Shadows of a Flame
by Myths n’ Wraiths
Chapter Three

"I don't get it Saundra, if they were trying to cut off our communications why would they blow up the phone company? The long range radios in the cruisers can still reach dispatch. It seems like a lot of work just to cut out our cell phones." Charlie Baker, the director of the SWAT team, spoke in a gravelly voice after Saundra had briefed him and the rest of the detectives on what she believed was going on. He was an older man who had the look and moves of a seasoned warrior. He possessed a mind of tactics and maneuvers but when it came to investigations he graciously and wisely left things to the younger sharper minds.

"Because, while we may be able to talk with each other we have still been blinded to what’s going on the city. Without the land lines and the cell phones the residents of Kings Row can’t call in to report any disturbances and that allows the gangs to move freely around the city without us knowing it." Saundra replied in a quick professional tone to the older veteran. "We took these addresses off of some blue prints that we found inside the warehouse. These are all major businesses or public service buildings and the blueprints for that phone company building was at the top of the pile. I believe that the Blood Hounds are going to try and either take over or take out the rest of these buildings next and if they do we are going to be looking at wide spread chaos and rioting. Our goal is to get to each of these places and secure them against any possible assault." Saundra spoke hurriedly as she handed a torn strip of paper with an address scribbled on it to each of the detectives. "Now everyone grab some back up and beet feat over to these locations. I want an initial situation report sent out Danny, our tech support, and status reports every half hour."

The detectives practically broke into a run as they split up and began calling any and every officer within earshot to follow them on their mission. "You’re with me Charlie." Saundra said as she popped the trunk to a nearby patrol car and exposed a veritable arsenal. From its contents she pulled a pistol belt, laden with two hand guns and half a dozen other utilities and slung it around her waist, quickly adjusting it to fit her slender hips. Next she retrieved an assault rifle that would have made Rambo drool with desire and locked a magazine into its well. Last but not least she stripped off her button down blouse, still modestly covered by a form fitting undershirt, and replaced it with a set of Individual Ballistic Armor. "Our target is a bank two blocks over, we can reach it by foot in less than five minutes if we move quickly."

Charlie smiled in admiration as he watched Saundra transform from a clinically, analytical investigator to a decked out soldier, ready for the harshest combat. She might not have the experience but she definitely has the guts. He thought to himself wryly.

"I'll have my guys stock up on first aid kits and ammo; if you’re right then we are probably going to need plenty of both." Charlie said as he began checking his own weapon and inventorying the supply of ammo and equipment that he had strapped to his body in a dozen different pouches and pockets. "Give me two minutes with my boys and we'll be ready for anything." The old veteran said and then turned to go speak to his team.

Despite her desperate feeling of urgency, Saundra did not begrudge Charlie his two minutes. He had seen enough action to last a man two lifetimes during his career and when he said he would be ready for anything Saundra knew he was not exaggerating.

Two minutes later, almost to the second, Charlie and a dozen of his SWAT members were assembled and ready to move. Their faces were as cheerful as a death squad’s and they had all the equipment to match.

Charlie's SWAT team took the back alleys of Paragon in order to cut down on travel time and draw less attention as they made their way to the First City Bank building. Saundra urged them on at just less than an all out sprint and she noticed with a degree of disappointment that their pace was taking more of a toll on her than it was the disciplined shooters that she was now traveling with. She had always prided herself on staying in excellent physical shape and under regular circumstances could have made the run across two city blocks without even breaking a sweat. At the moment however, between her weapons, pistol belt and body armor, she had almost fifty pounds of equipment strapped to her. To the 200lbs men around her the fifty pounds of gear seemed at best a slight annoyance but on her 118lbs frame the extra fifty pounds was a draining burden.

Still Saundra kept increasing her pace as they approached their destination. She had no hard evidence to prove that the explosion at the phone company was not an isolated incident or that the Blood Hounds would be hitting this bank but every ounce of her intuition told her that this was far bigger than a disgruntled telephone customer expressing his displeasure. All of her fears gained credit when, just as her team arrived at the rear of the bank, an eruption of automatic gun fire could be heard emanating from the inside its heavy brick walls.

“Damn,” Charlie said as he brought his team to a halt near the back entrance of the bank.

