“I’m fine.” Grim waved a gloved hand off, tense muscles relaxing at Wraith’s appearance. It’s not that the other hero was particularly comforting, but his presence indicated the rest of the threat was taken care of. At least in the immediate area.
“And, hey, mentally unstable or not it’s good to have back up. I’d have still ended up sniffing around
anyway.” He laughed to himself, finally taking his attention from his shoulder to see Wraith had gone back to investigating the truck. It was a bit dark in the warehouse - just the way Grim liked it - so he moved forward to see what was going on, mentally bracing himself in case it was more human trafficking.
Zoey’s stomach dropped.
Wraith was holding a wrist, yes, but the skin was pallor and tight against muscle, the fingers limp and nails bloodied. When he dropped the wrist Zoey’s steel-blue eyes followed it up the person’s arm, to their shoulder, to where the rest of the body was covered by another. And another. And another.
Bodies upon bodies, stacked upon each other like bags of trash in a garbage truck.
The mask fitted over Zoey’s face kept what must have been a horrid smell out, but she could almost smell her own bile building up in the back of her throat - could feel the tug of her stomach revolting at the sight. Wraith said something but his voice seemed far away, the words registering in her mind with the sloth-like fashion of Windows Explorer trying to submit a form.”Some might still be alive.”
Some might still be alive.Some might still be alive.
Wraith’s fading footsteps didn’t register at all as shadows burst forth from beneath and around Grim, reaching in as numerous pairs of hands to the top of the pile. It wasn’t good to jostle injured people, but they were suffocating each other. Zoey
was suffocating in her mask. She yanked her gloves off, slender fingers with nails painted a bright, happy blue pressing into the neck of each person pulled to her. The edges of her vision darkened, but not with the shadows she controlled - vision narrowed in front of her.
A teenager, gangly and malnourished. She had a small butterfly tattooed on her ankle, one of the wings half covered by the metal band. It was probably her first tattoo, placed in a spot easily hidden from her parents.
No pulse. The large, wisping hand of a shadow moved her aside to place against the floor and went to retrieve another person, even as a different hand moved another person before Zoey. An old man, skin sunken and shrink wrapped to his bones. He had what looked like an old bullet wound from days long passed, the scar a permanent reminder.
No pulse. A middle aged man with curly hair, laugh lines crinkling the edges of his unseeing eyes. No pulse. A young woman with gauges still in her ears and undercut barely growing in. No pulse. An older woman probably a mother
with hopes and- no pulse. A father. No pulse. A son, a daughter, someone’s child - no pulse. A person with hopes, with dreams, now little more than a tragedy and a horror story that had no pulse
and another and another and another-
For a moment Zoey just stared at her fingers, the blue of her nails a mocking contrast to the veins that almost bulged from the sallow skin barely holding them. A man, barely older than her. With a pulse.
The large, shadow-made hand holding him moved to cradle as Zoey frantically began to check him over. There were wounds along him seeping blood and pus, and shadows crept along Zoey’s hand, reaching out to touch them.
But she wasn’t her father. She was powerful, and could make great constructs made of pure shadows - but she couldn’t use them to do what he
did. The man before her wound’s remained gaped open.”911, what’s your emergency?”
“I need help.”
By the time the parade of sirens were approaching, Grim had replaced his gloves and had an outright morgue laid out around him. The heavy coat he wore was underneath the second and only living man left, a teenager barely old enough to even be called a man yet, laid out away from the open doors in some semblance of warmth. The first didn’t make it, his wounds half patched with a drone’s medical supplies before the point became moot. A pile of jackets dragged off the corpses of the nearby gunmen was underneath an older woman, her head limp to one side as Grim hovered over her attempting to perform first aid - for what little help it would do. It was to this scene that police came, guns drawn.
“This area is secure.” Grim’s voice rumbled with thunder, not even looking up from his work. A few of the weapons were trained on him, but he didn’t flinch away. “Wraith is clearing the rest of the building. Check those who I haven’t yet.”
“Jesus Christ.” The leader of the group grimaced and looked away from the hovering bodies, a dozen still left to be checked, cradled in the grasp of shadow-made hands the size of a man’s torso. Grim didn’t have hope for any of those left. Finally however the officer braced himself, calling out. “Spread out around the room and secure it. You two, come with me - check for pulses. Call clear for the medics.”
