Ryuki gets involved in Midnight City's world of crime.
I found myself behind Chen's restaurant again. Itrim and Venir stood before me holding the same red dress and wig that had worked so well the previous week. The alleyway was covered in graffiti- the only poster that had been spared the handiwork of vandals read 'All slies go to Detan. 38 days until the Inspection.'
"Last time we made a little money," Itrim said, looking at me with intensity. "But those guys had so many credits in their wallets. I saw one- he must have had two thousand credits in his pocket. If we could rob one, just one... we'd be set."
"You're going to rob them?" I asked with a gulp in my throat. "Like... actually hurt them?"
As I said this I remembered Dante's words just before he had killed Chawray. 'You lay hands on a tourist, you get a beating.'
"Yeah, don't go all goddessy on us now," Venir said. "We'll only do it to one or two- no one will ever know it was us. You just do your part and you'll get some money."
My breath came to me faster, nervous thoughts pressing on my mind- but I said nothing. I managed a slight nod, and then put on the blond wig.
We walked down the alley to our places.
"We'll make a sign when the guy is walking toward you. If we make a big X like this," Itrim said making a large X with his forearms, "that means we're going to rob the guy. If we don't make an X, that means he doesn't have a lot of money. Here, take this. Just in case."
With that, Itrim handed me a dull blade- about the length of my middle finger. The knife was chipped and warped from decades of use.
"Just in case," Venir said.
I looked at the blade reluctantly. I opened my mouth to cast doubt on this plan, or to ask if that was really necessary. But then I imagined Itrim and Venir scowling down at me disapprovingly. I imagined them calling me weak. They'd call me Yuina or Varus, or some goddess's name. Nothing would be worse than that. I accepted the blade without complaint.
"This is a good spot," Venir said.
I stood in place as Itrim and Venir walked to the opening of the alley. I imagined throwing the blade down to the ground and just walking away- but I couldn't let them know I was afraid. I stood in place, even though my knees were knocking against one another with a nervous shake.
"You want the tightest girl on Kambangang," Venir called out. "We got her. The freshest thing you've ever seen."
I watched the boys call out to passersby. An older man stopped to talk with them. His black hair had streaks of white setting in, and his back was hunched forward, much of his bodyweight resting on a cane. Still, his shoulders were large and powerful. The old man looked down the alley and made eye contact. I felt the glance cut through me, and physically staggered back. The stranger's eyes looked surprisingly youthful, despite the aged vessel carting them around; it left me with an uneasy sensation in the back of my mind.
The old man opened his wallet and handed two bills to Venir. I was too far away to know the denomination, but guessed by Venir's reaction that they were hundreds.
The old man started walking toward me at a slow pace, his cane working hard to support the weight of his hunched body. Behind the aged mark Itrim held up his arms in a big X- the act made me want to vomit. All the things that could go wrong began running through my head, and I just stared forward in absolute terror. I watched Itrim produce a blade and sneak up behind the old man. I watched Venir pull out a long, metal pipe from behind his back.
This is actually going to happen, I thought. I'm going to watch them beat this old man senseless. Maybe they'll kill him. Maybe we'll all go to jail forever. As the man neared me, so too did Itrim and Venir near him. Venir leaned back to strike with the metal pipe.
The old man suddenly spun around with surprising grace, and smacked Itrim in the face with his cane. He shot out a foot and kicked Venir square in the chest- this produced an ungodly wheeze from the teen as he sank to his knees, struggling for air.
"You thought Dante wouldn't find out about this?!" the man roared.
He stood upright then and pulled a gray wig off his head, and faux wrinkles off his face. I looked on in horror as the now youthful, powerful man reared back and rammed his knee into the side of Itrim's face.
"Help us," Venir called out to me, just as the man struck him in the back with the cane.
I held the blade in my hand and watched the scene unfold.
"Help," Venir wheezed from the ground, his hand outstretched for aid as he attempted to crawl toward me.
The man grabbed Itrim's left hand and held it behind his back in an armlock.
"You little Yuinas think you can run around here and cause problems for Dante's business? You ripped off a customer from Dauntless. Do you know how much work it's gonna take to rebuild trust?"
"I'm sorry!" Itrim yelled while firmly in the man's grasp. "We won't do it again. We promise!"
"You're not sorry yet," the man said, and then there came a horrible sound of bone snapping.
Itrim released a hideous shriek, like a thousand rusted gears grinding against one another.
