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Chasing Lazarus


Gnomezilla
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[page 2 of 2]
father's work: one of them what fills the fireboxes
DOD: dun't no
notes: not dead but gone 'before the wintur', 1905

mother's name: mama? she dun't no
mother's work: calkalator? one of them what does the figuring
DOD: 1902
notes: mother & baby girl dead of sickness, maybe plauge

tests: nekropunks yes
gakee no
cruelygans no
flesh constructs yes
death doxees no

notes: if yohan can smash them she likes them. i dun't understand masheens but she do. she ain't a ressur, she's a masheen girl. she runs up to peasekeeprs and that lil marshal puppet thing. says they're masheens all. give her back to the masheen shop i say. she ain't a marshal neither.

cordell loudwater, death marshal for the Lady Justice, in this year 1906.

 

The child wrapped up warm in the stolen marshal's coat. It dragged half of its skirt on the ground but that was ok. It hid the extra pieces of wood she had tied to either leg. She backed up to the little coffin she had cut down from carpenter's scraps and wriggled her arms through the straps of its cradle, shook out a squashed hat and mashed it down almost over her eyes, and then marched straight for the exit of the death marshals' compound.

The wood strapped to either side of her knees forced her not to run, or even to walk, but to lift each foot up and set it down in turn. She stepped heavily like Hoffman, like a construct, and in the disguise of the brutal effigy stomped out without once being challenged.

She wasn't helping Hoffman by staying with the death marshals, not really. She could be a much bigger help to him somehow. It was a scary idea. But what if she went back to being a street cousin for awhile, and chased after the one construct he couldn't seem to control? That angry, boxy, cranky, lucky Lazarus! He wouldn't fire on a street cousin...would he?

Her tummy rumbled. It was probably lunch time back at the Guild.

Back to catching rats for the only meal of the day, if she was lucky. The child sighed. She should've stolen a bag to go along with those sandwiches. She pulled the heavy, ham-scented coffin higher onto her back and kept on clomping further into the city.

[Series 3 of the battle narratives: Making of a Mechromancer (Divergent Paths event)]

[Series 4 of the battle narratives: Chasing Lazarus]

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  • 2 weeks later...

It took hours to walk far enough away from the Guild-controlled neighborhoods that it was safer to untie the little planks and take off the hat and stop pretending to be the brutal effigy. The child flopped on her back and kicked at the sky for awhile for the sheer joy of being able to bend her knees. No wonder Hoffman was never happy, being lashed to a frame all day.

She stopped in mid-kick, looking guilty, and tried to scramble to her feet and get back to her task. It wasn't easy, with the coffin holding her down like an overturned turtle's shell.


Sometimes she ran into saloons pretending to cry about the ruffians outside taking away her doll; sometimes she marched into bars demanding that mama come home, she wanted supper; sometimes she slipped into boarding houses at the tail of a herd of children and their inattentive parents. It never led to anyone who was talking about where to find constructs outside of the M&SU. At long last, however, one bar had intriguing weapons resting beside one table. She had seen a relic hammer before, but never two in the same place. The child crept under a nearby table for a closer look while one of their owners returned to her seat.

"Everything's Ok?" asked the one who hadn't gotten up.

"Fine now. Can't take those two firebugs anywhere, I swear. But you know Gala's grip--she's got Tiffany in one hand and Minnie in the other. Knocked their heads together, oh, and said she'd hold 'em until they simmered down, skip them all next round."

The sitting one shrugged her shoulder of flesh. "Suit herself. I'm getting something to eat. I'm dying here." She helped herself to a half-empty stein resting at a space at the table without a chair in front of it, and made a face. "In what language does 'Gala' mean 'woman who only orders the cheap stuff'?"

"Ramos renamed her, she told me once. He told her why she had to get a new name along with the construct work, but it went over her head. Mine, too." The second woman, with the bandana, claimed the abandoned drink which didn't have the cigar-butt floating in it, took a sip, and coughed.

"Refillsss?"

