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Taste of Blood
By Myths n’ Wraiths

    “Stop, Desimus!” Myth shouted and held up his hand to hold the burly mutant back. “This man is mine,” he added and turned to fix the darkly dressed figure with a glare filled with unadulterated rage.
    “What do you mean ‘this man is your’s’?” Anarchy shot back, moving to the front of the team in a blur of motion and rush of wind.
    “This is not your fight Anarchy,” Myth scolded. He stepped around the agile mutant with amazing speed and wreathed his hands in negative energy, readying himself to attack.
    “The Hell!” Anarchy challenged.
    “This is not Bloodlust,” Valdien stated, his usually monotone voice etched with confusion.
    “This is not your concern!” Myth persisted and continued gathering the negative force into a dense ball of murky darkness, which he cradled between his trembling hands.
    The dark figure responded by taking a quick step back and crouching in the filth and squalor of the sewer floor. Paying his surroundings no mind, he seemed to focus solely on Myth’s aggressive presence. With his hands held low, barely skimming the waves of sewage that were being tossed about by the commotion, he too began to gather negative energy to his fists.
    “That’s where your wrong boss!” Deadeye said while slapping a magazine into the tricked out assault rifle he had kept slung over his back, and cocked the weapon. The resounding sound of a full metal cartridge being chambered into the weapon caught everyone’s attention except Myth’s and the stranger’s.
    Deciding that Myth was not going to be very enlightening on the subject, Deadeye turned his attention toward the dark stranger and, after he leveled his weapon at him, asked, “Who are you, and why does he want to kick your arse?”
    A unified response came from both the stranger and Myth, the content of which was as shocking as the striking similarity in their tone and voice. “He’s my brother,” both men spoke at once.
    A silence that seemed to drown out the constant background noise of the sewers stretched awkwardly across the seconds that followed. Anarchy Soldier finally broke the stillness, after managing to gather his composure.
    “Oh,” he mumbled, shrugging his shoulders. “Well I ain’t one to get in the way of a family brawl.” With that, the scrapper walked over to the slime covered wall of the sewer pipeline and leaned cautiously against the cleanest set of bricks he could find. “Knock yourselves out,” he said dismissively.
    “Hold the phone,” Deadeye broke in, shaking his head in confusion. He looked at each of the two men, taking in their features despite the dim light. There was no doubt about it. They were identical, in an almost creepy way. Not only their features but their very mannerisms and stances mirrored each other to perfection. Their dark eyes bore the same fury and their squared jaws were set in the same manner.
    The only noticeable differences between the two were their clothes, though even their taste in jeans and T-shirts were similar, and their hair. Though they both sported unkempt, shoulder length hair, Myth’s was stark white while his brother’s was pitch black.
    “This is not the fight you came here for,” Desimus said to Myth while taking up a position between the two brothers. “Destiny brought us all here to face another, and if you are meant to settle whatever dispute you have with your own blood then destiny will provide a time for that as well.”
    “He is right,” Valdien agreed, using his empathic abilities to stem the flood of aggression that had been building around the entire team, and in particular their leader and his newly revealed sibling. “We must have all come here for the same reason. Can we not put all other differences behind us until we have accomplished our first purpose?”
    Slowly, in response to the logic of his companions, Myth released the dark energy he had been conjuring. In like response, the stranger also allowed his powers to fade into dormancy and took up a more casual stance.
    “Much, much better,” Valdien said at last.
    “Well since it looks like were playing nice for the time being, what’s your name?” Deadeye asked Myth’s darker twin. He had already lowered his weapon but, to no one’s surprise, the magazine was still locked into the weapon.
    “Wraith,” the stranger spoke in a low tone which, despite its gruffness, still resembled Myth’s. “And I wouldn’t bet on that ‘playing nice’ deal,” he added with an annoyed shake of his head.
    “Yeah,” Deadeye said to Myth, seemingly ignoring Wraith’s last statement. “He’s your brother alright.”
    “Don’t rub it in,” Myth shot back.
    “Nice to see you too, bro,” Wraith nearly growled. The two siblings began to pace around each other. Each brother was sizing the other up in a classically threatening manner.
    “So, what’s it going to be?” Wraith asked, stepping close enough to Myth for his breath to be felt on his brother’s face. “Or we gonna settle this tomorrow?”
    Myth did not even bother responding to Wraith’s taunts. “What makes you think there will be a tomorrow?” he asked bluntly, turning away from his brother and waving his hand dismissively.
    “We should press on to our goal,” Desimus spoke up, his thick native African accent and deep voice resounding off the narrow walls.
