Kinetic Arrows, Short Story

Slow Burn

(NOTE: Reading Poetry In Motion and Wildfire beforehand is recommended.)

In the dead of the night, it was everything but dark. A building up in flames, an orange signal in the night. A man stumbled, both hands in front of him, away from the burning building. His hands searched in the darkness only he saw, struck the pole of a streetlight and groped it wildly, clinging to it. Behind him, a block away, the flames raged and raged, but to him it was only noise. His mind was a wild panic, unable to cope with the trauma of losing his eyesight. Blood trickled down his face from his eyes, but he hardly noticed it. His mind screamed.

 

Curse Dmitri! He stole my eyes, my power, my fire! He will pay for this, the Burnmaster won’t be defeated by a boy, a child, he had gotten a lucky shot. That boy –

That boy could be looking for him right now.

This thought seemed to freeze him for a second. He started to calm down, keeping the panic in check. Standing around wouldn’t help matters. He took a deep breath, and stepped forward, hands stretched out before him. He walked a step. And another. He kept the panic down, but he felt it rise, slowly, creeping on him –

His foot caught the sidewalk and he went down. He fell in probably less than a second, but to him, the fall was eternal in the darkness, sure he would fall forever in this black hole, never stopping. He struck the sidewalk face first, the respirator on his mouth digging into his face painfully. Rain started to fall on his body, soaking him to the bone. He got on his knees and hands, and started to crawl, feeling his way.

His white hair had gotten wet and covered his eyes, but it mattered little. Shivering, he moved to the left and felt a building. Moving his hands along it, he moved into an alley. He sat next to a big square object – a dumpster, he supposed.

He drew his knees up to his chest and hid his face between them, the rain falling on the back of his neck.

He called himself the Burnmaster, and it was true he was a master of flame, but that was before. Now, he was Edward Allen again.

Scared.

Wet.

Vulnerable.

Blind.

Weak.

Defeated.

Edward started to weep. Two men had watched him as he crawled into the alley and sat. They were big and muscular, but they couldn’t make half a brain between them. They looked at eachother, and agreed to report to “the Boss.”

***

Victor “Vic” Vitrioni sat on the velvet chair behind his desk, feet resting on it. Behind the chair, a large window that overlooked the city. “Top of the world”, he liked to call it. He was a wealthy man, head of a large criminal empire. His building – the Triple V Grand – was the tallest in Trigona City. In many ways, he was at the top of the world, although “world” in this case may only be limited to Trigona City. Life was good. It had been, anyways, until a few days ago. Rumors had swept through the city, that the Burnmaster was back in town. But that couldn’t be, could it? He had been put away for good.

Could it? Victor took the cigar out of his mouth, dipped ash into the ashtray. He had sent his men, anyway, to look for a man with white hair, and a green respirator. That would be the dead give away. The green respirator with orange fangs on it, where the mouth would be.

He looked at the cigar and held his gaze for a second and then put it out. Thing was cancer, either way.

There was a knock on the door. Startled out of his thoughts, he almost kicked the phone on his desk to the ground. He took a deep breath to calm himself, heard another knock, and said: “Come in.”

One of the men he had hired walked in.

Boss.” He said. “We think we found the Burnmaster.”

What?” He jerked forward, his back coming off the chair. “What the hell are you doing here?

Well, we thought we best check in with you first. He was shivering in the alley, nothing like the man you told us –”

Was he wearing the respirator?”

Well –”

Was he?”

We think he was, but…”

But nothing!” He yelled at his hired muscle. “Grab a couple of men and kill him! You hear me?! Kill him!”

The thug scurried out of the room. Victor fell back into his seat, pondering the situation. After a few minutes, he picked up the phone. It couldn’t hurt to make sure.

After he put the phone down, he stood up and looked out from his window. It was raining. For a moment, lightning flashed, and his face reflected back to him. He felt his hand across his scarred face, burns from long ago, a ghost from the past, a constant reminder of the Burnmaster’s botched gift.

Edward.” He said to himself. “It’s been a while.”

***

Edward sat shivering on the alley. The trickle of blood had halted, and washed away by the rain. The blood may be gone, but the scars remained. His eyes were now glassy white balls, his irises had disappeared.

Six men approached the alley. Edward turned his head when the footsteps got within earshot. When they saw his face – and the respirator – the footsteps stopped, and one man spoke:

He’s the Burnmaster. Get him, boys.”

H-huh?” Edward muttered. “Can I help –” His offerings of help were cut short by a steel-tipped boot, striking squarely against his forehead. Edward’s back hit the ground of the alley, the air buffeted out of him.

