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Fallen Star Issue #12 – A Single Starfish

Updated: Apr 27

Lira came back to reality slowly, and with great reluctance. Reality sucked right now. Everything ached, a lot, and her body felt as heavy as lead. She’d already woken up a bunch of times, always in the same place: a white room that had to be a hospital, lying in bed connected to a bunch of noisy machines. Every episode had lasted only a few seconds before she’d let herself drift back to sleep, seeking the warm, painless oblivion. Only a few seconds, but long enough to see that there was someone sitting by the side of the bed. Sometimes it was Fela there, or a bearded man she didn’t recognize, or both, but she was never alone.

Eventually the waking world could no longer be ignored, and her eyes fluttered open. She still felt awful, but it was only so bad that she wanted to scream and cry. “Am I… that interesting… to watch?” she croaked.

Fela gave her a gentle smile. The superhero was alone this time, wearing the same hospital gown Lira had always seen her in. “I’d be lying if I said you weren’t rather adorable,” the white haired woman told her. “How are you feeling?”

“Like… a bulldozer… and an elephant… had a fight to… see who could smash me flatter…” Lira groaned. “Aren’t they supposed to, like… pump me full of painkillers for stuff like this?”

“They did,” Fela said, sounding regretful. “But even with the maximum dosage, your system burned through it in minutes, and they said they didn’t know enough about your enhanced metabolism to know if it was safe to exceed that.”

Stupid power. “Regeneration… is overrated,” Lira said, and cleared her throat. The more she talked, the easier it became.

“I wouldn’t be too upset about having it if I were you,” Fela told her, the cheer returning to her tone. “When the doctors first looked at you five days ago, their most optimistic prognosis was that you’d have to spend the next several years in physical therapy. The most likely was that you’d be dead before the end of the day.”

“And now?”

“Now they’re expecting to discharge you by the end of the week.”

“Alright,” Lira admitted. “It’s not an entirely useless power.” The thought of being discharged sparked other thoughts. “Am I… I mean, when I get out of here, right… are you going to arrest me?”

Fela laughed. “No child, no one’s going to arrest you.” “I robbed a bunch of places and stuff,” the blonde girl said defensively. “And, like, got into a fight with you.”

“You did,” Fela agreed, “but I already talked to some people, and they all agreed that given what you went through after, and the fact that you not only saved my life, but helped stop a dangerous criminal, some allowances could be made.” She picked up some official looking paperwork next to the bed and handed them over. “In lieu of jail time, or having any incidents on your permanent record, you will report to a parole officer every day for the next six months, and perform at least forty hours of community service a week.”

“Oh. That’s… not bad, I guess. Never had a parole officer before, or did community service.” Lira tried to read the papers, then gave up and skimmed them instead. “Wait, is this some kind of joke?” She jabbed a finger at one of them, where there was a spot for her to sign. The name printed below it read “Starfish”.

Fela’s smile was apologetic, but Lira could see the mirth behind her eyes. “None of us actually knew your given name, and well, the public at large seems to have decided that as your alias.”

“But why would…” Lira’s voice trailed off, and she felt her cheeks flush. “Because I told everybody I was a starfish.”

“Very emphatically,” Fela said, and there was no longer anything at all apologetic about the smile. “Look on the bright side: they could have decided that your name was Fucking Starfish.” Lira’s cheeks flushed harder. “If we knew your real name,” Fela added delicately, “I could ask them to reprint the paperwork.”

“Lira,” said the blonde girl. “Lira Lombardi.”

“It’s very nice to finally meet you, Lira,” Fela said warmly, and offered her hand. Lira took it. “I’m Fela Kaminski.”

“The man who was here sometimes, was he…?”

“My husband Bruno,” Fela confirmed. “He went home to get some sleep less than an hour ago, after being here for the last eighteen. He’s going to be kicking himself for not being here when you woke up.”

“Why?” Lira asked, confused. “I’ve never even met him.”

“Well, it’s a funny thing,” Fela said, sounding amused. “You go saving someone’s life, and all the people who love them tend to take a liking to you. One of the mysteries of the human condition.”

Lira blushed again. “But I’m, like…” The warm fuzzy feeling that had been growing inside her vanished, and she looked down. “I’m the whole reason that everything happened to you in the first place. First I got you caught because I ran away instead of helping you fight, and then you started making those videos for my sake, and then even after Backdraft let me go, I could have gone to the police or told somebody, and I didn’t, so you were there for months. He should hate me, and… and you should hate me too.” Tears ran down her cheeks. “I didn’t even beat Backdraft in the end. I’m just a stupid, worthless-”

Fela laid a hand on her side. “Stop,” she said, kind but firm. “I don’t like hearing the people that I care about get insulted, especially when they’re doing it to themselves. Nobody blames you Lira, not for any of it. Back in Serafini’s penthouse, I didn’t help you out of the ice because I expected you to fight anyone for me. I did it so that you could do exactly what you did: help your friends run away to safety. That was my fight, not yours. And when I made those videos…” she hesitated for a moment, searching for the right words. “Lira, neither of us are to blame for anything that Cyrus did to us, but this… do you know how I survived three months of that man with my sanity intact?”

Lira shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. “I survived because of you, Lira. In the beginning, it was knowing that every time he hurt me instead of you, it was almost like I was able to protect you a little. It made me feel like myself, and not the mindless toy he wanted me to be. And after you left, every one of those videos, as awful as they were, reminded me that my being there had helped somebody. I clung to that fact the whole way through, and used it as a lifeline every time he tried to break me.”

“But… but I left you there for so long…”

“There’s no shame in being scared, or in acting out of self preservation. You and I are one of the few people in the world who can fully appreciate how terrifying Cyrus was. Even if you had never come back, I wouldn’t have blamed you for trying to protect yourself from him. And you did come back, Lira. You could have walked away, but you chose to risk your life to protect someone else.”

“I also did it so I could kick his ass…” Lira mumbled, and Fela laughed out loud.

“There’s nothing wrong with that either. You kicked it good, too. If you hadn’t worn him out so much, I never would have been able to hold out against him long enough to set that trap. It was a team effort, and I meant what I said back there: you were incredible.”

Lira sniffed and wiped some of her tears away with one hand. She was silent for a while after that, her head full of conflicting emotions. Fela seemed to sense her distress, because she didn’t push or prod. She just sat there with her, hand still on her side. It felt good. Eventually she spoke softly. “There’s something that I’ve been wondering about what you did, actually. How did you get that collar off of me? At the time, I thought you’d found the key, but you didn’t, did you? When I went to use it on Backdraft, I found the entire collar snapped in half; I was lucky that he still had yours around.”

“I dunno, I didn’t do anything special,” Lira said. “Just broke it before the animite could affect me. Super strength, y’know?”

Fela frowned, and looked like she was going to say something, but then shook her head, her expression relaxing. “Right, right. That explains it.”

“Can I…” The blonde girl swallowed. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“I used to think that there were no such thing as heroes. But then I met you and… you told me before that you didn’t think of yourself as a hero, and I still don’t understand why. If anyone in the world deserves the title, it’s… it’s you.”

