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Chapter Eleven: Well Met
By Myths n' Wraiths
Edited by Vindea
Boomtown. The originality with which the city labeled its neighborhoods, if that was what they could be called, never ceased to amaze Myth. His dark eyes passed over the charred and smoldering landscape that still smoked from a tragedy that had occurred over a year ago. In the distance a small horde of Clockwork minions were busily stripping the steel from the skeleton of a toppled skyscraper in order to breed more machinations in their own image. Through the wisps of smoke, a platoon of Council soldiers could be seen in formation, going through combative training. The villains paid no attention to the small band of heroes. The heroes ignored the menial threats. There was nothing worth fighting for in this wasteland anyway.
Turning his attention back to his team, Myth scanned their calm but stern faces. The expressions were as steady as their hearts. There was little doubt that a conflict loomed in their immediate future, but for his Dogs of War, that just meant there truly had been a reason to get out of bed that morning.
"This is it," Lusion spoke up. His eyes had been partially closed and they now slid open and eyed his leader pensively.
"There are more than we expected," Myth stated, voicing his companion’s concerns. "A hundred easily. There is more aggression inside that tunnel than a Thorn coven on Sunday."
"Still," Anarchy countered, "narrow space, up against untrained and inexperienced enemies. Not bad odds."
Myth shook his head. "Open conflict is our last option. We may be able to win but not without risking the lives of these people. In their state of mind they would be too reckless and relentless to go down easily."
"Vindea?" Haven asked pensively.
"I don't know," Lusion replied. "There are so many minds to sift through. We should get in closer so I can focus better."
Wraith quickly stepped off without saying a word, or waiting for anything to be said. The stout brawler strode into the shadows of the tunnel without hesitation and his form seemed to shimmer in the subterranean dimness.
They traveled several hundred yards in total silence and ever growing darkness until they approached a sharp turn in the four-lane underpass. Tall shadows were dancing on the walls ahead of them, outlined in hues of red and orange.
The small group of mutants came to a quiet halt and Lusion slowly stepped to the front. Wraith turned to face the mentalist, grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him so close their foreheads touched. No one heard or felt the thoughts that past between the two but when Wraith released him, Lusion fixed the dark young mutant with a long stare then gave a slight but resolute nod.
Myth watched the silent transaction soberly. With a quick hand gesture he motioned for Anarchy to cover Lusion while the mentalist began his search for their lost teammate and then waved the rest of the team back.
"We have two objectives," the white haired man said looking over the faces of his teammates, all of whom where staring back at him except his brother. The darker image of himself looked unwaveringly at the tunnel ahead and Myth knew it was due to his anxiousness over the upcoming events rather than a disregard for the moment, so he continued. "First we will locate and rescue Vindea. Then we will find the source of these strange powers and cut it off at the knees. With any luck, we will be able to disperse these people back to the habitable zones and they can return to their lives without the general population ever being the wiser."
"And if we are not lucky?" Octive questioned with a slight raise of his hand.
"I'm feeling lucky," Myth said, and fixed Octive with a glower before continuing, "First things first. Once Lusion locates a lead on where we can find Vindea, Wraith will extract her."
"Wraith?" Haven asked, a note of reservation in her tone.
Myth fixed his lover in a resolute stare and proceeded. "Yes, Wraith. The rest of us will remain here in reserve. Once we have her back we will have a better idea of what we're up against. From there a quick strike against the source of these powers, round up the civilians and call it a day."
"Why do I have a feeling that it won’t be that simple?" Octive sighed.
"Because it wouldn't be nearly enough fun if it was that simple." Haven shot the youngest of the team members a sideways glance.
Myth rolled his eyes and began to explain to Octive. "There is still too much we don't know about this enemy. Once we learn more about it the rest will fall into place."
With that, Myth stepped away from the team, distancing himself from his followers to clear his mind and focus on the upcoming task. Wraith also stepped off into the shadows, taking a perch on top of a pile of debris where he could have a better view of the tunnel on both sides.
"I don't get it," Octive said in a slight whisper. "I mean, I don't want to even think about it, but... what if Vindea isn't here, or worse?"
"That man just beat a fellow hero to the verge of death in order to find Vindea." Desimus spoke in a low but resonate voice, pointing a thick dark finger at Wraith. "Do you want to suggest to him that it was for nothing?"
"I have her," Lusion stated triumphantly, struggling to control the volume of his voice. He and Anarchy rejoined the team before he continued, "I can't tell what physical condition she is in, but her thoughts are clear and calm."
"Where?" Wraith pressed.
"In the chamber at the end of the tunnel, at the far side of the entire mob. I think she may be at their head, possibly beside their leaders. There are some very strong mental presences around her," Lusion continued, his voice touched with concern.