P-please, stop, I can’t see –” His plea went unheard, the boot hitting his ribs now. He rolled over, a nasty crack emanating from his chest. He laid on the ground, facing it, his breathing choppy and clogged with blood. He got on his hands and the boot kicked him again, rolling him to the wall. He spat more blood.

Here ends the life of Edward Allen, the Burnmaster. Because of a boy named Dmitri, who had outwitted him. He thought through the pain, and a spike of anger rose through him, of indignation. His mouth changed to a snarl. The Burnmaster, kicked to death by a couple of thugs? His revenge cut short? He turned his face to the incoming footsteps and felt something work inside his brain, something grow, like many years ago it had done when feeble, weak Edward Allen had had enough from the nagging broad and set her ablaze. He could see the footsteps, rising and falling on the ground of the alley, the steel-tip, stained with blood, five men standing behind him.

But his eyes remained blind. He wasn’t seeing with them, he was seeing with his mind. His mind worked for him where his eyes did not, and he could see many things indeed. He looked with his mind’s eye and saw the man approaching again. He sent it behind the man, around the corner of the alley, and saw the lightpost to which he had clung to. He looked up and saw the rooftops. But more importantly he saw the man.

I’ve…evolved.” He muttered, the boot hanging over his face. It came down and he turned away. It struck the ground, surprising the man.

The Burnmaster stood up, ignoring his rib, and looked at the thug. They looked at eachother for what felt like a long time before he went up in flames. In a span of five seconds, he went from burning to ashes. The other five looked at him, unbelieving. One of them held a rusty lead pipe, and another a baseball bat. The Burnmaster disposed of the weapons, reducing the bat to cinders and the pipe to molten metal that stuck to the man’s skin.

Four of them were incinerated on the spot, ashes falling unceremoniously to the ground. The last man started to walk away. The Burnmaster followed, slowly.

Did somebody send you?” He said, following the man out of the alley.

I-I-I-I-” The man stuttered. “I-I can’t tell you! He’ll kill me!”

He won’t have to bother.” The Burnmaster focused. Mere moments after, the Burnmaster was walking away from the spot, leaving nothing but ashes.

He was walking into another alley when pain bent him over. His mind scanned the street and spotted a manhole cover. Stumbling to it, he climbed down and hid in the sewers. Countless blocks away, Natalya was receiving her money.

***

Natalya Konstantinov watched as the steel briefcase was put on the desk. The lid came off and, seeing the bills of money inside, she closed it back again, grabbing it from the handle and pulling it off the desk.

You better catch him. I’m paying you top coin for this.” Victor was sweating, she noticed.

I’ll get him.” She said simply.

And if you don’t?”

I will. I’ve dealt with him before. He and I…have history.” She looked down at his face and saw that Victor and the Burnmaster had history, as well.

Fine.” He said. “But if it comes back to me –”

It won’t.” Natalya walked out of Victor’s office, holding the briefcase. Victor sunk back into his chair and one of his hands went to a drawer. He pulled it and a .44 Magnum out, putting it inside a holster in his suit. He relaxed a little when he felt its weight.

***

Natalya walked into the alley Victor had told her they had seen the Burnmaster. Inside, she found several little mountains of ash, and one a little way out of the alley, near a sewer grate. She knelt by it, civilians who walked by avoiding her. She wore a black top and shorts that stood out by her white, chalk-like skin. Her legs were just as white, spotted by glowing, yellow irregular shapes. Her legs had been blown away by the accident years ago, and had been completely rebuilt. She was fairly pretty, her short hair a soft pink. Two pigtails jutted out the sides of her head, and on her left eye there was a black plate with a yellow slit to see through. The plate continued to her ear, where there was a dial and a button.

But the part that probably scared civilians away was the battle axe on her back, its handle extending into an elastic whip that was nearly as long as her. The axe hung from her back, fitted neatly between her shoulderblades.

Walking back to the alley, she grabbed ash with two fingers, and ground it between them. He could have done this to Dmitri. She thought, looking at the ground. Why didn’t he? Perhaps –

Her thoughts came to a halt when she saw the not yet dried spots of blood near the end of the alley.

He’s wounded. Running scared? Not likely. But he’s hurt, and he probably didn’t go far.

She turned her head and looked around the street for a few minutes before seeing the slightly askew manhole cover.

The hunt is on.

***

Could I become a god?

The Burnmaster pondered this thought in his head. He had evolved, back in the alley. His powers had grown. He wondered what was the nature of this new sight. Mind-sight, he decided to call it. Quickly, he had discovered it had limits. He could see a great deal, but not forever, and only one thing at a time. He could not see something behind him and something in front of him at the same time, for instance. He could see a great deal, but he was not omniscient.

