Everyone's first trip through the Breach is different. Some people only experience a minor tingle as they pass between the worlds while others are twisted and deformed by the crossing. It is a risk that most people take, however, for the promise of wealth that exists in Malifaux.
The Guild always keeps a few members of the Witch Hunters present when a new train comes to Malifaux to catch any whose latent gifts for magic were awakened by the Breach. There are stories told of what happens to those who are taken away by the Witch Hunters, and none of them are pretty.
On the most recent crossing, three individuals had something inside of them come to life somewhere in between worlds, and none of them intend to go quietly should the Stalkers come for them...
The Self-Righteous Man was captured by the Witch Hunters shortly after disembarking from the train. He protested his treatment, citing his connections with many heads of industry in Malifaux, but his words fell on deaf ears. They threw him into the back of a patrol wagon, locked the doors, and set off to bring him to the Guild Enclave, where he would be dealt with accordingly. Little did the Witch Hunters know that another group was determined to see the Self-Righteous Man walk free that day…
The man was bemoaning his fate when something very large struck the side of the wagon, knocking him from his seat and onto the ground. It wasn’t enough to fully tip the heavy vehicle over, but the wagon did teeter for a moment before slamming back down onto its wheels. He could hear frantic shouting from outside the wagon, followed by gunfire and a great, bellowing roar that seemed far too loud to have been made by any natural creature.
Pressing himself up against the small, barred window in the rear door, he tried to angle his body first one way and then the other in an attempt to see what was going on. The gunfire was growing less frequent, but he could see a dust cloud in the distance, hinting at mounted Guild reinforcements. The patrol wagon lurched to one side, nearly knocking him down, and a moment later, he saw a huge ape lumbering forward holding a struggling horse in one hand. The Self-Righteous man recognized it as one of the horses that had been harnessed to the patrol wagon.
The ape charged forward and hurled the struggling horse at the mounted guardsmen, striking two of them and knocking both them and their own horses to the ground. The guardsmen who had evaded the attack started firing their carbines at the murderous ape, which bellowed in response and loped closer.
Falling back from the window, the man pressed a hand to his chest. His heartbeat had sped up when the attack first happened, but now it was pounding even faster, far faster than he thought was safe. Leaning against the wall, he called out for help, shouting that something was wrong and that he needed a doctor. He reached up to grab the bars of the window, only to recoil in horror as he saw dark hairs starting to sprout from the back of his hand, which was curling forward as dull claws broke through the skin of his fingers. His entire body felt like it was on fire, and as he fell to the ground, his scream of pain became a bestial howl of rage.
Across the battlefield, the woman slumped forward, panting heavily as she braced herself against the ground. “It’s done,” she announced, turning to look up at the strong, burly man next to her. He nodded in approval, but his gaze was focused on the patrol wagon. Three heartbeats passed before the door of the patrol wagon was torn from its hinges and tossed to the side. Climbing out of the wagon was a snarling, wolf-like creature covered in blue-black fur. It lifted its head and sniffed the air, and he reached out toward the wolf-beast, giving it a subtle mental nudge.
Without hesitation, the creature that had once been the Self-Righteous Man crouched down and leapt upon one of the surviving Witch Hunters, tearing her limb from limb as blood sprayed in every direction. Her companion turned and brought his shotgun to bear on the creature, unleashing a single blast that caught the wolf-creature square in the chest, knocking it off its feet and sending it tumbling backwards across the ground. Though in pain, the creature pulled itself up to its feet and began slowly stalking toward the now terrified guardsman.
“Very nice work, Corinne. I doubt I could have done finer myself.” Marcus rewarded his apprentice with a pleased smile. She practically beamed at the attention, but his gaze had already returned to the wolf-creature and the screaming guardsman. “Very nice work, indeed.”
