When the sun rose, the intricate details of Raphael's dream were already fading from his mind. At noon, only the memory of an unpleasant experience lingered. By bed time, he had forgotten all about it, eager to settle into his hammock after a day full of training ending with a lengthy rooftop race with his brother Leonardo.
His sleep for the next three nights was peaceful and rejuvenating. Then the nightmare started again. Exactly as it had before.
The run…the fall…the time travel…the solitude…the fortress…the wall climb...
…and the cockroach.
As before, Raph tried to fight the creature and wound up caught in its pincers to be sent onward to the beast's stomach. Trapped in the darkness that lacked any air, a familiar panic rose within the red-banded turtle. His heart began to beat faster, thumping against his ribs in the same frantic rhythm that his fists pounded the inside of the insect's throat.
He was not going to be defeated this time.
Fingers and toes digging into the mucous-slicked muscles that engulfed him, Raph tried to climb back up the roach's gullet. He had made little progress when the bug swallowed. A wave of warm saliva washed over him. Losing his grip, he slipped deeper into the darkness.
Raph cringed and braced himself for the plunge into a belly full of acid strong enough to melt his skin from his bones. As his feet broke through a liquid surface, he squeezed his eyes shut, instinctively protecting them from harm. But instead of blistering heat, he submersed into icy coldness.
Chilled to the core, goosebumps erupted all over his flesh. Further and further down he sank into a seemingly bottomless pool. Confused, the sai-wielder opened his eyes to examine his surroundings. He was suspended in murky, green water – the appearance of which he knew all too well.
Sewer water. He was drowning in sewer water.
Glancing up, Raph saw a light shining several feet overhead. Hope fluttered through him and he began to swim toward the brightness. Arms stroking and legs kicking, he cut through the water quickly and easily. Raph broke through the surface with a splash and bobbed in the water as he looked around.
It was obvious that he was in the city sewers. Dirty, mildew-covered stones arched high over his head to form a vast tunnel. The air was heavy with a stench that Raph had grown accustomed to after several years of exposure. To his right was a narrow walkway which was illuminated by the light that had drawn his attention. It came from fixtures mounted halfway up the wall and spaced evenly along its length. Raph swam for the walkway and hoisted himself out of the water once he reached it.
On a whim, he went left, stepping cautiously over the slick stone. Drops of water plipped and plopped as they fell in unseen places throughout the tunnel. As he walked, Raphael began to recognize landmarks – a circular chip in the wall that was roughly the size of a softball and a crude message spray painted by some artist know as "IceMann"—that informed him of his location. The path that he was on would take him to one of the junkyards he frequented with his brothers and from there straight home. Eager to return to the lair, Raph accelerated his pace.
The walkway abruptly ended and the ninja was forced to step down into ankle deep water to continue his journey. When he rounded the next bend, a strange hissing sound began to echo off the walls. Raph slowed, his senses on high alert for any potential threat to his well-being. His eyes scanned the tunnel seeking the source of the noise. While he was looking left, something landed in front of him, dousing him with a wave of water created by its massive weight. Sputtering, Raph stopped short and wiped a hand over his face to clear his vision. What he saw next made his breath catch.
Towering in front of him was a giant four-legged insect. Long, grey tentacles were attached at random intervals all Its blue colored exoskeleton and a pair of muscular arms projecting from its upper torso brandished sharp claws. Antennae twitched on top of the insect's head, directly above three glowing red eyes. The creature was undoubtedly a mutant.
Bishop's mutant to be precise – completely identical to one that he and his brothers had encountered on the night they first learned of the outbreak rampaging through New York.
"What the hell?" Raphael muttered to himself while reaching for his sai.
The insect hissed again, tentacles flailing wildly. With a twirl of his twin weapons, Raph charged the creature. He leapt from the water and slashed at it, severing one of its extra limbs from its body. A high-pitched screech escaped the wounded bug and it swung an arm in the direction of its tormentor. Raph dodged the blow, countering the attack with a powerful kick to the other mutant's abdomen, puncturing it with his foot. Like so many months before, blue ooze immediately began to spurt from the opening and covered Raph from head to toe.
The red-banded turtle swore in disgust and shoved the dying insect away. It teetered unsteadily for a moment then collapsed on its back, twitching one final time before going still forever. Raph holstered his weapons to brush the ooze from his body. As he did so, he began to question the creature's presence. Bishop had ordered his men to fumigate the entire city with the retro-mutagen that Leatherhead had developed, so how in the hell could this mutant still be wandering around the sewers? Was it possible that a portion of the metropolis had been skipped? Or had the cure not worked?
