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What we found in that cell resembled the fiery bearcat of a woman I’d come to know and begrudgingly tolerate about as much as roadkill resembled an opossum. “Worked over” would’ve been a gross understatement. She looked like nothing less than the underworld warmed over, which raised a couple of very disturbing questions. Were the Untouchables really so well-equipped that they could do this to a high-class demigod like Nayeli? And worse, what in the hell would Marq do to them if he ever got the chance?
“Heheh…” Marq giggled softly to my astonishment. His fingers were splayed across the invisible barrier between them like a gecko, trying desperately to find any sort of purchase or point of entry.
“Boss?” she croaked. I wasn’t sure if she was asking if he was okay, or if she was so beat up she only just realized we were there.
“Nayeli,” he said, smiling and swallowing softly. “I want to know who did this to you. Do you have any names? Can you tell me what they looked like?”
Soft tears trickled down his cheeks. Right then, I was considering taking a step back. I’ve seen Marq mad. I’ve seen him furious. I’ve seen him scream and cuss so loud you’d think he was trying to wake up a dead dog. This wasn’t like that. I’d never, ever seen this. This was anger transmuted.
It was then I realized he’d already reached his boiling point the moment we’d stepped foot on this island. Everything since then had just been steam building up inside him, pressure rising with every new injustice he imagined. Seeing it now, that anger had crossed a new threshold, building up so violently inside him that what was hot just became cold. He’d gone so far in one direction he’d ended up right back where he started, or someplace like it. Except now he was like a spring-loaded knife, or a coiled viper. One wrong move and he’d just snap, and when he did, someone was gonna bleed. I was determined to not be that guy.
“Boss…” Nayeli croaked. “I didn’t… it wasn’t-”
“Nayeli, it’s okay,” Marq said, putting away all his questions for now. “I’m just glad you’re back home. You’re safe.”
Nayeli collapsed on the other side of the glass-like barrier, sobbing like a child. The prodigal daughter returned to us and Marq hadn’t even bothered to mention how much she’d made him worry or how her actions may have affected the family. She was forgiven in his eyes. The two of them tried to approximate a hug without actually being able to touch each other, a gesture I would’ve laughed at if I hadn’t known who these two were.
After a few moments of quiet sobbing and consolations, Marq approached the subject again.
“Nayeli, who did this to you? Was it the Untouchables?” he said. His voice was gentle but his intentions were deadly sharp, like a knife.
She nodded. “They caught me in California. I… don’t actually remember what happened. I just know it was them. I remember their voices.”
“Voices?” Marq asked. “You remember what they said? Did they read you your rights?”
She shook her head. “It’s not like that. I don’t know…” She sighed, angry with herself. “I don’t know how to fucking explain it, it’s like I remember the sound of their voices, but every time I try to remember what they said it’s all just… garbage. Crap. I can’t understand it, it’s like they’re whispering or muttering.”
I looked at Marq. “You think they used some sorta magic to, y’know… erase her memory?”
I had no clue how you’d go about doing that, but I was pretty sure it was possible. It could be done without magic, if you were willing to risk serious brain damage. Stands to reason you could do it with magic too, and probably a lot more precisely.
Thankfully Marq seemed to agree with me, which spared me the embarrassment of admitting I hadn’t been keeping up with all my studying like he’d wanted.
“Seems likely,” he said. “I know a couple ways you could do it. In theory, anyway. But they’re all pretty complicated. It takes a pretty intricate ritual to dig your fingers into someone’s grey matter, and you’d need an expert to perform it step-by-step if you wanted to remove any specific memories instead of just blasting an entire day or month from your brain. It wouldn’t be an easy process is my point. I mean if it was, we’d be doing it already.”
“Those fuckers…” Nayeli whispered. “They were inside my head… those fuckers…!”
She’d curled up into a ball without me noticing. The notion of someone toying with her memories clearly didn’t sit well with her.
Like it’d sit well for anyone… I thought.
She looked up, suddenly seeming like she’d thought of something very important. “Boss, we were really… we’re still… right? They didn’t make that up, right?”
Her tone of voice was urgent, and she looked about ready to cry again. The thought of being apart from Marq, or worse, the thought of all the time they’d spent together being nothing but fake memories, had clearly settled in. Paranoia was probably the rational response here, after all. We had no idea what they’d done to her. She already seemed like a reflection of her former self.
Marq smiled gently. “No Nayeli, those aren’t fake. They’re real. They happened. Don’t let this make you think otherwise. I still love you. I’ve always loved you. And we’re gonna find out the truth. If we can prove they tampered with your memories, it might give us an edge in the upcoming case.”
“How?” I asked.
“Memory alteration is a class B magic, Al. Even using it for therapeutic purposes is illegal. Sanctity of memory and the protection of your mental faculties is considered a basic right of life for everyone, even criminals.”
“No, I mean,” I said, being patient with him. “How are we gonna prove it? You said it yourself, memory magic is complicated. Besides, she’s inside an atelier. What are we gonna do from out here?”
He smiled reassuringly, although there was something bitter in his usual triumphant grin. “We don’t need magic, Al. Just a good ol’ fashioned party trick.”
