It was simple enough to recognise a thief, but recognising them didn’t make the getting away part any easier. Once they’d seen someone, anyone, with some power, no matter how little it was, that person became a target. After that the only real choice was to run if you wanted to live, even though there was no guarantee they wouldn’t find you. Some of them had the ability to track people by their power and Jillian had been dealing with that ever since she’d become a target. No matter where she went or what she did, he was always there, one step behind her, and she knew she’d never be able to stop running. At least not if she wanted to live.
Not feeling safe to sleep was her main problem. Jillian would let herself nap occasionally, but it had been months since she’d had a full nights sleep. Every time she thought about him, about what could happen to her if she let him catch up to her, it stopped her from sleeping anyway. She wished she’d learnt how to use her powers instead of ignoring it and hoping they’d go away, because she’d never wanted to have them. Admitting she had powers meant she would have had very few choices. Sighing, she shook her head. It was too late to think about what she should have done. Jillian had never really believed in the power thieves, at least not until she saw the one that was after her, and that was when she realised that she should have done. Lacking any knowledge in how to use her power meant she’d been in danger for years. Fear of being executed stopped most people from learning how to use their powers, including Jillian, and that meant they were prey for the thieves.
Jillian knew the day would come when he’d catch her. There was only so much she could do to keep away from him and every time she saw him he seemed a little closer than he had the time before. All she wanted was a safe place where she could sleep for a night, not having to worry about the thief, but that wasn’t going to happen. His ability to know where she was at all times meant the safest places for other runners weren’t safe for her and she refused to put other people in danger. She was just determined to live for as long as possible, because she thought she might be able to protect herself from him if she was able to use her powers.
Experimenting was, unfortunately, dangerous, especially on the streets, but it was the only thing Jillian could do. Using her powers made it easier for him to find her and more likely that someone within the police force would see her. Either way she’d end up dead, which wasn’t something she’d imagined happening to her at twenty-three, even though there was every possibility she might lose control of her powers. Like everyone on the streets she’d heard of the Thieves’ Hideout, but that wasn’t an option for her, because she didn’t know where it was.
There had been someone who’d tried to convince her to go with him, that she would be safe there, and if she hadn’t believed that he was trying to get something from her, something that she wasn’t willing to give, she wouldn’t be running from someone she was certain wanted her powers instead. Now, knowing that he was after her, there was nothing she wouldn’t do to ensure her own safety, even though she’d probably end up regretting it.
“You already have regrets, Jillian,” a male voice said, making her jump, and when she turned her was right behind her.
At first Jillian was scared, knowing what he wanted from her, but then her anger, the anger that caused her to be homeless in the first place, got the better of her. “Where did you come from?” she asked, just managing to keep her voice even.
“Your fear calls to me. It has since the moment I first came across you and I can feel you wherever I am, even if I’m in the Hideout. When you think of me, of the moment when I take your magic from you and leave you for dead, I know exactly where you are. There have been times before when I could have done this, but I was waiting.”
“A choice to be made.”
He smiled. “Unfortunately, dear Jillian, it’s not something I can tell you about, not right now, but there may come a time when I can.”
“It’s hard to talk to the dead and there’s no chance of me surviving if you take my magic from me. Both hunger and the fact I haven’t slept in days will make it pretty much impossible for me to fight for my life.”
“My plan, originally, was to drain you. It’s not possible to have too much magic. However I mentioned that I’d seen you to a couple of my associates and one of them recognised you from the description I gave and he told me something very interesting. When I found that out I knew that my only real option was to take you to the Hideout with me.” He smiled again. “I remember you thinking that you would do anything to be safe from me and if you were being honest then…”
Jillian shook her head. She felt like she was dreaming, because she didn’t think for a moment that she would be standing face to face with the man who had been hunting her for weeks and have him tell her that he was going to take her to safety. “Look, sweetheart, I’m not the only thief to know of your existence and when they knew I was hunting you they were willing to keep their distance. That’s the way we work. If any of them find out I offered you sanctuary, only for you to turn it down, they will come after you and they will take your magic, because once that happens it becomes obvious that I’ve found out something interesting about you.”
“They won’t know what it is?”
He shook his head. “All they will know is that there’s a reason I offered you a place of safety and we only do that if we’ve found out that there’s something unusual about the person we were after. It’s not something, fortunately, that happens very often.” He studied her. “It’s also not something that I ever planned on doing, because I much prefer having the magic than anything else, but you… you’re different, for reasons that I am not at liberty to tell you yet, and knowing that means my only option is to convince you to come with me.”
Jillian swallowed, even though her mouth was drier than it had ever been before, and he surprised her by holding out a flask. “Thank you, but I was taught never to take anything from a stranger.”
