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Taste of Blood
Chapter Four

By Myths n’ Wraiths

    “We all have a stake in this.”
    I don’t care.
    “Valdien witnessed one of Bloodlust’s feedings first hand when he was a child. It was so traumatic that it awakened his empathic abilities at an early age. He can now share a special bond with victims of Bloodlust… well, those that survived at least. He dedicated his life to helping them find healing, until I found him and offered a chance to do something more.”
    A chance to kill Bloodlust? Send him back to his charity work; I’ve got that covered.
“Anarchy and Deadeye both lost an entire Spec Op team to his appetite in South America.”
    Then they lost comrades, but not family, not blood.
    “Bloodlust’s thirst for bloodshed left Desimus’s native village in ruins; women, children… all of them dead.”
    That mountain of muscle could get shot in the chest by a tank and still get up, but he let his village get slaughtered in some tribal dispute. Well, if he can sit back and watched Bloodlust off his family, then he can sit back and watch me off Bloodlust, Wraith told himself.
The words his brother had spoken to him on their long trek through the sewer tunnels now slowly faded in the fog of his own anger. The stories of Myth’s companions only fueled Wraith’s determination to confront Bloodlust and finally deliver his justice.
    No one else deserves this opportunity; no one else will get the opportunity. I will end this.
Wraith’s eyes resolutely followed the lean, pale figure of his quarry. The dark irises shifted slowly; squinted lids took in every aspect of his potential victim.
    Raven black, shoulder length hair shrouded an angular, colorless face. Gaunt, rippling muscles protruded from a dark, loose fitting outfit which consisted of a T-shirt and denim pants. Bloodlust’s head shifted slowly from side to side, his coal black eyes constantly searching his environment.
    Wondering where I am? You will know soon enough.
    Wraith let a wicked grin break his grim expression. From his perch atop a pipeline, which ran the length of the sewer’s ceiling, Wraith could take in every corner of what would soon become his arena.
    A wide, square room stretched out below him. Nearly identical to the dozens of other conjunction rooms throughout the sewer network, this room had four major pipes that emptied into it. Each portal was a gaping cement cavern, nearly thirty feet in diameter. Green sludge trickled through them, maintaining the constant aroma of human waste and decomposition.
I would hate to desecrate this filth with your blood, but it’s got to end somewhere.
Wraith’s stout figure melted into the shadows that stretched across the ceiling, his very flesh becoming transparent in the grip of the subterranean darkness. Within the deep darkness an even more pervasive gloom clung to Wraith’s invisible figure. Tendrils of milky obscurity emanated from his body, gently licking the air around him.
     Keen ears told Wraith of the approach of a contingent of Circle of Thorn. His eyes never left the lone prey that stood in the center of the chamber, but his thoughts momentarily drifted toward the northern pipeline where the Thorns intended to make their entrance.
    With his peripheral vision, Wraith could make out the robed forms of Circle of Thorn minions pacing in the pipelines. The entire area was crawling with them; their anticipation of the upcoming meeting had drawn countless knife and crossbow wielding cultists from the corners of the sewer network. Wraith had stealthily navigated his way past minor spectral ghosts and giant behemoth demons on his way to the junction room. He passed them by with barely a thought. They were for Myth and his team to worry about. Bloodlust was Wraith’s only concern.
    From the northern entrance, a lone figure dared to emerge. The Circle of Thorn was defined from the other minions by the elaborately shaped shoulder pads that wisped off his frame, setting his head among a virtual set of thorns. Even through his thick robe, it was evident the cultist trembled in the presence of the ‘Blood God’.
    The Thorn minion approached Bloodlust, fell to his knees and crawled to within speaking range of the mutant.
    “Mage Cantia approaches, lord,” the minion proclaimed in a faltering voice. Bloodlust’s dark eyes moved with the weight of death and settled on the hooded figure. A faint tremble rippled through his form.
    He’s craving. He needs to feed; he’ll be weaker for it, Wraith noted with a degree of indifference. In his mind, Bloodlust’s death was inevitable. It made little difference how much of a struggle the ancient mutant made before his passing.
