"Never Anger the Shadows"
Deep in the recesses of any pub or tavern, a story can be found by one willing to lend an ear and a copper. Stories of the unseen underbelly of the city, stories of the sort that the well to do Wardens or the Hammers would not have any righteous citizen hear. Tales of thievery, skullduggery, and the dirty business of the aristocracy that they don’t want you to know about. Assassinations, kidnappings, conspiracies, all can be heard. For the right price you might even find accounts of the legendary Garrett: the Shadow given substance, the Guardsmen’s Terror. Of this trickster many tales could be told, all shaded with allusions and hearsay, assumptions and lies. Ah, yes, Garrett: the Lord of the Shadows.
But of the truly skilled thieves no knowledge is ever retained. No names are ever given to mark them, or story to trail them by. Neither fence nor official has ever knowingly dealt with them. The only evidence to mark the passage of these masters is empty purses and the occasional corpse, ‘rats’ in the walls or the flutter of drapes. The true thieves leave no trace of their passing, no record of their existence. And this is why they are never caught.
Neither does the master thief ever accept an apprentice. What purpose would this serve, other than to create a link between them and any failed jobs of the student? No true master would tolerate such weakness.
You would wonder, then, how the world even knows of these silent, graceful shadows, plying their trade in perpetual stealth. More importantly, how I possess such intimate knowledge. Consider this: if nothing is written down, if they are never caught, if no apprentices are ever trained… knowledge must proceed by word of mouth. From one of these masters.
Why don’t you ask me about my life?
With a furrowed brow I once again shuffled through the sheets of parchment lying atop of my desk. That report has to be here somewhere, I muttered to myself. Just who is this Fitz character, and what does he want?
This young man, as of yet known only as Fitz, was the most recent pebble in my shoe. Over the past week I had been made aware of his existence; my ever-growing network of eyes and ears informing me well in advance as usual. A younger man, quite ambitious in his endeavors, Fitz was what was officially called an "independent." Employed by no one, he could be considered one of the lesser merchants. A trader of goods, a shipper of property.
In actuality, Fitz was a thief.
Of course he hid this well, but I can read a thief’s disguise. Years of my trade has have rendered it an absolute necessity. Yes, I’ll admit, Fitz put up a fairly impressive façade. To the untrained eye he was a perfectly legitimate businessman: well respected in the City, a prominent member of the Church, nestled within the good graces of the Hammers. His lineage could be traced for well over two hundred years. Old people liked him. He was kind to children and small dogs.
The model citizen. How lovely.
But my web of informants serves me quite well. The appearance of certain objects here, the funneling of funds there…. I knew. Nothing escapes my scrutinizing eye.
Not to mention the fact that the taffer broke into my manor.
Pay no heed to my pompous rambling: I probably wouldn’t have known of his true occupation had he not decided to steal from me. I had my ideas that he wasn’t completely clean, but nothing to this extent. I’ll give Fitz his due: he showed promise. In actuality few thieves slip my eye; he had. Which was exactly why I was anxiously rifling through my reports.
"Ahh, here you are, my friend." A plain, haggard leaf of parchment rested in my callused hands. A spidery, flowing script ran across it from top to bottom.
Officially a dealer of various antiquities, privately owned business.
Yes, Fitz thought quite highly of himself. Highly enough not to run a check on his future prospects’ activities. Not that he would have found anything out on me, of course, but he could have made an attempt. I had been made aware of his presence five minutes after he entered my estate, but my guards have strict orders not to act until I am personally alerted. I prefer to see for myself who has the guts to steal from me. Call it a personal indulgence of mine.
Silently I watched the thief as he crept through my home, lifting things without discrimination. I was disgusted. Why, he was nothing more than a common cat burglar! How dare he come in here seeking no more than money! As with anyone else who attempts to rob me, I let him escape. I have more amusing ways to deal with my enemies.
Funny thing about thieves: they never seem to think that they can be tailed themselves. Something about their status makes them immune, I guess. Quite a useful thing to take advantage of, on occasion.
I settled deeper into the shadows I had chosen outside of Fitz’s manor. If my surveys of his floor plans were correct, he would exit somewhere on this face of the building. Then I could get to work.
