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Training didn’t just consist of running around in circles… especially for the couple of days the gym was being put back together. When I received news that I would be engaging in sparring, I was quite happy. Sparring meant fighting, and that meant experience. When I actually showed up, however, there were only a few people. Meztli, and two others beyond myself.
“Alright gentlemen,” she said. “Since the three of you are both new to the Power Brigade and lack real experience, you’ll all have some catching up to do. The first thing we’ll be doing is learning some proper unarmed fighting techniques and practicing them with each other. Also, we won’t be making use of powers yet.” One of the others nodded, but the third guy frowned. “Yes Maks, you have a problem with that?”
Maks was lanky and long, with bright yellow hair and yellow tinted skin that I understood not to be natural on Earth. He shifted on his feet as he answered, “This organization is for people with powers, right? Why would we fight without?” He had a strange accent, but Translation cut through it without difficulty.
“Let me ask you a question, Maks. How well do you fight while covered in acid?”
“Umm…” the skinny man grimaced.
I looked at my available points. “Not very well right now,” I admitted.
Meztli looked over the three of us. “None of you have the fine control to guarantee you safely deal with difficult opponents. You also won’t necessarily be able to use your power at all times. Even if you do, having a basis for combat is important. Building powers on top of a good foundation is important.” For some reason she looked at me, as if I would have an objection. But I was absolutely willing to get into face-punching brawls. That meant experience. “You’ll be able to make use of your powers once I’ve determined your training has reached an appropriate point. And don’t worry, we’ll also have time set aside for training powers individually.”
She started by teaching us some basic moves. Extremely basic like punches and kicks, but they also went with footwork. I had to admit that I was rather limited in my understanding of such things, despite having gotten into fistfights quite a bit when I was younger. Nobody really taught me to get better, and even Izzy and I mostly did it for fun. When we were friends.
“Now,” Meztli said, “Normally you’d spend a few weeks practicing these moves before we moved on to actual sparring, but we have the benefit of my powers to help you recover from little bruises and the like in no time at all. Just don’t aim for the face, because if we have to call in our actual healer it’s coming out of your paychecks.” She looked us over seriously, “Now then, since there are only four of us, we’ll pair up. Try to only make use of what I’ve taught you today, and later we can bring in your personal knowledge.” I raised my hand, a symbol used to get permission to ask a question. “Yes, Turlough?”
“Can I give us all armor, so we don’t even get bruised up?”
Meztli thought for a few moments. “An interesting proposition. As long as you could provide equal protection for everyone, it would be reasonable… but today, at least, we’ll do without. All of you have to be willing to get a bit banged up at the bare minimum. Once we move on to higher intensity matches, we might make use of that.”
With that given as an answer, we matched up with partners. I was matched up with the final man. Rasmus was a bit bigger than Maks, almost six feet tall and bulkier. However, I was still bigger than him. Perks of being an orc, I supposed. I could certainly be more muscular than I was, but I still outclassed most mages. Except for those who took very specific paths.
I did my best to use only the moves we had just been taught. Jabs, a straight thrust, some dodging techniques and leg sweeps. I wasn’t sure if I got it right, but Rasmus and I traded blows for a while. He must have been in combat at least some, because he didn’t shy away from taking blows. I didn’t either, though only because I knew the pain wouldn’t be too bad and would go away soon.
Overall it was an enjoyable experience, though I suspected the most important part was the thing I didn’t have down yet- avoiding blows. I was under the impression that quite a few supers made use of unarmed combat, so avoiding their attacks could be quite important. After all, the difference between being punched by a normal man and someone with super strength was hard to overstate.
So far, my only complaints about the Power Brigade was how I didn’t live close to where I worked. It was getting expensive to take a taxi to and from the training area every day. I knew people could own cars, but you needed a license for that… and money. I had some money, but a week of working at a warehouse, even with reasonably generous wages, didn’t exactly make me rich.
Fortunately I would get paid by the Power Brigade even just during training- though significantly less than if I was sent out on missions. I kind of wished I could get involved in real combat, but I also understood that came with actual danger. Sparring with Rasmus and Maks gave me experience, though not nearly so much as my brawl with Great Girl where I got to use my magic. Spars with Meztli actually generally provided less experience, at least in terms of numbers going up. I learned a lot from watching how she dodged and deftly counterattacked.
But I wasn’t going on missions right now, and hadn’t yet received my first Power Brigade paycheck, so I was on a smaller budget. In the worst case scenario I wouldn’t starve. I could eat at either Extra’s cafeteria- for a few more weeks- or the Power Brigade’s place. But while the food was decent in both, it just wasn’t… good. What was good was random food from street vendors.
