Mage Among Superheroes 162

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Despite my great fatigue, sleep only came over me sparingly. Perhaps I had gotten too used to the comfortable mattresses of my new world instead of the cheap mattresses I had as an apprentice. Of course, the ground was never really a good place to sleep to begin with. At least it was a reasonable temperature inside the den, and the fire we set kept the larger area warmer. We didn’t get to test out an igloo, but that was probably for the best. 

Though my back and general body ached, it was nowhere near as much as the sharp pains inside. Absorbing 20 mana worth of crystals seemed to be too much, though I couldn’t really say it wasn’t justified at the time. I’d been worse, as well. But unfortunately, I couldn’t just choose to not use mana for a while. We were still in some weird forest. It might seem unfair to call something from my original world that, but that was just how it was.

I had to admit that my knowledge of the world’s forests was limited, but even so this had to be a more obscure one- which would be odd considering its potency- or something extraplanar that my studies had not covered. The latter was reasonable enough, given that I hadn’t expected to go planes hopping any time soon. Though if I’d known there were things to fight, I might have considered it.

Scents filled my nose. That of roasting meat, but quite unfamiliar. This would be the large panther we killed, whose den we had slept in. Or at least the portions we had managed to carry with us. Between all five of us, we really couldn’t carry close to that much. That was counting Midnight, whose total carrying capacity was inside Storage. He didn’t really have any way to carry more than that, and it was all full up with cans of tuna. Useful, actually, though it was uncertain if it was a higher caloric density than the meat we were drying.

“Have some. It’s… better than snake,” Izzy held out a strip of meat to me.

Snake must have not been very good, or at least whichever sort she was referring to. It was tough, though that wasn’t terribly hard to deal with. But it was sure… gamey? That was the sort of fancy words people used to describe weird meat. “Thanks.”

More important than the meat was the fur, which had been separated into various shapes and sizes depending partly on how it was damaged. Much of it was waiting to be Cleaned still, and I began with some of the smaller pieces that would be making temporary waterskins. We didn’t really have the necessary components to put those together, specifically needle and thread, nor did we have anything like proper stoppers. So we improvised. Which is to say, I did my best to prepare the inside with magic, and Izzy and Ceira came up with some sort of fibrous plant that vaguely pulled apart into thick ribbons. Ice Guy contributed sharpness with various bits and pieces of ice, and we only ruined three or four sections of fur before we finally got our first functioning waterskin-like vessel. The top was frozen over so it would not spill out, a minor effort on Ice Guy’s part but one that would have to be maintained during the day.

Beyond that, we kept a handful of large sections of fur, rolling them up to later use as bedrolls or blankets or cloaks or whatever. Even after casting Clean they didn’t smell good, and without special treatment I was pretty sure they wouldn’t last terribly long. But we did what we could.

“Ugh, I still can’t figure out how to make water,” Ceira said. “It should be easy, right?”

“Presumably,” I said. “But you do not yet have a breadth of magical knowledge to draw from. Or maybe it’s level that’s making things difficult. Either way, I can’t give you an example, since it’s a different sort of magic than I have. Only a small number of spells will overlap between us.”

“I give up,” Ceira said. “We just have to fill stuff up at the place Izzy found.”

“I think you might be able to purify it, as well. Just an option to try out,” I commented.

“Yeah, maybe.” She looked over at me. “I have plenty of mana here, so I might as well try fixing your staff again. I barely got started on that when… well, you know.” She grimaced. “Thanks for coming to save me. I just wish I had my stuff.”

“I didn’t see anything about,” I admitted. “Just my staff lying nearby and a bunch of gadgets I didn’t understand. Probably should have snatched some.”

Midnight joined the conversation with that topic. “What do you think happened to that lady? Swiss Arms?”

I shrugged, “She seemed to know what she was doing. I’m not sure if her grudge against Doctor Doomsday would help or hurt her, but… other people from the Brigade should have been preparing an assault. Maybe others. It’s possible he got taken out. We might be able to just go back through the portal nice and safe.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Izzy said, appearing nearby and handing me one of the waterskins filling her arms. “I spotted some of those bots about. We should probably get moving.”

“Hmm… how many?”

“Does it matter? I saw some of their weapons leaving fist sized holes in the metal flooring.”

“… Your fist or my fist?” No response. “Yeah alright I can see how we wouldn’t want to tussle with them. But they should probably run out of power eventually.”

“Maybe,” Captain Senan shrugged. “Knowing him, he could have created perpetual motion engines. Or something close. Though he definitely saps large amounts of power from the city too.” He wasn’t acting as a captain here, so was he just… Senan? That was his first name, right? People with two confused me. Seemed unnecessary.

We were up and moving again, and as I followed along behind Izzy every couple of minutes I would use Clean on more of the pelt. Ambient mana here was several times the norm, so I was just matching my regeneration rate. 

With the majority of us not being proficient in stealth, we had to assume we would be noticed Izzy and Midnight were the exceptions, but we couldn’t just march all day without conversation. Especially Midnight, the social little guy.

“How did the robots not catch us sooner?” Midnight asked.

“They’re not good at routing through forests, I assume,” Izzy said.

“The fact that they can navigate this terrain at all…” Ceira shook her head, “It’s pretty crazy.”

“So we can pull ahead of them during the day,” Midnight said. “But we probably still have to watch out for them at night.”

“Them and everything that lives here,” Izzy said. “But yes, especially since we only had a few hours to pull away yesterday I’m confident we can leave their reach if we keep going. And eventually we can find… civilization? Another portal?” Izzy shook her head. “Probably shouldn’t circle back.”

