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Morgenstern (Iron Quill Entry - "Deal with the Devil", "You're out of your depth!")


madjackdeacon
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“You’re out of your depth, pretty boy.”

The crusty miner glared at the cards in his hand. He glared at the serving wench when she brought a jack of thin watery beer. He glared at the whores plying their trade.

And he glared at the young, clean-shaven, and dapper player sitting across the table from him. A silver-shod walking stick rested against the stranger’s side of the table. A well-manicured left hand rested on five cards flush with the surface, and the similarly well-manicured right hand drummed out a tattoo on the scarred wood. Between the two, a decent stack of crumpled scrip, gold and silver coin, and a softly shimmering stone the size of fingernail attracted every eye in the house. The three other players folded early and the only players left were Dirty Tom and the clean stranger.

“Well, you gonna raise, call, or fold, pretty boy?” snarled the miner. “You should probably fold, pretty boy. You barely even looked at them damn cards.”

Dirty Tom raised the jack of ale to his mouth, gulped down a couple of mouthfuls of beer, and glared at the mug as if offended by the taste. Thin foam clung to the wispy mustache giving it slightly more body than it already had. He gestured with the leather jack of ale.

“You keep up that annoying tapping ‘n someone’s liable to cut them damn fingers off, pretty boy.”

The stranger let out an exasperated sigh. He reached into his coat pocket with his left hand and removed a large roll of what appeared to be British Pound notes. He set it on top of last few gold coins in front of himself and pushed it all toward the center of the table.

“That should be £2,500. Call.” The stranger’s voice was even with only a hint of the Empire. The entire bar held their breath. Dirty Tom briefly forgot his glare as he ogled the pile of cash, but like night falling in Malifaux, his usual expression quickly dropped back into place.

“You from Britain, pretty boy?”

“No.”

The terse answer seemed to rile the miner. Pushing back from the table, he began flipping over the cards, one by one. The crowd began murmuring with excitement as each card landed.

The five of Hearts

The six of Hearts

The seven of Hearts

The eight of Hearts

And finally, the nine of Hearts

By the time the last card came to rest on the table, the bar was in an uproar. Men were cheering and clapping Dirty Tom on the back and shoulders. The whores were whooping and flashing scandalous amounts of leg. The dapper stranger was the only source of calm in the eye of the storm.

Left hand still resting on his cards.

Right hand still tapping out its strange rhythm.

And like a curious infection, his calm was contagious.

Those closest to him noticed it first, and went silent as they waited to see what the response to Dirty Tom’s straight flush was going to be.

The stranger flipped his first card.

The ten of Hearts

The Jack of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts

The King of Hearts

“You flip the Ace, pretty-boy, ‘n Imma cut yer bastard heart out, you sonuvabitch.”

The stranger’s hand hesitated over the last card as he locked eyes with the miner and the corner of his mouth quirked up into a subtle smile. Dirty Tom could see the stranger wasn’t pausing out of fear. Amusement crinkled the corner of the stranger’s eyes.

“Tell you what. You cut my heart out if you can, Thomas.” The stranger said, as he flipped the last card.

The Ace of Hearts hit the table and the bar erupted into cheers again. Stupefaction and anger fought for control of Tom’s face with anger winning out in the end. The stranger sat stock still save for the right hand that continued to tap out its weird beat.

And as Dirty Tom began glaring at the stranger again, he failed to notice that the pulse of the crowd noise was matching the beat of the stranger’s rhythm. The tinkling note from the piano rose in time. The cheers of the crowd were like a chorus, and they surged and danced like puppets to an insane irregular beat. The pulling of the beertap was like a backbeat, and every so often, a whore’s cry of pleasure would echo down the stairs as a bridge from one verse to the next.

Roaring, Tom lunged to his feet, pulling his Bowie knife, and throwing it hard at a chest that was no longer there. The stranger had spun out of his chair, taken up his walking stick and begun tapping out the irrational cadence on the barroom floor. The knife shivered in the cheap wooden chair. Its thrum lending a short-lived bass note to the twisted staccato tune that had engulfed the bar.

And then the beat stopped.

Dirty Tom finally noticed that every eye in the place was on him, and each one was filled with feral hunger. Hands were hooked into claws. Teeth were bared. Chins were flecked with spittle. Some of the patrons licked their lips. Some were actually drooling.

“Who are you?” whispered the miner.

“The name is Morgenstern, and when you play cards with the Devil, don’t let him deal.”

The stranger turned and began walking out the door. “Good-bye, Thomas.”

The crusty miner’s screams and curses lasted longer than the stranger expected. Finally, the only sound coming from the bar was that of tearing flesh and cracking bone.

The stranger withdrew a chased silver case from his jacket pocket and lifted a cigarette out. The flare of the match caught a bloody gleam in his eyes as he lit his smoke and flipped the lit match back into bar. A trickle of flame danced at the lintel, then slowly inched its way up the doorframe.

Despite the beginning of the blaze the sound of murder and dismemberment continued. As the bar was engulfed by the blaze, not another scream was heard.

Witnesses say that the only survivor was a dapper young stranger who walked away whistling a strange tune…

Edited by madjackdeacon
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