In one of the Power Brigade’s large, cylindrical training rooms I finished explaining myself to Shockwave. “… and that part should last an hour.”
“That’s stupid,” Shockwave said. “Yet I’m inclined to believe you because I already experienced Haste. What’s up with the huge variability in durations, though?”
“That’s just… how things are?” I shrugged. “Also being Hasted for longer than a minuteish would probably really screw someone up.”
“You’re telling me,” Shockwave sighed. “I don’t really get to turn my power off. I just move slower.”
“At least I’m always ready for something. I can dodge a punch after someone’s already hitting me.”
“Useful,” I nodded. “I can’t really cast anything like that right now.”
“You have Haste, though.”
“Not the being fast part… dodging something already hitting you. There’s a couple ways I could do something that seems like that, just not not. And one of them not for a long time.”
“Sure, whatever,” Shockwave shrugged. “So, let’s start the tests.”
I had a barrier set up for me so we could get a baseline on Shockwave’s… shockwaviness. I could theoretically dismiss Physical Freedom- or now, it would be the physical component of Variable Freedom- but it would cost me the mana to re-apply it. I wasn’t certain that it would completely negate Shockwave’s thing, and perhaps that wouldn’t happen at all, in which case we’d go home disappointed.
Swirls of wind blowing past the barrier reminded me of Shockwave’s effects, and of course it was loud, but that was what my earplugs were for. If Shockwave needed to talk we had comms or they could just stop where I could see.
It seemed enough testing was done, and Shockwave gave me a thumb’s up. I nodded, holding out my hand. The Freedom spells… or spell now? Whatever, they required touch to cast. I attuned my magic to the physical component of Variable Freedom, having determined that it wouldn’t apply both effects at once, just like Energy Ward wouldn’t protect from every type at once. Still, having two spells upgrade together was nicely efficient with points.
Eight point two ish points of mana flowed out from me, forming an invisible barrier that clung tightly to Shockwave as we basically shook hands for a few moments. I let go, then nodded. “You’re set.” Shockwave was protected from the side effects of their own power- specifically the whole going deaf thing, so they could still hear me.
Shockwave gave a little wave of their wrist before basically disappearing from sight. And from… everything, really. In a room this size I could at least pick out Shockwave moving around, but I was unable to look because of the protective barrier. But even so, I should have felt some sort of sound or felt a stirring breeze. Then I felt it, a little bit- but I didn’t hear any sonic booms or anything of the sort. After a minute or two, Shockwave was standing in front of me pointing to their ears, anxiously.
“I have my earplugs in but I didn’t really hear anything.” Shockwave nodded, gesturing for me to take them out. “How did it go? It seemed good.”
“Yes. Haste me.” Shockwave leaned closer, eyes burrowing into me. “The maximum possible.”
… It was fine, right? Shockwave hadn’t even asked to be Hasted in weeks, and the last time had been for saving granny Charlotte. I just had the feeling that Shockwave liked Haste too much, but this was training. “Alright, but just once.”
“Fine. Do it.” Shockwave bounced back and forth between feet. “And put your ear plugs back in.”
I did that, just in case. Haste didn’t require touch, but it was very much in the shorter range of spells. I held out my hand, wrapping Shockwave in a full five points of mana, overcasting the one spell I already had four upgrades in.
I was sent staggering back a half step as Shockwave took off, a clear sound coming from them. But… it wasn’t that bad. Normally I needed both the barrier and earplugs or the like to not risk damage from a Hasted Shockwave, but this time it wasn’t so bad.
Shockwave seemed to be less concerned with the safety issues as well, because they ran on the same side of the barrier as myself- I caught repeated glimpses of Shockwave passing in front of me, at the far edge of the room. And then… still technically on the far edge of the room as they suddenly seemed to shrink to maybe half the size and… drift up the wall?
Ah, I was looking at a ‘top down’ view of Shockwave, running on the wall. That… was that okay?
“Is this okay?” I shouted. “What if you fall?”
I wasn’t sure if Shockwave answered me, but they moved higher and higher up the wall, tracing rings around it. That all made sense. What didn’t make sense was when they ran straight up and then straight down. I could swear I saw a pause at the top, and an expression that implied to me that Shockwave almost tried running on the ceiling, before deciding against it.
From my perspective, a little over a minute later Shockwave was standing in front of me once more, breathing heavily. Not like exhausted heavy, but like people after a standard workout. “Whew. That was fun. Also, very enlightening. It seems your Freedom spell has limits.”
I nodded. “Of course. Everything does. I supposed I could have overcast that one too…”
“Really?” Shockwave grinned. “Sounds useful. Anyway, this spell is like… a major deal. I’ll be so much more effective at disaster relief and stuff if I don’t have to worry about bringing down the building around me. You said it lasts an hour?”
“And a little bit, yeah.”
“Then I’ll be requesting your help with that in the future, sometimes. If that’s alright?”
I nodded. “I’d be glad to help people. Too bad it’s not worth experience though.”
“I could probably find some new people to spar with you…” Shockwave said.
“Don’t worry about it. Just… come help with Deimos, if you can. I have the feeling he’s not going to stop pestering me.”
