Month: October 2016

Street Lawyer 5.9

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Cavvy, come on,” I said, trying to smile and act like it was just a bad joke. “Stop being a wiseguy. This isn’t funny. Talkin’ about takin’ us in…”

Cavvy stared at me coldly. “It wasn’t a joke, Alfonso.”

I ditched the smile. Hearing him say it drove it in. He really was gonna take us in. This was happening. They’d caught Nayeli.

No, not necessarily, I reminded myself. Just because they’ve finished the psychometric mapping of the crater doesn’t necessarily mean they caught Nayeli. Not yet, anyway.

Annie looked scared stiff. Cavvy faltered, like he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Dammit man, either shit or get off the pot.

“So what’s the occasion?” I asked. “What’d we do wrong?”

“Nothing,” he said abnormally quickly, as if he was the one who had to make excuses for us. “You’re just persons of interest. I’m sure all they wanna do is ask you some questions. Though, honestly, I wanna know what you guys were doing on that train. Did you-”

“What if that doesn’t work for us?” I asked, interrupting him. Annie tugged on my sleeve.

“Al…”

“Huh?” Cavvy vocalized.

“I mean what if I don’t wanna go?” I said, ignoring my little sister. “You think I want this on my record? My bosses think I’m up to something shady and my ass is left out to dry, and I can’t afford to risk losing my job or miss out on a payment if I wanna make sure Annie’s getting the care she needs. Besides, what if they just use this as an excuse to get me to admit to something I didn’t do so they can take my money and my ass to court? I’m not going.”

All lies, of course. My bosses paid me to get up to something shady. Mentioning my record was, however, a mistake in retrospect.

Cavvy scowled at my indifference. “You don’t have a choice, Alfonso. It’s the law. Either come with me or you’re under arrest.”

Al…” Annie said again.

For a moment we all just stood there and looked at each other, daring someone to say something.

“Come on, man. Don’t do this,” I pleaded. “Can’t you just-”

“Let it slide? Is that what you were gonna say?” Cavvy said. “You know I can’t do that, Alfonso. Why are you being so stubborn, anyway?”

“I told you. I just don’t wanna go. I don’t trust the cops in this city.” And for good reason. I noticed Cavvy’s hand wavering noncommittally around his holster.

Suddenly Annie was breaking away from me and climbing down the fire escape to where Cavvy was. I should’ve known she’d side with him instead of me, after everything that’s happened lately. But she wouldn’t sell me out so easily, would she? I mean come on, I’m her brother for crying out loud!

Defiantly, she dropped down and started walking over to Cavvy. I nearly blurted “watch out!” when I watched her stumble on the uneven pavement, but Cavvy caught her just fine without me. She stood up, and glared at me. Cavvy nodded at her approvingly, and for that brief second that defiance in her eyes made me hate him more than I ever loved him. But then a second later it was gone.

“Alfonso… stop making this more difficult than it has to be. They’re just gonna take you in and ask some questions. Why are you afraid? What do you have to be scared of?!”

Master Alfonso, Theo said dangerously. I can get rid of him if there is a problem. I already decided on an escape route. Just give me your approval and-

No, Theo. We’re not doing that.

But Master Alfonso-!

I raised my hands up to the sky, the eternal sign of submission to the boot.

“You gonna do it then?” I ask, solemnly. “You really gonna do it, Cavvy?

He bit his lip. Bit it so hard it looked like he was gonna bleed, like he was chewing it. This wasn’t easy for him. Wasn’t really easy for me either though. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t easier on him, less stubborn and uncooperative. Or maybe I’m just a bastard.

He drew his gun. “Alfonso Anastasio, you are under arrest for the obstruction of justice. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult an attorney before talking to the police…”

I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to tell myself he was just following orders and leave it at that, I really did. But because it was him, because it was my friend, telling myself that somehow didn’t make me feel any less betrayed. Goddammit Cavvy…

When we arrived at the police station, I was separated from Annie. Although maybe that’s not the right word. After all, she had no qualms about being led away from me, at least not as many as I had.

After being forced down dull grey corridor after dull grey corridor after dull grey corridor I was brought to the classic dimly lit interrogation room, and forced to sit in one of the uncomfortable wooden chairs. Five minutes later, I was greeted by an elf in a government suit. Great. They gave me a treehugger.

“I wanna consult with my fucking lawyer,” I said.

“If you’re referring to the Marquis Allesandri listed on the information you’ve provided us, I regret to inform you he’s in another room three doors down.”

Okay, quick break. Can I just take a minute, and tell you what really pisses me off about these guys? Why I really fucking hate elves? It’s because they think they’re so fucking perfect, like their shit don’t stink. They’re all “oh, look at us being all at one with nature and the ebb and flow of the universe, ohhhh” when really all they do is sit around in rotting dank forests painting leaves and writing whiny poetry. They’re such fucking drama queens. And you know what the worst part is? How stuck up they are about it. We invite them into our homes and our cities and all they can talk about is how their forests are so much better and how we need to learn to respect nature, all the while a hydra is devouring the next town over and shitting them out looking like good fertilizer. If you think nature is so great, then why don’t you just fucking stay there and keep it to yourselves, instead of coming over here and stealing jobs you don’t even want from hard-working…-

Okay, deep breaths… Sorry. I just really hate elves.

Anyway, the pointy-eared hippie quizzed me for a few minutes about our ride on the City of Cleveland, and I kept my fucking mouth shut. I knew how this went. I knew how to play this game. I’d been playing it since I was fourteen, and I like to think I played it well. The secret is, you gotta remember just one thing. They can’t force you to say shit. And if you don’t say shit, then all they got is shit.

“Mr. Anastasio, my name is Phiynore Ashlute.”

“Bite me.”

“Charming. You do know why you’re here tonight, right?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. You must’ve misheard me. I’ll repeat myself.” I cleared my throat. “Kiss the hairiest part of my shaft. You fucking treehugger.”

“… Perhaps we should just move on to the questions then. So were you or were you not aboard the City of Cleveland the morning of November the 2nd?”

I stayed quiet. He sighed.

“Mr. Anastasio, we have documented evidence proving you were aboard that train. It’s written on the passenger manifest. Just answer the questions. Honestly, if you would. And I’ll know if you’re lying to me.”

I wouldn’t bet on that, pal.

“Yes,” I spat.

“Good. And were you or were you not traveling with Marquis Allesandri et al?”

“Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t,” I said. “There were a lotta people on that train. How am I supposed to know who’s sitting next to who?”

“Perhaps I should clarify.”

“Perhaps you should.”

His eyebrow twitched just momentarily when I said that. I smiled.

Are you or are you not an acquaintance of Marquis Allesandri?”

