Thief: The Dark Project

 

Below is an excerpt from the novel Thief: The Dark Project, the first in a planned trilogy, based on the eponymous video game series by Looking Glass Studios. Thief began life as a creative writing project at Yale, and grew to become Lee's first completed manuscript. It follows the master thief Garrett as he plies his trade in the shadows of The City, an industrial metropolis where magic and machinery have struck an uneasy truce, and ancient gods battle over men's souls.

 

Status: Somewhat moribund. After several fruitful conversations with the original game developers, the Thief property was rebooted to middling effect in 2014, stifling much interest in licensed stories like this one.  However, all is not lost: Lee plans to repurpose this manuscript as the basis for an original fantasy series in the future. If you are interested in seeing the novel published, please reach out via the "Contact" button above.

 

 

Ye shall not rob from the house I have built, or commit any theft or un-righteousness, lest ye be struck down and driven into the earth forthwith, and the land of the heathen consume you.

- The Book Of The Stone

 

       It was as though the City had birthed something deformed, and smothered it here.

       The barricade rose behind him as Garrett stepped out of its shadow, cast by a moon that blazed in the hard, clear sky overhead.  He rubbed his hands together in an unconscious gesture for warmth.  The autumn air had taken on a sharp edge, pricking his uncovered fingers and face.  He surveyed the damage, and a small stone settled in his gut.

       Dead moss and ash covered everything.  The skeletons of burnt out buildings tilted and leaned around him, as though whispering secrets to one another, moonlight playing on their blackened ribs.  No birds flew, no sound of night bugs.  The air was sewn and silent.

       He stepped forward, and felt something compress beneath his foot.  Lifting his leg, he found a child's doll, face down in a pile of ashes, its cloth skirt faded from blue to grey.  An irrepressible shudder ran up him, gut to throat, and he moved forward into the ruins.

       The silence followed him.  It filled the dark hollows of the buildings, looming in the shadows, so oppressive as to be almost loud in its own right.  His footsteps, quiet as they were, filled the void with what seemed tremendous sound, hissing like snakes as they shuffled through the ash.         Anything alive would hear him coming.  As for what might no longer be alive, he could only guess.  He gripped a vial of holy water by his hip.  It was the first time in his life he had ever tried to find comfort in a religious symbol.

       But the silence was double-edged; he would be able to hear anything moving his way far before he could see it.  It would give him time to hide, if he needed to, and once he was stationary, he would be invisible. He relaxed a hair, then breathed deep, wrinkling his nose at the smell that still hung in the air, animals long since dead.

       He pulled out an inked parchment and checked it in the moonlight.  Maps of the area were easy enough to find, in old attics and trunks, but like any other this one was over fifty years old.  The cathedral lay near the heart of the walled-off sector. He frowned, and looked up, scanning.

       Need a point of reference.

       He walked up the street, past long burnt out street lamps, and what used to be a bakery.  Its ovens were just visible in a shaft of moonlight coming through the broken display window, squat things with mouths that gaped back at him. The building's upper level had collapsed and old mortar and bricks littered the street below.  Garrett navigated them, wincing with each step that crunched on a piece of masonry.  Never before had he been so acutely aware of silence, or felt its double edge so closely pressed against him.

       He found a street sign, fallen to the grimy flagstones. Rubin Street. Examining the map, he marked it, traced what looked like the quickest route to the cathedral, and set off with a modicum of new confidence.

       As he continued, the ash thinned on the ground, the moss sprang forth more readily.  The fires hadn't engulfed the entirety of this area.  The buildings grew less skeletal as he walked, bricks and old planks adding meat to their scaffold bones. 

       Destruction was still the norm, however: drifts of debris, broken street signs, potholes widened by years of freezing and thawing, filled with old rainwater.  The buildings, though more substantial, were no better for wear.  Holes gaped in their walls, taller towers had collapsed and crumpled like huge accordions across the small streets.  Garrett passed an old stable, the skeletons of horses still reined up.

       No human remains, though.  No sign of those left behind walls.  At least -

       Garrett stopped. About to round a corner onto De Perin Street, he'd heard something from around the bend.  A slow, rhythmic thumping, growing nearer by the moment.

       He breathed deep through his mouth.  His muscles, already tense from simply being here, buzzed with anticipation.  He turned to go back and find a place to hide, but a second rhythm reached his ears, coming from the other end of De Perin.

       No time.

       He pressed himself against the building nearest him, and inched his way to the door, slipping in and through and settling against a wall with a window that looked out onto De Perin.

       With his nose on the windowsill, he peered out, his curiosity guiding him.  Better to know exactly what was still here, than to keep going blind.

       A heavyset woman walked by.  She had been dead a long time, and with much of her skin gone, reams of white fat glistened in the cold starlight. On her back, carried like a grotesque piece of luggage, was a smaller man, just as dead, pinned to her by old arrow shafts, remnants of the battle years ago.  He seemed bald, but it was only because his skull gleamed through tatters of skin.  Their combined weight lent her footsteps added heft, shaking the silence with small thunderclaps.

