The Untouchables

Street Lawyer 5.11

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What we found in that cell resembled the fiery bearcat of a woman I’d come to know and begrudgingly tolerate about as much as roadkill resembled an opossum. “Worked over” would’ve been a gross understatement. She looked like nothing less than the underworld warmed over, which raised a couple of very disturbing questions. Were the Untouchables really so well-equipped that they could do this to a high-class demigod like Nayeli? And worse, what in the hell would Marq do to them if he ever got the chance?

“Heheh…” Marq giggled softly to my astonishment. His fingers were splayed across the invisible barrier between them like a gecko, trying desperately to find any sort of purchase or point of entry.

“Boss?” she croaked. I wasn’t sure if she was asking if he was okay, or if she was so beat up she only just realized we were there.

“Nayeli,” he said, smiling and swallowing softly. “I want to know who did this to you. Do you have any names? Can you tell me what they looked like?”

Soft tears trickled down his cheeks. Right then, I was considering taking a step back. I’ve seen Marq mad. I’ve seen him furious. I’ve seen him scream and cuss so loud you’d think he was trying to wake up a dead dog. This wasn’t like that. I’d never, ever seen this. This was anger transmuted.

It was then I realized he’d already reached his boiling point the moment we’d stepped foot on this island. Everything since then had just been steam building up inside him, pressure rising with every new injustice he imagined. Seeing it now, that anger had crossed a new threshold, building up so violently inside him that what was hot just became cold. He’d gone so far in one direction he’d ended up right back where he started, or someplace like it. Except now he was like a spring-loaded knife, or a coiled viper. One wrong move and he’d just snap, and when he did, someone was gonna bleed. I was determined to not be that guy.

“Boss…” Nayeli croaked. “I didn’t… it wasn’t-”

“Nayeli, it’s okay,” Marq said, putting away all his questions for now. “I’m just glad you’re back home. You’re safe.

Nayeli collapsed on the other side of the glass-like barrier, sobbing like a child. The prodigal daughter returned to us and Marq hadn’t even bothered to mention how much she’d made him worry or how her actions may have affected the family. She was forgiven in his eyes. The two of them tried to approximate a hug without actually being able to touch each other, a gesture I would’ve laughed at if I hadn’t known who these two were.

After a few moments of quiet sobbing and consolations, Marq approached the subject again.

“Nayeli, who did this to you? Was it the Untouchables?” he said. His voice was gentle but his intentions were deadly sharp, like a knife.

She nodded. “They caught me in California. I… don’t actually remember what happened. I just know it was them. I remember their voices.”

“Voices?” Marq asked. “You remember what they said? Did they read you your rights?”

She shook her head. “It’s not like that. I don’t know…” She sighed, angry with herself. “I don’t know how to fucking explain it, it’s like I remember the sound of their voices, but every time I try to remember what they said it’s all just… garbage. Crap. I can’t understand it, it’s like they’re whispering or muttering.”

I looked at Marq. “You think they used some sorta magic to, y’know… erase her memory?”

I had no clue how you’d go about doing that, but I was pretty sure it was possible. It could be done without magic, if you were willing to risk serious brain damage. Stands to reason you could do it with magic too, and probably a lot more precisely.

Thankfully Marq seemed to agree with me, which spared me the embarrassment of admitting I hadn’t been keeping up with all my studying like he’d wanted.

“Seems likely,” he said. “I know a couple ways you could do it. In theory, anyway. But they’re all pretty complicated. It takes a pretty intricate ritual to dig your fingers into someone’s grey matter, and you’d need an expert to perform it step-by-step if you wanted to remove any specific memories instead of just blasting an entire day or month from your brain. It wouldn’t be an easy process is my point. I mean if it was, we’d be doing it already.”

“Those fuckers…” Nayeli whispered. “They were inside my head… those fuckers…!

She’d curled up into a ball without me noticing. The notion of someone toying with her memories clearly didn’t sit well with her.

Like it’d sit well for anyone… I thought.

