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The Lessons of Death


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The lab was drafty. It was a kink that Ramos hadn't gotten around to working out yet, among other things. he felt that true artificial lighting was a step in the right direction, and the arc lamps' glow made it easy for him to work well into the night.

Ramos wondered if, when God said "let there be light" the world grumbled about overtime benefits and the cold.

Ordinarily Ramos found the lab bracing and he was usually moving around enough to keep himself warm anyway.

Tonight he shivered, but cold had nothing to do with it.

"And you're positive, absolutely sure you know the location of the transfer?"

The bent old man answered in a harsh croak.

"Seven hundred corpses. Guild. Settlers. Miners. The ressurrectionists have a mole in the guild, I'm sure of it. I've spoken with him. I read the messages myself. Vultures. Such a predictable way of relaying information, honestly I don't know how they've survived thusfar."

ramos bit his lip, and avoided the girl's eyes. That creepy girl that always traveled with Leveticus was there, of course. She had a name, he was sure, but her eyes... They kept him from looking at her face, placing it with a name in his memory, they just broke down all thought with their... Emptiness. Keeping his gaze studiously from her unblinking gaze, he focused on the frail old man. He studied the rusty but admittedly genius mechanical augmentations he'd made to his body. The braced gimp leg. The huge brass pacemaker jutting from his back. The sleek steel hand. His own prosthetic appendage creaked in sympathy. His was larger, designed for heavy lifting, gripping tongs and tools.

"A raid like this would be a huge victory for the Union, Mr Leveticus, I assure you I will dispatch my most highly skilled operatives to apprehend these notorious-"

"you will come. And I will accompany you. No one else."

the old man's gaze was suddenly baleful, watery eyes narrowed to red rimmed slits. Leveticus seemed larger then, perhaps it was merely the shadow cast by the arc lamp but something made Ramos shiver. A nonchalant tap on the still metallic behemoth behind him caused the steamborg to flicker silently to life, awaiting his command.

The girl -Alyce! That was her name- slid her hand down to touch the very edge of her long pistol. Her eyes remained locked on Ramos' face.

"Very well. I will meet you tomorrow, at the agreed location and time. But don't think I won't come fully armed."

Leveticus shrugged.

"This is well, as armed you should probably be, considering we are to face two of the most dangerous men in Malifaux."

Leveticus turned and left, leaning heavily on his cane. Alyce lingered a moment, eyes fixed on a point just below Ramos' nose.

He could have sworn he saw a quick, malicious smile cross her stony lips, but before he could pin it down she too was gone.

He clapped once, and the room sprang to mechanized life around him.


Ramos arrived at the meeting place mounted on the massive metal creature that was the steamborg. A machine with an almost human torso, spiderlike legs and steel claws, it was a huge asset for when the Union required force in mass quantities. Scuttling along beneath it's feet were some of Ramos' pets, small mechanical spiders that moved with fluid, machine grace.

Leveticus stood alone. Alyce was atop a nearby roof, keeping silent stealthy watch over the tiny deserted square of the failed boomtown, although nothing seemed to have happened yet.

Leveticus eyed the small mechanical army with approval.

"It is good that you brought them. The ressurrectionists will undoubtedly have brought a few pets of their own."

He smiled humorlessly.

"You do not enjoy such sport, as I recall, Ramos. Preferring to sit back and let your precious Union do the work, hmm? Hiding in your lab, making these little.."

He gestured to the scuttling Arachnids.

"things? Feh. They're incomplete."

Ramos didn't decide to press the issue. the spiders were, after all, constantly being redesigned and improved. It was possible yhat there was some detail he'd overlooked.

Alyce hissed for silence. Ramos held out his open hand, and all the scuttering and creaking from the mechanical creations ceased.

A man was entering the square, followed by a hunchbacked minion, who was carrying a long harpoon for some reason.

He was wearing white, a lab coat, with large rubber gloves. He grinned manically at the sky and muttered a few inaudible commands to his henchman, who nodded dumbly.

"Sitting ducks." whispered Ramos, satisfied with their advantage.

Another man arrived, this one wearing black, despite the midday sun and dust. He used a cane as well, but leaning less heavily than Leveticus. He was followed by a furtive man in Guild uniform, lieutenant's pips on his shoulders.

The white coated man gestured to the harpoon his assistant was now toting.

"And why exactly was this necessary? Generally a shovel is the implement needed to recover stock."

Ramos noted the choice of words. He sees those bodies as nothing more than tools, he thought. Materials, like my steel.

"w-what? You thought I was going to bury all those corpses myself? I hid them in the only place big enough to hold them in this ghost town."

Nicodem strode up to the well.

"Of course, I understand. Good thinking. If you would, my good man?"

