(Patreon) Mage Among Superheroes 108

-–Chapter Index–-

At some point the current appointment with Doctor Patenaude had transitioned to the subject of my leisure activities, after reconfirming that I was ‘mostly alright’ following the whole incident with Gloom. “Mostly training, I guess,” I shrugged. “It’s fun to grow stronger.”

The sensory stalks Doctor Patenaude had wriggled around as they did often. “Regardless of it being enjoyable, work is not a leisure activity, Turlough. What other activities do you participate in?”

“I spend time with my apprentice, Jerome,” I said. “That’s usually relaxing.”

“Are you actively teaching during these times?” Doctor Patenaude asked.

“Well, usually. He is my apprentice after all.”

“I’m also going to categorize that as not leisure, then,” Doctor Patenaude shook his head. “Can you think of anything else you participate in?”

“Well, I do get coffee sometimes.”

“Passable. Anything else.”

“Hmm… this would be easier with Midnight here,” I admitted. “He’s more cognizant of such things.”

“These sessions are not for your companion, but for yourself. Magical bonds do not change that. You need to be aware of this as an individual.” A pause, “You mentioned activities with fellows from work… aside from training.”

“Does going to the track with Shockwave count?” I asked. “It wasn’t work hours and I wasn’t training.”

“Then, that.”

“Is that a regular activity?”

I shook my head. “It was basically a one time thing.”

“What about your squad mates? I recall you talking about activities with them.”

“Well, yeah. We hung out a few times. We went to an arcade.”

“Did you have fun?”

“I think so,” I said.

“Are you planning to go again?”

“Not really,” I shook my head.

“I will need some clarification. Is your squad continuing such bonding exercises?”

“I think so,” I said. “But I stopped going.”

“Why?” Doctor Patenaude asked, leaving me with a simple prompt I had no idea how to answer.

After some time, I just shrugged. “I don’t know. It just felt weird.”

“What about it?” he asked. “Did you not get along with the others as civilians?”

“No, they were fine. We’re friends.”

“Then why not continue to participate? It doesn’t have to be every time, if your social battery runs low, but sometimes would be good for you.”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “It just felt… weird.”

“What about it?”

“One of them said it.”

“I see. And that led you to not want to spend time with them?”

“No, I just… didn’t want to do it like that,” I said. 

“In what way?” Doctor Patenaude asked. “Work sponsored? The location?”

“Disguised as a human.”

The sound of writing was deafening. “Interesting,” was all Doctor Patenaude said. “And what about your halfling friend?”

—–

In two levels or so, I really needed to get another level in Stoneskin. Next level’s points were spoken for, due to my promise. It would have been nice to spend what I had now, but I couldn’t leave my promise lingering. As for exactly why that one level mattered, it was a matter of efficiency.

The reduced cost came with an increased duration, which together would be almost sufficient to let me completely regenerate the cost by the time it wore out. And I had a good reason to want to keep it up constantly, given that Handface was just out and about again. Also, Scrying him was still annoyingly difficult with the stuff throwing off his location. Maybe a level there too would help pierce through that crap.

It wasn’t just myself that I was concerned about using Stoneskin on either, but also my squad. Midnight shared with me, so that wasn’t a problem. Likewise, because we each had our own mana regeneration Midnight cast it on Shockfire. Acid Man had been training his body to react automatically to attacks, and I’d seen him get shot and just have the bullets go through him, so he would probably be fine. Rocker’s abilities protected him to some extent, and he was still on probation, a fact that anyone looking for us would be aware of. That just left our captain, Ice Guy. He could defend against bullets if he was prepared, but he’d have to know they were coming. 

Even so, he didn’t let me use it on him. “Having you at half mana at the beginning of our patrols would be bad enough, but before the end you’d be out. It’s natural to be fatigued towards the end, but cutting our patrols short or being completely out of power are both unacceptable options.”

Our patrols weren’t long- two to four hours, depending. They couldn’t be the same eight hours as an office worker’s shift, since we had to be on full alert the whole time. That included Shockfire using his powers to seek out any heat or electricity based anomalies, in addition to my Stoneskin.

“Don’t worry,” Captain Senan assured me. “Out of all of us, I am most likely to be able to react… and I’m not the most likely target.”

So it had been decided, and thus our patrols continued in that manner. At first I had been concerned about the costs. It was only around $20 for a single casting of Stoneskin, but at $40 an hour it would start to eat into my patrol pay. I was paying for my apartment and the costs associated there, plus eating out frequently was expensive. I wasn’t going to go broke with just that, but I was saving for more expensive material components. Contingency was still on my mind, and both real ivory and actual gems instead of dust were still expensive in this world- the diamond dust was partly a side effect of other processes, and thus much cheaper.

Our patrols didn’t net much, though they weren’t supposed to encounter things so frequently like the whole thing with the Mod Squad and Rodentia. We were mainly a deterrent, sometimes catching petty criminals who thought they were in the clear. Our patrol locations and routes shifted, because although getting familiar with an area was good… being too predictable when we knew there were people out to get us (or at least me) was something the Power Brigade didn’t want to risk.

Everything was fine up until the next round of portals.

—–

It happened at the end of November, after a holiday that I had been assured didn’t involve any giant avians appearing to trash the city. Though I failed to see why this ‘Turkey Day’ should act any differently than Halloween and its general spooks, except for the theming. Was it because people didn’t dress in costumes? No, that wasn’t it- apparently those actually helped minimize the effects of Halloween… somehow. 

