Garrett shivered. For a moment, he reflected on the past few days that had led him to this suicidal job. A nobleman named Constantine had hired him to steal a gemstone called the Eye. Normally, things like this wouldn’t be a problem, but this job was different. Firstly, he had never heard of the Eye before, which was special in itself. Secondly, the Eye was in the abandoned Cathedral of the Hammerites. The Cathedral was located in the section of the City that was deserted years ago, after some kind of catastrophe. Garrett had heard stories of the incident, but most were wild rumours about hordes of zombies, and raging fires. Now that part of the City was walled off, no one was allowed to go in. Not that many people would dare to in the first place. But Garrett wasn’t ‘many people’. He was a master thief, and if this job got finished soon it would be a great 18th birthday present. He could retire with the money from this job! Getting his mind back on the job, he set off, following his fifty-year-old map towards the Cathedral.
Then he heard it. Just off Market St, a low moan echoed throughout the ruined buildings. Instinct took over, and Garrett ducked into the shadows, and waited. A grotesque creature, which might once have been human, soon shuffled out. Garrett resisted the urge to retch, for it stank of rotten fifty year old corpse, it had no jaw or stomach, a piece of muscle was dangling off one of its bones, and it had beady, sunken eyes. Despite any reservations Garrett had, he pulled his sword and lunged at the things back. It felt sickening as it hit, but the creature dropped like a stone. Feeling proud of himself, Garrett turned and started for the shadows. A low moan from behind caused the hair on the back of his neck to go stiff and straight. He spun around, and saw the damned thing on its feet and shuffling mightily towards him. Shocked, Garrett brought his sword up and plunged it straight through the zombie’s head. It collapsed, but it again rose up to attack! Desperate, Garrett ran several feet away from the thing and pulled the cap off a vial of holy water, then plunged a water arrow into it. He pulled it out and nocked it to his shortbow, noticing the fey sensation emanating from the arrow. The zombie was closing now, so he pulled back and released. The arrow took the creature in its navel area, that bit of bone and dead meat that hung there, that is. The arrow shattered, sending its contents through the zombie, who duly screamed and exploded. Garrett somehow got hit in the face with a gross arm.
Despite the pain, and the stench, Garrett felt relieved. He knew how to deal with the creatures now, and as long as his holy water lasted, he would be safe. After wandering for a short time down Cathedral St, Garrett came upon a pack of three zombies. There was something in their manner that gave him the notion that something was not quite right. They were staring up at the second floor of an abandoned building. Garrett looked up to try and make out what they were staring at. At first, he couldn’t see anything, but then a shadow moved with astonishing speed into a window. Not wanting to tempt his imagination into conjuring up something very fast and nasty, Garrett hid in the shadows and focused on his mission until the zombies lost interest and ambled off. As he was passing the building, Garrett couldn’t help looking at the window and wondering. His curiosity getting the better of caution, Garrett expertly climbed the wall and pulled himself up to the second floor ledge. Poking his head through the window, he scanned the area for potential threats, and after a while, stepped in, despite the fact that the figure he had seen was very fast and would appear to be nothing more than a shadow. Moving very slowly through the ruined building, keeping his ears open for any warning sounds, Garrett slipped through the dusty halls and soon came to another ledge. Looking about, he saw it was an enclosed courtyard, with a ruined beam extending from the floor to his ledge. A sudden hissing from the other side of the courtyard made Garrett freeze. The hiss was soon cut off with a barely audible squelch and a dying screech. Shuddering, Garrett looked hard at the area before him. Nothing could be seen. Whatever was down there was being very still and quiet. Silently drawing his sword, he moved very cautiously down the beam, his eyes peeled for any disturbance. His caution was his undoing, as Garrett stepped on a rotten section of timber. The timber cracked and fell away, and sent him tumbling to the ground. Landing on his back with a small “oof,” Garrett heard footsteps moving fast toward him, and sound of a blade being unsheathed. He rolled to the side quickly, just as a sword whipped through where he had just been lying, hitting the ground with a loud clash of metal on stone. Scrambling to his feet, Garrett brought his sword up to intercept a fast moving gleam and heard the ring as his blade deflected his opponent’s. He still couldn’t see who or what he was fighting, it was just a figure cloaked and hooded, who knew exactly what it doing. Its sword lashed out again, and Garrett parried it easily. From the way the figure recovered from the parry, he could see that it was an experienced swordsman, which was more than could be said of Garrett.
The only comfort he took was that his blade was a magical sword, which he stole from Constantine, and was blacker than the night and could not be seen even when striking. After a few attacks and blocks, Garrett decided to take the initiative. He stabbed forwards, which the figure somehow saw and slapped to the side. It wasn’t knocked far enough, though, and Garrett felt the point nick the side of the figure. The yelp of pain that was emitted caused him to step back in confusion. That cry sounded distinctly feminine, and human. Not knowing how to act in light of this new development, Garrett whipped out his blackjack and cracked the figure where the temple would be on a human. Not expecting that in the least, and fighting off the pain of her wound, the figure caught the blow full on and crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Garrett sheathed his sword and replaced his blackjack, then walked over to the figure. Reaching down, he grabbed the hood and pulled it off. A woman’s face, well shaped with a small mouth, a straight nose, and great eyelashes, with stunning red hair, was revealed. Garrett stood there for a moment, wondering why in the Nine Hells a woman like her was doing in a place like this. From her garb, and her obvious skill, Garrett knew she was a thief. Was she a freelancer? Or had someone else hired her to go after something? Was she after the Eye too? An unpleasant thought. What if others were after it? Was it already gone? He knew he was going to have to have a long talk with this woman when she recovered. From the force of the blow he’d administered, he knew she’d be out for an hour or so. Walking off to think, Garrett came across a giant spider, higher than his knees, lying on the ground. From the precise slash at it’s head, he knew this was what had hissed and been silenced by the woman. Wandering back out to the courtyard, he relieved the woman of her weapons and equipment, then turned to examine a statue on a large platform near a wall. A bowl was in front of the statue, and a plaque in front of the bowl. Rubbing the dust and grime off the plaque, he could make out the words ‘Watchman’s Grave.’ Reaching into his purse, Garrett dug out a few coins and tossed them into the bowl for good luck. The Watchman was said to watch over thieves and other unsavory types, so making an offering at this relic was meant to be good luck. Garrett didn’t think much of superstition, but he wasn’t about to argue with tradition. Walking back to where the woman lay, he sat down on the beam next to her, and waited.
