Sostene Caputo

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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Bonus Interlude (Nayeli Knossos, pt.2)

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A frightened, now mortal Nayeli walked down the long, stretching highway to the city of angels for what seemed like hours, clinging to her axe for comfort. The road twisted and turning constantly, she wondered when it would ever end, when she would find civilization and relief from the oppressive darkness and rain of the country at night. Why couldn’t her father just send her to live in Italy with her mother? Why did she have to fall in America? She didn’t know anyone in America! Everyone here was a stranger and everything she saw was even more frightening and unfamiliar than the last. She was cold and wet and occasionally something called a car would drive down the road and beep loudly at her, spraying water. They weren’t very dangerous, which she’d learned after a few of them crashed into her, but their constant, overbearing presence hardly made her feel welcome.

She sighed. Why couldn’t mortals just drive chariots like everyone else? They were much less noisy and the horses that pulled them were usually much friendlier to her than cars were.

Her shadow on the road stretched out in front of her and she turned around. Here came another one. A truck. This one looked big, and its beeping and honking was so loud it hurt Nayeli’s eardrums. She hoped this one wasn’t going to try and hit her too.

The sound of tires squealing blocked out all other thoughts and just as the light became blinding, the car stopped. Nayeli opened her eyes. As she’d thought, the mechanical chariot was enormous, easily ten feet tall and the length of a temple pillar. A man, large and overbearing, climbed out of the front seat.

“Hey, watch where you’re goin’! The fuck you think this is, the NYC boardwalk? Do I look like a Coney Island clown to you?”

Nayeli was surprised. Not shocked, but surprised.

To think they act like this to people they’ve just met…

“Um, excuse me?” she said, trying to shield her eyes from the bright headlights. She ignored the man’s harsh tone. “I’m sorry if I offended you, but you can you please help me make it to the nearest city? I don’t know where I’m going. I just got here and-”

“Just got here?” The man looked at her like she had nine heads. “What in the name of god is that supposed to mean? How do you ‘get’ to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and say ‘I just got here’? What kind of fucking moron are you? Are you lost?

“No,” Nayeli said. “I just got here.”

“From fucking where?” the man almost yelled. “There’s nothing around for miles!”

“From the sky!” Nayeli shouted.

“Oh!” The man laughed. “That’s rich. What are you supposed to be then, an angel?”

“No!” she shouted. “I’m the daughter of-”

The trucker sighed. “Look, kid, I really, really don’t care who you are. Because unless you got a rich daddy that can pay me for a ride and my flat tire, then I don’t want anything to do with-”

“I said I just got here and I need some help! Why won’t you listen to me?!” she shouted, stepping out of the blinding headlights.

“Whoa,” the man said, stopping mid-sentence.

She should’ve known then. The way he looked at her. It was obvious what he was thinking, but not to her younger self, who knew so little about the world. All she knew was that it seemed strange.

“Ummm… sir-”

“Huh? What?” he said, snapping out of his trance. “Oh, yeah. Ummm, sorry for almost hitting you there, angel. How about I take you to the next town down the road to make it up to you? The next city is a little far but me and my buddies at the mill might be able to help you out. Get you something to eat, give you a place to sleep. How does that sound?”

“That sounds great!” Nayeli exclaimed.

“Alright, just climb in the passenger side next to me,” he said, heading back for his truck. Nayeli reached out and hugged him from behind.

“Thank you so much, mister! I thought I was going to have to walk in the dark forever! You’ve really saved me! The gods won’t forget this!”

His body tensed up when she touched him, becoming firm and rigid in her grasp. Though she couldn’t see his face through the shadows, his eyes were wide open, and his breathing suddenly ragged.

“Yeah… no problem…”

She walked around the side of the truck and saw it was carrying logs, dozens of them.

He must work at that lumber mill he mentioned, she thought, staring at the vehicle in awe. I thought father said the humans were weak. How do they carry all these logs on their back and then load them onto the truck?

Without giving it much more thought she opened the passenger side door and got in. The compartment smelled uncomfortably of old smoke, musty and damp. The garbage lying everywhere and the pillow and blanket stowed beneath the driver’s seat indicated this truck had seen many long nights.

Must get lonely, she thought. I bet he’s glad I’m here to keep him company now. I wonder why he was so rude at first though?

“You all buckled in?” the driver asked. “The company quacks say we gotta start using these harness… belt… things to prevent accidents. I think it’s a load of crap but they’ll fine me if they find out I wasn’t using them when the truck’s in motion.”

“Do accidents happen a lot?” Nayeli asked.

“Not as much they’d probably tell you, that’s for sure,” he snorted.

Nayeli fiddled with something that looked like what he was describing but she couldn’t figure out how it fit.

“Here, let me help you,” he said. He reached across Nayeli’s lap and started grabbing for something tucked into the seat. But his arm wasn’t long enough, so Nayeli kept feeling him brush up against her butt and thighs, his hands sometimes lingering just a little too long. Long enough to be noticeable.

“Mister…” she said, uncomfortable. “Please stop… you shouldn’t be touching me like that… my father isn’t going to like it if you do…”

She didn’t want to hurt him. Father had told him how weak the humans were. If she wasn’t careful she could kill him.

“I’ve almost got it…” he said, his groping becoming more aggressive.

“Mister!”

“Just shut up!” he yelled in her ear. “I’m almost there!”

Finally his hands reached for something besides Nayeli’s flesh, taking hold of a belt inbetween the seat cushions.

“See?” he said, fastening it around her. “You were sitting on the damn thing.”

“Oh…” she said. “Sorry, mister. I thought…”

“Don’t worry about it, angel,” he said, settling back into his seat. “Let’s just get going. I’ve got a timetable to keep.”

She nodded. Maybe she’d just misread the situation was all. She was the one sitting on the belt after all. That had to be it. But…

Her eyes drifted to the creases of the man’s pants. A small dark spot had appeared, like a stain.

What is that? she wondered, looking up at the driver. Did he… wet hinself?

The driver’s eyes were glued firmly on the road ahead. He hadn’t noticed her staring. Quickly she snapped her head back and buried it in her lap, playing with the trinket that symbolized her axe.

Father… she thought, frightened.

Hours of silence passed in the truck’s cab, with nary another passing car to interrupt the long stretches of quiet. The breaking of the morning sun brought some relief, but the road ahead still seemed long and never-ending. Any sense that they’d made progress since last night was eclipsed by the light of the sun showing only more grey asphalt stretching into a pinpoint on the navy-blue horizon.

Nayeli sat quietly in her seat, spinning the little handle of her trinket for comfort.

“Say,” the driver said, breaking up the quiet for the first time since 4:00 AM. “That little bracelet you got there. What is it?”

“Oh,” Nayeli said, surprised. “This is my axe.”

“Your axe?” the driver asked.

“Mmhmm,” she replied. “My father gave it to me. He says it symbolizes my strength.”

“Huh,” the driver said. “Your father sounds like a pretty weird guy.”

“He’s not weird!” Nayeli protested. “Just because a mortal like you doesn’t understand-”

“Yeah yeah, whatever, I get it,” the driver said. “Sheesh. You uhhh… you mind if I look at it?”

Nayeli thought about it. There shouldn’t be any harm in it, right? The axe was too heavy for him to lift, and it’s not like he could steal it from her or anything. If he wouldn’t give it back, she’d just make him. Of course that ran into the problem of potentially killing him again…

Deciding it would be okay this one time, she loosened the knot that kept it tied to her wrist, and handed it to the driver.

“Wow…” he said, squinting at it through the dawn’s dim sunlight. “This is really something! You mind if I pull over so I can get a better look?”

She shook her head, and the truck came to a slow stop on the side of the road facing the shore.

The tiny axe spun slowly in the light of the dawn, practically weightless so long as it was in this form. To the untrained eye, it appeared to be nothing more than ornate jewelry. A trinket of fine craftsmanship certainly, but a trinket nonetheless. No one in this world knew the power of the gods yet. They had no understanding of magic.

The truck driver whistled.

“This sure is some good-lookin’ bracelet you got here. Must be worth like, what, fifty sawbucks at least, right?”

She had no idea how much that was.

“More than that,” she said, making an educated guess. “It’s very precious.”

Really?” the truck driver said, suddenly very interested. “How’d a little girl like you get ahold of something like this, angel? How old are you, anyway? Sixteen? Seventeen? Twenty?”

“I’m thirteen,” Nayeli said. “And my dad gave it to me.”

“Thirteen? No fucking way! A girl as pretty as you, dollface? You must think I was born yesterday!”

The truck driver continued to stare at the gleaming golden axe, captivated by dreams of wealth and power. Nayeli fidgeted, seeing the look in his eyes.

“Umm, mister?” she said. “Can I please have that back now? It’s very precious to me.”

“What? No! You’re gonna need this to pay for your ride!” the truck driver said, gripping the trinket tight in his meaty fist.

“What?!” Nayeli said, taken aback. “But you said the ride was free!”

“I never said that,” the driver said, brushing her off. “Besides, it’s my truck. I get to decide how much you pay.”

“But that’s not fair!” Nayeli shouted. The truck driver raised a hand and slapped her, hard, across the cheek. She felt her head and shoulders collide with the passenger side window.

Nayeli lifted a hand to her cheek, touching where it stung. No way…. Had he just hit her?

The truck driver started to yell at her.

“Life isn’t fair, angel! You think I wanna be out here in the cold driving all night for minimum fucking wage so some fat cat can pocket all the profit? ‘Course not! But life don’t care! Life is just life! It don’t care what happens to you or me. That’s why,” he said, staring greedily at the gleaming gold bracelet, “you gotta always be looking out for number one.”

She couldn’t believe. The axe father had given to her… the one Uncle Hephaestus had made! It was like she thought. Mortals were the absolute worst! So corrupted by greed and lust…

She didn’t want to have to do this, but it looked like she’d have to force him to give her back her axe. Once he felt the kind of strength she had, she was sure she wouldn’t cause her any more problems. She’d show him what it meant to be her father’s daughter!

Summoning up the courage to strike the man against her father’s explicit warning, Nayeli swung hard and hit the truck driver, bending his nose in a most unnatural way with a sickening crunch. He screamed as blood flowed out of his nose. It was, all things considered, a solid blow. But something was wrong.

I know I wasn’t hitting him as hard as I could but that punch should’ve at least thrown him out of the door! she thought, staring at her own fist. What’s going on?!

“You… stupid… bitch!” the truck driver roared. Suddenly he was on top of her, pinning her to the seat by her wrists. Nayeli struggled but couldn’t break free. What was going on here?! Something was wrong! Something was definitely wrong! Where had all her strength gone?!

“Look at what you did to my nose, angel,” the truck driver panted, positively manic. “Look at what you did to my nose! Did your daddy tell you to just go punching nice guys who offer to give you a ride? Huh?! How you gonna pay me back for this, angel?! Tell me how you’re gonna pay me back for this!”

Nayeli kept struggling. “I don’t know!”

“You don’t know?!” roared the truck driver.

“Please!” Nayeli screamed. “I’ll do whatever you want, just let me go and give me back my bracelet!”

