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Well, its my story so I'll tell it my way.

My brother thinks I should start with the shadows on the doorstep and fire and light in the night.  Sure, that makes for a dramatic start, but it all came of a babysitting job.

Now we were really poor.  Not even enough clothes for us, twenty-five of us (then, too bad about Jahason), sharing three broken down HUD houses that had been condemned and eating what we could find in the sewers.  I had gotten an outfit from the Salvation Army and decided to go to an "academic outreach" talk at the local park one night.  You know, some professor from the local university had been asked to talk about culture and shadows and stuff.  The sign said there would be refreshments, and I was really hungry and skinny for a twelve-year-old.  Of course a talk that had shadows in the topic would draw me too.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but I ended up with a babysitting job.  It was right at the edge of the territory we had marked out, but I figured if I went there at dusk and they drove me home, I'd be safe the whole time.  After all, they used their garage so I never actually would be out, unless I found something good to eat and left early.  And I was thinking of eating pretty much all the time then.

I got to the doorway and waited to be invited in and instead of an invitation, I got a question.  Seemed to be in a pattern and seemed to rhyme, but I wasn't paying that much attention.  I just wanted in and said yes.  We went through that three times and then I was invited in to be a part of the house, to serve the house and to protect and care for all therein.  That rhyme thing again.

So I was in, and they took me to the kitchen, told me to expect the baby to sleep the whole time they were gone, and left.  I didn't feel as hungry, not at all, though I tried the icecream (rocky road) they left me and I enjoyed the special bread they left out just for me.

Then they took me home.  Both of them, with the baby sleeping away in the car seat.

That is the way it went a couple of times a week, until the others started to close in.  

We got to my house after a babysitting job.

I got out of the car and he stood there, watching me go toward the house.  As I got to the door, it happened.

The other group, the one who made the gateway for their clan to pass into this world, the one that sucked us along with them, they attacked.  Forty shadow-vampires, just like us only stronger and better fed and not hunting and hiding in the sewers.  Guess they figured to make a final meal of us and of that couple.

What a surprise.  That old guy had seemed pretty alert for a college professor.  Anthropology and conflict studies, I think, was what he said he taught. Indigenous magic theories -- whatever that means.  But he just relaxed when the flow of darkness surged towards him.  It was like he had been holding light inside and it flowed out, burning the wave into nothingness.  He was a korlinth, at least partly of that blood, and a lightwalker.  The light lapped out and stopped just six inches from my foot, not quite reaching the threshold I was standing on.

The wife was the scary one.  I thought nothing would be worse than meeting a lightwalker, especially one of the korlinth. They take a pretty dim view of the shadows, disappating us without a second thought whenever they cross our paths. We can't do anything about the light, and especially the ones that are almost holy, like this guy, none of the powers we can reach can touch them.  But the wife had called balefire.

Now I once saw the battlemaster of the clan sept call some glimmers of balefire when we went up against the Dark Wendigo.  The glimmers were enough to destroy even the master, the Dark Wendigo and they cost thirteen shaman everything they had.  But the wife had called so much up that glimmers were shedding off her like snowflakes from an ice mage calling up a blizzard.  Her eyes were hard, so hard that they would have frozen my blood if I'd had any then.

She pulled in and the glimmers circled about her and swept off into the night.  They struck all of the survivors, those who were in the second wave for reserve, burning them so brightly they ceased to exist.

I opened my door and the father nodded at me and they left.

My family was trembling in the house.

"You babysit for that!" my side-father said as the fear radiated from everyone.  "You were lucky to survive, but now, what will we do?" -- after all -- there had been a korlinth at the door (even if he was only partly of that human tribe and mostly of other blood).

But something worse was in the air.  We could feel it.

Cities have spirits and guardians.  Unlike a house you don't have to be invited in, but much like a house they have a warp and a weft.  When it closes in, you can be like a moth caught in a loom as the threads pull tight.

We hadn't been enough to wake the city spirit.  All we did was feed on rats, for fear of what would happen if we ate more. For a group of shadow vampires we were pretty sorry in our ambition.  But we had been a weak sub-line of a weak clan in the shadow realms, feeding from the stuff of shadow and joining in the shadow dance.  Our transition to this world had not been our own choice, but a side effect of a different sorcery.  We had been neutral in a realm given over to evil, more prey than anything else, as our kind in the shadow realms naturally can feed on its own as well as the stuff of shadows.

Once here we had felt the hunger, but had eaten rats and vermin in the sewers, hiding from daylight and from those of our plane who would hunt and eat us to balance out their tasks.

But with the city spirit awakened by the wife's called fire, we were the target of its attention.  That much balefire gathered was like a hydrogen bomb -- she could easily have done as much damage as one of those frightful things -- and the mere gathering of that much flared up on the magical level like a hydrogen bomb exploding.  Most who sensed it just hid and wondered at whatever had happened, but a city spirit would be awakened and would take a look.

And as it looked, the warp and weft of the city would close around us.  Even Jahason who had chosen to seek power by eating foods we had agreed were forbidden, did not have enough strength to resist even the doom that would come just from attention.  We didn't know what to do.  Already we were unable to leave the area of the three houses.

I decided to do what I could and slipped into the hall closet.  You can do that as a shadow vampire.  Dialed the man.  I knew that no one else would understand, but I thought that he, of anyone in the city, could do something for us, if only give us a merciful end.  He had given me a cell phone to use when I babysat, so I could contact them, and let me take it home with me.  Looking back, I think he wanted me to have it if I needed to call for help.  I surely did.

And he came.  By the time he came to the door we were all trapped in the one house.  I thought everyone was afraid, but when he came in, it got even worse.  And they were powerless to do anything but look at him.  What they saw were kind eyes and a man carrying a bag.

Jahason balked immediately, you could tell he thought that the man was going to offer to save us by trapping us in the bag, but that isn't what happened (though it might have worked).  Instead he pulled out about two dozen lumps, they looked (and tasted) a little like very small charcoal briquets soaked in blood.  Hunger swept the room, as great as the fear, and Jahason was blown backwards across the room.  The blood was the man's with everything that meant, but freely given, which meant we could taste it -- if we were not given over to evil, as Jahason was.

We all ate, quickly and could suddenly feel the magic taking hold.  Jahason was there too, but he was squeezed out of existence as the city spirit arrived.

The change came, just in time.  We were weak, still shadows, but enough to be earth shadows, with the earth magic drawn from the city's bedrock (phoenix fire had obviously been used to transform the rock so it could reach us, with the blood to bind it and fuel the change).  Every city has bedrock, often expanding to the edge of wherever the city is, sometimes just on the magical level, sometimes in the mundane world as well.

There we were and the city spirit was there too.  It was the moment of truth.  If it would accept us, we could survive, if not, we would be lucky to just be expelled.

But it embraced us, making us truly real, earth shadows in the service of a city spirit, part of the guardian core of the city. That ended our hunger and made us free to walk the day (though we kept the power to draw life and power from those who did not belong in the city, were evil, or who threatened us).

And that, in a way, is how of all the houses in the city, one has one of the guardian spirit hrthyga as its babysitter.  After all, a girl still needs spare change to buy things like lipstick and Brittany Spears CDs with.


Copyright 2001-2003 Stephen R. Marsh and Heather N. Marsh
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