Mackenzie checked to make sure she was alone before she reached up with her hand and grabbed hold of the chain. Only certain magic users were permitted to know of its existence, because it led to a sanctuary mostly inhabited by the thieves. She was lucky to be one of them, especially as she would never steal anyone’s magic, but instead she would help the people who couldn’t cope with blooming. It meant she had more magic than most of the thieves, she had to watch her back more than anyone else would, and if anyone ever found out who she really was…
Shaking her head Mackenzie put her foot on the first step, pushing all thoughts about her past out of her mind, because there were several telepaths who might be in the safe place when she entered. A couple of them she liked and trusted enough to talk to them about every day things, but she didn’t trust anyone enough to talk about who she had been before she bloomed. It didn’t matter if they liked her or not: if they found out the information would be all around the kingdom within a couple of hours and then she’d be in real trouble.
Once Mackenzie was in the sanctuary she headed straight for her room, because she didn’t really want to spend time with anyone. She didn’t want to be alone either, but it wasn’t as though she had any friends, and it was better to be alone than to have to deal with people she mostly didn’t like. Most of them were interested in one thing: power. It didn’t matter where they got it from as long as they had more of it than anyone else, which made everyone compete against each other, and, unfortunately, everyone wanted the amount of power Mackenzie had.
It wouldn’t happen, but they didn’t know that. None of them knew that one of the powers Mackenzie had gained when she’d bloomed was the ability to take someone else’s power without endangering herself. That was another one of those things she had to keep to herself, because there were some thieves who collected different abilities as well as power. She wasn’t the only one with the ability either, so she had to keep them safe as well as herself, because they weren’t as strong or as capable of using their powers as she was.
As she walked she nodded to a couple of people she thought, under different circumstances, she might like, picked up a bottle of something drinkable, and finally got the key to her room out of her top. Mackenzie kept it on a necklace, because if anyone thought they could steal it they would. It had taken her years to be able to afford even a small room of her own and she wasn’t going to let anyone steal it. Once she was in, with the door locked behind her, she kicked off her shoes. Sighing, she flumped onto her bed.
Alone, Mackenzie let herself relax. No one would dare enter the room when she was there, knowing that once she was in there her wards would be powered up, and tried not to think too much about anything. Once she started thinking she’d start worrying about things she couldn’t do anything about. Like her youngest sister, whose eighteenth birthday was getting closer. None of her other siblings had bloomed, but that didn’t mean Iliana wouldn’t. Mackenzie knew their only option if that did happen would be for her to, somehow, find enough money to rent a double room for the two of them. Even her mother had agreed with her and that just showed how bad things had become.
Money was one thing none of the family had a lot of. With Mackenzie in the hideout their funds were already stretched and she was beginning to think she might have to turn to illegal means to earn enough for the double room. She glanced around her room, which had never really felt like anything more than a safe place to rest her head at night, wondering if she’d miss it. Of course there was no reason to believe that Iliana would bloom. No one understood why some people did and some people didn’t, so there was no way to know if it was going to happen until it did. Mackenzie had been the first of their family to bloom for three generations.
Doing her best to distract herself Mackenzie instead turned to the problem of getting her wards to work even when she wasn’t there. They had to be powered up by something which was why they normally only worked when she was in the room. She couldn’t work out why her wards worked like they and why other people’s didn’t, so she guessed it was just another one of those weird problems it seemed everyone had with at least one of their abilities. In three years she’d gotten nowhere, but that didn’t mean she was going to stop trying, and with her sister’s possible arrival being imminent she wanted to at least have some idea how she could make them work without her having to spend the rest of her life sitting in her room.
Mackenzie had been left with two possibilities. The first was to make use of crystals that could hold power within them, but getting hold of crystals that would hold enough power to keep the wards working for the whole time she was working wasn’t going to be easy or cheap. She’d also need more than one, so she didn’t have to charge them every night which would just leave her in danger if someone did decide to attack her, and the problem was it did seem to be the best chance she had of keeping her wards working when she wasn’t there. Her second option was the one she was going to try first, because it was cheaper. Unfortunately it just wasn’t any easier to get hold of what she needed.
There was a certain type of wood that would hold the same power as the crystals, but smaller bits of the wood could hold more power than most crystals, and fortunately it was something very few people had the capability of doing, which kept the cost down. Unlike crystals. Anyone could power up a crystal, so they did, which meant there were now less crystals on the market, which, in turn, meant that the price of the crystals went up. Sometimes, if you were particularly lucky, one of the older pieces was sold, and they were always worth the money. Mackenzie would be keeping an eye out for one of them, even though that meant she’d probably have to go hungry for a couple of months in order to afford the rent as well as buy the crystal, no matter how much she managed to save before it happened.