The truck driver stopped. He smiled perversely. “Well if that’s how you feel about it, then I’ve got a couple ideas.”

He reached for the hem of her blouse and started to lift up. Nayeli realized all too late what he was doing.

“No!” she screamed, kicking as hard as she could. “I didn’t mean that!”

“You said you’d do anything, didn’t you angel? Well this is what I’ve decided on!” he said, nearly tearing her clothes right off her. Nayeli felt her hair get yanked on as he pulled her head through the hole. She couldn’t see what was going on. What was happening?!

Her head popped out of the hole and she opened her eyes. Ugly purple marks blotted her wrists. She was naked. In front of this mortal, this complete stranger, she was naked! Tears welled up in her eyes. What was going on? Why couldn’t she fight back? Why wasn’t she strong?!

“Whooheeee!” the truck driver whooped and hollered. “Thirteen years old, huh angel? Sure doesn’t look that way to me!”

“Please, stop! You can’t do this! My dad won’t let you!”

“Your daddy, huh angel? Your daddy isn’t gonna come help you out here. That’s if you even have one, that is.”

“Of course I do!” she said, struggling. “And he’s going to punish you when he finds out what you’ve done! Daddy! Please, help!”

“See, I’m having a hard time believing you, angel. First you lie to me about your age, then you lie to me about how you got that jewelry-”

“I didn’t lie!” she screamed, unsure how anything she said could help at this point.

“Of course you did! Your daddy bought it for you? Which daddy? Your sugar daddy? Because I’m having a hard time believing any rich man’s kid is just gonna show up walking in the middle of the road out in no man’s land, California! Hell, I bet you stole that jewelry, and now you’re on the run!”

“No!” she yelled. “That’s not it!”

“Isn’t it, angel?” he said, his smile wider than the sky. “Looks to me like you’re nothing more than a homeless golddigger some pimp left on the side of the road! And ain’t nobody gonna miss you if you just disappeared right here. Guess that means I got a free ticket to do whatever I want with you.”

The truck driver’s thick fingers reached for the zipper on his trousers, slowly pulling them apart. Nayeli screamed, louder than she could ever remember screaming before.

No! Stop, please stop! Daddy! Auntie Athena! Help me!”

The truck driver laughed, his exposed member hanging in the languid ocean breeze like a corpulent sausage. Covered in filth and the excess of its last discharge, it looked like some vile serpent. Only she had no blade with which to slay it, no means to defend herself, and she could smell the fetid breath of the monster’s other head looming over her as it whispered in her ear, entirely too close.

“What’s the matter, angel? I thought a girl like you would be used to doing this by now.”

He wrenched her legs apart. Nayeli shut her eyes, trying and hoping that she could shut out the world. That if she blacked him out hard enough, that he wouldn’t be there the next time she opened her eyes. But she could feel him coming closer, even if she couldn’t see him. She felt it brush up against her inner thigh and cringed, shutting her eyes even harder as tears ran down her cheeks.

There was the clicking of a gun, followed by a loud, abrupt discharge. Something warm and sticky splattered all over her face, and she opened her eyes, fearing or perhaps hoping the worst was already over. But the man hadn’t entered her. He still stood, kneeling on the precipice with a giant hole in his head. Teetering under his own weight, the man’s meaty body collapsed on top of her, emptying its last all over her and the leather seat behind him.

“Ugh,” she heard a voice mutter as someone opened up the door. “This fucking reeks. Did he have to shit himself all over the upholstery?”

Someone, she knew not who, dragged the corpse off of her, leaving her to stare at the cab ceiling in vegetative shock. The face of a young boy soon entered her view. He held out his hand.

“It’s okay, you’re safe now,” he said. “That stiff won’t be bothering you anymore. Let’s get you cleaned up and, y’know… back in your clothes.”

The boy’s face was glowing a soft red. Her eyes opened all the way, taking in every detail of his face.

“Well? Come on! You’re making this really awkward already…”

Nodding tokenly, she took his hand. Was this it? Was she safe now? Was it over?

The boy walked her over to the ocean where she could clean herself of the man’s stench and other bodily fluids and turned around, giving her some privacy. Off to the side, a taller man started to dig a shallow grave for the corpse of the truck driver.

She washed herself with the warm ocean water. It was… fresh. Welcoming. She could feel Poseidon’s embrace. And it felt like as long as she stayed in the ocean within it, she might be able to wash away the memories of what had just happened.

When she was finished, the boy offered Nayeli her blouse and her bracelet with the axe still intact, which he’d washed in the ocean water. Silently, she put the wet clothes on.

“I know it’s still wet, but it was the best we could do,” he said. “They’ll dry off soon. Come on, hop in the car. We’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

She immediately felt herself tense up at the offer. That was exactly what the man now lying in a shallow grave had said to her. The man who’d tried to… tried to…

No! She shook her head back and forth, adamantly refusing. She clutched her axe tightly in her hand this time. She knew what would happen this time, and she wasn’t going to let it.

“Come on,” the boy said, taking her hand. “I’m serious, we just wanna help-”

Nayeli recoiled sharply at his touch, jumping in her skin.

“No! Don’t touch me!” she screamed. This time, the effect was profound. The sand all around her was picked up like a maelstrom by the sound of her voice and the boy was thrown back, caught by the taller, quiet man who’d been digging the grave. Nayeli took a step back and curled up on the beach, her head tucked in her lap.

The boy grimaced. “Well Sostene, I think we may have found another one.”

That was how she first met the young Marquis. It wasn’t an easy relationship at first. In fact, she actually used to hate him when she first met him. That took some time to change. But then again, it wouldn’t have been so rewarding if it didn’t.
Nayeli laughed a little remembering those days. It was a bitter sound, full of joy and hopelessness and sadness and regret. And love. So much love. Perhaps that feeling was why there was so much of those other things.

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.3

Previous || Next

I laughed. “Oh my god. Cavvy? That’s seriously you?”

He smiled at me wearily. “Who else would I be? It’s Detective now, by the way. Special Detective Dante Salvo.”

“Psh,” I wave him away. “Who gives a fuck? You’ll always be Cavvy to me.”

Cavvy smirked. “Careful now, citizen. I could arrest you if I wanted. Contempt of cop.”

I snorted. “Like you’d ever do it. You’re way too stiff and straight-laced to ever be the crooked type.”

“I don’t know,” he said only semi-seriously. “They say the city gets to everyone eventually.”

Some of us faster than others, I couldn’t help but think. I know I shouldn’t have been happy. I know I should’ve realized how much trouble this’d get me in down the line. Meeting your best friend again after fourteen years, except now you’re on opposite sides of the law. It was like a bad joke. No, maybe that’s what I wanted to think it was. And the punchline would be me winning Cavvy over to our side, or him revealing he was already a dirty cop. Or maybe he would’ve won me over, and straightened me out. Made me give up this life of crime. The answers are never that easy, though.

But the thought of that never crossed my mind. I was just happy to see my family again.

“Come ‘ere, you!” I said, pulling him into a hug and kissing him on both cheeks.

“Uhhhh..” Officer Thompson finally interrupted. “You two… know each other?”

Sostene didn’t say anything, but you could tell he was thinking the same. I let Cavvy go.

“We were friends when we were kids,” I explained. “We used to play together, eat together. Practically grew up together. Annie used to have a huge crush on him.”

“Annie?” Cavvy asked, looking confused.

“Yeah, Annie. You know, my sister Annie?” I said disbelieving. “I know you hardly ever saw her because she was always too embarrassed to talk to you, but come on! You gotta remember Annie.”

He didn’t respond for a second, but then his eyes lit up. “Oh! Little Anastasia! I can’t believe I almost forgot about her!”

He faked smacking himself on the head. I grinned.

“You sure you’re not going senile there, Cavvy ol’ boy?”

“Why do you keep calling him that?” Sostene asked.

I turned to look at Sostene. “It was our nickname for him back in the old country. Short for cavaliere, ‘cuz whenever someone was in trouble he’d always try to rush in like he thought he was the cavalry, stickin’ his nose in everyone’s business. Guess he thought he was gonna be just like daddy one day~”

Cavvy coughed. “In case you haven’t noticed, I do have my pin now.

“Wait, doesn’t ‘cavaliere’ mean ‘knight’?” Thompson asked. “What’s that about?”

“Wait, you seriously don’t know?” I asked. “He didn’t tell you?”

Cavvy pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh here we go…”

“He never used to shut up about it,” I said, continuing. “See that pin on his chest? The motto, Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum? That’s the insignia of the Knights of Malta. His family’s been in the order for generations. It means-”

“In defence of the faith and assistance to the poor,” Cavvy said, sighing. I grinned ear to ear.

“Of course they’re really nothing more than a glorified humanitarian organization nowadays,” I said. “They barely have enough soldiers – excuse me, knights – left to fill three brigades. Can you believe that when we were kids he always used to think that he was gonna grow up and ride around on a horse slaying dragons and rescuing princesses?”

Cavvy grasped my shoulder firmly. He looked mad.

“The Sovereign Military Order of Malta still does more good for the world than you ever will,” he said defensively. “What do you even do, Al? What kind of job do you have?”

“Uhhhhhh…” I said, trying to think of some convincing lie. I couldn’t tell him I worked at the hospital. Cavvy was a cop now, he’d see through that one right away if he ever bothered looking. But what else could I say that wouldn’t make me look like a bum or guilty?

Thank Zeus and Lycaon for Officer Thompson, because if it wasn’t for those ears of his I think that conversation would’ve ended right then and there. Instead, his fluffy little tiger ears perked up and he hollered, “Time’s up, you two! Coffee’s on.”

Saying no more, he headed inside. We all looked at each other.

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “I just got invited here.”

Apparently Cavvy didn’t really want to know what I did for work that badly, because all he did was shrug and head inside the station. I sighed with relief.

“Y’know, I’m reminded of something the boss said once,” Sostene said as he watched Dante walk away.

“Yeah? What’s that?” I ask.

“Don’t shit where you eat, Al,” Sostene said, patting me on the back before he walked in too.

I slammed the cruiser’s passenger side door as Sostene and I crawled into the back of the car, careful not to upset the burning cup of coffee I now held in my hands. I blew on it and accidentally splattered some on the back of Thompson’s headrest, making him flinch. He looked at me.

“Don’t you spill that lava in my car. It ain’t my fault you poured from his pot,” he said, pointing at Cavvy.

I took a sip, and almost immediately spat it out as soon as it touched my tongue, spraying hot coffee all over Officer Thompson. He yowled, hissing and pawing at his face.

“The fuck’d you do to this coffee, Cavvy?” I asked, reaching for a cream-filled donut to soothe my tongue. I took a bite. “Heat it with a goddamn blowtorch?”

“I like my coffee like I like my women,” he said as I groaned at his stupid cop joke. “Hot, sweet, and-”

“-all over your pants?” I said, finishing for him. “Because that’s where I’m about to pour this shit. This is too damn hot.”

“Yeah well, some of us like something that’ll keep us awake when we’re on the job.”

“Yeah, and burn your tongue clean off,” I muttered. “As for me, I like my women to give me a little kick in the ass.”

I nodded as I reached into my jacket. Here’s looking at you, Theo. I unscrewed the top off my flask, then remembered I was in the back of a police car.