The woman came awake some time later. Garrett could see that his blow had done some damage, from the size of the bruise on her face and the way she was rubbing it. Reaching into the folds of his cloak, he pulled out a small vial and held it out towards her. “Here,” he said, perhaps a bit gruffly, “take it, it’ll stop the throbbing quick smart.” The woman looked at him skeptically, but seeing that the vial was a healing potion, she took it and gulped it down. It must’ve done something, since the bruise faded to almost nothing, and the cut to her side healed completely. “Thanks,” she said in a quiet voice. Garrett gestured for her to sit up opposite to him, and when she didn’t move, he pulled his sword and pointed it at her. “Move. Your cooperation will determine your lifespan.” Not missing his point in the least, she moved over to where he indicated. “Now,” Garrett said in a menacing voice, “perhaps you’d like to answer some questions for me.” When she didn’t reply, Garrett sighed and brought his sword to her throat, though whether or not he could slice it was a debate raging fiercely in his mind. “All right, what do you want to know?” she asked in an exasperated tone. Clearly, she wasn’t enjoying this any more than he was. “Let’s start with your name,” he said.
“What are you doing here?”
“Talking to you, halfwit.”
Garrett brought his sword away from her throat, and slapped her across the head with the flat of the blade. “Smart answers like that will get you killed, and I’d hate to see that almost as much as you would. Now answer me!” Caught between fear, anger and pain, she said between clenched teeth, “I was looking for something”. Seeing he was getting somewhere, Garrett leaned forward. “Now, what were you looking for, Raelis? I want you to tell me everything.”
She looked at him for a long moment, then said, “I was hired to find a few things. Firstly, Ramirez hired me to scout the area for land and holdings. He thinks that there’s nothing but unclaimed land with no known heir, ripe for the picking.”
Garrett digested that information for a bit. Then he said, “what else?” Raelis said, “Secondly, Lord Gervaisius hired me to obtain the Serpentyle Torc.”
An eyebrow lifted in response. “What the hell is the Serpentyle Torc?” A small smile crept across her face. “It’s a necklace, fashioned from gold. It looks like a serpent eating its tail. The serpent also has rubies for eyes.” Greed kindled in Garrett’s eyes at that. “How much is Gervaisius paying?” Not liking his tone, Raelis just looked at him. Seeing he wasn’t getting anywhere, he moved on to a different subject. “Anything else you’re after?” She made no response. Exasperated, Garrett hefted his sword to strike her again. “Wait!” she cried out before he swung. “Lord Constantine hired me to steal a gemstone for him. Something called the Eye!” Startled, Garrett stopped in mid-swing. “Constantine? What the…”
She nodded. “That’s him. The new guy in the neighborhood. Why are you so surprised?”
Garrett paused. He judged how much it would be safe to tell her, but seeing as she knew about the Eye already, he decided he could tell her. “Constantine hired me to steal the Eye. He said I was the best in the business, an artist. Why’d he hire you too?”
She shrugged, despite the surprise in her eyes. “ I don’t know. He said the same about me. Maybe he wants to be sure. How much did he offer you?”
Garrett replied, “A hundred thousand.”
Her eyes widened, a sight that made Garrett feel slightly odd. He’d known women before, despite his age. Why was this one making him feel so different on the inside? He tried to ignore the feeling, but it kept surfacing. This was something that wasn’t going to go away with some thinking. He refocused on the scene before him, and from her blush, he knew that he’d been staring. Shaking his head, he said, “sorry about that. How much did Constantine offer you?” She shook her head. “Not nearly as much as you. Ten thousand, no less. He either really believes in you or doesn’t believe in me.”
Garrett’s face darkened. “Or he could be using me. He’d better pay up, or he’ll get a dagger in his back.”
She started laughing. “Yeah, and the Hammers will work for the common good!” Garrett was incensed, but was quickly swept up in the sound of Raelis’s voice and soon found that he was laughing too. After a few moments, they both quieted down. Raelis spoke first. “So, what’s your name, cutter?”
Garrett’s eyes narrowed as he said, “what you don’t know can’t be used against me.”
Raelis rolled her eyes and said, “oh, come on! I told you everything about my job, even my name. I deserve at least your name!”
Garrett shook his head at the brashness of this woman. But hell, she was charming enough, and he still hadn’t puzzled out the odd feeling within. Deciding, he said, “Garrett. And if I just signed a death warrant, I’m coming back to haunt you.”
The combined look of astonishment, wonder, idolization and something else, small yet just visible, was enough for Garrett to take a step back. “You’re Garrett?” She exclaimed in wonder. “The master thief? You avoided getting stuck like a pincushion by Ramirez’s boys, didn’t you? Man, Ramirez was pissed when he discovered his purse missing, half of his valuables gone and a little note left by you!” This was all too much for Garrett. He liked to think he had a low profile, instead he was confronted by the fact that he was quite famous among the low-lifes of the City. That odd feeling was amplified by the realization that this pretty young woman admired him. Yes, this definitely needed a good, long think about. Turning his attention back to the situation at hand, he said to Raelis, “now, the question is what I do with you now? To leave you here would be to leave a dagger at my back.”
