Chapter 1: Heat
The wind of restless midnight air caressed flesh and burning muscle beneath the eyes of a twilight half moon sky. Four shadows clung like wraiths to the dark, eerie and somber as the night that gave them birth. The night was their refuge, the essence of their soul.
Leonardo could feel it in his bones, that fragile, invigorating kiss of cool night air after the uncomfortable heat of a long summer's day. It was like finally breathing after holding it for far too long. The July heat could do that to you sometimes, and the familiar dripping dank humidity of the sewers at midday still clung to him like a disease. It was days like those that no matter what he did, he couldn't purge the smell of sewage from his skin.
But midnight was the cure.
Summer was a restless time, each of them tethered below ground as the heat waves topped the charts and broke the long-held records as the baking sun grew ever more brutal. Dark-skinned children played in the rippling mist of hydrant waterfalls pooling like oasis in the streets.
The temperature ha d climbed to one hundred and two that day, and as night broke the heat like fever dreams, the city became restless.
In the long-thirsted cool, no sleep came to weary eyes those nights. The air was thick with unbridled energy, pounding adrenaline, youth, vigor, life.
Chill night wind kissed and mingled with the sweat forming on the nape of his neck, sending blissful tingles down his spine as it swept along his bandana tails. They frolicked with the wind and caressed his shoulders, slightly damp with sweat and midnight as he looked into the west.
The stars lay hidden there, only moonlight showed the way.
Raphael let out a breath as he stopped to catch his breath, panting and thinking longingly of early winter, memories of watching his breath curl silvery into the darkness and the misty sky. The summer was much more foreboding, so filled with coursing, hot-blood energy, he could feel it on his fingertips, taste it on his tongue. It tasted salty like sweat, like drugs and violence and copper blood, like the silver cast of moonbeams that beckoned things with fragile wings drawn into the light.
Summer was like those old lights hung above old hole-in-the-wall taverns, swarming with bugs of all kinds, drawn into their fate and captured, left to die by their own desires, the corpses of their predecessors reminding them of later years.
Now the summer, that fed the mind like adrenaline. His muscles ached for more.
He pushed himself further, faster, harder. The training run was supposed to be more of a breath of fresh air than practice. Even Leo had said so. The humidity was making even Mikey irritable in during the day beneath the dripping heat of the underground, but he didn't care. The cool wind recharged him. He hungered for the push.
As they ran, silence… four, united in well practiced harmony, the rhythm like a lullaby they knew so well. The last touch of a building's concrete ledge, and then the leap, that breathless moment of heavy air, so slow it curled and thickened, turned the dark to underwater, carried them away until reality struck back to tangibility. The feel of rough tar and shingles, the feel of another cracked and broken ledge before the plunge, the lights of skyscrapers flashing like a million eyeless stars.
Run, jump, leap, feel… hang, death, air, salvation.
It was a mantra, their only fleeting prayer: freedom. Air, and freedom.
The dark made it possible, the shadows were their only allies in the city of smog and hate and fire. But it was those same shadows that betrayed them.
Don had been running not far behind Leo when he stopped suddenly in his tracks, muscles tense, drawn and ready. His eyes… fierce, cool like an autumn night, hot as all those unblinking stars.
And he knew…
They were not alone.
Wordlessly, they froze and drew their weapons, stared into the hollow night. Watched.
"What is it?" Don whispered breathlessly. But Leo didn't answer. He didn't have to.
Donatello's heart beat in his throat and Mikey let out a soft, nervous whimper behind the spin of his nunchaku. Raphael tightened his grip on his weapons, so hungry, so desperately ravenous for the taste of human flesh.
He needed this.
It happened like a sudden snowfall, eerie in the stunning silence, wordless, deafening quiet. The ninja poured down from the upper rooftops like runoff down a mountainside, flowing like blood-stained water from the deepest bowels of the darkest hell. Leonardo followed them with his eyes, traced their shapes as they approached, katana silver by the light of a paper moon.
