I looked at my large number of free points. Level 24 now, 37 points. If I was going to keep on track for that promise to Izzy, I would need to keep 26 of them and get the last 13 next level. Gate would cost all of those points. Though… there was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t even be able to cast it. At level 25 I would have a mana pool of 30. With Gate costing 20, I would be at more than half my pool for a single spell. So there was a decent chance I couldn’t properly cast it until I was level 35. I was leveling fast, but how long would that take? A year? Even if I continued to get levels at the same pace as I had been- which was unlikely, since the experience cost continued to increase- it would be several months. That wasn’t that bad, but I had to try.
Technically, I only needed to keep 14 points instead of 26. Since I got points equal to my level every time I leveled up, I would have the full 39 upon reaching level 25. So I kind of had 23 points to work with, and as long as I didn’t go past that point I could guarantee having enough. The question was what I wanted to use those points on.
Just spending points upgrading what I already had was tempting. I could always use more efficiency, and the same was true with power. For the moment I was gunning for level 3 in everything to match Familiar Bond, since Midnight needed the efficiency even more than myself.
If only I had another mage to consult, but I didn’t know any. Well, I guess I knew one actually. Or if I wanted to take a gamble with a couple fistsfull of points and assume that Sending would work, I could try to contact Master Uvithar. Though I had the feeling that probably wouldn’t work. It usually worked interplanar, but interreality? He should have also tried to contact me with it already. It was also kind of a waste, since technology handled that in this world. I could call someone up on my cell phone and get a clear conversation, instead of a mana intensive couple of text messages worth of information.
I wrote a list of what I had down for Jerome. It would fit nicely in a text document, but I kind of didn’t really trust in technology’s safety. Did I believe that the Power Brigade did its best to keep my phone secure? Absolutely. Did I understand how? I did not. So I would write it down and burn it later. Some people could know this information, but even with power scanners being a thing now I really wanted to avoid people knowing specifics.
“So,” I asked. “What do you think I should get? I know I’m supposed to be the one with all the experience, but I would appreciate your thoughts.” Midnight was also given a chance to express his opinion, but besides upgrading things in general he didn’t know what sort of new thing we should have if we went in that direction.
“I don’t really know,” Jerome said, scratching at some stubble growing in on his chin. “It’s kind of an open ended math problem, isn’t it? You can spend up to 23 points now, but maybe you don’t want to. Hey, did you forget to list Enhance Mind here?”
See? I told you the kid was smart. He figured it out decades faster than me. “The power was inside of you the whole time,” I said by way of deflection. “Maybe there’s something cool you’d like to try to learn from me?”
“No but seriously did you try to placebo me?” Jerome asked.
“I don’t know what one of those is.”
“I thought you were supposed to be the educated one?” he raised an eyebrow.
“That depends. Does it involve history of Earth or anything like that? Because I have literally no understanding of that stuff. I just know how to learn, and how to do the necessary math for magic.” Even as I said that, I had my phone out. I wasn’t unwilling to learn. “How do you spell placebo?” He told me, and I found the definition. “Oh, yes. I suppose I was using this placebo effect to make you study harder.”
“That’s… pretty smart, actually,” Jerome nodded.
“I wish I could claim it was my idea, but Master Uvithar came up with it.”
“Learning from your teacher is exactly what you’re supposed to do though, right?” Jerome grinned. “I don’t know if there will be another wave of portal powers or anything like that, but if I get an apprentice I’ll probably do the same thing. Though uh, it’s kinda early to think about that. So… Enhance Mind doesn’t exist?”
“It does,” I said. “I just don’t have it.”
“Wouldn’t that be useful?” Jerome asked. “Just like, being smarter?”
“It’s expensive enough that I couldn’t keep it up constantly. And while it’s certainly useful, it could also be used as a crutch. At least that’s what Master Uvithar said. Personally, I just don’t know where I’d use it. Thinking more efficiently in combat would be nice, but I could instead throw out another Sonic Lance or whatever.”
“You really like that spell, huh?”
“It’s effective against many things, and high powered without having too large of a radius of destruction. And it doesn’t catch anything on fire,” I finished.
“Hmm, alright,” Jerome nodded. “If you want my advice, I think you should… upgrade Physical Freedom.”
“… I don’t get it,” I admitted. “Was it useful? Absolutely. But I don’t really think I need it to be better or more efficient if I’m only going to use it rarely. The duration also really won’t change much. What’s the reason?”
“Call it a hunch,” Jerome said. “Or… an experiment. You have Basic Light Magic, right?”
“Sure,” I said. “And this is connected… how?”
“Well, you also learned Mental Freedom the uh… nontraditional way? Like you did with some of the other things. And when you spend points to upgrade Light, it combined with Dancing Lights into one thing. So maybe Physical Freedom will do the same.”
“Hmm. That would be a 10 point experiment,” I frowned. “And, Mental Freedom already leveled up? Shouldn’t I spend points on that instead?”
