"The Journey of a Thief"
Garret never knew his parents because he never had any. He was an orphan, and from the earliest that he could remember he had been on his own. Sure, the occasionally kind-hearted soul would give a night’s rest and a full stomach, but once they found their purse a little emptier than the day prior, or that some of the silverware was missing, out the door he was again, left to fend for himself. And fend he did.
He quickly became accustomed to pick-pocketing the jolly fat butcher, or the sour-faced tailor; he even tried a hand at a passing sergeant once. A slap of the face and kick to the gut put a stop to that. Life was like this for some time, a few coins here, a few coins there, and he would find an abandoned building or empty alleyway in which to survey his small fortune. A stop by the bakery for some pastries, and the fruit stand for apples would serve as breakfast and off he was again, flowing through the crowds, happy to lighten the heavy load off many a person. But that was soon to change…
One day, he noticed a man who seemed to melt into the shadows. It was late, and the sun’s rays barely found the intensity to light the street, but Garret saw him clearly enough. No one seemed to notice as he wove through the mob, swiveling in and out, turning smoothly to avoid others, his cape trailing behind him like the mane of a galloping stallion. Thinking this must be a very pompous and wealthy nobleman indeed, Garret followed the man for a block before seeing him stop at a corner. Ducking behind a passing wagon, he scurried across the street and softly tiptoed behind him. The road was mostly empty save the wagon, and the man seemed to be staring in the distance at something. His hood covered most of his face except for the image of a stern jaw and thin lips. Garret made his way closer and closer until only a few feet separated him and his prey. His breathing was soft but a bead of sweat trickled down from his hairline, tickling the tip of his nose. Stretching out his hand, he took one more step and…
“What are you doing, boy?” The black-cloaked man whipped around and with the speed of a striking viper grabbed Garret’s outstretched hand, crushing it in an iron grip. “Most people rarely see a keeper, let alone try to cutpurse one,” he said. His voice was clear and concise, but a certain unattached coldness was obvious.
Shocked for a moment, Garret quickly came to his senses and started yanking at his restrained hand, but the man did not yield. Instead, he pulled back his hood with his free hand and said, “You may have attributes, little one, but strength is not one of them.” A small smile took form on his face and he loosened his grip on Garret, whose frantic pulls caused him to trip and fall onto his back. Dust rose from where he lay and he looked up at the man. Realizing that this man most likely meant him no harm, he decided not to bolt and find the nearest constable. Instead, he slowly got to his feet and wiped his runny nose.
“Ya not goin’ to hurt me, mister?” he said, tentatively.
The smile was now a grin and the man bent down on his haunches. “No boy, I won’t hurt you. In fact, I have a proposal for you.” Garret must have inadvertently given him a quizzical look because the man let out a chuckle. “Do you know what a keeper is, boy? No, I thought not. Well, let me enlighten you on my elusive order. I am a Keeper, a guardian of the balance, the balance between good and evil. I protect one from gaining too much weight on the Eternal Scales, for if one even slightly gains over the other, then life as we know it would not be. For one cannot exist without the other. There can be no good if there is no evil, and vice-versa. They are, in a sense, compliant pieces of a puzzle, forming the eternal battle that rages daily in worlds unseen. It is my duty, and the duty of my brothers, to protect the world in the physical realm until the Coming, which we await in earnest hope. But until that appointed time we serve our purpose faithfully, by whatever means necessary. Do you follow me boy?”
“I…I think so,” Garret said, unsure as to what all this meant. “So, what does this have to do with the proposal?”
“Everything, my boy, everything. Come, walk with me.” He stood up and without a word replaced his hood. Turning, he started to walk down the roadway.
For a moment Garret lingered, debating as to whether or not he ought to follow this man who spoke of such fantastic things. He had never given much thought too things beside his daily needs and wants. But this man had just opened a new doorway…had revealed a new realm of thought. This man had planted a seed, and now it had grown in a matter of seconds.