    What did matter was whether the Circle of Thorn hierarchy reached the chamber. Their additional power would ruin his chance to finish off Bloodlust. Wraith pushed the doubts from his mind. It was up to his brother to prevent the meeting and it would only weaken Wraith to waste his attention on it. He was not in the habit of trusting in anyone’s abilities over his own but this was his own flesh and blood. The same resolve that coursed through Wraith’s mind dominated Myth’s thoughts as well. It was a binding power, a tying bond greater than even their genetic similarities.
    Don’t falter.

    Details flooded Myth’s thoughts with the intensity of a crazed swarm of wasps. Flaws in his plan and intangible factors nagged at the back of his mind, threatening to drive his sanity from him.
    Taking a deep breath, Myth forced the doubts from his mind and focused on the task at hand, waiting. It was probably the hardest task in every operation, but it was also inevitable. The storm could not come without its preceding calm.
    Letting his senses reach out into the darkness, he could feel the same unrelenting uncertainties plaguing his team but he would not have know it by looking at their faces. Even in the deep shadows of the small depository tunnel, in which the Dogs of War now hid, Myth could see the almost serene calm on the faces of the hardened warriors that served with him.
    The faint shuffle of thick robes outside the tunnel’s entrance claimed Myth’s attention. The echoes of unholy incantations swelled around the small band of mutants, and proclaimed the arrival of Mage Cantia and his entourage.
    Mage Cantia was rumored to be one of the oldest mages in the Circle of Thorn’s hierarchy. He was said to have been a present participant when Baron Zoria and his followers first thrust the fateful thorns into their flesh and claimed the magical power that drove them. Though Cantia was not considered especially powerful in his control of the dark magic arts, his knowledge of them and their history made him an ever-present counselor for Zoria himself.
    The stories that Wraith had pried from several Circle of Thorn minions before ending their lives, told Myth that it was Cantia’s exceptional knowledge of magical artifacts relating to the ancient civilization which had once inhabited Oranbega that had made him the perfect choice for this mission. Few others in the ancient city could have confirmed the authenticity of the artifact that the “Blood God” claimed to have.
    This also made a unique opportunity for Myth and his team. Had a more powerful Mage been sent in Cantia’s place, stopping their rendezvous with Bloodlust would have been nearly impossible to prevent.
    Myth stared intently through the metal grate that blocked their tributary tunnel from the main depository and witnessed the passing of a solemn procession of robed figures. The first to pass were darkly dressed forms in harshly cut cloaks. Bulges in their garments told of large swords and heavy crossbows, typical weapons for the cult to wield.
    Before half a dozen of the Guardian Thorn’s had passed a more lightly robed figure appeared at the entrance of tunnel in which the Dogs of War were hiding and peered intently into the shadows. Despite the Circle of Thorn’s notorious night vision, Myth was confident that the shadows that enshrouded his team could not be penetrated by visual means. When the Cultist raised his hands and began to chant a spell in a deep slow tone, however, the young Dogs of War leader had more reason to be alarmed.
    It had not been hard to anticipate that the Circle of Thorns would have some supernatural means of searching for possible danger. With the life of such a high ranking Mage on the line, it hade been a fact that Myth had counted on.
    Even though their target was not yet in sight, the choices were simple: strike now and use the element of surprise, or do nothing and run the risk of being detected while still inside this small tunnel. To Myth, there was no choice. He patted Deadeye lightly on the shoulder and almost instantly an explosion rang out from several dozen yards down the main tributary, where the procession had been coming from.
      Shouts of both pain and surprise echoed after the explosion, but they meant little to the Dogs of War. The explosion had not been meant to claim lives, just attention. The continuing shouts of confusion served to cover the heavy thudding sound of Desimus’s broad feet as he lunged toward the metal grate, which blocked the Dogs of War way into the main tunnel, and the now distracted Circle of Thorn who had been only seconds away from finding them.
    The thin framed cultist never saw the death blow coming. Desimus burst from the tunnel slamming the metal grate down on the unsuspecting Thorn with uncontainable force. The robed figure disappeared in a burst of blood and crushed tissue, the first life of many to be claimed that day.
    The five mutants that made up the Dogs of War poured out of the small tunnel; angels of death called upon to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting cultists.

    Wraith leapt from his perch the instant the echo of the explosion filled the conjunction room. His stout form transitioned from intangible shadow to tangible lethality when he left the darkness and fell into the dim ambient light of the chamber.
