Half in the light of a street lamp lay Turlough’s body.
“Be careful,” Captain Senan’s voice came over the comms into Midnight’s ear. “The shooter might be watching for some sort of rescue attempt.”
“Will they be looking for a cat though?” Midnight asked as he approached Turlough’s fallen form. “Or someone who looks like a cat?”
“If they’re after him in particular, they might know about you.”
Midnight hesitated for a second. “They’ll be looking for a black cat, then. How close are you?”
“Not far. We can be there in a few moments.”
“Leave this to me. Just look out for the shooter.”
“I’m not sure,” Midnight admitted. “Maybe… west?”
“You heard him,” Ice Guy said. “Acid Man, Shockfire, spread out to the west. Stay off the main street there.”
Midnight was less than a hundred feet away, but before moving out to check on Turlough more closely he stopped for a small bit of magic. It was one he hadn’t used before, and even now it might be pointless. But as he walked out from between the nearby buildings he was no longer a black cat, but one that was mostly white with brown spots. “Turlough,” Midnight intentionally spoke in the Celmothian language which sounded quite a bit like cats meowing to the uneducated. “Are you conscious?” No response. Not that he expected much.
Midnight did his best impression of a disinterested animal walking past a body. His tail brushed against Turlough, reapplying Force Armor. He had no way to heal him, but he needed to get him off the street, out of sight of the shooter. They might still be around. He cursed his low amount of mana. Three points left, more or less, barely enough to Enlarge himself. Perhaps the Disguise was a waste. Then again, he could have looked like a Bunvorixian… or just a dog. That would have confused someone.
“Mage?” came a small voice from nearby. Midnight turned to see a kid. Not just any kid, but Jerome. He’d been tasked to watch over him.
As Jerome started to step out, Midnight yelled. “Get back! It’s not safe!” He just hoped his words couldn’t be heard by the shooter, or he could be a target. He wasn’t going to let a human kid be in trouble though.
“… Are you the fast cat? I thought you were black.” Jerome shook his head. “That doesn’t matter. He needs our help!”
“I know! I’m working on it. I just need to pull him into the alley.”
Midnight immediately regretted his words, because the kid had no hesitation. He stepped out next to Turlough and grabbed his leg. He began to pull, but he was so much smaller he barely moved the man.
Then another shot rang out. At first Midnight thought it was a miss, then he saw a red stain on Jerome’s abdomen. From the back. The kid turned his head to Midnight, gritting his teeth. “Come on! Pull or something!”
Midnight had many thoughts run through his head. Making the kid bigger would help, but he’d be an easy target. Would growing himself be enough? He wasn’t sure about that. And he had to act quickly. Jerome was toughing it out, but clearly he wasn’t in a good state. Midnight finally just picked something.
A black smear appeared all over Turlough except where Jerome was grabbing him, and suddenly he slipped along with barely any effort. Jerome almost stumbled when it suddenly became easier, but a moment later they were in the alley. Midnight let Grease fade away so as not to complicate things.
“Are you okay kid? Jerome?”
“Huh? Yeah I’m… I’m fine…” he said as he slumped against the wall, pressing his hand to his gut. “Ouch.”
Midnight was tempted to yell at the kid for being reckless, but that was a waste of time and energy. “Captain!” he called through the comms. “A civilian has been hit! We need medics asap!”
“Understood. The second shot gave away the shooter’s location. Acid man has given chase. Medics were on the way and simply holding for a safe area. They’ll be there soon.”
As Captain Senan promised, an ambulance showed up less than a minute later, sirens blaring. A man and a women quickly jumped out. “Who’s injured? What’s the situation? Dammit, they’re both out.”
“They were both shot!” Midnight spoke from nearby. “Yes I’m a talking cat. Now help this kid! I think it went right through.”
“I’m on it,” said the woman. Either she’d dealt with weird things before or simply didn’t have time to ask questions.
“What about the big guy?” asked the man.
