First Conflict by Tarale Wolffe
Samantha leaned against the alleys wall across from her target. The jeweler, a small and select establishment, had a very particular clientele: the wealthy. The incredibly wealthy. She’d put off this particular job until she had contacts she could pawn it off on. Now that she had them, there was no excuse. She was as ready as she’d ever be for her debut.
Why am I hesitating?
She knew why. If she did this, there’d be no turning back. Everything up until now was anonymous. No one, police or hero, knew who she was, or who’d started the quiet string of crime throughout the city. She’d been careful.
This was the first time she’d be intentionally drawing attention to herself. She could still turn back.
The empty house flashed through her mind. It had been a week since anyone had been home before she was in bed. It would be empty tonight as well. Everyone was working tonight.
Which makes it perfect.
She pulled further back into the growing shadows of dusk, decreasing the risk of being seen as a couple passed the alley’s mouth. Letting out a slow breath, she pulled the hood up over her blond hair, already braided out of the way. She’d spent several minutes arranging it so it laid flat over all her hair, but still left her ears free. The edge of the tight hood stuck to the skin, keeping the hood on, even when she wasn’t stationary. She didn’t want a single strand of hair escaping.
It, like the rest of her skintight outfit, was a purple so dark it was almost black. People often thought shadows were black. They were wrong. Few people had spent the time observing the shadows present everywhere, but she was one of them. While she couldn’t control them, like others could, she did find their embrace comforting, and had spent much of the last six months wrapped in the shadows of the world.
Finally, her hands wrapped in fingerless gloves, she put her mask on. It was a small one, barely covering her eyes and cheekbones, The netted screen over her eyes allowed her to see, but obscured the color of her eyes; making it more difficult to identify her. Making it more difficult to see her fear. If they knew her, she was dead. If they knew how frightened she was, they could talk her out of it. Maybe.
With a final deep breath failing to calm her nerves, Samantha stepped out of the alley. Few people were on the streets, most preferring to drive through unless they wanted something. One of those walkers froze upon seeing her and backed away, hand reaching into her purse.
Samantha ignored her, knowing she already had little time. Knowing she should take care of the woman, but not wanting to hurt her, and knowing it would bring the desired result more quickly.
No one tried to stop her as she crossed the street. No one stopped her as she pushed the door open. No one stopped her as she stepped inside. The door swung shut behind her, chiming its cheery sound. To Samantha, it meant there was no turning back. The young man behind the counter, though older than her by several years, glanced up and paled.
She saw one trembling hand slip under the counter. She pretended no to notice as she strode toward him. Let them think she was an idiot. It didn’t matter. It increased the likelihood that someone would come.
The customers, a couple by the looks of it, drew away from the counter as Samantha approached. She swung the empty bag onto the counter.
“Fill it,” she ordered, her voice rasping from nerves. Her heart pounded in her chest, and it took everything she had not to bolt, not to let her legs collapse from under her. It was all for nothing if she ran.
“Now see here– ” the man blustered.
Samantha didn’t give him time for it. Reaching out one hand, she let it hover over the glass case. In moments, five red points appeared in the glass as it reached its melting point. Had the gloves covered her fingers, as had been the first design, she’d be on fire now, rather than the glass. The potential for fingerprints was significantly less dangerous than going up in flame. Unlike certain heroes, she wasn’t immune to burning.
All three– the employee and his customers– shrank back from her. Her other hand pointed at the couple, watching them freeze from the corner of her eye.
“Don’t move,” she told them, not looking at them fully, not sure she could follow through her silent threat even if she didn't. Thankfully, they didn't call her bluff. She didn't relax despite that. Every nerve within her sang in tension. She barely kept herself from trembling as the man’s gaze flickered from her to the melting glass. He swallowed once before nodding. Fumbling out his keys, he opened the case and began filling the bag.
Her gaze flickered to the window, wondering how much time she had left. Their response time was short, but that depended on how quick word got to them, and how close they were at the time of the call. The Dark Warrior would take the least time, but he could be busy already. While the others couldn’t travel through shadow, that didn’t make them slow.
