Chasing the Wind
By: Light Clark
Synopsis: Having fled her home, Iona tries to carve out a new life in a new city, but her past just keeps chasing after her. Sequel to Winds of Change.
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.
Slowly, Iona drifted around the street, circling her adversary as she looked for any opening that she could use to strike. In her hand was a vaguely blade-like shape made of swirling, pale blue mist, waiting for her to pick her moment. There just didn’t seem to be any such moment to pick, though, or at least, she couldn’t find it.
Meanwhile, the opponent across from her just stood confidently in place, not moving except to rotate slowly with Iona’s movements, so that they were always facing one another. He was a man, but not a particularly impressive one – somewhere in his thirties and barely an inch taller than the blue-haired fifteen-year-old’s five foot seven. He was quite lean as well, with mediocre looks and dirty blonde hair on top of his head.
In spite of his appearance, the man had earned caution from Iona. Their battle had already been going far longer than most that she’d been in. So far, he had easily defeated every attack she’d thrown at him. She considered that was worthy of some tiny smidgen of her respect. That smidgen was not enough to keep her desire to crush him in check, however.
Growing impatient, Iona lunged forward, mistblade leading the way. There was a loud thump as her weapon slammed into the man’s force field defense before it was deflected up and away. Iona didn’t even have time to follow up with a second attack before the same field that had deflected her attack darted forward with a rush of air.
Iona tried to shift herself to air, but it didn’t matter. The barrier slammed into her airy form just as hard as it would have if she had been solid, easily sending her flying. She didn’t fly far, though, as the first force wall vanished and a new one appeared right behind her just so that she’d have something to slam against. Ribs cracked as Iona turned solid again, crumpling limply to the street.
“You really should give up,” the man, one Makar Novak, suggested arrogantly with just a hint of a russian accent to his speech. “You’ll only get hurt.”
“Never!” Iona hissed through her pain, struggling back to her feet. She would never admit defeat – never bow to another. Others bowed to her.
Makar sighed wearily. “You have such fire and beauty, little bird. I’d rather not have to bring an end to that just to take control of your turf. Be reasonable.”
“I am not a bird, insect, and I will not see my kingdom fall into your hands,” Iona retorted, gathering herself for another strike. A great torrent of wind rushed away from her, seeking to fling the presumptuous bug away from her. All it could do was roar impotently as it crashed into one of the man’s annoying walls.
For his part, Makar just stood there chuckling in amusement. “And I am not an insect, nor will I be so easily swept aside, but you do say such amusing things. I’d like to make you an offer before our caped friends arrive to spoil our fun.”
In spite of her power, Iona knew that she had few options here. The man’s force fields could hem her in and block her from controlling the air past them. She was certain that she could defeat him – there was nothing above the sky after all – but she just didn’t yet know how to apply her strength to crush him. She needed time, and listening would give her that. If nothing else, some heroes were bound to arrive and give her the respite that she needed to formulate a plan.
“What is the offer?” Iona demanded coldly.
“Become one of my lieutenants, you can even retain control over your little ‘kingdom’ as long as you are willing to pay my cut –” Makar began.
“Never,” Iona cut the man off angrily, preparing another attack.
Makar held up a hand to stop the impetuous action. “Let me finish. The position would only be temporary of course. Every month, I will give you a chance to challenge me, and naturally, if you win, you’ll take control of everything. If you don’t, though, you have to listen to me for that month. We’ll count this fight as the first duel, and I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve won it. What do you say?”
Frowning, Iona’s eyes narrowed. She certainly didn’t trust Makar, but he was the head of a major organized crime ring with a few powerful mutants under his command. Given time, she would certainly figure out how to defeat him, and he was offering her exactly that. Once she did, that whole empire would be hers. That said, she resented the idea of taking orders from someone beneath her, even temporarily.
“There is a time limit, Pteechka,” Makar noted, pointedly glancing up at the sky as if searching for heroes.
“Very well,” Iona sighed in reluctant acceptance. “You have a deal.”
Frustrated by her defeat, Iona literally walked through the wall to enter the apartment that she used as her home and hideout rather than bother using the door like a normal person. The moment Iona was inside, her costume, a powder blue vest that was always zipped scandalously low, a black, flowing, wrap skirt with an angled hem, a black thong, and a pair of calf high black boots – there was no bra – all turned to air, so that she could simply walk out of them without even slowing down. Behind her, the wall’s airy surface reconsolidated after her passage before turning back to solidity. The clothes did similarly, drifting free of her before fluttering solidly to the ground.
Iona’s destination was the apartment’s bathroom. Her intent was to let a nice shower distract her from her tension. In spite of that goal, her mind whispered that she should just put her costume back on, go find Makar, and kill him. Surely, she wouldn’t lose again, not after having seen his tricks. All she had to do was get close and it would all be–
Shaking her head, Iona drove the thoughts away as best she could, knowing that they were wrong – just a warped byproduct of using her powers too much – replacing them with thoughts of the shower with its warm relaxing water and scented lotions. Win or lose, she deserved to relax and enjoy herself after a fight. Even a goddess needs to unwind after a stressful day. Besides, there was no rush. She would crush Makar in her own time.
Rebellious thoughts currently placated, Iona stepped inside the bathroom, immediately turning on the water to get it to heat up before shifting her attention to the mirror. Her short, tousled, pale blue hair was a bit wild from the fight, but otherwise her face was fine. A few bruises marred the creamy skin of her well-curved figure, but they were already beginning to fade. Her regeneration would remove them completely by the time she had finished her shower, and her broken ribs, and any other fractures she’d sustained in the fight, would be fine after she had a chance sleep. There was nothing lasting or serious enough for her to worry about other than the blow to her confidence.
“I should not have lost,” Iona grumbled softly, annoyance creeping back in as she assessed her injuries. She clearly could have kept fighting, if nothing else stalling until heroes arrived before making her escape. That she had agreed to serve to that … ingrate was most irksome to her.
Trying not to think about that, Iona shifted her thoughts to what she would soon gain. Her current kingdom was small, just a few blocks in each direction. It was quite impressive given that she had only been in this city a few weeks, but in comparison to what she felt was her right, it was tiny. Makar, though, controlled huge swaths of the city. She might have to wait a month to depose him, but she was certain that she would, and when she did all of that would be hers. Then, he would regret trying to subjugate her. From there, it would be a simple matter to take the rest of the major players down and bring the entire city under her control.
Thinking about it, Iona decided that it was actually better this way. She could use the time to focus on improving her own skills, gathering resources, and learning about Makar’s organization for when she inevitably took over. If anything, she was using him far more than he was using her, which was only right. Making a deal like this was all about making things easier and quicker, not capitulating to the will of others. Confident that her decision had been the right one, as if she could ever make a wrong one, Iona turned from the mirror to the waiting shower.
Iona could feel her anger building as she walked along the street. As part of their deal, Makar had required her to meet him at his club, and even such a mild task was proving infuriating when she was not allowed to choose it for herself. It was so tempting to just kill him the moment that she arrived. What matter was a deal with a bug, after all?
Shaking her head, Iona tried to force that line of thinking away. Having rested and kept her power usage minimal, her thoughts were clearer than they had been the day before, but she still had to stay vigilant to keep her mind from slipping into less rational patterns. As much as she hated being dictated to by a thug, she hated being dictated to by insanity even more. She would honor her agreement – for now.
As she approached her destination, Iona saw a long line of people standing outside of the club. Sighing at what she was certain was going to be a hassle, Iona made her way to the front of the line to approach the bouncer. “Good evening.”
The bouncer, tall meaty and russian, looked over Iona skeptically. While her street clothes were certainly provocative enough for someone to go clubbing in, a short, tight skirt and low cut top with a light jacket over it, they did little to disguise the fact that she was clearly not twenty–one, and with her hair covered by a brown wig, it wasn’t like she was instantly recognizable as Makar’s new business partner.
“You look great, but we ain’t buying it, girlie. Come back when you’re older,” the bouncer told her, but Iona just kept walking toward the door without so much as slowing down. “Hey! I said no!” the man growled, reaching out to stop her.
Iona caught the man’s hand before he got close to touching her. Once she had it, Iona jerked her own wrist, eliciting a loud snap as bone snapped easily in her grip. As the man howled in pain from the injury, she released him, letting him fall back to clutch at his wrist.
“Your boss is expecting me,” Iona stated in a voice that was cold and commanding.
The remaining bouncer at the door quickly moved out of Iona’s way, letting the teen straight through. Iona soaked up the fear, smiling at how easy it was to put lesser beings like those two in their proper places. They’d certainly think twice before trying to stop some underaged girl at their door again.
Inside, the club was oppressively loud and cramped. Music blared at a volume that left it as little more than distorted noise that tried to compete with the drone of mindless chatter for which was more offensive to the ears. Out on the dance floor, people bounced roughly in time to the beat, while others huddled around tables or the bar drinking away their inhibitions so that they too would have the courage to embarrass themselves like their peers. It was all just so pathetic.
