(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard, and Janus was written by Clint Brill.)
Janus stood with his back to the door and scanned the room one last time, looking for anything out of place. The table and chairs to his left were as clean as he could get them. The sofa on the right side of the room had freshly beaten cushions. A pitcher of water and two glasses stood on the low table in front of the sofa. He closed his eyes and sighed, squeezing his hands into fists as he stepped away from the door.
He still wasn’t sure why he was being interviewed. He hoped it would be over quickly. He had better things to do. He turned and glanced at the door, expecting the knock at any minute. Ghost had told him to expect the woman at one o’clock. She was probably being led through the alleyways to his house right now. His heart racing, he spun slowly and scanned the room yet again, wishing Sely could be there with him.
Kelly followed her guide through the alleyways and mused how her job took her to so many strange places, but she wasn’t one to complain. Soon, they came to a house, and her guide left her, so Kelly drew near to the door and knocked.
The door opened revealing a young man—a teenager, Kelly assumed—and she smiled. “Hi, I’m Kelly Blanchard. I believe you’re expecting me.”
Janus stared at her for a moment then nodded. She wasn’t what he’d expected but, then again, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d expected. “Come on in and have a seat.” He waited for her to move away from the door then stuck his head out and glanced around before shutting it. He turned to look at her as he rubbed his hands together. “Why are you here? Why interview me?” He narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to her. “I was ordered to answer your questions so I will. I’ll warn you now, though. If you report anything I say to the authorities and I end up in the Pit, you better hope I don’t win my two fights to earn my freedom. If I get thrown in the Pit because of you, no one will stop me from finding you.”
Kelly glimpsed around as his home as she listened to him, and she smiled at his words as she turned to face him. She folded her arms. “Well, while that would be quite entertaining, I promise you, you wouldn’t find me. I’m not from this world or this realm. It’s hard to explain.” She then raised her hand. “And no need to worry about anyone in this world of yours to hear anything we discuss.” She lowered her hand as she maintained eye contact with him. “No one will ever know, and let’s just say…” Kelly tilted her head to a side as a smile touched her lips. “The reason why I’m here is because I’ve been told you are part of something bigger than you may realize, and I want to understand, get to know you.” Then Kelly gestured to the chairs and raised her brows. “May we sit?”
Janus studied her face for a moment then nodded. “Sit where you’d like. I prefer to stand if you don’t mind. There’s water on the table if you want some,” he added, gesturing to the pitcher and glasses in front of the sofa. He paced a few steps and glanced at her. “You’ll have to forgive me. Things are a little rough right now. I have a few powerful people looking for me, so I hope you’ll understand my concern.”
Kelly nodded as she drew near to a chair and sat down but watched him pace. He was quite unsettled. She sat near the edge of the seat with her back straight and ankles crossed and tucked off to a side—ever a proper lady, and she lifted her chin as she regarded the youth. “Who are these people? And why are they looking for you?”
Janus narrowed his eyes again as he spun to look at her. He opened his mouth to tell her to mind her own business but stopped. He’d been ordered to answer any question she asked. He sighed and rubbed his face then nodded. “A couple weeks ago I was captured by one of the other guild leaders. He tortured me and demanded I tell him where a certain item was located and who had it. I couldn’t tell him the truth so I lied. I gave him the name of a leader that used to control this neighborhood. Now, both of them want me dead.” He glanced at the door as he spoke, expecting someone to kick it open. “Are you sure you weren’t followed?”
Kelly just gave him a look. It amused her, but she knew he was being absolutely serious. His life depended on this, so she gave him a solid nod. “I wasn’t followed, and I’m sorry to hear how they wronged you, but I’m glad you are well.” As well as one could be when paranoid, but she didn’t blame him at all. “You need to understand you can trust me. I will ask personal and maybe difficult questions, but you can trust me, all right? I’m not going to judge you or think any less of you, all right?” She raised her brows as she watched him. “And I’m not going to tell anyone anything you say.”
He smiled and nodded. “Ghost told me to answer your questions, so I will.” He turned and started pacing again. “What is it you want to know?”
Satisfied to have made slight improvement on the situation, Kelly nodded but watched him pace. “Who are you—exactly? And what is it that you do?”
Janus stopped pacing and stared at her, reminding himself to stay calm. “My name’s Janus. Most people around here call me Janus Red-Hand. At least the people that about me do. I’m not sure what else you want to know. I could tell you I’m 16 and I was raised in a small village called Ciansa.” He paused and turned away for a moment, taking several deep breaths. “That was a long time ago, though. That part of my life is over.” He turned to look at Kelly again. “I live here in Brighthope now. I’m a…” He paused again, studying her face. He shook his head and said, “I’m a thief now.”
