(This story draws from the characters and events of the Thief game series)
I know it's a risky job but the quite large sum of gold and silver that Edward, an old City Warden, offered me was just too alluring, so I decided to take the job. Normally I try to avoid Wardens and their entourages at all costs, but Old Edward was different, instead of trying to harass independent thieves like myself, he was simply content to manipulate city politics behind the scenes on his turf.
He was also at odds with most of the other Wardens, due I suspect to jealousy of the fact that he was genuinely loved by the masses and his almost supernatural ability to escape any kind of prosecution. Most of Edward's money was made through legit business ventures. His public works projects and charitable activities made him a respected man even among law-abiding citizens. Because of that respect, as well as a few bribes and help from the city's elite, most ignored reports of his shady dealings. Even under Truart's reign, the City Watch could find little in terms of evidence and cooperation in order to bring charges against him. Through generous donations to their Orders, even the Mechanists and Hammers left him alone.
I came into contact with Edward though an associate who was a member of the New Thieves League. My old friend had been contacted by one of Edward's business partners who told him that Edward had heard rumors about my raid on Ramirez's estate. Apparently he had some kind of personal vendetta with Ramirez due to the delight he took in the story of the asskicking I gave him with my blackjack before I left his "most properly taffed" estate.
After a few messages back and forth, we set up a meeting at a secure location and I met the old guy for the first time. I did a couple of jobs for him, the first involving stealing back some crystalline vases that another Warden had swiped from him. The second involved gathering some incriminating evidence from the mansion of a City judge, in order to blackmail him into granting a license to build a new racetrack at the outskirts of the City, which would rake in a hefty sum to line Edward's pockets. Both tasks were fairly easy for a thief of my skills, even more pleasant was the fact that Edward paid the full price he promised without any attempt to betray or screw me in any way. The old guy even offered to put me in contact with various fences so I could sell off anything else I "acquired" while I was "at work" as long as it wasn't anything of his of course! Needless to say, for a Warden he was a pretty decent fellow.
A few months after our first meeting, Edward sent me an urgent message to meet him at his mansion. This puzzled me since our usual meeting place on past occasions was a ramshackle set of apartments near the broken down walls encircling the old quarter. I was familiar with that area and its inhabitants and I considered it reasonably safe territory. Edward's mansion was nearby so I decided to go though with the visit…my way. As evening turned into night I slipped through the back alleys behind his home. With the help of a rope arrow, I was soon over the low brick wall surrounding his estate. After concealing myself in the shadows and letting a guard patrol pass, another rope arrow enabled me to reach a second story balcony where a few quick jiggles of a lock pick let me inside. I really wasn't expecting an ambush, but it never hurt to be careful, Edward was a Warden after all.
Although the halls were well lit, there were no guards nearby and I soon was quietly slipping into the main office. Edward was standing there with his back to the doorway facing the fireplace when I spoke.
"So why have you summoned me here?" I asked. Edward jumped in fright and spun around. "Wha..Garret!" he stammered "You scared me to death! I had my servant waiting for you at the front door to let you in! What are you doing, sneaking in here like that for?" "You've never invited me to your home before" I replied, judging from the startled look on his face that there wasn't any ambush planned, "I'm just being careful". "You're not too trusting are you Garret?" he said. "Oh I do trust people…after I verify everything is ok" I replied. "Ha Ha Ha Wise lad" Edward spoke finally relaxing, "very well Garret lets get down to business shall we.. sit down and I will fill you in on the details".
As we sat Edward outlined the job he had for me. "Garret I need you to go to the seaside village two days journey from here, you've heard of the Island of Iron haven't you?"
"Yes the Hammers had a castle there a century ago where they had a smelting complex to process ore they mined there, supposed to be real good stuff."
"Astounding! You are quite scholarly for a thief aren't you!"
I smiled "lets say I've had some good teachers in the past."
"Indeed! I recently came into possession of some old scrolls which made mentioned an item called the Iron Hammer which was a venerated icon contained in the main chapel, although it isn't made of precious metal its religious significance make it a valuable item"
"So you want me to get it for you"
"Yes my young friend! I will give you 5,000 gold as a down payment 7,000 when the item is in hand and 500 silver to cover your travel expenses and to buy a boat at the village docks which are run by a good friend of mine, just tell him 'that old goat Eddie sent me' and he will fix you up just fine ha ha. The island doesn't lie very far offshore you can get there within an hour's time"
"I'll have to do it at night to avoid attention, I said"
"Of course, it will be the only time you can because that when the current weakens, it'll take some paddling to get there but the changing tides make the current flow strongly toward the shore line at early dawn and dusk so the return trip will be easy."