“You uh… you mind?” I asked Cavvie. He glared at me.

Yes I mind,” he said sternly, snatching away my hootch.

“Hey!”

“This is against the law, Al,” he reminded me. “Where did you even get this?”

“Company function,” I said, lying through my teeth.

“Figures. Those Wall Street fatcats think they can just bend the law…” he said, muttering. “I’m confiscating this. Be grateful I’m not going to fine you for it.”

“Alright, Officer Killjoy,” I said, grumbling. I kicked back with my donut, waiting for the coffee to cool. Thompson finished wiping his face with the napkin from the bakery box and turned on the radio.

“-still reeling from the shock of this cataclysmic event. Initial reports place current estimates at nearly 800,000 dead and over 150 million injured in the state of Arizona and various shock points around the world, making this the most devastating natural or magical disaster of the last sixteen years. The tremors are said to have been worldwide-”

“Jesus, can you believe this shit?” Officer Thompson said about the radio. “The entire damn state is gone. Whoever did this shit, I hope someone hangs them with their own fucking guts.”

I chewed a little slower, trying not to let it show. Of course he didn’t know. And we couldn’t tell him here. That it was Nayeli. That we were there when it happened.

“Amen to that,” Cavvy said, sipping his coffee. “See, this is why we need stricter demihuman regulation laws if we want justice for-”

“Whoawhoawhoawhoawhoa,” Thompson said. “Stop right there. Guys like me and Sostene ain’t got nothing to do with this shit.”

“So? Can you honestly tell me that you don’t think the world would be safer if people who could do stuff like this weren’t behind bars? Or at least back in the forests or Mt. Olympus where they belong.”

“How do you even know it was a demihuman, huh?” Thompson said angrily. “Maybe it was just a bunch of humans messing around with magic they shouldn’t have.”

Humans couldn’t do something like this,” Cavvy said. “Not without help. It’d take decades to build a ritual big enough to do this, and you’d need to have more money and manpower than all the five families put together.”

“So what, you’d just have us all thrown in prison, is that it?”

“No!” Cavvy said. “But I would make sure the people who were capable of doing stuff like this weren’t allowed to live in places where they could hurt innocent people! I’d make the gods take them back!”

“So yeah, you’re just gonna throw us all in prison, put us in camps! Just like the Spanish!”

“Yeah, that’s seriously not kosher,” Sostene said, talking for the first time.

Cavvy put his arm around the headrest and looked back at me. “Al, back me up here.”

I threw my hands up. “Hey, don’t look at me to back up your crazy ‘build a wall’ plan. I’m a demihuman too.”

“What?” Dante said, acting surprised. “No way!”

I pulled out my card. “Read it and weep. Only… don’t use it as an excuse to have me picked up. My powers aren’t really the type that’d protect me from inside a jail cell.”

I joked, but the threat was all too real. Discrimination against demihumans for… accidents like the ones that seem to follow us around lately accounted for more than fifty to sixty percent of arrests these days. Sometimes it was warranted. Sometimes it was because a cop just needed a target no one would defend.

But not Cavvy, I thought. If he’s anything, it’s so hung up on the rules that he’d never be unfair to anyone.

Cavvy stared at my card. “You’re… a medium, huh? With the power of memory recall. Funny, I could’ve sworn I was gonna look at that card and see vampire. That’s how most of the cases go. When someone who didn’t use to be demihuman turns out to be one, I mean.”

He cast a suspecting eye at Sostene. I raised my eyebrow. Well, maybe not. The city does get to everyone eventually.

“See?” Cavvy said to Thompson. “That’s what a responsible demihuman citizen looks like. He carries his card with him.”

“Oh give it a rest!” Thompson snarled. “I’m a cop! The way I see it, I should get to enjoy certain privileges.”

He folded his arms, pouting. Good. He had the good sense not to say anything about me or Sostene-

“Besides,” he said, pointing at us. “If you only knew what these two chuckleheads get up to when you’re not looking-”

Sostene and I both jumped to shut him up, shoving donuts at his open mouth.

“What’s he talking about?” Cavvy asked.

“Nothing, nothing! It’s nothing!” I said, hoping Bobbie would take the fucking hint. Just a few… rowdy nights out, that’s all. Bobby already cleaned us up, we paid our dues. Isn’t that right, Bobbie?”

Cavvy looked at us funny, then grumbled and folded his arms. “Well, whatever. But you agree with me right? We gotta do something. Maybe a less extreme solution exists, but we can’t just allow maniacs who do stuff like this to keep roaming free!”

“Well… maybe they don’t mean to do it,” I said without thinking. Immediately, I knew I had made a mistake.

“So?”

“So… maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge,” I said. “Maybe we should cut them some slack. They’re not trying to hurt anyone, right?”

I didn’t get it. Why was I defending her? I couldn’t even say for sure if she was really sorry for what she’d done. But something about the whole situation just felt-

“Unfair.”

“Huh?”

“That’s unfair, Alfonso,” Cavvy said. “How do you think the victims of that attack would feel if you told them that? That the one who killed them all, cut their long lives short and ripped their family members away from them, shouldn’t be punished just because they’re ‘sorry’? Because ‘they didn’t mean to’? What if it was you and Annie who’d been in that attack? Would you have forgiven them?”

I bit my tongue. We were in that attack, I wanted to say. But I couldn’t let him know that.

“Why do you think manslaughter is a criminal offense, Al? What you meant to do or the mistakes you might have made are irrelevant. All that matters is the result. The law must treat everyone equally.”

Cavvy sat back in his seat, folding his arms. “This is why demihumans are dangerous. It’s this very line of thinking. That just because someone didn’t mean to do it means we should forgive the crime or alter the punishment. They present too great a threat for unintentional, uncontrolled violence to be allowed to just walk around without any regulations.”

“But we have regulations!” I shot back.

“Then we need better ones!” Cavvy snapped. “Do you know how many people I’ve seen get hurt because of magic and demihumans since I’ve started this job, Al? Since I arrived in this city? I’ve had to clean up more bodies than anyone should ever have to, me and Bobbie both. You think this is unfair? Ask him what he knows about demihumans in this city.”

“Alright Bobbie,” I said. “Waddya got to say about that?”

I sat back, confident that Thompson would back me up here. He and Sostene both. Nayeli was a pain, but she was still a part of the family as far as I was concerned.

But they were quiet. Both of them. Even Sostene, who I was sure I could count on to defend one of our own.

“Hey, come on,” I said, slightly less confident. “You… don’t actually agree with what he’s saying, do you Bobbie?”

Thompson sighed. “I won’t say if I agree with him or not. But…”

“But he’s got a point,” Sostene said. “And we both know it. Bobbie, you’ve got your harnesses all fixed up for you and your little girl, right? Full moon’s coming soon.”

Officer Thompson lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, breathing out a cloud of rough smoke.

“Yeah. Had to adjust little Mary’s this year. She’s been growing so much. You want me to fix up yours too?”

“Please,” Sostene nodded, taking a cigarette from Thompson. “Maybe you can make it a little tighter this month?”

“Hold on, hold on,” I said. “Slow down. What do you mean ‘harnesses’? What are you talking about?”

“Protection, Al,” Sostene said, fruitlessly spinning the ignition wheel of his lighter. “For us and everyone else.”

I looked to Officer Thompson to explain. He sighed.

“Look, kid, you’re a medium, and one with a pretty harmless power to boot. Do you have any idea how lucky that makes you?” Thompson said. “You can take a walk down the street and nobody’ll know what you are. Nobody can finger you in a case you had nothing to do with it and say, ‘I’m sure it was him! That freak killed my husband!’ just because you got the same claws or the same fangs or the same magic as some other bozo. People don’t like you, but they’ll never be able to blame you. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.

“Those harnesses me and Sostene were talking about? They’re for lunar madness. Guys like me and my little girl who are a little furrier than the rest of you, we get a little stir-crazy around the full moon. If we don’t straitjacket ourselves, people might get hurt.” Officer Thompson smudged the butt of his cigarette against his palm, wincing. “You were right about one thing. We can’t help it. But we can take responsibility for our actions. If we say we don’t want to hurt nobody, we damn well better act like it, something this mook has clearly never heard of doing.”

“You see? Prohibition exists for a reason, Al. It’s the only reason we haven’t ended up like Africa yet, or worse, Australia.”

I bit my tongue. It’s not like that, I wanted to say. It’s not the same. We tried, we did everything we could to minimize the damage. But I couldn’t rightly say that. Not without admitting to being there.

“What if they were fighting someone else who kept pushing them to the limit?” I said. “What if things just escalated really quickly?”

Cavvy raised a suspicious eyebrow. “That’s… an awfully specific scenario you’ve concocted there. Mind telling me exactly how you came to that conclusion?”

I froze, stuck to my seat like glue. It was like waking sleep paralysis. Oh crap. Oh crap oh crap oh crap.

“Well…” I started without knowing where I was going with this. My pupils dashed around the car frantically, looking for a point to latch on to.

The radio.

I gulped. “… the thing is, it’s like feedback.”

“Feedback?”

“Yeah, like in an electrical circuit. You couple part of the output signal into the input circuit and it amplifies the output. It feeds into itself. A feedback loop. So in this case, if this mage or demihuman was fighting another mage or demihuman, or maybe even some kind of monster, we can model the input as aggression from party A to party B. The output would then be turned into violence, which would circle back and amplify aggression. When the next circuit or attack is complete, aggression is higher, so violence becomes higher, for both of them. They just keep feeding into each other until one of them breaks and the circuit is disrupted.”

Cavvy considered this. “Interesting… but it still doesn’t explain why you’re assuming this was a fight at all. Why couldn’t it just be some random act of terrorism? In fact, that’s what this person should be labeled. A terrorist.”

Sostene ribbed me, hard. This was my cue to stop. But for some reason I didn’t want to. I wanted to see this through. Allesandris look out for their own.

“So Al? What’s your explanation?” Cavvy interrogated me.

“… Self-interest.”

“Hm?”

“Humans and demihumans act based on self-interest. Anything we do, we do because we expect that it will benefit us somehow, either in the immediate future or the far-off one. What would anyone stand to gain from this? There’s been no statements or admissions of guilt from the perpetrator, so this isn’t an act of terrorism meant to further some agenda, and as far as we know, there was nothing at the bottom of that crater worth having. Just magma. So if a demihuman was involved, it had to be a fight.”

Sostene ribbed me again, even harder.

“What?!” I hissed, still pretty pissed off that he didn’t have my back here. He tapped the face of his wristwatch. I checked mine, and remembered the feeling I’d just experienced trying to explain myself to Cavvy.

Oh crap.

I swung open the door, dinging it on a lamp post.

“Hey!” Thompson shouted.

“Sorry fellas but I gotta beat it! I’ve got an appointment I gotta keep!”

Previous || Next

Street Lawyer 5.2

Previous || Next

Fifteen hours later, Milo arrived back in New York. After freshening up, he made plans to visit a certain restaurant again. Alone this time.

