Monday September 8th 2014

Taking a corner down the hall from the cafeteria, Cesares eyes snagged on the group. Three boys had a smaller boy hemmed in against the wall. Long-limbed and tall, theyd corralled the boy with the instinctive grace born from animal souls. A feral air bled from them, the amoral feeling of a pack of dogs with a cat cornered knowing and hungry for the blood they knew was coming.

”Piggy, piggy, piggy, where you going, piggy? ” a boy asked in a singsong.

”Breakfast, ” the boy mumbled, head down, hoping against sense theyd leave him alone. Rounding his shoulders, the pudgy kid clutched his book bag to his chest like a shield, all faith and no substance.

”Someone might think you don want to spend time with your friends. ” The bully slammed the smaller boys shoulder against the wall with a thump.

”Yeah, Im hurt. Maybe if you run faster tomorrow, we might let you go. ” It was another boy, malice lighting his eyes.

”Please, I just want to get to breakfast, ” the small boy begged.

”Well then, we have a problem. Because we want to play. Are you saying you won play with your friends, fat ass? ” Spearing the boys forehead with a finger, the boy shoved him into the wall.

”No, I don think hes saying that. Wed be a lot less … friendly … if he was. ” The others took up the leaders base growl.

”Hes pissing himself! ” Laughing, they shoved the boy into the wall. Coming from different angles, they traded turns pushing him with each rebound, slamming the boy harder into the stone as cruelty grew dense and lethal in the air.

”Takes three assholes to harass one kid. ” The words brought the trio turning slowly. Second Years, by the looks of their uniforms. They were taller, more filled out than First Years with a confidence born of experience. His two friends bracketed the kid as the leader faced Cesare with a sneer.

”Move along, stinky, ” the boy said, lips lifting from his teeth in a slow snarl.

A sliding step firmed Cesares stance, a slight bend in the knee adding flexibility. Its all about choice. Food or deodorant, money enough to fill one need. It was a battle, until the day came when that soft need to fit in is carved out by disgusted eyes and poisoned words. Then your smell becomes a glaring testament of your rejection of the accepted ones, the headstone to your last hope that anyone cares.

”You think this pathetic shits going to stand with you? ” A disgusted gesture took in the boy huddled against the wall, his face turned against it as he whimpered softly, a wet stain running down his pants. ”He can even stand for himself. Get the ** gone before we decide to put you against the wall. ”

”No. ” The simple word drew another snarl from the leader.

”You try to do a guy a favor … ” They separated, stretching his field of vision. Taking a slow step backward, Cesare kept them in sight. ”You shouldve walked. ”

”What do you think you
e doing? ” Anastasia said. Lost in measuring cocks, they hadn noticed her approach.

The three kids paled on seeing her, but their eyes widened in fear at the boy next to her. The black Thagirionjacket hung open, showing a uniform straining under sculpted wide shoulders and an impressive chest. Even standing still and in the company of his fellow Thagirion, Blaez was balanced and ready, eager for the fight. Short, spiked hair gave him a military bearing. He wasn much taller than Cesare, but he was different in every way that counted. Handsome and strong, he was dangerous to anything that dared his temper.

Anastasia stood beside him, their closeness speaking of something more than friendship. The black coat of her station caressed her lush figure, beautiful white legs stark against the dark blue skirt of her uniform. Her dark eyes snapped with anger, face tight with irritation.

Blaezs voice was amused, ”Just boys being boys. I know these guys; they
e not trouble. ” The three bullies moved away from the smaller boy to join the five other boys running attendance on Blaez.

”Id like to hear it from their own mouths. ” The boys exchanged looks between themselves and Blaez without saying a word. Anastasia turned furious eyes on Cesare. ”Vagrant, I know you don have a problem talking. I seem to remember its more getting you to shut up. ”

”They had him pinned against the wall. ” Shrugging, he tracked the group of boys surrounding Blaez. ”I thought I should step in. ”

Blaez grinned as he walked toward the pudgy kid. The rest of his gang flowed around him, staring at the small boy hungrily. ”Fucking pathetic. My dad wouldve drowned me if Id come out like you. ” Dark smiles cut across the packs faces, their canines needle sharp in a carnivores smile.

”The kid pissed himself. Are you telling me your friends didn have a part in it? ” Anastasia faced off with the other Thagirion while the harem fanned out behind her in support. Blaezs gang mirrored them with a grace theyd never match. The harem were pretty toys but Blaezs gang were hunters used to rendering down problems one joint at a time.

”Come on, its not like the kid deserves our protection. ” Disgust twisted Blaezs lips. ”You really want to punish them for taking whats theirs? Hes weak, they
e strong. ” Blaez shrugged. ”So they pushed him around a little, big deal. ”

”He didn ask to be humiliated, ” she ground the words out.

