Malifaux Fiction: None Shall Pass
I recently took part in The Iron Quill, a writing competition over on the Wyrd Miniatures forum.
Inspired by the cooking content show, each round of The Iron Quill supplies four ‘ingredients’, at least two of which participants must incorporate into a piece of fiction set in the world of Malifaux no longer than 1500 words long.
Sounds simple, right?
This round, dubbed In the Dark of the Knight, featured the following ‘ingredients’:
- Theme: Becoming the Mask
- Character: The Black Knight
- Line: “There are no coincidences.”
- Item: Soulstone Necklace
Read on and see if you can figure out which of these I incorporated into my entry….
Arthur was an assistant to the doctor of Purity’s Reach, a contract town located deep in the Badlands. He was alone in the clinic that fateful day, the doctor having stepped out briefly to make a personal visit to a patient.
Not long after the doctor had left, a bedraggled man burst through the front door before collapsing on the floor in front of Arthur. He did not recognise the man, but sprung into action all the same. He rolled the man onto his back and checked for injuries, of which there were none. The man awakened and, upon seeing Arthur tending to him, reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a bundle of cloth. He pressed it into Arthur’s hand, and whispered “Malifaux… quickly… they are coming.” The man began to cough violently, flecks of blood appearing on his lips. As Arthur accepted the bundle and began to unwrap it, the man lay back down and closed his eyes. He was dead and the necklace was now Arthur’s.
The man’s final words had been a little too vague for Arthur, so he wrapped the necklace back up and shoved it into his pocket. He was heading for the door to fetch the town mortician when chaos erupted. There was an almighty crash from outside, and Arthur rushed to the door, opening it. Outside he could see that one of the town’s buildings has collapsed, littering the street with debris.
Before he could act, the building across the street from it collapsed before his very eyes, this time accompanied by an otherworldly howl that chilled Arthur to his bones. The man’s dying words came back to him, suddenly making sense. They weren’t coming, they were already here.
Not hesitating a moment longer, Arthur turned tail and ran. Away from the invisible assailant at first, but once he was far enough away he adjusted his course and headed straight for Malifaux. Unfortunately, Purity’s Reach did not benefit from a rail connection to the city, and the Badlands terrain was too hazardous for any permanent roads, so he had to rely on landmarks to find his way. This was fine at first, but the further he got from town the less he recognised his surroundings.
Hours stretched into days as he made his way towards Malifaux, alternating between walking and running, trying to conserve his strength. He paused only briefly for a sip of water or quick meal when the terrain presented him the opportunity.
Arthur was nearing the limit of his endurance when he crested a small hill to reveal a steep escarpment rising out of the plain in front of him, stretching off as far as the eye could see in either direction. He was about to despair when he spied a break in the wall, a narrow ravine that appeared to lead up to the plateau beyond. Elated, he hurried towards the ravine, certain that Malifaux laid on the other side.
He was only a dozen yards from the ravine’s mouth when he spotted the corpses, six of them in total. They were little more than skeletons, their flesh claimed by scavengers long ago, dressed in tattered clothes and seemingly unarmed. Arthur approached the nearest corpse warily. As he did the wind whipped up again, this time coming from behind him, carrying the same dust as before. The wind swept over the nearest corpse, then stopped and swirled back upon itself creating a small, dust-filled tornado around it. The corpse lifted up off the ground and, to Arthur’s horror, appeared to stand upright.
The tornado eased, leaving the corpse standing before Arthur. It stretched out a skeletal finger towards him and lurched forward. Arthur took a step back and almost tripped over a fist-sized stone. Snatching the stone up, he advanced on the corpse; waiting until the very last minute before bringing the stone up sharply into the corpse’s chin, knocking its head clean off.
The corpse kept coming, even as the skull rolled away, its hands grasping at Arthur’s clothes. He struck again, this time at the corpse’s arms. A few solid blows later, and they too separated from the corpse’s torso. Arthur’s relief was short-lived, however. The corpse kept coming, animated by some foul magic or a spirit that cared little for its hosts integrity. It wasn’t until he smashed the corpse’s ribcage that it finally collapsed and laid still.
Arthur breathed a sigh of relief and checked the chain again, making sure the caged soulstone was still intact. He let out another sigh when he saw that it was still in one piece. He tucked the cage back under his shirt and continued forward towards the ravine. He only made it a few steps forward before the wind whipped up again, animating a second corpse. Less surprised this time, he picked up a leg bone from the corpse he had just dispatched and advanced on his new foe.
This time, he used the thick bone to attack the corpse’s arms first, removing them before placing a well-aimed blow to the side of its head. The blow wasn’t strong enough to remove the head completely, but it did spin around to face the ravine. As before, this did not slow the corpse’s inexorable advance for more than a moment. Making the most of the brief opportunity, Arthur thrust the leg bone through the corpse’s chest as hard as he could. As the corpse’s sternum shattered and ribs began to crack, whatever foul magic animated it dissipated and it collapsed.
Looking ahead to the remaining four corpses, Arthur knew exactly what to expect. Filled with confidence, he moved on to the next corpse without pausing, repeating the cycle of wind, rise, thrust, collapse twice more.
As the fifth corpse collapsed, the cage began to twitch under his shirt. Arthur was so filled with adrenaline that he barely noticed. He strode up to the last corpse, swinging the leg bone aggressively, getting ready to deliver one final blow.
This corpse was a short distance away from the rest, closer to the ravine’s mouth. As Arthur approached, he noticed that, unlike the others, this one appeared to be wearing armour, what once was black lacquered breastplate, now dusty and dull from exposure to the elements. Arthur looked at the breastplate, then down to the leg bone and his hand, then back to the corpse. “Bugger,” he muttered.
As if responding to the sound of his voice, the wind whipped up once more, and stronger than before. The animating tornado was stronger this time, possibly due to the increased weight of the corpse and armour.
As the wind eased, the corpse did not stride forward as the others had. Instead, it began to speak. More accurately, it made noise that sounded like speech, though the corpse’s jaw did not move. “Well done,” it rasped. “You have made it past my guards and proven yourself worthy of facing me.”
“What… but… who,” Arthur stammered in response. The cage was quite agitated now, as if trying to burst its way through his shirt.
“I am the Guardian. If you wish to pass you must first defeat me. If you fail, your body will fall and become one of my guards.”
“Err… I guess that’s… umm… fair.” Arthur couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. He’d seen many strange things after travelling through the breach all those months ago, but this was by far the strangest. Hefting the bone in his hand, he started towards the Guardian. “Let’s get this done.” He struck out at the corpse’s head, landing a significant blow. The corpse’s head fell to the side, hanging limply but still seemingly attached.
“It will take more than that to defeat me,” the corpse chided as it reached out and grabbed the bone out of Arthur’s hands. Holding the bone in both hands, the corpse bent it, causing it to shatter as if it were match sticks.
Shocked, Arthur backed away from the Guardian. As he did, he noticed the cage tugging against his shirt. He pulled the necklace from inside his shirt and held it up in front of him. It was now glowing with an eerie pale light and rattling against the bars of its cage. As he produced the soulstone, the Guardian visibly flinched as if recoiling from its presence. Noticing this, Arthur’s nerve returned and he advanced on the Guardian, getting close enough to press the cage against its armoured chest. As he did, there was a blinding flash of light and the corpse collapsed.
Counting his blessings, he tucked the necklace back into his shirt and hurried through the ravine, hoping that Malifaux was indeed nearby.
For the record, I didn’t win. Since it was my first entry, I wasn’t eligible for the Most Improved award either. Still, there’s always next time.