After a quick look of disdain, Iona pulled her gaze from the mass of idiots in search of something that resembled a VIP area or office. Sure enough, there was another pair of bouncers guarding a set of stairs that led up to a second floor. Maybe these two wouldn’t have to be hurt to give her the respect and deference that she deserved, but she rather hoped that they would. It would give her something to vent her frustration on.
One of the bouncers raised a skeptical brow as Iona approached but neither moved to block her way. Undoubtedly their buddies out front had alerted them that she’d be coming. It was a bit of a disappointment, but Iona didn’t let her bother her as she continued on.
“All the way up,” one of them told her as she passed by.
Following the directions, Iona passed by the second floor, which was like a slightly less crowded version of the first floor, and continued up to the third floor. There, the building turned from club to office, with a hallway at the top of the stairs with several side doors leading off it. At the end of the hallway was a huge set of double doors flanked by another pair of men. These were far less civil looking than the ones down stairs, each armed with a techy-looking pistol and an expression that said that they’d have no troubles using it.
Iona didn’t rush as she made her way down the hallway, keeping to the same perfectly practiced sashay that she always used outside of combat. The guards didn’t appear to appreciate it like most men did, however, or at least, were too well trained to show it. Their only motion was for one to reach out and open the door for her as she approached.
“Thank you,” Iona told him politely as she stepped into the office. It was always important to reward civility and respect.
Waiting inside was an office designed to intimidate. Everything was ostentatiously expensive, from the beautiful and well stocked bar, to the exquisite leather couch, to the massive, hand made, dark, wooden desk. Unlike the rest of the club, this room was well lit, tastefully decorated, and had only a single occupant – Makar Novak.
The moment the doors closed behind Iona, the sound from club vanished as well, indicating that the room was sound proof. Immediately, Iona started to feel trapped, her chest tightening and her pulse rising. She hated confined spaces with limited air flow. It reminded her of a pure force cage that she’d once been held in – a cage that had been so insufferable that she’d had to break it lest she go insane.
Makar looked up at the sound of the door. At first he was smiling, but it quickly turned to a frown. “Brown hair tonight?” he asked, sounding disappointed.
Iona nodded. “A wig. Unfortunately, a necessary precaution for me when I go about in public. Otherwise, my hair would make it rather easy me to be recognized.”
“Of course, of course,” Makar nodded accommodatingly. “I must apologize for whatever rude remark my man must have said to you for you to break his wrist like that.”
“What did you want me here for, Makar?” Iona shifted the subject without bothering to respond to the sentiment. She wanted to get the meeting over with, not swap idle chit-chat about meaningless peons.
Makar chuckled. “You are so very serious, Pteechka. You should learn to relax and enjoy yourself more.”
“I will enjoy myself when you are dead,” Iona retorted harshly.
That response turned chuckles into outright guffaws. “Mmm, how I do love a woman with fire,” Makar purred, leering at Iona in a way that made the teen’s skin crawl. “If we must get down to business –”
“And we must,” Iona cut in to make sure that Makar didn’t procrastinate in getting to the point.
“– and miss out on such pleasant banter,” Makar continued as if uninterrupted. “Then I’ll discuss the territory that you will be responsible for such as targets, current operations, and personnel that will report to you.”
Makar gestured at Iona to come closer. Once she did, he tapped on a part of the desk with slid back to reveal a screen. On it there were maps and other details for the territory that Iona would be taking over, which he started to quickly go through with her. He didn’t seem very interested in the details, though, and spent most of the time looking at his guest.
For Iona, however, it was very interesting. The new territory was a sizable increase for her, larger than anything she’d controlled before with dozens of underlings at her command. Such a significant increase in scope made the task almost daunting, but she had no doubts about her ability to handle it with ease. After all, she knew that she could handle anything with ease.
In the midst of the explanation, the sound of a door buzzer pulled Makar’s attention briefly from Iona. “Ah, perfect timing,” he remarked before reaching down to press a button on the desk for an intercom and command the unseen nocker to, “Come in.”
From the door, a couple of newcomers entered the room. They made an odd pair, one a tall husky man with brutish, slavic features, and the other a short wild-looking woman with dyed-black hair and a slight frame. The former was dressed in a suit which sat awkwardly on his hulking frame, while the latter was dressed in far too much black leather and a garish shade of red lipstick that made her look like she’d painted her lips with fresh blood.
“You wanted to see us, boss?” the man asked in low, dense voice that came off as rather dim-witted.
At the same time, the woman leered at Iona, licking her lips slightly as she did. “So this is the new girl,” she purred in interest, forcing the teen to resist the urge to murder the woman for acting in such an obscene manner toward her.
“Yes, this is my newest … ally, Mistral,” Makar introduced Iona. “Though, I presume she has a normal name too. Don’t you Pteechka? These are Anna Krupin and Temor Lehman.”
“Jane Mitchell,” Iona offered, using the name of the fake identity that she’d lived under since entering the city. It was a rather boring name, but she hoped it would help keep the few people that knew her real name from tracking her down. She didn’t want another run in with such obnoxious and intrusive individuals.
Temor gave Iona a skeptical look before turning back to Makar. “I still don’t think we need to recruit an outsider. I have two under me that would be much better suited to the position.”
While she didn’t even want to serve under Makar, Iona bristled at the insinuation that she was not deserving of the position, narrowing her eyes at Temor. She was more than deserving. There was no way anyone that served under that lumbering, barbaric brute could possible be better suited to the task than her.
Makar waved a hand dismissively. “We’ve been over this. No one in the organization has power like Jane here. She could easily take both of you at once. Plus, with the heroes breathing down our necks, we need power like that to keep our position intact.”
“Well, I certainly approve,” Anna agreed lewdly. She immediately approached Iona and offered her hand. “It’s going to be a pleasure … working with you.” Iona just glared at the outstretched appendage like it was diseased.
“You know she snapped one of the bouncer’s wrists for trying to touch her,” Makar mused aloud.
Raising an eyebrow at that, Anna retracted her hand to rub at the wrist of it with the other one. “Really? How delightfully violent.”
Trying to ignore Anna, Iona turned to Makar. “You did not inform me that you were dealing with hero problems before I agreed to this.”
“Well naturally, I needed something from you or I would not have risked bringing a veritable stranger into my organization,” Makar replied smoothly. “You needn’t worry, though, Pteechka. We will be able to handle their interference easily now.”
Iona had assumed that he’d needed her for something, but he’d given the impression that it was about admiration or possibly lust, not help with a war. This revelation certainly shifted the scales on their agreement, but not enough to make it not worth more to Iona than it was to Makar. She didn’t really relish having to fight heroes again, though.
Sitting up in the rafters of the warehouse, Iona frowned as she watched her subordinates gathering. None of them could see up there, allowing her to watch and listen while they milled about before they started grandstanding for her benefit. She was not impressed with what she saw.
For the most part, the middle management of Novak’s organization didn’t seem pleased to have a newcomer, a young girl no less, put in charge of them. Some of them felt like they deserved the position instead of her, others felt like it had to be some sort of trick and that she would betray them, and yet another group just presumed that she was the boss’s new mistress being given a position that she had no qualifications for. No matter which stance they held, it was infuriating to Iona. She was getting so tired of people not respecting her. Sitting there looking down upon the gathering, she thought about how easy it would be to just unleash her wrath upon them, scattering them like leaves in the wind. Then, they would respect her – if any survived.
“Patience,” Iona whispered to herself. She’d been through this many times before in her efforts to subjugate criminals to her will. These curs were little more than sheep, bleating loudly until the wolf put them in their place. They would fall into line easily enough after that, and their degrading comments would turn to adulation. It was so predictable that it was boring. She wondered if it might not be worth it to punish at least a few of them just to do something different for a change.
“I should probably get started,” Iona muttered in an exasperated tone, once everyone seemed to be gathered. Immediately, she hopped off her seat, turning herself to air so that she could float gently down to the ground. Several members of the group were startled enough to reach for weapons when they saw her, before they realized who the girl had to be and calmed down. Even in their calm state, they looked at her with nervous suspicion.
The moment her feet touched the ground, Iona shifted back to solid and looked out at the gathered men with a gaze of superior disinterest. “Good evening, gentlemen,” Iona greeted with no warmth in her voice. “I do not wish to waste any more of my time on you than I must, so I will be brief. I am, as you have hopefully surmised, Mistral, your new boss. I do not know how any of your previous bosses might have handled things, but I expect punctuality, precision, and complete compliance from my servants. As such there will need to be some changes in how things are done.”
“We ain’t yer servants!” one of the men called out, followed by a few faint murmurs of assent from the gathering.
