Though I most often sparred with powers involved, there was also basic combat training that didn’t involve any of that. I didn’t even get to use Force Armor when we practiced martial arts, because that would mess up people’s understandings. And the whole point was knowing how much force was dangerous or not. I was getting pretty good at the basics of martial arts, but there were certain opponents where it didn’t matter how much I could theoretically hurt someone.
I thought my punch was pretty good, aimed at just the right place and not overextended, but Meztli’s arms wrapped around mine and then I was on the mat, looking up at the ceiling. I just lay there for a few moments, thinking. Was she using her power? If so, I didn’t detect anything like when she filled other people with stamina or boosted their healing. Then again, she had years of experience and I wasn’t a monk.
I understood the point of training without weapons though. While not everyone had mana like me, pretty much everyone had a limit to how much they could use their power- and those who didn’t usually had enhanced bodies that made using martial arts quite practical. Having weapons would always be better than being unarmed- with rare exceptions- but we couldn’t guarantee having weapons, or keeping them if we did.
“Are you going to get up?” Meztli asked.
“Maybe,” I half-shrugged on the ground. “I wish this was worth more experience though.”
“Yeah? What determines that?”
“Danger level,” I said.
“Right. Well, powered sparring is good for that. This is for a different purpose. Fitness and preparedness.”
“Yeah,” I said, rolling to my side and pushing to my feet. “I get it.” The funny thing was, I would have been extremely happy to have something like this before. A constant, if small, influx of experience. More than a single point per day, which I would have been ecstatic about before. But with powered sparring and real fights, a single point or two started to lose its presence among over six hundred total experience, around half of which- and close to a third of my total level- I’d gotten since I came to Earth. 11 to 15, just like that.
Training with melee weapons wasn’t all that much better, since there were protections in place to make it safe. I didn’t want to lose an eye or an arm, but personally I didn’t see myself making much use of batons or swords, though they were better than using my fists. But with the weapons available in this world, they seemed pointless.
After all, I could have a gun. I hadn’t gotten to keep anything from the attack on the warehouse, but I didn’t have a license then. While there were reasons not to use guns in mercenary work- various powers protected against physical impacts and they could be more lethal than intended- they were still useful. And there was rubber ammunition to deal with the lethality thing, for the most part.
Later that day I was at the gun range. It was strange to have in my hand a weapon with the output of a second level spell at the pull of a trigger. It could fairly easily puncture my Force Armor, breaking it with a few glancing blows or a single direct shot. It was like a crossbow that didn’t take forever to reload, or a longbow that didn’t require nearly as much training. I looked at the gun in my hand from the side. Instinct told me to look in the barrel, training told me to never do that unless I was sure it wasn’t loaded.
I decided that it wasn’t worth spending some of my new points to see if guns could be magic. I should probably save them for things that were important, and I didn’t even have my license yet. I was working on that, but it wasn’t a priority since I had other ways to fight. And using a gun was a good way to get people to shoot at me, which could quickly go from large amounts of experience to dead.
“Why do diamonds have to be so freaking expensive,” I sighed. I took another few shots at the target. My accuracy could use some work, but that was what I was here for, wasn’t I? Practice. Magical enhancement worked off of whatever base was available, so no matter how much I enhanced my dexterity I would never be good at shooting if I didn’t have practice. Same with running and strength training- haste could make me several times as fast, but if I wasn’t able to run properly I’d never be able to go anywhere. I felt someone standing next to me. I thought there were more open spots, but I had kind of just been standing around. I lowered my gun and turned to look at them. “I’ll be done here soon.”
I saw Great Girl standing there. “Did someone die? Also, aren’t you supposed to wear earmuffs?” she pointed to her own head.
“I don’t need them,” I said. Since I would always practice at the range for twenty or thirty minutes at minimum, a weakened version of Energy Ward would provide more than enough protection for my ears while allowing me to otherwise hear normally, and I would recover the mana without issue. “Also, I don’t think anyone died…?” I frowned. “That I know. I hope. Did someone die?”
“Ah, sorry, I got that mixed up,” Great Girl shook her head. She muttered something that she seemed to think was under her breath. “…That’s not even a wizard spell…” Her phone was in one hand, and she was scrolling through things. It looked like a web page from my angle. Did her phone work here? Actually, that made sense. Mine was specifically set up to only receive work-related information inside Power Brigade HQ, but Great Girl was high enough ranked that having full access everywhere made sense. “Stoneskin?” she finally asked.
“What?” I blinked.
“That uses diamonds, right? Stoneskin? Or is it not called that?”
“Oh, it is, actually. You heard me talking about diamonds?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, still looking at her phone. “How much diamond dust do you need?”
