The Street Rat opened both eyes, startled, and promptly stood up.
“Calm down,” Cameron said immediately, holding in a giggle, “you just closed them for a minute.”
“Bah,” Jamie scratched her bottom and leaned the bottle in her hand over to her mouth, only to find no liquid pouring down. “Bah,” she complained again, slouching and allowing the bottle to fall.
It annoyed the Street Rat that Nergui’s presence had gone unnoticed while following them, and also, preparing himself to get a pretty dangerous beating was not something he had much practice at. Certainly not something he liked anticipating.
“And how about the Schoolboy in the meeting?” Max asked.
“Oof, now that’s what I call bombing hard,” Jordan said, tipping a half-empty bottle with a small wink.
“I’ll admit I haven’t had many interactions with the boy,” Nergui commented in a wobbly voice which nevertheless retained that characteristic bit of snob, “but he did seem pretty dumb.”
“Well, many have seemed that way when targeted by brutal Jamie over here,” Jordan pointed out. The Street Trash smiled, reveling in her own kind of snob.
“He’s a hack,” Jamie said, “he brute-forces through everything, he shouldn’t even be part of the Scavengers.”
“The two have a rivalry, ya see?” Peyton told Nergui. “Apparently, the first time Jamie here decided to be the Street Rat was when good ol’ Bobby Boy said he wanted to.”
“Bullies don’t get their way,” Jamie said, looking over at the counter, at the drinks. Jamie didn’t find the will to get up and grab another. His eyes weren’t focusing. “Not when I‘m around,” Jamie continued, “we’re all about intellect, not punching kids and taking their lunch money.”
“That’s right, we steal it fair and square,” Cameron agreed.
“Sleight o’ hand, basics o’ the basics,” Alex shook her head of brown, she had the longest hair of them all, it was a helmet of frizzy brown curls.
“And he tried to do it to me,” Jamie said, chuckling once.
“And ya did it to him instead,” Cameron said, raising a bottle in Jamie’s honor.
“He goes to pull out your stuff in front of the teens and surprise surprise, he doesn’t even have his own stuff,” Max explained, laughing. “You swiped all of it.”
“Ain’t no faster way to screw yourself over than to mess with the master,” Jamie said, casually. Jamie forgot the bottle was empty and tried drinking again. The Street Rat let go of it, so it rolled away, disappointingly. “Bah,” Jamie complained again.
“Should keep it in mind, Nergui,” Jordan said.
“Oh, I don’t need to compete with the Street Rat,” Nergui said, unbothered, and shrugged while sipping a little more of what was still her first bottle. “There’s more than enough empty chairs in that meeting.”
That was a good point. It was why the Street Rat had goaded the Schoolboy. Jamie knew that with more than one Teen needing to be replaced, they would pick the two, and the Schoolboy would be a very annoying rivalry to have as a Teen.
Due to that, Jamie had goaded him into a direct challenge, which he took and evidently lost. Now, pretty soon, the Schoolboy would ambush the Street Rat. His only available option was for Jamie to disappear so that he could take his place in the Shadow Conclave.
Jordan stepped into view, bottle in hand reaching out to Jamie.
And that bully’ll fail at that, too, Jamie thought.
Winking at Jordan, Jamie took the bottle gladly, taking a few gulps.
“Thanks. Hope yer not expecting anything in return,” Jamie said.
He sat next to her.
“What makes you think you got anything I want?” Jordan asked.
“Psh. What I got, everyone wants,” Jamie said.
“I’ll drink to that,” Peyton called out, holding out his bottle, “in the interest of honesty that can only exist at the end of the world, I’ll drink to that.” He stood up. “To Jamie! The Street Rat! To all those scraps that we want…but that Jamie got to first!”
“Ey!” Max joined in.
They all did. Jamie couldn’t help but get a bit flustered, not that it would have been noticeable, especially with the alcohol already producing warmth around the cheeks.
“You knuckleheads,” the Street Rat said, lifting the bottle up to join in the cheer, knocking it lightly into the others. “Keep this up, I might share some.”
Jamie was lying, obviously, and everyone knew it. But people sometimes believe even what they know to be a lie, simply because it might not be.
The Street Rat was counting on that, as well.
The rest of the evening was fun, which was good because ultimate success could only come at a significant risk.
While everyone else was risking their lives in the final fight that was to come, the Street Rat needed to be safe, while absolutely saving face. At the same time, the Schoolboy needed to be gone.