“He’s my financier,” I responded as flatly as possible. “He provided me with free train tickets as a professional gift.”

The elf sighed, apparently not catching on to the bluff. “Good, good, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, were you at any point invited into Marquis Allesandri’s private car?”

I shrugged. “Don’t see why it matters if I was or if I wasn’t. From what I hear, the mayor’s daughter was invited to his private car. You gonna bring Felicity Overscore in here and give her the third degree too?”

My interrogator fell silent. I decided saying “that’s what I thought” might be pushing my luck at this juncture.

The man across the table sighed. He took off his glasses and gently massaged his temples between his thumb and forefinger, hiding his face.

“Mr. Anastasio…”

“Call me Al.”

“… Al. I’ll be straight with you.”

“Well that’d be a first for an elf.”

“We have reason to believe one of Marquis Allesandri’s guests on that train may be responsible for the incident you bore witness to in Arizona. I personally do not think you are capable of committing such an act. Not because I doubt someone like you would do it, but because it’d be categorically impossible for you to do it. Nevertheless, I must clarify and state for the record everything you are able to tell me. For the next few hours, or until you deign to give me any halfway decent answers, that is the cross I must bear. Now, are you going to make this easy on yourself, and more importantly your sister, or are you going to keep prolonging this so we both won’t be able to go home tonight?”

My lips pursed. Annie…

They escorted me out of the room in handcuffs. They didn’t have dick on me as far as the Arizona incident (as it was quickly becoming known) was concerned, but by the time we left they did have a reasonable case to make for aggravated assault after I broke that treehugger’s fucking nose. I heard them talking about slapping on an additional “hate crime” charge, but none of them were sure it would stick since the attacker (that is to say me) was also legally classified demihuman, albeit barely.

I scoffed. I had one of the best lawyers in the state in my familia. I had connections. These fuckfaced, limp-dick G-men tried sticking me with anything, they’d start getting some friendly visits from the nice men with guns. Not many people are still so eager to testify after looking down the smokey end of a chopper.

They returned me to the waiting room instead of a cell, but left the cuffs on, walking out and washing their hands clean of me. A few minutes later, Marq emerged.

“You finished with your questioning?” I asked.

“No, I was done with that in under five minutes,” Marq said. “They know better than to start asking stupid questions around me. I’ve been spending the last half hour defending your ass.”

“He threatened Annie,” I growled.

“Barely,” Marq said, sitting down and opening his cigarette case. “I keep telling you Al, I don’t have time for shit like this right now. I don’t care if you don’t like elves. What I care about is getting Nayeli back safe and sound. That’s all that matters right now. And you? You’re not helping.”

He lit up, taking a deep whiff of nicotine before slowly exhaling, his smoke as much a sigh as the genuine article. He looked raggedy, worn down. Like hell froze over, or at least lukewarm. Bags were beginning to form under his eyes. Come to think of it, this was the first time I’d seen him in the last couple days.

He took another drag on the cigarette, inhaling so much that he, a veteran smoker, actually started coughing. He frowned at the smoking butt, then tossed it in irritation. We both stayed quiet for the next five minutes. When the silence finally was broken, I was almost afraid of what I’d hear coming out of his mouth. More bad news, certainly.

“So, Al, who was that stiff that brought you in?” Marq asked.

“He’s…” I hesitated, looking around. “A friend.”

“Really? Well he sure doesn’t look like a friend. He one of yours?”

“Well, he’s… not exactly one of ours. The Allesandris, I mean.”

“What’s his name?” Marq asked. “I’ve been hearing rumors about some uptight new guy downtown. Supposedly has it out for the five families.”

“Dante Salvo.”

“Special Detective?” Marq asked.


“Yup.”

“Jesus fucking christ…” Marq sighed, pinching his nose. “Yeah that’s him. Why the fuck didn’t you tell me? What did you tell him?

“Nothing-“

“You sure? Because you know what happens when you rat out the family.”

“I know, Marq. I didn’t say anything, to anybody.”

“Look me in the eyes and tell me that.”

I glared at him, staring right into the pits of his pupils.

“I didn’t say nothing to nobody. You know me better than that.”

Marq sighed, the breath leaving him like some great weight was being slowly lowered onto him, rather than off. His usual commanding slouch just looked tired, vulnerable. The kind of posture men like him abhorred. A sign of weakness.

“Do you still think we can win?” I ask uncertainly.

“I dunno,” Marq said, and just that simple affirmation of uncertainty was terrifying enough.

“But you’re going to try, right?”

“Of course I’m going to try, Al!” Marquis snapped. Conscious of his outburst, he slumped back into his passive position. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if they find her, but I know there’s gotta be a way. If we can’t convince them, we’ll bribe them. If we can’t bribe them, we’ll replace them. If we can’t do either of those things, we’ll run away. They can’t stop us. I don’t know how this is gonna end, but I know that if I ever see Nayeli again, I’m not letting her go. I don’t care what it takes. I saved her from the gods themselves once. If I have to, I’ll do it again. These guys are nothing.”

It was his way of amping himself up. No doubt about it, this would be the most difficult trial of his life, and the one with the highest stakes. He knew that as well as I did. Better, in fact. But he still wasn’t giving up, wasn’t bending or breaking. I admired that about him. It takes a special kind of man to set himself a task and then do whatever he has to, whatever he can do, to finish it.

And he needed to get to it, fast. Nayeli was on her way back home.

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Bonus Interlude (Nayeli Knossos, pt.4)

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“Miss!” the young Marquis exclaimed a moment later, throwing open the cargo door. “Are you okay back there? We heard-”

But she was fine. Whatever had made that sound like a gunshot was, it was gone now. There was just the girl, curled up in a nest of empty boxes, sleeping like a newborn baby.

Marquis scratched his head. How could anyone fall asleep in the back of one of these rickety rustbuckets?

“Everything alright back there?” the man named Sostene grunted from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, she’s fine!” Marquis called back. “I swear I heard something though…”

Just as he was about to turn around and close the doors however, he caught sight of something. It was a tiny detail, really. Easy to miss, given the lighting and just how fucked up they’d found her to begin with. But there were… holes in her blouse.

“Come on boss, let’s go!” Sostene yelled.

“Yeah yeah, gimme a minute! And watch your tone, Sostene! Capos don’t like it when the men underneath them get mouthy,” Marquis said. He’d never particularly liked or demanded that people call him “boss”, but Sostene had to learn the rules sooner or later if he was going to work for them.

Looking around, the young Marquis climbed into the back of the truck to take a closer look. He edged slowly towards her, not wanting to disturb her sleep and risk angering her again.