She looked up, suddenly seeming like she’d thought of something very important. “Boss, we were really… we’re still… right? They didn’t make that up, right?

Her tone of voice was urgent, and she looked about ready to cry again. The thought of being apart from Marq, or worse, the thought of all the time they’d spent together being nothing but fake memories, had clearly settled in. Paranoia was probably the rational response here, after all. We had no idea what they’d done to her. She already seemed like a reflection of her former self.

Marq smiled gently. “No Nayeli, those aren’t fake. They’re real. They happened. Don’t let this make you think otherwise. I still love you. I’ve always loved you. And we’re gonna find out the truth. If we can prove they tampered with your memories, it might give us an edge in the upcoming case.”

“How?” I asked.

“Memory alteration is a class B magic, Al. Even using it for therapeutic purposes is illegal. Sanctity of memory and the protection of your mental faculties is considered a basic right of life for everyone, even criminals.”

“No, I mean,” I said, being patient with him. “How are we gonna prove it? You said it yourself, memory magic is complicated. Besides, she’s inside an atelier. What are we gonna do from out here?”

He smiled reassuringly, although there was something bitter in his usual triumphant grin. “We don’t need magic, Al. Just a good ol’ fashioned party trick.”

He pulled his pocketwatch out of his jacket and swung it around like a pendulum.

“Hypnosis?” I asked.

“Post-hypnotic memory recall, actually,” Marq said. “I read about it once. Apparently the shrinks think you can use hypnosis to trigger repressed memories. I thought we’d give it a try.”

“Might work,” I said, shrugging. Marq blew me off with a chuff.

Will work,” he said. It’s got to, is what I imagined he was thinking. He turned to Nayeli. “Alright Nayeli, I need you to lie down on your back.”

Nayeli didn’t really agree to it at first, I could tell. The idea of someone, anyone digging around in her skull so soon after the last time, even if it was Marq, upset her. To her, her mind probably already felt fragile enough. It’s not that she didn’t trust his intentions, she just didn’t trust him to not cock it up.

But eventually she did exactly as she was told, following his lead more out of faith than anything else, and I began to wonder. Maybe she wasn’t afraid of Marq making a mistake. Maybe she was afraid of what she might remember. After all, it could just be simple paranoia on the part of the Untouchables, a desire to leave out any potential loose ends, or perhaps even a mercy to make her forget the pain of the beating, but you generally didn’t bother to erase someone’s memories without having a good reason. And usually, that reason was you did something that you didn’t want anyone else to remember. Something that had to be pretty fucking awful.

A number of delightful scenarios entered my head, and I knew they’d seem just as unpleasant to Nayeli if she was imagining them just then. The best we could hope for was just a history of her bruises. The worst could help us build a case, but… well, I hope Marq understood that it wouldn’t be worth it. Still, he seemed determined to find out the truth.

I put a hand on his shoulder.

“I think I’m having second thoughts about this, Marq.”

“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Why’s that?”

“I mean…” I struggled to find the words. “You know this is just gonna hurt her, right? What if she doesn’t want to relive those memories? What if they’re bad?

I stressed that last part, thinking it was important he understood “bad” meant more than just physical pain or injury.

He looked at me sternly. “Al, we have to know the truth. We have to know who did this to her.”

“Why?” I asked. “So you can get revenge? Doesn’t that seem… selfish?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean, Al?”

Marq’s gaze was so cold it made me flinch. He made it clear I was pushing my luck. But for now, I still had the right to speak.

I chose my words carefully. “I mean… are you really sure you wanna put her through this, whatever happened to her, again? I’m not saying anything did happen to her, whatever that may be, but do you really wanna hurt her just for your own self-satisfaction?”

Marq grit his teeth, raising his voice. “She has to know, Al! Do you think there’s any other choice?! If anything happened,” he said, the potential implications of that word hurting him so much it showed in his voice, “then they happened. We can’t undo it just by ignoring it. If anything that means they’ll just get away with it and we’ll have nothing to use against them in court! She deserves to know.”

