I stood there, held my ground. I felt pretty confident this would work. If I could get away with mouthing off to Paulie friggin Pescatorre, I could get away with telling two capos to go fuck themselves. But…
“Huh?” I asked more than wondered. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
“What do you think I mean, you soldato garbage? You don’t get to talk to me like that. That’s not a request, it’s a command from your betters. I see the stories about your total lack of respect for your superiors aren’t as grossly exaggerated as I’d hoped, Alfonso Anastasio,” Milo said, narrowing his eyes at me. “Don’t look so surprised. I make it my business to know everything about everyone in this family, and I have to say, right now you’re severely disappointing me. If all that talk is just for show, then why don’t you go and join the circus? You’d make a great dancing monkey.”
I didn’t say anything. It was hard to be angry at the guy when my brain was still trying to catch up with that 180 degree turn. He’d gone from dandy to douche in five seconds flat.
He smirked. “Honestly brother, these are the kinds of people you’re hiring lately? A washed up blood junkie, a slutty demigoddess, and a snarky gutter rat with a sister-complex and delusions of grandeur? Why, if I didn’t know you better, I’d fear for the future of our family. Father can’t approve of this, I’m sure.”
Marq’s white-knuckle grip squeaked on the wood, and he bit his lip. Nayeli was a little more outspoken.
“You know, I don’t really appreciate that tone. Want me to end this feud early and show you what your asshole looks like from the inside?!”
Milo smiled. Marq and I both held our breath. Nayeli had just made another huge mistake in dealing with magic-users. Instead of using her head, she’d lost her temper and went ahead and challenged one in his own atelier.
With a casual swipe, Milo sent Nayeli flying into a wall so hard it cratered like concrete and knocked the breath out of her. She struggled against it and broke out of it quickly, but then almost just as quickly she was back on the wall again. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
“A word to the wise, honey,” Milo said, sending Nayeli flying around the room with a flick of the wrist. “Telekinesis that may only be able to push a pencil out there can move a mountain in here. I could snap your bones, boil your insides, or light you up like your cousin if I wanted to. Never get sassy with a magician in his atelier unless you’re willing to pay the price. In here, I may as well be a god.”
He was right. There were rules when it came to ateliers. They were meant to be places of research, specially constructed so the magic of the magician who built it would be enormously amplified within this small space, and this space only. In exchange for that power, certain rules had to be adhered to. The most important was that you couldn’t attack a guest in your atelier unless they either entered uninvited or threatened you first. If you broke this rule, the atelier would begin losing power rapidly until it became worthless. But if they broke this rule and tried to attack you first, you had all the power in the world to punish them for that. Nayeli broke that rule.
He finally stopped, pinning her to the ceiling and holding her there. Pressure was being continuously applied, forcing the air out of her lungs. Milo grinned psychotically.
“Heh. Hahahaha.” Nayeli laughed, and spat on the carpet. “Give me a fucking break. You think you’re a god? Don’t make me laugh. I mean, have you ever met my family? ‘Cause if you did, you’d know just as well as I do that a shitty second-rate sorcerer like you is peanuts compared to the real thing.”
“Oh?” Milo said, still smiling. “Can’t say I’ve had the pleasure. Why, are they going to come down here and smite me for my blasphemy?”
Nayeli smirked, showing some bloody teeth.
“Nah. You’re not worth their time.”
Ohhhhhh boy. Milo’s eyes got mad. Real mad. I felt his grip tighten, crushing Nayeli further into the ceiling. Even if this couldn’t hurt her, it had to be making it hard for her to breathe. But she kept going anyway. If you can say anything about Nayeli, it’s that she doesn’t know when to give up.
“Yeah, you’re not likely to be the subject of their attention anytime soon. Me, though? Oh, they keep tabs on me. Y’know, I was the subject of my daddy’s attention once in a bad way. You know what I have to show for it? Third degree burns all over my body and a tender red spot on my chest from where my ribs broke out of their cage. That never really did heal right…” she meandered. “So go ahead, play with me all you want. Throw me around like a rag doll, I don’t care. There’s nothing you can do to me that’s worse than what I’ve already been through.”
Milo bit his lip so hard it bled. Then he became oddly calm.
“No, I suppose not. I should’ve known beating you would be pointless. You’re one of those accursed wonder babies; you don’t die when I hit you like some frail piece of meat. So…”
Milo motioned for Nayeli to come towards him. She fell from the ceiling and hit the floor with a thud as she was dragged across the carpet to Milo’s desk. He moved his hand gently through her hair, twirling and caressing it before squishing her cheeks and pulling her in close enough to kiss. He looked at her hungrily.
“How about I humiliate you in front of my brother? How does that sound?”
“Milo,” Marq said, his voice taking on a dangerous tone, “don’t do this. Not if you know what’s good for you.”
“And what are you going to do to stop me, brother?” Milo said, smiling sadistically. “She violated the rules of our world and tried to assault me in my own private domicile. In accordance with our laws, that means I have the right to use my magic to punish this unruly bitch of yours however I please. Please feel free to try and stop me though. I’d love to put an end to this blood feud right here and now if you’ll let me.”
“Boss,” Nayeli said, struggling against Milo’s grip. “It’s not worth it. Forget about me, I’ll be fine.”
“Oh will you now? Let’s see how long that defiance of yours holds up, shall we sweetie?”
“Boss, don’t look at me right now. I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“Nayeli, I can’t-”
“Promise me, boss!”
Milo ripped Nayeli’s shirt open, and Marq looked away. He didn’t even bother with the TK he’d been throwing around like it was going out of style. From here on out, everything would be strictly physical, meant to belittle and humiliate.
I grimaced, and looked away.
