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Child in the New World


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Hoffman had enough trouble walking. The austringer's raptor was fighting and fluttering still and would not cling to just one of his master's arms. So it fell to the child to drag along behind her, in a wagon with a bent axle, what scraps were left of the rest of the Guild's constructs. She was thrilled. "Didya see that! I told it 'again!' an' it did it again! Smack, pow, right in his turban!" The child made an overhand swoop like the hunter's harpoon sailing up and out.

"And all it carried back was his turban, child." The austringer thrust his arms forward and edged his body between the raptor and the wagon. "It does no good to try to move Sidir. He moves when he wills. Not when you would want him to move."

She blew a raspberry. The raptor stretched its neck and wings to spot the source of the noise. "I know that now. You coulda said." The child stopped on the spot and dropped the wagon's handle, then turned and hopped into the pile of scrap. "Besides," she said, and started to dig through the pile. The watcher's wing slid over the edge of the wagon and unfolded and the raptor threshed the air, trying to take off. "Besides, your dumb bird wasn't so smart either. Dintcha' tell him it was a watcher clockwork an' not another raptor?"

"Animals do not think like us--" the austringer began.

"I told the watcher how to evade the raptor," Hoffman said. Slowly. Between steps of the construct framework.

The child stopped digging around in the scrap pile, and thought. Sure, she told clockworks to do stuff all the time. Grownups didn't. Not even the ones who were playing along. And this Hoffman guy was definitely not playing along with anyone. The crazy fighter lady kicked his little attendant into scrap, and he did not stop to put it back together or yell at anybody. He had pointed his blowtorch straight into her face and held it steady! That did not go together with talkin' to clockworks. Or gettin' carried around by one like...

She looked again, and jumped at how far away everyone had gotten in just half a minute. That construct framework never stopped stepping! In a tumble she grabbed hold of the wagon's handle again and skipped to catch up. The child passed the austringer on the way and upset the raptor again even though its master had at last gotten the hood onto its head. The wagon balked and squealed every time the axle bend caught on the bushing. But who cared? At last she'd found someone here she thought she understood.


On another path away from that battlefield Misaki stepped just as slow, with a Ten Thunders brother guiding her by the upper arm, and another brother leading them both. Her face was blind with bandages. There was a secret art to using the other senses in place of sight. But there was also a secret art to fighting back the pain of terrible burns and that was the secret she needed to act upon now. So they led their lady.

Behind them Sidir walked mostly side by side with the samurai, on the side away from the great gun. He kept just his toes ahead of the other man's toes. His turban was folded up neat to hide the harpoon holes. And they had been quiet for a very long while when Sidir spoke. "When next we meet with them, I will shoot the child." The samurai was not so tidy as Sidir. Powder holes were spotted all over his clothes.

Edited by Gnomezilla
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  • 1 month later...

This time wagon pulling duties fell to the mechanical attendant. This was just as well though, for the child was turning aside to kick every single pebble, stick, weed, and trash pile they passed. "Didya hear," she griped, for the fifth time, "didya hear what he called our clockworks???!!?"

"I have not heard of many things." The austringer had run out of soothing words some time ago. Trying to get her to complain to Hoffman instead had only worked once. And the abomination was no help whatsoever when it came to talk. But maybe another tactic would work. "I have not heard of how you came to polish constructs for the Guild. I have not heard of why your hair has turned that strange color."

"Umm." She kicked another dead weed out of place but not quite as hard. "That's kinda the same story..."

Oh, thankful day, it was working. "Tell it, then."

"Abner told Tawnee an' she told me, someone was grabbin' blonde kids off the street. They'd just be gone. Tawnee was scared. So I had a great idea! I said cousin let's go find someplace with lots of ink and we'll dye your hair. We're all street cousins. Not real ones. So Tawnee popped the lock an' we got into the workshop an'..." The child sighed a happy sigh. "They're so awesome. Clockworks. All rows of them just shining and clean and they don't ever hafta eat almost-certainly-rat-kabobs for dinner..."

Curiosity got the better of him. "And they didn't attack you for trespassing?"

She shrugged. "I don't get it. He was there--" she nodded toward the front of their little company, "--but he was asleep standin' up I think. Can you even do that? Anyway I said c'mon cousin to Tawnee an' the clockworks all turned to look an' then he kinda mumbled something about yes they would be cousins an' all the clockworks went back in place. I felt it. Clockworks feel different when he's runnin' them. They sorta...buzz. Like bees.

"So me an' Tawnee found some ink an' I dyed her hair but then she spilled the rest. She's got the shakes. So I went lookin' for another bottle. An' I read the label an' it was perfect. Mama always used to say I tested her tolerance--wow somethin' needs oil!"

They both flinched at the sudden, strangled, whining noises. A more familiar series of clacks also started up, as Hoffman activated his magnets and slid past them, down the line from guardian to attendant to whining abomination. Metal passed from hand to hand, and the abomination quieted as he turned the shining scrap over and over. Hoffman slid back up the line without a word to either of them.

"...Anyway," she added, after several seconds of blessed silence, "that's why my hair's purplybluey. An' he woke up properly 'round then an' Tawnee ran but the clockworks caught me. So I gotta polish clockworks for the workshop until I pay back the bottles. But I get a lunch pail every day!"

