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IRON QUILL: Flames of Madness


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First, let me say how much I enjoyed writing this story. I've had an idea kicking around inside my head for a very long time but could never find the proper leverage to get it out on paper in the proper way.

One thing to know up front, this is a first draft, and it is very long, more than double the allowed word count for the entry. I would normally be editing like mad and chopping whole unnecessary sections away, but unfortunately I ran out of time on this one. I work in the entertainment industry and am currently working for a summer stock company producing 4 shows in 9 weeks, so my time is a little stretched, and I only just managed to actually finish this story, but have no time to edit it. That being the case I don't have any issues if he entry is disqualified for those reasons, however I would still appreciate any comments or constructive criticism in order to make the story better.

Secondly be aware that the story is very dark in some places, and might make for some uncomfortable reading, I know there were sections that were very uncomfortable to write. In defense of the story I feel that Malifaux is a setting indeed, bad things happen.

Here is my entery: The Flames of Madness.

A sharp noise, like the firing of a gunshot, cracked through the stifling house as a cupboard door slammed. Glass rattled in ancient window frames, and knick-knacks trembled and skittered across tables and shelves as the heavy tread of steel shod feet stamped down from the upper floors of the house. The ancient wood splintered and cracked, the boards bowing under the weight as each staccato step pounded down upon them, as the figure of a large and powerfully built man stormed down the staircase. The man’s ham sized hands almost wrenched the banister free from its moorings as he used it to steady himself as he rushed down the stairs.

The man paused at the bottom of the stairs, his breathing deep and rapid, the muscles of his jaw tightening until the vibrations made him shake with anger, the tension filling his ears with a dull roar. As deafening as his fury was he still heard the short, sharp, clattering that came from the room on his left. He furiously stormed towards it, and reaching out, he gripped the burgundy drape that hung in the archway separating the rooms. Without slowing he ripped it from the hanging rod, the brass curtain rings shrieking as they hammered into the floor, scattering in all directions.

“JENNIFER ANNA O’ROURKE! WHERE ARE MY DAMN CHESS PIECES?! “

The only sounds in the room were the fading echoes of the man’s bellowing, and the dull rhythmic thrumming of a small cylindrical wooden object as it rolled in a circle across the floor. Two frightened emerald eyes squeezed themselves tight in terror as the steps draw closer, the boots’ hob-nailed soles clawing deep wounds into the bleached and faded floorboards. From her vantage point under the tablecloth a girl watched as the boots moved towards the windowsill where she had been playing with her “dolls” moments before.

As the man kneeled down to gather up the scattered pieces, angrily muttering to himself, his face appeared to her, visible in the space between the cloth and the floor. The girl’s breath seized in her small frame and her skin was swept by waves of burning cold, as tiny icy needles cruelly jabbed into her skin. The roaring of her blood muffled her hearing and the frantic beating of her heart seemed to scream out the location of her hiding place. Her tiny fists clenched tight, crushing against her chest, and she huddled back as far as she dared. Not one sound did she make as the man continued to collect the pieces strewn across the floor. She prayed he wouldn’t find her. That he would leave and she would be safe. Her knuckles were white with strain, and her lungs felt like they were being crushed between blocks of ice, but she refused to even let the smallest breath betray her.

Swiftly the last of the pieces were gathered, the dull click of each piece echoing through the room as it was thrust into a cloth bag. The man paused for a moment, silently counting to himself, and then began to jerk side-to-side, tossing items aside, hunting for something unseen. He turned towards the table and, just for a moment, the man and the girl’s gazes locked on one another. Time seemed to stop, and in the eternity of that frozen moment knives of ice slide under her skin and caressed her with their merciless kisses.

The moment shattered and before she could dart from under the table and flee from the room one of the man’s hands whipped out and seized hold of her wrist, crushing it in a grip like a vice. With a jerk, he wrenched her out from under the table. The motion unbalanced the table and it fell to the ground with a dull cracking sound, accompanied by the sharp screeching of glassware shattering. The girl made muted whimpering panicked sounds as he dragged her upright, face to face with him.

