Setalite City Hero HQ, 4:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
“Iteration,” Alana interjected, “We have refined our strategies against them several times already, across multiple loops, and have eventually been able to capture both Taker and Deceitful—at least for a time.”
Loren nodded; that had indeed been how they’d gotten it.
“That’s where the bigger problem begins,” Loren said, “The rest of Epilogue finds out they’ve been captured and sends a rescue party.”
Untold frowned down at the folder as Artisan drew their attention.
“You’ve circled the train station—” Artisan indicated the spot in question, “Reset, Monstrous, and Lecture were all present. Taker and Deceitful were in the HQ’s custody at this point in time.”
“Yeah,” Loren answered.
“Are we to understand it was Tiamat and The Researcher who freed them?” Artisan prompted.
Loren didn’t know; he’d lost track of several of the members during the fighting. Monstrous had vanished, and the last he’d seen of Lecture was in the subway.
“It’s possible,” Loren admitted, “It might have been Lecture or Monstrous though because both of them vanished while Untold was fighting Reset. Taker and Deceitful were present what had to be only a few minutes later.”
“They were drawn there to find Monstrous; I know that.” Loren continued, “They’d been looking for her for an unknown period of time. So they must find out about what happens to Taker and Deceitful sometime before 7:00 AM.”
There was a beat as they considered the information.
“A missed check-in of some sort,” Alana said calmly, “While Lecture is only capable of physical feats a normal person could accomplish, it’s still possible for her to have made it to the HQ within a range of three minutes.”
“Definitely seems possible,” Untold agreed, expression turning chilly as she read through the last couple of pages. “It’s only a couple of blocks away, and Monstrous could very well have done it in a handful of seconds—longer if she kept to her history of avoiding ‘uneccesary’ deaths.”
Loren dipped his head fractionally to avert his eyes.
“There is little way to decipher who the culprit was in advance,” Artisan said simply, “We can organize a plan to include combating each member and use Seeker to deliver the correct counter to the matching location once we determine it. Shall we table this for now?”
“Simply and clean,” Fracture murmured to himself, loud enough to be heard by the others.
It seemed like Artisan was more interested in the second topic of consideration—and he wasn’t the only one.
“What the hell is this about Paragon?” Untold said, spinning the folder around to show them a block of text. “This is why you didn’t want him here?”
“It’s the most likely possibility given what we know of the situation,” Alana said evenly, “In summary, the Paragon that is walking around is a fake, and his expiration date is around 12:00 PM, Thursday.”
The three members of the Peacekeepers were silent, and tension was weaving its way through the room.
“Why does it still have his powers?” Alleviate said, frowning. “I saw him this morning; his aura is still there—he can fly too.”
“I sparred with him yesterday,” Untold managed, clearly upset. “His strength and speed are unchanged.”
“He still has his powers right up until he melts into a puddle,” Loren said quietly, unwilling to soften the blow. “I watched you and Seeker try and contain him right until the end; you watched it happen.”
“I didn’t watch anything,” Untold shot back, temper rising.
Loren fell silent, not willing to push her any further.
“The nano bomb that was located inside Paragon was functionally inoperable after I gained access to the remote. I was monitoring it the entire time, and we had access to the device itself after his demise.” Alana said into the silence, “My alter has listed the devices described effects, and they do not in any way match Paragon’s liquefication—we know that someone else was responsible.”
Untold flinched at the word ‘liquefication,’ no doubt picturing the man’s horrific end.
“You would have mentioned if there was a weapon or device on-site that could have done such a thing.” Artisan prompted.
“There was nothing, and from what I have understood, you were the one investigating,” Alana said, nodding, and Artisan dipped his head for a moment. “The process wasn’t a fast one, it took several minutes, and the effects weren’t evenly distributed across his body.”
Artisan glanced over at him, and Loren spoke up again.
“At first, he doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. He’s more confused than angry, and he kept asking why he was still ‘here,’” Loren said, frowning. “It was like he expected the bomb to go off—he was waiting for it, and when it didn’t kill him….”