“You mean you do,” I said, then immediately regretted saying anything. Marq looked at me, utterly desperate and more unstable than I’ve ever seen him, and I quickly began to backtrack. “Look, all I’m saying is that this should be her decision. If you-”

“If I really love her, yeah… I know,” Marq said, taking a deep breath. This was difficult for him. Difficult for me too, but I suspect for vastly different reasons. He looked at Nayeli.

“Nayeli… doll… do you want me to do this?” he asked. “If you really don’t want me to…”

She shook her head. “No, you were right. I wanna know what those bastards did to me. Just promise me that… if it’s that… it won’t change how we-”

Her voice croaked as she tried to swallow that bitter pill.

“No. God no,” Marq said, forehead pressed up against the glass. “But it won’t be that. I know it won’t. And no matter what it is, whether they beat you with sticks or just tickled you until you passed out, I’m going to make sure they regret it. You hear me Nayeli? They’re gonna fucking pay, no matter who they are or what they did.”

Nayeli nodded without saying anything, and laid back down.

I didn’t know exactly what they meant when they so artfully dodged around the subject by using the word “it”, but I could guess. But why would they think the Untouchables would do that to anyone? Mickey Donahue was one thing, but not them. Corrupt cops they may be, but I don’t think they’d ever go that far. Unless Marq had a reason to suspect they would, but that equally didn’t make any sense. Still, like I said, there weren’t many reasons to use memory alteration magic that weren’t… unpleasant.

The pocketwatch pivoted back and forth, its clock-like motion captivating as it wove arcs through the air. Marq gave her the usual set of instructions used in stage hypnosis, then waited until she’d fallen asleep, deep into a trance.

“Now Nayeli, I want you to describe for me what happened when you were… attacked,” Marq said, hesitating. “Tell me everything you remember. Did you see your attacker’s faces? What did they look like? Did you hear any names? Tell me what they did to you.”

I could hear him grinding his teeth as he said that. Then, as soon as he stopped, Nayeli began to speak.

Her story was a lot like what we’d been expecting, with a few extra twists. The invisible city-sized blimp kinda threw me for a loop. But so far there was nothing that suggested they’d done anything worthy of memory alteration. Had they only been trying to protect state secrets like that ziggurat?

“Alright,” Marq said. “Can you remember anything else after you blacked out?”

“Yeah…” she said drowsily. The words tumbled out of her mouth the same way a sleepwalker talks. “They’re taking me up… into the floating city. They’re taking me… to meet someone.”

“Who?” Marq asked patiently.

“I can’t tell,” Nayeli mumbled. “It… looks like a man. I can only see his back but he’s turning around. He-”

And then she just stopped, mouth still open, lips quivering. Concerned, Marq leaned in closer.

“Nayeli?”

“I can see.. His eyes…” Nayeli said, a steady drip of panic flooding her calm voice. “His eyes… Marq, I can’t… I can’t see his eyes! They’re black! His eyes are black!”

Marq jumped on that. “Black eyes? Is he a demon?”

“No,” she said. “Not black like that. Black like… like space. Like an endless pit but with no stars. There’s nothing. There’s just nothing! No light, no pupils, no eyelids! All I see is black! He doesn’t have a soul!”

Nayeli started writhing on the dirt floor of her cell, her own eyes closed, twitching. Marq rushed over and pressed his hands against the barrier.

“Nayeli? Nayeli listen to me! You’re okay! What’s he doing? What’s going on?”

“He’s coming towards me!” she said. “He’s just… walking through the gravity, like it means nothing! Make him go away, Marq! Make him go away!”

Her convulsions started pressing against the barrier, shaking the space in her cell with the unrestrained strength of a fearful demigoddess.

“It’s okay Nayeli, he’s not really there!” Marq shouted. “Tell me what you see!

“He’s reaching out!” she yelled back from across the veil. “He’s trying to touch me! His fingers… they’re so cold! I can feel them on my face like a blizzard! No… no! Stay back! Get away from me! Get away!

