Felicio Chapter 10 – Weakness and Strength

Stephanie slowed her pace but didn’t stop completely. Peter caught up with her and a fierce wind blasted their faces as they left the warm cocoon of the college. They walked together in silence. Peter was struggling to find the right words. It was as if a great barrier had been erected, preventing him from releasing his feelings. He often felt cut off from the world because he couldn’t express himself even though he desired to, and it only made him feel worse that he had great difficulty in sharing his innermost feelings with his closest friend. Stephanie was stubborn and she had grown tired of Peter’s attitude, but it was she who eventually spoke first.

“Well?”

“I, uh…” Peter found himself trailing off. Stephanie sighed, exasperated and rounded on him.

“Uh, uh, uh. You wanted to talk to me, so talk.” She waited expectantly but still but still he couldn’t force the words out. She rolled her eyes.

“You know what, I know we’ve never actually said it, but we’re best friends. But the way you’ve been acting recently I don’t even know you anymore. The only times I seem to see you are when you need help and I’m not going to be your lackey. I knew this would happen. I knew you’d change but I thought you’d care about your life, not just Felicio. I mean we’ve got to finish our uni applications soon, if you even want to go to uni. Have you given it any thought?” Peter looked away. “I want to be there for you and I want to help you but you make it so damn hard. I don’t have the energy to be there for you if you’re going to keep pulling away.” Her plaintive voice struck a chord with him and just as she turned away for the last time he finally broke through the shell.

“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you away. There’s a lot going on right now and I’m sorry if I’ve been a bad friend.  But you don’t know what it’s like to be Felicio. I’m not perfect and it’s not like everything’s gone the way I would have planned but when I wear that suit I can make a difference. I matter in a way that I never can as Peter. When I’m Felicio I feel like I’m actually a part of the world, I can help people I can contribute. But as Peter I’m just a nobody. I have thought about uni but I can’t think of anything I want to study. I can’t think of anything I want to do except, well except this,” as she spoke he held up his hand and unsheathed his claws. Stephanie felt goosebumps swarm over her body, she wasn’t sure whether she would ever get used to seeing him do that.

“Pete, you do matter,” she said with pity in her eyes, “you’re a smart guy, you’re kind, funny, you can do anything you want all you have to do is give yourself a break and have some faith in yourself.”

“The only time I feel truly alive is when I’m Felicio. When I look to the future I don’t see myself with a family and a car and a job. So far anything that happened in life just happened and I was okay with it because it didn’t really matter to me. But when I’m Felicio…for the first time in my life I feel like I can be more than I am.”

Stephanie couldn’t quite understand his attitude, and she was deeply worried that he would become so distracted by Felicio that he wouldn’t take the proper steps to ensure he had a good life as Peter. Too many souls were lost through the cracks of life and she feared he would become one. However, for the first time since they had met she felt him speak with a real earnestness, and for once the walls that protected his fragile insecurities were absent. She appreciated the effort it took for him to open up but there was really nothing she could do except give him a supportive hug. The embrace lingered and Peter was glad for the rare warmth of another person.

“No matter whether you’re Felicio or Peter you’re very important to me,” she whispered and kissed him gently on the cheek. It was an unexpected act and one which was entirely on the spur of the moment. However, affection from the fairer sex had been sparse in his life so he wondered whether it was a purely platonic gesture or whether there were romantic undertones. He was confused, but they were both glad they had left things on a positive note.

He went back into the building and decided he’d try to integrate himself into the social mass. In the centre of the college there was an opening with a gravel path, a fountain and shrubbery. In the summer it was a wonderful site but in the winter it was devoid of any life or joy. Around this opening were four cloisters. They were supposed to be study areas but people used them to cluster in their groups. There were always loud, busy places that Peter normally avoided.

As he walked through the wide opening his head instantly began to ache. He felt a pressure on his chest and his breathing became heavier, so he sat down away from everyone else and observed the crowd. Spanning a few tables there were the pale-skinned group, clad in black and revelling in the vampiric ideal. They clung to the darkness of life, lifting it up and idealising it as the only true meaning. Their backs were turned to the group near them, the scrubby ones for whom life was nothing outside of indulging their base desires. They had no imagination and no drive to better themselves. Their harsh, common accents sliced through the air as a stream of vulgar obscenities and Peter wondered how they could be happy living in muck. They had no personal boundaries and any personal drama was ripe for discussion.

Then there were the ones Peter envied the most. The ‘normal’ people. The boys and girls who had figured out how to exist, or perhaps they had not even realised there was a problem so they carried on in blissful ignorance. Clean clothes, smart haircuts and winning smiles were their group’s cornerstones, along with an alluring beauty all of their own. But it was a beauty which was so close to ugliness, filled with a confidence that bordered on arrogance and smugness, but it was deserved because life would always be kind to them. It was a group of assuredness and stature to which Peter knew he could never belong.

He looked at them all and was jealous. Despite their differences they had a lot in common; each member of the group had a link with each other, a strong bond which went beyond friendship. Their cliques were a measure of their identity and they belonged to each other as much as to themselves. Individuality was moulded from a shared template and Peter was separate from all of them, inhabiting a world of his own. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him, whether they judged him or was he simply another wandering soul? He began to pick at the skin surrounding his thumbnail, and before he realised it he had torn off a piece and blood had quickly spread to the surface.

Deciding he’d need Emma’s help he left the rampant chattering and laughter. Entering the social stratum was a daunting thought so it was a relief when he changed into his costume and became Felicio. Sprinting through the park he began laughing with glee, adrenalin was surging through his body and the freedom he felt was uplifting. The park was shrouded in darkness so it was easy to stay hidden. Once he left he ascended a building and ran along rooftops, staying out of sight of the public. If any wild glances had spied a shadowy figure they may have stared harder, but Felicio was so quick any onlooker would have immediately dismissed him as a trick of their eyes.

Despite it being early evening the streets were deserted. As he looked across from the rooftop he saw that the broken window still hadn’t been replaced. He’d returned to this place a few times since his defeat, waiting for Ash to return but so far the police had evidently done a good job of keeping him locked up. Still, that basement bar was a hive of villainy and scum and Felicio knew Ash wasn’t the only maggot in there. Unable to resist the temptation, he leapt down and descended the stairs. The door slowly opened and one by one they turned their heads around, looking on the masked avenger with scorn.

“Back for more?” One of them spat out.

“Yeah, I’ll be outside if any of you are man enough to take me on.”

He wasn’t about to make the same mistake as last time. He left and walked back outside, waiting in the middle of the road. The crowd in the bar was sparser than the previous time but there was no shortage of willing gladiators. In turn they finished their drink and grinned sadistically, looking forward to beating down the man who had caused their champion to be taken away. One by one they crawled out of the bar, like cockroaches from a pit, and they encircled Felicio. The tension was palpable, Felicio could hear fists clenching and the grinding of eager teeth but he was the picture of composure. He was determined not to have a repeat of last time.

“Shall we begin?” he said, beckoning for them to attack. They waited a second, then they all poured into him, roaring and drooling like savages. With nimble feet Felicio flung himself into the air and flipped over backwards, landing behind the onrushing attackers with his legs outstretched on the cold concrete. Raising his head, the intrepid adventurer barrelled into the back of them, forcefully crushing the backs of their knees, and wearing a satisfied smile when the crumpled to the ground with yelps of pain.

