Squad Ten dragged the guy known as Digits out of the warehouse as the rest of him and us avoided the guy’s hands, just in case. He would be watched, and Squad Ten could immediately tell us if something went wrong. So what else was here? I felt… one strong power, and a bundle of weaker ones.
“I think it’s just the mind control lady and the dwarves,” I said. “Pretty much nobody here to keep them captive or defend the place.” Except the mind control and Digits. To be fair, the guy seemed pretty powerful in an individual capacity.
Sir Kalman was back in front, a clear dent in his helmet and a trickle of blood running down his face. But he obviously didn’t care as he moved along with us. I watched the machinery somewhat nervously, but the sounds were gradually getting quieter and quieter as it began to shut down via Current’s interference.
I felt power reaching out for Sir Kalman. And he continued to stomp forward, ignoring it. Then, what could only be the figure of the mind controlly woman rapidly began to grow more distance.
“She’s running!” I said. “But we’ve got the captives in our way first.”
“Leave them to me,” Sir Kalman said. “Find a way around if you can.”
I would have loved to, but the place was pretty cramped to begin with, and with a dozen dwarves together- including Sir Kalman- there really wasn’t a chance to go past.
“We can’t have you interrupting our work site,” the leader among them- Scrag, wasn’t it?- held a very large wrench in his hand, slapping it into his palm.
“This isn’t your work site,” Sir Kalman said. “Remember your home back in Granbold?”
“Yeah,” the one we’d heard called Gerard replied. “What do you think we’re working for? To send uh… coins… back home?”
Sir Kalman shook his head. “No. That is not the case.” He began to radiate a golden light. I was kind of worried about what might happen as he strode forward.
“Doesn’t matter. Get him boys!”
Sir Kalman had sheathed his sword as he approached the group. With one hand he caught Scrag’s wrench, while blocking another half dozen with his shield. A good few still clanged against his armor.
“Let’s get your head straight,” Sir Kalman declared, headbutting Scrag.
Scrag staggered back. “Stupid paladin, interfering with our… work?” Scrag looked around. “We came here to… do something with these machines? Agh, why can’t I remember? Hey, guys, what are you doing?”
The answer was pummeling Sir Kalman. But one by one he slapped them upside the head, conked them with his shield, or most often smashed his head against their own. Each time he did that, they became more confused… and then ultimately they stopped.
Dart was still looking for an opportunity to squeeze by, and Squad Ten had no hope. I was looking for other trouble, but Midnight had just run back. “She’s gone…” he said. “Into some locked door. I didn’t have the mana to pop it open.”
A good Sonic Lance or two would open most doors, but with him having already spent a good two-thirds of his mana on two casts of Mental Freedom it didn’t leave an awful lot. It would be nice when he had some more levels… but he didn’t want to try my current methods of increasing maximum mana separately, which I supposed was fair. It kinda hurt to overload on mana crystals.
“So uh,” Scrag was standing in front of the rest of the dwarves now, clearly subdued. “What is going on?”
“Your heads were messed with,” Sir Kalman said. “I am projecting an aura that should help. It’s more effective up close.”
… Is that why he headbutted them? I felt like there had to be better ways. Then again, I couldn’t think of any at the moment, especially since he did need to affect their heads. “How long can you keep that up?” I asked.
“A few minutes at least. Maybe half an hour,” Sir Kalman said. As he turned to speak to me, I could see more than a few significant dents in his armor. He hadn’t been willing to cause these mind controlled fellows any real damage, and took a beating for it. And that after the thing with that Digits guy.
At this point, I’d lost track of the mind control lady. The tight confines of the warehouse factory had made it difficult to chase her- not that we’d ever gotten within sight of her. That part was kind of unfortunate, actually. It would be harder to track her down later.
Squad Ten got on the radio. “Seems one of our targets might have escaped. Anyone spot anything?”
No replies came in the affirmative.
Sir Kalman shook his head. “I am uncertain what will happen when I run out of mana. I would prefer to prioritize our rescues.”
“Hmmn,” I frowned, looking over the dwarves. “Can you explain what kind of mental control you were under?”
The leader among them, Scrag, scratched his beard. “I can’t quite say. I mostly felt like I was acting like myself. Except… my memories were all screwed up? I think they might still be,” he grimaced.
“Do we have any memory fixers available… promptly?” I asked via our comms.
“Not rapidly available, unfortunately,” came the response from Lady Recollection. “Unfortunately, my own powers are a different sort of path.”
I nodded, then leaned closer to Sir Kalman, “Unfortunately, we might have to restrain them for a short time. I can potentially help a few of them fight back, but…”
“I get it,” Sir Kalman nodded. “Alright lads, I’m going to need you to trust me. Clearly you didn’t choose to be here. And with your minds in a right state, I’m going to have to ask you to submit yourself to temporary restraints. So no more of this happens.”
As he was speaking, I pulled out several of my largest mana crystals. I kept making them occasionally to make sure I had a stock for emergencies. I could only handle so much in a day- approximately three larger ones or an equivalent number of smaller ones. I squeezed one in my grip, letting the mana flow into me. In approximately one minute, I would have the full amount it could provide. The same was true of smaller crystals- which meant the larger ones were more efficient timewise, though less efficient to make.
“Scrag, right?” I addressed the lead dwarf, as the group began subjecting themselves to restraints. They weren’t happy, but they understood. Especially since Scrag himself agreed. “I’m going to cast a spell on you. Mental Freedom. If the fake memories start coming back, I need you to fight them, okay?”
