Peter's world is rocked when a mysterious warrior named Slayer shows up who is intent on training him to be a real fighter. But along with this man comes demonic figure who wants him to make him an...
Chapter 4: Deal With The Devil
"Get back! I swear to God I'll blow you stinkin' pigs to hell!"
The blistering voice of Shocker wrought havoc on the street of downtown New York. The high tech, high powered criminal was at it again. He escaped from prison when he had his gear smuggled to him from friends on the outside. Armed with such firepower, he blasted his way free and escaped into the city. Now he was on a rampage through the streets, shooting anything that moved. He was surrounded by police cars on all sides trying to contain him. And in only a few short minutes, the streets turned into a war zone.
"Backup! We need backup!" yelled one of the officers ducking behind a cruiser.
"To hell with backup! We need bigger guns!" yelled his partner.
Shocker shot at anything that moved, trying to clear a path to freedom. He had tried to lay low, but he was in need of some serious funds. He tried starting small, knocking off a few ATMs. But as his luck would have it, a few cops just happened to be passing by and now dozens of New York's finest were on his back. But armed with only pistols, they were completely outgunned.
"I ain't spending one more night in jail!" yelled Shocker, blowing up another cruiser, "So either step aside or..."
Suddenly, he was cut off by a taunting voice from above.
"Wait! I know this one! Just give me a minute! It's on the tip of my tongue!"
The desperate criminal froze at the sound of that familiar tone. His eyes grew bloodshot with rage as he started to panic. Shocker hesitated before turning around, but as soon as he did he was met with the last presence he wanted to see.
"No! NO! Not you again!"
"Aw, you don't like me?" said Spider-Man in a mocking tone, "Does this mean I won't get a Christmas card this year?"
Unleashing a new barrage of blasts, Shocker desperately tried to blow the wall-crawlewr away. He had already been thrown in jail on multiple occasions because of him. No matter where he turned to try and strike it big, Spider-Man was there to ruin it. This punk had to pay for all the suffering he caused him. Yet despite his desperation, he couldn't strike the fast moving vigilante. He just kept leaping from buildings to cars, avoiding every blast with Olympic level acrobatics.
"You know, I think this says a lot about the system, don't you?" commented the web-slinger, swinging up from a cruiser just as it blew up, "I throw you in jail all nice and snug with my webs, yet you STILL manage to get out and make a scene!"
"Shut up! Shut up!" yelled Shocker, blowing up the car Spider-Man was perched on, "I could have been living large if it weren't for you!"
"What? I thought the beds in lockup were really comfy?" said Spider-Man as he landed on the side of a building, "Maybe you should try Rykers? I hear it's REALLY nice for guys like you."
Shocker turned up the power and shot towards the building, shattering brick and stone with raw power. But his aim was sloppy as his frustration grew. It made it a lot easier for Peter to get closer, skillfully watching his motions and leaping atop lamp posts and street lights until he was on top of him. And with the skills he learned from Slayer, not a single blast touched him.
"Get away! GET AWAY!" he yelled, blowing street light.
"Sorry Herman, but you've had your tantrum," said Spider-Man, landing on a pile of rubble only twenty feet from him, "Now it's nap time. And if you're good, you just may get some cookies and apple juice when you wake up."
Taking aim, Spider-Man unleashed two lines of webbing. Shocker wasn't quick enough to get out of the way and once his blasters were covered, a massive discharge followed that sent a painful surge through his system.
Covering their eyes from the blinding sparks, nearby onlookers cringed as they watched the hapless villain fall to the pavement. When it was over, the cops emerged from their cover and carefully approached the downed convict. His body twitched, his hair standing up on end from the shocks. He was completely out of it and Peter let out a sigh of relief.
"Well that was easier than usual," he said to himself, "Didn't even burn my costume this time."
But his triumph was short lived as the police moved in and surrounded him and Shocker.
"FREEZE!" yelled one of the officers as they surrounded Shocker and Spider-Man, "Don't move a muscle!"
"Ah some things never change," sighed Spider-Man as he swung away.
