Dark clouds boiled overhead, and the wind was picking up. The freezing air cut through Iziah’s jacket. The streets were empty and silent, pitch black except for the occasional streetlamp. Brick houses loomed on either side. Deep puddles flooded his shoes and made him shiver.
It had been silly, getting nervous just because Kanra was watching him. Just because he thought he was getting more dirty looks than usual. He’d let himself get too shaken by the encounter with the Crimson Serpents.
Besides, no one would mess with him. He was the rat! The best knife fighter in their gang! Not to mention, he was smarter and better looking than most of those buffoons. A grin spread across his face. The Faceless wouldn’t stand by and let the Crimson Serpents come after an asset like him.
The tension inside him dissipated, and he began whistling. The hollow tune filled the silence and echoed down the alleyways. He walked along the edge of the curb like he had as a child, arms out slightly. The wind made his jacket flap behind him. He wondered what Matthias and Harley were doing. Had she already left or was she putting up with Matthias?
Iziah shook his head. Part of him was tempted to go back, but he knew Matthias didn’t want him there.
Iziah was passing an alley to his left when he heard a soft scuffling of footsteps. His brow furrowed. He was about to turn when a hand clamped over his mouth. Footsteps converged around him, and hands gripped his arms, tangling in his clothing. Iziah’s eyes widened. He thrashed against his assailants, groping for his knife, his vision blurring as they dragged him away from the street and into the dark alley. His shoes slid about in dirt and garbage and broken glass. Iziah forced muffled grunts through the thick, gloved hand. He tried to twist away, but his assailant’s fingers were like knotted strips of leather, trapping his head against a broad chest. Laughter. Iziah bucked and twisted in confusion.
A knee rammed his diaphragm, and he doubled up, his chest heaving. The man’s hand pushed his lips against his teeth so hard he tasted blood. He caught a glimpse of his attackers and realized they were wearing red scarves.
A man stood in front of him. Iziah’s vision hyper-focused on his face, and all he saw was the man’s snake-like, pale green eyes – so pale they were almost yellow – and wolfish grin. His insides twisted with panic. Then, a fist flashed forward and punched him twice, a blow for each eye. Iziah let out a muffled cry, his head snapping back. His eyes instantly began swelling shut. His assailants released him, letting him fall back into the muddy alley-way. Iziah hit the ground hard, and a bolt of pain shot through his shoulder.
Five huge figures loomed over him. Iziah scrambled back frantically, but the yellow-eyed man stomped on his chest, making him gasp.
“Iziah Mallory,” his assailant cooed. He pushed with his foot, grinding his heel into Iziah’s shoulder.
Iziah gritted his teeth, groaning.
“You made a mistake when you decided to play with the Crimson Serpents. Did you really think you could get away with it, you stupid shit?”
The man put more weight on his shoulder, and Iziah clawed for his knife. “Get off me!”
The weight left his chest, and a boot flashed forward, kicking him in the ribs. Iziah felt something crack and curled to the side, hissing, his swollen eyes squeezed shut.
The man grinned. “You’re quite the pretty one, aren’t you? Not that that’ll matter by the time we’re through with you. You stuck something in our friend...how about we give you the same treatment?”
Dark chuckles rose from his assailants, and sour dread coiled up in the pit of Iziah’s stomach.
The man leaned down, as if to grab him, but Iziah scrambled back, jumping to his feet. His vision rocked, and he clutched his rib-cage. He was just stuffing his hand into his pocket in search of his knife when someone kicked the backs of his knees, knocking him to the pavement again. Someone reached into his pocket and pulled out the knife.
An amused, mocking voice drawled, “Oh! Is this what you wanted?”
The Crimson Serpent tossed the knife to the side.
Iziah pushed himself to hands and knees in desperation, but something grasped the back of his jacket and gave it a jerk, yanking his arms out from under him. Iziah’s face knocked against the concrete. He yelped as blood spurted from his nose. The jacket slipped from his arms, and before he could right himself, the men converged, gripping his arms and clamping him down against the muddy concrete. Iziah thrashed, but they crushed him beneath their weight.
“Stop!” came his choked cry.
Iziah tried to twist around, but a punch connected with his cheek, whipping his head against the pavement. Tears of pain filled his eyes. A hand pushed down on the side of his face, forcing his cheek against the concrete. Someone was on top of him.
“Why don’t you make us, huh? I thought they told me you were a fighter. Come on, rat. Show us just how strong you are.”
Hands tangled in his shirt and began to pull it over his head as Iziah writhed and squirmed.