He pulled his pocketwatch out of his jacket and swung it around like a pendulum.
“Hypnosis?” I asked.
“Post-hypnotic memory recall, actually,” Marq said. “I read about it once. Apparently the shrinks think you can use hypnosis to trigger repressed memories. I thought we’d give it a try.”
“Might work,” I said, shrugging. Marq blew me off with a chuff.
“Will work,” he said. It’s got to, is what I imagined he was thinking. He turned to Nayeli. “Alright Nayeli, I need you to lie down on your back.”
Nayeli didn’t really agree to it at first, I could tell. The idea of someone, anyone digging around in her skull so soon after the last time, even if it was Marq, upset her. To her, her mind probably already felt fragile enough. It’s not that she didn’t trust his intentions, she just didn’t trust him to not cock it up.
But eventually she did exactly as she was told, following his lead more out of faith than anything else, and I began to wonder. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of Marq making a mistake. Maybe she was afraid of what she might remember. After all, it could just be simple paranoia on the part of the Untouchables, a desire to leave out any potential loose ends, or perhaps even a mercy to make her forget the pain of the beating, but you generally didn’t bother to erase someone’s memories without having a good reason. And usually, that reason was you did something that you didn’t want anyone else to remember. Something that had to be pretty fucking awful.
A number of delightful scenarios entered my head, and I knew they’d seem just as unpleasant to Nayeli if she was imagining them just then. The best we could hope for was just a history of her bruises. The worst could help us build a case, but… well, I hope Marq understood that it wouldn’t be worth it. Still, he seemed determined to find out the truth.
I put a hand on his shoulder.
“I think I’m having second thoughts about this, Marq.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Why’s that?”
“I mean…” I struggled to find the words. “You know this is just gonna hurt her, right? What if she doesn’t want to relive those memories? What if they’re bad?”
I stressed that last part, thinking it was important he understood “bad” meant more than just physical pain or injury.
He looked at me sternly. “Al, we have to know the truth. We have to know who did this to her.”
“Why?” I asked. “So you can get revenge? Doesn’t that seem… selfish?”
“And what’s that supposed to mean, Al?”
Marq’s gaze was so cold it made me flinch. He made it clear I was pushing my luck. But for now, I still had the right to speak.
I chose my words carefully. “I mean… are you really sure you wanna put her through this, whatever happened to her, again? I’m not saying anything did happen to her, whatever that may be, but do you really wanna hurt her just for your own self-satisfaction?”
Marq grit his teeth, raising his voice. “She has to know, Al! Do you think there’s any other choice?! If anything happened,” he said, the potential implications of that word hurting him so much it showed in his voice, “then they happened. We can’t undo it just by ignoring it. If anything that means they’ll just get away with it and we’ll have nothing to use against them in court! She deserves to know.”
“You mean you do,” I said, then immediately regretted saying anything. Marq looked at me, utterly desperate and more unstable than I’ve ever seen him, and I quickly began to backtrack. “Look, all I’m saying is that this should be her decision. If you-”
“If I really love her, yeah… I know,” Marq said, taking a deep breath. This was difficult for him. Difficult for me too, but I suspect for vastly different reasons. He looked at Nayeli.
“Nayeli… doll… do you want me to do this?” he asked. “If you really don’t want me to…”
She shook her head. “No, you were right. I wanna know what those bastards did to me. Just promise me that… if it’s that… it won’t change how we-”
Her voice croaked as she tried to swallow that bitter pill.
“No. God no,” Marq said, forehead pressed up against the glass. “But it won’t be that. I know it won’t. And no matter what it is, whether they beat you with sticks or just tickled you until you passed out, I’m going to make sure they regret it. You hear me Nayeli? They’re gonna fucking pay, no matter who they are or what they did.”
Nayeli nodded without saying anything, and laid back down.
I didn’t know exactly what they meant when they so artfully dodged around the subject by using the word “it”, but I could guess. But why would they think the Untouchables would do that to anyone? Mickey Donahue was one thing, but not them. Corrupt cops they may be, but I don’t think they’d ever go that far. Unless Marq had a reason to suspect they would, but that equally didn’t make any sense. Still, like I said, there weren’t many reasons to use memory alteration magic that weren’t… unpleasant.
The pocketwatch pivoted back and forth, its clock-like motion captivating as it wove arcs through the air. Marq gave her the usual set of instructions used in stage hypnosis, then waited until she’d fallen asleep, deep into a trance.
“Now Nayeli, I want you to describe for me what happened when you were… attacked,” Marq said, hesitating. “Tell me everything you remember. Did you see your attacker’s faces? What did they look like? Did you hear any names? Tell me what they did to you.”
I could hear him grinding his teeth as he said that. Then, as soon as he stopped, Nayeli began to speak.
Her story was a lot like what we’d been expecting, with a few extra twists. The invisible city-sized blimp kinda threw me for a loop. But so far there was nothing that suggested they’d done anything worthy of memory alteration. Had they only been trying to protect state secrets like that ziggurat?
“Alright,” Marq said. “Can you remember anything else after you blacked out?”
