"What's your name, runt?"

The cobbled floor was stained with dark patches of something, noticed the small girl referred to as "runt". What, exactly, it was that had discolored the stones was a mystery, but she figured that it was better that she not know. It could have been paint, she reminded herself quickly, before she could get into a panic; dark, red-brown paint. Kind of a sienna color. There had to be something that they painted around this dirty old place, like a room or the roof or something. She hadn't seen much of the large compound so far; it was always a possibility. She'd only been here a month or so, anyway.

"Answer me when I'm talking to you!"

Abruptly something hard and powerful slammed into the back of her bowed head, knocking her forward from her vigil position of sitting on her feet. Her face hit the stained cobblestones that she'd been wondering about only a moment before, and she gave out a cry as her head exploded in pain. She was just recovering from her unexpected fall into the rocks, shoving herself up to her knees again with her hands, when she was struck again, in the side this time. Whatever it was knocked her over onto the rocks, paining her awfully even through the thick trench coat that she wore, and she wheezed thickly through her mouth as a thousand rocks seemed to collect inside of her belly. This hadn't happened before. What had she done to get stuck with-

Her thoughts were interrupted as a dirty brown boot made contact with her dark blue shirt, turning her off of her side and onto her back, and her tormentor's face came into view above her. She was a large girl, with blonde hair that fell well below her waist but was tied back into a messy braid at the moment. Her face was a rather ugly sight to see, and would have been even without the faded bruises that still showed in her pasty complexion. Her clothes were no better, consisting of a pair of faded blue jeans, a white shirt, and a denim jacket that had seen better days. Her thick eyebrows knit together as she stared at the frightened girl under her shoe, and the she snapped out, "Tell me your name, maggot."

"B-B-" The girl stammered uncontrollably for a second, her gray eyes wide and staring. It took her a minute or two, and all the while the blonde girl just stared down at her with narrowed blue eyes and a sneer on her face, waiting for her to spit it out. There wasn't even the faintest noise from the two other young girls in the room; both were just as helpless as the pinned girl and more than unwilling to help. Better her than them, as it always went. Finally, the pinned girl sputtered, "Brooklyn Chandlier."

"Brooklyn?" The blonde girl stared down at her, and then reached out to grab the aforementioned Brooklyn by the collar of her shirt. Removing her foot, the blonde pulled Brooklyn up to her feet, hunching slightly to come face to face with the shorter girl. She then gave a nasty grin, baring a set of teeth as stained as the floor, including a pair of stubby, sharpened eyeteeth. "Like the bridge?"

Obviously confused but too afraid to care, Brooklyn nodded quickly. This girl knew her name already, why was she clarifying it now like she'd never heard it before? Her reward was to be dropped on her feet and shoved backwards, sending her falling onto her rear on the hard stone. Her head snapped up, her long black hair falling freely and disheveled into her face as her eyes questioned if she were free or not, but she wasn't free; she was just in time for the blonde's favorite weapon, a rusted old bicycle chain, to strike her across the face. Her head snapped to the side and with the momentum, her body went back down to the pavement. She stayed there this time, trying to be submissive, or at least trying to protect her belly, but it wasn't any use to try.

"Just like the fuckin' Brooklyn Bridge!" The older girl cackled, and crouched down to her subject. She then grabbed Brooklyn by her tangled hair, jerking her head up off of the floor to look her in the eye. "How high-class! How exotic! Give me a break!"

She began to laugh as she released the girl and rose, and then gave her black-haired object of torment a kick in the back, just above her right kidney. The smaller girl squealed slightly and abandoned her attempt at defense, rolling away and onto her front. She got her hands and feet under her and tried to scamper away, but before she could get far, the blonde grabbed her by the back of her heavy coat. The larger girl simultaneously stomped down on her back between her shoulder blades, shouting out, "Allow me to introduce myself to you, as a simple commoner! My name is Meghan King!"

Meghan pulled her foot off of her fallen girl's spine and kicked her hard in the ribs, rolling her over onto her back. Before Brooklyn could so much as rise, Meghan pinned her with a foot on her chest again and leaned down to sneer, "But you, runt, may call me God."

