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Chapter 12

Since the day of Isha’s initiation, the Whispers sanctum had quickly started to feel more and more like home. But not completely. Her hideaway still held that title, even if it were no longer the place where she slept.

Not a day had gone by where she didn’t at least drop by her little urchin hideaway. It was her sanctum away from the sanctum. At the very least, she had to check on her rats, bring them food, spend some time with her fuzzy little friends. She knew she was more than welcome to bring them with her to the sanctum, but it never felt like the right time to do so. Perhaps she was waiting to receive her hide, to no longer be a New Blood. Or maybe she just felt they were safer without allowing easy access to them to people like Jatham. She knew not what her reasons truly were, but until then everything would still be temporary.

Isha had been on her own for such a long time, but still remembered the disappointment and pain of losing her father, being taken in by Ewan, then subsequently losing him as well. Nothing lasts forever, she knew that, but depending upon others didn’t exactly have a proven track record. And while the Whispers had been surprisingly welcoming—or at least most of them—Isha was still hesitant to rely on anyone but herself.

“Almost there,” she said with an excited whisper.

She and Sev hadn’t spoken much during their nighttime walk, but when they had they gave no care to the volume of their voices. As they approached the hideaway, however, Isha was sure not to let their presence be known. She was always careful to not announce her arrival, but never needed to concern herself with the volume of her voice before. This was another first for her: bringing someone else with her.

The moon cast a pale light across the face on the inn, Isha’s secret well hidden among the shadows. As the two made their way around to the back, however, the moon did little to illuminate the narrow alleyway. It didn’t bother Isha; she could find her way up even if she were blindfolded. And they might as well have been.

But Sev had never accompanied her before. Nobody had. And while he had already proven his urban climbing prowess several times over, it was pitch black in the slender crevice between the buildings. They were climbing stone-blind.

Nevertheless, Sev continued to amaze.

After climbing up herself, Isha leaned her head over the side to help direct Sev only to find he was already half way up, having no trouble at all navigating the wall on his own.


“My father was from The Howl. Or so I was told. Apparently I inherited his eyes. Only gift he ever gave me.” He snapped back into his usual plucky self, not letting the “Besides, I’m a night owl. I’m used to this sort of thing.”

Isha could tell the subject of his father was a heavy subject neither of them wanted to breach, at least not right then and there. Still, she appreciated the ease with which he shared it with her. He trusted her, she could tell. And she, him.

Isha held out a hand as Sev reached the top. Not that he needed it—he was clearly more than capable of handling the climb on his own—but a little help to make things easier was never unwelcomed. His hand met hers with a slap, gripping tight as she pulled him over the edge.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” she said, sliding off the false wall from the overhanging roof. She always meant to eventually attach hinges to make it more like an actual door, but she never got around to it. Any sort of real construction was dangerous as the noise could easily give her away. Just sawing through the wood was worrisome enough.

Isha led Sev inside, motioning for him to watch his head as he entered. “Please, make yourself at home.”

Compared to the sanctum, her hideaway was sparse and uninviting. A single cot, a few crates and boxes, a slanted roof that most adults would have trouble standing under even at the highest point. It lacked all the flair and comfort one would expect of a home. But from what she gathered, no other street kid had anything quite as luxurious.

Sev gave a long, impressed whistle. “Dude, this is cool as hell. You did all this yourself?”

Isha was beaming. Even the darkness of night couldn’t hide it.

“That I did! I did have a little help, though. Meet my roommates.”

She gently removed the tarp covering the rat cage, hoping they might be asleep. Not a single one was. They squeaked and chirped and pawed through the cage, all excited to see that mom was home.

Either that or they were hungry.

“Ahh, I was hoping they’d be asleep. They look so cute all piled up together.”

“So this is the crew, huh?”

“Not all of ‘em are. A few haven’t made it past training. But this is all of them, my fuzzy little goobers.”

“I take it that one’s Chunks,” Sev said, pointing to the rat in question. The little fatso tended to stand out from the rest.

“And Mick, Little Stu, Gonzo and the old guy there is Sliver.” Isha pointed out the rats one by one. “They usually make up the main crew.”

Sev crouched down to sit cross-legged in front of the cage, clawing his finger against the outstretched paws and noses sticking out through the mesh.

“Hey there, little fellas. Oh, and ladies. Jangle and...?”

“Mini. She’s the white one with the orange-ish face and spots along her back.”

“Kinda looks like a deer.”

“Then there’s Big Stu and Cheeps. They, uh... those four need some practice.”

“You know, Mini, your mom tells me you’re kind of a bitch.” As if responding to his insult, Mini let out the daintiest of hisses and burrowed herself within the calming mass of rodents. Eyes wide, Sev gave Isha a knowing look. “She knows.”

“Knows she’s a bitch? Damn right she does. She has the same problem as Lyria’s birds. She’s smart enough to know she doesn’t have to do a godsdamn thing I tell her to.”

Sev chuckled at that as he plied himself from the floor and moved to sit on the cot. Isha joined him at his side.

“You know, I made that cage, too.”

“From that chicken wire you stole? Your first big job?” Sev asked, lightly chiding her.