“That’s an interesting way to say attempting to murder. Anyway, that’s part of the job so it’s not really a favor you have to ask for.”
“So is protecting civilians,” I shrugged. “So I guess we’re all even. So… did you go faster?”
Shockwave grinned widely. “A little bit.”
“Gloom sucks,” Ceira pouted. “Even worse than Shooting Star.”
“He’s certainly more direct,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t have gotten you involved if I knew he was going to show up.”
“Obviously. Who would know something like that?”
“… There have to be oracles here, right? Diviners?”
“There are some precogs in New Bay, yeah. But they’re swamped. They can’t predict everything. So they try to fend off the worst disasters.” Ceira sighed, “I guess nobody technically died, so this wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But I think I have trauma.”
“My psychiatrist says that trauma is normal for those who encounter Gloom. It’s… a large component of his powers.”
“Crap, you too?”
“… I believe this is the part where I should commiserate with you by speaking about our shared experiences, but I learned a new spell that protected me from the worst of it. Sorry.”
“Is that really true, though?” Ceira frowned. “Because I vaguely remember him saying something to you.”
“Well, yeah,” I nodded. “I’d seen him before, indirectly. He was polite about it though.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Ceira shook her head. “I looked it up, and him speaking directly to people, or at least focusing on them, amplifies the effects. In that case, even mentalists and stuff have been deeply affected, despite their defenses. There’s no way you came out fine, even with magic.”
“It did get pretty bad, before Stargirl exploded me,” I admitted. “But my psychiatrist and Midnight both agreed that I’m not traumatized by it.”
“Oh,” Ceira blinked. “What was it like? I felt like I was drowning in a puddle of darkness.”
“My brain almost melted out of my ears,” I said. “But I’m alright now. Do you think it would be better or worse for you if you were able to magically ignore your fear for a while?”
“I’m fine,” Ceira sighed. “It’s not… that bad. It’s not like he killed my family in front of me.” She quickly clarified, perhaps seeing the horrified expression on my face. “They’re alive! They’re all fine! Being attacked by a spooky supervillain is probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but I’ll get over it.”
“Do you have a psychiatrist?” I asked. “I don’t know if I believe they help yet but lots of people say they’re good.”
“On my budget? Pfft.” Ceira shook her head. “No way.”
“Power Brigade employment includes mental health insurance.”
“Are you trying to recruit me?” Ceira asked. “I may have portal powers, but I’m not a superhero.”
“I’m a mercenary,” I pointed out.
“Same difference, you just don’t get promoted as much on social media.”
“The Power Brigade offers positions other than combat duty. They might be interested in someone with plant powers. And there are non-powered jobs available.”
“Seriously, do you get kickbacks for recruiting people?”
I frowned, “I don’t think so. I never got anything when Khithae joined.”
“Who? Wait, you don’t have to answer that if you just gave away someone’s civilian identity.”
“She is a civilian,” I said. “I believe she officially works in powered maintenance… even before she actually had powers?”
“She got powers? Does that just… happen at places like that?”
“I’m still more weirded out that people don’t have classes,” I said. “But she actually ended up with portal powers, like you. I think she’s an artificer?”
“How do you not know?”
“Because you don’t have a status window and I didn’t live in a city with artificers. Mages… tended to avoid them. I’m not certain if our information on them was accurate, but it was rather derogatory so I think it was probably biased. Khithae is very nice and smart.”
“Do you like her?” Ceira asked.
“You already know my experience with romance,” I pointed out. “I like all of my friends, but I don’t really know if there’s anything more than that. We’re good friends, mostly because she was my first friend in this world and I was the only one she could talk to.”
“She’s extradimensional and I have Translation magic. I was always using it to talk with anyone, so it wasn’t much harder with her.”
“So is she from your world too?”
I shook my head. “More like an alternate Earth… or something like that. One with gecko-people.”
“Cool.” We sat in silence for a moment. “Maybe we should meet? I barely understand my powers, even with your help.”
“I could get you in contact with her, and my apprentice,” I said. “There has been some talk of me attempting to instruct some others with portal powers, but the vast majority of those involved seem to be either Stargirl fanatics or uninterested in going public with their abilities.”
“Yeah, that sucks,” Ceira said. “But I’m sure there are more people out there. I found some forums trying to figure things out, and people figured out the game connection, but they’re still kind of stumbling through the other mechanics.”
“And they don’t even have to deal with points,” I frowned. “It’s just mana. Which, admittedly, will severely limit them for a while since everyone seemed to start off at level 0.”
“Level 0?” Ceira tilted her head. “Shouldn’t it be 1?”
“Why?” I asked. “People have a mana pool of five plus one point of mana per level. They just… usually don’t have anything to do with it.” Level 0 had been bad, but not actually all that long. Turlough got in scraps with people who called him a stupid orc that could never use magic, and they’d been right until he did use magic. He was kind of glad he hadn’t picked Firebolt first because he could have seriously hurt someone. As it was… he basically blindly chose Storage off a list.
“Well… whatever,” Ceira shrugged. “I gotta go for now. If you ever see Gloom again, kick him in the nuts for me.”
“I believe I would have to wait in line. He doesn’t seem to attract a lot of friends.”