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 7: Nothing To Lose
The Parker household was dark as May came home from a round of grocery shopping. Clouds were rolling in and rain was coming. It cast an eerie, ominous aura. But May cared little for the weather and was more concerned with ensuring the ice cream she bought didn't melt.
"Peter? Peter, where are you?" she called out, setting the grocery bags on the counter.
Not getting a response, she looked around hoping for an answer. Then her eyes fell upon a small sticky note on the fridge.
Went into town and to deposit my paycheck. Back in a few hours. Love Peter.
Shrugging to herself, May began unloading her groceries. Usually Peter helped her with this. He had to since Ben died. It almost brought a tear to her eye, knowing Peter now had to be the man of the house. She couldn't help but wonder if his behavior as of lately was a result of him struggling with this responsibility. Since Ben's death, Peter's grades were slipping, he was always late, and always seemed stressed. She was doing everything a single widowed parent could, but Peter had a knack for being stubborn. So it was up to her to be even more stubborn and make the best of their situation.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door just as May was finishing. Curious, she looked out the window and smiled to see Mary Jane standing there. Of all the troubles Peter had, it was a big help having someone like her in his life to make him happy.
"Hello, Mary," said May, opening the door, "Peter went into the city to cash his paycheck. He said he'll be back when..."
Suddenly, she was cut off by a sudden jolt that hit her from behind.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" she screamed in agony, falling to the floor.
Mary Jane showed no emotion or concern for the elderly woman. She just stood there like a zombie, watching as a dark figure emerged from the shadows.
"Ha! Easy as a walk in the park on Sunday!" grinned Hotshot as he loomed over May.
The disoriented elderly woman struggled to get up. Her head was spinning and her vision was disoriented. She knew enough to know she was under attack and turned to face the dark figure looming over her. She couldn't make out much, but she saw enough to see a true monster. It was something from her darkest nightmares, too horrific to be real. She wasn't sure if she was awake or dreaming, but the figure wasn't going to give her time to find out.
"Time to complete my little crew!" said Hotshot, holding the stone over May, "You're soul is mine, bitch!"
The stone erupted in a burst of brilliant light. The same blistering pain Vanessa, Mary Jane, and Elektra experienced surged through May Parker as well. Mary Jane watched on, emotionless and devoid of soul or feeling. And in a fit of agony, the elder woman's soul was wrenched from her flesh.
When the light faded, May's body was deathly still. The power invigorated Hotshot, his already imposing form growing with the nourishment of fresh souls. Standing over the lifeless woman, Elektra and Vanessa Fisk joined him from the shadows. Each woman was soulless and emotionless, completely at Hotshot's mercy. And now he had one more minion to add to his growing ranks.
"Alright geezer...arise," he commanded.
Suddenly, May's eyes opened to reveal a bright red gaze. Without any will or resistance, she rose to her feet and stood before Hotshot's imposing form. She was soulless like the others, completely at the mercy of the madman before her.
"Four zombie women completely at my will..." said Hotshot approvingly, "Not bad, but nowhere near full potential!"
Gripping the stone, he and the four women were engulfed in a white glow. Each one of their eyes flashed bright red as they bowed before their master. Hotshot enjoyed ever second of it. He had the two most valuable people in Peter Parker's life under his thumb. But he was far from satisfied.
"So many souls, so little time. But first, I've got a little payback to dish out! And you ladies are gonna help!"
Raindrops began falling as Peter swung into Queens. Leaping across rooftops, he frantically closed in on his home. The whole time, he kept mumbling curses towards the Kingpin. It was bad enough he was stuck helping Fisk, but with Hotshot holding a grudge and in the possession of a great new power he could be in even more danger.
Argh! I HATE THE KINGPIN! How does a guy who kills, cheats, and lies his way to the top get more respect than I'll ever get?! He got away with murder! He unmasked me and threw me out a window! And now he's given a freakin' demon with a grudge against me enough power to paint the city in blood!
I'll say it again just to get it out of my system...I HATE THE KINGPIN!
