Top Floor, Raindancers Apartment Building, 10:19 AM.
Friday, February 25th, 2022.
“You totally destroyed my computer, you dickhead,” Raindancer complained as she worked on restraining Beat. “Do you know how much that thing cost?”
“I wasn’t the one who flooded the building,” Beat protested.
Raindancer stood back up after the two villains were now secured and face down on the wet carpet. Without Beat and Arret present to complicate the situation at the Hero HQ, Crescent would most likely be rebuffed—at least he hoped so.
“Raindancer, we need to move these two,” Loren said seriously. “They have an entire team for backup and a teleporter that might have already dropped some off.”
Raindancer paused in the process of squeezing her hair dry and scrunched up her face. Loren did his best not to stare at her entirely transparent singlet and failed dismally.
“I’ve got a ride downstairs,” Raindancer offered, shrugging. “We should take them to the HQ; by the time we get there, they should have things handled on their end.”
He really didn’t want to go back to the HQ, Alana would be there, and he felt like shit already.
“You seem way too at ease with a team of assassins coming after you,” Loren sighed, pulling Arret to her feet once more.
“Eh, if they were important, I would have recognized them,” Raindancer said smugly, hauling Beat up. “I see any glowing, and I’m going to turn you into a three-spout water fountain.”
Loren recoiled from the mental image, gross. Did she not know who they were?
“I’ll be good,” Beat laughed it off.
They moved towards the stairs and led their prisoners downwards.
“You’ve heard of Cinematic, right?” Loren frowned.
Fracture, Tag, and Alana had all known about the group; it wasn’t a stretch to assume that most of the heroes at the HQ knew the group’s name.
“Shit,” Raindancer said, wincing, “I didn’t realize that’s who they were. Okay, I’m starting to understand the need to move. This is about the money then?”
Loren didn’t answer as the question was directed at Beat.
“Got it in one,” Beat confirmed easily. “You weren’t even our first target—this week was a complete mess; I’ve never seen Storyboard so confused.”
They passed the bottom floor and headed for the underground parking lot in the basement, Raindancer leading the way. Isometric disappearing and Archetype failing to get to Chloe because of the tournament must have been annoying for them.
“How’d you find out where I live?” Raindancer wondered, pushing Beat out into the parking lot.
“Eh, we’ve got some useful friends,” Beat said vaguely before shooting a smug glance over his shoulder. “Lanette Felt, age 25. Has a living brother and mother, Darius and Maria, respectively. That sound about right?”
“I think if I push it hard enough, I could turn you into a six spout,” Raindancer said cheerfully, but her grip on the man’s shoulder tightened. “Might have to make a few new holes first, though.”
Raindancer brought them to a stop next to an unmarked white van.
“Yikes,” Beat said, seemingly amused at the threat. “There’s no way this is your ride—you’re kidding me?”
“Damn, Daniel,” Loren said ironically.
“Back at it again with the white van!” Lanette cheered, throwing Beat face-first into the back.
The man grunted in pain, unable to break his fall with his hands behind his back. Loren dragged the silent Arret up and sat her down by the wall before shutting the door behind him. Lanette moved to the front and slipped into the driver’s seat.
Arret fell over onto her side as the van started moving, and she hissed out in pain as her injured shoulder bounced off the floor. She squirmed painfully until she managed to roll onto her back was and her weight no longer on the injury. Loren made sure her shirt was still tightly wrapped around her face and rechecked beats own restraints.
Light flooded the windshield as they made it out of the car park and onto the road outside. Blinding for a moment before the shapes of buildings could be seen through the glass.
“How long do you think we have until they come after us?” Lanette said, speeding up.
“Impossible to tell,” Loren said seriously.
“Oh, they are already coming,” Beat said easily, “It’s more a question of who they sent.”
A large thump rocked the van as something landed on top of it, and Loren scrambled out of the way as a sword pierced downwards through the roof. His back smacked against the door as the sword drew a circle, and the ring of metal fell down onto Beats back.
“Ow, you idiot!” Beat cried out, “Watch what you’re doing!”
“Fuck!” Lanette said, alarmed, and swerved the van into oncoming traffic and back again.
It did nothing to dislodge Cutaway or even unbalance him as he watched them boredly from the roof, the sword now perched against his shoulder. Loren’s eyes lit up with power, and the man’s perfect balance failed him as he tumbled off the roof with the next swerve of the van.
A second later, the doors opened behind him, and something grabbed the back of his shirt, wrenching him from the van. The force was enough to send him upwards at an angle, and his eyes glowed brighter as he twisted in the air, clipped the cabin roof just enough to spin him around before he landed feet first on the roof of a food truck.
There was a blurry figure that could only be Cutaway moving ahead of him, and he came to a stop on the back of the truck. One hand on the top of the roof to keep himself perched at the back of the van as the doors flapped around—Loren pressed his power to action again, and the van bumped suddenly. Cutaway fell backward onto the road, and for a moment, Loren thought the truck would run the man over, but he twisted in the air just before he touched the tarmac and vanished into another blur.
