The problem with being responsible was that Ceira had a whole lot of footage she couldn’t show- and that she missed a whole lot of footage she could have shown. She had been trying to make plant magic work, and when it maybe did- though it could have been a consequence of Halloween- she was more concerned about stopping it than recording it. Mage had been the one to stop it though.
Given it was her actual job to pay attention to social media, Ceira heard about the attack on Mage. Some people tried to frame it as him beating up a bunch of defenseless kids, but it wasn’t really convincing when they used ambush tactics and brought along a guy that looked like he weighed four hundred pounds. As with anything, though, enough people were convinced by those with large platforms and not by logic or reason.
And then there were the people who were on the side of it being fun to watch people get beat up. Some platforms had rules against that, but even with the high quality of the recording this one still fell within reasonable limits for display elsewhere. The sound though… that remix was both disturbing and catchy.
Maybe that was why Ceira found it easier to reach out to Midnight. Or maybe it was the fact that he at least looked like a cute cat. Thus they found themselves on a park bench, since the cafe Midnight knew would host him was inconvenient for Ceira to visit. “People have been saying a lot of terrible stuff about Mage,” Ceira commented. “Mostly related to Shooting Star.”
“I know,” Midnight nodded. “He has perhaps wisely chosen to stay disconnected from social media. Though it was probably some sort of stubbornness to begin with.”
“They also say things about you but… that didn’t really take off as much.”
“Oh?” Midnight asked. “What sorts of things?”
“There are rumors that you’re a demon or whatever, but mostly they say you’re an edgelord for picking the name Midnight Deathstalker as your super name.”
“Then people are confused,” Midnight declared. “Because that’s my real name.”
“Wait really?” Ceira did know he introduced himself that way, but she’d assumed it was to hide his identity somehow. “What’s your ‘super’ name?”
“Familiar,” Midnight said.
“Like… a magically bonded animal?”
“It is correct except for the animal part,” Midnight declared.
“Should I be calling you Familiar then?”
“I don’t know if it matters.”
“What about keeping your identity secret?”
“If anyone bothered to look up official records they could find that name. Since people already know me as Midnight, it doesn’t matter. And those thugs know where we live already.”
“Wait, what? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“A good number of those ‘discount paladins’ are being prosecuted right now,” Midnight said. “As well as the newbie mage. And Mage likes battle, so he is not concerned.”
“What about you?” Ceira asked.
“I like him to be happy, and I share similar reasons to enjoy combat. Or at least the results. Growing stronger feels good.”
“You get stronger through combat?”
“In theory, you should as well,” Midnight explained. “And anyone with a portal power. Though I should point out that it’s safer to simply use your abilities, and try to understand them. There is likely no completely accurate material for you to study, but it should allow you experience nonetheless. I believe Turlough has put together a basic explanation for you, though perhaps he has not sent it yet.”
“Was it an e-mail? I might have missed it.” Her eyes landed on movement nearby. “Ooh! A squirrel! Hello squirrel!”
The squirrel paused, then tilted its head curiously. “Greetings, big one. Do you have any nuts?”
“I’m sorry,” she shook her head. “I don’t.” It took her a moment, “Oh! You understood me?”
“Yes,” the squirrel nodded. “If you don’t have any nuts to share, I will be going.”
“Ok bye!” Ceira waved. The squirrel seemed to wave goodbye with its bushy tail. Ceira excitedly turned to Midnight. “Did you see that? I talked to a squirrel.”
“You certainly made noises at it,” Midnight agreed.
“Did you not understand me?” Ceira asked.
“I am neither a squirrel nor any other sort of animal,” Midnight reminded her. “So whatever magic you develop won’t allow you to speak with me.”
“Right,” she nodded, “It’s just that it’s never worked before. I tried it with you first so I sort of got thrown off my game.”
Midnight didn’t have much to say to that, so after a few moments of silence he returned the topic to other areas. “If you are concerned about our safety, perhaps we should not meet for the sake of yours. I am aware that I am not the only black cat in the city but if you should be seen talking to one you might become associated with us by inference. Though I do take care to make sure I am not followed when heading out for social engagements.”
“… Would I actually be in danger?” Ceira asked.
“It is impossible to say, but another friend and I were attacked together. It is no more legal for anyone to attack us compared to yourself, though public opinion might think otherwise.”
“Hmm… that’s really the thing we need to concern ourselves with. To be honest, from getting my portal power until now I hadn’t thought deeply about it being dangerous.”
“You do not have to make use of your power to have a good life,” Midnight said. “And certainly not for combat purposes. Not everyone is meant for battle.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Ceira nodded. “But maybe I should learn how to fight anyway. New Bay isn’t exactly safe, or we wouldn’t need so many heroes roaming around.”
“Or mercenaries,” Midnight added.
“Right!” Ceira nodded. “Or mercenaries.”
As the mists cleared, I was met with the image of a screen displaying the words, ‘Please respect the privacy of Doctor Doomsday and his guests.” The message was quite polite, but even if I had the intention to ignore it I couldn’t. Moving my scrying sensor away from the monitor, even turning it, was impossible.
