Thursday September 4th 2014

Cesare eyed the kids eating breakfast. The Thagirion would be a problem. They hadn come for him, but that would change. Cesare always stood out, and never in a good way.

The world is meat and mouths, those who feast and the ones butchered to feed them. Only honesty separated the school from the wild. In the wild, you know the lions a cruel creature of tainted appetite. In school, you had to figure that out the hard way … hopefully before the lion decided to play. Cesare needed to separate the killers from the pork chops.

Greg ruled a table of his own, a petty prince surrounded by guys wielding dangerous grace. They quieted when Greg talked, hung on his words with desperate need in their eyes. How did a Second Year gain so much power? Then it happened. A small packet moved from Gregs hand into the lap of his girl. Casually getting up, she made her way to another table.

Sharks, murderous, unchained, supremely arrogant in their dominion, enthralled the students with their deadly fangs. The black cloaks made them easy to track in the sea of blue uniforms. Kids flinched away from as the four glided through the shoals of fish, each hoping they weren on the menu. Every student from the plastic princes like Greg to the muscled Third Years tracked the abominations in black.

Frantic schoolwork bled into desperate physical exercise as Cesare raced through the day. The grind was wearing his flesh thin, his body a mass of bruises, mind strained and shredding at the edges. A constant state of anxiety rode his soul like a pimp with a new cherry.

Leaving Tamlins class, Cesare went in search of the library. Owning a tower to itself it was set off from the main halls, back ways and switchbacks bled off those looking for fun instead of books. Coming through the dark, almost black doors, Cesare stopped as the smell of old books and ancient knowledge washed over him. Silence drowned him in an embrace he could feel from bone to soul, a soothing stillness of time flensed of people. Libraries were sacred, being one of the few places the violations of the streets feared to walk. And this looked like the Mecca of Libraries.

Tables marched across gray stone; islands of polished wood illuminated by rainbow suns of stained glass lamps of brass. Small, private nooks carved into the walls hid realms of shadow, offering privacy for the student lucky enough to get here early. Tucked away in the back, nothing more than a blasphemy in this place of paper and leather, stood a small section of computers.

Bookcases ran in between the nooks along the walls, thick with tomes of leather and paper. Hollowed like a gutted deer fit for food, the tower was an unbroken bone of the spider goddess Anansi. Shelves ran unbroken along the walls, level after level cascading into the darkness cloaking the highest levels. Glistening black iron rails guarded the open shaft from careless students. Bent into images of fantastic beasts and horrors unseen by man, iron was a history of races hidden in midnights umbra.

A circular staircase wound up the tower, the fantastic rail the only barrier to death. He knew with a sinking feeling that the books he wanted would be at the top … could see the image of himself carrying armfuls of books up and down that staircase over and over with horrible clarity.

Hours later, his eyes were blurry from staring at the same page. He was thrilled when someone pushed open the doors. Anyone coming in this late was in for a rude surprise, and he could use a good show. Being one of the first to get into the library, Cesare had spread his stuff out across a big table. Hed watched as students carved the library up into little kingdoms, jealously guarded by walls of books and possessive eyes.

Greg walked in with the blonde girl on his arm and Baldy at his side. Looking around, they made for Cesare. The girl was snuggled into Gregs side, deep in an animated conversation. Baldy swept the library, eyes ticking off the boys, dismissing the girls as threats.

Sitting down at his table, the three students casually pushed the books and papers toward Cesare. Notes folded, paper crinkling under casual violence. Acting quickly, Cesare stacked them before any of the pages ripped.

”You don mind if we sit here, right? ” Greg said with a quick smile before he returned to his conversation. ”Its bullshit, Stacie. He can take a hit for shit, he shouldn even be in the Cherries. ” She was thin, with a sharp face that rubbed Cesare wrong.

”And Im telling you that Jerold has his reasons. Hes been doing this for years, Greg. Give the new guy a chance, its not like they
e going to make him a Murmillo. ” Her eyes fell on Cesare, a mean smile flitting across her face. ”Firstie, get me some water. ” Cesare stared at her blankly. Taking that as confirmation, she turned back to Greg.

”No, ” Cesare said simply, looking down at his math book. This problem was kicking his ass and in the continuum of priorities, it meant more to him than the whining of a needy Barbie Doll.

”Greg, ” Stacie complained.

”Come on Cesare, its just a cup of water for a pretty girl. No woman wants a scrub, ” Greg said.

Keeping his head down, Cesares hand loosened the blade he kept along his forearm, the cold handle falling smoothly into his palm. He didn need to see what he was doing; the old switchblade was as familiar as his own fingers. It opened with a quiet click. ”I don want to ** a stick. If I wanted to impress a girl, it wouldn be one with the body of a ten-year-old boy. ” Greg was up and coming for him before Cesare finished, Baldy rounded the other side of the table, aiming for Cesares back.