Tension gathered as Blaez slowly smiled, stance changing, moving his center of balance forward. His gang rose onto the balls of their feet. ”We
e not running a **ing nursery. They
e adults, they can wipe their own asses. ” Dark eyes flickered to Cesare. ”Well, some of them can. They were doing him a favor, toughening him up a bit. ”

Anastasias clenched fist sent her harem moving. Two stepped forward on either side of her, a screening wall of flesh. Theyd block anyone trying to lock with her, using their bodies as a shield for their mistress. Cesare moved to her side of the hall, taking up a place outside her group but aligned with it. His own weight balanced forward, almost in a sprinters stance. If Blaez charged, Cesare might be able to tackle him and buy the girl time.

Tension hung in the air as the powerhouses tested each others resolve. Blaezs hungry smile deepened as he traced the girls breasts with his eyes. ”Fine. Do what you want, ” Blaez said to Anastasias chest. He backed away until he was leaning on the wall with his gang around him.

Anastasia didn move until Blaez came to a stop. ”What are you going to do with them? ” Her eyes darted to the three boys that had chased the kid down.

Blaez nodded at his people. Five of them instantly fell on the three in a wave of violence. Grunts and quickly cut off screams sounded from the free for all. Flailing limbs, kicks, and punches landed with meaty thuds. It was brutally effective, but the only thing it was teaching was not to ** with Blaez.

Turning away from the spectacle in disgust, Anastasia stared at the small kid. ”Why don you go back to your dorm and get changed. ” The crumpled boy was only now coming out of his huddled ball, eyes all whites as he looked at the two terrors dominating the hallway.

”No. ” Everyone turned to see Blaez smiling at them. ”He can , rules and all. ”

The Thagirion faced off again, but this wasn like before. This time, Blaez had no intention of backing down. Hed braced his foot against the wall, allowing him to lift off quickly and close the distance to Anastasia.

Blaez was spoiling for a fight. Either shed fight or back down … publicly. The angle was good— a straight shot at her with none of her harem close enough to intercept.

But Anastasia wasn backing down. Hands loose and ready, her eyes locked with the other Thagirion. She was going to fight … even with her pretties out of position.

The one thing neither had counted on was Cesare. It only took two steps to put himself between the Thagirion. Blaezs smile turned into a jagged snarl of hate as his line of sight was broken. Now, if he pushed the fight, the harem could get into position. Anastasia took the opportunity and stepped to the side, changing the angle even more.

”Ill take care of him, ” Cesare said. Both Anastasia and Blaez stared at him.

”Fuck if I care, but he can leave school. ” Pushing off the wall, Blaez stalked away, his gang falling in around him. Three bloody bodies left whimpering and crying on the ground in their wake. Cesare said a quiet prayer for anyone who crossed that mans path.

Anastasia waited until Blaez was lost behind a corner before turning to Cesare. ”Thanks. ”

Shrugging, Cesare walked over to the huddled kid whod frozen when the titans had locked horns. ”Don sweat it, princess. You don owe me. ”

”Don call me that. ” His smile widened at the growled words. ”What are you going to do with him? ”

”If you can keep those three quiet, Ill take care of the kid. ” He waited for her agreement before steering the boy into the bathroom down the hall.

Once inside, he started taking off his shoes and pants. ”You
e lucky they gave me a few sizes too big. For today, Ill wear yours and youll wear mine. ” He had his pants off and ready before he noticed the kid hadn moved.

Soft and broken, his words were whispered to the floor. ”You don have … you don have to do this. Im the one who peed his pants. I should… ” A deep breath steadied his words. ”I should be the one to face them. If I let you do this, then theyll be right. I need to do this. To prove Im not what they say. ”

”Thats cute. But you don get strong by fighting Godzilla, you can handle the hell youll face if you walk out there like that. Get your pants off. I still want to eat before class. ” The kid folded instantly, nodding as his hands went to his belt.

It was nice that he wanted to stand up for himself, but today wasn the day for his balls to drop. Today would be brutal. The school would savage whoever wore those pants. You don suddenly pick up a knife and go hunting grizzly bears. No, this would take the strength that only the broken own.

Anastasia and her harem were waiting as they walked out of the bathroom. Eyes wide, shocked awe twisted her words at the stupidity she was looking at. ”Fuck me … you
e going to pass off the accident as your own? ” Aghast at the idea, her cucks rustled behind her.