Out in the open he held the advantage, unlike their last meeting when he was cooped up in the small basement. His razor sharp senses enabled him to dodge their moves and their arrogance was soon proved to be unfounded. Using their momentum, Felicio sprang from one to the other, dealing out swift blows which cracked bone and stunned them into a daze. Felicio moved so fast that they were falling all around him and soon enough the strong and fearless crowd were reduced to a few trembling stragglers. Felicio bore down on them with no remorse in his heart, and two of them were foolish enough to attack. He dispatched them easily enough, sending them to lie on the floor with their comrades. The one that was left was a small, balding man with bad teeth and hunched shoulders. Felicio grabbed him by the scruff of his raggedy collar and drew his fist back. Then he heard the patter of liquid fall from the man’s trousers. Felicio pushed him away in disgust and watched him crawl back to the basement.

“When Ash comes back tell him Felicio will be waiting,” Felicio called out after him. He knew Ash would get the message. He looked over the twitching bodies lying in the street and admired his handiwork. Then he noticed, in the shadows, a few onlookers had gathered. They emerged from the darkness, mouths gaping in awe. A few of them had their phones out and were recording him.

“Uhh, hey, I’m Felicio,” he said, then he looked again at the bodies and realised that people may get the wrong impression, “they started it,” he added. Then with great agility he made his way onto the rooftops again and continued his nightly prowl.

“Now why can’t talking to people be that easy?” he wondered.

Chapter 9

Chapter 8

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Advertisements

Iron Man 3 Review

I went to the midnight showing of Iron Man 3 last night. I was pretty psyched beforehand, but then I watched Iron Man and the last hour or so of Avengers which got me even more excited. The cinema was pretty packed with a good crowd although the actions of some fans at the end mystified me, I mean, surely if you go to a midnight showing you’re a pretty dedicated fan so you should know all the Marvel films have post-credit scenes yet a lot of people left in droves as soon as the credits started rolling. Anyway, first my non-spoiler review.

I have to say that while I like the first two Iron Man films I have a few issues with them. I feel that the final battles were anti-climactic, and Iron Man 2 felt more of an Avengers prologue than a genuine Iron Man film. Iron Man 3, on the other hand, is a seamless mesh of humour, action and drama which deepens Tony Stark’s character whilst providing a lot of laughs and explosions along the way. There were a few twists I didn’t see coming and the relentless pace made the film move along swiftly. While it mentioned the events of Avengers it wasn’t tied down to it which I’m glad about because while I love that there’s a shared universe, I don’t want to feel like I have to see every film to understand the others (having said that I’d probably see them all anyway).

Every character got a lot to do and Robert Downey Jr. was on top form again. There was no unnecessary angst and the conflict present naturally flowed from the characters. Credit has to be given to the editors of the trailer because there is a lot of the story that the trailers didn’t give any indication to, so prepare to be surprised.

Now for spoilers, beware.

********** SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS**************

It started with a flashback where we got to see Happy with a mullet and a nice cameo by Yensin, who helped Tony build the first suit in Iron Man. Then we leap forward to the present where Tony is dealing with the aftermath of New York. I like that it affected him so much because he’s probably the one Avenger who is most unused to the horrifying experience he went through. The others were either military, a god or the Hulk so they were used to the trauma whereas Tony wasn’t.

He’s rather on edge to say the least and sends out a message to the Mandarin, daring him to strike at his home. Big mistake. Tony’s house gets obliterated and he’s cast away to Tennessee, presumed dead. He makes friends with a young boy, and their scenes together provide more laughs. He also begins to put the pieces of the mystery together and finds out that Aldrich Killian has been using Extremis to heal people, but in some it has been unstable so they’re used as bombs. The Extremis army is powerful and they all provide worthy foes for Iron Man.

Tony traces the Mandarin to his headquarters in Miami and we get a big surprise. The Mandarin isn’t actually The Mandarin at all, he’s just an actor, played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley. It took me completely by surprise and it was such a good transformation from the cold, calculating Mandarin to the twitchy, spaced out actor Trevor. As I said, the trailers did a great job of covering this up. Meanwhile. Rhodey has been relieved of his Iron Patriot armour and Pepper has been captured and injected with Extremis.

There’s a very impressive action sequence involving Air Force One, where Tony has to fly through the air and collect falling victims. They all catch each other and form a sort of daisy chain, it was an exciting sequence and I can’t remember seeing anything quite like it before.

The final conflict takes place at a shipyard and the industrial setting is a fitting landscape. Tony is suitless by this point, but he instigates his ‘house party’ protocol and an army of armours join them. It was really cool to see a lot of different armours in action, especially the way Tony used them to fight. I like the Extemis army as well. One point my friend raised before the film, and it’s one I agreed with, was that we hoped that the main villain wouldn’t be a variation of Tony’s armour, because the previous two films had both featured that idea. It was nice to see different tactics deployed. There were some points when he transferred from armour to armour, ejecting just as he was about to be hit. It was a frantic sequence but it never became a blur. Pepper was dropped into a great blazing fire, but it was quite predictable that she wasn’t dead because she’d been injected with Extremis, and, true enough she came back. Tony was being put on the ropes by Killian, but then Pepper comes in and saves the day. It was a nice little twist on the usual order of things by having the love interest save the hero. I really like the Tony and Pepper relationship, they’re portrayed as equals and they help each other.

I was a bit puzzled by the end. He destroys all the armours, which I thought was a bit of a waste. Especially given the events of Avengers, surely they would come in handy in case the Chitauri attacked again. But, I suppose they were becoming a bit of an obsession and he wanted to let it go. He also got rid of the shrapnel in his chest, but he assures us as the end that nobody can take away the fact that he is Iron Man. It was a satisfying ending although as I said a bit puzzling, because one would assume he’s simply going to build more sets of armour.

Then we come to the end credits scene. I wasn’t sure what to expect, although usually the end credits scene has been used to set up the next film, but I thought possibly this could hint to Guardians of the Galaxy because not much is widely known about them. The one thing about Iron Man 3 that disappointed me was the lack of Bruce Banner. I thought, given that the two of them drove off together at the end of Avengers he may have had a small role to play. Lo and behold, just as I mentioned that to my friend he appeared! It was a cute little scene which gave some sense to the voiceover which framed the film. It was just a little annoying that they placed it right at the end of the credits rather than after the animated sequence of credits that occurred just at the conclusion of the film.

They assured us that Tony Stark would return, but not when, so is it possible he’ll be in a film before Avengers 2? Interesting to think about, given that I believe he has allied with the Guardians of the Galaxy occasionally.

Felicio Chapter 9 – Laying Plans

Alan Lang rolled off Lauren, their bodies two burning sweaty masses clinging to disheveled sheets. She traced her fingers down his sticky body, along the mottled skin which bore the scars of a lifetime of servitude to a greater good. His stubble was flecked with grey and to anyone else he appeared tired and worn, his energy drained by a harsh life and his eyes burdened by horrors he longed to forget but never would. But then Lauren came along. At first he thought it was just an old man’s fantasy, but he quickly realised there was more to it than that. It wasn’t love, he was far too old for such a notion but it wasn’t just a mindless romp to release hidden desires. She brought out a side of him that he thought he’d lost a long time ago, a piece of his soul that he thought the corrupt city had broken off and devoured, but it only took the touch of a beautiful woman for him to rediscover it.

