A chill went to my bones as beady black eyes locked on me- as far as I could tell through the goggles. I wasn’t new to battle, especially after coming to Earth and being attacked quite regularly… but even the swarm of oversized rats hadn’t been so predatory in their gaze. It was like looking into the jaws of a lion… except it was a rodent.
“Oh! That’s a big list!” Rodentia said excitedly. “Dodge this!”
The warning almost threw me off, but the way she gestured with her ray gun made me instinctually duck out of the way. My cover was instantly covered in a layer of… cheese? I wasn’t sure what kind of cheese, but up close it was still clearly cheese. It looked kind of fake though. Like a yellow swiss? Swiss was one of the holey cheeses, but it was definitely more white than this mustardy color.
The cheese ray swept over me and back in my direction. I had to duck, dodge, and roll to just barely avoid it. “Not fast enough!” Rodentia yelled out. “You’re supposed to be faster!”
Fortunately while I was being harassed, my compatriots weren’t just sitting around. Acid Man was working his way towards Rodentia, but a wall of rats was pushing his puddle backwards, uncaring about the way their little robotic paws were melting inside him. Shockfire had a good shot- a bolt of lightning shot forward from him, but even as he was aiming the shot a wall of rats was building up in front of Rodentia. The lightning crashed into the pillar of smaller robotic rats and got no further- dozens or perhaps hundreds of them were flung in all directions, but Rodentia was unharmed.
“You’ll never get past my adaptive rat shielding!” Rodentia chittered. I was pretty sure a pile of rats wasn’t normally called adaptive shielding, but I couldn’t really focus on that. She was still sweeping her beam towards me. “Seriously, do that Haste thing!” With a flick of her wrist she swept the beam around me on all sides, but it was clear she could move it faster than I could dodge and had been holding back slightly. How much power did that thing have? Quite a lot left, it seemed.
I didn’t want to demonstrate Haste for someone who clearly wanted to see it, but since she already knew and I didn’t want to get turned into cheese I had to do it. Sure, the first guy simply got coated in cheese but I wasn’t going to take my chances and assume that was the worst that could happen. I cast Haste on myself, wishing Midnight were near enough to apply it to him- but the other half of the team was still approaching. We had to delay for them, since Rodentia was… surprisingly effective. Haste boosted my speed and thinking, and I was just barely able to track where her beam was going to go as well as keep proper cover. I might be able to just duck behind a wall, but if she changed target because of that it would be pointless.
Also based on the way one of the light posts was hit and was now snapped in half looking only like cheese and not a cheese coated metal tube, I was unsure if a wall would protect me for long.
It was about then I got a concerning exchange over our comms. Ice Guy’s voice came through first. “We’re approaching as fast as we can, but we’re being held back by Swarm!”
“Just freeze it!” Shockfire replied.
“Not rats. Or rather- ugh, the villain Swarm, the splitter. He’s working with Rodentia again!”
Rodentia must pay well, because the last time I saw Swarm working for her he seemed quite indignant about the ears.
“Haha! That’s it!” My dodging continued to be successful for the moment, but Rodentia seemed to be having fun while I was busy running for my life, or at least my dignity. “Artillery rats! Heat Rays on Mage!”
There was no way it made sense for her to yell out orders like that. It had to be some sort of trick- but when the eyes of a dozen dog-sized rats began to glow red, I couldn’t help but use Energy Ward regardless. I was going to be disappointed if they were frost beams or something, but I had to make a choice.
I tried to avoid the flickering orange beams- and I did, but only about a quarter of them. Instead of all trying to hit me, the rats opened fire in an area directly targeting me and around me. They seemed to have a pretty good idea of how far I could move in a moment, spreading out their attacks so I had no real possibility to dodge them all. I managed most, but even with enhanced thinking and reflexes there was only so much I could avoid twelve ever-shifting trajectories.
But they were heat rays. There had to be some trick coming up, where Rodentia would call out something and do the opposite to screw me over, but for the moment I was protected by Energy Ward that she basically suggested I use. And letting her see it function was a thousand times better than being burned alive. It was actually pleasantly warm, with the spell active. Though it couldn’t last forever.