He held a hand out to the squat man with the harpoon. He looked questioningly at his master, who molded dismissively. He handed the heavy looking harpoon, who took it with a surprising amount of ease for a man his age. He thrust it down into the well, and hauling on the attached rope, drew in a naked body.

"Splendid. But..."

He peered down into the well.

"I regret to complain, good sir, because clearly this is a windfall for us, but it seems we've been shortchanged. It's clear you've supplied us one short the agreed amount."

The Lieutenant opened his mouth to protest, and was interrupted by the harpoon thrust clean through his torso. He fell back into the dust, hands wrapped gently around the shaft, his eyes cold and fearful.

"This is the trouble with these illicit types, Douglas. Not a single one with any standards."

"Really. The nerve of it all." the lab coated man, Douglas, was sharpening two long, wicked looking surgical knives. He walked over to the dying Lieutenant to begin his grizzly work while the older man bent over the corpse, green light flooding from the palm of his open hand.

Ramos watched the coolness of the whole operation with numb fascination. The utter inhumanity of it... Incredible. The two men would take it in turns to reanimate corpses drawn from the well, Douglas chopping them to bits and sewing them onto large beasts of flesh, and the other man simply performing dark magic to cause them to stand up and shamble over to an expanding queue of dead. Ramos glanced over at Leveticus. He nodded. If they waited any longer the advantage would no longer be theirs.

Ramos stepped out from cover, surrounded by his mechanical creations.

"Nicodem." Douglas said "We have company."

A vulture landed on Nicodem's wrist, and seemed to whisper in his ear.

"Yes. I've known. I was hoping you'd wait like this, we've had plenty of time to make this a sporting contest." he pointed at Ramos. The moaning band of zombies shambled towards them, and Ramos shouted "Attack!"

The swarms of spiders scuttled towards. The advancing creatures, metallic rasps of sawblades filling the air. Ramos hung back behind the steamborg, electric energy crackling at his fingertips. A zombie approached him from the left, a not too unattractive young woman with black hair and- no. It was a body. Dead already.

He clamped his hand around it's head and felt the energy surge through it's frame, wiping it clean of the foul magic that held it thrall. It slumped, dead once again.

The dust made it impossible to see. Ramos almost accidentally attacked Leveticus as he hobbled out of the gloom.

"Content with letting your pets play with theirs, Viktor? You forget who the prize is here, get after the two men!"

Ramos looked out into the fray.

"that would be suicide!"

Leveticus sighed, bending over the body of the young woman.

"Its not so bad when you get used to it. Come here, my lovely..."

He caressed the face of the woman, and a kind of greasy wave washed over Ramos, making his skin crawl. The body jerked, and the woman arose, wandering aimlessly around, mumbling incoherently.

"Sometimes you need to fight fire with fire, Viktor. I've learned that over the lifetimes. Learn death's lessons and she'll reward you handsomely. Now keep our friend comfortable will you?"

He walked off into the vicious melée, an old man amidst a deadly battle facing two known serial killers.

Ramos was about to follow when a massive shape emerged from the dust. A huge, hulking, missahpen mockery of the human form lurched towards him, grinning madly. The steamborg leapt into action, it's huge claws tearing off the creatures bottom jaw and leaving rents in it's chest and arm. It raised the remaining arm, completely ignoring the damage done to it, and ran a huge hook along the steamborg's exposed inner arm, cutting through wires and vital circuits. The two grappled as Ramos dispatched two more shambling assailants.

The flesh monster struck two more times, fairly superficially, at the steamborg, but before the machine could mount a counterattack with it's functional claw, a single shot rang out. The creatures head exploded like a smashed watermelon, and though it tried once more to swing it's vicious arm, a flick of the steamborg's claw chopped it clean in half, dispatching it.

Alyce was suddenly beside him.

"Boom. Headshot." she said, seemingly more as a general statement than any kind of conversational attempt. She calmly walked off into the dust, more gunshots marking her path to the center of the melée.

"Hideous monstrosities! Mockeries of my life's work!" a mad shriek emitted from nearby, and the white coated man stubled from the stinging cloud, pursued by a twisted, monstrous thing. It walked, or hobbled rather, with a single mechanical leg, and dragged itself along the ground when it stubled.it had steel jutting from it in odd locations, and it's hungry eyes were fixed on Douglas. He seemed more enraged than frightened, however.

"Ugly! Ugly! It is a travesty of the art! This cannot continue!" he flung a long, surgical knife, which struck the creature's chest. He then sprinted up to it, removed the knife, and began hacking into it, punctuating each word with a vicious, methodical knife stroke.

"It. Must. Be. Worked. On. From. Scratch!"

