"Keeping the Balance"
by LythNight.

Janus was running scared. Night had just fallen on the streets of The City, and he had attempted a quick theft. A simple smash and grab operation it had been, just enough to steal some burrick meat for his family.
His wife had ran away a long year ago, needing more then what Janus had to offer. Him losing his less then profitable job as a clerk in one of the old noble manors had been the last straw for her. So Janus did what he had to to provide for his two children, often doing jobs (usually as the lookout) for the more accomplished gangs in the city, and taking barely enough money home to the slums to feed his children, as he usually went hungry. As The City had rejected him for labor, and Paganisim became more dangerous daily under the newly appointed Sheriff Mosely and the rise of the Hammerites, a life of crime was his only recourse.

That night, however, he was unable to find a job, and his children hadn't eaten in over 2 days, his oldest, Aliena, had recently turned 8, and Jorge, his young son, had become ill along with becoming 6. So he had attempted to steal a few scraps of mutton from the Aging Burrick, the local deli. The job had gone smoothly enough, and he had recovered his prize after a brief moment or two of entry (through the front window) when he was seen making his exit. And, as a testament to his horrid luck, the crime had been witnessed by none other then a local hammerite patrol of four soldiers.

After the fall of Karras, which many said was due to the God Garrett, the then Lieutenant Mosely made it well known how close all had came to complete destruction at the hands of the Mechanists and the Servants. The working class of The City, enraged by their near-liquidation, blamed both the nobles and the Mechanists. They said the nobles of The City had betrayed the people out of greed and selfishness, wishing for the newest mechanical bauble out of Karras' forge. And the Mechanists had used the money for the mechanical beasts and horrible weapons. The popular belief held by nearly all the working class (yet started by some of the more ignorant of the class) was that the Mechanists and the nobles were in league to create terrible weapons of destruction to force the people to become slaves. The discovery of what the Servants were, and where all the poor and "street people" went, did much to cause further uproar. They formed small fighting groups of minutemen and led attacks agai nst the manors and Mechani

The Hammerites, not being ignorant of the turning of the tides, began forming small war parties and appearing whenever the riots broke out, on the side of the people. The appearance of the Hammerites raised their opinions in the eyes of the people, who now began to see them as benevolent heroes and "saviors of freedom" as some proclaimed. The Hammerite membership rose to heights that they had never reached before, as thousands of the young men of the city rallied to the Hammer cause. Thus, in one year, the Mechanists were all but wiped out, the nobles were reduced to figures with nearly no power, and the Order of the Hammer became more powerful then ever. This meant great things for the Order, and very bad things for those in Janus' position.

So the appearance of a small team of four Hammers was not much of a suprise to Janus, despite being an appearance that he knew foreshadowed his bloody death. Any other time in his life, and Janus could have easily outran the four Hammers in full armor chasing him down, but over a year of malnutrition and near-starvation, and he knew he would fall soon. Running through the back-alleys and side-streets of one of the poorer slums of The City, he began to realize the painful fact that he was going to die.

High above what was to be the end-point of the chase, on a rooftop overlooking a dimly lit back-alley, a young Keeper waited. Named Lyth, he had been a member of the order since 4, and had only been allowed to go outside the Keeper libraries and training grounds for observation runs for the past month. And, aged 17, he had learned more in the past month about the true brutality of The City then in all the rest of his life. He had been told when he began that the reason that all Keepers spent there 17th year observing sights as this was to breed cynicisim, coldness, and a lack of care. This was to enable Keepers to be able to make decisions devoid of emotion, and to breed the ability of reacting to things without bias. This was the most effective way to prevent Keepers from going rogue. And so Lyth was forced to spend his days reading about the things yet to come, and to go out nights and witness them. Janus' death had been prophesized, his children were to die later on; Jorge was to die of sickness

Now as the sounds of the chase became louder, Lyth sighed to himself, a fleeting taste of depression and sadness for the children who were doomed to die by this man's selfless act; muttering to himself, "...why can't we at least save the children..."

"Because it is not to be."

Lyth permitted himself a glance backwards, and reassuring himself that the voice had only come from his master, resumed his vigil. At all times during observation runs a novice Keeper was watched my an Eldar Keeper, who the novice would not recognize. This was a practice started after Garrett abandoned the Order and vanished.

Now, seeing the emotion beginning to flourish inside Lyth, Keeper Mayar felt obligated to remind Lyth of his tenants, and possibly help the youth understand better.

"I understand why Janus must die, but must the children suffer as well? what is the use of all this information if we may never use it when it matters?"