“Are you drunk?” Beat yelled out of the still moving van incredulously, “Why do you keep falling over?”
Clearly, the man hadn’t put together what his power actually did yet.
“How did you get up here?” Cutaway said, sounding vaguely surprised, from directly behind him. “Good reflexes, huh?”
Loren had to focus on keeping his balance as he turned to face the man. He wondered if he should just reset now to avoid the pain of what was to come.
“Look,” Loren said sullenly, “Can’t you just take you’re friends and leave? I’d rather not fight and die here; I’m on something of a roll.”
“Unless you’ve got ten million handy as compensation for the missed bounty,” The man said uncaringly, “Sorry guy, we aren’t running a charity here.”
“Who’d make the mistake of thinking that?” Loren said, annoyed. “What kind of charity would kill people for money? Idiot.”
He activated his power as soon as he’d finished speaking, focusing entirely on defense, but he still felt the katana cut a thin slice into his upper arm before the man stumbled off the truck, tripping over his own feet.
Cutaway vanished from his sight, and he turned slowly in a circle, hoping to get some kind of visual of the man before he attacked. The van suddenly swerved back into oncoming traffic, but this time it clipped the front of a car, sending both vehicles tumbling away from each other in a screech of metal and sparks.
The truck driver decided he’d had enough and slammed on the brakes, and Loren was thrown forward off the roof. He pulled his power up again and managed to land on the side of the van as it slid to a stop on the road. Water erupted, surging upwards around the van, and he caught sight of a series of circular splashes on the surface of the water before he was hit by something too fast to be seen.
Searing pain lanced across his body, from his hip to his shoulder, and then he was swallowed by the mass of water.
Loren’s Apartment, 2:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
The first thing he noticed upon waking up was golden lettering in the air, and then his lightbulb exploded. Loren covered his face and closed his eyes, caught unaware by the damn thing for the first time in a while.
The lettering remained in his sight even with his eyes closed.
“To aid you in your quest, please choose a reward,” Loren read out loud, “Sensory, Offense, Defence.”
This was by far the weirdest power he’d had yet—How was it writing these prompts? Or was it pulling from his own mind to make them? He’d had plenty of attack powers and a few defensive ones, all with varying levels of usefulness.
He studied the three options for a while before selecting.
“Sensory,” Loren said, frowning.
Bright yellow lines started drawing themselves over anything around him, listing dimensions and material types. Yellow footprints appeared on the carpet, and fingerprints appeared everywhere else with a name tag that identified them as his own; older faded ones appeared as well it listed as [???].
“Seek out your quest.” Loren read quietly.
He shook his head and grabbed his phone—he wanted Mark to survive and Dovetail to suffer for a bit longer, and he needed to make a phone call to ensure it happened.
Loren’s Apartment, 6:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren poked his head out and glanced around the stairwell—there were yellow lines and boxes everywhere. Footprints that all belonged to [???], which was incredibly unuseful, even when he moved up the stairs enough to see Emma’s apartment door, the fingerprints were still labeled that way.
Several floors downstairs, a door opened and shut before he noticed Mrs. Tenor heading down the stairs. There was something written above her head, but it was too far away to read. Some of the tiny text on the surroundings changed, but he couldn’t see it from so far away, so he moved down until he could read one of the footprints.
[Liz Tenor – 65F Size W7]
If he got eyes on the person, then he could identify who the markings belonged to—that was much more useful. Figures that it would be too easy to just wander down into the sewer and read off the culprit’s name—Unless he’d met them first, it would just be a bunch of question marks.
He turned and made his way back upstairs and paused at his door as the one directly above him opened, and a few moments later, Emma walked into view pretending that she hadn’t noticed him there.
[Emma Young – 24F – 9/10]
It must have been pretty suspicious; he’d forgotten that she could feel him move through the walls with her powers. Some of the footprints around him bloomed into existence, and he checked them for information.
[Emma Young – 24F Size W6]
“Loren?” Emma said, smiling, “You’re up early.”
Was this friendliness simply because of the pheromones he was giving off or was it her genuine nature? Was there a way to actually tell this kind of thing, or did he have to spend the rest of his existence tucked away and out of smelling distance?
They hadn’t interacted at all—unless he infected her when he went back to the past—fuck.
“What size are your shoes?” Loren said instead of answering.
“What kind of question is that?” Emma said, blinking, “Are you into feet or something?”
“No! I’m not into feet—well, actually, I have no idea,” Loren admitted in wonder, having a momentary crisis as he tried to figure out on the spot whether he did or not. “Don’t distract me! What size are your shoes.”
As long as she stayed up there and away from him, she shouldn’t be immediately affected—it was probably a wash at this point though.
“Um,” Emma said, pinning her shoe down with her other foot and pulling her heel free to check.
“How do you not know your damn shoe size?” Loren sighed.
“Size six?” Emma asked as if he might have the answer.
“Women’s size six,” Loren nodded at the confirmation. “Interesting, and you are twenty-four?”
“Yeah,” Emma said, smiling again.
