There's no denying it. Davian is dead.
Mari can see that. She can look down, objectively, and see the body in front of her. See the glassy, unmoving eyes. The blood covering his person and spilling onto the pristine floor of the repurposed "government building". The way his body looks, not for the first time but most certainly in the most intense fashion, like an abandoned marionette whose strings have been twisted and thrown to the side.
Mari can see all those things. But there's a difference between seeing— knowing— and understanding. She stares down at the body through the glass panes of her plague mask for one moment. Two. Three. Her breath coming in with her subconscious counting. She waits for him to get up. He doesn't. She reaches down to do what she's been trained to do. Give her life for his. A spark of necrotic energy crackles at the tip of her fingers as she—
"He's dead, M. That won't bring him back. You're just going to hurt yourself."
Mari swings her head over to look at the source of the voice. Familiar, but old. The witches stand before her, battered, beaten, keeping their distance. Justice was the one who spoke.
Well. He's right. The body in front of her is definitely dead. But that doesn't mean the body is Davian. Her mind works to slot the pieces together, fast as ever with the effects of Dragon's Breath coursing through her. This was another one of his tricks. Another one of the games he plays on her to test her loyalties. Well. She won't fail this time. She'll succeed and maybe she'll die and the witches will most certainly get hurt, but he won't kill them. She's going to get this one right.
In a flash of movement, Mari pulls out her spellbook and throws out a hand, sending a shuddering mass of flame hurling towards them. They all curse and duck out of the way as best they can. She sees Justice stagger as the blast hits him full on before landing on the ground with a hard thud and feels that familiar squeeze of panic— but no, Artie has him up, like always. In the same moment, Anthe is trying to get in her head. It doesn't work.
Kat gets a hit in, though. Those small projectiles she likes to throw find purchase in Mari's side. She registers the hit, not so much the pain. She shoves the spellbook back in her coat and takes out an emerald, placing her hands in front of her and softly uttering some words in Infernal. In a matter of seconds, a twisting ball of shadows appears around the emerald and grows. She stretches her hands out to make room as the sphere takes on a humanoid shape, until it's standing beside her. She directs it to—
"Stop*." Artie's voice carries a weight in it that pierces into her brain. It... takes. She stops. It doesn't last for long, but she... she's not sure what to do. If it's a test, why would he put something like that in?
Dorvey, who was about to reach Mari and screeched to a halt as the shadowspawn appeared, looks at Mari, then back at the group, uncertain. "Dude. What's she doing?"
"Don't hit her." Justice again. "Mari. Please drop the spell, babe. It's over." His voice softens. "Let us help you."
"What if it's not her?" Anthe asks when Mari makes no move to drop the spell or speak. "Like, maybe the fucker knew we were coming and brought someone else."
"It's her," Kat says quietly. "That was her book."
"Why isn't she talking?" Artie. "That spell doesn't. It doesn't do that."
The shadow flickers beside her, waiting for a command. Justice takes a step towards her. She matches it with a step back, and he raises his hands. "Babe, it's okay. We're here to help."
Mari blinks from underneath the mask. Looks down at Davian. And casts Dispel Magic at the highest level she has. The text chatters out from her hands, roaming over his body in small thin lines, searching for magic to break. Nothing. It fades. And his body is still there.
"See? He's gone. He can't hurt you anymore," Justice calls out.
Mari doesn't understand. She must not be thinking clearly. She reaches up and presses a small depression on the side of her mask, filling her lungs with the red mist and letting it out slowly. Anthe reacts viscerally in the background. Justice, not as much. But she sees his brow furrow. Cautiously, he approaches, hands still up. She doesn't move.
And then, he's in front of her. Just a foot away. She can't remember the last time anyone besides Davian was this close to her that she wasn't killing. Even with the drug coursing through her body, relaxing her limbs now to the point that they're difficult to move, she tenses. But if he kills her, she doesn't really mind. It's just her body reacting.
Then he places his hand on her shoulders and her mind screams awake. *Touch*. Her brain conjures up that familiar discordant shriek that happens whenever Davian rewards her— that desperate need to claw into the thing she's rarely given until actual, verbal thought is completely gone.
