Winds of Change
By: Light Clark
Synopsis: Ian hated the life that he’d been given. School, home, and everything in between was just unbearable. Then one day, he took a different path during that inbetween and discovered something that could change it all, but it was a gamble. Would it be worth the risk?
Warning: This story is 'technically' set in the Whateley universe. It uses no characters or places from that universe; just borrows a few terms and general thematics. It is certainly not canon.
Note: This is a rerelease of an older work, so it may seem familiar. However, it has been heavily edited since its first publishing, so it is substantially different from its original release.
“What a fucking nerd,” Dramond, a beefy black boy, scoffed right before shoving Ian as hard as he could.
The chubby teen literally went flying from the force, though, he didn’t fly far. The brick wall of a nearby building did an excellent job of halting his impromptu liftoff after only a couple of feet, knocking the wind out of him in the process. Hacking breathlessly, Ian crumpled to his knees, clutching at his ribs and making pitiful wheezing noises.
“Come on. Get up, fucker,” Vic, Dramond’s lanky white partner in crime, ordered, grabbing Ian’s shirt to pull him back to his feet. He only did it so that he could shove the boy again.
This time, Ian didn’t even find his knees after he bounced off the wall. Instead, he flopped onto his side, glasses falling off to bounce against the pavement. Through the pain, he started to reach for them still gasping for breath, but his hand moved too slowly.
There was a loud crunch as Dramond crushed the glasses under foot. “Whoops. Were those yours?” he asked sarcastically, laughing along with Vic, but his amusement didn’t last long as Ian could do little but squirm on the ground in pain. “Come on, bro. This toy’s broken. We’ll find him again once he’s fixed.” There was a nod from Vic and the two boys walked off, leaving Ian to his misery.
After several more moments of pain and gasping, Ian finally managed a real breath. A few more moments after that, he shoved himself up enough to sit against the wall. “Assholes,” he hissed angrily, not for the first time wishing he was big enough to fight back. If he could, he’d show them what broken really was.
Thoughts of broken things drew Ian’s gaze to his glasses. It was his third broken pair this month. “Bet mom’s gonna yell at me again about taking care of my stuff,” he grumbled, grabbing the broken frame before rising to his feet. “As if I it was my fault that those two dimwits decide to break them.”
Ian dusted himself off as he looked around to make sure he hadn’t dropped anything else in the scuffle. At least this time, the two boys hadn’t stolen his money or torn up his clothes, like they normally did. Not that he ever wore expensive clothes or carried much money, but it was still obnoxious to lose either.
With nothing else out of sorts, Ian justed turned to continue on his way home. It was only a couple of blocks until he made it to his apartment building, a run down, rat-infested, mess, but it was home. He and his mom were lucky to have even this much, with his mother scraping out survival working a pair of shitty waitress jobs.
“Mom?” Ian called as he stepped into the apartment There was, expectantly, no reply, indicating that his mother was currently working. Given what she did, it was best for her to work dinner shifts – that was where the money was – so she was rarely around when he got home from school.
“I wonder if there’s anything to eat,” Ian mused aloud, moving into the dingy little kitchen and pulling open the refrigerator. The shelves were all but bare, with just a half finished carton of milk and some condiments sitting on them. The cupboard wasn’t really any better, but he did find some cereal to combine with the milk. It would mean no breakfast for the next day, but breakfast was easier to go without than dinner.
Bowl in hand, Ian found a seat on the couch, since there was no kitchen table, and flipped on the little tv that his family owned. He didn’t really watch the tv, though, his gaze mostly drifting out the window to where the grime of the city was clearly visible in the late day sun. It was fitting in his mind, a shitty apartment sitting in a shitty city in the midst of a shitty world.
Ian tapped his pencil eraser on his desk as he listened to his teacher droning on and on at the front of the room. The class, algebra, was ridiculously easy, but because of the plethora of morons that filled the seats, along with the poor quality of the school itself, the teacher had to go very slowly, repeating himself frequently. To Ian, it felt like a whole class to explain that the sun is yellow, but there was nothing he could do about it. The school didn’t have the money to handle the rare intelligent student and just lumped them in with the rest.
Of course, Ian wasn’t the only person not paying attention, although, most of the others that were doing so could not have answered a question at that moment. Learning was not really a high priority at this school for either teachers or students. A few at the front row would put forth the effort, imagining that someday they might go to community college and get a job that didn’t pay minimum wage. Most of the kids, though, sat in the rest of the rows, dreaming about being pro athletes or master criminals or married to one of those things, with no regard to their lack of talent or intellect. Even so, these were the same people that assaulted and ridiculed him, a thought that sickened Ian.
The moment the bell rang, Ian was out of his desk, moving quite quickly in spite of his short, stodgy physique. He wanted out of the school as quickly as possible, so that any thugs that tried to find him that day would not notice that he’d taken a different route home. It would result in a slightly longer walk, but it would keep him from losing his last pair of glasses.
Naturally, Ian’s plan worked just as he predicted. He was out before anyone who might care could see where he went. He was so confident of that, once he was out of sight, he slowed to a casual stroll, looking around at the buildings as he went.
The surrounding buildings were in no better shape than Ian’s apartment – dirty and rundown. They were a testament to some past golden age of the city that had long since run it’s course. Now, they were mostly abandoned, used more often by criminals than anyone else. Ian had had more than one close call where he’d stumbled into the midst of criminal activity while satisfying his curiosity about some strange noise or odd light.
Today, it was an unfamiliar smell that reached out and grabbed Ian’s inquisitive mind and piqued its interest. Normally the area smelled … old, full of rust, mold, and the dusty air of a place mostly forgotten. Today though, it smelled of something new, a ripe pungent smell like garbage that had sat in the can for far too long. Whatever it was, the smell was quite strong.
Stepping off into a small alley, Ian followed his nose, searching for the smell. He was no blood hound or anything, but anything with a sense of smell could have followed a stench this potent. It kept getting stronger as he moved until, it was so bad that he had to cover his nose and mouth with his hand to press on. Finally, Ian turned into a small alcove at the end of the alley and found what he was searching for sitting against the wall. It was not a pleasant discovery
On the ground lay a corpse that was bloated and discolored with flies and maggots crawling around on it. It had once been a man, an older gentleman with brown hair that was perhaps half gray. He was dressed in a suit, and had in his lap a silver metal briefcase. The case was splattered red with blood, partially obscuring what appeared to be the wound that had killed the man, a gunshot to gut.
It was not Ian’s first dead body. He’d seen a mugging victim that had been shot once, and he’d buried both his grandparents but this one was certainly in the worst state of the bunch. The disgusting condition of the body was enough to make him quite queasy, but it not enough to kill his curiosity, or even get him to empty his stomach on the ground.
Frowning at the corpse, Ian wondered what could have brought such a man to this part of town. His first guess was that he was some kind of important villain, or someone that worked for one of them. There were a few powerful mutants in the area that were set up somewhere in the jungle of abandoned buildings and underground tunnels. Of course some regular old crime boss might have need to employ the dapperly dressed fellow as well.
“Well, let’s see what you had that was worth killing over,” Ian mused, kneeling down to grab the case and yank it from the dead man’s hands. There were no markings on the case, and it seemed to be locked, which Ian took as a sign that likely whatever the contents were, they were still waiting inside. “I guess I need to find something to open it.”
Keeping hold of the case, Ian hurried back out of the alley, leaving the dead man behind in the alcove. Gone was his leisurely stroll as he jogged the remaining blocks to his building, huffing for breath as he did. He didn’t feel safe again until he had the door shut and locked behind him.
“It looks pretty sturdy, so I guess I try to pick it?” Ian postulated, looking around for his tools for lockpicking. He’d picked them up a few years back when he’d had an interest in learning how hard it really was to do. It turned out to vary greatly by the lock, and this one would not be easy.
Hour after hour slipped by as Ian worked on the lock, using a special stethoscope kind of thing to listen as he spun the dials. Finally, the case clicked, the lid popping open slightly as it did. “Yes!” Ian exclaimed in delight at his accomplishment. “Now it’s time to see what’s inside.”
Flipping the lid fully open, Ian was treated to a view of a few thumbdrives and a small vial of blue fluid inside a case that was mostly filled with cushioning foam. There was a brief moment of disappointment for the teen when it wasn’t just a massive pile of money, like one sees in the movies. The disappointment didn’t last, however, as Ian’s curiosity quickly took over again.
Thumbdrives in hand, Ian plopped down at his ancient computer. It loaded up just fine, if a bit slow, showing folders worth of graphs and pictures and lots and lots of documents. He was quite smart, but as he looked through a few documents, he felt confident in admitting that this stuff was way beyond him. He knew that it had something to do with proteins and enzymes and lots of very complicated looking chemistry formulas. The second thumbdrive seemed to go into results of the compound and testing, but it really didn’t make much more sense than the first drive. Undoubted by the complexity, Ian kept with it, scanning through page after page to try to make some sort of sense of it all.
The night seemed to just slip away as Ian read. While he did, his mother came back, slept, and left for her second job at a breakfast diner. By the time he had any understanding of the documents, the sun was already risen, and he sat there with dark circles under his eyes trying to read a screen gone blurry from staring at it too long. The light of the sun cresting the buildings was enough to get him to lean back in his seat, rubbing at his eyes and thinking about what he read. As far as he could tell, it was some kind of serum, derived from another scientist’s work, that was intended to induce a specifically designed mutation in the person it was injected in.
“Devisor stuff,” Ian muttered, attributing at least some of his lack of understanding of the documentation to the fact that it was something that wasn’t actually comprehensible in the first place. If someone had killed for it, that meant whatever was in the vial would probably work, and the documents included administration instructions. However, if it was devisor tech like he suspected, it probably wouldn’t work quite the way it was supposed to. He remembered there being a devisor lab not that far from where he lived that had ‘spontaneously combusted’ because of one of the mutant’s inventions.
“Still, it is a little tempting,” Ian remarked as he looked at the little vial. If he was honest with himself, it was more than just a little tempting. That little glass tube could well be an answer to all his problems. He could get out of the shitty life he was stuck immediately, not in ten years or more. He couldn’t just inject himself, though. Not until he’d run through the results document a few more times to at least see what awaited him if he did.
In the meantime, Ian decided that today was clearly a day to skip school. He carefully returned everything to its place in the case, then hid the case under his desk. With his treasure secured, he flopped onto the bed, letting exhaustion take him to sleep while he dreamed about superpowers.
“Alright, so exemplar are the Adonis ones,” Ian mused as he looked through the notes on the serum results. “Well I guess technically this one would be more an Aphrodite.”
It had taken a couple days worth of work, but Ian, with some help from the internet,had managed to explain enough of the words in the documents for it to finally make some semblance of sense out of it. This serum was apparently intended to force an exemplar mutation onto someone, one that was programmed to adhere to a specific kind of mold. In the case of this particularly serum, it seemed to have been designed for a woman, intending to generate a body that would be attractive, resilient, and slow aging – undoubtedly intended to create some perfect trophy wife for a billionaire.
The girl part was only the first snag in the serum that Ian had discovered. It apparently had a pretty high variance rate, as well, with lots of ranges listed from height to coloration that were all supposed to be possible outcomes. There was variance even beyond that, though, into the realm of extraneous mutations or bizarre appearances. This was where it got frightening, since the creator’s far from conclusive testing indicated at least a thirty percent fatality rate, and a very high, ninety percent, rate of unanticipated mutation in subjects.
Ian hummed softly as he held up the small vial, trying to weigh the pros and cons. It would change everything, that was certain, give him power that he’d never dreamed of holding, having long ago given up on the dream of manifesting himself. Conversely, it could easily kill him, and even if it worked perfectly, seemed likely to leave him as an attractive woman. There were no tests done on male subjects, though, so it was hard to tell exactly what his end results might be.
The gender issue only brought up more things for Ian to weigh. Certainly, there were advantages to being an attractive woman. They held a certain power over men, allowing them to live lives that, at least to Ian, seemed far easier than their male counterparts. He wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of sleeping with men, but he could always just be a lesbian to avoid that particular problem.
At the same time, it was hard for Ian to come up with things about being his male self that were positives. He would be stronger, healthier, and longer-lived after the serum, regardless of the gender change. His male self was not attractive in any way, a hindrance to his chances with girls that probably outweighed the numbers difference in having to pursue lesbians if he used the serum. The most compelling argument that he could think of was that he was quite satisfied with his current plumbing and exchanging it for the alternative elicited the gut reaction of queasiness. After all, the female equivalent seemed rather awkward, uncomfortable, and inefficient.