“Where is the Queen Jennifer?!” He snarled, his malodorous breath caressing her face, cloying its way up her nose, gagging her with its stench. “Where is it? Where is it?! Jennifer I swear if you don’t tell me where you put the Queen I’m going to make you regret it!”

Tears began to stream uncontrollably from the sides of the child’s emerald eyes, but her mouth was frozen in terror. She tried to pull away from him and instinctively put her other hand protectively behind her back. The man saw the motion, and realizing the significance, threw the girl to the ground and pinned her against it with one of his massive legs. Her face grated against the scarred and gouged floor, roughened splinters stabbing deeply into her cheeks. The man grabbed the hand she had hidden behind her back and forced her fingers apart, revealing a tall cylinder of white wood, carved with a waved crown at the apex of the piece. Two small dots of ink and an awkwardly scrawled smile had been drawn just below the cylinder’s crown.

“How many times?! How many times have I told you not to touch my things!? Are you stupid?! I asked you a question Jennifer! I said are you stupid?

The girl continued to sob, muffled cries filling the room, but no intelligible words came from her.

“This had better be the last time, the very last time you touch my things! The next time you do I’m going to beat you so hard you won’t be able to sit down for a week, now go to your room!”

The man released her, and her cries growing in volume, she fled from the room and up the stairs. A moment later a door slammed with a despairing thud. The man walked to the base of the stairs and yelled up the stairs,

“I’m going to the Shaft for the night, don’t come out until I tell you that you can! If I come home and find you out of your room you’ll regret it!” With that turned and exited the house, slamming and locking the door behind him.

The night air was humid, and the heat oppressive. Sweating, the man leaned against the door and covered his face with his rough calloused hands, breathing in deeply, trying to get his temper under firm control. He took deep breaths, and slowly felt the anger drain away. Its loss left him feeling hollow, weak, and ashamed. His daughter’s sobs, floated on the night air towards him, their sounds muffled by the surrounding buildings. His stomach burned, and his shame filled him with self-loathing.

“John you stupid git, you need to get a hold of yourself! You’re a grown man, you can’t act like your supervising in the Mines with her.” He said, speaking aloud to himself. “The criminals and thugs you get assigned work with might need that kind of force, but beating an eleven year old girl… what kind of man are you?” His shame burned in his belly, and acid filled his throat as he remembered the expression of terror he saw in his daughter’s eyes. He held up the chess piece she had been clutching and examined the crude face she had scrawled across it. His expression became even more melancholy as he stroked the crude doll his daughter had made from the White Queen.

“More importantly, what kind of man do you want to be?” He sighed as he stuffed the Queen into its bag, and picked up the chessboard from the ground. He then pushed himself away from the door, and stood more firmly on his feet. With a final sigh he began to walk down the street, deeper into the heart of the city, his daughter’s sobs fading as he went.

The night air was filled with the stench of unwashed bodies, rotting garbage, animal droppings, and coal smoke. The buildings crowded tightly together, the streets resembling nothing so much as dried up veins burrowing their way through the rotting body of a corpse. Crumbling masonry was piled in heaps, and gothic arched windows stared down over the street with empty, soulless eyes. The eerie, ominous architecture of Malifaux always unsettled him whenever he concentrated on it too much. He dropped his gaze and quickened his pace towards the merchant’s square.

A night breeze trailed down the street, carrying the smells of Jasmine and spices from the nearby district known as The Little Kingdom, clearing the last of his anger from his mind. His sound of his boots, clacking against the paving stones, was drowned by the noises of the people filling the square, even at this time of the night. Malifaux citizens crowed the streets, rushing here and there, shopping, eating, and socializing, making use of the few hours the Guild allowed after the workday was done, all overseen by Guild Sentries, watching from widow’s walks on the buildings above, their Peacebringers glinting, reflecting the light of the streetlamps below.

