During my short wait to cast the next Gate, I grew envious of Comhghall and the others on their plane. Being here where mana regeneration was normal was painfully slow. But there had to be some downside to that place, or more people would live there. For the orcs, I couldn’t think of what it would be- the wild creatures would be a positive, not a negative. Maybe I should have asked more about why things were the way they were, but it was rather late now.
Shockwave was already back after having scouted the entrances to Mossley. They reported nothing unexpected- Grey Gunner mercenaries at all of the gates.
“Alright Midnight,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
It felt like I was almost capable of casting the spell on my own, but I doubted it would last long even if I could complete it. Either way, sharing the burden made it much better. The portal opened smoothly, this time revealing people already in front of it.
They began to step through in succession. First was Great Girl, then the sniper from her team Mono. Ice Guy came back through, along with Calculator himself. Finally, we got Acid Man. That brought our total numbers to nine, basically two squads worth.
“Anyone else?” I asked.
Calculator shook his head. “We successfully convinced Ceira to sit this out. Additional members of the Power Brigade will be watching over her safety and keeping your apartment secure.”
The apartment was still mine only due to perks of the Power Brigade. The sudden disappearance clause presumed people would return, and the Brigade took care of things like informing friends and family and keeping bills paid. Sure, the money ultimately came out of my pocket but I still had my guaranteed salary for up to six months without contact. Though since I had Sending, they would have handled things until whenever I could return, since they wouldn’t just be hoping that I was alive.
Midnight and I let the portal fade. Great Girl watched that, then stomped towards me arms folded in front of her. “You warn me about Doctor Doomsday potentially going after me and then you didn’t invite me along for the rescue?”
“Uh, sorry?” I tilted my head. “We kind of went with whoever was immediately available.”
“I could have helped!” she complained.
“Well… here you are,” I said. “Thank you for showing up.”
She pursed her lips, but left things at that. Though my growing level of basic proficiency in social interactions told me she had more she wanted to say.
“So, what do we do now?” I asked Calculator. “I don’t expect we’re here to have a friendly conversation with them if we’re bringing a team like this.”
Calculator was holding a pair of binoculars, leaning at a slight angle to peek through the woods. “The Grey Gunners have no official license to come through portals, and given what has been uncovered by Izzy, we can presume their presence here is fully illegal. However,” he held up a finger. “We’re going to test them. Some of us will approach, making no effort to hide our allegiance. We will not be the ones to open hostilities. But of course, we won’t be careless. The plan is to have Great Girl and myself approach first for visibility reasons. They can’t claim they didn’t recognize us.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I nodded. “And when they shoot you?”
“We obviously won’t hold back if they do. But what we really need to watch out for are any powered members. It is more than improbable that they don’t have any present,” Calculator said. “That is why Shockwave will be approaching along with us, specifically watching for attempts to raise comms. They will have to do something to contact the others. It is unlikely they have a proper network setup here for constant monitoring day in and day out.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “And the rest of us?”
“Mono will be watching from wherever he deems best to cover the gate,” Calculator said. “The rest of you are to stay hidden until we contact you.” He pulled out a handful of small devices. “Fresh batteries in these, since you have been unable to access any sort of recharge.”
He even had the special earpiece for Midnight.
“Oh, and if you would be able to Disguise Shockwave,” Calculator said. “That would make our ploy more effective. If the Grey Gunners spot a speedster they may make some sort of report immediately, and competent mercenaries know not to ignore even a moment of garbled comms.”
“Right,” I said. “What do you want to look like?”
“How much can you change?” Shockwave asked.
“Visually quite a bit, but it has to stay vaguely your size or it gets weird.”
“Well, there aren’t a ton of people as skinny as me,” Shockwave said. “So can you make me a bit bulkier, maybe with a suit like Calculator?”
Calculator nodded. “That should do nicely.” He wore a nicely tailored black suit like a couple other executives. Not that anything Francois made would be caught dead looking bad. I was pretty sure the man destroyed clothes to make sure that when they tattered in combat they would still look good. “We’ll have the rest of you approach close enough to join us swiftly, if necessary.”
“I’m quite low on mana,” I reminded him.
“Then hopefully you kept up with your arms training.”
“Until I was in a magical jungle for a couple months,” I nodded.
Midnight made the disguise for Shockwave to look like a generic, possibly-executive member of the Power Brigade. Mono moved to wherever his position would be, and the rest of us settled into a position up the road, where we couldn’t quite spot the gates- and thus couldn’t give ourselves away in turn.
From our position, we couldn’t hear what was going on. I could only see Calculator, Great Girl, and the disguised Shockwave walking up the road. Calculator raised his hand as he said something. A moment later, Shockwave disappeared at a speed that should have resulted in sonic booms. Calculator almost casually twisted his body, causing telltale puffs of dirt behind him as bullets landed. But again, the sound of gunfire was missing.
“… Did I go deaf?” I whispered. No, there was the feeling of a power. A subtle one, but it was there.
“Should be mono,” Ice Guy said.
“Right,” I nodded. The sniper’s power was actually shaping sound, and he wasn’t limited to just around his own vicinity. It was nice to see people who knew what they were doing at play.
