The majority of the cultists that David follows are harmless enough--some are sad and lonely, desperate to fit into any group that will take them; some are angry and just want to Make A Difference in the world; the rest are just misguided young folk that follow these made-up teachings of The Beast because it's some novelty to them that will likely wear off in a few months.
Some of them, though, are actual fanatics--the ones that genuinely believe in The Coming of The Beast, and they seek to ritualize victims in the hopes that in doing so they will summon their false god.
This is definitely the second kind, and as David follows them from above--shimmying down gutters and jumping up fire escapes--he sees them slip into an open manhole and disappear underground, a pair of bound children tucked under their arms.
Fanatics like these--sycophants--usually had a base of operations they praised out of, and he thinks they may have led him right to it. He drops through the manhole silently, the only noise the final slapping of his feet onto the wet concrete within. He looks around from underneath the hood of his poncho--it's dark and they must have had flashlights to traverse down here without losing their way. David listens and picks a direction to go, tracking the rippling of the water in front of him to find his way to them.
Before long, he can hear some sort of chanting, reverberating through the small confines of the sewers. He's at one of the sewer mouths now, peering into a large, cavernous space decorated--poorly--with posters and depictions of many-headed beasts. David could only assume they were portraying The Beast as Hydra, as many of the fanatics he's encountered liken him to the very creature due to the many heads it has. Nine heads: one is severed, two regrow.
In the middle of the room, the two goons he's been tailing have the kids standing in front of them, and the goons are pulling white robes over their heads and pushing them forward to what seems like a cement altar. There's a girl there who looks like she can't be more than eighteen, wearing a dirty robe with the symbol of a golden sun, it's many rays extending from its center.
Their logos are pretty terribly matched, to be honest. David is thinking that if you're going to go all out, at least make your logos match, but he isn't a cultist leader, so he doesn't know if they have some sort of secret interior decorating conformations they have to follow.
He smirks. Ha! He cracks himself up.
There are about fifteen people total in the room, including the kids and the teen standing at the makeshift altar. They are all humming some sort of chant; he can't tell exactly what the words are, but they sound pretty ominous in the general sense. Maybe end of the world stuff, maybe swearing fealty or willingness to die for their god stuff, yada yada. Run of the mill cultist crap.
The girl in the middle of the altar starts speaking in what seems to be Latin; David can only catch parts of the words because she stumbles through them like she's taken a preliminary Latin course at the community college and graduated with a D minus.
The other folks in the large space form a real rough-looking semi-circle facing the altar and the teen, with the kids and goons in the middle of it all. The kids are crying, and that makes David mad, but he doesn't reveal himself quite yet. He wants to know a little more about this little sect he's stumbled upon.
This isn't the only group in the city that's been meeting this way every month, and he suspects that they're all tied together to make one large overseeing cult. Unlike these amateurs, the ones he's actually looking for are precise and professional--there have already been cases of kids turning up around the university, major organs carved out of them. This is obviously an upsetting detail that David would rather not think about, but it's a necessary one to remember.
They begin to push the kids forward, and everyone's attention is focused on them as they climb the steps towards the altar, shaking and sobbing. Looks like there isn't time to investigate. The Overseer silently jumps down from the mouth of one of the many tunnels leading into the cavernous area and takes this opportunity to take advantage of their messy semi-circle, very quietly coming up behind a couple of the more obscured people and dispatching of them quietly by utilizing pressure points. Movie-style. He very quietly drags them behind storage boxes that litter the area.
The others are plainly visible by someone else from the other side of the semi-circle, so he won't be able to take them out the same way. He's going to have to try using the scare tactic; worst case scenario, they all jump him and he'll be right back where he would have been anyway.
He climbs atop one of the containers, standing straight and tall--it's five feet high and made of steel, and one of the fanatics sees him and points.
There is panic. There is chaos. The Overseer lunges off of the container and runs full-speed towards the children. One of the goons gets in his way but he pushes him back with one hand and sends him flying across the room. The other one just runs. A fanatic gets in his way and he dodges around him, not eager to potentially kill anyone tonight by running full speed into their squishie bodies with his not-so-squishie one. The kids scream as he hoists them up, one under each arm, and they cling to him as he turns on his heel and starts to run back.
"Overseer!" screams a voice behind him. He sets the kids up on one of the large, nearby storage boxes and looks behind him. Most of the crazies are gone by now, scattered into the bends and many orifices of the sewers. Those that haven't run are cowering behind the storage boxes. The teen that has the sun robe on still stands at the altar, her arms out, almost daring him to come to her.
He's not interested in picking a fight with someone barely out of high school. He turns away from her, hoisting himself up onto the box with the children. "Go home, kid," he calls over his shoulder.
"Overseer!" she screeches again. "If you walk away now, I will hunt their families down and you will never find me."
