Chapter 57

Setalite City Hero HQ, 11:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“As fun as it is to watch you,”  Loren said, attempting to crack his own back. “We’re kind of just covering the same stuff as this point.”

Sitting on the floor for several hours was probably not the best idea he’d ever had.

“Should I be happy that you’re finished stealing everything I know?” Mongoose breathed, running herself through a few last stretches as she warmed down.

“All that exercise pretty much guarantees you’d be happy, given the endorphins involved,” Loren pointed out.

“You want to test it out?” Mongoose snorted before moving to a box in the corner.

“Hell no,” Loren said immediately, “You’re faster, stronger, have better reflexes, and you some kind of bullshit luck aura—nice try, though.”

She pulled out a pair of gloves and tossed them across the room at his feet.

“I won’t use any of that,” Mongoose frowned, “Just knowing the moves isn’t enough. Let’s spar.”

Loren used his trump card.

“Wouldn’t you rather know that thing that makes you get super upset?” Loren dangled, trying to entice her.

“It can wait; get up.” Mongoose denied, frowning.

Loren stared at her aghast before he pushed himself to his feet, resigned to his fate as he struggled to get the gloves on.

“Don’t be too mad when I whoop you,” Loren said bravely, slipping into the exact stance he’d stolen from her.

Mongoose smirked—he sidestepped as she clearly used her bullshit super strength to kick herself into what was clearly a rapidly spinning heel drop and completely impossible to mimic, at least by human standards.

She landed lightly, and he frantically brought his knee up, catching the follow-up leg kick on his shin—

“Holy shit! Ow! Normal humans can’t jump that high! You cheater!” Loren yelped, scrambling away in fear of the third kick, the irony lost on him in his panic. “Stop using your powers—stop going for the same spot! Demon woman!”

Mongoose continued her chain as he backpedaled across the mat. He used his elbow to deflect her strike as she started to use her hands as well. She caught his return punch on the back of her hand—once more blatantly using her super-strength to halt it.

“Dammit, Mongoose!” Loren cried in outrage.

Loren quickly realized the problem with his power and the stolen martial arts—it was true that he knew every single move she was throwing at him and could replicate them perfectly. It was also true that he had absolutely no idea when and where to use them.

So he fell back on the tried and true method that had gotten him through every other super-powered fight in the past—attack.

He used one of the combinations he’d saw her use the most, a series of fast light jabs, and bore down on her—Mongoose deflected and blocked every single one of them without even trying. Loren grunted when his face was turned to the side by the punch she had snuck through his offense and again when she abruptly switched it up, landing a solid kick on his inner thigh that almost buckled his leg.

Desperate times called for desperate measures—Loren used the gymnast’s perfect form to cartwheel past her stretching his leg out towards her in an attempt to kick her in the face on the way past. All he got for his trouble was a front kick to the stomach, which tipped him over backward onto the mat.

He scrambled to his feet.

“This is the strangest thing I have ever seen,” Mongoose snickered. “Your form is perfect, the techniques are fast and precise—but you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s fucking hilarious—what was that cartwheel about?”

Loren flushed. He was glad he hadn’t attempted the backward handstand kick he’d thought about using; she might have kicked him in the dick.

“Most of my fights are long-range and throwing shit at people. The ones that are in close are just me flailing around and trying to beat up the other guy,” Loren defended, “I have no idea how to go about this properly.”

Mongoose settled back into her stance, and Loren was quick to follow—more out of worry she would sneak attack him than anything. How was she still going anyway? She’d been essentially working out for hours on end—she was sweating enough for both of them.

“So now you have the skills, but not the battle experience?” Mongoose said thoughtfully. “The best remedy for that is to just fight a lot, honestly. No time like the present. Ready?”

Loren didn’t like the sound of that.

“No, I’m not ready!” Loren squawked, blocking the strike at his face.


“You suck,” Loren complained, staring up at the ceiling. “Immensely.”

Mongoose tossed her gloves into the box in the corner and yawned—Loren felt the humiliating pain of complete defeat in his soul at the sound; he might well never recover from this.

“You going to tell me why I hit you now?” Mongoose said, frowning again.

“Depends,” Loren admitted. “How likely are you to run off and confront a situation, even if I tell you not to?”

Mongoose leaned against the wall, seemingly giving the question serious thought. Mark and Mongoose having a shouting match wouldn’t cause any loss of life. Not that he could see, but Emma’s safety was a part of the loop he wasn’t willing to sacrifice.

Loren spoke up before she had reached an answer.

“Hypothetical,” Loren said suddenly. “A guy is seeing two women; neither of the women knows about the other one, and it’s been going on for a long time. How do you feel about each party involved? Should either of the women be upset at the other?”

Mongoose straightened up and stared at him from across the room.

“I would say that the guy is a piece of shit, and the two women aren’t at fault,” Mongoose said flatly before pausing. “From an outside perspective, I could see how both of the women would be upset at each other, but it wouldn’t be justified because it wasn’t done deliberately.”