“And you burned down the forest behind your house when you were a child?” Loren asked.
“What?” Emma said in shock.
“And you got your powers by sticking a fork in a wall socket,” Loren continued.
“How do you know—” Emma said, panicked.
“And I met you on a train once, and we hung out with Mara Melancholia?” Loren said wryly.
“You remember?!” Emma said, affronted. “Why didn’t you say anything? I’ve been here for ages!”
“That’s right, I forgot you were a stalker; you’re tracking me through the walls after all.” Loren said with faux seriousness, “Were you this creepy before I met you on the train?”
“I’m not a stalker—and you’re doing this on purpose!” Emma cried out before noticing his amusement. “Stop teasing me!”
Loren cracked, unable to keep a straight face any longer.
“Right, sorry about that,” Loren offered, amused, “I need to talk to you about the words that are floating above your head.”
Emma’s Apartment, 6:45 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Emma frowned as she thought over everything he’d explained about the loops before shaking her head.
“What does it say?” Emma said suddenly, “The writing above my head—you never actually told me.”
“Emma Young, twenty-four, female, nine out of ten.” Loren listed off before snorting at her expression. “I doubt it’s an attractiveness rating, so you can stop looking so smug about it.”
“Go look in my mirror; I want to know what it says about you,” Emma insisted, smirking.
“I refuse,” Loren said immediately, “Look, besides this loop stuff, there’s something else—”
“Just how many secrets are you going to drop on me?” Emma said, alarmed. “I’m still reeling from the whole time travel thing.”
“One of the powers I had, when I was a kid, changed my body to give off a pheromone that attracts women and repels men, and I can’t turn it off.” Loren said straight out, “It’s likely that I’ve affected you at some point in the past, and being in the same room now means you are definitely under its influence.”
Emma fell silent for a long moment, looking a bit put on the spot.
“I am attracted to you,” Emma admitted quietly.
“It’s the pheromone; I just can’t really do anything about it,” Loren admitted, “The only way I can think to get rid of it permanently is to get another body changing power and then keep it until the next save point—not something I can do with all this shit going on.”
“I—Loren,” Emma said, looking even more embarrassed. “The first time I met you, I was attracted to you then.”
He felt a surge of affection before he pushed it away as best he could.
“That happens in my future, remember?” Loren explained patiently, “Which means I’m still generating the effect—”
“But I haven’t seen you for years,” Emma argued, “Even I know that pheromones don’t stick around for that long. I’ve never even been In close contact with you since then. I moved here once I found out where you were, and that wasn’t because of the pheromone.”
“That’s totally creepy,” Loren mumbled before sighing explosively. “You really shouldn’t go around stalking someone like that; it’s messed up behavior, you damn creeper.”
“Shut up—it’s—I know!” Emma said quickly, mortified but unable to disprove his point. “Stop bringing it up!”
“It doesn’t matter either way because the pheromone still kick-started that attraction—it wasn’t a natural thing.” Loren pointed out, “If I kick a rock down a hill, and it ends up causing an avalanche that crushed a city full of people—I’m still the one to blame for kicking the rock.”
“Are you calling my feelings an avalanche?” Emma said, offended.
“Ugh.” Loren groaned; that was clearly not the point of his analogy. “I don’t know, man, all of this is messing with my head. I’m telling you this to warn you, and I want to make sure you know I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
“You’re an idiot.” Emma decided, sounding frustrated. “I can’t believe I have to deal with this right after Mark’s bullshit.”
“I think everyone in the building heard your bullshit,” Loren said tiredly, and Emma narrowed her eyes at him. “Sorry—that was rude; my heads really not there today.”
He should have waited a few days before dropping all of this on her.
“I’m the one who gets to decide if my feelings are valid or not, Loren,” Emma said seriously, crossing her arms. “You may have avalanched my village, but I’m the one who decides if it was a good avalanche or a bad one.”
What the absolute fuck was she saying right now?
“You’re right about that first part; you are the one who gets to decide,” Loren said, completely lost, “But that second part was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life—”
“Shut up!” Emma cried out, flustered. “Don’t use confusing analogies! Dumbass! Idiot!”
Loren found himself laughing at her outrage and blinked when the [9/10] above her head changed.
“You’re a ten out of ten now,” Loren said, blinking.
Emma huffed and eyed him for a moment.
“Are you saying I’m more attractive when I’m angry?” Emma said, watching him.
The text had turned into a blur for a moment, flicking through a series of indecipherable blots.
“What? That’s not what I’m saying—” Loren groaned, “I told you it wasn’t an attractiveness rating. The text above your head is changing now.”
The blur next to her name settled into a small black icon with ‘48hours’ written next to it. The icon was made up of a pair of white eyes set in a blot of inky black tendrils. A prompt appeared in front of him, and he read it out loud, feeling dread rise in him.
“What does it say?” Emma wondered.
“You’re not going to like it,” Loren said tightly. “It says Quest Started; ‘A meeting with Mara Melancholia!’ and there’s a forty-eight-hour countdown next to it.”