Iona’s gaze immediately oriented on the man that had spoken, her eyes narrowed and cold. “Is that so?” Iona asked as she stepped toward the man, her voice completely calm and neutral. “Then I suppose if I told you to kneel before me, you would say no?”
“Damned right I would,” the man responded defiantly.
Stopping in front of the man, Iona smiled up at him. “I was hoping someone would say something like that,” she told him, right before she used her power to make the air vacate his lungs.
Instantly, the man realized something was wrong, clutching at his throat as he tried to draw breath. No breath was coming, though, no matter how hard he gasped for it. Not a single molecule would move down his throat until Iona deigned to allow it.
All around, the other criminals backed away a few steps in fear, several glancing toward exits or reaching for weapons. No one made a move to actually act, however. They could clearly see what happened to those that tried to defy Iona.
“If you wish to ever breathe again, you will kneel before me,” Iona told him as she glanced at her nails in a show of disinterest. They were perfect as always.
“Never,” the man mouthed, unable to make words without air to give them sound.
Iona shrugged. “Well, I can hardly fault you for wishing to die for what is important to you. Hopefully, whoever I find to replace you will find living more important than foolish defiance.”
The man’s face started to turn blue as he struggled to breathe, clawing at his throat and looking around pleadingly at his fellows. Not a single one moved to help him. All they did was cower as they watched him slowly dying.
Meanwhile, Iona observed the entire display with amusement, waiting for the moment where defiance would turn to fear. The man had a more resilient will than most, but eventually that moment came and fear filled the man’s eyes. The next moment, he dropped to his knees.
Iona waited one painfully long moment, just long enough to make him doubt if she would spare him like she’d promised, before returning breath to the man. “Now, was that so hard?”
“N-no ... ma’am,” the man croaked, gulping down air between words. His fear was evident in the way his voice trembled.
“Good,” Iona replied brightly, before turning to address the rest of the crowd. “In spite of what you have just witnessed, I am not particularly fond of having to hurt those that serve me. As long as you follow my orders, there will be no need for further incidents like this, and business will run smoothly and profitably for all of us. Now, with that out of the way, we should move on to the changes that will need to be made to your operations.”
Eyes shut, Iona sat cross-legged on her bed, carefully going over her fight with Makar in her head. It served a dual purpose, helping her try to figure out a weakness that she could exploit in their next fight, and keeping her mind off the excruciating boredom that came with stagnation. Unfortunately, she made little progress with either.
In spite of her best efforts, Iona could not find a way for her to defeat the force field manipulator. He was very powerful and well versed in the use of that power. Worse, force fields were especially frustrating for her to combat because they blocked her ability to control things past them, and were immune to her warping effects. There didn’t seem to be any way for her to overpower him with either speed or force.
“Or maybe there is ...” Iona mused. She doubted she could generate a wind capable of shoving through one of the man’s force walls, but she didn’t necessarily need to. Every such mutant had some sort of weight limit. If she dropped something that exceeded that limit on top him, that would overwhelm his force field and crush the annoying man. Given how strong Makar was, it might require her to topple a building on top of him, but that would not be a difficult task for her. All she would have to do is turn a few key parts of the structure to air to make it collapse.
Iona grinned at the idea. Makar would have just enough time to realize what a fool he had been before he was crushed to death. The show of power would likely even cause other organizations to fear her, maybe even convince them to capitulate immediately upon her request. If not, she would just bring them to heel on her own, even if it meant tearing the entire city down.
The grin twisted into a frown as Iona reached up to rub her temples. Innocent people would die … a lot of them. Even if she only toppled abandoned buildings it would be difficult to make sure there was no collateral damage or bystanders around. At the same time, what did a few lives matter to her? It wasn’t like such people weren’t pitiful fodder anyway. They were the kind of meaningless drones that were always the first to be sacrificed for something greater, and Iona definitely was something greater. For those that lived, her divine rule would be more wonderful than anything that they had ever known. A few lives would be nothing compared to that.
“No!” Iona growled angrily, trying to reassert control over her thinking. She wasn’t a goddess, and people’s lives weren’t hers to toy with as she pleased.
The sinister thoughts tried to regain control, tried to remind her that the sky was above all and did as it wished, but Iona ignored them. Instead, she just hopped off her bed, knowing it would be futile to try to think for a while. She needed to find a task to occupy her mind.
Finding a task was a problem in and of itself. Iona had little to do while she waited for the month before she could duel Makar again to pass. It had taken a few days to get her new area properly under her control, but now that she’d handled that, all that remained were the mundane task of managing it. Not only was it dreadfully dull to her, but there also just wasn’t that much to it. Her job mostly entailed working as an enforcer when smaller groups of criminals refused to pay their share or there was some dispute amongst her subordinates to mediate.
Sitting at her desk, Iona stared at her computer monitor for a moment, trying to think of something to do or even to think of what she’d done before she’d become Mistral. “I suppose I used to do homework?” she mumbled uncertainly. That sounded at least somewhat correct to her. She’d been in high school before, but being on the run had put an end to that. She supposed that she could study on her own, now, but Iona doubted that it would be very interesting. Still, it was something to do that required focus and thought and that was what she needed at the moment. With a shrug, she opened a browser and started searching for resources to get started.
“Hmm,” Iona hummed softly as she flipped the page of her book. As she did her other hand tapped her pencil eraser against her notepad to try to help alleviate her boredom some and keep her focused. There would be little point to the studying if her mind started to wander.
The book that sat on the coffee shop table in front of Iona had been bought only that morning, but now at lunch it was already nearly half finished. Thanks to a combination of high natural intelligence and mutation induced mental improvements, she had sped through the chapters whenever she had spare time. The notebook that rested beside it was also much of the way used up, full of all the problems that she’d worked to perfection. It was all mostly busy work to keep her occupied, but at least it felt like improvement of some sort. Anything was better than the horrid feeling of stagnation that had plagued her ever since she’d agreed to serve under Makar.
“Is this seat taken?” a male voice asked.
Iona looked up from her work to see a young man standing there. He was somewhere in his early twenties with strong features and a clearly well-built physique under his hoodie. In simpler terms, he was what most people would call ‘handsome’.
“No,” Iona answered, turning her attention right back to her book.
The man sat down in the seat, and took a long drink of his coffee. “Mmm, that’s just what I needed. Now, I might actually be able to stay awake through calc three.”
Turning her attention from her book, Iona gave the man a curious look. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Nope, just making small talk,” the man said before offering his hand to Iona. “I’m Chris by the way.”
“Jane,” Iona answered, giving the hand a brief shake.
“Do you come here often, Jane?” Chris asked.
That question earned an immediate head shake from Iona. “No,” she answered without any elaboration. The chatter was starting to get on her nerves. It was difficult to keep focused during conversation, and this guy didn’t look like he was going to give up soon. She never should have stopped in a coffee shop outside of her usual area. The people there knew that she was not to be disturbed.
The lack of anything to play off of had Chris silent for a moment, but it didn’t last. “Do you like clubs? There’s a great one just a couple blocks from here that my buddies and I hang at a lot. Maybe you’d like to come.”
The continued blathering served only to further agitate Iona. It was so annoying, like the buzzing of a gnat. Just like a gnat, it would be so easy for her to just swat him away. He’d definitely think twice about bothering someone like this again.
Iona clenched her teeth tightly and closed her eyes. After taking a couple of long deep breaths, she opened her eyes again and leveled them at Chris. “No thank you, Chris. I am just too busy right now,” she answered, forcing herself to be polite. He was just trying to find a date, and he was being far less obnoxious about it than most. She wasn’t interested, but that was no reason to not be civil. Normal people were civil. “In fact, you will have to excuse me,” she told him, starting to gather up her things. “I have somewhere to be.”
“Oh, of course,” Chris replied. “Don’t suppose I could get your number and we could chat again sometime?”
“I am sorry, but no,” Iona answered, scooping up the last of her things and striding quickly away.
“What now?” Iona huffed, rising from her seat to grab her phone off her bed. She hated it when people disturbed her. It was always something stupid and trivial, but for some reason they always felt that she should waste her time on it.
“Capes raiding storehouse on Jameson. Get there,” Makar’s text commanded.
With an annoyed sigh, Iona moved to get ready. She hated fighting heroes, but she hated the idea of letting anyone damage her domain more, and she did consider all of Makar’s criminal empire to be hers. After all, someday, it would be.
A moment later, dressed in her costume and minus her wig, Iona stepped through the wall of her apartment and took off into the air. The city sped by quickly underneath her as Iona flew toward her destination. She loved the feel of the cold night air rushing past as she zipped along, and the way everything below her seemed so small and insignificant. It was both liberating and empowering. It was a rare treat as well. Due to her desire to minimize the use of her powers, she rarely got to travel in such a manner. As such, she made sure to enjoy it while she could.
