going through, though they neither see nor know the cause.” Her burning eyes gave way to a sad smile. “Perhaps it is a mercy they cannot.” She murmured, letting his head rest. Yates wanted to plead his innocence, but the blood was too thick. He could do nothing as the girl slowly walked away, vanishing from his sight. He could do nothing as the blood pooled around his body. He could do nothing as members of the guild came forward, soul stones ready for him. All he could do was allow the scales to balance. Word Count: 1,745 Ingredients: Theme (in passing), Line, Location, Character (in passing)
  18. "Here's something for you to write about, Mr. Everett." The guardsman's rifle stock mercifully missed my ribs, which surely would have cracked one or two. Unfortunately in doing so, he ploughed into my guts with not much but my thin cotton shirt to soften the blow. I folded over like a house of cards. A boot added to my momentum, rolling me down an embankment so that I came to rest in the contents of someone's chamberpot, shovelled against a street curb. Being already past sundown, and having been pulled from my bed, it was hard enough to get my bearings much less fight off my attackers. Hands grabbed at me, ushering me back to my feet, though my innards denied any desire to stand. I blinked away the blurriness and tried to focus on something or someone other than the heaving pain. A burly form coalesced in front of me and yanked my head up with a firm grip on my soiled hair. The hard set face bathed in stubble was as kind as one would expect from a Guild guard. When my brain stopped rattling about in my skull I remembered him as the man who had broken into my home to set upon my printing press with a menace usually reserved for murderers and thugs. The man seemed not to have settled all his frustrations though as he spat on my face. "Bring him inside, we need to have a few words." I should have held my tongue but my wit had a way of getting the better of me. "Should have thought of that before you saw fit to malign my print. Or perhaps your issue was with the complexity of the parlance, Captain." The retaliation was swift and expected but I was unable to roll with it as my captors held me firmly so that this time I heard the crunch of bone under the swinging rifle. Having already been winded from the earlier assault, the broken ribs made any sort of breathing recovery a painful endeavour. I blacked out. I awoke as my head was plunged into a bucket of, what I hoped was well water. The fire in my lungs would have had me believe I was drowning but I was uncertain given my other injuries. When my head was brought up, a blackened-toothy smile of a heavy tobacco chewer greeted me. “He's awake, Cap'n” sour breath wafted over me adding to my agonizing laboured breathing. “Jim, welcome to the Happy Hour Saloon! I can call you Jim, right? Mr. Everett is so formal.” the voice was the familiar gravelly tone of my earlier tormentor. I struggled to clear my vision and seek him out so I could at least prepare myself if he decided to rain down another beating. The saloon name was unfamiliar to me, an uncomfortable prospect since I knew most of them by heart. It was reasonably safe to assume they'd taken me somewhere isolated so they could string out my interrogation for as long as it needed to take. “So we're friends now that we've traded a few barbs?” My peripheral vision saw the flying fist just as it made contact with my head. “I ask the questions. We're here to discuss your rag sheet sources then we can debate your future, Jim.” Not being the most hardy of sorts I feared I'd not hold out long for any line of questioning but giving up my sources would have been like breaching a sacred vow. “Now why would my sources interest a man of integrity like you, given they only seem to utter lies and gossip?” Steady pressure on my ribs caused me to cry out and lose my train of thought. For a moment I swore I smelt the comforting smell of a campfire before the unnamed Guild captain blocked my view. “I ask the questions, Jim. Don't make this harder on you than it needs to be. We all know you academic types don't like to get dirty. So why not just come clean?” “Uh, Captain?” the chewer put a hand on his boss' shoulder. “Touch me again and you can join our friend here, Smithson.” I wasn't dreaming, I could distinctly smell wood burning this time. I searched for the source given the room was cold and lit only by a couple lanterns hanging above a bar. In the mirror behind the bar all I could see was the reflection of an old rusted banjo. “But Sir.” “It can wait till we have settled matters with James, here.” The guild captain was getting increasingly irate and his temper threatened to manifest again in physical form. “You should have learned to listen to your men, Captain. It might have saved your life.” The words were both seductively feminine yet frightfully cold. They came from somewhere behind me. A sudden burst of light blinded me and I noted a dramatic increase in temperature to my surroundings. Fiery impish creatures were everywhere, setting floor boards and furniture a light with their passing. “It's that witch, Kaeris! Get her!” A rush of elation filled my being, the Arcanists hadn't abandoned me to my fate and would spring me to write of the Guild's iron-fisted injustice again. Gunshots and screams rang in my ears while the stench of burning flesh and hair quickly drowned out the more pleasant charring lumber. Occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of the battle behind me in the bar's mirror. Guild men flailing, consumed in flames as their flesh bubbled and boiled offer their bones. I was mostly left to my imagination and other senses to determine the fate of my rescuers and captors. Finding myself unguarded and unbound, I slipped from my chair and crawled on my hands and knees towards the freedom that was so near. As was my luck since landing in Malifaux, it was not to be. A beam of considerable weight trap my legs and crush my spine, pinning me not 10 feet from the door. I'd have to wait out the fate of the battle to either be saved or condemned. One by one the voices died out till only one remained. “Now the people will rise up and punish the Guild for trying to silence the truth.” Although flowing like honey, there was a disturbing tinge of fanaticism to the pitch of the voice.” I coughed as smoke sought out shelter in my chest.“Kaeris? Help me, I'm over here by the bar. I'm trapped.” One of the fire gamin skipped by setting the door frame to the outdoors on fire. “A great injustice is put right this night, Mr. Everett.” I wanted to partake in her joy but my increasing pain at having not been extracted from under the heavy beam made me somewhat irritable. “I'll be sure to write up a feature piece on your great victory as soon as we get out of here.” There was a swooping rush of wind as Anasalea Kaeris of the Arcanists landed before me on a set of magnificent metallic wings. Resembling every bit the angel of vindication and freedom, her golden wings folded behind her slender back as she grabbed a shot glass off the ground. She straightened and turned to regard me with a degree of pity. I felt dread slowly seep into my soul as the pity melted away into clinical detachment. The fair-haired saint's predatory smile flitted in and out of shadows cast by the now raging inferno surrounding us both. "Oh, I didn't do it. You did." As the smoke billowed, filling the saloon, I felt myself slipping again into unconsciousness. “Your unjust death will stir the locals to arms allowing us the distraction we need to spring hundreds from gaol. I was just dispatched to ensure you died without giving away your benefactors.” She walked slowly back to the bar and poured herself a drink, seemingly undisturbed by the flames licking at the very bar she stood at.“To the martyr of the revolution,” she raised her glass in toast. “To absent friends To those we have met To those we have yet to meet To those who have left us for a while And to those who have left us forever Let us lift our glasses And drink a toast That they may abide in our hearts forever To absent friends." 1413 words Theme: Absence (Sort of) Character: The Academic Line: "Oh, I didn't do it. You did." Item: A rusted banjo Location: A Saloon