Slumping back, Cesare waited. Greg charged forward, fisting Cesares shirt and yanking him out of his chair. ”You listen here, you little … ” The knife slipped through the crotch of Gregs pants, needle tip piercing the material with the ease of a razor blade, prickling the flesh of his balls. Gregs voice climbed into octaves reserved for boy bands. ”You don have the … ” Pushing up, the point of the blade penetrated skin, sending Greg onto his toes.

”Call your bitch off or Ill split your balls. ” Gregs eyes flickered behind Cesare, calculation slithering through them. ”Don make that play. I can see him in the glass from the lamp. Ill castrate you before he lays a hand on me. ”

”Dan, back off. ” Dan hesitated. He was close, only a few feet. ”I said back the ** off! ” It was high and scared as Cesare pushed Greg up a little more.

The girl had gone quiet, fear swimming in her eyes. She was just having some fun playing the bitch, but it had turned ugly. ”I don like you Greg and you don like me. But Ill make a deal with you. You like making deals, don you? ” Gregs eyes narrowed at the words.

”You walk and keep walking, and I won castrate you. ” Greg was already on his toes. Pushing the point higher, the resistance told Cesare when blade slipped into flesh. White showed around Gregs eyes as cold steel invaded his sack.

”Youll never get away with this. ” Strangled and wavering, it was a chumps threat. But to threaten a man with the point of a knife in your balls … well, it was impressive.

Smiling, Cesare wiggled the blade. ”Thats funny. Because here is what I see. You and your friend might beat me up, hell, you might put me in the hospital. But when I get out … Ill **ing maim you. This will be only a sweet memory after I carve out your eyes, tongue, and ears. Ill flay you like a **ing fish and pee on your mewling, bloody body for fun. ” They locked eyes. Drug dealers have to size a mark up quickly. They have to know if its a cop or a John looking to score. The good dealers have the best instincts; its how they survive.

When Greg looked into his eyes, he didn see a homeless kid. Didn see a small body tortured by starvations whip. No, he looked into the soul of a shark, cruel, amoral, with nothing to lose.

Greg slumped back when Cesare pulled the blade out. The boys heels hit the floor with a thump, hands cupping his balls. Eyes jumping to Dan, Gregs voice was rage coated caution. ”Not here. Later. ”

Cesare looked behind him, meeting Dans eyes. This wasn a bully; bullies **ed the weak. This was a man who went for the strong. He wanted to be the alpha, driven to be the baddest mother**er in any crowd. This one was a fighter, comfortable hurting others to get what he wanted.

A wide smile spread across Dans face. ”Me and you are going to tango someday, princess, ” Dan said.

”Only twice, ” Cesare responded. Propped up by his girl, Gregs eyes lingered on Cesare, understanding the promise in his words. Dan would win any fight they had, hed seen the knife and wasn impressed. That meant hed be ready … but winning a fight didn mean as much as people thought it did.

The halls were empty by the time he packed it in, the students having left for the dorms hours ago. He liked the school like this, silent and brooding, vast chambers echoing with his footfalls. The vast body of stone settled into the night with a groan more felt than heard. Shadows crawled over the halls, claiming the world stolen by the light. Silence held the place, the quiet easing the tension that pulled Cesare tight.

She was waiting for him, gorgeously beautiful with red hair stirring languidly in the breeze. The black Thagirioncoat caressed the porcelain white of her legs as a school issued button-down strained against large breasts.

”Don show for the job on Saturday, ” Anastasia said.

The harem made a semi-circle at the bottom of the stairs, cutting off any thoughts of escape. Where did they think hed go? Run to a teacher? Nope. Ask a student for help? Yeah, right. The doors where open behind him, but they lead nowhere. Theyd just chase him down and beat him bloody inside.

”I don suppose if I promised not to go, we could skip the beating? ” Cesare asked wryly.

She smiled almost regretfully. ”Nope. ”

”You mind if I leave my bag up here? ” Cesare asked, shrugging off his duffel.

”No, go ahead. ” The harem stayed on the balls of their feet, ready for him to bolt. Tamlin didn have a way for Cesare to clean off after working out, forcing Cesare to go through the rest of the day in his workout clothes. He stank and he knew it. But school wasn about making friends, not for him, it was about survival.

The rips and tears in his tattered clothes showed flashes of maggot-pale flesh as he walked down the stairs. It wasn how hed like a beautiful woman to see him, but killers decide when blade meets flesh.

Anastasia eyed him carefully. ”The others tried to run. You surprise me, vagrant. ”

The harem closed in around him, jackals hiding in the shadow of a predator. ”Why run, youll drag me out of any hole I find. So, is this just me or is everyone getting a tune up? ”

Hesitating, she gave him a long look. ”Everyone who took a flier. ”

Smiling, his eyes caught Anastasias. ”I guess I should say, Im sorry. ” Lifting off, Cesare charged the tallest member of the harem to his right.