The girl had fallen asleep chewing on a thumbnail it looked like, almost like a real baby. Her arms were folded over her chest, making it difficult to see where the fabric had been torn. But Marquis could still make out tiny holes, about the width of one of his fingers, arranged in two vertical lines. There were about eighteen to twenty of them that he could see, all symmetrical and equally spaced. That didn’t seem normal. Were these bulletholes?

He frowned. No, not with that kind of precision. Besides, he’d only heard one shot. This was something else. Most people would’ve dismissed it, but it was weird as hell, and lately his business and “weird as hell” had been colliding a lot. He needed to make sure she was okay.

Taking a few steps back as a precaution, he carefully whispered “Hey! Hey!”

The girl refused to say anything.

“Can I talk to you? Are you awake?”

Still nothing. Determined, Marquis grabbed a long wooden stick that was lying around with all the boxes and gently poked her cheek with it. No response. He poked again. She was definitely still breathing but she was out like a light.

Well that was just great. Looks like he’d have to take a look for himself then.

Delicately, he rolled her over onto her back, her arms falling to the side. There they were. Twenty-four perfect little holes, lined up side by side. Both lines started beneath her sternum and terminated just above her stomach, almost like…

Marquis frowned. He needed to see. He couldn’t pull up her clothes though. I mean he could, but that wasn’t exactly the proper way to treat a lady, especially after what she had been through. So he stuck a finger inside one of the holes, tracing a path across her skin looking for irregularities.

He couldn’t help but marvel at the girl’s complexion. She had amazingly smooth skin, like silk. To find imperfections in skin like this, he thought, was impossible. He ran his finger across her midsection, stopping only when he bumped into her plump breast and quickly pulled back, yanking his finger out of the hole. But then…

Wait…

Had he? No, he was sure of it. Despite what he’d thought, for a brief second there it felt like he’d found just such an imperfection. Not a pimple or a crease, but…

He stuck his finger back in through the hole, approaching the spot beneath her breast with trepidation. He touched it, lightly rubbing his finger against the patch of even smoother skin.

A scar…

What could have happened to her that she had a scar there? Now Marquis was worried. All pretenses and embarrassment on the girl’s behalf thrown aside, he carefully rolled up the fabric of her dress up to the midsection.

Scars. Lots and lots of scars. Little tiny ones, the shapes of odd, malformed circles like the holes in her dress. And they were lined up…

Where her ribs would be… Marquis thought. Then he heard a tiny squeaking.

He looked down at the floor beneath him. The girl was wide awake, staring at him with wide, angry eyes as her face turned a shade of red brighter than coals.

“Ummm…” Marquis said, stepping back. Tears welled in the girl’s eyes, and she glared at him. Next thing he knew she was throwing him off of her and into a pile of crates, a loud snapping sound punctuating a swell of fresh, white-hot pain. Marquis hoped it was the wood.

The girl held out her arm, and something miraculous began to happen to the bracelet she was wearing around her wrist. The gold trinket grew with supernatural speed, groaning with protest as its gross expansion rendered a full-size battleaxe in her hand. It was nearly as tall as she was, with a double-sided head that looked as though it could easily cut a man in half the same way a lumberjack would fell a tree.

Their gazes met. Marquis could see nothing but unbridled fury in her eyes. In her tears however… That’s where he could see her story shine through. It wasn’t hard to understand why she was angry. But those tears…

“Boss?”

Sostene appeared in the doorway unexpectedly. Jerking almost reflexively, the girl swung the axe without thinking.

“Boss!” Sostene yelled. Marquis held out his arms.

“Wait!”

The axe stopped. Its head hovered inches from Marquis’ own, its edge close enough to see. Sostene held his hand to the girl’s throat, and she turned to stare at him with cold contempt.

“Wait!” Marquis repeated, thrusting his hands out as he tried to discourage the Mexican standoff. “Just wait! Alright? Sostene, back off.”

“No way boss. She tried to kill you,” Sostene replied curtly. The girl narrowed her eyes.

“Yeah, and she’s gonna try to kill you, too,” Marquis said. “Just back off, and let me do the talking.”

Grunting, Sostene acquiesced, and removed his pointed nails from her throat. Acknowledging this, the girl raised her axe again to try for another swing.

Wait!” Marquis yelled as Sostene got ready to jump. “Just wait! I’m sorry, okay?!”

“Not good enough,” the girl said.

“Huh?” Marquis asked.

“You’re just gonna try and do it to me again just like he did,” she whispered. “I know you will! Auntie Athena told me!”

“Athena?” Marquis asked, confused. Does she mean…?

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. Or maybe he was trying to look innocent.

“Please, you have to listen to me,” he said. “That’s not what I was trying to do, I swear!”

Liar!” she screamed. “You were… touching me… That’s all men will ever want from me! Auntie said so, she said!

Not me!” Marquis protested. “I ain’t some sorta scumbag. And what do I look like to you? I’m fourteen!”

“Doesn’t matter!” she yelled. “You’re all the same!”

No, we’re not,” Marquis insisted. “I ain’t like my father and my brothers.”

“Then why did you touch me like that?!” she accused.

“Because I was worried about you!” Marquis yelled, raising his voice for the first time. That got her attention. He lowered his voice and continued. “When I saw those holes in your dress I thought you mighta been shot, so I took off your clothes to get a better look. I was just trying to make sure you were okay. Okay?”

“What holes?” she asked, confused. “What are you talking about…”

She looked down at herself to check. There they were. Twelve holes on each side, just like he said.

“Where did these come from?” she wondered aloud, confused. The axe shrunk back to its earlier size. Apparently indifferent to her audience as long as she was the one undressing her, she wiggled out of the dress right in front of Marqui and started touching her chest, feeling for bumps. She found them exactly where she thought she would. Twenty-four scars, each of them located where a rib should be.

“What the…” she said, shaking. “What are these… where did they come from?”

Marquis sighed, crossing his legs now that the immediate danger was over.

“That’s what I wanna know,” he said, his face still a light red. “Did someone shoot you? What happened?

“I… don’t know…” she mumbled. Then in an instant it all came back to her. She remembered.

The girl screamed as if she’d been mutilated anew, holding her ripped dress tightly to her chest as she shut her eyes. Her fingernails clawed so tightly into her flesh it seemed like she would draw blood, and tears rolled down her face.

“Father… father…” she sobbed, choking. “Father please…

Sostene flinched and took a step back. “The fuck’s wrong with her.”

The young Marquis knew though. He knew those sounds very well. That’s what it sounded like to be shocked and disappointed in someone. To be betrayed by a parent. He scooted over to the girl, sitting next to her. Slowly, he tried to put an arm around her bare shoulder.