Milo pushed open the front doors, disturbing with the toll of the bell a silence so poetic one couldn’t help but feel disdain. In the wake of the recent national tragedy, the Le cinq á sept was understandably empty. Except for one person, that is.

“Revisiting the scene of a crime? How unlike you, Milo.”

His sister’s voice rang sweetly in his ears from across the sous-chef sepulchre. Following it across the creaking floor of the dark restaurant, he found her sitting alone at a table for two, a solitary candle amidst an ocean of empty seats. Smiling, he unfolded the cloth covering the red-gold stone and held it aloft.

“Ohhhhhh…” Priscilla almost squealed. “And there it is! The famous cintamani stone. Said to be one of the most powerful magical artifacts in existence! May I see it?”

She held out her delicate hand. Milo frowned. Reluctantly, he handed her the stone.

“Be careful with it,” he reminded her. “This stone is my last chance to impress father. If I can cure whatever ails him…”

“Mhmmm,” Priscilla replied, her eyes fixed on the stone, which shimmered in a multitude of colors when held up to the light. “Look at that. It’s beautiful. You can practically see the magic etched into its facets. The cleavage is sublime.”

Milo nodded absentmindedly as he looked down, admiring the sublime cleavage.

“Can I have it back now?” he said impatiently.

“Just one more second,” Priscilla said dismissively. She stared deep into the stone’s rough surface, its uncarved angles. Never once had this stone been touched since it was pried from the meteorite shell it had arrived in, for fear of tainting or lessening its power. Those ancient fools. How much of the true stone had they left clinging to the insides of that meteor, like placenta from a babe? Every reflection of this divine geode was an enchantment, every cut a mark of magic left by the stone’s last owner. Every one was precious. And now she would add her own.

With a brief and tiny spark, the stone lit up, a bolt of lightning arcing from the surface straight down to the heart of the stone, where it terminated in a bright spark lasting only a second. Milo never even noticed a thing.

She handed the stone back to him. “Alright, go. Heal father.”

Milo frowned. “Don’t you think we should study it first? Get a better idea of how it works so nothing goes wrong when we do decide to use it?”

Priscilla just chuckled. Milo raised an eyebrow.

“What?”

Priscilla wiped a tiny tear from her eye. “Oh Milo. Do you really think father will want to wait once he knows what you have? You see, this is what sets you and Marquis apart. You deliberate while Marquis does. He doesn’t question his decisions like you do. It’s why father loves him more.”

Priscilla knew she’d said the right words when she watched Milo’s face warp into something ugly.

Sorellona…

Now before Milo’s anger could erupt, she needed to apply some balm to it, to soothe his bruised ego.

“I’m only telling you the truth because I want to help you, Milo,” she said gently. “Do you think I enjoy seeing Marquis wrap our father around his pinky while your valuable contributions to this family go completely unrecognized? What I’m trying to do is give you a chance to succeed in front of father.”

“Then what would you propose I do, sorellona?” Milo said, the anger in his eyes not diminishing but, at the very least, no longer growing.

“Show him how much he means to you,” she said. “Show him your resolve. Use the stone.”

Milo’s anger grew. “Are you mad?! I just told you sorellona, we don’t know how it works-”

“Do you think those ancient fools who pried it out of a rock that fell from the sky knew how to use it either?” Priscilla responded. “When I touched just now I felt it, Milo. The stone wants to be used. By you. If you just have a little faith in yourself it’ll show you what needs to be done.”

Milo looked down at the stone he held with his handkerchief. Gingerly, he touched it with his bare skin, and he immediately knew Priscilla was right. He could feel the magic inside it working, just like a normal enchantment only far, far greater. A whole index of spells was thrown into the forefront of his mind for him to pick from. Hundreds. Thousands. Each with a name and a designation hinting at their function. And he was willing to bet all he needed to do was run his mana through it and they would run, just like any other enchantment. It felt… right.

He looked at Priscilla, his rage evaporated. She smiled.

“Do you really want to let Marquis steal the spotlight forever? It’s time for you to shine, Milo.”

Milo looked down at his hand, at the little miracle he held in his palms. He gripped the stone, his mind made up.

As Milo turned to leave, Priscilla smiled at his back, waving him goodbye and good luck. But with each empowered step he took, Priscilla’s smile curled, morphing into something completely unlike a smile at all. She covered her twisted grin with a gloved hand.

All lies, of course. The stone was nothing more than a stone. It didn’t want anything. But Milo did. He wanted to hear a fairy tale about how he could cure father and finally earn the stony old man’s affection, what little of it could possibly be pried from his crusted charcoal heart, anyway. And that’s what Priscilla had told him. She had fed him a few little white lies, given him an encouraging slap on the rear, and he’d filled in the rest himself and been on his way. And when the stone did fail him, he would have no one but himself to blame.

Poor little Milo. Oh my dear, sweet little Milo. You only want what’s best for this family, but you have no idea what that is, she thought as she watched her brother climb into his car. But I do. The old man can’t die fast enough, and this illness of his, whatever it may be, has nothing but my thanks for speeding up that process. I’m not about to let you stand in the way of it.

She watched as the car sped off, leading Milo inexorably towards the predetermined conclusion of today’s meeting, the outcome that had been decided by her. Knowing what was to come, she felt a small little flower of guilt bud in her chest, like a scilla after the first spring rain. She felt bad for her brother, for lying to him. She had nothing but love for Milo, but… there were some things in this life much more important than love.

I’m sorry Milo, but this is for the best. Just this once, allow me to break your heart.

Just like that she grabbed that little scilla and crushed it, stomping it beneath her heels. The future was supposed to be a wild forest, not a delicate little flowerbed. It could not be allowed to be shaped by the perennial cuttings of the last generation. Too long had the shadow of Frankie and men like him hung over this city. Now, it was time for a woman’s touch~

Dark. Cloudy. High chance of rain. It was days like these that made you look up and feel like you should start taking stock of your life. And mine… well, mine was coming up depressingly short these past couple of days. Annie still wasn’t speaking to me, Sostene had been even more withdrawn than usual, my insurance premiums were going to absolutely skyrocket after this court case came to light, and I hadn’t even been able to turn to work to take my mind off it. Marq had been busy the past couple days just comforting Nayeli and planning for the trial. I guess the only positive thing I could take away from this whole experience was that my leg was healed now.

I sighed. You know it’s bad when you have to count not being sent to the hospital as a plus. Sometimes it just feels like the whole world is out to get a man. Sometimes, a man just needs a drink. And I’m not talking about hitting the bottle like some pathetic boozer schlob, I’m talking about a New York classic. Sometimes, the best way for a man to calm his nerves is a fresh pot of joe.

I hummed along with myself, nodding. A cup of joe, with cream and sugar, and maybe a bit of hooch to spice things up or to give yourself some of that much needed hair-of-the-dog. Now that was a New York breakfast. Nothing else required. Just a man, a pot, and some beans.

And so to that end, I invited Sostene to come have a drink with me that morning. And, well, when he suggested we score a free pot from his good friend Officer Thompson down at the station, who was I to say no?

See, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just fear and a few corrupt cops that keep the police in the mafia’s back pocket. We both want the same thing. For crime in this city to be controlled. Anyone who’s spent time in either profession can tell you crime isn’t something you can just get rid of, so better for someone to control it than let it run wild, right? We do that. We provide a service to this city, cleaning up the lesser villains like Mickey so only the five families can claim absolute power in the criminal underworld. The cops in this city are smart enough and have seen enough to know that this is a mutually beneficial relationship. You may call it “a corruption of justice” or “encouraging the expansion of a vast criminal empire”, we call it “efficiency”.

I was looking forward to it. It had been a while since I’d had good bean juice. It was a luxury we couldn’t exactly afford. But Sostene seemed to be in considerably lesser spirits.

I looked up. He just stared ahead blindly, looking as out of it as a guy who’d just been knocked around-side the head with a baseball bat. Was this an aftereffect of his little rampage on the train?

I coughed, but he didn’t say anything. I coughed again, louder this time. Still nothing. I frowned. You were really gonna make me say it, weren’t you Sostene?

“… hey,” I said, and his eyes flashed open. It seemed like that finally got his attention. He turned to the right and looked down. Dammit, why did he always have to remind me how much taller he was?

“Yeah?”

“You… feeling okay, man?” I asked. “You’ve been out of it all morning.”

He sighed, and groaned a little. “Yeah, sorry. Things… haven’t really been the same since the train.”

I thought so.

“You… wanna talk about it?” I approach carefully, not wanting to push any of his buttons.

“No.”

“You sure?

“Absolutely.”

Now I started overstepping my boundaries a bit. “Come on man, I can guarantee it’ll make you feel better-”

“I said I don’t wanna talk about it, Al!” Sostene yelled at me. But he didn’t watch his step, and as soon as he stomped down on a passing manhole cover, his strength made the sewer lid flip like a giant penny and it smacked him under the chin. I winced.

“Ouch…”

“You’re sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

Yes, Al.” Sostene said, rubbing his chin.

“You’re absolutely, positively-”

“Oh my god, for the last time, yes!” he barked as we made the turn onto 67th St. “What part of ‘I don’t wanna talk about it’ don’t you understand?”

“Well, can I guess then?”

“Sure,” he said wildly, throwing his hands up in the air. “Whatever makes you fucking happy!”

“Hmmm…” I thought. “Is it about Nayeli?”

“Pffft. What? Now I know you’re just goofing off,” Sostene said. “Why would I care what happens to her?”

“Maybe because you work together and she’s Marq’s favorite? You know this is hitting him harder than any of us.”

“Their private lives ain’t none of my business,” Sostene said coldly. “As long as the boss lets me keep doing my job, I don’t really give a shit.”

There was a pause.

“… I mean I do feel kinda bad for her, I guess. But what she did is what she did. A lotta people died at the bottom of that hole, Al. People aren’t just gonna forget it, and she’s gonna have to live with it, whether it was her fault or not.”

Sostene’s eyes took on a dull quality, the thousand yard stare.

“Trust me, I know.”

I thought about that.

“You’re on the run from a handsome spanish baron! You seduced his daughter-in-law and killed his son in a duel, becoming El Sostene Magnifico!

Fuck you!”

I shrugged. “Well then I’m all out of ideas.”

“Halle-friggin’-lujah.”

“… You really think the charges are gonna stick?”

Sostene shrugged. “Hard to say. We don’t even know what they’re charging her with yet. No formal arrest has been issued.”

“Yeah, but, we’ve made some pretty big stuff disappear under the rug before, haven’t we? All it takes is a few strategically placed dollar bills…”

“What, you talking about Central Park?” Sostene asked. “I don’t think this and that are really the same thing, Al. That was the local boys vs the away-team. This is a whole new ball game. A whole new goddamn ball game…”

We walked the rest of the way in silence. Officer Thompson was waiting for us at the precinct when we got there. He seemed like a scruffy kinda guy, the type with permanent 5 o’ clock shadow and rough, scratchy whiskers, which was actually pretty funny when you thought about it. A pair of fluffy little tiger ears poked out of the top of his head, and he was chewing on a bagel and lox while he waited for us.

“Hey Sostene,” he said with his mouth half-full. Then, almost as an afterthought, he added “Hey pipsqueak.” He must’ve meant me.

