If you only knew how many abominations and demons lived in Fallen Square, you wouldn’t wonder about the name. The most opulent of the districts, built right on a ley line, you need to be rich not only to afford the housing, but the wards to keep your neighbours on the other side of the door.
Margot grimaced when the whiff of sulfur hit her nostrils as she stepped from the alley between two of Fallen Square’s high-rise condos. She followed the stench to a host of drunken unconscious imps lying next to a dumpster. She stepped past them and across the street to the fabulous Black Spire Hotel. Chiselled out of pure obsidian from the eight circle, the hotel was the best Makai had to offer and even the most ridiculously wealthy in the world could barely afford a couple of nights.
Lillian and Don Carpenter owned the top three floors.
Margot pushed through the lobby, ignoring the protests from the staff. She cracked the security behemoth in the chin and stepped on the elevator. With just a glance from her, the imp inside pushed the button she wanted and leapt out of the elevator. The problem with demons is you have to remind them you’re dangerous, Margot thought as she rubbed her aching hand. Even increasing the density of her bones didn’t help the pain of hitting a behemoth. It would stay out of her way next time.
With a familiar ding the doors opened to the Carpenters’ penthouse. Margot felt something off, an ominous presence. Great, they warned him…time for the pissing contest. She stepped lightly off the elevator, keeping her eyes and other sense open but as soon as she did, something took her off her feet. She crashed loudly against the far wall, through an ornate armoire. She didn’t even have time to harden herself.
Her vision swam, and it took all she had to stay awake. Margot shook her head and saw the monster stomping towards her. Abaddon…shit. She pushed herself off the armoire and faced the demon. He’d changed since the last time she saw him. No longer an obsidian angel but a crimson-skinned demon with ebon nails, ram horns, a lashing barbed tail and enormous bat-like wings. “Give it a rest, Abaddon.” Margot mumbled.
He chuckled and reached for her throat so fast Margot had no chance to react. Her vision blurred even more as he picked her up and squeezed. He was enjoying it, taking his time and making her suffer. Demons…oh screw this! As her consciousness drifted away, Margot pulled from deep inside herself to where her power laid, not the one she’d borrowed, but her true ability. She could hear Abaddon laughing and it just made her push harder. Through his skin she felt for his core, the source of his powers and with mental push cloned it.
Abaddon’s laugh ended abruptly and his gaze turned to horror as Margot’s skin turned crimson and her eyes topaz yellow to match his own. She clutched his wrist and crushed it effortlessly. As she landed, she gripped even tighter and threw the demon over her shoulder. Abaddon pushed himself off the floor, ready for a fight, his wrist already healing but before he could do so Margot was on his back, one wing in each hand. “No! I yield!” He said desperately.
The sound of his screams filled the Black Spire.
Abaddon lay there, holding himself tightly and shaking, his body returning to his obsidian angel form. “Told you so.” A voice came from the other end of the room. Margot hadn’t noticed Lillian sitting on a sofa, a glass of wine in her hand. She’d cut her hair since the last time they met, and dyed it a deep shade of red, striking against her tanned skin. She looked neither afraid nor impressed. “Hi Mar.” she nodded.
“Lilly.” Margot grumbled, pushing Don’s power away, her skin and strength returning to normal. “What the hell is his problem?” She nodded towards the former demon, now crawling towards his wife.
“He has plenty of them.” She said dismissively, taking another sip. “But in this case, the lobby called about an intruder, didn’t say it was you honey.”
Don’t ‘honey’ me, Margot thought but held back. “Sorry about that, you know demons.”
“Gotta put them in their place!” They shared a smile. “Anyway, help me with this?” She pointed at her husband.
“Sure.” They carried the trembling fallen angel and lay him on the sofa. Lillian sat down and placed his head on her lap, stroking it tenderly.
“What are you doing here, Mar? This isn’t social, is it?”
“Nah, not this time. King sent me.”
Lillian raised an eyebrow. “You…working for him?”
“Missing persons case, lots of them, so he’s stumped.”