"We will have to move quickly," Myth stated, his face becoming a cloud of concern. "They may be planning on making an example of her."
"That is not all I found," Lusion cautioned. "We are not alone in this tunnel. A single mind is at the entrance, about to enter."
"The same presence you felt at the safe house?" Myth asked. Lusion nodded in response.
"Someone followed us," Octive stated in shock.
"A tail?" Haven's own surprise surpassed her younger teammates.
"No," Myth countered, a wry grin crossing his hardened face. "A diversion."
Brian looked dubiously at the gaping entrance to the once busy underpass. He ran a soot-covered hand through his brown locks and let out a long sigh. Glancing over his shoulder and into the sky at the silhouette of a retreating hero who he had managed to persuade to carry him out this far into this wasted zone, he instantly regretted not asking him to stay longer.
The tenacious reporter had followed Octive to the tram without problem or incident and from there to the entrance of Boomtown was little more than a stone throw. Getting into the Hazard Zone proved to be quite a bit more difficult. The guards did not buy his original story of doing a survey for future reconstruction efforts. He couldn’t blame them really. With no equipment or documentation, it would have spoken poorly of Paragon’s finest if they had. In the end, he was forced to resort to the tried and true method of bribery and he was able to barter entrance at the price of a hundred dollars a piece for the two noble guardians of the area. He had made it into the zone just in time to catch site of the Dogs of War and judge their direction. It was pure luck that a Hero happened along that was willing to fly him past the roaming Troll and Clockwork minions to where he was sure he would find his quarry.
Mustering his courage, he stepped quietly into the darkness of what was once a four-lane underpass. Before the Baumtown tragedy this road had served as a short cut to the midtown area, avoiding the higher elevations and thicker traffic of downtown. Now it only served to shelter the riffraff and vermin that had moved in to take over an area that no descent people could survive in.
The pervasive darkness of the tunnel seemed to drown all sense of time and distance. The faint light that filtered in from the cavern’s entrance faded into dim oblivion after several minutes and Brian was forced to press on through the darkness. The rustle of rocks shifting under his shoes echoed in his ears and his nerves began to get the best of him as he lost track of the walls on either side of him in the smothering blackness.
Eventually, and to his great relief, Brian was able to make out a faint orange glow ahead of him. He hurried to meet the growing light and found himself approaching a sharp bend in the tunnel. A sudden sensation came over him and Brian froze in mid-stride, glancing around nervously expecting to see someone staring at him from the shadows. When he saw nothing, the rattled reporter passed the feeling off and slipped as quietly as he could around the corner and pressed on towards the dancing orange glow.
After several minutes of walking, the sound of many and varying voices met Brian’s ears. The sound continued to grow with each step he took into the tunnel. Part of him wanted to slow down, or even stop until he had a better idea of what was in store for him, but his intrigue and curiosity pressed him forward.
Each step brought him closer to what sounded like a mob of excited and cheering voices. He began to make out the shapes of dozens of dancing forms silhouetted by large bonfires. Normally this would be when his sense of self-preservation would outweigh his curiosity, but still his feet carried him forward. Part of his mind was beginning to scream that he should stop and hide, the other part persisted that this would be the biggest story of his life; his feet just kept moving.
Marcus Matthews hovered over the surreal scene of a cheering and chanting mob. Beneath him, half a dozen bonfires littered the wide, debris-strewn tunnel and around each fire a group of disheveled looking people massed. Their cloths were tattered and dingy from days without changing, their eyes were hollow from nights without sleep, but they were possessed with vitality and an energy that could not be quenched. Marcus’s own clothes hung loose and tattered. The jacket and pants that were cut for a 240 pound man now hid a 150 pound lean frame; his once green eyes where now completely coal black and his skin was lean and pale.
He hovered motionless in the air above the crowd, concealed in a churning mass of negative energy. The dark tendrils that licked the air around him reached out, filling the ceiling of the tunnel and drowning whatever light dared to enter their unearthly darkness.
Narrow cheeks offset grim and thin lips that never cracked a smile or frown. Every aspect of his facial features and appearance spoke in testament to the condition of his heart. He had been given a great gift, more so than any other of Reyeto’s followers and he had been allowed to exact justice for his son’s death, but both blessings came at a cost. There was no longer any hate in his heart, no longer any misery. His heart was as vacant as his dark eyes; he was hollow.