Fela took a deep breath. “That’s… hmm.” She looked around. “How are you feeling right now, physically speaking?”

“Not as bad as when I woke up,” Lira told her. “Only like Wile E Coyote after he falls off the cliff.”

“Think you’re well enough for a field trip to the roof?” Fela asked, her eyes sparkling.

Despite all her aches and pains, Lira couldn’t help a smile. “I mean, I know I’m well enough that nobody here could stop me…”

“I don’t ask this very often,” Lira said a short while later, “but, um, are you sure this is safe?”

“As houses,” Fela said cheerfully. “Just don’t look down.”

It was hard not to look down. When they’d reached the roof, the super had complained that there was too much light pollution from the city. Her solution was to raise the two of them higher. A lot higher. Lira wasn’t the best judge of distance, but she figured the pillar of ice that they were standing on had to be hundreds and hundreds of feet tall by now, making the hospital roof below them look tiny. It would’ve been different if the pillar they stood on was wider, or had guard rails or something, but it was barely big enough to hold the both of them and had nothing preventing them from falling alllllll the way down. Oh, and it was pitch black up here because the sun had set two hours ago, so she could barely even see the edges of their tiny platform. She reminded herself that she could fly if she had to. Probably.

Lira tore her eyes away from the dizzying sight and looked out across the horizon… and was so amazed that she nearly fell before Frost grabbed hold of her. She still remembered the captivating view from Serafini’s penthouse, and how all of Chicago had opened up before her eyes. This was even more magnificent. The entire city was blanketed in a constantly shifting, multicolored array of lights, while the stars that were all but invisible from below shone clear and bright against the night sky. She spun around slowly, all of her fear forgotten, taking in the dazzling tapestry from every direction. The cool night air felt wonderful, and she had the irrational urge to fly after all, and discover what it was like to experience this with nothing but sky beneath her feet.

After letting her soak in the view for a few minutes, Fela tapped her shoulder and pointed up. “Do you know what that constellation is called?”

Lira followed her finger. “The Big Dipper, right?” She couldn’t have named five different constellations if her life depended on it, but that one was easy at least.

“Right!” Fela said. “So what is it?”

“…A collection of stars?” Lira said hesitantly.

“Sure, but what is it?” When she saw Lira’s confusion, she changed her tactic and pointed to a different part of the sky. “There’s a bunch of of stars over there too, but they’re not a constellation. Neither are those, or those. So what makes those seven stars different? What do they have that makes them the Big Dipper?”

Lira opened her mouth on reflex to say that she had no idea, but then closed it and considered the question instead. “It’s… there’s nothing,” she said finally. “People just decided that those particular stars looked like a weird spoon thing, so they called it a constellation.”

“Exactly!” Fela said happily. “And with that, let’s go back to the earlier question: what’s a constellation?”

This time Lira thought she understood. “It’s a thing that’s only in our heads,” she said slowly, her pace increasing as she became more sure of her answer. “It can’t exist without the stars, but it’s not made out of them, it’s just what we see when we look at them.” She thought some more. “And that’s a hero, isn’t it?”

Even in the dark, she could see the white haired woman’s proud smile. It made Lira feel awkward and uncomfortable and really, really good. “I knew you were a smart cookie,” Fela said. “You could scour the universe for something called a constellation, and you’d find nothing but plain old stars. And you could search the entire Earth for something called a hero, and come up empty-handed there too. Nobody is a hero, or a villain for that matter. We’re all just people living our lives. It’s only when you take a step back…” she lifted both of her hands and framed the constellation in them, “that you can find what you’re looking for.”

She tapped her chest. “I’m not Frost. I’m just Fela Kaminski, a woman who can do a few neat tricks with ice and likes standing up to bullies. I like to think I do the right thing more often than not, but I make plenty of mistakes too. There are times when I’m stupid, or selfish, or just plain wrong. I’m human. Frost isn’t. She’s a concept, an idealized force for good that some people see when they look at me.”

“Isn’t that kinda a depressing way to think of it, though?” Lira asked. “That the heroes people love don’t really exist? That it’s all just their own imaginations?”

Fela shook her head. “No, it’s the opposite. I couldn’t be Frost, no matter how hard I try. Nobody can. But because of what I do, she gets to exist. She gets to give people hope and happiness, and inspire good in others. The world is a better place because she’s in it. Heroes are real, Lira, as real as you and me. They just exist in our hearts and minds instead of in the flesh.”

She tapped Lira’s chest next. “You’re Lira Lombardi. You’re a good kid who’s made some mistakes and hasn’t always done the right thing. And you’re not a hero. But when you came down through that roof, when I realized that I wasn’t alone, that I might not die in that hell after all… that I might get to see my husband again, and feel the sun on my face, and finally get to stop feeling hurt and defiled every second of every day…” Fela’s voice had grown choked. “A hero came to rescue me that day, Lira. And she came because of you.”

Lira was grateful for the dark to hide her blushing face, and the night air to cool it. It took a couple minutes before she felt able to speak. “Is there a way I could…” she asked, fidgeting. “I mean, I know I’m not perfect, I’m… I’m a lot farther away from being a hero than you are to being Frost, but… maybe, if it’s not too much trouble… would you be willing to, y’know… teach me? To do hero stuff?”

“Why?” Fela asked. Her tone was neutral, betraying no reaction to Lira’s request.

The blonde girl gulped, feeling even more anxious now. She’d really been hoping Frost would just say yes or no and that could be the end of it, one way or another. “I… I told you before about what I thought of the world. That it’s a place where the strong get to push around the weak, and the only person you can rely on is yourself.” “I remember,” Fela said calmly.

“I still think it’s true,” Lira continued. “I think life is cruel and unfair, and if you’re not one of the people clawing your way to the top of the mountain, you’re one of the people buried beneath it.”

“And that’s why you want me to teach you?” the white haired woman asked. “So that you can get strong enough to bully everyone else?”

“No,” Lira said, shaking her head. “That’s the kind of world we live in, but who says it always has to be that way? I want to live in a better world, where everyone can be happy and nobody gets pushed around. And I don’t just want to stand around wishing that the world was like that. I want to make the world like that. I know I’m just one person, and I know I can’t do it all by myself, but I want to try. I’d rather spend my whole life trying and failing, than just giving up and never trying at all. I want to try and save every last starfish.

“And I know that I still have to do the community service stuff,” she added quickly. “And the parole stuff, and all that. But in six months, when that’s over with, could I see you again?”

“No,” said Fela gently. “We’re not going to do that.”

“Oh.” Lira felt like an idiot. Of course someone like Fela wouldn’t want to waste time on someone like her. “Right. Sorry, I, I shouldn’t have even asked. It was a stupid idea anyway. Just forget I-”

“Shhhh,” the white haired woman said, putting a finger to her lips. “I’m saying no because I’m not going to wait six months. I’ll begin teaching you tomorrow morning.”

Lira’s eyes lit up. “You’re sure my parole officer would be okay with that?” She had no idea how she was going to balance forty hours of community service a week with her training, but she’d make it work.

