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Chapter Twelve: Unsteady Alliance
By Myths n’ Wraiths
Edited by Vindea
Steady dark eyes scanned the oncoming column of heroes. Each was dressed in some variance of a classic style. Capes adorned most backs; bright colors covered many of the lean and fit bodies. One in particular caught Myth’s attention. He was tall, with dark brown hair and radiant green eyes, but it wasn’t his physical attributes that caused Myth to focus on him, it was his attentiveness, his focus. A brief gesture from the man brought the column to a sudden halt and he moved to the front of the group. His stride was purposeful and determined. It drew the attention of his comrades as he passed them, his very demeanor willing the others to emulate his example and fortitude.
A unit is only as good as its individuals. Individuals are a reflection of their leader; Myth had found this group’s leader. His gaze fixed on the man and with a subtle change in his demeanor, the leader of the Dogs of War summoned his team out of concealment.
Myth felt his companions gathering out of the shadows around him. Wraith and Desimus moved out in front. Haven slipped close to his side while Vindea and Anarchy took up the flanks. The rest fell back behind the wall of human shields and defensive power. They moved casually, almost carelessly into the flawless offensive formation, their demeanor concealing the intent of their positioning.
The other group of heroes was still in a staggered line, with a burly and stout man in the lead, but otherwise unprepared for any conflict. The young leader of the Dogs of War saw the realization dawn on the senior hero. He felt the brief but unmistakable tinge of realization flash from the green-eyed man, followed by a sense of extreme urgency and purpose.
Before the alarmed meta-human could issue any orders, Myth broke ranks with his team. With his arms hung low, palms out, the young man stepped forward of his group, approaching the wary heroes as unthreateningly as possible. He nodded to the emerald-eyed man, and slowly reached into his shirt to pull out a nickel-plated badge which hung from a subdued chain around his neck.
“We weren’t expecting any support,” Myth said showing the Hero Corp badge to the new arrivals.
“Neither were we,” the apparent leader of the more conventional group replied. A note of doubt etched his face until he was able to get a closer look at Myth’s badge.
“Names Myth,” he said, reaching his hand out.
“PhoenixHawk,” the man replied, taking his hand in a firm grip that had an unusual heat to it.
Myth saw PhoenixHawk’s eyes scan his team again and then settle back on him before saying, “We are here investigating last night’s murders. We have reason to believe that the perpetrators are holed up inside this tunnel.”
“We share a purpose then. They captured one of my team members earlier today. We were able to rescue her without alerting them and were just discussing our next move.” Myth replied.
“Then we can work together on this. You must keep in mind though, these people are civilians and are entitled to our protection as well as our justice. We will need to apprehend them with a great deal of control.” PhoenixHawk spoke forcefully and passionately. Myth could tell the hero was both trying to assert a level of dominance and influence his thinking. It was a skill that worked well on those who were unsure of their position or abilities, or both.
“Good goal. But those people don’t see themselves as civilians anymore, and I don’t think they will lie down like civilians either,” Myth countered with a slight frown. Reaching out with his empathic powers, he tested the surface of PhoenixHawk‘s emotional fortitude and finding it solid, pressed on. “We have a plan and an objective, plus one of our members has spent the better part of a day with their leader. So if you want to help us then feel free to fall into line. If not, I‘m sure we can handle it ourselves.” All pretence and formality fell from the young man’s demeanor. His solid frame crept close to PhoenixHawk’s and tendrils of nether energy began to reach out from his already dark eyes.
It was a dangerous game that the young mutant chose to play, but in his mind it was utterly necessary. His group had become too involved in this entire affair for them to walk away now and leave it in the hands of an unknown and untested group of heroes. Myth knew he had to maintain a level of control over the situation for his teammate’s sake, how much control depended on PhoenixHawk’s next move.
The leader of the heroic team took another bold step toward Myth, his stern frame only inches away from the younger man’s. His larger size dominated Myth’s and faint trails of flames began to emanate from his body. His voice was barely contained cauldron of resolve when he ordered, “I have been empowered by the highest ranks of the Freedom Corp to bring this to a resolve. I have the Freedom Phalanx and Longbow to support me in this endeavor and I have no time for any misguided heroes who want to get into a pissing match when peoples lives hang in the balance. I can take this tunnel by force if need be and I have chosen not to. Now if you want to help me in my endeavor than we can work together, if not… then get out.”
Myth stood motionless for a long moment, both his mind and eyes sizing up PhoenixHawk. He felt the waves of heat washing over his face from the Hero’s aggressive energy and sensed every eye resting on him, waiting for his next move.
