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Tales of a Guardswoman (title change)


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Back again! Seems like a pattern or something. I wanted to try something different this week. Started this big poppa on Monday, just wrapped it up today.

What on Malifaux could I have done wrong?! Tabitha Serling thought to herself as she sat bolt-upright in front of the Guild captain's office. She was a mere 3 months into proper service as a guardsman, but she was a quick learner. She had learned combat skills from her father so most of the physical tests were easy, and she had learned that the only people who receive the "Special Assignment" notice like the one she held firmly in hand are the vagrants and ruffians the Guild wanted to quietly ship out of the way due to their massive failures. Never the less, Tabitha was a woman of principles, so if she couldn't fix whatever problem she caused, she would at least confront it face to face. So she had made sure to arrive ten minutes ahead of schedule, brunette hair in a tight ponytail and uniform sparkling.

Captain Dodson arrived at his office with both arms full of paperwork and a mouth full of bread six minutes later, tilting his head quizically at Serling's presence. His bushy peppered moustache twitched as Dodson seemed to be figuring what order to do things in before finally motioning to Tabitha to get the door with a bob of his head. Tabitha hopped to her feet, offering a 'Good morning sir' and receiving a mumbled response. Tabitha followed Dodson in and was greeted by familiar sights; the hoarcat Dodson had killed singlehandedly, the intricately carved cigar box that was from an Earthside city called Calcutta, and the high-backed chair with the upholstery that was showing it's age on the left armrest. Dodson unceremoniously plopped the stack of papers on his desk then, after finishing the food in his mouth, asked, "Serling. To what do I owe the pleasure?" Tabitha looked at the captain with confusion and replied,

"Special Assignment sir." Dodson pulled out a cigar from the box on his desk and lit it with a wooden matchstick, a ritual that Dodson was insistent upon "to protect the flavor."

"That's you, huh? Tough luck kid, sorry." Dodson replied, taking a draw from his cigar and watching the smoke drift up. Tabitha furrowed her brow, and blurted out,

"Have I done something wrong sir?! Perhaps if I knew what I messed up on..." Dodson held up his hand for her to be quiet.

"The right answer for me to give here is that the Guild applauds those who are on special assignment, since it provides an invaluable service and demonstrates said person's commitment to upholding the law." Dodson blew a smoke ring into the air. "The wrong thing for me to say is that they needed a warm body for a dangerous mission, and the bean counters decided your funeral was the least expensive." Dodson held up his hand once more, cutting Tabitha off before she could start. "Look, you and I know how the red tape brigade works. But I think you have a unique opportunity here. You go do this job, you have a chance to make a couple of jumps upward in payroll. You got skill Serling, and only thing you need is time to refine it."

"Sir... I appreciate the sentiment sir." Tabitha finally replied as she forced her foot to stop the nervous tapping it had been up to.

"Sentiment?!" Dodson scoffed, "Too busy, don't have time for it. I'm just being a career advisor." Dodson gave Tabitha a half grin before sliding a small stack of papers to her. "Here's what we got so far." Tabitha began sifting through the papers, lightly chewing on her thumb out of habit. "First impressions?" Dodson asked, watching her intently.

"Hmm..." Tabitha mulled over the information before her. "Mining outpost... New soulstone vein... no communication 2 weeks... not close enough to the Badlands, kilometers away from the swamps... any previous disturbances?" Tabitha finally asked, looking up to Dodson smirking once more.

"17 on record, all domestic and completely expected in a mining camp."

"Something missed then? Disturbance get solved too quickly?" Tabitha continued, the gears in her head starting to turn.

"Daniels handled the cases." Dodson replied. "He's consistent, so more than likely nothing there." Tabitha began spreading the papers out to look at more at one time.

"Anything special about the area?" Tabitha asked.

"Nothing on the Witch Hunters books, nothing in archives, nothing from medical." Dodson answered. Tabitha noticed that she was chewing on her thumb and stuck her hand in her pocket.