"It still seems a strange thing that you are trusted with Guild constructs, child," he murmured, and glanced back at Ryle. "That is not a usual punishment for crimes against them."

That set her off again. "That's not a real crime! You know what's a real crime?!?!? Callin' nice clean steam-powered constructs battery-operated, that's what's a real crime!!! How come we didn't kick his butt for that?!?!?!"

"They were only sparring, child. Why else would Ramos not step into the fray and use all his influence against us? Why else would Hoffman have the guardian fight to scatter and not to kill?"

"I DON'T CARE!" The child kicked an ant heap.

It was going to be a long walk back to the workshop.

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The peacekeeper would have been a reservoir had the fight not gone against them, but it had been the first one to be addled. Now it and the hunter lying against its side twitched, and static sparked between their plates nowhere near the channels set aside for grounding electrical attacks. The mechanical attendant sat itself next to the hunter's oil ports and hooked itself in--

"'Scuse me please,"

--and the child leaned in to hold it steady as the oil tainted with brilliance, though now diluted, also started to circulate through the smaller construct.

"I have work to do. Go prattle to the austringer."

"He wouldn't get up. He said he was onna vision quest now. An'...there's people lurking around again an' they aren't talkin' to themselves like the last bunch. Up the hill, behind the cars on the siding, see?"

A watcher unfolded from the wagon and sent itself into the air. She twisted her head to watch it fly yet held the mechanical attendant down when it too began to twitch, and almost wrenched itself free from the hunter.

"...Yes. Too many, with three of ours unfit to fight." He detached the hunter, which stood although it wobbled; she set the attendant down and held onto its tiny hand while it tried to fall over. "Let go of it. It's a loss..." She did, and it did. The child snatched it up from the ground and handed the construct up, unfolded, to Hoffman. He disassembled it and concealed the pieces in various pockets. Hesitated. Took a few pieces back out and handed them down to the child. "Hide these.

"You should have stayed in the workshop where it was safe. I am ordering you back to the workshop. Now. It's part of your punishment." She shook her head, no, but stuffed one of the mechanical attendant's parts into her bib pocket. "Stand off as far as you can without alerting them. Take the watcher and the other hunter and run for help. Do what you can, understand? Do what you can."


And she had. It had been easy to pop open the access panels for both constructs and tweak the gear ratios, just like he was doing a deceptive distance away. And to hide an extra piece of mechanical attendant inside each. One construct shot out to the north, the other to the east, but she didn't follow either. He did not say she had to be the one to run for the help.

So she watched as the band of monks swarmed and kicked to the ground the staggering hunter...the guardian...

And then the knowledge of how she'd upgraded the constructs went dark.

Monks were creeping up on the watcher, with nets in their hands. Well. The child bit her lip and marched right up to the point where they were bound to overtake it. Picked out the one who looked like he was in charge. Dug in her pockets and found the little jack-knives every street cousin carried. Closed her eyes and thought as hard as she could about what it had looked like, when the first monk fell down shrieking...

The attack angle was perfect, for a grown man with a blowtorch. From a child with daggers, it shot past the side of the sensei's leg, useless. "You do not keep your temper, child," he responded, and slapped her backwards and down from the hilltop.

Far away, behind them all, the accelerated hunter kept running.

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  • 2 weeks later...

She woke up feeling weird. Maybe that was because her head was still downhill from her feet. But when she sat up and the weird feeling drained out of her head, worse feelings came in. The hilltop was empty. No monks. No watcher. No Hoffman. Nothing but a lot of footprints.

The child patted the outside of her bib pocket. It clanked. They had not searched her. And so she had done her duty. But he was gone, and there were a lot of footprints. Lots more than a Guild rescue party. Or the monks that attacked. Lots, lots more footprints. About four times too many footprints.

She stumbled to her feet and took off running after the trail.


"I think he's still a little punch-drunk, boss."


"You think? And mind your feet."


"Yeah, I think so." Joss stomped out a stray flame starting to rise around red-hot metal. "Should knock him out again."

Some of the shrapnel around their feet scooped itself together into another pile. Kaboom!

"I admit," said Ramos, "that the idea tempts me--"

They both paused, but there was no more scrap to be detonated. The watcher flew in an unintelligent circle, dragging Hoffman sideways before pulling him away from the others.

"--but he is in no fit state to make it back to Malifaux City on his own. Since I for some reason have no raw material for arachnids, that means you would have to shepherd him--"


"--and that...wasn't his work?..." Ramos focused his own electromagnets and jolted Hoffman's frame with the feedback, sliding himself closer to the sounds of the secondary combat. Then he cupped his hands and shouted over the rest of the distance. "I thought you were keeping them occupied well away from us!"

"I was!" Langston's conduit coils waved in the wind, each one keeping a hunter at bay on either side, while his feet flickered over yet another pile of scrap. "And then this little thing shows up and, surprise me with all the noise it's making, but it's no gremlin."

"You leave Mr. Hoffman alone!!!" The child pointed at the scrap pile again, and this time when its pieces rose, it was not to nearly explode but to fly onto Hoffman's frame and reinforce the points stressed by electromagnetic forces.

"If I were him," the steamborg continued, as the coil at the end of one claw lowered itself onto a hunter's muzzle and kept on closing, "I'd've kept the mechanical attendant instead. It's quieter."