I looked Edward in the eye.
"Isn't there something else you're not telling me…"
"Like what?" Edward said nervously.
"Contact was lost with the island under mysterious circumstances, rumor has it something happened…perhaps something like the Old Quarter 'incident'."
"That's just old wives tales…" Edward stammered, "If you're not interested I can find someone else"
"Like that group of Downwinders?"
"How do you know about that…?!"
"I heard a drunken conversation between some of them in that pub you're so fond of The Smoked Burrick, seems that pack that left for the island the next day hasn't been heard from since, why in the hell did you waste time with amateurs like them?"
"I'm sorry Garret, I didn't come to you first because I knew you were busy with another job…listen, I'll double your money if you'll do this for me, you can even go through my personal armory and take whatever you want to help you in your quest. If you try and fail you can keep your down payment, consider it a gift, but please try, I really want that item"
"So you can use it to bribe the Hammers into building their new prison elsewhere?" I quipped.
"Do you want them in your backyard?" Edward said with a smirk.
"Ok it's a deal" I said "I'll get your item, you just have the money ready and if something goes wrong and I can't get to the island or someone beat me to it, believe me I will keep that down payment for the risk I'm taking!" If I survive, I thought.
"Of course my young friend! I'll get the money together, come to my armory and take whatever you need."
The journey to the coast was uneventful, but upon arrival to the village one evening, I knew something was going on. I spotted several Hammers hanging around the village, buying supplies and talking among themselves. As I quietly made my way to the docks, I had the feeling that if I was going to do the job it would have to be done tonight as quickly as possible. The Hammers presence was obviously more than coincidental..it looked like they wanted that artifact back for themselves.
Edward's friend at the docks was very helpful, even giving me a map of the area around the village. "If your on 'special business' for my friend" he said "You might want to go ahead and paddle to the caves near the shore just south of here, if you wait here to leave from the docks tonight, you would draw unwanted attention, those crazy Hammers have been patrolling around here for the last couple of days".
I thanked the man and proceeded to the boat. It was a small but sturdy rowboat, large enough to carry my gear and myself. I had bought a fishing pole and some netting, which I displayed conspicuously on my little vessel. Hopefully, if someone did notice a stranger like myself paddling around the area, they would just assume that I was just a dumb tourist, doing a little fishing. My plan was simple, in theory; I would paddle a little ways south and conceal myself among the caves. After dark, I would then paddle to the island, find the Iron Hammer and ride the current back to the shore in the early morning hours.
It all seemed simple, I thought as a paddled to the caves, but I knew better. The people in the village referred to the Island as the Haunted Isle and avoided it like the plague in spite of its proximity to shore. In my experience, stories like that are a bad sign…a very bad sign indeed! "Maybe those stories aren't true.." I thought, Yeah Right!
A short time later I arrived in the cave area. I dragged my boat ashore and concealed it one of the caves. There was still some daylight left, and observing no one in the area, I laid down in the boat to take a brief nap. I was tired from the trip and I knew the task ahead wasn't going to be easy. When I awoke later refreshed and alert, night had arrived and it was time to go…
I slipped out of the cave and looked around. It was a starry moonless night. As my normal eye adjusted to the darkness, I used my mechanical eye to see through the darkness and observe the surrounding area. My reconnaissance revealed no one in the immediate vicinity. Good I thought dragging the boat toward the water's edge at least things are getting off to a quiet start, just how I like it… Paddling hard, the shoreline began to recede further and further into the distance. The current lessened, and I adjusted my paddle strokes to a slow steady pace.
Fortunately the sea was very calm at this time of year, but the cool breeze made me adjust my cloak. The low temperature made me wish I had worn an extra undergarment, however carrying a knapsack full of extra equipment slung over my shoulder made me realize I didn't need anything extra to restrict my movements. The knapsack contained four mines and five flash bombs as well as some extra healing potion, courtesy of Edward's armory. I was hoping I wouldn't need the extra stuff, but stories heard when I was a student of the Keepers told me other wise. The local's story was that the Hammerites had abandoned the island and its facilities due to pirate raids years ago, but the fact that no one ventured anywhere near the island seemed to confirm the Keeper's version of events.
Apparently many years ago, a group of Hammerites on that island began playing around with some form of magic,( good for nothing but trying to play god and ending up in disaster as always I thought), causing an outbreak of undead which overran the island, killing everyone except for a two survivors which fled on a damaged galley to report to the high priest. The Hammerite order invented the pirate story to cover up the incident and hide the fact that some of its best and brightest little acolytes were messing around with stuff best left alone. While I hoped the tales of the undead were nothing but exaggerations, experience told me to prepare for the worst….