A worried look entered Raelis’s eyes at this. “Please, let me go with you! If you help me find the Serpentyle Torc, I’ll split the loot with you and help you get the Eye.”
A calculating look entered Garrett’s eyes. “ What’s to say you won’t plunge that pig-sticker of your ‘s into my back when I’m not looking? Maybe you’ll just take the Eye from my cold dead fingers?” He believed she wouldn’t, but he just thought he’d like to see the reaction.
“I won’t, I swear! On the Watchman’s Grave, I swear I will not do such things!” At that, Garrett knew she was truthful. Even scum like thieves wouldn’t break an oath sworn by the Watchman.
“All right,” he said. “You got any idea where this Torc is? Or are you just wandering?”
She hesitated. “Well, I don’t know exactly where it is.” Seeing Garrett groan, she quickly added, “but I do have a general idea where it is. It was last owned by some dead geezer who lived right at the end of De Perrin St.”
Garrett wondered why it sounded so easy, when it most likely wasn’t. Must be the effect of this woman, he thought. Damn it, just what he needed in a dangerous situation. Keeping focused on the job was going to be a challenge, to say the least. Garrett nodded to her, then started up the treacherous beam to the window. Raelis quickly ran over to the Watchman’s Grave, tossed in a few coins, and headed after Garrett. As they headed through the abandoned building, Garrett said over his shoulder, “I assume you know the tricks of the trade?”
The answer that came back was smart and also slightly embarrassing for Garrett. “I have the tricks, but not the tools. You neglected to return my gear.”
Almost going red, which was something that had never happened before, Garrett said, “uh, sorry about that. Here.” He passed back her sword, blackjack and other thiefy tools to her. Somehow, he could sense Raelis grinning behind him. Reaching the window, he checked outside for any unwanted wanderers, and seeing the area clear, he dropped down. Raelis followed more slowly, hanging and dropping to the ground. Garrett took out his map and traced out the quickest route between Cathedral and De Perrin Streets. It looked like he’d have to backtrack along Cathedral St a bit, then turn off into De Perrin. Rolling the map up and putting it in one of the many pockets of his cloak, he motioned for Raelis to follow, then headed off down Cathedral St. Turning right into De Perrin St, they started off northwards, but after a few yards he heard an eerie sound. He couldn’t put a name to it, but was sure it wasn’t good. Raelis must have realized it sooner, because she put her hand on his shoulder and motioned him into a shadowy corner. Agreeing fully, he followed her into the gloom, and waited. The creepy voice came closer, but Garrett noted that the weirdest about it was that it sounded more like a collection of voices, all talking at once. The voice started to pass, but Garrett couldn’t see it. Then he noticed the disturbance in the view beyond where the sound seemed to be coming from. Looking harder at the point of disturbance, he could begin to make out a distinct man-shaped form there. He could soon make out the details of it, it had a red tunic and hood on, dark pants and shoes, and even what looked like a silver streak running down the center of the tunic. Damn, he thought to himself, the thing looks like Hammer priest. Looking at it again when it returned his way, he could see that the silver streak was in fact a silver hammer emblazoned on the front. Be damned, the thing is a Hammer priest! Or rather, what was left of one, he thought darkly. Hammer priests had the ability to create and hurl miniature hammers at enemies. Garrett hated to think of what the apparition of one could do, and quite frankly, didn’t want to find out. Deep in thought, he was startled when Raelis pulled out a flashbomb and stood up. Then it clicked. The intense light from a flashbomb could banish the undead! Grabbing one of his own, he stood up and placed his thumb on the triggering mechanism.
Nodding to Raelis, he held up three fingers. The ghost was coming back now. Three became two… then one… then Garrett had a clenched fist. Nodding, Raelis leapt out with Garrett, hit the trigger, and then threw it at the specter, as did Garrett. The ghost said something that sounded like ‘what?’, then the bombs activated. Averting their eyes with their cloaks, both Garrett and Raelis heard a cry of agony from the apparition. When the intense light faded, Garrett looked out to see a cloud of vapor floating skyward. Grinning, Garrett gave a mock-salute to Raelis, then headed off again. After some time, and a number of zombies, the two came to a running river, and a raised drawbridge. Garrett turned to Raelis. “Let me guess, the Torc is on the other side of the river, isn’t it?”
Looking embarrassed , Raelis said, “uh, yeah, I think so.”
Not impressed, Garrett looked for a way to lower the bridge. He knew there wouldn’t be a way from this side, because he could see the small operating box on the other side of the river. Looking up, he saw that the buildings were a number of feet taller than the wall on the other side of the river. Making up his mind, he said, “wait here,” to Raelis, then headed off to the building. Getting his footing on the ruined walls of the house, Garrett started the climb upwards. Reaching the top, he put a hand on the roof tiles and, hoping fervently they weren’t loose, pulled himself up. The tiles weren’t loose, and he stood on the roof, looking over at the wall. Conceding that this wasn’t going to be the smartest thing he’d done lately, but desiring to show off to his companion, he walked about 10 feet from the edge, then turned towards the wall and started running. He took a flying leap when he reached the edge, and sailed over the river. He hadn’t jumped far enough, though, and his foot connected with the top of the wall, tripping him up so he went face-first over the wall. The ground rushed towards him, and he could only say, “damn,” before he smashed the ground and darkness took him.
When he awoke, he noticed two things. Firstly, his head hurt like unholy blazes, and secondly, he was alone. Raelis hadn’t tried that stupid stunt, it would seem, and the undead apparently hadn’t come to claim him. He looked at the ground below him and saw the small pool of blood there. Dabbing his forehead, he realized he must’ve busted a vein when he hit ground zero. Tearing a strip off his cloak, he wrapped his head up tightly, then pulled his hood over his head again. Walking over to the control booth for the drawbridge, he stepped in and hit the switch. The grinding of rusted metal made him cringe as the heavy bridge was lowered.
