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Some Monsters Are Human
#11
The screams and the pain, the fear and the pain, Aria tried to reach for some semblance of good within her, to find Lucas. If only she hadn't' come alone...

But whatever she wanted, to be the person she could be, it failed to come. The pain and the fear, the suffering, it grew until there was nothing left. Aria could either wallow in it and feel sorry for herself, or she could embrace it. Become what Dane had created at a mere glance. Death.

Aria didn't want to be THAT person. But that person was the only one who was going to get out of this alive. Her own fears had turned full circle, she didn't want to be what could be. Her beliefs were her own. The Atharim had taught her to survive. It may not have been the right thing, but it was the only thing she new. To survive.

Aria could have reached for the darkness and the pain. But she made a choice. A choice to find the strength inside her. Aria did something she'd not really done since she had come to Moscow. On her knees in the little cell chained to the wall. The manacles biting into her wrists, Aria prayed. She thanked God for letting her find Lucas. For showing her that good can come from the depths of hell if you have the will to fight it.

Aria fought the darkness, the desire to kill him, the need to hurt him. Aria thought about the tiny flame that had once been her guide. Everything she fed into the flame. Every emotion but the strength Lucas had shown her. She thought of that first night they'd met. How he'd made her feel safe and loved and accepted. It was the memory she clung to as the world around her screamed for release. The girl on the screen screamed and cried, they had turned to a mere murmur by the end, and then it started over.

The red head's screams drilled down into the depths of Aria's soul. They pierced through her body and Aria wished she could send her hope. She had come to hunt a monster. But she intended to leave with the girl, to bring her home to her family.

All she had to do was get free...
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#12
As he walked he looked up and saw cameras. A simple weave and the thing was dead. The hall was short and met another one at a perpendicular angle. The walls were solid concrete, but not clean or perfect. This may have been some underground shelter or bunker from back in the Cold War. Now it was a torture chamber.

He'd already taken out one camera but it was highly likely there were others. He thought for a moment and then smiled. He could accomplish two things here with something simple. He wove air around him as a buffer for the heat, and then a weave of fire. He added combinations of earth to the fire until the color darkened to a reddish black. A weave of water running into the fire created a permanent mist that looked like smoke. He didn't have a mirror, but he imagined he looked like fire clad death itself. Which he was. Very much so tonight, Death was stalking these halls.

He walked to the end of the hall and looked in both directions. The screams were coming from his right. Another camera died along the way. He walked toward the sounds until he came to another crossing. Another turn, another dead camera, and he was in front of a door. He drew on the Force until he could pull no more. Fiery rage and icy fury coursed through him. His heart pounded with force of thunder. He ground his teeth and glared, a ball of fire pulsing in his hand, as he pushed open the door.

There he saw a man standing, head down over a young girl bound in some kind of swing. Her face was a mass of bruises and terror and agony, her body unclothed. She had some cuts on her. The man held something long and wicked looking in his hand. He'd appeared to be taunting her with it, cruelly trailing it against her throat and breast and stomach, to maximize her anticipation of terror. The man turned his head and saw Malik and his jaw dropped open.

Darth Malik smiled a sick smile, nostrils flaring. The fire around him flared too. Looking up he saw the camera. He threw the fireball in his hand and the thing went up in sparks. The man jumped back in fear. The words couldn't come out of his mouth. They would though. Malik never left without there being a torrent of words and pleas for forgiveness and mercy. The abject confession of all their evils and begging for understanding. He smiled in anticipation. Another weave of air in front of his mouth, a modification of what he'd see Ascendancy do during his speech, and his words came out louder. Changing the air compression randomly distorted his voice into strange tones.

"Such a big strong man, torturing girls."
His tone became condescending. "Did you feel better? Did you feel power?"
He laughed contemptuously. "You are a coward. You are weak."
He chuckled richly. "Death is here to show you what power is. And to make you feel."
What that was, he let hang in the air.