He stuck his fingers in his mouth and licked the cream cheese off of them, then wiped them off on his uniform. My skin crawled.

Please don’t shake with that hand, please don’t shake with that hand…

He stuck his hand out. It was the cream cheese hand.

Goddammit!

Sostene sighed. “Bobby, that’s disgusting. At least use the other hand.”

“Oh give it a rest, will ya?” Thompson groaned, pulling his hand back. “You sound just like my new ‘partner’.”

Sostene raised an eyebrow. “They gave you a partner?”

“Pffft,” Officer Thompson spat dismissively. “More like another boss, if you ask me. All he does is order me around like I’m some new recruit. Little shit’s barely any older than the pipsqueak here-”

“Oi.”

“-and he thinks he can order me around just ‘cause he’s some sort of fancy ‘special detective’? Give me a break…”

Thompson sighed, running his hand down his face melodramatically. I had half a mind to punch him if he didn’t stop calling me “pipsqueak”. Thankfully, Sostene covered for me (sometimes I wonder who really has the anger issues here).

“What’s his name?” Sostene asked.

“Dante,” Thompson said. My blood froze. I recognized the name. Knew it all too well, in fact. But no. Couldn’t be. Not after so long.

“You mean like the poet?” Sostene asked.

“Nah nah, more like the actor,” Thompson said. “Takes himself way too seriously. Thinks he’s some sort of knight.”

My heart leaped in its cage. That definitely sounded like him.

“Bobby!” a voice yelled from the next floor up. “Do you have that bag from the evidence locker?”

I didn’t quite recognize the voice. Maybe it wasn’t him then. But voices could change a lot in 14 years…

Officer Thompson winced, growling. “No! I told you, Arn is taking care of it! You don’t need to yell either, I can hear you.

“That him?” Sostene asked.

“Yeah, that’s him,” Thompson said, rubbing his ears. I heard the clattering of footsteps marching down the station stairs. “Sostene, pipsqueak? I’d like you to meet…”

The doors to the station flung open. I took a step back as he walked out.

“Special Detective Dante Salvo.”

I couldn’t believe it. The guy standing in front of me was taller than I remembered, a bit lankier too, and it looked like he’d been run over by a truck since the last time I saw him but it was definitely the same kid. The black hair and blue eyes. The way he kept his clothes immaculate and perfectly cared for. And that pin he kept stuck on his chest. Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum.

Cavvy?” I asked cautiously.

The reaction was immediate. The way his muscles tensed like a rubber band snapping back you’d think he’d been shot, but he and I both knew that name. It was a shared memory, for both of us. A way to say goodbye… and now a greeting.

He turned to look at me. Fourteen years of misplaced emotion raced between us like a current.

Alfonso?”

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Interlude 4.a (Sostene Caputo)

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Darkness loomed over the bone-chillingly cold reefer boxcar, making itself welcome by spreading out in every direction as it coiled around each wall like the frigid mist from the iceboxes. The temperature in there was already below the point where teeth would be clacking like the balls in a Newton’s cradle, but the refrigerated metal box was eerily, disturbingly quiet, even for a party of only one.

Sostene’s teeth didn’t rattle nor shake, nor did his breath become visible in the cold air. Vampires were unaffected by such temperatures; it was a malady reserved for the living and the mortal. But on the inside, it felt like his entire body was shaking. Anxiety had made him hyper-aware of every muscle twitch and microsaccade his body normally performed with unconscious precision, filling his ears with the sounds of his own body; even the slow, nearly flat beating of his own withered heart.

But it was welcome. Sounds like that in this silent oubliette were a reminder that even in this state he was still alive (to some degree), that he was still human (to some degree), and that he could still feel his own body. That he wasn’t just a disembodied consciousness lost in a sea of psychic white noise.

Was it anxiety, or was it actual assault? He couldn’t decide. All he knew was that he could hear without hearing the sound of hundreds of tiny claws and limbs scratching at a pane of glass, like a colony of bats or centipedes in his brain. Having some actual, physical noise to drown out the relentless sounds that existed only in his mind offered some relief, and something to anchor himself to. He didn’t know why, but the more he thought about it the more the metaphor of scraping glass was appropriate. Something was trying to get in.

He didn’t know what exactly, but he had a good guess, which made the idea of a colony of bats all the more grimly hilarious.

You know you can’t keep me out, Sostene.

A sickly sweet voice crept into his head almost effortlessly. It was feminine, and young. And worst of all, familiar.

Yeah? Well I can try.

The voice sighed. Such a naughty child.

And stop using that voice.

Why? I thought you liked this voice.

The girl that voice belonged to died, a long time ago.

I’m hurt, Sostene. To think you still hold a grudge against me for that… I would’ve thought you’d gotten over it ages ago.

Never. How did you even find me? Sostene grunted mentally. He had no idea how his father was doing this. They’d never communicated mentally before in the short time he’d known them. Was this just an ability you only became aware of once you became an alpha vampire?

You had your first riastrad. I would have noticed you even from ten million miles away, let alone ten thousand.

Ah…- Sostene thought. He giggled. That was it. It all made sense now.

Hm? What’s wrong, Sostene? This isn’t funny, you know. Having your first riastrad is serious business.

But Sostene couldn’t stop laughing.

Ahahaahaha… haaaa… So that’s it. I get it now. That’s what this is all about.

… What are you talking about? The voice said, sounding confused. You’re not making any sense, Sostene.

This, Sostene thought, enunciating. This little courtesy call. You’re not really interested in what’s happening to me at all, are you? No, of course you’re fucking not. You wouldn’t have left me to die if you were. You just want whatever the hell this “riastrad” thing is. That’s the only reason you’re talking to me right now. Well fuck off!

There was no way to tell, but Sostene thought he felt his father frown.

Sostene, that’s enough! The voice said sternly before becoming soft again. You know I only have your best interests in mind. We all do. If you’d just let me explain…-

Sostene snorted. Screw you! You think you can fuck off for the better half of a hundred years and now all of a sudden start pulling this fucking shit on me? I’m not giving you crap. All you wanna do is use me, like you did the last time!

The voice sounded increasingly desperate. Sostene, that’s not- we’ve been trying to find you! More than anything! We just want you back home where you’ll be safe. Please, I-

Fuck. You.

Sostene hung up on the voice, silencing his father by focusing extra hard on the sounds of his own damn near lifeless body. He shook, tears falling down his face.

Sostene’s father, the alpha, sat alone in a dimly-lit room; the center of a crumbling, ancient castle. Quite typical of an old-school melodramatic vampire, the room was brightened only with dripping red candles, concealing the many vampire children the alpha had sired. They were waiting in the shadows anxiously, watching their father fearfully. Finally, they all sensed the connection had been broken as their father took a breath, leaning forward in their chair. Sensing it was safe, they all exited from the darkness.

“What happened?”

“Is he safe?”

“Is he coming home?”

Their father cried, barely restrained tears crawling through cold fingers and down an undead face. With a slight twitch of effort, the vampire popped a blood vessel in their tear ducts, and cried blood.

“He has… rejected us…”

There were a gaggle of gasps, murmurs and whispers.

“What are we going to do, father?”

The alpha vampire took a deep breath, calming their tears of blood. They stared up at the cavernous ceiling through closed fingers, deliberating on what to do.

“… Nothing has changed.”

“What?” The horde of vampire children whispered and shouted.

“He has rejected us. So what of it? We are his clutch. His family. His kin. It’s our job to look after him, and show him love even when he scorns us.” The alpha vampire stood, gesticulating wildly. “Overflowing love! Everlasting love! That’s what it means to be a clan! Isn’t that right my children!?”

“Yeah!”

“Damn right!”

Nigh-hundreds of vampires cheered, baring their fangs. The alpha, their father, grinned with their arms outstretched, as if to embrace a ghost.

“Then it’s settled! We sail to America! To New York! The Isle of Skye shall crush all that stands in our way until we find our long-lost prodigal son. And when we are reunited, we shall shower him in our love, and he will either accept it…”

The elderly vampire licked their lips salaciously, savoring the taste of the fervor in the air.

“or he will drown in it. Come, my children! Prepare us for departure!”
There was a tremendous rumbling as the antechamber’s stone walls shook, dust settling from the ceiling as if there had been an earthquake. With a groan of immense power, the island beneath them set sail, a mobile fortress of over five hundred vampires.

Previous || Next

Tokyo Drift 4.11

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The train stopped, and it was over. It was finally, really over. So, when all’s said and done, when you’ve won the day, gotten the girl (in our case represented here by the darling Cintamani stone), and everyone, even the bad guys, live happily ever after, what else can you say?

“Well that was a fucking disaster.”

I grimaced along with Marq. Well I guess there was that. Both of us staring outside at the massive gaping hole where a tenth of the entire state of Arizona used to be kinda put our personal victories into perspective.

“That… got out of hand quickly…” I said, agreeing with him.

“Indeed,” Theo said.

Marq groaned. “People are gonna have some really fucking interesting things to say about this. One thing’s for sure, this is not going to help come election day.”

“Ah come on, Marq,” I said, trying to cheer him up. “It’s not that bad. Like they have any way to trace this back to us or Nayeli. And even if they did, what are they gonna do? Johnny Dumani destroyed an entire fucking mountain fighting that hydra and they let him get away with it.”

“First, that was in defense of public property,” Marq said, sighing. “The collateral damage might’ve been pretty severe in the surrounding areas, but Johnny still saved the entire county from total annihilation. That alone negates half the charges against him. This was completely senseless, not to mention a thousand times worse. We’ll be lucky if people aren’t still talking about this when we’re all old and gray.”

Marq turned to the two Yamada brothers. “Kichirō! What the hell did you give Ren that made Nayeli go all-out like this? Some kind of mythic weapon?”

Kichirō glared softly at him. He was cradling Yoshirō, who was barely conscious and barely breathing. “I appreciate your help, Marquis. More than you’ll ever know. I never thought you’d actually deliver on your promises. But right now my brother is still gravely injured. He’s in pain, and he needs me. Whatever this is, it can wait.”

“Really?” Marq said. “The biggest un-natural disaster in recorded history since the Lost Renaissance… and it can wait? Look, I didn’t even know Nayeli had that kind of strength. This places her in the United States’ top ten for demigods, if not top ten in the world. If this had gotten any worse, she might’ve cracked the whole damn continent in half. Now I don’t know what you or Ren did that made this possible, but I need to know, because right now we are on a countdown until this place is swarming with feds and cinder dicks and aaaaalllll sorts of Untouchables, and we are all implicated. If I don’t even know where to start building a case, how could I possibly-”

“Waitwaitwaitwait. Wait,” I said. “What do you mean we’re implicated? We had nothing to do with this!”

“It won’t take a genius to check the registry and see our names listed right next to Nayeli’s, Al,” Marq said. “She’s a registered demigod and a known associate of the Allesandris. Trust me, the legal system and I are both intimately acquainted with her.”

“Uhhhh…”

As her lawyer, Al,” Marq said, telling me to keep it quiet around others. “Even if we personally had nothing to do with this, we’re all persons of interest.”

