Cell Block, Hero HQ, Setalite City, 6:57 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Eventually, he was once again left alone, this time in an unfamiliar cell block.
Loren didn’t think it was possible, but he had been jailed twice in a single loop—in the same day even. He had a creeping suspicion that they wouldn’t be letting him out this time. Apparently, destroying a block of construction work and equipment had some legal ramifications attached—who knew?
He highly doubted that Wraith would be able to pull the same ‘not dangerous’ story she had pulled the last time. Even if she could have, he had shown that his potential for destruction was far greater than anything they were comfortable with.
Loren wondered quietly how much of a headache this had caused Alana in particular, she had only just finished signing him out—he had been put on a probation of sorts, and she was set to be his overseer for the duration.
The fact that not even a minute after he had left the building…
His defeat of Vapid alone was probably getting him placed on lists all over the country—something he wasn’t at all prepared for. If anyone came to test out the new ‘S-rank’ in the game, they would find him to be absurdly lopsided—practically invulnerable to kinetic damage and a bad counter to’ lightning bruisers.’
Sure, but that wouldn’t protect him from anyone who could throw so much as a fireball.
Loren groaned—fucking Vapid and her establishing dominance bullshit. He knew that he couldn’t lay it all at her feet though, he’d dangled the information in front of her, pushed back against her threats, and then provoked her.
There was a way out without violence, he could have simply told her and left. Instead, he had intentionally baited her into attacking him—Loren was at least partially responsible for what had happened, even if she had been the instigator.
At least he’d won the fight—an impossible feat if he spent a moment to actually think about it—now the score was a nice 1 win, 1 loss.
Loren couldn’t help but wonder how it would have played out if she had been less confident in her own power. The fact that she hadn’t tried anything other than the direct approach—especially seeing as she had witnessed his defeat that very morning—showed a certain amount of pride in her own abilities or a superiority complex even, unwilling to lower herself down to his level and use something effectively if it meant admitting she couldn’t beat him outright.
Vapid could have simply kept him pinned to the ground by his throat, or choked him with her baton, or dropped him in a swimming pool. Instead, she just escalated in physical force—assuming incorrectly that eventually, her absurd strength would overtake his durability. By the time he had actually managed to lay a hand on her for the first and only time in the fight, it had been far too late for her.
He also knew that if they fought again in this loop, she would absolutely wreck his shit—she had most likely started thinking up all of the countermeasures needed to defeat him already, and he had zero chance of actually following her movements.
Lucky for him, she’d probably be stuck in a hospital for a while.
“What is she even doing?” A man sighed, his voice a tone of long-suffering. “I thought she’d be straight down here to start giving me shit.”
Loren let his head fall back off the bed so he could see him.
“Chill out, Darius, maybe she won’t come?” A woman laughed lightly, two cells over. “Maybe it’s just some sort of twisted revenge for you being such a dickhead when you two were growing up?”
“Fuck off, Arla,” Darius mumbled without heat. “I was the one who got good grades. I was the one who went to university. I was an amazing kid—she was the troublemaker, she was the one always being a fucking weirdo. How did I end up here? Ugh!”
Darius butted his head against the bars with a groan, apparently, his cell didn’t have the electric mechanism that the others did.
“I know, I know, I’ve heard it a million times—the irony still gets me every time, though,” Arla laughed before shaking her head. “Hey, why do you think they took Markus away? Without his tools, he’s probably the least dangerous of us, right?”
“Yeah, it’s strange, but it’s not like we are much more ‘dangerous’ like this—these fucking bracelets are a nightmare,” Darius said, frowning, “They might just be splitting us up to try and get us to spill the beans on each other. What do you think, Yvette?”
The two fell silent for a while, seemingly waiting for something before Darius grew impatient.
“Yvette, seriously?” Darius groaned, projecting his voice to the cell across from him. “You can’t just ignore me for the rest of your life—say something.”
No reply was forthcoming, and Darius banged his palm on the bars, annoyed.
“Hey, it’s your own fault,” Arla said pointedly. “You didn’t have to blast her in front of the whole squad.”