His home in sight, Peter cursed his enemy all the way to the back yard where he took his clothes out of his backpack and slipped back into his pants and shirt. He had to warn Mary Jane and Aunt may, even if it meant exposing his secret. They were in trouble because of him and he didn't want to live with another burden on his soul. Slipping around the back, he stormed through the front door frantically looking for his Aunt.
"Aunt May? Aunt May!" he called out, shouting up the stairs and through the living room.
Checking the kitchen, he scanned everywhere he could. His spider sense was calm, so there wasn't any danger so far. But the sooner he found his Aunt, the sooner he could breathe again.
"Oh man, where is she? She's not still shopping, is she?"
Looking into the living room, he saw the glow of the TV. Stepping into the room, he let out a sigh of relief upon seeing his aunt sitting on the couch.
"Aunt May, there you are!" said Peter with a sigh of relief, "Are you okay? Didn't you hear me calling for you?"
But she didn't respond. It was as if he hadn't even heard her.
Taking a step closer, Peter wearily approached. He noticed the TV screen was all static. Yet his Aunt was staring at it in a trance. It was really freaky.
"Okay...maybe she was right when she said TV will rot your brain," he said, trying to get his aunt's attention.
Inching closer, he saw no expression on her face. It was as if she were a living statue. Peter felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and it wasn't his spider sense. Not knowing what was going on, he reached out to touch his Aunt's face. Then suddenly, his spider sense went off and before he could react, she lunged forth and grabbed his neck.
"Ack! Aunt May!" he choked.
With zombie-like movements, May rose up from the couch, lifting Peter along the way as if he were light as a feather. Her grip was strong as steel. Her touch was as cold as a corpse. All the while, not a single hint of emotion flashed on her face.
"Aunt May I...WHOA!"
With strength not common in a woman her age, she threw him against the wall like a rag doll. He managed to land on the wall and stick to it. But even with his spider agility, the pure shock hit the young man hard. Looking back in horror as his beloved aunt approached, he tried to make sense of all this.
"Ow...damn, have you been working out?" he exclaimed, "What's going on here?!"
Suddenly, his spider sense went off again. This time, he was grabbed from behind and pulled into a choke hold.
"What the...AHHHHHH!" he howled, his limbs bent in ways they weren't supposed to bend.
Turning around, his eyes widened in horror to see Mary Jane with the same emotionless expression as Aunt May. He tried to break free without hurting her, but she too was a lot stronger. It was like trying to break free from Doc Ock's metal arms.
"Stop it! MJ! Aunt May! It's me!"
Not listening to a word he said, Mary Jane threw him to the ground. Aunt May tried to kick him, but his spider agility kicked in and he leapt up onto the ceiling. They couldn't touch him in this state, but they hardly seemed discouraged. They just kept looking at him with that cold, stoic gaze.
"Guys! What's happening? Come on, say something! ANYTHING! I don't want to hurt you!"
"That's too bad, punk. Because they want to hurt you!" came a dark voice.
Before Peter could react, Elektra leapt in from the foyer and threw a ninja star that hit him right in his left hand.
"AHHHHHHH!" howled Peter in pain, falling from the ceiling onto the hard floor.
Grasping his bloody hand, Vanessa Fisk emerged from the kitchen and grabbed the young man from behind. Holding him by the arms in an iron grip, Peter had no means of escape. He tried using his spider strength, but it was like trying to break through steel. His hand stung. A panicked sweat formed on his faced. Aunt May, Mary Jane, and Elektra each approached him in their zombified state. Their cold gaze sent shivers down Peter's spine. Growing increasingly frustrated, he tried to fight back.
"Aunt May...Mary Jane...WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!"
"Isn't it obvious, Parker? I'm dishing out a little payback!" said the demonic tone of Hotshot.
Peter's eyes widened with horror as a red mist formed in front of him and the imposing figure of Hotshot emerged. He was even more horrifying than the first time he saw him. In addition, he was bigger too. But the young man's rage overshadowed his fear.
"You!" yelled Peter angrily, "What have you done to them?!"