It was a beautiful night by thieves’ terms. A storm had blown into the City the night before, and a thin, ethereal mist from the day’ showers still rolled its way through the dank streets and alleys. Nothing satisfies a thief quite like the old cliché of being able to ‘fade into the mists.’
The same angry thunderheads that had bestowed the fogbank also did quite a good job of covering up what would otherwise be a full moon. The only thing better than a generous flooding of shadows is the complete absence of light. It seemed too good to be true: there was even the occasional roll of thunder to mask any errant noises one might happen to accidentally sound. I couldn’t ask for more.
Midnight came and went, and no apparent change came upon Fitz’s grounds. The streets were all but deserted, now: only the occasional paced footsteps of a Hammerite night watchman disturbed the otherwise silent blackness. The manor was of the average merchant-class mansion of the era: three stories, fairly unimaginatively wrought stone walls, typical main entrance centered in the front wall flanked by guardhouses to either side. Apparently Fitz paid his men well: since I had arrived, neither of the two men on duty had moved from their post, nor even spoken to one another. Well trained.
A glimmer of movement drew my gaze away from the two guardsmen to the rear of the manor. A shadow had detached from a stairwell at the base of a storm cellar and was silently flowing toward a side alley. Ahh, my boy. Time for my work to begin.
I had no idea of Fitz’s agenda for the night; I had only found out he was planning a job for the night hours before. From reports brought in by my eyes-and-ears, Fitz appeared to be nothing more than a common cat burglar, settling for nice, safe, untraceable cash. If that was truly the case, then he could be headed for any of a number of places on this side of the City. You can’t blame him, though: the young and the new are often bewitched by the evil gleam of the coin. They rarely see the vast treasures to be taken from a thing as simple as a scrap of information.
I’ll have to give Fitz his due: the man could disappear when he wanted to. As the need arose, he skulked by an approaching Hammerite night watchman almost as well as myself. If I hadn’t spent my life dwelling among the shadows, Fitz would have lost me after the first alleyway. Sticking to the many shadows as if the light would singe him, the thief only exposed himself to a torchlight when absolutely necessary.
After a dizzying amount of twists and turns Fitz came to a halt. A knowing grin slipped across my lips. I guess the boy was more than a common slip-purse.
Emerging up out of the night in front of the shadow-shrouded thief loomed the Hammerite Cathedral itself.
I slowly let the breath out of my lungs. Going for the bigtime, eh son? I thought with a wry grin. Stealing from the hand that feeds you? At least it could be considered a just crime. I, for one, am never opposed to seeing the Hammers’ purses lightened a little. Seems to bring them off of their pedestals for awhile.
But now the question was how to get in. Regardless of the feelings I bear for those zealots, I have to admit: they know how to build a proper fortress. Mounted atop the 30-foot high exterior walls sat sentry towers at regular intervals, each manned by two archers. If by some chance you managed to scale the sheer stone face and drop to the other side without these guards turning you into a voodoo doll, a twenty-foot stretch of bare gravel separated the wall from the cathedral itself. By the sound of crunching footsteps the interior yard was well patrolled, and I’d wager my lucky blackjack well lit. And if neither of these safeguards manages to deter you, the fact that the cathedral has only one door, the front entrance, should do the trick. Can you believe the nerve of these Hammers? They actually put in a portcullis! You’d think they were preparing for a siege, rather than conducting ‘religious’ ceremonies.
By now I was beginning to grow a might curious as to how my quarry was planning on making his entrance. I myself knew of a way in, discovered during one of my late-night ‘escapades,’ but I doubted seriously that anyone else had unearthed my little secret. I was quite proud of my ingress, actually. It was almost too easy.
Pausing only a moment to gaze up at the cold, impenetrable structure, Fitz continued to make his way through the side streets. Well back from the main cobblestone road he finally stooped, struggling with something on the ground, and seemed to disappear. Good man.
Sliding the cover from an adjacent manhole an alley over, I also began my descent into the City’s sewer system. Funny how some people will put a mountain in front of their front door at night but leave a gaping hole in their water closet that any medium-sized man could climb through. Almost as if they think that if they ignore it, so will everyone else. Eh, doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As long as they’re rich, I would rather them be stupid.
