The Time of Shadows
Sneak lived as an orphan child in the streets of the great city, Chul’ Tovenish, the last bastion of relative safety from The Shadow Lord’s grasp. Orphaned due to her parents dying at the hands of the Shadow Lord’s minions. Her parents had fought to free the land from the oppression threatening to overwhelm it, but were now numbered among the countless dead in the fight. She was Sneak now because Alexandria was a name that presumed too much class for the other street rat’s tastes and had gotten her beaten. She grew up a cut-purse and a burglar, managing to stave off hunger and any other street rat that would take her hard-won spoils for 2 years. One day, she spotted an easy mark in the bazaar; foreign, well dressed and best of all, distracted. She had his purse in a trice and was streaking off to one of her most secret hiding places to see what she’d won that day. The purse was heavy in her small hands, it had to be a lot of money!! Once safely ensconced in her secret place, located in a seldom-traveled alley, she carefully opened the purse and found more money than she had ever seen in one place before! Many thick gold coins! Enough slim platinum pieces that they filled her hands and spilled onto the ground! She was rich beyond her wildest imagination! And the purse was bigger than it seemed, for after a short time of digging out coins, the pile on the ground was bigger than the purse itself! She stopped pulling the coins out and thought about what she would do first… Food. And lots of it. Sneak scooped money back into the purse with both hands until a single gold piece was left out. Sneak pocketed that coin and set about hiding the purse. Anyone would figure out she had stolen the purse if she walked through the streets wearing it. Street rats couldn’t afford bread, let alone purses of such high quality. Sneak hid the purse as well as she could before heading off to the Gulls Wing Tavern. The Gull’s Wing owner, Rufalo, allowed some of street urchins to beg around his tavern. He even gave them the left-over food at night’s end. Sneak had made a habit of hanging around the Gull’s Wing to beg and get somewhat reliable food. Rufalo would know how she had come by a whole gold coin, but wouldn’t turn her in for it. He might have been the ONLY one who wouldn’t turn her in for stealing. So he would end up getting it when she paid him it for a whole fortnight’s worth of food!
In the Gull’s Wing, Sneak walked straight up to the bar, climbed a bar stool and perched on her knees. As soon as Rufalo noticed her, he slowly walked over with a slight frown. “The bar is for my customers child, you know that…” To which, Sneak replied by pulling out the coin and deliberately setting it down on the bar. “Today I’m a customer!” Sneak was visibly shaking with excitement, her smile as wide as it could go. Rufalo eyed the coin, picked it up and checked it’s authenticity by biting it. As it passed his test, she was brought food; and as she ate, the bar customer sitting beside her caught Rufalo’s attention and started a hushed conversation. Sneak was too busy eating a real meal to pay her normal paranoia-level of attention to people around her, or she would have noticed that the customer and Rufalo were talking about her and her coin. As she finished her meal, Rufalo came to talk to her, “Child, do you have any more of these coins?” Sneak was suddenly vary wary, but didn’t want to risk Rufalo denying her access to food. Sneak replied in a small voice, “Maybe.” Rufalo glanced quickly at the customer next to Sneak and said, “You must not show this kind of coin to anyone child. It is made in the Dark One’s forge and would raise many eyebrows, not to mention swords! This man recognized it and warned me about it’s risk.” Sneak gave a side-long glance at the customer. She saw that he was dressed in leather armor and had a dark cloak draped off his shoulder. She noted the sword at his hip, and the many daggers strapped to the rest of him. There was a black veil hanging in front of his face. He was a Gnome and didn’t look to be the normal sort of customer Rufalo had in the Gull’s Wing. Rufalo continued, “He says he’s a money lenders guard and would like to help you. Says he’d swap you coin for coin of the King’s gold for any others you might have…” Rufalo brought his hand forward and showed Sneak a gold coin marked with the King’s seal, “I’ve already traded him the one you paid with and I think you should take his offer… Especially since I can’t take any more of those kind of coins.” Sneak knew that nobody else would take the Dark One’s coin and worse, would