As he walked he kept himself pressed close to the walls of the shops, his gaze downcast, but looking up and challenging anyone who came too close. His expression, and large size kept him unmolested as he progressed through the city. Then a pale something in a window caught his eye. Deep within the shadowy recesses of a general goods store, a porcelain doll, in a white satin dress sat incongruously on a shelf, squeezed in between sacks of flour. The streetlamps reflected of the doll’s alabaster skin, seeming to glow with an unearthly radiance. He paused, staring at the doll, considering.

The doll looked very expensive, and he certainly didn’t have much Scrip. He reached into his bag and withdrew the White Queen once more, examining it for a long time, staring into the childish face that had been etched onto its surface. He had certainly acted unforgivably, and not for the first time. The anger and brutality he had once had to actively cultivate to keep his workers in line in order to meet Guild quotas had became his first, last, and only reaction at home as well. He gripped the queen tightly in his hand, his palm shaking with tension, and promised himself he would do better. Starting now he would be a better father to Jennifer, and the first thing he needed to do was to make certain she knew he meant it when he apologized to her.

He entered the shop, and several minutes later he emerged with the doll poking out of the top of his bag. The doll had been expensive, and he would only be able to afford one small drink this evening, and none at all for the next few months or so, but he felt it was an appropriate punishment for himself. He felt he deserved far worse, but the lose of his nightly indulgence for the for the foreseeable future, as well as actually being able to give Jennifer her first real doll was a good first step in actually making certain that this time he kept to his promise of being a better father. Sighing to himself a final time, he hurried toward his destination for the evening.

Across the Square, almost lost amid the elegant decay of the surrounding edifices crouched a squat stone building, seemingly carved from a single massive block of stone. There, a single covered lantern hung beside the door, giving off an eerie, blue tinted glow, which barely illuminated the sign hanging above. The lantern’s light flickered and danced crazily across a painted bundle of dynamite, it’s fuse sparking with garish color. Solid block letters printed above the image proclaimed the establishment within as The Blasted Shaft. His fist banged against the scarred doors a single time, and a rough voice within said, “What’s need to join the M&SU”? John answered back, “Tenacity, Nerve, & Toughness “. There was the sound of a bolt sliding in its frame and the door opened, an amber light seeping out from within. John hurried within and the door was shut behind him.

Inside the door was a single room cheerily lit by multiple lanterns hanging on the walls, their warm welcoming light a direct contrast to the ghostly lamp glowing outside. There were no decorations in the room, and only a single chair could be seen positioned just to the right of the door. On top of the chair sat a heavily scarred man, his body twisted with muscles. The man’s skin was almost a solid lump of scar tissue, and his hands were both missing several fingers, but his eyes shone with intelligence.

“John, you look like hell.”

“Thanks Eliot, what’s that make you look like, Malifaux?”

The man in the chair chuckled.

“Rough night?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. What’s it like downstairs,” asked John.

“Slow. Not many regulars in tonight, but watch yourself, nerves are very stretched. The Guild found another one up at Simeon’s Seam.”

“Bad?”

“Really bad,” Eliot said. “The night crew found them when they reported for shift change. The foreman and most of his crew had been ripped limb from limb. Fellas were so torn apart I heard even old Doc McMorning was having trouble figuring out which pieces went with who.”

John cursed to himself and said “What about the other thing, Guild find one as well?”

Eliot nodded, “Found it just around the first bend down the mine shaft, body was so charred that there wasn’t much left but blackened bones.”

“Any idea who it was?”

“Doc got a bit lucky on that score, Marshalls discovered the corpse had two solid gold incisors, only one man round here fits that description.”

“Smiles.”

Eliot nodded, “It’s a damn shame. He was in here last night, celebrating the birth of his son, I never saw a man drink so much. The boys don’t like it I can tell you. Smiles, was real popular and folks attitudes is getting really ugly. If the Guild don’t find out what’s going on and put a stop to it soon the boys might decide to take matters into their own hands and then a lot more folk are gonna get hurt. Watch yourself down there”

John nodded, “I’ll let you know if I hear anything, thanks for the update.”