I wondered what sort of technology could do that, but then again this was the guy who made dozens of portals, some of which were intentionally to a realm full of magic. He wasn’t just some D-list villain who made laser guns. Though he also did that.
“That’s all I got,” I shrugged. “That means Handface is still his ‘guest’, I suppose.”
“How unfortunate,” Calculator sighed. “I would have hoped to gain at least some information from this process.”
Captain Senan was present as well, waiting patiently behind us. “This means that our patrol is still on, correct?”
Calculator nodded, “With Deimos off the streets, the risk for your squad is standard. Even so, we’ll keep you on an unpredictable schedule. You won’t get as familiar with any spot, but nobody will be able to predict your positions either. Just in case.”
Training happened every day we worked, even if we would be patrolling later. It wasn’t always looking to improve, but sometimes just to stay in shape. Coordinating team tactics was also important.
Patrols were usually at night, just because more trouble tended to happen at night. At least the sort roaming about would help with. If someone tried to rob a bank someone would be called in, though that could happen during the day or at night. Daytime robberies were traditionally threatening violence on innocent civilian sorts of things to get away with quick cash. At night it was those who were more confident with their ability to fight guards and break open bank vaults.
At least, that was what I had learned. I hadn’t been involved with fending off any bank heists yet. We stopped some petty crime up by the docks, near Jerome’s neighborhood. We got called in to deal with Rocker- who was still doing community service with us. There was the mission at the manor and a few others. Other than that, most of my battles had been without my squad, just whatever showed up on the streets that I happened to be near and was called towards.
Currently our major concerns on night patrols were things like people breaking into stores or leftover monsters from Halloween. Most of them didn’t last, but apparently there were generally higher numbers afterwards.
We patrolled in commercial districts- where people did business with each other- and business districts- where people did nothing at all, as far as I could tell. There was always some overlap with everything, and some places had a bit of industry going on. Tech had to be produced somewhere, and when it came to things beyond normal comprehension it really had to take place in one of the cities with a higher concentration of supers. You couldn’t outsource making Phasmotron Amplifiers to… wherever was poor. I wasn’t going to lie, I didn’t know most of the geopolitics of Earth.
Whether it was a register full of cash or a fancy bit of tech, there were always people who wanted to get their hands on it without doing the work. Even if it was just a small portion of the population, in a large population center with tens of millions there was always something happening in New Bay. Just not always in the districts I was in. I wondered if it was possible to change that. Even if they were crappy thugs, if I got in enough battles with new people I would still get decent experience.
Our patrol was split into either groups of two or three- nobody was ever solo. If we were paired up, I went with Shockfire while Midnight and Acid Man formed the second pair. Our captain was left with the duty of watching Rocker, since he had the most responsibility if the guy screwed something up. If we were in trios, Midnight went with that pair since we could sense if the other was in danger without needing our comms to work. Usually they would, but having magical options available with each group was also useful. Midnight was already level 13, which meant he had as much mana capacity as I did when I was first starting out. He had access to more expensive spells, but a couple were more efficient as well.
Shockfire’s hand suddenly lit up, crackling with electricity. I turned to look down the alley he spun towards, but I didn’t see anything. “What is it?” I asked. My darkvision didn’t reveal anything beyond where his flashlight shone.
“I thought I saw a rat,” he said. “Not a normal sized one either. Like Rodentia’s.”
“Can’t you sense electricity?” I asked. “They’re robots, right?”
“They’re surprisingly efficient,” he said. “Besides, I only sense large amounts of things. It took you a while to realize that the ambient mana levels were higher, right? With big wires running all over buildings, one machine doesn’t really stand out most of the time,” Shockfire explained.
“That makes sense,” I nodded. “So, do you think it was actually one of those?”
“Could have been a raccoon, or a possum,” Shockfire shrugged. “Maybe a cat or dog. Want to poke around in the garbage for them?”
“I think I’ll pass,” I said. “Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of Rodentia’s. She has those things all over still.” I looked around. “Are there any dairy plants around here?”
“I don’t think so,” Shockfire said. “And Rodentia steals other things too.”
Nothing happened for another hour, far past any sort of convenient dramatic timing. I was almost beginning to think this night’s patrol would be without incident as well, when an alarm rang out ahead of us. We called in to report the incident to the Brigade- they would manage any coordination with police or heroes- and informed the others of our location.
As we approached the scene, Shockfire spoke up. “Remember that thing you mentioned earlier? If things are large enough to stand out, I can sense them. And we’re about to face off against either humanoid robots or-” we rounded the corner to finally spot the source of the alarm. A kid who looked too young to be getting into crime was standing there, but the fact that he was leaning on the wall next to the shattered window of a retail store indicated his position.
When he turned his head towards us I could see the light skin on the right side of his face give way to metal plates around the eye, also artificial. As he saw us he called out, raising his left arm and firing a beam of… something. Shockfire and I dove out of the way as it cut through the pavement around us and then sliced into a street lamp.
“-Cyborgs,” Shockfire finished his statement. “There are another half dozen inside.”
I wondered if cyborgs were worth experience. Obviously the person part was, but I’d never fought a robot. Would it count the threat of the metal parts? Only one way to find out.