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The Perils of Enhancegirl 12: Maidens of the Underworld

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Private First Class
Private First Class
Great Britain
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Joined: 3 years ago

Post 8 months ago

"Let's go again!" Yumi Tae-Yeong urged. The petite, Korean songstress was sweating, her grey vest damp, her cheeks flushed red, and her slender, graceful legs moist from her exertions. It had been an exhausting day. Yumi's muscles ached for sitting at the mic-stand for so long, her voice was beginning to waver and weaken, and even her shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair was dishevelled from the many times she'd run her hands through it.

"Miss Stellar..." A sound engineer on the other side of the glass from the 'Stunner from Seoul' tried to summon his courage. This was the sixth day of a marathon recording session. Not only had they recorded the vocals for an entire album's worth of new tracks in Korean, Stellar had arrived with rearranged versions of both these and some of her older records to be recorded into English, having provided translations herself. Not only that, but she had insisted on re-recording these translations over, and over, not permitting herself one note out of place, or one lapsed 'l' or 'r' sound. "Miss Stellar...can we take a break?"

"Soon, Reynaldo," Yumi said. The twenty-two year old artiste was, on most occasions, one of the sweetest, nicest young women a person could care to meet. But when it came to her music, there was a touch of ruthlessness in her. "But we have to get it right!"
"I don't mean to sound like an asshole, Miss Stellar, but unless one of your powers is superhearing, there's no way you could have thought that was any better than the last three tries. We've got it, trust me."

Yumi pouted slightly. She didn't quite agree with his assessment, but she also was a little wary of criticism. Not in that she was sensitive or opposed to it: she was merely all too aware how easy it was for a celebrity to become utterly intolerant of being told she was wrong.
"Okay, you're right," she said. She felt a slight croak in her voice as she said this: whether Reynaldo had been right or not, his timing had been fortuitous. Leaving her booth, she came into the control room. Hyuk-Woo Lee, her manager, was standing near the back, knowing not to interfere in this part of the process. Often had Yumi wished that he exercised such restraint in other areas of her professional life.

"Thank you, Reynaldo," Yumi said, grabbing one of his hands with both of hers and shaking it with aplomb. "We've done good work!" She sounded relieved.
"Um, whatever you say, Miss Stellar," Reynaldo said, suppressing nervous excitement in his voice. Keeping focused and professional with the stunning starlet when she was on the other side of the glass was one thing; doing it when she was right there in front of him, smiling so bloody charmingly, was quite another. He was acutely aware that if, right then, she'd asked to do more recording, he wouldn't have even blinked before saying yes.

But Stellar chose not to exercise her power, and was a few minutes later in the back of a very nice car. Finding the seats really quite comfortable, Stellar realised just how tired she was. But she was not so tired that she did not do what she always did when she had a spare moment: she took out her journal and began writing.

There was an order to her scribblings that only she understood. A tangled mess of English, Korean, and even an unwise attempt to compose a song in French, Yumi's writing wasn't limited just to potential song lyrics or melodies. She wrote poetry: generally on a pastoral theme, in various kinds of verse, though she often found herself writing poems about lilies. She'd felt a burgeoning need to express herself artistically in ways that her music would not allow, though she continually felt frustrated at her efforts. In the first instance, she felt as if she had failed again and again to express something about herself that she just hadn't been able to get out. In the second instance, she simply wasn't a very good poet.

Returning to her gorgeously stylish apartment in Seacouver's most glamorous district, far from the grime and post-industrial resentment of its docks, Stellar realised that Lee had got out of the car with her.
"Mr Lee," she said, expecting this to be enough. He blinked at her. Clearly she'd been wrong. "You have to go back to your house."
"Oh! Uh, I know that. I just wanted to..." He floundered. "Tomorrow morning you have an interview with 'Capes International' at nine-thirty. Don't be late, Miss Tae-Yeong!"
"I won't," she said, patiently. She had been well aware of the meeting. "Sleep well, Mr Lee." She tilted her head to the side slightly, a sweet smile enhancing her already formidable magnetism. She had that quality that made almost everyone she spoke to feel like she was taking them into her confidence.
"Goodnight," Lee said, as she turned away. He shook his head, lovelorn and quite conscious of the hopelessness of his affections. Sometimes he wished he could just bring himself to quit. Yet the thought of denying himself the sight of her smile...he never felt he'd quite had his fill of it.

Twenty minutes or so later, Yumi came out of a hot shower, her sumptuous skin - a sort of pale kind of tan - steaming from the hot water still trickling down her flawless body. Naked, she had her long, reddish-brown hair tied up into a ponytail, her small, but perfectly formed breasts bouncing slightly as she walked. As she entered her bedroom, she pulled her formerly discarded panties up her satin-smooth legs, and slipped on a black vest. Tripping lightly with her dancer's feet, she hopped deftly onto her bed, crossing her legs underneath her before she even hit the mattress.

She was almost grinning. She'd been looking forward to this all day. Picking up a small, black device in both hands, she turned on the voice-activated television - and two minutes or so later, began the first game of Journey that she'd had in months. She breathed out slowly, letting the game's ambience absorb her concerns about her work, her self-expression. She had been an almost obsessive gamer when she was a girl, before becoming completely obsessed with music in her early teens. She'd only recently rediscovered video games, and she'd been glad to have done so.
"Sometimes, you need to escape," she thought to herself, even as she stifled that uncomfortable feeling in her chest she'd been experiencing for some time now. She'd wondered if it was homesickness - for she certainly missed her sisters and her friends - but no, it had started before she'd left Korea.

After thirty minutes of her diversion, she found her eyelids becoming heavy.
"Oh, darn!" she exclaimed, though her irritation did not dispel her tiredness. "I was just starting to become involved in the atmosphere!" Even alone, she spoke English as much as she could, just for the sake of practising. With a tired huff, she switched off her game, lying back on her bed.

She felt herself drifting off almost immediately, her still-moist legs crossed at the ankles, one hand resting on her chest, another seeking the cool beneath her pillow. She felt her own breathing become heavier, slower. Gently, softly, darkness came upon her like a thin, silk covering. Her limpid, light-brown eyes fell gradually closed, and she drifted into sleep.

She lay there, quite undisturbed, for two hours, plus change. She may have fallen to sleep with the elegance of a fairy-tale princess, but she slept rather more mundanely, swishing about to and fro. By the time her peace was disturbed, she was on her front, her lovely legs at decidedly odd angles, both arms having sought the cool of her pillow's underside by now. She was still, however, quite asleep.

Though her day had been spent with her musical face very much at the forefront, Yumi bore another face, or rather three: for 'Stellar' was not just a stage name, but her identity as a superhero. Formidable, and fairly powerful, Stellar was not an opponent lightly to be toyed with. Yet, even Achilles had to sleep, and while perhaps Yumi was no Achilles, she was certainly quite somnolent. She lay, her unconsciousness dimming her beauty not one iota: she lay there, the maiden truly lovely, and truly vulnerable...

This much was to her disadvantage. Awake, she would certainly have detected the presence in her room, certainly have done something to prevent what happened next. How had she entered? It was hard to say. One of the windows seemed to...waver, somehow, as though the glass was no longer certain of its solidity. What was she doing? Again, it was difficult to say. She seemed to be making strange movements with her hands, pointing, gesturing,making symbols with her hands - not sign language, but just as complex. What did she want? That was was easy. One only had to follow her eyes.

She wanted Yumi.

"Mmmh..." the starlet sighed, rubbing her face against her pillow. She didn't notice as the thin, white, silk sheet that lay over her was pulled back, even as it passed her feet. For she was having a dream in which Easy Rider-era Jack Nicholson kept putting post-it-notes on her cheek and she was starting to get irritated with him. It looked rather sweet, but the intruder wasn't looking at her face, beautiful though it was. She was looking at her svelte, trim figure, her hips, her nude legs. Was her gaze lustful? It was hard to say.

It was hard to say much of anything about the woman that was watching Yumi sleep. She was cloaked in shadow, not merely by stealth but by will. Was this the reason for the unquestionable confidence in her stride - nay, her strut - ? She began the same odd interplay of her fingers that she'd begun before, as though she were weaving in empty air.

It seemed that this gesture was equally empty - yet after a while something did begin to happen. The sheet that had slid from Yumi's tender body began to...well, it was not quite clear at first what it was doing. It was contorting, moving back and forth - stretching, but not stretching like it was being pulled too hard, but stretching as though it were being viewed through warped glass.

Eventually, this unsettling of reality ceased, and the intruder made a much simpler movement. At this impetus, the sheet began to unwind, stripping itself into long, thin ribbons, sliced with a precision beyond the mechanical. The ribbons did not settle, however. Their creator did not give them time. As soon as the sheet was fully cut up, it began winding itself around Yumi's limbs. It slid up her back, first, though, finding Yumi's thin wrists. Slowly, it pulled them together, until the songstress' hands were resting next to each other on the small of her back.

Then, with a crack like a bullwhip, three ribbons snapped round Yumi's wrists, securely binding them together, then racing in a wavy pattern up her forearms, forcing them into one limb, and pulling back her narrow shoulders.
"Mmmhh..." Yumi mewed, her slumber disturbed. She felt like someone was holding her arms behind her, but she was still much too sleepy to sense any danger, merely rolling her shoulders a little, and wiggling her wrists.

She only really woke up when several ribbons shot out at once, seizing her soft calves, and slamming her legs together, wrapping layer after layer below her knees, keeping Yumi's beautiful limbs tightly bound.
"Wha...what?" Yumi moaned, still able to turn over despite her bondage. She saw herself illuminated by moonlight - saw her svelte, petite body...and saw it tightly, securely trussed up. "Aaahh!" Yumi cried out, shocking herself into wakefulness. "What's...what's...going on?!" she shouted, in Korean, beginning to throw herself from side to side. Still disoriented from her vivid dream, she couldn't think what was happening to her at first - and it wasn't as if she could see her captor, either.

Finally, Yumi regained her presence of mind to realise that - somehow - she had been captured. It was real, and she had to do something about it.
"A Black -" She hesitated. She'd been about to switch to her simplest, and most frequently useful power set, that which gave her super strength. Though the Black Star's strength was hardly heavyweight by the standards of superhumans like Imperion or Valora, it would have been more than enough to snap her bonds. Yet her power came with a strange weakness - the contact of soft, silky materials drained her strength, made her weak.

A small matter in itself. Yumi could have chosen the Blue Star and frozen them, or the White Star to blast them away with sound. The problem was that she'd hesitated at all. As she did, one more ribbon of silk shot out and, as Yumi gaped at the apparently motile silk, it wrapped itself around the lower part of Yumi's head, between her jaw and her nose - completely sealing her voice.
"NNNMMPHHH!!" Yumi cried out, realising she'd been fatally slow. Gagged, she truly was helpless, unable to speak the words that would activate any of her powers. "Mmph! NNMPHH!!" Thrashing back and forth, Yumi felt her bonds as disturbingly soft caresses against her smooth skin, her wrists, her thighs, her lips - all bound!

Her captor watched Yumi's confusion from within her shadowy cloak, tittering quietly as she saw Yumi's wide-wet eyes, the way she wriggled her supple limbs against her bed, as overwhelmed and powerless as a princess in a fairy tale. She could see from the way Yumi moved how limber and delectably flexible she was, and idly wondered about all sorts of ways that the starlet could bend.

She listened to her muffled cries, watched the flush on Yumi's cheeks as the captive maiden felt her lips stroked by the silk with every muzzled whimper. The damsel looked around for something she could cut herself free with, and rolled to the side. As pleased as she was to see Yumi's small, perky little rear, she didn't want the songstress rolling away.

As Yumi braced herself for the impact with the floor, she threw herself off the bed - but she didn't land.
"Whmmph?" Blinking, Yumi saw that she hadn't moved. Or rather, she'd moved - bound she may have been, but she wasn't paralysed. She just hadn't changed position. "What happened? I - I thought I moved, but...?" Shaking her head, she rolled to the other side this time, squirming her petite body so that she didn't hit her head on her bedside table. She rolled off - and found herself right back on the bed again. "Oh no! No, I'm sure I rolled off that time! Something's I dreaming again?"

It didn't seem all that foolish to suppose this. She'd even had one or two dreams like this before, where she'd been captured and bound. It was generally her old foe Arachna - the first person ever to capture her - who featured in the role of captor, and this silk didn't feel nearly sticky enough.
"Mghmph..." Yumi mewed, confused and dismayed. She drew her sumptuous legs up to her chest, and tried again to break free, but to no avail. The tightness around her lovely limbs certainly felt real...

As Yumi pondered this, her captor continued watching her. The way her long, reddish-brown hair, slightly frizzy from having just been shampooed, brushed against her shoulders, as she turned her head from side to side. In fact, the woman who'd caught and bound the delicious young damsel gave herself too much credit. As she watched Yumi sitting still, a bead of sweat from her fear and exertion visible on her brow, she imagined that Stellar had been mollified, had accepted her defeat. In fact she was just perplexed and trying to think what to do. But the effect, at least, was the same: she didn't fight. And so her captor chose this moment to reveal herself.

At first, the bound beauty simply didn't notice her. Nothing in the room seemed to have changed - until the woman spoke.
"Come one, come all! See the sight that has enraptured millions - now packaged for your viewing pleasure!"
"MMPH!" Yumi squealed as, quite suddenly, she found herself staring up at the mastermind of her captivity.

She wasn't tall. She wasn't muscular. She wasn't clad in an aura of power. Yet just looking at her, Yumi felt herself become fearful. She was about 5'6", of a relatively athletic build, her short, dark-brown hair in a tomboyish, short cut. She wore a tight-fitting, black blazer, buttoned up to her neck with gold studs, two coattails trailing from her back. Pointed dress-shoes adorned her feet, and tight, black trousers covered her legs. A short top-hat sat upon her head, her sleeves ended in white ruffles - and indeed, there was a Jacobean ruff around her neck. All of this rather put Yumi in mind of a stage magician, yet it didn't explain her fear.

Was it her eyes? Sharp, wider than they should have been, slightly manic when the rest of her face was the picture of smug, self-satisfied control. They were blue, actually rather beautiful in their crystalline depth, and probably the woman's most attractive feature.
"She must have done this to she a telekinetic?" Yumi thought, recalling how her gag had simply sealed her voice of its own accord. This was certainly an intimidating prospect, yet it still didn't explain the chill running through the songstress whenever she looked upon her captor.

"I hope you're not too uncomfortable, Miss Tae-Yeong," she said, her voice theatrical, almost booming. "I endeavoured to ensure that your bonds were as soft as could be...are you enjoying them?"
"Whhmh? MPH!" Yumi mewed, as the silk that bound her limbs, began moving, sliding back and forth across her body. Silk strips slipped around her chest, tightening her arms' bonds as they were secured to her back, yet also stroking the undersides of Yumi's breasts. "Mmmhh..." Yumi whimpered, as her smooth, gorgeous legs were stroked as well, her shapely calves and her soft, vulnerable thighs...

"You may call me Mysteria," her captor said, taking a step forward, seeing a sensual embarrassment mingle with Yumi's distress. "I'm what you might call an agent of chaos." She laughed. "Oh dear me, that sounded much less pretentious in my head! I do apologise."
"Mmgghmmphh..." Yumi wriggled her shoulders, trying to loosen her bonds, but she could feel that she was caught. "Oh, why was I so slow?" she lamented. "Who is she? What does she intend to do with me...?" She felt herself blushing very brightly. She was all too aware of how beautiful she was, how scantily clad - and how perfectly helpless. She felt the fondling of her lovely body become even more intense, and she gave a small gasp. She couldn't help it - feeling her bare legs being caressed by silk was deeply pleasurable.

"Come to me, Yumi," Mysteria said, her voice now dropping into a stage-whisper. She made a complex gesture with her hands, and Yumi felt herself falling - falling up towards her captor. In an instant, she was on her feet, standing before this 'Mysteria'.
"Mmph?!" Yumi couldn't explain it. She hadn't felt like she'd been gripped or psychically manhandled - it was as though the whole Earth had shifted its centre of mass just to get her to her captor.

"There we are, sweetheart," Mysteria whispered, stroking one of her captive's pretty cheeks with the back of a gloved hand. "I see you're looking a little frightened."
"Mmmphh! Mmhhnngghmphh!" Yumi protested, shaking her body as she struggled, futile as it might have been, in her bonds. "I can't let her intimidate me! Being at a disadvantage doesn't mean I should give in - I have to keep trying!" Yet she couldn't think of what to do. Her legs were bound too tightly to kick, she couldn't hop away without being easily caught, and her gag, silky was it was, was as firm as anything, keeping her kissable lips sealed - and her powers with them. She kept wriggling, though, refusing to be cowed.

"There's no need, you know," Mysteria said, still in her stage-whisper. She put a hand on Yumi's back, and pulled her in closer. The damsel recoiled, but there wasn't much she could do about it. "I know what the rules are..." she said, stroking her captive's back with one hand. "I've captured you, so you should struggle and fight, and get yourself all riled up," she said, her accent shifting a little as she spoke, acquiring a distinctive Orange County twang on the last few words, "but if there's one thing you should know about me..." She leaned in, her voice dropping into a genuine whisper. "It's that I don't care about the rules..." She blew softly into Yumi's ear, and the songstress suddenly felt a shudder of pleasurable relaxation flutter through her.
"Mmmhhh..." she sighed, her eyelids fluttering.

Mysteria guided Yumi down by her shoulders, sitting her on the edge of her bed. As a professional performer and skilled dancer, Yumi quite naturally sat with a good posture, her back totally straight. Well and good - except that it had the unfortunate effect of making her look rather like an obedient schoolgirl. Certainly, her struggles were now significantly less vigorous then they'd been before, and a light blush was diffused through her cheeks.

"Do you know, I've never actually kidnapped anyone before?" Mysteria said. She smiled slightly, hearing Yumi give a little whimper at the word 'kidnapped.' "I thought it might be an amusing diversion, and it certainly has proved so thus far." Her eyes danced over Yumi's bound body as she said this. "Yet without an audience, there's hardly any point in us playing the game of evil captor and frightened captive, is there?"
"It's not a game!" Yumi silently protested. "You can't break into my house, tie me up, and then call it a game..."

"You'll have to be my audience, then Miss Tae-Yeong," Mysteria said. "So let me make this show." She took something out of her pocket, a small coin. She flipped it high in the air with one hand, then caught it in the other, before flipping it again. Yumi watched it go, watching the moonlight shimmering off its surface. She found her eyes unnaturally drawn to it.

"Yet I just don't know what to do..." Mysteria muttered to herself. "I could do all kinds of things. I could turn this room inside out, or upside-down,or I could make it so that you don't know left from right or...oh, my, are we paying attention?" She flicked the coin again. "You should be listening, Miss Tae-Yeong, but you can't keep your eyes off this coin."

Yumi found that Mysteria was right. As it spun, light flickering off its surface, Yumi couldn't take her eyes off it. The way its silvery surface flickered with light, like she was watching the Moon itself turn rapidly through its phases; the satisfying ring when it was flicked up and the sound as it slapped against Mysteria's palm; the perfection of its parabolic arc is it travelled from hand to hand. It was pleasant to focus on, a distraction from the embarrassment of her captivity, and the shame of her pleasure as she was caressed by her silky bonds. It was oddly relaxing...

"Oh, Miss Tae-Yeong," Mysteria said, her voice seeming to match the flickering of the coin. "For a performer, you're really not a charitable audience at all! Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd say it looks like you're falling asleep..."
"What? I'm not...not...ooohhh..." Yumi realised that Mysteria was right. Her eyelids were heavy, her breathing was slowing down. "I'm - I'm feeling...oh, tired..." Yumi felt her shoulders drop, felt what little remained of her struggling cease. Even as her vision started getting a little blurry, though, she couldn't take her eyes off that spinning, shimmering coin.

"You can't take your eyes off the coin," Mysteria said, lowering her whisper. "You can't seem to look away..."
"I can't look away..." Yumi repeated. "W...wait...she's...doing something to me! I have to - have to..." But even as this thought of resistance came, it slipped away like fine sand through her fingers.
"Well, if you're not going to pay attention, I might as well not bother, mightn't I?" Mysteria said, though she didn't sound remotely irritated. She flicked the coin up, and moved away, but it didn't fall down again. Instead it hung in the air, spinning over and over, still travelling in the same arc, back and forth as if Mysteria were still flicking it from palm to palm.

"What's...happening to me...?" Yumi thought, still not able to take her eyes away. "Mmhph...mph..." She mewed softly. "I'm being... I'm.... being mesmerised..." She quailed at his thought, giving a sound like a frightened dove, but it didn't help her escape it. She just kept staring, watching it go back and forth...back and forth...

"My stars, you look so sleepy, sweetheart..." The voice came from behind the stunning young singer. Somehow, Mysteria was now kneeling behind her, her hands on the maiden's shoulders. "You look like you might nod off at any second."
"Mmmmhhh..." Yumi moaned, unable even to turn her head, though by now she had only a minimal inkling of a desire so to do.
"You seem very relaxed," Mysteria said, brushing Yumi's hair away from her neck. "And why not? Who says a captive has to be feisty and resistant? Why not enjoy it if you're helpless?"
"Why...not enjoy it?" Yumi echoed, her brown eyes becoming dull, her eyelids half-covering them.

Yumi felt a pair of gloved hands gripping her by her traps, squeezing and relaxing, her thumbs tracing semicircles on the edges of Yumi's shoulder-blades.
"Mmmmhhhhhh..." Yumi sighed. If she'd felt relaxed before, the feeling was only more intense now. Mysteria was massaging her, and she was very, very good at it.
"You're so relaaaaaxed..." Mysteria whispered into her ear.
"I'm so relaxed..." Yumi echoed, feeling a lightness spreading through her pale-tan limbs, a kind of floating feeling. She felt the tension of her day - of her whole new, American life - feeling as if it was washing right off her. How could she resist that?

"Just keep watching the coin, sweetheart," Mysteria said, as she slipped the straps off Yumi's vest, baring her soft, warm shoulders.
"Hhhhhmmmhh..." Yumi purred, feeling Mysteria's ruff tickling her bare skin, before she felt her captor's lips on her neck. "Mhh!" Yumi exclaimed, a noise somewhere between a sigh and a whimper.
"It feels so pleasant having your shoulders kissed..." Mysteria whispered.
"It feels so pleasant..."
"You love having attention paid to your body...your neck... your bosom... your legs..." As she mentioned each of Yumi's sumptuous features, Yumi felt as if they were being kissed, softly and lovingly - yet Mysteria's mouth was nowhere near them.
"Y...yes...I love it..." Yumi thought, now thoroughly entranced, the heroine's mind subdued by her theatrical captor. It might have increased her humiliation to know that Mysteria was not telepathic - her hypnotism was a learned skill, not a superpower. Yumi was being dominated quite mundanely.

"Listen to me now..." Mysteria said, squeezing Yumi's shoulders. "You will feel...pleasure." At the moment she said this Yumi felt a tingling in her naked thighs. She blushed. "Every time you feel a kiss on your will feel that pleasure increase...and when it becomes more than you can bear - you will let your tiredness claim you."
"Mmh..." Yumi mewed, whether in assent or merely from sleepiness it was hard to say.

Mysteria let Yumi wait for a few moments, just enjoying the feeling of having the famous beauty helpless in her power, the sweet smell of her, the fineness of her skin. Soon, however, she kissed her, on the back of her neck.
"Mmhhh..." Yumi moaned, feeling a heat rising in herself. Her bound legs began shifting against each other. Another kiss, this time on one of her bare shoulders, and the captive songstress felt her heart thump harder in her chest. Still she watched the coin, its spinning keeping her mind as powerless as her lovely body.

"You like this like being a captive audience..." Mysteria whispered, kissing Yumi's ear.
"I...ohh...I like this...feeling..." Yumi thought. "Mmmhh!" Her head fell back, but Mysteria pushed it back up again, ensuring her eyes were locked onto the coin. She was squirming again now, rubbing herself against Mysteria, rubbing her thighs against each other, her body moist with sweat, her bosoms heaving in sensual pleasure.
"You can't hold this feeling in, sweetheart..."
"I...can't...hold it in..." Another kiss, this time on her neck. Yumi let out a long, slow moan, feeling her body quivering. There was a desperate intensity to it, even in her trance. Had she been conscious of this feeling, she would have been aware of a powerful sense of relief. When was the last time she had...been with someone?

As she quivered, trembling in Mysteria's arms like a leaf in the wind, her captor gripped her moist shoulders more tightly. Restrained in this way, the bound damsel felt the pleasure pulsing, throbbing through her, her breasts straining against the silk wrapped around her, her supple legs flexing and writhing against each other. A hand on her chin, and her head was turned to the left, for the first time looking away from the coin. She was looking into Mysteria's eyes. They were black, as though her pupils had swallowed her irises and the whites of her eyes. Terror mingled with pleasure and obedience, though it did not dim either.

Mysteria had an ineffable smile on her face. Indeed, it was almost as if her face were a mask, her true nature, her true emotions unguessable. She ran a finger over Yumi's silk-sealed lips, and licked her own. For a moment, a fraction of an instant, a glimmer of awareness returned to the captive beauty. She knew what Mysteria was about to do, and what would happen to her helpless, vulnerable body. Her expression changed from somnolent, entranced delight, acquiring just a touch of plaintive dismay.
"Nnh..." she whimpered. "Plhhss..." But a stroke of her cheek was all it took to bring her under Mysteria's hypnotic thumb once again. Then came the kiss - and with it Yumi's true defeat.

"Mh - mh - MHHHHH!!" Yumi screamed through her gag as she felt Mysteria's lips against hers. "MMMHHHHH!!" Her whole body shook, trembled. She felt a powerful pulsing between her thighs, a throbbing that sent waves of ecstasy throughout her limber, beautiful body. Her eyes went wide, her back arched, her muscles tightened...and then everything relaxed. "Mmmmmmhhh..." Yumi sighed, utterly spent. Obeying the hypnotic trigger that had been implanted in her, she began to sway to the side, her eyelids fluttering, a blanket of weakness settling over her.

Aftershocks kept striking the panting beauty, stirring her as she tried to obey, to fall into slumber. Mysteria decided to push her along a little, and cradled her close, stroking her slender neck and her thighs, feeling them moist with more than just sweat.
"Sleeeeep, my darling," Mysteria said. "Slip out of the waking world...let your pleasure carry you into undisturbed, gentle darkness..."
"Mmmhh..." Yumi whimpered in response. "So sleepy...ooohh..." She fell. She was unconscious before she hit the bed.

Mysteria let her fall, watched her sink into hypnotic slumber. She was still breathing hard, her soft cheeks scarlet, her bare thighs damp. Mysteria took her by the back of the neck, lifted her slightly. Her hair fell back, her body limp. Examining this further, Mysteria lifted Yumi's legs, holding her by her ankles. She didn't resist at all, her bare limbs, entirely in the villain's control. Holding them up straight, almost perpendicular to the rest of her body, she ran a hand underneath Yumi's long, shapely, moist legs. She slightly squeezed her calves, felt the particularly delicate skin under her knees, spread her fingers beneath Yumi's still-quivering, supple thighs. She let them back down, and breathed out slowly.

Mysteria allowed herself to feel just a little self-satisfied. She'd had easily subdued the petite beauty, bound her, gagged her - but that had hardly been a fair fight. Yumi had been asleep, after all. No, for her the real victory came from having entranced the starlet: hypnotising her, taming her - and making her cry out with helpless pleasure. A gorgeous, celebrated superheroine, reduced to a gasping, whimpering

Yumi's bonds responded, tugging her forward into a sitting position. Still unconscious, she immediately slumped forward, but Mysteria caught her. Lifting her by her shoulders, Mysteria pulled Yumi to her feet. She was not a tall woman, but Yumi was even shorter, and she was easily lifted up and over the woman's shoulder. Her long, bare legs trailed down Mysteria's body, still shifting together just a little in her sleepy, but otherwise limp and unresistant to the firm grasp that held them. Stroking Yumi's soft skin idly, she placed a hand on her small, firm behind and began carrying her away. She enveloped the two of them in her cloak of shadow, now, taking pleasure in the tangy scent she could smell from the mollified maiden.
"I see why Emily likes you so much," she laughed. "Dream now, Stellar, of the stars your name suggests - for I doubt you shall ever see real stars again."

"Ugh!" Enhancegirl grunted, as she blocked a sharp, accurate kick to her stomach. She was pushed back, but used the momentum to retreat a few steps. The slender, lithe redhead feinted right, then leapt forward, intending to knee her enemy in the chin. Her attack was far from inaccurate, but it was anticipated. Her knee was pushed back down, and she nearly lost her balance.

"Shit!" the heroine hissed, trying something different. She aimed for her opponent's knees, falling onto her hands before swinging with both legs at once. Her enemy dodged by jumping backwards, but Sophie had already made her next attack. She let her attack become a jump, throwing herself back onto her feet. She was about to try grappling rather than striking, but her enemy was too quick. A high kick caught her off guard, a pale calf striking Sophie in the side of the head.

"Unh!" She was stunned, and fell back, with much less control this time. Another kick hit her in the waist, then another even stronger on the opposite side. Finally, her opponent thrust her ankle into Sophie's solar plexus. She'd been so caught off guard by the assault that she hadn't controlled her breathing properly: there was too much air in her lungs when she was struck, and she was winded. "Gh! Hkk!" Sophie gasped, her eyes going wide in shock. "Nhhh..." She felt the strength go out of her legs, and she fell onto her pretty knees. "I lost..." she thought.

Yet there was no anguish in this thought. Even as she clutched her stomach, trying to restore her breathing to normality, she was smiling.
"Sophie, are you alright?" Her opponent asked. Though, as soon as she actually looked at the lovely young redhead, she had her answer.
"Yeah, I'm okay, Natalya." Sophie hopped back up, more or less recovered. "That was great. You totally kicked my ass!"
"Oh, stop it," the telepath replied.

The two heroines had met in a scarcely frequented boxing gym. Natalya Nazarov, otherwise known as the superhero Insyte, had been the one to request their meeting. Acutely aware of her poor combat record, despite her formidable psychic abilities, Natalya had asked Sophie to train her in hand to hand combat. This was their seventh such meeting, and this was by far the best that Insyte had managed thus far.

Natalya liked Sophie. Despite her withdrawn nature, she liked outgoing, open people more than those similar to herself, probably because there was less of a sharp disconnect between what they presented outwardly of themselves, and what they were actually like. They were too dissimilar ever to be the greatest of friends, perhaps, but the architect had become fond of her.

The two sat down next to each other on a bench, taking a breather. The alabaster-skinned, voluptuous telepath was wearing tracksuit bottoms, and a white vest top, which despite Natalya's modest intentions rather generously exposed her ample bust. Sophie was in a pair of tight, lycra shorts, and a midriff-baring t-shirt, always happy to show off her slender body.
"You finding this useful?" Sophie asked. "Like, obviously you're getting better, but do you feel more - I don't know, confident?"
"Yes," Natalya replied, after a pause. "Your style is so erratic that its good preparation for actually fighting people who want to do me real harm. More karate lessons were making me better at karate, but they weren't making me a better fighter. This is." She flexed her hand. "How are things with Mariko?"

There was a selfish aspect to this question, as well as genuine curiosity. As soon as her girlfriend's name was mentioned, Sophie's mind was awash with warm emotion. Love, of course, a sweet, burning resonance between Sophie and Mariko. Some of its desperate yearning had cooled since Natalya had first felt the two maidens' feelings for each other, but it was greater than ever, enriched and expanded by what they'd since discovered about each other. Then there was pride: pride simpliciter in her intelligent, celebrated superhero of a partner, but pride quite specifically in what she'd just achieved. Spectra was the newest member of the Pauldron, the most celebrated super-team in America, and Sophie could hardly have been happier for her. Natalya enjoyed feeling these emotions. Recently, talking to Sophie had been the only time when she actually enjoyed being a telepath.

Yet there were twinges of anxiety. Anxiety that something would happen, either that Mariko would be hurt by the Pauldron's powerful enemies, or that her poor social instincts would cause some kind of falling out, that she'd leave the team in frustration, or even be expelled from it. She feared Mariko's ego might not recover from such a disaster. Even in her mind, though, this was a worst-case-scenario. The vast majority of her psyche was confident that Spectra's star would burn only brighter and more beautifully as part of this new constellation.

There was a greater concern, though less well articulated. That Spectra would do too well; not that she would become more arrogant, necessarily, but that Sophie would be...mundane to her. 'You were so far above me,' she'd once said to Mariko, explaining why she hadn't considered the possibility of a relationship between them. There was this odd part of Natalya's friend of which she hadn't yet been able to pinpoint the source: she imagined herself as surrounded by wonderful people - her parents, Mariko, her friends - and she imagined this to be the result of sheer, blind luck. She didn't believe that she deserved any of it.

"Had a good look?" Sophie said.
"Oh - sorry..." Natalya cast her eyes down, going pigeon-toed. "I - didn't mean to pry..."
"Don't worry about it," Sophie said. She wondered how much she'd have been able to resist the temptation to snoop if she'd been a telepath herself. "Find anything useful?" Natalya shook her head.
"No. I still can't find anything." By this, she meant that she'd not been able to shed any light on the mystery of Sophie's powers. She'd searched Sophie's mind several times, but had never been able to find anything. No explanation as to where they had come from, and no explanation of why she'd only realised that she hadn't known a year and a half after getting her powers - or at least a year and a half after fighting Royal Rumble, which Natalya had determined was definitely her earliest memory of being Enhancegirl.

"Okay, let's go again," Sophie said. She hopped back up, and looked around, checking that no-one was watching. Natalya nodded, and stood up as well. She breathed out, crouching, with one hand near her stomach, turned upward, the other out in front of her, turned downward.
"Oh no," she said, as she saw what Sophie intended. "The last time I only lasted ten seconds..."
"Hey, you said you wanted to get better, right?" The long-legged redhead grinned. "Enhance!"

Sophie's sports gear vanished, replaced with the gold, shoulder-baring mini-dress, silver boots and long gloves of her heroic identity: Enhancegirl. She narrowed her eyes, and lunged.
"Aah!" To her credit, Natalya did counter Sophie's first move, but her response - while swift and relatively well disguised - was glaringly slow and obvious to the supreme senses of Enhancegirl. She danced inside Natalya's range, and struck her in the throat, the ribs, and twice in the stomach before the telepath could process Sophie's thoughts. She simply processed sensory data too quickly - Natalya's telepathy couldn't keep up. For this reason, barring a total psychic shield, Sophie's powers were almost a perfect counter to her own in hand to hand combat. A chop to the base of her neck, and Natalya was seeing stars - there was nothing she could do about it. "Ahhh...uuunnhhh..." Natalya moaned, dazed by the impossibly swift flurry of blows, before falling defeated to the floor.
"Well..." Sophie said, "that was almost ten seconds..."

Deciding to give it up for the day, Natalya and Sophie changed back into their ordinary clothes. For Natalya, this was a knee-length pencil skirt, into which she tucked a long-sleeved, white shirt. For Sophie, a short, tight, pastel-pink dress, buttoned from the hem up to her bust, hanging from straps over her shoulders, but still baring much of her upper chest and her cleavage. Fingerless gloves of a deeper pink went up to her elbows, the redhead having developed a bit of a taste for long gloves thanks to her outfit as Enhancegirl.

As Natalya and Sophie stepped out into the street, the former winced. It had been quite early when they'd started, but it was mid-morning now, and there were quite a few popular breakfast joints on that street. Natalya was assailed by the crowd's thoughts, emotions, whims, passions - but she closed her yellow, owl-like eyes, focused, and opened them again.
"I'm okay," she thought. "I'm not going to cower indoors for the rest of my life!"

Sophie saw this play out in Natalya's mind through her expression, and smiled. She had nothing but admiration for someone trying to overcome a personal flaw.
"Thank you," she said.
"For what?" Natalya wasn't looking at her, so this was a genuine question.
"For being a good friend. For helping me whenever my head's fucked up."
"You're...uh, you're welcome," Natalya mumbled. She wasn't the best at taking compliments. She smiled, turned abruptly and began walking off. It was a little painful seeing her still being so awkward. Sophie hoped somehow that she might return what she still saw as a debt one day, and help Natalya to relax a little more.

It was as she was wondering whether she might rope Mariko into this project of hers, that her phone rang. Hardly the most shocking thing in the world to happen to a gregarious undergraduate, but Sophie was surprised. She carried two phones, after all, and to only a scarce few people did she give the number of her smaller, cheaper device - this was the number that could be used if someone wanted to reach Enhancegirl, not Sophie Scott.
"Hello? Who is this?" A voice started pelting her, foreign, but speaking too rapidly for Sophie to place it at first. The speaker was actually completely fluent in English, but fear and shock were making him stammer. Even after Sophie implored him to slow down, she was only able to get three words: 'kidnapped' 'help' and, crucially, 'Stellar'.

"Natalya!" The telepath winced as she heard Sophie shouting after her. Her voice sounded threateningly urgent. Turning around, she saw an anxious look on Sophie's face. As soon as her eyes fell upon the redhead, she understood the situation, knew what her friend was about to ask. The majority of Sophie's emotional state was focused on Stellar, of course, on concern for her safety. But there was just a little bit of her that was excited. That part that every superhero had: the thrill of adventure - though Natalya reflected that she herself might have been the one exception to that rule.
"Oh hell," she thought, "I'm going to have to wear the costume again, aren't I?"

Hyuk-Woo Lee paced rapidly. His hair and clothes were a mess. A vase lay smashed at his feet, hurled in impotent rage. He was almost hyperventilating. This was not the first time that Yumi had been imperilled - but it was the first time that he'd been forced to have a part in events.
"Why isn't she here yet?!" he shouted. He smashed his hands on a kitchen counter, trembling with anger and fear. If it hadn't been secured to the floor he would have flipped it over. "Fuck!"

"Careful," a female voice said from behind him. "You're pretty strong, but your bones look a little thin. Wouldn't want to break anything, would you?" Lee turned around, and while he did not breathe a sigh of relief exactly, he was happy to see whom he saw.
"Enhancegirl!" It was she. Slipping into Yumi's apartment hadn't been difficult in the slightest for the sense-enhanced redhead. "Thank god you're here..." He fell back into a chair, exhausted by worry.

Enhancegirl's first instinct was to try to reassure the man, but she decided to remain aloof. She was a little suspicious that he had asked for her specifically.
"Tell me what happened."

Lee explained. How Stellar had been late for her appointment, and incommunicado, causing Lee to show up personally to see what was wrong. What he had found was an empty house - almost. When he'd eventually forced himself to go into Yumi's bedroom, he'd found that empty too - almost. There'd been a photograph on her bed - a photograph of his beautiful client, stripped, bound and gagged. He handed Sophie this photograph as he explained. Yumi too had a secret phone - which had been left on top of the photograph. That was how Lee had been able to contact Enhancegirl.

"'Call the police, and the lovely lady meets an explosive end'," Sophie read. "'But by all means, if you want to send one of her fantastic lady-friends, feel free.'" The rest of the message was an address.
"I don't understand," Lee said. "There's no ransom demand. What do they want? Why tell me where she is?!" He was half-yelling.
"It's a trap," Sophie explained. "They want another captive, and they want it to be another superhuman." She clicked her tongue. "They might even want it to be me specifically," she thought. In the public eye, she and Stellar were somewhat associated. It would not have been difficult to guess that Enhancegirl would be the first person Lee would have called.

"Will you help her?" Lee asked. He looked up at her with bloodshot eyes. He had not slept badly - he had been crying. "If it's a trap -"
"Oh, fuck that," Sophie said. "I don't give a crap if it's a trap or not. I'm going after her, alright."
"Thank you....thank you..." Lee put his hands on his knees, and his head in his hands. "Please make sure she's alright..."
"Don't worry," Sophie said. "I will." It wasn't as though she needed it, but Sophie was always at her most motivated when she felt like her heroics were for someone. Of course, she wanted to help Yumi, and that would have been more than enough - but Lee's agony and fear made her task all the more urgent. Still, there was something fishy about all this...

As she left the apartment, she signalled to Natalya. The telepath emerged from the shadows from where she'd been watching the conversation. She was now clad in Insyte's garb - a tight, short, fuschia dress, white stockings - one all the way up her leg, the other only up to her knee. Her sister Elizabeta had made some adjustments, and these stockings were now connected to her white kitten heels, forming a sort of boot.
"Was he lying?" Sophie had asked Insyte to keep watch from outside: if whoever had kidnapped Yumi had planned for Enhancegirl, it was best to keep their other card close to their collective chest.
"No," Insyte said. "He definitely believes what he's saying." She had also been able to detect that he was in love with Yumi, and that his favourite cereal was Cheerios, but neither pieces of information seemed pertinent.

"This address," Sophie said. "It's right in the middle of the city. Not what I'd choose to stash a captive." She clicked her tongue again, more than a little confused. "This isn't right."
"You think it's fake? Why give a fake address? Why give an address at all if you don't actually want to be found?"
"If the address thing is bullshit." Sophie froze. "If the trap isn't there at all - it's here!"

Sophie felt it before she saw it, felt the disturbance in the air as something flew towards her at high speed. She didn't stop to look, she just leapt out of the way. As she leapt though, she snapped her head in the direction that the object flew from.
"You!" she bellowed.

Standing atop the roof of Yumi's building - about twenty-five feet up - was a woman Sophie had only met twice, and who felt very strongly that that was two too many times. She was more or less the exact same height as Sophie, with black hair, and a form fitting, red-and-black bodysuit. She looked a little more muscular than the last time Sophie had met her, but there was no mistaking her: "Arachna."

Arachna laughed. "Long time no see, little redhead!" She had to shout for Enhancegirl to hear her.
"I should have fucking known it was you!" Sophie shouted back up at her. Indeed, the first time she'd met Arachna, the spidery villainess had kidnapped Stellar, and shown herself to be rather obsessed with her. "Why didn't I spot her before?" Sophie thought. Glancing down, she saw sticky, white silk splattered on the spot where, a moment ago, she'd just been standing, and rather a lot of it, too. "Insyte, be careful. When I fought her before, she managed to beat me and Stellar together."

Insyte backed away, moving further away so that she and Sophie couldn't both be targeted at once. She glanced at her fellow heroine, getting a quick assessment of Arachna's abilities from Sophie's mind.
"Increased strength, agility and reactions; the ability to spin spider-silk; paralysing venom..." Insyte felt nervous as she became aware of Arachna's powers: the woman's power-set seemed almost for the subduing and capture of a target.

She looked up at Arachna herself. She saw a mind ruled by one thing and one thing only: avarice. She had greed for almost everything: for money, for pleasure, and a firm belief that she deserved it all. At that moment, she was deciding whether to target Insyte or Enhancegirl first, and she seemed to have every confidence that it would be a simple matter of plucking them like fruit. Insyte clenched a fist. Arachna's mind was a detestable place to be, but she forced herself to look deeper. She felt...resentment? Yes, it was resentment. This plan to kidnap Stellar had not been hers: that wasn't too surprising, since Arachna was a kind of mercenary. But there was more, like she was being used. And something else too...

"Sophie, she's not al - MMPHH!!" She hadn't seen it coming. She couldn't have. Even Sophie would barely have had the presence of mind to dodge. The webbing which Arachna had fired, that she had shot at Sophie and missed with, leapt up of its own accord and slapped itself over Insyte's mouth. "Whmmph?! Nnnnmphh!"

"What the fuck?!" Sophie gasped. She watched in astonishment as the webbing not only gagged Insyte, but began spinning round her body. It seized her arms, forcing them behind her back, and wrapping them together, completely covering them in adhesive threads, right the way up to Natalya's shoulders.
"MMPHH!! NNMMPPPHH!!" Natalya screamed through the hot, white glue which sealed her rosy lips. She looked at Enhancegirl, eyes wide and panicked, desperate. She tried to run over to her, hoping that the redhead could free her somehow - but the webbing wasn't done with her. "Gmmph!" Natalya whimpered, as she felt silk sliding down her body. It remained fairly liquid as it slipped down her pale thighs, before it reached her calves, solidified into threads, and in a second, coiled around Natalya's ankles, and all the way up to her knees. "MMPH!" the busty telepath gasped, as she felt her soft legs slammed against each other and, losing her balance, she tumbled down to the ground. "I've lost already..." she lamented bitterly, her pale cheeks reddening with shame.

"Insyte!" Sophie didn't understand it. Arachna had never done anything like this before. She scanned the webbing itself, even as it held her friend tightly in bondage. She couldn't see anything unusual about it at all - it was just like all the webs Arachna had used before.

"Bet you didn't see that one coming!" Arachna giggled. "I've been learning plenty of new tricks! Oooooh, I'm gonna enjoy having you wrapped up again, little redhead!" She fired three, four shots of webbing out of her hand. Sophie didn't dodge - she could see they weren't aimed at her. They slapped down on the pavement between her and Insyte, forming a thick layer. Sophie was about to vault over it to reach her fellow heroine, but she hesitated.

"Could that web just, like, reach up and grab me? What's the range? How strong can it grip? Could it just attack me instead of capturing me? How hard can she hit with it?" Sophie's eyes moved back and forth across the webbing, darting from it, to Natalya, to Arachna herself. She had been helpless in Arachna's clutches before, and she didn't care to be so again. She pushed her enhanced senses as far as they could go, but apart from a vague feeling of strangeness about the threads, she couldn't detect anything useful.

Insyte saw Sophie's wheels spinning. The buxom architect wriggled helplessly on the ground, her ample bosom rubbing against the ground as she writhed in her bonds, but her bondage was only one frustration.
"You don't understand, Sophie - she doesn't have another power! She's not alone!"

It was only after dodging a web shot which was aimed at Sophie herself that the redhead began to get an inkling of what Insyte had discovered. She looked up at Arachna again, infuriated by her smug grin and her giggling, and felt something rather odd happening to her eyes. They seemed to glide over Arachna when she tried to look straight at her. No, that wasn't quite right. It was when she tried to look behind her.
"Something's going on...confusing my senses...I'm sure as shit that Arachna can't do that!" Insyte saw this thought. Though her powers were mostly limited to seeing what was in the minds of others, she could exert some subtle influence on other minds. She chose to do so now, guiding Enhancegirl's mind, helping her to see past the cloud that had been cast upon her.

Like a gossamer curtain, the illusion fell away, and Sophie saw that there was not one woman on that rooftop - there were three. Standing behind Arachna was a shorter woman, dressed in a theatrical outfit, with a short top hat and a ruff around her neck. Yet it was not her that Sophie's eye was first drawn to: it was the beautiful, petite Korean woman slung helplessly over her shoulder.
"Stellar!" Enhancegirl cried out.

"Oh my," Mysteria said to Arachna. "She's seen through my illusion: I'm impressed. I thought you said this Enhancegirl would be easy to fool, Emily."
"Would you stop calling me that?!" Arachna hissed. "And I doubt she figured it out herself. That other one, I think that's Insyte. She probably helped her or something."
"Insyte? The one who defeated Hypnotra?" She regarded the webbed-up telepath with interest. "Now that is a turn up for the books..."

"Shit," Sophie clenched her fists. She could see the other woman now, but she couldn't reach them. She could have thrown something, but nothing she threw would do any real damage by the time it reached them. She gritted her teeth. She had no idea who this person was, and if her powers could fool even Sophie's senses, then she'd be at a serious disadvantage. She needed backup.

"Natalya, nod if you can hear me," Sophie thought. The raven-haired young woman nodded. "When I think 'now', roll towards me over those webs. They might tie you up tighter, but better that than both of us getting caught, right?" Natalya rather reluctantly accepted her reasoning. "!" Anticipating retaliation, Sophie leapt closer to Natalya, taking cover behind a car, while the telepath rolled towards her.

It should have worked. The webs had dried somewhat, and they wouldn't have been able to hold Natalya back very much. She should have reached Sophie, been unbound, and been back on her feet within thirty seconds. Yet, Natalya did not reach Sophie. She didn't even reach the barrier of webbing. She had rolled in the wrong direction.
"Whhmph?!" She was utterly baffled.

"Insyte, roll left!" Sophie shouted, having to announce her instructions since Insyte was no longer facing her. She wasn't chastising her - she was warning her. Another webline had shot out, slapping over Natalya's ankles, just as she managed to roll onto her back again. She felt the web seize her by the feet, saw the other end was still attached to Arachna. She turned, looked at Sophie with wet, wide, pleading eyes. The redhead didn't need to be telepathic to know what she was trying to communicate.
"Hllpp! Hllp mhh - NNNMPHHH!!" With a mighty pull, Arachna hauled the webline up, pulling Natalya along with her. "SHHPHHH!!" Natalya screamed, as she was hoisted into the air.

Enhancegirl didn't hesitate for a second. She smashed one of the car's windows, grabbed a fragment of glass, and hurled it at the line by which Insyte was being pulled. But it missed - or rather, it changed direction, veering off wildly.
"What?!" Sophie gasped. She tried again, but missed again as well. She glared up at the woman holding Stellar, saw her making strange movements with her right hand. "She's the one doing this. She can...distort space, or something!" Sophie tried a different tack, running straight after them, even though Natalya was already more than ten feet in the air: if Sophie had cut the line then, Natalya might have got away with a few bruises, or - given that she was hanging with her head down - she might have broken her neck.

The raven-haired, pale telepath watched as Sophie pursued her. She retained, fortunately, the presence of mind not to struggle too hard, so was rather acutely aware that her escape depended entirely on Sophie's speed. When she was close enough, the agile heroine leapt forward, kicked off a wall...and missed Insyte by millimetres. There had been nothing wrong with her calculations of trajectory: her slender legs simply weren't strong enough.
"Nmmphh..." Insyte mewed, as she was pulled completely out of Sophie's reach.
"No! INSYTE!" Sophie cried out, as she watched another friend falling into the two villainesses' grasp. "Fuck!" She considered scaling the wall of Stellar's home, but she wasn't sure of the handholds she could see, and she was worried that the ascent would leave her exposed to attack. "Damn it! Natalya, I'm sorry..."

"Oh wow," Arachna giggled as she pulled Natalya into her grip. "I don't think we've met before, but dayum you really are a peach!"
"Mmph! Mmmngghhmmphh!" Natalya whimpered, as Arachna pulled her upright, gripping her tightly by the shoulders. If Stellar's Black Star ranked somewhere on the lower end of the super-strength scale, Arachna was lower still - but she was still far stronger than she soft, relatively fragile maiden that she had in her grasp. Though, with her arms and legs bound, and in the grip of this voraciously avaricious criminal, Natalya didn't feel 'relatively' fragile.

"Sorry, did I say a peach? Heehehehee! More like two peaches..." The dark-haired villain licked her lips, and ran one of her hands down to Natalya's chest. She began fondling her buxom, yielding bosom, scarcely protected by her tight dress.
"Nmph! MPH!" Natalya protested. " witch! Get your filthy hands off me! H-how dare you?!" She craned her neck back, hoping to see Sophie attempting some kind of rescue, but she couldn't see her anymore. "Mph!" she squealed, feeling her lovely body being toyed with by her captor. She turned her eyes back to Arachna, felt her shallow lasciviousness.
"If I can't have my Stellar," she heard her think, "I'll have some fun with this one..."

Natalya tried not to worry about what she meant. She tried to slow her rapid breathing. She happened to glance at Mysteria - and she froze.
"There's...there's nothing...nothing there!" She looked right at the top-hat wearing eccentric, tried to see into her mind - and found absolutely nothing. She couldn't read her, at all. The only thing she did have was a sense of dread. A horrible, looming fear like - like -
"Like the world is coming to an end..."

"Hey!" Arachna barked. "It's me you should be looking at!" To make this point clear, she grabbed the shoulder of Natalya's dress, and - snarling - she tore.
"MMPHH!" Natalya moaned, looking down at herself. Arachna had completely exposed her soft, gently sloping shoulders, her long, white neck and the tops of her gorgeous breasts. Natalya's cheeks went scarlet, a stark contrast with her alabaster skin, as she saw herself exposed.
"Oh, I'm going to enjoy you..." Arachna half-whispered.
"Not too much, Emily dear," Mysteria said. "Our employer doesn't like their dishes half-eaten, do they?"
"I'm not eating her!" Arachna shot back. She turned back to Natalya, parting her breasts slightly with her hand, sliding it up over the smooth skin over her sternum, before sliding her hand up the webbed-up damsel's long, delicate neck. "I'm just...having a little bite..."
"MPH!" Natalya moaned, as Arachna did just that. "NMPH! MPPHH!" She felt Arachna's teeth at her neck, like she was being bitten by a vampire. Her teeth didn't quite break Natalya's lovely skin, but she did feel the villain's tongue licking her, roughly caressing her. "Ugh, she's revolting!" Natalya thought. "She's...she...uhhh..."

A strange feeling began washing through her, a kind of warmth. It started at her neck, and began spreading down through her body, through her tightly restrained arms, through her warm, bare shoulders.
"Mmhhh...mmmhhh..." Natalya whimpered, as she began to feel very, very weak. Such struggles as the curvy, raven-haired beauty was putting up began to slow. She felt her long, white legs cease shifting, felt herself becoming still. She remembered what she'd read of Arachna's powers. "She's...she's paralysing me..."

