Thief: Metal Twilight
Our most promising acolyte was again lost to us,
His task completed, he once again forsake us,
But his brashness was to be taken from him again,
Before the dawn of the metal age.
The darkness beckoned to Garrett. The comfort of the shadows shielding him in darkness. One of his more reliable fences had informed him that Lord Bafford was getting 10,000 bucks worth of gold in from several ‘sources’ tonight. There was also the valuable ‘prize’ of a pure, genuine Burrick-hide cloak. The last time he’d been to Bafford’s place, Bafford and the captain of his house guard were absent, this time they weren’t. It could be a lot trickier than last time. Garrett stood up and reached for his bow. It was going to be a long night…
Jack looked back at his friend, Henry. ‘Oi, Henry.’ He said gruffly. ‘Yeah?’ Henry replied. ‘Did you ever see the boss’ sceptre?’ Henry frowned at his friend. ‘Shut up! If the boss ever heard you say that, he’d slit your throat! We don’t mention the S word around ‘ere.’ ‘Sorry.’ Whispered Jack.
Henry, who was twenty years Jack’s senior, laid a comforting hand on the young mans shoulder. ‘In answer to your question, I did see it.’ He smiled at the memory. ‘The most beautiful thing ever seen by me own two eyes. It practically shouted out money.’ Then a frown blocked out the smile. ‘Then he came.’ Jack’s interest was set alight. ‘Who?’
All of a sudden, Henry looked extremely old for thirty-eight. A cracked, old voice passed through his lips. ‘The shadow with eyes. The dark made solid. Garrett.’ Henry sat down on the wooden bench, his legs unable to find the strength to hold up his bulky form. ‘Tell me what happened that night.’ Said Jack, comfortingly.
‘I was the only guard left, that night. I found the unconscious body of the well-house guard, hidden in shadows. If my boot hadn’t hit him, I wouldn’t have known he was there until morning. His key was gone from his belt and the well-house door was wide open. I ran to the main gate to alert the three other guards. But they were in no position to help me find the intruder. They were dead, lying in a pool of their own blood. Regardless of my own safety I ran through the whole manor. No guards were in any position to help me. Some were stabbed through; others had arrows sticking out of them. Fortunately, most of them were just unconscious.
But the Boss’ prize? Gone, along with most of his other valuables including his prize diamond ring. He was furious that night. He had heaps of his servants beaten to death. But there was nothin’ they could’ve done to prevent it. I ran to the portcullis around the side and saw him going through it. He turned around and smiled at me. Then he ran off into the night, blending into the shadows.’
Henry sighed. ‘Garrett even took the Boss’ most prized wine! I mean he is a taffer, but he has got taste.’ They both laughed, although a little uncertainly. Jack suddenly looked very alert. ‘What was that?’ Henry looked around.
‘What was what?’ ‘A sort of rustling.’ Henry looked around more nervously. He took a step closer to Jack. There was a clink. Jack looked down. So did Henry. ‘Oh, no.’ said Henry. Green gas curled up from Henry’s boot. The world grew darker and faded. The two guards slumped forward.
In the bushes, Garrett smiled…
Garrett knew the mansion like the back of his hand now and thought that it might be a challenge to sneak in through the garden. Two guards were talking about his previous escapade to the manor. He’d considered putting a fire arrow between their eyes but it was good to hear that people were still fearful of that outing. He selected a gas mine and threw it between the two guards, hoping that they heard it; otherwise he’d have to waste one of his arrows to set it off. Fortunately they heard it. Garrett smiled. He got up and dragged the bodies into the darkness. He went down the hallway beside the garden and into Bafford’s library. The tables were piled high with gold. And there, lying on the chair was the Burrick-hide cloak. Garrett smiled and then frowned. It was too easy. Why wasn’t Bafford here? A snigger erupted from behind him. Garrett turned around slowly, dreading what he may see. The grinning face of Lord Bafford and twelve guards faced him. Lord Bafford raised his arms. ‘Welcome Garrett, to my humble abode!’ A guard scowled at Garrett. ‘Where’s your shadows now, tricksie boy?’ Garrett smiled at the men. ‘I believe I have them right here.’ Garrett covered his face as a small metal ball bounced onto the carpet. Bafford’s smile disappeared. ‘You taffer!’ he whispered. The room erupted with light. When Bafford and his men recovered, half his gold was missing and the Burrick-hide cloak. Lord Bafford shook with fury. ‘Find Garrett and bring him to me dead or alive!’ the guards nodded and ran out of the room. Absolutely no one had noticed the naked guard in the back corner of the room…
Lord Bafford went into his room and put his head in his hands. This had been the second time Garrett had outwitted him. His head spun around in myriads of thoughts until it finally came to rest on one thing. The sceptre, the dreaded sceptre. It had cost him half of his vast wealth. Then Garrett had come and taken it, his most prized possession. The door opened and a guard stepped through. This was the last straw for Bafford. ‘I did not summon you! Why are you here? Get out at once!’ The guard didn’t stop. He grabbed Bafford by the throat and lifted him up high and slammed him against the wall. He lifted his helmet off so that Bafford could see the face of… ‘Garrett.’ Whispered Bafford, his voice shaking with terror. Garrett smiled. ‘This is a warning. Do not screw around with me, ever. Or I swear I will come and gut you.’ Bafford was close to tears. ‘Okay! Just please put me down.’ Garrett put him slowly down. ‘Now,’ said Garrett. ‘I’m willing to put this all behind me and act like this happened and leave with some money. I’ll give the cloak back and twenty five percent of the money I stole.’ Bafford looked at the figure with frightened eyes. ‘What do you want from me?’ Garrett smiled. ‘Be my eyes in the upper level of the City and inform me of any valuable merchandise coming in and in return, I will not steal from you as long as you keep your side of the bargain.’ Bafford started to smile relieved that Garrett wasn’t going to kill him just yet. ‘You’ve got yourself a deal Garrett.’ They shook hands. Garrett reached into his cloak and brought out a long sceptre. ‘I believe this is yours.’ Bafford’s eyes lit up. ‘My sceptre! I can’t thank you enough for bringing it back, Garrett.’ Bafford looked up. Garrett was gone. In his place was a pile of gold and the cloak. Bafford smiled. He’d always wondered what it was like, being on the wrong side of the law.
Garrett ran along the rooftops, his cloak billowing in the wind. He enjoyed these moments of exhilaration. He could think more clearly up here in the quietness of the rooftops. With only a hint of the rabble of people in the markets down below. Garrett smiled; he knew that he had found a reliable spy in Lord Bafford. It was amazing how things turned out in the end. Now to get to bed and have some rest. It would be the last comfortable sleep he would have for a long time…
Chapter 1: Asylum
Our control was waning and our supporters became fewer,
But still we held on to our beliefs in the builder’s law,
And kept our sacred cells full with unbelievers,
But no unbeliever must enter the sacred asylum,
Lest they feel the crush of our holy hammers,
And their sinful bodies are consumed by pain.
- Hammerite sermon of the Asylum
‘Keep it steady, Garrett.’ Carl said. ‘I will not keep it steady, you taffer, unless you give me my money!’ Garrett was furious. Carl had promised to have his money today and had said it was delayed by another month. It had been a year since he had done that job for Carl and he hadn’t seen a penny from it yet. Carl was a balding man in his forties whose facial features were similar to those of the late Cutty. He shared the same job, too. Garrett drew a dagger and held it to Carl’s throat. Carl started to tremble. ‘I don’t have it!’ Garrett’s dagger drew a drop of blood from Carl’s throat. ‘That’s not what I wanted to hear, Carl.’ Said Garrett. ‘I told you, I don’t have the money, but I have information on another job.’ He added quickly as Garrett’s arm tightened around his throat. Garrett threw him against the wall. ‘Tell me more, and I’ll see whether I shall let you live.’ ‘A contact of mine has said he’s found a secret Hammerite prison, hidden in their cathedral.’ He blabbered quickly. ‘And what use does that do for me?’ Said Garrett impatiently. ‘It’s where the Hammerite’s have their treasury.’ Garrett’s eyes sparkled. ‘Their entire treasury? Every coin that has been dropped into the collection box?’ Carl smiled forcefully. ‘Yeah, every coin, and all their religious relics, could be worth a lot of cash.’ Garrett sheathed the dagger as Carl breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Tell me how to get in.’ Said Garrett, looking extremely attentive. ‘In the garden is a hidden stairwell, which is triggered by stamping on a hidden button in the grass. That’s your ticket inside. After that, you’re on your own.’ Garrett frowned. ‘How does your “contact” know all this?’ Carl smiled. ‘He’s the High Priest.’ ‘What!’ Garrett exclaimed, his face trying to contain his surprise. ‘The High Priest is considering founding a new faction of Hammerites called the “Mechanists” and he needs all the supporters he can get.’ ‘Tell me more about these Mechanist guys.’ ‘They want to expand the technology of the builder and advance it, whereas the Hammers just want to leave it the way it is. The Mechanists are only a small group of rogue Hammerites and the High Priest… For now. The Hammerites have been so caught up in their Cathedral and containing the asylum-‘ Garrett frowned. ‘Asylum?’ ‘The prison.’ ‘Why are they so anxious to contain it?’ Carl’s smile faded. He thought he’d got away with it. ‘There’s something down there that the Hammerite’s don’t want stolen and they want to maintain the integrity of the walls, so that Burrick’s can’t get inside. They’ve doubled the patrols, despite the high priest trying to persuade them not to bother.’ ‘So what you’re saying is that the place is crawling with Hammers, right?’ Carl looked at his feet. ‘Yes.’ ‘Carl, all I’m going to say is this place better not be well lit.’ Carl looked even more downtrodden. ‘It is well lit.’ ‘Please Carl, tell me the lights aren’t electric lamps.’ Carl’s smile brightened. ‘Got it in one.’ Garrett breathed a sigh of relief. Carl suddenly looked very excited. ‘I know just the thing you’ll need for this job.’ Carl ran over to a chest and threw it open. He pulled out a few objects and brought them over to Garrett. ‘This is a crossbow.’ Said Carl, handing it over to Garrett. Garrett looked at the crossbow. ‘What is it exactly?’ Carl smiled. ‘It’s an automatic bow, courtesy of the Mechanists.’ Garrett looked at Carl again. ‘What’s so good about it?’ ‘It’s lightweight, can hold up to four bolts. Bolts are crossbow arrows, Garrett. They’re smaller than normal arrows with the same amount of force that a normal arrow does when it’s fired with the best bow, with the strongest man handling it.’ Garrett looked impressed. ‘But what about my noisemakers and crystal arrows?’ Carl smiled and brought out his other hand from behind his back. Several bolts were in his hand and they were glowing. ‘Another surprise from the mechanists. All your basic elemental and tool arrows are in bolt form and are just as effective as their larger counterparts.’ Garrett raised his eyebrows. ‘Why do I need this?’ ‘You’ll need to conceal it.’ ‘Why?’ ‘They don’t allow bowmen into the Asylum.’ ‘Why should I worry about that?’ ‘Because you’re going in disguise.’ Carl went over to the chest again and brought out a red cloak, which clinked with the metal armour that was stitched to it. The breastplate had a red hammer painted on it. Carl opened his mouth, a look of glee on his face. ‘I know, courtesy of the Mechanists.’ Interrupted Garrett. ‘Why are the Mechanists helping me to steal from the Asylum?’ ‘I think they want to persuade the other Hammers that they need more security and for that they need new technology, therefore swaying them over to their beliefs.’ Garrett smiled. ‘I bet they’ll probably fall flat on their face instead of gaining more supporters.’ Carl brought out a scroll from his belt and handed it to Garrett. ‘This is a note from the High Priest detailing that you need to forge another hammer in the Cathedral cellars and then report to the Asylum. It also has a basic map of the asylum included also. I recommend hiding the crossbow in your robes. Don’t bring your sword. Use the Hammer that you’ll forge otherwise the Hammerites will become suspicious. You’ll have to grow a beard and learn how to use a hammer. I’ll teach you how to wield the hammer. After that you’ll be ready to go.’ ‘Why must I grow a beard? I hate having a beard, it makes me itchy.’ ‘Trust me Garrett, only novices don’t have beards. I guess they want to look as much like the builder as they can.’ ‘Alright, now all this planning is well and good but how long will it take to finalize this stuff?’ ‘Only two weeks.’ Garrett smiled. Two weeks was a long time, but it would be worth the wait…
‘Initiate Bartolli reporting for hammer construction.’ The guard squinted at the papers. ‘Well, everything seems to be in order here. Signed by the High Priest himself. Thou must have been an excellent novice.’ The guard turned away from Garrett. ‘Raise the gate!’ There was a clanking of machinery and the portcullis rose. Garrett stepped in. In the darkness, he smiled.
A few minutes after Garrett left the portcullis room, the sentry went over to the gate raiser. ‘Dost thou know what ‘the Asylum’ is, brother?’ The gate raiser shook his head. ‘I have’st no idea what thou art talking about brother.’