"Hey! Get back here! You need to come in for questioning!" yelled one of the lead sergeants.
"Sorry, but I have work too you know. Just take care of the guy who was blowing everything up and try and be more careful about who sends him cakes stuffed with goodies."
The muffled yells of the NYPD faded as Peter swung through the concrete jungle of New York City. As frustrating as it was, the cops still had it out for him. Even when he saved lives, people ran away in terror. It was a universal constant. No matter what happened, Spider-Man just couldn't catch a break.
Man, how did Herman get his gear back? Do they let criminals buy stuff on Ebay or something? Hope they're more careful this time. Although knowing New York's finest, I he'll get out like he always does. What a world.
Swinging past the familiar streets of downtown, Peter neared the Daily Bugle. It was Monday and he had another session with Slayer scheduled. He was already worn from taking on Shocker, but he had come to accept that the mutant warrior didn't take excuses. As long as he gave him that potion for his efforts, he would be fine.
Another session and I'm already beat. I need a vacation...like a decade's worth. At least this training is helping. I actually took down Shocker without breaking a sweat. I'm getting faster, stronger, and my wit is even improving. Or maybe that's just from watching Comedy Central. Who knows? Guess I'll see what Samurai Jack has planned for me today.
Landing on the roof, Peter checked his watch. He was late again, but that was a given because of his little detour. He looked around, waiting for the mysterious warrior to show himself. Usually he'd come in with a surprise attack or do something to catch him off guard. Never knowing what to expect from Slayer, he stayed vigilant.
"Hello? Slayer?" he called out, "You there?"
Utter silence followed. Keeping his eyes sharp, Peter scanned the area. Yet still, no traces and no spider sense to hint at any danger.
"Is this another test or something?" he said, "If it is, could we hurry it up? I've got to punch in soon."
There was still no activity, just the echoes of traffic and birds. Peter checked his watch. Now he was starting to get worried. Slayer may have been offbeat, but he was never late for a session. There may have been times he came with a hangover smelling like cigarettes and booze, but he always took their training seriously. Either he was really trying to mess with him this time or he wasn't there at all. And Peter never did take Slayer to be the kind of guy to mess around.
"Okay...if this is a test, it's a tough one. Could you at least give me a sign so I don't feel completely stupid talking to myself?"
This was not like Slayer. Peter knew him well enough to feel it. Checking his watch repeatedly, he awkwardly rubbed his head, feeling foolish for talking to himself.
"I...guess our session's been cancelled," he mused.
It didn't feel right as he took off his mask and changed into his work clothes. He kept looking around, thinking Slayer would pop out at any second. But with each second that passed, that seemed more unlikely.
I wonder where he is? Did he get wasted and pass out or something? He's about as shy about his drug use as he is about his skill.
Peter took one last look around to make sure before entering the Bugle. Yet Slayer was nowhere to be seen. It gave him a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. This just didn't feel right. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something had to be wrong.
This is odd even for Slayer. Why do I get the feeling this is some sort of sign? And with my luck, it probably is. I just hope it's not too serious. Please, just this once, let not be too serious.
Across the vast urban landscape, activity in New York's Chinatown was unusually inactive. Businesses were open, yet few seemed eager to venture out. Nothing seemed amiss on the surface, but there was an ominous sense to some who dared venture out.
Inside one of the many Chinese shops, there was a hidden monastery built into a dingy basement. This area was used by local Buddhists and monks who had ceremonies and gatherings. It had everything from statues of the Buddha to copies of traditional Chinese texts. The room was lit only by candles and the smell of incense hung thick in the air. And meditating at the shrine was the unmoving figure of Jack Robinson.
Path of Bushido...grace of my ancestors...please aid me in this time of need.
Raising his hands and placing them upon the shrine, the symbols began to glow ominously. Candles flickered and the air grew dense. Yet Slayer remained motionless.
Master Yoshinto, embodiment of the warrior spirit...please heed my words. What is this power I saw with my all seeing eye? What is the soul stone?