Yet this, even, was not the whole truth. As Sophie and Natalya's mastery of their powers had increased over time, so too had Arachna's. Her venom had become more potent, and she was administering a dose not merely to paralyse Natalya, but to knock her out completely. Natalya only realised this when her vision became hazy.
"Wh...what? I feel...ooh, I feel dizzy..." Her legs trembled, before giving out completely. Arachna held her up by putting her hand at the small of the telepath's back.
"I know you're feeling sleepy, Insyte," Arachna said, taking her mouth away from her captive's neck. "But I don't want you to relax. I want you to keep whimpering for as long as you can - I'm going to have such fun with that sweet body of yours while you're knocked out..."
"Mmmphh...mhhh..." Insyte protested, feeling a thick cloud of somnolence covering her, stifling her mind along with her strength. "Oh, Sophie..." she thought. "Why...why did you ask me to help you...I can't...not...not like...ooohhhhh..." With that, the buxom heroine gave in, and she slumped against Arachna. She enjoyed the feeling of the maiden's bosoms rising and falling deeply against her own chest, as she slid her hands down to her marble-white thighs.

Arachna then lifted Natalya up, and used her superhuman strength to slide Natalya up and over her shoulder, gripping her supple legs, feeling the heroine's yielding, voluminous breasts bouncing against her back. Her dress clung tightly to her thighs, just about defending her modesty as she was bent over her captor - so Arachna simply lifted the hem to expose the easily-defeated heroine's round, delectably proportioned behind. She gave it a quick smack, but the damsel didn't stir at all..
"Let's get out of here."

"Wh-what the?" By the time Sophie got the roof, having had to break into the apartment above Yumi's to get there, they were all gone, hero and villain alike. "FUCK!!" she yelled, startling a few birds. She slammed her fist into the door she'd used, cracking a wooden sign hanging from it. She was immensely angry, enraged with Arachna and this new villain of course, but also enraged with herself for making such a mess of it. She hadn't rescued Stellar, and now Natalya had been abducted as well. "Oh god..." she thought, as she prepared herself for the pursuit. "I really hope Mariko's day is going better..."
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Post 8 months ago

Four hours before Sophie received a telephone call from Stellar's panicked manager, Mariko Asakura - otherwise known as the superheroine Spectra - set out for California's state capital, Sacramento. Sophie had stayed the night with her, but she'd let her sleeping girlfriend lie when she herself awoke. Entering her kitchen, Mariko was about to make herself some eggs, but she saw a buttered slice of raisin loaf waiting on a plate for her. There was a note next to it.

"Hey sexy," it read. "Lord knows you don't need me to boost your ego, but just in case you're only ninety-nine per cent sure of how amazing you are, let me remind you. You're beautiful, you're smart as hell - frankly, you make me feel lucky to be gay. Imperion really knows how to pick 'em - just don't forget about me when you're some a big celebrity and you've got every superhero on the West Coast pining for you! Nobody else will ever be as big a fangirl for you as I am.

Always, always yours,
Sophie (A.K.A Enhancegirl, but, like who's heard of her, right? What a schmuck)."

Beneath this, Sophie had drawn a little doodle of Spectra shooting a dragon with her powers, while Imperion, off to the side, stared at her in amazement. Behind him was a little fairy thing with pink hair, glowering at Spectra. A little speech bubble read 'Why won't send-pie notice me?'. Mariko laughed out loud when she realised that this was meant to be Nova.
"You goof..." She pressed the card against her chest, and breathed out sharply. Loving and being loved in this way - it was like suddenly acquiring a new sense. It was wonderful, transformative - but sometimes frightening in its unfamiliarity.

But that was, in a way, comforting. Joining the Pauldron, being part of one of the most celebrated superhero teams in the world, that was certainly an intimidating prospect, but it wasn't as much of a change as being with Sophie. If she could do that, she assured herself, and keep her lover happy as well - then she could do anything.

As Mariko made her way to the slam-rail station, she went back over her research. She'd been compiling notes on the Pauldron's members since Imperion's invitation, preparing herself to be a maximally effective member of their team. There were seven members in all: Imperion; Nova; Panhellius; Hydrocita; Chryseis; Askancepoint and Fahrenheit. She'd read up on their powers - though her sources had been suspiciously vague about Askancepoint - their major battles, and so on, trying to make sure that her phase as an awkward neophyte would be as short as possible.

Mariko might have been a powerful, accomplished superhero in her own right - but she was still, ultimately, a very young woman starting out in a new job. By the time the high-speed slam-rail arrived in Sacramento, she had worked herself up into something of a nervous state. When she completed the short walk to the Pauldron's headquarters, that nervousness only grew.

The building was vast, not just tall, but sprawling over almost half an acre of land.
"What on earth do they need with so much space?" Mariko muttered to herself. She folded her arms over her chest, growing colder in the shadow cast by the gigantic complex. She breathed out, and strode inside.

The inside was a bustling hive of activity. The Morrow building was not just a base for the Pauldron - it was home to Imperion's investment firm, from where he derived the majority of his impressive wealth. It also housed a number of charitable organisations - free of charge, of course - and Jackson's own Foundation. It was an odd mix of serious looking suit-and-tie types, and casually dressed people, either people who worked for, or were clients of, the charities.

"Not what you expected?" Mariko turned around, and her stomach tightened. It was him - it was Imperion.
"Good - er, I mean -" The Japanese heroine had been about to say 'good morning', but talking to this man - one of the most powerful beings on the planet - everything sounded stupid, small.
"Good mornin' to you too," Jackson chuckled. Evidently he was used to this kind of reaction to him. He gestured around at the vast complex. "Pretty stunning, right?" He didn't sound wholly serious. "Old Grand-pappy Morrow built it just after the War. It was a vanity project - I decided to do something good with it."

Imperion was not, it had to be said, dressed to impress. He was wearing khaki shorts, a loose shirt, and large sunglasses. He smelt of seawater. Suddenly his relaxed attitude and way of talking made sense: he was a good old-fashioned California surfer. Mariko felt just a smidgen of her nervousness fading. He had become slightly less the legend, slightly more a real person.
"You surf?" he asked, as if sensing her realisation.
"Er, no," she said. Thinking her quick reply had sounded dismissive, she added: "Though I think it's a very beautiful sport."
"Not when I do it," Jackson snorted. "I'm...well, I'm a bit of blunt instrument." He pondered for a moment. "You'd make it beautiful, I think." Mariko blushed. "C'mon, I'll show you around."

Jackson escorted her through the cavernous, strangely peopled hall, pointing out his most admired organisations and employees. It was charming to see him so enthusiastic about all of it.
"Hey, check it out!" Jackson said, pointing at a rather nondescript little storefront, tucked away in a corner.
"What is it?"
"It's a surfing store," Jackson said. "They sell boards, wax, all the stuff every beach-bum like me needs." He was grinning. He walked over to it, and beckoned Mariko inside. It was well stocked, but empty of customers. "This is the only thing in here that's completely mine."
"What do you mean?" Mariko asked.
"I started this place myself, with my own money. Dad didn't pay for it, and I didn't inherit it. It's not God-granted, like my powers, we - I mean, I earned it." As he said this, his eyes darted to something on the counter. Mariko couldn't help but look.

It was a photograph. Jackson was at the beach, holding a surfboard. He looked much younger. Next to him was a fantastically tall, lovely young African-American woman, easily 6'9", at least. She was lithe, with richly brown skin, yet gorgeously, amply proportioned.
"That's Anya," Jackson said, seeing Mariko admire the photograph. "My wife."
"I didn't know you were married," Mariko said. "She's beautiful."
"I'm not."
"I'm not married. She's dead," he said, flatly. Mariko went red, this time from embarrassment.

"I'm so sorry, I - I had no idea -"
"Don't worry about it. It's not something I tell people about much. She was like us, you know. Not as powerful as you or me, but...well I always thought she was pretty special."
"I, er, I'm sure she was," Mariko said, trying not to sound completely put out, which she more or less was.
"Sorry," Jackson said. "I put you in an awkward position there. My fault for getting, uh, wistful, I guess. C'mon, Spectra. Let's meet the team."

Appropriately enough, the part of the building that was dedicated to the Pauldron's activities was the highest up. It overlooked the city from every room, arranged in a circle around a central plaza that was their meeting space. They had an impressive bank of radio equipment, capable of picking up signals from almost everywhere in the world, a more high-tech bank of advanced computers, individual quarters that the Pauldron's members could sleep in if and when they needed to, a gym...and a seafood restaurant.
"My one concession to megalomania," Jackson explained. "I think I've done enough good in the world that I can eat crab whenever I want."

Already, a few of the members were gathered. Panhellius was there, his right hand strumming on the pommel of his sword too quickly for the eye to see. A woman was sitting next to him, and from the mere fact that she didn't recognise her, Mariko took this to be Chryseis. She was a very lovely woman, appearing about twenty-five, with long, slightly curly black hair, and a curvy, feminine figure. Even for a superheroine, her outfit was extremely revealing: a glossy, red jacket, that left her midriff bare, zipped down to expose a very generous bust. She seemed to be wearing an interconnected set of belts underneath, connected to a medallion on her chest, and a pair of bikini-briefs. Thigh high boots covered her long, toned legs, and a kind of tiara framed her pretty face. There was a...Mediterranean quality to her features, though faintly enough that Mariko wasn't certain of her judgement.

As Mariko and Jackson entered, so too did a pair of men, coming out of the Pauldron's gym. Both were dressed in tracksuits, but while one was black, tall, with rather elegant features, the other man, white and goateed, was barely five feet high. They were gesturing to each other animatedly. Both laughed periodically, but one of them could not be heard when he did. After a moment, Mariko realised that they were not merely gesturing - they were communicating in sign language. These, then, were Fahrenheit and Askancepoint: for one of the only things Mariko had been able to find out about Askancepoint was that he was a deaf-mute.

"What's up, fellas?" Jackson said, announcing his presence. Chryseis hopped out of her seat when she heard him. She sauntered over to Mariko, greeting her with a warm, beaming smile.
"Welcome to the team, Spectra," she said. "I was pleased as punch when I heard old Jackie-boy had invited ya!"
"Thank you," Mariko said, bowing her head slightly in respect. "I'm very grateful."
"Don't be too grateful yet," Fahrenheit said, the tall hero extending his hand for Mariko to take. "Derek is in charge of the finances, so make sure he doesn't try to stiff you." He spoke with a clipped, New England accent. Askancepoint was saying something to Jackson, who evidently understood sign language as well. Whatever it was, Jackson didn't seem very happy about it.

Fahrenheit tapped Askancepoint on the shoulder, said something to him, then gestured at Mariko. The bearded man grinned, and bowed. The gesture seemed a bit odd, but Mariko realised that he was keeping his hands free.
"'I've always wanted to meet you,'" Fahrenheit said, translating for Askancepoint. "'We both have. When Imperion told us you were joining, Shane practically -'" Fahrenheit evidently took umbrage at this, for he stopped translating and slapped Askancepoint lightly on the back of the head. "Mark, you dolt, I did not 'squeal'!" Askancepoint laughed heartily - or at least he seemed to. He didn't make a sound. That is, he didn't make a sound at all. Even when Fahrenheit had slapped him, the blow had been inaudible.

"I'm glad to see you two are taking things as seriously as ever," a sharp voice rang out, coming from behind where Mariko was standing. She turned to see a petite, stunning young woman. Her light-brown eyes glanced briefly at Mariko, but only briefly. She tossed her short, pink hair as she entered, walking with a confident, poised strut, her short, white boots tacking against the ground. What looked like glitter dusted her fine, smooth cheeks, and an elegant, yet delectably revealing white dress clung to her feminine body. This was the starlit maiden herself - Nova.

"Ah, the master of the warm welcome returns," Askancepoint signed. Fahrenheit didn't speak.
"Balls to you if you think I'm translating that," he signed back. Aloud, he said: "How did the briefing go?"
"Well enough. Sac-PD have done an admirable job cleaning up the remnants of Golgotha's organisation, but Chief Louie isn't satisfied. His investigators still don't know how his gang was able to access such high-grade weaponry."
"Nova," Jackson said, "we definitely need to talk about this, but it can wait for a few minutes, huh?" He gestured at Mariko, who was - naturally - a little lost.
"But -" She folded her arms over her chest. "Yes, of - of course."
"Hey, alright," Jackson said, flashing her a smile. She smiled just a little in response.

Imperion leapt up onto a table in the centre of the room, surprising Mariko by his nimbleness. He beckoned for the others to gather round, though this was hardly necessary. He was...magnetic.
"When I met this young lady for the first time," Jackson said, signing what he said at the same time for Askancepoint's benefit, "it didn't occur to me that I'd be asking her to join us. But when I saw her fighting Farah, it reminded me of something." He tapped his shoulder. "It reminded me of why we call ourselves 'The Pauldron'. A pauldron just covers your shoulder. It's not as important as a helmet, or a chestplate, or whatever. Like us. People get excited about superheroes, even nowadays. The outfits, the flashy powers, the codenames...people forget how little we really do. Crime - especially superhuman crime - isn't the biggest problem in the world. Poverty, inequality, war - we don't stop those things. Now that's not to say we're useless. We're like a pauldron: we don't cover much, but we cover what nothing else can. We're just there to fill in the gaps that others can't. A lot of the time we're fighting for individuals. One person who's been kidnapped. One person who's being blackmailed. Or, sometimes, one person who's been really badly hurt."

He gestured at Mariko with an open hand.
"You showed yourself to be one of the best, Spectra. So on behalf of this team, I welcome Spectra of Seacouver - Spectra of the Pauldron - to our ranks!" The others applauded - some more enthusiastically than others - and Mariko found herself stuck in place. She was used to applause, used to cheers and eyes on her both from her career as a model and as Spectra - but this felt different. This was the Pauldron - and they were giving her an ovation. As the applause died down, she realised that she was still being looked at. They seemed to expect her to say something.

She might have clammed up entirely, but for her catching sight of Nova. The short young woman seemed as if she were trying to hide it, but she seemed distinctly unimpressed with Mariko, or at least displeased with her. Mariko had long since acknowledged that vanity was a vice she too often allowed to govern her behaviour - but decided that in this one instance, it would be a useful vice.
"I thank you, Imperion," the graceful beauty said, standing a little taller, jutting out her chin slightly, and putting a hand on one subtly curved hip. "I see I'm expected to say a few words, but I only -" She found her conjured valour failing her. She looked again at the heroes and heroines surrounding her. All were celebrated, powerful, larger than life. More than one would be fair to call a legend. Yet she, Spectra, was standing amongst them. "And I will do so as an equal," she thought. "I only have four words, really: how can I help?"

Jackson grinned broadly, and hopped down from the table.
"That's what I like to hear. Derek?" Panhellius stepped forward, and began handing out clipboards to his allies.
"These are your assignments for today," he said. "Chryseis, I'd like you to head up North. There's reports of more attacks by the Inferiorites - a superhuman schoolteacher was beaten half to death in Oakland."
"A teacher?" Chryseis replied, taking the clipboard. "Oh, you'd better believe I'm gonna be cracking some skulls this time. Those jerks have had this coming for a long time!" She'd left something on the seat she'd been in: a large, ornate bow. She grabbed it, testing the string, and attaching it to a specialised buckle on her back.
"You're fully authorised," Derek said, "but they are only human. No mess, please."
"In sixty years," Chryseis said, "I've never killed anyone. I don't intend to start now." Her skill with the bow was just that - skill. Her only power was that she had stopped ageing when she'd reached full biological maturity. She'd been a superhero since the seventies.

"Fahrenheit, Askancepoint," Panhellius put a clipboard in the deaf man's hands, but spoke to Fahrenheit. "You can read the briefing in your own time. You must not be detected." Askancepoint grinned. Evidently he'd read Panhellius' lips. He signed something, then patted his own chest, his face suggesting self-congratulation.
"'Just remember who you're talking to, Speedy Gonzales,'" Fahrenheit translated. "Don't worry, old boy. We won't upset any apple carts."

As the two left, they once again started signing animatedly to each other. Mariko didn't know a word of sign language, but she had the distinct sense that the two were making fun of the rest of their teammates.
"Spectra, Nova," Panhellius said. "You're being dispatched to Renning City." Mariko knew it. It was a few miles from Seacouver, and while the former city had somewhat wilted as dock work had dried up, Renning City was a shining example of a post-industrial town which had found a way to flourish.
"What d'you want us to do?" Nova asked. She was not overly happy that she was being put with Mariko, but she trusted Imperion's judgement more than her own, and elected to stay professional.
"A new villain. Evidently he's been inspired by your friend," Derek said to Mariko, "because he's calling himself 'Enhanceman.'"
"What? What are his powers?" Mariko stepped forward, snatched the clipboard from Derek's hands. "Are they the same as Enhancegirl's?"

"No," Derek said, warily. Mariko was rapidly scanning his notes, and he exchanged a bemused look with Nova. "He 'enhances' the powers of superhumans with genetic bases for their abilities. Would it be a concern if he did share Enhancegirl's power?"
"No, I -" Mariko caught herself. She'd thought that, at last, this might have been a clue to the mystery of Sophie's powers, but it seemed to have nothing to with it. She chided herself for her haste. "Is he dangerous alone?"
"Not as far as we know. But he's partnered with another superhuman - Jason Johansson, otherwise known as Catastrophe." Mariko and Nova both frowned. They'd both fought him before: he was a powerful light wielder, easily capable of creating a huge amount of carnage. Mariko had easily trounced him, but she'd had an unfair advantage, being able to control any attack he made against her because of her powers. Nova had beaten him too, but it had not been easy. The prospect of his being supercharged was not one to be considered lightly.

Mariko was about to say something to her new teammate, give some pleasantry, for Nova seemed ill-at-ease around her. But the petite heroine walked straight past her, and opened a window.
"I'll go ahead and get the lay of the land," she said abruptly. "Let me know when you arrive. I'll wait to engage them, don't worry." Saying this, she clad herself in a blue-white aura and erupted into flight.

Mariko blinked. She couldn't tell if Nova was just being practical, or if that had been an expression of irritation, possibly even dislike.
"Don't mind her," Imperion said, patting Mariko on the shoulder. "She's a bit frosty, but she'll come round." He and Panhellius shared a glance.
"We'll have one of our pilots take you," Panhellius said, "if speed's a concern."
"Pilots? Plural?" Panhellius shrugged.
"Nova's the only one of us who can fly, don'tcha know? People started complaining she was getting all the, ah, juicy assignments."
"I see."

Mariko felt odd. This both was and wasn't what she had expected. The Pauldron were celebrated, yes, but she hardly thought they'd be intoning gravely to each about vanquishing the world's evils, or pontificating about truth and justice all day long, but they were so...human. She felt her heart thumping in her chest. She felt so out of place. There were so many little nods, winks and unspoken understandings between them all: even a man who could neither hear nor speak was more aware of what was going on. She wished that she had a translator.

"What do I have, again?" Jackson asked, sheepishly.
"No superheroics for you, I'm afraid," Panhellius said. "You scheduled a meeting with Arlington."
"Oh, right, the Reduced Responsibility bill," Imperion pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'd hoped you wouldn't have to see this, Mariko - may I call you Mariko?" She nodded. "Meet Imperion - political lobbyist," he sighed. Mariko knew of the bill he meant - it was being introduced to California's State Legislature, designed to reduce sentences for minors who hurt or killed people with superhuman powers. In theory, Arlington had been the one to introduce the bill, but everyone knew it was Jackson's brainchild.

"Why are you meeting with Senator Arlington?" Mariko asked. "I thought the bill was certain to pass."
"That's why I'm meeting with him," Imperion said. "I'm trying to stop it." In response to Mariko's furrowed brow, he added: "the fuckers have tacked on some bill which would basically make it impossible to prosecute any registered superhero from killing someone." Panhellius shook his head.
"Personally, sir, I'm not certain that's such a bad thing. The Penitentiary Supreme has proved to be a rather, ah, expensive measure, after all."
"Well, put it another way, then," Jackson said. "If it went through, Nova would never forgive me." Mariko found this remark rather interesting, but elected not to inquire. She was eager to show her stuff.

"I'll depart then," she said. "Spectrum is Green!" Activating her powers, Mariko became glad in the tight, silver leotard, half-skirt and short cape of Spectra. At once she felt a wave of relief. Mariko Asakura might have been vulnerable to doubt, but Spectra didn't need to be. She felt a relief as her mask appeared over her eyes.
"I'll show you to the helipad," Panhellius said, trotting up beside her. "Don't be late, sir," he said back to Imperion.
"What would I do without you, man?" Jackson replied, smiling softly at him. Mariko saw Panhellius relax and stiffen at the same time in response.

As Spectra and Panhellius made their way to the helipad, they walked in silence. With anyone else, this might have indicated distaste or mutual nerves, but Spectra rather had a sense that Panhellius didn't speak simply because he had nothing at that moment to say. She, however, did. She had assumed that it would become unnecessary to ask, but no-one had mentioned it yet.
"Where is Hydrocita?"

Panhellius stopped dead. He opened his mouth to speak, then apparently thought better of it. He turned to Mariko.
"She is no longer a member of the Pauldron," he said.
"What? Why? Did she quit?" Mariko was astonished. After Jackson and Chryseis, Hydrocita had been a member of the team longer than anyone else.
"Technically, yes," he replied. "Though in reality, we didn't give her a choice."
"And why is that?" Mariko asked. "Is it because she fought me? That hardly seems fair to hire me and get rid of her for one and the same -"
"She is a drug addict," Derek said, simply, though not quite without emotion. "I believe she manages her habit quite effectively, but I -" He paused. "We couldn't allow it to continue. The Pauldron is more than the sum of its parts, and she was no longer an asset."
"I...see," Mariko said. She had no idea what to say. Hydrocita was...well she'd always been seen as the more roguish of the Pauldron's members, but a drug addict? Suddenly Hydrocita snapping and attacking her in the forest of Ferndale was thrown into a different light. She remembered, just after they'd fought, Derek had pulled Hydrocita aside, and he'd clearly been angry. Then, a few hours later, Imperion had offered Mariko a position on his team.

"I...I'm her replacement." Mariko was not sure how to feel about this. Was it less of an honour in virtue of this, or more of one?
"It's not something that ought to concern you, Spectra," Panhellius said. "You've a mission to be getting on with."
"Indeed," Mariko assented. Something felt wrong, but she couldn't articulate it. She lacked the emotional vocabulary. "I'll talk about it with Sophie," she thought. Sophie would know how to put it. She always did.

"Military involvement?"
"Panhellius seems to think so."
"How illegal is that?"
"What's our source?"
"He didn't say. A whistleblower, I wager."

Fahrenheit and Askancepoint had this exchange without uttering a sound. The two men had been working together for a very long time, longer than they'd been members of the Pauldron. As they sneaked into the nondescript, yet suspiciously camera-heavy building, they were exchanging signs that even someone fluent in ASL wouldn't have known. 'Panhellius', for instance was literally: 'Mister Quick-Draw'.

There were a number of guards inside, and though neither hero could be sure whether they were active soldiers, they were clearly military trained, barring their access to the deeper levels of the facility. They were in the way.
"Will you need my assistance, Mark?" Fahrenheit said. The bearded man shook his head.
"I'll still take it if you're offering, though."

Askancepoint did not appear to be moving particularly carefully, though he kept out of sight of the patrols. He seemed to stroll quite casually, almost. His footfalls looked normal: but he moved utterly silently. He was clad in black, a tight outfit made of a material with a consistency somewhere between leather and spandex, giving him maximum freedom of movement. Only his mouth remained uncovered. He walked to one soldier, a wiry man with a long rifle in his hands, and placed his hand on the back of the man's neck.

"What the hell?" the man said, as he felt the hand - but his voice didn't carry. He was now as silent as Askancepoint. He would have tried again - but for the pulse of sonic energy which shot through his body, sending him collapsing to the ground. Even his fall didn't make a sound.

Askancepoint made his way between each of the guards in this way, able to sprint at full pelt towards each one without the slightest noise. Each one fell to his power, without even detecting that the others had been taken down. All but one.
"Stop right there!" he shouted, and this time it was heard - but not by Askancepoint. Deaf as he was, he couldn't hear that he'd been detected. The main aimed, and was about to fire, for one warning he deemed more than fair. He fired - and his gun exploded.
"Aaghh!" he cried out, shrapnel embedding into his hands and arms. Mark felt the shock of the explosion, and turned around. He saw the man struggling. He tried to step forward, but he slipped, fell straight onto his ass, and slid backwards, even though the floor was by no means slippery. He kept going until his head crashed into a wall, knocking him out, at which point his supernatural lubrication ceased, and he stopped dead in his tracks.

Askancepoint was not wholly surprised by what happened, though he was grateful. The man's gun had exploded because the friction of the bullet within the chamber had been vastly increased, generating so much heat that the gunpowder in the shell had blown up. He had slid around because the friction of the floor underneath him had been reduced almost to nothing. This was the power of Fahrenheit.
"You need to learn to watch your back," Fahrenheit signed.
"Well excuse me!" Askancepoint replied. "Deaf, remember?" Strictly speaking, this was not true. His ears worked fine, his aural nerves worked fine, but his body absorbed all sound that touched it, including any he made himself. This was why he moved silently, and it was why he couldn't hear.
"Well, at least it's a good reminder of why you bring me along to these little sojourns," Fahrenheit said.
"Nonsense," Askancepoint replied. "I bring you along for your pretty face, darling."
"Oh, be quiet."
"Don't really have a choice there, chum."

The two made their way further in, working their way down to the lowest level of the complex. They encountered resistance more than once, but these guards, while certainly military-grade professionals, were hardly the best of the best. Eventually, they found what they'd been looking for.
"Bloody hell..." Fahrenheit whispered, forgetting his ally.

The room wasn't that large, but it had a high ceiling, which gave a rather ominous sense of scale. It was lit in sickly green-brown light, and there was a repugnant smell, like off meat. There were a number of slabs, perhaps forty in all, and all of them had something lying upon them.

That is was something rather than someone took a second look, for each object was very much human shaped. They were about seven feet from head to toe, like some kind of suit of armour. They had wide shoulder-pads, coloured a slightly shiny off-white, though it looked green in the light. The hands, feet and joints were spiked, the wrists equipped with long blades. Still, despite the fearsome weaponry, there was a kind of elegance to their design. The heads, or helmets perhaps, had no eyes, but a sort of row of teeth: stark white, symmetrical, snapped tightly shut. A bladed crest adorned the top of them.

"What the hell is this?" Askancepoint signed.
"They're weapons, obviously, but beyond that, I have no idea." He was about to give closer investigation, but he heard voices. The two hid, and watched as three men entered. Two were guards, one seemed to be a scientist. He was dressed in a brown suit, with slicked-back grey hair. One of the guards was pushing a gurney, with a slightly more elaborate 'armour' laying atop it. It was clearly very heavy.

"Be careful!" the suited man barked. "That is our one success! If you do anything to harm it..."
"Yes, Doctor Schiffer," the man growled.
"Can you replicate it?" the other guard said. Or, perhaps he was not a guard at all. He was speaking to this 'Schiffer' person as an equal. The doctor scratched his chin.
"I do not know. The armoursuit isn't essentially different from the others. The difference is the man inside it."
"A special compatibility?"
"You might say that. He's the one we grafted the cells from in the first place." The other man looked angry at this.
"I thought the point of this project was to give normal humans high-level augmentation! If only superhumans can wear the suits, what's the point?"
"There is none," Schiffer replied. "But it's a step. We know the essential process works, now, even at this level of power. I've had some successes with these suits before, but...never one this powerful. This is what your Marshall wants, yes? Soldiers powerful enough to defeat even threats like the Supremacist?"

"What the hell do we do?!" Askancepoint signed, his urgency indicated by the sheer speed of his movements.
"I say we beat the snot out of them, take some photographs, and just go public. Make this undeniable."
"Righteous. Shall we give them the old shake 'n' bake?"
"Please, please stop calling it that - but yes."

"Do you have an estimate?" the military man asked. "Time-wise, I mean."
"Three years before you have something cost-effective," Schiffer replied. "Unless you start giving me more samples, of course."
"One was bad enough. We're not going to start rounding up superhumans like cattle for you. This is about protecting the country from threats, not violating the rights of American citizens."
"No more than you have to, at least? Oh well, suit yourself. From my perspective you're just paying me to have a lot of fun with a lot of very expensive equipment." He sighed with pleasure. "Oh, it's been years since I've had facilities like these..."

"Whoa-oh!" The man pushing the gurney slipped. He fell flat on his back, and the gurney skidded off to the side, almost upending.
"You blithering idiot!" Schiffer barked. "Watch where you're going?"
"Corporal, get back on your feet," the other man barked.
"Yes, sir, lieutenant, sir!" He tried, but failed utterly, only ending up slipping and landing on his front instead. "Wh-what the hell? The floor, it's like - like ice!"

"Sorry gentlemen - that's my fault!" Fahrenheit stepped out. "Friction...such an important force, yet we hardly ever think about it, do we?"
"Who the hell are you?" the military man said, drawing his sidearm. Fahrenheit snapped his fingers.
"If you fire," he said, "that gun will explode."
"Bullshit!" the soldier shot back. "What will happen is you'll fall down dead!"
"No, Lieutenant," Schiffer said. "Don't you realise who this is? This is a celebrity!" Fahrenheit recoiled slightly. He was wearing just as obscuring a costume as Askancepoint. "I've only heard of two superhumans with power over friction. One is dead, as far as I know. The other is Fahrenheit - of the Pauldron."

"Well, since I've already been introduced - yes, fine. I am who you say I am, and this - facility is going to be shut down."
"You have no authority here. This is a military installation, and you've committed about two dozen federal offences in - "
"Oh, pipe down, jarhead. I'm with the Pauldron. Do you know what 'Pauldron' means?"
"I do!" Schiffer said, excitedly. "It's armour that -"
"It means 'carte blanche'. It means that we have the legal right to enforce international law. It means that this...experiment is over, chum."
"You -" the lieutenant was about to call him something rather rude, but found that words weren't coming. Or rather, he couldn't hear them. It was only then that he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see a man in black, much shorter than himself. He put his finger to his lips, smiled, and then the lieutenant found himself collapsing.

"My friend is a gentle sort," Fahrenheit said. "He doesn't like violence. So, Doctor Schiffer - did I hear that right? - I advise you surrender." The doctor grinned.
"Wake up, Sam!" he shouted.

Naturally, Askancepoint didn't hear the loud, electronic humming, or the panting sound of the armoursuit's vents beginning to work. He saw it though. He felt it.
"Targets acquired," the man within the suit hissed. "Preparing to neutralise!"
"Oh shit," Askancepoint mouthed.

"I am not going back to prison!" Catastrophe roared, as he fired an earth-shatteringly powerful beam of light into the sky. Nova barely dodged out of the way, and returned fire, a beam of blue-white energy slamming into the ground with a powerful explosion. It threw Catastrophe onto his back, but didn't stop him. He just fired and fired, apparently indefatigable. A moment's lapse of concentration as Nova flew to evade his attacks and she'd have been disintegrated.

Spectra was having troubles of her own. Enhanceman hadn't just paired with Catastrophe, but also with Stentor, a low-rent thug with low-level pyrokinetic powers. Under Enhanceman's boosts, however, he was like living napalm.
"Aaahahahahhahaha!" he cackled, as billowing jets of flame burst out of him. He swept them around, targeting surrounding houses as much as Mariko herself. It was only the two villains' wanton disregard for collateral damage that the heroines were having such trouble. Ordinarily they would have dealt with them quickly enough, but they were fighting in a populated area. Mariko had to keep projecting forcefields to protect civilians, and this took a lot of concentration.

"Spectra!" Mariko heard through her communicator, a small bracelet-looking device she'd attached to her wrist. "I thought you could control Catastrophe's attacks!"
"I could if I had more room to concentrate," Spectra hissed back. "Protecting civilians from Stentor's attacks is taking all of my focus."
"God damn it," Nova growled. "What's the point of her if she can't deal with someone as weak as Stentor?" She flew higher. The battle had split the two sets of combatants quite a way from each other, and she only now saw the fury of Stentor's flames. "Alright, perhaps I'm being a little unfair..."

She'd flown out of Catastrophe's sight, but the villain found her again. He was gripped by disappointment. When he'd started out, he'd been touted as one of the great new threats, someone to be taken seriously. But all that had happened was failure, after failure, after failure. He had one trick, and he performed it well - but he'd just never figured out what good that would do him in his career as a criminal. Facing two heroines who'd both bested him in the past only drove his anger higher.

He saw Nova, high above him, and he longed to bring her down. That, if nothing else, would make people remember him: he'd be the one to kill a Pauldron member. He charged up to the full power that Enhanceman had unlocked, and he fired. Nova saw him building energy up, and was about to dodge, but her frustration got the better of her. She charged up her power as well, and fired straight at him. The beams collided in mid air - gold against blue-white - and wavered back and forth at relative parity.

"Your pal's gonna die, Spectra!" Stentor laughed. "And then you're gonna die too! Aaaahahahhaha!" Stentor was a textbook crazy. Rumour was he'd work for nothing if it meant he got to burn people up.
"Shut up, you wretched little troll!" Spectra shot back.
"Hey! Don't call me little!" He focused his fury on his gorgeous, willowy opponent. She raised a shield to protect herself, and it held - but the heat! Even through her shield, wave upon wave of heat bled through, unbearable heat.
"Aaghhh!" Mariko gasped.
"You fucked up now, girlie! Eehehehehehehe!" He raised the heat even higher. If he couldn't burn her, he'd be satisfied with merely cooking her.

Yet he'd doomed himself the moment he focused his power on Spectra. No longer needing to worry about civilians, she let out a powerful flash. Temporarily blinded, Stentor started rubbing his eyes, only to be laid low by a low-energy lance of light which speared him in the chest.
"Aagh!" he cried, clutching the wound. "You b-" He didn't get to finish, as he was cracked over the head by concussive force, and knocked unconscious. Mariko was victorious.

Spectra took a moment to cool down, using her power to draw heat away from herself. She was about to lend her aid to Nova, but when she observed the battle, she realised that it was not Nova who needed help. Catastrophe was losing. Even boosted, he couldn't stand up to Nova's attack. Her power edged closer and closer to him, and despite his rage, he couldn't defeat it. It edged closer and closer and closer...until, at the last possible second, he leapt out of the way.
"AUGHH!" As soon as Nova saw he was doing this, she drastically lowered the intensity of her blast. If it had detonated at full power, it would have killed him. As it was, it merely put him in hospital for a month.

"Uhh..." Nova moaned, as she floated slowly down to where Mariko was standing. "That was much, much more difficult than it had any damned right to be."
"Agreed. Still, we bested them."
"Of course we did," Nova retorted. "That we'd win was never in doubt. But we put civilians in danger, and Enhanceman escaped." She sighed. "Let's not be under any illusions, Spectra. We failed." Mariko rather had a feeling that by 'we' Nova had meant 'you'.
"He'll resurface," Mariko assured her. "We'll catch him sooner or later." Nova seemed to ignore this remark.

It was a shame that neither of them had any kind of enhanced senses. If they had, they would have seen a thin, deathly pale man with red eyes staring at them from a nearby building. His teeth were gritted in frustration - even with the boosts to their power that he'd provided. They didn't see him, but he looked frightened out of his wits. In a panic, he dialled a number on his burner.
"It's me," he hissed. "The two losers you sent me failed, but the plan worked. She's here. No, Chryseis isn't with her. It''s that chick from, Spectre. Spectra! That's it. What? Already?! Uh..." He started shaking. "W-well, when am I gonna get paid? Okay...okay, fine."

Nova was about to take off and start looking for Enhanceman again, but was prevented from doing so when her communicator began blaring. It was Fahrenheit - on the emergency frequency.
"This is Nova," she said. "What's going -?" She flinched, taking the communicator away from her ear. From the other end was a barrage of hideous shrieking, impossibly loud. "Askancepoint must be using his powers," she thought. "Fahrenheit, what the hell is going on?" Mariko came closer.
"If it's all the same to you," Fahrenheit said, his voice finally coming through, "we could - Jesus Christ! - use a bit of - aahh! - assistance here! Panhellius can send you the co-ordinates, just get here now! No! Mark, don't -"

He was cut off.
"Fahrenheit! Fahrenheit!" Nova shouted. "Damn it, what have those two jokers got themselves into now?"
"What was their mission?" Mariko asked.
"No idea. They do all the hush-hush stuff the rest of us are a bit too flashy for," Nova explained. "If they're calling for aid, it means they're up against something really bad. Once I get the co-ordinates, I'm going ahead."
"Of course," Mariko said. This surprised Nova, slightly. She'd expected that Mariko would have insisted on her own share of the glory. She changed the frequency of her communicator, attempting to contact Panhellius, but she couldn't get a signal.
"What the hell?" She reset the device, but this yielded no results. "Something's wrong with my communicator. Try yours." Spectra did so, but she couldn't get through either. As an experiment, she tried to connect to Nova's communicator, but that didn't work either.
"That cannot be a coincidence," Mariko said. "Fahrenheit didn't get cut off. We did. Someone...someone's jamming us!"

Mariko's eyes began scanning for who or what could be doing this, but she didn't see anyone, not at first. As the two heroines came to their realisation, a small crowd of people had begun to gather, both to see the famous heroes, and to examine the destruction that their battle had wrought. There were muted cheers. Yet these cheers turned to grumbles when a number of them noticed that their telephones weren't receiving any signals. Mariko briefly eyed them to see if some rogue hidden amongst them was responsible - but she didn't see anyone in the crowd. The person she saw was behind the crowd.

She wouldn't have seen them, but for the fact that this person was gigantic. Not massively broad, though they were broader than your average Joe. They were, however, immensely tall, at least seven feet. They were clad in all-encompassing, grey armour, inlaid with what looked like obsidian. Over their face, a silver oval, completely covering the face. They took long, slow strides towards the two heroines, and when they reached the crowd, they extended one long arm, and swatted them aside. They just sort of...fell when they were swatted, as though their legs had been shot out from under them. A general cry, a scream went up, but it seemed...choked somehow.

The figure stood there, right in front of Spectra and Nova, shoulders slouched, head turned to the side, like a curious dog. It was...bizarre. It was like they were in a cartoon, and a character drawn in a totally different animation style had just sauntered into their world. Mariko stared in bemusement, coloured by alarm and suspicion. Nova, however, stared in horror.
" can't can't be him!" She fell back a few steps.
"What do you mean?" Mariko snapped. "Who is that?" Nova didn't hear her. Her ears were ringing. Her heart was thumping in her chest. Her hands were shaking. She'd seen this person before.

Years ago, before she'd even discovered her powers. She'd seen them fight against a dozen heroes, and take apart every single on of them. They'd been like - like a force of nature. Unstoppable. Inhuman. Death incarnate. She'd been the only one to escape, and the others had fallen into his underworld.

"What? What did you say?" Mariko grabbed Nova by the arm. "What did you just say?!"
"Hades - he's Hades!"
"Hhhhhhhhhrrrmmmmmmmmmm...." the figure hummed, a bizarre metallic sound that seemed to shake every window for a mile around. "I am...Hades..." they said. "I do not know whether I am pleased to be recognised, or whether I am...appalled by your fearfulness...Novaaaa..." As they said the name, a shiver went through their inhuman, metallic voice. It sounded an awful lot like a shiver of pleasure.

"But he's...he's not real, he's a myth, a - a boogeyman!" Mariko insisted. She'd heard all the stories. How he was really responsible for every crime ring in the Western United States, how beautiful heroines fell to him left, right and centre, taken captive as easily as flowers being plucked. But no, he wasn't real. They were just stories. People couldn't even agree on 'his' gender, or his power-set. "Hades cannot be real," Mariko repeated.

"But I am here, pretty girl, with oh-so pretty legs..." Hades took a step forward, covering much more ground than it seemed as if they ought to be able to. "I look forward to stroking them. I wonder what shade of red you will blush when I squeeze your thighs and make you gasp?"
"Are you threatening me?" Spectra said. Hades seemed to laugh, though it was hard to tell.
"Yes, I am threatening you, girl. Was that not clear?"
"Fairly clear," Mariko said. "But one needs must be sure of such things. After all, now I know that this will constitute an act of self-defence!" She leapt back, cupped her hands, and threw out a beam of pure light energy, that collided directly with the villain's chest. Mariko, unable to be dazzled by her own power, saw to her astonishment that Hades was not even being pushed back. "Then take my full power!"

Spectra opened her eyes wide, and increased the intensity of her attack threefold. At the same time, she summoned a barrage of pinpoint needles of energy to attack Hades from all sides. They were of manifold different frequencies and kinds - heat, ultraviolet, visible light of all colours, lasers - Spectra left no stone unturned from her arsenal.

It was much to her surprise, then, when Hades simply began striding forwards. S/he didn't seem remotely perturbed.
"Wh-what?" Spectra tried to increase the power again, enough to cut reinforced steel to ribbons. Yet nothing happened. Hades strode forward until s/he was standing just in front of Mariko - and then he just stood there. "No - there's no...way I can be so ineffective!" Mariko tried to increase further still, but there was just nothing more to give. As she felt her body reaching breaking point, she dropped her attack. "It can't can't be!" Mariko gasped, staring up at this...being who loomed over her, this monster who seemed to affront the daylight in which it walked.
"It can," s/he replied. "You're simply much, much weaker than I am. Therefore, since I can have you, and you cannot stop me, I will take you."

Mariko felt a deathly chill run up her spine.
"Oh god," she thought. "Oh god...he's...he's real! He is Hades!" S/he reached out for Mariko, slowly, with one hand.
"No!" Hades saw it coming, but he didn't get out of the way. A powerful beam of blue-white energy was came careening towards him. It struck him, and at first it seemed as if it were equally useless, but no - he was being pushed back.

"Rrggh!" Nova growled. She floated up into the air, having found her courage and power. She upped the dosage, and saw Hades crossing his arms over his chest under her assault. "Spectra!" she yelled, shouting over the sound of her attack. "Together!"
"Right!" Spectra breathed out, focused her concentration again, and poured all her power into the thinnest, highest-pressure beam she could possibly create.

By this point, the crowd had wisely either run or crawled away. That being done, Nova increased her power further still, keeping her breathing steady.
"He's a monster," Nova thought. "We are heroes - we exist to defeat monsters!" She screamed with rage, and heard Mariko joining her - and in that moment, despite Nova's very, very strong reservations about Mariko being a member of the Pauldron, despite Mariko's deep concerns about her place on the team and Nova's attitude towards her, despite all that, united against this foul, hateful enemy, they were sisters.

There was an explosion of power, as both woman put a final burst of strength into it, before exhaustion forced them to stop.
"Ahhh..." Mariko gasped, falling back. She raised her hands, ready to attack again. Hades was obscured by a cloud of dust and smoke: perfect cover for an ambush. Yet ambush came there none. As the dust cleared, Nova and Spectra saw nothing there.

Immediately Spectra started scanning around for signs of the villain.
"Where is he?"
"Is it possible we...we destroyed him?" Nova floated down, standing next to Mariko.
"No, there's no chance of that," Mariko replied sternly. "His resistance to damage is insane. There's no way a blast like that would kill him. It would take...Zjarrus to destroy him, at least."
"You didn't think he even existed," Nova said. Her voice was shaking, though whether it shook with fear or excitement, Mariko couldn't tell. "It is possible. Perhaps he only seemed invulnerable 'cause he was generating some kind of force field around his body. If he ran out of energy to produce it, or if we put in just enough power to break it..."
"No, it's too easy!" Spectra summoned a blade of light over her hand. "He must be...he must be hiding somewhere..."

Nova shared the majority of Mariko's suspicion. The two young woman, one gracefully tall, the other charmingly petite, stood back to back with each other.
"Wait, what's that?" Nova said. She'd felt a shaking.
"Where did it come from?"
"I don't know," Nova said.
"Was it below us or in one of the buildings?"
"Stop asking questions!" Nova barked, her moment of sisterhood quite forgotten. "Just keep quiet, you god-damned 'Couvie -"

She didn't finish her insult. A second after starting it, she'd more or less forgotten that Mariko was even there. The shaking had, indeed, come from under them. It was the first part of what took place next, as Hades burst out of the ground, right in front of them. There was a moment of silence as the two beautiful, slender women stood, stultified by shock, in the shadow of this monster. Then the moment passed - and Hades grabbed both damsels simultaneously, clamping a hand over each girl's mouth and nose, before rushing forward, and forcing them up against a wall, holding them up above the ground.

"MMMPHHH!!" the two maidens screamed, as they struggled in Hades' grasp, batting and pounding at their enemy's mighty arms. They struck out with their powers, blasting Hades again and again, but to no avail. The assault did not last long in any case - for both realised that what they felt over their mouths was not their enemy's armoured gauntlet - but a soft, damp, sweet-smelling cloth. Nova did not recognise the scent, but Mariko did.

"There we are, there we are!" Hades laughed. "Struggle, struggle, struggle! Wiggle your smooth, soft legs, shake your perky, youthful breasts as you writhe in my grip! I have you now, so show me how delightful it's going to be to own your delicious bodies! Wriggle! Moan! Exhibit your sexuality to your new master!"
"Nmmph! NNNMMPHH!!" Mariko kicked at Hades, as hard as she possibly could. She could feel her consciousness dimming, her concentration failing her. "''s started..." She felt the drug entering her system, her shock preventing her from controlling her breathing. She was already weakening.

"Mph?! Mhhh! MHHNGGH! NNNNNNNNMMMPHHH!!" For Nova this was even worse. She could control her rapid, panicked breathing no better than Mariko, but her powers relied directly on her breathing to work. If she couldn't keep it steady, she couldn't summon the energy within her. She raised her right hand, and blue-white energy flickered within it - but faded, sputtered, and failed. "Nmph..." she mewed, and her arm dropped to her side.

Sara felt her tight, nubile body getting weaker, and weaker, her vaunted strength failing her.
"He's caught me..." she thought. "Hades has caught me...oh, no, no! I can't let this...h-happen...uuunhhh..." She felt her eyelids flutter, felt her supple thighs rubbing together as her struggles faded into the most pathetic of writhings, her feet wiggling in the air. "Drugged...drugged..." she repeated in her mind. She couldn't believe it. She - Nova - was being captured, chloroformed like the most pathetic of 'Couvie heroes, like she was Enhancegirl, or Aerogirl - or Spectra, for that matter. Her glitter dusted cheeks turned red as her mind turned to her own beauty. "He'll have me...he'll have me completely defenceless...and this - this dress is so...revealing...I must be so...tempting...a soft fruit...and he's plucked me..." She was getting delirious, the chloroform sapping her power even to think clearly.

Being taller, Mariko took longer to succumb, but she was hardly any better off. As the drug made it harder and harder for her to concentrate, it made it impossible for her to use her powers. All she could do now was bat feebly at Hades' arm, but even this barely lasted a few seconds. Her right arm dropped to her side, the fingers of her left arm sliding one by one from her captor's wrist. Eventually it too dropped, and Mariko was just hanging there, her jade eyes growing hazy and unfocused, waves of sleepiness pulsing through her willowy, beautiful body.
"I can't move..." she thought. She looked with half-closed eyes at her captor, their masked visage betraying no emotion. But she could hear Hades...panting, giggling as they watched the two heroines succumb to the fumes.

"Look! Look!" Hades shouted, a grating distortion altering their voice. Hades inclined the maiden's heads inwards, forcing the sleepy, helpless young women to look upon each other. "I do not know your sexual orientations, girls, but I am sure you see why this gives me so great a sense of satisfaction. You are so lovely, and you were beaten so easily. It would be pathetic, were it not so arousing."
"Mmhh...nnmphh..." Mariko mewed, now effectively paralysed, but clinging desperately onto consciousness.
"I recant that," Hades said, seeming to look straight at the willowy, long-legged twenty-year-old. "It is arousing because it is so pathetic."

He began lowering them down simultaneously, the damsels' feet touching the floor, but with no strength in their bare legs to stand. He swung them forward slightly, before turning them in mid-air, and letting their limp, helpless bodies flop helplessly down onto their backs.
"Unhh..." they groaned softly as they hit the pavement. It wasn't painful - they hadn't fallen that far. But as their bodies hit the ground, the thud had a terrible finality to it. Their heads lolled to the side, coming to look at each other. Jade eyes stared into brown, and both defeated, drugged damsels felt their own dismay and powerlessness reflected in the other.

Hades turned them onto their fronts, and though they shifted slightly, they could barely move at all.
"Does it sting, I wonder?" Hades said, crossing Nova's wrists behind her back. "That your sweet, tender flesh is mine to do with as I please?" Illustrating the point, the villain ran one hand up the length of Nova's soft, lithe legs, feeling every curve, every contour.
"No...nooooo..." Nova whimpered, half-asleep, but awake enough to feel the bite of humiliation - and of cord.

With frightening speed, Hades wound thin, white rope around Nova's thin wrists, securing her arms behind her back. The villain looped the same length around Nova's front, fixing her arms in place, and squeezing her firm breasts from underneath.
"He's...he's tying me up..." Nova thought, dismayed at feeling herself brought to the level of a captive, a victim. "Ohh..." she moaned, as she felt Hades lift the sash of her dress that ran down her legs, completely exposing her smooth limbs, and her round, yielding buttocks. "'t do this...mustn't...unhh..." Nova felt Hades entwining her legs, binding her ankles with circuit after circuit of rope, affixing them together, before sliding both hands up her calves, her vulnerable, peach-coloured thighs.

"What a fine specimen," Hades crowed. "Do you have a lover, Nova? If I were in that position, I wouldn't let you leave the house. I'd keep you prisoner, chain you to the bed, let you think of nothing but pleasuring me with that sumptuous body of yours. You would know the true depths of submission..." Holding her thighs together, Nova's captor bound her thighs, squeezing them against each other with painful strictness. They let her legs flop down, and Sara had just the strength to lift her head, and look at her bound body.
", no, no..." she repeated, half-conscious, half-sunken into drugged slumber. Humiliation coursed through her like poison, sapping her courage and strength of will as surely as the chloroform had sapped her power.

"D-don't touch me..." Mariko mumbled quietly as Hades took her by her bare shoulders, and hauled her up to her feet. She couldn't move, her head flopping to the side. "Uunhh..." Hades forced her up against the same wall where she'd been drugged, her breasts pressing into the concrete.
"So fragile..." Hades whispered into her ear. "You're like glass. I could tap you, and you would crack. But fear not. I see how delicate you really are. I will preserve your beauty, and it will continue to delight me as I take you captive."
"Ahh!" With one hand, Hades took both of Mariko's, moving them into a reverse prayer position, before ensnaring her forearms with rope, with painful strictness. The villain then looped rope around her front, and wound it round, and round and round, ensnaring Mariko's torso completely, burying her arms beneath the coils, completely covering Mariko in rope from her waist, up to her naked shoulders. These Hades stroked, making Mariko shiver as she felt the metal of her captor's gauntlet against her bare skin.

" won't win..." Mariko said. Hades knelt down as she spoke, taking her long, gorgeous, nude legs, and pressing them firmly together. The tall heroine gave a little whimper, feeling just how powerless she was to prevent Hades from feeling her up.
"Has the chloroform made you stupid as well as weak? That would be unfortunate. I like a woman who truly understands what I'm doing to her." Hades was entwining Mariko's ankles and calves, her knee-high boots disappearing beneath the rope.
"We are...the...Pauldron..." Mariko said, trying desperately to derive a tinge of pride from this.
"And yet I am kidnapping you all the same," Hades replied, sounding almost bored.
"The others will...come for us..." It was hard to say even a sentence as long as this. "Even...even you are no match for...Imperion..."

Hades shot up, seized Mariko by the shoulders. She cried out in fear. She was a helpless, drugged, tightly tied up damsel with a desirable body and a skimpy outfit - and Hades was an incredibly powerful superhuman with no morals at all. He could have killed her in an instant, or done much, much worse. She couldn't help it. For all her power and pride, she was girlishly frightened, and she quailed as her fragile body was gripped by the monster who had defeated her.
"Do not mention that name," Hades growled, their voice distorted, like someone running a knife over the strings of a violin. "Your body is very, very lovely, and I intend to derive a great deal of pleasure from doing all sorts of unspeakable things to it, but even my tolerance has limits. Do not test me." They let go of her, and Mariko dropped tamely onto her knees.

Hades returned to Nova, who had recovered just enough energy to start writhing a little. The villain took her, hauling her over to where Mariko knelt with astonishingly little effort, and forced her to kneel down in front of her fellow captive. The defeated damsels avoided each other's gaze.
"Look. LOOK!" Hades bellowed. They grabbed each maiden by the back of her head, and forced them to obey. "Do you see how pathetic you are now? How embarrassing it must be to be so quickly conquered, to see each other writhing so deliciously in those tight, white ropes, so helpless, so defeated...mmmhhhhh!"

The two maidens stared despondently at each other, finding no comfort in the other's gaze, their own defeat only magnified by seeing the other brought low as well. Suddenly, Hades grabbed each by the back of the head, and forced their mouths against each other - almost. Just as he did this, he dropped a drugged cloth between them, so that when their mouths met, they held it in place over both their mouths and noses.
"Nnnnnmmphhh...mmmphhh!" the two helpless maidens whimpered, struggling weakly to escape the drugged and the forced intimacy of their 'kiss'. Even through the cloth, they could feel each other's lips, and they both blushed brightly.

