Shadows of a Flame
by Myths n' Wraiths
Conclusion



Saundra absent mindedly wiped a tear from her cheek as she sat in the formal leather couch outside of the Mayor's office. It had been two weeks since the Blood Hound gang had come within a stones throw of inciting a zone wide riot in King's Row; two weeks since a patrol in Perez Park had found Elizabeth Essan’s body being watched over by two borderline comatose children; two weeks since Victor himself had gone missing, lost in the sewers of Paragon, but still she was having trouble dealing with the tragedy of the whole thing. It had been the most emotionally trying time of her life and it was all compounded by the fact that she still had no idea why any of it had happened.

If she was not under enough stress already, she was facing a conduct review board in three days. Since she was the officer in charge of stemming gang crime and all Hell had broken loose on her watch some very powerful people were looking to see someone burn for it and she was the most likely person. She would have to stand in front of six of her peers and explain her actions or inactions in relation to the terrorist activities that had nearly sent King's Row into a wide spread riot and she had no idea what she would tell them.

Well its time to get some answers. She thought to herself as a grim determination spread across her face. Moments later the large double doors that lead to the Mayor's office opened slightly and her supervisor, Darek Haskin, stuck his head out.

"Their ready for you Saundra." He said as he waved her in. Saundra quickly got on her feet and followed Darek into the large office that was decorated in a dark wood, rustic look. Behind a large desk, in a comfortable leather chair sat the Mayor of Paragon with his hands folded across his barrel sized stomach. Across from the Mayor sat two older men, each attired in buisness suits and crowned with gray hair. One of the men was Walter Williams, the foremost psychiatrist that worked for the city since Elizabeth had passed away. Saundra did not recognize the other man sitting across from the mayor or the younger, darker figure that she noticed was sitting back in the corner. This nondescript man was dressed in less formal attire and even though there was a lit lamp sitting next to him on a small table, the shadows in the corner around him seemed overly pervasive.

All of the men rose courteously when Saundra came into the room and Walter, in his typical gentleman manner, offered Saundra his chair. "Saundra, good to see you again." The Mayor said as he offered her his hand, which she shook politely. "You know Walter of course but let me introduce you to Christopher Johnson," The Mayor continued as he motioned to the other man in the suit that had been sitting next to Walter. "And his associate Night's Wind." He said, referring to the dark figure in the corner that had already returned to his seat.

"A meta-human I presume." Saundra said with a slight hint of surprise.

"A mutant to be precise." Christopher interjected with a polite smile. "We both are. My associate and I work for an agency that has a vested interest in what has transpired over the past couple of weeks but perhaps I should let his honor, the Mayor, explain."

"Thank you Chris." The mayor began as he took his seat and the rest of the room followed suit. "Let me start by saying that I have already spoken to the board members on your upcoming conduct review. I told them that despite the chaos and travesty two weeks ago, I have personally looked into your conduct and I am nothing but pleased." The Mayor said with a broad smile as he leaned back in his seat. "Your quick reaction to the situation saved hundreds of lives Saundra and I am damn proud of you."

"Thank you Mr. Mayor." Saundra replied politely. I wish I could say the same thing. She thought to herself.

"I also understand that your investigation into the cause of the riots has stalled." The Mayor commented.

Saundra quickly shifted into defensive mode. "Mr. Mayor, in defense of my team, they have been working around the clock to..." The Mayor silenced her with a raised hand.

"Relax Saundra; this is not a reaming session." He said with a slight chuckle. "I have no doubt that you and your people have done everything possible to connect the dots for us but I think that after we all hear what Christopher has to say we will have a better idea of what really happened. Chris and Night's Wind work for an agency that specializes in tracking and containing mutant threats." The Mayor said as he turned the floor over to the elderly gentleman.

"You put it so politely Mr. Mayor." Christopher Johnson said as he turned in his seat to face Saundra more directly. "We are, as the Mayor stated, a policing agency for mutants. We track down those of our kind that choose to miss use their gifts and if possible rehabilitate them."

"And if that is not possible?" Saundra interjected.

"We are not an execution squad if that is what you mean. We do everything within our power to contain legitimate mutant threats, while extending them the full protection of the law that every other citizen enjoys." Johnson responded cordially.

"So what does this have to do with a gang uprising?" Saundra questioned pointedly.

"Have you, in your investigations, put a name to the leader of the Blood Hounds?” Johnson responded with another question.

"Yes, we believe that the man that reorganized the gang went by the name of Bloodlust."

"That is correct." Johnson said with a note of surprise. "I am impressed; this particular villain is notorious for covering his tracks. The fact that you were even able to get his name is a tribute to your investigative skill."

"I do my best," Saundra said, blowing off the compliment. "Are you saying that Bloodlust is actually a mutant?"

"That is exactly what I am saying. His real name is Darious Grieven; he was born around 1100 A.D. somewhere in southern Europe with a very rare mutation..."

