Margot drove behind the Leftover jeep, saw them look back at her, turn back and gossip. She grinded her teeth in frustration. If I didn’t need you I would’ve smacked you by now…teens. She thought to herself, breathing deeply to vent, to not let it get to her. She could feel their curiosity, their admiration and it made her skin crawl. Sorry, kids, I don’t do fans.
They were so focused on her they didn’t pay attention to their searchlights, the only source of light in the deep darkness of the wildlands. If they had, they would’ve noticed the trail of upturned earth that moved alongside them and would have time to react before the barkhound burst from the ground and tore through their jeep, its sharp wooden claws tearing metal and teen to ribbons. Margot swerved violently to avoid the debris and, knowing there was nothing she could do for her companions, drew the magnum from its holster, opened the chamber and loaded the hellfire rounds, making sure she kept her eyes on the hound and the road and her TK on the wheel.
She fired three times at the beast, still in midair, making its wooden skin and flowery fur catch fire instantly. The beast’s jagged mandibles opened wide as it screamed in agony, until the fire consumed it, leaving nothing but a pile of ash. Stupid kids…dammit Vance! Margot chastised herself for not saving them, for not being fast enough or paying attention to the light. She turned her headlight as bright as she could and sped through the darkness hoping she’d see a sign of the Baron’s castle in the distance.
That’s when they came. From the woods, bogs and ravines all around her—the wildland terrains and atmospheric conditions shift violently every other mile—more jeeps emerged, their engines muffled under the jeers and woots of their scavenger riders. There were four busted jeeps and in their floodlights she noticed see every surface of them was covered in barbed wire and metal spikes. The scavengers bled profusely, with deep cuts all over their bodies, but they didn’t seem to mind. They stomped their feet on the jeep, each stomp ripping flesh from their bones and making their bloodlust and war cries ever stronger.
Before Margot could do anything they had her surrounded. She knew they’d try to stop her, to use their cars as a barricade. Might work on the tourists but I’m a local, chums! Vance grinned evilly and gunned the engine as hard as it would take and rammed the forward jeep, taking the driver by surprise and letting her push the vehicle out of the way before he could slam on the breaks. As she sped past, Margot leaned out of the window and fired a hellfire round into the driver’s seat, setting the raiders ablaze. Vance smiled to herself in satisfaction when the car veered uncontrollably towards the trees but the humour vanished when she noticed the driver had regained control and was back on pursuit, his flesh still burning and flaking off. What the hell are they? Don’t they feel pain?
Margot trained the gun on the driver, hoping a second round would be enough, but then a sharp-tipped rebar tore through her arm, tearing flesh and breaking bone and making her drop the weapon. Margot screamed in pain, her vision clouded and it took all she had just to stay in control of the Impala. She leaned back inside and tried to pull her arm inside as well, but the long rebar caught on every surface, sending new bolts of agony through her. She decided to leave her arm outside. Please don’t cut it off, please don’t cut it off! She begged in her mind, as she fought to stay awake.
The burning jeep slammed into the Impala’s side, crushing her arm between the two vehicles and making it bend in an unnatural angle. Margot screamed again and then gritted her teeth, pushed past the pain and steered violently into the jeep, pushing it out of the safe roads and into a ravine. One down… she thought to herself. Her breath came ragged and she struggled to remain conscious. She showed herself images of rape and mutilation to motivate herself. We can’t let them, Margo, so keep going! Vance’s inner voice repeated.
The sound of gunshot made her instinctively steer to the opposite side, away from where the other jeep had fallen, and in the corner of her eye she saw a rebar spear fly past where her head had been only moments before. A second gunshot rang and her left side mirror exploded. In the rear-view mirror, she saw the left-most jeep had only the driver and one scavenger in a mounted turret. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a shot in…time to do something stupid. Margot hit the brakes and steered hard to the right, causing the impala to drift in place and turn 180 degrees. She hit the gas again so hard it made her head snap back but the maneuver had caught the scavengers by surprise, not used to their prey fighting back so much. With as much speed and force as the car could bear, she slammed into the jeep’s side, aiming for the front wheel. The Impala’s fender creaked and broke but so did the axle on the scavenger’s jeep. The impact sent it swerving without control towards the trees in the distance.