“So much risk,” Ian whispered as he glanced toward the briefcase where the little vial still sat. “So much reward.”
The serum was tantalizing, like finding the holy grail or some equally impossible dream. Like all such impossible dreams, it had terrible downsides that someone worthy had to overcome to be granted its power. Was he worthy? He certainly thought so, but this wasn’t a storybook. Worthiness didn’t decide whether he’d live or die. There would be science that decided that, science that he didn’t, couldn’t, understand. He wanted it to be like the stories, though, wanted this to be his ticket out of the miserable existence he was trapped in, and because of that, he couldn’t pass it up.
Looking away from the case, Ian turned to a different item, one that was even more recently acquired and sitting on his desk – a needle. The instructions said that he needed to inject the vial’s contents directly into his heart, so he’d had to acquire a needle for that purpose, and learn how to use it. He thought it would be terribly funny if, in the end, it was nothing about the serum that killed him, but his own ineptitude at injecting it.
Grabbing the needle, Ian removed his shirt and laid down on the bed. He carefully prepared the needle with the vial just as the instructions directed. It took him several deep breaths to steady himself as he aimed the needle toward his heart. One swift jab and it was in. Ian worked the plunger immediately the quickly pulled out the needle before the shock of the insertion could freeze him up. Instantly, fire seemed to burn through his veins, creating a burst of pain that curled him up into the fetal position, twitching feebly with each beat of his heart. Luckily for him, he passed out after only a few beats.
When Ian awoke, his whole body ached, as if his very bones were bruised. He just laid there for several moments, before he finally managed to sit up. The clock showed a time that was twelve hours later and served as a reminder of what it was later than.
Ian’s gaze dropped to his body, knowing that it wouldn’t be different yet, but part of him still expected to see something slight. The notes had said it would take two to four weeks, so it was no surprise that he looked exactly the same. There were the same blubbery man boobs and thick fleshy belly as he always saw.
“Guess I might get to drop the man part of that at some point,” Ian joked to himself in a voice raspy from dehydration.
Wobbly and exhausted even after the long nap, Ian shoved himself off the bed and made his way to the bathroom, intent on cleaning up a bit and grabbing a drink. He was sweaty and gross from the painful experience, so a shower seemed like a good idea. It did help a bit to sooth the horrid ache.
“I can’t really skip much more,” Ian mused as he showered, trying to figure out a plan for going forward. He felt like shit, and school would be really hard to handle while he felt like that, but he didn’t see much of a choice. He could fake a note from his mom to excuse some of it, but they’d be pretty suspicious of him missing multiple weeks off a note. For the time being, he’d just have tough it out.
Once the shower was finished, Ian was back out into his room. With another day of school missed by his passing out, he plopped down in his computer chair and did his best to see if he could decipher any more of the documents. He didn’t really focus on that, though. Instead, he mostly looked at the charts showing the many variances that were possible and wondering where he’d end up. As focused on that as he was, he wasn’t even sure what outcome he was hoping to get. He guessed tall was better than short, but he had no idea how wide he’d want his hips to be, or how many cubic centimeters of boob he was hoping to possess. Some of the variance rates were quite large, and it seemed likely that some combinations of it would be unattractive. There were notes indicating some correlation in the numbers, that the bigger some numbers were the more likely the other numbers were to be big too, but it was far from precise or rigorous. Ian silently cursed the scientist that had done such a poor job of testing the serum’s effects. Because of that unknown person, all he could really do was hope that whatever he ended up as, it was better than where he started.
“Lookin’ a little busty there, dweeb. What’d you do; pack in a few extra candy bars this week or did you spring for some implants?” Dramond taunted, snickering at his own joke.
In no mood to handle harassment that day, Ian frowned while his eyes narrowed. The aching hadn’t left his body in the days since the injection, and he’d become increasingly irritable over time. He’d snapped at people that were being reasonable several times because of it, so he was outright furious at someone who was being anything but.
In reality, though, there was some truth to the taunt, which actually helped Ian reel his anger in slightly. His moobs had stayed roughly the same size, but he had lost weight overall the last few days, making them appear larger and more noticeable compared to the rest of him – a decidedly not flattering look for a boy. However, the physical changes meant progress toward getting out of this nonsense to Ian, progress he was so very eager for in spite of the misgivings his male mind had with the direction that he was headed.
“Just get out of my way, Dramond,” Ian finally requested, only a hint of defiance in his voice rather than the heaping helping that he’d almost used.
Dramond’s eyes narrowed at that, but it was Vic that spoke up. “Sure, we’ll get out of the way, once you pay the toll. It’s all the money in your wallet. Now.”
“That is not going to happen, asshole,” Ian spat, his bad mood getting the better of his judgement. “You should go make your own money.”
Dramond didn’t even wait for Vic to retort. Instead, he just lashed out with a fist. Having been on the receiving end of many punches, Ian managed to get his hands up to block in time, deflecting the fist wide enough so that it only clipped his ribs rather than smack right into his solar plexus.
While the block was good, the fact that Vic joined right in the fight right after it defintely wasn’t. He lunged at Ian, grabbing an arm as he went. Somehow, Ian managed to break free of the grip before Vic could yank him into a hold. He had only a moment to marvel at that miracle before Dramond’s follow up haymaker clocked him right in the jaw.
Stars sprang into Ian’s vision as he went down hard. He wasn’t completely out, but he definitely wasn’t getting back up after a hit like that. A few kicks served as a follow up, before one of the two bullies fiddled around in Ian’s pockets to grab his wallet. They snatched the cash and flung the wallet back down to smack Ian in the face.
Once the mugging was done, Dramond leaned down low in front of Ian, pulling a switchblade out to hold in front of the teen’s face. The blade clicked out ominously. “You ever speak like that to me again, you stupid fuck, and I’ll gut you like the fat little piggy you are.” After that, there was one last kick before the two boys left, leaving Ian groaning from his beating.
“Well that did not make me feel any better,” Ian chided himself once he could finally recovered enough to get up. His body’s ache had turned to a full on throbbing pain thanks to the assault. Clearly, he wasn’t ready to stand up for himself yet, but every day he got closer and closer. After that fight, he could already tell that he was a little stronger and tougher than he had been before taking the serum. Soon, they wouldn’t be able to take him at all.
“This is a problem,” Ian muttered as he looked in the mirror. Since he’d injected the serum, his hair and nails had been growing alarmingly quickly, which wasn’t so bad other than requiring him to trim his nails daily. That day, however, it had become a problem.
Right above Ian’s scalp, was a solid half inch of hair that was not his usual dark brown, but instead a pale blue. It matched his new eye color quite well which had also traded from brown to blue over night. This was a very serious problem. Blue eyes weren’t so bad. It was easy to overlook and had apparently come with fixed eye sight. Blue hair, though, wasn’t something normal people had. Given that it was just the roots, he couldn’t pretend that he’d dyed it that color either.
“Maybe I could shave it all off?” Ian considered before quickly dismissing that idea. If he did that, he was just asking to get pummeled. “I could trim it real short?” That idea actually had some merit, but it wouldn’t last long with how fast his hair was growing. People would almost certainly notice him going from half an inch of hair to two inches of hair in a few days.
Finally, Ian just shook his head. He was looking at this wrong, trying to find some way to keep things hidden, but that had already been rapidly becoming impossible. A week and a half on the drug had evaporated most of the extra weight that had plagued him since he was a child – except the mounds on his chest. Increasingly baggy and weather inappropriate clothes had kept this hidden, but it had passed into the realm of ridiculous a while ago.
As Ian considered his appearance, anxiety built within him. Intellectually, he’d accepted that he was going to be a woman after this, but seeing his body change day by day had been disconcerting to the point that he hardly looked at it. At first, it had just been a welcome weight loss, and indication of a healthier more athletic future, but then the girliness had struck. His frame had slimmed, and as the fat vanished, an increasingly female form had been developing in the mirror. His face had melted away as well, to a point where people he knew often didn’t recognize him, and strangers guessed that he was a girl. Even the flabby man boobs, a staple of his life for many years, had changed, becoming a more palpable presence with a shape and definition that was far from what he was used to.
Shoving the anxiety back, Ian nodded at his reflection, focusing his efforts on the future not the past. “It is time to put that behind person behind me,” he told himself, forcing rationality onto his thoughts. He had progressed far enough that attempting to hide this was pointless. It was time to tell his mother, and begin establishing himself into his new life, a female life. Judging by the shrinkage between his legs, he’d been female soon whether he was ready for it or not.
Leaving the mirror behind, Ian returned to his room. There, he worked to build up the courage that he would need for when his mother came home from work. He had to act just right, appropriately distressed as if he hadn’t known this was going to happen and had been hiding it out of fear. Once that initial opening burst of emotion had run it’s course, he could let rationality take over, telling his mother his plans for a doctor visit, the MCO, and finally a new name. He’d already picked one out.
“You think you’re a what?” Leah Vestri, a short, stout woman, and also Ian’s mother, questioned incredulously.
“A uhm … a mutant,” Ian replied, trying his best to sound uncertain and uncomfortable with that declaration.
Nodding slowly, Leah just peered at her son for several moments. It had been hard for her to do anything but stare at him, in fact. Ian had dressed to emphasize how different he was in a light t-shirt and a pair of shorts, the least amount of clothing that he’d worn in front of someone in over a week. In that outfit, he looked more like a mildly chubby girl than the fat boy he’d been a couple weeks before.
“And the uhm … y’know?” Leah finally asked, gesturing at her chest to indicate what aspect of her son’s physique was bothering her most.
Ian shrugged with affected helplessness. “I think that may be part of it. I looked online and apparently it happens sometimes.”
For a few more moments, Leah returned to just staring quietly before she finally spoke again. “Alright … I guess it can’t be helped. What do we do now? Do I give you like a note for school or something?”
“Well, it is a little more complicated than that,” Ian explained, shifting easily into a more rational attitude. “I will probably need to see a doctor and get some records changed. There is also this power test that the MCO requires for ID, and I will need some new clothes.”
“That sounds expensive, Ian,” Leah mumbled, rubbing at her temple with the hand that was holding her head.
“Well maybe the doctor visit and the clothes, but the rest should be relatively cheap,” Ian reasoned.
“Fine,” Leah sighed wearily. “I’ll sign whatever paperwork you need, but I’m not buying you a whole new wardrobe. Your current clothes seem to fit fine.”
While not exactly what he’d hoped for, Ian nodded in acceptance. He was used to his mother being tired and cheap, so he hadn’t really expected anything more in his plans. He’d could make do on his own like he always did.
“Alright. I have all the forms in my room,” Ian told her. “I will just need a ride to a few places.”
“My work schedule is on my phone. Make sure to plan around that if you want a ride, otherwise you’ll have to take the bus,” Leah replied disinterestedly, turning away to flip on the TV.
“Sure thing, Mom,” Ian responded. He ducked back into his room for a moment to grab the various papers he would need his mother to sign. “There is one other thing, though,” he mentioned as he returned to the living room.
Leah looked up from the TV with an annoyed expression on her face. “What’s that?”
“Well, I was thinking that I probably need a new name,” Ian informed her. “How does Iona sound? It is pretty similar to my current name.”
Leah shrugged disinterestedly. “Whatever. It’s fine with me.”
“I guess this works,” Iona mumbled, in a slightly throaty but clearly female voice, as she checked her reflection in the mirror. Overall, she thought she looked quite attractive, but the two toned hair, currently hidden under a beanie, looked weird, and her male clothes were baggy and unfashionable. There were traces of her former maleness left as well, a puffy tummy, slightly large hands, and a little squareness to her jaw, but one would have to be looking for it to notice. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do for a first outing as a girl.
The goal of the trip was for Iona to handle all of the things that she needed to do without her mother. Primarily this meant handling things related to her appearance. She had some money, but only enough to handle a haircut and some food for lunch, which meant that she would have to acquire everything else through some other means – namely shoplifting.
It wouldn’t be Iona’s first time having to resort to such methods. Her mother didn’t make much, and most of what she did make she spent on herself, so her daughter had learned that if she wanted things, she had to take them. Even the money that she did have wasn’t really hers, but had been pilfered from her mother’s tips a few dollars at a time over the past few months.
Content with her appearance, Iona left the bathroom and her apartment behind. There were some definite nerves as she stepped out onto the street for the first time. It was a strange mix of fears. One, that people would be able to tell that she was really a boy, and the other, some subconscious male part of her that was angry at the idea of people seeing her as a girl.