Unfortunately, the rare treat of flying didn’t last long. Soon, Iona arrived at her destination, a rundown looking apartment complex that served as brothel, storehouse, and crack den for this section of the city. It wasn’t in her area of control, but when heroes were involved all of the lieutenants were expected to respond no matter where it was.
Judging by the noise coming from within, the fighting had already started. There were clearly sounds of gunfire and men shouting, likely whatever grunts had been assigned to work the location since heroes always had better weapons and abilities to use than firearms. Such chattel were always useless in a fight.
Carefully scanning the building, Iona oriented on a few flashes that could be seen through a couple of the second story windows. Quickly, she flew over that way and stepped through the wall into a small unoccupied apartment filled with boxes. Knowing that she would search the building for underlings that were too cowardly to fight, and heroes that needed to be subdued, she decided to start from right there.
Leaving herself intangible, Iona got moving again, extending her senses out along the air as far as she could. Walls and doors hampered her to some degree, but it did allow her to get a pretty decent sense of the hallway and neighboring rooms, if only in rough outline. A few men with guns were holed up in the room further down the hall, while a single person stalked slowly toward them. That person was undoubtedly a hero. Iona made a note to reprimand the cowards for hiding while orienting herself to handle the hero threat.
Perfectly silent in her wind form, Iona floated to the door to the hall and waited there patiently. While she was eager to fight, after three defeats to various mutants, she’d learned to temper that eagerness enough so that she could at least wait for an opportune moment to strike. No matter how powerful she was, if her opponent had abilities that could affect her wind form, they might get lucky and take her out.
The moment the hero passed by, Iona stepped through the door and out into the hall behind them. The hero was a woman, amazonian in stature and surrounded by glowing golden armor. Judging by the armor, and the matching sword and shield that she carried, she seemed to be some kind of manifestor, likely a pretty powerful one – not that it mattered. Her armor could be strong enough to withstand a nuclear blast. She still had to breathe.
With a quick tug from her powers, Iona robbed the woman of air. Immediately, the woman sensed something was wrong and spun, slashing across with her sword. The move was quick, but Iona easily floated back out of the way, not wanting to risk letting the blade cut her just in case it might be able to hurt her. Many energy weapons could, and the blade was glowing.
The woman pursued Iona, slashing at the blue-haired teen repeatedly, but Iona just continued to give ground before the offensive. Iona knew that, the more fervently the woman pursued her, the faster that she would lose the battle to oxygen deprivation. She also knew that keeping the close quarters made it easy for her to maintain the control that she needed to deprive the woman of air. In spite of that, she did create a blade of her own from pale blue mist, just in case she needed to parry something.
Such caution didn’t seem like it would be necessary, however. It only took a few slashes for the manifestor’s movements to start to slow, and her eyes, barely visible through slits in her helmet, started to glance about in panic for some way to escape. Seeing the distraction, Iona took the moment, rushing forward after one of the woman’s swipes to slash with her own blade. Surprised the woman hopped back, far enough that Iona’s blade merely nicked her armor with the point before being deflected away.
The hop cost the woman, though. Dizzy from lack of air, she failed to get her feet under her properly, causing them to slip out from under her. The next moment, she flopped onto the floor with a loud crash.
Iona stepped forward, becoming solid as she stomped a foot onto the woman’s sword arm to keep her from attacking. There were a few more moments of faint struggle before the woman finally slumped. As soon as she did, the golden armor and sword vanished, leaving a statuesque blonde unconscious on the floor.
For a moment, Iona just stood there regarding the hero. Killing capes brought trouble, but at the same time, the woman had dared to attack an enterprise that Iona intended to claim as her own. One dead hero would make the others far less likely to consider such a transgression again.
“She is just doing her job,” Iona mumbled, trying her best to maintain reason in spite of her considerable power use. Decision made, Iona returned breath to the woman, watching her suck in air even while she was unconscious. “I hope you appreciate that, hero.”
Turning from the unconscious woman, Iona listened for sounds of more conflict that would demand her attention, but none were forthcoming. Either this had been the only cape to attack, or the others had been pacified by Makar and his underlings. That information had her turning back to the unconscious hero. “Well I can not have someone killing you after I chose to spare your life, so I should probably move you.”
Bending down, Iona grabbed the blonde, lifting her in her arms. She was by no means small, probably a half foot and several pounds of muscle bigger than Iona, but the powerful teen handled the burden without trouble. A quick walk through some walls made insubstantial, and the hero was resting comfortably behind some trash in the alley where it was unlikely that anyone would murder her before she regained consciousness.
With the hero handled, Iona returned to the building, searching for Makar or one of his lieutenants to see how the rest of the fight had gone. She found the crime boss in the main lobby of the building. On the ground in front of him was a costume man that had been squashed to a pulp.
“I see your fight went well,” Iona remarked as she made herself solid, dropping lightly to the floor in the process.
“I suppose. He wasn’t much of a challenge, though,” Makar sighed in disappointment. His gazed lingered on the corpse for just a moment before he turned to look at Iona. “Did you fight one as well, Pteechka?”
“I did, but she fled from me. I thought there might be more foes, so I did not pursue,” Iona lied, determined to make sure that her decision to spare the hero went uncontested. Otherwise, she would’ve loved to tell him the truth just to spite him.
“Sadly, there aren’t,” Makar informed her. “Anna and Timor should be bringing down the final member shortly.”
Iona nodded. “It would seem that I was not needed then.”
“Always good to have too much firepower rather than too little. Besides, you still have … other attributes of note,” Makar replied, giving the pretty teen a lewd wink as he did.
Iona glared at the man in disdain. She could just collapse the whole building on top of them right now, bringing an abrupt end to the arrogant little shit that thought he could put a leash on her. She’d delight in watching his life crushed from his body, and it wasn’t like anyone in this building was innocent. In fact, they all probably deserved death as much as–
“Get moving, worm!” Anna’s voice interrupted Iona’s line of thinking. It proceeded a loud grunt, following by a brown haired heep tumbling down the stairs to crash painfully onto the tile floor of the lobby. At the top of the stairs, Anna appeared, grinning from ear to ear in an expression bordering on rapturous as she walked down the steps. “Look at my new pet!”
Iona glanced toward the groaning pile, wondering what horrors awaited the poor sap that had been captured by Anna. There was little chance that he’d make it out of this alive, that was for sure. It was really just a question about how much fun the barbarians decided to pry from his flesh before they finally let death claim him.
“Not very lively, is he?” Makar remarked as he looked over the captive.
“Just … resting … between rounds,” the man huffed, shoving himself up to his hands and knees. The sound of the voice seemed familiar to Iona, pulling her full attention to the man just in time for him to look up. When she saw the man’s face, she froze in shock.
Kneeling on the ground with an obnoxious grin on his face was James Young, the hero that had twice captured Iona. He was also the reason why she’d left her old city behind to come here. She’d hoped to have left this man, with his annoying inclination for interfering with her life, behind her as well. Apparently, she hadn’t been so lucky.
Makar laughed. “So you have some fight in you after all! Good! It’s more interesting that way.”
“Just give me a bit to fix the circuits sparky over there fried in my suit and I’d be glad to show you how interesting I can be,” James shot back.
Before Makar could respond, Anna kicked out a foot, driving James painfully back to the ground. “Who said you could speak, pet?”
“I didn’t realize we were playing mother may I,” James joked from the ground where he clutched a hand to his ribs. His lighthearted tone was at odds with the pained expression on his face. “Alright, how about, mother may I go fix my suit?”
The joke earned James another kick, once more in his clearly injured ribs. Iona winced at the attack, clenching her fists tightly at her sides. God, he was still such an annoying idiot. What kind of fool antagonizes criminals, so that they can get hurt even more.
“It would seem mother said no,” Makar commented. “Still, I must give you points for the attempt. It’s far better than all that begging and pleading people usually go with when they face the end.”
“I aim … to please,” James managed to wheeze from where he was curled up on the floor.
Anna delivered another swift kick to James’s ribs. “I said no speaking!” she yelled, though she seemed to be more pleased than angry at his continued efforts at resistance.
“That is enough!” Iona growled angrily, a gust of wind adding emphasis to her words as it knocked Anna from her feet. The reaction surprised everyone there, even Iona, leaving an awkward moment of silence as the teen tried to figure out what she should do next. “This is not the place for such childish games,” she finally added weakly, trying to explain away her outburst.
Anna hopped to her feet, clearly furious about being struck. “You fucking bi-”
“Enough, Anna,” Makar ordered, seeming quite amused by the whole affair. “I’d rather not have to find your replacement because you couldn’t wait to play with your toy.”
“But she –” Anna started to protest.
“Would kill you easily? Yes, I know,” Makar finished for her. “Take your plaything and go.”
Anna glared at Makar for a moment, but quickly conceded the point. “Timor!”
“Ya, Anna?” Timor called as he stepped into view at the top of the stairs, a pile of metal in his arms.