“I think it’s still in there,” Midnight said. “The bullet.”
“It seems to have gone in his chest…” the man carefully lifted Turlough. “No exit wound. What was it though? I thought these suits were all bulletproof…” the man felt the material. “Feels right, at least.” Even as he was talking he had his kit out, including a flashlight to see what he was doing better. Then he whistled. “That’s a pretty big hole. Lot of bleeding. We need to get this guy in for surgery. But before that…” he turned to Midnight. “Do you know his blood type?”
“…No?” Midnight asked.
“I… can ask HQ.” Midnight was trying to remember the appropriate way to do that. “Dispatch?” he spoke into his comms. “Is Mage’s blood type human compatible?”
There was a moment of silence. “Affirmative,” came a synthesized voice. “Mage’s blood is human compatible. A positive equivalent.”
Midnight relayed that information to the responder, who immediately began putting him on a stretcher and hooking tubes up to Turlough. By the time he was done with that Ice Guy arrived. “How is he doing?” the captain asked. Seeing Jerome, “And what happened with the kid?”
“The kid is in shock but it went clean through his abdomen without hitting vital organs. This man…”
“He’s not looking great. We’re about to head to the hospital.”
“Understood,” Captain Senan nodded. Doctor Mishra could patch them up in a second, but he was all the way back at HQ. “Keep us posted.”
“I’m his partner,” Midnight said. “Can I ride with you?”
“Uh…” the man nodded. “Sure. Just stay out of the way.”
Midnight was quite capable of that. The two wounded people were loaded into the back, making it rather cramped with the medics. But a cat didn’t add too much more. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Midnight asked nervously.
“No.” The man paused, “Not unless you have healing powers.”
“They’re different,” Midnight admitted.
The ride felt extremely long, staring at Turlough’s skin that wasn’t quite as deep of a green as it should have been. But then they stopped.
“What’s the situation?” came the voice of another woman as the back was opened.
“Bullet wounds. Kid’s stable, the man’s not doing so well.”
“Any bullets left in them?” the woman asked.
“Went right through the kid. The man should have one right next to his heart.”
“Dammit,” the woman cursed. She reached out for the kid, a sparkling yellow glow covering him for a moment. “That should tide him over. We’ll need surgery to get that bullet out before I can heal the man.”
“I can get it out… I think.” Midnight said. “Should I have taken it out earlier?”
“No. I mean, if you can do it now that’s great, but earlier it would have caused more bleeding trouble.”
“Okay. I’ll take it out now.”
“Careful-” the healer cautioned him, but Midnight just pressed his head to Turlough’s shoulder. Either that would work, or it wouldn’t.
Through the bond he activated Storage. Turlough was touching the bullet, so logically it should work. “There, I did it.”
“Are you sure? I didn’t see it come out.”
“Positive,” Midnight said. “Here. I’ll show you.” He concentrated, spewing the contents of Storage out in front of him. Out came a dozen cans of tuna, and one large bullet. “See?” Midnight said as he swayed on his feet. “I got it.” Then he toppled forward into the pile of cans due to mana exhaustion.
I woke up in a medical bed, which was surprisingly the first time I remembered that happening. I looked around and saw the captain and the others.
“How are you feeling?” Captain Senan asked.
I took a moment to sort that out. “Good, I think.” I tried to remember what happened. “Was I shot?” I looked down at my chest, which made that pretty clear. I was still in my costume instead of a medical gown. That was partly due to super privacy laws, and partly because anything else was unnecessary. “I vaguely remember getting shot.”
“That’s about right,” Captain Senan nodded. “We were able to ID the guy and chase him off, but couldn’t catch him. Seems to go by the name Deimos.” He showed me a picture.
“Oh. It’s Handface. I remember that guy.” I rubbed my chest which seemed to think it should hurt, but didn’t. “How did that happen? I thought the suits were bulletproof.”