Fela grinned. “Lira, do you know who your parole officer is?”

The blonde girl shrugged uncertainly. “No…”

Fela’s grin widened. “It just so happens that one of Chicago’s most famous superheroes just came back on duty after an extended absence, and she volunteered herself for the position.”

“Wait…” Lira said. “So, the community service…” “I think training to be a superhero more than qualifies as a service to the community, don’t you?” Fela asked sweetly.

“But- If you were already gonna do it, why didn’t you just say so?!” Lira demanded, embarrassed. “Instead of making me ask and everything!”

“Because I needed it to be your idea, child,” Fela told her. “And I needed to know why you wanted it. Being a superhero is a dangerous job, both for the people who take it and those around them. If I’d told you from the start that I was hoping to teach you, then you might have just gone along out of a sense of obligation, not because it was what you truly wanted to do. And if you wanted power for the wrong reasons, then the cruelest thing I could possibly do is give it to you.”

“But you’re really going to teach me now, right?” Lira asked. “Really really?”

The white haired woman nodded. “Really really really.” She hesitated. “I… don’t know what kind of accommodations you have waiting for you when you get out…”

Lira thought back to the old basement apartment. Even if it was still unoccupied, she didn’t want to set foot in there ever again. “None at all.”

“Well, I can arrange for you to be put up at a nearby hotel then,” Fela said. “The best suite they have, free of charge.” She hesitated again. “Or… if you wanted… Bruno and I have a guest room…” She raised her hands quickly. “But it’s small and our house is old and creaky, and I’m well aware that a young woman your age doesn’t want to be stuck living somewhere with a couple old fogies when she could have a much nicer place all to her-” She cut off as Lira embraced her, almost knocking them both off the pillar in the process.

“I can come stay with you?” the girl asked excitedly, her face buried in Fela’s chest. “You’d want me to come stay with you?”

Fela stroked her hair. “We would love to have you stay with us, Lira.”

The two of them stayed like that for a long time. “I should get you back to bed,” Fela said eventually. “It’s late, and you’re still recovering. You need to rest.”

“Alright,” Lira said reluctantly. “Just let me take one more look before we go back down.” She gazed up at the beautiful night sky, and the countless stars within, familiarity making the sight no less mesmerizing. It was a sky full of possibilities, hiding a million billion constellations just waiting to be found.

She raised a hand up to the inky blackness, and lights kindled at the end of each fingertip, five more brilliant pinpoints to join all the others. “I never came up with a name for this stuff,” she told Fela, still looking straight up. “It was always just power, you know? Didn’t matter what it was called, just that it did what I wanted. I guess I always felt deep down like, if I gave it a name, then I was admitting it was something important. Something that deserved to be put to good use, not just to make my life easier.”

Lira looked back at Fela and grinned. “What do you think of calling it starlight?”

Day one hundred and thirty eight.

Grace whined softly as Master Serafini penetrated her from behind. It hurt in so many places and for so many different reasons. Her pussy hurt because it was still swollen and sore from her wakeup fuck two hours ago, and his thick cock forcing her open made it ache a thousand times worse. Her knees and forearms hurt because the movement scraped them back and forth across the rough basement floor where she knelt. Her ass cheeks hurt because they were still red and bruised from her whipping the night before, and her master’s coarse pubic hair was like sandpaper as it rubbed against them. Her breasts hurt because of the swinging weights attached to her nipple rings. Her scalp hurt because he’d grabbed the long red tresses like reins, and was yanking them so hard that only experience told her that he wasn’t about to rip them off of her head.

“That’s it, sexy,” Master Serafini encouraged, his hips moving with increasing speed as every thrust made her swollen fucktunnel widen a little more. She’d never been interested in men, and even if she had, someone like him never would have appealed to her: a pudgy man nearly twice her weight and more than twice her age, with greasy black hair and a constant shit-eating grin. “Keep quiet. Make Daddy work for it.” There was nothing he liked more than to hear her screams, and she’d have screamed until her voice gave out if it meant receiving mercy from him, but that would only make him mad. He wanted her cries to be genuine and involuntary, ripped unwillingly from out her lungs by sheer agony. Screaming too soon, before he’d “earned” them by hurting her enough, was grounds for punishment.

There was no hope that her screams would be heard by anyone who could help. They were in the basement of one of Master Serafini’s many homes, which was designed with the same sort of aesthetic to the hidden room they’d found in his penthouse. She’d been upstairs a handful of times to find the sprawling building full of armed security guards, all of whom couldn’t seem to care less about seeing a naked girl crawling behind their employer. Even if she somehow managed to escape the basement, and get out of the mansion, and make it across the perfectly maintained multi-acre lawn where there was no place to hide, the entire property was walled off with only a single heavily manned security checkpoint to get in or out.

Once Master Serafini’s fat prick had loosened her up to his satisfaction, the real torture began. “What am I in the mood for this time?” he wondered out loud. “Fire? Fire’s always good, but we do that one a lot, don’t we? We haven’t done stabbing in a while, or electricity. And there’s always drowning…” Grace tried to make no reaction, but she couldn’t help a quiet whimper at the last suggestion, and his cock twitched in pleasure at the reaction. “Drowning it is, then. Take a deep breath, sexy!” As though that would help.

Grace felt herself falling into warm liquid. It wasn’t real – she was still right where she was, kneeling on the floor, soaked only in sweat – but it felt real. She felt her limbs thrashing, arms and legs striking the walls of the small tank she’d been dumped into. Except they weren’t actually her limbs, which remained meekly in place while her owner mounted her. What she was feeling were the limbs of the poor girl who had really been there.

Empathic sensation was the technical term for it. There were many variations of it in the world, and the kind Master Serafini’s aberration produced wasn’t the most powerful she’d ever heard of, but Grace would be surprised if there was anyone more sadistic in their use of it. Once he’d touched someone, he could record what they were feeling for a time, and then pass that on to someone else whenever he wanted. He gloated occasionally about how it had helped make him billions through careful use for spying. All he had to do was shake a rival’s hand or pat a government official on the back, and then see what secrets turned up from riding in their heads.

There were medical tests to identify Aberrants, but none that could identify the nature of someone’s aberration. Everyone was required to register their power and prove its usage in a controlled environment, but unless someone intended to use it openly, like a super would, there was nothing stopping them from lying about the full extent of what they could do. As far as the world knew, Master Serafini was just an Ant who could share some limited sensory information. Even his staff didn’t seem to know what he could do, probably because he didn’t trust them to keep quiet. Only Grace and his other victims knew of his ability to record experiences, and how powerful he could make them.

The drowning girl, who would have been one of his captives months or years ago, was trying to swim up to the surface so she could breathe, but Master Serafini’s hand pressed down on her head, preventing her from rising. His hand was still perfectly dry, and the air she was so desperate to reach still ruffled her hair. It didn’t take long for her lungs to start burning, and even as Grace’s own chest heaved, drawing in great useless breaths of air, she felt that same burning.

