“Go!” Shockwave leapt into the breach at his own order. Siege had finished blasting the hole into the chamber, leaving a smooth-sided bore large enough for a person to move through. Footing was a little tricky.
Shockwave hated that they had to funnel, but the faster they came out the other side, the quicker they could reevaluate the situation. He had a increasingly nagging feeling they were running out of time.
Shockwave raced into a cloud of rock dust. He considered brushing aside the copious amounts of dust with his powers, but they would prove to be good cover for the heroes if any nasty surprises awaited them on the other side. He took a deep breath, lidding his eyes, and stormed through into the cavern on the other side.
Shockwave could feel Valkyrie right behind him. As soon as he passed the edge of the stone opening, he moved left. Valkyrie went straight up. Others followed: Lady Luck, Lynx, Ghost. Aegis came next, leading a lumbering and stone-like Siege as the latter moved forward at a snail’s pace.
The first thing Shockwave noticed was the horde of Flesh-kin. They filled the majority of the cavern, more clustering in side tunnels. There were hundreds. It bespoke of murder on such a terrible scale. They were slow and insipid, strong, yes, but their greatest asset was sheer numbers. If the heroes weren’t careful they could get overwhelmed. Those creatures were not the real danger, however.
Where are they? Shockwave crouched low in the fading dust cloud.
The supervillains had to be there somewhere. If he could find them first, he might be able to take at least one of them out before they spotted him. Hellion, Bloodhawk, it didn’t matter which villain. We’ll, Shockwave conceded that he probably didn’t have the juice to take Reaver down, though that wouldn’t stop him from trying. Hitting first—hardest—might give the heroes the edge they needed.
A sonic scream brought him to his knees. Aegis and Lynx were caught in it, as well. The younger man writhed on the ground in considerable pain. Bloodhawk’s scream was bad enough, Shockwave could only imagine how bad it was for the kid with his superhuman hearing. Shockwave spotted blood stains forming on Lynx’s hood at his ears. Aegis faired better, dealing with the decibels assaulting his ears and none of the force of the scream, a silvery sheen surrounded the hero, protecting him from the physical brunt. A second bubble coated Lynx a heartbeat later, but the kid still clutched his skull.
Dust became the enemy as it worked to obscure Bloodhawk. With any luck Valkyrie would spot the killer and deal with him. Luck, however, was in short supply these day. Better to deal with the threat himself than hope in the assistance of others. He shook his head to clear away the dizziness and gritted his teeth against the pain.
Shockwave caught a glimpse of Lady Luck as her golden form barreled into Reaver. The girl had spunk. Lady Luck was a powerhouse in her own right, able to lift several tons, but Shockwave wasn’t sure her fancy golden skin would hold up against those axes. The young woman didn’t have much of any training in martial arts. The man-monster was no mere brawler. It would not add up in Lady Luck’s favor.
He watched her land a jab on Reaver’s chin that rocked the giant’s head back. That was all Shockwave had time for, other situations required his attention. Hopefully the others would lend a hand taking down Reaver.
Shockwave rolled out of the marginal cloud cover, spotting a hovering Bloodhawk above the tunnel mouth. Aegis and Lynx were struggling to escape the effects of the killer’s sonic scream.
All right, asshole. Let’s finish what we started.
No doubt Bloodhawk and the other villains still possessed those little personal shield devices. Shockwave sighted a pair of stalactites hanging above Bloodhawk. Those would do nicely. The Guardian sent a powerful and precise wave of power at those two pieces of dangling stone. They snapped free one after the other, dropping fast for Bloodhawk. The villain saw them a heartbeat before they smacked into him. Bloodhawk’s scream cut off and he tumbled from the air. The portable shield protected him from and kinetic force but not their weight.
Better to jump on the killer before he could recover, Shockwave realized.
He ran. “Help Lady Luck,” he ordered Aegis and Lynx as he passed, not bothering to see if they heard him.
Bloodhawk was levering himself off the ground, none the worse for wear. Shockwave hit the ground beneath Bloodhawk’s feet with his power, unbalancing the killer enough to get in a first punch. The sap gloves broke open the facial wounds he had given Bloodhawk in New York. Red drops littered the ground.
