The last of the Flesh-kin was blasted away by Siege. Shockwave watched the man set his feet and thrust his arms forward like a cannon. A large blast of destructive energy flashed from Siege’s core, channeled between his arms until it blasted off from his fists and into the enemy. The Flesh-kin were pulverized, and would not rise to rejoin the battle.
“That’s some power you’ve got there,” Shockwave said. The ringing left in his ears by Siege’s blast faded quick.
Siege straightened with visible lethargy. As Shockwave watched, a gray pallor which had risen to prominence over Siege’s dark skin returned to the man’s normal, dark flesh tone.
Siege nodded. “It has its advantages. The stronger I blast, the slower I move, but my skin hardens. You could crack a brick over my head and I wouldn’t feel it.”
Some of the others came running over now that the fight was finished.
Ghost corporealized next to Shockwave. He wiped stray bits of meat from his knives before re-sheathing them. “What now? Where did they go?”
Siege and Lady Luck gathered around as Shockwave signaled Valkyrie to take to the air. If she could spot anything which might help them pinpoint where the villains and Ichabod had gone, it would go a long way. Lynx and Aegis were checking the fallen Flesh-kin, ensuring the creatures were out of the fight. Permanently.
A slight tremor shook the ground. The others did not seem to notice it, but Shockwave’s powers were entwined with vibrational frequencies. Normally, even he would have missed it, but his senses wee so heightened by the battle the tremor came through like a shotgun fired next to his ear.
He pulled off his gloves and placed his bare hands against the earth.
“What are you doing?” Ghost asked.
Shockwave closed his eyes. “Something I don’t usually have to. And it takes a lot of focus, so shut up!”
Thankfully, he didn’t have to tell anyone twice.
Shockwave expanded his mind, pulsating waves of energy through the ground. If he was right, then those tremors he felt just a moment ago would—Aha! They were still here. Ichabod should still be there, too.
“They’re below us. That’s what that tremor was,” he said, rising from his crouch and pulling on of his gloves back on.
“How do you know that?” Lady Luck asked. Her golden form shimmered in the fading daylight. It was invasive enough that Shockwave had seen reflected flashes behind his eyelids.
He shielded his eyes. “Like a bat. Echolocation, I think it’s called.” Shockwave faced west and jogged away. “It’s something I’ve been toying with for years. Never had much call to perfect it, though.”
He moved about a hundred yards from their initial position. The others followed, waiting as Shockwave knelt and pressed his bare hand to the earth again.
After a moment, he opened his eyes and rose. “Almost straight down. Between fifty and a hundred feet, it’s hard to tell for sure, the ground isn’t flat down there.” He thought back to the battle on the streets of New York. “Gotta be those caves we were seeing through the portals.”
“That would explain were all the townspeople went,” Siege added.
“The whole town?” Lady Luck asked. “They took them underground?”
“Worse than that.” Shockwave tugged on his other glove. “Siege has to be right. We’ve already met the good people of Dows.” That theory was all but a certainty now.
The Flesh-kin. Of course, they would have added the people of Dows to the ranks of those hideous abominations with the coast-to-coast murders and raiding of the morgue in New York. There was little doubt in Shockwave’s mind that the entire population of this little town had fallen victim. Hellion, Bloodhawk, and Reaver would have had a field day. This Sawbones was a monster of the most abhorrent kind.
He could see the same thoughts dawn on the faces of his companions.
“How do we get down there, where’s the entrance?” Ghost asked. “Wasn’t there something about a quarry in this town? Maybe the entrance is there.”
Shockwave shook his head. He thought he had a quicker way.
“It’ll take too long to find. Ichabod is down there, fighting alone.” To emphasize the point, another tremor shook the ground, this time powerful enough that the earth heaved beneath their feet. “We go straight down.” He waved for the rest to join them.
Shockwave turned to Siege, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Fifty feet or so. Think you’re up to it?”
As a response, Siege took off his long-coat.
Ghost lead the way down. Both Valkyrie and Lady Luck could probably have handled any nasty surprises awaiting them, but Ghost’s gaseous form was even better suited and the villains shouldn’t have been prepared for the abilities of the Faction. The two ladies went down next, followed by Aegis and Lynx with spotlights from the van. Shockwave and a tired, but determined Siege went last.
Siege’s power had proven to be quite effective at boring a hole through the ground. As Shockwave had predicted, there was a network of tunnels and caves beneath the town. Another piece of the puzzle snapped into place. This had to be the headquarters.
The combined teams entered a dusty tunnel. The air was a touch stagnant, but fresher than would have been expected for fifty feet below the earth.
“We should have realized,” Valkyrie said. It seemed obvious to her now, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. Both pathways were dark, no telling which way would be the right one.
“No way to have known,” Shockwave replied. “There’s no record of a cave system beneath the town. Even with what we were seeing, there was no way to pinpoint where their base was. I was beginning to think we had been duped again and Ichabod had been taken six-hundred miles away.” His thoughts mirrored her own.
The place was gloomy and quiet. Too quiet.
“If Ichabod is down here, shouldn’t we be able to hear him?” she asked.