“Two down, you to go!” She glared at the remaining attackers. She ducked immediately when she saw them pulling rifles and rebar launchers form the back, and sped past them in the opposite direction when they opened fire. Gunfire ripped into her limp and broken left arm and some of it pierced the door and her thigh. Blood started pooling in her seat and she knew she had but moments before she lost consciousness.
With all her strength, Margot drifted once more, turning to facer her attackers as she thought of a way out. No gun, losing consciousness and blood, can barely move. Her breath was shallow now, and her arm and thigh were burning. She glanced down and to the left and an idea burned in her mind. This better work…she thought and begged. Using what was left of her abilities, she pulled the rebar out using the TK while avoiding the hail of bullets and bars coming from her attackers. A new bar broke through the windshield and the upholstery and the bullets zipped past her head a few cutting her scalp and burning her hair. Blood streamed down her face.
The rebar in her arm tore through flesh and bone on the way out as much as it did on the way in. With a cry of effort, she pulled the arm inside and set it limply on her bleeding lap. Margot pushed the gas and rammed into the back of one of the jeeps and adjusted herself in the seat to get a proper look. The scavengers trained their weapons on her and cheered maniacally, but Vance had her sight on the driver. With migraine-inducing efforts she shot the rebar past them and into the driver’s skull. The driver’s head hung limply but his foot held on the accelerator. Margot use the moment of surprise and pushed once more with her TK, turning the jeep’s steering wheel towards the last jeep so harshly the spikes on the sides pierced it and stuck them together. Crying out with blood flowing form her nose, she pushed once more and drove both jeeps into the marshlands, where the bog and beasts happily devoured them.
Smiling in triumph, Margot sped past but then felt something hit her back. She grew cold, looked down and saw a rebar sticking through her stomach, one last farewell from the scavengers. In her darkening vision, she saw Melchaia’s flag in the distance on his looming fortress.
“Wake up, Vance.” She heard a grating voice speak to her. She knew it from her past and it made her eyes snap open. “There, good girl.”
Melchaia. “Yes, my dear. It’s me.” She heard his voice in her ears and mind.
Margot looked down and saw her bloodied naked form strapped to an operating table. “Let me go!” She screamed and she struggled against the bindings, the images of her last time on the table flooding past her and with each her terror rose. With each effort, pain shot up from her still-broken arm.
“No need to be afraid. I’ll make you better than before, like I did last time!” She could feel him leering. “It’ll take some effort to heal you. You’re quite broken and I’ve barely patched you up.”
Margot pushed hard against the bindings, ripping the stitching and making her bleed once moe. She used her TK on them and managed to rip one, then the other. She climbed off the table but collapsed, not enough strength in her legs to support her. Blood dripped from the open wound in her stomach. “Why did you do that?”
“Not gonna be your guinnea pig again!” She screamed, almost hysterical. Keep a lid on it Vance, calm down! She told herself, but the memories were overwhelming. The pain, the suffering, the anger.
“You blame me, don’t you? For your parents…” He said, and there wasn’t mockery in his voice, but sadness.
“If you hadn’t turned me into this!”
“It’s what they wanted!” He said flatly.
“No! You took me from them!” She felt the rage now and used it for strength, pushing herself up and pushing the table against the wall.
“Is that what you think?” Melchaia sounded confused, genuinely so. “Let me show you…do not fight me!” She felt his will slam into hers. Images flooded past her. Her parents offered her to Melchaia for food and safety, pushing her into his scavengers’ arms without a tear of sadness or a look of regret. You’re lying!
“I wish I was…” He said and she believed him, there was sincerity in his voice.
“Why?” She cried.
“They knew I was looking for subjects and that I would pay handsomely for keyhole eyed ones. Like you…”
Margot’s head pounded. Her memories and beliefs crashing into the truths Melchaia spoke and showed her. She pushed hard against them, searching for falsehood as some would in a doctored video, but she couldn’t find any. “Why?” It was the only thing she could say.
“Because that’s the Underworld. It’s why I made you a Psyclone, so you would take from whoever harmed you.”
“I won’t go on the table again!” She growled.
“You have to…I have to know!” He sounded desperate.
Margot realised then she was alone in the operating theatre, but she could feel Melchaia’s oppressive presence through the darkened observation glass. The room was ready and prepped for surgery, all clean and sterile, except for a tray with gauze, bloodied water and the rebar and bullet that were inside her. “Show yourself.”
