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5. Destiny

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The day came at last for my first tattoo and piercing as a licensed artist. Tension crept through my body as I was brought into the room. I remember seeing a girl talking to Sketch, the voice ringing in my head. Darius turned in the chair to face me.

“Ready?”

I blinked in confusion, my first tattoo on flesh and it had to be her. My fear of screwing up mounted higher. She smiled softly, got up to kiss me, holding me close, and stared back at me. She trusted me, I knew I couldn’t fail. She sat, nodded approval to Sketch, and turned her back. I remember holding a piece of paper with a design, one of mine.

“On the back,” Sketch confirmed, and walked out quietly. I helped Darius get comfortable and settled in. I started slowly, trying to be precise but soft. I could hear her calm breathing, watching her muscles tense. Every so often she’d mutter something to herself as her fists clenched. Time stopped from there, then resumed one grain at a time. I spoke to her to make sure that she was still conscious, moving carefully. Two hours passed as insignificantly as brief, fleeting moments and it was done. She got up slowly, a little dazed, but alert.

“Not done yet,” she whispered, her eyes moving to my left. I saw a piercing kit, left by Sketch in easy reach. So Darius was to be my guinea pig overall. When all was said and done, my girl had a sore back and a ring over her eye, the same eye that I had darkened on my own features. I was authorized though and held a true job that I loved.

I had to help Darius out and back home; she stayed until I was done for the day. She was immensely loyal and I loved her for it. Devotion was defined by the two of us; side by side we faced opposition, balancing each other out to stay standing. I couldn’t be complete without her, there was always something missing. She’d bared the physical pain of a large, intricate tattoo on her sensitive back to help me face my fears. If I could cause her pain without conviction, then I could handle anything. Sketch and Madison couldn’t have been more proud.

As the sky darkened, we moved through the listless masses toward home. Darius was quiet, smiling to herself to deny the soreness. We saw Syrius running ahead of us, cutting through people, with Draven close behind. Something was happening, as always. We jogged swiftly to catch up. Once at home, we saw them mount the stairs and we followed. Reaching the apartment, which had become our unofficial lair, we found them pacing nervously.

“That was so much fun!” Syrius was beaming with excitement.

“Fun? We could get arrested!” Draven’s temper had him beyond rationalism as he kept pacing. Arrested? What had happened in a few short hours? The answer would change our lives forever.

I grabbed Draven’s shoulders and shook until he calmed down. Calmly I demanded the story, or a fiction close to it.

“Trouble Raine, we got into a bit of trouble; assault, robbery, threats, resisting arrest . . . all in such a short time.”

“But how?”

“Stupid choices, Syrius’ thinking . . .” his eyes glared at Syrius who stood smiling a couple feet away. He seemed very pleased with himself overall. What possessed either of them was beyond me, but we needed control – now.

“Assault . . . was anybody killed?” Draven’s eyes were downcast as he glanced back to me, holding his temper. He shrugged somberly and shook his head. Syrius seemed the restless, unthinking child and Draven the wiser, yet still ignorant, parent. Darius was sitting, watching the drama ensue in silence. I turned away and grabbed Syrius.

“Explain – what have you done? Or I’ll throw you out the window myself.” The smile faded as his features darkened and became more hostile. He pulled away from me in one move and grinned again.

“Didn’t you feel it just now? The power, over yourself, over others – couldn’t you feel the strength?” He grinned wider, “That’s what I’ve discovered, out there; violence, fear, robbery – it’s all power and respect from the weaker beings.”

“And it’s all illegal!”

“That’s what makes it so exciting! If it were legal, I wouldn’t care . . .” he was interrupted by Draven’s cold words.

“Are you insane? Do you want to be sent away again? Do you? You’re going the right way to be committed again. You’ve lost your reason and I won’t go down with you because your train jumped the track.”

So there we were – silent, lost, dazed. All eyes turned to Syrius to see the effect. He was momentarily taken aback and flinched slightly. He appeared dark and sinister at that moment, leering at us. “One time,” he whispered, “Come with me one time and see for yourself, we’ll all go together, as a group. Then you can judge for yourselves.” Nobody really wanted to risk it; it was dangerous. But then again, all great things in life are a risk. Nothing truly worthwhile is accomplished through talk and planning, only through action does change come.