While they were locked in frenzied passion his body and soul were revitalised, the jadedness of experience and old age were burned away as they bodies sizzled. He was taken back to the broad-shouldered, hard-headed tough man of his youth when he was determined right the world’s wrongs, no matter the sacrifice or the consequence.  But the world was tough too and it had reached the point where he was being dragged through by caffeine, alcohol and a rigid stubbornness. But Lauren changed all that. As he drowned in her sweet fragrance and the golden lustre of her hair, as he succumbed to her very essence he was reborn.

For her part, she saw in him a tragic vulnerability which elicited a strong attraction, but he was the picture of everything she thought a man should be, and that made the attraction irresistible. She was almost virginal when they had their first intimate encounter but her quivering body soon became addicted to his powerful ways. She often thought about the other little boys who tried to win her attention, but they didn’t have the same haggard ruthlessness that lurked in the shadows of Alan’s eyes.

He sat on the edge of the bed, she sidled against him, bestowing a soft, innocent kiss on his bare back while her hand moved through the thick mat of hair on his chest. She murmured something intelligible which drew him down, and she went with him. He wrapped her up and gently caressed the only glimmer of light in his life

“What happened to never mixing business with pleasure?” she said, teasing him about the first time he rebuffed her advances. It seemed impossible now, but somehow he had resisted her. It must have been shame, he thought, shame at his age, at his failures. He was but a dying star, fading into the blackness while she was a sharp comet sprinting through the sky. Being with her felt like he was re-writing his own life.

“It seems my only pleasure comes from my business,” he replied, his words as rough as his demeanour. She playfully danced her fingers along his chest, her youthful exuberance made her glow and his old, dry, dusty heart was beating fiercely again.

“So Mr. Detective…have you changed your opinion on this mysterious masked man?”

“No, and I don’t want to talk about him,” he said tersely.

“But why? He saved those children!”

“And the city owes him a debt of gratitude for that. But he’s unpredictable and chaotic. I don’t like chaos. “

She pouted and sighed, and for a moment her playfulness gave way.

“Sometimes I think you’re too inflexible for your own good. Maybe you should recruit him or something.”

“First we capture him, then we’ll see what happens,” he said with an absent look in his eyes. She furrowed her brow and could sense him drifting off into a place where only the law mattered, so before she lost him for the night she tenderly kissed his neck. Emotion swelled within and they sunk into their own private world of lust.

Meanwhile, our intrepid adventurer Felicio staggered home, barely able to stay conscious due to the spike lodged in his sternum. Pain was shooting through his body, blood dripped through his suit and onto the hand that was pressed against the wound. He gasped and dragged his feet, praying that he could just hold on a little longer for the eventual respite that would be afforded him. He groaned and grunted as he hugged the shadows. The landscape around him swirled and blurred into a wonderful but confusing assortment of colours, and it was only his instinct that led him through the blend of brick, mortar and earth through to his house. He scaled the walls, having to dig his claws into the crumbling brickwork so he could ascend the height and fall into his bedroom. He stifled a cry of pain so his parents wouldn’t hear and took a moment to catch His breath.

After tearing his mask off he peeled his suit from his aching skin and winced when he saw the wooden spike protruding through his skin. Pushing through the pain, he slunk to the bathroom, locked the door behind him, and balanced himself on the edge of the bath. The ceramic edge was cool and hard against his skin, the soft blue tiles were anything but a comfort.

‘Brace yourself Pete,’ he thought as he slowly curled his right arm around his body and felt the invader with the tips of his fingers. The end was jagged and small, so small he could hardly believe it was causing him so much distress.

Before he proceeded he pulled out a roll of bandages from the cupboard under the sink. Then, breathing deeply, he gritted his teeth and slowly pulled the wooded spike out of his body. Grimacing as he felt the spike scrape against his skin, he somehow managed to keep his jaw clenched despite the unbearable pain overloading his nervous system. Every instinct in his body was telling him to stop but he persevered. Every inch was a mile of barbed torture, every second was an hour of immense overwhelming agony until finally the beastly sting fell from Peter’s trembling hand and made a dull sound as it thudded on the floor. Moving with unparalleled speed Peter stuffed the bandage against the wound and wrapped it around his stomach before the blood had a chance to spurt out.

Wiping the sweat away, he smiled triumphantly at the small piece of wood on the floor. He got up and kicked it away derisively before stumbling back to his bedroom, where he flopped on the bed and instantly fell into a deep sleep. Through the night his healing powers took effect, his body working in overdrive to seal the wound and expunge the infectious dirt. When he awoke his head was pounding and the bandage around his wound was stained with a dark red blot but he had recovered.

The day at college was like every other day since he had become Felicio. He was distracted, preoccupied and in every class his teachers were infuriated by his mindlessness. But he wasn’t drifting away to a distant horizon of fantasy where he dreamt of being lauded for heroic deeds, rather he was focused on finding a way to combat the drug problem he had overheard the detective and Mr. White talk about. As much as he liked being Felicio he knew he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything by being suited up. It required a more subtle method, it required Peter. But he needed help, so at the first opportunity he sought out Emma.

He found her in a deserted part of the college. She was sat down huddled against a wall. Her head was leaned back, her eyes were closed and music was blasting through headphones. Peter crept up to her but she spoke before he could.

“The music helps sometimes, at least it gives me something else to focus on.”

I almost forgot how weird this is.

“I’d like to say it’s not weird and you get used to it, but you really don’t.”

“Ah, sorry.”

 She opened her eyes and smiled, a sweet, pure smile that erased any traces of guilt from Peter’s conscience.

“So really, hang on, let me try something.” He pursed his lips and concentrated his eyes on her.

So really I don’t have to actually talk to you, I can just think to you.

“You can if you want.”

Huh, okay, let’s see um I was going to ask you a favour.’

“What can I do for you?”

It was a surreal thing to witness, Peter standing motionless while Emma spoke intermittently. It was as if she was a child with an imaginary friend, yet the imaginary friend had crossed the threshold that lay between reality and fantasy and was a tangible, living creature.

After you left the other day I heard something Mr. White and the detective were talking about and…and…and I think I prefer speaking this is very strange so I heard them talking about a big drug problem that’s apparently plaguing this college. I want to find out what’s going on and I’d like you to help.”

She giggled as he seamlessly segued from thought to speech.

“You want me to be your sidekick?”

“Well…uh…I suppose technically speaking…”

Yes.’

She leapt up and hugged him. He didn’t know why she was so happy, but she was gratified that finally she could make good use of her ability.  

“What do we do?”

“I haven’t got that far yet, uh, basically we need to find out what’s going on, so keep an eye out and we have to try and make friends with everyone.”

Emma visibly wilted in front of him.

“It’s okay, not everyone, just whoever can lead us to the truth. Anyway, I’ll be there all the time, so if it becomes too much just tell me. I’ll keep you safe.”

