Rotblossom Rose (1.16R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

For a week after killing Grime Downbridge, Rose felt good. In fact she felt better than she had almost any time since before, save the day that she had slit Kragorr throat and escape the slave mines.

Kragorr was a more formidable foe, but with Grime she had been able to savour the look on his face as she stuck him in the groin and slit him open. Even thinking of it brought a smile to her face, at least the parts that could still move.

Smiling, however, reminded her of a different predicament. A woman with a face half-eaten by the Rot was quite distinctive, even in a part of The Scab where people were frequently afflicted with diseases and various type of Bleedwarp. A hood was a fine way to hide it most of the time, but she needed something else for occasions when she had to show her face.

A mask?

Yes.

<>

Ten days after she killed Downbridge, Rose was sketching masks, while sipping tea in her hideout. She found it hard to grip the paper with the iron hook or pick that she wore on the stump of her arm, but she was acclimatizing.

She was considering the idea of a new hand, one made of metal and powered by wraithstone, when a sound outside her door caused her to take pause. No one came to this tiny room in a forgotten corner of a run-down inn; even the owner of the building had been given strict instructions to leave her alone.

This is what I get for paying in advance… Rose thought as she stared at the door latch, turning ever so slowly. Was it locked? The latch stopped, jiggled, and stopped again, then silence.

Rose unsheathed her knife and slid to the wall beside the door as quietly as she could, readying herself to strike anyone who came through. There was no sound. But she also did not hear any bootfalls that would indicate whoever it was had left.

She was just beginning to wonder, when she heard a scuffle and then something hit the door, tearing it off it’s hinges. A big man walked into the room, a vicious looking hackblade in his hand. He cast about, looking for his prey.

The big man never saw Rose coming. She sprang into motion, driving her own blade into his kidney from behind. The man buckled, falling to the ground. He tried to struggled and Rose saw his face clearly. Their eyes met. What was he doing here?

The man was Nave Au’Sixthstreet, one of Lawch’s boys.

Rose was staring at the dying man’s face, dumfounded, when his partner slammed into her, bearing her to the ground.

“Sodding cunt, I’ll gut ya,” screamed a smaller man with weird irises, like looking at a starlight sky. She recognized this one too, called Blackeyes; another of Lawch’s mongrels.

Blackeyes slammed her head into the ground. Rose’s vision blurred and she felt the strength flow from her. Blackeyes raised his knife and brought it down. The pain of the blade puncturing her shoulder woke Rose from her torpor. She screamed and started to thrash.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” snarled Blackeyes, raising his blade again. Before he could bring it down this time, Rose swung her hook-hand, snagging the knee that was crushing her chest, dragging the sharp point in and under the cap.

Blackeyes wailed, trying to pull away. That only cause him more pain. He then remembered that he had a knife and tried to stab her frothing, screaming. He was bigger and stronger, but Rose kept knocking his blade off course. She yanked hard on the knee and the hook came free. Blackeyes fell back from her and Rose was free. She was on her feet and had Nave Au’Sixthstreet’s hackblade in her hand before Blackeyes began to move. By then, it was too late for him. He was bigger and stronger, but she was standing.

“You bitch, your going to– AARGH!”

Rose swung the Hackblade down, half severing Blackeyes hand at the wrist. He dropped his knife. Rose kicked him in the mouth with her big black boots, sending him sprawling.

“Look at me, Blackeyes,” said Rose. “Do you remember me?”

She waited for a glimmer of recognition in his eyes.

“You’re… you’re…”

The hackblade rose and fell, cleaving into Blackeye’s skull, neck, and shoulder. It was a messy weapon, but effective. When she was done, she turned to Nave.

He was breathing, but appeared to be paralyzed. His eyes rolled wildly and his mouth twitched as she approached. Like Grime, Nave and Blackeyes were the least of Lawch’s band, but Rose still hated them to the depths of her soul.

She sat on Nave’s back and whispered in his ear “Do you remember when you had me like this? What you did to me? Die.”

And she slit his throat.

Then Rose fumbled in her stones, taking the bright green one and touching it to her wounded shoulder. It helped a little.

When she was ready, she gathered her belongings and left the little room and never came back.

<>

She learned later on that Grime, Nave, and Blackeyes all worked together.

After that she was more careful to hide her identity. She bought two masks, one a plain half mask of a lady’s face, the other a full mask in the shape of a skull. She wore the second when hunting.

