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A note from verus

This is the new prologue, enjoy.

My name is Eli de Winter, today I’m going to kill someone. Not out of anger, or because I really want to, but because it is a part of who I am. It wasn’t always, I used to be a regular kid from Seattle. That was before I came here. Here being Victoria, the largest city of Mercia. I doubt you’ve heard those names before, or could point them out on a map. That is mostly because neither the city nor the country is located on Earth. A shocker, I know. Where exactly I am is a question that I’ve been asking myself for fifteen years. Mercia is a lot like Charles Dicken’s England, only it has been stuck in the industrial revolution for a couple of centuries now.

It is however not something I’m terribly busy contemplating on a day to day basis. I walk down the steps leading up to the entrance of the unnecessary large civil service building known as city hall. Anyone could be fooled into thinking that Victoria is Mercia’s capital. With its four districts built right on top of each other, and its massive local government, it is a behemoth of a city. The nation’s capital however lies more to the northwest. It is a paradise without crime where only the crème de la crème is allowed to set foot. The biggest congregation of rich assholes you will probably find.

I pass the columns on which the three commandments of the great Mercian bureaucracy are engraved. All are to be ordained. All ordained are to be registered. Those that stray from the path of God will become obsolete. Apart from a passing glance I no longer look at the words, no longer am I concerned with their meaning. I stop to light a cigarette, while still shielded from the cold wind. In this world cigarettes are a lot tastier than the ones that so irked the health institutions of many countries on Earth. The taste of chocolate fills my mouth as I take a deep drag.

I hold up the file, I’ve just been given. The necessary elimination of Bartholomew Shaw, it reads on the front. I know what I will find inside. All necessary deaths are the same, none of them ever see it coming. Victoria is a strange city, within a stranger country. It is governed by God’s chosen bureaucrats, protected by God’s soldiers and maintained by God’s laborers. A nation built on God’s plan, yet the church hardly holds any power. It is a nation of contradictions and it is corrupted to its core.

I walk down broad boulevards, watching cars and carriages drive by. The cars here resemble carriages quite closely, only they’re made of metal and aren’t pulled by horses. My mood sours as I realize that I will have to go down today. Shaw’s file tells me that he lives in the factory district. Some people say that the fourth district is the worst. Being the lowest level natural light hardly ever reaches it. When a citizen of the fourth looks up he sees nothing but concrete, gothic arcs, and perhaps a bit of glass. If you ask me the factory, or the third, district is much worse. It is permanently covered in smog and the noise of the factories ceases only a few hours every night.

I take a couple of turns, walk down a flight of stairs and enter the second district. There are fewer cars here, but you can see that the citizens here are well off. Ample light, nice houses, relaxed bluejackets patrolling the streets. Rich middle class, artisans, doctors, architects, good people overall, even though they’re a bit boring. I take my time, strolling through the district. Descending through Victoria’s levels is a bit like slowly descending into hell. The lower you go the worse it gets. I’m not in a hurry to go down, Shaw’s not going anywhere.

If you think that assassinating someone takes a lot of time and effort you are entirely right. Had this been a regular, unnecessary contract than I would have to be careful to not leave any trace at the scene, lest the police connect me to the murder. Picking the right time and place to murder someone is far harder than most people think. That is if you don’t want collateral damage, it is. As I see it my ordained path is bloody enough without killing extra people.

None of the above however matters. Shaw has strayed from the path of God, in other words he has become obsolete. The government doesn’t tolerate the existence of the obsolete, which is why his death has been deemed necessary. It is why I’m going down to kill him. I look at the giant elevator in front of me. It can easily hold two carriages. It is still too early for the evening rush, so I am alone. I sigh and step inside.

The elevator’s doors shut and starts its slow, rambling descend. About ten minutes later it comes to a halt. Before the doors even open the smog is already creeping inside, pooling at my feet. The doors open and I walk into a wall of fog. It is worse today than usually. I have trouble adjusting to the lack of sight. I light a cigarette waiting for my sense to settle down. After a minute or two I recognize shapes. What had been floating balls of yellow light turn out to be streetlights and lanterns.