"'m fading..." Mariko thought, as her eyes began fluttering again. She felt her shoulders sinking, felt her breathing getting slower, and deeper.
"Helpless...I'm helpless..." Nova repeated, her pretty eyes becoming wet as she stared at Mariko. They could see each other getting sleepier, weaker. They were losing consciousness, both of them, no match for the ropes, for the drug - and by no stretch of the imagination a match for Hades.

"You're like princesses," Hades whispered, as he pushed them closer together, increasing the intimacy of their forced kiss. "You are not the heroes of your story. You are the objects. You are a goal for others at best. Something to claim. Even if someone were to rescue you, they're just doing what I'm doing in reverse. Claiming you back." He laughed.
"Mmpphhmmphh..." Nova mewed, muzzled and thoroughly subdued. "If I...if I have to be a princess..." she thought, hazily. "Would...would he...would he come for me...?" With this thought, she gave a shudder, before going wholly limp. She was asleep.

Mariko too imagined someone coming for her - who else but her Sophie, whom she had saved and who had saved her time after time after time? But she was not sleepily begging for rescue.
"Stay...stay away, Sophie...please..." Mariko thought. "Hades...mustn't...mustn't have love..." With that, she too passed out. Hades allowed the maidens to slump to the side, before with a shock of speed, seizing them both, hauling them up the their feet, and hurling them over a shoulder each, feeling their beautiful, moist, naked legs draped over their body. Hades' hands hungrily squeezed their thighs, the taut flesh of their behinds, Mariko's slightly smaller and less yielding - but yielding a more satisfying 'crack' when Hades spanked her.
"You were born to be my prizes," Hades said. "You were born to moan in my grasp...choke on your defeat, my loves! Let it be the millstone that bows your heads..." With that, the villain strode away, the two despairing, mollified maidens tame and obedient as Hades stole them away: subdued, defeated, and taken.

Some miles away, Fahrenheit sat with his arm round the shoulders of a young man, trying to calm him down. Despite their pleas for help, he and Askancepoint had managed to defeat their powerful foe, the shock having brought him out of a kind of trance. His armour had vanished in a flash of light, revealing a slight, extremely thin boy of eighteen or so, who'd had no idea what he'd been doing, or where he'd been for the last month. Though the Doctor had escaped, police were moving in to empty out the rest of the facility.

"D-did I h-hurt you?" the boy, Sam, stammered. He'd asked the question several times, but couldn't remember the answer. Fahrenheit had said 'no', but this was a lie. He'd attacked them with poison gas, bio-explosives, high-powered tasers, and a shockingly powerful chest-mounted cannon. But it seemed not to have been his fault, so there was no point in making the kid feel bad.

"It's very odd," Askancepoint signed to his erstwhile companion. "I thought for sure there was going to be more to this little diversion."

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Post 8 months ago

Fantastic!! So many interesting dynamics from the interaction of new characters to the action sequences: it was a thrilling read. Thanks!!
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Post 8 months ago

DrDominator9 wrote:Fantastic!! So many interesting dynamics from the interaction of new characters to the action sequences: it was a thrilling read. Thanks!!
My dear fellow, you're very welcome!

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Post 8 months ago

"Mmmhh...mphh...hmmph?" Yumi Tae-Yeong mewed, as she began to stir. Having been subdued and cast into slumber by hypnosis, rather than by drug or venom, she awoke relatively peaceably. She tried to move, but she could feel her petite, pert body was tightly bound, restraining the feeble strength of her graceful, sylphlike limbs. She was lying on something hard, cold wood against the skin of her bare legs. Yumi did not know this, but she was lying on the floor of an art gallery which, due to lack of interest, had shut down only six months after opening. Alas, she was not altogether surprised to find herself captive-bound. She remembered everything. Mysteria stealing into her room. Being swiftly captured as she lay helpless and asleep. Being bound, hypnotised, being made to -

"Come on!" Yumi heard a voice that she recognised, but couldn't quite place. It was shrill, almost manic. "I'm not going to do anything bad...I just want to smell her..."
"Come now, Emily, you won't be able to stop at that." This voice she recognised instantly: it was Mysteria, the woman who'd kidnapped her. Yumi turned her scintillatingly pretty face towards the villain. She could see that someone was in front of her, but Mysteria's body blocked them wholly from view.

"You remember the agreement," Mysteria said, soothingly. "You sacrifice this...token, and your debt is paid. Forever. I'd say that's a pretty fantastic deal, wouldn't you?"
"I know, I know but...come on, you didn't even let me capture her!" Emily stuck her head out from behind Mysteria, looked at the half-naked, slender Korean girl with hungry, dark eyes. Yumi looked back, startled by the clarity of her captor's lasciviousness...until she recognised her. Then she simply screamed.

"NNMPHH!! MMM-NNNMMMPHHH!!" Yumi cried out through her silky gag. She wriggled away from her as fast as she possibly could, whimpering with fear. "A-Arachna!" More than a year earlier, Arachna had abducted her from a concert. Bound her, paralysed her, mummified her in webs and delighted in exposing Stellar's weaknesses. She'd defeated Stellar three times in a row, the maiden ending up her bound, webbed-up captive each time. It was the first time Yumi had ever been so utterly defeated, and the web-wielding witch had become a figure of great fear for her.

"Listen to that," Arachna cooed. "She's scared. C'mon, you've gotta let me...comfort her." Her hands were trembling.
"If you want to try to overpower me," Mysteria said, putting her hand lightly on her ally's shoulder, "I'm not wholly sure I could stop you. Yet, I don't think I'm the one you needs must worry about, Emily." Arachna's face fell.
"Fine..." she said, sulking and slinking away.

"What on earth is going on?" Yumi thought. "Why have they taken me? Who's that woman working with Arachna?" As well as being helpless, she hadn't the slightest inkling of why this was happening to her. Her ignorance made her feel all the more an object in the events of her abduction, a...thing to be taken, even fought over.

In her humiliation, she cast her eyes down, and so did not see Arachna moving away.
"If I can't have my fun with her..." Mysteria had not been the only one carrying a comely captive slung over her shoulder when the two villains had stolen into the gallery. Another young woman lay on the wooden floor, about fifteen feet from where Yumi had been laid down. She was taller, curvier, and more generously endowed, with long, smooth black hair. Her forearms and her calves were bound in Arachna's silk, and the villain's foul threads sealed the maiden's soft mouth as well.

Insyte, for it was she, lay quite peacefully on her back. Arachna's venom had subdued her, and she slept soundly in her silken bondage, unaware of her captivity.
"Mmmhh..." Arachna sighed, looking down at the fetching telepath. "Ooh, you're really pretty, aren't you?" She knelt down next to the drugged maiden, grazed one fingertip over her left cheek, feeling the fineness of her alabaster skin, the curve of her feminine, dignified features. She moved down to Natalya's long, white neck, feeling its smooth, delicate vulnerability. She placed two of her fingertips near the base of her neck, feeling the heroine's pulse throbbing gently. Arachna grinned. She had Natalya's life in her hands. And not just her life, of course.

"Mmmh!" Yumi cried out. Mysteria had stepped aside, and she now saw that she was not the pair's only captive. It had been more than a year since the two had last met, but she recognised Insyte straight away, having last seen her in the mansion of Madam Black. During Yumi's ultimately successful rescue, she had been ambushed and brainwashed by Mesmeredith, only for Insyte to free her. Like Arachna, Yumi's meeting with Natalya had been brief, but it had left a powerful impression. "Why have they taken her as well?" An answer suggested itself, but she did not want to consider it. She knew Arachna had been working for Black before. Was the slaver taking back her property?

Arachna saw Yumi looking, and grinned. Her wide, wet eyes seemed so sympathetic: like she cared more about this relative stranger than about herself. But then, wasn't that just another reason why Stellar was so perfect? Arachna winked at her, and tucked one hand under the small of Insyte's back, and lifted her a few inches off the ground.
"Mph..." the architect mewed softly in her slumber, as her lovely head fell back, her inky-black hair trailing on the ground. Arachna ran her hand up from Natalya's smooth stomach, slowly up her torso, to the underside of one of her gorgeous breasts. She spread her fingers out in a wide pattern, just feeling the smooth roundness of Natalya's chest. She took a more generous handful, moving her hand high enough that her fingertips now traced the warm, pale skin of her victim. There was a different quality to this skin than that of the rest of Natalya's body - more yielding, more delicate.

She lifted Natalya a bit higher, making the limp damsel's bound arms droop, her hair no longer quite touching the floor, her throat completely exposed. She spread her fingers to cup both of Natalya's breasts at once, massaging them, squeezing them against each other. Did she perhaps feel a...hardness manifesting within the softness of the telepath's sumptuous bosom? She liked to think that she did...

She spread her hand upwards, sliding it between Natalya's breasts, and stroking her bare shoulders - only bare because Arachna had torn Insyte's dress. With a sudden movement, she used her enhanced strength to hoist Natalya right up to her feet. She held her by her shoulders, as her captive's head drooped to the side. She moved one hand to Natalya's face, stroking her tenderly, before pulling away the sticky gag she'd left over her mouth. She looked at Mysteria, who seemed not to object, and then roughly forced a kiss upon her unconscious victim.

"Nmmph!" Yumi protested, but that only made it feel all the sweeter. Arachna let her tongue slide deep into Natalya's mouth, so soft, so wet. She was completely unresisting: gorgeous, feminine, and absolutely tame.
"Mmh...mmh..." Natalya sighed, shifting a little in Arachna's grip. She was starting to come round.

Unlike Yumi, Natalya awoke in a very drowzy, confused state. The drug lingered in her system, keeping her groggy, mollified. Her eyes opened, but so unfocused that she couldn't work out what she was seeing, and they quickly fell shut again. She felt warm, she knew that, felt something silky on her arms and her calves. And there was a tingling feeling in her mouth, a rather pleasant feeling.

"I'm...being kissed..." she thought, and this was not wholly unpleasant a thought. She felt embarrassed, but she was too drowzy to deny the pleasure. Arachna almost burst out laughing when she felt Insyte slightly reciprocating. She kissed more forcefully in response, and felt Insyte submitting to her, making a little mewing sound as her captor explored further. Arachna pressed her leather-covered chest against Natalya's - by no means as ample a one, but still fairly shapely.
"Wh...a woman?" Natalya thought, and Arachna felt her decidedly heterosexual captive pull back. The maiden's eyes fluttered open again. "Whmph?"
"Morning, peaches."

"MMMMMPPPHHHH!!" As Natalya's vision grew clearer, not only did she see whom it was who had forced their lips upon hers, but she felt the sheer extent of her lascivious avarice. It hit her like a wave, and she throbbed with humiliation at having been toyed with in such a way. "They abducted me...oh god, what did they do to me while I was knocked out?" A quick scan revealed that nothing beyond what had just happened had been inflicted on her, but that didn't lessen her shame. The only relief was that they'd fled, rather than face Enhancegirl.

"Let's get the small-talk out of the way. Yes," Arachna said as she pulled her lips away from her captive's. "we kidnapped you. Yes, I'm gonna do whatever I like to you, and yes - there's nothing you can do about it."
"Unhh...what...what gives you the...the right?" Natalya protested, still groggy and weak from Arachna's venom.
"The fact that I can," Arachna said. "What else?"

She thrust her hand down, clamping her fingers around Natalya's thigh, the one - of course - with the shorter stocking. She squeezed, eliciting a gasp from the buxom architect. At the same time, she snaked another hand up her captive's chest, and around to the back of her neck, holding it quite firmly, though by no means painfully. Yet from the way she gripped Natalya's long, pale neck with each finger pressing slightly into her skin, she gave a clear impression: she could always tighten her grip.

As this was happening, Stellar was trying to take what advantage she could of the situation. Yumi didn't have to be a telepath to realise that Mysteria was enjoying the sight of Arachna dominating her captive. She began shifting back, as slowly as she possibly could, trying not to make noise.
"If only I could get this gag off..." she thought. As humiliated as she was, she was confident that she was powerful enough to defeat the two villains in a fair fight. Yet no matter how much she wriggled, she never seemed to move any further away.
"I do hope you're not trying to sneak away in the middle of the show," Mysteria said. "That's really bad form, dear." She hadn't even looked round. Yumi realised that she was being kept from escaping by her captor's bizarre powers.
"Mh..." she whimpered, hanging her head. "I really am helpless..." the defeated singer thought, despondent and ashamed.

"Are you seriously a superhero?" Arachna giggled, pulling Natalya in closer, feeling the maiden's ample bust pressing against her. "You don't feel like one. Most super-ladies I get my hands on feel a little...firmer. A little stronger. You?" She pulled Natalya in and licked her cheek. "You're...soft. Fragile. Everything about you is...mmmhhh, it's...oh, shit, I can't think of the word!"
"Sumptuous?" Mysteria proffered, idly.
"Yeah, that's it! You're...sumptuous." She took Natalya by the thighs, and hooked her other arm behind the small of her back, before hoisting Natalya into the air, the captive damsel giving a shocked gasp as she was manhandled.

"Let me - ah, put me d-down!" Natalya demanded, her white cheeks crimsoning as she saw just how much her helpless protests were arousing the woman who held her in bondage, carrying her so easily.
"Shhhh, sweetie-pie," Arachna cooed. "There's nothing you can do. Just feel how helpless and cute you are. Scooped up like a bride! Ahahahahaha!" She lifted Natalya's thighs to a higher angle, the cowed heroine's calves drooping down as she did. This made the architect's short dress slide back and - telepathically seeing through Arachna's eyes - Natalya gave a cry of dismay as she saw her captor get a nice long look at what ought to have been concealed.

"See? Soft legs, soft breasts, soft neck, soft...everything..." Arachna said. Natalya felt her captor's grip tighten: she was starting to lose control of what little inhibition she possessed. "You're just...oh, you're totally pathetic, but god damn it's turning me on!"
"Not l-like -" Natalya stammered, struggling to keep her eyes open - not because she was sleepy, but because she couldn't bear being inside Arachna's head. "Not like Enhancegirl..."
"What? Yeah, I guess," Arachna replied, nonplussed.
"You're afraid of her," Natalya said. Arachna was about to contradict her sharply, but when she looked down at Natalya, she realised one part of her wasn't soft: her eyes. Yellow, owl-like, they pierced right through her, and she felt herself shuddering. "You are afraid, aren't you? You've heard how much stronger she is than when she fought you. That's why you didn't try to capture her as well. You're - MMPHH!!"

Having heard quite enough from her captive, Arachna's mouth descended upon Natalya's once more, and though she was aghast, and struggled to escape this second forced kiss, Natalya could not move away. She tried, but Arachna was too strong, and she was too weak. And she was getting weaker.

"Oh no! Not...not again..." It was not quite the same thing. Arachna wanted Natalya to be fully aware of what was happening to her this time. The architect felt her soft, pale legs stop their useless shifting. She felt her breathing getting slower, felt her shoulders slacken. Her arms relaxed, now drooping down towards the ground. Powerlessness was being dissolved into her like sugar in hot water. As Arachna kissed her more and more deeply, more and more of her venom was secreted into the voluptuous maiden she cradled.

"Mhh...mmmhhh..." Natalya sighed, feeling her beautiful body going limp. She was paralysed, her entire body completely incapable of movement. She gave a long, plaintive moan into Arachna's mouth as the last of her strength slipped away, but there was nothing she could do to prevent it. Arachna laid her down on the ground, the bound damsel entirely still, scarcely even able to move her eyes.

"You know how I said you looked like a bride?" Arachna said. "There's one thing missing. You're not wearing enough white, darling."
"Mph..." Natalya mewed, as a gob of webbing shot out from the specialised organ on Arachna's palm, slapping over her full lips, sealing her voice. Arachna knelt down, and took Natalya's calves in her hands. She licked her lips, and Natalya felt wet threads emerge from her hands, the villain's skilful fingers winding them over and around her legs, winding them over her feet, a second layer over her calves. She drew the maiden's thighs even tighter together, Natalya wanting to recoil as she felt the strong, wet webs against the skin of one thigh, and soaking through the stocking of the other, submerging her legs in silk, completely covering them.

"I love having these powers," Arachna said, her voice trembling with excitement. She lifted Natalya up by her shoulders, pulling her into a sitting position. She then started winding thread around her stomach, covering that too, and sealing her arms behind her back. Natalya's long, black hair kept getting in the way, however, so Arachna pushed her back onto the floor with a frustrated grunt.

"Mph..." Natalya mewed. She lay there for a moment, staring upwards, half-covered in Arachna's spiderwebs. Bound. Paralysed. Dominated. Her eyes fell half-closed.
"Uh-uh, sweetness," Arachna cooed. "No sleeping this time." She looked down at the limp beauty at her feet, her heaving, half-exposed bosom, her pale shoulders. "Such a temptress...we really should cover you up."

"Nnnnmmmphhh...!" Insyte moaned through her gag, as she felt the adhesive threads covering her lily-white breasts, violating the smooth perfection of her skin as she was covered. She felt the webs sloshing over her, binding her in the most humiliatingly intimate fashion, a horrible gurgling sound as Arachna churned out more and more silk to subdue the voluptuous maiden at her feet. Her naked shoulders were enveloped as well, and when the threads had reached her slender neck, Natalya found herself seized: Arachna dropped to the ground and began teasing the threads as they poured out of her, wrapping Natalya tightly, leaving her mummified from her feet to her neck, completely tied up in sticky silk, her bright yellow eyes and long, black hair a stark contrast with the white threads binding her voluptuous body. She closed her eyes, feeling them becoming wet as she drowned in humiliation, feeling just how far below her captors she was. "Why...why do I keep doing this? Why do I bother being Insyte at all?"

"That's more like it," Arachna said. "If I had my way, every pretty supergirl in Seacouver would end up like this...limp and floppy, and all snugly bundled up..." She swung one leg over Natalya's body, straddling her. She pressed down against Natalya's hips, and blood rose to the architect's cheeks yet again.
"Mnhh..." the raven-haired damsel whimpered, her dour personality making it all too easy for her to despair.
"Aww, don't be sad," Arachna said. She stroked Natalya's long hair, sliding it between her fingertips. "I'll take good care of you honey." To Natalya's astonishment, her powers revealed that this was not meant wholly sarcastically. She seemed to imagine that she was...keeping Natalya safe, somehow. No, that wasn't quite it. She enjoyed Natalya's distress as well, but...
"Her mind is so disordered..." Everything was contradictory. She was...yes, she was probably the least reflective person Insyte had ever encountered. The thought that she was causing other human beings suffering, that her life didn't actually bring her a great deal of fulfilment - these things had genuinely never occurred to her.

"I wouldn't keep that up if I were you," Mysteria said. "What's-his-face is going to be here in a few minutes. I don't think he'll be happy if he finds flagrante delicto."
"In fla...? Look, why don't you just stop buzzing round my ear, alright?" Arachna snapped. She was about to return to fondling Insyte, but something stuck in her craw. "You did that deliberately."
"That - that expression! 'In flambé deluxe' or whatever. You did it deliberately 'cause you knew I wouldn't understand!"
"Then consider it a favour, darling," Mysteria said. "I've broadened your horizons."
"I'll broaden your -!"

Arachna was about to punch Mysteria's lights out - or attempt to, at any rate - when she felt something. She'd left a kind of early warning system by all the entrances - small, fine webs. Too small to trap anyone, but Arachna could sense tremors through them, and she felt one now, by the main entrance.
"Shit," she hissed, hopping off Natalya. She rushed past Mysteria and Yumi, to the balcony that looked out over the gallery's ground floor, and the entrance from which she'd felt a disturbance. The door was open, but no-one was there. "A distraction!" Arachna hissed, immediately looking around to the other potential entrances: windows, a skylight.

But no. There was no deception. To Arachna's astonishment, a young woman walked through the door, openly. She was clad in gold, her hair burning red. Her eyes were green jewels, her pretty, oft-kissed mouth curled into a snarl.
"Arachna!" she shouted. Emily found herself recoiling.

"Don't try to hide!" Enhancegirl shouted. "I can see you. I can see your asshole partner with Stellar and Insyte a few feet away from you. I can see the weblines you've put on all the entrances - I can smell them too." She stepped forward, fists clenched. She looked right at Arachna. "By nature you're an ambush predator: surprise attacks, traps, that's your style, isn't it? Well, sister, that isn't gonna fucking cut it with me. Not any more! So come out and fight, you depraved-ass piece of shit!"

Above her, Arachna was astonished. She remembered Sophie as a bit hot-headed, but not like this. She didn't, perhaps, quite understand that kidnapping and molesting one of Enhancegirl's dearest friends, and one of her idols would engender such white-hot loathing.
"Nervous?" Mysteria had appeared behind the red-and-black clad villainess.
"Of Enhancegirl? Don't be ridiculous," Arachna spat.
"Neither of us are exactly the Titan, Emily," Mysteria responded. She took off her hat, dusted off the brim, and replaced it. "You don't need to be a weakling to admit that she's a threat, Emily." She put her hand on Arachna's shoulder.
"Stop calling me that!" Arachna shouted, rather perturbed that it had taken her a few seconds to make this response. "Stay back, and make sure our goods don't get loose. I like my odds one on one just fine - three on two would be a lot damn harder, so just watch them!"
"If you insist..."

Sophie waited. She didn't mind. Though she'd of course rather her allies (could she call Yumi a 'friend' exactly?) had not been captured and imperilled, she'd been waiting for a one-on-one rematch with Arachna for a long time. That business with Volthena hadn't felt right. It hadn't been a fight. She still remembered what Arachna had done to her and Stellar at their first meeting, how Valora had taken away her chance for retribution. Well, that chance had come again. When Arachna leapt down, Sophie didn't waste any time.
"Come on then!" she hissed.

Arachna struck first. She knew in all likelihood that Sophie would dodge these opening salvos, and she did. Five, six weblines shot out at her, and Sophie dodged them all, mostly by just slightly altering the position of her body. One she'd had to leap over, but that had not been difficult. Yet Arachna was not finished. She kept the weblines attached to her hands, and when they'd all missed, she pulled them back - along with the heavy picture frames they'd attached to as they sailed past their 'target'.

Arachna thought she'd been very clever, but Sophie had not only realised in advance that this was Arachna's plan, she'd even calculated likely trajectories with her enhanced capacity for processing information - before Arachna had even pulled the frames of the walls. As it was, Sophie dodged all five - one webline had missed its target - with a single, graceful leap. She arched her body in mid-air, two of the frames missing her by less than a centimetre.

"Shit!" Arachna had to jump out of the way of her own attacks, as the picture frames smashed with great force into the wall behind her. One almost hit her, but she smacked it aside with her formidable strength. "Stupid - oh, crap!" Enhancegirl had no intention of letting her execute such a complex scheme again, and she leapt at Arachna like a puma.

Sophie caught Arachna off guard with a swift left cross, though it was only a glancing blow. Arachna wasn't staggered, so immediately attacked, aiming for a knockout blow straight away - and with her strength, this was a perfectly reasonable thing to attempt. But she missed. Not only did she miss, but, Sophie caught Arachna's arm with both of hers, and used the villain's strength against her. She might have had enhanced strength - but she didn't weigh more than it looked like she did. For this reason, when Sophie used her judo training to throw Arachna past her shoulder, the villain was hurled forward, and crashed hard into the ground.

"Ugh..." she groaned, struggling to her feet. Sophie didn't give her an ounce of ground, though. She kicked Arachna in the stomach as she was rising, and though her strong abdominals stopped her from being winded, they didn't spare Arachna much pain. Sophie kicked her again, in the waist, then dropped back to avoid a retaliatory strike. Arachna went on the offensive this time, but that offensive didn't last long. She missed two well-aimed strikes, her frustration growing with every failure. "Rrgh!" she growled, as Sophie got a painful jab in, a two-knuckle punch that left Arachna slightly dazed.

"Damn it!" The villain leapt back, using her enhanced strength to get some useful distance between herself and Sophie. In mid-jump, she fired another webline, expecting it to miss. But she must have caught Enhancegirl off guard, because it struck her right on one of her creamy, supple calves. "Ha! Gotcha, you smug little tramp!" She yanked hard, pulling with more than enough strength to yank Sophie into the air. The redhead gasped as she was pulled forward into Arachna's waiting arms, the villain already licking her lips at the prospect of paralysing and mummifying the slender girl.

But that seemed not to be on the cards. Sophie righted herself in mid-air, and used the momentum Arachna had given her, delivering a devastating spinning kick to Arachna's jaw.
"Unngghhh!" Arachna gasped, as she was sent crashing to the ground, in so much pain that she feared her jaw was broken.
"Oh, fuck this," Sophie said, as Arachna once again struggled to her feet. "You're telling me this is the rematch I've been waiting for?" Arachna lunged at her, stunned into inaccuracy. Sophie danced around her, kicking her in the ankle so that she'd stiffen her knee to balance, then striking hard at her knee, causing her to cry out in pain. "You kidnap my friends, you humiliate me - and then you don't even give me the satisfaction of a good fight when I kick your ass!"
"Keep talking, girl!"

Arachna summoned her composure, and leapt forward with great speed. She spat on her fingernails, intending to paralyse Sophie with her venom by scratching her. Sophie's outfit left plenty of bare skin from which to choose, but Arachna thought that getting her in the neck would be the most satisfying.

Arachna was perhaps one of the only people without superhuman durability who could trade blows relatively evenly with Sophie, for she too was possessed of superhuman senses. However, while Arachna's certainly made her strength and her venom even more dangerous, they were nothing compared to Enhancegirl's, not anymore. Without even having to plan consciously, Sophie found her limbs already moving into the appropriate positions to counter Arachna's attack, her enhanced nervous system capable of cognition throughout its entirety, rather than having to rely on Sophie's brain for all but the most instinctive of decisions. As it was, when Arachna's nails lunged towards her, Sophie not only dodged, but caught Arachna's arm by trapping it against her side with one of her own arms. Arachna was much stronger than Sophie, and would have pulled away in an instant, had Sophie not driven her knee at full force into Arachna's solar plexus. Twice.

"Ugh-gaah!" Arachna gasped, clutching her stomach. She tried to summon her strength, but Sophie had knocked it right out of her. "Th...this...this can't..." she groaned, stumbling backwards.
"Uh, yeah. It can," Sophie said. She thrust her knee into Arachna's stomach one last time - and the villain collapsed onto the ground. The last things Arachna heard before passing out were Sophie dusting off her hands, and getting the final word on their battle: "You're not a match for me anymore, Emily."

Sophie breathed out hard as she watched Arachna go down. She clapped her hands together, trying to keep calm. She couldn't help it: she was pumped up from her victory, couldn't keep the smile off her face.
"Don't get cocky," she said to herself. "Don't get cocky. Keep sharp. You've got no idea what the other one can do."
"Sage advice."

Sophie snapped round. Standing behind her was a brunette woman of medium height, in a white, ruffled shirt, and short top hat. She had slightly androgynous features, and was just a little taller than Sophie herself. None of that the redhead found particularly alarming. What she found alarming was the fact that she hadn't seen her coming. Fooling Enhancegirl's senses was close to impossible.

"I really didn't think it was wise to let her fight you alone," this woman said. "I suppose I felt a little bad for not letting her amuse herself with Stellar, given that I, ah, had quite a lot of fun with her. I'm Mysteria, by the way. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Well, I'm guessing you're the brains of the outfit," Sophie said. She didn't care altogether much, but with a new opponent, it was often best to give them rope from which to hang themselves. Who knew what she might reveal?
"Emily and I aren't a permanent partnership. We've a temporary arrangement, you see. Oh!"

Mysteria's exclamation was prompted by a fragment of glass from one of the picture frames Arachna had tried to use. Sophie had flicked it up into her hand and hurled it at her opponent. Yet in mid-flight, it seemed to bend away from Mysteria, such that it shattered harmlessly a few feet away from her.

"Wh-what the?" To Enhancegirl, this was egregiously perplexing. All her senses assured her that her attack had travelled in a straight line...yet it had clearly curved away. Mysteria hadn't merely deflected it with telekinesis or some such. Sophie would have perceived that perfectly straightforwardly. This was something else. She'd guessed before that this woman might have some kind of ability to warp space, and this was becoming an increasingly likely prospect. There weren't many rules in the world of superheroes, but one of them was that people couldn't control space itself. Yet this was the second person Sophie had met in the past few months who could. "What the hell is going on?"

Mysteria stepped forward.
"You'll find I'm a little unusual, I think. I prefer a more subtle approach to direct combat, but needs must, I suppose." She gave a flourish with her right hand. "I should hope that we'll provide each other with some choice entertainment, my dear girl." She bowed. "Let the show begin!"
"Does everyone I fight have to have a stupid gimmick?" Sophie said. "Or do you talk like that at home? 'Oh, Mysteria, sweetheart, would you pass the potatoes?' 'Why yes, I should hope that these potatoes will provide some...choice deliciousness! Ahahaha!"
"We all perform." She looked into Sophie's eyes, her own eyes getting wider than it seemed comfortable for them to do. "Yes, Enhancegirl is a performance, obviously...and..." She narrowed her eyes. "Oh, that is interesting. Layers within layers...'Sophie Scott' is as much a performance as Enhancegirl is..."

Mysteria did not elaborate. With a quick but elaborate gesture, she sent what looked like daggers of dark-red smoke towards her foe, attacking from above. It should have been child's play for Sophie to avoid them, but again, her senses seemed to be misreporting. They looked like they were coming from above, but with a kind of scraping sensory discordance, they actually approached her from directly in front. Only the semi-automatic capacity of her enhanced nervous system allowed Sophie to get out of the way at all.

"Shit!" Sophie couldn't make sense of it. She could barely keep up. "I have to go on the offensive!" She ran towards her enemy in a zig-zag pattern, finding that evasion came easier when she was merely making herself hard to hit, rather than actively dodging. Closing in, she focused her eyes as hard as she could on Mysteria, who kept seeming to just drift back without ever having moved. It was actually painful to do this, the image almost seeming...jagged, like a broken mirror. She leapt towards this...veil of wrongness that cloaked her - and found a sharp kick in her back sending her sprawling onto the ground.

"Unnhh!" Sophie hardly landed gracefully, but she was able swiftly to right herself, dropping into a three-point stance, like a football player.
"When you're facing Mysteria," her opponent said, "the rules just don't apply." She rushed forward, one of her arms cloaked in shadow. She thrust a hand out, and Sophie managed to avoid it, but her early warning system just wasn't working. She could read Mysteria's movements, but they weren't telling her anything accurate.

"Come, my dear, I've hear such good things! Surely you can do better than this!" She pressed the attack, forcing Sophie backwards. Slowly, her calm expression was transmuting itself into a grin that was quite as disturbing as her powers. She didn't, in her physical appearance, look all that unusual - and yet she did. 'Wrong!', Sophie's senses screamed at her. 'She's wrong!'

Mysteria conjured even as she tried to attack Sophie physically, daggers of darkness shooting at her from every angle. It was a testament to Sophie's great skill that it took so long for her to be hit.
"No!" she cried out, as one knife of smoky shadow at last struck her in the back. It did not pierce her flesh, but the moment it hit, she felt a pulse of exhaustion. "What is this stuff?" she thought, overwhelmed by the variety and illogic of Mysteria's powers. Trying to make sense of it, she thought of two other women she'd fought with a strange range of shadowy abilities. One had been the Sin Eater, the other Erin, the self-styled vampire. Erin was a particularly apt comparison, for she too had had some ability to warp space. Apt as it might have been, however, it was not helpful.

Sophie was beaten back, still at a loss as to how to fight Mysteria. Every time she got close, she was turned sharply aside before she even noticed it. She leapt up the staircase leading to the upper gallery, trying to get some distance, dodging her energy attacks being slightly easier at this range.

"Mmph!" For the first time Yumi and Natalya saw Sophie rather than just hearing her. "She came for us..." Yumi thought. "Oh, Sophie, you are heroic, aren't you?"
"Don't worry!" Sophie called out to them. "I already kicked Arachna's ass. Just gotta deal with her partner, and we're outta here." She saw Yumi, bound in torn ribbons, and Natalya mummified in webs, her yellow eyes wet and wide, the paralysed telepath wordlessly begging Sophie to save them.

Sophie grinned.
"She messed up," Sophie thought. "If I can free Stellar, Mysteria won't stand a chance!" Her pride satisfied by her defeat of Arachna, she was more than willing to be helped against this woman. Yet as she moved towards her, Yumi shook her head.
"Dhhn!" she called through her gag. Sophie was confused, but she stopped.
"Did Mysteria, like, booby trap her or something?" It made sense. Why else would Mysteria have made it so easy to get to her captives? She just wasn't sure of the nature of the trap.

In her hesitation, Mysteria caught up with her.
"Don't want to perform without an audience, eh?" she said. "I can understand that."
"Kiss my ass," Sophie said back, not in the mood to come up with anything wittier. "I - aah!" Far faster than it seemed she ought to have been, Mysteria was upon her, her arms shrouded in dark energy as she tried to take down her slender foe. Sophie tried to hit back, but every blow was turned aside.

It was maddening. She knew that it wouldn't take much, just one or two strong blows, but she simply couldn't hit her. She had a glimmer of understanding of what it was like for others to fight Enhancegirl. Wherever they attacked, there she'd fail to be.
"No rules," Sophie repeated in her head. And yet...was that entirely true? Her senses were screaming alarm bells at her, at the wrongness of her enemy, of how the things she did ought to be impossible, so Sophie tried to clear the noise. She thought of what had happened when she'd attacked, of just how she'd been turned aside when she tried to strike Mysteria. "Oh, that is interesting," Sophie thought with a smile. "Not so lawless after all..."

Mysteria came closer.
"I don't think you're going to be able to win, my dear," she said. "You've put up quite a good show, under the circumstances, but you cannot fight chaos."
"I'm not fighting chaos," Sophie said. "I'm fighting an asshole in a top hat." She leapt at Mysteria, and twisted her body in mid-air, waiting until the last possible moment, before punching completely wildly off to the side, missing Mysteria completely.

Or rather, she should have missed.
"Urgh!" Mysteria cried out, as Sophie's blow cracked hard into her temple. "Wh-what?!"
"I get what you're doing," Sophie said, shaking her hand from the pain of the impact. "You bend space around you. But here's the thing, Mysteria - my senses may not like what you're doing, but your problem is, you're not an illusionist." She kicked again, totally missing - except she didn't. Her calf hit Mysteria in the back of both knees, even though that shouldn't have been possible from where Sophie was standing. "You're actually changing space. If it's real, sister, I can see it."

"Ughh..." Mysteria groaned. She was not the strongest physical fighter, and Sophie's attacks had been well-aimed.
"Mph!" Natalya exclaimed. Watching the battle from where she lay, paralysed, she'd still found that Mysteria was invisible to her telepathy, yet as the trickster lay gasping on the ground, Natalya suddenly understood why.

"I see! She's not immune to my powers, but with her bending space around's like I was looking at her reflection!" Natalya needed to see someone directly to read their mind, unable to do so through images in mirrors or anything like that. Essentially, Mysteria had been invisible to her because Natalya hadn't really been looking at her at all. Perhaps this woman wasn't quite so strange after all.

Now able to see her, Natalya peered in. There was a layer of trivia at the top: her real name, where she'd been to college, her favourite food - it was almost purposefully useless. She noted too the subdued quality of Mysteria's emotions. She was concerned that Sophie had unwitted her, but not very concerned. She saw a flash of recent memory, saw her sensually toying with Yumi, and she'd enjoyed it...but not all that much. Her sensations, her feelings were...dulled, somehow.

Yet there was something there. Something hidden, something secret that had bubbled to the surface, briefly. When? Why? Some kind of glimmer of recognition, something that had piqued her interest.
"Sophie," Natalya realised. Yes, when she'd seen what Sophie could do, she'd recognised...something. Yes, a connection drawn in her mind, almost sub-consciously. A face appeared in connection with her. Two faces, in fact. Both were men. One was young, slight, with curly, yellow hair - there was no name for this one. The other was much older, shorter, and Mysteria imagined him with a quirky smile on his face. This one did have a name.
"Who is...Doctor Schiffer?"

If Natalya had not already been paralysed, she would have frozen. Mysteria was looking at her.
"I can feel you poking around, my dear." She wasn't looking at her, yet she was. "Are you sure that's wise?" Natalya tried to pull back, but she couldn't.
"I've gone too deep!" She had had to go much, much further into Mysteria's psyche than she'd realised, just to pull out a recent memory. A mere glance would have given her as much from anyone else.
"You invited yourself in," her enemy thought. "Don't leave yet..."

She pulled Natalya in, deeper and deeper, through layers of consciousness. Natalya felt fear, desperate, primal fear growing inside her. It was like this mind was stitched together - like someone had put together a human consciousness from blueprints. Nothing was quite right. There were memories of an entire life, of reasons why she was the way she was, though Natalya didn't get much more than brief glimpses. She was pulled in, and in, shadows coiling around her, seizing her like tendrils, through a layer of night.

"No! No!" Natalya screamed internally, as she was pulled through and out the other side. She didn't perceive anything at first. It was a formless, white void. But there was a speck of blackness just below her. A speck which grew, and grew. Eventually, Natalya realised that it wasn't growing - she was falling towards it. She screamed as she felt herself rushing down, down, down, into a great, black hulk, down into that terrible mouth - black jaws snapping over her as she tumbled into it.

"MMMPHHHH!!!" Natalya screamed. "MMMMMMMMPPPPPPPHHHH!!" Sophie's head snapped round. Natalya screamed, and screamed, not just in distress, but in terror, or agony, or some awful combination of the two. "HHHHHHHHHHMMMMPPPHHHH!!"
"Insyte!" Forgetting the fallen Mysteria, Sophie rushed over to the webbed up architect, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Natalya, what's going on? What's wrong?" But she didn't stop. She screamed and screamed, her eyes open, but not seeing. "Natalya, snap out of it!" She tore off the web sealing her voice, but now the screams only got louder.

"Help! HELP ME!!" Natalya didn't seem to see Sophie. Her eyes went back and forth, but she didn't seem to realise that Sophie was there.
"Natalya!" Seemingly with no other choice, Sophie slapped her friend hard across the cheek. All at once, the panic fell away from her, like she'd fallen into a trance, or rather out of one.
"Sophie...I...was I...dreaming?" she stammered, breathing hard. "No - I was inside her - her head..."
"You're okay," Sophie said, relieved that - at least - Natalya had stopped screaming. She stroked her friend's long, black hair, trying to calm her down. Natalya looked at her, calming further.
"I -" She'd been about to tell Sophie about what she'd found before being pulled into Mysteria's inner world, about those two faces, but something distracted her. "Your thoughts...I - I can't see them!"
"My powers, they're...they're not working!" Panic began seizing her again. She looked right into Sophie's eyes, trying desperately to feel something, but she couldn't. It was like she'd gone blind. "Sophie, what's happening to me?" she whimpered.
"I don't know, I -" Sophie felt her stomach tighten. She herself had once had her powers stolen from her, and it had been one of the most awful experiences of her life. She could hardly imagine how much worse it would be for Natalya, who had had her powers her entire life.

"Wait..." Natalya said. She looked hard into Sophie again, straining within for her ability. Did she...did she sense something? A fleeting, vague impression of anxiety from her red-haired friend. It was barely anything, but...she was surprised at how relieved she was. Her powers weren't destroyed exactly, just...traumatised. She was still deeply shaken - she'd have been quivering if Arachna hadn't paralysed her. From afar, Yumi watched the two, completely confused.
"What's happening here?"

Sophie had not entirely forgotten Mysteria. With her mighty senses, she was still keeping an eye on her. She was still sprawled on the ground. Any movement, Sophie would notice. But the thing of it was, Mysteria didn't have to move to use all her powers. So, when the dagger of darkness manifested, Sophie was caught by surprise. She'd been about to dodge, but realised at the last second that the dagger would have hit Natalya instead. She knew she couldn't move her away, and threw herself between the dagger and her friend.

"Unhhh!" she cried out as it hit her. It dissipated into smoke upon hitting her, but once again left her feeling drained. "Nnghh!" Sophie groaned, trying not to fall onto her knees. She held fast, and managed to stay up, but her limbs lost their springy responsiveness. As it was, when Mysteria leapt up, and moved towards her with inexplicable speed, Sophie could not get out of the way in time. The villain appeared directly before her - and tapped her lightly on the stomach.

Sophie swung a punch at her, not sure if the villain had actually intended her attack to mean anything, or if she was just trying to anger her, but Sophie countered all the same. She socked Mysteria in the jaw, sending her crashing onto the ground.
"You...still don't get it?" Sophie panted, trying to recover her strength. "Just get the fuck out of here before I break...your jaw!"
"You're not going to be breaking anything any time soon, sweetheart."

Enhancegirl felt something odd. Her tight, revealing gold dress was fluttering, sort of wriggling against her body.
"What the hell?" As she looked down, she saw that the satiny fabric was contorting, flexing back and forth, like it was being pulled from all sides. Suddenly, with a loud 'snap' it split apart into strips - or rather into one, long strip.

"What the fuck?!" Sophie gasped, blushing as she realised that Mysteria had stripped her to her underwear, completely revealing her nubile, creamy body. But not just that. The gold ribbon twisted itself around Sophie's body, seizing her arms, forcing them behind her back. Sophie felt with horror as the ribbon twisted round her wrists, forearms and elbows, squeezing her arms together, binding them.

"No!" Sophie cried out, almost screaming. She remembered what had happened to Arachna's webs, realised that this woman could animate inanimate objects. But her knowledge didn't help her. She couldn't get away, wasn't strong enough to break them. The ribbon wound around her chest, covering everything from just beneath her perky breasts to her navel, sealing her arms in place. She strained them, but aside from shaking her naked, white shoulders and flexing her slim fingers, she couldn't move her arms at all.

It occurred to her that if she turned off her powers, the ribbon that had been her dress would vanish, as her dress normally did.
"Downgrayymmmphhhh!" Too late. The ribbon shot up, and covered Sophie's pretty mouth, sealing her voice. "NNMPH!" The redhead cried out, as the soft, smooth material caressed her lips, its width hardly enough to conceal them, but nonetheless keeping Sophie subdued. "No! No! No! Not again...I won't lose again!"

She was not to be given any choice. Sophie gasped as she felt her tender, pale thighs being stroked by gold ribbon as it snaked around them.
"Mmph!" she moaned, as the ribbons tightened, slamming her thighs together with a satisfying thumping sound - not that it was particularly satisfying to Sophie. The ribbon continued, sliding in loop after loop around her smooth calves, before it reached her ankles, and snapped them together as well, completely binding Sophie's long, shapely legs.

"Mph! Nmh! Mmmmm-HHMMPHH!" Sophie wriggled her lovely, exposed body, trying to find some weakness she could exploit, but she couldn't. "Mmmh!" she cried out, as the ribbon around her thighs shifted back and forth, stroking the redhead damsel's sensitive skin, reddening her cheeks. She looked at Mysteria with furious, dismayed eyes. She was smiling.
"We have a winner," she said, winking. Sophie's face fell.

She looked down at herself - stripped to her underwear, bound in the tatters of her own dress, and gagged to boot.
"She's right..." Sophie realised with dismay. "She...she's defeated me!"
"NNMPH!" Yumi cried out in sympathy, seeing her rescuer captured as well. "Sophie..." The two damsels' eyes met, but Sophie looked down in shame. She burned with humiliation, remembering how confidently she'd strode in, how sure she was that she'd had Mysteria beaten - and now this. She'd failed. For her own part, Yumi blamed herself - if she'd not been kidnapped in the first place, Sophie would not have been in such straits.

"Don't be disheartened, dear," Mysteria said, taking the wriggling redhead in her arms. "For the record, I'm very impressed with your abilities. I'm sure you're frustrated, but there's no need to feel any worse about yourself." She laughed. "Not that I can say the same for Emily of course!"
"Mmmph! Mmmmhh NMMPHH!" Sophie protested, writhing with all her strength. "Fuck you! Fuck you! Even if you've captured me I'm not gonna make this easy for you!" She tried to headbutt Mysteria, but the villain slipped one hand behind Sophie's head, sliding her fingers into the maiden's warm, red hair. She pulled it back, not quite enough to hurt, but enough that if Sophie had jerked her head forward it would have been excruciating.
"Settle down, sweetheart. You did very, very well - but it's over now. You lost. Please don't be petulant. I really do have quite a high opinion of you, and I'd hate for that to be spoiled." Sophie felt the ribbon binding her tighten, restraining her wriggles, reducing them to helpless twitches.
"Mpphhh!" she gasped, aghast at being so tightly restrained.
"That's better," Mysteria said. Her hands slid down Sophie's feminine figure, over her shoulders, her chest, her slender hips. One stayed at Sophie's hip, while another went to her thigh. She gripped tightly, before hurling the wriggling maiden over her shoulder.

"MMPH!" Sophie cried out, her struggles renewing despite the tightness of her bondage. "Mmh!" The nineteen year old felt Mysteria's hands gripping her by her naked, lithe legs, keeping her in place as she was draped over her captor. As she was draped over the woman's body, Sophie felt a renewed humiliation at being carried like this. Her legs, her shapely, round behind so prominently on display. There had been a few times when Mariko had carried her like that, when passion had seized her and she'd just had to claim Sophie for her own, and when that happened Sophie had been almost paralysed with sensuous submissiveness. But that it had become something intimate made it worse when it was inflicted on her by a captor.

"There we are, sweetheart," Mysteria said, as she started carrying Sophie over to where Yumi was kneeling. As she did, Sophie saw Natalya looking up at her, her eyes welling up with tears, the voluptuous, raven-haired damsel overwhelmed by everything that was happening to them. Sophie saw her fear, and her anger was rekindled. She began bucking furiously in Mysteria's grip, kicking out and wriggling her bare shoulders.
"MMPH!" Sophie cried out, as her struggles elicited a sharp, painful smack to her taut behind, and another when that failed to cow Sophie. She didn't stop, but her wriggles took on a decidedly more helpless quality, as her dismay overtook her rage.

Brought to where Yumi knelt, the Korean beauty's skin moist from her long, futile attempts at struggling, Sophie was laid on her knees as well, right next to the petite damsel who'd been first to be snared. The two looked at each other, Yumi mewing quietly behind her gag, while Sophie still growled and moaned beneath hers.
"You fought so well," Yumi thought. "Please don't blame yourself, Sophie..." She looked deep into the redhead's bright, glittering emerald eyes, saw her anger, her frustration. She couldn't help but notice Sophie's loveliness as well, and it made it seem all the worse that something so beautiful had been tamed and captured.
"I'm sorry, Stellar," Sophie felt her anger dimmed by Yumi's soft expression. "I tried...I swear to god, I tried as hard as I could!"

"It has been a long day for the pair of you, hasn't it?" Mysteria said, kneeling down in front of them. She put a hand on each of their shoulders, feeling their lovely skin. Yumi's was a little finer, while Sophie's was softer, a little more yielding. She slid each hand up to the base of each damsel's neck, spreading her fingers out like two fans, caressing their throats.
"Mmh..." Yumi whimpered, while the almost-naked redhead growled, and wriggled, but was kept almost entirely restrained by her tight bonds.
"There now, time to relax, I think," she said. "Time to relaaaaax..." She whispered. She raised her hands higher, stroking their cheeks, before softly caressing each damsel's hair. "Relaaaaax..." she repeated. "It's been such a long day, such a long day. You must be so sleepy..."

"Mmmhh...mmhhh..." Yumi mewed. Having been brought under a trance already, it was much easier to bring her under again. She felt herself getting warmer, sleepier. Her brown eyes fluttered, her head starting to droop.
"Fhhhghh yhhh!" Sophie barked, startling Yumi awake. Stellar might have been entranced, but Enhancegirl was not.
"Hmm," Mysteria nodded. "I see I still need a little more practice. Ah well. I'll have to do it the boring way, then." Saying that, she moved her hands back to the bases of each girl's neck before - after fiddling around to find exactly the right spot on the two of them - squeezing hard.

"MMMHH!" the two maidens cried out, each feeling a jolt up and down their spine, as if they were being shocked.
"Wh...what's...happening?" Yumi thought, feeling a coolness spreading through her limbs, a numbness.
" body! I...I can't...can't..." Sophie may have been less susceptible to hypnosis, but her nervous system was much more sensitive than most. Overwhelmed, she moaned loudly as she felt her strength slipping out of her. "No! I'm...being...uunhh.." She couldn't think. She could just feel as her beautiful, slender form was completely overpowered. "Helpless...I'm...I'm helpless!" she thought, her lithe body pulsing, throbbing with humiliation as she felt herself going under.

"Mmmh...mmh..." Yumi sighed, as she fell a little more gently towards darkness. "My strength...what...what do I do?" she thought. The two maidens looked up at Mysteria, both mewing helplessly as she subdued them, expecting to find a leering, lecherous villainess crowing as she defeated them. But, though Mysteria looked pleased, she was far from leering. Baffled by their inscrutable captor, held fast by their humiliating bondage, and mollified by the nerve pinch that sucked away their capacity even to wriggle, the two damsels faded. Yumi's eyes faded slowly, as though she were simply going to sleep. Sophie's rolled back in her head, as her eyelids fluttered, still gasping softly beneath her gag.

But the differences were academic. Before long, the two helpless beauties gave in, and were guided to fall against each other, Yumi's head drooping onto Sophie's shoulder, while the red-haired student lay her head against Yumi's. Mysteria slowly took her hands away, making sure to preserve the lovely tableau she'd created.

She glanced over at Natalya, who still lay paralysed and helpless on the ground, a few feet away. Mysteria looked back at her other two captives, then again at the raven-haired telepath whom Arachna had captured. She shrugged.
"It's a living," she said. If it was meant as a joke, Natalya wasn't laughing.
"What are you...?" she thought. Realising that with Yumi and Sophie unconscious, she was in a sense alone with Mysteria, she quailed with fear. Bound, paralysed, and powerless, Natalya couldn't stop herself whimpering. Again she wondered why Sophie had even wanted her help. She cast her eyes down, for there was nothing else she could do. They had lost - and they themselves were the prizes.

"Mmhh...mmmhhh..." Nova sighed, as she slowly awoke. She was lying on her back, on cold, wet stone. The supple, starlit beauty tried to move, but she was still too weak. The thought of her using her powers was laughable. She shook her head slightly, but could do barely more than that. She was bound, she could feel it, white ropes entwining her slender limbs. "I'm a prisoner..." she thought, aghast at the prospect, even without considering whose prisoner she was. "It happened," she said to herself, "don't let yourself give into fear, Sara. Keep steady. Recover your strength. You may be trapped, but you can still keep your dignity, can't you?"

She looked up. Dingy , green-ish stone, like she was in a sewer. Thankfully the absence of stench meant that this was not actually the case, but she was fairly sure that she was underground.
"Mph!" Nova looked to her left, and saw that she was not alone. Spectra lay next to her, the tall, Asian sylph bound hand and foot, the breathtakingly beautiful, stunningly slender damsel writhing, moaning with frustration as she fought uselessly against her bonds. Nova realised that she was close enough that Mariko's long, naked legs stroked hers with every movement, and she felt even more embarrassed than before.
"Stop wriggling around! You're not helping!" Nova thought.

"I don't understand it!" Mariko thought, ignoring Nova's harsh glance. She could have been referring to many things, in her situation, but she meant something specific: "Why aren't my powers working?" She had a little chloroform still in her system, but not enough to account for her inability to use her powers. She could feel that she wasn't absorbing light. She blinked - and then realised what was happening.

Nova didn't realise at first that Mariko's eyes were the wrong colour. But it only took a second look: vanishingly few Japanese people had green eyes, yes - but even fewer had purple eyes. Someone had put contacts in Mariko's eyes, covering her irises and the whites of her eyes. It was through those that Mariko absorbed light - if she'd absorbed light through her pupils as well, she'd have been blind whenever her powers were on. Whoever had done this knew, or had worked out, exactly how her powers worked - but then, that was one of the risks of being so famous.

Mariko shook her head from side to side, trying to dislodge the lenses, but it wasn't happening. As she was doing so, she happened to look past where Nova was lying.
"Mmmph!" she cried out. She saw about fifteen large machines, apparently water tanks of some kind, though the liquid was bluer than water. Each had a large electrical generator attached to them, and a thick glass covering. That was not what made Spectra cry out. What made her cry out was that the one nearest to her was not empty - and after a few moments, she recognised its occupant.

A tall, buxom blonde was floating in the tank, a mask with a tube attached to it covering her mouth, her arms and legs bound. Her eyes were closed, and she floated serenely in the water, held upright by the density of the liquid. Her curly blonde hair bloated about her, her head bobbing slightly as she floated up and down. She was stripped to her underwear, but even without her costume, Spectra recognised her.
"Valora!" Her green - well, purple at that moment - eyes went wide. She was shocked. She hadn't even known Valora was missing, much less that she'd been kidnapped. Nova saw as well, and she too was shocked. She had a good deal of respect for Valora, and was astonished that she'd been taken. Then again, if she'd fought against Hades...

The two captive heroines looked into other tanks. Only five were occupied, excluding Valora's. These five were all young women, between eighteen and nineteen, all dressed in matching outfits: tight, white bodices crowned with bows at the chest; tiny, pleated skirts that left their slender legs completely bare, and tall high-heeled shoes. Their pretty faces were crowned with studded tiaras, long white gloves adorning their arms. Their skirts, heels and bows were colour coded: one red; one orange; one green; one blue and one white. They were very fetching individually, but together they looked beautiful, particularly as they floated peacefully, their wrists and ankles bound, gassed into subdued helplessness.