<>

Nave Au’Sixthstreet

Blackeyes

<>

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Rotblossom Rose (1.15R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

Rose’s metal fingers furrow the rock and dirt as she is dragged, struggling toward the cesspool. Must be a roper, she thinks, as she reaches for her the blade that she has dropped. Just as she is about to be pulled past, she stretches to her limit and the tip of her fingers touch the blade. Then she hears laughter.

This is not the first time that Rose has killed a man only to have him warp back to life, but the sound of Cackles laughter chills her to the bone. The shock unnerves her and she fumbles the blade only to be yanked away before she can grab at it again.

Rose knows that if she is dragged into the pool of shit and refuse by Bleedwarpt Cackles that she will die. The grip of his single tentacle is monstrous strong, She looks around, hoping for something, anything that can use to loosen that hold.

She sees nothing. All of her tools are in the corner of the room, save that one blade which is out of reach; it may as well be in Avalain. She heaves and strains, but her cackling, gibbering assailant pulls her back toward the pit despite her struggles. She dares not look at Bleedwarpt Cackles.

Then her boots are splashing, kicking in the thick muck, Renewed fear surges through her and she pulls, inching out of the offal. But her enemy is not to be denied and it yanks on her. Rose can feel her mechanical arm separating from her shoulder. She does not want to die like this, not yet, not so far from the light.

Light,

The Lantern!

Rose snatches the lantern and rolls over just as the thing-that-was-Cackles yanks her again. This time it drags her halfway into the shit.

“Fucking die, Cackles!” Rose snarls and throws the lantern at his half-seen head. The lantern is a quality item, but Rose throws with desperate strength. She hears the reinforced glass shatter against the Bleedwarpt’s head, and then fire spills all over it, lighting the little room. The cackling stops, replaced by an awful scream, and Rose feels the grip on her ankle slacken, she digs her hand into the rock and heaves herself out of the muck, stumbling, then running into the next room.

The screaming stops and the light in the cesspit alcove disappears.

“Shit, shit, shit!” She realized that she’s left her hear in the room.

Rose runs to the supplies and grabs a needle spear. It is not the deadliest of weapons, but it has the advantage of reach. What she wouldn’t give for her Coilsword right now.

A familiar cackle sounds from the alcove, grating up and down Rose’s spine. She turns and faces that slice of darkness, spear in hand. The cackle sounds again, fuller and more malignant than ever. Something moved in the dark, just beyond her sight. Rose snarled, stilling herself.

The first thing she saw of him was the teeth, wide and flat, drawn up in a hideous smile too big for the doorway. From behind those wide, monstrous teeth came that haunting, horrible cackle. The mouth that emerged from the dark was far too broad for the head that followed, a tapered asymmetrical skull that was shaped as if he was wearing a floppy woolen cap. And above that impossible grin hung two black orbs full of hate.

“Quite an improvement, Cackles,” snarled Rose.

Bleedwarpt cackles was long and lean, with joins that bent in unnatural places. His left arm was a thick tentacle. His other was a human hand, clutching Cackles favourite knife, gleaming hungrily in the light.

Their eyes met, and for a moment, neither moved. Then Bleedwarpt Cackled began to laugh, a mad sound that clawed at the edges of Rose’s courage, and then he began to run at her.

 

 

Rotblossom Rose (1.14R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

Discovering that the old bastard was dead had left Rose despondent for days. The act of slashing his nameplate at the crematorium was defiant, but ultimately unsatisfying compared to the visceral sense of satisfaction that she had experienced when she had slashed Kraggor’s open and watched him die.

That act had been the only time that she had truly felt alive, happy? …no, content, since before.

Rose could not sleep, eating was a joyless chore, half of her was dead and without Wraithstone the rot would consume the rest. Death would be a blessing, and end to this, but it was one that she did not deserve.

<>

Lawch was had been easy enough to find, secure in the Bedrock Wards, but he was beyond Rose’s reach. She could have confront him directly, but Lawch was no softborn despite his place of birth. He moved like a striking serpent, and had bested her easily on that day. The old Rose would have said that it was his men that made the difference, but now she knew that it was him. There was something in Lawch that made him fast, deadly, and ruthless, a kind of clarity that she was only beginning to understand herself.

Besides, it was best to save him for last. It would be wrong somehow to cross Lawch’s name off first and end with say, Blackeyes or Stinknob. There was a symmetry to vengeance she supposed.

