Miya jogged up the stairs of her old apartment building. She’d checked online, and both her family and Janice and Andrea hadn’t moved, so far as she could find out. Miya paused at the second floor, her family’s floor. Later. She moved on, up one more level. One, two, three doors. Here.
Miya bit her lip as she stood before the door. I just vanished for six months, and I haven’t even called them or anything. What the hell am I supposed to say? Fuck it. Just knock. She knocked.
Silence. It’s only ten o’clock. Maybe they’re out of town or something. Miya turned to leave, and that was when the door opened.
“Who- Miya?” said a familiar voice.
“Uh,” replied Miya. Fuck. Way to be intelligent.
“Miya!” Andrea pulled Miya inside and enveloped her in a hug. “Jan, it’s Miya!” she called out to the apartment behind her.
Andrea released Miya and moved aside to let Janice smother her. “Hi,” managed Miya, around a faceful of Janice’s brown hair. Nothing but monosyllabic sentences for me, I guess. “How’s it going?” There we go, I can speak real grown up sentences.
“How are we doing? Where have you been?” asked Andrea, brow furrowed in concern.
“We’ve been worried sick. You’ve been gone for six months. Six!” said Jan.
“Yeah, I know,” responded Miya.
“What happened?” they asked as they guided her to a couch in the living room.
“I, um, I got kidnapped.”
“What?” they exclaimed simultaneously.
“You need to tell us what happened. Right now,” continued Andrea, her blue eyes fixed on Miya.
Miya rehashed her story. Slim Jim’s attack on her gang, Overlord’s experiments, Freedom Fighter’s brief ownership of her, and her eventual rescue at the hands of Olivia and the gang. Miya left out the feral part, Jan and Andrea already looked concerned enough.
Jan squeezed her tight as she finished. “I’m fine now,” mumbled Miya. “How are you guys?”
“How are we,” repeated Andrea. “No. How are you?”
“I’m fine, I said,” insisted Miya. Jan raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Really. I got away two months ago.”
“You never thought to call us?” asked Jan.
“Jan,” admonished Andrea. To Miya she said, “It doesn’t matter now. We’re just glad you’re safe.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Miya.
“So what are you doing now?” asked Jan gently.
“I don’t know. I’m working with the others, I’m still kicking around with them. We’re just doing stuff for hire. You know, security. How have things been here since I’ve been gone?” No need to make them more worried. Besides, they will absolutely worry about Overlord.
“Quieter. We’ve missed your visits,” said Andrea. That, and my family downstairs probably isn’t shouting as much.
“Not much else has changed, really,” added Jan. “Your family… took the news as well as they could have.”
So they did nothing, really. “I bet.”
“The news only really covered the massacre at your safe house. They called it a gang violence incident, and that was that. No reporting on a kidnapping.”
“I bet,” repeated Miya. No one around here ever really cared about a little Mexica chick before, don’t see why they would start now.
Jan nodded. “We talked to the police. There wasn’t much we could do. They called the investigation off after a week or so. They said something about resources being needed elsewhere.”
Miya nodded. “You heard anything from my old gang?” Pretty sure Slim Jim killed them all. Would be nice if he didn’t, though. Jan frowned. She’d always been pushing for Miya to either find someone or go back to school. I can’t really learn magic from a fucking high school, now can I?
“No, sorry,” said Andrea, before Jan could speak up. “They found a lot of bodies, though. We thought you might have been with them, thank god you weren’t. But they never identified any as you, so we held out hope.”
Miya gave a half-smile. “Well, here I am. I’m so sorry it took so long.”
“Oh don’t worry, it’s alright,” said Andrea.
After an amicably silent moment, Miya said, “I’ve been seeing a bunch of new tags around. The green ones.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Jan with a frown.
“Those are the Tzontlis. They sprang up a couple months ago. Police haven’t been able to do much about them.” Oh, yet another Aztec gang. Great.
“The Skulls? Really? That’s kind of lame,” said Miya.
“They’re dangerous. They killed three MHU officers, and Mica.” Mica was that one super they had in the MHU, right? I think so.
Miya nodded, chewing her lip thoughtfully. Probably won’t give a shit about us, unless they’re with the Underground Mage Collective. Might want to check on that. Speaking of which…
“Is Don’s shop still open, do you know?” asked Miya.
“Yes, are you going to see him too? I know you were taking lessons from him.”
“Yeah. Something like that.” Miya willed her hands to relax. If he sold me out, I’ll murder the fuck out of him.
“I’m so sorry, we should have asked earlier. Can we get you anything to drink? Anything like that?” asked Jan.
“No thank you. And I should go. I need to go talk to my family now.”
“You haven’t spoken with them yet?” asked Andrea, concern written all over her face.