”Yep. ” Her eyes found his. ”He can do it. It would break something inside him that can be fixed. I don have that problem, and Im already stink boy. I don have any friends to lose. ”

Opening her mouth, she shook her head before closing it with a grim look. One of her harem said what they were all thinking. ”You must have balls that clank, … and the brains the goddess gave a **ing gnat. ”

e going to tear you apart, ” her statement brought a smile to Cesares face.

”Im already in pieces, princess. ”

It would hurt but in the end, hed still be standing. You can only break once. Scarred from old pain, with a heart of gristle and dissected meat, there was nothing left to break or take from him. They might be monsters in form, but their hearts would never be as strong as the razored stone in his chest.

Walking toward the cafeteria, Anastasia stayed by his side. ”Why? Hes nothing to you. Do you think this will get you something? Because I can tell you, it won . No one will care why you
e doing it, even if they find out. All theyll care about is the fun theyll have hurting you. If you think hell return the favor, let me tell you, the world doesn work that way. ”

”Doesn matter. You don live your life for others, you live it for yourself. This isn about getting ahead. Its about all the times I wished someone wouldve stood for me. Its about all the times someone could have saved me from drowning and instead watched me sink. ” She walked beside him in silence. The kid had made himself scarce while they talked, not wanting to be anywhere near him when it hit the fan.

Anastasia pushed the cafeteria doors open with a quiet warning. ”I can keep them off you. But thats it. ”

Students noticed quick as vultures locked onto rotting flesh. Before he even got to the breakfast trays, it rushed through the room like wildfire leaving laughter and insults in its wake. The line for breakfast broke apart under the tsunami of humiliation slamming into Cesare. Even if they weren drowned in its waters, whirlpools and undercurrents of malice reached greedily for their soft meat.

”Its not enough he smells like shit, now he comes to class with piss stains on his pants. ” It was one of Alexandras girls, her words rising high and disgusted above the storm of abuse.

The insults blended, snakes twisting into each other, a chimera of fangs and scales without end. Falling into a feeding frenzy at the scent of blood, they competed for the deepest cut. Shouts broke out from distant tables while the closest ones spit caustic words in a never ending stream of poison. Glee shone from fey eyes, each creature hunting for pain, eager to see him crumple under their skinning knives.

A foot was thrown out in front of Cesare as he came up to Alexandras table. He met the spiteful eyes of the girl from the line. ”You belong in the gutter. You
e an abortion made wrong by living. ” The girls sitting with her laughed, eyes jumping to Alexandra for approval. Quietly eating, she kept her eyes on her food.

Wolfing down their food, the losers at his table emptied their trays before making a break for the doors. Minutes after sitting down, he was alone. Radioactive, any time spent near him corrupted their flesh with shit, tainting them in a way that would never wash off.

The comments rose into an endless howl of degradation, an unbroken list of faults, the judgement of the school. Churning around him, it was an inferno of hate, searing gold with loathing, red hungry for blood, incandescent fingers of unhallowed white needy with greed.

Theyd never forget. Carved into the lobes of their minds, it was a tale destined to be told from year to year, an event that grew monstrous in its devouring of the truth. The tribe would use it to teach First Years what not to be, a lesson of humiliation branded into bone. He was the unwanted who pissed himself, a sign theyd nail to his back, a name cut into his flesh. No matter what he became, this would be who he was.

The thoughts had drawn him deep into himself, where the light of their disgust couldn reach him. The hand coming down on his shoulder was proof god hated him. Cursing his distraction, Cesare looked up into the large Third Years savage grin. ”Im talking to you, shit stain. We tolerate your smell, but I won deal with you coming in with piss running down your leg. Why don you leave while you still got … ” The boys knees hit the ground as his scream lanced the air. Anastasias fingers ran caressingly across the boys bare neck, flickers of black lightning searing into tender meat.

”Problem? ” Anastasia asked the boy on his knees. He shook his head, lips thin and bloodless, pain stripping his eyes of life. As soon as she removed her hand, he dove to the side and scrambled away on all fours. She left just as shed come, without a word.

Teenagers are less than animals, evil in a way no natural thing can be. With Anastasias example, they understood perfectly what the limits were. Insults were fine, but touching was a door only pain walked through. Working together, they gave each other time to fire off insults so everyone could play.

Anastasia stayed on his six when he left the cafeteria. Outside his space, she kept close enough to keep an eye on him. It was an oddly unsettling comfort, like a vicious father waiting with sadistic joy for anyone to bleed out his favorite plaything.

Miss Raven raised her head as he walked into the room, eyes taking in his pants. Her mouth opened to ask the obvious question before snapping closed on seeing Anastasia step in behind him. Claiming his seat, Cesare pulled out his books. It would be a good hour before the others made it to class and he could use the time to study.

