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Iron Quill - Obsession - Things Buried


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Hello all! Long time follower of the Iron Quill challenge, but this is my first submission. Let me know what you think!

Words: 1,325

Ingredients used:

  • The Monster
  • A Mask
  • Railroad Tracks
  • "In walked a one-eyed stranger" (very loosely)



Josiah unfolded the map again. He did so every few minutes, as if something about it would have changed from last time. Weller truly did not care for it. His nerves were already terribly frayed. Walking out in the Malifaux wilds, following a half-made and deserted rail line, tended to have that effect on folks. But he could say nothing. This was Josie's hunt, and long experience told Weller he was better off not raising a fuss. All he could do was tap his fingers on his worn old Collier and try not to think about it.

If the older relic hunter noticed his companion's frustration, he paid it no mind. He'd been searching for a find like this almost since he came to Malifaux (which, so he liked to tell people, was a powerful long time ago). A little griping from his apprentice wasn't about to distract him.

The anthropolgist had come to Malifaux to study the ruins of the city itself. But he quickly became more intrigued by the puzzle of the neverborn. The nephilim in particular attracted him. Here was an entire tribal society, previously unknown to human science, which actively and violently resisted any attempt at communication. They were entirely too strange not to investigate.

Now he marched into the night, young protege in tow, towards his greatest prize yet. An intact nephilim reliquary vault. Josiah had studied the nephilim for many years. He knew that they crafted very little, and built a great deal less. What could be so important to them that they would raise a building just to house it? It was a mystery he was quite eager to solve.


In the shadows of the nearby woods crouched two figures. Their blue skin was dulled to charcoal in the half-light of the crescent moons. Only a faint gleam of fangs or the slow, agitated beat of leathery wings would betray their presence to an onlooker.

We should take them now, hissed the youngest in a sinister tongue, while the old one is distracted.

They are far, and we are few, replied the eldest. Their evil guns would take us before we could rend them.

The youngest spat an oath. Then what can we do? They are too close to the temple!

The eldest thought for a moment. We must tell mother. She will know what to do.

At this the youngest recoiled with another oath. No, we mustn't! She would punish us for letting them get this far!

Then what would you have us do?

The youngest thought for a moment. We could...tell HIM. He is not far.

The eldest considered, and a slow grin slit his pointed face. Yes...yes, we will tell him. Well reasoned.

As the pair slipped away and flew off into the dark, the youngest grinned as well. Mother might be wroth with them for letting two humans so near. But he, he would be pleased.


After another hour or so of walking, the two men came to their destination. Before them stood a round stone door, ten feet wide if it was an inch, set into a secluded hillside. The surrounding stone was richly carved with symbols of which even Josiah understood very little. But the door itself was unadorned, save for a deep reversed carving of a face in its center.

"Jesu's beard, that's a sight." breathed Josiah.

Weller looked around uncomfortably. "I'll concede it's impressive, but oughtn't we to hurry? I don't like to think what'll happen if we're spotted."

Josiah shook himself, as if waking from a daze. "Right, of course. Fetch out the key."

Without delay, Weller unlimbered his heavy pack. After a moment's rummaging he pulled out an oilcloth bundle and handed it to Josiah. Reverently, the old relic hunter unwrapped the bundle, revealing a jade mask with a long bird-like nose. Slowly, with all the awe of a pious man at services, he placed the mask into the slot in the door. It settled into place with a click.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then, slowly, the door began to roll away into the hillside, revealing a tunnel leading down and away into darkness. Josiah's eyes glimmered as Weller's expression sank. Each man produced a bulky electric torch, and they proceeded down the tunnel.

"It's incredible, Weller," murmured Josiah as they walked. "Everyone who studies them knows the nephilim have some stone tools and ritual items. But this is beyond anything we imagined."

Weller glanced about. "Maybe they took the place from somebody else?"

Josiah dismissed the idea with a shake of his head. "Doubtful. Look at the architecture. Just like one of their forest halls, but in stone instead of wood. And these carvings." The older man ran a hand along painted reliefs lining the wall. Each depicted nephilim of all sizes engaged in acts of ritual and slaughter. A few were almost domestic, showing the raising of a long hall or the preparation of a feast.  "I've never seen such cohesive visual language from them before. This place must be of great significance."

"All the more reason to explore and leave quickly, sir," replied Weller.

"Mind your tone, boy. You can't rush...history..." Josiah trailed off. The tunnel around them had come to an abrupt end, its carvings spilling over into the large chamber in which they now stood. Its vaulted ceiling bore even more carvings, and against one wall lay a ritual altar. All around stood stone shelves lined with artifacts, all dimly lit by soulstone chips embeded in the walls. Josiah looked all around, awestruck. "My God, what a find! I'll be publishing papers on this place for years! Isn't it magnificent, Weller?"

Josiah turned, and was shocked to see that Weller's face was twisted in agony. The man fell with a heavy thud, and where he had stood was a creature out of nightmare. Taller than any man Josiah had ever met, with gangly limbs, bloodstained robes, and a black feathered mask and headdress. The intruder's obsidian knife gleamed crimson in the harsh yellow light of the torch, and his leathery wings stretched back into darkness.

Josiah dropped his torch, backing up against the altar.

The shadowy figured strode straight up to Josiah as he stood paralyzed with fear. It gripped him by the throat, slamming him down onto the cold stone. "You not welcome here, hu-mahn." The shaman's deep voice was thick with an accent Josiah couldn't identify. He wanted to be excited to hear a nephilim speaking English, however shakily. But it was getting hard to think. "Secrets of the brood not for you kind."

"Please," he gasped, his eyes dimming. "I mean...no harm... just wanted to...understand..."

The shaman leaned in close, wiping his dagger clean on Josiah's jacket. "We know. You like us, hu-mahn. You have many secrets. Secrets of hu-mahn and of brood." The shaman dragged the knife along his own arm, letting his black blood well around the blade. "Brood take them all."

Before he could ask what that meant, the shaman plunged the blade into Josiah's heart. He tried to scream, but he had no breath left. Any moment he expected to pass from the world, either from his pierced heart or the sheer agony of the shaman's burning blood in his veins. But he didn't die, his heart still beating out a terrified staccato. The shaman withdrew the dagger and released him, stepping back as he collapsed to the floor.

"You stay here, while blood cools. Leave you this one for first meal. We talk after." The shaman removed his mask, the light of the soulstones illuminating his cruel grin and the single dark eye left in his head. "Welcome to the brood, hu-mahn." The shaman strode away up the tunnel, leaving Josiah to convulse next to the body of his friend. Before the blood rage took him, a single thought echoed in his head.

Oh, the things I shall LEARN!

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