At that Hoffman turned away from Ramos and Joss, still dreamy-slow. He looked at Langston. He looked at the healthy hunter and the mangled one. He looked at the child, and then started to reach into a pocket.

"I poured naptha into his stupid clockwork dolly! Right into the oil ports!" she shrieked, and yes, the child squealed almost like a gremlin.

Hoffman stopped. "Child," he said, and paused to hunt for nearly every word, "the attendant will need to be oiled and greased again. It will be out of order for almost a full day."

She flung out another challenge, but a spreading beaming smile ruined the effect. "And you'll hafta take me along instead!"

Ramos looked back and forth between them. Maybe the Guild did not turn a blind eye, so much as never have eyes to be opened at all. At least in this case. "Hoffman. You should never have gone into the field without your attendant. That child you're putting in danger of her life, how old is she, eight?"



"--Quiet. Both of you." He indulged in resting his forehead in both hands for a moment before continuing. "Langston. Stop destroying those constructs. You are going to escort Hoffman, his watcher, and whatever may be left of those hunters, directly back to Malifaux City. Joss. Collect the child and bring her along with our arachnids."

"Destroy the constructs, don't destroy the constructs--make up your mind!"

"She's going to run for it the moment she gets the chance, boss."

"Quiet, both of you."

"NOT gonna--"

Joss raised his axe and pointed it straight out at Hoffman. She cut her rant short and stomped over to them. Ramos collected his reformed crew with a gesture and sent them walking on a longer route back to the city, but stayed back for a minute. "A word, Hoffman. NEVER go out again without someone else in the crew to intervene between you and that child. I've granted you the steamborg for now, but find one of your own."

"Yes. That child does like to hear," a pause while he filed and retrieved new information, "herself talk. I don't think Langston will enjoy it either."

"Don't question it. Just do it."

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  • 3 weeks later...

The child just about opened her eyes, letting loose a giant yawn. Joss again jiggled the arm bracing her against his shoulder. "Wake up. We're here."

"Ok...where's here?" She peeled herself off of his pauldron and looked around, wriggled out of his grasp in two seconds and ran inside.

He followed her sprint through the various garages and around the tool stations. When she took a corner too fast and lost her footing, Joss was able to catch up, just in time to see her pick herself up off the floor and start to report to Hoffman. But she cut herself short two words into it. "Go away!" she shouted over her shoulder.

"I have orders--not from you."

"Then go lookit a toolkit!" she snapped, and pointed back along the route they'd gone.

Hoffman kept on welding.

After awhile Joss shrugged and turned his back.

"Sorry I'm late..." Joss heard something small and metallic clink, down at the child's level. "Ramos was askin' me a lot of stuff I didn't get. What's he care? What kinda special project? Who's a Hannah? I'm a Minta. Oops. I told him that. I didn't mean to tell him anything." She went quiet.

Joss grinned to himself. His boss could get anyone to spill anything. Once he'd been ordered to carry the child, she had thawed enough to trust them, and had only stopped talking to nap. "How does it happen," Ramos had said after the child nodded off, "that a child here long enough to be warped realizes that it's lost? If it thinks it can turn back the clock trailing along behind someone else, it's--well, that fits. But he had to have accepted the idea first..."


Hoffman, and the reassembled attendant, and a ring of additional constructs: Von Schill glared at each one in turn. Negotiations were not going well.

The child had spied something worth investigating and ducked through the battle lines. "'Scuse me," she said to the lady standing beside what was and yet was not the most awesome piece of two-legged clockwork in the area, "what's that?" She pointed.

"Off of the battlefield, child, ah am not getting involved and neither should you." Hannah was incensed enough to have less than perfect enunciation.


"Ah have had it up to here with men who expect you to do something for them just by reading their minds!" The soulstone powered suit gestured way up out of reach of both of them. "Now Von Schill has the human decency to at least vocalize what he expects out of you, and with Von Schill ah am staying, even though he--oh lord, save me from menfolk."

Hannah trailed off as Von Schill tore off his shirt, flexed his weaponry to the full extent of his range of motion, and leaped into the midst of the constructs with a crash.

"Why'd you turn pink? It's not like you're doin' the embarrassin' stuff."

"Never you mind that, child."

"Did he just threaten Hoffman with a can opener?" The child's tone wavered between outrage and sheer disbelief.

Hannah sighed. "Men..."

"...Did Hoffman just stab him with a better can opener?"

"That's a toolkit, child."

"So? It was a better can opener than your master's."

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The girls had had a chat while the boys finished doing...whatever they thought they were up to with that melee (the child sighed a prim little sigh in imitation of Hannah and the Freikorps librarian drawing quick watercolors of the fight).

"Why're you making pictures?"

The librarian had looked to Hannah for permission, and gotten it. "This will capture more information about the battle, faster. Look at the muscles around Von Schill's eyes," she'd tapped the paper where the tint was already dry, "what exactly was he looking at?"

The child had hesitated, and squinted slightly to match. "That makes my face stiff. Uh, that means I can't look around? So only Hoffman?"

"Just so, child," Hannah had answered. "How many enemy constructs were there? Count."

"They are not enemies! An' there's four regular ones an' three spiders. There was five but he stabbed whatshisname already. The cranky spider guy."