       Coming towards them was another person, though man or woman Garrett could not tell.  Almost all the flesh was gone, black bones held together by the littlest of scorched sinew.  Its jaw was unhinged on one side and clacked with each step.

       The dead people approached each other. Garrett almost expected a greeting.  But they passed one another without so much as a nod, eyes (or lack thereof) facing straight ahead.  

       Except for the small man on her back.  His eyes were turned directly towards Garrett's window. 

       His own eyes widened.  He ducked down, out of sight, and held his breath.

       The footsteps, both sets, halted.

       Damn it damn it damn it.

       He remained still, back to the flimsy dead wall between him and the group outside, eyes pressed shut as he tried to keep calm.  He managed well enough, for the moment, and opened them, still having heard nothing from the street.

       A child sat across the room from him.

       He stared, motionless.  It was a girl, faded blue skirt, like the doll he'd stepped on earlier.  Skin withered and brown - a mummy, preserved by ash.  Her lips shriveled back to expose a set of yellowed teeth.  No eyes beneath sandy bangs.  Tiny hands rested in her lap, legs crossed, skirt too big for the shrunken body.

       She raised her head.

       Her face didn't change.  The pinched grimace stayed fixed and horrible, her sockets deep and black as they stared. 

       With rickety motions, those of a marionette, she hoisted herself to her feet, face not turning a degree from his.  Two steps forward.  Pitter-pat.  Like a curious mouse.

       The ones outside still had not moved.  They remained, watching the window.  The silence was made all the heavier by the lack of any breathing.  Garrett's own air slipped in and out of his nose as he stared at the dead girl, as quiet as he could make it, and still it sounded to him like a gale.

       The little girl's arms, thin and brown as sticks, raised themselves towards him, wrinkled palms upward.  A pleading gesture.  An invitation to play.

       The tendons in his neck almost creaked with strain as he found himself shaking his head in revolt, unable to tear his eyes from her black sockets.  His hand made its way to his belt of its own accord, finding a small cylinder.

       She cocked her head, lowering her arms. Disappointed.

       Then she leapt at him, face still frozen, fingers out like claws, pointed towards his eyes.

       He flipped his thumb, and the flare in his grip sparked to life, its yellow glow filling the empty room. He tossed it into the air and rolled to the side, thumping his head against the wall in his haste.

       But the flare did its job.  The girl tried to bat it away as she fell, but she was as dry as she looked, and the fuel on the flare's tip caught on her skirt.  In an instant she was alight, dry bones cracking like kindling, a rickety puppet crashing to the floor in a burning heap.  She made no sound.

       Garrett ran.  The dead people outside followed, but not quickly enough.  The woman was too slow, the skeleton seemingly too fragile, its jaw clacking madly as it chased.

       Garrett's feet and memory guided him, taking him down De Perin street, following the path he had traced on the map, fresh in his mind.  Adrenaline flowed freely, breath came in deep gulps as he bounded across an old drawbridge, its planks creaking beneath his feet above the black water below.  He ducked through a stone archway, flying on instinct, passing other zombies along the way.  Some groaned after him, some gave chase for a while, but he was not about to let himself get caught. 

       He hid when he needed to, when he came across groups of the dead that were too numerous to risk running past.  Low rooftops made for excellent shortcuts, especially when the destruction blocked passage along his planned route.  He checked his map once more as he passed a streetlight, one of a few still on, connected to an ancient power grid that had never been shut down.  As he sprinted past an old jeweler's store, something caught his eye amongst the ashes. A gold ring on the counter.  He couldn't resist, and pocketed it.

       He continued like this, running, hiding, looting if something shiny peeked through the gloom, until he found himself in open plaza, empty and blank, its huge flagstones leading up to -

       The cathedral. It had to be.  He stopped, and looked.  A set of towering walls, like battlements on an old castle, guarded an enormous structure beyond, its façade only slightly visible in the moonlight from where he stood.

       The air was again deathly silent.  Not the silence of a grave, for in a grave one would still be accompanied by the chewing of worms, the muffled footsteps of those above, the occasional rumble of the earth below.  It was a silence unlike any Garrett had encountered: dry, cold, brittle as finger bones.  His footsteps didn't echo as he made his way to the cathedral, but muted themselves, as though to ring too loud would invite something terrible to the space.

       He stood for a moment in the gap between the battlement walls, and looked back over his shoulder.  As haunting as this part of town was, it was also, in essence, just old, empty buildings.  Populated by the walking dead, yes, but buildings nonetheless.  This cathedral was something else.  He wasn't sure what, but it stood apart from the rest in more ways than distance or size.  That much he could feel.

       He turned back and passed between the walls.

© 2015 by Lee Seymour