"Please don't hurt-" Brooke began to speak, but she was cut off when Meghan pushed down hard into her ribs with her boot, bending her bones and compressing her lungs terribly. Brooke's words were replaced with a shrill squeal of pain, but this was cut off a moment later when Meghan looped her chain about Brooklyn's neck and yanked the ends in opposite directions, closing off her airway almost completely. Air cut off from both directions, Brooke could only stare up into Meghan's face with pleading gray eyes, small gags and whines of pain being all that could be released from her throat. Meghan only pulled the chain tighter; to such a degree that Brooke's vision began to descend into the dying phases of high contrast and overbright outlines. A second, a minute, an hour seemed to pass before the chain suddenly left her neck, and her head cracked back onto the hard floor below her, hammering her brain with a newfound sledgehammer of pain and knocking her teeth together over her tongue.

As Meghan came back into focus above her, foot still on her chest, eyes so meanly gleeful and satisfied with her dominance, Brooklyn could feel the blood beginning to fill her mouth.

But there was something different that Meghan saw in the smaller girl's eyes this time, something fiery and dark, something that showed none of her earlier fear. Something had changed, and something new had taken the weak and pitiful girl's place. Brooklyn's lips drew back to bare her small, flat teeth, and she began to growl low in her throat, the muscles in her arms and her legs and her belly bunching in anticipation. She seemed more like a feral cat than a thirteen-year-old girl, and before Meghan could react, she exploded. A scream threw itself out of her throat, ear-piercingly loud and shrill. She grabbed onto Meghan's leg and within the second she had arched her neck up to clamp her teeth into the older girl's ankle like a bear trap.

"YOU LITTLE SHIT!" Meghan yelled out in pain, and ripped her foot back, out of the girl's mouth. She went to strike out with her chain, but Brooke tackled her first, knocking her onto her back on the hard floor. The blonde's head slammed back into the stones, and she gave another cry as Brooke grabbed her chain and flung it across the room. In an instant one hand had pinned down over Meghan's throat, and the other was raised up into the air, the heel of her hand positioned just above the blonde's nose.

Then, she stopped.

"Apologize," she hissed out in a voice that was far more masculine than her own, her gray eyes dark and narrowed on her new victim. Her hand shook slightly in its position in the air, but other than that she was a picture of dominance.

Meghan stared up at the girl's eyes, stunned for a moment at the abrupt change of roles. It took a moment for her mind to catch up to the order she'd been given, but when she did, her blue eyes slit towards her aggressor. Rank was all that mattered to her, current position be damned. "I'd die before I'd lower myself to a trainee maggot like you."

"Your choice," Brooke dismissively mumbled, and slammed the heel of her hand into the bridge of Meghan's nose. Fortunately for Meghan, her hand slipped, and so she ended up clipping the older girl's eye instead of shattering her nose and sending shards of cartilage into her brain. Meghan let out a wretched yell anyway and thrashed, trying to throw the younger girl off, but it was no use. Brooke simply clung to the girl, ignoring her blows, and rammed her fist into her face again and again. Soon Meghan's shrieks were met and overpowered by Brooklyn's as the girl began to scream in tandem with her victim, howling and yelling at her about everything and nothing all at once. The female onlookers, spared from their own torments, could only stare.

Suddenly, some new voices rose over the screams.

"What the fuck?"

"Hey! Is that one of the trainees?"

"Dude that's Meghan!"

"Holy shit! Get her off of her!"

Several pairs of hands grabbed Brooklyn Chandlier from behind, restricting her arms, her legs, her upper body, her head. She fought against them, lashing her limbs and screaming in that inhuman voice, and she nearly got away at one point, coming quite close to striking Meghan's battered face once again. However, the five girls who had grabbed her threw her back onto the pavement, and it took three of them pinning her down to keep her subdued. One of the girls, one of Meghan's saviors, came to hover over the blonde girl's ruined face, peering down at her with dead brown eyes. This savior could do nothing but stare for several minutes, and when she finally did look up to another of the rescuers, she only had one thing to say.

"Jesus… We've got to get rid of that trainee."

-----------------------------

An hour later, Brooklyn Chandlier was in solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement, in this case, was a solid stone room with only a wooden crate in the middle to serve as a chair. The subject sat in the center of the room on the crate, silent, her head down and in her hands. Judging by her silently sullen demeanor, she either hadn't noticed the girls peeking in at her through the square window on the metal door that enclosed the room, or she simply chose not to acknowledge them. Despite her lack of notice, the girls outside were rampant with busy talk about her.

