Shadows

| Part One | Part 2 | Part Three | Part Four |

By: The Raven, 2004

E-mail: nerocorvo@f-m.fm

Rating: NC 17, though I do not believe in rating things, however just to be on the safe side.

Feedback: I'd love some, be it good, or bad, or ugly...

Distribution: Ask me, we'll talk it over and see what we can work out.

Copyright Notice: This entire text and its content, is the sole property of the author, hereby known as The Raven. It is a completely original piece of work and cannot be copied, reproduced or distributed without the prior written consent of the author.

Beta reading: Nope, it has not received any, needs work on grammar, interested? Contact me, we'll talk...

Note: Paragraphs surrounded by *** denote a flashback to something in the past...


Part One

The night had so far been bitterly cold and windy, not the sort of evening for anyone to be wandering around. All sane creatures would be inside, warm and protected, all sane ones that is. However, even the cold and unfriendly night harbored denizens, regular inhabitants, and less than sane creatures. In this night, a lone woman walked, hurrying to get home to warmth and safety. Shivering in the cold embrace of the city she hoped that no one accosted her and that she would indeed arrive soon at her destination. It was not to be, not this night, not this time...

Out of the darkness, a shadow loomed, menacing her, causing a shiver of dread to fill her already cold body. The woman was not incapable, but here in the dark city, what could she really do? The shadow was joined by a half dozen other ones, making the woman feel even more afraid. This did not promise good... What happened next was obscured by the darkness, the falling sleet and shock. Another shadow seemed to join the group of menacing figures and the women thought she saw the glittering edge of a long blade, but before she could confirm that, she felt her consciousness leave her slightly, forcing her to sit down on the filthy street and close her eyes, regardless of what would happen next.

She was a Doctor, she knew what could happen if she fell, what might happen after that was up to fate now. Moments passed like hours and all of a sudden the woman felt someone touch her lightly and heard a low whisper.

"Come, we must leave here, it is not safe. I will take you somewhere dry and secure. Trust me, I mean you no harm..."

Opening her eyes, the woman saw a figure shadowed by dark clothes and the night, but something in the tone told her that the shadow meant her no harm. Rising stiffly, she followed the shadow into the alleyway, aware of just how cold and sore she now was. The journey to where they were going seemed to blend into nothing, and before she knew it, she was standing in front of a door that looked like it has not been opened for a century. A key appeared in the hand of her benefactor and fit itself into a lock hidden behind a lose brick in the wall.

The woman was led into a dry and warm space that smelled of wood and candle wax. The shadow locked the door and in moments had lit a score of candles around the space, revealing an open space with a loft, filled with carpets and cushions, blankets and candles.

"Come, we must find you dry clothing of you will become ill."

The shadow said as it moved, seeming to blend into the flickering candlelight. Moments later, she was shown to a portioned off area, that contained a sink and a toilet and was given a set of sweats to put on and a towel to tidy herself up with. The woman did as she was told and soon found her mysterious benefactor hanging her clothes up to dry in the room and as the shivering woman was seated amongst blankets and cushions with a cup of hot spiced wine in her hands.

Her rescuer had removed outer garments that appeared to be made of water repellent black wool to reveal what looked like chain mail over dark gray inner garments. It was however a little too dark and the person moved just outside of the circles of light thrown by the candles, obviously wanting to remain anonymous. Finding her voice finally the woman spoke.

"Thank you for your kindness and for saving me from a terrible fate."

Her own voice was now lubricated by the hot wine, so it sounded steady to her own ears. The stranger stepped into the light, revealing at last her chain mail encased form and a face that revealed nothing, except fine breeding and excellent nutrition. It was a woman, a beautiful woman at that... The rescued woman managed to then say.

"My name is Marianne."

The dark woman moved closer to Marianne, revealing more of herself, Marianne could see dagger handles protruding from her soft leather boots and the chain mail seemed to hug her body completely. It was made from a dull metal, that did not seem to gleam much at all.

"I am The Watcher to those who know me in this form."

The voice was smooth and slightly accented.

"Not many know of me, or of this place, the price for saving you is that you do not tell anyone of me or of this place. The price of revealing me, is death. otherwise, you may now consider yourself to be under my protection."

There was no emotion in the voice of The Watcher, it was very matter of fact. An hour later, the woman was guided to a street she knew and told to go home, and as she walked, she realised that she would not be able to recall where she had been or the woman to any great detail, even if she wanted to. Morning came eventually, and Marianne woke in her own bed with the memories of the previous night very hazy in her mind. Aside from some dry cleaning that needed to be done, nothing else seemed to suggest that she had even experienced what she thought she had.

Thankfully the day was clear and bright, with a layer of ice and snow covering the landscape. Marianne got ready to go to work carefully, taking time to pack her pepper spray and kubaton key chain, not that either would do her much good against a determined attacker, but it was all she had. That and some very basic courses in their use and personal safety.

Opening the front door to her house, she became aware of something hanging off the inside door handle. It was metal chain, reminding her of the metal that her guardian's chain mail had been made of, the woman examined the ball chain, it was then that she became aware of the small note stuck to her door. She picked it up and read it.

'Marianne, wear this on your dominant wrist. TW.'

As she read the note, she noticed the text start to fade and the paper start to disintegrate, obviously designed to have a maximum lifespan when fully exposed to light. Marianne did not question how the objects had gotten into her home, instead she put the chain on and noticed that it was very light and immediately body temperature. She forgot about its presence almost immediately and went to work.

Marianne was a doctor by profession so her days were filled with her duties at hospital, she was so busy in fact, that she forgot all about The Watcher until she was ready to leave in the evening. She entered her office, to find an elegantly dressed woman waiting for her. Her assistant had said that the woman's name was Professor T. Walker and she had been waiting about 3 minutes. Marianne looked at the woman, who was dressed in shades of black and gray and whose short, almost black hair cut into a simple, yet disarming style.

The woman turned to greet her, when Marianne found herself captivated by coal black eyes staring out of lightly tanned skin. The woman wore no makeup, and did not need to, only a gray metal ring graced each of her hands and a simple nondescript digital watch was at her wrist.

"How do you do Professor Walker?"

Marianne said by way of greeting, finding herself drawn into the magical eyes. The woman smiled slightly.

"I am well Doctor, you?".

With pleasantries over with, the women sat down to talk. It was only then that Marianne realised that she was talking to The Watcher.

"I came to show you that I am not a ghost Marianne, also, I wanted to provide you with some information. You must guard yourself against the night. Here are the numbers to three of my students, each will teach you something you need to know. Three hours a week Marianne, not a large price to pay for your safety. My eyes aren't everywhere at once."

Marianne took the card and said her thanks before asking:

"What do you do?".

The black panther like woman paused for a moment before answering:

"I teach History and Linguistics, and run a chain of Martial Arts Schools in the country, or rather students of mine do. They are invitation only schools, and only I issue the invitations."

With those words, professor Walker rose and put her coat on, allowing Marianne to see its chain mail lining.

"We will meet again Doctor"

The Professor said before leaving as quickly as she had come. Marianne went home and looked at the card. There were three phone numbers on it and three first names, or what looked like first names. Deciding to follow the instructions, she called the first number. A smooth female voice answered:

"This is Morgan."

"Professor Walker gave me your number..."

Marianne begun and was quickly interrupted by the woman called Morgan.

"I see, would Tuesday at 7 pm be a good time for your lesson? If so, come to this address, your safety is guaranteed. Bring some sweats and running shoes."

Marianne agreed, and then called the next number, the same procedure happened with each number, and soon she was booked. It was Tuesday tomorrow she realised, and quickly packed a bag with sweats, a towel, running shoes and socks and a bottle of water. Each teacher had told her to bring the same thing, which made it easy to remember and pack. The next evening came quickly and Marianne found herself outside a brick building with a door, which was quickly answered by a striking looking woman wearing a black martial arts uniform.