The students trickled in, eyes locking onto Cesare with wanton hunger. He disgusted them and that disgust gave them the right to tear him down, to sate their lust for degradation on his soul. Alexandra walked in with her group clustered around her, a cage of her own making. The plastic bitches levelled practiced sneers at Cesare as they walked past his desk.

”Oh come on, its not that bad. Hes just … what is the word … oh, slow. We used to have someone like him in our village. Pants stained with piss and shit until they blended into a crusted mass of yellowed brown. Wed keep old pillows and ratty blankets under the porch for him to sleep in when it got cold, a little hole for him to crawl into. It was cute, really. Then we caught him playing with himself while watching the animals. We had to put him down after that. ”

The group laughed as the girl continued, ”It wasn his fault; he was born defective. Most families kill the failures when they come out, but some like to keep them around as pets. From what Ive seen, hes got all the signs. ” She ticked them off on her fingers. ”Smells like shit, pees himself, with the brains of a well-trained rat. At least he doesn have feelings like you and me, hes … more pig … living in his own filth … snorting at the world. ” She looked at him with mock seriousness. ”Can … you … understand … me? ”

”I think thats enough. ” Miss Ravens words silenced the class. Feeling her temper, the plants moved restlessly, vines writhing in open agitation at the anger threading her voice. The ravens stood tall, eyeing the girls with black malice. ”I don care what happens outside this class, but when you
e in my room, youll treat each other with respect. ”

Those students that came in last stopped in the doorway, looking for any open desks besides the ones next to him. Glaring bloody hate, they sat with muttered curses. Elizabeth pushed the class relentlessly hard, stripping them of any chance to make an attack on Cesare.

As the lunch bell rang, Miss Ravens voice stopped him in his tracks. ”Cesare, stay a minute. ” The others gave him looks of exhausted curiosity as they fled the room. Anastasia left last, reluctance dogging her steps as she closed the door behind her.

Miss Raven kept her head down. ”I can get you a pass to change if you want, ” she said softly.

”It wouldn matter. Even if I changed, the dies cast. ” Cesare shrugged. ”I chose this path, Ill walk it. ”

Sighing, she raised her head and gifted him with a sad smile. ”Why am I not surprised? Do you want to tell me what happened? I don believe you had an accident. ”

Cesare smirked at her. ”Ill tell you this weekend. Itll give me a chance to take an extra break. ”

The smile died, her face hardening into a mask of knowing, hidden truths birthed in spite killing her joy. Looking down, she shuffled her papers. ”If you show up, I promise to give you a break for the story. Now, I don want to keep you from your lunch. ” Taking the dismissal with easy grace, Cesare gathered his bag and left.

Anastasia waited outside with her harem around her. ”What did Miss Raven want? ”

One of the harem moved to block his path when he tried to walk past them. ”She asked you a question. ” The others circled him, penning him in with flesh and pretty faces.

He turned and met Anastasias expectant eyes. Born to power, the world would bend to her need, or shed bleed it out until it wished it had. ”She offered to let me go change my pants, ” Cesare said.

”And? ” Anastasia prompted.

”It wouldn matter if I changed. Its already in play. From this point on, Im the boy who pissed himself. Changing pants won change that. ” His eyes swept over the harem. ”Can I go now? ”

Three turns later, he turned a corner as two Third Years pushed off the wall to block his way. Closing the distance, vicious grins bloomed across their faces, shoulders straightening as hands clenched into fists.

Paling, the grins were flensed off their faces by the horror that rounded the corner behind Cesare. Without a word, the Third Years broke and fled down the hall.

”What would you do without me? ” Anastasia smirked in delight, watching the Third Years scurry away.

”I don know, not flinch when I bend down or worry my face is going to scar? ” Cesares reply killed her smile dead.

”You don understand. ” Anastasias face turned solemn. ”Every new Thagirions tasked with making sure no one takes the job. We hunt down everyone who takes a flyer, facing off with the students in a week of fighting, carving our dominance on their flesh. At the end of the week, the school knows to step up is to get knocked down. The position is only offered, so we have a way of showing our strength. ”

”So thats how they spin it, huh? Well, let me tell you, Miss Raven does in fact need help. If youd taken the time to watch her work, youd know that. Hell, if youd thought about it, youd see she needed the help. Look at this place, its huge. As for proving your strength, sorry to burst your bubble princess, but I can tick off a dozen ways you could do that without reinforcing the racist views of the students. No princess, they had you do it to hurt Miss Raven … to make sure she knows her place. ”

”You don understand. Someone like you can understand. Its our job to make the school safe. Only our strength keeps the races from tearing each other apart. Why would we create the problems we
e supposed to stop? ” She believed it.

There comes a time when arguing becomes pointless, and this was it. Without a word, Cesare turned and continued down the hallway alone. Anastasia waited until hed gained distance before following.