"Admiring my collection?" The voice froze the blood in their veins. Hades was standing behind them. They had been doing so the entire time. "I don't imagine you recognise any but Valora. I believe they call themselves the Starlight Squadron." The giant strode past Spectra and Nova, standing in front of one of the squadron, a dark haired girl in a red skirt and heels. "They were on their first mission together, I believe. They have elemental abilities, I think? There's been some suggestion that they're powerless unless they fight together, but that is moot." They turned to Mariko and Sara, inclining their head to the side, their mask making their gaze no more bearable. Neither maiden so much as twitched as he looked at them.

"I did not capture them myself. You should feel honoured - I rarely do that sort of dirty work myself. They were ambushed by an associate of mine named Cybelle about a month ago. They were no match for her. She gassed them to sleep, brought them to me to...smooth relations between us." They chuckled. "I remember how they moaned when they saw me for the first time, so sleepy and weak...those pretty legs rubbing so affectionately against each other. How peaceful they look now..." Hades said, tapping the glass almost...affectionately.

"They sleep soundly," Hades said. "As will you." They took a huge stride to where Mariko and Sara lay, before hoisting them up to their feet.
"Mmph!" the two nubile damsels whimpered as Hades lifted them, the villain towering over them, even the 5'11" tall Mariko.
"These stasis tanks," they explained, "will keep you in a state of total somnolence - and not just that. You are...preserved. You won't need food, water. My scientists tell me it even prevents ageing, and muscle atrophy. You could sleep there for a year and be none the worse for wear upon your awakening."
"A...a year..." Nova thought, shivering. "No! I...mustn't show him my fear!" This was naive. Hades saw her fear, right enough.

Hades took Mariko by her slender waist, and tossed her lightly over their shoulder. They then did the same with Nova - tossing her over the same shoulder. The maidens writhed against each other, humiliated by their helplessness and their proximity, both now rather more intimately familiar than they would have liked with the texture of each other's skin.

Hades carried them to one of the empty tanks, opened it, and tossed Nova inside. She tried to wriggle out as she was thrown in the empty container, but Hades shut the lid before she could move. They did the same with Mariko, stuffing her into the one next to Nova.
"Mmph!" the two cried out, as plastic masks shot out from containers above them, sealing themselves over their mouths using vacuum pressure. They felt the hissing next, as air was pumped in, enough for them to breathe quite comfortably.

"Mph!" Mariko felt something cool at her feet - liquid was beginning to enter the container. She wriggled, and writhed, trying somehow to free herself, but it was useless. She watched as the same happened to Nova, her long, white dress becoming almost transparent as it became wetter and wetter. The liquid, thicker than water but still clear, rose over their legs, their hips, coming up to their chests. The two captives found that thrashing was becoming more and more difficult, the thickness of the liquid making it hard to move much. It rose over their breasts, their necks. They knew that their mouths and noses were protected, that they'd be able to breathe, but both felt an instinctive panic as the liquid rose over their faces. They blinked, their vision growing murky as their eyes were submerged, until after a few seconds, they were completely covered. They floated easily in the viscous fluid, feeling pressure holding them upright. Evidently Hades liked to get a good look at his collection.

"Welcome to my gallery, ladies," Hades said, offhandedly. "You wanted to be admired. That's why you joined...him...isn't it? Well, now you will be." Hades snapped their fingers, and both women felt a jolt of something rushing through them.
"Mmph!" Mariko cried out. She'd expected the breathing masks would be what kept her asleep, but no - it was something in the liquid itself. It didn't feel like being drugged, or nerve-pinched, or anything else - it just felt like someone was, one by one, switching off the parts of her brain. "C...can't...think..." Mariko strained even to verbalise that.
"J...Jackson..." Nova thought, as she felt herself fading as well. "Forgive courage is...failing me...I'm so...afraid...ooohh..."

And then, they were out. It had taken only moments - they now floated as helplessly and as serenely as any of the others. Hades breathed out slowly, pleasurably. They sat down on the floor, in a meditative position, staying there for another hour, just...looking. Basking.
"So beautiful..." Hades muttered, before deciding they had indulged enough.

The villain strode through his complex, much larger and more comfortable than the one in Seacouver, observing his little worker ants at their tasks. Hades rarely managed things himself. They most often left it to Plasmarr, one of their longest serving, most loyal servants, who was more than powerful enough to engender the required fear. But, they had to appear from time to time. Like any god, periodic divine intervention was required to keep the faithful at their worship.

One of their peons was waiting. It was a young man with spiked, red-hair, and orange eyes. This was Plasmarr.
"My lord," he said, fear and admiration always proudly displayed in his voice.
"What is it?" Hades replied, not brusquely. Plasmarr only ever bothered them when it was important.
"Mysteria and Arachna have returned. They were successful." Hades nodded.
"Splendid," they said, patting Plasmarr on the shoulder. "You do always bring me good news."

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Post 7 months ago

"Mmhhhghh...mmnnnmph?" Sophie mewed, her sparkling emerald eyes slowly fluttering open. She was in pitch blackness. "Am...I blindfolded?" She tried to move, but was powerless so to do. Her pale, lithe body remained tightly, humiliatingly bound in the torn up strips of her own dress. She could barely even flex her fingers, could feel her creamy legs hardly able even to stroke each other in her trussed-up state.

"Mph...!" Sophie squeaked as she was jolted, causing her to bump her head on something above her. As her wit returned, she realised that she was not merely bound: she'd been encased in some sort of container. She gulped: it felt all too much like a coffin. "How...long have I been out?" She couldn't tell. She reached out with her senses, unable to see much of anything through the thick metal of her prison. Her sense of touch yielded more data - she could feel that the container was strapped down inside the back of a truck - no, a van. Pushing her enhanced vision as far as it would go, she was able to see that there was at least one other container next to her, but she couldn't see its contents.

Sophie squirmed powerlessly, her sleepiness abating somewhat, but her incapacity to free herself remaining total. She felt just how tightly the gold ribbons had her trussed, and she felt a pulse of humiliation throbbing through her.
"Yeah, look at you," Sophie thought. "Such a fucking badass that you get kidnapped and tied up with your own dress!" She growled, her voice stifled by the sleek fabric pressing firmly over her soft mouth.

She strained her wrists, her slim arms, tried vainly to pull apart her tightly compressed, supple legs, but on both fronts she was almost entirely hemmed in. She found herself moaning softly with shame, reminded of the simple humiliation of being tied up, combined with the deeper one of being defeated. Not being able to move, feeling one's limbs forced together, the tightness, the almost intimate restriction of was never any less embarrassing to be caught and roped up in this way.

Her head rested back, long, red hair spilling about her as she recalled how Mysteria had tricked her; bound her; knocked her unconscious with awful simplicity. She turned her head to the side, as if avoiding an imagined gaze. It was almost worse, she thought, that she'd nearly been victorious. She'd nearly saved Stellar and Insyte, nearly given Mysteria the pasting she deserved. But no, she'd failed - raising her fellow captives' hopes only to dash them the moment she allowed herself to be captured.

She half-sighed, half-whimpered, still feeling the ache in her neck from where she'd been knocked out. She felt her temper, her spirit cooling, her ferocity stifled in the cold blanket of her loss.
"They beat me...I'm - just a captive now..." she thought, unable to stop herself from feeling that there was a kind of justice in it. Confidence was such a fragile thing, Sophie's more so than others'. She was tortured by the thought that she had, essentially, defeated Mysteria, had the bizarre villain at her mercy, only to get distracted and allow her to recover. "Dmmhh hhhttt!" she cursed through her gag, slamming her knees up against the container in which she'd been imprisoned.

Apparently this had been heard by someone, because Sophie found her eyes fighting against a bright, electric light, the lid of her prison having been removed.
"Whhmh...? MMPH!" She barely even had time to adjust her sensitive eyes to the glare before a damp cloth was shoved roughly over her mouth and nose. "Mhh! Mmmhhhh..." Like anchors had been tied to her ankles, Enhancegirl found herself plummeting back into the darkness of drugged sleep. "Chloroform..." The redhead's enhanced senses had a major downside - her superhumanly sensitive nervous system was much more vulnerable to drugs and other chemicals which affected her than another person's was. The upshot of this was that chloroform - already a popular choice for the enemy of many a lithe heroine - was Enhancegirl's nemesis. The faintest whiff, and she was defeated.

"So it's true," Sophie heard a male voice above her. "Chloroform turns this wildcat into a helpless little kitten." The man drugging her was tall-ish, and stocky, but the beautiful girl's swiftly dulling senses told her no more than that.
"Mmmhhh...nnhhhh..." Sophie's pert breasts heaved against her shamefully strict bondage, but there was no real struggle, no question that she was subdued. She couldn't fight it in even the slightest degree.
"Listen to her moan," another man said. "You think she likes it?"

That she certainly did not. Scarcely able to think, she felt the weakness choking, smothering her, sucking her dry of all strength and skill in an instant, her nerves completely overpowered.
" me..." was all she managed internally to vocalise. "I'm...unnhh...I'm so weak..." The fierce redhead had been reduced to a state of mewing distress, and she was too sleepy even to move now. She needn't even have been tied up, so powerless was she.

As the toxic claws of the drug pulled her under, her vision, rather tardily, became clearer. With the last of her strength, she focused her eyes, and saw the man who was drugging her. Even in her somnolence, she realised that she recognised him.
"Royal...Rumble?" It was he, the first man Sophie remembered ever having used her powers against. She was just awake enough to be surprised, but not for long. Her eyelids damn near slammed shut, her green eyes rolling back in her head with an almost sensual surrender. She lay still, quiet, sleepy mews coming from behind her gag, but she was otherwise subdued.

There was just one more sound of which she was aware as she went under. Someone was shouting. She couldn't make out where, couldn't make out who, but someone was shouting at her. No, they weren't shouting - they were screaming.
"You're not re -" Whoever it had been was silenced to Sophie, as she dropped out of the waking world. The slender maiden hadn't stood a chance.

As Royal Rumble - or Seismictus, as he called himself those days - lifted Sophie out of her container, he wondered again why Valora had been so sure that the two had met before. He'd actually found himself thinking about it a great deal, as if he was straining for memory that simply wasn't there.
"Wish we had met..." he thought, as he lifted the stripped damsel onto her feet. Her head lolled back, exposing her pale throat, and for just a moment, he contemplated doing something really, really stupid. But when you worked for the person he worked for, a moment's stupidity was not something one could afford. So instead he simply lifted Sophie's light frame over his shoulder, holding her by her thighs, drawing what pleasure he could merely from the sensation of her slung over him, holding her by her supple, creamy legs, hearing her quiet, sleepy sighs as he bore her away.

"Hey can I at least carry her inside?" The speaker was Arachna. She watched with bitter envy as another of Hades' goons, this one a normal human, opened the container that had Stellar within it. She was still unconscious, though she'd begun slowly to approach wakefulness. As Mysteria, the woman who had laid her low - and captured Sophie when the girl had come to rescue Yumi - lifted the petite, Korean beauty into her arms, Arachna was almost quivering with jealousy.

"Oh, Jesus, look at her - oooh she's so soft and smoooooooth, god look at her legs I just want to squeeze them and lick them and make her moan and oh man look at her tits they're so bouncy and cute and god her face - have you ever seen anything more beautiful? She's so gorgeous and talented and good and -" She couldn't take it anymore. She leapt forwards, hands outstretched. She didn't care if the others killed her for it, she just wanted to feel her precious Stellar limp and soft in her arms -

"OW!" She'd crashed into a wall. "What the...?"
"I'll keep that little outburst to myself," Mysteria said. "One wouldn't want to see anything bad happening to you, Emily." Arachna growled, but her sanity - such as it was - was restored. Mysteria had probably just saved her life.

She watched with greater dispassion as Insyte was taken by one another goon, this time a thin, jittery looking man, notable for his grey skin. Arachna didn't recognise him, nor did she care much. She was more interested in the pale, buxom telepath in the torn, pink dress.
"Mh...mmhphh..." Natalya was, at that point, the only one of the three captives who was still awake. She was no longer quite paralysed, but she was still very weak, and still bound in Arachna's threads.

"Why...why is this happening?" she thought, distraught and terribly afraid. Not only had she been kidnapped, but her telepathy had been muted to the point of uselessness. She saw Mysteria carrying Stellar, saw Enhancegirl slung over Royal Rumble, leaving the garage into which they'd been delivered, and entering the main part of the complex.

She wriggled her naked, lily-white shoulders, kicked her soft legs feebly in her captor's arms.
"My lady." Insyte quailed as she realised that the one speaking to her was the one who held her. She looked up into a pair of absolutely beautiful blue eyes, a rather jarring contrast with the rest of his mottled-grey body. "Please don't struggle. In your present situation, it can't help you." She looked up at him and sensed - nothing. Her muted abilities couldn't tell her anything. "The only thing that can happen," he continued in a soft voice, "is that you'd be hurt by one of the others. You're far too exquisite to deserve the treatment the others would give you, my lady."

Natalya looked up at him, and was taken aback. Not by what he said, the man was obviously deluded. Rather, she was taken aback by how obvious it was. She'd sort of assumed that without her powers she'd have no intuition about people or ability to sense what they were like. But no, it was plain that this man was a vain fool.
"Quit stalling, Griseous," Royal Rumble called back over his shoulder - the one without Sophie slung over it. "Arachna's webs degrade over time. Tie her up properly so she doesn't get the jump on you, and bring her inside."
"Very well," Griseous replied, effecting an effete, devil-may-care casualness.

He put Natalya down on her knees, and cut the webs away from her body with a switchblade, pulling the webs from her dress and her skin, Natalya afraid that more of her dress would tear as the adhesive threads were removed. She thought of fighting, but there didn't really seem to be much point. Besides, Arachna was still there, and the thought of Natalya fighting her even with her powers was laughable. She remained on her knees, quiet and humble. Nylon ropes almost as white as her fair skin were twisted around her wrists, securing her arms once again behind her back. The buxom damsel was pushed forward a little so that Griseous could access her ankles.

"Mph..." Natalya whimpered through the webs that still clung to her mouth. Her legs were already pressed tightly, perhaps even defensively, together, so she didn't feel any more restricted, exactly, as the ropes bound her pale legs. It was when she tried to move her wrists that her yellow eyes went wide: Griseous had run a short trail of rope between Natalya's wrists and her ankles, connecting them together. "He's...hog-tied me!"

"Oh, I almost forgot," Griseous said. Natalya felt him doing something behind her. She squirmed, feeling her shoulders pulled as she tried to keep her back straight. She thought about how intricately Yumi and Sophie were bound, and yet just a couple of loops and she was completely helpless. Well, perhaps not completely - but Griseous soon put that right.

"MMPHH!" A damp cloth was thrust over her mouth from behind, her already enfeebled body immediately assailed by a wave of sleepiness. She realised with a long, low moan that she was being drugged, and her white shoulders writhed weakly as she felt her consciousness ebb away.
"It's probably better for you to be asleep," Griseous said. "I'm certainly doing you a favour. Oh, whoops!" As Insyte writhed in his grasp her torn dress began sliding slowly downwards. "Let's not let you lose your modesty, my lady," Griseous said, hitching her dress back up. She felt his hand cupping her voluminous bosom, lingering much longer than his apparently noble aim made necessary.

"Mmmhhhh..." Natalya sighed, her head tilted upwards, exposing her neck, causing her long black hair to fall against Griseous' chest. She was looking straight up, her yellow eyes falling shut and opening with an increasingly heavy rhythm.
"There we are, my lady..." Griseous whispered into her ear. "Just drift off...nothing more to fear now...just soft, warm darkness..."
"Mghmph..." Natalya felt the hand cupping her breast now squeezing, her voluminous bosom yielding and pliable in his hand. Even in her helpless sleepiness, she still felt the shame of being groped so plainly. "Uh...s-stop...touching me..." She couldn't complete the thought. All too soon, she fell powerlessly into slumber.

All three heroines - Enhancegirl, Stellar, Insyte - were now bound, slumbering damsels, defeated and captured. They were tame as they were carried deeper into the complex to which they'd been brought. As per their instructions, the carriers brought the helpless maidens to a large, plush room some four levels beneath the ground. There was a large table in the centre, surrounded by eight chairs. They were placed next to each other, with Yumi in the centre. She had now been a captive for an entire day, and she was looking dishevelled. Her vest's strap had fallen from one of her shoulders, and her reddish-brown hair was messy. She looked as though she'd been toyed with for quite some time.

Insyte looked neater as she was placed next to the Korean beauty, her glossy, black hair flowing like a waterfall down her back. With her chest and shoulders exposed, the moon-like whiteness of her skin was particularly pronounced, and it contrasted most appealingly with the darkness of her long hair. With her sloping shoulders, long neck and buxom chest she looked perhaps the most feminine of the three, the softest.

Enhancegirl, one of whose soft cheeks was currently resting against Yumi's shoulder, had put up far more and far more effective a fight than either of her sisters in bondage. It was ironic, then, that she looked the most pathetic. Stripped down to nothing more than her lacy, pink underwear, the tatters of her dress like shimmering golden ribbons binding her body, it was as if she had been gift-wrapped - packaged and delivered as a defeated, sensuous prize.

A door opposite to the one through which their captors had entered opened. Three people entered, technically speaking, though only one moved under their own power. The other two were slung over the first's shoulder: one tall, the other petite, one dark-haired, the other with hair like rose blossom - both slender and achingly lovely. They were sat down one at a time, opposite Sophie and the others. Both were bound, and both were completely unconscious.

The one who had brought them in took long strides to the head of the table, and sat down, rapping their fingers on the oak surface. It was impossible to see whom they looked at, for their face was covered with a silver, oval mask.
"Five pretty maids all in a row..."

Mariko was lying on her back. She was stark naked, in an empty field of snow, with flakes falling onto her all the time. She was staring straight up, reciting mathematical formulae. In fact what she was saying was total nonsense, but the dream's logic insisted that it was real maths. She lay there for quite some time, she herself becoming gradually covered over with snow.

Then she felt something against her head. Turning her eyes upward, Mariko was startled to see a small vixen, burning orange with bright, green eyes. She was running her paws through Mariko's hair. The naked beauty blinked at her new companion, who trilled with pleasure on seeing her roused. She scuttled round, and settled herself onto Mariko's chest, nestling close, and licking Mariko's neck. Charmed by the affectionate creature, Mariko wrapped her arms around her, stroking the vixen's soft, warm fur. She was such a warm, affectionate, eccentric animal, Mariko couldn't help but love her straightaway.

As she stroked the sweet fox, she noticed something. When her fingers stroked the underside of its neck, they came away red.
"Blood..." The vixen was injured. She was trying to ignore it, but she was wounded. "What could have -" But before she could even finish the thought, Mariko awoke.

She was very dizzy as her jade eyes slowly opened.
" I?" Her vision was swimming, her long limbs weak. She could feel moisture clinging to her, residue of the stasis tank...but she was not inside it. She was sitting, not floating. "Mmhhh..." She couldn't move: she was bound. Plastic, rubbery cords entwined her forearms, were wrapped around her chest, keeping her arms in place. Her ankles and knees were lashed together in these cords as well, keeping her long legs tightly pressed against each other. A thicker rubber cord had been pulled between Mariko's lips, cleave-gagging her.

"Mgghh..." She almost passed out again, but just about managed to stay awake. She knew she was still Hades' captive...but more than that was beyond her. Something ached within her, and it took a moment to realise that this was not a physical pain. It was humiliation: a throbbing, steady pulse of shame inside her, that she had been so easily plucked by this...being. At the very outset of her membership of the Pauldron, she had suffered her most foully one-sided defeat.

"Mhhhhh..." she sighed, her head falling onto her right shoulder. Her half-open eyes looked up, and she saw Nova sitting next to her. She was a little more alert, shifting her delicate shoulders, wriggling her legs, her peach skin caressing itself as she fought weakly.
"Nhh...nnhhmph..." Nova whimpered, unable to keep the helpless desperation from her voice. That voice was muffled by a plastic mask tied over her mouth and nose, tubes leading to a small canister that had been tied between Nova's shoulder-blades.

Nova did not have so easily exploitable a weakness as Mariko, whose eyes were still fitted with the lenses that prevented her using her powers, so she was kept subdued using a narcotising gas. Her sharp brown eyes were dulled by her sleepy listlessness, her cheeks red with embarrassment: she had never before experienced such powerlessness.

She lifted her head back up, finding that she was looking across a table. Her vision was still blurry, but she thought she could see three figures sitting across from her. She shook her head, weakly, trying to refocus her sight. At the same time, the young woman sitting directly opposite her began to stir, her eyes opening as well.
"Mmh...?" the other woman mewed softly. She was bound too, in what looked like gold ribbons. Her eyes were green, her face charmingly freckled, her hair red. Her eyes met Mariko's.

"Oh!" Mariko thought. "Nmmph! NNNMMPHH!" It was her. It was Sophie. "How?! How can she be here?! No - no, I'm having a nightmare! She can't be here! He...he can't have taken her as well!"
"Mrrhhkhhh...?" Sophie mumbled as she came to as well. With her powers active, her vision sharpened quickly. She realised she was looking at the one person in the world she most wanted to see - and least wanted to see then and there. "Mariko! Oh, god...those assholes got you too?" She was even more surprised when she saw Nova sitting next to her. She'd seen Mariko captured before, but it was hard to think anyone short of Imperion himself would be capable of capturing her and Nova. "No way...there's no way two punks like Arachna and Mysteria defeated them both...what the fuck is going on?"

While Nova just looked sleepy and embarrassed, Sophie saw that Mariko looked afraid - terrified, even. She was obviously still weak, but she was thrashing as hard as she could, throwing her head from side to side, quickly making a mess of her short, black hair.
"Nnnmnnhh! NNHHHHGHPHH!" Mariko cried out in desperation. Sophie had never seen her looking this afraid. Some of that fear began to creep into her mind as well.
"I don't get it...why are you so afraid? What's happened to us, Mariko?"

She looked to see what had happened to Natalya and Yumi. Yumi was next to her, still mostly asleep, gradually coming to but not yet aware of her surroundings. She craned her neck forward a little, her lithe limbs still tightly restrained in the scraps of her dress. Insyte was sitting just the other side of Yumi. She appeared to be wide awake, but she was looking off to the left. Someone was sitting at the head of the table - and this person was no captive.

"Oh?" The figure inclined their masked face upwards. "You're all awake then." Their voice was harsh, distorted, metallic. They rose to their full height, at least seven and a half feet. "It has given me...a measure of entertainment to watch you all sleeping. Tamed. Subdued." There was an odd sound, which took a few seconds to be recognisable as a laugh.

Already, Sophie suspected this person's identity. She had heard stories, after all. They all had. Indeed, before that day, the only person to whom their captor was not fiction had been Nova. The redhead grew still. Only her chest continued moving, her breathing increasing in pace.
"No..." she thought. "Please not that..."

"Imperion's harlots have already been introduced to me." The masked figure inclined his head towards the two Pauldron members. "I had the pleasure of abducting them myself." Another laugh. "A dual Proserpine, pulled down into the underworld...though I think they were too terrified of how ridiculously simple it was to claim them to be aware of the mythic resonance. Huh-huh-hahaha!"

Sophie was not sufficiently well-versed in the Classics to know what 'Proserpine' was a reference to. Natalya, however, was. She knew that 'Proserpine' was one of the Roman names for Persephone. If she had her mythic allusions right, that would make their captor Pluto - or, in Greek:

The villain strode round to the side of the room where Mysteria and Arachna's captives sat. They put their cold, metal gauntlets lightly on Enhancegirl's naked shoulders, holding her quite gently. The slender redhead was frozen, though: she had never seen Hades fight, but she knew that they could crush her if they saw fit.

"Mmrrhhmph! Nnrhhrhmph!" Mariko growled, still drowzy and hazy-minded. She hardly needed to be fully alert, however, to object to Hades putting their hands on the woman she loved.
"Ah yes, you two are fairly frequent allies, aren't you?" Hades said. "Does it anger you, Spectra, that this...oh, what is her name...Enhancegirl, that's it! Does it anger you that she too is in my possession?" They took their hands from Sophie, batted her slightly.
"MMPH!" With Hades great strength, this sent Sophie flying, tossing her onto the ground. "Mmphh..." she moaned, having landed on her back.
"You are not my greatest concern, however..."

"Mmmhhnn!" Stellar was roused into full wakefulness as Hades grabbed her by the neck. They hauled her up, lifting the petite, delicate damsel into the air. "Mmph!" Her supple, moist legs wriggled sinuously, her light-brown eyes wide and wet with fear. Hades was not choking her - the pressure was on the bottom of her jaw, and spread evenly around the top of her neck. She could still breathe, but it was all too clear how simple it would be for Hades to stop her from doing so. "Who...who is he? Why is he - doing this to us?"
"I did not take you myself, but you are now mine, just as much as Nova and Spectra," Hades said. "You have been offered up in tribute to Hades, used to buy favour. You were a bargaining chip...and now you are a..." The villain seemed to search for the right word. "An...ornament." Stellar was not more afraid than she had been by the name. She was still new to American superhero culture, didn't know its urban myths. But she didn't need to know them to understand what dire straits she was in.

"Your employers have built quite a little Empire around this body..." Hades continued. One cold, metal finger began running up Yumi's flawless legs. "I wonder if you know how many would happily do now what I am doing. How many have pictured you dancing naked for them in the cold of the night...?"
"Mhh...mmhhh..." Stellar quivered in Hades' grip, their words biting into her as firmly as their hand.
"As bodies go, it isn't a bad one to build an Empire around..." Their hand squeezed Yumi's warm, vulnerable thighs, Hades' hand wide enough to grip both at the same time. "But let us be clear. The empire was never yours. You have merely passed from the possession of one set of lords to another. Your body brought," Hades said, disgust in their voice on the last word. "Now it will bring me pleasure." Hades' head tilted, as though he were making a slightly conciliatory gesture. "Well, a little more than just pleasure, but we'll get to that."

Hades lowered Stellar back to her seat. Mariko, across from her, could see that she was close to tears.
"You..." Hades said. Natalya felt a chill up her spine as she realised Hades was addressing her. "I see Arachna had her fun with you, girl." Indeed, she was still tightly bound in the villainess' webs. "She and Mysteria seemed to think that you were worthy tribute. I do not know you. You are...pretty, I suppose..." Natalya trembled as she felt a pair of fingers running through her glossy hair.
"Mmh!" the pale maiden squeaked, as she felt Hades close, smelling her.
" the mane of a prize mare..." Every syllable felt like someone drawing a knife against her throat. She dared not even move. "All well and good...but are you worthy of this ensemble?"

Hades turned Natalya's head, inspecting.
"My memory is not serving me well today. I am sure I recognise -" Totally encased in armour, and with their voice electronically disguised, it was more or less impossible to read Hades' emotions. Nevertheless, when they realised whom they were looking at, they visibly flinched.

He heard. Of course he heard. Hades' strength made their voice so powerful that the captured heroines were nearly deafened. The young, wiry man with hair like a porcupine on fire leapt inside, his hands sheathed in burning hot plasma.
"What is it, my Lord?!"
"T-telepath! She's a telepath! You let a telepath get close to me!" Whether their tone was one of rage or terror was impossible to say.
"M-my Lord..." Plasmarr fell to one knee. "She is no threat to you, Lord Hades."
"Of course she's no threat!" Hades growled. "I will snap her neck before she can reveal anything. The point is that you allowed her near me!" Insyte let out a very quiet moan.
"I knew it...I knew this would happen eventually..." she thought. "I knew I'd die if I kept doing this... oh, Sophie's going to feel so guilty..." She felt a hand on the back of her neck. She closed her eyes, tried to ignore the screams - furious from Spectra, horrified from Stellar and Nova, desperate and plaintive from Sophie - and summoned up her dignity. "'ll live well, won't you?"

"I apologise my Lord," Plasmarr said. "I didn't speak clearly enough. Mysteria informed me that her powers are stifled. She could not read my mind right now, much less yours." Insyte felt the threatening hand move away.
" are sure of this?"
"Yes, Lord. In any case, our research suggests that her powers require line of sight. She could not read your thoughts through your armoursuit." There was a very, very long, very, very quiet pause.

"Very well," Hades pronounced. They turned Natalya's head sharply towards their own. "Your powerlessness has saved your life, Insyte. Is your sense of irony as well developed as your bosom?" Hades' free hand fondled Natalya's breasts, rubbing in the extent of his control.
"Mmhh...!" Natalya whimpered, unable to find much relief in knowing that her life was not forfeit.

Sophie found plenty of relief. Insyte was safe - but it occurred to the bound, weakly thrashing damsel that this could change at any moment. This...thing had all their lives in its hands. The humiliation of helplessness was being replaced by the fear of it. She tried not to be overwhelmed, and trained her senses on Hades. She couldn't see through the armour, but she could see that it was more complex than it appeared. Hades may have had powers of their own, but their armour was armed too. Sophie made out a slot for a kind of syringe, as well as some kind of spike attached to a wire. A taser, perhaps? There were more things too, but Sophie couldn't immediately tell what they were.

Hades seemed for a moment to look at the supine redhead, but hardly even appeared to acknowledge her existence. They strode over to Plasmarr, keeping an eye on their captives.
"I suppose it is for the best," Hades said. "It would have been a shame to destroy her." Natalya felt a cold finger running down her cheek, her long, lily-white neck. "Besides, if you are Insyte, then I owe you thanks. The destruction of Hypnotra's powers was...a great load off my mind." Natalya didn't understand at first, but it made sense: Hades would have no tolerance for someone else who could exert such control over people. Hades walked away from her, trailing a finger through her hair as they did. To her shame, Natalya felt tears in her eyes. She felt stupid for her graveness of a moment ago.

Hades strode round to the other side of the table. They stood behind Nova, who moaned gently as the narcotising gas kept her half-conscious. She knew Hades was behind her, and she tried to lift her head to see him, but she couldn't find the strength.
"Mmhh...!" Her chair had been pulled out from under her, and though she gasped with shock, she only fell for a moment. Hades caught her, one hand grabbing her by the back. Almost limp, her head fell back against Hades' stomach, her legs trailing haphazardly in front of her. "Why...why won't my power..." She couldn't even finish the thought.

She did, however, shiver as she felt Hades' cold hand on her silky legs. They were raised higher, and higher, the trail of her white dress slipping up her thighs. A hand on her back, and the somnolent beauty realised what was happening.
"He's...carrying me..." Indeed, Sara was being lifted into Hades' arms like a bride, her white dress only serving to reinforce the image. A cruel twist on a girlish fantasy, Sara moaned with dismay beneath her gas mask,

"I wonder...has your master ever cradled you like this? I'm sure you'd like him to. He's so...handsome, isn't he? So very charming...I'm sure if he bound you, if he squeezed these warm, tender thighs, you'd blush like a schoolgirl. 'Ooh, thank you sir, may I have another?'" Hades spat out a laugh.
"Shhhd...hhhp..." was all that Nova had the strength, both physically and mentally, to say. She wiggled her legs, shifted her narrow shoulders, but she accomplished exactly nothing.

"For all your vaunted might," Hades said, "you could not even scratch me. I would like that fact to sink in, Nova. I would like you to understand that, next to me, you have always been as weak as you feel now."
"" Nova insisted within herself. "Just because...someone is stronger than me...that doesn't make me weak...!" She was laid out on the table, supine. She shivered as Hades' hands began exploring her, running up and down her smooth legs while also running through her soft, candy-floss coloured hair. She whimpered powerlessly as she was groped, wishing bitterly that she'd been granted as much power as

"You are mine now," Hades said. The villain was not just addressing Nova. "Once you are in your stasis tanks, I may not wake you again. So I want you to sleep knowing this: I do, occasionally, indulge myself with my trophies - as I am doing now to you. I want you to sleep knowing that, at any time of my choosing, I might be...exploring your nubile, supple bodies." They leaned in closer to Sara's ear. "Perhaps when I next enjoy you, I will not wear this armour..." Hades tapped Nova just below her navel. Despite Hades' faceless, inhuman menace, Nova found a very personal hatred building within her.

Only one of the five heroines was not watching Hades enjoy Nova's body: Sophie, who still lay on the ground where she'd been thrown. She had not been idle. Since becoming sure that Natalya was not in immediate danger, she had concentrated her efforts on untangling herself. She found her arms, her pale legs bound fast - but her lips were not quite so tightly sealed. Whether it was Mysteria's animating power weakening, or whether she'd just been careless, after a good long while of struggling Sophie had felt her gag beginning to slip. She rubbed her head against the corner of the table, hoping that neither Plasmarr nor Hades would notice. All she needed was one word, just one word and she'd be free.

But what then? In fact, it was at the very moment that her gag came loose that Sophie realised how little it would get her. Even if she was fast enough to free one of the others...what could they do? As Sophie considered her options, she realised that - in fact - the best way she could serve her friends was to escape.

But she couldn't. She knew what Mariko would say, that it was by far the most rational course of action. She could either stay, fight and inevitably lose to Hades, or get away and possibly get help. There was no choice. There was one choice.
"I can't abandon her..."

"Hmm?" Plasmarr noticed first. "Don't be stupid, girl." He saw what Enhancegirl had been trying to do. "I don't know how you'd do against me in a fair fight, but you're tied up. I could incinerate you without a second thought." Sophie flexed her newly freed jaw muscles. She had absolutely no idea what this man could do. But a chance like this would not come again.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry!" Sophie said, her voice quavering. "I wasn't thinking...please don't hurt me..."

Mariko heard her. She realised what Sophie was about to do.
"How can someone so clever be so stupid? What do you think you're going to be able to accomplish? For god's sake, my love, don't risk your life for nothing!"
"I give up..." Sophie said, as Plasmarr approached her, presumably to gag her again. "I surrender..."

How could Plasmarr have known? Sophie herself hadn't known until very recently that the words 'I surrender' could switch off her powers along with her usual 'downgrade'. There was a brief flash, as Sophie's pink dress reappeared. More to the point her Enhancegirl outfit - currently torn into pieces to bind her - vanished, unbinding the redhead.

"Enhance!" Sophie was quick, to be sure, and Plasmarr was definitely taken off-guard. But there was a moment, as her restored costume reappeared, but before her super-senses had fully kicked in again, where he could have attacked. But he hesitated. Perhaps Plasmarr could incinerate Sophie - but not without a second thought. As it was, she was on her feet by the time he let out a blisteringly hot volley of plasma. She dodged it, sliding underneath the jet of liquid fire, and punching Plasmarr in a well-muscled gut.

"Urrgh!" he grunted, stumbling back a few steps. He was not wholly immune to the effects of his own power, so he had to be careful when using it. For this reason, he couldn't wildly fire back. Nor, indeed, did he want to harm the others. Hades, he knew, would not be so unjust as to punish him for defending himself - but they would not tolerate their prizes being spoiled.

Hades had noticed the combat, and tensed, seeming about to join the affray. But the villain clearly reconsidered. Mariko watched with a chill as Hades folded their arms, and stood back.
"Why isn't he intervening?" But she was aware of the answer. Hades just didn't see Sophie as a threat.

Plasmarr was not quite so convinced. Sophie had detected his wariness to use his powers, and took full advantage, striking him hard in the knee and the neck. He fell back, stunned. He dared to use his power this time, but Sophie danced around it, even as it melted clean through the wall behind her. She twirled, building momentum to deliver a devastating blow to his head. It cracked against the side of the hard oak table, and he fell groaning to the floor. The others were impressed, but only Nova was astonished. She'd never seen Sophie fight.
"She's actually quite good..."

Hurriedly, Sophie ungagged Yumi, who didn't waste an instant.
"A Black Star!" Yumi's hair turned black, her clothes replaced with the skimpy top, tiny leather skirt and spiked gloves of her Black Star form. Her strength was hugely magnified, and she snapped the bonds Mysteria had tied her in. Sophie was about to explain her plan - for Stellar to keep Hades distracted with her Blue Star powers while she freed the others. But Stellar didn't wait. She vaulted the table, and attacked Hades immediately.

"How dare you!" she shouted. "How dare you treat us like objects?!" She punched as hard as she could, hard enough to put her hand through a normal person's chest and out the other side. But Hades didn't even bother catching it. Valora had, at full strength, been able to do quite serious damage to Hades' armour. But Stellar, even as the Black Star, was much physically weaker than Valora. She barely dented the armour, and certainly did nothing to its wearer.

"I thought you might perhaps make up for the...insipid artlessness of your music with some skill as a fighter," Hades said. "Ah, well." Hades raised a hand, and flicked Stellar in the chest.
"Aaaah!" She was hurled back, crashing into a wall so hard that the concrete cracked. "Unnhh...hhh..." she moaned, sliding down to her knees. "So...powerful..."

"Stellar!" Enhancegirl's instinct was to counter-attack - but what could she do? Even from as far away as they were, Hades loomed over her, casting a long shadow. Sophie felt very afraid, and very foolish.
"I see," Hades said, shaking their head in what seemed like disappointment. "You do not quite understand yet. I suppose this is...comprehensible." Hades vaulted the table in one leap, standing over the slender, lithe redhead.
"I...uh-" Sophie stammered. Hades was a ziggurat next to her. The ease with which the villain had cast Stellar aside, the...dread that emanated from him. Enhancegirl could barely think.

"I did not capture you myself. Perhaps you think I have not earned you, that I am...reliant on my servitors." Hades moved to the side, gestured at their captives. "You need to understand fully. So - free them."
"Free them. Your allies. Even Nova and Spectra. If you - all of you together - can overcome me, then you have more than earned your liberty."
"It''re b-bluffing. You're just gonna grab me when I turn around!" Sophie backed away. Even being spoken to by Hades was painful.
"Plasmarr, get up." Hades' servant did so, still groaning.
" you ask of me, my Lord?"
"Untie the others." Plasmarr was confused, but obeyed. Natalya was first, the webs torn away from her body. She didn't know what to do with herself, besides trying desperately to hitch her dress up over her bosom.

Mariko was next. Plasmarr deftly unwound the cords she's been trussed up in, and she leapt to her feet.
"Urghh!" She spat out the gag, painfully extracted the contacts from her eyes. A wave of warm relief entered her as she felt the source of her power returning. She tested her strength by cutting Nova loose from her bonds with a blade of light.

"Unnhhh..." Nova moaned as she pulled her gas mask off, slowly pulling herself onto her feet, and gettng. "Wh...why are you...doing this? Aren't you satisfied yet?" This was addressed to Hades.
"Your red-haired friend with the soft skin was not convinced of her place in the world - she is the one to whom you must address your complaint." Hades turned their head to Enhancegirl. "Perhaps when I defeat you, bind you and slide my fingers over everything below those pretty shoulders, you will understand." The villain grabbed the oak table, and hurled it to the side, smashing it into a thousand pieces.

Insyte leapt up in shock. Without her powers she knew she would be completely useless in any fight, much less against Hades. She didn't know what to do with herself. She looked up, and her eyes met Mariko's. It was bizarre, seeing her but not seeing into her. Still, she could see Mariko's fear, but also a growing degree of determination. The willowy beauty had been given another chance, and seemed to have absorbed some of the courage Sophie had lost.

Mariko saw Natalya as well. She had not forgotten that, when the two barely knew each other, Insyte had agreed to help her rescue Sophie from the clutches of Madam Black. Then, again, she had rescued Sophie from the Sin Eater, and joined Sophie in saving Mariko from Ricardo Hosenfluss. She admired her, and she just...liked her. Now the pale architect was terrified, almost shaking with fear: stripped of her powers, kidnapped and toyed with. Mariko tried her best to look confident, and beckoned her over. Natalya came, and moved behind Mariko. With Nova still weak, Spectra was almost certainly their biggest gun.

"Taking sides, are we?" Hades chuckled, seeing their enemies arrayed against them. "Look at you supple and feminine...I will enjoy seeing the hope drain from your eyes. I will make you detest your beauty, all of you. I will -" They didn't finish. Sophie, still off to Hades' left, had picked up a shattered piece of the table, and thrown it at them. It did nothing - but it drew his attention.

"Aaagh!" Hades didn't see that Stellar had recovered, that Sophie had gestured for her to stay down until the opportune moment. That moment had come, and she punched as hard as she could. Again, this did Hades no damage - but their helmet wobbled visibly.
"You -!" Hades reached out to grab her, but she dodged too quickly.

"A White Star!" Stellar switched power sets. Her hair become blonde, her black two-piece turning into a short, white halter-dress. She drew breath, and screamed at Hades, training her sonic powers directly onto them. They didn't seem damaged - but Sophie noticed that they were about to put their hand to their ear, and had stopped themselves.
"He's not indestructible!" Sophie thought. But Yumi was not trying to destroy Hades. She had noticed how incensed they'd become at the thought of a telepath: she was trying to unmask them.

Mariko realised this. Rather than attack Hades herself - noting that her powers had done little to their armour before - she fired at Stellar, whose sonic powers were charged by light. Indeed, as the light hit her, the intensity of the sound increased vastly, to the point where the others were shielding their ears.

Hades could no longer pretend to be unaffected. An armoured hand covered where the villain's left ear must have been, and a low growl came forth from them. An aperture opened around Hades' mouth - and a bitter frost spilled forth.
"A Blue Star!" Hades was not the only one with icy powers. Stellar's white dress was replaced with a thin, revealing blue chiffon, her hair icy blue, her skin bluish-white. Mariko only just stopped her attack in time: Stellar's Blue Star would have no defence against Spectra's powers. Hades' attack was another matter, however. Even as the cold wind subsumed her, she was already taking control of it, turning it back against its master. Hades might have been able to create frost: but Stellar could also control it.

Hades was, therefore, buried under waves of their own ice, covered in a thick sheath that even Valora had struggled to break.
"Master!" Plasmarr cried out, and Spectra turned to face him, to prevent him interfering.
"NO!" Hades thrust out both his arms, shattering the icy 'prison'. "If you intervene in any way, I will kill you. Leave!" Obedient, he did so.

"You are...hateful..." Stellar said, raising herself up on an icy column. "You are...cruel and undignified. You must be stopped!"
"Perhaps. But no-one here can do it." Hades' head tilted. "I'm going to have you draped, unconscious, over my shoulder. I'm going to squeeze those delicious thighs of yours, so-called artist. And I think it'll take less than a minute."
"Braggart!" Stellar shouted back. She dropped down, using a slide of ice, launching herself towards him. She vaulted off, switched in mid-air to the Black Star. As Hades prepared to counter, a lance of light blindsided them, and at that very same moment, Stellar struck Hades' mask as hard as she possibly could.

For Enhancegirl had noticed that Hades had a tendency to ignore her. She had realised what Stellar had been trying to do, and made up her mind to assist her.
"Just because we can't beat him in a fight, that doesn't mean we can't win another way." While Hades was engaged with Stellar, Sophie had scanned his mask, looking for weak points. She'd noticed a catch, and had signalled for Mariko to attack that exact point. Following her lover's instructions, Spectra had done just that, at the same instant that Stellar struck.

But they had underestimated Hades. The villain was not just a tower of strength - the villain was a warrior, too. They rolled with the impact of Stellar's punch, turning it into a glancing blow. Spectra's attack hit, but it wasn't enough by itself to dislodge the mask. With astonishing speed and accuracy, Hades grabbed Stellar in mid-air, as she was passing him.
"No!" Stellar cried out, feeling the villain's long arm wrap around her, squeezing the petite beauty against their chest, her arms pinned. "Don't - ooohhhhhhh..." She'd been about to cry out 'Don't stop' to the others, but she was interrupted. Hades had pinched her between her shoulder and her neck, and in an instant stars had appeared in front of her eyes.

"Stellar, no!" Insyte cried out, seeing the Korean beauty fade. Her struggles abated, her nude legs limp. Her head flopped onto her shoulder, and Hades dropped her. She fell in a tangle on her front, one arm pinned under her stomach, the other lying at an odd angle, her legs crossed haphazardly at the knees. She was completely knocked out.
"That's one," Hades said. "Which one will deliver themselves to me next?"

The noise and the cold had stirred Nova almost completely. Gathering control of her breathing, she raised herself into the air, shrouded in blue-white energy.
"I'll hold him back," Nova said to Spectra. "Take the others if you can. Escape."
"Certainly not!" Spectra shot back. "You can't beat him alone."
"I can't beat him even with your help! Get...get Imperion. He's the only one powerful enough to stop this bastard."
"He might kill you."
"If so, then so." Not accepting dissent, she flew in, and let loose, burying Hades in a plume of ethereal fire.

Enhancegirl had been about to intervene, but she didn't dare get close. Her senses told her that if Hades hadn't been between Nova's attack and the rest of the building, the whole complex would have come crashing down. She ran to Mariko's side - and the two had to resist the instinct to embrace.
"Can she hurt him?" Sophie asked, looking with amazement at Nova's display of power.
"I don't think so. She's trying to delay him so we can escape."
"Are you considering it?" Insyte asked. " there anything we can do here?"
"You can't." Mariko stepped forward. "But...I think I can." She stepped forward, took in a deep breath. At first Sophie didn't understand, but she recognised Mariko's intense expression of concentration.
"No, you can't do that," she insisted. "It's way too dangerous." She thought Mariko would be brutally rational. She almost smiled. "She's changed..."
"It's that or abandon Nova to her doom. Keep him distracted, my -" She'd been about to say 'my love', but it seemed best to keep that a secret. "I need...two minutes. Perhaps three." Sophie looked again at the battle raging between Nova and Hades. She could see that Nova was using a truly frightening amount of power - but Hades was striding through it. Not with complete ease, but far from being hurt, either.
"...fine," Sophie said. "But if this fucking kills you, I'll fucking kill you."

"Uuurrrghhhh!" Nova cried out, feeling her body burn with tiredness. It wasn't actually the amount of power that was causing her so much strain: it was focusing that power sufficiently not to cause the building they were in to collapse on top of them that was so difficult. "I'll hold him," she thought. "It doesn't matter if I can't destroy him. Even if he defeats me, I'll still have fought. I'll have helped others besides myself. Even if I'm killed, I'll have my honour!" Nova recognised that there was a considerably large part of herself that would have preferred Hades to murder her than to capture her again. This, however, she did not feel was a flaw.

As she let loose, not knowing any more advanced strategy she could make use of, Nova began to feel a quiet alarm. She still wasn't wholly clear what Hades could do: clearly they had vast strength and physical defences, and had this frost-breath power besides. But did they have more? What could their armour do? Was that the source of their power, or just an aid?

"So it's true!" Hades bellowed, loud enough that Nova could hear them over the sound of her own power. "This really is all you can muster! I thought terror might give you a little more strength than before!" The villain burst forward, leaping straight into the full force of Nova's attack. Caught off guard by Hades' sheer speed, she couldn't react in time. Hades struck her in the stomach, with an infinitesimal fraction of their full strength. But that was more than enough.

"Uhh...uhhnghh!" Nova gasped, clutching her stomach. "C...can't...breathe!" Hades had dropped down immediately after hitting her. To her horror, Nova now found that she did the same. Unable to control her breathing, she couldn't control her power. As she landed, she felt her knees go weak, and she sank down onto them. Coughing, barely able to breathe at all, she looked up in dismay at Hades.
"Stay here, pretty peach," they said. "I'll be back for you." The villain left her there on her knees, sputtering and gasping, every attempt to use her power failing, her aura faint and flickering.
"It...was so easy...he tossed me aside like I was nothing!" It was a testament to Nova's fortitude that she did not weep.

Still, she had not by any means failed completely. Spectra was grateful for the time she'd bought. Unbottling this part of her power was difficult, to say the least. Until recently, she had not even known that it was there to unbottle. Her kidnap and near-death at the hands of Hosenfluss, though, as traumatic as it had been, had also been revelatory. It had taken Ramikin, the scientist responsible for the process that had drained her strength almost utterly, to show her that controlling light was not so simple as she'd always thought. She commanded within her a second kind of energy, an energy that came entirely from within. It was this that she used to shape light, to bend it to her whims. It had, however, occurred to her that there was no essential reason why she had to use it for its intended purpose.

She'd learned to channel it directly, to summon her innermost power for its own sake. This alone had been extremely difficult. But she'd found that she could not use it the same way she used light. She had to form it, pour it into a kind of...mould to keep it from dissipating. It was this that she was now forming: and it was already starting to take shape. Sophie could see a figure standing before her lover - or not a figure quite yet, but the vaguest semblance of one.
"Be careful..." Sophie thought. This power came from the deepest core of Mariko - its expenditure had once nearly proved fatal. But she had no time to worry: she had to fight.

"What is Spectra doing?" Hades called out, seeing the Japanese damsel focusing so intently. "Do you actually think you have something up your sleeve that can affect me? This is amusing."
"Cut that chat, shithead," Enhancegirl spat. "You know what I see when I look at you? I see a little boy frying ants with a magnifying glass. Okay, big fucking deal, you're waaaay stronger than us. Good for you! How do you use that power? Tormenting women for your own pleasure. You're disgusting."
"A little spirit at last," Hades said idly. "Soft girl with soft limbs...consider this a - hobby. One I do not allow myself to indulge in very often. I normally have much more pressing business. More to the point...I make no attempt to justify my predilections. A god does not care about the morals of men."
"Holy crap, you actually said that with a straight face," Enhancegirl said, trying as hard as she could to seem genuinely amused. As long as she kept Hades talking...

"I know you are stalling, girl," Hades said. "Spectra!" Just the shout was nearly enough to break her concentration. "How long will you be able to fail to intervene, I wonder?" With astonishing speed, Hades lunged at Enhancegirl. She dodged, but much more closely than she would have liked. Her body responded almost automatically, anticipating and leading her out of range of Hades' blows. For all their strength, Sophie noticed that Hades moved with an almost feminine grace, their great height no barrier to this. Thinking about it, Sophie realised that she'd not fought that many enemies who relied on hand to hand combat. It felt almost like it had done when fighting Ocelot.

"No..." Sophie revised her comparison. As she and Hades danced their deadly dance, she realised that it felt more like fighting herself. Hades certainly wasn't as fast or accurate as she was, but the gap was much shorter than Sophie would have liked.
"You bore me!" Hades shouted, stamping their foot, and sending concrete shooting up at their opponent with great force.
"Unnghh!" Sophie cried out. She could see straightaway the paths of every piece of masonry that flew at her - but Hades' strength shot it out with frightening speed. Before her realisation of the full power of her nervous system, she wouldn't have been able to avoid all of it. Even with it, she was put off balance. Hades took full advantage, lunging forward, and grabbing her, forcing her against a wall, their massive, skeletal hand covering her soft, pink mouth.

"MMMPHHH!!" Sophie cried out, driving her fists hard against Hades' iron grip, the villain's armoured hand squeezing her cheeks, their fingers clamped like a vice over her mouth. "MMMH-NNNMMPHHH!!"
"S-Enhancegirl!" Insyte cried out. "Spectra, for god's sake, isn't it ready yet?" Mariko couldn't even reply, so powerful was her concentration. But she heard, and she pushed her power out as fast as she possibly could.
"Hold on, my love...hold on!"

"Mmmmhh! Mmhhh-mmphh!" Sophie wriggled as fiercely as a lynx caught in a trap. But for all her deadly accuracy, her strength was less than nothing against Hades'. She felt something within Hades' gauntlet, the sound of something opening - and then she heard the hissing. "Oh...oh no..."

She felt it. It started in her feet, a warm sensation spreading upwards like honey. Weakness took her pretty calves, her warm, pale thighs. She felt her legs quivering, their kicking settling into feeble shuffles. It went further, through her hips, her rear, her stomach. She felt like she was being dipped into tar: her body was being subsumed, cloyed in sleepy powerlessness. Her arms slipped down, her fingers giving up their grip on Hades' armour. They flopped to her sides, limp.

"Mmmhhh...mmhhhhpphh..." Sophie mewed, her eyes beginning to dull, their lids fluttering. "No...unnhh...not like this..." The gas tasted sweet, like cherries or raspberries. She sighed softly, feeling it take her, feeling it coil round her like a satin serpent, squeezing wakefulness out, caressing her into somnolent helplessness. " weak..." She looked up at Hades' faceless visage. Was she imagining it? Could she detect a smile hidden there somewhere? She looked around, her vision blurry, her eyes half-closed. Now hanging limp in Hades' grip, she saw Stellar lying unconscious, saw Nova clutching her stomach, wheezing. She saw Insyte, powerless, half-naked and terrified. Saw Mariko trying to squeeze every drop of strength out of herself, desperation in her eyes. "What...what was I even trying to do...against someone like him?" She felt a hand running up her thigh, and she blushed.

"So quaintly girlish," Hades whispered. "Such fair, sweet-smelling legs...It is almost a shame you do not wear something less revealing. I would derive great satisfaction from stripping you - but you leave so much on show anyway, that I have all the...access I require." Hades' hand went higher, fingers probing just under her dress. Sophie turned her eyes to the right, in her sleepy haze having forgotten why Mariko hadn't attacked.
"Mariko...Mariko, why aren't you...saving me?" With this thought, she dropped out of the waking world.