“Nothing’s really bulletproof. He used a rifle. Would have gone all the way through you if not for your defenses on top of the suit. Probably your heart. You’ve only really dealt with pistols before.”
“Okay,” I said. I looked over next to me. “How’s Midnight? He feels fine but…”
“Mana exhaustion, I think,” the captain said. He pulled back the dividing curtain to reveal Midnight curled up on a pillow. “He came with you all the way here and somehow pulled the bullet out.”
“Nice. I assume he used Storage.”
“… I hadn’t considered that a possible application of that ability,” Ice Guy admitted.
“Well, it works on free objects you’re touching. It makes sense. So how long do I have to stay here?”
“Shouldn’t be long. Just need a recount of the situation. Do you remember a young man being present?”
“… No?” I shook my head. “I was just walking by myself. Then I was out.”
“Ah. We’re gonna get an earful for getting a kid involved, even if it wasn’t our choice.”
And we did. First from his mother, then later from the Power Brigade. Between those points, I got to talk with Jerome on my own.
“I heard you helped me out,” I said to the kid. “Thanks, Jerome. But don’t do it again. It’s dangerous.”
“I know,” he said. “But how am I going to be a hero if I don’t help people right in front of me?”
“… you sure you want to be a hero?” I asked. There was the matter of him not having a power, but that was a problem for later. “After getting shot?”
“I always wanted to be a hero!” Jerome nodded. “It’s just, I was studying hard to get a good job. So I could help my mom. But you told me heroes got paid.”
“Well, sure. It’s not always good though.” The popular or strong ones did much better than the rest, who were paid little more than civic servants for a lot more risk. The actual wages were basically the same for most of them, but the popular ones made money off of image rights and the like.
“That’s okay,” the kid shrugged. “It’ll work.”
“You still have like… six or more years to go,” I pointed out. “They don’t let minors work as heroes.”
“You can start training though. And if you get the right power you can work as a minor.”
“You’ll need a power though,” I pointed out. “They’re not that easy to get, though.” Unlike my world where everyone could pick a class. That didn’t seem to work here though. People didn’t even have status windows they could bring up.
Jerome shrugged. “Whatever. All I have to do is fall in a vat of toxic waste or get struck by lightning or something.”
“It is my responsibility as an adult to remind you those are just going to kill you. And that would make your mom sad.”
He sighed. “I know. I wish there was some sort of magic that could give me a power.”
“Tough break kid,” I shook my head. “I already told you I can’t teach you, or I would.” It was a shame, but he was probably destined to be one of the vast majority of people who didn’t have a power. There wasn’t anything that could be done about that, or someone would have done it already. Probably rich people.
After everything was resolved with the hospital which was wonderfully quick with healing powers being involved- though we weren’t completely healed right away- I thought about how I had gotten there. This time it hadn’t been my fault. Mostly. The grudge with old Handface was kind of my fault, but I hadn’t done anything since that time. Then he just came and shot me from far away! Very rude. As I was thinking about possible solutions for that, I noticed I had leveled up. I hadn’t been that far, and a truly near-death experience was worth quite a bit. A full fight would have been better, but it was more than the dozen experience I had remaining.
That meant I had 25 points to spend. I just had to think long and hard about what to do with them to prevent further situations that were like this. More defenses? I could buy Stoneskin, but the problem would be that it would severely limit what else I could use mana for. It would basically monopolize my mana regeneration by itself, and would take more than a third of my total for a single use. And that would only protect me– and Midnight. I couldn’t really afford to use it on my teammates mana-wise. With diamond dust being cheaper than I thought at least the money wouldn’t be a problem.
The other option was something like tracking down Deimos to deal with him. I wasn’t really into the idea of having someone with a grudge like that out and about. Unfortunately Scrying would take more points and mana, and I couldn’t even guarantee that it would work. Or help. Neither was an easy choice, and sinking a couple more upgrades into Force Armor definitely wasn’t going to be enough to keep myself safe.