  19. There are many things I dislike in this world. The obvious would be witches and monsters. Ice in whiskey. Cold coffee. Floor meeting my face. Landing in a singed pile of equipment and bruised limbs, I heard myself groan as my head smacked into the ground, which caused the world to dim for a moment. I scrambled to my feet as fast as I could, and the bolt of arcane rage somehow grazed the one part of my features that was not scarred. I stifled the yell, and twisted to hide behind a huge gear. Yes, gear. It was interlaced with other mechanical bits, the constant tock, tock, tock of the monstrous clock tower blocking out the footfalls of my adversary. This was likely one of the reasons she chose to run here before beating me into a bloody pulp. “You know,” I called out “you could still surren-“ I was rudely interrupted as a bang echoed above me. I jerked my head up, and saw smoke rising from a cogwheel before it broke loose and plummeted towards me. I tumbled out of the way, wood splintered as the metal landed. It sent me spiraling down the menagerie of moving parts and pistons. I landed on another wheel, the slow spin allowed me time to roll to a stable surface. I stayed there, trying to keep my breathing down. There was then musical laughter, loudly mocking above the clanking pandemonium. “Is this all the Guild has to offer?” she called out coyly. “You make a better jester than witch hunter.” I felt the retort rising, but kept it down. In a fair one-on-one duel she had the home advantage. That and her brand of magic was rather straight forward-holy-malifaux-kill-you type compared to my much more subtle incantations. I got to my feet and tried my best to hide in the shadows between the giant cogs in motion. “What, no more threats? No jokes?” she sang. Her voice carried between the maddening noise around me. This made it impossible to fully pick out where she was next. Then I had a thought. I snatched for my Guild sigil and snapped the chain. There was a brief pause as I realized the light in the room had gotten brighter and warmer. Then suddenly I was in the air. Again. In panic I reached out with my free hand and grabbed another landing, acrid smoke still in my nostrils. With a groan, I was able to maneuver and pull myself up. I quickly turned, and saw her across the toothed chasm. She was coldly beautiful, her eyes a bright pink and glinting in amusement, her arms aglow from the magic she had been throwing out. She was dressed in a voluminous red gown and lengthy black hair. How she has able maneuver with any grace in that get up was beyond me. She pointed at me, a wider grim spread on her blood colored lips. I took this as a bad sign. A brittle wall exploded as I was slammed through it. The silver lining was that my body was then between enough things she would have to move to see me again. I knew she would have to take her time maneuvering with that dress. I took that opportunity to slink to darker shadows and hopefully away from the witch. My ribs ached and one leg caused me to limp as I stalked through the insane landscape of metal. She was like a cat, playing with her prey before the kill. That could lead to an opening if I could keep mobile enough. This thought kicked in when I felt another blast graze my face. I ran full sprint between the clockwork; I drew my pistol and shot it behind me. I heard her yell as the bullet ricocheted off the machinery. I jumped to another platform and shot again at her general direction. Using this distraction I was able to climb higher. The noise here was loud enough, but the gunshots clanging made it almost unbearable. I slunk in the shadows and caught my breath. I needed it for what I was going to do next. I closed my eyes, a last chain link from my sigil clenched in my fist as my own magic awakened. I felt the past memories rising from it, pain, triumph but mostly pride. I focused harder, and felt for the other links I had left scattered across the tower. My nosebleed gushed as I concentrated harder, the first link I dropped told me that no one was near. The second one I dropped, however, echoed a brush of folding cloth and foot falls. The third heard them louder. I was able to roll out of the way before the wall burst into flames. I sprinted ahead, and this time dodged the next attack with ease. I heard her yell in anger as the gears around me burst, and I twisted from under the barrage. She whisked by to take another shot. I took out my sword and leapt between the cogs and swung in a wide arc. I saw the look of surprised as she jumped away, the steel only grazed her, but forced her to backpedal. She yelped as I swung again and sliced her side. She raised her hands to blast me, but I was too close for her to get it off in time. I took my pommel and hit her hard in the cheek; she staggered in her dress and fell off the edge. Her hands flew out and caught the platform, the room suddenly quiet despite the movement around us. I ambled to her, fear and anger blazed from her eyes. “How did you do that, witch hunter!?” she screamed. “Oh come now, we both know I’m not the one answering questions.” I replied calmly. She attempted to pull herself up, her fingernails leaving marks on the wooden boards. I slammed my sword into her outstretched hand and pinned her to the floor. She shrieked as she held onto the blade with her other hand. The lifeline sliced deeper the harder she held onto it. “Please, you don’t have to do this.” She whispered to me, her eyed wet from tears. “Is that what they said before the end?” I asked quietly. The witch jerked her head up, her face showed sudden understanding and swift panic. I grabbed her shoulder and hoisted her high enough to see the charms and trophies around the girl’s neck. “A life for many,” I said as I grabbed the necklace. “Justice will be served.” I ripped my sword free. She screamed as the steel ripped through her fingers and thumb, and in desperation her remaining hand grabbed onto the cord. I jerked it up, the blood on her hands caused her to slip and lose her grasp. Her hair and dress flared around her as she plummeted, she gave a final shriek as she slammed into the clockwork below with a sickening crunch. I watched her as she fell; holding onto the last remnants of my brothers and sisters. The charms could tell me rage, fear, pain, but there was also pride etched in those red stained mask symbols. Justice served indeed. Final Word Count: 1,208 Secret Ingredients: Clockwork Girl, Severed Thumb, and In the Shadow of Giants (in passing)
