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Iron Quill - Isolation

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The Iron Quill is a writing contest that takes place every month. It’s an exciting competition and a great

place to hone your skills and get some constructive feedback.

The Rules

 You must post your story in The Writing Room by the submission date with the following

posting format: Iron Quill – Name of the round – Name of your story. Nothing else is needed to

sign up, but please post in this thread with a link to your story when completed.

 Your story must be no more than 1,750 words and be a self-contained story set in the world of


 Any story must include at least two of the Ingredients for the current round. When you use the

ingredients, keep in mind they don't need to be literal, please feel free to be creative with them!

As the stories are completed, this post will be updated to contain a listing of all the submissions. You

are welcome to edit your story up until the submission date.


The winner will be selected by overall score, as determined by two methods:

 A public poll will be created where anyone can vote on their favorite story. Each vote will be

worth 1 point. Authors of submissions can vote in this way.

 A private poll of the authors where they pick their favorite story and a runner-up. These votes

are weighted; the favorite story gets 3 points, the runner-up gets 2 points. These votes should be

submitted to me by forum PM.

All votes must be submitted by the voting date or they won’t count for scoring. You cannot vote for

your own submission. If you are an author, you must submit votes for the private poll or you will be



Name of the Round: Isolation

Submission Date: 7/11/2016


 Theme: Isolation

 Character: Primordial Magic

 Line:  "What do you mean I can't have it"

 Item: Smoked meat

 Location: Vault

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  • 5 weeks later...

It's alright. If other people are also worried about getting stories in, I'm happy to extend the deadline another week.

I'm also interested in suggestions for changes to the format if there's another style of competition that is more appealing to folks, maybe even moving to a less formal monthly writing prompt with stories posted as replies in the thread? I just want to facilitate people writing, and while this format has worked in the past it certainly doesn't seem too popular lately.

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It is weird, all of a sudden lately work has been in an uptick and I have had less time to write. That and keeping my bees alive and stocking for Farmer's Market. I lost power today and can't upload from my phone so if we extend to Friday I think everyone would hopefully be able to get a story in and then if we want we can make changes to the format.


Darn Minnesota storms.


Sad but Grue,
The Grue

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 1 month later...

This may be a little late....



Sometimes, no matter how bad you want something, you just can’t get it. Whether that’s a lack of ability, or the whims of a heartless universe, there comes a time when you must question whether to keep pushing on.

William H. Preston had reached that time, asked that question, and found himself an answer. You should understand, William had given it his all. From a family of modest means, he’d led a modest life as was expected. Though springs and cogs weren’t his thing, he took up the family trade behind the counter of the watchmaker on the corner of Eddington and Morningford.

Up by six, open by seven, always a smile and a quiet nod for those who placed their time in his hands. Whether that be the casual tracking of a life slowly winding down, or the agitated metronome of an existence tied to every driven second.

So, though he lacked the passion for mechanism that had inspired two prior generations, he took seriously the charge to help others keep the time of their life flowing as they wanted it.

This was because William was a philosophical sort, with his nose buried in one book or another when he wasn’t screwing in the loupe and taking up the tweezers. On account of a lackadaisical uncle who thought it entertaining to fill the head of a serious little boy with tales of wild magic and forbidden sorcery, William had grown into a man with a quietly burning passion for the arcane. This was both an escape from what must be acknowledged as a somewhat boring life, and that more ephemeral stirring that most folks feel but never act on.

For William was sure that magic was his calling. He could feel it in his fingertips, a will to create, a force pushing from within, stretching him this way and that in its desire to be made manifest.

Problem was however, that poor William wasn’t any good at it. As a lad, his saved pennies flew into the pockets of any bookseller offering to part with blurrily-printed secrets or barstool sorcerer who would sketch a sigil into the beer pooling around William’s elbows.

But no matter how carefully he enunciated or steadily etched his runes, young William couldn’t summon up the tiniest candle-flame of magic.

As he coasted from youth to responsible adulthood, he took this failure in his stride, along with his difficulty in meeting a suitable young lady or developing a robust social life. In all these things he never lacked for effort, nor was there any obvious flaw that would endear a sympathetic shake of the head.

It’s just that something was…lacking.

And so the days passed to the syncopated ticks and tocks of the comfortable little store that brought in a comfortable amount of money. It at least meant that despite the gaping voids poor William could not fill in any number of late night séances or afternoon teas with the nieces of family friends, life was, well, comfortable.

 Which is considerably less than can be said for the last few minutes spent by his parents on this mortal coil. Their near-matching crushed organs were courtesy of a hansom cab that mounted The Strand just as the two of them had purchased a newspaper-wrapped handful of hot chestnuts on their customary constitutional.

