The Story so far…

“The Philosopher’s Garden”

“A Price for Dead Men” Part 1

“A Price for Dead Men” Part 2

“A Price for Dead Men” Part 2.5

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Tendrils of mist seeped through the iron grate fence that led into the old church. The fog, carrying the chill of late autumn, made the hairs on Archibald’s arms stand on their ends. The courteous gentleman that he was, Archibald refused to give a word of complaint, only blowing a draft of hot air into his silken gloves. They’d ridden from the city over to the heaths and shrublands along its outskirts, more than enough time for the frost to start seeping through Archie’s coat.

“I never was one for leaving the house in autumn. The frost is merciless this time of year.” Fordshire planted the stock of his M2 Gorond rifle on a mound of dead orange leaves.

“Family is more important than comfort, father. And the Fordshire name is at stake.” Daniella ambled her way over to the iron gate, and Archibald’s gaze was enthralled with the sway of her vermillion skirt. She coiled her fingers along one of the bars, staring with a keen sense of nostalgia over at the church. “I still remember Phillip. His smile, his voice, and his charisma, I still know them. We must bring him back to his coffin.” She clenched her delicate fist. “It is the least we can do.”

“Right you are, dear, right you are. If it was any other chap whose corpse was stolen, I’d have much rather stayed in the study, I’d be lounging by the warm hearth and sipping fine wine through the afternoon. But for family, I’ll always go the extra mile. Right, Sir Archibald?”

Archie snorted and shook his head from out of his sensuous stupor. He had lost himself within the folds of Daniella’s fabrics and in the sinuous motions of her hips. He scolded himself within his mind–what kind of gentleman would even fathom pulling a stunt like that? If his father still roamed the Earth, Archie would have surely been treated to a minimum of three lashes from the old man’s belt. And rightfully so! How could he even–

“Sir Archibald?” An angel’s voice spoke to Archie, to which he pivoted his head in its direction. But when he did, he saw it was none other than Daniella Fordshire whom spoke.

“You don’t seem quite right. Is anything amiss, perchance?”

Archie tugged at the collar of his suit. “No…no not at all. Just getting a feel for this morn’s weather. Not very good let me tell you, not very good at all.”

Both father and daughter Fordshire exchanged confounded expressions.

“Regardless,” Archibald regained his composure. He would gain nothing from acting like a nervous wreck in the face of a damsel. “let’s get a move on inside. The fresher the coffin is, the easier it ought to be to track down the trail of the thieves.”

They both nodded, and Archibald was relieved. Without further distractions, they creaked the aging iron gate open, both the men shuddering as the fog swept through them. Daniella, however, bore herself with every ounce of pride she held since meeting Archie at the bar. Her every stride was healthy and youthful, and not once did she slow her pace. It was a kind of courage unseen in maidens of noble status, and only a rare sight with the daughters of countryside farmers.

The chill crept up Archie’s spine, but to keep face, he kept himself aright. The group went through the hazy veil of mist with chipped tombstones emerging on occasion, only to be submerged yet again in the fog when they advanced. Sometimes, Archibald was lucky enough to spot a rose or daisy sprawled atop the burial mounds of war heroes–so far, those had been the only sign of color in the graveyard. A hummingbird warbled faint birdsong some ways off within a crooked tree in the graveyard’s corner.

“There it is.” Archie squinted past the haze till he saw Daniella’s finger pointing toward the church’s facade, which had just begun to poke out of the dense mist. “It’s been long since I was last here. I pray Philip is not angered with us in Heaven because of our delay.”

“Dani, Uncle Phillip was a man of moderate temper–if any temper at all–he’d be willing to wait centuries for his niece and brother, as long as they got the job done.” responded Fordshire as he hoisted his M2 Gorond up to his shoulders.

“And that we will.” Archibald pressed forward and spoke in his most dashing tone. “Not once in this life have I let a Turtillian get away with his schemes, and by God, the whole lot of them will be thrown out of Winsworth before my life is over. For that much I can vouch!” the cunning gentleman, Archibald of Newlenburs, played the best trick he had up his sleeve. Aristocratic ladies fell head over heels for men whom made bold promises. And that was another one of the Truths his father had shared with him.

“Beautiful words, Sir Archibald.” Father always knew best. “But…” Daniella gave a sidelong glance at the love-struck gentleman, her pupils gleaming like pearls. “words they still are. I’ve yet to know if your actions can live up to those expectations. I have heard much of you, but have experienced little of you. Only time will tell, Archibald.”

His heart beat once in a painful, knife-like motion, and he struggled to keep his jaw from dropping. “Hrrmmm…yes…of course. Lady Daniella.” Archie never thought he’d see the day where one of his father’s methods failed him.

Daniella smiled out of courtesy and went over to the stone steps that led to the church. It was a buttressed structure, founded in the gothic style of the Late Winsworthi Dark Ages, long before the seeds of industry had been sown. With vines creeping over sculptures fashioned in the shape of cherubs or moss cropping up inside the worn crevices of the stone, it was more than obvious that it was the relic of a past age. A simpler time, where men needed only tend to their farms and cattle, and where one’s every breath was not marred with the toxic smog of factories.

Admiral Fordshire and Archibald came up behind Daniella as she neared the double-doors of the church. Archie cleared his throat, and drew his trusty revolver from underneath his coat. Fordshire stood on the ready with his rifle aimed straight into the room, and Daniella took the honor of pushing both doors aside.

