Everdark: The New World, A Gothic Drama

Notes: I would like to thank Michael Panush for allowing me to use his setting, the Everdark, for this series. His pen name on this site is "Cthulhu is an Awesome God."

The Gunner, The Ghost, and Grendel

In the year Eighteen-Sixteen, darkness overtook the world of men. The cause of that dreadful happening was known to no mortal man, but countless ideas came forward. Some believed it was Divine judgment; others, some spite of the recently deposed Emperor of France; and far fewer believed it was some event with natural causes.

The dark reigned at all hours. During noon-time, when men took the sun for granted, there was naught but a sinister dark gray sky. Crops failed, and famine spread chaos. The forests transformed into a strange, sickly gray. Ferocious beasts of both nature and myth terrorized mankind. And into this world, all order vanished. One by one, monarchy, empire, and republic alike fell to anarchy as a literal Dark Age came over the world. It was called the Everdark, as it had been for almost a century.

In the land once known as the United States of America, few bastions of civilization remained. Most cities had been largely abandoned, as the mechanisms to keep order in most had been forsaken. However, in a handful of ruined cities, an organized group of men still did dwell. Philadelphia was one such city, and a recently-constructed fortress city dominated the ruins. A shadowy group, descended from rogue Freemasons, did reign there, and in similar cities. They called themselves the Order of the Artificers, after the complex clockworks and ingenious mechanisms they did create. It is near that city that our story does begin.

Dawn had almost come, and a young man had almost crossed the frozen Delaware River. He wore a black tricorne hat, and had a dark green and gray wool shirt on. An insignia was woven over his upper breast, a compass with crossed flintlock pistols underneath. The Artificer symbol had been based on a pre-Everdark one, but this was not the symbol of the pre-Everdark Freemasons. In his gloved hands were cradled a flintlock rifle, with a six-shot cylinder and mounted spyglass. On his belt was a pneumatic air pistol, a spade-like bayonet, and a machete. He carried a pack of supplies with him, knowing he would not be able to return. His hair was cut short and dark brown, and his eyes were light blue. This desperate man was called Thomas Turner, and he knew his former Artificer associates would be hunting him.

Fortune had smiled on him doth far. As he leapt between ice-flows, he saw the mighty Delaware River beneath him and the ice flows. While the winter months had technically left, the river was still choked with ice much of the year. To fall in to the dark, frigid water was to quickly invite death. Behind him, a group of men and their machines pursued him, with the intention of bringing him death. Crouching but for a moment, Thomas noted he had almost made it to the opposite shore. While the Everdark was always night, the darkness did grow less intense when "dawn" came. The pitch black sky was now a grayish one, as if it was some sort of perpetual overcast twilight. His eyes did pick out the dark forests of the opposite shore.

Confident in each of his movements, the rifleman jumped to a stable ice flow, just as the whistling of a cannonball did reach his ear. He flattened himself on the ice flow, just as the projectile shattered the ice he had stood on naught but moments ago. He quickly glanced back at his pursuers. Each of them wore green and gray outfits similar to his, and each wore a black shako with the compass-and-crossed pistols insignia. Each wore a breathing-mask around their faces, concealing their identities behind their apparatuses. Some held muskets, others held repeating rifles, others held blunderbusses, and still others had ferocious dogs on leash. Beside them stood a rank of clockwork automatons, jerky, erratic contraptions powered by springs and gears. Finally, lumbering behind the small force was a manufactured man, a Wrought. At least twice the size of a man, the creature was an asymmetric combination of mechanisms and decaying flesh. His face a motley combination of features, and his arms were two different sizes. The creature's face was partially obscured by a larger gasmask, but two unequally sized eyes protruded from it. The creature was clad in a ragged version of the soldiers' uniforms, with large muscles bulging out from underneath. One of his hands was an intricate clockwork device, and the other was a large sickly green flesh one. In both hands was held a fearsome weapon, the rotary-cannon. A leather belt holding paper wads and musket balls stretched from the creature's pack the cannon. By rotating a hand-crank, the weapon would fire at a much faster rate a repeating rifle. This was one Wrought that Thomas had known from rumor alone: Caliban. He fought fearsomely, without regard to his own welfare. Other, smaller Wrought carried cannons on their backs. The manufactured men were used as shock troops and for manual labor.