In a few minutes the last few people hovering in the air were set down, all confirmed to be dead. Once the large room was secured medics rushed in, all of them experiencing the same halting reaction at the scene of carnage and death, before one pushed forward and all but shoved Grim away to check on his ‘patient’. The rest of her team came forward, allowing Grim to sit back on numb haunches.
“There’s another.” The shadowmancer barely nodded towards the man that was obviously different from his fellows, with his attempt at warmth. The paramedics split off to go secure him, leaving Grim’s shoulders to slump. He took a deep breath that shook his lungs, his chest rattling even under the binder beneath his costume. He allowed himself this moment of weakness, masked face falling forward to his awaiting hands, the metal pressing into his palms even through the thick leather of the glove.
“What the fuck happened here?” For a moment Grim didn’t respond, taking those few precious seconds.
‘Game face on, my little Zoey.
“Captain Jonas.” The name slipped from Grim’s mask as he finally rose up and turned to the speaker, recognizing him after a moment. The Captain didn’t even so much as nod back, gesturing around them.
“Grim, it’s a fucking bloodbath. What the fuck is this?”
“I don’t know.” The words felt hollow even to Grim, ringing empty. The red and blue lights flooding in from outside highlighted how Jonas grimaced, deep valleys of stress carved into his face from years of experience.
“How can you not know? You called it in!”
“Wraith and I were following a lead.”
“A lead? A fucking lead? And you didn’t think to involve police?”
“There was nothing to involve, up until now. Just suspicions.” This was why Grim did little more than chat to authorities when they showed up. Though heroes and police were on the same side in the written sense, the truth was there was so little trust and such differing methods between them it was difficult to foster any sort of connection. Grim was loud, encouraging, a showboat - safe, as far as a hero went. Yet even still, he also suffered from an aversion to police, despite their mostly friendly working relationship.
“Yeah, well right now I’ve got more men on the way to help secure the rest of the site. I’m going to need everything you know about this. Fuck, the book says I should be putting you in cuffs until it’s all sorted out.”
Grim politely didn’t mention they wouldn’t hold him long, anyway.
Excluding Sean Henry and his family’s hospital, the hero dutifully informed Captain Jonas about establishing a pattern of increased human trafficking. About finding Wraith following the same trail. Any inconsistencies were met with a shrug and a simple, “It’s Wraith I was working with. Getting straight answers from a crazy man is like wiping up an oil spill with a penguin.”
Yeah, he got a weird look for that one.
The hero was given a break from his careful information sharing when one of the paramedics approached to ask Grim for assistance in moving one of the survivors. Jostling the woman more than necessary could be catastrophic, and the ambulance ride to the hospital would be rough as is. As it were, shadows didn’t have nerves to shake and jostle like a human or a piece of equipment rolling on the ground. From beneath the woman the shadows solidified, Grim lifting her and carefully moving to the back of the ambulance. She was set with the greatest of care inside before Grim retreated, once more doubtful about her rate of survival if merely moving her would cause this much stress. By the time he came back to the Captain, the other man was barking out to his newly arrived back up orders on securing the rest of the site.
All in all, it was a bit more time before they could speak again. Especially since even when Jonas tried to tell Grim to stay put, he just ignored the Captain and slipped off to assist in sweeping the area. Oh yeah, Captain Jonas did not look happy when Grim returned. Just as their conversation went to restart, the door slammed. Grim shot around, nerves frayed, only to find one of the officers stumbling in, holding his stomach with something streaked down his front. It took a moment for Grim to realize it was vomit.
“There’s a person. They’re alive.” The man choked out the words. Jonas frowned but went to call for more medics, but his officer was shaking his head frantically. “Cap- Captain. We found one of the kilns on and turned it off. When we, when we came back around there were noises and - they’re still alive.
” It took the Captain a moment to register what he meant, but Grim was already taking off.
It was clear across the factory, but the closer Grim got the easier it was to find. First it was the officers, pale or sweating and looking back the way they came. And then, it was the sound
. A voice dragged through gravel for miles, shredded on shards of glass, ripped to pieces, and it was crying out. Lastly, it was the heat. As Grim emerged into the room full of industrial sized furnaces, one of them was open with the inside a glowing molten orange, flooding the room with heat. There were officers here but all of them were backed away from the kiln, for good reason.
The hero barely stepped up before realizing just how bad it was.