“I’m in,” I heard the familiar voice that I loved from next to me as Syrius’ grin spread widely. He was pleased and had every reason to be, he’d succeeded in gaining support and winning the war. I nodded my approval as Draven threw his hands up in disgust. Madison appeared then, as a sheep amidst the wolves and all we did was breathe. Not a word passed then as mental wheels grinded harshly and we waited for a plan to formulate. Of course, Syrius had one –

The next night, it was decided, we would go. As soon as the sun’s rays dipped below the horizon, the “one time” would begin. Syrius would take point through the night’s events, quitting at dawn. We’d even recruited Madison to join us. Five of us went out to the streets as violently rebellious youths. As a gang, we wrought havoc on all that we touched. Time flew by and we grew closer, more united by our dangerous vice. We robbed places and people, scared some beyond mortal fear and beat up young ruffians such as ourselves to establish ourselves. The sad truth, the melancholy irony was that after the one night of veracity, it was obvious – we were a gang.

The breakdown was as follows:

– Syrius was our leader because of his lack of conviction and innovative ideas. He was the fathering spirit of the Ravens; his charms persuaded citizens to cooperate.

– Draven bent under the pressure of truth and became the best fighter to help balance the charisma Syrius possessed.

– Madison had an interest in the violent aspect and stayed loyally by Draven’s side; in time her fighting skills would surpass most of us.

– I was second in command because I held characteristics of both Syrius and Draven, yet I was rational enough to keep us “straight edge”.

– And Darius, my faithful lover; she kept with us, put a hand in on the chaos, but didn’t voice a reaction. She’d just watch with her innocent, child-like eyes.

Over time, these descriptions changed dramatically; Syrius became more brutal and heartless as the rest of us questioned everything. Morality, leadership, justice – everything was questionable. I worked by day, ravaged society by night and was merry. We drank more and talked less but improved our new art. Darius took on a job with me awhile at the tattoo parlor, boosting the reputation of our little shop – The Black Dragon. Life was set up perfectly, and when Darius as ready for her firsts, I was in the chair as she’d been. We were united. Now and forever, as it always was and would continue to be. Some things are beyond change from the start, this was one of them.

The worst side effect of our new existence was the change we went through mentally and emotionally. Fights were physical and hardly forgotten, ideas of mercy and forgiveness evaded our minds as brutality took a solid hold. Our ride was interesting to say the least and educational in terms of human social behavior. Comparing the numbers, we found that the people who fought back only did so for the sake of venting frustration; overall less people fought back. They’d rather go to the police and get sympathy then fight for what they believe in and risk embarrassment. And that was the social idea in society. We succeeded countless times because of laziness. That’s all it comes down to; those who fought violently were rewarded, we’d let them go unharmed. But the rest, we showed no mercy for their ignorance. Ignorance deserves no reward, save time and silence. And of course, pain.

On this one night though, we sat around scheming and drinking and debating here and there about what to do. Darius sat nestled with me, Madison curled with Draven; they were the larks of our group and we spread our dark, wide wings over them as cover. They were protected as by a watchful older brother from a lustful boyfriend. They knew it too because we had our own morals. The rules we started with were simple:

  1. The larks were to be protected by all and never struck by any man in the group or outside unless involved in a proper brawl.
  2. Those who fight back as hard, or harder, as we do will be rewarded with peace and property.
  3. None are permitted to commit crimes in the name of the group without overall consent.
  4. You may not quit your brotherhood for anything besides arrest, marriage or death.
  5. Breaking these conditions is punishable by terms decided by group’s democracy.
  6. None speak about the group outside of its’ members.
  7. If plan fails, return to point A immediately; run today, fight tomorrow, sell out none.
  8. New rules may be put into use only with consensus of the entire group.

And from these ideas, we were reborn as the Ravens and our larks, the dark predators of the sky hovering over the delicate songbirds. Time was kept in mind subconsciously as our plans matured, as did we, and weeks became months. Witnessing what we found on the streets educated us on the harsh truths of society. This knowledge helped us gain the advantage and learn how to work around it. Knowing the rules helped us know where to bend and how to break them. So there we were, children of the new age, result of war and destruction, offspring of heartless mentality. Of all the explanations, the most simple is best – we simply were.

From the dark haven we moved out, deciding to go bout our usual routines and then some a bit later than usual. The dim-lit alleys were home most commonly to our prowls, and we roamed there now to see what we’d be offered by the lowly streets. Victims came and went throughout the night, our malice fueled by their pain. We bore discrimination against few, but we had our morals. Most kids we fought were our general age group; adults were usually what we ended up with. Small children, the elderly and most women were free of our persecution. Mostly we’d beat on criminals, vulgar fiends much like ourselves, the idea of capture looming nearby at all times.