“Jerk,” she said back, soft and playful, nudging him with her shoulder. “Yeah, my first big score.”

“Honestly? Seems like you got quite a bit of use out of it. This place is impressive.”

“It’s nothing compared to the sanctum, but—”

“But for street kids like us, with only the means we can make for ourselves? This place is badass. I’m seriously impressed. It might not be perfect, but this took skill, Isha.”

Isha broke eye contact with Sev and looked down, not because she was shy or embarrassed or anything, but to admire her tattoo. It, too, wasn’t perfect, but it was skillfully done. Especially considering neither of them had any real hands on experience.

“How’s it feeling?” he asked, lighty holding her wrist as he examined his work. His touch was gentle and sweet. “It doesn’t hurt, does it?”

Every time Sev showed that he cared, Isha fell for him that much more.

“It’s a little raw,” she explained, angling her arm to better show him. “But it doesn’t really hurt, no.”

She looked up to see Sev staring back with those deep green eyes of his. A smile crept across his face. Isha licked her lips. They both leaned in.

As if the universe was conspiring against them, they were interrupted by sounds of scratching, too close for either of them to not take notice. The timing couldn’t have been any worse.

“Did you hear that?” Sev whispered.

“Shh!” Isha answered, holding her hand up and cocking her head to listen.

In the dead of night, without the commotion of the city surrounding them, every sound seemed amplified. The scurrying of her rats, her own breath, and the light padded steps upon the sandy rooftop beside them.

Someone was up there with them.

Isha pressed her finger to Sev’s lips, lips she wished were against her own. She calmed her breathing, the beating of her heart, and stayed perfectly still. They made not a sound.

It was too late.

“Seems I’m interrupting,” said a voice from beyond the wall. “My sincere apologies.” The voice, most definitely insincere, was unmistakable. “Invite your old pal Jatham in?”

Sev looked to Isha, wordlessly asking what to do. But what could they do? Hide and pretend he wasn’t there? Holler and scream and try to scare him off like an animal that had wandered into camp? No. He wasn’t leaving. The man had clearly followed them. But why?


Jatham’s impatience outpaced Isha’s thoughts and the irritable man beat a meaty palm against the shingles, rattling the flimsy underlying structure.

“I said let me in, godsdamn it!”

Reluctantly, Isha opened the hatch.

“May I?” he asked, though it was hardly a question. He chuckled to himself—another joke that no one else laughed at—and pushed his way past Isha and ducked down to enter. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? New Bloods are supposed to show respect to their betters.” He spat the word like the jab of a finger. “But I ain’t seen fuck all from either of you. In fact, you been making a right fool of me.”

“You haven’t exactly been much of a peach to us, either,” Isha flung back.

“Peach,” Jatham echoed with a huff. “I ain’t meant to be your friend, girl.”

“What happened to our ‘old pal’ then?” Sev asked, his words drenched in contemptuous mockery. “We suddenly not friends now?”

“Was bein’ sarcastic, you smarmy little shit.”

“I’m starting to sense this isn’t a friendly visit after all.”

Sev was quick witted, skilled with underhanded comments and remarks meant to get under one’s skin. But for all his wit, he was being pretty fucking stupid given the situation. Jatham was a buzzing hornet’s nest and Sev couldn’t help prodding him with a stick. A stick that was far too short to offer any semblance of safety.

“It ain’t. You think I wanna spend time in this rat-infested shithole?” He lightly kicked the crate that Isha’s rat cage sat atop. “Fuck is this anyways? These your pets or somethin’?”

Isha didn’t answer the question. Jatham likely already saw her rats as leverage, but no reason to let him know his assumptions were correct.

“You come all this way for small talk?” she asked, changing the subject. “Or was there something else on your mind? It’s getting awfully late and—”

“Shut the fuck up, girl.” The low ceiling made the man seem more imposing than usual, a trick of perspective that gave him an almost monstrous presence. It also somehow simultaneously made the whole situation seem much sillier while he contorted himself to fit inside. It was an odd contradiction. His words, however, offered no such depth.

“Listen here, you little shits. I ain’t been able to say any of this around the club, but don’t think that make any of it not true. I been biting my tongue for too long. And for a couple o’ punk kids? It’s about time you started showing the rest of us a little respect.”

‘Us.’ As if there was really anybody else under his consideration.

“For now on, you’re bitin’ your tongue in my presence, got it? You do what I say when I say it. I tell you to jump, you jump. I say shut your mouths, you don’t make another godsdamned peep.”

“And what if we don’t do... any of that?”

Godsdamn it, Sev.

“You may feel safe back at the club, but don’t think I can’t still hurt you.”

“Takes a big man to threaten a ‘couple o’ punk kids’ huh, Jatham?”


In one solid move Jatham grabbed the top of the rat cage and flung it behind him. The cage crashed against the ground, flinging the latch wide open and sending several of the rats tumbling across the sandy stone rooftop. The man then immediately got in Sev’s face, too close for him to stand or defend himself.

“This big man will threaten whoever the fuck he wants. Step up to me again and don’t act surprised when I cut you down. It might not happen right then and there. Might not even be that same day. I just might stretch things out and make you sweat for a couple days. Just know I will come calling. And when I do, I’ll do more than just even the score.”