Jamie wobbled out through the secret door, leaving behind his friends, and Nergui. Stepping out into the street on the cusp of dusk, he looked around to examine his surroundings. The sun was dawning even though, due to the tall buildings, it was already night in some streets. It was still pretty crowded all throughout so Jamie needed to find some quiet place where an individual could make an attempt on someone else’s life.
Of course, Jamie had to be smart about it, but everything was thought through. Even the round of drinks played a part, as alcohol numbed feelings. It might help with the pain he was about to experience.
Jamie sighed longingly, hands in pockets, staring down at the crowded streets and the tall buildings stacked together to form boroughs.
“Love this city,” The Street Rat said.
Meaningfully, Jamie smiled and moved.
It was harder to navigate the crowd while drunk but still manageable since people were moving less. Jamie passed by several Neyrk militias, strong and armed men and women who were herding around people, continuously, though yet without panic or rush. The Street Rat gauged the multitudes of diverse identities that were around. People from every land and background were gathered there.
All that was left.
Jamie recognized members of the Wild Felids, the leader of the Trash Heaps, a gang of punks hailing from Brithan, a couple of Kagekawa Mists, a few Tech Guild members who looked pretty distraught and seemed intent on laying low and unnoticed. Every kind of person from every kind of place, all being moved along.
Jamie ignored all of that, dodging the Militia with what expertise was left to him, and headed towards a particular building that was, in some regards, a tourist spot. It wouldn’t be used at the moment.
It was one of the tallest buildings, they called it Highpass tower because it was connected to a much smaller building by a kind of walkway that went down ten floors by way of a staircase.
Nobody knew anymore why they had been built like that, but Jamie went there, to the rooftop itself. There, he could see most of the entire island. His home, in its entirety, stretched and spread out beneath his gaze.
Man… Jamie thought, heartfelt.
With the Sun going down, and the night creeping in, Jamie sat down near the edge to the half-balcony and brought his knees up so he could lean on them, feeling groggy and out of place. That was one of his favorite places, it had been since forever, and the Street Rat made no secret of it because one day, or any number of days…it would be useful for people to know where to find him.
All his friends knew or could easily guess that that’s where he was.
“Well lookit ‘ere…” a voice crawled into shape from behind Jamie. Obviously, the Schoolboy would also guess to look there.
“Found me a rat,” he said.
Near-groggy, Jamie half-turned and looked over to the Schoolboy, squinting his eyes in an effort to discern what he was seeing.
“Was’that? Talkin’ trash?” Jamie asked.
The Schoolboy marched towards the Street Rat without any response, seemingly ignoring the chuckle that followed. But only seemingly, as he promptly kicked Jamie’s face in soon as he had enough reach.
“Oof! Hey!” Jamie protested.
Jamie’s body hit the floor, perplexed in every manner at what happened.
“What was that f—”
Jamie was interrupted by being punched in the face while another hand grabbed hold of his neck.
“’M sick o’ listening to you! Your little girl act’s fooled me enough times, not today! Not this time!”
Small tears of pain exited Jamie’s eyes, much against her will, as she managed to weakly whimper a tiny cracked “please.”
“NO!” He added the other hand to her throat. “You’re always taking advantage o’ me!”
“’m sick o’ you! I’m so sick o’ you!”
He had crouched his body on top of her belly, and he was heavy, heavier than she could handle.
Too…fast… Jamie thought.
It was happening too fast, Jamie would die for sure. The Street Rat reached out and scratched at one of his eyes, making him flinch.
Jamie used that to thrust down at his testicles, grabbing them tightly. His whole body shivered into a freeze almost immediately as he let go of Jamie’s throat. Jamie coughed and wheezed.
“Get offa me!” Jamie demanded.
His haphazardly shaven head furrowed angry brows down at her. Faster than the Street Rat could react, he lunged down at the arm and hopped. He got free.
“Fine,” the Schoolboy said.
Standing up, he kicked Jamie in the sides, making her yelp in pain.
“Forget simple choking, I’ll make it hurt instead,” he swore.
The Schoolboy kicked him again, and again Jamie yelped in pain.
“Or rather, I’ll do both,” he added.
He reached for Jamie, but she rolled away scampering. The Schoolboy grabbed hold of a foot, though, and pulled her straight out of the ground. Her body drew an arc across the air, almost entirely over the Schoolboy, and crashed hard on the floor. They were so close to the ledge Jamie thought for a second she would go over.
The Street Rat whimpered in despair.
“Stoppit—” A knee pressed against her back, interrupting her.
“I said shut it!” He punched her in the head, and then grabbed it and slammed it on the floor.
Blood filled Jamie’s sense of taste and smell.
“You’ve ruined my life too many times, Jamie. Always so smart, always so clever, fooling all of them. Well, you don’t fool me, you’ve never fooled me.”