Miya shook her head. “Thanks. Thank you two so much. I… I should probably go talk with my family now,” said Miya, heading for the door.
Jan and Andrea exchanged glances and frowned. Jan said, “Are you sure?”
Miya bit her lip. “Yeah.”
They nodded. “Well, good luck. If you need anything from us, don’t hesitate to ask.” They both offered her a final hug, and before Miya knew it, she was in front of her family’s apartment.
Let’s get this over with. She pounded on the front door. After some muffled shouting from within, the door opened.
“Hey, Cam,” Miya said in Nahua to the fifteen year old kid who opened the door. Cam gaped as she went inside, reaching up to ruffle his hair as she passed. He frowned and ducked out from under her hand.
“Miya? What the fuck are you doing here?” said her oldest brother, Ollin. He’d gained weight in the last six months since Miya had seen him, if his now protruding gut was anything to go by. Metabolism isn’t your friend anymore. Five years older than Miya at twenty three, he stood up and glared at her.
Him and her other two brothers, two and three years older than her, crowded around the dinner table. They didn’t join Ollin in standing, but tensed in anticipation of doing so. Aw, they all have matching hammer and sickle tattoos on their shoulders now. How adorable. A man on the TV in the adjacent room shouted some sort of speech, Miya didn’t bother to pay attention to it.
“Just coming back home. Nothing wrong with that, is there? Where are mom and dad?” she asked.
“Father’s too sick to work. Mother’s working night shift now, covering for him,” responded Ollin.
“Sick? What happened?”
Cam answered her. “He got a nasty cut. He’s been sick for the past week.”
“Shut up, Cam,” said Ollin. Cam shut his mouth and shrank back. “Where the fuck have you been?” he asked Miya.
“Oh, I was kidnapped. No big deal. Just wanted to come back, get my stuff,” she said, forcing a calm voice. She leaned against a wall behind her, not taking her eyes off her brothers.
“We got rid of all that.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? When did you decide to just write me off?” Miya’s hands balled into fists before she forced herself to relax. Not unexpected. Still, fuck him.
“I don’t know, sometime in February. You think it’s a good idea to come back here after running off?” he said, glowering at her.
Fuck this politeness shit. “Two months? And running off?” repeated Miya, raising her voice. “Running off? What part of kidnapping did you not understand, dipshit?”
“Bullshit. Why the fuck would someone kidnap you? Don’t fucking try to come up with some sob story for sympathy,” said Ollin, voice raising as well, to the point where he essentially shouted as he approached.
“Did you even bother to try to figure out where I was? Did you even give a shit?” Miya shouted back, pushing off against the wall to shove a finger in Ollin’s face. Good thing everyone in my family is short.
Cam had withdrawn to the far side of the couch in the other room, eyes glued to the TV. Miya’s other two brothers had stood as well, still at the table. They’ll just follow Ollin. Mom and dad are just trying to get through the day, they were probably grateful for one less mouth to feed.
“Why should we? You were always a spiteful, ungrateful little bitch anyways. Never did anything for the family.”
“You haven’t worked a day in your life. Too fucking lazy to-” shouted Miya.
Ollin cut her off with a backhand across her face. “Done. Out,” he said, his voice devoid of its earlier heat.
She held a hand to her nose to stifle the blood flow as Ollin loomed over her. Nose isn’t broken. Hurts like shit. She would need prolonged physical contact to do anything to him without a weapon or golem; he knew that. If she lunged for him, he’d flatten her. That, and her two other brothers now flanked Ollin. Should have brought a knife. Should have known.
“Fine,” she spat. She turned around and ripped the door open. “Hope you enjoy living in a shithole for the rest of your life,” she called out over her shoulder.
Whatever Ollin was about to say was cut off when Miya slammed the door shut. She backed away. Is he going to come charging out, or is he going to blow me off? After a moment, the door did not reopen. What a fucking waste of my time.
Miya took a moment to stop the flow of blood from her nose at the head of the staircase leading back to the car. A little magic couldn’t hurt. There we go. She stomped back down the stairs, wiping the last bit of blood from her nose. Olivia and Chris waited outside the car in the parking lot behind the apartment building.
“What happened?” asked Olivia once Miya got close.
“Family argument, nothing more,” said Miya as Chris leaned down to start the car.
“But… you came back. They, um, they didn’t-”
Shut up. Fuck. Miya cut her off. “Olivia, please drop it. See you back at the hideout.”
“Sorry,” said Olivia as Miya slammed the car door shut behind her. What do you not understand?
Chris drove off as Miya got settled in her seat. Damn it. It’s done and over with. Miya bit her lip as she clenched her hands. Her hands still felt off, like the wires and whatever else the doctors had shoved in them were shifting around between the bones whenever Miya tried to do anything. Fuck them. Fuck Overlord, fuck Don, fuck Slim Jim, and fuck that orange doctor guy. Fuck you all for putting me in this position. And I don’t really feel like explaining this all to Olivia later, either.
