Unidentified Human Remains & The True Nature of Love: Part 8
by Amanda Sichter
'But it's right on the way,' said Kitty, her voice gently pleading. 'See,' she waved the street-map in Pete's direction. 'Look, it's only two streets off the road we're on. All you got to do is a little diversion.' She turned her best bambi-eyes on Pete but, as he was driving and watching the road, they had little effect.
'Kitty, we are not going to the address,' said Pete patiently.
'But it's - there'll be no danger or anything,' she said. 'We don't even have to go in - just stop and have a look. That's all. Please, Wisdom, please,' her pleading tone managed to go through two octaves.
'And what'll that get us, Pryde?' asked Pete. 'We'll look at the house - or the vacant lot - or whatever. Great. Takes us that much longer to get to the DCI, takes us that much longer to get the magicians on Sethanek's tail. No, we're not going.'
'But we can have a look, surely?' said Kitty. 'Just say it is a vacant lot - or an empty house - maybe it's just the place where it was raised and there's nothing there now. If we go and have a look we can tell the DCI that and he can use the information. I mean we don't want him to have to send a squad out to the address when we could already have told him there's nothing there.'
'Kitty,' said Pete and sighed. 'I'm a consultant. I'm supposed to help solve the crimes, not get involved in the final denouement. I'm not a hero any more. I've stayed alive because I stay out of the way when the professionals are doing their job. What's in that printout there is my job. Once I've given it to the DCI, I just hang around in the background until they work out how much to pay me.'
'Well, for a start, I know that's not true,' said Kitty, scornfully. 'Emma told me you've been there during arrests before - and saved people's lives. That's not what I'm asking, though. All I want is to have a look before we go and see the DCI. Please?' She pointed suddenly. 'All you've got to do is turn down that street and then next right. It's number seventeen.'
Pete was firmly determined not to agree to Kitty's request - so it was with considerable astonishment that he watched himself indicate, brake and turn and then again until the car pulled up in front of number seventeen. He groaned and leaned his forehead on the steering wheel. 'I don't know how you make me do this,' he muttered.
Kitty patted his arm gently, distractedly. 'Two storey house,' she said to him. 'Detached, set back from the road. Curtains on the windows so we can't see in. This looks interesting, Pete. I want to have a look inside.'
'What?!?' yelped Pete. 'You are not going inside. I forbid it. You are absolutely not going in there. No way. Nu-huh. Absolutely not.'
She smiled at him, winsomely. 'There'd be no danger, Pete,' she said, talking as if he were just slightly slow. 'I can phase, remember? All I want to do is phase in and have a quick look and then out again. I'll never be solid, so I'll never be in any danger. Is that okay?'
Pete looked at her for a long moment. 'You'll phase out of the car if I say no, won't you?' he said, his voice serious.
'Yes,' replied Kitty. She shrugged. 'Sorry, but I'm going to have a look.'
Pete banged his head against the window. 'You're not in the X-Men now, Kitty. It doesn't work like that. We're not supposed to be the heroes that go in. That's what the cops do.'
'Just for a look, Pete,' said Kitty. 'That's all.'
'Then you're not going alone,' said Pete and got out of the car. Kitty got out also and looked at Pete in astonishment. 'Hold my hand,' he said. 'Phase me as well. Whatever. But I'm not letting you go in there alone.'
She smiled at him, her face radiant and when he walked around the car, she slipped her hand into his. He felt himself - dissipate - and shuddered. 'I hate this,' he muttered. 'I really, really hate this.'
'I know,' grinned Kitty as they began to walk towards the house, keeping her fingers tightly intertwined with his.
'You knew we were going to do this, didn't you?' accused Pete. 'That's why you told Logan.'
'Nooooo,' said Kitty, her tone making it quite clear she actually meant yes. 'Look, Pete, it'll be okay. A quick sweep through - we'll never even solidify. And then off to the DCI. Okay?'
'No, not okay,' sighed Pete. 'But we're doing it anyway.'
No matter how many times he'd done it in the past, Pete had never got used to walking through walls. He shuddered as he watched everything move through his body as Kitty pulled him through the outside wall, but then his attention was drawn out to what was in the house. 'A big fat nothing,' he murmured after they'd been through most of the downstairs rooms, all of which were unfurnished and disconcertingly empty. 'There's nothing here, Pryde.'
'Gotta check upstairs,' she said, brightly and they did, finding only a continuation of the empty rooms.
'Right,' said Pete, as they drifted down to the ground floor again. 'Nothing here, Pryde, let's go.'
'Do you think there's a basement?' she asked, a frown on her face. 'There was a door under the stairs . . .' and because Pete's fingers were interlocked with hers he couldn't resist as she led him there. 'There is, see?' she said, poking her head through the door and seeing the steps that led down into the dark. 'See if there's a light-switch,' she muttered and there was. She unphased the fingers of her free hand for a moment and the stairs flooded with light. They both saw it simultaneously.
'Oh my God,' said Kitty, her free hand fluttering over her mouth.