She knew being in the Hideout gave her an advantage that people outside it didn’t have. Normally a crystal would be passed down from generation to generation and the only way one would come to market was if someone stole it, which was often the job of someone at the Hideout. One that they would brag about, so Mackenzie would know in advance that there would soon be a crystal in one of the auctions. When that happened, because it happened once every century, the crystal would not be cheap, and she knew she was lucky to be alive during a time when a thief might be hired to get a crystal.
Of course the auctions were usually just for stolen magic. She’d never normally go to one, because she wasn’t in the Hideout for that reason, even though the majority of people were – and they often visited the auctions to see what they could buy. Having more abilities that the average magic user was something that a lot of the thieves bragged about, especially if they’d managed to get hold of a particularly rare one, and Mackenzie hated them for it, but that was one of the many things she kept to herself. Letting them know that she was different would be a good way to get herself killed, even though there were others who had entered the Hideout as a sanctuary. Unfortunately the majority was there because they were thieves in hiding from the authorities.
It was something she tried not to think about too much, otherwise someone might pick up on her feelings or her thoughts and tell the rest of the thieves. Most of them wouldn’t mind that she had entered the Hideout in order to keep herself safe from the authorities, but there were those who would do their best to catch her unaware. Once that happened they would steal her magic to either keep or sell, which would leave her sister without a protector, and that was something she would never let happen – because she knew what it was like to be a female magic user trying to learn how to use their abilities without dying for some reason or being taken advantage of.
It was on the days she hated the Hideout most that Mackenzie reminded herself of how much harder it would be out there. For the first six moons after she bloomed she had no other option – all she could do was walk the streets, looking for a safe place to sleep, for food, for opportunities to earn money that weren’t prostitution. Being a magic user made prostitution dangerous, otherwise it would have been a possibility, because she didn’t have a problem with the idea of using her body to earn the money she needed for food and shelter, especially as it wasn’t illegal in her home city. Since she’d been in the Hideout she’d had a chance to travel more, so she’d visited cities where it was illegal, but that didn’t stop anyone – it just made it harder for the girls who had no other options.
Mackenzie knew she’d been lucky. Even when she’d bloomed her father had been willing to house her, to let her choose her own husband, to do whatever was right for her, but staying was too dangerous. If she’d been found… she tried not to think about that, because she had left her family behind, although it had been one of the hardest things she had done in her life, in order to make sure they were safe. For a short time she’d hoped she might find somewhere safe, somewhere she could look after any family who bloomed, and the longer she spent on the streets the more that faded away. She didn’t think she’d ever find a sanctuary.
At least until a girl, who hadn’t looked to be more than six, had appeared in front of her. That girl still hadn’t reached her eighteenth birthday, so no one knew if she was going to bloom or not, but she had been raised in the Hideaway after her mother died, and she searched for people she thought would make it a better place. It had been thanks to her that Mackenzie had found her sanctuary, the place she could bring her sister, but that didn’t make things any easier, as she wondered once more how she would afford a double room. She did have savings, money stashed away in case a crystal became available, that she didn’t want to use unless she had no other choice. Biting hard on her lip she stood, pacing from one side of her room to the other.
There was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” Mackenzie called, trying to keep the surprise from her voice.
“Your guardian,” an amused voice replied, and Mackenzie smiled as she made her way over to the door.
“I was just thinking about you, Stasia.” She stepped back to let Stasia into the room, their eyes meeting for a moment. “And Iliana.”
“She’s not going to bloom, Mack.”
“How do you know that?”
“When I was younger I could feel things that I didn’t understand and it’s only now that I’m older that I’ve started to understand that what I’m feeling is someone when they’re about to bloom. It all starts around six months before the bloomers eighteenth birthday, which Iliana is long past, and so far I’ve felt nothing. Sometimes it does happen much later, but it’s very unusual, so Iliana’s not going to bloom, but…” Stasia bit her lip. “I need to ask a favour.”
It wasn’t like Stasia to ask for help from anyone, which worried Mackenzie. “What do you need?”
“Mack, you’re the only person I trust in here. Everyone else…” Stasia shook her head. “I’m not being fair. The majority of the thieves in here are amoral bastards who steal magic in order to make money and I wouldn’t accept their help if they offered it. Some of the others are starting to think, which is going to change things. Father is one of the amoral bastards, someone who isn’t going to want things to change, even though they have to, so I wanted to know if I could stay with you for a while. Just until I bloom.”