Eliot nodded and leaned back in his chair, and John turned to the only other feature in the room, a sloping tunnel opening that switch backed upon itself several times as it descended below ground. Below, the sound of muted conversation and the clink of glasses could be heard, reverberating up the tunnel. John took a more firm hold on his possessions, and headed down into the bar’s main room.

The tunnel opened up into a cavernous room, after descending 30 feet or so below street level. Broken tools and twisted blasting equipment were wired to the walls, and a large brutal looking bar filled one wall of the massive space. Rough-hewn tables were scattered throughout the room, each one illuminated by a single lantern sitting in the center of their boards, so that each table seemed to be a floating ball of amber in the dimly lit space. The enclosed space echoed with the muted conversations of the duty miners, and John saw that Eliot had been right, the crowd was definitely light this evening, and John could sense an undercurrent of ugly, violent tension, vibrating under the surface of the room’s atmosphere. It would take very little to bring that violence to the surface, and John wouldn’t have accepted a bag of Soul Stones to be anywhere near it when it finally exploded.

He selected a table in one of the shadowy corners of the room, and signaled a bar maid, ordering his single beer for the evening, and began to set up the chess set, finishing just as his beer arrived. He paid he woman, and she disappeared, attending to other customers. He sipped his beer, considering the room, and waited. He often didn’t have trouble finding an opponent for a game of chess if he waited long enough, but he was doubtful if he would have any takers tonight. The bar was too sparsely populated, and the mood to dark to encourage any active participants. As the night wore on his suspicions proved accurate as he continued to sit alone and unregarded at his table.

He had just finished his beer, and was preparing to gather his things and head home when he heard someone say, “Well now, are ya looking for a game Boyo?” John turned and found a man standing behind him looking down at him. The man seemed… wrong somehow. The Blasted Shaft’s regular customers were all Miners, and almost entirely members of the Miners and Steamfitters Union, which was why the owners required a password for admittance. Most of the clientele who came here arrived right after their working day was done, wearing the sweat and earth stained clothing they had worn all day long, their faces still black from the smoke from the blasting caps, or from the effort of swinging a pickaxe all day long.

This man, however, looked like he arrived fresh from a tailor’s shop in Downtown. He wore a formal suit dyed a deep, almost black purple, and the trousers, waistcoat, and jacket were all of the most current fashionable cut. He wore a pair of silver Pince-nez attached to a silver chain that hung around his neck, the chain glittering coldly in the light from John’s table. His cravat was immaculately tied, and a deep shade of emerald green. At his side, the man carried a battered leather medical bag, the surface of its leather worn smooth from use, and speckled with dark stains. It was more than just his incongruous appearance, however, the man seemed to radiate an unnatural aura of cold. John’s skin began to prickle all over with goose bumps as the man leaned closer. And though the man wore a smile on his face, his expression seemed to be that of a man considering the best to peel the skin from your body without killing you too quickly.

The man crossed in front of the table, set his bag on the floor, removed the matching derby from his head, and sat down opposite John.

“Now then, I myself fancy a game of chess, especially over a dram, would ya care to join me?” His malicious smile flashed, and he signaled for the Barmaid, and after conferring with her for a few moments she left and shortly returned with a pitcher of water, and two squat glasses. The man reached into his jacket and drew forth a wad of scrip as thick as one of John’s fingers. The main peeled off enough scrip to have bought all the drinks sold tonight thus far in the bar, and handed them to the woman. “Thanks darlin’, now be a love and go play somewhere else.” She clutched the scrip and darted away behind the bar, eager to be as far away from the man as she could.

The man’s scalpel gaze followed her as she scurried away, and John overheard the man whisper something to himself about needing to remember that one. When she had retreated to the safety of the bar the man reached down and unlocked the brass latches on his bag and drew forth a wicked looking slotted spoon, and a small brass box, both of which he set on the table beside the glasses. The man again reached back into the bag and withdrew a rounded glass bottle with a silver bound stopper. He set the bottle on the table beside the chessboard and turned his attention back upon John.