Keeper Mayar, chilled for a moment by these familiar sentiments, thought for a moment, and answered, "We have, many times. If not for our intervention, The City and all who inhabit it would have been wiped out numerous times. If I may remind you of our salvation of Garrett and our manipulation of him to halt the Trickster's plans?" His voice, already with a deep quality of age, became deeper, and seemingly angry for a moment, at the mention of Garrett.

"Yes, I understand that, but it still seems so....cruel...."

"It did to me too, once. However I have come to understand that changing the destiny of these people, these street people of no consequence, merely dilutes the prophecies we embrace. In saving this man and his children, we may make wrong the prophecies we live by, and if they become incorrect, we will not be able to change destiny when it needs to be, as when a member of the Order of the Hammer will soon adversely affect the Balance. We will lose our ability to intervene with any accuracy."

"Look upon these observation runs not as signs of hopelessness, but as teaching guides. Learn from them that there is a natural balance, and that it will be your solemn duty as a Keeper, to uphold that Balance."

With that, Keeper Mayar dissappeared from Lyth's view and sense, allowing Lyth to focus on the upcoming tragedy.

With a loud crash, Jonas hit the ground. Unable to do more then take shallow breaths, he relaxed on the hard dirt ground on what he knew to be his last moments alive. His senses sharpened, and he became fully aware of where he was. A back-alley, the middle of it. The only illumination came from a street light at the end of the alley, some 50 yards away bathing the alley in a dim, errie light. No people were in sight, and all was silence. For a brief moment, he remembered Aliena's deep green eyes, the widest he had ever seen, and Jorge's laugh, which could make him smile even at the thought of starvation.

The Hammers were now there, laughing and taunting the frail figure before them, crumpled into a pathetic gasping heap. Raising there war hammers, they were just begginning to beat him when the street light went out accompanied by the sound of a small splash. Halting for a brief moment, the smaller of the four Hammers voulentered to go re-light the street light as the other 3 beat Janus to death. As soon as the retreating Hammer was out of sight, something happened.

A shadow, moving faster then any normal eye could move, ran a tight circle around the three Hammers. A sharp shling sound was heard right before the run, and during the run a thump was also heard. All Janus was aware of at this point was sounds, but he was very confused as to why he was not dead yet. A sleight gasp was the last sound he heard, and 3 loud thumps before the street light came back on. All in all, the whole thing had lasted about 5 seconds. The phantom-shadow had vanished, and a deep red stain had splashed over Janus's ragged tunic. Looking around, he then noticed that all 3 Hammerites were lying on the ground, 2 with slit throats, and one apparently knocked out. The first Hammerite returned, and seeing his friends maimed and killed, and being sleightly a coward (as he had only been in the Order for 2 months), he shouted a quick oath of vengance, turned, and ran.

Lyth thought he was dreaming, or at least hallucinating. "Could a prophecized event such as this actually be averted?", he thought. Looking about, he could now get no trace of where his master was. He was on new territory, and, lacking sufficent orders, did what he was originally trained to do, and observed. As he did so, he wondered "Could that have been He who walks unseen, the Master Thief, the X Factor, The One? His movements were never accurately prophecized, and it was rumored that he was the only one in The City who could change the destiny of himself and those around him. His intervention was not only what made the prophecies wrong, but made him a God in the eye of the populace, and made him well hated my the senior Keepers. Could that really have been Garrett?"

Janus was alone. Looking about, he couldn't see anyone now. He wondered who had just killed the Hammerites? Probably a Master with no love lost for the Hammers.Good for him. He smiled to himself, imagining how happy his children would be at the sight of all this meat, after a diet of old bread for so long. He had been saved, and Master Builder bless his Savior. Janus collected up the fallen scraps of mutton, and collecting them in his shirt which he used as a bag of sorts, began for home.

Seconds later, before Janus had even taken one step homeward, a small arrow, not much more then a cross-bow dart and painted a night black, cut a fatal hole through his chest and into his heart, killing him almost instantly and condemning his children. Before he fell to the ground, he remembered Aliena's wide, green eyes, and Jorge's boyish, gleeful laugh.

Lyth was heartbroken, seeing redemption and salvation snatched out of this man's hands, just as he grasped them. Looking all around, after a moment he was able to see a silouette, darker then the sky surrounding it. The figure was his master.

Keeper Mayar knew he need not worry for young Lyth, already another senior Keeper had arrived and was watching him. Mayar unstrung his short-bow, and without as much as a backward glance, began hunting for the next intervention of Garrett he would have to undo to preserve the Balance.

Go back to Library of Short Tales