Mage Among Superheroes 159

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“Wait, stop,” Izzy held out her arm- as if anyone in their right mind was going to walk in front of the scout. “There’s something…” her head flicked back and forth. “Some sort of invisible wires?”

“Infrared laser grid,” said Swiss Arms, holding fingers circled in front of her face revealing a lens somehow. “Good catch.”

“Can we squeeze through?” Midnight asked.

“Of course not. You think they put them at funky angles to almost cover a whole room? It just covered the whole hallway. Barely more than a couple inches between them.”

“… That’s almost enough,” Midnight commented. “But I’d prefer not to be cut to pieces.”

“These aren’t a deathtrap, but rather a detector,” Swiss Arms said. “They probably set off the deathtrap.”

Izzy agreed, “I think so. There’s something beyond them, seams in the wall. Difficult to make out though. Doesn’t matter if we can’t get past.”

“Well, I might be able to cook something up,” Swiss Arms said. Some of the executives- like Calculator and Movebrain- wore something resembling a traditional suit. Captain Punch wore a brightly colored and more traditional super outfit. Swiss Arms was more towards the latter, but with a notable exception of lacking gloves with her arms uncovered. Which made a lot of sense, as her fingers and arms began to twist, suddenly reflecting light. “So, theoretically there’s some sort of check for the lasers being broken. I should be able to redirect them…” she then lay on her back on the floor, head just short of where I thought the lasers were supposed to be. She held up her arms, but obviously they were a full head short of where they needed to be. 

Until her shoulders simply extended away from her body. Mechanical parts were visible within, though that was already obvious to me. What wasn’t obvious was why there would be such a function. Who would do that and why? Very convenient though. This lady was like some sort of… multitool. 

“Alright, you’ll have to crouch down,” she said. “Don’t let any part of you get near the tips of my fingers.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll ‘crouch down’,” Izzy said stepping past her and only barely ducking.

Midnight… was still the size of a cat. He got off my shoulder and went ahead, which was good because I was already unsure about how well I’d fit through. 

Ice Guy was next, stepping through cautiously as he nearly ducked through the safe area.

Then it was just me. Of our group, I was the largest in all dimensions. Ultimately, I managed to duck down and step over Swiss Arms. Her head was fortunately not in the way given the distortion of her form, so my back foot was able to rest right below where her shoulders normally belonged. My hands supported me on the other side as I pulled my rear leg over, trying not to knock into her hands.

Then everyone was through. Except… “How are you going to get past?” I asked. 

“I’ll need some assistance,” Swiss Arms said. “If you and Ice Guy could each grab a bicep and hold me steady. Stand to the side, please.”

Biceps were not meant to be held onto. They were round and fleshy, both awful for grabbing. But some sort of protrusion like a rod formed inside and gave us something to actually grab onto. That… also made no sense. There was no way something like that could fit in there with shoulder extenders and mirrors and also presumably something resembling muscles and… swords? I’d heard something about arm-swords. Though that part was unverified by myself.

But whether it made sense or not, it certainly worked. Swiss Arms shimmied herself so that her shoulders were basically in the right place, her head slightly past the laser grid. Then she folded her knees to her chest, and then her feet passed through. An impressive maneuver, though even I had the flexibility for most of it. My toes might have poked beyond the blocked part of the grid though.

Then came the impossible part, where her motion continued with her arms barely trembling. I did my best to hold it still even while distracted from a one hundred and eighty degree shoulder rotation. Then Swiss Arms managed to extricate her head and arms without any alarms or death traps or even bits of laser scorching.

“If we have to make a quick exit…” Swiss Arms frowned. “We’ll just have to run and stay together.”

“I can coat the walls in ice to damp whatever sort of horrible thing comes out,” Ice Guy mentioned. “There wasn’t anything on the outer side, was there?”

“Not that I could find,” Izzy said.

That was going to have to be good enough, because I couldn’t detect anything here. Or rather, the whole place thrummed with super tech to the point I could barely pick out Swiss Arms… arms.

Maybe I should use Arcane Sight? But I might need the mana. And it didn’t last that long. Dealing with Doctor Doomsday was a pain.