None of this was real. None of this was truth. They weren't human, they were demons hemorrhaging from a wound torn in the night. The ninja, dark clothed and faceless, came to obey the orders of their master, or die if they would fail.
But they were ready.
Weapons clashed like a great exhale, the epic collide of birthing stars, of planets aligned. Meteors fell that night, forgetting the heat of the sun.
The stars… they could make their own heat as it all erupted in the night.
Raphael took the first attack head on, sai crossed in an imposing x, teeth bared like something feral, something just as demonic as those blackened wraiths. One, it bore a manriki chain clutched in its dark hand.
He imagined if it wasn't faceless, it would be grinning its silent challenge.
Bring it on.
A flash of metal and he dodged left, felt the air of it slicing past his side like a dooming breeze. With a feral flash of teeth, he dared it to strike again.
Quickly, Don and Mike were surrounded, circling slowly, shells dully scraping back to back, weapons at the ready as the demons and their flashing tanto blades closed slowly in.
Don figured there had to be ten or more, at least ten… but definitely more. It was hard for him to count when his enemy could become the dark. These things… these faceless, soulless creatures that called themselves Foot and ninja, they were just as kin to the shadows as he had come to be, maybe even more so.
Sometimes, it was frightening. He'd seen them crawling up the walls of his nightmares like hell-born spiders.
But he couldn't think of that now. The sound of metal cutting through the air met his ears as he dodged a blade meant for his throat almost instinctively. Without time to strike, Mikey had taken him down with the sickly crunch of breaking bone. His sword now lay abandoned and bloodless at his feet.
It was a dead man's sword. Don kicked it away.
Twirling his nunchaku, Mike dove in for a one- two strike. His weapons met twin skulls, feeling that so familiar give under the blows as two more lay motionless. A thin trail of blood glittered in the moonlight, running like its own fragile river along the cracks in the concrete. Four had fallen, but just as quickly they were replaced like they were born from the belly of the shadows themselves.
There were almost too many. Almost.
Even in the dark, Don could see his brother's blue eyes shining from their corners. Over the sound of battle and the groans of his bo's latest victim, he heard Mike's voice carry out, strong and true, grinning still devious in the dawn of so much death and drying blood.
"I have an idea!"
A furied roar broke the air like tearing away a healing scab, letting it all bleed out onto the pavement of that war-torn roof. Raphael's hands were bound by a manriki chain, on sai clutched uselessly in his hand. The other, abandoned at his feet. His face was drawn into a sick grimace, feet planted on the rooftop as the ninja pulled him closer to the beckon of his knife's cutting blade.
He yearned with every ounce of black hate his heart possessed to cut that creature's throat right then and there. But his hand quivered on his knife's hilt. That hadn't been his Master's orders. Weaken and isolate them only. The others would do the rest.
But still, his hate grew blacker glaring into that creature's venom eyes, his mouth foul and dishonorable as he struggled against the chain.
"You son of a bitch! Let go of me you stupid fuck!"
Beneath his mask, the ninja grinned as he caught the form of his kin silently creeping from the shadows, the blade of a kama drawn back to slice the creature's neck. Silently, he laughed.
The creature looked puzzled at the hesitation and turned, eye grown wide at the sight of the flashing blade, he screamed.
But it was over in an instant. With a flash of silver, the chain was cut and the night went black and still. The glint of twin swords covered in his own blood was the last thing his living eyes would ever see.
Raphael used the severed end of the chain still bound around his wrists to strike the ninja behind him in the head. A swift kick finished the deal. It loosened and he left it abandoned on the rooftop between the two new bodies.
With his back turned, swords reeling in a constant, bloody arc, Leonardo's voice carried through.
"If you don't pay better attention, you're going to get yourself killed."
Raphael's glare narrowed as he scooped up his abandoned sai. "Fuck off Leo, I had him right where I wanted him!"
