Mariana Amor

Interlude 10B – Mariana Amor (Summus Proelium)

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Mariana Amor, biological mother of Izzy Amor (though calling her a mother in any sense other than biological would be something of a stretch), sat in a small motel room on the edge of Detroit. The room had two beds in it, one of which was covered with various clothes, bags, and suitcases, while the other was the one she had slept in for the past couple of weeks while waiting for the heat over what she had done to die down a little bit. Actually, she’d done more than sleep in the room. She’d barely left it at all aside from visits to the office to pay her bill a couple times, and the occasional trip to the ice or vending machines. All of her meals were delivered straight to the door. Five hundred thousand dollars went a long way for that. 

Five hundred thousand dollars. Half a million. She could have gotten more. Mariana knew that. For a young, easily moldable and incredibly powerful Touched like her daughter? She could have gotten two, three, or even four times that amount. But she had been in a hurry. And she could work with five hundred thousand. It was a good nest egg to start over in a decent place with a new identity and nothing tying her down. 

Or it would have been, if those Oscuro idiots had kept hold of Izzy and made sure the whole thing went as smoothly as they had promised it would. But no. They had to fuck the whole thing up. Now that Handler guy was gone, and she was being looked for by not just the cops and Star-Touched, but by the Oscuro people too. Because they wanted to clean up their mess. 

Thankfully, everyone seemed to believe she had already left town. But she was still here in Detroit, in this motel right near the freeway. For now, anyway. But she’d already arranged for a way out of this hellhole and into that new life she’d always wanted. She just had to be patient. Even if that was hard, given how many times she’d woken up in the middle of the night in this shitty place, hearing the slamming of a car door or raised voices and become convinced someone was here for her. 

It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. She wasn’t a bad person. Izzy would’ve been fine with the Oscuro people. Sure, it might’ve been a bit rough at first, but with her power, she would’ve risen to the top of the ranks really quickly. And once she did, she would have been a force to be reckoned with. She would have been a real force in the city, living the high life. Mariana had tried to give her that, had tried to put her through a little tough love so she’d come out the other side with everything she could ever want. And for that, she’d only taken a little payment. Just enough to get her own real life started. But was Izzy grateful for that? Was she even a tiny bit happy that her mother had done the legwork to get her in the door of one of the strongest Touched groups in Michigan? No. Of course not, because she was an immature brat. 

So, now Mariana had to get out of this place and get her new identity before any of those people managed to get hold of her. Luckily, she was smart. Too smart to live in some shitty condo playing nursemaid to one of the most powerful Touched in the city while the authorities squeezed them both dry. Mariana deserved better than that. After all, hadn’t she produced Izzy? She deserved to have a say in what her daughter did with her powers, not the jack booted government thugs who would never give mother or daughter what they were worth. 

That line of thought was making her angrier by the moment, to the point that Mariana was barely paying attention to the television. Which just made her more annoyed, because this was one of her favorite shows and of fucking course this dump didn’t have good enough TV’s to let you rewind a live show, like any civilized place would. With a curse, she had just started to focus more when there was a soft knock on the door. It was a single knock, followed by a brief silence, then two knocks, then a pause, then one more. A code, because she wasn’t an idiot and had wanted to make sure anyone coming to her room was actually someone she wanted to talk to.

But naturally, of course after all this time, the person who was supposed to help her get out of this shitty city would choose now to do so. Right when Mariana was trying to focus on her show. Heaving a long sigh, she grabbed the remote and flipped it off. Hopefully this person was satisfied now. Honestly, why were people so damned inconsiderate? This was why she needed that money, so she could find a decent place to live, the kind of place she’d always deserved. 

Stepping over to the door, she checked through the peephole first, just in case. Seeing a young, attractive blonde girl standing there with the shirt of a local pizzeria and two actual pizza boxes in her hands, she squinted before cracking the door a little bit (still leaving the chain in place). “I didn’t order any.” 

