Every superhero story that you have seen or read about has two distinct roles: the Hero and the Villain. The Hero is viewed as hope, security, loyalty, and love, and stands as a symbol of protection against those that wish to bring harm. The Villain is regarded as evil, tricky, rude, irresponsible, and violent, and creates an environment meant to be hostile for everyone. Yet, the one detail nobody ever considers, is what if there are Heroes and Villains with the opposite qualities? Are they still considered “good” or “evil”, or does it become something different entirely?
When Lady Phoenix (otherwise known as Ellie) arose from the ashes to become the city’s new Hero, people were hesitant at first. To have a superhero that controls a destructive element was considered odd and frightening. She proved herself worthy, however, when an arsonist attacked the city’s public library. People were trapped inside as wooden bookshelves began to fall, closing off any exits and chances to escape. Ellie had been walking the streets when she heard the screams and saw the smoke rising in the distance. She took a deep breath and turned down one of the many alleyways. Her heart pounded as she took off her civilian clothes and revealed her ‘costume’. It was a red, low-cut one-piece with orange sleeves and orange flames on her shoulders. Over her face, she wore a mask that covered everything except her eyes. Time was of the essence so she quickly hid her backpack and ran toward the scene. Firetrucks and other medical personnel were surrounding the building as she ran past them and into the awaiting fire. She assessed the damage and was able to locate the origin of the fire on the top floor. One of the perks of Ellie’s powers was her ability to see heat signatures meaning that the people were trapped on the third floor while the fire had started on the fifth.
“Hey,” She called out towards the police who looked over at her in confusion, “Mind if I step in?”
Except, she didn’t wait for an answer. Walking confidently up the stairs, she burst open the door, and immediately her sight was covered in haze. She continued to sprint up the stairs until she was on the third floor where a group of people was huddled. They were coughing and the moment one person saw her, they all rushed forward.
“Please! Please help us, the fire is getting stronger!” A woman cried out, a child crying next to her.
“It’s fine, when I went up the stairs I extinguished the flames, you’re safe.” Lady Pheonix told them with a smile. “Now, go!”
They all nodded and ran off as Ellie went directly towards where a mass of flames was raging on, books and window curtains ablaze. The thermal shock from the rapid heating of the building was causing the windows to begin to crack. As Ellie was weakening the flames, she ignored the frightened cries of the civilians as they were making their way down slowly (even though she told them to run). Ellie had told them to be quick but she didn’t have the time or energy to give them comfort right now. What would she say? That everything was going to be okay? She didn’t know if someone would perish or if the entire building would fold in on itself. Besides, these people knew that any generic Hero would say that line even if they are lying through their teeth. If there was a part of her that actually cared about the livelihood of these people, then of course she would be comforting them and placing their lives as a priority. Her train of thought was broken when she looked up and saw a young man racing towards one of the windows. She swore that everyone had left.
“WAIT!” She yelled out as she sprinted towards him.
As soon as he pulled the window up, it triggered a backdraft. Without thinking, she flung herself at the man as they went crashing through the window, the sudden change in air pressure causing the floor to explode into flames once again. She held onto him as her other hand will a rope to be formed from the flames in the building. Grasping onto the flames, she swung them down to the ground and gingerly let go of him.
“Now,” She began calmly, watching as paramedics began to run towards them. “That was incredibly stupid and if anybody else was up there, they would be dead. I’m surprised I even took you out of the building after that. You need to think before you act, do you understand?”
The man seemed to be in shock but simply nodded as she scoffed and ran back into the building. After quenching the fire on the lower floors, Lady Phoenix was able to rescue every human in the building. It was easy to become a Hero if you had the abilities to match it and that was exactly what happened with Ellie. The months following were filled with merchandise campaigns, public speaking events, planned rescue operations, and similar events meant to capitalize on the mutants that had appeared in the city. Nobody could pinpoint the precise reason as to why some individuals were granted powers and why others weren’t, but for those that were lucky enough to have these abilities, it was up to them as to what they wanted to do with them.