The glow of the symbols intensified as the warrior pushed his mortal mind to the limits of human understanding. The statue of the Buddha reflected the soft glow throughout the room, bathing the warrior in an enchanted aura. Suddenly, his all seeing eye flashed bright red and a vision burned through his mind. He saw power...intense and strong. It was thick with chi, but it was not in the hands of the forces of good. This great power was being wielded by another being...one who wielded the forces of darkness with great malice.
His face contorted in discomfort. His mind was strained by the rush of visions. It always put a strain on him, but he ignored the pain and pushed to identify the sources of this darkness. Through the intense power, he saw a pair of sinister red eyes. And under their gaze, a broken figure stood in defeat at the hands of this force. It took a moment to clarify, but through the nearly limitless impediments Slayer saw who it was.
"No..." he gasped, his eyes shooting open with horror, "Hotshot!"
Shooting up from his meditative state, Slayer caught his breath. The glowing stopped and the air grew calm. Yet what Jack saw was burned in his mind.
"Son of a bitch! I've got to do something!"
And with a plan in mind, the purple mist consumed the young warrior and he faded into the shadows with the looming threat of a coming darkness.
It was early evening as Peter returned from his shift at the Bugle. Jameson kept him later than usual because of the buzz surrounding the Shocker ordeal. Even after he lightened up a bit on the Spider-Man assault, he still had it out for him and made him update the website with some overblown article at how Spider-Man caused more damage than Shocker. But there was little Peter could do without risking his job.
What a day. School, work, crime fighting...I wonder if the Ultimates get free therapy with their jobs?
Arriving at his house via web-slinging, Peter slipped into the back yard towards his cellar entrance. He wanted to put his Spider-Man costume away before confronting Aunt May. As tough as it was, he figured she wasn't ready to know just yet. In addition, Peter couldn't risk having her in the line of fire like MJ.
But just as he was about to open the doors, a familiar voice startled him.
"Sorry I missed our session," said Jack, emerging from the shadows, "Ready to make it up? Your Aunt's working late."
"Huh?" said Peter.
"Stand and defend yourself!"
"What?! Hey wait a min-whoa!"
Peter's spider sense barely went off as Slayer lunged forth and attacked. The young vigilante instinctively blocked and countered as Jack had taught him, doing a back flip to put some distance between them.
"Easy there, Jack!" said Peter, holding his hands up in defense, "I just got off work and webbed through rush hour traffic. Can't we just take a rain check on today's session and..."
But Slayer didn't let him finish and launched another attack.
"Warriors don't schedule their battles!" he said, throwing a five punch combo, "Warriors don't get to choose when they occur!"
"Ack! Oh come on! Just this once? I'll bet there are plenty of bars you'd rather be hanging out in."
Ignoring his comments, Slayer grabbed Peter's arm so he couldn't leap away and threw him to the ground in a paralyzing takedown maneuver.
"I could. But I think it's time you face a real test of strength," said Jack with a serious look, "You're good at distracting your enemies with taunts. Let's see how you handle an enemy who knows how to taunt back."
Letting him go, Peter returned to his feet. His arm was sore and his sides were stinging from Slayer's punishing blows. For some reason, he was being extra rough this time. Usually he was pretty serious when it came to training, but not like this. Leaping around and countering wouldn't work this time. Something was clearly different.
"Okay, Slayer! What's going on?" demanded Peter, holding his hands up defensively.
For a moment, the warrior stared him down. He bore the look of a real combatant rather than a teacher. Peter saw it in his eyes. He wasn't holding back this time.
"You blame yourself for your Uncle's death. You feel the same way about Gwen. So you put on a mask and fight the criminals hoping you'll stop it from happening again. Is that right?"
Peter was caught off guard. While Jack knew his past, he never used it in the heat of a battle. And it did get Peter to falter.
"What are you..."
But Slayer went on, launching an attack and hitting Peter with a hard kick to the chest. He fell to the ground with a grunt, but Slayer didn't let up.
"It eats away at your soul every waking moment," he said in a blistering tone, "You lay in bed at night going over every last detail, picking the parts where you could have done something. But in the end you fall asleep to relive it in every excruciating moment."