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The Order of the Chimera succeeded in transforming the Self-Righteous Man into a feral beast… but they’ve run into a bit of a problem, namely that the ritual worked a bit too well and now he’s on a rampage. There’s a ritual to temporarily transform him back into a man, but unfortunately, other factions have gotten wind of what happened and have their own rituals to try to return him to his true form…
The wolf-creature’s rampage took him deeper into the slums, leaving a path of dismembered bodies in his wake. Part of the man was horrified at what he was doing, but there was another part of him that felt invigorated by the strength and power that had been unlocked within him. The moon was high in the sky, bright and full - a hunter’s moon - and he had already found his next victim. Crouching down, he sniffed the air for the scent of her perfume, gauging the distance between them. His muscles tensed, and then he was airborne, leaping through the air and slamming into the woman in a flurry of flashing claws and tearing teeth. Covered in blood, he reared back and raised a meaty paw, preparing to end her. He could see the terror in her wide eyes, and his heart sang with joy in response to that fear.
The wolf-thing’s world exploded into agony. His head snapped to one side with enough force to knock him off the woman and send him tumbling across the blood-flecked cobblestones. The world was on fire, blindingly bright and throbbing with more pain than he had ever thought possible. He tried to stand up, to get his front paws beneath him so that he could limp away to safety, but the best he could manage was a few weak twitches that only smeared the spreading pool of blood beneath him.
Three shapes appeared from the darkness. The wolf-creature had trouble focusing on them, but they smelled like ink and paper, like deceit and mothballs. Without a word, the three of them - two men and a woman - snapped open the thick tomes they carried under their arms and began to recite the various laws that he had broken. Assault. Murder. Trespassing. Unauthorized physical devolution. Rampaging without a lawful permit. They went on and on, each of them reading off more and more obscure laws, their words filling the wolf’s mind like ribbons of bright red tape. The ribbons made it hard to think... or rather, they made it hard to think about anything other than what the people declared was lawful and proper.
Finally, the woman snapped her legal tome shut and adjusted the fox mask that hid her face. “That should do it,” she said, looking down at the shivering, naked man that had once been a wolf monster. “Motion to call for the Guard to arrest the perpetrator and place him into custody?”
The man to her left, his visage hidden behind a mask shaped like an owl, folded his arms around his own copy of the tome. “Seconded, with an addendum to authorize additional monetary compensation to the rifleman that landed the headshot.” The other two agreed, and together, they retreated from the scene, the owl-masked lawyer pausing only long enough to tuck a slip of paper into the weakly grasping hand of the wolf-creature’s victim. Bleeding in public, after all, was a fineable offense.
Bandaged and once again human, the Self-Righteous Man sat in a tiny cell, pouring over the legal texts he had asked the gaolor to bring him. His only chance to escape a short dance at the end of a long rope was to beat the charges the Guild had levied against him in court. His first glance at the legal text had confirmed his suspicions; something the lawyers did to him had changed him, changed his mind. He could still feel the red tape in his mind, like ley lines of legal power, connecting one law to another like a crimson web of subtle but potent power.
Somewhere, tangled up in that web of red tape, was a howling beast that urged him to forget about the words and surrender to the power it offered. More than once, the Self-Righteous Man was tempted to give in to the creature, but each time, he bolstered his willpower by reciting the legal restrictions against unlawful shapechanging. He longed to feast once more, but to do that, he had to get out of his cell, and that meant preparing his legal defense.
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Transformed into a wolf-beast by the Order of the Chimera, the Self-Righteous Man has been captured by the Guild. Now his fate depends upon how well he can defend himself against the Guild’s corrupt legal system. He’s been studying legal texts in an attempt to create a defense, but why roll the dice on a judge’s decision when you could just bribe him and guarantee a victory?
Fortunately, there are plenty of registered barristers willing to hire their talents out to those who intend to purchase the Self-Righteous Man’s freedom (and with it, hopefully, his loyalty).
Imprisoned by the Guild for his feral killing spree, the Self-Righteous Man found himself in court, forced to defend himself against the brutally oppressive laws of the Guild. The ritual the Guild’s lawyers performed to transform him back into a human had given him a glimpse at the true power hiding behind the complicated laws that they quoted with such effortlessness, but he had only been given two days to prepare his case, while they had been practicing law for many years.
It was only when he realized that the Guild did not believe in the jury system - that he would have to convince a Guild judge of his innocence in order to go free - that the Self-Righteous Man truly realized just how stacked the odds were against him.