“Grab the man. We’re leaving,” Anna instructed before spinning and storming out. With a nod, Timor did as directed, following behind Anna.
The moment the two were gone, Makar turned to Iona. “I find it very amusing that the fearsome Mistral, who is well-known for suffocating people that disobey her, gets squeamish over a minor beating.”
“I do not approve of senseless barbarism,” Iona replied coolly.
Makar smirked in amusement. “Is that so? I’m sure you realize that your actions will only make Anna torture him all the more, don’t you?”
Iona shrugged. “I do not care how she amuses herself, so long as I do not have to watch her do it.”
“Very well. I shall tell her to keep it out of sight, and in turn you will never attack her again,” Makar told her, making it sound like a command even with the gentle easy tone of voice that he used. “If you have issues like this again talk to me before you act, and I will do my best to resolve it. I like my subordinates alive and happy.”
The command rankled Iona a bit but she nodded in concession. “Understood.”
“Other than that, good work tonight,” Makar added. “Go get some rest.”
Soaring through the air, Iona searched for Anna’s car below. No way was she going to let Makar intimidate her into leaving the other woman alone. She would not let him tell her what she could and couldn’t do. There were only a few places within the Anna’s domain that the woman would both go and could use for torture, and Iona was intent on searching all of them for her target. Once she found the criminal, she’d take her toy away from her as a show of superiority.
Sweeping a city was a slow process even with some idea idea of where to look, but eventually Iona found what she was seeking. Anna drove an insanely ostentatious car for a criminal, an expensive, cherry red convertible that was easy to spot even in the dark. It sat outside of one of the safehouses that Makar has scattered throughout the city in case any of them needed to go to ground in a hurry.
Knowing the limited security features of the place, Iona drifted down to the roof, a blindspot for the exterior cameras, and used her powers to make it insubstantial, allowing her to drop into the house below. Once inside, she drifted toward the stairs intent on using them to go down rather than risk warping through the floor and dropping in right in front of Anna. The woman was an energizer that generated electrical bursts, one of the few powers that Iona knew from experience was very effective against her. It would be best to avoid that power by sneaking up on the woman.
As she approached the stairs, Iona heard the sounds of pained grunts and cries from what had to be James, intermingled with taunts from Anna. Iona picked up her pace, relying on her insubstantial nature to keep herself quiet as she moved. She darted quickly down the stairs and through the open door into the basement.
The basement of the safe house was one large room, lit by a few dim, yellow, overhead lights. Chained to the wall that was left of the stairs was James, hanging there limply with his hair all frizzed out and naked from the waist up. Anna stood in front of him with her back to Iona as sparks ran along her fingers.
“Mmm, you are so … resilient,” Anna purred right before she reached out and pressed her hands to James’s bare chest. The man jerked in pain as the electricity raced through him, locking up all his muscles at once.
The sight caused Iona to lash out in anger, creating a powerful cross wind to knock Anna away from James. Anna yelped in surprise as the sudden gust picked her off her feet and sent her flying. The yelp proved to be all that she had time for before she slammed into the far basement wall with literally bone-shattering force – a fact emphasized by several loud cracks. As quickly as it had appeared, the wind vanished, leaving the woman to crumple limply to the ground.
Iona stalked toward the woman, summoning a blade of mist as she did. She’d kill this pathetic little wretch, then she’d find Makar and toss her headless corpse in front of him. It would be the perfect gesture of dominance before she crushed him in turn.
“Iona … stop …” James wheezed, sounding on the verge of death.
Halting her advance, Iona glanced back toward the injured man. He was badly hurt, clearly in need of urgent medical attention, if he was going to live. At the same time, though, Iona could feel Anna’s breathing, shallow and weak, moving through the air. She wanted so very much to just go over and crush the last breath from that horrid woman.
Growling in frustration, Iona tossed her blade away, letting it dissipate before it even hit the ground. She hurried over to James and reached out to rest a hand on each of the shackles that held him. They immediately became as substantial as air, letting James fall out their bondage and into Iona’s arms.
“Aw … I’d love … to dance …” James joked weakly, even managing to sound flippant as he did it in spite of his injuries.
“You are such a fool, James,” Iona chided, as she created a solid sheet of air to serve as a gurney for him.
“Sure … am …” James agreed. “That’s … what makes me … so lovable …”
Iona stepped through the automatic door of the ER with James floating along behind her on his literal air bed. He’d lost consciousness during the flight to the hospital, but she could tell that he was still breathing, and she intended for him to continue doing so. For that to happen, though, she needed to get him aid. Luckily for her, an obvious mutant with an unconscious man floating behind her got an immediate reaction from the staff, as one of the nurses behind the counter rushed over to help.
“What happened?” the nurse questioned hurriedly as she rushed over to James.
“Severe beating and electrocution,” Iona answered calmly.
What followed was a whirl of motion as staff moved quickly. The nurse checked on James, while an orderly arrived with a normal gurney. Iona obligingly set James down atop the mobile bed, even if it was clearly inferior to the one that she was using to move him. Finally, a doctor arrived just as they started to cart James away.
Iona moved to follow, only to have a nurse block her path. “We’ve got him from here, miss. Just take a seat and –”
Breath vanished mid word, silencing the woman. “I am not letting him out of my sight until I know he will live, and I will kill anyone that tries to get in the way of that. Understood?” The nurse nodded rapidly, getting Iona to return breath to her lungs. “Now, if you will excuse me ...”
Leaving the frightened nurse behind, Iona hurried to catch up to the departing gurney. No one tried to stop her this time, allowing her to keep pace with the gurney and follow them wherever they went. She listened to the doctor giving directions as they moved, but most of it was medical jargon that she didn’t understand. Only one phrase had much meaning to her and that was when the doctor said, “Tell surgery we’re on our way.”
At the surgery suite, Iona made enough of a concession to the staff to stay in the surgeon prep area where she was able to watch the entire procedure. There was little that she could from there besides watch, though, having to let the doctors do their work. Standing there just looking on at what might be James’s last moments, she actually felt powerless for once.
In the midst of that feeling, the door burst open, pulling Iona’s attention from the surgery room to the tall, and very angry, blonde that was storming toward her. Iona immediately recognized her as the hero that she’d spared at the storehouse. However, she didn’t appear to be very appreciative of that fact.
“What did you and your friends do to him, you fucking bitch!” the blonde yelled as she got threateningly close to glare down at Iona.
Iona simply stood her ground, matching the woman’s gaze. “I did nothing to him but save his life, much like I did yours when I had you laying helpless and beaten before me, you ungrateful rube.”
The retort served to force the woman to check herself. “Well, then what did happen?”
“He was captured during the fight, and unfortunately for him, not by someone as generous as me. She decided to use him for amusement and tortured him. I tracked her down and put a stop to it,” Iona answered. “Far more than you managed to do.”
“If you hadn’t interfered, he’d never have been captured in the first place, because I would have been there to stop it,” the woman accused.
Iona smirked in amusement. “Stop it? You would have just joined him in his fate, or the fate of your friend that got crushed to death. Be glad I was there to save you both from your stupidity.”
“We wouldn’t even have been there if it wasn’t for you!” the blonde shot back before spinning and storming right back through the door she’d entered through.
For several moments, Iona just stood there. She wondered what the woman could have meant by that. Had they been looking for her? Was it somehow her fault that they’d been there? Iona couldn’t really think of any explanation for why James would be here in this city other than to pursue her. That wasn’t fair, though. He’d wanted to kill her, or consign her to fates that were as bad as death. It was hardly her fault that she’d fled, and he was smart enough to know that chasing after her was dangerous. Iona turned back to the operating room where the doctors continued their work to save James’s life. Suddenly, she felt something that had been incredibly rare since she’d become Mistral – the heavy weight of guilt.
“Iona?” James asked softly.
Iona turned her gaze from the window to the bed where James had been sleeping until moments ago. Now, he sat up slightly, looking at her in confusion. That was something of a relief.
“Hello, James,” Iona returned the greeting.
“What are you doing here? Did … did you save me from a car battery?” James inquired, both questions seeming to be sincere in spite of the latter’s absurdity.
“I did save you, although, not from a car battery, and I stayed to make sure that you survived,” Iona answered. “I also believe that your hero friends intend to arrest me the moment that I attempt to go anywhere else.”
James chuckled weakly. “Well, they can’t very pick a fight with you with all these innocent bystanders around – at least not while you’re behaving. You are behaving, right?”
Iona smiled mischievously. “I doubt the hospital staff approves of me much, but I have not hurt anyone – other than a quick threat to one of the nurses when we first arrived to make sure that no one got in my way.”
Slumping back against his pillow, James sighed heavily. “What am I going to do with you, Iona?”
“I think you should probably be more concerned with what I am going to do with you,” Iona pointed out. “You are hardly in a condition to fight me, and you do not even have any of your fancy trinkets with you at the moment.”