“I’d rather not, Margot.”
“Then I’m walking out…” Not staying here anyway…I can’t stay…not now, not if my parents really did that…is that why I…? Put it away, Vance. Don’t dwell on it. She pushed the memories, old and new, down into the recesses of her mind, where she locked all the unpleasantness. She scanned the rooms and saw her tattered and bloodied clothes. Melchaia had cut them off her. Beats walking around naked I guess.
Once dressed she turned to the open door, but it slammed shut before her. “Let me out, Melchaia! I won’t stay.”
“I need to know! I need to know!” The glass cracked and burst, revealing the misshapen form of the Baron. He kept his bloated, rotting body aloft with pure telekinesis, his once long flowing hair was gone, leaving a bare, spotty greenish scalp. Noxious fumes ran in tubes throughout his body, with clouds of it escaping his nostrils, mouth and ears. He had no teeth left, only rotting gums. But the most disturbing thing of all was the hive of brains connected to his head by wiring, floating above him like a cloud. The brains pulsed with electricity, each burst making Melchaia twitch madly. As he floated down to her, she saw one of the brains give out and die, turning to dust.
“What did you do to yourself?” She remembered the spindly mad scientist he had once been, not handsome, but not monstrous either.
“It was the fixers…they came here, possessed, the bad blood taking over. I had to break the limit, I had to use more powers to defend myself…” He wheezed, gasses escaping his mouth and making Margot choke.
“Impossible! You should be dead!” Margot looked shocked and disgusted.
“I almost did…my brain burnt, it hurt so much Vance! But I had other brains nearby, my loyal guards. They offered their lives for me…I just took what was left…still using them in fact!”
Should have just died. “I can’t die, not yet, not now! I’m so close, Margot!”
“Close to what?”
“To you! What makes you so special Margot? Is it the keyhole, the bad blood? What is it? What does it unlock?”
Bad blood? “Tell me about the fixers!” She shuffled closer, holding her wound closed, her eyes watering and stinging in the fumes.
“They came here, out of their minds and killed all other knights before they stormed my castle. I fought them off by burning myself. I was cornered…then he appeared, killed them and took them away.” He smiled maniacally as he spoke, twitching madly from the brain jolts. Margot took a few steps back, afraid of it.
“I don’t know, but he had the strangest golden eyes…” Melchaia said, rubbing his dried eyes with his fingers. Son of a bitch…he was here.
“Why did the fixers attack, did they say anything?”
“They kept going about breaking the seal and needing powerful blood for it…” The seal?
“I don’t know, there isn’t one in the Underworld…but there are a few in the upper city!” Makai…Weston better have an explanation.
“Now, enough talking!” He drew fast short breaths. “On the table!”
“No fucking way!” She said, stepping towards the door.
“I need your help, Vance! I need your brain, your mind, your blood!” his tone of voice became fever pitched and he floated towards her. She could feel him trying to break into her mind, but she held on. As he pushed, more brains in the cloud turned to ash, making him weaker in comparison to even the wounded and battered Margot. With his mind weakening, Margo started to see the flaws in the truths he revealed, the frayed edges of the screen. You evil bastard, altering my memories? She still couldn’t tell all the truths and the lies apart, but the outrage of having her mind so violated renewed her efforts and she managed to completely block him out.
Time for theatrics…Margot clutched her head, groaned in pain and turned away from him and stumbled towards a tray with scalpels. She picked one, saw him in her mind’s eye and threw one at him, pushing it with hr TK. He tried to block it but with only a few brains remaining, he stopped himself instinctively. The scalpel bore through his skull and he fell.
The doors swung open again but as Margot turned to leave, she saw his misshapen form began to pulse with energy. “Oh shit!” She tried to run, but having lost so much blood she could barely shamble away from the impending energy release. When the Baron burst a stream of pure psychic power exploded around him, tearing through walls, rooms and minds alike. Despite her best efforts, the blast caught her and sent her flying through the nearest wall, breaking more bone and assaulting her mind with fake memories and horrible nightmares.
Now in freefall from the topmost floor and with the ground approaching swiftly, she pushed the TK as she never had before and slowed her fall, landing with a hard thud, broken bones but still alive.
She wanted to crawl back to the distant bonfire, but her body wouldn’t respond.
The last thing she heard before everything went dark was a monstrous roar.