Deciding he'd rather figure it out later, Raph bounded over the lifeless creature and took off running. He had a sudden sense of urgency to get home and inform his brothers of what had just happened. Splashing through the water, he glanced over his shoulder to make sure that he wasn't being followed. The area behind him was clear. Yet, for some reason, Raph still felt uneasy. His feet pounded harder and his splashes sounded louder as he increased his speed.
Nearly half a mile later, the tunnel he was racing through widened. A current had formed, driven by the four adjacent streams that emptied into the main one by gushing down steep ramps that were mostly obscured by the arched tunnels that housed them. Raph picked his feet up a little higher as he was forced to run against the flow. He had passed by the first ramp when a loud clicking noise reached his ears. Slowing to a stop, he glanced around frantically.
At first he saw nothing, but at his gaze drifted back towards the side channels he caught sight of a pair of red eyes glittering at him from within the darkness of the third tunnel. Raph's uneasiness intensified. The urge to flee was overwhelming, but the turtle found that he could not move. He watched the eyes creep closer until their owner finally emerged into the open. Head tilting back, Raph stared in horror at the familiar human-cockroach monster before him.
"Ya gotta be fucking kidding me," the reptile swore.
Another one of Bishop's unintended creations, the mutant glared down at Raphael with mismatched red eyes. While the right one was large, round, and shiny, the left one still resembled that of a human though the pupil was blown wide. What was once a blue plaid shirt hung from the beast's shoulders, poorly covering its grayed and disfigured torso which connected to its insect-like abdomen and legs. Body jerking spasmodically, the bug began to growl.
"Splicing kit!" it roared at Raph in its confused state of mind. "Bring your splicing kit!"
Taking a step forward, the creature shot five long, boil-covered tentacles towards Raph. He dodged them easily, flipping out of range. The turtle grabbed for his sai and pulled them out just in time to deflect a second attack as the other mutant advanced. On the third attempt, the bug managed to wrap a tentacle around Raph's wrist and tried to drag him closer.
Raphael wasted no words on the bug. Instead, he cut the tentacle with a single stab of his sai. A black goo seeped from the severed appendage as the human-cockroach howled in pain. Arms swinging wildly, it managed to catch Raph in the stomach with enough force to send him flying. He landed with a terrific splash, body slamming into the stony ground that the sewer water covered. Feeling the pain of impact, Raph tried to stand as quickly as possible to counter attack, but before he could even get to his knees, a tentacle encircled his waist.
The ninja couldn't mask his surprise at the bug's ability to lift him high above its head. Feet kicking, Raph prepared to once again slash at the tentacle holding him. As if sensing his intentions, the human-cockroach used another two tentacles to trap both of Raph's arms, rendering him defenseless. Unwilling to give up, Raph struggled viscously, twisting his limbs in an attempt to break free while a flood of profanities left his mouth. He even tried biting at the tentacles that held him, but failed.
His struggles faltered when the creature, again yelling its demand for repair tools, jabbed the barb on its final functional tentacle into his side.
To stay that it stung would be an understatement. Rather, it was more like hot iron had pierced deep into his flesh and sprayed tiny needles into the surrounding muscle. Tough though he was, Raph was unable to hold back a cry of agony. Before his shout died away, the creature withdrew its barb only to thrust it into a different area on the turtle's body.
Over and over and over again.
Mouth open wide, Raph let loose a never ending scream. He felt like he was on fire and thrashed about, desperate to escape and drop into the cool water below him that rippled as blood rained upon it from the multiple cuts on his limbs. After an eternity, the creature stopped the torture and flung Raph away like a broken toy.
The sai-wielder came to rest on his bedroom floor.
Eyes snapping opening, it took several seconds for him to realize that he was fighting his blanket which was twisted around him much like a python. In his struggles he had fallen out of his hammock, which was swinging back and forth free of burden. Raphael untangled himself from the covering and chucked it aside.
His throat felt sore and he ached all over. The darkness made it difficult for Raph to convince himself that he wasn't bleeding in a thousand places. Scrambling for the light switch by his bedroom door, he cursed as he stubbed his toe on some unknown object. He blinked rapidly until his eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness and proceeded to check for injury.
The only damage he saw was the numerous scars he had from long-healed wounds. He ran his fingers over his skin, hardly believing that he was okay. That nightmare had seemed so real and yet he was unscathed. Raphael began to tremble.
Leaning back against the wall, he slid down to the floor and hid his face in his hands.