     The Circle of Thorn heraldry that had been standing close to Bloodlust crumpled under the falling weight of Wraith’s body. A crunching sound, not unlike that of a tin can being crushed, filled the room when the cultist’s spinal cord collapsed under Wraith’s feet. Slowly, with a deliberation designed to draw fear from his quarry, Wraith raised his feral eyes to gaze at Bloodlust.
    A faint spray of blood had been cast across the vampiric mutant’s face when Wraith had landed on the Circle of Thorn and he calmly licked the dark red fluid from his lip with a satisfying sigh.
    “Enjoy that taste of blood. The next you’ll taste is your own,” Wraith growled.
    Bloodlust’s impassive black eyes slowly grew into a radiant crimson. “We have both been waiting for this moment a long time, young one,” he said in a voice so low that it seemed to emanate from within Wraith’s own ears. “Why sully the moment with words when actions are what we need?” A haughty note of authority crept into his tone.
    Wraith needed no encouragement. A decade of hate and lust for vengeance erupted inside of him in that very instant. It burst from his heart, pealed through his body and ruptured from his mouth in a terrible battle cry.
    With a barbaric abandon, the regenerative mutant lunged at his prey. Shadow covered fists lashed out at the Bloodlust’s slighter form with inhuman speed, but despite his weakened state the ancient mutant proved an elusive target. Bloodlust slipped easily out of Wraith’s range, after dodging a set of well-placed blows that left no avenue for a counter attack. Wraith moved in again, striking with all the speed he could muster, and again Bloodlust evaded, though just barely. He had expected the villain to use his superior speed to avoid exchanging blows. Still, he persisted in his attacks, slowly herding Bloodlust to a corner of the room and backing him against the wall.
    “I must admit, for someone who has been hunting me for a decade, you show remarkable control, but did you honestly think you could dance me into a corner?”  Bloodlust asked with a wicked smirk.
    Bounding backwards, Bloodlust planted his feet against the filth covered cement wall and pushed off. His lithe form sailed over Wraith’s head and back towards the center of the room where he landed in a low crouch. Coming to his feet, he spun swiftly on his heels to face Wraith just in time to block a brutal kick to the abdomen.
    Abandoning his patience, Wraith leapt in on Bloodlust, and tried to bear him to the ground. Having seen the attack coming, Bloodlust gingerly stepped to the side and delivered a powerful punch to Wraiths ribs. The young man took the blow with ease, ignoring the temporary pain until his hyper-regeneration washed everything but the memory of bruised ribs away.
    The dark brawler’s quick recovery startled Bloodlust and Wraith used the moment of surprise to land a crushing blow to his adversary’s stomach.

    Desimus landed in the center of Cantia’s forward guard, his formidable size and weight crushing several of the cultists. Those who were not broken under his body were quickly scattered by his burly swinging arms. Robed figures were cast down the tunnel to disappear into the dark of the sewers or sent crashing into the narrow cement walls.
    Deadeye bounded out of the darkness of the tributary tunnel after Desimus’s stout form. Picking the target closest to him, he leveled a double barreled sawed-off shotgun at a Circle of Thorn’s head and squeezed the trigger. The cultist barely had time to realize his circumstances before his face was obliterated by dozens of small metal pellets.
    Just behind the warmongering weapons specialist came Myth, followed by Anarchy and Valdien. The trio turned their full attention on the guard surrounding Cantia. Since their element of surprise was fading fast, this was no small task.
    In Myth’s mind it was a forgone conclusion that the Mage would escape this day. It was his job to delay him so that Wraith could finish off Bloodlust unmolested. Even as the team poured their full attention onto the Honor Guard, the rear guard was pulling forward for reinforcements and Cantia himself was being ushered to retreat.
    Valdien and Myth both dispensed a barrage of oppositely charged energy into the ranks of the Circle of Thorn. The pair fired quick but weak shots randomly into the crowd in an attempt to keep the cultists from gathering their wits and going on the offensive.
    Anarchy played his part by dashing up the side of the tunnel and flanking the front row of Honor Guard. The elite Circle of Thorn guards were easily discerned from the average Thorn by their dark red robes and heavy crossbows and swords.