She immediately slapped his hand away so hard you could hear the boy’s fingers scream as they were nearly ripped from their sockets, turning an ugly black and purple color towards the base. Marquis winced, but did nothing else. Sostene just watched him passively from afar.

Marquis tried again.

Predictably, she beat his hand away again. The pinky finger on his outstretched hand snapped back at the slap, bent unnaturally towards the back of his hand.

“Tch,” he said. He tried not to cry but it was obvious he was in a lot of pain. Mere mortals weren’t meant to take the kind of casual abuse dished out by the gods. He reached out to her again. This time, she caught his hand by the wrist, squeezing tightly. The way it looked you could almost hear the carpal bones grinding up against each other as the skin became ugly and bruised.

“Stop that!” the girl cried angrily. “What’s wrong with you?!”

That’s when he made his move. His other arm reached around, and immediately Nayeli flinched in anticipation of what was coming. Stupid! How could she not see that coming?! He wanted her to grab him, so she’d use up her one free hand. He’d outsmarted her. She didn’t know what this boy wanted with her, but she knew it couldn’t be-

His roving hand stopped, gripping her shoulder. Not her breasts or her groin but just innocently touching her shoulder. With his other arm still held in hers, he slowly drew her into a hug.

What?

He just hugged her, rubbing her back and giving her a comforting pat on the shoulder when she needed it. He made no moves for her axe or her gown, taking things slowly and delicately. A show of kindness and intimacy, not violation or aggression.

Her bewildered face didn’t last long. She frowned, eyes squinting in a pouting way.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked angrily.

The boy was silent for a few seconds. Then, he said, “It’s okay. It’s not your fault.”

Her eyes were wide open in shock. What did he just say?

“…”

“It’s okay,” he said, repeating himself. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re safe now.”

His words. Why did she believe him? Why, when the only people she’d met here were killers and the kind of people who’d do unspeakable things to little girls like her? This had to be some sort of trick. Just like last time, with the driver! He’d lure her into a false sense security and then pounce!

She reluctantly lowered her head into his shoulder. This time she wouldn’t be so lucky. This time Auntie Athena and Artemis might not be there to rescue her. Father certainly wouldn’t be. She closed her eyes.

“Who are you?” she mumbled, her eyes red and puffy.

“Just someone who wants to help,” Marquis said. “And who could use yours.”

“No, I mean… what’s your name?”

“… Marquis. Marquis Allesandri.”

Nayeli looked mournfully towards the darkened sky.

Ever since that day mortals hadn’t stopped proving her right in believing what Auntie Athena had told her. They were liars, cheaters, rapists, murderers and thieves. But she’d also learned an important lesson from them. Two, in fact. The first was that for all their posturing, the gods were little better than the humans they lorded over and pretended to supervise. Perhaps worse. When you needed them, they were ineffectual. When you didn’t, they’d use their power to play cruel games with your life. Games that seem funny to them, but to the person they were victimizing, well… it’s easy to laugh at pain when you can just look down on it safely from the skies. The second was that although many mortals were just as bad, if not worse than she’d been told, a number of them could be good people. Maybe not always an equal number, but for every group of evil mortals there was always at least one glimmer of hope among them. Someone who could be trusted, and confided in.

Marquis had been the first one to show her that things like trust and kindness weren’t as in quite a short supply as she’d assumed landing on Earth. He’d taken her in, shown her patience and acceptance she hadn’t deserved, even when she did her best to turn him away. And how did she repay him?

A speck of warm ash drifted onto her cheek. Like this. This is how she repaid him. Causing him trouble, getting him wrapped up in one disaster after another as they trailed behind her like ants… holding him back. Causing him so much pain.

She was unfixable. She saw that now. Her curses too, yes, but it ran deeper than that. She was uncontrollable. Always had been, always would be. She was a mangled trainwreck Marquis had wasted years of his life trying to fix, never once stopping to think about how much easier it’d be to just scrap her.

Because he loves you.

And didn’t that just make it all the worse? Even trying to ease his burden, all she could do was cause him more pain and suffering. Everywhere she went, she left devastation in her wake. Lives, lost and destroyed. People she would never know swept away as if they’d been culled by her father’s own cruel hands. She was a burden, on everyone. On the whole world. And it was about time Marquis was free of her. He could be with Felicity, live a wealthy, happy, successful life. He could change the world like he’d always wanted. And he’d do it… without her.

The tears began to fall like the ash that made her screw her eyes wide shut, falling to her knees and hugging herself. No one else would. She’d just burnt the last bridge she had connecting her to anyone. All alone just like she’d been all those years ago, she cried without reservation, without restraint. Trees shook, the ground rumbled and groaned. Birds and animals took off in all directions, trying to escape her and her noise.

Now she really was totally, completely-

“-alone.”

“Huh?”

“I said ‘how stupid of you to be traveling alone’,” a voice explained to her. “Here I thought we’d be getting a nice break after spending all week trying to fill in that hole with Amenonuhoko, and then we find you in under a day. Couldn’t you at least tried to hide?”

She got up and looked around. No one. Not a soul in sight.

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

Me? Hehehehe… try ‘we’.”

A massive weight fell on top of her shoulders, a gravitational effect strong enough to flatten mountains. She dropped to the ground, pressed against the concrete. She craned her neck upwards.

There was a ziggurat floating above her in the sky, a massive flying fortress. It shimmered as it revealed itself, its spires and towers and domes painting the picture of an enormous palace temple. It grew and it grew until it seemed like an entire city unto itself, and yet it seemed like there was no end to the bulk still concealed.

“What… the… fuck?” she barely managed to scrape out of her collapsing lungs.

A disk bathed in a pillar of light descended from the bottom of the ziggurat, carrying a group of shady figures, their faces hard to make out as she slowly lost consciousness. One took a step towards her. He, or she, knelt down in front of her.

“We,” it said, as the light faded completely from her world, “are the Untouchables.

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Street Lawyer 5.8

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“Come on, Al, sit down!” Annie invited me. “I just finished making some of your special tea.”

As much as I would’ve liked to, I was frozen. Dammit. Why did it have to be him? Why did it have to be now? Why was he here?!

“Anyway, I can’t believe you’re a detective now, Dante,” Annie said with genuine admiration in her voice. “I mean, how long has it been? Everything’s so different it… feels like I’m meeting you for the first time.”

She laughed, trying to get him to ignore the awkward pause. So she did still have a crush on him…

Cavvy laughed. “It’s been fourteen years. And you’re the one telling me. Last time I saw you, you were barely up to your daddy’s shin. You were riding around on your brother’s back all the time, that’s how small you were. I’m the one who can’t believe you grew up to be such a doll, Annie.”

