"Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel.

He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it."

Mark Twain

The flashing red and blue emergency lights were a regular sight for Detective Allen. Unfortunately they typically bore poor tidings.

The detective stepped out of his department issued Ford Americar and into organized chaos. Two ambulances and a coroner's van were backed up to the narrow townhouse just outside Denver's Chinatown in what was once called Englewood. A fire truck was nearby, its crew reloading their equipment. Apparently there work was done for the moment. Uniformed Lone Star Security officers did what they could to hold back nosey onlookers from the crime scene. The gawkers were obviously awoken by the late night activity as housecoats, curlers and slippers seemed to be the dress of the moment. Of course video recording devices of all kinds were on hand to commemorate the misery and to upload it to various matrix sites for a hopeful 15 minutes of digital fame.

Detective Michael Allen struck quite an image himself. He was a tall man, with skin the color of coffee and bright eyes that, despite being red form lack of sleep and too much caffeine, observed everything.

His head was shaved clean, and he kept his beard trimmed into a simple van-dyke. Despite his clothes being wrinkled and rumpled, his navy blue suit, white dress shirt and black tie were spotless. His gold Lone Star Detective badge and Ruger Thunderbolt pistol. Other than the gunmetal datajack visible on his left temple, he displayed no obvious cyber enhancements. But his hands bore the scars and calluses of a man who knew how to use his fists as tools of violence.

As his long strides took him up the stairs towards the front door he noticed his partner waiting for him just inside the open front door. Inspector Ellis was a stark contrast to the Detective. The former SWAT Combat Mage was just promoted to Homicide. He was slight of build and pale of skin and his slicked back hair was jet black. He wore an impeccable purple colored suit, silver pins depicting runes decorated each lapel of his sport coat. Black leather gloves and black wingtip shoes completed the ensemble. He looked at the Detective with featureless, chrome cyber eyes.

When Ellis noticed Allen in the doorway he said in his slight southern accent, "I'm sorry to get you out here so late, Mike, but the Captain insisted you take this one."

"Yeah, he's still pissed at me for arresting his brother-in-law last month. What do we have?"

"Home invasion, family of four." Ellis looked at his notepad. "Ken and Angela Milner. He runs a retail store in the Sioux Sector. She's a court clerk in the UCAS Sector. Two kids, Tessa and Marcus, both age 12."

As Ellis narrated, Allen looked at the carnage in the room. On the floor of the small kitchen was an adult male. Ken Milner, he assumed. The paramedics were fervently working on him. There was blood on the left side of his chest from an apparent gunshot wound. His left arm was obviously smashed and broken in several locations. His face was the worst of it. It had been broken and crushed into an unrecognizable bloody mess.

Ellis continued, "As messed up as he looks, Mr. Milner is expected to survive. The arm and skull fractures, according to the EMT boys, are non-fatal. He took a double-tap into the chest. One round flattened on his ribs and the other deflected and hit his internal air tank."

That caused Detective Allen to perk up, "Internal air tank?"

"Yessir." Ellis responded. "Plus he has aluminum bone lacing and several reflex and eye enhancements. It seems Mr. Milner had seen some action in his past."

Aluminum bone lacing and reflex enhancements are very expensive and serve a very specific need. "Any military service?" He asked.

"None that I can see."

An island counter divided the kitchen from the living room. Two bodies laid on the floor, both cover with forensic preserving sheets. Detective Allen knelt down and lifted the corner of the one closest to him. He saw an attractive woman. Her hair was matted with blood from the obvious and deep wound on her temple. Open, lifeless eyes stared into nothing. Detective Allen noted the wound on her head matched the blood on the corner of a heavy metal table next to her. He raised the blanket up and took note of her torn clothes.

He heard Ellis' voice behind him. "Mrs. Angela Milner. Age 35, mother of 2. She works as a researcher Ares Macrotechnoligies. Coroner says cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Also appears the bastards had their way with her before killing her."