While the first one was clearly just nerves, Iona pushed the latter aside as much as she could. She’d known going into this that she’d probably have to give up being a boy. It was a price that she’d been willing to pay for the promised power of the serum – a promise that it had certainly been fulfilling given how strong and energetic she now felt. She was not going to second guess that decision now.
In the middle of a work day, the sidewalks were mostly empty, leaving Iona nearly alone as she walked to the bus stop near her apartment. The few people that did pass her, though, definitely looked at her, adding a little more to her nerves. Nervous or not, though, she forced herself herself to keep going. She would not let fear of others keep her down anymore. That was Ian’s life, not hers.
After a short stroll, Iona made it to the bus stop which was currently occupied by a pair of young men that were dressed like thugs. One of them looked up at her approach, nudging the other with his elbow and tilting his head toward Iona. The boys shared a few whispers, as Iona sat on the bench to wait for the bus to arrive.
“Hey there, cutie,” one of the boys spoke up once Iona had settled in.
Iona looked up at the teen, smiling nervously. Cutie didn’t seem like a derogatory term, but she was worried that interacting would increase his chances of noticing something wrong with her. She was not going to let that deter her, though. An important part of that day’s goal was learning to interact with others as a girl, and she couldn’t do that by avoiding people.
“Hello,” Iona forced herself to say, mostly keeping her anxiousness from her voice.
“You with somebody, babe?” the teen asked, sliding over on the bunch until he was awkwardly close to Iona.
Iona shook her head. “No. Just on my way to do a little shopping.”
“You playin’ hooky for a sale or something?” the boy asked.
Scrunching her face up a little, Iona shrugged noncommittally. “Not exactly. I just needed some new clothes.”
“Sounds boring,” the teen remarked. “What you should do, instead, is hang with me and my boy Flip over there. We know how to really have fun.”
“Flip? Is your name Flop then?” Iona joked dryly.
Both boys laughed. “Naw, girl. I’m Turk.”
“A pleasure to meet you, Turk, but I will have to pass. I really need some new clothes,” Iona told him.
With their offer shot down, the teens shared a look before Turk spoke up again. “New clothes you say? What kind of clothes?”
“Every kind,” Iona answered. “I do not have a single thing that fits right anymore.”
“Underwear too?” Flip asked, failing to hide his lewd smirk in the process.
Unabashed, Iona nodded. “That would be one of the kinds I need, yes.”
“What if Flip and me tagged along then?” Turk suggested. “It’ll liven things up, and we can give you opinions on stuff to help you pick. Plus, if we really like what we see, maybe we’ll even pay for some of it.”
Unlike the last offer, Iona raised a brow at this one. It was pretty obvious from the way the conversation had gone that these two boys were trying to see her in her underwear, or possibly wearing even less than that. What was more surprising was that they seemed to even be willing to pay to see it, too. She’d known that she was pretty but she’d never realized just how much influence being pretty gave her.
“Maybe sounds awfully uncertain,” Iona remarked, not wanting to put for effort with the two boys only to have them bail on the deal later.
“Well you can’t expect us to pay for something we’ve never seen,” Turk noted smartly.
“Hmm,” Iona hummed in thought, having to admit that was reasonable. “So if you saw something now, you would be able to make an informed decision, right?”
Turk nodded a little too quickly, betraying his enthusiasm. “Of course.”
“I see …” Iona mumbled before shrugging. After that, she reached down to grab the bottom of the baggy shirt she wore. A swift tug had it up to her neck, revealing a pair of large and very bare breasts that bounced at the sudden motion. The boys had all of a moment to stare at them, their jaws dropping at the sight, before Iona yanked the shirt back down again. “How is that? Are you willing to offer something more certain than a maybe now?”
“Wow …” Flip breathed, still dazed by what he’d just seen.
Meanwhile, Turk nodded rapidly. “Definitely.”
Iona smiled, delighted at how easy it was to manipulate them. “Excellent, then I would love for you to join me.”
Iona looked at the door before her in utter amazement. It looked a little odd, hazy and blurred, like something half seen through mist. In a way, that was only too apt a description for it as Iona could slide her hand through the door as easily as if it was indeed made of mist. She could do far more than that, though, as her testing the last few hours had shown. While the door would only stay mist while she touched it, in that state she could make it do many other things. It was as if the air that composed it was bound to her beck and call. She could warp it with her mind, open it and close it, anything she really wished as long as it stayed in contact with her hand. It was fascinating.
The power didn’t just extend to the door, either. Iona could turn any item that she touched into the same airy pseudo-gaseousness and then control it. She could even do it to herself, allowing things to pass through her like smoke, although, apparently she could not do it to other people. More so, the control effect wasn’t limited to only things that she had changed either. The very air around her seemed to heed her every whim, swirling and shaping itself as she saw fit, even letting her see the world around her in a sense that she suspected was similar to sonar.
The powers by themselves would have been amazing, but probably the most marvelous thing about them to Iona was that they were just a side effect. It had just been some random variance in the serum that now made it possible for her to warp the air around her with a thought. It could have just as easily been something that reduced her to a pile of squirming tentacles, which made her feel even more incredibly lucky. Not that she didn’t deserve this. Truly finding that serum had been destiny.
“Simply marvelous,” Iona purred as she toyed with the door, enjoying the sultry sound of her voice. It had taken three weeks, perfect average for the serum, but the changes to her body finally seemed to be complete. Underneath the blubbery whale that she’d once been the serum had unearthed a truly beautiful, fairy-like creature. She was a little on the tall side for a girl, with a trim slender frame and delectable curves. She knew from her few outings that men found her quite irresistible, with her full bust, perfect butt, creamy skin, and exotic tousle of pale blue hair.
In many ways, her appearance was a superpower in and of itself, and Iona was determined to use it to her advantage, regardless of any misgivings it gave to her former male self. She had blocked the man that she had once been from her mind, focusing her time on eradicating every last trace of him from her mannerisms and dress – and she’d had a lot of time to do so while staying home waiting for the changes to finish. It was all just another tool to go with her wind powers, exemplar strength, and keen intellect. With all of them combined, she felt unstoppable.
“I wonder what the boys at school will think,” Iona mused, giggling softly to herself. She knew exactly what they would think. Her being a mutant would not matter – for some of the boys they would even consider it a plus. All that would matter was that she was the hottest piece of ass they had ever seen. Even when they inevitably found out that she had once been a boy, she doubted it would change anything. Only a select few males, like her former self, were anything but simpletons that were easily controlled by a pretty girl.
The true enigma to Iona was how the girls would react. Girls were an unknown variable to her, creatures of beauty but also mystery. She’d never had a female friend or a girlfriend, had not interacted for more than a few words with any while she was out, nor had any other inlet into that world. Because of that, she could not fathom what their reaction might be. The best that she could do was pretend to be one of them while just waiting to see how they reacted. She had done her research, spent countless hours practicing and rehearsing, but she knew that she couldn’t prepare for every unknown. It didn’t worry her much, though. Whether they accepted her or not was of little consequence in the end, and she had done it more for her own desire than to appease anyone else. She was superior to the other girls in every way, and their denial of that would only prove them petty and unworthy of her attention. She’d never needed friends before, and she didn’t need them now.
Nerves and pride competed with each other in an odd way as Iona strode into the school for the first time as a girl. She was dressed to make sure that absolutely no one could ignore her. Her slim figure was wrapped in a scandalously tiny mini-skirt and a belly baring, low-cut, tank top that showed every tantalizing curve that she possessed. She could just as easily have passed for a street walker as a student except for the lack of overdone make up, keeping to something more tasteful to highlight her natural beauty rather than mask it.
The sudden riveting of every single students’ attention as she sashayed into their view was exhilarating to Iona, an affirmation of the superiority that she knew she that possessed. Remnant male parts of her psyche tried to recoil at the idea of the many lewd stares from men or what they probably were thinking about doing to her, but she would not let it so much as cause a hitch in her step. She was a goddess among mortals now, far beyond such petty concerns as embarrassment. The most their adulation could do was stir her to not outright scorn them.
As she walked, Iona continually checked her stride, timing herself to the rhythmic click of her heels on the floor. Many hours of practice had it down perfect from the flawless measure of her steps to the delightful sway of her hips and enticing bounce of her breasts. Only one thing was missing and that was the flirty smile that she pasted onto her face as she raised a hand to wave at a couple of boys as she passed. It was hard to keep herself from laughing at the way they ogled her, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, as she walked by them. They were even worse than Turk and Flip had been after she’d flashed them.
No one was brave enough to approach the unknown beauty as Iona made her way to her first class. She took that as a positive thing, reducing the chance of her making a mistake while she was still getting used to her environment and also further cementing her faith in herself as someone above everyone else. She wanted people to realize early that she was both perfect and unattainable, something to worship from afar not sully with ill-conceived pick up lines and pathetic overtures of friendship – annoying things that she’d had to deal with many times already in the practice leading up to that day.
As she stepped into her first class, Iona nearly made a mistake when she saw her first period teacher’s eyes bug out of his head at the sight of her. For a brief moment, he looked like a cartoon, and a laugh nearly cracked her cool facade, but she managed to turn it into a wry smirk before it could escape.
“Hello, Mr. Schroeder,” Iona greeted the man as she approached his desk. “I am Iona Vestri. I believe the principal informed you of my … special circumstances.”
The word ‘principal’ reminded Mr. Schroeder that he was leering at a student, an underaged one at that, and that doing so was far from appropriate. That realization prompted him to clear his throat loudly as he forced his gaze to look at anything but Iona. “Ah, yes, he … uhm … did. I just … expected something a little … uhm ... different. I hope that … uhm ... you’ve been keeping up with the make up work that I provided your mother.”
“Of course, Mr. Schroeder. School is very important, after all,” Iona replied sweetly, reaching into her purse and pulling out a couple of sheets of carefully folded paper to hand to him. “Here are the homework assignments, and I am ready to take the test that I missed whenever you are ready.”
Mr. Schroeder seemed genuinely surprised that a student had actually done make up work while they were out of school. He took the pages limply, leafing through them to look at the neatly done assignments. “Wow. I’ll get these graded for you today, and we can do the make up test during class if you don’t mind the distraction.”
“I do not mind at all, Mr. Schroeder. Just let me get to my desk, and I will be ready to start,” Iona replied, turning to walk to her desk. As she did, she put in a little extra sway in her step just to make sure that the teacher would ignore propriety and stare anyway.
When she made it to her desk, Iona turned, sliding gracefully into the seat and crossed her legs. Mr. Schroeder hadn’t even stood up from his desk yet, exactly as she hoped. She sat there watching him, leaning forward just a bit to rest her chin in one delicate hand with a smile on her face. The pose would only make it harder for him to stop looking, and consequently make it take all the longer for him to be able to stand up without embarrassment. Exerting that much control over someone with just a few polite words and a few careful poses was utterly thrilling to her.
Iona walked very slowly as she left the school, elated by the day that she’d had. As predicted, even learning that she’d once been a boy, something that was hard to keep secret with the same last name and seats in classes, the interest of the boys at school had not waned in the slightest. All that had changed were a few faint whispers of complete disbelief that she had overheard, once her classmates had figured it out.
The unknown variable, the girls at school, had turned out along appreciable lines as well. Many of the them had been obviously and painfully jealous of her, attempting weak taunts that didn’t even warrant rebuttal. Another large section however, had seemed equal parts awed and sympathetic. They, like the boys, could not believe that someone that looked like her could have once been male, and had seemed to quite interested in how such a thing could come to pass as well as how much she’d really changed. She’d handled such inquiries with polite brevity, but that was the extent of the associations.
Now, Iona made her way back to her apartment, moving slowly to try to test a third group, one that she was pretty sure that she had a correct read on as well. The city was a fairly accepting area in terms of mutant relations, but there was still a small group at school that despised them as abominations and thus despised her as well. They were misguided children, of course, but Iona wanted to give them their chance to act, mostly just to see if they were foolish enough to actually do so. She had nothing to fear. In fact, she was eager to show them just how pitiful they really were when compared to her.
Much to Iona’s delight, the haters arrived not long after she had left the school. They’d picked one of their usual spots to ambush her, a mostly unused side street that she cut down to make the trip home shorter. It was narrow and out of sight of almost anyone – an excellent place to trap a victim.