The Heroes who stood behind PhoenixHawk had now fallen into their own formation and the two groups stood poised and ready for whatever would come. Both teams, over a dozen human lives, ready to fight, even to die, on the basis of one small decision. Back down, or stand firm?
The tension in the air weighed like a lead blanket on Myth’s senses, fueling his vitality and awareness. The masterful Empath embraced his power, using it like few of his kind dared or even could, to cut through the fog of pressure that clouded the hearts around him. In this heightened state of emotion, each individual was like an open book to the mutant. He read their very hearts with his mind, learning more about their strengths and weaknesses in one moment than most could discern in a lifetime. He looked past the anger, the hate, and even the fear to find someone strong enough, someone bold enough, someone… gentle enough.
Myth’s power fell fully on the woman who stood closest to PhoenixHawk, urging her in ways and means that no other person could perceive or understand. Forcing her heart to see past her indignation at what so desperately wanted to be seen.
* * *
Thauma Guard stepped slowly and smoothly up to her lover’s side. A gentle hand rested on his shoulder and her body came close to his. The flames that emanated from Aaron’s body withered in her presence, afraid of nothing but causing her harm.
“Gentlemen, there is no need for this,” she said softly. Her eyes fell on Myth with a sincerity of concern that felled the rage in the young man’s eyes and stilled the dark energies that dwelled there.
“We are all here to save these people from a fate they do not deserve,” the ebony skinned woman continued. “You may very well be right in saying that not all of these people will be taken without a struggle. Many may be injured; some may even die. But we would be disregarding our convictions as heroes and protectors of this city if we did not see every loss as a personal failure on our part.” Stepping between the two men, Thauma rested her other hand on Myth’s shoulder. The very touch softened his stern demeanor and she felt his muscles ease slightly under her fingers.
“Together, we not only have the means to confront these people, but to save them,” she concluded with both strength and gentleness.
Almost in unison, the two men took their gaze off of her and nodded to each other. This time, PhoenixHawk was the first to extend his hand and Myth took it quickly.
“Give me a minute with my crew and then we can go over what we have learned about the man who has empowered these people,” Myth said with shrug of his shoulders.
“Anything you can share with us would be a great help,” PhoenixHawk replied and both men turned to their teams.
Thauma Guard followed Aaron to the center of the Onami, which quickly gathered around their leader in a tight huddle. The hero’s green eyes glanced one last time over at the other group of irregular heroes before turning his attention to his friends.
“If these guys are heroes, then I’m Statesman himself,” NightHawk quipped. The blue energy in his veins radiated through his skin, casting a faint light in contrast to the shadowy tunnel.
“They are unusually difficult to read,” Brain Fried added, his shrouded eyes peering over at the inconspicuously attired group.
Thauma listened to the conversation unfold between her colleagues with a detached sense of awareness. While they each voiced their opinion about the unexpected encounter, she internally tried to establish her own. There was something strange about the young man who led the Dogs of War, though she could not put her finger on it. His very presence seemed to have invoked unusual reactions from both PhoenixHawk and herself. It was not like her lover to be so aggressive and overbearing with people, despite the strain that this mission had placed on them all. It was equally unusual for her to have felt compelled to intervene in the way she did. It could simply be the pressure finally getting to her, but she suspected something more.
“I am not sure I entirely trust them,” the dark skinned woman added to the conversation.
* * *
“What was that about?” Octive asked under his breath when Myth returned. The Empath shot the junior member of his team a sideways glare but did not answer.
“You manipulated them that whole time,” Haven asserted. To his woman, the leader of the Dogs of War nodded.
“A dangerous game, there are sure to be mentalists in that group. They might have sensed what you were up to,” Anarchy added more as an afterthought than a concern.
“A Telepath and an Empath to be exact,” Lusion added.
“Telepath’s are not that attuned to the intricacies of emotions, just the thoughts that they produce; as for the Empath,” Myth glanced over his shoulder at the slender framed woman that stood among the ranks of the Onami, “she isn’t that type of Empath.”
“So what did we learn?” Anarchy pressed.
“Just how far they are willing to go,” Myth replied emphatically to the old soldier before turning his attention to Vindea. “I need to know everything there is about the leader of those super-powered soccer moms that we are about to butt heads with.”
“Reyeto?” Vindea began. “For starters he has very good taste in furniture.”
Octive choked back a laugh but the rest of the Dogs of War simply stared in disbelief.
“What?” Vindea protested. “He really does.”
“Let me clarify,” Myth spoke slowly, his voice resolved and forceful. “How do I kill him?”
* * *
PhoenixHawk made a slight gesture with his gloved hand, ushering his team into the dim light of the scattered bonfires and calling them on line. The men and women of the Onami assembled along his flanks, forming a wall between the shadows of the tunnel and shifting light that sheltered the mass of newly empowered civilians. Their faces were stern in the subterranean dimness, the colors of their capes and clothes dark and foreboding.