  20. A Shard of Soul "So what am I going to get in return for doing this suicide mission for you?" Marshal Kreg narrowed his eyes at me. Or at least I think he did, it’s hard to tell under the wide-brimmed standard-issue hat. "It's part of your duty. Besides, with your skill set you are better suited." "Don't preach to me about duty, Kreg. I know full well this one got bumped up to you because other members died trying. So what's in it for me?" "How would you know that, Thane?” I gave him a patent smile. "Word gets around. You know what I want." "Not happening." "Do we really need to dance around? I'll report this, people will check in, and you know how much we love those open-shut cases..." “Fine,” he snapped, tossing me the file. I deftly caught it, doing my best not to let the grin get too big. “Seems light. You mind me asking why?” “Ask what’s left of the last team; the survivors aren’t being cooperative.” “Is that all?” I chuckled as I shut the door. Figures that I'd get stuck with this; there was no lost love between us. Or any member of this section of the Guild. We don't work well with others. *** The witch slammed the door in my face. "Oh come on!" I yelled through the door. "I don't care if you’re indecent!" "Go away, Marek!" I heard her yell back, the sound of something breaking against the door. “I brought cookies." There was a pause. "Don't want them." "You're adorable when you're angry." "You're up to something." “I got your last case. I thought you’d like to have a hand in revenge, and I’m here so I can get more information and make Kreg look bad.” There was a pause, then the door opened slightly. Her amber eyes peered from the dark room, the shadows barely hiding she was wearing a near transparent nightgown. I, being gentlemanly, kept my eyes focused on her angular face, noting the sunken look and fresh cuts across the cheek. "I simply want to get an idea of what I’m getting into, and I'll owe you a favor. Fair enough?" "What kind of cookies again?" I looked down at the box. "Gingerbread men, with extra icing." Seren opened the door fully. "Alright, come in." I ducked into the room and took off my hat respectfully, brushing auburn strands out of my eyes. The room was small, only allowing a kitchenette, living space and a water closet. She (regrettably) wrapped herself up in a bathrobe, gesturing towards the table. I set the items down and drew a chair out for her. “I thought I was clear in my report.” She said, wincing as she settled. “An account from an actual person is far more useful. Your team was in charge of finding the counterfeit soul stones, right?” “If you believe such a thing could be faked.” She murmured. “It took weeks, but we tracked the original box to near in the western ruins. We suspected someone left it there for us to find on purpose.” “What gave you that idea?” Her lips curled in a grimace. “An item that the Guild makes exclusively theirs and then members dead after using them? Considering how popular we are?” “Fair point. So what happened?” She looked away. “We found another box, but it was rigged to go off when someone went near. Two of us barely had time to scream before they hit the ground. Was able to get a spell off, but the shards from the energy and glass killed another. And then we were attacked by something, I guess it must have been from the breach. It wasn’t human.” She lifted her bangs, showing me glass embedded in her face. “I was the lucky one.” “You were.” I said, gently taking her hand. “You came back to warn the rest of us. So I’m going to make sure they are brought to justice. But I’m going to need something else.” She looked at me suspiciously “Like what?” *** Later that night, I headed towards the ruins. Buildings had toppled long before, a feeling a dread, wind and whispers dancing between the shadows around me. I took out the blood spotted pouch, feeling the glass from Seren’s wound. I focused my will, blocking out the coldness about me and on the tiny slivers. I could feel her pain, but I could also feel it had been also handled by someone unidentifiable. My gut told me I was near where the other pieces were. My eyes filtered through the area for disturbance. You can't always rely on magic after all. A footprint here, a splatter of mud there indicating someone had been by recently. I knew I was even closer by the dried blood flecks. I turned a corner and saw what looked like more blood, but no bodies. More disturbing though was indications of something being dragged away. Then again, that made tracking easier. Deeper among the ruins I crept, descending down crumbling steps to further darkness. Water trickled down walls, mildew and rot matching the feeling of dread creeping over the atmosphere. I carefully stepped over scraps of twisted metal, the sounds of whirling and metal clanking around me. Up ahead was a door illuminated, shadows moving about. The room was huge, tables covered in tools and materials thrown about. A man was there, covered by a welders mask and smoke, carefully working on something freakishly blasphemous. I suppose a spider would be the closest descriptor, many metal legs, gears and flesh intertwined together. There was a face full of despair, a silent wail of agony from its bear trap maw. "Almost fixed." whispered the man, caressing the blades. As I saw him pick up a glowing stone and harness into the monster, pieces fell rapidly into place. I figured it would be a really bad idea to wait for him to finish ‘fixing’ it. Not one for dramatic planning, I walked right in. The man, hearing my entry, turned. Though his expression was covered, I saw madness, surprise, but also grim delight. Not the best combination. “So the Guild finally tracks me down.” He wheezed. I said nothing, slowly sidestepping, my eyes flickering between the two advisories. “No vows of vengeance? Perhaps this will motivate you.” He whispered a word, and the eyes of the monster glowing red. “Ah, hell.” was apparently all I could say before the thing threw the table. As luck would have it, I was only grazed, but thrown off balance. I wanted to come up with a better retort, but the world was being annoyingly spinny. That and I was too busy trying not to get hit by the mechanized machination. It screamed, slashing at me with its scythes. I rolled out of the way, unsheathing my blade. Whispering a word, the blade gleamed a cold white light, the glare of it making the creature screech louder. I bounced back on my feet, bounding forward and struck. Black blood welled from the wound, burning as it hit my sword. Flicking the blade I spun and side stepped to slash again. It clawed towards me, catching my coat edge with a smooth slicing sound. Seeing the ends torn into neat shreds gave me just the motivation needed to dive again, ducking under the legs and digging my sword deep into its belly. It screamed again, blood dripping over my blade and burning in a torrent. It attempted to run before slumping over, the flesh and magic dissolving like ashes in wind, leaving smoking twisted scraps. I pulled out the sword and turned towards the man. I had expected some sort of rant of revenge, but he immediately raised his hands in a sign of surrender. "Take me into custody and I'll gladly share my secrets." I paused, thinking about it briefly. "Alright, I'll take you in." *** "So you are saying that this bastard was able to siphon souls through one soul stone into another?" "Yep." "And then he'd use them to power monsters he created?" "As I can tell, yes." "And you agreed to take him into custody?" "You could say that." I said, taking a soul stone from my pocket and setting in on the desk. Kreg looked at it, then back to me. "Not changing your reputation a bit, are you?" "I felt the sentence just, considering his crimes. So," I sat back, folding my arms, "about my reward then." Kreg pulled out a file from under his desk. "Under my authority given to me by the Guild, you may now act as a free agent, to choose you assignments and to judge as you see fit." "Excellent." I said, picking up the papers and getting ready to leave. "That was seriously your goal the entire time?" I gave a grim smile in return. "Justice is blind. I plan on going where she won't look." Word count: 1499 Items: The Decent, Iceman (in passing and terrible pun), Underwear (also brief XD )
