The time was almost nigh, Shadow realized, looking up from the human storybook she had been absorbed in when the dim lights that indicated the passage of time on the human world winked off. The sun had set, and now she could begin making her rounds above in safety.
Taking great care to place her book marker, she rose from the central pit in the midst of her chamber and slid the thick tome back into it’s proper place upon her small bookshelf along the rear wall of her little room. She did not bother hiding any of the human paraphernalia she had acquired over the years; mostly gifts from Timothy, as she knew that her room was hers alone. No other could enter except by invitation, and she never had guests. Except for Midnight, of course.
Her mind elsewhere, she pushed aside the tapestry of shiny black beads which hung across the doorway to her private chambers and stepped out into the hallway where she very nearly ran headlong into her neighboring guild-sister, Midnight, who was also just leaving to commence her own rounds.
“Geez, sis! If I didn’t know any better I’d swear you were trying to get a scare out of me!” Midnight exclaimed through a sideways smile as she caught Shadow by the shoulders just before they collided.
Shadow blushed. “Sorry Mid! My mind was elsewhere just now.”
Midnight narrowed her amber eyes to a sly line. “Your mind is always elsewhere these days, Shadow. Honestly, I don’t blame you.”
Shadow eyed her and pushed her way around her friend, who turned and fell into stride beside her as they traveled down the hall together. “What’s to blame? I’m simply… focused. That’s all.”
Midnight wrapped a navy blue hand about her darker guild-sisters shoulders as they went. “Focused on your betrothal, I should hope!”
Shadow’s lip curled upwards in distaste. “Ugh, don’t remind me. No, I’m trying not to think about him, thank you.”
“Oh, the other one then, what’s his name? Tommy?” Midnight said in a low, conspiratorial tone. She knew how to push her friend’s buttons all too well.
Shadow responded aptly. “Midnight!” She exclaimed in a choked squeak, and then in a self-conscious whisper she continued, “I told you! Don’t… What if someone…!” she bit off her harsh whisper and flailed her arms helplessly at her sides in dismay.
Midnight laughed. “Don’t worry so much Shadow, geez. I’ve got your back!” and she patted her friend’s darkly freckled shoulder lightly.
“Of course, thank you.” Shadow sighed with relief. “Just… save it for daylight.”
Midnight took her hand back and ran her claws through her bobbed raven-black hair. “I won’t have to for much longer anyway; Once you bond with Terminus your stalking days are over. You won’t have the time to keep up with your little hobby even if you wanted to, and my life can finally get back to normal, instead of doing all of these double rounds.”
“Timothy isn’t a hobby, Midnight,” Shadow attempted to clarify, but Midnight shook her head, cutting her off.
“I know what he is Shadow. He’s two birds with one stone. A test subject and an open book for your weird obsession with all things human. I’ve seen your bookshelf.”
It was Shadow’s turn to shake her head. “And what is so wrong with wanting to learn a little about your adversary? I’ve simply managed to find myself in a…” she rolled her hand for effect in a very human gesture. She had picked up many human gestures over time which often awarded her with odd looks from her peers. Finally, she found the descriptor the was looking for. ”…a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Midnight scoffed. “I hope it is not TOO mutual!”
“Oh please, give me some credit. I know what I’m doing. We are safe.” Shadow said, with finality.
A shrug from Midnight let the topic slide. “I hope so, for your sake.”
As they walked along they exchanged a shrewd glance between them and halted their conversation completely as they entered out into the main courtyard of their guild house, Sister’s Hall. Crossing the open courtyard together they approached the main entrance way, a massive archway guarded day and night by their High-Mother’s valkyrie-like elites, who were lead by Nightfire, the silver star.
Being of the guild, Shadow and Midnight were afforded no trouble crossing the threshold of the great door by the other women on duty there and proceeded outside, entering the labyrinthine Dark Passageway beyond.
“Listen sis, I know you don’t want to hear it; but you’ve got to say goodbye to this kid.” Midnight said quietly after they were well away from Sister’s Hall and found themselves once again alone in the prevailing darkness of their subterranean universe. “It’s better to do it now, while you still have a chance to do it at all. Terminus might call on you at any time. You know this.”
They stopped at an intersection, and Shadow looked at her friend as though she were completely lost. Her ears drooped and she wrapped her arms about herself as though she had caught a sudden chill. With a great effort on her part Shadow seemed to finally arrive at the same conclusion. After a long sigh of resignation, she quietly murmured her agreement. “You’re right, of course; but I… I don’t know how. Is that weird?”
Midnight flared her wings out a bit behind her shoulders in a shrug. “It’s very weird Shadow, and I don’t envy you for it.” Then she slapped her Guild-sister on the shoulder and split off, taking her own branch down the Dark Passageway. “But it has to be done!” She shouted over her shoulder and gave a small wave goodbye as she disappeared into the ethereal fog which drifted the ancient portal-way.
“Does it?” Shadow whispered in reply, as much to herself as to her friend. Then she too turned and took her own path, forging ahead with a heavy heart; a heart which, at the prospect of a final farewell looming within it ran cold with… what was it? Fear? She shuddered and drew her wings tightly about herself.
‘Terminus. Gods, why did it have to be him?’ Shadow mulled over the disturbing thought once again for the millionth time, as she made her way along the ancient corridors that connected her realm to the human world. She had been well aware of her betrothal for several weeks now, but she still could not understand why it had even fallen to her, of all of the Night Sisters. By rights, and if he were wise, Terminus should have chosen her eldest guild-sister, Nightmare; she had been the one receiving the proper training in such matters after all, and yet he had specifically chosen her, a somewhat unremarkable Nightstalker, who at the best of times was considered slightly odd by her fellow brood. Why? Why would she have to put aside her duties, simultaneously losing her closest friend, only to become the subservient lapdog to that pompous fool.
“For the greater good of the guild.” The High-Mother, Lady Moonlight had told her, clearly surprised at Terminus’ choice as well. The entire affair was merely an attempt to garner some new deal with Terminus’ own guild, the Dark Brotherhood, with whom the Night Sisters had been quarreling of late over some dispute or another concerning the territories of the Dark Passageway.
Shadow shook her head. She did not want to be a pawn in some game; leverage in a real-estate deal. She only desired to keep living her seemingly unremarkable, quiet life her own way, as merely a humble Nightstalker. She did not want to give up her clandestine friendship; the one carefully hidden away beneath her average facade.