Chapter 1: Lull Before the Storm
High above Midas City, Lightstorm glanced down as she flew overhead. It was the same patrol route she took every Tuesday, and one that on paper would look distressingly erratic. It was a route the experience heroine had taken for more than ten years, and it lined up less with any streets or buildings than where she’d most been needed.
To Lightstorm, what mattered most was that the people knew she was there, and that she was doing the most good possible. Maybe there was a more reasonable way to do what she did, but it had been working for her, and stubbornness was a universal trait among superheroines.
I wonder if I’ll run into any problems tonight… Brown eyes peered out from behind a white mask. They were an intense, dramatic brown that would have looked striking even without the mask drawing such a stark contrast.
As she flew through the sky, so much of Lightstorm was stark contrasts. Above her the sky was a deep, dark black, and she was dressed in a skintight, white uniform. There were black accents here or there, but the largely white suit covered most of her body in a very form-fitting way, even with the occasional bit of padding to enhance her already voluptuous figure and provide the faintest bit of protection—and the additional distraction.
Her bodysuit ended just before her wrists, leaving her hands bare. She wore ankle-high boots with only the slightest of heels. The white of her uniform was covered in stars, with a central sun just under her neck. Golden rays spread out from it all the way down to her heels.
She was the sort of heroine anyone would hope might come to their rescue in a dark alley, both due to how the sight of her inspired hope and her impossible to ignore beauty.
Quiet nights usually mean I’m more out for show, but that’s fine. If anyone looks to the sky and sees me moving overhead? They should feel a little safer. That’s part of the reason to patrol. Making people’s lives better is the important thing. Her soft pink lips curled into a warm smile as she continued to gaze across the city. It always makes me feel happy to know I’m doing my—
Metal on concrete.
It wasn’t a dramatically loud sound, but it was enough to catch the heroine’s attention. If she wasn’t flying as low as she was, she would have missed it. Brown eyes quickly moved down towards the sound, and caught sight of a group of women with black hair carrying very large bags. Once she caught sight of the belly shirts the women were wearing, she knew exactly what she was seeing.
The Syndicate! Lightstorm’s eyes narrowed, and she began to quickly descend. Her heels aimed towards the sidewalk as she descended, her figure looking all the more elegant with her arms above her head, her blonde hair fluttering above her.
Using her flight she landed dramatically yet painlessly on one knee before slowly rising back up to her full height. The goons looked towards her, black masks hiding their identities. There were at least ten of them, and while most of them wore the same thing, black bellyshirts, loose pants, and matching shoes, two of the women instead wore black dresses that stopped less than halfway down their thighs with low, dipping necklines.
“Good evening. I’ve never known why some of you dress like you’re ready for a party, but I don’t suppose you’d tell me, would you?” Lightstorm cracked her knuckles, dropping down into a more defensive, fighting posture.
The black-clad villains dropped their bags, some of their eyes growing wide and concerned behind their masks while others merely smirked. “Company secret! But I’m sure if you asked the boss, she’d be happy to tell you!” After her quick retort, one of the women wearing a dress reached a hand to her back and pulled out a gun that must have been hidden in the back of her dress. “Keep it nonlethal, but take her down!”
Before the woman could pull the trigger, Lightstorm was already moving. To the others watching, it seemed as though nothing at all happened before the woman with the gun suddenly stumbled back with a cry, shaking her head frantically. She fired the gun wide as a leg kicked her hand away, and then a bare hand tore her gun away.
A moment later an elbow slammed into the woman’s solar plexus, and she crumpled with a sharp, pitiful cry.
“I don’t really know what you’re doing here, but it’s pretty obvious you’re all up to no good.” Lightstorm shrugged, maintaining the pose as she met the eyes of the still-standing women one by one. Some of them flinched, while others simply smirked. “You didn’t even try to explain what you were doing. That’s not a very smart move.”
One of the women who had been out of sight, hiding in the nearby alley ran up to slam her fist into Lightstorm’s back. The heroine spun to deflect the blow, but the woman was too quick and Lightstorm lacked the lightning-quick reflexes that would have been necessary to respond.
But thankfully her back was one of the places more carefully padded. I prefer to rely on my experience, but it’s times like these I’m glad for the extra cushioning!