Ramos was confused. If the mad doctor didn't create these things... It must have been the other man. He recognized *his pale face from wanted posters at the Governor's mansion. They were usually beside the posters advertising for people under his less public employment. Nicodem, The Undertaker.

That meant there must be quarrels between them. Infighting. Infighting was good. Ramos smiled, and a crackling ball of energy formed at his fingertips. Before he could strike, though, cold arms gripped his, and he was forced to break his concentration to block an undead maw with his steel hand. It bit down futilely, and a single shocking touch from Ramos sealed its true death. Leveticus hobbled out of the gloom, looking more old and spent than ever.

McMourning looked up from his incomplete creation, hands and apron splattered with old blood.

"You." he spat, voice full of mad hate, "You created these travesties. These beautiful pieces are not tools for you, they are a canvas meant only for a true artist! I will not stand for this!" he rushed at Leveticus, a wicked bonesaw raised.

"Die." it was Leveticus' only reply. A statement. A command. Mcmourning's flesh rippled, and streaks of gray shot through his hair. He stumbled, and fled into the thick, choking dust. Leveticus smiled in satisfaction, and crumpled to the earth.

Ramos rushed over, checked for pulse, for breathing. Nothing. The old man had died.

"I regret that the time has come for me to depart."

Nicodem was there, surrounded by a small mob of undead.

"This day has been a profit for both of us. I have gained in numbers. And you have heroically chased off two- or perhaps three- exceedingly dangerous individuals. Bravo, Viktor."

"You will not escape." ramos clicked his fingers, and his mechanical spiders rallied around him. He noticed there were fewer than before, and that repairs would be needed for many.

Nicodem sighed.

"It would be unfortunate if, to avoid the hangman's noose, I was forced to cooperate with the hated Guild. Perhaps I could divulge the method of hiding of so many Arcanist fugitives to Mistress Criid. That would certainly soften my sentence. I have little proof, but nowadays, what proof is really necessary?"

Ramos was startled. How had this man known? This was no idle bluff, and Ramos was unsure if he could easily overcome Nicodem's forces.

"Get out."

"I was sure we could handle this like gentlemen. Good day."

A vulture flew down from above, and perched obediently on Nicodem's arm. Ramos was certain he saw it whisper in the gaunt man's ear, though he made no outward sign of comprehension. He just left, followed by his shambling attendants.

Ramos was left alone with his spiders. He set about repairing them as the dust began to settle. Just as he was finishing reattaching an iron plate, he got the feeling he was being watched.

They were surrounded. The hideous meldings of metal and flesh were all around him and his spiders. It seemed like all the bodies in the well had been reanimated and twisted, but by whom?

"Hero of the hour, Ramos."

Against all reason, Leveticus stood before him, as bent and grayed as ever.*

"Sadly, I can't have word of my experimentations reaching guild ears, so your finest hour here may have to be your last."

"You bastard. I'll kill you for this. This is a monstrosity!"

"You probably will." Leveticus sighed.

Ramos looked around wildly for an escape. Leveticus' creations had them fully surrounded, but perhaps he had enough spiders for one push.. He scanned the lines for a weak point, something Leveticus would never suspect...

Ramos leapt on top of two of the steam powered spiders, and screamed "Fooooorwaaaard!!"

They surged forward into Leveticus' lines, straight at him. The creatures closed in on all sides, but their slicing limbs ran through those ahead of him. Ramos came face to face with Leveticus. The old man reached one hand out, menace in his face.

He gripped Ramos' hand, and he could feel the black, greasy magic flow from him.

Ramos' mechanical hand rusted and crumbled. The tattered remains of the prosthetic hung uselessly, but he was alive. Utterly ruthless, Ramos fired every ounce of electrical power straight into the pacemaker jutting from the old man's chest.

He saw a smile spread across Leveticus's face as he fell, and then they were away, Ramos' beautiful creations carrying him to safety, leaving the fumbling abominations behind.

Ramos looked back at the town, not knowing exactly why or how all this had happened, but knowing for sure that he had somehow not truly killed Leveticus that day.

Edited by shekbo
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This story was written after a few friends and I decided to "role-play" a game of malifaux. It was a brawl between Leveticus and Ramos and McMourning and Nicodem. Early on, McMourning's army was defeated and he was badly hurt by an unnatural wasting spell, so he decided what his character would do was retreat. The Nicodem player, having amassed a sizeable horde of mindless zombies during the course of the battle, also withdrew, thinking of it as a successful battle.

Since we were playing treasure hunt/slaughter, the Leveticus player decided that Leveticus would also want any treasure that Ressurectionists were fighting for, and betrayed Ramos. Ramos narrowly escaped a death touch and killed Leveticus, withdrawing before he could come back to life and kill him.

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