by Gareth JohnsEdit
The stink of it saturated the air as the heat shimmered around them. Without thought to safety or their fellows the five men fumbled through the stifling heat and the glow of the inferno as the great sliding door into the slaughterhouse slid aside with a whine of creaking casters.
“Get out of my way!” Snarled the first, shoving his way through the gap into the welcoming cold of the chilled room beyond. The others followed, one snapping a pair of gunshots down the corridor they had come at the rising glow of light and heat that followed after them.
“Get it shut! Get it shut!” Two of the thugs threw their weapons to the floor, flinging themselves at the cast iron door as it groaned in protest. With a grunt the heavy door began to move, shifting faster and faster to seal them in.
“Wait!” The man outside called, leaping at the door. He was too late. The serpent had him. The two men winced at the screams as the coiling fire washed into the man, his ammunition cooking in the heat as the great iron door slammed shut with an echoing thunderous boom.
“Seal it!” Snapped the largest of the thugs, a brute of a man who towered over his fellows with a machete in one hand and a revolver in the other.
The gangsters by the door complied, one of them wincing as he hooked the door’s bolt in place and the heat from outside burned at his fingers. Beyond the door they could hear the muffled screams, but they did not last for long.
“Was that him?” Asked one of the men, a scarred man in his twenties, nervously clutching at his rifle as he watched the door steam in the cold air.
“You know of many other dragons round here?” The brute asked him, checking the remaining bullets in his revolver.
“What do we do now?” Asked one of the men by the door, a weasly man whose greased moustache seemed to form little more than a dark stain above his lips.
The brute watched the door with a grimace, listening intently to the silence from the other side. Little broke the silence, only the swaying creak of the slabs of meat that hung around them.
“Wait.” He growled. “You got hold of Razor yet?”
The patter of phone keys cut through the silence as the youngest of the Gregory thugs furiously typed into his smartphone. The device chirped quietly as the message sent. “How long before they get here?” He asked, earning a patient scowl.
“As long as it takes.”
“There’s another way out of here. Look over there!” The Weasel remarked, pointing to the far end of the room. Keeping close eye on the steaming door they began to back away, each nervous step on the cold floor echoing in the frosty gloom.
There was a thud against the door.
The boom echoed through the room like a thunderclap, and at once they snapped around to look back to the large sliding door. Another thud echoed from behind it, condensation shaking from it as the impact trembled through the steaming metal.
“You guys seem a little jumpy. Maybe you ought to cool off.”
The voice echoed down from the rafters above and immediately all four gunmen opened fire, nervous trigger fingers unleashing a hail of bullets into the shadows above.
“Whoa hoho!” The voice laughed back down again. “Tough crowd.”
The Brute whistled to the Weasel, hissing for him to get to the door.
“What do you want?!” The youngest cried out, holding his gun nervously outstretched as his hands shook.
“What do I want? I want my city clean of scum like you!” The voice turned colder. “You know how long the people have lived in fear of gangs like yours? How does it feel to have the tables turned?”
“He’s moving.” The Scarred man murmured, nodding towards the darkness.
A whine of swaying chains drew the Brute’s attention and he backed away towards the wall, watching the frozen beef slabs gently swing.
“Just like the Gregories. You put them in the spotlight and they scurry for the shadows. Time someone burned you out.”
A flash of flame rolled around the edges of the sliding door, whispering out of the gaps and roiling across the floor. It was a living thing, a serpentine coil of fire and steam that rose onto its haunches and regarded them with hungry blazing eyes.
“I’ll give you one chance. I know there are four in charge. Where are they? Where are the Beetles?”
“Show yourself Dragon!” Roared the Brute, his pistol levelled at the fiery beast at the far end of the room. He opened fire, the others following suit as bullets ricocheted against the steel door behind it. Suddenly the worm seemed to explode, breaking down into a stream of fading cinders and smoke that spread across the floor.
“I’m not a Dragon.” The voice called back. The Brute frowned as the voice echoed about them.
Something dropped from the rafter nearby, landing amidst the slabs of frozen meat. At once the cascade of cinders become a hot wind of roaring flames, sweeping up from the floor to engulf the Scarred man and throw him from his feet.
“Get that door open!” The Brute roared, abandoning his fellow as the Scarred man screamed for help. Up ahead, the Weasel had pulled open the other door, slipping through the narrow gap before trying to slide it shut even before the rest of them could escape.
The Brute gave him no chance, levelling his pistol and taking a single shot that left the skinny gangster bleeding out on the floor. He swept into the other room, squeezing past the half closed and heavy door before slamming it shut between him and the young thug still trapped in the freezer.
