Shadows of a Flame
by Myths ní Wraiths
Chapter Four

With Sage in the lead, the two desperate parents made their way to an access tunnel that served as an entrance to Paragonís sewer network. The entrance was covered with large, rusted, bar grate and Victor quickly noticed that it looked as if it had been forced open recently. There were scratch marks on the bars and the rust had been broken off around the edges of the grate.

Victor ripped the bar grate from the entrance with a single hand and tossed it away before braving the darkness and stench that permeated the air of Paragonís Sewers. Sage floated after him without a momentís hesitation, her telekinetic powers burning around her like a glowing gown that flowed in an unfelt wind. She had not opened her eyes since she and her husband had left their apartment or spoken a word. She was not blind or mute however; she saw the world through her husbandís eyes and felt the thoughts of every creature around her. She spoke to her husband constantly, feeding him directions and impressing on his mind a constant need for haste and a looming sense of confrontation.

The sewers were anything but welcoming, Victor discovered when he landed knee deep in sewage water, but above the usual repulsive nature of the his surroundings he also felt a growing sense of apprehension coming form Sage. Along with the premonition Victor could hear the sound of heavy feet shuffling through thick water coming from deeper in the pipeline.

Sage had sensed the faint thoughts of less-than-living creatures in the pipes ahead. Their minds were simple yet twisted, weak yet determined; they were faint echoes of baser desires and irrational thought. She struggled to grasp them in her will for a moment. The simplicity of their thoughts made it hard for Sage to take hold of the minds of these strange creatures but easy to manipulate once she had.

A sudden burst of anger flared up in her as she realized that these were the same type of creatures that had taken her boys. These were the monsters that she had seen in the horrible nightmares that her sons had had before they were taken from their home. Reaching out with her mind she solidified her hold on the faint remnants of conscious that the monsters still possessed and once she grasped them she beckoned them to come closer.

Out of the shadows a group of three despicable looking creatures came shuffling forward. Their bodies where a hodgepodge of various parts that were stitched together in a seemingly haphazard way. Vomit leaked from their mouths and puss oozed from their seems. To Victorís eyes they were begging to be put out of their misery and he instantly became a blazing inferno as he prepared to leap on the monsters. Just as readied himself to spring however; his wife stopped him with a thought.

No, She spoke into his mind as she unintentionally imposed her will over his. I just wanted to see what we were hunting with my own eyes. With that she opened her eyes for the first time since she had left the apartment and fixed her gaze and the full weight of her mental powers on the monsters. The sudden psychic assault snuffed out the mental activity of the creatures like candles in a hurricane. Victor watched as the creatures convulsed then suddenly went limp, falling on their knees in the filth of the sewers and toppling over. The weight of what he had just seen slowly sunk into Victorís mind. His wife had, with a mere thought, turned those creatures into vegetables right before his eyes. But at what cost to herself, he wondered.

Victor pushed the concerns out of his mind, deciding this was no time to be timid, and at Sageís urging he moved on into the darkness of the sewers, following the unseen mental trail that led to his boys.

In only a matter of minutes Victor was completely lost and blindly following the directions his wife was feeding him as he passed from pipe to pipe. The maze of tunnels seemed impossibly complex and on more than one occasion he was positive that they had gone in a complete circle and were about to end up back where they had started just to round one more corner and see that they had passed into a completely new network of pipes. He pressed on at a quick and steady pace that would have quickly left Sage far behind were she not skimming along the surface of the water, barely touching the foul liquid with the tip of her shoe as she kept herself aloft with her telekinetic abilities.

Victor could feel the strength of her barely contained psychic powers washing over the back of his mind. The presence she was exuding was so predatory and intense that if Victor had not known it was his wife behind him he would have swore that he was being followed by every nightmarish creature he had ever imagined. Then a chilling thought flashed through his mind; perhaps that was what was following him.

A sudden mental warning pulled Victor from his thoughts and brought his senses to bear on the sound of feet shuffling through the water in the pipeline ahead. This time however; it was not the noise of a few wandering creatures, it sounded more like a small army moving in their direction.

"How many?" Victor asked in a whisper, even though words were useless to his wife at this point.

Not enough. She spoke into his mind. But on the life of our children, don't hold back. And with that she reached into Victorís mind and found his morals, convictions, good judgment and everything that made him the dedicated and principled person he was. We can not afford these things now.

"I don't understand." Victor said as he felt Sage touching everything that he thought made him a good person and separated him from the people he locked up on a daily basis.