“I promise you that there’s nothing unusual in it and, honestly, now is not the time to turn down something that may give you some strength. Coming to the Hideout with me makes the most sense, so you’re going to have to at least pretend you trust me, because otherwise they’ll think I can’t protect you, even though I can protect you whether you trust me or not. Unfortunately they see a lack of trust between people as a weakness they can exploit, so they’ll try to turn you against me, make you think they’re the better people, when they’re no better than me – they’ll just want to know what’s special enough about you for me to offer you a place at the Hideout and it’s not something they’ll be able to see, so you’ll probably end up dead if you let them do that.” He shrugged. “The other option is to walk away and for that you’re going to need your strength too, because right now you aren’t going to last another day.”
Biting hard on her lip Jillian heard her mother’s voice, telling her once again that strangers were not to be trusted at all, and yet it had been her family that had been the real problem. He was offering her something, admittedly for selfish reasons, that her parents wouldn’t give after they found out what she was, because they’d made the decision that they were much better off without her. They were probably right, but that didn’t make being on the streets any easier, in a place where she knew one day the Thieves would come after her. Finally, still unsure, she took the flask and sipped, surprised when she found it was full of soup.
“You haven’t eaten and soup is a good way of getting both food and drink inside you.” He smiled at her, even though he seemed a little rusty at it, like he hadn’t smiled for a long time. “I know you don’t want to trust me and if I was in your position I wouldn’t, because I know too much about me, but…” He snapped his mouth shut. “Putting this into words isn’t easy. I don’t have a lot of time to convince you to come with me, before someone finds out what I’m up to, and I don’t want to leave you here.”
Jillian sipped the soup, feeling warmer than she had since it had all started. “You’ve been hunting me for months. I don’t trust you and that makes it very hard for me to think of taking you up on your offer, especially as I know what you are and I know what you do.” She bit her lip. She seemed to be doing that a lot, and told herself to stop, because it was beginning to hurt. “I’ve seen the husks that you leave behind when you steal someone’s magic.” She blinked away tears as she tried not to think of a friend that she had lost to the thieves, but it was hard not to, especially as it had been less than three days since she had come across what was left of him. “Going with you, to the Hideaway, doesn’t make sense, but it might well be the best choice for me.” A tear trickled down her cheek. “Do you know how much I hate that?”
“Probably as much as I did.” He held his hand out. “I know this isn’t what you want. It isn’t what I wanted. You’re right, though. Coming to the Hideout with me now is the best choice you could make, even though it’s also the worst one.”
Burying her teeth in her lip once more Jillian, shaking, took his hand with her free one, trying not to ask herself what she was doing. He might well have been the thief who killed her only friend, because she had been stupid enough to stay with him for a night instead of moving on, and yet… she studied him as they stepped onto a flight of stairs that hadn’t been there a moment before, wondering who he’d been before, why he’d become a thief, and what it was about him that made her feel like she knew him. During the short journey she managed to stop herself shaking, even though she hadn’t thought it was possible.
“What should I call you?” she asked.
“O’Connor.” He squeezed her hand. “It’s going to be okay, Jillian, but it will take you a while to get used to the Hideout. The people here, like me, aren’t nice, and there are things you’re going to need to hide from them.”
“Like why I’m here.”
O’Connor nodded. “Don’t tell them I made the offer to begin with. Let them wonder. You could be a sister or a cousin, because it isn’t unusual for one of the thieves to bring someone here they want to protect, and often it’s a family member – although they are normally just grabbed and brought here, rather than talked to about what’s happening, so you being quiet will make them think.”
“Will I ever understand why you did make the offer?”
“Yes, you will. I promise when the time is right I’ll tell you, but that time is not now. Now is the time to work out where we’re going to put you and how you’re going to help me pay for your room, because renting two rooms here isn’t cheap.”
“I could just stay with you.”
The fear in O’Connor’s eyes almost made Jillian laugh. “I’m not certain that’s a good idea.”
“Give me some time to get to know people here and I’ll be able to find someone else to share a room with, to keep the costs down, but until then it will be better for both of us if I just stay in your room. That way you’ll be able to protect me, I’ll be able to get used to the Hideout, and it’ll give me a chance to get to know some of the other female magic users here.” Jillian thought for a moment. “If there are any here, that is.”
“I’ll introduce you to Stasia. She’ll be able to help you.” O’Connor bit his lip. “The only person I really trust here is Stasia, because she’s isn’t a magic user, and I’m not scared that one day she might decide she wants my abilities for herself. It’s rare for someone up here to kill another thief for their abilities, but it has been known to happen. When she blooms that might change, although I hope it won’t, because she’s… different, in a way I don’t know how to describe. Even though she doesn’t trust me she’s willing to help me when I need it and she keeps telling me that change is coming.” He shrugged. “I wish I knew what she meant when she said that.”