Both women's hands flew up and flattened over their glasses. "No thank you," they barked, in unison, and only then turned to look at the interloper who'd weaseled in between their chairs and extended a sparkling decanter.

"It'sss free," he cooed, and his eyes glowed with bright purple insistence, or worse.

They scowled, and the hands not shielding the liquor dropped beneath the tabletop and gripped the hafts of their respective hammers. Beyond them the air seemed to thicken, tint with the same purple and dim all the lanterns. Other tables and their patrons began to fade into the fog.

The first woman took one look, shot to her feet and brought her hammer up to guard, shouting, "Johana! Lazarus! Party time!"

Lazarus!

He stomped into view just ahead of the thickening wall of foggy darkness, halting as far away from Johana and the relic hammers as he dared, herding before him a wretch whose eyes and skin burned with purple heat. The second woman--Johana--thrust her hammer outwards while she still was seated, and a serving girl who hadn't been devoured by the fog ran full-tilt into the extended haft. When she lifted her head to suck in breath, her face was melting and distorting and reshaping itself into a mirror of the first woman's.

"Oh come on," shouted the original, bringing her hammer around to parry the one the 'serving girl' had formed out of the brilliant sparkling thickened air, "do not even try that one on me. I work for the Viktorias, and you," Taelor raised her voice even more over the racket of Lazarus chambering a grenade, "are interrupting," her ponytail swished through the air and attracted a blow which she then ducked under, "my food!"

The child saw a chance to ingratiate herself and ventured partway out from under the table. Taelor grabbed the ham sandwich the child offered up to her, and munched it in quick bites while her pneumatic arm whirled her hammer one-handed. The child watched and worried as three of her few precious sandwiches disappeared without so much as a thank-you. But she had taken enough sandwiches to keep her fed until she found Lazarus, and there he was, firing grenades which burst inside the magical fog and made it wail. That was a fair trade, wasn't it?


After the last of the creatures was beaten unconscious, the fog began to fade. Taelor rested the hammer's head on the violet-stained floor and inspected the child. Overalls, a grown-up's shirt with...oh, that was going to be a problem, hair shorn boyishly short on the back and sides but with a girlish puff in the front that...it was the fog, right? She hadn't actually gone and dyed the front part purple. Sort of a mini-Viktorias look without the jewelry, but--

"Hey. Turn your shirt inside-out, fast. Quick, before he notices." Taelor tugged at the Guild mechanic's crest on the front, half-hidden behind the overalls.

She wriggled out of it and back in again with a child's unselfconsciousness. "Oops," she said before she'd gotten her head properly unstuck, "I forgot."

"...You know about that?"

"Yeah." The child tugged and nodded at the same time, and popped free of the neckline. "I uhh I was looking for you! and I got told he was your bodyguard and don't be all you-know-what."

Taelor rolled her eyes and shifted her body to block the child's line of sight. "You're terrible at this. Try not staring at him and say that again and maybe I'll believe you."

Lazarus swiveled his head-mount and clicked away the yellow-tinted lens which he had worn while the fog still had distorted all colors. Instead a wide-angle lens snapped into place, to examine all the remaining possible threats in the bar. The child saw herself reflected on the outer edge of this new lens, distorted even smaller behind a looming oversized Taelor and shrunken Johana.

++I RECOGNIZE THIS ONE.++

The child gulped as Lazarus began to rumble. Her eyes fell on the other relic hammer. She gambled everything on a guess and blurted out, "...I'mhereonUnionbusiness!"

Lazarus' rising grenade launcher was parried by Johana's hammer. "Hold!" she barked. "I'm responsible her if she's Union."

++SHE IS OF THE GUILD. STAND ASIDE.++

Taelor grumbled and shifted to a two-handed grip on the hammer. Johana and Lazarus both watched it whirl and braced themselves for the blow, but both lost their footing nonetheless when it slammed into the ground, as did the child. As everyone picked themselves off the floor, Taelor announced, "Cool it, both of you. I heard you, one vote for, one against. What I say, any kid that hangs around in the middle of a fight and keeps me fed is worth keeping around, and any kid that is lying this much just to try and hang around is not one we want to just cut loose without figuring out why. That's two votes for, so she's staying for now. Gala and co. already got their 'stones, so we're heading out of here, before anyone else comes chasing after us."

