The van screeched to another stop. Traffic was thick on the bridge.
“Damn it!” Shockwave slapped the steering wheel. He couldn’t help it. The frustration building over the last few days had worn him down; the man’s usual, level demeanor had to vent off some of the stress or he could accidentally lash out with his power. And that would be bad. Very bad.
Normally the Guardians could have counted on Valkyrie to swoop down and pluck their van from traffic jams, carry the vehicle over obstructions and straight to areas of trouble. She wasn’t back from her trip west yet. So, of course the supervillains would chose now to strike.
Shockwave glanced at the clock set in the dashboard. At her earliest estimate, Valkyrie would not return for another hour.
People are dying now, Shockwave thought. And the Guardians are stuck in traffic!
“I can go on ahead,” Vector said from the passenger seat. “I won’t be alone. Ichabod is probably there already.”
Shockwave leaned on the horn. Not that it would do anything; it just felt good. “Not a chance. Ichabod is capable of taking care of himself, even against those three.” I hope. “The rest of us need to stick together. Hellion and Bloodhawk are killers of the worst kind. Reaver is another kind of monster. Even Valkyrie has had a few close battles with that brute. And those things they brought with them, we have no idea what they’re capable of.”
Vector looked as if she was about to argue, but bit her lip.
“Sludge, what’s the situation look like?” Shockwave demanded. A slight opening grew in the lane next to them, and Shockwave cut the wheel and hit the gas. He ignored the angry horn behind them.
In the rear of the van, Sludge and Pulse were monitoring events taking place in the city. There was a bank of monitors tuned into the various news channels along one wall, specialized radar and sonar equipment housed along the other wall.
“Bad, boss man. The TV crew from channel five. . . they were. . . ” Pulse grew too quiet for comfort.
Sludge said, “Bloodhawk caught sight of them. The feed cut off, mercifully. The network pulled it when all they were receivin’ was audio distortion. There’s at least a couple hundred of those things roamin’ around. Police are formin’ barricades two blocks in every direction from 42nd Street and Madison Avenue, but they’re not having much luck hurtin’ those things. Like bullets have no effect.”
Shockwave edged the van close to the bridge’s barriers. He was tempted to hit the accelerator as hard as he could. The vehicle was built to handle rough treatment, and its engine was more than capable of ramming through a crowd of stalled automobiles if need be. Doing so would cause more harm than good.
“Just heard a report,” Pulse said, his voice still shaky, but there was a touch more stability in it now. “Ichabod has been seen. He’s there.”
The ramp exit was right there! Shockwave leaned on the horn again. If they could just get into Manhattan, the Guardians could make a difference. It figured that New York City itself would be an obstacle to its own defense.
It took some effort not to use his powers to clear a lane for the van, but Shockwave knew that would a dangerous and irresponsible use of his abilities. At least that’s what he kept telling himself. “Sludge, get on the horn. Use the crisis line, authority code X-67-LT-9. Let ’em know the Guardians are en route, our location, and that we need a damn clear path!”
Faces gaped out of car windows as the headless horseman, a figure of terrific legend, barreled through the clogged lanes and into the wild streets of Manhattan. At full charge, it was the one time when the demonic steed was a more frightening vision than the rider. Wreathed in crimson hellfire, ebon hooves clashing sparks against pavement, and nostrils flared and snorting flame, Ichabod’s mount projected a fearsome presence that would cause many to quake in dread. A hellbeast straight out of storybooks.
Ichabod directed his steed by will, being an extension of the dichotomous soul of man and demon. As he rode off the Queensboro Bridge and onto the very streets of the Big Apple, Ichabod could feel the miasma of fear and horror permeating the island. Rider and mount galloped down 59th Street, taking a left onto Lexington Ave and following it to the source of the danger near Grand Central Station. Ahead the creatures loomed in a smoky haze.