Jatham stepped back from Sev, suddenly friendly and jovial. Regaining his composure so immediately scared Isha more than anything he’d said or done previously. People capable of switching emotions on and off, or at least appearing to do so, tended to care only for themselves, capable of extremes against others no sane person would even consider. That Jatham had done some questionable things in the past only made her worry that he was likely capable of far worse.

“That’s all I’m asking for!” he said with a cheery candor better suited to someone who hadn’t just threatened both their lives. “Some appreciation is all. Due regard for your betters.” Casually as he could, Jatham turned to leave. “Just think on it, take some time. I sure would appreciate it. Otherwise, you might force me to act out.” Again, Jatham’s candor switched. The friendliness had all but left his voice. “Squash you like the rat you are.” He stopped before the open door, half turned and looked down at his feet. Chunks was slowly stepping over the mesh wires of the bent cage. “Like this.”

Isha lunged before he could even finish raising his leg. Caught off balance, Jatham fell back against the frame of the open doorway, Isha bracing against him. Jatham regained his footing, grabbed Isha by her neck and threw her against the stone wall of the tall building.

Isha hit the wall face first, disorienting her. Pain screamed through her like burning fire. She held her hands to her face, but the pressure only made it worse, a surefire sign of a broken nose. Her bloodied hands lifted her off the ground and she turned to see that Sev had leapt into action on her behalf.

Tears began streaking down her cheeks. It wasn’t the pain so much as the fear, the adrenaline pumping through her veins as she witnessed her loyal boy struggling to deal with Jatham outside on the open roof. Faerris had been right. She had a tough exterior, but buried under layers of grime she was soft on the inside.

Punch after punch, Jatham was beating on Sev far beyond making a point. The man’s size and experience was a clear advantage, giving him more than an upper hand.

He was going to kill Sev.

There was only one thing Isha could do.

Isha shook her head clear, pulled her dagger from its sheath and charged forward. She lunged, found purchase in flesh. Horror overtook her. At the last second, Jatham grabbed Sev like a ragdoll and pulled him between Isha and himself.

Sev gasped for air, holding his side as he fell to the ground, the knife sliding out as he did.

All thought went to the wayside. Sev was dying and there Jatham stood, alive and well, a sadistic smile creeping across his face.

She worked on pure reaction, fueled by emotion and instinct.

Leap, jab, flank, thrust.

Jab, twist.



Jab, jab, jab.

She stabbed Jatham, over and over, tears obscuring her vision and flowing down her face. Wailing sobs escaped her throat. Each thrust of her blade felt like beating against a wall in angst, cursing the gods and asking them why. Her sweet Sev.

His body laid beside her, limp and bloody, his face a mess. His hands still gripped his open wound. The wound made by her dagger. Jatham would have killed him had she not intervened, but she had trouble telling it to herself. She may have held the knife, but Jatham killed Sev. Still, she had trouble believing it.

She didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself, rage and grief were already overwhelming her. She would feel sorry later, allow herself to lament and regret what happened when she had the capacity to do so. She wiped away tears, snot and blood with her forearm, stinging against her fresh tattoo, her hands still coated in warm blood that glistened in the moonlight.

Whose blood it was, she couldn’t tell.

Her heart still raced, beating in her chest and ringing in her ears. With the commotion subsided, however, she now realized about a half dozen or so people stood in the streets, peering up at her in disbelief, witnesses to the carnage. It was poetic in a way. Jatham always wanted to be known as the Butcher, only to be butchered himself by a young girl who had only wanted to protect the boy who wanted a title of his own.

With the onlookers below, she knew her little hideaway spot was blown. It wouldn’t be long before others came to take her into custody. For a moment, she wondered if the Whispers could help her. Hide the mess, maybe pay off the witnesses for their silence. But why would they help her? She was merely a New Blood. And she had just murdered one of their oldest members, one so dedicated to the club he had spent years in jail without divulging anything. He may be the black sheep of the club, but their loyalty would fall to him over her. That was just how things worked, a simple fact.

She needed to flee then, leave the city. And she didn’t have much time. Panicking, she grabbed what little belongings she had, plus the small amount of coin she kept stashed away in her cot. She then returned to Jatham’s corpse and searched through his pockets for anything that would help, finding some coin, a boot knife and not much else.

It wasn’t much. Knowing every little bit would help, she hesitantly turned to Sev. “I’m so sorry,” she told him, the words carrying more meaning than she intended. Tears again began rolling down her cheeks as she took what little coin he had in his pockets. She kissed his forehead, still sobbing, then stood, turned and leapt down into the alleyway below, disappearing into the night.

As she fled the city, she kept her focus on her surroundings, staying to the shadows, keeping an eye behind her, making sure she wasn’t being followed or leaving an obvious trail. But as she left into the cold darkness of the surrounding sand, she couldn’t help but find her attention constantly returning to her tattoo, still raw. Now, it was more than just ink. Now, it was a memento, a memory of the boy she loved, but also of his tragic death.

She would carry it with her for the rest of her life.


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The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
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