Now was the time, and here was the place. I took a deep breath and tightened my fingers around the peak of the roof. I shifted my feet and waited. Soon. Soon, there would be a riot, I was sure of it. The crowd gathered was angry, and the priests were struggling to maintain order. One guard smashed a man’s head and sent the man to the ground. The crowd began to lash out at the guard. I hurried forward, and just as I was about to start cutting purses, the quiet stabbed through my awareness, and I looked up.
Quickly, I backed out of the crowd. The guards were executing people, and order was quickly restored. I dashed back to my rabbit hole and waited until the bloodshed was over.
The screams of the women, children, and men as they were forced to watch themselves bleed out were deafening, especially as they were joined in their screams by terrified loved ones, forced to watch the life drain from those unfortunate enough to be near the melee.
Bad luck. This was such bad luck. I covered my ears and tried to drown out the sound with my own heartbeat. I imagined the bleeding, however, and quickly stopped that. Instead, I crawled out the back way and fled. Surely, Boss would understand. My wrists were important to me.
Finally, I dove down an alley and waited twenty painfully long minutes, then climbed onto the roof and hopped along to the proper alley, where I leapt down and scrambled down a rusted ladder into an abandoned basement.
From there, it wasn’t long down a hole until I came to the halls of the underworld. On seeing my empty hands, a few others sneered as I hurried to the throne. Even though he was the last to see me, I was certain Boss already knew I returned with empty hands. I bowed immediately as I came to the large ring on the floor.
“You failed. Explain this.” His eyes bored into the top of my head.
“The riot did not start. The guards bled people who became rowdy.”
“Ah. You will not fail your next endeavor.” His statement was calm, but held strong meaning. If I wished to avoid his wrath, I must either succeed my next task, or I should go ahead and die, because he would be merciless in my punishment.
It had been the same way with my father. I swallowed my fear and pushed myself lower to the ground, to show I understood. I waited for him to give me leave, and he did quickly. Others needed his attention now, others who weren’t on the cusp of utter failure.
This was not the first time I failed Boss. This was the third. The other three times, I had not yet been fourteen. Now that I was, Boss would no longer treat me like a child. I was a man, and I worked for him.
My failures mattered, even in trivial matters of pickpocketing. The tolerance of a man to a child was gone. Now, it was the cold relationship of servant and master.
I went to my brick and sat. I was filthy, and gravel clung to my reddened knees. My absent hand brushed it off and I closed my eyes to rest as I hugged my knees against my chest.
Not far from me, I thought I heard a few of the whores talking about my lack of manliness.
I would show them, I promised myself, as my eyes drifted shut to rest and recollect myself. In my dreams, I could practice– I was certain of it.
Several months passed, and I trained myself. I practiced disguises, acting, theft, conning, and less savory activities. Boss heard of my practice, I was sure. Any profit I made went towards more practice.
At the end of a half year, I returned to him with the savings from my practice in hand. The bag was heavy. “Boss, an apology for my earlier failure.” I murmured as I pushed it toward him. The man nodded slowly.
“You have practiced heartily and kept from notice. You begin to prove yourself a man.” He nodded down at me, then glanced to a whore at his side. She was new. The whore nodded, and I frowned. Since when did Boss ask permission? He spoke suddenly. “You have an assignment.”
I raised my head eagerly, and he laughed softly. “You want to redeem yourself, I see.”
Forgetting myself, I nodded. “Anything to please my Boss. I won’t fail.”
His smile seemed strange as he told me my orders, and I listened intently before I pushed myself down and hurried off to prepare. I had much to do, and I had very little time to do it!
The fateful night arrived, and I painted my almost-nude form black. My black loincloth was all the protection I had. I grabbed the black bag and snuck from the tool shed behind the head priest’s home. This job was dangerous. Slowly, I climbed a rain pipe and squeezed into a cracked window once I opened it all I could.
I looked around. How odd that the first room I entered was the target room. Slowly, I began to creep around, in search of the item I was sent for.
Once I finally spotted it and began to reach for it, the room lit up. “Oh, my.” The fat priest laughed. “My prayers are answered.” one of his eyes stared at me, and the other stared off to one side. He grabbed me quickly, and I began to struggle. I kicked and bit, scratched and kneed. Nothing seemed to penetrate his rotund body. He simply smiled at me like I was a piece of candy as he pulled me close against him. His fat pressed against me, like a pile of chef’s blubber covered in a tarp.
I bit his unguarded hand as it came within distance, and he clocked me on the head. My body stopped working properly, and I lost control of bowel and bladder as the head priest picked me up with a sickening grin. “I’m going to enjoy punishing you, Little Bird.”