Garrett looked out the small window to the other side of the river. No sign of Raelis. She’d either given up on him, or wandered off to find an alternate route. Either way, Garrett wasn’t about to wait around for her to rear her quite-nice-looking face. Walking down the small pathway, he soon discovered a pile of rubble blocking his passage. Cursing, Garrett clambered up the debris, falling on his butt more than once. When he finally got to the other side, he could see a mansion, built snugly between the river and the Barricade. Sliding down to the ground, he took a few steps towards the building, then decided to just sit down for a bit. Heading over to the Barricade, he put his back against it and slid to the ground. Closing his eyes, he thought about Raelis, and wondered how she was doing. His thoughts drifted to that odd feeling about her. He still didn’t know what it was that he was experiencing. That thought troubled him, because he liked to consider himself worldly and knowledgeable. But then, had he ever really thought about his feelings before? All his life, he had motivated first be survival, then anger, now greed. He had been abandoned at an early age, so long ago that he couldn’t remember the slightest details about his parents. After years of a life of running messages and picking pockets, he had chanced upon a Keeper observing the marketplace. That encounter had led him to his stint with the Keepers, learning the art of sneaking and hiding. He was with the Keepers until the day before the inauguration ceremony, when he realized he couldn’t handle the Keeper philosophy of the Balance and observation. He wanted to do something with his life, not just sit and stare. Making up his mind, he left the Keepers in anger, and used the skills he’d gained to carve his new life, that of a thief. Which was why he was here. Surviving, observing Keeper doctrines and stealing noblemen’s riches had left him precious little time to think about himself. Looking back, he saw a gaping hole inside of him, all those years ago. Raelis seemed to somehow fill that hole. That thought invoked more images of Raelis, and he took those images to sleep with him.
Raelis, in the meantime, was running for her life, and cursing Garrett’s showmanship every time she could catch her breath. She was in a maze of alleyways, off Rubin St, and a pack of five zombies was in hot pursuit. Unlike others, these ones still had meat on their bones and could move quite fast. The wheeze of a punctured windpipe came from behind, and Raelis knew that she’d been rediscovered. Trying to shake the fatigue out of her bones, she darted to the side just as zombie claws slashed at her head. Ducking another blow, she took off, her compass telling her she was still heading north.
Arrowing through the alleys with incredible skill, she continued running, hoping to shake off her pursues. It didn’t seem to be working, however. The dead sons of a flea-bitten whoremonger seemed to be able to sniff her out wherever she went, so her only hope was to head north and find that river she had left Garrett at. Looking over her shoulder at her pursuers, she didn’t notice the brutish form that came striding out off another alley. She slammed into it full on, and feared the worst, but the thing paid no heed to her. It stepped past her and stood between her and her undead chasers. For a moment she thought it might be protecting her, but then she knew what was happening. It was a burrick, a large dinosaur-like creature, with a noxious breath adventurers knew well to avoid. They were also fiercely protective of their territory and young, and while it might have attacked Raelis for trespassing, burricks hated zombies more than anything else. The fight was inevitably going to end with either the burrick’s destruction, or escape, but at least it would buy her time to get away. Barely listening to the burrick’s scream of rage, she got to her feet and ran. She ran so hard that she didn’t notice the ground suddenly stop, and went plunging into the river. Raelis swam to the surface, gasping for air like a fish out of water. Swimming to the far bank, which had a snug alcove in it, she climbed up, and collapsed. Crawling into the shadowy corner, she sat back and decided to think about her life while she was alone, and had the chance. She was still fuming about what Garrett had done, but couldn’t help wondering if he was alive and all right. What if she met him again, and he was a zombie? What if she had to kill him? She knew she couldn’t do it. She thought about Garrett, wondering what had made the reputedly cold and heartless master thief act so brazenly. She also thought about her feelings for him. At first, it was hostility and then fear. When she found out who he was, fear had quickly turned to awe. Now, with none of those things left, she wondered why there was something left. Something difficult to describe. At any rate, she knew it was deep and would need time to reveal itself. She thought of a feeling described to her by a friend, but she had labeled it fantasy. No such thing could exist, she had said. Now, Raelis wondered at the truth of that. At this point though, she knew the idea was moot. He was either dead or gone, but even if he was around, she knew she couldn’t get involved with him. She was a thief, with a job to do, and he was a cold-hearted master, and from all accounts, a loner. She again wondered if he was alive, then drifted off to sleep.