What stands between us and our children is too terrible to be beaten if you have your morals restraining you. Sage said as she reached out with her thoughts and connected her husbands mind with one of the creatures that was moving down the tunnel toward them. Victor gasped and grabbed his head as his thoughts were linked with the monster's. The thoughts that echoed in his mind were completely given over to pain and hunger, completely void of any sense of righteousness that even the basest humans had. It was despicable, deplorable and a desecration of life that wanted to drag every other form of life down to its level.

"Do what it takes." Victor said when Sage had severed the mental link between his mind and the creature's. He shook his head as if it would help remove the horrible memories of the connection and then a thought came to him and he asked, "You have already done it to yourself?"

Yes. She said simply. Victor looked up at his wife and it dawned on him that something was missing from her face. An aspect of her was gone and it both made her less than what she had been and yet so much more and for a moment he forgot about his boys; he forgot about the army of monsters moving closer; he forgot about the world.

Victor reached up and gently touched his wife's face. "I don't want to lose you Sage." He said softly.

Sage's eyes shot open at his touch and she stared into his gaze. The weight of her mental focus sent Victor's mind reeling for a brief moment and he had to struggle to regain his thoughts. Then, quite suddenly, her focus softened and a faint smile passed over her lips. You won't my love. I can return us to what we were.

"Then do it." With his approval Sage reached out and touched Victorís temple with one hand. He felt her moving through his mind with the precision of a scalpel and the strength of a broadsword and when he was finally able to stumble away from her touch he felt a horrible hollowness in his mind where his decency once had been. All his emotions were still intact and still as vivid as ever but he no longer needed reasons, as he once had. All he needed was desire.
Victor looked up at his wife and he knew he still loved her just as much as ever he had but it was a love without principle. It no longer mattered whether she loved him back; she was his and he would have her whether she wanted him or not. He looked down the tunnel towards the sound of the oncoming monster and he knew that they were pure evil but it no longer mattered that they were evil; he would kill them just because he hated them, because they had given him reason to hate them. He would kill them all... very soon.

As the rumor of the creatures approach grew and the shadows in the tunnel began to shift with their movement Victor sat down in the filthy sewage and after taking a deep breath sunk beneath the surface of the waste. Behind him Sage began to slip backward, the glow of her telekinetic power dimming as she sunk into the shadows.

In a matter of seconds a mass of monsters hade waded forward from the shadows and approached the place where Victor sat hidden beneath the waters surface. They fumbled around each other as they moved in a disorganized pack and added their filth to the already foul sewer water.

"Stop!" Patient 4 shouted to his horde and as one the zombies obeyed so quickly that they all nearly toppled over as the came to an abrupt halt. "I could have sworn I saw them." The darkly wrapped figure mumbled to himself as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd. He stood still for a moment as his eyes scanned the darkness of the pipes and pondered.Perhaps we missed them. He thought. They might have heard us coming and doubled back; if they took a different pipeline they might be able to get around us.

"We are falling back." He ordered his mob. "Go back that way!" He reiterated, pointing back down the tunnel, after his first command was met with blank and uncertain stares. Yes, they will try and get around us but we will be waiting for them. He thought to himself as the army of Zombies slowly and gracelessly attempted to turn around. Patient 4 would die believing that those had been his own thoughts. He would go to his grave without suspecting that his own mind had been used as a weapon against him, a tool used to confuse his own minions. Patient 4 would die now.

Victor's body rose slowly and silently from the murk behind the spindly leader of the creatures. His head was lowered, his eyes were closed, his mind was vacant and his limbs were limp. Then, in one terrific instant, he turned that foul tunnel into a literal Hell. His body erupted into an inferno so intense that Patient 4's body was nearly incinerated in the blast. The water around Victor was instantly vaporized into a scalding steam that washed over the backs of the monsters ahead of him. Their decaying skin was seared by the burning vapor and a horrible scream of pain erupted in chorus from their throats and echoed so loudly down the tunnels that the walls shook.

With his initial burst of energy spent Victor hurled himself into the back of the mob like a flaming god of destruction. He had no reservations about ripping their bodies apart at their mismatched seems before they even had a chance to turn and face him.

Behind him Sage flew in and her very presence invoked a panic in the dozens of monsters she faced. Their minds knew only anger, hunger and hate but she taught them fear and confusion. She did not bother focusing on their minds one at a time but let her telekinesis burst out from her slamming their massive bodies into the metal walls of the pipeline.

Together the two mutants unleashed a destruction that shook the world around them. Victor had waded deeper into the throng of flailing zombies, allowing them to throw themselves on his flames from every direction. With one hand he crushed the skull of one zombie while he used the other one to yank the arm off another zombie and beat him with his own limb. The stench of burnt flesh filled his nostrils and the pain of dozens of blows registered all over his body as the monsters pounded away at him but he did not falter, did not back away. He ate the pain, knowing that every zombie that dared to come close enough to attack him would perish in his flames.