Forsaking caution for a split instance, Thomas arose up and darted towards the woods. Suddenly, another cannon ball did make contact with the ice flow that his legs had just made contact with, and shattered it. He fell under the dark waters, and did not emerge. The hunting party headed downstream to see if his body would wash up.

Thomas had fallen into the frigid river, and held onto the underside of an ice-flow with his bare hands. Now, his stamina was vanishing, and darkness was overtaking him. Fighting the urge to let go, he clawed his way back onto dry land. With his rifle's powder wet, his clothing soaked, and close to shock, he pulled himself on his hands into the woods. He saw what appeared to be a building in the forest. His fading conscious could see it was a log cabin, albeit an old one with no door or glass for its windows. With great effort, he clawed his way over the ground to the cabin. He pulled himself inside, and disrobed.

The cabin itself had a dirt floor and cobwebs all over. A thin layer of dust covered all objects inside. With the wet clothing off, Thomas looked for another source of warmth. He saw a blanket on a makeshift cot, and forced himself to climb into it. However, a dreadful happening caused Thomas to forsake that plan. A crumbling skeleton had lain under the moth-eaten covers, and fell on top of the struggling man.

A lesser man would have fainted there. Thomas, while weakened and not content with the surprise, was familiar with the dead. He moved the skeleton off him, and then forced himself up into the bed. The covers, although ragged and worn, provided him with the warmth he needed. It was then that Thomas could no longer fight the fatigue inside him, and dozed off to what he hoped would be a peaceful sleep.

In the recesses of his troubled mind, Thomas Turner recalled scenes that had only occurred a day before. He recalled himself sitting in the spartan Academy classroom. His instructor, High Artificer William Rudge, looked down at him, and told him how good of a student he was. Hours later, he was shooting at a pack of ravenous ghouls infesting the Penn's Landing steamship docks. After returning, he found Rudge dead, and a note telling him to run. Turner realized that if Rudge was dead, his favorite student may be next. The politics among the High Artificers was more akin handling poisonous snakes more than making deals with fellow men.

It was with much shock that Turner did awaken to what he did think was another man in the room. The frightened young man assumed this was one of the Artificers, or the inhabitant of the cabin having returned to find an intruder in his dwelling. Upon more than a cursory examination, the figure did reveal himself to be partially translucent. He wore a type of uniform that had not been seen worn since the start of the Everdark. It was a blue shirt, lined with buttons and white and yellow fabric. The man wore white pants, and a strange shako on his head. It took a moment for Turner to identify it as a uniform of the long-fallen United States Army. Thomas did notice a golden button on the man's coat, with a castle, sea, and flying eagle clutching the banner reading "Essayons." The man seemed in his middle age, and had long dark hair and green eyes. Quickly, Thomas did pull his air pistol at the apparition.

"State whom, or what, manner of being you are!" he leveled the weapon at the ghost.

"I may inquire the same of you, intruder," the ghost answered in a gruff manner. "Why have you disturbed my remains?"

Thomas did embarrassingly recall the skeleton he had left on the dirt floor beneath him, next to his wet and discarded articles of clothing. He had studied many types of the Irrational beings, but a ghost was not a foe easy to slay with weapons of mere matter. He would attempt to show manners to the phantasm, and avoid any harm or pranks it may employ on him.

"I apologize, my good sir," he folded his hands. "I had nearly had a brush with death after I did plunge into the frozen river."

"And ye disrobed like a strumpet," a surreal look of mirth appeared on the previously hostile face. "Take my clothes. The dead have no need of what the living require."

"I-I thank you, sir," Thomas was off-put but the strange behavior of the apparition. "I apologize for my rudeness. My name is Thomas Turner, formerly of the Order of Artificers."