Garrett awoke slowly. At first, he wondered where he was, and why no one was around. Then he remembered where he was, and his reflexes reacted. He shot to his feet, covered himself with his cloak, and searched for any possible threats. When it was clear there were none, he came completely back to his senses. Looking about, he wondered where Raelis was. Realizing she had gone long before, he recalled what he was doing here. He headed towards the mansion, trying to shrug off the feeling of anxiety about Raelis. Convincing himself that she could take care of herself, he arrived at the front door. Trying the handle, it only budged slightly. Garrett knew it was locked. Before attempting to pick it, he flipped up the doormat out of impulse. Surely enough, a rusted silver key lay underneath. Unlocking the door, he listened for anything on the other side, opened the door, then shot in and closed the door behind him. Creeping to a secluded corner, he crouched down and waited as he heard footsteps coming his way. At first he thought it might be Raelis, but a distinctive clink of steel and iron gave it away. Garrett wanted to run and hide, knowing what was coming, but that would be suicidal. The creature walked into the entrance room, then stopped and looked about. Garrett knew that it had been doing that for the past fifty years. It was a Hammer Haunt, the animated skeleton of a Hammerite warrior who had not escaped the destruction fifty years ago. A few other rogues had mentioned them before, in failed attempts to raid the Bonehoard, an old haunted burial chamber. It was even whispered by a few that the haunts were those warriors who had turned against their brothers, laying down their hammers and taking up swords in sacrilege. All this was irrelevant at this point, however, and all Garrett concerned himself with was the fact that it was undead, and would be best dealt with Constantine’s Sword in its back. He thought back to his failed attempt to backstab a zombie, but shrugged that off as the zombie being too stupid to know it had been hit and should be dead. He also kept in mind that if he screwed up, he was mincemeat. A haunt’s skill and speed were not taken to the grave, but retained and could easily outrun and outfight Garrett. Keeping this in mind, he moved like the wind towards the haunt. A foot away from it, Garrett pulled his sword, drew it back, and drove it through the haunt’s neck. His sword passed cleanly through the bone, and the haunt collapsed in a pile of bones on the floor, the necromancy that held it together undone. Garrett looked at his sword carefully, and decided it must have some magical property that allowed it to disrupt the dark energies that kept the dead up and walking. Promising to himself that he would look into at a later date, he sheathed it and headed up the stairs in the next room. Sweeping a practiced eye over the gloomy upper room, he noted a number of things: two chests, no enemies, and a tiled floor under one of the chests. Slinking over to the bedside chest, he opened it up and found an expensive looking ring, a gold bracelet, and a bag of pre-Barricades vintage coins. Smiling to himself at the find, he headed over to the other chest, taking great care to walk slowly and silently on the tiled floor. Despite his skill, a tiled floor had the irritating tendency to amplify sounds tenfold. When he reached the chest, he tried opening it, and found that it was locked. He inserted a pick into the lock, and immediately withdrew it as he recognized a trap come into play. A steel needle, almost certainly poisoned, shot out of the top of the lock. Garrett reached over and carefully snapped it off, then continued working at the lock. After a while the lock made a satisfying ‘click’, and opened. Garrett opened the chest and discovered what he was looking for: the Serpentyle Torc. Unfortunately, a rather dangerous looking spider seemed distressed with the prospect of losing the necklace. Garrett took out his blackjack, squished it, and picked up the Torc. It was just as Raelis described: a pure gold serpent eating its tail, with rubies for eyes. A wide smile crossed Garrett’s face as he put the Torc in his loot bag, a smile that quickly dissipated when he thought of Raelis, off doing only the gods knew what.
Raelis was swimming downstream, heading for what she hoped would be De Perrin St. She knew that there was a ladder coming out of the river near the drawbridge area. When she got there she hoped to be able to get to the other side of the river, and find out Garrett’s fate. He would either be dead, unconscious or gone. The first was a most unpleasant thought for Raelis, she had conceded to herself that she had a liking for the man. Swimming on, she soon came across the drawbridge area. Except that she was underwater at the time, and swam right past it. By the time she realized that she must have reached De Perrin by now, she looked back only to find the ladder moving farther and farther way. The drawbridge wasn’t visible to her, either. Cursing, she turned about and tried swimming against the current, but found that she couldn’t resist the opposing water. Raelis gave up fighting, and started swimming with it again. She soon came to a section of underwater tunnels that she’d have to go through. Cursing again, she took a deep breath and hoped the other side wouldn’t be far. Swimming through, she came across a number of air pockets, and even picked up a few water crystals along the way.
She finally came to the other side, and clambered up a ladder that appeared to lead to a street. Hauling herself up, she looked at the nearby buildings and came to realize that this must be Market St. She didn’t particularly like that idea, mainly due to the fact that last time she was here, before she met Garrett, the place had been particularly active, with a number of giant spiders, burricks and zombies calling the street home. Gritting her teeth, she steeled herself. Raelis knew that getting through here would be a chore. She also wondered if Garrett had become one of the walking dead yet. Garrett was walking, but he wasn’t dead yet. He was limping down Cathedral St, trying to stop the blood from leaking from his leg and ribs. A tangle with a surprisingly - and almost fatally - fast group of zombies had left him with a deep gouge in his right thigh, and a badly scratched chest. Hindsight made him realize giving all the healing potions to Raelis was a serious tactical error on his part. He’d have to remember that if they - or he if Raelis didn’t survive - got out. He soon found some hope in his predicament when he chanced upon an old apothecary on the side of the street. Hobbling over to it, he shouldered the door open and went around to the back shelves and storage room. The shelves were broken and empty, but he found a few potions in the storeroom: two healing potions, and an air potion. The air potion was practically bottled air, but could be very handy on an extended underwater trip. Gulping down a healing potion, he felt his ribs heal up and the wound in his thigh scab over. Swallowing the second potion, his thigh healed completely, and even the bruise on his ribs disappeared. Heading out the door, Garrett checked his map; all he had to do was follow Cathedral St to the Cathedral. It sounded too easy, and Garrett knew something would go wrong. He shook the potion-induced fogginess from his head, and continued on to the Cathedral.
Raelis was jumping from roof to roof. Rooftops had always been known as the Thieves Highway, and Raelis was proving that the name was no joke. It was treacherous for her up there, though, and many of the roofs were either badly damaged or non-existent. Looking into the gloomy night, she could just make out the intimidating shadow of the Haunted Cathedral. Shuddering at the sight, Raelis continued on, heading towards the Eye, and if her prayers were answered, Garrett.
