Night fell. Valkyrie found herself standing outside the site of the latest mass murder alongside members of Ghost’s team—the Faction.
To her left, Lynx crouched on the hood of a parked car. The hoodie he wore in the daytime remained, but the hood itself was down, revealing the physiological differences Ghost had said made it ‘difficult’ for the young hero to integrate into mainstream society. On her right, Ghost’s ethereal form wavered in the dim street lights. Beside him stood another man Valkyrie knew by reputation, if not personally.
Aegis could project barriers of psionic energy. As far as being hit by a falling meteorite, gaining superpowers was a side effect that fell under the Good column. Word of his deeds had traveled across the nation; a darker event of Aegis’ life was know only to those in the superhero community. There was a time, a little more than eight months ago, when Aegis had disappeared. For three months the hero was absent from life, until one day his unconscious form was found slumped across the stairs of City Hall in Aurora, Colorado. No memory existed of the last three months or any sign of injury.
Valkyrie had heard Aegis was solid, one you could place your trust in and rely on to get a task accomplished. The hero in front of her with deep, black circles beneath his eyes and a slump to his shoulders was nothing like what she had been led to believe. She made a mental note to ask Ghost, in private, whether that had anything to do with Aegis’s disappearance or something else was eating at the man.
“Look alive, troops.” Ghost’s voice rasped like a whisper over the wind. “Here comes our entry pass.”
One of the figures at the police barricade had moved away from the others and was strolling down the street toward their group. Valkyrie remained silent, staying well back in the cramped alleyway.
“We’ve got fifteen minutes,” the figure said in a baritone voice when he was within earshot.
At her side, Ghost nodded. “Okay, troops. We’re not expecting any surprises inside, but stay alert. Nobody touches anything. We get in, look around, and get out.”
“There’s a team of Feds on the way. Finally. ETA is in about an hour,” the newcomer said. He was almost as tall as Valkyrie, skin tone dark, but his receding hair was even darker. With the long coat and no nonsense set to a wide jaw, he projected the image of someone most people would not want to mess with.
“These guys are doing me a huge favor, Ghost,” the man continued. Though he directed his words at Ghost, his attention was set scrutinizing Valkyrie. “I can’t have anything blow back on them.”
“Nothing will, Siege,” Ghost assured while Valkyrie returned the interest she was receiving.
“Good. I may have given up my pension, but these are good people, just trying to do their job.” Siege turned back to Ghost and folded his arms over his barrel chest.
“Siege is a former Seattle P.D. detective,” Ghost clarified for Valkyrie.
Siege uncrossed his arms and offered his hand to Valkyrie. “Ma’am. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you and the things you’ve done.”
Now that introductions were through, Valkyrie remembered something a few months back about a new hero and pitched firefight with a terrorist cell on the outskirts of Seattle. Government agencies tried to downplay the superhero’s involvement, but amateur video had surfaced showing the man before her standing guard over a pair of downed ATF agents. Siege was blasting away at the terrorists with some ferocious power while bullets rained down, many looking to have hit, yet bouncing off instead of penetrating. If memory served, there was rumor floating about that the hero was a member of the Seattle Police Department.
She would have to ask Ghost if the man from that story and Siege were one and the same. It seemed likely.
Valkyrie clasped the offered hand and shook. “A pleasure.”
“OK, the gang’s all here. We’re burning clock.” Ghost shifted into his ethereal form, black hair fading to a vibrant white as he pulled on his mask and started floating toward the building.
Aegis and Lynx followed. Siege motioned for Valkyrie to go ahead of him. In moments they were at the back entrance of the store.
Ghost’s form lost human resemblance, flowing into a cloud of albescent smoke. A few seconds after, the cloud seeped around the edges of the closed door and the barrier swung open a heartbeat later. The usual ear-splitting tone of the emergency bar was mercifully absent—whether due to some action by Ghost or through a lack of diligence on the part of the former employees, Valkyrie didn’t know.
A heavy, cloying scent of blood was the first thing Valkyrie noticed as she entered the stock room. She was no stranger to the smell, not after years of adventuring. But the amount of bloodshed which had to have taken place to make the coppery tang in the air this potent would have to be tremendous.
Ghost sustained his ethereal form as he floated through the swinging doors leading out of the stock room to the main area. Aegis glanced at the doors and they swung back on their hinges, remaining open while the rest of the team passed through. Floating, silvery bricks acted like stoppers near the tops of the doors. His sort of power would leave no fingerprints.
Even in the darkness they could see the stains. Swathes of blood coated the various items the food and drug chain carried, aisles were streaked with haphazard trails. The attack occurred the night before, and the mostly-dried and crusted state of stains attested to that fact. There were a few spots, however, which still glistened with moisture, even in the dark.
Valkyrie felt her fingers tighten around the haft of her spear. Who would do this?
Ghost hovered over a patch of clean tile. “Lynx?”
The young hero took a moment to breathe deep. “Yup. Same scents. This is the work of the same guys, all right.”
“Fan out,” Ghost ordered. “Let’s see if we can find anything new. Watch your feet.”
The members of the Faction spread out, picking their ways over the puddles of blood. Any errant touch or snag of their clothing could turn investigators onto them, muddying the waters in ways which could result in disastrous consequences. Not only for the Faction, but for the innocent lives who might pay the price for not catching the architect of these murders in the future.
Valkyrie followed Ghost up as he floated to the ceiling, centering himself to best gauge the entire scene. She grasped hold of a rafter to steady herself; Valkyrie could fly, but her powers did not permit her to hover. It was the easiest way to talk to Ghost without having to constantly swirl around the building.
The contained devastation was staggering.