A clear voice came through to my ear. “You are free to approach the gate. Mono, maintain watch until we are inside.”
As we approached, I soon saw two pairs of guards trussed up using their own camo jackets. It certainly wouldn’t last as a long term solution, but they couldn’t exactly wiggle out in front of several supers either.
I suddenly heard yelling from them. Something like, ‘They’ll get you’ or something stupid. Then I saw Calculator bend down, placing a hand on the throat of either of one pair. They continued to yell until they faded out and slumped over. He repeated the process with the other pair.
“Know anywhere we can purchase some rope?” Calculator asked as he frisked the guards. “Hmm, they seem to be lacking any local currency.”
“I doubt they paid for anything,” Izzy said. “How’d you knock them out like that? You don’t look that strong.”
Calculator held up one hand, wiggling his fingers and emphasizing his thumb and pinky. “You just have to apply pressure in the right places. Crushing someone’s windpipe is inefficient.” Even as he spoke he was pulling off their boots, and using the laces and their socks he formed gags to stop them from making further noise. “At this point I am ready to declare this an illegal military occupation. On the assumption the locals are in no position to pay us and since they have not agreed so, if it is convenient we should keep people alive for ransoms and/or bounties. But of course, only if it does not bring any risk to us.” He repeated the same information over the comms for Mono’s sake, adding. “Lethal force is still authorized.”
“So what do we do next?” I asked. “The gates are closed.”
“I’ll get it!” Shockwave said, running up the wall and disappearing into the guardhouse on top. The disguise distorted oddly at those speeds, but it would fade away soon anyway. “… I don’t have it!” Shockwave said, looking down over the wall. “There are some cranks here that require at least two people…”
Great Girl approached the wall, growing as she did, until she was taller than the wall. Then she simply put her arms up on it, pulling herself over as her body shrank to ‘normal’ size. Six feet tall, more or less.
The two on the walls moved into the guardhouse, and a moment later the gates began to creak open. When they were fully open, the two walked out of a narrow stairway on the back side.
“I definitely contributed,” Shockwave declared.
Yeah, well. I seriously doubted that Mossley’s gates actually required more than just Great Girl to open. Still, Shockwave was more capable of physical labor than they let on. They just had the strength of a normal strong individual, not a super.
The streets were deserted. “Is everyone gone?” I asked Izzy.
“No. Not most of them, I think. Just… keeping off the streets.” Izzy walked up to one of the nearby buildings- Carl’s General. “Carl? It’s Izzy and Turlough. Can you open up?”
Carl poked his head out. “Is it really you?” he asked, looking us over- and seeing the pile of soldiers at the open gates. “Our wayward scoundrels have returned. With some other strange individuals.”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’re on our side. Not like those guys,” I gestured. “Also I’m not a scoundrel.” Carl raised an eyebrow. In response I held up a hand with only the tiniest amount of electricity sparking between the fingers.
“Anyway,” Izzy said. “The thing is, we need some rope but we’re kind of lacking in funds.”
“Done,” Carl said. “Assuming you’re using it to tie up these Gray Shooter guys. Just come in off the streets.”
We followed him inside. “What are they even doing here?” Izzy asked as Great Girl tossed the soldiers into a pile. That left me with the job of translating for the rest of us. Only Izzy and I spoke common, after all.
“Whatever they want,” Carl shrugged as he started tossing rope from behind the counter. “They’ve got their strange magic and enchanted weapons.”
“Technically guns aren’t magic,” I pointed out, hefting one of their sidearms. A pistol with much more ammunition than I had available.
“You’re the mage,” Carl shook his head.
“Actually,” Izzy said. “They’re pretty easy to use, if you know of any villagers who want to fight. Of course, you’d still be in danger.”
“I’m too old for that,” Carl shook his head. “But Rordan might be interested. Or if you can find any former guards…” he frowned. “Please tell us your new friends are high level.”
“That’s right,” Izzy said. “They’re strong. And you should see how different Turlough is.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Carl grinned. “But seriously, we’re glad for the help. But you’re gonna need to get moving before they notice these guys are missing.”
“Ask if he has a basement to stuff these fellows in,” Calculator said. “Or a hitching post or something.”
After Izzy translated, Carl nodded. “Sure, I can keep them in the storeroom for a bit. But only if you promise to pick them up later. I can’t get caught with them.”
“We’re planning to clear out the whole town,” Izzy said. “These guys are hostages and negotiating pieces.” Some of the soldiers were wiggling now, and I declined to translate the second part, just pointing to them. Calculator no doubt understood.
“Well, they control the gates, of course.” Carl said. “So you’ll have to deal with that. But they also patrol throughout the city with a few of ‘em, and they’re also holed up in the mayor’s house next to that portal.”
“The portal is outside?” Calculator asked.
“Yeah, just kinda appeared there one day,” Carl said. “Never really got a good look but it’s got all sorts of weird things behind it.”
“Interesting. Seems they can’t re-tune the location with precision,” Calculator nodded to himself. “We should clean up the outlying parts of the town first. We don’t want to be flanked if we run into the real mercs.”
The tied up soldiers grumbled at that comment. But they also couldn’t do much to protest without powers.