The Mapmaker had a new lead, just not the one Margot expected. “How did you find this?” She asked, looking up from the crumbling parchment in her hands, meeting his eyes with a dubious glance.
“You asked me to find places of power, so I did…” He leaned on the stall’s counter, and pointed at the parchment. “I started with the usual places, the big bad power-zones, where the big and really bad live and I noticed it.”
“Precisely.” He nodded, his brow furrowed. Starting to look like you worry, J.C., Vance thought to herself, making sure it didn’t show on her face. “Those places are bright, Vance, they shine on the maps, all those powerful beings. But now the light’s dimmed, cut off and died out. It’s…”
“What?” She raised an eyebrow.
“Disconcerting…” He said quietly, peering around, as if concerned someone might be listening.
Almost sensing his intentions, Margot snapped her fingers, getting the Mapmaker’s attention. “Don’t worry, there’s no one here. I’d have sensed them!” She said confidently, tapping one finger on her temple.
“Would you sense The Illusionist, if he really reverted? I don’t think so.”
Neither do I, J.W.S is a bad customer. “He’s not that powerful.” She said with as much false conviction as she could muster and managed to keep her face straight. “Changing topics, where should I hit first?”
“Well, Underworld got hit badly. The power scale there is almost flat lined. But I can tell from that look you’d rather not go there. So maybe Tinkertown, Harlot’s Kitchen or Salem Bar, those three went down a few notches.”
“What about the Necropolis?” Underworld’s out and I know J.W. was there.
“That place is usually a stiff, no pun intended.” He said, hiding a smile.
“Very funny. Check it out.”
“What do you say?”
Margot closed her eyes and drew the power she’d taken from Abaddon and let the demonic essence fill her being, turn her skin red and scaly and her eyes amber with slit pupils. She stopped it short of increasing her size but regarded the trembling Mapmaker with her new hellish presence. “Now!” Her voice rumbled and everything else shook violently.
Nodding profusely, the squirmy merchant jumped to the task, looking through his maps with almost zealotry. As he worked, absolute focus replaced the fear and he became lost in a trance-like state, the maps and Onigashima’s secrets the only thing on his mind.
Margot let the power go, sending it back to a deep corner of her mind, returning to her human form. She gave herself a look around, making sure she hadn’t torn anything. “Good, lucky suit’s still in one piece!” She smiled to herself. I really need to get new suits. Can’t always rely on my onl…lucky suit. Mental note, abuse Weston’s money before returning it.
“Done!” J.C. snapped up from the map, eyes wide open, breathing rapidly, nostrils flaring. “How’d you know about this?” He asked, a feverish tone in his voice and a similar look in his eyes.
“Trade secret.” She said flatly.
“Right…” He grumbled and shook his head. “Well, Necro’s usually quiet, but something there is flaring. It’s an anomaly.”
“And my next destination then. Keep an eye on the other places and let me know anything urgent. Here, another part of your payment.” She threw the wad of cash on the counter before turning away.
“Coming up in the world, Vance?”
“Going down it seems.” She mumbled to herself.
Margot didn’t head to the Necropolis, not at first. She first headed to her apartment, a creaky and barely functional colourless studio a few blocks from her office. The paint, if it ever had one, had fallen off ages ago. The sofa was bug-ridden and gypsy-cursed, but it had been a bargain. It growled and barked when she opened the door, the patchy stained thing wobbling in place like an eager pet. She picked up a ketchup packet from the little bowl by the door and flung it at the sofa and saw it vanish between the cushions. Poor Allie, she remembered the neighbour’s cat, the first of the sofa’s victims.
Margot gave the upholstery a wide berth and opened the closet near her bed, examining the gun, ammo and special item collection that sat where clothes usually went. “Anti-necrophage ammo, check. Hellfire incendiary rounds, check. Trusty oversized Magnum, double-check.” Never go to the Necropolis with just magic and special powers. Guns, take guns! She remembered the lesson J.W. gave her during the first few weeks as a Fixer. It’s true they had no Jurisdiction on the place, or the Underworld, but one thing is for certain on Makai: Everyone eventually ends up in the Necropolis, both the dead and the living.
The Necropolis lies on the south of Onigashima, on the farthest edge of the Island and half a day’s journey from Margot’s office. Her Impala’s engine roared wildly as she powered through the streets of the city, free and fierce and delighted to be back on the road. But over two years of neglect had left it without much stamina. By the time they reached the Necropolis’ silver pearly gates, the car heaved and shook so much it was a surprise it didn’t fall to pieces.