There's a part of him that thinks she's full of shit, but another part of him that wants to soothe the terror that suddenly appears in the little girl and boy's eyes as they stare back at her. There's a second where he gets up and picks them up to run off with them, their protests filling his ears, but he stops when they start pleading with him not to walk away. For the sake of their families. Staring at their red, miserable faces, he sets them down at the mouth of one of the tunnels and turns slowly back towards the teen.
He begins to walk towards her, making sure to give a somewhat shallow hole of water a wide berth, and she very abruptly whips her robe over her head, throwing it down in the water. She's naked underneath and The Overseer stops in his tracks, wondering the the fuck is going on.
She begins to advance on him, and he can't move, because what the actual fuck, but as she takes a few more steps, she suddenly bursts into flames, her eyes burning a bright, hot blue within the orange and red of the fire that's erupted from her skin.
What the even more actual fuck?
Stunned, he takes a step back--into the shallow hole. His ankle twists, gives way, and there's a very brief second where time stops and he's suspended there in the air spilling backwards into the water--and then time is running again, and he's falling backwards, and hitting his head against the concrete. That itself isn't anything to be concerned about; what does concern him is the water that comes up to swallow his face on either side of his head as he stares up at the ceiling of the space.
He flails for a moment, arms reaching out, trying to find anything to hang onto as his body seizes in a panic. His limbs are stiff and he can't move because he's terrified, but he has the faculties enough to remember to flip himself over and push himself up out of the water with his arms. He sucks in precious air and hacks water out of his mouth, feeling his body begin to tremble as his mind takes him back to the school poolside as a little boy.
Then he's choking again, because she's pulling back on his hood, revealing his face and using the hood to pull him back onto his feet. He gets up, turning towards her, trying to push her off of him when he realizes she's still on fire.
"What the fuck?" he sputters, his hands burning as they touch her. He recoils, arms shaking, still recovering from the fall in the water. She walks forward, placing her hands on his upper arms, looking like she's regarding him with affection in her eyes. The heat is so strong, emanating off of her like solar flares off of the sun, reaching for him, licking at his skin, and it hurts, and it's almost burning him and...and drying him off.
Very quickly, The Overseer feels himself regaining his composure as her heat evaporates what water is left hanging onto his flame-retardant poncho and off of his face. He can breathe deeply again, and he stares at her through narrowed eyes, the light of her own eyes almost blinding to look into. The water around her feet is evaporating so fast it looks like she's wearing invisible shoes. There's a brief confusion as he doesn't begin to melt, and she seems to project herself out towards him, flames roaring and trying to engulf him--to no effect.
"What the fuck?" she now says. It was working before, and now it's not. She tries again with what seems to be maximum effort, the roaring of the fire in his ears, the pain coming even through his high pain tolerance, but he endures and she sags and the fire dies down to nothing but a small glow around her naked body. It must have taken quite a bit of energy to do that.
"You ready to go home, kid?" he asks her, holding her up slightly.
Then she's slapping his hands away, and her body bursts into flames again, and she's running towards a metal ladder to the right of the altar that's bolted to the brick. "Hey, wait!" he yells, watching as one of the bolts flies off the wall. The ladder itself isn't of great make, but as she climbs up and up, the metal begins to glow in her wake, and the bolts are suddenly melting off of the walls, and the ladder is tipping dangerously off of the wall.
"Hey stop!" he tries again, cupping his hands around his mouth in desperation for her to hear. But that fire she's projecting is loud and all she hears is the roar of it in her ears. "Stop doing the-the-the, the thing!" He can't find a word for it. Stop being on fire? Stop flaming out? No, that wasn't it.
She continues climbing, and the ladder shakes, and now she's screaming and hanging off of the ladder, feet trying to get a foothold again but failing as her grip gives way and she begins to fall towards the ground.
She's maybe fifty feet up at this point and he runs, knowing before he even gets there that he won't make it. But he has to try. There's a sick sound as her body hits the altar, and he stops in his tracks, turning his head immediately as his stomach drops and his chest hurts for her. He turns back, and starts to slowly walk to where she lays on the concrete--she's alive, but barely, and still on fire.
He kneels down by her, putting a hand on her scalding forehead in an attempt to reassure her that he's there for her. Bleary eyes travel down her broken body and then up into his eyes, and her flames begin to dim down, eventually softening into a glow around her skin, a dying ember nearing the end of its time.
"How are you burning this way?" he whispers, astonished, not expecting an answer.
Her eyes focus on him, wavering, and her lips part. "How...are you...not?"
And then all that's left is smoke, and stillness. The only other person besides The Beast that may have been like him, and now just gone, as easily as blowing a candle out.
When he resurfaces with the children in his arms--"Beth and Ryan," they proudly tell him, and that they are "six and a half and almost eight years old this November"--he puts his hood back on and puts a finger to his lips while they look up at him in adoration. They mimic the gesture. Around the corner is a cop car, and he tells them that they'll need to knock on the window and tell the nice police persons where they live (which they "know by heart" because they "learned it from momma").
He makes sure they do this as he watches from a nearby rooftop, and he thinks of flames and heat and how bright her blue eyes were.