“Round three,” Shockwave uttered, sending his boot into Bloodhawk’s ribs.
The villain was ready this time. Bloodhawk rolled with the blow, lashing out with his talons and ripping up Shockwave’s vest. If the Guardian hadn’t been wearing it, that might have proved fatal, tearing open his belly. Bloodhawk grinned, crouching on the ground.
“Come," Bloodhawk said and immediately screamed. Shockwave had no defense prepared and went tumbling away as the sonic force lifted him off his feet.
Hellion frowned as the heroes came rushing out of the hole. The Flesh-kin moved as one to intercept, but he knew that without intervention, the two teams would eventually beat even the thousand Flesh-kin they had left. They were just too stupid and slow to be effective killers. Especially with Sawbones otherwise occupied.
He waved for Anchor’s attention. He had no idea what good the teleporter would be in a fight, especially when she couldn’t use her own portals to much effect. Every hand would help, though. Anchor moved toward the fight, circling around the edges without needing to be cajoled. She didn’t send an insult Hellion’s way, either. Maybe she would surprise him and do something spectacular. At least she wasn’t turning tail and heading for the hills at the first sign of trouble.
They only needed to keep the heroes occupied a little longer. Killing them would be a bonus.
His partner managed to hurt a number of the heroes as they entered the cavern. Of course, that old dog Shockwave would go after B. Some people, Hellion thought. A guy eats half your face and you spend the rest of your life holding a grudge.
Hellion’s frown turned into a grin as he watched Bloodhawk’s scream send Shockwave flying across the cavern. The Guardian landed too far from any Flesh-kin, which was a little disappointing. He was sure Bloodhawk would finish him off this time, though. Until he watched one of those new guys leap on Bloodhawk’s back. Hellion saw a flash of claw and blood flow, belatedly realizing those weren’t Bloodhawk’s talons doing the cutting. The guy on Bloodhawk’s back was wearing a hood which fell away as the two struggled.
Well look at that, he’s a cat.
He was about to step in and lend his partner a hand when Shockwave got to his feet. Their eyes locked over the distance.
“Well, if B won’t kill you. . . ”
Valkyrie took in the scene. Those Flesh-kin monstrosities were everywhere. She spotted Ichabod standing not far from a man in a lab coat with a hump. That had to be Sawbones. The horseman was just standing there, though, facing the doctor and a cage covered with a sheet.
Her allies were joining the battle. Shockwave was fighting Bloodhawk, now going toe-to-toe with Hellion after getting flung across the cavern. Lynx was all over Bloodhawk now; the young hero was as savage as the killer, trading swipes of claw and gnashing of teeth. She would have moved to help the kid until she saw Aegis step up and bombard Bloodhawk with dozens of baseball-sized silver globes. The maniac killer curled away from the barrage.
A flash of light heralded Siege’s entrance from the new tunnel mouth. Advancing Flesh-kin were blasted aside. Ghost was fading in and out between groups of the golems. He would coporealize just long enough to hamstring one or two with his knives before becoming a hazy mist. Between him and Siege, they might just keep the creatures off the rest long enough to beat the villains. Valkyrie doubted the golems could do much to hurt Siege in his hardened state, or Ghost while he was gaseous.
When she spotted Lady Luck taking on Reaver by herself, a cold dread filled Valkyrie. She knew the young woman was tough, but Reaver was more than she believed the golden Guardian was capable of handling.
Valkyrie changed direction. Holding her spear out with both hands, she toppled a number of golems as she flew. Every little bit would help.
If she could hit Reaver while his focus was on Lady Luck, they might be able to get the better of him. She sped in that direction when the air in front of her split open. Instead of flying toward Lady Luck and Reaver, cold stone lay in front of Valkyrie. She was moving too fast to maneuver away from the hole, flying through the portal and slamming into unforgiving stone.
The impact didn’t hurt all that much, but it was jarring. She looked up. The teleporter stood not five feet away.
“Bad move, lady,” Valkyrie said, not even brushing the stone chips off before flying though the space between them. At the last second another portal opened.
