Pain erupted through his head. Luckily, whatever hit him had connected with the armored skullcap under his hood. He was mildly dazed, the impact reverberating in his head. Quickly, he shook it off in time to see the object speeding toward his face. Bracing the impact with his forearm, Gloom blocked the strike and blindly kicked the shadowy figure in the leg. It stumbled back, dropping the weapon. Beside him, he saw what appeared to be a wooden table leg bounce off the floor. He looked up, focusing on the figure. It was cloaked, a hood covering its head. The night-vision couldn’t pick up a face, as it was covered completely with a black cloth. Gloom stood, aiming a pistol directly at the staggering figure.

 

            “Don’t move,” he ordered.

 

            It raised its arms in surrender.

 

            “Remove your hood,” Gloom instructed.

 

            The robed figure clearly shook its head in defiance.

 

            “I won’t ask again. Take off your hood.”

 

            Again, the figure shook its head.

 

            Then, as he decided whether or not to approach the figure pain exploded behind his right knee. He crashed into the wall, trying to keep his balance. Before he could turn around and see what had hit him, his left knee was struck, the pain dropping him to his knees. The figure in front of him charged, grabbing the table leg.

 

            Gloom braced himself against the wall, pushing up and standing, pain coursing through his legs. He turned around and saw another robed figure, this one holding an aluminum baseball bat. The first figure swung the table leg as the second stepped in for another shot. Gloom stumbled backward, sliding against the wall, firing his pistols. He intentionally fired around the figures, not wanting to kill either of them. His goal was to deter them, but they relentlessly pursued him, swinging their weapons. He stopped firing, bracing himself against the wall with his elbow.

 

            “Stop! The next time I pull this trigger, one of you is going to drop,” Gloom shouted.

 

            They didn’t stop; the one swinging the bat hurled it sideways at Gloom, the weapon striking him directly in the chest, bouncing off his armor. Gloom aimed and squeezed the trigger, the right leg of the other figure exploded in a burst of blood. The spray was dark, appearing as a black liquid in the night-vision. The figure spun to the side, collapsing in pain, and dropping the thick table leg. It wailed, screaming as it held its leg, writhing around the floor in pain.

 

            The bat swung again, this time connecting on the back of Gloom’s hand, a pistol flying from his grip. Pain coursed through his arm, his left hand instantly breaking from the impact. Thinking fast, Gloom stepped forward and grabbed the bat mid-swing with his right hand. He twisted the bat outward, ripping it from the figure’s grip. He swung, connecting the metal bat to the side of the figure’s head. It collapsed in front of him without a sound.

 

            “Gloom, are you okay?” Justin asked.

 

            “My hand is broken, but yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, tossing the bat down the hallway behind him.

 

            Gloom stood over the figure he shot and ripped the hood and face covering away. There, lying in front of him was a young man, no older than thirty. He was bald, tattoos covering his face. The man coughed, holding his leg as he rolled around on the floor.

 

            “Who are you?” Gloom asked.

 

            “Piss off, freak,” the man replied.

 

            Gloom kicked the man directly in the jaw, instantly knocking him out. The man’s head rolled to the side with a sickening crack, his eyes rolled back in his head. He walked to the other figure, removing its hood and face covering. He exposed the face of another man, this one with long hair and a beard. He looked to be around forty, possibly forty-five. He was unconscious, the blow from the bat instantly knocking him out.

 

            “Neither was the woman from the alley,” Gloom said.

 

            “This is definitely strange,” Justin said.

 

            Gloom pulled plastic zip-ties from the bag attached to his belt and bound the two men’s hands behind their backs. He tied them together and bound their feet. Then, he picked up his pistol and looked at the locked door he had been trying to open.

 

            “Those two had to come from somewhere,” Justin said. “Maybe there’s another open door nearby…”

 

            “I was thinking the same thing,” Gloom returned.

 

            He stepped over the downed men, rubbing the pain from his left hand. Gloom picked up his pistol and readied it as he decided to check another door. Further down the hallway was another door standing ajar. It was on the same side as the one he had been trying to pick and, this one, too, had a hint of light shining through the darkened apartment. He pushed the door open with his foot as he raised his pistol.