He smiled warmly and she was reassured, then she noticed the time and realised she had to rush to meet Katrina. They promised to meet up soon and Peter walked through the college feeling very pleased with himself. But then, as he was leaving college Steph caught up with him and he was reminded at how he’d walked away from her.

“Steph I-” he began, but she stopped him mid-sentence.

“Don’t say anything, look at this,” she said, thrusting a newspaper into his hands. He looked down at the headline, the front page was covered with a photo of him carrying the two children out of the burning building.

MYSTERY MAN SAVES CHILDREN, WHO IS HE?

Peter’s eyes danced over the words, he couldn’t deny that he felt a thrill at being mentioned in the newspaper and the report was absent of any accusatory tone.

“You might want to work on your marketing,” Steph said, “they don’t know your name.” She walked away, leaving Peter staring at the newspaper. He found it hard to tear himself away but he didn’t want things to linger between the two of them.

“Steph wait up,” he called out, chasing after her, “we need to talk.”

Chapter 8

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Happy Birthday Superman!

Clark Kent. Kal-El. The Big Blue Boy Scout. The Man of Steel. The Man of Tomorrow. The Last Son of Krypton. Superman. He’s been known by many names over the past 75 years and he is an inspirational figure of hope that has endured for three-quarters of the century. I thought I’d take a little bit of time on this, the 75th anniversary of his appearance in Action Comics #1 to talk about why I love this character.

It’s no stretch to say he’s the most influential character in the history of comic books, and he is the standard to which all other heroes are measured. Despite all the changing in tones through the years, all the grittiness and edgy antiheroes, Superman has remained a consistent light in the darkness. He’s incorruptible and never comprises his principles. I know some criticisms are levelled at him because some people think he’s ‘too good’ and thus they find it hard to relate to him, but it’s the aspect of the character which inspires awe in me. No matter how dark or grim circumstances get he always stays true to himself, he’s a paragon of virtue and he knows what the right thing is, and he always does it. When he says he doesn’t lie in Superman the Movie it’s said with such earnestness and sincerity that even the most cynical can’t help but believe it.

But that’s Superman the symbol. I also love the tragedy of the character. Firstly there’s the sheer loneliness. He’s the last member of a dead race, and as much as he’s a part of Earth he’ll never feel like he truly belongs. The Fortress of Solitude is a constant presence and there’s a vulnerable side to him that only a select few characters ever bear witness to. And yet, even though he is alien to this world he uses his powers to serve it, not to rule, as he could easily do, but to serve. There’s an inherent goodness to his nature which is a reflection of the best of us.

Secondly, due to his super hearing he’s aware of every crime and bad thing that’s happening in his aural vicinity. And he has to have the burden of actively choosing not to help someone, because it’s simply not possible to help everyone in every situation. That would give him just cause to become jaded and despair for human nature, and eventually think “This is absurd, I’m going to step in now and take over,” but he doesn’t. He has a complete trust in humanity, a belief that eventually we will become more than we are and he uses his life to act as an example for us, to show us how good we can be.

He’s the man with all the power and he has the humility to use it for the noblest deeds. He’s the embodiment of the best of humanity and even though he’s a fictional comic book character I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that he’s one of my role models. No matter what name you call him by, Superman has had a profound effect since his debut and his legacy isn’t just confined to the pages of comics or movie screens, but it lives on in everyone he inspires, from the child who wraps a cape around their neck and pretends to fly to the adult who forges themselves into the image of the Man of Steel.

So here’s a happy birthday to the Man of Tomorrow from the Man of Yesterday.

Felicio Chapter 8 – Never Unscathed

Felicio sat perched atop a familiar spire. Cars whizzed by below, their lights blurring into one endless stream. The whole city was a throbbing, undulating mass that survived by tearing the hopes out of the souls of dreamers, leaving them as nothing but husks full of bitterness and desperation. Felicio watched on, determined that as long as he wore that costume he would not get dragged down into that gloomy mire. But as it was, he could not focus on the problems of the city for guilt was gnawing at his conscience and his soul was twisted in a knot for the way he acted towards Stephanie. He pushed away his only friend although, he considered, now that Emma was on the scene was Stephanie his only friend? He and Emma shared a bond, but there was still so much he didn’t know about her…and Katrina, she was unsettling to say the least. The way she looked at him with utter disdain almost made him feel nauseous and he had to admit that he wouldn’t be unhappy if he never saw her again. However, he put thoughts about the twins aside for the moment.

                Was it so bad that somebody was actually concerned about him? Why was he unable to handle such a basic tenet of humanity? Did he feel unworthy or was it just a selfish reaction so he could avoid facing his own shortcomings? The questions blitzed through his head and nagged incessantly at his mind for there were no clear answers. They careened and reverberated against the walls of his near-limitless psyche, threatening to fracture his very core. He shut his eyes and pressed them so hard he could feel his eyeballs ache, trying to push the thoughts out of his mind but they only stayed and grew stronger.

                He was entirely alone up on that spire, watching over a world that he was separated from. Out of all the people that existed he could only count one of them as a friend, and that made him feel rotten. And it wasn’t enough for what he had to do. The exchange between the detective and Mr. White had made him aware of the drug problem that was apparently rampant in his college. It wasn’t strange that he was so unaware, for he was only on first name terms with those in his classes and he only spoke to them in class, with rare exceptions. It wouldn’t do for Felicio to be seen rampaging around the college, so he would have to find out as much information as he could as Peter. The thought scared him because he had no idea how to ingratiate himself with other people, but then the thought occurred to him that he could enlist the help of a willing ally.

                Underneath the mask a smile formed on his face. Thinking about ways to combat a problem provided him with a sense of purpose and it served to distract him from his self-pitying attack. Then, in the distance an explosion rang through the air. A building was ablaze. A bright orange glow appeared and it didn’t show any sign of diminishing. Felicio gritted his teeth and leapt down, sprinting to the scene of the tragedy.

                As he approached he could feel the air grow hotter. Anguished screams echoed in his ears and he tried to put them out of his mind, for they only caused him to feel sorrow, and he didn’t have time to be distracted from his task. A crowd had quickly gathered and were moving amongst the chaos. The fortunate souls who had escaped the blaze watched on intently, frozen numb with fear. The fire crackled and seared the air; it had now enveloped the entire building – a tall house which had been converted into a number of flats. Felicio stood on a roof opposite, watching the crowd who were gazing at the building helplessly. Some of them pointed frantically and he could hear cries of ‘help’. Without thinking he stepped back, then sprinted and launched himself off the roof. Flames licked his body as he flew through the air. People gasped as they thought they saw a figure enter the house but they couldn’t trust their eyes. Felicio crashed through a window and rolled out, balancing himself securely.

                He crouched down, barely able to crouch through the smoke even with his enhanced senses. He coughed and spluttered. The stench of burning plastic and wood was like poison to his lungs and the heat was suffocating. His eyes watered and he began to feel disoriented but then he heard a small, whimpering cry so he persevered.