A third member of this little group? If they were down here, they must have been villains, but they were dressed in grey slacks, costumes removed entirely. Loren tried to figure out which villains in the thousands that lived in Setalite city these faces and names belonged to.
“Yes, I did!” Darius argued immediately. “Arla, she never listens to me, and she fucked it up—”
The woman in the third cell twisted under her sheet for a moment, the first sign of movement from her.
“We fucked it up. You and I were there too.” Arla interjected easily, “Getting caught—It was bound to happen eventually. None of us knew it was a setup—besides, it’s not the end of the world, Rhea is still free, she’ll get us out.”
A new name—Loren did his best to commit them to memory. Darius, Arla, Markus, Yvette, and Rhea.
“Can she?” Yvetta mumbled from under her blanket. “This place is crawling with heroes, she’s strong, but…”
“You haven’t seen her go all out—trust me,” Arla said encouragingly, “There are less than ten people in the city that could fight her on equal grounds.”
Yvette sat up, finally joining the conversation properly.
“Arla is failing to mention that three of those people are in this building,” Darius said wryly, pressing his bracelet to the bars futilely. “If she tries to break us out, it’s going to get messy—ugh, I hate these bracelets! Not being able to transform is pure torture. They even turned off the electricity just to mess me up!I’m going to put in a complaint.”
Loren wasn’t sure what the guy was up to, but it looked like he wanted to try shocking the bracelet on the bars—something that might have worked if he had some way to survive the current.
“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll take it seriously when you ask for your power back,” Arla said, amused, plucking at the collar of her shirt. “I wish they hadn’t taken our costumes—these clothes aren’t flattering in the least.”
“What are you in here for?” Yvette said quietly, in the cell across from Loren.
Loren turned to her at the question.
“I destroyed a construction site during a fight,” Loren admitted.
“With who?” Yvette asked curiously.
“Vapid,” Loren said simply. “Why are you in here?”
He ignored Darius when the other man coughed out a ‘bullshit.’
“Um. We walked into a trap,” Yvette confessed, “We thought it was just a normal job, but the client was actually a hero in disguise—the rest of the heroes kind of just dogpiled us after that.”
“A normal job,” Darius scoffed before pitching his voice high. “I know a guy! Yeah, we go way back—it’s completely legit!”
“Darius, enough.” Arla snapped.
Darius huffed before dropping down onto the mattress and placing his hands behind his head. Loren was starting to realize who they were—Last time he’d seen them in here, they had been still in costume.
These were three of the members of Ascent—which meant that ‘Rhea,’ the missing woman, was most likely the secret identity of Crescent. Markus, the one who they had called ‘the least dangerous without his tools,’ was most likely the villain Complexity, who was known to create advanced and futuristic gadgets of all kinds.
The process of elimination meant that Darius, the only male left on the team, was Liquid. There was a new member that had joined Ascent less than a month ago, and judging by how the conversation between these three had just gone, that meant that Yvette—the newbie—was Sluggish. That left Arla to be the final remaining villain on the team, Outlast.
Loren ran over his logic several times to make sure, but he kept arriving at the same conclusion.
The most likely reason they had removed Complexity from these cells was that Wraith would have realized that he had the skill set required to potentially be the bomber.
Complexity could have been the culprit—the bombs had been set up in advance. So it was possible that he got caught in the heroes trap while taking another job and placed in the building he had planted explosives under.
That would be absurdly unlucky—but also a very ironic death if it was true. Ascent didn’t really seem like the kind of team to be on board with that. They didn’t have a body count as far as he could recall. Then again, maybe they were out of the loop, and Complexity was playing them—Dovetail was supposed to be a hero, and look how that turned out.
The door to the cellblock opened, and Raindancer stepped inside. The hero was a woman with long black hair, her face was covered in a small black eye mask, and her face was framed by two long braided bangs.
Darius sat up quickly, turning to watch the hero as she approached.
There was a tension in the air as she stopped in front of Darius’s cell, watching him silently.
“What are you doing, step-bro?” Raindancer gasped in surprise.
Loren started laughing, completely caught off guard by the meme.
“Shut up you dumbass!” Darius hissed through the bars at her, completely mortified. “Act normal for once!”
