The End of the Beginning (and the Beginning of the End)
by Sionnan

Garrett crouched, miserable and cold against the biting autumn wind. His shoulders were shaking, and his stomach was empty and numb from lack of food. The wind swept through his thin, worn, cotton clothing, and he shivered again. Maybe today would be his good day. Through the swirl of steam from a near-by vent, he stared at the crowd, swallowing convulsively and swiveling his head to look around at the people. But that was the thing. He had never had a good day, with the exception of the time he had found an almost untouched feast in the garbage near a prominent manor.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and scanned the crowd again. A red faced, hollering fisherwoman, a couple of Ramirez's gaurds... hmm, they could be good targets. Some silver, mostly coppers, but still. They were dumb enough not to notice him. Garrett could have cared less about the fisherwoman. She had nothing on her but the smell of fish and a sour temper. But then again... He had heard the stories of torture Lord Bafford put through thiefs he caught. At least, those who got out alive.... Garrett shuddered, his stomach turned about the thought of his skin being eaten away by burrick poison. He clutched his slender hands tighter, and pulled them to his chest, rocking back and forth on the doorstep. People passed him, obscuring the laughing, half-drunk guards from view. He would let them go today. He wasn't up to running like hell from the Hammers.

As his eyes danced among the yelling, complaining, laughing, bartering crowd, he caught something out of the corner of his eye.

Garrett snapped his head over, his intelligent, mistrustful, dark eyes narroing on a certain form, right on the corner of an alley way. It hadn't moved. In fact, it had been there when he had taken up his post, and hadn't moved yet. Occasionally its head would move back and forth, searching the crowd. Looking. Waiting... Garrett shuddered at sudden, morbid thoughts that sprang to mind, and dared himself to look at him again. C'mon, Garrett, you coward of a taffer. He can't see you, so he can't hurt you.Just. Look.

Garrett turned his head slowly, blocking out the noise of the corwd, until it was a distant, unimportant roar. They didn't matter anymore. Only the man on the street side. He could actually hear the man's breathing, the gentle rustle of the black fabric that served as a cowl as it slid across his skin, almost his heart beat. With a sharp intake of breath, he abruptly snapped back to the present. The man hadn't moved. A small talent he was getting better at, blocking out everything, until he could hear like a blind man. Garrett shifted on the side walk. The temperature was dropping along with the sun.

C'mon, Garrett, pull it together. You'll freeze on the street side like a bird if you don't decide to do something. Just grab the guys pusre and run like hell.

What the hell, it was worth a try. If that man was oblivious to the rest of the world, he wouldn't notice the small, slender shadow creeping up behind him.

Garrett looked around, his breath pluming out. No one had noticed him, or seemed to care either. He pulled himself off the warm wood of the door, and stepped into the street, allowing himself to be pulled along with the diminishing crowd, until he was just behind the man. Quickly, he stepped into the shadows behind the tall, black garbed man.

Why hadn't anyone noticed him?

This thought froze Garrett in mid grab. Why? That little voice prompted. He could be dangerous. Garrett swallowed, and stared at the lean back of the tall shadow-man. He could be. Or he could be important. Or have something important. Garrett tensed, and spotted the man's purse, just swinging there, out in the open. One grab, a few twitches, and he could be enjoyng a warm loaf of bread for the week. Garrett's hand shot forward.

The man's hand shot back, grabing his wrist in a paralyzing grip. Garrett allowed a small protest of pain and surprise to escape him.


The man turned around so he could face the boy. In a voice as soft as a cats footfall, "That's not for you." The voice wasn't threatening, but stern, matter-of-fact. The man's face was half covered in shadow, showing only his lips, and just a part of the right side of his face.

Garrett had blown it. What if he was a dangerous lord, or what if he was a guard, or what if he was going to give him to the Hammers to turn him in? Panic rose in him, causing him to franticly babble, "Please, sir, I'm hungry, don't tell the Hammers, I promise-"

The man, however, in that soft voice of his, stopped him."What is your name, boy?"

Garrett realized the man had an unreal, ethereal quality about him, that suddenly and abrubtly disappered. He had control over it. Surprised, Garrett couldn't help but say, with an afternote of defiance in his voice, "Garrett."

The man stared at him, making no sign of his thoughts. Then, "You have talent, lad."

Garret, realizing he could no longer feel his fingers, though the man's bony fingers were cutting into his wrist, said tightly, with effort, "Let... go of me, old man!"

The man's grip tightened, for an instant, as if he wanted Garrett to hear, and listen to him," We have a need for those as gifted as you.To see a Kepper is not an easy thing, escpecially one who does not wish to be seen. We will show you a different path. If you grow tired of the life you lead," he paused, casting a glance at the hard faces, filthy streets, and little room, "follow me..."

Garrett spat, "Leave me alone!"

The man's face seemed infinitely resigned, and disappointed, and he released Garrett's wrist. "As you wish." He began to walk away, making his cloak sway about him in his long, strong strides."

Garrett stared after the man, regarding him with large, mistrustful eyes. He looked around him. Nothing could be worse than here. Besides, if he was getting into trouble, he could always get back out.

The man was just visible, his black standing out amoung the rest of the drab and flashy clothes, harshly contrasting. Garrett began to jog towards him, then run, frantic to catch up. The crowd seemed to suddenly want to bog him down, chaining him to a doomed life forever. "Wait! Don't go! Please! Wait!" The man's form halted, then swung around to face the struggling boy.

Garrett, who had broken free of the now royally-pissed throng, stood in front of the man, breathing hard, staring full into his face. The man, making no move stared back with knowledge Garrett couldn't even begin to know. Silence, for a few seconds, then the man nodded, turned, and began to walk again.

Several by-ways, dead-ends, and side-streets later, the man stood in front of a tarnished brass gate. It seemed like no one had inhabited the place for years, even decades. The place seemed in ruin, like a disaster had occured, a mob had run the place into the ground. Garrett looked up at the man, who seemed to be pondering them. He picked up a marble head, and set it on a pedestle, which, to Garrett's surprise sunk in.

The gates, with a slight squeal, opened.

The man took Garrett's arm, the first sign he had noticed him, and crouched to accomodate to his height. In his soft, insistent voice, "Garrett, my name is Keeper Mayar. I want you to follow me. Do not stray. Ever. I am going to show you some people, and they and I will determine your fate." Keeper Mayar took a deep breath, and looked at the broken courtyard beyond, and returned his gaze to Garrett. "Don't be frightened." He stood, and with a motion for Garrett to follow, stalked into the courtyard.

Garrett paused, and looked around, a brief glance that took in everything. He shivered, and looked at his hands. Chillblains. The Keeper had stopped, looking at him. Well, why not. At least it would be warm inside.

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