“Wake up.” A familiar voice said. Margot opened her eyes, expecting them to hurt along with the rest of her body, but she felt fine. No pain anywhere and her senses drew a blank. Something’s up. “There certainly is something up, now move it!” John William Spencer said and Margot scrambled to her feet on recognition.

“J.W.?”

“In the flesh!” He grinned. “Or your mindscape equivalent at least!”

“Where are we?” she gazed around the white empty room they were in, finding no identifying details. Out the corner of her eye, she saw random images flashing and heard voices, hers and those of others, but when she turned around to face them they were gone.

“You didn’t hear me, right?” He gave her a tired look and sighed. “This is your mindscape, we’re in your head!”

“What happened? Last thing I remember was ahhhh…” she clutched the side of her head as pain rocked her body.

“You were hit by a powerful psi-wave. My best guess is your egg got scrambled in the process.”

“So what do I do? And why are you here?” She groaned.

“There could be many reasons, though our intimacy might be one of them!” He smiled evilly and opened his arms for her.

“Don’t even go there! The past is the past, J.W.!” She snapped.

“Or I could just be a random figment of your imagination, here to guide you…or I may be a parasite in your mind, trying to divert you from you goal!”

“Not that paranoid yet.”

“True, not yet!” He smiled once more. “Where do you suppose we start?”

“Let me see…” Margot placed her fingertips on her temple, focusing on her memory and the gaps in it. “Let’s go to the present, the last memory. The more I go back, the harder it is.”

“Very well, follow me!” He said and with a sweeping motion urged her towards a corner of the room identical to every other. “Here’s your last memory!” He said with a flourish and a sphere appeared in midair, filled with her disordered memories.

Margot approached the floating sphere and put her hand through and the memories flashed through her in a second, making her scream in pain and fall to her knees. “That was reckless…” J.W. said, frowning. “Do you want to overload your senses, kill yourself? You have to take it slowly. Here!” He took her hand guided it towards the sphere. She resisted at first but when he placed her hand on the sphere, merely touching its surface, she felt the memoires pass smoothly through her, slow enough to pick them apart.

“I went to the Underworld again…I met with the Baron…he said…he did something to me, about my parents!” Margot pulled back, her mind racing as she tried to undo what he had done, to reconstruct her original memories of her parents. “Help me!” She said desperately. Above her, her childhood memories floated, frayed at the edges and on the verge of collapse.

“Calm down, Margot.” J.W. approached and placed a gentle hand on her shoulders. “You need to remember your way to them, from the present to the back.”

“No! I can’t let it be like this…my parents didn’t sell me…they didn’t…I didn’t!” She said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Very well, let’s go over them shall we?” He raised a hand and the floating memories drifted towards him. One by one he played them for her, the memories of her childhood, a life of anguish marked by moments of pure happiness, as is often the case in the Underworld. She saw herself eating happily while her parents gazed at her with a mix of pride and revulsion, love and jealousy. Margot had never before noticed these things but now she realised, in her parents’ emaciated visage, that when she ate they didn’t. She felt a pang of guild, but also of pride for her parents, for sacrificing themselves for her.

Then the scene shifted, showing her parents arguing over her. She lay there half-asleep. “I don’t remember this!” Margot said, looking closer, wondering how she could see the memories in third person instead of from her point of view. “Shouldn’t this be from my point of view?”

“The mind is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Capable of such wonderful illusions!” He smiled widely and the intensity in his eyes made Margot step back. Something’s off, she thought to herself, and made sure he couldn’t read it. To her he didn’t feel like a part of her mind, the J.W. that lived within her from the time they spent together. Yet he was familiar to her. “Shall we continue?” He said, with the same intense gaze.

“Let’s do it!” Despite her concerns, restoring herself was the most important thing right now.

The vision resumed. Her parents argued about food, tributes to the Knights and Melchaia’s search. They knew he wanted someone like Margot, with Keyhole-shaped irises. Then something happened. The image split in two, like two different timelines fighting for supremacy. On one they worried about their neighbours reporting them to the Knight, something that happened as the image skipped ahead, their daughter taken so someone else might eat, as was the rule in the Underworld. The other showed them discussing what they should ask from the Hell Knight in exchange for their little girl. They seemed in distress, guilty but Margot could feel the despair and hunger.

Margot hated seeing her parents like this, no matter which vision was true and it made her feel guilty all over again. I was a child, it wasn’t my fault! She reminded herself and pushed the guilt down, as she’d done many times before.

“Now which one is real, do you suppose?” J.W. said, concerned though Margot detected a hint of mockery in his voice. J.W. would never mock me, not about this. He was mischievous, not cruel…who are you?

“The first one…my parents worried about me getting taken.” It has to be. If not, then what I did to them…don’t go there Vance.

“How do you know?” I don’t, not anymore, but it’s what I want to believe. They gave up eating for me, they wouldn’t then throw me to the wolves. It’s not who they were…it’s not who I am.

“Then why did you kill them if it wasn’t revenge?” J.W. said it, the words Margot refused to say. There was a glint in his eyes, of an independent intelligence, but Vance was too shocked to notice, her mind flooding with the memories she fought hard to keep down every day.