"No!" Mariko cried out, almost breaking her concentration completely. "Unhand her, you monster!" It still wasn't ready. She was already feeling drained - it was starting to form, but she couldn't yet make it move.
"I don't believe I will." Hades lifted Sophie up with one hand, holding her by the small of her back, their long fingers creeping all the way around her. "What a delicious, delicate fruit I have plucked..." Hades tilted Sophie towards themselves, her head falling back, her red hair trailing like a waterfall in the light of a sunset. Her neck was exposed, her long, lithe legs dangling in the air. Hades sniffed her throat, and hummed with pleasure, their free hand stroking Sophie's creamy thighs. "Perhaps I will let the rest of you sleep...while I take this one for a more...intimate initiation."

Hades was trying to bait Spectra. She knew it. She knew exactly what they were doing. It was indication, perhaps, that Hades detected the slight whiff of a threat. It was reason to continue charging her technique. But Mariko couldn't stand idle as her flame-haired lover lay in his clutches.

"Damn you! Damn you!" Spectra roared, her voice tearing at her throat. She leapt forward, reabsorbing her power into herself, and taking command of the light once again. She summoned a blade of light, trying to make it as fine and as energetically dense as she possibly could.

But Hades was in no mood to test this attack. Instead, they simply hurled Sophie's limp body at Spectra.
"Enhancegirl!" Dissipating her blade, she put out her arms to catch her helpless girlfriend. "Unngh!" Sophie fell into her arms, and Mariko cradled her like a rescued princess. She couldn't help appreciating how beautiful she looked in her slumber, her mouth slightly parted, her breasts rising and falling slowly.
"Uunhh..." she mewed, quietly. Her naked legs were warm in Mariko's hands, and still.
"I've got you," Mariko whispered. "I've -"

It was not that she took her eyes of Hades. They were just so much faster than she expected. In a second, they were standing over the two heroines, looming over the tall warrior and her lover, a monolith of metal. Mariko tried to summon spears of light, creating them around her enemy's head, driving them upwards at their helmet. But they had barely begun to manifest when Hades' hand neatly struck her just above her collarbone.

"Unnghh!" Mariko gasped. Her eyes went wide. She felt her graceful legs trembling. To her horror, her arms lost their strength, and Sophie tumbled to the ground, landing flat on her back. Feeling her strength fade, her nerves shocked by the strike, she tilted her head upwards.
"Into the darkness, Spectra..." Hades whispered. "Into my realm..."
"No...noooooooohhhhh..." Mariko sighed. The tall beauty dropped down to her knees. "Defeated...I'm...defeated..." was all she had the presence of mind to think, before she was taken by the night, and cast into slumber. She fell onto Sophie, her head lying against the maiden's breasts, their svelte legs entangled slightly, Sophie's pale skin caressing the light tan of Mariko's. The two lay together in slumber - together in helplessness.

"Oh god...oh god..." Insyte moaned, seeing her allies all fallen. "He's a nightmare..." Hades ignored her, striding back to the only one aside from her who was still conscious, bending to scoop up some discarded cord as he did.
"Still having trouble, Nova?" Hades hauled the petite damsel to her feet, forcing her hands behind her back.
"" Nova moaned, no longer winded, exactly, but still stunned. "Don't...don't tie me up...unhhh!" Hades had sprayed her with the same gas they'd used on Enhancegirl - not enough to knock her out, but enough to keep her too weak to use her powers.
"Reduced to begging? Where's your pride? Eh? Where's your pride?!" Hades swiftly lashed her wrists together with rubbery cord, twisting it around her torso, squeezing her arms against her back.
"Get...get off me..." Nova wriggled weakly, but she couldn't do anything. She knew she couldn't do anything. Her powers were failing her, her physical strength less even than Natalya's. She felt hands on her peach-coloured legs, felt as they were clamped together, felt rope wrapped tightly around her calves, and just below her knees. It was terrifyingly fast. She felt her body restrained, bound, and knew once again the humiliation of captivity.

"Aah!" Nova almost screamed as she felt Hades hand between her thighs - but they were not after her body. They were after the long trail of white cloth that ran down between her legs. Hades tore it away, and moments later Sara felt it pulled tightly over her mouth and nose. "Mmmph!" she cried out through the tight gag, her voice sealed. "Mmm-hmmm-nnnnnmmphhh!" The sensation of being gagged, of tight fabric muzzling her was terribly embarrassing. She felt like a girl-detective in a pulpy crime story, seized from behind and helplessly captured.

"Can you smell it?" Hades whispered in her ear. "The sweet sweat of your own moist thighs...can you smell it?" Nova blushed to realise that she could.
"Mmmhh..." she whimpered. "MMPH!" The louder cry was caused when she felt Hades grab her legs with one hand, her shoulders with the other - and hoist her overhead.

"Do you see now?" Hades laughed. "Do you see how...stupidly futile it was to oppose me?"
"Mmh! MMMPH!" Nova gasped, writhing with terror and shame as she was exhibited in her powerlessness, her body dangling in mid-air. "I'm nothing to him..." she thought. "I'm nothing at all!" Even with the power of flight, Nova still had a natural fear of falling, and lifted to this height - with Hades' arms extended nearly ten feet in the air - she felt herself instinctively grow still, her gorgeous, slender legs dangling in Hades' grasp, squeezed - massaged, even - by her captor's fingers. She still couldn't control her breathing properly, her breasts rising and falling in panic. Hades' other hand gripped at her narrow shoulders, able to hold both simultaneously. "He's got me...he's completely taken me..."

"You are mine! You are all mine! You shall sleep in my underworld for an eternity, if I wish it - you shall never see the light again! You are not captives. You are not 'damsels in distress'. You are trophies - objects for my amusement, like so many before you." Hades turned their head, looking directly at Insyte, who cowered in a corner.
"You are next, pale maiden with the ample chest..." Hades swung Nova down, not quite easing her to the floor, but ensuring that she wasn't hurt. The bound, humiliated beauty did not appreciate this kindness. Hades left her mewing softly on the ground, and approached Natalya.

"D-don't...g-get away...get...get away...!" Natalya's ears were ringing. Her mouth was dry, her chest hot. "Stay back...s...stay back..." As the nightmare closed in, she felt her lily-white legs fail her. She fell, landing on her soft rear. "No...nn...nooo..." The terror, the shock of her powerlessness, the awfulness of the defeat of her friends - she couldn't take it. The soft, delicate maiden fell back: she had fainted.

"Hmmph," Hades huffed. "I suppose that's one way of doing it." They looked back, surveying the room, littered with fallen, gorgeous young women, women that Hades themself had conquered, taken - even the ones who had been brought to him had been laid low by them. Hades let out a long, foul laugh of satisfaction. It was done.

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Post 7 months ago

Magnificent! All of it. I thought someone might escape but Hades let them try and they all failed miserably. You've developed a hell of a villain here, db.
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Post 7 months ago

"Start from the top, Sam," Fahrenheit said. "Tell us everything." The boy he addressed was still shaking, still in a state of shock. His dull, brown hair was a mess, and he had scratched the same spot on his neck until it bled.
"I-I wasn't k...kidnapped or anything," he eventually said, his stammer made worse by his shock, but not created by it. " offered me m-money to be p-part of an ex...ex...experiment."
"What were they trying to do?" Askancepoint asked. Fahrenheit translated.
"Well, I'm a s-superhuman," Sam said. "Nothing ama-a-azing. A bit of s...strength, a bit of s-s-speed. Kind of an all-r..." He couldn't finish.
"An all-rounder?" Sam nodded.
"They took some of my cells. The armour - all th-the armour has part of m-me in it. It r....runs off my power. Am...plifies it. Like, a l-lot."

"I get it," Askancepoint signed, standing in the ruins of their battlefield. "A simple power like that would be perfect for a big platoon of soldiers." By now, the half-ruined site was swarming with law-enforcement. Despite Panhellius' plea for stealth, the project had been blown wide open. Two generals with all their retinue had turned up, and were arguing bitterly over who had jurisdiction.

"The armour would give anyone your power?" Fahrenheit asked, but Sam ignored the question.
"Why did th-this have to happen to m-me?" Sam put his head in his hands. "I-I just w-wanted a bit of cash...I have a s-s-scholarship at Seacouver U., but I c-can b-barely afford to feed myself!" He heard the noise of sirens, of men shouting, of ringing in his ears. "This isn't f-fair!"

And then there was silence. Total silence, the most complete Sam had ever experienced. He couldn't hear himself breathe, or hear his heartbeat. He opened his eyes, and looked up. A short man with a red goatee and rather wild eyebrows was looking at him, right into his eyes, one hand on the kid's shoulder.
"You are okay," Askancepoint mouthed. Sam shivered, took a deep breath, and felt a measure of calm return: it was hard not to feel safe when there were two members of the Pauldron watching over you. Askancepoint took his hand away, and sound returned.
"Th...the suits w...wouldn't work for anyone else," Sam said, trying to keep his speech clear. "One time I came in for a round of tests of the soldiers trying to use it - the suit, like...ate him..." He shuddered. "Then they...they gave me something...and the next thing I know y-you guys are f-f-fighting me and there was noise everywhere, and -"
"It's alright," Fahrenheit said. "I think we have enough."

The two heroes consulted, signing.
"What the hell do we do with all this? It's going to be a gigantic scandal," Askancepoint said.
"We need to take the kid with us," Fahrenheit said. "Make sure it's a gigantic scandal. No cover ups."
"Make as much noise as possible, eh?" The redhead grinned. "Oh, bitter irony!"

"H-hey, I get it!" Sam said. Fahrenheit turned, beckoning Askancepoint to do the same. "Your name." He was pointing at Askancepoint. "It's an anagram: 'I cannot speak!' Th-that's k-kinda funny!"
"Finally someone gets it," Askancepoint signed, laughing silently. He made an 'ok' sign to Sam, and grinned. "This kid's alright!"

An important looking man in an important looking uniform, flanked by two men who seemed to be doing their level best accurately to impersonate two giant slabs of steak, approached the trio of superhumans.
"Mister Sparr," the important-looking man said, "I'm Colonel Waterville." Sam looked up: 'Sparr' was his surname. "I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us. We need to ask you a few questions."
"Easy there, chum," Fahrenheit said. "He doesn't have to go anywhere if he doesn't want to."
"I'm afraid that's not the case," Waterville said. "He's an important witness. Besides, he has military technology embedded inside him, and he needs to give it back."
"Illegal military technology," Fahrenheit shot back.
"All the more reason not to leave it in the hands of a civilian." He said the word 'civilian' with such undisguised venom that Fahrenheit wasn't sure if the man was serious.
"I hate soldiers...!"

Askancepoint signed furiously. Fahrenheit was about to translate, but one of Waterville's men understood too, and translated for him.
"He says the kid's not a soldier, so we don't have any jurisdiction to arrest him, but that the Pauldron do."
"Look, I don't give a shit about Sparr," the Colonel said. "The armour is incredibly dangerous, from what I understand. If he were the god-damned Buddha I couldn't in all good conscience leave it with him."

As the Colonel and the two heroes argued, Sam once again heard a ringing in his ears. Images flashed into his mind of needles, knives - of organs being implanted into him, of scientists laughing and cutting him apart. Not all of this was memory, but it mixed with paranoid fantasy into a heady mixture.
"Y-you're n-not going to...t-t-t..." He couldn't finish. The others didn't hear him. "They're talking about me like I'm an object!" he thought. "A...a thing! Well they won't do more experiments on me! This power is mine now!"

"We're the Pauldron," Fahrenheit hissed. "You really think you and your little toy soldiers have more influence than us?"
"You can boast all you like," Waterville replied. "You're technically police. We absolutely supersede whatever authority you think that you have."
"'Authority' is power with manners," Fahrenheit replied. "We don't need the manners." It was Waterville's turn to be incredulous.
"You can't be serious! Are you actually -"

Askancepoint had noticed. He'd been trying to get the others' attention for a few seconds. Only an ear-shattering burst from his sonic powers - the only way he could make any sound at all - got the others' attention.
"Aahh!" Fahrenheit cried out. "What are you doing, man?" But as soon as he turned back, he realised what was happening. "Oh, that can't be good...."

Sam was sparking with crackling white lightning, his fists clenched.
"I'm n-not gonna b-b-be anyone's pawn! You're all just trying to use me! It's not happening, d...d-do you understand?!"
"Kid, no-one wants to use you," the Colonel said with impressive calm. "We just want that armour back."
"No!" Sam bellowed. "Exo-generate!" With a shriek and a blinding flash, Sam summoned his armour.

It melted over his skin, as if it were casting itself into an invisible mould surrounding him. It increased in size with a sickening, organic squelch, even as it hardened into black and grey steel. Its crest burst right out of the top of Sam's scalp, his fingers covered by knife-like claws. His face vanished under thick, gnarled metal, what looked like a row of teeth appearing over his eyes.
"Sam, stop!" Fahrenheit barked. "You know this won't -" He was ignored. The armoured figure slammed his fist into the ground, and a burst of sickly-green energy erupted in all directions. Fahrenheit was hurled back, only saving himself from a broken back by increasing the friction in the air around him, massively slowing himself down. Anyone else would have been badly burned by this, but his powers gave him an increased resistance to heat. Even so, it was still painful.

"QED, hero!" Waterville shouted, signalling for his men to aim their rifles. "Sparr! I know these guns won't do much to you. But believe me, you'll be up against worse if you don't give up right now."
"B-bite me!" The voice rang out, harsh and electronic, lending an unsettling contrast to his stuttering, lame retort. "You're not going to ex...periment on m-me again!" At this point, the other people swarming the complex had taken notice, and all eyes turned to him. Anger turned to panic - and he ran.

"Jesus Christ!" Fahrenheit gasped. Sam couldn't move quite as fast as Panhellius, but he didn't even seem to be running just...skimming the ground like a jet-ski over water. He was gone before any of them could react.
"I suppose," Askancepoint signed, "the jurisdiction question is a bit redundant now."

Some miles away, a jeep raced from the complex where the bio-synthetic armour had been developed. As Askancepoint and Fahrenheit had fought the entranced Sam, Schiffer and the military heads of the project had made their escape.
"Don't worry," one of the soldiers said to Schiffer. "None of us are going to jail. There's a hundred-thousand ways our superiors are gonna make this disappear."
"Oh, you silly, innocent boy," Schiffer laughed, darkly. "Now that this is out in the open, I pray they send me to prison." He was tapping nervously on his knee. "I told you this project was my second draft, yes? I never told you who commissioned the first..."

"Mmmhhh..." Enhancegirl moaned, her drugged sleep interrupted by the feeling of her lithe body being handled. "What...what's - mmhh?" As she began to speak, something was pressed over her mouth: a piece of sticky, white tape. "Mmph...mph!" Sophie protested, all the more as she realised her hands were bound behind her back, her midriff covered with the thick, strong, adhesive plastic, pinning her slim arms in place.

She looked down, saw that her long, creamy legs were in the process of being bound. Already her thighs were drawn strictly together, but a man with grey skin was twisting layers of tape round and round her ankles, binding them uncomfortably tightly.
"Mmh! Mmph!" Sophie complained, shuffling her trussed limbs.
"Easy now, my lady," Griseous said. "Don't fight too hard. If I bind you any tighter, it'll be painful."
"Mmhnn..." the redhead mewed. She wriggled her bare shoulders, but didn't put up much more of a fight than that. She knew she was helpless.

Next to her, Plasmarr was putting the finishing touches on Spectra, whose arms were box-tied behind her back, an 'x' of tape across her chest, running between her breasts and over her shoulders keeping her arms trapped. She was still unconscious. Plasmarr tilted her head back, prised her eyes open one at a time, carefully replacing the power-blocking contacts. He opened her mouth to gag her, she gave a soft moan. Hades' lieutenant was struck by the queenly delicacy of her features, the exquisite slenderness of her figure, the length and smoothness of her legs. The way the silver of her leotard contrasted with, and highlighted the light tan of her perfect skin...
"She is...radiant..." Plasmarr thought. He stroked her cheek. "No...she belongs to Lord Hades. And yet..."

"Mmmph! RRMPHH!!" Sophie protested, seeing Plasmarr so clearly taken with her partner. He turned his head towards her, tilting it with curiosity, showing a face covered with scars. They made him look older, but as Sophie took a closer look, she realised he couldn't have been older than twenty.
"Interesting..." Plasmarr said. He kept his eyes on Sophie as he bound Mariko's legs, completely covering her silver boots in white tape, trapping the ex-model's supple limbs. "You seem to care for her..."
"Mmph!" Sophie realised that she'd made a dreadful mistake. Nothing good could come from her captors guessing her and Mariko's relationship.

"Mmghmph!" To Sophie's right, Insyte knelt, dismayed and helpless, her midriff completely covered in the strong tape. Her dress was completely covered over: her white breasts and bare shoulders left displayed. Her pale thighs were shown off as well, and with the way she'd been bound, she might easily have been naked beneath her sticky bindings. She shook her head from side to side, her hair swishing back and forth. Sophie didn't understand why, until she noticed the slight bulge beneath the single strip of tape gagging her, and that both of Natalya's thighs were bare. Her longer stocking had been peeled off her in her sleep, and stuffed into her mouth, then sealed in with tape, muffling her with her own lingerie. Her cheeks were crimson, her blush all too obvious against her alabaster skin.

Stellar had awoken first, though she was still supine. Unlike the others, her pert body had not been bound with tape, but with soft, satin straps. Arachna had communicated to the others what she'd discovered, that the Black Star's weakness was soft, silky material against her skin. It sapped her great strength, leaving her as weak as a kitten.

The Korean beauty tried again and again just to sit up, but she felt so feeble.
"All of us...all of us against him and we were - oh, it was effortless!" She managed to turn her head to the side, to see the others. It wasn't right. It wasn't what ought to have happened. This couldn't be her destiny, to be Hades' trophy. There was more for her: there had to be. And yet, there she lay.

"Good, Plasmarr." A chill ran through Yumi's blood as she heard the voice of their captor. She managed to crane her neck just high enough to see Hades, the armoured giant watching their prizes be secured. Nova was off to the side, being held up by her shoulders by an almost androgynous woman, in a short top hat, with a look of ethereal pleasure on her face.
"Mysteria..." Yumi saw the woman who'd kidnapped her, who'd defeated and abducted Enhancegirl as well. Now it was Nova's turn to feel the bizarre villain's hands on her. The starlit maiden's glitter-dusted cheeks were red, her hazel eyes downcast. Stellar hardly even knew who Nova was, but she knew the look on her face well enough. Defeat still stabbed at Stellar's heart as sharply as it ever had, and she could see that Nova was the same.

Plasmarr left Mariko bound on the floor, his fingers still tingling from where he had touched her. He blushed, bashful. A life of violence and darkness had not left much time for womanising. "Oh!" He remembered something. "My Lord," he said, "you asked me to remind you. Your stipendiaries are scheduled to arrive in thirty minutes."
"Ah, Plasmarr, what would I do without you?" Hades patted their lieutenant on the shoulder. "My thanks."
"That sycophantic lickspittle!" Griseous narrowed his eyes in loathing. The spewer of acid had been working in Hades' organisation much longer than Plasmarr. After the untimely demise of the last 'administrator', he had expected to be given the reins - but he'd been passed over in favour of this neophyte. It was an extremely important role. Hades so rarely appeared personally that Plasmarr was, effectively, running things themselves most of the time. "With his 'my lord' this, 'yes master' the other...what a pathetic toady. No dignity whatsoever!"

"Griseous," Hades said.
"Y-yes, Master, Lord Hades...sir!" Griseous almost yelped.
"See to our guests."
"Yes, Lord! Ah...that is, er..."
"Oh, haha!" Hades chuckled, the distorted tone ringing painfully in the others' ears. "I was not speaking euphemistically of our captives. I mean our guests."
"Oh, of course, Lord. Yes, at once!" Griseous bowed low, and left the room. Even though he felt as though he'd been given busywork, he was never wholly - or even remotely - comfortable in Hades' presence.

"Mmghmmphh..." Sophie whimpered. She couldn't find it within herself to be anything other than dismayed. Being Hades' captive wasn't like being defeated by Mysteria, which had been humiliating because she could have won. This was a cold, paralysing shame, knowing that she was so outclassed as to be utterly inconsequential to them. Hades didn't even seem particularly to care that Sophie was there: the villain's focus was much more on Nova and Stellar.

Little did she know that that was about to change.
"Lord Hades," Plasmarr said. "I do not know what value this information has, but - the girl in gold looked jealously at me when I was binding Spectra." His tone was...juvenile, Sophie thought. Like a precocious student trying to impress their teacher.
"What is the significance of this?" Hades replied, somewhat impatient.
"I believe she may - that is - I think they are romantically involved." Sophie's blood froze.
"Look confused...look like you find it funny...for Christ's sake, don't let them know!" But she couldn't control herself. Her eyes were filled with fear, and she couldn't hide it.

Hades turned to her.
"What a fascinating little nugget of information," Hades replied. "Plasmarr, you find Spectra very beautiful, yes?" The flame-haired villain crimsoned.
"Y...yes, my Lord." Embarrassed as he was, he could not lie to his master. "She is luminous."
"Go to her." He did so, kneeling by the slumbering heroine.
"What's he doing?" Sophie felt like she'd just stumbled into a viper's nest: she didn't want to move, for fear of what might happen if she did.

"Take her in your arms," Hades said. Feeling heat in his chest and his cheeks, Plasmarr did so, gently sliding his hands under her graceful, slender legs and beneath the small of her back. Wiry and strong, it was not the most difficult thing for him to lift the slumbering maiden up into the air. She dangled, bound, unconscious and vulnerable - helpless in Plasmarr's arms.
"Stthhhhhpp!" Sophie demanded, rage rekindled. "Phhd hhhr dhhhn!" Plasmarr resolutely ignored her.
"How does she feel?" Hades asked. Behind him, Mysteria watched with curiosity, while Seismictus squirmed slightly. Even he felt that there was something...untoward about all this.
"She feels warm. Her thighs are soft, but I can feel a strength in them too. She's tall, but...she's very slender. Her body's so delicate..."

"Mmrrrhghmphh! MMMNNPHHMMMHHH!!" Sophie protested, seeing Plasmarr pull the sleeping damsel tighter against himself. Her head fell back, her small, pert breasts rising and falling slowly in her slumber. "Mariko..." She looked so fragile, so helpless. It was horrible seeing her like that. Mariko wasn't just Sophie's girlfriend - she was her lady-knight, her valiant warrior. "She shouldn't...she shouldn't ever look like that..."

"She is delicate, isn't she?" Hades said. "But look at her lover." Sophie shuddered, feeling Hades' eyes on her even through their mask. "I hardly think that such a...soft girl can defend the maiden in your arms?"
"No, my Lord." Sophie felt the truth of that like a punch in the stomach.
"I think you'd make a much better defender of Spectra's virtue. Keeping her shackled - for her own protection. A loving, benevolent master and a demure, contented, obedient slave-girl..." Sophie could tell Plasmarr was not really the target of what Hades was saying. She was.
"!" Plasmarr caught himself. "She is yours, Lord Hades. I am not -"
"Consider it a loan, then." Hades took two steps forward - and with their long strides, this took them almost as close to Sophie and the others as Plasmarr. "Kiss her."
"My Lord?"
"Claim her, Plasmarr. Feel her lips against yours." Gingerly, Plasmarr pulled back the tape over Mariko's lips. They were pink, slightly glossy and moist. He began leaning in.

"NNMPHHH!!" Sophie moaned, aghast at the sight. Hades had handed her soulmate to Plasmarr like she was a prize to be doled out. "NNNHHH!"
"Unhappy at the liberties I am taking? Then you do it." The villain snatched Spectra out of Plasmarr's hands, held her by the back of the neck, letting her rest on her knees. Almost in the same movement, they reached out for Sophie, seizing the redhead by her hair, pulling her right up against her silver-clad lover. "I don't think you're just being possessive. I think you love this one. Show me, then. Show me the purity of your feelings!"

"Mmh...mmh!" Sophie mewed, her heart pounding against her chest. She was terrified. This giant, this demon had her and the one who mattered to her more than anything in his grasp. They were more powerful than anyone Sophie had ever faced - save only the Supremacist, perhaps - and they had her. "Aah!" she gasped, as Hades tore off her gag.
"Do it. Kiss her. Let us all see how much you adore her."
"F-fuck you...fuck you, you -"
"Quiet," Hades said, and Sophie found herself obeying. "You do not have the right to speak to me, much less to use such foul language from such a pretty little mouth. You will kiss her, or I will do it for you."

Sophie couldn't speak. She opened her mouth, but she couldn't say a word. She turned her eyes to Mariko, still unconscious. She looked at her face, so delicately proportioned, so intelligent - even in her sleep. "She's so beautiful..." The thought of even Plasmarr's lips, let alone Hades', befouling Mariko with their touch was...intolerable. Slowly, she found herself leaning in. For the first time since uniting with her, she found herself reluctant to kiss Mariko - but, with great hesitation, she did it.
"Good girl," Hades said. Sophie shuddered as she felt her captor's fingers stroking her hair.

"Mmmhhh!" Stellar moaned, seeing Hades' psychological torture of the trembling redhead. She wished she were telepathic: she wanted to send strength, send her compassion to Sophie, to comfort her somehow. As for Insyte, she just couldn't look. Seeing Sophie's love for Mariko twisted against her in this way, seeing Hades using something so beautiful for a purpose so ugly...she couldn't bear it.

"Uhh..." Sophie pulled away, shamefaced. She wriggled in her bonds, her moist thighs rubbing against each other: but this was not struggle, not really.
"Again." Hades commanded.
"What?! I - I did what you -"
"That was...lukewarm at best, Enhancegirl." They ran a finger down Mariko's neck, her bare shoulder, over one of her small, pert breasts. "She's so...pretty. Surely you can summon up your passions for one so sumptuous. Again. And this time, I want you to mean it."

Of all the people in the world, there was no-one that Sophie hated more than Rachel Artesia - the woman who had manipulated her into bed, dominated her, and tried to have Spectra killed. That was still the case...but never had she had so strong a contender than Hades. Gritting her teeth, Sophie closed her eyes, and kissed Mariko again. She closed her eyes, widened her mouth a little, tried to make it look like she was making out passionately with her.

It was quite a good pretence. It would even have been convincing, had it not been for the fact that Mariko had begun to stir.
"Mmmhh..." she mewed, slowly coming round. Still dazed, she found herself waking to the sensation of her lips tingling. "Oh...! sweet..." She returned her lover's kiss, warmly sliding her tongue into Sophie's mouth. In her groggy state it all seemed a nightmare - Hades, her captivity - but Sophie was her reality.

It was too much. Feeling Mariko respond so sweetly, so lovingly - Sophie couldn't help but respond, her heart having to respond to Mariko's. It was a biting cruelty under the circumstances. Sophie pulled away, with a groan, glaring with enraged, hate-filled daggers at Hades. Mariko was startled into comprehension of what had happened, and felt as if she'd been punched.
"I - MMPH!" A thick rag was forced between her lips, thoroughly suppressing Mariko's voice as Hades cleave-gagged her. She saw Sophie on her knees, eyes wet and furious. This wasn't like others who had captured them before. The...pettiness of Hades' malice made it all the more vile.

"Oh god..." Mariko lamented inwardly. She felt Hades gripping her, pulling her willowy body against their cold, black armour. She struggled, but even with her powers she was nothing to this devil, let alone without them.
"Much better. I really believed it this time, Enhancegirl. What does the gallery think?" Hades gestured to their servitors. Mysteria applauded, smiling strangely.
"Bravissimo," she said. "I'm very convinced."
"Uh...yeah," Seismictus added. "Very, uh..." He tried to think of a mot juste. "Very...good." Seismictus was not a clever man.
"You see, Plasmarr, you should think of this as an education." They pointed at Sophie, still clutching Spectra tightly against themselves. "I don't believe you've ever experienced love. I'm not so cynical as to think it doesn't exist - oh it exists, alright. But look how it's ended." Taking Spectra by the chin, Hades turned the willowy beauty to look down at Sophie. "Look at her. Shame, rage, despair all melded together. That is how love ends: I've just excised the middleman. Believe me, I -" They cut themselves off.

A few feet away, held up on her feet by Seismictus and another of Hades' followers, Nova watched and listened. She had been fitted once again with her gas mask, kept far too sleepy to use her powers.
"Why...why is he going to all this trouble?" It didn't make sense. Everything she knew about Hades suggested that they were secretive in the extreme. A patron of crime, supplying money and favour simply to increase the amount of evil in the world. But this...going so far out of their way to kidnap Nova and Spectra, and now all this...performance. What was the point of it? "Does he get so much pleasure from this that it's worth all the risk he took?" She wanted to believe there was a greater reason. She couldn't conscience the idea that she'd been snatched just so that Hades could enjoy fondling her lovely body.

She watched Mariko writhe in Hades' grip. She hadn't realised that she and Sophie were actually dating.
"This just...proves superheroes shouldn't...shouldn't see each other..." she thought. She realised that, even now, she was trying to find fault with her new ally, and severely chided herself for it. "Why does she anger me so much...?" She saw Hades continue to taunt the two lovers, stroking Mariko's thighs with one long arm. Looking at Mariko with sleepy, half-closed eyes, she tried to force her dislike to give way to sympathy. To her credit, she mostly succeeded: Nova was very aware that her personality had flaws, and she fought always to be...better. She couldn't see Mariko's face, but she could see Sophie's. To Nova's shock, she saw that it was twisted into a dark smile.

Hades too was surprised.
"Something amusing you, girl?" Sophie's smile grew sharper, wider. Natalya, a few feet away, was alarmingly reminded of her brother.
"You fucked up."
"I...beg your pardon?"
"You heard me, tin man," The helpless, bound redhead spoke with a vicious humour. "You fucked up, Hades. Now when I remember today, I'm not going to think about you defeating us. I'm not going to think about all the shit you're doing with us. I'm going to think about the fact that right in the middle of all of it, when I was feeling terrified, and small, and pathetic, you let me give the woman I cared about most in the world just a little bit of comfort, and that blotted you out. You might be ten feet tall, or whatever, but Spectra made you tiny."

Her eyes were brimming with tears, her voice wavering. She very nearly wept openly. But she remained resolute. "You hear that, 'Plasmarr'?!" Her voice cracked on the man's name. "That's love." She looked at Mariko as she said this. "Here endeth the fucking lesson." Plasmarr blinked. He looked at his master, saw their fist clench. He had never seen someone strike a successful blow against Hades before - but Enhancegirl, who had the least strength of any hero there, had slapped the demon across the face.

"Perhaps you're right," Hades said. "Perhaps I did miscalculate. Here, let me reward you." They shoved Spectra forward, the maiden's tightly trussed, coltishly long legs unable to hold her up. She fell to her knees, right in front of Sophie. Close up, she saw that her lover was quivering, right on the point of fully bursting into tears, her courage almost failing. How she wished to embrace her! How she wished to praise her bravery, to tell her how magnificent she thought her lover was. She hoped that Sophie saw it in her eyes, at least in part.

"The marvellous thing is, you see, that it doesn't actually matter! You are still captive. You are still pathetically helpless."
"Yeah, yeah," Sophie said. "I've heard it all before, asshole. Stop preening and get the hell on with it." Mariko could hear her voice tremble. She just hoped Hades couldn't.
"As you wish," Hades replied, after a pause. "Gag her, Plasmarr. I think I've had enough of the witty maiden's voice for one day." He obeyed, hauling Sophie up to her feet, tearing white tape from a roll, forcing a thick strip over Sophie's lips.
"Mmph!" Sophie mewed. Feeling hands on her body, feeling her voice muffled re-emphasised the truth of Hades' words.

"Get them on their feet, all of them." First Mariko, then Natalya, then Yumi were all hoisted up, the conquered beauties forced to stand close to each other. Plasmarr stood behind them, one hand on Sophie's neck, the other on Mariko's, a lingering threat. "Mysteria, I leave them with you. Drug them, then put them into stasis." They heard a laugh from within Hades' armour. "Spectra already knows this - my stasis tanks will keep you preserved. You could stay in them for a decade and be totally unchanged in your youthful loveliness. I shall be admiring your slumbering bodies for...a long time."
"Mmghhmphh...mmhhh..." Yumi whimpered, her esoteric vulnerability keeping her quite feeble. "A...a decade?!, that can't happen!" Natalya was silent, tame. There was no fight left in her at all. Just quiet, powerless dismay. Spectra and Enhancegirl looked at each other, both strengthened and weakened by the sight of the other.
"I wish I could do more..." they both thought, as Mysteria stepped towards them.

It was at this point that Hades turned to Nova.
"You shall keep me company for a while," Hades said. Nova blanched, feeling tiny as a shrew in Hades' vast shadow. "Don't be too disheartened, though." Two metal fingers stroked one of Nova's glitter-dusted cheeks, and she squirmed weakly. She could barely look at Hades. "You shall join your sisters in their slumber 'ere long." Then the villain reached out - and just took her.

It was so fast, such a...casual movement that Nova barely registered that it had happened. She only realised because instead of looking up at Hades, she was now looking down at the floor. She was so light, and Hades was so strong, that they had tossed the starlit beauty - whose light the villain had so easily dimmed - over their shoulder with the effort of holding a feather on one's finger.
"Why...why is it me he's so focused on?" Nova thought. "Mmph...!" Sleepy and dazed, Nova nonetheless felt her full share of shame as Hades stroked her bare, peach-coloured thighs. "Mmhh...nnnmmphhh..." She'd seen Enhancegirl's defiance, was impressed by her strength - but was bemused by it as well. "We're powerless...we're defeated captives - fighting him like this is - is meaningless." She felt an ache in her heart. "I'm...without my powers, I'm just a - a pretty girl!" She imagined Imperion seeing her in that state. She knew he would be kind, comforting, wouldn't judge her. And yet, she could imagine the look in his eye, seeing her...disgraced.

As Hades carried their petite, beautiful prize away, Nova looked up. She saw the others. Weaker than her, far less powerful, honoured and experienced. But she hadn't been able to save them. She cast her eyes down again. At that moment, she did not feel worthy of looking at them. A hand reached up to her, but not to grope her - Hades was adjusting the nozzle on the gas canister clipped to the back of Nova's dress.
"Sleep, little damsel," Hades said. "Sleeeeeep..."
"Mmhh...mmmhh..." Sara whimpered. She was halfway there already. Her naked, dangling legs grew still. Her breathing became deeper, yet more gentle. Surrendering to oblivion, to the comfort of not having to think, she shut her eyes, and allowed darkness to take her.

And then she was gone. Much of Hades' retinue followed them, but Mysteria, Seismictus and Plasmarr remained.
"This has been such a fascinating experience," Mysteria said. "I've never seen Hades having so much fun. He's like a boy in a candy-store." She was approaching the heroines, still standing bound and gagged, blushing and humiliated.
"Do not speak of Lord Hades like that!" Plasmarr hissed. "His concerns are not so small. This is all part of a wider plan."
"I wasn't criticising him," Mysteria replied. "We must all take joy in our work, must we not?"

"Mmhhh..." Insyte lost her balance, fell to her knees. "Why...why couldn't I have been born with Ivan's power instead?" she thought. This was not necessarily a heroically motivated thought. She wasn't thinking about protecting her friends and allies: she was thinking about hurting the ones who had humiliated her. Though she wondered if even Ivan would be a match for Hades.

"Careful, dearie." Before Insyte knew what was happening she was back on her feet, looking into the eyes of the woman whose mind had traumatised her power. In Hades' darkness, she'd almost forgotten the terror that this woman had inflicted on her. "Why the long faces?" Mysteria asked. It seemed hard to believe, but she appeared genuinely not to understand why Hades' defeated captives were so dismayed. "Here! Let me lift your spirits." She stepped back, adjusted her bow-tie, and began to draw a handkerchief out of her blazer's sleeve, long and white.

For all but Natalya, who had seen a glimpse of the secrets that lay within, it was almost a relief to be under Mysteria's auspices, rather than Hades'. Hades was like something out of a nightmare, whereas Mysteria was a slightly more...familiar brand of villainy. Intimidating in her strange way but not heart-stopping. Not like Hades.

"What's she doing?" Yumi thought. She shuffled her shoulders, her flawless legs, feeling her satin bonds stroke her skin, dampening her strength and her capacity for aggression. She watched Mysteria drawing out a longer, longer and longer handkerchief, until it became clear that it was not a handkerchief at all. Once again, mundane sleight of hand seemed like something more considering the source, but this really was just a magic trick. The handkerchief was no handkerchief at all - it was a large, white sheet.
"Mmh?" Mariko was bemused. She had not encountered Mysteria before, after all. She had no idea who - indeed what - she was. Whereas the others had misinterpreted Mysteria's trick as a manifestation of her powers, Mariko now made the opposite mistake. The sheet rose into the air of its own accord, and Mariko thought it another magic trick.

But the others had seen Mysteria's animating power before. They tried to squirm away, even with their legs tightly bound, but Plasmarr pushed them back together. The white sheet rushed and twisted through the air, swirling around its master. It concealed her movements, but this was no barrier to Sophie. She saw what Mysteria produce, saw her soaking the sheet with it.
"Mmmmmmmhhhhhhhhhhhh!" she moaned, not knowing how else to react. It was already affecting her sensitive nerves, but Mysteria acted before she could begin to faint. She smiled widely - and wrapped the four captives in a chloroform soaked sheet.

"MMMPHHHH!!" The cry went up from all four of them instantaneously, as they were forced against each other by the strong, damp sheet.
"Mmh! MM-nnnhhhmphh!" Mariko gasped, feeling herself pressed in against the others. They wriggled, bucked against the sheet, but they were already bound, and it twisted ever tighter. Mariko thrashed as hard as she could, but all she accomplished was rubbing her body against the others'.

"Mmmhhh! Mmhhhphhh!" Natalya cried out, red with embarrassment as she felt her fellow captives' bodies against her own. Yumi, much shorter than she was, had her chin and shoulder rubbing against Natalya's voluminous breasts, which jiggled visibly as she writhed, threatening to slip out of her torn dress completely - but less and less vigorously. The drug was beginning to take her.

"MMPH! Mmhhh...mmhhh...!" Yumi herself whimpered, pressed in on all sides, the sickly-sweet smell of chloroform bringing with it a languorous weakness that threatened a sensual quality to every sensation. Natalya's breasts against her shoulders. Mariko's smooth thighs against hers. Sophie's gagged mouth brushing against her hair. Their bodies all so warm, soft, so beautiful in their own way. It was intoxicating. She felt herself giving in. Her head fell against Mariko, her brown eyes drooping. "I...I don't know what else to do..." she thought, feeling herself surrender. She'd fought so hard against Hades, harder perhaps than any of them, and it had amounted to nothing. She couldn't see well in the dim light filtering through the sheet, but she could make out Sophie right in front of her. She knew that Sophie was something of of hers. Yet, Stellar felt, she had never done anything to earn Enhancegirl's respect.

If Yumi had given in quickly, though, that was nothing compared to Sophie. Surrounded, enveloped by her greatest weakness, she was drowning in helplessness. She couldn't think, couldn't move. She was only loosely aware of what was happening now. Her long, naked legs were far too weak to hold her up. The only reason she stayed standing was because of the tightness of the sheet wrapping them. With a defeated moan, her green eyes fell shut, her sweet face resting on Mariko's shoulder. She fell into drugged slumber: the maiden hadn't stood a chance.

Mariko felt Sophie fall against her, heard her powerless, sleepy whimpers.
"Mmghhmmmphh..." Spectra moaned, certainly not as weak yet as Sophie, but in no better a position for it. "Kidnapped...defeated again and again...I...uhhh..." She remembered Sophie's courageous defiance of their abductor, tried to let her lover's courage stoke the fires of her own. "Sophie, my beloved...I've never proud of..." At the start of the thought, she was fairly alert still, but by the end she had sunk below a critical threshold. She too now felt her willowy, supple limbs growing slack. "So...weak..."

They continued shifting, ever more weakly, their skin moist with chloroform and with the smell of their own feminine bodies - a sweet, heady mixture that intoxicated them ever more deeply. They no longer struggled: they merely writhed sinuously, sensually against each other. Gradually, Mysteria loosened the hold of the sheet, and they began to sink.

"Mmmhhh...mhhh..." they sighed almost in perfect concert, falling in a bound, sumptuous tangle on top of each other. The four gorgeous captives lay so helplessly, so intimately against each other, that it was almost as if Mariko and Sophie were not the only ones who felt for each other. Yes, Sophie's head came to fall onto her lover's chest, but her creamy legs were entwined with Natalya's, while the soft telepath's bosom was a pillow for the head of Yumi.

They still moved slightly, none but Sophie totally unconscious. Even she, however, still shifted just a little. Mysteria now draped the drugged sheet over them, rather than binding them with it, but its power was not lessened. Hades' servitors watched the beautiful damsels writhe beneath it, their long, supple legs stroking each other, their soft sighs weakened into feminine, sensual moans. All of them watched with interest, but Plasmarr especially was transfixed. The sheet was somewhat translucent, and he watched Spectra wriggle ever more slowly, saw the others settle against her. He was trembling.

Yumi, the shortest, was the next to fade into sleep. Her last thought before she did, was a recognition that there really was a very...intense sensation in feeling Natalya's lily-white breasts, or her supple legs. They were smooth, a little cooler than her own. The shape of her was so curvy, so womanly. "Womanly..." Stellar repeated in her mind. "Wait...oh...oh! Am...I...?" She did not, alas, have the mental strength for the 'Eureka!' moment to complete itself. The chloroform seemed to take her all at once: she rose slightly, as if shocked - and then she fell.

Natalya felt Yumi's long, black hair stroking her breasts. It wasn't an altogether unpleasant sensation, but it wasn't one she took any particular joy in, either. She felt faint, the wet sheet clinging to her mouth and her nose. She wasn't trying to stay awake, exactly. She was so drenched in humiliation that she was saturated. Being subdued and knocked out one more time made no difference to her. She just wanted the wretched experience to take as little time as possible. Sure enough, her more-than-modest bust slowed in its rising and falling, as her yellow eyes fell closed.
"Why is this...happening to me...?" she thought as she passed out. She did not think that she deserved her captivity less than the others, or anything like that. She just wondered what on earth she was doing thinking she could be a superhero.

"Mmmh...mmmmnnnmmhhh..." Spectra mewed, the last to give in. She felt her supple legs tingling, feeling the others' limbs entangled with her own - Sophie's especially, of course. She blushed. Sophie's defiance of Hades had lifted her out of the mire of despair, but she was sinking back in now. "There's still...nothing I can do..." It shamed her that Sophie had given her courage, but she'd had nothing she could give to Sophie or the others. Spectra was more than just Mariko's nom de plume: when one thought of Seacouver heroes, Spectra was the first name to come to mind. She was a symbol to the other heroines of her city...and yet she'd been just as powerless as the rest of them. For Spectra, defeat wasn't just failure. It was a betrayal. The shame of it dragged her under, her eyes falling shut.

Mysteria whipped the sheet off them. Seismictus whistled, Plasmarr having to restrain the urge to gasp.
"God's wounds!" There they lay, all four of them unconscious, tied up, completely, deliciously helpless. They lay so intimately against each other, their bare legs entwined, their skin moist. With their soft moans they seemed to beg for a champion. How grateful they would be, Plasmarr thought, how thankful...

Plasmarr imagined himself sitting in a great throne, Insyte and Stellar at his feet, looking up adoringly at him. Spectra and Enhancegirl sat in his lap, kissing each other - then him.
"Thank you, my saviour..." he imagined Spectra whispering in his ear. "We're such weak, helpless girls...please keep us safe...we're so grateful, master..."
"No!" he shouted. These thoughts were treacherous. Even the idea of 'rescue' implied that here, in Hades' grasp, was not the proper place for them, which of course it was.

"Geez, man, I was just asking if I could go outside for a smoke," Seismictus said. Plasmarr hadn't heard him ask.
"What?" Plasmarr said. "No. Take one of them to the stasis chamber, as Lord Hades commanded."
"Don't have to snap at me..." Seismictus grumbled. He approached the unconscious heroines, plucking the nearest one from the ground. This happened to be Insyte. He took the fallen architect by her ankles with both hands, hoisting her up into the air. He pulled her over one of his shoulders in a reverse fireman's lift, her legs trailing down his back, her torso slumped over his front.

"Easy money," he chuckled. He manoeuvred Insyte so that her midriff was bent over his shoulder, rather than her waist. This required a much tighter grip, but meant that her voluminous bosom pressed harder against his chest, and were more clearly visible. As he began carrying Natalya away, he fondled the maiden's breasts, the tall, actually quite impressively muscular villain getting as much pleasure out of his work as he could. He only started doing this, however, when he was out of Plasmarr's sight.

Mysteria stood over the remaining three, made an odd gesture with both hands, and suddenly Stellar and Enhancegirl were on their feet, though falling towards her. She caught them both, their heads resting against her chest as if in affection. Sliding her hands appreciatively down each of their backs, the two seemed just to...slide up her body, until they were both draped over her shoulders. She held them by their naked thighs, appreciating the strong scent of chloroform which still lingered on them. It was no coincidence that Mysteria had taken these two. She'd defeated them both individually, and rather thought it appropriate that she be the one to bear them away. They were both so lithe, so nubile...she found her hands running back and forth over their legs, smiling contentedly to herself. She idly wondered what it might feel like to be in their position, and concluded that there might be some kind of pleasure in it.
"Then let me do you a favour," she thought. Their high hemlines did little to defend their modesty, and she reached up, taking hold of their behinds, Stellar's skin a little silkier, Enhancegirl's rear a little rounder, more womanly. "What a delightful contrast!"

This left Plasmarr with Spectra. He knelt down next to her, reached out to pick her up, but he hesitated. The tall, delicately slender, beautiful young woman lay there, helpless. At his mercy. Her short, black hair was covering her face a little, so he moved it out of the way, completely revealing her elegant features. Her gag was wet with chloroform, and he could even make out the impression of her lips. "She's...she's a goddess..." Plasmarr thought. Slowly, he slid his hands under her thighs, under her back, lifting her up gently into his arms. She was tall, but to him she felt light as a feather. Her willowy legs, which took up more than half her height, dangled downwards, warm and smooth. Her head fell back, exposing a slender, vulnerable throat.

Plasmarr's heart was racing, pounding in his chest. He wanted her for himself. He couldn't deny it: he wanted to have Spectra, to be her king, her lord. But he controlled himself, reminding himself that he owed everything to his Lord. Hades had taken him in all those years ago, protected him from the ones who had been using his power for such lowly purposes. Now he was the most trusted lieutenant of a god. He would kill himself rather than betray him. Yet she was so very lovely...

The four damsels were carried down into the very depths of Hades' complex. Mariko had been there before: the Gallery. They were brought in, past the colour-coded members of the Starlight Squadron, past the humiliated, half-naked Valora. They were each taken to a large, glass-covered pod, each unresisting captive laid inside. Masks were tied over their faces, but they were otherwise left limp. The only one who had any difficulty with this was Plasmarr: it was a little hard getting a woman as tall as Spectra into the tank.

As the liquid filled up, Hades' minions watched. Each captive became gradually submerged in the dark substance, their calves, then their thighs, then their hips. As the liquid rose, and its pressure increased, Enhancegirl seemed somewhat stirred, for they began to shift in their bonds. As the liquid went higher, Sophie's sleepy struggles caused the stuff to splash against her soft, white shoulders.
"Mmh..." Sophie whimpered, eyes opening a crack. "What's...going on?" She felt what she thought was water rising, going up and over her breasts, her shoulders, her neck. "No...I'll - I'll drown...!" She was far too groggy to realise that she was safe, the oxygen mask over her face giving her all she needed to breathe. "Mmhh...mmphhh..." she whimpered, struggling with terrible weakness as she was completely subsumed. And then, quite suddenly, she stopped.

It was as if there were an 'off' switch at the back of her head, and suddenly someone had flicked it. For Mariko and Sara, the process had been piecemeal, both having felt as if parts of them were gradually being shut off, one by one. For Sophie, it was different. Her nervous system gave her a vulnerability to this substance too, and as she absorbed it through her skin, it instantly conquered her, just as Hades had conquered her.

And so there they floated, sleeping, tamed. Four heroines, utterly outmatched: kidnapped, taken - and now displayed, sealed away like exhibits in a museum. They bobbed slightly, but otherwise seemed quite peaceful. Natalya's long hair swirled about her, but even she seemed calm.
"What a sight!" Mysteria said, admiring not only Hades' recent acquisition, but the voluptuous Valora, and the slender damsels of the Starlight Squadron. "Quite a collection Hades has here, eh?"
"Collection?" Plasmarr looked at her, confused. "Oh, I see. This is where Hades keeps recent acquisitions, or those for whom he has some other plan. Our Lord may require them later - though I don't imagine he'll have use for any but Stellar, Spectra and Valora." Seismictus grinned.
"Trust me, Mysteria, the boss' collection is...well, it's a lot bigger than this."
"Fascinating," Mysteria said, stroking her chin.
"Keep working for him, and maybe he'll let you see it some time." He turned away, still hankering after that cigarette. Hades' gallery was a sight to behold, but he found it a little sterile to be worth much attention. "Am I the only one around here who prefers his women conscious?"

As he left, someone passed him going in the other direction. She was shorter than him, but she had an air of venom which made him wary of her.
"Ooohhh! God this is hot!" Arachna laughed as she entered. She'd been finalising her acceptance into Hades' ranks with one of his more ancillary underlings, and had seen the heroines being carried in. Wanting a closer look, she'd been delighted to find the chamber. "Only problem is you can't touch 'em, can you?"
"Nor smell them," Mysteria replied. She began getting closer to the tanks, but Plasmarr stepped in her path.
"We may place maidens into Hades' clutches - we may not bring them out again." There was a moment of tension. Plasmarr was not sure that he could defeat Mysteria if it came to that. "Step away, Mysteria." She didn't immediately obey him.
"Geez, why don't you two just fuck already?" Arachna said, striding forward and taking a closer look at Stellar. She tried to choke her envy with pleasure at seeing her bound, drugged and helpless.

"Quiet," Plasmarr hissed. He was quite sure that she would be no trouble for him. "Our task is done. This chamber is for our Lord, and no-one else." He turned his eyes to Hades' newest underling. "Take your last look at the object of your perversions, Arachna. Your canary? She will never sing again."
"Never...?" Arachna blinked. She hadn't really thought about it before: Hades did not let their captives escape. There was every possibility that Stellar would never escape the pod she'd just been put into. The villainess felt herself breathing more quickly, and she was not entirely clear why. "I must be...jealous," she thought.

As the villains left the chamber, Arachna felt her hands trembling. Plasmarr noticed, but didn't care. Mysteria, however, was intrigued.
"You look upset, Emily," she said.
"Stop calling me that!" Arachna barked, and this time she actually grabbed Mysteria by the throat. "I may not be as strong as our boss, but I could definitely choke your freaky ass to death!"
"I...just find it interesting," Mysteria said, struggling to speak, but seeming otherwise unperturbed, "that you seem affected. I thought you were a fairly classical psychopath. But you're guilty about Stellar, aren't you?"
"Guilty? Don't be dumb." She shoved Mysteria away from her. "I just want her for myself, you know that."
"If you say so," Mysteria replied, leaving Arachna alone with her thoughts.
"She's so, guilty...what a load of shit!" Arachna forced a laugh, sauntering away. And yet Plasmarr's words rang again and again in her ears:
"She will never sing again..."

"Mmmhh...mmhhh?" Nova mewed, as she began coming to. She was sitting on a couch or a chair, plush and comfortable. Her stunning body was bound in rubbery cord, a plastic gas mask over her face, keeping her helpless, keeping her weak. She looked up, saw a table in front of her, surrounded by chairs, almost all occupied. A cold shiver ran down her back when she saw an armoured figure sitting at its head, lightly rapping their fingers on the table.

The others were a motley crew. Drug dealers, gangsters, smugglers, arms dealers, the sort of people that Sara was used to sending running in fear. She actually recognised one or two faces. If the others were similar sorts of people, then these were high level lieutenants of various criminal organisations - but no-one at the very top.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said a grey skinned man sitting next to Hades, "my employer has been exceptionally pleased with the majority of you. Despite the...influx of well-intentioned superhumans into this area, crime rates continue to hold steady. The police stretch their shrinking budgets over more and more problems. You have all more than earned your stipends for this month. My employer also includes an updated list of weaknesses for known superhumans. It turns out that Thaddeus Murderball actually isn't vulnerable to electricity in his armoured form! We do apologise to the Casarossos for that little error. " One of the men at the table growled.

"I'm sorry," one of them spoke up, "I have two concerns."
"Please," Griseous said, smiling like a used car salesman, "this is the forum for concerns to be raised."
"Firstly - and no disrespect - but taking this much money for doing basically nothing? My employer is concerned. We came to this forum because we didn't want anybody to feel insulted. We're just worried that someday, you're gonna turn around and say 'you owe us, please kill the President' or something." Griseous laughed.
"Please, understand. You serve Lord Hades simply by doing what you're doing! You already know the only condition my Lord asks."
"'Keep at least some of your operation in Seacouver.' Yeah, I know. That's no problem for us. We ain't big enough even to come out here to Sac, let alone go further out."
"Splendid. And your second concern?"