“Well if it isn’t the nerd boy turned mutant bitch,” Dramond sneered, apparently taking the lead for this group. Iona was hardly surprised that he hated mutants – just another excuse to pick on people for a brute like him.
“You will have to excuse me, peasant. I do not have time to waste on you today,” Iona replied haughtily, offering a dismissive wave as well. Maybe the verbiage was a bit excessive, but she had waited a long time to put these fools in their place.
Dramond’s compatriots made their appearance then, some from behind him, and others from the way Iona that had came. All told, they’d brought a good half dozen guys to handle one, lone girl. They should have brought far more.
“I warned you about talking back to me, pig,” Dramond retorted, flipping out his switchblade.
Iona burst into a harsh, mocking chortle at the sight of the little knife that brought a confused look to the boy’s face. “Is this all you have? A pitiful little knife and a handful of thugs? You thought that would be enough to frighten me, now? I must apologize for calling you a peasant. It is a disgrace to those that truly bear that title. You are nothing more than an ant, too foolish to realize you are about to be squashed.” As she spoke, bluish mist swirled around Iona’s hand, forming into a vaguely stick-like shape about three feet long. “Well then. Come at me, vermin.”
The taunts were more than enough motivation for Dramond as he lumbered forward with an enraged look on his face. The other thugs were more cautious, frightened by the display of mutant power and the supreme confidence that Iona exuded. It did not matter to Iona what they did, though. She just stood there impassively, waiting for her enemies to come to her.
Dramond’s charge continued without interference until just at the point that he thrust forward with his knife, attempting to gut Iona as promised. Iona’s left hand cut across in front of her, a great wind following behind it. The gust knocked Dramond’s knife hand to the side as Iona’s right hand thrust forward behind it. The mist in her grasp proved far more solid than it appeared, slicing through clothes and flesh as easily as if it were a steel blade. Dramond lurched to a stop in surprise, clutching at where the mist blade pierced his stomach.
“Whoops,” Iona taunted, a malicious grin on her face. The mist blade dispersed in an instant, and Dramond slumped to the ground, clutching at his wound.
“You fucking ho!” a male voice shouted as one of the thugs, the only one not standing there with a stunned look on their face, lunged at Iona for a tackle.
Iona spun, easily stopping the teen’s full weight with a single hand and only a mild jolt to her frame. Her eyes twinkled evilly as once more she forced the air to bend to her will. She couldn’t turn other people into air, but she’d devised an equally brutal trick to use on them.
All thoughts of assault vanished as the man’s hands flew up to his throat. He appeared to be trying to gasp for air, but there was no noise, not even gasps or screams. All he could do was claws at his throat in confusion.
“Do you feel that?” Iona asked rhetorically, mocking the man as he struggled. “That is the air around you refusing to enter your lungs because I told it not to. If I so choose, you will never draw another breath, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you do not wish that to happen, beg for your life … on your knees.” She pointed toward the ground with her free hand in emphasis.
The terrified boy fell to his knees in an instant, prostrating himself before Iona. The girl’s grin only grew broader at that, as she let air return to the beggar’s lungs. After all, a queen should be merciful to her subjects when they beg forgiveness.
A slight tremble in the air around her was all the warning Iona had that one of the boys had drawn a gun, but it was all that she needed. She made sure to keep any reaction from her face as he fired while she activated another ability. The bullet passed harmlessly through her, as effective at damaging her as it was at damaging the sky. There was the loud crack of the gun followed by the ping of the bullet ricocheting down the street. Iona just slowly turned to face the thug with the gun, the grin never wavering on her face.
“Would you like another shot?” Iona inquired, completely unfazed.
That was all it took to get the remaining fools to flee back from whence they came, gibbering like scared little children. Their fear was perfect, the reward for all of Iona’s risks and planning. This was the moment that she had craved, the moment where they all finally realized what had always been true, that she was better than all of them. Iona just stood in the moment, relishing every last bit of it before finally glancing down at the ground. Her penitent had fled with the others, but Dramond was still there, laying on the ground, clutching at his bleeding belly and whimpering in pain.
“As much as I treasure seeing you squirm on the ground before me like a worm, I should call some aid for you. We would not want the police trying to claim that I let you die intentionally, even if it is what you deserve,” Iona told him as she reached into her purse for her phone. “Hello, I need an ambulance and the police. A fellow student assaulted me with a knife and I had to use force to defend myself.”
It had taken several hours, and multiple stern lectures from officers and lawyers alike, but Iona had finally been released from police custody and returned home. She had been thoroughly warned about using her powers, about using lethal force, about the risks of criminal charges and civil liability, and numerous other things. Through it all, Iona had been impassive, unwilling to admit to any form of wrongdoing. All she would do was tell them to check the security footage from a store on the main street that she’d had the owner point toward the side street the day before. It would clearly show her alone and assaulted by multiple people bearing lethal weapons. It was her right to protect herself by responding in kind. Besides, the idiot, Dramond, hadn’t even died from his wound.
Of course, one thing Iona hadn’t discussed with the police, and wouldn’t with anyone else either was just how much fun it had been. In many ways, the day that was just about to end, had been the first day of her life. She had felt so alive, so in control, so powerful – like she had always known that she should be. It had been truly wonderful.
“Truly wonderful,” Iona breathed those words as she lay on her bed staring up at the ceiling. There was but one problem with such a day. She had no idea how to make the next day match it. The school was hers. There were no bullies that could threaten her, and no girls that could rival her. While it would take some time for everyone to fully bend to her whims, her rule there was undisputed, and that made it dull. One could not find excitement in an unchallenging routine, and that was indeed what the idea of school seemed to be to her. Maybe she could eek out a few more interesting moments, teasing some foolish boys into a fight or getting a teacher in trouble for their inappropriate leers, but she saw no point in such trivial things. The thrill of exerting her power would be sweet, but it would be very brief, whereas their adulation was lasting, if not quite as delicious. She needed to aim higher.
Rising from her bed, Iona slid into her computer chair, pulling up a map of the area on the screen. A queen ruled a kingdom, and so far her kingdom was not very impressive. She might rule the school, but only in regards to the actual school day, and not in terms of any of the many other transactions that went on there. Then, of course, there was also the path that she walked to get home and her room in the apartment. That was the extent of her realm. The serum had given her power, so it was time to exert that power. She had used it, so that she could change her life, but so far all she had done with it was change her situation at school. The rest of her life was still the same dreary mess. That would have to change.
As a plan started to take shape, Iona opened up some documents to outline her ideas. If she wanted to be a queen, then she needed subjects to rule. More than just that, she had to expand her domain. Gangs claimed territory in cities, so she knew she could so as well. It might pit her against other mutants or criminals, but she was confident that she had the power to lay them low. The first step would be to secure her current holdings, the school, the apartment building, and the path between, which would mean chasing out all the other parties that wrongly felt that they had claims to those areas. Like a true monarch, she would put this area under her protection, and her subjects would tithe to show their fealty. She’d need an alter ego to deal with people in order to keep her identity relatively safe. She’d need to talk with the business owners along the path to her house to explain her offer of removing the criminal elements for a price – true protection not some extortion ring. She’d need to learn what gangs operated at the school and demand a portion of their proceeds for dealings in her territory. The last place would be the easiest, just a matter of clearing out a few unwelcome vermin that were holed up in her building.
Such strategizing was exactly what Iona needed. It focused her mind, and excited her senses, in a way that mundane school life never would be able to. Each new struggle would bring more of that euphoria of domination. The more her enemies tried to defy her, the sweeter the victory would taste. It was only a couple of buildings and a few random blocks, but it would be hers.
“Dayum,” one of the criminals exclaimed, drawing out the word at the sight of Iona’s approach.
That remark was certainly well deserved as, for this meeting, Iona wore only a powder blue vest for a top, unzipped enough so that the entire space between her breasts was visible, and a black, flowing, wrap skirt with an angled hem that showed plenty of leg. Like all of her dealings regarding her new realm, she had hidden her hair and eyes under a black wig and brown contacts, not wanting to be instantly recognizable on camera given the less than legal nature of many of her activities.
Sashaying forward, Iona gave the man a flirty little smile, exuding confidence with every step that she took. This was her first interaction with a local gang, one of the ones that did not have mutants in it. It consisted of a handful of kids of various race, aged from fourteen to twenty-four. Each carried a handgun among other things, and they mostly dealt in muggings and burglary. Unfortunately for them, they had dared to mug people in her domain, so they had to be dealt with.
One of the boys, the oldest of the group, pushed himself off the wall that he was leaning against to stand before Iona. He had several inches of height on her, making her look up a bit even in heels, but it was far from intimidating to her. He clearly thought that it would be, though, swaggering with obvious confidence as he tossed out a taunting, “What are you supposed to be, some kind of groupie?”
The disrespect was almost enough to convince Iona to discard diplomacy before even trying it, but she reined herself in. If she was going to deal with uncouth criminals, then she had to expect these sorts of things to happen. “No, my name is Mistral and I am very unhappy that you are doing harm to those in my domain.”
“Your domain?” the man scoffed at the claim. “Girl, why don’t you go home to your mommy before I make you part of my domain.”
“I have claimed everything between the high school, and Packard Apartments,” Iona explained, ignoring the lewd threat. “After speaking to my informants, I have determined that you have victimized no fewer than three people under my care. I am here to give you a formal warning to desist in your activities or I will use other methods to ensure that you stop.”
The man snorted in amusement. “You’ve gotta be jokin’. I don’t care where you troll for johns, ho. Now, get lost!”
The man’s insolence elicited a heavy sigh from Iona as she started to bend the air around her to her will. “Then it seems I will have to use other methods.”
Suddenly, breath fled from the man’s lungs. At first he was merely confused, but as he found himself unable to inflate his lungs once more, panic started to set in. Soundlessly, he tried to cough and clutch at his throat, anything to get air to flow. All the while Iona merely watched. The only change in her pleasant features was a sinister twinkle in her eyes that showed just how much she was enjoying his flailing.
The other thugs only watched, too confused and shocked by the strange event they were witnessing to know how to react until their leader had already slumped weakly to his knees from oxygen deprivation. That broke them from their stupor, drawing out their handguns to shoot the mysterious woman. Shot after shot passed harmlessly through Iona, doing no more than briefly distorting her airy image before she flowed back together.
Not knowing what to do, the criminals ceased their fire, unable to do anything but watch as their leader’s body went limp. Iona returned the air to the man before she looked up at the others that stared at her. “Now, I have decided to give him, and all of you, a second chance to comply to my completely reasonable request. I hope that your answer will be different this time.”
“No targets between the school and Packard. We got it,” one of them spoke up. “Won’t happen again.”
“Good,” Iona replied, turning to stride confidently away. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you.”
“This is a problem,” Iona noted calmly as she stared at the pile of money that sat on her desk. Her kingdom had been progressing well with cuts of the business from dealers that wanted to operate in the school, protection money for chasing out the muggers, vandals, homeless, and thieves from local business areas, and some funds ‘liberated’ from intractable gangs that had refused to learn their lesson all flowing to her. Now, Iona had the issue that she was generating all this revenue but had no way to use it properly. She certainly couldn’t report it to the IRS given that she had no legal way to make this kind of money. That meant that she had to keep it as cash, but as cash, it could do little to improve her situation in any appreciable ways. Most of things that she wanted she either stole or guys bought for her, so the most that she’d been able to do with it was buy a new computer which hadn’t even dented the pile.
“I need some way to clean it,” Iona told herself, hoping that the media had not lied to her about that being a real thing. To do that, though, she needed some legal business that she could report the money as being a profit from, but she had no way to own a business as herself, and there was no way that she was bringing her mother into her crime ring.
Sighing, Iona slumped into her seat. She refused to accept that this was a problem that she couldn’t solve. There were criminals out there that made it work, and she was smarter than they were. At the same time, a weak part of her told her, this would be a lot easier if she just allied herself with one of the stronger crime organizations. They could take care of details like this that were beneath her attention.
“No,” Iona growled, forcing herself to sit up straight again. True queens didn’t slouch, nor did they let others rule their kingdoms for them. She was not so weak. She would build her own organization, one to rival any of the others.
Turning to her computer, Iona opened up the many documents that handled all the numbers of her finances. The key was to think of the realm as an extension of herself. If she was to be perfect, so too would it have to be. She could reinvest the money into the area, improving the shops and housing, in turn generating greater revenue for herself while also improving her quality of life. She could get the landlord to lower the rent for the apartment, and the businesses to give her whatever she wanted for free, so that she didn’t even need money of her own.
