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Chapter 6

“Oh, she’s worried alright,” the older girl said with a cocky laugh. “Shaking in her boots, this one.”

She wasn’t worried. She was numb. At this point, Isha couldn’t give two shits about whatever this supposed initiation was. She was more concerned with why the girl, a complete stranger to her, was being such an intolerable asshole.

She was quite a bit taller than Isha, likely close to a full head’s worth, but it was difficult to tell with her lounging against the wall. She was playing it cool, nonchalantly twirling her dark hair between her fingers. Her calm casualness was just another tool she was using to try and get under Isha’s skin. She was looking for a reaction, so Isha completely ignored her.

“Don’t mind Jessa,” one of the boys said as he stepped closer to her. “She’s just trying to wind you up. I’m Sev, by the way. The shy one is Erryk.”

“Isha,” she said, shaking his outstretched hand.

Like Jessa, Sev looked to be only a couple years older than Isha, 17 if she had to guess. Waves of his dark dirty blonde hair reached down to just above his eyes. Those eyes. A brilliant, deep green. The two exchanged warm smiles.

“What? I can’t test the fresh meat?” Jessa asked, still prodding.

“We’ve all been tested enough as is,” Sev explained, turning to Jessa. “We wouldn’t be here if that weren’t the case.”

“Actually,” Erryk spoke up, his voice soft but certain, “I’m not so sure all of us have been tested as thoroughly as the next.”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean, Tubs?” Jessa cracked at him like a whip.

Erryk was a quiet, pudgy kid with an awful bowl haircut. It seemed like he was used to being the butt of the joke, disregarded and tossed aside. When he spoke, though, Isha felt the weight behind his words. It wasn’t just an aimless comment, but a conclusion born from reason and logic. He wouldn’t risk the attention if he wasn’t sure.

“You put up a convincing act, Jessa, but you’ve let slip some key information. You’ve shown too much of your hand.”

“The fuck are you on about, fat boy?”

He seemed accustomed to the jokes. The words might still sting, but it was a pain he was familiar with, nothing that would stop him from making the point he was building up towards.

“You keep suggesting we’re worried. You did it to me when you first came in, then again when Sev got here. And now you’re trying to scare our new friend Isha. But none of us should have any reason to be worried. None of us should know to expect anything. Yet here you are talking about an initiation.” Realization flashed in Jessa’s eyes. It was a simple mistake, but one that Erryk had eagerly grasped onto. “Question is: who told you about it?”

“I have an inside source.” She played it off so cool. Who was this girl?

“No, I don’t think it’s that simple. And I don’t think you’re just trying to ‘wind us up’ as Sev here suggested. I think you’re the one who’s worried.” He pondered to himself for a moment, his gaze never leaving Jessa’s eyes. “You’re not worried because you know what to expect. You’re worried because you’re afraid of letting someone down. Your source? They’re family. You’re a legacy.”

“Damn, Ryk.” It was all Isha was able to get out after the kid’s impressive feat.

He had broken Jessa’s composure, her scowl pinching and squeezing the mole beside her nose.

“Fuck, whatever, fine. My brother. He’s the one who warned me. There’s a big initiation thing, but it’s all for show. Theatrics. I was just playing along. They wanna put us on edge before the big show. ‘A little fear goes a long way,’ he said.”

“The hell do they plan on doing to us?” Sev asked. Now he was starting to get worried.

“It’s nothing, really. They’re gonna blindfold us and... well, let’s just say their leap of faith is nothing to freak out about. They just wanna see if we trust them.”

“Well, I guess we can see why Erryk here was recruited,” Sev commented, surprisingly impressed with Erryk’s performance. “Gods, man, who needs a blade when you’re sharper than most everyone in this entire place.”

“To be fair, Jessa isn’t here just because she’s a legacy,” Erryk added. “I’m willing to bet she could act her way out of a jail cell if needed. If it weren’t for that nugget of info you let slip, I’d never have picked up on a thing. You are impossible to read.”