Just as he was about to give his opening statement, however, the doors of the courtroom flew open, admitting a brown-skinned woman with dark, should-length hair and a determined expression. One of her hands held a briefcase, and she walked briskly up to front of the room and set it down on the table next to the Self-Righteous Man. Across the isle, he could see the fox-masked prosecutor rubbing her temples with annoyance. He thought he heard her mutter something about “the damned Union,” but whatever she said was drowned out by the confident voice of the new arrival.
“Your honor,” she called out, snapping open her briefcase and revealing stacks of legal paperwork, “I have a motion to dismiss on account of my client not being given access to his legal representation in a timely manner, as well as a motion to forcibly recuse the prosecutor on account of her prior involvement in my client’s apprehension.”
“Hello Amina,” the fox-masked woman sighed. Leaning behind her, she motioned for one of her colleagues to lean forward. “Cancel my three o’ clock appointment with Mattheson,” she murmured. “Tell him the Union got involved.”
“I cannot thank you enough for what you did,” the man said, relief evident in his voice. He was standing with his self-appointed lawyer, Amina Naidu, in the lobby of the court house. The arguments had gone back and forth for the better part of three hours, but eventually, the judge had grown tired of the bickering and sided with Naidu’s claims that the Self-Righteous Man had been innocent on account of having acted under magical duress.
“Truthfully, I didn’t have to do that much.” Naidu smirked as she watched the fox-masked prosecutor slink down the hallway in defeat. “For someone without a legal background, you did a surprisingly good job of preparing your case.”
The man sighed as he leaned forward, partially resting his weight upon his cane. “I’m not sure what sort of spell those lawyers cast on me while I was the monster, but I can still feel it in my head, holding the beast back. I suppose that the lingering effects of that spell might have helped somewhat. When I read over a law, I can feel it radiating outward, like a spider web composed of red tape.” He paused, as if realizing what he was saying, and then shook his head. “I bet this sounds crazy to you.”
It was Naidu’s turn to sigh. “No, it actually doesn’t.” She paused to glance around them, then lowered her voice to a hushed whisper. “Truthfully, I may have an associate that could help you understand that power, if you’re interested. He’s quite good at helping people understand their... less mundane abilities.”
“That sounds like...” The man caught himself before he finished his accusation. Instead, he frowned, his eyes growing tired as he considered whether he actually cared whether or not the woman was an Arcanist. They were rumored to be remorseless anarchists and uncontrollable sorcerers, but if he had learned anything from his short time in Malifaux, it was that things were rarely as simple as they seemed on this side of the Breach. “That would be very kind of you, Ms. Naidu. If there is still a chance that the beast inside me might escape and hurt others, I want to...” control it, he thought. “...make sure that I understand how to keep it under control.”
Amina fished around in her pocket for a briefcase and pulled out one of her business cards, pausing just long enough to scrawl a quick address onto the back before handing it to him. “You’ll be able to find him here.” As he took the card, she smirked. “In the meantime, it might be wise to keep you close in case the Guild decides to appeal your case. The Union could always use another solicitor, and you seem to have a good grasp of the law, so... how about it?”
The Self-Righteous Man cast one final glance back at the doors of the court room. “I believe that will suit me just fine, Ms. Naidu.”
“Do you believe that he suspects our involvement?” Marcus watched Ridley from the distance, his thick arms crossed over an equally muscular chest.
Corinne shook her head. She made sure to keep her eyes averted from Marcus’ gaze, lest he take it as a challenge. The last thing she needed was another lesson on learning her place. “The lawyer and the Indian are keeping him distracted with his studies. He knows that Sandeep is an Arcanist, but he seems to show little concern over it. The trial must have really soured him on the Guild.”
“Do not be so certain,” Marcus mused, glancing down at her. “Beaten dogs might bolt from their pen given the chance, but after they learn what predators stalk the wilderness, some still slink back to the safety of captivity.”
“Sometimes the dog goes feral,” Corinne pointed out, studiously keeping her gaze fixed on Ridley as Marcus watched her. “Especially if it falls in with a pack of feral dogs that show it how to survive. That’s what we’re doing here, isn’t it?”
Marcus chuckled at her metaphor, then turned his back on Ridley and began walking away. “Keep an eye on him. We don’t want the Guild yanking his leash before he’s properly trained.”
Corinne nodded, her gaze straying toward Marcus as he strode off into the dusty scrubland of the Northern Hills.
