Leveling up always felt good. In the last few weeks I’d managed to get four whole levels, more than I’d gotten in years. I was still somewhat behind what was expected, but rapidly catching up. Each level meant a larger mana pool and more points!
|Turlough (No surname)|
Shocking Grasp +3
Force Armor +6
Mage’s Reach +1
Remaining Points: 16
I had a pretty good idea what I was going to use the points for, but before I did that, I had to clarify something with Midnight.
“Listen buddy, I know I talked about the possibility to produce food with magic, but the first versions of that produce food that’s… merely edible. Not tasty. It would be better to prioritize other things so that I can be more effective here at the Power Brigade.”
“I understand,” Midnight said, his tail swishing slightly. I could sense some disappointment, but only slight. “You are already generous for providing me with food and shelter without anything given in return. It would be irresponsible of me to request you learn magic for something that can be solved without.”
“There’s a couple later on, though,” I said. “I’d feel comfortable picking either up at around level 25 to 30, when I can buy them almost all at once. Before then I’d need to save points for a couple levels just to learn them and wipe myself out from using so much mana at once.” That was another limit that didn’t come up often. Even if you had enough mana for something, if you used more than about half of your mana for a single spell it hit you harder. It was still possible, but mages who picked spells ahead of their abilities didn’t last long.
“I see,” Midnight nodded. “What level would I need to be to cast such spells myself?”
“Ten or fifteen at least,” I said. “But it wouldn’t be pleasant.” Because I was talking directly to him and thus speaking his language, I was comfortable explaining the details. He’d need to know, in case he ever tried to cast Haste or something. And if I got a spell beyond his mana capacity… Well, it was better that he not even make the attempt. Perhaps Familiar Bond would work in a way nothing would happen, but that would be the best possible result.
“Meow meow,” came a voice from next to us. Then there was a cough. “Sorry, is that rude?” We turned to see Great Girl standing there. “Like, making fun of your language or whatever…” There was an awkward silence before she continued to make things worse, muttering to herself. “Because Midnight isn’t a cat, he just looks like one…”
“Cats are weird,” Midnight commented. “They look so much like a person but they are not.”
“You’d think working a job like this I wouldn’t be surprised when English came out of your mouth,” Great Girl shifted on her feet, “But it still feels like something out of fiction. Speaking of which… Turlough, how are you feeling?”
“Wonderful,” I said. “I just gained another level. I was thinking of employing a new technique that should be very effective against a variety of powers.”
“Cool, cool. I was just thinking that maybe you would be… worried about stuff.”
I thought for a few moments. What things would I be worried about? I was getting stronger, I had a stable job that also had a flexible schedule- not that I needed to take advantage of that so far- and it even allowed me to get paid to fight. “Everything is going well,” I said. “But thank you for your concern.”
“That’s good,” she said. “Are you done with… this?” she gestured between Midnight and me.
“We finished our spar, yes. And I believe we had finished the conversation?” I checked with Midnight just to make sure he didn’t have anything else to say.
“We are done. I look forward to the future where you are a higher level, along with myself.”
“Midnight has a level?” Great Girl asked. I was surprised she’d made that realization from Midnight’s casual mention. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. She was a keen observer, and the fact that she happened to have a power that made her physically big and strong didn’t mean she couldn’t be intelligent. What was I, a typical human who assumed orcs were all big and dumb?
“Well, yes,” I shrugged, “It’s related to Familiar Bond.” I hoped she would accept that, because I didn’t want to admit that things were abnormal and I didn’t understand them.
“Makes sense,” she nodded. “If you’re free, then, I’d like to do some training with you.”
“More Enlarge?” I asked.
“Nah. Well, maybe that too,” she said. “But that’s just more of the same. I thought it might be more useful to see what I could do with Haste.”
“It should be quite effective,” I said. “It’s a favorite of warriors. Though so is Enlarge. Or a combination of both.”
“You can use both at once?” she asked. When I nodded, she continued. “That’s busted. This is why concentration exists. Uh, do you have to concentrate? You don’t have to answer that,” she clarified quickly. “It’s your power, and you’re allowed to keep secrets. But I am curious.”