“Agreed,” Senan nodded. “I imagine these robots can relay their location to Doctor Doomsday, so any chance of us sneaking into his base and out would be minimal. Though if we didn’t have other options, I would say we had to try.”

“What other options are there?” Ceira asked. “Just… living here? Surviving? I- I do like nature, but not this much of it.”

“We kill stuff,” I said. “Until I level up a couple times.”

“How long will that take?”

Years should be the norm. Months would be more reasonable. I had been slowing down somewhat lately, but it wasn’t as if I was leveling slowly. A world with constant combat available was the situation where Curse of the Barbarian allowed me to overcome my previous issues. “Depends on what we fight, really,” I admitted. “I wouldn’t bet on anything faster than a few weeks though.”

She swallowed. “My family is going to be so worried.”

“The Power Brigade should keep them up to date,” Senan said. “Though we can’t keep in contact with them, they should know we didn’t die.”

“Actually,” I said. “We probably can.”

Before I could explain, Izzy stopped. “Hey, Ceira. You do plant stuff right?”

“I’m a Druid, yes,” she said. “But I can really only use Sprout.”

“So like, if you wanted to kill a plant…”

“I’d use a weed killer or something.”

“Can you do that… ahead of us?”

“It’s not magic. It’s just like… chemicals we have. Sorry.”

“Can you learn a spell like that?”

“Uh…” Ceira frowned. “Turlough, what’s the point where you pass out?”

“Level plus 5 over 2 in mana cost which is the same as spell level.”

“So like… 6.5?” Ceira shook her head. “Nothing that’s standing out to me. I could try to talk to a plant. Oh, or shrink them?”

“Alright, good to know,” Izzy said, slowly stepping backwards. “Let’s just… not go that way.”

“I can kill plants,” I pointed out.

“Can you kill that?” she pointed. All I saw were a bunch of trees and bushes and undergrowth.

“What specifically?” I asked.

“Literally all of those vines all at once?”

“Uh… probably not,” I admitted, following her as she continued to move away. “It’s it poisonous?”

“It’s mobile,” Izzy said.

“Oh. That kind of plant,” I nodded. “Best to avoid it.”

“I could also kill a plant,” Senan reminded us. “Or at least greatly hinder it. But avoiding conflicts can be useful. I’m sure we’ll run into enough trouble anyway.”

I kind of wanted to fight it, but I also didn’t want to have to cast Chain Lightning or something big that would hurt my insides. More than that, I didn’t want Ceira to be at risk. Nor Izzy, but she was strong enough to handle herself. Either way, I kept quiet and just followed along as we trekked around, making use of whatever criteria Izzy had for our route.

Ceira was obviously not doing well in the current circumstances, and Midnight was worried. Ice Guy seemed to be fine, but he was a professional mercenary. Izzy seemed to be focused on utility, I couldn’t tell how she was feeling. As for myself… I felt fine. Perhaps I was supposed to be feeling fear or worry because we were in the middle of an extraplanar forest with things that were both actively and passively hunting us, but I didn’t. I felt fine. Slightly happy, even. A friend had been saved, and the current opportunity to get experience was good as well. Of course, we still had to get to actual safety, but I was confident with the group we had.

We continued moving, to keep ahead of robotic dangers as well as looking for some sort of civilization so we didn’t have to bet on me gaining levels. That was quite reasonable, because we couldn’t really be certain that I wouldn’t die. But at least everyone had Force Armor to help them out, so we would be ready when something came.

The only thing I heard was the sound of air catching and a roar. Then a spray of green covered the area in front of us, leaving behind only devastation. The one tree in the area snapped apart as a huge amount of its trunk was melted away, crashing to the side in a oblong mess of scoured underbrush, green goop fizzling away the last bit of it, leaving bare dirt and stone where there had once been thick leaves and dead branches. Izzy herself was nowhere to be seen.

“Freaking dragons!” she shouted from behind a tree that I couldn’t believe she’d gotten to. But upon thinking about it, I had felt a burst of mana from her- and from the source of that attack as the figure swooped through the trees above us.

We were lucky she had been out in front far enough that nothing but tiny flecks of acid reached the rest of us, but now we had to deal with a dragon. My head snapped around, and I was amazed at how it maneuvered between the trees without crashing into anything. Impressive. Dangerous.

“Midnight! Acid resistance for those two!” I gestured to Izzy and Senan. I cast Energy Ward on both of us together, then Ceira. “Careful, it’s probably not enough to protect against a direct dragon breath… but it should at least get you out with your bones intact. Also, spread out so it can’t hit us all.”

The dragon was too far for Ice Guy to reliably hit with all the cover, so he simply armored himself and prepared for the incoming attack. Ceira watched the path of the dragon and I felt her preparing a spell. She didn’t have that many, so it wasn’t a surprise it was her newly learned Entangle. Trees reached out for the dragon- catching it, but only for a moment. Though they should have reasonably stopped its momentum with their branches and the hanging vines, the dragon flew through the area without even tearing its way out.

“Oh right. Magic resistance.” That would make things harder, especially if it applied to powers. But resistance wasn’t immunity. “We’ll have to work harder, then.” It was hard to tell how big the dragon was since it kept weaving behind trees, but it was big enough to be worth a lot of experience. And I highly doubted it was interested in letting us leave. I didn’t speak much Draconic- maybe more than I spoke orcish because mages were quite interested in dragons- but I thought I recognized the word ‘prey’. Not that its opening move indicated an interest in diplomacy.

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