"Dude, I hear she went fuckin' insane. Like her head spun all the way around and then she grabbed Meghan and threw her into a wall, and then she was, like… biting the shit out of her," one girl jabbered in a low, nasal voice. She looked only about fifteen years old, with short, red hair and a sharp nose that stuck out like the prow of a boat.

"Oh, cut the shit, Eagle," mumbled the girl next to her, about the same age as the sharp-nosed girl but quite a bit taller. Her green eyes, one of which was clouded over with cataracts, moved back to the seated girl inside of the room. "Meggy didn't have a bite on her. My source was actually in the room. She said that her eyes went all red and then she punched Meghan in the teeth and smacked her up with her own chain."

The girl dubbed as Eagle made a disgruntled face at being bested. "Oh yeah, that's so likely. You know what, Lucy, if you can't even make an intelligent contribution to the conversation, just shut your pie hole."

"Hey, at least I can tell a trainee apart from the girl from the friggin' Exorcist."

"Don't make me kick you in the cu-"

Footsteps cut off Eagle's threat, and both girls halted, heads snapping about to face the corner only a few feet from them. A second later they had gone back to their guard positions on either side of the door, just in time for three new arrivals. The first girl had long brown hair tied back into a mussed ponytail and a thin layer of smoke and ash over her hard-featured and emotionless face. The girl beside her had the same smoky complexion, but her hair was gray, like that of a woman in her seventies, though the girl could not have been older than eighteen. Her nose, centered oddly on her rather masculine and squarely jawed face, was crooked, and appeared to have been previously broken several times. The last in line was Meghan herself, faced bruised and lip split up in two places, her face black with rage.

"We got out of the cremation pits as soon as we could," the brown-haired girl said in a low tone to Lucy when she reached the guards' position. "What has she been doing?"

"Oh, just sittin' around, contemplating life." Eagle barged in, but was silenced when the brown-haired girl shot her a forbidding look.

Lucy waited until Eagle was silent, and then spoke. "She's been doing just about what you see her doing now, gang-master Jasmine. She talks to nobody – I'm guessing to herself, maybe – every so often, but other than that she's been a perfect captive. If I may offer my opinion, I do believe that she's totally batshit insane."

Jasmine nodded, then pushed past the two of them to look through the window at Brooklyn. Brooke simply sat with her head down, but Jasmine could hear her very quietly mumbling in the silence of the room. The words were indecipherable, but she kept pausing, as if someone were responding to her and she to them. It was rather odd to watch, and after a moment or so, Jasmine turned to the gray-haired girl. "This is a new situation for me, Khanor. What do you think we ought to do?"

"Hell, I'd kill her if it were my choice," Khanor said with a shrug, leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the hallway, her hands casually in her pockets. "She's defective."

"Easy for you to say." Jasmine looked back into the room. "She's a fine trainee other than this. She asks a lot of questions, sure, but she does what she's told."

Khanor shook her head. "It's the same situation as it would be with a dog. Ignore the fact that she's human and look at what you have. You have a thing that you intend to raise and train, which turns on its trainer unprovoked. Who knows when she'd do it again, and how much worse it would be the second time? Better to take action before you get the chance to find out."

"I hate to kill a perfectly good girl," Jasmine muttered, turning her head to look back over her shoulder at the other observers, all of whom simply stared at her as if she were utterly insane in making such a statement.

"What the hell?" Meghan suddenly broke in loudly, and within the room, Brooke's head snapped up. Nobody was watching her, and so nobody noticed, so Meghan continued with her tirade. "She went after me! Me! A superior! She's nothing but a little brat who doesn't know her place! Kill her and make an example of it!"

"Quiet," Jasmine growled, and Meghan did, though the glower of hate was still plain on her face. Jasmine ignored the look and went on. "There has to be a way to do this without killing her."

"You could always put her on city patrol," Eagle broke in helpfully, unable to stay silent for long. Everyone looked to her at once, and she immediately silenced, lowering her head submissively.

Jasmine, however, looked back in through the window to the girl inside with a small smirk on her face. "Maybe you're on to something there. But for now, she's noticed us. Let's go."

