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Chapter One: The Heart of the Mind
By Myths n’ Wraiths
Edited by Vindea
“Stop it! Please stop!” Lusion heard the cries piercing the air around him. He recognized the voice and was instantly alert. Forcing his eyes open, Lusion tried to focus through the fog of fatigue. The cold chill of muddy ground helped him to this end, shocking his senses into a brutal awakening.
Pulling himself from the mud, Lusion took in his surroundings. A dim, wavering, red glow illuminated the area, but just barely. Long flickering shadows hid the details of the strange place.
Through the shifting fog and dancing shadows, he could begin to discern the shapes of two people. One was Vindea, though she looked much younger in this light, almost childlike. She was cowering underneath the dominating figure of an older lady whose face was etched with the markings of a hard life and a well-developed friendship with the bottle. In the older woman’s hand was a thin wooden paddle, cocked back and ready for a swing.
“Please, Mommy, no!” Vindea screamed. Her pleas did not stop the board from swinging. The thin wooden utensil went whistling through the air before making contact with Vindea’s face and sending the younger, more fragile form sprawling to the ground. A yelp of pain filled the air and Vindea cradled her battered face.
Lusion flinched when he witnessed the blow and, once he recovered himself, moved to protect his colleague. His legs betrayed him however, and Lusion fell to the ground. The brutal sound of more blows accosted his ears as he struggled to his feet and, abandoning physical means, tried to aid his friend with his kinetic abilities. Even his mind held no strength though, and Lusion was forced to watch as Vindea’s “Mommy” continued to batter her cringing body.
“Stop it!” The mentalist shouted in unison with Vindea’s sobs but still the woman would not relent. Lusion could see faint traces of blood on the paddle now and his emotions began to surge. Anger mounted in his heart and again he tried to reach out telekinetically to stay the woman’s hand. Again he failed.
So focused was he on the savage woman that Lusion did not notice the faint glow of crimson energy growing around Vindea’s hands. It was frail, more like a glove of light pink radiance than an actual glow, but anyone who had seen the young mutant in action knew how deadly such a faint glow could be.
With an ear piercing scream and a sudden burst of motion, Vindea came up off the ground. Her fist arched toward her mother’s face, leaving a trail of vibrant red energy in its wake. A blinding eruption of light forced Lusion to shade his eyes and turn his face from the impact. Sickening fear sunk into his stomach when his mind no longer sensed the presence of the oppressive old lady.
“Vindea,” Lusion whispered in despair, rubbing his eyes and trying to focus through a fading light. Desperately he searched with his sight to disprove the horror that his mind was telling him.
To his surprise, however; neither of the women were anywhere to be seen. Lusion found himself now standing in the middle of the burnt-out ruins of what must have once been a primitive village. Smoke still rose from the remains of brick and straw shelters.
The sound of weeping drew Lusion’s attention to the center of the ruins where he spied Desimus’s massive form. Gasping in horror, the mentalist saw that the main source of the flickering light that illuminated the area was a burning corpse, which Desimus cradled in his arms. The glow illuminated the giant’s face, casting his pitch-black skin in red hues. His gaping mouth filled with the flames from the human remains as he bellowed out gasping screams of remorse.
The ear-piercing cries caused Lusion to flinch and turn away, covering his ears. The cries only became more intense, though. Lusion turned his back on the horrific scene and cradled his head between his legs trying to block the noise and haunting memory of the horrific scene, but still it persisted. Slowly, the pitch of the screams began to change. At first it was gradual, but then it became more abrupt. The tone of the cries would suddenly shift, ranging from an ear-piercing shriek to a low throbbing moan in mere seconds. Then suddenly, they stopped, replaced by the dull murmur of many voices.
Daring to lift his head once again Lusion looked around in confusion. The village ruins were gone, replaced by a suburban road, in front of a schoolyard.
Along the sidewalk a crowd of teenagers had gathered around a prostrate form and were kicking at it and jeering mercilessly. It was difficult to tell from this distance, but Lusion was fairly certain that the child that was being beaten was a boy. He could make out shots of dirtied blond hair and a blue T-shirt between the shuffling legs of the crowd.
“Make him do it again!” Lusion heard one of the boys shout out over the ruckus of the crowd. The mob responded by beating the boy even harder.
“Watch this,” one of the larger boys exclaimed, then kicked the helpless figure over onto his back and taking aim, stomped down on his unguarded groin. The unearthly shrill shriek broke out once again in tremendous fury. Everyone stepped back clutching their ears. Despite the pain to their senses, however, there were few people in the crowd that were not laughing at the battered child’s expense.
Octive, Lusion realized to his great dismay. Remembering his inability to intervene on Vindea’s behalf, Lusion did not hesitate to drop to his knees and begin to crawl toward his defenseless companion. A wave of helplessness swept over him despite the desperate will that drove him forward one arm span at time. It made little difference to the psychic that his body seemed so weak, but the inability to use his considerable mental abilities only served to heap frustration on his already growing despair.