call the guard on her if anyone saw her with it. She looked at the Gnome, who seemed to sense her eyes on him and turned in kind to look at her. A shock went through her as their gazes met. All her life as a street rat had honed a sixth sense of sorts. Some people, you knew they were easy marks; some were more trouble than the effort to pick their pockets; then there were the people you knew you had no chance in hell of lifting anything off of and if you were desperate/stupid/new enough to try, you were caught immediately and probably killed. The Gnome gave that sort of feeling as soon as Sneak looked into his eyes. As quickly as the shock came, it went… Sneak looked around disoriented for a moment, wondering where the feeling had gone. Maybe someone behind the Gnome sparked her warning feeling… The Gnome cracked a small smile and addressed Sneak, “Go and get the coins little one. Come back here straight away. I’ll let my employer know to bring his lock-box.” Sneak hesitated for a moment, but knew there was no other way to spend the coin. She clambered off the stool and made her way to the door, she looked back and saw that the Gnome was still at the bar, paying every attention to his drink and not a whit to her. She didn’t want to be followed to her best hiding spot, but he didn’t seem to want to follow her. She looked around the tavern’s common room one last time, trying to spot what had set her skin to crawling, but found no answers. Sneak turned and raced off to her hiding place.
Sneak came up to her hiding place slowly, checking over her shoulder to make sure she was alone. Seeing nobody, she sets about extracting the purse but freezes as she hears the sound of footsteps approaching. Sneak bursts from her hiding place, and sees several figures arrayed around her to prevent her escape. Two of the figures are heavily armored, the other three are in sturdy traveling clothes and all of them were giving Sneak the feeling that she was not long for this world. The strangers stopped a small distance away from Sneak and stood observing her. Then a voice whispered in her ear, “Worry not, for you are among friends little one.” Sneak whirled around and stood facing the Gnome from the Gull’s Wing, in his hands was the purse she had secreted. Before she could panic fully, a glittering light drifted from one of the encircling strangers and a profound sense of peace drifted over her. She heard the Gnome thank the source of the pleasant light before he guided Sneak over to a nearby crate and helped her sit. The Gnome asked her many questions, which she was only too happy to answer. At the end, she sat attentively as the Gnome and his friends moved off a bit and conversed quickly. The Gnome reached into the purse and pulled a small parcel, shaped like an orb, out which sparked a heated debate. It seemed like they were coming to some sort of decision when the sun was completely blotted out by a billowing cloud of shadow. A cord of purple lightning struck the center of the Gnome’s group, blasting most of them from their feet! Sneak sat peacefully a short distance away as a terrible battle ensued in front of her. Cowled figures were rushing into the alley swinging blades of midnight and throwing dark bolts of power. She saw the Gnome darting to and fro, his flashing sword felling the cowled figures. The Gnome’s two armored friends were laying about themselves with a huge blade and a heavy hammer respectively. The one who had used the glittering light was gesturing wildly while several molten globes of fire whirled and mimicked his flailing limbs, burning and searing cowled figures. Another of the Gnome’s companions was also gesturing, though less wildly. Everywhere he gestured, patches of sunlight would pierce the dark clouds that seemed so pervasive. The last of the Gnome’s friends was facing a man dressed in dark robes, both of them barely missing the other as they slashed with strange daggers. Where the robed man would slash, a line of shadow would linger in the air. The Gnome’s friend would slash and a piece of the pure night sky would appear and linger, full of stars. The battle was turning against the cowled people, and they knew it. They were being forced together, pushed back and slowly being cornered. The man in the dark robes gestured furiously to the sky and the clouds roiled bubbled before starting to drift to the ground. The Gnomes friend had cleared most of the clouds over the battle area, but still gestured frantically to clear the last bits above their group. The cowled people retreated to the edge of the alley and scattered, quitting the battle.