In an instant, the two doors slammed against the walls of the church, and clouds of dust were stirred into the air by the impact. Both Archie and Fordshire strode inside with their weapons brandished, for any would-be assailants to think twice before picking a fight with them.

The church in question was rather squat and tiny when one took into account that it was the burial ground of war heroes. Golden candelabras and shards of stained glass were just about the only decorum left. All else was a mess of plaster, benches strewn about haphazardly, and a pulpit that had been turned on its side. Oddly enough, there was a singular candle whose flame still shone, behind a small colonnade to the right of the church.

Archie coughed into his hands a few times, waving away the dust with his free hand. “My lord! What even happened here? The place looks like it’s been trashed by revelers or some other degenerates.”

“And it’s been less than a week since we buried Brother Phillip.” mentioned Baron Fordshire while he scanned the church through the sights of his M2 Gorond. “It only means they must have known about this somehow. But how…”

“The Brothers have eyes everywhere.” A voice that echoed throughout the church interjected Fordshire’s sentence. “Every person with whom you speak, every block in the major cities, and perhaps even in the cups of your drinks…” the voice cackled, and while Fordshire waved his gun around to see if he could shoot the sound, Archibald listened to how it spoke. Like a foreigner…Gurgelian almost.

“Who are you?!” Daniella came forward, bearing a pistol that was just barely larger than her own hand. She raised the weapon, arms trembling and all. “What did you do to my uncle!? What did your Brothers do with him!?”

Archie bit his tongue. He swore he had heard the voice before. He knew it was familiar. But from who was it? Bah! I’ll find out later, what matters now is Daniella! “Daniella! Stay out of the church! A damsel like you will only–” A shot blared out from behind the colonnade where the candle had been, and Daniella gave an ear-piercing shriek.

Before Archie could gather his thoughts, he caught the sound of Daniella’s gun skidding along the floor and the noise of a bullet casing rattle as it fell. Fordshire’s daughter stood with one hand grasping the other, her eyes widened, her moist lips contorted into a frown.

“Perhaps that’ll keep the lass quiet. You’re too young to be waving around a pistol like that.” A squat old man emerged from the final pillar in the church’s colonnade. His grey beard was sharpened to the point of looking like a pencil’s lead tip, and his bifocals gleamed with an ungodly amount of light as he stepped forward. On either of his hands were black iron revolvers. “Ah-h-h-h, Archibal, it’s been long hasn’t it? I’ve been dying to speak with you again since we last met. Surely, you do remember the name Dietrich Hengereg, old chap.” he grinned a grin that exposed more than one gap between his teeth.

“You…you BASTARD!” Fordshire yanked the trigger on his rifle, and the bullet raced to reach Dietrich.

Yet a massive blur streaked past the old man.

In moments, a hulking shape had manifested itself in front of Dietrich before the bullet could strike him. Another few seconds revealed it to be a brute of a man with tan skin, a bald scalp, and a long scar running down his eye. A singular stream of red rolled down the bridge of the giant’s nose. The bullet had struck home, yet the colossus stood. The tan barbarian flexed his muscles, his veins outlining themselves along his body, and the blood ran down to his pecks. Like an animal, the giant grunted, and wheezed, and as though through some miracle, the bleeding then stopped.

“Who are–who are you…you monsters!” Fordshire shouted in horror, with Daniella retreating to Archibald’s side.

“Thomas. Name is Thomas! Monster me not!” Thomas stepped to the side, and sobbed into his burly palms for a few seconds.

“Look what you’ve done. You just had to make my favorite giant cry didn’t you? That’s a shame, and here I was, thinking we could actually get along.” said the old man.

“Enough teasing, Dietrich.” Archibald planted a foot in front of himself, his revolver was aimed right at Dietrich. “Why are you working with the Turtillians? Answer me!”
Dietrich smirked and gave another flash of his glasses. “Well look at you, the noble’s boy thinks he had a right to know what I’m doing, now does he? I’m afraid you missed your chance, Archie, I don’t serve under House Newlenburs anymore, and don’t even think I’ll ever do so again!” Dietrich reeled his head back and cackled like a madman, all the while Thomas tried to imitate the laugh with moderate success.

Archie pressed forward, and he could feel Daniella’s arm twining with his as he did so. She came with him. “I promised I would kill you one day, Dietrich, and a gentleman never backs down on his promise.” Archie aimed the revolver at Dietrich, whom only shrugged.

“Archie, will we be alright?” Daniella spoke, her voice quavering.

“We’ll be just fine.” Archibald answered, despite not being too sure of that himself. Still…the ladies do love bold promises.

“A shame, a shame, a shame. You never learn do you, Archie? But who am I to complain? That only means more fun for me.” Dietrich raised both of his hands and clapped twice. “Barrabus!”

Archie blinked and craned his head to the side to indicate confusion, but rumbling came from beneath his feet, and his heart stopped in that instant. “What did you–”
A thud came from under the floor boards of the church. Archie waited an instant, and then another thud came, this time leaving a dent on the floor. “Game over, Archibald.”

“Wai–” oaken planks burst up into the air, and sawdust floated upwards, making Archie cough. Before he could reach for his revolver, Daniella hold on him made him drop the weapon.

It all came sooner than he could have imagined. One moment he stood on the ground, the other he was in midair, staring at a gaping chasm left on the church’s floor. He pivoted his head toward where Fordshire had been, but before he could see the Baron, a brawny palm snuffed out his vision and the world went black

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