Chapter 37

Loren’s Apartment, 6:37 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

After that day on the bridge, his life had changed drastically and now, six years later things were finally starting to make sense in a way they hadn’t for a very long time. All of his problems stemmed from what his parents referred to as his sudden, drastic personality change.

The embers of the connection he shared with them both were extinguished soon after.

Loren had felt betrayed, unwanted, and hurt—the personality shift hadn’t been something he could see from the inside, his own mind incapable of detecting the change. Because he had actually lived those repeating days, even if he could barely remember them at the time.

They had existed as foggy dreamlike things because of the geas, and now, with a clearer head and the benefit of hindsight, he could see it.

From the perspective of Leslie and Charlie Parker, he had sat down with them and eaten breakfast like he had every other morning. The very next time they saw him—that afternoon after the police had brought him home—he was a completely different person.

His submission to his mother’s unfair rules and his inability to deal with the disinterest of his father had faded, and in its place, he’d become highly argumentative and combative, far more willing to challenge either of them.

Compared to the things that had shaped his person on that bridge of false hope, what hold did a weak threat of being grounded, one they couldn’t even enforce have over him? The power he’d been handed that day in the cafeteria had solved his home situation within the day and destroyed the rest of his life in the process.

Loren’s power had acted to fulfill the hasty, emotional words of what was probably the worst moment of his life, locking him into a life in which Isaac would die on the bridge. The worst day in his life had struck him blind, and the very first thing his parents did was have him committed to a mental health facility for long-term treatment.

Despite his anger and now combative nature, the years of discussions with psychologists did help him in dealing with his best friend’s death. That much was true—he was never in doubt of an expert’s effectiveness in approaching and treating this kind of thing.

What he was upset with was the complete dismissal of his agency to make that kind of decision for himself. They had forced it on him, and he’d gone in unwillingly—he’d broken free of his parent’s grip for all of a week before they had managed to reestablish the shackles in a different but more effective way.

The doctors helped him with the waking nightmares that hounded him, coaching him to fill countless dream journals and he took to drawing pictures of the scenes he saw. Now he knew that they hadn’t been nightmares, they were memories—memories of the countless days he’d spent trying to convince his friend to stay alive.

All that treatment for hallucinations, delusions, and night terrors—only to find that all of it had been real in the end—a sick part of him felt like he would have rubbed it in his parent’s faces if they were still around.

Loren had spent so many nights trying to find the answer to why his friend had done what he did, and the memories had fed into that. Teaching him a thousand ways it could have all fallen apart if he’d only changed a single thing—done something just that little bit differently.

Time brought with it perspective, and the bigger picture was pretty clear now. Isaac had, in at least some small part, been driven by spite. He had been looking for an escape from his own neverending hell—his home wasn’t safe, and after that day in the cafeteria, he’d found his last bastion filled with humiliation and scorn.

That’s why he couldn’t ever convince Isaac to change his mind—he’d approached it like he was trying to save his friend, but his friend didn’t want to be saved, he’d given up on that a long time ago. Issac just wanted to share some of the hurt around before he logged out.

Loren gripped his face, trying to pull himself together—Wraith was right, as much as it galled him; he couldn’t keep doing things like this.

It just wasn’t sustainable, and it wasn’t just her insight that led him to that conclusion. He was going to have to change his approach because he’d learned something that made the current situation even more tenuous.

The reset point wasn’t set in stone.

Now he was in danger of locking in a bad run because it had changed from the day of Isaac’s death to today. The question now became, why had it changed to today of all days? He’d died at Paragon’s speech—that was the first time since he’d hit himself with a geas.

The loop hadn’t updated to Thursday, the morning before the speech—It had rolled back to Tuesday.

The commonality between both of those points was that it had been a Tuesday, he could recognize that easily enough—it wasn’t like he would forget the worst two days of his life after all.