"I am Morgan, welcome Marianne."

They shook hands, and Marianne saw a bracelet identical to her own on the woman's wrist. Inside was a gym with a padded floor and a myriad of martial arts equipment on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.

"Your training will start today. There is no contract, just the condition that you obey and do everything that is asked of you. In return you will get results like you never imagined and a student GI to wear. The GI will suffice for the 2 other places you go to as well, one will give you martial arts shows and the other will provide you with sparring equipment. I am here to condition you and teach you weapons and self defense. Alex will teach you strength and flexibility, and Taylor will teach you boxing, sparring, and street fighting. ready?"

Morgan looked at her new student with interest. The Watcher only rarely gave out the bracelet, it meant that the person would be trained to become one of them. This woman, Marianne was a highly trained Doctor professionally and an Artist in her free time. Morgan also knew that she was a person of some means and influence, but that would not have mattered to The Watcher, there was something else, some other potential that The Watcher saw, and they, along with others, would be the ones to begin bringing it forth. In a suitable amount of time, The Watcher would advance the woman's training, but now was the time to break her in.

Over the next month Marianne found herself being worked harder during her 3 hours of formal training a week than she had ever worked before, and her instructors gave her home works, sit ups, push ups, exercises and stretches, running and mental exercises as well. Included were tips on diet and sleep, not to mention lifestyle as a whole. Marianne did not have anyone really close to her in life, as she was just too busy and was also a naturally solitary creature by habit. No one really noticed the physical changes that started to happen to her and she was content to go to her training sessions and work.

After a month had passed, Marianne woke up late during the night, something  or someone was tapping on her window. Taking the baseball bat she had started to keep next to her bed she crept to the window and looked out. A shadow moved and turned towards her, making it possible for her to recognise The Watcher. Marianne opened the window and the shadow oozed into her bedroom. The dark woman looked at her for a moment before speaking.

"Your instructors say you are doing well, it is time to escalate your training, soon you will see what it is all about, you will never have to fear as you walk the streets again."

The Watcher handed her a card with 3 more phone numbers on it. Marianne saw her hand encased in a skin tight glove before it was withdrawn into the darkness. With that, the shadow woman left her room as silently as she arrived.

Marianne now found herself being trained every night of the week almost, and her training was now incorporating firearms training and climbing, clandestine things such as lock picking and computer hacking and also shadow walking; The illusive technique of blending into any space and being virtually invisible.

Two months passed, and Marianne was surprised to discover that not only was she adapting to her routine, but she craved more of it. It was very unusual for her to feel this way about anything, most of the time she was indifferent or slightly disinterested in anything. Logging off of work one day, she was surprised by Morgan, her original instructor, when she went into her office. The woman was wearing civilian clothes, again the same style that allowed the shadow walking and Marianne had no doubt that the coat was lined with chain mail.

"Professor Walker wishes to see you tonight, I am to escort you to her location."

Morgan looked at her student, her expert eye picking out the new definition in her body and the stamp of the shadow walk in her movements.

"You are doing well Marianne, always remember that."

Marianne nodded her thanks before following the woman out of the hospital and to a waiting car. What felt like hours or maybe only minutes later they had arrived. A dark form opened the door of the car and Marianne saw what looked like a small castle look out of the winter night. No longer questioning her bizarre destiny, she walked up to the door and was let in. Predictably the house smelled of wood and candles and had long shadows in all the corners and nooks.

Professor Walker, as she was known when not dressed as a shadow appeared to welcome her.

"Please come in Marianne, you will soon have the answers to your questions."

Once inside the sitting room, Marianne turned to her hostess.

"You were selected from many, because you posses the recessive trait of a shadow. Both of my parents were trained shadows, my mother the leader like I am, so I am a dominant shadow. It is a genetic trait Marianne, very rare, I think you have begun to realise that there is something unusual about you as we have begun your training."

The Professor stopped talking and now observed Marianne as she thought, and looked inward.

"Yes, I believe you are right, something dormant in me seems to have come alive in these past 3 months, and I feel like there is much more waiting."

Marianne surprised herself by saying this, the words seemed to tumble off her tongue before she could stop herself. The dark woman replied after a moment.

"Yes Marianne, that is how it is. once awakened, a shadow starts to have the recessive trait become dominant. You are at a crossroads now, where you must chose, between full training, or no training. What you have now, will protect you in life, and we are not concerned with you betraying us, but what you could have, is infinite."

"Tell me more Professor, about this shadow identity." Marianne pressed gently.

"Very well, but first, let us have some food, you must be quite hungry as it is getting late."

With those words, The Professor guided her guest to the small and cozy dining room, where Morgan, Alex, Taylor and Marianne's other 3 instructors sat.

"A shadow, is a nighttime creature, able to utilize the darkness both inside of herself, and outside of herself, for good. A paradox if you will, something seeming malevolent, but actually benevolent. With training, you will find that your sensory acuity is enhanced, and your physical abilities will become profound. Recessive shadows posses traits that dominant shadows do, but are less able to control them. These include sharpened intuition, the ability to detect lies or fraud, to guess thoughts, to sense honesty. Most of us have a healing touch, or at least a soothing touch. We fight for good, but we define what is good. Laws only touch us when we pretend to be what society thinks we are. As of right now, there are over 900 shadows that are fully operational, and about 100 in training. The training takes 10 years, 5 of which are at a novice stage, 5 at an apprentice stage. The second stage is when you get to apply your trade. First step is initiation, last step before full shadow, is initiation. In this time, you will be trained intensively and be prepared. When you are ready, you will be almost invisible. Many people owe us their lives and other huge favors..."

The Professor finished talking... Marianne looked at her, her food forgotten...

"How many dominant shadows are there?" She asked. Her hostess replied immediately.

"Seven, myself included, even a child of two shadows does not necessarily produce a dominant shadow. Leadership is heredity, with each generation going through a challenge period, where anyone can challenge the position, and an earning period, where respect must be earned. A vote is then cast to seal the office, so that the harmony is maintained."

Marianne looked at the people who were sitting at the table.

"I accept..." She said after a moment, before she turned back to her food. The Professor's eyes were warm when the dark woman smiled at Marianne.

"I am glad... Now, let us eat, and then prepare for the future."


Part Two

Twelve Years Later...

Marianne gazed out over the city, expertly trained eyes taking in even the slightest details, and processing the information immediately. It was nighttime, which was why she was perching on a windowsill high above the streets, the night was the time for the shadows. Though conditioned and trained so that her dual nature was as easy as breathing, she allowed herself a brief flashback to the first time she had put theory into practice when it came to perching on narrow windowsills.

***  It had been 2 years into her intensive training program before this particular talent was taken out of the simulation rooms and onto the streets. Her teacher, a gruff woman who had been a shadow for over 30 years, had unceremoniously announced one day that it was time. no warning, not brooding, that was usually how it worked with the shadows. It worked well, as it made reflexes and reactions quick and razor sharp. Marianne had then proceeded to climb a building, almost shocked to discover that she could manage it so easily and then the window perching begun. For hours, she was told to climb up and down sit and leap, over and over again, until she was sure her legs would not work anymore. It went on for weeks, until her legs worked indefinitely and she no longer slipped or hesitated. All training was conducted in that manner, everything was ingrained until thought was no needed, the body simply reacted.  ***

Marianne shook her head as the moment passed, a mere fraction of a second. She had completed her training already 2 years ago, and only after it was all said and done, had she been told that she had done well. That was another trait of the shadows, there was not praise, unless it was deserved. The kind of being that was molded from a human, did not need praise, it needed to function. The shadow looked down the buildings facade, seeing the street 200 feet away clearly, her recessive gene fully operational now. This alley was empty, but it meant nothing, a shadow was like a spider waiting for prey, patient and careful, yet capable of instant reaction should the need arise. moving on soundless feet, Marianne moved on, following the rooftops, listening, watching, tasting the air, reveling in the darkness, that allowed this freedom.