“Any idea how many people were. . . inside?” Valkyrie spied a child’s doll partially buried beneath a mound of blood-splattered and spilled potato chips. Something clutched her heart and gave a cold squeeze. This was wrong.
The specter shrugged, wisps of vapor trailing upward like tongues of flame. “There’s never been an accurate count. From what Siege has been able to wrangle out of his former co-workers, the M.E.’s have speculated based off the amount of blood left behind. We’ve heard anywhere between twenty and a few hundred, per incident. Missing persons reports have gone through the roof from Everett to Silverdale, but we can’t get much information regarding that. Not to mention when the Feds get here, everything locks down tighter than you can imagine. Everybody knows how forthcoming those boys and girls are. We’re operating more than half blind and partially deaf.”
“So why haven’t the Feds gotten here yet?” Valkyrie asked, tearing her eyes from the doll below.
“Yeah. We caught a lucky break. Some big drug ring got raided today and it’s proven larger than expected. Manpower’s been tied up, local law enforcement has been given orders to lock the place down until they get here and not touch anything. This is the first time I could get the whole team in to look for clues.”
Ghost nodded toward Lynx. “The kid and I have been the only ones to get near any of the sites. Lynx’s senses are good, he can literally sniff around outside a place and tell you what’s going on inside. I’ve had him trolling perimeters. Tells me we’ve got the same crew stirring up all this carnage.”
“And you?” Valkyrie asked, though she figured she already knew the answer.
“Me? I just flow on in once it gets dark. Usually the Feds are on-site, so I haven’t gotten more than a show of what they do, but from what I’ve seen here, it’s the same.”
Valkyrie watched the other two members of Ghost’s Faction as they stepped lightly down aisles. Siege was grim-faced, but steady. Being a former detective, it stood to reason the man had seen more than his share of death and blood. Aegis, on the other hand, looked ready to jump out of his skin at every shadow.
“How’s he doing?” Valkyrie asked, motioning to Aegis with her chin. “I’ve heard stories, but we all know how reliable word of mouth is.”
The timer on Siege’s watch chimed. That was their cue to make an exit.
“He’s well enough, but not the man I’m sure he once was. We’ll talk about that later,” Ghost whispered for Valkyrie as he began to descend. To the rest of the team, he said, “All right. Time’s up. Pack it in, troops.”
Valkyrie clung to the rafter a moment longer before joining the exodus.
It was quiet. Not the kind of quiet that was too quiet; it was just one of those peaceful, relaxing kind of nights.
Isaac peeked at the large, round, analog clock hanging behind him above the doorway. 3 am. It was definitely too late to give Melissa a call, she had a shift tomorrow, and she never stayed up past one on nights before work. Said it made her fuzzy-headed. Too bad. He could use a distraction.
Shockwave had called around midnight, saying he’d be back at the base at eight. Isaac knew that meant he’d return closer to seven; Shockwave’s existence seemed to revolve wholly around the Guardians. Until the team leader returned to cover the next shift, Isaac was alone. Sludge had gone home that evening, an hour after Isaac had shown up to relieve the watch.
The television was filled with inane infomercials at this time of night. The few news channels that broadcast twenty-four hours showed little activity in the City That Never Sleeps. This was not the only source the Guardians utilized in their efforts, however.
Isaac rolled his chair halfway across the Comm Room to one of the computer terminals. Thanks to more-than generous donations from the philanthropist Peter Morrigan, the Guardians possessed some of the best technology available. A bevy of radio scanners, satellite imaging devices, and things which reminded Isaac of radars filled the Comm Room. Sadly, most of the team were not well-versed in their usage. Sludge and Vector were the best when it came to all the new technology, and neither were here to give him yet another crash course. Shockwave wanted every Guardian to become proficient, but even their vaunted leader had difficulty grasping the operation of the various devices.
“When all else fails, use the old standbys.” Isaac’s fingers tapped out a few keywords and ran a simple internet search. It was a tedious and inefficient way to suss out dangers the Guardians could help with, but none of the hi-tech devices were chiming, and it would help pass the time to sift through the electronic chaff.
murder crime ny superpower villain danger
He ran the same set of keywords through a handful of search engines and was rewarded with a metric ass-ton of useless drivel. As usual.
Isaac sighed and set to glancing through descriptions. Not quite an hour into his research—which somehow had sent him to a site decrying the use of cigarettes, a website featuring corgi pups, and three very different porn sites—Isaac chanced upon something that caught his attention.
All Faiths Morgue Break-In.
That was the place the majority of the bodies had been brought to after the explosions two days ago. The description bore today’s date. “Let’s see what we’ve got here. . . ”
Isaac clicked the link and a video began playing. It appeared to be internal security footage for the building. He could see empty slabs running in parallel lines down the center of a large room, the far wall in view was made up of metal doors, each about two feet tall and three feet wide.
“Well, that’s just strange.” Isaac continued to watch the video, puzzled but intrigued.
Nothing happened in the fuzzy images for several minutes. Isaac was about to stop the feed when a light source flashed somewhere off-camera. His finger hovered over the mouse button.
“Oh, shit!” Isaac stared at the screen as a trio came into view. Three individuals who spelled bad news wherever they went—the thrill killers Hellion and Bloodhawk, and the human tank, Reaver.
Isaac swallowed. The first two had a known partnership, but he could not recall the hulking Reaver ever working alongside another villain. Regardless, having three psychotic killers working together rather than trying to rip one another’s throats out was cause for concern.
It was time to call in the rest of the available Guardians.
Isaac reached for the phone attached to the console when the images on the screen stole his focus. Hellion and Bloodhawk were spree killers that got off on other people’s pain, the latter a cannibal even. Reaver was a behemoth of mayhem and death. They were built for killing, lived for it.
Why then, were they stealing corpses?