“I will need to meet with the various business owners again to see what kind of improvements they feel the area needs most, and get the apartment owner to quote some costs for renovations,” Iona mused, making a list for the next set of tasks. She’d need to find time for all of this between classes and dealing with the few criminal elements that she hadn’t handled yet – mostly ones that were large enough to have mutant enforcers of their own or high tech weaponry that she had not yet been tested against.
The buzz of her alarm pulled Iona from her plotting. She had found herself needing the device to help remind her to sleep, otherwise she would just work through the night. Before she’d started using it, she’d accidentally not slept for three days straight, too focused on her tasks to even realize that she was exhausted. Now, her phone was carefully set to make sure that she slept, ate, and attended class properly lest such mundane tasks slip by undone. She glanced back at her plans longingly for just a moment before forcing herself away from her computer to get some sleep.
A loud roar rippled through Iona’s apartment, causing the windows to shake and the furniture to vibrate. The air from the open window brought faint whispers of smoke and flame, assuring her that this was indeed something serious and close by. She turned her clothes to air, easily stepping out of them as she grabbed her Mistral outfit. She repeated the process with those, turning them to air to put them on with her mind far quicker than she could do so normally.
Once dressed, Iona crawled out the window and jumped, shifting herself to wind to fly toward the source of the noise. Less than a block away, the place was not hard to spot. It was the sight of a local pizza place, one that was well within her domain. Currently it was up in flames with several low-life looking types watching it burn from across the street.
“Despicable,” Iona hissed, letting herself float down below the skyline so that she could zip through the side streets. They’d used something to cause such an explosion, and she had little interest in seeing if it could hurt her while she was in this state. It would be easiest to just take them all out quickly from behind. Once they were down, she could interrogate them, then execute them.
Little more than a breeze, Iona approached the scene from a narrow alley that was fifteen feet to the right of where she’d seen the thugs watching. Sure enough, as she peeked out onto the street, the men were still there, weapons in hand, clearly waiting for her to arrive. Given the techy look of their weapons, they were both well funded and well prepared, meaning that they were the answer from one of the large organizations that she had approached about her sovereignty in this area. She would have to show them that her claims to rulership were far from idle chatter.
Mist formed around Iona’s right hand, shaping itself into the blade of compressed air that served her as a weapon. Her control over air was quite extensive at short range, allowing her to do things like make it harder than steel or pry it from people’s lungs, but that control dropped off quickly over distance. Even only fifteen feet away from her targets, her control was limited to things like powerful, but imprecise, gusts of wind.
Ticking down a three count in her head, Iona snapped into action the moment the count ended. She charged forward, flying with an incredible burst of speed to cross the distance. Ahead of her she launched a gust with the power of a tropical storm, sending it crashing toward the men.
The three furthest thugs were hit, the wind easily lifting them off their feet to slam them against the nearest brick wall with a satisfying crunch. The punk closest to Iona managed to turn just in time for her mist blade to plunge up under his ribs and deep into his heart. She didn’t even pull it out, choosing to just let it dissipate as she flew past.
Turning herself solid again, Iona lowered her shoulder to crash into the next man, crunching him into the car with all her strength. She could feel the bones and meat of the man crumple beneath her as the car jolted her to a stop. Only one man was left standing, the one in the middle, and the only one not carrying one of those techy handguns. He was an impressive man, tall and heavily muscled, and he did not in any way seem to be afraid of what he’d witnessed – just impressed.
“You really live up to your reputation, Mistral,” the man rumbled. “My boss has seriously underestimated you.”
Iona shifted back to air, extricating herself from the car with ease to float a few inches off the ground in front of the man. “You are strangely polite for a brigand.”
The man chuckled. “Well technically the other ones are the brigands. I’m more … specialized than that. Name’s Hard Place.” At the name, rough gray stone sprang forth from his skin, coating him in a thick rocky armor.
“Clever,” Iona complemented, carefully observing her foe for some sign of weakness that she could exploit. She doubted that her mist blade could cut through whatever mineral the shell was made of, and the man looked quite strong. Maybe she could suffocate him or stab in the eyes or something along those lines. In the end, she decided it might be best to get more information first, in case he had powers that he had not yet showed to her. “It seems we are at an impasse. You look to be quite tough, but a rock can not hurt the wind.”
The stony giant nodded. “Looks like. At best, I could rampage around a little, but even in this part of town there’s a limit to how long we have until some caped do-gooder shows up to put a stop to things. I’d rather we skipped the tussle and you let me go back to my boss and convince him that it would be in his best interest to work with you from now on.”
“That is reasonable, but make sure he understands that I will be expecting reparations paid for the damage that he has done to my domain, and of course these five and their weapons are forfeit as well,” Iona stated her demands.
“You’ve got a deal, lady,” Hard Place replied, offering a quick salute before turning to jog off.
Letting the fleeing man go, Iona turned her attention to the five that had fallen. Two still drew breath, not killed by the slam into the wall. That was not ideal, but she could not waste time trying to find a clean way to kill them that wouldn’t look like an execution. Hard Place was right that a hero would arrive soon, and she needed to be gone from the scene by then. With her abilities documented by the MCO, at least the ones that she’d let the testing discover anyway, the less that linked her to such things the better. She didn’t want to risk things getting traced back to who she really was. She ended up just snatching a couple of the techy pistols up off the ground and hurrying away from the scene, rather than mess around and risk getting caught.
“How are the repairs coming, Mr. Rios?” Iona asked, as she stepped into the burned out pizza parlor dressed as Mistral.
Marcus Rios, owner and proprietor, turned to greet her, smiling. “Very good, thanks to you ma’am. Our insurance wouldn’t have paid close to enough to fix everything.”
“You paid me to protect you from these kinds of things. It is my duty to pay the price when I fail,” Iona answered simply. After all, a ruler was only as good as her ability to keep her realm safe, ordered, and profitable. “I am currently negotiating reparations for the damage as well to help offset your lost profits and the distress such an event must have caused you.”
Marcus shook his head in disbelief. “If all the criminals were like you, this town would be a lot easier to live in.”
“My exceptional aptitude for such things is just one of the many ways in which I am superior to such vermin,” Iona replied haughtily, turning to head back outside. “Unfortunately, many of them insist on being shown that fact through force.”
In reality, Iona didn’t actually find it unfortunate at all that people attempted to resist her. As her reputation had grown, subjugation through fear rather than force had become more and more common. Almost all of the smaller gangs had capitulated with only a couple of deaths being necessary to show her power. After decimating Hard Place’s strike squad with ease, even the larger organizations were treating her with respect. While she appreciated being shown her just due, it was terribly dull – all talking and careful negotiations. It was far more fun to grind someone under her heel, watching as the defiance in their eyes slowly faded, turning to fear as they realized just how far above them she was.
Walking down the street and surveying her domain, Iona could tell that she was reaching her limit here. She had gained her subjects’ fealty, finding nothing but friendly waves and pleasant greetings as she passed. The area was kept clean and several of the buildings showed signs of repair and renovation. Even foolish teenaged thugs didn’t dare commit their petty crimes in the area, knowing full well that they’d rather the police catch them than Iona. The tranquility did not sit well with her. She craved conquest and progress. She needed more.
Iona’s gaze drifted up to the sky, it’s vastness taunting her. The sky was above all things, so she should be as well. She was not an equal of the other crime bosses, she was their better. Parts of her mind tried to resist that, tried to tell that there was something wrong with that plot, but the need for more drowned it all out. She would need to subjugate the other bosses, coerce the city council and mayor to her will, defeat the so-called heroes that would undoubtedly try to stand in her way. Many people would defy her at first, but they’d eventually realize that she was worthy of ruling over them. In the meantime, their attempts at defiance would only make the conquest more enjoyable.
“So what was so important that you had to speak to me immediately, Mistral?” John Delaney, crime boss and Hard Place’s employer, inquired as Iona sat across from him at the table. “I have some important dealings to get to as quickly as possible.”
Iona smiled pleasantly. “You need not worry. I will not take long. I am merely here to accept your oath of fealty. We can discuss the business arrangements when you have fewer pressing concerns.”
John blinked several times, before laughing. “Oath of fealty? Ha! As if this were the middle ages or something. I appreciate the humor, but please let’s get on to the actual business.”
“I am not being humorous, Mr. Delaney,” Iona replied calmly. “I am expanding my dominion to include your own. I am willing to let you continue to run the area, but you will do so under my control – like a noble serves a queen.”
Instantly, all traces of humor vanished from John’s face replaced by anger. He slammed his hands on the table before him, rising from his seat. Around the room, his various guards drew guns, while Hard Place, standing near the entrance, summoned his rocky carapace. “You do not dictate to me, you arrogant, little bitch. The only reason you’ve lived this long is because Hard Place convinced me that you weren’t worth the cost to get rid of, but guess what, now you are.” With those words came a wave of his hand to signal the attack.
Already in air form, Iona ignored the incoming bullets, using a gust of wind to upend the table into the way of a couple of men that had more dangerous energy pistols while she floated to her feet. At the same time, she thrust much of the air in the room outward, creating a gust strong enough to lift all of the goons, but intentionally not John, and toss them into the walls. A few got to their feet in time for a second burst of wind, but none rose for a third.
The wind antics were not enough to upend Hard Place, however, and the big rocky bodyguard, lumbered toward Iona through the gale. His efforts to tackle her were no more effective than the bullets, though. He ended up just trundling through her ineffectually before spinning to face her again.
Clicking her tongue, Iona raised a hand to Hard Place. “I offer you the chance to join me as well, Hard Place. You seem a capable subordinate, someone that I would value having on my side.”
“I ain’t no traitor,” Hard Place growled, gearing up for another charge. That was when the air vacated his lungs.
As Hard place suddenly struggled to breathed, Iona watched him impassively. He clutched at his rocky throat, swung his massive arms through her airy frame, tried everything he could to force air into his lungs. Iona just floated there, watching, waiting for that moment where he finally realized that his defiance was meaningless. It did finally come, once his struggles had grown weak, and he could barely manage to stand. The look in his eyes turned to fear, and Iona kept the breath away from him for a little longer. Only once he had finally collapsed did she allow him to breath once more. After all, there was no sense in killing a useful servant just because he happened to be loyal to the wrong master.
Turning from Hard Place, Iona let her gaze fall on the final man that stood in the room, John. All the rest was chaos, a mess of thugs scattered like leaves in the wind. Iona had not been using lethal force, so they were all still alive, and just in various states of serious injury. Some would die if they did not receive medical attention, others would merely suffer a truly terrible headache when they awoke.
“It was an impressive army, but no army is truly a challenge for a goddess,” Iona noted superiorly as she floated toward John.
“Goddess? Ha!” John scoffed, still defiant even with his forces crushed. “You’re nothing but a petulant child with delusions of grandeur.”
“Delusions?!” Iona hissed angrily, summoning a downward gust to drive John to his knees. “I have no delusions, worm. Look around you at your petty empire broken by me. You continue to draw breath only because I deign to allow it. You have this one final chance to spare your business, your men, and yourself. Pledge your loyalty to me, and I will let you continue on with your pathetic life.”
John spat upon the ground in front of him. “I’ll never pledge myself to you, lunatic.”
Fury warped Iona’s features, a great boiling rage that threatened to take all rational thought from her. It might have succeed if not for the whispers of the wind telling her that someone had intruded upon the scene, slipping into the room behind her. No sooner had she received that warning than a man’s voice called out, “Hate to crash the party, but … well ... it’s sort of my job.”
Spinning around, Iona spotted a quickly looking man, dressed in what appeared to be some kind of exoskeletal contraption. The most important aspect of which was a shoulder mounted cannon that was currently aimed right at her. Already wind, Iona summoned another gale, intent on driving the unwelcome arrival from the room, but the cannon spit out a burst of white light that spread outward into a mesh of lightning large enough to cover most of the room. Iona tried dodge, but she couldn’t find anywhere to go, and as the lightning passed through her airy body, it had no problem discharging its energy into her. For a brief moment, Iona’s world was nothing but pain, then darkness took her.
A painful throbbing in her head greeted Iona the next time she awoke. The world around her was silent save for a faint hum, giving her nothing to distract her from each and every throbbing pound. Wanting to get a sense of her surroundings, she reached out for the wind, but it gave her no information other than she was in a fairly confined cube.