Garrett didn’t spend time dawdling and quickly went to the moulding section in the basement. There he selected a suitable mould and placed it in the marked position by a boiling cauldron of molten metal. Pulling a lever, he closed the mould, leaving a hammerhead shaped hole in the top. He pulled the second lever slowly. The cauldron tipped towards the mould. Molten metal ran into the mould, glowing almost white and then cooling to red. Garrett waited a few minutes before opening the mould. Putting a leather glove on his hand, he reached towards the smouldering hammer. It was surprisingly cool for something that was 600 degrees. Garrett picked it up and gave it a few experimental swings. Pleased with it, he moved off towards the cathedral gardens.
It took several minutes to find the plate. Garrett looked around to see if anyone was looking. There was no one in sight. Double-checking, he stamped down hard on the plate. There was a shriek of metal scraping against stone and the ground fell from beneath him. He started sliding down a spiral stairway of grass. When Carl had said hidden stairwell, Garrett had thought he meant ladder leading down to hidden stairwell. Garrett landed on his back at the bottom of the stairs. A gloved hand reached down. Garrett flinched. ‘Hey, it’s all right.’ Garrett grabbed the hand. It was attached to a man in his fifties, with a face like a runny egg, but with the sincerest smile Garrett had ever seen. ‘I’m Jasper. Thou must be initiate Bartolli, am I right?’ Garrett nodded. ‘Welcome to the Asylum.’ Jasper swept a hand around the room. Garrett drew in a breath sharply. There was level upon level of cells, stretching down into the earth. Jasper noticed Garrett’s expression. ‘Thou wilt get used to it, boy. I don’t even hear the screaming now.’ Jasper slapped his hands on his thighs, trying to lighten the mood. ‘Well, I’d best show thee round.’ Garrett smiled. ‘Sure.’ As they walked along Garrett turned to Jasper. ‘How did you know my name?’ Jasper’s mouth opened and shut. ‘I… News travels down here fast.’ He said quickly. Garrett frowned. Something was wrong. He couldn’t put his finger to it but he knew it was there, like a needle in his mind. Garrett shook his head. Maybe he was getting paranoid…
The Asylum was shutting down for the night by the time the tour was finished. Shutting down for the night in the Asylum meant that the guard was tripled and the afternoon shift got their rest. There was an entire cellblock reserved for the guards, although the doors weren’t locked and they had beds. Garrett was shown to his bed and bidden good night by Jasper. But Garrett wasn’t in the mood for sleeping. As soon as he couldn’t hear any noise, he slowly opened his door. No guards were patrolling the guard quarter’s hall. Garrett went back into his room and checked his crossbow. It was quite small, fitting easily and comfortably between his robe and the chest plate. He picked up his hammer and set out. Jasper had told him where the treasury was. Garrett remembered the man winking as he said it. Could he be a Mechanist? All the facts fell into place. Jasper knowing who he was as soon as he was there, his slips in the accent of the hammers, all the hints about how to get into the treasury and pointing out the ‘cameras’. Really, they were just pipes with a guard on the other end looking down it. Two mirrors were positioned in the bends of the pipe, showing the guard what the bottom saw. Garrett stayed close to the shadows as he made his way towards the treasury door. He eventually came to an impasse. A guard was standing in a hallway that was lit by a single, bright torch. Garrett smiled. ‘Time to find out if this really works.’ He brought out his crossbow and loaded a water bolt. He took careful aim and fired at the torch. There was a splash, followed by a sputter and the torch went out. The guard looked around nervously. ‘Hello?’ Garrett slid into the shadows. After several minutes, the guard relaxed. ‘I’ll light the torch later.’ Garrett wiped his forehead. He hugged the wall furthest from the guard and softly stepped past him. When Garrett was out of hearing he breathed a sigh of relief. That was his first obstacle over with. There would be more…
Garrett ran the last few steps to the treasury door. He’d gotten past all the guards without alerting them. He had gone through most of the complex, seeing prisoners with their tongues cut out or great welts on their back, pleading him to set them free. He kept on, though trying to put the Hammerites atrocities from his mind was next to impossible. He opened the treasury door with a great heave. The room glowed golden. Garrett smiled and opened his satchel and began raking the money in until his satchel was full. He’d had the satchel since he was a boy and it seemed to be able to fit anything that could fit through the opening. The treasury room was bare. Garrett frowned. There had to be another room. Carl had said there were some religious relics here too. Then he spied it, a button set into the stone. It was easy to miss; it fitted in to the stone wall’s colouring perfectly. Garrett pressed it. There was a groan and spikes extended from the roof. Garrett’s face froze. ‘Oh, no.’ the roof started to descend. Garrett ran for the door. It slammed in his face, locking. Garrett raced over to the button again, and pressed it. The spikes shuddered to a halt. Garrett went over to the door and tried it. The handle turned. The spikes fell. Garrett leaped through the gap in the door just in time. A spike caught the edge of his robe and tore it free. As he rushed out, alarms began blaring. ‘Damn it! I’m going to get Carl for this.’ Garrett hissed. He bolted down the corridor and began heading for the surface. There weren’t any Hammers about. Then Garrett noticed. All of the cells were empty. In the distance he could hear the sounds of fighting. It was coming from the direction of the stairwell. Suddenly curious, Garrett approached the sounds of the fighting. He stuck to the shadows, silently creeping forward. He slowly opened a wooden door in front of him, to see… Chaos. There were already a dozen bodies lying on the reddened carpet. All of them wore the red garb of the Hammerites. The victors wore a similar style to the Hammers but wore green and white, with a cog in the middle. The word immediately sprang to Garrett’s mind. Mechanists. Realization dawned on Garrett. I was a decoy! Garrett shook with fury. Loading four fire bolts into the crossbow, he smashed the door apart with a reverberating crash. ‘No one makes a pawn out of me!’ He screamed, sending a flaming bolt into the chest of one of the Mechanists. When the smoke cleared, Garrett hadn’t expected him to be still standing, let alone grinning at him. ‘Your petty weapons are of little consequence to us, Garrett.’ Three mechanists drew swords and charged at Garrett. Garrett ducked the first swing but the second caught him on the shoulder. He toppled to the ground. He looked up and saw a ring of mechanists surrounding him. They were all laughing and jeering at him. One kicked him hard in the ribs, then the others joined in. Garrett faded into unconsciousness, but the laughter remained…
Chapter 2: City
Our ‘Sanctuary’ beneath the Hammerite cathedral was unbreached,
The relic was safe once more, but its peace may still be disturbed,
The acolyte had come so near that we needed to divert him,
And he may already suspect the truth that lies in the catacombs,
The pre-echoes his discovery has made may have already upset the balance.
- Keeper Harver
Garrett woke up. He ached all over especially in his ribs. He opened his eyes. A hooded figure looked down on him. Garrett groaned. ‘Keepers. I wondered when you’d show up.’ ‘You took quite a bashing from the Mechanists.’ ‘You played me for a fool! You honestly don’t think I wasn’t smart enough to know that this was your set-up, to kill me.’ The keeper shook his head. ‘We didn’t tell the Mechanists to do that to you. We merely wanted you… Out of the equation for a little while.’ Garrett felt anger building in him. ‘Out of the equation! They nearly kicked me to death!’ The keeper stared at Garrett as if he could see through his eyes into his mind. ‘We have a job for you, Garrett.’ Garrett laughed, mockingly. ‘The keepers want me? I thought they didn’t want the help of a heretic like me.’ ‘Well you’re the only one who has returned alive from this place.’ Garrett frowned. ‘Where are we talking about exactly?’ ‘The lost city of Karath-Din.’ ‘No way! I’m never going there again.’ ‘We will be willing to pay you-‘ ‘No way!’ ‘-Five hundred thousand.’ Garrett’s eyes widened. He seemed consider something. ‘All right, you’ve got yourself a deal. What is it you want me to do?’ ‘There was an area of the city that has been sealed off by rubble. There are several important documents in this area that cannot fall into anyone’s hands but ours. When you find them, do not read them. Some things are best left unknown.’ ‘How am I supposed to get into this section?’ ‘We will give you several explosive mines to place in these key sections.’ The keeper handed Garrett a parchment. ‘You must place these exactly on these markers otherwise the whole cave will collapse on you.’ ‘Although that would achieve your goal.’ ‘No, Garrett, you are not as expendable as you think.’ ‘Ha! Tell me that before you send someone to kill me, hmm?’ ‘For the last time Garrett, we didn’t order them to do that.’ The Keeper stated calmly. ‘And now I must go, we have a lot of work to do.’ The Keeper stepped back into the shadows and was gone. Garrett got up and pored over the map. It was almost the same as the one he had received a few months ago, except in a great more detail. Instead of having the signs that were on the stone obelisks inside indicating the sections of the city, there were roads and buildings clearly marked out. Garrett got out of the bed and began dressing.
Five minutes later he was out the gates of the keepers sanctum. He turned to look back at his childhood prison… And they were there. Standing in front of the gate were a dozen keepers, staring at him, in their hooded cloaks, scrutinizing him. Garrett moved swiftly away. ‘Do you think he knows what he’s doing for us?’ ‘If he comes back alive, he will.’ ‘There will be a resurgence?’ ‘It has already begun.’ The Keepers watched their acolyte fade into the shadows…
A clump of dirt fell on the ground, followed by another. Garrett leaped down to the ground. He’d decided not to take the secret water passage, in case the explosives got wet and exploded while he was still holding on to them. Fortunately he had dug down to the exact section where he wanted to be. It was a large cavern, stretching for about two hundred meters. In the centre was a large, circular mound. All around it were red flags. Garrett smiled. So the keepers don’t think I memorized the mine locations. Garrett opened his satchel and brought out the mines. The flags were made up of two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle comprised of six and the outer circle had twelve flags. Garrett uprooted the flags and replaced them with several mines each. There was a single flag in the centre of the two circles. Garrett went to that last. Stepping off the mound, he turned around to inspect his handy work. Satisfied, he brought out his bow. He had destroyed the crossbow when he found that the fire bolts did not have fire crystals on them, but instead had sapphires with smoke powder on the end. He sold them to buy back a bow and leave some extra change for arrows. Garrett nocked a fire arrow and aimed for the middle clump of mines. Garrett fired and then dove for cover. There was an almighty bang and bits of dirt and rock flew out in all directions. When the dust had settled, Garrett peered over the edge of his cover. There was no mound left. Now there was a ring of steps leading down into darkness…
‘Keeper Annals? Please step forward.’ The place was a like a Cathedral. Stained glass etchings of keyholes and keys shed multicoloured light onto the thousands of desks. There was keeper initiates working here, their teachers watching them closely. Keeper Annals remembered tutoring his own initiate, Garrett, here. Keeper Annals walked towards the front of the room, where Keeper Sancroft, the keeper of the keys sat on a wooden backed chair. ‘Yes, Keeper Sancroft?’ Sancroft smiled at his friend. ‘I am getting no younger, Annals. I need to choose a new keeper of the keys. I choose you, the wisest of our brethren and watcher of the acolyte.’ ‘I am honoured, old friend and if it is your wish, then I will undertake this responsibility to the best of my ability.’ ‘As I knew you would, as it had to be.’ Sancroft suddenly convulsed in his chair and slumped. Annals ran over to him and checked his pulse. He found nothing. Annals gestured to one of Sancroft’s aides. ‘Prepare the tombs for his arrival, and summon Garrett. If he’s still alive.’ The aide looked around nervously. ‘Quickly! We have no time to lose!’ The aide hurried out of the hall, bowing as he went.
Garrett tiptoed slowly down the stairs, making as little noise as possible, sticking to the shadows. Even if nobody’s there, he thought, at least I’ll get some practice. A rumble echoed up the stairway. Pieces of mortar fell onto the ground. Garrett grabbed onto the wall as the ground shook. He stumbled and fell down the stairs, battering his head on the stone steps. Fighting to stop himself falling, Garrett pressed his hands onto a step and flipped onto his feet, several steps down, effectively stopping his rapid descent. He looked up to see a dozen spears pointing at him…
‘Builder be with you, Bishop Reichardt.’ ‘And with you, Karras.’ Karras smiled. ‘How is the day finding you my Lord?’ ‘Extremely well seeing as we have had our first victory against the Hammers. Did you get the item I requested?’ Karras brought out the object. ‘As instructed, my lord.’ Reichardt reached out a gloved hand. ‘Excellent work Karras. Now we can begin our own plans, not being directed by those naïve Keepers.’ The Bishop and Karras smiled at each other knowingly as the glint of gold flickered around the room…
Garrett was thrown through an archway onto the cold stone floor. Looking up he saw a high set of stairs, leading to… Four thrones. ‘Oh man.’ Hand Mages. ‘So wonderful of you to join us Mr. Garrett’ said one of the Mages as he descended the stairway. ‘Welcome to our city.’ The voice echoed as if four voices were speaking at once but just slightly out of synch. ‘I always knew you were sneaky.’ Said Garrett, smirking at the mage. ‘You are foolish, Garrett. This is our city from back when the city was first built. We held back the lava floes and sculpted it to suit our needs. So you are the trespasser here, Garrett.’ The Mage bent down over Garrett and struck him. ‘You should not have come here to our domain. Who sent you here?’ Garrett smiled in the face of the agony. ‘I was sent by no-one.’ ‘Garrett, do you think we are that stupid? We can see into the minds of unbelievers.’ ‘What do you mean unbeliever?’ Footsteps echoed through the hall. They came closer and came to a halt. ‘I think you had better turn around, Garrett.’ Garrett turned to see… ‘Mechanists.’ The leading Mechanist stepped forward towards Garrett. ‘Well, Well Mr. Garrett. I see you have discovered our friends down here.’ Garrett leaped up to hit the Mechanist but his captors restrained him. Garrett looked into the face of one of them… And screamed.