The young man slammed his fist against the door in anger, spinning around in panic as he heard the flames roar behind him. The fire rose, curling into a thin serpent like coil as it cast its light across the dim chamber. It hissed to either side, steam rising about the floor at its passage as another figure slipped through the shadows behind it. The vigilante slipped out of cover, stepping quickly up to the gangster and pulling his hand aside as the thug emptied his pistol uselessly into the air.
With a thud and a coil of fire, the thug was thrown back against the door, pinned in place as the vigilante leaned in close. The flickering firelight threw dark shadows across his face, but the crude mask was no less intimidating for it. Cold eyes burned from within the folds of cloth, teeth gritted within a grizzled jaw.
“Where are they? Where are the Beetles?” He asked again.
“Please don’t kill me.” It was all the thug could manage not to piss himself.
The serpent was looming, coiling around its master to probe the door, causing the metal to heat painfully behind the pinned thug. A gunshot echoed beyond the barrier, followed by panicked shouts and barked orders.
He let go, allowing the young thug to drop to the floor and scrabble away for the sanctity of the hanging meat. With a gesture, the serpent slammed into the gap between the door and frame, the rage of its passing force the metal barrier aside before bursting out into the room beyond.
The vigilante stepped into the far room, striding past the burning wreckage of machinery and crates towards the singed form of the Brute, still trapped at the far end of the lorry dock. Trapped in the hook of his arm was a single foreman, a gun pressed to his head as he nervously tried to reach his keys to the control to the lorry dock shutters.
“Too hot for you?” The vigilante asked, his mouth curling into the shadow of a smile.
“What are you?” The Brute asked him before raising his gun to press hard into the side of the civilian’s head. “Hold it right there!”
The vigilante raised his arms, almost mockingly. In the bright lights of the docking bay he seemed all the more comical, dressed in a mix of Kevlar and red daubed fire proof suit. It was tight to his slight frame and clearly patched in places, but every step he took caused cinders to rise about his heavy boots like a slow dreamlike trickle of fiery rain.
“You want to know who I am? I am vengeance. I am the one who watched thugs like you drag good people through the dirt, make their lives miserable.”
The Brute sneered. “You talk too much.”
He pointed his weapon forward, the shot echoing from the chamber. The vigilante did not flinch, his will focused on the gun. No bang of gunpowder followed, only a pathetic mewling fizz and the bullet fell from the rifled barrel like a marble dropping off a table.
The Brute looked in astonishment at his gun and the bullet lying useless upon the floor.
“You people burned my life to the ground. You think bullets will stop me?” The vigilante continued, taking a few more steps forward.
“Stay back!” He warned again, dragging the civilian back as far as he could against the shutters, drawing his machete to hold it against the man’s neck. “Or I swear!”
For the first time the vigilante halted, his hesitance bringing a crooked smile to the Brute as he showed off his broken teeth. “Give me the keys. Now!” He instructed, snarling at the civilian who shakily handed over the keys in his hand.
“I’m not letting you leave here.” The vigilante warned.
“You haven’t got a choice.” The Brute leered. “Ah ah ah!” He warned again as the vigilante tried to step forward.
“You think I’m some kind of hero then?” The vigilante asked. The Brute didn’t answer, only continuing instead to drag his hostage to the control pad.
“You’re the one they call Knuckles aren’t you? The one who killed the old couple at the jewelry shop last year. The one who left that poor girl by the canal raped and beaten?”
The Brute continued to ignore him, clicking the keys and glancing back as the shutters started to move. “Move and I’ll add this tosser to the list.” He said, smirking as he did so. “Don’t think we won’t find you.”
“You won’t need to find me. I’ll be coming for you all soon enough.”
The Brute tightened his grip. “Yeah, I’ll be waiting.”
“No. You won’t.”
The vigilante brushed his hand casually through the air, almost in contempt as a wash of flame sprang up from the cinders about the floor, striking the Brute directly as he screamed. The civilian’s cries joined him, both caught in the wash of heat and anger. He took a step forward, his hand outstretched, but the flames had their prize and would not relinquish it. Slowly, his hand dropped to his side as the screams ceased.
The vigilante grimaced, closing his eyes and looking away as his shoulders sagged. He turned, stepping back towards the young thug watching in mute horror as the two men burned. In terror he tried to scramble away, but the vigilante gave him no such quarter, grabbing him roughly to pin him against the floor.
“I am coming for them. Tell them. I will make them pay for every life they have ruined. Do you hear me? Tell them, I am the Flame.”