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Iron Quill: The Price of Progress - Factory Girls


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Factory Girls

By: AdmiralVorkraft

Ingredients: All - more or less

1728 words


“Thank god!” The guard snapped to attention as she saw the exorcist coming around the corner.


“God is dead,” the exorcist said, knocking ash from the end of his cigarette, “Thank the Judge.”


He was a man made to walk out of a bloody sun in the opening pages of some pulp novel. His symbol of office was a formality, his look told her everything that she needed to know. The exorcist’s long coat was dusk blue and bloodstained, with charms and wards hanging from the polished brass buttons. He carried his sanctified cross-bow slung across his broad shoulders and the weapon gleamed, purest ebony inlaid with silver.


“What have we got?” His voice was mountainous and the guard could do nothing but stare at him for a long beat. He waited, he was used to the effect he had on people.


“Uh, spirits. I think. Ghost.” The guard closed her eyes and stood up straight, by god I can be a professional too. “Routine patrols early this morning made contact with what they thought was an arcanist spy scoping out the factory. These were private guards, but Guild sanctioned. They sent a runner to the dispatch station across the river to keep us apprised of the situation. He was the lucky one.


“The other three gave chase. Their bodies were discovered in the coal yard as the second shift came on duty. We were called in to retrieve them. Dr. McMourning conducted the autopsies just over an hour ago.”


“I saw the results, drowned.” The exorcist said, “What did you see?”


“Well the bodies weren’t wet or anything, looked more peaceful than any victim I’ve ever seen, thought they were sleeping. Sergeant went first, Maston, serial…”


“I don’t care.” He cut her off, “Tell me what happened.”


“When he got up near the first body he started talking to something that we couldn’t see. ‘I want to help you,’ he was saying, ‘It will be okay.’ He started to take off his jacket and offer it to…” She couldn’t bring herself to describe the way he held it out, or how it felt to watch slim shoulders fill out the jacket only to have it drop to the ground as soon as Maston let go. “And then he started convulsing,” She did her best to keep her tone neutral, “and clawing at his throat. And then he looked up, tender, like someone lifted his chin, to kiss him maybe, and then he collapsed completely.”


“What kind of factory is this?” The exorcist asked.


The guard fingered the sleeve of her uniform jacket, “Wool, spinning and dyeing the raw yarn. Big, automated looms. They’ve had more accidents lately, soulstone blow-out, incomplete or mis-ordered card stacks, there were rumors of a haunting even before today.”



“They aren’t rumors.” The exorcist said.


“I guess not.” The guard said, “Do you know what this is?”


“Did a worker die recently? They would have been a woman, most likely with child.”


“Yes, well, I don’t know that she was pregnant, but that was one of the first things we asked the foreman. She was a programmer, trying to retrieve a stuck data card on loom 17, somehow the machine came on. She bled out in less than a minute.” The guard shuddered, “They’ve been calling that the ghost’s first kill.”


“Idiots.” The exorcist said, “The spirit can drown men on dry land, why would she need to use a loom?”


“I don’t know…”


“Of course you don’t. The programmer is the ghost. Ten gets you a hundred that there’s scrap from loom 17 in the coal yard.”


“You’ve seen this before?” Maybe I’ll get out of this alive after all. The guard thought.


“Of course.”


“So what do we do?” She asked.


“Kill it.” The exorcist swung his massive crossbow into both hands and drew back the clockwork firing mechanism. “We can sanctify bullets, but any exorcist worth their salt uses a crossbow, do you know why?”




“With a gun there’s margin for error, with a gun there’s another bullet, another chamber. You know that. It makes you sloppy. With a crossbow you have to hit the first time and make it count, so you do.” He slid a bolt into place. It was black and silver, the same as the bow, inscribed with prayers for guidance and grace. “Lets go.”


“Where to?”


“To meet our destiny’s.” The exorcist said, “The coal yard.” He added after a beat.




In the sickly dimming of the Malifaux evening the guard led the exorcist through the abandoned factory. Even though she’d ordered the evacuation herself it felt wrong somehow, the machines had been built to run constantly and now there wasn’t a tick or hum to be heard. The buzz of creation had stopped.


The high windows allowed only faint streaks of light into the factory, shadowing the cavernous looms and catching eerie halos of dust motes. Somewhere in the dimness they heard a weeping.


The exorcist shot out a hand and grabbed her shoulder. “Freeze.” He hissed.


She didn’t need the warning.


“You didn’t tell me she was a walker.”


“I didn’t know.” She can barely whisper. “What do we do now?”


“Same plan. Only now we can let her come to us.” Turning to the nearest loom he grabbed a lever and pulled it. The soulstone begins to glow faintly white and a stack of thousands of data cards begin to feed themselves into the machine.


“What are you doing?”


“I’m making her angry.” The exorcist was on the balls of his feet, his eyes probed the darkness, bow ready.


The guard drew her refurbished pistol and held it in both hands, pointed at the ground but cocked and ready to fire. When the ghost appeared she forgot about the gun.


She was naked from the waist up, skinny and translucent, her legs and right arm faded away into red mist and everything near her seemed drawn in by it. She was weeping openly and searching, under the machines, up in the rafters, behind specks of dust. “Help me, help me find them.” She repeated, and repeated, and repeated.


“Do you see her?” The exorcist asked the guard.






The guard pointed. The exorcist smiled grimly and raised his crossbow, “By the power invested in me by the Governor-General of Malifaux, the Judge, and Lady Justice, by the flames of the pit and the fire in my throat be BANISHED!” He stepped back as he raised the crossbow, widening his firing stance. His coat flared out behind him and he fired.


Three feet to the left of the spirit.


“No,” the guard said, “There!” Pointing again at the weeping woman.


The exorcist blinked and dropped his aim, reaching for another bolt. A ripping sound cuts the air, and the exorcist jerks back, his coat caught in the machine.


“No, no, no…” The spirit screamed, diving towards the exorcist.


The exorcist dropped his bow, struggling to free himself before being drawn into the flashing blades and needles, the crushing gears of the machine. The spirit lashed out at him with her good arm and tried to tear his coat free.


“Back spirit!” He cried, and reached for his symbol of office, the heavy lead baton that hung at his side. The spirit ignored him, tugging on the coat, but she only could interact loosely with the world and her half-strength was no match for the hungry machine.


The exorcist got his hand on the baton as he started to choke, and he began his swing.


The guard’s pistol was old and worn, smooth bored, with a long barrel. It barked once and the bullet bit into the exorcist’s shoulder. The spirit darted back with a cry of fear and despair and the exorcist, bleeding and in pain, couldn’t stop himself being broken by the machine.


“Why?” The spirit asked the guard.


“He was going to kill you.” She replied.


“Then I would have died.”


“But you were trying to help him.” The guard said.


“Yes.” The spirit’s voice filled the dead factory.


“And that’s not fair, that he would kill you…” The guard said, “Unless, do you want to die?”


“No,” the spirit said, “But very few things are fair in life. Or death.”


“You can’t stay here.” The guard said.


“I know. I don’t know where to go.”


“Anywhere you want.” The guard said, “There’s nothing holding you here, is there?”


“No…” She shook her head, her hair was short and neatly kept, but one rogue curl bounced free and she brushed it away from her face, “I feel like a loom with a short stack of cards, I’ve run out of things to do and I’m just running, gears grinding, destroying myself and everything around me.”


“But you’re not a loom, are you? You’re a… you. And you can choose what to do with your life now.”


“Such as it is. I can’t help anyone, I can’t even touch them. And my codes… I can’t punch cards or program anymore. I can’t shovel coal to warm the building, I can’t set or clear the looms… No, no, no, no, no…”


The guard began to walk towards her, biting back the tears that she feels beginning to well up, threatening to spill and drown her.


“You’re going to die, I’m going to kill you.” The spirit protested.


“If that’s your choice, then I’ll die.” The guard said. It already felt harder to breath, her limbs felt heavy and cold.


“Please, don’t…”


“Then let me live.” The words took the last of the guards breath, she could feel herself dragging down. She closed her eyes and pushed forward, and felt her arms wrap around the small shoulders of the spirit-woman. She is warmer than I expected.

The guard felt tears on the back of her neck, and air rushing into her lungs. She opened her eyes in time to see the spirit mouth the words, “Thank you.” As she faded away.


High in the darkness of the rafters of the factory a metallic bird perched, its one eye blinking redly. It had seen many things in its years of service, but never something like this. It would have to report back to its masters. It would be nice, they would tell it how everything made sense and nothing ever changed.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Admiral, Sir --


I truly enjoyed this story, especially all of the elements with the exorcist and the crossbow (for ridiculous and personal reasons with which I shan't bore you here). Kadeton was so right regarding your opening lines -- a real attention grabber in the best sense. Don't be so hard on yourself, though -- this was an excellent story with good plot development and an appropriately poignant resolution. Very nice, indeed!


- Nikko

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