 

            There was nothing to be seen inside except an empty room, a small crack of light seeping under another door across from him. The apartment had been vacant a while, as thick layers of dust covered the walls and floor. The spacious apartment was definitely old and, apart from the dust literally covering everything, the room was in poor shape. Broken tiles were scattered about the floor, wallpaper unrolled itself down tattered drywall, and the ceiling was bowed downward throughout the apartment, a definite sign of water damage from the room above. Some broken furniture was strewn about, cabinet doors in the small kitchen were either smashed inward or missing completely, and light fixtures had been pulled completely free from their spots on the ceiling and walls. Gloom looked around, taking in his surroundings. The horrid stench grew stronger and, as he looked down, he saw footprints all over the dust covered floor. The light under the door flickered as a shadow passed by on the other side.

 

            “Be careful, Gloom,” Justin said in his ear. “This doesn’t look good.”

 

            Gloom chose to be quiet and not respond. He took each step as lightly as he could, trying not to put all of his weight down as he carefully walked toward the door. The light continued to flicker under the door as if someone were on the other side pacing back and forth. He reached the door and, before checking the knob, raised his pistol at the ready.

 

            The door swung open and, not expecting the sight before him, Gloom stared in complete shock. There, hanging from the ceiling, were five men, all covered about the waist with a thin, white cloth. They were suspended by their wrists, thick chains connecting them to large hooks embedded in the ceiling. Each one resembled the man from the alley with a large hole in his chest. Small work lights were mounted on the walls, casting eerie shadows about the room as the men gently swayed. In the center of the room was an old, metal table. On top was a man, his chest the same as the other men, various bloody instruments and tools lay beside him. The windows had been blacked out and a small generator sat near the table inside an old, wooden crate.

 

            “What the-” Justin gasped.

 

            The overwhelming stench of death beat at Gloom’s senses. The smell almost overpowered him. He gasped for air, trying his best to breathe through his mouth. A sickening lump suddenly appeared in his throat. He scanned the room for any sign of the mysterious woman from earlier. She was nowhere to be seen. Knowing he had to press onward, Gloom stepped further into the room, doing his best not to focus on the bodies or the smell.

 

            “Be careful, Gloom. Whoever did this is sick and-”

 

            It was too late. Gloom didn’t hear the rest of what Justin had said. To his side another robed figure appeared and swung a large instrument at him. He dodged as what looked to be a meat cleaver passed in front of his face. He kicked the figure in the side as it stepped in front of him, sending it reeling forward and colliding with the table in the center of the room. The figure grabbed a scalpel from the table and turned, throwing it directly at Gloom. The small blade missed, striking the wall beside him.

 

            Gloom raised his pistol. “Stop!”

 

            The figure grabbed another instrument and hurled it at him. A large saw, apparently used in medical professions for bones, struck a nearby body hanging from the ceiling. The body swayed in front of him, blocking his vision. As the body moved back out of his way, Gloom saw the figure had vanished.

 

            Gloom pushed the body aside and looked around. On the other side of the table, the figure appeared, moving behind the bodies hanging from the ceiling. The figure moved in and out of the shadows, behind the bodies, making its way to the door for an escape. Gloom aimed his pistol and began shooting the work-lights, forcing darkness to envelope them both. Fortunately, his night-vision enabled him to see perfectly when the last light was extinguished.

 

            The figure stumbled into one of the bodies and fell to the floor. Gloom navigated the darkness with ease, moving to the figure and placing his foot across its neck. He aimed the pistol directly at its head, ready to pull the trigger if necessary.

 

            “It’s over,” Gloom said. “Take off your hood and stand slowly. Don’t make me shoot you.”

 

            He removed his boot from the figure’s neck, allowing it the ability to stand. It complied, standing and pulling back its hood and black mask covering its face. There, standing before him, was the woman, a twisted smile etched across her face.

 

            “I can’t see you, but I know you’re there. I know you see me. Are you going to kill me?” she asked.

 

            “No, I’m turning you over to the authorities. You and your macabre operation are their problem now,” Gloom returned, slowly approaching the woman.

 

            “You have no idea what you have interrupted,” she returned.

 

            “I don’t want to know. You people are sick and deserve to go away for a long, long time,” he said.

 

            He grabbed her arm, pulling it behind her back. Pulling a zip-tie from the bag on his belt, Gloom began to bind the woman’s hands together. Before he could cinch them, the woman used her leverage against him, spinning from his grip. After wrenching herself free, the woman shoved her hands in his chest, pushing him backward. Gloom took a step, righting himself and grabbed the woman by the shirt. He pulled her back, slamming her forcefully to the ground.