‘Brother, did’st thou see the ease of the Heretics overrunning of our cathedral?’ ‘Yes I did. But where did they come from?’ ‘One of our brethren said they spewed out of the ground in the garden.’ ‘I knew it! Trickster’s children they are!’ ‘Calm down brother, the citizens will see the true belief instead of this sin of metal and glass. I do not trust anything that can be twisted when heated up. Just like the unbelievers in Cragscleft!’ One of the Hammerites stood up in the confined room. There were twenty Hammers seated around a rectangular stone table, incredibly smooth and warm to the touch. It was known as the builder’s table. It was said to be the war table where the builder and the first Hammerites had planned their retaliation against the Trickster. The Hammerite who stood up spoke. ‘But do you Brothers not forge your hammers with metal and shape it to the builders will? Why not embrace this new philosophy? It is the builder’s will that we advance towards his paradise!’ ‘Aye, and what paradise is that then?’ The rest of the Hammerites stood up, hammers raised. They stepped towards the miscreant. ‘Brothers?’ After the screaming abated, a Hammerite by the name of Ivan Founderson stepped forth. ‘Let it be known that we are the last of the true faith and that the Builder’s hand guides us to the destruction of the Heretics. Are you with me brothers?’ The eighteen others pealed out a cheer. ‘Then we are agreed.’ A young novice looked up and spoke to him. ‘But the Heretics have grown strong as we weaken. What can we do?’ Founderson looked at the novice. ‘What else can we do, but wait for the builders justice?’
Garrett was flung against a stone wall and smashed onto the ground knocking the wind out of him. The figure that hurled him in stepped away lightly vanishing around a corner. A few minutes later, Garrett had recovered enough to take in his situation. A large reinforced metal door barred him from escape the way he was brought in. On the opposite side was a large circular tunnel, leading into darkness. ‘A Burrick tunnel. I guess it’s just not my lucky day.’ Garrett stepped into the tunnel listening intently for the wheezing of the Burrick’s moving around. The tunnel walls were incredibly smooth almost to the point of having a glossy sheen to the rock. As the tunnel got darker, Garrett slowed down his pace slightly, so that his eyes could become accustomed to the dark. A rush of warm wind rushed past him followed by a low rumble. The ground began to tremble. ‘This isn’t a Burrick tunnel. It’s a lava flow!’ Garrett sought desperately for a way out as the rumbling steadily increased. Garrett looked up and saw a small hole big enough for a man to fit through. Now all I have to do is get up there. Garrett started climbing the tunnel walls as the temperature started to rise. He now noticed that the ceiling was not as smooth as the other parts of the tunnel. The lava mustn’t reach here often. Grabbing the rocky handholds he hauled himself over to the hole, grabbing on to its edge. The rumble had grown to a roar, threatening to engulf Garrett’s mind with sound. Garrett reached up through the hole and found another edge. Taking his legs off their footholds, he pulled himself out of the tunnel and into… Garrett smiled.
‘Initiate Sorvan, Greene, Jacob and Viran. Step forward.’ Four nervous looking children stepped forward, heads bowed in reverence. ‘We obey, master.’ A wizened mage stood up from the throne and strode towards them. ‘Your training is complete. You four have excelled in your four separate areas of magic. Initiate Sorvan: Air, Initiate Viran: Earth, Initiate Jacob: Fire and Initiate Greene: Water.’ From the many entrances of the throne room and the balconies a myriad of mages appeared and cheered. The old mage raised his hands for silence. After several seconds he again addressed the boys. ‘Now your four paths will be one. You boys are to be our brothers within the hour. Prepare for the rite of transference.’ One thousand mages looked intently at the boys. A hum of four thousand voices stirred through the crowd. The youths looked frightened and calm at the same time. Then they screamed. Each initiate seemed to shatter into four separate pieces. The pieces flitted to the other initiates, melding into the boys. Their robes changed colours rapidly from yellow to blue to grey to red to brown and back to yellow. The boys’ feet rose into the air and halted two meters off the ground. They began convulsing their screams drowning as the humming grew. The old mage smiled at the spectacle. Four gates opened at the front and back of the room, directly in line with each of the boys. A wave of water flew out of the first gate smacking Greene in the face and absorbing him. For a moment it looked as though he was drowning and then it passed. Greene’s shape had now stabilized and he slowly descended to the floor, his robe had changed from the yellow robe of an initiate to the blue garb of a water mage. From the second gate a large amount of rubble smacked into Viran, his neck snapped from the force of the blow and blood spewed from a dozen cuts. Bones protruded from his skin and then it passed. Viran was lowered down to the ground, staring ahead. From the third gate a rush of air was followed by swirl of a whirlwind. Sorvan’s limbs were torn off and spewed out the other end. He too emerged unscathed but wearing the grey robe of an Air mage. From the final gate came a spew of lava. Jacob writhed in the liquid rock; his body burning until nothing was left. The lava froze as it moved towards the gate behind Jacob as the other elements had done so before. The magma cooled down and went solid. Then it exploded, and out of the chaos stepped Jacob, unscathed from the extreme heat. ‘Excellent brothers, you have passed the final elemental tests. You are now officially a member of the Hand Brotherhood. Now for the calling. Brother Greene?’ The Water mage looked up. ‘We are here.’ ‘Brother Viran?’ ‘We are here.’ ‘Brother Sorvan?’ ‘We are here.’ ‘Brother Jacob?’ ‘We are here.’ The boys’ voices had changed. As they spoke the other three boys’ voices mingled with their own. ‘Thou were born in the chaotic waters and clambered onto the fragile earth. When thou received enlightenment thou ascended into the air. When thou died the eternal fire cleansed you. Go in peace, my brothers and respect our teachings.’ The four new mages filed out of the throne room. ‘Brother Dyson, please step forward.’ There was a shuffling as the crowd parted to reveal a mage almost as old as the one standing on the podium. ‘What is thy bidding Arch Mage Verlin?’ ‘What hath becometh of Garrett?’ ‘We placed him in the place of eternal fire. He will not escape us this time.’ ‘I have this strange feeling that he was looking for something.’ The mage looked shocked. ‘Surely he cannot know of the artefact.’ ‘I sincerely doubt he has any knowledge of that, I am sure his minders would have made sure that they have kept their skeletons in their hidden closet. But move it nonetheless. He may know about it very soon, if he survives.’ ‘As you command.’
It was a small room chiselled out of the rock, with a stairway leading upwards. On a table were several books. On the front they had a keyhole embossed onto them. As Garrett took this in he noticed that the rumble had grown larger. He ran towards the books and picked them up. He then dove up the stairs as the molten rock spewed from the hole. It landed on the table, instantly turning it to ash. After several minutes the commotion had stopped and Garrett was free to relax. He had checked the upper floor and found that it was a cellar of some kind. Deciding not to investigate further as yet, Garrett sat down on the steps to read the books. The first one he opened was filled with glyph writings that looked extremely complex. Putting that one down he opened the second. It was in English, and seemed to detail the end of Karath Din…
I am writing this in the hope that someone will find this and bring justice to the men who have felled the beautiful city of Karath Din. It began many cycles ago after the death of the King and son of the sky, Va-Taraq. A good and just King he was, always serving the people. His son was different. He was brash and vain, seeking to pleasure only himself and his noble friends. He held huge banquets at the palace, defacing numerous statues of his father and past rulers. He raised taxes higher for his own monetary gain. He had seemed to change after he had seen his father die at the hands of those beastly creatures! Until that time he had been treading in his father’s footsteps. A revolution was established and many of the peasants joined in the battle. Most were slain or taken to the King’s new torture chamber. When they returned, they always returned changed. Masses of hair covered their bodies and their memories were erased. They became something less than human. The new King proclaimed them as his guardsmen instead of the more efficient servants that we had created for him and his father. One day a screaming echoed around the city. Burning spheres of living fire had appeared on the outskirts of the city, near the lava floes, and they were killing everything in sight. Even our pet Burrick’s who would never cause anyone harm, despite their large sizes were burned up in the fury of the attack. We went to the Mages for assistance. Most of them declined but several agreed. These several came with us to the lava floes and then did we realise that it was a trap. The mages laughed at us and said. ‘You cannot defeat the elements. For they are the only constant in this unholy place.’ And with that they turned on us. Many people were cut down where they stood. Several of us escaped their wrath, only to find the city deserted and in ruin, except for the strange crab-like things that had killed the previous King and the King’s “guards”. They were slaying every man, woman and child they found. I saw men walking among them, and the creatures carried on as if they weren’t there. They seemed to blend with the shadows, not helping us or fighting against us. They seemed to only observe the fate of our city.
I formed a resistance movement with several of my villagers to storm the palace where most of the strange happenings occurred. We thought that the prince was directing the armies to destroy us all. We evacuated all the villagers we could find to the surface, where it was thought to be safe.
There was a terrible carnage at the palace. All but one or two of us survived. We had sent our last servants in as a distraction, their metal bodies melting away from the living fires’ anger. We fought with righteous fury and made it to the throne room. There were plants everywhere, seeming to close in on us, as we got closer. We saw the prince standing with strange beings bowing before him. We stuck to the shadows but somehow he saw us and pealed out a cackle of laughter. He seemed to warp and horns sprouted from his head. A strange symbol formed on his forehead, which I am sure I have seen before somewhere. A ball of fire flew out of his hand and struck me down. The beasts killed the rest of my colleagues. I don’t have much time, it’s getting cold and it’s only a matter of time before they find me and-
There was a splatter of blood on the page and a streak of ink. Garrett smiled. ‘So the Keepers didn’t want me to know about Constantine and their role in the precursors downfall.’ Putting the books into his satchel, he walked up the steps…
Interlude 1: Garrett
Foundsie the sinful underground city,
Fullsie of burnsie metal,
Smashsie the badsie men,
And give their blood to the Woodsie Lord.
- Pagan children’s poem
‘Now hearken to Brother Karras!’ Thirty Mechanists stood to attention. ‘You have all been touched by the builder’s hand. The scum Hammerites had their hammers and now we shall have our sacred weapon.’ Karras reached out to a novice. He brought back a long shaft with two gears welded together at right angles at the top. ‘This shall be the new symbol of Mechanist power!’ A cheer erupted from the Mechanists. Karras handed the mace back to the novice and raised his hands for silence. ‘Now I have the pleasure to introduce our first female Mechanist, Sister Vilnia.’ Silence rained down, smothering the Mechanists faces with frowns. One pushed his way to the front. ‘What do we need a woman for! All they are good for is housework!’ A murmur of agreement was heard in the background. ‘That is a Hammer talking, Brother Langley, not one touched by the gear.’ The Mechanist looked shocked, as if he’d been slapped in the face. ‘My apologies, Brother Karras. I am but an imperfect machine to do the builders holy work.’ He stepped back into the crowd. ‘You will accept Sister Vilnia as you would a Brother. Bishop Reichardt hath decreed this.’ The Mechanists joined in a chorus. ‘Let the Builder’s gears run smoothly.’
