(Patreon) Mage Among Superheroes 94

-–Chapter Index–-

Though the last week had me in combat several times, it had been longer than that since there was any Stargirl fanatic related trouble. Since I couldn’t count anything related to patrols as me being attacked, that meant Calculator’s prediction was wrong. Or more likely just not as regular as actually once a week.

Training continued mostly as normal- power-based sparring, teamwork exercises, physical conditioning and the like. I was always busy in the Power Brigade, and if there was nothing filling my schedule I was supposed to find something. At the current moment I was participating in a trouble spotting and avoidance class. It was mandatory, though I did understand the basic ideas behind it. It was good to know a fight was coming.

This particular class was led by Telescope, who was one of the types that liked to wear fancy formal clothes. Her clothes didn’t look practical to me, but then again Francois was pretty good with his designs so the formal suit was likely more usable than it looked on the surface. We were in one of the training rooms that created functional terrain, looking at… well, that was the question wasn’t it? “What do you see here?”

“A street,” I said confidently. For some reason Telescope shook her head, as if that answer wasn’t correct. But it was, I knew what streets looked like.

“An alley,” said someone else in the class.

“A street intersecting with an alley?”

Finally, Telescope could endure no more. “It’s a blind corner,” she said. 

So? I didn’t ask that question aloud because I was hoping someone else would. But nobody did, and she continued.

“What’s around the corner?” she asked.

Several of us began to step around the corner, and then… we were back where we started? That wasn’t quite right. Maybe we were never moving to begin with. “You already messed up,” she said. “Anyone could be waiting around that corner to ambush you. Getting closer might be exactly what they want.”

Nobody with an active power though. I was going to say that it didn’t matter at that point, but I supposed there were exceptions. Like high power rifles and someone who could instantly activate something deadly. “None of us can see around corners though.” Scrying wouldn’t work since I didn’t know who was there, if anyone, and it was not exactly quick. Similar definition abilities were too expensive or too slow to use on every corner.

“It’s true that most people can’t see around corners,” Telescope agreed. “But I can.”

“How does that help us?” one of the others asked.

“What’s around the corner?” I asked.

“Someone waiting to club your head in,” Telescope answered my question. “See how easy that was? But of course, if you don’t have an ally with helpful sensory abilities, you have to fall back on more traditional methods like listening. Staying out of reach is usually sufficient as well- it prevents many incapacitation options or being dragged in. You just have to remain cognizant of what you’re doing.”

—–

There were no thugs waiting in the alleyway next to the coffee shop. Nor were there any in all of the other alleyways along my route. It was somewhat disappointing, but that was just how things were. I wasn’t certain if I was supposed to draw them out onto the streets where it might endanger civilians or fight in the alley where they intended anyway. I guess I’d pick one based on what felt right at the moment.

Midnight was not with me. He was not terribly far away, because he had no other business at the moment, but he was very specifically not present. Apparently there were reasons I should talk to Izzy and Midnight thought his presence would disrupt things somehow. I supposed I did owe her thanks for helping out Tylissa, but that didn’t necessarily have to be said in person. It was just weird, because Izzy didn’t really mean anything to me anymore.

I took note of the twisting feeling in my gut. Was it saying that was not true? I wasn’t sure what guts knew about friendship and all that, but I stood by my earlier statement that we were not friends. We just used to be. My gut didn’t have anything to say about that, and maybe the first time it was just concerned about getting coffee, but I still had to note it.

Coffee was still bitter and I still didn’t understand why people wanted it. The breakfast foods were good though. I slowly consumed my food while I waited for Izzy. If she didn’t show up I could just leave and it wouldn’t be my fault nothing happened.

But she did show up as promised and then we had to sit awkwardly for a while. I supposed I should say something, since I had one of the actual reasons to meet up again. “Thanks for helping out Tylissa. She didn’t have anyone else who could teach her.” A sip of my coffee. “I still owe you something.”

“I’m… glad to help,” Izzy said with little enthusiasm. Her next words were more convincing. “Tylissa is a nice woman. Hopefully having powers will help.” Izzy frowned, “It’s still weird that not everyone has class abilities.”

“Right? It’s crazy. There are all sorts of other powers too, but tons of people are left without. I barely get how people function.” After that brief spurt of enthusiasm, the conversation fell off again. “… Do you want to go back?”

“I’m not even done with my sandwich,” Izzy said.

“I meant back back, like to your world,” I emphasized.

“Oh,” Izzy frowned, “I mean… I don’t know. What would I even do there? The same thing as before. Here it’s at least different. Kind of interesting. Not like I could go back anyway.”

“I could… try to get you back,” I said. “If you wanted. I know you came here thinking… that things would be like they were. But they aren’t.”

“I know,” Izzy nodded, the smallest cup in the place looking much too large between her hands as she stared at it. “Could you actually do it?”

“… Maybe. In a few levels.” The thing I was thinking of would cost more than just one level’s worth of points. And the mana cost would be most of my mana. It would be extremely difficult to cast, but if I got to somewhere around level 25, then using two-thirds of my mana I might be able to do something. “It might take longer than that, though.”

“That seems like it’s a bit early, then,” Izzy said. “Given how long it takes you to level.”