“You’re going to bloom?”
“My birthday is six days after Iliana’s. Being able to feel my own body going through the preparations is strange, but at least I know it’s coming. I want to be here when it happens, because I trust you to look after me, while Father is more likely to wait until I’m at the point where the process is most likely to go wrong and steal my magic.”
“He’s your father.”
“That doesn’t change anything. I’m still going to bloom with certain rare abilities that he’ll either want for himself or to sell at the next auction, because they’ll make him a lot of money.”
Mackenzie studied Stasia. She looked much younger than Iliana, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t telling the truth. “I appreciate you telling me that I don’t have to worry about Iliana. Knowing that she’ll be safe…” The worry that had been weighing Mackenzie down seemed to have floated away. “When I get a chance I’ll pass on what I know and in thanks for helping me, more than once, I’m happy to take you in until your eighteenth birthday. It’s not a very big room, but I’m sure things will work out fine.”
“Once I bloom I’ll move in with Rica and Jill.”
“Rica is the girl that Nico brought in to the Hideout, because he was finally making a move on her brother and found the wrong sibling, while Jill’s currently living with O’Connor, thanks to someone whispering a little information in his ear that made him realise he was going to steal the magic of someone he’d hate himself for hurting.”
Like everyone Mackenzie had heard the rumours of the girls being brought in and asking for sanctuary, but her entire focus had been on Iliana, so it wasn’t something she’d really thought about. “You know much more about the Hideout than I do.”
“I’ve lived here my entire life, Mack, and I feel like it’s my job to know as much about this place, and it’s inhabitants, as I can. They tell me their stories, because I’m happy to listen, and I can help them with difficult decisions they need to make, if they want it. Father keeps reminding me there’s a chance I might not bloom, so I’ll have to leave the Hideout, but I know he’s only doing that because he hates the changes that are already happening.”
“He blames you,” Mackenzie said. “All of the changes that have happened, he believes, are entirely your fault.”
Stasia nodded. “Which is another reason I don’t want to be around him when I bloom.” She reached out and took hold of Mackenzie’s hand. “Thank you for helping me. I promise I’ll pay my way.”
“You don’t have to do that. As I won’t need to move into a double room with Iliana I’m not so worried about my income and I do I have little bit saved.”
“Money that you have plans for, Mack, so I won’t let you use it.”
“How do you know about that?”
“It’s the same thing I’d do if I was in your position. A woman alone in the Hideout…” Stasia studied her again. “How about you move in with us?”
“That’s…” Mackenzie trailed off, trying to find a way of saying no gently because she didn’t want to share a room, but maybe it would be safer than being alone. “Give me some time to think about it. It would be too easy to walk away from an opportunity that I might later regret not giving a chance.”
“While I’m here I’ll take you to meet Rica and Jill. I think you’ll like them and it will give you a chance to make an informed decision, rather than one based on the fact you’re very much a loner, so the thought of sharing a room with anyone, even Iliana, fills you with dread.”
“By that logic I should have said no to you.”
“Of course you should, but you don’t want anything to happen to me.” Stasia smiled. “I know how you see me. Being female and in the Hideout isn’t easy for any of us. When we first met I was a child, my father had no idea how to cope with me, and I brought you to the Hideout, so you felt like one of the ways you could pay your debt was to help me. Without you… honestly, having someone by my side on the days when I was feeling at my most vulnerable is something I can never repay you for.”
“Every time you did the same thing for me I thought of it as repayment.”
“Yes, but if it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have had anyone to guide me through puberty and it wasn’t until recently that I realised how much I really did need you. I still do, obviously, and your debt to me is long since paid in full, even though I never really believed that it existed. If there had been anyone else I would have asked them, rather than asking you once more for help, but you really are the only person I want to be around when I bloom, because I know, for certain, that you won’t take my magic.”
“How do you know that?”
“Once, while I was out looking for people who might need my help, I saw you with someone who looked very much like he was dying thanks to the blooming process. You held his hand and I thought for a moment you might take his magic. Instead you took enough to make his death much less painful before letting it go. I have no idea how you did it, but it makes me certain that you won’t do anything to me, except for help if something does go wrong, as that is always a possibility.”<<< Aurora’s World: Ialaera: Jillian: Hunted***Aurora’s World: Atecia: Aurora: Harrison’s Arrival >>>