“Doesn’t matter why we’re here if you’re not going to stay standing!” The woman who ran up behind Lightstorm tried for another blow only to find the heroine deflecting her punch with a smooth sweep of her white-clad arm. A moment later, striking brown eyes were narrowing, and the thug stumbled back in confusion before with a quick movement Lightstorm swept her feet out from under her, sending the woman down to land on the hard ground with a thud.
“You must have us confused! Common mistake.” She chuckled, shaking her head as she turned to face the remaining Syndicate thugs. Her eyes were no longer narrowed, and her stance opened up, her raised hands held far enough apart to give the women a clear view of her chest as she swayed in place, ready to strike again.
Glances were exchanged between the goons, and down towards the bags they’d dropped before. Every look was meaningful, communicating a hundred fears and hopes. Anyone who knew anything about The Syndicate knew that they did not appreciate failure—even when a renowned heroine showed up.
Even if some of them wanted to flee, the potential consequences were hardly minor.
Two women rushed for Lightstorm at once, one pulling a knife. Without skipping a beat she moved towards the unarmed woman first, a moment of concentration on her face. Her opponent gasped in shock as she took a hard knee to her gut before Lightstorm grasped her shoulders and threw her against her armed friend. Both women flew back into the nearby building with a loud cry.
Not waiting for the heroine to recover, another three women rushed for her back.
This time, Lightstorm was ready. She spun around with her leg raised, and one of the women cried out just before Lightstorm’s foot slammed into her, the kick a direct blow to the crying woman’s leg. Wholly unprepared for the strike, the blow sent her hurtling to the ground.
Another of the women managed to grasp Lightstorm’s arm, squeezing it tight as the third drew back her fist. Before the woman could land her punch, she screamed, her fist grabbed by Lightstorm. A moment later the heroine twisted her arm, and swung her around into her partner, sending the two women crashing down to the ground. As the remaining woman lost her footing, she screamed sharply and released her hold on the white-clad arm without any visible reason at all.
“I’m not out for a workout. If any of you want to surrender, this can go a lot smoother. If any of you want to tell me what you were doing, or why you were here, then that might go a long way.” None of the fallen women, nor those still standing, said anything at all. Lightstorm sighed. “The Syndicate is why you’re in this situation. You shouldn’t be feeling any loyalty for them.”
“Even if we don’t, they won’t appreciate it! I know what you do, I’ve heard the rumors…!” One of the few women still standing closed her eyes tight. “You mess with people, make ‘em see things! Well what’re you going to do if I keep my eyes closed?!”
The blonde sighed as the woman speaking rushed towards her, her eyes steadfastly shut. With a careful use of her flight, she drifted to the side, and held out her foot, tripping the rushing woman before shoving her down to the ground. Falling so quickly forced all the air out of the woman’s lungs, and the boot pressing down on her spine kept her from rising back up to her feet.
Lightstorm looked to the others who remained, raising her eyebrows and gesturing at the pile of dazed women with open palms. She said nothing, but her body language made it clear that their strategies, including the new one proposed by the woman under her boot, were quite ineffective.
“That wouldn’t work. It takes a lot of training to fight with your eyes closed—even more practice to do it very well. I’d be surprised if any of you were quite that impressive while staying as low-rank hired help.” She giggled, slowly shaking her head. Her expression shifted back to the same bright, inspirational smile she’d worn when she was flying up above. None of the gathered women posed any threat to her. She could afford to lean away from intimidation, and towards dazzle—with little effort she had already made strikes in presenting herself as too impressive and potent to be worth fighting.
The Syndicate thug struggled and groaned as she tried to rise from under Lightstorm’s boot only to be forced back down with every attempt. Each motion was only as firm as it needed to be to keep the woman down, never more brutal or painful than necessary. “Nah, but if you’re on top of me, then you can’t really move, huh? Didn’t think that one out, did ya?”
None of the women on the ground were down for the count, and some of them had already begun to stand back up, dusting themselves off to engage again. Lightstorm’s smile faded, replaced once more with a scowl. “I’m only just getting warmed up, but if you want to keep on going, then I can do that too. I haven’t shown you even half of what I can do. It’d be better for you if you just stayed down.”
