Valkyrie almost went in search of Shockwave to let him know of Isaac’s departure. Instead, she thought better of it. Whether it was the situation with Sludge and the others or something else, the man was on edge. She had probably contributed to his foul mood, as well. Best to let him simmer down first.
Lady Luck found a place to sit and stared off into nowhere. It was unlike the woman. She was only a few years junior to Jessica, but Gina Joyce had become accustomed to a more refined life as a celebrity model. This situation was probably something of a wake-up call. Valkyrie gave the girl credit, though. Lady Luck was known nationwide and received all sorts of recognition as she parleyed her superheroing into a successful career in the limelight. The girl could easily ditch the costumed adventuring and delve into full-time riches, but she was here, now, when things truly counted.
Valkyrie looked down at her hands. They were still coated in filth, plenty of dust lingering beneath her nails. She could only imagine what she looked like. Disheveled as hell, surely. Even for a mythical warrior.
Her attention wandered back to Lady Luck sitting there in simple travel clothes, knees hugged to her chest, no make-up on yet still someone men would drool over. The girl caught her looking and smiled back. Valkyrie felt a flash of inadequacy, which had to be immediately quashed. It took a touch of effort, but she returned the gesture.
“I’m going to clean up,” she said. “Come get me if Shockwave is looking for me.”
Lady Luck nodded.
A shower would feel exquisite. It had been too long since the last one. With everything happening over the past few weeks, Valkyrie had existed far more often than Jessica. The explosions in Queens, flying across the country, searching for clues in a charnel house, flying back into a massive battle. So much going on, so little time to rest. Sure, there had been opportunities to keep up with hygiene, they just were more an activity of ritual necessity rather than a chance to unwind a touch.
Valkyrie walked to one of the private showers. She left her spear outside the stall and stepped in. Her eyes closed and a feeling of floating overcame her body. The shift was quick, taking mere seconds, anyone witnessing the change from Nordic warrior to a regular anthropologist would have seen a bright flash of light. One moment there stood Valkyrie, the next, Jessica.
The armor of the Valkyrie vanished along with the amazonian stature. Jessica used to think that her clothing was transformed along with her body, but when she attempted to turn into Valkyrie once, naked, she found the armor showed up regardless of what she had been wearing. Or not wearing. Clothing did not magically appear on her body when she reverted, however, she was as bare to the world as she had been before the change. Stranger still, if she removed any part of the armor before reverting, it did not affect the clothing she had worn. Almost as if her consciousness were transplanted into another body. Dirt and stains, however, magically remained, much to her chagrin.
One day, she might write a paper about the experience. For now, she was content to have figured out how it worked before running into some sort of embarrassing moment.
The water did its job. The grit of days washed off and down the drain. Though as Valkyrie she possessed almost godly stamina and durability, when she reverted to herself Jessica often felt drained. And her appetite went through the roof the longer she remained as her alter ego. There was a correlation there she was OK with so long as it didn’t make her waist size go haywire, or any other parts for that matter.
She let the jets rain down on her longer than was necessary, watching the refreshing waters circle the drain. It eased away some of the tension, not all.
Even spending several minutes more than originally planned in the shower, it still felt like it had passed by all too quickly. With the water turned off, the air was cool to the skin. Soothing, yet likewise fleeting in its comfort.
Jessica returned to the Comm Room. Lady Luck must have gone somewhere else; the room was vacant. She wiped an errant and still wet strand of her strawberry blonde hair from her face and was about to leave, when one of the phones rang.
She picked up the receiver on the third ring. “Hello?”
Sounds greeted her ear, but they were not words. At least none which could be distinguished. It sounded like blubbering, crying.
She almost hung up. Only the depth of sorrow she was hearing made her keep listening. Trying to pick out words, a familiarity in the voice, anything.
It took a moment to identify the speaker.
“Isaac? Isaac, what’s wrong?” She had a feeling it was not going to be pleasant. The man on the other end of the phone sobbed. “Isaac, please. Tell me what’s going on.”
His voice came through so soft it was nearly indistinguishable. “She’s gone.” Another sob. “They took her.”
They arrived minutes after the call. Valkyrie had rushed to collect Shockwave and Lady Luck, grabbing each of them by the wrist and lifting them into the sky. It was far faster than taking surface transportation, even with the streets much less crowded during the evening hours.
Valkyrie put them down a few houses away from Isaac and Melissa’s home. Shockwave motioned for her to recon overhead while he and Lady Luck advanced from the street. He wanted this handled with efficiency.
Lady Luck’s transformation from flesh and blood to a living statue of gold took less than a second. One moment she was a stunning young woman with platinum blonde hair, the next she became an equally statuesque goddess of precious metal. She lost a few inches in height, but the benefits gained more than outweighed that disadvantage. Quite literally. It was probably the only time these body image and media driven days that a woman gained considerable weight and society thought it a good thing. Sad, that.
Shockwave watched for any kind of signal from Valkyrie as he ran toward the house, hunched over to present a smaller target to potential ambushers. His ribs protested the posture. There had been plenty of times when Shockwave had pushed through worse injuries. He no longer thought they were broken. Bruised, surely. Nothing remotely capable of keeping him from doing his job, nothing like taking a pair of bullets in the thigh and then dragging a wounded buddy through the sand to safety while more lead was flying around them.
There were no lights on inside the house as they approached. It made it harder to discern what was taking place within, but not necessarily a sign of impending doom, either. The night was quiet, only the nocturnal choirs of animal and insect were singing into the darkness. Pure silence would have been cause for dread.
Valkyrie gave him the all clear signal.