“Remind me to never play cards with either of you.”

They all shared a laugh.

“Speaking of blades,” Sev continued, “I’m not entirely sure what brings our friend Isha here, but I’d imagine this has something to do with it?”

He held out a knife in his hands, her knife, spinning it in his palm. Isha reached towards her back, knowing full well she would find nothing but an empty sheath.

“You’re a pickpocket I take it?” Isha asked, annoyed but impressed.

“I also like to tout my skills when it comes to roof running. It’s important to know the streets, but equally important to know the roofs. Getting spotted and chased is half the fun! As long as you know your way around the city while you’re up there.”

He was trying to impress her even more. It was obvious, but still cute. He handed her the knife back with a sly smile and she returned it to its sheath.

“So what is the knife for?” Jessa asked. “What are you bringing to the table? What’s your specialty?”

Isha suddenly felt small. What did she bring to the table? Why was she here? All three of them had clear skills that would make them useful to the Whispers. Did she? Was she recruited because she was good at catching rats? How was she supposed to answer?

Luckily for her, the scene was interrupted as the thick door opened once again.

Four people wearing an assortment of hooded scarves, shawls and cloaks entered the room carrying scraps of dark cloth. Blindfolds. Isha recognized only the woman, the same woman who had appeared in the tea shop, cutting off slices of an apple like she was slitting the throat of someone who had wronged her. Oh, she discovered something alright.

Each of the new recruits was approached by one of the four, Isha by the woman. What was her name? Was it L something? Isha couldn’t be sure she even caught her name.

‘L’ snapped her fingers at Isha, holding out the blindfold.

“Come now. Get on with it.”

Isha wrapped the blindfold over her eyes and around her head, tying it tight, entrusting herself into the waiting hands of a woman she knew only as a single letter. And as a bit of a sadist, if their first encounter had taught her anything.

Even blindfolded, Isha could tell they were being led back to the main chamber of the sanctum. There were no sounds of celebration, though. No more sparring. No more singing. No conversations beyond hushed whispers.

Fitting, she thought.

“Isn’t the whole silent march a bit much?” Sev asked on the way there.

“Ain’t a silent march if you keep yapping that mouth of yours, recruit,” the man behind him responded with a hearty chuckle.

Isha felt the warmth of bodies as the room expanded around them. They were led to the center of the room, side by side, and instructed to step up onto wooden blocks.

“Initiates, let me be the first to welcome you to the inner sanctum.” Isha recognized the voice. Faerris.

Shit, maybe I was right after all. Maybe he really is the leader of the whole damn MC.

“Tonight will be a test of your resolve, your commitment. Before you truly join the ranks of your brethren, to truly become one of us, you must prove that commitment. Show us your complete trust. Because that is the foundation upon which the Whispers was founded: trust in your brothers, your sisters, your family. Without that, we are nothing.”

Family was something that Isha had been missing for longer than she cared to think about, but the words warmed her nonetheless. Her curiosity mostly drove her desire to see just what the Whispers were all about, but she found herself surprised and excited about just what these people, her brethren, had to offer.

“Tonight, we shall bear witness to your trust as each of you take... a leap of faith.”

Isha didn’t need to be able to see to know that Jessa was smiling wide. The sanctum was so silent she could actually hear the sticky sound of parting saliva as she did. Cocky as Jessa was, she would need to do better at hiding that, else the others might catch on. It wasn’t much of a leap from there to the realization that her brother was the reason why she was so cocky in this particular situation to begin with.

“Caltrops are one of the golden standards of the tools at a thief’s disposal, second only to a set of trusted lockpicks. These simple pieces of twisted metal are a perfect example of what the Whispers strives for. Much like the secrets of those who wish to exploit the common people, they are dangerous only to those unaware. And much like secrets, they no longer pose a threat once revealed. Secrets, however, often require an understanding of trust.”

He momentarily paused, purely for dramatic effect, before continuing.