“Okay, so what? How are they going to prove anything? We’ll just pay off the judges like we always do. Make it look like some kind of natural disaster. Like, I dunno, a volcanic eruption. The Allesandris have always been good at covering our tracks. That’s why we’re top of the New York food-chain, right?”

“Second to the top, Al,” Marq said. “You forgot the Pescatorres. We’re pretty neck and neck with the Sartinis right now too, and you can expect a major upset now that we’ve got this to deal with. Besides, you’re missing the point. The second one I forgot to mention earlier.”

I did a mental search of all the conversations we’d had in the last forty-eight hours, seeing if anything fit what he was talking about here. Then…

“Oh,” I said. “Oh shit.

“You remember, don’t you? The bill just got passed last week. Psychometry can now legally be used as evidence in a court of law. And with a disaster of this size? The feds are gonna be rolling out the spirit cameras by the thousands, capturing every possible angle. Soon this entire crater is going to be on lockdown, and they’re gonna rewind the whole damn thing, Al. They’ll have a frame-by-frame playback of the whole fight. Even if they do think it’s just a natural disaster, they won’t be thinking that for long. Which brings me back to my question, Kichirō. What did you do?

Kichirō stared at us silently.

“… The nepenthe should be dulling the pain,” I said. “For what it’s worth, your brother probably doesn’t feel a thing right now.”

Kichirō hesitated for a moment, then gave in. “Phoenix yolk. I gave her phoenix yolk.”

“Phoenix yolk?”

“To activate her power of zenkai, Ren needs to be close to death,” Kichirō explained. “I gave her a belt of phoenix yolk vials so she could fight at full health while retaining the extra power she gained from each zenkai. Ren is strong, but there are people much stronger than her, like your demigod. This was a strategy we developed to fight those people that allowed for theoretically infinite gains as long as phoenix yolk was in steady supply.”

Marq became deathly pale. “You mean to say-”

“Yes. It is theoretically possible that Ren became strong enough to kill your demigod friend. Just as possible as it is that she killed mine.”

“Or!” a voice cried out in the distance. “Or maybe we could both be alive, and you could be crying for nothing, ya worry-warts!”

I poked my head out the car door. Two smokey female figures started to resolve themselves on the horizon. Both were covered in ash, and one was leaning on the other. The taller and bustier of the two (I assumed Nayeli) waved at us.

“Also, we could use a change of clothes!”

“Yes! Quickly!” the shorter one (Ren) said while she tried to strategically cover herself with her hands. “Before anyone see!”

“Heh. Heheh,” I chuckled, before wheezing and breaking into gut-busting laughter. “Hahahahaha haaaa. Holy crap! Marq! You’ll never guess who it is!”

“Nayeli!?” Marq yelled, all too relieved.

“No, uh, seriously boss. We need clothes,” Nayeli yelled back. “Like, right now. Please?”

“Oh, uh… right. Rightrightrightright!”

Marq scurried back into the car, panicking and trying to find some clothes to cover them up. I laughed again. Somehow, in spite of or maybe because of how much of a literal trainwreck this day ended up being, this was the funniest thing I’d seen all day.

I poked my head back outside.

“You do know you two ladies look like English chimney sweeps right now, right? I don’t think anyone’s seeing nothing until they give you like five baths and a de-skunking, at least.”

Fuck you asshole, you already got a free show and I’m not giving you another!” Nayeli said, her middle finger raised high.

Marq rushed outside carrying a children’s night-gown in one arm and his coat in another. Handing the night-gown to Ren, who scurried off to change behind the train where nobody could see her, he wrapped the coat around Nayeli and proceeded to bombard her with the usual slew of questions.

“What happened out there?”

“Things… got really out of control.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, not really.”

“Define ‘not really’.”

“I got some bits of a spear stuck inside me.”

“Oh jesus…”

“Relax boss, it barely even hurts anymore.”

“You got bits of a spear? How did that even happen?

“I uh… kinda crushed it with my abs.”

“Okay one, that’s kinda hot and I am so tearing the clothes right off your body as soon as we get home. Y’know, after we give you like, five baths and a de-skunking,” Marq said, causing Nayeli to blush (though you could hardly notice it). “Two, what the hell were you thinking?!”

W-What?” Nayeli said, flustered by Marq’s sudden outburst. “Well, I mean I was kinda thinking that if I let her stab me I could-”

“Not what I meant, but finish that thought later. I mean what the hell were you thinking when you let this happen?!” he almost shouted, pointing at the gigantic hole in the state that a lot of mapmakers were probably gonna get pretty pissed off about, come to think of it. “And I meant that for both of you! I told you to keep things discreet, Nayeli, that’s why I told you to fight outside in the middle of nowhere! And Ren, why did you egg her on?! Do either of you have any idea what you’ve just done?!”

“Oh come on, it not that bad,” Ren said, stepping out wearing the night-gown. “This Arizona. We fight in the middle of giant forest, there no cities for miles! Besides, there no way they can trace this to us.”

Marq sighed. “First, yes there is, and second, no, but there are towns. A good handful if I remember correctly, and they’re going to want to know why their homes and their loved ones are now part of a giant hole in the ground! This is serious, like ‘eyes of the world’ serious! We will all be lucky if a ten-year legal battle is the worst that happens to us as a result of… this.

Marq gestured at the giant hole. I swallowed dry as the high from the battle came crashing down. Yeah, it didn’t really occur to me until just then, but uh… wow. When you looked at it, this was… wow.

I tried to forget about it. Not like we didn’t belong way down below already. This was just… this was a little more extreme than we were used to, I think. I mean, no one wanted this to happen. Even Nayeli seemed a bit shaken up by how scary her own power was.

“Hey… I uh… so Marq I mean boss I… if you w-want me to, I can just… go, I guess is what I’m… t-trying to say,” she said, sniffling. “I mean I know I… I… oh god… I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to, I swear I didn’t!”

The woman I thought was an invincible stone-cold bitch started crying like a little girl, and Marq welcomed her into his arms. Was it because she knew she’d just killed gods know how many people and regretted it, or because she wanted so desperately for Marq to not hate her? I dunno. Which was more sad, do you think?

“Shhh, shhh, it’s okay. I’m not mad, it’s okay…” Marq said, trying to comfort her. If that was a lie, it wasn’t a very convincing one.

“No, no it’s not ‘okay’! I mean holy shit, I… I-I-I-I…”

“Just don’t think about it, babe,” Marq said. “Focus on me, okay? You listening? We’re gonna make this alright, Nayeli. One way or another. I don’t know how, but it’s gonna be okay. Just… trust me. We’ll think of something.”

Nayeli sniffled into his coat. No response, in a situation for which there really were no words.

I suddenly became acutely aware of just how cold and clammy I was for an Arizona morning.

This was the world we lived in, a world forever changed by gods and monsters, where one minute everything is great and peachy and keen and the next minute everything you thought you ever knew and would never go away gets swept up in an instant by some storm of heavenly or demonic violence that was just so much greater than you were. So great it may not have even intended to put you in harm’s way to begin with. And then? You get fucked. Just like that. Straight up fucked, like DVDA.

I looked out at the huge pit. This time it was Nayeli, and Marq. How long before the uncaring hands of the Fates came after me and Annie?

Panting with exhaustion after the stress of the recent battle, Felicity pushed the door to the car open and came stumbling out. She quickly picked herself up and dusted off her suit.

“If,” Felicity said, huffing, “you two are quite done, I’d like to remind my husband of his position, and recommend he start taking action if he wants to keep it. Starting with unhanding a wanted fugitive.”

Nayeli heard what she’d said and surprisingly clung to Marq instead of saying anything, begging him with her eyes not to do what she said.

“You know, before anyone starts to get the wrong idea.”

Desperately, Nayeli mouthed, ‘no’.

“Felicity…” Marq said slowly, still holding on tightly to Nayeli.

“Now darling, you need to begin preparing a preliminary statement in your defense if you wish to have any chance in the upcoming election, or else your campaign will tank like the Titanic.”

Felicity…” Marq said, his tone sharper.

“Of course I’d recommend just cutting all ties completely to save face, but I know my sentimental fool of a husband would never do something as sensible as that. So instead, I’ve devised a plan that will hopefully still prove to be effective if we can’t just deny we know anything about her. If you throw the demigod under a bus, darling -figuratively speaking of course, there’s no way that would kill a mutt like her- then you may still be able to make an appeal to the public-”

Felicity!” Marq shouted. His eyes were sharp and cold like a reptile’s. “I appreciate your input. But I’m not your husband yet. So if you’d kindly fuck off, I have business to attend to. Allesandri business. You know, with the family.”

Nayeli didn’t quite smile, but she looked relieved. Felicity snarled.

“Listen, you-”

“I’m sorry, did I not make myself clear? Take it to a ten cent box, or I’ll call one for you. Or better yet, a meat wagon.”

“Al! Allllllll!”

Everyone’s heads turned. I heard the voice of my little sister as she crashed through the door to the dining car. She stumbled, catching herself on the rails before she fell. She was… running. I couldn’t believe it. She was running!

“Al!” she yelled, jumping down off the train and heading straight for me like an adorable cruise missile. I welcomed her in my arms and caught her with a bear hug.

“Annie!” I said, relieved.

“Oh thank god you’re alright, Al!” she said on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what happened! You disappeared as soon as I left and when I tried to look for you outside everything was exploding, it looked like the world was about to end!”

“Yeah…” I said hesitantly. “Yeah, it was a… volcano… right, Marq?”

Felicity opened her mouth to say something, but Marq shut her up.

“Yeah, that’s right. There was some kind of eruption. They think it was due to some unexplained seismic activity in the area. Sounds like Gaia having a stomachache, doesn’t it, Nayeli?”

She nodded. Good. About time someone shut Felicity up.

“I’m just happy you’re okay!” Annie said. “But… you’re sober. How did you do that so quickly?”

“I, uhhhhh…” I said, trying to explain.

“It was because of me, Mistress Anastasia,” Theo said, approaching Annie in full maid mode. The red party dress and bloody knives did not sell the look.

“Theo?!” Annie shouted in genuine surprise. “I thought you were in Montreal! How did you-”

“I flew here on the back of a dragon. It is not important,” Theo said dismissively, shrugging. Sorry Theo, but even I think that sounds like a big deal.

Annie looked around. First at Theo, then the wounded Yamadas, then to the dragon circling almost silently in the clouds above us. The wounded Sostene, Felicity who was still carrying her empty Tommy guns. Then her gaze settled on Marq and the half-naked Nayeli, and I think that’s when she put the pieces together.

“Al…” she said slowly, with trepidation. “What’s going on here? What happened?”

“What do you mean?” I said. “We told you, there was an earthquake followed by an eruption and-”

“Don’t give me that crap, Al!” she said with a ferocity I wasn’t accustomed to that may have scared even me. “Something’s going on here, I know there is! First all this stuff with the Marquis, and now these people we don’t even know, this disaster…

“What, you can’t seriously think Marq caused that,” I said, laughing nervously.

“That would be ridiculous,” Theo said dully, nodding.

