The Use of Shadows

In the end, he thought it had been rather easy.

Sure, it had taken months for him to pull off his latest heist. Sure, it’d been the most complicated one he’d ever come up with, in theory. When a heist involved waiting for a solar eclipse, stealing an interplanetary planer jet, haggling with the oldest Elf left on that side of the planet in order to obtain the right kind of chicken bones—and not forgetting to double check no civilizations would be killed after he was all said and done? Well…complicated didn’t seem to quiet cover it.

Yet after a year of planning, six more months of working and three close calls of death (the permanent kind), Altair had pulled off exactly that. And it hadn’t been easy. It had been the most difficult heist he’d ever pulled.

Yet standing there now, his stolen loot hanging preciously in a bag he’d had specially woven with spider silk and onyx stones, as had been recommended to properly hold his new possessions; looking up at the window he’d climbed so many times, to steal a kiss that was, in every sense of the word, forbidden; nothing seemed harder in the world than getting one foot to walk in front of the other and finally, truly, end the heist he’d been working for almost two years to complete.

To walk up those steps and propose to the woman he loved, following the tradition of her people and presenting her a gift meant to reflect how he much he truly cherished her, earning the right to ask for her hand in a bond that could not be broken.

Even with forbidden love, that tradition would not be broken.

Suddenly, the bag felt heavy in his hand, even though it was weightless.may 2018 prompt

“I hope you like the stars I stole for you,” he whispered, running his fingers through his hair, before he straightened his jacket and smoothed out his collar one last time.

“Stopped being so foolish, Altair,” he muttered. “Why would she wait for you for so long if she was only going to say no?”

The last night he had seen her, all those months ago, he told her he intended to ask her to marry him, in the proper way that her people demanded. He still remembered how she laughed, before sobering when she realized the seriousness of his intent and the true depth of his feelings towards her. When he described exactly what he would give her, to prove that depth, her nervousness switched to awe and finally to tears, unbelieving that he could care about her so much—with a slight disbelief that he could pull off such a feat, presenting her with the only gift she was certain her family could not refuse, even for an outsider, like him. He promised he would not fail, no matter how long it took. She promised to wait for his return, staring at the stars each night and wondering if she would recognize any that he would bring back for her.

Was it so wrong of him to feel nervous, to see her again, and finally present her the mightiest gift either of them had ever known?

Altair forced his feet to move, walking into the apartments, climbing the stairs towards her door instead of sneaking up to her window. He meant what he’d said. He’d do this properly. Properly wasn’t sneaking in through her window, like the thief he was.

And always would be.

Wiping his palms on his vest, he finished climbing the stairs two at a time, briskly turning on his heel as he reached the top, knowing that if he slowed down at all, he’d chicken out and wait until the following morning to return and try again. Of that he had no doubt.

He’d already done the exact same thing three different times earlier that week.

Briskly, Altair made it to her door, and raised his free hand to knock, before it froze, in mid-air.

It couldn’t be.

Her apartment was small. Only the richest could afford to live in anything bigger than a rented out space with only two doors: the one in front and the one that hid the bathroom. Otherwise, the space for a bedroom, a living area, a dining room and a kitchen was all shared and usually, it wasn’t spread out much. With Alanna, hers had been smaller than most. Alchemists never made that much money and, before they met, she usually didn’t have very many visitors. It had never bothered Altair. He’d even used it as a joke, once, kidding that he could never pleasure her as much as he was able, fearing they’d wake up the neighbors with her moans—and most certainly his, with her talents.

His hand shook as it stayed stationary, hovering.

She certainly didn’t care about what the neighbors thought, now.

He fled her apartment with a silent swiftness he usually reserved for only the stealthiest of coups, the silent awareness he needed of his surroundings to achieve such a feat, forced his body to tense up uncomfortably. But he couldn’t imagine a place or a time he ever wanted to be caught at less. And tense didn’t even begin to cover how he felt.

So he left without a sound or a trace that he’d ever been there, not stopping until he slipped back into the main throng of the town, still thriving with life, thanks to the patrons who never slept. No one noticed one more soul join the fray; not even when he disappeared into the first alley he could find, blending into the shadows that helped him make a living.

Shadows that shielded him as he bruised his knuckles against the brick.

Shadows that muffled his screams as he cursed the sky.

Shadows that masked him as he finally collapsed on the ground, leaning against the cold stone brick underneath the arched bridge he’d stumbled under in a drunken like stupor, but one that promised a hangover he had no idea how to cure.

Shadows that illuminated the stars slipping out of his bag as he dropped it, scattering across the ground like tears of moonlight.

Altair didn’t bother to pick them back up.

What use were they now?

Time passed, but he didn’t track it. Instead, he stared at the dark ground and the stars that were becoming dirtied there and wondered why he wasted time to steal them from where they belonged in the sky, for a heart who didn’t deserve to possess them. He wasn’t sure how long passed before one of the stars moved on it’s own, moving just an inch to the left. Blinking, he focused on it.

The star moved again, flicking back over to the right.

Focusing harder, he picked out a shape amidst the darkness that he hadn’t noticed before: a small cat, its fur disheveled and dirtied, with bones that pressed out against its skin like sharp edges. Bright, yellow eyes ignored him, instead completely focused on where the stars sat, apparently abandoned and free to play with, in front of it.

A tentative paw reached out and swatted at another star, making it dance over to rest by Altair’s hand. The cat, tail flicking, reared back on its hind legs before it pounced, launching itself over the stars to land on the one that almost got away, burying the tiny glow underneath it’s paws. Ears raised, it lifted a paw slowly, ensuring it’s prize had been caught, before burying it once more, tail ever waving.

“Like those stars, do you?” he asked.

The cat’s hair raised before wide, yellow eyes met his. The cat rubbed it’s head against his hand, nipped him once quickly on the wrist, before it returned back to it’s new horde of stars, swatting them back and forth like toys.

Altair closed his eyes and rested his head against the brick.

“Want the broken pieces of my heart, too?”


About Nicole Evans

Image may contain: Nicole Evans, smiling

Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.

Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here and her book review blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.


2 thoughts on “The Use of Shadows

  1. Wow, this was amazing! I loved how you painted a clear picture of the world, the traditions they followed, their relationship – before it all came to a halt. Poor Altair…I loved the ending too. And the imagery was so gorgeous!

    Like

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