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Having won his freedom from the Guild, the Self-Righteous Man retreated north to Ridley, where he began to study magic under the guidance of the Sandeep Desai. Sandeep was an Arcanist, and under his tutelage, the Self-Righteous Man learned more about his condition and what the Guild’s lawyers had done to him to transform him back into a human.
Amina Naidu was beside him most of the way, helping him cross-reference the magical grimoires that Sandeep gave him to study. In return, he helped her in court, using his newfound understanding of complicated laws to assist in the preparation of her legal briefs. Amina’s hesitant distrust of the Arcanists was the anchor that the Self-Righteous Man needed to ground himself after such a confusing period in his life, and the two of them took to discussing (and criticizing) Sandeep’s training methods over coffee.
Eventually, however, the Self-Righteous Man realized that Sandeep was being very careful in just how much knowledge he was willing to share. Whenever he started to ask questions about Chimerancy, Sandeep would either change the subject or find some way to distract the man from his inquiry. The first time, it was understandable, the second, forgivable. After the fifth time, the Self-Righteous Man realized that Sandeep was hiding something from him.
Seeking answers of his own, the Self-Righteous Man traveled back to Malifaux City to search through the ruins of Duer’s Library. He was confident that there was a tome or a grimoire within the library which could shed light on his condition, and if obtaining it meant going behind the backs of the Arcanists, he was willing to risk it.
His search of the library proved to be quite successful, and the Self-Righteous Man discovered a number of tomes detailing the process of Chimerancy. He gathered them up and returned to Ridley, eager to begin reading through the thick books to uncover his secrets.
What the Self-Righteous Man did not know was that the books had been deliberately planted in the library by Corinne Zegher, one of the members of the Order of the Chimera. She was eager to see the man fully realize the bestial potential that her ritual unlocked in him, and she followed him back to Ridley and watched as he read through the tomes that once belonged to her, slowly mastering their magic. She departed only once he had fully grasped the magic that would allow him to shift between his human and wolf form as easily as drawing a breath, and even then, it was only to inform Marcus of their success.
Unbeknownst to the Arcanists, however, the Self-Righteous Man had plans of his own. Between the time he spent in the Guild’s Gaol and the long hours of studying alongside the Arcanists, he gradually came to realize that his sudden arrest upon arriving in Malifaux hadn’t been a coincidence. Someone had framed him, and the most likely scenario was that his manufacturing “allies” had arranged for him to be arrested and executed in order to take control of his factories back on Earth.
He wasn’t entirely certain which of his erstwhile allies had been involved in the plot, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. There was always the chance that more than one of them had been in collusion with the others, and if ridding himself of his enemies carried the cost of spilling innocent blood, it was one the Self-Righteous Man was willing to pay.
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The Self-Righteous Man has finally mastered his shape-changing abilities and can now change between his human and wolf shapes as easily as drawing breath. The primal side of his soul yearns to be unleashed onto the world in order to slaughter and feed, and the human side of him knows just the place to do so.
Between his time in the Guild Gaol and the long hours of studying alongside the Arcanists, the Self-Righteous Man has come to realize that his arrest when he first arrived in Malifaux wasn’t a coincidence. He had been set up by one of his manufacturing “allies” who wished to see him executed by the Guild… no doubt so that his former ally could swoop in and take control of the man’s factories back on Earth.
He wasn’t entirely certain exactly which one of his erstwhile allies had betrayed him, but it had been at least one of them. Rather than take his chances, the Self-Righteous Man plans to kill them all and let the blood of the innocent mingle with the blood of the guilty.
To do that, however, he’s going to need help luring the manufacturers out of their factories and into the open…
It had taken some time, as distracted as he was, but the Self-Righteous Man had finally worked out what had happened. At the time, he had been at the center of the plot and hadn’t been able to fully comprehend the forces arrayed against him, but he had come far in the past few weeks, and his studies with Sandeep had left him a more contemplative man than he had been when he first arrived in Malifaux. Once he was able to move out of the light, it was much easier to see the figures plotting in the shadows against him.
He had been arrested the moment he stepped off the train, despite having not done anything wrong. He had been transformed into a monster and sent to trial, and had barely avoided a death sentence. Had the Union not stepped in to help him – or rather, had the Arcanists not thought him useful – his life would have ended in a hangman’s noose.