“Absolutely,” he agreed- though he did look to Sir Kalman for confirmation that my spell would be helpful.
“Great,” I said. It would be 9 points of mana for that. I didn’t want to skimp on it by using the discounted cost. “I can get one more right now. Who’s the best second?” Midnight was probably close to having sufficient mana for a third, but we’d figure that out later.
“Gerard,” he said. “He’s the one we most need in charge of his faculties besides myself.”
Truthfully, I wasn’t certain Mental Freedom would help as much against an effect already in place… but hopefully its originator being away would help. By the time everyone was comfortably restrained, I had absorbed two more emergency crystals. Squad Ten had checked out the rest of the warehouse, ultimately finding a little escape hatch. Probably where that lady escaped through.
I moved towards Gerard, wishing I could use my magic on more people at once without it being so expensive. For a second, I felt like it almost might be possible… but as I sat at the full mana for the spell, the feeling began to slip out of my grasp. I didn’t want to waste it, so I simply made sure it affected the dwarf as intended.
“I’m going to release my aura now,” Sir Kalman said to the dwarves. “I want you to remember what this felt like. And remember where you’re really from. This isn’t it. Should be pretty obvious.”
Everyone watched with anticipation. As soon as his aura faded away, a few dwarves began to complain. “You can’t just come into our work and tie us up like this! The foreman will have your head!” However, though they said that… they seemed to either understand that we were working for lawful authorities or simply that we had enough power. They didn’t really struggle much.
Scrag’s face was tight, his eyes closed in concentration, and Gerard as well. After a few minutes, Scrag let out a deep breath, sweat dripping down his forehead. “Can’t believe I ever fell for this. That lady’s magic, I mean,” he clarified. “She kinda made us forget getting captured, I guess. But there was a huge disconnect between where we had been and where we ended up. And nobody even introduced us to our jobs!”
“Yeah, that’s the worst part,” Gerard agreed. “What were we even supposed to have been doing here? Seriously, they only made me use artificer magic recently, and these things still just produced weird junk.”
“Someone more qualified in the area of… technology will have to answer that,” Sir Kalman said to the dwarves. “So, you good to be let go?”
“I certainly won’t be hitting you with a wrench,” Scrag said. “Head’s a little fuzzy, but I don’t feel any reason to do stupid crap anymore.”
“I’d wait,” I said. “Until after Mental Freedom wears off. See if it sticks. We don’t have any precedent for how this particular power works.”
“How long is that?” Gerard asked.
“About an hour,” I said. “I could try to end the effect early, but I’d probably keep rooting around in your head and make sure there’s no junk left in there.”
Gerard grumbled to himself. “Gonna club that woman upside the head if I see her again.”
“An excellent idea,” I said. “Though I might suggest throwing something heavy from a distance.”
After we double and triple checked to make certain the memory modifier was no longer around, people began to secure the factory while people distributed information to important departments.
Among other things, the Building and Safety Division was determining who owned the second warehouse that the short escape tunnel led to. It was possible that they were careless and that the villains had built a connection to their warehouse unknown- in which case they would only receive a small fine for negligence- or they might be complicit, in which case the bureaucracy would have a larger group of people to begin sorting through.
Digits was taken away in his thorough restraints, and we were left wondering why they had two supers at this warehouse. Either they weren’t expecting anyone, in which case our as of yet unnamed mind messing lady would have been sufficient for continuing to mess with the dwarves, or they should have had more. This Digits guy had been weirdly powerful considering how specific his powers were, but they had to know what force we could bring to bear. Unless this place was less connected to the other villains we were bringing down, but the fact that they had victims from the same slaving scheme meant there was at least some connection. Maybe we’d just gotten enough for them to not warn others.
Wouldn’t that be nice. Fully wrapping up a crime ring and not having more problems from it in the future.
But back on Earth, Scrag was rubbing his head. “I don’t think memories are meant to come and go so… forcefully,” he said. “Glad to be back to a state where more things make sense. Except I still don’t know where the hell I am.”
“You got taken through a portal to another world,” I explained. “Which is further removed than another plane.”
“But why? Why us?”
“I dunno. Maybe they expected dwarves to be inherently talented working with machines,” I shrugged.
“That’s what we have schools for!” the dwarf huffed. “Nobody just knows things.”
“I didn’t say it made sense. Though to be fair, Gerard there is an artificer and could actually do some of that stuff.”
The second dwarf shrugged, “Still need to know how things work to make real progress.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. Khithae already knew how a lot of technological stuff worked- perhaps even more advanced than what was on Earth. Then she was exposed to a portal. Now that I thought about it, she only had the growth-through-effort part of the system. I wondered if we should fix that. Then again, to people here her powers fit in more as they were. But I didn’t know any disadvantage to having more options. Extra might not like me dragging people between worlds, though. And that was a problem for when I was back in New Bay.
The good news was that Mental Freedom was sufficient to revert the memory changes- or at least let these fellows recognize false memories. We were still going to get them checked out by people who knew what they were doing, of course, but the two leader folks were able to calm down the rest. Because even the common fellows recognized their memories were hazy, and they’d be willing to trust those they respected. Enough to wait for further help.
I wondered. Could I do that thing I’d almost tried? And why had it failed? Maybe it was something impossible, just a feeling I dreamed up. Most of the rest of what I’d tried showed some sort of result otherwise. Then again, casting a spell at full effect on multiple people… that was crazy, right?
As crazy as learning new things without points. So I definitely had to try.