<>

In the hive they hadthese wonderful street carts, called Tapwagons, that soldalcohol at every time of day. Rose was sitting down near her favourite of these carts, taking the edge off another fruitless day with a bottle Aspith when she encountered the first name that she would cross off her list.

Aspith is a strong liquor, brewed with herbs and moss that were local to The Scab. It was strong enough to numb even Rose, but the same could be said for many Tapwagon favourites. It was thick and dark green, and she was told that it smelled like a cave, or something like that… What Rose liked best about Aspith was that aach taste was different, and it struck her as the perfect drink for a person who wanted to be alone with her thoughts. But, some people have different ideas….

“Oi, bleeder, give us that.”

Aspith was also quite expensive.

“Leave her alone, Grime,” warned the Tapwagon owner.

“Sod off Gragon, if you know what’s good.”

The name Grime was not an uncommon one in The Scab, and yet while the man in question snarled at the Tapwagon owner, Rose snapped into focus. One of Lawch’s band had born the name Grime.

“Come on, Grime, she’s a good customer. Leave her be an I’ll give you a bottle, on the house.”

“No. I wan’t this one. Now fuck off. I won’t ask again.”

Tapwagon owners were a tough lot, for obvious reasons, but Gragon hesitated. He was bigger than Grime, and younger, but he seemed afraid of the man for some reason. A shiver ran down Rose’s spine.

“Its alright, Gragon,” Rose rasped.

The tapwagon owner hesitated, and then pulled his cart away. Grime chuckled, turning to face Rose. Instantly, she recognized him as one of Lawch’s men. It was hard for her to forget them, even the least of them. She remembered seeing his face as she was pinned to the ground watching her husband and son die. She also remembered him from the rape that followed.

“Grime Downbridge?”

“Aye. I’ll take that bottle… by the depths, your an ugly one…”

Rose laughed.

Grime’s face twisted in disgust and he reached for the long-bladed knife that was sheathed at his waist. Most people, when confronted with a person who values life so little that they would stab someone because that person offends their eyes might hesitate. Rose did not.

As Grime Downbridge’s hand found the well-worn handle of his knife, Rose planted her blade just above his groin and stood, using the momentum to push the blade up into him. Hot blood spilled down her hands and Grime grunted and backed away, trying to contain his wound, not quite able to grasp his sudden demise.

“Who…?” he gasped as she came face to face with him.

“You helped kill my family two years ago on the road to Avalain.”

With a surge of strength, Grime pushed past her, but he was to wounded and stumbled as he tried to run. Rose caught him from behind, knocking him to the ground. She grasped his greasy hair and whispered in his ear.

“Should I rape you, now, Grime? I don’t have a cock, but I’m sure this blade will penetrate.”

Grime gurgled blood, struggling weakly. He was more or less dead, Rose realized; she’d done him quick. She drove her blade into the back of his neck to make sure, and then got up and left.

She was so elated that it took her two blocks to realize that she was covered in blood and leaving a trail that any fool could follow. She washed in drain-barrel and took a circuitous route back to her hideout. There, she reverently took out her list of names and slowly crossed one off.

Grime Downbridge

It felt wonderful, and she slept well that night, unbothered by her ghosts.

 

 

Rotblossom Rose (1.13R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

“Guess you don’t feel comfortable goin’ up with anyone else…” Rose says to Chris Cackles, watching the hate crystallize behind his eyes. She imagines that she can see flecks of Red Wraithstone coalescing to warp him.

Cackles just grunts. His face looks deflated without the customary grin; Rose loves it. Of all of Lawch’s band she hates Cackles the most, she thinks. Cackles had tossed her boy into the septic pit and just… laughed, like it was a joke of some sort. She wants to enjoy his death.

As the last lift vanishes above them, she turns to Cackles. It is difficult to keep from sneering at his cowardice, they are alone, he wants to kill her, but he fears attacking her by himself. Of course, this kind of cowardice has made Chris Cackles a survivor, more dangerous than bolder men.

“I’m going to use the cesspit,” says Rose. “Keep an eye on the goods. If anything goes missing I will know and The Spider will have your head.”

“You having problems, boss? You spent along time at the pit last night…” He manages a weak chuckle. By The One, she hates that grin.

