Mage Among Superheroes 43

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The shrill tone of an alarm woke me in the middle of the night. Was the building on fire? I knew that was a thing that happened when buildings were on fire. My first thought was of course wrong, but it only took an annoying ten or twenty seconds to realize that it was my phone, making a noise I’d only heard once.

Right, it was some sort of thing installed by the Power Brigade. I unlocked the screen groggily to see a screen with swirling text and foreign letters. The alarm had stopped blaring upon opening it, but I still took a moment to figure out what the strange text was. English.

In the middle of the night, I of course didn’t have translation activated. My half-asleep mind only picked out ‘needed’ and ‘danger’. It took a few seconds of parsing that to realize it really meant a chance for experience. A little button brought up the map service with a little gps waypoint. How convenient.

I began to get dressed, putting on my Power Brigade outfit. I had no idea how people kept this kind of stuff secret, because it was either show up at a Power Brigade location in normal clothes or leave home in a super uniform. I supposed I could be mistaken for some normal dude working at the Power Brigade instead of an active member, but that wouldn’t really help. And using Disguise was just a pain, with the problem of needing to be unseen while using it or it becoming really obvious.

A nearby meowing caught my attention. I saw Midnight standing by the door, looking at me. My brain was the first one to make the leap and cast Translation to affect both of us- since it cost the same either way. “Sorry, what did you say?” I asked.

“You received an alarm. Are you going somewhere?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “Some situation nearby… wanna come?”

“Alright,” he said. “Perhaps my vision could be of use.”

He hopped up onto my shoulder, and I applied Force Armor. I always did it when leaving the house, and it was especially important when going into danger. As for anything else, I’d figure it out when we got close.

Fortunately it was easy walking distance. I didn’t want to try to find a ride at this time of night. The streets weren’t empty- and I saw a good number of people walking around the apartment complex- but a majority of people functioned during the day.

My phone led me right to the situation, and I thought I heard the sound of gunshots before I arrived. Upon getting close, I walked by a huge ring of blood in the middle of an intersection with cops positioned all around it. 

“Hey, what’s the situation?” I asked one of the nearby officers.

“Some sort of monster came out of this hell portal,” he gestured to the blood circle. “A civilian called it in. A number of officers have been wounded and it was chased down that way. Some sort of… giant bat?”

That made sense with my phone still pointing that way. I just wanted some idea of what I was dealing with. “Okay, thanks.”

Dire bats weren’t a huge problem. Honestly a few gunshots should be sufficient. So either the officers were bad shots or it was something else. Or larger than expected, since dire bats were just as likely to appear here as some other kind of overly large batlike creature.

I saw a semicircle of police cars with officers taking cover behind them, their guns focused on an alleyway. There were several spotlights illuminating the area, mostly focused on the alleyway but with enough light reflecting everywhere to highlight a familiar figure. Probably.

“Hey!” I called out. “Is that you… Zor…?” I tilted my head as the little green man turned.

“Zorphax,” he said. “You’d be… Mage, right?”

“It’s Turlough. We met before.”

He nodded, “I remember, just… masks.”

“Oh. Yeah. I have tusks and green skin so it’s not like I’m ever secret anyway.”

“Whatever,” Zorphax said. “That’s not important right now. You have a translation ability, right? We asked for that.”

“Yeah,” I nodded. 

“Does it let you talk with giant bats?”

“It doesn’t work on animals,” I shook my head. “But… if it’s sapient and has a language, it should work.”

“That’s good enough,” Zorphax said. “Because that’s actually what we’re trying to find out. If this thing is just a monster,” he held up a gun that I only recognized because it had a similar grip. The rest of it was a series of strange dishes and bulbs. “Well, it would probably be someone else handling it.”

“Yeah. So should I go talk at it?”

“Will you be safe?”

“Yeah I’ve got magic armor,” I nodded. “Midnight, you should probably walk.”

He hopped down from my shoulder. “You are right. I will have better mobility here.”