"First impressions..." Tabitha began, "there's nothing that immediately suggests why an entire mining camp would cease communications for 2 weeks. If I had to hazard a hypothesis, I'd say the possibility of a new vein of soulstones might have something to this particular mystery. Current course of action should be recon, distance to rule out disease or hostile first, then closer examination." Dodson tapped his cigar in the ashtray on the desk.

"Excellent work Serling. By the numbers. Now, go get yourself down to Acquisitions, get kitted out. Reports on my desk a week from now. Standard Guild travel allotments." Dodson stood, gently balancing the cigar on the edge of the ashtray. "And Serling, remember... I don't care what the bean counters think. I say this is your shot to show what you're made of. You get it done, you come back." Tabitha stood and snapped a salute to Dodson.

"I will do my best sir." Tabitha said. "I will make sure not to let you down sir."

"Ya better not! I have a reputation to maintain."

"If I may make a personal request sir?" Tabitha asked, shifting uncomfortably slightly. Dodson nodded for her to continue. "If you could tell Mom I'm... no, I don't want to lie to her. If you could..." Dodson held up his hand to quiet her.

"Your mother knows the work we do is dangerous. She accepted that when we got married..." Dodson's features softened slightly. "I won't tell her about the Special Assignment duty. Heaven knows she's heard enough of those horror stories. No point in giving her one for you."

"Thanks... Dad." Dodson cracked his knuckles.

"Now then... It seems I've got enough paperwork here to recreate the entire tree it was made from, so I'll let you get to it. Dismissed Serling!" Tabitha offered another salute, spun in her boots, and headed out of the room. Maybe this won't be so bad after all. Tabitha thought to herself. I just hope it's not something complicated.

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Me and my big mouth. Of course I'd jinx it. Tabitha thought as she pulled the reins of her horse to halt it. After two days travel, Tabitha found herself at the edge of the mining camp and the whole scene in front of her felt wrong. She couldn't quite put her finger on it but it was a splinter under the skin, just enough out of reach to bug her even more. The camp looked completely untouched, as if its inhabitants simply stepped out to go smoke. Tabitha's first stop was the watchtower near the front of the camp. Hopefully an overview of the situation would help her find a good starting place.


As she reached the top, Tabitha was  disconcerted as the absence of people continued. There were a couple of heavily dog-eared books, a small lockbox for ammunition and the like, but no bodies to occupy the space. Tabitha approached the edge to get a bird's eye view of what she was walking into. The camp was fairly standard M&SU funded work, spreading out a few hundred yards in a lazy circle. "Where'd you all wander off to?" Tabitha muttered, wrapping the wooden guard rail with he  knuckles before finally heading down. No bodies at least meant there were no inherent signs of disease, so presumably it was possible to move forward.


As Tabitha approached, she could smell the acrid tang of coffee kettles left on fires for far too long. She could see processing equipment that had been left on shaking itself off its bolts. Tabitha rubbed the horses neck, trying to calm down its nervousness while not admitting to her own. Alright Serling. You have a job to do, it's best you get onto it then. No signs of struggle, no weapons or bullet casings scattered about... The inhabitants just left. What would cause someone to stop working and just walk away?


Tabitha slid off her horse, tying the reins to a hitching post and made her way further into the camp. Alright Serling, walk through the options and drop what can be disproved. It wasn't a direct fight, which means something indirect. Hypnosis or the like. Narrows it down to magicians or a specific subset of Neverborn. M&SU members often consort with magicians, and Neverborn don't have this much finesse, means possible magical trouble.


Tabitha did a slow spin in place, examining the camp. "No animals" Tabitha muttered to herself as she approached a large tent that looked like the mess hall. Lifting the tent flap, Tabitha sniffed at the air. "Huh... no food." Tabitha made her way into the back of the mess hall. "Liquids are still here, but no solids." Tabitha crouched down to examine the ground where the cooking pots would have been. On either side of the pit there was a single footprint, the left foot looking half again as bigger than the right. "Big fella weren't you?" Tabitha rose once more and gave the tent a once over. "So we have missing people, missing food, and at least one person who's left foot is noticeably bigger than their right. Now this... this is interesting."