Milo jammed his tongue into Nayeli’s mouth, savoring the taste of her spit as he roughly fondled her breasts, slowly forcing the jacket off of her. He broke off to make her look at Marq while he silently gloated, tracing his fingers up and down her body. It was fucking sick to do that to someone in front of someone they loved. I could only imagine how Marq must have felt, able to do nothing but sit there and watch.
“You were right about that scar,” he said, gently rubbing the small nodes on the smooth scar tissue between her breasts in tiny concentric circles. “Twelve bumps on each side, twenty-four in total. One for each rib. How fascinating. That’s really something, wouldn’t you agree, brother?”
“I’m gonna fucking kill you, you piece of shit!”
Marq bit his tongue, staying silent as Milo went back to work on Nayeli, who was utterly helpless to defend herself. Finally, Milo started getting bored.
“WelI think I’ve had my fun with your little bitch. Shall we call it a day, Marquis? Or do you want me to humiliate you and your girlfriend further?”
“No,” Marq said through grit teeth.
“Are you sure? We could start exploring her really fun places next if you want.”
Milo reached lower into Nayeli’s pants. She turned bright red and yelped.
“Agh! Motherfucker! Fuck you, you son of a bitch!” she screamed in protest. “You limp dick piece of shit! Go suck my goddamn dad’s chode! Fuck!”
“Language~,” Milo chided.
“Milo,” Marq said, raising his voice. “Leave it.”
“Oh, how scary!” Milo said condescendingly. “Little Marq wants to beat me up! What are you going to do? Go tell on me to Daddy like you used to when we were kids? You know as well as I do that he doesn’t give a shit. He’d probably thank me for teaching this little bitch of yours some manners.”
“Just let us leave, and we’ll finish the job for you,” Marq said. “Please.”
“Feh.” Milo dropped Nayeli like a sack of rocks on the floor. “Have it your way, brother. I suppose we’ll have to have our fun another day then.”
“Don’t count on it,” Marq said, helping Nayeli up and draping his coat over her. “I don’t plan on coming back here any time soon.”
“Well now you’re just making me feel bad. I’ve hurt your feelings, haven’t I brother?” Milo said, barely pretending like he cared. “Tell you what. If you finish the job exactly how I want you to and hand the stone over to me, I’ll negotiate with Frankie for custody over the homunculus and return her to your gutter rat. Alfonso, right? I’ll guarantee to you that she’ll be returned to you in one piece. Minus a small buyer’s fee, of course.”
He chuckled. I didn’t want to contemplate what that meant. And I wasn’t letting him or Frankie get their hands on Theo. Tonight, she was leaving town. I’d cash in my train ticket or a few of my new clothes to pay for her ride out of here. I’d been blowing smoke out of my ass when I said I’d skip town. I owed the Allesandris too much, and I relied on them to care for my sister. But I’d make sure Theo could at least.
Marq nodded. “Agreed. Now good day.”
“Pleasant travels, brother,” Milo said, waving.
Walking out of that office was the first time I’d seen Marq so utterly defeated before. The strong, confident fella I knew and respected looked weaker in the knees than a kitten as he walked Nayeli back to our car. Nayeli for her part was bouncing back quickly, mumbling about how she’d make him choke to death on his own feces, but I could tell she was still shaken up. Who could blame her?
I opened the door for the two of them, careful to give them their space. I was beginning to get a feel for what this blood feud was like and what it meant for Marq. He was powerless against these guys if he didn’t fight, and it scared him shitless.
“When do we get to kill that asshole?” Nayeli asked angrily as she straightened her new suit and tie out before the meeting.
“That’s all you have to say?” I said in disbelief. “You were almost raped an hour ago. I thought that would’ve had a little more impact than that.”
“Yeah, well that’s not the first time that’s almost happened to me, and it’s not gonna be the last. I’m used to it, so fuck off,” Nayeli said, shrugging it off. “As long as I get to wear his entrails as sweatpants by the time this stupid blood feud is done, I’ll be fine.”
Nayeli walked off as I looked on, astonished. I tried talking to Marq instead.
“You wanna tell me what that was all about? Because from the way she’s been talking, it sounds like she’s had this happen to her before. Is it her dad?”
“Al, leave it.”
“Please tell me it’s not her dad.”
“Al, leave it. There are some things that you’re better off not talking about, especially when it comes to families like Nayeli’s.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it. Family doesn’t do… that to each other.”
“For the last time Al, he didn’t do ‘that’. No one did.”
“Oh. Okay, good. Because that would’ve been really-”
“They did something worse. Something I’ll never forgive them for.”
I stared at him disbelief. “The fuck does that mean?”
Marq was done talking though, and he was out the door in seconds.
“Hey!” I yelled ahead. “The fuck does that mean?!”
“It means shut up and get in the car.”
Sostene appeared behind me, and I nearly jumped into the ceiling like one of those steamboat cartoons.
“Jesus, Sostene!” I yelled. “The fuck are you doing trying to give me a heart attack like that?”
“There are some stories people don’t wanna tell till the time’s right. This is one of them. Respect that.”
I faltered. “I’m just worried about her and Marq, that’s all.”
He laughed grimly. “You don’t need to be. Be more worried about yourself, Mr. Translator.”
I groaned. That’s right. I’d forgotten. Thanks to my powers, I was the only one here who knew how to speak Japanese.
Marq stopped at the door to the large warehouse.
“Remember gang, chins up. Bow. Don’t let ’em see you sweat.”
The doors creaked open.
“Ohayō gozaimasu, Yamada-san!” Marq greeted. “Genki desu ka?”
Four goons in bright red armor and a stern-looking Japanese man in his early thirties stared back at us, obviously not amused by Marq’s amateur Japanese. This was gonna be a long day at work.