"And our tab?"

"I'm not covering their tab," Taelor shouted over her shoulder, already halfway to the door.

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Meanwhile, in the Guild enclave, inside Hoffman's office, he tapped a pen against check-boxes and lines on a construct requisition form, then stopped at a blank space.

"...You haven't filled in 'Neverborn control' or 'gremlin control' as the reason for the request?"

Francisco Ortega stood opposite the desk, eyes bright with anger, but not more hostile to Hoffman than he was toward the world at large. "Doppelgangers." he growled. "Neverborn. Write whatever you want."

"I will," Hoffman replied, "but I may be able to help if I know what you actually need them for."

Briefly, Francisco looked more livid than before, but he controlled himself. "I came to town to relax with some good beer and a good girl who might go bad for the famous Francisco. You understand." Hoffman did. Francisco had insisted Hoffman had accompany him to that saloon some time ago, in a well-meaning brotherly gesture. It had not been cheap to get out of there without either getting dangerously drunk or forcibly invited into one of the bedrooms. "When I get there, I find out I just left two hours ago! Some--" even the constructs could have translated the tone of voice Francisco employed for the next half-minute before lapsing back into English, "--is stealing my name. Drinking on my tab. Enjoying my reputation with the girls!

"You--What do you know about it? I will find him and make him suffer."

"And constructs don't talk," Hoffman added.

Francisco's scowl lightened for a moment.

"Take defensive constructs, a guardian at the least." Hoffman ticked off boxes on the list. "They will keep you alive, and they will keep Ryle alive. They'll allow you more time to impress your disapproval upon whoever did this."

He even straightened his stance slightly, Francisco, instead of leaning in to make his point, and waited for the half-minute before Hoffman spoke again.

"While I was journeying to Malifaux, somewhere in the middle of America, someone found it laughable to sign my name to a very large unpaid hotel bill." He remembered being woken from an early night's sleep, flung over Ryle's shoulder and carried up the stairs at a run, protesting, Ryle explaining with schoolboy glee that he wouldn't ever be sought upstairs but angry hotel employees were looking for one 'C. Hoffman' who had dined well, drunk even better, and woo'd the hotel owner's daughter, no one else's name would have done as they were the only two in town with that accent, but don't scowl like that, it was only a lark, he did leave enough money with the daughter to cover all the bills and more for her trouble, telling him where and how exactly he had left it and ran...and picturing that had broken through his resistance and he had laughed himself hoarse, and Ryle laughed with him....

"A guardian. Ryle. And an allowance for stones, should you cross paths with the effigy. You are out to do justice and that seems to attract it...." Hoffman let that trail off, but Francisco accepted it regardless.


It wasn't the first time Ortegas had been troubled in this fashion, and so he took the constructs directly to those parts of the Bayou where they had been most plagued with impostors. They didn't respond readily to him, but Hoffman had tweaked their commands so that they kept loose formation. Ryle and the brutal effigy halted behind the cover of some rock outcroppings when Francisco did, and the guardian positioned itself with only its shield facing toward the other likely ambush point.

"Merde," muttered a low (in both senses of the word) voice from that point, when the guardian's sword clipped the rock and clanged.

As Francisco considered the situation, another, less low (in both senses) voice asked, "[What was that]?"

"<Don't worry yourself about it>," answered the first voice. This was too much entirely and Francisco shouted, "[Francois, you filthy green waste of good cigarettes! Malifaux City is too good for you]!"

"[You don't need to lose your cool over it]," came the slow sleepy reply of Mancha Roja, heaving himself to his feet and towering over the rocks shielding the other ambush point.

Francois lapsed back into English. "What's everyone saying? What's going on? You," he prodded a gremlin which squealed in protest, "go out there--"

Mancha Roja roared a challenge, braced himself against the rocks, and launched himself across the clearing, rocking the guardian backwards on its metallic feet from the impact.