“Yeah, I had the shits, you fuck! Seriously, do I have to add you watching me while I splash my guts out to my reports as well? Fucking old pervert.”

“What do you mean by reports?” Cackles eyes were round with fear now. The Spider was known to punish even minor infractions severely.

“We’ll talk about it when I get back. Keep your sodding wits about you, Cackles, I don’t want any surprises.”

<>

Cackles moves with the quiet grace of a cat, at first Rose thinks it is someone, or something else, stalking her in the dim light. But then he creeps into the circle of lantern-light, his teeth glimmering in a mad grin that seems on the verge of splitting his head in two. In his hand, in a white-knuckled grip, is a particularly vicious looking knife. His fiendish intensity as he closes in on the figure at the edge of the pit is almost terrifying to behold. Indeed, as she watches Cackles slide soundlessly forward, Rose figures that such a grin has probably paralyzed many unfortunates as they glimpsed it, too late.

The silence is shattered as Cackles drives his blade home with a brutal thrust between the shoulder blades. Only Rose is not that figure squatting beside the lantern at the edge of the Cesspit. Cackles grin fades as he realizes it is a dummy, but before he can move, Rose trips a lever and a rope snare closes about his feet and snatches him into the air.

As Rose steps out into the light, Cackles throws his knife at her. Surprised, Rose narrowly, steps aside. He reaches into his boot, but she crosses the distance between them and lands a solid punch on his temple with her metal hand. Cackles immediately ceases to struggle.

<>

Rose has tied Cackles exactly the way she wants him before he begins to stir. His feat, bare now, are dangling in the filth of the Cesspit while a series of ropes hold him above the pit.

“What the fuck, what the fuck! Help!” Cackles begins to shout.

“No one can hear you,” says Rose. “The Lift isn’t even back down yet.”

“You fucking cunt, let me go, let me go.”

Rose spins the wheel that holds the ropes, Cackles sinks to his ankles in shit.

“Oh shit. Please, I don’t want to die,” he whines.

“There is no way you are leaving here alive, Cackles,” said Rose. “You’ve come to the end of your rope, so to speak.”

Rose spins again and Cackles sinks further, screaming in horror.

“Like I said, you are going to die here, Cackles,” Rasps Rose. “But if can answer a few questions, I might just kill you quick and be done with it.”

“What-what do you want to know?”

“Do you remember me, from before?”

“Yes. Your the softborn woman from that little house on the road to Avalain. We did you good… twenty years ago.”

“You understand the irony of your predicament then?”

“What?”

Rose spins the wheel, Cackles sinks up to his thighs, shrieking.

“I don’t understand, I don’t understand.”

“Irony?”

“Yes. What does it mean?”

Rose laughs. “Nevermind. Do you understand where I got the idea to do this to you. What did you do to me and mine where this kind of death might be considered just.”

“Go to hell you rancid fucking cunt!”

This time Rose spins the wheel slowly, lowering Cackles inch by inch. By the time the shit is halfway up Cackle’s belly his defiance has given way to stark terror. He thrashes and screams. Rose stops, baring her teeth as she growls at him.

“What did you do?”

“I killed-killed your boy.”

“How?”

“I threw him in the shit-pit.”

“That’s right. Then you laughed. You and your friends thought it was quite the joke…”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I swear by The One that I am sorry. Please just let me go.”

“Fuck you Cackles. You know I can’t let you go.”

“Why? I won’t tell anyone.”

“Bullshit. But that’s not the reason. You see when you threw my brave little boy down that pit, you laughed, but all I could hear was his screaming. He was yelling for me. I still hear that sound every time I close my eyes. I still dream of that moment EVERY HOUR THAT I TRY TO SLEEP! … I still say his name every time I wake from those nightmares… So, I think you can agree that I have to kill you.”

“No, no, no, no…”

“But if you can answer this last question, I’ll do it quick. Are you ready?”

Cackles whimpers.

“Are you ready?” Rose snarls.

“Yes.”

“What was his name, Cackles? What was the name of my little boy.”

Cackles just stares at her, mute. Rose shakes her head, and then she pulls a rope and Chris Cackles falls free of the web that is holding him, plunging the rest of the way into shit and waste, until only his head remains above. He retches and empties the contents of his stomach into the mess as he struggles.