The times, however, were very different, the first had been after school in the afternoon, the exact time escaped him—taken by seven years of being buried—This time, however, it was at 2:22 in the morning. Both times had followed immediately after he had woken up from falling asleep, the first time in the case of this morning as Emma had disturbed his sleep. That first time, however, had not—he’d woken up and gone to school, but the reset point had been after he’d taken a nap in the afternoon…

It dawned on him a moment later.

He hadn’t had the power prior to the fight in the cafeteria because the first time his power had manifested was in the nurse’s office when she tried to—Loren felt a sense of horror as he realized he had spent the last six years thinking wrongly that the young school nurse had been a predator.

Ms. Gracen had been affected by whatever his power had been in the first loop the same way that the woman at the intersection had—but the first time he had gone to sleep after he’d gotten it was that afternoon.

His power had messed with her mind or body, forced her to be attracted to him or something, and then locked it into the loop all without his knowledge or hers—he was starting to feel sick again.

Loren forced himself to move past it—he could make amends after he figured this out.

His power was born on Tuesday, and after Emma had woken him up, he had died a few days later, having slept multiple times between those two days. His power hadn’t updated on Wednesday or even the morning of his death on Thursday.

That meant that the most likely rule for his power to follow…

“The very first time I wake up on a Tuesday, a new savepoint is set,” Loren said quietly, staring at his hands.

That gave him an entire week to stop all of this from becoming permanent—it didn’t feel like nearly enough.

He finally allowed himself to turn his thoughts to the power that had been tugging at his senses since he woke up—everything in the room was glowing faintly, including his clothing. Loren reached down to grab a handful of his shirt, and the lights around him changed.

Blue stood out the most now, coming to the forefront of the other colors—the bedsheet being the largest source of it. Loren took hold of the sheet with his other hand, and he felt some kind of resonance between the two objects.

He pulled the sheet up to deliberately touch his shirt—and the sheet brightened for a moment before vanishing. His shirt had changed slightly, grown thicker, and it gave off a stronger presence now, he even felt safer somehow. It was some kind of enhancement that was fueled by physical materials? Not unlike the upgrade process in a video game.

He added his pillowcase to the shirt—Another increase on that protective feeling, and it once again thickened, growing slightly stiff to the touch and changing color.

“Huh,” Loren said slowly.

Loren was starting to run out of loose objects at this point—he considered breaking off parts of his walls, but there was definitely a more efficient way to accomplish this.

Each color represented a different… ‘attribute’ of sorts. Blue was Defense, Red was Attack, Yellow was Mobility. There were other colors, but they were much less common than the three primary colors.

The more objects with a blue aura that he merged an item, the more its appearance changed—his shirt and pants, for instance, had long since grown hard to the touch and developed a very faint silver sheen. He dumped the last of his cutlery into his pants and then sat down again, feeling the material move easily— Magical bullshit for real.

He had a goal for this reset, rather than running around and trying to stop all of the bad things from happening at once—he was going to hyper-focus on one of them. He had absolutely no idea where to start and no further desire to track Deceitful down—that he would be pushing off onto Wraith.

Mostly because he was still furious at her.

Chloe was safe up until Thursday, as long as the tournament was still happening, which it should be. Emma didn’t know about Mark’s death… so she would be kicked out when the landlord came by.

Dovetail would have already killed Piston and Stalk this morning, and Serpentine had most likely already killed the man in revenge. Mongoose would search Emma’s apartment because of Mark’s phone, finding her missing, and start searching the rest of the building. Vapid would be looking for Serpentine’s civilian identity, which would lead her here as well.

“So many people converging on one location,” Loren mumbled.

The task he would focus on for now would be to find Isometric—he needed to know who was sent after her. Once he had a map of all the targets that Cinematic went after over the course of the week, then he could move on to figuring out how to build against them in the future.

He knew where Isometric’s… what was her actual name again—Leona Kindly. He knew where her apartment was, thanks to Wraith’s investigation in the last loop. The reporter… Elis Frisk—lived central, a couple of blocks away from her.

