Had an idea for a steam punk heist and decided to jot it down. Then I handed it to Periodically Demented, who is writing a steam punk novel, after editing, fleshing out the story and giving it more steam, I can say it is a lot better. Hope you enjoy!
Metal, timber, leather, and bone; these were the components IceWind Keep had been wrought from, with much of the Keep gouged from the wind-torn mountain it backed into. Unlike others in the Realm, this Keep was fashioned as a trading port for the goods that crested and fell on the mammoth tidal waves of the Devil’s Inlet as they made their way in the hulls of fantastic ships from Grey Magick River and the Dragon Eyes Volcanoes.
Harshly grated metal had been galvanised to the natural steps smashed out of the cliff face, and long tusks of wild Pitch boar were hammered into the water side and braced with Fire Island metal, the hardest compound known to man.
For nearly a century the Keep had been the advance staging post for trade with the Unruled, a mad collection of rogues and pirates who called no man master. They had come many times, often under the flags of trade, only to spill their devil-sent warriors onto the landing stage at the base of the stairs. Twice they had nearly breached the defences with their ingenious weaponry, forcing the Ruled to evaluate new methods of defence. A dozen attempts later, the Unruled had, it seemed, learned their lesson and had become quiet and cooperative in trade. The Ruled prospered and the Unruled meekly accepted the uneven terms of trade.
The Watch Captain walked around the Outer Fortress walls, looking out into the billowing bleakness of black rolling clouds and spray so harsh it was said too much exposure to it would grind a guard down until only a skeleton remained. Within stood the Silver Knights Bank, one of the richest banks due to the amount of debt it owned, including his and most of the Watch. It was why they all volunteered to be here. These men and women had run up debt in the Realm and the hardship pay they received in this place would shed years off decades of repayments.
The bank, too, housed enough coin to meet the foreseeable needs of trade, and while the prices they offered were criminally low, the goods they bought were still massively expensive. A bleak and pensive spirit seethed over the entire area, cruelly reminding all of the follies that had brought them to be here where, they said, arse met shit.
At the first watch post Captain Brandis ordered a report. A guard turned, looking tired and with salt-lacerated sleep in his eyes.
“Nothing to report, Captain!” he stated.
“Good,” the captain replied, gruffly, looking into the guard’s eyes again. “You weren’t sleeping, were you? You know what the bank’s policy is.”
Panic hit the guard “No! I mean, no sir, I wouldn’t sleep on the job sir!”
“Good. See to it that you don’t,” and with that he moved to the next post, and the next. To be found sleeping on duty had escalating consequences. The first time, it was a month’s pay and a week’s rations. The second time it was the loss of two fingers, the index and middle ones, meaning that an arrow could not be nocked into a bow and a blunderbuss trigger could not be pulled, rendering the guard fit only for much more lowly paid service. The third time, if there was one, would see the dead body of the guard being relentlessly smashed against the river rocks by the constantly assailing waves. Sending a disgraced guard home was no help to anyone and an expense the Keep would not carry.
“Report.” This guard was different. He looked concerned.
“Sorry sir, but I think I just saw a ship. Coming this way but it vanished sir.”
The captain looked out across the ocean. It was dark but the moon was full and the stars were bright. A ship would have been easily spotted despite the darkness.
“Vanished, you say? If you see it again, report immediately.” He turned without another word.
The tale of the PMU, the Partly Mechanised Unruled, is a long one, shot through with dread warnings and centuries-old embellishments. Long before there were Ruled and Unruled, Regent Cyanide reigned his father’s lands with a fist of steel and a penchant for poisons. It is said, but never loudly, that he poisoned his own father, weakening him. A dead King at that time of toil and vicious power was not the best outcome for the Regent, but an incapacitated one would still hold sway over the shaky power structure that was present.
Cyanide routinely experimented on the subjects of the Kingdom with varying degrees of success, if one could call it that. Many died, some lived, and all were horribly disfigured. In time, the people had been reduced to poverty, and from poverty there rose a groundswell of resentment and backlash. History shows the uprising failed, and the torn and ragged bodies of those left living were banished into the Wilds.
Many died; many didn’t. Among those who didn’t were scholars, designers, builders, dreamers, and thinkers. All of them dispossessed, and all banding together for the common weal. Less than a century later, the Unruled emerged from banishment, which had been as much self-imposed as imposed by Cyanide. They had, in that time, become partly mechanised, as much by design as necessity.
Cyanide, now in his 140th year, was taken hostage when the walls of his castle came alive and dragged him screaming into the shadows. What came back didn’t live long. His eyes had been burned out with a remarkably high degree of precision, and in their place were fitted two goggle-type eyes that hissed and whirred as he sought focus on a thing. His lungs sounded like a bellows in his chest, for that is what they were, mechanical bellows powered by the steam cart bolted into his back. Slow-working poison was fed into his nostrils via tubes that caught and filtered the natural toxins of his body. It was the perfect irony, that the Regent of Poison should die by the poisons of his own making.