A shadow of movement outside caught Tabitha's attention and she bolted out through the tent flap, pistol drawn. She caught the fleeting glimpse of a small figure scrambling towards the mines and Tabitha gave chase. Fire burned through Tabitha's veins as she leapt over boxes of tools and dodged in between sleeping tents. Tabitha fired off her pistol and shouted "Halt!" as the figure darted around a corner. Tabitha slid to a halt with her pistol pointed, only to find a young girl curled up in a crouch with her hands on her ears. The young girl was barely older than ten with vibrant blonde hair and visibly panicked.


Tabitha holstered her pistol, and crouched on one knee, showing her hands palms out. "Hey there, it's going to be okay. I'm not going to hurt you. Are you alright?" The girl was quietly sobbing as she finally looked into Tabitha's eyes. Seeing the Guild badge, the young girl leapt to her feet and ran to Tabitha, wrapping her arms around her in a hug and let the tears rush out uncontrolled. Tabitha gave her a hug back, ruffling the girls hair slightly.


"Thank you Ma'am." The girl finally managed to work between sobs as she let go of the hug. Tabitha gave her a smile, then replied,


"It's what I do. Now, I'm no doctor, but let's have a proper look at you." The young girl stood quietly except for the occasional sniffle as Tabitha examined her eyes and hands. "Mhmm. Everything there and accounted for... well almost everything."


"What do you mean ma'am?" The little girl asked.


The girl’s body flew backwards from the force of Tabitha's pistol shot, knocking over a small bench. Tabitha stood up, shifting her stance slightly. "Workers don't bring their families to mining camps, you don't have any soot in your hair whatsoever and your hands are almost as smooth as alabaster which means cooking staff is out, and you've lead me into a well placed ambush. Not exactly fond of that."


Two small  Nephelim flew in, hissing as they lunged at Tabitha. As they were about to strike, the girl shouted "Stop!" Causing them to pause mere yards away from Tabitha. "Do you KNOW how much it hurts to be  shot?!"


"All three of you are going to learn I imagine." Tabitha replied as her aim shifted back and forth between the three adversaries.


The young girl stood back up and gently touched the bullet wound in her collarbone. "There's a third party at work that's a danger to both of us. I need your help." Tabitha laughed the girls request.


"You have 5 seconds to sell me on why I shouldn't just start shooting right now." Tabitha stated, cocking back the hammer on the revolver.


"There are some things in Malifaux that should stay buried, and one of your foolish necromancers thinks he can go digging without consequence." The girl replied as she began to stretch and grow, turning into a young woman in front of Tabitha's eyes. Tabitha looked between the three adversaries, her pistol steady as it followed the woman.


"Keep going." Tabitha finally replied. The young woman smirked then cracked her neck before saying,


"There's an old building around here, engulfed by Malifaux herself many decades ago. Inside of this building are deplorable secrets about reanimation and the sort. The necromancer believes he's found the location and has the entire camp feverishly working in the mines to uncover it. It will be too late by the time we get  reinforcements here. I saw you arrive... and took a chance."


Tabitha chewed on her lower lip while she thought. Alright... where's the catch? "What do you get out of it?" Tabitha asked.


"We actually don't get  much. My master doesn't want this area opened. It was sealed away for a reason, and foolish humans should mind their own business." The woman replied.


"I suppose you'll want your freedom then?" Tabitha questioned.


"Actually I want a truce till we deal with the graverobber, then I want to wear you next." The woman answered, giving Tabitha a half smile.


"Well since you put it that way, how could I resist?"

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Tabitha paused at the entrance to the main mine shaft, cautiously examining what she could. The afternoon sunlight showed nearly 40 yards in where the mine began curving to the right. "After you three." Tabitha motioned to her new traveling companions. The small nephelim looked to the young woman who nodded, then flew forward.


"Why if I didn't know any better, I'd say you weren't trusting us." The woman commented, her intense eyes looking Tabitha over.


"I don't." Tabitha answered. "Honestly if you so much as blink wrong, I'm emptying every bullet I've got, then I'm going to get more bullets from the camp and I'm shooting you again for good measure."


"Such a fierce spirit!" The woman's voice was lilting. "I'll bet your husband is pleased with such a fine stallion."