"Not only his concern." A fat man with a thick, vaguely Russian accent pointed at Nova. "You bring member of Pauldron to meeting? My eyes do not complain. Girl is very pretty. But girl also have more firepower than entire Georgian air force. Is...concerning."
"Don't worry," Griseous said. "She's quite harmless in her present state. My lord thought the room could do with a little...colour."

"Mmmhhh..." Nova moaned. "Is that all I am now? A...decoration?" She looked with wet, half-closed eyes at the criminals in front of her. Hades wasn't speaking at all, appearing to leave everything to Griseous. Nova didn't understand why - but she had a strange feeling that the monster was directing all their attention at her. "Mph...!" The heroine squealed. She hadn't noticed before, but she was not sitting alone. There were two women next to her, one on either side. These were not captives - they had the same dead-eyed look as Hades' other minions. They were dressed in long, thin gowns with plunging necklines - and they had their hands all over Sara.

"Mmhh...mmmnnnmmmphhh...!" Nova moaned, as they stroked her bare legs, her neck, kissed her face. One of them slipped their hand into Nova's dress, and began fondling her breasts. "Mmmm mmm nmmph!" Her face went bright red with embarrassment. "They're...groping - in front of all of these...!" Others were looking now, her moans only drawing their attention. Her skimpy dress left her gorgeous, petite body easily accessible to Hades' servants, who took almost every liberty with her. They cupped her breasts, massaged her thighs, making her mew and gasp, the gas keeping her too weak even really to struggle.

"A real peach, ain't she?" another of Hades' guests said. "And roped like a heifer too! You know, this lady's the one who got my brothers sent down, before she was in the Pawwldron." He grinned. "Say, don't suppose you -"
"No." Hades spoke. This was the first time they'd done so since the meeting had really begun. "She belongs to me." They spoke very, very slowly and deliberately, with a kind of toneless menace.

The meeting moved onto other things, but Hades' minions kept fondling the helpless, starlit maiden who was bound in their grasp.
"Your skin's so soft..." one of them whispered to her. "Tell me what soap you use sometime..." Nova tried to ignore her, tried to keep her eyes on Hades.
"I'll kill him..." she thought. "I'll kill him!" She wanted to scream, and curse, and bellow her loathing - but all she could do was whimper.


When Mark and Shane, otherwise known as Askancepoint and Fahrenheit, returned to the Pauldron's headquarters, they were not wholly pleased with themselves. Yes, they'd cast a light on some serious illegality, but it was now a massive political shitstorm, Sam Sparr was at large, and certainly dangerous, and the cover up was already starting.

They went straight to Imperion's office, ready to brief him on the semi-successful mission, finding Panhellius and Jackson already waiting for them. Neither looked very pleased.
"I can see you heard, then," Shane said. "I am sorry it ended so chaotically, Jackson."
"What?" The blonde man looked at them in confusion. "Oh, right. Yeah, that's not great, but I'm not sure what I'd have asked you to do differently. It's a shitty situation, and I'm confident you did the best you could with it." He leaned back, a look of intense concentration on his face.

"What's the problem then?" Mark signed. Jackson didn't need a translator, and replied:
"The Reduced Responsibility Bill passed. Unamended." Aloud, he said: "I don't know how. Texas will be next. Then Florida. This...isn't good. Now any idiot with electrical powers and an itchy trigger-finger is basically immune from prosecution as long as they sign up with the state." He looked exhausted.
"We'll set the trend," Panhellius said. "Your Henry Ford said it best: culture eats strategy for breakfast. If we don't kill, others won't either."
"Maybe," Imperion said. "Hours of negotiations for -!" He controlled his temper. "What's done is done. We're going to just have to adjust."
"I don't think it'll be too bad here," Askancepoint signed. "It's not so easy to register fully in California. Florida's going to be a problem, though. I heard even Mace-Face was fully licensed now." Imperion put his head in his hands.

"How did Chryseis get on?" Shane asked.
"Very well," Panhellius replied. "She's managed to round up almost all the Inferiorites. It was a rousing success."
"Well, that makes one of us..." Fahrenheit replied, darkly. "And what have you been doing?"
"Me?" Panhellius replied. "I've been buried up to my neck in administration all day. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who actually considers this a job."

As Askancepoint and Fahrenheit gave more detail about their mission, Imperion flicked on the television in the corner of his office.
"Let's see what people are saying about it..." he sighed. He turned to CNN, as Fahrenheit and Panhellius began arguing about whether the law on superhuman research for military purposes was reasonable or not. "Hmm?" They weren't reporting about the bill. "Guys," he said, quite quietly. They didn't hear him. "Guys, shut up!" Naturally, this got their attention. They all turned to the television.

"Now, the footage you just saw comes from earlier today in Renning City. Apparently police had thought that no footage existed because of some kind of jamming phenomenon, but someone using an older brand of cellphone was able to make the recording. Let's take another look." The others now saw what had made Imperion bellow at them.

A man, or possibly not a man - a figure, carrying two women, slung bound and unconscious over their shoulder. They could only see the long legs of the one on the figure's right shoulder, ending in knee-high, silver boots. But the other, they saw. The other they knew.
"Nova! And the other woman must be Spectra!" Fahrenheit gasped. "What the fuck?! Who - who could have -?"
"Sshh!" Panhellius hissed. The audio wasn't great, and some words were cut off, but they nevertheless heard this person speak.
"You all saw - yes? Good, g -. Is it - what has happened? I, Hades, have - this. I am real. Let there - be any doubt."

Imperion leapt out of his seat. His face was white.
"H...Hades..." He was barely audible. " alive?!"
"Hades is real?" Panhellius said. "I thought he was just an urban myth."
"Maybe they're just using the name," Askancepoint signed.
"It hardly matters one way or the other!" Fahrenheit snapped. "We're going to go after them. Obviously. Imperion, what's the plan?" But he didn't respond. He was just staring.
"Hades..." he muttered again. "Hades...has Sara!" Panhellius shook his head.
"She's getting to be a bit of a weakness for you, isn't she?" He turned to the others. "We start shaking the tree. Local police in Renning City. Local heroes there. Anything and everything. I'll contact Chryseis. Go. Now!" They obeyed. They ran to the helipad, Askancepoint texting a superhuman friend of his who defended Renning City, while Fahrenheit called the Chief of the city's police. Nova was the Pauldron's liaison to law enforcement - he knew they'd be happy to help.

"Imperion," Panhellius said, trying to break his leader out of his reverie. "Jackson, for heaven's sake!"
"What? Oh, yeah," Imperion said, rising to his feet. "Let's go." He wouldn't even look Panhellius in the eye.
"You need to pull yourself together, sir. Hades was powerful enough to defeat both of them together - they might be a threat even to you. If you're worried about Nova and Spectra -"
"Of course I'm worried, Derek!" Jackson said. "'Worried' doesn't cover it!" He shook his head. "But you're right, I do need to focus. Thank you man."
"You're welcome," Derek replied. "I'll pilot."
"Right." As they walked, it occurred to Panhellius to ask something.

"Sir," he said, "why are you so confident that Hades is real, let alone that he's dead?" Imperion looked at him, wearily.
"I have the same answer for both questions." He let out a long breath. "I'm the one who killed her."

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Post 7 months ago

Hmmm. Is it possible that the first client for Sam's armor was Hades? Anyway, another spellbinding chapter, damselbinder. Say, Spellbinder sounds like a good name for either a hero or heroine with magical skills. It probably already is either a DC or Marvel character though. I particularly enjoyed the delicious descriptions of Nova being kept drowsy by the gas mask, but as usual, it was all wonderfully written and a delight to savor. Thanks
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WonderWoman in the Lair of the Scarecrow
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Batgirl: A Loss of Dignity
Supergirl: Prison Hostage
Defilers' Club: First Victim (Supergirl)

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Post 7 months ago

12 Years Earlier...

A small girl, nine years old, sat on her knees. She had black hair, cut into a bob, and light brown eyes. She was reading a worn looking copy of David Copperfield, already about halfway through. She had a rather cold look about her, but she was actually enjoying the book quite a bit: it just didn't show on her face. A screen door behind her opened, and a tall Japanese woman came in.
"Mariko," she said, sternly, "Your uncle is here." Only thirty-two, she would have been very pretty indeed, had it not been for a squinting meanness in her eyes.
"Yes, mother," Mariko replied, getting up.
"Haven't you finished that book already?" Mariko didn't reply. "You are slow, aren't you?"
"Yes, mother."

The little girl trotted with a gangly awkwardness to the front room of their vast San Francisco mansion. She must have passed half a dozen maids, cleaners and otherwise occupied 'help' on her way. She entered the luxurious, yet spartanly decorated room, and found a man inside, speaking to one of the maids.

He was quite short, with long, messy black hair, a patchy beard, and jade-coloured eyes. He had a kind of wild look about him.
"You need to learn to negotiate!" he said, apparently shocked with something. He spoke English confidently, but with a much thicker accent than Mariko or her mother. "Do you know how much Asakura made this quarter? You guys, the cleaning staff, are you all in a union?"
"No? Make one! Ahahaha! Oh, the look on Kensuke's face if -" He saw Mariko enter. "Shinkoku-chan!" His face lit up.

He moved to embrace her as he would one of his own daughters, but checked himself. He remembered just how uncomfortable the girl was with affection.
"Good afternoon, uncle," she said, coldly. She looked him in the face, but her eyes seemed compulsively to avoid his.
"I heard about your award, Shinkoku-chan. I didn't even know you played the cello."
"I don't. I won it for the violin, which is much more difficult to -"
"Mariko, hush," her mother said. "Don't contradict your uncle." She didn't see Mariko clenching a small fist. "Oniisama," she said, addressing him formally, "we have already praised Mariko sufficiently for what was, let us be fair, a relatively small achievement. We are trying to prevent her from developing a conceited personality, despite the girl's natural inclinations." She glanced briefly at her daughter, but the look had the force of a glare. Mariko winced.

"Fujiko, relax," Daisuke replied. "Cut the girl a little slack, huh?"
"I have never once given you the slightest advice on how you should raise your daughters, Oniisama. I thank you not to either." Daisuke shook his head.
"Well, I promise, I intended to take her to the theatre before I ever found out about the prize. This isn't a reward, Mariko!" he said, unable to stop himself posing. "I'm taking you out just because I like you. Oh no! Fujiko, if she knows that I'm doing it because I like her, that'll make her even more conceited! Mariko, it is a reward. Oh, I'm doing it because I...know you hate The Tempest!"
"It's my favourite play," Mariko said. She knew Daisuke was trying to make a joke. She just didn't understand how it was supposed to be funny. But then, she never understood these things.

As the two were walking to Daisuke's car, Mariko stopped suddenly. She looked over her shoulder, making sure that no-one was watching.
"Daisuke," she said, more willing to be informal away from her parents, "may I see...?" He kept walking a few steps, so she wasn't sure he'd heard. Discouraged, she decided to forget it, until he turned around with a smile, posing dramatically with his right hand pointed skyward. He grinned, his jade eyes flashing.
"Spectrum is Green!" he shouted.

There was a burning, brilliant flash and Mariko was momentarily dazzled. When the light faded, her uncle was clad in a silver bodysuit, emphasising his impressive muscles, a cape billowing behind him. Yet it was not at him that Mariko was looking. It was what had appeared in front of him.

Each member of the family, if given the power, had it manifest in a different way. Daisuke's mother had been able to turn herself into light, and move with all the speed that suggested. Her aunt had been able to render any object, including herself, invisible, while still maintaining her own sight. None before, however, had manifested the power as Daisuke did.

In front of him was something which, if it looked like anything, looked like a woman made of a flowing, incandescent river of light.
"Behold: Light of the Dawn!" Daisuke laughed.
"She's beautiful..." Mariko said. She was going to touch it, but hesitated at the last moment. "It looks like she's made of rainbows. Is that a stupid thing to say?"
"Not at all! That's more or less what she is - focussed, concentrated light." Light of the Dawn turned, and bowed to Mariko.
"Why does she look like that?"
"Light of the Dawn stands for justice, Mariko - and what's more beautiful than -"
"I mean why does she have to have two arms and legs? Wouldn't more be better? Or would that be too tiring? Why does she need to look like anything?" Mariko hardly seemed to be asking him at all. Daisuke looked at her poking and prodding, inspecting. For the first time in a long time, he saw an appropriately child-like smile on his niece's face. He thought about her in that house, with those parents - her achievements ignored, every expression of selfhood punished. It was so -

And then he got a thought.
"I'll give her something that they can't stifle!"
"Oh..." Mariko huffed, as Daisuke withdrew Light of the Dawn into himself. "Well, thank you for showing me, Daisuke." He didn't immediately reply. He was stroking his straggly beard.
"Say, Shinkoku-chan...have you ever wondered what you'd look like with green eyes?"

"Mmhh..." Spectra mewed quietly. It had been a long time since that day with her uncle. She had pushed her powers further than perhaps any to bear them before, but the strength of her bloodline's mastery of light had not availed her that day. She had been utterly conquered: defeated, bound, captured.

At present, she floated, suspended in an all-encompassing stasis, floating bound and gagged in one of her captor's chambers. She wasn't even asleep, neurologically speaking. She was just...paused. So too were the others: Enhancegirl; Stellar; Valora; Insyte; the five maidens of the Starlight Squadron. If they had been released, they wouldn't have realised any time had passed at all, but it had in fact been ten hours since the most recent additions were placed in their tanks.

The only reason that Spectra had been able even to mew was that her stasis was beginning to slip. This was no accident. Someone had begun the process of awakening her. The liquid was draining away, and she was beginning to sink down to her knees, no longer held up by the pressurised liquid. As she sank down, she slumped against the side of her tank, her forehead tapping lightly against the glass covering. When that covering opened, she fell forward, into a pair of strong, waiting arms.

"There now," the person who caught her said. "I've got you, Spectra."
"Whhmmphh...?" Mariko whimpered, unknowing of who it was who was holding her. "Uhh..." Her gag had been pulled off. "Who...who's there?"
"I've come to rescue you," he said. "You were kidnapped, and I'm saving you."
"Who...are you?" Mariko tried to lift her head, but it just fell back again, her long, wet legs shifting weakly against each other. A hand at the back of her neck tilted her head forward, and her jade eyes - covered with violet contacts - looking at someone with violently orange hair. For a fraction of an instant she wondered if it was Sophie, but no - even she didn't have hair that orange.

She felt hands slipping beneath her thighs and her back, as she was lifted up into a cradle carry, her limp body dangling, powerless, in the arms of the one holding her.
"What's...happening...?" Mariko whimpered.
"I can only save one of you...and I chose you," her carrier said, taking Spectra towards the exit of the stasis chamber. "I don't know...why I'm doing this...but I know I have to keep you safe."
"Uhhh..." Spectra couldn't process it, was still too befuddled by the long stasis to realise what was going on. "Is...someone...rescuing me? But I'm...still bound..."
"Come, let me take you away. Let me protect you, Spectra." He clung to her body, feeling how supple she was, the smoothness of her wet thighs, her fluttering, jade eyes, her slightly parted lips. She was a jewel. A treasure, to be preserved like a caught butterfly.

It was not a lapse that a fully conscious Mariko would have made. But after her second session of stasis, after having been drugged repeatedly with chloroform, she was not in such a state as to deserve blame for this lapse. But she made it nevertheless.
"Sophie...can't leave...I have to save...have to save her..." She winced as the grip on her thighs tightened.
"No. Don't think about her. I'm saving you. You're a damsel in distress, and I'm a powerful man, carrying you to safety. You should only care about me!" The shout slightly roused Mariko, but it didn't help her much.

"What's the meaning of - mph!" Mariko's voice was muffled by a pair of lips clamping down over her own. Still groggy, Spectra didn't have the strength to resist, but she was alert enough to know two things: firstly, she was incensed at having a kiss forced upon her at all, and second, whoever was doing it was very, very bad at it. "Ugghhh..." she groaned, as her kisser pulled away. "Don't...touch me, you...disgusting..."
"Bah!" her 'rescuer' exclaimed. "Am I not good enough for you, hero? Even when I save you? Such arrogance - Lord Hades was absolutely right about you!" It was, of course, Plasmarr. "That's why you wanted to join the Pauldron, isn't it? To rub everyone's face in how amazing you are? Well, look where it got you! Now you're my master's property, Spectra. I bet you wish you weren't so lovely now, don't you?!"

Spectra barely heard him. She was still dazed from her time in the stasis tank. She just heard an angry voice, and perhaps vaguely recognised that it was one of Hades' men, though she didn't know which one.
"Mmphh..." Mariko whimpered, as she felt the thick rag thrust between her lips once more. The next thing she knew, she was being pulled up to her feet, held up by her shoulders.
"You're weak, aren't you, Spectra?" Plasmarr, significantly shorter than her, said. "You're so pretty, and famous, but you're at my mercy. I really was going to save you, but you're so conceited, you made me change my mind!"
"Mmhhh...!" Spectra was bewildered, only half-hearing what Plasmarr was saying. "What...on earth is he talking about?"

Plasmarr knelt down, and seized his captive's supple, long legs. He threw her slender frame roughly over his shoulder, holding her body in place with one hand tightly gripping her behind.
"Slung over my shoulder, just like a kidnapped princess, eh?" Plasmarr's voice was full of emotion. He had risked betraying his master, had risked what was essentially his whole life, simply because of a girl he'd found attractive. He, however, believed that he was in love with Spectra, and could not comprehend the idea that she - upon him rescuing her - didn't love her back. He was not really in love with her of course, but his rather disturbing naivete let him think he was.

He carried the target of his misguided, foolish affections up to the very top of Hades' complex. The stasis chamber was seven storeys from the top, and Plasmarr found himself on the roof of the building. He and Spectra were not alone: Stellar was there too. She was bound to a metal cross, ten feet high, her arms out, her legs bound together as well as to the cross itself. Her head was hung, but she was not quite unconscious. She gave a little whimper when she saw Spectra being brought to her.

"You're all the same," Plasmarr hissed, as he carried Spectra close. "Arrogant...stuck-up..." Stellar's cross was not the only one on that roof. Three others had been driven into the floor as well. Placing Mariko against one of them, Plasmarr began untying her arms.
"Mmmhhh...mmphh..." Mariko mewed weakly, trying to use her limbs' newfound freedom to good effect - namely to pluck the power-blocking contacts from her eyes - but Plasmarr easily restrained her. He bound Mariko again, this time with her arms outstretched, securing them against the 'arms' of the cross.

"Mmph...nnnmm-hhhmmmphh..." Mariko whimpered, seeing how she was being restrained. She had a moment of real fear, but she saw that she was only being tied to the cross. As rope went around her ankles, holding her tightly in place, she got a sick feeling in her stomach. "We're being displayed...why?" She looked outwards, and saw a familiar cityscape sprawling out before her. "Are...we in...?"

She didn't finish her thought. A different kind of fear took her - as Hades entered the scene.
"I see you chose to remain loyal, Plasmarr." The villain's metallic voice rang out harshly, tonelessly.
"M-my lord..." Plasmarr threw himself to his knees. "Forgive me... I was tempted, I confess it!" He prostrated himself at the feet of his master. "H-how did -?"
"I know you, Plasmarr," Hades said, after a pause. "I knew this heroine would bewitch you. I knew you would want to take her for yourself. I take it she did not return your affections?"
"No lord...the recalcitrant witch spurned me!"
"It is as I told you, isn't it?" Hades walked passed him, moving with a very deliberate slowness. "She certainly believes you do not deserve her. Even if you had killed me and rescued them all, you would be forgotten in an instant. Only through me do you have meaning. Never forget it." There was an emotionlessness to Hades' voice, an eerie calm.
"Yes, Lord Hades..."

Hades had not entered alone. Slung over one massive shoulder was a petite, supple maiden, her candy-floss hair obscuring her face in her current position. Her body shifted weakly, but she was barely even aware of what was happening to her.
"Mmmhhh..." she sighed, as Hades took her from their shoulder, and let her slide down onto her knees. " I?" The last few hours had faded into a somnolent melange. Her body constantly teased, groped, Hades' minions kissing her, stroking her over and over again, taking their pleasure of the mighty heroine, reduced to a helpless plaything.

Her white dress was dishevelled, torn in places, revealing even more of her slender figure, her peach-coloured skin than it normally did. As Plasmarr took her, and untied her arms, Nova offered absolutely no resistance. The embers of her fury had long since cooled, and she now was wrapped in the heavy chains of humiliation and shame.

"Mhh..." Her quiet mew was all the resistance she offered as Plasmarr untied and then retied her arms, affixing her to her own cross. She summoned just enough strength to look up at her captor's lieutenant with wet, sleepy brown eyes, her gas mask still ensuring the starlit maiden was as weak as a kitten.

The three of them - Spectra, Stellar and Nova - were suspended helplessly from the crosses to which they were bound. It was a fresh humiliation being tied like this, displayed like meat at market. There was another element to it as well: like they were being sacrificed.
"Or punished..." Nova thought, despondently. She let out a long, helpless moan. Spectra inclined her head slightly to look at her, and Nova suddenly felt especially ashamed that she had shown her despair so openly. " she'll think...I'm weak-minded..."

"You are going to serve a special purpose," Hades said, their voice still exceptionally calm. "You three...celebrated, beloved by your is through you that the terror of Hades shall chill the hearts of all." The villain approached his captives. Even suspended on their crosses, they were now only at eye level with the giant. "Too long have I lingered in the shadows. Too long have I allowed your kind to give hope to the people. The fools do not see the cesspit in which they trudge - so I will show it to them." Hades snapped a pair of armoured fingers, and two minions rushed in, having awaited Hades' cue.

They were setting something up in front of the three bound maidens. Perhaps by long practice, it was Stellar who first realised that a camera was being trained on them.
"Nnnmhh!" the Korean damsel protested. "Isn't it enough to have us? Why do you need to do...this?"
"Mmmh?" Nova looked up, saw the camera pointed at them. Her eyes went wide. "Nnhh...nnmph...NNNNNHHH! NNMM-MMMMPHH!!" she screamed through her gas mask, her weakness overcome by her crushing dismay. "NNNNMMPHHH!" She wriggled, thrashed, used the tiny amount of strength left to her in order to put up this small, useless fight. "PLLLLSS NNHHHHH!!" she cried out.
"What was that?" Hades said. "Did I hear a 'please'? Impossible! From Nova the Proud? Surely not!" The villain took Nova by the chin, pulled off her mask. "Say that again, Nova. I didn't quite hear you, you see."

"Uh...please...please don' me..." Her voice was choked, tears were welling up in her eyes. It was too much for her to take. The defeat, being kidnapped, toyed with for hours and hours. A career of uninterrupted success, adoration and praise just hadn't prepared her for this level of humiliation. It was a testament to her strength of will that she hadn't fallen to this state sooner.
"Beg me."
"I..." Nova looked up. "" She couldn't. She wouldn't. "I beg you..."
"Too late, I'm afraid." Hades moved aside, and Nova saw a red light blinking on top of the camera. They'd already started recording. "Oh, and by the way - this is a live feed."
" no no no no..." Nova whimpered, shaking with shame.

Mariko looked again at Nova, ever more alert in the evening air. She couldn't believe that Nova had been reduced to such a state, that it was possible for any member of the Pauldron. She too felt a sharp bite of humiliation as she realised that they were being recorded, but she wouldn't have begged. Surely not. Still, she thought of what had happened to her before, when the woman named Adrienne had stolen her powers, when she'd thought Sophie would never love her, and her entire life had seemed to be meaningless. She had despaired, and she wondered if Nova was going through something similar now. But while she could try to sympathise with Sara from an intellectual position, she couldn't comprehend it emotionally. Nova saw Mariko's furrowed brow, her effort to understand, and mistook it for open disdain. She let out a sob, but it was choked as Hades put her gas mask back over her mouth and nose.

"I believe it's being livecast - is that the right word?"
"Livestreamed, master," the cameraman said.
"Thank you. Livestreamed from the Pauldron's own website." Hades said. "You really need to work on your security measures." A rumbling metallic sound came from beneath the villain's helmet, a kind of laugh. "I don't imagine too many are watching yet. We'll wait a while." Plasmarr looked at the three suspended captives, saw the despair and shame in their eyes. How charmingly they blushed. How enticingly they writhed. How temptingly they moaned. He looked at Spectra.
"You deserve this!"

Above the skies of Renning City, the Pauldron's helicopter buzzed in an endless parabola. Panhellius was not exactly searching: he knew he wouldn't spot anything useful. He was just waiting on word from the others. He looked behind him to check on his leader, and he wasn't pleased with what he saw. Imperion had his head in his hands, his fingers pressed against his temples. He hadn't said a word for two hours. If Imperion had a weakness, Panhellius thought, it was guilt. Guilt at the way his family had made their money. Guilt for every life he hadn't saved. Guilt for every time he felt he'd let down his crew. He remembered telling Jackson about Hydrocita's drug habit.
"Derek...what could I have done differently? How could I have stopped her?" he'd asked. The prospect of losing two of his teammates was clearly not something he could tolerate.

Panhellius' communicator buzzed.
"Derek." It was Chryseis. "Derek you need to look at our site's live-feed... thing." She sounded angry. "It's that sack of crap, Hades, he's hacked it or something." Upon being informed of what was happening, the voluptuous archer had started prowling the streets of Sacramento. It had occurred to her that this was a strike against the Pauldron itself - it made sense for Hades to be in their home city.

"Why?" Panhellius asked. "What's she - er, he broadcasting?"
"Just take a gander yourself." Panhellius switched the helicopter to automatic pilot, and took out his phone. Sure enough, there was a notification that the Pauldron had begun streaming footage. He turned on the feed.
"Oh, Christ..."

It was a rooftop, somewhere. The armoured giant that was Hades stood in shot, but he was not centre of frame. That honour was Nova's.
"He's...crucified them!" It took a moment for Panhellius to realise that the heroines were merely bound to the crosses, rather than nailed to them, but it was a disturbing image nevertheless.

"My greetings," Hades said. "I, if you do not now know, am Hades. By now I am sure that you were already aware of my abduction of these of the so-called Pauldron. You may not have known, however, that these are not the only flowers I have plucked." The camera turned, focusing on Stellar, the beautiful, scantily clad singer staring mournfully into shot. "This will be the last time any of them are seen, before they too are locked forever in my Underworld."

Miles away, Hyuk Woo-Lee was watching. Long since drained of furious tears, he stared numb at his computer screen as he witnessed the fate of Stellar.
"I would like to draw your attention," Hades said, "to the city of Seacouver. Of any city in America, it is supposed to have the densest population of superhumans. Certainly it is choked with fame-hungry, cape-wearing wretches. One should have thought that that would make for a low crime rate. But no. The crime rate in Seacouver has only increased over the last few years, even as 'heroes' have swarmed there." Their voice still rang with an eerie tonelessness.

"Why is this?" Hades went on. "There are two aspects. The first is incompetence. Most superheroes are amateurs, and I mean that quite literally. They do not commit their lives to the battle against evil - it is a...pastime. Something they do on weekends, when they have no entanglements. They have no idea how to investigate crime, not really. Foiling cartoonish 'supervillains' rather than actual criminals."

"The second aspect," Hades continued, "" They gestured grandiloquently. "For every criminal enterprise destroyed, I fund another. For every psychopath arrested, I nurture two more. Every drug dealer, every mafioso, every law-breaker worth their salt owes me fealty. They are my children...and every parent protects their children."
"Imperion," Panhellius hissed, "sir, you need to see this."
"What?" Imperion said. He hadn't been paying attention. Panhellius passed him the phone, and the blond saw. "S-Sara!"

"So what of these ones, then?" Hades said. It was almost as if the villain had waited for Imperion to start watching. "I have shown how useless they are for their stated purpose." The villain approached Nova, and ran a skeletal, metal finger up her soft legs. "So what function can they fulfil?" Hades walked around the other side of the cross, and reached underneath its arms, fondling both of Nova's breasts, squeezing them.
"Mmhh....mmhhphh!" Nova cried out. "They're seeing...they're all seeing!"
"They're obviously far too soft and delicate to be warriors. Incompetent as law enforcers. I think here is where they ought to be." Hades released Nova, moved over to Mariko instead.

"Mmph! Mm-MMPHH!!" Spectra protested as a hand gripped her thigh, running up and down her body with a strange, mechanical precision. "I have to...I have to be strong...I have to show them that Hades need not be feared!" Despite this noble aim, she could not keep the disgust and despondency entirely from her face.
"Since we have established that superheroes are useless, let me make the following ultimatum. You, all of you, will no longer be tolerated within my sphere of influence. Any male hero, expect to find your neck snapped. Any female hero, expect to find yourself in dear Spectra's position." Reaching up, Hades took hold of Mariko's leotard, and tore, ripping it completely from her body.

"Mh...!" Spectra gasped, looking down in horror and shock at herself. "He...stripped me!" She was now clad in nothing but skimpy, white underwear, and her knee-high, silver boots. Her smooth, light-tan skin was almost completely on show: her hips, her midriff, her breasts - all exposed.
"Any superheroine can expect this to happen to them! Even your beloved champion of Seacouver, your precious Mistress of Light!" Hades shouted. "You will be captured, stripped, imprisoned, if you dare to continue to oppose me! You will join these sumptuous morsels in my gallery." The villain left Mariko whimpering in her nakedness, and strode over to Stellar.

"Do you hate me, I wonder?" Hades said, as they ran their fingers through Stellar's long, black hair, while she quavered in fear. "Do you detest me? Good! Hate me, all of you!" Hades seized Stellar, roughly running their hands all over her supple, petite body - her bosom, her flawless legs, her beautiful face. "Hate me more! Let me feel it! Let me drown in it! All you do is make me stronger, stronger, stronger!"
"Mmh...mmhhhhhh!" Stellar mewed, terrified. " he?!"

Hades leapt forward, shoving their face into the camera.
"Heroes, do you perhaps entertain fantasies of rescuing them? I'm sure you do. Narcissism lives in the heart of every one of you. Oh, yes, you can picture yourselves now, can't you? Carrying them away like princesses - and expecting the prince's reward, no doubt!" Plasmarr, still lurking nearby, shifted uncomfortably as he heard this. "And you blush as you see me touch them? You disdain me outwardly I'm sure - but lurking within you, there is the desire to be taken in this way. All responsibility, all need for decorum and shame ripped from you, and only naked pleasure left. Why be ashamed of it if you cannot help feeling it, eh?"

Aboard the Pauldron's helicopter, Panhellius felt sick at hearing Hades' words.
"That revolting, psychotic - whoa!" The helicopter began tilting to the right. Panhellius resumed manual control, but it was hard to get it to work.
"Of all the days to get mechanical trouble!" Panhellius growled. As he wrestled with the joystick, however, he realised that this was not an unfortunate coincidence. Looking back, he saw his leader's fist clenched tightly enough to turn coal into diamond, his teeth bared in a furious simulacrum of a grin, and red sparks crackling around his hands and feet.
"Imperion," Panhellius urged, "please calm down."
"How...can you say that? How can you see this and say that?!"
"Because your electrical powers are interfering with the helicopter's controls. You might be able to survive a crash, but I can't."
"R...right..." Slowly, the red storm subsided. He activated his communicator. "This is Imperion, calling all members of the Pauldron. We find them. We find them now!"

There was a stillness in Hades' stasis chamber. The remaining captives within lay undisturbed, slumbering peacefully. Silently. None of them were even dreaming. None save Enhancegirl, whose nervous system was a little more difficult entirely to suppress. Even then, her dream consisted only of two sounds: a knocking, as if at a door, and a distant, almost inaudible voice.
"Can you hear? Can you hear it?" Sophie didn't understand. Even in her dream she felt sedate, and tired.
"Is...someone else there?" she thought. Only a knocking replied, a dull thud against a hard surface.
"Is someone there?" the voice replied. "No! There's only one -"

A new sound. The sound of a wet thwack against stone, slightly cushioned, as though the wet thing was a little soft. It took Sophie quite some time to realise that the sound had been that of her own body.
"Mmmhhh...mmmphh?" she mewed, utterly dazed. Her eyes fluttered open, but she was not yet even half awake.

Distantly, she perceived other sounds, other voices - real ones this time. With great effort, she turned her head to the right.
"Who...are they?" Sophie thought, seeing a group of five maidens in short, colourful skirts, layed haphazardly in a pile, bound and gagged. Sleepily moaning, their bare legs rubbed against each other, their pretty, young faces communicating helpless, somnolent distress. They seemed to huddle against each other in fear, entwining with a very attractive intimacy. Sophie found them really rather lovely.

"Mmmphhh..." On the other side of Sophie, Natalya lay, a little more awake, but not by much. Her voluminous, lily-white breasts heaved slowly as she breathed 'fresh' air. "Why...why are we...out of the...tanks?" She looked around, and saw that there was someone standing over them. "Is that...Valora?"

It was. The half-naked, voluptuous blonde was standing alright, but she too was bound. She looked utterly confused, her cheeks red, her curly blonde hair still wet.
"What's...happening?" Natalya thought. "Why is she...?" And then she saw who was holding her up. A woman roughly Natalya's height, fairly muscular, with vicious eyes, black hair, and a tight, black-and-red bodysuit. She had her hand on Valora's shoulder. "Oh god..."

It made far too much sense. Robbed of the object of her obsession, and with her unrestrainedly lustful nature, it made sense that Arachna would seek to gain pleasure in other ways.
"She's going to have her way with us..." Natalya thought, quivering at the thought of the woman's webs against her breasts, her was disgusting."
"Mmhh...?" The buxom blonde whimpered. Hauled out of her stasis tank, dragged to her feet, her great strength still thoroughly dampened, Valora looked totally helpless.
"Even Valora is powerless to -"

Natalya was rather surprised, as was Sophie when she'd recovered her wits a little, when Valora's bonds were untied.
"Ughhh!" The blonde groaned, spitting out her gag. She fell to her hands and knees, breathing hard.
"Take it easy there, doll," Arachna said. "You wouldn't want to pull anything, or anything..."

Arachna stepped forward, a small blade in her hands.
"Don't everybody thank me at once!" She flipped Natalya over, roughly, slicing her free of her bonds, before doing the same to Sophie.
"You know, I still remember all that shit you said to me when we fought before," Arachna said, as the groggy redhead shook loose, and stood up, helping her raven-haired friend up as well. She turned her eyes to her apparent rescuer, aware that if Arachna changed her mind, in her weakened state there wasn't a great deal she could do about it.
"Wh...why?" was all Sophie could think to say.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Enhancegirl," the villainess hissed. She began untying the Starlight Squadron, Enhancegirl still hesitant to act. It could so easily have been more psychological games: they'd walk out, and Hades would be right there to defeat them all again.

The five colour-coded maidens, however, had no idea who Arachna was. They just saw a rescuer.
"Th-thank you, Miss!" one of them gasped, a beautiful blonde with long, flowing hair almost down to her knees. She threw her arms around the leather clad villainess. Arachna didn't know how to react to this.
"Uh, you're welcome..."

It was impossible. It was ridiculous. Arachna, saving them from Hades? There were a hundred thousand reasons why she wouldn't. Fear of reprisal, of discovery. Her own sadistic pleasure at seeing them all defeated and captured. The simple fact that to disobey Hades was likely a crime one did not get the chance to commit twice. Sophie believed that there was at least some good in most people, but Arachna? She was a parody of a person: all desire and lust. Sophie could barely imagine her living a functional existence, much less having a sufficiently complex emotional life that she could think that she'd done anything wrong. If Ocelot had sauntered in, saved them all from Hades, wished Sophie and Mariko all the happiness in the world, and then handed herself into the police, Sophie would have been slightly less surprised than she was now.
"What the...fuck?" Sophie had never uttered those three words with more sincerity.

"How long has it been?" The tallest of the Starlight Squadron, clad in green, asked. "We were asleep feels like time passed."
"Hades said Cybelle brought you here a month ago," Arachna said, quite casually. A stunned silence fell over the Starlight Squadron.
"A...month?" A shorter girl, in a white outfit mewed. " friends - they won't kn-know what's happened to us!" She burst into tears. "Oh my god...!" she gasped through her sobs.
"It's alright, Capricorn." Another of the girls, in a red skirt and red heels took the small blonde into her arms. "The important thing is that we're safe now." As well as comforting the girl who went by the name 'Capricorn', the young woman in red had also reminded her teammates to use their codenames.

"We aren't safe, though. Are we?" Valora had spoken. She raised herself to her feet, panting, trying to recover her strength. Even stripped, she still had an air of powerful authority. "You." She addressed Arachna. "Why did you let us go? What's going on?"
"That's a good fucking question." Enhancegirl stepped forward. "No amount of evidence would convince me you're not a total piece of shit. So you'd better have a damned good explanation."
"God, you hero types are so damned ungrateful!" Arachna spat. She turned and batted her eyelashes at Sagittarius, the girl who'd hugged her. "Mostly, anyway."

The spider-powered villain unzipped a pocket in her leather outfit, and tossed what was inside to Enhancegirl.
"Take a look." It was a smartphone. As soon as Sophie turned it on, it was tuned to Hades' broadcast. She gasped in shock, almost dropping the phone. She'd been about to ask why Stellar, Nova and Spectra were missing, and now she had her answer.
" this -?"
"It's live, yeah." At that moment, Sophie watched Hades tearing her lover's clothes from her body.
"That fucking psycho!" Blinded by rage, she began to run for the chamber's exit, but Natalya put her hand on her shoulder.
"Sophie, please. Stay calm." She didn't need her telepathy to be working to know exactly what the redhead was thinking.
"I have one condition," Arachna said. "One condition, or I'll make sure none of you escape. Don't let..." She clenched a fist. "You save Stellar. You make sure he doesn't have her. I don't give a shit about any of you. But..." Her hands were shaking. "Keeping her in a cage forever...that can't happen to her!"

Sophie turned to Natalya, incredulous, and looking for confirmation. But the raven-haired architect was just as bewildered. Her telepathy wasn't working, but from what she'd seen before, Arachna was a woman defined entirely by selfishness. It was as though she'd never once in her life thought about another -
"Wait, that's it!" Natalya thought. "She's never experienced empathy before...and now that she has - it's consuming her with guilt!" There was a kind of thrill in discovering something about another person like this without using her powers. "I think," she said to Sophie, "that she's telling the truth."

Valora's ears were ringing. Thrust into this bizarre situation, with Enhancegirl, Valora, and these other five girls, she was almost stopping herself from processing. The last thing she remembered was being paralysed, stripped almost naked, and utterly, humiliatingly overpowered by Hades.
"He was so much stronger than me..."

"Why did you wake us up now? Hades was probably gonna bring Spectra and the others back down here," Enhancegirl was saying. "You should have waited."
"No!" Arachna barked. "You think this is Hades' only little collection? No way. After he's done upstairs he might disappear them forever, capisce?"
" you not a superhero?" Capricorn nervously asked Arachna.
"Me? Hahahahaha! No way, cutie. In fact, meet me some other time, you must just be the next pretty little butterfly I wrap up." The blonde shrank back in fear.
"You're a villain, too?" Taurus, the tall brunette in green, clenched her fist. "Then you're tricking us! This is...we'll fight you too!"

As more and more voices rose up, Valora put her hands over her ears. She knew time had passed, but her last memory still burned at her. She'd been so helpless. So feeble. Hades had made a mockery of her. Had taken her. Now what was happening? Who were all these people? Why was Arachna helping them? Questions, infinite questions and the shame, the fear the -

"Shut up!" Valora barked. "Just stop talking, all of you! Do you understand the situation we're in? We're still in Hades'...fortress. He's one of the strongest superhumans I've ever encountered. We don't have time to shoot the breeze and argue." She turned to Arachna. "I don't care what your reasons are. You helped us, and I won't forget it, but remember who I am before you make demands. I don't mean to sound arrogant or nothing, but I am much more powerful than you are." She sounded sure of herself, but her voice was shaken. She turned to the Starlight Squadron. "I've got a feeling you guys are new at this. For now, listen to me, stay close, and don't do anything stupid. We need to get you out." She turned her eyes to Insyte and Enhancegirl. "Insyte, don't think I've had the pleasure. And Enhancegirl?" The charismatic, voluptuous heroine smiled warmly. "It's good to see you again, sister."
"Hell yeah," Enhancegirl replied. She knew that Hades was much stronger even than Valora - but the mighty maiden's presence was definitely comforting. Valora saw Sophie's admiration, and it gave her strength. Both damsels had kindled something precious within the other: hope.

"Where is Hades?" Valora asked. "Where are Stellar and the others?"
"Top floor. On the roof, actually." She saw what Valora was thinking. "I'm not showing you around! F-fuck that, I'm taking a big enough risk as it is!"
"You don't need to," Sophie said. "With my senses I'll be able to guide us there."
"We obviously can't take Hades head on," Valora said. "But I might be able to keep him busy long enough for you to get to the others and free them. Then we it, I guess."
"Go for his helmet," Natalya said. "He seemed terribly frightened of the idea of someone finding out who he is. You might be able to get him to play defensively."
"Good tip," Valora said. "And you girls, what am I working with here?"

The Starlight Squadron realised Valora was talking to them.
"Um..." Capricorn whimpered, still more afraid than anything else.
"We have elemental powers," Taurus said. "I can control electricity, the others...well, you get the idea."
"We're not very powerful." The second shortest of the group, with close-cropped, aquamarine hair, spoke up. She had an exceptionally gentle voice. "The woman named Cybelle...she easily defeated all of us. It was our first mission and we were all - kidnapped." The five of them looked shamefacedly at each other.
"Shit, they're that inexperienced?" Sophie thought. She imagined how her career would have gone if she'd been stolen by Hades on her very first outing.

"We'll help you!" Capricorn sprung up, her twintails leaping up with her. She turned to the to the others. "We agreed, didn't we? We agreed that we were gonna be heroes..." Her courage seemed to begin failing her mid sentence, but the girl in the red skirt put a comforting hand on Capricorn's shoulder. "Molly...oh, I mean, uh, Virgo!"
"She's right," Sagittarius said. "Even if we all get captured again, we'll - hey, wait a minute!" Virgo's blue eyes lit up. "You're Enhancegirl! You saved my grandma from a fire!"
"I...did?" The last time she'd saved someone from a fire had been just after getting her powers back from Adrienne, months ago.
"Yeah! See, girls?" Sagittarius pirouetted to face her team, her short, orange skirt swirling. "Now I know we're gonna be okay."

Sophie knew that Sagittarius wasn't completely serious. She knew that she was just trying to encourage her comrades. But she was touched. If she'd been up against Hades with no-one in danger but herself, Sophie would probably have surrendered fairly quickly, or at least been totally hopeless. Yet with so many to fight for - not least her beloved Mariko - her courage was a roaring fire within her.

"There's two problems," Valora said. "One...this." She gestured down at her half naked body. " need a cover story, Arachna."
"I have an idea," Natalya said. Despite Arachna's change of heart, the architect had certainly not forgotten what she had done to her before. "In fact, you might say you'd be killing two birds with one stone." Valora smiled, and nodded. She got it.
"Huh?" Arachna didn't understand. Not until Valora was looming over her.
"You're not that much shorter than me are you?"
"Oh...oh, shit..." Arachna swallowed. She got it too.
"I won't force you," Valora said. "We gain nothing by doing this."
"Do it. It'll stop Hades snapping my neck. Just remember, once Stellar's safe, it's open season on -" The next thing Arachna knew, her world had turned black.

When Seismictus entered, he saw suspended in the same chamber that had once housed Virgo, a trim-figured woman, with black hair, red eyes - though those were closed. Her leather outfit had been stripped from her, leaving her in a thinner layer of tight lycra, emphasising her defined musculature.
"Oh shit, uh...fuck!" Seismictus looked around for an alarm bell, but he couldn't see one. "Ah, why does this shit always have to happen on my watch?!"

"Hey, you can't -" The man that Valora sent spinning wildly into a wall was not a superhuman. They had, however, been carrying a very large, powerful gun, so the blonde didn't feel too bad about breaking a few bones in his body.
"Dang it..." Valora huffed, hitching Arachna's leather suit further up her body. She could barely get it to reach her shoulders, much less cover them, her voluminous bust making the process rather more difficult than it might have been. The heroines were not bothering with subtlety. In a group that large, sneaking would have been more or less impossible, so they made do simply with rapidly taking out anyone who spotted them before they could alert anyone else. Valora was their wrecking ball, and she was smashing through everything between them and their goal.

Hades' speech was, by this point, essentially over. The point was now made; it was simply a matter of driving it home. Hades was standing behind Mariko, tracing their skeletal claws over every inch of her svelte body. She looked to the side, her head hung with shame, her eyes half-closed in embarrassment.

"Mmmhhh..." The cool air had long since blown away the drowziness that had clung to her, yet she was still without her powers, having been so efficiently deprived of them. She was a beautiful, fragile woman in the clutches of a terrifying villain, and that was how the world would now see her. "No...that isn't true!" she insisted to herself. But she couldn't escape that niggling feeling that she, now, would never be considered a true member of the Pauldron.

A mist was beginning to settle over the rooftop, cooling the peach-coloured skin of Nova. Unlike Spectra, Sara was wholeheartedly convinced that her reputation was ruined. She was genuinely considering coming up with some kind of alter-alter ego to take over from her tarnished name. The mist grew thicker, and Nova allowed herself to be swallowed by it. She didn't want to be seen.

"The very air conspires to hide their shame!" Hades laughed. "How very droll." They stepped forward, into the centre of shot. "How many are watching now, I wonder? Hundreds? Thousands? A million or two? I wonder if I have terrified enough of you that they will start calling me a 'terrorist'. That would be amusing. But your labels mean nothing to Hades. I..."

The villain paused. The mist really was getting very thick indeed.
"Cut the feed." The cameraman obeyed. "We shall wait for better weather conditions. But keep recording. One never knows what might be worth showing the good people." But as they waited, the mist only got thicker, and thicker. "Is this California or 19th Century London?" the villain growled. "I can barely see five feet in front of my face..."

It was unfortunate that Pisces, a slender, blue-haired girl, considered herself by far the weakest member of the Starlight Squadron. Her power was over water, but if that seems to imply a set of abilities like those of Hydrocita, then this is a false impression. There were measures of strength other than combat potency, in which her limited control over the movement of water vapour was, truly, nothing very useful.

But being able to summon a mist, especially when one's opponent has no idea of the abilities one possesses, was something that could be of great utility indeed. No-one there, not Spectra, not Nova or Stellar, not Hades - and certainly not Plasmarr - could see very far through the thick blanket of water vapour. No-one, that is, except Enhancegirl.

It was difficult for Sophie not to run straight to her lover, but that would have meant getting too close to Hades. No, Stellar was the best target. Moving as softly as she could, Enhancegirl crept to the cross where Stellar was bound.
"Don't make a sound," she whispered. "I'm gonna loosen your ropes - rip them off when I give the signal." Stellar's heart fluttered at the sound of Sophie's voice. Wordlessly, she nodded.

Enhancegirl began moving towards Spectra, but froze halfway there. Hades was looking right in her direction. She could see Hades, but the question was whether or not they could see her. She remained, frozen in position, daring not even to breathe. She was only about twenty metres from Valora and the others, and still fewer from Spectra. Yet in that moment, with nothing between her and that monster but Pisces' mist, she felt utterly alone.

Yet Hades looked away. Sophie waited for a few moment's more, and then approached her girlfriend. She saw her through the mist, bound, gagged, hanging there at the nadir of her despondent shame. It meant a great deal to Sophie that she could have a part in delivering Mariko from that.
"Hey," she whispered, as she slipped behind the maiden. Mariko's eyes went wide, her heart thumping in her chest.
"Mmh?" Was it possible? Had she actually heard Sophie's voice?
"It's me, sweetie..." Sophie spoke as quietly as she possibly could. She'd been going to do the same thing as she had with Stellar, but a better idea occurred to her. "That new move of you still think you can get it to work?" A moment's hesitation, then a nod. "We might need it - but hopefully not." Sophie reached forward, and carefully plucked out Mariko's power blocking contacts.

It took effort not to sigh with relief. Even in the murky light of Pisces' mist, light flowed into Mariko, filling her with strength. She opened her eyes wide, drinking in as much as possible.
"We're gonna get out of this," Sophie whispered, kissing Mariko's neck. "I promise." Mariko very much wanted to kiss her back. As Sophie slunk towards Nova, she thought again of how proud she was of Sophie's courage. She would answer it.

"Alright...let's try this again..." Once more, Mariko began the laborious process of moulding her innermost strength, intermingling it with photonic energy to give it strength, structure, form. She had to look deep within, for a naked, brilliant light that was the very soul of her power. "Mmmhh..." She had to stifle a moan. Summoning this energy, which was never meant to be manifested by itself, was an exhausting process.

Sophie moved in the same way towards Nova. If she had the strength, her ability to fly would be immeasurably useful in their attempt at escape.
"We have a rat." Sophie's blood froze along with her body. Hades wasn't looking straight at her - they were looking towards the door. Before Sophie could react, Hades' arm thrust out, through the wall next to the door, smashing the masonry, and seizing Pisces.

"MMMPHH!" Pisces cried out, Hades hand clamped over her mouth. Terrified, her control over her abilities vanished. The mist immediately began to fade.
"I thought this mist came on a little too suddenly," Hades said. "Is this all you can do? Fog? No wonder Cybelle trounced you." Hades pressed her against a wall. "Isn't it a little dangerous? For such a pretty, weak little maiden to wear such a...short skirt?"
"Mmmhh...mmmhhhmmphh!" Pisces yelped, as a metal hand caressed her bare thighs. She stared up at him, eyes wet, her body trembling.
"How did you escape?" Hades moved their hand down, holding her by the shoulders. "Tell me!"
"W-th...there was a p-p-power fault..."
"Impossible. You think I would be so careless? Someone let you out. Who? Tell me at once!"

Useless though she knew it would have been, Enhancegirl was about to jump in. But one of Pisces' teammates leapt in first, their hiding place discovered. It was Virgo.
"Let her go!" she cried, launching out two great gouts of flame. Hades threw Pisces to the side - and simply absorbed the blow. "Oh - oh no!" Virgo gasped, seeing her attack had been useless. Worse than useless. It evaporated the last of the mist, completely revealing Enhancegirl.

"Well well," Hades said, not sounding remotely amused. They turned around to face Enhancegirl with a very deliberate motion. "It seems we have quite a few rats running their maze." Enhancegirl looked from side to side. Stellar was about to break herself loose, but Enhancegirl signalled with her eyes for her not to. So too with Spectra, and she was not sure she'd be able to stop her lover from leaping to defend her this time.
", it's all gonna have been for nothing!"
"Plasmarr, deal with the whelp."

Hades' lieutenant moved forwards. His loyalty was secure again, his surety of purpose restored.
"Don't cross me, little girl," he said. "You won't profit from it." With a yelp, Virgo let out another jet of flame, but Plasmarr nimbly leapt out of the way. As she moved to intercept him, he stopped suddenly using his own power as a kind of thruster. He launched himself towards Virgo, the open space much better suited to his cannonball style of combat. Even when he saw an attack coming that he couldn't dodge, a brief burst of his power deflected it.

"Aah!" Virgo stumbled back, wobbling on her tall, red heels, totally unprepared for her enemy's skill and speed. He rushed in, unresisted, close enough to smell her long, black hair.
"Pretty little fool," Plasmarr hissed, and struck Virgo hard at the base of her neck.
"Unnhh!" she cried out. She felt her slender, sylphlike body tremble, felt her legs growing limp. "Unnghh...nnhhh...hhhhhhuuahhh.." The last sound was a long sigh, a sigh of disbelief and denial at her near-instant defeat. She flopped forward. Plasmarr bent down as she did so, so that she fell straight over his strong shoulder. "I' weak..." Virgo thought, before, helpless in the villain's grip, his hands gripping her bare, moist thighs, she passed out.

Sophie had been trying to get to her. Against Plasmarr she was confident that she was the superior warrior, but Hades wasn't letting her past. By this point, the rest of the Starlight Squadron, who'd been hiding further down, had heard the sounds of battle, and had rushed out to aid her. But they saw. Saw Sophie cornered, Hades looming over her. Saw Virgo, instantly defeated, slung over Plasmarr's shoulder.
"V-Virgo!" Capricorn stammered. "Put her d-down!" Plasmarr laughed, but didn't reply.
"Kneel," Hades said.
"Kneel. This one, this Enhancegirl, is at least an actual fighter. She could not in ten thousand years defeat me, but it will require a modicum of effort to put her down. Next to you, she might as well be the Indigo Titan. So kneel. Be good, obedient maidens, and perhaps I will merely put you back in your stasis tanks, rather than stripping you naked before doing so." Capricorn let out a gasp. Sagittarius found herself shivering. Even Taurus was aghast, finding her electrical powers wouldn't come to her. Pisces cowered where Hades had thrown her, as helpless as if she'd been chloroformed. At that moment, all seemed lost.

The next moment, however, Valora burst through the floor.
"What?" Hades was genuinely caught off guard. The Mighty Maiden of Maine had tried to persuade the Starlight Squadron not to attack, but on seeing that they were going to, she pressed her attack. She hit Hades hard enough to turn a normal person's skull into toothpaste, a great battle cry accompanying her dizzying punch. She struck the villain right in the head, keeping to Natalya's strategy. She felt the helmet begin to buckle beneath her great strength. It absolutely would have knocked the helmet off - had it not been for Hades' speed. The villain had felt the rumble as Valora burst out, and had already began to turn. Not fast enough to avoid it completely, but enough for the blow to be too close to glancing.