The response from the teenager was an easy, bright smile. “Are you sure, ma’am?” she started while lifting the lid of the top box a bit. “I think this is exactly what you ordered.” Instead of a pizza in the box, there were papers, including a California driver’s license with Mariana’s picture and a different name, a social security card, even a birth certificate. It was everything she needed to get started in a new place. This was it, this was the person she’d been waiting for.

Quickly stepping back while unhooking the chain and opening the door, she ushered the girl in before shutting it. “Come on, come on. What the hell took you so long? I paid for premium service. Ten thousand dollars should get something a lot more prompt. I expected you hours ago.” As she finished with that, Mariana was already turning to walk over to one of her suitcases. She undid the combination lock, before reaching in to find an envelope. 

In the meantime, the girl behind her spoke up. “It took a few hours to put everything together the way you wanted it. I assume you wanted quality product that’ll hold up to scrutiny, not something that would get you picked up the first time some patrolman pulls you over for a busted taillight and tries to run a five dollar job that was run off a color printer in some asshole’s basement.” 

Forgetting her annoyance entirely, Mariana eagerly stepped that way to look at the open pizza box full of her new life that the girl had set on the empty bed. “It’s really that good?” she demanded, reaching out to take one of the documents before stopping to squint at her with a very firm, “I’m not paying you a single red cent until I get to look at them for myself.” 

“Go ahead,” the girl allowed with a calm gesture while stepping back to give her all the room she needed. “I’m not worried about you taking it and running.”  

Ignoring that, Mariana set the envelope full of cash down next to the box and began to go through all the documents. A new ID, a new passport, social security card, birth certificate, credit cards, school documentation, diploma, a bachelor’s degree from some university in California, it was all here. Everything she could possibly need to start her real life far away from this place. There was even a frequent flier card, and a couple for grocery store loyalty programs. Everything that would make her new identity look one hundred percent real. 

“There’s still one thing we need to do,” the girl informed her while Mariana was eagerly examining all the documents. “These will get you a long way, but you were fingerprinted when your daughter went into the Minority system. Which means that if anyone takes your fingerprints, they’ll know you’re not who all these things say you are. But I can fix that. I can get your fingerprints out of their system. For an extra five thousand dollars.” 

Snapping her gaze up at that, Mariana squinted. “You’re trying to shake me down for more now?” 

“I’m offering you a service,” the girl replied simply. “This is what you’ve paid for. But I’m also telling you that this will fall apart if you get fingerprinted. For five thousand, I’ll remove that possibility right here so you can see for yourself. But if you don’t want that, feel free to take the risk. It’s up to you.” 

For a moment, Mariana hesitated. She didn’t want to part with any more of her money. But on the other hand, better to lose five thousand now rather than all of it and her freedom later. Besides, if she ever wanted to get a job that involved being fingerprinted, this was probably a good idea. 

“Fine,” the woman settled on. “But you better not be playing me, young lady. I’m paying for the premium service, and if I find out that this whole thing was some kind of racket, I swear…” 

Adopting one of those clone-like customer service smiles, the blonde girl cheerfully assured her, “Oh, don’t worry. You’ll get everything you’ve been asking for, cross my heart and hope to die.” 

With that announcement, she reached into the second pizza box and took out a laptop, setting it up on the nearby table. Humming briefly, the girl went through several options on the screen quickly before stepping aside a bit to show her. “This is the database they use to store fingerprints for Touched and Touched relatives. As you might imagine, it’s supposed to be very secure.” A slight smile touched the girl’s face. “After all, they don’t want people finding Star-Touched identities through their fingerprints. Most of them wear gloves, but still.” 

“If it’s supposed to be secure,” Mariana demanded, feeling even more like she was being played here, “how do you have access to it from a laptop in a motel room? That seems like the opposite of secure.” 

“I’m not accessing it,” the girl replied, tilting the screen a bit to show her the view panning out to reveal that the image they had been looking at was actually being taken by a camera recording the screen of another computer inside what looked like a secure server room. “This is recorded video. I’m showing you what I already did.” As she said that, a gloved hand reached out to the now-visible keyboard, tapping at it briefly before bringing up Mariana’s entry. Navigating to the fingerprint portion, the hand hit a few more keys, replacing the recorded image of the prints and all associated markers with a different set, before saving it that way. 