One thing I could still sense was the portal. And just to secretly confirm there wasn’t another base here unrelated to the goal, I activated Locate Object one final time. Good. We were actually close enough for it to be specific with direction, meaning there weren’t too many obstacles. I held onto the feeling to make sure we continued in the right direction.

We continued on, encountering a few more traps we had to circumvent, though none quite so invisible as the first. 

“… Shouldn’t we have run into enemies by now?” Izzy looked around. “Or cameras or something?”

“Are the traps not enough?” I asked.

“Clearly they aren’t,” Izzy pointed out.

“I agree,” Swiss Arms said. “Doctor Doomsday is not to be underestimated. At this point, I would recommend waiting for backup.”

“I’m not-”

“I know you’re not going to wait. But I would still recommend it. Or rather, I would if we weren’t already inside. Waiting around in here seems like a terrible idea.”

We finally came to the door. It was huge, somewhere around ten feet on a side and made of thick metal. Which surprised me, because that should have blocked off most of the flow of mana. “There’s a portal in here,” I said, gesturing. The Brigade already knew I could sense portals, and I thought they’d want to know.

“Of course there is,” Swiss Arms sighed. “Do we need to go that way?”

“I don’t think so,” I shook my head.

“… We should still get it open. See where it leads. Or, you can close it?”

“It’s expensive,” I said. Technically, I could recover mana from it… possibly. Or it could drain me empty, if it was exceptionally stable. One in a permanent installation seemed more likely to be the latter. “Maybe on the way out?”

“We need to at least see it,” she said.

I nodded, gesturing towards the door. I was neither responsible for looking for traps nor opening doors. It took a minute, but…

“That was surprisingly easy,” Swiss Arms said as her arms stopped looking like flat snakes squeezing between the seams in the metal door and returned to being arms. The door itself opened with the sound of pistons activating. “Wow, that’s a big one.”

Inside of a basically empty room was a semicircular portal at least twenty feet wide and tall. Beyond it was a forest with dense brush and trees.

“Recognize it?” Izzy asked.

I frowned, “… should I?”

“You’re the guy who knows about planes and stuff!”

“This could be the material plane or a number of fancy planty ones,” I said. “I can’t really tell unless we see what sort of things live there. And if it’s the kind that needs to be sealed shut…”

“I got it,” Izzy waved me off. “We don’t want to be here then. Can we… reseal the door?”

“Nope,” Swiss Arms said. “Not without taking an uncomfortable amount of time.”

We continued on, passing by an open room that had a tiger, a monkey, and some birds in cages. “… Is he starting a zoo?” I frowned. I tilted my head, and finally it hit me. “Oh. Wow, those are some big megafauna.” The cages were scaled to visibly fit the creatures, and bare space- this base had a lot of empty space somehow- didn’t help my depth perception. Even the floor panels were larger in this room, but I only noticed when I glanced down near us.

“I think we’ll be leaving those cages closed,” Ice Guy said. “Agreed?”

Everyone nodded. Though if we could get them out without approaching, they’d be good at wrecking things. Presumably.

More traps, but still no goons. Then we found the room with Ceira- and my staff, casually placed on a table among all sorts of equipment.

“This is… shockingly good luck,” Swiss Arms commented.

I had to agree. I cast Arcane Sight, but could barely see from all the threads of power on everything. I focused on Ceira herself, where I was relieved to find besides clear power on the shackles binding her there was nothing directly on her. So she wasn’t an illusion or a robot or something. I didn’t actually know what Doctor Doomsday could do.

“… Turlough? Uh, I mean… Mage?” Ceira looked kind of dazed, but she raised up her head when we started moving around in the room.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Pretty sure even the Doctor knows my name. We’re here to get you out.”

My staff was… still the same. Including the unfortunate physical distortion. I picked it up.

“I don’t… I don’t get what’s going on,” Ceira admitted. “I think… Doctor Doomsday…?”

“Something like that,” I said. Four shackles. Would I have enough to dispel that? Oh, wait. There were a few daggers sitting around. Charged? I hoped so. Doctor Doomsday sure had too many of those things. We couldn’t really afford to sit around. Izzy was already inspecting Ceira’s shackles by the time I snatched up the daggers.

“I don’t think I can disarm this…” Izzy said. “Not without some tools I don’t know how to get in this world.”