“Answer me, Al! Why do those people have weapons? Why are they wearing suits of armor, and why do you have a gun?!” she said with alarm as she spotted the revolver I’d tried to keep hidden. “There’s something you’re not telling me, and I can guess what it is! Why have you been hanging out with the Marquis? Why do you have this gun and a knife? Where did Theo really come from, and what happened here?! What have you been doing brother, and don’t tell me you’ve just been working at the hospital and that Marquis is your financial advisor, because I know that’s a lie!”

Tears started dripping down her face onto the arms of my suit.

“Tell me, Al!” she said, close to sobbing. “I don’t want to hear it from someone else… but I will if I have to!”

She glared at Marquis, who instantly took a step back from the crippled invalid girl, my little sister. When she wants to be, my little Annie can be as scary as a bearcat. But… what did I tell her? I knew this day would have to come eventually, but not this soon! Not now!

Kichirō and Ren stared me down with a look of urgency. Figaro unsubtly mouthed “no”, while Leon and Felicity looked like they couldn’t have given less of a shit. I looked at the expression on her angry, tear-stained face.

Tell… me…

I looked over at Marq, silently asking for his permission. He shrugged, and I sighed with resignation. So this is where it ended, huh?

“… Annie… I’ve been working with Marquis.”

“I knew it…” she choked through hot, angry tears. “How could you, Al? You know what he does! He’s a murderer-”

“Hey!” Nayeli said.

“-and a thief-”

“He certainly is,” Felicity said.

“-and a no-good lying bastard son-of-a-bitch!”

“Guilty as charged,” Marq said nonchalantly.

“You’re not helping!” I said, pointing at Marq. “And you watch your language!”

“Why? Because you said so? Why should I listen to anything you have to say if you aren’t going to listen to me?”

“Because I don’t want you growing up like me!” I blurted. We floated through the awkward silence for a moment before I sighed, and tried to explain myself. “I was running out of money to pay for your cancer treatment-”

“Then why not just ask me to help with the finances? I’m sure there’s something I could do to make money! Or better yet, why not ask Marquis?! If he’s such a good friend of yours, why doesn’t he help pay for our hospital bills?”

“You know you’re in no condition to be working, Annie, and besides, the family business is a family business. You can’t expect them to just hand out money. A boathouse burned is a dollar earned, and it’s a lot better than owing them money. Trust me.”

“Or y’know, trust me because I’m the one who usually has to hand out those punishments to all the naughty boys and girls!” Figaro said with a chipper voice.

“Then we need to budget ourselves better!” Annie protested. “You work at a hospital! Even as an assistant nurse you should be making more than enough to-”

“Annie!” I said, interrupting, already regretting what I was about to say. “I… I didn’t get the job at the hospital. I never did.”

She looked confused. “W-What?

“They turned me down, Annie. Because I was a medium. I was ‘the least favorable candidate’ because they didn’t trust my powers, so they gave the job to an elf instead. I’m sorry. I… I didn’t have the heart to tell you. That was the last straw. We had no more money, we didn’t have any other options, so I went to to work for Marq.”

“I bet that’s how it happened,” she said, glaring at Marq. “That’s when he suckered you in-”

Actually,” Marq said. “Your brother came to us.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Ouch. So quick on the comebacks…”

“She’s got your number, Marquis,” Kichirō said, rasping wheezily.

I sighed again. “No, he’s right, Annie. I did. I came to them looking for a job, because it was the only way I was going to be able to pay our bills. I already had a history as one of Marq’s associates, and as it just so happened another made man had gotten bumped off recently, so they, y’know, held a ceremony and welcomed me into the family.”

“I was there!” Sostene pitched in unhelpfully with a slurred voice. He sounded really dizzy. “Can someone get me some blood? I think I… I think I ran out…”

“I can’t believe this…” Annie said, shaking. “I don’t want to! That you would… you said you’d leave that life behind once you became an adult! So you could look after me! Those were your words! How am I ever supposed to trust you again, Al?”

Everyone looked at me. Yeah, great. Put me in the fucking spotlight why don’t you?

“I… I dunno,” I said, giving up. “How can I make you trust me again, Annie?”

She glared at me. “Stop telling me lies.”

“Okay.”

“You promise this time?”

“I promise.”

“And you’ll start listening to me from now on?”

“I promise.”

“Good. Find another job.”

“No can do,” I said, throwing my hands in the air.

“Al!” she said. “Already?!”

“What do you expect from me, Annie?” I said. “Once you’re in the family, you can’t just leave!”

“He’s right, you know,” somebody added.

“It’s a life-long commitment, both in honor and in blood!”

“There are people who would kill me just for being Allesandri, Annie, and they’d kill you too!” I said, trying to sound as urgent as possible to convince her. “The only reason we don’t have to worry about those kinds of no-good punks is because we’re under Marq’s protection! Even if I could just turn in a letter of resignation to Franky Allesandri and walk away from the mafioso lifestyle, we’d have to constantly look over our shoulders! I don’t want that life for you, and if I have to bite the bullet so you can live like a normal, happy girl, then that’s just how it’s gotta be! That’s my decision, Annie!”

“But you’re making it about my life!” she said. “And you’re my brother, Al! Don’t I get a say in this? I don’t want to see you become something like him!

Marq sighed. “And again she singles me out… Listen, Annie. You know the rules, or at least I think you do. Your brother can’t just leave us. There are strict laws and codes of conduct in place about how you honor the family. Pay your tributes, respect the family, never snitch. It’s all about omerta.”

Go to hell,” she said.

“Ah ah ah,” Marq said, tutting. “You’re gonna wanna hear what I have to say. It might make you change your tune. I did say your brother can’t leave us. I didn’t say he had to keep doing what he’s doing. There are other jobs available to a made man besides being a hired gun. It was just my preference that Al’s skills be put to good use. If both of you want, I can try to find him a different job besides being a hatchetman. Say, maybe, butter and eggs?”

She looked at him, confused. Marq sighed.

“He could work the bankroll. Manage finances. Maybe do work as an information broker? I’m sure he’d be good at that. Point is, there are less lucrative but also less violent jobs we could have him doing. How does that sound? Would that help you forgive your brother for lying to you?”

Annie blinked.
“Huh?”

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Tokyo Drift 4.10d

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Kichirō keeled over laughing, tears streaming down his face.

I said we needed them, you fucking grifter!” Marq screamed as he grabbed my shoulders and shook me, more panicked and angry than I’d ever seen him before. “Don’t you play the fucking twit with me, Al. Do you have any idea- any idea?- what you’ve done? You just shoved enough gum in the works to keep Chicklets in business for fucking years!”

“Marq, I-“

“I mean, what the fuck were you thinking? This guy’s more possessed than Anna fucking Ecklund, and what the fuck do you do? Fucking kill the Vitalis of course! The only guys here who know jack of all shit about exorcism besides Giggly Gus over there.”

I opened my mouth to say something but-

“I mean on any other day I’d give you a fucking promotion for that but today? Today of all fucking days? Do I have to fucking ventilate you so the oxygen can make it to your fucking brain?” He gesticulated with his bigass gat to my forehead. More than a little unnerved, I carefully lowered it.

“Marq, I’m sorry, I-“

“No!” He yelled. “No, don’t you dare interrupt me right now! I am not fucking through with you yet!” He yelled, stomping the ground. “You stupid fucking smooth fucking grifter fucking dingy fucking no-good low-to-the-ground Abercrombie head-in-the-sand curveball asshole! I… I…”

Marq stopped, panting.

“… You… you done?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yeah… yeah I think I’m good,” he said, totally worn out.

“Okay…” I said slowly. “Marq, I need you to relax. Now tell me. Why did we need them, and what can I do to fix it?”

Marq giggled raspily. “You think you can fix it?”

I shrugged. “Maybe. Why did we need them?”

Marq glanced at the brawl to make sure he was a safe distance away.

“That, Al,” he said and pointed over at the fight. “That’s why we needed them. To make him stop.”

Now that Theo had joined in, everyone else had backed off. She was handling Yoshirō pretty much singlehandedly, parrying all of his strikes and working her knives into the joints between his armor, targeting the soft spots. Yoshirō roared with rage that you could taste on the tip of your tongue but all he ever managed to do once he hit her was damage himself. The fight in Central Park played itself back in my head. If that encounter had taught us anything it was that Theo was the kiss off to any melee berserker types. If it wasn’t for the ghosts holding his body together with spit and a prayer Yoshirō would’ve been dead already. Guess that’s the kind of power you get in exchange for having godmetal for blood.

But that was the problem. As much as Theo damaged him it hardly slowed him down. He wasn’t a person or even a living thing anymore, he was an engine of rage, hewn together with bone and sinew and animated by pure hate. This “hate engine” wouldn’t stop as long as whatever was powering it clung to this Earth. Theo could keep it busy but that’s all she could do, and Yoshirō was taking every opportunity he could to find another living target. Something that could bleed. Fighting him while blocking every time he tried to lash out at something else, well… that was like trying to patch the holes in a boat made out of swiss cheese. A futile stalling tactic if nothing else.

“He’s not gonna stop because we tell him to, Al,” Marq said. “We needed them to make him stop.”

“Yeah, I’m seeing that,” I said. I snapped my fingers, trying to focus. “Okay. First we need to know why this happened.”

I turned to Kichirō.

“Do you know what could be causing this? Does he ever do this just randomly like when he’s asleep or unconscious or is there a trigger?”

“Don’t bother, Al,” Marq said, sighing. “He’s nuttier than a fruitcake. Lost it after you left. He keeps going on about how ‘everything is his fault’ and all sorts of crap.”

“That true?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said, his eyes still moist from laughing. “I am the reason for all of this. I am the reason why my brother’s body is falling apart. For why neither of us can sleep at night. All I can do is watch his empty eyes staring out at me from inside that armor.”

“You mean he doesn’t sleep?”

Kichirō seemed confused by that. “No, he doesn’t. But what does that matter?”

“Shut up, shut up! I’m trying to think of a way out of this,” I said. “I-I… I think I know why he went crazy at least.”

“Why?” Kichirō asked hurriedly. “Is there a way we can fix this?!”

“Oh, now you’re interested,” Marq said, annoyed. “And why? What do you think happened? You know something about this?”

I sighed. “Yeah, I think so. Unfortunately…”

“Well then what? Fucking spill the beans, Al!”

I resisted the urge to smile. It was just so rare to see Marq out of character like this. Normally he was so composed and above it all. I had to remind myself I was the reason Marq had steam coming out of his ears. If it wasn’t for me this situation would still be under control, which is why I had to fix it before I could make any smartass remarks.

“He doesn’t sleep anymore, right? When’s the last time you remember seeing him unconscious, Kichirō?”

“I… I don’t know. It’s been so long…” he said. “I mean he sleeps, for maybe an hour at a time. But it’s shallow, and you can see his eyes moving underneath. It’s not deep sleep, and he hasn’t done even that for over a month.”

“Would you say the last time you saw this happen was close to the last time he slept? Real, deep sleep? Maybe he fainted?”

“Y-Yes, now that you mention it…”

“If what I’m thinking is correct, Yoshirō can’t sleep anymore, otherwise he’ll be possessed. He’s keeping them out. The spirits will overtake his body the second he fully loses consciousness. That lapse in concentration gives them a way in.”