“Oh!” My sister blushed. “Umm… thank you!”

She giggled. Ignoring the fact that Cavvy was hitting on my little sister (she could certainly do worse), this was still bad. Very, very bad. How much could he see? How much had he already seen? There was Theo, my knife and gun, the crutches, my cocaine pills, the potted nepenthe plants I’d been-

Oh fuck.

Cavvy smiled at me fondly. Was that really Cavvy being Cavvy, or was that him saying “I’ve got you now, you son of a bitch”?

“I didn’t realize you and Annie were living in a tenement, Al,” Cavvy said. “Tough times. Depression must’ve hit you hard, huh?”

“Y-yeah,” I responded. He was right, though for completely different reasons. I looked around at the modest trappings of our everyday modern life. Like I did every day, I found it… let’s just say somewhat lacking.

There was about as much space to the place as half of a floor of a normal house, most of it taken up by appliances and furniture either bought looking like crap or worn down into such a state by years of abuse and institutional frugality. Mold lined the corners of the walls where the apartment bordered the spriggan’s (though thankfully, it was non-toxic and easily cleaned), and the paint was peeling at a frankly disquieting pace. The kitchen was just about the coziest part, and all there was to that was an icebox, an old black stove, an ironing board, and a matching cabinet and table squeezed away into the corner on the fringes of an ugly, frayed rug that covered the creaky wooden floor. There was my room of course, which I’ve mentioned before, but that’s about 10% bed and 90% jungle, especially after Theo moved in with her unique… needs.

All in all, the phrase “fixer-upper” didn’t quite do it justice. That implied that there may have once been something worth fixing.

“And yet,” he said as he stood up to interrogate me. “You’re wearing a brand new suit and scarf that probably costs more than the rent on this place.”

He looked me straight in the eye for a full ten seconds before poking me in my chest.

“Learn to manage your clam better, man. You’ve got a little sister to feed.”

“Yeah,” I said, laughing nervously. “I’ll work on that.”

We all sat down again.

Theo! I screamed internally, putting on best poker face. Theo where are you?!

A few tries later she picked up.

Master Alfonso? What is wrong?

Where are you right now?! I hissed mentally.

Mistress Anastasia said we were running out of fresh vegetables, so she sent me out to buy some, Theo responded, sounding worried. I am only a block away, I can be home in five seconds-!

No! Don’t do that! Anything but that!

What? Why? she asked.

“So what kind of cases do you handle?” Annie asked, sipping on some of my homemade herbal tea.

“Mostly narcotics, but they do call me in for some homicide cases now and again,” he said. “The kinds where some bozo ODs on Red Dragon or gets bumped off with a hex bag, that sort of thing. Last thing they had me working on was the Mickey Donahue case.”

“Really? Then you should’ve stopped by sooner! Al and I were actually a part of that case!”

“What?” Cavvy’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” Annie said nonchalantly. “Though I only got caught in the gas. My idiot brother’s the one who helped out with catching him.”

You’re saying too much, Annie… I thought, biting my lips.

What did she say? What is wrong? Theo asked.

The fuzz is here! I said, turning my thoughts back to my familiar. The pigs! P-O-L-I-Z-I-A!

Nothing. I groaned out loud.

The cops, Theo!

“Al, you’re lucky Annie didn’t get hurt back then. You really need to… Hmm?” Cavvy looked at me. “Something wrong, Alfonso?”

“Oh. Uh, me? It’s nothing, my legs just hurt a bit is all,” I said. “Still need to take it easy after everything that happened. You know. With Mickey.”

“Hmm…” Cavvy grunted in understanding. “Anyway, like I was saying, you need to be more careful. Chemical weapons are no laughing matter. Your sister could’ve been seriously-”

I tuned him out.

Did you get that? I asked Theo, returning to our silent conversation.

Yes. You screamed it quite loudly, Theo snarked back. Why are the police at your house? Do you know?

Her voice took on a sudden nervous edge.

They have not found my cache, have they?

No, but they still might. Which is why I need you to come home right now.

But you just said not to-

I meant don’t be obvious about it! Look, just don’t come charging in here knives akimbo. All you need to do is sneak in my window and clear out all the evidence. He hasn’t been in there yet, and if you’re quick and if you’re quiet, he might not find anything once he starts looking. Understand?

I could feel her nodding. I understand, Master Alfonso.

Great, I said. Once you have the stuff, book it. Try to be just as quiet on your way out as you were coming in, but if you have the stuff, don’t be afraid to bolt if I give you the signal. All that matters is that he doesn’t see you, and he doesn’t find anything in my room.

And Mistress Anastasia?

She won’t talk. She’s smarter than that. I hope.

Alright. If I may ask, Master Alfonso, who is this man?

I sighed. An old friend.

I hung up. Now I just needed to keep him focused on me until I could find a way to make him leave.

“Al,” Cavvy said, presumably pissed that I wasn’t listening to his speech. “You hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah. You know you really should’ve called,” I said, changing the subject. “We coulda cleaned the place up a bit.”

“Ah, don’t be silly,” Cavvy said. “You think after all the work I’ve done some dirt’ll scare me? Trust me, my apartment looks way worse anyway.”

There’s a noisy rattling like a chain-link fence on the fire escape outside, like something heavy and suspiciously person-like just landed on it.

Theo that is not stealthy! I thought to myself. That is not stealthy at all!

My apologies, Master Alfonso. I am feeling a bit under the weather right now. My magical powers appears to be waning. Perhaps if we had performed the ritual…

Now is not the time, Theo!

Listening closely, I thought I could hear the latch on my window being jiggled open. The rusty window squeaked for an eternity, getting louder and louder each second. That’s what it sounded like anyway. I cringed.

He’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it he’s gonna hear it!

The squeaking stopped. Cavvy still hadn’t noticed. I took a deep breath, exhaling the fear-soaked air from my lungs. The worst part was over. Then I heard a loud thump and my heart skipped a beat.

Cavvy looked around the apartment.

“You hear that?” he asked, his eyes finding my room.

“What?” I asked. I had to misdirect him.

“That thumping noise,” he said, getting up. “I swear I heard somethin’ just now.”

“You’re hearing things, Cavvy,” I deflected nervously. “That’s just the Johnsons next door. Mr. J’s a mean drunk. Hits Barb all the time. I keep telling her to move but she doesn’t listen-”

A potted plant broke in the adjacent room. Cavvy silently reached for his gun. Shit.

“Cavvy?”

“Al, pipe down and get behind me,” Cavvy whispered. “There’s someone tryin’ to bust into your apartment. You stay here and make sure Annie stays safe.”

“Whaaat?” I said, exaggerating maybe a little too much. “You’re crazy, Cavvy. This is the third floor! Nobody could just crawl in like that!”