He stepped forward. The man seemed rooted to the floor but Malik wove air about his feet, tying him to the ground. The man looked down and tried to move and couldn't. Fear filled his eyes. Malik walked closer, the heat from the fires surrounding him causing the man to shy away. Voice deepening strangely, he said softly. "You will beg to die...and I will not let you."
He smiled. "Not for a long while."


He let go of his sound weave and using air pulled the chains from the wall. They snaked to the man's body. Fire opened each manacle, edges red, and went around his wrists and ankles. He screamed as they burned his flesh, especially when Malik melted them back together. Then he pulled the chains tight until the man was hung there painfully in the center of the room, spread eagled. The way the chains were positioned, they had been used this way before. Malik looked around the room and saw the...implements there, the blood stains on the floor. He knew what the man did here.

His lip curled. The sound weave sprang up. "You will be everything you made these girls be....and more."
His voice became a whisper. "I promise you."
He remembered the dog upstairs. "Much...much more."
He laugh at that, black fire around him roiling. The man wimpered. Let him anticipate. He would be screaming soon enough.

Malik looked at the girl and felt pity. You didn't do this to innocents. You didn't do this kind of thing to people for no reason. Weaves of air cut at the straps while a cushion of gently lowered her. He dropped his sound weave and instead went and got the woman's garment- it was tattered but it was something. He altered his fire weave so that his hand was clear, picked it up and took it to her. She shied away from his form so he floated it to her. "You are safe. He wont hurt you."
She flinched at his voice but took the cloth and put it on. That thin material seemed to help her. She was shaking and hurt, but she would survive. With trauma, no doubt. One did not go through horror like this without it.

"There was another girl in here. Did you see her?"
The girl looked at him blankly for a moment and then nodded. She was a fighter and seemed to be getting her strength back. He hadn't broken her. "Do you know where she is?"


The woman took a breath and the weakly answered, "The other room. Where he held me. He makes you watch what he is going to do..." She broke down. Malik waited for her to gather her strength.

When she stilled he said, "Take me there."


The woman looked at him a moment and then nodded a yes. She stood up. She had to think she was out of her mind, seeing him glowing with black fire and all the other things he did. That was ok with him. She'd never be able to point him out. He looked back at the man- his bindings were secure. No key would work on melted locks or chains.

Malik sneered. He did want to leave the man with a little something though. He walked to the man, tilted his head curiously, looking at him. As he did a weave of air went around the man's throat while another forced open his mouth and forced its way down into it. The man's eyes widened and he thrashed his head. Looking down into the man's eyes- so close that the man's clothes smoked from the heat- he saw the terror and fear. He watched the man struggle as his body demanded air, as he gagged from the air in his throat. He watched until the man's eyes fluttered as if he were going to pass out, and then he let the weaves go. The man breathed great drafts of air and then threw up as Malik stepped back. "I will come back for you,"
Malik said softly in his normal voice and smiled, his teeth showing.

The girl led him out of the room. Malik switched the light off. The dark would do its part too, as the man was very much aware. Malik couldn't help but laugh at the giddyness he felt inside. It was not often that dispensing justice was going to be so much fun or so deserved. He was going to have to be creative in order to break this one, to make him feel the worst he could before he'd beg for mercy and forgiveness.

Each person was different. A man might feel important and entitled. So he'd have to show him how very unimportant he was. A woman might mistakenly feel that her abuse in the name of decency was righteous. In which case, he made sure to expose her deepest darkest secrets and made sure that she knew everyone was going to know the truth about her. So this man felt women were trash, that he had to dominate them and make them see how very strong he was. He reveled in his power over them, that he was superior and smarter and stronger. Every degradation and humilation only fed that feeling. Well, he'd soon feel all of that himself.

Two more cameras died as they walked the halls. The girl seemed to get lost and he saw far more of this place than he would have liked. His rage continued to grow, the vast inhumanity this beast had perpetrated on girls. This was going to be a bad one. For him.