“Why are we stopping Charlie? We have to get in there and get these guys before they cause any more trouble.” Saundra spoke sharply but in a hushed tone despite the fact there was no danger of anyone hearing her besides the old SWAT officer and his team.

“Because, unless today is some kind of national holiday that I don't know about there is going to be people inside that building and they all just became hostages. We run in there with guns blazing and some innocent people are going…” Charlie did not have a chance to finish his statement before a mob a terrified people came bursting out of the front door of the bank, scattering in every direction and running as if their very lives depended on it. “Well that’s odd.” The seasoned officer said in an almost comically confused tone. “Why would they let all of their hostages run away?”

Saundra pondered this turn of events briefly before speaking triumphantly. “Because with the phone lines down they know that no one can report the robbery. And they think that we are all going to be over at the Phone center bomb site. My guess is they figured that the hostages would slow them down.”

“Well what ever the reason they just made our job a whole lot easier.” Charlie said as he pulled a large folded piece of paper out of his pocket and motioned for his team to gather around him. Saundra recognized the paper instantly as one of the blueprints that they had found inside the warehouse.

When he said he would be ready for anything, he meant it. Saundra thought to herself as Charlie began to lay out a plan to retake the bank.

“Sage,” Victor pleaded as he cradled his wife’s face in his hands. “I need you to calm down. I need you to try and tell me who took our boys.” To his surprise the face that he was looking at was no longer filled with fear. In an instant Sage’s demeanor had changed so drastically that Victor barely recognized his wife. Her face was twisted with rage, her eyes ablaze with psychic energy and her body trembled with adrenaline. She griped Victor’s shoulders so hard that her nails broke on his tough skin.

“I- don’t know.” Her voice quaked with anger as she spoke. “But I know where they took them.” With that she released Victor’s shoulders and placed her hands on his temples.

In one gut wrenching instant Victor could see the world through his wife’s mind. Horrible visions of monstrous figures bursting into their home flooded over him. Victor felt a helpless fear run through him as he saw the monsters rushing forward with their massive arms outstretched and reaching for him. It was the kind of fear he had not felt since he was a child and it was then that he realized that these were his sons’ memories; these were his sons’ fears. The visions were as brief as they were terrible but in their absence he could see a draw in the mental noise around him. Even though his children’s fears had been cut short somehow they had been so profound and had traumatized their minds so much that even in their unconscious state their thoughts left a psychic wake. A path that could be seen and followed as easily as one follows a road.

Then, as quickly as it all had appeared to him, the visions vanished and Victor was staring at his wife once again. Sage’s face was one that Victor had seen many times before but never on her. It was a face devoid of mercy or hesitation; it was the face of a killer.

“God help whoever took them.” She said through clenched teeth and with that she was on her feet and out the door.

“All teams enter on my mark.” Charlie’s voice came impassively across the radio. To Saundra, as she stood motionless outside the front door of the bank, seconds seemed to tick by as slowly as days. She took long slow breaths to still her nerves and gripped her assault rifle until her knuckles turned white, so that it would not slip in her sweaty grip. She stood at the rear of a column of six other SWAT officers. The front man was armed with a large Kevlar shield and a hand gun but everyone behind him was carrying more fire power than an entire World War I platoon.

Saundra had been through the drills for this type of quick entry before. The front man would breach the door and toss in a Flash-Bang, a non-lethal grenade that would stun anyone inside the main lobby of the bank, and then barge in and provide physical cover for the rest of his team. The rest of the SWAT officers would follow the “shield” in and engage any mobs in their designated line of fire with as much force as was necessary to subdue them… at least that was how it was supposed to work. Saundra was no soldier but she had enough experience to know that when the bullets start to fly the best laid plans crumble and the harshest training is nothing but an afterthought.

“GO!” Charlie snapped, yanking Saundra away from thoughts and throwing her into action. It was if that one simple word held the power to accelerate time itself; before she knew what was happening, the sudden ‘POP’ of the Flash-Bang detonating inside the lobby hit her ears and Saundra has swept forward and through the front door of the bank. She was instantly disoriented when the gunfire that erupted inside the lobby echoed off of the marble walls and gave the impression that the shots were coming from every direction at once. Panic gripped at her heart and it took every ounce of her discipline to focus and acquire enemy targets through the fog of confusion and fear that was filling her sight and mind.