The cellar was dark and even Garrett had trouble navigating through the bunch of crates and barrels that littered the ground. He had no idea where he was in the city but he had a pretty good idea. ‘Welcome, Garrett.’ Garrett looked round, surprised, then his shock turned to scorn. ‘Keepers. Come to claim your little prize?’ Then Garrett frowned. ‘I’m under the compound aren’t I?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You manipulated me! You knew where the books were from the beginning!’ He drew his sword. ‘You know what happens to people who manipulate me.’ He pointed to his empty eye socket. ‘This is what I had to pay for my revenge on the first person who used me as a pawn!’ He slashed at the Keeper. But the Keeper wasn’t there any more. Garrett’s sword whipped away from his hand and was now pointing at his throat. The Keeper faded back into the foreground. ‘You are brash Garrett, and that anger will get you killed one day.’ Garrett gave in and relaxed. ‘Very well, Keeper. But don’t think I will forget this.’ Garrett spat on the ground before the Keeper’s feet. ‘We did not know that Karath Din was linked to this place until several mechanists led a raid on our sanctum from that entrance half an hour ago.’ ‘How many dead?’ ‘We had no casualties but the Mechanists was complete decimation I’m afraid.’ ‘I didn’t know you Keepers were in for sadism.’ ‘We’re not, they had strange masks on their faces that emitted a strange gas that vaporized them and the masks.’ ‘Were they golden?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I have seen these masks on a guard down there. His robe was soaked with blood from his face.’ ‘Yes. We have heard of these.’ ‘I bet you have. You were there when the trickster overran Karath Din. You didn’t stop the Trickster’s reign of terror over them! You are weak and petty!’ ‘So you have disobeyed us.’ ‘I am not your puppy! Remember you came to me for help.’ ‘Yes, and you will soon need ours.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Your mentor has been selected to become the next keeper of the keys.’ Garrett smirked. ‘What does that mean for me?’ ‘You have been invited to the funeral of the previous keeper.’ ‘Am I supposed to be honoured?’ ‘No. You’re supposed to come with me.’ ‘And if I refuse.’ ‘This is mandatory, Garrett. It is consequential to your future.’ ‘I guess I’ll go along with this.’ They walked side by side into the darkness…
‘And the acolyte was tested by choices, leading to different paths. Some long, some short and others are twisted, merging into other paths. There is only one correct choice. The others lead to pain and death. The fate of the balance rests on the choice.’ The small boy stepped back from the podium to an explosion of applause from the audience of Keepers. A Keeper now stepped up to the podium. ‘Thank you, acolyte Wilson, I am sure you will become a most worthy Keeper later on. The best we have seen for many a year.’ Keeper Annals shifted uneasily in his seat. ‘Good Morning, Garrett.’ ‘And to you, Master.’ ‘The boy is extraordinary, isn’t he?’ ‘I didn’t see anything special about him, just reading a script.’ ‘He was reading directly from the glyphs, without using a prompter. He’s the youngest to do that since you did.’ ‘Why do you want me here for the funeral?’ ‘It isn’t for that but for this.’ Annals stood and gestured for Garrett to follow. They came to a strange door that was covered with glyphs. Garrett peered at them intently, his mouth moving in silent words. ‘The balance shifts and worlds collide, yet we remain constant?’ Annals smiled. ‘You have our teachings still.’ He brought out a key from his pocket and unlocked it. He pulled the door open; a strange white glow emanated from the room. The source of the glow was a set of scales. In one pan was a block of wood and in the other, a shard of metal. The scales were moving to either side erratically but never touching the ground. ‘Is this the Balance?’ Annals nodded. ‘It is so Garrett. Few Keepers ever have the honour of seeing this artefact.’ Garrett chuckled. ‘To see this piece of junk? I’d better tell them it’s not worth it. You Keepers keep so many things in shadows that are best put out in the light.’ ‘You may be right, Garrett but this isn’t one of them. This is what we use to observe the results of the prophecies hidden in the glyphs.’ ‘Those glyphs are always overrated by you people.’ ‘Don’t forget Garrett, that you are one of us.’ ‘You wish.’ A face of pure fury played along Annals face for a moment before a mask of calmness hid it. When once again he talked, it was forced between his teeth. ‘Do you not understand what I have just shown you! This is the representation of Good and Evil, Wood and Metal, Light and Dark!’ Garrett smirked at his former teacher’s tone. ‘Who are the bad guys and who are the good?’ Annals seemed to relax more. ‘That, Garrett, is your decision.’
It was several hours later, and several Keepers in black robes were carrying along a small coffin. Garrett followed behind, with Annals by his side. ‘They are looking for you, Garrett.’ ‘Who?’ ‘I think you know who I mean.’ ‘I have many enemies, Keeper, of which one do you speak of?’ The Keeper raised his hands. ‘That is all I can say without upsetting the balance. The only other piece of advice I can give you is trust no one. This isn’t the right thing you should be doing, Garrett, I am concerned for this worlds future.’ ‘Huh. You think I care? The rent is due next week and I’m broke. One time saving the world is enough.’ The body was laid in a large graveyard, stone markers riddling the landscape. A wind blew through the trees surrounding the site, as if a storm was coming…
As the final rites were being uttered Garrett walked over to Annals. ‘By the way, where’s my pay? And none of your illusion tricks again, keeper, I want real money not fairy gold.’ Annals handed over a large pouch solemnly. ‘Is money all your soul thinks about, Garrett?’ Garrett shook his head. ‘It isn’t money that I like, it’s the thrill of the theft.’ And with that, he turned around and walked away from the keepers, regardless of the trying times ahead. Another keeper came over to Annals. ‘The resurgence is gaining momentum, Annals, have you told Garrett of these events?’ Annals shook his head. ‘I have not for he must work it out for himself.’
The watcher took up his seat in front of the pans and settled down to reading the daily city newspaper. After a while he noticed a rhythmic thumping in the background. Putting down the paper, he searched for the source of the noise. When he found the source, his face went white. He ran out and stopped a passing Keeper. ‘Quickly! Send for Keeper Annals! Something terrible has happened!’ All the while, the scales were thumping from side to side…
Chapter 3: Manor
The time has come friends, to venture into the boiler,
And see the Builder’s paradise,
There is no crime or pain or worry,
Only the Builders calming influence.
- New Scripture of the Master Builder
Lord Bafford glanced around nervously, peering along the streets. It was a bitterly cold night and snow was falling lightly onto the ground, covering it in white slush. Bafford drew his coat around him for warmth and knocked on the door. ‘Looking for me?’ Bafford turned around swiftly, to see the dark figure in front of him. ‘Garrett. You always are the one for surprises.’ Garrett stared impassively back. ‘What is it you want from me?’ Bafford’s mouth spread into a smile. ‘I have a job for you.’ Garrett also smiled. ‘Good, the rent’s due tomorrow and I’m all out. Where and when?’ Bafford gestured to the door. ‘We had better discuss this inside. If one of Ramirez’s spies find out that I was here, we’ll both end up at the bottom of the river.’ ‘Huh. Ramirez? His lackeys are very overrated.’ ‘Ramirez has changed in the light of your vengeance, Garrett. He has hired veterans from Blackrook as his guards and spies, only the best.’ Garrett looked smug as he fumbled with the keys to his door. ‘What, men who can punch their way through a brick wall, but can’t seem to string seven words together? Oh please.’ ‘I didn’t see you on the front lines, Garrett.’ Garrett laughed at that comment. ‘I was smart enough to get out of it.’ ‘How?’ ‘Remember that press gang that was found mugged in an alleyway?’ ‘Vaguely.’ ‘I knocked them out with a gas arrow and took one of their exempt passes from them.’ ‘If you’d gotten caught, it would have been death for you.’ The door opened and they climbed up the stairs. ‘Hey, I live with death all the time.’ ‘Why did it take so long for you to open the door?’ Garrett held up a ring full of lock picks. ‘Forgot my keys. Now what is this “job” you wanted to give me?’ They sat down on the opposite ends of a square dining table. ‘Very well, Garrett, I will tell you.’
‘Something is wrong, Annals, the balance has gone haywire. What is to be done?’ Annals watched as the scales tipped to each side rhythmically. ‘Watcher Keaton, send our messengers out to find Garrett. Tell them to run like they’ve never run before!’ ‘Yes, Keeper Annals.’ The man bowed and hurried out of the room. Keeper Annals held his head in his hands, deep in thought. There has been so many deaths, he thought. Annals stood up and walked out of the room as fast as he could, trying to get the rhythmic thumping out of his head…
‘So let me get this straight,’ Garrett said thoughtfully. ‘There’s a party at Ramirez’s place tonight and the coach park is relatively unguarded, this is where most of the noblemen will hide their valuables, as to avoid the indiscretion of Ramirez with some of his more recent “parties”, correct?’ Bafford smiled. ‘To the letter Garrett, although I must warn you that Ramirez may have beefed up security some since my informant was killed last night.’ ‘Then I’d better go late, when the guards are asleep.’ ‘That would seem the safest way.’ ‘So how much would there be there, a couple of hundred?’ ‘At least a thousand Garrett.’ ‘Looks like I’ll be able to pay for the rent on time for a change.’ Said Garrett, Cynically. ‘I would watch yourself, Garrett, It may not be as easy as you think.’ ‘Oh, and why is that?’ ‘Looks like you’re not the only thief who’s angry with Ramirez. The down winders have commissioned the area as a green site. So you may find some competition on your rounds.’ Garrett drew back his cloak to reveal his sword. ‘I know how to take care of competition.’
Half an hour later a rustle of leaves interrupted the silence of midnight in Garrett’s street. The keeper moved swiftly and silently between the buildings, pausing to check the numbers on the doors. When he finally came to Garrett’s door, he knocked loudly. Inside, nothing stirred. There was a scrap of paper on the doormat. The keeper picked it up and read what was on it. ‘Damn the taffer!’ the keeper cursed, and ran swiftly away as fast as his legs could carry him. On the paper were the hurriedly scrawled words: Gone to Work.
Garrett slowly crept around the front entrance guard posts and to an unguarded sidewall. Instead of his usual rope arrows, Garrett had bought a light grappling hook. He threw the hook over the wall and pulled back hard to test it. He did this several times until he was satisfied it could take his weight. Moving up slowly as to make the least possible noise, he remained focused at the top of the wall. When he was about halfway up, two guards came around the side. At the same time, Garrett lost his footing. A small amount of rubble clunked onto the ground, but it was enough. ‘What was that?’ said one of the guards. ‘I don’t know. Better check it out though. The boss wants everything to run smoothly this evening.’ Garrett leapt down to the ground, landing silently and rolling into a nearby bush. Both of the guards walked up to the wall. ‘Turn on your lamp, I can’t see anything in this dark.’ ‘Okay, Okay, just give me a minute.’ A match flared and then there was light. ‘Gee it seems more scary with the light on, all the shadows look real scary.’ ‘Shut up you taffer, point the lamp this way.’ There was a moment of silence for several seconds. ‘Look! There’s a rope! We could be breached.’ ‘Hey, Hey! Slow down and talk sense, ‘cos you aren’t making any at all at the moment.’ ‘We may have a thief inside.’ Said the second guard very slowly as if speaking to a small child. ‘Oh! Now I get it.’ ‘You warn the others and I’ll search the surrounding area.’ As the first guard turned, he met Garrett, still accelerating out of the bushes. ‘What the-.’ He was silenced by the blissful quiet of unconsciousness. The lamp shattered on the ground. ‘George? You OK?’ Garrett blended into the shadows as the second guard returned. ‘Oh my God!’ He turned around to see a hooded figure. Garrett raised his head. ‘Who are you?’ said the guard; his strong, forceful voice now reduced to a whisper of fear. ‘I am Garrett.’ The guard reached for his sword hilt, but Garrett was too quick. The guard slumped next to his friend. ‘Damn!’ Garrett turned swiftly and once again began his ascent. He reached the top without another hitch. As he looked over the wall he saw an amazing sight. There was over a mile of carriages forwards, and to the sides were stables for the horses. Fortunately the place wasn’t well lit and Garrett had most of the place to himself. He smiled at the thought of maybe meeting some of his old enemies, the downwind thieves’ guild…
Garrett had a bag full of money now. Bafford had been right about the guest’s security. They had left tons of loot inside secret compartments in the carriages. Some were empty, looted by other thieves, but Garrett wasn’t concerned. What he was concerned about were the seven guards chasing after him. He was about to raid his last carriage when he came upon the guards raiding another. As soon as they saw him they had given chase. Unfortunately, Garrett hadn’t been able to purchase any flash bombs and was now living to regret it. As Garrett tired, the pursuers closed in. Nothing for it. Garrett halted and crouched down. One of the guards tumbled over him and smacked onto the ground, out cold. By this time Garrett had drawn his sword and had taken up a defensive position. One of the guards burst out laughing. Wiping back tears of merriment, he spluttered: ‘oh, the little thief wants to play with us veterans, does he? Show him what you’ve got boys!’ The remaining six guards closed in on Garrett, swords drawn. Garrett turned, trying to get them all in his sight at the same time. One slashed at Garrett, but he saw it coming and blocked it. A look of surprise played across the guard’s face; obviously he hadn’t expected Garrett to be able to block the blow. Garrett kicked the man in the chest and sent him flying backwards. The man landed with a thump, but was unharmed. Garrett realized that he would not survive in this enclosed place and somersaulted under one of the guards, escaping from the enclosing ring. Quickly, Garrett ran around a corner and into darkness. Several seconds later, the guards rounded the corner. ‘I don’t like it. It’s too dark.’ ‘We’ve got to find him, he might leak our escapades to the boss.’ They spread out and started to search thoroughly in the darkness. Garrett moved slowly towards the most isolated member, bringing out his blackjack from the folds of his robe. The first guard fell softly and Garrett quickly moving on to the next one and then the next one until there was only one left. ‘Hey! I think I found his tracks, boys! Boys! Boys?’ The guard looked around carefully. Garrett closed in behind him. The guard suddenly swivelled and tripped Garrett. ‘I think not thief!’ Garrett lay on the ground, winded, both out of surprise and the force of him hitting the ground. The guard brought his sword over his head. ‘No one will suspect if you were killed while trying to escape.’ The guard brought his sword down swiftly. Garrett reached up his hand and gripped the blade with his bare hand. As blood flowed from his hand, Garrett spoke through gritted teeth: ‘your blade’s blunt.’ With that, he kicked at the blade, still gripping on. The blade snapped at the hilt, leaving the guard with a shocked and dazed expression. Garrett’s blackjack thumped on the side of his head and then a silence resonated.