Finally they came to a room and Malik opened the door to find the girl he'd followed chained up. She didn't look too bad, but the images on the TV were horrifying. A weave of fire burned it out and the screams died.
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#13
Aria tried to block everything out that was happening around her, but the pain and fear were always present, she was surrounded by the intoxicating spell of them and it was getting harder and harder not to fall into the darkness. Aria tried to get free from the manacles on her wrist. She only resulted in cutting into her wrists. She could feel the blood dripping down her arms from the cuts.

And then everything changed. The lust and hatred turned to surprise, and then fear. The screams had stopped except for those coming from the screen in the room. Aria tried to focus on what was happening. The girl was relieved, but still afraid, but her courage grew second by second. Aria could feel the girls flee mechanism engaging, but fear still kept her there.

Aria felt the horrid man fighting for his life. She could tell the struggle that came with that fear. She remembered feeling it, remembered her life hanging in the balance. Aria swallowed, whatever changed was probably far worse than the man.

The girl came closer, and drifted farther away, lost in the labyrinth of the tunnels below the man's house. Aria heard footsteps, more than one person, but she could feel only one. For the love of god, another one...

There was only one type of person who could hide from her with complete lack of presence - a reborn god.

The door opened and what she saw was strange to the eye. She knew it was power created, but that didn't make it any less hard to see. Nothing made any sense.

Aria tried to wrap her mind around it but her head hurt.
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#14
She hung there. She'd only been the man's captive for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but it seemed that even that was enough time to begin breaking her. As bad as it had been for the other girl, she at least seemed to be rallying. He wasn't sure how long she'd been his captive or what she had suffered at his hands, but it was enough that even the opportunity for freedom perked her up. This woman, though, she seemed like she had been bombarded for days, emotionally raped and staked out. The images on the screen had been terrible, no question. But this was a woman who'd stalked this man, somehow. He expected her to be more resiliant. But no matter, people were people. You never knew how you were going to handle something until you were actually in it.

He thought back to some of his own horrors. Nothing as bad as this, no. Not even close. But it had been enough. Years of it had shaped him into a god of vengeance, with the power to measure out justice to the perfect degree. And this man was ripe for his sentence. Malik went to the woman and with a thread of earth and fire was able to crumble the manacles from her hands and feet. The cuts remained of course. He had no knowledge of how to use his power to heal- or even if that was possible. She'd have to live with it. A cushion of air caught her, to steady her.

"It was foolish of you to come hunting a monster alone."
He let his voice be natural. Frightening her was not his purpose. "You are fortunate that I followed you. Can you stand on your own?"
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#15
Aria felt the manacles disintegrate from her wrists and ankles. The strain was gone, but the sting remained from the cuts and the pain of the fall. She pushed the knowledge that he was holding the power of the gods away. She barely muttered "Thank you."


Aria didn't trust her feet, or her legs. Aria looked up at him and glared. "He wasn't the problem. I hunt monsters everyday!"
She knew if she'd been paying attention to her surroundings and not to the pain inside, she'd never have been taken. It was her fault!

He had followed her? Aria stood up slowly. The only pain and real fear left was from the man beyond the room. The girl beyond the man darkening her doorway was calm for once, still afraid, but she was getting stronger. Aria stared at him, trying to figure out who he was. She wished she could feel his emotions. Aria vaguely remembered the train before, a man... he'd followed her and she hadn't even know. Aria cursed the gods.

