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Confessions of an Aspiring Resurrectionist - part 1


hakoMike
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Part 1: After-hours Endeavors

This chapter has been included on The Aethervox episode 5.

“There are only two rules to survival in Malifaux. Remember them and you’ll be fine.”

Those were the last words spoken by Dietrich Dassault.

It happened on a crisp Spring Tuesday. The ground was finally thawing to the point where Dassault could start burying the build-up of bodies that had been held in the mausoleum over the winter. The miners may have their fancy digging machines, but at Shady Rest Cemetery and Crematorium they still dug holes with good old fashioned shovels. Of course it was never Dietrich doing the actual digging. That was work for the younger, stronger employees. Dietrich’s participation typically involved leaning on whatever was handy nearby, dispensing unsolicited life advice and correcting the younger employee on all the things he was doing wrong.

“Those sides need to be straighter. Run the shovel edge over ‘em so they look better, Pete. We can’t have the coffin catching on the sides and getting all hung up when we lower it down.” Pete looked up and wiped a profuse amount of sweat from his brow to his sleeve. He thought the sides looked just fine but he wasn’t about to argue with the old man. Shady Rest had a notoriously high employee turnover rate, and work was hard enough to find for someone of Peter Green’s unique lack of qualifications.

“Gotcha, boss,” he replied, and worked at pretending to carve some more dirt off the sides of the grave. It was getting about deep enough now, and Pete was looking forward to climbing out as soon as he could. Despite his current vocation, something about being at the bottom of a grave made his knees a little wobbly. Down in the hole, the sweat accumulating on his back was starting to send a chill through him. “How’s that now?”

“I suppose that’s good enough,” Dietrich sighed. Pete wasted no time in clambering up the small ladder in the grave with him. He pulled the ladder up by means of a rope tied to one of the rungs. He had devised the pull-rope after the first time he had lost his balance trying to extract the ladder from the grave and nearly fallen in. He wasn’t taking any more chances like that. The old man gave his traditional eye-roll at the ladder-on-a-rope trick. “You have a keen mind, for someone so ignorant,” he grunted at Pete. “Too bad you use it on nonsense like that rope idea instead of doing something worthwhile.”

“I don’t think keeping my neck unbroken is nonsense,” Pete retorted glumly.

“Pete, my boy, this world is all new to us. New and incredibly old, and just waiting for the likes of someone like me, or even you I suppose, to unlock it. It’s like those Egyptian Pharaohs. There are rooms full of gold here under the sand and people just walk over them every day without knowing. Heh, most people wouldn’t even know if they found one. How long you been working for me, son?”

“Just over a year now,” Pete replied. Pete was currently the longest running employee of the Shady Rest Cemetery in the past decade outside of old Dietrich Dassault. The average time of employment was just over four months. Pete had the additional distinction of now being Dietrich’s only other employee, meaning he would be digging every last grave until another warm body was found who could use a shovel and put up with Dietrich. “What was that about gold again?” Pete asked.

“A year already?” Dietrich mused. “And now it’s just you and me. Well I suppose we need to go back and stoke up the furnace. We got one to burn waiting for us.” Pete loaded the tools up on a small cart and they proceeded to walk back toward the building that housed the simple office and crematorium. “You know I never had any family,” the old man started, sounding terribly melancholy.

“Is that right?” Pete asked, knowing full well that Dietrich was now going to launch into his unabridged life story that summarizes all the ways he had been the most indispensable person at any given place he’d been and how nobody else has really appreciated his innate wisdom. ‘I think working for the Guild robs a man of what he could have been sometimes.”

Pete looked up puzzled. This was a serious deviation from the normal script, and Dietrich looked earnest. “How do you mean?”