“I can’t believe you got caught, that’s hilarious.” Raindancer snickered. “Mum is going to flip her shit when she hears that her baby has been such a naughty boy!”
“Fuck off,” Darius said, flustered. “Don’t tell her anything—You’ll just upset her.”
Raindancer shook her head, still giggling.
“Dude, they know your identity now. She’s going to get a call from someone eventually,” Raindancer said, smiling. “It could be me, or it could be someone else, I’ll let you choose—”
“Someone else!” Darius said immediately, absolutely certain about his choice.
“Ouch, that’s not very nice,” Raindancer giggled before looking over her shoulder. “Hey, Arla—you look like shit in prison clothes.”
“I know. These things are atrocious,” Arla said in agreement, picking at the chest of her clothing. “Also, get fucked, you weirdo.”
Yvette stared at the three of them, looking alarmed at the byplay.
“Well, it’s been a long while since we got to hang out,” Raindancer said innocently. “What should we do?”
Loren watched in disbelief as she reached through the bars of his cell and ran a finger along her step-brother’s chest—Darius slapped the hand away in annoyance, looked redfaced, and pissed off.
“Ah, fuck.” Raindancer said, surprised, affecting a foreign accent, “I can’t believe you’ve done this.”
At this point, Loren had realized that this woman spent far too much time on the internet—she was literally a meme lord given physical form.
“Stop doing weird shit!” Darius cried in outrage. “People are watching—have some damn decency!”
Raindancer just laughed more before pressing herself bodily against the bars. Darius took a step back from her, looking over her shoulder to Arla, who was now looking distinctly pissed off.
“Want me to break you out?” Raindancer stage whispered, loud enough to be heard by just about everyone in the room.
Darius didn’t answer, instead, he watched her with narrowed eyes, waiting for the inevitable punchline—Raindancer reached for the lock on the cell before pausing.
“Nah, I better not. I’ll get in trouble, you know?” Raindancer said coyly, “Unless you want to try convincing me?”
Loren almost choked—Raindancer said it in the most inappropriate tone he had ever heard somebody use with their siblings.
“Absolutely not,” Darius said outright, “I’m not playing this game with you.”
“Aww,” Raindancer pouted. “You used to love it when—”
“That’s not true!” Darius said, panicked, “Don’t listen to her!”
Arla looked about, ready to blow her top.
“If you’re not going to help us, then you may as well leave,” Arla interjected angrily, “You fucking degenerate.”
Raindancer turned around and leaned back against the bars, apparently not even remotely wary of her step-brother directly behind her—an obvious mistake because Darius took advantage of it and slipped his hand through the bars, catching her neck and pulling her tightly against the bars.
“Sorry, Lanette,” Darius whispered, barely audible.
Loren took note of the name as Raindancer’s hand wrenched desperately at Darius’s arm, unable to break the grip. She wasn’t using her power for some reason—he took note that the bracelet rested flush against the woman’s neck—was it interfering with her ability?
Liquid and Raindancer did have very similar powers.
“You dumbass! I can’t believe she fell for it.” Arla crowed in triumph, “Heres what were going to do—”
“Nnn!” Raindancer squeaked, still able to breathe even in the grip, “Choke me harder, daddy!”
“Shut up!” Darius cried.
The man’s face was bright red, and he frantically used his other hand to muffle her. The struggle between them was very real, she was trying to escape her brother’s grip—but holy shit, Loren was surprised to find somebody who was actually worse than him.
“Oh my god,” Yvette said, embarrassed. “What is happening right now?”
“Darius—just fucking ignore her,” Arla snapped. “Hurry up and check her pockets. We don’t have much time before someone notices!”
Darius let out a cry of frustration and stopped muffling her. He rifled through her pockets for anything to use, and Raindancer immediately started again. Loren knew he would be in a cell until the next reset, so he may as well try to enjoy the time he had left—there had been a distinct lack of levity lately.
“This chick is hilarious.” Loren laughed. “Raindancer, twist his dick off!”
Darius shot him a glance filled with horror.
“The old dick twist!” Raindancer let out a choked laugh.