"Not right now. Too busy being dead." Tabitha lit a kerosene lantern near the entrance and followed the woman in.


"I see." The woman replied, pursing her lips in thought as they walked. "You know you've taken all this remarkably in stride. I would have thought you'd have followed the "shoot first, ask questions later" policy of your kind."


"I prefer the 'learn then burn' method myself. You hesitated while in an incredibly advantageous position. Your kind doesn't do that. You also didn't insist on any sort of disarming, or make any effort to obfuscate the situation with promises of deals or other such nonsense. This means either you have a long con and need a human's assistance for your dirty work in which case I shoot you, or there's a legitimate Ressurectionist threat in which case I shoot you and them, probably in that order."


"Such a clever girl!" The woman chuckled. "And your honesty is so deliciously human. Too bad we won't get to have much of a conversation once this is over."


"So, what's the established information on this Ressurectionist?" Tabitha asked, glancing back at the cave entrance one more time before heading around the corner.


"Not clever... but lucky. Stupidly lucky." The woman replied, a hint of irritation flitting across her voice. "Seems to be mostly graft related. Not nearly as skilled more traditional methods. Course all he needs are diggers, so finesse isn't exactly something he cares about."


"Number of combatants?" Tabitha asked.


"57. Would be higher but... we've been busy." The woman nuzzled with one of the nephelim that flew back to her, then turned to Tabitha. "Nothing impressive, all mindless. Simply numbers."


Tabitha set the lantern on the ground as they approached a corner and the cracking of stone could be heard. Tabitha instinctively reached for her gun but paused and drew out a hunting knife instead, looking almost feral as she paced forward. The woman smirked at this, and followed suit to Tabitha's front left. The nephelim flew up a few feet to the mine roof and kept pace.


The soft crunch of Tabitha's boots sounded like thunderclaps in her ears as she inched her way around the corner. Darting a quick glance, Tabitha could see a singular figure clumsily swinging a pick ax at the side of the mine wall. She wrinkled her nose at the smell of decay that finally reached her. Adjusting the grip on her blade, Tabitha motioned out her plan to the woman, pointing the nephelim to the figures feet, and mimicking stabbing it in the head with her knife. The nephelim looked to the woman who simply nodded in the affirmative.


The trio lunged forward, Tabitha's blade cleanly cracking the zombie's skull. She grabbed the pick ax before it clattered then, with the nephelim's help, silently picked up the figure and carried it to the corner where the woman waited.


"Look at you go!" The woman quietly exclaimed as Tabitha wiped her knife on the dead body. "Efficient and clever... a formidable combination." Tabitha's attention was on the body, learning about who she just killed. Clothing doesn't suggest anything abnormal... been dead for... Looks like 3 days. Fairly consistent composition though.


"Alright, time to move on." Tabitha finally said as she stood back up, knife at the ready.


"No moment of silence for a soul long past?" The woman asked, a dainty smile curling one side of her mouth.


"The dead aren't going anywhere. They can wait."


The quartet continued down the mine shaft, following the sounds of digging and dispatching a handful of zombies before reaching a large torch lit cavern where the mine shaft split in several directions. The roof of the juncture reached barely 20 feet before dim highlights gave way to shadow. The juncture had definite signs of normal humans getting there first; a small table off to one side with most of a game of Bayou Two Card on it, a long since snuffed fire pit with a kettle hanging over it and catching the forthright with a dull glint. Tabitha watched as some of the zombies were shambling along, pushing mine carts filled with deep blue rock. As she studied the scene before her, the woman lightly tapped her on the shoulder, then pointed to a shaft on the far right.


"That one. I recognize that disgusting magic taste in the air anywhere." Using the stacks of supplies, overturned mine carts, and replacement support beams as cover, the quartet quietly slipped their way to the tunnel. The further they went in, the more Tabitha realized this tunnel was different. The others had seemed like starter tunnels; begun in search of the prize but abandoned. Tabitha followed  a secondary branch that the woman motioned to, the quality of the mining dropping significantly. The hairs were standing up on Tabitha's arms as she silently drew her pistol, continuing the maddeningly slow pace toward what looked like a much brighter tunnel. Tabitha paused near the edge as she could hear a low grumbling voice shouting,


"If'n you lot don' stop trying to mine each ovva, I'm gonna pop you, den raise you again so's I can kill you a third time!" Tabitha ventured a glance to see who it was doing the shouting.