                The whole house shook and creaked so he stepped gingerly over the charred floor. Shards of glass were littered around, along with other fragments of a civilised life. To his horror he saw the unmoving bodies of a cat and her litter, and Felicio shed a silent tear for his fallen brethren. He moved out of that room into a corridor, to the right was a kitchen which was now almost entirely black with ash. The cries were coming to a room on the left. Bit of the ceiling had fallen on a bed; the door had collapsed and was lying askew. Felicio had to kick it; it was so fragile it splintered easily.  Felicio stayed close to the floor, wondering if all his recent worries were for nothing. Even though the room was an inferno a harrowing thought chilled his spine – this house could become his tomb.

                Flames were wrapping themselves about every part of the house, weakening the structure. Felicio knew he didn’t have much time. He crawled underneath a mirror which had become lodged against another piece of wreckage on the bed. As he passed beneath it Felicio caught a glimpse of his reflection, and realised how absurd the situation was, but then he spied a picture on the floor. The glass was cracked but he could see a couple with two young children and he redoubled his efforts to squirm through the narrow gap.

                Once through he saw that the door to a walk-in closet was barred by a heaver dresser. The surface bubbled because it was so hot but Felicio strained every sinew in his body to move the wooden monstrosity away. The weight dug into his fingers and he could barely breathe. As he moved the dresser it made a skin-crawling scraping sound which pierced through the grey haze and screeched in his ears. But he succeeded in moving the titanic weight and felt satisfied when it crumpled against the wall.

                The whimpering had grown weaker. Turning his attention to the closet he opened the door, but the hinges had been weakened so it came off in his hands. He tossed it aside and glanced down, shocked to see two pairs of bright blue eyes cowering. The two children could have been no more than seven years old. Tracks of tears had left pathways of clear skin through the ash and dust on their faces and their tousled blonde hair was ruffled. They were clinging to the body of a woman but her eyelids were dropping and her hands were limp. Felicio crouched down and tried to speak to the mother.

“I’m here to help you. I’m going to get you out of here. Give me your hand.” He had no idea how he was going to carry all three at once but he decided he would find a way. However, the mother shook her head and groaned, beckoning Felicio closer.

“Take them,” she whispered. He looked at the scared children.

“I’ll come back for you.”

                He tried to pull them away but they clung to their mother. He pulled and pulled and they wailed, and their mother cried in anguish at the thought of her children being burned alive because they couldn’t let go. As much as it pained her, she turned her body away from them and while they frantically waved their arms to try and reclaim their grip on her clothes Felicio wrapped his arms around them and carried them away. They struggled and fought and screamed. Felicio couldn’t blame them. He couldn’t risk releasing them in case they tried to make their way back to their mother so he couldn’t bend under the mirror. Instead he had to manoeuvre his body around the sharp pieces of wood that were scattered over the bed. The house rocked with each step and it was only due to his cat-like reflexes that he was able to keep his balance.

                Having traversed the bed he stepped off, the children still wriggling in his arms. He began to plan his escape route, if he carried on down the corridor the stairs were near but a few feet away. However, when he stepped the ground crumbled beneath his feet and before he could leap back it had given away completely and the three of them were falling helplessly through the air.

                Somehow, he managed to roll his body around and pull his arms into his chest so that the children were protected. The sensation of falling was surprisingly relaxing, although waiting for the crunching landing was not. He tried to keep his breathing steady and spared a moment to reflect on his life, knowing that if he was to die, this was a better way than living an empty life that lasted another six or seven decades.

                Then came the crunch. Felicio’s eyes shot open in sheer pain, his back took the brunt of the fall and it was a blinding agony he had never experienced before. It took him a moment, but he was still able to move. The children were still alive, and now they were clinging to him. He was shaken from his stupor by a plank impaling the floor next to his head. He rose, but something was wrong, he almost collapsed back to his knees. He glanced down and twisted his head around. Through the smoky mist he saw a long nail sticking out of the left side of his back, just above his hips. He gasped, but knew he couldn’t surrender.

                He was on the lower floor now. The house was crashing down around him, loose bits of wood flew through the air and the loud roar of the fire was as terrifying as a banshee’s scream. Giving it everything he had, Felicio dashed through the house, using every sense available to him to avoid danger. Eventually he saw the flaming doorway. He looked down at the kids who were by now all cried out and then ran, his side crashing into the door. He rolled out of the way of the flames and felt the cool comfort of the grass. The onlookers were amazed and rushed up to him. By now the fire department had arrived and was already working to put out the blaze. A news crew had also entered the scene, and once the reporter saw somebody had left the building she instantly with her cameraman to get more information.

                Felicio coughed and made sure the kids were alright, they ran to a neighbour who wrapped their kind arms around them, but nothing could wipe the look of horror off of their face, not yet anyway. Felicio got up, the pain in his back shooting through his whole body. People were asking him questions but all their words were lost in the distance, mingling into a fuzzy static that meant nothing. Abruptly, to the shock of the crowd, he turned and re-entered the house.

                The flames were now burning brighter than ever and it was as if he was entering hell. Without a thought for his own safety he made his way back to the room where he had dropped down. In a flash he surveyed the area, a lot more of the house had collapsed but Felicio thought he saw a path where he could use the broken building to reach the mother. He scaled the pillars and poles and makeshift walls, leaping about with unmatched grace and accuracy until he was able to pull himself back up into the room. But then, due to his exertions, the wreckage collapsed into a jagged pile of painful death.

                Undeterred, he went to the mother. She was still breathing, barely. He picked her up in her arms and thought about how to leave. He couldn’t simply drop down because they would both be pierced on the newly-formed spikes. There was no other way; he had to leap across the gap. He calculated it and he thought he could make it, he knew he could make it, he believed he could make it. Readying his powerful legs with the tension of a coiled spring he leapt forward, using as much momentum as he could to thrust himself forward and it was barely enough. When he landed he rocked back, and almost fell into the fiery chasm but he managed to steady himself.

                Breathing a sigh of relief he carried the woman back to the room he entered, but this time, as he passed the kitchen, he noticed a figure slumped over the counter. Felicio gulped, he had to get the woman to safety otherwise the boys would be orphans.

                The window he entered through wasn’t an option, it was a sheer drop and he was afraid the recoil of the landing would injure the woman further. On the other side was another window and it led to a balcony. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do. The flames swarmed around him but they were almost repelled by his force of will alone. He smashed through the screen door but there was no relief from being outside, it was as smoky and hot as inside. In the background he could hear powerful jets spray the building, trying to calm the fiery storm but it would take gallons upon gallons of water and there was no chance of the fireman gaining control of the fire before Felicio had to make his way down.

                The building was four stories high, and they were on the fourth story. Each flat had a porch area, so Felicio had a place where he could jump down but they weren’t staggered like steps so he couldn’t simply jump from landing to landing. Instead, he hoisted the woman over one shoulder and climbed over the landing, so he was holding them both up with one hand, the other hand was holding the woman securely. In this way he dropped down, level by level, using his instincts to know when to halt his descent. Somehow he blotted out the nail that was eating away at his innards. With each jump the nail jerked, splitting the skin and skewering his insides but he endured and it was a relief when he felt the secure ground under his feet.

                Triumphantly he walked around to the front of the building where the crowd was waiting. When the boys saw their mother they rushed forward, so too did the camera crew. The first shots the public ever saw of Felicio were of him carrying the woman from the burning building, inspiring, heroic shots, but what followed were some of the most despairing scenes ever recorded.