Garrett hobbled along the darkened park, trying to find a secure place to lick his wounds. He eventually found one underneath a carriage and took out his medical kit. Inside were several potions that he knew he would need some time tonight. Leather straps around the neck, with a clip to release it fastened them to the kit. Unclipping one, he undid the lid and proceeded to pour it slowly along the two deep gashes on his other hand. Once finished, Garrett wrapped some bandages around his hand and lay back for several minutes. Having done that, he unwound the bandage to see the result. There wasn’t a single scratch on his hand. Garrett was always surprised when he did this regular exercise. Wounds that usually take weeks to heal compressed into a few minutes? Packing his gear away, Garrett crept away from his resting-place and began making his way back to his entrance.
‘Brother Founderson?’ The Hammerite looked up, staring into a young boy’s scared face. ‘Aye lad, what is it thou dost want me for?’ The boy handed him a scroll. ‘You have a summons.’ With that, the boy ran out of Ivan’s workshop, disappearing into the night. Ivan stared at the scroll in amazement. Obviously the boy hadn't been scared of him, had he? An old man? No, it must be something else. Reaching for a knife, he slit the twine and unfolded the scroll, it read:
There is great danger in the elements of metal and glass, for they are not purely of the builder. You must meet with us soon. The balance is as yet un-weighted, but we fear that it will become so soon. You, as the last priest of your once great brotherhood, are to come to an assembly of great importance. Be at the Baron’s Riches Inn tomorrow at noon. We do not accept declines. We watch over you and your kind and wish you the best in the nightmare ahead of us all.
Ivan put the scroll down on his workbench, with a frown on his face. The letter seemed garbled, as if hurriedly written by a madman, or a man under extreme duress. Ivan shook his head and returned to the forge, where the hot coals were burning. Inside the shield of heat lay a rock, the size of a fist. I shone with a black sheen and seemed to swallow the fire. Even now the fire was losing intensity. Ivan smiled; his work was done…
Garrett crouched down, listening intently. The footsteps drew nearer and then halted. Garrett froze for several seconds. The footsteps began again. The person sounded like he was trying to be silent, yet his footsteps were still loud in Garrett’s ears. Garrett slowly crept between the carriages, towards the receding footsteps. Drawing his sword he ran around the corner and straight into the prowler, knocking the person over. Garrett pointed the sword at the thief’s neck. ‘Don’t move a muscle, now give me all your valuables.’ Garrett then realized that the thief was a young man, not far off Garrett’s age, instead of the fifty or sixty year olds that the downwinders’ usually employed. ‘Please don’t hurt me kind sir! Leave me some of my loot or my masters will kill me!’ Garrett smiled under the hood of his cloak. ‘Let’s see what you’ve got first, then I’ll make a decision.’ The boy pulled out a satchel, not unlike Garrett’s own. Opening it, he tipped it upside-down. The glimmer of gold poured out of the bag, clanking onto the ground in droves. Garrett looked at the treasure trove in shocked amazement. ‘Whoa, kid! You’re almost as good a thief as me. What’s your name?’ The man looked slightly less intimidated now, seeing that he had a position of bargaining. ‘For one thing, I’m not a boy, I’m probably just as old as you, Garrett.’ Garrett looked at him curiously. ‘How’d you know my name?’ ‘Donal and Rueben have wanted posters of you all around the guild houses, the name’s Slade.’ Slade reached his hand out towards Garrett. Garrett took it firmly and shook it. ‘Nice to meet a person of almost equal talents.’ Said Garrett. ‘Likewise.’ Said Slade, grinning. Garrett frowned and looked thoughtfully at Slade. ‘How would you like to work for me?’ Slade’s mouth dropped. ‘Work for you? I thought you go solo.’ Garrett smiled. ‘Let’s just say I’ve been enlightened.’ ‘You’ve got a deal.’ Garrett blew a sigh of relief. ‘Let’s go back to my place, it’ll be dawn soon and the guards will be around this place like a swarm of bees.’ The two thieves ran into the shadows…
Chapter 4: Revenge
As the heretic left us in the wake of his victory,
We realized his shadow was of the builders making,
And we decided to help him in his soon to come struggle against the metal heretics,
But we would wait in the wings to protect our interests,
And to prepare for the final conflict
- Hammerite journal
Garrett sat bolt upright his face damp with sweat. Looking around, he saw the familiar surroundings of his apartment. Something was wrong, he could feel it. A whine in the background noise of the city was growing in pitch. Garrett looked around trying to find the source of the noise. Then he noticed what was wrong. There were green circles of light all around him, some behind windows, others deep in shadow. As the pitch ran to a crescendo, Garrett acted. Leaping from the bed and diving onto the floor, hitting it hard. A sound like a small explosion rang in Garrett’s ears and his bed splintered into wooden fragments. Garrett leaped up from his sprawled position and dashed for his door as his apartment exploded around him. Luckily I dressed for the occasion. Garrett had gone to sleep in his clothes again. As he reached his apartment door, he realised it was locked. Speeding up slightly, he hit the door elbow first, smashing it away from the lock. Running out onto the landing, he looked left and right, considering which way to go. Running left, he smashed through a window and onto the wooden stairs of the fire escape. Inside the building, the green lights were in the darkened hallway. Garrett’s world was exploding around him, as the fire escape began to splinter and crumble. ‘Nothing for it.’ Garrett jumped out into a void of darkness as the blackened wood collapsed, his robe billowing out behind him. When he hit the ground, he bent his knees and rolled, helping to take the force of the three-storey fall away from his legs. Getting up and brushing himself off, Garrett ran away, into the shadows. A plethora of green eyes watched him leave…
‘Brother Karras! Brother Karras!’ The initiate was red in the face from running. Despite this, he was very excited. ‘What is it boy?’ Said Karras irritated by the unwelcome intrusion into his office. ‘The warriors have worked! The Thief is on the run.’ Karras smiled mildly, desperately trying to contain his excitement. ‘Thus the builder has deemed our work worthy of his name.’ ‘There is one problem, brother.’ Karras indicated for him to continue. ‘They’ve run out of Cannon Balls.’ Karras went red in the face. ‘Well get them some more! Now get out of my sight!’ The initiate scrambled away from the fury of Karras.
Slade walked up to the door and opened it slowly. The door burst open to reveal Garrett, drenched by the incessant downpour of rain outside. ‘Garrett! Come in, you look pale, what happened?’ Garrett looked around the inside of Slade’s house. ‘I was attacked in my apartment by something.’ ‘What something?’ ‘I don’t know but it stinks of mechanists.’ ‘What do you plan to do?' Garrett smiled. ‘What I do best. Steal one of their most prized treasures as payment for my inconvenience. The new scripture of the master builder.’ Slade opened his mouth; but Garrett raised a hand to silence him. ‘I know what you’re going to say. Yes I know it will be on display soon and there will be a grand celebration to commemorate its completion.’ Slade tried to speak and was again silenced. ‘We’re going to steal it before it’s revealed to the general public or in other words, the nobles. When they uncover their blessed book in front of all those people, it will be the perfect revenge for what they did to me.’ Garrett smiled evilly. He brought out a scroll from his robe and unrolled it on Slade’s dining table. ‘Before I came here I visited one of my fences who gave me this map of the air ducts in the museum where the book is located. This is the only way in as the mechanists heavily guarded the doors. One of the duct shafts opens directly above the book. These shafts are big enough and sturdy enough to hold the weight of two men crawling in single file. We’ll have to take only the bare essentials so we don’t bring the duct crashing down. Got it?’ Slade grinned. ‘When do we start?’ ‘Right now. Go get your stuff.’ Slade ran off into his bedroom and grabbed his thief equipment from his antique closet. He took his ornately carved blackjack. It was a strange style of blackjack; instead of the usual black it was brown. Garrett had never known a blackjack like it. The carvings were the strangest part though. No thief had ever made his or her blackjack as if it was a piece of art. Garrett’s own was only part of a hacked off black oak branch. Slade also grabbed several flash bombs. As they went to the front door Garrett asked about the ornate blackjack. ‘My family were thieves for generations, I think my great great grandfather received it from whatever thieves guild he was in for excellence in thievery.’ Garrett’s eyebrows rose. ‘Some guild. What did he steal?’ Slade sniggered. ‘I’d forgotten until now. I think it was the Baron’s official seal.’ Garrett’s eyebrows were almost at his hairline. ‘Wow, he must have been some thief, maybe even as good as me. How come I’ve never seen any records of the theft?’ ‘He replaced the seal with a fake one, no baron since has noticed the difference.’ Garrett chuckled. ‘Well, we’d better get to it, we’re burning night-time.’ The two thieves ran into the shadows.
Ivan Founderson stared into his mug of weak ale, trying to fathom the reason he was here. He’d remembered some kind of message from the keepers, but he couldn’t remember what it was about. He shouldn’t have had a drink. He’d come to the Hammerites a wild drunk and they had nurtured him back to health and sanity. He’d spent many years repenting for his earlier actions and now here he was again, drinking his life away. He knew he should stop, but he couldn’t, it just tasted so good after twenty years. Finally getting his fanatical resolve back, he stood up and walked shakily out of the inn. Cold eyes watched him leave…
‘Steady, Slade, steady!’ Garrett hissed sharply. The scripture display room was even more ornate than Garrett had expected. Gold leaf was splashed tastelessly anywhere where the artists thought they could get away with it. There were exquisite paintings of interpretations of the builder’s likeness. Some looked kind and benevolent, others looked terrible, filled with righteous anger, yet they were all in the likeness of a Hammerite, not a mechanist. Garrett was puzzled with this at first until he realised that he had seen one of the pictures in lord Bafford’s manor and other places. The mechanists had stolen them from the Hammerites. ‘Hey Garrett’, Slade whispered, ‘are you going to do your side of this job, or am I going to have to come down there and do it for you?’ Garrett focused on his own situation once more; he was dangling from a rope tied around his waste, held by someone he hardly knew, in an effort to steal a book from the glass case below him, in a room surrounded by guards, as an act of revenge. ‘Sounds like pretty good odds to me.’ He muttered to himself. ‘What was that?’ said Slade. ‘Nothing, Lower me a little further… Right, stop.’ Garrett brought out his cutting tools from his belt and proceeded to cut the glass. First he attached his knife compass to the glass and scrawled a large circle in the glass. When that was completed he pulled on the compass lightly and the circle came away from the glass box. Tying the glass to the rope, he reached slowly inside and flicked an almost invisible switch in the felt the book was resting on. Garrett then picked up the book and tugged twice on the rope. ‘Right, let’s get out of here.’ Slade was only too happy to oblige…
Ivan staggered into an alley and collapsed against a wall. He was being pursued; he could feel it and he knew he would have to be fully recovered if he was to be able to survive if they meant him harm. He began an exercise that he had learned many years ago. After half a minute he stopped. He felt no trace of the alcohol’s harmful effects on his senses anymore. It was as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes and he saw the world with newfound clarity. ‘Reach for the sky, Hammer scum!’ Ivan cursed, stood up and raised his hands. ‘Turn around slowly and no tricks.’ Ivan complied. In front of him stood a mechanist, crossbow aimed at Ivan’s head. ‘Make one false move and you’ll have three inches of wood in your head, got it?’ Ivan nodded. ‘I think I’ll just do it anyway.’ Ivan closed his eyes, waiting for oblivion. There was a chink of metal on stone and then a flash so bright that Ivan could see it through his eyelids. When he opened them he saw the mechanist slumped on the ground, surrounded by two figures. ‘Who art thou?’ One of the figures took off his hood. ‘Garrett, brother Founderson.’ Ivan smiled. ‘Well met Garrett, I didn’t recognize you for a moment. I must say that your timing in your appearance is impeccable.’ Garrett smirked. ‘Actually we were just waiting to see whether he would kill you unprovoked or not. Since he was going to we decided to intervene.’ A cough came from the second figure. ‘Forgive me brother Founderson, I have not introduced you to my business partner, Slade.’ Ivan grinned at Slade. ‘Well met as well young Slade.’ Garrett stared at Ivan. ‘You do realize that we weren’t going out of our way to help you, we just hate mechanists.’ Ivan met the stare. ‘Of course you weren’t Garrett.’ With that the two thieves disappeared, leaving Ivan to trudge back to the monastery…
‘Is the beacon activated, Brother Karras?’ ‘Yes Bishop Reichardt.’ The old man smiled at Karras, ‘and do they know of it yet?’ ‘Not that we know of, and when they do it will be too late.’ ‘Excellent. The metal prophecy is running its course.’