By dawn we’d robbed five people and beaten down eight law-breakers. Arm in arm we went home as the morning warmed our backs, caressing the shadows on our faces, chasing away the night. Cops eyed us steadily as we said good morning, voices full of mocking and laughter, and up the stairs we went. Sleep came quickly and the cycle continued, tomorrow – another day of madness and mayhem. The ride was fun, losing the truth for a little while of justice. The Ravens’ flight was free and rebellious, until something happens and I knew eventually that our wings would be clipped . . . and the cage door would slam shut.

A night befell us where we were in a situation. Rain poured violently overhead, so we all decided to go back home and watch from the comfort of home. On the way back, a scuffle caught our attention, so we went to see. A group of boys our age were tossing around, what appeared to be, people. Upon closer inspection we saw that there were two girls, bloody and bruised, hidden behind the dozen or so males. One was on her feet, being tossed and groped as the other was held to the ground. The rain’s downpour had carried their screams to the clouds, where only gods could hear and weep for their misery.

Syrius started walking toward them briskly and proceeded to hit two of the closest fellows hard in the jaw. He grinned at them slyly, “Can’t we play, gents? Come pick on somebody yer own size, if ye dare,” and all was silent. The boys stared at us in shock; the odds were definitely in their favor. As we waited, one stood from the ground, he’d risen from over the wriggling girl and returned Syrius’ mocking grin. As he adjusted himself, I realized what was going on as we’d happened by. The girl on the ground had been raped and her friend was in line for the same fate. Both were crying quietly as threatening glances were exchanged and tension grew. I don’t remember who struck first, but a fight started instantly.

The rain became a dangerous enemy in the brawl, the constant motion betrays your mind and our soaked surroundings made standing firm nearly impossible. We were all dragged into the fray as weapons made contact and bodies dropped. The girls watched in horror, huddled in a corner as we fought. Syrius grabbed them and forced them to leave as the whine of sirens grew louder. Cops on the way and nobody would leave; determination or stubborn-ness? Mostly stupidity. When the sirens were deafening, Syrius called to break up, abandoning the bodies lying broken on the ground. They grabbed at us and tore at us as we left the alley, seeing the cops approach.

The last thing I remember was falling down and seeing Darius help me up. Syrius, Draven and Madison were ahead of us as we moved on. I heard a gunshot sound behind us as the police stopped to catch the others. With luck the girls were safely home, as we’d be soon. Blending into the masses I realized that I was alone; Darius was gone. Lackeys from the other gang mingled in the crowd from all sides to box me in. I saw one of them in front of me, staring intently, head cocked to the side. I demanded to know what was going on, but I got no answer, only pain. I remember bending and falling, and voices and a glimpse of Syrius and Draven.

“She’ll see you in Hell,” they whispered as darkness settled in. I remember curling up in the dark, abandoned by humanity and society; utterly alone. My eyes were shut tight, keeping myself encompassed with darkness. Blinking them open, I saw Syrius’ worried face, Madison looking equally weary as my mind stumbled to remember the details. The words that followed were sorrowful and simple, “We’ve got trouble friend.”

My heart stopped as I saw that two of our merry band were missing. The three of us left had gotten away with it. Syrius was covered in blood from various stabs and cuts; he barely seemed to notice. Madison was beat up a bit too, not too much, but still roughed up. I recall stammering some names and maybe a few questions. Syrius’ expression was grim.

“They got Draven, the cops found him on the street with a bullet in him, they have him in custody, he lived. Darius was beat up pretty bad too, had two bullets, some bad stabs . . . she’s in custody too. We’re being framed, those bastards set us up . . .” his anger subsided as misery returned. “We’re in a tight spot now Raine, a real bad tight spot. We have to do something.”

Plans, alibis, thinking; everything after Darius’ name was a gradual murmur. She was well beyond my warm reach, I longed for her caring embrace. The truth must be told, to save her, to save us. Those backstabbing bastards would pay, I heard myself repeat my mental ramblings to Syrius. What was there to do now? I should have had her stay in front of me . . . I voiced my frustration to a mute Syrius, his expression blank yet compassionate.