Closing in on the island, I tapped the side of my mechanical eye to zoom in for greater detail. There was plenty of beach area to make a smooth landing, but further in the terrain was composed of steep hills and rocky terrain full of large boulders. Trees and vegetation were scarce, but among the rocks and hills there were plenty of shadows where someone (or something) could hide. The dark outline of a ruined castle could be seen in the distance. As I touched ashore, I dragged my boat as quickly and silently as I could into a shadowy area between two huge boulders, where I made a disturbing find….
In the area, which I had brought my boat there, were several others lying around the area. Upon closer examination, some of them contained tattered scrolls and equipment, which looked like they had been there for weeks or months. Perhaps they belonged to the Downwinders or some other adventurer, in any case they never returned..a bad omen indeed…
I thought about finding another location to conceal my boat, but observing no evidence of any struggle around the others and the fact that you couldn't spot any of them from inland or from the sea, I decided to leave it where it was. Besides, at least two or three of the other boats looked seaworthy if something happened to mine. As I moved out from the area I considered my options, the castle was on the northwest tip of the island just over a mile away. Judging from the terrain, I could make any number of approaches to the castle unobserved but they would all take some time as compared to a straight shot to the area. My gut feeling was that the faster I got over there and back the better off I would be. To be on the safe side though, I would stick to high ground whenever I could so I could observe the general area and avoid any potential ambushes.
Deciding that I had found the best course of action, I steeled myself and proceeded on. Moving quickly and quietly, I made my advance, going from shadow to shadow, pausing here and there to check the area, peering through the darkness with my all-seeing eye (have to thank those Keepers for that thing, makes my 'job' a lot easier!). In spite of all my fears there appeared to be no sign of life or 'unlife' around except for a broken hammer or two. I smiled to myself thinking, there's nothing here, no haunts, no zombies, nothing at all, maybe that story about the pirates was right after all…since the Hammer of Iron isn't made of gold or anything valuable they probably wouldn't mess with it, the Hammer should be still be in the chapel just waiting for me to pick it up…looks those Keepers got it wrong..again! perhaps those Downwinders had just decided to take their business to another city and made a deal with Edward and ripped him off of the money he gave as a downpayment, wouldn't be the first time some of those guys have conned a Warden. Distracted by my thoughts, I reached the top of the last hill overlooking the castle when a spotted a light in the distance. Startled, I sprang forward, crouching down and concealing myself in a thin patch of brush nearby. Shaking off my fright I took another look….
In the distance, on the shoreline close to the castle, I could make out the outline of a Hammerite war galley! Damn! I thought I should have known when I saw those fanatics in the village, they want their precious hammer back! without any middleman of course…The light that I saw came from a line of torches proceeding from the large boat toward the castle. Zooming in my eye I observed the composition of the Hammerite force and its composition was startling! There was a group of forty Hammerite warriors advancing on the castle with around twenty servants and acolytes bearing torches and shields among them, several priests and a half-dozen ,Mech-Guards! what are the Hammerites doing with those?!
Observing closer, I could see the Hammerite logo proudly emblazoned on the sides of the mechanical beasts and hear their new battle cries "Praise the Builder" , "From the sinful hand of Karras I was made but I now redeem myself through service of the Hammer" blah blah blah. I had to bite my tongue to keep from bursting out in laughter and revealing myself. Apparently the Hammerites had gotten possession of some of the forbidden fruit of Karras technology and were now using it to their own ends. Typical Hammerite hypocrisy, I thought watching the scene They were proceeding through a valley between two steep hills near the castle gate and I knew it would be suicide to attempt an approach and infiltrate a castle with a war party of Hammerites and priests, backed up by Mech-Guards bearing down on the area. Just as I began to plan by retreat, wondering what I was going to tell Edward, The gates burst open unleashing a horror that I will never forget for the rest of my life!
Several dozen Haunts swarmed out of the castle! They were followed by the largest group of zombies I had yet seen! They attacked the head of the Hammerite column and drove it back, slashing wildly with sword and claws. Falling back in confusion, the Hammers regrouped with the aid of their priests and stood their ground, parrying the strikes of their foes and lashing out with blows from their war hammers. Having gained their composure, they fell a short distance back toward the advancing group of Mech-Guards pursued by the horde of undead. The sight of the terrible struggle made me glad the Hammers had come, with the amount of undead coming out of the castle, I knew if I had tried to sneak in there, discovery and death would have been almost certain…
The approaching Mech-Guards split into two groups with each stationing themselves at the Hammers flanks. Thus positioned, their thundering cannons caught the attacking horde in a terrible crossfire. Explosions rocked the island as fragments of rotting flesh flew everywhere, disrupting the attacking creatures advance. The hordes response was to break up into large groups and begin to try to encircle the Hammers. The violent struggle turned into a terrible slugging match between the living and the dead. The Hammers, backed up by the Mech-Guards, couldn't be overrun but they lacked the numbers to defeat and destroy their attackers. This could take a while I thought…..