Kelly scooted back in her seat, getting comfortable now, and she smiled up at him. “You must be very talented to be a thief. I know a few master thieves and assassins and such.” She was thinking mainly of her character, Vixen, and the thief gang she hang out with occasionally. “It takes a lot of skill to do that. How did you become a thief?”
Janus shrugged. “I’m still learning the trade. Sely taught me some of what I know. I taught myself some of it.” He started pacing again, thankful they weren’t in his own house. He didn’t want the location of his nightingale boards known to anyone that didn’t need to know. “I didn’t have a choice,” he said without looking at her. “Ghost helped me get into the city. To pay back my debt to him for that, I agreed to do a few jobs for him. Now, well, now there’s no reason I should try doing anything else. I like being a thief.”
“And what do you like most about it?”
Janus shrugged again. “I don’t know. It’s a thrill to get in, get what I came for, and get out again without anyone knowing I was there.”
Kelly nodded then shifted to rest her elbow on the armrest of her chair. “And what’s the most difficult part about being a thief?”
He glanced at her and started pacing a little faster. “The traps. People can get quite creative when they try to protect what they consider valuable. There have been a few times I nearly lost my life because I didn’t know a trap was there. I’m still learning how to detect and avoid the traps. It’s not easy, though. Traps can be anywhere and people come up with new ones all the time.”
“Tell me one of your thieving adventures…could be your favorite one, your worst one, or the one that taught you the most.” Kelly reached for the water on the table then sat back with glass in hand and sipped a bit as she observed him. He was quite on edge, likely highly stressed, and that couldn’t be good for his health. She wondered if he ever encountered those issues but kept that to herself for now.
Janus stopped walking and stared at the floor. “My first time was the worst. There was this guy named Timo. He owed Ghost some money and didn’t pay it back fast enough. I broke into his room at the Dead Raven Inn and stole everything he had. Everything. Even his clothes. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time. Turns out, he hadn’t paid his bill at the inn and ended up going to the Pit. He won his two fights and was released, but he could have died. Because of me.” He put his face in his hands for a moment then shook his head and started walking again. “That’s when I realized what I do has consequences. I’m stealing from real people with their own lives.” He turned to look at Kelly. “I do what Ghost tells me to do, but now I try to make sure no one will truly suffer because of what I do.”
Kelly nodded, glad to see he understood the consequences of his actions. “Now, you’ve mentioned Ghost a few times. Who is he?”
“He’s the leader of the guild I work for. I owe everything to him. He helped me get into the city. He helped me get the information I needed to save the people in Ciansa. I owe him my life. He could have killed me for some of the things I’ve done, but he didn’t. He helped me when I needed it the most. That’s why I do what he says, even when he tells me to kill.”
“And how did he become leader?” Kelly raised her brows as she sat back in her chair with glass in hand. She swished the liquid around a bit before glancing back up at him for his response.
Janus shrugged. “I don’t know. He was the leader when I met him. In my line of work, it’s not healthy to ask too many questions. Took me a while to learn that lesson. Ghost tells me what I need to know to get the job done. Anything else is none of my business. If he ever decides I need to know more about how he rose to the top, he’ll tell me.”
This made sense, so Kelly nodded and knew not to press much more about Ghost. Janus probably didn’t know much anyway, so she changed the subject to one she was certain he wouldn’t want to talk about, but she had to ask. “And who were you before Ghost saved you and brought you in under his wing?”
“I was a nobody in a nowhere village. I was supposed to be a blacksmith’s apprentice but I hated it. The heat was terrible. I wanted to do anything else, but my father wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to learn a skill I could use to get out of the village and make a living anywhere I wanted to go. I tried. I really did. I just couldn’t do it. I’m not cut out for something so physical.” He stared at the wall for a moment then shrugged. “No. Being a thief is the right job for me.”
“And where’s your family now?”
“Dead. My parents are dead. That’s one of the biggest reasons I’m here in Brigthope now. That’s why I work for Ghost. He’s my family now. Him and Sely. They’re all the family I need.”
Kelly nodded. She heard the bitterness in his voice and decided not to dwell on it. “Who’s Sely?”
“She’s my mentor. She’s teaching me what I need to know to do my job. She’s also the closest thing I have to a friend.” He paused and glanced at Kelly. “You want me to be honest, right? Well, she doesn’t know it, no one does, but I’m in love with her. I can’t do anything about it, though. Ghost would kill me if I tried anything with Sely.” He sighed and turned away, staring at the door for a moment before he started pacing again.
Hearing his declaration, Kelly lifted her brows. He seemed so young, but then again, those who’ve lived hard lives grow up quickly, so she nodded.
Scooting forward to the edge of her seat, she set the glass back on the table then rested her elbows on her knees as she brought her chin to rest on her fist. “And does she return the feelings?”