“Scattered on the floor all around you are dozens of caltrops. The leap of faith we ask of you is quite literal, but fear not. Put your trust in your brothers and sisters and no harm will come to any of you as long as you do exactly as we say.”

It clicked. She got it. She understood the joke, sick as it may be.

They want her and the rest of the new recruits on edge, worried, to help scare them into thinking they were going to actually jump onto a floor covered with caltrops. But there weren’t any. It was all a trick. The man with the pencil beard, she remembered, had been folding dozens of paper caltrops. So when they jumped, they would hit the paper caltrops and freak out thinking they were real.

This wasn’t an initiation. It was hazing.

Welcome to the club, motherfuckers.

Isha felt a sudden smile growing along her own face, likely as obvious and stupid as Jessa’s. How could she fault the girl if she knew to expect the same?

“Pass this simple test and you will truly begin your journey, together with us. So if you trust us—”

Jessa, probably still not hiding her dumb smile, didn’t bother waiting for Faerris to finish talking and leapt down to the floor. The lack of a crunching sound as she hit the ground was all Isha needed to know that, just maybe, Jessa had been wrong to be so cocky. Her screams of pain only solidified it.


“What the hell!” screamed a worried voice from behind where Jessa had been standing.

“Fuck’s sake,” Faerris lamented.

Isha ripped her blindfold off to see a man rushing to Jessa’s side as she lay on the ground holding her boots, a spike of metal still sunk deep into her heel. The floor was already sprayed with blood, as well as dozens of caltrops of various sizes—none of which were made of paper. They spread across the floor in front of and beside Isha.

“There’s actually caltrops?!” Isha exclaimed, incredulous. There had to be at least a hundred of them.

“I said there was!”

“Why the hell did you jump?!” the man asked Jessa. He looked a lot like her: tall, dark hair, just a little bit older. He must be the brother.

“I thought you were just trying to scare us,” Jessa replied through pained tears.

“We were!” Faerris yelled. “Jumping onto a floor covered in caltrops sounds horrifying.”

“It is!”

“Well I never said to actually jump!”

“We were just gonna have you trust fall to us behind you,” Jessa’s brother explained. “Surrounded by caltrops, no choice but backwards and all that.”

Isha turned around to find ‘L’ standing just behind her, giving her an awkward, conceding wave and smile. She turned her attention back to Faerris. “Why bother having actual caltrops on the ground at all then?”


“I thought you were trying to trick us into thinking they were real, but when we jump we land on those paper caltrops Pencil Beard was making so we freak out but don’t actually get hurt.”

“That’s actually a pretty good idea. I’ll have to write that down, I really like that.”

Jessa continued to bleed onto the floor.

In an impressive showing of casual efficiency, three members doffed their hoods and came to Jessa’s aid, wrapped her feet in cloth and made an expeditious retreat out of the main chamber. Her brother held her hand as they left, worried, apologetic, but also laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Two more came with various jars of soaps and solvents to clean up the pool of blood. In a near instant, any evidence that someone had been bleeding out on the floor had vanished. Isha didn’t know whether to be scared or thankful she was on their side.

In an equally impressive showing of efficiency, the commotion had died down and the festivities continued underway. The party must go on.

With the theatrics ruined and the surprise foiled, the rest of the ceremony was abandoned and the initiates were welcomed into the fold. Even with the disappointing snag in the festivities, their admission was still met with cheers and applause, warm and welcoming. Isha was officially a New Blood now—along with Erryk, Sev and especially Jessa—bleeding life into the club.

Each initiate was greeted by their recruiter, the person responsible for them being here, the person who was risking their own reputations to vouch for them, the person who had tested and vetted them personally.

Isha was sad to learn that she wasn’t, in fact, recruited by Faerris. Nor was he involved because she was especially talented or skilled. Quite the opposite. Lyria had recruited her, but Faerris decided to be a part of the testing process. This, she learned, was a bit unorthodox. Faerris had apparently been unsure about Lyria’s proposed recruit and wanted to thoroughly vet the girl himself. A blow to her ego, no doubt, but she must’ve impressed the man, or at least proved herself enough to get his blessings.