His vision shifted from the excited mob to the figures that had taken place at the head of the throng on a large mound of flattened rubble. One was the familiar face of the source of both their power and their direction, Reyeto. His classic Greek features and deep olive skin were offset by his traditional black robes and stark white hair. The other person was the strikingly beautiful hero that he had caught sneaking around their Kings Row sanctuary. His struggle with the woman had nearly collapsed the entire building but she had succumbed to his power in the end.
Marcus had his doubts about the wisdom of allowing the hero to remain in their midst but Reyeto believed it was important that all who followed him be shown their cause was a just one, and what better way to do that then to have a licensed hero at his side when he spoke to them.
Reyeto began to address the people amassed in the tunnel. His distinctive and powerful voice echoed over their sudden silence, lording the logic and righteousness of their cause over all too willing ears. Marcus listened to the words eagerly but not with the intensity he once had. Now that his task was completed, and his retribution claimed, the hollowness was spreading even further. The gaunt man no longer felt the exuberance that Reyeto’s words first brought to him, but he no longer felt the pain of loss either. The death of his son was a fading ache in his heart, the guilt of his vengeance little more than a memory. The hollowness was spreading, and he welcomed it.
With every use of his power, every minute he spent immersed in the nether energy, he felt the pain slip more and more. In its place he found freedom; freedom from fear, freedom from self-condemnation, freedom from regret and loss. He had found the type of freedom that most men could only find through death; he had found peace.
Now that his task was complete there was only one thing in his life that gave him any purpose, only one thing he felt the need to protect, and that was his freedom.
The pitch-black orbs of his eyes shifted over the crowd slowly, wondering at the expressions of passion and pain on each of them. Would any of them find the same sort of peace that Reyeto’s gift had brought him, he wondered. Each face held such intensity, such need… except for one.
At the rear of the crowd a nicely groomed man in his mid to late twenties was standing with a vague look of detachment on his well-kept face. He stood for a moment, unnoticed by those around him, staring into the midst of the crowd yet staring at nothing at all. Marcus could tell he was an outsider, but wondered at why or how he had come to this place. Surely he had not accidentally stumbled into the heart of a forsaken neighborhood. Had Reyeto invited newcomers to fill their ranks? If so why did this man look so dazed at the sight of the mob?
Marcus’s senses sharpened when he saw the man suddenly focus on his surroundings. A look of near panic and utter confusion gripped the man’s features and he spun on his heels to head back down the tunnel and away from the crowd. Marcus did not know who the man was, or what had brought him here, but he knew that he would not allow him to leave.
Wreathed in murky tendrils of writhing darkness, Marcus Matthews descended on the fleeing man with nightmarish intensity. A cry of shock and excitement rose up from the crowd when the man was smothered in a mass of negative energy. Marcus needed to throw no attack, or direct any of his efforts on the man; the oppressiveness of his presence alone drained his victim of both will and vitality. In a matter of seconds, the shroud of darkness that surrounded him had subdued the man and Marcus once again ascended to the top of the chamber, letting the mass take the now unconscious man before Reyeto.
The crowd swarmed around the limp body that lay pale and weak on the broken pavement. Each mind and set of eyes had been distracted by the scene. Some had even scattered in shock and fear at Marcus’s furious abilities. They had been so occupied by the scene that none had noticed the faint shift in the shadows that passed around the outskirts of the crowd. No one in the masses noticed that the beautiful woman who had accompanied Reyeto was no longer by his side.
Several hundred meters down the tunnel, in the dimness, where the lights of the bonfires had begun to fade, the shadows buckled, releasing Wraith from its clutches and issuing him into the world of the living and light. In the young man’s solid arms rested the slender frame of a beautiful blonde woman. She rested her angular face against Wraith’s chest, smiling faintly and nestling close.
“I knew it would be you,” Vindea whispered. “No one else could; no one else would,”
Wraith frowned slightly, “Not so, darlin’. They are all here, we all came for you.”
Vindea chuckled lightly with a smile that said she didn’t hear his words, believe them, or care whether they were true. She slid from his arms, letting her slender legs fall and her feet rest silently on the broken pavement. Placing one hand on her partner’s chiseled face she said with a wink, “Nice of you to let them tag along.”
The pair of mutants began to move quickly and silently through the tunnel. Vindea skimmed just above the debris-strewn ground, flying in speed with her agile companion who moved with unearthly silence over the rocks and crumbled cement. In a few short minutes they made it to the bend in the underpass where the rest of the Dogs of War were waiting. The reunion was brief and sincere. Haven and Octive gave Vindea a hug while Anarchy and Desimus settled for words of welcome.
Wraith slipped silently over to his brother, leaving his team to their reunion and turning his focus on what was to come. Myth sat silently on his pile of debris and waited for his brother to take a seat next to him.
“They have noticed she is gone now,” Myth stated matter-of-factly.
