Setalite City Hero HQ, 9:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022.
Loren was the first to return to the meeting room, feeling both out of place while walking around the HQ and having little to contribute in the way of investigating that the others couldn’t. It didn’t help that the cracks were beginning to show, as each of the heroes had begun sniping at each other.
He sat down at the table and placed his head against the dark, reflective material of the tabletop.
The fractured nature of the group was almost entirely his fault—all of the discontents stemmed from the decision to report Dovetail at the start of the loop. Within two hours of being reported, the man was locked in a cell below the HQ, and his team was hit with the first stress point as a long-time member came under scrutiny for planning a cold-blooded murder. A wedge had formed between them—Secluded, Tag, and Fracture had banded together in support of the decision, while Raindancer, and Gradient, opposed it.
The second stress point was revealing what he knew to Mongoose—that had obviously caused a rift between her and Gradient, but further than that, it had resulted in the creation of an Anti-Gradient faction within the Rapid Response Team.
Secluded was clearly aware of what happened between Mongoose and Gradient, given her comments at the previous meeting, and it was entirely unlikely that the others hadn’t found out either, whether from that comment alone or by the fact that Mongoose had apparently left the team.
Those two things had contributed to the current configuration of the loop, and he wondered if there was anything he could do to improve it. Obviously, he could just not tell Mongoose about Gradient, as disgusting as the thought was, if it helped them survive the week…
The alternative and somehow even less attractive of the two options was to not report Dovetail—a terrible choice to make, but there were other ways to handle it. He could advise Alana not to bring him in initially and instead attempt to blackmail the man into inaction, leaving him in a state of not committing murder but also being around to assist his team in the coming fights.
Loren was hesitant to try that for obvious reasons, not the least of which was the moral implications for both of them and the fact that Dovetail would avoid punishment in the process—something that kind of pissed him off, given how the man had acted towards him in the previous loops.
He wasn’t sure what he would do exactly, but it was something to think about later. The main issue for now was—the door opened, and he glanced up.
“He’s nowhere in the building,” Raindancer said, moving to sit at the table. “No sign that he was in that hallway at all actually—the equipment that was on camera is still locked away in the closet, untouched.”
Loren listened quietly and nodded.
“His power clearly isn’t defensive immunity to other powers than,” Loren said in response.
“Yeah,” Raindancer said, “Doesn’t make sense anymore, given what we know.”
“I was thinking about it,” Loren mumbled. “He knew exactly when to disappear to avoid a confrontation, and now we find out that he was never in that hallway to begin with.”
“Mm,” Raindancer said, encouraging him to continue. “I’m listening,”
“Let me think for a minute,” Loren requested, leaning forward onto his elbows and closing his eyes.
“Did you forget to turn your brain on?” Raindancer said, amused. “I hope that’s not a reoccurring problem.”
Loren blew a huff of air out of his nose before turning his thoughts inward.
It was a matter of strategy and desire—People only ever did things they wanted to do or things they received some kind of benefit from doing. So it was a matter of simulating what a person might want or do in a situation.
‘Mathew the Leak’ wanted to mislead them, he wanted to gather information, and he wanted to avoid being caught.
Somehow Mathew had learned that they were going to attempt to apprehend him—Loren’s first thought had been directed, perhaps uncharitably, towards Secluded and Tag having something to do with it. Given their spirited defense of the man, it wasn’t impossible that either of them had warned him in advance.
That thought had changed over the next hour as some of the facts made their way back to him.
Mathew had drawn their eye to a specific part of the building and concealed his real location in the process—well enough to avoid being picked up on a camera in the building or the surrounding ones. He’d somehow known they were watching him in real-time and dropped the fake scene in the hallway the very second they’d gone after him.
Mathew could mess with what they saw, heard, and felt; that much was obvious—the cart had rattled when it was pulled to the side, the wheels failing to catch on the slippery floor; Touch, sound, and visual elements were present. Yet the water had vanished along with the rest of the equipment, which had apparently never left its place in a locked room. So the question was, where was Mathew while they were watching the empty hallway?
Loren knew where he would have been.
“He was in the room with us,” Loren said slowly, opening his eyes. “That’s how he knew what was happening—he was using his power to make us think he was on the other side of the building, but he was here listening to everything that was said.”
Raindancer sat up, alarmed, pressing her finger against her earpiece.
“Wraith, timeguy says Mathew was in the room with us during the meeting, be advised he could still be around,” Raindancer said seriously. “What? You could have shared that with us already—”
Loren turned his attention to the room as Raindancer complained about Alana’s tendency not to share her deductions. If he was right, it was entirely possible that Mathew was still here, or at least still in the building.
Having a couple of hundred invisible hands right now would make him feel a lot safer.
“Anything else I should be passing on?” Raindancer said, annoyed, hand still to her ear. “You both seem to have a theory on his power—Somebody share it with me?”