The Self-Righteous Man leaned back in his chair, took a puff from his cigar, and swirled the brandy in his drinking glass. Amina Naidu had already retired for the night, but he found it difficult to sleep since the wolf had awakened inside of him. It gave him plenty of time to think, and that thinking had led him to the same conclusion, one night after the next: the only people who would benefit from his arrest or death were his manufacturing “allies.”
He took a sip of the brandy, enjoying the burning sensation it left in his throat. One of his so-called allies had set him up, no doubt bribing the Guild to arrest him so that they could seize control of his factories. If only he could determine which of them was responsible…
The Man felt something move in the back of his mind, a growling that spoke to the part of him that understood instincts, rather than words. As he listened, his lips pulled back in a cold grin, and he took another puff from his cigar before standing up and grinding it into the ash tray on the table in front of him. The wolf was right.
It didn’t matter which of them was guilty.
He could just kill all of them.
“And what will you receive in return?” The Self-Righteous Man had intended to hunt down the manufacturers on his own when the girl appeared to him, claiming to be a member of the Arcanists. She was a weedy little thing, but there was a lithe strength to her that neither he nor the wolf could avoid noticing.
Corinne Zegher had tied her dark hair into a crude ponytail to keep the wind from blowing it into her face. The moon was bright overhead, and her muscles were tense, as if expecting the Man to twist himself into a wolf at any moment. “Nothing at all,” she replied, her eyes never leaving his own. “The Arcanists have an interest in you, and that means that we are willing to help when needed.”
He didn’t seem to be convinced. “Fine,” he relented. He pulled a folded letter from the inside of his jacket and handed it to Corinne. “These are the people and their addresses. I’ll be waiting here.”
“Look out!” As she called the warning, Corinne gestured to the nearest group of molemen, sending them towards the Self-Righteous Man. She didn’t want to kill him, but he had been shouting questions at their victims and beating them with his fists for far too long. She didn’t want him punching people; she wanted him tearing out their throats with his wolf jaws and reveling in his primal side. “They’ve slipped their leash!”
The Self-Righteous Man looked up just as the three molemen charged toward him, their claws digging deep furrows in the ground as they barreled forward. He barely had time to curse before they were upon him, clawing at him from all sides. He fell back upon his training, drawing upon his magic to force the wolf to the surface, surrendering to it as the beast clawed its way free of his skin.
It was over in moments. Drenched in blood and gore, the wolf panted as it looked up at Corinne, its eyes glowing with murder. She held her hands up in a defensive gesture and made certain to keep her movements slow and deliberate as she approached him. “Sorry about that,” she lied. “They got away from me. It won’t happen again.”
The wolf growled its displeasure as it began slowly circling Corinne, forcing her to turn in place to keep the beast in her sight. She knew that this was the most dangerous part of her plan. “How did you manage to change form so quickly? I’ve never seen anyone shift so fast. Even Myranda would be jealous.”
Corinne’s flattery was intended to appeal to his human side; the concept was foreign to a wolf or other beast, and she needed to get him thinking with his human mind if she wanted to see the morning. The wolf regarded her for a long moment, and she could see the internal debate between its two natures warring in its eyes. Then it shook its body, spraying droplets of blood in every direction… and, eventually, chunks of wolf-flesh as well. When it was finished, the Self-Righteous Man stood up, as naked as the day he had been born.
He shivered once and ran his hand through his hair. “Who is this Myranda person?”
“Well,” Corinne replied. “How about I take you to meet her? Marcus, too. They’re like you and me. There are others, too. We can teach you so much more about the wolf inside you.”
The man considered it, then nodded. “I suppose a brief chat won’t hurt, considering your help.” He cast a glance at the shredded remains of his clothing. “We’re going to have to find some new clothes, though.”
Corinne motioned to the manufacturer that the man had been roughing up prior to the ‘unexpected’ moleman attack. “He seems to be about your size.”
The Self-Righteous Man turned toward his former ally, all but forgotten until now. “He does, doesn’t he?”
The manufacturer scrambled backwards on the blood-slicked floor as the man stalked toward him, his flesh already splitting to reveal tufts of black fur.