“So you show me a video of you doing this in some fake server room and I’m supposed to believe it’s real?” Mariana scoffed, squinting that way. “Just how naive do you think I am?” 

“Just keep watching,” the young woman flatly insisted, her eyes not leaving the screen. The glove on the screen was pulled off to reveal her hand before apparently being put away. Then the view spun, turning to walk out of the room, past several more servers and monitors before reaching a reinforced glass door with a scanner beside it. A badge appeared and was swept past the scanner, prompting an affirmative beep before the door popped open and the view continued out into the hallway where people in uniform were walking around. A few looked up and nodded in greeting, but most were busy working. 

While Mariana watched, the recording continued all the way through the building, past plenty of police officers and Touched-related authorities before eventually leading all the way out to the sidewalk. There, the apparently hidden camera was turned to reveal the actual, publicly known Star-Touched/Detroit Police liaison building. It was the closest thing to a Conservator and Spartan (the State-level Star-Touched team) base that was known to civilians.  

Calmly while the view from the camera went dark, the blonde girl asked, “Satisfied?” 

Mariana squinted briefly, but she couldn’t really argue with the footage. She had questions, that was for sure. But something told her the girl wasn’t going to tell her how she had pulled that off. On the other hand… “Why should I pay you to do something you’ve already done?” 

She was rewarded with a smile. This one seemed more genuine. “First,” the girl informed her, “because as easy as it was to change that information, I could easily change it back again. Second, because if you tried to leave without paying me, you wouldn’t make it very far.” The flat statement came with absolute certainty, as if Mariana could no more make it past the girl than jump and touch the moon. “But those two reasons don’t matter. Only the third one does.” 

“Oh, I’m paying you, I’m paying you,” Mariana snapped dismissively. “It was just a question, don’t be dramatic.” Even as she said it, the woman was digging out the extra five thousand. No sense in pushing things. “See, it’s right here?” Pausing with the cash in her hands as though only just then realizing something, she asked, “What was the third reason, anyway?”

“The third reason,” the girl explained with that same simple smile and calm voice, “is that it doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m taking all of your money. But you won’t be alive to care.”

Just as Mariana processed those words, her eyes widening while her mouth opened to scream, the girl lashed out with a lightning-fast punch. Mariana felt sudden blinding pain, staggering as her throat collapsed from the blow. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t breathe save for a little bit. The next thing she knew, her face was pressed down against the bed as the girl straddled her from behind, keeping her head down with one hand while ignoring all of Mariana’s panicked flailing. She was wheezing desperately, struggling to pull in the tiniest gasps of air. 

“My name is Paige Banners,” the girl informed her. “I thought you should know that first. And you… you’re a bottom-feeding piece of shit. Do you know what you are? You’re a woman who sold her own daughter. You sold your own child. You had a wonderful, brilliant, strong little kid and what did you do? You sold her into slavery.” 

Wheezing even harder, Mariana struggled desperately, head shaking as much as it could with the girl’s grip on it and her weight holding the woman down. She tried to protest, tried to give her explanation. 

“Shut up,” Paige snapped. “I don’t care how you justified it to yourself. I’m telling you what you did, not how you lied about it in your own head. You sold your own child into slavery to a bunch of supervillains. You let them hurt her. You let them hurt your own child. You knew they were going to torture her. Torture her. You stupid, evil, pathetic little bitch. You knew they were torturing her, that they were going to keep torturing her. There’s two ways you leaving her with them could have played out. One, they end up killing her because she won’t do what they want. Two, they break her and she starts serving them. Which means she kills other people. That’s what you sentenced your own child to. That’s what you sold her into. Either she would have died, or she would have become a murderer, a monster. All so you could have half a million bucks.” 

With that, Mariana found herself briefly free as Paige stepped off of her. She was still struggling to breathe, wheezing heavily and yet barely getting any air at all. Heaving herself over, she stopped short, staring at the pistol that the blonde girl was suddenly pointing at her. 

