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Iron Quill - Rebirth - Deathsake


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The young man wheezed, and looked down at the bottle of Song as though it'd lied to him. He tilted it, trying to read the label by moonlight. "You're not allowed to pass me that one until I lose..."

"As if you've earned the right--" one of the others started to scoff, but he was cut short by a fit of coughing as his lungs tried, without warning, to empty themselves. Then the miasma belled out among them all, and even those of the highest orders loosened their grip on their bottles. Two monks rolled to the ditch to retch, and so found themselves (after some unpleasant little while) staring down the slope of the road-bed at the speckled back of...

"G-g-g-GATOR!" the gremlin squealed, and backpedaled in a crawl. His human companion flowed back to his feet and let the momentum carry him backwards faster than the crawling monk was able to retreat.

The less afflicted monks looked along the two lopsided sets of tracks, leading up to the raised edge of the road-bed, and saw a patch of the deeper darkness flow uphill and over the edge, faster than spilled liquor, with more bite. They rose and began to curl into defensive poses, but had to break form and cough, every one, once they tasted the even more foul air at head height. Mixed in with their coughing they heard something between the roads gurgle, thick breaths, but not choking--

"Eeey-y-yy-up girl..."

The gator halted upon the word. She was a moss-black shadow stretching almost all the way across one of the roads. In his panic the fleeing gremlin had leaped four-footed across the opposite ditch and onto another road, bypassing the intersection and the knot of monks altogether. The other shinobi took note of how far away he now was from the gator, and also scattered from the crossroads, towards roads where the gurgling was not adjacent.

The filthiest hat in Malifaux rose over the edge of the road-bed, followed by another wave of foulness, and then by the filthiest man in Malifaux. When he raised his hat to tip his head to the monks, one of the Fermented River's finest lost control and had to scramble with the gremlins, there to be sick into a different part of the swamp. "Evenin.'"

He waited, still holding his hat clear of the mess atop his head, until one of the monks mustered the fortitude to nod a greeting.

"Name's McTavish." McTavish settled the hat back into place, and the stench mercifully was muted a bit. "You were chuckin' bottles into the swamp. Got Lil' Boo nervous." The gator shuffled in a slow turn. Rather, the legs and middle of the gator shuffled slowly, but her tail and snout whipped around at the outer edge of that circle with terrifying speed. A gremlin took a quick fortifying gulp of liquor and the suction of his straws broke with a 'pop' into the dead silence of the gator's turn. "Came by to ask you what you were doin'."

Elbows prodded sides, feet slid sideways to trip, and the young man found himself standing in the front of the group, as the other monks retreated unimpeded. He, too, took a fortifying swig, and then answered, "It's traditional...crossroads...midnight...dice...deal with the devil...not meaning you particularly McTavish..." He hesitated, but 'honored sir' was too great a gap to leap. "...Loser's got to take a swallow from the drink of death. And survive."

The swamp-man took a flask from his hip, sucked in a mouthful, and swished it around while thinking the idea over. After a minute he swallowed. "Doesn't sound healthy."

"It sounded better back at the temple," the young monk admitted. "Traditional, and all."

McTavish coughed up something that sounded vaguely like a word, and turned to spit it into the swamp. Lil' Boo flinched at the wet smack of spit hitting swampwater. "Got a better idea. I'll put up a bottle of swamp 'shine. You put up one of yours. Them, too." He nodded at the gremlins, who had all turned to McTavish at the mention of swamp 'shine. "Roll the dice. Loser just has to pass his bottle 'round." He hitched up his belt and sat down in the middle of the crossroads as though it had already been decided, and ground his flask into the road until it was sitting upright in a little hollow.

The rest of the Fermented River flowed behind the young man until he was again the closest one to McTavish. He hardly noticed the moon shinobi slap one of their own on the back until he faceplanted into the intersection--but caught the bottle as it fell, impossibly, with a finger, just off of the surface of the road. "Ollie, gremlin dew," he--or maybe she, it was rather high-pitched even through the mud and the mask--squeaked, and the gremlin lowered his (her?) finger to rest the bottle in the mud with loving care.

"Tuan Nguyen, Song," said the young monk, squatting, and nestled the round flask of sake in the crossroads same as the swamp-man had.

McTavish didn't bother repeating himself. He picked the dice from the road where they'd fallen, shook them in hands big enough to crack a gator's head just by squeezing, and threw. They left his hands slicker than they'd been after lying in the mud.

Tuan threw. Ollie threw. Ollie picked up the flask, uncorked it, and passed it to Tuan who'd won. Tuan glanced at the liquor, an unnatural yellow-green that seemed almost to glow, but it didn't smell bad--at least, he couldn't smell anything of it over the all-encompassing stench of McTavish. It went down like liquid soap, but that was almost a relief to the young monk's throat after a few minutes in the swamp-man's company. He handed it to McTavish, who left only enough to trickle and tinkle as he lowered the bottle. Ollie took back the bottle, almost lost her (his?) grip, then shook it. "Nothing left hardly."

McTavish pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the gator. Ollie shuddered. "Do it y'self," he (she?) squeaked, and passed the bottle back. Tuan looked again at the bottle and saw the lip-marks of McTavish, and shuddered too, but McTavish missed it as he flipped the uncorked bottle over his shoulder. Lil' Boo snapped, and it was gone.

Ollie threw. Tuan threw. McTavish threw, and lost, and passed his flask to Ollie. She (he?) chugged it down easily, then handed the flask to the young monk. He made a mistake, and glanced at this liquor also. The liquor had bits floating in it. The flask, he realized, had spent days snuggled up to the side of the swamp-man. He had drunk from it. He might have backwashed. The gremlin also, but mostly McTavish...

When the silence had stretched on for half a minute, one of the other monks hushed McTavish with an upraised hand, and weaved into the intersection, and extended another, uncapped flask in front of the young monk.

"Care to exchange?" he whispered.


The older monk nodded. "After all, you must take a drink."

Tuan steeled himself, reached for it, took in one last shuddering McTavish-flavored breath, and swallowed. Even by moonlight color could be seen to leave his cheeks. His eyes widened to pools of blackness and he collapsed, boneless.

McTavish didn't shift a muscle. "Way you talked about it, thought it would've taken longer."

The older monk hid a smile. "It's traditional for the initiation to take longer, all the rest of the temple matching him drink for drink until he reaches out his hand for death. But progress marches on, with all these young ones. Besides," and he unhooked a pouch from his belt and tossed it to the swamp-man, "even with this, it's cheaper. He'll wake up tomorrow, we'll tell him he's been reborn into the Tri-Chi, and so on and so forth. We'll call on you again, next time there's an initiate."

"Pleasure doing business with you," grunted McTavish, rising to his feet. "Eey-y-yy-up!" He ambled to the edge of the road-bed and disappeared back into the swamp, with Lil' Boo gliding over the edge after him, and the gremlins frozen until the tip of her tail vanished. Then gremlins took hold of Tuan's ankles, humans lifted him under the armpits, and they dragged him away from the patch of moonlight which lit up the crossroads.

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