Loren hummed quietly to himself, figures that Alana had already worked it out. There had been a furious discussion after he’d first vanished about the nature of his power, and the common theme spoke aloud had been some kind of teleportation due to his abrupt disappearance, but it hadn’t fit properly.
Alana hadn’t mentioned her own theory then either.
“He created a fake but physical scene that worked both in-person and via a camera—either he’s messing with anyone that looks at him and causing some kind of guided hallucination, or he’s leaving a multi-layered illusion over an area before leaving.” Loren said, frowning, “If it’s the first, he could go literally anywhere, and nobody would be able to ever tell because they would fall under the effect as soon as they saw him. The second is probably better for us, so let’s hope it’s that.”
“Why would it be better?” Raindancer prompted. “Not you! I’m talking to timeguy. You had your chance to share with the class.”
Loren could almost imagine Alana’s sad face under the helmet.
“A passive effect doesn’t require him to know that we’re looking for him, and we would get caught in the effect even if we snuck up on him,” Loren murmured before looking up at the ceiling. “I’m not even sure how you could get around that without a power that directly countered it somehow… Scratch that, we could make a big deal out of something secret and lure him to a building that will lockdown after a certain amount of time; once he’s inside, we fill it with gas.”
Raindancer stared at him silently, but he was lost to himself for the moment.
“The multi-layered illusions, on the other hand, would be an active ability that he has to be aware enough of a threat to use,” Loren nodded to himself. “It would still depend on how paranoid he is—if he’s walking around and constantly dropping new illusion fields, it would be difficult but not impossible for one of you to gank him with those annoying darts that Wraith uses.”
“Did you get all that?” Raindancer said, talking to Wraith over the earpiece. “Yeah. How long? Tag didn’t even back us up over the Dovetail thing, you sure you want to trust her with this? I can do it.”
Raindancer removed her hand from her ear.
“I’m on timeguy guard duty until tomorrow,” Raindancer said like she hadn’t just twisted Wraith’s bracers.
“That’s not my name,” Loren said dryly, “Lanette.”
“Doxxed by my comrades, at my own workplace no less,” Raindancer said sadly, “Never thought I’d see the day. Lucky for me, there’s about seventy-three Lanette’s in the phone book—I already checked.”
“I already knew your name long before that,” Loren pointed out, “I was stuck in a cell next to your brother Darius once—had a front-row seat to you breaking him out.”
Lanette looked taken aback as he dropped her brother’s name.
“I don’t have a brother—and for the record, I absolutely would never break a villain out, regardless of their relationship to myself,” Lanette said quickly before swallowing. “Okay, I’m starting to realize that you are a lot more dangerous than I first thought—Loren.”
Loren decided to keep the fact that she was also responsible for killing both him and Emma when she flooded the building under wraps. Instead, he decided on a more lighthearted comment.
“I think that’s how Darius Felt,” Loren said dryly, shattering the last of her false courage. “When you gave him the step-bro treatment in front of his teammates.”
Loren patted himself on the back as her expression turned alarmed once more.
“The fact that I had to wake you up speaks volumes of your ability as a bodyguard,” Loren said, amused.
“I’m a light sleeper.” Lanette insisted solemnly. “I would have been up in half a second if anyone tried anything.”
Loren just shook his head.
“So the snoring was just a show to lure an attacker into a false sense of security?” Loren mumbled.
“Exactly,” Lanette agreed.
His attention had fallen back to the handheld monitor Artisan had given him—a series of small drones were streaming a feed to the device in a rotating sequence. He swapped back to the camera that showed a bunch of kids messing around in the nearby park. One girl, shorter than the rest, was trying to join in but was being mostly ignored by the others, while a few adults paid the minimum required attention to the scene.
Eventually, her persistent nature turned the irritation of the other kids into anger, and one of the larger girls pushed her to the ground. Loren found himself watching it on edge, knowing that the girl on the ground was Naomi Low in disguise, and if any of the children had known, they would have run screaming from the park.
A woman that Loren identified as Kallin Dale—the same woman that Naomi would go on to ruthlessly torture and kill—walked past carrying a grocery bag in hand and paused when she spotted the group of children surrounding the downed girl. The parents that had been nearby moved to intercept the group around the same time that Kallin did, and soon the group was dispersed, leaving Kallin alone with the short girl.
They spoke to each other at the edge of the park, Kallin looking concerned before Naomi took her hand, and they left. Loren felt sick watching, knowing that the woman whose only sin was helping a small child walked towards her gruesome death, completely unaware. He switches camera feeds as they left the stationary drone’s field of view and tracked them as they moved towards the Dale residence.
Loren switched cameras until he found the one in the sewers, unnaturally bright and clear given the location—some kind of solution Artisan had come up with to see in the dark. This drone was moving, slowly creeping through the dark, and he could just see the top of Untold’s head at the bottom of the frame—something inhumanly tall strode past ahead of her, gone too quickly to be identified. An alert flashed at the bottom of the monitor, followed by a beep. An overlay appeared, showing a series of yellow dots and a single red one all moving through a labyrinth of transparent blue walls.