                Felicio laid the body down, but as he did so he noticed that she’d stopped breathing and there was no pulse or any sign of life. Felicio cradled her head as the boys hugged her and cried out “Mummy, mummy,” but they were left unanswered. They gazed up at Felicio, but he had no comfort to offer them, much to his dismay. The cameras were pointing at him, their lights blinding and suddenly a microphone was thrust in his face. Overwhelmed by the sorrow and the pain he could barely think straight.

“Who are you?” the reporter asked. Felicio looked directly into the camera, and even though he was wearing a mask somehow everyone watching could sense the depth of sorrow this man, this hero was feeling. He looked down at the woman and bitterly said,

“Felicio,” and then he staggered away into the night.

 

The fire continued blazing for hours until the fireman finally got it under control but everyone was in awe at the masked man who had risked his life to save the children. Practically everyone in the city was tuned in, and the legend of Felicio spread. Only a few had different reactions to the masses. Stephanie and Emma watched on in horror, glued to the screen and petrified for their friend. It was on all night in the police station too.

“Looks like that could be your guy,” Lauren said to Alan Lang, “seems like he’s a hero,” she added with a smirk. Detective Lang merely grunted in reply. But even though the town now recognised Felicio’s heroism he didn’t feel fulfilled, in fact it didn’t even sink in. Even though he had saved those two boys from certain death it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough until he could save them all. 

Felicio Chapter 7 – The Bitterness of Defeat

(This entry was delayed for a few days by food poisoning).

Stephanie looked at her friend with worry as he idly gazed out of the window, spinning a pen between his fingers. His lack of sleep was evident from the heavy circles surrounding his eyes. His face was haggard and he seemed paler than usual but when she tried to pry an explanation from him she was met with a blunt dismissal. Though it was a few days after the event, the fight with Ash still weighed heavily on Peter’s mind. It was his first loss and he found it hard to get rid of the bitter taste. Defeat was like poison, and the more he dwelled on it the more it spread through his soul, blackening his heart and causing him to look at the world through a dark filter.

                Peter’s dark mood was only exacerbated by the atmosphere outside. Winter evenings invaded the day and the whole world seemed to be shrouded in gloom. Twinkling stars which offered bright sparks of joy were hidden by thick, heavy clouds, powerless juggernauts being slowly pushed along by the inexhaustible wind. Even though Peter’s eyes seemed to be fixed on them he was really staring deep into his own mind. He replayed the fight over and over again trying to think of what he could have done differently. He thought about it so much that it would have seemed to anyone else to be the defining moment of his life, which was naturally absurd, it was merely magnified because he failed to meet the lofty, and often unattainable, standards he set himself. He was so wrapped up in his own musings that he barely paid any attention to the class.

                “Was Odysseus a hero?” Mr. Lee asked. The first student to raise their hand was Samantha, a slim girl with frizzy blonde hair who was ordinarily quiet but spoke with passion about literature.

“I don’t think it’s fair to compare him with modern heroes.”

“Naturally.”

“But I don’t think he’s necessarily heroic anyway. He puts himself and his own needs above his crew sometimes, like when he shouts to the Cyclops or when he stays with Circe. He blamed the gods for his cruel fate but in some ways it was his own fault too. He tortured Penelope by taking ages to reveal his identity and he remained in disguise to fool his poor father. He’s a good warrior and he’s smart, but I’m not sure he’s all that likeable, at least I didn’t find him to be. As a protagonist he’s fine, but as a hero? I’m not sure about that.”

“Interesting, does anyone have any other opinions? Peter?” He waited patiently for Peter to respond but he was utterly oblivious. “Peter!

                The young student was shaken from his thoughts.

“What sir?”

“Would you like to respond to Samantha’s comments?” Due to his abilities Peter was able to process more than one thing at once even if he wasn’t paying attention to them, so he had to think hard but he was able to recall everything Samantha said.

“I think she’s wrong. Odysseus suffered a lot, first at Troy and then on his travels. The point of a hero isn’t that he’s perfect all the time. It’s that he overcomes his flaws in the end. If he did everything perfectly he wouldn’t be nearly as interesting a character.”

“But that’s not really the point. He is an interesting character; I just don’t think his redeeming features are redeeming enough. I sympathise with him but I don’t particularly like him and I don’t consider him heroic.” She adjusted her glasses as she finished speaking and immediately looked down at her desk, as if she was only just aware that she had been speaking and was ashamed that anyone had to hear her voice.

“Try thinking about what it must have been like to be Odysseus. All those years away from home at Troy, and then more years being hounded by Poseidon it’s no wonder that occasionally he made a mistake. It’s easy to criticise him but you can’t imagine what it was like to breathe through his lungs and endure all that he had to suffer,” as he spoke Peter became more animated and appeared to be far more invested in the subject than anyone expected. His fierce eyes bore into Samantha’s, unsettling her, but he wasn’t really talking to her. He was addressing some unseen critic, a hidden force to which he felt the need to justify himself, “how could you know? Sat there in your quiet life, how could you know what it’s like to sacrifice yourself and put yourself on the line? Maybe the fact that you can’t see how Odysseus is heroic says more about you than him. What’s heroic about you?”

“What’s heroic about you?” she quickly shot back and Peter’s face twisted into an ugly snarl, his red lips ready to spit out a venomous verbal assault and make her the victim of the bitterness which had been building up since his defeat to Ash.

                But before he could speak Mr. Lee strode across the room and towered over Peter, glowering.

“MIS-ter Rogers I will NOT tolerate that sort of behaviour here. This is a classroom of respect and I have not liked your attitude the past few weeks. Today’s class is over for you. Take a time out and come see me in my office tomorrow.”

                The whole class was stunned into silence. Such an outburst had never been witnessed. Although they knew Mr. Lee had a powerful voice he had never erupted so vociferously and Peter was so shocked all he could do was sullenly walk out of the room. Stephanie looked on, wishing she could go after her friend but everyone in that room was so tense they were afraid to move, just in case Mr. Lee felt like subjecting anything else to his wrath.

                The air was cooler in the corridor. Peter felt instantly refreshed. He felt stupid for blowing up like that, and he wasn’t at all sure why he did but his pride wouldn’t allow him to go back into the room and apologise. Instead he sighed and trudged away, wondering where the meandering road of life was taking him.

 

Every time he left college he passed the headmaster’s office. Ordinarily he didn’t pay any attention but that day he stopped in his tracks when he saw a familiar figure sat on the wooden bench. Even though they had only met briefly, Emma didn’t strike him as the type to be called to the headmaster’s office. She had her head bowed, but as he approached he saw that her face was bruised. Her lips were swollen and her eyes red and raw. The youthful beauty was still there but it was buried under splotches of dark colour. As he looked down her arm he saw red lines which had been left by deep scratches. A pitiful thought flashed through his mind and he instantly regretted it, for as soon as he thought it her eyes glanced up, wet and glistening with tears.

“It’s okay,” she said, accepting his apology before the thought became words. He sat down beside her and she found it a comfort to rest against him.

“What happened?” he asked.

“You’ll think I’m stupid,” she said, anxiously playing with her fingernails.

Of course I won’t.’

“Of course I won’t.”

