One would hope that upon being transported to a washed out version of the world by a phase snake that they would find themselves gradually returning to normal. At least, that was what Izzy was hoping, but it seemed that it wasn’t going to happen. She had rations enough to return to Zentha, if everything went well. Phase snake could be edible, but after finding herself unable to interact with literally anything- including the trees outside the cave- she decided she didn’t want to try it. So she began to walk. Then jog. Then run.
With most of her time spent as a messenger, she was good at running for a long time. She had to be able to deliver messages quickly, and outpace at least some people on horseback. The fact that her feet weren’t impacting the ground was disconcerting, but she didn’t let it bother her as she moved along the road.
Her sense of direction was pretty good, but she realized how much she depended on being able to see more than fifty or so feet away from her. Having only a few seconds to react to incoming obstacles wasn’t great. The good news was… there weren’t any obstacles. Because literally nothing existed but her. And maybe more phase snakes. And other creepy monsters.
Hopefully they didn’t live along this road.
After I told her about the job opportunity, Khithae had some questions. “It is not dangerous?”
“You’re not worried about heights, right?”
“I’m worried about people with powers,” Khithae pointed out. “Like most people would be.”
“Nobody in the Power Brigade is going to hurt you, if that’s what you mean. And anyone else… would be pretty busy fighting their way through a ton of people with powers. But it’s Power Brigade headquarters, so someone would have to be pretty crazy to attack them.” I wasn’t even sure what they’d gain, except a bunch of angry supers. There was some neat technology and information, but the most secret things I knew about were the powersets of the members and getting them by fighting through everyone would be pretty suicidal and pointless.
“That is good. I could climb the walls instead of using stupid ladders?”
“You’d have to ask for specifics, but Max seemed more open about the idea.”
“And my English?”
“You can understand it well enough. It wouldn’t be any worse than your current job, right?”
“The Power Brigade might be more selective.”
“Could be,” I nodded. I hadn’t had to deal with that, given the power of Translation. “It should be worth the attempt though, right? In the worst case nothing happens… but that is also what happens if you do nothing.”
Her face scrunched up in something like a frown. “Yes, that is true. I should at least try.”
After connecting Khithae with Max, my job was done. I didn’t know when they’d talk, but they could figure it out- and if either of them needed me, they knew how to contact me. I didn’t want Khithae to get the job just because I recommended her, but because I thought she’d be good at it. I didn’t know if she wanted to be in janitor-adjacent positions going forward, but it was the area she had a resume for at the moment.
I also wasn’t going to find out that day, as I was snatched the moment I stepped through the door. “You’re coming with me.” I was dragged halfway to another elevator before my vision resolved the blue figure as Shockwave.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I rented out a racetrack,” Shockwave explained as they hit a button to bring us down to the garage level.
“Cool,” I said. I assumed that meant we would be doing stuff with Haste.
“Quick question,” Shockwave said as we approached a surprisingly normal car. A ‘sedan’, I had learned they were sometimes called. “Can you use your magic speed thing on a car?”
I tilted my head. “No? I don’t think so. I know it’s been used to make carriages go faster, but that was because it empowered horses. I don’t think it works on objects.”
“That’s okay,” they said. “Just idle curiosity.”
A few moments later we were driving out of the parking garage at a surprisingly sedate pace. Shockwave carefully followed posted speed limits and their head flicked back and forth to check for incoming vehicles. “Hmm…” I muttered.
“What? Did you think I’d drive crazy? You gotta be safe in cars. They’re dangerous machines, and they don’t respond well to changes. Plus there are legal speed limits and they aren’t even that fast to begin with.”
A fair point. Even the fastest I’d gone in a car was only a small fraction of how fast I’d seen Shockwave go. I was aware they could go faster, but it took quite some time for them to accelerate properly.
The two of us didn’t have much to talk about, so it was sort of an awkward silence until the radio was turned on. The drive took quite some time, as we moved away from the central sprawl of New Bay to a place with less towering structures. Instead of driving up into the hills with the fancy houses, we paralleled them for a while and came to a place with more relaxed structural style. And then we got to the track.
“I expected it to be… smaller,” I said honestly.
“Why?” Shockwave asked as we pulled up.
“I don’t know. People run around this?”
“No,” Shockwave replied. “It’s for cars.”
Ah. That made a lot of sense. I noticed we didn’t drive the car in though. And as expected, there weren’t other cars inside. Just a very large track that was sloped on either end. “What is the slope for?” I asked.
“It helps deal with momentum and turning. I don’t need it quite as much, since my power helps with friction and stuff… but this place has nice open area.” Shockwave began to stretch, leaning forward and side-to-side. “Nobody can agree if stretching is good or not. Some people say yes, some people say no, some people say it hurts… personally I try not to do too much. Before I have you use Haste- I assume you knew I want that? Anyway, I’m gonna do a couple warm-up laps before that.”
Then Shockwave was off… and not immediately behind me again. The track was big enough that it was a good twenty seconds of watching Shockwave run around before they got back to me. It was around a minute before three warm-up laps were finished. They looked at me expectantly.