Shadow’s deepened around Sneak, causing her to raise her head and look up at the dark cloud bearing down on her. It felt cold as it touched the top of her head and colder still when it began to envelope her. Her vision was shrouded, like a thin scarf had been put over her eyes. She still saw the Gnome notice her, saw him shouting frantically and pointing at her. It looked like he was waving at her; so she tried to waved back. Her arms were extremely heavy though and all she could manage was a slight shift. The Gnome was facing his friend that had cast the glittering light over her before; now he had grabbed his friends shirt front and he was shaking him viciously. Sneak felt so cold, but the heaviness was leaving her, in fact, she felt as light as the cloud that enclosed her. Almost light enough to just float away… She saw the Gnome running towards her, frantically searching in the purse she had lifted from the foreigner. Sneak saw him pull out the small parcel just as he reached her. Clutching it in a hand, the Gnome thrust it into the cloud and sudden pain wracked Sneak. Light stabbed at her bones and her eyes and her mind! She tried to flail and knock the Gnome’s hand away, but the heaviness had returned. All thoughts turned to escape from the pain, to no avail. The light seemed to consume her completely and everything turned from terrible agony to numbness and blackness. When Sneak became aware of anything again, she felt like she was floating in darkness. Nothingness surrounded her and cradled her. She had no limbs to move, no skin to feel; just a mind to think it seemed. Before she could panic fully, she heard the Gnome’s voice, coming from a great distance, “How are you little one?” Sneak replied with a panicky “I’m scared!” The Gnome tried to calm her but nothing he said would quell the rising sense of tragedy and disaster that Sneak felt. “What has happened to me?!?” The Gnome explained that the death cloud conjured by the Shadow Lord’s minions had claimed her. That he had made a desperate attempt to save her by using the parcel’s power to keep her from being claimed completely. Her soul had reached the Shadowfel before he had recaptured it, but her body had perished. Now she was in the infinite black of the Shadowfel. “I don’t want to be here! I want to be alive again!! This is your fault!!!” All Sneak could feel were faint impressions where she was; she got the impression that the Gnome was immensely sorry to have gotten her involved with this. “I’ll do what I can to help you little one. I will return.” Sneak got the impression that he departed and she was alone.
Time passed, but she had no idea how much before the Gnome’s voice echoed from that far distant place, “I have a choice for you little one. We’ve found a way to bring you back, in a fashion. We can not place you in a body as you will undoubtedly want. Unfortunately there is no way this side of the light to give you flesh and blood once more…” Sneak could feel a bitter regret and reluctance from the Gnome before he continued, “We would give your mind access to this plane through a specially prepared item. You would have sight, sound and at times, a voice. Your soul is linked to this place in the Shadowfel, so you can return here whenever you wish as well. Think of it like this: we can give you a window through which you can see and hear what is happening. But nobody will hear you unless they are next to your window, and like a window attached to a house, you can’t move it where you please.” After a pause, Sneak asked, “What is the other choice?” Sneak felt the Gnome was hesitant, but said, “We could rock your soul loose from the Shadowfel and nudge it to one of the realms of judgment where you would stand before your God and be treated just like a normal soul who leaves the mortal coil.” Sneak felt like the Gnome was holding his breath. She had barely had 9 years of life, the last bit of that had been stealing and lying to the city guards. If she was taken to be judged now, there was only one way for that to go. “I want life, or the next best thing. I choose the first way. What do I need to do?” She felt tension release from the Gnome, “Nothing, little one. We’ll do what needs to be done.” Sneak felt the Gnome’s presence receding before coming back again followed by his voice, “I need your name little one, that is something you can do.” Sneak paused before replying. Alexandria was her name as her parents’ child. Sneak was her name as a street rat. Now she was in the Shadowfel, forever in shade. But Shade sounded like a boys name… “Call me Shady.” She felt a small quirk of a smile from the Gnome at the irony as if he could follow her thought process, “Very well, Shady. My name is Vance Torten. Once we put in your window, I’ve a story to share and some more choices for you…”