"Isn't it obvious?" grinned Hotshot, "I took their will and made it mine. Their souls are gone. Their humanity is no more. All that's left is a shell of flesh that's mine for the taking! And it's all thanks to your fat friend and this little gift he gave me!"
The young man's eyes widened with terror upon seeing the stone he saw Black Cat throw into the Hudson. It was just as Kingpin had told him. Hotshot had the stone and Peter was too late to do anything about it. And like Uncle Ben, his loved ones had been caught in the crossfire of his life under the mask.
"You...sick...son of a...ARGH!"
With renewed pain, the zombified Mary Jane and Aunt May began punching and kicking him to the ground. Vanessa Fisk held him in an iron grip, giving them a free ticket to beat the crap out of him. And Hotshot enjoyed every minute of it.
"That's it ladies! Show this little shit why you don't mess with Hotshot!"
Peter's body stung with intense pain. All the training Slayer gave him did no good here. He couldn't fight against his own family. Hotshot knew it. But with determined grunts, he kept struggling, working to weaken Vanessa's grip.
"Ugh! Hotshot! I'm gonna...ACK!" he choked, Vanessa taking him by the neck.
"That's it, Parker! Resist! It only makes this shit funnier!" laughed Hotshot.
Mary Jane punched him in the gut while May slugged him in the face. Their strength was a lot greater as mindless minions of Hotshot. And he couldn't fight back. These were his loved ones. But Peter refused to give up.
"You're...gonna...PAY!" yelled Peter, finally shaking off Vanessa's grip, knocking her back with a sweep kick.
"Oh no you don't, Parker!" shot Hotshot, "Elektra!"
The zombie ninja sprung into action, attacking Peter with a flying kick. But thanks to Jack's training, he grabbed her leg in mid air and slammed her to the ground. He half expected her to be knocked out, but she got right back up as if it were nothing and renewed her assault.
"Whoa! Damn! I...hate...you!" yelled Peter, frantically blocking Elektra's strikes.
"Ha! Join the club...what's left of em anyways."
Peter put up a strong fight against the mindless Elektra, but Hotshot just kept laughing. This was just a game to him. Nothing Peter did mattered. It wouldn't change the outcome. With the power of the soul stone, he had already won. This was just delaying the inevitable.
Elektra fought hard, her advanced skills showing even in her zombie state. But Peter had learned from their last fight with Cat and he wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. Elektra went for his throat again, but Peter pulled off a sweep kick followed by a double punch to the face. He put his spider strength into it, but Elektra felt no pain from his blows. She merely shook it off and lunged right back at him.
"Go on, Elektra! Kick his ass!" commanded Hotshot.
"Go ahead and try," said Peter through the pain, taking a defensive stance.
Elektra tried a jump kick, but this time Peter was ready for her.
"Hate to do this to a girl...especially a hired assassin. But what the hell?"
Reading her moves, Elektra did what he suspected and tried to kick him. But Peter pulled off a swift spin move, grabbing her arm and getting behind her. With her limbs restrained, he kicked just below her knee cap in a way Slayer showed him, hitting a fragile joint that caused the zombie Elektra to keel over. She didn't show any signs of pain. Nothing seemed to hurt her. It was freaky, even for Peter. But he ignored it for the moment and threw Elektra right back at Hotshot, who casually stepped aside.
"Now you're next, ugly!" yelled Peter.
"Oh can it, punk!"
With fiery red eyes, Hotshot rose his hand with the stone and shot a small fireball of energy.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" yelled Peter, agony coursing through every nerve.
Falling to the ground, Vanessa Fisk and Elektra grabbed his arms and restrained him. All the while, the pain kept burning.
"You really don't know who you're dealing with, do you?" growled Hotshot, kneeling down and grabbing Peter's bruised face, "You think I'm just another freak you can web up and leave for SHIELD or the cops?!"
Peter tried to respond, but he was silenced by a punch from Aunt May to the gut.
"Ack!" groaned Peter, spitting up blood.