Margot spared her spent vehicle a single glance. “Should get you fixed up…more to the mental note.” She turned to face the gates, dreading the vast cemetery that lay beyond and especially Darkscale Keep, the fortress standing in the center of it. Made from the remains of one of the last great black dragons of China, the fortress and its master kept the Necropolis and all its districts and denizens in check. “Time to visit the Mayor of Deadtown.”
Margot kicked open the gates, the rattle and jingle sure to wake up every unquiet dead in the vicinity. Just as she wanted. Not one for the quiet approach, let them know I’m coming.
She didn’t have to wait long, as only a few steps through the gate, the graves burst and the newest additions to the Necropolis, the freshers, rushed her, some to tear her apart, others to feed on the flesh and others to sake other hungers denied to them since the loss of a pulse. Slobbering and whining, the dead rushed Margot. The first one crawled on his hands and legs and lunged at her inhumanly fast. Vance sidestepped at the last second, using her TK to help herself get out-of-the-way, but still its bony fingers cut a gash in her right shoulder. She saw the cut in the suit and glared at the monster, “that was my only suit!” She pulled the magnum from its shoulder holster, whirling her body towards the attacker. With the muzzle pressed against the things head she pulled the trigger, the anti-necro bullet making its head explode and the recoil making her arm shake painfully. Crap, Margot, remember, TK the damn gun!
She turned back to the rest of the crowd. They were circling her now, like a pack of beasts, unsure now after witnessing their comrade’s fate. Necropolis undead were a step above most in brains, having eaten many before. The first lustful dead tore its tattered clothes off and gave her a hint of what it intended to do with its rigor mortis. It snarled incoherently before running straight at her. Margot threw her gun in the air, grabbed the thing by its outstretched arms and threw it against the rest of the pack, using her TK to add the power her arms lacked. The naked zombie barrelled into the others with such strength rotting flesh and bone shatters, leaving moaning stumps around the Fixer. She glanced at the march of hundreds of dead still in her path before lifting her hand and catching the magnum.
Without taking another step, she opened the chamber, loaded the hellfire rounds and fired two at the crowd, thinning the ranks. “Gotta be careful with these, big boom.” She changed ammo again and walked the gravel aisle towards the tower and the rest of the dead.
The night was quiet, with only the far sounding growls of the dead and the occasional howl of the wind carrying the aroma of peppermint, strong enough to overpower the smell of the grave. Something struck her on the side and sent her flying against a nearby mausoleum. Her bones rattled, ribs broke and blood filled her mouth. Her eyes wanted to remain closed, to go to sleep, where there’s no pain, but Vance pushed them open. Despite her attentiveness and even with her senses open, she didn’t sense her attacker. Now she saw and kept her eyes firmly on it as she used the mausoleum’s gate to help her stand up. Her muscles groaned in the effort and her shifting ribs burned her insides, but she pushed pass it. “Shit…guess I can’t prepare for everything…” she mumbled, spitting blood to the side as she contemplated the undead werewolf facing her. Its fur had fallen in clumps, exposing rotting skin, flesh and bone to her. Its eyes were milky white and half of its face was more bone than flesh by now. It stood there, slack-jawed, with drool pooling at its feet and no matter what she did or tried, she couldn’t feel it. It was truly dead to her. “There’s a good puppy…” she said, her hands extended towards it. To anyone else it might’ve looked as if she was surrendering or begging for mercy, but she just wanted to get a bead on it, to feel some of its apparently nonexistent energy, using her hands to probe its aura. Everything that moves gives off energy, focus! She frowned from the effort and the pain, but still it was a void in her mental radar.
When Margot finally felt its presence, it was too late. The thing almost blinked towards her, its open hand slapping her with so much force it sent her flying and tumbling the way she came, crashing through headstones. Blood covered her hair and face, forcing her left eye shut. The other was now seeing double and it took all she had to get on her hands and knees. Her neck hurt and her jaw was dislocated. Focus…shit it hurts…
No sensorial input, no magical presence…not until the attack. Conclusion, energy dormant, below perceptible levels, just to maintain consciousness. Movement requires greater expenditure, thus creating a burst. Likelihood of absorption: bloody low. Just go for the guns!