Aria caught a glimpse of something else and her anger turned on him. "That's mine."
Aria pointed at the sword he had looped through his belt. "I want it back."
Aria could have reached for her gun or the dagger in at her waist, but maybe diplomacy would work. Aria saw the tattered ruins of her glove she was pointing with and sighed. Another pair bit the dust.
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#16
He laughed at her response to his words. Drained though she seemed, she was a feisty one. She was amusing. "Well, if this is what you do, then perhaps you might look at getting a partner at least. If I hadn't been there you would be down here until the end. It would not have been pretty"
He looked at her for a moment. Monsters, she said. He had used the term in black humor. If ever a person was a monster, this man was it. Truthfully, he did not deserve to be called a man. Time enough for him later. Instead he continued staring at her. The girl at his side shifted. She wanted to leave. "In a minute. You will not be his next victim, I promise you. No one ever will again."


Her comment about her sword caused him to look down at it hanging from his loop. He pulled it out and examined it. He didn't know anything about metallurgy- aside from a general knowledge of physics and chemistry, that is- but it seemed well made. He hefted it and examinged the straightness of the blade. It occurred to him that she had hacked through the door into the cellar. Was it with this? He hadn't seen any axes or picks anywhere. He looked at the blade more closely. Nothing, not a mark or a nick. It was very strange. On impulse, he wove earth and spirit and sent it into the sword, to examine it's lattice structure....

And very nearly lost the power in shock! What he saw was not possible. There you go again fool! Making assumptions! The lattice of iron and carbon and manganese that made steel was there, folded in on itself into a tighter structure, as he might expect. But there was something else. A Force resonance in the lattice-work. His mind struggled to understand what he was looking at. This blade somehow made use of or responded to or did... something with the Force.

He had never suspected that physical objects could be imbued with that kind of characteristic. The questions he had were myriad. He looked at the woman again. A monster hunter. With a Force blade. And she'd honed in on this man's location. He narrowed his eyes and was about to speak when the girl spoke up again, her voice shaking. The little composure she had shown was now starting to crack. "Please, please can we leave. Please. I don't wanna here any more." She could taste her freedom and didn't want to be down here any longer than she had to. She had escaped the cruelest of deaths. Second cruelest, he ammended to himself, looking at her and then up at the now smoking remains of the TV screen. He was here for a reason.

He had questions he wanted answers to- about the blade, about her 'job', about how she knew the man was here. He could get the answers out of her, but that didn't interest him. He was not one to needlessly cause pain. Needfully, yes. There had to be a reason.

Giving her her blade back should make her more amenable to speaking. And if he learned its secret, he'd have no need to keep it. "This is yours. I acknowledge that."
He paused, pursing his lips. "You have a very interesting tool for your very interesting job. I have questions for you. I will keep this for the time being. I need to understand it. Call it the price of your life."
He looked at her until she nodded. She knew what had been going to happen. He paused. He was not giving her an option. Her face continued to be muley. "But I will give it back to you. There is much I would like to learn from you. How can I contact you?"
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#17
The red head wanted to leave and Aria couldn't blame her, she wanted out of this hell hole too.

This man was stranger than most godlings. Why had he followed her? But the girl's desire to be gone was starting to press in on Aria. He wanted to keep her sword? For what purpose? It was just a sword - a special sword.

Aria knew she'd said too much and he wanted more answers. If he'd followed her, he'd know she came straight here. She sighed and nodded. She wanted to be gone. Contacting her was easy. It's called a phone. But she didn't say anything. Aria took out a scrap of paper in her pocket and scribbled her number on it with the pencil. Both she carried for just this purpose. "You can send a message here. I'll come to you, or we can meet, whatever."
She didn't say what she was thinking, but she really wanted to be snippy and say she wanted her sword back. But she bit her tongue.

The girl started shifting and dancing, why she stayed was beyond her. But the girl wanted away. Aria wasn't sure why he followed her, but she wasn't going to wait and find out. Aria looked to the girl and held out her hand to her. Her gloves were soaked through, but the girl reached for her, and Aria looked up at the big man in her way. "Mind moving so we can get the hell out of here? She doesn't want to stay and I sure as hell don't."
Aria was only mildly curious about the man, but not enough to stay and find out.