Then, like a snapping piece of wood, Nayeli’s back arched sharply, her mouth stretched wide open into a scream like nothing I’ve ever heard. The noise must have been tuned for us by the barrier, because inside the volume of her agony was reducing what little adorned her cell into powderized atoms, smoothing the walls into an inoffensive dark slab of polished rock. But I could hear her. I could hear her all the same, and the sounds she made weren’t human. They sounded like an animal being tortured, like a monkey in the cold hands of a probing scientist being pricked and stabbed with needles. Whatever it was, it wasn’t touching her body. Something was touching her mind.

And then she stopped, collapsing to the floor. We both stared, shocked into silence. Marq was the first to react.

“Nayeli…” he said, clamoring against the barrier. “Nayeli wake up! It’s over! None of it was real! Someone get this cell open!

I stared at her. “What the fuck was that?

Marq, however, didn’t share my confusion. He was too busy seeing to Nayeli. Her eyes flickered open.

“Oh thank god,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Nayeli are you okay? What happened back there? Do you need to talk about it? What am I saying, of course you do…”

He fumbled for something to comfort her with before remembering nothing but light and sound could pass through the barrier. Nayeli just looked at him, confused.

“What are you talking about, boss?” she asked. “Talk about what?”

He stopped. I chimed in.

“Uhhh… your memories? The little episode you just had where you tried to burst God’s eardrum?”

She scowled. “Stop giving me shit, you little shit. What are you talking about?”

I tried to ignore how irritating it was that she was calling me that too now. “You mean you literally don’t remember? Not a thing you said, not even destroying your cell?

“What do you mean-” She stopped and looked behind her, shocked once she saw her new interior decorations. “I did that?

I huddled over to Marq, and whispered in his ear.

“Marq, what the fuck is going on? She doesn’t remember anything!”

But he didn’t say anything. Didn’t even look my way. Just kept staring straight ahead, like he’d remembered something himself. Something important.

“Marq?” I asked. “Pal? You look like you got something to say.”

I waited for him to start talking. When he didn’t, that’s when I knew shit was going to get really fucked up really fast.

“… Please say yes. Please? Just for me?” I tried to negotiate. “Because that freaked me the fuck out just now, and if you don’t start explaining shit I think I’m just gonna start sweating.”

Marq not taking the role of the little exposition gnome to dump the magic knowledge on me at times like this was something that was really, really unsettling. It meant he either didn’t know, or didn’t want to. Either option scared me.

“Al,” he said softly, wetting his dry lips. “I don’t know about you, but… I’ve seen a face like that before.”

“What, like old Black Eyes?”

“No, Al. Not a demon,” he said. “A fae.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Shit.”

It was quickly becoming clear Nayeli’s captors hadn’t erased her memories to cover up them doing unspeakable things to her or anything else like that. The violence clearly wasn’t the part they’d cared about. I imagined they’d admit to torturing her without shame if they’d actually done it. No, Nayeli had been silenced because she’d seen too fucking much.

“Marq,” I said, trying to take a deep breath. “Please tell me you know what the fuck’s going on, because I don’t.

“Me?” he replied back. “Not a clue.”

Nayeli looked at us funny. “Boss? What’s going on?”

Marq tried explaining it to her. Me, I just left. Couldn’t stand the darkness. Not after what I’d just seen.

I leaned back against one of the tunnel walls, breathing hard like I’d just run a marathon.

“Holy shit…

What the fuck had we just gotten ourselves into?

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Bonus Interlude (Nayeli Knossos, pt.4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl refused to say anything.

“Can I talk to you? Are you awake?”

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…

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

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

A scar…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Boss?”

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

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

“Wait!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not good enough,” the girl said.

“Huh?” Marquis asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marquis tried again.

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

“…”

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I mean… what’s your name?”

“… Marquis. Marquis Allesandri.”

Nayeli looked mournfully towards the darkened sky.

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

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

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

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

Because he loves you.

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

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

Now she really was totally, completely-

“-alone.”

“Huh?”

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

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

“Who the hell are you?” she asked.

Me? Hehehehe… try ‘we’.”

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

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

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

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

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

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