A streak of lightning illuminated the knife flashing toward him.
Iziah dodged, and the blade passed inches from his abdomen. An amused grin spread across his face.
Yellow light from a distant streetlamp carved into his opponent’s ferocious face. Teens surrounded the two combatants, yelling and cheering, their faces soaked from the pounding rain. The alley was cloaked in darkness and filled with overflowing dumpsters. A heavy scent of garbage hung in the air.
He had to land three blows in order to win.
Rocking from foot to foot, Iziah turned the deadly switchblade over in his hand. He was slender for the age of eighteen, with black, scruffy hair and stormy eyes that were attuned to his opponent’s every move.
His opponent – a thick-necked boy named Bobby Jey – hesitated.
“Well?” Iziah said between gasps for air. “Whatcha waiting for, huh?”
Bobby scowled and lunged at him, thrusting the knife. Iziah dodged with practiced agility and sliced his opponent across the shoulder.
Shouts of exhilaration and dismay came from the crowd around the sopping boys. Bobby gritted his teeth as he clutched his shoulder. Blood stained his torn shirt and drenched red bandanna. He, like half the surrounding crowd, belonged to the Crimson Serpents.
No hits to the face or neck. No stabbing. If you accidentally killed your opponent, you were out of the gang.
“My money’s on the rat!” a girl hollered.
A smile spread across Iziah’s lips. The “rat” was his derisive nickname among the Faceless, and it was a title he intended to protect. On the streets, reputation was everything. Before Bobby had a chance to recover, Iziah lunged forward, slapping him on the back of the head with his free hand.
“C’mon!” He laughed. “You’re so dull!”
Bobby shot him a hate-filled glare. “Shut up, you stupid bastard!” He tensed but obviously didn’t want to get lured into taking the offense again.
Wind whistled through the alley, blasting rain into their eyes and whipping at their hair. Lightning flashed, accompanied by the low roll of thunder. Yet everyone was enthralled with the bloody sport. They had these skirmishes once a week, and people from both gangs looked forward to it.
Iziah scrubbed rain out of his eyes and feinted right. Bobby jumped, and Iziah leaped toward his left side, slashing. The excited screams of the surrounding gang members rang in his ears and filled him with exhilaration. Bobby stumbled back, his arms flailing as he attempted to avoid Iziah’s attack. There was a glint of silver, and Iziah felt a sting tear across his lips. He dove to the side to avoid taking another blow, growling. There were half-hearted shouts of disapproval. The members of the Faceless were getting tired of buying Iziah’s drinks after a good fight.
Bobby looked like he knew he’d done something wrong, because he hesitated a moment, his eyes flitting about as if he expected to be rebuked. Blood dribbled down Iziah’s lips and dripped from his chin, diluted by the rain. Since the rules had been broken, the fight should have been over, but Iziah wanted a fair win.
Adrenaline-filled, Iziah lunged at Bobby, grabbing the wrist that held the knife and slashing him lightly across the chest – once, then twice. They were mere scratches, since Iziah was careful not to seriously injure his opponent, but he knew it would sting. Bobby cried out in pain, recoiling, and Iziah released his wrist with a grin.
Cheers exploded from one side of the group, and the others fell quiet, faces dark with anger. Another clap of thunder rolled above them. Iziah threw his arms in the air, whooping.
Bobby glared, holding his chest, and spat over the storm, “Asshole!”
Iziah laughed, striding to the edge of the circle and pushing through the crowd. His knife was wet with blood and rainwater, and he wiped it off on his pant leg before folding it up and shoving it in his pocket. A few people clapped him on the back as he passed, and he heard Kanra call for the next fight. His limbs tingled with adrenaline as his chest heaved for air. He was drenched, his jacket hanging limply over his frame, dark pants clinging to his long legs. Raindrops stuck to his lashes and ran into his eyes. He wiped at his lips, smearing blood across his sleeve.
“Hey!” A fist plowed into his shoulder.