“Now then, allow me to introduce myself, I’m after being called Solomon Brazing. And, if I may be so bold, might inquire as to your identity sir?”

John met the other man’s gaze and fought not to look away, “John O’Rourke”.

“Well now, Mr. O’Rourke, a fellow lad from the Isle is it. I very pleased to make your acquaintance,” said the man as he removed the gloves from his hands. “ I can see that you seem a minor bit suspicious, and that is no way to begin the game of kings. I’m sure you’re after wondering what a fellow such as I might be doing in an establishment such as this, but that is easily explained. I’m here as a representative of the Rivière Noire distillery, perhaps you’ve heard of us?”

John shook his head, “Mr., I’ve never heard of you.”

“Ah well, now that’s a shame. You have now though, and soon I tell you, there won’t be a person in this city who won’t have heard of our company, nor experienced our magnificent product, that’s a promise.” His eyes again locked on to John’s, pinning him to his seat. “We produce a fine new liqueur we are hoping to distribute extensively within the city, and I’m after being here to demonstrate its fine appeal. I was on my way out when I saw your game, and it has been awhile since I last played, and I am very fond of a game of chess. Shall we play a game? And if in the course of our game you should desire a sample of my unique liquor, why, you have only to ask.”

So saying, the man slide one of the black pawns two squares up the center of the board, and looked up at John, “Your move.”

John was taken aback, not only by the man’s sinister demeanor, but also by the reversal in the proper etiquette of the game, as white was traditionally supposed to make the first move. John considered asking the man to leave, and heading home, but the crooked smile staring back at him from his own pieces stopped him. His anger at home and the pain he had caused Jenny had all stemmed from his desire to have his weekly game of chess, and to go home without playing would somehow make all the pain of the evening even more shameful. He considered, and then slide one of his own pawns a matching number of squares up the board.

As the two played Mr. Brazing began to perform a curious ritual. He unstopped the bottle he had placed beside the board and poured a measure of clear liquid into one of the glasses. John could smell the strong scent of Anise wafting from the bottle and glass, and his eyes began to water. Whatever the drink was, it was strong. Mr. Brazier replaced the stopper and then placed the slotted spoon across the glass containing the liquor. He then picked up the brass box, and opening it, slid a pair of pointed tongs from out of a slot in the lid of the box. Using the tongs he extracted a white, crystalline cube from within the box and set it on the spoon. He closed the box and set the tongs aside. He then picked up the water pitcher and slowly poured a thin stream of chilled water over the cube, dissolving it into the liquid below. John was surprised to see a strange thing happen when the water joined the liquid in the glass below. The liquor first became cloudy, and slowly turned an inky black as the water and cube where mixed together. When the cube had finally been entirely dissolved, Mr. Brazier set the water pitcher aside, and used the spoon to stir the drink, mixing the contents together. He then withdrew a crisp, white handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped the spoon dry, and then set both on the table.

“I believe it’s your move, Mr. O’Rourke.”

John started; he hadn’t realized he’d been staring at the man for so long. He shook his head and said, “I apologize, I must have been wool gathering for a moment.” He looked over the position of the piece on the board and chose to castle with his king.

“No need to apologize, Mr. O’Rourke. To be sure the first time anyone sees our product prepared it can be a bit… unexpected.”

“It was certainly very surprising, what is it?”

“Now, perhaps you’ve heard of Absinthe?”

John nodded.

“Well then, you’ve certainly heard that it has a sinister reputation for causing madness among those who become devotees of the drink. Our proprietor has discovered how to distill a liquor identical to Absinthe, but without Absinthe’s notorious use of wormwood. We’re calling it ‘Black Absinthe’ at the moment, as a curious property of the herbs that we use in it’s distillation causes any water that comes into contact with them to turn black, a strange effect, but one that causes no harm, I assure you. So saying he picked up the drink and sipped at it while the game continued.