Morning came, as it always did to the city, and with the morning, the creatures of the day emerged. Hurrying to work, hurrying to school, all bustle, and safe in the light. Through this miasma of humanity, Doctor Marianne Hunter moved, her dark clothing causing her to blend in, even in the daytime. Finally reaching her work, she went first to her office, where a pile of messages awaited her, mostly people wanting to discuss cases with her and questions from other doctors. Quickly changing into her white lab coat, now the only piece of white clothing she owned, she put on her game face and went to greet the crush of people waiting for her. She was an expert in her field, and that expertise made her much sought after, for teaching, in addition to medicine. The day went easily without a hitch for a change, something that Marianne was grateful for. Sometimes she simply could not wait for the night to arrive, today she felt more patience, though she still anticipated it eagerly. Walking out of the hospital, she made her way to the metro station, it was simply the easiest way of getting around the congested city while she was Doctor. She got to her home quickly, now a loft apartment, that allowed her easy access to the night and within moments, had removed the mask of the day. It was time to go and dance on the rooftops once more.

Later in that same week, Marianne was traveling over the rooftops and walking in the shadows of the alleyways when her sense alerted her to a problem. She heard the sharp scream and calculated the direction and distance in the fraction of a second. Years of drilling was not for nothing, days of sensory deprivation and assault at a time had made her a finely tuned instrument. Moving like a cat, she silently scaled the building and moved along its face, gravity was frustrated by these shadows, who did not seem to obey the laws of physics. It took her less than 10 seconds to arrive at the scene of the scream. It was an older lady, being mugged. The woman looked to be about 50 and she was trying to be brave in the face of her attacker. Marianne frowned slightly from the shadows, she could smell the crack cocaine the man had been smoking only moments before. It would make him dangerous and aggressive, and unpredictable. The shadow moved silently, choosing a weapon, this time a garrote, even a crazed, high lunatic needed to breathe.

Julia O'Haloran now regretted her decision to go and get milk from the corner store. It was not a hard emotion to feel while faced with this crazed and huge mugger. She only hoped he would not hurt her and she could get away quickly, as it stood she could not help herself and she let out small scream in her desperation. That act caused the man to slap her, sufficient warning for her to remain quiet. She eyes the knife the man held, and saw his white knuckle grip, things were not looking good at all. A heartbeat later, the man gasped and dropped the knife, pulling at his throat and letting out a strangled scream. Julia moved as fast as she could to get out of the way as a portion of the darkness in the alleyway seemed to come to life. A shadowy figure moved, dragging the dead weight of the man easily as he struggled desperately, to no avail. A moment later, the man fell, unconscious to the ground. The dark figure snatched up his knife and proceeded to cut his clothes off, with an expertise that was almost medical, then turned to Julia.

"Call the police, do not mention me, I will insure your safety until they arrive. Tell them that he went mad and did this to himself."

The voice was low, and brooked no refusal and Julia found herself obeying, digging for her cell phone. When she looked back at her rescuer, she saw nothing, just the darkness. She shook until the police arrived and dutifully told them that the man had gone berserk mid-mugging. As she was taken away, Julia swore to not go out into the darkness again. It was dangerous and contained supernatural things in addition to its natural hazards. Another child of the day, as most people were, life went on...

Marianne waited until the woman was safe before vanishing, she had even wound a wire found in the alley around the mans neck, just to be on the safe side. A shadow always calculated all probabilities and possibilities. Chess and a dozen other games of war and strategy had been part of her training. So much training... Mental, physical, emotional and even spiritual, until Marianne had become the night itself it seemed, and the moon was her very own sun. She no longer knew who she was before her transformation, only that she had been disinterested in life and had longed for something more. Now she had found herself, and it was good, so very good indeed. Smiling to herself, she calculated that dawn would arrive in less than an hour, it was time to take a power nap, something which she did several times during the day. Refreshing herself on a 15 minute break, it was as good as a full nights sleep. She could not imagine sleeping at all during the dark hours, it would be a waste. Slowly making her way back to her home, in plenty of time for her to slip in unnoticed, she took a shower, cleaned off the equipment she had used during the night and hid her kit. Sleep cam instantly to her, she could command her body to rest at any time, in any situation.

Marianne had a dream during her rest, one where the mysterious woman known as The Watcher visited her, touched her head and left a ring near her pillow. The ring matched the bracelet all shadows wore, made from the same metal that their chain mail was manufactured from. Marianne woke abruptly, instantly alert and her eyes immediately focused on the gray metal ring on her pillow. The dream had been reality intruding upon her dreamland. It had not been the first time that this had happened. Marianne examined the ring carefully, it was her final symbol, meaning that now she truly was a full shadow. The ring was for the middle finger of her non dominant hand, as she was a recessive shadow, only the dominant shadows wore two rings. Marianne had been carefully schooled in the traditions and history of the group she was now bound to. Rising easily from her rarely used bed, she got ready to face the daytime world once more.

A month passed from the time she received her ring before Marianne received the summons to go and see The Watcher. Marianne was eager as always to meet the woman who was responsible for her destiny. The Watcher had invited her to visit her daytime world, an office at the local university, where she taught some eclectic subjects to eager students, students who had no idea who or what she really was. Marianne had never visited the woman in her daytime world, so the thrill of excitement was even stronger as she walked down the corridors of the institutional building. Corridors reminiscent of her own workplace, yet subtly different. The name on the door said: Professor T. Walker. Marianne knew this was not the woman's real name, in fact Marianne had no idea what the Professors real name was, but it did not matter. The door was open, so Marianne walked in, finding the woman in question sitting behind an opulent looking wooden desk, not surprising for one of the more senior lecturers at the school.

"Welcome Marianne."

The Professor said quietly as she rose to greet her guest. Marianne was always struck at how the Professor moved, the black panther came to mind, but there was something even more dangerous than that hunter in the dominant shadows movements. Marianne knew now, that her mentor was around 50 and that she had received her rank at the ripe old age of 20, making her one of the most senior and experienced people in their small group. After serving as full shadows for over ten years, all recessive shadows reported directly to her, advised her and were answerable only to her. Until then, any shadow with more experience guided the new shadows towards the way of darkness and night. Marianne turned her attention to the woman who was now sitting opposite her, observing the clothing, the two shadow rings and two shadow bracelets donating her inheritance. Marianne's trained eyes could now pick up on subtle things, like what weapons the shadow carried during her daytime life, and if she was wearing chain mail under her clothing. Typically shadows wore long overcoats lined with mail and useful for blending into daytime shadows and concealing weapons under. Marianne determined that the Professor did not have mail on, which did not surprise her. Daytime for a shadow, was a very safe place, albeit not the desired place to be.

"It is time for you to take up a speciality Marianne, in addition to your regular skills and training. You must specialize in something, something that you will be required to teach and pass on. You will begin teaching new novices once you have completed your specialization. You may specialize in any of our arts, shadows tend to chose 2 or 3 just to add variety. You will be expected to maintain your own training of course, and you already know about the yearly brush up course that we conduct every quarter to accommodate daytime schedules. I will expect your answer within 24 hours, you may call me here, the lines are safe. You will make a fine teacher Marianne."

The Professor finished talking and gave Marianne a moment to digest before she said:

"Now, I must go conduct a lecture that starts in 5 minutes. Good day shadow.."