“Nice, nice!” Rodentia nodded. Her ‘adaptive rat barrier’ was still managing to keep Shockfire at bay, and she flicked a switch, sweping her cheese ray over the rats Acid Man was pushing through. “Stay there, Goop Boy!” Wow, I couldn’t believe she didn’t even remember his proper name. Rude. Either way, the ray grew cheese from the pile of rats, the domes of cheese touching and fusing with each other and attaching to the ground as well. It had to be hoped that Acid Man was alright, but he was going to be stuck for at least a few moments. “Getting a bit close there. Alright, formation in place, let’s see that last one!”
Last one what? I didn’t have time to ask, because she pointed her ray gun towards me… then shot it. I didn’t even have to dodge because it just hit a rat… but I could see something shift. The ray fortunately didn’t travel at the speed of light, so when it rebounded off the larger rat’s back I threw myself to the side. As I was moving I looked over my shoulder, seeing movement. Another rat was there- and not just a couple, but many strewn about the area. The beam reflected once more, forcing me to twist my body in the air- unfortunately my feet had left the ground momentarily. My head whipped back and forth, hurting my neck, as the beam rebounded from rat to rat, eventually striking my ankle. A puff of cheese grew as I connected the ground, somehow anchoring me. I yanked my foot up just in time to get hit full in the chest by the main beam, no time to dodge even with haste.
Then my world turned into cheese as it near instantly spread over my body. I accidentally inhaled, but somehow the cheese was porous enough I could kind of breathe. Water Breathing? No, that was stupid. Cheese wasn’t water. My body froze in place, my thoughts running wild with no stimulus but dim light I could see through the cheese. I had to use Physical Freedom. I wasn’t sure it would work given the unusual circumstances, but this was exactly why I had it, if it worked.
It felt like it took forever to gather the nine mana necessary for the spell, but that was mostly because Haste didn’t increase that speed. In real time, it was at most a few seconds. When the spell completed I didn’t quite know what would happen. It was one of those spells where the explanation was that it just worked and little else. I struggled against the barrier surrounding me, and nearly knocked myself over when I just moved.
I shook my head, trying to clear my vision and the cheese around it just kind of sloughed off. Which was weird, because as it fell there was no obvious place it had broken, nor enough room for my head to slip out. But there it was.
My eyes locked on Rodentia’s, her mask scrunching up with some kind of unclear expression. My outstretched hand shot a Firebolt at her as I approached- and the ‘adaptive shielding’ predictably managed to block me. At this point they were kind of just a permanent wall that kept regrowing which made it kind of hard to see her.
Her beam hit me directly in my chest and… I didn’t even feel it. As I reached the barrier of rats I had a moment of regret… and then somehow slipped through, receiving a few nibbles in the process. My hands sparked with electricity. “I think that’s enough of this.”
“Agreed,” Rodentia said. “This was fun! Gotta go!”
Where she fit it I had no idea, but out of a clearly undersized backpack she was wearing came a cannon. But before she could fire it, I grabbed her arm. Shocking Grasp directed electricity into her and… nothing happened.
“Oh come on now, you think any tech super is going to be concerned about a little zap like that?” I had certainly hoped so, but a click of the trigger on that cannon- the barrel nearly as big around as my chest- and I was dead. A hole straight through me.
At least that’s what I presume would have happened if it shot the sort of thing sane individuals put in a cannon. Instead, it shot a rat. One of the big ones, right into my chest. The momentum and surprise- as well as the recoil- pulled me away from Rodentia. I was knocked on my back as I wrestled and threw the creature off me, though not before it managed to leave a decent chomp in my left arm, through what had been left of my Force Armor. Though I suppose that had taken a beating from various things so far.
