When they were gone, the few people remaining in the gym approached the vigilante's body with caution.
“Who is this?” one of them said.
“I think it's the guy from the news!” another said. “The Batman guy!”
“Is he... dead?”
“Not yet,” he growled, startling his audience. He stood up, slowly, shook his head to gather up his wits. The bullets had ricocheted against the side of his helmet, digging a trench in it as it went, but not deep enough to actually hurt him. He had just been stunned by the impact. “Where are they?” he asked.
“They went that way! They have a hostage! It's that girl from the team...”
“Yes, that's it!”
In a hurry, he shoved everyone aside and dashed out of the gym and into the hallways. What a mess! Students running around in complete panic, teachers trying to gather them together to a safe place but completely overwhelmed, like a small bunch of farmers trying to stop a bull stampede. The two men must be heading for the exit, he thought. Bracing himself, he ran into the chaos, dodging, shoving and elbowing his way through the flock of hysterical kids, until he heard the sirens and saw the red and blue flashes of police cruisers through the glass doors of the main entrance. No way they could have gone out that way! Stopping in his run, he took a turn, and arrived in front of the chemistry room. The door was open. The door was always open. Inside, on the other side of the teacher's desk, were standing the two men, the one with the gun still holding Sally and aiming at her at point blank range.
“Come in,” he ordered the vigilante. “Slowly. Close the door behind you.”
The vigilante complied, stepping in and closing the door with slow, trembling movements. His heavy breathing could be heard through the helmet, and it sounded like Darth Vader. He tried to take a calm, calculated attitude, but he was actually terrified. Beating up drunk or drugged guys was easy. Even the perv Keats didn't put up too much of a fight. But this... this was his first serious hostage situation. He looked at Sally, and the poor girl was weeping out of control.
“P-p-please,” she stammered. “I don't- I don't- I don't wanna die...”
“Nobody has to die,” the gangster said, “if Mr Biker Man here obeys and keeps cool. Now, you listen to me, vigilante: if you want to save this girl, you will be our communication line with the police. All we want is get out of here, nothing more, and nobody gets hurt. Otherwise, there will be blood on the blackboard. Understood?”
Breathing slowly, the vigilante tried to assess the situation: the teacher's desk was between them, he would never be fast enough to reach them before he pulled the trigger. However, if he could find a way to surprise them, even for a second, they might release Sally and he might have a shot. That was a lot of 'mights'. Without mentioning that even if they didn't shoot Sally, they could shoot him. Unless... he looked at the desk. Mr Compton was so forgetful, he always kept a hell of a mess on his desk. Chalks, pens, Erlenmeyer flasks, glass bottles of chemicals... there was a bottle of ammonia next to his hand. With any luck... yes! The bottle of hydrochloric acid was right next to it. They were taught that lesson two days before. Mr Compton had performed the experiment and the reaction had amused them greatly. He had even told them he liked to teach that lesson because it was always spectacular to the students.
“There's a cop behind you, through the window,” the vigilante said calmly.
Of course no one was there through the window, but he had given them enough doubt to make them turn their eyes off him for half a second. Just what he needed. Swiftly, he grabbed the two bottles of chemicals and smashed them together in the middle of the desk. Surprised, the two men jerked and the one with the gun shot at the vigilante by reflex, but he missed, as the man in black was veiled in a shroud of thick white smoke that quickly spread all over the room. Hydrochloric acid and ammonia... the recipe for chemical fog.
Sally felt a nasty burn on her arm as a few drops of acid reached her, but she didn't even pay attention, as things went crazy around her: the white fog engulfed her, and she felt the gangster lose his grip on her, and she instantly curled up on the floor, her eyes closed and her hands over her ears. The fog was getting too thick and she started to cough wildly, while she heard above her several gunshots as the gangster fired away, trying to hit a target he couldn't see. Then there was a great commotion, groans of pain and effort, the resounding bang of a head hitting a table, the high-pitched clatter of broken glass, and when the noise was over, she felt strong arms grab her and lift her, to lay her gently on her back on a lab bench away from the source of the fog. A gloved hand rested tenderly on her chest to soothe her coughing.
“It's okay,” the deep voice said. “The fog is receding... breathe slowly...”
“It's... it's you!” she said as she opened her eyes to see the black helmet. “Where are the...”
“Out of commission, don't worry about them. Oh, and sorry about that burn.”
“That burn?” she asked, confused, until she remembered the drops of acid on her arm. “Oh, that, nevermind, you... you just...” her voice was choked with tears at the relief she experienced. “You just saved my life!”
“Don't worry about it.”
“Do you have a name?”
He hesitated. “Blaze,” he said eventually.
“Blaze,” she repeated dreamily. “That's a nice name...”