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I was waiting in the parking garage for thirty seconds to a minute before there were two more consecutive dings of elevators arriving. One had Ice Guy and Shockfire, the other contained Acid Man.
“Hello,” I greeted them all, then walked up to Ice Guy specifically as he followed along. “I understand that we are supposed to be going on a mission, but I have a friend in danger and I would like to be excused from this.”
Everyone was walking quickly, but Ice Guy turned his head towards me to answer. “Is your friend more important than a mall full of people?”
“Yes,” I answered quickly.
He rolled his eyes, “It’s a good thing you didn’t try to sign up to be a hero. Stuff like that wouldn’t fly. Doesn’t quite work here either, unless you can tell me your friend being in danger will end up causing widespread destruction or dozens of deaths.”
That would depend on what happened to Midnight. But presumably he was going for more direct results of him being in danger. “I suppose not, but-”
We arrived at a large, high-wheeled vehicle. He yanked open a door. “Get in. We need your assistance, but I can promise to bring you to your friend afterwards. Hopefully they can handle themself for a while.”
I thought about it, and honestly Midnight probably could handle himself. It would depend on what the danger was, and whether or not he had any mana. Even if he did, he’d need to know what to use. So far he’d only actually activated some of my spells, and I hadn’t in depth explained all of them to him. Using the wrong spell could actually just waste mana for little effect. Though honestly, Haste should get him out of most trouble if he was able to run.
I climbed up into the large vehicle. It only had room for five people, but it seemed some of them could be rather large with the designated seats being wide and reinforced, and the high ceiling on the roof of the car. “Where is the Alvarado district?” I asked. If I just abandoned a mission I had no doubt I would get in significant trouble, possibly including expulsion from the Power Brigade. I liked my job, but I would happily give it up to help a friend. I only had a few friends, and I didn’t want to lose any of them. The trouble was, Rasmus and Maks were also my friends. At least, I felt some bond from working together with them during our time here.
“North of here,” Ice Guy answered my question. Despite the apparent emergency nature of the situation, he didn’t stomp on the gas. Instead, he signaled as he pulled out of the parking garage and into traffic. But after we were on the road, he pressed some sort of button, causing flashing lights and a siren to go off above our vehicle. I knew they were different than the civilian emergency vehicles, but I wasn’t sure who had priority. I should learn that at some point. And also learn to drive, though it wouldn’t be much good if I couldn’t afford a car.
“What are we expecting?” Shockfire asked.
“Not quite sure,” Ice Guy said, “Someone causing chaos and smashing up stores with a power. It shouldn’t be someone excessively dangerous, since they’re throwing us at it. Likely wanted a coordinated group. But we don’t have to guess.” He pressed another button on the car. “Dispatch, this is temporary squadron A headed by Ice Guy, en route to Alvarado district. What can we expect to see?”
A neutral sounding voice came back through the car speakers. That was the only way I could describe it. It didn’t sound like a man or a woman or anything, just a voice that clearly and concisely spoke words. “New Monolith Mall called in the disruption as a dispute within a store escalated. Widespread destruction and ‘loud explosions’ followed, including significant numbers of shattered windows and damaged merchandise, with the upset perpetrator’s actions spreading into nearby stores. Minimal civilian injuries, though mall security was unable to subdue the perpetrator. Others are en route, the first of which will be Mace who is expected to arrive several minutes prior to you. Civilians are being evacuated. Power Brigade priority is to subdue the target.”
“There you have it. Widespread destruction, but that’s all we’ve got. Think you guys can handle it?”
“That would depend significantly on what sort of attacks the individual is capable of,” I admitted. “We also don’t know about their defenses.”
“Hopefully we’ll get information on that soon,” Ice Guy admitted. “We’ll arrive in a couple minutes. How about you two?”
“If it’s a fire or lightning based power, I’m fine. Otherwise, I’ll need to avoid being in dangerous areas,” Shockfire pointed out.