“And what makes you think we can help?”
“Because one of them’s The Illusionist.” Margot said flatly. Lillian’s eyes widened and she dropped the wine glass, but Don caught it before it crashed.
“When’s the last time you saw him?”
“Last week…our session…” Don moaned. His wings were already regenerating.
“Tell me about it.” Margo sat opposite them.
“We’re not about to discuss our therapy with you, Mar.” Lillian said sternly, taking the cup from Don.
“I don’t need to know your details; I know all of that already. You’re both too honest, not surprising when you shared body and mind once. Some white lies are good.”
“No they’re not.” They said at the same time.
“Then stop being so bloody sensitive about it all then!”
“We’re working on it…” Don replied.
“Tell me about JWS. What was he like?”
“Calm, collected, annoyingly so, and very understanding and patient.” Don said. “The usual.”
“He seemed distracted.” Lillian said.
“How so?” Even Don gave her a quizzical look. Not surprising the ex-cop picked things the demon couldn’t.
“He acted normal but I could tell his mind was elsewhere. It was scary, almost as if he were back in his Illusionist days. He was here but he wasn’t either.”
“Did he mention anything to you?”
“Not during the session, but I did ask him afterwards. I used to be a cop, I’m nosy!”
“That you are…ow!” Lillian reminded her husband not to speak out of turn.
“And?” Margot said, ignoring the marital display of discipline.
“He said something was coming…”
“That sounds ominous…” Margot said, frowning.
“He said it was something we should’ve taken care of years ago, coming back to bite us in the ass.”
“Of course, I can’t talk like him even if I tried. Too old-school aristocrat!” They all shared a smile.
“Anything else?” Margot said, the moment passed.
“Yeah, he said he was going to see Peter. Oh, and he didn’t want Weston to know.”
“No clue, but you know how those two were, buddies one day, conspiracies the next!”
Margot nodded, remembering her own days with the two of them. “Any clue where Peter hangs out these days?”
“All over the place, really. He’s the wandering hero.”
Margot sighed, shaking her head. “He should leave the job to the Fixers.”
“He’s never been your or Weston’s biggest fan.”
“It’s gonna get him killed someday…not that it’s anything new for him.”
“You should go see Julie.” Margot raised an eyebrow, going through her mental notes but finding no memory of the name. “Julia, Julia Stiles. Weston’s niece. She has a restaurant in the docks and she’s been on and off with Peter for years. They fight more than we do!” She and Don shared a look and giggled.
“I’ll do that then. Sorry for the armoire.”
“My fault, don’t worry about it.” Don said. He pulled himself off Lillian and turned towards the broken furniture. With a flick of his wrist, it disintegrated and remade itself. “Destruction and renewal, my specialty!” He grinned.
“I’ll walk you out. “ Lillian said.
“Sure, see you around Don.” The Demon nodded. “Oh, and next time put on some pants, there is only so much of you I’m interested in looking at!” She glared.
“Sorry, Margot, I’m a taken man. You can look but not touch!” He grinned even wider.
Margot growled but left with Lillian.
“Why don’t you just divorce him, Lilly?” Margot said, leaning on the elevator wall as they descended.
“I love him, simple as that.”
“But you’re always fighting?”
“I didn’t say it was healthy, but…you wouldn’t understand!” She shook her head.
“Really? I wouldn’t understand love?”
“Not what I meant, but if we’re getting into that, your track record is terrible. First you go with…”
“Let’s leave it there, honey.” She said the last word harshly.
“Ok, leaving it there.” Lillian raised her arms in surrender. “But Don and I…we were one, you know? Literally so. I know him best and he knows me best, and we love each other even through that. But even after so many years it’s so difficult to say the things we used to share in thought and spirit.”
“And they all come out wrong when you do say them…” Margot said absent-minded, thinking of her own past, of apologies said and taken wrongly.
“Exactly!” Lillian said.