The tank wasn’t filled with water. It was a far more slimy, viscous substance that quickly clung to her skin and gummed her eyes shut. Grace didn’t know if the girl had ever discovered that she was drowning in horse semen, but Master Serafini had delighted in sharing that detail, just as he happily informed her that it had cost him more money to fill that tank than it had to purchase the girl from the human trafficking ring that had first picked her up.

Grace felt the girl’s consciousness begin to fade as her lungs gave out. She wondered if the girl had felt relief to be slipping into unconsciousness or death, either of which would have offered a respite from Master Serafini. She certainly would have, if it had been her in that tank. But unlike the nameless girl, Grace already knew what was going to happen next. Bare seconds before she would have passed out, her owner hauled her up out of the tank by her hair, just high enough to let her lips break the surface and pant for breath. She received three breaths, no more, no less, and then Master Serafini shoved her head back down. Caught by surprise, she swallowed horse cum and began to choke on it, her entire body spasming.

“That’s the spirit, sexy,” Master Serafini said happily as Grace’s body began to involuntarily do the same, making her collapse into a heap. “Taste that warm gooey horse jizz. Feel it slide down that tight throat.” She did, no matter how hard she tried not to think about it. The drowning girl had had the blessings of panic and adrenaline on her side. Even if she’d registered the taste of the thick white slime, all of her attention must have been on her lungs. Grace had no such protection. The first few times she’d experienced this, yes, but it was familiar enough by now that all the more subtle sensations stood out. She could feel the girl’s broken ring toe, which sent bolts of pain up her entire leg every time her foot had scrabbled at the walls. She could feel the itchy, hot rope burns on her wrists that she must have earned from trying helplessly to escape some past torment. Grace was even aware of the gnawing hunger in the girl’s empty belly, which so perfectly mirrored her own.

As soon as the girl’s thrashing began to subside, she was hauled up again, where she immediately started hacking up the contents of her lungs. She wasn’t nearly done before she was shoved back under, but this time she was prepared enough to keep her mouth shut. The interminable cycle began in earnest: drowned in the water for sixty seconds, let up for a single breath, drowned again. Over and over.

The girl had probably been only half conscious by the fifth or sixth time. The experience would have been so overwhelming that she would’ve barely even known when she was drowning or breathing, oxygen deprivation blending everything together into a single endless nightmare. Grace was bitterly jealous. Her own brain was still receiving plenty of oxygen, not sparing her from a single moment of torture. And the aches and pains of her real body still demanded attention as well. The redhead was all too aware of Master Serafini’s fat cock stretching out her insides, pummeling her sore quim with savage thrusts as the man delighted in her agony.

By the time the girl was being held under for the tenth time, his dick was pulsing and shooting inside Grace, painting the walls of her pussy with his jizz. She’d never held anything but disgust at the thought of the ugly, fleshy members that men had, and the foul sticky juice they spat out. Experience had only deepened her loathing. The torture was nowhere near over – the girl was going to be drowned ninety three times in total before Master Serafini would grow bored of the game – so her obese owner pulled his cock out and presented it to Grace. She obediently began coaxing him back to life with her tongue, even as her body insisted that she was going to die if she didn’t get more air now now now.

Grace idly wondered how many different girls there actually were in his recorded torture sessions, how much overlap existed. Was the drowning girl the same one whose fingers had been smashed one by one with a hammer? Or the one who’d been locked overnight in a tiny crate filled with fire ants? It was difficult to tell. She was pretty sure that more than one of her own experiences had already been saved for tormenting whatever poor girls he picked up after her. The time he’d nailed her to the wall by her hands and feet, then spent hours punishing her backside with the riding crop, was almost certainly one of them. So was the night he’d used her as a garbage can; she’d knelt next to him in the kitchen, driven crazy by the mouthwatering scents of the food he was preparing, while he fed her discarded egg shells and plastic wrappers and rotten bits of vegetables. She’d cried with sincere gratitude when he offered afterward to let her lick his dirty plate clean, until he’d upended an entire bottle of hot sauce over it, and made her keep going until she’d lapped up every drop.

One hundred and thirty eight days of this hell, each crueler than anything her worst nightmares had ever produced. Sometimes she wondered if it actually was hell, if those men who’d first assaulted her back in the apartment really had fucked her to death like they’d joked about. Grace wished it were true. The idea that she was being tortured by a demon or whatever as divine punishment for her sins was kinder than the reality, that all of her suffering served no greater purpose than to help a fat old man get his rocks off.

The sole bit of mercy to her situation, the one that rent her heart with guilt every time she thought about it, was that she’d ended up with Master Serafini instead of Backdraft. She often wondered if Lira had already been tortured to death by that insane monster. For her friend’s sake, she hoped so. It was the closest either of them would ever get to making the pain stop.

Master Serafini was growing eager to make her start screaming. She recognized the way he thrust so sharply into her, as though he was imagining impaling her on his prick, as he worked towards shooting his third load of the session into her pussy. That was why she hated the drowning recording more than any of the others: as horrific as it was, it was the kind of abuse that made her choke and gasp and thrash around, not scream. In other words, it was only foreplay.

The girl in the tank was drowning for the eighty second time when Grace felt a new sensation, that of sharp, cold metal being dragged over her chest. She recognized it at once, and tears began streaming from her eyes. Master Serafini’s chuckle told her that he’d noticed. The metal was wrapped tightly around her tits, its points digging into the skin in a dozen different places. Not her actual skin, of course; the skin of whatever miserable soul had gone through this in real life. Once it was cruelly binding her chest, it was wrapped around the rest of her body, from her armpits to to the back of her knees to between her legs, no sensitive spot from the neck down spared. She’d seen pictures of women in shibari bondage before, and always thought it looked painful and uncomfortable. The experience was a million times worse when the rope was replaced with barbed wire.

By drowning number eighty four, her entire body was bound by the merciless wire. She was already begging internally for release, but it was too soon. This was where her endurance had run out the last time, and it was why the soles of her feet were so shredded that she wouldn’t be able to walk out of here if he opened all the doors and bid her goodbye. So Grace clamped her lips shut, ignoring how her lungs begged her to do exactly the opposite, and endured the vertigo that came when the bound girl was hoisted up and hung upside down from something on the ceiling. Gravity immediately made everything hurt so much more, and Grace had to bite her own tongue to stop from howling.

“That’s a good girl,” Master Serafini cooed, one hand letting go of her hair to run along her curves. “So quiet for Daddy. Trying so hard not to let him hear her. Let’s play a game, sexy. Keep that up for just thirty more seconds, and I’ll let you go free, okay? Just be the bravest little fucktoy for a little while longer, and this can all be over, I promise.” Grace didn’t believe him, but she had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so she redoubled her efforts. Every second seemed to tick by impossibly slowly as her body insisted that the barbed wire bondage was about to tear her into small chunks. She’d never made it so far into this particular recording before, and for once she was as blind to what was coming as the original victim. She shut her eyes and tried to focus on everything else. She was being raped. She was suffocating. She was hurting and burning and exhausted and-

An imaginary baseball bat slammed into her chest hard enough to crack her ribs, and all thoughts of being quiet fled. Grace howled as the blow pushed her violently away, driving barbs deeper into her skin. As she swung forward, the bat met her again, this time knocking the wind out of her at it bruised her flat stomach. The third hit broke her nose and made her taste blood. Master Serfini was laughing happily as she gave in to the pain and screamed repeatedly long before the thirty second mark. His cock felt longer and fatter than ever as it eagerly fucked her squirming body, her agony and terror pleasing him at least as much as the involuntary clenching of her cunt around him.