Victor spun around and with one powerful blow broke the neck of a monster that had just decked him in the back. "Come on!" He yelled as he jumped on another creature and boxed its ears so hard that its skull collapsed. Then he took a sudden blow to the face and was knocked onto his back in the water. Instantly a dozen hands grabbed him, pinning him down and a dozen fists began to pummel him. "Come on!" He yelled again and his flames burst out searing the hands and arms that dared attack him.

Once his flames had pressed back his attackers Victor was back on his feet and pressing his assault. He had worked his way to the front of the mob by now and there he held his ground, shrugging off the attacks of the zombies like a blazing colossus. Sage stayed to the rear of the mob, driving the monsters into Victor, who dispatched them with extreme prejudice. It was not until they had broken the mobs numbers down to barely a dozen that Sage noticed one zombie had a large box fused to his back. The square metal instrument looked rather out of place on the back of such a creature, with all its dials and intricate design. Then a frightening realization came to her as she remembered a diagram she had once seen while working with the Kings Row bomb squad. The creature was pressing its way toward Victor and had nearly reached him before Sage had the chance to shout a warning to her husband.

"Victor, itís got a bomb!" She screamed as she passed her realization on to him through their mental connection. A look of both fear and rage passed over Victor's face as his focus settled on the suicidal zombie. The monster had made it to within arms reach of Victor and stopped suddenly as its whole body began to tremble with anticipation.

Victor snatched the monster up by the throat, breaking its concentration for a second. "Nice try, you filthy little gutter rat." With that he picked the creature up off its feet and hurled it with all of his strength down the tunnel. Before the zombie even hit the ground Victor had turned and leapt toward his wife, snatching her out of mid air and landing several yards away from what was left of the zombie mob, holding Sage in his silhouette. No sooner had his feet hit the ground than a deafening explosion erupted behind him and a scalding wave of heat swept over his back. His knees nearly buckled form the blast of the explosion and he could feel his already seared skin crack under the force of the blow. But he stood his ground for that brief and terrible moment.

As abruptly as the blast came it disappeared, leaving the world in a surreal silence. Victor slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus through the blur of pain as he looked down at his wife. Her cloths had been tattered and torn from the explosion and a slight trail of blood was trickling from her ears but other than that she was unharmed.

Sage looked up at him and nodded. Well done, but there is more to do. There are more dangers ahead.

"Bring it on." Victor growled in a low raspy voice and then promptly collapsed to the ground from exhaustion and pain. His vision went black and he began to slip into unconsciousness but his wifeís voice held him to his painful awareness.

Not yet! She commanded him firmly. Now is not the time for rest! With that Sage knelt next to her husband and let the glow of her psychic aura surrounded his battered and scorched body.

The seconds seemed interminable to Victor as he struggled to suppress his pain and utter fatigue but slowly, very slowly it all began to become more bearable as Sage's power washed away his injuries. After what seemed like hours, but had actually only been a few minutes, Victor had the strength to open his eyes and begin to stand.

"Bring it on." He muttered again.

The blast reached the Doctor's lair with enough strength to knock the dust form the cavernous walls and rattle the many beakers and vials that he had arranged in his "operating room", which was nothing more than a quartered off portion of a connecting tunnel. A grin slid across the wiry mans face once the blast had subsided and he strolled out into the cavernous room where Bloodlust was standing, still staring down the tunnel where the blast had come from.

"What did I tell you my esteemed colleague?" The Doctor said as he approached the larger man. "My creatures may not be the brightest things but they know how to kill. That blast marks the end of our troubles from those parents." The Doctor was looking very pleased with himself as he spoke so surely of his victory.

Bloodlust slowly turned to face the suddenly chipper doctor, a look as cold as death etched on his face as he did so. "My good Doctor, if you value your life than you had best amass what forces you can and do it quickly. You do not have much time."

"What do you mean?" The Doctor spat defiantly. "There is no way they could have survived that explosion."

"Doctor I tell you your minions are dead and those responsible will be here within minutes. Do with that knowledge what you will but rest assured I will live to see another day, you on the other hand may not be so lucky."

"We shall see about that." The Doctor said in an unshaken tone and then stormed back off to his operating room. After he had entered the tunnel and was out of Bloodlust's sight a mild look of concern spread across his pail face. He looked tentatively over at the forms of two young boys that were lying unconscious on two battered operating tables. Dozens of tubes were attached to their bodies pumping a dark green fluid into their young veins.

"These brats will not be the ruin of me." He muttered to himself, and then moved quickly to the back of the operating area where the tunnel continued deeper into the sewer system. There past the white curtains that quartered off his make shift laboratory were well over twenty more zombies. "There are intruders that will be coming into the next room!" He shouted to the mob. "Kill them."