"One swarm, not three spiders. And do you think Von Schill cared about that at all?" Hannah's fit of pique had ebbed away as she laid out her leader's train of thought and saw the sense behind it. All the same, she would have to have a private word with him about...

"...Nope? Oh, I get it! He was only ever gonna go attack Hoffman--!" The child had not been pleased.

The librarian had cleared her throat. "That's enough of a lesson; we aren't tutors to children."


"Hannah? You're goin' pink again."


And so, when Hoffman was next sent out to deal with a threat, the child followed along behind the constructs with a pad of gridded paper borrowed from the workshop and a pencil. While they walked back to the workshop afterward, she let the mechanical attendant pull the wagon, while she sat on the half the shell of a deconstructed yet not muddy hunter and drew:

One hunter by the side of a fallen brick wall, with its harpoon tangled with a twisty greatsword, but the living blade swinging down unstopped by the length of chain wrapped around it;

A burst of soulstone light (drawn in as squiggles in the air) around something with stubby wings and the weirdest edged sword as the peacekeeper's claws dug deep into its chest;

That same monster scraping his weird edged sword over the armor of the peacekeeper and leaving no mark against the metal except another streak in the polish;

Hoffman and the constructs standing in the middle of a bog that had liquefied the ground under them, and a hunter sinking into the black mud.

"Sorry," the child said to the austringer walking just in front of the attendant, "I don't know how to draw guns, but you did good shots."

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[After this match my opponent described to me how he saw the last turn of the battle, and it was beautiful. Instead of the usual totem's viewpoint of what happened I will just expand on what he said.]

Almost. The constructs were almost completely broken but it was almost daylight also. And so they flooded in from all points of the compass, through the rocks and walls of the adobe village: Ikiryo trailing the last of the living ones' blood straight into a pillar of sandstone and out again on the other side to leave gory gouges on the peacekeeper's shell, a few gaki darting around that same pillar to bite at its limbs, many seishin slithering through the walls to surround it and strike at its undercarriage. Kirai herself called the seishin back to her with a thought, ready to do worse--

Then the light of the rising sun glinted off the top of the peacekeeper's polished shell, and she knew that time was against her, and she knew fear.

A pair of shikome dropped out of the lightening sky and scratched at the glimmering reflections, and some laggard gaki jumped in to take the place of the seishin, but too late, too late. The sun burst over the top of the dry riverbed. Ikiryo, gaki, seishin, shikome, and her love: all vanished, returned to the aether. They were left alone, Kirai unruffled and unhurt, the peacekeeper dented and trembling with all its feet planted on the ground. What was that clouding the air around them? Was it the morning mist? Steam from half a dozen wrecked constructs? The last of the smoke from where the flamethrower had touched the dry vegetation? Or was it the spirits' last breath for this night?...

Kirai inclined her head to the rising sun, then turned her back on the village.

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"Oooooooooerrr, look who's finally turned up!" someone shouted behind the child.

If Hoffman had thought he could by using a different entrance get to his workbench without being noticed, he was wrong. Noise and comments spread outward, getting louder and ruder as they went.

"Got a few fresh dents on the machinery there, Hoffman--"

He made another mistake and tried to explain himself. "I was waylaid by those unpleasant women--"

"Few fresh notches on the posts, then!" A burst of low-pitched laughter.

The child was puzzled enough to pause and climb up on a workbench to see over the crowd of mechanics. Hoffman looked disheveled. Mud splashes and brighter scrapes and gouges on his walking harness. Clothes wrinkled and hanging askew especially below the hip brace. Bruises and a streak of something reddish not well hidden under his collar. And a look on his face that telegraphed he'd rather be anywhere else but in the eye of the crowd.

Which wish was not going to be granted. He stepped towards his workstation but the taunts continued.

"Best two minutes of your life, am I right?"

"Beats bending over a desk all day--"

"Beats getting bent over a desk all day--"

"Go to the law offices if you're into that--"

"--mind the pencil sharpener!" For a moment the noise was all laughter and no commentary.

She hopped back down to floor level, no better informed than before, and got back to the daily maintenance routine for the mechanical attendant. He'd maybe feel better with a nice quiet construct hanging around again. One which made a dampening field against remarks he did not seem to like.


Elsewhere Seamus was leaning against the alley wall, his best hat letting in daylight through a line of bullet holes, still pissing himself laughing.

"Go over it one more time," piped the copycat-killer, "fix it in my mind!"

"Oh go on, you'll kill me," Seamus hugged his aching sides. "So our engineer lad gets the last of his toys shot away, and he's out there all alone in the muck. Lucy here," he prodded a rotten belle dolled up in shades of violet, "she found his sweet spot. The next thing I see, he's somehow gotten himself all the way over to her, and--" he lost control altogether and sat down with his back against the wall, "I can't, you say it!"

" 'Hey girls, look at my machinery!' "

They leaned on each other, almost sobbing with laughter. Seamus recovered first. "And she was invited to, wasn't she? Trousers, pants, the lot, all in one go. In front of Lucy AND Flora AND Sybelle here. You've no patience, Lucy, do you hear me? You left Flora nothing to do.

"Sybelle's an artist. Never at a loss. She wasn't even using her whip for most of that, just rolled it up and hauled him about. Two-handed job tearing him out of that shell, you know. Two-handed job dragging him by the armpits like that."