“Damn it, Olivia,” she said.
“What about Olivia?” asked Chris, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. Shit, I said that aloud.
“Don’t bullshit me,” he said, his voice as calm as always.
Miya bit back an acid retort. Don’t. Calm down. Don’t do something I’ll regret halfway down the line. After taking a moment, she said, “I don’t know why she insisted on coming. And Olivia not understanding things is frustrating sometimes. I’m already frustrated enough. ”
“I’m fairly confident she’d give you a hug and listen.”
“I’m not looking for sympathy,” she said with a glare.
“Didn’t say you were. Sorry if it came out that way,” he said, eyes still fixed on the road.
“What the hell were you saying?” I’ve had enough condescending pity in my life, don’t need any more.
“She’s not going to figure it out on her own. Or if she figures something out, she’ll come up with something wrong.”
“Why would she?”
“Hrm,” said Chris. “Well… think of it this way. Who else does she have?”
“What do you mean?”
“Who would Olivia consider her family?”
“I don’t know. No one?” Family is overrated anyway.
“Us. We’re probably the closest thing she has to a family. With that in mind, do you think, hugs aside, she could even conceive of purposefully hurting us?”
Miya bit her lip. She doesn’t even want to kill random gangbangers. “I guess not.”
“So I think, in her mind, family hurting each other doesn’t happen. She hasn’t seen anything to the contrary before, and violence hasn’t solved a problem for her yet.”
“When did you become so good at psychoanalyzing and shit?” If I may steer the conversation away from me and my fucked up family.
“You forget I was an MHU cop for a brief moment in time. Reasoning like that is a good skill to have.”
“No regrets about leaving?”
“Kind of. It wasn’t all it cracked up to be. Still poured a lot of time into it. Want some food?”
Miya blinked. “Um. I don’t know. Sure. Anything open this late?” I don’t see why not. But I also don’t see where this came from.
Chris cracked a smile. “You live here. Unless you want fast food, of course.”
Miya shuddered. I’d rather not get fat. Almost not a teenager, now that I think about it. Metabolism won’t be my friend for much longer, if Ollin was anything to go by. “I can think of a place or two near here.”
“So, you were talkin’ ‘bout this Don guy, yeah?” said Ben, a few hours after Miya and Chris had returned to their hideout.
Rob and Amanda were still swarming over her car out back. Something had caught on fire while Miya had been gone, if the residual smell of smoke was anything to go by. Chris and Olivia talked off on the other side of the warehouse. He’s better at talking than me. Whatever.
“Yes,” answered Miya. Where are you going with this?
“Got a plan with how to talk to him. Ya don’ know if he actually sold ya out, right?”
“I’m reasonably certain, yes.”
“How so? Overlord’s got lots of contacts.”
“My magic is hard to externally quantify. I need to touch to do something with it. That’s not something you can just watch through a camera and figure out. The results aren’t obvious. Also, he didn’t know much about magic at all, if those tests were any indication. No, Don very probably sold me out. Maybe he told the wrong person, but he was a greedy son of a bitch.”
Ben nodded. “Got a plan?”
Miya bit her lip. Now that I think about it. “Not particularly.”
“He’s got a shop, right?”
The door to the warehouse behind them shut as Olivia left. Girl likes flying.
“What’s the setup look like there?” asked Ben.
“Small, dingy little building. Standalone. Adobe. Not much else,” answered Miya.
“He live nearby?”
“Not nearby. I don’t know where he lives, but he always drives a car to his shop.”
“Could bust his car windows. He comes out, we nab him there.”
“Yeah, but he’ll be coming out expecting a fight.”
“Yeah, so?” asked Ben.
“He’ll come out ready to thrash someone. And we’ll be there in thrashing distance.”
Ben grinned. “Overlord may have provided a solution to that.”
“What?” Oh right, his sniper rifle is Overlord made. “Wait, what are you thinking?” I’m not taking any options off the table.
“There’s a couple cool things it shoots. Not just bullets an’ plasma. Something like iron slugs, and shock rounds.”
“Rifle calculates how much electricity to put in the round without killin’ ‘em. Knocks the fucker out cold.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Yes, or so I’ve been told.” Excellent!
“Alright, I’m liking this.”
Ben looked around conspiratorially. “Wanna leave the others outta this?”
“I’m assumin’ you’re gonna make the fucker pay. I would. But we got two cops with us, Rob’s not goin’ anywhere for anyone, an’ Olivia don’ like violence. You plan on torturin’ Don’s ass.”
Miya considered. He’s got a point. “When? Any time works.”
“Tomorrow’s only ‘bout eight hours away. Then?”
Miya nodded. “Let’s do it.”