Down the hall Aria could feel the man freaking out, she didn't want to know why his demeanor had changed so drastically. She put him as far from her mind as possible. If that horrid man had touched her for any length of time she'd have had the upper hand, but she didn't want that disgusting man touching her. She pushed the thoughts away. She really wanted away from this. Aria fought the desire to curl up and cry, the still had a very long walk back to civilization.
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#18
The woman pulled out a paper and wrote her number on it. Her gloves and fingers left blood stains on it. It was a reminder of what she had faced. Malik watched her. She was angry and directing it at him, but he imagined that the whole ordeal was overwhelming to her. It had been her own failures that led her to be caught instead of saving this girl. She wasn't really angry with him. It wouldn't have mattered if she had been, of course. As if he cared.

She demanded that he move after taking the girl's hand. He stepped aside after a moment of looking at her. He wondered how he appeared to her. Then, "You know how cold it is out there. You have a leather jacket. She has nothing and will freeze to death. There is a car outside. So it's either take the car or get this girl some clothes from upstairs."
He watched her for a moment and then with a slight smile, "It's up to you to decided which is more palatable."


The red-head freaked out at the thought- as he expected. He followed them out of this chamber of horrors and into the cellar. "Whatever you decide, do it now."


She took the woman past him and went upstairs. He heard rooting around and some heated talking. He was content to linger, letting the feel of the Force wash over him. After a while he heard the front door open and close. He listened but there was no sound of an engine. She'd decided to walk, then. He wondered how she had convinced the girl to put on clothes that had belonged to the killer.

While he waited for them to get away he wandered the labyrinth. The things he saw angered him. Now that he no longer had witnesses or victims to worry about, he was free to let his mind dwell on the horrors here. The Force made short work of any remaining cameras he'd found. After that he let it go for a while. He did not like having heightened senses in this place. He went to the cellar and shut the doors and then closed the sound proof door and then continued to wander. His stomach turned at this testament to human depravity and chaos incarnate.

He found the man's computer room and looked through his recordings. First he found the one from that day's and was somewhat relieved that the woman had only sustained mild injuries. Psychological torture was a big part of what this guy did. He preyed on their fears, on their dread and imagination and fed them very slowly and carefully, as if to ensure a greater harvest later.

The playing of old videos, the tour through the facility, the chains and the darkness- this man was a husbandman of pain and carefully nurtured until he could reap it and eat it at its peak. Malik's lip twisted into an evil smile. Now it was his turn to experience it.

He deleted that day's recording. The man had some high-level file utilities that over-wrote any existing data so that it was completely gone. Clearly illegal, but also necessary given what the man possessed. It was highly likely that there was trigger somewhere that would overwrite all his stuff at a moment's notice. But Malik had no interest in obliterating all of the recordings. Just those from today, those showing the girl he'd followed, those showing him, despite his disguise. He would leave nothing here to say anything about who he was.

Well, almost nothing, he thought as his smile returned. His hoody stayed up, his sleeves down, and his gloves always stayed on, leaving no prints, oils or skin traces for when the police inevitably came. There would be plenty of DNA for them to process over the next few weeks, anyway from the look of things.

He watched one or two of the videos but stopped after just a few minutes each. Marcus stomach turned and his heart boiled at this man. He'd never felt such rage before in his life, as if it was choking him. His nostrils flared and jaws clenched. He'd experienced cruelty his entire life, some of it casual and petty and some of it violent and painful.

But what this man did- what he carefully doled out- was inhumanly evil. He was destruction incarnate, obliterating people- their hopes and dreams and happiness and finally their lives- bit by bit and relishing each proof of their degradation and humiliation. He fed on it.

Nearly blind with fury, he stood. It was time for that....man to know that experience for himself. The dread, the hopelessness, the desperate willingness to do anything to survive, to avoid the infinitude of pain that was his sentence. Logic demanded it. His rage demanded it. The universe demanded it. Justice. Order. Balance. He shook with the emotion flooding around him, a chip in a raging river.