"Ugh!" grunted Peter as Slayer grabbed his arm and flipped him onto the ground.
Standing over him, Slayer didn't extend his hand to help him like usual. He just loomed over his prone form, continuing his rampant assault.
"You've been Spider-Man for months. You've stopped plenty of criminals, saved plenty of lives, and helped a lot of people. But no matter how much you do for the world, nothing is ever going to bring your Uncle back. NOTHING."
"Okay..." grunted Peter, "You want to play it that way? Then let's go!"
Ignoring his soreness, Peter shot up and hit Slayer with an uppercut. The mutant warrior blocked, but Peter went on to fight with greater fury. He threw a barrage of punches and kicks, flipping over the strong warrior and hitting him from every angle. Yet even when he hit him, Slayer kept on talking.
"With great power comes great responsibility. That's what he told you, right?"
"Erah! Yeah! It was!" yelled Peter with growing rage, pulling off a roundhouse kick, "And I didn't listen when I should have!"
"But you still had doubts, didn't you?" taunted Slayer, "Even after he died, you doubted your worth as a hero and a human being."
Peter didn't quip with any witty remarks. He fought back harder as he countered a double kick combo from Slayer. He never liked thinking about the mistakes he made in life, especially during the course of battle. He was fighting with more intensity than usual, but with that intensity came sloppiness. And Slayer easily exploited it.
"You even thought about giving it up after Gwen died, didn't you?" he went on, "Because of another failure...another string of doubt that dented your resolve."
"Don't..." grunted Peter, his emotions burning from the mention of Gwen, "Please Jack...just don't!"
"You can't run from it," said Slayer, knocking Peter back with a fist to the chest, "Running doesn't make it go away!"
"Rrrrahhh!" yelled Peter, getting right back up and fighting back.
"You torture yourself by living in the past. You keep asking yourself 'what if you had stopped that criminal?' Or 'what if you hadn't let Connors use your DNA?'"
Peter was letting his emotions get the better of him, throwing a fury of punches at the young warrior as if he were Norman Osborn. But Slayer kept his poise, countering with every bit of force. And still, he pushed him.
"Perhaps they would have survived. But did you ever stop and think about the people who may have died because you never became Spider-Man? What about the little girl you saved from that apartment fire? What about the woman you saved from being mugged by those armed men? Wouldn't you be just as responsible for their suffering as your Uncle's?"
It caught Peter off guard again and Slayer used the opportunity to grab his arm and pull him into a choke hold. Peter grunted hard, trying to break free. But Slayer maintained an iron grip, hitting him harder at his seething words.
"Why are you doing this?!" gasped Peter, trying to break free.
"To get you to take a good long look at yourself and why you do what you do!" shot Slayer, "The heart of every warrior is the cause he fights for. Without that, he's just another guy running around in a Halloween costume picking off purse snatchers in between nap time. You fight to atone for past mistakes. You fight as a means of punishing yourself for the one person you couldn't save. Instead of carrying your heart into battle, you carry burdens!"
"Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" grunted Peter, unable to break free.
"Everybody has doubts. You think I don't have them too? You think I drown my sorrows in booze and hookers just because I can? I fight for a cause I can't run away from. I fight for something I take pride in. I made a choice just like you. And regardless of my doubts, I see it through. You on the other hand...you only see it as a burden."
Peter had enough. Finally drawing the strength to break free, Peter broke the grapple and hit Slayer with a hard punch to the face. The warrior fell back, but didn't falter. Blocking the following blows, Slayer grabbed Peter's fist and made him hear more.
"You're strong, Peter...a lot more than you think," said Jack, his eye flashing bright yellow, "But a time will come when you'll have to fight knowing you failed everybody. And after you've lost everything, your Aunt, your world, and even MJ, you have to ask yourself...will you be able to keep fighting? Will you be able to carry on?"
As harsh as Slayer's words were, Peter couldn't deny the truth in them. Such thoughts had crossed his mind every time he put on the mask. Yet he never truly confronted it. Just thinking about it affected his focus. It left Slayer with the clear advantage. And with a skilled skeletal manipulation move, Slayer overpowered Peter and he fell to his knees.