“My father did what you tried to do.” Paige’s voice was eerily calm, the barrel looming in Mariana’s vision, leaving the girl’s own face rather indistinct. “He sold me. He used me. He’s still using me. He’s making me do things I don’t want to do. Things I don’t have a choice in. 

“People who do that, people who sell their children just to get what they want, they don’t deserve to live. I hate my father. I hate him more than anything else in the world. I want him to sit on that island and rot. Unfortunately, I can’t stop him. I can’t hurt him. I can’t make him pay for what he’s done. But you? I can make you pay. I can make sure you never hurt anyone again. 

“So I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to die. And I’m going to take your body for a ride out of state. I’ll drop you in a ditch somewhere with your new identification. Then they’ll find you and you’ll be just another dead woman from California. Because you’re never going to hurt your daughter again. You are going to disappear. Your daughter isn’t going to feel guilty about you dying. She’s not going to wonder if she could have helped you. You’re going to drop out of her life and never appear again. Mariana Amor is going to disappear forever. Because you don’t deserve to have your daughter grieve for you.”

“And that money you were so proud of? Half of it is going to become an anonymous donation to an organization devoted to supporting the survivors of domestic violence and child neglect, and the other half is going to support adoption services and people who foster children. Because you might have been a piece of shit, but there are a lot of people better than you who can put that money to something worthwhile.” 

Finally, Mariana managed to wheeze out the words, “Take… it… let… me…” 

She never finished the sentence. Paige didn’t particularly care what she was going to say, pulling the trigger to send a single Tech-Silenced round through the woman’s forehead. Stepping back to let the body fall, she stowed the pistol at its holster on her back. The shot had been quiet as a whisper, but she still needed to be quick. She would clean up here, get the body into the car under the cover of night, then make the drive to drop it off as far away as possible. It was a four and a half hour drive to Chicago. Dumping the body somewhere in that city, then getting back would take all night. But that was fine.  

Reaching into her pocket, she took out a couple latex gloves, and then got to work.

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Interlude 6A – Raindrop (Summus Proelium)

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It was almost two o’clock in the morning when a small, clearly very young girl in a hooded windbreaker walked through an alley beside a fast food joint. Izzy Amor, publically known as Raindrop, was practically dead on her feet. She was so tired by that point that she could barely keep her eyes open as she all-but stumbled down the alley. She had just spent the past several hours helping to clear up the fires at the hospital, and then hanging around while the bomb squad people made sure there were no more explosives that might go off. There weren’t, but the bomb guys had to be really thorough, which meant Izzy and the others sat around for hours.

Now that it was all over, Izzy was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to even summon a little rain cloud in her hand. Just the idea of using her power any time soon made the twelve-year old feel kind of nauseous. All she wanted to do was get home, fall into bed, and sleep for a whole day. 

Reaching the end of the alley, the girl stepped out onto the sidewalk and looked both ways. There was no sign of anyone, aside from a sedan at the end of the street going the other way. Taking the phone from her pocket, she checked the messages. The most recent conversation showed the short, clearly terse, ‘Coming’. It was sent fifteen minutes earlier. Home was a ten minute drive away, so counting time to get dressed, her ride would be here any minute. 

A smile touched the girl’s face at the thought of getting home. She might take a shower before crashing, just to get the smell of smoke and stuff off. But mostly, just sleeping sounded great. 

With a yawn, she put her back against the wall of the nearby building and watched the corner her ride would be coming from. Headlights appeared, and she perked up. But they belonged to a jeep that drove straight past. After another minute, the girl yawned and slowly sank down to sit against the wall. Her eyes glanced briefly to the phone to make sure there wasn’t another message, before returning to watch the nearby intersection. Any minute now. Any minute. 

The sudden blaring of a horn along with a nearby light snapped Izzy awake. She jerked up right from where she had slumped over, staring with wide eyes until her gaze centered on the van waiting in front of her with the door open. The driver, her mother, hit the horn again and made an impatient gesture while shouting, “Stop wasting time and get in! Some of us have to work!”