But suppose he evolved again, past these limits? And why had he evolved? From the great trauma of losing eyesight, he thought. He further pondered if his flame could reach new heights, flame hot enough to make a star look like a candle in the wind.

The fact that this same fire would burn him as well never crossed his mind.

And yet…

Could I become…a god?

Nothing was certain, but the possibility was there. It brought him dark satisfaction, a grin creeping up his mouth, unseen by anyone in the darkness of the sewers.

A god. Nothing would stand in my path, nothing or no one would challenge me –

Except Dmitri would.

He entertainted the notion of going back topside and searching for the boy, burning him to cinders. He quickly perished the thought, noting that the mark of a genius was its ability to bide. He would be put to the test.

And after all, he wanted him to suffer. A quick death would be mercy.

His smile grew bigger in the darkness, his head filled with morbid thoughts.

***

Natalya explored the sewers, her thoughts turning to Dmitri. He didn’t know her, she was away on mission most of the time, only ever really coming into the lab to drop off an escaped subject. And when the boy had blossomed into his teens, she had gone off in a 6 year mission to capture one of the most dangerous subjects that had slipped through their fingers. She was sure he had heard of her, but was he aware of their connection? She doubted Nikola told him. He had been ashamed of himself after the accident. But now she was back, and she would pay Dmitri a long-due visit. Why? She wasn’t sure herself. It just felt like time. Dmitri was turning eighteen soon, twenty-four herself. Indeed, it was long due. She wondered if he would take it well, the fact he had a sister –

What are you doing? Concentrate, you’re on mission, Natalie.

She was. Shaking her head, she rearranged her thoughts. The Burnmaster. She would kill the Burnmaster and later capture the subject she had tracked down back to this city.

When she saw him, she took the axe off her back. The Burnmaster didn’t stir, too much into his thoughts.

You’ve grown careless.” She said. Her voice carried well in the darkness, and the Burnmaster turned to her, startled. He jumped to his feet and looked at the glowing eyeslit in the darkness. The glow in her legs had dimmed down to a faint glow, almost unnoticeable. The rest was covered in shadows.

But yet again, you were never one for subterfuge.” She remembered his first outbreak, and how easy it had been to catch him.

The Burnmaster’s eyes squinted as his mind-sight searched around the darkness. Instead, it saw a battle axe flying towards him, and he jumped out of the way, into the water. The axe slung back to Natalya.

You don’t remember me, do you? I’m Agent 1. I stopped you when you appeared the first time.”

And then he did remember. His useless eyes grew wide for a moment. His mind raced back in time, to when he was in the lab, hearing the mutter from the scientists, about how an “Agent 1” had stopped him in no time flat.

His surprise led into anger. The urge to break out and jump at her rose in his heart, but he held it down.

I also heard that my brother, Dmitri, stopped you. But I will put a permanent end to you.” She slung the axe again.

He was caught flat-footed. He jerked away, barely missing the axe. His mind sight found her, and he focused.

Don’t bother.” She said. “Your fire can’t burn me.”

Heh. That’s one I’ve heard before.” He replied and jumped out of the water. He focused on the water next, steam rising up and forming a wall between them. The Burnmaster ran away, towards a ladder on the wall when the dull side of the axe hit him in the back of the head, sending him down on his face. He quickly got on his back, looking at the figure walking out of the wall of steam. She spun the axe beside her.

The Burnmaster looked up, sudden realization in his eyes. A gas pipe ran above them. He got up quickly and started to run again, grabbing onto the ladder. He climbed up the steps and stopped when he had reached the gas pipe. He waited until the axe whistled past him, digging into the pipe. It was pulled and gas jettisoned out of the pipe, slowly filling the room. The Burnmaster climbed the last steps, pulled himself out and focused.

A pillar of fire shot out of the sewer, two stories high. Entire tunnels below were engulfed in flames, and for blocks manhole covers shot out, falling and injuring civilians on their way below. One flew into a shop, smashing through a window and hitting the cashier in the head, giving her a concussion.

When the pillar of flame subsided back into the sewers, the Burnmaster started to walk away. He had reached the end of the block when there was a sound behind him.

A hand white as chalk shot out and grabbed the edge of the manhole. Natalya pulled herself out, unscathed by the explosion.

I told you not to bother.”

***

He darted into an alley, the axe whizzing past him and cutting a streetlight in half. He ran up a fire escape, moving like he never had. He was all the way the up on the rooftop when he looked down and realized that the fire escape wasn’t there anymore – it lay in the alley, cut to pieces. Natalya swung her axe, dug into the building and slung herself up. She reached the edge and pulled herself up. The Burnmaster was standing on the other side of the edge, ready to jump. The wind was blowing hard and kept his hair out of his face.

