After the mission we made our way back to HQ, where we went up to floor 5. I had never been there before, but it seemed to be reserved for medical problems. Our captain brought us to a nice man in a white coat.
“Oh, the newbies. Good to see you. I’m Doctor Rajesh Mishra. What seems to be the problem today?” He was looking at Ice Guy, but he didn’t respond to the question. So I did.
“Sonic damage,” I said, gesturing to our ears.
“I see,” he nodded. “Who should I start with?”
I pointed to Mace. “She was there first, and probably took the most of it.”
The nice man smiled, “Alright then. We’ll start with that.”
I felt him gathering power. It was kind of like Meztli, but… less? At first I didn’t understand why we came to him instead of her, but I figured it out pretty quick. He didn’t just shove a burst of energy into Mace, but instead held his hands on either side of her head, a continuous stream of power going into her and carefully moving around.
“How’s that?” he asked. “Can you hear? Any problems?”
“Much better, thanks Doctor Mishra.” She stretched, “Still got a few bumps and bruises, but my head’s better.”
“We can see about the rest in a bit, but ruptured eardrums and concussions will be my first priority.” Doctor Mishra continued on to Ice Guy and Shockfire. Acid Man was less obviously damaged, but he spent some time going over his whole body just in case.
I was next. The process felt quite different from what Meztli did. Among other things, I noticed that I wasn’t given a Power Brigade branded energy bar, and I didn’t feel exhausted afterwards. I was wondering if Doctor Mishra needed one though. Healing had to take significant effort.
“And this?” he gestured to the last person in the lineup. “The cat?”
“My name is Midnight Deathstalker,” he flicked his tail. “My ears hurt?”
“He’s not a member of the Power Brigade,” I mentioned. “But he’s my familiar and was at the scene, and even helped out. Can you heal him?”
Doctor Mishra shrugged. “Sure. Might as well. He’s small enough.”
After getting healed, while the group was still together, I brought up the third most important thing about the mission. Health was second, of course. “So… a hero came in. We still get paid, right?”
Ice Guy grinned. “Hey, we might have the worst naming sense of any group, but we have some things going for us. Like making sure to get paid. We signed up, showed up, and did the job. Someone flying away with all the glory doesn’t change that.”
I nodded. “Do we get paid extra for letting them have all the glory?”
“… I don’t think so,” Ice Guy said. He seemed to be seriously pondering that. “Maybe we should bring that up later.”
I nodded. “We absolutely should. Because I either want to have some of the fame, or get paid for not having it.”
“It’s kind of implied that most mercenaries won’t get as famous as heroes,” Ice Guy stroked his chin. “But we really should check on that.”
“On the topic of getting paid,” Mace spoke for the second time since I’d met her, which wasn’t all that odd because she’d been sort of deaf when we first met, “About the cat. Midnight, you said your name was?”
“I’m not a cat,” he pointed out dejectedly, but he was clearly resigned to people making the assumption now. “But yes, I am Midnight Deathstalker.”
“Cool. You want a job?” she asked casually.
There was a long pause before Midnight finally answered. “I don’t have hands, and most Earth technology is set up to require such. I am afraid I will not be terribly effective.”
“Not that kind of job,” Mace said. “A real job. Like the rest of us. You dashed into danger to help me with that power. That’s the kind of initiative we like at the Power Brigade.”
“That was Turlough’s magic,” Midnight admitted.
“Sure,” I said, “But you used your own mana and went to help on your own.”
“I… don’t know what either of you are talking about,” Mace looked between us. “You can share your power?”
“It’s complicated,” I said. “But mostly… no.”
“Well, whatever,” the muscular woman shrugged. “The point is, Midnight is a person, right? Not just some sort of power construct made by Turlough?”
“That is right,” Midnight said. “I am a person.”
“Then even if you’re just a conduit for his power, making use of that in a combat situation is worthy of recognition,” Mace nodded seriously, “All sorts of support personnel are important. So if you’d like to do more…”
“I will think about it,” Midnight said diplomatically. “I am not fond of danger.”
“I don’t think anybody is. But you were brave. You didn’t have to come to me, you know.”
“I could not just leave you in danger,” Midnight said. “And you were on the same side as my friend Turlough. Providing support was natural.”
“I understand if you are concerned about the risk,” Mace said. “Someone of your size isn’t exactly durable. But if you’re concerned about Turlough-” she stopped herself. “Well, nevermind. Don’t worry, we take care of our own.”
I wondered what she didn’t say. But I was also thinking about the durability of Midnight. Sure, his physical size and cat-adjacent body made him vulnerable to damage. But was he really that much more likely to face serious injury than myself? I would be using all of my defensive abilities on both of us, and after adding more than a whole other person’s worth of ability to be alive just from Force Armor, the difference between a human and a cat was less relevant. And if Energy Ward could be used, it was negligible. But I also understood not everyone liked fighting.
That brought my thoughts to the most important thing. My 582 points of experience. With all of the sparring between Great Girl and Shockwave, I’d gotten a decent amount of second-hand experience. But that was negligible compared to this fight with the loud hair guy. Whatever his effective level was, it was high. I got almost 50 points of experience, which would be two-thirds of a level. That would already be a lot if I defeated someone alone, let alone as part of a group. That said, I supposed I had magic on everyone involved in the fight, and my Energy Ward ate like four potential deaths for me. Assuming Midnight’s use of Energy Ward counted as my own, which I wasn’t really sure on.