John turned his attention back to the game, and found it just as odd as the man sitting opposite. The man seemed to play extremely badly, within the first dozen moves of so John had captured both of his bishops and knights as well as a rook and only lost a knight and a few pawns in return. Despite this seemingly insurmountable fact, John found that his own side was still under heavy attack, and that pressure was still being exerted against his king. It made no sense, what was happening shouldn’t be possible. Then the oddest thing of all happened, the man suddenly moved his king out into the open, unprotected by any of his other pieces, and within three moves John had the King trapped and unable to escape.

“Mate, I think,” said John.

“So it is Sir. Congratulations on your victory.” The man nodded, finished his drink, and began to pack his property back into the bag at his side, leaving the bottle and the brass box on the table, however, and then closing his bag with a sharp, metallic click.

The man stood up and began pulling on his gloves. “Thank you for an enjoyable evening M. O’Rourke, allow me to present you with a minor token of my thanks for such a game as ours. Please keep the bottle and the box as souvenirs of your night. If you should happen to try them and enjoy our product please make certain to tell all your relations and friends.”

He picked up his hat, place it at a jaunty angle on his head, picked up his bag and then said, “A good evening to you, Mr. O’Rourke. And with another scalpel smile disappeared back into the gloom of the bar.

John shook his head as if to clear it, carefully packed away his possessions, and regarded the bottle suspiciously. He removed the stopper and again the harsh smell of Anise assaulted his senses. Looking into the box he saw that it contained many small crystalline cubes, exactly like the one the man had used for his drink. Licking a finger gingerly, he pressed it against a few grains that had escaped the box and brought it to his lips, they tasted like sugar. He poured a small amount of the liquor into the glass, dropped a sugar cube into it and poured a very small amount of water into the glass. He shook the drink, watching it turn from a crystal clear, to an inky black in seconds. He took a small sip, and found he had been correct, it was very strong, possessing a very strong flavor of Anise, and something very bitter as well, which he supposed the sugar helped to counteract. The drink was oddly pleasant, and he finished his initial drink, and poured himself another, and then another. Soon the shape of the bar around him began to grow hazy, and the sounds of the other patrons sounded to him as if traveling through water soaked gauze. The bar continued to grow darker and darker, until he fell into blackness, and his head bounced off the table.

He awoke the next morning when the sun began to shine directly onto his face. The light burned, and his head pounded in time with his heart, each beat a hammer blow to his nerves. He felt hot behind his eyes, and his mouth felt so dry, that his tongue rasped as he drew t across his teeth. He glanced around, trying to take in his surroundings. He was in his own bed; although how he had gotten there he had no memory of. He was still wearing his clothes from yesterday, and they, and his sheets were soaked in sweat. The room was unbearably hot, and he hurried to the window to open it, and allow some circulation of the air.

As he opened the window, the sunlight shone full upon him, fresh fiery daggers jabbing into his eyes. He backed away into the room clutching his head in agony. The strange liquor he had drank the night before certainly packed a whollop, he was glad he was on the evening shift today, as he would be in no condition to work for sometime until he could shake the after effects of the drink off. He still felt uncomfortably warm, and something nagged at his brain, something he had intended to do after he got home. Then he remembered, Jennifer, he had to give her the doll and apologize to her.

Sweating and staggering he moved to Jennifer’s room, and he knocked on the door, his head echoing in pain with every sharp knock.

“Jennifer you can come out now. I need to talk to you, and I have something for you.”

Silence was all that greeted his knocks.

“Jennifer, I’m sorry. You have every right to be angry with me, I behaved very badly, and I want to apologize. Even Daddy’s make mistakes. Please come out.”

Silence was all that answered him.

“Jenny? Are you all right?” “Jenny?”

He turned the knob of the door, opened it, and looked inside. Terror seized his heart. The room had been ransacked. Furniture was overturned, demonic gouges raked the walls and the floorboards, and the bed’s frame had been shattered. The bed sheets had been shredded, and speckles of crimson spattered everything.

With a cry of anguish that split his head open with pain he darted into the room, frantically searching for any sign at all of his daughter. The heat was unbearable, and even his terror couldn’t cool him as in his panic he tore the room apart, searching for any sign of his daughter.

