Valkyrie prepared. This was going to hurt. Bad.
Reaver lifted his axes, ready to bring them down upon her. She would be able to stop one, perhaps even survive the cut of the other, but Reaver was going to hit her.
Except Reaver stumbled over her instead as something crashed into his back. He spun around, murder in his red eyes. Valkyrie had already used the reprieve to get to her feet and out of Reaver’s reach. Her savior stood next to her; Lady Luck was flexing her hands into fists, staring down the giant.
“Nice timing,” Valkyrie said.
Valkyrie set her spear before her. “Want to bring this joker down?”
Reaver glared, sparing equal hatred for the two women opposing him. His back was to the wall, no Flesh-kin nearby to hack into for extra strength.
“Absolutely,” Lady Luck agreed. Valkyrie had never heard the coldness in her teammate’s voice before.
They split, each preparing to come from a side.
Reaver growled as they stalked him. Spittle flew from his mouth as he raged. “You think the two of you can win? I will split you open and—”
A flash of light slammed into Reaver, pummeling him into the rockface. Valkyrie and Lady Luck averted their eyes as shards of stone flew like shrapnel.
Valkyrie looked up first. Siege was standing amid the horde of Flesh-kin. The creatures were slapping and clawing at the man, but his body had taken on such a density they did no harm. With agonizing slowness, the man lifted a foot and pivoted into a new firing position. Ghost was dancing around Siege, trying to keep as many of the creatures off his teammate so the cannon-man could find angles of fire.
Valkyrie saluted with her spear before turning back to the hole. There was another small chamber, and a second hole in the rock beyond, but no sign of the villain. If he hadn’t been atomized by Siege, even a brute like Reaver should have stayed down after a shot like that.
The battle looked to be going in their favor. With any luck, that would be two of the villains bested. Now they just had to deal with the Flesh-kin and things might be under control.
“Help Siege,” Valkyrie told Lady Luck. “He’s got firepower, just no speed.”
“Just like an actual cannon,” Lady Luck said with a nod. For a woman made of gold, there was a lot of steel in her eyes. She ran off to help the two Faction members. Valkyrie figured a few of the golems would get to know how strong Lady Luck really was before she reached Siege.
It took Valkyrie a moment to locate Ichabod. He was still just standing there, Sawbones and the cloaked cage equally motionless.
And then Sawbones pulled the sheet away.
Hellion kicked Shockwave across the face. The Guardian went down.
“Like old times, eh, pops?” Hellion taunted as he rained down punches and kicks. “They just don’t make heroes like they used to.”
An uppercut left him on his back, Shockwave had to blink a few times before the world resolved into normalcy.
“Love to draw this out,” Hellion said as he stood over Shockwave. “But it looks like B needs a hand. Too bad, I’m sure he’d have liked another bite of you. But he prefers his meat breathing, so it can scream while he chews.” The blades on Hellions forearms shone.
“Make it quick, I hate long winded speeches.” Shockwave said between a coughing fit. Those ribs he injured the other day felt like they really were broken this time. Probably nicked a lung, too, if the coppery tang at the back of his throat was any indication. The stench of burned flesh wafted off his own body. Hellion had hit him with a pair of fireballs before commencing the beating. Aside from the face-eating, it was almost deja vu.
The villain grinned. “Your funeral.” Hellion readied the blades on his bracers to stab. He stepped close and raised his arms over his head.
When Shockwave twisted on the ground, sweeping Hellion’s feet out from under him, he was treated to a flash of surprise on Hellion’s smug face. Shockwave had only half been playing possum. The effort it took to knock the villain down hurt, but it gave Shockwave a chance to grab for the shield generator on his opponent’s belt.
The square device slipped free without resistance. He heard Hellion curse as both men scrambled to their feet.
The villain glanced at his belt and then to Shockwave’s hand. “Nice one, old man,” he grumbled. Balls of flame formed in Hellion’s open hands. “Think you can keep that pace?”
Shockwave was quicker. A wave of vibratory force washed over the villain, forcing him to his knees and to drop the fireballs. The orbs winked out of existence with a small flare as they hit the ground.
Shockwave kept up the pressure, driving Hellion further onto the stone floor. The killer tried to keep himself from being flattened against the ground, arms trembling with the strain of fighting against the heavy waves Shockwave used against him. It was with no small amount of satisfaction that Shockwave saw Hellion sprawl hard to the ground when his strength finally gave out. The villain smacked down hard.
A trickle of moisture escaped Shockwave’s nose, running down into his mask. He could taste the fresh blood as it reached his lips. With reluctance, Shockwave ended the barrage; Hellion’s body went limp. A groan escaped the villain.
