His name was Malachi Morgan and he was the son of Chicago’s most notorious millionaire.
His father, linked into the mob, corrupt politics, and conspiracies, ruled the entire state of Illinois, but Mal fell very far from the tree. At nineteen he rejected his wealth, made a new identity, and dove deep into the streets of Chicago. He wanted to be as far away from his father’s world as he could.
He worked in speakeasies, bathtub distilleries, and mopped floors in the bus station. He walked the streets cold and hungry and begged when there was no work. As the great depression fell on the nation Mal saw its effects firsthand.
The rich ate well while the people in the streets starved without hope. The city was rife with crime. Mafia and magnates alike bought or shot their way forward. The cities aldermen were corrupt and the police willfully complicit. Malachi watched as the world lost hope. With no future to see people turned on each other.
Yet in the dirty starving streets, in the closest knit of groups, a few that were without, held strong. From the alleyways and breadlines, compassion would occasionally rear its head, and when it did, a temporary bloom of smiles and hope flared up. Mal saw that even in the darkest moments, one person could rise, and inspire others to kindness.
Mal’s father still sought to control his son, and after two years of searching found him sharing a loft with three other people. Knowing that Mal would never come home unless he had to, he sent some muscle to encourage him. The night went bad and an unintentional fire killed everyone in the building except Mal. Mal lost all his friends, people whom he loved.
Mal knew his father was behind it. He returned home, but not for lack of hope; it was for revenge. He would expose his father and put him in prison.
He built up a case with the DA, solid evidence of murder and conspiracy, then confronted his father. Mal had finally become the power that his father wanted. Mal expected fury from him, denial that his son could do this, or at least an angry sense of misplaced betrayal. His father understood, all too well, what his son had done. Hopelessness settled in his conscience, cold and lonely, leaving the old mob boss one choice. He shot himself rather than face prison.
Malachi wanted to win so badly, to crush all the arrogant joy from his father, that he didn’t see what he was evolving into.
Malachi had killed his father as surely as if he had ripped his heart from his chest. His satisfaction of winning threatening to bring him full circle, as the son became the father.
Maybe it was madness, maybe guilt, but Mal was a storm of discontent that needed expression. He took all his rage and self-loathing and poured it into the streets. He wore a simple mask at first to hide his identity. He launched a crusade against all the lowlife scum and thugs he could find. As weeks passed, he realized he was having an impact on the community. He stopped slinking in the shadows and made a bright and hopeful costume. The newspapers loved him.
The Great Crusader gave hope to a city mired in economic depression and ruled by the gluttonous greed of old money. Dressed in yellow and red tights and a bright blue cape he used fisticuffs to arrest low-level thugs. Tips began to pour in, less from brave citizen righting wrongs, but to see the crazy man in a cape knock out some bad actors. The press and police both got in on the circus. Eventually, it worked, and the city prospered under the bright colored protection.
But then a new type of crime appeared. Crime for crime’s sake. New technology was used to create terror, and the police were ill-equipped. Mal, having inherited his father’s wealth, hired a controversial scientist named Crowley. His work with magnets and electricity had earned him a reputation as a mad scientist, but his awards showed he was far from crazy. Crowley joined The Great Crusader, and with his help, Mal fashioned himself into a modern-day Hercules. Electrodynamic armor, bullet-resistant weaves, and wireless long-range radios all wrapped in a bright and colorful costume.
He was unstoppable, fighting everything from bank robbers, to tax fraud. Nothing could touch him. Nothing until Andronico the Greek, using a stolen Tesla pistol, managed to rip through his armor and send him hurtling off the side of a railway.
That was when he met Sigil, who was just a kid, but strong as steel. After the Greek, the two became crime-fighting partners, and history was made.
Malachi opened one dull yellow eye. The dreams of the past had been so sweet. He could see a light, but not much more. Just a fuzzy splotch of green and grey. Was he blind? He didn’t know. His body was stiff, and his senses dulled. What happened? Where was he? Had he been injured?
He was numb across his whole body and barely had a sense of lying down. Had he fallen? Was there brain damage? Would he recover? Where were Sigil and Crowley? He reached for his Marconi Box, but his arm was numb and only flopped at his side. He focused and sat up. His vision still blurry and only one eye seemed to work. He reached for his face and barely managed to grope at himself pathetically. His fine motor skills were reduced to feeble baby-like pawing. With great effort he managed to stand. He had one good sense left; he could hear.
The wind whipped around him, and thunder rolled in the distance. He was outside and it was cold, or maybe cold was all he could feel. Maybe it was all he had left. Maybe he was dead? Death had come. Yes, now he remembered. Dr. Death had killed him.
One foot lumbered forward, and against all odds, he didn’t fall. He could walk, that was a start. Malachi again reached for his wireless and heard it clatter to the ground. He turned and tried to kneel, but his balance quickly failed him. Out of instinct, he put his hands out and he managed to avoid planting his face in the street. He struggled to locate the wireless and shouted out in frustration, but there was no shout. Nothing but a raspy reed-like sound issued out, and he realized the wireless wouldn’t help. He stood again trying his best to understand what little his senses offered him. He then became aware of another physical feeling.
It was slight at first, almost unnoticeable, but was growing every second. The mounting sensation then began to spread across his body, consuming his every thought. He hungered like never in his life. An unrelenting beast of desire screamed and raged from his gut and bones.
Malachi Morgan, the Great Crusader, surged forward, no longer adorned as the bright protector of Chicago. He lumbered onward as his shredded cape followed behind. His bright blue Tesla weave now stained and oxidized, his utility belt broken and covered in rust. His skin was a decaying mess, and his guts were slithering slowly out of a hole in his side.
The hunger was everything. He had no idea of how long it had been since he ate. A day, an hour, there was no such thing as time for him, only hunger. He heard a scream, the sounds of a fight, but they were far away. Voices meant people, people meant life, life was what he needed. He moved forward stumbling to the sounds.
More voices nearby. A woman screamed: LIFE! His mind roared as he lurched onward, violently writhing and grasping where he heard the sounds. And when his numb skin touched live flesh it was as if the world exploded with joy. The warmth, the feel, the taste… the taste!
What had he done? The voices were now gone, everything was silent, as was his hunger. Sleep began to take him. A deep slumber that would last until he yet again hungered.