Opening her eyes, Iona squinted against the bright light that filled the room she was in. The glare served only to make her head ache all the more as her eyes slowly adjusted. She appeared to be inside some kind of metal box with a door on one side and several odd devices inserted into the walls. Strangely, the surface below her hand didn’t feel like metal. It was hard, though, and efforts to transmute it to air proved fruitless. She would not be able to escape that way.
“Ah, you’re up,” a crackly voice seemed to say right into Iona’s ear, making her notice that she was wearing a pair of headphones with an attached mic. “Sorry for the accommodations, but you are a particularly difficult prisoner to detain.”
“Who are you?” Iona demanded, assuming that the microphone would allow her to be heard.
“I go by Dabbler in the business but my name is James,” the voice answered with surprising candor. “I’m the man who incapacitated you with an electric net. I also own the force cell that you are currently residing in.”
Iona frowned at the introduction, not particularly pleased to be talking to the man responsible for upsetting her plans. Her conquest of Delaney had been going so smoothly before his annoying intervention. In fact, without his meddling, the whole business would’ve been hers.
“And why did you interrupt me?” Iona asked while she looked around at the room that held her. She didn’t like it, finding the confined space and lack of airflow suffocating.
“Well stopping murder is part of my job, but honestly it was pure coincidence. I was doing surveillance on Delaney, and you happened to get into a fight with him,” James explained. “A shame really. After all the rumors of how hard you worked to improve and protect your territory, some of my friends and I had been hoping you weren’t really a villain at all, but some very quirky and misguided kind of hero.”
“And who are you to judge me?” Iona retorted. “This is no police station, I am certain of that, and I have seen neither charges nor my attorney.”
“You’re going to be troublesome, aren’t you?” James commented with a sigh. “You needn’t worry. I merely detained you as a means to prevent you from executing Delaney and his men, to give me an opportunity to gather some information about you, and to keep you safe while you were unconscious. The wig, and you apparently falsifying your MCO test, did make your real identity a little difficult to track down. Iona Vestri isn’t listed as being able to do most of the tricks you exhibited in your fight. The blue hair, though, is very compelling – rather cute too.”
Wincing, Iona reached up, her fingers finding her own silken locks and not the somewhat stiff hair of her wig. “You are proving to be a most obnoxious individual, James.”
“You’re hardly the first person to say that,” James joked. “The identity isn’t the big thing, although, you would not believe how many of my buddies are going to be disappointed that you’re only fifteen. The information that I find really disconcerting is your brain scan.”
Iona peered about, looking for something that seemed like a camera to glare at. She couldn’t find anything, though, and the feeling of being trapped was really starting to get to her, making her breathing shallow and rapid. “You are sounding more and more like a mad scientist with every moment, James. Kidnapping underaged girls, scanning their brains, you just need to start pontificating about your master plan and you will be set.”
James laughed. “Y’know, you’re kind of right. Still, after the way you were acting, calling yourself a goddess and all that, I couldn’t resist doing some testing. Megalomania of that scale is strongly indicative of Diedrick's, so I’ve been checking on that.”
“And what did you discover?” Iona asked, actually genuinely concerned. She didn’t know much about Diedrick’s Syndrome, but she did know it was a psychological disorder that tended to go quite poorly for the person suffering from it. It was not something that she wanted to suffer from. Of course, the man was probably just lying to her to get her to cooperate. She couldn’t figure out a reason why he’d need her to do that, though. He’d already managed to incapacitate her – something no one had managed to do before. He could just do whatever he wanted to her while she was trapped in here.
“Well, I can’t guarantee anything with the information I have so far, but you definitely don’t have normal brain activity, especially since you woke up,” James reported. “However, now that you are awake, and theoretically, have regained your senses, I would be stepping into the realm of true villainy if I continued to hold you against your will. I can’t exactly charge you with anything either given that I didn’t have a warrant for my surveillance.”
Iona made sure to keep her relief from her features. She didn’t want to give James any reason to believe that she truly felt he had power over her. “Then I would appreciate it if you released me from this cell.”
“You aren’t interested in learning more about your mental health?” James questioned.
“I do not believe that there is anything to learn. I am perfectly rational. The abnormal activity you detected is likely just a result of my superior mental faculties and various abilities,” Iona responded arrogantly, keeping any trace of the doubt she felt out of her voice. “Regardless, we hardly need to discuss such things while you have me locked up in a cell.”
“A fair point,” James conceded. “While I hate to presume things, I did see you getting ready to murder a man in cold blood, and there are rumors you’ve … disposed of a few others as well, so I feel I should warn you that if you kill me, my personal security system will immediately report it to the police along with all the information they need to find you and capture you.”
Iona nodded. “Duly noted. Now, will you release me already?”
The faint hum vanished as something powered down and Iona dropped about half an inch, her heels clanging against metal. It was quickly followed by a loud click, then by the door sliding open on its hinges. It revealed a man of perhaps above average looks and build, with brown hair, green eyes, and a quirky smile on his face. “So care to discuss your brain over a cup of coffee or should I show you the way out?”
Iona was tempted to go with the second option. So much of her mind told her it was foolish to waste time on further tests. She was fine – better than fine – and she had more important things to do. At the same time, though, there was a fear that just refused to be shoved away. Everything else could be a deception, a trick played on her by a brain that was malfunctioning. The tests would be harmless. Most likely they would just confirm what she already knew. She could find a way to spare the time.
Finally, she made her choice. “I’ll take the cup of coffee.”
“I understand. Thank you, James,” Iona said into the phone calmly before she hung up.
It had taken multiple trips to specialists for therapy and testing, but now there was no doubt of what Iona suffered from. Looking at it logically, it did make sense. Dissociating so easily from her male self, overly precise speech, trouble sleeping, limited emotional responses, arrogance, sadism, megalomania, it all combined with odd brain activity and chemistry to indicate exactly the thing that she feared ever since James had put the possibility into her head. She wanted to believe that it wasn’t true, but a part of her had known it was so the moment James had first mentioned it while she was imprisoned in his obnoxious forcefield box. The last few months, everything that she’d felt and every goal that she’d pursued had all been lies told by a warped mind.
Suddenly, Iona found it very hard to stay standing. Her knees buckled to drop her into her computer chair. Leaning forward, she rested her elbows on the desk, clutching her head in her hands. She could feel the war in her mind rage, the war that she’d been so good at blocking out before. One side pressing for her to ignore the news, to insist that the others were wrong, that they were just jealous of her power and beauty. The other side was the voice that she’d almost completely suppressed, the one that had known something felt wrong from the moment that she had first started to change.
The tests indicated that Iona’s powers, the very things that she had once considered a blessing, were the cause. She couldn’t escape the effect either. One part of her power, the part that let her sense the air around her and use that to see the objects in her proximity only turned off while she slept. At all other times it was working, simultaneously generating the chemical imbalance that distorted her thinking.
Tears welled up in Iona’s eyes as a shudder ran through her. There was no medicine to combat it, nor any other treatment. She could never be certain if any moment was lucid or any emotion genuine.
Memories of all the things that she’d done filtered into Iona’s thoughts. She’d killed people, several of them, finding each one’s suffering a bright spot of thrill in a gray mundane world. Even just thinking about it caused her mood to rise, and her mind to supply the urge that she go out and exert her dominance over someone new. At the same time, that long suppressed voice surged forward with revulsion at the way that that she had acted.
Finally, the tears started to fall as Iona shook her head back and forth. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Each of them deserved it. So what if I liked it?” she muttered, but her words did nothing to quell the war. She knew something that could, though.
The more power Iona used, the more warped her thinking would become. All she had to do was start exerting herself and the doubts would just disappear. Everything would go back to the way it was, and that pesky voice that needled at her would get stomped right back into silence. She could rule again, be queen on the city – goddess of the wind.
“No!” Iona shouted, fighting back the temptation. For the moment, the urges receded, a temporary reprieve from a struggle that would never end. Eventually, she would lose again. She could never win a fight with herself. She should just give up – embrace the inevitable or bring an end to it all. Those were the only real options.
Shoving the insidious thoughts aside, Iona switched from chair to bed determined to hold her course and get some sleep. Her mind could not with one thought claim her a goddess and the next tell her she was powerless to affect her fate. She would not give in to it so easily.
“The key is not to escalate things,” Iona told herself rationally.
In an effort to restrain her mind’s ability to influence her, Iona had spent most of the day carefully crafting a schedule for her daily events rather than waste her time on something as meaningless as attending school. She felt that the more controlled and focused she was, the less likely it would be that anything insidious could slip into her thoughts. Of course, it was hard to even be certain if that was not in itself an insidious thought, but after several efforts to revisit it, she felt it was sound.
The first purpose of the schedule was cutting out power usage. Iona had been warned that using her abilities would increase the effect, meaning that her powers had to be relegated to emergency use only. Her current situation was relatively easy to maintain, powers or no, so she didn’t think this would be a difficult task, but even just deciding to not use them made her want to even more.
The second purpose was to normalize her routine to not allow impulse or opportunity to interfere with her thinking. Iona had strictly defined her life making sure to keep herself occupied at specific tasks at all times. When she woke, slept, ate, showered, attended class, handled business, all of it was carefully measured and controlled by the clock not her. Only a small window before bed was left open to allow for extra time that might be needed for something on any given day.
The third purpose was to rein in Iona’s ambitions. There would be no more expanding her domain. However, as she was committed to protection and renovation, she would maintain what she had. With her reputation, people almost never challenged her anyway, so there was little risk to keeping the system going.
“This will work,” Iona assured herself. She had to believe that she could take back control of her life. All it would require was self-control to resist the urges to push beyond normalcy and instead be content where she was. It didn’t matter if the sky was vast, or the wind free, or that power was sitting there at her fingertips waiting for her to reach out and use it to once more put her in her place above …
Iona shook her head, as if trying to physically dislodge the urges from her mind. Vigilance would be as important as anything else in this system. She would have to carefully assess every desire, every action, and every reasoning that passed through her brain to try and determine whether it was truly logical or merely seemed so. She could not rely on intuition or emotion. The wrong paths often felt more right than the right ones, but with focus, she would keep her mind from wandering astray. She had to.
Tapping the eraser of her pencil on her desk, Iona struggled to pay force herself to pay attention to the teacher’s lecture. It was proving to be one of the hardest tasks that she had ever undertaken. School had been dull before the serum, and she was even smarter now than she’d been before. Because of that, her mind constantly tried to wander, and her gaze kept seeming to find its way toward the room’s lone window through which the sky could be seen. Sitting in this room felt like such a waste of her talents. She could learn the entire curriculum in a couple weeks and be out in the world free to do as she pleased. It would be so much more fun to soar through the clouds and dance upon the wind.
“I’m not here to have fun,” Iona reminded herself in a whisper. Fun was in many ways the enemy to her now. Determined to focus, she flipped her pencil around and started writing down every word that the teacher said verbatim. It was useless busy work, she had no need for notes, but it at least required her to listen to the lecture no matter how boring and inconsequential it was.
Eventually, the class ended and Iona immediately rose from her desk to move to her next scheduled task. She was allowed a choice of walking home to eat there, or visiting one of the places on the way for food. Generally, she stuck to the former, minimizing her interactions with people as it was difficult to keep her thoughts focused during conversation.
Exiting the school grounds, Iona began the walk home, keeping her gaze focused on the sidewalk in front of her. She would not let herself look up at the sky. It would only attempt to lure her from her path with false promises of rulership and glory.
“You’re looking down,” James remarked, chuckling softly at the joke.
Mildly annoyed that she hadn’t noticed him sooner, Iona lifted her gaze to look at the man. She shouldn’t be letting people sneak up on her. Given the number of people that disliked her, it was dangerous, but more importantly to her, she was just better than that.
“What do you want, James?” Iona demanded impatiently.
“Oh you know, just checking up on you,” James replied. “You haven’t been returning my calls, and I’ve got to keep tabs on you somehow.”
“That is called stalking, James,” Iona responded before turning slightly so that she could walk around the man. “Now, if you will excuse me, you are making me run late for my schedule.”
James’s face brightened at the mention of a schedule. “That’s right. You had some plan to keep your condition under control with a daily schedule. How’s that going for you?”
That question made anger flare up within Iona. Who did this man think he was, bothering her like this? Who was he to think that she needed checking up on? Who was he to pity her? She should show him that she was not someone to annoy, that he was nothing compared to her.
Closing her eyes, Iona took a couple of deep breaths before answering. “Fine, James.”
“Is that why it took you five seconds to answer the question?” James inquired obnoxiously.