“True, but I doubt you’d piss off your villain friends and go to all that trouble to save me just to kill me now,” James pointed out.
“You have been certain of my intentions before, and it did not work out for you,” Iona reminded him.
James smirked. “You didn’t kill me then, either.”
“Clearly a mistake given how you immediately tried to throw your life away by coming here,” Iona responded smoothly. “Why are you even here, James? Are you that eager to kill me?”
“What?! Of course not!” James protested.
“You have to realize that if you keep coming after me eventually one of us will die,” Iona pressed. “If it is not me you want, are you angry that I spared you? Do you want me to finish the job? Would that make you happy, James?”
James frowned. “That’s not fair, Iona.”
“Not fair?!” Iona growled angrily. “Then what is fair, James?! There are no other endings to this! Once your friends get their hands on me, I will be all but dead, all because I was stupid enough to save your life! I do not even understand why I did or why you are here! Neither makes any sense!” She turned away from James to hide the tears before they started to fall. “You were supposed to stay away.”
Several moments of silence passed before James spoke again. “You aren’t going to be in trouble if you leave, you know. At worst, they would return you to your mother, and maybe scold you for causing trouble for the staff.”
“What?” Iona asked, rubbing at her face to clear the tears away. “Am I not wanted for attempted murder?”
“No. There weren’t ever any charges filed against you,” James told her.
Confused, Iona turned back to James, eyes clearly red and puffy from crying. “Why not?”
“I’ve told you, Iona. I’m not in the business of ruining lives,” James answered. “When I actually woke up after … our last encounter, I made sure they weren’t filed.”
For a moment, Iona was at a loss for words. “That … that does not change anything, James,” she finally stammered. “You still chased after me.”
“Of course, I did. I may not have been willing to turn you into a human popsicle, but you still have problems that you need help with,” James retorted. “I reached out to my friends, and one of them, Auria, mentioned that a blue-haired teen had shown up on the criminal side of things here, so I came looking for you.”
“Auria? Is she a tall blonde with a bit of a temper?” Iona asked. James nodded warily, clearly concerned that something bad had happened to his friend. “She is alright,” Iona assured him. “I subdued her at the storehouse, and left her outside so that she was not killed. She was not particularly grateful about it, though.”
James chuckled. “Yeah, I imagine she’d be pretty pissed about that, actually. She doesn’t like to lose.”
“She was,” Iona confirmed. Once again, the two trailed off into an awkward silence, though, this time Iona spoke first. “I am sorry that you got hurt because of me, James.”
James shrugged nonchalantly. “There’s no need to be sorry. It could have been a lot worse, if you hadn’t saved me. Besides, this is just the price I pay for butting my nose into things where no one wants it.”
Visiting hours were long passed, but no one dared to try to force Iona to leave the hospital. Instead, she just sat there in James’s room in the dark and nearly empty building, listening to the rhythmic sound of his breathing. It helped her think.
Iona had a lot to think about that night. James had risked a lot for her, and not just the fact that there had been a chance that she would kill him if they ever met again. He’d also kept away her legal troubles, troubles that could easily have landed her in cryo-freeze somewhere. It would have been tantamount to death for her, but it also would have kept her from hurting others.
No matter how hard she tried, Iona couldn’t understand why he’d done any of it. He was a hero, at least she thought he was, which meant it was his job to protect people from psychotics like her. It wasn’t like she was magically going to get better either. She did her best to keep herself controlled and rational, but she frequently slipped. It was only a matter of time before one of those slips resulted in the deaths of a lot of people, and it wasn’t like she was an upstanding citizen even when she wasn’t slipping. When that lethal mistake finally happened, she knew that it wouldn’t be so easy to forgive.
“I should just go,” Iona mumbled softly. If she stayed, eventually, she’d hurt James, or hurt someone else and James would shoulder the guilt for it. All she had to do was look at him lying in that hospital bed for proof of that. If not for her, he’d be back in his home perfectly fine. He was an obnoxious pain-in-the-ass, but she didn’t like seeing him hurt.
Sighing heavily, Iona rested her head in her hands, trying to figure thing out. Even now, at a point where she had greater mental clarity than she remembered having for months, stray thoughts whispered at her to just slip away and return to taking over Makar’s empire or even to kill James in his sleep, so that she’d never have to feel like this again. Caring about someone only made her weaker.
Thankfully those whispers were weak, but only because they were drowned out by emotion. Guilt and worry plagued her, two emotions that she had barely felt since she’d completed her transformation into Iona. It made her feel almost human, for once, an idea that her twisted thoughts found simultaneously desirable and revolting.
The sound of footsteps in the hall tugged at Iona’s attention. They didn’t sound right. All of the nurses on duty, even the male ones, were quite light on their feet – undoubtedly to avoid waking sleeping patients. She’d certainly never heard any of them clomp about in boots like these people were doing.
Rising from her seat, Iona shifted into her gaseous form before floating silently over to the door. Rather than than peek out into the hall, she let the wind serve as her eyes. It outlined everything within several dozen feet of her in her mind, including a pair of large men that were walking her way.
Not sensing any other threats, Iona pressed against the wall, waiting to ambush the pair. They weren’t approaching particularly quickly, and their breathing was pretty regular, so there didn’t appear to be any need to rush. She’d wait for her moment, then take them both quickly.
“Hey dude, that’s the room,” one of the guys said, both of them stopping in the hallway to peer at James’s room.
“The one with that mutant chick that everyone’s pissing themselves over?” the second one asked.
“Yeah. Apparently, she nearly choked one of the nurses to death, then chased off some hero that came to confront her,” the first one added.
The second man sighed. “Fucking mutants, man. Should get rid of the whole lot of ‘em.”
“Yeah? Why don’t you go in there and tell her that yourself,” the first one goaded.
“Hey, I said should, not that I was going to do it myself. I ain’t throwin’ my life away,” the second one answered. “Now, come on. We’re supposed to bring that stiff down to morgue, and I don’t want to have to spend any more time around that mutant chick than I have to.”
“Coward,” the first one teased.
Returning to solidity, Iona relaxed against the wall. She was pretty annoyed at their topic of conversation, but she wasn’t going to attack a couple of orderlies over their bigotry. At least they weren’t hit men or something like she’d first thought.
A crash from the other side of the room immediately pulled Iona’s attention away from the men in the hall. It was followed by a loud thunk as something heavy smacked against the floor. Through the dim light, Iona could barely make out a vaguely brick like shape laying on the ground, with what appeared to be another brick attached to it with wires.
Iona darted forward, closing the distance as quickly as she could. The only wired block someone would toss through a window was a bomb, and if it was on a decently long timer, she could toss it back outside before it exploded. As she moved, she hardened the air around the device, just in case she didn’t make it in time.
An explosion rocked the room, shattering the airy cage that Iona had tried to build around the brick. Though much weakened by the barrier, the wave of force created by the explosion was still enough to swat Iona away. She flew a few feet through the air before she crashed painfully into the ground.
Smoke and dust filled the air while Iona tried to get the world to stop spinning and her ears to stop ringing. Neither of which obliged her as she got unsteadily to her feet. Coughing at all the dust in the air she quickly made her way over to James’s bed, finding it overturned by the explosion. On the far side, James sat propped up against the wall, groaning in pain.
“Are you *couch* hurt?” Iona asked as she knelt down beside the man, inspecting him for signs of new injuries. She could barely hear her own voice over the ringing.
“Nothing *cough* *cough* that didn’t *cough* hurt before,” James joked.
“Thank God!” Iona exclaimed, lunging forward to wrap her arms tightly around the man, eliciting a yelp of pain that backed her off. “Sorry.”
“Maybe not so tight. *cough* I’m fragile,” James suggested, chuckling weakly.
Iona sighed as she leaned against the wall outside James’s new room. The doctors had finished patching up the minor damage done to him from the explosion and her hug, leaving him to rest. While he did that, she had little to do but wait. She knew what she wanted to do, though.
Obviously, the attack had been from Makar. It made sense, since James had seen them all at a crime scene doing criminal things. One witness wouldn’t be enough to convict anyone, but it would certainly go a long way in getting warrants, which would be inconvenient at the very least. It was a lot easier for Makar to just eliminate the witness.
Logical or not, Iona was furious about it. If not for worry that they’d try again, she’d have flown off immediately to deal with Makar. She didn’t care if she had to topple the whole city to crush him. He’d pay for this.
“Well if it isn’t the blue-haired nuisance,” a female voice remarked.
Iona looked up to see the tall blonde from before, apparently called Auria, approaching. “What do you want?”
“I came here to check on my friend. I hear someone tried to blow him up with a bomb,” Auria answered.
“James is fine,” Iona told her.
Auria smiled at the news. “Glad to hear it, but I wonder how long it will last.”
“What do you mean?” Iona asked.