Valkyrie slammed into another wall. Cracks formed in the stone and she dropped the few feet to the ground. OK, she admitted, that one hurt.
She got to her feet and took one step, finding herself surrounded by Flesh-kin. Valkyrie shattered the first one’s skull with a roundhouse punch, felling the others with a few swipes of her spear.
The telporter crossed her arms and tilted her head, watching from behind a gray faceplate.
“OK, lady,” Valkyrie said. “If you want to play games.”
Valkyrie sped for her foe again. She twisted away from the next portal to open in her path, erratically jinking in the air to confuse the teleporter. It worked for a time. Then the villain got the better of her, creating a second portal on Valkyrie’s right as she swerved to avoid the first. Another wall met her head on. Rubble trickled down her back as she shrugged off the impact.
Before Valkyrie could fully rise, a heavy stone dropped onto her head, cracking in two over her skull. The circlet she wore twisted down to her eyes as more rocks tumbled over her. It was a struggle to get her bearings, she didn’t want to rush out from under the deluge of stone only to find herself stumbling through another portal. Each stone hurt, and eventually would wear her down. She couldn’t remain there indefinitely.
The need to make a choice was taken from her. The rock shower ceased. Valkyrie raised her face to see Ghost standing over the teleporter’s unconscious form.
“She should be out for a while,” he said, miming slamming the butt of his knife into the back the woman’s head.
“Thanks,” Valkyrie said.
“That’s one down. Aegis and Lynx are keeping Bloodhawk busy. But your girl looks like she could use a hand. Reaver is nasty. Siege and I will keep these things busy.”
Valkyrie gave Ghost a curt nod and took off.
Reaver had Lady Luck down, towering over her and about to deliver a deathblow. Stark terror inhabited the young woman’s gold and white eyes as those lethal edges loomed.
Valkyrie blocked the strike with her spear, stopping the shearing blade mere inches from Lady Luck’s golden hide. The strain from the angle was almost more than Valkyrie could handle.
The giant turned his head to regard her. “I was wondering how many of your friends I would have to kill before you faced me.” He slashed for Valkyrie’s face with his other axe.
Valkyrie dodged back, feeling the wind of the axe as it passed. Reaver came in hard, alternating strikes, forcing her toward a wall of Flesh-kin. She parried or blocked each attack, keeping out of range of the more devastating strikes. It occurred to her too late what the villain’s plan had been. Rather than wanting the creatures to harm Valkyrie, Reaver was placing himself near the golems to cut them down, rend their flesh for his weapons to sup upon their vitality and add to his own strength. He was not at the same power level as he had been during their last encounter, but if she made more errors like that, he would be soon.
A Flesh-kin grabbed for her arm. She pulled away. The grip remained. Valkyrie glanced at her arm and saw the Flesh-kin’s limb still holding onto her vambrace, the arm torn off where it would have met the shoulder. She swatted a line of Flesh-kin away with her spear, shaking the offending limb free, and almost didn’t block Reaver’s next attack in time.
“You fall today, spear-maiden.” Reaver came in low and high with his axes.
Valkyrie stepped back to avoid the strikes and stumbled on the Flesh-kin’s discarded limb. Reaver bull-rushed, slamming his shoulder into her and sending Valkyrie careening into a wall.
“Your time has come,” Reaver said, bring his weapons up.
Sawbones remained in front of the cage, one arm reaching for the sheet. It was as if the battle raging in the cavern had no bearing. The mad surgeon was giddy, about to unveil his latest, greatest accomplishment to a rapt audience.
“You wish to see, yes?” The arm undulated and began to stretch higher, thinning.
Ichabod cared nothing for those fighting. Only this little man, this twisted and misshapen doctor stood between him and his wife. He was sure Melissa was in that cage.
“Oh, but I will show you. I want you to see. Yes! My greatness shall be known! Heralded across the globe.” The fingers of that perfect hand curled into the fabric of the sheet.
Ichabod was ready. He just need to see that Melissa was well. Then he would be able to rescue her from the clutches of this madman. A heartbeat was all it would take. The nightmare would end.
“Behold!” Sawbones cried and yanked the sheet away.