But Valora was not caught, either. Hades had to step back to stop the helmet flying off, and Valora was able to put herself on solid ground.
"Bet you didn't expect to see me in the land of the living, huh?" Valora said, dropping into a jeet-kune-do stance. "Strikes. No grapples. If he grabs you, you lose. Maybe he's way, way stronger than you, but maybe you - and only you - can do him a bit of damage!"
"This is dull," Hades said. "This is too dull!" The villain lunged, but Valora avoided him. She ducked a punch, and another. Hades reached out to grab her, but she leapt out of the way, her legs strong enough to keep her at a distance.
"Oh, I'll make it interesting for you this time, you louse!"

She was not the only one with such an intention. Stellar tore her way off her cross, switching to the Blue Star in mid leap.
"Enhancegirl, help the others!" she shouted, as she let loose on her enemy with a withering volley of icicles. Sophie needed no prompt, and immediately set to work untying Nova.
"Unnhhh..." the starlit maiden moaned, as she slid down her cross. Sophie pulled the gas mask off, but there was no immediate effect. She was limp in Sophie's arms.
"Hey, snap out of it!" Sophie urged. "Hey!" She patted Nova's cheeks, almost hard enough to call them slaps. "We could really use a flyer right now, Nova!" She looked out at the cityscape, and was taken off guard when she recognised it: they were in Seacouver.
"" Nova had said more, but Sophie hadn't heard it.
"What? Say that again?" She leaned her ear close to Nova's mouth.
"Save me...Jackson...please...I've been...sullied..." She was almost delirious. She wouldn't be flying for a while.

Valora and Stellar danced around Hades, Stellar doing everything she could to frustrate the villain, sending ice at their eyes, their joints. Only the former strategy seemed effective, though, and even then not very. Valora tried to use the opportunities Stellar gave her, but she never got a better shot at Hades' helmet. Natalya had been right, though: going for the helmet was putting Hades off from counter-attacking more viciously.

Natalya, for her part, had been told to stay hidden. With her powers not working, this was quite sensible. However, when the Squadron had rushed out and Valora had leapt in, she couldn't help but be a little shamed by their bravery. She'd intended to slip in quietly, avoiding the battle, perhaps help any of them who'd been hurt. But as she stealthily emerged, she didn't count on Plasmarr being right by the door.
"Oh no!" she gasped, as he caught sight of her. She tried to run, but a burst of plasma crossed her path, forcing her to back off - right into Plasmarr.
"Kneel, weakling!" he barked, wrapping his arm around her neck, holding her in place. "Two raven haired beauties stumble into my arms," he hissed into her ear. "Perhaps someone up there likes me!"
"What did I think I could do?"

A shared of ice nearly impaled Mariko, and she interrupted her preparations to cut herself free with her powers. She dropped to her feet, going down on one knee.
"Hurry up!" she urged, willing her power to flow faster - which, this time, it did. If Sophie hadn't been busy trying to rouse Nova, she'd have seen a definite figure this time - four limbs, a head - beginning to form in front of Spectra. She was pouring everything into it: it felt like emptying out her soul. She could hold nothing back: she had to offer her pride, her intellect, her love, had to share everything with the manifestation of her might. She only prayed it would finish soon.

"Unnh!" Stellar had been caught off guard by a piece of deft footwork from Hades, who slipped between two icicles, before knocking her off her icy perch, sending her tumbling onto the ground.
"Stellar!" Valora leapt forward, trying once again to reveal Hades' face - but with only one opponent, Hades's concentration was more than up to the task. The villain seized Valora mid air, grabbing her wrists, holding them both over her head with one hand.
"I have you again, pretty maiden with the lovely bosoms..." Holding her higher, Hades roughly fondled her bust, generously exposed by Arachna's ill-fitting leather outfit.
"Urrghh! NOOOOOO!!" Valora half-roared, half-bemoaned, thrashing desperately in the grip of her mighty enemy. She'd felt like she'd been doing better, like she'd been more able to match Hades this time, but even if that were true it hadn't mattered. She drew her legs in to kick them, but Hades was faster.
"Goodnight, Valora."

She felt the blow, and didn't feel it. Hades hand seemed to make her numb as it punched her in the stomach. The air spilled out of her lungs, she felt her abdominal muscles seizing up. She let out a small, soft groan, her eyes going wide, as if she were dazzled or merely startled. Her legs had begun coiling in, but they relaxed now, falling limp towards the floor.
"Unghhh...hhhkk...nnnnhhhhh..." Valora tried to speak, but her words were choked. She could feel blackness taking her. "He...beat me...again..." she thought, before she too faded, and went limp in Hades' grip. They released her, and she tumbled to the floor, falling tamely onto her knees.

Hades surveyed their foes. Stellar sprawled, Valora unconscious. Insyte and Virgo restrained by Plasmarr. The rest of the Starlight Squadron too intimidated to fight. Spectra, kneeling, apparently too exhausted to fight. Nova weak, moaning in Enhancegirl's arms - and Enhancegirl herself...
"Get back!" Sophie yelped, as she realised Hades was advancing on her. If it had meant to sound intimidating, it didn't.
"Tell me again."
"Tell me again how I 'fucked up'. Tell me that it's not me you're thinking about." The villain stood over her, a ziggurat. "Tell me how 'she' made me tiny."
"I..." Enhancegirl couldn't find the words. "I -" She shrank in Hades' shadow. And then, much to the villain's surprise, she began smiling. Grinning, even. She looked past him, her emerald eyes glittering with a golden light. "I think I'll let her tell you herself, shithead."

Hades turned around, to find himself faced with a single, willowy damsel as his opponent. Her eyes were wide, not in shock, but in burning fury.
"Spectra, have we not learned? Do you not understand that combat against me is utterly futile?"
"Can you see her?" Mariko said.
"Can I -?"
"No? Very well." She focused, adding a little more light to the mixture - and the fruits of her labours were revealed.

A figure stood against Hades. Roughly feminine in form, with shimmering limbs, easily as tall as Hades themselves. The light coming from it, and from Spectra herself, was warm - but blazing bright. A moon and a sun wrapped together, and given shimmering flesh.
"What is this? A hologram? Very pretty, but I don't really see the point."
"I won't bother explaining the details," Mariko hissed. Her voice was shaking. Keeping this manifestation formed was not easy. "Suffice to say, this is my power given form." Daisuke's Light of the Dawn had been a fluid melange of all the colours of the spectrum and more. Mariko's imitation of it was a mix of colours, yes - but two dominated: silver and gold, mixed warmly together. "You face everything I am. Everything I have."
"Oh, that is quaint," Hades laughed. "Is this meant to be the power of your love? Ahahaha! AHAHAHA! Oh, what could be more foolish!"
"I'm not so childish," Mariko said, trying to hold fast in the face of her terrible opponent, "as to believe in 'the power of love'. But perhaps," she said, glancing at her beloved, "I believe in the power of the placebo effect." With terrifying speed, her manifestation lunged at Hades -

- who put their fist straight through it.
"I saw you preparing this before," Hades said, almost giggling, "when I fought you all, earlier. I actually thought there might be something here that would entertain me in combat."
"I'm sensing you are not a clever man," Mariko said. She smiled, very slowly. "You cannot kill light by stabbing it!" Her manifestation, reoriented itself, pulled its arm back, and struck -

- sending Hades sprawling onto the floor.
"Ughh!" the villain groaned, knocked flat. "Wh-what?! What?!" They lay there, uncomprehending. "Im...possible!"
"Holy fucking shit!" Sophie cried out. "Yes! Yes, yes, YES!" They leapt up, but it was on them again. Mariko hadn't moved, but her soul-light had, and it struck again. Hades raised their arm to block, but the blow just curved around it, striking them in the face. They leapt back, but the manifestation just followed, and struck again, with a sound like two 747s colliding.

Again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again Mariko struck. Hades flailed wildly trying to throw it off, but couldn't. If they tried to grab it, it shimmered into nothingness, only to be solid again when it hit them.
"Oh my god, yes!" Sophie was on her feet, pulse hammering her ribs. "Kick his fucking ass, Koko!!"
"Why only two arms?!" Mariko barked, feeling her inner power flowing unrestrained now. Four arms struck Hades at once. "Why only four?!" Then eight. Then the arms weren't arms, but swords, piercing, puncturing Hades' armour.

"! ARGHHH!!" Hades screamed in rage. Some of the shock had subsided, and the villain managed to stay on their feet now, but Mariko wasn't done.
"The receiving end, Hades!" Mariko bellowed, drawing all her power into one blow. "How does it feel to be on it?" Her manifestation struck - and sent Hades flying, knocking them entirely off the roof of the building.

There was silence. Total silence. Everyone was staring at Spectra, open mouthed. Her manifestation faded, the light dimming. She stood there for a moment, breathing hard.
"I...I..." Spectra was shaking. "I...did it." Her body trembled, her long, beautiful legs shaking. "I...beat him...ooohhhnnn..." She'd used too much power. Her internal strength was never meant to be used for such purposes. She fell, slowly, gracefully to her knees, her beauty making even her swoon look dignified. Sophie rushed over, catching Mariko before she hit the ground completely.
"Koko? Sweetie?" To Sophie's relief, Mariko's life was not in danger this time, but it was the same sort of weakness that Hosenfluss had inflicted on her.
"She did it!" One of the Squadron exclaimed. "She won!" Plasmarr certainly seemed to believe it, for he dropped Virgo, released Natalya, and ran, practically screaming, away. Nova, somewhat stirred, stared in disbelief.
"I'm glad," she thought to herself. "I am glad...I am glad that she beat him..."

Yet, thirty storeys below, a figure raised themselves to their feet, a figure in black and silver armour with a crumpled mask.
"No..." Hades growled. "No, no, will not escape me!"

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Post 7 months ago

This chapter unfolded like a beautiful time-lapse flower. The action was terrific and the emotional underpinnings all sound and affecting. It was great to see Mariko/Spectrum kick ass and yet the resolution isn't quite there yet. Needless to say, I'm hooked and await the outcome. By the way, your productivity is very impressive, too!

I am curious why you called this part of the series The Web of Mysteria instead of "Hades Trashes Everyone in Seacouver" or some such thing. Is Mysteria pulling Hades' strings? Doesn't seem so. Just saying......
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WonderWoman in the Lair of the Scarecrow
WW: In the Harrods' Dressing Room
Batgirl: A Loss of Dignity
Supergirl: Prison Hostage
Defilers' Club: First Victim (Supergirl)

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Private First Class
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Post 7 months ago

DrDominator9 wrote:This chapter unfolded like a beautiful time-lapse flower. The action was terrific and the emotional underpinnings all sound and affecting. It was great to see Mariko/Spectrum kick ass and yet the resolution isn't quite there yet. Needless to say, I'm hooked and await the outcome. By the way, your productivity is very impressive, too!

I am curious why you called this part of the series The Web of Mysteria instead of "Hades Trashes Everyone in Seacouver" or some such thing. Is Mysteria pulling Hades' strings? Doesn't seem so. Just saying......
A very good point! The thing is, I upload these stories on Deviantart as well, which has a roughly 10,000 word limit. So each part is a separate entry, with a different title. "The Webs of Mysteria" was the first title, "Spectra of the Pauldron" the second, and so on. "Maidens of the Underworld" was the title of part 4, and I guess that's probably the most appropriate for the chapter as a whole.

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Post 7 months ago

By this time, of course, the footage of Hades with their three hostages had become a sensation. Not only was there a frenzy in the more venerable media, but there were of course by now a huge amount of people watching. Stellar, Spectra and Nova - all kidnapped by this monster, whoever he was. Stories and rumours of a shadowy criminal overlord with a penchant for abducting beautiful superheroines were now not only given credence, but inflated a thousand fold.

"He's the one who was really behind the Hosenfluss thing!"
"He's what happened to Valkure!"
"He's the one behind the Alquimia Cartel!" As it happened, one of these rumour mongers was right, but by coincidence rather than deft reasoning.

Two young women were watching the feed with a great deal of interest, right up until the point where the feed was cut, more interest than most.
"No way!" Ella gasped, as the feed was cut. The tall brunette utterly shocked by what she saw. "Nova was powerful enough to fight Apollyon one on one - and he once fought Thaddeus Murderball to a stalemate...Hades must be unbelievably powerful to have kidnapped her..." Ella, a firm friend of Sophie's, was something of an enthusiast about superheroes. Few knew more on the subject who were not in the game themselves.

Alarmed as she was, she was not as frightened as the girl with her. Kirsten didn't know much about Stellar or Nova, but she knew Spectra. Not only did she admire her as one of her city's finest protectors, she also happened to know her true identity. She didn't know Mariko well: she'd only met her twice. The first time, Mariko had clearly been very irritated that Kirsten knew her secret, which she'd discovered more or less by accident. Even the second time, she hadn't exactly been friendly.

So it was not exactly for Mariko's sake directly that Kirsten felt a great horror at seeing her in Hades' clutches. She knew, however, how much Mariko meant to her best friend. Besides, if Spectra were captured, there wasn't a poor chance that Sophie was as well.
"Please be okay, Sofe..."
"Hmm?" Kirsten saw that Ella was looking out of the window, out towards what had once been intended to be Seacouver's financial district, where a couple of half-finished skyscrapers thrust like broken daggers towards the sky. Atop one of them, a building which had long been condemned, but which somehow no-one had yet got around to demolishing, there was a flash of burning, silver-and-gold light.
"What was that?"

"Seacouver?" Panhellius was more than a little surprised.
"Mm. A few locals saw something weird on top of an abandoned building," Fahrenheit replied over his communicator. "At first I thought it was nothing, but some clever-dick reporter - Fairweather, or something - says that it might be the..." He paused to check his notes. "The Pasquale building."
"Are the police on their way?"
"No, they didn't take the bait. You want to give it a look?"
"I'm heading there now."

Panhellius looked back again at Imperion. He was breathing hard, sweating quite profusely despite the chill of the evening air. There was a kind of vacant look in his eyes. He didn't appear to be coping well.
"Sir." Jackson didn't hear. "Sir!" Roused, Imperion blinked a couple of times.
"What's up?"
"We may have a location. I'm already heading there."
"Awesome! Nice work, man."
"Thank Fahrenheit later. I didn't do anything." He'd expected Imperion to say something conciliatory, but he fell silent again. Panhellius glanced at him once more, and he seemed calm now, at least. The Englishman didn't see his leader's hands were trembling with rage.

Sophie knew that they were all still in a very bad situation. Hades' minions would be on them soon, and they had no idea if Hades was actually hurt, let alone defeated. Yet she couldn't help feeling giddy. It was perfect. It was too perfect. Spectra, her Spectra, her beloved Mariko had overthrown their monstrous captor. She would have been smothering her in kisses - had her incredible display of power not made her pass out.

"Ughh..." Nova struggled to her feet. She was still weak, but her strength was slowly returning. "We...need to get moving." She began stumbling towards the door. "That won't have...destroyed him." Valora still lay sprawled, unconscious on the ground. Virgo was knocked out as well. Insyte knelt near her, having been thrown to the ground by the fleeing Plasmarr.
"Um...excuse me?" she said. "Your...your friend..."

"Shit, Molly!" Taurus, the tallest of the five, rushed over to her old friend. Tall, and fairly strong, the green-skirted brunette lifted Virgo gently to her feet. Her pretty face, made all the more notable in its attractiveness by a degree of Chinese ancestry, fell backwards, ruby-red lips slightly parted. Taurus gently took her by the waist, and with a groan, hoisted the girl over her shoulder, her lovely legs draped down her front. "I've got you." Taurus knew she was the strongest of the five, and as well as it being logical that she carry Virgo, she also thought it might make the others less afraid to see her decisiveness.

"Enhancegirl." The redhead, still cradling her unconscious lover, looked up to see Stellar standing over her. She looked a little worse for wear, but was in pretty good shape. "Are you strong enough to carry her?"
"Yeah," Sophie replied, brushing Mariko's hair from her face. "She's lighter than she looks." Sophie took hold of her lover. As she stood, she held her by the thighs and by the small of her back, and - with a strain - she hauled her up into her arms. She was completely limp, her long legs dangling, bouncing slightly as Sophie began to carry her. But even in her helplessness, Sophie was awestruck by her.

"A Black Star!" With much greater ease, Stellar took Valora. Arachna's stolen suit was designed for a trim, if muscular figure, and Valora's womanly, voluptuous body was scarcely contained by it at all. Stellar tried to be as careful as possible as she lifted the sleeping blonde onto her shoulder, and as respectful as possible, but she found herself noticing very much how Arachna's outfit displayed the contours of Valora's body, how surprisingly yielding her thighs were as Stellar took hold of her.

Of those still conscious, Stellar was probably the most powerful, and she took point, despite her burden. Sagittarius and Capricorn were at the back, anxiously peering behind them all the time. The powerless Insyte was next to Sophie, as the heroines began descending Hades' vast complex.

"She did it Natalya," Sophie said, her voice shaky. "She saved us."
"We're not out of the woods yet, Sophie," Natalya replied. "How did she do that? It was so much stronger than her normal powers."
"It's...unhh..." Mariko was exceptionally slender, but she was also very tall for a woman: Sophie wasn't having the easiest time carrying her. "She has an energy inside her that she, like, mixes with the light she controls. Gives its strength. I mean, like, shining a torch at someone doesn't cut them in half, right? That - that thing she made was made totally out of her power."
"She has great depths, doesn't she?"
"You have no have no fucking idea, Natalya..."

Their first resistance came about three floors down. Two men with pistols leapt out, but Sagittarius was quick to stop them. Concrete was close enough to earth for her powers to have control over. Tearing chunks of concrete out of the wall, she battered them over the heads, quickly knocking them out.
"Nice one, Suzie!" Taurus called out.
"I hope they're not too badly hurt..." Capricorn thought to herself.

As they descended further, they were met by increasing quantities of resistance. Guided by Enhancegirl's senses, they came to a large room, one they had to cross to continue descending.
"There's guys hiding past the doorway," Sophie said. With a grunt, she shifted Mariko higher into her grasp. "They're armed, but their guns look...weird. I don't know, they might be stun-guns or something."
"I'll deal with them," Taurus said. She laid Virgo's slumbering form against a wall, being very gentle indeed with her helpless friend. "Tasers can't affect me."
"I didn't say they were tasers!" Sophie hissed, but it was too late. She'd run in, gathering electricity to her fingertips, her green heels tapping against the concrete floor. Callow Capricorn ran after her.

Instantly, three of Hades' men jumped out.
"Take this!" Taurus cried, sending a crackling arc of electricity towards them, channelling her anger at her long captivity. It struck one of the men, and his body fell, convulsing, to the floor. She lashed out again, but missed. She tried again, and again, but her target was quick, and her aim was less than perfect. She got too focused on one target in particular, and the other managed to sneak in behind her.

Sophie knew what was about to happen, hurriedly laying Mariko down next to Virgo as Stellar - seeing her cue - put down Valora, but she wasn't quick enough. The man Taurus had forgotten aimed at her back, and fired.
"Unh!" Taurus gasped, as a metal disk slammed against her back, sticking to her tight, white bodice. Taurus was startled rather than hurt, and she moved to take the thing off, but before she could, its top surface opened. From within, thick, white bands of cloth burst out.

"Aaah!" Taurus screamed, the tall brunette's body seized. Bands of cloth swiftly wrapped around her torso, pinning her arms to her sides, squeezing her rather ample bust. "N-no! What's happening?! I - MMMMPPHHH!!" Twisting up over her shoulders and her neck, Taurus' bonds slapped over her mouth, gagging the leggy damsel so tightly that she couldn't even open her mouth. "MMMPHHH!!" The green-skirted girl tried to use her powers, but the bands were insulated sufficiently to block her. "No! I'm caught!"

By this time, Enhancegirl had rushed in with Stellar behind her, already switched to the Blue Star. Stellar shackled the first shooter in a sheath of ice, while Enhancegirl dodged two more shots from the one who'd caught the girl, before snap-kicking him in the skull.

"Mmmphh! Mmmmm-hhhmmmphh!" Taurus whimpered, as the bands continued binding her, wrapping up her long legs, forcing them against each other, binding them so tightly that the brunette toppled with a squeal to the floor. "Hhhlp! HHHLLP!" she moaned, a captive once again. And if those two men had been the only problem, Stellar or Enhancegirl would have had her freed in an instant. But Hades had many servants, and a dozen men, some armed with normal weapons, some with the kind that had captured Taurus, barged their way in. As they fired, Stellar raised a barrier of ice to protect her and Enhancegirl. She'd meant to cover Taurus as well, but the thrashing girl rolled just as she raised it, putting herself on the wrong side. As she did, one of the gunmen grabbed her.

"Mmh?! Mmm-nnnnmmphhh!!" Taurus' supple body was easily manhandled, roughly hurled over the gunman's shoulder, her soft bosom bouncing against his back. "Oh god...oh, god, I'm being kidnapped again!"
"They're taking her!" Enhancegirl shouted. "Stellar, break the ice!"
"I can't," the Korean beauty replied. "The gunfire is too heavy." Enhancegirl slammed her fist against the wall. To her surprise, it shattered.

Yet this was not because of any sudden increase of strength. She - nor even Stellar - had not been the ones to do it. A blue-white light had smashed through the barrier, crashing through the wave of gunmen, sending them all flying back. This included the one holding Taurus, who was painfully separated from his victim, who fell hard to the ground.
"Mmph!" Tarus mewed, falling on her side. She looked up, stunned, to see a petite woman with cotton-candy hair, and glitter dusted cheeks, clouded in a sputtering blue-white aura. "Nova!"

"Did you all forget?" the starlit maiden said, through gritted teeth. "Didn't your master tell you? He may be more than a match for me...he may be able to humiliate me, to make me feel helpless and pathetic...but why do you think he was the one who had to capture me?! A hundred, a thousand of you would be nothing to me! I am Nova of the Pauldron - the Starlit Maiden!"

A blue-white column of light poured out of her, carving a great swath through the building. The gunmen were caught in the beam's wake, crashing into the first surface strong enough to hold them. Those who could stand ran, those who couldn't...didn't.
"Urgh..." Nova dropped to one knee, panting. "That's takes a god to beat me, you weaklings!" She felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up, igniting the power in her left hand, despite the great strain this was putting on her. It was not an enemy, though. It was Valora.

"Hey," she said, quietly. Her strong constitution had made her quick to rouse, and she'd fairly quickly sussed out the situation. She saw Nova, angry, humiliated, shamed by the uselessness of her efforts, her failure to have contributed to Hades' seeing-off, the way the beautiful young maiden had been treated. She, supposed to be one of the strongest women in the world, had been bested, captured, toyed with like she was nothing. Valora understood her feelings. She understood them very well. "C'mon, Nova, on your feet. Someone's gotta help me look after these rookies, right?" Nova knew precisely what Valora was doing. Before her time in the Pauldron, she'd probably have slapped Valora's hand aside, told her not to show her pity.

But she would not let her flaws define her. Unlike Mariko, who didn't see her pride as anything essentially bad, Sara did. She smiled, grimly.
"Too right." She stood up, her supple legs shaking. She was still very weak, comparatively speaking.
"'Atta girl," Valora said, patting her on the back. Sara's eye twitched. Even her efforts had their limits.
"Hhllhp! Hhhllp!" Taurus continued to mew, as Stellar, switching back to the Black Star, tore her from her bonds. To Stellar's surprise, when she was ripped free, Taurus threw her arms around Stellar in a tearful embrace.
"Oh! Ae-in!" Yumi exclaimed, startled by the girl's reaction.
"I'm sorry...I'm trying to be strong, I really am...I - I just don't know how you do it! How can you go through all this and not give up?" Stellar didn't answer her, exactly. She just hugged her a little tighter.

The heroines continued descending. Virgo and Mariko were still unconscious, but with Valora now carrying them - to Sophie's chagrin - things were going much faster. Twice they were ambushed again, but Enhancegirl saw it coming every time, and they were able to see them off.

Things were going fairly well until they reached the fifth floor. They entered the room where Hades had fought and defeated his five most recent captives. Relying on Enhancegirl as their early warning system, they were as shocked as she was when, quite without warning, the heroines found themselves surrounded.

"Wh-what?!" Enhancegirl gasped, seeing almost the entirety of Hades' superhuman force arrayed against them. Seismictus; Plasmarr; Griseous; a chastened looking Arachna. Sophie had been about to yell something at her on the subject of treachery, but she could see just from Arachna's face what the situation was. If she'd refused to fight, it would have become all too clear how Hades' captives had escaped.

There was one other superhuman there. Tall, trim, and with a short top hat poised on top of her head, the presence of this bizarre...entity explained how Hades' men had been able to get the drop on them.
"Mysteria..." For Natalya, this woman, the contents of whose mind had choked her telepathy, held an especial terror. She shrank back.

"D'you know Plasmarr, I think they outnumber us," Mysteria said. "Might this not be a bit more trouble than it's worth?"
"Quiet!" He was terribly ashamed of his earlier cowardice. "When Lord Hades returns, we shall have vanquished them ourselves. We shall have earned our place at our master's side."
"Hey, Arachna," Seismictus said. "I think Valora looks better in that than you do."
"Can it!" Arachna growled. She looked very nervously at the women she'd freed. She could barely look at Stellar at all, the beauty who had confounded her so.

"Alright, let's dust these scumbags," Valora said. But someone stepped forward before her
"A White Star!" Stellar's outfit changed to a white, short dress, her hair turning blonde. "I'll deal with them!"
"What?" Enhancegirl moved to stop her. "Don't be crazy, there's way too many for you to take yourself." Stellar turned back to face her.
"When you met me, you were a fan, right?"
"You fucking bet," Sophie said. "I still am."
"What I'm doing now, then," Stellar replied, "is earning it." She winked, and made a subtle gesture at the floor with her head. Few would even have perceived it - but Sophie did. She understood, and she grinned.
"Do it."

Turning, Stellar screamed at the top of her lungs. Griseous, who was standing directly in her path, was hurled back, and everyone there covered their ears in pain. Windows shattered throughout the buildings.
"Valora, the floor!" Enhancegirl shouted. The blonde took a moment to realise what Sophie meant, but she didn't hesitate once she understood. She stamped down on the ground, the floor no match for her strength.
"Come on!" she bellowed up.

"Stop them!" Plasmarr let fly with a powerful burst of burning hot liquid, but Nova, weakened though she was, deflected it.
"You really aren't very good at this, are you?!" Griseous spat, getting up. He tore his shirt open, revealing a hideous, squamous organ embedded in his chest, scaly and slimy. "Forgive me ladies, but I'm going to have to - ACK!"

" that!" Capricorn stammered. She had knocked him down with a burst of wind - but he wasn't down for long.
"You little hussy!" Griseous stood again, and sent out a high-powered jet of acid from the organ on his chest. It would have hit Capricorn dead in the chest, but Sagittarius had grabbed her, pulled her down the hole Valora had made.

"You think you can get away?! You think you can escape us, huh?!" Arachna barked. She opened her hands, and spewed web out towards Enhancegirl. At first Sophie was enraged by her hypocrisy, as she dodged the attacks.
"It's not like she could hit me with these before. Why does she - oh!" Sophie realised why Arachna had targeted her. It was because the spider-powered villain knew that her attacks wouldn't hit. "She really does want us to escape."
"I don't give a shit if they escape," Arachna thought. "I just don't want that creepy skeleton-fuck to have my Stellar!"

Taurus jumped down next, then Insyte. Nova had no intention of leaving, and stood up to let fly once again, but her power wouldn't come to her. She was still groggy, having been relentlessly sedated and drugged for much longer than the others. As Sophie turned to make her escape as well, she saw the starlit maiden struggling, and grabbed her by the arm.
"Be badass later, be sensible now, huh?" She didn't quite have to haul her down, but Nova was not happy that Sophie was right. She went down first, finding that Capricorn was supplying a cushion of air to ease their landing.

"C'mon, Stellar!" Sophie yelled, seeing the Korean beauty repelling further attack with her sonic powers. She raised a thumb in response. The distraction had worked: now all Stellar had to do was jump in herself. Yumi watched as Sophie dived through, and she smiled.
"A Blue Star."

Sophie could see even through the thick concrete of the roof above her. She saw Stellar move over to the hole Valora had made - and cover it with a thick seal of ice.
"What the hell is she doing?!" Enhancegirl shouted.
"Did...she seal herself up there?" Natalya said. "Why?"
"To buy us time." Valora looked up. "Nova, do you think you could -"

Enhancegirl had been the one to exclaim. Into the room they'd landed poured another squad of gunmen, armed with the guns that had bound Taurus.
"Urrghh!" Nova raised a wispy, blue-white barrier to block the first salvo, and it held, but men behind them with normal rifles started seriously straining her limited strength. "We have to go, now!"
"Damn it!" Enhancegirl and the others continued their flight. "Fucking hell, Yumi, why did you have to be so brave?!"

"Whatever you might do to me," Stellar said, raising herself up on a pillar of ice, "you won't touch them."
"Nor do we wish to," Plasmarr said. "They belong to Lord Hades!" He fired with both hands, instantly evaporating the pillar on which Stellar had raised herself. But she had already launched herself off, and sent two waves of frigid cold at Plasmarr's hands, freezing them.

"Aaagghh!" he groaned, the cold shackles agonisingly painful. "Arachna! If you want her so badly, get her!"
"Uh, yeah!" With some hesitation, Arachna raised her arms to attack. "Don't be stupid. Just do it. Grab her. Truss her up. Yeah. Yeah, that's right! Web her up, paralyse her! Make her yours! Keep her safe!...Wait..." Her hesitation cost her.
"A Black Star!" Stellar switched even as she fell, and socked Arachna with a full power punch. She was hurled back, badly dazed, nearly knocked out completely.
"Wait...that wasn't...supposed to...happen..."

Seismictus stepped in, slamming his fist against the ground, sending chunks of concrete flying at Stellar with deadly force. She defetly avoided some of the concrete, and punched two chunks into dust, covering herself.
"Got you!" Griseous saw she was obscured in a cloud, and knew she wouldn't see him. He sent a rather nasty acid at her: it wouldn't dissolve her, but it would dissolve her clothes. He intended to shame her into surrender.

But he hadn't counted on the fluidity and grace of the stunning artist. She switched again, back into the Blue Star, and vaulted out of the cloud, and far over his attack. She sent spears of ice down at her foes, sure to hit - except they didn't.
"Ambushing you while you were asleep," Mysteria said, "really was the best idea. You're very skilled. But darling, there are so many of us." Stellar lunged forward, but Mysteria confounded her, and she found herself crashing into a wall.
"Unh!" At this moment of vulnerability, Plasmarr attacked again. Stellar created a barrier of ice, at an angle so as to deflect rather than fully block the plasma - but it took a great quantity of her power to resist his attack at all.

Trying to get out of the way, she created a pillar of ice beneath herself, pushing herself out of the way of the attack. But Seismictus struck again, his powers shattering her pillar easily. She tumbled down, landing hard on the floor.
"Uhnnhh..." She was beginning to feel as though she might have bitten off more than she could chew. Hades' minions were all powerful, all quite skilled. "Am I overmatched?"

Mysteria stepped forward, her unsettling smile a little more sincere than usual.
"See now? It really wasn't very sensible, was it?"
"Give up," Griseous said. "Please, darling, we wouldn't want to hurt you."
"Speak for yourself," Plasmarr said. "Surrender, or I will hurt you." Stellar looked up at them as they stood over her, the powerful, immoral criminals and she, the petite, beautiful young damsel, so supple, so vulnerable.
"I see..." Stellar thought, lowering her eyes. "All this time...I..."

"Grab her, Seismictus. Tie her up."
"With pleasure." He reached down. "Try anything and Plasmarr will melt you."
"I understand," she said. As he reached down, he was suspicious that she was trying something. Yet there was no sign of anything. He grabbed her by the hair, hauled her up to her feet, her blue chiffon so revealing, like it might slip off her at any moment. She looked at him with forlorn eyes. Seismictus laughed. He turned her around, pulled her hands behind her back.
"All this time," Stellar said, as she felt Seismictus begin to lash her hands together.
"What's that, sweetheart?" Mysteria said.
"All this time I've been too..." She paused. She couldn't think of the word in English, but then smiled as it came to her. "I've been too gentle."

"What do you - ARRRAGHHHHHH!!" Seismictus screamed, as a cannonade of icicles burst out of Stellar's body, impaling him like a pincushion.
"Jesus Christ!" Griseous threw his arms over his face. Plasmarr immediately shot a burst of plasma, but Stellar had already moved. She launched herself up with a pillar of ice then, switching to the Black Star, kicked off the ceiling.
"A Blue Star!" As she flew towards them, Stellar surrounded herself with a hailstorm of icy daggers, sending them whirling in all directions.

"Argh!" Griseous was pierced directly in his acid spewing organ, which began to leak a foul, green ichor. He stumbled backwards, right into Plasmarr.
"She's powerless against my heat, I'll -" Plasmarr didn't finish the sentence. Another wave of freezing, shackling cold, not to his hands this time, but to his neck. "Aahh! Achkk!" he gasped, breathlessly, shivering hands reaching up in terror to his throat. "C-can't...breathe!" He looked up at Stellar in horror. "What...what is she?!"

Even Mysteria was caught off guard. The icicles were swirling with such franticness that Mysteria couldn't work out which way to redirect them. She backed off, readying some of her dark energy in order to dispel the cloud. But Stellar was on her too quickly.
"I watched you fighting Enhancegirl," Yumi said. "You have...subtle powers." Mysteria bent space so that Stellar was facing off to the left, then launched a volley of dark energy at her. But Stellar simply surrounded herself with a sphere of ice. It cracked under Mysteria's attack, but didn't break, not until Stellar tapped it, at which point it shattered to pieces at her command.

"Sometimes a subtle problem needs a...oh, what's the word...brutal? That's it! A brutal solution." She clenched her fist. "A White Star!" She smiled winningly. At any other time, it would be heart-meltingly cute. At that moment, it was just intimidating. "Don't you agree?"
"Well, I -" Mysteria did, in fact, finish the sentence. It was just completely inaudible in Stellar's scream. Point blank, at full power, right in her face. Mysteria couldn't think, couldn't redirect the wave of sonic force in any meaningful way. She tried to use her dark energy, but it seemed to fade to nothingness in the face of Stellar's might. She was thrown back, but was unconscious long before she landed. "What...a performance!" she thought as she faded.

"Well," Stellar said. "I guess I wasn't overmatched after all!" Dusting off her hands, she checked on the others, making sure that they were not fatally injured. Plasmarr she had to knock out, but she left Griseous and Seismictus groaning on the floor. Lastly, she came to Arachna. She was still hurt, but, in fact, she probably could have got back up.
"The others," Stellar said, "haven't had time to tell me how they got free. But I noticed Valora was wearing your clothes."
"Th-they sucker-punched me..."
"But then how did they get out of Hades' stasis tanks?" She bent down, resting on her pretty knees. "You helped them, didn't you?"
"What?" Arachna was breathing hard. For the first time, she felt...bashful in Stellar's presence. "Of...course not."
"Alright," Stellar said. "If you say so. But, Arachna, if it were possible that underneath the lust the...the - greed...if there were enough there to make a good person, well..." She leaned forward, and kissed Arachna softly on the forehead. "Well, that would be wonderful." She gave Emily a smile that, for the rest of her life, she would never forget.

Stellar stood, switching to the Black Star, and set off after her allies. Arachna touched the spot where Stellar had kissed her. She found tears were streaming from her eyes.

They were so close to freedom they could taste it. The third floor. The second. The first. Almost free. Almost out of Hades' clutches. Almost back into the light of the world.
"Nnnhh..." Mariko slowly began to awaken. She felt herself slung over someone's shoulder, a tight grip holding her in place. "Am I...captured?" Fear gripped her. "Did...did it not work?"

"P-put me down..." she complained, groggily.
"Oh, you're up? Well, sure thing, Spectra." She hadn't really expected to be obeyed, so when the powerful woman carrying her put her down on her feet, she stumbled backwards a few steps, her long legs still feeling rubbery, numb. But a pair of familiar hands caught her.
"Hey, gorgeous."

With a fluttering of her heart, Mariko saw that it was Sophie who had caught her.
"It worked, then?" Mariko asked.
"'Worked'? You punched him off the god-damned building." She helped Mariko steady herself.
"I take it we're not entirely out of the woods yet." Mariko found the strength to stand alone, but held onto Sophie's hands.
"No, not yet." They'd come to a thick, steel security door, and were waiting for Valora to punch her way through. A groggy Virgo was being helped to her feet by Pisces and Sagittarius "But we wouldn't even be here if it weren't for you."
"Just one thing," Mariko said. "I imagine you're feeling fairly impressed with me right now."
"Uh...yeah, I think I kinda am."
"And quite right too." Sophie rolled her eyes. "You're certainly right to be impressed with what I did, but..." She ran the back of her hand over one of her girlfriend's lightly freckled cheeks, though even this was a strain in her current state. "What you did when Hades had us in his clutches, when you defied him...I...I was in awe of you, Sophie."
"Mariko..." Sophie half-whispered.

"Hey, save the hugs and kisses!" Valora barked, tearing the security door of its hinges. Sophie blushed.
"Yeah, let's book." She looked back, scanning with her enhanced vision through the rest of the building. "Oh, hell yes!" She saw, three floors up, that Stellar was coming towards them. She was moving quickly, but her manner didn't indicate that she was being pursued. Sophie was sincerely relieved.

That is, until she faced forwards, her eyes still able to pierce through walls. She hadn't seen through the security door, or rather she'd only been able to see through it, and not any further beyond. Now she could, though. Now she saw what approached them. She found herself trembling.
"Mariko," Sophie said, her voice cracking, "you've been so good to me, my love..."
"Sophie, what's -?" Mariko's face fell. "Oh no...!"

Sophie, of course, was the first to sense the approach, but it didn't take long before the others felt the rumbling.
"What is that?" Insyte exclaimed. "Is it, um...Seismictus?"
"No." Nova said. She knew. She didn't need Enhancegirl's senses. She just knew. "It's him."

"AAUUGHHH!!" The hollow, metallic scream rang out almost as painfully as the White Star's. "There you are, my loves!" Bursting through the floor, a giant in buckled, warped - and even in places partly melted - armour threw themselves into the heroines' path.
"Hades!" Valora half bellowed, half moaned.
"Did you have fun? Did it entertain you to roam my halls? Did you pat yourselves on the back? Did you cheer and clasp hands in triumph from your little victory?" Hades strode towards them, hands outstretched as if to grasp them all at once. The villain looked at Mariko. "Your temerity, Spectra was almost impressive. But do you know what happens to mortals who embarrass the gods? Mortals who commit the sin of hubris? They are punished. You have been in my underworld, my long-legged beauty, but you have not yet seen my Tartarus!"

"You're no god..." Mariko said, stepping forward to face him. "Your self-aggrandisement doesn't conceal your infantile narcissism. You're a spoiled little boy, angry that he hasn't got his way. Well come here, Hades. I'll be happy to discipline you!" Once again, she started summoning up her inner power. It was already at a dangerously low ebb, but she didn't care. She'd pour out her soul to destroy this monster. "Unnhh...I'll show you the power...of my bloodline...!" Her soul-light began to form, began taking shape.
"Spectra, don't!" Sophie urged her. "You could barely do it the first time!"
"To protect you...I'd - unhh!"

The iron will was there. Another person would not even have been able to get this far. But will was not everything. Mariko had already been pushing her luck even using the technique once. It was already a misuse of her power, in a sense, and one her body could not tolerate a second time after so short an interval.
"N-no!" Mariko felt the strength draining out of her body. She fell back against Sophie, limp, her power all but spent.
"Spectra!" Despite her warning, Sophie had been more than a little hopeful that Mariko could repeat her victory. But the first had taken everything she had - and it hadn't been enough.
"Uhhh...I don't have...any strength left...!" Mariko moaned, having brought herself to the edge of unconsciousness. "Sophie...I've failed you..."
"I liked the joke," Hades said, "but the punchline is a bit of a damp squib! Ahahahaha!"

"Ah..ahhhhh!!" Taurus screamed, panic and courage blending into one. She sent a vicious cascade of crackling lightning at the villain. They didn't even seem to notice. Valora dropped Virgo, and leapt at her captor, but with stunning speed and precision, Hades swatted her aside, sending her sprawling, groaning on the ground.
"Stupid girls! Stupid, stupid, pretty little girls!" Hades loped into a run, coming straight for Mariko and Sophie. "I'll strip you! I'll bind you! I'll have my way with those soft, weak bodies, and I'll make you beg to be put into a stasis tank! I'll make you suffer, make you pay for defying me, make you beg and scream and -"

The villain hesitated. Their manic, hunched posture corrected into a much more dignified stance.
"Hm." Hades put their hand to their neck, like the villain was straightening a tie. "I seem to have got a little carried away. You'll forgive me: incandescent rage can have that effect." The villain seemed slightly to relax. "Let's remember what we're all doing here..." they thought.
"What on earth?" Natalya, crouching near Mariko in a halted effort to run to her aid, was perplexed. For an instant, just an instant, she felt like she got a sense of something, not a thought, but an emotion. It vanished from her bruised and battered telepathy so quickly that, if it hadn't been so monolithic in its simplicity, she probably wouldn't have recognised it. It was tranquillity. Utter, meditative tranquility, of the kind a bodhisattva might aspire to. If anything, Natalya was more terrified of Hades than ever.

"NO!" Sara cried out. Conjuring her full might, she forced out as much strength as she could, almost screaming from the strain. A blue-white column of ethereal light rocketed out of her, and collided with Hades.

"Rrghh!" The villain seemed to be having a slightly harder time resisting Nova's attack than before, but resist it they did. Leaping forward in a stunning parabola Hades closed the gap between themselves and Sara. She tried to move away, but Hades was too fast. A syringe emerged from a slot on the villain's wrist, and before Sara could react, her slender neck was violated by the sharp needle.
"Aah!" she gasped. She tried to raise her hands, but they flopped to her sides. "N-no! Wh-what's happening to" Her smooth legs trembled. She moved back two steps, but could do no more. "What have you...done?"
"Reduced you to what you were always meant to be, Nova," Hades replied. "A penitent, submissive slave-girl. Your limber, supple body a treasure to be admired and used at your master's pleasure. Now kneel."
"Oh..." With a soft sigh, Nova obeyed. She dropped to her knees, tamed and helpless. Of course, this had not been deliberate. The paralysing drug forced her to comply. But in that moment, even Nova herself couldn't quite tell that this was the case. "Nooooooo..." she mewed, almost inaudibly, as the paralysed beauty, the fallen Starlit Maiden, collapsed onto her front.

Something snapped within Enhancegirl as she witnessed this, as she felt Mariko falling limp into her arms. She forgot that Hades was stronger than her. She forgot that there was, physically speaking, literally nothing she could do to harm them. She just saw someone she hated. She ran right for them, pushing past the Starlight Squadron, who had to their credit been uselessly attacking Hades as Nova had been defeated.

"Oh, good grief," Hades pointed their right gauntlet at Enhancegirl, and let out a thick cloud of white gas, not even bothering to aim. "Just sleep, girl."
"Downgrade!" Sophie had absolutely no intention of stopping. Her strappy pink dress replaced the gold of Enhancegirl, the deactivation of her powers taking away her sensitivity to sedatives. She evaded the cloud of sleeping gas, and - blinded by rage - leapt at the metal giant.

"Idiot." Without her powers on, Sophie didn't have a chance of anticipating Hades' precise movements. The villain caught her in mid-air and tossed her squirming body over their shoulder.
"No! NOOO!!" Sophie screamed, caught with humiliating ease. Her long, creamy legs flailed wildly, her hands banging on Hades' back
"I could paralyse you as well," Hades said. "But, honestly, what's the point?" Sophie cried out in dismay as she felt the villain's hands sliding up her warm, naked legs, under the hem of her short dress, squeezing her round, supple behind.

"Enhancegirl!" Mariko tried to climb to her feet, but couldn't. She just started dragging herself towards Sophie, crawling along the floor. Pisces came towards her, ostensibly to help. "R-run, you fool!" Mariko barked. "All of you! There's nothing you can do to him! Run!"
"Yes," Hades said, "run, little girls! Run as fast as you can! You don't want to end up like your red-haired friend, do you?" Hades raised a hand, and struck the writhing, lithe maiden with an infinitesimal fraction of their full strength.
"Aah!" Sophie cried out, as she felt herself spanked. The shock reverberated through her entire body, her soft, white buttocks reddening as she was slapped. "This isn't happening...this isn't happening!" She was throbbing with humiliation.
"You'll have to kill me, Hades!" Mariko groaned, shaking with fury. "You'll have to kill, while you have the chance. If we...ever fight...when I'm at full power again...I'll cut your head off!"
"You managed to dent my armour, Spectra," Hades said. "But my flesh..." Hades slowly ran a finger all the way up from Sophie's slender ankles, up her smooth calves, her moist thighs. "My flesh is much stronger than steel." Sophie closed her eyes. She couldn't bear to look at Mariko's face.

The Starlight Squadron had not known whether to flee or to fight, and instead had dithered, staring stunned at the awful spectacle of what Hades was doing. This cost the maidens dearly. From the stairwells leading down to the ground floor, three men ran in, bearing the same weapons that had been used to down Taurus.
"Subdue them," Hades ordered.

"Not again!!"

The varying cries of the five sweet young maidens in tiny skirts and tall high-heels may have reflected a slight difference in attitude between the five of them - from terrified and helpless, to merely shocked - but it didn't matter much in the end. The cloth bands burst out of the discs which had affixed themselves to their bodies, seizing the girls' limbs. Sagittarius watched in horror as her bare legs were slammed together, felt her arms bound to her sides.
"MMMPPHHH!!" she cried out, as her lips were sealed, even her long, blonde hair disappearing as she was packaged up by the fiendish device.

"Nnnmmphh..." Pisces mewed as she experienced the same treatment. She went pigeon-toed as her thighs were bound, and sunk, defeated to her knees. She watched as Taurus moaned in despair, plummeting down the full length of her tall body to the ground, saw Virgo wriggling, whimpering as her long, pale-tan legs were covered, pulled together, saw Capricorn lying on the ground, everything covered except for her tear-filled eyes.

"Your will be done, Lord Hades!" These were not the dead-eyed servitors that the others had encountered so far. These, like Plasmarr, were loyalists. "Stay still, girl!" one of them barked. He was talking to Natalya. The yellow eyed architect had started running towards him.
"I can't just sit here! I must at least...try!" He shot at her, but she managed to dodge it - and again. Her training from Sophie had not been useless, after all.

But one of the others simply moved behind her, and fired at her back.
"What? Ahh! NNMPHH!" Natalya gasped, as she felt the bindings exploding over her, seizing her arms, her lily-white legs, pressing in her voluminous, heavy bosom. Mummified in seconds, her momentum carried her forward into the arms of the man she'd been trying to reach.
"Careful there, busty," the goon laughed. "You almost tripped over!"
"Mmhh...nnnnnmmhhhphhh..." Natalya whimpered, casting her owl-like eyes down. "What did I think was going to happen?"

One of Hades' men strode over to Valora, shot another disc down. At full strength she'd have snapped the bonds without a second thought - even Arachna would have been strong enough to break them - but she was stunned by Hades' blow, dazed and dizzy.
"Unhhh...wha...t?" the voluptuous blonde whimpered as she too was bound and gagged in thick, white bands of cloth. She cast her blue eyes up, and saw a writhing redhead slung over Hades' shoulder. "En...hancegirl..." she mumbled, but could do nothing to aid her.

"Put me down! Put me down!!" Sophie demanded.
"The valorous Enhancegirl: from lithe, nimble warrior to petulant, begging girl. I'd say 'how the mighty are fallen', but, ah, that doesn't quite seem to apply." Hades plucked her off their shoulder, holding her in front of them by her arms.
"Unh!" Sophie cried out, as one of the discs hit her in the midriff. Hades shoved her forward just as the bands emerged, so they bound her as she stumbled forward.

"Nnghh! NO!" Sophie cried out, as she felt herself trussed up once again, her gorgeous, shapely behind still stinging fiercely from her chastisement. "Enhaammmmppphhhh!!" Trying to reactivate her powers in the hope that she'd be able to wriggle free, the emerald-eyed beauty found her slender arms, her long, creamy legs tightly, utterly restrained, her soft, oft-kissed mouth sealed tightly shut, preventing her from turning on her powers. She collapsed onto the ground, a helpless captive once more.

"Be glad, Spectra," Hades said, taking a weapon from one of their men. The villain approached the exhausted, half-naked damsel, turning her over with their foot. "I'm giving you your modesty back."
"Fuck you," Spectra spat, resorting to spite with no recourse for meaningful resistance. Hades had been about to fire, but chose not to. Instead, they extracted one of the discs themselves, and placed it between Mariko's modest, pert breasts, spreading their fingers wide to grope her bosom as they did so.
"You poured out your very soul, Spectra," Hades said, stroking her flat, light-tan midriff. "You poured out your soul against me, and you achieved nothing."

Hades tapped the disc he'd laid on Mariko's chest, and in an instant, the willowy maiden found her tall body smothered in cloth bands.
"MMMMPHHH!! Mmmm-nnnnhhhggmmmphhh!" she moaned, feeling her sylphlike, stunningly long legs bound, her arms squashed tight against her sides, until she was a helpless, cocooned, wriggling damsel in distress, just like the others.

Only Nova was left. As one of Hades' men threw Natalya down with the others, the other two approached Sara, limp and powerless in her torn, white dress.
"Stop!" Hades shouted. Their men quaked, but their master was not angry with them. "Don't use the guns. Do it manually. And feel free to...enjoy yourselves." They smiled.

"Unnhh..." Nova mewed as she was hauled to her feet. Her head drooped onto one shoulder, her petite, nubile body utterly unresisting. As one of them held her small, light body, the other took out one of the discs from his weapon. Fiddling with it, he found a catch, and the white bands started loosely spilling out. Seizing them from their container, he began the process of binding Sara.

" me..." Nova whimpered, so quietly that they didn't even hear her. She felt her captors pawing at her paralysed body, her moist legs, her light-pink breasts, so easily accessible through her thin, revealing dress. As they groped her, they bound her, wrapping her up perhaps even more tightly than the automatic mechanism that had captured the others. Her silky thighs were drawn together, her arms box-tied behind her back. She didn't resist: she couldn't. But at this point, she wondered, if even motile she'd have had the wherewithal to keep fighting.

The trussed her up like spiders toying with a delicate, beautiful butterfly, winding cloth around her, covering every inch of her smooth, fragrant skin. Her legs and hips disappeared beneath the wrappings, her thighs and her rear relentlessly squeezed and fondled. As Nova's flat midriff was covered, and her breasts, she thought back to the day she'd been invited into the Pauldron. How proud she'd been, how awed with her new comrades, with Imperion and with herself. It was as though, as they bound her, they unwound her worthiness to stand among those giants.
"There," one of Hades' minions said, as they finished packaging the paralysed damsel, her eyes and a lock of her pink hair the only part of her still uncovered. "Giftwrapped for your master, 'hero.'" Nova couldn't even find the strength to whimper. She was laid down among the Starlight Squadron, who moaned and writhed in their all-encompassing bindings. She didn't fight. She had nothing more to fight with.

"Mmmphh!" Sophie mewed, as she was thrown down next to Mariko. "Mpph! Mm-mmm-hhhmmphh!" She wriggled desperately, squirming her lithe, feminine form.
"Mmhhh...mmmhhhh!" Mariko whimpered back in response, writhing much more sinuously, weakened by her failed attempt to summon her soul-light. They turned to each other, their green eyes meeting. They saw each other's mummified, utterly bound bodies, and their naked attraction for each other brought on a sensual, even erotic quality to their helpless bondage. As they squirmed, they rubbed up against each other, their shoulders and thighs touching, their cheeks flushing red, their chests rising and falling rapidly. Their bonds were so tight, showing their svelte figures so clearly - it was a kind of nudity, in its way. A pulse of dismay ran through the two dominated lovers. Happenstance had taken them this far: Mariko's new power, the presence of Valora, Arachna's mercy - but they had squandered it.
"It's not fair..." Sophie thought. "You were so beautiful - you deserved to have saved'd earned it!"
"Somehow...somehow I'll get you away from him...!" Mariko thought. Yet even as she forced herself to think this, she didn't believe it.

There they lay: a moaning, whimpering pile of ten gorgeous, defeated young women, wriggling and mewing in their cocoons of tight cloth. With their bodies totally covered, and only their wet, blinking eyes on show, the differences between them were almost...smoothed over. Yes, their bonds were incredibly tight, and differences could be seen: Natalya's ample, heaving bosom; Valora's womanly hips; Mariko's stunningly long legs; Sophie's lithe, nubile figure; Sara's petite, trim loveliness. But it didn't matter. They were all of them reduced to the level of the weakest of the Starlight Squadron. The five innocent, inexperienced girls who'd been so easily - effortlessly dealt with: Sophie and the others might as well have been as weak and green as them, so vast was the gulf between their power and Hades.

