“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…
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.
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…
Sostene appeared in the doorway unexpectedly. Jerking almost reflexively, the girl swung the axe without thinking.
“Boss!” Sostene yelled. Marquis held out his arms.
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.
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-
“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.”