Mathias observed the Chemical Plant from afar, hidden in the shadows. While he had run as fast as he could, and had to catch his breath not to collapse, clearly he was late for the real party.
In the darkness of the night, the plant looked like an ominous fortress of rusted steel, ruined by time. Lines of dilapidated structures, of crumbling towers, welcomed Mathias. The plant hidden away like a dirty secret as far away from town as logistically possible. The acid smell itched his throat. His Glass Field let him see swarms of rats tailing him in the dark, or crawling nearby.
Before the Conquest made the previous owner bankrupt, this place had been a nest of jobs for the city, hosting hundreds of employees. It had slowly fallen into decay, the Concordian government abandoning it to focus on building a whole new city instead of repairing an obsolete, toxic ruin. Once the Arc-City would be operational, the plant would finally be razed to the ground alongside the rest of the old Evermarsh, the land turned into fields or factories.
The electric fence had collapsed at one point, leaving a gaping hole for anyone to go through. And they had; half a dozen cars were parked right in front of the fences, mostly police cars and the black Mercedes that picked Samantha up from school.
Approaching as stealthily as he could, Mathias’ Glass Field soon encompassed the cars, and he began to hear people discussing in low voices through his extended senses.
“ — long enough.” The visual sensation sent by Glass Field revealed the speaker as a police member speaking to his partner. As Mathias had worried, both had guns. “My wife was starting to ask questions. Almost accused me of having an affair with you!”
“No kidding?” his female partner replied with a smirk. By now Mathias had moved on the other side of the Mercedes. “She should have a little more trust in you.”
“That is why my husband and I made a point of both being onboard since day one,” another woman said; fashionably dressed for corporate work invited herself in the discussion. She held a dashing man with a confident smile by the arm. “Trust is the foundation of a strong marriage.”
It took a moment for Mathias to recognize the man due to the ambient darkness, until he opened his mouth, “Indeed. If you wife still bothers you officer, I can vouch for your integrity.“ The consummate public figure, Mayor Brown had a way to make you like him, even when his promises sounded empty.
“Thank you, Mister Mayor. I’m just happy everything will be over after tonight.”
His partner seemed less relieved. “I hope it was worth it. Those poor guys…”
“Dregs of society.” Brown’s wife brushed off. “If anything, Concordia ought to reward us for removing those drains of their public finances.”
“Still… that was hard,” said the female cop. “Especially the first few.”
“Necessary sacrifices in the pursuit of a righteous purpose,” Brown reassured the cop. “Your task was the hardest, so it’s okay to feel doubt. I swear though, tonight’s lamb will be our last on the altar.”
The phrasing chilled Mathias to the bone. “Henry should be done,” Brown’s wife said, tightening her hold on her husband. “And I’m freezing.”
“Yes. Let’s start the ceremony.” Without another word, Brown led his group away from the cars and into the plant.
Mathias clenched his fists in suppressed rage. Those people had clearly killed the victims, and seemed about to do it again.
Mathias knew direct intervention was beyond risky. Scratch that, it sounded suicidal when he thought about it. Attacking an armed group was a major step up from his current tests, one that could easily end in his death even with his magic. He could follow his initial plan, taking incriminating pictures anonymously…
No. He couldn’t chicken out now. If he could save an innocent life tonight, he would have to step in.
Besides, fighting Gearsmen, or Troopers, or Concordian forces would prove tremendously more difficult than beating up corrupt cops. He had to start somewhere.
When the group moved far enough away, Mathias activated his Glass Field. Careful not to activate the cars’ alarm, he turned most of the windows into glass dust, drawing it to him. The Mercedes’ stained, reinforced glass he separated from the rest, bringing it to his face and shaping it into a featureless helmet covering most of his skull. The stained glass’ color would hide his face, protecting his identity; since he could see through glass, the darkness outside didn’t bother him. Tiny holes at various points allowed him to breath through it.
Part of the dust, he shaped into an armored plate over his chest, like a bulletproof vest. With his power active, the glass moved with him like a second skin. The rest, he transformed into a dozen flying daggers.