    The hyper-accelerated mutant plowed into the side of the well-armed Thorns, using the heavy part of his shoulder to strike his targets, so as not to injure himself in the high speed impact. Once he had toppled half a dozen cultists, and pushed his way into their right flank, Anarchy stood his ground and began taking his enemies down with expertly placed and devastating attacks. With his momentum still high, Anarchy leapt forward and up, gaining enough height to plant a knee into one of the Thorns heads and crush their face. The master martial artist fell into a low crouch and spun his leg out and around, sweeping several cultists off of their feet. Dodging a blade that was thrust at his back, Anarchy trapped the attacker’s sword hand and twisted it at the wrist. A loud crackling sound declared that the bones in the attacker’s wrist had snapped and Anarchy used the now free sword to impale one of the Thorns still lying on the ground. 

    A horrendous flash of pain shot through Wraith’s upper body after Bloodlust landed a powerful blow in the central nervous point under his arm. The regenerative mutant recovered from the blow ten times faster than a normal human could have, too fast for Bloodlust to follow up with another attack. Passing off the fading hurt, he repaid his assailant with an uppercut to the jaw.
    Bloodlust stumbled back. The negative energy that enveloped Wraith’s fists sucked the life force from Bloodlust’s face, leaving an aching numbness in his jaw. He leapt backward, putting distance between himself and the unrelenting mutant.
    Predicting his adversary’s retreat, Wraith leapt after Bloodlust and speared him to the ground before he could gain his footing. The pair tumbled backward into the sewer water and rolled in the filth, each struggling ferociously to end up on top.
    Bloodlust’s better developed agility played out in the end and he managed to spin around behind Wraith and grip the younger mutant in a crushing headlock. Bearing the full weight of his body down on Wraith’s neck, Bloodlust forced his head into the sloshing human waste.
    Wraith fought viciously for air and freedom, driving his elbow back into Bloodlust’s side again and again. His wild blows did nothing to break the overpowering grip that encased his neck, however, and Bloodlust continued to drown him in a river of human excrement.
     The ancient mutant bared his fangs when he saw an opening on Wraith’s shoulder and, after shifting his position to get a better latch, sunk his teeth deep into his victim. A heavy gush of blood poured from the wound, filling Bloodlust’s mouth and spilling into the sewer water.
    From underneath the filth, Wraith let out a howl of anguish. Despite his pain however, he managed to take advantage of the fact that Bloodlust no longer had his full weight on his neck and gained his footing. Wraith’s powerful legs flexed inside his cargo jeans and the pair of mutants was hurled up toward the ceiling with Bloodlust on top. They crashed into the ceiling with enough force to leave a shallow crater in the decaying cement. Bloodlust’s slighter frame took the brunt of the impact and Wraith could feel the villain’s rib cage collapse between his back and the ceiling.
    Both mutants tumbled to the ground amidst a rain of small debris and cement dust. Wraith rolled quickly to his feet, expecting to find Bloodlust gasping for air and crippled from his injury. The ancient mutant, however, had already gained his footing and was staring at Wraith with his wicked crimson eyes. A twisted smirk crossed his mouth and he licked a trail of Wraith’s blood from his lips.
    “For over a decade I have been waiting to taste that blood,” Bloodlust said in a savory tone. “Worth every minute.”
    Wraith touched his shoulder where he had been bitten. The wound had already disappeared and only a watered down trail of blood remained.
    “Why?” He couldn’t help himself. He had to know. “That’s why you came back, after all these years, why? With all the regenerative beings in the entire world, what is it about us?”
    “I fathered you,” Bloodlust declared, condescension filling his tone. “Were it not for the accelerant that I had pumped into your veins you and your brother would not have half the potential that you now wield. That same accelerant is what has made your blood the perfect replacement for my flawed genetics. Your sacrifice will finally quench my need to feed, Jason.”
    The fury of a decade spent in emotional torment exploded in Wraith with such raw ferocity that blood vessels began to burst under his toned skin. He lunged at Bloodlust and wrapped a fist around the vampire’s neck.
    With feral rage, Wraith began to bludgeon his victim’s face with his free hand as he screamed, “My name is Wraith, you fuck. My name is Wraith.”
    “My,” he shouted and drove his free fist into Bloodlust’s face, grinding his knuckles against the rigid cartilage of a broken nose for good measure.