With that, we walked into the half-dark alleyway. The first half was way too brightly lit, but around a corner it suddenly dipped into shadow. I held a hand up to the side of my face to shield my eyes. “See anything?” I asked Midnight.

“It takes time to adjust, which doesn’t really work with this much light.”

“Right,” I nodded, stepping forward around the corner. I still couldn’t see much, but my eyes weren’t fighting the spotlights either. “Hey!” I called ahead. “Giant bat! Can you talk?”

If it spoke English I was pretty sure this would have already been resolved one way or another. And since it probably didn’t, my yelling was kind of pointless. But I didn’t know what it was or have any familiarity, so I couldn’t tune myself to a specific language unless I got it to talk. The alley remained silent.

“See anything?” I asked Midnight.

“Still adjusting,” he said. “The alley doesn’t continue much further. Perhaps it simply has flown away?” He was quiet for a few seconds. “Ah. There is a large figure about halfway up the side of the back wall.”

“Around there?” I asked, pointing my finger.

There was a loud shriek and I found myself bowled over backwards, back out into the other section of the alley. Then there were gunshots and yelling before I made up my mind to use Shocking Grasp. My hand crackled with electricity in front of my face, but I found no purchase- and I vaguely observed something darting back into the shadows. I felt my Force Armor was half-broken, but the initial impact hadn’t been that much.

“Hey, can you guys not shoot?” I called towards the end of the alley. “I think you hit me.” I picked myself up and reapplied Force Armor. This wasn’t the sort of situation I wanted to have less than my maximum defenses. I was now at about sixty percent of my maximum mana, twelve points left. I looked towards the darkness, my eyes barely picking out Midnight next to a trash bag, and only because I had a feeling of where he was. He looked ready to do something, but seemed to be avoiding calling attention to himself. Which was reasonable. I waved my hand towards the back of the alley as I took a step forward again. “Hey, can you talk? That’s really important.” I held my hand in front of myself as a shield, ready to zap it if it charged me again.

Then I heard it. Not the screeching, but a sound like a whisper. A shouted whisper, clawing at my mind and wrapping around me, consuming me with darkness. Some sort of mental attack? I wasn’t… really ready for that. But nothing happened. Or at least, I didn’t notice it- which wasn’t the same thing.

I focused on that sound. “Were you talking? If you were talking I need you to do it more.” I tried to speak whatever language it was, but since there was only at most one thing that spoke that language here, it wasn’t so quick to translate. But the figure also didn’t charge towards me again, and I was actually beginning to be able to make out its shape. Giant bat? Well, I could believe that.

“… accursed magic… don’t want… death…”

“Hey! I happen to like magic,” I retorted. “I think it’s great.”

There was a long pause. Then it spoke again. “Do you … words?”

“Gonna be honest here,” I said. “I only half understood that at most. Keep talking though.”

“… you… warlock, sent to slay me?”

“I’m a mage,” I said. “Warlocks are different.”

“You are wise to shield yourself with those accursed lights,” the thing whisper-shouted.

“They are pretty bright, huh?” I shook my head. “Makes it hard to adjust.”

“Do you plan to delay me until the cursed rays of dawn destroy me? Because I will not continue to hold back.”

“Are you kidding?” I shook my head. “Dawn’s like… four hours away still. I’m going back to bed before then.” I yawned, “So why are you here, attacking people?”

“I wished to live,” the bat explained. I could now see that it was about eight to ten feet tall, and its wings filled the whole alleyway. Well, it wasn’t that wide so they were actually kind of squished in.

“Yeah that makes sense,” I admitted. “Nobody wants to die. But that includes those people you attacked.”

“They are not dead, are they?” the thing asked. “Not that it would matter, because your people shot first.”

“Ugh,” I sighed. “What a mess. One second.” I covered my eyes and leaned out to should up the alleyway. “Hey! Did people shoot at this before anyone was attacked?”

“What? I can’t hear you!” They had the advantage of megaphones, which I did not have.