He seized the Force in a frenzy and dominated it in his fury. He wove his disguise without thought, black flames billowing around him, and strode to the room. The door blew off its hinges and there Darth Malik stood, Death cloaked in black fire, steam shedding from him like smoke, voice distorted into dark unhuman growling. The god of vengeance had come to exact his due. Darth Malik smiled.

Knives of fire cut the man's clothing from him so that he hung naked in the air. Malik had not cared to be precise and the man screamed at the burns on his body. A tendril of air wrapped itself around the man's testicles. Malik didn't squeeze, not yet. It was enough for the man to know what was in store for him. Distortion bringing his voice to an otherwordly and modulating pitch, he said, "Let's talk about your life's decisions."
. The man started screaming in earnest and Darth Malik's laughter echoed with them.
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#19
He moved out of the way and told her how cold it was outside. Aria tried not to growl as she walked passed him. She wanted to be angry, but she thought better of it. He didn't deserve her ire, she was mad at herself, mad at letting herself fall into her darkness.

Aria lead the girl through the labyrinth and pulled the girl past the door that the man hung in the darkness. The fear and the anticipation cut through the air as if it were really there. She was thankful that there was no light in the horrid room.

It did not feel right without her sword, but she'd manage, she had another at home to use for now. He'd better keep his word! She had no way of getting it back. The loss of the sword stung.

The red head girl clung to Aria's hand and Aria navigated the best she could. The room she'd first entered was a sight for sore eyes. Aria saw the stairs upstairs and went for them. The girl hesitated. "It's okay."
Aria took the gun from behind her back and handed it to the girl. She didn't take the safety off, there was no one upstairs. "Here. You have the control of your defense now."


The girl took the gun with hesitation. Aria smiled. "We'll be fine. Clothes first and then we'll leave."


The girls started pulling out of Aria's hand. "I know. Stop, we'll figure it out. I promise. This is safer.


She stopped pulling and Aria was thankful. She drew her dagger and walked slowly through the house looking for a bedroom with clothes. Aria sighed, the place was disgusting.

They found a clothes and the girl started panting. Aria pulled off her gloves and tucked them in her coat pocket. She touched the girl's arm and sent her calm. Aria focused on the strength and memories of Lucas. And gave them to the girl. "You can have mine."


The girl nodded and Aria took her clothes off, handing them to the red head. And the folded up mass of cloth and sighed. It could be worse Aria pulled on the clothes, they were too big. The red head wasn't smiling but she felt happier. Aria didn't blame her. There were a pair of boots by the door. Aria hesitated. "You can wear those?"


She sighed but she nodded and put them on. Aria nodded and then gave the girl her coat, but she took her wallet from its pocket. She grabbed a large flannel coat from the rack near the door and slipped it on.

"Come on, let's go. When we are away, I'll see if I can get us a ride back to town."


Aria and the girl walked for about ten minutes in the direction Aria had come. The night seemed even more oppressive than before. The only sound was that of nature and Aria didn't like the quiet. When the girl spoke softly. "My name is Mya."

Aria smiled. "Aria."
Aria started flipping through the contacts in her wallet. She prayed Lucas would answer. "Hopefully he'll answer."
Aria dialed his number.

continued in What Comes After A Fall


Edited by Aria, Nov 20 2014, 11:26 AM.
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#20
Old Man Lev got up at his usual 4:30 and started futzing around the house. Olya, his wife of 47 years, had passed earlier that year and he was still getting used to all the quiet. The kids didn't come around much, so he pretty much was left to himself. Truth is, he didn't mind that so much. He was never much for smalltalk or people to be content. While Olya was around he really didn't mind the quiet. But now, well now it it got a little much, especially this early.