As the bat struck her a fourth time, the drowning girl was going through the final cycle. Master Serafini had let her drown for real that ninety third time, and Grace had no idea if he’d revived her after or let her die. Either way, even as the redhead’s body felt like it was being smashed and torn apart in equal measure, her desperate lungs were growing panicked. The drowning girl’s reflexes finally took over and made her open her mouth for air, swallowing another great mouthful of horse sperm instead. Grace felt it fill her mouth and stick in her throat as she violently convulsed in response. The redhead was a thrashing, shuddering, half-mad mess as Master Serafini groaned behind her and began defiling her insides with more of his cum.

The sensation of drowning, and the taste of horse cum in her mouth and feel of it coating her body vanished. The barbed wire, and the sensation of being upside down, and the bat vanished. She was just a girl kneeling on all fours again, panting and sobbing while her owner finished spurting inside her. “That was beautiful, baby,” he told her as the last drops came out. “You were like a living work of art.” She felt hollowed out and numb as he moved to her front and let her start tongue bathing his soft cock. “I think I’ll head upstairs and have some lunch once you’re done slurping yours off of me, then I’ll come back down for some more fun. That sound good?”

Another sob came out of Grace. That was the worst part of this entire nightmare. What she’d just gone through hadn’t been a punishment for disobedience, or some extra brutal session where he’d treated her worse than usual. There wasn’t anything special about it at all. It was just the morning of her one hundred and thirty eighth day of slavery, nothing more. The rest of the day would be just as bad, and all she’d have to look forward to was day one hundred and thirty nine, and then day one hundred and forty, and on and on until the day she died. The only hope she had left was that that day would arrive soon.

The intercom on the wall buzzed. Master Serafini heaved a sigh, then jabbed the button with one finger. “What is it?” he asked, the irritation clear in his voice. Grace shuddered slightly; he always got angry when his time with her was interrupted, and then he took it out on her.

“This is the front gate, sir,” said a staticky male voice. “Security systems have flagged some law enforcement on approach, about five minutes out. Two supers and some uniformed officers.”

An ugly smirk appeared on her owner’s face. “Let me guess: one of them is the multi talented Frosty?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Damn you, Cyrus,” Master Serafini muttered quietly, his finger off the intercom. “I hired you to clean up messes, not make new ones.” He pressed the button again and smoke at a more normal volume. “When Chicago’s favorite adult actress reaches the gate, inform her that she is more than welcome to tour my vacation home. After all, I have nothing to hide, and I am always happy to cooperate with our hardworking boys and girls in blue.” Grace hadn’t been able to stop herself from feeling a small bit of hope upon hearing that there were superheroes on the way, but the reminder of the reality of her situation crushed the rare emotion down quickly. Her owner was already prepared for a situation like this, and she knew what he was probably going to do with her while they were here.

“Yes, sir.”

The pudgy man hit a different button. “Get Volker and Walsh down here immediately.” He turned back to the redhead. “And let’s get you set up, darling,” he said as he stood her up. “Once we get your jammies on, you can relax snug as a bug in your little bed while Daddy entertains his visitors.” Grace let out a small whimper as her fear was confirmed.

Nothing in the world was worse than being raped by Master Serafini and his men, but her “bed” and “pajamas” were a close second. The so-called pajamas were a skintight leather outfit that Grace began quickly struggling into. Each piece was a tighter fit than the smallest piece of clothing that she’d ever worn in her twenty years of normal life, but she squirmed into them quickly. She’d had plenty of practice and incentive; during the first few weeks of her captivity, taking longer than a minute to get everything on meant being punished in the morning. She’d dislocated fingers and toes more than once trying to cram them too fast into the stiff, unforgiving leather.

Every piece was designed to be awful. First there were the shorts that barely went past her genitals. The crotch had a thick rubber dildo attached to the inside that she had to put into herself, but not before setting up the catheter. Next were the boots that went up to her knees and their ridiculously high heels, making her stand on tiptoes once she had them on. Sometimes her owner had her walk around the house with them, laughing at the way she teetered slowly from step to step. The real pain started with the bra, the inside of which was lined with tiny dull spikes that dug viciously into her flesh without breaking the skin. Both pads had a tiny hole in the middle for just the tips of her pierced nipples to protrude from.

After that came the collar, and the cruel game she was forced to play every time she wore it. Unlike everything else, it could be adjusted, going anywhere from so loose that it dangled off her collarbones to so tight that she couldn’t breathe. What made it so terrible was that it was up to Grace how tight to make it, to choose how difficult she wanted breathing to be while she was put away. Make it looser than he wanted, and Master Serafini would tighten it himself, leaving her only the smallest trickle of air to survive on. Make it tighter than he’d had in mind, and he would just laugh and leave her to suffer by her own hand. She tightened it a little at a time, the same familiar fears running through her head. Would this be enough? Would this? It pressed hard enough against her throat that swallowing was difficult, but would he be happy with just that? As usual, she tightened it until it was so horribly uncomfortable that she wanted to scream, and then tightened it a little more, choosing the safe approach over risking Master Serafini’s disapproval.

And then there was the mask that covered her entire head. The o-ring at the front would keep her mouth held obscenely wide, while the nose plugs sealed up her nostrils. There were covers to block her sight and plugs for her hearing, but Grace left those alone. Master Serafini liked to apply those himself after bidding her good night, often chortling about how he was both the very first and last thing she saw and heard every day. Once they were in, she’d be in a dark, silent hell until he came back for her. Sometimes he was away for many hours at a time, occasionally entire days, which was why the bondage gear had the catheter installed. A tube ran from the catheter to her nose plugs: once she’d gone on long enough to lose control of her bladder, her own urine would slowly travel along the tube to be spurted into her nose without warning some time later, making her choke and cough on the foul liquid.

Last but not least came the gloves that went up to her elbows. They had to be saved for last because they required her to ball her hands up into fists, leaving her more helpless than ever. She couldn’t tighten them herself, so she had to let Master Serafini do it, docilely holding out her arms for him. After that, there were laces to connect her wrists to the shorts, leaving her arms pinned to her sides. Once she was barely able to move or breathe, she could be put in “bed” for the true torture to begin.

The bed was a closet-like alcove in one wall. The door resembled the wall around it so perfectly that it couldn’t be seen while closed unless you knew where to look. On the inside of it, attached to a side wall, was a large hollow dildo open at the end, basically an obscenely shaped tube. With her owner’s guidance leading the way, she’d use the hole in the back of her shorts to sit down on the dildo, letting it anally penetrate her. It was made of a smooth, slick material that was all too easy to get into herself, and positioned such that she would hang in midair, her downward pointed toes just barely brushing the floor. From there, she’d lean her upper body forward until her mouth found the similar hollow dildo sticking out from the opposite wall. It would go all the way down her throat, where it could spit out cum and other nutrients if she needed to be fed. The dildo in her butt was hollow for the same opposite reason, so that she could defecate down it when necessary. Grace would always hold out from doing that as long as she could, knowing that much like the catheter and her nose plugs, the anal and oral dildos were connected within the walls.

