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Iron Quill (Deal With The Devil) - Button Eyes


ScrewedUpDice
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Thanks to Edonil for the extended deadline.

Here's the story, as it sits at 1,479 words, and too few hours sleep.

___

Joseph de Vèbre's eyes were bleeding again. Twisting tracks of blood ran from the corners of his clenched lids. Jenrette checked over the straps that held the man to the stretcher. Leather bands looped over limbs, torso, and head, rubbing where they bit into exposed flesh. Jenrette removed de Vèbre's gag. Words scratched out of a raw throat.

"A square. A broken arch. Water"

On the other side of the stretcher Holveck knelt, unfolding his map of the Quarantine Zone, squinting at names and annotations.

"We're close to Shattered Stone," the veteran said in accentless French. Jenrette nodded, replacing de Vèbre's gag as he began to moan and struggle against his bonds, blood drying on fever hot flesh.

Jenrette checked his pocket watch; the periods of lucidity were becoming rarer, and with them the chances of success.

"We march for the Square."

#

Jenrette was checking his pistol over as Holveck hunkered back into the cover of the fallen wall. Legionaries were similarly positioned along the street, where great chunks of fallen masonry littered the roadway.

"We turn left at the junction and it's a straight run up to the Square. You'll come out on the far side from the river. There's no escape but into the water that way. Unless you can jump to the far side you're out of your depth."

"Choose three men, and hold here. Joseph De Vèbre stays with you. The rest are with me. We bring back his brother, or we don't come back. Retreat the way we've come if so."

"Marche ou crève."

"Marche ou crève."

Holveck quartered the street from man to man, passing on orders. His men relieved the stretcher bearers, and moved the palette into the ruined shell of a house. Jenrette watched them, marking the lines of fire the position gave. Satisfied he turned his attention to the six Legionaries left with him.

"This is a raid. We take what we want and get out. If the objective is not there, fall back. Pick your targets, there's already one twin on a stretcher."

#

The Square Of Shattered Stone opened up before the advancing Legionaries. The devastation here dwarfed that which they had already passed through. The Square was riven by a gouge that was almost the height of a man at its lowest. Jenrette felt the grinding of fragmented cobbles beneath his boots. Every single brick, stone, and slab in and around the Square was fractured. House frontages had turned to scree, and the bridge that had once crossed the river was now a ragged spur above the black water. Around the circumference of the Square figures watched, still as statues.

"We've come for Justin de Vèbre," Jenrette's parade ground voice echoed back at him. "Hand him over, or he'll be taken." There was no reply from the encircling figures. Jenrette was reminded of skirmishes against Resurrectionists, the undead fighting in eerie, almost total silence. The resemblance was heightened as the enemy began their advance. They stumbled from the ruined buildings and across the broken ground in staggering packs. They advanced by turn, one group moving forward, while others stood immobile.

They had only one thing in common; over every eye was sewn a button. A metal, wood, or bone disc, criss-crossed with an X of thread, nestled into each eye socket.

Jenrette watched them over his gun sights, focusing on each group in turn as they moved closer. He scanned the maimed faces for one that matched the features of its twin strapped to the stretcher.

Instead he saw faces that were familiar from sketches, or the rare photograph. People that had gone missing, who'd vanished without leaving behind a body, blood or even a scream. People who'd disappeared just like Justin de Vèbre, but whose family and friends had to rely on posting pictures in bars and workplaces, rather than calling upon contacts within the Malifaux Légion Etrangère. People who hadn't left an identical twin behind seemingly still linked to their absent sibling.

#

Whatever sixth sense had kept Holveck alive throughout years of service altered him to the danger at the very last moment. He turned to the side as a knife stabbed at his throat. The blade caught his pauldron instead, glancing off the leather. Holveck let the momentum of the blow take him backwards, swinging his rifle butt up to jab at his attacker. A figure of taproom fable confronted him, a Neverborn in human form. Black button eyes regarded Holveck from a mask of hessian. The slit of a mouth was off centre and crooked. Its off hand griped voodoo doll, its eyes chips of glowing Soulstone.

#

Jerette weighted his options as the missing drew closer. These were not the rotting corpses of the unquiet dead, where a bullet to the head was a mercy. These were people possessed. Somewhere Justin de Vèbre was being manipulated just like these men and women. There were powers in Malifaux that might free them.

#

Holveck fired as Button Eyes lunged. The shot went wide. Holveck stepped back again, battering aside the knife hand with the rifle stock. Button Eyes followed through, crashing bodily into Holveck. They fell, the knife stabbing in below the Legionnaire's ribs.

#

Jerette's escape was not yet cut off. He could get his men back to the street, rejoin Holveck, and lose any pursuit. Then they'd need a defensive position and reconnaissance before taking action.

He judged his moment, as the closest groups halted, and the half dozen puppets labouring up the side of the great rent in the square began to move.

"Fall back."

The Legionaries retreat in good order, waiting for the enemy to charge.

#

Holveck lay on his side, one hand trying to stem the bleeding. The other three Legionaries were dead at their posts. The Neverborn knelt straddling the palette, sewing buttons over the eyes of its occupant, thread turning redder with each pass. Yet Holveck could see Joseph de Vèbre standing over the monster and its bloody work, buttons already covering his eyes. Realisation struck the veteran as Button Eyes stepped back, holding up the voodoo doll. His victim came to his feet stiffly, the other man acting out a weak reflection of the motion. The de Vèbre twins were united again.

#

The true ambush hit the retreating Legionaries as they backed away from the square. The enemy was suddenly amongst them, rising up from the cover of the rubble in the street, or from the houses. Jerette's compassion for the attackers dropped away.

"Fire at will."

The Square had been a diversion. A big enough group to either soak up casualties, or force a retreat, and a reserve to move in as needed. To keep them bottled up.

Jerette shot two attackers on reflex, mind turning over the enemy's tactics. It was suddenly clear that his unit wasn't the target.

#

Button Eyes stayed within the shadows as he moved towards the sound of fighting. He nudged his dolls into action, spreading himself thin to command the larger group in the Square. The Soulstone eyes of the voodoo doll dimmed as power was leached from them. Compared to the careful work of manipulating a twin at a step removed, and without the tokens of his power, it lacked finesse.

He considered the twins now, sending them ahead of himself. The link between the siblings allowing him to work through one to reach the other. The level of control was astonishing for so little effort.

#

Jerette tore his knife from another body, feeling his bruised muscle protest. He saw Justin de Vèbre as he straightened, staring into his button eyes. The other had stopped their attack, waiting for their champion. Jerette breathed hard, the last Legionnaire standing, ready to meet the man he'd been searching for.

Jerette hesitated, pulling his first attack before it connected, and almost lost in that instant, rhythm thrown, and wide open to a counter. Justin moved haltingly however, blows hanging in the air. Jerette was caught glancingly, and felt the weight of the punch. The shock galvanised him.

Weaving under de Vèbre's attacks, Jerette's knife struck home again and again, with few hits connecting in return. Jerette's attacks were telling, slowing Justin, though little blood flowed.

Jerette saw his opponent waver and launched a final attack. Even as he did so the others charged at him. It was never going to be a fair fight. They mobbed him, bearing him down by weight of numbers.

#

Jerette lay strapped to the stretcher, blood running down his face, one eye now permanently closed. Button Eyes stood over him, fresh thread hanging from his needle.

___

CHARACTER: The Twins

LINE: "You're out of your depth!"

ITEM: Voodoo Doll

Comments very much welcomed.

Edited by ScrewedUpDice
Story finished
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