Chapter 7, Part 1

Alessandra was awoken out of a dreamless, fitful sleep by the sound of someone banging forcefully on her door. She sat up suddenly, in a daze, and then leaped out of her bed and rushed to the door.

“Who is it?” she yelled, exasperated.

“Kraylea!” a deep male voice yelled back. “Open up!” Alessandra forced down a scowl, unlocked the door, and opened it a crack.

“What is it?” she hissed.

“You’re not gonna invite me in?” asked Kraylea with a smirk on his face. He was a large man with thick, bushy hair, a round, beardless face, and skin as dark as Torea’s. He had his arms folded across his broad chest, and was eyeing Alessandra up and down appreciatively. Alessandra was suddenly very conscious of the fact that she was only wearing a tank top and shorts, and was glad that she had only opened the door a crack. She wasn’t a prude by any stretch, and she normally didn’t mind men looking at her, but Kraylea had made it clear in the past that he wanted to do much more than look, and he wasn’t averse to taking what he wanted by force.

“No, Kraylea, I’m not,” Alessandra said with a sigh. “Are you here for a reason, or are you just trying to pester me?”

“Hey, you better not take that tone with me,” Kraylea replied, continuing to smirk. “One more false step and Bezzum’s gonna boot your sexy ass outta here faster than you can blink. So you better treat me with respect, or I’ll give Bezzum the excuse he’s looking for.”

“Fine, Team Leader,” Alessandra said with a heavy sigh. “What is it that you require of me?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Kraylea said, chortling. Alessandra rolled her eyes, and he laughed harder. “Nah, it’s cool. I’m having a briefing in fifteen minutes, and I need you there. Don’t bother to change.” Alessandra slammed the door in his face with an exasperated groan, and she could hear him laughing outside even harder. She shook her head, and then picked out the least-revealing clothes she owned and put them on. Then she opened the door again and was relieved to find that Kraylea wasn’t there anymore. Not that she wasn’t going to have to deal with him again at the briefing, but even a few minutes of not having to put up with his leers was better than nothing.

Unfortunately, that blessed respite only lasted as long as it took Alessandra to walk to the briefing room. When she arrived, Kraylea was lounging in a large couch with his legs crossed and his arms spread out across the back of the couch. His familiar insolent smirk was firmly fixed on his face, and his eyes bored into Alessandra’s as soon as she walked into the room. She pointedly ignored him, and plopped down into a worn-down recliner as far away from Kraylea as she could get.

Fortunately, they weren’t alone in the room. Sitting about halfway between Alessandra and Kraylea was Fihal, a skinny young man with a shock of blond hair that was shaved on the sides. He was also lounging on a couch, but his pose was considerably less insolent than Kraylea’s. He was Kraylea’s decoyer, and Alessandra didn’t know him well. Another person in the room was Sharae, a stocky woman with a deep scar down one side of her face and skin even darker than Kraylea’s. Her hairstyle mirrored Fihal’s except that it was bright pink. She was Kraylea’s second. Despite her closeness with Kraylea, Alessandra had always gotten along well with her, at least until Alessandra’s recent disgrace.

Just as Alessandra had finished taking stock of the occupants of the room, another person came in. This was Shiena, Kraylea’s bypasser. She was of average build, with olive-colored skin and black hair that swooped off to one side and hung over one of her eyes. She scowled at Alessandra as soon as they made eye contact, and made her way over to sit at Kraylea’s side.

“Hey, there’s my little sugar plum,” Kraylea said as soon as he saw her.

“Hey, baby,” Shiena said in a smoky voice, snuggling up next to him. They immediately began making out. Alessandra rolled her eyes and tried to ignore them. Fihal watched them intently with a bemused smirk on his face, but Sharae scowled at them stonily. Alessandra wondered what that was all about. As far as she knew, Sharae and Kraylea’s relationship had always been strictly business. Was she jealous of Kraylea’s latest conquest?

“Kray!” Sharae finally barked after the make out session had been going on for what seemed like an excessively long time.

“Yeah, yeah, keep your pants on, Sharae,” Kraylea said as soon as he disengaged himself from Shiena. Shiena shot Sharae a murderous glance, which bounced off Sharae like a rubber ball hitting the pavement. “Where’s Fergen?”

“I guess she’s not here yet,” Fihal said with an insolent grin.

“I figured that, chiela,” Kraylea said, rolling his eyes. “She better get here soon, cause I ain’t holding this meeting for her.”

“She’ll be here,” Sharae said calmly.

“Yeah, well, she better be,” Kraylea muttered. “Ah, well, we might as well get started. We’re gonna hit the North Vandeo Bank. Pull as many bars of mandyium and braeka outta there as we can get.”

“Ugh, does it have to be the North Vandeo Bank?” Fihal said with a theatrical sigh. “Can’t it be South Vandeo? Or Mercater Central? North Vandeo’s on the other side of the city!”

“It’s North Vandeo cause I said it’s North Vandeo!” Kraylea bellowed suddenly. “Now shut up and listen!” Fihal’s grin slipped a little, but it was back almost immediately. No one else’s expression changed. Everyone who knew Kraylea knew he was like this. Most of the time he would act all genial and suave, and then sometimes, out of nowhere, he would explode. That was part of the reason Alessandra was wary of his advances. He seemed charming on the surface, but there was an undercurrent of menace and violence in his personality that was always threatening to burst out.

To be continued…

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