 

            “Big mistake,” he said, kneeling down. Gloom rolled the woman to her stomach, driving his knee into the small of her back. He pulled her arms back, quickly binding them with the zip-tie. Standing, he pulled her up, holding her at bay with a pistol at the base of her skull. “Don’t try anything like that again. Now, move…” he instructed, guiding her from the apartment.

 

            “You will pay for what you’ve done,” she hissed.

 

            “You’re killing people- mutilating them. You and your friends are going to pay,” he returned.

 

            “The Sanctum Lunaris will not be broken! Remember this when your day comes…” she spat.

 

            “Sanctum Lunaris,” Justin said. “I’m running that now.”

 

            Gloom escorted the woman into the hallway where her associates were lying, struggling to free themselves. He forced the woman to the ground, pulling another zip-tie from his bag. He bound her legs together and propped her against the wall.

 

            “Call the police- we have the killers,” Gloom said.

 

            “On it,” Justin replied.

 

            “You strike us down today, but understand this- we will not go silently into the darkness and fade away,” the woman said.

 

            “Why? Why are you doing this? Why torture those men and remove their hearts?” Gloom asked, aiming his pistol at the three bound prisoners.

 

            “The key to life lies within the heart. There is much you do not understand about those who walk within the darkness,” the woman responded.

 

            “You’re insane,” Gloom said.

 

            “The police have been alerted about suspicious activity related to the murders in your vicinity. You’ll have visitors in about three minutes,” Justin said.

 

            “Understood,” Gloom said. He looked at the three bound prisoners. “I don’t know what you’re doing, or why, but you’ll be able to explain it to the police in a few minutes. Just sit tight and I’m sure they’ll be happy to hear what you have to say.”

 

            Gloom, knowing the three prisoners were secure and not able to leave, lowered his pistol and walked toward the stairwell.

 

            “Fool! A great darkness approaches this world. You will be consumed in the shadows,” the woman shouted.

 

            Gloom stopped as he reached the door and turned around. “This is my city. Whenever this great darkness gets here, send it my way. I’ll be waiting for it.”

 

            “Yes, it hurts,” Brock said, pulling his hand away from Sophia.

 

            “Well, it’s broken and needs to be set,” Sophia said, gently taking his hand. “Hold still.”

 

            Sophia rubbed the top of his hand and then, without warning, pressed down. Brock’s hand audibly snapped. He pulled it away, breathing rapidly.

 

            “Brock,” Justin said, bursting into the room, “the people you caught at the apartment building have been processed by the police and are currently being interrogated.”

 

            He looked up at Justin, while Sophia took his hand and began wrapping it firmly with gauze. “Any idea what was going on?”

 

            “Detective Sommers is talking to them now, but the preliminary report is they’re part of some cult,” Justin replied.

 

            “Yeah, we knew that much,” Brock said, wincing as Sophia continued wrapping his hand.

 

            “Apparently, they remove their victim’s heart and then eat it in some sort of sacrificial ritual. After that, they display the bodies as some symbol of attrition against non-believers of their cult. It’s weird stuff, man,” Justin said.

 

            “Detroit has been through a lot over the years, but this is just sickening. I hope they send those people away for a long time,” Sophia added.

 

            “According to what they told the police, they’re based on some old Aztec cult that’s been around for hundreds of years. Just knowing what they were up to gives me the creeps,” Justin said.

 

            “Me, too,” Sophia said. She grabbed Brock firmly by the wrist. “Keep still.”

 

            He looked at her and smiled. “Regardless of what this city throws at us, we’ll be ready for it.”

 

            “Your hand won’t be if you keep moving,” Sophia chuckled. She finished wrapping his hand. “There. We’re all finished.”

 

            “Good,” he looked his hand over. “Let’s keep an eye on this case. If any similar activity pops up, we’ll know what we’re dealing with.”

 

            “Already on it,” Justin said, leaving the room.

 

            Sophia stood, looking at Brock. “You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

 

            “This one wasn’t my fault,” he returned. “I’m just glad I was able to walk out of there.”

 

            “Well, maybe we need to work on upgrading your armor. At this rate, you’ll only be able to keep doing this for another year, maybe less,” Sophia said.

 

            “Well, I’m open for suggestions,” Brock returned.

 

            “Let me see what I can come up with. Until then, let’s go get some rest,” Sophia said, reaching for Brock’s good hand.

 

            “Sound’s good to me. I’m beat,” he said, taking her hand.

The End

The GLOOM Saga Continues with...