Leo snorted sarcastically, slicing into the shoulder of his next unfortunate opponent. He could see the bone glowing white under the cut. "You're welcome" he bit sharply.
But before his brother could retort, a tall, dark figure dropped down before him from the roof above. Their leader, no doubt, with matching twin katana at the ready. As always, Leo had bigger things to worry about.
Out of the corner of his eye, Donatello was flipping through the air, landing neatly on his feet on the other side of an impressive circle of ninja. In one swift movement, he swept them all off their feet, grinning proudly on the roof ledge as the ninja tumbled down over the side.
And then, quicker than a breath, a blink, a flash of a katana blade, he was down and screaming.
"Don!" he hissed through grit teeth as the leader's katana met his own, baring down on him, muscles shuddering against the force. He couldn't move, couldn't run to him. He had no other choice- he had to stay, he had to fight.
Only three ninja stood in his way.
Michelangelo was there in a heartbeat. He rested his hand on his brother's quaking shoulders, felt the sheen of sweat upon his skin that mingled with the cool night air. His face was drawn into a grimace.
"I… I don't know if I… should take it out!" he moaned, words coming in tight, pained gasps. He was grappling with something lodged in the back of his knee.
Donatello's eyes met his brother's, pleading for answers. Mike could only open and close his mouth wordlessly.
But his baby brother's face instantly paled when he saw the cylinder protruding from his flesh. It was round and clear, and filled with some sort of… liquid.
His heart thrummed desperately in his throat.
"Take it out! Take it out! It has... stuff in it!"
Don was almost in too much pain to be puzzled. Of all places to get hit by some sort of dart, that would probably have to be one of the worst. As Michelangelo burst over towards the dart, Don pushed his hands away. He couldn't risk causing any further damage, even if it was filled with 'stuff.'
But the excruciating pain ripping through his entire leg was enough to tell him the worst of the damage had already been done.
Then, in a panicked silence, everything seemed to happen at once. Beneath his hands, the cylinder head of the dart dethatched and rolled its way across the pavement, sloshing "stuff" as it rolled, contained within the glass.
Don was left with blood soaked hands, eyes blurring over slightly with stinging tears of pain. He was almost certain that when the canister detached, the needle was left still buried in his flesh.
But the sound of four objects whirring through the air caught his attention.
Mikey, with his gaze still fixed on the odd little cylinder rolling along the concrete, suddenly had a dart of his own buried deep into the flesh of his bicep. His eyes were wide and stunned, silent.
From further away, they could still hear the other two finishing off the last of the ninja, Raphael grunting as he swung at his last opponent, blood tainting the steel of his sai, smeared thinly across his face, neck, and shoulders.
"Who the fuck is shooting at us!" he roared, dealing his final blow as he heard the whirr of a dart miss him by mere inches.
When the ninja was fallen, he kicked the body over to make sure it was dead. There was a streak of blackened wetness at his throat where his sai had found the flesh. He was satisfied.
But before he could even turn and belt his weapons, a sharp pain where his shoulder met his neck startled him to dropping them. His hand shot over to it instinctively, his fingers finding the odd sensation of smooth, cool glass.
"What the… ow!" he groaned, eyes scanning the rooftop angrily.
Leo was still caught up in his little duel with the 'big boss' and Don and Mike were perched over on the far edge of the roof. He could catch Mike's frantic screaming drifting on the wind. He was holding something in his hands, waving it just as frantically for all to see.
"Take it out! Take it out!" he yelped, and instinctively, Raph did just that.
He winced as it slid out of his flesh, the heat of blood trickling down from the small wound until he cradled in his hands a fragile glass syringe.
"Woah" he murmured, heart thrumming in his chest. Who would even dare shoot him with something like this?
The needle was long, like the horror movie, way longer than necessary kind of long, with a lance-like razor sharp tip and a long glass cylinder filled with some kind of liquid.
With a gasp, he let it fall onto the concrete, but the glass did not shatter. Only the liquid seemed to slosh inside, rolling across the rooftop, needle coated in his blood.