Jillian smiled. “Have you ever heard the story of how the Hideout was created?” O’Connor shook his head, surprising Jillian, but then she knew nothing about him or what he’d been taught.
“Mother told me the story when I was young. She said we were related to the person who created the Hideout. I don’t know if I believe her, although she told that we have a family tree somewhere that shows our link to him, and she promised me she’d show me it when I was old enough, but then… of course, in the way of all stories, this might be true or it might not. There’s no proof I’ve seen that this actually happened, but I know Mother truly believed what she was telling me.
“We’re certain it happened not long after Pherick is said to have bloomed, the first magic user to live in this kingdom, but that’s something it’s impossible to be certain of. There may have been others before, there may have been failed bloomers, but he definitely one of the first in this kingdom, who had no idea what had happened to him. It happened to all the early magic users, as they came to terms with blooming, with having abilities that no one else had, and they kept it a secret, even though it might have been better for them not to. If they’d have talked to each other they would have been able to work together, rather than suffering alone. I can’t imagine what it must have been like, but I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.”
“So am I,” O’Connor said, studying Jillian, but she did her best to ignore that.
“It was three years after Pherick bloomed that one of the people he’d had a chance to get to know suggested creating a sanctuary for magic users, just in case something was to happen in the future. They had all felt wary eyes on them, so they believed it was possible, and for their own protection as well as the protection of future generations they set about doing just that. Unfortunately the magics they used then are lost to us now, which might be because we simply don’t remember them or because we can’t use them for whatever reason. Maybe the time will come when we regain the knowledge that we need or they might be lost forever.
“The job they’d decided to do wasn’t an easy one. Even though they’d had some experience with the magic they’d found themselves with it wasn’t enough for them to feel certain of what they were doing, but they did believe it was the best option. It was that belief that kept them going when things didn’t go the way they wanted them to, which happened a lot, and when they got to the point that they were waking up just as exhausted as they were going to sleep. From what I was told I get the feeling that there were a lot of pointless arguments during that time and I’m surprised that they managed to stick together long enough to be able to create something like this.
“Fortunately they did and the first time magic was made illegal the Hideout was used by anyone who managed to survive the blooming process, if they managed to get to it safely. Mother said she was told stories of that time by someone she met, and about the Hideout, but I didn’t know how that was possible, when they would have been long dead by then.” Jillian shrugged. “When I was younger it was just nice to be able to spend some time with Mother, because she was always so busy. She stopped telling me them after I asked her for proof that they were true and the little time we spent together dwindled into nothing. I get the feeling I could never live up to someone that she lost, so I stopped trying.”
“What day was your mother born?”
O’Connor nodded. “One of the abilities that someone born on Sauin’s Day will bloom with is the ability to talk to the dead. She could easily have heard those stories from Pherick himself.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m a thief, Jillian, and I’ve seen the ability sold at the auctions before, although it doesn’t happen very often. Very few people are born on Sauin’s Day, even fewer people survive blooming on Sauin’s Day, and finding someone after that is almost impossible, so the only time it ever really happens is if someone gets very lucky.”
“Depending on your point of view.”
“True.” Their eyes met. “Did your mother tell you she had magic?”
“No, and I’m honestly not certain she did. When I bloomed the first thing she did was kick me out, telling me it was far too dangerous for me to stay at home, which makes it hard for me to believe it’s possible.”
“Our victims don’t all die. Most of them do. We drain them, leaving behind their bodies, and I know you’ve seen one, so I’m not going to make it any harder for you than it already is. However there are those who… honestly, I can’t tell you how it all works, because I don’t know. I never cared enough to learn. I should have done, but that’s beside the point. What I do know is that there are those who make it through and your mother could have been one of those people.”
“Why would she kick me out?”
“Fear. Jealousy. Anger. Emotions aren’t logical. I can’t tell you why your mother made the decision she did, but we’ve all been through it. My parents kicked me out when I bloomed. I was lucky enough to find someone to help me. Now it’s my turn to help you.”
“Which isn’t what you wanted.”
“The big lesson I learnt when I started called the Hideout home was that we don’t always get what we want. I think the first thing I should do is find Stasia. She’ll know what we should do next.”
O’Connor gestured for Jillian to follow him. For some reason she couldn’t help thinking Stasia was the reason he’d made the decision he had, and that made Stasia someone Jillian really wanted to meet.<<< Aurora’s World: Ialaera: Mirica: A Thief in the House***Aurora’s World: Ialaera: Mackenzie: The Thieves’ Hideout >>>