The Street Rat tried to push off the floor, but the Schoolboy kicked his arm and then sat on his back. His body squeezed against the ground, and she whimpered her air away.
“You don’t have any friends. Or mentors. Or even rivals. All’ova us…we’re just your pawns!”
He grabbed her left hand, and something pressed against her shoulder. A whiff of panic washed over him.
“No! NO DON—AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!”
The crack was loud, loudest than any other bone cracking Jamie had ever heard from other people. So much louder. The pain was…well, Jamie had always managed to avoid that kind of pain. It was foreign, and maybe because of that, too acute.
Jamie’s expression writhed in pain and suffering without the need of any kind of acting.
The Street Rat screamed for the few seconds he could before hands grasped against his neck and pulled, making his body bend against the pressure on his back.
“Me? A pawn of a scrawny little brat like you? I refuse!”
“I’m bigger and I’m stronger, this is the real world,” he said in almost a growl, “this is reality. Can’t escape from it n’ I won’t let you talk your way out of it. Here, open your eyes,” he demanded, holding her head up, “look at your favorite view while I kill you.”
With every ounce of strength that she had left, Jamie did indeed open her eyes, half-way, to see her city through lacrimal lenses.
Had the Street Rat failed? Had she finally made the miscalculation to end all miscalculations? Had someone finally gone so far out of what she had expected? He was supposed to be beating her. To be venting a decade of frustration on her. Instead, he had come fully ready to kill her as fast as possible.
He knew what the Street Rat had planned and was trying to beat it, that’s what was going on. And when she judged the time that had elapsed, it seemed he would succeed. However, not that much stock could be put in her judgment, most of her mind was one continuous shrill of white-noise due to its unfamiliarity with that kind of pain. It had largely panicked into unintelligible thoughts, also known as emotions, the primary of which was something that numbed her senses and most other feelings behind a wall of atrocious fear.
That was mostly why it was hard to understand when her throat was unhanded, and it took longer than it should for Jamie to realize her back was no longer suffering the weight that had been on it.
Gasping and heaving, mostly involuntarily, she came to her senses almost as if out of a dream. Reflexively, Jamie tried to push herself up, only to be greeted with a stabbing pain in her left arm that almost made her pass out again.
“Augh ugh…” Jamie moaned in pain.
The Street Rat rolled on his back, and then on his right side, grabbing hold of his arm with a strong shiver of pain and while unknowingly curling up like a baby.
“Aff,” he complained, “ahhh…ow…b.by the Light ow….”
Jamie found the will, however, to pull the mind from the brink of oblivion. She was met with the dirty floor of the rooftop.
School-boy…killing me…rooftop dusk, Jamie mind regrouped, remembering in the way only the mind of the Street rat could. So much pain, plan, explanation, reason, Jordan.
The Street Rat turned his head to catch sight of the School-boy being beset by most of his drinking buddies. Jordan and Peyton, and Cameron even. Alex was on the ground, grabbing a bloodied nose and cursing out broken complaints.
The Schoolboy was roughed up and angry, but definitely on the losing side of that fight.
“Yer all just dancin’ to her tune, can’t ya see that?!” He yelled. “Just get rid ov’er, help me get rid ov’er!”
“Shut up, Bobbie,” Cameron said, pretty angry herself, “you’ve gone too far, this isn’t the way we do things.”
“The way we do things lets the weak have their way!! Look at her! Scrawny little bi—“ he stopped himself, but not completely, adding, “I beat her, she’s beat, she don’t deserve to win.”
Jamie coughed and spat blood, pushing past his pain through sheer relentless scorn. Moaning defiantly, he pushed himself up to his feet. The wound in his leg had healed, he couldn’t feel it, and he used that to reassure himself that all of the pain and brokenness he was experiencing would be gone as well. With time.
But the Schoolboy? He would be gone immediately.
“Yer a brute!” Jamie yelled in disgust and disappointment, showing something a Scavenger hardly ever showed: moral judgment. The yell distracted him, he looked over to the Street Rat in shock, only to be socked hard by the boys immediately after.
Jamie continued, because she had to, with a high-pitched, highly emotional yelling. “Yer nuthin’ but a thug through and through, Bobbie, nuthin’ but a common bore ova thug!”
The Schoolboy was being held against the ground already, hands behind his back, but he managed to glance at Jamie with very scared eyes…because he knew then what she was going to do.
Jamie showed him a flicker of a smirk, the most pleasurable smirk she had ever produced, in the one instant when none of the others could see.
“Throw ‘im over,” she said.