Garrett cursed. The curse quickly became a stream of expletives as he hit worse and worse luck. In front of him was the gatehouse of the Cathedral, and its gates were wide open. Garrett wasn’t concerned about the gates at this point, though. On top of the gatehouse, patrolling the battlements, was another damned apparition, and a pair of haunts patrolled the gates themselves on the ground. Garrett’s mind was ticking fast, trying to devise the best solution to the problem. He quickly took an inventory: two flashbombs, one vial of holy water, and two highly explosive fire arrows. He came up with a plan: he would launch a fire arrow at the ghost, then rush down, throw a flashbomb at the haunts, then finish off them off with his sword. Taking out his shortbow, he nocked a fire arrow, took aim, pulled back, and released. The arrow sailed perfectly, going straight for the ghost. Garrett then leaped out of his hiding place, a flashbomb in one hand, sword in the other, and ran. The haunts immediately saw him, but the explosion and wail from above as the fire arrow blasted the ghost back to the nether realm was a distraction that Garrett took full advantage of. He thumbed the trigger on the flashbomb and hurled it. It landed at one of the haunts’ feet, and detonated. Covering his eyes with his cloak, Garrett rushed the first haunt, taking it through the head. The second had recovered from the flash, though. Garrett was now in a dangerous situation. The haunt was a far better fighter than he, but it was weakened by the blast. If Garrett could get one good hit in, it would be down. He backed off as the haunt’s blade passed him, missing his neck by inches. Swearing, Garrett lunged forward, only to have his clumsy attack easily deflected. The haunt responded with a vicious counterattack, which put a nice slash in Garrett’s cloak. Tiring of this, Garrett brought his sword back over his head, and brought it down. But instead of a powerful downward slash, as the haunt expected, Garrett instead threw the blade at it. Unable to handle this sudden change in tactics, the haunt took the blade through its chest, moaned, and crumpled into a pile of bone and fabric. Walking over to the haunt, Garrett retrieved his sword from its remains. Putting it up, Garrett turned and headed up the steps to the Cathedral.
Raelis squinted towards the Cathedral. Was that a light she just saw? Another light, brighter this time, flashed and quickly dissipated. What sort of dark necromancy was going on over there, she wondered gloomily. Then she brightened, perhaps it was Garrett. Shrugging, she went from building to building towards the Cathedral. Finally reaching the courtyard out in front of the gatehouse, she dropped down and look about. Nothing hostile in sight. She noticed three things instantly: first, there were two piles of bone and cloth, which looked suspiciously like a haunt’s. Second, there was a small piece of metal on the ground in front of the bone piles. Finally, there was a blackened crater at the top of the gatehouse, which was still smoking. There was little doubt left in her mind, Garrett had beaten her here. Clever taffer. Almost dancing with glee, she ran up the steps leading to the Cathedral.
Still breathing deeply from his encounter at the gatehouse, Garrett took in the sight of the Cathedral’s doors. Two metal doors, four odd statues, two on either side of the doors, a plaque above the door, and strange looking runes below the statues, which looked a lot like a wind gust, a mountain, a flame, and a wave. Shrugging, Garrett walked up to the doors, and inspected the handles. They were locked, so he pulled out his triangle-toothed pick and inserted it. Despite his prowess, the locks wouldn’t respond. Frowning, Garrett looked up to the plaque. Reaching up and rubbing the grime off it, he could read: ‘Beware. These doors have been sealed, to contain the evil within. Please leave.’ Not at all impressed with this development, Garrett walked around the right side of the Cathedral, looking for a possible side entrance. Not finding one, but disturbed at the large number of bones, broken swords, and hammers lying around, he made his way to the rear end of the Cathedral. Spotting a small open window, he climbed up to the ledge and peeked through. He wasn’t going to fit. However, he could se a gemstone with four odd prongs extending from it floating in midair. Startled, Garrett realized that it must be the Eye! Raelis hurried up to the top of the stairs. Hope faded as she saw the entrance closed, and no sign of Garrett. Her depression quickly subsided as she noticed rub marks on the plaque above the door, and footsteps trailing off around the right side of the Cathedral. Almost sprinting around the Cathedral, Raelis nearly tripped on the bone piles and various bits of destroyed weaponry. Turning around the back end of the Cathedral. Looking about desperately, she saw what she longed to see, a black shadow crouched up on the ledge, squinting through the tiny gap. She almost cried out, but then a ghostly voice seemed to come from everywhere around here. Looking up at Garrett, who hadn’t yet noticed her, she saw that he had stiffened. He had heard it too, it seems. The voice coalesced into words, which said, “Ah, another comes to rescue me, poor man. The Keepers have sealed the way. Cross you to the Grotto of the Keepers. Illuminate both sides of the statue with fire while standing on the symbol. There, in the library of the Keepers, learn the Secret of the Talismans!” The voice drifted off into nothingness, and Raelis heard Garrett mutter to himself, “the Eye.” Standing up, he turned away from the window. He must have noticed Raelis for the first time, because his eyes widened when he saw her, and relief flooded into his face, which he took no pains to try to hide.
Dropping off his perch, Garrett was almost knocked over as Raelis flew into him and engulfed him in a hug. Garrett, unsure of how to react, and overwhelmed by the sudden surging emotions, put a tentative arm around her shoulder. Almost in tears, which were also something new for Raelis, she said to him, “damn you, you idiot. Never, ever do something that stupid just to impress me!”
Going red, Garrett said, “uh, yeah, sorry about that… but hell, it got us this, didn’t it?” Pulling away from her, Garrett reached into his loot bag and pulled out a glistening gold object. The Serpentyle Torc! Her jaw hanging open in amazement, Garrett grinned and said, “The deal was 50/50, right?” She stared at him in amazement, and then scowled at him. “You mercenary pig. I worry like blazes about you, and you ask for money?” She hit him in the arm playfully. He didn’t even twitch. The smile still on his face, he asked, “so, you were worried about me, huh?”
Laughing, she said, “don’t even start. I know you worried sick about me, too.” His smile faded, but he said, “Yeah, I was. Thought you were either dead or gone. Neither were particularly attractive option for me.” Raelis’ laughter died as she regarded the seriousness that had come over him. He was in unfamiliar territory, she realized, and didn’t really know how to handle the emotions coming over him. Seeing him reluctant to speak, she said, “don’t worry, I feel the same way.”