Over the slight din of the crowd a clear and gracious voice could be heard preaching a message of self-deliverance and freedom.
“Tonight we will take back from the filth of this city what it has so mercilessly stolen from us all, freedom! The freedom to walk down the street of your home town without looking over your shoulder at every shadow; the freedom to sleep soundly in your own bed in peace and serenity; the freedom to allow your children into your own back yard to play. Freedom from fear itself.”
“At what cost?” PhoenixHawk’s voice challenged.
The crowd let out a collective murmur as the band of heroes was suddenly noticed. Many of the people closest to the Onami scattered in shock and alarm, fleeing deeper into the relative safety of the throng. A few dozen however, leapt forward to meet the new challenge without hesitation.
“Wait!” Reyeto shouted, halting his minions in mid stride.
“You ask at what cost?” the aged man responded solemnly. “Look into the eyes and souls of those who stand before you young hero, and you will see that the cost has already been measured and paid. These people have paid it every day of their lives that they have been forced to wait for a justice that will never greet them.”
“Peace and closure come from acceptance sir, not vengeance. These people deserve justice, but not at the cost of selling their own innocence.” PhoenixHawk’s voice matched Reyeto’s in both compassion and conviction.
“In normal times I would agree with you. In an average city this could be true. But this is Paragon City, home to the greatest sins this world has ever known. Innocence was stolen from these lands long ago. The hope that it can be reclaimed without the power of these people you see before you is a fool’s hope. As a hero, you know this. As a hero, you face that hopelessness every day.” Reyeto countered. His clear old eyes peered out at PhoenixHawk from beneath his thick white eyebrows, bearing down on the younger man with the conviction of age and horrible experience.
“I face many things every day. I face fear, depravity, chaos and sorrow. One thing I never face is hopelessness. As long as the people of this city can continue with their lives, holding on to the sense of right and truth then I will never face hopelessness. As long as there are people who steadfastly uphold the principles of justice this city was founded on and refuse to let their oppressions crush their love then I will never face hopelessness.” The younger man spoke with resolution that out-matched his age. PhoenixHawk poured his very heart into his words, desperately trying to draw the people’s hearts away from aggression.
* * *
The Onami’s sudden entrance onto the scene had gone marginally better than Myth had anticipated. The sudden shift in the crowd, while less aggressive than the Empath had expected, served a valuable purpose for him. The eyes of every Dogs of War member marked those among the crowd that instinctively moved to attack the Onami before being called into check by their leader, Reyeto. They had each marked those among their enemy that had the spirit to fight in addition to the means.
They must be the first to be taken down.
The band of Heroes moved silently along the outskirts of the mob, clinging to the shadows and employing Lusion’s mind control abilities to keep them hidden from any eyes that may wander in their direction. Slowly but inevitably they made their way towards the head of the group where Reyeto stood, preaching against PhoenixHawk’s idealism and slowly stirring the hearts of his followers into a frenzy of aggressions.
The leader of the Onami was holding his own in the argument, speaking with both conviction and fervor, but it would not be long before the thin veil of restraint was torn away from the masses of victimized men and woman that were arrayed against the heroes. The battle would soon begin, and there was nothing the words of PhoenixHawk could do to stop it.
Through the waves of emotions that flooded the cavern, Myth could tell that there were many who had serious reservations about the growing situation. Attacking the villains who had taken their loved ones from them was one thing and going toe to toe with heroes was another all together. Loyalty to their cause and the pressure of the masses would win out though; of that Myth had no doubt. If he had more time, then he would be able to identify those among the crowd who were the more aggressive and emotionally placate them, essentially calming the entire crowd by simply calming the most volatile of its members. But there were far too many to be sifting through each individual mind, and time was running out. Every minute that this situation was left unresolved raised the chances that someone would be able to piece together the Dogs of War’s actual role in the events of the past several hours; more specifically, his brother’s actual role.
A sudden shift in the crowd’s mood came just as the Dogs of War moved into place to assault the head of the crowd. Myth had not been following the conversation between PhoenixHawk and Reyeto. He had been focused more on the emotional status of the mob rather than the deadly game of words that the leader of the Onami had chosen to engage in. Something irrevocable had been said though; some line had been crossed. The hearts and minds of the crowd welled with barely contained fear and excitement; the adrenaline of the Onami rose to match them. It was the breaking of the dam. The telltale sign that preceded every conflict, the moment of mounting pressure before the deluge.
The board had been set; the feints had been played; now it was time for the gambit.