Ash felt his hand moving toward his pocket, preparing to grab the knife he’d been keeping there since the night before. He gave only a moment’s thought to actually drawing it before forcing himself to stop. Given how this young man had introduced himself, Ash knew pulling a weapon could get him killed.
“Hand the mongrel over.” The young man’s hands trembled with excitement. “If you don’t, I’ll roast you.”
“Go ahead and try,” Roderigo said. He maneuvered himself between Ash and their attacker, hoping to use himself as a barrier. As soon as he found himself in position, he performed a quick scan of the store to confirm that one else was in danger. It was nearly empty; aside from a handful of clerks who seemed oddly uninterested in the noise, no one else was inside the store. He briefly wondered why–if the hour was late, if it was just a slow business day, or if the other shoppers had fled.
“You really gonna do that, tk-kit tk-kit tk-kit? Even with your little trick, you won’t like it.” The young man made a sudden mock charge, pulling back just as quickly as he had lunged forward. It was clear that he wasn’t afraid of Roderigo, but he seemed well aware of how likely he was to lose a fight with him–even though he seemed brazen, he was avoiding a direct attack. More than likely, he knew Roderigo had no recognizably legal reason to draw his gun, and wasn’t about to give him one.
“C’mon. Hand him over! I swear I won’t hurt him.”
Roderigo knew it was a hollow promise, but that didn’t bother him. Something deeper was starting to trouble him–something familiar in the young man’s tics, in the way the constantly jabbered on, like he enjoyed hearing himself speak. He felt like he knew the kid, but the boldness of the young man before him threw him off. As he began to position himself to draw his revolver–should worst come to worst–the memory of who this young man was hit him with the force of a freight train.
It was Jordan Hollyfield’s boy.
It had been nearly eleven years since he’d last seen Andy Hollyfield. The young man had been only thirteen then, and by all accounts, was a good kid–albeit with a noticeable rambunctious streak. He’d hang around Devon’s property after school, simply because no one in the city would dare pick a fight with anyone on Carter land–he’d suffered from Tourette’s, a disorder that his classmates seemingly tried to beat out of him every chance they got. With the local schools unwilling to stop it, and his father too deep in the bottle to care, he had quickly learned that six-and-a-half feet of musclebound hybrid was enough to scare his tormentors into compliance.
Then late on New Year’s Eve eleven years ago, Andy and his father were just two of the dozens of casualties of Frederick Sanns’ assault on the city. Andy himself had been hit in the stomach by a tracer, which quickly passed through and struck an ottoman across the room and set it alight; suffering from second degree burns and bleeding out, the child was forced to crawl out of a burning apartment, leaving his tanked up father to die in the flames. Last he’d heard, Andy was in Atlanta with his aunt, undergoing therapy; however, that was only months after the attack, and he had no idea what the young man had been up to since.
Dammit Andy, Roderigo though, what the did you manage to get yourself into?
No sooner than he thought that did a flash of red steel appear against the young man’s neck. He could see Steven’s hand emerge from behind one of the aisles, pulling Andy’s head back. Whether by memory or pain, the touch of the Nightwalker’s blades against Andy’s throat made the young man’s hands twitch uncontrollably.
“How about we take this somewhere else?” Steven asked. He flashed a cocky grin toward Roderigo, but maintained eye contact with the young man.
“I can burn your hand off,” Andy sneered, grabbing Steven’s arm. “Then your flashy toy won’t be so useful.”
“Try it, motherfucker, and I’ll cut your throat.”
Andy’s eyes widened–whether or not Steven meant it, Andy clearly wasn’t going to take a chance. He whispered, “Please, don’t kill me.”
Steven’s grin widened. “Let’s go outside,” he said, pulling the young man away from the others, “and have a nice long talk about your life choices–”
“Drop the knife!”
Andy grinned. Roderigo turned to see Chief Gibson standing just a few yards away, his gun drawn and aimed at Steven’s skull. Steven pulled back and raised his hands. Gibson’s eyes studied the contraption hidden inside his target’s sleeve. He approached Steven, driving him back further from Andy, seemingly unaware of the ball of fire forming beside the young man’s palm.