Scrambling to her feet, Izzy took a brief second to glance at the phone in her hand. Forty-five minutes had passed since she sat down, an hour since her mother had said she was on her way. Quickly, she shoved the phone in her pocket and moved over to climb into the van. Before she had the door shut, they were moving, pulling away from the curb with a squeal of tires. 

Mariana Amor wore a jacket over her nightgown, grumbling to herself as they blew through a red light. “This is garbage, you understand? Garbage. These people have you out at all hours and they can’t even bring you home afterward? It’s disrespectful. Completely disrespectful. You know why they do it? Because they don’t respect you. They think they can walk all over you, walk all over us. It’s what they do. They use you for your power and they will throw you away as soon as you’re not useful enough. You know that? You tell me you know that, Isidora.”

“But Madre,” Izzy protested a bit weakly, “they’re still busy making sure everyone’s safe at the hotel and the hospital. They’re gonna be busy all night, but they said it was okay for me to leave because I was tired. And they said I could wait for a ride, but your message said that you were on the way, so I said they didn’t have to do anything. I thought you’d be here soon.”   

Her mother gave the girl a sharp look. “Don’t you put it back on me, niñita. I told you, I have to work in the morning. You know, that thing that puts real food on the table for both of us? Besides, I was a little tired when you called and I didn’t want to have an accident falling asleep at the wheel. You don’t want your mother to have an accident and die, do you?” 

“No, Madre,” Izzy murmured quietly, shaking her head. She turned a bit to look out at the passing buildings as they drove, not wanting to rile her mother up any more than she was. 

It didn’t really work. For the next seven minutes, Izzy sat in silence and listened as her mother ranted about how disrespectful the people behind the Minority were, how they treated her like a disposable asset, how they didn’t care what happened to her or what kind of trouble they put her family through as long as they had access to her power. And so on and so on. Occasionally, she would tell Izzy to agree with her to make sure the girl was listening, but mostly she just went on.

Finally, they parked in the covered parking lot next to their condominium and headed up the stairs. Izzy trudged along, yawning once more as they reached the front door. Her mother fumbled with the keys in the dim light from the nearby porch lamp, still cursing under her breath about how late it was and how little sleep she was going to end up getting before work. 

Eventually, her mother found the right key and unlocked the door. Izzy stepped through, unzipping her jacket while visions of her warm, comfy bed danced through her mind. Maybe the shower would wait until morning, because at this rate, she’d fall asleep in there and that would–

“Oh good, you’re finally home.” The sudden words interrupted Izzy’s thoughts, and she blinked up to see a strange man standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He wore one of those old bird-like plague doctor masks, along with a dark red apron over a black bodysuit. 

The sight of the man suddenly made Izzy forget all about being tired. Her hands snapped up, a ball of water forming between them before she even thought about the fact that she was giving away that she had powers. None of that mattered, except for protecting herself and her mother. 

Unfortunately, the ball of water had barely formed between her hands before a sudden, intense pain exploded in the back of the girl’s head. Izzy collapsed to the floor, sprawling out as her vision wavered in and out. Black spots had appeared, and she blearily looked up to see her mother standing there with a heavy, now-cracked figurine in one hand. “Sorry, baby,” she started while Izzy’s vision swam and began to fade. It took another second for consciousness to completely flee, enough time to leave her with her mother’s words echoing through her head.
“But this whole thing just isn’t working out anymore.” 

*******

With a sudden start, Izzy snapped awake. She tried to sit up as her eyes opened, only to find that neither helped. From what the girl could tell, she was tied to a chair, with a blindfold on. Some kind of heavy plastic ball was in her mouth, stopping her from saying anything. She did, however, make a noise of confusion, shifting in the chair while jerking a bit against the bonds. 

“Ah,” a man’s voice spoke, “she’s awake. Let’s see then…” There were fingers against her head, and she flinched at the rush of pain that shot through it from the blow she’d taken to the head. A blow from… from… her own mother? But why? Why would her mother hit her like that?

The blindfold came off, and Izzy found herself staring into that plague doctor mask, as the man studied her from behind the mirrored lenses in the eyes, leaving the girl staring at her own reflection when she tried to meet his gaze. She saw herself, bound to a heavy metal chair in her own kitchen, ball gag in her mouth. Her eyes were wild and looked almost crazed, leaving her even more stunned at the sight of it than she had already been. 