As with everything else, William took this in his stride. With no other family to speak of, his was a tidy inheritance, and theirs a neat and suitably well-attended funeral. Once all the papers were filed and condolences delivered, William Preston of Preston and Son Watchmakers (est 1843) was a man alone in charge of his destiny.

It would be nice to think that some occurrence of occult significance took place, such as an eerie silence when he returned to his store and found all the clocks had stopped the moment of his parents’ death. Or a black cat crossing his path and drawing his eye to a bright poster promising a life of opportunity on just the other side of the Breach.

Truthfully, no such punctuation mark existed. Within a week a buyer for the store had been found (with a view to convert it into an upmarket haberdashers), the terrace house behind was sold, and William was on the SS Periwhistle on his first journey beyond the shores of England.

Not too long after, he was packed into a crowded passenger car, breathing in the air of expectation and mild panic as it hurtled towards that tear in reality where, if even a fraction of the stories were true, magic could be found under every cobblestone.

Some tales were told of transformative experiences effecting a number of those who passed through the breach. Of hidden arcane powers erupting – often quite messily, the penny dreadfuls would gloat – filling these surprised souls with the power from Beyond. Until, of course, these menaces to public safety were hauled off the train and slapped into shackle. Shackles that would see them transformed into the hunched, shivering sniffer dogs employed by the Guild Witch Hunters to root out more of their kind.

It would be safe to say that those seconds approaching the breach saw William on the edge of his seat, most definitely filled with a greater sense of anticipation than his fellow travellers. The failed hopes of just under four decades bubbled past that comfortable upholstering of his internal landscape, producing a quivering lip and knuckles whiter than his mother’s finest porcelain.

What cannot be stated is the feeling of disappointment that suffused every cell of William’s body once he could no longer question whether the threshold had been crossed. Emanating in an almost physical wave, it created an oasis of unconscious pity around him as his fellow travellers chattered in relief and gathered their belongings prior to entering their new world.

William was found still staring at his soft, unfalteringly average hands, by the carriage clean up crew. With the level of caution that can only be found when a fellow has seen the insides of a number of other fellows, and ladies and children besides, dripping from the roof of an otherwise unremarkable train carriage, the nearest witch hunter was quietly found and beckoned on board.

The only spell that was broken in that carriage was the utter darkness of the soul that had consumed Mr Preston. His reverie was shattered by the surprisingly gentle sniffing of the stalker straining at the end of the leash held by the hard-faced gentleman pointing a revolver at the back of William’s head.

The desultory shake of that poor tormented creature’s head was the postscript to William’s journey to his own personal abyss. Provided final, definitive proof that not one sniff of magic was to be found in his soul, William made his quiet apologies, retrieved his small satchel of belongings, and stepped onto the platform of Malifaux station.

It would be cheerful to think that at this point William had passed through a gauntlet of transformation that had left him if not happy, at least reconciled to remain within the state that he had been accustomed.

Indeed, to any onlooker, he seemed one of the calmer of new arrivals under the watchful eyes of the snipers in their station roosts. Submitting with the best of graces to the pokes, prods, papers and prompts required, he passed through the station into the next chapter of his life under a strange new sky.

And what a chapter it would be. With what could only be poetically described as a clockwork level of precision, William crafted for himself a new life in which each and every step was unerringly calculated to deliver him to a precise time and place.

This time and place.

Less than two days from setting foot in the streets of Malifaux city, William straddled a bloodied, bawling gent in an alley behind the Copper Dome tavern. While an onlooker would have seen a frenzied flurry of blows hammering a clasp knife into the man’s chest, these were in fact delivered with a precise rhythm, eliciting exactly the responses William desired from between those blood-frothed lips.

A week on, and a family were on their knees before Mr Preston not twenty miles beyond the city limits, daughter pressed to her mother’s bosom as father pleaded for their lives. Two shots, screams, and a sharp blow to a small skull.

Smoke, heavy, scented. A low roof, braziers splashing wild shadows to chase rats through stinking rivulets of a city’s rejection.

“What do you mean I can’t have it?”

“I did everything you promised. Everything.”

An ogre’s silhouette shot forwards, blotting out the light, arms raised high.

“I must have it.”

In the last moments before the ornate jar comes crashing down, she must have seen the despair in his eyes. A despair driving the desperation that brought a final darkness to match that stretching on forever through the windows of his soul.

It is that darkness that I swim in, coiled around his limbs. The very embodiment of all he desires, intimately entwined yet, as always, smoke between his fingers. The closer I draw to him the higher his fever rises, pounding inside his skull with insensate pressure that can find no release within the chains of final acceptance.

I follow his fingers into the sockets, worming ecstatically through the warmth and the searing dark. As he leaves, I pass him. This could be the moment where I offer a final crumb of comfort, or damn him with one last taunt.

But as is my nature, I let him pass without a word.

It was never going to be, for William H. Preston.


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