It was a veritable horde of monstrosities. They held vague resemblance to mankind, but every one was a tortured parody of human form. Here an extra limb, there a set of foot-long talons in place of hands, there a lumpen, cone-shaped head tipped with a crown of spikes. Flesh hung loose on some in sagging rolls, tight and muscular on others. No two were alike. And there were dozens. A hundred, at the least.
The creatures snatched up any soul foolish or unlucky enough to come within reach. What they did with those they caught was a matter left up to the individual creature’s design; some victims were impaled, others chewed to death by multiple maws. Blood flowed, turning dark asphalt red and slick, trickling into gutters and storm drains.
Ichabod dismounted. With a casual wave, his steed vanished on the wind.
A bleeding man in a torn business suit came running at him. The man was missing one shoe and an ear. “Help me!” He reached Ichabod and clung to the front of the horseman’s leather armor. “Please! Get me out of here!”
Ichabod reached around the man and shoved him aside. The businessman staggered; Ichabod had been gentle. ”These aberrations shall fall. Find your safety.”
The horseman unlimbered his sword and resumed his stride toward the mass of flesh monsters.
Shockwave cut the wheel hard and brought the van to a screeching halt. “Everybody out! Move, Guardians!”
He was out of the driver’s seat before he finished speaking. Even Vector wasn’t as quick to exit the vehicle.
"Díos! What are they?” Sludge shook his head and began to transform into a being more appropriate to his name. A brownish-gray muck flowed over his skin, coating his body and clothing until he resembled something that might have wandered out of a swamp or sewer.
The question was a good one. Shockwave had halted the van as soon as the creatures came into view. The call he had Sludge place had cleared them a path fast, but not fast enough. The Guardians could see the remains of New Yorkers amid the slew of monstrosities straight out of horror movie cenobitic nightmare.
“Whatever they are, they stink,” Pulse said.
It was true. The breeze brought the smell of unwashed bodies and chemical disinfectant. That and blood.
“Keep your head on tight, everyone,” Shockwave said, coming to the forefront of the three Guardians. He spotted two figures he’d been expecting. Reaver was slashing left and right with his twin hand-axes, the enchanted blades supping on the blood they shed to amplify the considerable might of the giant. Bloodhawk was diving into helpless crowds of people as they sought refuge from the fleshy monsters. The killer would select a victim, swooping down and nabbing them with those terrible claws, and lift them into the sky where he ripped into his screaming and terrified prey.
Not for the first time, Shockwave wished Valkyrie was back.
“Sludge, you, Pulse, and Vector try to slow down Reaver. Don’t let him get too close. If he hits you with those axes, it could be the end. I doubt any of us can really hurt him.” Lady Luck or Ichabod could. Valkyrie had always beaten the giant.
“Sure thing, boss man.” Pulse was keeping his anxiety in check now that they had arrived. Barely. Shockwave hoped the young man would retain his wits throughout the engagement. This was far worse than expected.
“Where will you be?” Sludge asked, sounding like the man inside the ooze was, well, inside a tub of ooze.
Shockwave set his sights on Bloodhawk. The killer had just dropped another corpse into the crowd. “I’ll bring down the flyboy.
“Let’s move, Guardians!”
The portal shut behind Hellion. Not before he heard Anchor sneer, “Don’t screw this up.” He couldn’t tell if he was liking or despising Anchor more these days. It was becoming a distraction.
In front of him was the back door of a two-floor, cottage-style house. The back yard he stood in looked a tad overgrown, as if the owners didn’t care much for its utilization. At least there were no dogs.
Too bad, he hadn’t gotten to kill anything in a while. There was a point you started to get rusty, after all.
A quick look around let him know none of the neighbors seemed the wiser to his arrival. Not that it truly mattered. Hellion was there for one purpose, but again, he wouldn’t have minded something or someone to charbroil. Being seen would have complicated his mission, but nothing he couldn’t handle. Might as well enjoy himself if serendipity chose to send her favor.