The final and worst piece were the two small rings embedded just below the dildo. These would get put into her nipple piercings, and then Grace would immediately have a choice to make. She could do nothing, and let gravity sink her further and further down the slippery dildo in her ass while her weight was put on her nipples, stretching the delicate buds of flesh until it felt like the rings were about to be ripped out. Or she could clench her asshole around the dildo, keeping herself in place with her already sore and overworked anal muscles. Or she could strain her legs and push her toes down to reach the floor, holding herself in an uncomfortable and painful position.

She would do all three in short order, over and over in a humiliating cycle. She would squeeze the anal dildo as tightly as any lover could ever wish for until her guts were so sore that every contraction felt like clenching a hot poker. She would hold herself up on her toes until her legs cramped and her feet screamed and she was certain that she’d never walk properly again. And when she could do neither, she would hang there by her nipples, screaming soundlessly as they were tortured. Without sight or sound or any way to measure time, every minute felt like an hour, and every hour like a year. She’d sobbed and sobbed after the first night in the torture alcove, promising Master Serafini that she would do absolutely anything to avoid going in there again. He’d almost laughed herself sick telling her that the bed wasn’t meant as punishment; it was there so that she would feel properly grateful every time someone showed up to take her out and fuck her. She very nearly did.

Less than two minutes after he’d given the order to put on her pajamas, Grace hung suspended from the one dildo, the other buried down her throat. “This won’t take long, sexy,” Master Serafini assured her, stroking her midriff with one hand. “And once you’ve finished your nap, you’ll be bursting with energy to play more games with Daddy, won’t you?” The redhead nodded around the cock in her throat. Already she’d completely given up on her hope of being found and rescued, and was reduced to hoping that her potential saviors would just take a quick glance around and leave.

Her owner was about to slip on the eye covers and ear plugs when heavy footsteps announced two people descending into the basement. “The usual, sir?” asked a tall, scrawny looking man. Unlike most of the house staff, who wore uniforms and kept their appearances neat, he wore jeans and a stained t-shirt, and had unkempt brown hair that reached his shoulders. His companion was more muscled, had a thatch of red hair, and was as slovenly dressed as him. When leaving on business they had to dress professionally, but within the grounds all supers were allowed a more casual dress code. It was less a mark of respect for them, and more a warning to anyone who might mistake them for a servant and say something they regretted.

Volker was once a low ranking superhero called Smoke, whose power was to manipulate matter to create and control whatever he wanted. He’d never risen very far because his control was too crude to be very effective with anything complex. As a hero, he’d used it exclusively on gaseous creations: dense smokescreens to hide himself, waves of sleeping gas to knock out opponents, and so on. His career had ended four years ago after creating some kind of corrosive gas to win a desperate fight; it had gruesomely killed not only the villain he was battling, but several innocent bystanders. A self-defense plea had kept him out of prison, but his reputation was too tarnished to find legitimate work again. Enter his new employer, who was interested not only in what Volker could do with his ability, but what he was capable of learning.

“Yes,” Master Serafini said. “And this isn’t a drill, Volker. Make sure your work is impeccable.” In response, the air around the two men shimmered, and then they both vanished.

Grace had no idea how long it had taken the man, but Volker had been taught to manipulate light as easily as he did gas. The minor illusions he could create were always easy to spot, but he never used those for anything but party tricks. The true use for his light bending was to bend it around him, rendering himself and others invisible. She could no longer see the two men, but she knew that they were still right where they’d been standing. They would trail after her owner while he was with the supers, making sure nothing happened to him, and waiting for the order to strike if necessary. Grace had caught some of Frost’s fight with Lira a lifetime ago, but she’d seen nothing that suggested the woman could survive a surprise attack. Especially not from a opponent like Walsh.

Walsh didn’t have any kind of alias, because he’d never been active as a superhero or villain. There were plenty of people born with powerful aberrations who chose to ignore them and live normal lives instead, but Walsh wasn’t like them either. He was a mercenary, or more specifically an assassin. If you wanted someone dead and you didn’t care how much collateral damage it took, he was the kind of man you hired. Grace had never heard of anyone, outside of the big names like Baldur or Mammoth, whose aberration had granted them such natural abilities. He was incredibly strong, blindingly fast, and could heal any injury within seconds. His only weakness was that his physical prowess was his only ability; he lacked any extrasensory powers or physics-defying abilities. He was just very, very good at killing people, and he loved his work. And with Smoke around to give him the element of surprise, he was practically invincible.

Grace knew both men more intimately than she ever would have liked. One of the benefits of being a super in Master Serafini’s employ was free use of his pet whenever she wasn’t with him, and Volker and Walsh both took full advantage of it. Walsh could easily go at her for hours, pounding her so hard and fast that his cock felt like a literal jackhammer ruining her insides, not stopping or even slowing down until at least a dozen of his loads painted her insides. Volker couldn’t manage kind of physical abuse or staying power, but she feared him even more. At the end of the day, Walsh just wanted to fuck her; Volker, like her owner, wanted to hurt her. His favorite game was to rip the air from her lungs and rape her while she gasped and convulsed like a dying fish. Sometimes he’d instead bind her hands and then douse her in a cloud of something that made her entire body itch like mad, and fuck her happily while she squirmed and tried uselessly to scratch everywhere. One time he’d claimed that he’d made her ingest a poison that would kill her slowly and painfully if she didn’t make him cum first. She still didn’t know if he’d been bluffing, but she hadn’t taken the chance, fucking him like the wanton, desperate fucktoy her owner was training her to be.

The redhead watched Master Serafini out of the corner of her eye as he hit the intercom again. “When our guests arrive, have them escorted to the mansion I’ll meet them at the front door and we’ll get this farce over with.” When there was no answer, he scowled and jabbed the button again. “Do you copy?”

The voice that came out of the intercom a moment later was that of a young woman’s this time. It was strangely familiar too, but there was too much static for Grace to be sure she wasn’t just imagining it. “Uh… ten four? Is that what I’m supposed to say? Sorry, I clocked your boy on the head a little too hard and he took a nap. I don’t think I did any permanent damage, but hey, it’s my first day on the job, y’know? Everybody makes mistakes. Anyway, figured I might as well grab his radio.”

“Who. The hell. Is this?” Master Serafini growled.

“They’ve been calling me Starfish lately,” said the woman. “Kinda silly, but it’s growing on me. My turn: is Grace alive? Because if she isn’t, you are real fucked.”

The redhead’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of her own name, and she frantically tamped down the surge of hope it elicited. She wasn’t going to be rescued. She was never going to be rescued. The only people who cared about her were dead or worse than dead, and that was just the way things were. It had become so much easier to keep going when she’d finally she accepted her fate months ago. This was nothing but day one hundred and thirty eight of the rest of her life.