The monster stood over them, drinking in the sight of them, exulting in their femininity and delicacy next to Hades' own inhuman power.
"'We were so close!' you may be thinking. How agonising it must be, almost to have escaped my clutches. But do not despair. Or rather, do - but not for that reason. There was no way you would ever have escaped. No-one escapes Hades. No-one can..." Hades tilted their head to the side. "...have I miscounted?"

Still one floor up, Stellar had no idea yet that her friends had been recaptured, but she was concerned by the lack of resistance she was facing. So she was not relieved, exactly, when she came across a man in a brown, leather bodysuit with a sword at his hip, but it made it feel that she was not walking into a trap.
"A Blue Star!" Without a moment's hesitation, Stellar let fly with a dazzling volley of icicles.
"Bloody hell!" he exclaimed, in a clipped, English accent. Stellar saw the briefest flash of steel - and her icicles were gone. Not just shattered, but...powdered. The man now had his sword in his hand, but Stellar hadn't seen him draw it. He turned on her, taking up an epée stance, but he relaxed once he saw her. Well, not quite 'relaxed': he seemed very irritated.
"If you're who I think you are," he said, "that wasn't entirely clever."
"I won't be stopped!" Steller said. "I don't care who you are! I will escape with my friends, and I'll...defeat you too if I have to!"
"Well, yes, that's rather the idea isn't it?" He seemed confused. Then a moment of recognition: he rolled his eyes. "You don't know who I am do you?" Stellar blinked. "My name is Panhellius, of the Pauldron. I am here to rescue you." He bowed slightly to her, as if in recognition of her unbound state. "That is, I am here to assist you."
"The Pauldron...that's Nova's team, isn't it?" Spectra's membership had yet to be publicly announced. "Then, is he -?"
"Yes," Panhellius said. "He is."

"I am going to ask my scientists," Hades said, still crowing over their mummified maidens at their feet, "if you can be kept ever so slightly conscious. I believe it is still possible for you to dream, and...I do not want you to have the slightest respite." They stroked their chin. "Then again...if you can can have nightmares. Ehehahahaha! Yes, even in your sleep, Hades will await you..."

The room was filled with a chorus of sensual, gagged whimpers. The innocent damsels of the Starlight Squadron were more tearful, but their moans didn't have the same quality of dismay that the other heroines' did: the Starlight Squadron were frightened, yes, felt like victims - but they were so far below Hades that their captor was almost at the same status as a natural disaster. For the others, particularly Mariko and Sara, there was a much greater shame, of being defeated, conquered. Nova couldn't even raise her head.

Enhancegirl thrashed perhaps the most furiously, her mind a whirlwind of fear, rage, hatred, dismay - those and a dozen other emotions, burning inside her.
"However the fuck I got my powers," she thought, "why couldn't I have got something that would let me beat this fucker into the ground?!" She looked up, saw Hades looking at her. At least, she thought they were looking at her. It was so hard to tell with the villain's faceless mask. She smelled something. A sort of sour scent, but not wholly unpleasant. "Cologne...?" It didn't come from Hades' men, or from Hades themselves. Besides, her powers were off: there was no way she'd only just have sensed it if it did. No, someone new had entered.

"Maybe Royal Rumble had a shave or something..." she thought. She wouldn't have been so focused on it, certainly not in their present situation, but for the fact that it smelled so damned familiar. "Where have I smelled it before?" She didn't know why, but she had a funny feeling that it had been in Ferndale.
"Mhh! Mmmhhh!" Sophie turned her head. She saw Nova, her head slightly propped up on Capricorn's thigh. Her eyes were wide as saucers, and full of tears. But she wasn't looking at Hades. She was looking past him.

Slow footsteps. Long, slow strides, confident, deliberate, like Clint Eastwood strutting into a saloon. Not a swagger, exactly, but the self-assurance of a silverback gorilla. Hades must have heard the footsteps, for they turned around. Difficult as it was to recognise emotions under that faceless mask, all of Hades' captives saw the same thing: the villain recoiled.
"People generally say that I'm a good man," the newcomer said. He clicked his neck, cracked his knuckles within his emerald-green gauntlet. "Pray that that's true."
"Hmmphhhrrhhhnn!" Nova gasped. If she hadn't been paralysed, she'd have been shaking. "Imperion!"

There he stood. Imperion, the Jade Colossus. The man with atom bombs in his fists. The man who'd created the culture of the California superhero, the man who had saved thousands, millions of lives with the raw power in his possession, and still not been satisfied that he'd done enough good. They all saw, and they all stared.
"He's here!" Mariko thought. He didn't look real. When she'd spoken to him in his little surfing shop, he'd seemed a tiny bit more human, but he looked like he'd stepped out of a comic strip. He was Mariko's height, so much shorter than Hades, but the villain shrank away in his awesome presence like shadow fled the Sun. It seemed almost silly for this larger-than-life superhero to array himself against this monster...but perhaps that was the point. He was a living reminder that sometimes, every once in a while, the side of right had the advantage.

"Ahh..ahh...aahahhhh! AAHHHHH! AHHHGHHHHHH!! AAAGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!" Was it hate? Was it terror? Both, probably. Or neither. Who could tell? Hades' whole body seemed to convulse as the scream poured out of them. Drawing back their arm, they did what none of the captive heroines had yet seen Hades do: they struck with their full strength at Imperion's face.

"Unhh!" Imperion grunted, knocked back several steps. But all too quickly, he returned to the same position as before. "Again." Hades obliged, hitting him even harder. This time, he was knocked back a little further, but he returned faster. "Again." The same thing happened. "Again!" This time, Imperion caught the punch. It didn't seem to be costing him a great deal of effort. "You do what you do that to them, and you dare to be this weak?!" He grabbed Hades, his fingers crumpling their armour. He hauled Hades down so they were at eye-level with him. "You should have stayed dead." His blonde hair began standing up on end, as red sparks cascaded from his body. "You should have stayed dead!!" He lifted Hades up above his head, and smashed them down onto his knee.

"Oh my god!" Natalya's yellow eyes opened in shock. Seeing Hades matched briefly by Mariko had been one thing, but Imperion was not matching Hades. He was totally outclassing them. Sophie was watching too, of course, but she saw a slightly different picture. Imperion's face was marred by incredibly intense concentration, like he was trying to solve a complex differential equation. Every movement had been precise, controlled. Sophie wondered what it took to control strength like his.

"Augh!" Hades cried out, convulsing, their body sparking with red electricity. "You preening...self-worshipping...aaahgghhhghh!" Leaping up, Hades let fly with a shockingly rapid series of strikes. Rage had not taken their skill away, and that same fluid, balletic precision coloured their strikes. Imperion, on the other hand, was a wall, blocking every blow, not as fast or as graceful, but far, far tougher.

"Mmhhhhh..." Nova closed her eyes. She didn't want to feel like this. It was immature at best, but she couldn't help it. She felt like a captive princess - and her prince had come for her. Unlike the others, who watched the battle with baited breath, Nova hadn't the slightest doubt of the outcome. "He came for me...he came for me!"

"Why did you do it?" Imperion barked, as he deflected blow after blow, each strong enough to level the building in which they stood. "Years in hiding, building your power...why emerge now? Why do...this?!"
"Because you believed you were winning," Hades replied. "Because you and those like you thought that you were making a difference. It was no longer enough to laugh at you from the safety of my underworld. I had to know you felt the anguish, the despair. And what better place to start than with your...floozies?" Hades looked back at their captives, pointing at Mariko. "I'd intended to reacquaint myself with Chryseis. I didn't know you'd traded in for an even younger model. Got a taste for Asian girls now, Jackson? This one's very pretty." Jackson appeared to drop his guard for a moment, and Hades struck - but Imperion caught their wrist.
"You make me ashamed just looking at you," Jackson said, twisting Hades' arm behind their back, and forcing them down to their knees.

Hades was turned to face their captives. They saw their conqueror overpowered, restrained - not effortlessly, but not with all that much difficulty either. A god humbled.
"You were never supposed to find this place!"
"The livestream was probably a bad idea, then." Strutting with a sneer plastered to his face, Panhellius strode in. "Did you not think that specifically targetting the Pauldron might not result in this?"
"Get him!" Hades' men shouted. They had not been foolish enough to challenge Imperion, but Panhellius was a different story. No intention of capturing him, they drew their sidearms instead. None of them, however, got off a single shot: bullets of ice burst out from behind Panhellius, piercing each gunman, debilitating them severely, and sending them groaning to the floor.

"Stellar!" It was she. Dancing on a platform of ice, the Korean beauty vaulted in. "A Black Star!" Granting herself superhuman strength, she landed among Hades' mummified captives, and immediately set about freeing them.
"I'm sorry I took so long," she said, as Sophie tasted freedom once again.
"Don't be," Sophie said. "Oh, and by the way?"
"I'm an even bigger fangirl, now." Her voice was still shaking, her body still quaking with her fear of Hades...but now, surely, it was over.

"This changes nothing!" Hades bellowed, struggling in Imperion's grasp as they saw their captives one by one untied. Standing. They saw Mariko taking Sophie's hands, saw the redhead smile. Saw her relieved. "No! You belong to me. All of you belong to me. You shall -"
"Oh, shut up!" Nova barked. "Just shut up! You've lost! You're the one who has to be ashamed now. You're the one who has to tremble in defeat! You're the one who...unhhh..." She was still completely limp. Talking had sapped what little strength she'd reacquired.
"Easy there, Nova," Panhellius urged. "Don't tax yourself."

The Starlight Squadron were embracing tearfully. Insyte found no-one to take into her arms, or to take her. She move quietly to the back of the group. She felt glad to be free, but there was a part of her that was hesitant. Now she had to start thinking about something she'd not wanted to confront.

It was not exactly a scene of jubilation, but certainly one of relief. This was understandable, but perhaps unwise. It caused Sophie not to bother switching her powers back on and, surely if she had, she would have seen Plasmarr coming.
"Master!" His neck was burned, having scoured himself with his own power to melt the shackle Stellar had placed at his neck. "You'll all pay for this!" He raised his hands, burning with liquid fire, aiming right at the former captives. "I'll burn you all!"

Spectra could have blocked him, or Stellar. But Imperion acted first, raising his hand, and sending a sphere of red lightning sailing through the air. It collided with Plasmarr, shocking him with agonising power, downing him in an instant. But in so doing, he took one his hands off Hades. Was he stronger than the suited figure? Certainly. But he wasn't faster.

"Fools!" Hades burst out of Imperion's grip like a cannon, barrelling straight for the women who, until a moment ago, had been mewing pathetically at Hades' feet. They all moved out of the way - except for the one person who couldn't.
"No! NOO!" Nova screamed, as Hades seized the paralysed damsel, and hurled her over their shoulder.
"Sara!" Jackson leapt forward to rescue his ally.
"Back off, or I snap her in two!" Hades barked. Imperion stopped. "Good boy." Hades crouched, and then leapt away, smashing through the wall to make their egress.
"Jackson! Jackson!" Sara screamed as Hades took her, but her voice was weak, and lost on the wind that rushed through the hole Hades had made.

"NO!" Imperion bellowed, hurling himself after the pair in pursuit.
"Just give up, you psycho fuck!" Sophie screamed, her voice tearing at her lungs. Hades could no longer hear her. She fell to her knees, banging her fist against the ground.
"Come on girls," Valora said. "We're in the home stretch now!" She began to follow. Wearily, Sophie climbed back to her feet.
"Enhance!" With a burst of gold light, Sophie reactivated her powers. "Come on," she said to the others. "At the very least let's see how bad Imperion beats his ass."

"Why are you doing this?" Nova demanded, slung limp over Hades' shoulder as he ascended the nearest building in great leaps.
"This specifically? You're a hostage. I'd have thought that would be obvious. More generally...I have many reasons. Let's pick one: to make your master suffer." Hades seemed quite startled when, on reaching the roof of this building, they found Imperion already waiting there.

"That's the problem," Jackson said. "When you only have a bad copy of my power. I really can do anything better than you."
"Except for killing," Hades said. They swung Nova off their shoulder, grasping her by the ankles. To the maiden's horror, Hades dangled her off the side of the building.
"Aah...aahh!" Nova looked down at the distant ground below. Paralysed, her powers unresponsive, death was certain if Hades released her. Far below, she saw coloured dots - the other heroes.
"Don't!" Imperion exclaimed. "I'm the one you hate, aren't I?"
"And you love her," Hades said. "I think the rest of the equation writes itself, don't you?" Nova felt Hades relaxing their grip. "Beg me to spare her."
"I beg you," Jackson said, without the slightest hesitation.
"That was too easy!" Hades laughed. "Use my name."
"I beg you, Hades."
"Not that! My name. The one you used to sigh so sweetly, Jackson." The blonde gritted his teeth. "Not so easy, eh?"
"What's...he talking about?" Nova thought. "How do they know each other?"
"I beg you..." Jackson's voice was choked. "Don't kill her...Anya..."

Nova felt her blood grow cold. She'd have shivered if she weren't paralysed.
"Anya? That's his wife's name! But she's...she's dead!" She looked through the crook of Hades' arm, saw Jackson's face, twisted with pain. "He believes her!"
"I'm sorry Jax," Hades said. "I just didn't buy it." One by one, she relaxed her fingers. "Goodnight, Nova." Petite and slender as she was, when Hades released her, she dropped like a stone.

She didn't scream. She didn't wail or even try to fly. She just fell, utterly stunned.
"His...wife? Hades is Jackson's...wife?" Her tormentor was the wife of the man she - no, it was impossible. Just as being saved was now impossible. She closed her eyes, trying to put thoughts of Hades out of her mind. She imagined, instead, the stars from the garden of her childhood. It was soothing. They seemed to call out to her, to invite her amongst them. She -

"Aah!" Nova was startled by the feeling of strong arms wrapping around her. She opened her eyes, and found that she was plummeting down in the arms of Imperion.
"Urgh!" Her leader drove a hand into the side of the building, gradually beginning to slow them down. He'd barely caught up with her, even having used his vast strength to launch himself downwards, far past terminal velocity. "I've got you, Sara. I've got you."
"I know..." Sara said softly. She saw the pain on Jackson's face. She wanted to nestle closer to comfort him as well as to be held, but she still couldn't move. Nevertheless, being kept so close by him... "He...he's carrying me..." she thought, blushing as she considered the colour of her dress.

"Fuck me, is that physically possible?" Enhancegirl cried out, seeing the pair gradually slow to a stop.
"So it would seem," Mariko replied. "What of Hades?" Enhancegirl scanned upwards, and all around - but saw nothing.
"He got away," Sophie said, not privy to the revelation. "But...he's gone. It's over." She felt Mariko sliding her arms around her. She didn't seem to care that the others could see. Sophie smiled, even as she continued to tremble.

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Post 7 months ago

It didn't take all that long for the cameras to appear, once the police did. Rounding up Hades' men wasn't too hard: in their escape, Enhancegirl and the others had defeated the majority of them. Plasmarr and Griseous were taken in too, but Seismictus had managed to escape. So too had Mysteria, but that was almost to have been expected. It was a sensation for the press, of course: Hades was real! A shadowy puppet master, a Napoleon of crime.

While some of Hades' gunmen had been loyalists, and were totally uncooperative when interrogated, others were in a different class. Their dead-eyed subservience had been brought on by morphiates: their loyalty contingent on - and indeed somewhat created by - being given the chemicals of their choice. In later analyses' of Hades' organisation, this would be considered one of her master-strokes: it had allowed her to create a large organisation, while minimising the risk of exposure.

As the frenzy of the deconstruction of Hades' lair went on, Imperion carried Nova, still paralysed, to a safe spot. He was not only protecting her in her physical vulnerability, he was shielding her from the cameras.
"Are you okay?" Jackson asked. "Shit, that was a stupid question..."
"It's alright..." the limp damsel replied, laid down and propped up against a wall. "I...unhh...I know what you mean..." She looked up slowly at her mighty saviour with limpid eyes. He looked back at her, his expression compassionate, but still strong. He was like righteous law incarnate: everything Nova herself aspired to embody.

"I'm not injured, I think. Just..." She shook her head. "Jackson, was he - I mean, she telling the truth?" He covered his face with his hands.
"Yeah...yeah it's true..." Jackson said. "Anya is Hades."
"I don't understand," Nova said. "Why would your wife...why would she do all of this?"
"I don't..." Jackson breathed out sharply, seeming to restrain an outburst of emotion. "You know how strong she is?"
"Yes..." Nova knew all too well.
"Well, she wasn't always," Imperion said, sitting down next to Nova. "She's a..." He rolled his hand, searching for the right word. "She's a really low-level power mimic. She can copy a much weaker version of other people's powers, about one third the strength."
"Then...she has all of our powers?!" Nova gasped. The prospect of Hades adding her energy, Mariko's light powers, Enhancegirl's senses - it was too terrible to think of.

"What? No, no, no, her ability is really weak. It took her years to copy my power, and we were together almost every day." Nova was more than a little relieved. "When we were...uh, when I knew her all she had was increased agility that she'd copied from her father. Did she have any other powers now?" Nova thought.
"A sort of...frost breath. But I didn't see anything else."
"Ah, geez...okay, well that's something, at least." Imperion said.

Something clicked in Nova's mind.
"That's why she took us, isn't it? To seal us away in those containers, and gradually copy our powers. And..." She saw Jackson's face twisted with dismay. He'd anticipated her realisation: "Jesus, Jackson, is that why she was...?" It was almost too horrible to say.
"A sham marriage." Imperion shrugged. "And she didn't even need a green card!" It was not a convincing attempt at humour, to say the least.
"Why...why didn't you say anything before?" Sara asked.
"I thought it was dead and buried. Literally!" He ran a hand through his hair. "The day...the god-damn day she finishes acquiring my strength, she..." He couldn't go on.
"It's alright," Nova said. "You don't have to say it all now, Jackson."
"I'm sorry, just - when I think of what she did to you...I'm so sorry, Sara. I'm sorry I didn't find you sooner. I'm sorry I didn't kill her all over again!"

"I'm glad you didn't," Nova said. "Unnhh..." She raised herself a little, droplets of strength returning to her. "We...everyone in our line of work, but especially the Pauldron - we put targets on our backs."
"You're saying you deserved what she did?"
"No, of course not, but...of course that sort of thing is going to happen." She breathed out, slowly. As feeling returned to her body, she realised that she was shaking, her body still coming down from the hormonal high of terror. "We...we can't put ourselves in the line of fire, and then swear bloody vengeance when people shoot! When she had me...there were moments where I - I wanted to kill her. What she did to me...I wanted to, I did! But that was...rage and shame clouding my judgement. The people we protect deserve our best. We can't kill. We don't have the right. Not even...her..." She closed her eyes, feeling liquid hot hatred swelling inside her. "No! I won't...I won't let Hades have degraded me!"

Jackson stared at her, his brow furrowed.
"I know I'm your boss, kinda," he said, "but would it be, like, inappropriate if I hugged you?"
"What? Um...yes - I mean, no!" She felt her cheeks hot, and hoped she wasn't blushing.
"Sweet," Jackson said. He reached over, and slowly folded his arms around her, pulling her in close. "I'm so glad you're okay..."
"Y-yeah..." Nova felt her delicate, petite body drawn into Jackson's powerful grip. He could have snapped her like a twig, but she felt completely safe. His beard scratched her cheek, but she nestled closer nevertheless. "I -"

" it okay if we leave?" Mariko blinked her jade eyes at Capricorn.
"What business is it of mine?" she replied.
"Well, you' know..." the small blonde stammered. Tall, powerful, and stern, Mariko cut quite an intimidating figure.
"Girls, relax," Sophie said, stepping in. "Unless you guys have your own leader, none of us get to tell you what to do. Even Cumberbatch over there." She jabbed a thumb towards Panhellius, who had taken command of the police operation without a great deal of tact.

"Okay..." Capricorn twiddled her thumbs. "Thank you for saving us! I mean, I know Imperion did too, but - on the roof you...uh..." Her gratitude seemed to be directed towards Mariko.
"You're welcome," Mariko said, curtly.
"What the social butterfly meant," Sophie interjected, "is that you don't need to thank us. Besides, you, uh..." She tried to keep track of exactly who deserved the credit for their freedom. Imperion, obviously, and Spectra, but also Nova, Stellar, even Arachna had played her part. "Just...well, spread the credit around a bit, right?"
"R-right!" Capricorn chirped. She looked nervously at Mariko, before returning to her friends. Sagittarius embraced her. A little further off, Sophie noticed Virgo and Taurus holding each other as well, the shorter girl kissing Taurus' cheek.

"Nice one," Sophie said to her girlfriend. She shook her head. "You really don't hear how you sound sometimes."
"What? I was - I was trying not to sound haughty."
"Well, mission accomplished. You only sounded totally dismissive," Sophie said, laughing slightly. "Never let Imperion give you P.R. duties, 'kay?"
"I'll keep that in mind," Mariko huffed. She drew Sophie closer. "My gadfly..." There was a very comforting normality to their conversation, and Mariko relished it.

Insyte joined them. She didn't know the others, and even without her telepathy, the swarm of activity was drawing out her shyer instincts.
"Hey, Natalya," Sophie took her hands in an honest, but deliberate, gesture of affection. Natalya forced a smile in reply, though she withdrew one arm to hug over her exposed chest.
"I'm glad you're both alright," Natalya said. "I was worried that after you embarrassed Hades, Mariko, he might have killed you."
"Small mercies," Mariko said. She was unsure what to say to the raven-haired telepath. Her little back-and-forth with Sophie sticking in her mind more than she expected, she blurted out: "Come to dinner!"
"Come to dinner with us. Soon. Not now, a moment of your convenience. It would be pleasant. I think. I mean, that is to say -"
"Sure, Mariko. That would be lovely."

She winced.
"Sophie, there's...a couple of things I need to tell you. It's about...well, it's,'s about you."
"Did you get something from Royal Rumble?" Sophie asked. "Valora already told me he doesn't remember fighting me."
"No...the reason my powers stopped working is because I tried to delve into that woman's mind - Mysteria's. I did manage to get something, though."
"What?" Mariko exclaimed. "What does Mysteria know about Sophie?" The two partners looked at each other.
"Did she know something about my powers?" Sophie asked, resisting the impulse to grab Inyste by the shoulders to impress the urgency of this inquiry.

"I don't think she knew exactly," Insyte said. Even in memory, sorting the bizarre nature of Mysteria's thoughts was difficult. "But when she realised what your powers were, it triggered a comparison. She imagined two faces...I didn't recognise either of them, but I got a name for one. 'Schiffer.' Does that mean anything to you?" Sophie shook her head.
"No, but - Jesus, Natalya, you wrecked your power trying to get information for me?"
"It's alright, I can...I can feel it recovering. But it's not like I even got anything all that useful for you..."
"You're wrong, Natalya," Mariko said. "This is the first solid lead we've had in weeks. Thank you."
"Yeah...this could really help us. Thank you so much!" Natalya noted with pleasure that both women considered it a shared project.
"Was there something else?" Mariko asked.

This was what Natalya had been hesitant to say.
"Today, all this - Arachna, Mysteria, Hades - it's made something fairly clear to me." She swallowed, looking down at her feet. "I...I can't do this anymore."
"What are you talking about?" Sophie said. She had a good idea, but she didn't want to be right.

The pale architect looked up at her friends with sad, yellow eyes.
"I'm not very powerful. I'm not a good fighter. I contributed literally nothing to our efforts today. I...I can't do it. I can't be Insyte anymore."
"What?" Mariko was astonished. "How can you say that?"
"I've seen your minds, both of you. Being Enhancegirl, being Spectra, having secret identities - your costumes, the excitement, the danger: it stimulates you. It means something to you. But it means nothing to me."
"You told me you wanted to be relied on. You told me that meant something to you," Sophie said. "Besides, who says you have to be able to beat people up? There's other ways to be a superhero besides being good at fighting."
"And there's other ways to help people besides being a superhero," Natalya replied. "You''ve become an important friend to me, Sophie, and I will always be there for you if you need me. To you as well, Mariko. But I'll be there as Natalya Nazarov. Enhancegirl and Spectra are parts of you - but 'Insyte' was only ever a mask - if it was even that - and it never fit me well."

There was a long silence.
" it because of your powers?" Sophie said, at last.
"No. I can already feel them beginning to return."
"Hades, then?" Mariko said. She looked very confused. "We're all shocked. We're all feeling frightened and weak, but that's not a reason to give up!"
"Mariko, take it easy," Sophie urged.
"No, I will not take it easy. It is your decision, Natalya, and the reasons you have given...I can't say I understand this sort of thing, but it seems...comprehensible. But I do not believe that's the reason for your choice. I think it's because of what you just went through." It didn't surprise Natalya that Mariko had reacted like this. She felt a little ashamed that Mariko seemed to think her a coward.

"It's your decision, Natalya," Sophie said. "And I'd be an asshole not to accept it - well, shit, it's not even for us to 'accept'. Just...if Mariko is right, then that's not a good reason."
"Today was the catalyst," Natalya said. "Not the cause."
"I'm not convinced," Mariko replied, "but Sophie will tell you that empathy isn't one of my strong suits. I hope very much that I am wrong. You...are a good person. You deserve happiness. If being Insyte inhibits that, then..." She threw her hands up, a gesture of hesitant acceptance. Natalya forced a smile.
"Am I still invited to dinner?"
"Of course," Mariko said, sounding surprised, as if she didn't understand how the one thing could possibly affect the other.
"Fuck what we think," Sophie said. "You do you, babe." She hugged Natalya, kissed her on the cheek. The pale telepath didn't have to force the smile that followed.

Imperion emerged, supporting a still weak and delicate Sara, just as the remaining heroines were about to start going their separate ways.
"Hey!" he called out, beckoning them over to him in that disarmingly casual manner of his.
"Imperion," Valora said. "I've...gawd, I don't think I've been this grateful in a long time!"
"It's been too long, Valora," Jackson replied. "And, thanks. I appreciate it."
"How's Chryseis?"
"Doing well!" Imperion said, smiling winningly. "Just one thing first," he said, projecting his voice so that all of them could hear him. "Today you all went through something really damned horrible. If I'd been in your shoes I'd be blubbering like a little kid right now. I know it might not be possible for you to follow this advice shouldn't feel ashamed. Defeat isn't the same thing as surrender, and I bet none of you surrendered to that bastard. You can stand as tall tomorrow as you could yesterday. Taller, even." He looked at Mariko as he said this. Her stomach fluttered.
"He's saying I still deserve to be in the Pauldron..." She hadn't realised how much she'd needed to hear that.

"And before you say I wouldn't know anything about what it's like to be in your positions...well, some of you might know about what happened to me back in '03. I fought a guy named Lord Delirious and he absolutely beat the shit out of me. He took me prisoner. He tortured me, and even now I still don't know why."

It was a very famous incident, but after seeing him deal with Hades, it was hard for the heroines to believe that such a thing was possible. "It almost finished me off as a superhero - but I remembered the difference I made. You, all of you can make a difference. Don't let that fucking psychopath stop you from doing that." Natalya looked away, but she felt Sophie squeeze her hand.
"You be you, Natalya," she whispered to her friend.
"Okay, pep talk over, I promise," Imperion said. "Now..." He looked at Nova. She nodded. He breathed out, sharply, clapped his hands together. "After what Hades did...I think you all deserve an explanation."

By the time Imperion finished telling them what he'd told Nova, there was not an ungaping mouth within twenty feet of him.
"Holy fucking shit!" Sophie exclaimed.
"Yeah," Imperion replied. "That's pretty much the size of it."

"Yes sir." The Lieutenant who'd been given responsibility for direct overseeing of the High-Armour project turned off his radio. He'd just been ordered not to use it for seventy-two hours. "The project is being disavowed," he said to the man next to him. "But they've kept thing secret enough that they're not burning us."
"Hm? Oh, marvellous," Schiffer said distractedly, slicking back his prematurely grey hair. The two had split off from the others, to increase their chances of making good their escape. The scientist fiddled with his ear.

They stopped at an arranged safehouse, neither man talking as they left the car.
"Say, Lieutenant," Schiffer said, "I imagine with all your secrecy, I won't be on any records anyway, will I?"
"You're damned right."
"And you're the only person who knows about me, then." The Lieutenant did not like the man's tone. He turned around, and found a pistol aiming at him.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"In essence, the same thing as your superiors," Schiffer said. "I'm 'burning' you." He smiled. "I'd say it's nothing personal, but as it happens, I also dislike you very much." He fired, putting a messy, red hole into the lieutenant's skull.

"Oh, that's so much better!" Schiffer said. "You didn't say much, my friend, but it was still too much." He fiddled with his ear again. "Where is he? Can't believe I had to do that myself..." He reloaded his pistol. He could never feel safe with even one empty chamber. As he was doing so, however, he smiled. "There you are, Sam! A little behind schedule, but never mind."

An armoured figure entered. Their shell was huge, but elegant in design, with wide shoulders, a curved, pointed crest, and a wide sort of band of white, looking very much like a grin.
"The homing signal should have brought you here faster," Schiffer said, pulling a small device from his ear. "Or are your thrusters not doing so hot, eh?" Sam didn't answer. A post-hypnotic trigger of sorts had been activated within his power-enhancing shell, bringing him to the shell's creator. He was conscious, technically speaking, but not really aware of what was happening.

"Now, Sam, you're going to really earn - ach, I mean - really to earn your keep this time. Doctor Schiffer's been a naughty boy, eh? I really wasn't supposed to be doing this kind of work again, and I wouldn't like to be found by...well, you don't need to know that, eh? You're going to keep me safe."
"Acknowledged." Sam replied. That is, his mouth moved and sounds came out. But it wasn't really him talking.

As Schiffer began arranging his things, he left Sam to guard him, staring blankly towards the nearest entrance.
"Sam? Be a good lad and get me some water, would you?" Sam obeyed, crushing the dead body of the lieutenant underfoot as he approached the sink. He filled a glass, brought it over. Schiffer took it, and drank.

That is, he lifted the glass to his mouth. No water reached the greying, slightly tubby man's lips. He looked at his glass and saw that it was empty. He was about to chastise his servant, but it soon became apparent that his unquenched thirst was no fault of Sam's.
"There's...something wrong with this picture." This was something of an understatement. His water was floating in mid-air, compacting itself into a small sphere.

Suddenly, Sam leapt forward, between Schiffer and the door.
"Threat detected: preparing to neutralise!" Before Schiffer could object, Sam raised his armoured hand, and sent a blistering volley of energy bolts in front of him. It tore through the concrete wall of the house, turning the door into dust.
"Jesus wept!" Schiffer exclaimed, stumbling backwards for safety. The sphere of water began floating in the direction of Sam's attack, but not threateningly.

"Switching to power level 3," Sam said, his voice robotic. A single light appeared in the centre of Sam's chest, a sickly green colour. It burst out in a shockingly powerful burst - if it had crossed the street and hit the buildings on the other side, it would have levelled the entire block.

But it didn't cross the street. It struck its target, and it cost them a serious amount of energy to take the blow - but they did take it.
"Shit, kid," Sam's opponent said, "you're pretty damned tough!" She sniffed, rubbing a pair of slightly red nostrils. The small sphere of water joined up with a much larger sphere that the woman had surrounded herself with. "The problem is, you'll find I'm nothing to fuck with."

Before the armoured figure could react, a tendril of water shot out, seized him around the midsection, lifted him up, and smashed him into the ground. He was still moving, so she did it again, and again, and again, and again, until he stopped moving. It had taken Askancepoint and Fahrenheit nearly half an hour, working together, to put Sam down. It took Hydrocita nearly half a minute.

"Oh...bugger..." Schiffer stammered, as the toned, dirty-blonde powerhouse strode into his safehouse, water flowing around her in a deathly spiral. She was beautiful, not in the way that the lissome, supple Enhancegirl was beautiful, but in the way a storm is beautiful.
"Is 'bugger' mad scientist-ese for 'I just pissed myself'?" Hydrocita asked. She cracked her knuckles.
"Uh, well, I suppose in this context..."

"You know your homing device...thing wasn't exactly subtle. Your boy here cut a pretty obvious trail. When even my group can find you, you know you're being pretty dumb." Schiffer's hand twitched towards the device, which he'd left in his pocket.
"AAH!" A dagger of water sliced his pocket open, and cut the device in two. "What?!"
"So you did have a homing device? Ha! You don't got much of a poker face, do you?" She sneered at him. Schiffer did not feel entirely safe.
"H-hey, you won't kill me, right? You're the Pauldron! You're good guys!"

Hydrocita's right eye twitched. She rubbed her nose again.
"Couple of mistakes there, pal. One, I've ditched those goody-goodies. They were cramping my style, y'dig?" She didn't seem convinced that he dug. A scorpion tail of water emerged, menacing the scientist.
"I dig, I dig!" Schiffer barked.
"Second mistake? I'm not here for you."

By this time, Sam was back on his feet, and feeling rather confused.
"Wh-what the...?" He looked around, saw Schiffer and Hydrocita. He'd been through this rodeo before and he put two and two together. "Y-you s-son of a asshole!"
"He awakens," Hydrocita said. "I'd prefer it if you didn't panic like you did against Bert and Ernie."
" and...?"
"Forget it. Just be cool." She approached him, extended her hand. "There's a lot of guys besides me looking for you, you know that?"
"I'm not g-going back t-t-t-t..."
"To be an experiment? Who said anything about that?" She grinned. "Last team I was with had all sorts of rules, and conditions and contracts and blah, blah, blah. But the guys I'm with now? We've got one condition: are you powerful? And hell, you may not have been able to do much to me - but you've got potential, Tin Man."

Behind his helm, Sam blinked.
"I...d-don't get it."
"I'm recruiting you, dingus. You get to be a superhero. Plus, we're offering you protection. Nobody messes with the crowd I'm part of. Especially not those little ten-hut-tin-soldier jackoffs."
"Well...uh..." Sam would have been hyperventilating had it not been for a safety feature within his armoursuit. After fleeing Askancepoint and Fahrenheit, he'd been hiding, cowering. He felt like his life was over - but now someone was giving it back to him. At a price, sure - but what didn't come at a price?

"D-do I g...get p-paid?"
"Damn straight. You think I do this shit for free?"
"Th-then I...agree!"
"Okay, kid. You're hired. First job? Collar that douchebag."

Sam turned towards Schiffer.
"Now, now, Mr Sparr," Schiffer stammered, "let's not be hasty."
"If y-you'd just done what you s-s-said you were gonna do," Sparr said, "then this wouldn't be happening! Power down!" His armour vanished, revealing the messy, gangly young man within. He hoisted Sparr up to his feet, his own superhuman strength far from potent without his armour, but more than a match for the somewhat portly scientist. "Y-you're under-r-r a...rrest!" He kneed him in the stomach, knocking the man out instantly. Hydrocita grinned.
"You're gonna fit right in, Tin Man."
"Don't call me that."
"Tin Man. D...don't c-call me that. Call me..." He turned, dramatically. "Call me Armourite!" Hydrocita blinked at him.
"That sucks. Max is good at this shit: I'll get him to come up with something for ya." She clapped him on the back. "No-one's gonna mess with you ever again. Not when you're a Pariah."

Normally, when Sophie and Mariko were in company, Sophie restrained her general impulse to be physically affectionate with her lover. Holding her hand was fine, but Mariko often got embarrassed when they were more intimate than that where other people could see - her relief at their freedom from Hades notwithstanding - but even though they were sitting next to Sophie's beloved friend Kirsten, the two heroines were deeply entwined with each other.

They sat on the comfortable, worn couch in the small apartment that Kirsten, Sophie and their friend Talia shared, having moved to a different place at the start of Sophie and Kirsten's sophomore year. Talia was away - this was by design. Kirsten had wanted the two heroines not to have to be secretive after their ordeal.

At another time, Kirsten might have lightly ribbed the two for being so openly romantic with each other: Sophie was almost sitting in Mariko's lap, just one of her long legs on the couch as opposed to rubbing against her girlfriend's willowy limbs, and Mariko was running her fingers through the supple maiden's long, red hair. But Kirsten understood perfectly well why, and did not choose to make fun of them for it, even in jest. It was the first time she'd really seen how much they loved each other.

"I'll never understand it," Mariko said, unable to keep a kind of lightened gentleness from her voice. "Why doesn't he carry weapons?"
"Because he's a pacifist," Kirsten explained. "He doesn't kill people."
"Nonsense. He routinely kills those dustbin monsters, doesn't he?"
"They're called Daleks."
"Well, whatever. He's constantly improvising explosives and such. If he's this self-appointed Space-Guardian -"
"Time Lord."
" - then he should be appropriately armed."
"Not everyone can, like, shoot laser beams out of their face," Kirsten said. "He's, y'know...I don't know, I just think he's hot!"

Sophie yawned, stretching like a satisfied tabby-cat.
"You two would be great in a buddy cop movie," she said. "'One is obsessed with pasty British dudes, the other is rude to everyone in the universe - together, they fight crime!'" Mariko batted her lightly on the scalp. "Oh, shit, switch to Comedy Central!" Sophie said, noticing the time.
"What? Why?"
"You'll see."

They switched over, finding a small, prematurely grey-haired man sitting at a desk.
"My guest tonight," he said, "is the author of What to do about the Gods, as well as the, uh, owner of Morrow Incorporated. He also happens to be, in the words of Doctor Henry Kissinger, 'a major league hunkosaurus' - put your hands together for Imperion, ladies and gentlemen - or as I like to call him, sweet Jackie-boy!"

To thunderous whoops and applause, Imperion entered, in a suit rather than his emerald armour. He shook hands warmly with the host: he'd been on many times before.
"Isn't this filmed in New York?" Kirsten asked. "How the hell did he get over there so quick?"
"Time and tide and a spot on a prime-time talk show wait for no man," Sophie said.

After exchanging pleasantries, the host turned somewhat more grave.
"So, Jackson, we're grateful that you, uh, kept your appointment, but...right after this whole Hades thing? I mean...weren't you a little busy?"
"See, when something like this happens," Jackson said, "I turn up and smile at the cameras, and I let Panhellius do all the work." He looked into shot, and winked. "Love you, man." A flutter of laughter rippled through the audience.
"Seriously, Nova and the others...they're okay after...all that?"
"They're strong. Hades," he said, his voice wavering ever so slightly as he said the name, "wanted to make them look weak. Hence the livestream thing. But, uh...when my guys were cleaning up, we found something. Something I don't think Hades wanted anyone to see." He looked sheepish. "May I?" The host smiled.
"It would be my honour and pleasure." Jackson looked into shot again, grinning.
"Roll 212."

Sophie and Mariko saw a familiar sight: the rooftop where Hades had tormented her captives, binding them to crosses and fondling them. But they were not bound at this point. Instead, Mariko was facing down with Hades. Sophie watched with exquisite pleasure as she saw Mariko's soul-light manifest, and batter Hades with its astonishing power. Annoyingly, Mariko herself was out of shot, but Hades was not. As the manifestation punched him off the building, the studio audience went wild with cheers.

"What the hell was that?!" the host asked.
"That," Imperion said, "was the newest member of the Pauldron. A certain lady from the West Coast named...Spectra." The crowd went absolutely nuts.
"Holy shit, that was you?" Kirsten gasped. It was hard to reconcile the tall, but delicately slender maiden, with the astonishing display of power she'd just witnessed.

Mariko didn't respond. She didn't say anything at all. Imperion - the most famous and beloved superhero in America - had not only announced her membership to the Pauldron on one of the most popular talk shows in the country, he'd shown her at her absolute best, shown her fighting on an even footing with a villain who had quickly made themselves one of the most hated in the world. It was like winning the lottery and the Superbowl on the same day.

"Oh no," Sophie said, "you're gonna have to buy a new place - there's no way your head's gonna fit in your house now!" Even as she teased her, however, Sophie threw her arms around Mariko's neck, kissed her cheeks.
"It's not fair," Mariko said.
"Hm?" That was not the first thing Sophie had expected out of Mariko's mouth.
"It's not fair to the rest of you. It makes me look like the hero of the story."
"You did what you did, Koko. The camera doesn't lie."
"I have no issue whatsoever with adulation, Sophie, but not at the expense of the rest of you. Stellar's skill, Nova's fortitude, your unbelievable courage...that shouldn't be forgotten!"
"Hey, it won't be right?" Kirsten had been the one to speak. "Not by you, or the others."
"...I suppose." A smile crept onto her face. "It was rather impressive, wasn't it?"
"There it is." Sophie laughed. Mariko looked down into her lover's eyes. They were shining. She noticed that Sophie was breathing quite heavily. "Hey, Mariko, uh...could you come with me for a second?" She stood up.
"Hm? Sure." Mariko started following her, not taking too long to realise that they were moving towards Sophie's bedroom. Kirsten rolled her eyes.
"Fucking superheroes..."

The very instant that the door of Sophie's bedroom shut, the two heroines threw their arms around each other, and melted into a deep, warm kiss.
"Mmmmhh..." Sophie sighed, standing on tiptoes as she pressed her body against Mariko's. She was still wearing her short, pink dress, and Mariko was in a pleated white skirt, and thin, black vest: so she felt her lover's long legs against her own. She felt Mariko hold her by the small of her back, pull her in as close as possible.
"I love you, Sophie," Mariko said, pulling away.
"I love you too. Unhhh..." Sophie sighed, feeling Mariko's thighs caressing hers. "Oh...oh god, I love you too, Mariko..." She kissed her lover again. Mariko felt Sophie's tongue slide into her mouth, and she returned the gesture, hearing a sensual sigh from Sophie as she did. She pulled herself as tightly against her girlfriend as she could, and Sophie felt Mariko's hardening buds through her vest.

"Take me," Sophie said, feeling her body pulsing with sexual anticipation. "Take me and fucking prove to me that I'm yours and no-one else's."
"With pleasure." She grabbed Sophie's pale thighs, and hoisted her up, taking her by her shoulders as well and lifting Sophie into her arms. Sophie giggled, feeling her lover take possession of her, putting her hands around Mariko's slender neck and nestling close. Even now, the darkness of Hades' underworld lingered in the air about them, but a light seemed to shine from Mariko, protecting Sophie, warming her. Not literally - but Sophie could still almost see it.

Mariko carried her to her bed, laid her down with exquisite gentleness. Sophie was not so gentle, however, and pulled Mariko down to her, thrusting her lips against the willowy beauty's again, while squeezing Mariko's tight ass with one hand, deftly slipping under her skirt. Mariko pressed closer, feeling Sophie's soft breasts against her own. Her hands quivering, she began to unbutton her lover's dress, baring her supple body. Sophie helped her, shuffling out of her dress, wriggling against Mariko in nothing but her panties and a strapless bra with a sinuous grace that made the former model moan.

"Do anything to me...anything you want..." Sophie gasped. Mariko did just that, flipping Sophie onto her front. She moved down Sophie's body, caressing her creamy skin, before running her tongue from Sophie's ankles, up both of her long legs. "Oh...yeah!" Sophie gasped, pressing her legs together to make the gap between them as small as possible. She shivered as she felt Mariko's tongue stroking her skin, trembled as Mariko began kissing her thighs, very slowly, exploiting her lover's sensitivity as much as she could.

Sophie turned back over, and Mariko lay next to her. The two lovers ran their hands all over each other: cupping, squeezing, carressing. Sophie found a particular pleasure in squeezing Mariko's narrow hips, pulling them against her own, feeling herself moisten.
"You're amazing..." Sophie sighed, kissing Mariko's neck. "Oh god, you're so powerful...oh...oh!" she moaned, feeling Mariko's subtle fingers between her thighs. "You''re a fucking goddess, Mariko..."

She was rather surprised to find Mariko stop what she was doing. She pulled away, and Sophie saw her picture a face of anxiety.
"Sweetie, what's wrong?" Sophie asked. She looked very anxious, in the way she did when trying to solve a problem the very nature of which she didn't fully comprehend.
"Do you see me as an equal?" Mariko asked. Sophie blinked.
"What? Of course I do. Why would I think less of -"
"Not less. More." Mariko's brow was deeply furrowed. "Do you see me as being better than you?"

Sophie meant to reply instantly, but she hesitated.
"Well...I mean, you're more powerful than me..." Sophie mumbled. Sitting up, she hugged her arms over her breasts.
"Well, yes, I suppose," Mariko said. "But...the way you talk sometimes. It reminds me of what you said before, that I was...oh how did you put it?"
"That I thought you were above me," Sophie said, remembering.
"Yes, that's it. Calling me a 'goddess' - I know it was meant as a compliment, but you often say this kind of thing. 'You're awesome', 'you're amazing' -"
"Geez, Mariko, am I not allowed to admire you?"
"Of course you are! And everything you've said in that vein, I feel about you as well. It's just..."

Mariko squeezed her hands into fists.
"I...I'm not explaining myself well. Oh, shit!"
"Hey, take it easy," Sophie said. "I gotta say, I don't get it. Even if I do think you're a better superhero than me, is that so bad? I know I kick a lot of ass, maybe I just think you kick more."
"But..." Mariko seemed to seize upon something. "When we're out, together, when we're just Mariko and Sophie, it isn't like that. You make these little comments about how I interact with people, that I'm awkward or - or - or socially graceless or whatever."

Sophie frowned.
"I think you're being unfair. I really don't think I'm that critical of you. Besides, if I think you're being an asshole to someone, I reserve the right to say so."
"It's not that you're...critical. Damn it, what do I mean?" This was not a conversational realm in which Mariko was very skilled, and she knew it. "It's...the disparity. As Spectra, I feel...I feel almost like an object of worship for you, and as Mariko Asakura I - I mean you're very loving, Sophie, I don't mean to suggest otherwise. You're affectionate and sweet, and -" Sophie realised that Mariko's voice was shaking. "But I don't want Spectra to receive the majority of your love! I don't want to be worshipped! Today - today my success was luck and it was short lived! When he - when she took you I couldn't do anything! I was powerless! If I can be what you need in our normal life, then I can accept that, but if it's contingent on my power and my capacity to protect you, then I can't because I've failed so many times, and you've seen me defeated and - and -"

She had been speaking so fast that Sophie had barely been able to understand her. Sophie had been somewhat hostile to what Mariko was saying, but as she saw just how upset her lover was, she realised that this was not coming from the rational side of her. Mariko's moment of triumph had obscured the terrible humiliation that Hades had inflicted on her. Imperion publicly showering her with praise, and then Sophie saying what she had, it had exposed Mariko's wounded pride to the light all too quickly. Neurotic as she could be, of course she would start to question everything else.

Sophie took Mariko's hands.
"Listen to me. I love you. I love Mariko Asakura. I love Spectra too, but it's the same love. There's no distinction, okay? Yeah, I admire you. Yeah, I think you're awesome, and graceful, and fucking ridiculously beautiful - but I love the rest of you too. I love that you don't suffer fools gladly. I love that you can be..." She searched for the right word. "Cantankerous. I love that you're proud, but you never let yourself forget your faults. I love that you can be totally commanding and dominating one minute, and then so gentle with me the next minute. I love that you always have to carry me into bed, we can never just lie down. I love how your eyes go wide when you climax, like you've been electrified. And yeah, I love seeing you kick ass. Okay?" Mariko nodded. She didn't seem able immediately to speak.

"I'm sorry," she said, eventually. "You don't deserve to be doubted."
"I think after today," Sophie said. "We both get a pass on that kind of thing. Besides, it doesn't really feel like it was me you were doubting." Mariko stared at her.
"How do you do that?"
"How do you see into me like that?" Sophie was almost amused. It didn't seem like it would have taken Melanie Klein to work out that Mariko was doubting herself rather than Sophie's feelings, but it was always touching how much Mariko admired Sophie's intuitive empathy.
"I'm Enhancegirl," Sophie replied. "I see everything, remember?" Mariko reached over, took one of Sophie's wrists, and kissed it.
"Damn," she said. "Now you've made a hypocrite of me."
"How's that?"
"Because, looking at you now...there does seem to be something of a divine quality about you, my love." She took the slender, nubile redhead in her arms. "My precious Sophie..." The two kissed again, and Mariko felt Sophie begin to slip the straps of her vest from off the dark-haired damsel's shoulders.
"It's you I want," Sophie half-sighed, half-whispered. "The real, naked you. Okay?"

The two melted into each other. Long into the night they moaned, and writhed against each other, naked, gasping. Their long legs entangled, their fingers constantly roving each other's gorgeous bodies, pulling together again, and again, the air thick with the sweet tang of sex, their thighs wet with the mixture of their orgasmic emissions. They kissed each other everywhere that could be kissed. Sophie felt herself brought to climax simply by the actions of Mariko's agile tongue against her lily-white breasts, the feminine redhead delighting at this new pleasure. For a time, Sophie let herself be dominated: held down, controlled, spanked. But at other times she took command, Mariko allowing herself to be the passive one, restrained and subjected to all of Sophie's sapphic skill.

They caressed and stroked, and entwined with each other's bodies with such sensual passion and totality that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. Their skin, smooth and fine, was moist - slick, even, with the sweat of their exertions, and other liquids besides. They choked the humiliation of Hades with the sweet, loving gentleness of what they did with each other, until after many hours, they fell exhausted, and spent.

"Come...come here..." Mariko said, weakly. She'd intended to take Sophie in her arms, but instead the young damsel, still quivering and purring with pleasure, laid her head on Mariko's lap.
"I'm...gonna sleep now..." Sophie mumbled. "You have...full do whatever you want..." Mariko could imagine quite a few things she might do with the limp and sleepy redhead, but settled in that moment just to stroke her long, soft hair.
"Mmmhh..." Sophie sighed. "Don't pet me..." she said, mock-petulant. "I'm not...a kitty..."
"No indeed," Mariko replied. "You're my cunning, beautiful temptress..."
"Ooh, I like that..." Sophie said. " can keep stroking me, then..." Her cheek was resting against Mariko's warm, silky thigh, and she rubbed it slightly, feeling its exquisite smoothness.

"Hm?" She opened her eyes. Mariko felt her go a little stiff.
"What is it?"
"I thought...I thought I heard a door opening...thought Talia was perving on us or something..." She closed her eyes again. "I imagined it." She rubbed her cheek against Mariko's thigh again, and the Japanese beauty felt Sophie's hair stroking a very sensitive part of her body. She blushed, and shivered. Sophie smiled, relishing the power that the two had over each other. She fell asleep to the feeling of Mariko caressing her hair, to the sound of Mariko's pulse in her thigh. "I" Sophie mewed, as she faded out of consciousness.
"I know, my sweet," Mariko said. "I really do know."

Deep below a certain city, a gentle hum tinged the otherwise silent air. Exquistely designed machinery ticked over with an impressive self-sufficiency. Some of the pods were as many as three years old, but one would never have been able to tell. Their contents were kept perfectly safe, perfectly preserved, deprived of consciousness, and frozen in time.

An armoured figure sat in the midst of them, in meditative silence. They were sitting in the lotus position, the faceless darkness of the armour only making this stillness more uncanny. They seemed quite as silent as the fifty-six unconscious women around them, all bound, subdued into perfect tameness. All were quite lovely, many of them stripped to their underwear, their lovely bodies displayed like trophies.

There was Titania, her unbreakable skin no defence against chloroform, her almond skin shown off by a torn leotard. There was Sinbuster, her spunky sarcasm taken from her, the heroine left meek and helpless in her slumber. There again was a recent acquisition, Lady Velvet, whose sumptuous figure, long legs, swanlike neck and soft, sloping shoulders had made her an all too tempting morsel to bind, strip of her clothes and her powers, and display in her defeated nakedness.

Each of them had, in their turn, been defeated, drugged, and given to the master of this hall as tribute. Only a scarce few had that master captured personally, but all were under the villain's power.
"So beautiful..." the armoured figure whispered, admiring the collection. "And all mine..."

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Post 7 months ago

Holy cow.

I confess I haven't read the whole series - there's a lot of it - but my word it deserves to be exalted. Great central character and conceit surrounding her weakness, compelling relationships, imaginative characters, exciting action, and really enjoyable peril throughout. I'm not sure I totally get the logic behind when you paragraph, but beyond that this reads *wonderfully* well. You present the story beautifully and the ideas at work within the story are awesome in the first place.

I just burned hours of my day because I took a peak at this Pandora's box of saucy, unique, ingenious heroine action. I shudder to think how many other hours I'll have to burn now to fully read the series, but I'm sure they'll be worth it. The word count on this series must be eye-watering!

Thanks for this world. I will be visiting it again!
Lost in the night, and there is no morning.

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Post 7 months ago

Void wrote:Holy cow.

I confess I haven't read the whole series - there's a lot of it - but my word it deserves to be exalted. Great central character and conceit surrounding her weakness, compelling relationships, imaginative characters, exciting action, and really enjoyable peril throughout. I'm not sure I totally get the logic behind when you paragraph, but beyond that this reads *wonderfully* well. You present the story beautifully and the ideas at work within the story are awesome in the first place.

I just burned hours of my day because I took a peak at this Pandora's box of saucy, unique, ingenious heroine action. I shudder to think how many other hours I'll have to burn now to fully read the series, but I'm sure they'll be worth it. The word count on this series must be eye-watering!

Thanks for this world. I will be visiting it again!
Thank you very, very, very much indeed. I'm really glad you enjoy. Your point on paragraphing is right and just, but I guess my main concern is "does it need a long breath." And yes, it's pretty long! I'll be really honoured if you delve into discovering it.

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