The copycat-killer grabbed at Seamus' knees in imitation. "Ooo you're leaving out the best part, do I have to say it?"

" Of course you do! You're the peon--" Seamus started.

" 'I'm the peon--' " The copycat-killer broke into giggles again.

" 'Miserable, wretched, construct totem,' " He was quoting Sybelle now, and also stopping here and there to guffaw. " 'Good for nothing!' "

" 'Nothing, nothing at all'--oi, don't you belt me too, I'm only saying too much because he did!"

" 'Can't hold the ground, can't' oh I don't recollect this part, it wasn't lively, 'can't do me favors, what good are you, you worm?' !" Seamus grabbed hold of the copycat-killer's collarbones and shook him until the topmost of the stack of hats popped loose. They watched the little thing flutter down to earth, and all at once were howling with laughter again.

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She didn't need to look up to know Hoffman was leaving again; the wave of sly remarks followed him out the door and didn't die down again for a good ten minutes. The mood of the workshop had never before, in her experience, been so cheerful, and that was good. The child just did not understand why.

The mechanics had been half right. He had gone out, and he was now face to face with a lady. But it was not pleasant, and it was not a rotten belle.

"This is how you deal with a threat!" She gestured to either side with a slight turn of her head. Her hands and the gun in them moved not one millimeter. "You shoot them. Before they even know you are there, you shoot them."

"You walked right up to me to tell me this, Perdita?"

"You are not a threat."

He thought about the piles of scrap around him that had been functioning guardians not very long ago, and simply nodded.

"I am a threat." She lowered her usual battlefield volume to stop people overhearing the rest. "Now that I have come to you to talk, you borrow a little bit of that respect. Your people will stop mocking you. Whatever happened. Whatever you did. Don't do it again."

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  • 2 weeks later...

They had to leave by the front door this time; Hoffman's keeper had come in that way. So the child was quick enough to drop the polishing cloth and sneak out just beneath the watcher, then trail behind them unrebuked if not unnoticed.


"Whatever you have planned, I am not interested!"

"Which is why I have been hearing some exaggerations about what you did the last time you were in this part of town?"

Hoffman refused to reply. Francisco shrugged.

"Do you see any respectable women around here making us need to be quiet? No? No. So. It's a nice place, drinkable beer, clean girls, I sent the pistoleros ahead to make sure it stays quiet--"

The child's path was barred by that strange little clothed construct shoving itself in the way. She lost time trying to dodge past the coffin which barred the way with just a wriggle of the effigy's shoulders. By the time the argument erupted, both men were far too far away to be overheard. She stabbed, it dodged; she sprinted, it blocked; it shot, she was barely hurt but hindered. In the end she flung herself straight at one end of the coffin hard enough to spin the effigy around in place and shot past it as though through a turnstile.

Three streets later she caught up with the argument. "--when they spin these tales out of nothing at all, they are not about whores! They are about those performing dancing dolls, you know the ones. Or about a lady who is all metal from the waist down."

"Who do they take me for?--" Hoffman began to complain, but cut himself short as he heard the faintest, familiar skittering in a nearby alley. The watcher perched above and gave him a better vantage point. The child crept close to see also, and had to retreat in a hurry when a bright brass arachnid squeaked and almost sheared her nose off.

"Enemies?" asked Francisco.

"Reinforcements." The more common steam arachnids marched out of the alley in an obedient line and arrayed themselves behind the guardian. She tried to peer past the end of the line and almost got her nose removed again for it, but this time she spotted the unconscious, mostly human forms lying further in the shadows. It was their turn to wait for a rescue party.


They made it almost to their destination without trouble, then between one breath and the next, the streets filled with the tarted-up walking dead. One of them raised her arm and Francisco readied himself to shoot a weapon out of her hand, but then she unfurled a scrap of fabric and waved it in a greeting, and Hoffman's face took on a look of horror.

Not that Francisco had much better control over his own expression, once he realized what the fabric must be. "...It was true?" [What he said immediately after that, language barrier notwithstanding, was not suitable for this or many other message boards.]

"--No! Maybe. Yes. I don't know what you heard." Nor did the child, but Hoffman was upset, and so she readied her knives again. "Fine. We will leave, we will go to this...establishment of yours, and we will never speak of this again."

"Leave," interjected a new and brassier voice, "just when you'd gotten here? Rude, is what I call it. My girls aren't good enough for you, now?"

The flare of gunshots encircled them.

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Any other time, had Francisco and Howard Langston run into each other late at night in a narrow alley with few witnesses, there may have been murder done. But tonight, they were all Ok with it. A safe distance behind the line of unsteady men almost walling off the alley, the child trailed along. She was proud of herself. Once the shots had been fired, she'd thought of sending a steam arachnid off the field for Ramos' rescue. He was nosy and insulting about clockworks, but he hadn't ever raised his hand to her. And because of that great idea--

"Hey. Francisco." Howard Langston pointed with a conduit claw that didn't stay on target but wandered through the air. "Bet you can't hit that windowsill."