“Not anymore,” I said, unable to keep the enthusiasm out of my voice. “I get in fights all the time! Real ones. I’m sure I already told you I’ve been leveling up like crazy. I’m already level 22, you know?”

“Oh yeah. That’s great!” she nodded. “I remember now. What could you do?”

“If I save 13 points from each level, I can get Gate,” I said. “… Though I’m not completely sure I could cast it. I have some ideas though. Or maybe I could just find a portal. There were a lot of them around.”

“Well don’t… you don’t need to hurry too much,” Izzy said. “I’m doing alright here. I could stay a while, since it’s sort of interesting here.”

“Right,” I nodded. “I can’t even try right now anyway.” Still needed those points. I definitely couldn’t bank on learning it without, since… I had no idea how that worked. And everything I’d learned was of a much more reasonable level. The conversation was quiet for a while. How were social interactions supposed to work again? Usually they just happened. “So how’s work?”

“I run packages around,” Izzy said. “It’s basically the same. There’s a decent market for hand carried things, since traffic is inconsistent. And I don’t have a ton of expenses. Extra’s housing is cheap.”

“Kind of cramped though,” I said.

“It’s a lot bigger when you’re my size,” she pointed out. “Even the half-height rooms have a similar size floor plan.”

“I’m surprised they have rooms like that, honestly,” I said. “I don’t exactly see a lot of other halflings. Though I suppose there are a few Martians like Zorphax.”

Izzy shrugged, “It’s not like anyone my size stands out in a crowd. Mostly when there’s a weird gap.”

We managed to have something that probably qualified as a casual conversation, so I was going to count this one as a success. I didn’t feel like anything amazing was accomplished, though.

—–

Was I supposed to like the sounds of panicked civilians? I wasn’t seeking out screams of terror for their own sake. We were going to protect them after all. I was just kind of excited because it meant there was something to do, and that something was probably fighting. “Moving onto the scene,” I said tapping on my earpiece to activate the Power Brigade device. 

I took the advice of rounding the corner at a liberal distance from my most recent classes, though in this case it didn’t matter. I had Shockfire with me and he was fairly certain it was Rodentia again, so he would have warned me if any rats were too near. Robo-rats, that is. And indeed, the scene that filled my vision was quite obviously Rodentia’s work. Robo-rats were there, swarming the scene… but this time there was more. Rodentia herself was present, unless my eyes deceived me.

Then I heard a loud chittering laughter. “Fools! This will be the last time that anyone underestimates Rodentia! Fear the power of my cheese ray!”

I very quickly looked towards Shockfire. “Did I hear that right?”

“A freeze ray seems pretty off-brand,” he shrugged.

My eyes flicked back forward to the scene as I felt something drawing in the mana in the area. It wasn’t the activation of a power, or someone using magic. Instead, it was the device in Rodentia’s hands. Some sort of gun she pointed at someone, shooting a beam of yellow light. The man held up his arms to protect himself, but that just changed the origin point of the spreading color. After the beam faded I couldn’t pick out the exact shade of cheese, but it was some sort that had holes but was generally yellow-orange. 

“Did that guy just get turned into cheese?” Acid Man said from my other side.

“We’ve got to stop her quickly,” I nodded. Fortunately, as we were heading closer to the situation we saw something that made the situation slightly less horrifying. Eventually. The rats swarmed the cheese-man, and within moments there was no cheese remaining. Fortunately, there was most of a man. Maybe a few little bites here and there, and almost certainly some mental trauma, but curled up on the ground was better than being digested by robots.

Rodentia’s head swiveled towards the three of us before we were in range to make a proper attack. Her eyes lingered only a moment on the three of us before her fake rat mask wiggled slightly. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to mean. 

“New test subjects!” Rodentia said excitedly. “Perfect.”

I realized I had no idea how to counter a cheese ray. It certainly wasn’t any sort of energy I knew of, and Stoneskin wouldn’t do anything. Force Armor… might stop it. Shield would be better to keep it away from me, if possible. 

I looked for cover behind a light pole. I was fairly certain they were cheaper than cars, and there wouldn’t be civilians complaining which was apparently worse than the government who knew some amount of collateral damage was inevitable. I was only partially covered as I tried to judge the distance Sonic Lance could go. And if it would be appropriate. Wasn’t Rodentia just a woman? Exploding her might take her off the streets but it would be kind of frowned upon.

Acid Man was already charging forward. He was a good counter for the rats, but I was concerned about the cheese ray. He could make his own choices, however- and the consequences were quickly determined. He was an easy target so Rodentia focused her fire on him, striking his outstretched arm. As cheese began to coat Acid Man starting from that arm, he suddenly changed color, becoming green more than yellow. Then his body collapsed into a puddle, leaving behind an empty arm-shaped hunk of cheese that splattered on the ground next to him, and a little bit in him. 

If we hadn’t seen the effects on a civilian moments before I would have called him crazy, and I was still thinking about it just a little- fully aware what people thought about my proclivity for battle. 

Since I couldn’t do much damage to a widespread swarm, I tossed a Grease spell on a portion of the street between Rodentia and our side. Some of the rats would be slowed there, maybe funneling towards the acid puddle, maybe not. Either way, it was a small expenditure that would provide some advantage while we stalled to let the rest of our squad arrive.

Author’s note: I won’t apologize for this. Cheese Ray had to happen.

-–Chapter Index–-