Andy cracked a sadistic smile and began to raise his hand, only for his smile to fade to terror as Gibson quickly switched his aim toward the other young man. “What the fuck?” Gibson whispered.
To Roderigo’s right, a store shelf came crashing down, and a flash of steel whipped by Gibson’s head, barely missing him. The chief fell, quickly adjusting his aim in the direction of the attack. A figure pressed the tip of a saber against Gibson’s throat, forcing him to drop his gun.
Roderigo almost didn’t recognize Blades at first. His nose was slightly twisted and his left eye almost completely white; his cheeks had sunk further into his face, and the fingers on his left hand had returned, only now they were blackened and tipped with talon-like claws. Roderigo quickly aimed it at Blades’ face, his normally stoic appearance betrayed by a new fierceness in his eyes.
“Roderigo, what the hell is going on?”
Roderigo tried to find an explanation for the situation, but even with what had happened he felt the truth would be hard to swallow. “Long story,” he said. “I’ll fill you in later.”
“Sorry, Chief,” Blades said, “but I’m going to have to end this little standoff. Bad for business.” As he raised his sword to swing, a massive bang echoed through the store. The left side of Blades’ face seemed to explode as the contents of his head burst through the front of his skull, spattering bone and grey matter across the freezer and wall. Blades’ body fell to its knees and slumped forward. Dark clots and blackish blood spilled from the gap across the floor.
“Well fuck, that worked better than I thought,” the shooter said.
At first Steven only saw the Haymaker’s polished steel, but as his eyes moved past it he could see Carlton’s face, the burnt-out stub of a cigarette still in his mouth. Steven gazed back at the wall and shuddered. There were three golf ball sized holes punched deep into the masonry. “Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed. “What the hell did you put in that thing? Grape shot?”
“Something like that,” Carlton said as he racked the slide. “Hey, Chief,” he muttered. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Gibson was too stunned to speak.
Carlton aimed the shotgun toward Blades’ back. As soon as he did, the arm moved, and Carlton quickly pulled back. It only a twitch, but it shouldn’t have even done that; he’d taken out the brain stem, which should have had him down permanently. The body began pushing itself up, a nauseating cracking noise emanating from the gap in the skull. Blood seemed to pour into the wound, filling the gap and solidifying into a darkened mass. The edge of the wound began to swell and press against the dried blood, which in turn crumbled away, and as Blades staggered to his feet, a new face began to form, a twisted and furrowed sneer accentuated by a great gap in his teeth, a lopsided eye and a ghastly crevice in the top of his head.
“That was unpleasant,” Blades said, bending down to retrieve his sword. “But thankfully, I’ve been given a gift to compensate for your group’s… violent tendencies.”
Gibson reached down for his radio, only for Roderigo’s hand to grab his wrist. The intensity in Roderigo’s grip told Gibson everything–this was a little above the Chief’s pay grade, and calling for backup would only result in getting his officers killed.
“About time you showed up!” Andy shouted, stumbling toward his ally. “These assholes were going to kill me!”
“I should have let them,” Blades snarled, thrusting his sword at Andy’s face. “The second he put that blade to your throat you should have lit him up.”
Andy recoiled. “Sorry,” he said. “It won’t happen again.”
Blades turned his attention back to Carlton. The silver sheen of the shotgun burned his his eyes, and his pupils retracted into goatish slits. “Nice gun,” he sneered. Lowering his sword, he began to maneuver himself out of Carlton’s line of sight.
“Won’t work, jackass,” Carlton said with a smirk. “Tri-Ball can go through a brick wall at this range. Potato chips and sheet metal might as well be paper.”
Blades was frustrated. He could always heal, but that blast was brutal. Not even the beating Carter had given him had done that kind of damage; he’d survive, but another blow like that could put him out for a while. He clenched his teeth and began to retreat.
Then he heard the scream.