But I had haste left, and as long as I didn’t let her hit me I could dodge some stupid projectile rats. Rodentia wasn’t far away and all I had to do was-
Not step on whatever thing I just stepped on, I presumed. I could vaguely make out little rectangles, smaller than my foot. But as my weight landed on one it suddenly grew a couple feet wider, and something snapped around my leg. It hurt. And then… that was it. Because it slid off.
I had to watch the ground like it was a minefield, which slowed my running, but in a few moments I was catching up to Rodentia again, dodging the rats from the rat cannon. But she had more than just that. There was another rat at her feet, glowing bright red and beeping for some reason.
“Goodbye!” Rodentia waved. “See you next time!”
I had the good sense to jump behind a car- the battle had drifted down the street to where some were foolishly parked. That car was going to get blown up anyway for being next to the bomb rat, so it wasn’t my fault in the slightest. As the explosion faded I could see Rodentia sailing through the air. She’d been right next to the explosion, but beyond a bit of soot on her outfit she looked fine. I considered continuing the chase, but as she continued to fire her rat cannon- which somehow maintained her position sailing through the air a little bit- I decided it was a bad idea. Who knew what else she might have, more directly dangerous.
And I had to check on my companions. Shockfire had been fighting of a swarm of rats, spraying fire all over them, and Acid Man had been anchored to the ground. I turned back to look at them, and it seemed the swarm was retreating- but in a moment it would be coming after me. With only a handful of seconds left with Haste, I had to just avoid their tide. Fortunately it seemed they were done, mostly scurrying down side streets and into manholes.
“Rodentia has retreated,” I said over comms. “Couldn’t catch her.”
“Swarm also slipped off somewhere,” Captain Senan replied. “His real body seems to not have been present. We’ll meet up for an assessment of the mission.”
Acid Man seemed to have extricated himself- though somehow not through the cheese. Instead, he’d worn away at the street below. “You alright?” I asked. “I wasn’t expecting anywhere near that much trouble.”
“You’re telling me,” Acid Man shook his head. “Look at this crap.” He gestured to the dome of cheese that had covered him. It was a slightly different shade of yellow, and most importantly lacking the porous nature of the other. A detail that hadn’t seemed relevant at the time. “Hell of a pain to dig through that stuff.”
“She seemed to be ready for most of my stuff,” I shook my head. “Maybe if I’d had a moment to use Sonic Lance or something…”
“That wouldn’t have worked,” said a long haired dude walking up. “She had walls of rats that turned into like, giant anti-speakers,” Rocker explained. Midnight and Ice Guy were there as well, of course.
“Sound cancellation,” Captain Senan said. “And rats with internal heaters that instantly melted my ice. Some of them, anyway.”
“She seemed ready for anything,” Shockfire sighed, “They resisted fire and electricity as well, though… not all of them for either. Not that I could pick out which was which.”
“… I can’t believe we lost to just one villain,” I hung my head.
“First of all,” Captain Senan said. “She retreated. No more trouble here means we won. And there was also Swarm. More importantly, she’s a concerningly high tier tech super. I’d say an actual army of robots counts for quite a bit, even if they’re… rat shaped.”
“I think her threat rating might go up from this,” Shockfire said. “Or maybe we’re not good enough.”
“Hey,” Ice Guy’s voice was firm. “Don’t say that. For a team mostly composed of rookies, you all are doing great. A couple months on the job isn’t enough to suddenly contend with top tier villains, even if you have good powers.”
“I still feel like we lost,” I shook my head. “And I think she had one of those scanners like Handface.”
“Of course she did,” Ice Guy said. “She was the one who put his together, after all. There’s no way a tech super would make something like that for someone else and not replicate it for themself.” He sighed, “It’s probably a worse problem that Doctor Doomsday snatched up Deimos, though. He could likely make something like that himself given time, but replicating it from someone else’s work is probably simple for him.”
I couldn’t help but frown, which then turned into a smile as I noticed my experience. I had changed my mind. Rodentia could fight me anytime, since it was impossible for me to really lose with experience like that. At least, if my companions were all safe after- which they were, except for some minor injuries. Nothing a decent healer couldn’t help with, anyway.