He lived off in what some might call the country and had a few neighbors a ways away. It was mostly quiet out here. The one old couple up the road, the Stoyovs, he'd known for years. Friendly enough folks anyway. The guy on the other side, Risova, was another story. He'd known him as a kid. Sad story that. Some's just bad seeds he thought. Well more'n some really. That mom of his was a piece of work too. But kept to himself, for the most part, so not bad for all that.

It was about time for him to head outside and feed some of the animals that were scratching in the ice next to their heated pens. Time used to be when winters could do in half your animals if you weren't careful. Nowadays, though, what with cheap heated enclosures and whatnot, his chickens and goats kept pretty much warm through the worst of it. Still needed food though.

It was still mostly dark when he went outside. He noticed a dog sniffing around. Didn't look to be a stray. It wasn't scrawny or mangy or nothin. Well, there was something on its coat. He squatted down to check it out as best he could in dark of the yard. His hand came away tacky. He took the dog over to the porch where it was lighted and saw blood on his hands. He looked the dog over, searching for a wound but found nothing. It wasn't his blood.

He stood there for a moment, chewing his lip and looking out from his porch. In the distance he saw the lights from the Stoyov's place. They had a couple dogs and this could be one of them. But it was dark at the Risova house. He thought for a moment and then put on his hat and heavy jacket- suited for walking in the snowy ice- and stamped his boots as he took the dog over to the Stoyov's place. It was a walk of maybe a mile and a half, but he'd been here most of his life runnin this place and even now walking it barely got his heart pumping.

Thirty minutes later and a belly full of hot coffee and cakes, he left their house and had to tramp in the entire opposite direction to the Risova house. He was glad for the food and drink since being outside for any length of time sucked the heat out of his old bones. It took him another 30 minutes to reach the dark Risova house. The front door was unlocked but no one answered and no one appeared inside when he opened the door. Odd, that.

He walked around back and found the cellar open. He stopped without going in. Something about the place bothered him. He stepped back and looked around. In the darkness he couldn't see anyone but suddenly had the feeling like he wasn't alone. He stood there for a minute waiting. His hearing wasn't what he was used to. Had he heard something? After a few more minutes of silence, he pulled out his wallet and called the CCDPD. Something strange going on here. It took a bit of time but they arrived.




Detective Pushnikov stood in the middle of the the room examing the body. This was all he needed for a Monday morning. He'd been on the force for over 30 years, but he'd never seen anything like this. Room after room of unspeakable horrors. And hanging in front of him were the remains of a man. He'd seen a lot of brutality in his time, but this- this place- was the worst. The smell of cleanser was in the air, for which he was grateful.

It was cold down here to, so there weren't any maggots yet. Dark red muscle, dried from the look of it, covered the body. Or rather, was uncovered. The man had been skinned from his neck down to his knees, including his groin. The man's testacles were shrivled hanging bits, crushed like grapes. On the ground lay the still soft skin, like clothing carelessly dropped on the floor, black-red on the inside. The amount of blood on the ground was minimal, which he could only hope meant the man had been dead when it happened.

But rather than just the expected raw muscle exposed to the air characteristics, he could see darkened strands, singed in places; striated fibers of muscle hardened, shriveled and blackened. He shook his head. He had no idea what had happened or why. But this place....this was a place of pure evil. They'd found their serial killer, the one the media was calling The Butcher. Well, they'd found his lair anyway. The other rooms confirmed it and he had a team already looking at the video recordings there. Hopefully, they'd find the man before he killed again.

But why had the killer switched from girls- at last count 17- to men? Why change his MO? He'd never skinned before either. Burns, cuts, amputations and dissections, brutal rapes, and repeated strangulations were his hallmarks up to this point. But this....this was entirely new. He wondered what a profiler would say about his change in victimology and methodology.

And why abandon this place? It was out of the way and the guy had plenty of privacy to keep on doing what he did without arousing suspicion. For years if he was careful. Why leave it? They were going to have to get their shrink down here to help with this. It would be the only way to catch the guy.

