Loren’s Apartment, 6:39 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
A firm knock on the door broke him out of his musing, and he frowned. No way was it Peter; that asshole just started hammering straight out of the gates. He couldn’t for the life of him think of who it could be.
Emma sat up in bed, rubbing at her eye, and he found his gaze drifting down to where the sheet had fallen to pool around her thighs.
“You going to answer that?” Emma said sleepily, “Or are you going to come back to bed?”
Toughest decision of his life.
“Who’s there?” Loren called, moving towards the door.
“Mongoose.” A woman snapped, “I have some questions for you.”
What the fuck was Mongoose doing here?
Loren actually found himself stunned—he’d stayed completely out of anything that could have gotten him involved, and they’d still somehow found him. Had he even done anything this time around? Surely they couldn’t bring him in just for existing.
“Mongoose who?” Loren said mockingly.
Probably not the best idea to mouth off to a hero, but he was genuinely pissed off. He’d stayed out of everything this time!
“Do I sound like I’m telling a fucking joke to you?” Mongoose said, annoyed, “Open the god damned door before I accidentally break it in half.”
“You’ll never take me alive, coppa,” Loren said dryly.
Mongoose banged once on the door, hard enough to rattle it in its frame—well, shit, he hadn’t seen her this mad since the last time he had seen her.
“Loren?” Emma called, peeking around the doorframe.
Unfortunately, she’d put her shirt back on, as well as a pair of shorts—Loren was starting to understand why snakes considered mongooses to be their most hated enemies. He held his hand up, waving her urgently to move out of sight.
Emma ducked back into the room.
“Well, now I definitely don’t want to open it,” Loren said honestly, scratching his cheek. “You sound kind of violent, not gonna lie.”
He heard her take a deep breath and slowly breath out as she tried to regain her calm.
“I am a licensed hero, and my Codename is Mongoose; I am investigating on behalf of the Setalite City Hero Headquarters.” Mongoose said blandly, “Please cooperate and open the door; I need to ask you some questions.”
“Sure!” Loren said easily, opening the door. “What’s up, Mangoes?”
“Mongoose,” Mongoose said, annoyed, “What’s your name?”
“Loren Parker,” Loren said honestly. “What did you need to ask me, anyway? I certainly don’t remember committing any crimes lately.”
“Lately, huh?” Mongoose drawled. “You know your neighbor’s names?”
Loren tilted his head at the question. Was this a result of them tracking Aston Grey down to this building?
“A few of them, yeah,” Loren said honestly, “Do you know your neighbor’s names—wanna trade?”
Mongoose looked annoyed at the question and refused to reveal her secrets—how rude.
“Cute,” Mongoose said evenly, “Let me narrow it down for you a bit—Aston Grey and Emma Young.”
“I can safely say that this is the first time I’ve ever had anyone ask me that,” Loren said honestly, just in case she had some kind of truth detection up her sleeve. “What did they do?”
Mongoose stared at him for a long moment before crossing her arms and jerking her head to the right.
“You’ve got someone over—I’m going to have to ask them the same questions,” Mongoose said firmly, “It’s standard procedure to ask, you know?”
Loren didn’t know if that was true or not—but the way she worded it sounded a lot like his own attempt to slip one by her. It was standard procedure to ask, that didn’t imply that he had to comply and feed his guest up to her on a silver plate.
“Nah, she’s sleeping,” Loren said curiously, tone light. “Got any more questions for me? I got heaps of answers!”
He was pretty sure they were both screwed anyway at this point, Mongoose didn’t seem the type to let this go, and she had named both Emma and Aston in the same breath. They must have realized that she was Sparklite somehow—how they had even made that connection was a god damned mystery.
“Lying to a hero during an active investigation isn’t a good idea,” Mongoose said seriously.
“Good thing I haven’t lied to you then,” Loren said calmly.
“Mark Turner,” Mongoose said cooly, “Do you know that name?”
Loren opened his mouth and then shut it—what? What did Mark have to do with Aston Grey? Or did she somehow know that Mark and Emma had been involved?
“I’m Emma Young,” Emma said seriously, stepping out of the bedroom. “Why are you looking for me?”
There was a charged tension in the air as the two women stared at each other, and he was suddenly very, very sad that he hadn’t taken option number two.
“You piece of shit,” Mongoose said furiously, stepping forward. “Did you even give a fuck about whose toes you were stepping on when you snaked your way into Mark’s bed? He’s been gone for a fucking day, and you’re already shacking up with this fucking loser?! Do you even care—”
Loren was too lost in the tide of her rage to even care that she was ragging on him. Had they been a couple? Mark and Mongoose? Why the hell did Mark keep returning to see Emma if he’d been with Mongoose?
“What are you talking about? Stepping on your toes?” Emma snapped, rising to the vitriol. “Who the fuck are you to come nosing into my personal life?”