“Alright,” I nodded. “I can do this about four times before I need to rest for a while. So think about how you want that spaced out.” Should I add another level to Haste? That was six more points, but it would save me about a quarter point of mana each. I decided against it for the moment, even though it was pretty fun and I had 18 free points. Even if I was tempted to just dump them all into Haste.
“Well,” Shockwave said, “I’ve got this place for the morning. If we space them out every thirty minutes, with one now, that’s an hour and a half…”
“I could do one more with that time,” I offered helpfully. And spreading it out over that time would prevent the risk of mana exhaustion.
“Awesome. Oh yeah, here’s your ear protection.”
I had to admit, Shockwave was definitely tuned for wide open spaces instead of tiny training rooms. Among other things, there was enough room that nothing was broken when they ran around the track, though the metal fences sure did tremble a lot. Especially when they ran up one of them during a turn at the end of the track. With Haste, trying to keep track of Shockwave the whole time made me a little bit dizzy. It was a handful of seconds for them to go around the track that was a couple miles long, but I was able to track the mostly tiny figure with my eyes, even with the speed boost.
When Haste wore off, Shockwave stopped in front of me. “Hey. Quick question. Did that last longer than last time?”
“No?” I thought about that. “It should be about a minute.”
“Does it fluctuate? Because I have a pretty good sense of time. It felt like three minutes the first time, but this time it definitely felt like there was another twenty seconds at least.”
“That’s just the personal distortion, I think. It’s the same as when you sparred with Great Girl.”
“But it feels different from the first time.”
“Well, I did upgrade it once since the first time, yeah,” I nodded.
“You can upgrade it?” Shockwave wasn’t terribly big on personal space normally, but now their face was nearly touching mine. “Can you upgrade it more? How much can you do it? What do I have to give you to make that happen?”
I felt a little bit weird… like I was enabling a drug addict. Except exercise was good, so it was fine. “At the moment… I could do it three more times. But that’s pretty expensive and only makes it a few percent more powerful.” I thought for a few moments. “I don’t really need more money or anything right now. I’d really need experience.”
“What, like… taking you out on a job?” Shockwave asked.
“Anything that involves fighting, really. The more serious the better.” I took a look at my experience. It was about sixty more to the next level. “For me to upgrade it I’d need like… twenty experience each time?” It was actually a bit inefficient, but I also kind of wanted to do the upgrade. And it wasn’t as if I would lose the effect afterward.
“Twenty experiences? Like… sparing sessions? That’s like a whole month.”
“No it’s experience points. It’s like umm… if people had a level this would be easier to quantify.” I shook my head. “Let’s say I were to fight myself. If I fought to the death, I could expect the version of me that won to get around fifteen points of experience.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not letting you kill me. I’d have to go at least twenty percent faster than that.” I was pretty sure the second part was a joke. “You don’t have to actually kill someone right?”
“Of course not. You know about the sparring I do. But we have to take precautions so nobody gets seriously hurt, which means I don’t grow as quickly. But a serious battle or two would get me enough.”
“So like, enough that somebody needs a medic? Usually that’s frowned upon, but I could call in some favors to get access to a healing super…”
“They’d also probably have to be separate occasions, or at least a couple hours in between so I could fight at full capacity,” I reminded.
“That’s fine, supers have to rest too.” Shockwave had leaned back and was clearly still doing mental calculations. “Eh, what are favors and money for but to be used?” Their masked face was once more in front of my own. “Do all the upgrades. I want to go fast.”
“It won’t make you that much faster,” I warned. “Just a little faster and it lasts a little longer.” Plus, more mana efficient. Not enough to get another cast of it, so I didn’t mention it.
“Yes. I know. Do it.” Shockwave held out their hand. “We’ll shake on it. Or write a contract or something.”
“Don’t worry, I believe you,” I shook Shockwave’s hand. If nothing else… I could just not use Haste on them again if they went back on their promise. I had the feeling that would be a serious bargaining chip.
“So… how long does it take for you to upgrade this ability? Like, a week, a month?”
“Hmm? Oh, I just spent the points.” I held out my hand. “Ready?”
If you were to later ask me if I could tell the difference in speed that Shockwave was going… I would say I could not. Not all spells scaled the same way, and Haste only had a marginal speed increase per upgrade. The duration got the majority of the power, which was still approximately ten percent like most upgrades. But while I couldn’t tell… Shockwave apparently could.
“Holy crap!” Shockwave yelled after a minute and a half- approximately. “I was like… 50 mph faster there!”
“That’s… a lot?” I was pretty sure it was. That was faster than the car speed limit, but I honestly couldn’t see it.
“Well,” Shockwave shrugged, “It’s not that much relative speed increase. Especially not compared to the difference between having Haste and not having it. But it felt like another minute of relative time. Very noticeable.”
Since I didn’t have much else better to do, I also began running around the track- near the bottom so Shockwave had the entire actual track and didn’t have to get anywhere close to me where my eardrums would probably explode. If I was lucky, I could get in two laps around the giant track between castings of Haste, and I might even get passed by Shockwave less than a hundred times.
Author’s note: Is upgrading Haste with all of his points the right choice? Of course not. Does Turlough’s name mean ‘makes the right choice’? No, no it does not.