“I think I won’t answer that for now,” I commented. Maybe I would look up what she probably thought concentration meant. It was tied to the game rules, after all. A game that she was clearly quite familiar with, despite her insistence that it was her friends that told her about it. “So you wanted to test Haste?”
“Yeah,” she nodded enthusiastically. “I’m curious to see how it feels. And it could be very useful out in the field. I’m… better at avoiding collateral damage than Shockwave.”
From the look on Meztli’s face, I understood that while it was true… that was only because Shockwave’s power was inherently destructive to the surroundings. People who chucked cars at monsters without thinking about it likely had a track record of collateral damage. But Haste should actually help with that, giving her more time to think.
“Fair warning,” I said. “It is likely your power won’t activate more quickly.” At least Shockfire and a couple others I’d worked with were still constrained in that area, like my own spellcasting speed.
She shrugged. “I guess we’ll see. How much mana can you afford to use?”
“I can cast Haste a couple times and have enough left over for one Enlarge.” With how popular Haste was, I was strongly considering upgrading it to be more efficient. A single upgrade would save me a quarter of a mana per cast. I’d have enough for that and the new spell I wanted. Yes, that should be fine.
The next few minutes were quite interesting to watch. After having Haste cast on her, Great Girl was practically dancing around the room. A series of obstacles grew out of the training room floor- I sensed something whenever the room changed but didn’t know if it was the result of a power or advanced technology. Great Girl was shrinking and growing as she moved around, kicking and punching targets while she weaved through the course. I could tell she had more martial arts experience than me, and wondered if she had been holding back in our spar. Then again, she still laid me flat with the first hit so maybe her almost-straightforward punch had been the most effective option. She didn’t need fancy moves when she could just throw me off with shifting size while throwing a punch.
After a few seconds more than a minute- the upgrade to Haste slightly increased power and duration- she returned to normal speed. “Aww man,” she frowned. “Over already?”
“That’s how it works,” I said.
“I know. It was just fun. Like, I know I’m going faster, especially when I step off the ground and gravity seems like it can’t catch up. But I also feel like I have my normal reactions for that increased speed, so I’m not really thrown off. No wonder Shockwave likes it.”
“Plus it’s just more speed,” I pointed out. “I’m sure they would figure out a way to make it work regardless, to go fast.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Actually, before we start the next round, let me check on something.” She pulled out her phone, presumably texting someone. “It’ll be… two minutes, apparently.”
“Shockwave better not break anything on the way here,” Meztli commented.
“It’ll be fine,” Great Girl said.
If I had been watching a clock I would have known whether Shockwave arrived on the dot or not… but it was pretty close, at least. “How’s it going? Glad to be here.” A wide grin was visible even with the mask they had on.
“You’re not the one getting Hasted,” Great Girl reminded Shockwave.
“I know, but I want to see you in action.”
The room was returned to a more empty state, with only a few walls around for variety. I imagined they would also be relevant to the upcoming battle, as well.
“The spar will start when Great Girl reaches that line,” Meztli said. “Standard rules and all that. Don’t aim for anything important, especially not if you’re actually going to have a chance to hit.”
The reason for the restriction there was because I could get caught up in the area if I started in the middle. So the compromise was to lose a few seconds of Haste and have Great Girl run to the starting point.
I gathered the mana and channeled it into and around Great Girl, and then she was off. She was quick, but moving at a rate I could still track.
When she got to the starting point, Shockwave disappeared. I’d managed to follow them with my eyes before when running the circumference of the room, but with walls in the middle they suddenly disappeared and I could only vaguely pick out where the blue blur had been after the fact.
Great Girl was both more experienced and Hasted, turning to meet Shockwave’s attacks. She wasn’t completely successful, but she managed to stick out her arms and legs to disrupt Shockwave’s movements. I at least saw a figure suddenly duck a few times, and though I heard a sequence of blows impacting, Great Girl seemed to be weathering the damage just fine. She had grown larger, to maybe about ten feet, though she was in a low stance.
The turning point came when she turned a large foot and caused Shockwave to stumble over the obstacle. The speedster was slower for just a moment, but Great Girl’s hand grabbed an arm. “It’s over,” Great Girl said as Shockwave was hoisted into the air and hung off the ground.