Gritting her teeth, Iona glared at the man. He could be so annoying that she just wanted to choke the life from him. The air around her danced in a gently breeze, eager to fulfill that exact desire. It would be so easy and feel so good ...
“It took me so long because you are upsetting my schedule to annoy me,” Iona retorted harshly, forcing her mental track back on course.
James rolled his eyes. “Well, if it will be less upsetting, we can continue walking while you talk to me. Will that help?”
“It would help more if you left,” Iona told him coldly.
Laughing, James moved around to fall into step beside her. “Can’t say I haven’t heard that before,” he remarked, not making any effort to leave. “Now, tell me about how it’s really going?”
Sighing, Iona started walking again, glad to at least be making progress on the schedule if nothing else. “It is effective at keeping me focused but also unfathomably dull and absolutely terrifying, James. Every thought I have has to be doubted. Every decision I make has to be questioned. I do not know if talking to you was the right choice. Should I have just walked past you without saying a word? Should I have been less reluctant to talk? Should I have forced you to leave me alone? Should I have done something even more drastic? There is no way for me to know.”
“Well, I’m glad you went with the option you did. I’m rather attached to breathing,” James joked.
An image of James clawing at his throat, kneeling before her with terror filled eyes flitted across Iona’s mind. He would be far less quick with his wit if he had no air to voice it. He would learn to show her proper respect as his better.
Doing her best to ignore the fantasy, Iona continued the conversation. “Then you should probably not spend time around me.”
James chuckled. “Maybe so, but then I wouldn’t get the pleasure of your company. Speaking of, where are you headed next on your schedule?”
“Dinner at home,” Iona answered.
“Well it is a bit early for me, but why don’t I take you out somewhere nice so we can chat?” James offered. “Assuming your schedule allows for that sorta thing.”
Iona frowned at James’s continued efforts to butt into her life. Still, he was the only person that knew anything about her problems. It couldn’t hurt to have someone to discuss things with. “It does.”
“No!” Iona growled in frustration, forcing herself back to solidity. All she’d been trying to do was avoid a puddle of goop in her path. The next thing she knew, she had turned to air and floated right across the liquid without even thinking about it.
After the brief moment of freedom, her flesh felt like a prison to Iona. Why did she trap herself on the ground, forcing herself to walk about in the dirt with the rest of the masses, when she could soar above it all? Does the wind choose not to blow just because it might knock down a few buildings? Does the hurricane turn away because it might ravage a few cities? It is not the winds fault but the fools on the ground that have not learned to respect the its power.
“Stop it!” Iona hissed, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. She tried to push her thoughts back to her schedule. What task had she been on? Where was she going next? She just had to focus. The answer just wouldn’t come to her, though. After all, the wind kept no schedule. It went where it wanted when it wanted, so why shouldn’t she? It would be so much more fun to be spontaneous, to live her life instead of shuffling through it like some drone following a program. There were so many possibilities out there in the vastness for her to partake of. The sky knew all things and so could she.
Iona dug her nails into her arms, using the pain to snap her out of the spiral. “Yes …” she moaned softly, relishing the brief moment of sensation. She’d felt nothing but boredom and frustration for so long that pain almost felt like pleasure now.
“Focus,” Iona whispered, taking a long deep breath. The haze cleared away and she could finally think enough to pull her phone out of her purse to check her schedule. She’d just finished a meeting with some of the business owners as Mistral, and she was supposed to be walking home to get started on her homework. It was all so obvious now that the incident was behind her.
With clear purpose, Iona resumed the walk home, focusing on the feel of the cold air on her skin. Even in winter, she had not changed her alter ego’s outfit, keeping the same revealing top and skirt with stiletto heeled boots – even the wig since only James knew who Mistral really was. It left far too much skin bare for such cold climes, at least for most people. Iona, however, had found that even bitter cold that had others bundling up felt only faintly cool to her and oddly pleasant. It made her feel like she was soaring high above it all, where the air was always cold, even when her feet were firmly on the ground. Iona’s gaze drifted ever so briefly up to the sky, the stars barely visible through the glow of the city at night. She held that look for only a moment before she forced herself to look back at the ground. She would not let it tempt her.
“You don’t look so good. You sure you’re up to being out tonight?” James remarked as Iona sat down across from him, giving the teen a look of concern.
The comment was certainly true. Iona looked far from her best that night. Dark circles under her eyes tarnished her pretty features, and she struggled to keep her shoulders from slumping and her back from slouching in her chair. Sleep had become harder and harder to get as the unfulfilling life of her schedule left her up tossing and turning when she tried to sleep. On the rare occasions that she did rest, nightmares of being stuck back in her old life, still being picked on and ridiculed haunted her. It was horrible and exhausting.
“That is not a very nice thing to say to a girl, James,” Iona chided, intentionally avoiding the subject.
James shrugged. “I’ve always prefered honest over polite. The latter is too often an excuse to lie. Still, are you sure you’re okay? You don’t have to stay.”
Iona nodded. “I am fine. I just suffered from a few unpleasant dreams last night is all. It is nothing to concern yourself about.”
“Good because I do so love our little dates,” James commented. “They’re the highlight of my week.”
“Well, at least one of us does,” Iona responded coldly.
James chuckled in amusement. “I’m quite used to my dates enjoying themselves far less than I do, but I think you enjoy these little get togethers more than you claim. After all, you never cancel or even show up late.”
“They are just one more boring, obnoxious task on my schedule, and I never deviate from the schedule,” Iona explained disinterestedly. If she was being honest, these ‘dates’ were at least more fun than going to school, but she’d never tell him that. The only thing more obnoxious than James was James when he was smug.
“Harsh as always,” James noted, not seeming the least bit phased by the insult. “At least your schedule seems to be helping. Not a single incident since you started on it. In fact, you’d be a model citizen if not for the whole crime lord thing. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to help me out by giving that up?”
Of course there had been incidents, but Iona had merely kept them to herself. She didn’t want James to know that she was struggling. After all, It was none of his business..
“It must be rather difficult for a hero like you to have dinner with a criminal like me every week,” Iona noted. “I imagine your friends must tease you about it all the time.”
“I’m touched that you think I have friends,” James joked. “To be honest, they don’t approve of me ‘fraternizing with the enemy’ like this, but we’re all pretty much in agreement that you’re better than whoever would take your place. As criminals go, you’re quite pleasant to deal with.”
“Well it is all about pleasing you,” Iona commented facetiously.
“Exactly, because I’m a very important individual,” James replied, nodding with mock solemnity.
Iona couldn’t help but giggle at that. “If you believe that then your brain is even more warped than mine.”
“It probably is. I never claimed I was sane,” James concurred, grinning. “Gotta be at least a little bit crazy to get into the hero business, anyway. It’s dangerous stuff.”
Because of people like me, Iona thought. That made her wonder if she’d be a threat to James again. “Then I suppose we finally have something in common.”
“For some reason, I doubt that this is friendly get together, Hard Place,” Iona remarked, coming to a stop about ten feet from the group of men that had clearly been waiting for her.
“I wish it was,” Hard Place replied as the men around him fanned out. They were armed to the teeth with all sorts of weapons that looked like they were from a bad sci-fi movie. “You should have known that Mr. Delaney was going to hold a grudge, Mistral. You beating him down in his own place has really hurt business.”
Iona shrugged. “I would have thought he would have learned his lesson after that and been glad that he had any business left at all.” As she spoke, she glanced back behind her to see even more men blocking her escape. “Do you really want to do this?”
“Not much choice,” Hard Place sighed. “Boss needs to restore his rep and the only way it’s gonna happen is to put you down. Sorry, love.”
Nodding, Iona shifted into air, not really expecting it to be effective against many of the weapons that they’d brought, but wanting it as much for maneuverability as anything. She would have to eliminate her foes quickly, before they could figure out what was and wasn’t capable of hurting her, which meant saving Hard Place for last. He had weapons too, but with his shell, it would take too long for her to disable him.
“Get her,” Hard Place ordered, and the goons jumped to obey.
Iona instantly compressed all the air near her, creating a massive vacuum that tugged all the thugs forward and off balance. The very next instant that compression turned to expansion shooting outward with enough force to blast every one of the off balance men off their feet. The tactic would hopefully buy her the time that she needed to start dealing with threats.
Hard Place, as per his usual, simply summoned his rock shell and weathered the storm with relative easy. Able to hold his ground, he was the first to fire at Iona, sending out an orange beam of searing heat that the wind mutant flitted out of the way of. He tried to line up a second shot, but a gust of wind upturned a nearby motorcycle to smash into him and spoil his aim.
Meanwhile, Iona darted forward, letting the motorcycle delay Hard Place as she got into range to use more deadly powers. The first thug to get to his feet, was hit with a gust of wind strong enough to toss him back into a building and shatter dozens of bones. The second lost his head to a mist blade as Iona zipped by. The third got a shot off, wide in his haste, right before a briefly solid shoulder tackle crushed his ribcage.
With three down, Iona changed her path cutting a sharp turn to dodge a couple of crackling white energy bolts as she darted down a nearby alley. The cover gave her a moment to gather herself and collect her thoughts before pursuit would be able to catch up to her. Part of Iona’s mind tried to tell her to flee from the fight. She had a head start and flew much faster than her opponents could run. She could get out of here easily with no one else getting hurt. That voice was so pathetic sounding in comparison to the glorious feel of power rushing through her. It had been so long since she’d cut loose, and it felt amazing. Besides, these maggots had dared to contest her only because she had not exerted her authority sooner. They deserved to face the consequences of their defiance.
The two views argued away the moment, leaving Iona still in the alley as the first pursuers rounded the bend. The air told her that they were there and met her call when she needed it. Using the narrow walls of the tunnel to focus her wind, Iona struck the first two men with hurricane winds, tossing them like ragdolls across the street to smack into a car before flopping limply to the ground.
“Yes … “ Iona breathed, watching the next man in line freeze, a look of absolute terror on his face from watching his compatriots lives ended in an instant. “Come and meet your end, worms!” she called. At the same time, she released her mistblade and used her will to send it rocketing down the alley. It dissipated over the distance, but still struck the man’s head with enough solidity to snap his neck with a satisfying crack.
More men were starting to arrive, and the narrow alley was no place for Iona to dodge their shots. She took off, soaring upward as she dodged another couple beams. Cutting to the left, Iona slipped over the roof to use the building as cover. Atop the building, she had another moment to gather herself, but there were no arguments this time, just an excited euphoria that made her eager for more.
Making herself solid, Iona landed lightly on the rooftop, which she immediately turned to air. She fell through with ease, landing lightly on the floor below. She repeated this several times, until she had returned to ground level. From there, she made her way through walls until she burst back out onto the main street, now occupied by only a few enemies while the others had moved to pursue her.
“There she is!” one of the punks called, pointing his gun to fire.
Iona turned back to air as she darted to the side, but this one’s aim proved better than most. The orange beam seared through her left shoulder, sending a wave of agony rushing through her. The pain only fueled her bloodlust, as she summoned another gust of wind. This one came up from behind the men, knocking them off their feet and toward her. She was on them in and instant, another mist blade forming in her hand.
The first thug didn’t even get to his knees before Iona’s blade stabbed through his back and into his heart. The second one did, but that only made it easier for the blade to cut through his throat. For the third, Iona turned solid again and let her blade dissipate. She wrapped her right arm around his throat and spun, releasing him into the way of an incoming energy blast from behind her. The body absorbed it perfectly, briefly outlined in crackling white lightning before it crashed limply to the ground.
Bending down, Iona scooped up one of the handguns that had been dropped, lifting it and firing a couple of those orange beams toward the alley that men were now coming out of. Her aim was far from perfect, but with a weapon that devastating, it didn’t need to be. Two of the men fell with clearly lethal wounds followed by a third whose leg was cut out from under him.
Hard Place was the next to come crashing out of the alley his rocky shell easily absorbing a beam from Iona’s stolen weapon. The man roared as he charged, keeping one arm up to cover his eyes while the other lifted his own weapon to return fire. Iona barely managed to duck behind a parked car before a hail of shots would have ended her life.
“Fool! The earth cannot defeat the sky! All it can do is look up at its majesty in envy!” Iona taunted, as she pressed her free hand to the car. She waited for a break in the barrage and then turned the car to air, launching it with her power. The moment her hand left contact with the car, it was solid once more and gravity, its immense weight, and Iona’s aim sent it crashing into Hard Place with enough force to knock the rock to the ground and pin him beneath its mass.