Without another word, Jasmine wiped the look off of her face and opened the door. She came into the room first, disturbing Brooke from her not-so-silent vigil, and the rest of the girls filed in behind her. Jasmine moved to stand a few feet in front of Brooklyn, while Meghan stayed near to the door, giving her object of hate a deathly glare. Khanor had lost interest entirely by the time that she had fully entered the room, and simply wandered over to lean against the wall; Lucy and Eagle stood close together, quite excited, staring at the subject of the conversation while still trying to appear casual and unconcerned.

Shrinking back a little from all of the attention newly directed onto her, Brooke tore her eyes back to the ground. She hadn't been here long, but she still knew that she wasn't supposed to look any of them in the eye. It was the way of the place, and she'd been reprimanded more than once for looking into the eye of a "superior" when she wasn't supposed to. She learned quickly.

"Brooklyn Chandlier," said Jasmine, and Brooke looked up to meet the eye of the seventeen-year-old brunette. The girl was standing a few feet ahead of her, her feet shoulder width apart, her hands linked behind her back. She towered over the younger Brooklyn at a height near to five foot ten at the least, her hazel eyes piercing and hard, not revealing the slightest bit of caring or pity. When she had caught the younger girl's attention, Jasmine spoke up again. "Explain yourself."

Brooke could only stare for a minute or two, and then looked back and forth to any of the other girls in the room for help. Meghan only retained her sour glare; the two leeches had retreated to stand near the door, making various faces at one another to signal in a silent language. The gray-haired girl alternated between watching the brunette and Brooke, now looking sharply entertained by the situation. None of them would help, so Brooke finally just bit the bullet and turned back to the brunette, her words coming out pathetic to her own ears when she spoke. "I didn't mean it."

"Cut the shit, Chandlier," Jasmine sternly snapped. She began to walk in a slow circle around the seated girl, speaking in a voice low and dangerous. "You were caught in the act of assaulting a superior."

"This is the kind of thing they cut hands off for." It was Khanor chiming in this time, her pale, pinkish eyes staring at Brooklyn in what seemed to be a degree of glee. Her head cocked to the side, she had started moving in a vulture's circle about the subject as well, in the opposite direction of the brunette. "You can do enough things without hands, it wouldn't be a trouble for the rest of us to use you without them."

The small girl's eyes widened, and she shoved her hands in between her thighs, as if to protect them from the implied harm. "But it wasn't me!"

"Then again, they might hobble you," the gray-haired girl continued, linking her hands behind her back to look at the ceiling. There was a small grin on her face even now. "Tie you to a board and break your ankles with a sledgehammer."

"She had a chain! Ivan told me, he said he'd take care of it-" Brooke squealed in protest, jerking her feet back against her seat in reflex. She was utterly terrified by now, and Jasmine and Khanor exchanged a look over her head. This plan was working much better than it should have, despite her ramblings about this Ivan man who, so far as they knew, didn't even exist. Intimidating her to make her believe that the reduced sentence that they already had in mind was a gift from God rather than a social expulsion was a plan that had worked in the past, and would no doubt work now. It was rare that the two of them worked together like this, but when they did, it was usually their best work.

Khanor sniggered under her breath, turning her head to the side. "Oh, please. You can't stand up to a chain? What kind of trainee are you? And who the hell is this Ivan bastard you keep talking about?"

"In my…" There was only a small reply this time as Brooklyn simply stared at the two of them, her face a mix of despair and horror. She didn't know what to do, and it was obvious, so she had apparently given up on weaseling out of this with pleas or admissions. It was useless, anyway. She finished her former sentence lamely, almost hesitantly, confirming the suspicions of everyone in the room towards her sanity, only because she knew that if she didn't, her punishment would be much greater. "…Head."

"Weak in body and weak in mind. We can't keep someone that weak in this place." Khanor looked towards Jasmine with a slight grin, baring her jagged and uneven teeth. "We've got to save the room for people who deserve it."

"You could always let me go," Brooke meekly suggested.

"We could always kill you," Jasmine snapped, thrusting her face to a position a few inches from Brooklyn's. Brooke drew back with a squeal and fell silent, looking back down into her lap.

Khanor gave a shrug and patted Brooke on the head, to which Brooke jerked her head away with a shudder. "Well, we've heard that other than this little slip, you're a pretty good kid. But we can't let you go, not when you're already one of us. You could give us away, sell us out. Jasmine, why don't we just stick her with the old rotters on city patrol? They'll keep an eye on her."

"Deconstruction worker."