Still unaware of his presence, Brown’s group had moved around the perimeter, reaching an isolated warehouse with a solid iron door. Mathias looked from afar as he knocked on it twice, then three times.
Henry Powells opened the door; Mathias’ sensed the phone in his pocket, and the gun brushing against it. The young man did his best to listen, in spite of distance; the phone’s screen in his pocket relayed the sound to Mathias. “She is ready.”
“She?” Brown sounded surprised as he walked in, Powells closing and locking the door once the last man had gotten inside.
Mathias approached the wall next to the door, his field covering the warehouse’s interior. Mathias let his senses expand, the warehouse’s windows and lamps relay him sound and sight.
He could scarcely distinguish anything in the dim-lit room. Eight people had assembled inside, most of them cops, the others Brown’s own entourage… and Jack, dressed in a simple white shirt.
Mathias suddenly noticed a ninth person, a woman in a white dress bound and gagged to a chair at the center of the room; her face covered by a bag. She had bruises on her arms. Jack kept watch on her, his hands on her shoulders.
Fuck. He resisted the urge to make all the glass in the warehouse explode in those bastards’ faces, waiting only to get a better picture of the situation.
As he focused on the scene, he received more sensory information, allowing him to better scan the area. He could see big fat rats crawling in corners, as if waiting for a meal to fall for them to devour. The most noticeable feature, however, was the mark.
The group had drawn a crimson, giant ‘M’ right beneath the bound woman, with a dried substance that reminded Mathias of blood. The symbol had been stylized, the edges of the letter looking like flames. The more Mathias looked at this, even through glass, the more unease settled in his heart.
The sight filled him with a primal sensation of fear.
“You are sure about this, Henry?” Mayor Brown’s face had grown pale, slightly disturbed. “I never asked you to go this far.”
“The Maleking appreciates personal sacrifices,” Powells replied. “What greater offering than this one?”
“But… she is your own flesh and blood.”
“She was a mistake that I would have drowned at birth had her mother not gotten in the way. Besides, you said we needed to throw the scent off our back. After she dies, nobody will suspect us. We’ll be the victims.”
“She texted her boyfriend,” Jack warned. “I can lie, say we were attacked. If someone can rough me up a bit, it will look convincing…”
“We will deal with the fallout after the ceremony,” Brown cut in, regaining control of the interaction. He straightened his clothes, brushing off dust as easily as his own buried conscience. “Time for a word of congratulations.”
“You’ve got a speech ready?” Henry smiled.
“Always,” Brown said and cleared his throat, the gathering eyeing him. “My dear friends, after long, hard weeks, our task ends tonight. Each of us struggled in secrecy, and we persevered. At long last, our efforts will yield just fruit with this last offering.”
Mathias had to struggle not to mentally slit his throat mid-speech. For the first time in his life, he considered killing a fellow man.
“Ten years ago, when mankind faced its greatest challenge, many of us lost hope. Soon, we will lose our jobs too, watching machines beat our population, or decide our future for us. Like you, I searched for a light, a way to strike back. I found none.”
Brown made a deliberate pause. “Instead, the light found me. Found us.”
The way he spoke, his eyes possessed with fervor, reminded Mathias of those movie cult leaders. Except Brown was flesh and blood instead of pictures on a screen.
“When the dreams came, when the Maleking spoke to us, I refused to believe his promises. I thought I had gone mad. So did many of you, who shared the same visions. Yet, when I saw with my own eyes, the gifts our Benefactor offered for so meager a price… then I understood. I knew who I was, what power I had been born to deliver unto the world.”
That fact disturbed Mathias all the more.
“Now, the Maleking will grant one of us the gift of power… and in gratitude, we shall give him his due.” Brown extended a hand at Jack in a dramatic, symbolic gesture. “Jack, the sacrifice.”
Mathias winced, as Jack removed the bag from his victim’s head. Although he had long guessed the identity of their victim, seeing her bruised face and gagged mouth awakened him to the danger ahead.
“My, Maggie, smile a little.” Jack grabbed a sharp knife from his belt, ready to slice his sister’s throat with unnerving serenity. “Today, I enjoy being an only child.”
Now at the moment of truth, Mathias only spoke two words, echoing through the screens and the windows.