  21. My first entry. I hope it's enjoyable if nothing else! C&C welcome of course :-) WC: 1500 on the nose so it is long. ______________________________________________________________________ The Demon-Barber Sonnia Criid surveyed the abandoned railyard. From her position atop a ruined station house the cold Autumnal wind was almost biting her cheeks as she glanced over the enclosure. “Not even Winter yet” she muttered to herself, not particularly fond of the cold evenings. On the horizon the setting sun shone though faded October leaves and were complemented by patinas of rust prevalent throughout the abandoned station. No one came here anymore. No one sane or living anyway. “It is here misstresss…” gasped a squat, cowled creature which had stalked up next to Sonnia. The being, a former witch stripped of its heretical magics purified by Sonnias flames, then bound by occult Guild rituals, was one of the three servants which accompanied her on the clandestine operation. Their magic was now devoted to suppressing the powers of witches and more specifically, sniffing out their lairs. “Spread out and move quietly” ordered Sonnia as she climbed down the station house into the railyard. By the time she had dusted herself off from the descent, the Stalkers had already scurried ahead, silent, seeking, hunting for any trace of her prey. Looking around the orange and steel environment, the Criid recalled the disturbing rumours. The most credible spoke of some diabolical hybrid of steel and flesh infused with alchemy, soulstones and a thirst for blood. The victims had all been found scalped - the very tops of their heads savagely cleaved off like the shell of a hard boiled egg. Those victims who were found alive could only gibber in horror before succumbing to blood loss, pain and shock. The unfortunate civilians finding the remains fared little better until eventually the Guild interrogators deciphered something from a deranged witness; “Demon-Barber.” Such names were often fanciful - the ‘Bayou Butcher’ after all turned out to be an actual gremlin butcher of pigs not some homicidal serial killer – but Sonnias preternatural instinct and the work of her Stalkers had assured her that this ‘Barber’ was a real threat to the inhabitants of Malifaux. What sounded like a low wuthering Autumn breeze beside Sonnia were the three servants returning from their reconnoitre. “Thisss way…” hissed one in a soulless monotone as it gestured with one of its heavy blades. There was no respect with the witchlings. No loyalty or camaraderie. Just pure, unadulterated servitude to Sonnia. This would probably have unnerved a lesser person but not Sonnia Criid; ‘Witchunter’, ‘Scourge of Sorcerers’ and the most recently peoples-appointed ‘Guild Guardian’ of Malifaux. She hated those names. Fanciful titles with no real meaning. Unlike the precocious Lady Justice whom the people saw as their champion, Sonnia preferred to be as anonymous as possible. Fewer attachments, less hassle and more often the element of surprise. Surprise. Sonnia knew its power. Blowing down a door with a burst of flame and striding in only to point a gun at a suspected deviant dabbling with dark powers (who by then had usually wet themselves), often shook their resolve and they could be captured bloodlessly for trial. But against this ‘Demon-Butcher’ machination there could be no such advantage. Skulking through the debris of ruined rails, girders and the skeletons of disused train carriages with the Witchlings close beside her, Criid stopped, silently holding up a hand. The Stalkers paused in synchrony and drew their pistols. Sonnia smelled blood, it’s unfortunately familiar coppery tinge to the air was tempered with putrefaction. The stalkers turned their heads and she heard an unnatural ‘sniffing’ sound come from beneath their hooded faces. One pointed with its pistol towards a mound of debris, a pile of rusted, crumbling train wheels, each about eighteen inches in diameter. Creeping closer Sonnia unsheathed her sword. Forty-three inches of tempered steel, sharpened to perfection on a soul-infused whetstone and carved with runes of conflagration, immolation and banishment. The secrets of the runes were only known to few within the guilds armourers. It was the exemplar on which the Stalkers own rune-swords were based. Though unlike Sonnias’, they were as close to ‘mass produced’ as any magical sword could be and thus not as powerful, though this was in small part compensated by the fact that each Stalker carried a pair. One of the Stalkers approached the pile sniffing as it did so. Reaching the stack of wheels it peered at one that appeared embedded in the ground. Lifting it up the scent of rotting meat assailed Criids’ nostrils as the concealed stash was revealed. Suppressing a dry cough brought on by the nauseous contents, Criid edged closer slowly, for the stench was horrific. She dispelled darkness of the hole was a minor flare emanating from her hand which gently bobbed down into the pit like an orange will-o-wisp. The flickering light revealed a crimson slicked pile of sodden tufts, like patches of grass pulled up from a field. Some were impaled on the wall of this shaft by rail spikes, others by what appeared to be sharpened ribs. What she saw before the light fizzled away was enough to confirm that the Demon-Barber’s lair was nearby. A mixture of fear-tinged excitement coursed through Sonnia, adrenaline sharpening her senses and tightening the grip on her rune-blade, the soulstones in it’s pommel glinting in the nearly set Sun. A slight tinkle of metal, like a pin hitting a tile, caused the quartet of hunters to spin about. Nothing. Criids bright green eyes squinted, analysing the direction of the sound for the slightest indicator of movement. Suddenly it emerged. Thirteen feet of flesh and metal, stitched and stapled together. Tubes connecting various harvested organs together and pumping a vile necromantic ichor around it’s body. It’s left hand ended at a stump upon which tubes and bolts connected what appeared to be a large, blood stained and rusted straight-razor to it’s ‘arm’. It’s ‘eyes’ were embedded, unrefined soulstones, glinting with foul energies which looked at the hunters. With a sharp grating sound the straight razor blade flicked out and the thing lunged at the party. Criid skipped back, easily avoiding the blade which swooped over the head of the nearby Witchling. Gripping her sword and pulling energy from one of the soulstones she