“I’m the one who was making sure he didn’t get fucking stabbed in the back every day by the scum in this city!” Mongoose snarled, “I’m the one who took care of him when he was fucking bleeding out in the hospital after Crescent almost cut him in half; I’m the one he—”
“Okay, that’s enough of that; let’s just calm down now,” Loren interjected firmly, trying to stop it from escalating any more, raising his voice, “We can figure this out without all of the screaming and personal issues. Why are you here?”
He didn’t flinch when Mongoose turned on him—a mistake because it might have given him the extra half-second to get his block completely in the way of the backhand that she caught him with—as it was, his own forearm crashed into his cheek from the force.
Funnily enough, he’d tracked the entire movement from start to finish, saw her arm tense, saw it start to rise, saw it cut through the air. He just hadn’t been fast enough to move from complete rest to stop the blow.
He instinctively fell backward with the attack, easily bending at the waist, and placed his hand flat on the floor before riding the momentum back to his feet, cheek stinging, forearm bruised, but relatively unharmed.
He felt like a fucking ninja for all for two seconds before the situation rapidly devolved from there.
Emma was already halfway across the room, wreathed in an aura of crackling electricity. Loren had time to take a single step forward before she crashed into Mongoose with a crack, and the floor of his apartment deformed around them.
Mongoose was thrown backward hard enough to crash through the front wall and out into the stairwell, leaving a mess of thousand-year-old wallpaper, possibly asbestos ridden plasterboard, and insulation in her wake. Emma hadn’t stopped and passed through the hole barely a second later in pursuit.
Loren watched it all happen in slow motion, as they practically crawled through the air, and then he finally took his second step; he was never going to be able to keep up with them at this rate.
He pulled hard on the energy in his feet and it washed upwards through his body stinging as it went, and then he exploded forward, sprinting across the room as fast as they had. He caught sight of an unknown dark green cloaked figure falling from the floor above, hooded cloak rustling.
Golden eyes snapped over to him for an instant before dismissing him, and then she pressed her foot against the railing opposite him and pushed off gently, angling downwards.
Loren hopped the faulty railing after her, feeling like a tortoise chasing a hare who absolutely wasn’t fucking around. He fell through the air like he was sinking in a pool of honey, watching as Emma and Mongoose destroyed every piece of the staircase they came in contact with.
The green cloaked figure was somehow faster than them both but still moving at a speed far below what he was capable of perceiving. His eyes apparently worked better than even the speed at which he could move, even with the energy bursts from his feet.
The woman hadn’t moved to interfere yet, seemingly content to follow them both closely—Loren didn’t know who she was here for and whether or not she was another of the assassins.
He spun, catching the flat of his boot against a piece of floating debris, and pushed off it, bleeding off some of his downward momentum and putting him on a path to the next largest foothold. An arc of lightning flashed outwards, scoring its way up the stairwell and sending Mongoose rocketing headfirst towards the hardwood of a half-destroyed landing.
A piece of the hero’s white hood somehow snagged on the tip of a broken post, and she was dragged off her direct course towards the wall; instead, she manages to get a foot between herself and the wall, wrap her hand around the post, and kick off again.
It was the single most absurdly lucky thing he had ever seen in his entire life.
The woman in the cloak passed him by again as they slowly descended down the ruined remains of the stairwell, the four of them seemingly existing in the space between one moment and the next.
Another flash of her distinctive golden eyes triggered his memory of an illustration he’d done for one of his clients.
It was Vapid.
One of the heroes who wasn’t affiliated with any of the other known teams or organizations—and one whose name was spoken about in the same breath as the Peacekeepers, Epilogue, or The Patheon.
Emma glowed brighter for a moment before zipping out of the way as Vapid passed through the space she had just been standing in. The infamous hero touched down gently on the railing and paused for a moment as half the building seemingly fell past her.
Loren lost sight of her for a moment through the falling rubble, and then he spotted her eyes, her nose, and then the rest of her as it fell out of sight—she was watching him again.
Emma slammed into the wall before kicking off again, straight back towards Vapid, glowing as bright as she had been when she fought Wraith.
Mongoose came at her from behind just as fast, and the three of them met in the middle.
Vapid spun something in her hand, and it blurred for a moment before his eyes adjusted, catching the metal rod as it extended to the length of a baton; she raised it into the air and struck out at Emma.
Loren sent a torrent of the energy out of his feet and twisted—kicking out and catching the tip of the baton on the heel of his shoe as he fell down onto the three of them from above.
He felt the bones in his leg creak from the force of the hit, even as he twisted, turning the baton away—he reached out over Emma’s shoulder and caught Mongoose by the wrist, pulling it violently to the side to move her spear hand off course. The movement was as natural as breathing, even as his heart sends a wave of pain through him, that grew worse by the moment.
Vapid caught his eye for a moment in the stillness, and then everything went white as Emma sent a massive surge of lighting in every direction, sending them blasting away from her, crackling with electricity.