Everyone in the room fell silent at that, and Khanor stopped moving entirely. Her face twisted in confusion at what Jasmine had just said, and she cocked her head to the side, her pinkish eyes narrowing. "What?"

Jasmine, on the other hand, gave a small smirk and stepped up behind Brooke to rest a hand on the girl's shoulder. Brooklyn shrunk away, but she couldn't do much more than that without a reprimand, so she stayed in place. Jasmine noticed but let it go, and instead said, "We haven't had a deconstruction worker in… what? Five years? I know my old gang-master was always talking about what a good business it was. Killed plenty of people back in those cities, got us lots of notice."

"We don't need notice," Khanor snapped, her voice suddenly turning peevish as Jasmine deviated further and further from the plan. She had largely forgotten that Brooke was even present by now, and was contented to shoot Jasmine a glare.

"If you didn't notice, Khanor, nobody fears the corpses anymore." Jasmine moved away from Brooke, releasing her at last, and leaned against the wall a few feet behind her. "Even all the kidnappings aren't really making news. Don't you want to go back to the days when the corpses were a fearful subject? Life was so much more exciting."

Khanor waved a hand dismissively at Jasmine and snorted a laugh through her crooked nose. "You're an idiot. Our aim isn't for fear or recognition. Besides, this girl couldn't start a firecracker, much less do what a deconstruction worker needs to."

"It couldn't hurt to try," Jasmine said, crossing her arms over her chest. "If she fucks up, she dies. If she succeeds, she's out of the castle for months at a time, and I watch her when she's back. It's a win-win situation."

Heaving an annoyed sigh, Khanor shook her head once and glanced towards the other girls in the room. Lucy and Eagle were wide-eyed and interested, but went back to pretending to guard the door as soon as the attention fell on them. Meghan, on the other hand, looked absolutely horrified that the insubordinate trainee would escape, and her stare was nothing less than pleading. Khanor could do nothing but stare back for a long moment, and then looked back to Jasmine. "Who's going to train her?"

"NO!"

Everyone's eyes flew to the girl who had just so predictably screamed: Meghan. Her blue eyes were not on any on the important figures in the room; instead they were locked onto Brooke, and as Meghan spoke, she stalked forward, her hand yanking her beloved chain out of her belt loop. "That little shit nearly killed me! You can't let her get away with it!"

"I can and I will," Jasmine snapped, her voice reverting from its relatively amiable state back to orders and demands. "Get back and put your chain away, Meghan."

"No! I'm going to fucking kill her! Nobody's going to beat on me and get away with it, not even some little brown-nosing ass-kisser trainee!" But, despite her words, Meghan had stopped in her tracks, and shot her glare towards Jasmine. She was met with nothing but a condescending glower, and continued, a bit weaker, "You'd never do this if it was me in her position! You'd kill me in an instant."

Instead of replying, the brunette repeated, "Get back and put your chain away, Meghan."

There was a long silence, and then Meghan snarled viciously through her gritted teeth. The chain was shoved back through her belt loop, but instead of returning to her position, she turned to storm out through the iron door, slamming it shut behind her with a deafening bang. Brooke jumped in her skin, and though the echo remained for several minutes, Jasmine took up on Khanor's previous question without a hitch. "I'm sure I can find someone skilled in this sort of work. Until then, would you be willing to spare one of your gang members to teach her the basics?"

"Which one?" Khanor had paid no more mind to Meghan's exit than Jasmine had; it seemed that the only ones concerned by it were Eagle, Lucy, and Brooke herself, who at the moment was more concerned with the possibility that Meghan was going to beat her to death later than she was with the trivial particulars of her new job.

"Katsi Thomas. They're friends, I think. She can teach Brooke some things about navigating cities and transporting to and from here until I find someone better suited for the job."

"Sounds all right to me. Just remember what we said: she fails her first job, she's dead, no questions asked. You got it?"

"Right."

With that, Khanor left the room as well, though she didn't slam the door behind herself. Once she had left, Jasmine moved about to the front side of Brooke, turning to face the subject of the entire conversation. Brooklyn's eyes nervously moved up to the gang-master's face, meekly questioning over whether she was to be beaten or rewarded. Instead, she was quite surprised when Jasmine gave her a slight smile and thrust down a hand towards her for a shake. "Congratulations, Brooklyn Chandlier. You've got a job."