Garrett and Slade raced along the rooftops, flitting across the tiles like birds. ‘Do you think the mechanists know yet Garrett?’ Garrett smirked. ‘Almost definitely.’ ‘Where are we going, Garrett?’ ‘There’s an old bell tower near here where we can rest until the Bulls give up the chase.’ ‘Hold it right their thieves!’ Slade and Garrett skidded to a halt, sending several tiles smashing down onto the ground several stories below. Along a balcony to the left side of the roof they were on stood ten watchmen, seven with bows drawn. ‘Raise yer hands, taffers!’ Garrett muttered under his breath, ‘I should’ve seen it coming.’ He put his head in his hands and shouted, ‘I must be king of the taffers not to see it.’ ‘See what?’ Slade asked, still dazed from the events that had happened. Garrett looked at Slade with almost pure scorn. ‘They tricked me into doing something rash, playing on my anger, to set me up.’ Slade gaped as he saw the full picture. ‘They want you out of the way.’ An arrow smashed into a tile beside them, sending shards flying. ‘Give up you taffers, you’re surrounded.’ Garrett and Slade raised their hands and slowly walked towards the watchmen.
‘Master Annals?’ Annals looked up, surprised at the initiate in front of him. He hadn’t made a sound. Recovering quickly, he sat forward in his chair. There was a creak as his weight shifted. ‘What is it boy?’ The boy looked slightly smug, obviously because of Annals’ reaction. ‘It’s about Garrett, Master.’ Annals suddenly felt as though he wanted to leap up and wipe the smirk off the boy’s face. He shook his head; no it wasn’t what he should do, maybe, when he was younger, with less responsibility and trust riding on his shoulders. Instead he adopted a harsh tone. ‘Well spit it out boy!’ The initiate’s face went ashen and his features seemed to dull until they were completely hidden inside his robe. Annals desperately fought back the urge to burst out laughing. ‘Garrett has been set up by the Mechanists.’ This statement quickly sobered Annals. ‘What! This wasn’t written!’ ‘Indeed Master.’ Annals shot a glare at the Initiate. ‘If I wanted your opinion, I’d ask for it!’ The Initiate visibly shuddered. ‘Get out of my sight!’ The Initiate scampered away like someone inside a Burrick infested tunnel with a lit match. When he was sure the Initiate had left, his face went white. ‘This is the wrong path.’ He said it calmly and slowly, yet under those layers was a hint of primal fear…
Interlude 2: Slade
Though the way was twisted,
And the Acolyte was on the path of destruction,
His influence could be enough to open the way back,
For the balance can be changed with the coming of the ages,
And so the Acolyte can change the paths.
- Chronicle of the Forbidden Age
‘All rise for his honour Dale Stevenson.’ I heard the speaker bellow along the large courtroom. I looked at Garrett, beside me. His face was ashen as he stood up. As he did so there was a mass of jeering accompanied by several rotten vegetables that spattered on Garrett and my own clothes. I looked at Garrett’s eyes. His eyes were like those of a hunted animal, knowing it was out of energy and the predator was closing in. As the magistrate sat down there was a hush of silence. Garrett was trembling next to me. What was he hiding? Why was he so afraid? ‘Thief Garrett, please stand.’ Garrett stood up shakily as if he were an old man, his face gaunt and speckled with drops of sweat. ‘You have been found guilty of one hundred accounts of theft, 230 accounts of assault and burglary, forty-nine accounts of trespass and four accounts of kidnapping. What do you have to say for yourself? Hmmm?’ Garrett stood there like a tall weed, swaying with the tirade of the man’s verdict. An eerie silence passed over the jeering crowd. Had they expected Garrett and I to have some kind of brilliant plan, yet we didn’t. I was new to this profession so it didn’t hurt me. But when I looked at Garrett, I realised what he looked ashen for. The law had outdone the king of Thieves and all his crimes were shouting out to be paid. There were no last, desperate escape plans, no flashbombs in his pocket or aces up his sleeves. All that was there was Garrett, the thief, his head hanging low as he stood in front of the full fury of the law. I felt really scared for the first time since I was a child. Garrett had failed himself and now all that was left was the husk of a man, cowering in the righteous fury of justice. Yet was this justice? I looked again at Garrett and noticed that he had seemed to draw himself back together. ‘I plead guilty your honour, on all accounts.’ There was a sudden gasp from the crowd; they had obviously not expected him to do this. The magistrate mumbled something to his advisor and then turned back to us. ‘Thief Slade, please stand.’ I stood, almost shakily as Garrett had done. Garrett returned to his seat, looking almost relieved. ‘How do you plead, thief?’ I stood there, trembling, thinking of what to say. My mouth opened and closed as I tried to speak. The magistrate leaned forward in his chair, ‘Speak boy or have my men already cut out your tongue?’ There was a smatter of nervous laughter throughout the crowd. Everyone knew what an angry magistrate could do to prisoners. Garrett tugged my robe. I bent over towards him. ‘Plead guilty!’ he hissed, ‘trust me!’ With that he winked with his remaining eye. ‘How dost thou plead!’ Screamed the Magistrate. I stood up calmly. ‘Guilty, your honour.’ Outcries were heard from the crowd as they talked hurriedly with each other. The Magistrate stood up, smashing his iron hammer onto a metal plate on his desk, striking forth sparks. His face was red with fury. ‘Order! Order!’ he cried. Eventually I saw some of the Bulls take off some of the rowdy ones. After several minutes, all was calm again. The magistrate drew himself up, staring at us with piercing eyes. ‘You do know, thieves, that if this had been last year, your heads would have been on the chopping block.’ He said this quickly and sharply, still focused on us. ‘But as of last year, the Baron made a ruling that all convicted thieves are to be shipped off to Blackrook for a years service in his Excellency’s army.’ With that, he let out a great bellow of laughter. I nudged Garrett ‘Now what have you got us into.’ I hissed. ‘There was no such ruling.’ ‘What? But that means the magistrate has committed treason. Are you sure?’ ‘If there was then I would have heard about it.’ Garrett pointed to several cloaked figures in the crowd. ‘Those are mechanists, there’s been money changing hands all through this proceeding, we’ve been set up.’ ‘Not exactly, I mean we are thieves.’ ‘Yes but this is better for us.’ ‘How? We are going to one of the bloodiest wars in the history of the City.’ ‘The Mechanists want us to die a slow and painful death, not have some hooded guy take our heads off quickly, this way we can escape.’ ‘Slow? Are you nuts? You know how long rookies last at Blackrook? I’ll tell you! Four minutes!’ ‘Well can you see any way of escape when your hands are tied and your head is on the block?’ Garrett did have a point, I was just furious that he hadn’t let me in on this earlier. Then the Bulls came over and hauled us back to our cells. Garrett whispered to me as this was happening. ‘Trust no one Slade, except me. The Mechanists will be trying their hardest to have us killed when we are out there.’ One of the Bulls smacked Garrett on the back of the head with a baton. ‘That’s enough out of you, thief!’ The other guard looked shocked, ‘what did you do that for?’ ‘Just paying the taffer my respects for knocking me out when I worked for Donal and Rueben. My head hurt for weeks after that.’ The guard was now dragging Garrett, who was obviously unconscious.
Chapter 5: Blackrook
The Acolyte was taken from our influence,
And thrust into danger,
The priests of metal and glass had betrayed them,
Leaving them at the mercy of the resurgence.
- Chronicle of the Forbidden Age
‘We’re screwed’, whispered Slade. ‘I know, just keep your eyes open’, replied Garrett. They had been deployed to the front line of infantry bowmen. Garrett knew the nickname for this section, ‘Burrick fodder’, and it was the weakest and most dangerous section to be in. They had all been issued with longbows, broadswords and fifty arrows. After marching several days through the dense forest surrounding the City until they came to a large open glade, where they made contact with the army of Blackrook.
The infantry bowmen were originally formed with the principle that each man would be excellent in both fields of the sword and bow. When the battle began, they were supposed to fire into the oncoming infantry, then, when they were closing, to draw their swords and charge the enemy. For the first few battles where this was used, it was extremely effective. It was an extremely risky job and the infantry bowmen took many casualties during each battle. As time wore on, fresh rookies with no battle experience replaced veterans. The Baron’s personal favourite regiment became a hindrance. Since this occurred mostly during peacetime, the Baron didn’t know about it until the first clash with Blackrook. The infantry bowmen were absolutely decimated, as their sword skills were far from adequate. The Baron denied the option of having them disbanded, hoping that they would one day return to their former glory…
Beating drums resounded in the clearing; a slow steady beat as the ranks of both armies marched into place. Both armies had set up guard posts in the forest so that neither side could sneak around and surprise them from the back. Garrett looked around nervously; he was standing in the front line with Slade to his left. On his right was a young teenager, shaking and sweating and by the smell of it, he had already soiled himself. A large trumpet blared and several horses galloped in front of the army. Several soldiers also scuttled out and placed long thin poles in front of the army. From these poles came a loud shriek. Most of the people near it had to cover their ears. After a second it ceased, replaced by a voice. ‘Now comes an announcement from his Excellency the Baron.’ Garrett noticed a striking white horse trot forward. ‘Welcome brave souls, I am glad to be here amongst you fine individuals today at what will be our finest hour! Some of you may be amazed at how my voice is projected through the air, but it is not magic friends! It is the work of the master builder himself through the hands of Bishop Reichardt and Father Karras of the mechanist order. They have also given us another gift. Bring forth the children of Karras!’ With this the Baron turned and rode off with his entourage in tow. Garrett turned and whispered to Slade ‘I don’t like the sound of this.’ A low rumble began, hardly noticeable at first, but slowly growing in intensity. Several leaves fell off the surrounding trees. As the rumbling continued to grow, the trees fell over. Many of the soldiers gasped at what they saw next: Metal creatures emerging from the forest, twice as large as a man. Their metal bodies were extremely detailed with symbols and they all had spinning blades on their left ‘arm’, on the right was a gilded shaft, painted with or made from gold. Most of the creature was painted blue except for the head, which was also golden. It had a high arched forehead that stretched back at a forty-five degree angle. Ridges stretched over the cranium, as if to indicate that the creature had hair. Its face was finely crafted; the fine features almost looking like a child’s face. The eyes were orange, but on the left eye was a glowing green lens. Garrett nudged Slade quickly. ‘Those were the things in my apartment!’ Garrett focused on the symbols carved all over the iron beasts. Most of them were swirling patterns, but closer examination revealed that these were in fact, glyphs. Garrett peered at them with his eye. ‘There’s something familiar about those glyphs.’ He muttered to himself. He closely examined them but found nothing familiar, but it was still a nagging sense of déjà vu in the back of his mind…
‘Commander Chadston! A message!’ Commander Irving Chadston stood up, running quickly to the flap of his tent. He was in his mid-forties and beginning to go grey at the temples. His beard and hair were a curly dark brown, cut short with skilled precision. He had been in the Blackrook army since he was a young boy and was expected to retire after this campaign. Until this, he thought as he rushed towards his second in command. He was left in command of one quarter of Blackrook’s army, to create a perimeter around The City and cut off their supply routes. Unfortunately they had run into the reinforcements of the Baron’s army and had been forced to prepare for imminent battle. ‘Sir, here is the message.’ Broken from his reverie, Chadston took the scroll, examining the wax seal. It was the symbol of a gear. His brow furrowed as he broke off the seal, unfolded the scroll and began to read:
Greetings Commander Chadston,
Thou may not knowest of me but I certainly know of thou. My name is Karras and I am the High Priest of the Holy Order of Mechanists. I have written to warn thee of the troubles thou art about to face. My Superior, Bishop Reichardt, has seen fit to equip your enemies with some of our Holy Projects, namely what I call the Children of the Builder. Others may refer to it as the children of Karras, but although it was I who built them, ‘twas the Builder who guided me. My Bishop has ordered me to aid thee, as we believe these Children are being misused to protect two heretics within the midst of the army (although thy enemies dost not know it yet). Dost thou have any fire crystals? I suggest you fire them quickly and accurately at the Builder’s Children. Do not be afraid, if you believe, then they will not harm thee and be destroyed in a layer of fiery glory.
May thy gears run smoothly,
Fare thee well,
Chadston folded up the scroll quickly and beckoned to his deputy commander. ‘Equip the men with fire crystals and arrow shafts.’ ‘But sir-‘ ‘Do it!’ Almost falling backwards from the force of the shout, the deputy scrabbled off in the direction of the armoury tent.