Loren nodded slowly—a perfect answer, really. You could be upset at something without justification; it happened all the time. Mongoose hadn’t acted in the way she had answered back then, however—although there were others factors involved, including how she had found out about it. Mark was alive in this loop, whereas that wasn’t always the case—her anger should have an appropriate target this time.

“And from an inside perspective?” Loren murmured, the message clear. “How would you feel about each party?

Mongoose crossed the room, tugging off her mask as she went, and when he saw her uncovered face for the first time—everything about her face was small, a small nose, mouth, and eyes. Her eye color was a brown that was dark enough that it was approaching black. She was Chinese, if he had to guess her ethnicity, or perhaps Korean at a stretch, and he could just see the tips of some kind of tattoo that ended just below her chin which looked like it circled the rest of her throat.

Mongoose was clearly following along with the story that he had suddenly found himself regretting bringing up—at least judging by the twisted expression of pain and anger that sat far too large on such small features.

“I would be furious at Mark,” Mongoose said shakily, connecting the dots. “How sure are you about this? This isn’t a guess or—”

Loren held his hand up and shook his head.

“I—I’ve seen the outcome of both you and the other woman involved when you found this out before,” Loren said gently, lowering his hand. “I’m as certain as I can be.”

“You’re saying—I can’t address this—” Mongoose said unevenly, blinking rapidly. “Without ruining the loop? I’m supposed to just go on as nothing happened….”

Loren spoke up after she had trailed off.

“You can do whatever you want to do, Mongoose,” Loren said quietly, “Just leave the other girl out of it, alright? If she gets hurt, I’ll reset everything… She didn’t know about any of it, trust me—her reaction tends to be a mirror of your own right now.”

“Why would he….” Mongoose barely managed, openly crying now. “Who is the other girl—what’s her name?”

Loren closed his eyes for a moment.

“I’m not going to tell you that, Mongoose.” Loren said gently, “You’ve gone after her in one of the previous loops. I told you already—”

“I won’t go near her—If she didn’t know, then….” Mongoose said it in a rush, rubbing at her eyes with her palm, her makeup already smudged. “I just—I want to be able to throw her name in his face when I give him back the ring.”

Loren flinched—how had he ever thought this was going to be funny? He felt like jumping off the building to escape his own stupidity.

Emma’s reaction had always been one that was filled with as much energy as fury, insisting on confronting the man even at the expense of any damage to the loops. There had been an element of outrage, and he had thought it was funny that Mark would have to deal with that.

This was entirely different and had pulled everything back into perspective. None of it was something he should have laughed at. Loren stared at Mongoose with a sick feeling in his stomach—Had the two of them been married or engaged? He hadn’t heard anything about a ring in the previous interactions—the conversation between him, Emma, and Mongoose had never gotten that far although there had been a moment that could have been her leading up to it…

“I.. am an idiot,” Loren said quietly, “I should have done this in a better way. I’ll tell you her name, but it’s coming with a caveat. It’s non-negotiable—If you do anything to her, this will be the first and last time I tell you about any of this; her name is Emma.”

Mongoose blew out a shaky breath and used her fingertips to clean up under her eyes. Loren just watched her quietly.

“Sorry,” Loren murmured, but she didn’t reply.

Loren watched her leave, feeling horrible—Mark and his stupid decision had far more people attached to it than he had bothered to think about. Loren wondered if he did the right thing or if he should just stay away from this until he was free of the loops.

Getting involved in the personal lives of others and having to address these things every time… he couldn’t keep doing it.

Loren believed he’d been doing the right thing, that Mongoose and Emma deserved to know what was going on behind their backs. But he just found himself actively opening up a new set of wounds the next time, getting a front-row seat of a terrible moment in their lives.

Loren felt like a great eagle, picking at their wounds and waiting for the cycle to begin anew—he’d never liked the taste of liver.


Paragon’s absence from the room was the first thing Loren noticed. Considering that the discussion was supposed to be centered on the man, it seemed at once wrong and an act of common sense to exclude him.

Only three members of the Peacekeepers were present at the table this time—Artisan, Untold, and who he thought must be Alleviate. Wraith and Fracture were also seated, representing the HQ in the upcoming discussion. It had been a while since he’d seen Fracture, and Loren nodded to the good-natured man as he entered and received a smile in return.

There was a stack of manilla folders on the table; Loren reached out and pulled one of them towards himself.

“You may want to check on Mongoose after this,” Loren said quietly as he took a seat between the two groups. “I told her something very upsetting about Gradient, and there may be some fallout.”

“What happened?” Fracture said, concerned, before halting when Alana raised a hand. “Are they alright?

“Do we need to reschedule this meeting?” Alana said quietly. “Is this something that will affect the general outline of events?”

“No, I don’t think it will change much. Neither of them plays a significant role in the larger problems. Mongoose is present in most of the battles, but Gradient is usually dead by now.” Loren said slowly. “Mongoose promised not to go overboard anyway—I’m taking her word for it.”

“Risky,” Untold said quietly; it came across as a rebuke of sorts.