“We bury the prisoners and the indigents and the unwanted here, and the Guild pays us fair enough for that sort of work but it gets you in a rut. You see these ended lives go by you over and over and you just can’t help wonder what sorts of things they all did before they died and what you’ve missed doing while you’re still alive.” Pete was getting decidedly uncomfortable now, and his mind raced for a way to change the subject to something less maudlin. Putting up with Dietrich’s speeches about trivial past glories was one thing, but this was awkwardly heartfelt. Before Pete could say anything to divert the conversation, Dietrich stopped and looked him in the face. “Do you want to see something amazing, Pete?”

As they stood just outside the door to the office, Pete had no idea how to respond. The old man had been giving him advice and telling him what a waste he was for almost the entire year he had worked there, but never had he acted so mysterious nor seemed so candid. “Sure?”

“Come inside,” Dietrich commanded. They walked into the office and toward the crematorium entrance. The office itself was a wonder of balance. The walls were covered in shelves, and papers and files and boxes and trinkets sat in every possible orientation on every inch of exposed surface. Despite the chaos, Dassault claimed to know exactly where every last item could be found, an assertion for which Pete had witnessed evidence to the contrary multiple times. By the door to the crematorium Dietrich grabbed a small dark wooden box with a handle on top. It looked like a small toolbox to Pete except that it definitely had a high quality lacquer over the wood, more decorative than could survive life as a toolbox. They walked back to the crematorium.

“Sometimes I get called out to clean up some hermit or oldster’s corpse,” Dietrich explained. Pete knew this all too well because he often was the person doing the actual heavy lifting in those cases. “I will admit that from time to time I have scavenged a curio or two from the departed, but only in cases where they had no family.”

“Of course,” Pete mollified. He wondered how Dietrich could know who had family or not, but decided to hold his tongue for now.

“I got this about six month ago, just after the new year in fact. Remember that hut in the woods?” Pete remembered well. The snow had been deep leading to the little hut. At the time Pete had wondered how anyone had even noticed the occupant had expired given that there were no other dwellings around. They had received a Guild communique directing where to go to pick up the corpse, cremate it, and report back when complete. Pete remembered the contorted, frozen body of the small man, and the difficulty getting him through the hut’s tiny door in that state.

“You took this from him?” Pete asked. Dead or not, people had some right to their possessions, didn’t they? It didn’t seem right.

Dietrich waved off his concern. “Well it’s not like he was going to need it anymore, is it? It’s a nice box to be sure, and that’s what originally got my attention, but it’s the contents that really got my mind going. He opened the box and took out a handful of strange, flat metal shapes, about two dozen and each roughly the size of a playing card. Some were simple squares and triangles, some far more complex. All were tinted slight colors, but never far off plain gray steel. Dietrich produced a stack of papers from the box as well. “At first I thought they were toys or something, but after reading a little of his crazy scribbling I think I understand it more. This is what that fellow was doing way out by himself. This is... well, I can’t think of anything better to call it than magic. These things are magic.”

“They don’t look magic. They looks like toys to me too.”

Dietrich gave an eye-roll to Pete. “Just watch, Petey.” He flipped through the papers until he had the one he was looking for, then selected two specific pieces from the pile. Examining the paper again and carefully aligning the metal pieces, he brought their edges together at about a 30 degree angle, and they stuck to each other. At the moment they touched Pete felt a pop in the air. Not a sound, just a shock down the back of his neck. Dietrich noticed the sudden alarm in Pete’s face. “Ah, you felt that didn’t you? There’s more.” He proceeded to attach two more pieces, each adhering to the last as if they were made from the same piece of material. When he was done Dietrich held up the odd assembly with pride.

“This is called a focusing shape,” he declared with smug authority. “It helps me hone my arcane ability.”

At this point Pete knew the old man was pulling a joke on him. “Boss you don’t have any arcane anything. It’s not All Fools Day so I don’t know why you’re trying to make me believe this bunk.”

“Boy, you can be so thick. You felt the magic when I put the shapes together. You know I’m telling the truth. Now just stand back and let me show you something amazing, just like I said.”