"--before he--merde," Francois repeated. With one hard shove a gremlin in a nightie and a tall pointy hat popped out of hiding and raised, instead of a gun, a short length of phosphorescent wood.


Scant minutes later, Mancha Roja ceased to bounce between the nearby rock and Ryle's fist, and slid woozily to the ground, while Francisco pinned his imitator into the muck with the point of his sword. The others were still tussling, but neither of the gunslingers cared.

"[The girls couldn't have been this blind, to fawn over this filthy green--] When was the last time you were in Malifaux City?" demanded the Ortega.

"Months ago!" cried the LaCroix, after spitting out mud. "What's your problem? I haven't even been near the ranch in weeks!"

"Someone has," growled Francisco, and his wounded pride gave way to a moment of inspiration, "and he was wearing your clothes and using your name."

The lie acted on Francois with as much violence as the truth had on Francisco. "How dare he! Give me that sword, I'll kill him!" He actually reached out to wrench the sword out of Francisco's grip, until his hands closed on the edge and sliced into the skin of his fingers. "<How dare he despoil my good name! Son of a pig and another, uglier pig! By the blood which flows over this blade today, I vow that I will not rest until I find you and make you pay!>"

Francisco understood. He would have to look elsewhere for the human impostor. And he would have an ally for that hunt in the LaCroix who was himself an impostor. It was enough to bring a brief, sardonic grin to his face, but not enough for him to offer a hand to the gremlin who was struggling to regain his footing.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Taelor. Has anyone ever told you that you're a sexist pig?"

"No?..."

"Then let me be the first." Johana took a deep, exasperated breath. "I know it's girls' night out, metal company excepted, but it's ok to let at least one guy walk by and not tell the world whether you would, or would not, grab his ass. And in case you forgot, we've got a kid with us! Can you dampen it down for her sake at least?!"

The child, trotting along between the women, didn't notice. Her attention was all for Lazarus, whom Taelor had ordered to take point after Johana had remarked upon Lazarus toggling for close-range ordnance every time his lens pointed at the child.

"Oh, won't we please think of the children," Taelor groaned. She resettled the hammer's haft over both shoulders. "Why didn't I pick up Big Jake instead of you? Better price, better hat, and Malifaux's finest example of masculine mm-mm-mmm."

Johana mimed beating herself unconscious with her own hammer.

"Alright, alright...prude." Taelor huffed. "New topic."

Lazarus broke the silence he had maintained since Taelor had insisted the child accompany them. ++I SUGGEST THIS TOPIC: THOSE CREATURES WHO HAVE SET UP AN AMBUSH FURTHER AHEAD.++

Johana leaned out to the side to look past Lazarus, and Taelor did the same on her side.

"That's a good topic," said Johana. "But what are they all doing together?"

"Yeah. That one looks nephilim, but those others, no," Taelor thought aloud. "They don't mix."

The child darted forward to see, and peered from beside Lazarus' knee. "It's got ice cream!" But the distraction didn't last--she couldn't resist inspecting the construct instead, until it clanked forward to find optimal firing range.


Girls' night out was weird. Hoffman liked quiet, and Ryle never spoke (could he speak?), and the mechanics' chatter was either technical or sly enough that the child didn't understand what they were talking about. Taelor and Johana talked a lot! They even shouted advice at each other when they were hammering on icky flying undead heads with dragging innards. Mostly "watch out, it's splashing!" She ducked behind the weird doubled hinge of Lazarus' leg. It was good and solid to stop splashes but it wasn't very finely designed otherwise. It was a mystery.

The child forgot the battle for a moment and reached out to the backs of Lazarus' knees, where the invisible hinges' linkages protruded.

++GUILD CHILD.++

She didn't stop prodding at the hinges. "I am not. And you're not gonna drop blasts all the way from back there to up here."

He dropped a grenade into the knot of undead and relic hammers before responding.

