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Iron Quill- Strings- Curtain Call

Idle Hands

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(Think I've got everything in it. Not sure of word count, but hey, it's my first time writing anything other than forum posts, so without further ado)

Curtain Call

The "Idol" startled awake from the dream again.

He'd been having this dream, or a variation of it, a lot lately. Thinking about it, he couldn't recall not having it. He'd been trying his best, whether by drink, drug, or other, more esoteric excesses, to forget it. After all, he was already living his dream, yet here it was again. They had been coming far more frequently, and much more lucidly the last week, in spite of his best efforts. 

Looking around his rented room (the finest in all of Malifaux), he realized those must have been some efforts, seeing the condition of his boots and cloak. He didn't remember being anywhere near the swamp the previous night, but the tell-tale mud caked on them spoke a truth his memory couldn't. He presumed there would be yet another slightly awkward exchange with the concierge, another handful of scrip to maintain the staff's discretion. It wasn't like he didn't have the money. He actually chuckled a bit at the thought. He was, after all, "the Idol", which birthed another laugh. His former manager had come up with that, right when his career had taken on a life of its own, and it stuck, just like the mud and cattail on the hem of his cloak...

Seeing the mud and debris led his mind through the paths that took him to where he was now. Even in his earthside childhood, all he ever wanted, dreamed of, was to be a performer. All of his efforts, however small, even back then, were expended towards that dream. Over time, his persistence, and no small amount of natural talent paid off, but that was just earthside, and he wanted more. Once he made it here, through the Breach, his ambition found him various ways to use his talents, usually in less than ideal (and more than a little lethal) circumstances- not even close to the theaters and stages he ruled back home, and aspired to here as well. This, in turn, led him to talk to her. Through the mud, and the cattails. 

The trip to her hovel, guided by a highly recommended, yet equally suspect lout named McTavish, took longer than his business there. The tiny shack in the bayou was lit warmly from within, exposing nearly every join between its weathered boards. Either way, possible respite from the stench of his traveling companion trumped any possible danger the seemingly ill-constructed shack threatened, so he ventured inside.   

The Hag sat behind a small table in the center of the room, sewing what looked like a potato sack into the semblance of a doll. A single candle illuminated the interior. It struck him odd that single candle could be bright enough to see from outside the shack, let alone provide enough light to...

"You here to ask me if", her words rattled through his thought like a rusty hinge, followed by what he thought was a laugh.

All his poise and practice failed him, leaving him with a befuddled "What?"

"Most come to ask 'how', or 'why', but not you", her attention never leaving her project, "just 'if'."

Mustering his courage, he was able to reply, "Well, uh, yes, actually. I want to know if I can become the greatest entertainer either side of the Breach. I know my craft, and my desire, I just need to know if I can. So flip your cards, roll your bones. I'm ready to pay for you to tell me."

She laughed again, and bit through the thread with what appeared to be her few remaining teeth. "We don't muss with bones out here, never know what's hooked to 'em, and I don't need no cards for your answer. Don't need your money, either." she spat. "It's 'Yes'... if...", letting the statement hang. She started knotting a blue button he assumed would be an eye onto the doll, still not otherwise acknowleding his presence.

 "If? If what?" losing patience, and feeling like he was being toyed with.

Knotting the second button eye now, she finally arched an ancient eyebrow, and regarded him with a milky, cataract eye. "If you got the stones", her voice suddenly as sultry as one of Miss DuBois' ladies.

Mercifully, he never could quite recall the trip back from the bayou...

In the time since, he did indeed achieve his dream. Performing on any (at first) stage available. Command performances for notables and royalty, the Governor General's mansion. Accolades, wealth, fame, even his ridiculous stage name, it was all his, and all of that earned without using anything other than his talent, training, and ambition. He had the stones alright.

A volley of distant gunshots shook him from his recollections, and he checked his pocket watch. He really must have overdone it the previous night. Between the dream, and his efforts to avoid it, he was exhausted. He had plenty of time to get a late lunch and still have a little nap...

Returning from lunch, "tipping" the concierge and leaving instructions to make sure he was up on time to ready for his next show, he settled down in his room for a nap...


"Mama Zo, Mama Zo... Lookee wut ah fount!", hollered the little gremlin bounding back and forth in the mud serving as the shanty's front step, nearly toppling the stovepipe hat from her head.

"I reckon' I'll see it, soon as you bring y'self in here t' me, fool child." the Hag calmly replied. She, of all her neverborn brothers and sisters, understood the gremlins, and their place in the world. They certainly had their uses, moreso than any of the others had recognized. This one though, Sammy, she was special, even if she wasn't capable of knowing just how special she was.

Sammy bounced her way into Zoraida's shack, beginning another of their routine visits. Sammy would often bring treasures she had discovered in her wanderings through the Bayou. Sammy wasn't above "liberating" items from captivity, either, if she thought the object was fancy, or thought "Mama Zo" would like it. She had a natural talent as a pick pocket, and was small and sneaky enough to melt into nearly any background.  

"Well, you gonna get on with the showin'?", the Hag's eyes focused on the tarot deck laid out on the table before her.

"Oh, oh, yeah... First, there's this'un." pulling a porcelain doll head from her burlap bag. "Think ye can make a body fer it?" she asked.