“There, see?” That was her mother’s voice, speaking up from the doorway. As Izzy’s eyes snapped that way, she saw the woman come into view. “The kid’s just fine. You can do your… whatever you’re going to do, after I get paid. So come on then, give it over before I change my mind about this whole thing and find someone who might offer a little bit more.” 

Instead of responding to her, the plague doctor looked at Izzy, head tilting a little. “You look confused, dear,” he murmured. “Let me spell it out for you. My name is Handler. I work for the man you know as Cuélebre. Your mother sold you to him, and I’m here to get you ready. That’s why it took time for her to come pick you up. We were… coming to a final arrangement.” 

Staring in shock and confusion, the words echoing through her head as she stared at her mother, Izzy shouted into the gag, her words swallowed up by it. At the same time, she jerked in the chair, a ball of water forming in front of her. But the instant it did, the man called Handler put a finger against her hand, and Izzy’s muffled words turned to a scream of agony. Pain, the likes of which she’d never known, exploded throughout her entire young body as the water fell apart.

“Hey!” her mother blurted, “I told you, not until you pay me. Money, you cheap bastard.” 

“In a moment,” the man assured her before turning his attention back to Izzy. “We have to make sure we all understand each other. So go ahead,” he urged, stepping away from the girl once her muffled scream had faded, hands up to show he wasn’t going to stop her. “Try that again.” 

The ball of water had barely begun to form that time before the shock of agony was back, bringing a renewed scream to the gagged young girl while her mother simply looked away. 

“I touch you,” the man informed her, “and mark a certain action as wrong. Actions such as using your power. Or raising your voice. Or disobeying an order from certain people. You do the action, you get punished. For now, the punishment my touch instills will only last for a few minutes. But with enough training and repeated sessions, anything you ever do that is against what Cuélebre requires or allows will bring that same pain for weeks, months, years at a time without needing to be refreshed. Eventually, I won’t need to renew it at all. And by then, you won’t need the pain anyway. You’ll simply do as you are told. Now then, remember that I have instilled a punishment for raising your voice. So no shouting. Let’s see if we’re on the same page.” He reached out, carefully unlatching the ball gag before pulling it away from her mouth. 

“M-Madre!” Izzy blurted, tears suddenly flooding her eyes. “Madre, it’s not true! Say it’s a trick! No, you wouldn’t do this! You can’t do this!” All thought of being tired had fled the girl, replaced by a feeling of loss and betrayal the likes of which she might never actually understand. 

Her mother spared a glance for her, pausing before stepping over. “Look, Izzy, it’s nothing personal. I just… I never wanted to be a mother. I never wanted to be a normal mother, let alone one for a… a superhero. I didn’t want it. I still don’t. I’m not… I’m not strong like you are, Izzy. Whatever happens, I know you can handle it. Yes, they’ll hurt you. But you’re a big girl. You’re a strong girl. You’ll be okay. And me… I… I’ll start a new life somewhere else. You’ll get over it.”

She’d… she’d get over it? Her mother had… her mother had sold her identity and her to a monster who wanted to torture her into obedience and she would just… get over it? Izzy stared, mouth open as tears continued to fall silently. She could find no words, could find no thought. Her mother… her mother didn’t care about her. She sold her. She was… she was going to leave her in this man’s hands so he could do… do whatever he wanted. Why? Why? Her body trembled, shaking against the bonds that held her to the heavy metal chair. Her voice was weak, marked by fear and confusion that made her ashamed of herself. “Madre… Mama, please…” 

“Don’t,” her mother snapped. “Don’t start that. I just–I can’t handle you. I don’t deserve to have to deal with any of this. I told you, I didn’t ask to be a mother, especially after your father left. I’m not cut out for it and you–you’re worth more like this. Do what the man says and you’ll be fine.” With that, she turned to Handler, voice snapping, “You have her and she’s secure. Money, now.” 