The ding of the elevator brought them face to face with the behemoth. It snarled at Margot, who simply cracked her knuckles. “She’s with me. If you ever stand in her way…” she left the threat hanging, glaring not only at the massive bouncer but also at every member of the Spire’s staff.
“Impressive.” Margot leaned in to whisper.
“You don’t get to be queen of this hellhole without some authority!” She whispered back.
“Hellhole? You know there’s people who’d kill for this place, right?”
“They can have it. Noisy demons, neighbours and tenants always trying to possess and corrupt, it’s annoying!” She said and then sighed. “But it’s home.”
“You’re weird.” Margot said aloud and left before Lillian could reply.
Profile: Peter Ng, superhero. Formerly known as Tiger. Violent tendencies and disregard for authority. Magic level…extremely high. Likelihood of a fight? High. Margot thought to herself as she walked towards the docks. It was a long walk but there were only so many times she was willing to use the Alleyweb in one day. She was aching from that fight with Don and the web can sense your weakness.
“This is turning into a tour of all the big names in Makai. That can’t be a coincidence.” She said to herself.
Just hope they don’t all want a piece of me…there’s only so much I can fight…
Despite her complicated relationship to the King, Weston Stiles, Margot had never met Julia. She’d only heard her name in passing. Maybe I’ll get her profile from…nah, never mind, he’d only get in my way if he knew I was visiting his niece, she thought to herself, remembering how protective the King was of his family and friends. It’s one of his few good points, Margot allowed herself a melancholic smile.
Julia’s restaurant, The Golden Arch was perhaps the most famous Chinese restaurant in the Dock area—mostly because it’s the only one. As Margot approached, she noticed it was full. Rush hour, dockworkers on lunch and new arrivals. She stretched, her joints popping, and then focused on keeping her expression as steady and calm as possible. She might not know Julia, but everyone knows a Fixer and always want to hide stuff from them.
She pushed the door open and it creaked loudly. If Margot were one for the stealth approach, she’d have worried about it. As things were, she just hated the sound it made. As was the case with good restaurants, the smell of the cuisine hit her nostrils, made her mouth water and her stomach rumble. She realised then she hadn’t eaten anything.
Taking that as her excuse, she requested a table. “What can I get you?” The waitress said.
“Scotch, neat then a glass of water and Singapore Noodles!” She handed the blonde girl the menu back. “Oh, and I need to speak with Julia Stiles.”
The girl dropped the menu on the table and gave Margot cold eyes and in them, she could see the girl’s uncle. “Great…” she sighed.
“What do you want with me?” Julia said, crossing her arms.
“I’m working for your uncle…”
“Tell him my personal life is none of his…” She interrupted and raised her voice so much she was making head turns.
“Hey hey!” Margot interrupted, waving her hands in front of the ranting girl. “I don’t give a damn about your personal life or your uncle for that matter. I’m looking for your boyfriend!”
“What the hell do you want with Tiger, Vance?”
I didn’t tell her my name. “How’d you know who I was?”
“Everyone knows Margot Vance, Fixer extraordinaire!” The sarcasm dripped from her lips.
“I need his help.”
“He’s out!” She said flatly and left. Margot saw her heading to the bar and pour the scotch and water. “Here you go.”
“I still need Peter’s help, Julia.” Margot said flatly, glaring at the girl.
To her credit, she didn’t flinch…at first. But Margot’s stare pierced whatever defense she had and she soon looked away, trembling, fearing the restrained violence she saw in the Fixer’s eyes. “He…He’s out patrolling.”
“Then I’ll stay and wait.” Margot said, her tone cold and harsh, to make it certain she wasn’t going anywhere. “How long until the noodles are ready? I’m starving!” She said lightly, smiling, throwing Julia off guard. No need to be mean the whole time, she thought.
“T-t-t-ten minutes!” Julia said shrilly. She left the room looking back at Margot a few times as she did.
Gotta love the effect I have on people…not great on my love life though. Margot shook her head, remembering a string of one-night-stands. Beautiful women, smart women, bubblehead men, she’d tried them all but the job, the fixing always got in the way. It was a dangerous life, and rarely do people regard or remember Fixers with anything but abject fear.