"Captain Benjamin Adams, formerly of the United States Army Corps of Engineers," the ghost bowed. "If I may inquire, who are these Artificers, and why are they pursuing you?"

"Have you knowledge of a pre-Everdark organization known as the Freemasons?" Thomas stood up, and carefully removed the clothing from the skeleton. For such an old uniform, it seemed like it had been made only recently.

"Yes, sir," Adams nodded. "I was one myself. Are the Artificers what they became after the sun vanished?"

Thomas shook his head. "No. When the Everdark came, a number of Masons did betray the others. Instead of spreading the ideas of liberty and equality, or preserving civilization and knowledge, they hoarded knowledge to themselves and did harm their Masonic comrades' efforts to help."

"So, they are a corrupt splinter faction?" Adams turned his head, and sat down on the bed. "What is the extent of their power?"

"They have built fortress-cities in the ruins of several cities," Thomas buttoned his new shirt. "Boston, New York, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. They use their advanced machines and weapons to claim new resources. They possess machines able to fly, ships that need no sails, vessels that may travel under the waves, mechanisms that operate of their own accord, cannons that can fire without interruption, and even fearsome manufactured men, known as the Wrought."

"You claimed you were once one of them, and now flee from them. Why is this?" Benjamin Adams looked at the newly dressed Turner.

"A number of reasons, Captain. I was trained as a rifleman, tasked with operating independently, living off the land, and hunting the Irrationals and brigands that threatened villages under our protection," Thomas explained, straightening his clothing. He tried on the shako, but put his more familiar tricorne hat back on. "But I had saw my responsibilities were more than that. I was tasked with executing critics of the Order, and making their deaths appear to be the work of Irrational creatures."

"I assume these Irrational creatures may be entities like myself?" Adams inquired, looking at the window for a moment.

"Yes. Irrational beings, by Artificer law, must be used, be made to submit, or be destroyed. Most of them were foul creatures of the night, such as ravenous ghouls, or feral Wrought," Thomas explained. "I learned about many types from an instructor I befriended. However, he was assassinated by a rival, and I, his favored pupil, was forced to flee."

"Removing a rival and his student in one swoop. A ruthless, but effective plan," Adams commented. "What do you plan to do, sir?"

Thomas shrugged. "I do not know if I am delirious, seeing a ghost that I am sharing my life's story with. Maybe I actually am still in the river, on the verge of freezing to death and drowning."

"I heartily recommend flight away from them, based on what you've told me," Adams grinned. "Your arms, sir, look little like what I was used to."

"This weapon is almost completely silent, and uses naught but air pressure to fire rounds," Thomas picked up his air pistol pumped it. "Not as powerful as black powder, but several shots can be released at once. I do have a query for you, Captain."

"Yes, sir?" Adams saluted.

"Why do you give me such formality when I am younger, and of a different military then you?" the former Artificer inquired.

"You are more knowledgeable about this new world than I am, sir, and I am more familiar with military address," the ghost replied.

The ghostly figure's attention did turn to the Turner's repeating rifle. It had a spyglass mounted on it, a flintlock mechanism, and a revolving cylinder holding six rounds. "Truly a mighty weapon, sir," the ghostly figure noted. "If only I had possessed those, perhaps I might have drawn breath longer."

"Well, Captain, when did you...pass on, and how?" Thomas tried to overcome his internal doubts and hold a conversation with the strange being. "If you do not mind me inquiring."

"I do not mind at all, sir," Adams seemed to force a grin. "I was born and raised in the area once called the state of Virginia. My family saw to it that I was well educated, and I received instruction in reading, philosophy, physics, geography, politics, and many of the classics. But, as a young man, I also had an interest in many things martial."

"So you joined the Army," Thomas surmised. "Did you die in battle?"

