Chapter 24

Setalite City, 1:39 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

News of the breakout hadn’t reached the entire city yet—not everyone was sitting at home and watching the news. The streets were still packed with people, but as Loren pulled himself through the air with his power, he could see that wasn’t the case the further out he got from central.

Having eight additional limbs was a very strange feeling, but the longer he experienced it, the more he noticed that they seemed to run on a different mental track than the rest of his body; multitasking wasn’t a real thing—not how most people envisioned it anyway.

In this case, he had no problem with moving all eight of them at simultaneously, which should have been impossible. It was far too many things for you to focus on at once, and switching rapidly between moving each should have taken up enough time for the movements to be clunky—but it just wasn’t the case.

Four of the limbs flashed forwards, finding purchase on the edges of buildings, lampposts, and everything else it could find below. Two of them remained wrapped around his body in a cocoon of invisible force, hopefully enough to act as a defense against anything short of Beat’s strange power.

They’d had a headstart on escaping, but he was covering more ground by the moment, and searching the streets from above seemed quite effective—a flicker of white light to the northeast, only visible for a moment before it vanished again.

Loren adjusted his path and threw himself forward, covering two city blocks in an instant; he brought himself to a halt and spun, taking in the street below.

Three people in the street—Beat flashed out of an alleyway and just missed the third figure and sliced straight through the front of a car before stopping—four people in the street. Arret was seemingly unconscious, lying on the footpath by an unknown man who was seemingly completely at ease, with his hands resting in the pockets of his green hoody, hood down.

The fourth person was someone Loren knew well because he’d been following her presence online since she’d first popped up years ago. Outplayed stood on top of a car; her clothes were ripped, burned, and wet, but still intact.

Loren landed lightly on the roof behind them, almost unnoticed. Outplayed glanced up at him for a moment…

“Timeout,” Outplayed said, panting, making a ‘T’ with her hands. “Nobody said anything about backup—wheres my reinforcements? Come on guys, all this for little old me?”

Beat leaned down next to Arret, turning her gently over onto her side.

“She dead?” Beat said angrily.

“Nah, it’s just a tranq dart,” Archetype said, yawning. “I’m not sure how she even got spotted—”

“Bright pink hair had nothing to do with it, promise!” Outplayed quipped, “Say, I saw a video just like this once—”

Archetype raised his hand, and a torrent of flame flashed out, weaving upwards in a sudden arc, before turning and slamming down into the car. Outplayed flipped to the side just as it connected, cartwheeled once, and then gave a little bow.

“She never shuts up, seriously,” Archetype sighed, “I’m wearing her out though, won’t be long now.”

“Oh come on,” Outplayed managed, “Don’t be like that sweetie, I wanted our first time to be special!”

Archetype sighed again.

“Why the hell are you playing around with her?” Beat said, annoyed, shouldering the unconscious Arret. “And why aren’t you wearing your transmitter? Storyboard has been trying to get a hold of you all day because Orient can’t find you.”

“I left it at the base,” Archetype sighed, “Why are you here anyway? Did you guys finish early?”

Beat let out a strangled noise of annoyance.

“I fucking hate you, man, seriously,” Beat sighed, “Job went bad. We were caught, Vapid tagged us about three hours ago, so we can’t go back to base for another twenty-one hours.”

“Damn, that sucks.” Archetype said dryly.

“Hey!” Outplayed panted before waving her hand at them, “I’m not witnessing a lover’s quarrel right now, am I? I’m not sure I can allow this to go on—what exactly are your intentions with my opponent?”

Beat grunted at the comment.

“Oh my god,” Archetype groaned, “Just shut up, please.”

Archetype send another twisting flame at her, and again she dodged it easily.

Well, the live streams hadn’t done her justice—she was far more devastating in person and about twice as annoying. He’d never seen her so worn out, though. Usually, she went after targets who weren’t anywhere near this level.

“What about the others?” Archetype asked carelessly. “They do any better?”