"You shouldn't have meddled, Parker! You should have stayed in your own little world, fighting punk ass little bad guys to make your pussy Uncle proud! Face it! I've won! You've lost! Your loved ones are my minions! And it's all because of YOU! Now you've got nothing! No hope! No future! The only thing left for you is death!"
Grabbing Peter by the throat, Hotshot's firm grip singed Peter's tender skin. Every nerve was screaming. Every ounce of hope was fading. Looking into the horrific eyes of the demon before him, the once proud vigilante felt his world fading away. He was weak, tired, and distraught. And despite all his efforts, he was at the mercy of this madman.
"Oh I'm gonna enjoy this! You're suffering makes me strong!" exclaimed Hotshot, his eyes glowing bright red, "And what better way to meet your end then by the hands of your own loved ones?"
"No..." gasped Peter, fighting the burning pain of defeat.
"YES! You think your life is hell? Wait till I get through with you! Ahahahahahahaha!"
But before Hotshot could continue his torment, an all too familiar voice shot out from the shadows.
"Hey Hotshot...laugh at this!"
Knowing that voice all too well, Hotshot turned to face his greatest adversary. But before he could even think of a response, a blinding spark of purple light hit him in the eyes.
"AHHHHHHH!" he yelled, stumbling back and dropping Peter in the process, "YOU SON OF A BITCH!"
The blasts came from a spell Jack prepared in advanced. They blinded the demon and disoriented him. Falling in a heap of pain, Peter groaned as he hit the floor. And while Hotshot struggled to regain his composure, Slayer moved to save him. Elektra and Vanessa tried to attack, but Slayer hit them with a double jump kick that sent them flying.
"Sorry I'm late, Parker. Let's just get out of here before these girls hit their periods and get REALLY pissed!"
Grabbing the bruised body of the young man, Slayer cast a transport spell, engulfing them in a purple haze. Hotshot was still disoriented, but his vision cleared just long enough to see his enemies slipping away.
"YOU LITTLE SHITS! COME BACK HERE! I'M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU!"
"Sorry Hotshot, but one more second of looking at that face of yours and I'll need just as much therapy as you. Later!"
Hotshot tried to grab them, but even with the power of the soul stone he wasn't fast enough. All he got was a fist of purple mist.
"No! My revenge!" he yelled with a demonic roar.
He had been so close. Parker was in his hands, suffering immensely. It was ecstasy. All that pain was radiating so intensely. But Slayer just had to get in the way. Now he had two adversaries to torment.
"I swear, when I get my hands on them I'll..."
But Hotshot stopped, looking back at the stone he still had in his possession. He was still raging with anger, but took comfort knowing the power was still his. Looking at his four minions, he had already attained victory on some levels. He may have let Parker slip through his fingers, but Slayer's interference just delayed the inevitable.
"Ah hell, they'll get theirs soon enough," grinned Hotshot, "This is a big city with plenty of suffering to go around. And with this rock, I'm gonna have the party of the millennium!"
Seething with hatred and malice, the stone erupted in a glow of white light. Mary Jane, Aunt May, Vanessa Fisk, and Elektra remained emotionless and stoic, loyally standing beside their master. Parker may have gotten away, but Hotshot still had what mattered most to him.
"Come ladies, we've got some suffering to spread!"
And with a bright flash, Hotshot and his minions were gone.
Peter Parker's world was spinning in a haze of pain and torment. Everything he had experienced coursed through his consciousness in a prolonged nightmare. He had failed. Everybody that meant something to him was gone, all because of him.
'Peter...' came a voice, calling out through the haze of pained memories.
'Mary Jane?' said Peter with renewed hope.
Reaching out to her, he saw an image of the girl he loved. She was floating before him, hovering in an angelic state. For a moment, Peter's heart jumped.
Her eyes shot open, revealing a blood red gaze. Peter fell back in terror as she and figures of everyone else he knew from his Uncle Ben to his parents assaulted him in a sea of torment. And he could do nothing to stop it.
Suddenly, Peter shot up. His lungs burned, his skin covered in cold sweat. He was still in a great deal of pain physically, but nothing could compare to the hurt he felt emotionally.