The ME was doing a preliminary post-mortem, occasionally using his med-grade wallet for scans. The man shook his head. "As bad as I've ever seen Seargant,"
he said. He was examining the singed end of some of the muscle fibers. "He's been dead less than a day. I'm still not sure how, but when this man was skinned, his exposed tissue was cauterized somehow. It's why there's so little blood on the ground."


He looked at the captain with pain in his eyes and a twist to his lip. His voice was still. "I think he was alive through it all. At least until the end, anyway. I have to imagine his heart gave out at some point- at least, God in Heaven, I hope so."
He swallowed. "An autopsy will have to verify that."
Pushnikov looked at the body. Skinned alive. Pushnikov wanted to spit.

As bad as that was, it was not the only thing that was done to the man. He'd expected that, if the other victim's bodies were any indicators; after having seen the other rooms. Already, the ME had found evidence of deep bruising and slashes, stressed muscles and joints, broken bones and teeth. He waited for a little while, letting people work, trying to fathom the depth of evil in this place.

The ME was taking samples from the body and its orifices, including from the man's ruined face, and swiping them on the scanner. He frowned at the results of one of them and repeated it. "That's odd,"
he said more to himself than anyone else.

"Eh? What's that?"
, the words shaking him out of his dark mood.

The ME looked up. "Oh? Nothing. Just a glitch. Bad scanner I think. We're going to do a full scan at the morgue anyway so I guess it doesn't matter. I found some fluids on the body. I was hoping to see if there was a match in the DNA database. But my scanner is on the fritz. It's not even coming up as human."


Pushnikov shrugged. He remembered the old days when people had to wait for the ID of victims and perps, just hoping they were in the system. Nowadays, you could ID someone nearly instantaneously- as long as they were in the proper database, anyway. They'd have this guy's ID here- and perhaps the perp's as well, if they were lucky- as soon as the ME got a working scanner.

Poor man, Pushnikov thought, shaking his head and thinking about the body. First those poor poor girls- his heart wrenched at his memories of those crime scenes, broken and butchered bodies tossed away like so much garbage after having been abused beyond recognition- and now this guy skinned alive and what all else. He looked at the man's face- a rictus of agony permenantly etched amid the deep bruising.

With a sigh he walked out of the room. The detective went over to the techs working on the computers. What they had discovered was a collection of videos of the torture, rape and murder of more than two dozen women, though a thorough examination would have to made to see if some of the recordings were duplicates. He hoped so. Even one less girl having gone through that horror would be a blessing.

The one they were fast-forwarding through now showed the back of the man as he stood in front of a chained woman- tears and pain clear on her face- saying something and pointing up to something off screen. The man turned his face and- "STOP! PAUSE IT!"
The tech looked at him but complied, the killers's face clear to the camera. "It's the same guy! The SAME FUCKING GUY!!!
Despite the bruises on the face in the other room, it was clear.

Everyone in the room stopped for a moment, looking at him. But they also looked at the video, shock plain on their faces. He looked around, heart sinking. He knew what this meant. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a vigilante killing."
He swallowed. "I know that a lot of you might be thinking that we drop the ball on this, given who the the victim was- the terrible things he did."


He swallowed. "Yep. I know it because a part of me wants to do that too."
His voice hardened. "But that's not how we do things here. We can't allow someone to go around and do...this kind of thing to people. Even if they did deserve it."
He saw the looks some of them gave him. This was going to be tough, very tough. The things this man had done....well, he understood their lack of interest in tracking down his killer. He hadn't been lying when he said a part of him felt it too.

But the man who could do this thing...even in vengeance...Pushnikov didn't know what to think. It left a pool of suspects, of course- mostly the fathers, brothers, boyfriends, and husbands of the victims. That thought made him sick. What they had been through was already so horrific. He would find no cooperation from them in tracking down the person who had done this; from them or even from some of those on his team. He shook his head. This was going to be one big ugly mess.
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