The man was in his early twenties with a patchy beard of browns and reds. He had a bowler tilted forward slightly, and was fiercely clinging to a leather bound book in one hand. "No doubt the grimoire." Tabitha muttered. She moved back into the previous hallway, then leaned with her back up against the wall, tapping her foot slightly as she worked out a plan. Turning to the woman, Tabitha finally said, "priority one is the man. He doesn't seem to have created anything intelligent, so his advantage of numbers can be severely harmed. That book is going to be destroyed today. I'm giving you fair warning."


"Well aren't we zealous." The woman replied with a chuckle. "We didn't want the book anyway, so if that's what entertains you, feel free. Shall we?" Tabitha nodded as she spun around the corner and launched into the room

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"It is my duty to inform you under the power vested in me by the governor secretary, I hereby pass judgement on you for illegal Ressurectionist actions!" Tabitha dodged a flailing zombies arms as she emptied her revolver at the man. The man was able to keep dodging back and forth between his zombie force as he shouted,


"You must be outcha mind, ya stupid bint! I got you lot beat 30 to 1, I'm about inches away from finding the University and making my name more feared than the Redchapel killer, an by the by I have my book!" One of the nephelim swooped at the man with burst of speed, lunging for the book. The man uttered a few quick phrases, and multiple zombies batted the creature out of the air. "Oh! Down for the count! And using nef-lim to do your work copper? Bit of a hypocrite, eh?"


Tabitha dove out of the way of a lazily swung shovel from a zombie that had cone up behind her and cut the creature down with three quick swipes. Tabitha snapped open her revolver and slapped the empty casings out as she ran to her next position. Tabitha loaded her gun as quick as she could, frowning at the ever dwindling supply of ammunition. She still had her knife, but no matter how she looked at it, the longer this fight went the more the advantage stayed with the man. She just couldn't get a clear shot, and the man was at least smart enough to know how to use that. The nephelim were of some assistance keeping him on the move, but all it took was one lucky hit, and they'd be out. The doppelganger was nowhere to be seen, a factor that was getting increasingly more disconcerting. Well... might as well go down swinging. Tabitha thought as she reloaded again. If I can't win, I might as well make it a phyrric victory for him.


Tabitha was a tempest of bullets and blades as she moved around the room. Her training, both with the Guild and with her dad, was on full display as the body count rose. She barely felt the slashes to her body as adrenaline and focus kept her moving, making each blow count. 26 to go, 14 bullets... guess we'll just have to do this the hard way. She kept moving towards the man, pressuring him to keep moving. Tabitha hoped that he would make a mistake.


Tabitha slid to a sitting position as a giant support beam flew out of the shadows like a javelin at her, just barely missing her head and killing two zombies behind her. "Looks like you found my mate. Maxwell, do us a laugh an break her spine, yeah?" Tabitha scrambled back to her feet as a monstrous construct stepped out of the shadows. It stood nearly 8 feet tall, patchwork skin stretched over awkwardly placed musculature. Tabitha looked at the creatures feet and sure enough, the left was bigger than the right.


"Don't suppose I could call you on cheating, could I?" Tabitha asked the man as the large zombie swung a massive fist at her head.


"You could, but honestly I don care. I win da game as long as your mullered." Tabitha slashed at the back of the creatures leg as she rolled under another of the creatures fists, cussing when it still stood. No quick gamechangers then. Tabitha sighed as she worked out another plan.


It was the zombie with the knife that caught Tabitha's attention. The zombie was shambling towards the man and it almost looked like it was holding the knife with poise. With the man's attention on the fury in front and  controlling the large monster, he hadn't noticed the danger creeping up to him foot by foot. Tabitha doubled her efforts, buying the doppelganger the opening she needed. "Since you confess to your crimes, I think we can move on to sentencing. For the acts of raising the dead and using forbidden knowledge, I hereby sentence you to death."