“What I mean is that first you nearly choke him to death, then he gets tortured right to the brink, then he almost gets blown up,” Auria accused. “Being around you seems to be the fast track to an early grave for him.”
Anger and guilt fought briefly for the right to speak, but Iona ended up caving to the latter, slumping slightly. “I did not ask him to come here.”
“Yeah, well, that doesn’t change your friends trying to kill him, does it?” Auria pointed out.
“They were never my friends,” Iona corrected.
“You were in their gang, ran their stuff, helped them kill one of my friends, and nearly killed the other,” Auria pointed out. “Sure sounds pretty buddy-buddy to me, and even if it wasn’t, you’re still just as much a criminal as they are.”
This time, anger controlled Iona’s reaction, as her eyes narrowed to slits. “You should be careful with what you say to me,” Iona warned, controlling herself only because the woman was a friend of James’s. If not, she’d have been choking to death already for daring to speak to Iona like that.
Auria waved a hand dismissively. “Typical criminal, you immediately turn to threats the moment you don’t like what someone has to say. Go ahead and do something. It might finally convince James that there’s more wrong with you than just a few loose screws, and I love to see you put on ice.” Air swirled as Iona’s anger built, causing papers to rustle and hair to flutter. “Is the little brat about to throw a temper tantrum?”
Sinister thoughts whispered in Iona’s head, telling her to just do it, to slaughter the arrogant sow for her rude manners and crude insults. It’s not like Auria was a threat to her. Even if she had friends, Iona could just kill them too. She could show them all that they were beneath her, and always would be.
Iona was just about to call upon her power when she caught herself. Taking a deep breath she forced herself to calm down, refusing to let Auria goad her into acting exactly how the blonde wanted her to. She would not lose to her own mind. She was better than that.
“You are pathetic,” Iona finally told Auria. “Coming here to harass me because you are upset that you lost a fight.”
Auria bristled at the comment. “That has nothing to do with it!”
“Really?” Iona asked. “Then why are you standing in the hallways trying to pick another fight with me rather than in there with James, the guy you supposedly came here to see.”
“This isn’t over,” Auria hissed, before shoving past Iona to stomp into James’s room.
“Man, she was pissed. What did you say to her?” James asked after Auria had left and Iona had returned to the room.
“She tried to provoke me, so I reminded her how the last fight had turned out for her,” Iona answered.
James burst into laughter, although, it didn’t last long as he winced and clutched at his side. “I bet that was hilarious to see, but you aren’t making a friend of her, that’s for sure. It wouldn’t hurt to be a little nicer.”
“I am not trying to be friends with her,” Iona replied.
“Well, I suppose, it won’t matter soon. It’s about time we got you back home,” James announced. “I’m going to be stuck here for a little while, but I suspect you can manage the trip back by yourself. I should at least arrange a plane for you, though, even if you can fly.”
Iona shook her head. “No, James.”
“What? You actually want a chaperone?” James asked incredulously. “I guess I could get a friend to do it. I just figured you’d say no to something like that.”
Iona shook her head again. “No, James. I meant that I am not leaving, not until I settle things with Makar – permanently.”
“You’re joking …” James remarked, clearly more hopeful than certain.
For the third time, Iona shook her head. “No, James.”
“Damn it, Iona. Be reasonable!” James growled. “I did not get myself half killed trying to help you, just so that you can go throw it all away. He might be scum, but that doesn’t stop it from being murder if you kill him. Auria is just looking for an excuse to go after you, and vigilantism like that will give it to her. Of course, that assumes Novak doesn’t just kill you himself.”
“Both him and Anna have tried to kill you, James, and I would be surprised if he does not have plans for my demise as well,” Iona countered. “I am not going to just wait around for the next bomb or hitman to show up to try to finish the job. I am going to end this.”
Leaning back against his pillow, James sighed in frustration. “This is a really dumb plan, but it’s not like I can stop you from a hospital bed, and I’m pretty sure if anyone else tries to stop you, it will just make it worse, so .... I guess good luck, and if you happen to see the gear they took from me, I’d like it back.”
“I will look for it,” Iona assured him, turning to walk out of the door. “Goodbye, James.”
Standing on the roof of a nearby building, Iona looked down the street toward Makar’s club. She was pretty sure that he was in there at that moment. It was the headquarters of his operation and where he spent the vast majority of his time. As such, it would likely also be the battleground for their fight.
The security features of the place were pretty good, but nothing Iona thought would hinder her any. The bouncers were all armed with conventional firearms, which couldn’t hurt her, except for the two that stood outside of Makar’s office, and they would be easy for her to dispatch. There was too much security camera coverage to truly sneak in, but that would only mean that the fight with Makar would be fair and not an ambush.
Of course, Iona had known all of that before she’d even come here. Security measures were never going to be the problem. Makar himself was the problem. The only strategy that she had for beating him involved destroying the club, killing potentially hundreds of people in the process just to defeat him. Part of her wouldn’t be bothered by that at all, but after that kind of slaughter, she’d be lucky to end up imprisoned in cryo afterwards, and no part of her was crazy enough to want that. Without that strategy, though, Iona had no idea how she was going to win – not that something as minor as that would stop her from getting her revenge.
“I should probably get started,” Iona told herself, not seeing how anything would be improved by her waiting around. Every moment that passed was just another moment that Makar had to plot the death of her and James.
Shifting to air, Iona took off, cutting across the distance in only a few seconds to hover above the club. After another second to gauge the right spot, she landed lightly on the roof, warping it into air. Passing through the roof, Iona dropped into one of the side rooms on the third floor, staying in air form as she did to minimize noise.
The room was unoccupied at the moment, but it was well furnished, with a large table in the middle. Atop the table sat a pile of what at first glance appeared to be junk, but what Iona quickly realized was James’s stolen gear. It was badly battered and broken, clearly not usable.
“I will have to come back for it,” Iona noted as she moved passed the items.
Pausing at the door, Iona waited for a moment, using her ears and wind sight to make sure everything was exactly as it should be in the hall beyond. There were the two guards at the double doors, Makar’s office that Iona couldn’t see into, and not a single other person was visible Even the other nearby side rooms were empty of people. Makar either hadn’t considered that someone might attack, or he was merely confident that he could handle anyone who did. That he didn’t consider her a threat just made Iona angrier.
Stepping forward, Iona passed right through the door and into the hallway. The guards were too well-trained to be lax, and they spotted her immediately, reaching for their weapons as quickly as they could. A powerful gust of wind caught them before either pistol could leave its holster, lifting the two men off the ground to slam them against the office door with a loud thunk. Instantly, the wind vanished as the two men crumpled to the ground.
Iona floated forward cautiously, half expecting the door to burst open to allow reinforcements to come piling out while she did. There were no reinforcements, though, and neither guard made a move toward their weapon. One of them was already out cold, and the other merely groaned weakly, dazed by the attack.
Regaining her solidity as she reached the door, Iona delivered a swift kick to the one that was still awake to drive him the rest of the way into unconsciousness. Once she was sure he was out, Iona bent down to take both of the guards’ weapons, just in case one of them woke up. She didn’t want anyone to interfere while she fought Makar, especially not with weapons that could shoot her while she was in her air form.
With the security handled, Iona straightened again. She reached out to touch the door and it gladly turned to air to allow her to step through and into Makar’s office. Inside, Makar sat at his desk, elbows resting on the wood and chin resting in his hands. No one else was in the room, nor were there any signs of additional security measures. There was just Makar with an amused grin on his face, clearly waiting for Iona’s entrance.
“Welcome back, Pteechka,” Makar greeted warmly. “I do hope that you have not permanently damaged my friends out in the hall. It is hard to find men so experienced and well-trained.”
“They will live,” Iona stated coolly as she dropped the weapons she’d taken on the ground.
Makar nodded as he rose from his seat and walked around to the other side of the desk. “I must admit, Pteechka, I was most distressed to hear that you had attacked Anna after our little talk. I thought we had a deal.”
“Something more important to me came along, so I broke it,” Iona answered simply.
“Ah yes, the man that you were so protective of before,” Makar remarked. “He did not seem particularly handsome, but I suppose he was funny, and women always say they like a man that can make them laugh. However, I don’t believe I’ve ever actually seen you laugh.”
Iona smirked. “Maybe that is because you are not funny.”
Makar laughed heartily. “Ha ha! I do still love that bite you have. It is a shame you decided to betray me.”
“You should not have tried to kill James,” Iona answered.
Makar sighed. “Well, I suppose that brings an end to the banter then. We should probably get to the fighting. That is why you are here, is it not?”
Iona nodded. “It is.”
“Then I wish you luck, Pteechka. You are going to need it,” Makar answered.
A wall of telekinetic force and a gust of wind rushed outward simultaneously, crashing into each other in between the two combatants. Wind howled as it shoved against the wall, creating a momentary standstill. It did not last long, however, as the wall started to creep forward against the gale.