conjured a column of flame to engulf the beast. Skin crackled and the stench of burned flesh filled her nose. The Stalkers pressed the attack firing shots from their pistols. All three hit their mark but seemed to do little to halt the burning monster. A dull roar emerged from the stitched orifice that served as a mouth and it swung a meaty open arm towards the nearest Stalker. The diminutive creature flew into the pile of wheels as the beast connected, the flickering flames in its eyes growing dull as it’s crumpled corpse scattered the metal discs around the trainyard. Blinded by its fury and its smouldering flesh the Demon-Barber lurched in a wild frenzy. Sonnia focused her mind calling forth an even more intense blaze ready to immolate this monster. The remaining two Witchlings, unbothered by the demise of their companion, fought to buy their mistress time to cast her spell. They ran at the Barber with their dual blades hacking at its meaty legs. Each blow made a dull ‘thwack’ while black, resinous ichor oozed out of the superficial wounds, thickening on contact with the air to seal the wounds. Unfazed the Barber snatched one of the Witchlings by the head and threw it at Sonnia. It took all of her resolve not to move and loose her focus despite seeing that the living missile would miss her by a factor of mere inches. The remaining Stalker took advantage of the opening and forced both it’s blades upwards into the beasts exposed torso, both blades simultaneously piercing its leathery piecemeal hide. It emitted a low groan of pain from its partially stitched mouth as it tried to swipe at the Stalker with it’s blade only managing a glancing blow which knocked the being prone. Seizing her chance Criid unleashed the pyrokinetic energies coursing through her, consuming another of the stones on her blade which channelled the power. Green eyes blazed red and her auburn hair whipped upwards with coruscating forces as an intense wave of flame rushed towards the Barber. Almost white hot, the damp Autumn air hissed as the torrent manifested, the earth scorched beneath the billowing holocaust until impacted the creature. Even the tattered robes of the nearby Stalker began to smoulder in the heat. Criid could hear it’s skin blister and crackling like that of a roast pig as she continued to press the energies into the monster. Pain surged across her cheeks from gritting her teeth in concentration. She could not see for the heat haze, smoke and dust that billowed around the three combatants. Until finally, slumped onto one knee, all but exhausted from her exertions, she stopped. “Mistresss?” hissed the Stalker. “Home.” said Criid, walking towards the setting Sun as the charred ash of the Barber’s remains began to disperse in the wind.
  22. Ok, a little late but here's the voting thread for this round! As edonil said, I'm taking his place as coordinator for this since he entered, so this time pm all your votes to me. Voting ends in a weeks time, on the 22nd of April, at midnight GMT. Authors - as always, you get to give three points to one story, two to another, one to a third, and to vote for 'most improved'. Please don't forget that one! You also get a vote on here too of course, as does anyone else who wants to read and vote. People who didn't enter this time (or any other) please enjoy the stories and vote for your favourite. Also everyone, if you can, please leave some constructive feedback on the stories - we all thrive on it! So, here's the stories for this round. If your story is missing, it's because I didn't see it in the main thread (please link them there!) and I didn't find it in the writing room. Let me know and I'll see if I can edit the poll: Silent as the grave by ScrewedUpDice Letters to Dahlia by Stormlord XIII Unexpected treasure by cybogoblin Deadly ledger by mephiston The hunters by Ryu Along came a spider by edonil Pound of flesh by Titcher
  23. Ingredients: The Pirate, Brass Locket, ‘I wouldn’t have done that if I were you’, Bravery in the Face of Defeat Word Count: 1499 -------------- Thick fog had rolled into the quarantine zone, chilling Miriam Bell to her bones. She was dressed for the night, in a warm brown jacket full of stitches; a broad brimmed hat tilted at a dapper angle; and wrinkled desert khakis. The front of her black boots poked out from green water proofed leather covers were scuffed and marred from years of use, fit her perfectly. It wasn’t until one had drawn close to the woman that one could see her anxiety, her face pale against her short red hair. She controlled her breathing through a force of will, feeling reassured by the weight of the hunting rifle nestled in the crook of her arm, and feeling naught but trepidation about the flat parcel she held against her hip. Miriam had not expected to be part of a game of cryptic messages and restless spirits when she’d first come to Malifaux. She was a hunter of beasts, not riddles. She had come to the city to hunt Neverborn spawn, at the invitation of the Malifaux Exploration Society. The city hadn’t been anything like she’d been expecting, it was nothing like the guild propaganda Earth side; it was wild and dangerous. She had excelled here, just as she had in the plains of Africa, and the deserts of South America, the city and its surrounding forbidden jungle of stone and broken cobble streets gave her the thrill of being on the hunt, on ‘safari’. She did not fidget as she waited, she adopted the stance of the bored hunter, her feet evenly spaced beneath her hips while she eyed the mist for any changes. Weeks ago she had found a cache of treasures with a trio of her fellow club members, and one by one, they’d all been found dead, their rooms ransacked, mad ramblings demanding ‘its return’ scribbled in blood on the mirrors. They’d used hounds to try and find some trace of the mysterious killer, and for the first time in memory, the dogs had flinched. How whatever it was had gotten into the grounds was another mystery altogether, one that taunted the adventurers. She’d been the only one to survive her run in with the intruder. Her hunting hound Lockley had alerted her to the presence and she’d been sleeping with a sawn off shotgun under her pillow. She still remembered the shapes of the children darting amongst the shadows, as well as the dark shape filling the windowsill, a rusted sword in its hand, she’d spun towards him as he brought it down into her charging hound, the children gasping as the lights in the room turned on, revealing three children in bandages scattering towards the window, and a man in tattered pirate’s clothing, a brass locket swinging from spongy flesh. “I wouldn’t have done that if I were you,” she’d snarled as she pulled the dual triggers on the shotgun, her compatriots kicking in the door only moments after the first barks, revolvers raised and curses shouted as the pirate exploded in a gush of green sea water and crawling maggots. “Bugger me,” one of the hunters exclaimed in an Irish accent as he knelt down to examine the creature’s ‘blood’. “Did you see what that sodden thing was? Rezzer by the looks of ‘im.” He slipped his revolver back into its holster as Miriam had reloaded. “Did yae see what he was wearing? The locket, looked like the one you and the others found in that ruin.” Miriam nodded as she stepped out of bed, the shot gun pointed at the window. After a brief breath she turned out the