People shuffle past each other, never making eye contact, never shouting a greeting or stopping to talk. Nobody likes to be out in the fog, or living in the district, but it is better than starving to death on the fourth level. It is telling that people would rather live here than in the crime riddled belly of Victoria.

Two trucks pass me, their shiny yellow headlights announcing their presence just in time for me to jump out of the way. I lock eyes with the people in the second truck. Between the open flaps of canvas twelve sets of eyes stare at me. Red goggles on top of grey gas masks, military issue. I wonder what they see when they look at me. Probably just another civilian, living his life, following the path. There aren’t any regular police officers in the factory district, instead the military holds jurisdiction. Victoria’s production is too important to leave to the cops.

The trucks are swallowed by the fog and my thoughts return to the matter at hand. The factory district is big. Not as big as the fourth district on which the city stands, but it has the largest density of people. There is no use trying to hail a cab, the only cars or carriages here belong to bureaucrats, factory management and the military. Most of the streets aren’t even paved. I walk through the grey sludge that passes for a road around here.

Square, ugly apartment buildings line both roads. There aren’t any other buildings, save for the occasional distributional point. Laborers seldomly handle money. They work to pay off their daily expenses, which are all provided by the factory they work for. It is a never ending cycle where ordained laborers work too long and too hard for points, which they all spend on shitty products. Goods which are just cheap enough to save up a little, thus creating the hope to move to one of the slightly better neighborhoods. The next day the laborers will line up and step into the factories again, taking tiny step by tiny step towards a better life.

The ordained factory owners, of course, encourage that kind of thinking. Every so often they lift someone up to a management position, helping them to get out of the factory district entirely. The entire district is united in a single thought; “It could be me.”

I pass by, what feels like the hundredth, apartment building when I see the first factory. It is monstrously big, pillars of black smoking billowing from a dozen chimneys. I’m not an expert, but I doubt the ones on earth were as big as these back in the day. The noise is deafening, it is probably worse inside. The sound of the factories is audible throughout the entire city, but usually it is softer. If you live here long enough you get used to it. The sound of the pounding pistons a lullaby when you go to sleep, the whistle of released steam an alarm to wake you up.

Here however, it is causing me a headache. I quickly walk past the building, following the directions in Shaw’s files. More grey apartment blocks, more sludge in the streets, I hate the factory district. It is fortunate

In yet another depressing residential area I reach my destination. Right in front of me is Shaw’s apartment building. I could go up and wait in his apartment. There is no light shining from the small window, so I doubt he is home. I could, but I don’t. I calmly wait for Shaw to come home, smoking cigarette after cigarette, watching the hours pass. After breathing toxic air, for what seems like an eternity, Shaw finally shows up. He’s not even trying to cover the disfigurement that mark him as obsolete. His veins stand out as if there is black tar floating through them instead of blood.

It is perhaps the biggest difference between this world and Earth. Here gods, or in this case God is proven to be real. When you stray from God’s path your veins turn black. It starts slow, spreading from the heart to the rest of the body. Once it reaches your head however it becomes hard to hide. The obsolete have no rights, they are outlaws, waiting for the day someone from the government comes to kill them.

I cross the street at the same time he does, keeping my head turned the other way, so that he won’t feel my prying eyes. He doesn’t suspect a thing as he stops in front of his building to open the door. I slowly draw my pistol, the movement to slow to alarm his more basic instincts. As he’s about to enter the building I level my gun and shoot twice, the impact pushing him slightly forwards. There isn’t a dramatic moment where he damns me or asks for forgiveness, this isn’t a movie after all. He’s lying face down halfway into his building, a bullet lodged in his lung. Going by his wheezing breath it has collapsed. I don’t say anything, instead I shoot a third bullet in his head.

There isn’t a police presence in the factory district and even if there was, nobody would report to them. Once I’m gone somebody will come downstairs to look at the body and they will contact the district governor’s office. Some minor bureaucrat or soldier will get send down to check on the body, after which it will be taken away. There will be no follow up investigation once it becomes clear that Shaw was an obsolete. The whole thing will be reported to city hall, who then will make the appropriate changes in their archive, after which the case is closed.