++I WILL RECALIBRATE. STOP HANDLING ME.++

"I'm not with the Guild," she protested. "I'm just mercenary. Like Taelor. I'm--" The bayonet's edge scythed past her right side as Lazarus loosened his elbow hinge and let gravity make a pendulum of his lower arm. She froze. It swung forward again, back, forward, chilling her exposed arm and fraying the cuff of her overalls.

"What do you mean, 'like this one, but male'?" Johana shouted into Hayreddin's face, punctuating her commas and pauses for breath with hammer blows.

Lazarus settled back on his metallic haunches, shutting the hinges of his knees. The child, however, had kept her fingers tucked behind the protective flange shielding the side of the knee joint, and though her knuckles were scraped by the bayonet they were not crushed within the hinge. "Taelor's gonna be mad if you squish my fingers," she said.

Taelor's voice also rose out of the melee. "Ugh! More doppelgangers! They were waiting for doppelgangers of us? How many mimics can there be in this city?"

++TAELOR'S OPINIONS DO NOT WORRY ME, GUILD CHILD.++

"Please call me something else?" she sighed.

Johana dove for cover behind Lazarus two steps ahead of something juicy Archie had flung, did half a roll into his other leg, and lay there panting. "How...about...construct princess," she remarked, after getting her wind back. "Ugh. Tired. And famished. Got any more sandwiches?"

"The least you can do," Taelor barked at Hayreddin, "is tell us who you were expecting if Lazarus was such a surprise! And don't think we won't keep on hitting you until you tell us! We'll take turns!"

The child handed Johana one of the last ham sandwiches.

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Francisco led the constructs onto higher ground which bordered the Bayou, where stone ruins hadn't toppled over but only slumped at impossible angles under the weight of centuries of unchecked plant growth. The constructs plowed through it with indifference; he hacked a doorway into a wall of trailing creepers and muttered under his breath about what he'd do to that impostor when he had returned to the city--

'When' is the only question, isn't it.

"Who's there?" Francisco didn't need to go on his guard. He was on guard, always.

No. The question is 'when am I there', and the answer is 'always'.

The sixth sense which had shaped the Ortegas into veteran Neverborn hunters warned him to look up and away. He could see nothing abnormal, but knew in his bones that the speaker crouched atop a certain stone pillar, regrettably out of pistol range.

Very good. The next question becomes, when is there nothing to fear?

Francisco raised his unoccupied hand and halted the constructs out of pistol range as well. "I will tell you that when they get close enough to be shot!" he shouted.

Ah. This is not when you have first met them.

The atmosphere condensed atop the pillar, and at three points of a triangle around its base. Only Aionus phased fully into visibility. He waited, patient as an austringer's raptor, while the nearest point advanced on the Guild patrol. Francisco marked its progress with his pistol, and so it was Ryle whose bullets disappeared into the disturbance first.


It must have looked strange to an outside observer, to see blades dart into nothingness and reappear dripping with unreality. Void wretches. They posed no danger to an Ortega. Francisco could sense the disturbances charge them one by one, and guide the constructs' blows; one by one they winked out as they were too many times disrupted by weaponry. The last, largest beast learned from the others, and was able to meddle with the functions of the constructs, but it too evaporated after Francisco sliced through the point it was occupying.

Francisco spat at the base of the pillar Aionus occupied. "You don't have what it takes to even try to pretend to be me. That's the one I am hunting. I let you go."

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Johana wiped her mouth on her sleeve. "So, what'd he tell you?"

"Two relic hammers, a little girl, and some guy who doesn't fight with sword or gun, that part wasn't clear." Taelor, stick in hand, hovered over a crude map scratched into the dust. "Three out of four matched, so they sprang the trap on us--"

"Worse luck for them," Johana laughed, and Taelor snickered too.

"So I thumped him one more time for calling you a dude--" Johana nodded thanks to Taelor, "--and got out of there before he got his wits back together."

++SO THERE WILL SOON BE A GROUP HERE WHICH WAS WORTH AMBUSHING. WHAT DO YOU SAY, SHOULD WE FIND OUT WHY?++

The hammer-wielders' faces lit up with avaricious grins.