--because of her great idea, his reinforcements had run into Hoffman's reinforcements, but after they had rested up in their respective watering holes--

"Francisco. You can not do that in public." Neither the beers nor the tequila had gotten Hoffman to unbutton any. If anything, he was just as fussy and simply more...aggressive about it. He'd had the guardians tip over a dustbin which he had deemed an eyesore upon the street, which is why they'd had to duck and weave (mostly weave, in Francisco's case, as he didn't have construct legs to keep him steady as the others did) into this alley before the guild guards arrived.

--(she had been forced to stay outside on the porch but one of the saloon ladies who wasn't kissing anybody had let her use the bar's chalk for drawing the picture of the ambush and the three gunshots)--

"Yes, I can," Francisco answered, and chose a bad time to shrug. "Anybody asks, we just blame it on Ryle, no?"

--after everyone wasn't all jumpy and ready for another fight, then they met and joined up, instead of fighting, which was good because three out of four of them weren't making the most well-thought-out choices--

"No, don't say his name, he'll start paying attention and then it's monkey see, monkey do--Hoffman, stop him!"

"Ryle! We do NOT do THAT in public!"

--the child bent her head over the drawing, sure there was something important about the last fight she hadn't figured out yet.


Just as they passed a towering heap of construction ruins and came within sight of some official's idea of grandiose architecture, she solved it. "Mr. Hoffman! There's another sniper!" she shrieked.

Hoffman instantly stopped the guardian he was following, but forgot to turn off his magnetism, and collided with a clacking of metal on metal. Francisco couldn't stop in time and got briefly entangled with the walking frame's pincer claws before wrenching his hat free. The steamborg halted further back from that pileup, but then found himself in one anyway as Ryle didn't even stop once he hit the first of the spidery construct legs.

Only one guardian hadn't stopped in the shadow of the heap, and that one soon sprouted a bullet hole which punched clean through its shield and pauldron. Francisco glared at the holes, up at the tower in the distance, down again at the ground looking for the bullet. He had sobered up fast. "Hans," he growled.

On the other side of the heap, plants which belonged in no city sprouted from the dead earth and choked the path to the tower. Howard Langston glared at them, then grinned. Lilith thought that would be enough to slow them down? Even after a couple of beers? She would learn. He prodded the abomination with three unsteady claws at once just to make sure one hit its mark, and Ryle wheeled around and slunk away from him, ripping through the plants as though they weren't even there.

"You have done your duty, child," Hoffman said, "now do this one. You are too small for this battlefield. It will not do. Go."

Beneath the tower, the nephilim raised a horrible and joyous noise, beating great wings in the air, or scraping the peculiar sword across its foundation stones.


"I do not like it. It will not do. That does not suit," Hoffman was quite fixated on the proportions of the combatants still, or else still shocked by Nekima's gluttony over Francisco and letting his mouth run on autopilot. "Kill it."

Ryle shook gobbets of Barbaros off of his clawed fist, leveled his other arm at the cherub, and it disintegrated. The line of bullets walked almost all the way to Nekima. The steamborg next to her, unquestionably shocked by Nekima, didn't even flinch when the second and third bodies splattered onto him also.

The guardian swung its shield with ease as though it were another great sword, but a shield it was still, easy enough for the surviving nephilim to dodge. Lilith did not even condescend to smile before returning the favor.

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She clenched her hands into fists and stared at the watcher. The child longed to shout at it to make it fly, but he didn't need to talk to tell them what to do. So she just watched, and waited.

And it did fly. It flapped its wings only briefly, and then it landed atop the wall, and in its turn stared at whatever lay beyond it.

"Well done. Stay behind that wall."

If she tilted her head way back she could see the tops of heads beyond the walls. There were some heads with straight sticking up blood clotted hair. There was a rotting head with bolts sticking out from its jaw hinges and neck sides and shoulders too. On the other side of the corner there was the sharp end of a guardian's sword, and Hoffman and the tallest set of manipulator claws from his walking frame. And there were bolts floating in the air, unsupported, dancing up and around and clicking into place. Jaw hinge bolts. Neck bolts. Shoulder bolts. And with her eyes still locked and staring, she understood the ideas if not the names: a punk zombie was a thing already complete and then reanimated, but a flesh construct was a created thing. A machine first, with flesh draped over it.

And was he not the master of all machines?

The conglomeration of bolts lurched forward as a fleshless flesh construct. The jaw hinge bolts spun counterclockwise, then all the bolts that she could see curved forward and fell down below the level of the wall. Something let out an animal scream, and thrashed, yet its sounds of struggle were cut off.

With those noises gone she could hear another, further, voice clearly. "...That's an insult and no mistake. Raising up one of those without a scrap of corpse upon it? Not what I call a passable piece of work...."

"On the topic of corpses," called yet another male voice from even further away.

"...Right away, sir. Wouldn't dream of leaving them out of reach. (Never mind that they all have a territorial look in their mechano-electrical eyes, out here, sir.) Shovel at your service. Won't be a minute...." The voice dwindled away as its owner moved somewhere beyond the wall.

The child looked up at the watcher with a sigh. She hadn't quite figured out the trick of seeing through it. Stupid wall. It only had a gap large enough to let a hunter slip through, and that had already raced away. All she could see was a lone steam arachnid (an experimental 'duomatic' model with twin steam vents instead of just one) tapping one of its claws on another visible bit of wall.