‘This is it,’ whispered Garrett. A trumpet sounded and the Mech Beasts seemed to come alive. A tinny voice erupted from their mouths as if there was a person inside the iron titan. ‘When I was new forged, Karras took me away from the foundry mother and said, “thou art the child of my endeavours, follow me and thou shalt inherit the earth.”’ A shiver went down Garrett’s spine as he heard those words. The voice was strange and warbling and it was spoken in the same way from all the children, their heads moving up and down and side-to-side as if searching for something. Then, as one, they began to march forward in perfect sync. Their gilded arms raised and rocketed upwards. A large metal ball flew out, arching upwards and towards the army of Blackrook. In the distance Garrett could see them making contact with soldiers, dashing them to the ground. Then they exploded.
It was chaos as Chadston raced towards the archery regiments. ‘Arm your fire arrows!’ The archers quickly brought out their arrow shafts and attached the fire crystals to them. ‘Fire at will!’ One hundred bowstrings drew back as one, and released…
Garrett saw the first fire arrow fly towards the children. ‘Fire arrows, Slade! Get Down!’ he shouted over the roar. Slade crouched down, as did Garrett. Then the first arrow hit. The child exploded, metal fragments flying in all directions, sometimes hitting the ground, sometimes piercing flesh. A scream issued from the mouth of the child, which was quickly cut off as the green lens dimmed. Another child exploded with similar effects. Wave after wave of fire arrows rained down until there was no iron beast left standing. As the smoke cleared, Garrett and Slade stood up. ‘That was very close, Garrett’, said Slade brushing the mud off his clothes. ‘Shut up and move!’ Garrett snapped, already sprinting. There was a scream from the other side of the plain and the infantry began to charge. Garrett slowed slightly, bringing his bow to bear and nocking an arrow. He drew back the string and held it for several seconds, then released it. The arrow whirred into the air away from the devastation of the initial fire arrow barrage and into the open air. After several seconds it curved down, gathering speed. Garrett watched as it ploughed into the chest of a Blackrook sergeant, his scream silenced by the shouts of his bloodthirsty comrades. Several arrows followed Garrett’s but none were as successful as his, some falling short, others glancing off armour. After firing his quiver in quick succession Garrett drew his sword, as did Slade. ‘You know anything about swords man ship?’ Garrett asked, ‘of course not, I’m a thief!’ Slade shouted over the deafening roar. The Blackrook army was about one hundred meters now and closing. ‘Here’s where you find out how!’ Garrett let out a roar and then stopped in mid-shout. Looking at Slade he grinned, ‘always wanted to do that, now I know why I didn’t.’ A great horn sounded behind them and the infantry bowmen formed up at the front line. Garrett reached down and touched his shoe. Slade threw a curious glance at him. ‘For luck.’ The rest of the infantry drew their swords and charged…
Chadston ran over to a sergeant of the bowmen. ‘Fire upon the fray lieutenant!’ ‘But Sir-‘ ‘Just do it lieutenant! That’s a direct Order!’ the lieutenant turned from Chadston. ‘All right lads, I know you’ve got friends down there but I’ve been ordered to have you open fire. Now if anyone has a problem with that, come to me now so I can get it over and done with and put an arrow through your head. Clear? Then go to it!’ The bowmen reluctantly stepped forward and gathered their arrows.
The Baron’s finest smashed into the Blackrook frontline with a clash of swords and a batter of shields. At the very second the two opposing sides met everything was covered in blood. Garrett and Slade fought side by side, Garrett blocking off the numerous attacks and Slade over committing to every swing he made. Garrett was weakening from the many blows of hardened warriors and sweat was pouring from his head. There was a nasty gash down his side where a dying warrior had scraped his sword along an area of Garrett’s body that was unprotected by armour. Garrett smashed his shield into the side of a soldier’s head, his charging battle cry cut short as he fell to the ground, lifeless. Then Slade cried out, ‘Garrett look out! Arrows!’ Garrett swivelled around in time to see an arrow slice into his shoulder, shattering bone. Garrett screamed his face covered with his own blood as another went through his leg, tearing through his thigh muscle. Slade grabbed the collapsing Garrett, lifting him over his shoulder. All around them were screams of betrayal from Blackrook and screams of agony from the City’s army. Slade ran towards the forest trying to put the vision of the carnage he had just witnessed out of his mind. Arrows whistled past his ears as the sky turned black with shafts. The incessant thumping of his heart in his ears drowned the noise out as he stumbled and almost fell, his muscles screaming for release. Blood covered both his and Garrett’s clothes making them damp and heavy. Slade dived into the thicket as several arrows thudded into the trees surrounding him.
Night settled over the battlefield, which now stood silent. Both sides had retreated, neither emerging as the dominant victor. The once serene clearing was now a scarred surface of mud and blood. There were groans coming from the mortally wounded, which were left behind. Bodies covered almost every surface and were piled up to five deep in some places. As the last warrior breathed his last, a wrenching scream echoed from his lips. Then all was silent in the glade. Sometime later, sweeping through the trees elegantly, yet slowly, as if searching for something, a black mist began gathering. Soon the glade was smothered in this choking, black fog. It clung low to the ground covering the fallen soldiers completely. From inside the blackness came a rustling. A bloodied hand shot through the mist, gripping onto a long broadsword. An unearthly scream echoed in the glade as the fallen warriors arose, their purpose now as one. Bloodied weapons and shields were taken up once more. Each warrior had a faraway look on their face, if they still had one. Some had been decapitated or were missing limbs, this didn’t affect them, however. They were now guided by something darker than their own minds…
Chapter 6: Forest
The keepers of the balance have always needed a focus,
As they are unable to carry their burden themselves,
In times of need aid will be provided,
So they can claim the destiny they were born for.
Garrett opened his eyes slowly. His head was burning and his sight was blurry. He remembered screams and blood. Someone touched him on the shoulder. Instinctively he grabbed at the persons throat. ‘Hey, take it easy Garrett.’ Garrett didn’t let go; he needed to know who it was. As his vision cleared he recognized the face of Slade. Realising this he released him, ‘sorry Slade, couldn’t recognise you for a moment.’ Slade smiled, ‘no problem Garrett, always best to be on the safe side.’ Garrett glanced around his surroundings. He was propped up against a large old fir tree, several branches lay around him. This tree was on the edge of a small clearing. In the middle of the clearing, about two meters away from his present position was a fire, burning fiercely. The clearing was surrounded on all sides by a dense growth of trees. ‘Where are we?’ Garrett asked. ‘We’re in the forest. I dragged you from the battle.’ Garrett’s eyes widened. He made to get up quickly but fell back as pain coursed through his shoulder and leg. ‘Don’t move, Garrett. Your wounds are severe enough as they are.’ Garrett glared wildly at Slade. ‘Put out the fire you fool!’ ‘But-…’ ‘Just do it now, for the love of the Builder!’ This remark seemed to hit Slade like an iron bar. Quickly he proceeded to throw soil onto the flames. Once the last flames had sputtered out, Slade once more walked over to Garrett, a look of hurt pride and more than a little bit of anger playing on his face. ‘Are you going to tell me what that was all about?’ Garrett grimaced, ‘let me ask you a question. Who lives in the forest?’ Slade didn’t hesitate, ‘the Pagans of course.’ Garrett nodded, ‘Yes… And what do they like about this place?’ ‘It’s secluded from prying eyes?’ Slade hazarded. ‘Yes but that’s not their main reason.’ ‘Well what is their “main reason”, then?’ Garrett sighed, ‘do I have to spell it out for you?’ Slade smiled and nodded. ‘Nature. They like all things living, and what does that include?’ realisation began to dawn on Slade’s face, ‘yes, trees you idiot. Sure, they burn them themselves but we’re strangers. If someone saw that, and I guarantee they have, they’d send out a scouting party.’ Slade stood in shocked silence. Finally he spoke, ‘how do you know so much about the Pagans?’ Garrett chuckled, ‘it pays to research into the people you piss off the most.’ Slade frowned, ‘so what did you do to piss them off?’ Garrett drew a sharp intake of breath, ‘well I kinda… killed their god.’ ‘You did what?’ ‘Look, I know it sounds unbelievable, but how the hell do you think I got this?’ Garrett pointed to the gaping maw, where his right eye used to be. Slade shivered at the sight of it. It was strange, not many people noticed it until Garrett pointed it out, and it was almost always covered in the cowl of his cloak anyway. ‘He and his witch woman did this to me. They used my eye as a focal point for a dark artefact, trying to bring about a new age of darkness and fear.’ Slade whistled, ‘sounds heavy, Garrett.’ Garrett scowled at Slade. ‘You don’t believe do you? I don’t blame you, sometimes I don’t believe it happened myself, but it did.’ Suddenly Garrett tensed. ‘What, Garrett?’ Garrett put a finger to his mouth, indicating quiet and pointed to the thicket opposite him. Slade slowly looked over to where Garrett was pointing. Through it came the glow of several hand-held torches. Garrett grabbed Slade and brought him close to his face. ‘Run! While you still can! I’ll hold them off.’ Slade shook his head, ‘I’m not leaving without you, Garrett.’ ‘Look, it’s really noble of you but just give me my bow and arrows, then run.’ Noticing the edge in Garrett’s tone Slade quickly and silently did as he was told. When he gave the equipment to Garrett there were tears running down his cheeks. ‘No time for last goodbye’s, Slade, just pick up and get out.’ Slade wiped the tears away; his expression now replaced with a look of grim determination, turned from the wounded thief and vanished into the night…
Garrett lay propped up against the tree, nursing his bow with a smouldering fire arrow ready to be nocked. He peered out at the steadily increasing light from the torches. He could now hear the rustle of the branches as they moved past them growing steadily louder. The first pagan to see Garrett never had time to call the alarm. As he broke through the thicket he saw Garrett, his cloak concealing all but the devilish grin of the suicidal that played across his face. He heard the twang of the string being released and then all was consumed in fire. The last thing he heard was, ‘Huh, Pagans, they’re not so tough without their God.’
Slade was sprinting through the thicket when he heard the explosion. He halted in mid stride, straining to hear some evidence of his friends survival. Another explosion rang out, this time considerably nearer. Slade instantly sprang into action; he turned and began running in the direction of the last explosion. The scent of burning flesh wafted towards him, as he got closer. As he neared the site he lost his footing, sliding on the slippery leaves that covered the ground. Flailing wildly for balance, he finally fell back wards straight into a thick, hard tree. Sitting there, stunned with black spots swimming around his vision he hardly noticed the dark figure walking towards him. As his vision cleared he had jus enough time to see a tree branch swing towards the side of his head. Slade fell to the ground, senseless. ‘Shit.’ Said Garrett, dropping the tree branch. Garrett crouched and picked up the fallen Slade, gasping at the pain emanating from his still tender wounds. Stumbling slightly under the weight, Garrett began to move slowly deeper into the forest.
Slade awoke to the twitter of birds, his head swimming, he sighed and opened his eyes. He was propped up against a tree, a blanket of rags covering him. ‘Glad to see you’re up, how’s the head.’ Garrett walked over to Slade from the thicket. ‘Sore, how did you get away?’ ‘Fire arrows, thought you were one of them so I clubbed you, sorry.’ ‘It’s alright but have you got something for my head.’ Garrett grinned, with a sparkle in his eye. ‘I have something that will help you.’ Slade squinted at Garrett. Did his teeth seem pointier? Slade shook his head, he must have taken a good whack it’d be perfectly normal if he had some effect on his senses. Garrett turned away and took something out of his pocket. When he turned back around Slade realised it was a crystal. ‘Now all I need is your eye.’ It was stated in a calm, matter of fact voice. ‘Excuse me?’ Garrett’s eyes flared ‘Give me your eye!’ Suddenly Slade felt his arms wrenched backwards. Vines coiled around his body. They were crushing him! He felt himself falling deeper into the living prison. When he looked at Garrett, it certainly wasn’t the master thief looking at him. Before him was the evil of legend and fairytale’s known as, ‘Trickster.’ What was once Garrett let out a guttural laugh, his arm elongating into a barbed talon. It flicked out towards Slade’s eye. It ripped through his skin and carefully plucked out his eye. Slade screamed.