'It must be where they raised it,' said Pete, his eyes fixed the pentagram within the circle that covered the basement floor. 'You can see the patterns - and there - where the blood is - at the corners. They must have tried to banish it here, as well. That'd explain . . .' his voice trailed off as his eyes roamed over the room. Without even thinking about it, Kitty drifted them down the stairs until they stood next to the pentagram.
'Do you think it's here?' she asked, her voice soft.
Pete shook his head. 'No. But they can call it back - we can tell the magicians and they can call it back here - it can be tied here because it was born here - they need to know, Pryde, need to know now.'
'Shame you'll never be able to tell them,' said a familiar voice from the dark corners of the room, and before Kitty or Pete could react pain came and seared through them, tore limb from limb and mind from flesh as it ripped through every cell. Pete saw Kitty's horrified face turn towards him for a moment and then she was gone, falling unconscious in front of him and they were both solid again but he was still falling, falling down and his limbs spasmed and rattled against the floor as his body shook in the aftershocks of agony. He stared up at the ceiling unable to move even his eyes to see his attacker.
'Gotcha,' said the soft voice from beyond the periphery of his vision. Pete tried to say the name but he felt as if golden fire spread between his every nerve ending, stopping him from doing anything at all. All he could do was grunt his hatred as Scratch's ruined visage swam into his view.
'I knew you'd come,' said Scratch, what remained of his mouth curled in triumph. 'I've waited so long for this, Wisdom. Waited and plotted for my chance to get you just where I wanted but you're always so fucking careful these days. Never a step out of line, never trying to be the hero. I've had to wait so long.' His voice was nearly a croon. 'Until you told me she'd come back. Oh, you fool, Wisdom. You fool. I knew she'd make you be a hero again. She always did it before - I knew she'd do it again. I knew she wouldn't be able to resist an address. I knew she'd drag you in. A fool for love, Wisdom. That's what you were then, that's what you are now.'
Wisdom tried hard, tried to get anything in his head to connect, tried to get his hot-knives to burn, his legs to function, but nothing would work. 'Neural inhibitor,' said Scratch, interpreting his half-movements accurately. 'New stuff. Classified. Specifically coded to one mutant's bio-signature. I stole them from the department and programmed them, one for you and one for her. Painful, isn't it?' His eyes shone with his approval of Pete's frantic efforts. 'Keep trying,' he said. 'It takes about an hour for the effect to wear off, but it is fun watching you squirm.' His scars formed into something that looked like a frown as he looked beyond Pete to where Kitty lay. 'She got it worse, of course. Should never be using your powers when someone turns a neural inhibitor on you. Nasty.' He grinned.
Pete made a mewling noise, a sound of outrage. 'Oh don't worry,' said Scratch. 'I'm not going to kill you. Not this way. It'd be too easy. Too quick. I want to see you suffer, Wisdom.' He leaned in close to Pete. 'I'm going to guarantee you suffer. I've got a promise on that one. Such a pretty pair of sacrifices you're going to be.' Something pressed hard against Pete's side but no matter what instructions he sent he couldn't get his body to move away from it. 'When I get to Hell, Wisdom,' said Scratch softly, 'promise me you'll tell me what it's like being eaten by a demon.'
He pulled the trigger.
* * * * *
Consciousness blinked on.
Pete Wisdom woke - suddenly, totally. For a moment he hung, disorientated and then he remembered what had happened.
'Scratch,' he screamed. 'Scratch, you bastard! Where are you?'
There was no answer.
'Where am I?' asked Pete, more softly. He looked down at himself, as far as he could and catalogued in his mind everything he could feel. He was clamped to the wall, he could feel that, his arms beside him, his legs clamped, his neck surrounded by a heavy - collar. An inhibitor collar he was sure. He tried to use his hot-knives and his suspicions were confirmed when nothing happened. He strained his arms and legs tight against the bonds that held him, but they were metallic and sank deeply into the wall. He couldn't move anything at all. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom he realised he was still in the basement at number seventeen. Peering harder into the murk, he slowly realised that, about six feet away from him, at right angles to him, Kitty, too, was clamped to the wall.
'Kitty,' he shouted, but she was still unconscious and as he looked at her he slowly came to realise she was wearing a gag.
'Scratch, you bastard,' he screamed again. 'Where are you? What have you done with Kitty?'
A voice came - from a place in the gloom that his eyesight could not pierce - a voice that was not Scratch's but instead seemed heavy with the weight of aeons. 'The burned one is not here,' it said.
'Where is he?' whispered Pete. 'Who are you? What are you doing to Kitty?'
It came into the light and Pete found himself trying to crawl back through the wall, to press backwards into the very stone just if he could get away, away from it, away, he just wanted to get away.
'You know who I am,' it said. 'The burned one said you have followed me.'
'You - are Sethanek,' breathed Pete and knew it was true before it even nodded.
It took the form of a man now - its parts all pieced together so Pete could not even see the seams where stolen piece met stolen piece. Some things he recognised - the eyes, the shape of the skull, the colour of the skin. But it was (Pete shuddered) - desiccated - as if all fluid had been drained from it, as if something vampiric had stolen all that flowed within it away. He could see each rope-like tendon beneath its dust-dry skin, each move of muscle, each jut of bone at rib and hip and shoulder where flesh curved and clung hungrily as if seeking moisture within the bones themselves.