Iziah turned to see Matthias standing nearby. The homely boy was a year older and several inches taller than Iziah. His nose was bent and crooked from one too many fights, and his hands were scarred. The boy looked at him through stern, tired eyes, but he wore an amused grin.
“That was pretty good, right?” Iziah said. “The dummy couldn’t keep his mind on the fight.”
“Eh, it was okay.”
“Always the critic, huh?”
Behind them, he heard the cheers and shouts that heralded another fight. These weekly skirmishes between the gangs allowed them to take out their rage on one another without it turning into a gang war. Not to mention, it brought revenue to the bars that hosted them.
“Well, you did get cut. I could do better.”
Iziah laughed, giving Matthias a shove. “Ha! I didn’t see your name on tonight’s roster!”
Matthias waved his hand. “I thought it might be nice to spectate today. Unlike you, I don’t feel the need to win every week.”
Iziah knew the real reason. Ever since Matthias’ father left, his mother had struggled to make ends meet. Now that Matthias was old enough to hold a job, he often worked late nights in addition to his time in the gang.
“You worked late, didn’t you, you big mama’s boy?” Iziah laughed.
Matthias snorted. “Whatever.”
Another roar of cheers came from the group behind them. He cast a disinterested glance over his shoulder. Now that the adrenaline was slowing, his legs were shaking, and he was ready to take a load off. “C’mon. Let’s go sit down.”
Matthias shrugged, and the boys walked over to a nearby dumpster, perching on the wet metal. It was high enough to give them a vantage point over the heads of the other teens. Through the spew of rain, they could hardly distinguish the blurred figures.
“Lovely Washington weather, huh?” Iziah grumbled, wiping rain out of his eyes.
Matthias let out a faint snort.
Although the City was rife with gangs, there were none that rivaled the Crimson Serpents and the Faceless. Iziah watched the darkly clad, tattooed forms beneath him. The only ones that were distinguishable from the writhing mass of bodies were those belonging to the Crimson serpents. They wore red, usually around their necks. The Crimson Serpents committed more serious, organized crimes whereas the Faceless were content with their smuggled drugs and graffiti. You would never be able to spot the latter in a crowd of people. They were truly faceless. The scum of the world, invisible to all the uptown city people.
The Crimson Serpents, however, would never be satisfied with being invisible.
And neither would Iziah.
Iziah’s eyes scanned the contorting faces around him. Now that he had caught his breath, the scent of garbage and cigarette smoke drifted over him. He even detected the pungent smell of marijuana. Taking a long breath, he asked, “You see him anywhere?”
“Shawn?” Matthias wrung out his soaked sleeves. “No.”
“Damn.” A pang of disappointment ran through him.
“Wouldn’t do you any good. You already used up your fight.”
Iziah shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to kick his ass next week instead.”
Matthias snorted, rubbing the dark circles under his eyes.
Iziah had been in foster care until, at sixteen, he ran away. He met Shawn in the Davis household. A smirk blossomed across his face. That was half the reason why he joined the Faceless. Shawn was in the rival gang, and this gave Iziah an opportunity to get back at him. He glanced at Matthias. They had joined the Faceless around the same time, and he was one of the few people that Iziah got along with.
A cheer went up from the crowd as another fight ended. Several people rushed forward to roughly congratulate the victor while others spat on the loser.
“They ought to be done pretty soon,” Matthias said, arms folded as he leaned back against the brick wall.
“Good.” Iziah chuckled. “I’m ready for a drink.”
Matthias rolled his eyes. “Asshole. What would you do if Kanra didn’t foot your bill every week?”
“Ha! He owes me, after all my wins!”
Matthias shook his head and pulled a cigarette out of his pocket. Then he looked up at the sky wistfully, as if pleading for it to cease its onslaught.
Iziah slid down from the dumpster. “What do you say we go in and wait for them?”
“Heh. Don’t mind if I do.” He jumped down. “Let them freeze, I’m tired of being wet.”
Iziah laughed, and the boys hurried through the back door to the bar.