He picked up his tray slowly, giving the students time to flee the cafeteria line. Insults came fast and furious, heating the air with hate. The losers table was deserted, the kids skipping lunch or trying to fit in at another table. Maybe his butchering would feed the other rejects, pushing them to make friends.

Eating alone brought back memories of the streets: restaurants that went quiet when he came in, tables emptying when he sat down, people cutting their lunch short on seeing him. The homeless were plague victims corrupted by failure, marbled with rot born of weakness, incurable diseases.

Lost in his thoughts, it was a few minutes before he noticed the insults had stopped. Looking up, he watched the three teachers make for the lunch line. That was new. Usually, they were too important to eat with the dirt grubbers.

Wearing faded blue jeans that hugged his muscled thighs and a wife beater molded to his shredded muscles, Viktor stalked through the line. He took the admiring stares of the girls as his due without a flicker of an eye to show he cared.

His would be Spanish teacher, Miss Falcov, and her fiancée, Mr. Moreau came in hand in hand. Tall and willowy with dark hair brushing her shoulders, Miss Falcovs delicate caramel skin was too exotically beautiful to be contained by a base word like brown. Her smooth gliding walk was a dancers grace given form, perfectly complimenting her white dress.

Mr. Moreau was ice white to her soft caramel. Hard and angular, his face was a mask of edges and ruler straight lines with the polish of those born of snow turned dense and treacherous. His hair owned a caustic bleach color beyond simple white, as if deaths uncaring soul was woven into its ruthlessly parted strands. Cold blue eyes stared at the world without even a devils pity to warm them. With dark slacks and a button down white shirt, you expected him to be a high-powered lawyer— not a hardened teacher of killers.

Cesare gulped down his food as he waited for Viktor to finish his lunch. Once the guy got up, Cesare was on his heels following him back to the room. Viktor opened the door for him, an unspoken welcome in his eyes.

It was leg day, which meant lunges, squats, leg press, calf raises. After each exercise Cesare noted the reps and weight in the book Viktor had given him. In his words: ”If you don know how far youve come, youll never know how far you can go. ” Looking over the book as he finished the last set, Cesare got an image of where he was. While he didn know where hed end, he knew where he was starting.

Squatting slow and steady, Viktors thigh muscles bulged, striations standing out ghoulishly along taut flesh. His voice was tight with exertion, the barbell level as if set in stone. ”You need to cool down. ” Cesare stumbled up at the growled order, the rush of pain tearing a grimace from him.

Instead of working the stretches Viktor had shown him, Cesare started the Ashtanga Fundamental Series. Standing tall, he took control of his breathing, pulling air through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Heat built up in his belly, flowing into his limbs, loosening muscles as his body shifted into a meditative state, the moment devouring the past and future.

Insults were weapons of air, only meat and soul had meaning here. His emotions were his demons, they were the blades used by the hateful and cruel. It was their serrated edges that caressed his heart, their cold love that blessed his butchered self. Worry, shame, and despair – each was a blade hed wielded against himself, joyfully savaging his tender parts. The world shrunk with each asana, thoughts stitching to meat, leaving the mind empty of serpents.

Altered by the change in his mind, existence disconnected with the real. His thoughts stilled, no longer slicing through him with wanton desire, the cloud of shame clearing as he faced his truth. You can control others, not their actions or words. Mastery is birthed in controlling how you react to the world, not what the world does to you.

”Yoga, huh? ” Viktor asked, the words bringing Cesare out of his trance. Sitting up, his muscles were loose and sore but the burn of overuse was gone.

”Yeah, ” Cesare said. Viktor sat on one of the benches, wife beater molded to his body, hardened abs flexing with every swallow of his drink. Holding an old pickle jar in one hand, he absently swirled the brown, viscous fluid.

”Tell me what happened with your pants. ” It wasn a question. In this room, the man didn ask. Cesare tucked his legs under him as he gave the man a long look.

Viktor didn talk much. He didn have a use for people and made it clear he wasn looking for friends. Their relationship was made of orders, no kind word passed his lips, his give a **s never extending to Cesare. ”A few students were tuning up a First Year. He freaked and peed himself. I took his pants and hid the fact that wed switched. ”

Viktor passed over the mason jar. The brown liquid didn look any tastier up close. ”Drink up. Its a protein shake. ” It wasn too bad … if you liked the taste of chocolate ass.

