The moon shined brightly on the dew-kissed streets of The City. Stars winked mischievously to each other, like they had a secret that was too good to keep to themselves. Balmy breezes stirred up little pieces of paper on the streets and carried the scents of meat pies and berry pastries with them. Nearby, a bird chirped sleepily to itself, and another answered softly. Under an archway, a guard hummed a jaunty tune and shifted his weight from one foot to another. He paused in mid-song to yawn hugely, making a valiant effort to stay awake and alert. Unfortunately for him, that yawn was the precise moment that a shadow separated from a dark corner and materialized into a blackjack wielding man, who took the opportunity to see to it that this particular guard would never get a promotion.
I stifled a straining grunt as I lifted the rather large man over my shoulder to be carried off into the shadows. Nights like this, when the full moon was smiling serenely down on all, was my least favorite time to work. But, work I had to do. The rent was due tomorrow, and I had received few chances to get some extra income. And, tonight was the only night that Lord Jervis was going to be away, visiting a cousin in a nearby province. Rumor had it that Lord Jervis was seeking to take his cousinís estate away, under some trifling legality. The Lord most likely wanted to see if the legal expenses would be worth the effort. Not that I cared a copperís worth. The point of the matter was that Lord Jervis had taken several of his chief guards, and the place would be rather easy to break into. I set the manís body gently down on the cobblestones. ďSorry, itís nothing personal. Just business.Ē
I turned back to the entrance that the guard was looking after. It was a simple task to pick the locks on the door, and I was inside the kitchen. It was a large one, with one huge fire blazing in a center stove, but the light was casting to the other side of the room, making the side that I was on in complete shadow. A dumbwaiter was in the corner next to me, and when I consulted my map, saw that it led directly up to the master chambers, where no doubt lots of expensive trinkets will be begging to find a new owner. Ah, this will be easyÖ I smiled to myself, padded over to the dumbwaiter, and proceeded to line my loot bag.
I left my fence with enough money to last myself until next week, if I was careful with my supplies. Not bad for a nightís workÖ I congratulated myself and began working my way back to my apartment. As I passed a tinkling water fountain, a stray cat cried softly to itself and rustled through some trash. I passed it, and it blinked at me owlishly before jumping down to melt into the shadows. I had kept a pet when I was a boy. Well, more likely the dog had just wanted the scraps of food I would spare for it, but I liked to think that the dog had held some sort of affection for me. I had adopted the mutt shortly after I lost my mother to the chest cough, and was aching for someone to hold onto. It sickens me now to think of myself so dependent on the touch of another, even a dog. But, I supposed it couldnít be helped, I was only a boy. Then the Keepers found me, and took me away. Needless to say, I never saw the dog again. But, the Keepers taught me what they called the Ďessence of balanceí. Never lean on another and you wonít expect them to be there if you fall. It was a simple rule, and I lived my life by it. Of course, I still had my brief flings, but they never became serious, I saw to that. I didnít need some woman to cloud my judgement, to make me hesitate in a potentially dangerous situation. And most of all, I didnít need someone that could be used against me.
Steps on the cobblestones up ahead made me automatically crouch into a nearby shadow. It wasnít as dark as I would have liked, but it would do in this situation. I was in full thieving garb, and I didnít need some good citizen to make life difficult for me. The footsteps came closer and I saw that they belonged to a young man and woman, lovers, if I was any judge. They held each other close, although with the warm night it was hardly necessary, and every once and a while, the man would stroke the girlís hair gently. No words passed between them and they didnít seem needed, as if what they felt and thought were communicated only by the sweet touch of their hands.
I felt nothing but scorn for them. The young man had a purse attached to his belt, not very full, but it jingled slightly, half full with coins, by what I could see. The two were so immersed in each other that I could probably walk right up, calmly take the purse from his belt, and stroll away, whistling a happy tune, and they would hardly blink. The only thing that stopped me from doing just that was the fact that I really didnít like stealing from the commoners. Noblemen are my targets, and I didnít like stooping back to the pickpocket I once was.
They stopped by the fountain and sat down on its edge. I swore softly to myself. There was absolutely no way I could get by now, not without being seen, and they would no doubt wonder exactly what I had been doing, crouched in the shadows, with a bow and a sword. Ah well, there was nothing to do but wait the mushiness out.
The two young lovers began whispering soft sweet phrases to each other, and I leaned back on the building I was crouched against. Ah, hell. Iím probably going to be here for a while. If they arenít done making doe eyes at each other within ten minutes, Iím making a break for it. The man touched the girlís face gently and tilted her head up to his, making some comment about how the stars were reflected from her blue eyes. I closed my eyes briefly as the scene stirred up unwanted memories from my past. Sylphie had been one of the top students at the Keeperís citadel, right along there with me. A young man of about seventeen, I had foolishly believed myself to be in love with her, something the Keepers soon rectified. They had said that the punishment for showing such emotion was for my own good butÖ
I quickly pushed those thoughts away. That was in the past. There was no need to think about it now. It just proved how feelings got you in trouble. The man cupped the girlís face with his hands and touched his lips to hers. Seeing my moment, I silently crept away to the next alley, where they could no longer see me and I was safe. A mental image of the two kissing flitted through my head and I felt a brief and surprising pang of jealousy. Why must I be cursed with only shadows? Why canít I find someoneÖ? Why must I beÖ aloneÖ? The thoughts came unbidden and stubbornly shoved themselves through my barriers until I felt an almost overwhelming sense of loneliness. The force of it was so great I gasped and stopped to lean against a building. The cold stone touched my shoulder and crept its way to my skin, making me shiver, despite the warm night. I stood, struggling with this emotion for a few moments, before wrestling it to the back of my mind. I didnít need this. I didnít need these sentiments. I didnít need anyone. People are only tethers that keep you from going free. They keep you imprisoned with their sentiments and prevent you from achieving balance. When you have severed the ties that bind, then, and only then, will you be free to observe and keep the scales equal. I called up the old teachings of the Keepers. The education of my youth calmed the rebellious emotions warring inside me until I was able to shut them away. Taking a couple of steps, I walked into the darkness, the shadows wrapping around me, enveloping me in a comforting embrace. I am one with the shadows. I need no one.
Lead me into the shadows once again.
Where you lead I cannot be afraid,
For with you I shall come home again -
In your arms I shall not fear the night.
Shadow-Lover, lead me into the light.
-- The Shadow-Lover from Magicís Price by Mercedes Lackey.
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