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The expansive grounds of the estate of Metro City's latest player in crime, Ma Tzi, were patrolled by several burly, armed guards. All appeared well equipped and to be the kind to shoot first and ask questions later. As they patrolled, they gripped their weapons tightly, straining to see in the darkness of the warm, late spring night.
Crouched in a nearby grove of shrubbery, The Wraith and his assistant, Max Horton, watched on intently, waiting for their opportunity to move. Max glanced over at The Wraith for any sign, but there was none. The Wraith remained crouched, his eyes squinting with concentration through narrow slits, his muscles flexed and ready for action--a jungle predator stalking its prey.
As the patrols moved away from their vantage point, a thin, tight smile appeared on The Wraith's lips. He motioned to Max, and they made their move, leaving the safety of their darkened hideaway. The two sped forth, sprinting effortlessly for a medium-sized bungalow alongside the estate's Olympic-sized swimming pool. Ma Tzi, the self-proclaimed Dragon of his empire--a drug lord--had made Metro City his home in the months since the city's partial destruction at the hands of the Cobra. Resident crime lord Robert Latham's empire had taken a strong hit then, and Tzi, the Hong Kong expatriate who already had control of the drug trade of several cities on the West Coast of the US, had seen his opportunity to take control from a rival he no doubt perceived to be weak and vulnerable.
What he found, however, was far from that. True, Latham's empire had suffered somewhat during the Cobra's offensive against the city, but Latham could hardly bedescribed as weak. Metro City had been wracked with an intense urban war between the two crime factions. For months now, attacks both subtle and overt had been made by both sides, with neither gaining any real advantage. The Wraith had watched on, unable to intervene due to the serious injuries sustained in defeating the Cobra and his army of the homeless, but now that he had healed, he had to take action, lest his city fall waste to the war now being waged.
The Wraith and Max reached the front of the bungalow quickly and hunched down tight against the front wall. Their actions remained undetected, and they were alone in the black shadows of the night. Max removed from his back a small backpack and pulled from it night-vision goggles and a small lockpick.
"With the alarm already disabled," Max whispered, "this'll be a cinch. In-and-out." He put on the goggles.
"Open the door, quickly," The Wraith whispered tersely.
Max had the door open in an instant, and the duo crept inside the darkened abode. The Wraith pressed against his cowl at his right temple and special night-vision lenses dropped into place over his eyes. Max was The Wraith's chief assistant in his war on crime, and also his mechanic, chauffeur and inventor of all the gadgets he used in his struggle against evil. These special lenses were but a small fraction of the equipment at The Wraith's disposal.
The interior of the bungalow appeared as expected. It was one large open-plan room filled with pool and garden equipment. Max shuffled forward through the room then turned to face The Wraith.
"Chief, you sure your intel was on the money?" Max asked softly.
The Wraith silently walked past him and moved along a side window. Ignoring Max, he ran his fingers under the window ledge until he reached a spot at the bottom left-hand corner. A section of the floor adjacent to the window slid open, revealing a narrow staircase burrowing down into a black abyss.
"I'm sure," The Wraith said.
Max joined The Wraith in standing before the staircase. With their night-vision lenses in place, they could see the stairs journey down into the unknown, though in this case, they knew exactly where it led.
"You sure you don't want me down there with you?" Max asked.
"I need you to stay here and stand point. Tzi's men could come along this way at any moment, and I need you here to distract them long enough for me to get the job done and for us to escape."
Max looked at The Wraith with concerned eyes, but said nothing. The Wraith knew Max well enough to know that despite his assistant's concerns, Max would follow him at his word, every time.
The Wraith dropped into the darkness, leaving Max to stand guard. The Wraith had received a tip-off from his contact within Tzi's camp that, unlike most crime lords, Tzi kept most of his operations close to home. In this case, his major drug distillation plant was located right under his own estate, in a secret and well-secured underground den. The audacity of the drug lord didn't fail to gall the Dread Avenger of the Underworld.
A few seconds passed before The Wraith reached the bottom of the stairs, where he was met by a large, and obviously sturdy, door. To the left of the door about chest high was an intricate security keypad. The Wraith's contact had given him the access code. He keyed it in. Success.
The door slid open with a whoosh of gears as the lights strobed on automatically. The Wraith quickly retracted his night-vision lenses and took in the incredible sight before him. It was as though he were standing on the floor of an enormous warehouse. Canisters were carefully stacked four-high in innumerable rows on either side, stretching all the way to the far wall. In the center was Tzi's laboratory equipment, no doubt for discovering new, more addictive drugs to flood the city--indeed the country--with. The Wraith clenched his jaw. Tzi hadn't wasted any time in the months since he invaded Metro City; The Wraith partially blamed himself for the apparent ease at which Tzi had made the city his home. He had been badly wounded in his battle with the Cobra, and had required months of recuperation and rehabilitation. Even now, though stronger and well-healed, he still felt twinges of pain every now and then, and he damned the fates that had brought this new evil to his city.
He focused on the task at hand. From his belt he removed several small explosive nodes and scanned the warehouse for strategic points to plant them. Moving deftly amongst the evidence of Tzi's evil, The Wraith hastily secured the nodules in various places throughout the entirety of the warehouse.
The Wraith retreated swiftly, and made sure to close the warehouse door behind him, securing it in place. He leaped up the stairs three at a time, and soon returned to Max, still stationed as he was by the door of the bungalow.
"Everything's in place. The explosives are set on a ten-minute fuse. Get ready to get out of here," The Wraith whispered.
As they began to open the door, a multitude of small arms fire reverberated across the grounds of the estate. Max shut the door tight and looked at him. He motioned Max to remain quiet and took his place by the door. He opened the door ever so slightly, just enough to peek out into the night. What he saw was nothing short of full-blown warfare--Tzi's men raced around in panic, firing wildly in all directions. Something or someone had caused them to react like this and The Wraith knew it could only be Robert Latham, launching yet another offensive against his arch rival. His mind buzzed with a strategy to not only escape their current position--for it was potentially about to disintegrate in an explosion of intense fury--but to take advantage of the disarray caused by Latham's attack.
The Wraith smiled.
"You've got something planned, I can see it," Max said as the sounds of battle raged ever stronger.
"This is going to be a night both Latham and Tzi will never forget."
They waited for their chance, then, when the raging battle outside seemed to have moved away from them, they quickly slipped out into the night.
Posted January 24, 2011
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