    “Wait a sec,” Anarchy cut in and rejoined the team. “Just like that,” he said snapping his fingers, “and this guy is on our side? We don’t even know him or what he is really doing down here.”
    “Don’t worry,” Wraith retorted. “I’ll make my way there alone.”
    “No you won’t!” Myth snapped at his darker twin. “You need us; that is why you flushed those Rikti out of the sewers. You could have made it by them on your own but you didn’t.”
    “So what’s the point?” Wraith growled, not bothering to deny his brother’s logic.
    “You know you can’t beat him on your own. So you have been following us ever since you stole the documents from Saundra’s office, waiting for us to move so that you could use us as back-up,” Myth explained, in a tone that resembled that of a professor lecturing on English 101. When he was done, all eyes turned on Wraith expectantly.
    “So you can connect the dots,” Wraith replied calmly. “But you’re wrong on one thing. It’s not Bloodlust I need help with; it’s the army of Circle of Thorn that will be there with him that I won’t want to deal with.”
    “Army?” Valdien questioned with a note of grief in his voice. “Saundra’s information made it sound as if it would be a meeting between Bloodlust and the senior mages of the Circle of Thorn. She said nothing of an army.”
    “Yeah well, Saundra’s intel was wrong,” Wraith said, stepping out of the murky sewer water and up onto the cement walkway.  “Bloodlust promised the cultists an artifact in exchange for a force of minions large enough to support his return to Paragon.”
    “What type of artifact?” Deadeye questioned while lighting up a cigarette.
    “It is some type of map that is old as sin. It’s called the Path of Verrazano and it is supposed to open a path to Oranbega,” Wraith continued.
    “Right…” Anarchy sighed sarcastically. “And what exactly does that mean?”
    “Oranbega is a lost city below Paragon. It is the birth place of the Circle of Thorn’s powers and the hiding place of their leader, Zoria,” Myth spoke up, his curiosity slowly overcoming his former anger. “If Bloodlust did find an artifact that could open a path to the ancient city then the Circle of Thorn would do anything to keep it out of a hero’s hands.”
    “Well he did find it,” Wraith countered Myth’s doubts with an aggressive tone. “But there isn’t much need for the cultists to worry about any hero getting their hands on it.”
    “Why is that?” Valdien asked.
    “Cuz’ I broke the damn thing,” Wraith said pointedly. Reaching into the cargo pocket on his faded black jeans, he pulled out a curiously carved stone for all to see. The weather worn artifact was a sandy brown color and showed signs of centuries of natural aging, but along the bottom part of the long cylindrical artifact could be seen the jagged edge of a recent break.
    “How on earth did you come by this?” Valdien’s voice rang out over the collective murmurs of surprise that the Dogs of War were uttering.
    “Short story?” Wraith said, more as a statement than a question. “I ran Bloodlust to ground in Talos eight days ago. I thought I had him cornered but that bastard is more resourceful than I counted on. He managed to escape but not before I snapped part of the artifact off.”
    “Then you’re the hero he put in the hospital, the one Saundra told us about?” Anarchy questioned with a chuckle.
    “I told you, I can handle Bloodlust,” Wraith retorted. “The hero that got sent to the hospital got in his way while Bloodlust was trying to get away from me,” he continued with an unconcerned wave of his hand.
    “If you have part of the artifact then why would Bloodlust go through with this transaction?” Valdien questioned.
    “I don’t know, but I do know that he always has a back up plan. More than likely he is expecting me to track him here, where he plans on retaking it,” Wraith replied.
    “And you’re bringing it right to him,” Myth sighed and shook his head.
    “When I go to battle, I take every weapon at my disposal,” Wraith shot back. 
    “So, what size of a force are we looking at?” Deadeye asked, shifting the focus of the conversation while replacing the snub of a cigarette he had been milking with a fresh stick.
    “A Mage from the Circle’s higher echelons will be there with his security guard to make the trade. Best as I can tell, the main force that Bloodlust will be getting is already dispersed around Paragon but the leaders of those minions will all be there for him to take direct control of. All totaled, probably two hundred,” Wraith explained. The faces that stared back at him when he was finished however bore expressions of doubt and skepticism.
    “How do you know all this?” Anarchy voiced his companions’ doubts.
    “Because unlike my brother here,” Wraith growled aggressively and pointed at Myth, “I didn’t let other people hunt down my leads for me. I do my own dirty work.” If his aggression and confidence were not enough to convince the skeptics among his brother’s team, what he said next was. “And there’s a tree in Perez Park that has twelve Circle of Thorns buried under it to prove that. Each one had something I wanted and I took it, along with their life. That’s how I operate; that’s how I know.”