They peered out from the ambush point one by one, then dropped back behind cover to confer.

"Oh, are you kidding me," whispered Taelor.

"Mimics," spat Johana.

The child in front of the second group lifted her katana, and the other hammer-wielders halted while she scanned the area. Behind them was not a copy of Lazarus, but a man whose forearms were wreathed in chains.

Lazarus reached for Taelor's ponytail and pressed her ear against his frame (and the child copied her, leaning into his other side), then gave his voicebox not even enough power to be audible. Vibrations traveled through his chassis and directly into their skulls. ++I CANNOT LOOK WITHOUT BEING SEEN. HOLD THEM IN PLACE SO THAT I MAY FIND THEIR RANGE.++

"He said he needs them held in place. No knockback." Johana nodded her understanding. "I'd rather charge, though. Hey. Kid," Taelor prodded the child, "good news, you're promoted to 'distraction'..." Taelor's accent shifted to the tonals of the Viktorias' outpost and she twitched her head to point her face at the battle to come, "sabo minah, I hammer."

"...What?"

But the child had already swung past puzzled Johana, hopped over the barricade and shrieked a challenge at the student in the same pidgin.


The children scampered over charred circles on the ground, trading swipes with katana and knives and insults--Lazarus had found his range on the first shot, while they had shouted at one another--but three relic hammers lay scattered on the ground, those who had carried them having been beaten unconscious.

And with a roar from the man without one, the final hammer dropped as well, and Johana alongside it, the side of her head studded with bloody dents from the chain-links. He raised his fists and clashed them together overhead, clanging the chains, spattering Taelor's and Johana's blood--

The child spun away from the student's parry, jack-knives upraised for the strike at the student's head, and instead sank them both just above Bishop's belt. She screamed up at him, still using the pidgin of the sisters; he howled down at her in the pit-fighters' cant.

Before his arms could begin the downward two-handed bash, she withdrew the knives and jabbed them both into his viscera again. His fists stopped, wavered, then dropped atop his head as his knees gave way. The knives slid up and out of his falling bulk and she clashed them in mockery, and it was his own blood which created the second victory circle.

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A hound yelped and something thudded against the dirt as though kicked. Francisco frowned. They were close to the city, then. Frontier dogs were too valuable to kick and too dangerous to be put down at close range when Malifaux maddened them.

"You missed." Sidir's voice, amused, rose from the far side of a hillock.

"I did not miss."

Sidir's reply was drowned out, first by Francisco's shout of incoherent rage, and then by Francisco's answering challenge!

They raced to claim the hilltop, drawing their pistols and firing as soon as the bullets could reach. Sidir stretched out a lazy arm and deflected one bullet with his blade; the other punched through Francisco's hat and glanced off of Ryle's breathing apparatus. Two of McCabe's hounds raced ahead of Sidir, whimpering as Ryle swept his gunfire across the hilltop and hit them both. The instant the gatling fire stopped, the brutal effigy advanced into the no-man's-land and, instead of shooting, flicked each hound very hard on the nose, checking their charges. Then the shooting resumed from both sides, and hounds and effigy all collapsed with their skulls blown open.

Neither Francisco took much note of any of that.

"You! I will kill you."

"For daring to pretend you are me."

Ryle let his gun-arm drop and lumbered forward, gathering speed, with his Francisco half a pace behind. Sidir put a foot into the back of his Francisco and kicked him aside, at the same time sweeping his blade around and into the palm of the hydraulic hand before it could shut into a fist. Sidir kicked in the wrong direction to sweep him to safety, though, and the dueling swords clashed and locked together at the cross-guards as the Franciscos collided.

"Doppelganger!"

"Mimic!"

"[Monster!]"

"[Disgrace!]"

The blades flicked in and out, the point of contact dipped and rose.

"[Atrocity!]"

"[Neverborn!]"