I laughed, my tone obviously and embarrassingly fake. Cavvy didn’t seem to think it was as funny as I did. He was dead silent. Sometime when I hadn’t been looking, he’d slipped back into his uniform (figuratively speaking). I wasn’t talking to Dante Salvo my best friend anymore. I was talking to Dante Salvo the cop.

Theo I don’t know what you’re doing but hurry it the fuck up! Throw everything out the window if you have to, Dante is coming!

More loud noises came from the room without a reply from Theo. I looked at Cavvy, who was creeping along the wall towards my bedroom door, gun drawn.

“I-It was probably just the damn cat,” I lied, even though we don’t have a cat. “Seriously Cavvy, it’s no big deal. You hear sounds like that all the time in the tenements.”

But he wasn’t listening to me anymore. Annie looked up at me with a stern glare that said “if you get caught, I’m not covering for you”. Message received loud and clear, Annie. You’re still upset.

There was another bump, then things went quiet. Cavvy gripped the doorknob, and I wrestled with the options inside my head. I couldn’t kill Cavvy, but I couldn’t break omerta either. Annie was an exception. Getting found out here wouldn’t be. I’d either have to kill Cavvy or hold my tongue and go to the hoosegow. I wasn’t prepared to do either.

I gulped. Maybe Theo or I could grab him. Tie him up, give him a puff of the peace pipe and then take him to someone in the family to have his memories erased. They’d do that for me, right?

Right. Because any plan that starts with abducting and drugging a police officer is obviously already off to a good start.

I looked around nervously. Theo are you out yet?!

No, not yet. I am almost finished clearing out our possessions. Just give me one more minute.

We don’t have one more minute! I screamed internally. Cavvy is about to open the-

The doorknob clicked, turned, and opened the door, swinging inwards to reveal Theo, dressed in an apron and holding a feather duster and a hissing, spitting cat. There was absolutely no trace of any drugs or guns to be seen, except a smashed potted plant with an innocent petunia poking out of the spilled dirt.

“Ah,” Theo said to me. “Master Alfonso. I am terribly sorry. It appears the cat has knocked over another one of your potted plants again.”

The cat yowled, scratching away at Theo’s impenetrable skin. I stared. Cavvy stared. Then we both looked at each other.

“Al…”

Theo…

“Who the hell is this?”

Where the hell did you get that cat?

The three of us sat back down quietly as Theo pretended to finish her cleaning and relieved us of our empty teacups and saucers. Annie and I were nervous. Cavvy was suspicious. None of us were talking. We just sat there and listened to the rush hour symphony of honking horns, busy sidewalks and yowling, hissing cats. I tried to think of something to say that’d break the ice, but I was coming up short.

“So. Where’d you get a maid?”

Cavvy spoke up for me. I didn’t like the way he was still eyeing Theo with that sort of sleuth’s sensibility. I could tell that, inside his head, he was still working a case.

“We let her- I mean hired her a few weeks ago,” Annie said, stammering.

“Few weeks ago…” Cavvy trailed off. “You mean around the time that Mickey business was going on?”

I tried not to look at Annie in any way, lest I give myself away too easily. Dammit though. She couldn’t lie. Not like me. I was sure I could trust her to keep a secret, but that didn’t mean I thought I could keep Cavvy from wriggling one out of her.

“A bit after that, actually,” I said, jumping in. “We hired her so someone could look after Annie while I wasn’t home. Isn’t that right, Theo?”

Her ears perked up. “Yes, that’s correct. I cook, clean and tend to Mistress Anastasia while Master Alfonso is out of the house.”

“Mistress? Master?

I laughed nervously. “She uhh… she takes the job very seriously.”

“I see…” Cavvy said. I don’t think I got him to stop suspecting her of something, but I at least dodged that bullet. “Her services come cheap?”

“Why do you ask?” I said. “You planning on hiring her?”

“My apologies, but my contract is exclusively with Master Alfonso,” Theo said almost matter-of-factly. God I hoped she wasn’t gonna choose now to be her usual literal self.

“Nah, I was just thinking it must be because of the ears. That’s why you can afford her, right? Demihuman labor?”

I spit out my tea.

“W-What?” I stuttered, trying to piece together where that came from. Annie was quicker to respond.

“Dante!” she scolded. “Don’t be rude! Apologize to Theo!”

“What?” Dante said defensively. “I’m just telling the truth! A lotta lycans work lower income jobs. They’re menial labor types, that’s just a fact.”

No, they’re not!” Annie said. “Theo is really smart, and sensitive-”

“You sure you want your partner to know you said that?” I responded. “Remember, there’s more than one demihuman in this room here.”

Cavvy sighed. “Look, whatever. I wasn’t talking about you anyway, Al. Let’s just… forget it, okay?”

He nibbled on a cheap biscuit. Well, on the bright side, his secret racist opinions at least made the conversation awkward enough to steer it away from Theo.

“Say…” He said, picking up a picture of me and Annie that I took on Ellis Island. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how are you and your folks getting along? Everything okay?”

I visibly tensed, knuckles turning white. Cavvy was too preoccupied with the picture to notice.

“I ain’t trying to pry or anything of course, it’s just I’ve been looking around and they don’t seem to be in any of your photos. Did you have some sort of falling out?” he asked before hmmming to himself.

What did I tell him? That our parents abandoned us in New York and never came looking?

“… We got separated,” I said, telling him half the truth. “After the war. They’re back home in the old country.”

He looked up at me, his face betraying his surprise. “Separated? You mean they put you on different boats?”

I remembered my father’s face. That soft, reassuring smile he gave us as he told us to get on the boat. We’ll be right behind you, is what he said.

“Something like that,” I said, fidgeting.

“Well they came looking for you, right?”

Annie looked down, crestfallen. I sighed.

“… No.”

“No? Whaddya mean ‘no’?” Dante said, some of the old country slipping back into his voice. “Are you saying you and Annie lived all by yourselves for the last fourteen years? You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not,” I say with a little more hostility than I intended. He picks up on it and I flinch.

“… Look, it’s not something we like to talk about, all right?” I said, deflecting it with a sigh. “It happened a long time ago. All that matters is that we managed to make do, okay?”

Dante scoffed. “Make do? Al this is not making do. I don’t care if you do have a maid, you’re living in a tenement hall. Your father was a surgeon, Al. He made good money. There’s no reason you should’ve had to grow up like this, and if we just try to find him and get in contact with him I’m sure he’ll do whatever he can to-”

“I don’t care if he’s still alive, I’m not asking that bastard for anything!” I nearly yelled without thinking. But then, as if to save me from having to explain myself, we all heard the static from Dante’s police radio flare up through the open window, scratchy voices shouting some indeterminable alert to all available units. Without even saying anything, Dante jumped out of his chair and started climbing the fire escape. Man was dedicated.