“You know they say that killing people like this leaves a black mark on your soul,” mused Rose as Cackles struggles, retching, and grunting, to keep his head above the muck. “But I feel damn good about this Cackles. I might actually be able to sleep tonight. Maybe I’ll dream of this moment… I hope so. Enjoy your last breath, you black-hearted bugger.”

Cackles struggles and struggles, but he keeps sinking. By the time Rose was done speaking only his mouth and eyes remained above the shit. Rose meets his gaze one last time, see the hate and the terror, and then he is gone. There is a frantic struggle beneath the surface, and then silence descends once more.

“Rest now, Gared, the bad man is gone,” Rose whispers. Then she turns and begins to take down the rope and pulleys.

Rose was nearly done when a tentacle shot out of the cesspit and snared her leg.

<>

 

Rotblossom Rose (1.11R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

It is time to kill Cackles, Rose thinks, tonight should be ripe for revenge.

She can feel his gaze on her back as her crew, triumphant from the kill, makes their way through the depths. No doubt he already blames her entirely for how the group treats him after she called out his little theft. Chris Cackles is not a man that can stand being humiliated; he will come for her, if he sees an opportunity.

“We make camp here,” Rose announces as they enter a wide chamber dominated by a rocky mound with a lazily flowing stream along one side, out toward a tendril just off The Gash itself. “I want everyone to stay wary. I’ve seen more Bleevers lost to careless mistakes after a delve than fighting dangerous Bleedwarpt.”

“Alright, you heard the boss,” bellows Geb. “I want Scarab and Green Jim on watch, Cackles will boil water, and the rest of you will strike camp. Green Jim, you need to wash the blood off your armour first though; you never know what you might attract down here, Before we eat, I want to check everyone’s tarnish level, understood?”

Rose is briefly annoyed that the crew snaps to it so quickly after Geb’s relays her orders. Sometimes she feels as if they respected him more because he has a penis. It isa sour thought though, and she lets it pass; it is hard for her to resent Geb, who always shows her respect, even if she is occasionally jealous of his easy rapport with others. She used to have it, before.

<>

The mound in the centre of the chamber has been scarred by countless Bleevers making camp here. Rose has been here with various crews twenty-eight times over the years and only been attacked once. That time was another crew, which is rare… and bloody. She remembers the brief, desperate struggle before the attackers broke off and the tense day that followed.

“Captain, I gotta say…” Green Jim was drunk and happy. “I’ve never seen anyone move like you do… by the one! You went up that wall and down like you were on stairs.”

Rose smiles. “Thanks Green Jim. You did well yourself.”

Her voice is a rasp, and she knows that her smile is nothing to look at with half of her face hidden behind a metal mask, but the young man seems pleased at her praise. He even sits up straighter.

“You earned your pay, kid,” says Scarab.

Geb laughs and Green Jim says something. Rose just grunts and nods. Her attention is on Cackles, sitting at a fire on the periphery, shunned by the rest of the crew. He keeps casting dark looks her way, when he thinks she isn’t looking.

Just as planned.

<>

Rose does not really sleep anymore, so she does not worry about Cackles catching her unawares.

<>

“This lift takes three of us at a time, if we divide the gear properly,” says Rose, addressing the crew. “I know it sucks, but The Spider was feeling cheap and did not spring for a better lift. I don’t give a fuck who goes up with who. Scarab, Geb, and myself will carry the booty. I will be on the last lift…”

Naturally, she ended up with Cackles.

“We could switch,” offered Geb.

“Nope. I’ll send the haul back up on the lift. Make sure the men get paid. Cackles is going to have an accident.”

“Oh.”

<>

EDIT — In the final version, Rose will say “Cackles won’t be a problem.” instead.

 

Rotblossom Rose (1.10R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

<>

Rose remembers returning to The Scab after her escape from the mines and her trip to the ruins of her old life,

The City has been around since before The Bleed was discovered. Far enough back, so far that it is blurred even to the learned, and there was a mountain where The Gash is, and in that mountain was the seat of a great kingdom, dwarves they say. The ruins of that place lie way down in The Gash, now; a place that draws the ambitious and the foolhardy further into The Depths,

TThis kingdom of Dwarves was there when Wraithstone was first discovered. There are conflicting tales of what happened then. Some say that the discovery of the stone undermined the kingdom, others say that the Wraithstone fell out of the sky, shattering the mountain and the Dwarves as it ploughed into the earth.