"You lost your Uncle, you lost your parents, and you lost Gwen," said Slayer in a deep tone, "But you still have something to come home to, which is more than I can ever say. You have an Aunt who cares for you. You have a beautiful girl who loves you. It should make you stronger, not hinder you with more burdens."
"Augh!" grunted Peter, his wrists bending to Slayer's strength.
"You can't dwell on the deaths of your loved ones every time you go into battle, Peter. What happened to them wasn't your fault. Things happen not because of fate, but because of situation. It unfolds in line to whatever is present. What matters most are the choices we make in the present, not the mistakes we made in the past."
Finally releasing his grip, Peter fell to the ground. Breathing hard, his soreness caught up to him. His muscles burned and his bones throbbed from the beating he endured. And on a mental level, he was in shambles. Slayer tested him on his resolve and he failed miserably.
"You've still got a lot to learn, Parker," said Slayer, relaxing his poise, "But very soon, you may have to make a choice. On one hand you have your responsibilities. On the other you have your doubts. You have the power. It's just a matter of how you use it."
Finally ending the fight, Slayer extended his hand to Peter and helped him up. His harsh words still burned in his mind. Peter had endured many tough sessions with Slayer, but he never faced something like this. Even if it was low, it worked.
"What are you trying to do, Slayer?" said Peter, holding his sore shoulder, "What's this all about? Do you pick everybody a part like this just because you can see everything through that eye of yours?"
Slayer folded his arms and looked back with all seeing eye still flashing bright yellow.
"I'm just giving you something to think about, Parker. Say what you want, but all the training in the world won't make you into a true warrior. You have to find something to fight for that goes beyond a simple guilt trip. There's a lot within your spirit you can't even begin to comprehend. But that's for you to discover. I can't help you find it. I can only point you in the right direction."
Peter was silenced, still embittered yet accepting of the warrior's words. A look of great conflict hung over him, the burdens of his complicated life coming back to haunt him. It was a harsh lesson, but Slayer got his point across.
"This session is over," he said, "I'll see you tomorrow."
And without another word, he disappeared in a haze of purple mist.
"Yeah...see ya, teach. Thanks for kicking my butt. Now I've got even more reason to be sour."
Letting out a groan, Peter entered his cellar and tossed aside his stuff. He was so sore he couldn't even make it up the stairs. Sitting at his desk, he found himself staring at his blank computer screen lost in thought.
"Peter? Peter, where are you?" came a voice from upstairs.
It hardly registered with the young vigilante. His world shaken and his resolve was shaken. Even simple questions were difficult to comprehend.
"I'm down here Aunt May," he replied in a monotone.
"Well come on up," she said from atop the stairs, "I got some take out for dinner."
"I'm not hungry."
"Not hungry? Peter is everything alright?"
Looking at his reflection on the blank computer screen, Peter Parker was far from alright. His distant gaze was wrought with countless thoughts. Slayer had opened many old wounds. They festered more than any physical soreness he could endure. But for the sake of easing Aunt May's worries, he lied.
"I'm fine, Aunt May. I already ate. I just need to catch up on some homework."
Not convinced, May was tempted to go down and talk to him. But in hearing his tone, she it was clear he needed to be alone.
"Fine," she said, "I'll leave the leftovers in the fridge in case you change your mind."
The young vigilante let out a deep sigh. He was tired, sore, and distraught. He could barely call himself a superhero. Slayer had touched on things he never wanted to think about again. But after failing so miserably at confronting them, Peter didn't run from it this time.
With great power comes great responsibility...it's up to me to use it right. So what am I really fighting for anyways? Why do I put on a mask and do what I do? Why?
On the top levels of Fisk Tower, activity remained intense even after the close of business. It was not an easy time for the Kingpin of crime. He hadn't slept in days and his temper was short. Many of his co-workers noticed the shift in his demeanor, but didn't dare question him on it. Yet despite the long hours, Wilson Fisk remained alert as ever, standing in one of the primary labs as a team of men looked over the relic he had recovered.