A new ball of water formed, reflexively summoned by the sobbing, pleading girl. It popped, as a renewed scream of agony exploded from her mouth. She’d barely gotten the first sound out before the gag was unceremoniously shoved back in. With it secure, muffling yet another scream as she struggled to use her power, Handler turned his back to the girl, apparently dismissing her from his mind as he produced a cell phone and extended it to her mother. 

“As agreed, five hundred thousand dollars for one moldable, powerful young Touched. As you can see, it’s been sent to the offshore account you specified. Are you satisfied?” 

The look of eager greed on her mother’s face as she stared at the phone screen made Izzy stop pleading and struggling against the gag. It was that, more than the woman’s cold words or the entire situation, which convinced her of just how real this was. Her mother didn’t care about her. She was selling her to be tortured and running away with the money. There was no sense in begging, no sense in pleading with her mother to change her mind, because she wouldn’t. Her mother wasn’t just okay with her being sold to Cuélebre, she was eager to leave with her money. There was no guilt in her face, nothing to indicate that she cared at all. 

Begging was useless. Being scared, sad, none of it would help. So Izzy stopped doing any of that. 

And started getting angry. 

Both her mother and the ‘Handler’ man had turned away from her. They were talking to each other while walking out of the kitchen. Izzy could hear them moving to the front door, her mother saying something about getting the money out of town before anyone found out what she’d done. Through it all, listening to her voice, she felt that… anger… that sense of betrayal. And with it came agony beyond anything she had ever thought possible, pain she couldn’t hope to describe. It suffused her entire being, her body arching up against the bonds as her dull, horrific scream of anguish, muffled only by the heavy gag, gradually filled the room.

The front door closed, and those footsteps steadily returned, as Handler came back. “Now then,” the man was already saying, “we’ll start your real training back at a more private place, but… we…” He trailed off, head tilting upward toward the rapid, steady thrum of water against the roof of the condo. “Is it raining? I–” His gaze dropped, staring at the bound young girl. She was pale, face stricken by the torture of what she was putting herself through. Sweat soaked through every pore, eyes tightly closed while she gave a low, tormented sob of misery.

Then her eyes opened, staring at the man while the rain hammering against the condo suddenly grew louder. It sounded like a deluge of water had suddenly opened up. It hammered the windows, the rain coming down so hard and fast that the entire building literally shook under the force of it. 

“Oh,” Handler managed to get out, “shi–” 

That was as far as he got, before Izzy arched her back, bonds barely holding her to the chair. The gag did almost nothing to muffle her deafening scream, as the condo literally ripped its way out of the ground. Her other power, the one that allowed her to control gravity on anything that was wet, tore the building up into the air. They went up a good ten feet or so before the building tipped over entirely. Handler’s words turned to a surprised shout, as the lights faded, plunging the condo into darkness. Cabinets had flown open, furniture, dishes, and more flying through the rooms. The last sight Handler had of the girl, she had directed water onto herself before flying, chair and all, through an open window just before the entire building slammed upside down into the ground. 

The wreckage of the condo littered the street, looking like a small, personal tornado had lifted it up, torn it apart, and thrown it back down again. Izzy found herself staring at it from where her power had dropped her when she could no longer handle any more pain. The drop had been enough to bend the chair somewhat, so she could slip her way free. Now, she stood, staring at the wreckage while tears fell freely from her face. Tears that would not slow, or fade, for a long time.

Some of the rubble shifted a bit, and she saw Handler pushing himself out of it while lights on the front porches of nearby houses turned on. People were starting to come out, even as the masked man climbed up. He was joined almost immediately by several other Oscuro soldiers who came running from the nearby car where they had obviously been waiting to transport her. 

Her mother’s van was already gone. 

The Oscuro people were looking around for her, weapons raised. They hadn’t spotted Izzy from where she was crouched by a fence a couple houses down. But they would soon. And she still couldn’t use her power without more pain. It had nearly killed her to do what she did. 

She couldn’t fight them. Not like this. Not physically, and not emotionally. So, the twelve-year old did the only thing she could in that moment. 

She turned and ran away.

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