"No, no, I did not experience many battles. The only war I was in erupted from a minor disagreement with the British over some borders, and in 1812, war was declared," Adams shook his head. "The only combat I experienced were raids by Indians upon a fort I had constructed on the frontier. After the war ended in 1815, I went to Philadelphia to assist in assessing the city's defenses. Then the Everdark came."

"That must not have been a pleasant experience," Thomas shook his head. But at least this apparation claimed to have seen the days when the sun still shone. Certainly, much could be learned, if this was not a product of his overactive mind.

"I fear it was not," the translucent man's head shook. "I was fortunate to escape the city as anarchy reigned. I built this cabin in a place that was nearly impossible to see from the other side, yet near the river. I managed to hunt and fish to survive, and I lost track of time. For a man born when the sun did shine, eternal night can truly upset one's lifetime of physical habits."

"Are you at least know how you died?" Thomas inquired, fearing it would be a sensitive question.

Benjamin Adams shook his head. "I always assumed it was some vile beast. One night, I awoke to find myself staring at my own body, with the throat ripped out," the ghost appeared to shiver for a split second. "I assumed it was some manner of nightmare, but I never woke up. Instead, I saw my body decay, slowly. Many of my possessions remained as they were. I have never had good reason to explain why. Then, you stumbled in, sir."

"I have been taught that spirits remain on this earth due to some powerful urge, or unfinished business," Thomas explained. "Have you any idea what yours may be?"

Again, the apparition was uncertain. "No, sir. Even if I had one, I would be in no hurry to leave this world," Adams replied. "While it is strange and violent, and has likely only gotten more so since my era, I still would like to experience more."

"I thank you for your benevolence as a host," Thomas bowed. "But I really ought to be leaving. My pursuers will not give up gently."

"Yes, sir, but you will not need to leave alone," Captain Adams grinned. "I believe that due to my connection with my old clothing, I will be on longer limited to one location. In simpler terms, I will be able to assist you, whenever you desire."

"Can you shoot a gun?" Thomas grinned. "Or interact with the material world?"

"Aside from manifesting and talking, I am afraid not, sir," a disappointed look appeared on Adams' face. "Alas, I am not a poltergeist."

"Then I shall prudently begin my flight," Thomas added. "Do you have any advice on good places to go?"

"Yes, sir," Adams pointed to the east. "There is an old fortress to the east. When I was bound to my house, I once saw a group of masked men and a fearsome creature heading towards it. I believe they might have been Artificers and a Wrought."

"I know of no Artificer settlements directly east of Philadelphia," Thomas noted. "But there are some independent villages."

"Then head east," Adams grinned, slowly fading away. "Now go, and take cover."

Thomas suddenly dove down as a musket ball embedded itself in the wall behind him. The young man grabbed his things, and readied his repeating rifle. He looked out the window, and saw an Artificer holding a smoking musket in his hands. Thomas reacted quickly, cocking the rifle and shooting the musketeer in the face.

"He's in the cabin!" shouted another voice. Thomas turned the rifle towards the front door, where an Artificer was pointing a blunderbuss at him. A shot dropped the second attacker, followed up by a butt strike to the man's temple.

"Get him!" shouted another Artificer. Outside, an Artificer let slip a hunting dog. The beast ran towards the door of the cabin, but was dropped with a quick gunshot from a kneeling Thomas. The handler drew a pair of flintlock pistols and fired, but Thomas rolled to the side just as the musket balls left the barrel. He shot the handler from a prone position on the ground. With two shots remaining in his rifle, Thomas quickly looked for more threats.

Suddenly, a nimble form moved between the branches above Thomas. Hearing the mechanical clacking and clattering, the rifleman looked up to see a clockwork monstrosity descending on him. The form was the height of a child, made of brass and steel, and possessed a large glass lens where a head would be. Its hands and feet were naught but blades. The automaton readied its claws for the moment that it would pierce the rifleman's flesh.