Viktor left Cesare with the pickle jar as he went into the locker room. After only a few minutes, he came back with a bag. Taking a seat, the man lined up the things he pulled from the bag. ”I haven asked, because I don care. What do you hope to get here? Stronger? Faster? Better looking? What are you forging out of this pain? ”

Cesare took a drink of the foul liquid as thoughts dove deep for answers hed never looked for. Viktor was a lot of things: rude, violent, and supremely intolerant of anything that didn go his way. But he was honest in his own cruel way. If he hurt you, it was because you crossed him.

”At first, I took it because it was easy credits. Now I want … need, a body that can fight. ” Cesares eyes slid away from the man uneasily.

Viktor grinned. ”You don know what you
e talking about. There are three parts of a warriors body. Strength—and thats not how much you can lift. The strength Im talking about is explosive power … the kind that rips muscles, ruptures organs and breaks bones. ” He pulled out another jar and shot back a swallow of the brown stuff.

”Speeds the second quality. You
e composed of two kinds of muscle fibers when it comes to speed. Fast-twitch fibers are explosive power, like sprinting or the speed of a punch. Slow twitch muscles are more efficient but slower, good for long periods of activity. Those are useless in fights, which seldom go long enough to push them, ” Viktor said.

”The third and final qualitys balance. Its the stitching binding the others together. Training balance is like training Zen, you only cultivate it by not cultivating it. The goal is a perfect blend of the three, but nobodys made perfect. Some are like me, and lean more toward strength, while others favor speed. You learn to play to your strengths but not lean on them so much it cripples you. ” Thinking over the words, Cesare sipped his drink.

Viktor passed over a container. ”These are vitamins. Youll notice they
e separated into packs of seven pills. I want you to take them in the morning and when you get off school. ” He passed over a case of cans. ”Protein shakes. You need to take one at night and one before working out. For your meals, I want you to focus on meat and grains. You can eat other things but make it a ninety to ten mix. ” Swallowing the rest of his drink, Viktor got to his feet with a stretch. ”You
e malnourished, small, and weaker than you should be at your age. These will help rebuild your body the right way. Tomorrow, Ill have the new workouts ready. We need to move from bodybuilding to cultivating explosive speed, strength and balance. ”

Cesares question stopped Viktor in mid-step. ”Why? I can pay for this … ”

Viktor shot the words over his shoulder. ”Don worry, you don owe me. Freely given and freely taken. Now, get out, my next class will be here soon. ”

Yellow eyes locked onto him as he opened Tamlins door. The black wolf was awake. All the times hed come to train, it had slept quietly in its patch of sunlight, content to while away the summer in dreams. Feral pools of intelligence captured him, holding him in a place beyond the civilized. Sitting up with a languid stretch, its head came to rest at about six feet. Slate black fur shadowed the world, the grace of darkness maiming the searing touch of the suns unholy truth.

Gliding across the floor, the creature silenced the world, no swish of the tail or click of nails breaking the stillness. Held captive by savage eyes, entranced by a being born to shadows and blood, Cesare watched death given form. Wild animals come from a different realm. A world humans turned their back on. The world of red in tooth and claw … of death thats certain and painful. No one stands on top forever. The promise of life is that one day a younger killer will nourish itself with your flesh.

This wolf was an avatar of that blood soaked reality, embodying it with casual brutality. Death and challenge, pain and ecstasy, truths darkened with old blood spilled from its eyes, pushing into Cesare in a flood of homecoming that violated with its truth. But no matter how bad it got, no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn force himself to break eye contact … that unwanted communion.

With a slow blink, the wolf broke the binding. Cesare collapsed to the ground at the sudden release. The wolf turned back to its patch of sunlight. Lazily stretching, it circled its spot before laying down and closing its eyes in sleep.

Tamlins voice broke into his running thoughts. ”Its not polite to stare, and a person in your position should avoid wasting time. ” Entering his sight, the man slipped between him and the wolf. ”Today we
e going to work on your stance. ” Tamlin walked over to four posts bolted to the floor that stood about three feet tall. ”Up you go. ”

Cesare took his stance as Tamlin moved him into the right posture. ”Hold the stance until we run out of time or you fall off. While we
e here, lets talk about your recent … adventures … ”

Cesare began with the days events, finishing with Greg and Anastasia. ”Whyd you do it? ” Tamlin asked from behind him, pushing Cesares knee out with taps of his hand.

”I don know. I guess I was upset and reacted like Greg was human. I thought if I let it go, itd only get worse. ”

”Don doubt yourself. Your instincts are true in a way that your reasoning will never be. The Umbrae Lunae are no less reasoned than humans, the difference is that theyve never turned their backs on those instincts. ” Tamlin stopped, obviously looking for the words. ”A human comes home and finds his wife in bed with another. Despite what men say, it won get physical. Yelling and screaming, sure, but violence is beyond their touch. If he does get violent, the police will take the husband, no matter if hes the victim. If he was of the Umbrae Lunae, it would be flipped. Not only would the man become violent, but if he didn , hed be branded as weak and without honor. His own family would cannibalize him for his flesh. ”

It was an animals way of seeing the world. If your mate was with another, youd fight for her. It was a challenge to your place in the pack; fight or submit, pure instinct burning off civilizations rotting mask of right and wrong.