With those words Marianne knew she was dismissed, so she rose, gave a brief smile and left the office. A feeling of excitement and anticipation filled her body as she moved towards the outdoors. Immediately she knew that she wanted this, and that she was ready to do it. Deciding to walk home, Marianne turned her sense towards the street allowed her feet to carry her automatically and briskly through the gathering twilight. It was 45 minutes until sunset, enough time to get home, take a 15 minute nap, eat and go out into the night once it arrived. Marianne's sense alerted her before she even saw the danger, a slight shift in the air around her brought her attention into focus. She turned her sharp eyes to the source of the disturbance. A man almost upon her was reaching into his jacket and he had a dangerous look in his eye. Marianne commanded her body to relax and casually turned into the next doorway. It would be better if the daytime confrontation could be avoided, in the daylight people tended to remember more clearly what they saw. Marianne stilled herself in the slight dimness of the doorway and a heartbeat later the man looked directly at her, confirming to her that she had been his intended target. The man paused for another moment, before moving on, obviously slightly troubled that he had apparently missed her. Marianne waited for a few more moments before stepping out of the doorway, thankful for its existence and for the approaching twilight that had concealed her. A more observant person with less on his mind, might have noticed her, as she was wearing her daytime clothes, but a mugger with something violent on his mind was easily fooled by the shadow technique. Marianne was soon home, and as the sun finally set, she slid out of her apartment into the nights comforting embrace.

During her nighttime prowling, Marianne allowed a small part of her mind to process the directive that the Professor had given her. This night, Marianne had decided to move on street level for the most part, thought she did alternate to the rooftops and facades of buildings in very well lighted areas. As she moved, she pondered what she should specialize in, understanding the importance of her decision. For the most part, the shadows protected the night and followed the moon, giving into their cravings for solitude and darkness. It was a closed society, where the majority were females, due mostly to the fact that women exhibited the shadow trait more due to plain genetics. The gene itself was very rare indeed, making it a moral obligation for every shadow to be on the look out for more of their kind. Shadows appeared in myth and legend throughout the ages, but had been labeled vampires, so afraid was the general populace of the ones who rejoiced in the nighttime. Marianne had been fascinated to discover that the vampire legends came from the shadows having being witnessed throughout time. Marianne supposed that it was easy enough for a creature of the light, so be so afraid of the dark as to label anything that moved in it evil. Shadows were trained to kill, and kill they did, but only if given no other choice or if the circumstances warranted it. However, the ones who fell to the shadows, were the people who lived in the twilight, the criminals and murderers of the world, the ones who dealt in death and deceit and relished it, the very plague of humanity. Injuries were common however after having run afoul of a shadow, and a natural borne fear of having faced a shadow and survived, led to stories. People who had been helped by shadows were not always grateful, so in reality, both the perpetrator and the victim pointed fingers at the darkness and claimed that something evil and supernatural was at work. Marianne smiled to herself as she moved up the face of a building to its roof. She had almost decided, now it was a matter of finding a quiet place in the night to make sure that her decision was the correct one.

The next afternoon Marianne picked up her phone and called the Professor. The familiar voice answered the phone after the third ring.

"Professor Walker speaking."

There was a pregnant pause before Marianne spoke:

"I have decided." Marianne barely recognised her voice when she spoke the words outloud.

"Yes, you have."

The Professor replied in her even tones, and then there was only the feeling of infinite patience while Marianne collected her words and prepared to speak.

"I will undertake presume point training and first aid and and follow up. I feel that I would be well suited for these."

Marianne waited for the woman on the other end of the phone to speak.

"Yes, you are expert at both of those fields, you medical training is of great benefit in that. You have chosen well. You will undergo an intensive course in both before you start, also, teaching etiquette."

The Professor gave Marianne 3 phone numbers to call and told her to think about what kind of facilities she would need to conduct her training in and report back in a week with her decisions. The three phone numbers were to three teachers, who would in turn give her an intensive crash course in pressure points, first aid and follow up and lastly, a teaching course. That night, when Marianne went into the darkness, she kept a part of her brain mentally working on what she would need to conduct her training. most of her mind was occupied with the task at hand. This night, she was to meet another shadow and they were to work the night together. It was a quarterly thing that was done, just to make sure that the shadows did not forget how to work in unison with someone else. It was an important lesson, as sometimes groups of shadows did work together, when the task was simply too great for a single shadow to accomplish. Marianne felt the presence before she saw the shadow appear out of the night. A quick glance told her that the shadow was about her height and weight and that the shadow was female, but aside from that, everything else was concealed. When the dark figure got closer, Marianne stood to her full height to greet the other woman.

"I am Marianne."

Her voice was carefully modulated, accent free and void of any inflections or emotions, as she had been trained. No one hearing her speak in the daytime would ever recognise her nighttime voice. In private, shadows would allow some seepage of personality into their voices, but this was not private, so caution ruled first. The other shadow stopped half an arms length away from Marianne and after a pause greeted her.

"I am Abigail."

The voice was perfectly controlled, leading Marianne to think that the shadow was at least at her own level of experience. It was a good match, but then again, Marianne doubted that The Watcher would make a poor match. The mysterious woman knew each of her shadows personally. Marianne removed her skin tight gloves to make the physical contact needed to form a strong link between them. It would allow a degree of silent communication and an attuned awareness of each other. Abigail followed suit and the women grasped each other's hands for a few moments in complete silence. The gloves were replaced and the two dark figures moved out as silently as they had came, vanishing into the night that they were part of. The two shadows would travel the night together for the next week, before returning to their solitary haunts and nighttime wanderings. It it proved necessary, or if it was desired, the two could interact as much as they liked during the day or night, shadows were actually free to do as they please with each other, and with daytime creatures, with the caveat that no child of the light could ever know the slightest bit about the children of the night. Solitary night loving shadows however, rarely formed bonds with the daylight or its denizens, so Marianne was looking forward to getting to know this shadow, like she had the others. This woman, was as close to real family as she had, and Marianne was interested in knowing anything that there was to know about her family.


Part Three

It was three days later when Marianne found out what her shadow-mate did in her daytime life. Shadows could, with proper training and experience, detect each other from about a 50 meter radius, this is even if the other shadow gave no physical clue. Sometimes shadows made noise that only other shadows or sufficiently trained persons could detect. It was deliberate, so as not to startle each other. Shadows could be like angry snakes, attaching without warning if surprised. It paid to be a little careful with each other, not to mention, that sneaking up on people just wasn't polite.

Marianne was walking from her office to the ward where she was getting ready to do her rounds, when she felt the presence of another shadow. A non shadow looking at her, would not have seen her reaction, but a shadow would have seen a minute break in her stride the moment the presence was felt. Curious as to who in her daytime life, was a shadow during the night, Marianne glanced around. In her years she had encountered other shadows during the day maybe a half dozen times, not including The Watcher. The corridor was mostly empty, but at its end, the figure of a woman was slightly turned towards her. That was the shadow, Marianne diverted her course to go and investigate. The other shadow could leave if she did not wish to be investigated. It was understood, shadows did not intrude upon each other either during the day or the night unless there was severe cause. As Marianne neared the other woman, she felt the thrill of recognition. She knew this shadow, in fact it was Abigail, her current shadow-mate. Intrigues as to what the other shadow was doing in her hospital, Marianne came to a half about two arms lengths away.

"Hello Marianne."

Said the familiar voice, now shaded with daytime inflections, shades of emotions and tone that would reassure the children of the day that they were not exposed to anything unusual. It would not do to trigger too much curiosity or unease, humans were very persistent if their curiosity or interest was aroused too much. Marianne studied Abigail for a moment before answering her shadow-mate.

"Good Day to you Abigail. What brings you here?"

Marianne's tone conveyed light curiosity to anyone who would hear them speak, but to Abigail, it conveyed great interest. The other woman looked at Marianne with equal curiosity, taking the rarely offered moment to see the features of another shadow. Marianne had short blond hair and sea coloured eyes, that changed with her moods and environment. The two shadows were about the same height, though Marianne's build was more slender than Abigail's. After some heartbeats Abigail answered the quiet question.