“Pulled back to base in case they need to be sent out,” Beat offered, “Animate was pretty pissed off.”

“He’s always pissed off,” Archetype sighed, “Guess I better finish up then.”

“You really want to end it prematurely?” Outplayed taunted, “I’m so disappointed—I’m not even halfway there!”

Loren latched onto both Arret and Beat with several limbs and lifted them off the ground.

“Incoming!” Beat called immediately, “Telekinetic, long-range, multiple points of—”

He managed to muffle the guy before he could give away all of his secrets, and he wrapped Arrets cape around her face again to avoid any sneak shots if she woke up.

Archetype turned around, completely at ease with having his back to Outplayed.

“Haven’t seen you before,” Archetype said, “What’s your name?”

Loren stretched three of his free limbs out in preparation as he answered.

“I’m new, Wildcard is what your friend was calling me—that’s a good a name as any.” Loren admitted, “You’re after Outplayed because of the contracts?”

This guy seemed pretty open to talking, much like Beat had before all of this. Blessing of the strong, he supposed.

“Hmm? Yeah,” Archetype said carelessly, “Probably won’t get the money for you if nobody knows about you yet.”

Outplayed hadn’t been idle during the conversation, slowly moving closer until she was behind Archetype. Loren watched her out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to give any warning—but apparently, it didn’t matter either way.

Outplayed’s kick flashed through space where his head had been a moment before, as he abruptly vanished. Loren snapped his head around to find the man standing on the end of a light post, hands still in his pockets, watching them.

“How many powers do you even have?” Outplayed said incredulously.

“A few,” Archetype said simply, “Can you just give up already? I’m starting to get bored.”

There was a tense moment on the street before everything kicked off. Loren attacked, shredding the street light in two—Archetype tipped off the edge as it fell from beneath him, vanishing again just before he hit the ground and reappearing on top of the destroyed car from earlier. He attacked him once more, sending a hand straight at him this time; instead of teleporting this time, the limb hit some kind of field and vanished—It regrew once more from his body but didn’t split.

Archetype took a hand out of his pocket and sent a torrent of fire at him, and one of the invisible limbs shot out and caught the front of the blast. The two powers fought for several seconds before the fire vanished. A beam of crackling energy followed behind it, slamming into the hand and splitting it in two, before crashing into the cocoon of arms wrapped around him before it dissipated.

“Huh,” Archetype said curiously, still completely unrushed. “You got some kind of defense field too, huh? That’s interesting—you’re a lot like Screener.”

Loren realized that if he hadn’t wrapped himself in his power earlier, he would have died just then—this guy was far more dangerous than his appearance indicated. The destroyed limb had brought his total up to nine appendages, and a third one joined the cocoon bolstering his defense.

“Hey!” Outplayed called, “Wildcard, was it? Let’s team up, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Loren agreed.

Archetype was the one to attack this time, leading with that same twisting fire move that circled them for a moment before crashing into him from behind. The temperature shot up, but the cocoon did its job and stopped him from burning as the fire washed over him.

He couldn’t see anything in the conflagration, so he lifted himself up into the air above it, catching Outplayed as she kicked off the broken bonnet of the car twisted just over the lance of crackling energy and snap kicked Archetype in the face.

He vanished before it could connect once more, appearing several meters away on the sidewalk, hand out and pointed at her. A wave of ice speared up from the ground, tearing across the distance and striking straight into Outplayed before she could get out of the way. The tip of the ice shattered on contact with her body, shredding her clothes further but not dealing any damage to her.

That was the reason Outplayed was such a successful villain—complete immunity to physical damage. It wouldn’t matter if Paragon punched her in the face. It would do nothing—she’d still lose that fight horribly, Loren knew. She didn’t have any form of enhanced physique, so Paragon could simply grapple her, and she’d be screwed.

Loren took the chance to smash another hand into his opponent, and it landed against another field with a crack before it bounced off to the side and dug a meter long trench in the tarmac before he realized what had happened.