Loren just nodded in recognition—it was just one more mistake added to the pile.

“Very well,” Alana said slowly. “Now that Loren has arrived let’s move on.”

Artisan seemed to come alive, untangling his hands from in front of his bowed head and clapping them together once.

“Perfect,” Artisan said smoothly. “Nice to see you, Loren—I am, of course, assuming that you’ve met the three of us before?”

The man had a level of charisma to him that was obvious—it wasn’t supernatural, just the skill of a man who’d learned to command attention.

“I’ve met the two of you before. Untold has saved my life several times already—thanks for that, by the way,” Loren confirmed, getting a sharp look from Untold. “Alleviate, I haven’t met before today. Nice to meet you.”

“Hi.” Alleviate chirped. “You too—Wraith told me you’re a walking pheromone factory.”

Alleviate leaned over the desk and snagged one of the folders, the neat pile slide to one side, scattering about messily. Loren winced at the bluntness—that hadn’t been a secret, really, and he had intended on bringing it up to them, but it still pained him to hear it tossed about so casually.

“Sorry, I can’t actually turn it off.” Loren apologized.

“That is why I brought the topic up to discuss,” Alana said calmly. “Alleviate believes she can help you.”

Loren blinked.

“It’s not a belief; I know I can,” Alleviate said confidently. “Want me to take a look?”

Loren stared at her—if she could do it, they potentially had a second person who could remove what he had done to Iza Gracen. The healers they had hired from Insoluble had been capable of detecting the pheromone last he’d heard about it, but he wasn’t up to date on whether they had found someone to actively fix it.

It wouldn’t matter until they had solved the situation in the city entirely, but if they could set up an appointment to get it fixed on the day before the save, then they’d both be free of that problem. It wouldn’t remove any of the trauma Iza, and himself had inadvertently inflicted on each other, but it would be a step forward.

“Yes, I really do,” Loren said quietly. “There’s another person, a woman, who was changed by my power years ago; the effect is much stronger on her. Would it be possible for you to help her as well?”

“Sure—Wraith already told me about her.” Alleviate said, shrugging. “We can take care of both of you after we get this meeting out of the way.”

He couldn’t believe how something so pervasive and life-changing to him could be so mundane for the woman; she barely seemed phased at the idea of fixing him. Loren could remember the discussion he had about this. Alleviate had been an option that Iza hadn’t taken seriously because of their status as hero and villain, respectively.

Loren felt almost energized as the solution had found him instead of the other way around—perhaps his luck was changing after all.

“The entirety of Epilogue is in Setalite City. Deceitful is searching for victims in the suburbs. Taker is hiding in the sewers, following her.” Loren said seriously. “Monstrous is returning to the train station where she awakened her powers. Those are the three whose whereabouts I know for sure.”

Untold sat up straight at the names, taking one of the folders and flipping through it.

“Those are some massive problems,” Untold said, frowning. “It’s hard to believe you have this kind of precise intel on hand like this. How accurate is it, given you’ve already admitted to changing something?”

Mongoose knowing about Gradient shouldn’t change anything Epilogue did; they were entirely unconnected.

“It’s accurate,” Loren said firmly.

“We don’t have anyone who can counter Monstrous—and we aren’t sending Seeker in, not after what happened last time.” Alleviate murmured, hand under her chin. “We’d need to reach out, bring someone in from elsewhere. Could we get the idiot from the Pantheon?”

“Alleviate.” Artisan said reproachfully. “Threadbreaker Is not an idiot; he is just young.”

“What happened last time?” Loren interrupted.

“There are very few people who can hurt Monstrous and even less who can actually defend against her attacks—it’s the effect generated by her skin; nothing mundane we’ve found can bypass it.” Alleviate said distractedly. “Threadbreaker is one of the exceptions to bypassing her skin, but he has no defense at all—pretty much a normal human durability-wise.”

Loren could remember Mara’s skin breaking through the hair he had strung up in the subway—it hadn’t even slowed her down. He was having trouble conceiving of something that would be harder to break than something frozen in time. That wasn’t the only way to deal with an invincible or undamageable enemy, though—he’d kicked enough enemies and NPC’s off cliffs in video games to know that.

“Monstrous tends to hang back in most engagements, rarely getting involved in the fighting, so our standard procedure for dealing with her is to remove her from the battlefield,” Untold said calmly, “Seeker is capable of teleporting others, and it’s proved somewhat effective to have him drop her somewhere outside of the city—that’s no longer an option now.”

“They found some way to stop Seeker from teleporting her?” Loren murmured.

“Yes, and she tore off his arm at the shoulder before he managed to get away—we had to grow a new one to replace it.” Alleviate said, tapping her finger on a picture. “How did you get so much information on Taker? The most we’ve seen of that one is when Deceitful sent us the video of Saltwall City’s mayor.”

Loren did his best not to imagine what that video might have contained.


Some of the commission character artwork is now up on the wiki;
Rapid Response TeamOgreOutplayedSparkliteWildcard.
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