The only sounds in the small store were the jewels being placed in the bag, and the occasional whimper from the woman clutching her partner. She ignored them as best she could, concentration on her breathing, and keeping her gaze flickering to the windows to the outside. Even the slow flow of traffic had ceased. Either they'd evacuated themselves– unlikely as that was– or someone was keeping them from coming. Civilians, shed learned, were stupid. Wild Flame liked clearing them from the area before conflict could explode over them.
The Iron Archer cleared them out too, she mused absently. While not as dangerous to onlookers as his brother, he cared more for the civilian’s safety than catching the villain. Of them all, he was the most popular.
He wouldn't be called for this. It wasn't big enough. There weren't enough people involved. She was an unknown. Unless everyone else was already busy, it wasn’t him out there.
“Good enough,” Samantha said, reaching for the open bag. The man jerked back, trying to keep out of her reach. She didn’t need to touch him to set him aflame, but he didn't need to know that. She didn't actually want to hurt anybody.
Another glance told her there was absolutely nobody outside. Time was up.
In one swift motion, she closed the bag. Then, she tied it to her belt. Whoever was out there, she’d need both hands.
“I’d stay in here if I were you,” she told them before she even realized she was speaking. “Wouldn’t want you getting hurt.”
The woman gurgled, burying her head in her partner’s shoulder. The man’s grip on her whitened his fingers. The one behind the counter simply nodded without a word, his gaze on her fingers. Samantha didn’t reassure them. It wouldn’t be believed, and the fear might keep them out of the way.
This would be easier, she thought, starting for the door, if I could manipulate shadows.
But then, easy wasn’t the point. If it was, she wouldn’t be heading for the door.
Heart pounding anew, Samantha clenched her hand into a fist, forcing the limb steady before she could open the door and bolt out.
Immediately, the ground before her exploded in fire. She leapt back, barely avoiding the flames as her back hit the door frame. Eyes on the sky, she found the source. On the roof across from her stood Wild Flame. He was a big man, dressed in yellow and red. He’d been a hero for three years now, and had brought in more villains than his brother, the Iron Archer, had in nearly six years. He was also rash, and caused more damage then he had to. Several of his caught villains had to stop by the hospital first.
Her stance shifted, making it easier to jump out of the way of his next attack, even as she shifted away from the building at her back.
Wild Flame’s weakness was close range combat. He rarely needed it, as few could get close enough to do anything.
Most weren’t her.
Jumping to the side once more, she gave her shoulders a shake, allowing the only real shadow control she had to form. Wings, black as night, sprung from her back. As they spread from her shoulders, they appeared solid to the touch, but like any shadow, they had no real substance. Despite that, she launched herself into the air– they held her weight, allowing her to soar toward her target.
In the air, it was easier to dodge Wild Flame’s fireballs than on the ground. Unfortunately, the closer she got, the less time she had.
She’d just gotten to the roof when one of his fireballs hit her in the chest. Most of the heat was taken by the costume, a request which had cost a small fortune, the impact caused her to lose her breath. With it went her concentration, and she collapsed to the roof as her wings vanished.
She gasped, desperately trying to refill her lungs before Wild Flame crossed the distance between them. Thankfully, he’d always been fond of his own voice.
“You’re a new one,” he said, his shadow faint in the darkening night. “You’re not very good at this.”
“Everyone’s gotta start somewhere,” she managed, voice harsh, even to her own ears.
He snorted. “Not hardly. Anyone ever tell you crime doesn’t pay?”
“Once or twice,” She forced a smirk on her lips, despite the struggle to catch her breath.
“Should have paid better attention, lady, because your foray into crime is at an end.”
“Oh God,” she groaned, feeling sorry for anyone Wild Flame had ever spoken with. “How did you learn to talk? Saturday Morning Cartoons?”
“What’s your name?” He grunted, seemingly ignoring her jab, but her lips twitched as she recognized the faint frustration filtering through his voice.
“A real name.”
“It’s the only one you’re going to get, Wild Flame.”
He shook his head, blond hair falling over the flame mask covering his entire upper face.
“You’re no angel,” he said, reaching down to grab the bag from her belt.