He rushed to the car and opened the passenger side door, scrambling to pick up the receiver.

“This is Special Detective Dante Salvo,” he shouted into the microphone. “What’s the news?”

There was a moment of brief static as the station relayed information only he could hear. Judging by the look on his face though, I could tell it wasn’t good.

When he was done, Cavvy had this wide-eyed look, and he didn’t even bother to hang up the receiver. He just dropped it and looked up at us.

“Hey… Cavvy ol’ pal?” I said hesitantly. “What’s eating you? You’re freaking me out here. You trying to give me the evil eye or something?”

“Annie, Alfonso,” Cavvy said, swallowing. “I’ve… been asked to take you in.” 

What?” Annie shouted, panicking. “Why?!”

“An official order for the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the Arizona attack has come in,” Cavvy said. He looked every bit as hurt and betrayed as I felt when I heard what he had to say next. “You two have both been listed as persons of interest. You’re going to have to come with me.”

Oh no…” Annie whispered. I was a bit less subtle.

“Shit.”

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Bonus Interlude (Nayeli Knossos, pt.3)

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After a lot of coaxing and promises, the boy and his taller, older friend convinced her to ride in the back of the truck that they’d stolen. Someone needed to get rid of the evidence, so they cleared some of the cargo and rolled their car into the trailer, which was where Nayeli now lay. In the dark, all by herself. Completely alone. Maybe that was better.

She curled up on the seat in the fetal position, holding her trinket so tightly to her chest that it hurt the palms of her hands. Occasionally she would cry softly for a few minutes before running out of tears, and then she would wait until her eyes were ready to be wet again. She missed Olympus. She missed Auntie Athena and Uncle Hephaestus. She missed playing with Cerberus when she went to the underworld to visit Uncle Hades. But most of all, she wanted to see her father again, so she could ask him why he’d abandoned her in this horrible place and beg him to take her back.

A familiar presence filled the cabin. She looked up, searching for something she couldn’t see.

“Auntie Athena?” she asked, incredulous. “Artemis?”

Immediately a warm static feeling enveloped her from in front and from behind.

“Nayeli!” her aunt’s voice boomed in her ears and hers alone. “Oh Nayeli! Are you okay?!”

“Auntie!” she yelled back, crying. She tried to hug her, but as always all she grasped was air. Whatever. It’d do.

“Auntie!” she sniffled. “You were right, this place is horrible! These people, they… they…”

“I know, my child. You don’t need to speak of it if you don’t want to. I’ve been watching over you since you left.”

“H-Huh?” Nayeli sniffled, confused. “You have?”

“Yes,” her aunt said, sounding almost ashamed of herself. “I was… worried.”

“But then why didn’t you… couldn’t you have…” she stuttered, looking for the right words. “Why did you let that horrible man-?”

“Let him?!” Artemis roared in outrage. “Nayeli, that’s enough! You know I would never let him do such a thing to you. But your grandfather, he forbid Athena and I… forbid all of us from intervening in the affairs of mortals a long time ago. He said it was ’not time yet’. So I sent you that boy. And see? Didn’t he take care of the problem?”

“But the blood! And the way he… it smelled so bad! And he showed me his-”

She sniffled. The question she wanted to ask hung silently in the air, until finally she found the courage to give it voice.

“Where’s father?”

Artemis paused, unsure what to say, a feeling that radiated throughout the truck. Athena picked up the slack.

“He’s… not coming, my child. He thought it would be better if he sent us instead. To comfort you.”

Father… wasn’t coming? She couldn’t believe it. Had he just forsaken her?! No. No, clearly that couldn’t be. He had still sent her aunts in his stead, so clearly he cared. But if he cared, why wasn’t he here?

“Why wasn’t I strong?” she asked. “I feel strong now! Why wasn’t I then? How could he do that to me?”

Her Auntie Athena sighed, a buzzing noise that reverberated in the center of her brain.

“Nayeli… you’ve been cursed.”

The word shot her through the heart like a poisoned arrow, filling her with fear. Cursed.

“I’m… what?” she asked again, hoping she’d heard wrong.

“Cursed. By our degenerate whore of a sister and her disgusting pet cripple-!” Artemis’ voice peaked with unimaginable fury before she took a deep breath and calmed herself. “Listen carefully, Nayeli. During the ceremony, do you remember the gifts you were given?”

“A blessing of luck in love from Aunt Aphrodite,” she said. “And this axe from Uncle Hephaestus. Father had him make it especially for me, remember?”

“Aye, he did. And I bet he regrets ever asking the deformed little monster for that favor. When you touched the handle of that axe for the first time, do you remember feeling a prickling sensation? Maybe feeling lightheaded or weak?”

“Yeah… yeah I do,” she told her.

“I thought so. Your strength didn’t leave you, Nayeli. It’s sealed in that axe. Your uncle placed a curse on it that would render you powerless unless you were holding it. That’s why that man could overpower you. Without that axe, the strength you inherited from your father is gone. You’re little more than a mortal without it. Just one that’s tougher to kill…”

“No…” Nayeli said, staring at the trinket dangling on her bruised wrists, wounded. “That’s impossible! Uncle Hephaestus would never do such a thing! He loves me!”

“That twisted little freak doesn’t love anyone but himself and that whore!” Artemis roared. Athena soon stepped in with a calmer voice.

“Whatever love he had for you, it was a lie. He just wanted to use you to get back at your father.”

“What are you talking about?” Nayeli asked, confused. “Why would Uncle Hephaestus want to do that?”

They both became quiet. The air chilled.

“Nayeli,” her Auntie Athena said, speaking slowly. “A long time ago, in the ages before man, many of us lay with our brothers and sisters. Your uncle and Aphrodite, and your aunt and I included.”

“Aye. And she’s still the love of my life,” Artemis said, and Nayeli could feel the goddess’ gentle, loving caress on the crook of her aunt’s back.

“Ew!” Nayeli yelled, throwing up her hands in embarrassment. “Why would you tell me that?!”

“Because it’s important!” her father bellowed. Nayeli’s eyes lit up.

“Father!” she exclaimed. She tried in vain multiple times to hug the air where she expected he’d materialize, but found nothing. Surely he realized he was wrong and he was here to take her home now. Surely father would protect her and rescue her from all this!

“Oh? Back already, brother?” her aunt’s voice said doubtfully. “I thought convincing our father would’ve taken longer.”

