I blinked at her, understandably confused.
“Hire? As in a job?”
“Yes, a job. Is something the matter?”
Elysium tilted her head, as if she couldn’t understand my confusion. Her hand remained outstretched.
“Wait, wait, wait. Firstly, I just tried to steal from you. You would trust someone who was about to lift your wallet?”
“Well, the theft didn’t succeed, so I guess that’s a moot point…?”
“No, no, isn’t it the intention that counts?!”
“Well, I suppose so, but I don’t think I have to worry about you trying anything funny, right?”
She narrowed her eyes as she said this. The atmosphere noticably got heavier. I felt chills running down my spine. I immediately gulped and shook my head frantically. Elysium relaxed, and the atmosphere returned to normal. I heaved a deep sigh of relief.
Well, she was right. After her earlier display of power, only an idiot would think of trying to con her. I wasn’t that stupid. I moved on to the second question.
“Well, why me? You don’t even know me. Why would you possibly want to offer me a job?”
“Because you have talent. If you have talent, then I have need of you. Heh. I always wanted to say that.”
Elysium smiled to herself, as if amused. I stared at her, uncomprehending. She glanced at me and seemed to realise that she was appearing extremely strange to me, and so she corrected her posture and cleared her throat, her cheeks turning a little red.
“A-Anyway, I saw what you could do, and you have exactly the skills I need for this job. That’s why I chased after you in the first place. The whole chasing thing only proved that you had what it took.”
She saw what I could do? But the only thing I had shown her was my ability to sneak around and steal things. And even that failed. And the chase proved that I had the skills she wanted? Perhaps she was referring to my decision-making at all the turns, but even then, she had been able to predict my movements at every turn. Why did she need me? The natural conclusion was that it was a job where sneaking around, theft, or fast decision-making was relevant, but one that she was for whatever reason unable to do herself.
In other words, it was probably something shady or illegal.
Perhaps she wanted me to steal from someone. Or maybe kidnap someone. Or maybe even assassinate someone. Dirty work that she could do if she wanted to, but preferred to delegate to keep herself clear of suspicion. I’d heard the stories. They were pretty popular among the thieves. Now and then some merchant or noble would hire an assassin to take out a rival merchant or noble, paying good coin for the service. We used to make bets on these hires, betting on whether the would-be assassin would succeed. Like the majority of us, I always betted on failure. I’d never lost.
Something like that was risky work. The target was usually well-protected. For the cowardly me, who went for the easy targets, it was work that was wholly incompatible with my nature. If possible, I wanted to avoid it.
Still, it was a fact that my life and freedom were quite literally at the mercy of this devillish woman who had cornered me. If she wanted me to kill someone, I would have to explain my lack of ability to do so – and hopefully weasel my way out of it by doing that. Cursing my ill luck, I turned to conversation to the subject of the job.
“So? What’s the job?”
“Oh! Does that mean you’ll take it?”
“I’m not stupid enough to accept a job when I don’t know what it entails.”
“Hm… Given the situation, I’m not too sure you have a choice?”
“Whether I have a choice or not is irrelevant. Would you rather have a willing collaborator who will see the job to its completion, or an unwilling ally who would cut corners? If you tell me the scope of the job, I can tell you whether or not I can do it. You seem to have a high opinion of me, but I’m really just a cowardly, bottom-feeding thief.”
“And I think you have too low an opinion of yourself. But, well, fine. I want you to help me with a certain matter.”
“What sort of matter?”
“I want you to be my light technician at our next concert.”
On edge and anxious, when Elysium finally outlined the job details, I initially misheard her as saying exactly what I expected to hear. As such, my response was fast, concise, and entirely unrelated.
“Ah, I thought so. Sorry, Miss, but I don’t think I can kill anyone. If it was just a theft, maybe, but an assassination is out of the ques-”
“Uh. When did I say anything about an assassination?”
Elysium was looking at me with a raised eyebrow, clearly bemused. I blinked, displaying my confusion.
“I said, I want you to be my light technician at our next concert.”
That was a lot of unfamiliar words. But I decided to tackle them one at a time.
“A light technician? What’s that?”
“Uh… Hmm, how to explain this… Basically I need you to use that light magic of yours to create pretty patterns.”
My magic? She had barely seen me use it though. All I did was try to blind her twice.
“Wait, so when you said you had use of my talent, you were referring to-”
“Your magic, yes. Did you think I was talking about your sneaking around?”
“…I might have been.”
“Glint, you’ve got the skill, that’s for sure. But it’s unrefined. Unpolished. As you are, you’re a decent sneak, but you’re not great by any means. If I needed sneaking done, I’d be much better served by doing it myself. With some training and formal instruction, you have the potential to be a great sneak, but not right now.”
I felt my eyebrow twitching, a little annoyed with how she was casually dismissing what I considered to be my most polished and reliable skill. But, it was a fact that she had caught me, and gloating was the victor’s right. I decided to change the subject.
“You’ve never even seen my magic, how do you know it’ll be of help?”