He stole over to the side of the house, creeping alongside until coming to a bay window. He peeked over the sill. A modest little living room greeted his vision, a green couch flanked by a pair of end tables with lamps, a matching loveseat set perpendicular, and a hutch inset with a flat screen television. The walls were lined with bookshelves.
Nothing stood out. Or, at least, nothing to denote anyone out of the ordinary lived there. But the resident of the house was the very reason Hellion was here. She was sitting on the edge of the central cushion, a hand covering the gaping O of her mouth. The television was on, tuned into what Hellion would have expected. Cameras were focused in on Manhattan and the slaughter taking place. In particular, the screen was showing the Doc’s Flesh-kin swarming around Ichabod.
Perfect, he thought.
A flick of his thumb activated the personal force-field device. Hellion took three steps back, he liked to make a entrance. With a bound and a leap he was crashing through the bay window.
Another helpless victim was lifted in the air. Shockwave gritted his teeth and fired. Better for the poor soul to fall a few dozen feet and have a chance to crawl away than the sure, painful death they would experience at Bloodhawk’s hands.
The seismic vibrations should have sent his target tumbling through the air, enough to drop his intended victim. Instead, Shockwave bit back a curse as the innocent was hit by his power, juddering in Bloodhawk’s claws, while the villain was barely moved. Sure, the killer still managed to drop his prey, but not until after his claws shredded the poor woman’s back and his teeth ripped a chunk of flesh from her arm. A black desire to ram his fists into the villain’s face over and over surfaced within Shockwave.
When Bloodhawk turned toward him, the Guardian could see the glistening blood rolling down the killer’s chin. Shockwave let the rage build and unleashed it in another blast of his power. Bloodhawk saw the move and dodged before swooping at his new prey, claws extended.
Shockwave’s body acted without thought, grabbing the metal garbage can from the street corner and swinging it with all his weight. If he let those spikes on Bloodhawk’s shoulders impale him, he was done for. The collision sent Shockwave on his back, but he flipped to his feet in a second. Bloodhawk was already up and rushing forward.
The first swipe he blocked with his forearm, the second grazed his chest, ripping the lining of his body armor. Shockwave retaliated with a knee to Bloodhawk’s chest and a blast of power at his opponent’s feet. Bloodhawk staggered and the Guardian sent an uppercut into the killer’s gut. It was like punching a tree.
Claws flashed out and Shockwave got his arm up just in time to save his eyes. Pain lanced his forearm. He grunted and fell back a step. Blood welled in the lacerations and dribbled down toward his glove. Hopefully the damage wasn’t as bad as it felt.
Sensing his foe was ripe for slaughter, Bloodhawk moved in. Just as Shockwave wanted. He straightened in a flash and executed a front kick that missed Bloodhawk’s solar plexus, but still pushed the killer back. And it hurt, judging by the snarl the villain gave him.
They began to circle. The battle for Manhattan was in full swing, but for these two, only the other existed.
“You’re going down, Bloodhawk,” Shockwave said.
“I’m touched you remember me.” They continued to circle. “I remember you.” The killer licked his sharpened teeth. Blood dribbled off the villain’s chin.
Shockwave tensed. Bloodhawk’s attack was coming, he could see the villain’s shoulders bunch as he prepared to unleash one of those screams.
“As I recall,” Bloodhawk said, halting his stride and facing Shockwave head on. “Your cheek tasted like chicken.”
He tried to retain his calm, but the memory of his maiming at the hands of Bloodhawk and Hellion echoed across his synapses. Shockwave thrust out a hand and sent a barrage of vibratory force at his foe, the anger built up within breaking free like floodgates. At the same moment, Bloodhawk opened his mouth and released his sonic scream.
The air trembled between the two combatants for a heartbeat. Then, their combined forces, so similar yet placed in opposition to one another, exploded the air.
Shockwave tried to keep his bearings as he was tossed backward and up. All too quickly, the ground surged upward to meet him.