Waiting for Midnight and Izzy to come back out of Mossley, there was a spike of nervousness as they approached the wall. Fortunately, that seemed to be his normal fear of heights instead of some sort of emergency. In the time they were away I had recovered some mana, but I was nowhere near full capacity. I had saved up some extra mana crystals while in that other plane which nobody had bothered to inform me the name of, but I really didn’t want to use them if I didn’t have to. More than three of the large ones, approximately 5 mana each, would push me into the territory of uncomfortable danger. Or more smaller ones, with my limit being somewhere around 18 mana, the same as my fatigue point. That was unlikely to be a coincidence, even if they weren’t directly linked.
The rest of us were glad to see Izzy and Midnight approaching after we waited a couple hours. Thanks to my connection with Midnight we knew they were fine, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t still worry about them or ourselves being found out at any moment.
“How was it?” I asked nervously.
“Well…” Izzy hesitated. “They’ve been doing about as well as one might expect for a city under military occupation.”
“So it is that…” Senan frowned. “Do you know how many of them there are?”
“It seems the numbers fluctuate,” Izzy said. “Somewhere between 10 and 20. They have a portal somewhere, it seems.”
“Can’t you find those?” Senan asked.
“Sort of,” I said. “But this would be going to a place of lower or at best similar mana density, so I’d have to get close enough to detect the portal itself. I’m sure we can probably manage something,” I looked at Midnight. “But I can’t use Scrying, and Arcane Sight literally only works on things I can see. And if we can see the portal…” I shrugged. “That leaves Locate Object, which I’m not sure works on stuff like that. I might be able to find something through the portal though.”
“What about portal generating technology?” Senan asked.
“If I knew what that was, sure,” I shrugged. “But a bunch of electric wires inside something? That would just find our phones or earpieces. Or maybe these mercenary guys.” I frowned, “How has nobody noticed? Pretty sure the rest of Granbold would be kind of upset about a city suddenly going off the grid.”
“There could be other trouble,” Senan said.
“Ugh,” I grimaced. “Do you think these guys are working with Doctor Doomsday?”
“The Grey Gunners are half a world away,” Senan reminded me. “Which doesn’t mean they aren’t, but it would be easier for them to be here independently, or working with another supervillain. News about the Doctor Doomsday’s connections here has to have spread some, maybe others would want to take advantage of it.”
“… Isn’t this like, super illegal?” Ceira asked.
“Certainly,” Senan said. “But what are we going to do, call the cops? We’re the kind of people that would get sent. Besides, it’s not like we can.”
“We can though,” I reminded him. “Sending should reach Calculator more often than not from here.”
“You do realize you make a lot more work for that man,” Senan grinned.
“If I contacted someone else about things, it would just go through him eventually anyway,” I shrugged.
“It’s a good idea,” Senan said. “The situation here doesn’t seem to be an emergency. Obviously we want to handle the occupation as soon as possible, but there isn’t active harm…”
Izzy was fidgeting nervously. “Depends on when they next open the portal. It seems that some people have been going missing. And some of the locals spotted them bringing in outside captives.”
I looked down at my gun and shook my head, “I don’t know if I have enough ammo for twenty people. And they’ll have supers, right?”
“You don’t sense any?” Senan asked.
“The guards at this one gate weren’t,” I shook my head. “But that’s all I know.”
“Still…” Senan shook his head, “We should still have some time. Hopefully at least a day for you to be at full mana.”
“It’s so much slower here,” I complained. “We were just supposed to wait around all day and Gate back but now… ugh.”
“We should still do that,” Senan said.
“I’m not leaving my hometown like this,” I growled.
“Come on,” Senan said. “You know me. What I meant was we kind of need to follow the same plan as before. But if you can make stable portals from here, we can get reinforcements instead of going in with less than a full squad.”
“I… yeah that makes sense,” I nodded. “And we can get Ceira somewhere safe.” She made a face at that. “Sorry, but a mostly bulletproof jacket really isn’t enough. And there aren’t a lot of plants in the city.”
“I could, uh… Rust their guns?” she said hesitantly.
I shook my head. “You would have to touch them, right?”
“That’s… probably true,” she nodded slowly.
“Look, you’re still a civilian,” I said.
“Is several times your level and knows how to fight. And I think we still have to recommend she goes back,” I looked at the halfling.
“Can’t make me,” she folded her arms.
Senan shrugged, “She also has ties to this place, and the Power Brigade knows better than to try to stop people from helping home or friends.”
“So why can’t I help?” Ceira asked.
I didn’t really have a good reason. “You can, if we can lure them into the woods. But we should see what sort of backup we can get first.”
“So, how confident are you making a portal back here?” Senan asked. “From Earth. Would it be different? Harder, easier?”
“I… can’t say it wouldn’t be different,” I admitted. “Probably best to see what we can do from here and assume that’s the best we’ll get.”
Ultimately, we came up with a message for Calculator to be delivered by Midnight- because he was nearly full on mana. “Returned to material plane. Hometown illegally occupied by Grey Gunner mercenaries. Requesting reinforcements. Please advise of best location for test portal. Unwarded, familiar to Turlough.”
As we were waiting for a response, we made plans. Senan had a good point. “I should go through with Ceira.” Before she could protest, he continued. “I will be able to explain things, and you will be able to choose between safety and at least getting a helmet and a flak jacket.”
“If the portal works at all,” I said hesitantly.
“Why wouldn’t it? Comghall said that planar travel was more difficult than usual from there. This should be easier. And you crossed dimensions before, remember?”