This could be dangerous, but more for them than for me. Lightstorm kept her foot on the downed woman’s back, pushing her down a little harder—careful to not actually hurt her. If they keep getting back up, I might end up hurting them. It won’t be my fault, but I’d really prefer if none of them needed to heal from any broken bones or anything more serious. It never makes me feel very heroic when someone is in a full body cast because they wouldn’t stand down.
None of the women from The Syndicate seemed deterred. Thankfully, none of them were drawing out more weapons, but one of them was already breaking away towards the fallen gun.
Hopefully this won’t tip my hand, but this seems like a good way to get them to back down while keeping all of us relatively safe. Even nonlethal rounds can be incredibly deadly in the wrong circumstances, and this is only going to get more dangerous for them if they won’t just stay down. Her breathing slowed as she focused, her gaze on the women in front of her. She did everything she could to not look at the woman heading towards the gun.
“Wh-what the hell…?!” The woman stumbled back, her lip quivering, her hand frantically pointing down at the gun. “L-look at it…! It’s… it’s like it’s… like it’s coming alive…!”
“The hell are you talking abou—what the fuck?!” A woman who had retrieved a fallen knife stared in horror, turning to face the gun with wide eyes.
One by one, all of the gathered thugs’ faces fell. To any casual observer, nothing was wrong at all. The gun remained on the ground, immobile, less dangerous than it had been when it was held in the woman’s hand. However, the women around Lightstorm were all seeing something much different. For them, the gun was shifting into a mechanical terror with large metal teeth and bright, glowing red eyes.
Sweat shined on Lightstorm’s brow as her look of intense concentration grew. “Now, I think that looks a lot more threatening than I do, right? Someone must have sold that to The Syndicate to try getting you all killed if anything went wrong!
“Get back against the wall! Let me take care of it for you. You’ll be going to jail, but you’ll survive. You can decide there whether you want to talk or not.”
The strain it took to maintain the separate illusion in each of the gathered women was enough to make Lightstorm’s forehead glisten, and her lip tremble. Her hands tightened into fists. She could use a distraction like this to launch another flurry of attacks before any of them reacted, but her goal was still to handle the situation with as little violence as possible.
Few women who joined an organization like The Syndicate had perfect lives or endless opportunities. The last thing the white-clad woman wanted to do was make things worse.
Some of the women began to back up towards the wall, but only a few. It was only a brief reprieve before the majority turned towards Lightstorm, and one of them, another woman wearing a dress, pointed towards her. “She must have done it somehow! C’mon, let’s get her while she’s on Steph’s back!”
“Don’t say my name!” Steph whined under Lightstorm’s boot, the heel pressing down against her spine just enough to make her let out a sharp cry. “If you’re going to get her, get her! This really fucking hurts!”
Lightstorm frowned as the women against the wall stepped away from it, moving to stand with the others as they began to approach her. So much for that… With Lightstorm’s careful concentration, all of the women saw the gun-monster seem to run out of power, and slowly shift back into an ordinary pistol.
“If I was the one doing it, I think I’d make it do something a little bit more useful, don’t you think? Definitely wouldn’t have it back down while you were getting up the courage to try something again!” Lightstorm sighed, slowly shifting her weight as the women approached her. Some even moved behind her, hoping to corral her. What they hoped to achieve with that when she could fly was anyone’s guess, but it wasn’t as if Lightstorm’s opinion of them was high before she’d landed. “Now, we can do this, but one of you is going to get hurt. Probably Steph, considering she tried to run at me with her eyes closed.”
Steph grumbled again as Lightstorm slowly slid her other foot underneath the fallen woman. If I can just shove her towards the women in front of me, use my illusions to blind the women behind me, I should be able to—
Before Lightstorm could do anything, or the women could reach her, a force of psychic pressure forced its way into her mind. There was no resistance, no chance to struggle. The words reached into her mind like a woman stepping in through open doors.
You want to take your foot off her back and hold your hands up over your head.
An anxious laugh rose from the heroine’s throat as her arms slowly rose, and she stepped away from the fallen woman she’d been gently crushing the moment before. “C’mon now, we can all get along, right? I really don’t want to hurt you, but I will.”
From the alleyway, a woman wearing a skintight white bodysuit, with matching gloves and boots, slowly stepped into view. Black hair fell over her face, hiding all but her smiling lips.