1: At the Brink
“I have to be careful throughout the process. I can’t afford to ruin this. If I don’t succeed, nothing’s going to break the fall. I’ve no family, no home, not that they would let a traitor or failure live.”
Laila nodded. He dipped his rag into the grey sludge and continued greasing the wall of the hideout.
He said, “So, what is this process? What’s your plan? Can I help?”
I put a hand in my hair. It was dark, like my mother’s. And I liked to keep it just long enough to cover my eyes, in case I needed to hide behind it.
“I don’t think so, but I’ll consider you as a pawn in the future.”
I knew that my manner of speech was inherently offensive, but it’s just how I talked. I don’t think Laila was sure it was on purpose, but this was the primary reason he and I had become friends. It seemed that only he realized that all my passive jabs were mostly unintentional. Laila, and our leader Orion. He would likely have killed or exiled me by now if he hadn’t figured me out.
Orion wasn’t an inherently evil person, but I figured that he was so close to it that I wouldn’t mind it if she had to kill him in order to make my plan work.
“Alexandre?” Laila prodded.
“Right. The process.” I nodded, “I’m going to overthrow Orion and take over. Then, we’ll wage war against our ally gang. If all goes well, they’ll kill each other off and I can leave. I can be free once more with my…”
I trailed off. I didn’t want him to know why I was so intent. I didn’t want to reveal my deeper motivations… not right now.
Laila stopped oiling the wall and watched me. He said, “Your mother?”
I turned to him, my mind awash with surprise, and also anger.
“How do you know about my mother?”
“You told me a while back. You said the only reason you joined was because your mother was in an ally gang.” He replied.
Laila must have hoped that I would remember and calm down. I did not.
Instead, I asked, “Did you tell anyone?”
Laila shook his head and raised his left arm. At the wrist it became a stump, capped with metal to keep it clean, and also to weaponize it. They made him do a task that nearly required two hands as a follow-up punishment. Now that he had a fault, he must be tested to ensure he did not become a weak link.
“I’m the outcast here. I have no one I could tell.”
Laila was a lean man of East Metch descent. He had shaggy black hair that attached to an unkempt and full beard. His skin was tanned and brown, and his eyes were large and dark.
“So, how did you lose your hand? I never asked.” I hadn’t.
“Oh, nothing much. I was one of the people who failed Diesel Dirge’s raid on Baracus. We were collectively taken out by a Plainkind girl. A very small Plainkind girl. This,” He raised the shining stump again, “was my punishment. Dezallldwinn enjoys torture, and he’s also the one in charge of punishment.”
I was certain now. I was going to take these three gangs out one by one, person by person, starting with the leader of my own gang, Orion.
“I’ve half a mind to behead this Dezallldwinn. Right after I’m done with Orion.” I said, “So, how did they do it? It seems like a fairly neat cut, it doesn’t look like they used an axe or something like that.”
Laila shook his head, “No… The Lussa have discovered something called current energy. Something about subatomic particles that move through wires. I don’t know. But, he has a power saw, a disk of metal with teeth. It spins at high speed.”
He was staring at his stump with intent.
“And they cut it off like that? Clean with a saw?”
“Clean?!” He looked at me in horror as he remembered, and it made me feel uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as I felt when he explained.
“I told you he likes torture! He cut my hand off bit by bit. He me until he had cut through the wrist bones a few times and hit the arm. My fingers were turned to bloody red coins, that’s how much he cut!”
“Well that settles it,” I hissed. My mind had turned to bile, “This month, I will become leader of our gang. The month after, I will assassinate Dezallldwinn. You should come, it’ll be fun.”
I shoved a fist into my other open hand determinately.
I, Alexandre Dirge, am a little similar to Laila, but I am much taller. I’ve been complemented on my pale, moon-coloured skin, and grey eyes. I am not an East Metch, but a Riley. I’ve always been tall for a Riley, and from what my friend Finch told me, I am very beautiful. He’ always liked to stare at my stomach, but now that it’s so toned and muscled, I wondered if he would still like it.
Probably he would. Finch was bound to a Plainkind called Alice, who was at least ten times stronger than me. She could probably take out this entire gang without breaking a sweat.
I watched Laila carefully as he finished smearing the grey sludge onto the side of the wall. It was cool outside, the night was falling and the tide was already receding.
I intended to either kill or overthrow the leader, and I had a process. But I now realized that it would take far too long, years most likely. My mind raced in a frantic attempt to condense it.
“I need to get on his good side.” I said.
“Aren’t you already?”
I shook my head, “Not good enough. I’m a south.”
The three gangs had a fairly straightforward hierarchy, named after the four ends of the world.
West was the lowest. Laila and other recruits were wests. South was the second lowest, the standard. An east was someone that Orion liked. Orion Sheer, Hinter Sheer, Diesel Dirge, and even Dezallldwinn were norths. The only thing higher was the Prince, who was called Venus, but we’ve never seen him. Not even once.
“I’ll become an east, and then a north soon enough. Just you watch.”
Laila nodded. He knew me enough. He knew that any time I set my mind to something, it became an inevitability. I knew that he had no doubt in his mind that I would soon be his new gang leader. And he was right, but it wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be.