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Iron Quill - Obsession - Driven


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He woke, as always, to the sounds of his wife and daughter screaming. To the taste of smoke in his mouth and the soft kiss of ash on his skin. All memory of course, but no less real for that. Knowing it was memory didn’t lessen the ache in his bones or the pain in his heart. Or the cold fury that drove him on, that dragged him from what little sleep he seemed to manage each night. Dew from the morning fog soaked clothes stiffened with sweat and ash, streaked with old blood and the stench of a man who had not washed in weeks. He wiped a grimy hand over his gaunt face, through the tangled beard and clawed back hair that covered his hollow eyes, and pulled himself to his feet. Ahead and behind, disappearing into the fog, lay the blackened and soot-stained timbers and rails of the track he followed. Onwards, ever onwards, the track pulling him to his next destination, the next site of his vengeance. At time he felt as much machine as man, a flesh and bone engine cleaving to the iron rails that lay on the ground like chains. He had had a life once, he knew this. A home, a family. Gone now, lost in the fog and lying a long back down the track. Lying amidst blood and smoke and iron, the lifeblood of the railway. He felt the heavy weight of the pistol in his pocket, pregnant with the promise of violence, eager to fill his hand and speak for him. 

Not far now. He would reach his next stop today, he knew this. The rails spoke to him, showed him where to find them, whispered to him. They would pay today for their crimes, as they had countless other days. He would see to it. Stride by stride, shuffling at first and then more purposeful, he followed the rails, fury building in the engine of his heart. 



It might have been hours, or only minutes later that he found them. He didn’t know, didn’t care. A splitting in the track, an off-shoot to a new housing for trains that needed refuelling or repair. It was still under construction, the rails leading to it black with grease and soot, not yet polished by the constant passing of wheels over them. The train-shed was a skeleton of timbers and girders without walls or a roof, piles of material sat waiting to be used. A hastily thrown-up wooden shack stood to one side, a pencil thin line of smoke issuing from the tin chimney erupting from the roof. Weak sunlight streamed down from the pale sky and through the towering pines surrounding the track, tearing the fog from a thick blanket to strips that crossed the junction and yard like the tendrils of some other-worldly beast. He saw one of them, one of the condemned standing at the junction of the tracks sipping something from a battered tin mug. Corpulent, but heavy across the shoulders, braces straining over bare shoulders and gut to hold up heavy work trousers. He didn’t recognise the face but that didn’t matter. He knew who had been there, who had laughed as his family and life burnt. They were all condemned and the railway knew them, the railway led him to them. 

The condemned saw him emerge from the fog, shouted something obscene in that guttural voice they all had, piggish face screwed up and reddening in the fake rage they all found so easily. The pistol was in his hand already, was raised and aimed at the condemned whose face fell from rage to fear so swiftly it was almost comical. The condemned opened his mouth to speak again and the pistol spoke. Flash of smoke, roar of vengeance, and the condemned's face disappeared in a welter of blood and bone. The body fell, pole-axed, arcs of blood anointing the tracks and packed earth. 

The door to the shack slammed open, another two of the condemned spilled out. The first, taller and better built than the first, sprinted to the junction. The condemned had found a weapon from somewhere, a long heavy-headed mallet no doubt used to repair the rails and sidings. He wasn't worried. In all the times he had found his vengeance, none of the condemned have ever come close to hurting him. They couldn’t anymore, not after what they had done to his family. 

He let the condemned get close, close enough to see the ruin of his friend's face, close enough to see the cold fury in his own eyes before raising the pistol at him. It spoke again and the condemned fell, screaming and curling around the bloody hole torn through his stomach. A tide of crimson soaked through the off-white of the linen shirt the condemned wore, poured over the filthy hands trying desperately to stem the flow while a wailing voice prayed and pleaded for anyone, for God, for Mother please it hurts so much, why, why, please. 