“Why did you decide he was a fake?” Untold said quietly; her eyes were closed. “Why not brainwashed?”
“Brainwashed would explain the confusion, but not the damage. There are not that many people who could cause this level of damage to Paragon,” Artisan interjected, “There was nobody present who could have destroyed his body in this way, and nobody that we currently know could do this and keep up with Paragon’s physical capabilities in a mobile fight. Therefore the effect didn’t come from an external source; it came from inside him. We know it wasn’t from the nano bomb. Thus it came from Paragon’s body.”
“That was the chain of logic we used to arrive there,” Alana said calmly.
That was the logic she had used—Loren had fallen into the answer, intuited it from the information she was focusing on, her tone, and the direction of the discussion.
“There wasn’t anything else in his body?” Alleviate said, attacking the obvious hole in the theory.
Alana didn’t even twitch.
“We determined there were no foreign bodies in his remains that could have done this,” Alana said seriously, “When was the last time you did a medical check-up on Paragon?”
Alleviate slumped back into her chair and threaded her fingers upwards into her hair in thought.
“Two weeks ago,” Artisan answered for her, getting an annoyed glance from the woman in question.
“Yeah,” Alleviate frowned, “There was nothing to show he wasn’t the same as always.”
“Would you be able to tell if he was a perfect duplicate?” Alana said.
“That’s a loaded question,” Alleviate said carelessly, “If he’s a perfect duplicate, then nobody would be able to tell.”
Alana paused for a moment, nonplussed.
“If we can’t tell if he is a fake by a medical check-up,” Loren said slowly, “Then we should attack this from an unexpected angle—Artisan, something like this would take time to do, right? Was there ever a time where Paragon was out of contact for a long time?”
Artisan turned to watch him again.
“Several,” Artisan said, “If we could determine a method to date this more accurately, I could give you a more precise answer.”
“What was the most recent?” Fracture said, speaking up for the first time.
“A month ago,” Artisan said easily, “January 6th to January 9th. He didn’t check in at all during that period.”
“January 6th?” Untold said, frowning, “Didn’t we have a meeting the day before that?”
“Yes,” Artisan said simply.
“Disappearing the day after a meeting he would be expected to attend,” Alana said pointedly, “That’s suspicious on its own. If he was somehow abducted, as ludicrous as the idea of such a thing happening to Paragon is, that timing speaks volumes.”
Loren was watching Untold as the woman grew more and more upset. He couldn’t help but remember her screaming for Julian as the man fell apart.
“You’re trying to tell us that we spent over a month with some kind of fake,” Untold said, tensed. “All the while, Paragon was already rotting in the ground?”
“Untold,” Artisan murmured, “He may still be alive—”
“Don’t—just… don’t,” Untold said tersely, leaning heavily on the table. “Who did this?”
That was the question of the day—Loren wished he had an answer for her.
“Unknown,” Alana said clearly, “The obvious candidate would be Epilogue, given that Deceitful apparently had close enough contact with him to place the nano bomb inside of him.”
“That seems rather clear then.” Alleviate frowned.
“Why would you assassinate someone on the same day they were already going to be killed?” Loren said, pointing out the problem.
“You don’t think she’s simply trying to ensure she is the one who gets his powers?” Alleviate countered. “She has to be the one to kill him for that to happen.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Artisan said calmly, “If it was Epilogue that is responsible and they had access to Paragon for long enough to make a duplicate, why wouldn’t they just let Deceitful kill the original? Or make another duplicate for her to kill? Why would she wait until the speech and risk it all going wrong?”
“She’s known for these public attacks,” Fracture said hesitantly.
“If they had Paragon at their mercy,” Loren said, “There is no reason they couldn’t do both of those, let her get the powers from the original, and then perform the live execution on the clone.”
Untold took a deep breath, attempting to keep herself calm.