“I should be fine against most things,” Acid Man said, “Though if they have the wrong sort of power I can’t reform to attack them.”
“I can set up defensive walls to keep us close to the action,” Ice Guy noted. “They should at least hamper an attack, though if major structural damage has taken place we’ll just need to try to minimize what else happens. Mace is more experienced, so we should support her if we can. Mage, how are your stores of mana?”
“Nearly full,” I said. I’d had to use Translation to keep reading about twenty minutes ago, so I was about a point short. Nothing big. “I can give you all an application of Force Armor and still have enough for some other spells. A couple big supporting spells or a handful of offensive ones as necessary.” I frowned. Midnight had grown even more afraid. Or perhaps the feeling was getting stronger because we were getting closer? It was probably both, because we appeared to be heading in the same direction he was. I wondered if that was a coincidence. It could be. But then again, how many actual situations were happening in this city at once?
When I thought about it, the answer was actually quite high. Just the members of the Power Brigade I knew about could form a dozen teams, and there were tons of heroes and villains and other mercenary groups. I’d just not been exposed to most of what was happening because I was safe in Power Brigade headquarters.
We were apparently close enough that I heard an explosion, a big rumbling boom. That brought to mind some questions I hadn’t asked, but perhaps should have. “Why did they send us?” I asked. “I mean, really. Not the official cohesive group thing.”
“Because sending a group of rookies is cheaper and this job isn’t paying that well. But also the other thing,” Ice Guy said. “Most people don’t train in HQ all day. If they visit HQ at all they come for a bit and then go to a duty station throughout the city, or to other official business.” Ice Guy grimaced slightly, “The Power Brigade is usually pretty good about danger assessments, but quick decisions like this aren’t always made with full information. If it’s really dangerous, just focus on keeping yourselves safe. We can wait for the big guns or the heroes to show up, if we have to.”
Cars were streaming away from the large parking lot in front of us, but that flow suddenly stopped when some people who were a bit too eager to get away ran into each other at the entrance of the parking garage. Instead of trying to get through that mess or find somewhere along the street, Ice Guy just drove up the steps leading to the mall itself, avoiding the fleeing civilians. We hopped out at the doors inside, then began to push our way through the crowd of people.
Fortunately it thinned out quickly, as most people had enough time to get outside already. Our captain had called in our arrival, and our earpieces lit up with further instructions for us. “Temp squad A, make your way towards the central area. Mace is currently engaged with the enemy and requires immediate backup.”
I was once more glad that running was part of my daily training, as I was able to speed through the halls with our captain at the lead. As we approached the area in question damage became visible. Shattered glass and overturned tables and display cases were the most common.
“Good news,” Ice Guy commented. “No holes in the walls, and most things are basically intact. Whatever this is seems to simply-”
I couldn’t hear whatever he said next, as another explosion happened. The strange thing was it felt like something punched me in the side of the head when the damage was clearly happening up ahead in an open courtyard. I saw dust and dirt flying everywhere.
Then my hearing returned.
“… sonic based attack,” Ice Guy turned his head to look at those of us following behind us. “Everyone alright?”
We were all in various states of recovering our hearing. “Why didn’t the Force Armor stop that?” Shockfire asked.
“I’ll explain later,” I said. It would only take a couple sentences, but as we were about to be going into combat it really wasn’t important. “Don’t worry, it will work where it counts.”
I was suddenly extremely glad about my new spell. I was planning to use Energy Ward against… well, anyone in my current group actually. Or a good portion of other supers. At a mana cost of four I could use it on three of us, but then I’d be basically tapped out. That might be enough, but I wanted to see more of the situation first. And find Midnight, who was… really close to the epicenter of everything. And a bit up.