Allen re-covered the woman and moved to the other covered body. This one was a young human male with a shaved head and tattoos on the back of his head. He was wearing street leathers but his pants were down around his ankles. Even though he was lying on his back, Detective Allen couldn't see his face due to the face his head was twisted a complete 180 degrees. So even though he was lying on his back, his face was buried in the carpet.

Reading from his notepad, Ellis continued his narration. "Tommy Wing, aka 'Lil' T'. 23 years old. He's a low rank member of the Fujian Dragons, a feeder go-gang for the Chinese Triads. His criminal record is long and distinguished. Assault, burglary, extortion, menacing, etcetera, drekcetera. Cause of death should be apparent."

By the open back door there was blood spatter on the floor as well as a spilled open bag of what appeared to be a chicken dinner. Allen analyzed the area and spoke, his voice monotone, "Looks like Mr. Milner walked in on Wing assaulting his wife. He was probably assaulted at the door but he took out Wing. Any ideas on accomplices?"

Ellis shook his head. "The guys in forensics said at least 3 more perps. Maybe as many as 5. Their mage tried reading the building but the trauma in the area broke him down and he ran out screaming."

Whenever there was a traumatic event, the mana count in the immediate area of astral space (the place magic comes from) is increased. High enough count, and certain people with magical talent were affected with disorientation or even pain. Sometimes the practitioner can go mad if he didn't have enough experience shielding himself.

Allen looked confused. "What? A home invasion and assault shouldn't disrupt things that bad."

Ellis looked grim. "There's more. One of the kids was caught sleeping upstairs. They…" Ellis was visibly bothered choked on his next words. "Michael they burned him to death in his sleep. The room looks like they took a flame thrower to it."

Detective Allen winced. It always made things harder when kids were involved. Even the most hardened criminals would never harm a child. In fact he's seen cold blooded murders seek retribution against those who'd harm a kid.

"You mentioned there was another kid?"

Ellis cleared his throat and tried to straighten up. "Right, the daughter, Tessa. We found her hiding in a closet in the master bedroom. She seems physically unharmed but she's catatonic. Child Protective Services took her to the hospital but she's not responsive."

Detective Allen stood up and looked around the room at the carnage and asked, "Mr. Milner, who did you manage to piss off?"

"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed."

Genesis 9:6

The pain was all encompassing. To the point it almost became the environment in which he dwelled. He tried to focus though it, as he was taught so many years ago. He couldn't see. Every breath felt as if he was breathing in fire. His throat felt raw. His mind wouldn't' let him escape his agony, almost as if he was punishing himself.

His own private purgatory.

He'd failed. He'd failed to protect his family. His mind rewound to walking into his home through the back door, smelling the burning in the air. Seeing his wife bent over the kitchen island with the Ork behind her. The laughing punk directly in front of him, his pants down, stroking himself to the scene in front of him.

Ken dropped the bag holding his families dinner and reached out to the laughing ganger, grabbing his chin and a handful of hair on the back of his head. A sharp twist and the laughing stopped and he dropped to the floor.

Ken felt the first bullet hit his chest. He didn't see the shooter standing in the kitchen. It was a bald human with a tattoo of a scope reticle on his forehead. He had an arrogant, smug look on his face.

The Ork assaulting Angela grabbed her head in a meaty hand and threw he head-first into the coffee table. A wet crunching noise and she lay still.

A step forward.

Another shot and he fell.

He crawled on the floor and he felt himself being lifted up, and then thrown over the island into the kitchen. He tried reaching up for the knives n the butcher block. He smelled smoke, plus the unmistakable stench of burning flesh. A hard force dropped down on his arm, ripping his elbow joint apart despite his reinforced skeleton.

Another blow to his wrist, his shoulder, his hand.

His mouth was open to scream, but no sound came out.

A boot stomped down on his face. Again and again. He felt the plastic in his eyes, made to look real, shatter, sending shards into tissue. More bones cracking, this time in his face.

He heard screaming. Who was screaming? Then he realized it was him. Strapped to a bed, thrashing against hands holding him down.

A sharp pinch in his thigh barely registered. Then his strength left him. His senses were shutting down. Then finally, oblivion.

"I'm sorry Angel. I failed"