“I didn’t…I didn’t want to…I…” fresh tears ran down her cheeks as she cried out, the pain and guilt washing over her, still as fresh as ever.

“Let’s take a look shall we?” J.W. thrust his hand in her chest, making her gasp for air and putting her senses on alert. He grasped around then tore the memories from inside her and threw them up in the air, a perfect reel of violence and murder.

In the vision, Margot came back home, her head still shaved from the surgery, her body torn and mind ripped and stitched back together, just a young teen broken beyond repair. Her parents took her in, hugged and cried over her, but no matter what they said or did, she wouldn’t respond. Her eyes were vacant, hollow. Margot Vance had gone into Melchaia’s operating theatre, and she stayed behind, only a shell returning home. “Please stop!” Margot begged, crawling and grabbing tightly to J.W.’s trousers. “Please…”

“If I do, you’ll stay here forever.” He said flatly, regarding her with a steely gaze.

“What?” She looked confused and backed away from him, turning her face towards the ground, away from the memories.

“Why do you think the Baron targeted these memories?”

“I don’t…I don’t know.”

“Yes you do, because I know! Stop being afraid of the past Vance!” He spat and reached for her, grabbing the hem of her shirt and lifting her violently. “This is at the crux of your being, and it’s the key to restoring yourself, so woman-up and deal with your shit!” He said and pushed her down again. Margot sobbed and hated herself for it. He’s right, whoever he is, move on…She scolded herself, and while the tears continued to flow, she held herself back, drawing from inside her all the strength she could muster.

She stood up and faced the figment. “Action.” She said and the reel started again.

The vision darkened, details became fuzzy and time skipped ahead several times, until it showed only her parents, one frozen and the other burnt to a crisp, with Margot sobbing in the middle of her now ruined house. Vance forced herself to keep looking and even pulled the image closer, studying the memories as if it were a forensic record. “Something’s not right…” she said.

“Quite obvious. You’re blocking those memories.” He said coldly.

“No, it’s not me. There’s something else blocking it.” He scoffed and she whirled on him. “I made the choice didn’t I? I stood up and I’m here facing this shit, so if something’s blocking it, it has to be…oh son of a bitch!” She snarled.

“What?”

She ignored him and put her hands through the vision, feeling the same shock as before, her mind and neurons sizzling. J.W. tried to pull her back but she kicked him away. She fumbled around in her own mind, until she found it, a trigger. In her mindscape it looked like a cube of pure energy. “What is that?”

“Psychic ward.”

“What?” The image looked confused. You said if I knew, you would, then why don’t you know?

“You put these babies in people’s heads as a safeguard, makes it harder for them to detect influence and manipulation.” Margot explained and crushed the cube, feeling a weight lift off her shoulders and her mind clearer than it had ever been.

The vision resumed and she finally saw the events as they happened. Her parents took her in and cared for her after the surgery and slowly she came out of her shell, slowly regained some of the Margot Vance that died in the operating theatre. Then Melchaia returned, kicking the door open and demanding to see his patient once more. Her parents stood up to him, but they were normal people. He burned her father alive. His screams sent Margot over the edge, making her powers lash out, destroying everything around her, directing the violence at Melchaia. Instead of fear, however, he seemed more interested than ever and killed her mother, to see just how far she could push her. Margot completely snapped and destroyed house and would’ve killed the Hell Knight as well had he not prepared for it. He resisted the onslaught, then took the spent Margot and implanted the psychic ward, laughing to himself in the process.

“It wasn’t me…” Relief washed over Margot. Mom, dad, it wasn’t me! She thought and with the memory and past solved, her memories returned. She shook her head and shivered at the strange sensation, but felt the satisfaction of knowing the Baron was no more.

“You need to kill that man next time you see him.” J.W. was fuming.

“What do you mean next time? He’s dead!”

“No he didn’t. That was just a psi-wave. You can’t do those if you’re not very much alive.”

“I thought he did as one last payback.”

“Those don’t work like that.” Okay, that’s enough.

“Who the hell are you?” She drew her gun, projected in her mind and pointed it at him, glaring intensely.

“What gave me away?” He smiled confidently.

“You know things I don’t and I know things you don’t. Doesn’t work that way with figments!” She growled.

“Glad to see you got yourself back, Mar. And I do love your mind!” He shook his head but couldn’t stop smiling. “To be fair, it’s the best thing to love, you’re not exactly a looker!” He shrugged and Margot shot his ear clean off, but he didn’t even react.

“Ouch…” He said unconvincingly. “I’m just being honest, isn’t that what you always asked of me? You’re too tough, too lean, flat chested and, okay, I’ll admit you have a nice but.” He continued and Margot shot more pieces off him, this time making him flinch.

“Okay, okay! I’m not J.W. and I’m not a figment of your imagination.” He pointed at the memory reel. “I’m that!”

“What?” She looked confused.

“You got the bad blood in you honey, and I’m just dying to see you snap again!” He said, laughed and vanished in a burst of blinding light that enveloped the mindscape.

Margot woke up.

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