The bodies had been found at the apartment belonging to Elis, which meant that Cinematic somehow knew who the reporter was—it could have been that they were already aquatinted with one another prior to this? If they were, then it was possible the villains would have stumbled on him while figuring out her secret identity.

No proof to substantiate any of it—yet.

Loren’s Apartment, 3:37 AM.
Wednesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

The light of his phone was blinding in the early morning dark—but he didn’t have much of it left. It had to be approaching four by now. Many commuters were moving towards the train station, but the rest of the central city blocks were still rather sparse.

Seeing the stairs that led down to the tracks brought back the conversation he’d had last night with Emma—she had once again been kicked out by Peter, and he had picked her up off the sidewalk. Loren had explained the time loop once more and told her to make herself scarce during the day to avoid both Vapid and Mongoose’s presence in the building. Loren just hoped that she actually woke up in time.

He studied the map application on his phone, pinching and twisting it until it faced the same way Wraith’s own map had. Leona Kindly’s apartment building was easy enough to place, and he adjusted his path again towards it.

Loren spotted the building—he’d seen it many times before, like most of the other buildings in the city, it was a much higher-end specimen than his own accommodation. Tall, twelve stories at least, and framed on three sides by taller ones. It had one of those in-built, alternating concrete staircases that stretched up the entire way to the roof with a landing at each level.

His own free map app couldn’t do the high-tech twisty point of view changing that Wraith’s had done that showed the blueprint, so he could only rely on what he could see from the ground and his memory that it had been on the eleventh floor.

Maybe he should have grabbed a pair of sunglasses and tried to enhance them? He might have been able to develop some kind of penetrative vision—then again, looking into other people’s apartments sounded like something Wraith would do.

He wondered if she was watching him right now—it wouldn’t surprise him, he had already phoned the information into her yesterday and then declined the option she’d presented to meet up—he had no intention of being tranquilized again and the trust that had been there wasn’t unscathed.

Loren wondered how she would have felt had he drugged her, locked her in a room, and made her watch all of her friends die while she couldn’t do anything to help—he already knew exactly how violently she reacted to their deaths when she didn’t have any advanced warning.

A cold shell her armor may have been, but she felt things just like the rest of them, she was just better at hiding it—in the armor at least.He shook his head and focused on the building again, he needed to find a better place to watch from.

Standing out of the street was going to get the police called on him or worse.

He slinked into the alleyway, heading for the back of the building.

As far as he was aware, Isometric hadn’t died in her own apartment before—well, she might have, he wouldn’t have known about it at the time—but he needed to find out if Cinematic came here first. It was more likely that they knew where she lived, then where some random reporter did.

Loren stuck to the shadows, heading past the service entrance at the back of the building and towards the matching staircase on the alley side.

“If you’re planning on breaking in, let me suggest otherwise.” A woman’s voice said tiredly but faintly amused.

Loren almost had a heart attack, snapping his had upwards and seeing nothing but shadows.

“Holy fuck, lady!” Loren yelped, squinting upwards. “I think I just shit myself.”

There was a red glow, just a speck in the dark for a moment over one of the railings, and the shadows fixed themselves as his eyes adjusted—A woman on the staircase, floor two, watching him. He couldn’t make out anything about her appearance without a light source.

The woman laughed carelessly, not bothering to move. If she had thought he was a cat burglar, she certainly wasn’t showing any of the fear someone might.

“Yeah, laugh it up,” Loren said, frowning. “Who are you—defender of the staircase or something? Anything to report? A stray cat, perhaps?”

He straightened and tried to bury the embarrassment of being found by someone before he’d even reached the stairs. Why couldn’t he have gotten a stealth power this reset?

“Sure,” The woman said, amused, “I think I see a pussy right now.”

Loren brushed his shoulder off and jammed his hands in his pocket, heading for the stairs anyway.

“Hilarious,” Loren snorted, projecting his voice as he rounded the staircase. “I’ll be heading up to my apartment now—keep up the good work, chief.”