"I actually need a Doctor Marianne, and The Professor directed me here to you. I cut myself while working today, and I want to make sure it is ok. I probably needs stitches, but I thought to come here and find you to have them done, as I want a nice scar, and it is not the sort of emergency that requires that I do it myself."

Abigail's calm and controlled voice gave no indication that the shadow was in any pain or discomfort, and Marianne automatically checked her colouring and eyes. A shadow never had a heavy tan, but most had good colour. Abigail had hair a few shades darker than Marianne's and hey eyes were blue, though Marianne suspected that they changed with mood and environment as well, they had the sort of crystalline texture that hinted at the possibility.

"Come with me, I will inform one of my interns that I have an emergency and will be delayed."

Marianne indicated in which direction Abigail should walk as she reached for a wall phone and quickly informed her intern to begin the rounds, and that she would be available in half and hour to 45 minutes. No doubt the young Doctor in training would enjoy his chance to practice by himself for a little bit, and Marianne was very efficient, it would only take her 10 minutes to check that he had done a good job.

In the examination room Abigail removed her chain mail lined overcoat and revealed the usual dark shades of clothing that shadows wore. The woman then removed her dark green turtleneck to reveal a kevlar shirt that was lined with soft cotton for comfort. With the removal of the turtleneck, a neat bandage was revealed, stained a little red from seepage, but not looking like a disaster by any means. Marianne pulled on her gloves and carefully unwrapped the wound, not really knowing what to expect, but glad that she was not having to contend with a bleeding cut at least. The smoothly muscled forearm was revealed and now Marianne could see that Abigail had a cut approximately 10 centimeters long on her outer arm.

"How did you do this?"

Marianne asked quietly as she washed the wound area with a disinfectant solution and prepared a suture kit.

"It was a chain reaction, one of my tools fell and though I caught it, it knocked something over, which flipped a knife at me, and as my hands were quite full, the knife grazed me a little. Nothing too bad, but I wanted a pretty scar."

Abigail was very matter-of-fact as she spoke, and did not flinch when Marianne started to stitch up the wound. She knew that the Doctor would not use a local, because local caused the tissue to swell, and Abigail had said that she wanted a pretty scar.

"What do you do?"

Marianne asked as she closed the wound with stitches befitting a plastic surgeon.

"I work with leather and wood, metal and other mediums. I suppose the proper term for me is Artisan. I made knives, shoes, bags, belts, cups, pots and so on. It makes a fine living, for the most part, and I supplement it with teaching at my local community college."

Abigail's voice showed some good humor as she watched the Doctor complete her task and carefully apply butterfly stitches between the stitches, before putting a dressing on the wound.

"I would be interested in seeing your work someday, if that was acceptable."

Marianne said as she prepared a small plastic bag with butterfly stitches and dressings, and antiseptic powder to care for the wound. She turned to Abigail and said in her professional voice.

"Chance the dressing daily, after you bathe. Keep the wound as dry as possible and change the butterfly stitches daily as well. A sprinkle of powder daily will also aid with healing. You may remove the stitches in 10 days, but keep up the butterfly stitches for 20. You know what to do, to minimize scarring and aid healing..."

Abigail was pulling her shirt back on as Marianne spoke, and slipped the bag into a pocket of her overcoat.

"That you Marianne, and yes, it would be acceptable for you to come and view my work. We will have to arrange a date. This is my pager number."

Abigail handed the other shadow a slip of paper, and smiled lightly as the woman took it. The two parted ways in the hallway of the hospital and Marianne went to check on her student. They would meet again that night, as they continued their nightly prowling together. They still had a few more days before they would resume their solitary nighttime wanderings again.

Marianne went on her rounds, quickly catching up with her trainee doctor and noting that true to her training, he had done an excellent job of evaluating the patients. The rest of Marianne's day went quickly, and that evening, before night fell, she went to one of her instructors, who would be providing her with a crash course in what she had decided to teach. She had also sent a message to The Professor with a list of what she believed she would need, and telling the mysterious woman that any amendments were acceptable if deemed necessary. Her trainer was a striking woman, with red hair and cat-like eyes, who had been a full shadow for over 15 years. The woman put Marianne through her paces, knowing full well that the younger shadow only needed reminders, not an actual course. Marianne would start teaching in 2 weeks, after seeing each of the 3 instructors 4 times and completing her shadow-mate rotation with Abigail. She looked forward to giving back more directly to the shadows, though she knew, that in merely existing as a shadow, she was on the receiving and giving end of one of the most powerful groups of people on the planet. By being a shadow, she had the responsibility however, that came with being turned into what amounted to an almost invisible warrior, and an invulnerable individual. The shadows looked after their own, and in return they expected their own to look after the shadows. The line was completely blurred and aside from the lose hierarchy based on chronological seniority, and The Watcher acting as the matriarch of the group, all shadows were equal, gaining name and merit by deed, not subversion or other troublesome woes that plagued the people of the sunlight.

Night fell, and Marianne was sitting on top of a building where Abigail had said she would come to as soon as the edge of the sun was completely gone. Marianne waited by the edge of the rooftop, she had watched the sun go down from her apartment and slipped out into the night. This rooftop was a moments distance from her home, and Marianne was left to winder how Abigail would get here so fast, unless the other shadow lived nearby as well. It was possible of course, it would not be so easy to detect a shadow somewhere in an apartment building and amidst the crowded presence of the day. The two of them led very different lives and during the night they would be wandering far afield in the darkness. Marianne heard the minute scuff as Abigail deliberately announced her presence before she was within sensory range and moments later the darkness seemed to move a little and Abigail was standing beside her. Marianne could see nothing of the other woman's face in the darkness, but for some reason go the impression that her fellow shadow must have been smiling. Wordlessly the two moved across the rooftop, gathering speed as they went. Then, just as it seemed as they would run off the roof and plummet to the ground below, the shadows leapt into the air in a show of grace and power. The distance between the rooftops was easily traversed and the landing was almost silent, then there was no noise at all as the darkness took the two women into its embrace, a hold it would not relinquish until a heartbeat before the sun rose again.

It was in the early hours of the morning, when the two shadows came upon a transgression occurring. It was the sacred duty of the shadows to guard the night, to insure it was a more pure and safe place. The night was after all, a holy place for these humans called shadows. Any daytime child who wandered through it, deserved to be protected and watched over, for daring to venture into its mysterious inky beauty. Abigail was perched on a narrow ledge of an older brick building, her sharp senses telling her that her partner was directly across the street from her, though her eyes could see nothing on the crumpling face of the building if she looked. Down below, at street level, some of the unlawful denizens of the night, the ones who caused trouble and grief, were working their mischief. Having cornered a pair of women, a group men were now using threats and fear to intimidate the women away from the light of the street lamps, and into one of the many dark alleys that were available every few steps it seemed. Abigail ignored the slight twinge in her forearm as she used a rope no thicker than her little finger to scale the building she was clinging to and to follow the progress from the rooftop. Winding around the side of the building, Abigail was compelled to glance up for a moment, her connection with Marianne prompting her. Across the street, on the opposite rooftop, Marianne allowed herself to be seen for a moment, and made a half dozen quick hand movements, to which Abigail replied instantly. With the plan set, the two shadows disappeared once more into the embrace of the dark to follow the down on street level. The men had effectively herded the women into a very barrow alleyway, which was a good thing, as it would allow the shadows to utilize both walls simultaneously during their attack. Soundlessly what looked like a ripple of darkness moved down the walls of the alley, moving just fast enough to keep up with the group, but slowly enough that anyone who had looked into the alley, or looked up from the alley would have seen nothing, just darkness and gloom.