"I'll teach ya ta make yer own. What else, child?", still not glancing up.

"This'un here's shiny..." retrieving a scalpel from her sack. 

"Best let me have that one, I'm gonna need it, if the cards is right, and they ain't been wrong yet.", reaching out with her hand. "That all?", finally looking up from her cards, casting her gaze on Sammy.

"Well, uh, um..." suddenly much less enthusiastic, "well, ah fount this'un a while ago", reaching her hand into the bag. The old Hag shuddered visibly, eyes widening as Sammy closed her hand on the next item...


The "Idol" woke to the sight of curtain-dimmed lights. He must have dozed again in a chair backstage, waiting to take the stage for his curtain call. His performance was impeccable, finished to thundrous applause. He remembered taking a quick bow, and heading off stage to take a seat. This show had left him more drained than usual. He stood up abruptly and readied to take his final bow...


"Ahhhh yesss. Was wonderin' where he ended up. You 'found' this one, child, or 'rescued' him?", arching an eyebrow, milky irises burrowing into Sammy's own.

"I uhh, well, I um, yeah, ye could say I rescued 'im..." she confessed sheepishly, handing the burlap doll over. The Hag looked the doll over, noting it was getting a bit threadbare around the head, and the formerly glossy blue button eyes had lost some of their luster, but otherwise intact.

"What'd I tell ya 'bout 'rescuin' my things, Sammy? Time for that later though, at least he found his way back. They always do. Let's see what he has to say..."


The curtains opened to blinding light. It was strangely quiet, though he could have sworn he heard an adult and a child quietly conversing. Shutting his eyes tightly to protect from the painfully bright stage lights, he started his practised routine of bows and flourishes, the audience, the room, still as absent of sound as it was abundant in light. Slowly he stood fully upright, using one hand to shield his eyes like a visor, and the other to block the insanely bright footlights, allowing his eyes to relax and acclimate. After a few seconds, his audience began to resolve in front of him.

Applause that reminded him more of crow wings beating than clapping finally greeted his ears. His eyes focused on the source of the "clapping", and there she was, the Hag "fortune teller" he'd visited so long ago. Here, in her shack. She was looking at the same potato sack doll she'd made when they'd met, laying on her table, slapping her skeletal hands together in mock applause. He noticed, but tried to ignore the child-like creature standing next to the Hag, tittering at the doll on the table, and clapping its miniscule hands as well. 

"How did this happen? Why am I here?", in a slight panic, even given all he'd seen since crossing paths with her the last time.

"Hehe... Now you sound like most who come to me with questions." a cackle like snapping kindling followed her statement. "Payment's your answer."

"Y-you said you didn't want payment... Hell, your 'fortune' was barely a sentence", his nerves getting the better of him, looking for a way, any way, out of this. He watched as she picked up a scalpel from her table, her eyes intent on the doll in her other hand.

"I said I didn't want your money" she said, gently dragging the flat side of the scalpel down the arm of the doll. She fully raised her head to look up at him, for the first time. A smile cracked her wrinkled face as her hazy eyes stared into his, mirth deepening the crow's feet at their corners.

Goosebumps followed the chill down his arm, and now he understood. "B-but, why me?" he whimpered, as she poised the blade over the doll's chest.

" 'Cuz you got the stones..."



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  • 2 weeks later...

I definitely think the strong point of this story is the sense of oddness about the magic. The metaphysical rules of the dolls have a sense of mystic weight to them but the rules are odd. As people work with them, you get a sense that there are items being manipulated and pushed about in ways that make me want to dig deeper and know more.

Where I think you can build on this more is with the story of the Idol. He doesn't really have a character to speak of besides his place in the Faustian bargain. As such, I can tell things are going to end badly too early since I figure that's just kind of the way these stories go. What I'd like to see is a trajectory that's as unusual and arcane as the way that magic is presented: something with more irony involved and more twisting with its decisions.

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Thanks for taking the time to reply! 

A little background. I'd been lurking on the forums for a while and saw the call for this round of IS when it was announced, and kinda tossed the idea around in my head of writing something for it, just mulling the ingredients around, and came up with the "hook" at the end. Everything else was just a way to get to the hook, that I literally started writing (in a post) at about 1 pm the day the story was due.

I was originally going to use Collodi instead of Zoraida, but don't have enough fluff in the data banks to know if I'd be doing anything contradictory, or out of character for him. After deciding that, I was definitely shooting more for "flavor" than anything else. The "Idol" is left intentionally (and admittedly clumsily) vague, but I see where I could give him more substance.

Had I given myself more time, I definitely would have bulked out the idol character more, and there would have been more of Sammy "playing" with the doll, tying the doll more to his "dreams". There's a line or two of dialogue I'd change, and it definitely could be made more clear that the doll Zoraida was making WAS the "Idol", but I also liked hanging on to that until the end. I wanted to keep the disoriented/disjointed dream quality of the Idol's bits, but that's a helluva juggling act, and maybe a bit ambitious for a first go.

Over all, I like more about it than I don't, considering how long I spent writing it, but would certainly put more time and polish into another try. Either way, thanks again for the input! (Congrats again, BTW!)

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