“I tried to be like you. I saw a fight starting and I thought I could stop it. It didn’t go so well.”

                Peter lifted his head back and chuckled.

“I don’t think you’re really the type that should be getting into fist fights.”

“Maybe not. God I feel so stupid.”

“Don’t be, at least you tried.”

“Yeah, and then people thought I started it so I got sent here.”

“It is the gift and the curse,” he said dramatically.

“You don’t have to wait here. My sister will be along soon.”

“It’s okay, I don’t mind waiting. I got out of class a bit early…” as soon as he spoke he felt foolish for trying to be obtuse with the truth. But, she accepted the discretion and didn’t make any further mention of it. They engaged in more smalltalk while Emma waited for Mr. White but then a tall, broad-shouldered man strode through the hall, his trench-coat billowing out like a cape as he walked. Peter recognised him as a detective from the crime scene, but this was the first time he had seen Alan Lang in close quarters.

                The detective barely paid any attention to the two youths as his fist rapped sternly on the door. Peter and Emma looked up at him, his weary, lined face bore the worries of a thousand men His hair was neatly clipped short and his piercing blue eyes revealed an unflinching determination. The door opened.

“I’m Detective Lang.”

                Mr. White stuck out his hand and Alan took it without changing the expression on his face.

“Ah yes, please come in,” Mr. White said, his face reddening. Almost as an afterthought he turned to Emma and said, “I’m sorry but I have some important business to attend to. Re-schedule with my secretary.”

                Emma looked at Peter and shrugged. The detective’s presence inspired an unsettling feeling in the pit of Peter’s stomach and he was glad their meeting hadn’t lasted any longer than it did. Emma was about to ask him what was wrong but then she sensed Katrina was near. Even though he knew they were twins Peter was still surprised at all the similarities and differences between them. Emma’s hair flowed down long past her shoulders but Katrina’s was cut short, ending just below the ears. She wore darker make-up than Emma too, and held herself in a haughty manner. While Emma was often twitchy and nervous Katrina stood steadfast and projected an arrogant air. She eyed up Peter and evidently wasn’t impressed by what she saw.

“He do this to you?” she asked nonchalantly. He couldn’t tell if she was joking or not.

“Oh God no! I just uh…”

“No, Katrina, he didn’t. This is my friend Peter. Peter, this is Katrina.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, offering a hand but she gazed at it with contempt.

“We should go and get you cleaned up. Come on.”

                Katrina walked away without a second thought and Emma dutifully scurried after her, only looking back and offering Peter an apologetic look. He didn’t begin to try to understand their relationship, but his first impression of Katrina was not a favourable one. He was about to leave when his hearing latched on to the conversation in the other room.

“What can I do for you Inspector?”

“I prefer Detective,” said Lang in a deadpan fashion, “I want to be delicate about this, but we have very good reason to believe there are drugs circulating in your college.”

“Oh, well, we try to keep a lid on things you know but there will always be rebels and they’ll always want to smuggle some weed in. I assure you we keep a vigilant watch but we do run on a budget, we don’t have the staff to be everywhere at once.”

“I’m not talking about weed. I’m talking about a professional network distributing class A drugs. I suggest you adjust your budget and make room for more eyes around campus. I just wanted to make you aware of the situation. I’ll be in touch.” He rose without any ceremony and marched out of the office, leaving Mr. White flustered. As soon as Peter heard the heavy footsteps he moved away, not wanting to let the detective know he had been listening. The news troubled him greatly, and it seemed that being on the fringes of the social cliques meant he was unaware of the dark underbelly of the college. Perhaps it was time for him to try and expand his social circles, but as he was formulating his plan Stephanie caught up with him.

“What happened today?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” He turned his back to her and carried on walking.  

“No dammit, I’m your friend. Talk to me.” He stopped, guilt tugging at his conscience but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her all the complex and conflicting emotions residing within him. Even though she was his best friend there was a barrier preventing him from sharing his innermost thoughts. He wished it wasn’t so, but he wanted to work things out on his own before he shared them with her.

“I’m…sorry. I can’t,” he said meekly without turning around. He walked off into the darkness and Stephanie was left confused and worried.

Chapter 6 – The Scent of Blood in the Midnight Air

Chapter 5 – She Who Heard Their Screams

Chapter 4 – The Fun Begins

Chapter 3 – Period of Adjustment

Chapter 2 – New Direction 

Chapter 1 – Rebirth

Felicio Chapter 6 – The Scent of Blood in the Midnight Air

The clock tower stood proudly in the center of town, rising above all the other buildings. Each side had a face and in the dark night they were all lit up like beacons of hope. The heavy machinery whirred and at every minute the hands shunted across to mark the steady march of time. Felicio perched atop the tower watching over his domain. Even in the death of night lights shined brightly, making the city seem like a glittering blanket cast over the Earth, stretching all the way out to sea.

He looked down and marvelled at how many lives were buzzing around the city. Then he tried to imagine what it had been like in the past, before all the shining lights. It was hard to imagine how many people must have walked and lived over the same area throughout the ages. So many lives that were silent and had never screamed ‘I am part of this world, hear me!’ They weren’t even a forgotten memory, they were just forgotten. All the souls that had lived and breathed and walked the Earth had passed away with barely a whisper and Felicio was determined not to be one of them. He would be remembered. He would make a difference. Just before the bell rang out to mark the hour he heard the shattering of glass and scrambled down the wall to fulfill his sacred duty.

He leapt off the roof of the civic center and raced through the park to the seedier side of town. The cold night air was bracing and felt as cold as ice as he sprinted through it. Rows of shops gave way to abandoned buildings with graffiti-covered boards covering up broken windows. Shady groups of people clustered in alleyways and street corners but none of them noticed Felicio, who was once again jumping from roof to roof.

Eventually he came to the scene of the disturbance. One on side of the street a man was lying unconscious. Shards of glass were scattered around him and the splintered fractures framed the window behind. He was face down and his arms were sprawled in an unnatural manner, spots of blood stained the ground around him. Felicio leaped down and checked on the frail body. The man’s fingers twitched and his pulse was still steady, but weak. Across the road loud cheers greeted Felicio’s ears. The building appeared to be as deserted as the rest of the street, but upon closer examination there were a set of stairs, and it was from those depths that the cheers emanated.

Felicio walked through the door and descended the stairs, his soft footsteps making no noise. There was barely any light but that didn’t impair his enhanced vision. The grimy walls were plastered with posters, most of which were ripped and he dared not touch the handrail which was covered in some unknown sticky substance. At the bottom of the stairs to the left was a door left ajar. A crack of light escaped along with gruff voices cursing and cackling. Felicio was disgusted by some of the depraved obscenities he heard, especially from one in particular who took great glee in recounting the tale of how he tossed the man through the window. Felicio tentatively put his hand against the door, hesitating to open it. it was an unknown situation and it was unusual for him to be in enemy territory. Usually when he foiled a crime it was while it was taking place, but this was an enclosed space and escape wouldn’t be easy. With a deep breath he pushed the door and entered.