Marianne glanced momentarily towards her invisible partner before focusing once more on the half dozen men who were now cornering the two women in the alley. Trained eyes evaluated each man in an instant, determining reach, weight, approximate strength, possible weapons, both visible and concealed. Each man told a story by the way he moved, some obviously making do with sheer bulk and brutality, others showing signs of having acquired some form of martial training, be it military or otherwise. The two women looked terrified, but neither looked like the panicking sort, meaning that when the walls irrupted into moving darkness, there was a good chance that they would not overreact and would remain at least quiet and out of the way. Marianne's inner clock counted down the seconds to the coordinated strike that was about to occur. The two shadows had chosen their quarry and now it was merely a matter of another 2 or 3 seconds before they struck. The cramped alley meant that weapons like the short swords the shadows carried were too risky with two innocents, so many attackers and another shadow involved. It would have otherwise been the weapon of choice. However, the shadows improvised instantly to all situations, and this time there would probably be a combination of the weighted and spiked gloves they wore and foot spikes, nasty and sharp spikes adorning the shadows feet, that were used for climbing and of course, like any object, as a potential weapon. Marianne's inner alarm lock rang and the shadow felt reflexes long honed and borne not only of experience, but of birthright take over. Moving like the darkness that they were, the two shadows fell amongst the men, using confusion and the natural fear of things dark that most daytime creatures possessed, even these trespassers of the night to their advantage, the shadows moved like a carefully oiled and tuned machine to dispatch the 6 men. One shadow could have done the same job, but this was about team work, and the two shadows danced together in what looked looked a choreographed fight scene. It was only heartbeats and it was over, the men lay silent on the ground, wounded, unconscious and posing no danger to anyone except themselves now. The men had barely been able to react, so the entire affair had been almost silent, aside from a forced scream of surprise from one of the two women who now stood bewildered and shaken at the back of the alleyway.

The two shadows turned towards the women, assessing them carefully, knowing that the women could see nothing aside from vague dark outlines that later would make them believe that they had been seeing things. Marianne spoke first, using her modulated and low voice to break the women out of their momentary shocked stillness.

"Come, you must leave this alleyway, it is not safe here and there is no telling when these men will wake up."

The taller of the women looked towards the dark shape that had spoken in surprise. The voice gave away nothing, not age, not nationality or race, not even gender. It was very low, and it only served to convey information. Grabbing her companions arm, the taller woman started to stiffly walk out of the alleyway, the rush of adrenalin and now the subsequent endorphin surge making her feel like she was going to collapse at any moment. As they neared the street again, the darkness right next to her seemed to come to life and a voice spoke again.

"You will reach safety, just do not delay. Your state of shock and confusion makes you vulnerable right now, to other predators."

By this time, the smaller of the two women had regained some semblance of cognitive function and she gasped on hearing the voice to close. She looked towards it, and like her companion before her, saw only vague darkness without much form. Both women by this time, had realised that the voices in the night were not malevolent and were hurrying to safety. It had been a harsh lesson, but the lesson had been learned, some parts of the night were simply not safe, and some were.

By the time the women reached the street, the two shadows had already climbed the building to perch on its edge together. It had been their first joint operation and it had been a success, none of the men had been killed, though all would bear scars and injury for a lifetime. A fitting punishment for their type and sort... They would also feel a deep fear of the night, as they would never really know what had actually happened to them.

It was still a few hours before dawn, so once the women the shadows had rescued were safe, the two shadows decided to go to the cathedral and talk. The gargoyles and arches of the building, were an almost perfect place to be at night as almost no one was ever anywhere near the place and all the carvings and shapes and the wind moaning through the whole structure was am almost guarantee of invisibility, something that was essential for a shadow to have. The two shadows had decided that they wanted to talk and neither of them was willing to go indoors from the precious darkness to do it, so they headed for this idyllic setting eagerly, moving smoothly through the concrete jungle, mirroring the black panthers of the real jungles elsewhere.

It only took the two women a half hour to reach their destination and after establishing that the cathedral and its grounds were empty, they settled on an eve of a high roof under the light of the new moon to talk. Marianne for her own part, was excited at the prospect of communicating to her fellow shadow, she had been intrigued by the other since they met, a natural reaction, but also having met the daytime version of the woman, she was now even more intrigued. And to add frosting to her already generous cake, Abigail seemed to be just as eager to make her acquaintance as well. The women sat close and facing each other, to facilitate communication in the low hushed tones that the night demanded. Faces forever obscured by the darkness and disguises, which consisted of a hooded veil and a black powder that was rubbed into the skin, thus not restricting airflow but hiding the wearer completely , they looked at each other and it was then that the shadows felt a deeper connection fall into place. Marianne looked at her temporary shadow-mate and said in a a low whispering voice, still modulated but allowing some emotion to seep through.

"You feel it as well?"

The other shadow let out a tiny sigh, that seemed rather contented, before replying.

"Yes, I do, and I am happy about it. Most shadows have a shadow-mate, a permanent companion of sorts that they are lovers with, occasionally work with, and have their daytime life enmeshed with. I could easily imagine that you would be this person to me. In the hospital yesterday, you were so gentle and competent, it was then that I felt our connection become deeper. Tonight, facing danger with you, only sharpened that feeling."

Abigail fell silent and waited for Marianne to speak. She was not made to wait long before Marianne's hushed voice answered.

"Yes, I know what you mean... In hindsight, I think The Watcher also say this when she paired us up, her message to me had the feeling of a smile to it. She must have known that we might feel connected at a deeper level..."

Marianne's voice had the hint of a smile in it as she spoke.

Abigail looked over the dark night, trained eyes taking in every detail and cataloging it instantly as she contemplated her reply to Marianne's statement.

"Yes, I think I see what you mean... It makes sense, she knows all of us intimately, shadows of the city and country, towns and forests, all are processed and in part, taught by her. Also, as a dominant, she would have insight into us that maybe even we do not have in ourselves..."

Abigail finished speaking and her eyes picked up the sight of Venus, managing to break through the light pollution of the city, to rest beside the moon.

"Venus has risen..."

She commented in a light voice, causing Marianne to look up into the night.

"Yes, beautiful as always. It will be dawn in a couple of hours, let us enjoy the night together. We only have a few more days of this week left, before other decisions are to be made. I will start teaching soon..."

Marianne's voice trained off and the two shadows observed the night and its beauty in silence for the rest of the night, moving off the cathedral only when it was time to make it back to their daytime lives. The nighttime would wait for them patiently, it always had and always would...


Part 4

The rest of the week went quickly, with the shadows spending a final night together before going their separate ways, though they did they agreed to get together in a couple of days so that Abigail could show Marianne her work.

The time that they had been paired has been mostly uneventful and peaceful, which suited both women. It left the shadows with more time to spend with the night, versus having to distract themselves during the time of day when they wished for no distractions. A shadow worked to make his or her territory safer, minimizing disturbances and crime, not only because it was a sacred duty and because shadows were a good force in the night, but also, because less disturbances meant less time taken from the night. It was very likely that some statisticians, who worked on crime reports, speculated all sorts of reasons as to why particular areas were safer at night than others, but it was unlikely that they had guessed the real reasons, or ever would guess them.

Shadows could work areas comprising several square miles in cities, and more in less densely populated areas in towns and the country. All boundaries were flexible though, with shadows going wide afield, covering whole cities in fact, and overlapping eachother more often than not. Cities did not however, boast any great number of these dark protectors, as there were no great numbers of them to spread around. Numbers only increased in ones and twos each year on any given continent, and of course, shadows died each year as well, mostly of old age, but sometimes more violently and sometimes to illness. It was a rare illness or violent event that could overtake a shadow though, so in essence numbers climbed by one or two each year on a global scale.