What I did know was that he was at 29 experience, which meant he’d hit level 2 and almost jumped all the way to level 3. It was… not that absurd, really. Kids who did nothing grew past the first handful of levels pretty quickly. Someone getting in a fight with a high level enemy and having a noticeable effect should grow quickly.
Ice Guy waved his hand in front of my face. “Hey. Earth to Turlough.”
I blinked. “What?” I tilted my head. What was this about Earth?
“You weren’t paying attention. I saw you take some crazy hits in that fight and do alright. Is that another new ability?”
“Of course it’s a new spell,” I said. “I had picked it precisely for the sparring session we were going to have earlier today, until people had to cancel. And yes, I could have used it on two of you and then potentially passed out.” I was almost level 15 now. Sadly, it seemed I wouldn’t get to level up on consecutive days. But coming to this world had been the right decision. There was plenty of combat.
The next day I got to have the spars I wanted. The order was Ice Guy, Acid Man, and then Shockfire would be last. That was for a reason. Though I might not get all of them in during a single day. It took me a bit more than three hours to restore myself to maximum mana, which meant the real matches had to happen over about six hours total. Six and a half, really. If I were higher level I could potentially win a spar without depleting my reserves but I still wasn’t even at a ‘normal’ level. Being past level 50 like Master Uvithar was still far off, and I was nowhere close to being a legendary level 100. Even if I counted pure xp and not the fact that there would be vastly diminishing amounts gained, I was barely 2% of the way there.
The pre-match setup still involved me using Force Armor on myself and Ice Guy. The safety it provided was one of the reasons I was able to have more serious spars so often. Going to see Doctor Mishra after a mission was paid for, but avoiding injuries during training as much as possible was important. If they were due to recklessness, we’d have a pay cut. My finances were fine for the moment, but I was more concerned about people simply not wanting to spar with me.
“Go all out,” I instructed my now-twice captain. He nodded in acknowledgment.
As the battle started, I used Energy Ward, attuning it to cold. I’d seen Ice Guy use his powers in training, but the first serious use had been the battle the day before. He could put out pretty serious quantities of ice, and had only seemed ineffective because of the opponent in question.
Even as my Energy Ward was going up, a blue ball of ice about the size of my fist was flying at me. If it was just that, I probably could have ignored it. It was the sort of thing that would bruise and that you wanted to avoid hitting your head- but it wasn’t just what it looked like. I dodged to the side, feeling it bloom into a bundle of ice spikes as it hit the wall behind me. Just because I had defenses against that didn’t mean I wanted to get hit. I only had a limited amount of Energy Ward to use up, and just because my total safety net was way higher than before didn’t mean it was fine to be careless.
I shot a firebolt as I ran forward, mostly to keep my opponent on his toes. If he had to think about dodging, he couldn’t be quite so accurate with his attacks. He still managed a good one, though. Instead of aiming directly at me, the ball of ice landed at my feet. This time it exploded, sending icy shrapnel everywhere. That was the point I really hoped this worked like I thought it should.
Three spikes the length of my forearm hit me… and were absorbed by the barrier. All I felt was a small impact and a slight chill. Ice Guy was surprised, and he should have been. The previous day’s attacks were already invisible, so it wasn’t so obvious that they were negated when they hit me. But when chunks of ice disappeared upon impacting an invisible barrier around me, it was much more visible. I had a pretty good view of one coming vaguely towards my face as it disappeared along its length, going from a point to a wider circle to nothing.
Another Firebolt, but Ice Guy simply waved an arm and threw up a wall in front of him. My spell melted a bit of it, but it was still basically solid and person sized. I felt him building up power, and I had to admit he really wasn’t holding back. If I already had Mage’s Reach cast and moving towards him I might be able to reach him in time, but the wall prevented me from attacking at my current angle. I still continued to charge towards him, though.
As I stepped around the ice wall, just big enough to cover Ice Guy, he thrust both hands towards me, palms first. A cloud of white poured over me, spikes of ice growing from the ground and instantly growing to waist height. The part that directly impacted my chest threatened to freeze me solid. What actually happened was my Energy Ward negated everything coming at me, though a cone on either side of me, except for directly behind me, was covered in spikes of ice for a good fifteen feet.
I slipped getting over the waist height ice in front of me, but without significant momentum the ice wasn’t sharp enough to break through Force Armor. Either way, I managed to reach out and grab an astounded Ice Guy’s arm, breaking Force Armor and zapping him just a little. With that, I’d finished the fight with enough mana left to save myself an hour of down time… though not nearly as much efficacy left on Energy Ward as I would have liked.
“That’s… a significant increase in defense,” Ice Guy nodded. “I’m impressed.”
“For the record,” I said, “You pushed it to the limit. I wasn’t expecting anything close to that last attack.”
“Sadly,” he said, “That rocker didn’t even try to get close. There’s only so much I can do at long distance.”
I nodded. It was the same as Shocking Grasp being close to twice as powerful, but required melee range. “We’ll have to do this again, now that you know the extent of its power. So I don’t get stupid.” Winning a single spar against an experienced person after just getting a spell that nearly completely countered them was one thing, but Ice Guy wouldn’t assume he could take me out with that same level of power again. Plus, if we got to spar again…
I looked at my experience. If I got my opponents to be serious, I might even get to level 15 today. That was the good thing about being higher level, with the right abilities I could actually get even more experience. Though just doing the same things had diminishing effects eventually.