As he stepped into the room the laughter stopped. The ceiling was low. In one corner a barmen rested his heavyset frame against the bar. The stench of alcohol and cheap aftershave weighed heavily in the air. Hazy, bloodshot eyes turned towards him. Yellow teeth sneered and the deathly silence was only interrupted by a chair creaking under the weight of one of the patrons. Then the laughter rang out again.

“Who ordered a gimp? I bet it was you Andre you dirty prick.”

Felicio didn’t know what to make of the scenario. Ordinarily his suit was intimidating but here he was just a joke.

“I’m here to talk about the man outside,” he shouted, trying to be heard over the raucous laughter but nobody took any notice of him.

“Who attacked him?” he growled through gritted teeth. Still nobody responded.

“WHO ATTACKED HIM?!” he yelled, and finally the laughter died down. Behind him Felicio sensed movement. He turned to see a giant rise from a stool. He must have approached 7ft in height and his body was thick with muscle. Tattoos covered his biceps and for all his bravado Felicio was intimidated.  The man approached Felicio and excitement rose through the crowd.

“I did. Problem?” The alcohol-stained breath made Felicio gag.

“Fuck him over Ash,” someone shouted. Ash glared at Felicio, cocking an eyebrow and rubbing his hand across the bristling stubble that covered his weathered face. Felicio gulped. The young hero began to wish he hadn’t heard the glass shatter, but he wasn’t about to turn tail so with a flash of speed he threw a punch into Ash’s abdomen. The big man doubled over and breath whooshed out. Behind his mask Felicio smirked and a surprised hush came over the crowd.

But just as Felicio was about to chastise the crowd he was rocked back by a powerful uppercut which made his jaw rattle. He was thrown back and saw that Ash was on the rampage. Anger blazed in his eyes and his muscles were rippling with rage. He stormed up and just as Felicio was rising Ash planted a steel-toed boot in the masked man’s chest. His nerves were on fire with pain. Then Ash rained blows against the side of his head and the crowd cheered their champion. Felicio was groggy but his senses were still enhanced and he was glad he had them to rely on. Instinctively he raised his left arm and blocked a punch, then countered with swift blows to Ash’s body, following it up with a forearm to the throat. This stunned Ash for a moment but it didn’t take long for the hulking brute to recover. Again he was upon Felicio, and the arena suited the brawler far more than the agile youngster. They were stuck in close quarters trading blows. Ash was impressed and surprised, nobody had ever put up as much of a fight. He grew more enraged as the fight drew on but the manic yells of his friends spurred him on. Eventually Felicio unsheathed his claws and grabbed at Ash’s torso. He yelled out in pain, a sound none in that bar had ever heard before.

A look of shock adorned Ash’s face as he watched blood seep onto his shirt. He looked at Felicio, puzzled, but he didn’t have much time to react because the costumed crusader ran up and bent his knee while leaping through the air, connecting to Ash’s chin. It made a sickening crunch and the two of them fell to the floor, but only one got up immediately.

Felicio stood defiantly in the middle of the bar. The crowd were dumbfounded. Felicio turned to walk away but then he heard a mighty groan as Ash pulled himself up off the floor.

“Get him!” he roared. Before Felicio knew it everyone had rushed up to him. Fists and feet were flying in all directions. Felicio valiantly tried to fight them off but there were simply too many and one by one they were holding all his limbs to the floor. He wrestled and writhed trying to break free but he was helpless. Ash stood over him and spat blood onto the mask.

“Nobody gets away with this.”

He stomped on Felicio’s stomach and the young man cried out in pain. Ash walked around in a regal manner, arguing with himself whether he should tear Felicio apart all at once or take his time and make him suffer. He crouched down and looked Felicio in the eye. The bottom half of his jaw hung limply and his face was bruised and ugly, and the smug malicious grin had given way to a surly snarl. He shot out a grubby hand and squeezed Felicio’s skull. Ash couldn’t see it, but Felicio’s eyes widened in terror, so afraid that his mask would be torn off but instead Ash pushed his head down. His skull crashed into the floor and pain seared through his head. His arms went limp and then he felt the grip on one of his legs loosen. Summoning all his willpower he ignored all the parts of his body that were screaming with pain and swung the leg out of his oppressor’s grasp, kicking one of the other people and thus freeing his other leg. From there they began to panic and he was able to wrestle free while Ash tried to reach Felicio through the conglomeration of bodies. However, Felicio made sure to avoid the monster’s reach and he fought his way through the crowd. Fortunately for him none of them were as fearsome as Ash and their soft-bellies couldn’t withstand his weakened blows.

He swelled with relief as his fingers wrapped around the edge of the door. He stumbled up the stairs with the crowd getting in each other’s way. He felt the cool air while they were stuck in the doorway and once they reached the top of the stairs the costumed man had disappeared.

Felicio managed to drag himself across town. He clambered over roofs and eventually made it to Stephanie’s window. It took a while for her to answer but eventually she dragged him in. After he tore off his mask she rushed out to get him some water and a cloth to wash his wounds. After she wiped the blood away and he had regained a bit of strength he was able to talk.

“What happened?” she asked, the anguish plain in her voice.

“Bar. A man. Not a man. Big man, so tough. Lots of them, pinned me down. Barely made it out.”

“We have to get you to hospital!” Peter shook his head.

“No. Just clean me. I need to get back.”

“What?! You can’t go back out like this. You need to rest you need help.”

“You are my help. And I’m going back. Felicio doesn’t lose.” Stephanie was shaken by his tone and the sharp determination in his eyes. In their years of friendship she had never seen him express such a steely resolve and she wasn’t entirely sure how to handle it. Neurotic, brooding Peter she knew but this intense Peter was unknown to her. She patched him up and he crawled out of the window, but she was afraid her friend was disappearing behind the mask.

Felicio made his way as quickly as he could back to the scene of his defeat. He had been arrogant before and he wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Ash wasn’t an ordinary man but he didn’t have any powers, and yet he was still able to hurt Felicio. The masked adventurer had to remind himself that just because he had enhanced abilities didn’t make him invincible, and he couldn’t take anything for granted. His plan was to lure the men out. In the open he could use his agility and speed. However, when he arrived he saw the blue flash of sirens. The area was filled with police officers and he noticed that the shady characters populating the alleyways had disappeared.

“We’ve got you this time Ash,” Detective Lang said.

“Keep wishing.”

“What happened to your stomach?” Alan asked, noticing the dots of blood staining the shirt.

“Nothing but a cat scratch,” Ash replied while grinning. Detective Lang roughly pushed Ash’s head down into the car and watched it speed off back to the station. His partner, Lauren, came up to him.

“We taking all these back?” she asked, gesturing to the crowd that had been found in the bar.

“At the moment they’re all either suspects or witnesses. Take them back, we’ll find out more when the victim wakes up.”

“Do you think he will?”

“Better hope so, I’ve been wanting to put Ash away for ages.” He looked far off into the distance.

“Are you okay?”

“There’s just something…” and then, mid-thought, he swore he saw some movement on a rooftop but he focused his eyes and couldn’t see anything.

“What is it?”

“I just thought I saw something, never mind. Let’s get back.”

Felicio took the long walk home. He should have been glad that the police got there and took Ash and the others away but he hated the idea that he was defeated. He would keep watch over that place, and the moment Ash came back Felicio would return and prove himself. Felicio always wins in the end.