Since then The City has changed hands hundreds of times in countless wars, been the seat of world spanning empires, and the centre of great events. Countless buildinsg have fallen and arisen, toppled into the depths, or simply been built over in the endless parade of years. All that matters is that The City is built on the source of all Wraithstone, and Wraithstone is the source of magic.

The Scab is what people have call the city for as long as anyone cares to remember. Gazing out at it, Rose thinks the name perfectly appropriate. The City clusters around The Gash, that great wound in the earth, as if trying to cover it, even spilling down the sides of the the web of smaller chasms. There are beautiful parts of the city, she knows. The peaceful parks and gardens of The Bedrock Wards spring to mind, as well as fantastical buildings such as The Silverthread Span, the improbable bridge that connects the two sides of The Gash. But the city as a whole is ugly, and the moniker of scab suits it well. It is a place founded on ruin, built of ambition and greed, all mortared together with the blood of an endless supply of foolish victims.

Rose should have known better than to think that she could escape it.

<>

Her first days back in The Scab were desperate and dangerous. Rose had no coin, and precious little supplies. The streets of The Hive and other, lesser slums were full of those who preyed upon others, from vulgar pimps to vicious cutthroats.

For fear of being mistaken for a Bleedwarpt or a plague victim, Rose kept herself covered and shunned open areas for the relative quiet of back alleys and side-roads. She kept to herself and avoided anyone who might be a threat.

Hunger gnawed at her, but Rose kept herself going with tiny doses of Wraithstone; red for energy, blue for clarity, and green for health. She carried a fortune of the stuff, enough to buy a sizeable house in The Hive, but knew that if she revealed what she carried she would be dead within ten steps. Places like this bred the kind of desperation that led men to kill.

By the time she reached the closest Syndicate trading house, two days later, Rose was gnawing on scraps of wood and discarded bits of food fallen on the streets. She had two close run ins with gangs, but had avoided them by scrambling up the sides of the shacks. She was too weak to outrun a healthy man, but her time in the mines had taught her to climb exceptionally well, and she outpaced her pursuers both times. Of course, had they known the wealth of Wraithstone that she carried, they would not have broken off the chase.

<>

The Syndicate controlled all processing of Wraithstone in The Scab. They were utterly merciless about destroying anyone who tried to compete with them, even sending agents and assassins far afield to eliminate anyone who tried to emulate their business without leave.

The squat building that Rose arrived at on her third day back in The Scab was built like a fortress. Thick walls, solid construction, windows that even a child would have trouble fitting through if they somehow removed the bars. For burly men wearing face-masks and the crimson uniforms of the Syndicate, guarded the entrance.

Rose joined the line. The man in front of her sniffed, and turned, frowning at her stench. Rose showed him her middle finger. She was safe enough now, no one would start a fight here.

“Go die in a hole you festering cunt,” sneers the man, turning away.

Rose wheezes out a laugh.

It takes an hour for the line to shrink enough that Rose is in the trade-house. There she watches men and women in white shirts with crimson vests bearing the heraldry of the Syndicate haggle with those selling them Wraithstone. There is also a line where people are trading tarnished copper, silver, and gold disks for fresh metal. The Syndicate makes a killing on that.

It is more interesting inside the trade house, and time passes quicker. Rose leaves an hour later with enough coin to live comfortably for a while and a few silver disks of her own to draw the residual bleed from her body.

Then she buys a room at a secure inn. The stew she buys in the tavern below it, is the first real food she has had in some time. It tastes so good that she almost cries.

Then she buys a bottle of Hiver Screech, strong stuff, and drinks herself into a stupor before stumbling to bed. The simple mattress is shockingly comfortable and soon Rose has fallen to a deep, silent sleep blessedly free of dreams of her dead family and the wicked, wicked men who killed them.

As she snored, the list of names of the men she must kill rested on the table beside the bed, waiting.

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Rotblossom Rose (1.9R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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The Bleedwarpt Berserker’s legs writhe on the floor, while the upper half drags itself toward Green Jim with powerful arms. As it moves it leaves a trail of blood and guts, but it does not seem to care.  Rose, dropping to the ground, sees Green Jim fumble the cartridge for his steamlance, eyes wide as the Berserker looms. He gives up and grabs the lance, using it like an awkward spear.