Then, briefly, she saw a blur in the air of katanas and blood-clotted hair, and heard multiple screeches of unoiled metal tearing through untempered steel. The steam arachnid was shredded into chaff before she could draw another breath.

"Child," Hoffman called. "Activate the guardian. Now."

She concentrated, and stared, and willed the sword which she could just about see to retreat. It moved in reverse. She waited for the click of the magnets.

There was no click.

Stupid, concealing wall! How was she going to make a picture out of any of this?

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  • 2 weeks later...

[The primary battle in this report was a story encounter, Charlotte at the Windmills: three 50mm Windmill tokens to be claimed as in Squatter's Rights, and Charlotte the brass arachnid at the center of the board, base contact + 1 AP to activate her for a victory point, limit 1 reactivation and 1 VP per side per turn. A demo game for a friend who, like me, played a gnome back in EverQuest. I am pleased to say, he picked Hoffman and he won handily.]

"Come on! I said I found an abandoned brass arachnid! Don't you know what you can do with one of those?!" she shouted. Then she clapped her hands over her ears, quick. There was only one in the crew who could talk back, but the others weren't silent, and now Ryle was wailing like some mechanism was in need of oil. Which wasn't true. That was the whole point of her being here, instead of where she belonged....


The note had come into the workshop the day before, and was handed around the workshop until Hoffman had found two mechanics who could puzzle out part of the unreadable handwriting. It was certain that McMourning had requisitioned Ryle for some task. It was probable that part of the rest of the note ordered him to not send any other constructs. The postscript was a near total mystery except for "ref---n--". Reference, the mechanics had agreed.

Hoffman had read, to himself, 'refinement', and made sense of McMourning's wish to separate Ryle from the protection of other constructs. Well, two could play at being clever with their orders.

"Child!" She'd scrambled to stand at attention at the urgency of his command. "Follow Ryle on this task. You are to provide maintenance which cannot be entrusted to untrained people. Assign her a temporary toolkit."

So when she bolted out of the workshop and fell in line behind the abomination, instead of keeping an uneasy distance away from him, she had marched after him with head held high.


The pair caught up with McMourning in the middle of a crowd of lab coats and raised voices and the whirr of multiple bone saws.

"Finally you show up," he snapped at Ryle, not pausing while he filleted a bit of mystery meat he'd conjured out of nowhere. "Late. I thought he had some regard for punctuality," he flicked up the hood of a witchling stalker with the handle of his scalpel and slung the meat into that concealment, "ought to understand my time is valuable," the stalker quivered, clutched itself around its middle, and burst into popping green flame, "can't expect me to spend every waking moment penned up by myself in that morgue," again magicked a piece of mystery meat into his hands, "professional mixer, don't see what's so professional about it," twiddled with it, slapped it into the goggled face of a Freikorps suit and spattered the remaining stalkers again, "go over there and make yourself useful," flicked the scalpel blade at Dr. Grimwell and the lacerated hats of Samael Hopkins and Francisco Ortega.

"No. Stay here," the child countered. And such was the near perfect copy of Hoffman's tone that the abomination obeyed her instead.

McMourning looked pointedly underfoot. "Who are you, small one?"

"I'm here with him. You take both of us or neither of us," she pointed at Ryle and then put her hands on her hips and acted childish again, "and I'm not a construct, so there."

"I won't."

"Fine then. We won't help you. And I'm definitely not gonna help you with that lab coat lady sneaking up behind you."

The doctor twitched so hard he shuddered away from the stalkers, but Nurse Heartsbane walked after him, quite calm, keeping firm and even pressure on the electroshock paddles. Sparks danced across the top of his already shocked looking hair. The child decided she liked the nurse.


"I think I like the nurses. Thanks for sending one to help," she said later that day. They'd parted ways, one group of lab coats heading back to the asylum, the child following the other back to the morgue. It turned out to be the same place that handed out almost-certainly-rat-kabobs on Tuesdays. It was a good place, to a street cousin. She liked McMourning better already.

The feeling was not mutual. "I didn't send one to help."

"But the downers are really helping. Usually he screams during maintenance." The child waved a bath brush clotted with human effluvia and disappeared down the hall.

Curiosity piqued, he followed her. And stopped dead in the doorway, right behind where she'd stopped dead in the doorway and dropped the brush.

It wasn't the sight of Ryle sitting immobile in the tub that stopped them, nor of the raw debrided flesh that must have been part of 'maintenance'. (Although, in McMourning's professional opinion, he was well past due for a fresh coat. Just try to quietly and discreetly patch up your colleague's mistakes, and what do you get for your trouble? A dependent dumped on your office...) No, it was the nurse, draped over his gun-arm and dreamily running her fingers along his veins...

The child had sounded quite like Hoffman, before. She sounded exactly like McMourning, now, even to the jealousy. "YOU, GET AWAY FROM HIM THIS INSTANT!" they screeched, together, pointing imperiously out of the room.

And with a psychic snap, her bond to the Guild changed its anchor point.

Her heart still belonged to Hoffman, but McMourning had her brain....


"I said, it's a brass arachnid! Stop flinging those stupid syringes and go get it! It's awesome!" The child snatched a syringe out of the air, shook down Dr. McMourning's special mix of liquefied organs back to the tip, and flung it back. It stuck McMourning good and hard.