"That grants him immortality?" Saundra said as more of a statement than a question.

"In a form; Grieven does have a virtually endless life span but as always there is a catch to his gift. His body, while it has barely aged since his powers manifested themselves in his late teens, has a deficiency that causes his blood cells to deteriorate at an accelerated rate. If he does not replenish the blood in his body every few weeks he will weaken considerably and eventually go into a coma from which he would never awaken."

"Are you talking about a vampire?" Saundra asked with a note of doubt in her voice.

"Is that so hard to believe?" Night's Wind spoke up for the first time since Saundra entered the room with a voice so deep and gravely that it barely sounded human. "You have seen the unique traits that mutants poses first hand in your interactions with Nathaniel and Elizabeth Essan." The dark figure continued. Saundra started at the reproach and the mention of her missing friend but gave no response.

"There are many creatures that fall into the classic vampire stereo-type." Christopher broke in again stealing Saundra's mind away from the thoughts of her late co-worker. "He is not the only mutant to have this type of ability. We have even developed treatments that can contain their condition; unfortunately, since the treatments are sedatatary in nature, they seriously impair the patients other abilities and reduce them to an average human."

"Is that such a bad thing?" Saundra asked spitefully?

"Not if that is what you were born to be." Night's Wind retorted.

"Perhaps we should move on to the part that applies to our current situation." The Mayor spoke up wanting to cut the animosity that was clearly building between Saundra and Night's Wind.

"Of course," Johnson responded. "Grieven has, over the centuries, performed atrocities that I can not begin to get into at the moment but needles to say it was enough to draw the attention of my agency and put him on our most wanted list. He was at that point caught between a rock and a hard place, as the expression goes. He had no interest in being captured and sedated of course but his unique feeding needs were our only way of tracking him wherever he went. As you might suspect, when a body turns up having been drained of all its blood it tends to get a little noteriety. So as any creature of intelligence would do, he tried adapting his needs."

"Grieven began searching for alternate forms of treatment that were less likely to draw our attention but the effects were less than desirable in his opinion, until, while raiding a local blood bank, he came across a blood sample of our very own Elizabeth Essan; the woman better known to us all as Sage." Johnson shifted in his chair and a look of sudden remembrance flashed across his aged face.

"I should mention that in addition to Sage's work with your police forces; she has also done a great deal of work for our own agency. Her empathic and psychic abilities have helped us apprehend more villains in the past two years than we have in the twenty years prior to that. It was that empathic ability that drew Grieven's attention to her family. He discovered that the genetics in her blood sample contained enough regenerative ability to sustain him for months. He used that time to set a plan into motion that would both supply him with a substantial amount of blood containing the same regenerative ability and a means to fuse it into his own body so that it would become self sustaining. He used his abilities to steal information on the Essans and coordinate an elaborate smoke screen that involved leaving King's Row in ruin and Paragon crippled."

"So you’re telling me that you knew this mutant was working in our city and you didn't think to inform us." Saundra said as her face reddened slightly and she sat forward in her chair.

"Now is not the time for finger pointing Saundra." The Mayor spoke up trying to leash Saundra before she made it out of her chair. "The review board will do more than its fair share of that in a few days so let’s focus on the business at hand."

"Yes," Johnson agreed as he tried to gain control of the conversation once again. "As I was saying, Grieven needed to obtain a larger amount of blood with the same regenerative qualities in order to accomplish a successful transfusion."

Suddenly Saundra remembered what the Crime Scene Investigator had told her about how he found Sage's body. He had said that there were blood marks consistent with a major abdominal wound but he could not find the wound itself, or any other injury for that matter. It later became apparent that the twin boys, that were found in complete shock by their mother's body, had had their powers awoken by the trauma of the situation and had tried to heal their mother after she had died. They had managed to regenerate all of her physical injuries but not until she had been dead for some time.

"Their children had the same abilities; he kidnapped her children to extract their blood." Saundra said in disgust. Johnson nodded sharing her distaste for the subject.

"It was not the trauma that awoke the boy’s abilities, as your doctor presumed however; they were pumped with a genetic accelerant that forced their abilities out of dormancy. Grieven found a third party, that we have as yet not been able to identify, who apparently had the expertise to administer the accelerant and perform the transfusion. Victor and Sage must have arrived just in time to stop the operation and save their boy's lives," At that point Johnson paused solemnly. "Though it cost them theirs."

"We don't know for sure that Victor is dead." Saundra countered

"Saundra, there is no way that anyone could survive in the sewers for two weeks." Darek spoke calmingly.

Forcing herself to take her mind off of the subject Saundra spoke up. "So the entire Blood Hound riot, the phone center bombing, everything was a distraction so that he could kidnap two children?"

"It is how Grieven works. Please believe me when I say that this mutant is an Arch-Villain in the most classic sense of the term. He has played a hand in the toppling of countless city's and even entire civilizations over the centuries. The destruction of one neighborhood is child's play to him." Christopher responded in a most dead serious tone.

