"The Keepers’ Secret"
by Andrew Vecchiarelli
Garrett… Garrett… It’s always about Garrett. Sometimes it’s all people talk about. The only reason he’s so good though is because he was trained by The Keepers. I should know - I used to be one. A voice that was only heard when it wanted to be. I was never seen; the shadow was my escape, my home, and my life. But just like the shadow, my life was cold and dark. It gets lonely living in a world where no one can see you even when you want them to. Many of my fellow Keepers thought Garrett a fool to turn back to his thievery after his training. In many ways I now think that was his smartest decision. Keepers aren’t just trained to live in shadow, they’re taught to believe it’s the only place they belong. Much like the Mechanist, and the Hammers before them, these religions are nothing more than a brainwashed cult. But as much as I hate it now, I also miss the days when I lived unnoticed. Life was simpler.
Life isn’t so easy anymore, not like it was, and it all changed because of a girl. There are times when females can be more dangerous than a herd of Burricks, and more deadly than a room full of Rust Gas. The thing about it is, regardless of all that, I couldn’t help myself. It all began in a castle, cold and dark like the shadows - like my life. With few torches to light the hallways and even fewer guards, I crept along searching for a lost book. I had insisted and volunteered for this after many appeals. It was a misplaced scripture of our order, lost in a temple, forgotten by time. It was found by sheer luck and wouldn’t have been appreciated by its new owner, Lady Van Vernon. It is so strange that an object of The Keepers is also the reason I was torn away from them. In the background I could hear the rumble of thunder not far away. A quick flash of lightning lit the hallways, but still I remained hidden from the light. I could hear a guard in the next room, startled by the sudden storm. “What was that? Oh, just a rat I guess. They get scared during lightning storms. Lucky for me I have a blade to keep me safe.”
The blithering idiot kept rambling on to himself. He must have been really frightened. His words tried to calm his nerves, but instead they just made him more anxious. It made no difference to me however. I opened the door slowly but the rusted hinges creaked. It made enough noise to get the frightened swordsman’s attention. Ducking further into shadow, he kicked the door open and began scanning the hallway. I grabbed a nearby stone and tossed it to the other end of the corridor. He chased after the noise as I ran into the now-unguarded room. Licking my fingers I extinguished a circular gas-lit torch. Water Arrows are for amateurs. I was just outside the library. I could see the rows of books beyond the double French doors. I didn’t bother with picking the locks. I took out my thin razor and slid the blade in-between the two doors. They opened effortlessly. I quietly closed them as the guard returned to his post and turned the torch back on. He grumbled something under his breath but I didn’t stay to hear it, I had something more important to take care of. It was then that the rain began to fall. It was a violent storm, the kind you only experience once in your lifetime. The streets were flooding, water bubbling through the sewer system that couldn’t take its overflow. Surely some higher power was crying to cause such devastation.
The library was divided into two floors, each covered in tile. The wall adjacent to me was composed mostly of windows. Most thieves would have ran to the top, grabbed the book and head out the fire escape through an open window. Being a Keeper however, I wasn’t in a great hurry, but I also expected this room to be empty. Perhaps it is my assumptions to be blamed for all this, but on the second floor where the book rested was her. Lady Van Vernon had hired this woman to study her book and unlock the secrets within it. I hadn’t counted on that and she spotted me. She was startled at first, a combination of the low light and the sadistic storm. She was seconds away from screaming but instead she spoke, “You’re the owner of this book, aren’t you?” Her voice was calm and the statement surprised me.
“How do you know I’m not just here to steal it?”
“The symbols in this book are similar to those on your clothing. If you are not the owner, you at least are here to bring this back to its rightful place.”
She was smart. Unlike all the tavern whores and mindless servants that would do anything for gear-like coins or a purse of gold, she was more concerned about knowledge. I told her bluntly because I knew of no other way to say it, “Give me the book.”
She hesitated to answer. I knew all she had to do was scream, she knew it too, but still our conversation continued. “I’m not done with it yet,” she finally replied.
“My apologies madam, but I have no time for games. I am enjoying our conversation but I really must be going.” I ascended up the stairs.