Seeing that he wasn’t the only one uncomfortable, he brightened. Then he said, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know what to say.”
A smile returning to her face, she said, “I think I know what you want to say.” She leaned over and whispered something into his ear. Going bright red, he stepped back and said, “what?”
Still smiling, she said, “you heard me. Go on, say it. It’ll save you pointless babbling, though I admit I do find it amusing to see a professional stoneheart like you doing it.”
Staring at her in incredulity, he stammered, “I… I….” Shaking his head, he blurted out, “I love you, Raelis.”
Her grin broadened until it nearly reached her ears. “There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Trying mightily to diffuse the bright colour of his face, Garrett looked up and suddenly smiled evilly at her. “All right, your turn.”
That caught her by surprise. “Uh… I…. Uh…”
Garrett was hard-pressed to stop himself from breaking down into laughter. “Come on,” he said. “It isn’t hard, you know.”
Blushing furiously, and determined not to be mocked by him, she looked straight at him and said, “I love you, damn it.”
With that, they fell into each other’s arms. They embraced for a long time, until a wheeze told them they were not alone. Looking up, Garrett saw a zombie, with most of its flesh and clothes intact, striding towards them. Gesturing to Raelis, Garrett turned around and jumped onto the ledge, Raelis following his lead. The zombie let out a frustrated moan, and paced about, trying to find some way to get at them without climbing. “Well,” Garrett said. “At least now we have some time to plan.” Looking at Raelis, Garrett said, “The Cathedral was sealed by the Keepers. The Eye said that the ‘Secret of the Talismans’ could be found in a Keeper library.”
Nodding to him, and trying to ignore the zombie’s wheezing below, Raelis said, “Yeah. The Keepers Grotto. Got any idea where that might be?”
Already looking through his map, he said absently, “not really. This is a Keeper map, though, and probably…” His voice trailed off, as he found what he was searching for. “Here,” he said, pointing to a section of the map on Market St. A small keyhole symbol was near his finger. “That’s where the Keepers would have holed up when this section of the City was habitable.”
“Market St?” she asked. “ We haven’t been down that way yet, have we? Unless you went down that route when we got separated?”
“No,” came the reply. “But from what I saw when I passed it on Cathedral St, it was quite densely populated.”
“We’ll deal with it,” she said offhandedly. Pointing to where the zombie was hissing and groaning, she said, “but we still have him to deal with.”
Garrett inclined his head. “True enough. How about we just make a break for it? We’ll head down Cathedral St to Market, and hide in one of the abandoned buildings until the thing loses interest in us?”
“Sounds good to me,” Raelis said approvingly. “Ready…”
Garrett’s leg muscles tensed up, and bellowed, “GO!” to her as he sprang over the zombie’s head.
Raelis jumped, and ran off after Garrett, who was moving incredibly fast down the side of the Cathedral. Reaching the stairs, they sprang down them four to five steps at a time, then Garrett bolted down Cathedral St, Raelis following. Looking over her shoulder, Raelis saw the zombie in hot pursuit, surprisingly fast for a dead bugger. Looking forward again, she saw Garrett, break off Cathedral St and dive into an opened window of a ruined building. Following suit, she landed hard on the rotten timber floor, and scrambled after Garrett up a ladder to the second floor. Garrett slowed and looked out the window, and saw the zombie ambling about in confusion. It shuffled over to the house, looked through one of its windows, then, deciding no one was inside, it wandered off back up Cathedral St.
Garrett breathed a deep sigh of relief as the thing left. Taking out his map, and using a fire arrow to see in the gloom, he looked it over. The Grotto was only a few houses down, just past the old smithy. Motioning for Raelis to follow, he dropped out of the window. Garrett took a long look at the area in front of him, and saw the smithy’s, complete with two zombies and a spider. Looking a bit further ahead, he saw a small bridge going across a waterway. He also noticed that the zombies and spider crossed it occasionally on their patrols. Content to watch the master at work, Raelis leaned back against the wall of the house, and saw Garrett take a fire arrow from his quiver, nock it, and take aim at the bridge. Watching the trio make their patrols, he waited, and then let go of the bowstring when all three were on the bridge at once. The arrow exploded on the bridge, setting it alight and torching its three occupants. The zombies moaned and the spider rolled about and hissed until all that was left was three piles of ash and a charred, brittle bridge. Staying still, watching for movement, Garrett observed as an alerted zombie came shuffling towards the scene. Stepping onto the bridge, the blackened timbers began to crack, then break and fall away, plunging the hapless zombie into the waterway. Grinning, Garrett stood up and darted from shadow to shadow towards the smithy. Once Raelis had caught up to him, just outside the smithy, Garrett looked about and saw another bridge lead off to an enclosed courtyard. Keeping alert for things that would love to eat his head, Garrett slipped over the bridge, and took in the scene before him. A large square area, with mosaics on parallel walls, a statue in an alcove in the wall opposite to him, and a small pond, with a perfectly circular island in the middle. On the island, a large metal object lay bolted to the ground.
Taking a flying leap across to the island, leaving Raelis to keep watch, he looked at the metal object up close. He soon recognized the shape of a keyhole, a sign that this was indeed the Keepers Grotto. Remembering the Eye’s words, “Illuminate both sides of the statue with fire while standing on the symbol,” Garrett looked hard at the statue and it’s little alcove. Stepping onto the symbol, he looked for a way to ‘Illuminate both sides of the statue with fire.’ Focusing on the alcove’s walls, he discovered a torch on either side of the statue. Grinning, he looked through his quiver for fire arrows. His grin faded as he discovered he had only one left. Cursing, he looked over to Raelis and called, “Raelis! Any fire arrows?”