Because here she was.

Now that Isha was in, Lyria was taking her new ward under her wing to introduce to people. Pencil Beard was first, whom she found was actually named Nadeen.

“But everyone calls him Scratches.”

“Pleasure,” the man said, setting down yet another piece of half-finished origami on the table beside him.

Isha extended her hand to shake his, but the man nearly held the tips of her fingers as if he were going to kiss the back of her hand, yet he never did. He didn’t even leave his chair.

“So why do they call you Scratches?” Isha asked.

“I scratch a lot? It’s a nervous tic. I’m always scratching the backs of my hands or along the line of my beard.”

“Not many of the nicknames people have earned are the most clever of inventions,” Lyria added. “The story behind it’s fun, though! He almost blew a job a few years back because his mark thought he was reaching for a knife. So he pulled a knife and rushed our boy here.”

“Son of a bitch chased me out the damn door before he came to his senses. I keep my hands busy nowadays. Hence all the origami. Sorry about the confusion with all that earlier, by the way.”

“No worries,” Isha said. “I’m not the one getting her feet stitched up right now.”

“I liked your suggestion about the caltrops, though. Clever.”

“So any other interesting nicknames? Or interesting stories behind them?”

“People’ve been calling Lyria here the Canary for a while now on account of her trying to train birds to send messages.”

“Ooh, the Canary. Now that’s a cool nickname. No offense, Scratches.”

“None taken, New Blood.”

“I’ll admit, it is one of the better names,” Lyria said, “but it makes no sense. I’ve never even tried to train canaries so I don’t really know where the name came from.”

“See that tall, lanky fella over there?” Scratches asked Isha, pointing towards a man who looked as uncomfortably introverted as much as he naturally stood out in a crowd. And it was entirely due to his height. He was plain, but tall.

“The guy that looks like a librarian?”

“He is a librarian. At least that’s his cover.”

“Like Faerris’ tea shop.”

“Exactly,” Lyria said.

“Well,” Scratches continued, “that librarian also killed a man with nothing but a spoon. So now we call him Spoons.”

Gods. It’s the quiet ones you really have to look out for.

“And see that big, dim-looking fella with the crowd around him?” He pointed towards a slightly overweight man covered in a patchwork of tattoos. What was left of his greasy, thinning hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail. Despite his height, the man stood out in the crowd. “The one getting the welcome home celebration? Name’s Jatham.”

“Oh, don’t tell me that jackass got himself a title already,” Lyria said, exasperated at the thought.

“Not yet he hasn’t, though I’d bet good money he’s vying pretty hard for one tonight. Wants people to start calling him Butcher.”

Lyria let out a deep, disappointed sigh. “Is he telling the story about how he got nabbed again?”

“For at least the third or fourth time tonight. Your ward might be interested to hear it. I must admit it is an entertaining story. No rush though, seems like we’ll be hearing it over and over all night long.”

“I take it neither of you like Jatham?” Isha asked.

“That’s putting it kindly,” Lyria said, still annoyed at even the prospect of the man earning himself a nickname amongst his peers.

“And I’m guessing you try to avoid his presence at all costs?”

“Usually pretty easily, yes.”

“But you have to babysit your ward all night?”

“Oh fuck off.” Lyria could clearly see where Isha was going with this, as if the sinister playfulness in Isha’s eyes weren’t enough of a giveaway.

“And you have to accompany her wherever she goes?”

“Scratches, what have you done?”

“Don’t blame this on me!” the man laughed. He held his hands in the air like he’d just been caught mid-heist, a half-folded origami in one hand, the other unconsciously scratching the back of his head.

“Let’s go, chaperone!”


The two casually strode through the clusters of people towards Jatham and his captive audience. The group gathered around Jatham’s table with open ears as he was indeed regaling them with a story of his exploits. But as the two approached the group, Jatham stopped his story and turned his attention towards them, Isha in particular.