"Well?" asked the feared crime lord, "What is the verdict, Landon?"
"Still inconclusive, I'm afraid," sighed the lead scientist, Herbert Landon, "The waters from the Hudson have eroded the inscriptions. And if we can't translate it, we can't tap it's so called power."
"Don't you dare say it's 'so called!'" said Fisk in a dark tone, "I bought your company out of bankruptcy and it's only through my good graces that you're still breathing. Either you find a way to tap the stone's power or pay the consequences. And you know full well how severe they'll be."
Swallowing the lump of fear in his throat, Landon turned to his team and continued the tests.
"Okay people, let's try the electro-spectral analyzer again," said Landon.
"We already tried that, sir. It keeps telling us the same thing. That rock is just a hunk of stone."
"I don't care what it says!" shot Landon, "Just get the computers ready and clear the area! We'll be here all night if we have to!"
Leaving Landon to his work, Fisk entered his private elevator and ascended to the top level. It was deeply frustrating. No matter how much money or power he threw at this issue, no progress was being made. Upon reaching the top floor, he retreated to his wife's bedside, taking her hand while the machines keeping her alive hummed ominously with weak signs of activity. Clouds gathered outside and thunder echoed in the distance. The feared Kingpin of crime let his aura of strength down, if only for a second, as held his wife's hand.
"They say your time is running out, my dear," he said to the unconscious woman, "They say you'll be dead within the month. I don't believe that and neither should you."
Lighting flashed, illuminating the ominous room as Fisk gave his wife's hand a firm squeeze.
"They say the stone is nothing but a rock. I still believe it's our last hope. Just stay alive for me, Vanessa. Stay alive long enough for me to tap its power. I don't know how I'll do it, but I'll find a way. I promise you."
More lightning flashed as Wilson Fisk bowed his head in sorrow at the side of the dying woman. He stayed silent, yet strong. Listening to the soft hum of the machines, he stroked his wife's cold skin. She seemed so devoid of life. Every expert that visited said she was beyond hope. Yet he refused to let go. Even in the face of such great odds, he refused to give in.
Suddenly, a dark figure emerged from the shadows. And without fear or trepidation, he approached the infamous crime lord.
"Such a touching scene if I do say so," said the figure in a deep tone, "Who would have thought such a ruthless beast would have a gentle side?"
With a look of great rage, Wilson Fisk rose from his wife's side and approached the foolish intruder. He was tall, imposing man with a strikingly handsome face and an imposing build. He bore a fancy all black Italian suit with a cane tipped with a brilliant red ruby. His shoes were polished and his hair was perfectly slicked back. His eyes were as black as the night itself and his teeth sparking white. Yet Fisk was not impressed. He was the Kingpin and nobody could intimidate the Kingpin.
"You! How did you get in here?! I swear if you've done anything to my wife I'll..."
"Calm yourself, Mr. Fisk," said the figure calmly, "I've done nothing, I assure you. I'm only here because my sources tell me you've uncovered the long sought after soul stone."
Fisk's eyes widened with shock. Few people knew of this relic, his wife being one of them. He didn't know who this man was, but if he knew about the stone then he was ordinary thug.
"How do you know about that? Who are you?!" demanded Fisk.
The lightning flashed, illuminating his sinister face. An ominous grin formed, his devilish demeanor as relaxed as ever. The soul stone was no laughing matter. And whoever he was, he was very confident in approaching this dangerous man.
"Call me...Mr. Smith," he grinned, "I'm here because I think I can help you."
"Help me? How can you help me?" said the skeptical Kingpin of crime.
"I can make it so those scientists stop wasting their time fooling around with their pathetic tools to uncover the lost power within the stone. I and I alone have knowledge that will tap its power. And if you want to save your wife, I propose a little deal."
Every ounce of common sense told Fisk to throw this man out the nearest window. He had a look to him wrought with sinister intent. But as his gaze drifted over his dying wife, desperation won out. Vanessa was dying. He couldn't afford not to take a chance. So against his better judgment, he heard this Mr. Smith out.
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