The last condemned hadn't moved from the open door of the shack, had only watched in open-mouthed horror and stupefaction at the judgement of his fellows. This last condemned was little more than a youth, gangly and loose-limbed, head crowned with a thatch of greasy blonde hair. As he stalked towards the shack, the condemned screamed and bolted inside, slamming the door shut and shouting for help in a cracked voice. The door flew open at his touch, revealing the squalid inside of the hut - hastily made camp-beds, a smouldering small oven and boxes of foodstuffs and papers. The young condemned was hunched in a corner, turned away from his judgement, weeping now and pleading for mercy, asking why. He ignored the pleading, the questions. The condemned always asked, no matter how many he killed. He didn’t know why, they all knew what they had done, why they needed to die. The pistol spoke once more and the pleading and crying stopped. 
He was on the tracks again, always following them, always going where they took him. The iron spoke to him, told him where to find the next condemned. He couldn't remember eating, where he found ammunition for his pistol, resting. There was only the iron song of the tracks and the judgment in smoke and gunfire. He didn't know how many of them he had killed now, how long he had walked the railways. He couldn't remember the faces of his wife and daughter, their voices or their laughter. He remembered nothing of their lives, only their deaths. He realised that for some time now he couldn't even remember his own name. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the task, the judgement. It was everything. 
More awakenings to fogbound rails. More walking, more following to where the condemned gathered. More judgement and more killing. Over and over, always the next stop, the next judgment. He couldn't remember why now, didn't care why. There was only the task, the purpose the rails set him to.  
He travelled on. Close to Malifaux now, the beating heart of the rails. The iron had pulled him in, close to the last of the condemned, to those in charge. 

This time when he woke, he was not alone. A man sat on a chair astride the tracks that led and twisted amongst stained and decaying industrial buildings and sidings. The man was young, thin and clad in a once-fine black suit. Not one of the condemned, the rails didn't sing for his judgement. One withered arm, cased in a brass armature, was clutched tight across his chest, the other smeared back lank hair across a pale forehead. A quick lizard smile crossed the mans face, didn't reach the pale yellow of his one eye. 
" Well now. Good morning to you, my fine friend. Quite the little engine of vengeance aren't you?" 
He stood, confused. Mouthed something about his family, his name, but couldn't spit the words out. Couldn't even find the words or the memories to put them to. The thin man grimaced, an exaggerated expression of sorrow playing over his face like a mask. The hollow of his other eye showed only a pale white orb. 
"Oh my dear man, you really have no idea what this is do you? But then, you aren't really a man anymore are you? No, and not for some time I should say. Oh, I have no doubts that you were once a fine man, loving and so on and so forth. But that's not what's important. What is important is what you've become. A vessel. A symbol." 
He could feel the weight of the pistol in his hand, the singing of the rails as they beckoned him on to the next condemned. But he didn't move, couldn't move past this scarecrow man seated on the tracks. The thin man produced a small pasteboard card from a pocket and began to scrawl something on it with the pen nibs that replaced the fingertips of his withered right hand as he spoke.  
"What you are, my friend, is an apotheosis of single mindedness, of purpose without reason, killing innocent workers without cause. I'd wager you remember nothing of what drove you to this course, to what you were before? No? Well, no matter. As I say, what you were isn't important. What you are, is." 
The thin man scrawled, twitched painfully and gagged before holding the completed card out and peering at it critically. 
"A haint, a spirit of obsessive judgement, birthed by the rails and the iron. Ah. Perfect." 
As he inspected the finely detailed etching of an ash smeared man bearing a set of scales and a pistol standing on iron rails that twisted and formed the word "Judgement", the thin young man smiled to himself, then looked around at the empty railway he sat on.  
"End of the line my friend." 

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Really really nice!  Your language, word choice, and use of repetition really drive the feeling of single-minded obsession beautifully.  His detachment and loss of self came through nicely too.

"What you are, my friend, is an apotheosis of singlemindedness, of purpose without reason..." - what a great line.  it totally sums up everything that precedes it.

Very cool.

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