Mage Among Superheroes 21

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It was possible my sweep of the dance floor for allies wasn’t very good, but I didn’t see anyone I could quickly stop by and talk to. Maybe Shockfire had managed to get in contact with the others, or maybe they were simply at different positions than I expected. Either way, I had seen the woman that seemed to be the target. Even with my Disguise spell going I would be missed soon if the intruders had watched me enter the bathroom in person. If they were using the magic I had sensed then I was fairly certain it wasn’t constantly active. Though I had the feeling the two things were unconnected.

I followed after the woman in the red dress, who I barely spotted walking outside. It was quite possible there were others of the same description, but I didn’t have much to work off. As I made my way out the door into the gardens after the woman, I saw a tasteful arrangement of hedges, fountains, and flowers. I also saw the rest of New Bay, off in the distance, buildings sticking high into the sky.

Until I came here, I had the idea of New Bay and Earth as one monolithic city with skyscrapers everywhere. It wasn’t entirely wrong, but at least as one approached the hills to the east the size of buildings reduced to more familiar sized homes. However, it was quite apparent that most of them were expensive- even if they weren’t atop the hills like the one we were guarding.

A quick scan of the gardens found my target. I was slightly relieved that the woman in the red dress had a fancy handbag, but once again that was insufficient description to guarantee she was the right target. There were very few others outside in the gardens, though it was certainly not empty. I watched the woman as casually as I could, with a few hedges in between us. She was pacing back and forth, wringing her hands. She looked nervous for some reason. Did she know she was a target?

There was also the possibility that she was working with the group, though if they were going to the trouble to do some sort of dealing at this fancy party that they would go to such efforts to keep out of the eyes of the guards, I imagined it was something we didn’t want to let go through. If nothing else, the Power Brigade would rather not encourage letting people eavesdrop on our comms.

“Oriol!” A voice called out as I was trying to decide whether or not to approach the woman. Then a hand touched my shoulder. “Oriol!”

I was surprised when I turned towards an unfamiliar elderly gentleman calling me an unfamiliar name. The dimmer lighting outside might have hidden my facial expression, but it certainly wouldn’t hide the way I jumped and stepped back. I hoped the man hadn’t noticed that my shoulder was at the wrong height. If I was lucky, he would have been drinking and not at full mental capacity.

“It is you Oriol. You alright? You look a bit pale.”

“I-” my voice croaked, unsure what the man would sound like. So I exaggerated. “I’m honestly not feeling so great. Came straight here from the bathroom.” I continued to hope my expression wasn’t fully clear, and that my strange voice would be written off somehow.

Fortunately, the old man was kindly enough. “Oh, feeling sick? Should probably head straight home then. Wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself.”

I grunted noncommittally. “Maybe I should.”

The man raised the glass of wine in his other hand, “I’ll drink to your health. And you should see to it properly yourself.” He took a sip, and after a few awkward moments turned to leave.

Somehow I’d gotten through that without major issue, though he would likely be suspicious if he ran into the real Oriol inside. I turned back towards the woman, just in time to see I was too late.

The man I’d seen earlier in the hallway was casually striding up to her. From my angle I had a great view as his right arm turned ghostly and translucent, sweeping through the woman’s handbag. I thought his eyes glowed for a moment as well, but his back was to me. His hand came away with a small cube with various wires sticking off of it. Very smoothly he slipped his hand into his outside suit pocket by his waist. 

Then he simply continued walking, while the woman still looked nervous. I thought she glanced over at him, but I couldn’t read anything from it. Her eyes didn’t linger, but it could have been from either real or feigned disinterest. Either way, she didn’t react as the man walked away.

I had several theoretical choices of action. I knew the situation required a delicate hand… but I didn’t have one of those. So instead of trying something complicated, I went with the thing I knew I had the tools for. 

I started walking quickly, casting Mage’s Reach and sending it ahead of me. Anyone who looked would know something abnormal was happening, but as long as nobody yelled to alert the man in the next couple of seconds things would be fine.

As he was doubtless trying to avoid suspicion, the man strolled casually- allowing me to approach closer. Though Mage’s Reach could go well beyond my current thirty foot distance my precision would drop. Either way, I had to see what I was doing so I couldn’t let him get too far. 

I wasn’t fully confident in what I was doing, so I decided to add extra juice. I couldn’t empower my spell directly, but I could empower myself which Mage’s Reach reflected. I gathered a significant quantity of mana to cast my most expensive spell, Haste. Five mana was nearly a third of my total, and with Mage’s Reach I would be using almost half for just this one maneuver. If I was the proper level for my age I’d have significantly more, but because of my Aspect I was still behind, even though I’d been growing quickly lately.

From my perspective, everything else slowed down. The man’s footsteps were suddenly at a much slower rate, while my own pace continued as normal. I was ready to perform basically the same maneuver he had, except despite the look of Mage’s Reach it was fully solid and couldn’t pull things through other objects. I moved my real arm to direct the hand, sinking it into the pocket. Without tactile feedback I had to widen my hand for a large scoop into the pocket, hoping I grasped onto whatever was there as I tightened my hand. 

As the hand pulled out I saw the small cube with wires dangling snugly held, and I began to pull it towards me. However, the man was already reacting at that point. Though I was yanking the hand away as quickly as I could, I found that the hand wasn’t moving particularly faster than normal. It was a separate magical effect, so the only practical thing I had contributed to it was faster mental processing.