It is ironic maybe that somebody like me is officially called a good man while I murder people like Shaw, but it is the way the Mercian bureaucracy works. Maybe Shaw pissed off the wrong people, or maybe he said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Maybe he got it in his head that he’s being treated unfairly, which he probably was. It hardly matters anymore, his story is over.

There is of course a chance that his death might spark something, a movement of some kind or an influx in ordained revolutionaries. More likely things will continue as they always have. I put my gun back in my holster and leave Shaw’s body behind. There is very little reason left for me to remain here.

About an hour later, maybe a bit longer I enter my office, which also doubles as my house. Jesse, my secretary, has already gone home, I don’t mind, I’m not in need of my secretary right now. Instead I walk to my desk and turn on the light. I put Shaw’s file in front of me, grab the appropriate forms and start filling them in. There is certain calm that comes from doing the paperwork. Slowly Shaw becomes less of a person and more of a statistic, or maybe a character in a story. His parents were chemists, his path took him away from them. Everybody had expected great things from him, but God had another plan. For years he slaved away as a laborer in service of big, faceless companies. All the while he yearned from the days of his childhood. Eventually he snapped. He strayed from God’s path, isolating himself from the rest of the world. Then, finally I came along and put a couple of bullets in him.

The last part is familiar, it is how all my reports to City Hall end. I don’t keep track how many there have been. It doesn’t matter since I was doing this long before I started documenting it.

I check if all the data is correct and if the right names are redacted. I finish by writing the details of Shaw’s death. Once the paperwork is done I make a short phone call to City Hall, where a bureaucrat thanks me for my service and promises to make sure that the money will be in my account by tomorrow. I hang up.

It was a short and easy job; most necessary deaths are. The obsolete know that someone is coming for them, eventually. It can however take months before the government actually gets around to sending an assassin after them. Months in which the fear subsides and people settle back in their regular life. It gives them a false sense of security, a belief that they’ve been forgotten. For some of them this is probably true. I have no doubt that there are dozens, maybe hundreds of people are hiding in the fourth district. Within the slums no one cares if you are in God’s good graces or not.

I calmly pour myself a glass of whiskey, before walking towards the gramophone in the corner of my office. The record I put on is a classical piece from a local talent, Underhill’s third symphony. As the music starts playing I light a cigarette and sit back. I release the smoke through my nose, watch it dispense.

I am, and have been a lot of things, a foreigner, an immigrant, a student, a traitor, a runaway, a businessowner and a murderer. It is in these moments, right after a job that I wonder, had I remained in Seattle, would I have been the same? Or would I have grown up to be a very different kind of man? A better man. A good man. Gloomy thoughts, unbefitting a proper assassin, who just earned some good money for a day’s work.

The record cracks, signaling the ending of the piece I had only half heartedly been listening to. I get up, leaving my worries behind in my chair. I have no doubt that they will be waiting for my next unguarded moment. I turn off the gramophone and go to bed. 

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bubbleduck @bubbleduck ago

Interesting, most interesting. I have to admit that the Dishonored profile picture drew me in and the story followed what I was expecting.

As for things you can improve, imagery could be worked on. What you do include is good but you could include more. The architecture, the people's faces, even the weather. A large part of steampunk, just as with horror stories, is the atmosphere of the world and the people within it. You should wholly embrace that when writing.

Something like:

The timid man behind the town hall's reception desk ran his trembling fingers over the ink-stained sheets. It was a great desk of imported red oak, worth more than the salary of the man behind it, carvings and filigree dancing along its legs. I had little time to observe it however as the receptionist's hacking cough drew my attention back to him. He wiped his lip with a threadbare handkerchief before waving me onwards into the oil-lit depths of the building. "Mister the Winter. You are expected."

One other point of note is that a few of your sentences stretch out over too many ideas. "These days I hardly hear it, like a born and bred Victorian I accept the sound for what it is, background noise to be filtered out." You could cut that into two or three without trouble. Many other sentences are shorter but could still be cut in half just as easily.