“You better fucking not!” Arla threatened.
Darius yelped and starting struggling, still trying to get his hand into her hip pouch.
“Twist it!” Loren cackled.
“Don’t twist it!” Arla snarled.
“Let go!” Darius said, mortified. “Hey!”
“Oh god,” Yvette said weakly. “I should have stayed in college.”
There was a clinking noise as the pouch emptied its contents on the ground, and Darius was quick to step on a set of black keys. He fought with Raindancer feet to drag it back into his cell with his foot and managed it after a moment.
“I’m telling mum!” Raindancer declared. “No chicken tendies for you.”
“Don’t tell her anything!” Darius cried in mortification. “Get your hand off my penis!”
Arla snarled at the comment and smacked both of her hands on the bars of her cell, completely furious at how the situation was currently going. Yvette looked like she had no idea what exactly she had signed up for when she joined. Darius dragged his captive sister down to the floor and managed to pick the keys up—he started trying to force the keys into the lock with his one free hand.
“All this over a succulent Chinese meal?” Loren snickered.
“He knows his judo well!” Raindancer grunted as she fought to keep the key away from the keyhole.
“Stop egging her on!” Darius pleaded as he finally got the correct key into the hole.
The cell clicked open, and Darius froze for a moment, unable to exit without removing his arm and the bracelet from her neck and returning her powers in the process. He retrieved the keys from the door and tossed them across to Arla, who caught them, and in a minute, had her own door unlocked.
Arla moved to free Yvette next and then moved to Darius once more, quickly placing her forearm under Raindancer’s neck and pinned her against the cage, and Darius was finally free to leave the cell.
The two of them wrangled the hero to the ground and tied her arms behind her back with her belt. Yvette moved over to his cell door hesitantly, and Loren raised an eyebrow at her as she slid the keys through the bars to his cell.
“Thanks,” Loren said curiously, not moving to pick them up.
Yvette just nodded and rejoined her team.
“Get up,” Arla snapped, pulling Raindancer to her feet. “Let’s go.”
Loren watched as they headed for the door to the power room, and then they were gone.
When Wraith entered the cellblock half an hour later, Loren almost missed the keys as they fell back down into his hand—He tossed them up into the air again as she approached his cell.
“So, I’ve had plenty of time to think about it,” Loren said thoughtfully. “You put me in this cell on purpose.”
Wraith stopped at the cell door, watching him, so he continued.
“Directly next to them while they were out of their costumes,” Loren said simply, “In the hopes that I would eventually uncover the connection between those three and the villain group Ascent. Now that I’ve had time to turn it over in my mind, I understand why you were suspicious of Raindancer.”
Loren tossed the keys up again and caught them before continuing.
“Her step-brother is a villain on the same squad as another villain—Complexity—who has the power and know-how to make the bombs.” Loren theorized, “You wanted me to learn Raindancer’s secret, without telling me yourself and breaking the rules.”
Wraith didn’t make any motion to confirm it, but it was obvious now.
“That isn’t all, though,” Loren said finally, “Either you couldn’t get anything useful out of Complexity, or you’re trying to teach me something through this situation.”
“Complexity is still in our custody, but he hasn’t spoken a word since we separated him from his teammates,” Wraith said pleased, he could tell now even through the voice filter. “Given the nature of these loops, having knowledge of the numerous elements surrounding you will make you more efficient at solving the problems presented to you.”
Wraith lifted her hand, and the keys that were reaching the top of their next arc zipped across the room and landed neatly in her hand—some kind of long-range magnetic function. Loren let his hand drop down beside him, strangely saddened by the loss of his toy.
“Parallel to that, I wanted to see what you would do and what kind of conclusion you came to based on the information you observed,” Wraith said evenly, “Furthermore, I was very surprised to find that you didn’t leave the building with them.”
Loren stared at her as the final piece of the puzzle fell into place—it hadn’t just been a test, it had been a situation constructed to give him a plausible reason to insert himself into Ascent as a trustworthy ally.
“You wanted me to infiltrate them,” Loren said slowly, as understanding dawned on him. “To see if I could determine if Ascent had a connection to the bombs or not.”