Raelis took off her quiver and searched through it. Looking up at him, she shook her head. Cursing again, he thought of how he could light two torches with one fire arrow. After a few moments of thinking, he remembered that fire arrows had a large blast range. If he aimed an arrow at the statue, rather than a single torch, the detonation would light both torches. Feeling pleased with himself, he launched the arrow at the statue’s torso. The flaming arrow connected and exploded, taking a sizable chunk out of the statue, but successfully lighting the torches. After a moment of self-congratulation, he heard a loud grinding sound and his name being called. He turned to see Raelis with her sword drawn, and one of the mosaics moving to one side, revealing a passageway. Leaping back across the water, he headed for the newly opened passageway, Raelis following more cautiously. He knew there wasn’t going to be any undead Keepers wandering about, since they would have left not too long before the cataclysm. Keepers had the innate knack of sensing danger and avoiding it before it ever happened. Walking through the darkened passageway, he came to a small entrance area. There was a single door, both locked and barred, with two pedestals either side. A broken statue lay to the side of one, while only dust remained near the other. Puzzled, Garrett pressed down on one of the statues. It moved down slightly, and Garrett instantly knew what the puzzle was. Both pedestals had to be weighted down for the door and gate to open. Going to the pedestal nearest the statue rubble, he picked up a stone head and placed it on the pedestal. The pedestal sunk down a bit in response. Stacking another chunk onto the pedestal, it moved even further. Carefully balancing a third chunk, the torso, onto the pedestal, it sunk down completely, and the gate opened in response. Jumping on the other pedestal, it sunk down completely, and the door slid open.
Garrett motioned Raelis inside, but just as she entered, he called out, “Wait!” She stopped just inside, and while she looked at him curiously, she moved to the side of the doorway. Running off the pedestal, he slid in just as the door slammed close. Looking around the edge of the door, he found and flicked a switch. The door slid open again, this time until the switch was triggered again. Raelis turned to him and asked, “Why’d you ask me to wait?”
Gesturing down the hallway in front of them, Raelis saw barely visible holes in the walls. “Arrow traps?” she asked.
“Yes,” came the response. “Keepers love to rig their places with traps designed to catch unwanted intruders. Keep a careful eye out.” Raelis nodded, and saw Garrett lie down on his belly, as flat as he could get, and began crawling down the hallway. When he was halfway down, she followed suit, and crawled after him. Near the end, with Garrett up and waiting for her, she stood up, half a foot less than where he’d stood up. Raelis didn’t expect it. Garrett did. Before she could react, an arrow shot out of the wall, and was met squarely by Garrett’s foot. The arrow snapped in midair, and Garrett roughly pulled her out of the way as another arrow flew out. Casting a disapproving look upon her, he headed down the next hallway to a single door. Undoubtabley locked, Garrett took his square-toothed pick out, and began to work on the door. He had been at for a few seconds, when Raelis nervously said, “Garrett,” while tugging on his shoulder. Looking up, he turned to where she was staring. His eyes widened as he realized what was happening. The wall opposite to them was closing in! Swearing audibly, Garrett turned about and fumbled with the lock. After a few seconds the lock would open no further, so he frantically changed picks and set to work again. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Raelis with her back against the closing wall, trying to halt its movement. Garrett’s hands worked without his sight, and he watched as the wall came four feet away… three feet… two feet…. The lock clicked, and Garrett quickly opened the door and raced in, Raelis right behind him. Garrett felt the tile beneath him sink slightly, and ducked to the ground, fearing another trap. Instead, the wall began retreating back to its original position. Garrett then noticed the floor trigger on the other side of the door that must have set the thing off. Hoping that the former Keeper inhabitants were suffering down in the Seventh Circle of Hell, Garrett observed the room he was in. It was circular, with two doors, one to his left, and one to his right.
Walking over to the rightmost door, he tried the handle. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. Bringing his picks into play, he jiggled with the lock for a while until he realized it wasn’t about to open, when Raelis walked past him, shouldered him out of the way, and slid a bronze key in. Turning it, the lock clicked, and the door opened. “How…” Garrett began, but turning around, he saw that the left door had been opened. Raelis must have raided it for the key. Trying hard to ignore her smug smile, he walked into the room. There was a hexagonal table in the center. It had what looked like a map carved into its surface, and had a few pieces of parchment and a strangely carved stone object. Raelis walked over and picked up a parchment. Looking through it, she said, “looks like the Keepers took a direct hand in sealing the Cathedral. They used what they call Elemental Wards to seal it, and even helped the construction of the Barricades.”
“Elemental Wards?” Garrett asked, an eyebrow raised.
She shrugged. “I don’t really know. All it says here is that they can only be broken using the Elemental Talismans of Earth, Air, Fire and Water.”
Snagging another parchment, Garrett unrolled it and read it. His eyes widened as he read it.
“What is it?” Raelis inquired.
A small smile crept across his face. “It gives the locations of the Talismans, just in case a Keeper needed to return to the Cathedral. The table also shows their locations.”
Looking down at the table, Raelis said to Garrett, “It’s a map of the city, but it just shows the general locations of the Talismans. We’ll need more than that if we’re going to find them.”
Reading through the parchment again, Garrett answered, “We have more than that. It says here that the Hammerites have the Air Talisman in their Temple. The Fire Talisman was taken down to what the Keepers call Karath-din, or the Lost City. It says that the strange stone object is the ‘Portal Key’, to open the seal to the ruins. They stashed the Water Talisman in a shrine, in some caverns deep below the city. And it says here that they gave the Earth Talisman to the Hand Brotherhood. There’s also maps to the Lost City and the Shrine Caverns here.” Looking straight at Raelis, he said, “Its all here. Everything we need to find the Talismans and get the Eye.”
Clapping her hands together in delight, she walked over to Garrett and took his arm. Arm in arm, they walked out, to prepare for the coming hardships which they knew would be the price of going after the Talismans, and to just enjoy each others company.
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