A clattering from downstairs drew his attention, and he immediately flew towards it, stumbling and almost falling down the stairs in his haste. The noise had come from the drawing room, and once again he flew towards the room, his panic destroying his reason and coordination.

“JENNY!” he screamed.

But it wasn’t Jenny that he found in the room. Crouching over the fallen table from the night before was a small impish creature, approximately 4 feet tall. Its skin was a deep black, seemly drinking the light from the room. It’s face was a horrifying blend of infant and feline, with high arching brows, pointed eyes, sharp, needle fangs protruding from it’s mouth, and slitted eyes that glowed with smoldering witchfire in the morning light. The creature was naked, lacking any distinguishing marks of gender, and it’s long, amber hair danced like a candle flame in a phantom wind.

Talons clacked across the floor as it looked up from the bag it had been digging through, crimson gore dripping off inch long talons that gleamed in the sun. A wicked smile spread across it’s features, and it turned towards an open widow, the same window Jenny had been playing at the previous evening, it’s muscles tensing to spring and escape.

With a tortured cry of anguish and rage John hurled himself at the creature, seizing it by the hair, and dragging it back, away from the window and escape. John began to scream

“MURDERER! MURDERER! HELP! HELP ME, THE NEVERBORN HAVE KILLED MY JENNY! HELP!”

The creature slashed at him with it’s talons, raking evil furrows deep into his skin. They struggled and John got his hands around the creature’s throat. His hands squeezed, and the creature thrashed in panic it breath chocked off, it’s nails slicing his arms, hands, and legs to bloody shreds in a last desperate attempt to break free and escape. Tears of rage and lose streamed down John’s face but his grip never faltered. Sweat dripped off of him, and he could distantly smell something in the distance burning, and the cries of his neighbors coming to his aide, but he didn’t let up. He continued crushing the life out of the thing that had stolen his Jenny, stolen his chance to make things right with her. Now the last memory he would ever have of her was the disastrous scene the night before, and that image and memory would torture him for the rest of his life. He poured all of his anger, and sorrow into the muscles of his hands, exacting a terrible revenge for his loss.

Soon the creature’s thrashing became more sluggish, its strikes less forceful, and then it ceased struggling entirely, its thrashing stopping entirely, and it hung limply from John’s hands. He continued to squeeze for several moments more, his breathing coming in heaving sobs that shook his big frame like an earthquake. The heat and smell of burning intensified and he began to suspect that that creature had set the house on fire. Flinging it unceremoniously to the ground he staggered out of the room and toward the front door. As he staggered out into the sunlight his vision was filled by an explosion of flames and he fell into blessed cool darkness.

:crows:crows:crows

Two Guild Guardsman leaned over a table in the Malifaux city morgue, examining the two bodies laid side by side.

“What happened Doc?” one of them asked the wild haired figure examining the bodies on the table.

“This subject was killed by Compressive Asphyxiation due to a crushed larygopharynx. Perimortem bruising indicates it was killed by manual strangulation. You can plainly see the bruising caused by the attacker’s fingers on the victim’s skin. The other is more confusing, he seems to have expired from immolation, but all the signs indicate that the fire originated from inside the victim, exactly like all the others. The body is almost entirely carbonized and the bones are very brittle. I have to admit I’m still stumped, it’s certainly a puzzler.”

Doctor Douglas Mcmorning, the Guild’s Coroner looked up over the bodies at the two Guild officers.

“If it is like the other cases our crispy friend here was probably responsible for the first subject’s death. He was most likely overcome with irrational rage and took it out on the first person he saw, and then burst into flames himself. Past that I have no other information to give you gentleman. I’ll know more once I perform the autopsies, although I’m not certain Mr. Crispy’s body will tell us much, the others certainly didn’t. Will you lads be at HQ, or would you like the results sent to you in the field?”

“We’ll be at HQ. Find something we can use Doc, this has got to stop.”

“I’ll do my best, now if that will be all gentlemen, I have some autopsies to see to, Sebastian will see you out.”