window, weapon raised, only to see the grounds lit up and the dogs barking and howling as gusts of fog evaporated. “Is what you found here?” The Irishman had turned to the wounded animal and shook his head. Miriam looked down at her faithful hound and gripped her rifle with white knuckles. “We’ll have one of Von Shill’s pet sorcerers to take a look at it first thing tomorrow; maybe they can tell us what the hell this thing is.” And found out they had. The picture and presumably the other artifacts had once belonged to a ship’s Captain, Thaddeus Monroe if the name stenciled on the back of the painting was to be believed, and pulsed with a faint magic. They had tried to burn it, but only the crumbling frame was licked by the flames. Left with no other option, the Society decided to turn to what they did best. Hunt. They’d tried everything, from guild mechanical traps, to rope entwined with magic string, using dogs to catch Monroe’s scent when he appeared. They searched the building where they’d found the old chest that held the treasures and the surrounding buildings. They’d combed the libraries for hints of the old captain. But they found nothing to avenge their fallen members or put him down for good. For a week this trend continued, the children did little other than watch the pirate burst into water and maggots night after night, and the hunters grew more and more frustrated. But Miriam wouldn’t stop; she was too stubborn to just get rid of the painting. That was, until she received a letter. Within had been instructions on where to meet with the portrait and as incentive she found the trigger finger of the Irishman. She’d run through the facility looking for him, only to find the words ‘come alone’ scrawled in blood on the barred window from the outside. Which was how she’d found herself surrounded by the fog, waiting for someone who might not be the hunted. “Expecting the dredge pirate?” The voice was little more than a rasping breath, and Miriam found herself frozen to the spot where she stood, her skin crawling as the sound of his shuffling footsteps came closer to him. “I was hoping to find whoever was holding his leash.” Her bravado and obstinacy pushing away the fright that pushed at her mind. “Who are you, and what do you want with this, Ressurectionist magic, Neverborn revenge?” “None,” the voice hissed and a shape darted along in the mist. It wasn’t one of the children and she let the gun slip forward from her elbow by straitening her arm, the wooden stock slipping into place as her finger eased over the trigger with practiced precision. “Enough chatter, where’s my painting, I can smell it on you.” She ground her teeth, where had it gone. She saw enough to know that it wasn’t human, at least not any more. “Where’s my friend, she clutched the package closer to herself as the wraith slipped closer to her, like a serpent writhing along the ground with a surreal grace. It hadn’t shuffled, it had slithered. “I’ll grind his blood into paint and his make brushes from his bones and hair if you don’t give it to me,” she threw the brown paper package to the ground and the wraith screeched in triumph. She turned and watched as the pirate coalesced in the fog, forcing her to take a staggered step back. “Your friend lives, but your soul is mine,” he reached towards her as the sounds of Monroe’s damp footsteps advanced. Fear filled her mind as those fingers splayed, cold darkness teasing the edges of her vision as its rotten smile stretched across the whole of its face. Disgust and anger replaced the fear and the shot echoed angrily in the abandoned street. The soulstone infused round catching the creature in its outstretched hand, the painting falling to the ground as it screamed. The sound of the bolt action lever was just as loud as another round entered the chamber. The creature flailed on the ground. “My hand, my beautiful hand,” its blood seeped onto the paper and began to melt through the paper like acid, Miriam took a cautious step backwards as Monroe melted along with it, the pendant sputtering as it ran like molten lava down the front of his chest. “No, not my art,” his wail rose to a screech as it scrambled at the gooey remains of the portrait. The mist evaporated so quickly it might never had been, showing the shadowy creature in all its grotesque glory, the stump of its hand weakly pumped paint like blood all over the portrait’s remains. The crooligans quietly surrounded it, watching it like children watching a legless spider flail on the ground. One was poking the puddle that had once been Thaddeus curiously. The little girl, glanced towards Miriam with glee filled eyes, clutching a tattered teddy bear, and pointed to an overturned cart, a man’s boot sticking out of it. “Thank you,” it whispered before it joined the others in hacking away at the fallen artist, its pitiful screams being swallowed by the mist. As Miriam ran to the aid of her comrade, she had the sinking feeling that she’d just made a new group of ‘friends’ in Malifaux.
  24. Brilliant Ambitions ~~~ Brittany and I met Earthside, when the two of us were fairly young. From our early grade-school days, we were pretty much inseparable. We stuck quite close through the years, staying friends for the longest time. Hell, we even dated for a little while, but as with most teenage relationships, it didn’t quite last. After a particularly bad spat, we broke up, and then there was a bit of an awkward phase between us. One thing – the mediocrity of awkwardness – lead to another, and we parted ways in 1891, when we were both eighteen. I never saw her again, until much later. Brittany always wanted to be a showgirl growing up. She often dreamt, she told me, of performing as a star in cabaret acts all over the globe. I wondered if she’d ever attain that goal. She was very pretty, and extremely confident. I was never much of an overachiever in university, and – don’t you know it – soon after Brittany and I broke it off I dropped out of the California Academy of Sciences, not only highly depressed that my best friend was gone but also… Well, I had no real plans of graduating. I would have graduated in 1893, but alas, that was not to be. I was to graduate at the top of my class in the field of archaeology and anthropology. I had always loved stories of relic hunters, tribal savages, and tomb robbers. Those kind of stories still to this day carry a certain weight to them. I loved the idea of becoming an archaeologist, searching the ruins of various dead nations. One of these days, I remember thinking, I may even be able to visit Malifaux. I might be commissioned by the Guild to find priceless treasures and make a mint for my folks back home! They’ll be so proud! When I dropped out, my folks were so displeased that they disowned me and kicked me to the curb. I was able to get up off my posterior and get a job and apartment of my own. … It was 1898 when that old dream of visiting the damned city of Malifaux resurfaced and soon thereafter took over every facet of my thoughts. I had heard stories of the Breach reopening, and I felt – no, I knew – that I was destined to travel through it. Frantically I tried my very hardest to appeal to the Guild to let me go to the city as an archaeologist for them, but without my degree I was snubbed and turned aside. I was losing money taking trips to various Earthside Guild offices, attempting to win their