The doppelganger lunged forward with the knife, slamming it home into the man's back. He spun around with a fierce howl, catching her jaw with the book and dropping her. As he tried to reach for the knife  in his back, he turned just in time to see Tabitha take aim at his head and pull the trigger. "May your soul find mercy."


Tabitha leapt at the large creature, each stab of the blade finding more purchase but not fatal enough to kill him. Tabitha could keep going for a bit longer, but her exhaustion was going to be a factor soon, and this monster would kill her if she couldn't end it. The remaining nephelim batted at the creature as well, attacking at the creatures face while Tabitha worked the lower region. One of the creatures swings got lucky and caught the nephelim on the temple, causing it to spiral off into the side of one of the mine carts. Tabitha leapt up onto a mine cart, and brought the blade down into the creatures brain, shouting in its face, "Just die already!" The creature grabbed its head in pain as it flailed around the room, zombies breaking in half from the creatures wild swings. The creature finally slumped to the ground, spasmed, and was gone.


Tabitha set to work finishing off the last of the zombies who were wandering aimlessly with no master to control them. Tabitha found the bodies of the smaller nephelim, torched both bodies then the book. Tabitha chuckled to herself as a look of realization came across her face as she looked around. "60 some bodies for a shapechanger to hide among, and 300 yards between me and the surface. Why can't things just be easy?" Tabitha froze ans she felt cold steel pressed against her neck. A faint voice  whispered in her ear,


"Because it wouldn't be any fun. Just a boring citation in the big city. Well then... I believe it's time for a little girl talk. Now, you'll tell me about yourself, I'll kill you quickly, and you don't have to worry about me killing your family members cause they found out I was a fake. Seems reasonable, yes?" Tabitha could see the woman's body begin to change and match hers. Tabitha cleared her throat and replied,


"Well... for starters I'm a woman of my word." The doppelganger's body rocked back from the pistol shot as Tabitha spun around to finish the deed. The doppelganger was nowhere to be seen amongst the room full of bodies. Tabitha cussed as she searched the area, frustrated by the turn of events. She didn't mind the game of cat and mouse, but the high of combat was wearing off, being replaced by aches and pains spamming through her. Tabitha carefully made her way through the hallways, checking all around her as she made he  way back to the surface.


Keep it together Tabby. You have one combatant left. Just one. You've solved the mystery, killed a Ressurectionist follower, and threw in some Nephelim just for good measure. Mission nearly finished. Make it happen Serling! As Tabitha took the entrance into the main juncture, the doppelganger hucked a knife at her, the blade slamming into Tabitha's chest. Tabitha's world went sideways as she forced her gun hand up and shot the doppelganger once more, a slight smirk crossing Tabitha's face as she saw the figure drop one more time. Tabitha forced herself to rotate to one side, to ensure that the creature was dead.


"You know..." The doppelganger coughed, a gurgling noise accepting her voice, "I'm getting kind of tired being shot. You need... You need to... stop it..."


"Sorry." Tabitha replied, offering  a weak smile marred by a flash of pain. "I guess you learned something else about me. I get the job done with no exceptions. Call it a quirk." The doppelganger coughed up a laugh, her face becoming more featureless as the life drained out of it.


The doppelganger and she stared at each other for what seemed like eternity, both breathing but without the energy to move. Tabitha's eyes started to flit close as she saw the doppelganger's body go still, and her world went dark.




"Tabby... Tabby it's your father. Can you hear me?" Captain Dodson was holding his daughter's hand in both of his and kissed it lightly before looking to the doctor. "Give me something doc. My girl's lying there unconscious, I've got a large pile of dead bodies with no explanation as to how they got that way. Please doc. Give me something."


The doctor looked to a clipboard in hand, clearing his throat. "I'm afraid science has done all it can do sir. Beyond the obvious physical injuries, the only thing we can do now is wait. But you can rest assured that she will make  a full recovery. The governor secretary has personally looked into this case and is ordering specialists to come in purely for the well being of your daughter. Honestly she's defied most of the odds by this point anyway. The chances of someone surviving three gunshots to the chest are quite frankly non-existent."

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