Loren was smashed into the wall; he bounced off it from the force, dropping the last meter to lay against the front door of the apartment building, convulsing and feeling like his chest was about to explode.
The rest of the debris crashed into the ground with the sound of shattering wood—Emma smashed into the ground beside him a half-second later, sending floorboards everywhere before she reached out and touched him on the shoulder.
The electricity vanished, and he found himself able to breathe again, but the pain in his chest eased only slightly.
“Come on.” Emma said urgently, “Loren, we need to go!”
Loren stumbled to his feet and pushed the door open, nerves burning from the shock. As they slipped out of the door, he caught sight of Vapid, still convulsing on the ground, temporarily unable to control her body, but completely aware.
Her eyes followed them unerringly as they left.
Forest Outskirts, Setalite City, 7:17 AM.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2022.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had powers?” Emma said angrily.
“I could ask you the same question,” Loren shot back, holding the chest of his shirt. “You didn’t tell me either; that’s not exactly the issue right now, though, is it?”
Emma clenched her hands into fists but didn’t respond.
“I’m not sure if you caught the implication of what she was saying back there,” Loren said carefully, “But considering the context of everything that just happened, it sounded like—”
“It sounded like Mark was dead.” Emma said angrily, “I heard it too; ‘he’s only been gone for a day,’ but guess what, Loren? I don’t give a shit—If I’d found this out before, I might have given a shit, but apparently, he’s been fucking half the women in Setalite City!”
“Okay, Okay,” Loren said, wincing, as his heart pulsed strangely again. “Mark was a cheating dickhead; that doesn’t mean he deserved to die—”
“I don’t care!” Emma snapped, “We have bigger problems to worry about than what happened to him. How did Mongoose know where I was? She attacked you!”
Loren just nodded, feeling guilty for not having told her earlier, but after having seen her crack and break so many times already, he couldn’t bring himself to keep telling her—it had started to feel like he was just tormenting her by revealing it every time.
“I don’t think she knew you were Sparklite,” Loren said distractedly. “She must have been looking into what happened to Mark and stumbled onto you somehow.”
Loren had thought he’d hit the jackpot with this power, but it apparently came with a seriously bad side effect, but he’d never felt this when he was messing around with it. He’d pushed it too far while trying to keep up with the three of them, and he’d strained his heart in the process.
“That bitch must have had his phone,” Emma said, horrified, “Looked at our chat logs! That has to be illegal, right?”
“Are you really trying the legal argument here?” Loren said weakly, “You are a villain, remember.”
“She didn’t know that at the time—you said it yourself,” Emma argued, “She looked into his messages, found my name, and then came to our building to find ‘Emma.’”
“We don’t know if that’s what happened,” Loren said, playing devil’s advocate, “I thought you said it wasn’t important?”
“It’s not!” Emma cried in outrage, “I’m just—why do you keep grabbing your chest?”
“Side effect of overusing my power, I think—never had it happen before,” Loren admitted.
A couple of hours really wasn’t enough time to test out the extent of these powers safely.
“You idiot,” Emma said, frowning, “You should have just stayed in the apartment—you shouldn’t have gotten involved..”
“No way,” Loren sighed, “I was kicking ass until you decided to zap me.”
“I didn’t even know you were there until the last second,” Emma said, embarrassed, “Thanks for the help; I thought I was going to lose for a second there.”
“You were definitely going to lose, the fact that we got out of there at all is absurd.” Loren said with complete certainty, “Do you even know who you were fighting?”
“I’ve had run-ins with that bitch Mongoose before; I didn’t know that she… fuck!” Emma said in frustration, cutting herself off, “Who was the other one? I didn’t catch a good look at her with the hood in the way.”
“Vapid,” Loren said, studying her face.
“That was Vapid?” Emma said, paling, before biting hard into the meat of her hand. “We are so fucked.”
The words came out muffled as she bit down harder. Loren watched the strange motion with a frown before reaching out and tugging her hand out of her mouth—Emma let him do it but looked away from him, refusing to meet his eyes.
“Probably.” Loren sighed, “Going by her reputation alone, we have a couple of hours at most before she finds us—and that’s if we start running now.”
“So we surrender before she starts breaking limbs, end up in a holding cell for a couple of hours, afterward,” Emma said quietly, “We can figure a way to break out—I can fuck with the building’s power, I’ve escaped that way before.”
Loren let her hand go when she made no further move to repeat the self-harm and layed back on the grass to stare at the sky.
“From the high-security cells?” Loren wondered, “They have bracelets that block powers now—did they have that last time you were there?”
“No,” Emma admitted, turning slightly to stare down at him. “I might be able to mess with the power in the bracelet? How do they work?”
“No idea,” Loren said honestly, watching her hair dangling around her face. “Seem to be tailored to specific powers; once it’s on, that’s it.”
“Then we just have to not get caught,” Emma said firmly.