That saved me, as while the man was whipping around with his arm outstretched I pulled the hand up over his movement. Before he’d even gone past I could see his eyes lock on the target and his movements refocus. He was quick, certainly, but not quick enough. He might be able to grab the hand if I tried to keep avoiding him, but I simply activated another spell.

The time it took to gather the single point of mana was actually excruciating. He almost got in contact with the object before it disappeared into nothing. Instead he grabbed onto the hand. But it held nothing, because it had gone into Storage. I could only take things I was touching that nobody else was, but Mage’s Reach was me touching people. That was its primary purpose, as a manifestation of myself beyond myself.

I didn’t particularly care if he grabbed the hand, but if I’d known what he was going to do next I might have tried harder to pull it away. His other hand grabbed onto it and his fingers all went ghostly… then they tore it apart. 

With no physical feedback it didn’t hurt, but I was stunned for a moment. It wasn’t so easy to destroy, but I supposed it made sense that his ghostly powers worked especially well on a semi-real hand. His eyes locked with mine. Even if I hadn’t had my arm outstretched in an obvious manner, he would likely have figured it out. I could sense different energies than the mana I used myself, and other ‘supers’ probably had some amount of that, depending on their power. 

He began running towards me, and I began gathering mana. I wanted to be ready for when I needed it. I didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming my relative sense of time would give me accurate results in how quickly I could gather mana. That was one of the limitations of Haste.

I considered what I should do. Firebolt to the chest… seemed like it could be considered excessive, if he were a semi-legitimate guest. Shocking Grasp would be good, but I couldn’t reach him with that before he got to me. That left literally one spell in my arsenal besides what I had already used. 

More of the man became ghostly as he ran at me, his upper body now providing a nice view of what was behind him. However, his legs still looked normal. That was excellent for what I intended. 

It felt like an eternity for him to run the short distance between us, but in real time it probably took only a few seconds instead of ten. As he was on his last few steps, I released the magic to create Grease beneath his feet. The magically slick black substance coated the ground, sending him tumbling forward.

The bad news was that my knee aimed at his gut simply passed through him, but I saw his hands turn real as he caught himself on the ground. With haste boosting my speed and processing it was easy to finish my turn and stomp on his ankle. He reacted almost instantly, turning his ankle a ghostly translucent blue. Even so, I knew there would be some damage.

He shoved himself off the ground to his feet, fist swinging towards me. I took note that it turned ghostly as it was moving, but it didn’t change my reaction. I kicked towards the same foot as before, because it had reformed into solidity. My kick and his punch connected at the same time… and then he was cussing wildly and rolling around on the ground. A broken fist and ankle would do that.

I hadn’t been certain about the interaction of Force Armor and his power, but I made some assumptions after the fact. It was actually very close to what real ghosts did. It just so happened that invisible armor made purely out of magic was a perfect counter for it. If his punch had been beyond that of a normal human he might have shattered it, but since it was more or less normal it was similar to punching a steel plate. 

All around us I heard other party guests reacting. It had only been a skirmish lasting less than ten seconds, but it wasn’t exactly subtle. Haste gave me more time to prepare my words… but also made it harder to actually speak. 

“You won’t get away with theft at this event,” I stated as I stood over the man. His response felt slow, but at least it indicated I’d managed a vaguely understandable sentence.

“What theft?” The man sounded properly indignant. “I’m a guest here! The Power Brigade won’t let you get away with this!”

“But I-” I shook my head. “I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear your side of it later.” At the moment he was fully physical- probably an issue of concentrating through the pain, or possibly an attempt to look like he wasn’t a criminal super.

There were some important things that separated super powered mercenaries from superheroes. Heroes had to watch out for precise procedures and maintaining their image as a proper hero. Mercenaries… had to stick within certain laws. But there was a lot of leeway for how someone was captured. I thrust my hand downward and used a half-powered shocking grasp. There was a pretty good chance the man was going to stand up and run away if he got the chance, and he could cause a lot of trouble if he did that. 

Instead I left him twitching on the ground. He was honestly an opponent that should have been tougher to deal with. An excellent power and ability to use it, and clearly significant training. Unfortunately for him I had just the right defense for his ability, and Haste to make me faster- though not as much faster than I would have liked.

I swiveled my head to look over everyone watching. My eyes locked on the woman in the red dress. “Check your bag, lady,” I said as slowly as I could. Her eyes widened and she looked inside it immediately. While she was doing so, I saw Knives step outside. “Ah, there you-”

I dodged to the side as a series of reddish blades flew towards me. They’d all been aimed towards non-immediately-lethal locations like my arms and legs or lower torso- but they were fast and accurate. I only dodged properly because of Haste. Speaking of which, it was about half run dry. 

Not finding myself in a proper position to explain what was happening, I ducked behind a hedge and started crouch-running at top speed, keeping myself out of sight. Knives still flew through the hedge in quick succession, but fortunately the ones that got close I mostly avoided. One or two scraped against my Mage Armor, and I wondered if I should just surrender.

But then I made it around the corner of the building, which blissfully had nobody in sight. I dropped my active magic, feeling the wave of vertigo from Haste ending as well as the tingle from my Disguise dropping. Keeping Haste might have been nice, but I couldn’t properly talk that way. Then I turned and shouted- before I rounded the corner. “Stop! Power Brigade!” Then a moment later I stepped out from behind the corner. Immediately several blades of energy pressed against me… firmly. “Oh hey Knives.” I grinned my widest, tuskiest grin, then said a proper codeword to confirm my identity as my eyes turned towards the fallen man.

//End Chapter 21

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