Maintaining the wind as best she could, Iona shifted to air and darted upward, determined to fly over the wall while her wind held his attention. The wall, little more than a shimmering ripple in the air, shifted upward to block the teen’s path, forcing her to a stop. Meanwhile, Iona directed the wind below her to surge forward, cutting under the lifted wall to roar toward Makar.
The man merely stood there impassively as the wind howled toward him. Right before it slammed into him, it crashed into a shimmering bubble, every bit as impossible to break through as the wall that held Iona at bay. Makar shot a look up toward Iona and shook his head, making it clear that she’d have to do better than that, if she wished to beat him.
Eager to oblige, Iona tapped the ceiling with her hand, darting up through it. She raced along the roof a few feet before diving back down, cutting into the office behind Makar. He was glancing about to search for her, but was not particularly frantic or worried as he did, allowing Iona to dart toward him before he noticed her.
Mist swirled in Iona’s hand to form a blade as she extended it for her dive. There was a loud crunch as the blade struck the bubble around Makar, sounding almost like thunder in the confined space. A faint crack appeared along the bubble while Iona’s blade shattered into fine mist.
Spinning around, Makar slashed a hand across and a wall of force slammed into Iona. It hit hard enough to snap her left arm before swatting her across the room. Makar wasn’t quick enough, though, to catch her with a second wall of force before she reached the wall of the office, which obligingly collapsed into air as she passed through it.
Back out in the night air, Iona clutched her broken arm tightly to her torso, and gently slowed her momentum. She’d managed to crack his bubble, so if she could get close again, she might be able to manipulate the air within, or even just break it entirely with another mistblade. She had to get close, though, which meant trying something risky.
Hoping to throw Makar off, Iona dove right back through the same spot that she’d exited from. Makar wasn’t looking that way, but he was far more cautious than he’d been before, allowing him to spot her as she tried to close the gap. A wall of force placed itself in Iona’s way, and the teen lurched herself downward, barely managed to cut underneath it as it tried to move to block her. The wall vanished so that Makar could summon another, but he wasn't’ quick enough.
Iona created another blade, looking to strike the crack that ran along the bubble. As she did, she worked on her back up strategy. Focusing on the air inside of the bubble, Iona tried to take control of it, but she couldn’t get it to respond to her commands. Apparently, the force field was still airtight.
Just as Iona was about to strike, Makar’s bubble pulsed, and a wave of force shout out from him in all directions. It slammed into the teen, knocking her blade from her hand and tossing her back toward the wall. This time, with Makar was fast enough with his abilities, giving Iona nothing to pass through as her momentum careened her into his force wall.
Blood sprayed from her lips as Iona slammed into the barrier, several more of her bones cracking from the impact. Through the pain, she couldn’t even focus enough to keep herself intangible, leaving her to flop unceremoniously to the ground. Resting on her uninjured hand and knees, Iona coughed weakly, each one accompanied by another spattering of blood on the floor beneath her.
“You aren’t looking so good, Pteechka,” Makar mocked.
Iona’s fury flared at the remark. He was nothing, just an arrogant criminal that leered at her like some kind of pervert. She wouldn’t – couldn’t – lose to him. It didn’t matter who died, even her, as long as she killed him.
“What, no snappy comeback? No last defiant declaration?” Makar taunted. “I guess your fire has finally be snuffed out – a pity. I’ll make sure to send your funny friend pictures of your flattened corpse.”
Mention of James snapped Iona back to rationality. Abandoning plans for defiance, Iona warped the floor beneath her and fell through to the level below. There was a loud thud above her as the floor resolidified behind her just in time to intercept a wall of force intended to squash her like a bug.
Shifting to air, Iona barely managed to halt her descent before she crashed into the floor below, an impact that she certainly would not have been able to take in her current state. Nearby dancers gasped in shock at the sight of the blue-haired teen falling from the ceiling, but she ignored them. Instead, she oriented on the nearest wall and darted straight through it, bursting out into the night air beyond.
Pain wracked Iona as she zipped through the air, leaving her struggling just to maintain her air form. She had no idea how far she could make it before she regained solidity and splattered all over the pavement below. Judging by the stabbing pain that accompanied every movement that she made, there was a lot of damage – so much that she wasn’t even sure that her regeneration would be enough keep her from dying. For once, she needed help.
Angling toward the hospital, Iona put on as much speed as she dared. She kept herself fairly low to the ground as she zipped along the streets, so that at least the fall wouldn’t instantly kill her if she turned solid. As she flew, all her focus was on keeping herself gaseous and getting to her destination, slowly losing speed along the way as it got harder and harder for her to stay conscious. She managed to just step inside the emergency room before she collapsed.
Consciousness found Iona eventually, bringing her into a world where her whole body ached. Groaning in pain, she forced her eyes open only to end up squinting against the bright lights beaming down at her. Through the glare, she could see little other than that she was in a bed somewhere that had far too many lights.
“Mornin’ roomie. How’d that plan work out for you?” James’s voice teased.
Iona tilted her head to the side, regretting it at pain stabbed through her neck. The movement did allow her to look at the bed next to hers, currently occupied by James, who looked a lot better than she felt at the moment. “Not well …”
James chuckled in amusement. “Well that’s no surprise. It was a really dumb plan. Still, I am glad to see you survived it somehow, and apparently didn’t murder anyone to boot.”
“I found your gear as well,” Iona added, gingerly trying to sit herself up a bit. It hurt a lot to get up, eliciting a few whimpers, but once she did found a decent spot, it wasn’t so bad. “I forgot to bring it with me, though.”
That remark earned a brief chuckle from James that quickly drifted into silence. “You really scared me, you know,” James told her after a few moments, actually serious for once. “The doctors weren’t sure you’d make it even with your regeneration.”
“I would have won, but …” Iona trailed off.
“But what, Iona?” James asked, but no answer came. “I wish you would have just listened to me. There will be other opportunities to stop Novak.”
Iona frowned. “I could have stopped him.”
“Really? Then how did you end up almost dying in the streets?” James demanded
For several moments, it seemed like Iona was not going to answer again, but she finally sighed. “Because winning would have been worse than losing …”
“What are you talking about, Iona?” James questioned.
“I am talking about how beating Novak would have meant killing everyone in his club!” Iona finally blurted. “He is strong, but not so strong that he can hold up an entire building. I, however, could easily bring one down on top of him. A few carefully chosen supports turned to air, and it all would have been handled. Of course, it would have killed everyone inside along with him.”
James paused for a moment to process what Iona had said. “But you couldn’t do it. Why? When you left here, you seemed pretty dead set on killing him no matter what it took.”
“It was because of you,” Iona admitted, hanging her head. “You have forgiven a lot from me, but you would not have been able forgive that, and … I guess that … matters to me … for some reason.”
Suddenly, arms wrapped themselves gently around Iona. “I care about you, too,” James told her. There was a brief moment of warmth before he pulled away and coughed uncomfortably. “You know … in a purely platonic … father-daughter kind of way.”
Iona giggled softly. “Whatever you say, James.”
Eyes shut, Iona sat cross-legged on her bed. Thanks to her regeneration, there wasn’t even so much as a scar left to indicate that she’d nearly died a couple of days ago. She could easily have left the hospital already, but James was being kept for one more day, so she didn’t see the point.
“Something on your mind?” James asked.
Iona shook her head as she turned to face the man, opening her eyes in the process. “Just trying to keep myself focused in spite of how boring this is, James.”
James chuckled. “Well, no one said you had to wait for me to be released. You can get yourself home faster by yourself than with me anyway.”
“I still do not think we should be leaving before we handle Novak,” Iona noted in a voice that was much calmer than she felt at that moment. Even just thinking about the man’s name made her want to race off and start the fight all over again. She hated feeling inferior to anyone.
“Yeah well, we tried it your way, and it didn’t work out so well, now did it?” James countered. “Now we’re going to try it my way, which means that the fifteen year old that ran away from home is not going to go fight a murderous super criminal to the death, and is instead going to stop being a criminal and go back to her home where she belongs.”
“Fine, James,” Iona conceded. “But, you know that taking me back there is not some panacea for my situation. How long do you think it will be before you have to chase me down again?”
James laughed. “Well, let’s just hope I don’t have to. I barely survived it this time!”
“Be serious, James,” Iona chided.
The reprimand got James to sigh heavily. “I don’t know, Iona. Sometimes, you seem like you won’t ever have a problem again, and other times ... “ he trailed off into silence rather than finish that thought. “It might be better for you to be somewhere better suited for handling … troubled teens like yourself.”
“And where is that, James, a cryo cell?” Iona remarked morbidly.
“No, a school actually,” James answered. “One that is used to difficult cases like yours. Probably won’t be perfect, but nothing ever is.”
Iona shot James a skeptical look, but he seemed to be quite serious about the idea. “If you think it will help, then I will give it a try.”
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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