“Yeah…” she said drowsily. The words tumbled out of her mouth the same way a sleepwalker talks. “They’re taking me up… into the floating city. They’re taking me… to meet someone.”
“Who?” Marq asked patiently.
“I can’t tell,” Nayeli mumbled. “It… looks like a man. I can only see his back but he’s turning around. He-”
And then she just stopped, mouth still open, lips quivering. Concerned, Marq leaned in closer.
“I can see.. His eyes…” Nayeli said, a steady drip of panic flooding her calm voice. “His eyes… Marq, I can’t… I can’t see his eyes! They’re black! His eyes are black!”
Marq jumped on that. “Black eyes? Is he a demon?”
“No,” she said. “Not black like that. Black like… like space. Like an endless pit but with no stars. There’s nothing. There’s just nothing! No light, no pupils, no eyelids! All I see is black! He doesn’t have a soul!”
Nayeli started writhing on the dirt floor of her cell, her own eyes closed, twitching. Marq rushed over and pressed his hands against the barrier.
“Nayeli? Nayeli listen to me! You’re okay! What’s he doing? What’s going on?”
“He’s coming towards me!” she said. “He’s just… walking through the gravity, like it means nothing! Make him go away, Marq! Make him go away!”
Her convulsions started pressing against the barrier, shaking the space in her cell with the unrestrained strength of a fearful demigoddess.
“It’s okay Nayeli, he’s not really there!” Marq shouted. “Tell me what you see!”
“He’s reaching out!” she yelled back from across the veil. “He’s trying to touch me! His fingers… they’re so cold! I can feel them on my face like a blizzard! No… no! Stay back! Get away from me! Get away!”
Then, like a snapping piece of wood, Nayeli’s back arched sharply, her mouth stretched wide open into a scream like nothing I’ve ever heard. The noise must have been tuned for us by the barrier, because inside the volume of her agony was reducing what little adorned her cell into powderized atoms, smoothing the walls into an inoffensive dark slab of polished rock. But I could hear her. I could hear her all the same, and the sounds she made weren’t human. They sounded like an animal being tortured, like a monkey in the cold hands of a probing scientist being pricked and stabbed with needles. Whatever it was, it wasn’t touching her body. Something was touching her mind.
And then she stopped, collapsing to the floor. We both stared, shocked into silence. Marq was the first to react.
“Nayeli…” he said, clamoring against the barrier. “Nayeli wake up! It’s over! None of it was real! Someone get this cell open!”
I stared at her. “What the fuck was that?”
Marq, however, didn’t share my confusion. He was too busy seeing to Nayeli. Her eyes flickered open.
“Oh thank god,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Nayeli are you okay? What happened back there? Do you need to talk about it? What am I saying, of course you do…”
He fumbled for something to comfort her with before remembering nothing but light and sound could pass through the barrier. Nayeli just looked at him, confused.
“What are you talking about, boss?” she asked. “Talk about what?”
He stopped. I chimed in.
“Uhhh… your memories? The little episode you just had where you tried to burst God’s eardrum?”
She scowled. “Stop giving me shit, you little shit. What are you talking about?”
I tried to ignore how irritating it was that she was calling me that too now. “You mean you literally don’t remember? Not a thing you said, not even destroying your cell?”
“What do you mean-” She stopped and looked behind her, shocked once she saw her new interior decorations. “I did that?”
I huddled over to Marq, and whispered in his ear.
“Marq, what the fuck is going on? She doesn’t remember anything!”
But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t even look my way. Just kept staring straight ahead, like he’d remembered something himself. Something important.
“Marq?” I asked. “Pal? You look like you got something to say.”
I waited for him to start talking. When he didn’t, that’s when I knew shit was going to get really fucked up really fast.
“… Please say yes. Please? Just for me?” I tried to negotiate. “Because that freaked me the fuck out just now, and if you don’t start explaining shit I think I’m just gonna start sweating.”
Marq not taking the role of the little exposition gnome to dump the magic knowledge on me at times like this was something that was really, really unsettling. It meant he either didn’t know, or didn’t want to. Either option scared me.
“Al,” he said softly, wetting his dry lips. “I don’t know about you, but… I’ve seen a face like that before.”
“What, like old Black Eyes?”
“No, Al. Not a demon,” he said. “A fae.”
“Oh,” I said softly. “Shit.”
It was quickly becoming clear Nayeli’s captors hadn’t erased her memories to cover up them doing unspeakable things to her or anything else like that. The violence clearly wasn’t the part they’d cared about. I imagined they’d admit to torturing her without shame if they’d actually done it. No, Nayeli had been silenced because she’d seen too fucking much.
“Marq,” I said, trying to take a deep breath. “Please tell me you know what the fuck’s going on, because I don’t.”
“Me?” he replied back. “Not a clue.”
Nayeli looked at us funny. “Boss? What’s going on?”
Marq tried explaining it to her. Me, I just left. Couldn’t stand the darkness. Not after what I’d just seen.
I leaned back against one of the tunnel walls, breathing hard like I’d just run a marathon.
What the fuck had we just gotten ourselves into?
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