“They found Taker,” Lanette said, far more seriously now.
The camera lagged behind as Untold sped up, and before it had even turned the corner, there was a small vibration beneath them. The camera showed Taker on the ground, with each of Untold’s limbs pinning the much taller woman’s own to the ground in a full mount.
There was a moment when it looked like it was already over, and then the two of them blurred—something clipped the camera, sending it spinning away once it had regained control and reorientated itself on its position, there nothing to see, as the ceiling had collapsed.
The comms lit up, and voices started making callouts rapidly.
“Taker is topside; she’s headed further into the city.” Untold grunted, sounding muffled. “I’m down; she managed to bite me—Seeker, pull me out once you’ve wrapped things up.”
“Understood,” Seeker’s calm voice said. “Artisan?”
“Follow the plan.” Artisan said evenly. “I’ll intercept Taker.”
Loren switched camera feeds again until he found Artisans assigned drone; the man was standing in the middle of the street, hands at his sides, looking unconcerned.
“Wraith?” Lanette said into her own comms. “Want us to assist him?”
“No, stay off the field. We are moving on Deceitful now,” Wraith said calmly, “Radio silence, please. Seeker?”
“We are ready.” Seeker said calmly.
Takers form appeared on Artisan’s drone, silently landing on a removalist truck at the end of the street. Two seconds passed as the two stared at each other, and then Taker vanished. The front half of the truck crunched downwards as she kicked off it before reappeared directly in the air in front of him, crouched on something invisible.
The invisible object flickered once, and a tall humanoid figure made from a smooth silver material appeared. An instant later, some kind of forcefield washed down over it again, removing it from sight once more.
Taker was thrown backward, but she kicked her legs up, arcing into a perfect somersault and landing on the road lightly. She turned to look out of frame for a second before something shattered the road beside her and then impacted on her face, sending her tumbling to the side.
The drone moved higher to show more of the street—Taker blurred, and a silver humanoid flashed back into existence before vanishing again, and once more, Taker was hit from the opposite side by something invisible.
“There’s more than one of them,” Loren said in understanding.
Each time the automaton’s appeared, they were perfectly unharmed, and Loren frowned as he tried to figure out what was happening. Was it the invisibility field? It was being canceled every single time they were hit, but the attacks weren’t going through?
Taker seemed to come to the same conclusion; after she managed another hit on one of them, she went after the visible form before it could vanish once more, and she managed two consecutive hits on it before she was intercepted by the others. The invisibility field came down again, but now two sets of claw marks marred the surface of its armored form.
“Taker has discovered a winning strategy,” Artisan said calmly, “Status?”
An automaton landed an invisible attack on the back of Taker’s thin leg, pressing down and shattering the tarmac around them before it was hurled away, missing a leg.
“Still paralyzed,” Untold said, bored. “Hope someone comes and digs me out soon.”
Taker spun suddenly, claws outwards, and three of the automatons appeared, reaching for her. One of them lost its arm, shoulder, and entire lower half as she turned the spin into a downward kick that ended up buried in the road.
“I have Deceitful contained,” Wraith said immediately. “Kallin Dale is safe and has been removed from the battlefield.”
The other two automatons vanished again, and Taker stumbled backward from a strike to her torso before dragging her foot backward and stomping downwards—the one with the missing leg appeared, impaled on her leg and its hand wrapped around her thin ankle.
“Secluded and I are ready to assist,” Seeker said calmly. “On your call.”
The remaining two automatons went down soon after before Taker turned her attention on Artisan. She almost made it to his position before she stopped in mid-air again, and her arms were pulled out to each side.
“Seeker.” Artisan said calmly.
Taker ripped her arms free of the invisible restraints as Seeker, and his passenger appeared on the feed directly behind her. Taker vanished, leaving Secluded standing with her hand outstretched as the now broken silver cables fell to the ground around them.
“I’ve got Taker,” Secluded said, sounding subdued.
“Holy shit,” Lanette said, surprised. “We actually did it?”
“I don’t think we did anything,” Loren commented.
Loren switched through the feeds until he found the one where Untold was still buried and was just in time to watch as the debris started to float upwards and out of sight. The drone followed Untold as she was raised out of the hole and into the light. Seeker’s tall form spent a moment creating a raised barrier around the hole in the road with the debris before the two of them vanished.
“Our objective is complete,” Artisan said calmly. “Wraith?”
“Regroup at the HQ,” Wraith responded. “The cells are ready, but we have no restraints capable of holding Taker for long should she prove persistent; Any assistance you can provide towards that end will be invaluable.”
“Of course.” Artisan agreed.
Chapter 60! We’re getting close to the end of season 2, which probably lands about chapter 70ish, give or take a few chapters. Were also at 180k words, which always blows my mind every time I see it. After this, we’re onto the final season. If you’re enjoying reading Reroll so far, leave a review, comment, or check out some of my other stories and do the same!
Reroll – Chapter 62 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.