I felt tears stream down my face as I watched, unmoving.
"Help us, you idiot!" Venir called out, still crawling toward me. "Use the knife."
I held the blade limply in my grasp. My knees clanged together. My jaw hung moronically from my face. I watched without action as the man walked over to Venir and grabbed him by the hair on his head, pulling him upright onto his knees.
The teen opened his mouth to say something, but the man rammed Venir's head into a wall, leaving a stain of red, and a long bloody smear across the brick as he limply fell to the ground without a word.
With Itrim moaning in pain and Venir lying prostrate, the man walked toward me. I still held the little blade in my hand, pathetically and without menace. Still watched slack-jawed as the man grew nearer and nearer with every unhurried step.
When the stranger was right on top of me my survival instincts finally kicked in- I dropped the blade and sprinted back the way I'd come. The man was quick, and lashed out to grab me- he took firm hold of the dress. I fought against his powerful hand, squirming and fighting as hard as I could. There came a rip and snap of the dress's cheap fabric, and I was free, running down the back alley completely nude.
Tears blurred my vision. I tripped over a garbage can, pain stabbing at my palms and knees, but I hopped to my feet and continued the mad dash to safety. As though my bare feet were the wind, I ran and ran and ran. I arrived back behind Chen's shop without stopping, and for the first time, glanced behind me to see if I was still being pursued. The man was nowhere to be seen. With the imminent threat gone, my muscles gave out and I crumpled to the dirty, alley floor. Thick, inconsolable tears poured out of me- I cried so hard that I couldn't breathe and after a few seconds had to force my lungs to take in air.
A rusted door creaked open, and I tensed as I prepared to run again, but Mr. Chen stood in the doorway, looking at me. His face reacted in immediate shock- he opened his mouth and held out an accusatory finger, just like Rinton. I braced for horrible, furious words, but without making a sound, he took off his apron and placed it on my naked body. He then grabbed a damp towel and wrapped it around my waist.
home, Ryuki," Mr. Chen stroked my hair once and gave me a solemn
I came to school the next day, exhausted from not sleeping the entire night. Venir and Itrim had their desks at the back of the class, both of which were empty. After two nerve-wracking hours of not knowing their fate, I went to recess. I still expected to see the two boys surrounded by their normal huddle of eager followers. After all, they were the toughest people I knew- I imagined that Venir getting bashed in the head would just make him angry.
But there was no news, and the normal band of chronies were all in their own little cliques. I spent recess sitting alone, staring at the spot where the group normally met.
Upon returning to class I noticed the school counselor walking in the hallway, giving out slips of paper to the teachers. I watched the exchange with curiosity, and then filed into the classroom, and into my ancient, dilapidated desk. The smell of strong incense and fresh urine wafted about me.
The teacher came into class holding the slip of paper and I sat, sweating nervously as the woman silently read to herself.
I remembered the way I had limply held the dagger while watching the man savagely beat those teenagers. I had been completely useless. Venir and Itrim weren't really my friends, but I could have done something to help. I could have tried.
How mad are they going to be for not helping them, I wondered as the teacher folded the paper nervously in her hands and then stood to address the students.
"Quiet, quiet please. I've just been given some news about two of your classmates."
The class quieted and listened. My entire body clenched as I waited to hear the news. How angry are they going to be? Oh no... they're going to kill me. They're honestly going to kill me for being such a pathetic little wimp. They'll have a few scars from the ordeal, sure- but they won't be in the hospital for long. Maybe they'll throw me off the roof or stab me with the same knife I refused to use.
"It seems there was an accident last night and two boys, Itrim and Venir, fell from an apartment building. Itrim is expected to recover from the fall, but Venir has gone home to the gods."
The class began mumbling to one another at this. I sat motionless, my eyes wide as I replayed the scene again and again. The sound that was made when Venir's head had been bashed against the wall. The empty look that had filled his eyes after the hit- no pain or anger or fear. Just... nothing. And then the way he fell to the ground, lifelessly, without even holding out his arms to brace for the fall.
I stared off through time and space. I faced forward, and pretended to follow along with the lesson as the teacher began talking. But all I could think was, I did this. I glanced to the statue of Rinton, God of truth and hard decisions, and knew I would be punished. Beside Rinton was another poster, '37 days until the inspection.'
If you want to see more, then please provide a little feedback, so I can finish this novel!
Start at the beginning: