Sometimes he could see visions of what seemed to be the past. Times where others had taken on the mantle before him flashed through his burning psyche like a remembrance that was meant to be his own: The Bataan Death March, the Boer War and others large and small through centuries felt like a culmination of purpose that flowed through his spirit. Most often he could vividly feel
the haunting absolution of a Seminole Chief
along the Trail of Tears. The crash of musket fire, the war-cry, and the terrified screams of women and children as vengeance was satisfied through fire on their oppressors. The crushing of bone and the smell of blood was so vivid he could taste it. It was a sensation like every essence of his humanity had gone and his only existence was as a force of nature
. As he entered the upper office, the chain dragging behind his heavy steps, the flames continued to spread, lighting the room as the sprinklers finally exhausted themselves. There was silence for a moment save for the airy howl of fire spreading.
Facing Lex with only the mask of his flaming visage covering the complete blackness behind, he turned slowly with a gaze that pierced through the cover of Unà’s illusions finding her lying unharmed and unconscious. Her aura seemed somewhat confused and defensive at his arrival, but curious that he was able to see through it. The fire around him cackled and snapped as he turned back to Lex seeing Heidi standing nearby. The other that was with her had gone, but the blood called out for him. Unà’s illusions seemed to form a sense of what was impending and joined in the ethereal chorus.
As Lex’s face flickered with illumination from the dancing flames of the rider’s skull, he couldn’t help but be taken aback by what he was seeing. Fear would not be the word for it. What he felt was more like awe. He’d heard tales of people with flaming heads that went after bad men, but he never really believed until now. Despite hearing the rumors of such vigilantes, his research into them was quite shallow. He wasn’t very sure what the next best step should be.
“Yet another guest,
” he forced himself to say, finally. “I suppose you’re after Red, too?
The darkness behind the flames only stared back at Lex, unspeaking and unmoving, like looking into a black hole that only absorbed his shock and surprise. At his mention of Unà, the fire that spread through the room crept around her unconscious body and the pocket of illusion that surrounded her. Bone cracked under a gloved fist that tightened around the heavy chain and the air instantly became thick and distorted as if it boiled with static heat. A tortured, otherworldly howl of approval went up from the shadows as he advanced.
Heidi forced herself to look away. Neither Ayel or Lex had truly terrified her like Ghost Rider did. There was no way to outthink that kind of power. In fact, Heidi’s brain might make it even worse if the power was ever used on her. The plans, the scenarios played out in her head. The guilt she felt from them. Would those count as sins? Heidi didn’t want to find out. What she needed to do was take Unà and leave. Let Lex and the Ghost Rider fight. It wasn’t her business. She had come here for only one reason.
Due to the way the fire was creeping around the illusion, Heidi had a rough outline of where the illusion started and stopped. Unà’s body would be in the center. She hopped over the flames and entered the affected area. At once she noticed that the feel of the air on her skin felt...somehow different. She reached down, feeling for something solid, and then feeling around that area, using her imagination to work out the shape and position of Unà’s real body. When she was confident, she scooped the body up and stood up. She looked rather silly, appearing to be holding her empty arms out, cradling nothing, yet there was a clear strain on her face. She didn’t have super strength. She didn’t know how far she’d be able to carry Unà before she’d have to put her down. Hopefully she could at least make it out the building.”Lex. I’m going to take Unà out of here and back home. No offense, but I feel she’d be safer with me given the circumstances. Don’t try to stop me.”
she spoke to Lex, before heading for the door, trying to get past Ghost Rider, and praying that neither he nor Lex would stop her for any reason.
Lex’s face was unmoving. He heard every word coming out of Heidi, but was reluctant to react directly. Her logic was sound; this was not the safest place for Unà. All things considered, he didn’t dare take his eyes away from the monster before him. It was time to experiment, to poke around for weaknesses. Lex whipped out his twin guns and carefully aimed them. He began letting loose rounds, looking on in wonder at what affect his bullets might have as they arced around the profile of Heidi and Unà deliberately missing the two of them on their journey to the Ghost Rider.
From both being unable to hear the sound of the gun cocking, and focusing her attention on Ghost Rider, Heidi didn’t know she was going to get shot at until the bullets whizzed past her. Panic didn’t even register before the logical part of her brain kicked in. If he wanted to shoot her, at this range it would be so easy. He was aiming past them, at the Ghost Rider. He must be one very good shot to pull off such a trickshot. Heidi didn’t want to be here for the rest of this encounter. She leaned left and faced right to let Lex know which direction she was about to dart, before leaping to the side and then sprinting to the door as fast as she could whilst carrying the invisible body of a girl who was slightly taller and heavier than she was. Once she was out of the office, she bolted to the stairwell, but didn’t even make it that far before she had to stop and put Unà down. Her muscles were aching. She needed a minute.
The high caliber rounds pockmarked against his jacket like stones falling into lava. The tattered and scorched black leather only seemed to absorb them unflinching as he moved past Heidi and Unà with the heavy sound of gunfire filling the room. The chain dragging the floor behind rolled up obediently around his clenched fist glowing with heat as the desk between them was thrown away through the large window that overlooked the main floor sending shards of glass and splintered hardwood below. No sooner had the desk cleared the room than the searing iron came crashing across Lex’s face like a freight train.
The burn was instantaneous and intense. His mind screamed in reaction to his skin melting beneath the force of the supernatural heat. Flesh parted ways to expose bone. The blood that would usually come trickling out was instantly cauterized, leaving Lex’s arguably flawless face with a mark that he would likely live with the rest of his life. The chain kissed the upper left half of his eyebrow and spread its love all the way down the side of the opposite cheek, leaving what looked like half an ‘X’ across the center of his face.
Lex reeled back, finally showing signs of panic. Perhaps even fear. He instinctively pointed the gun again, ready to squeeze, but knew the folly. He tossed his weapons away and, instead, charged at the thing
like a linebacker, his shoulder taking the lead towards the Ghost Rider’s midsection, closing the gap between the two.
Unperturbed by Lex’s inhuman durability, the futility in the man’s charge only brought forth another memory of a similar scene that had unfolded within the same room. A faint glow began to raise in the darkness within the Rider’s skull, building behind the empty eye sockets. The scene of a young mutant beaten to death and tossed away like garbage, a waitress at Avalon suffering the same fate and others, many others
. Somewhere, far deep within the dark sepulchre of the Ghost Rider, Cole could feel the excruciating pain of those living souls torn away from reality roaring, screaming
for retribution like so many before. As Lex careened forward, he wanted
the monster that was underneath the man’s frail facade to come out, to feel their final suffering and the loss of their loved ones. The hole of their existence, left behind for others to mourn by graveside without closure. He caught Lex by the throat and gripped like an industrial vice, feeling the vertebrae within his boiling grasp. Lifting him from his feet, he studied the man’s face briefly, the flaming skull tilting slightly, giving the man a small glimpse into the burning finality that was unavoidable. With one motion he hurled Lex through the office wall, crashing through the corridor where the broken bodies of his slain workmen remained from their earlier encounter with the intruder. The building groaned from the shattering of load bearing walls as Ghost Rider’s steps advanced towards Lex again.
Heidi wheeled round as she felt the sudden rise in heat on the back of her neck. Lex had been thrown through the wall and into the same corridor where Heidi was currently resting. The time for recovery was past. She had to get Unà out of harm’s way as soon as possible, for the combat was uncomfortably close to her. Heidi felt around to determine the exact position of Unà’s body again, before scooping her up and slinging her over her shoulder before taking slow, shaky steps towards the stairwell. When she got back, *if* she got back, she would really need to work on her upper body strength.
Heidi had decided against leaving by means of the fire escape, barely having the strength to maneuver Unà through the open window. She carried on down the stairwell, onto the club’s dance floor, and towards the entrance. When she got to the front doors, she put Unà down at a place she’d remember, and opened the doors before taking another few seconds to rest. Her body was screaming, and adrenaline was the only thing keeping her upright.
The wind was knocked out of Lex’s lungs but as he stared into the devilish eyes of the Ghost Rider, the young man forced himself back to his feet. His confidence was waning, but his tenacity was ever present. The sting of his singed flesh was beginning to subsite, but the smell of it filled his nostrils. Beads of sweat began to roll down Lex’s brow as he considered the inevitable future. Lex looked to his right and one of two waiting chairs that sat outside some office doors. WIth a battle cry, he hurled the black metal chair at the Ghost Rider, leaping forward a second after, sending himself down the same trajectory with a fist that arced through the air like a hammer, set to fall upon the Rider’s crown.
The office chair shattered on impact like a glass vase cast against the front of a tank. As Lex hurtled himself forward yet again the finality of the encounter was completely apparent. The blow turned the Rider’s glance briefly, but the motion was no more futile than attempting to stop a tidal wave from crashing ashore. Two gloved hands snapped hold of Lex’s once exquisitely tailored shirt, now covered in sweat and blood as the flaming visage of weathered bone slowly turned back to face him eye-to-eye
. An unholy growl echoed through the collapsing building as the distant fire inside the Rider’s eye erupted in connection with Lex. He pulled the man closer, towering over his broken body and the vision was no different than staring into the center of an afterburner. The skull’s jaw dropped wide open roaring an elemental howl so vivid that it broadcast across dimensions, echoing through time and space as the life of Alexander Stagnum was collected.
Cole watched as the flesh was blasted away and the memories and the agonies of the man’s victims were cast onto him all at once. The sheer volume of emotion condensed to a single moment of transfer was incomprehensible. People he’d never known, moments in time frozen flashed by him at what felt like the speed of light crashing through the physical body of the man in his grasp and pouring directly into the soul, tearing it away from reality like a forlorn house in the path of a tornado.
It was satisfying, deeply
satisfying. Perfect. Like an error or a blemish in the fabric of reality had been erased. He was himself again for a moment as the natural and super-natural worlds around him seemed to bend and retract with the completion of the task. He dropped the charred husk of what was left of the man as the building continued to burn around him, finally giving way as beams fell in a clamor and walls buckled, seeing Unà standing outside the destroyed entrance as the walls caved in and the building collapsed.
Unà turned and looked over her shoulder as the howl went up. She saw and briefly locked eyes with the burning eyes of the entity that had attacked Frost. She could see that it wasn’t there for her and not a threat but that didn’t stop the fear that ran up her back. That fear was enough to make the illusion that she was trapped in fall apart. As Unà was revealed from behind the mask she had been forced into the walls of the building caved in and it collapsed.