Janus shook his head. “Not really. I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like it, but then there are times when I can see she’s fighting to keep from slitting my throat. She scares me sometimes. I never know what kind of mood she’ll be in. I don’t think I’ll ever understand her mood swings.” He turned to look at Kelly. “Are all women like that?”
Kelly laughed but then nodded as she sat back. “Just about—some more than others.” Then she gave him an apologetic shrug before launching into her next question. “Where do you see yourself in ten years from now? Assuming you’re not dead, of course.”
Janus chuckled and started walking again. “If I’m still alive, I want to have my own guild. I’ll have to find turf away from what Ghost controls. I’d never dream of taking territory away from him. No. When I’m ready, I’ll find one of the weaker guilds and take it over. I’ll make my guild friendly with the one Ghost controls. Maybe that will be the first step toward a united community. This city has enough problems for us to deal with without fighting each other every step of the way. If the guilds could unite and work together, we could accomplish so much more than we do now. That’s what I want to see happen.”
“Not a bad goal at all.” Kelly bobbed her head. “Keep it in mind as you go through whatever it is you must endure because in the end, you may end up protecting and saving many more lives than you could imagine.” When he glanced at her doubtful, she gave him a reassuring smile before her face darkened because she knew what question she would ask next.
With more of a frown, she crossed her arms. “And what is your greatest fear?”
Janus turned his back on her and paced slowly as he considered his answer. “I already lost everything once. My family. My home. My innocence.” He turned to look at her and shook his head. “What more can life do to me? I don’t want to be alone again. It cost me too much last time. I can handle anything but being alone.”
“Then I hope you never have to be alone.” Kelly nodded but latched onto what he said about his family. So they had died, but who had they been. “Before your family died, who were they? Did you have any siblings? Were you close to anyone in particular?” She held her breath because she knew these questions were painful, but she needed to ask.
Janus lowered his gaze to the floor. “My father was a forester and my mother was a midwife. I didn’t have any brothers and sisters. It was just the three of us.” He wiped a tear from his cheek and started pacing, his hands clenching and unclenching as he walked. “In a way, I’m glad I was an only child. It was hard enough as it is.”
“You saw them die, didn’t you?” Kelly’s voice was soft, but she recognized the signs.
“My father I did. I watched him walk right up to Wynter and let her kill him.” He dropped to his knees and put his face into his hands once again, his shoulders bobbing as he sobbed. “It…it was awful. I never felt so helpless in my life. I just stood there and watched. I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t stop her from killing him.”
Kelly rose to her feet gracefully and drew near to him. She wanted to reach out and comfort him, but she knew he might lash out at her. Instead, she sank to her knees in front of him and waited for the sobs to subside.
Many questions raced through her mind. But she also knew her time was short here, so she had to measure her time. She had one more question to ask before she had to leave, and it was the only one that really puzzled her about what he had said.
Once Janus had finally regained control and looked away ashamed, Kelly took a deep breath then told him, “I will be leaving you alone soon, and I will never trouble you again, but I have one final question. Why did your father let…Wynter kill him?”
Janus wiped his eyes and looked at her. “That’s what she does. She uses her violin to draw people to her. I’ve felt her power. You’re completely helpless when she plays her violin. All you want to do is go to her. My father was under her power. She could do anything she wanted to him and he wouldn’t stop her.” He wiped another tear away and sighed heavily. “I should have done more to save him. I knew what she could do. I saw it. I should have tied him down or something. Maybe then he would still be alive.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you would both be dead, and then I never would have been able to meet you, and you wouldn’t have had the dream of forging your own guild and uniting the guilds in a way that could save many lives. Everything happens for a reason, Janus—the good and the bad. It’s not always pleasant, and you might not be able to see it now, but there is always a purpose.” With that, Kelly rose to her feet. “I appreciate your time and all your answers, and I’m sorry for any stress or distress I may have caused you. Just know that nothing said here will ever be repeated.” She went to the door then looked back at him. He had much troubles ahead of him, she could see that, but she had faith he would do what was right and become great. With a small smile, she let herself out and disappeared from his world altogether.
Janus stared at the door as she left. She was right. If things hadn’t happened the way they had, he wouldn’t be in Brighthope learning to be a thief. He knew things would improve for everyone if he could unite the guilds. He cocked his head to the side and chuckled, seeing Wynter’s attack in a new light. He would always resent her for taking his family away from him, but it may have been the best thing to happen to him and to Brighthope.
Clint Brill’s published science fiction novel, Pure Control, is available on Amazon as Ebook and Paperback. He is planning to release a fantasy novel titled ‘On My Honor’ later this month. However, Janus is from his story ‘Wynter’s Song’, which he hopes to have released in October. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and check out his other sites!