The axe hit him in the back and he fell again. He turned around and Natalya was on him, her knee on his chest, pinning him down. He swung a fist at her and she caught it, twisted it and slammed it back down. Her other hand held her axe high over her head.

Any last words?”

He didn’t. The axe came down and in a moment of panic he sent his mind-sight not at her but into her, and suddenly he could see metal, circuit boards, wires and machinery, microchips and processors, and below the machinery, flesh, organs, her lungs. And he set the machinery on fire.

The axe stopped, mid-drop just above his forehead. She reeled back, the fire inside her hurting her. Smoke started to emanate from her, and she fell on her back, holding her sides.

He got up and walked to her. She raised her axe but he kicked it away, and then put her foot on her throat.

You weren’t working with the Black Fusion facility. You were trying to kill me, not contain me.” He said with dead certainity. “Who are you working for?”

M…make it stop…” She managed out.

Who are you working for?”

Victor Vitrioni!” She screamed out, and the fire stopped. She rolled to her knees and held her sides. “He’s…he’s at the Triple V Grand. Top floor.”

Victor.” He said with uncertainity. “Top floor. He always liked looking down on people.”

He turned to the tallest building, easy to spot, and walked away from her.

You’re leaving me alive?” She said.

You could be of use later. But remember, what I’ve done, I can repeat.”

How do you know I won’t come after you again?”

I know I can see your heart, beating. So easy to destroy, to turn into ashes. Remember that, before you try to face me again.”

***

Despite all of Victor’s paranoia, his building, the Triple V Grand, was relatively unguarded. The Burnmaster walked in, destroyed the two guards on sight, and took the nearest elevator. On his way up, his mind fled back to the past.

Victor standing on the balcony, looking over the kids playing in the backyard of the orphanage. A girl merrily ran after a ball, two boys sat on the see-saw, and one white haired kid sat on the sidelines, quiet, grasping the bench on which he sat on.

Victor looked down at this boy, and called after him. “Hey! Eddie! Why don’t ya ever say anything? Ya dumb? Ya MUTE?

Edward tried to ignore him, his hands gripped harder.

I heard ya burned down your house! Wet the bed, much?”

Other kids joined in, but it was always Victor that started it. One memory lead to another.

Walking into the mess hall. “Hide your matches, here comes Eddie!” Victor catcalled.

Watch out, he’s gonna burn down the orphanage!”

In the present, the Burnmaster’s hand turned into a fist. Above him, a LED sign said he was on the 17th floor.

How come you haven’t burned your eyebrows off yet?”

Firebug!”

Freak!”

24th floor.

Hide the matches!”

He’s gonna burn the orphanage down one day!”

And one day, he did. The Burnmaster had burnt the orphanage to the ground, Edward Allen was dead. Right after he had burned down Victor’s house.

The elevator stopped. 30th floor.

***

Victor drew the Magnum and leveled it at the Burnmaster’s face.

Edward.” He said.

Victor.” He replied in return.

Are you here to finish the job? Kill me after burning down my house? You got my wife and baby daughter.”

The Burnmaster said nothing. Victor cocked the gun and then it exploded, hot shrapnel flying and digging into his face, into his eyes. He stumbled backwards, letting out a surprised scream, towards the window.

You always liked looking down on people. Especially me.” He jumped on the desk and then in front of the stumbling Victor. He raised his leg and kicked forward, getting Vic squarely in the chest and driving him backwards, smashing through the window. “Join them.

He watched as he fell. He fell soundlessly, a man who knew it would do him no good. And then it was over, a bloody smear on the pavement.

***

The Burnmaster walked out of the burning building, his green coat drawn around him. Bystanders had gathered to watch as the flames roared. Blocks away, a fire truck raced through traffic towards the candle that had been lit up in the middle of the city and could be seen for miles.

When they saw him, many bystanders ran away, but many stayed behind. He watched the ones that stayed, seemed to size them up.

Stand aside, or get burned.” He echoed words from the past. “Or do you not fear fire?”

They denied their fear and he smiled behind his respirator.

***

More and more people started to join him. They settled in an abandoned chemical factory in the outskirts of town, where the Burnmaster started to plan, hatching his revenge. One day, one of his closest acolytes came to him.

Master, why have we not struck yet?”

Haste makes waste. Lots of waste.” He replied.

But…fire strikes quick, and devours quicker. Shouldn’t we fight like that?”

A smile crept up to his lips. This acolyte reminded him a lot of Ardea. For a fleeting moment, he wondered how she was, and longed for her. But only briefly.

I believe that, this time, my revenge will be a slow burn.

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