“Hey Midnight,” I said. “Can you go ask them if they shot at it first?” Midnight didn’t move. “Is something wrong?”

“I believe the cat is under the impression that I will not notice it if it does not move. But I have a very clear sense of where it is behind that bundle.”

“I’m not a cat!” Midnight yelled as he sprinted past my legs. That first one was in the language the probably-not-a-bat spoke. Once around the corner, he stopped and switched to his own language. “Anything else you want me to ask the officers? Or should I stay here for an ambush?”

“It can probably still sense you. Bats have echolocation, and you’re just making sound anyway.”

“… I’ll go ask if they shot it first.” Midnight skittered away.

“Are you preparing some new form of weapon?” the bat asked. “My patience is running thin. I can’t afford to be so… nice.”

“No, we’re just asking if they shot you first,” I said. “If they wanted to just kill you they have things for that. I was called so we could talk.”

“… I have to admit that your words seem reasonable,” the sounds of darkness wrapped around me as it spoke. “But it may also be a trick.”

Midnight ran back. “They say that… maybe they shot it first. When it came out of the hell portal.”

I nodded. “Thanks Midnight. So… you. Do you have a name?”

“Yes,” it answered.

There was some silence. “Aren’t you going to say it?”

“Not to a warlock.”

“… That’s reasonable,” I admitted. “But I’m not a warlock. Well, mister bat… did you come out of a ‘hell portal’?”

“I toiled for many months to develop the magic to escape the cursed eternal day that plagues my world.”

“Does that magic involve a big, creepy circle of blood?”

“Why would it not involve blood? Where would it get its power?”

I frowned, “Mana? Crystals? Stuff like that.”

“That’s… the method of powering the magic that brought me here doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Well,” I pointed out, “People are pretty particular about blood. Even here where there isn’t much magic, people are squeamish about blood magic.”

“Why?”

“Because blood comes from people, and without it they die. And nobody wants to die.”

“Right. It’s just… normal where I’m from.”

“That’s the kind of thing that makes people worried,” I pointed out. “How many people did you have to sacrifice for that portal?”

“None,” the bat said.

“That sounds like a lie,” I countered. “There was a lot of blood there.”

“I cannot lie.”

“That… you understand that saying that won’t make me believe you, right? Because if you can lie, then it doesn’t mean anything.”

“… how troublesome.”

We just stood there for a while, looking at each other. Probably. I couldn’t see its eyes.

Midnight helped ease the situation. “I think it sounds truthful. And nobody is dead, even though it seems very likely it could have killed people.”

“I mean, I kind of agree,” I admitted. “I just don’t know what we do from here.”

“You could let me go,” the bat said. “I’ll just fly off.”

“See, that’s the sort of thing that bothers people. Then we have a spooky magic bat flying around the city,” I pointed out. “Oh hey, are you a vampire? That seems like vampire stuff.”

“I could be called a vampire, yes.”

“Do you drink blood?”

“… I have the feeling you won’t like the answer to that question.”

“I’m going to assume that’s a ‘yes’, then. Ugh, I’m not trained for this negotiation stuff. Midnight, can you just get Zorphax closer so we can ask him stuff?”

“Like what? Maybe I can save us some time.”

“Like… lots of things. Am I allowed to offer refugee status to a vampire fleeing a curse of eternal sunlight? Is that political or religious persecution? Can I do any of that, since I’m not a member of Extra?”

“… I’ll go get him.”

“Who is this Zorphax?”

“He’s a little guy,” I said, “About this tall. He knows how to do the negotiations and stuff. I’m just here because I can talk to you. But if you promise not to attack him, he can work something out, I’m sure.”

“We will speak through you?”

“Well, that sounds like a pain, honestly,” I yawned. “I kinda just want to go to bed. I’ll probably just cast Translation on him. Just talk at him for a while and he should pick it up real quick.”

Honestly I was amazed I hadn’t messed it up already. So if I could drop this off on the people who knew what they were doing, that was best.

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