As we ran forward we stepped into the courtyard full of concrete plant beds, palm trees, and benches. There were two obvious figures present, one with long black hair, a black leather jacket, and some sort of lute. The ground was cracked around him as he stood in a weird battle stance with his hands on his instrument, facing off against Mace. She was a sturdy woman, but not particularly bulky. She was likely a bit shorter than myself, but that still put her at nearly six feet tall. She had her namesake weapon in her hands, a weapon with a rounded head with some protrusions sticking off of it. Not the full spikes like a morningstar, but closer to wide blades radiating out from the center. The weapon could do damage with its weight even if it didn’t hit cleanly on one of the edges or points it had.
“Spread out,” our captain told us. “Acid Man, look for a flanking position. Shockfire and I will try a bombardment. It looks like these plant beds should work as cover if you need it.”
I wanted to say I wasn’t sure if cover would work. But when I saw the man with the long hair strum something on his funny V-shaped lute, I threw myself behind one of the plant beds. The good news was that it did work. The bad news was that it wouldn’t be possible to dodge the attack in a traditional way. It wasn’t something you could see coming. Sound waves were too fast to dodge. But at least he had obvious hand motions.
After the shockwave rolled over me I picked myself up and kept an eye on him while I edged around the courtyard. I couldn’t hear anything, but I could see Mace staggering to her feet in the middle of the area. I didn’t see Rasmus- Acid Man- but our captain and Shockfire opened up with some attacks. A bolt of fire with a ring of lighting shot out from Shockfire’s hand, representing some of his stored energy. He was most capable of instantly absorbing and redirecting fire and electricity, but he could also keep a small amount longer term. Small in a relative sense, at least.
The long haired man wasn’t looking as ice and fire shot towards him, but he stepped to the side and the air distorted with another movement of his hands. Both shots went wide, with Shockfire’s attack dispersing into a less concentrated form before it hit the wall. Ice Guy’s attack left a huge clump of expanding ice on the far side of the courtyard. I would presume there was going to be some sort of sound to go with that, but my ears were a bit overwhelmed at the moment.
I was absolutely going to lend my hand to this battle, but first I had to sidle over to where Midnight was. “Hey buddy,” I called up to him. When the figure atop the palm tree didn’t change from how he was clutching onto it, I realized he probably also couldn’t hear. I mentally reached out to him. We couldn’t talk mind to mind, but it was enough to get his attention. He twitched and looked down towards me, and I held up my arms.
The speed with which he immediately leapt down was surprising. When he impacted my hands I softened the weight of the fall, eventually holding him under his shoulders a couple feet from the ground. Before I set him down I cast a spell. On both of us, of course, since it was just as efficient as simply using it on myself. A shimmering barrier folded around us, and of course I chose sonic. That was the weakness of Energy Ward, but also what allowed it its strength. It could provide very powerful protection against one sort of thing, but you had to know what you were dealing with.
I heard another loud boom, but that told me my spell worked. My hearing was still a bit fuzzy, but my ears would recover now that they were no longer taking a beating. I looked down at Midnight and smiled, “Hey. You should probably get out of here.”
“Turlough! Turlough!” I felt the fear falling away from him as he yelled at me. He probably said my name more as he was jumping down, but I couldn’t hear it. “There was a crazy guy and then I got stuck in a tree!”
I really appreciated the quickness of that summary. “I know. You should go hide.”
“Oh! I can hear, a little bit. Yes, I’ll be going. Thank you.”
I could tell he wanted to say more, but he was also aware of the repeated sounds less than a hundred feet away. He scurried off while I turned towards the battle and tried to think how I might make things go better for anyone involved. I could probably walk up to that guy and punch him, but if he had close combat capabilities I could still be in big trouble. The one who really needed my help was Mace, who had been his main target for a while and was looking unsteady on her feet. Unfortunately I wasn’t sure if I could approach her safely, even with Energy Ward. I felt a lot of power radiating from the long haired guy. A Mage’s Reach might just do it, but the hands I conjured were capable of being destroyed. With that defensive blast I saw earlier, if he noticed my attack I would probably just waste a bundle of mana. I’d try to talk to the others, but I doubted any of them could hear right now. Decisions decisions.