    “Name.” Wraith swung again, a trail of blood following his fist as he cocked back.
     “Is,” Again he swung.
    “Wraith!” The lesson ended with yet another blow.

    Myth let his healing, empathic energy flow off of his body in waves. An arrow zipped past his head and nicked his shoulder but the small wound disappeared almost instantly in a foggy green glow. A wide arcing slice from a heavy curved blade sliced Anarchy’s back and that also faded quickly.
    Despite the fact that the Dogs of War were holding their own against a much larger force, Myth still had a reason for concern. Cantia was retreating too quickly from the fight and the defense that his guard was mounting was proving too efficient for the band of mutants to break. An unsteady stalemate had formed between the lines of Cantia’s guards and the Dogs of War, but with wandering patrols of Thorns steadily adding to the cultists’ ranks, it would not belong before Myth and his team was overwhelmed.
    “Deadeye,” Myth shouted over the din of battle. The weapons specialist spared a brief glance to his leader to let him know he had heard him then returned his attention to pouring hundreds of rounds of ammo into the target rich environment.
    “Detonate charge two,” Myth ordered.
    Without taking his eyes away from the sights on his assault rifle, Deadeye flipped open a pouch on his belt and hit a switch on the device inside. Instantly a flare of blinding light filled the tunnel followed immediately by a deafening explosion and a wave of heat and small debris. The shockwave buckled Myth’s knees and he had to brace himself with one hand to keep from falling flat on the ground.
    Once he regained his senses, Myth took in the effect of the second explosion and was more than a little disappointed. The center of the explosion had been only a few dozen yards from Cantia and his retreating guard but the fleeing band looked relatively unscathed. Myth stared through the waving arms and weapons to see Cantia himself lowering his arms after casting a protective spell over himself and his guard.
    “Damnit!” Myth shouted in frustration. If he did not slow the Mage’s retreat, there was a chance that he could double back and reach Bloodlust from another tunnel system before Wraith had a chance to finish him off.
    “Valdien, I need you to relocate the last charge,” Myth ordered his fellow empath. “It has got to be inside the mob.”
    Valdien did not bother nodding his understanding. The often under spoken mutant did as he always had and focused every essence of his being on the task at hand. In a small flash of light, the Empath disappeared, shifting into a variant dimension where he could move the essence of his body and soul at the speed of thought, and reappeared nearly a hundred yards down the tunnel.
    The hooded hero frantically began searching for the explosive that had been set prior to the conflict, while several Thorns stared at him in confusion. Their surprise did not last long and as soon as Valdien spotted the small satchel that contained the charges he was forced to divide his energies between reaching it and staying alive.
    A heavy black arrow shot past the hero’s head, close enough to rip a hole in his thick, black hood. Ducking another arrow Valdien returned fire with a close range but deadly burst of positively charged energy. His attack landed squarely in the Thorn’s chest and the robed figure was sent sailing through the air and crashing into the sewer wall where he collapsed, never to move again.
    Seeing his opening, Valdien leapt the few feet to the satchel and grasped it tightly to his body. He came to his feet and instantly fixed his eyes on the mob that surrounded Mage Cantia. His focus was so intently set on the retreating guard that he never saw the Circle of Thorn that was aiming a heavy crossbow at him, or notice when he heard the sound of a tightly drawn string snap, sending a deadly arrow speeding toward his body. The only thing that could draw his attention from his task was the crippling pain that filled his abdomen when the heavy bolt pierced his lower stomach and drove violently through his flesh to protrude from his back.
    Valdien was hurled backward from the force of the blow and slammed into the filthy sewer wall. His vision exploded in pain so potent that he could not even muster enough energy to cry out in anguish.
    Darkness flooded in on him, threatening to drive him to unconsciousness, and to his own detached amazement, Valdien did not object. There was just one thing he had to do first.

    “Valdien!” Myth screamed when he saw his companion slump back against the sewer wall, a thick black arrow protruding from his lower abdomen.
    Desperately, his mind began to race, searching for options, a plan, even a fleeting folly that would give him the chance to reach his teammate, his brother in arms. No answer came.
    Too much emotional turmoil and distance lay between the two Empaths for Myth to aid his friend with his healing powers and even if he could it would do no good with the arrow still seated in Valdien’s flesh.