Meanwhile, in a nearby borough, a Villain had been running from the scene with tears running down his face. He had been the one to light the place ablaze but couldn’t ignore the screams of terror from the people in the library. His name was Tendril, otherwise known as Carter, born with the ability to sprout vines from his arms and will poisonous thorns to grow as a protective layer. He hadn’t wanted to become a Villain but that was what life handed him, and that was what he was going to do. Tendril had joined a particular group of Villains simply known as The Devil’s Advocate (TDA). He had left home at the ripe age of 16 after paralyzing another student at his high school. He hadn’t meant to do it, but the victim was pushing him around in the hallways when Carter’s anger got the best of him. His tendrils had whipped out and wrapped around his waist, the thorns puncturing the lower part of his spinal column. The school was not happy, as expected, and he was expelled. The downside of being with the TDA had nothing to do with them, but rather with Tendril’s weakness. No matter what mission he was sent on, he would freeze up. Something within him cared about the people that he was assigned to get rid of and the moment he saw their faces, it felt as though he was being held at gunpoint. It would typically end with his colleague finishing the job, scoffing a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me', and then the two of them running to the awaiting getaway car. Carter wasn’t a bad kid; he was a good kid in a bad situation. This particular mission was to go to their weapon’s warehouse which was hidden in the back of a deli. The TDA got wind that some detectives got word of their operation and they needed to buy time to smuggle out the weapons. In order to ‘buy time’, Tendril was to immobilize any person at the deli and use them as hostages. The police would need to communicate agreements and set up perimeters giving them ample time to sneak out. Now, Tendril was standing above six citizens who were temporarily paralyzed on the floor. He was crying softly and the people were watching him with wide eyes, their mouths duct taped shut. Tendril had no idea what was to come.
“Lady Phoenix do you copy?” A voice rang from Ellie’s phone, “We need you to check out something.”
She glanced over at the phone on the couch and sighed as she picked it up. “Where’s the fire?”
There was silence on the other end before the device was turned on again. “This isn’t regarding fire, actually. We need you to check someone out, an individual that may be involved with the weapon smuggling going on. You should be receiving an image through your tablet of the target. His name is Tendril, not too much is known about him except that he can use vines that have thorns attached to immobilize his victims. He hasn’t had a history of appearing on the front cover of news stories so I am assuming he is relatively harmless.”
“Yeah, well, you never know.” She began as she reached for her tablet.
There was a chuckle over the phone, “Yes it is still a worry, I’m surprised you didn’t ask if there were hostages.”
Heat flooded her face as she began to feel flustered. “I was going to ask that but I figured you would just tell me.”
“I’m just teasing you, Ellie,” There was typing on the other line before he let out a sigh. “But there are hostages, at least six of them. When you infiltrate, you’ll have to worry about whether or not they have the hostages at gunpoint, or in this case, wrapped in vines.”
“Gotcha, I’m assuming you want their weapons gone?” She smiled as she formed a flame to dance around her fingers.
“Yes, but try not to be too destructive. We still have to pay for any damages done.” He grumbled the last part.
Ellie knew that time was of the essence and all she wanted to do, was finish up this mission and go back home. She got to the scene quickly, noticing that the police had yet to arrive. Slamming open the door to the deli; she instantly threw two fireballs at a man guarding the back door. He slumped to the ground and she grumbled about how pathetic he was before bursting through the next one. There, in the center of the room, was her target. His legs were shaking slightly and he was quite tall, towering above the six victims on the floor cowering. Looking a little closer, she noticed that Tendril had various vines wrapped around them with thorns sticking into their lower backs.
“So, you’re the vine guy,” Lady Phoenix remarked, cocking an eyebrow. “I’m assuming that this is the first room of many for your little weapon situation?”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Carter thought that would sound tougher out loud but he was wrong.
“Right,” She said as a flame erupted in her hand, “If you don’t want to chat then I won’t bother.”
Before Tendril had a moment to react, she threw the flames into the far walls where there were hidden doors leading to the rest of the warehouse. They didn’t have much money so the makeshift wall immediately began to burn before crumbling down.
“What are you doing?” Carter questioned, his voice almost a whisper to his own ears. “Why are you lighting everything on fire?”
Lady Pheonix turned around to look at him fully. “Your little boy band has been manufacturing illegal weaponry and there’s the whole hostage thing so you guys lost warehouse privileges.”
The flames began to spread quickly, the wooden paneling fueling the fire.
“But the hostages are still here!” Tendril squeaked, “I infected them with my venom. They won’t be able to stand for 24 hours. We need to get them out first.”
Ellie shook her head as she formed a fireball in her hand. “Look, this was my priority and I can’t factor in the idea that they won’t wake up sometime soon so it’s being set ablaze right now before you start calling in backup.”