Mari collapses forward into his chest, pressing in hard without a word and dismissing the spawn as her concentration shatters. She feels him draw back for a moment in shock. Then wraps his arms around her. For a long minute, there's quiet.
Finally, he draws back and reaches up to remove her mask. At first, she reacts negatively, trying to press back in. "I'm just taking this off, then right back," he says, and she finally acquiesces. She watches his eyes widen as he takes in her face. She doesn't really know what he's looking at. She hasn't seen herself in... since Davian took her. Any glimpses she'd gotten in windows or store mirrors had always been the mask staring back at her. She doesn't really care what he sees. She's going to take advantage of this until he punishes her for it. The moment he drops the mask to the ground, she's pressed into his chest again, arms hanging loosely at her sides. She doesn't make any extra movement or speak. She's not allowed to speak.
"Why is she doing that?"
"I dunno." Justice sounds as confused and concerned as Dorvey.
"I mean. Yeah. But." Justice tries to pull her away again. Not this time. She fights against it. He's stronger than her, though. She furrows her brow, upset, and in the same moment three glowing darts stab into his back, trying to force him closer again, before she realizes what she's done. Her eyes widen in panic and she draws back, throwing her hands up in front of her.
Everyone behind him besides Kat readies their attack again. He just puts his hands back up. She notices there's blood on his clothing that wasn't there before. Hers? "Sorry. I'm sorry. I just wanted to look at you." His eyes move down to her neck. "M? What's that?"
Collar. She reaches one hand back to touch it. Shakes her head.
"I don't think she's going to talk, Justin." Mari's eyes flit to Kat, who is looking at her with a concern that rivals Justice's. "She never has before, right?"
"But I don't..." Justice furrows his brow. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
Mari taps on the collar.
"Oh." His eyes light with understanding. "Okay. Let me take it off."
"No." Mari reflexively sends the message as she starts back, her eyes widening in panic. She's not supposed to use that with anyone except Davian. Already she can see Justice's eyes light up with excitement.
"Good! That's good. I won't take it off. Can you come with us, M?"
Mari doesn't respond this time. She doesn't want it to go off. Doesn't want him to lock her in the room again. But. He's not taking her away. She's still... here. Is she supposed to run?
"Justin. I think you just need to..." Kat hesitates. Then slowly, carefully, steps forward. Reaches out a hand for Mari's shoulder. Mari instinctively leans into it. "There's something wrong. We just need to go back." She reaches down for Mari's hand and Mari clutches the entire arm.
"What should we do with that?" Anthe points towards the body on the ground.
"I've got an idea." Dorvey goes over and kicks it a few times.
The hand comes out of nowhere, slamming into Dorvey and knocking her away from the body. It hovers in the air, ready to strike, as Dorvey turns to the only person who could be responsible. "What the fuck, dude?"
Mari just clutches Kat's arm tighter.
"Just have the Institute come take it," Artie says quietly. "Obviously it's... we shouldn't do things like that. To it."
"Yeah." Justice's voice again. "I think we just need to go." He can't pull his eyes away from her. That's fine. She can't stop staring at him, either.
Two months ago(Four and a half years ago)
Mari doesn't know how many days it's been since she's been in this room. Months. She knows it has to be months. But she doesn't understand time anymore. She hasn't eaten. Slept. Spoken to anyone besides... been touched by anyone. Since she's come here. There's nothing in this room but her. And. Him. When he comes. Just her, four white walls without an exit, and the bright, harsh light that seems to come from nowhere. Well. And the drug.
She walks the walls again, trying not to look at the small canister in the corner that she'd already given in to once, shaking hands pressed to the wall, trying to find any way out. She knows there isn't at this point. Knows that this room has been created to only be accessed by teleportation. Something she can't do. But it's the only way she feels like she has some semblance of control.
She walks them for what feels like an eternity, her mind unknitting further with each pass around the room. Until one more pass and she realizes.
She doesn't remember what Justice's face looks like.
In a flash, she's in the corner. Bringing the canister to her mouth. Pressing down once. Twice. Three times. Until she collapses to the floor, no longer able to move.
But she can see his face.