It explained the Thagirion. The four students dominated by being the baddest mother**ers in school. Theyd won their position through sheer brutal power, malice crowning their blood-soaked reputations. Their victims were their qualifications, the bodies of the maimed and crippled their thrones, the screams of the savaged heralding their coming like the prayers of the faithful. It wasn about rules or detention; it was pain. And that was what animals and the Umbrae Lunae responded to.

Tamlin sounded thoughtful. ”It impressed Greg enough that he approached you later. They respect personal power, even when its used against them. Especially when its used against them. While you respect the tyranny of the many, they respect the singular glory of the individual. ”

Humans respect unity. They lie about rewarding the exceptional but only truly bless conformity. Humans hate the exceptional, they cut down the magnificent, demanding no one be more special than them. The Umbrae Lunae killed to be the best, each corpse another step closer to the sky, a slaughter that ended in glory or death.

After falling off the posts, Tamlin dissected what had happened in the two fights. With the mans help, they recreated the fights from the first step to Cesare bleeding on the ground. Tamlin cut into each move, showing not just why the move happened but what should have, drilling not just movements but the knowing behind them into Cesare.

Laying on his back, Cesare stared at the ceiling, breath exploding from his lips. Their last exchange had torn the last dregs of his energy with it, only a deep swollen pain echoing through his body.

Walking away, Tamlins words filled the room. ”You should thank Anastasia for her gift of sparring partners. You can learn to fight by practice. You have to fight, to learn to fight. Shes given you sparring partners that won hold back, each craving pain as deeply as the wetness of a woman. Thats a whetstone you can hone your skills on. ”

The library was the only place safe from the poisoned words spewed with easy grace from the students. The teachers had done their best, but he didn want to be protected. He wanted to be left alone, to have a normal life, make friends, get decent grades, maybe find a girl to kiss. This was supposed to be a second chance, not a deeper hell.

Taking a table against the wall, he set out his books. With Elizabeth going on the rampage, hed have to buckle down if he wanted to stay above water. It may have helped him at the moment, but he had trouble keeping up with the normal flow. The added work would punish him more than any of the other students.

It was dark when he left the library. Even with is best, hed be taking a zero on some assignments Elizabeth had handed out. Maybe, just maybe, he could spend the night working on them back at the Serpens Lacum. He was deep in planning the rest of the night when he stopped dead at what waited for him at the bottom of the stairs.

Anastasia and her harem looked up at him. ”Fucking, really? ”

”You lied, vagrant. You worked with Miss Raven. ” Anastasia eyed him, the harem flowing out from her, cutting off any escape. Grins cut across pretty faces, an almost sexual hunger twisting their faces as diseased appetites rose from corrupt souls.

He slipped his duffel off his shoulder with a sigh. His mind switched over as he walked down the stairs, anger draining away as he evaluated the positions of the harem.

The boys were fanned out at the bottom of the stairs with Anastasia behind them. Having the high ground was nice. But if they took him down on the stairs, he wouldn be getting back up. Stone had no give, it was spiteful in a way the earth never was, it broke what dared to challenge its dominion. No, he had to move the fight to the dirt.

A hop over the balustrade sent him down to the ground. The harem quickly surrounded him while Anastasia stayed back, carefully screened by her wall of polished toys. The pretty boys kept their distance, he couldn attack any of them without giving the rest a shot at his back.

”Now, ” Anastasia said. They lifted off at her word, coming at him from all sides. Cesare charged the one hed singled out. Going low, Cesare flipped the guy over his back, slamming him to the ground. Turning, he met the others charge. They bowled him over, taking him to the ground in a mass of flesh. The harems hands were everywhere, gripping and holding. Lashing out with kicks, curses fell like blessed rain around Cesare. They wrestled Cesare into a full nelson before yanking him to his feet and stretching him into one long target.

With a grin, a boy stepped in front of Cesare. ”Remember me, asshat? You choked me out last time. ” Cesare tightened his core, setting himself for the punch.

Shifting, the boy exploded with force, fist sinking into Cesares stomach with a grunt of exertion from both of them. Coming closer, his fists rapid fired into his stomach and sides, impacts punctuated by Cesares grunts of pain.