A long silence followed Christopher's monologue as the weight of his tale settled in. "All of that, done by one person." Darek said as he shook his head in astonishment.

"This leaves just one question." Saundra said in stern tone.

"And what would that be my dear?" Johnson asked.

"Where is Grieven now and how to I take him down?" Her jaw was as set as stone as she spoke.

"That is something we are going to leave up to Christopher and his people Saundra." The Mayor interjected.

"But sir," Saundra said, almost coming out of her seat.

"No buts. I know what this means you but our police forces have too much on their hands right now to be chasing this Bloodlust character down." The Mayor could see his words were having little or no affect on Saundra but he persisted anyway. "Our responsibility is to this city Saundra, not to vendettas. And I don't need to explain how badly this city needs every last one of it's finest focused on rebuilding." Saundra glared at the floor for a moment before nodding her head bitterly. "Now I imagine that Christopher will show a little interagency courtesy and keep us posted on his investigation, especially as long as it is taking place inside our city." The Mayor said as he turned to give Christopher a mild glare.

"Of course Mr. Mayor." Christopher responded with his unshakably polite smile.

"Now for our final order of business." The Mayor continued. "After hearing Christopher's and Walter's opinion on the matter I am willing to back their decision to turn over custody of the Essan boys to Christopher and his agency."

"What?" Saundra gasped as she shot forward in her chair once agian.

"Saundra please." Walter spoke in a soothing, fatherly voice as he placed a calming hand on her shoulder. "I spent two solid days with those boys and could not get a single word out of them. In fact after those two days I could not even go near them. Their abilities are out of control, by no fault of their own, but after two days they had worn down my mental resistance so badly that my own emotions were being dictated by their mood swings. On top of that, after two days I was not even able to determine which boy was which. Their medical records were stolen from the hospital and with them unwilling or unable to speak to me I can't even tell who is who."

"Christopher on the other hand was able to calm them and actually begin speaking to and treating them within an hour. After watching them interact over the course of the past week I am very confident in Christopher's ability to take care of the children."

"So we are turning the entire thing over to an agency that could not handle its own in the first place; villain, victims and all." Saundra spat bitterly as she stood up and fixed Christopher and Night's Wind with a withering stare. "I hope for all of our sakes that you guys get a half as good a grip on what you are as Victor and Sage had. You don't deserve to avenge their deaths and you sure as Hell don't deserve to have their kids." With that Saundra spun on her heals and made for the door.

"Saundra!" Darek called after her but she had already made it through the door and let the heavy oak slam shut behind her.

"It's ok Darek." The Mayor said as he waved for Darek to return to his seat. "Give her some time. She's been through a Hell of allot over the past couple weeks... we all have."



Darek did catch up with Saundra later that evening. He found her standing in a dim hallway at Walter's personal care facility, staring through the window side of a one way mirror into an observation room. He didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know that she was looking in on two young boys. He approached her quietly, not wanting to disturb her but while he was still several feet away she shot him a tired sideways glance and wiped a tear from her eye.

"Walter was right. I'm standing out here and still I can feel their powers overwhelming my emotions. Their fear is so confused, so unsure." She said as she tried to hold back her tears.

"Are you sure it's their emotions you feel?" Darek asked gently as he walked up and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder.

"What’s going to happen to them when we turn them over to that agency Darek?" She asked as she watched the two identical young boys coloring haphazardly on the floor of the observation room.

"I don't know Saundra, but I do know that there is nothing you or I could do for them. Most mutants don't get their powers until adolescence but these guys are only eight. I mean you say that you can feel the backwash of their power standing out here so just imagine what they could do if they grew up without someone to train them on how to use those powers. By the time their twelve they could send an average person into a deadly fit of depression with a single thought. Sorry girl but their aint nothing we can do for these kids; except maybe to hope for the best." Darek said with a heavy sigh. "At least Christopher can keep them safe until they capture Bloodlust." He added in an attempt to pick out the silver lining in a sky full of clouds.

"No," Saundra said as she shook her head wearily. "They haven't been able to catch him in all these years, what makes you think they will ever be able to."

"I don't know; who better to catch a mutant then another mutant?” Darek said dejectedly. Saundra pondered his words for a moment then, as if she was filled with a new strength, she straitened herself and shrugged Darek's arm off of her shoulder.

"Would you send a cat to hunt cat?" Saundra asked pointedly.

"What?"

"You don't use a cat to hunt another cat, you use a dog. So why would you use a mutant to hunt a mutant. Why not find something that is a little more suited to for the job." With that Saundra turned and began to walk away.

"Saundra, where are you going?" Darek called after her in confusion.

"One day, years from now, those boys are going to want vengeance for their parent's death and I'll be damned if after all of those years I won't be ready and waiting to help them."
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