Swiss Arms shook her head, “I don’t sense any tech I can disrupt either.”

“Alright,” I nodded. “I can’t guarantee nothing will go wrong, but we can’t wait. Captain, Swiss Arms, please be ready to help break apart the manacles.”

I pressed one dagger against a shackle and nothing happened. Neither exploded or melted. It also didn’t dispel anything. Until I coaxed it, at least. Then I felt power unraveling, but the dagger still didn’t explode. Maybe the protective measures weren’t yet built in? Lucky. It was drained, but it managed to get one shackle. I’d have one extra at this rate.

“That one’s deactivated, at least for a minute or two,” I said. I had no idea if it would automatically refill from ambient mana, but it wouldn’t be permanently disenchanted no matter what. I quickly did the same with the others, handing the daggers to Izzy. “For later. I think the shackles are as safe as they can be.”

Ice Guy quickly got to work, forming a coating of ice around Ceira’s wrists. Swiss Arms then simply squeezed them, shattering the rigid structure of the manacles. One by one, until Ceira was standing free.

“I… I’m free. Thank you. I can’t believe you came. And so quickly… I think?”

“It was rather quick, wasn’t it?”

I recognized that voice. “Dammit.”

I turned to see Doctor Doomsday, fully decked out with goggles, what I could only presume to be a death ray in one hand and some sort of cannon in the other. His power signature didn’t stand out from anything else in the room except for being more. Why would it? Everything here ran off of his tech, except perhaps the few bits of magic like the shackles and daggers which still felt like they had a little super tech.

“I must say,” the man said, stepping forward slightly. He wore a silvery lab coat that reflected things around him. Behind him I saw some of the expected minions. Mostly human, but I saw at least one orc. Were there dark elves, hiding in the shadows? “I had expected this to take longer. I was actually out making some preparations. But then you tripped the alarms. Honestly, did you not expect me to have ambient light sensors? Let along the temperature fluctuation sensors to determine warm bodies entering my lab. And of course, the laser grid has nanosecond scale disruption detection, so deflecting it a whole couple of meters makes a very obvious break.”

What the hell was I supposed to do here? Respond? Could we distract him? I avoided letting my eyes focus on Midnight. He could already sense what was inside me. Instead I gathered mana to cast Haste on us… and hoped he would get the idea. He did immediately step over towards Ice Guy, so I presumed he did.

“Fascinating,” I said. “Though I imagine cameras would have done just as well.” One cast. I did my best to keep my speech regular. Seconds were ticking away, stretched several times from my perspective.

“Cameras? Primitive technology. Easily exploited and unreliable. I can’t imagine that anyone of note would be detected by them.” One of the goons whispered in his ear. “Oh, how disappointing. I thought there was something special about you, Mage. But perhaps your orcish heritage holds you back.”

Two casts. Three casts. Midnight only had to reach Swiss Arms now. “What can I say? I didn’t get to choose how I was born.” I was going to rip out his heart and eat it. No, that was silly. Disintegrate it. I gathered mana.

“You know that I know you’re activating magic?” Doctor Doomsday said.

“Don’t care.” The instant Midnight touched Swiss Arms, I used an uncomfortable amount of my remaining mana to cast Chain Lightning. It went directly for… the first human mook. Apparently, they weren’t worth enough to provide an AEGIS for. None of them were, as was instantly made clear as they were flattened, the last jump of the spell striking Doctor Doomsday in the back. He had his own AEGIS, of course. He was the inventor, and I had no doubt it was several times stronger.

According to my calculations, I had just enough mana for one more Chain Lightning. But I couldn’t imagine it doing much good. I pulled out my sadly mundane gun and took a shot at Doctor Doomsday. It obviously was stopped in its tracks by his AEGIS, but a direct hit had to take some energy. It was also something to do as I dashed to the side, splitting to the left with Ice Guy and Ceira. Midnight, and Izzy went to the right. And Swiss Arms… went directly forward.

A sickening green death ray shot from Doctor Doomsday’s hand, and hit her directly… in her left palm. I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to block a death ray with my hands, but a Power Brigade exec? Maybe that was more reasonable. I can’t imagine it would work forever, or against everything, but I was glad she didn’t immediately perish. She’d be a terrible distraction if she died.

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