Well, perhaps calling Miss Elysium a monster is a bit harsh. But that was undoubtedly my first impression of her. She had managed to catch me in the act of theft without even looking back, without giving any indication that she had noticed my presence – furthermore, from her words, it seemed that she had known of my presence for some time, possibly even from the moment I had started tailing her. And despite noticing, she had not taken any measures to prevent the theft or change her behaviour, instead choosing to catch me in the moment of the act. In other words, she had absolute confidence in the fact that no matter what I tried, she would be able to stop me. For the fourteen-year old me, at least, it seemed that a monster had appeared in human skin.

Said monster continued smiling at me – the scene was starting to draw attention from the bystanders. Not good. I was stuck in the middle of the crowded street, clearly caught in the act of stealing – my hand was still outstretched and was clearly reaching for the purse at the woman’s side. The entire endeavour was a failure. I had to fall back. For the first time, I was cornered into using my magic – my ability to manipulate light.

Without warning, a burst of magic filled the area, bathing the street in bright, white light. It wasn’t intense enough to cause permanent damage, but it would blind the gathered people for a few seconds, at least. The woman shielded her eyes with her arm, startled into letting go of my hand. Perhaps she was wearing an expression of surprise – I didn’t stay to confirm it. The moment my hand was released, I turned and dashed down the nearest alley. Even though I had been exposed to the light as well, my vision was unaffected – it had been that way for as long as I could remember. No matter how powerful I made it, I could not be blinded by my own light.

As I ran along the alleys, I cursed my misfortune – I had done everything properly, the way I always did, how the fuck did she notice me? This was the first time I’d been caught. My heart pounded, alternating between indignation and fear. Did she get a good look at my face? Would she be able to provide a description? Did the others around us manage to catch a glimpse of my features? No, the amount of time I had stood in shock shouldn’t have been enough for the others to get a good look – but the woman had made eye contact with me. It was highly likely she would remember my face. I would need to lay low, keep an ear to the ground to see if the authorities were looking for me. Worst case, I would need to relocate to another city.

But more importantly, I needed to get away – the woman would only remain blinded for a few seconds, at best, and if she caught me, then my future in a locked cell was assured. Furthermore, it was clear the woman was no ordinary woman – she couldn’t be, if she could so astutely catch me while still acting perfectly unaware. Likely she was some sort of military personnel, perhaps a mercenary, maybe even an assassin. My imagination ran wild, speculating about the nature of the woman who had caught me, but I quickly forced myself to focus. Regardless of her background, one thing was certain – she was no ordinary individual, and if she were to pursue me, it was doubtful that I would be able to escape. I can’t really explain how, but my intuition told me that I would not be able to outrun her under normal circumstances. Fortunately, inhuman capability aside, the woman was a tourist who had kept to the main streets – I was a thief who had grown up amongst these alleys. I knew these alleys by heart, knew where each turn led, knew what was the fastest route between any two points, and which route would take me to which streets. This was my home territory, I had the advantage.

I reached a cross junction of alleyways, and immediately took the right turn with only a moment’s consideration. The forward path led to a dead end, and the left route led to an open square around the corner and down a stretch of road from the main market street. If I wanted to make a quick escape and move to another part of the city, that was the fastest and most efficient route, as I could go anywhere else in the city from there. But the fact that it was near the market street meant that if the woman intended to head me off, that was the most likely place for her to lie in wait. So instead I turned right and headed deeper into the network of alleys. This way, it would be harder for me to leave this part of the city, but that was to my advantage – though I moved around between territories, this sector of the city was my main hunting ground.

I navigated the labyrinthine network of alleyways, making similar decisions at every junction, avoiding those paths that would lead me to dead ends or to the main street, keeping to the alleyways. Finally, when I had been running for a good fifteen minutes, I stopped and crouched down, panting to catch my breath. I strained my ears to listen for footsteps, but couldn’t hear them anywhere in my vicinity. I collapsed against the wall and breathed hard, waiting and listening. Still nobody came. I heaved a sigh of relief. Either the woman had elected not to give chase, or I had managed to lose her among the alleyways. I was on the South side of the sector, far enough away from the market street that it was basically a different part of the city – far enough, in fact, that there was another, different market street just two turns away from my current position. Unless they knew the alleyways as well as I did, nobody would think that I had run here – it was too far away, and there was no obvious means of traversing the distance in as short a time as I had. It was impossible for anyone to guess that I would have reached the other market street in a mere fifteen minutes.

When I had caught my breath, I decided to exit the network via the second market street – it was far more secluded than the first, and while it wasn’t as convenient as the other exits, I could still make my way to any other part of the city. I slowly walked along the alleys, heading for the turns. Once I made the first turn, the absurdity of my situation set in, and I started to laugh – to think I had taken such precautions just on the off chance that some stranger would chase me! It was absurd. A clear overreaction. I had no indication that the woman actually intended to chase after me, and even if she had, she would probably have given up once I had gone deep enough into the alleyways – she would have recognised that following me through such unfamiliar territory would have been pointless. Perhaps she would have attempted to head me off at one of the exits to the alleys, but I had avoided all the exits that would have made the most sense as escape routes, and so, by the grace of my foresight, I had avoided such a scenario as well. Now I was home free. I just had to make the second turn and exit onto the main street.

When I finally reached the turn and made my way around it, I found myself confronted by the sight of that same woman, leaning casually against the wall. She turned her head to face my way, and again flashed that terrifying smile, framing her words that were spoken in a matter-of-fact, strong, confident voice.

“Ah, so my guess was right. I’ve been waiting.”