Turner raised the rifle to defend himself, but the mechanical creature knocked the weapon from his grasp. Rolling to the side, he drew his air pistol and machete. He fired at the maelstrom of blades that was heading towards him with alarming velocity. The first shot deflected harmlessly off the armored body of the machine, but the second struck the machine's lens. With no way to see, the machine began to stumble around blindly. Thomas rammed his machete into the exposed gears in the torso, stopping the machine permanently.

Thomas gazed upon his surroundings, and saw no more enemies. He picked up his rifle and items, and quickly headed due east. Realizing the previous search party had likely split into smaller groups, he hoped that handling pursuers would be a simpler task than before. Remaining hidden in the woods was something he had been trained to do for years. Now, Thomas Turner knew his skills would be put to the test.

As he continued through the wooded area that had once been the state of New Jersey, Thomas would find some signs of habitation. Some highwaymen and brigands roamed these roads, but most remained hiding when the Artificers were on patrol. They did afford the villages under their protection some degree from the roving ruffians. Turner kept his path hard to trace, so even other riflemen and brigands would have difficulty tracking him.

It was several days into the trek that Thomas Turner happened upon an abandoned church. The religious structure was not a particularly large or impressive one, but had Gothic features. The stained glass windows had long been shattered, and the bell had fallen out of the tilting steeple. The structure itself was in the center of what had once been a town or village, and all the other buildings had been reduced to charred, overgrown foundations. Skeletons lay around the village, with bones scattered by the elements and animals. Noting a crushed skull under a nearby tree, Thomas Turner guessed that this village suffered a violent end. Whether it was before or after the Everdark, he had no idea, nor did he care.

"What are your thoughts, Captain?" Thomas asked the ghost. The American ghost materialized next to the rifleman.

"Sir, I believe you should get inside, as midnight approaches," the spirit looked at the worn structure. "I believe it is structurally sound enough not to collapse upon you."

"A reassuring thought," Thomas replied with a note of sarcasm. He drew his air pistol and held a makeshift torch. "Let us see if there is already an occupant. I would loathe wandering into a brigand's base of operations. Or worse, some Irrational beast."

"It is certain there are no gods inside," Adams noted. "Or ever were."

"Amen to that, Captain," Thomas also noted sarcastically. "These buildings always reminded me more of mausoleums than places of joyous worship."

The wooden front doors to the church barely remained on their rusted hinges. With a powerful kick, he forcibly opened the doors. Around him, the torch illuminated a stone floor covered in dirt, a ceiling with several holes in it, and pews stacked into makeshift barricades against the windows. Traces of fire remained, indicating that the church was the only structure standing after whatever disaster that wiped this village out ended. Bones of unidentifiable type and origin were strewn about the room. Looking closely, Thomas noted a large bite marks on some bones.

As he knelt down, he noticed a sound. He turned his gaze towards the front of the church, where the sound had originated from. The light in the torch flickered for a moment, and the shadows around the altar had shifted. Letting his instincts fill him, he raised his pistol and waved the torch around, trying to illuminate more of the area around the altar. Thomas walked forward, and kept his pistol trained on a shadow he could have swore was different. Looking closer, it was just a pew. Thomas relaxed just as Adams' voice shouted a warning. "Behind you!"

It was too late. Something large grabbed the rifleman from behind, tossing him against a stack of pews. The rifleman spread his arms out, slapping them out to distribute the force of impact around. It only partially worked, and Thomas dropped the torch in the process. He set his gaze up, and saw his attacker. The figure was taller than a man, and the light from the torch reflected on several parts of his body. The head of the attacker was a metal sphere with two eyes under glass, with the entire lower jaw was a decaying, organic one, taken from some large human body. The torso was a combination of metal plating and enlarged muscle, with metal attached to his legs and arms. Finding where flesh ended and metal grafts began was difficulty. A massive hatchet was in one of the creature's hands. The Order's symbol was visible on the creature's chest, but it was scrapped off from years of exposure. The name "Grendel" was engraved on a brass plate on its chest.