The Werezombie slowly stomped towards her, and as she thought, its energy spiked. She could feel it now, but only for a second before it took its next step. With a trembling and almost useless hand, she drew the magnum, moving her fingers with the last shreds of her TK. She steadied her breathing and made the movement smoother if not more painful. Just one shot… She waited it out and when it was close enough, she fired the gun. The wolf’s energy spiked again as it attempted to blink out, but Margot stopped it with all her mind’s strength. “Oh no you don’t!” The wolf struck at her mental barrier impossibly fast, hundreds of times in a split second and each made Margot’s headache increase hundredfold. She could feel her mind burning and her senses leaving her, but she held on. The bullet tore through the beast but it didn’t kill it, so she fired again and again, the recoil of each shot chipping at her frail arms until the last shot snapped the bones in two. She screamed and fell over, her TK field and Were, now riddled with volleyball-sized holes, falling along with her.
Blind and lame, Margot could only squirm on the ground, cradling herself. She wanted to cry, but refused to do so, to show any weakness in this dead town. But she couldn’t move and they knew it. The packs of ravenous dead surrounded her, each keen to take a piece. The ghoul at the front, the biggest of the undead pack, kicked her gun away, just in case and jumped on her, its jaw distended enough to swallow her head whole.
A shotgun rang in the distance and the ghoul flew off Margot, landed roughly on the gravel, convulsed and then stopped for good. More blasts erupted, each taking out a different monster. Margot was barely aware of this, her sight gone but her other senses relaying all this. She could feel someone nearby. It was weak and very human. She heard the howls of the undead as they retreated from the onslaught, preferring to lie still than fight more opponents. The dead are opportunistic, remember it Margot. Show them they can lose and they’ll go away! John William Spencer’s words rang in her mind.
She heard the gravel crunch under heavy footsteps and the clicks of someone loading a shotgun. “When you see him, tell him I don’t owe him anymore…” A man’s voice said, with a heavy accent she couldn’t quite place.
“Who are you?” Margot said, to the best of her ability with a dislocated jaw. Each syllable hurt more than the previous one.
“Don’t need to know my name Vance, not when I’ll be killing you next time.” He said and she heard the leathery sound of him putting something in a holster or scabbard. Who’s this guy, Ash Williams? Who carries a shotgun in a holster?
“Then why save me?”
“Old favour, old friend.” He walked away. “And that was a worthy hunt, I had to acknowledge it.”
The sound of his boots on the gravel was the last thing she heard before she lost consciousness.
She woke up on a cold slab of stone. She couldn’t move and her whole body trembled. “Awake at last!” A delicate androgynous voice called from her left.
“Astrus…” She whispered.
“You remember my name, how lovely!” Astrus said. Margot heard the Corpselord’s dainty footsteps approach. She didn’t need to see the Necropolis’ ruler to know what she looked like. Broad-shouldered but slim, delicate and strong, with small breasts that might have been mistaken for pectoral muscles and a face that bordered on irresistible. She had bright crimson hair close-cropped except for one long sultry bang that covered the right side of her purple-skinned face. She had eyes darker than the scales that made up her fortress and a smile both enticing and deadly.
Astrus slid a finger lightly over Margot’s bloodied figure, trailing circles on her skin. She leaned in close and Margot smelled Peppermint on her. “Next time knock, dear…I’ll always be open for you.” She licked Margot’s cheek and sent shocks down her spine. “Now why are you here?”
“Help first…” Margot said, lifting a shaking hand and pointing at her swollen jaw.
Without saying a word and with lightning fast hands, Astrus grabbed Vance’s jaw and slid into place, the pain shooting through her and making her scream. “Better?” She asked, but Margot could only groan and scream through gritted teeth. “Always so strong and in control, I love it!” Astrus moved her finger across Vance’s lips as she said it. “Why don’t we move this conversation somewhere more comfortable?” She picked the Fixer up as if she weighed nothing and took her to a lavish bed. She placed her gently on the soft covers and removed her tattered clothes before taking off her own.
Astrus climbed into bed by her side. She caressed, kissed and licked Margot’s pain away, each touch sending more shocks of pleasure through her system. No…no…no…not a Corpselord…no, Margot cried inwards as she felt Astrus flushed skin on her own. As the lord cupped her breasts and lowered her mouth on them, Margot drew her power, what made her a Psyclone and reached deep inside the woman by her side, finding the spark of her own ability. She drew on it and felt her strength returning. Grave Regeneration! Good to be in a graveyard.
