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“Sorry I got here late, Knives. I’m not sure if you heard, but the canary stopped singing.” I wasn’t sure what a canary was. Translation could only do so much, and if I didn’t know what the thing was I didn’t know. But I did know that it was code for comms being compromised here. It was pretty obviously a code word, but maybe people wouldn’t know what it was.
Knives looked at me closely before lowering her blades. “Just got here huh? I suppose you didn’t see what happened?”
“Just that guy fleeing past. I tried to stop him, but he was moving fast. I’m sure we can look into that later, when we get time.” I looked around pointedly at the guests standing around, with more stepping out from the hall behind Knives. “I suppose we should report this.” Code words were limited, but I tried to convey that there should be more. I just didn’t know how we might find them.
Knives nodded. Knowing comms were compromised was one thing- but if an incident became obvious and wasn’t reported that would be more suspicious. “This is Knives. There’s been a minor incident outside, looks like some sort of altercation between two powered guests.”
As she called that in, I walked over towards the fallen man. As I approached, the woman in the red dress who still looked profoundly uncomfortable moved closer as well. “Um, excuse me sir. The man who just fled said something about this man being a thief. And I just checked my bag and found something was missing.”
“Oh?” I asked as if I didn’t know. “What was it?”
“It was an experimental phasmotron amplifier,” the woman stated. I didn’t have to fake looking confused. “It’s like a box about this size,” she gestured with two fingers, “It has some wires sticking out of it.”
I bent down and rifled through the man’s pockets. I didn’t find much besides a wallet with probably fake ID, but one of the last places I checked was the pocket he’d had the device in. I reached my hand in and pulled it out. Of course, it hadn’t been there before I reached my hand in, and if anyone had been watching the whole incident they might have noticed the discrepancy. But the device disappearing from a floating ghostly hand might have gone back to the pocket of the man with ghostly powers rather than the other guy. That was how I would suggest we spin things, if anyone asked.
Once people outside the Power Brigade started keeping track of my powers they might figure it out, but the fight had been quick. It had only been a couple seconds before I stored the device, and someone would have to have been looking directly at the situation as it happened. Which wasn’t entirely impossible, of course, but I was currently trying to smooth things out as I could.
“Is this it?” I held up the device.
“It is!” the woman nodded enthusiastically. “I didn’t think anyone would just try to snatch it off me. So if I could, um…” she seemed to have noticed I wasn’t moving forward to hand it to her. “If you could return it?”
If it were up to me, I would turn it over right away. I knew it came from her to begin with, and I didn’t see why she would bother faking it being stolen instead of just handing it over. If it had been such a covert exchange, they would have been able to watch out for third parties snooping nearby.
However, my rank in the Power Brigade was just a recruit. I wasn’t going to make that decision on my own, and there were some suspicious details. I looked over my shoulder towards Knives, who was finished with her quick report over the comms.
“We’ll have to hold onto it as evidence, but we’ll return it as soon as possible if it’s really yours,” Knives said. “Speaking of evidence, Mage, cuff him.” She held out a pair of handcuffs which had been hanging from her belt. I technically had a set too, but mine were in storage and this didn’t seem like the time to display my extradimensional storage capabilities.
I put the unconscious man’s arms behind his back, cuffing them. “I heard from some of those watching that he had a sort of ghostly power. Not sure if these will hold him.”
“Already accounted for,” Knives said. “Those are the good cuffs.”
They looked just like mine… but I would take her word for it.
“Umm…” the woman stood nervously with her fingers together, “That device has a lot of proprietary and patented features. So I should warn you that if the Power Brigade tries to reverse engineer it my lawyers will sue your pants off.”
I didn’t know if that was a legitimate warning or a threat, but it didn’t matter to me. “Noted,” Knives responded without any change in expression. “In relation to your ownership of this device, we’ll have to call you in for questioning later.”
“Of course,” the woman nodded. “I don’t know much about what happened, but I’ll help if I can.”
“That should make everything easier for both of us,” Knives smiled slightly.