The time had come for Marianne to take up her teaching duties, a final step in her journey as a shadow. After it commenced, her life would become so blended with the shadow world that it would not longer be possible to tell where one begun and where the other ended. In anticipation of beginning her teaching, Marianne left work earlier than normal and went to make sure that her training space was ready. She had spent almost all of her afternoons and daylight free time helping with its construction and overseeing its completion. The specialities that she would teach were a very crucial and technical thing. Pressure points used by Shadows numbered 217 in all, each one performing tasks ranging from numbing, to paralysis, pleasure, excruciating pain, blackouts, dizziness and death, to name a few. A Shadow had to memorize each location and then apply it to each individual they met in their adventures and lives. Non lethal pressure points could be practiced on real people, but the lethal ones were taught using carefully guarded techniques. Marianne's medical expertise added a unique qualification to her being able to teach this, and she had developed an early interest in the art and was considered an expert even at her relatively young Shadow development. Marianne had set aside 2 hours a week to be trained by an expert, wanting to be the best that she could be for this particular task. First aid, medical and follow up training was something Marianne was qualified to do even before she realized her heritage, but the added twists and experience of Shadow method was complicated by availability of materials and equipment. Shadows were trained to deal with life threatening injuries in totally unsuitable and inadequate environments and were taught, as with everything, to think on their feet and improvise, instantly and without thought.

Her small studio was ready, with practice dummies and equipment ready and waiting. The location was of course far off the beaten path and as secret as shadow training facilities always were. Even a person carefully searching would come up empty handed, and if by some remote possibility the location was stumbled upon and the studio found, there were safeguards and facades available at an instants notice. With her first 2 students arriving in 10 minutes, Marianne changed into a black martial arts uniform and meditated to prepare herself. At the pointed time, the two women appeared, male shadows were rare, but they did exist and as with everything else, the shadows were equal in gender as well. No distinctions or variations were made for training, on any level. The two women had been brought from separate and somewhat remote locations to undergo this part of their training and also what the other schools in the city could offer. Marianne herself had gone practically from one end of the continent to the other when she had been training and still conducted trips all the time, whenever the need or desire to arise. A shadows training was never done...

"I am Marianne. Welcome..."

Marianne looked at the two, knowing their names and how much training they had already received. Both were at apprentice level and had undergone this form of training before, but as with everything, until it was automatic, instinctual and part of the very cell structure of the shadow, training continued. And so it went, Marianne found up to 20 hours of her week taken up by her new activities and a brief note from The Watcher had assured her that she was on the correct track.  It was in the 3rd week of her new teaching duties that Marianne finally managed to find time in between work and teaching, her own training and the night to visit Abigail's workshop. It was something that she was looking forward to, not to mention finally seeing her new friend and hopefully sometime shadow mate, though time would tell if that would come to fruition. So, it was with a light heart that Marianne decided to take a day off from her busy work schedule to spend the day with Abigail and her work.

Marianne climbed the stairs that led to the rooftop apartment/studio where Abigail lived and worked, the daylight forcing her to use conventional means. Marianne wore her shadow kit under her mail lined overcoat, though in reality, a shadow could run on the rooftops wearing any clothing at any time if the need arose... The kit was just what shadows wore when they were in their element and had prepared for the occasion... The stairs were quickly eaten up by Marianne's strong legs and in what felt like moment, she found herself standing before a metal door in a nondescript hallway. Like all shadows, Abigail was careful to keep a low profile and attracted little or no interest from the children of the daytime. The door opened after a moment, Abigail having sensed her soon to be maybe shadow mate waiting behind it. Stormy blue eyes met stormy blue eyes and Marianne was invite inside of Abigail's sanctuary for the first time. Abigail has visited Marianne once while they were partnered, to have her stitches removed and also to enjoy a cup of tea to commemorate the occasion. now inside of Abigail's territory, Marianne allowed her highly trained eyes to scan the space, her eyes taking only seconds to catalogued and sort everything that she saw. It was filled with finished and half finished and only just begun work, and scattered amongst this artistic mess, was what looked like handmade furniture, candles and decorations. It was obvious that Abigail lived and worked here and that she had for some time.

"Welcome Marianne."

Abigail's rich and cultured tones reached Marianne's ears, free from any distortion that being outside forced them to adopt. It was nice to hear her real voice and to see her in this unguarded situation. The other shadow was dressed in her shadow kit, minus the outer layers of weapons and protective padding. Shadows wore padding on areas of their body that were likely to receive hard abuse, such as shins and knees, elbows and shoulders, ribs, skull and spine. Under layers of specialized knitted fabric, kevlar and fine chain mail protected a shadow from most injuries and over padding, a shadow could wear protective outer layers, that would guard against wind, snow or rain and other inclement weather. Decades and even centuries if not a millennia of research and development had gone into everything a shadow used, wore or was trained to do. It was how things were, and how they would probably always be, as that is how they had always been.

Marianne shed her overcoat to reveal her full kit, which she proceeded to shed until she too was dressed only in the inner layers of it. Maybe after the sun set, the two shadows would go out together, but for now, the environment was intimate and Marianne looked forward to finally being able to learn more about her ever mysterious friend's occupation.

The main room was filled with piles of practical things, such as wallets and cups, vests and bowls, platters, purses and serving implements, beads, belts and sandals. These were the bread and butter of Abigail's life. Well know amongst people who wanted high quality and unique handmade gifts, but did not want to spend the money required for custom work. A large work area adorned with every imaginable took and raw material followed, and then tucked safely into a more private nook, finished, handmade, exquisite one-off work, things that Abigail made either as an artistic whim or as custom work, for private people or companies. Each peace could retail between 10 and 10,000 dollars depending on its nature, complexity and time spent making it. Marianne was transfixed by the obvious talent and fantastic quality of the work.

"These I will take to customers this week. The stuff in the larger room is part of standing orders that I have. The things I make on impulse or because my muse drives me to, I sell on commission at tried and tested places across the country."

Abigail said this in a very matter of fact voice as she led her guest to her small kitchenette for some tea and refreshments.

"How long did it take you to establish yourself?"

Marianne asked with a large degree of curiosity colouring her voice.

"Hmmm, well, we can say that in the beginning I probably had to eat a lot of boiled leather, but after I finished my apprentice stage things picked up. By the time I was requited by The Watcher, I was well established, and now, well I suppose I enjoy a certain notoriety. I actually make all the belt harness that the shadows use."

Abigail went on to explain that this was her direct contribution back to the shadows, along with weapons and equipment maintenance and hand to hand techniques such as joint locks, throws, choke holds, sweeps and gauging. She revealed that she was teaching about 15 hours a week and was making 10 harness a month. The official duties of a shadow were just the deliberate and obvious things they did. By existing, a shadow served the shadows and of course, a shadow could be called on to do anything at any time, for any reason. Also, they acted as vectors for ideas and improvements, set and example and lead those junior to themselves and basically functioned as a family unit. A large and deadly unit, but a family nonetheless.

The tea was good and the conversation flowed freely and easily between the two women and before long, internal clocks signaled that night was falling. The two shadows readied themselves for a night on the rooftops of the city, their ease and speed showing long hours of practice as they donned their equipment and weapons. After securing her home, Abigail opened a small window in her apartment and the shadows eased out to climb to her building like the human spiders that they were. Soundlessly making their way to the roof the women paused briefly to confer, both needing to patrol their own sectors but agreeing to meet up later in the night at this location so they could run along the roofs a little before returning to Abigail's apartment.