“Sure, but that was riding on the back of a recent portal.”
“Sounds more difficult to me,” Senan shrugged. “Don’t worry, you’ve got this. Or… we spend the night to fully recover, and start killing guys from the gate. And then we’ll have more guns. You have enough resources to Stoneskin us all, right?”
“Barely,” I admitted.
“Don’t worry,” Midnight said. “I know we can do it together.” That was very nice of him to say, even as our shared nervousness echoed back and forth between us. We’d done more than a few tests from the previous plane, but not from here to Earth. “Ah, the message came back,” Midnight said after about half an hour. “Calculator says: ‘Wait thirty minutes from receipt of message, then portal into the living room of your apartment. Hope to see you there.’”
“… How will they know when we got the message?” I asked.
“I assume he will simply be waiting and wants sufficient time,” Senan said.
“… Yeah that makes sense,” I admitted.
So we waited. Our electronic time telling devices were basically all dead after more than a month in the jungle, regardless of them being off. But we only really needed an approximate anyway. After basically half an hour, Midnight and I began our work. Not that it was a terribly long process. A few seconds of gathering mana, then a few more as it formed into shape.
Unlike before, the process felt somewhat easier. I wasn’t certain that was actually correct until the actual Gate started forming, its dimensions nearly twice as much as it had been previously. It had to be close to eight feet wide, at least, not just similar to the size of a doorway.
From swirling magic to suddenly looking at the inside of my apartment with furniture shoved over to the edges, the Gate turned solid. There was a sudden gust of wind. “Alright,” I said to Senan and Ceira. “It’s stable enough.” At least, it wouldn’t collapse in the next second or two as they hustled through. About that same time, I saw others stepping around.
First was Great Girl. Since she was in full costume, that was her proper name instead of Sophia. “Should we, uh…?”
Ice Guy shook his head. I guess he’d been in costume the whole time as well for defensive purposes, but it was awkward to keep calling him Ice Guy for so long, away from the world where identities had a place being secret at all. “This is just a test for stability and timing. You wouldn’t want to be in there if it collapsed.”
I saw Rasmus- Acid Man- come into view as well. “Hi. Been a while.”
Great Girl had her arms crossed as she looked at me. Was she… angry? Nah, that would be silly.
“Yeah… not really by choice,” I admitted.
Calculator stepped into view as well. “Impressive. How long will this last?”
“Maybe a minute? Perhaps less. That’s what we’re testing, after all.”
“When can you make the next one?”
“Give us… half an hour?” I looked to Midnight, who nodded. We should have enough mana immediately, but consecutively making Gates was strenuous and I was pretty close to the amount I’d actually need. Having a few more points would be a nice buffer.
“Glad to see you made a calm-”
The portal began to wobble, then snapped closed.
“So like thirty seconds,” I shrugged. “Oh well, that’s way better than our previous record.”
“Cool,” said an unfamiliar voice. No, not unfamiliar. Just unexpected.
I turned to see Shockwave. “When did you get here?”
“When the portal opened, obviously,” Shockwave said as they held up some sort of weird object.
“What is that?”
“… no, cameras are small like this,” I held up my phone and pointed.
Shockwave laughed, “No, see? This is the lens.”
“That’s like ten pounds,” I said. It might not have been quite that much, but it was enough that I would consider bludgeoning someone with it. “What is that for?”
“Long distance photography. Can’t exactly expect wireless transmission to work through a portal, so I took some pictures of those guys at the gate and that ruined tower.”
“I didn’t hear anything…?” I tilted my head.
“I got way better at controlling that part. Though weirdly enough, at a certain threshold I actually get slower instead of faster when preventing shockwaves around me.”
Izzy frowned, “I noticed something pass by but… I didn’t realize it was you.” The two of them had met before, when we were rescuing Jerome.
“You probably shouldn’t run through portals like that,” I pointed out.
“Why? I trusted you to keep it open for at least a tenth of a second. Plenty of time.”
“I guess,” I shrugged.
“Anyway, I assume there are more of those guys?” Shockwave asked.
“At the other gates,” Izzy said. “And they have taken over a few buildings.”
“Want to point me to ‘em? I can shuffle you around real quick.”
“I guess?” Izzy said.
“How are you with motion sickness?”
“Fine I think but-”
A rush of wind was the last thing we saw or heard of the two of them, and I barely even saw leaves being disturbed. They seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth for at least for the next ten minutes. When they reappeared, Izzy slumped against a tree. “… People aren’t meant to go that fast.”
“Yeah,” Shockwave agreed. “We’re meant to go faster. But that’s all I can do without hurting anyone. Unless…”
“Definitely don’t have the mana for it now,” I said. “Also, aren’t you done?”
“I could take pictures inside if I was fast enough…” Shockwave said. “And them standing around in front of old buildings could totally happen in Yew-Kay. We need some more incriminating evidence.”
That was actually a good point. And while Shockwave seemed eager for Haste, I also sensed a sincere desire for more information.
Time for one crystal, just to be sure. After this, we’d hopefully have more backup to rely on. “Alright. Midnight, help me out here. Even split of the full 5.” Might as well conserve what mana I could, even if it probably meant Alter Time would be a bit less effective due to the limits of Assistive Familiar Casting.
“Okthanksbye!” Shockwave said after the spell finished. And I did hear a slight pop as they took off. Hopefully nobody in town would notice, but either way we would have backup soon enough and Shockwave could at least escape if it came down to it.