Outplayed had been right—this guy had way too many powers.

“He’s using the same pattern each time!” Outplayed panted, looking like she was about to keel over. “Fire, lightning, ice in that order.”

Loren attacked again, spreading two of the limbs out onto each side of the street in preparation. Archetype teleported away again as the hand struck at him, appearing directly behind Outplayed this time.

The wave of fire barely missed her as she dropped to the floor and swept his legs—or at least tried to—her leg crashed into his ankle, and she was sent tumbling away from him with a deep noise. This time the lance of lightning struck her mid-roll, and she was left convulsing at it hit her.

Loren’s second and third hands struck him; the first caught the wave of ice headed his way, halting it with a crack as it shattered. The second struck Archetype with a crack shattering the forcefield around him, this time with a sound of breaking glass. Archetype didn’t even look bothered looking at him.

Instead, he moved his hand to face Outplayed, who was climbing to her feet unsteadily—Loren broke off his attack, knowing that the attack was going to be fire again and that out likely bypass the physical immunity as the electricity had.

He was wrong—a crackling orb of light appeared in Archetypes hand, condensing down to the size of a marble in an instant. Loren snagged Outplayed by the leg and tossed her high into the air as the marble burst open.

A line of energy crossed between them, cutting straight through the arm he’d used to toss her—a spiral of fire, lightning, and ice followed directly behind the line of energy, slamming into four of the limbs and shredding them like they weren’t even there. Loren pushed himself up and out of the way as the massive attack washed underneath him, tearing up the street and destroying everything in its path before it dissipated.

The hands were growing back already, fourteen points in his mind.

“You almost caught your friends in that attack,” Loren snapped, dropping back down to the ground.

“I missed,” Archetype shrugged, “They’ll be fine.”

Beat didn’t seem happy with that response because he was struggling harder against the hands. Arret had started moving a while ago but still seemed pretty out of it. Whatever she’d been drugged with had been short-term.

There were sirens in the distance, but none were approaching the area, likely headed for central to deal with the large number of villains currently running riot through the city.

“Thanks for the save,” Outplayed said, sounding exhausted, “I don’t think we can beat him. I’m dead on my feet—he’s been chasing me for hours, I can’t seem to lose him.”

“How was he following you?” Loren mumbled, “Another power?”

“No idea,” Outplayed admitted, “Seems to know which direction I am hiding, though, but I don’t know what exactly he’s doing to figure it out.”

Archetype apparently grew bored again because he launched another fire blast at them. This time Loren moved them out of the way and into the air.

“Ugh,” Archetype said, annoyed, “Don’t tell me you’re running away now?”

He kept a vague count in his head before replying.

“That’s the plan,” Loren called back.

He dragged them out of the way of a second fire attack—not a lightning one.

“The pattern changes based on time?” Loren mumbled.

“Oh!” Outplayed said surprised, “That was what, ten seconds—no, it could be anything under ten seconds, in that case, we’d have to force him to attack us every couple of seconds to figure out the timer.”

Another blast was tossed after them, but it was more than ten seconds later this time, which wasn’t of any help to figuring it out.

“He’s not following us up here either.” Outplayed said, frowning, “I don’t think he can teleport at will. It only happens when he’s getting attacked—another timer?”

“No idea,” Loren admitted.

“Let’s run,” Outplayed said, grinning, “He’s got to be getting tired as well, right?”

They ran, taking both Beat and Arret with them, heading for the outskirts of the city.

Outplayed sat against a tree, resting. He unmuffled both Beat and Arret but let him lay on his stomach on the ground, feet pointed up into the air. Arret sat beside him, hands tied behind her back by the restraints that Outplayed apparently had on her person.

“Fucking finally,” Beat said exasperated, “Boy, why do you keep interfering? What is your problem, huh? You got a grudge or something? ”

Yes, that’s exactly what this was.

“Beat,” Loren said once they were relatively well hidden in the trees. “What happened at the HQ?”