favor through a trade that, like me to them, I had forgone. I’d even quit my job at the thought of this endeavor. Soon, I would not have the funds to pay rent on my apartment, and I’d be out on the street again. The Guild officers were looking right through me as if I were made of glass, and I was losing hope quickly. My desperation began to peak. There is only one Breach. However, there is more than one way to enter it. The alarms rang loudly on March 6th, 1898 at 8:17 PM at the Natural History Museum of the California Academy of Sciences. I had successfully managed to nab one of the Museum’s prized relics, a gleaming purple gem dating back to long before anyone had even heard of Malifaux. I had done it: I’d stolen from the Museum, as planned. On the flipside, I didn’t want to be successful at all. Sure, the precious jewel would fetch a mint on the black market, granting me enough money to finish university and appeal again with a full degree, but that would have been years from now, and I wanted to go now. Sadly, I escaped the confines of the Museum and the city without so much as a moment’s notice. With no options left for an immediate departure to Malifaux, I decided to go to the closest Guild office and give myself up. At the office, the marshal leered at me. “Mister Justin… Finjers, is it?” “Yessir,” I said, meekly. “You, sir, would be in for a world of hurt,” the marshal growled, “if not for the fact that the Governor of Malifaux has requested you be sent his way. He has a task for you. If you can manage it…” He sighed. “You’ll be off scott-free.” My heart jumped. I had hoped that I’d be sent there, but as a fugitive. I had devised all sorts of means to escape the law and run away a fugitive, to live my life as a rogue relic thief. But here I am, on request of the Governor himself, headed for Malifaux a free man! “Sir,” I said, “I will take him up on that.” “It’s not like you had much of a choice anyway, Mister Finjers,” the marshal said, tossing to me the gem I’d stolen from the Museum, which had been confiscated prior. “The Governor insists that you bring that with you.” The train ride to Malifaux was exhilarating, to say the least. I saw the sky’s colors shift from blue to deep gray within moments of entering the Breach, and on the way to the station I’d even seen a couple Nephilim being chased elsewhere by some Guild officers. I was in awe that my dream had come true. While sitting alone in the Governor’s office, I was approached by his secretary. Mr. Mattheson bent over to speak to me in my seat. “The Governor requests that you transport the gem you pilfered to the Honeypot Casino, a few miles away. You will know it by the waft of debauchery, I’m sure.” He then sent me on my way. Getting to the Honeypot was pretty simple. There were many signs, which increased in number and vibrancy as I got closer to the establishment. At the casino, I was greeted by the owner, Jakob Lynch, who seemed quite keen to impress me, dressed in what I could only imagine was his Sunday best, and speaking in a very gentlemanly Southern drawl. “Well, how do you do, Mister…“ Mr. Lynch lacked for a name, which I then gave him. “Fingers, is it?” I did not correct him. “Well then, Mister Fingers, if’n you’ll step right this way,” gesturing to a downward-spiraling staircase, “We will dis-cuss our business transaction.” I was about to take my first step when I was stopped by one of Mr. Lynch’s lovely ladies. “Hey there, sweetheart. You look like you could use a bit of brilliance to relax some…” She handed me a shot glass filled with a gleaming violet brew. “Bottom’s up, big boy…“ I took the shot in a gulp and nearly choked half to death. It tasted smoky and yet somehow sweet, like some indescribably sugary fruit. It stung a little going down, but I felt really wonderful after drinking it! I felt like nothing could ever go wrong. I suppose, in hindsight, that the lady wanted to boost my confidence for this meeting with Mr. Lynch, but then, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. As I ventured downstairs, Mr. Lynch grinned. “I am pleased to know that you have that crystal. It is actually just fossilized bark, which when added to drinks in chunks, makes the drinkers feel fan-tastic. And now, Mister Fingers, if you could hand me that crystal…” His voice trailed off, and his hand gestured a nonverbal demand to hand it over. I did so, complacent while on my rush. Suddenly the air grew cold, and the room grew oddly dark. “Mr. Lynch, what is that… dark… feeling, pray tell?” I asked. “Oh, that’s just withdrawal. You’ll feel better in a mo-ment-o.” He smugly grinned, his eyes knowing my condition very well. “Personally, I never touch the stuff, but that’s just me.” My mind grew weak. Was this a withdrawal? I could swear I’d seen a pair of enormous glowing eyes peer into my soul moments before… before… I… I woke up, sitting in the antechamber of the main hall of the Honeypot. I still felt so weak, but I knew how to remedy it. I needed some more of that drink. I looked high and low for the lady who’d given me my fix before, but there was no sign of her anywhere. Out of the blue, I was jostled by that same lady. “Terribly sorry, ma’am,” I apologized. “Oh, no worries,” she said, when suddenly I got a good long look at her face. I knew then the reason I had ventured to Malifaux. Maybe it was the afterglow of my drink, but I was compelled to figure out if I was right or not. “Excuse me, ma’am, your name wouldn’t happen to be Brittany Cobb, would it…?” Her expression quickly changed from business to surprise. “…Justin? My God, is that you?” “Yes’m.” I smiled, and she smiled back. “Well, old friend, it’s been a while…” Her voice trailed off. “How about the two of us get a drink?” And that’s how one obsession turned into another, and back again. Brittany never got to be a star, but she came damn close. And as for my aspirations? To hell with them. As long as I have good friends and great drink, I don’t need them. They can rot, as dreams deferred should… ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ LENGTH: 1570 words + title (sorry for extending a bit) THEME: “To the stars” CHARACTER: “The Glass Man” LINE: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” ---------- Post added at 01:11 AM ---------- Previous post was at 01:09 AM ---------- First draft finished, and I am definitely looking for preliminary feedback! ~Lil Kalki