“Like, um…” I tried to gesture with my hands, but it was hard to quantify. “More than a pinch? Enough to fill the palm of your hand. Which is like, thousands of dollars of diamonds. For maybe an hour of protection and a ton of mana, it’s kind of hard to make use of.”
“Yeah…” she continued scrolling on her phone. “Isn’t diamond dust hella cheap though?”
“I don’t know what you get paid, but I don’t make tens of thousands of dollars per day.” That price was an exaggeration, of course. I wouldn’t keep Stoneskin up all day purely from mana cost whether or not I had piles of diamonds.
“No but like, your palms aren’t that big. A little baggy should fill them.” She turned her phone towards me, “It’s like, ten or fifteen bucks.”
“I don’t even know where to hunt-” I looked at the screen. “$14.99?” I almost snatched it out of her hand, but I was aware I was holding a gun in one hand and also that it was kind of rude. “They just sell diamond dust?”
“I don’t know what grit you need,” she said turning the phone back to her. “But like, industrial processes capture all this extra crap they don’t need so it’s pretty cheap. Do you have to grind them yourself? Because diamonds are expensive.”
I wasn’t really listening. Numbers were running through my head. I would still need granite, but that was also cheap here. I had almost exactly enough points to learn it, and then I could cast it… twice. From full mana. Then I would have basically nothing left, and maybe pass out as I overexerted myself- maybe even after one, even though I’d have mana left.
But I would only need it once, and I would be basically bulletproof. At the cost of… doing anything else useful.
“You okay?” Great Girl waved her hand in front of my face.
“Yeah, sorry. Umm… it just made me think about things. But I don’t think I can really do it yet.”
“Yeah, it’s a 4th level spell right? You haven’t really used much like that.”
“9th level,” I said. “Different scale, remember?” The highest thing I had now was Haste at 5th, and it was already freaking expensive in terms of mana. Though using twice that for an hour or more instead of a minute wasn’t super crazy.
“Oh right. Well, good luck with that,” she patted the gun at her waist. “Gotta get to training.”
I briefly wondered why she would ever need a gun, but after thinking about it I realized that it was simple. Her arms might be long enough to punch across a whole room, but that still wasn’t nearly far enough. And even if she could pick up a car and throw it… there was the whole ‘collateral damage’ thing to worry about. Guns were extremely focused in their power, which was how they worked so well even with tiny little bits of metal being shot out of them. She could leave the ranged problems to other people, but it seemed she wanted to excel in every field she could.
“Be careful in there,” the training room coordinator, Max, mentioned as the trio of us newbies came to get one of the rooms. “I mean with the room. The glass up at the observation room is still damaged.”
“Doesn’t the room repair itself?” I asked. “Like the fake mansion layouts?”
“Are you kidding?” Max shook his head. “That adaptable stuff is only set up for the action area. It doesn’t cover all of the extra stuff like speakers, lights, and other permanent fixtures.”
I apologized inside my head. I kind of knew it, but Shockwave was the one who caused most of the damage and that stuff was kind of just… dealt with. Of course, I knew that the gym needed normal repairs based on our first interaction, but I thought the training rooms were somewhat different.
“Why hasn’t anyone fixed it?” Rasmus asked. “Surely it’s a safety concern.”
“Not if nobody aims way up high,” the coordinator said. “And fixing it is also a safety problem. You know how hard it is to get a fifty foot ladder in here? And moving it around to clean up every blackened mark on the wall is a pain and a half. We’re shorthanded at the moment too.”
“… How do you feel about shoes?” I asked.
“What do shoes have to do with anything?” Max asked, looking down at my feet. “You look like you got a normal enough setup there.”
“What about footprints on the walls?” I said.
“You going to run up and down the walls?” he shook his head. “Sure, might as well. Nothing’s getting cleaned up here anyway, pile it on!” That last part was definitely sarcastic. It sort of answered my question though.
“Can I recommend the services of my friend? She’s a gecko. Gecko-adjacent. And a very good climber.”
“…” Max frowned, clearly thinking hard. “She got thumbs?” he asked seriously. “Because our tools are made for people with thumbs.”
“I think so,” I said. It wasn’t something I paid attention to, but she ate with a spoon and hand her hand wrapped around it ‘normally’, so I was going to assume that was a yes. “Or some close equivalent.”
“She got any recommendations? Work ones, not yours.”
“She’s been working through Extra for a number of months,” I shrugged. “I don’t know if she can verify any work experience prior to that. Given the circumstances.”
“Yeah?” Max raised an eyebrow. “Steady work is good, and Extra doesn’t keep people who don’t put in the effort. Get us in touch.”
I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I should say that she was maybe about to get fired because her boss didn’t like the way she did things. That was something I should tell her I didn’t mention, but it seemed her particular traits might be an advantage here? If nothing else, it was an opportunity.