Shockwave deflated… and then suddenly a leg was nestled against Great Girl’s face. “I admit defeat, but next time you have to watch where you lift people to.”
Giving away a weakness in battle wasn’t good… but in theory we were all allies here. This match wasn’t to see if Great Girl could beat Shockwave, it was to give her experience fighting a speedster. Presumably.
Shockwave sighed after they were let down. “I’m still way faster than you with Haste, but I’m not used to dealing with people who can react at all. Not that and also capable of fighting. Most speedsters kind of suck at the basics.”
“Including you?” Great Girl raised an eyebrow.
“Well, sure…” Shockwave shrugged. “But I just haven’t had the right opportunities to practice. I can’t exactly turn off my processing speed, so I can’t get used to people moving any sort of normal speed.” They looked towards me, “But now at least I have a bit of a chance. We’ll have to do this more.”
“I’m all out of mana, I’m afraid.” I technically had a few points left, but not enough for Haste. “Though I could use Enlarge?”
“I heard about that,” Shockwave said. “Not sure I want to fight a three story tall Great Girl.”
“What about a ‘normal’ sized one, while you’re big?” I suggested, looking around at the others. “Would that be useful?”
Great Girl shrugged, and Meztli pondered for a few moments. “It might be educational. Though I imagine Great Girl will end up with bruises.”
“That’s not a problem. I can take it. Though… I doubt I’ll be much use for more than being punched.”
Gears were already turning in my head. Shockwave couldn’t turn off their reflexes… but what if I used Slow? It was just the opposite of Haste. Well, that was a question for another day. It was certainly a valuable ability, but I had something else taking priority. I’d just keep that in mind for later.
After casting Enlarge on Shockwave, the following ‘battle’ was actually more interesting than I’d thought it would be. Great Girl had already grown to what I presumed was her maximum size, about fifteen feet. That made her still significantly bigger than Shockwave. With the increase in size, Shockwave decided to forgo fancy moves and went straight for a punch to the abdomen. Obviously Great Girl had been expecting something like that, because it was Shockwave who staggered back, shaking their hand. There was a quick quip, probably some kind of complaint, but it wasn’t slowed down to let us hear it clearly.
Great Girl knew she couldn’t react to Shockwave’s movements and huddled in a defensive stance, and I had to say it basically worked. Shockwave was throwing punch after punch, targeting the ribs on Great Girl’s side and other less defended areas now that they were certain they weren’t going to seriously injure her. The impact of the blows hurt my ears, but the titanic woman continued to stand firm, showing a determination in the set of her jaw.
It seemed that increasing her size also enhanced her durability, as while I saw a few flinches she seemed fine enough. While Shockwave could have aimed for the mostly undefended sides of her head, that wasn’t quite within the parameters of the spar. Seemingly frustrated with the lack of damage, Shockwave grabbed onto Great Girl’s arm.
At least, that was what I presumed happened. I couldn’t really see it, only the results. With those being… Shockwave flying through the air flailing arms and legs from some sort of counter throw. They faced themself legs to the wall before they hit it, stopping their momentum as if they were landing from a fall. Then they ran down it and swept out Great Girl’s legs with a slide.
A short time after that the match was called as a draw, but with the way Shockwave was breathing heavily, it seemed like they had more or less lost. At least, for the one being enhanced their success wasn’t nearly so great. “Being a bruiser is tough,” Shockwave said.
Great Girl grinned. “That’s right. You gotta have the endurance.” She slowly shrunk down to her normal size. She wasn’t exactly looking fresh, even if her breathing was a bit less ragged than Shockwave. Strangely enough, I thought she was maybe even shorter than me somehow. Not that I was short, but she was supposed to be a bit taller at her normal size. “Meztli~!” she called out to the woman standing nearby.
Meztli obligingly gave them each a dose of accelerated recovery of health and stamina from her power. I could see the bruises on Great Girl start to fade even as they were in the process of forming. I imagined Shockwave’s fists were banged up as well, under the gloves.
Given the results of the two matches, I understood why Great Girl was one of the contenders for the strongest members of the Power Brigade. The physical component was obvious, but she also had the skill to really bring it up to the next level. As for Shockwave, they had the determination to match up against such an opponent even when unable to deal much damage.