Shockwave reached down and yanked Hellion up by his collar. “Had enough?” He slammed a fist into that smug face. Blood sprayed into the air as Shockwave felt Hellion’s nose break.
Hellion muttered something, but a second blow cut him off.
An errant swipe of Hellion’s forearm blades ripped open Shockwave’s vest. The Guardian didn’t care. His fist rammed home in his foe’s belly and he released Hellion, letting the villain fold at the waist. “Guys like you,” Shockwave said, following up with a swift knee into Hellion’s gut. “Don’t deserve the air you breathe.”
It was Shockwave’s turn to dole out some pain. Even with the portable shield gone, the Guardian relied on physical assault. He heard one of Hellion’s ribs snap as he kicked him, felt the villain’s hand break as he stomped on it. Every time Hellion dropped to the ground, panting and bleeding and trying to crawl away, Shockwave picked the killer up and delivered another round of punishment.
The fourth time Hellion dropped, he lay there, limp and trying to mouth something.
Shockwave balled a fist and cocked it, ready to smash it across Hellion’s face anew. “Something to say?”
Hellion burped a gout of blood. He spoke through a heaving chest. “Said, some hero you are. Beating a man to a pulp.” His left eye was swollen shut.
Before Shockwave could reply or act, a terrible scream filled the cavern.
Melissa was revealed as Sawbones ripped away the sheet. Aside from being chained to the rear bars and having a gag stuffed in her mouth, she looked relatively unharmed. Her eyes found Ichabod and a touch of relief cut through the fear in those orbs. Her dark rescuer had arrived at last.
Relief filled man and demon. A dark corner of Ichabod’s mind had hidden away the notion she could have been dead. Now that he knew she was alive, Ichabod could act.
“Behold!” Sawbones snaked that elongated arm through the bars of the cage. The limb slithered over Melissa’s body until it touched the bare flesh of her face. “My great works continue!”
Ichabod shouted ”No!” at the same moment a terrible shriek tore free of his wife’s throat.
The transformation occurred in the blink of an eye. Melissa’s bones sloughed and warped beneath her skin, muscle groups rearranged according to some mad design, her skin alternated rupturing and reforming. Ichabod was moving to stop Sawbones, but the warping was too far along. Human flesh into a grotesquery.
Ichabod grabbed Sawbones by the neck and tossed the insane surgeon aside. The action caused Sawbones’s perfect hand to disconnect from Melissa’s tortured flesh, breaking the transformations before they were completed. Before she was stabilized. There was a gaping hole at her neck, a combination of a gurgle and a wheeze escaped this cleft as her lungs continued to seek air. The one eye showing where Melissa’s face used to be blinked rapidly, unrelenting terror depicted in her half-brown half-orange orb. Ichabod felt her life slip away.
Ichabod felt something shatter within. He leaned back to the heavens and roared.
The horseman’s sorrow carried to every corner of the cavern. His cry of anguish lasted an eternity; the image of his wife’s tormented transformation repeating in an endless loop in his mind. He wanted to rail against creation, anything to undo the horror. Isaac became lost in a vortex of pure anguish. Hessiax wailed. Together they felt an essential part of themselves perish, one that could never, would never be replaced.
Sawbones crawled to his feet. A strange indignity warred with fascination on his gargoylean face while he surveyed his interrupted work.
“You,” the madman spat. “You dare come between me and my efforts!” He stamped his foot like a child throwing a tantrum. “I will see you fired for this affront! You’ll never work at this or any other hospital again!”
The brutish oversized Flesh-kin moved for Ichabod.
The world went black for the horseman. Ichabod’s wrath emanated from his being, an aura of cold and dread spreading out to chill the hearts of everyone in the cavern. It reached Sawbones first. A glimmer of lucidity entered the twisted surgeon’s face alongside an unnatural terror. The last remnants of Dr. Morton Powell’s sanity knew that hell had arrived, and it had come for him.
Ichabod roared again. The Flesh-kin had no chance. Ichabod tossed their shells aside with ease, tearing them apart with the damning edge of his sword.
Then the horseman turned his ire upon Sawbones.
The deranged surgeon’s form shifted and warped, but he wasn’t fast enough. The hellblade rose and fell. Pieces of Sawbones flew around Ichabod, the blade came down again and again. When Ichabod was through hacking the remains of his wife’s killer, he stepped back and clenched a fist.
Hellfires, sanguinary crimson with ashen darkness, consumed the bits. Ichabod watched them crisp and char until nothing remained.
Then he turned back to his wife.