“While we do not know what the reasons are, it is possible that Epilogue could have done this,” Alana said calmly, “We do not have a good idea of what Tiamat or The Researcher is truly capable of, but we do know they are capable of creating something like Taker—that level of bioengineering indicates they have the potential skillset to accomplish this.”
“We need to capture one of them, find out if they know anything about it.” Loren murmured, “Either Tiamat or The Researcher.”
“We don’t know where they are—It’s more prudent to target one of the others and retrieve the location from them,” Untold said in agreement, finally having somewhere to direct her anger. “Deceitful and Taker are the best targets given how much you know about their future location; we will assist you.”
“How do you propose we get the information out of them?” Alleviate said, frowning.
“We were already considered bringing in Threadbreaker,” Artisan pointed out, “We can source Haunt for that task—”
“Can’t we find someone else?” Alleviate pleaded. “Why does it have to be those two?”
Alleviate pointed to the sign on the roof, and Loren turned with her when she stepped around the corner.
“We really haven’t spoken before?” Alleviate wondered.
“No,” Loren admitted. “It’s only been the last couple of loops where I’ve been able to work with your group at all.”
“Who haven’t you met yet?” Alleviate said curiously.
“Trendsetter is the only one left.” Loren nodded.
“Figures,” Alleviate rolled her eyes, “He’s too busy to be a hero half the time, at least that’s how he tells it.”
Loren appreciated how easy-going the woman was.
“How long have you been working with the Peacekeepers?” Loren asked in return.
“Uh.” Alleviate nodded her head about for a moment, “Six years? They offered me a spot after I uncrushed Artisans legs.”
Loren cringed at the mental image, thinking about Mark lying dead in the seat of his car and how the crash had savaged his legs. He shook his head and forced the thought away.
“Ah, I see,” Loren said quietly.
The journey to the room was a bit more subdued after that, but Alleviate didn’t seem to pick up on it.
“This is it?” Alleviate wondered, watching him.
“Yeah,” Loren said hesitantly. “Should I wait out here?”
The HQ had multiple facilities inside it, and one of the floors had its own medical wing. Privacy was a big concern for most heroes, and having their information on file at public hospitals had caused problems in the past.
“Nah,” Alleviate said simply, knocking on the door.
“It’s unlocked,” Iza’s voice came out muffled.
Loren couldn’t help but notice that she sounded tense—it was easy to forget that she had only been brought here this morning. Alleviate opened the door and stepped inside, and Loren spotted Iza sitting on the bed opposite the door.
Iza stared at him with wide eyes, and he swallowed, forcing himself not to step out of sight.
“When Wraith said you were here, I didn’t believe it,” Iza admitted, studying him before glancing at the other person present. “You’re from the Peacekeepers…”
“Yeah,” Alleviate said, bemused, “Is that a problem?”
Iza glanced at him again, and he shook his head, trying to indicate that she wasn’t aware of her identity. Loren forced himself to step inside once the silence stretched and shut the door behind him.
“She’s just amazed to be in the presence of such a famous hero,” Loren said lightly.
“Yeah.” Iza said slowly, “What he said.”
Alleviate looked between them several times.
“Well, that wasn’t suspicious at all—whatever,” Alleviate said, taking the visitor’s seat. “Let’s have a look at you both then—try not to move around.”
Loren leaned against the door and watched as small glowing bubbles began to rise from her hands into the air. They moved quickly, floating towards Iza, who stared at them as they collected against the skin of her arm.
“That’s a strange power,” Loren said curiously. “Are they made of water?”
“They aren’t actual bubbles,” Alleviate said easily, “It’s a super-thin forcefield, I get feedback from them, and whatever they intersect, I can mess with.”
The bubbles resting against Iza’s skin started to merge together into larger lumps before retreating from her hands and moving up towards her shoulders.
“I’m not sure I like the sound of ‘mess with,’” Iza murmured, still watching Loren.
