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Blood Ties

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Matanza feels the red fog begin to dissipate at the sound of the cell door slamming closed. “Now just…just stay there,” he hears Dario say, the orders far away and garbled, like from underwater. He makes no protest this time; he was pulled back before he could be fully satisfied but the air still smells like Azteca Jr.’s pain. Not Mysterio, not yet, but he has been promised Mysterio. The stupid boy should be enough to tide him over until he can squeeze his hands around Mysterio’s throat.

He looks through the bars but Dario is gone. Matanza isn’t sure how much time has passed, moments between battle are usually disconnected and unimportant. He smells blood. Not his picture of Mysterio on the back wall of his cell, different blood. Similar enough he didn’t notice the difference. Matanza scans the floor and sees a small pool outside the bars, a few droplets in another place. He touches the edge of the pool, the action overlaying with the memory of reaching for the Key. Memory is hard. It takes effort to force it linear; for a moment this is a different pool, the floor tile instead of stone. Same blood smell, like his own but not quite, but for a moment the Woman is there again standing with her mouth screaming rage.

No. This wasn’t because of the Woman, Matanza made the Woman still. She hurt Dario and Matanza made her still for it. Matanza closes his eyes and tries to think. He remembers the Key. He needs the Key to cause Mysterio’s student pain. Dario has the Key but Matanza knows he will not give it to him, nor will he use it himself.

He waits until the next bit of memory slides back to where it belongs. He hadn’t wanted to cause Dario pain, just get the Key. But he had. He had been like the Woman.

Matanza ponders this for a few more minutes, then leaps to his feet and bellows, grabbing the bars with both hands. It takes what seems like a long time but he hears Dario’s step on the concrete, lighter than the fighters’, hurried, frantic slapping sounds against stone. “What? What, what is it?”

There is more blood soaking the cloth pressed to Dario’s face, the same smell as the pool on the floor. Matanza grabs for the cloth but Dario flinches away, his visible eye wide, breath fast. This is new. Dario is wary with him but never afraid before. This is how Dario looks at the Woman, not at Matanza. He reaches for the cloth again, slowly now, and watches Dario force himself to hold still. Dario is not a warrior but can be braver than many Mantanza has met. It reminds him their blood comes from the same place.

Matanza grabs the cloth and drops it; underneath Dario’s eye is already swollen shut and blood flows from a deep gash over his brow. He lifts Dario’s chin and Dario swallows down a whimper; the air smells like pain again but it’s sour now, not the triumphant battle rush from before.

Matanza steps back and looks back at his portrait of Mysterio. He stands close to it for a few long seconds, then looks back over his shoulder. Dario is watching him with wonder mingled with the fear and that is more how it should be. Matanza looks to the portrait again, take a breath and slams his head against the top of the curve. He hears Dario shout “No, stop! Stop!” but it’s not time yet. Matanza slams his head into the wall again and feels a cut open under his mask, then twice more, each impact sending pain and fire through his veins. He pauses, judging the blood flowing down his face, how the vision is blurring in the eye on that side, then nods. He grabs the bars in both hands again and stares at his brother.

It takes a moment but Dario is clever. “All right. All right,” he says, approaching close to the cell for the first time. “Apology accepted. But please don’t do it again.” Dario groans and slumps against the bars for a moment. “But unlike you, I think I may need to go to the hospital.”

Matanza blinks, trying to understand. Injuries are rarely lingering things for him but finally he remembers that is not true for everyone. Sometimes they even make people still. But he doesn’t want Dario to go anywhere. The last time Dario left he did not return for a long time. “The box,” he growls.

Dario looks up. “How do you know about that?” Matanza doesn’t answer. The stink of the thing has been everywhere. “It can’t do anything, the time isn’t….”

“Bring it.” Matanza wishes Dario wouldn’t make him talk like this. Words are difficult to find, slippery like memories. “Bring it.”

Dario scurries away and comes back some time later with the box, the low, incessant humming even louder now than when it bothers him as he tries to sleep. Dario sets it on the floor in front of the bars and sits crosslegged opposite it, curiosity drowning out any caution.

Matanza opens it and gazes deep inside. For a moment he is not himself anymore. He is what he used to be, his other body, the humid jungle surrounding him. War reaches out for him and it’s difficult to not throw himself toward it, not reach for his purpose when it is so close. He snarls, gathering all pieces of himself back and keeps staring into the light, thinking very hard about Mysterio, imagining his hands around Mysterio’s neck and projecting all that rage into the troublesome light in front of him. “Do it,” he growls, not in the language Dario speaks but in the old one. The one he remembers he father speaking long ago. The light fights him for a few more seconds, pulsing twice, then mellows, settling in the bottom of the box. Matanza turns the box around and the glow expands; Dario puts his arm in front of his face, looking at Matanza in panic for a moment, but stays put. The glow rushes back into the box and the lid slams shut.

Dario touches his face to find the cut closed and his eye healed. “You will not have such an easy time bullying it in a few weeks, brother,” he says, proper awe in his voice. “But thank you.” He gathers the box back under his arm, shaking his head in disbelief. “Try to have more patience. We will all get what we want soon enough.” Matanza doesn’t take notice when Dario leaves, he just looks up again to find him gone.

Matanza looks forward to discovering where Dario is correct about all of that. He looks back that his picture of Mysterio drawn on his wall in his own blood, clenching his fists tight.

But Dario is correct. Patience.

One war at a time.