"Oh...oh God!" he gasped in horror, grasping his head in a fit of anguish.
Thunder echoed as lightning flashed outside. Looking around, Peter saw that he was in a cheap motel room strewn with liquor bottles, cigarette butts, and what looked like a few undone lines of cocaine. The rain pounded on the window besides his bed and sitting beside him drinking a bottle of whisky was the young warrior who saved him.
"J-Jack?" said Peter, reeling from his nightmare.
"Hey..." he said in a morose tone, "You okay?"
Peter shot him an angry look.
"Sorry...dumb question," he said, finishing up his drink.
Collapsing back on the bed, Peter felt around the burn marks Hotshot left. He was surprised somewhat to sense they were gone. But he was still in a world of hurt. Pushing back the covers, he found he was shirtless. His torso was strewn with a long bandage. There were still traces of black and blue marks, but nowhere near what he expected.
"Hope you don't mind, but you were pretty beat up. I gave you an elixir, but it'll take some time to work."
"Whatever..." muttered Peter, grunting as he sat up, "I take it by all the drugs and booze this is where you live."
"Temporarily at least," said Jack, tossing the empty bottle aside, "I stay wherever I can, keeping as low a profile as possible."
"Well you can't get much lower than this," remarked Peter, "Is this what you've been doing since you kicked my ass? Drinking yourself to death while Hotshot takes my family?!"
"Hey, I saved your ass if I recall! So a little gratitude wouldn't hurt, Parker!" shot Jack.
"Well SORRY!" exclaimed Peter, a hint of tears forming in his eyes, "But if it weren't for you I wouldn't even be on Hotshot's hit list and my aunt and girlfriend wouldn't be his slaves!"
The young teen was hysterical. His family, his life, everything had fallen apart. Slayer was no good at dealing with this. He'd almost rather be facing Hotshot. But he did have a point. This wouldn't have happened if their paths had not crossed. He didn't need an all seeing eye to know that. Sitting at a chair next to a stack of empty liquor bottles, the warrior let out a frustrated grunt.
"You're right," he said stoically, "You wouldn't be involved with Hotshot if I hadn't brought him into your life. Maybe you'd be better off if I never started training you. Hell, maybe you'd be a lot happier if you never got those spider powers."
"Jack I..." said Peter, now feeling bad about assaulting his teacher.
"Don't even think about apologizing, Peter," said Slayer, "I know this is bad. But believe me, I never meant for your family to fall into the crosshairs."
Already racked with guilt, Slayer sunk into a stupor. If it weren't for his armor, Peter might have thought him to be just another low life drunk. He sure didn't look like the proud warrior who had been training him, but Slayer didn't care.
"So how do we save them?" asked Peter.
"I don't know."
"You don't know?!" exclaimed Peter.
"No..." he said in a low tone, "I don't."
Peter wanted to get up and choke him to death for giving up. But he was still sore from Hotshot's assault. Slayer saw his frustration and he had every right to be angry. There just wasn't much he could give at this point.
"I've been doing some research on the soul stone since our last encounter," explained Slayer, "I've consulted every source I know. But the story is always the same."
"What story is that?" asked Peter with eager curiosity.
Letting out a deep sigh, Slayer got up and looked out the window into the pouring rain.
"It's unstoppable. The power to take the very energy of life and channel it for your own means...all rolled up into a single stone. The ancients used it as a means to invigorate their chi. With it, they could cure disease, prolong life, and gain the strength of 20 men. But it had plenty of darker uses."
"Tell me about it," groaned Peter, trying to stand up, "Is that what Hotshot's doing?"
"With supreme satisfaction," affirmed Slayer, "Even though it was meant to heal, the stone could also be used to steal the life force of other people. And if one controls life force, they can control everything. Without a soul, the body is just a collection of flesh. And the more souls that are taken, the stronger the user becomes."
An ominous flash of lightning illuminated the night sky. Echoes of thunder resonated in the distance through the vast New York City skyline. None of this was giving Peter any hope. But Slayer wasn't done yet.