Wiping his noise with his dirty sleeve, he began to trail after the man. Finally, he broke into a jog as the man seemed to be leaving him behind. Eerily, when he came within ten paces, the man began to speak as if to himself, but Garret knew it was directed at him.
“So, boy, you have decided to follow a perilous path, indeed. You must forsake all ties that you have. All beliefs, opinions, and possessions that you have in this life must be thrown away, although, I suspect you have none or little in any case. You are young, younger than I was when I was approached, when I was requested to become a Keeper. But I think…” He paused and looked down at Garret who had started to hum a lively tune. “I think you may do well,” he said quietly. “Boy… boy, listen closely. I am taking you to the Heavenly Cupola of Seven, a place that acts as our sanctuary, library, living quarters, and training grounds. There you will be taught and brought up in the Way of the Guardian. Do you still wish to follow me and become a Protector?”
Garret looked up at the man he would soon know to be as Keeper Orlando. “I suppose…no harm could come of it,” he murmured.
Orlando nodded and walked faster. Time was always pressing onward and it would not wait for the faint of heart.
Twenty years after that small boy had spoken to Keeper Orlando for the first time, that boy, now a man, stood at the very spot of their chance meeting. Garret thought of the man who had become a friend and then an enemy. He sighed and lazily flicked at the lint on his sleeve. So many things had changed since then. The City was different in every way, but still, it felt the same-the old had blended with the new. The street where he had first encountered Orlando was now paved with white tile, and gas lampposts now studded the walkways. The once tired bungalows that had lined the roadway had long since been torn down, and in their place stood magnificent mansions, estates of the lords and ladies that always seemed to be growing in numbers. It appeared that the Baron had been very generous with land titles since Garret had been holed up in the Heavenly Cupola. He grimaced at the thought of that place that had stolen so many years of his life. But then, it had changed him for the better. It had given him skills that were immensely useful in the line of work he had adopted of late.
He remembered the day he arrived. As Keeper Orlando ushered him into a massive, looming building deep within the bowels of the Lost City, he pushed open large oak door carved with knights slaying dragons. It groaned heavily as Orlando shoved against it. He remembered ever so clearly the stale scent that hit him as walked inside. The air itself was stale, as if the place were a tomb that had been sealed and forgotten. Lamps held flames that danced to an unheard tune and cast images that gave Garret a nauseating of vertigo. The foyer was mostly dark and the lamps barely illuminated the cathedral ceilings that seemed to go on forever. Garret recalled staring in amazement at the architectural wonder before him. Orlando had quickly dismissed their surroundings and had prodded Garret onward toward a small, inconspicuous doorway off to their left. The feeling of awe quickly disappeared as he stepped into a study. A huge oak desk piled high with parchments, tomes, and writing utensils took up half the room, and behind it sat the most ancient person Garret had ever seen. Keeper Annals calmly placed a quill pen onto the desk and looked up at the newcomers.
“Ah, Orlando. May the heavens shine upon you. And look, you’ve brought a new recruit, eh?” The man behind the desk cackled as he looked at Garret. “Yes, you certainly have a knack for finding neophytes to fill our ever dwindling ranks.” His stern eyes passed over Garret and then back up to the man towering above him. “What is his name?” he asked.
Garret felt his heart beat faster. He always hated closed, cramped spaces.
“I do not know, your eminence,” responded Orlando. “I doubt whether he even has one. He is simply a street urchin that I caught trying to lighten my purse.”
“I see.” Annals eyes narrowed and glanced back down at Garret. “If you do not have a name, I shall give one. Ah, you’re a small chap and a dirty one at that…hmmm. A rustic name, nay, an old name will suit you. Perhaps…Sven. Yes, Sven. A scholar’s name, my boy, a scholar’s name.”