With her strength renewed and body mended, she pushed Astrus off her body and scrambled out of bed. Her sight returned and she saw Astrus waiting in bed, eager to continue, her skin reddening from arousal. “You took my power! I like you even more now, purple suits you!” She said with a mad grin.
“Give it a shot when I’m not immobile, bitch!” Margot glared, panting with rage, her fists raised to fight.
Astrus giggled and with a flick of her fingers, she was fully dressed again. She stepped of the opposite end of the bed. “Someday, Vance, you’ll come to me willingly. And it’ll be delicious!” She left the room. “I’ve fixed your suit…now leave.” She locked the door behind her.
Margot could still feel Astrus’ touch on her. It made her shiver and she had to breathe deep to control herself. “Corpselords…ugh, that was close. But I’m not leaving without answers, not after all this.” She picked up her mended clothes and left after the Necropolis’ master.
Vance kicked open the door to Astrus’ office, passing by the slab in front of the fireplace, still caked in her blood. “We need to talk.”
“Not unless the words are ‘I want you’ and you’re undressed, dearie.” Astrus smiled. She sat at a long dining table, a glass of deep red wine in her hands. Behind her were elegantly designed windows through which she could see the Necropolis below and Makai in the distance.
“Not gonna happen, Astrus. I don’t do Vampires and Corpselords.” With a flick of her TK she slapped the glass out of the Lord’s hands.
Astrus rose from her chair and with another snap of her fingers she blinked the distance between them. “Leave, now!” She said menacingly.
Furious of her host’s abuse, she gripped the Corpselord by the neck and, using her TK, lifted her off the ground and choked her. “I should kill you, Astrus, but I need you alive for now! So talk before I change my mind!” She threw her across the room and through the windows at the back, but held her aloft. “Talk or I drop you!” I should drop her anyway for what she did!
“Alright, alright!” Margot pulled her inside and dropped her unceremoniously on the ground. “What do you want to know?” She looked up at the Fixer.
“John William Spencer. He was here, why?”
“Oh, him? He was looking for missing Fixers. He heard a couple had been brought in.”
“And buried, honey. I did the deed myself. Can’t trust Undertakers with a Fixer, too much power.”
“How did they die?”
“The Astrapyne had her throats slit with a Pure Osmium blade. I knew it from her memories. The Carthus had a giant hole through his chest, took out his four hearts at once. Killer never gave him the time to shift them around.” Astrus explained. “You know, with them and now you, I realise it’s true what they say about you Fixers! You all have Keyhole-shaped pupils. Is that how the King picked you all?”
“Don’t know, don’t care about Weston. What did you J.W. do?”
“He took their memories, shared them with me, then realised something. Didn’t tell me what and rushed off to the Underworld, where they died.”
“Is that all?” Shit, not the underworld…dammit!
“He kept saying something was impossible, but didn’t make much sense. I know that look. You dread returning there, right? Where you came from, where you began, where you…” her speech cut short when Margot constricted her throat with TK.
“You don’t know anything about me!” She snarled before letting Astrus go.
“The Mapmaker told me of a power flaring here, what do you know about it?” As she said it, Margot extended her senses outward, trying to pick up any presence. Nothing except the Queen of the Damned here.
“I told you, Fixers have a lot of power. Even with my personal services, their power bled out into the ground and did something to the Necropolis…you faced remnants of that power.” She looked concerned and the smug look vanished for a second. She’s afraid, what happened should’ve been impossible. Is that what J.W. meant?
Margot nodded and turned away, but as she reached the door she remembered the man who saved her. “Who was that?”
“Who?” Astrus wheezed.
“The guy who saved me…”
“Golden Eyes? Just someone passing by, paying respects. He’s not someone you want to mess with.” She said, standing up, wiping the dust from her thighs and calves, making each movement as seductive as possible.
“Who is he?”
“Don’t know. Started showing up last year. I only met him once, something about him is unnerving.”
“There’s a look on his face, like he can see right through you and doesn’t like what he’s seeing. I have a lot of corpses and skeletons buried in my closet and backyard, Vance. How about you?” She smiled, and exaggeratedly shook her hair, almost in slow-motion.
“He said he’d kill me next time.”
“Don’t give him the chance, stay away.”
“He won’t get the chance.” Margot left.
The undead sea parted for her and the gates opened. She found the Impala outside. She climbed in quickly and put as much distance between her and Astrus.
“Time to go down, home.”