There was no lack of targets inside the large and elegantly decorated lobby of the First City Bank. Over a dozen Blood Hound gang members were scattered around the room, all of them clasping at their eyes in agony, an obvious sign that the Flash-Bang had done its job. Many of them however were spraying automatic fire blindly around the room in a panic, which only served to draw fire from their own comrades who also in a blind panic mistook the allies’ shots as that of their attackers.

Saundra found herself shouting orders to “get down” and “drop your weapons” in unison with the SWAT members around her as she made her way toward the center of the room. Swallowing her emotions and reservations she raised her weapon and let loose a quick burst on a gang member before he was able to blindly rake her and her team with gun fire; the man crumpled under the automatic fire and his weapon fell silent in his lifeless hand. The rest of her team followed her example quickly taking out any of the gang member foolish enough to fire their weapons.

A few brief and bloody seconds later the room fell relatively quite as all of the Blood Hound’s that were foolish enough to fire their weapons were either cut down by the gunfire of their own gang members or that of Saundra’s devastatingly accurate SWAT team. Those gang members who had had the presence of mind to take cover during the brutal fire fight now began to stumble to their feet as the affects of the Flash-Bang wore off and their blurred vision began to clear.

Saundra noticed one such man only a few yards away and letting out a challenging yell charged the dazed thug. She dove into the man, driving the butt off her weapon into his stomach with all the weight and force of her body behind it. The man doubled over, convulsing in pain as he was thrown back down to the ground. Saundra mercilessly kicked the man over on to his aching stomach and forcing his hands behind his back, slammed a pair of cuffs around his wrists.

By the time Saundra was done securing the disabled thug and had looked around for any other targets, the rest of her team had already subdued the remaining mobs that were scattered around the lobby. With a sigh of relief Saundra keyed her radio. “Lobby clear.” Her voice was quacking with adrenaline as she spoke.

The response she got back from Charlie was as steady and casual as ever. "Offices and Vault clear.” The fact that he could remain so calm when faced with traumas that obviously unsettled her almost made Saundra feel embarrassed. The feeling did not last long though. With a quick glance around the room she counted fourteen villains that her and her team had subdued or eliminated and she knew that she had nothing to be embarrassed about.

The depths of Paragon's sewer system spread out below the surface of the great city like an intricate organ. Massive tunnels and pipes span the breadth of the city many times over and reach nearly a quarter mile deep. Through the years it has grown along with the city, with newer more efficient systems and passages put down over the older ones that have fallen into disrepair.

Not unlike our own bodies, when an organ is no longer used it begins to decay and becomes a breeding house for diseases and filth. For years the most rejected of Paragon have found their refuge in the old sewer lines, where they can operate in their own evil ways beneath the view and care of the populous.

There in the sewers, where a set of massive tunnels led into a cavernous room, stood a man with a fine dark suit and trimmed appearance who looked completely out of place amid the reek of aged filth. He had a large build and despite his sharp dress his face was so hard and impassive that even if he had been neck deep in waste he did not look as if it would faze him anymore than it did to be standing next to it.

Scattered around the large room, wandering aimlessly about, were dozens of grotesque forms in the shape of men, though on the surface they looked more like human quilts. All there pieces and parts were sewn together in what seemed a haphazard way and in many cases, where the seams of there limbs were connected, organs protruded and dangled out. I quick glance at any one of them would show that despite the masses of muscle that were fused all over their bodies the creatures had little control of their internal workings. Body fluids seeped from every one of their many unnatural orifices. They were in every way disgusting.

Still not all of the other people, if you could call them people, in the room looked quite so undead. A pail withered figure of a man dressed in a blood stained medical robe entered the cavern from one of the many connecting passages followed by a slim figure, wrapped in black tattered clothes from head to toe and his face covered by a respirator mask.

"Are the children ready?" The well dressed man asked without turning to look at the two people that were approaching him. His voice was a slow deep growl that seemed to echo quietly off the walls despite the fact that he spoke in a stilled tone.

