Mage Among Superheroes 77

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It didn’t take long to get down into the basement, just a flight of stairs. Shockwave shone a light into the room and then I found myself being dragged up the stairs. “You- are- hard to move around,” Shockwave said as we climbed the stairs. When we got to the top they slammed the door.

“What was in there?” I asked.

“Rats,” Shockwave said. “Too many rats.”

“Is that a problem?” I said. “Do you have a particular problem with rats?”

“Let me ask you this. How many times can you kill a rat about this big?” Shockwave held their hands apart to the width of their torso.

“Does that include the tail?”

“Does it matter? And it does not.”

“Uh… Ten? Fifteen maybe.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna work,” Shockwave shook their head. “Way too many in there. Now, I could definitely take out a lot of them but…” There was a thud on the door. “I’m kind of concerned about their numbers.” We both looked at the door, which thudded several more times. “Being faster would help, but I’d need some sort of physical defense. You have a thing for that, right?”

“Sure,” I said. “I can do that, but you’ll have to handle the vast majority of that swarm.” The door shook. We probably had to hurry. “Let’s start with this,” I pulled a little plastic baggy out of my jacket, pouring the contents into my palm.

“What the heck is that?” Shockwave asked.

“Diamond dust.” And a little bit of granite but the diamonds were more important. “This shouldn’t restrict your movements, but I don’t know how it will interact with your power.” I reached out for Shockwave with the hand full of powder. The diamond dust just kind of disappeared since there was no visible skin to touch, but the magic didn’t really care about details like that. “Try moving around for a second before we get you into combat.” I couldn’t help but glance at the shaking door, and I took a few steps back.

Shockwave jogged around the room for a bit, waving their arms. “Seems all good. What uh, what does this do? I don’t feel any different.”

“Look at your bare hands,” I said. “It’s Stoneskin. It’ll make you very tough.”

“Weird,” Shockwave said. “I guess I should get to work.”

“Just give me a second,” I said. I took out the biggest mana crystal I had and began to absorb it. Based on my tests it should recover at least a few mana. I wasn’t low yet, but it took time. And I wanted a couple seconds to stabilize myself before casting another higher cost spell. I didn’t wait to finish absorbing the crystal- partly because the door was starting to come apart. “Alright, you’re going to be a little bit faster than last time,” I said. “So if you have to adjust, just be ready for that.”

“Cool,” Shockwave said feigning casualness, but I could see their eyes light up. 

I gathered five mana to cast Haste. It could cost four and a sixth mana, but I now knew I didn’t have to use the naturally reduced cost that came with an upgrade. Overall I could increase the power of the spell by slightly less than a quarter by using the maximum mana cost. “It still doesn’t last that long, so get ready,” I said. As I reached for Shockwave, they pulled out a knife. That… was surprisingly practical and kind of scary. As the mana left me and I completed my spell, I nodded. “Ok. Go.”

I expected to go deaf, but Shockwave moved ‘slowly’ towards the door. Not enough to do more than blow some wind in my face, at least. When the door was flung open a wave of giant rats began to pour out, dozens of them stacked about halfway up the doorframe. I could have fired a nice Sonic Lance in there to blow up a portion of them, but Shockwave was in the line of fire. And then there was a spray of blood and the pile began to collapse. It was a strange mixture of watching Shockwave in fast forward while the pile of rats still had to deal with things like gravity as it tumbled to the ground. I could only vaguely make out what was happening, but the clean lines on the rats necks told me everything I needed. 

Shockwave disappeared down the stairs, leaving a pile half kicked out of the doorway. I was going to follow, but the rats weren’t all dead yet. Or they hadn’t realized it, at least. It took a second for the shock to set in, and fortunately the press of bodies got a lot of them out of the doorway. It was a few seconds before nothing was moving and I began to make my way down the stairs to provide support somehow. It was only a flight of stairs, but by the time I got to the bottom- making my way past dozens more rats- I could finally see the large open space down below.

Trying to find a target was difficult. There were a lot of rats, but by the time I could think about firing a spell at one it was dead- or dying, at least. Shockwave’s signature feature sent the rats tumbling about. The mass that had followed us up was more concentrated than the rest, but there were still rats almost covering the area.

Then I spotted a big one. A bigger one. Waist height, green, and pulsing. That was probably not good. Rather, it was definitely not good but I didn’t know how. Shockwave spotted it too- they had their own light after all. A blue blur passed by the largest creature there and… nothing. 

“It’s damn tough!” Shockwave said- a little bit fast, but clearly compensating for the change in speed.

I nodded. If that was a normal knife, there was a pretty good chance it couldn’t cut into the thing. Not without serious effort. “Shockwave, stay out of the line of fire!” I warned. I gathered mana and pointed at the large rat. Firebolt seemed much too weak, and Shocking Grasp meant getting too close to a rat with fangs as long as my forearms. Besides, Sonic Lance wasn’t easily resisted by most things. I gathered the mana and fired at maximum power. The rat was too busy trying to track Shockwave to really notice me until it was too late. The rat looked into my eyes with its glowing green ones, and then its face disappeared. And then the rest of the body exploded, sending green gas everywhere.

“Okwe’releavingnow!” Shockwave said. I was being pulled up the stairs, but this time I twisted to run on my own. 

“Did we get them all?” I asked.

“Hopeso,” Shockwave said. They had their phone in hand. “HeythisisShockwaveresquestingcleanupcrew.”

“You’re talking a little too fast,” I pointed out.

“Cancelthething?” Shockwave said.