“You can create light, yes?”
“As you’ve seen, yes.”
“And you can control it, manipulate it, make it do things?”
“I… don’t know. I’ve never tried.”
I worked hard to keep the details of my magic a secret. Even the other thieves only knew that I had some way of making a glint of light blind my targets – they were under the impression that I could only generate a spark of some sort, nothing more. I was the only one who knew that in truth, I could create enough light to illuminate a large room in an instant. It was imperative, when living among thieves and sneaks, to keep a trump card or two hidden. The necessity of this concealment therefore meant that what I could do to experiment with my magic was limited. I had never tried to actively manipulate the light, so when Elysium asked me that question, I could only indicate my ignorance.
“Well, you probably can, but that’s not all too relevant at the moment. For now, as long as you can generate light, that’s more than enough for me. I just need you to light the stage at our concerts, after all.”
That was the second unfamiliar word. ‘Concert’. Unlike the first, however, I had heard of this one. This was what they called those large performances by that recently famous singer, Rosalind. If Elysium was talking about concerts, then either she was an aspiring copycat, or otherwise…
“Miss… Elysium, when you say ‘concert’, you’re referring to those performances, right? The ones by that Rosalind woman.”
“I see you’ve heard of us.”
“I doubt there’s a single person in the Kingdom who hasn’t. The other thieves were making plans to steal money for tickets.”
“Hm. Really, now? I’m not too sure how I feel about accepting stolen cash… eh, money is money. Anyway, yes. Allow me to append that to my introduction, then. I am Elysium Ling, Rosalind’s manager. I’m responsible for settling all the logistical work that goes into preparing for concerts, as well as handling all other logistics and scheduling issues, such as lodging, food and hiring assistance. In this capacity, I’d like to formally hire you to light up our stage, as it were. Right now we have to hold our concerts in the day, because we don’t have any way of lighting up our stage at night. If you were to lend your assistance, however, we could then hold concerts at night, as well, and people who were working during the daytime could then attend.”
“Why not just hire a trained mage? I’m just an amateur – I’ve received no formal training. I’m sure they could do a better job.”
“Mages with an affinity for light are too expensive. It’s too expensive to hire a trained professional, especially since we intend to make this job offer a long-term one. Much cheaper to hire an unqualified mage such as yourself. If necessary, I could probably arrange for you to receive instruction down the line, and it would still likely be cheaper than hiring a trained mage off the bat.”
“And all you need me to do would be to create light during your concerts?”
“Well, that, and maybe some miscellaneous errands. Nothing too hard. Certainly nothing I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”
Well, if she just needed me to make light, the job seemed simple enough. And as she’d already said, I didn’t really have much of a choice in my current situation. Of course, if she expected me to work for free, that would be a problem, especially if it was, as she put it, a long-term job. I needed to feed myself, after all. Certainly, I couldn’t demand anywhere near as much as a professional, nor was I in much of a position to negotiate, but I needed to earn at least enough for one meal a day.
“How would I be paid?”
Elysium’s smile fell a bit and she scratched her head.
“Well, that’s the thing – I’m not intending to pay you.”
I felt my eyebrow twitching. Noticing this, Elysium hurriedly continued, to assuage my concerns.
“I’m not intending to formally pay you, but! In exchange for your services, I can guarantee you food and shelter. You’ll get three meals a day and a room at the inn. You’ll have your meals with us, and you can sleep in and make use of one of the rooms we rent. Of course, this applies to any other towns we go to as well. Oh, and I’ll give you a spending allowance every month.”
“Wait, how is that any different from paying me?”
“I don’t have to pay taxes if you’re not formally employed.”
“Ah.” A practical woman. “Anyway, you said ‘other towns’. So we’ll be travelling?”
“Oh, right. I should make that clear: If you take this job, you’ll have to leave this city. Our work takes us all over the country, so you’ll need to follow us to the other towns and cities to put on concerts there. We can arrange visits back here, if schedule permits, but no promises about that. You might get a little homesick, but I’d like you to think of it as a way to gain a global perspective and…”
I tuned her out as she began using a lot unfamiliar words like ‘CV’, ‘Transferable Soft Skills’ and ‘Advancement Prospects’. She had me at three meals a day and shelter. The thought of not having to worry about my next meal and being assured of an actual, proper room during the cold months was a far greater temptation than my street-rat’s heart could bear. If she could truly offer me those, I could foresee myself following her anywhere. I had no ties to this city, anyway. It was where I had grown up, nothing more. I was not part of a crew. I had no close friends. I would forget this place, and they would forget me, in a matter of weeks. Asking me to leave it behind was barely an imposition.
By now, my leg had fully healed. I stood up, interrupting Elysium just as she was saying something about ‘Employee Shares’ and ‘Dental Benefits’. This time, I was the one who extended a hand.
“I’ll do it. I’ll take the job.”
Elysium broke off from her spiel and smiled widely, taking my hand in hers.
“Glad to have you on board, Glint. I look forward to working with you.”