  25. Flicker and Fade Few mourners arrived for the funeral of Jack Flicker. Whether this was because the near freezing rain of the early autumn kept them indoors, or that Flicker was a conman, a rogue and a cheat could only be guessed at. Of the five people gathered around the cheap wooden casket, only one cried, the rest probably just showed up to make sure the rascal was really dead. The priest droned on uninterestedly about man’s time on Earth and the glory of the hereafter, and those listening paid little mind to the words or tone of the speech, only to mutter ‘amen’ where appropriate, and to yawn when it wasn’t. “Does anyone wish to say a few words about the deceased?” From the grunts and angry glares shot at the casket, there were, but nothing that should be said at a man’s funeral. The woman who had sobbed for the duration of the speech continued to cry. “May he rest in peace and be accepted by the glory of god almighty. Amen. Mr. Mortimer, the corpse is yours.” The priest, tall and lanky, mopped the top of his balding head with a handkerchief and pulled on a wide brimmed black hat before he bowed stiffly to those gathered and walked away. “Right then, you ‘eard the padre, bugger with all ye.” The woman just stared at the wooden planks of the shoddy coffin and balled. The gravedigger shifted from foot to foot uneasily as he waited for her to leave. One of the men took her by the arm and led her away. “Hear that Jackie boy?” One of the men spoke cruelly at the corpse. “Padre says to rest in peace. Cor,” the sound of the well-dressed young man hocking a glob of discolored spittle at Jack’s final resting place filled the air. “I say rot in hell you cheating mongrel. I hope some ressurectionist digs your arse out of there and plays hell with yae.” He walked around to the wooden grave marker and stared at it, ‘Jack D. Flicker’. They’d called him Jack ‘The’ Flicker when he was in the gang, the man could almost disappear into thin air, always finding little short cuts through basements and undergrowth. The man took a small knife and made a single cut in the wood, connecting the ‘l’ and ‘i’ on the grave marker to make a crude ‘u’. “Come on Roland, its bleedin’ cold out here.” The young men were well dressed and had what one might call a university bearing. Despite their gentlemanly clothes the group was unmistakably criminal. “Aye, too cold to properly mock the dead.” He turned to leave, pulling a recently patched bowler hat over his head before pausing and turning back to the open grave. “But don’t you worry none about Sally Jackie boy, me an’ the boys will take good care of ‘er.” They laughed and swaggered out of the soggy cemetery. Mortimer had watched the display uncaring and without any interest. He puffed on the last dregs of his cigar and flicked it into the grave, a gruesome grin on his face as he shoveled the damp earth onto earthly remains of Jack Flicker. Sally Williams stared vacantly around the messy room. She couldn’t believe that Jackie was dead. Gone forever in his wooden box in the ground. She remembered how alone she had been before she had met him, how he had taken her to his little studio to show her the art he was creating. She had known that every painting that he was working on was a forgery, and that this made Jackie a criminal, but he was an artist first, and he’d called her his muse. She had given him a small fortune to buy his paints and supplies, but no matter how much she gave him, his apartment was perpetually shabby and poor looking. She almost wished she had never met Jack Flicker, she felt even emptier and alone now than she had before she’d met the poor artist, before she’d become his muse, and looking at all of the half-finished masterpieces, knowing that each of them would be burned as soon as the guild officers found them the feeling only grew. It hurt to know that her poor strangled Jackie, her love’s only mark upon this world would vanish in a gush of flame and wisp of smoke. She felt tears well in her eyes again and she took a deep, shuddering breath to hold them back. She wouldn’t cry, not here. She stepped over to candle and lit it, carrying it around the spread the warm glow of the light to help the dying rays of sunset keep the darkness from the room. She looked at each of the paintings again, resolving to take a few home with her. She was busy staring into the eyes of a nude woman holding a leaf over herself when the lock turned in the door. Sally’s first thought was that Jack was coming home, but her hope turned to dread as she heard the hushed whispers on the other side. “Quiet you blundering oaf, this is a crib job, I don’t want the whole damned neighborhood crashing down on us.” She couldn’t hear the response but she saw the door open and Roland and his gang walk into the room. “Well, well, well lads, look what we ‘ave ‘ere.” Roland leaned on his cane while his gang filed in behind him. “I didn’t think that Flicker’s little wench would be here tonight. Lucky us.” He turned to one of the other ruffians and nodded towards the girl. “Martin, if you’d be so kind as to restrain Miss Williams. The rest of you lot, find the painting.” Sally didn’t know what to do, her eyes darted between the brute Martin, with his broken nose and callused knuckles and gang tearing Jack’s pictures out of their frames. She backed into the wall and stuttered. “S-stay back, I’ll scream!” “Go ahead, they always do in the end.” She backed into the bookshelf and a rolled up painting rolled from the top. Something about the rolled paper caught the advancing bully’s attention and he picked it up. “Oi, Roland, I think this is it.” He tossed it to Roland, momentarily caring more about the money they’d been promised than laying his hands on the girl. Roland deftly caught the paper out of the air and rolled it open, turning it so his men could see the dreadful image of a creature with a scythe and smoldering jack-o-lantern for a head. “Good job Martin,” he rolled it up again and walked towards the petrified Sally. “Thank you very much Sally, would ‘ave taken us all night to find this’un.” He made to slap her with the painting, but she surprised him and grabbed at it, bringing her heel down into Roland’s boot. “Bloody wench!” He gasped and turned to Martin, “What are you waiting for? Kill the harlot.” She screamed as Martin grabbed for her. But quiet suddenly the lights went out in the apartment, the door slamming as though a powerful breeze had blown it shut. Roland cursed as he twisted and pulled a concealed sword from the cane. “What’s next?” Sally screamed as Martin finally grabbed her, wrapping his thick, sausage like fingers around her throat. Roland ignored the thrashing of her feet and chocking as he and the other three men looked around the room for the invisible threat. He was glad when the choking stopped, he turned towards Martin to give him an order when he saw the champion boxer dead on the ground, his tongue bloated and blue sticking out, the life choked out of him. He spun around; his eyes wide with horror towards the slip of a girl that managed to kill his strongest man, only to see that she was prone on the ground, unconscious. “Look out!” One of his men yelled as an apparition emerged from a mirror with fingers spread, flying at the man and strangling him with an otherworldly noise, somewhere between a rasping wail and a scream. “Jack? Tha-that’s impossible!” He struck out with the strange metal sword, the point aimed right for the flickering ghost, but it was gone and he skewered his own follower. Roland screamed in horror and dropped the sword as fingers wrapped around his throat from behind. The gang leader’s last sight was a reflection of his own murder in the window. He could clearly see a transparent Jack standing behind him with his neck still displaying the gruesome bruises. Anguish filled eyes bored into his as the fingers tightened around Roland’s throat. Outside the apartment a tall, thin man stood with a Nipponese woman, looking up at the now darkened room. “Your ability to summon the vengeful spirits of the recently slain is becoming masterful, but why did you spare the woman?” She looked up at the teacher and smiled sadly, “I didn’t, Jack Flicker did.” ------------------------------------- (Mystery ingredients: The Power of Love, Jack-o-Lantern, Starving Artist. Word Count: 1500)
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