The person inside could hardly be called as such. They were more ash and a brittle mess of goo that was once muscle clinging to cracked bone. Their arms and legs weren’t even a thing anymore, and they themselves consisted of most of a torso and a half melted skull. The fact they could even scream was an aberration to God himself.
They were alive, and it wasn’t a good thing.
“Jesus!” Captain Jonas had caught up just as shadow hands were reaching into the kiln, repeating his earlier words with more oomph than before. He probably looked sick, but Grim couldn’t take his eyes off the mess inside the still orange-hot kiln. The claws shuddered visibly just a few inches inside the kiln, the ends of the ‘fingers’ wisping away rapidly at the onslaught of light and heat.
“Give me your gun.” The Captain paused at Grim’s words, staring at him with confusion and not a small amount of anger.
“Give me your gun. I’m not going to let them suffer.”
“I’m not going to let you fucking murder someone right in front-”
“It’ll be a mercy!” Grim’s voice boomed once more, a roar of anger and sickness. He had seen a lot in his time since putting on the mask, and this was perhaps some of the worst. His very last nerves were frayed and he was on edge. “Say I attacked you and took it, put a warrant out for my arrest, I don’t care! Just give me it so I can put this poor son of a bitch out of his misery.”
The Captain was obviously conflicted, but before he could decide a female officer stumbled up, not able to look inside and already unstrapping her pistol to hand over. She didn’t say a word and Grim didn’t thank her. Jonas watched, but didn’t protest further, and only offered one more piece of advice as the hero stepped forward.
“Be quick, the heat might make the gun discharge.”
“I know how a gun works.”
The edges of the kiln still glowed and likely would for quite some time. The shadows were of no help in getting inside. So all Grim could do was take a deep breath, ready the gun, steel himself, and in a swift motion choked down his regret as he lunged half inside. His costume provided some protection but the heat was intense
, the thick leather already seeming to bubble on his palm and knees as he leaned over the person and felt flames licking all over.
Zoey tried not to vomit inside the mask.
The person was moving, and she could actually see the burnt vocal cords moving in a gap of melted flesh. It was a fucked up curse of a miracle that this person - she couldn’t even tell their gender
- was alive. She brought the gun up to place right against the skull of the person.
When Grim had first looked inside, the skull was half gone, blackened and cracked. He knew this for sure because he could see the person’s brain and could only wonder how that must feel. Now he couldn’t see the brain at all, the skull covering it still black and charred.
He glanced down, and could no longer see the vocal cords as skin, curling under the heat, slowly crept over them.
Grim yanked himself out of the kiln, sweat pouring uncomfortably underneath his costume and parts of it damaged beyond repair from the intense heat - the palm of one hand and a knee were blistering from the melting leather. His chest heaved, breathing like a corner animal, and abruptly shoved the gun into the female officer’s hands once more with little more care than to make sure it wouldn’t discharge.
The Captain grimaced, but looked sympathetic.
“It’s hard to take a-”
” Shadows reached out of walls and corners, grabbing the female officer, the Captain, and any other officer not already up against the wall to pull them out of the way. They then coalesced, forming into a set of giant clawed hands, each one as large as Grim himself.
“What is going on
Grim couldn’t get his shadows inside the kiln. So instead these giant claws grabbed onto the valves leading into it, beginning to break them off. The heat inside the room became intense, and officers began to scramble out of the room.
“Grim! Grim what are you doing?!”
He grit his teeth, gloved hands curling around blistered skin as the claws then grasped onto the kiln itself. It shuddered, the metal and stone beginning to screech as it was pulled. The shadow claws themselves were wisping, needing to be reinforced every few seconds.
Then finally, the entire kiln lurched off the ground.’Where? Where can I…’
With a heave of his shoulders as though he was actually holding the kiln in his hands, Grim twisted and the shadows moved with him. The entire kiln smashed into the wall of the warehouse, creating a hole as it was punched right through the metal siding with force. Grim followed it, barely keeping the thing upright.
Out in the cold midnight air, the shadows got the reinforcements they really needed as more hands sprung out lifted the kiln up, tilting it over so ash and bone and a barely put together body slid out the end onto mercifully cool gravel and patched grass. The kiln was thrown aside before Grim was there, falling to his knees beside the pile and hands hovering - afraid to touch exposed muscle and bone for fear of causing more pain.
“Wraith, Wraith I’m right here. I’m right here Wraith. You’re safe now, just focus on regenerating.”