    To Myth’s amazement however; Valdien began to stand. A glimmer of hope entered Myth’s heart that the hero might be able to teleport himself out of the fray or even activate his Emergency Teleport Transponder and reach the surface where he could receive medical treatment.
    Valdien chose neither of those options. Myth’s hope slowly sunk into despair as he watched the hooded hero grasp the explosive in weakening hands and stumble toward the still retreating mob that surrounded Cantia.
    “No,” Myth whispered. “Don’t do it.” But there was no stopping Valdien.
    Another arrow struck the hero and lodged in his shoulder; still he pressed on. Through a source of determination that Myth could barely perceive, his fellow empath lunged onward, closing the gap between himself and his target with faltering strides. Despair sunk to horror when, while he was still several yards away from the mob, Valdien was noticed by Cantia’s honor guard and a dozen crossbows were instantly leveled at his struggling form.
    Myth hated to watch what he was certain was his friend’s last moments but he could not pry his eyes away. He stared intently at Valdien’s stumbling figure as he charged the deadly group. He said a quick farewell when he heard the rush of wind from a dozen arrows being launched at Valdien’s body… and he said a prayer in amazement when none of them struck their target.
    Less than a second before he was to be cut down in a hail of crossbow fire, Valdien mustered enough energy to teleport himself into the midst of the mob. The hero appeared in a flash of light before Cantia himself. He stared through his dark shroud into the aged eyes of the ancient mage and with his final strength released just enough energy from his failing hands to detonate the satchel.
    None of the Dogs of War cried out in horror or shock in the surreally silent moment after the blast faded. None of them stood in disbelief or confusion at their comrade’s actions. No one even said a prayer in his memory. For his sacrifice, in his absence, to commemorate his death, they simply fought harder.
    In a silent and righteous rage the Dogs of War routed the now dismayed and leaderless cultists. A few loyal Honor Guard put up a weak resistance in memory of their fallen charge, but even that proved pointless against the enraged mutants.
    In minutes, the entire entourage had been scattered and forced to flee into the many tributary tunnels leading away from the ravaged battle site.
    “Split up and secure the other passageways into the junction room. I don’t want any of these guys doubling back and surprising us,” Myth ordered Desimus, his second in command.
    “Where are you going?” the heavy, dark mutant asked, wiping the glistening sheen of sweet and blood from his bare brow.
    “To finish this,” Myth replied coldly.

    For Wraith, the struggle to suppress his frustration and remain rational in his attacks had proven impossible long ago. He charged recklessly into his more composed opponent time and time again. He took crippling blows which he absorbed and recovered from at an impossible rate, just to press the attack harder.
    Building his strength through every muscle from his toes to his biceps, Wraith hurled his fist at Bloodlust’s body, hoping to break the mutant’s defenses and knock him off balance.
    Bloodlust easily side-stepped the attack and, holding his arm out horizontally, palm facing up, he drove the ball of his fist into Wraith’s exposed chest. The blow was devastating, lifting Wraith off the ground and driving the air from his lungs. His rib cage collapsed and compressed a full inch, traumatizing his heart which temporarily stopped beating.
    The blow would have killed a normal human almost instantly, but Wraith had anticipated the assault and stayed his mind and body. A dark green aura enveloped his chest and before Wraith even hit the ground he had recovered from the nearly mortal wound. He landed hard on his back, at Bloodlust’s feet. Before the villain even realized the ineffectiveness of his attack, Wraith was already moving again. Bringing his legs up, he drove the heel of his boot into Bloodlust’s unprotected groin, lifting the mutant into the air and sending him toppling to the ground. Jumping to his feet, Wraith dove on top of his prey and, grabbing him by the throat, began pounding his head into the cement floor. He knew it was a mistake but Wraith couldn’t help but focus totally on Bloodlust’s battered face as he slammed the back of his head into the ground repeatedly. He knew the blow was coming but he didn’t care. He was absorbed in the agony that shown on his prey’s face.
