Mage Among Superheroes 98

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I pursed my lips, feeling them shift against my tusks. I gathered mana, imagining a fireball. Compressed flame that would fly to a point I envisioned before releasing. I knew how far it should be able to fly, how much mana it took, how much it would expand. Every detail ready in my mind. I released the mana, and my body jerked. Some mana was lost, while the rest flowed back into me. A throbbing pain filled my head. 

Well, fine. If that didn’t work, maybe Lightning Bolt would. One hundred and twenty feet, able to punch through everything in its path without stopping. The same amount of mana as Fireball, and another element I was familiar with from Shocking Grasp. I expected to feel a tingle around my fingers and smell ozone. I prepared to close my eyes to shield against the flash but instead… I closed them from the pain.

This was garbage. 

My mind was clear of everything else, no distractions or anything… but I couldn’t learn a single spell on purpose. There was one possibility I had in mind, that there was some sort of time limit on learning new things… but that clearly wasn’t the case with Jerome. 

Maybe my mistake was assuming that there was a strong connection… or that my version of the power was actually better. It was strange.


Doctor Patenaude nodded seriously as I told him my troubles. “I see. In your previous world, did you feel you were special?”

“Uhh… not in any of the good ways,” I shook my head. There was a way that English used the word that Curse of the Barbarian definitely made me feel like. “Everybody had a class and the other apprentices could just learn normally.”

“How about after you came here?” Doctor Patenaude asked. “Did you feel special when people commented on your unique powers?”

“… Yeah,” I nodded. “I guess I did.”

“And now, some people have Portal Powers. Does that make you feel less special?”

“I think you already know what I’d say.” I sighed, “I’m a pretty terrible teacher for being jealous of my apprentice for learning quickly.”

“You still do your best to help him improve, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “He’s a good kid. He deserves it.”

“The way you feel does not make you a terrible person,” Doctor Patenaude said. “It is how you act that is important. Now, I have to ask. Do you believe your Aspect of the Barbarian is limiting how you might naturally learn spells?”

I poked my tusks with my tongue to give myself time to think. “I don’t know,” I finally admitted. “I don’t think, uh… I don’t think anyone’s supposed to be able to ‘naturally’ learn spells. And none of it makes sense. The first one… the first one that I knew was a spell, anyway, certainly came during combat or whatever. But none of the others. And none are combat spells.”

“Breathing water seems like it would be advantageous in combat,” Doctor Patenaude pointed out. “And didn’t you mention using light magic to blind enemies?”

“Sure, but that doesn’t make it a combat spell. It doesn’t do damage.”

“I see. So you would say that…” he looked down at his list, “… Stoneskin is also not a combat spell?”

“Of course it is,” I countered. “It directly prevents injury.”

“What about Grease?”

“Making people slip is either useful in combat or as a way to start one,” I pointed out.

“So? Can’t it also be used to aid with transportation or freeing something stuck?”

“Well, sure, I guess. But that’s not what it’s for.”

“Says who?”

“Well the um… magic books I guess.”

“I see. Are the magic books an inherent part of your world?”

It was a serious question that deserved a serious answer. “No, they were written by people.”

“Let me tell you something surprising. Sometimes, people are wrong. Or at least… not completely correct.” He wrote a few notes. I could always interrupt him if I had something I wanted to say, but I didn’t really know if there was anything. “From your perspective, it’s more important when things are related to combat. It is possible you skew your understanding of spells in that direction.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. I mean, what else can a fireball be used for?”

“Lighting a fire.”

“More like setting a building on fire. It’s an explosion forty feet across.”

“I see. In that case, I will relate this to something from our world. Explosives are meant to destroy things. And they do that, but a common use is also for the peaceful destruction of buildings. Precise use of explosives that has nothing to do with combat.”

“They could, though.”

“I’d imagine nearly anything could be used in combat,” Doctor Patenaude pointed out.

“I suppose,” I admitted. “I don’t know if that helps. Because even if I used light magic in combat, I learned Locate Object completely unrelated to battle. And I still don’t know how.”


I wasn’t sure if having a therapist ultimately made me feel better, but sometimes I felt a little bit more clear headed and I could potentially attribute that to Doctor Patenaude. For vaguely related reasons, I was also trying to be conscious of spending more time not doing things work or magic related. Not tons of things because magic was great, but spending time with friends was a good thing.

Today, I was with one of my first friends in this world, Khithae. We were just ‘hanging out’ but the topic shifted to work. But it was hers not mine so it was probably fine. “I’ve been cleaning up in some of the labs. They had a few explosions and they wanted me on standby to quickly try to throw things back together.” Khithae smiled, at least as much as she could with lizard-adjacent face muscles. A lot of it was the eyes. “I get to hear all sorts of interesting things! Oh, and they also had me try to repair some of those robo-rats you caught. You know, they blow themselves up almost immediately, and then there was shrapnel all inside the expensive scanners.”