“Ah! I see Lyria has brought ‘er new ward to join us. Tell us, New Blood, ‘ave you come to pay your respects?” The man’s voice was gruff, spoken with a lazy accent.

Isha had no idea what he was talking about. She looked to Lyria, hoping for some insight, but it seemed her chaperone was as clueless as she was annoyed.

“That means we drink, New Blood!”

Jatham took two of the many tiny glasses littering the wet-slick table and turned them right side up, leaving watery rings on the table surface where they once sat.

“Jatham,” Lyria scolded him, “she’s just a girl.”

“She ain’t no girl,” he scoffed, taking a bottle of amber booze and filling each glass, spilling half as much on the table. “She’s one of the Whispers now!”

He placed one of the glasses on the table before Isha and held the other in his hand. “Now drink!”

The man was pushy, condescending and seemed to think himself important due to the spotlight on him. But Isha wasn’t about to let him make her look weak. Certainly not on her first day. She grabbed the glass.

“To new beginnin’s!”

She shot her drink back, swallowing in one gulp. It burned all the way down, coating her throat and warming her belly. She breathed in and that warmth turned to fire, sending her into a coughing fit. Jatham burst into laughter and emptied his glass in one long sip.

Isha slammed the glass down like the others on the table.

“Woah, not too hard there, New Blood. Don’t need you shatterin’ glass all over the floor, unless you’re lookin’ to repeat the other girl’s bloody dance from earlier.”

The crowd laughed along with Jatham this time, but not nearly as much as Jatham himself.

“Now where was I?” he continued, slipping back into storytelling mode while Isha regained her breath. “Right, the hallways. So I’m all alone, corridors all dark except I see flickerin’ light coming through the gap of a closed door. The man’s office. I waste no time, grip both hands ‘round me axe—me butcher’s axe—and kick the door in, expectin’ to find him holed up with whatever remained of his guards.”

He mimed every move, gripping his axe, kicking the door down, the resulting look of disbelief.

“But he was alone, waitin’ patiently. Weren’t scared neither. A bald, little man with the face of someone who thought he was so much smarter than me.”

He probably was.

“He was just sat there, calm as could be, with two glasses of wine in front of him. He asks me to have a seat like we was two old friends meeting up fer a drink. I do, figurin’ it couldn’t hurt. So as I do, he starts jabberin’ on about how he was at an impasse or some such and how he was no match for me physically, which to be fair, he weren’t wrong about. But he just kept talkin’ and talkin’. ‘A game of gentlemen, a battle of wits’ he says. ‘Our weapons not silver and steel, but deduction and assumption.’ Ain’t gonna lie, I stopped listenin’ fairly quick after that. He was dronin’ on about how he knew I’d know that he knew or some such other foolery. What I knew was he was tryin’ to get in my head.”

He tapped a finger to his temple, indicating his vast intellect.

“See, he made a mistake. This battle of wits, the game of gentlemen he invited me to? I ain’t no gentleman. Grabbed the knife outta my boot and stuck him from under the table while he was talkin’. Gutted him like a butcher. He fell to the floor, bleedin’ all over. I stood up, nice and casual, slammed my glass of wine back and started looking through his files.”

Some story. He stabbed a guy who couldn’t defend himself? And he was bragging about it like it was some great feat?

“Story ain’t end there, though. Next thing I know, I’m wakin’ up strapped to a nursin’ bed with chains ‘round me ankles. Apparently the wine was poisoned. Might’ve died even! They saved my life, but only to lock me up afterwards. Ain’t that just cruel? Eight years I was kept locked up, but now I’m home!”

The crowd cheered triumphantly, all except Lyria who gave a polite clap.

So far, Isha had been impressed with her fellow club members, Faerris and Lyria mostly. But this guy? If Jatham was any indication of what the rest of the Whispers were like? She was starting to rethink her choices.

“Come on New Blood, have another drink with ol’ Butcher!”

Too late to turn back now.


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Shaded Seed
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