I saw a figure in blue approaching, and stood to my feet quickly. “Captain!” I inclined my head, “Knives has secured the situation. I’m ready to make a full report when convenient.”
Ice Guy looked between the two of us and nodded. Knives still looked a bit unsure, but I was quite confident. “Glad to hear it,” he said. “Hopefully this won’t disrupt the rest of the guests too much.”
Once we were alone, I gave a proper report to the Power Brigade, including my learning and use of the Disguise spell. Everyone split up to look for more people, but with nothing to go off of we didn’t find anyone. In truth, the party pretty quickly fell apart after the incident. It was already late, and all the rich fancy pants were concerned about their safety.
Ice Guy sighed after everyone had gone home. We’d gotten back on the topic of my new spell. “Someday we’re going to have to get a complete list of everything you can learn.”
“That seems… impractical,” I commented.
“Why would it be?”
“It’s just that the list is too long. I think the list of things I can’t ever learn might be shorter.”
“And what would those things be?” he asked.
“Mostly proper healing and resurrections and priestly stuff like that.” I shrugged, “Though there might be a lot of things I don’t know that can be done at all.”
“And you can do pretty much anything else?” Ice Guy asked.
“With training I can learn many things,” I nodded. “Though there are restrictions on how I use things. I don’t manipulate energy like Shockfire, so I can’t suddenly make a lightning bolt just because I have Shocking Grasp.” I could learn to make a lightning bolt, but that was different.
“Seems like you’re just a grab bag of powers,” Ice Guy commented. “Hmm, that might not have been a bad hero name. Which is probably why nobody thought of it.”
“What?” I asked.
“Grab Bag,” he said.
“… I like Mage just fine.”
Ice Guy laughed, “Have to admit it’s better than my name. Hoping to get promoted so I have a chance for a rename. Otherwise the paperwork is a pain.”
“Anyway,” I tried to steer us back to the report. “I acted as I thought would be most effective. I think things worked out pretty well.”
“Little collateral damage, at least,” he nodded. “Not sure if it’s better for it to look like we let someone escape or attacked one of our own members, but at least now anyone working with you might avoid that mistake again. Though it might make some people hesitant. Some people don’t get along well with shapechangers.”
“It’s not really shape changing really. Just an illusion.” I shrugged, “But also my voice is still the same.”
“You’ll have to be careful with who you look like. That stuff makes people uncomfortable.”
“Good to know,” I nodded.
Overall I thought my first job went pretty well. Nobody yelled at me for screwing things up, nobody died, we caught the one bad guy we managed to identify. The only thing I personally thought could have gone better is if we had found the guy’s accomplices. But he was being held for interrogation which probably involved all sorts of powers to find information. Surely it would come up with something more.
My life went back to a routine of training every day in more standard ways. No more fancy replicas of the mansion, but instead empty concrete rooms. Fortified concrete, but it was basically the same.
There was something missing though. Even if it had only been a few times, my walk home was missing an important detail. There wasn’t a particular black cat anywhere to be seen. That should have been good news, since it probably meant he was up and about, running freely and doing cat things. But having seen cat buddy very few times, mostly in a state of nearly starving, I somewhat doubted his ability to fend for himself.
The last time we met I’d brought him to my apartment, given him food and water… only for him to run away at the earliest opportunity. I hadn’t seen him in nearly a week now, and I wondered if he would be alright.
“What wrong?” I sat in the cafeteria as normal, with Khithae. She was learning English, and since I was the only person convenient who could speak her language she usually practiced with me at breakfast and dinner. “Think about job? Did good. No problem.”
I shook my head. “Just thinking about the cat.”
“Black cat?” she said. “Ate tuna. Not seen?”
“Not since last week.”
Khithae nodded, her wide lizardy head exaggerating the movement. She switched back to her native language for the sake of clearer communication. “It has been a week since you saw him? He is not around the alleys you met him before?”
“I even waited around yesterday evening, but I didn’t see him,” I switched languages as well, though it wasn’t a fully conscious process. “He might just be somewhere else, but I’m worried.”