    A long pause would have followed Wraith’s oration had it not been for Deadeye’s gentle chuckling. His fellow Dogs of War turned to eye the weapons specialist curiously when the gentle chuckle broke out into an all out laugh.
    “That’s some good shit,” the aging soldier said slapping his knee. “Wraith,” he continued, choking back his laughter, “I like how you operate. You’re alright with me, troop.”
    “Glad I meet your approval,” Wraith grumbled sarcastically.
    “We should get going,” Myth broke in. “All this information is no good if we miss the meeting.”

    The team, along with its newly found member, made its way toward the rendezvous point in relative silence. In the hearts and minds of each man a brooding anger had been building, in some cases for years, and now, as they approached their quarry, that anger was beginning to burn into their faces. Even Valdien, whose face was obscured by a low hanging hood, had become a caldron of stirring rage.
    After a quarter of a mile of walking in silence, Wraith moved up to the front of the group and took point in place of Desimus. The tank relinquished his position with a note of passive indifference and fell back to guard the rear of the procession.
    With Wraith temporarily out of hearing range, Valdien walked up beside Myth. “You never told us you had a twin,” he said evenly, his question implied.
    After a moment of hesitant silence, Myth began, “We were together the day that Bloodlust kidnapped us, and we were together in that park, the day we were orphaned.” He had never bothered to keep his personal history a secret from his teammates, though admittedly the events of that day were often blurry in his own memory. He had simply never bothered to include the fact that his brother had been with him through those events or even mentioned that his darker twin even existed.
    “We were both placed in the care of G.I.F.T, but Wraith was never able to accept our mentors and their training. We were only ten when he ran away. It took me months to come to terms with the fact that he was not coming back. We had made a vow together that we would revenge our parents’ death and when he ran away, I thought that he had abandoned that vow,” Myth continued in a low even voice, which seemed almost cold despite the emotional wake that his memories were creating.
    “Because you felt he had abandoned you,” Valdien pointed out.
    “I hated him for it. We had promised each other that we would not let the memories of our parents die, and his leaving…” Myth’s voice trailed off.
    “But he hasn’t abandoned the hunt for your parents’ killer,” Valdien stated. “It was destiny for you to meet here. It is proof that, despite the fact that you both took separate roads, it was to achieve the same goal.”
    “Yeah,” Myth replied vaguely. The remarks that his brother had made about him using others to do his ‘dirty work’ still burned in his mind. The Empath was forced to admit, however, that the anger toward his brother that he had been fostering for all these years was indeed unfounded.
    “Our immediate future is at best uncertain,” Valdien pressed, sensing the conflict in his leader’s mind. “Perhaps you should settle matters before we meet our enemy.”
    Myth nodded hesitantly and, gathering his thoughts and resolve, made his way to the front of the team where his brother was patrolling. When he was only a few steps behind his sibling’s dark form, readying his comments in his head, his mind suddenly went blank. All he could focus on was the anger that had driven him for the past ten years. It wasn’t even focused on his brother any more, it wasn’t focused at anyone; it just was. It was all that mattered.
    Wraith glanced over his shoulder at his brother, an annoyed expression on his face. “You want something?”
    “Yeah,” Myth replied, his thoughts becoming clear once again. “If my team and I hadn’t been here what would you have done? You wouldn’t have been able to take on Bloodlust and the Circle of Thorn on your own.”
    “I would have watched and waited. Opportunities always present themselves; you just have to know how to take advantage of them,” Wraith replied nonchalantly.
    “And if no opportunities came up?” Myth persisted.
    “They always do,” Wraith said more emphatically. “What is it you really want to know?”
    “Nothing,” Myth retorted. “I already know it. You need us, Wraith. If my team had not been operating in the background all this time, if we had not stayed below Bloodlust’s radar, then you would have no element of surprise going into this. You tipped your hand already.”
    Wraith froze in his steps and turned to face his brother. To Myth’s surprise however, there was no anger in his brother’s expression. There was instead a level of acceptance and agreement. In that moment both brothers realized that no more needed to be said about the hard and lonely road that each had hated the other for taking.
    Wraith had been able to come closer to capturing Bloodlust on his own than Myth had with all of his resources, but Myth had managed, against all odds, to keep an entire team of heroes a secret from one of the most devious villains to ever penetrate Paragon’s borders. Even apart they had accomplished more than the most cohesive team and now that they were at last united, they would accomplish the one final task that both had worked so hard to achieve.
    After a moment of reflection, Wraith turned and continued to walk down the filth- covered corridors of Paragon’s sewers. “Glad we had this talk,” he muttered in a low emotionless tone.


TO
TASTE OF BLOOD 4




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