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Treading the Flame

By Benjamin Lisman All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Valiant Jack Costello

The first emotion that I can ever remember experiencing was rage: hot, burning, all consuming rage. I know that I’ve felt many other emotions throughout the course of my life: joy, fear, sadness, but rage is the first that stirred me to action and turned the guttering spark of my banal existence into a raging inferno. I was fourteen, and the taunts of the other boys were the same as they had always been. I was a rich kid, son of a single mother, so in their narrow perceptions of the world my dad must have either been a prison inmate or some one-night stand, and my mother either a high-priced hooker or some privileged slut who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep her legs closed. I can clearly remember the big kid, glaring down at me while he drooled through his smug, self-righteous smirk, filled with gapped teeth. The greasy, pock-marked, tangle of bulldog jowls that he called a face were twisted with malicious delight as he smashed one fat fist after another across my face; my lip had raked repeatedly across the razor edge of my bottom teeth, and my chin was painted with bloody saliva that I refused to swallow, overflowing past numb lips and staining my white shirt. I wasn’t fighting back. I didn’t care to. I just let him hammer me, absently listening to the pinched, nasal whine of a voice he was using to brag and boast for the gathered audience. His cronies had me pinned in place ‘to keeping me from running like the chicken shit that I am’ he said, although considering how very little I was fighting back or struggling, they were pretty much just holding me up.

Let it be said, that I hated life. Living in the world of excessive privilege, everything was provided for me, I didn’t even have to think for myself. The only thing I had known about my father was that he left shortly before I was born, and secured my mother and I with a vast fortune and the understanding that I was never to call another man father. I wasn’t suicidal, mind you; I didn’t want to die, or take my own life, I just didn’t care what happened to me. My grades were passing, only because I was smart enough to do my classes in my sleep, and often did. I never partook in any extracurricular activities, I was never asked to; I was a ghost, drifting through life, staring at an existence full of easy solutions with complete and utter . . . dissatisfaction.

The fat kid had hit me so many times that I couldn’t feel my face, and he was getting angry because I wasn’t crying or begging mercy from him, or whatever people are suppose to do when they are getting the shit beat out of them. I just stared up at him with vacant, soulless amber eyes-

I should have mentioned this earlier, but I have amber colored eyes, true amber, like petrified tree sap or a red-orange crystal. I never thought they were weird, and considering that my mother constantly doted and hovered protectively over me, nothing unusual could ever be near me. I believed that I was the most pathetically boring person ever have existed, so why should they be significant at all? Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes.

I was just staring up at the bully with empty eyes, when he stops hitting me, snarls and says “You’re not even worth it.” I could have told him that had he asked, but being the dipshit that he was, he never asked for my opinion. His friends let go of me, and I fell flat on my back, staring at him with an unchanging expression. I knew I was a mess; I couldn’t feel my head, my left eye had already swollen shut. The copper taste of blood filled my mouth, and about half of my teeth felt loose. But none of it mattered; I’d just go home, my mom would have doctors fix me up, and I’d be fine in a few weeks. It’d happened before, so why should it matter this time? That worthless, fat, little punk stepped up, dug the heel of his foot into my chest, then he spat in my face. “Stupid rich bitch,” he laughed. “You think you’re so much better than everyone else. All your money makes you just so cool. Now look at you, all fucked up and ugly, in the dirt, where you belong. Do you still think you’re so great? Huh? Answer me?”

Something snapped in me. I don‘t know if something broke within or finally clicked into place, but I answered the little snot. “No,” I said, with a shocking force behind the word. I didn’t even realize it was my own voice; there was incredible strength and sureness in that one word. There was significance in those two letters when I said them . . . a profound authority, and bold sense of meaning. They contained a power, something almost alive that wanted to smite the stupid fat kid with a vengeance.

“That’s what I thought.” He stepped off me and turned away, laughing derisively at me as his friends came up to congratulate him.

I, however, was staggering to my feet. I still don’t think I was in control of myself; it was like something else had awakened inside of me, something utterly disgusted with my bland neutrality, and it was making me give a damn. The cold, blasé haze I was accustom to dissipated, and I could feel this . . . this intense rage well up inside me. I was so pissed off that he was standing there, going on about how much better I thought I was than everyone else. What the fuck? Who the fuck did he think he was? Little punk-ass bitch!