“Lady, you take the front. I’ll swing around back, just to be sure.” Shockwave gave Valkyrie a set of hand signals to indicate they were splitting up on the ground. A quick tangent of thought invaded his mind, We’ve got all these toys back at the base, but we don’t have some sort of communicators? That would have to change. Especially if the bad guys were being supplied with tech themselves.
The three Guardians made their final approaches with a fair amount of coordination. Front, rear, and above. Shockwave was glad to see it, but it was a minor victory considering circumstances. He heard Lady Luck’s entrance as he reached the back door.
As soon as he was inside the house, he could hear sobbing.
“Isaac,” Valkyrie called out as she arrived from upstairs. “Isaac, we’re here.”
Great. Shockwave grimaced behind his mask. Just announce our presence to everyone waiting in ambush. Valkyrie should have known better.
There were glass fragments all over the floor as he picked his way through the dining nook connected to the kitchen. One of the chairs was lying on its back. Shockwave took extra care not to step on anything or cause fragments to grind into the floor. Stealth was supposed to be his friend.
Lady Luck decided to add to the conversation. “It’s us.”
Just great. Shockwave remained quiet. Not that there was much of a call for it. Discipline appeared to have fallen by the wayside, another failure as a leader he could lay at his own feet. Even so, he felt it prudent not to announce his presence. Just in case. He moved further into the house, keeping to shadowed areas and alert for possible traps.
The sobbing remained sporadic. When Valkyrie called out again, it was Isaac’s voice that answered. He sounded so far away. “In here.”
If memory served, Lady Luck and Valkyrie converged on what was the living room of the house. Shockwave had been here a handful of times, but people liked to change the set up of their homes on a whim. Didn’t they? His own apartment was a place of function, not that he used it all that often.
When nothing exploded—which Valkyrie and Lady Luck probably could have survived without so much as a few scratches—or jumped out of darkened corners, Shockwave figured it was safe. He followed a wall to where he remembered there being a light switch. With a flick, the living room was illuminated.
There were two couches, one with shred marks trailing down the center cushion. A broken lamp lay on the floor next to the television. At least there was no blood.
Isaac was on his knees in the middle of the floor. Staring at the wall.
Shockwave heard Lady Luck gasp. A message was scrawled on the wall in light blue paint. There was the blood Shockwave hoped not to see; small reddish-brown streaks crisscrossed behind the words in haphazard fashion.
Got your wife! Come get her before Sawbones turns her into one of his Flesh-kin. Clock’s ticking, Guardians. Dows, IA.
It was signed, Hellion, with a palm sized scorch mark beneath.
Valkyrie lifted Isaac to his feet while Shockwave went in search of more clues. None of the other rooms appeared touched. The best scenario had Hellion busting through the glass of the kitchen/dining room and abducting Melissa from the living room.
“The TV was on when I got here,” Isaac said, almost too quiet to hear. “It was tuned into a channel that would have been broadcasting the battle in midtown. She knew I was fighting when he came for her.”
Valkyrie was rubbing Isaac’s back in a comforting manner, for all that it registered with the man. She caught Shockwave’s eye. “This whole thing, this is a personal vendetta somehow. Why else go after Melissa?”
Shockwave didn’t reply. There were too many missing pieces to the puzzle. It could be very well true. But there were other Guardians those villains would have had more cause to hold a grudge against rather than Ichabod. No, if anything, this was aimed at the team as a whole. Some things were sliding into place.
Isaac had slumped back to the floor. Lady Luck reverted to human form and dropped to the carpet next to him, placing her arms around Isaac as tenderly as possible. It took a second, but another round of sobbing erupted from the sorrowful husband, a flood of tears fast on the heels.
It was nothing personal, but Shockwave didn’t want to see the man cry. Isaac was entitled to his sorrows, and as equally deserving of his own space to work through them without a hundred well-wishers hovering about. Cold comfort was all anyone could offer. The real relief would come by getting the woman away from her captors, safely. He stepped outside onto the cottage’s porch.
Valkyrie joined him.
“They’re taking us apart bit by bit, Val,” he said, head tilted up to the sky. “Sludge. Pulse. Vector. Now Ichabod.”
“Isaac is still here. If anything, he’s going to have more fire to take down those bastards,” she said. “I can see it in him. He’s not going to roll over.”
Shockwave shook his head. “That’s just it. They’ve turned him desperate. That makes him unpredictable, unreliable on a team. For someone of Ichabod’s power level, that could very well be a terrible thing.”
He hated to admit it, but it was the truth. It made his own actions over the past few hours come into question, as well. When he was beating Bloodhawk bloody out of personal vengeance, when he nearly socked that hospital security guard for doing his job, the way he snapped at Lady Luck while letting his frustration with Valkyrie take hold. Those weren’t the actions of a stable, clear-headed leader.
Was that part of their plan, too? Destabilize the Guardians on multiple fronts? Shockwave cringed. He’d never have given Hellion credit for such deviousness. Certainly not Bloodhawk, or even Reaver. They were all too straightforward, ready to bring the fight up into your face and damn the collateral damage.
The teleporter? Was she the brains behind it all? They needed to find out who she was. And then there were those flesh golems. Where did they fit in, where did they come from? A fifth party’s involvement? Wait, wasn’t there another name in Hellion’s message, Sawbones? Who was that?
“We’re weak, Val. We couldn’t take them down when there was six of us,” Shockwave said, frustration bleeding into his voice. “What can we do when there’s only three, maybe four?”
“Give me twelve hours,” she said. “I know where we can get some help.”
Before Shockwave could respond, Valkyrie had taken to the skies. He watched her fly westward, silently hoping she was not going where he thought she was.