“Bah! Why should I even bother? You know the old man won’t be moved. He despises me,” her father said casually, dismissing the question. “Anyway, you said you wanted to hear more about my youthful conquests, Nayeli?”

“What?! No I didn’t!” she adamantly refused. But when it came to bragging, whether it be about battle or broads, nobody could top her father.

“You see, I was a handsome young stud, and your aunt was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.”

“Ewewewewewew…”

“But there was a problem. Despite my strapping good looks, prowess in battle and generally being better than your lame bastard uncle, Aphrodite was already engaged to him by decree of Zeus so she’d stop offering herself to every man who passed her. Neither she nor I were very happy about this, so we decided to have an affair in secret.”

“Like grandpa?” Nayeli asked timidly, hoping to get this conversation over with as soon as possible.

“Like grandpa, yes. Anyway, we made love in secret, but somehow Hephaestus found out about it and began plotting in that wormy little brain of his how to get back at us for it. When next we laid together, he set a trap and bound our feet together, then dragged us out in front of the rest of the gods to be laughed at and mocked.”

“It… doesn’t really sound like Uncle was the bad guy there, father…” Nayeli said.

“But apparently that wasn’t enough for the cripple bastard!” he continued, ignoring her. “Now he plots with my sister to turn my own flesh and blood against me!”

Nayeli’s blood ran cold.

“What do you mean, father?! What did Aunt Aphrodite do?!”

“The blessing she gave you, to find luck in love?” Aunt Aphrodite explained. “She only told you half the truth. ‘Luck’ has two sides to it, Nayeli. Her ‘blessing’ is actually a curse, meant to attract the worst kind of men. Rather than meaning to help you find love, she means to never let you find a partner who is not willing to abuse you for his own needs. Their impurities are amplified in your presence, and if they mean you any harm or ill-will, they will attack you like that man did. You must always be sure to have your axe with you at all times.”

Nayeli’s gaze shot uneasily to the thin metal wall separating her and the boy sitting in the cabin up front. If what they said was true, that meant she couldn’t trust him. Dammit. She should’ve thought of that from the beginning! I mean, what kind of child her age can kill a man in cold blood and not even blink?! This act of charity was probably all some sort of plot to get her to lower her guard again. Well she wasn’t going to fall for it this time!

Her grip on her axe tightened. She looked up at her aunts and her father.

“Why? Why would they do all this? Can’t you get them to remove the curses?! I mean, maybe Uncle Hephaestus isn’t the best man in the universe or even the man I thought he was, but he wouldn’t be so cruel as to just leave me here like this! R-Right? And neither would you, right father?”

Her aunt sighed, causing her heart to plummet.

“We already tried, Nayeli. They refused. So we tried making an appeal to Zeus, our father. He refused too. There’s nothing we can do.”

Nayeli’s blood ran cold. “But why?!

“What you need to understand, Nayeli, is that gods are always going to be stuck in their ways. We’ve lived too long, done the same things for too many years to change. Human grudges rarely last more than a lifetime, and most fade away in years. This one has been brewing in your uncle since the rise and fall of the Hellenic empires. Your aunt as well. Though Hephaestus tried, her trysts with your father never completely ended. She was just as jealous when your mother gave birth to you. Couldn’t believe he’d chosen a mortal woman over her. She doesn’t understand what’s at stake to your father.”

“What’s at stake?” Nayeli asked impatiently.

“Honor! Honor and glory!” Her father’s loud, booming voice invaded the truck. “The kind of glory in battle that the gods haven’t seen in over a thousand years!”

Brotherrrrrr…” Artemis warned. “This is not what she wants to hear right now.”

“You’re right. It’s what she needs to hear. If I left this all to you, you’d just fill her head with silly lies. She needs to know what’s at stake,” her father said.

“I thought you said you wanted to leave this to us,” Auntie Athena said tersely. “To comfort her.”

Her father continued, ignoring them.

“I may be barred from performing my duties on Earth, but she’s not. You were supposed to descend to Earth and remind them of me,” he said, locking gazes with Nayeli. “Tales of your strength and valor were meant to spread across the globe like wildfire, and all would kneel at your feet and know my power! But now the cripple has crippled you. He has insulted me. Turned my own flesh and blood against me!”

He sighed, grunting.

“But it may not be too late.”

What?!” her Aunt Artemis exclaimed.

“Brother!” Auntie Athena yelled.

“What… what do you mean by that, father?” Nayeli asked, smiling uneasily.

“These curses are a burden, certainly, but nothing deal-breaking! Nothing that will prevent you from fighting at least! We can still make this work! It’ll just take a little bit of extra effort, and then we-”

“No!”

“Hmm?”

Nayeli felt her father’s withering gaze focus on her. She started to sweat but held her ground anyway.

“I said no! I don’t want to be your champion, father! I want to go back to Olympus! At least there it’s safe! At least there I won’t have to worry about getting run over by cars or strange men assaulting me! Olympus is my home! Why won’t you let me go back?!”

“Nayeli,” her father said in a dangerous tone. “Think carefully before you say anything. Do you really think you’d be welcomed back to Olympus? Do you really think that’s an option? You’re going to stay here, and-”

“And what? Fight for the rest of my life just because you can’t anymore?! I’m not like you, father! I don’t want that! This isn’t about wanting what’s best for me! You’re just being selfish!”

“How dare you!” her father roared. “You are my child-”

“Yeah, fat lotta good that’s done me!” she yelled back.

“Nayeli, stop it!” her aunt warned her, her voice stern.

“In fact if it wasn’t for you doing… t-that with your own sister, I wouldn’t be in this mess right now! This is your fault!

“Nayeli-!”

“Why you ignorant, ungrateful little-”

I hate you, father!

A sound like freshly cooked wishbones being broken cracked throughout the car like a lightning bolt, the sound comparable to a gunshot, as Nayeli’s ribs burst forward from her chest in a grisly shower of blood and tissue. Nayeli gurgled, choking on blood as rapidly draining arteries emptied into her punctured lungs. Artemis and Athena stared, struck dumb by what their brother had just done. Her father, equally surprised, turned his head in shame and fled the scene.

Nayeli!” Artemis yelled, racing to heal the wounds. Athena whipped around to face her brother, but found him gone.

“Brother…” she muttered, frowning, before turning back to Nayeli.

“Artemis!” she yelled. “How is she doing?”

“Not good!” the goddess yelled back. “All the energy he poured into these wounds is making it hard to close them! Damn him! Why would he do this? To his own daughter?!”

Athena did not know. But Nayeli’s pained moans and incomprehensible gurgles made it plain to see they had other priorities to deal with first.

“Hold her still…” she instructed Artemis. Then she placed her hands on Nayeli’s chest and got to work, raw magic coursing into the wound.

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