“We can’t leave them, are you kidding me?!” Tendril nearly screamed, the flames growing with every passing second. “I can carry three and you can carry three, it’ll be fine.”
“No,” Ellie repeated, “The fire is spreading quickly and there is no way I can save these people in time. Sacrifices have to happen, I said I would destroy the warehouse, and here I am destroying the warehouse. I’ll just say that I was fighting you the entire time and barely made it out with my life,” Lady Phoenix let out a dramatic sigh before smirking at the man, “You should be happy; you’ll get a reputation.”
“I’m not leaving without them.” Tendril growled out firmly.
Tendril stood up and gingerly helped one of the young men up. His knees instantly buckled, the venom in the thorns making it impossible for any of them to stand up. Carter hoisted the man over his one shoulder and motioned for one of the women to reach out.
“This is ridiculous,” Pheonix scoffed. “The ceiling is starting to fall apart.”
Tendril whirled around; his eyes furious. “Then why don’t you be useful and help me out here instead of accepting the fact that we won’t make it?”
Ellie scanned his face and something within her ached to have that need to save someone, to have the drive to protect another human being. But all her head could do is view them as weak. Their fragile bodies and minds were drastically inferior to that of her own and the most they would get out of their lives would be marriage, a job that they most likely hate, and screaming children that you must answer to every second.
Tendril began to cough, the smoke stinging his eyes as he desperately tried to wipe them with his bloody shirt. “The smoke is getting really bad; we have to move faster.” The fear had settled into a pit in his stomach as he looked around the room. Nothing could help them get these people out and if they die, it’s on him.
“Cover your mouth and nose,” Ellie barked at Tendril as she took out a canister and rolled it towards the six people who were laying on the ground. They didn’t seem to notice it as the smoke had made the room quite hazy.
Tendril watched in shock as they went unconscious, the smoke fizzling out. “You… you knocked them out? How is that going to help us at all?”
“Well, if you were worried about being caught, that problem has been solved. They won’t remember this whole ordeal.” Phoenix calmly explained.
Tendril glared at her as he poked her in the chest, “That wasn’t the problem you imbecile! The issue is getting them out alive not knocking them out so they can’t say anything. I’m getting these people out with or without your help.”
He grasped onto one of the young ladies and hoisted her into her arms. In response, Lady Phoenix let out a low chuckle.
“What’s so funny? They’re going to die!” Tendril croaked out, the smoke beginning to hurt his lungs.
“Why do you care so much? You’re the Villain don’t forget, nobody is going to be thanking you outside of here,” She took a step closer to the man. “How did you even get to this point? I figured the other Villains would’ve eaten you alive by now.”
His eyes narrowed as she smirked at him. “I’m good at what I do but I still give a shit when it comes to people’s lives, something you don’t seem very comfortable with. I would’ve saved them in a second if I was in your shoes.”
She was silent for a moment as if she was analyzing him with a magnifying glass. Before Tendril was able to berate her further, she turned towards the flames and began to extinguish him. He watched in awe as the fire dwindled down to a spark. The smoke was still quite thick as Tendril let out a cough and stared at the woman in bewilderment.
“You mean to tell me you could’ve done this the whole time?”
She shrugged as she picked up two strangers and threw them over her shoulder. Ellie grasped one of the smaller ladies and held her bridal style.
“I wanted to see what you would do, what lengths you would take to save them. Turns out, it didn’t take much. If I walked out of here without any of the hostages, my reputation would be through, and as much as being a Villain sounds tempting, I got bills to pay.”
Carter was at a loss for words. Her whole inspiration to save them wasn’t because he had wanted to get them out of here, but rather for the persona she provides to the people.
“I’d hurry if I were you, though,” she began, “The fire is still raging in the back and I can only carry these three so either you follow me with the rest of them or we’ll have to have a public funeral to remember the lives lost at your little warehouse.”
The moment that the duo left the warehouse, several police cars and ambulances were waiting. The fire looked a lot worse from the outside and Tendril knew the moment he got back to the TDA he would be in hot water. Calmly laying the people down, he looked around a few times before sprinting away, ignoring the shouts of the police officers. Lady Phoenix watched as the Villain ran off, a small part of her wishing to have his empathy, not knowing that Tendril longed for the day he wouldn’t have to care anymore.