“And?”

“And… I think I gave them one. When I dosed him with ayahuasca dipped on my knife. It’s a powerful hallucinogen. I was trying to mess him up, but I think it must’ve taken enough control away from his conscious mind to let them in.”

“Oh no Al, you didn’t. You fucking didn’t,” Marq said to me, exasperated. “Did you really fucking do this?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know it’d have this kind of effect on him… Talk about a bad fucking trip…”

Suddenly the train made a horrific grinding noise and we all tumbled down a ninety degree plane, our tables and luggage careening across the car as it lurched onto its side.

“What the fuck?!” I yelled, rubbing my head.

At first I didn’t understand what had happened. I could still see the blackened sky out the window clear as day. If the train had tipped, which was theoretically impossible for a leyrail, then I should have been seeing brown; a faceful of dirt. Then I understood perfectly.

We had tipped. There was just no more dirt for the train to fall on.

“Shit!” I yelled, terrified. “Shitshitshit holy shit!”

“Mother of god…” Kichirō muttered.

“The collapse,” Marq huffed, holding his chest. “It’s caught up with us. The leylines have changed, so the leyrail’s changing with it.”

I looked outside, peering down intently over the side of the train. The positions of leylines were determined by geographic positioning and the local topography. Major geological events like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and the shifting of tectonic plates could alter their positioning. Normally that kind of process occurred over time, but when two demigods go at it, or rather a demigod and a suped-up oni, that process can be accelerated. Dramatically.

That’s when I realized. Our train was riding down the sides of a sinkhole the size of Tonto National Forest.

“Holy fuck…” I whispered. “This is bad. This is seriously bad.”

“You think I don’t know that, dipshit?” Marq said, still angry. “I’m going to be buried up to my neck in legal bullshit for years after this. This kind of shit just doesn’t get ignored no matter how many palms you grease. This is why I told her to keep it subtle and under control. Dammit…”

He sighed, trying to keep it under control.

“Okay. Okay. Okayokayokay. We’re not going to get the opportunity to worry about any of that if we buy the farm here, so let’s focus,” he said, I think to himself more than me. “Al, you’re the only one who seems to know what to do right now so I need you to think of something. You get us out of this and I’ll ignore the fact that you got us into it. And Kichirō. What would you say if I said I have one more proposition for you?”

“Oh yeah?” Kichirō said as he wiped the blood from his nose. “What’s that?”

“If we figure a way out of this and get out of here alive… come work for us.”

“Huh?!” Kichirō and I both said.

Marq got up and dusted off his suit, putting his cool cat image back in order after his brief spazz.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for free. I’m not about to just overlook what you’ve done to me and mine. But I’m always on the lookout for fresh new talent to work for the family as uh… associates. So here’s the deal. You promise to hand over the Cintamani stone, and all the assets you bought with the Yamada’s stolen money, and I promise not to torture you for hours at a time. Plus, I’ll even try to find a way to fix what’s wrong with your brother’s body because I’m nice like that .”

“You must be joking.”

“Do you see me laughing?” he said, a tinge of that unhinged anger still creeping into his voice.

“Why in God’s name would I rely on you? A man like you is manipulative, and only uses others for his own gains.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“The answer is no. I will be the one to clean up my own messes. This was my mistake, and I have to-“

“Atone for it. Right?” Marq finished for him. Kichirō fell silent. “What? You think I don’t know what’s going on inside that head of yours? I wouldn’t be as ‘manipulative’ as I am if I didn’t know how to read people. Lemme try and psychoanalyze you right now, Kichirō. Let me try and guess what you’re thinking. You feel guilty, don’t you? You feel ashamed. You think it’s all your fault. I should know, you said so. You think you’re some horrible person who’s doomed his brother through inaction. You keep thinking about what you did wrong and what you could’ve done to stop it. You dwell on it. Obsess about it. It defines you. That guilt you feel… am I right?”

“… Yes…”

“That’s bullshit.

“What did you say?”

“You heard me right. That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit with a side of corn. You think this is your fault? What could you have done? Nothing. Your brother made that choice for himself. He walked up to that stone of his own free will, his own volition. You didn’t know. Neither of you did. How could you have known? You think you somehow drove him to do it? Well that’s his problem, not yours. He’s his own person, Kichirō. He’s responsible for the outcome his own mistakes. Saying it’s your fault isn’t just dead wrong, it’s selfish. You’re making him less of a person by claiming responsibility for his actions, and it builds you up. It makes you feel like some tragic hero or alone atoner, doesn’t it? Makes you feel righteous and strong, instead of just some powerless victim of fate. You don’t get to do that, Kichirō. You don’t get to take the responsibility for his own decisions away from him for your own benefit. You’re not the hero, Kichirō, because heroes don’t exist. I know, I’ve met them. They don’t live up to the hype.”

“And you just expect me to leave him there to rot? How can he take responsibility for anything he’s done if he can barely move outside that armor?!”

“You think Rome was built in a day? By one man with a pair of chopsticks and a pile of sand? Get real, Kichirō. That’s why we got family, and friends of the family. But that’s all they can do for you is help. So let us help you help your brother. This doesn’t have to be your mission anymore.”

“What makes you think you can even fix him? Huh?! We tried using phoenix yolk to cure him. It could not heal his wounds faster than the spirits could take him apart. And what do you want with all this anyway? The Cintamani stone is useless without years of research trying to understand its structure, and the orichalcum armor we acquired is all but shredded. You saw to that,” he spat.

“True, but orichalcum can be re-smelted, and I have more immediate plans for that stone anyway. And besides, I know where to get things much more potent than phoenix yolk,” he said. “For the right price of course. Come on, Kichirō. What do you say? There’s someone I know who could really use a lesson on how to hold on to a sword.”

Kichirō didn’t say anything at first. You could see him visibly age with the weight of the decision. Finally, he said, “Fine. You win, Marquis. I accept. Now fix my brother.

Marq nodded. “Al? Got anything yet? Come on, work with me here.”

“Well,” I said. “We can’t exorcise him or subdue him with holy methods anymore.”

“Yeah, thanks to you.”

“I’m not finished! If my theory is correct though and Yoshirō’s too distracted by his nightmare trip to control the spirits, bringing him down might give him enough control back to stop rampaging.”

“Okay, sounds simple so far. Is there an antidote to this aya… whatever you gave him? I’m not that good with plants.”

“Technically it’s a mixture of plants and vines,” I said. “And no… no there isn’t.”

“Well that’s great. That’s really helpful, Al.”

But!” I said before Marq could interrupt me again. “There might be another way. Remember that time we took shrooms when we were fifteen and you had to talk me down because I was freaking out?”

Marq eyes sparkled as he started to get it. “Yeah, yeah! The madam at the whorehouse told me to give you some sedatives and try to talk you down out of it.”

“We can do the same thing here,” I said. “We ain’t got no barbies like we did back then, but any sedative should do as long as it’s strong enough.”

“And?”

“And I think I know where we can get some.” I turned to look at everyone else taking a break from the fight. Figaro, Leo, the heavily wounded Sostene and the two lycans. “Alright everybody, I’m gonna need to borrow Theo for a few seconds! You need to cover us until then! Except you, Leo! You stay there and make sure Sostene doesn’t move!”

“Huh?!” Leo whined, but Sostene immediately started growling and thrashing  under his grip, forcing him to keep his mouth shut if he didn’t want to get fed on.

I nodded. “Okay, Theo! Break free next chance you get!”

She grunted as she blocked another strike from Yoshirō. “I shall try!”

Marq looked at me. “What are you planning?”

“You’ll see in a second,” I said. Then I stopped, and turned around. “… That reminds me, Marq. Did you call in any extra help for this job?”

“What you talking about the Vitalis? Does it look like I arranged that?”

“No no, I mean anyone who works for the family.”

“Hmmm…” he said, considering it. “No, not that I can remember. Not unless you count Siggy’s rack of ribs as a payroll.”

“Right…” I said. Something about this wasn’t adding up. If Marq didn’t send for Figaro and Leo, then that left Frankie and the siblings. But… No, I had bigger problems right now.

A knife got deflected and spun out of the holder’s hand, stabbing into the wall next to me like it was trying to get my attention. I turned towards the fight, trying to stop my knocking knees and look like I had a pair. I licked my lips nervously. I couldn’t just have Theo do all the work here. But… this might just be even dumber than the stunt that landed me in the hospital. At least I was mostly just fighting humans there. Here, I’d have to get up close and personal with that inhuman meat grinder, and I was distinctly aware of my odds. If Sostene and Figaro together with two lycans could barely manage to scratch him, what chance did I have?

Relax. Focus on the things you can do. Do not focus on the giant ragin’ asian death machine that is most likely coming to kill you. Do not focus on that.

I took a deep breath. Then Kichirō grabbed my leg, and I half-jumped out of my skin.

Fuck!

“What are you going to do him?”

What?” I asked testily.

“I said what are you going to do to him? He’s my brother. My little baby brother. I am fully prepared to die at his hand rather than kill him a second time. If you want to hurt him, I swear to everything that is holy to you and to me that I will make you regret it. Even if it costs me my life.”

“Yeah. Jesus guy, I get it. We’re not going to hurt him anymore. Calm the fuck down. Get copacetic, feel the zen. You’re good at that, right? The whole zen thing?”

He glared at me. I gulped. I think we both knew I was talking myself up just as much as I was him.

Meanwhile Theo took a bad hit and was slammed against the hole in the roof, holding onto both sides until her palms bleed. The wounds closed quickly but the bigger danger was in where she stood. Riding on our sides, being forced out of the hole in the roof would mean falling for miles to the bottom of the sinkhole, a huge ring-out. I felt my stomach sink as I watched her choke in Yoshirō’s grip, her fingers loosening up as he tried to shove her out of the car.

She took a deep breath in. Tucking her legs close to her body, Theo suddenly lashed out like a spring with a violent jackrabbit kick, nailing Yoshirō with both legs. His grip broken, she found her opening and broke out of the fight, Figaro and the lycans swarming in to replace her.

She ran up to me, panting. “What is it, Master Alfonso?”

Marq whistled.

“I-I told you to knock it off with the ‘master’ shit,” I said, glaring at Marq. I sighed, slightly embarrassed. “Do you still have that tin of smokes I gave you?”

“… Yes, right here,” she said, confused. She handed me the tiny metal box.

“Awesome. You’re a doll, Theo.”

I took the lid off the tin and inspected the contents. There were still three joints left. They were a bit dry, but they’d still work. Hopefully. Reaching for the sprig of mistletoe, I started rubbing my hands together, getting them nice and slick with blood.

“Al,” Marq said. “What is that?”

“Nepenthe,” I said bluntly.

“Uh huhhh…” Marq muttered. “And… why do you have that? Wait, no. Don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know.”

“So this is your brilliant plan?” Kichirō said, dumbfounded. “You’re going to have a smoke?!”

“No,” I said. “Your brother is.”

With a word I made the joints grow into full plants, sweetly budding leaves opening like flower petals. I plucked them, and showed them to Marq and Kichirō.
“The way I see it, we sent him on a trip, and now it’s time we bring him back.”

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