Quick as a flash, the heel of her palm jabbed at Wild Flame’s solar plexus. He wheezed, backing up. Samantha scrambled to her feet, feeling only mild regret as the hero hunched over.
See how he likes it, she thought.
“Every demon was once an angel in heaven,” she told him, slowly backing away. “It wasn’t until they reached too high that they were turned away from grace.”
Turning, she ran for the roof’s edge. Another fireball halted her momentum.
“Being a villain means you’re already fallen from grace.”
She let out a short laugh, turning back to the hero, so she could see him. One hand hid behind her back. He wasn’t fully recovered, but she’d been a fool to think it put him out of commission.
“Oh, yes, please give me a lecture, Wild Flame. The only reason you’re considered a hero is because everyone you hurt is a criminal. People can die from your fires, but you just fling them around without any regard.”
He frowned. “I’m not going to listen to a criminal about what’s right.”
“Alright, I’m bored now.”
Pulling her hand from behind her back, she revealed the small band of light already glowing there. Flicking her hand out at Wild Flame, she didn’t pause to watch it tie him up. She twirled once more, jumping from the roof. Contact had been good, but if she didn't leave now, she’d do something stupid. A fireball followed her over the edge. Thankfully, Wild Flame couldn't make it actually follow her, or gliding to the ground would have been a lot more dangerous.
“Get back here!”
Samantha paused at the alleys mouth to glance back, Wild Flame wasn't there to see the look of disgust on her face, or the kiss she waved to the roof, but the civilians were. She ducked into the alley before Wild Flame, or anyone else, could get to her.
She slid into the nearest cluster of shadow and phased away.
Back at her house, she phased into her room. The costume went into a box carefully hidden under her bed. If her mother found it, she was dead. The bag of jewels joined it, for the moment. A few minutes on the computer, and she’d be rid of them, but until then, they were as dangerous as the costume. More so, they were proof.
Changed into normal clothes, Samantha sat on her bed and finally breathed.
“That was easier than I’d thought it would be,” she murmured, wondering why.
Had he recognized her?
No, she decided. He wouldn’t have let her go if he had. Or at least followed her home to drag her before their parents. Shadowstar and the Steel Agent were many things, but they were two of the most famous heroes in the world. They wouldn't tolerate a burgeoning villain living under their roof.
“Sebastian just likes to hear himself talk,” she decided, shaking her head. If he hadn’t had to gloat, she’d be in cuffs, waiting for her parents to be called in.
The others wouldn’t have been as easy to out maneuver.
She jumped, blinking at her door.
“William?” She called, leaping from her bed as she raced for the door, a grin pulling at her lips.
Her oldest brother stood at the bottom of the stairs.
“What are you doing here? I thought you were working.”
He nodded. “I was. I am, but I wanted to check in on you. Everything okay?”
She ran cold. He knew!
She nodded. “Yep. Just bored. Anything interesting going on?”
He shook his head, blue eyes glinting up at her in the hall light. “No. Everything’s dull out there.”
“Liar,” she said, bounding down the stairs, even as her heart beat an unsteady rhythm in her chest. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“Maybe,” he admitted, grin widening.
William, the Iron Archer, had been a hero for almost six years, the longest of her siblings. Being the oldest, that made sense. None of them could be heroes until they were 18. Being the youngest, Samantha still had two years to go. For the last six months, she was constantly alone.
Becoming a villain just to see her family probably wasn't the best idea, but today was the first time she'd seen Sebastian in nearly three months.
Before she could say anything else, William’s phone rang.
She leaned against the bannister, waiting, knowing he was being pulled away.
“Really? Is he okay? … Good … Alright, I’ll be right there.” He hung up.
“Sorry Sammy, duty calls.”
“He’s not hurt. Sebastian just lost someone. We need to search for her.”
“Seb’s too reckless,” she said. “He needs to concentrate more.”
William laughed. “I’ll tell him you said so. You be careful.”
She’d plan it better next time. Her brothers– her family– may be neglectful idiots, but they were good heroes. If she didn’t want to be caught, she’d have to be a better villain.