*File Incomplete~
Incident File Report: Ashtel
Incident # 6588239
Date of Origin: Unknown

—–

Hollis awoke with a start and groaned in pain. A muzzle dug into his snout, threatening to draw blood if he so much as wrinkled his nose. He looked around and saw darkness, eyes slowly adjusting but couldn’t make anything out. He tried to focus; he could hear a whistling breeze creeping through a window. So he was indoors, but there was nothing in the room that he could see, only the hint of a table maybe, or was it a dresser? Other than that it was just… dark.
“Awake?” the blackness rasped.
A dull light snapped on overhead casting a sharp cone of light around Hollis. He squinted, instinctively trying to shield his eyes only to feel metal wiring dig into his arms, which he realized were bound behind him. He was sitting, legs and tail secured with the same tight, biting wire.
Something stepped into the light, tall and burly. Hollis gasped-wings. A bat. He’d never seen one in person, didn’t even know any lived in the city. It was hard to make out the details; the darkness of the room obstructed almost everything but his eyes. Those held him, burning like coals. He stretched a long, boney finger forward and hooked it into the muzzle, then yanked it off. It tore free with a series of snaps and tears, pulling tufts of fur and bits of skin with it. Hollis howled, feeling a cool breeze play over the exposed (and he presumed now bleeding) parts of his snout.
Hollis’s mind raced frantically, there was only one reason this could be happening to him.
“L-listen,” he stammered, “I get it, you work for Biznus right?” he swallowed spit and grimaced, “I know I’m a little late paying him back, but I swear, I’m closing an important deal tomorrow, the money’s going to be in my account tomorrow if-”
“No.”
Hollis blinked, waiting for the bat to offer an explanation. None came.
“No?” he asked, “No… what?”
The bat stared. Hollis felt his eyes starting hurt as he tried to make out the bat’s face in the darkness. He saw the hint of a fuzzy mane circling his face, a simple shirt and tattered jeans-he thought. They looked at each other in silence for what felt like hours. Hollis debated whether or not this guy was sent to collect, or maybe just scare the litter out of him. If that was the case, he was doing a heck’ve a job.
“I don’t understand.”
The bat smiled, yellow light glistened off a revealed fang. “Nobody ever does.”
He reached into the blackness beside him and pulled a small canister into view. It was bright red, topped with a yellow nozzle.
Hollis’ nose was struck by a sudden, sharp stinging odor coming from the container. Gasoline. His nose flared, trying to better identify it. Gasoline was only part of what was in there, the rest had an unfamiliar quality, something he’d never encountered before.
“Of all the streets to come down,” the bat whispered, “You came down this one.”
The bat lifted the canister and tilted it sideways. A flowing stream of… something splashed down Hollis’ face. It flooded his wounds and he screamed, he could hear it sizzling against the exposed flesh.
“This is a bad place.”
Hollis couldn’t hide his confusion. “Who are you?!”
“Now you have to go someplace worse.”
Gasoline burned his nostrils, streamed into his eyes and burned ferociously. He blinked rapidly and felt the involuntary motion making the pain worse.
“Wait, wait please! If you don’t work for Biznus then… then you can just let me go!” Gasoline poured into his mouth and he sputtered. “I don’t know what your deal is, I don’t care! I swear, I won’t tell anyone about you, I just want to go home!”
Ashtel just stared at him, watching him suffer. Despite the burning in his eyes, Hollis tried to look at his captor.
“What reason could you possibly have for doing this to me?”
“Do I need one?” came a dry, toneless response.
Hollis felt the substance roll down his throat and sizzle; he swore his tongue was going to melt.
“ P-PLEASE let me go!!”
“I am letting you go.”
The scratch of flint sounded, and Hollis saw the spark from the match a second before Ashtel dropped it in his lap.
A ball of flame burst to life and swirled around Hollis’ screeching form. Ashtel took a small step back, the fire dancing in his eyes as Hollis’ body jerked side to side, unable to free itself from the chair. It too became engulfed in bright orange flames, the pungent scent of burning hair spreading across the room. Ashtel inhaled deeply, taking in the foul odor of flesh turning to blackened ash mixed with gasoline.
The firelight revealed details of the room Hollis would have been grateful not to have seen. A body lay lifeless across a couch, another slumped against a doorway, keys still in hand. This apartment’s tenants, like Hollis, were in a bad place. Ashtel closed his eyes, and even with the lids shut he could see the dull orange glare, his ears treating him to the screams withering into crackling pops as Hollis’ body succumbed to the fire and went limp. He thought about Hollis’s pleas and laughed. They always assumed what he did was about something. It was never about money, no vendetta against this guy or these people; he’d never seen any of them before tonight. It was enough to hear their dirty secrets when threatened with death. So many people, so eager to bear their sins to a stranger if they thought for even a second it would buy them more time to commit worse ones. It amused him.
Smoke billowed from the burning lump in the center of the room as the fire’s appetite grew. The building’s fire alarm blared to life, loudly ringing a scream of danger to its tenants as the cause of the spreading inferno opened the window and leapt, took wing, and landed atop a nearby tower. He knelt, eyes focused on the tendrils of fire reaching from the window and crawling in every direction.
His ears twitched, the sound of sirens bounced lightly off the sensitive curves. They were far away now, but they were getting closer. Soon the fire would take the whole building. He’d watch it happen, safe and secure while firefighters and cops risked their necks for dead bodies in a ten-story burning casket.
The bat’s smile persisted in the night; he tapped the wall behind him, and then dug the claw into the crumbling material. He continued until he was satisfied and leaned back, watching the cops arrive, then the firefighters, every one of them anxious to leap into the yawning incinerator the place had become. Beside him, scrawled in spiky letters for the police to find, was a single word he had made a habit of leaving after his work was done; his name.
Ashtel.