(Patreon) Mage Among Superheroes 18

-–Chapter Index–-

I stood atop a set of stairs in a room covered in illusory ornamentation and illusory people. I was quite impressed with what they could do with the training facility, even if the illusions weren’t perfect. The surfaces still felt like cold concrete, and the people didn’t react realistically. But maybe that was for the sake of convenience.

I had been the first into the room, but Meztli showed up shortly after, followed by Rasmus and Maks, as well as a third person I didn’t recognize. He was in uniform, so he was obviously another super with the Power Brigade.

“Good, we’re all here,” Meztli said as she looked up at me from the floor below. “For the actual mission you’ll have others involved, but for the sake of this exercise just your captain for the mission will be training with you. I see you remembered your costume. Do try to remember protocol is to use your super name while any party is in uniform. In related news, you all have been given your names. But first I’ll introduce your captain… Ice Guy.”

The blue haired man nodded, his arms folded in front of him. It seemed he had already gotten used to having an awful name. I really hoped there was some chance for that name to become something else later, especially for my sake if I got something bad.

Meztli next gestured to Rasmus. “The higher ups have decided to designate you as Acid Man.” Rasmus frowned, but didn’t complain until after her next sentence. “And you were given the moniker Shockfire.”

“Hey! Why does he get something sort of cool?”

“Random luck,” Meztli said. “Sometimes they end up coming up with something not awful, when the stars align just right. As for you,” she looked up at me. “You’re Mage.”

“…” I looked down at her with confusion. “Just Mage?”

“It was really close, actually. You could have been Mage Man.”

“… Mage is great,” I said quickly. “Fantastic.”

Meztli snickered slightly, but continued her introduction of the task assigned to us. “Though I’m sure you’re no doubt aware that the area you’ll be standing guard at is more than just this large ballroom, this is the key area and the larger training areas were occupied for higher priority missions. I’ll let Ice Guy explain the rest.”

The man stepped forward, his blue and white outfit matching his hair. His mask covered all of his upper face, leaving only his mouth and chin visible- clean shaven except for a little bit of colored stubble with just a couple hairs that might have been white from age and not weird power stuff. But it showed the color in his hair was natural. Not that I was terribly surprised. 

“It’s good to meet all of you,” Ice Guy said as he led the other two up to the top of the stairs with me. He pulled out a few small things from a bag he was carrying, handing them out. “The most important thing to remember is communication. If a problem comes up and you can handle it safely, do so- but I’d still like to hear a report.” 

I took the little thing I was handed and put it in my ear, mimicking the others. 

“One tap to turn on the microphone,” he said, demonstrating. Then his voice came directly into my ear. “These things have a range of about one mile, much more than we need to concern ourselves with at the moment.” He held his hand up to his ear, pressing his finger gently on the device. “If you keep a finger on it your voice will come through until,” he pulled his finger away and his voice disappeared from my ear. “You release.”

“Interesting,” I said, tapping the earpiece. “Is there any reason to not just always have it on?”

“Indeed,” Ice Guy nodded. “The guests at the party might ask for directions, and we don’t need to hear all the random chatter around you. The functionality is meant for when you need to keep your hands free while continuing a report.”

I nodded. “Like if we’re in combat.”

“Right. Though hopefully you won’t be. Honestly, usually nothing happens at things like this. Which is the whole point of having us there, in costume.” He grinned widely, “Not a lot of people are interested in causing trouble with supers around.”

So there wouldn’t be combat. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed, but I also understood that I really didn’t want to fight in a room full of people anyway. That would be difficult.

“Now then, there is one thing that complicates all of this.” Ice Guy snapped his finger, and I could tell something changed, but not what until he gestured down below. “It’s a masquerade ball. Nobody should be dressed up like a super beyond the point of a mask, instead having more traditional suits and dresses, but keeping people’s identities straight will be somewhat more difficult. We’ll have people with the appropriate skills at the private areas. The three of you will just be arrayed around the manor to watch for problems that arise. That included things like unruly guests who’ve had too much to drink.”

That sounded like a pain. “I assume we’re to deal with them as gently as possible?”

“Got it in one, kid. We know all of you have at least basic training in unarmed combat, and the guest will likely have none. But if you see something you think you can’t handle, just call. We’d much prefer you ask for help than screw something up. Any questions?”

We all shook our heads, though “Acid Man” still had a comment. “At least my abilities are surprisingly suited for this.”

I didn’t know how acid could be suited to dealing with minor squabbles, but I’d find out soon enough, as the training began.