“Again, no way to tell how big this place is. I don’t know a whole lot about caves,” Shockwave replied. “But I might be able to find him with my abilities. There was definitely something going on down here before Siege blasted us an entrance. And it was close enough to this position.”
While Shockwave’s interpretation made sense, it did little to comfort Valkyrie. Ichabod had been holding back for hours, waiting and worrying over the safety of his wife. As soon as that portal opened and she had seen the fury with which Ichabod plowed through the Flesh-kin to reach the gateway, she knew he was out for blood. If the villains had found some way to subdue the rampaging horseman so fast. . . Valkyrie herself had wondered who would come out on top should she ever have to square off against a being of Ichabod’s power. Her own conclusion was far from self-flattering.
Shockwave did his little trick with sound waves along the tunnel walls. She could read frustration in the tight folds around his eyes. It couldn’t be easy to find something in the echoing conditions a cave system would produce. Especially when Shockwave himself had admitted to a failure of developing this particular aspect of his abilities.
“Hope he finds something,” Ghost said at Valkyrie’s elbow. “I don’t fancy splitting into groups to search.”
“No,” she agreed. “That would play into their hands. Our best chance is sticking together and fighting as a group. We start dividing and they’ll pick us off.”
Ghost was silent a moment before saying, “I’ve been wondering.”
“Well, most of these guys are psychos. They kill for the fun of it. But, they’re also smart enough to be some of the few that have tangled with us and other superheroes and escaped. They can be reckless, but only when they think they’ll have the time to indulge.”
Valkyrie raised an eyebrow. “Been reading the evals?”
Ghost waved it off. “Yes, but I’m getting to my point. You see, all these villains we’ve got arrayed against us, they like to kill, but know better than to act without acknowledging consequence. They’ve spent their careers getting their kicks and fading before they could get taken down. The surgeon, this Sawbones, he’s different. He seems more like his insanity makes him want to ‘improve’ on things he finds inferior. Maybe prove his superiority over others by doing so.”
“You have been doing some research.” At another moment, she might have laughed.
“Yeah, you got me. It was a long couple of car rides.” Ghost shifted from foot to foot. It was a bad sign. “We know the doctor has the smarts to pull all this off. We know this type of thing caters to the others’ need to commit murder. But where do the Guardians fit in?”
“You mean, why target us? What possible connection could Sawbones have with the Guardians?” It was a good question. She hadn’t considered it, and most likely neither had Shockwave. A sign of the pressure and exhaustion they were all under.
She mulled it over. Nothing jumped out at her. “Notoriety? Maybe the doctor’s psychosis has expanded so far to need to prove he’s superior not only to his fellow surgeon, but because of his own powers, that he’s greater than others with super powers?”
“Maybe,” Ghost replied. The lack of certitude in his voice was far from comforting.
Before they could continue to debate the question, Shockwave pulled back from the wall. “Can’t be certain, but there should be a large chamber up ahead,” he pointed off his left, “that way. This tunnel goes straight for a couple hundred feet, then curves. Might or might not lead to that chamber.”
“We stay together,” Valkyrie said. “If you think it’s our best bet, then we go that way.”
Ghost backed her with a nod.
“All right,” Shockwave growled. He set his shoulders. “Let’s go find these bastards.”
A black leather-clad hand thrust out of the pile of rubble. The rest of Ichabod followed quick as the horseman extricated himself from the small avalanche. The trap had temporarily stopped him, but he was far from beaten. He had dispelled his mount beneath the stone. There had been little use having the demon steed when he could not ride.
Ichabod freed himself from the rock pile and stalked down the tunnel. It eventually led to the open cavern. Silent ranks of Flesh-kin awaited him. The closer he came to the horde, the better estimate of their numbers he made. There were easily a thousand of the golems.
Ichabod would slay every last one of them if he had to.
Of the villains he had seen—Reaver and the teleporter—there was no sign. Perhaps they had retreated farther into the cave complex. They, too, would feel Ichabod’s wrath should they seek to impede him. Ichabod would find his wife, free her from the clutches of these villains, and see her to safety. That was the bottom line, all else was secondary. No holding back anymore. If they got in his way, the villains would feel the flames of hell.
He stepped into the chamber, sword drawn and blazing with hellfire. The Flesh-kin remained inert, but were not dormant.
Clapping echoed around the cave, filling the general silence.
"You will release my wife, unharmed," Ichabod commanded.
"Now!” The air seemed to shake with the potency of Ichabod’s roar. The Flesh-kin did not so much as twitch.
The laughter became a voice. “It’s not that simple, I’m afraid.”
From between ranks of Flesh-kin, Hellion weaved into view. Above the golems, Bloodhawk snarled as he clung to a stalactite, claws tearing furrows in the stone. Out of side tunnels on Ichabod’s left and right, the teleporter and Reaver entered the chamber. The urge to immolate the lot was held in check only because he did not see his wife.
Hellion stepped to the fore of the Flesh-kin, fingers steepled in front of his aquiline face. “The Boss isn’t quite done with you.”