“I never thought I was better than you, Tony,” I said, anger giving heat to my words. He turned, eyes wide, surprised to see me standing there facing him. He was even more surprised when I scooped some of the spit and blood off of my face and wiped it on his shirt. “I’ve never said I was better than anyone, and I’ve never acted like I thought I was.” My voice was getting harder, more powerful, more impassioned. I stepped toward him, back rigid, fists clenched and much to his dismay. “For your information, I hate my life. There is no challenge to it; everything comes to me without having to work, or even asks. My mother can do nothing but hover around me like I’m some fragile, crippled bird.”

My face wasn’t numb anymore. It was hurting like hell, but that didn’t bother me; the pain was invigorating. I relished the sensation; it made me feel real, significant, like I wasn’t the hollow shell of a man I felt like I had been up to that point. I jabbed my finger in his fleshy chest, “There is nothing about my life that is better than anyone else’s, so I don’t know where the fuck you get that idea!” I was shouting at him, my face hot with rage, and I could see that I was scaring him, and that was just fine with me. The air of the crowd had also turned; no longer were they enjoying the sight of some common kid beating up some privileged snob, this was no longer about class or popularity. Now they were watching someone with real passion and conviction tear a bully to shreds with nothing but his words. Their eyes were alight with warmongering lust, each mouth uttering a silent prayer for bloodshed and battle. They wanted to a real fight, not a one-sided ass stomping. They wanted me to hit him, and I realized it; nobody liked Tony, he was some fat schlep who was reveling in the spotlight he had created by picking on victims smaller than him-

I should also have mentioned how short I am; I’m five foot five, and I weigh about one-hundred and thirty pounds. I’m not some imposing figure, more like a scrawny, scrappy little mutt of a kid. But anyway-

“Stop pretending that I’ve wronged you by rubbing my family’s money in your face! I haven‘t said shit about my family‘s money.” I pulled a hundred dollar bill out of my wallet and stuffed it in his gaping mouth. I’d been planning on buying an X-Box 360 after school that day, nobody could shut up about Gears of War, so I’d thought I’d check it out. “You think money is so great? Here, have mine!” I stuffed four more bills in his mouth, as far as they would go, gagging him with my fingers. “Now you know what I feel like, hated by everyone around me, choking on money that I never wanted in the first place.” I let him cough up the bills and catch his breath, while I wiped the saliva off my fingers.

“You’re fucking crazy!” he said in a voice that was taking on a high-pitched, panicky whine as he stared at me with real fear on his face.

“No, I’m fed up.” I said and wiped the blood off my chin, “I’m tired of people fucking with me because they have nothing better to do. You want a reason to start something with me? Here-” I punched him in the face. Holy shit, I never knew I had it in me! Blood gushed out of his nose as it broke on contact with my fist. The bridge split open, blood spilled out and everything. Geezus it was a mess. He hollered and shrieked as he fell to his knees, clutching his mangled face and sobbing uncontrollably. “Now, I’m the stuck-up, rich kid who broke your nose and made you cry in front of the entire eighth grade class. Now, you have a reason to hate me. So, do something about it, or fuck off.” I turned my back to him and walked away, the crowd parting before me like the red sea before Moses.

It was amazing; I still don’t have words to describe the colors I saw or the rush of empowerment and the sense of purpose I felt at that moment. It was so new and so invigorating. My eyes had finally opened, and I was seeing the world for the first time. I was hyperaware of everything around me. It felt surreal; a girl that I’d often found myself checking out was whispering to her girlfriend about how hot I was for ‘utterly destroying that fucking punk’. Two guys were talking about how sure they were that they could kick my ass, but the fear in their voice said they’d never try. I even heard Tony shuffle to his feet and charge me from behind; I remember being impressed how quick he was, despite being such a big guy. I heard the click of oiled bearings and springs, and in my mind’s eye I could see the knife clutched in his sausage shaped fingers. He leapt, murderously intent on stabbing me in the back with the switchblade. The dumb bastard was willing to kill me to save face in what amounted to a playground fight. Sad thing is, five minutes before, I’d have probably have let him.

Instead, I spun on my heel, and for the second time that day, I felt like someone else was behind the wheel, driving my actions and controlling my moves. I willing surrendered my control. The unseen driver made my left hand shoot up and grabbed his wrist, my thumb digging mercilessly into the pressure point located just below where the two arm bones fused together at the hand. A flick of my wrist, and they separated. His hand popped opened, releasing the knife; simultaneously, his mouth opened in a howl of agony. It was a neat trick. Then, my right hand came up, and I slammed my fist into his solar plexus. I can remember how angry I was, insulted at the audacity of this punk, trying to take my life because he lost a fight that HE had started. I channeled all my rage into that hit, every ounce of hate and fury I could feel was contained in that one punch. I wished I could push my fist through him, my hand coming out the other side and waving to the crowd gathered around us.