As she perched on the edge of a rooftop at about 4 am, Marianne thought of Abigail, finding herself enthralled by the other shadow. Though they had not known eachother in person for long, their common history was enough for Marianne to know that what little she knew about Abigail as an individual, would only be enhanced by what she would find out in the future. Marianne came to a decision as she watched the sky for the first hints of day, her experienced eyes picking up signals that most people would not see. The sun had another two hours before it rose at this time of year, plenty of time for Marianne to put forth her plan. Reaching into a concealed pocket, Marianne withdrew a credit card sized cell phone, it's signal running on a private and secure network. One had to know a 11 digit password before the phone could be used, it's internal processor and microcomputer designed to self destruct if any other method was used to access it. Within two rings a low beep announced to Marianne that she could leave a message (voice, numerical or text) and another beep telling her to rate the message for urgency, 10 being that it needed attention yesterday or was an extreme emergency, and 1 meaning that whenever was fine. Marianne made her message a 3 and hung up. The system would tell the recipient who was the caller and she would not doubt receive an answer shortly. Marianne's internal countdown told her that it was time to change buildings, shadows were trained not to remain in one place for any length of time. Without hesitation Marianne swung her leg over the edge of the building, using her climbing dexterity combined with specialized spikes fitted to her shadow kit to move down the face of the building to the dark alley below. About 10 feet from street level, Marianne stopped and extended her senses into the alley, double checking that it was indeed empty. Then, she simply dropped lightly to the pavement and disappeared into the night in the blink of an eye.

Marianne felt the vibration of her phone 4 buildings from the one she had made her call from. The phone moved twice, and nestled where it was, there was no way a shadow could miss the subtle feel of the phone. Securing the vicinity of the window ledge she was perched on, Marianne took her phone out and called her voice mailbox. The Watchers smooth monotone told Marianne that the woman was not in a private location, but the words told her to make her way to a small part in the city, where The Watcher would meet her so they could discuss things on a more personal level. Pleased that her mentor had time to talk to her, Marianne made her way to the park in question, her internal clock and her sharp sense telling her that she still had time to do this and make her way back to Abigail's apartment before dawn. The two shadows had agreed a few hours ago through a quick communique to meet back at the artisans loft. The very idea of spending more unguarded time with the other shadow thrilled Marianne, but she set aside the feelings, there was not room for emotion when a shadow might be observed, also, it could fracture concentration and cause a misstep, even shadows would succumb to gravity, mortal beings that they were in the end. Marianne allowed her full ability to come forth and raced along the roof tops, leaping, jumping and seeming to fly across the night, with on fly the light of the new moon to guide her and to hide her from prying eyes that might look out and wonder why on earth there were shadows moving and not a person in sight.

In what seemed like no time at all, Marianne was looking down upon the small park where The Watcher would meet her. The part was in fact, the scattered fragments of an ancient cemetery, long forgotten and abandoned. No benches or lights made it cheery, but in the daytime, tired and harried office workers would walk along the tiny footpath and glance at the half dozen or so remaining headstones that spoke of a bygone era long ago. It served the shadows well as a ground level rendezvous, as no sun child would come to it at night and as it was in a business district, there were no residents or late night establishments to pry upon its privacy. This part of the city, like all parts, did have a night life, but like most night life, the denizens of it, were not looking at the night, they were merely passing through it, or using it to hide something that they were doing. So, like always, the shadows would remain invisible, and if seen, would be dismissed as a delusion by a conscience in denial, and fearful from too many goulash stories.

Marianne did a careful scan for security cameras. something that was automatic whenever a shadow left the safety of dark alleys, rooftops and side streets, though those places did merit a cursory scan as one just never knew what an industrious real estate owner might do. A moment later, Marianne was in the park, completely swallowed up by the darkness and the scattering of ancient trees. Easily climbing into the branches of one of the trees, should someone, for some reason, enter the park at night, Marianne settled down to wait. In her eagerness, she had arrived a full half hour before the scheduled time that The Watcher had informed her that they would meet. The tree had no doubt sheltered shadows before, and possibly for as long as it had existed, the history of the children of the night went back thousands of years, and this area had been settled for a very long time. Marianne had entered a slight meditative state when her senses alerted her of another presence. The Watcher, like all shadows, gave off an energy that a trained shadow or someone very sensitive could pick up on, however, The Watchers energy was much more subtle, as she had control over her shadow abilities, whereas the recessive shadows could only make a note of them, or use them in their crude form, manipulating them in rather basic ways. It was one of the reasons that they were all so highly trained, one did not give someone a loaded gun without first teaching them gun safety and making them use a shooting range. Marianne looked at the shadowed figure, visible only in her peripheral vision, and only because The Watcher wished the other shadow to see her.

"Come."

The whispered word was spoken so low that Marianne felt its vibration, rather then heard the actual word. Jumping out of her tree and landing soundlessly, Marianne followed The Watcher as they moved into a gap, an aperture between two tall buildings. The climb to the roof in this narrow space and with their business facades would occupy the two shadows completely, but the rooftop of the building would provide the needed privacy. The tall buildings of downtown business areas were often used as meeting places by shadows wanting to talk, meet or relax. Marianne watched as The Watcher seemed to flow up the building, like water, running uphill, if that was possible. Not wanting to be left too far behind, but knowing that she would climb at a slower pace, due simply to less experience, Marianne started her assent and was soon doing her own interpretation of water flowing uphill.

Finally at the top, the shadows paused to take a drink of water and then The Watcher turned to Marianne and waited. Marianne felt herself suddenly very shy, now faced with her mentor and felt a blush crawl along her face, under the black powder and veiled hood. Mentally shaking herself and allowing a tiny sigh to escape, Marianne spoke.

"I want to talk to you about, shadow mates..."

With the words finally out in the open, Marianne felt relieved and patiently waited for The Walker to respond. Unbeknownst to Marianne, The Walker had been having this conversation with Abigail when she had received Marianne's message. Smiling internally, The Walker spoke, deliberately allowing a fraction of warmth to enter her tone.

"There are a rule and some guidelines, but aside from them, you are free to do as you please. The rule as you know, is that you are a shadow first and foremost, everything else takes second place. The guidelines are simply common sense. There is a ceremony, it can be public within the shadows, or private, which I officiate. As you know, the shadows are very liberal minded sort of people, we allow all forms of bonding."

The Watcher finished talking and waited for Marianne to continue. The younger shadow eventually spoke.

"It is Abigail, and I believe the feelings are reciprocal."

Marianne forced herself not to fidget, she was a grown woman, a shadow and no child, but still, part of her felt like she was discussing something with her mother. The Watcher moved closer to her and laid her hand on Marianne's forearm, feeling the sheath of her throwing spikes where it nestled over her dark knitted clothing.

"She is a good choice Marianne... I thought the two of you would get along. Her twin brother is also a shadow, though neither of her parents are, which happens more often than you can imagine. The gene is illusive as you know, and that is why we trained you so hard to be able to spot a potential shadow, as it is almost invisible, even to me. I approve Marianne, and so will everyone else... You should seek your happiness amongst us if you can, but there is nothing that forbids you from loving children of the day, though there are a few more rules and actual procedures in addition to guidelines. Remember, you are a shadow to free yourself, not to imprison any part of yourself. Come now, let me see how well you can leap these tall buildings."

With that the Watcher turned and ran towards the edge of the building, seeming to coil and curl herself to leap the 3 meter wide space between them. It was an easy jump for a shadow, but there was always an element of danger, which of course, added to the appeal.

Marianne ran after The Watcher, leaping a moment after she did and throwing herself through the air to land deftly on the next building.

"Go now Marianne, dawn in coming. I will see you later..."

With those words, The Watcher seemed to vanish into thin air and Marianne then turned to head back to Abigail's apartment, to the woman who had captured her imagination and who would become part of her soul.

The new moon smiled down at the night as they continued to chase each other across the surface of the planet they had safeguarded throughout time and space, as the children of the shadows in turn safeguarded the night and the moon, as they frolicked and played in the darkness.

The End


The Raven

Original Works

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