Master Serafini didn’t so much as glance at her. She was fairly certain that he didn’t even know that her name was Grace. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I have any staff employed with that name.”

“Uh huh. Hey, you’re not gonna, like, turn yourself in, right? I’m going to be real disappointed if we came all this way and I don’t get to shove my foot up your ass.”

Grace’s owner cursed before activating the intercom again. “Miss Starfish, I believe we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. I’ve always prided myself on maintaining a positive relationship with the authorities, including you brave men and women who defend us daily. If we can just-” There was a crashing sound from somewhere upstairs.

“Sorrrrrry,” said Starfish cheerfully. “Your windows looked super fancy, so I went through the wall instead. Big fancy crime guy like you has to have plenty of insurance, yeah? Wow, everything here looks so expensive!” There was a series of smaller crashes, both from above and through the intercom. “Whoops, and now it’s all dust. Clumsy me! Who knows how much more shit I might accidentally break while I wait for you to show up and hand Grace over?”

Master Serafini hit a different button. “Security, take care of that little bitch right now. I want everyone on it!” He glanced around. “Not you two. You stay right here.”

“You sure that’s a good idea, sir?” asked a skeptical voice through the intercom. “Pornstar or not , we can’t just attack a superhero without some serious backlash…”

“I’ll smooth things out with the police later. Say they had an accident on the way here or something. God knows the commissioner owes me enough favors, that little piece of shit. Get rid of her, and Frosty too when she shows up. Let everyone know that whoever brings one of them down gets five years pay as a bonus. If you can capture one alive, I’ll triple the bonus, and you’ll get the first ride once she’s collared.”

“Y-yes sir!”

“That should take care of that,” he announced to the empty air. “If they turn out to be trouble, I’ll send you to clean up, but otherwise-” Master Serafini’s voice was cut off by an angry smashing sound, and debris fell from the ceiling.

“God, you’re so fucking basic,” said Starfish as she hopped down into the basement via the hole she’d just created in the ceiling. “I mean, seriously, a basement? Really? You’ve got a bazillion dollars and the best you can think of is ‘what if I put a rape dungeon in the basement’?”

Grace was so stunned to see the woman that she almost forgot to breathe. She was dressed in casual street clothes, and had a small knapsack over one shoulder and her entire body was shining with a soft light and… and it was Lira! Rainbow mohawk and everything! The redhead had resigned herself to the idea that she was never going to see her friend and occasional crush again, at least not in any state that wasn’t horrific. She knew about Backdraft as well as anyone, and what his victims looked like after he got bored of them. But it was Lira, and she was smiling and…!

And her friend suddenly jolted and collapsed face first onto the ground, all the light around her vanishing a moment later.

“Triple bonus, right boss?” came Walsh’s voice. Lira’s body shifted as he nudged her with an invisible foot, and then rolled her over onto her back. “Fuck me but she’s a pretty one. Almost cute enough that I’d pass on the money if I got to keep her instead.”

“Screw that,” said Volker and spat, his spittle visible as it struck the fallen woman’s cheek. “Who cares how pretty a bitch looks? All that matters is if she’s got a tight cunt or not. You could buy yourself a fresh whore every day for years with that kind of money.”

“So you’re saying I gotta sample the goods, huh? No argument here.” Invisible hands spread Lira’s legs wide and unzipped her pants. “You’re a lucky bitch, really. I was a little worried I’d smash your head open like a watermelon. But instead you get to see what it’s like to play with the big boys.”

“Be careful with that one,” Master Serafini said, keeping his distance. “That’s the girl who tried to save Frosty. She was strong enough to make Backdraft sweat for a few minutes.”

“Relax boss,” Walsh said, sliding her pants down. “I watched that video too. She wasn’t bad, but I saw enough to know that I’m stronger and faster.” He chuckled. “That flying looked fun, though. Wouldn’t mind fucking her in midair sometime, after we break her in.”

Grace watched in horror as invisible hands played with Lira’s breasts, mashing and rolling them around. This was her fault. It was all Grace’s fault this was happening, because she’d let herself have hope again. If she could have just stopped feeling and hoping, then this could have just been day one hundred and thirty eight instead of…

Lira’s panties were unceremoniously tugged down. “Looks pretty tight from here,” Walsh commented, “but only one way to find out. Here I come, little fishy, get ready t-” He cut off with a choked gasp.

“If you’re going to go all invisible against a girl,” Lira said calmly, her eyes still closed, her right hand wrapped around something unseen by her crotch, “you probably shouldn’t let her know exactly where your dick is.” Her hand twisted sharply and he screamed. A moment later the rainbow haired girl’s head rocked violently to the side, her cheek slapping against the basement floor, but she was smiling as she opened her eyes. “You call that a punch?”

“Let go of me, you fucking bitch!” Walsh snarled, and Lira’s head rocked to the other side, and then back again. “You fucking bitch! You fuhh! Ahh!”

“I don’t want to rip your cock off,” she told him, a small trickle of blood running down from her lower lip, “but it’s a little hard to know just how bad I’m hurting you when I can’t see you. If I do this “ – her hand twisted further and Walsh made a distressed warbling sound “ – I don’t know if I can keep going and only make you piss blood for the rest of your life, or if I’m going to tear this little pea shooter right off, y’know?”

“Turn it off!” Walsh demanded, his voice choked up. “Turn it off!” He abruptly appeared, crouched over Lira’s body with his cock trapped in her fist.

“Much better,” Lira said. Then she grabbed his shirt with her free hand, and threw Walsh to the side. The man hit the wall hard enough to make a dent and slid down bonelessly. Not seeming to be in any particular distress, the super pulled her pants and underwear back up, then stood. The soft glow that had illuminated her before reappeared. “Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, why don’t you show me what you’ve… really… got…” Her voice trailed off as she took in her opponent’s unconscious state. “Seriously?” She sighed. “And here I thought you guys were gonna be tough.”

The rainbow haired girl glanced around. “Soooo, I heard one more voice in here. You wanna try and feel me up too, or do I have to go looking for you?” She spun around the room slowly, and then put a hand on her throat, looking puzzled.

“Uppity cunts like you don’t have a right to oxygen,” Volker told her from somewhere. His voice echoed off the walls, making it impossible to discern where he was speaking from. “You’re gonna have to earn it from now on. And by the time you draw another breath, super slut, if you ever draw another breath, it’s going to be with a collar around your neck.”

Lira’s response was to roll her eyes and give the empty space in front of her the middle finger. Then she punched the wall next to her hard enough to shake the entire room and send dust showering down from the ceiling. There was only a single spot in the room, over by one corner, where the falling dust simply vanished. Smoke must have realized what she was doing, because he was already on the move, but Lira was faster. She dashed towards that blank spot quick as lightning, sweeping a wide fist. Grace didn’t see the woman connect, but Volker’s invisible body reappeared a moment later, already sprawled unconscious on the ground.