    Bloodlust’s opened hands slammed down on Wraith’s ears, violently compressing the air inside of his head and collapsing his equilibrium. The attack was followed up by a quick jab to Wraith’s throat that sent the scrapper tumbling backward, clutching his throat and coughing for air. Bloodlust took the momentary reprieve to gain his footing. No sooner did he make it to his feet however, than a blast of netherworld energy collided with Bloodlust’s chest, draining his energy and causing him to stumble. Both Bloodlust and Wraith tore their attention from each other to see where the blast had come from.
    Myth stood stoically in one of the massive entrances to the junction room, dark energies writhing around his outstretched hand. With a sense of finality he kicked a small lever that was situated to the side of the entrance and a tremendous metal wheel rolled into place, blocking the entrance and sealing the room. The empathic mutant nodded in the direction of the other entrances and a quick glance around the room showed that they too had been closed.
    “There is no escape this time, Bloodlust, and you can forget about your friends, the Circle of Thorns. They won’t be coming to help you anytime soon,” Myth spat the words in a condemning tone.
    “Escape?” Bloodlust nearly laughed in mocking condescension. “Escape was never my plan.”
    The ancient mutant reached into his pocket and retrieved a small, intricately woven bag of gold and black silk. He loosened the ornate tassels and reached inside the small sack to retrieve a full length katana, which was several feet too long to have fit inside the bag, physically speaking. Myth and Wraith both stared in shocked disbelief at the act, the latter being the first to recover.    
    “Alright Mary Poppins, if that’s all you have to unpack from your carpet bag, then lets finish this.” Wraith growled sternly.
    “Your tricks aren’t going to save you, not this time,” Myth added.
    “Tricks are for the young and the fools,” Bloodlust replied. All around him a gloom had begun to gather. Faint tendrils of murky darkness licked the air, pulling at the shadows and drawing them tightly to his lithe body.
    “The bait was set, the trap was laid.” The shadows deepened until his pale features began to fade from view.
    “The pawns were called and moved at the kings will.” The room was now cast in darkness and all that could be seen of Bloodlust were his radiant crimson eyes.
    “Now the mice have come and the trap is sprung. No horde of cultist, no army of undead, just me,” The cold steel of his katana rang out with a high, hollow shriek.
    “You talk-“ Myth started.
    “-too damn much,” Wraith finished, and the twins lunged for their prey turned predator.
    They charged into the shadows without fear or regard for the clinging darkness. The unknown held no sway over them; the uncertainty of possible death may have been born in their minds, but it never reached their hearts. They met the villain in half a heartbeat, their attack established in their minds, their moves ordained.
    Wraith stepped in range of those crimson eyes first, drawing out the katana. The blade bit at his shoulder despite his attempt to side step the blow that he could not see but fully expected. With blinding speed he reached out, trying to trap the sword hand in his powerful grip but the blade and its controlling hand had already disappeared.
    Myth charged in behind Wraith, leaping over his brothers crouching back and driving his cocked knee toward the glowing crimson eyes. He caught nothing but air and landed lightly behind his target. Ducking into a crouching position, he rolled forward. The whistle of a razor sharp blade cutting through the air just over his head met his ears; the slight tug on his scalp told him that a lock of hair had been cut off.
    Wraith rose to his feet and, finding his target’s body in the dark, locked his arm around Bloodlust’s neck. He quickly shifted his weight to throw the ancient mutant off of his feet but the blade was there to stop him. The katana came from overtop of Bloodlust’s head and drove down into Wraith’s shoulder once again. Twisting against the wounded limb, Bloodlust broke Wraith’s hold and drove his head backward into the young mutant’s unguarded face.
    The rush of wind filled Wraith’s ears, the crushing pain of the katana’s hilt ramming into his already wounded shoulder weighed down on him, forcing Wraith to his knees. The death blow was next, he knew it was coming and couldn’t move fast enough to avoid it, but he wasn’t alone… what an odd thing to count on.
    Myth found Bloodlust’s form in the darkness and wrapped his arms around the narrow chest. In complement, Wraith rose to his feet, lifting off his toes and driving his forehead into the distracted vampires jaw. The power of the blow aided Myth in lifting the gaunt mutant off the ground. With a grunt of exertion, Myth hefted Bloodlust’s body over his shoulder and fell backward, letting the full weight of both their bodies drive the ancient mutant into the cement floor, head first. A guarded yell of pain was forced from Bloodlust’s lips when his head collided with the pavement but still his hold on his sword remained strong.