I got the next best thing; fire as black as hate, and as hot as Hell itself. Flames exploded from my fist as if it were filled with creosol and it crawled up his chest like a living thing, hungry to chew through his ruined face. His shirt was ash in seconds, his flesh bubbled and blistered from the heat, smoke so thick I could taste the charred flesh when I inhaled. The blaze crawled along my flesh, burning the sleeve off my shirt, but it left my skin untouched; who am I kidding, my skin was cool to the touch. I still can’t explain why.

Tony flew backwards, screaming in this ‘nails on a chalkboard’ keening tone as the fire ate away at his body. The flames disappeared almost as quickly as they had begun, but for Tony it was too late; he looked like he’d been caught in a burning building that had reduced itself to rubble around him. The only reason we knew he was still alive was because he was making this pathetic little . . . whimpering noises, like a simpering plea for death.

Naturally, whirlwind of panic, chaos and confusion came next; the ambulance took Tony away, and the teachers and police interviewed everyone present, repeatedly. I was suspended for a month while a formal investigation was conducted; they’d have put me in prison, if my mother hadn’t of come to the rescue with fifteen, high powered, lawyers behind her. See, Tony’s dad was a cop, and damned if he wasn’t sure that I tied his sweet, innocent boy down and set him on fire for my own amusement. Maybe he was right to feel that way; the fire did come out of me, and Tony was going to spend five years in intensive care because of it. I am sorry that he’s going to spend the rest of his life messed up, but at the same time I’m not, part of me feels like he brought it on himself. That internal conflict still confuses me.

In the end, the school gave me permission to return to class, but I never did. Mom and I picked up and moved across the country, from Corpus Christi to San Bernadino, and we never spoke of the incident again. That’s when things started to make sense, and my life suddenly had meaning and purpose.

While we were unpacking, I found a leather bound book in one of the boxes my mom had marked as her personal stuff; it looked ancient, it felt ancient, I found a Polaroid sticking out like a bookmark. It was a picture of my mom with this guy who was covered in tattoos, and on the back, written in sharpie, was a note:

To Melrose,

I’ll never be able to thank you enough for giving me the chance to live a real life. My only regret is that my past will cut our time together short, and I’ll never get to see the kind of man our son will grow to become.

I love you,


I dropped the book. The guy in the picture was . . . my dad; I’d never seen him before, but I just knew that was him. My mom walked in and saw me sitting there holding the old picture, and she started crying. I guess I’d been crying too, although I didn’t realize it at the time. That’s when the whole story came out; how my mom met my dad, how he just . . . left . . . in the company of two strangers one July morning, and how he’d made my mother promise to never force another father onto me. He’d left her with a fortune in gold coins, and the book, which she told me to keep. “You deserve to know him” was what she had said to me.

The book taught me things I could never have imagined; my father was from another dimension. He was a hit man who killed daemons and angels, and turned his back on his masters to protect someone he once loved. The book told of every move, every skill, every weapon he’d mastered in pursuit of self-discipline. It was the journal that told the story of his life, from his first moment of sentience, to just before he walked out to greet someone he called his Nyx Jailers . . . whatever the hell that means . . .

The book also told me about the fire, and how my father felt it in me the first time he laid a hand on my mother’s pregnant belly. “Barely conceived, and already I can feel the immortal power within him” the entry reads. “On Krosroads, the fire would make him a king; here . . . I only hope it can make him brave enough to be his own man.”

Rest assured father, I am that.

The ‘Blue Flame of Valor’ is what he calls it, ‘The raw manifestation of the celestial lifeblood of the Nyx, a power shaped by the will and virtue of the user’. Mine burns black . . . I wonder what that says about me. Two years later, and my control has only grown; I can throw fire now, summon it up when I get angry. I’ll never forget the first time I flew . . . but that’s a story for a different time.

Now, as the world seems to descend into madness around me, I redouble my efforts to train myself; Kyusho-jutsu, Iron Palm, Iron Shirt, Hseng-I, Gentle Fist Juken, and both Tiger and Crane style Kung-fu. Oh, and ballet, lots of ballet. You may think it funny, but I can kick someone in ways you can’t imagine, and my balance and flexibility is unparalleled. Combined with the seven or eight different fighting styles my father perfected (Zenith Chi Manipulation, Murmillo Shield Fighting, Zellyr Archery, Dervish Sword Mastery, Ptolemos Grappling, and so on), I will protect the ones I love . . . if I don’t get myself killed in the meantime . . . no pressure, Valiant.

I will find my father.

I will find the blue in my flame.

My name is Valiant Jack Costello, but you can call me Val.

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