He heard Don trying to stifle a cry of pain, and failing miserably.
Great. This is just great.
Close by, Leo finished off the last of the ninja with a smooth arc of twin katana blade. Just one movement, and that ninja's head was lolling bodiless on the floor. Its body crumpled to its knees, a sickly rain of crimson blood pouring from its neck as it slammed without ceremony to the ground. A pool of red collected on the rooftop, reaching to his feet.
Leo stepped away, holding back the look of disgust it brought to his face- that rotten smell of spilled copper blood like living, fleshy rust. It made him cringe.
But a bursting pain almost made his knee buckle from beneath him. His eyes traced down his thigh, half expecting the sickly glisten of a cut exposed to the night air. But his hands found something different. It was cool and glass, something sharp embedded in the muscle.
His heart skipped a beat when he saw the liquid, and almost stopped when he watched it detach, lolling on the ground just like his victim's decapitated head. He winced as his fingers brushed the protruding end of the needle, grasping it delicately and drawing it out.
Blood wept from the wound, but as always, he had bigger things to worry about. He couldn't keep the image of Don crumpling to the ground from replaying over and over in his head. And now Mike and Raph were there, hunched over him, only shapes in the dark.
Despite the pain in his thigh, he trotted over to them with his heart in his throat. Something was wrong. He could hear Don's stifled moans and cries as he pushed past the other two.
"What happened?" he said breathlessly, taking in his brother's pained expression, the coating of sweat across his brow that in no way came from battle. He was clutching desperately at his knee with his eyes screwed shut, hands coated thinly in his own blood.
"Got him in the knee" Raph said curtly when Don gave no reply. "Said the needle might still be in there."
"Yeah, the top part came off and…" Mikey trailed in mid sentence when his attention caught a shape flickering from the shadows behind him. Someone was still alive on that rooftop, and it wasn't one of his brothers.
The thought of the fallen foot ninja rising from the dead made something sickly crawl around inside of him.
But Leo, Don, and Raph hadn't noticed. Sometimes, being easily distractible had its advantages.
When no one turned, panic started to settle in. Someone, cloaked in black like all those bodies of dead foot ninja was silently picking through the carnage where Don's dart vial had rolled. In a fleeting, startling moment, the ninja froze and stared, his black and eyeless gaze eerily penetrating. Mike could still feel his insides squirm .Eyes wide, Mike reached out and shook Leo by the shoulder as the last living ninja darted from the rooftop like a shadow, disappearing into the night.
"Leo! There's someone here! Guys, he's got the darts!"
Wordlessly, Leo turned his head, brow furrowed, but his gaze still stoic. "Let him go. We have to get Don back to the Lair."
Still gripping gingerly at his knee, Don quickly shook his head. "You need to get those vials… I… need to know what that l-liquid was" he breathed, voice shaking with every syllable.
"Forget it, Don" Raph said thoughtfully, clasping a hand on his injured brother's shoulder. "We ain't leaving you here."
With a sigh, Don didn't protest. He knew he needed those darts. He needed to know what that liquid was before one of them was poisoned or worse. But another part of him told him that if there was poison in those vials, he would have known it by now. He was in too much pain to chase after some lonely Foot ninja anyways.
He could only hope that the needle still lodged through the back of his knee would tell him what he needed to know.
"Can you walk?"
Leo was offering him a hand with a concerned expression on his face. At first, he wanted to shake his head no. The pain erupting in his knee was excruciating sitting down, never less walking on it. But admitting it would only risk Raph carrying him all the way home. He didn't think his ego could handle that.
So hesitantly, he nodded and tried his best not to cringe as his brothers hefted him painfully to his feet. By the feeling exploding in his knee, there was no doubt the needle was still lodged in there. He tried his best not to show it, gritting his teeth and leaning heavily on Raph as he hobbled gingerly across the rooftop.
He could already tell it was going to be a long night.