“We need proof Raine, we need those girls, and if we don’t find them before they find us, we’ll hang, we’ll all hang. As for the kids, we’ll get revenge, in due course, but first we need to plan; I don’t even know what they got out of Draven and Darius.”

“Nothing.”

“What’d ye say?”

I blinked absent-mindedly, “They told nothing.” There was no way to know for certain, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I could trust her and have faith in her, and Draven was like a brother to me. My mind swam with thoughts of what to do now, the events were so jumbled.

“I was fortunate in finding you when I did, they’d given ye a swift hit in the stomach to bring ye down, they were fixin’ on doing some nasty damage so’s the police could grab ye too. Cicero’s a spineless bastard, we’ll get ‘im alright.” The words danced in my head, the events, Syrius’ unique accent and language . . . until the named rested on my mind. Cicero, a name, one that I’d remember in a distant nightmare. The way Syrius’ mouth moved as he said it, the word enclosed in a frown.

“Who’s Cicero?”

Syrius’ expression altered severely and he moved to leave the room, to escape Madison’s watchful eye over us. She stayed where we left her, motionless, waiting patiently to be informed. Loyal, even without Draven. Syrius’ character change in the recent moments was staggering; he stayed enclosed in silence, recalling memories, distant ideas. His troubled mind brought him back to me eventually.

“Cicero is the leader of that gang, I haven’t seen him since . . . well, since Faye died. I’ve known ‘im awhile, but . . . well, ‘e’s a violent one, needin’ anger management, ye know? But we all got along, I was part of ‘is gang, unofficially, but ‘e was a weird one, ye know? So things were okay for a little while, then the mortar cracked between the bricks.” He sighed to himself.

“He’s got something to do with Faye, doesn’t he?”

Syrius’ eyes revealed the truth, as his vision betrayed him, anger welled and he contained emotions contained for a long time. He was shaking, staring at the floor.

“He hated her. Cicero’s a genius, an evil, nightmarish demon of our world; nothing stopped him or brought about compassion. He ‘ad the icy exterior to stab his mother in the back as she’s hugging him. He never knew kindness, so now he’s the Prince of Pain. Cicero, named for the ancient Roman of the same title, is equally, no, more – brutal. I remember Faye’s pleading to get away, but we’d be dead if we left. So we fought and tried and failed.”

I listened in silence as his voice flowed calmly, his accent making it beautiful as the story was illustrated before me. From time to time I’d ask minor questions and nod to signify understanding.

“She was gonna go to the cops, finish it, screw ‘im at ‘is own game. But Cicero knew, as he always did. I was demanded to turn her over, when I refused, I was beaten and left in the rain as they searched ‘er out. Of course, she was found. I beat the windows n doors until I found one that gave’n, but it was too late. She was on the floor on her back, head to the side, beaten and bleeding, trying to move. Efforts to move were wasted, as I entered, I found Cicero standing over her, syringe in hand. I ran for him but was forced back, held by strong arms. Watched helplessly as he shot his mixture into her neck and stepped back. I was hit hard forward, stumbling off the ground to her. Only now did Cicero move away. For once in his life, he truly seemed caring.”

“She was going to destroy us,” he whispered, “It’s better off this way, let it be, come with me.” His arm was stretched out to me in brotherly companionship. I could hear the rasping breaths. I broke away from Cicero and held her. A sad expression crept into him then, he apologized and left.”

“Locks clicked as I heard my fate sealed as the sirens sounded in the distance. I held ‘er then, the gentle face I loved bloodstained and sweating. I kept ‘er close to me, she clung to my arms as the breaths grew more rapid or stressed and her eyes looked past me. We never spoke then, rather, nothing of importance. I apologized over and over, crying for her to stay with me. She just dismissed my words and said that she loved me. I held ‘er until my limbs went numb, until that very last breath; the poison had done its’ work well. That’s how the police found us, the syringe free of fingerprints, nothing of evidence except her body, grasped in my arms . . .” he paused, dulling his voice to a whisper. “So they sent me away, claimed murder/suicide. Cicero I never saw, the last glimpse of him was as ‘e left and condemned me to his hellish existence. That bastard . . . and now two more fall prey to ‘is games.”

I sat in silent consideration. So, there was a scandal about everything; a conspiracy linking us all together. Now was intermission, the actors were in place for Act II and we, the lowly scene-shifters put together the setting of the next chapter, the grand finale at the end of it all. Time to take action; curtain!

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