"It will be a few moments until the preparations are complete Bloodlust. The operation you have requested requires a great deal of time..." The spindly man in the doctor’s garb said in shallow voice before he was cut off.

"Then why are you here and not finishing your preparations Doctor?" Bloodlust interjected and his dark eyes flashed red as he shot a glance at the frailer man. The Doctor could not tell whether his client, Bloodlust, was particularly angry with him or not considering that he had seen no other form of emotion displayed by the man since their transactions had begun nearly a month ago. Despite the uneasy feeling he got whenever he was in the grim mans presence the doctor was not prone to intimidation.

"I have some doubt as to whether you will be able to live up to your end of the bargain. I have begun to receive reports that your gang’s efforts to riot the city are as yet unsuccessful. The police have somehow managed to intercept or delay all of your mobs before they could complete their assignments. On top of that there are rumors that someone has entered the sewers and has taken out some of my minions near the Kings Row entrance. The terms of our agreement were very clear Bloodlust and..."

"Do not worry good doctor. I have far more resources at my disposal than one simple neighborhood gang. If all the Blood Hounds did was give the police in Kings Row a bad day then they did more than their worth. As for the intruder in the tunnels I am confident that it is unrelated. If your lieutenant followed his instructions then there is no way that the children could have been traced here." With those words Bloodlust turned his gaze on the thin figure in dark rags that had followed the Doctor in. "Did you administer the sedative as I instructed Patient 4?"

Patient 4's body tensed visibly as he stepped forward to speak. "There was no need for any sedative. Both the children were knocked unconscious when we apprehended them. They left no sign to follow and gave us no trouble."

A sudden pressure filled the air and though Bloodlust's facial expression did not falter from its constant passive aggressive state it was apparent to the Doctor that his lieutenant had made a grievous error. "The sedative my simple fool," Bloodlust began to speak with a voice so pervasive that it seemed to emanate from within your ears. "Was not so that the children would be easier to manage. If I had thought that you would have trouble with that then I would have sent a babysitter along with you. Its purpose was to reduce their mental activity so that their mother would not be able to follow their mental wake." Bloodlust fixed Patient 4 with a long withering stair and as he did so his eyes faded from a deep brown to an almost radiant red.

“My good Doctor it would seem that your lieutenant has managed to lead one of the most powerful psychics in the world right to your door step, not to mention her husband.”

“And whatever police backup they may have mustered.” The Doctor interjected in an irate tone as he turned to his lieutenant. “Patient 4 if you value what life you have left you had better gather as many minions as possible and head to the Kings Row entrance.” By now the Doctor’s normally pale complexion had brightened to a disturbing shade of red and he had put himself directly in Patient 4’s cloaked face. “I will not have my operation interrupted by these two mutants.”

Patient 4 did not wait to be given any further mercy or judgment. Spinning on his heals he ran off towards one of the larger sewer tunnels, calling to the undead figures in the room as he went. The zombie like forms that had been meandering aimlessly around all started at Patient 4’s call and filled with a sudden urgency began to follow him with all the speed and grace of an elephant that has three broken legs.

“This is a most unfortunate turn of events.” The Doctor mused as his face slowly returned to its unnatural deathly color. “I shall have to redouble my efforts to ensure that the operation is done quickly.”

“There will be no operation,” Bloodlust countered. “Until I have dealt with the parents.”

“You?” The Doctor asked looking at Bloodlust in confusion.

“Make no mistake my good Doctor, you have just sent Patient 4 to his death. Believe me when I say it is so because if I were not certain of it I would have killed him myself for his ineptitude. Even without any police back up, which I seriously doubt they have, the children’s parents will be more than a match for your minions.” As Bloodlust spoke he stared penetratingly down the tunnel that Patient 4 had just left through as if he could search its depths and everything it contained just by seeing its entrance.

“I know this Victor person has quite a reputation as a warrior but if you think that he can stand up to all of my forces than you underestimate me Bloodlust.” The Doctor said as he shot Bloodlust a prideful glare.

“It is not Victor that will be the ruin of your lieutenant, Doctor. It is his wife.”

“His wife?” The doctor said doubtingly. “She is a psychiatrist and field coordinator. She has no combat experience in her records.”

“She will before this day is done.” Bloodlust replied coldly.
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