"Damn Wrought!" Thomas shouted, firing two shots at the creature's chest. As predicted, the weak projectiles bounced off the armored chest of the manufactured man. Grendel swung his gigantic hatchet in one hand with more speed than Thomas would expect from such an awkward combination of dead flesh and mechanical grafts.

Thomas narrowly avoided it by leaping backwards, and shooting at the creature's head. The rounds bounced off the creature's metal skull, and his air pistol was empty. Quickly, Thomas withdrew his machete, and slid between the creature's legs. He tried to jam the blade between the legs, but found only another metal plate. The Wrought, now throughout annoyed, reached down, and picked up the rifleman with his free hand.

"Hold on, sir! I shall try to assist!" Adams shouted, appearing and running into Grendel.

The phantasm made contact with the Wrought, and suddenly vanished. The instant that occurred, the grip of the giant did instantly become loosened. The construct dropped its hatchet, and stood helpless.

"Quick, finish him!" Adams' voice prompted. "I cannot hold this Wrought forever!"

Thomas picked up both of his weapons, but hesitated. He looked at the name plate again.

"Grendel, why did you attack me?" he asked. "I merely sought a place to rest, and I was ignorant this church was already inhabited."

"Release me," came a deep, booming voice from the Wrought. "Based on prior experiences, all previous people who entered this structure sought to terminate my existence."

"Captain, will you release Grendel?" Thomas ordered.

"If this thing does attempt to attack you again, I will restrain it," the ghost warned.

The manifested Captain Benjamin Adams stepped out of the Wrought, and vanished again.

Grendel looked at the hatchet longingly, but Thomas shot him a glance. "Is that a way to treat the favored student of your creator?"

The Wrought's eyes suddenly became illuminated. "You bring news of father? I long to update my information about his status!"

"High Artificer William Rudge was savagely murdered by a group of his political rivals," Thomas looked up to the creature, looking it in the eyes. "A hunting party of Artificers, under the direction of the same individuals who murdered him, now pursue me."

Grendel was now visibly sad. The Wrought buried his head in his metal and flesh hands. "If father is dead, what do I have to exist for?"

"Grendel, I could use your assistance," Thomas looked up. "Rudge spoke proudly of you. He cared for you enough to release you into the wild when the other Artificers tried to decommission you. He knew that unlike many of your brothers, you would not attack innocents."

Grendel reached for the hatchet. "Father must have his end avenged! A good flame of consciousness has been terminated forever!"

"Grendel, my name is Thomas Turner, and I desire your assistance as a traveling companion," Thomas patted the creature on the back. "I need you to follow my lead. I have a plan for finding those responsible, and giving them justice."

The Wrought nodded silently. "What was the Irrational entity that immobilized me?"

"That, Grendel, was another companion of mine. You shall address him as Captain Benjamin Adams," Turner turned his head to the side. "He's the spirit of an American officer. Very friendly, given his strange circumstances. He'll be resting, since he just expended most of his energy."

"What is your current plan of action, Thomas Turner?" Grendel inquired. "I am also tired."

"Then we rest in this church," Turner replied. "We all need our rest. Even those of us from beyond the grave."

Grendel nodded, and laid down on a pile of broken pews. Despite how uncomfortable it looked to Turner, the manufactured man seemed to fall asleep fast.

"How did you realize the Wrought had the mind of a man, sir?" Benjamin's disembodied voice whispered. "And was that really a true store you told him?"

"Aye," Thomas replied. "Now, the Order does not use slaves, at least of the human sort. Its members are both men and women, and hail from different nations and origins: European settlers, the Africans brought over for servitude and slavery before the Everdark, and the Indians who fell under the Order's control. While many of the underclasses are forced to work in dangerous conditions, there are a race of thinking beings treated as property."

"The Wroughts," Benjamin's head manifested and nodded.

"Most of the time, the Wroughts are kept simple-minded. Makes them easier to control. Sometimes, a few may escape, and began lashing out in all directions. Those misguided ones are the ferals. But sometimes, some Wroughts begin to learn, and think deeply."