The Marshalls took one last disgusted look at the bodies and turned away. One of the Marshalls looked at the other and said, “Good God, what kind of monster would do that to a little girl?”

His partner looked back and said, “In Malifaux? Better question would be who wouldn’t.” and the two Marshall’s left the room, escorted by the Doctor’s lumbering assistant.

After the two Marshalls left, the Doctor hurried to the storage area and retrieved his tools, and a few… other items it was probably better if the Guild didn’t find out were in his possession. He spun around and almost collided with a tall pale woman standing immediately behind him. Her dress was expensive, but badly out of fashion, and its expensive fabric was covered with dirt and bloodstains, and the lace edging was ripped and torn in several places.

“Gah! Molly! How many times do I have to tell you don’t sneak up on me like that?!”

The woman’s cold and distant expression didn’t even flicker as she regarded him.

“Fine, fine, fine, don’t say anything! If you’re here that means Seamus is too, where is he?”

“Out here Boyo, looking over the results of the latest experiment. Still don’t seem to have the mixture right, do I?

The Doctor sidestepped the woman in the corridor and hurried into the examining room, with Molly following silently behind.

“Not yet,” said the Doctor as he came into the room. “Your ‘hallucinogenic hangover’ seems to be working wonderfully, as intended, but the mixture is still too volatile to work for our purposes. What good is giving the subject super strength if he just burns out right afterwards? These bones are too fragile to use for anything practical, and reanimation is certainly out of the question. And your experiments are drawing too much attention, you’d better lay off for awhile, before the Guild really starts to take an interest.”

“Lay off you say? But I’m so close to figuring it out! Did you get the tests back from the previous test subject I asked you about?”

“Yes, they’re in the other room let me show…” he paused as Molly was overcome by one of her coughing fits, bubbles of blood bursting from her mouth and dripping down her chin.

Seamus turned to her, “Golly Ms. Molly, you’re a right disgusting baggage aren’t you.” Seamus then withdrew a spotless white handkerchief from his pocket and tossed it at Molly. “Clean yourself up while I have a talk with the good Doctor.” And McMorning and Seamus left the room.

Molly wiped her face with the handkerchief, and then stood staring at the little girl lying on McMorning’s table. Molly’s expressionless eyes noticed that some of the blood had speckled the girl’s face and she carefully wiped the girl’s face clean. As she was cleaning the last spot from the girl’s lips Seamus bellowed from the other room, “Molly girl! What’s keeping ye? What’s the point of my being clever if you aren’t here to see it? Move your tail girly-girl.” Molly took one last look at the little girl and then turned and left the room.

Some time later Sebastian entered the room, preparing to perform the autopsies himself, and the doctor seemed to be otherwise engaged. The Marshall’s were expecting the results soon, and Sebastian didn’t want them to grow even more suspicious, and come looking for what the delay was about. He stopped when he entered the room, and blinked once or twice. Then he walked over to the tables, and took a quick look under the table, finding nothing he straightened up, and scratched his head. The girl’s body was missing. In her place, resting on the table was a white cylindrical object. Sebastian picked it up and noticed that a crude smiley face had been scrawled onto the wood in black ink. Feeling a draft he noticed that the Morgues ventilation grating had been opened and he crossed the room to re-secure it. As he did that he saw a momentary glimpse of emerald green eyes regarding him from the darkness. Then the feeling disappeared, and Sebastian closed the grating and returned to his work.

Edited by Fetid Strumpet
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  • 2 weeks later...

This was a lot of fun to read! I had been wondering who the gent that came to play chess was and, well you should read to find out who B-)

One point of feedback that I would mention is the introduction to the piece. While I can see establishing the character of John, as well as elaborating the situation, I think that it may be a touch long overall. I wouldn't know what to cut since it all seems important, but perhaps it could be condensed slightly?

One thing I will say is that you paint a very vivid picture, and I feel like all the major characters from the setting were appropriately portrayed. I'd be interested to see a follow up to this :-)

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