—–

Training was… kind of a pain. Though there wasn’t as much standing around waiting for something to happen as I anticipated there would actually be, it was still a lot of boring followed by moments of excitement. If corralling drunk people could be considered excitement.

“Excuse me ma’am,” I came up to a belligerently drunk woman carefully.

“What?” she spun towards me, sloshing wine over herself and someone nearby. When actually interacting with the illusions or whatever they were they responded, though they were somewhat limited. 

“I was wondering if you might like a little bit of a refill,” I said, gesturing to the two bottles I had on a tray. 

“Hmph. Fine,” she held out her glass of red wine, and I poured her some more. At least, I tipped an empty bottle that was labeled as if it had red wine, and I saw something come out. As soon as I finished she swigged down about half the glass.

I was, of course, quite aware that giving a drunk woman more to drink was an awful idea, but this was something special. In theory. A mixture that when ingested actually removed alcohol from someone’s system. It had the frequent side effect of sending people to the toilet, but that was better than the alternative reasons they would find themselves there. 

Strictly speaking it shouldn’t be the job of the hired mercenaries to deliver such things. That was technically a job for the wait staff that would be present. However, Ice Guy pointed out that it was an excellent opportunity to inspect the floor without making things weird. Having security walk through a crowd of dancing people was bound to annoy people, so we were relegated to standing by the walls unless we saw an actual incident occurring or had a proper excuse. Delivering some detox drinks was a good enough excuse, though I found it quite awkward still.

I’d rather be dealing with a battle. As soon as I thought that, there was an explosion from the upper floor. My eyes flicked up, excited for what was about to happen. Finally. I scanned the crowd near the explosion for who or what could have caused it. I couldn’t see well with the panicked press of bodies around me on the dance floor, but I managed to hold my position as the almost orderly fleeing of people from the dance floor began. 

“Trouble in the northern wing, second floor.” I reported a few moments late. Obviously everyone would have heard the explosion, but in theory some security members wouldn’t have been able to see it happening. At first I’d found the earpiece a bit confusing to use, but after a couple hours it felt pretty natural. It didn’t easily activate on accident, but it always worked when I wanted as well. Just the right amount of sensitivity.

“Copy that,” I heard from several voices, responding to my report. “Team A, go check it out.” That command came from Ice Guy, obviously. We’d learned to not say too much on comms, and instead we assumed orders would come through after a report.

All of us were Team A, but one time he’d ordered Team B to check out a minor incident and we were left wondering what to do for a moment. Maks went to check it out anyway, and while the reprimand was minor it was a reminder that he should hold his position if he was aware another group should be handling an incident.

This incident was for us to deal with. I wasn’t sure if Ice Guy- I really felt sorry for our captain- if he was coming or not. From what I’d last seen, he was on the south end of the room. Probably not a coincidence in this case.

I was almost in the middle of the room, which meant to get to the north on the second floor I’d have to go all the way over to the stairs. As I did so, I tried to keep my eyes up above. As I slid past the people fleeing down the stairs- who had a little bit of mass but were clearly quite unreal, which meant they would be more of an issue in reality- I managed to pick something out. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to recognize the suspicious figure from his outfit, because for the most part he looked just like the others. A nice suite, standard fare masquerade mask with little adornment on his face. But he moved differently, and didn’t have the same unreality as the others.

Just because my method of picking out the guy might not work in real circumstances didn’t mean I could ignore him. “Suspect spotted. Moving closer to try to confirm.”

I quickly moved up the stairs, and though the man moved along with the crowd I could see how unnatural it was. To be fair, the simulation was trying to not have anyone move through the real person present, so it was impossible to fully blend in. But I kept my eyes on him until he broke off from the rest, at which point I felt extra qualified for my suspicion. 

“Suspect fleeing to northeast balcony.”

I saw Rasmus- “Acid Man”- go ahead of me onto the balcony as I finished climbing the stairs.

“Sir,” Rasmus called out after the man. “Care to explain why you’re not evacuating with the rest of the party?”

Personally I felt we’d just lost the element of surprise by calling out to him, but it was probably the right thing to do.

The man didn’t respond, and Rasmus walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Sir-”

A moment later, Rasmus had a hole punched through his chest, green goop flying everywhere. Except… that was exactly how things were supposed to be. The suspect’s arm was sticking through Rasmus, but he continued his calm declaration.

“I’m going to have to ask you to come with us.”

Then I saw the man’s eyes light up. “Sorry. Ain’t happening.”

Then Rasmus exploded. For real, this time. Starting at the man’s arm, there was a big ball of fire and he scattered in all directions.