“Uh, maybe?” Jerome shrugged. “Look, I’m just throwing things out there. But you already kinda tried the other way, and spending points is more of an active thing. And if you’re willing to throw down a whole 20 points, you could try one then the other. The order might matter though.”
“Great,” I said. “Now I have another thing to think about. That wasn’t even on my list. And the worst part is I can’t even figure out how I ‘learn’ spells to begin with. It just… it makes no sense.”
“It’s magic and/or super powers. Those things don’t really… make sense.”
“Sure they do. Just not… the same way as normal things.”
“Alright, well I don’t really have other advice besides just picking whatever you want. It’s your points, right? If you want to save some for whatever, do that. If you want to spend them, do that. But also, I’m a dropout so what do I know?”
“But you’re still studying, right?”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I still technically dropped out of school.”
Sure. Technically. I decided to spend some points. Worst case scenario, next time I got frozen in a block of ice and/or cheese I got out more quickly. “Well,” I said. “I have no idea how anything works now.”
“You’re telling me?” Jerome shook his head. “I’m trying to freaking learn calculus and I think I forgot how to do basic arithmetic.”
“Your idea was good,” I said. “It says, uh… ‘Variable Freedom’ now. And it’s… in the normal spot? The section before points instead of the one after.”
“Oh, weird,” Jerome frowned. “Why would that… uh…”
I had the same thoughts, or lack of them. “I really don’t know. And it’s… only one increase. Which sort of makes sense, and sort of doesn’t. It didn’t combine the increases from both.”
“That’s new and weird,” Jerome said. “Also, can you teach me that? It’s probably more useful for me than Sonic Lance if I want to stay out of trouble.”
“I can certainly try,” I said. “But I think it’s still too expensive.”
“Oh right,” Jerome said. “I think I’m like level 7 now, but that still leaves my mana capacity at like two thirds of what it needs to be, right?”
“Something like that, yes. You were able to get around the ‘half your maximum’ for Energy Ward, but this is further. We can try, though.”
As we learned over the next few sessions, he wasn’t quite ready for them- but he did say he felt like he learned something nonetheless. In the more abstract sense, not like he got some other spell. And practicing magic was worth experience for normal people, so it was bringing him closer to where he needed to be regardless.
To learn more about my new weird abilities, I tried another experiment. What was the point about being on either side of the line? I could upgrade both, with points, so was it just whether I spent points to initially learn it? And then why would Variable Freedom be in the first section? Except that I spent points on Physical Freedom which was there, I supposed.
The answer was… I couldn’t spend points on Basic Light Magic. That would have probably only cost 3 points if I could, which was why I was willing to take the risk. But nothing happened. This was garbage and I didn’t understand it. Then I spend 10 more points to level up Variable Freedom once more. At least that worked.
“Uuuugh,” I vocalized as I walked around the training level.
“What’s wrong?” a friendly voice said from nearby. I recognized Shockwave. “Training issues? Villain troubles?”
“Not really. Well, I guess I have to worry about a specific villain again, but this falls under the category of my powers doing weird things.”
“Oh yeah?” Shockwave nodded. “Then my advice would be to improve Haste more.”
“That’s always your advice,” I pointed out.
“And? Have you ever gone too fast?”
“Yes,” I said.
“No, that doesn’t sound right,” Shockwave shook their head. “You must have been thinking of something else.”
“It’s not bad,” I admitted. “It’s actually quite effective, but I’m still limited in how fast I can cast spells. Though if I wasn’t, I could exhaust my mana in like… six seconds.”
“That does sound like a problem,” Shockwave admitted. “But what’s all that fancy combat training for if you don’t make use of it?”
“Not everything can be solved just by being faster and punching someone in the face.”
“Of course not,” Shockwave said, almost sounding like they were committing heresy. Briefly. “Sometimes you need to go faster and tie someone up with a rope, or trip them, or spray a fire extinguisher or an ice extinguisher or something like that. But being faster is always better.”
“… Remember that time you had to pay for the windows in like half the city?”
“First of all,” Shockwave said. “It was only the top ones in a very narrow band. And my grandma is alive so I don’t care.”
“… Wanna see if I can screw up your power?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” Shockwave asked.
“Like, your whole… shockwave thing.”
“That’s not really a part of my power, though,” Shockwave pointed out. “Well, I suppose it is a little bit? It’s really hard to say with things like that. It’s kind of an inevitable consequence of going fast, and my body just sort of goes fast and lets me handle it. That’s my power, and I just don’t happen to negate the shockwaves like many other speedsters.”
“Okay but what if you ignored friction?”
“Then I couldn’t run,” Shockwave pointed out.
“… What if you only ignored friction when it was holding you back?”
“That doesn’t even make any sense,” Shockwave pointed out.
“Powers don’t make any sense,” I agreed. “Anyway, you might go faster.”
“Sold. What do you need me to do?”