“No one will be coming after her,” Wraith replied just as calmly.
“They weren’t guarding her,” Myth both asked and stated. He knew his brother to be a man of formidable skill in both combat and stealth but his darker twin had returned far too quickly from retrieving Vindea for there to have been any obstacles, such as guards or restraints, in his way.
“No, but that doesn’t mean she was free to leave either. Still… I think she wanted to stay so she could feel this whole thing out and come back to us with more than a few scrapes and bruises to show for the day.” Wraith’s voice was calm and even. His muscular shoulders sagged slightly and his dark eyes rested contentedly on the slender and agile form of lethal splendor.
“We can’t tell the others.” Myth’s voice never broke its monotone pace or flavor, but his hand ran through his white hair and his squared jaw shook in frustration. “After your stunt back in Talos, it will only piss them off more.”
“I did what I had to do,” Wraith stated without defense or reason. “I would have taken out a dozen self-righteous capes for half the chance to protect her.”
“And for what?” Myth replied, his voice turning suddenly cold. “What good is it? You are willing to kill for someone but not live for them or die for them?” Myth stood and faced his brother squarely. “You are a warrior, war is what you do. Don’t think that you are doing anyone a favor by doing what you want to do anyway. Try sacrificing, truly sacrificing, for someone other than yourself for a change.”
Wraith’s eyes never slipped from Vindea’s form, his expression showed no sign of wavering and his constantly void emotional existence never shifted or rippled. His normally grim face appeared to be in a surreal state of calm and confidence despite his brother’s words.
“Do you hear me?” Myth snapped, his voice demanding despite his hushed tone.
At this Wraith finally noted his brother and stood to meet his gaze. “I am sorry, we are about to fight a horde of crazed super-powered desk jockeys and you were saying something about how I should try turning over a new leaf and find my softer gentler side?” he asked, raising an eyebrow in mock curiosity before brushing past his brother to rejoin the rest of the team.
Myth’s fists clenched till his knuckles turned white but his face retained its cool. After a moment of composure, he turned and joined the team as well. His mood lifted quickly in the face of the alighted emotions of the reunited heroes and he gave a Vindea a quick embrace.
“Hate to break up the happy reunion but we got work to do,” Myth whispered with purpose.
“Good,” Anarchy offered. “I was starting to get misty.”
The gaping darkness of the tunnel was both forbidding and taunting to PhoenixHawk. It held both the prospect of danger and the promise of revelation. The band of mutants, magicians, and meta-humans at his back stepped anxiously up to join him at the mouth of the cavern. They counted nine in all, a myriad of powers and specialties, some physical, some wielders of various deadly energies, while others were masters of the mental arts. All were more formidable than an entire department of the Paragon Police, and united they represented a force to be reckoned with. In a city where there were more heroes then ATM machines and easily a hundred times more villains, being formidable was often not enough. You had to be invincible.
Stateside took a place at PhoenixHawk’s side, the broad man’s squared jaw was set slightly and adorned with an anxious grin. He crossed his heavy arms over his chest and stared into the darkness tauntingly. Aaron glanced at his stout teammate and couldn’t help but grin.
“Do I even need to ask if you are ready?” Aaron chuckled.
Stateside did not reply, but marched resolutely into the mouth of darkness. The team fell in line behind him, slipping into the shadows and moving quickly through the tunnel. Questions, doubts, and uncertainties welled up around PhoenixHawk as they moved silently towards their goal. From the beginning of the investigation till that very moment there had been no answers, only questions. At one moment he felt he was pursuing a pack of misguided super-powered civilians, then there were moments when he the subtlety of his enemies’ movements whispered of something deeper, something more purposeful. In the chaos of the events of the past day, there were the traces of a determined and capable hand. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find at the end of the tunnel, and so he tried to keep an open and fluid mind. PhoenixHawk tried to mentally prepare himself to face the uncertainty of this end. He knew only one thing for certain; this would not be a simple victory, if a victory could even be claimed.
Aaron froze suddenly when Stateside held up his hand in a sharp gesture for the team to halt. The leader of the Onami quickly stepped to the side of the stout man to see ahead into the shadows. There, standing atop a small mound of debris, was a young man with white hair. His clothes were simple and practical, dark but not oppressive, well fitted without being constrictive. His face was stern and shrouded in the oppressive gloom. His brilliant, white, shoulder length hair cried of old age despite his vital and young features. The stranger cocked his head, looking at PhoenixHawk and his team with an almost curious expression, then glanced to his side and nodded deliberately. One of Aaron’s team gasped slightly in surprise and he had to brace his own reaction when, from the shadows seven other figures seemed to simply materialize.