I was just at the door to the balcony, and I jumped into action. I tapped my comm once before summoning a semi-real hand with Mage’s Reach. “Suspect has taken offensive action, backup requested.” Even though we were now outside it still seemed like a bad idea to use fire, especially on someone who had just had his arm explode with no visible damage to himself, or even his suit. And Shocking Grasp was better anyway.

The hand rushed forward, grabbing for the man. I was surprised when his left hand stretched out and grabbed it, but I’d already cast Shocking Grasp. Electricity surged through the man… and his left hand also exploded. At least, there was an explosion all around it, sufficient to rip apart Mage’s Reach. I hadn’t had anyone attack it before. Not with sufficient force, anyway. People in Mossley certainly slapped it with sticks, but it was more durable than that. Apparently significant explosions were its limit.

The only consolation I had was that the man in front of us was at least briefly fazed by Shocking Grasp, causing him to shake his hand and glare at me. Then he held his two hands out in front of him, a red and black ball of something growing larger and larger. It seemed like the perfect time to try out a Firebolt even if I didn’t think it would work. Unfortunately at the same time as I launched my attack, so did he- and his fiery ball blasted straight through my Firebolt without exploding.

I barely had time to leap to the side, hoping to avoid it. But that was when Maks finally arrived. It was bold of him to slap the ball directly with his hand, but as it exploded into fire and swirled around him I could see why he’d do it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just fire. It exploded into a shockwave that rocked the building and sent both of us flying backwards- I wasn’t right next to it so I only tumbled a bit, but Shockfire slammed into the wall. 

The explosion man in front of us was smirking, starting to prepare another charged attack, when suddenly his eyes widened and he started cussing. “Nope nope nope stop I give up!” He released the charge and held his hands up high. I couldn’t see what had suddenly caused him to surrender until green goop crawled out around the legs of his pants, climbing up from the puddle on the floor. “Please don’t melt my feet any more.”

“Don’t worry,” came a voice that sounded like someone was speaking through… well, a pile of goo, maybe. “I can choose not to melt your feet, or anything else.” Rasmus continued to climb up around him, though. Soon enough he was coated in stuff, and his arms were pulled behind his back by the coating all around him.

“You can let him go now,” our captain stepped out from behind the door. “How’s it going, Bombino?”

“Bleh,” said the man who was apparently ‘Bombino’, as Rasmus pulled away from him. “I thought acid proof shoes and socks would actually do something, but they really did not.”

“I’m flexible,” Rasmus’ voice came from behind him. Besides looking a little singed, he looked alright. “I assume you’re one of our co-workers?”

The man nodded. “That’s right. Though I most certainly won’t be on this job. For reasons that I’m certain you will understand.”

“Explosions aren’t good in expensive manors full of people,” I offered helpfully.

“They are very much not,” Bombino confirmed. “Which makes me perfect for the role of villain here.”

“Alright then, let’s start with evaluations,” our captain gathered us around in front of him. “First, communication was adequate. Could have used a bit more in the actual battle, but you called out his location and responded.” Ice Guy shrugged, “It won’t always be so easy to pick out the troublemaker, but Acid Man, you did well preventing initial aggression and returning when unexpected. Though you seemed a bit unprepared for him to respond as he did.”

“I don’t know if that’s right,” Rasmus countered. “I couldn’t have known he would explode, but I was already in acid mode which was my best defensive option.”

“Fair enough,” our captain nodded. “Though do be aware of other abilities like that in the future. Some of them will damage you quite a bit more than being flung all over.” He turned towards our third member. “Now, Shockfire, you were a bit overconfident with your ability to resist that explosion. I understand you aren’t afraid of fire, but there’s sometimes more to abilities than you can pick up with your eyes. In addition to that, since you weren’t sneaking up behind it would have been better to announce your presence. Turlough might have been able to support you with something.” His eyes finally turned to me. “And from you, I would have liked to see a faster response. When Acid Man caught his arm there, you could have shocked him, or prepared it at least. Instead, you waited until afterwards. I do appreciate you not just attacking him without confirming he was a danger, but you needed to be ready.”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Overall,” Ice Guy looked at us, “I’d say that was an adequate performance given the unexpected ability. We have a few more days to drill you on other scenarios, which of course you won’t know until they happen. Just like in the field. Hopefully none of them will actually come up, but if nothing else you’ll be more used to different abilities.”

“Great,” Bombino said. “Can I see a healer now? I’m pretty sure he melted all of the skin off my feet.” 

“Absolutely,” Ice Guy said. “Let’s get you all patched up. And that will teach you to watch your feet, even with fancy shoes.”

-–Chapter Index–-