Unfortunately, the move cost Iona her cover and only a desperate dive to the side saved her from being skewered by a pair of energy beams. The men that fired them immediately regretted the decision as a gust of wind staggered them, followed by a series of shots from Iona’s borrowed weapon that brought their lives to an abrupt end.
With no more shots forthcoming, Iona stood up straight, injured arm hanging limply at her side. Sweeping her eyes over the battlefield, she took in the carnage of corpses and smashed cars and buildings. It truly did look like a goddess had taken out her wrath on this little section of city. That thought made her smile.
In that moment of triumph, there was suddenly a loud bang followed quickly by a second then a third. The final noise was accompanied by the car that pinned Hard Place lurching several feet to the side. A very angry looking Hard Place shoved himself to his feet to glare at Iona.
“Still defiant even in the face of this slaughter,” Iona noted, growing only more excited at the prospect of further conflict. She was so glad that the fight wasn’t over, that she would get to continue her joy by crushing this foolish pebble into dust. “Beautiful …”
Realizing the danger, Hard Place jerked his head around, looking for one of the energy pistols. A moment later, he spotted one a few feet from him. Immediately, he lunged for it as Iona soared forward, wrapping his rocky hand about the gun. He spun to orient it on Iona just as her hand come out and touched it. He tried to pull the trigger, but his finger just went through the weapon like it was made of smoke. He had just enough time to look surprised before the air vacated his lungs.
Iona floated there before Hard Place, a smile on her face as she made the air gun twirl about on her palm teasingly. Hard Place tried to struggle, swatting his big rocky limbs through her ineffectually. Finally, he slumped to his knees, vision starting to darken as he looked up at the woman.
“I told you that the earth could do nothing but look up at the sky,” Iona sneered mockingly.
“That’s enough, Iona!” James’s voice called out.
Spinning, Iona oriented the stolen gun in her hand, locking it and her gaze onto James. The man, decked out in his devisor exoskeleton, was quite some way down the street, not surprisingly outside her windsight range. He was flanked by two other people in costume, one man and one woman, both bearing very stern expressions on their faces that made it clear that they were not just ready for a fight but expecting it.
Rage filled Iona at the sight of that obnoxious man. Here he was again, butting in where he wasn’t wanted, trying to tell her what to do – as if some measly ingrate like him had any right to command the wind. He was no better than Hard Place and his goons, foolishly thinking that he stood above her. No one stood above her. With that mental declaration, she turned solid and fired.
The orange energy beams deflected off some invisible barrier around James as he fired his cannon at Iona. Once more it created a gigantic net, but this time Iona was not caught unawares nor pinned in a room. She was instantly insubstantial again before taking off into the sky to get above the net.
Even as she cleared the net, Iona found the woman, who apparently also flew, waiting up there for her. She punched at Iona, and the wind woman let her insubstantiality protect her from the mundane strike. Unfortunately, the woman did not rely on mere brute force. The moment her hand was within Iona it unleashed a powerful jolt of electricity.
For an instant, the world went completely black for Iona. When it came back, she could feel the wind rushing past her and the sensation of being solid again. She couldn’t put it together quick enough, though. The ground came up to meet her and took the world away once more.
When the world found Iona again, it revealed the same brightly lit room that she’d been in after her previous fight with James. “I am not amused by this trend, James,” she grumbled as she pushed herself to her feet. She was a bit sore, but for the most part her injuries seemed healed.
“Neither am I, but at least I got an intercom installed since your last visit,” James’s voice noted cheerily from a speaker on the wall. “No more headphones.”
“Why am I in here, James?” Iona questioned, already growing exasperated with the annoying man. She wondered if she could potentially overpower the force field with her wind. At short ranges her winds were as devastating as any natural disaster, so it might be possible.
“Well, you did sort of try to kill me,” James replied flippantly. “You do remember that, right?”
Feeling a stab of guilt at the reminder, Ionna nodded. She didn’t much care about the goons that had attacked her, but James had been trying to help her – even if he was an obnoxious pain in the ass that would have deserved to get shot. “Yes, James, I remember shooting a little laser pistol at you before your amazonian friend electro-punched me. I was attacked by numerous, well-armed assailants before that and was defending myself, so why did you interfere?”
“Still my job, Iona,” James answered smartly. “Just like it’s my job to arrest people that try to kill me in the course of my duties, and since this is the only place with a pure force field containment cell, and you can just walk right through anything else, that’s how you ended up here.”
“I take it that means you actually intend to charge me with something this time?” Iona commented, glancing about at the cell. Attempted murder would be a hard charge for her get a favorable verdict on, meaning she needed escape options. Silently, she cursed the foolish Delaney men that had instigated things, and the warped mind that had reacted so poorly to the situation.
“Well that depends,” James began. “I can see how it might have been difficult in the moment for you to determine friend from foe–”
“I knew who you were, James, and I very much so wanted to kill you for interfering. It made sense at the time,” Iona cut him off, annoyed by his efforts to excuse her actions. It didn’t make what she had done any better. “I am … sorry for that.”
James let out a heavy sigh. “Well then … I guess we have a problem. What do you want to do about it?”
“Why are you asking me?” Iona inquired, legitimately confused by the question.
“I’m in the business of protecting lives, not ruining them,” James explained. “Someone like you with your abilities and your mental issues … they can’t just stick you in a juvenile detainment facility or something. You can easily kill anyone near you, create weapons from thin air, and walk through walls and restraints. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in basically the room you’re in now?”
The mere thought of such a fate – being trapped without fresh air, without the sky above her, without anything to challenge her – nauseated Iona. There were probably worse fates out there, but she couldn’t think of any in the moment.
“No,” Iona mumbled softly.
“Well then what’s your plan?” James asked. “There’s no cure, and apparently the schedule scheme isn’t going to work, although, it did take people trying to kill you to mess it up.”
“Even before that ... I was ... slipping,” Iona admitted, looking down bashfully. “There were … mistakes, random power usages that I did not intend, small divergences during tasks, wandering thoughts, nightmares, and trouble sleeping. Thinking about it, it is probably lucky that they attacked when they did or I might have done something far worse.”
“I definitely wouldn’t want to see what ‘far worse’ looks like, after seeing that battlefield,” James commented. “Is there no way to salvage this?”
A shrug was all Iona could manage. “I do not know, James.”
“Alright, well, sit tight then,” James told her. “I’m going to gather a bit of information, before deciding anything.”
Clutching at her head, Iona tried to shut out her thoughts. “Stop it …”
The thoughts didn’t listen, though. They told her how foolish she was for listening to that man, how if she’d never let him talk to her about her mind, she could be ruling the city right now. There would be no tiny little cage holding her in place, keeping her from fresh air, from the sky, from her life. This box existed only because she had allowed her past humanity to taint her deification.
“I am not a deity,” Iona muttered to herself, trying her best to resist.
Anger flared in Iona. If she was not a deity, then was she supposed to be human? That made no sense. There was no way that she was on the same level as men like Delaney and Dramond. She was far beyond them, smarter, stronger, faster. They were no closer to her than gnats to a human, a minor nuisance easily swatted aside – just like this cell could be swatted aside if would just bring her power to bear.
The air around Iona practically hummed out its eagerness to receive her call. It was ready for her. It wanted to be free as much as she did. The wind could not be trapped in a cage. The sky was not penned in by dirt and stone.
Iona’s gaze lifted from the floor to the cell around her, the walls so close to her, and seeming to grow closer every time she looked at them. They sought to crush her, to smoosh her back down into the pitiful being that she’d once been, all because of James’s interference. She would show him that he could not stop her. She would crush the toy that he had built to crush her.
Rising to her feet, Iona called upon the air, thrusting it outward from her with as much strength as she could manage. The faint hum of the force field generators rose in pitch and intensity, struggling to maintain their integrity against the frightening pressure. Metal began to creak and generators strained, but the force field did not break.
Momentarily bested, Iona released the wind from her command, shoulders slumping. Brute force was not the answer, at least not now. She was weak from imprisonment. That was the only possible explanation. If she’d only done this sooner, she would already be free. She had more than brawn to use, though. If the the field could not be overwhelmed with strength it would have to subverted with intellect.
Stepping to the nearest wall, Iona rested her hand upon it. The forcefield kept force from moving through it, but air had to get through it somehow or she would have suffocated. If air could get through it, so too could her power.
It took several moments of waiting, but Iona felt the moment the force field changed, becoming air permeable for just a moment to cycle in some fresh air. Iona smiled, knowing that she had outwitted that foolish man. She waited patiently for the field to shift once more and then she began to test what else would go through.
Even permeable, the field would block air that Iona tried to thrust outward with force. However, it did not limit her communication with the air. It would take careful timing, but she was certain that a message could be sent through. The next shift of the field she sent the message, amping up the pressure outside the field. It only lasted for a moment, but it elicited a loud creak from the metal of the cage. Patiently Iona waited, repeating the process over and over again, as metal panels began to bend and twist.
Finally, something snapped and the wall of the force field Iona had her hand against vanished. From there it was a simple matter to dismantle the rest and wrench the door open. The cage bested, Iona took her first step out into freedom.
Looking up, Iona raised a hand to offer a slight wave as James stepped out of his car and slammed the door behind him. On his face disbelief and anger warred with each other for which would be the dominant emotion that he felt. Neither seemed willing to yield, however, leaving an odd mix of the two.
“I race home after my system alerts me that you broke out, only to find you sitting on my stoop. What? Did you just want some fresh air?” James asked incredulously.
With a despondent expression on her face, Iona nodded. “Yes, James.”
Shaking his head, James came over to sit next to the girl on the step. “You can’t do things like this, Iona. If there is no way to contain you and you can’t control yourself ...”
“You make it sound like I had a choice,” Iona muttered, wrapping her arms around her knees and leaning forward. “You have no idea what it was like for me in there, defeated and locked in a cage. It just kept getting worse and worse until … until there was no more resisting it.”
James sighed heavily. “How’d you do it anyway?”
“The air filtration system allowed me to command the air outside of the field,” Iona responded. “My suggestion would be to monitor me and only filter the air while I am asleep, though, that would likely require a larger cell to prevent oxygen deprivation.”
“Do you think that would be enough to keep you inside?” James asked.
Iona shook her head. “No. I would find a way, and even if I could not, you would not be able to keep me in there for long. It would be torture.”
James sighed again. “Well that narrows your options even further. If you get charged for attempted murder and are found guilty, you’ll be looking at cryo-suspension or some similarly terrible fate, since you have proven that traditional imprisonment won’t work. Your only real hope would be that they find a cure for your condition while you’re under. I could make sure you don’t get charged, but I can’t very well just let you go, as we both know this isn’t going to be an isolated incident.”
“I could always just kill you now and escape,” Iona remarked morbidly.
James actually chuckled at the joke. “That you could, but you seem pretty lucid at the moment, so I feel like I’m pretty safe.”
Not arguing, Iona rested her chin on her knees. “Are there any other options?”
“You die,” James answered with brutal honesty.
“Not really much of a choice, is it?” Iona noted.
James shrugged. “Not really, but at least you have the chance to make it. That’s not common for people in your situation.”
“That is not what I meant,” Iona told him.
“What did y-?” James began, but the words just stopped as air vacated his lungs.
Iona stood up beside him, turning to look down at him sadly. “I am sorry, James, but I can not just let you kill me, and both of those options are death. There was always the third option. I had just hoped that it would not be necessary.”
James, lulled by Iona’s apparent lucidity, had no defenses ready when she sapped the air from his lungs. All he could was struggle futilely to breathe until, finally, he collapsed. The moment he was out, Iona returned air to him, hoping it wouldn’t cause any lasting harm. Leaving him alive would only cause trouble – he knew too much about her – but she was going to do it anyway.
Bending down, Iona kissed James gently on the forehead. “Rest well, James. I am sorry for everything,” she told the unconscious man, before rising to her feet.
As Iona took off into the air, plans were already starting to form in her mind, about what to do next. She’d have to leave the city, find a new place to set up, and establish a new identity. Escaping would be the easy part. Finding a way to live after, that would be the challenge.
Author’s Note: Hey all, Light Clark here, also known as lightivation or lightoffury or just Light. If you liked the story, consider checking out my free fantasy series, The Trials of Tannen, which is being told in serial at my website here: https://lightivation.wordpress.com/
Also, if you want to support my work, and have a little money to spare, stop by my patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/lightivation No pressure, though. If you just wanted a free read, that’s fine too.
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