Pete stepped back obediently and watched as Dietrich walked over to the body waiting to be cremated. He held the metal shape close to his chest with his left hand, and extended his right hand over the corpses forehead, fingers splayed. He closed his eyes, furrowed his brow and started to whisper to himself. Now it was Pete’s turn to roll his eyes.

“Boss, what are you doing?” Pete asked, his voice heavy with exasperation.

“Shush boy and just watch the body!” Dietrich hissed. Pete stood quietly and watched, still not sure if this was part of a joke to make him look the fool. If it was, it was succeeding in making his boss look twice as foolish. The old man was now sweating profusely. Pete wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be looking for, and so was twice as surprised when the corpse’s little finger curved up off the table, in the same sort of way that he’d seen fancy people drink from tea cups.

“Okay, that’s odd for sure,” Pete said. Dietrich dropped his concentration and the corpse’s finger dropped back to the table. “Was that you lifting his finger like that?”

“Pete, that was the corpse doing the lifting. I was just giving him the life to do it. Life to a corpse! Don’t you see what this is?”

“I really don’t see what good bodies lifting fingers is for us.”

“Ah! Boy you will drive me to my grave. This is resurrectionist magic! Lifting fingers is only the start. Soon I’ll be bringing people back to life to do whatever I want them to do.”

“What would you want dead people to do for you?” Pete asked, puzzled.

“You are not seeing the potential here! Imagine bringing the greatest minds of the past back to life and charging people to talk to them. Imagine never needing to pay a worker to slave away in your filthy mine. I’ll be rich!”

“You be hanged if the Guild hears about this,” Pete said in a low voice. “They don’t take kindly to this sort of thing so you’d better just put it all away and we both forget you found it.”

Dietrich was starting to look a bit pale, and Pete noticed that he was steadying himself on the edge of the table holding the body. “Pete, I think I need to sit down for a minute. Between the exertion of reanimating that corpse and taking in your foolishness I’m quite piqued.” He stepped over to a wooden chair in the corner and sat down.

“You okay boss?”

“Yes, I just need a minute to regain my strength. Those things help you focus but doing that always leaves me a little drained.”

“So you’ve been doing that a lot then?”

“No, every now and then for the last couple weeks. It was only recently that I finally read the papers enough to understand what those things are for and how they are used.”

“Well I still don’t think it’s healthy, and you sure look rough Boss. Your eyes are all bloodshot now too and they weren’t before.”

Dietrich rolled his now quite red eyes at Pete. “You sound like an old woman. This is the biggest thing you’ve ever seen in your life and all you can talk about is how it makes me a little tired. Once I learn to control it better I’m sure this won’t even happen.”

“I don’t know about this. It’s un-natural and you look terrible for it. You really should put those things away and forget them. Throw them in a lake or something,” Pete warned.

Dietrich sighed and looked up at Pete from his slouched position in the chair. With a weary voice, as if having to explain something obvious for the tenth time, he said, “People live here and people die here, and after being here for these years and watching it all I can tell you this. There are only two rules to survival in Malifaux. Remember them and you’ll be fine.”

“What are they, Boss?” Pete asked expectantly.

Dietrich said nothing.

“Boss?” Pete repeated. Dietrich’s eyes were fixed on some distant point. Pete moved around to the side so he could try and see what the old man was looking at. It became rapidly clear that he wasn’t looking at anything anymore. Dietrich was dead. Suddenly, inexplicably dead. Pete took a shocked step backward from his former boss.

“Aw, what am I going to do now?” he asked the room. Neither corpse answered.

Continued in Part 2.

Edited by hakoMike
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Interesting start. The metal objects are a cool idea, and the dialogue is very well done. Looking forward to more. Do you have plans for where this is going or are you winging it?

Thanks to all for the kind words. I have a very specific plan for about the first 12k words. Beyond that I have some basic outlining, which I may adapt significantly depending on where the spirit takes me.

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