She rose from her chair and grasped the book in her hands, “No!” She shouted sternly. But her outburst of confidence grabbed the attention of the guard. He saw the two of us through the door’s windows. Immediately he yelled for help and fumbled for the key to gain entry to the library. I ran to the top of the stairs and stole the book from her hands. I always have a back-up plan if things get out of hand, and this situation was out of reach. I picked up the woman’s chair and hurled it at the wall of windows. The entire pane of glass cracked and the chair fell the four stories to the street below. I readied my bow and embedded an arrow deep into the wooden frame. The harden shaft uncoiled into a long cord of rope. I looked over at the young woman, approximately my age, but an innocent child to the world around her. “Will Lady Van Vernon blame you if the guards don’t get the book back?”
Dread washed over her face. She never thought that she could be held accountable for this and I couldn’t let that happen to someone so worldly. She stared toward the double doors as they burst open, archers readying their arrows. I grabbed her and jumped. I didn’t even think about it, that action wasn’t a reflex - it was an urge.
We slid down the rope, the friction burning my hand and her fingernails digging into my arm. Hanging onto the rope for utter survival, the archers tried to skewer us from above. Kicking at the window in front of us, the glass began to chip then crack, but this material seemed to be stronger than most glass. Either that or I was panicking more than I was thinking. The knights shooting at us from above finally grew a brain cell and began cutting at the arrow of rope lodged in the window frame. Falling all the way to the ground didn’t seem appealing to me at the time, so in a last desperate act I placed both legs against the window and pushed. We swung into the air and broke through landing on the hard stone surface. The rope went limp as the end was cut from above. My female companion had suffered an injury to the head in our fall. She was dazed and unable to stand upright for very long. The house security was making their way down to our crash site and I had no knowledge of our surroundings. I grabbed the dazed woman and held her close to me in a dark corner; the book was the only thing separating us. Using my cloak and the shadows as cover we waited there for over an hour until the guards gave up their search.
Of all times, it was daybreak by the time we were able to leave Lady Van Vernon’s home. The change between nightshift and dayshift was sloppy leaving many open doors and unnoticed hallways. My new friend had passed out partly from her injury and partly from her lack of sleep. It’s not easy navigating the streets of Dayport with an unconscious woman in your arms. Since the sewers were flooded I stuck to the alleys and the shadows until I finally stumbled back to my loft. I always believed in Lady Luck, but once I got home I realized that lady was just a hooker and I didn’t have any gold. The sheriff’s men were searching the place, not that they’d find much. I had the book with me, but the greater question remained - How did they know where to find me? The only person who could identify me was passed out in my arms and it’s not like she had the time to leave a quick message for the City Watch. The rest of my brethren were across town and there was no way I could reach them without being seen carrying a woman. The Keepers may train you well, but they don’t train you for this. Noon was quickly approaching and my companion needed a place to rest and eat.
Casting aside all better judgment, I left her in a dark alleyway as I checked out a couple of nearby houses. One was completely deserted three buildings down. I returned to the alley, picked up the woman and casually walked to the new hideout. The air was stale and fowl inside. I placed her on a bed in one of the second floor rooms and investigated the smell. The house seemed eerily bare and upon searching the cellar I realized why. I found two bodies laying there, the result of a botched robbery. This new safe house wasn’t that safe at all. I took some food from the kitchen and returned to the side of the young woman. Tending to her bruise with a damp cloth and a bowl mixed with water and alcohol, her complexion turned from pale back to coloured. After feasting on stale bread and warm wine she went back to sleep as I finally opened the book that caused all this trouble in the first place.
I didn’t get much reading done because the book didn’t seem to make sense. Something seemed to be missing from it. I didn’t sleep either because I was very on-edge. For every creak and sound that I heard I jumped to my feet and prepared to fight. It wasn’t that I was afraid for my own safety however. I was worried about my injured friend whose name I didn’t know. It is a peculiar feeling to have concern for another after living the life I have, and even odder when the concern is for a stranger. As much as I wish I could deny it - I brought her into this and she’s my responsibility. As if she could hear my thoughts her eyes opened and she looked at me. The gaze was that of total confusion, like she hoped everything that occurred had been one giant nightmare. She didn’t have to tell me, I knew. I was thinking the same thing. I spoke first, partly because she was silent and partly because I felt obligated, “How are you feeling?”
