Chapter 1 (Twilight)
In the City of Terron, twilight was the changing of the guard. It was the exchange of one way of life for another.
Slaves and servants laid out the tables of their masters while their stomachs remained empty. Shop keepers tied up their stores and cast a prayer of protection against thieves. Merchants wandered home from their money tables, thanking the stars for heavy purses or throwing curses at dark spirits for having poisoned the water. The dust that clung to one clung to the other, except for the nobles. They alone were untouched by the dry earth. Theirs was a life of wine, figs, fresh bread and mutton. They lived above their fellow creatures in every way.
Most of this was lost on the night owls of Terron, and while desert owls did come out of their haunts to hunt mice with the feral cats, another sort of night owl stirred. Twilight belonged to the homeless, the abandoned, the unwanted, and the hidden.
When the light of an expired day was nearly gone, the streets at first seemed still. There was a peaceful calm after the bustling ceased. The smell of coal fires from the evening meal slowly cleared from the air. Lanterns burned brightly inside of most homes, but little of their light escaped into the streets. By the glow of the moon and stars, the rust-colored dwellings and their sun-washed canvas eaves slowly blended with the green brush and spotty trees to make a land awash in shadow. And this was when the shadows came to life.
Slipping down the trunk of a thirty foot boba tree, a sly figure controlled its descent with practiced ease. Calloused, bare feet and dirty hands gripped the ribbed bark like a lizard. Wide eyes peered into the street below through strands of greasy, brown hair. Falling the last six feet, a boy in tattered clothes alighted in the dust.
With the boldness of one who owned that tree, he leaned against it and looked up and down the street quietly. After a few seconds, he gave a low-toned whistle, and continued to watch.
Several homes further down, a stray dog left his own haunt and drifted up the street. A sheep dog mutt that clearly no longer kept sheep, it wagged its tail lazily, holding its head high to sniff the air.
“Where you been, Scratch?” the boy asked, unafraid of whether he might be overheard.
When the stray got closer it sauntered up to the boy with its ears held down a bit.
“No, don’t you worry about me,” the boy said. “I’m your very best friend, remember?” Lowering to a crouch, the boy held Scratch’s face with both hands and rubbed it all over, carefully avoiding his left ear, which was half-missing and always a sore subject.
“You still hurtin?” the boy asked, talking as if the conversation might become two-way at any moment. He reached out and gently felt one of the dog’s back paws. The pads were even drier than the boy’s hands. Rubbing his fingers together just to make sure, the boy nodded in approval. “You ain’t bleedin’ no more, so where were you?”
Scratch sat down at this question and cocked his head sideways, as if to reverse the accusation.
The boy stood up and put his hands on his waist. “I was where I always was, you know that.” Scanning the street, he smirked. “Don’t worry, boy. You just stick with Joby and he’ll keep you covered. C’mon, I’m starvin’.”
From Part 1 of the The Shadow Tribe, "The Boy with the Scar." Only $.99 in Kindle.