He stopped halfway up the first level’s stairs—the woman had brazenly moved to stand on the edge of the platform overtly blocking his way. She was alone in the dark with a strange man approaching her position—Someone with this much confidence in this kind of situation was bad news.

This might have actually been one of the members of Cinematic staking out the place—he still hadn’t seen all of them.

“Oh, you live here, do you?” The woman said amused, dropping down a step towards him. “What’s someone doing sneaking into their own place through the back entrance?”

He didn’t move from his step but did his best to ready himself just in case—the woman was easily a head taller than him, and it wasn’t just because of the elevation difference. Why was she coming towards him in the dark?

She was dangerous.

“It’s above your paygrade, Stairpatrol,” Loren said evenly, wondering if he shouldn’t try the other staircase. “I saw a guy eyeing the front of the building earlier—you might have more luck on that set.”

“Cute.” She said curiously, still fearlessly moving down to meet him. “You spot them when you were looking for points of entry?”

She stopped on the step directly above him—and his senses were on high alert, ready for the slightest move. He could smell the smoke lingering in the air, and the glow of her cigarette was just enough for Loren to see her mouth.

He moved to step around her, retreating wasn’t an option because if he did, she would never let him pass by. The woman turned with him, stepping to cut his distance and blocking his way up with one hand flat against the wall.

The other hand came up quickly between them, and his own hand grabbed her around the wrist—he wrenched it away without mercy, thinking she was attempting to stab him. Her hand didn’t even budge—and then his night vision was completely destroyed as she lit the lighter that was in her hand.

Loren’s heart thudded violently in his chest as his vision cleared, and he found himself staring into a very familiar face. Very tall, short blonde hair, and around thirty years of age—it was undeniably Iza Gracen.

Loren Parker,” Iza said wide-eyed.

“Um,” Loren said, stunned, as he reached desperately for a proper response and failed to find one. “Remember when you wanted to kiss my boo-boo better? Good times.”

Oh god, what was he saying?

“That—” Iza said, mortified, grabbing him by the reinforced shirt. “The feeling is still here… I wasn’t crazy! You did something to me back then—you’re trying to do it to me right now!”

Loren was alarmed that he couldn’t break her grip on him, even with the attack bonus he’d gained from his power—she was dangerous and obviously in possession of some kind of strength-enhancing power now.

“I’m really, really not,” Loren said weakly. “I am feeling super trapped right now—Can you let go of my shirt?”

Iza did let go of his shirt, but she didn’t move away—he slid between her and the wall before moving to higher ground—hoping it would be enough of an advantage should he need to run. Iza turned and almost seemed to take a step upwards before she managed to halt herself.

“What is this, Loren?” Iza said strained, flinching as she said his name, “I had to quit my job—I haven’t been able to sleep without dreaming about you—”

Iza cut herself off with a strangled noise.

Saying he had no idea would be entirely unfair and would likely piss her off—but he was here for a reason dammit, he wasn’t getting sidetracked because Iza fucking Gracen, of all people, ganked him on the damn stairs.

“Iza listen—stop-stop-stop!” Loren said quickly, scrambling backward, as she took another step towards him. “This is all related to superpowers—I’m here because someone is going to kill a woman in this building—I’m trying to stop it, okay? I promise you, right now, that I will try to explain what happened—but I need to get off this staircase before the killers show up.”

He tossed her his phone in a weak attempt of goodwill, a gesture to show that he would need to come back to get it—Iza snatched it out of the air without even looking at it.

“Fine!” Iza said, stuck somewhere between flustered and floundering. “Second floor, apartment eight. You will meet me there when you’re done, or I’m going to come to find you and force the answers out of you—guilt won’t stop me this time.”

Loren wasn’t sure going into an apartment with her was a good idea, but he could always reset if things went that badly—he turned and shot up the stairs, moving down the hallway away from her and towards the opposite stairs.

Hopefully, she didn’t follow him up to the eleventh floor.

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