Just as every society has its slums and its outcasts, so do all slums have its exiles, those that don’t function under the rules of their ruined civilisation. The Underworld is a place of greed and betrayal, where survival comes before friendship, love and family. So those that don’t abide by those rules, those that form mutually beneficial arrangements, they are quickly disposed of. Leftovers, they call them.
Gotta find Albert, if he’s still running the Leftovers. Margot thought, as she drove into the heart of the Underworld, the wildlands that lay between the fortresses of the formerly four Hell Knights. They ruled not on fear, but on the promise of the next scrap of meat, the next meal for them to fight over, and the certainty the Knights would crush them should they even dare look up.
The Leftovers had their camp in The Crossroads, center of the valley where the fortresses stood, each on a cardinal point. Margot barrelled through the refuse and mutants, blood and pus and other fluids and pieces splattering her windshield, so thick and grimy the wiper blades struggled to push them out of her line of sight. Groaning in frustration, Vance opened the window and stuck her head out, holding the bile down as the nauseous smells hit her. I definitely don’t miss this!
As the car leapt over another ridge, Margot saw the fires of the encampment, the grimy tents glistening under their light. She could see figures dancing around the fires, and for a moment she could remember the joyous music they followed. They helped me get out…wonder what they’ll think about me coming back…but I’m not staying, never again…not after that. The memories of the operating table, of the straps biting into her ankles, of her throat aching from screaming NO, the scalpel biting into her and the drills in her head made her anger rise, pushed the bile and the gas pedal down as hard as she could.
The guards at the front of the camp readied themselves for battle with spears, swords and magic, but the roaring Impala coming at them and the bloodshot-eyed madwoman on the wheel made them jump to the side for safety. Margot hit the brakes and pulled the car heavily to the side, making it drift and squeal and stop only inches from the biggest bonfire. The dancers and other Leftovers were shocked, but soon dove into the tents. Vance felt their fear. Dammit, I did it again. This isn’t what I wanted. I need to push the memories down!
She opened the door and calmly stepped out, pulling on the neck of her suit to adjust it. “Albert! Come out!” She said, and realised her tone was the friendliest. She sighed. “It’s me…Margot Vance.” She said, almost ashamed.
“Little Mar, coulda knocked!” She heard Albert’s deep voice behind her and as she turned she suddenly felt like a young girl again. He wasn’t as tall as she remembered—though just as wide and wearing the brown overalls that almost matched his skin tone—but she still looked up to him. His milky white eyes look caringly a her.
“No door, big guy.” She gave him a genuine smile, then she took a look around and her mood soured. “Sorry about this…memories, you know how…”
He stepped closer and put his arms around her. “I know, it’s ok. No one’s hurt. Still as bad a before?”
“Not as bad, but being here makes it worse.” She said into his shoulder.
She gently pushed him away. “I need your help, Albert.”
“I figured as much, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” He chuckled deeply.
“You make me sound selfish.”
Albert shrugged. “Not you, Mar, never. But you’re not supposed to be here, you got out.” He said grimly. “So it must be bad if you’re here. Is it about the Fixers that came?”
Margot gave him a shocked look, eyes wide. “You know I’m a Fixer?” She said cautiously.
He chuckled. “I have my ways, Mar. Don’t worry, I’m proud of you. You’ve beat it and come out on top!”
“Beat it?” Margot said, even more confused.
“The system, dear. You got out and became one of the most powerful people in the city and you use your power to help!” He said, spreading his arms wide, beaming with pride. But Margot felt there was something he was hiding. Straight face, genuine emotion…no lie there. But shifty eyes and nervous twitch of the brow. There’s more he’s not saying. Further inquiry counterproductive. She filed the thoughts away for the future and decided to focus on the task.
“I guess so…” she said half-heartedly. She turned to face the fire, letting the smoked wood fill her nostrils and mask the other smells around her. “I need to go to Melchaia’s castle, Albert.”
“Why?” He said flatly, and she could feel the tension coming from him.
“Fixers came and killed the other three Knights before they died. I’m looking for the rest of the Fixers and the only lead I have is Melchaia.”
“It’s suicide Mar.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” She snapped at him. “But I have to, it’s my job!” She said desperately.
“He’ll put you under the knife again if you let him get his hands on you!”
“He’s never putting anything on, under or in me. Not again.” Margot turned to face him, her eyes glistening with unshed tears but hard from years of pent up rage and hatred.
“Can I change your mind?” He said, concerned.
“You never could, don’t think it’ll work now!” She said, with a sad smile. “I know this’ll be dangerous for you, so just give me pointers and I’ll be on my way.”
He shook his head, picked up a log from the floor and absentmindedly threw it into the fire. “You won’t get there without us, you’ll be lost in the wildlands. There aren’t fires to guide you like this camp.”
Margot nodded. “Can we go now?”
“Very well. Carrie, Marcus, Eliza, come!” He turned and barked. At once, three figures emerged from tents and joined them. “Kids, this is Margot Vance…yes, that Margot Vance, stop gawking!”
“You’ve been telling stories, haven’t you?” Margo said with mild annoyance.
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “Margot needs to see the Baron. You’ll escort her to the castle’s entrance and wait for her to come out!”
“What if she doesn’t?” Eliza said, without looking at Margot.
“Then you run, as fast as you can!” Margot said.
“Works for me!” Marcus said, grinning.
The three left and came back in a jeep so battered it made the Impala seem like a brand new model. “You still have that bucket?”
“Still runs fine!” Albert said dismissively.
“Well, time to go.” Margot opened the door of her car. “If I don’t make it back, Albert…thank you, for everything.”
“Shut up, you’ll make it out and then you’ll go home and have the life they wanted for you!” He patted her gently on the head. Only person in the entire world who could do that to her and keep the hand. “Now remember, the Underworld is older than Makai, but it remembers everyone. It’ll remember you and throw everything it has at you. It doesn’t like it when people escape!”
“It better bring its A-Game, because my prey is scarier than the Underworld.” She said and got in, closing the door with a loud clang.
“You’re after more than just Fixers, aren’t you?” He said.
“Yes, The Illusionist.” She said, without turning to face him, then revved up the engine and drove after the scouting party.
“Good luck Margot, you’ll need it where you’re going.”