Loren watched the bubbles move up her neck to her face, and Iza blinked rapidly as they pressed into the front of her face. The rest of the bubbles changed direction, heading for her head and collecting into a single large bubble around it.
“Found it,” Alleviate said curiously, “It feels completely natural like it was there all along—like it’s supposed to be there. I suppose that’s why none of the others could find it?”
“What do you mean none of the others?” Iza said, frowning now. “I only met Wraith today.”
“Whoops,” Alleviate said distractedly. “Forgot you weren’t in on the secret.”
Loren stared at her in disbelief—one of the most famous heroes in the world was a complete airhead.
“Fast version,” Loren sighed, “I’m stuck in a time loop, I’ve been sending Wraith to bring you here every time, and we send a new healer to try and fix you each loop. We haven’t had much luck with the fixing you part, but we found out what the problem is.”
Iza returned to staring at him again.
“And?” Iza said quietly. “Why can’t I sleep at night? Why does everything I do remind me of you? Why are you stuck in me?”
“Broadly speaking, your brain has been changed,” Alleviate admitted, “Pretty boy over here apparently gives off a scent that attracts women and repels men—you’ve been made extremely susceptible to it.”
Iza watched him like a hawk.
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Loren murmured. “My power changes every time I die, and that day at school, I had that power—I didn’t even know what had happened at the time.”
“Why now?” Iza said, a hand fisted in the bedsheet.
“I ran into you recently by accident,” Loren admitted, “Thought I was having a nightmare for a minute—we talked, and I found out what I’d done.”
“Can you fix it?” Iza murmured.
“I already have,” Alleviate said, “I got distracted trying to work out your power—something to do with size control?”
Loren leaned forward in alarm, but Iza didn’t move.
“Yeah, I can control my size—It didn’t work,” Iza said tiredly, staring at him. “I’m still thinking about him.”
“It did work,” Alleviate denied, “Look—he’s standing in the room with you. You’ve spent almost a decade thinking about him constantly; it’s expected to be a bit preoccupied thinking about him. You’ve cataloged and associated hundreds of things that remind you of him. Your thoughts are a mess, and it’s all tangled up. That’s not something I can fix—you’ll have to figure that part out yourself.”
“Will I be able to sleep?” Iza muttered.
“Yes, although you should stop taking so many sleeping pills,” Alleviate said easily before turning her gaze on him. “Your turn.”
Loren remained where he was as the bubbles began swarming him—they didn’t feel like much at all. There was a small pressure, but with was without pain or distinct sensation—the pressure moving under his skin was even harder to discern.
“You want me to leave or something?” Iza mumbled.
“No, you should stick around.”Loren said quietly, “Wraith said they would send an actual doctor in when we’re done to give you a proper check-up.”
Iza nodded slowly.
“Loren, your body is weird,” Alleviate said, frowning. “There’s some kind of complex energy system—it’s not attached to anything, it feels like it’s only partially here, and it’s overlapping—well, everything.”
The latticework of energy inside him—Loren knew what she was referring to; he had a faint impression of it.
“My power this loop is copying any movements that I see and then being able to use them afterward—as long as it’s physically possible for me to do, anyway,” Loren said, poking one of the bubbles. “That energy field is probably what’s responsible for copying the movements—”
Alleviate sent more bubbles into his eyes, and he blinked at the bizarre feeling.
“No, there’s a higher concentration of energy behind your eyes,” Alleviate interrupted, “That’s what does the copying; the energy field in your body is the mechanism that’s storing the information.”
Loren couldn’t help but be annoyed that she had a better idea of how his power worked than he did.
Pretty rough week overall, but we made it my dudes. Enjoy. First of the month is coming up, so if you do plan on supporting via Patreon, wait until the month is over to avoid getting charged for May and June.
Some of the commission character artwork is now up on the wiki; Rapid Response Team, Ogre, Outplayed, Sparklite, Wildcard. So go check it out. Discord roles for Reroll now available for Patrons as well.
Reroll – Chapter 60 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.