“It feels like a cross between falling out of a building and crashing through a window.” Her face was straight when she said it but I laughed - it was cute. After everything that had been happening it felt good to cut the tension, at least for a moment. “So where do we go from here?” she asked.
“How about we start with introductions. My name is Lanford and I’m a member of The Keepers.”
“Kristyn,” she announced extending her hand. I took it in mine. Oddly it felt comforting to finally know who I was protecting all this time. “Dayport Public Library specializing in ancient mythology and languages. Now I’m almost afraid to ask, what’s the next step?”
“Well, I like long strolls in the artificial light.” This time it was her turn to laugh but just as quickly as her smile appeared it faded. Someone was knocking on the front door, and by the sound of it, they weren’t selling cookies. The City Watch must have been doing a check of all the buildings on the block, too bad that they’d find this one empty. Grabbing nothing but the old book, we headed out of the house via the rooftops. It didn’t take long for the sheriff’s finest to lose our scent. We were on the other side of the city within an hour and no one had seen or heard us. Kristyn may not have been a Keeper, but she could have been a great one.
I left my newfound friend on her own for a while. She took up a temporary residence in a greenhouse atop one of the larger buildings. I left the book with her as I paid a visit to my brethren. They had expected my return much earlier, but there was something different about their behavior - something insincere. They all spoke words of worry, but it seemed to be just that, nothing more than words. As soon as I could get alone I headed to our library. The history here was one that mankind would never know. Information only a select few would ever see, and even then, not all of it would be truly appreciated. I scanned the shelves searching for one volume in particular. I don’t know if I spent hours or days looking for it, but my tireless search was over. The book I pull out was almost exactly like the one Kristyn had in her possession. I read several passages, the paragraphs making no practical sense. I took the book with me and just as I was about to leave one of my fellow Keepers caught up with me. “You know not of the power you hold in your hands Lanford.”
I turned and faced him, “And what would you know of it my friend Cain?”
“I know that some information is better left unknown. What you carry is such an example. Society isn’t ready for this.”
“Tell me… would you sacrifice me in order to keep this knowledge hidden? I could tell by reading it, the volumes are codependent on each other. The passages and sentences skip between books. Are you so afraid of what is contained in here that you would lead the City Watch to my own home?” I had no proof that Cain had led them to my loft, but there was something about his eyes, the combination of guilt and resentment, that guided me to such a conclusion.
He tried to ignore my accusation, but even the shadows couldn’t hide his guilt. Avoiding the issue he continued, “Have you never considered they were written in such a way for a reason? Now you’ve dragged that girl into this as well.” Cain shook his head in disapproval. “You were so much smarter than this.” Although his comment should have been disheartening, it wasn’t. They were just words. “Tell me where the other book is and we can forget all of this ever happened.”
“No,” I answered him. “I want to know what’s locked inside these two volumes. Information shouldn’t be feared just because society isn’t ready for it. Who are we to decide whether they are or not?”
“We are The Keepers! That is our duty.”
“It may have been… before, I’m not too sure about the past anymore. I am sure about the present however, and from what I’ve seen, we’ve taken a duty upon ourselves that we’ve had no right to take.”
“The information in the books that we keep safe is not something everyone should have access to. You took an oath - will you turn your back on it now?”
“Oddly enough, I don’t believe it anymore. It’s nothing more than text on a page… nothing more than words.” I turned my back to Cain and left the presence of the Keepers, never to return.
Kristyn and I fled town, finally residing in a major metropolis. It didn’t take the two of us long to determine what Cain and the rest of The Keepers were trying to keep hidden, and in retrospect, he may be right, society isn’t ready for this, but if they don’t learn now they may never be ready. I know I’m not ready to believe that the Earth circles the Sun. Of all the things I do know however, when I come across a shadow I make sure to avoid it.
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