The gang of dysfunctional entities jumped at their masterís command and began meandering toward the conjunction room, knocking over medical equipment and crashing vials as they went. The Doctor grimaced as he heard them unwittingly destroying thousands of dollars worth of equipment in their attempt to move less than twenty feet.

"Not you." The Doctor said to a particularly huge zombie. The beast was nearly twelve feet tall and while he was still made in the general shape of a person there was nothing human about its look. It had no fingers, just a set of massive metal claws grafted into the nubs that should have been his hands. "I have a special purpose for you."

Victor and Sage burst into the conjunction room and flew full force into the horde of zombies that were waiting for them. Victor knocked three of the brutes over as he slammed into their ranks and once he had fought his way to the center of the horde let loose his flames in full force, scorching the beasts as they threw themselves recklessly on him. Sage stayed focused on keeping her husband's strength up and healing any wounds he sustained with her abilities rather than actually fighting. This mob was much smaller than the one that they had fought back in the tunnels and something told her that they would both need there strength up when this fight was over.

Despite the relative ease with which they were winning this fight, Victor still fought like a mad man. The sound of his fists hitting the bodies of the monsters was almost deafening; his powerful blows sent bodies, or at least parts of them, flying around the cavernous room and smashing into the walls and ceiling. The heat of his flames could be felt in every corner of the room but to those foolish enough to come within arms reach the temperature was so intense that there skin would instantly blister and seer. Even the brutish zombies could not withstand his flames for long before their limbs were burnt beyond use or repair.

The twenty zombies could have been a hundred; none of the horrible creatures could get close to the blazing mutant long enough to land a blow strong enough to do any serious harm to him and with his wife channeling her psychic powers through him, filling his body with almost unlimited stamina, there was no stopping Victor.

Finally, when the gut turning smell of scorched flesh permeated the air and a murky haze of smoke was rising off of the burnt corpses that littered the room, the zombie horde was completely crushed and Victor and Sage heard the most unexpected noise of all. Someone was clapping.

As the smoke began to settle the form of a man could be seen standing in front of the entrance to yet another tunnel. Sage focused her mind on the man, disturbed that she had not noticed him before; what she found was even more disturbing. The man was like a black hole to her, a void in the fabric of the psychic plane and the trail that led to her boys vanished when it reached him.

"Well done." The man said in a melancholy tone when he was done applauding. "Allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Bloodlust."

"I'll call you a sizzling puss stain on the floor if you don't get out of my way." Victor growled.

Be careful, He is more than he seems. Sage warned her husband.

"How true." Bloodlust replied to Sage and both of the mutants looked in shock at the man that had violated their mental link. "Yes, I can hear your thoughts." Bloodlust said coldly. "Considering the list of my sins, to invade the privacy of ones mind is hardly something worth apologizing for. However; for the theft of your children I do apologize. It is unfortunately necessary that I keep them for a while longer." He spoke as evenly as if he were giving a math lesson.

"Like hell." Victor said as he erupted into flames. "My children or your life."

"That Mr. Essans is the dilemma. I need your children in order to live or more specifically I need their blood in order to live, so I must choose your children."

Victor felt like a bomb shell had hit him as doubts leapt into his mind. Who was this man that knew everything from his name to his sons' blood? Only one question truly mattered and Sage voiced it before he could speak. "What have you done to our boys?" She screamed.

"Unfortunately I can not explain my motives to you Mrs. Essans. If I did I would then be compelled to kill you rather than allow my plans to become common knowledge and I was hoping to avoid both." Bloodlust said as he turned his gaze upon Sage.

"You sonofa bitch, give me back my boys!" Victor roared as he leapt at Bloodlust and struck out at the man with all of his strength. Bloodlust moved with inhuman speed as he pulled a short but broad black sword from his jacket and turned the blade flat against Victor's blow, using it like a shield. The sound of Victor's fist connecting with the unnatural steel blade was deafening; the ground beneath Bloodlust's feet cracked and cratered but the he did not even flinch at the blow.

With blinding speed and incredible strength Bloodlust turned his sword and thrust the blade into Victorís abdomen. The mutantís protective energy was powerful enough to keep the blade from piercing him but the blow was still powerful enough to knock Victor back several yards. He landed on his feet and slid a little further but recovered quickly and hurled himself at his opponent once again.

"Sage, get the boys!" Victor yelled as threw blow after blow at Bloodlust, who either deftly dodged the attacks or blocked them with his broad sword.

Sage stared at her husband with concern for a moment and then obeyed, passing out of the room and into the tunnel that Bloodlust had been blocking, in search of her sons.
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