Had the Unruled advanced they’d have taken control of all of the lands, but their passionate hatred had blinded them to it. They retreated into the world they had created in the Forbidden Quadrant, which they powered by the harnessing of volcanic activity and steam. Necessity is a contrary mother of invention. To adapt to their harsh environment, the PMU had to avail themselves of the technology that was itself driven by the harsh environment. Succinctly, to survive they had to mechanise themselves. Mechanisation and survival became interchangeable and vital.
The captain climbed down the steps and into the garden courtyard. He was heading for the garrison, hoping for some bread and cheese. Hopefully there would also be some cheap wine in there.
He had just about reached the door when he heard the most ungodlike sound, like a dragon’s fire or a mad man’s machine. Spinning around and readying his blade he saw it. The ship! It was smaller than a brig and made of hardwood, braided leather, and iron. What was horrifying was that it was floating above the courtyard, suspended by a large canvas balloon framed with iron. Fire shot out of its deck, filling the balloon as it rose. On its foredeck stood a man aiming some sort of mounted crossbow bigger than he himself was. He aimed it at the garrison and fired not one but several bolts per second, each arrow tearing through the stonework like it was clay. Dust engulfed the captain before tearing him apart. In his dying moment his heart filled with fear. The PMU had developed mechanical flight; the Ruled were fallen, although none but him knew it yet.
“The garrison is down!” the gun man roared as he swivelled his weapon to the defensive walls.
Behind the helm a young man in a weathered coat of leather and steel steered the ship with one hand and with the other fired a long-barrelled musket with a brass scope. It hissed and crackled as the steam that powered it was compressed and released, firing the quickly-glowing shell as it raced toward death and destruction.
“Aim for their cannons, we want a clean get away this time!” the whole ship tilted to the side as they went round the fortress, taking out anything that could slow their progress. The air filled with smoke and the smells and sounds of death and destruction.
“What do you mean this time? Last time was a success!” the gunman called back as he shredded through a watchtower.
“It cost more in repairs than we were able to steal!”
“Can’t hear you … guns too loud!” His gun wasn’t too loud and he could hear just fine. The last time: Only six months ago they had routed a flotilla of supply ships, but they had taken heavy fire and had only just managed, leaking and creaking, to make it back to a semi-friendly port. Everything they had looted from a supply ship that had wandered away from the flotilla, looking for clean air to fill its sails, had been handed over to the repairers. They had also lost two mechanical boom arms for loading heavy goods, and a cabin boy who had been born slow but had been augmented with a simple mechanical brain.
The strange airship made a thumping sound as its engines powered strong blowers that spewed thick black smoke into the air. Those blowers positioned the ship with remarkable accuracy, right above the now caved-in roof of the Bank. The captain shock his head and focused on the job. “Are you ladies ready?” He shouted through a pipe leading inside.
Deep in the bowels of the ship two women were making their final adjustments. One wore leather armour with two muskets on her chest, four on her hips, two on the small of her back, and she held a short three-barrelled shotgun in her hands.
The other was not dressed for combat as such. She was younger and covered in different colours of dust as if she had blown up an art supply stall, which might have been the case. She wore a skirt with combat boots and was busy painting a smiling face on a bomb.
“About time! Of course I’m ready,” the musket-clad woman shouted.
“Then open her up” The captain called back.
They both caught at the pulley that hoisted them up to mid-ships where another winch and pulley system was in place. Turning a wheel, the hull opened up like theatre curtains revealing the courtyard bellow. Grabbing a thick and time-knotted rope they were lowered outside the front doors to the bank’s metal-clad vault. It sat, impressive in its silence, abandoned by guards already gone or dead.
“Bombs away” the girl chirped playfully as she threw her smiling friend, the bomb, toward the entry. The explosion tore the thick doors off their hinges and the woman, Musket, ran in, shotgun in hand.
Inside men and woman clad in steel charged at her with swords and axes. Her gun blasted at them and as soon as she fired three shots she dropped the smoking and spent gun and switched to her muskets. The few remaining dropped their blades and raised their hands in surrender.
“That’s the spirit. Now I want all of you to keep your eyes on your own belly buttons. What we steal isn’t yours, mostly, so stay cool and you can live,” Musket told her hostages, as if they were having a tea party and she’d just let them in on a funny little joke.
She ordered Bomber to open the vault. Bomber happily skipped across the hall towards a heavy metal door with a padlock bigger than her head. Placing a pink bag on the lock she ignited the fuse and skipped back.
The bag burned and sprayed bright white sparks. In five seconds the lock had melted and the bank was open for business. Bomber skipped in happily, opening two empty satchels. They were soon filled to brimming with money. She scooped up as many golden Kings and Queens as she could before topping up with silver rooks and bronze knights.
By the time they ran out both bags were full of pieces and the ship dropped anchor and pulled them aboard on it.
“Did you get it?”
“Sure did, Captain!” Bomber shouted happily.
With that the captain pulled a lever to speed up the propellers while the engine blasted more hot air into the balloon. The ship soared high into the air and made for the horizon.