A few minutes later, a young man brought her the plate of noodles and sat opposite her. “You scared Julia, Vance!” He said coldly, his glare almost as harsh and unforgiving as Margot’s…almost. She didn’t bother returning it. I need him to talk not run.
“She was being difficult.” Margot shrugged.
“She can be sometimes!” Peter nodded, relaxing. “It’s the one thing I wish she hadn’t gotten from her uncle…well, that and the Osteomancy! It’s a pain in the ass to argue with her!”
“If it’s such a pain, why stay together?” She realised it was the second time she’d asked something like that today.
“’Cause I love her, and when you love someone you love every bit of them, the good and the bad, the psychotic and the right-down murderous!” He smiled and it was genuine, there was happiness in it, and hope for the future.
Tale as old as time, morons in love…or is it love that turns them into morons?
“So, what do you need?” Peter said, turning serious.
“You were the last person to see John William Spencer, right?” Peter nodded. “He’s missing.”
Peter seemed unfazed by the news. “You’re not surprised, are you?”
“I saw him vanish.” He admitted.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“Because he asked me not to make a fuss!”
“Where was this? Where did he go?” Margot rose from her chair, her hands planted on the table and she leaned forward. She could smell the noodles and despite her stomach complaining, she pushed the hunger aside.
Peter raised his hands. “Ok, ok! Relax! He told me he was searching for Fixers, some had vanished!” He looked concerned.
“Try all of them…except me of course!” Peter’s looked shocked.
“I didn’t know it was that bad. No wonder I haven’t seen you lot on my patrols!” He said, mostly to himself, scratching his chin.
“So, where’d he go?”
“He said he wanted to check the Necropolis and the Underworld.” The two places Fixers have no jurisdiction over.
“How’d he get there?” Margot asked. I hoped never to return to the Underworld. I hope you have a good reason for all of this, JW.
“He’s the Illusionist, he can do anything!” Peter said, baffled at her question.
“Ok, how’d you do it?”
“I’d open a spirit portal or go through the Alleyweb, the Mapmaker knows where the right doors are.” He explained. “I’d rather use the portal, I don’t trust that guy. Too shady, even by this island’s standards!”
“Yeah, but portals aren’t my specialty, not unless you’d like to help me?”
“Can’t, Vance.” He stubbornly crossed his arms and shook his head
Margot raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“Told you, promised JW I wouldn’t get in the way!” He said calmly.
“You said ‘not make a fuss’, you didn’t say anything about not helping!” Margot was losing her patience, and her appetite.
“You know how he is; better assume that’s what he meant!” He smiled nervously.
“Yeah…speaking of, did he seem weird to you? I mean more than usual.” She sat down and ate her noodles, almost absentmindedly.
“Not more than usual, no.”
“Weston’s concerned he might be reverting back to the Illusionist.” Margo mumbled with her mouth full.
“That’s impossible, Weston’s just paranoid!” Peter chuckled.
“Because he’d need to lose his soul for that, and he’s not letting go of it anytime soon!”
“What?” This is why I hate Makai’s founders, they all know each other’s histories but never share.
“Ask Weston, he’ll tell you!” Peter seemed to have read her mind, and grinned.
Margot grumbled. She finished the plate and left a stack of money on the table large enough to pay for everyone’s meals, for the rest of the week. Peter whistled, looking at it. “Didn’t know Weston paid this well!”
“I took his super-wallet!” Margot grinned and left another stack. “For the help, and for the contact number you’re giving me right now so I don’t have to scare your girl again!” Margot said in what she assumed was a reasonable tone.
Peter scribbled something on a note and handed it her. “Use this then.” He said and took the money from the table. “Have a nice day!”
“Fat chance of that!” Margot left the restaurant.
Time to meet JC again and see what he has for me. Then off to the Necropolis. I’ll leave the Underworld for when I’m really desperate.