"And these rare ones are perceived as threats, and must be destroyed," Benjamin bowed his head. "Tis a tragedy."

Thomas nodded. "But mercifully, my superior was one who did not agree with the system. Instead, he dropped a Wrought into the wilderness, away from any of our settlements," he looked at the sleeping man. Despite being misshapen, the manufactured man looked peacefully asleep. "At first, I did not recognize the name Grendel, but while you immobilized him, I recalled."

"Do you know anything about this Wrought specifically?" Benjamin inquired.

"Only what Rudge spoke highly of him in private. He certainly is a fluent speaker for a Wrought, and a strong fighter," Thomas added. "But come, Captain, it is time for sleep."

The disembodied head of the Captain nodded and vanished. Turner slept on an old pew, using his pack as a pillow. Before falling asleep, he glanced at the Wrought's face, and noted what appeared to be a small grin. Thomas entered the realm of unconsciousness, knowing the next day would consist of fleeing towards the east.

The following morning was when an unwanted guest arrived. Thomas was awakened by a pounding on the walls of the church. Narrowing the possibilities, he realized who they were. The Artificers had found him. Quickly, he readied his weapons, and ran towards a shattered window.

"If they're hitting the church with artillery, you'll be crushed to death!" Benjamin's disembodied voice warned.

Thomas did gaze out the window with his spyglass repeating rifle. "They've surrounded and encircled the church," he whispered in reply. "Automatons, gunmen, cannoneer Wroughts. They will likely try to flush us out."

Suddenly, a booming voice reverberated from outside. "Pathetic insect! Come out now!" it taunted. "Or we shall level this pathetic old ruin!"

"Just as I thought," Thomas whispered. "Caliban is with them. I know what they're trying to do. He's probably too large for you to immobilize at full strength."

"Just how do you plan to weaken a monster Wrought, sir?" Benjamin protested. "This old church makes a pathetic fortress against a small army!"

"But it makes an excellent battleground for isolating a powerful foe," Thomas replied. "I know how Caliban will fight. I'll need you to keep Grendel immobilized, until I give the signal."

"If you say, sir," the ghost replied. "I would loathe for you to die here, and be stuck without a good conversational partner."

"Thank you, my phantasmal friend," Turner said. "Now, time for my plan," he pulled out his repeating rifle, and stuck it out the window. He sighted one of the cannoneer Wroughts, and shot it in the head. He quickly moved the barrel and got a second one in his sights, and pulled the trigger twice. The two misshapen manufactured men collapsed, the cannons on their backs falling down. Turner noted an automaton moving forward, trying to build enough momentum to jump into the window, and shot it in the midsection. An Artificer with a repeating rifle tried to take cover behind a nearby tree, but a rifle bullet put a large hole in his head.

With his rifle now empty, he did take cover behind the pews. Caliban smashed open the front doors to the church, holding his rotary-cannon in hand. The manufactured man barely did fit through the front doors, having to duck down. The sadistic Wrought began laughing as he turned the crank, and the cannon did spit bullets in all directions. Turner remained on the floor, as the Wrought's barrage of gunfire turned the pew where he had slept into splinters. Sharp wood did cause minor cuts on Thomas, but he did move to cover behind the next row of pews.

Thomas did remain low to the ground as he moved to the side of the creature. Looking up from the pew, he saw Caliban leveling the deadly weapon at him. "Now!" he shouted, waiting for his plan to come together. Suddenly, Adams unleashed Grendel from his control. The ghost had informed the plan to the Wrought. While his anger against the Artificers was well-directed, Adams was used to ensure everything happened at the exact same instant.

From a pile of broken pews did Grendel pounce. The smaller Wrought jumped onto Caliban's back, wrapping his metal and flesh legs around the larger one's waist, and ripping the weapon's ammunition pack off. Steel and rotten flesh worked in unison, pounding the back of Caliban's head. The larger Wrought fought back, smashing his misshapen, spiked fist into Grendel's head. Grendel grunted, and Caliban dropped his rotary cannon to continue grappling. Suddenly, Caliban leaned forward, his hands holding onto one of Grendel's. The smaller Wrought was thrown forward, and smashed into the stone floor. Grendel began moaning, as Caliban raised his foot to crush the hapless Wrought's head. "You fight we for a feral," Caliban taunted. "But feral dogs must be put down."