After making it only halfway to Octive a sudden fear came over the boys that were abusing the young mutant. Darkness permeated their surroundings. Deep shadows crept in around the crowd with all the deliberateness of a living creature.
Lusion redoubled his efforts in an attempt to reach Octive and rescue him from the darkening gloom. While he was still several yards away though he was stricken in stillness when the very space above Octive’s abused body ripped open and belched out a dark form.
The figure was a man’s, dressed in dark rags and with a mangled black mane of hair. He appeared clenched hands first and pounced on one of the antagonizing boys before even touching the ground.
When the dark form had pinned the slighter figure to the ground, it raised its head and let out a feral yell. To Lusion’s amazement, he recognized both the face and the voice. The two bodies had landed only feet in front of him and at that distance Wraith’s form was unmistakable. His rippling solid figure bore down on its screaming victim and his fists began to pound away with all the force of sledgehammers.
Lusion came to his knees and raised his arms to shield his face from the flying specks of blood that were now erupting from the bully’s face.
“Wraith!” Lusion shouted, trying to draw the man’s attention away from his prey. It worked and Wraith’s bloodthirsty gaze fell on the mentalist. Lusion realized from Wraith’s eyes that he could not tell friend from foe. More disturbing was the fact that he was within arm’s reach.
He saw Wraith’s bloodied fist cock back for a devastating blow.
“Wraith, no!” Lusion shouted.
The fist swung.
Lusion bolted up in his chair. Sweat was beaded on his bare head. His breath came in short rasping gasps. Cursing at himself, he got up out of his chair and shook the images from his mind. He straightened his tie and smoothed his shirt in an attempt to establish a semblance of composure, but it did little good.
Looking down at the table that his head had been resting on just moments earlier, Lusion saw a familiar, halo shaped device. It was a mild neural inhibiter that he was in the habit of putting on every night before going to sleep. The device served to dampen his mental potency during his sleep since even when all that was active in his mind were his subconscious thoughts he still possessed considerable psychic strength.
This was the second time this month that he had fallen asleep without it. The last time had been in the middle of the day and the only one around had been Vindea, who was exercising at the time. His sleep had been troubled by concerns of waist size and some frustrations over men’s general fear of commitment, but little else.
Desiring company to calm himself the mentalist dared to reach out with his thoughts and searched the silent halls of the base for a mind that wasn’t in a troubled sleep. With no surprise, he sensed Myth’s calculating thoughts in the communication center.
Deciding against walking through the personal quarters section, where his teammates were bedded down for the night, Lusion opted for the more circuitous route through the training area. Shuffling along at nearly a jog, Lusion made it to the Comm center in a matter of moments. The automatic doors hissed opened and revealed Myth seated with his feet propped up on the stainless steel desk and reading a quickly scrolling computer screen. The young, but well-established, leader of the Dogs of War did not bother looking up when Lusion entered.
A quick glance at the screen showed a series of the most current headlines along with brief reports, which included many details that newspapers did not publish. Lusion was never quite sure where Myth received these reports from and out of respect for the young leader’s capabilities he never asked. Most of the Dogs of War had a silent code that started with the premise that as long as you were able to get the job done, no one would ever question how you did it. It was Myth’s job, among many other things, to pick through the constant crises that plagued the city and determine which were worthy of the Dogs of War’s attention. It was a job that, like almost every aspect of his life, Myth executed with great earnest.
Despite the seriousness with which Myth was reading, there was no doubt in Lusion’s mind that his leader was aware of his presence. He patiently waited and composed his mind.
“You fell asleep without your inhibiter again, didn’t you?” Myth asked, after several long moments. He looked up at Lusion and a confident smile spread across his square jaw. “And you look like crap. Do I even want to know?” Myth continued, his dark eyes quickly taking in his friend’s disheveled appearance and his mind searching the equally tousled state of Lusion’s emotions.
Lusion shook his head adamantly. “We live with some truly troubled individuals,” he sighed.
Myth chuckled at the telepath’s observations. “You’re just now figuring this out?”
“Well, no, sometimes it is just more evident than others,” Lusion countered.
“Like when everyone is sleeping?” Myth questioned with a sarcastic grin on his face.
“Especially when they are sleeping,” Lusion nodded decidedly. “For all their various personality quirks, at least our teammates are able to keep their inner demons quiet during the day.”
As a whole, the Dogs of War were a volatile group. While Lusion held no poor opinions of any of his teammates, to describe them as anything but abrasive would have been a misrepresentation. The only time that they truly acted as a team was on the battlefield. It was a convenient characteristic since that is where they spent most of their time.
“Do you ever sleep?” Lusion asked, pulling up a chair next to Myth’s and having a seat. He noticed that Myth had changed clothes since he had seen him earlier that night. Though he still wore a plain white T-shirt and blue jeans, the clothes were fresher and his shoulder length white hair looked neatly combed.
