“You must remain unseen.”
Hykson perched on the edge of the roof, peering at the slowly churning mass of people in the street below. The last rays of the sun were clutching at the city of Waterdeep, reflecting off of tile roofs, city watch armor, jewels worn by noble ladies and the bells of the church of Lathander, the morning lord. Hykson often liked to sit under the bell tower. He thought the irony delicious. As a halfling, he also considered the near daily journey to the temple’s roof a personal trial to prove to the outside world that he could do anything, even if nobody saw him.
Below the traffic from the great market was beginning to really pick up as local and foreign merchants closed up their market stalls for the day and moved their merchandise to the secure warehouses that dotted the dock ward. Hykson scanned the different merchants, noting the heavily armed guards that clustered here and there around different wagons. He sighed. It was becoming more and more difficult for a shadowdancer to do his job. Hykson thought of what he did as a job. He’d come to Waterdeep years ago, looking for a better opportunity for himself and had found that opportunity within the Shadow Thieves of Waterdeep. The intervening years had been a constant learning experience. Hykson had battled through his own Pentad experience, emerging as a bright young prospect. He had mastered many of the Shadow Dancer skills and looked forward to learning many more. He measured the amount of time until the sun would be entirely gone, leaving him to act freely. It was near.
He closed his eyes. One of the wonderful things about becoming a Shadow Dancer, was never really being alone. Before Waterdeep, Hykson had been an accomplished thief in his own right. He’d wandered the Realms, trading on his agreeable nature and quick hands to keep fed and sheltered. But it was a lonely path. He occasionally had worked with an adventuring group or a partner but the constant thought that they might betray him, was too much. He preferred to work alone. Almost alone.
The tingle spread from the base of his spine up through his neck and into his eyes. He felt the usual momentary cold that swept through his body, leaving his teeth chattering. When he opened his eyes he couldn’t stop himself from grinning. Crouching near him, with a matching grin, was his shadow. It was inky black but with eddies of motion dancing across the surface of its body.
“It is good to see you,” he said. “Are you ready to go to work?”
The shadow nodded and pointed towards the stream of people below. The sun was almost gone now and while the rooftops still glinted and gleamed in the orange sunshine, the alleys and streets below were already wrapped in the safety of shadow. Only the occasional torch or even more rarely, the cold, unflickering light of magic.
“Yes. We’re going to get right to business. No time for scouting tonight. We owe our dues and we’re short. We both know what happens if we can’t pay the guild.”
The shadow held out a finger and mimed slicing his own throat.
The two crouched together, waiting and watching. Other thieves were impulsive. Hykson was not. He could be patient. Ten minutes. Twenty. The sun was completely gone now. A sliver of moon was rising but its light was negligible. Thirty minutes. The shadow pointed. A large wagon trundled out of the market. It was round topped with heavy wooden panels and strong iron-bound wheels. A burly man drove the cart, beating the reins against the horses backs with abandon. The man was clearly in a hurry. And he had no guards.
“Good,” Hykson said. "Go see if there’s anything inside. The shadow nodded and stepped off the side of the temple. Hykson tapped his fingers together as he waited. Only his familiarity with shadows allowed him to track his friend’s progress. The shadow ghosted across the wide road, unnoticed by the rapidly dwindling crowd. When he reached the wagon, the shadow flowed up the side, over a collection of boxes roped to it and disappeared. A moment later the shadow emerged and waved a single hand.
He had to be careful. If it was too far and he jumped he would probably die. He waited another five minutes as the wagon moved towards him. When it was almost directly below, he jumped. Or rather he stepped. The shadow being cast by the bell tower was small but not smaller than he was. He jumped into it, being careful to keep his eyes closed. He learned from his first experience shadow jumping that there were things in the shadows that could not be unseen. Instead he clenched his eyes closed and brought the image of another shadow to mind. A large rainwater barrel, the things had popped up like mushrooms all over the city, huddled against the side of the building. Hykson had marked the thing’s shadow for this very purpose. All sound ceased during the brief instant he was inside the shadow realm and the sudden clopping of horse hooves told him he had once again made a safe jump. He opened his eyes. The wagon was only a few feet away. The driver never even looked in his direction. As the wagon rolled by, Hykson darted forward, between the heavy wheels and crouched underneath. It was a good wagon. All of the wood was tightly fitted together, with no signs of cracks or openings. He reached up as the wagon continued its journey and grasped the back of the vehicle as it passed. For a moment he caught sight of the sky above, winking at him and then he heaved and flipped up an onto the small platform that made up the merchants stall.
It was a few feet wide, with an awning overhead. The entire back of the wagon was dominated by a small set of double doors that could be opened when it was time to do business. Hykson knew that the wagons were popular with merchants that traveled between cities. It allowed them to stop at every village and town and set up quickly. It also allowed for quick escapes should the proprietor need.
His shadow seeped out from between the tiny gap formed by the joining of the two doors. Hykson crouched.
“Is it worth it?”
The shadow nodded.
“Is it small?”
The shadow nodded.
The shadow shook its head.
Perfect. Hykson pulled out his silver thieves picks and went to work on the door. Beneath him, the heavy wheels crunched on the heavy cobblestones. A few businesses, mostly taverns, had torches or lanterns outside, but Hykson had his shadow drape itself over him. This allowed him to work in relative safety. A minute later there was a small click and the door opened. He stepped inside and carefully closed it behind him. The space was larger than expected. The rounded roof made it far less claustrophobic that other wagons he had stolen from. There was a tangy smell in the air that mixed with smells of leather and smoke. The Shadow swept over to a small chest and waved him over. Hykson stepped lightly, all senses tensed. He examined the floor for traps and then looked more closely at the unusual roof. He moved forward with careful measured steps.
The chest itself was small, with heavy brown wood and bright silver hinges. He shadow moved away and Hykson pointed toward the small opening at the front of the wagon. The wagon lurched to one side as they turned. Time to get out.
The chest’s lock was much more intricate than the door and he could feel sweat slipping down his back as he worked. Whatever was inside had to be valuable.
The lid popped open and Hykson gasped. Then the world exploded.
(To be continued.)
The Orphans of Waterdeep
A Shadow Dancer's Life
“You must remain unseen.”