Garret blinked and clutched at the hem of his tattered coat. His mind was blank at the moment and he simply stared at Annals, wishing the old man wouldn’t look upon him so. His eyes, the color of ice, gave Garret the chills whenever he looked at him.
“Well, father, I suppose I should led him to the novices’ quarters. I’ll make sure everything will be in order, and I’ll have this boy in training on the ‘morrow.”
Annals nodded, and looked again at Garret. “I sense great things from you, boy, great things. I suppose you may play a greater part in things to come.” With a flick of the hand as a dismissal, he grabbed his quill and dipped it back into the bottle of ink, resuming his studies.
Orlando stood for a moment as if expecting something more, but no further words came from Annals. Garret heard the man exhale and then felt him grab his shoulder and lead him back out the way they had come, through the plain wooden door and back out into the foyer. And so the training began.
Orlando was a harsh instructor, never lenient and never merciful, even when Garret felt just on the verge of death. Instead, Orlando would look down upon him and shake his head, as if regretting taking this boy into his care. When Garret saw that look of disapproval, a fiery anger grew inside of him. He would force himself to stand on his own two feet and push onward, always seeking his guardian’s approval.
At first, when he heard the name given to him by Annals, he would not recognize it, but over time, he became used to his new designation. He adopted quickly the way of life at the Heavenly Cupola. Breakfast was at 5:30 sharp, where he would talk quietly with the other novices. Afterwards, he would walk over to the East Wing where the living quarters of the Elders were. Orlando would, as usual, be dressed and sitting at his writing desk, reading. Garret usually cleared his throat to announce his arrival, but Orlando would always turn as if by invisible cue, smile, and whisper a morning greeting. By unspoken agreement, they would march off to the library, Sven bowing at the passing Keepers and Orlando solemnly nodding in mutual respect towards his brothers. The library stood many leagues below the main hall of the underground sanctuary and even further below the cobblestone streets of The City. Separating both from the Great Room of Wisdom were miles upon miles of hallways and passages, many long ago abounded and the secrets that they once held lost. But the construction of several mechanical lifts, made by the Order of the Hammer, were obtained through one of Keepers front shops, an art gallery called the “Faceia.” Of course Garret never cared for art but during longs hours of practice to come he gleaned much information, some useful, but most of it nothing but talk. Whilst in the library, Orlando would place huge stacks of dusty cracked books before the ever widening eyes of Garret who by a large array of excuses managed to weasel his way out of reading them, for the time being.
Garret snapped back into an upright position as he felt something move behind him in the dark. His hand immediately went to his side, he felt the coldness of the scabbard, and the leather bound hilt of his sword. He eased back into the alleyway, away from the mouth, and let the dark night swallow him up. Closing his eyes as he flattened himself against the wall, he felt two shadows move, nay, and three. He opened his eyes, which had long ago adjusted to the dark, and began to search the rear of the alley in a zigzag pattern.
Instead of touching his sword hilt, he grabbed it and unsheathed it, carefully in not to let any light reflect off the polished blade. Placing one foot in front of the other, he made his way further down.
Silence. Then again, movement.
Garret stopped. The mortar between the bricks shoved into his spine and the wall was slick with humidity- the sea fog was moving in. Several dilhapaleted crates were stacked haphazardly to his left and mound of trash was to his right. Somewhere a cat hissed and screamed and something fell with a clang.
Suddenly, a shadow of darker shade shed itself from the wall farther down the alley, near the corner. It slowly began to walk closer towards Garret’s direction. Another shadow slunk from behind a large pipe.
Where was the third?
He felt it before he could hear it. It dropped soundlessly from the roof above, and landed with a soft thud. It’s yellows bore into Garret’s back and it brandished its talons from beneath its cloak. With a hoarse and animal-like scream, it pounced it upon Garret, and the others at the end of the alleyway cried in tandem and broke into a sprint, eager to join in the kill.
Garret drew his sword and with a graceful flourish of his cape, enacted the right of Kar’a’con, the Dance of Death…
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