Ryle's Francisco overpowered Sidir's by sheer force of hate. The blocking sword was forced downward, the attacking sword slithering away from the cross-guard with a serpentine, metallic hiss until the Francisco on the defensive overextended his arm. Then the attacking sword changed its note as Ryle's Francisco stabbed into the gap, just above the lace at the doppelganger's throat. The point burst out the back of his neck and unseated the hat; it teetered, but stayed on his head. All the same, the coat underneath the brim began to show a spreading stain.

"[It will take...more than that...to kill me...]"

"[I will make sure I will be the one to give it to you.]"

He wrenched the sword free and raised it for another strike.

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Taelor looted with efficiency. Johana stopped her from going through Johan's pockets, arguing that the M&SU didn't need to steal from itself when their employers were already too glad to do it for them, but the scrip and 'stones she liberated from Bishop and the false Taelor reconciled her to that slight loss. The student of conflict, after the deception had been revealed, flattened herself in apology to the true Taelor before darting off to alert the sisters' encampment about the increase in mimics.

Lazarus ran a wad of rags through his launching tubes, in between tubes swishing the rags in a bucket kept hot over his boiler. The cleaning rod froze in place, however, when he brought it back to his grenade arm and found the child there, standing atop the elbow-joint and running a sharpening stone along the bayonet.

++GUILD CHILD! THAT IS RUDE!++

She didn't flinch. "It's maintenance. I know how to help!"

++DO NOT STAND ON ME! DO YOU PUT YOUR HANDS ON OTHER PEOPLE? NO!++ He dropped his arm as he had before, without warning. She grabbed on with both arms, squealing as he flipped her upside-down and swatted at her with the cleaning rod.

"What the--" Johana hopped to her feet. "Lazarus, stop bashing her head in. You, kid, hands off Lazarus immediately! You heard him." She pried them apart with the help of her hammer.

Taelor looked up from the body of her doppelganger. "Ok, this isn't funny any more. I didn't know she was..." she swatted her hand around in the air looking for words, "...bleh, wish I could teach you the code, it's got a perfect word for this. Obsessive, you know? Lazarus, look at her, she isn't on some Guild mission, she's just...obsessive like a Resser for body parts."

He focused his lens on the child, then pointedly swiveled his head away and resumed cleaning his grenade launcher. Taelor went on, addressing the child, "Grabby hands have to go, though. You blew it. Give me some more sandwiches and we might bother finding you a different construct first, but you are not staying here."

The child opened up the miniature coffin. Taelor and she looked at the lack of sandwiches inside.

"And that's that. Bye. Shoo. Go away." She prodded the child with the end of the hammer's shaft, then turned, with Johana falling into step behind her.

The finality of it was jarred when Taelor froze mid-step, halfway around a corner, and dropped into a fighting stance. "Uh, Lazarus," she called back over Johana also preparing to fight, "I hate to say it but you were right...she's got backup..."

Down the alleyway came echoes, of low-pitched grumbling and the wailing of a mechanism in need of oil. The child's face drained of color. She forgot Lazarus, forgot the coffin, forgot everything but sprinting after the hammer-wielders, shrieking, "No! Stop! Don't fight, that's Ryle!"

Lazarus pointed his grenade launcher at the sky and tracked the sound of the child as those higher-pitched noises intersected with the lower-pitched ones. And fired.

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[After the last round of the Henchman Hardcore tournament--sadly, Lazarus and two relic hammers made short work of my three-quarters construct crew--I retrieved my Malifaux Child from the Outcast player. Later that month, we faced off with standard 50ss crews. First activation of the game...]

Lazarus settled his long-range lens into place and watched the child drop from all the way across the plain, the shotgun hole sprouting in her forehead before the guardian could react.

"Why didn't you tell me you hired Hans?" asked Viktoria.

"I didn't," answered Viktoria. "I thought you had."

Lazarus had no way to smile, but he could disengage and spin his lens just so, have it briefly catch the sunlight, and telegraph his satisfaction.

[End Chasing Lazarus.]

[Interlude: Magpie, Storied Soundtracks contest March 2017]

[Series 5 of the battle narratives: The Children's Crusade]

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