“I told them it would probably still explode,” I said defensively. “I hope they’re not mad about that.”

“I don’t think so. I was mostly able to fix everything anyway.”

“Really? I thought you were limited to simpler stuff. LIke single material structures.”

“I’ve gotten pretty efficient at that,” Khithae admitted, “But I can do more complex things too. Starting with wires and stuff. Instead of replacing them I tried to repair them, since yanking them out of things and rethreading them is a lot of work. Same with the speaker parts and lights in the training area. Those get busted all the time and it’s a lot of work. The more complex stuff is harder, and one time I passed out trying to fix one of the terrain modulators.”

“Mana Exhaustion? Be careful with that, you could have fallen off the wall.”

“Well, I was attached to the ceiling,” Khithae admitted. “But I don’t fall easily.”

I don’t think I’d ever met anyone with higher standards for danger. No, that wasn’t quite right. Different standards. Nothing was actively trying to kill her, after all. I wasn’t afraid of heights, but I had some caution related to them. “Glad you’re alright. At least you fixed it.”

“Well, kind of,” Khithae shrugged, a motion that clearly wasn’t natural for her. “Fixing anything made by a tech super is… almost impossible.”

“Yeah? What level are you?”

“… I have no idea,” Khithae admitted.

“Uh, how many times can you use your most basic thing… minus five. Without time passing.”

“… Tenish?” Khithae tilted her head. “I mean, time is always going to pass a little.”

“Ten minutes for one mana. Or I guess, nineish now.” We’d talked about class mechanics a little bit previously, but both of us had been pretty busy. Though I hadn’t even gotten attacked this week.

“Anyway,” Khithae said. “I fixed the robo-rats except for… all the important stuff. Like the power generation and special abilities. The techs were kind of disappointed, but at least I fixed the scanners. Eventually. Took a few days, since I had to wait for mana to recover.”

“You should use mana crystals! Or… maybe not,” I admitted. “We should check with Doctor Manuel. And you’d have to be able to make them… or use mine? I kind of assume they would work but I don’t know that.”

“Don’t they cost you mana to make? You need that, right?”

“Not all day,” I said. “I’ve been using spare mana to make a huge pile of them. They’re surprisingly light!”

“Cool. Does that matter?”

“It does for Storage,” I nodded. “I keep a few chunkier ones for emergencies. Sometimes I just carry a couple in pockets but that seems dangerous because they explode.”

“What?” Khithae’s eyes narrowed.

“Only when hit by fire. Or electricity. Or any strong magic.”

“That seems dangerous.”

“Not really, the uncontrolled energy is less intense than any spell using the same amount of mana. So only the bigger ones could even kill someone.”

“I feel like there should be a threshold lower than death.”

“Well, sure, but I meant normal people. Anyone with levels or powers or whatever is tougher.”

My phone beeped, and I looked down at it. Izzy, huh? That was rare.


Zack Brannigan was looking for trouble. 

He wasn’t going to start it- that would be stupid. Nor was he trying to get himself into trouble. If anything, his presence might reduce the amount of trouble. Nobody wanted to be recorded committing crimes.

If he didn’t find trouble, he would settle for kittens caught in trees or something. Channel 72 News was doing alright at the moment… which was to say they were managing to pay off the interest on their loans. They could really use something juicy though. Being swarmed by robo-rats might stretch to a week of news coverage, but there was more than just him and Jody to pay if they wanted to keep on the lights.

Hopefully the payment for the van would come in soon. Super insurance was expensive, and doubly so for reporters- but that was exactly why they got it. A good camera cost as much as the rest of the studio.

“Think we should climb a fire escape?” Jody asked. “Get a different view?”

The willingness to go the extra mile was what made a camerawoman like Jody so special. The extra eyes were useful too. “Good thinking. I’ll pull the van up on one of the safer streets.”

New Bay had good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, and sometimes there was only a thin line between them. That line also shifted all the time as gangs and supervillain influence spread their influence, before inevitably being taken down- either captured or forced to flee. Sure, the city had an astronomical crime rate, but most of the time Zack felt safe. And at least it wasn’t boring. If there weren’t potential threats all around the rent would probably be even higher, so that was something nice about it.

They got out of the van and made their way about halfway up a fire escape when Jody held up a finger to her lips. She gestured, and Zack was surprised to see not some sort of climbing villain or scrambling hero, not a monster or some sort of mayhem… but someone else with a camera. Not quite the sort of hulking news camera Jody carried, but more than what the casual videographer would use. They seemed to be waiting for something.

Zack gestured up, and Jody nodded. They began to make their way slowly up the fire escape to find the best angle. Maybe they could catch whatever this person had been tipped off to. Zack could feel the anticipation in the air as every creak and groan of the fire escape rang in his ears. He wasn’t sure if they needed to be stealthy here, but they didn’t want to scare off whatever this woman was waiting for.

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