    A quick jab with the blade at Myth’s exposed back forced the younger mutant to release his grip on Bloodlust and roll out of reach of the deadly steel. Wraith was there to instantly take his brother’s place in pressing the attack. He leapt over his brother, both legs pulled tightly up underneath his body. His feet launched out from underneath him to slam into the ground with all the force his weight and strength could muster. He expected to feel Bloodlust’s ribs crack under his boots but hard pavement was all that was there to great him.
    Damn he’s fast- Damn… that hurts.
    The pain flooded his senses, threatening to shut down his nerves and consciousness. Wraith could feel the cold blade rubbing against whatever internal organs it had not pierced in his lower abdomen; he could feel his tissue and flesh giving way to the razor sharp metal at the slightest movement. The eerie warmth of blood flowing down his leg played abstractly into his senses.
    Myth gasped in shock when his empathic abilities sensed the wound. It resounded in his mind and heart as powerfully as if he had been pierced himself. His body however; stood firm and ready to act.
    Through pure spite and rage, Wraith reached out and grasped the blade of the sword just above the hilt before Bloodlust could withdraw it for another attack. Power of will forced him to take a full step into the agonizing steel that ran through his stomach and protruded from his back.
    “My sword now,” Wraith spat blood and hate at the crimson eyes that glowed faintly in his vision.
    Twisting his body and arm against Bloodlust’s grip, Wraith tore the sword from the ancient mutant’s hands. He spun around, turning his back on his enemy, and lunged backward. A gasp of pain left Bloodlust’s lips and filled Wraith’s satisfied ears when the portion of the katana that stuck out of his back pierced deeply into the vampire’s flesh. 
    The two wounds were like beacons of empathic turmoil to Myth. The minds that struggled to deal with the flashing nerves that tortured their bodies were blindingly clear in the empath’s vision. The instinctual side of him told Myth to heal his injured brother, but the baser side of him saw an opening, an opportunity.
    Reaching his brother, Myth grasped the blood coated hilt of the katana that protruded from the scrapper’s stomach and braced his other hand against Wraith’s chest. With deliberate speed he pulled hard on the sword, drawing the long steel thorn out of the two mutant’s flesh along with gasps of agony and gushing blood.
    Letting the emotional turmoil that he felt flowing from the Bloodlust’s mind guide his hands, Myth gripped the hilt of the katana and swung the deadly steel blade. There was a slight resistance to his attack in mid swing and a warm mist splashed across the twins. The crimson eyes stared widely at Myth, unblinking. Then, slowly, they shifted to the side and fell to the ground where they faded until they were nothing more than smoldering embers.
    Time passed unnoticed, for seconds, minutes, or hours. The twins stood motionless while the shadows slowly lifted from around them and retreated to the far corners of the junction room. Wraith was crouched low, cradling a still healing gash in his chest. Myth stood with the katana still in his grip and poised from his last attack. A fine sheen of blood and sweat covered his face and stained his already filthy and torn shirt.
    At their feet, in a growing puddle of dark blood, lay Bloodlust’s body. A few feet from the lower part of his jaw, the top of Bloodlust’s head lay wobbling on its skull, completely severed from the rest of his body by a surgically smooth cut.
    “Run your mouth now,” Wraith spat, stumbling to his feet.
    Myth stared intently at the corpse, his chest still rising and falling rapidly from the adrenaline coursing through his body. Wraith placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder and Myth flinched at the contact.
    “It’s over, Myth,” Wraith said calmly despite his aching body.
    “We did it,” Myth replied.
    “We sure as hell did. Now let’s get the rest of your team…”
    “…and get out of here,” Myth completed his brother’s statement. Reaching into his pocket, Myth pulled a small cell phone out and hit a button.
    “Index, Index, Index,” He said with deliberate strength. “Mission accomplished. Break contact with all enemies and meet up at the base.”
    Three voices responded in almost perfect unison, acknowledging the command. Wraith noticed… only three. The unassuming voice of the hooded empath never answered.
    “It’s over,” The darkly garbed mutant repeated. “No more lives for this scum.”
    Myth nodded resolutely. “No more lives ruined, no more lives taken.”


TO
DARK TWIN CHRONICLES:
BIRTH OF A HERO


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