Slade sat up quickly, sweating heavily. ‘Whoa, Slade I thought you were out of it.’ A shadow quickly moved towards him. Mud. Darkness. He was still in the forest and Garrett was still Garrett. It had all been a dream. Slade shook his head, ‘what a nightmare.’ Garrett crouched beside him. ‘Sorry about the thump, I thought you were one of them.’ Slade shook his head, still groggy. ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad to see you still alive. Do you have anything for my head?’ Garrett smiled. ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’ Garrett tossed a purple fruit at him. Slade looked at it in minor disgust, ‘is it poisonous?’ Garrett laughed, although it was quickly suppressed. Garrett picked another out of his pocket and bit into it and after a few chews, swallowed it. ‘Satisfied?’ Convinced, Slade also bit into the warm flesh of the fruit. The taste was bitter, yet sweet as honey. Almost immediately the pain in his head began to diminish and his blurred vision began to clear. Garrett smiled at him. ‘Found these just after my eye was taken out, excellent painkillers and,’ Garrett gestured to his leg and shoulder, ‘heal wounds like magic.’ Slade gasped when he noticed that Garrett’s almost fatal wounds had completely disappeared, no indication that he had even been hurt. ‘It’s… Amazing! Why don’t they eat these instead of wasting money with healing potions?’ Garrett smirked, ‘you say you’re a thief? All good things come at a cost. This fruit if eaten regularly becomes highly addictive and you’ll become like the beggars outside the Wardens’ Opium dens.’ Slade quickly put down the fruit, staring at it in a mixture of fear and curiosity. Garrett chuckled softly, ‘don’t worry, like I said, regular consumption, one isn’t too bad for you.’ Garrett slapped his thighs and stood up. ‘Now, I think it’s time we moved along from this place. I hate the forest, too damn quiet.’ Garrett reached down and grabbed Slade’s wrist, hauling him up. The two thieves then moved deeper into the forest. High in the trees, many eyes watched them go…
By Garrett’s reckoning they had been inside the forest for two days, however he wasn’t quite sure as in this section of the forest it was almost pitch black. Both men could only see several feet in front of them before their vision was swallowed up in the blackness surrounding them. Every so often Garrett stopped, looking around suspiciously. ‘What is it?’ Slade whispered. Garrett made a hissing sound, indicating he should keep quiet. After a long pause, Garrett spoke, ‘We’re being followed.’ ‘I haven’t heard anything,’ Slade replied. ‘That’s because you’ve had your ears listening at ground level, a thief needs to listen to all the area around him.’ Slade huffed at the reprimand. ‘Where then?’ Garrett pointed upwards. As Slade followed Garrett’s gaze, a shriek echoed from above. ‘Foolsie men! You come to this treesie place with burnsie metal on your bodsies, kill the Woodsie lord’s children and eat our plumsies!’ Garrett - still looking upward – tapped Slade on the shoulder, ‘run.’ Slade didn’t hesitate, immediately bursting into action his legs going through several cycles before he visibly moved. Garrett drew his sword and began to sprint close behind Slade. High above them they could hear frenzied talking and the rustling of leaves as their unseen pursuers matched their pace in the canopy of the fir trees. Slade stumbled on a rock but quickly recovered. Garrett, however, tripped on the heel of Slade’s boot, smashing into the ground with a clatter of armour. Garrett barely had time to feel the force of the blow when a shriek came from up above, getting louder every second. Garrett just had time to roll over and stab his sword into the air, when the assailant reached him. There was a dull squelch as the creature fell onto the point and slid down, convulsing wildly, its battle cry silenced by the stillness of death. Garrett planted his foot on the torso of the creature, examining its features. The creature was of human shape, yet thick fur covered most of its body apart from the chest area, through which the sword had penetrated breaking through somewhere behind the head. Its face was strangely human, yet bore the marks of the trickster: pitch black eyes that seemed to pull at the soul with a half-recognised form of horror. Two fangs protruded from the closed mouth and they were coloured red with fresh blood. Garrett pushed with his feet, sliding the creature off his blade. Using part of his now tattered tunic, he wiped the sword clean of the dark blood and sheathed it. Garrett then realised he was shaking with shock and exhilaration. In the past few days he had hardly used his skills in stealth, being too desperate to use his abilities and here he was, killing one of the creatures he had once been so frightened of without much effort. Sheathing his sword, Garrett glanced around. He was now alone in a small pocket of clearing. ‘Slade?’
Slade had heard Garrett fall and the piercing shriek of the creature as it flew down from the trees but had kept running, blood pumping in his ears. The trees whistled past him as he tried to put distance between him and the creatures, yet they were with him every step of the way. Running blindly, he didn’t see the tree stump that thrust out from the ground. He flew over it, slashing his shin on the jagged splinters as he slammed into the ground, knocking the breath from his lungs. In an instant the creatures were on him, grabbing and tearing at his flesh. Slade screamed as warm blood trickled down his back as his armour was torn away. A large furry fist slammed into his face and his vision dimmed as his consciousness slipped away…
Garrett crept through the forest, as silent as an insect’s breath. He had ditched his constrictive armour and was now back in his normal robes. He wafted along the forest floor, his feet barely appearing to touch the ground. He suddenly felt very secure, his skills were undamaged by his brief period of intense violence. The shadows always forgave him, concealing him in their protective darkness. After what seemed an age, Garrett came across what was left of Slade’s armour. The breastplate was torn asunder down the middle, with claw marks raking right through on various parts of the metal. Even more extraordinary was that it was almost completely rusted. As Garrett touched it, the whole plate collapsed in on itself. Garrett jumped away in shock. ‘That’s impossible.’ Garrett stood staring at the destroyed armour. It was then he noticed he footprints of around a dozen ‘people’ going down into a darker part of the forest. Flitting between the trees, Garrett descended.
After what seemed to be an age in this place of darkness, Garrett lost any sign of Slade and his captors or- Garrett shuddered at the thought-his murderers. Leaning against the side of a tree he rested his weary legs. Suddenly, the tree screamed. Two red embers exploded from the dark trunk and the branch above Garrett whipped down towards his head with a crackling of bark and rustling of leaves. Garrett dove right quickly, hearing the wump of a wooden fist slamming into the ground. A roar of frustration followed as Garrett hit the ground picking up speed as he rolled downhill. A blur of shrubs and grasses flew past him as he picked up speed. Then, without warning it was replaced by black empty space. In a split second, Garrett realised he had gone off a cliff. With cat-like reflexes, Garrett reached out his nearest hand, his left and somehow managed to grab onto the edge of the cliff face. Gripping with all his might, Garrett took the jolt that the rest of his body exerted on his steadfast arm. His accelerating legs slowed down, stopped, and came rocketing back towards the cliff face. His right hand latched in. His chest smashed into the wall knocking the breath from his lungs and nearly ripping his hands from the edge. Garrett slowly began to lever himself back over the cliff edge when he heard the crackling of branches and the rustle of leaves. The roar of the tree grew as it accelerated towards the helpless thief. There was only one thing he could do. Muttering a prayer to the patron saint of thieves, Garrett dropped into the inky blackness…
The fact that Slade’s hands were bound tightly was the first fact he discovered when he regained consciousness. As more of his senses began to clear, he found he had a searing headache, presumably from the punch he had received. He could feel a myriad of cuts and bruises along the full length of his body. His left shin stung intensely from where he had scraped it on the stump. When he opened his eyes, Slade realised he was in a long stone corridor, being dragged by his arms by two shadowy creatures. They were tall and had matted fur covering a majority of their body. Slade had heard of them in tales of the old time, when the Trickster had ruled the world, before the great rebellion of man and the ending of the darkness. They were the corrupted men who had given their lives to the Trickster and were transformed into something less than human. Their ancient name had been lost for so long that even they did not remember it, now they were simply referred to as ‘ape beasts’. One of them realised that Slade was awake and began to snigger, “your fate is sealed man fool. The treesies will decide whosie meal you will be.” The putrid-smelling creature continued laughing as Slade was brought ever closer to his destiny…
Interlude 3: Annals
The time for conflict is over,
As the fallen warriors envelop our land once more,
Enemy must fight alongside enemy,
As the threat is driven back,
We must prepare for the resurgence,
As its blackness tarnishes the land once again.
-Chronicle of the Forbidden Age
“Keeper Annals?” The acolyte stood at the door of Annal’s office, stooped reverentially. “Yes, acolyte, what is it that you require?” The acolyte waved a scroll at Annals; “I come with a message from our agent in Blackrook. He has heard disturbing reports of a large force terrorising the countryside surrounding Blackrook.” Annals propped his chin up with his arm, looking thoughtful. “Any more information?” The acolyte opened the scroll and proceeded to read it to Annals: “Sir, I am sorry that my long silence has to be broken with the bearing of such terrible tidings. I must inform you that three days ago from the writing of this letter, a large contingent of country dwellers and farmers began to flow into the city, bringing dark tidings. A large and fell army has risen, recruiting Blackrook and City soldiers alike and is destroying everything in its path. On the last report it was seen swinging toward the direction of the city. I pray this letter finds you with enough time to save the city. For this army is made up of the undead, soldiers fallen in battle raised by some foul sorcery, the likes of which the world has not seen since the age of darkness. Fare well, and may thy knowledge keep thee safe.” As the acolyte read, his face grew pale and his voice began to quiver. At the conclusion, Annals stood up. “We must call a great meeting.” “But sir, no-one has called one in over fifty-“ “I don’t care, this is an emergency boy! Just do it!” At that outburst, the acolyte scurried out of his office, desperate to do Annals’ bidding…
“How can you know this… Keeper?” Sneered Lord Aquitane. Throughout the meeting this spoiled lord had been questioning everything Annals had put forward, playing for time or politics or whatever, a true bureaucrat. “Your snide comments do nothing to help this grave situation, my lord Aquitane. In fact I would not have included you in this secret assembly if you did not happen to have one of the largest private armies in the city, something that we would very much like to have the aid of. If you must know I received word from one of our agents in Blackrook of a dark army terrorising the unprotected farming communities. Though information is scarce we have deduced that this rising of the dead is connected to the corruption of the old quarter. We will need the co-operation of every battle ready man if we are to survive this onslaught. Our scouts estimate it will be only a matter of days before their ranks reach the walls of the city.” Lord Aquitane spoke once more, “This is a ruse my lords, to dissuade us from the keepers real agenda, it is well known is it not, that the keepers wish to rule the city? They are trying to make us commit our personal guard to the ‘protection of the city’ while they take over from the inside. I say we wait until we have full confirmation of this threat before we act too rashly and leave ourselves open… To those who would seek to take advantage of our vulnerable state.” As he said this, he cast a withering glare at Annals. The Keeper’s blood began to boil at the sight of this blatant disregard of all that had gone before, all being said by a rich and fat lord, whose ignorance was dangerously coupled with a compelling charisma. Around him Annals could sense from the other lords a growing amount of support for Aquitane and a growing sense of malice towards the Keepers. Annals slammed his fist down on the antique table in front of him, there was a distinct sound of splintering wood and a large crack appeared in the table. “SILENCE!” shouted Annals, his fury barely held in check. The room’s noise level dropped to absolute silence, save for the shocked breathing of the occupants. “I will not have your folly destroy the lives of countless innocents who reside within the walls of this city! When you took up your place as a noble of this city, you pledged to face any threat that would threaten it and its populace. Would you go back on your vow and bring disgrace on your family name? And as for you all,” Annals gestured at the others in the room, “I am disgusted at you for even considering his proposal! Do you remember the last time you neglected to listen to us? I’ll tell you: We used to still have the old quarter! Your lethargy almost cost us our city and our lives. You think we want to take over and rule the city? Look around you my lords! We have been ruling this city for centuries. We control destiny, so do not worry of your lavish positions, they will be held intact, as they have been since the beginning. Next time you decide to move against us, remember that we are the hidden rulers and thank the maker that we are benevolent and not corrupt and self-centred like you all.” With that Annals turned and swept out of the room, leaving a wake of sweating lords. Aquitane’s face was white and his hands were shaking on the arms of his chair. Just as Annals left a green mist began to pour into the room. The lords stood up with cries of fear and surprise, looking for a way to escape, yet everywhere they turned there was a ring of keepers to blockade them. Soon, every noble in the building had collapsed into their chairs or were sprawled on the floor. Annals grimaced; his work was done here…
Lord Aquitane slowly lifted his head from the soup it had been lying in, his head aching as though the master builder had been creating a weapon, with his skull as the anvil. The other lords were slowly waking in a similar fashion, to the accompaniment of winces and groans. Aquitane ran in his mind what had occurred over the past few hours. The lords had met in this hall for a feast when a messenger came to inform them of a black army that threatened the city. After a bout of debating and heavy drinking, the lords all agreed to send their armies forth before falling into a drunken stupor. However, this memory seemed a bit garbled to Aquitane, some of the details were blurred and there was a man, or men, rather, dressed in hooded robes, speaking harshly to him. Aquitane shook his head, must be a drunken dream. As the realisation of the threat to the City dawned on him, and obviously to the other Lords by the look on their faces, Aquitane made a hurry for the door to get ready for the battle that was to come…
As the nobles streamed out of the hall, Annals watched from a balcony of an adjacent building, wreathed in shadow, he was completely invisible to the lords down below. ‘Ah the wonders of alcohol’, he mused to himself. The keepers quite regularly had meetings with the nobility, then made them forget what had taken place. However, they could not completely control the nobles, they could merely suggest and guide and if a persons mind was implacable, they could not change their views. Annals was relieved that on this particular occasion the “negotiations” had worked. Now all was left to see that the battle was won…