Instead of retreating back to my boat, I came up with a bold new plan. I would try slip around to the castle, skirting the edge of the battlefield, and make an attempt to retrieve the hammer, hoping that most if not all of the zombies had left the castle to attack the Hammerites. Moving out from my area of concealment, I moved downhill staying in the shadows. Keeping my head down to avoid catching fragments from the nearby explosions of the cannonballs, I made my way down to the castle. When a group of zombies came a little too close, I shot a noisemaker arrow toward the Hammerites position, and they followed the missiles hum…right into a volley of cannonballs from a cluster of nearby Mech-guard (to my great amusement). Reaching the castle wall a few minutes later I let a rope arrow fly and began climbing to the top of the castle wall, (coming in through the front door just isn't my style, of course).
Reaching the walkway on top of the castle wall, I quietly made my way toward the largest tower of the castle, where the chapel resided. To my great relief there was no lighting of any kind and no patrols of undead. Good I thought, maybe everyone went out to play. No such luck, when I arrived at the door of the chapel and placed my ear against the door, I heard the moans of zombies within.
I pulled out a lockpick and began to work on the door while keeping a flashbomb armed and ready in my other hand. Within a few tense seconds and two loud clicks, the door was free to open. Slowly opening a crack in the door, I looked inside the chapel, ready to leap back and throw my flash bomb if necessary. The sight was eerie. In the middle of the chapel, the object of my quest laid on the main altar, in dark shadows amidst a sea of shattered pews and broken bones. Surrounding the altar was a guard of four undead Downwinders who fortunately had not noticed my entry. My thoughts ran, Poor devils came all this way just to find this place was wall to wall with undead, they never had a chance now they guard it too. With the guards close vicinity to the altar and the battle nearby I knew stealth was out of the question and I decided to take a more direct approach. Reaching into my knapsack, I pulled out a mine. Arming the device, I slung it though the doorway and off to the side. Clanging against the floor it drew the zombies attention and they began to move toward the source.
Their investigation rewarded them with a powerful explosion witch disintegrated two of them and badly mangled the others. Two flash bombs later the "survivors" (if that could be said of the undead) lay silent. Sprinting to the altar I made a quick check for any traps. Finding none I took the Hammer and left the chapel. Before I rappelled back down to the ground outside the castle, I left a mine at the top as a nasty surprise to anything that might come up from the chambers below to observe my departure. As I slid down the rope I could hear the roars of the Mech-Guard cannons begin to lessen, apparently they were beginning to run out of ammunition…..Finding no creatures to greet me at the end of my descent, I began making my way back to the nearby hills, at one with the shadows and witnessing the terrible ending of the nearby battle.
The Mech-Guards had now run out of ammunition and were now wandering back and forth around the surviving Hammerites, trying to trample undead among them. Slowly they were overturned and pulled to pieces by the vengeful creatures and their cries of Malfunction! Malfunction! slowly faded away. Instead of retreating back to their ship, the fanatical Hammerites had tried to stand their ground and prevail. Their reward was to be cut-off from escape and die horrible deaths. Their priests who had led the efforts from the front lines were the first to be wiped out, leaving the surviving Hammerites leaderless. The remnants formed a small circle, hammers facing outward and were overwhelmed one by one. As I made my escape, I could hear their cries of agony as they were torn apart and devoured. Not wanting to share their fate my escape was swift. Fleeing the area and evading the scattered patrols of the victorious undead, I arrived back to my boat. Pushing the boat into the surf and furiously paddling, I soon reached the safety of the open sea.
With dawn approaching and a speed potion in me to fight off fatigue, I had time to think as I paddled back to shore to make my journey back to Edward to present his new prize and receive a fat reward. I had many questions about the the Hammer, which was rusty and quite ordinary looking and about the untapped resivoirs of treasure that just had to be in the lower depths of the castle and smelting facility. Although I didn't relish the idea of dealing with the swarms of undead I had seen rushing out of there, I knew someday I would have to return to the island and discover all the secrets that old castle contained. But for now it was time to return, and make good old Edward a very happy man!
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