“You should go look for him. Today is the end of the week, so you are free, yes?”
“…Yeah?” I thought about it and nodded. I usually just showed up to train on weekends anyway, but I didn’t have to. And of course, ‘usually’ was just ‘the two weekends I’d been employed by the Power Brigade’. Making use of my abilities was fun, and experience was experience. I might reach level 14 soon! But I also couldn’t spend all my time training. “I guess I’m free to go look for him, though I don’t know where to start.”
“I will come with you,” Khithae declared. “If that is acceptable?”
“I don’t mind,” I responded, “But why? You don’t need to come with me.”
“I am bored,” she answered simply. “There is not much entertainment in this world for someone who does not speak any of the languages. And I am tired of watching ‘television’ that I hardly understand.”
“A fair point,” I said. I hadn’t gotten much into television and the like, but that was because there was so much reading about the world to be done and reading was faster than watching videos most of the time. It was also much more familiar. “I don’t know where to start though.”
“Perhaps at the alley you found him. Then we can branch out from there.” Khithae poured the rest of the contents of her bowl into her mouth. She crunched down on the contents that I was pretty sure weren’t cereal, which was a thing people ate for breakfast here for some reason. I tried it, but it hurt my mouth and was extremely sweet. But people ate all sorts of different things that weren’t to everyone’s taste.
After breakfast the lizard woman and I got ready for a day walking around the city. It was a bit chilly, so we were dressed in long pants and light jackets. It seemed New Bay never got truly cold, but it was still uncomfortable to go around in the short sleeved t-shirts.
It was a decent walk to the alleyway, but besides garbage both properly and improperly placed we didn’t find anything. I did dip my head into the dumpster in case cat buddy ended up in a corner, but I didn’t see or hear anything. “Cat buddy~” I called out but didn’t hear anything in response.
Khithae snickered, or at least a sound I had come to understand was the same from her. “You think he’ll answer if you call like that?”
I shrugged, “How should I know? But I have to try something.” I looked around. “I really don’t know where to go next.”
We wandered around for a while, looking down alleyways and the like. There was never anything of note, and we never went deep because it might be hard to find our way back out. The city could be a maze. It was hard to find your way around when tall buildings blocked your vision from every direction.
That was why it was a surprise to find a large patch of trees and grass as we rounded a corner. A park. “Do you think he might be there?” I asked. “Parks often have water. I hope he found water.”
“We should at least look,” Khithae nodded. “But even if we can’t find him, I bet he’s alright after your help.”
“I hope so,” I said. We began to walk along the path, because it was the easiest way to move and it seemed to snake through the whole park. We would be able to see most of it, at least.
“Really, you again? Are you following me?”
I turned to look at Khithae. “What? We’re walking together.”
“What what?” she asked in return. “I didn’t say anything.” I frowned and tilted my head. Well, it actually hadn’t sounded like her. But there was nobody else around. “Actually I thought I heard-”
“Silly lizard. You may see me, but you’ll never catch me up this tree!”
“There’s that meow again,” Khithae said. “I think I see him up in that tree!” It only took her about two seconds to pull off her boots and leave her feet bare, and then she was halfway up the tree before I could even see where she had pointed.
“Back, foul beast! I shall not be food for you or the green one!” I finally managed to pick out where the voice was coming from. Weirdly enough, it seemed to be a black cat that was currently scurrying further up a branch. “These thin branches will not hold your weight! If you attempt to climb them you will hurt yourself but I will merely jump to safety!”
“Aww, I can’t get to him Turlough. He’s too far,” Khithae was all the way up the main trunk and leaning on one of the branches. “I’m pretty sure it will snap if I try.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “That’s what he said too.” I squinted my eyes and frowned. Then I looked directly at him. “Cat buddy?” I asked. “Since when can you talk?”
“I have always been able to talk, green one. Also… what is a cat, and how do you speak my language?”
Those were all good questions, none of which I had the answers for. Because I thought I knew what a cat was, but if cat buddy wasn’t a cat, then I apparently didn’t know. And I shouldn’t be able to talk to him anyway.