“I asked first,” Beat insisted, “Question for a question?”

Loren nodded, easier to play the man’s game than threaten him.

“I do have a grudge against you guys,” Loren said, nodding.

Beat sighed at the confession.

“Crescent was busting out her team. She tore the place up pretty good, managed to get out in the mess,” Beat said easily, “I don’t remember coming after you in the past—did we get one of your friends or something?”

“That’s exactly what Screener and Cutaway did,” Loren said, frowning, remembering what had happened in Emma’s Apartment in the other loop. “Where was Crescent when you escaped?”

Arret sucked in a quiet breath, apparently uncomfortable at the knowledge that they’d killed one of his ‘friends.’

“Fighting Mongoose and Gradient,” Beat said easily, “Who did we kill?”

“A woman and a man, one of them was my neighbor for a while,” Loren said vaguely, “Was Wraith at the HQ?”

“Yeah, he was there,” Beat admitted evasively. “What do you plan on doing to us?”

Wraith was there—that’s good; most likely, she had a handle on the situation by now. The answer hadn’t been very informative, though.

“I haven’t decided yet. I’ll probably take you back to the HQ.” Loren admitted, “Who’s blood is all over you?”

Beat didn’t speak for a moment, and it was the first time Loren had seen him hesitate. Arret swallowed quietly, the motion noticeable after her general stillness for so long.

“Wraith’s,” Beat said simply, glancing away. “You willing to take a bribe—were pretty flushed for cash right now.”

Loren stilled, running the single word over in his mind—It was Wraith’s blood? The seemingly invincible genius who’d survived the bombs, who’d fought in international conflicts—in invasions without taking any damage.

“It’s Wraith’s blood?” Loren said furiously, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Arret twitched at the tone, but Beat met his gaze.

“Yeah, it’s his.” Beat said easily, “You didn’t answer my question?”

“No, I’m not taking a fucking bribe,” Loren snapped, “Did you kill—you fucking idiot! Do you know what you’ve fucked up?”

Beat looked interested in his reaction.

“Guy was missing his arm and most of his right leg last I saw—I ran right through him,” Beat admitted, “He was a bit distracted with Crescent at the time, so, yeah. What have I fucked up?”

Loren stared at the older man’s completely unapologetic gaze and wondered if a person with so little regard for another’s life had any claim left to their own. Outplayed was still watching them all quietly—she hadn’t said a word yet.

“Wraith was working on stopping the exact same thing that occurred in Arrot City from happening here—you…” Loren trailed off, fury building. “You just—everyone in this fucking city is going to die, this was the fucking run!

“Another bombing, huh?” Beat shrugged, “It’s not like I knew anything about it—Either way, Wraith knew what he was getting into when he put on the costume—urk.”

Beat flashed white, activating his invulnerability as the hand clenched shut around his throat. The hand failed to compress any further, but the grip was already tight enough for it not the matter. He lifted the man up into the air, and his legs scrabbled for purchase beneath him.

“What are you doing?” Arret said quickly, unable to see. “Hey! Beat?”

Beat’s face was growing red as he fought desperately to breathe, but the hand remained clamped tightly around his invulnerable throat. Beat choked out something incoherent, but he didn’t let go.

“Beat!” Arret said, panicked. “Let him go! Please—”

“Wildcard,” Outplayed said seriously, standing up. “You sure this is a good idea?”

“Hundreds and thousands of people are going to die tomorrow because he decided he wanted another ten million dollars,” Loren said furiously, watching as the white aura began to flicker. “Beat, you should have just left.”

“Let him go! Don’t fucking touch him!” Arret shouted, thrashing in her binds. “Beat!

Outplayed moved towards him, and he turned to look at her, tightening the cocoon of the force around himself, as arms spread out to surround her. She walked straight up, unaware of it, and reached out, patting him on the shoulder in understanding.

Beat stopped moving, and Arret screamed out her anguish at the world.

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