Green Jim is lucky; the rest of Roses’s crew is well practiced. As the Berserker propels itself at Green Jim, Geb gets in front of it. The beast launches itself at the big man, intestines flapping behind it like some obscene leash. It is horrifically vigorous, and slams into Geb’s shield with a riotous thud. Rose feels her heart lurch, but the big man keeps his feet and smashes it with his shock-mace before backing out of reach.

As two of the men jab it with needle spears, Scarab rushes close and drives a rockbiter piton into the ground beside the thrashing beast . At first Rose is confused by this, but then she realizes that the piton is anchoring the nets that still partially entangle the beast to the ground.

“HARPOON!” she shouts.

One of the men obliges, firing a spring and steam driven spear. There is a pop and hiss, then the barbed spear slams into the berserker torso, a line trailing behind it. Rose helps grab the line, feels it twist as the beats moves, then they secure it to the ground with another piton.

By now Green Jim has reloaded his cumbersome Steamlance. Secured by the net and the harpoon, the berserker torso can do little more than snarl as her steps up and rams the weapon in again. This time he strikes it in the chest, blasting its ribcage open and sending an arm flying off over their heads.

“Woooo!” shouts Green Jim, covered in gore.

Cackles laughs. She tries not to think about killing him.

Rose lets out a breath. No one appears to be seriously injured. The legs are still thrashing weakly, but they posed little danger.

“Not bad,” says Geb.

“Agreed, let’s not let our guard down though,” replies Rose. “The noise and the blood are bound to attract attention. Best carve it up and get out.”

As she speaks, she watches the men descend upon the corpse, hacking at it, looking for the rich deposits of energized Wraithstone on its bones and in the knobs on its skin. Even through the blood, some of the tiny stones glow an angry red. As the others are busy she sees Cackles pocket something from the Berserker’s corpse when he thinks no one is watching.

“Cackles, why don’t you show us what you just pocketed.”

She says it loudly enough that everyone hears. The men stop mid-harvest, looking at Cackles. He might be an old hand, but he is new in the crew, and not yet trusted. Stealing from your crew is a fast way to get rich, but

Cackles looks to Scarab, then to Geb, no doubt hoping that one of them will over-rule her.

“Show us,” says Geb.

Rose hopes it is Wraithstone. That would make it easy. The crew would help her do Cackles no questions asked.

Instead Cackles pulls out what looks lie a well worn necklace, with three disks of gold.  The gold is tarnished from exposure to the bleed, and has lost all of its lustre. Most of the men lose interest immediately: the gold is valuable, but not nearly worth enacting harsh justice. Rose sees an opportunity nonetheless.

“Give it here, Cackles. I will be taking it to the syndicate. Everyone will get a share of the proceeds but you. On this crew we split everything. Got it?”

Cackles hates being singled out for punishment as much as she expects. The humiliation lights the fires of hatred in his eyes, ensuring now that he will act upon his suspicions of her when gets a chance.

Rose pretends not to notice his glare, and goes back to helping the men gather Wraithstone.

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After a few minutes of work, they have filled a small container with gory, glowing red rocks.

Scarab whistles as he puts the last fleck of stone in.

“That’s good stuff captain,” he says. The shade and intensity of the glow is an indication of how energized the stone is.

“Aye,” says Geb. “And a lot of it, too. I could buy a house. A nice one, outside of the Hive.”

“Keep dreaming,” says Scarab.

Rose just smiles. Cackles is still sulking, shooting dark looks toward her. It is almost too easy.

“Hey… that necklace,” begins Green Jim, looking at the half-tarnished silver disk hanging from his wrist. “Was he a delver too?”

Scarab and Geb look at each other, then burst out laughing. Rose rolls her eyes.

“Yes, Green Jim,” she says. “Most of the Bleedwarpt that we hunt were once people like you and I. This poor sod was probably part of a deep delving team that got caught down here.”

“Three gold disks is enough to get down to the real money,” says one of the men. “Dwarf ruins and shit from before the bleed.”

“True,” says Geb. “But we make far more profit off a kill like this then a lengthy, dangerous expedition. Too many of those kind of dives end up with this.”

He points at the berserker. Green Jim mutters, shaken at the idea that their quarry was once like them.

“Enough chatter,” says Rose. “We need to get away from all this blood, clean up, and make camp until the lift arrives. We have some time left, and I don’t want anyone getting sloppy down here. Let’s move.”

The men obey even Cackles, who follows sullenly, shunned by the rest of the men now. Rose can feel his anger.

Fucking Cackles.

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