'I am Sethanek,' it said, and its voice was aged and weighty and desperately, obscenely hungry.
'Why?' whispered Pete. 'Why are you killing people?'
'Why?' repeated Sethanek. It laughed - no booming sound but a dry and dusty hack that swooped and fluttered in the corners of the room until Pete would have cut off his ears to stop hearing the echoes of it. 'I was drawn in,' it said. 'In the dawn-time, in the making-time, I was drawn into the rocks of the earth and there I waited all the aeons until the earth would shatter and set me free or until one would be foolish enough to raise me. I was a dream of evil, a song of hate, drifting in the darkness below your feet and waiting. They called me up - they needed me. They raised me from the earth and made me real. They gave me a body. There was one they needed killed - a lesser demon that had been freed. I found it and I ate it. When I was done they pulled me back here and tried to banish me back into the stone.'
'They made a mistake.' Sethanek smiled, a gruesome stretch of skin across bone. 'They thought to banish me. I fought them. I wanted to be real. The magician died. I escaped but it was too late - too late for the body they had made for me. I was a dream again, a taste of evil, but I was free. And in this world, I have power. I want to be real, human. I want to have flesh again, to feel the earth within me, the blood run through me. I will make myself real again - make myself flesh - flesh of your flesh, bones of your bones, make myself of your world so none can send me back into the dream. I am nearly ready now. When I am done I shall be free to walk again. None shall stop me. I shall be real and I shall be terrible to behold.'
'Pretty terrible to behold now,' said Pete, startling himself. 'What have you done with Kitty? Why is she gagged? Why are you telling me this?'
'I am done,' replied Sethanek. 'All things are in me but one. I need blood now, human. Blood to fill me up - blood to make me fully real. The burned one told me you two would come here. The burned one offered you to me. He said the she-human would bring you here, the she-human would make that choice. So you must make the other choice, human. You must choose which one of you I take and which one I leave alive.'
Pete laughed, scornfully. 'Leave one of us alive?' he said. 'Why should I believe that, demon? Why wouldn't you just kill both of us? You're the all-powerful bloody magical demon - why don't you just kill us?'
'Suffering,' said Sethanek, and smiled. 'I need suffering to feed me. Do you think I needed to leave humans so - broken - when I took their pieces? I fed on the suffering when they were found, fed on the pain of those who saw them torn. The one who dies now shall give me what I need to be real - the other shall feed me with their suffering. She - because she brought you here, you - because you choose who dies. If you choose she to die you will always remember that and burn in agony. If you choose you to die she will know she killed you and her pain will be eternal. I will feed on that pain and be sated - for a little while. And do not think to bargain with me, human, to barter for half-lives or hope to fool me and escape. There is no hope. There is no escape. There are no choices but the one I give you. And I need blood now, human. Choose.'
There was a noise from behind the demon and Pete looked past him and into Kitty's terrified brown eyes. She made another noise and Pete knew she was trying to talk to him but there was no way for him to understand her behind the gag. He wondered if she thought he could stall or try some escape plan but he knew that the demon was not lying. There was no hope. Pete turned his attention back to the demon. 'Then whoever I choose, the other is going to be let go and let live?' he asked.
Sethanek nodded. 'I need the blood of only one. I want the other to suffer - to take the scent of pain into the world so I can follow it and feed upon the hurt. Choose, human,' it said. 'I need blood, human. Choose now.'
'That's no choice at all,' said Pete, simply. 'I won't let you have Kitty. Take me. Let her go.'
Sethanek smiled. 'After,' it said - softly, hungrily. 'After I am real.'
It stepped in towards Pete and he had time to look once at Kitty, just once into her beautiful eyes and wish there had been time to say all the things he should have said - to let her know he didn't blame her - to let her know how much he loved her. And then Sethanek was altering before him and he tilted his head and wondered what was happening, where the wings were coming from and then he realised and he nearly screamed as Sethanek split his stolen skin down the centre of his back and spread it out until it came at Pete like a blanket, a smothering, stinking blanket and in the centre of it the grinning face and at the last minute he closed his eyes and it was on him, a clammy thing of magic and flesh that covered him, pinned him tight against the wall until he thought he would suffocate and then pain as his flesh filled with a hundred thousand needles through every inch of him, through cloth and flesh, and he felt it pierce him and drain him and it ground into his face drove inwards seeking to enter him to open him to bleed him dry and then the needles ground into the bones of his cheek and it was fire and agony and he opened his mouth to scream and he couldn't because the flesh filled his mouth and his throat and needles pierced his tongue and his palate and he could feel it killing him, feel everything pulled out of him, not just blood but life and will and then it pushed further and he knew that he was dying now and he could feel it trying to pierce his eyes and his ears and get into his brain and he was dying and the world was dying and he was screaming and burning and dying.
At the end he thought he heard a noise from beyond the smothering flesh - but then the mind of Pete Wisdom caught fire and burned away into ash and the world went away in the dark.
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