The super pointed at Master Serafini without looking at him, her eyes fixed on Grace. “On your knees. Now.” When he didn’t move to obey she snapped her fingers impatiently. “If you want to get out of this basement alive, fatass, pissing me off is a real dumb way to go about it..” He quickly sank to his knees. Lira’s tone was much softer when she spoke to Grace. “Is that you? Just try to relax, I’m going to get you out of there.”

Grace tried to warn her would be savior not to let the man out of her sight, moaning through her stuffed mouth with as much volume and urgency as she could manage. Lira hesitated, but the redhead’s warning had come too late, and she didn’t get out of the way before Master Serafini lunged at her from behind and slapped his hand against her back. The girl immediately went rigid, eyes wide open in shock. “That’s the cunt I burned alive two years ago,” Grace’s owner snarled. “And here’s what I did to her sister after that!” He made contact with her again and Lira’s entire body spasmed. He didn’t stop there, and Grace could see Lira shudder every time he added torment after torment.

He backed away as the rainbow haired girl collapsed to her knees, her eyes staring sightlessly ahead and her breath coming out in pained gasps. “You think you can just come in here and boss me around, you little bitch?! That you can ignore your place like that?! Savor each and every one of those deaths while you can, you fucking cunt, because yours is going to be worse than all of them!”

The glow around Lira suddenly intensified, becoming a nearly blinding light, and then receded just as quickly. “Is that… all you’ve got…?” the girl panted, slowly rising to her feet. She still looked a little shaky, but there was no pain in her expression, and she seemed like herself again by the time she straightened up and faced him. “Or was that parlor trick supposed to be impressive?”

“That’s… that’s impossible!” Master Serafini protested as Lira approached him. His hand slapped at her again, and this time the only reaction she gave was a brief flaring of the light around her. “You can’t just… just block the connection like that! No one can!”

“Yeah, I’m OP as fuck,” the super agreed, and her fist connected with his stomach. He let out a sound like a dying animal before doubling over and retching. “You good here, or should we go a few more rounds?”

“Stop…” he wheezed, then let out a falsetto scream as her knee crunched between his legs.

“I didn’t hear a please,” she said with mock sweetness.


“That’s better,” Lira said, and patted him condescendingly on the head. “Now get on your knees like I told you, and face the wall, bitch.” Ma- Serafini quickly obeyed, the movement clearly causing him great distress. Lira didn’t pay him any further attention, her gaze already back on Grace. “Alright, where were we?”

She began to delicately free the redhead from her bondage, lifting her off of the dildos and freeing her nipples before peeling off the clothing one piece at a time. Grace felt too stunned and exhausted to do anything but stand there, but Lira didn’t seem to mind. “It’s okay,” the rainbow haired girl whispered as she worked, taking care to cause as little pain as possible. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.”

It wasn’t until the last piece was off and Grace stood there naked that she allowed herself to cry. “I know,” Lira said, sweeping her into a gentle hug as she sobbed. “I know. Everything’s gonna be alright.” Grace’s hands remained awkwardly at her sides. She was more terrified now than she had been in months, terrified that this was all just a dream that she was going to wake from any second. The hope that she might not die in this basement after all, that day one hundred and thirty nine would never arrive, was so powerful that it was almost painful as it burned inside her chest.

Her hands trembled as she slowly raised them to return the embrace. She didn’t wake up. Her friend didn’t disappear. Lira felt soft and warm and real, and the redhead sobbed harder.

Lira Lombardi, whom the world was now calling Starfish, sat outside what had once been an opulent mansion and listened to its owner whine and plead as he was dragged away in cuffs. His bodyguards had already been restrained, and were being watched closely by several police officers. There had been four more Aberrants with combat abilities besides the ones she’d seen in the basement, but Fela had dealt with all of them readily. Lira found herself wishing that her own two opponents had put up more of a fight; she’d been looking forward to pounding some goons into paste.

Only Serafini himself had given her any trouble, and she had to admit that she was lucky her starlight had been effective against him, protecting her mind from his psychic intrusion the same way it protected her body from physical assault. Those few seconds before she’d managed to put the shield up had been agonizing, and while she was confident that Fela wouldn’t have fallen for such an obvious trick too, having to endure all of that for minutes or hours before the woman rescued her would have been hell.

If what Grace had been forced to go through for months was even a fraction as bad as those few seconds had been, it was a miracle she hadn’t gone completely insane. As it was, the girl had seemed terrified to let go of Lira, as though one or both of them would be snatched away the instant she did. The poor thing was so exhausted that once Lira had brought her outside and helped her to lay down on the ambulance stretcher, she’d passed out in moments. She was snoring softly in the back of the ambulance now, one hand still clutching tight to the hem of Lira’s shirt as the rainbow haired girl sat next to her. As soon as things were all taken care of here, Lira would ride with Grace to the hospital.

“You did pretty good,” Fela told her, approaching the vehicle with a smile. “Didn’t even kill anyone.”

Lira briefly considered keeping her mouth shut and just accepting the praise, then shrugged. “You can thank Red for that. I left it up to her whether or not I killed that fat piece of shit. After everything he put her through, it was her call to make, not mine.”

“And if she’d told you to kill him, would you have gone through with it?” Fela asked. Her tone remained light, and she didn’t sound particularly bothered about the idea of her protege committing murder, but Lira had gotten to know the woman well enough over the last few weeks to recognize the question as a serious one. Not accusatory, but probing.

The rainbow haired girl shrugged again. “Dunno, honestly. Maybe? I’m glad she decided against it, though.” There had been no anger in Grace’s expression when she’d looked at Serafini cowering in the corner, only tiredness and pain. She’d shaken her head at Lira’s offer and said that she just wanted to go.

Fela cocked an eyebrow. “Really? I seem to remember someone having very strong opinions on the subject after she found out I’d left Cyrus alive.”

“Yeah,” Lira admitted, “and if it had been up to me back then, they’d still be trying to scrub Backdraft’s blood out of the floor. But after I thought about it for a while…”

“You decided that all life was precious?”

Lira snorted. “Fuck no! I decided death was too good for scumbags like him. I want him to live a long life, and spend it watching you and me and everyone else the fucker hurt getting to go on without him. And not as his ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’. I’m not gonna be defined by what him or anyone else has done to me. He doesn’t get to be anything but a tiny pathetic footnote in the story of our lives.”

“The best revenge is a life well lived,” the older woman recited.

“Yeah, sure. That.” Lira craned her head to watch the police car Serafini had been frog marched into vanish down the road. “Looks like everything is wrapped here. Meet you at the hospital?”

Fela nodded and turned to leave, then hesitated and looked back. “So what do you think, now that you’ve tried it for real?”

Lira looked down at the sleeping redhead beside her. All that exhaustion and fear on her face had vanished, and the peaceful expression that she wore now made her look so much more like the friend Lira remembered. The world in general was still a crapsack one, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon. But thanks to what Lira had done today, it was a slightly less awful place than it had been yesterday. And for this one day, for Grace, heroes had been real, and nothing would ever take that away from her. Only a single starfish, but it was a start.

“Yeah,” Lira said, gently stroking the girl’s hair, “I think I could get used to this.”

The End of Arc 2

The story continues with Arc 3 – Daybreak

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