“Not much,” Myth replied turning his attention back to the computer screen. “Evil never rests, why should I?”
“I envy your stamina.” Lusion said, rubbing his bare head and wiping the sleep from his eyes. Then suddenly realizing something, he reached out with his mind instinctively. “Where are Anarchy and Haven?” he asked when he was unable to sense the mutants’ minds among those of his sleeping comrades.
Myth shrugged. “I have them following up a lead in the Silver Lake district.”
“What type of lead?” Lusion questioned, his curiosity piqued since he was unaware of any operations pending for the team.
“It is nothing, really. An old friend asked if I could help out with an investigation. Her people are tasked out and she is a little short handed,” Myth said dismissively. “They should be checking in soon.”
* * *
“Well, that was a waste of time,” Anarchy Soldier muttered through a freshly lit cigarette.
“This is the last time we do any ‘favors’ for Emerald Queen,” Haven agreed, pushing a flood of long blonde hair from her face and willing a note of fatigue from her voice.
Haven couldn’t help but thinking of the woman who served as the leader of a well-established super group, The Paragon Patriots, which was renowned for its humanitarian work throughout the city. It was during her time as a member of that organization that Haven and Myth had met. He and his twin brother, Wraith, had joined the group in an attempt to reform their unconventional ways and contribute to society. The change proved too much of a strain on Wraith, the more volatile of the two, and the twins soon left with Haven not far behind.
Despite the parting of ways, the two groups had maintained a good working relationship. Emerald Queen was one of the few people that had an accurate knowledge of the Dogs of War. Still, Haven had little patience for the more conventional super group and its renowned leader.
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy there, babe?” Anarchy chuckled.
“First off, I have no reason to be jealous of Emerald Queen. She had a thing for Wraith, not Myth,” Haven countered, waving a finger in Anarchy’s face, “and second, no one calls me babe but Myth.” Haven’s green eyes flashed defiantly as she spoke the last words and Anarchy knew better than to press the issue.
“My bad,” he said with a jovial smile. “So you want to snatch a night cap before we head back home?” Anarchy was one of the few members who referred to their base as home, despite the fact that it was the only place that any of them had lived since it had been built nearly a year ago. Something about the sterile titanium halls and Spartan atmosphere prevented any of the other members of the Dogs of War from referring to it as anything but a base of operations.
Anarchy, on the other hand, was used to the bare essentials. His years in the Army had taught him how to make do with little or nothing and compared to many of the places that he had spent his time, the secure base was paradise in a can.
“Thanks but no,” Haven shook her head and let out a tired sigh. “I pulled a twenty-four hour patrol in Bloody Bay with some Longbow troops before Myth sent us on this wild goose chase. I’m beat.”
“Alright then ba-, I mean, Haven. If the boss is up, let him know I’ll be in before our zero-six-hundred meeting,” Anarchy said with a wink.
“Will do,” Haven said, with a mock military salute. It had become a habit for the entire team to use military time, but the seriousness with which the former soldier spoke it always made Haven laugh.
With a wave goodbye, Haven set off toward the nearest portal terminal. Anarchy’s eyes lingered in her direction several moments after she passed out of his sight. Anarchy had served under many officers, many leaders, and he respected none more than Myth. The young mutant had a gift for getting inside the enemy’s head that spanned well beyond his empathic abilities. Anarchy had witnessed him pull victory from chaos more times than he could remember and in all his fights and battles, Myth had never once faltered when it came time to make a decision. It was because of his great respect for his leader that Anarchy would never dream of going after Myth’s girl.
Shaking his head to chase off any inappropriate thoughts, Anarchy ran a calloused hand through his wildly spiked blonde hair. Respect aside, it never kept him from looking, or dreaming for that matter.
Anarchy made his way up the climbing highway to the upper level of the Silver Lake district. Past the normally bustling Icon store, he saw the faint lights of an old dive of a bar that he knew all too well. He glanced at his watch.
Zero-one-twenty. That gives me forty minutes to get my buzz on before old man Hyman kicks my ass out on the street.
His sandy brown eyes danced with anticipation and his feet, which were capable of carrying him at over a hundred miles an hour when needed, quickened slightly. Anarchy had no intention of wasting any of his booze time.
Half a block away from the flickering neon sign, Anarchy could already smell the aroma of pungent alcohol floating on the breeze. Must be a busy night. Plenty of bottles gettin’ broken over people’s heads, I bet. Anarchy chuckled at the thought. I’ll be right at home.
A blur of motion in the darkness of the alley that he was passing yanked Anarchy from his thoughts and anticipations. On instinct, his hyper reflexes took over and he made two blindingly quick steps forward. Spinning around, with fists raised in a defensive posture, Anarchy saw a cloaked figure lunging out of the shadows toward where he had been standing a fraction of a second earlier. The black hooded robes and glowing eyes were all the telltale signs of a Circle of Thorn cultist that Anarchy needed.
A tinge of annoyance passed through his mind at the interruption but it quickly passed. The fight always came first.