"I am not a feral monster!" Grendel shouted, moving his head to the side. Caliban's foot smashed down on the stone floor, narrowly missing Grendel's head. The stones in the floor cracked from such force. Suddenly, Caliban felt a shot of pain in the back of his head. Then, there was another, and then another. Thomas Turner fired several rounds from his air pistol, distracting the creature for a key instant. After emptying it of rounds, he drew his machete, and lunged at the neck of the hulking

Wrought. Caliban simply swatted him aside, causing him to fall to the floor. Pain filled Thomas' body, as he struggled to stand. Caliban laughed sadistically. "An admirable effort, but a futile one. You have exhausted all of your tricks, Thomas Turner," Caliban prepared to crush the exposed rifleman underfoot. "I prefer targets that cannot fight back, and now, you are helpless. Prepare to become one with the floor!"

"Not entirely helpless," Thomas gasped, and Adams manifested. The immaterial ghost walked into the Wrought's body. Suddenly, Caliban himself was frozen in place. His leg was being raised, prepared to crush Thomas underneath. The mighty Caliban was also off balance. Grendel, now standing erect, simply pushed the speechless Wrought over. He picked up his hatchet, and separated the Grendel's head from his neck. Captain Adams walked out of the gigantic corpse. "Now that was a strange and trying experience, my friend," the ghost slowly faded.

Grendel was still tense from the fight, and nervous. "What about the remaining Artificers? Statistical analysis and speculation means that we are still outnumbered by a superior force!"

"Grendel, examine your surroundings. You will find the answer in front of you," Thomas pointed to an object discarded in the fight.

When the doors to the church opened, the Artificers fully expected a victorious Wrought holding a rotary cannon to emerge. In this regard, they were not disappointed. They were disappointed by the fact it was not the Wrought they had anticipated. Grendel held the cannon in one hand, and turned the crank in the other. The cannon did cut down the fleeting Artificers, dropping hunting dogs, automatons, Wrought canonneers, and men alike. A few men did vanish into the forest, heading away from the old church. Grendel shouted in victory.

"Calm yourself, my friend," Thomas nodded. "Your contributions today were invaluable, but Rudge's murderers still draw breath."

"What is your plan for now, sir?" Adams materialized. "They will send more hunters after you. More men. More machines. More Wrought."

"That is why we shall take the fight to them," Thomas grinned. "There is no place safe in this world, and the murderers hide in their fortresses, but they will find no amount of men or weapons will save them."

"Do you have any specific individuals in mind, sir?" Adams chastised the young man. "You cannot kill all of the Artificers yourself. That is beyond even our combined capabilities."

"I have a few ideas, but they are but starting points," Thomas replied, looking at Adams' translucent form. "For now, it may be prudent to attack them outside of their cities. I have knowledge of some project to the north of here. Many surveyors and workers were required for it. Whatever the Artificers are doing, it cannot be for the benefit of humanity."

"As long as it allows me to crush my creator's murderer in my bare hands," Grendel let the cannon hang from his arm. "I shall continue this expedition with you."

"You will," Thomas nodded at the Wrought. "Now, let us leave this place. Too many ghosts linger here, and there are still men who deserve to be turned into ghosts. We are fortunate to have a man who did not assisting us."

"Essayons," Captain Adams grinned, and nodded. They gathered their things, and headed north. A translucent figure with a blue coat, white pants, and black shako walked alongside a young man with a tricorne hat and similar outfit, and a rifle slung over his back. A large Wrought traveled beside them, with a body made of metal and rotting flesh, and a hatchet and rotary cannon with him. The rifleman, the ghost, and the Wrought headed north, as the sky grew darker overhead.