She had heard of the dwarves through stories and songs from the old world. In the tales, the chubby man-like creatures were always happy, usually singing as they worked down in their mines, their cheeks round and rosy underneath their long beards. That was how Kitt had always imagined the dwarves would be, but the ones before her seemed like a poor imitation in comparison. They were gaunt, not fat, and dressed in dirty clothing, riddled with holes and patches. Their beards were cut short, the hair thin and wiry, and their faces sunken and pale. Kitt heard no singing as they rolled their carts back and forth, others stacking bricks and mixing some sort of gray paste to slather on top of them like softened butter on toast. In fact, aside from the sounds made by the work they did, there was silence among them. No one spoke–not even a whisper. They simply hobbled on their weak legs, doing their tedious work with their heads down.
A man stood off to the side, offering the dwarves “encouragement” as they worked through the day. Black-haired and black-eyed with a tan complexion, the man would blend into any crowd, but among the dwarves, he stood over them as a king.
Kitt made her way forward, assuming her usual saunter with her hands in her pockets. She stifled a sneeze. Dust hung in the air, creating a hazy fog that surrounded the work site. It smelled like burnt toast–most likely the hot tar or liquid cement being mixed nearby. The dwarves wore no safety gear, Kitt noted, watching one gingerly pour a cauldron of hot liquid into a hole in the ground. His face had turned bright red from the heat as steam rose from the bubbling substance, and his arms and shoulders trembled, as though the cauldron were a bit too heavy for him to handle.
Noting the black-haired man, Kitt approached him from behind, making sure to surprise him.
“Seems like they’re making a lot of progress,” she remarked, her eyes scanning the scene. She noted where a slew of apartment buildings had been located, each one lopsided and dirty with floors hastily added to the top as they filled.
She remembered being a young girl, just recruited into the Bastards. Cam had sent her and Essie to collect from the residents, when they were attacked by none other than a little old man. Essie had pushed him down, breaking his hip, and kicked him in the face. The man hardly had any teeth before, but the rest had fallen from his bloody mouth as he spat on the floor.
“Cwook,” he had said. “You cwook steah our hawdearn mohey!”
Essie had kicked him again, this time in the head. The man continued to cough, finally vomiting blood and collapsing.
Now, those buildings were being replaced by new ones with shiny, white brick and sleek steel.
“Get outta here, thug.” The supervisor put his hands on his hips, stepping closer.
“Name’s Kitt Monroe,” the gang leader said, ignoring the man’s words. She saw his face go pale.