It would be wearing off in ten or twenty seconds anyway, but I focused on unraveling the active magic. It would be difficult if Shockwave wasn’t standing next to me, but they were and it was my own spell so it was willing to come apart. “There.”

“Okay,” Shockwave said as they munched on an energy bar. Shockwave repeated the call for a cleanup crew, and explained the details. “So yeah, like… tons of rats. Gonna need a biohazard unit.”

“Also maybe some sort of poison gas,” I commented.

“Right, potential poison gas. Or radiation? Or both.” After we got confirmation of a cleanup crew on the way, Shockwave looked at me. “So, we can’t exactly go down there and take a look yet but… I didn’t see anything. What about you?”

“Ah, the portal thing,” I nodded. “I didn’t see one either. There definitely wasn’t a large open portal, at least. But I can tell there’s a high concentration of mana down there. I’ll have to take a careful look to know more.”

Shockwave looked over themself as we waited, finding a number of gashes in their uniform. “Hey, thanks for that stone thing. There were a lot of claws and teeth in there, and it turns out moving fast you can really catch yourself on a lot of things. Could have maybe taken my time but there were a lot of rats to get through.”

“There were. So, I noticed the knife. I thought you fought unarmed?”

“Are you kidding?” Shockwave said. “Only against chumps. There are a lot of things I’m not touching with just high tech gloves. Can’t exactly take down street thugs with a knife, but monster rats? No point in doing things the hard way. Heroes have an image to maintain, but we have jobs that need to get done.”

I nodded. There wasn’t much else to say. I wondered what sort of weapons Great Girl would use? Besides cars, of course. 

The cleanup crew arrived within fifteen minutes, which was pretty good considering they had something like a dump truck that they backed up to the doors. The reason for the placement was twofold- they didn’t have to carry rat bodies so far, and fewer people from the public would see anything. 

A couple other members of the Power Brigade showed up as well- some had already been on the way from the initial call, since it was uncertain what was around. We weren’t completely certain that everything was eradicated either.

Someone went down and used a power to clear out whatever the exploding rat had done, and soon enough it was declared ‘safe’ for us to go look. There was a continual line of bagged rats being carried out, and the floor was slippery with blood, but I was able to take a careful look now that I didn’t have to look for enemies.

The source of everything was pretty obvious with a bit of concentration. There was a source of mana in the middle of the large room. A portal, maybe- but a tiny one. Enough for mana to flow through, and nothing else. The only question was whether it was on purpose or an accident. It could have been either. The portal had almost certainly been made on purpose- probably by Doctor Doomsday- but it remaining like this was another question. 

—–

I had points to spend, and while something like Knock was enticing, I knew plenty of people who could open doors. Being more efficient with some things was more appealing, and there was also the matter of Midnight. He was still gaining levels, but the rate had become more reasonable. That meant a limit on the total mana he had, and he couldn’t improve his efficiency without me. 

 

Turlough (No surname)
Level: 20

Experience: 1112

Storage +2

Firebolt +2

Shocking Grasp +3

Grease +2

Force Armor +6

Mage’s Reach +2

Translation +1

Haste +4

Disguise

Familiar Bond +2

Enlarge +1

Energy Ward +1

Sonic Lance +1

Scrying

Shield +1

Stoneskin

Remaining Points: 1

Mana Crystal Deposition

Since Familiar Bond could let Midnight use upgrades up to the same level, I improved it to the second upgrade, along with Storage and Mage’s Reach. Meanwhile, I got the first improvement for Enlarge and Energy Ward. Enlarge was quite useful, and Energy Ward was useful against all sorts of powers. After that I was out of points again, but I had thought about it for a while. Saving for much longer would have been a waste, since I was already approaching the next level fairly quickly. Those rats ultimately got me less than a single experience each for my contribution, which was two spells buffing Shockwave and basically taking out the big one alone. Stoneskin probably provided less experience since it was only marginally necessary, but even Master Uvithar’s book had mentioned how difficult it was to determine exactly how experience contribution was split. Replicating exact circumstances was pretty impossible, especially since people would level up naturally. Curse of the Barbarian threw things off again, since it theoretically improved my gain from combat.

“This is amazing,” Midnight said. “Look at how much tuna I can store.”

“Please,” I rolled my eyes. “You can’t like tuna that much.”

“It’s pretty good,” Midnight said. “And it’s easier to throw some cans on a counter and have someone ring them up than to go to a restaurant and convince them to let me in.”

“Maybe pick one place,” I said. “Get people familiar with you. Though I have to admit there are so many restaurants that’s pretty limiting.” I wasn’t much of a cook myself, so while I could live on simple meals I generally went out to eat- or used the Power Brigade cafeteria, which was pretty good. 

“We should go together more,” Midnight said. “Though sometimes it’s worse when people think I’m your pet cat. And it’s hard to tell if things will be appropriate for me to eat.”

I nodded. I basically followed a human diet so it was easy for me. Many places had a way to get an ingredient list and have it automatically compared through an app for the sake of extradimensionals, aliens, or simply people with dietary requirements, but it certainly wasn’t everywhere yet. “Maybe we could hire a chef at some point. Hazard pay is pretty decent.”

“I’m not sure about that,” Midnight said. “I’m still on the lower pay track, and I’d prefer to have some savings. I wasn’t a huge fan of starving on the streets.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “I wouldn’t let that happen to you again, but I could die.” That bothered Midnight. I could feel the emotional reaction. I had made a mental note to be more cognizant of that stuff, because the therapist said to pay attention to feelings and sometimes his reflected mine, apparently. “Don’t worry, that was a joke.” Mostly.

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