Regardless, I did not have to deal with hundred foot tall turkeys or anything but a normal patrol upon that day. It was around another week later that it happened. I sensed the portal and the change in mana levels before anything happened, and was able to send a warning to our squad. It was possible it was a random occurrence, but we reported it to our handlers nonetheless.

Following my sense of the magical phenomenon, I tracked it to a hotel. I strained my neck, looking up. “I think it’s on the upper floors somewhere,” I said to the gathered squad. “Maybe on the roof, or maybe inside and it’s coming out the easiest path.”

“Understood,” Captain Senan nodded, “Let’s head in quickly.” At the desk, he flashed a badge. “Power Brigade. There’s an incident of supernatural origin occuring on the upper floors. Contact the manager and begin evacuating from the upper floors, as calmly as possible for the moment.”

The receptionist looked quite stunned to have that all declared at once, but Captain Senan set them up with a contact number. We didn’t have time to waste telling them how to handle things, and leaving behind one of our combat members for the task wasn’t an option.

There was only a short debate on whether to use the elevator or the stairs- but since the incident didn’t seem active yet, we risked the elevator. Captain Senan inserted a key that firefighters used to override the normal functionality, sending us straight to the upper floors without it stopping for others.

The elevator didn’t go to the roof, but we were right next to the stairs when we arrived. “It’s still above us,” I said, making my way to the open doors. It was a fall evening, so I hadn’t expected anyone to be present, but apparently they were a few individuals who had been inclined to hang about on the roof regardless. One of them staggered into Captain Senan as he stepped through the doors first.

“Ugh… help-” the man said as his legs gave out, his eyes vaguely recognizing a super’s outfit.

I didn’t see the thing following him until it clattered onto the ground, frozen in a thick layer of ice. “Crap, imps!” I said, looking at the tiny red creature. It was vaguely humanoid, with bat wings and a tail equipped with a nasty stinger. “They’re immune to fire,” I looked at Shockfire next to me as I said that, then around at the others. “Resistant to acid, cold…”

“And electricity?” Shockfire sighed.

“Nope,” I shook my head. “You should be good. If these are the imps I know.”

“Yeah, metal!” Rocker exclaimed as he strummed a note on his guitar, shattering the imp into pieces. Captain Senan gave him a hard look. “… Was that bad?”

“You just exploded a humanoid creature.”

“It’s fine, they’re pure evil.”

“Turlough, just because-”

“He’s right, you know,” said an imp from above as it stabbed its stinger into the captain’s neck. For its efforts, its bottom half was frozen, and then yanked away and slammed into the ground. Both it and the first one were already fading from existence.

Captain Senan looked at me, raising an eyebrow. “Resistant to cold?” 

I nodded. “Resistant. Not immune.”

He shrugged, “I suppose the ice was less thick than I envisioned, but they’re not particularly… large…” He clutched his hand to his neck, “Poison?”

“Sorry!” I said. “Their stingers are poisonous, dexterity type. Uh… kind of a muscle relaxant? Nonlethal, at least…”

Captain Senan seemed tough enough that he was still standing, but clearly there were effects. We didn’t have time to stand about talking, however- there were several more guests on the rooftop being chased by imps and oozing piles of flesh- lemures.

“The other ones are lemures! Weak and slow, but mostly the same defensively!” I said while focusing mostly on the portal to hell that was currently opened halfway in the pool, atop the steps. The rapidly dropping water level would leave it dry in a few moments as water poured through the portal in the other direction.

Given our options, electricity was the best. Acid Man had to make do with what he could- acid wasn’t useless against the lemures, just less than optimal. Shockfire had stored electricity, and Midnight set about using Shocking Grasp, pawing at the grounded lemures or leaping at the imps. Rocker happened to find the biggest gathering of devils- the portal itself- and was quite happy to continuously blast them back through the portal with strums of his instrument.

I was reminded that Rocker was quite powerful, though when he had to avoid collateral damage he was a bit weaker. That included not making us all go deaf, but it was good enough that his focused attacks were comparable to maybe half of a Sonic Lance- though clearly he used a much smaller portion of his energy to do so. During our fight he’d thrown out dozens of attacks, while I could manage six casts of Sonic Lance if I was full.

Soon enough the civilians were saved- though they weren’t unharmed, the bleeding was minimal and the poison was probably nonlethal. Imps were still flying about harassing us, but the lemures were rather dumb and all congregated on Acid Man who was slowly dissolving them. It couldn’t have been pleasant for my companion, and he certainly would have liked the process to be quicker, but it was working. The devils were small and weak enough that Ice Guy managed to overpower their resistance, freezing them in part or whole- or simply puncturing them with spikes.

As for myself, I was concentrating on the portal. Previously we had just waited around until they stopped spewing monsters, but this was slightly different. First, I could see through it… and I didn’t see a clear end to the number of enemies trying to pour through from whichever layer of hell it had opened to. A foul miasma poured out as well, as I tugged on the edges of the portal and tried to do something.

I felt a moment of fatigue, then a headache. The portal twisted closed, and I was hit with a wave of power as I nearly collapsed from mana exhaustion, landing on one knee. I was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to work, but blasting the edges of the portal with magic wasn’t going to have done anything anyway.

“Neat,” I said as I climbed back to my feet.

-–Chapter Index–-