Stepping down to the last rung embedded into the downward-leading tunnel, I could hear Fitz’ footsteps splashing off into the direction of the cathedral. Rather than drop down into the rancid waters flowing beneath me, I felt above my head in the complete darkness. Ah, just as I remembered it. Swinging out into the tunnel from the assemblage of pipework that ran along its ceiling, I soundlessly made my way hand over hand after the unknowing thief.
From my perch high among the rafters I gathered my thoughts. The night had been sticking to my plan fairly well.
After Fitz had made his way into the cathedral by way of the floodgate I had pried back a year ago, the going was fairly simple. The intruder had only one thought on his mind; the idea that he might be being watched never crossed it. By his reasoning, the only people who would possibly be trailing him would sound an alarm the instant the trespasser was sighted. His plan was easy to read; quite systematic. Nothing fancy, just starting with the washroom he had emerged from and methodically examining every chamber for anything of value. I was appalled. Thieves had absolutely no style these days.
The entire operation as of yet had gone off without a hitch. The Hammers’ outer patrol may be imposing, but once inside they proved to be just as lax as any guard. You can’t really blame them, though: going through the same routine night after night with nothing out of the ordinary is bound to turn anyone at least slightly lethargic. In any event, they proved to be no problem.
Trailing Fitz had also proven easy: as long as I remained in the very same shadowy recesses the thief had used before me, I was safely undetected. Thanks to my little job here not too long before, I still had a working knowledge of the building’s floor plans. If Fitz entered a room with no other exits, I had simply to wait for him to withdraw before continuing.
And now here we were. Fitz’ next stop was the main sanctuary, where I had decided earlier to make my move. By this time, the man’s purse should have been quite full with Hammerite gold, more than enough to get him run through by an angry sentry. The location was also ideal: if the watch were alerted now, here in the heart of the complex, Fitz would have quite a prickly time making his escape. So as the trespasser snuck into a side room along the hall leading to the sanctuary, I quietly entered the huge chamber. Nestled deep within the shadows, my compact grappling hook sailed high above my head, into the rafters. Success! The sentries never voiced as much as a cough as I shimmied up into the vast structure of supports that made up the ceiling of the sanctum. Now to wait.
Sure enough, a slight rippling of the shadows announced the arrival of my prey. His target was obvious: located in the dead center of the chapel, resting atop the unadorned altar, stood a two-foot tall solid gold hammer. At least I assumed it was gold, the virtually seamless crust of precious gems disguised any glimpse at the body of the artifact. Huh. For a bunch of guys who preach nothing but simplicity and piety in the name of their honored Builder, those Hammers sure aren’t concerned with their own worldly habits. It almost bothered me that it wouldn’t be finding a new home this evening.
Flanking the altar to either side stood two of these faithfuls, good old predictable hammers in hand. This would be quite the touchy lift for the young thief.
Now my part of the action was to begin. Silently I drew back the longbow I had ‘borrowed’ from an unconscious sentry. My bead followed its mark as Fitz crept confidently from pillar to pillar, approaching the altar from the middle aisle. Letting my breath out ever so slowly, I released the taut bowstring and loosed the broadhead. My shot was right on target.
An amazed screech erupted from Fitz’ throat as the cruel steel pierced deep into the muscle of his hamstring. My aim had not been to kill the fellow, simply to cripple him.
In a flash the Hammerites were on him. Their enraged shouts echoed through the vast cathedral as the pair fell upon Fitz, wicked-looking hammers bludgeoning away. "We shall teach thee the error of stealing from the Builder, thief!"
You see, this is one of my few eccentricities. Simply killing the man would have been far too easy. Accusing Fitz of the crime would only have got me laughed at. In this manner, not only is he ‘taken care of,’ quite effectively and with no connection to myself, his reputation is also destroyed: now everyone in the city will know that Fitz is nothing more than a common street thief. Quite an efficient job, if I should say so myself.
Among his screams of agony as the life was crushed from his mutilated body, Fitz’ eyes searched in vain for the source of his crippling arrow. By the angle of its entrance, the man had a rough idea of the barb’s trajectory. Not as if he had a chance of discovering my whereabouts.
I was already gone.
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