In the interest of saving money, and because I had little else to do, I was walking home from the Power Brigade. I would still take a taxi to make sure I arrived on time in the morning, but a couple of hours of walking in the evening- even on days when I had been running- was rather nice. I got to see the city too.
“Hot dogs! Come get your hot dogs!”
They ate dogs on Earth? I supposed they might. There was a small line outside the stall, so it had to be something people knew about at least. I made sure to check the sign for nutritional compatibility. With a significant number of people with different bodily makeups in the city, I didn’t want to eat something that would make me sick. Just because a couple people in line looked like humans didn’t mean they actually were.
Fortunately I shared nutritional requirements with humans, so the majority of food was compatible. That included these hot dogs.
Upon moving forward in the line, I determined that the meal in question was a sausage in bread, with toppings. The bread was sliced open and then held sideways from the normal orientation of a roll, to keep those toppings from falling all over. Or at least, to minimize it. They seemed a bit messy.
I soon determined that they were both messy and tasty. It was quite satisfying to bite into one.
I continued to look around the city on my way back home, the sun just beginning to set. Streets and alleyways tended to all look the same, but I was beginning to recognize certain places along the route.
I heard a strange gurgling sound coming from a nearby alleyway. I didn’t see much besides some dumpsters- along with trash bags conspicuously not in said dumpsters, despite the ample space available. I conjured up Mage’s Reach and started lifting bags and random scattered bits. I wasn’t the sort to usually do that, but since I didn’t have to feel the trash I figured I might as well make the area more pleasant.
I was just about to drop the last garbage bag into the dumpster when I saw something dangling from it. A black cat, claws poked into the material. It was just hanging there, and I looked at it for a few moments before my arm began to get tired from just holding the bag up. Mage’s Reach did use my muscle power still. I balanced it on the edge of the dumpster, not wanting to drop the cat inside as well.
I heard the gurgling again, but the cat barely moved. I had the feeling it had been trying to get to whatever was inside the bag but got its claws stuck. I moved up to de-entangle it, but it actually was removed rather easily as I lifted the cat up with my actual hand under its belly. As I set it down on the ground, it just flopped over.
“Hey cat,” I said. “You alright?”
I didn’t expect the cat to reply… and it didn’t. Except by rolling its eyes towards me. Or perhaps towards the remnants of my hot dog.
“Hungry?” I asked. “I don’t know if cats should eat relish, or mustard, or ketchup, or onions… or dog.” I shrugged, and pulled out the last inch of the sausage, shaking off the toppings. Cat should at least eat meat, right? They ate rats. “Here.” I put it up to the cat’s mouth, but it only weakly bit down. “Oof, that bad, huh buddy?” I tore the last bit up into tiny chunks and placed them into the mouth of the cat one at a time. It at least was able to swallow them.
I waited for a few minutes. It didn’t look sick or anything, and I didn’t know any healers anyway. Well, besides Meztli, but I wasn’t sure if her power even worked on cats.
My worries were assuaged when the cat started to move. Slowly, but determinedly. It got onto its feet and began to walk down the alley.
“You sure you’re alright, cat buddy?” I asked.
The cat’s response was unclear. Some sort of meow that was at least full of energy, though not necessarily friendly.
“Alright, have fun I guess.”
I saw my cat buddy again the next day. It was in the same alley, sitting on the fire escape. Watching. For me? Probably not. Just everyone passing by. It barely even lifted up its head. When I lifted up a hot dog, its stomach growled. I stepped closer to it, but it hissed at me.
Tsk. How ungrateful, after I bought a hot dog just for it. Or for a backup snack. This one was plain though. According to the power of research, cats really shouldn’t have onions and the like.
“If I don’t get closer I can’t give you food, cat buddy.”
The cat sort of frowned at me, but didn’t seem enthusiastic about the thought.
“Well, I do have a way. Hold on.” I used a very small portion of the normal mana for a Mage’s Reach. I didn’t need it to last long or have full power. I just had to carry a hotdog a few feet. That wasn’t hard, and I placed it on the dirty stair in front of the cat.
At least this time it had the energy to chomp into the food in front of it, scarfing down half of it immediately before grabbing the other half and scurrying off. I supposed a whole hot dog was pretty big for a cat, after all.
In related news, a hot dog wasn’t made from dog at all. What a silly name. Though considering how many people I passed by with dogs as pets, I felt somewhat better upon learning that.
Since my cat buddy was gone, I continued on my way home to my room. Maybe someday it would appreciate me. Even if not, it was just too sad to leave it alone.