"The stone is a medium, nothing more...nothing less. It all depends on how it's used. And in the hands of someone like Hotshot, the suffering he could inflict is limitless. Eventually, all those souls will strengthen him to the point of invincibility. And the longer he has those souls in his possession, the more his minions fade."
"Minions? You mean Aunt May and Mary Jane?!" exclaimed Peter.
Jack nodded with a heavy heart.
"It's simple physics, Parker. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It just changes from one form to another. Life energy is no different. It starts from the environment and builds in an organism. But when that energy is sapped and collected, it starts to concentrate. Thereby turning the souls of the lost into nothing but another source of energy."
The thought of losing his aunt and girlfriend to this madness was too much for Peter to bear. He had lost his Uncle Ben. He had lost his parents. He couldn't lose everything else that mattered to him.
"We've got to save them! We can't just let Hotshot use the people I love for his own sick means!"
"That's just it, Peter," said Slayer in a low tone, "It may already be too late."
"NO!" yelled Peter, "I can't accept that! I won't!"
"That doesn't change the reality," quipped Jack, "I warned you about this. I told you a day would come when you'd have to go into a battle knowing everything you hold dear is lost. Even if you confront Hotshot and somehow beat him, your loved ones may already be gone. Can you really deal with that? Can you really fight with all your heart knowing you've already failed?"
Peter wasn't sure how to respond. He was so angry at Hotshot for hurting his family, but his anger did nothing to stop him last time. And now he was even stronger with Aunt May and Mary Jane as his slaves. Could he really fight against something like that?
Slayer remained indifferent as he gathered his sword. Lying besides him was Peter's backpack, which contained his Spider-Man costume. He made sure he took it with him when he extracted him from his home. Looking at the broken Peter Parker, Jack took out the costume and tossed it to him.
"It's time to choose, Parker," said Jack, "Either give up and wallow in your own sorrow. Or fight on driven by a greater purpose. Right now, you're just a kid in a costume. That much Hotshot got right."
"Hey, whose side are you on?" said Peter in an irked tone.
"The same side I've always been on...mine," affirmed Slayer, "I have nothing to gain from this battle. I also have nothing to lose. I fight on knowing I'll wind up drunk, hung over, and alone the next day. I have no family. The love of my life is long dead. I never asked for this power, but like you're Uncle once said with great power comes great responsibility. Only now you're responsible for finding something to carry on into battle...something more than just guilt."
Peter Parker had never been faced with this challenge before. Fighting Hotshot was enough, but fighting him for different reasons was something else. He became Spider-Man to make up for his failure to save Uncle Ben. In that time he had overcome madmen like Norman Osborn, Doc Ock, and the Kingpin. But was that enough to make him a hero? Because it certainly wasn't enough to make him a warrior.
Lightning flashed and thunder roared as the clouds thickened outside. Jack's all seeing eye flashed bright red. Many horrid visions coursed through his fragile mind, but he stood ready to face them.
"I can't force you to go into a battle," said Slayer, "But when you find that hope inside that makes you more than just a hero, join me in the battle against darkness. Time is short, so I'd hurry if I were you. If you need me, I'll be at the cathedral downtown. And if we don't see each other again, it's been a privilege teaching you Peter Parker."
Respectfully bowing one last time, the purple haze engulfed Slayer and his figure faded into the shadows.
"Jack! Wait!" exclaimed Peter.
But it was too late. He was already gone. Yet his words hung strongly in Peter's mind. Looking down at the costume that had caused him so much grief, the young teen stood at an impasse. Not many kids his age had to face a threat like this, but he was involved whether he liked it or not. He could either run or fight, but either way he had a responsibility to uphold.
"Nothing like a little pressure," he mused.
Getting off the bed, Peter ignored the lingering pain and looked outside at the swirling clouds. A cold chill ran down his spine, the cold gazes of his loved ones still burned in his memory. He could still hear the echoes of Hotshot's heinous laughter, but this time it didn't scare him. Clenching his fists, Peter's gaze drifted back towards his costume.
"Guess it's now or never," said Peter with renewed determination, "Slayer's right. It's time to make a choice."
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