His eyes went blissful for a moment, and he staggered forward, "Oh yeah..." and then he shook it off. "I didn't need that!"

"You did too! You're not smart enough to go get it yourself! Not like some other people--"

She cut off mid-complaint, because Hoffman was there after all. She saw the familiar manipulators in the distance beyond the windmills, and her heart leapt. The child turned her eyes to the abomination, reaching out to tell Ryle not to shoot--

And she couldn't remember how.

The child burst into tears.

She could do nothing but watch as McMourning wound up the brass arachnid. It skittered over to Ryle, twiddled with the settings on his gun-arm (at its touch the abomination stopped howling), and then returned to its guard point. The doctor turned to watch all this, and so turned his back on the windmills. A hunter stepped out from behind one mill, silent, one step at a time, with that buzzing in its frame the child knew well. It settled into place, at the perfect distance to pounce upon McMourning.

Beyond it, bolts and scraps of metal rose into the air and reassembled themselves into the essential points of a brass arachnid. They, too, skittered forward in silence, no two pieces of metal contacting one another, and brushed the insinuations of claws across the hunter's frame. Its eye-lamps lit anew. The child might have warned him, but she would not.

McMourning never knew what hit him.

Once he collapsed, bleeding, she was the only one in the crew with a voice to shout orders. So she did, with a voice gone hoarse. When the peacekeeper charged up to Ryle and crushed him, she had the nurse fling another syringe and stick him with healing drugs before she sashayed off to a different windmill. Sebastian she told to go wind up the brass arachnid, but he couldn't puzzle it out, instead shearing off course to shear off most of the hunter's upper plating. The watcher flapped its wings atop yet another windmill until stray bullets from Ryle's gun punched through its shell. The peacekeeper reached out a single buzzing claw and, slow and gentle, spun the key in the brass arachnid's back. Hoffman again copied its essence and sent that out as well after the real one itself failed to reach the peacekeeper's controls.

She watched teary-eyed (but drying up out of sheer wonder) as Hoffman simply...assimilated the idea behind the brass arachnid, and didn't know that Sebastian, without something to cut up nearby and a firm order to stay put, tended to wander off in search of a body--


--Nor that, much like Ryle, the less the child bothered to sound like his true master, the less Sebastian would listen. Hoffman's wounds dripped red and brown and streaks of green from the bone saw's filthy blade. He reached over the shoulder of the smaller man and aimed his torch at a particular point in the bone saw's engine. It ignited, and so did Sebastian. The peacekeeper first knocked out the abomination, and then the nurse, as she flung her final syringe and it landed full in the soulstone eye of the mechanical attendant. Hoffman shivered with poison, but looked across the field at the child. She came to him, cowering.

"I'm...sorry..." It wasn't enough, she knew, and she swallowed all the rest.

The mechanical attendant pulled out the syringe and tapped it against Hoffman's leg, then walked past her, and he clacked along after it, to slowly kneel by Ryle and inspect the injuries.

"He looks...well maintained."

"McMourning didn't touch him. I didn't let him," said the child all in a hurry, and then spoke slower. "The nurse helped though. She injected him. He didn't scream this time. He didn't feel it as much, I think."

The peacekeeper stomped past the child and picked Ryle up. Hoffman straightened and looked back at the brass arachnid, then at the abomination again for a long while, then at the child. "Child," he began, "...you did your duty. But McMourning and anyone who works with him is not to be trusted around Ryle. Ever. Now you have to choose. I can write off this as your service to the Guild, your debt paid in full, and you can go work with him if you like. But you will never return to the workshop, on pain of death." She shook her head violently, no. "Or you work for me, and only for me. If the Guild orders you to serve another leader, for however long, I pay you, through the workshop, with the proper forms. You do not take soulstones from anyone else. You do not take orders from anyone else. You absolutely do not take advice from anyone else, unless I know and approve of it." He produced a small stack of papers--her battle drawings!--from one of his pockets. "Now. Choose."

Her lip quivered, and she all but flung herself at him to hug him. If the guardian had been there, she would have died, shorn in half by the great blade. As it was, it took one of the peacekeeper's unoccupied arms, the mechanical attendant, and the walking frame's manipulator claws to immediately untangle them and hold her at arm's length. The child stretched out her arms again. "Take me back! Please!"

He didn't answer right away, but busied himself straightening and smoothing down the rips the bone saw had left in his attire. Slowly she took the hint, and unloaded her pocket of the syringes she'd lifted from McMourning's lab. "But they helped, really," she sighed, and placed them on the ground.

"I will be the judge of that."

She nodded.

Her bond to the Guild snapped back to connect through Hoffman once more. She looked over at the brass arachnid, and its workings made sense, then back at Hoffman who was never to be second-guessed. He handed the papers over to her. As she walked behind him, she leafed through the stack and found something new: Guild forms. One form approved of her collecting visual battle data in the manner taught by the Freikorps. Another placed her on the permanent payroll of the workshop as an apprentice, with food and lodging allowance so much per annum....

[End Child in the New World. Further battle reports may go here, or in a new thread. It depends on what narrative suggests itself.]

[Series 1 of the battle narratives: Child in the New World]

[Interlude: Sin Eaters (March Community Contest 2016)]

[Series 2 of the battle narratives: The Constructs' Apprentice]

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