Gulping for air, the boy staggered back with sweat slicked hair. ”Hard work beating on the defenseless? ” Cesare said. Shame crawled through the boys eyes. The punch was good, a wound-up haymaker. The world roiled and tilted as Cesares face was beaten back and forth, the world shattering apart as the guy took his anger out on it.

Something wet and warm dribbled down his face. The world undulated on waves, breaking apart and reforming into new images, people were in that choppy sea but unconnected from knowing. Anastasia, that was the girls name. Anastasia, the girl with hair the color of new blood. Sense came back saturated with pain. His eyes swelled shut, spit and blood spilling from his mouth.

”You lied to me, ” Anastasia said.

Cesare stared at her. Thoughts wove patterns of searing color before his eyes, shapes flowing into sight and disappearing as they ambled off. More patient than hed ever seen her, she waited for his mind to settle.

She was upset that hed lied to her. It didn matter that shed just taken him apart and the only thing holding him up were her dildos. Slaughter was the blessed cancer of their being, gluttonous in its need, unending in its wanton hunger.

Lying was different, your word was your bond. It was what made you who you were. There were no laws in their world, no one to enforce a contract or punish the false. To break your word, was to cast your honor into doubt. And a creature without honor, was food, unworthy of the air it breathed.

Raising his head, he stared at her dark eyes. ”You
e right, I lied. ” Now came the hard part. ”I assume I can make amends? ”

Anastasia smiled eagerly. ”With blood. ”

Cesare held back the words hed like to say, that shed already collected. ”Lets get this over with. You know, places to be, cuts to sew up. ”

Her smile sent a shiver down his back. Joyous and happy, her body fell into a practiced stance. ”Brace yourself. ”

Not able to trust his voice, he nodded. Excitement widened her smile into something that repulsed as much as it aroused. Trained by the best money could buy, her technique showed in every line of her body. Sledgehammers of meat boomed into his stomach, his core quivered under her hammering fists. She worked him over, chipping away at his strength, grinding it down with the brutal force of her punches. His head dropped, body jerking under the malicious beating. Blood coated his face in mask of weakness. Tainted with streaks of red, spit spilled from his face onto the ground. He welcomed the blackness when it came for him.

He woke sprawled on the ground. His body desperately wanted to curl up and protect itself. Stupid meat didn know the fight was over, only pain remained. A tendril of blood seeped down his face from a cut eye. Lips swollen and sloppy, his face was tenderized meat turned wet and bleeding.

After what felt like days of stumbling across campus, the stairs to the Serpens Lacum slowly came into focus. Taking a deep breath at each step, he staggered up the stones, spit tainted red with blood marking the ground with each lurch forward. A raucous caw stopped him.

A lone raven stood on the stone railing with a small black jar next to it. It was five steps to the railing. Carefully counting those steps took seconds he didn have. Biting back a whimper, Cesare dragged his bruised body to the raven.

The words spilled from his mouth in a sloppy mess. ”Tell Miss Raven thanks. ” The raven hopped off and with a clap of wings shot into the sky.

Getting inside, he hit the walls with a solid thud. Sliding down to the floor, he heard the door lock behind him. The idea of being locked out in this condition tore a shudder from him. It wouldn be the worst night hed ever had, not by a long shot. But it would have been a personal hell. What didn kill you, hurt.

It was over an hour later before he stumbled into the bathroom. Blood and spit covered his face and the front his clothes. His stumbling walk drew smiles of glee from the students he passed. A few of them got a dig in about how hed gotten what he deserved, but most just paused and enjoyed the sight of his mangled flesh. Stripping down in the bathroom, he checked himself over in the mirror. His chest was a mass of red and black, yellow spreading from the edges of the massive bruises. The swelling warped his body, flesh ruptured under skin forming blood filled hills. Cesare probed along his ribs, wincing as two came back sensitive.

The wraps he pulled from his bag were old and worn, years of use having turned them soft as old sin. Hed take his bath with one on and use the second to bind his ribs before he went to bed. If how his insides felt was any judge, hed be pissing blood for the next week.

Taking the cap off Elizabeths gift, he laid a dab of cream on the worst of the bruising. Tears flooded his eyes at the instant numbing. Filling the palm of his hand with cream, he spread it over his chest and sides. The sudden release from pain came dangerously close to sending him to the ground. When you
e used to pain, it becomes a strength you depend on. A steel bar down your spine, letting you do what would break a whole man. It became a way to validate your life, a thing to take pride in. Putting the cap back on the container, he kept it close as he slipped into the bath.

Greg was reading when Cesare staggered into their room. Looking him over, the kid gave a low whistle. ”Fuck me, man. You look like hammered shit. What the hell happened? ”

”I fell down the stairs … with a barrel of sledgehammers. ” With as much pain as he was in, it would be a miracle if he got any sleep.

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