Startled and scared, the boy froze as Cesare charged him. His fist sank into the boys stomach, an explosion of air bursting from the boy as he folded. Cesare hammered his fist into the boys jaw. Hitting the ground with a thump, the boy spit blood with a low whine of pain.

Turning, Cesare took a low kick to the leg. The other two couldn get at him without tangling up their teammate. Getting close, Cesare gripped his jacket, swarming around the boy until he was latched onto his back with an arm under his chin in a choke hold. With a convulsive pull, Cesare yanked the boy down and on top of him. Using the boys body as cover, Cesare strangled the kid.

Frantic hands gripped Cesares arms and legs, trying to break the clamp he had on the boy. Suffocating, the boy clawed at his arm, fingernails digging bloody trenches through Cesares flesh. It was nothing more than the kicking of a rabbit caught in the wolfs jaws. The kid went limp, strangled under Cesares cruel clench before being ripped away by the harem.

Tensing the muscles along his body, Cesare curled into a fetal position as soccer kicks rained down on him. After an eternity, Anastasia called out, ”Enough. ” The beating sliced off at her word.

She was a blurry picture of red and black, seen through the only eye that worked. ”Now, tell me you won be at the meeting on Saturday, ” she said as she walked into the circle of violence her harem formed.

Cesare smiled, a ribbon of scarlet seeping out of his mouth. ”You bet, princess. ” The sudden scowl was his only warning. Her boot smashed into his face, ripping a line across his cheek. Lying sprawled on his back, the world tilted around him, her face coming in and out of focus.

”Never call me that, ” she growled down at him.

Keeping his silence, Cesare watched the group walk away. The one Cesare had landed a few punches on threw a last glare at him. Dazed and stumbling, the boy hed suffocated leaned on his friends.

Cesare got up with a grunt of pain once theyd gone. The walk back to Serpens Lacum was quiet, assessing eyes measured him without surprise. In a place where the wolves ruled, the weak were maimed for fun.

When he pushed open the bathroom doors, the boys eyes jumped to the blood and bruising before returning to their conversations. He probed the cut her heel had left along his chin in the mirrored glass. It wasn deep enough to require stitches, which meant he could treat it himself with Neosporin.

The bathroom cleared while he cleaned the cuts. Taking advantage of the empty room, he turned off the lights until only the moon lit the tiles and tubs. Easing down into the water of a bath, he eyed the blood marked shirt that hid his gun and knife. The fight ran through his head. They were kids, maybe monsters, but still kids.

When you carve pain into flesh, you do it with purpose. Fear, money, respect, submission, or control … theres always a goal. If you want a man to pay, you don break his legs. Terror is born in times womb, shatter a hand bone by bone, skin a finger … something slow and painful, like what he did with Greg.

They sent Anastasia to deliver a message. The only way the message worked was if you feared the pain they could inflict. Thats why you don send amateurs, they get lost in the moment.

Greg looked up from the bed as Cesare walked into their room. A satisfied smile twisted his lips as he noted the cuts and bruises. ”You know, you really **ed me over. ”

Cesare took out a long sleeved undershirt for tomorrow. No matter how much he cleaned them, the brown stains never came out. ”Wait, ” Cesare held his hand up to his ear. ”Can you hear that? Its my heart weeping sparkling tears of sorrow. Just for you. ” Cesare smiled. ”My bad, thats just the blood dripping from my face. Fuck off man, you started it. ”

”She didn mean anything. There was no reason to go nuclear. ” It was Gregs tone that got through to him, the lack of any real anger.

It had been stupid. She wouldn be the first bitch to get on his nerves and wouldn be the last. Nor would Greg be the first boyfriend to come at him. He should have just let it go and played along, but something had pushed him. ”You
e right. But you shouldn have started it. ”

”No argument there. And I paid for it, in spades. ” The room got quiet as Cesare turned the lights off and laid on his bed. ”You know, I could use a man like you. Even Dan was impressed, in an I want to kill him kind of way. ”

”No thanks. ” Cesares words were flat.

”Things don have to be hard, Cesare. I know you need help with studying. I can get you into a good study group and smooth your way with the teachers. ” Greg paused, voice dropping, ”You got nowhere to go man, its here or the streets. ”

Like any good hustler, he let his words do the work for him. The biggest mistake when hustling is to push too hard, too fast. Once you know they need it, all you have to do is wait.

”No one wants to get into business with a drug dealer. But you need to understand. There were three other dealers when I set up shop, all of them pushing shit cut dangerous. Me and Dan shut them down, closed them up and moved them along. I work my connections to bring in good stuff. I make sure the regulars keep it between the lines and don get crazy. ” It was the justification of all monsters.

”Ill think about it. ” You didn tell a drug dealer no, not until you have a gun to their head.

”Good, just don wait too long. Dan gets … nervy. ”

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