Hero HQ, Setalite City, 6:47 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
“He never had any problems using the equipment; my guess is that he is either a doctor of some kind or a has the skills of one.” Haunt said. “Seemed to lack the Hippocratic oath though.”
The joke, delivered in a deadpanned manner, fell flat in the room. The man with the mustache seemed to break out of his thoughts before speaking up.
“It’s far more than what we had before,” he said, nodding. “We need locational data, is there anything in here memories about where their base may be located?”
“Temperature seemed pretty typical of this area,” Haunt pondered, closing her eyes.
“Before the attack occurred, was she thirsty?” Alana interjected. “Hungry? Starving?”
Haunt blinked before tilting her head slightly. Loren tried to follow Alana’s thought pattern—was she trying to gauge how much time had passed between abduction and waking up?
“A little bit hungry? She’d eaten dinner about six hours before she got attacked, and she was drinking wine as well.” Haunt answered. “No water though; she was getting thirsty.”
“If she was only slightly hungry and in need of water,” Alana said simply, “The time between abduction and her waking up could be measure in less than a day. You are the best judge here; based on her levels of hunger and thirst, how much time passed?”
Haunt sat back in her chair and hummed.
“Twelve hours maximum,” Haunt said eventually, “Probably a lot less than that—8 maybe?”
That narrowed down the distance drastically.
“A solid indication that their base of operations is somewhere within a 1000-kilometer radius of Saltwall City.” The mustache man said, nodding.
The fact that Setalite City and Arrot City were both in that radius went unsaid. While they could probably be in a hole in the ground out in the wild, it was more likely they were close to a city—the power requirements for a medical facility could not be trivial.
“Mareke, how can you be sure they didn’t have a teleporter on hand? Or some other type of high-speed travel available?” Untold interjected, “That would have skewered the distance entirely—they are an international group for a reason.”
Loren almost sighed in relief as he finally got the man’s name, and Untold brought up a good point as well.
“Evelyn’s car disappeared at the same time as the abduction and is most likely the method by which Naomi Low transported her. Secondly, Epilogue historically doesn’t go out of their way to target individuals—this was Deceitful acting on her own revenge.” Mareke said flatly before shaking his head. “We’re wasting time now; we have a second captive that may have more pieces of this puzzle—and one that is likely less resistant to your power.”
“Then it is too bad for all of us that I have overused my power today; I have at most a couple of minutes left before I run out of juice. Not nearly enough to get anything substantial out of the other one,” Haunt said blandly. “Besides, subjecting myself to Evelyn’s memories wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, you know.”
Having to witness all of that, even as a second-hand memory, couldn’t have been easy on her.
“Then we move on,” Alleviate said, “What are we doing about tomorrow? We’ve got Paragon handled, but it will tie up Untold, Empress and Seeker.”
That was a lot of heavy hitters being removed from the pool before it had even begun.
“Our opponents are three, Monstrous, Lecture, and Reset,” Alana said calmly, turning her helmet towards Loren for a moment.
Loren ducked her gaze, staring down at the table instead.
“What are they capable of?” Mareke said flatly. “Loren, was it? Since you have inserted yourself in our investigation, you may as well tell us what you know.”
Loren suddenly found it much easier to lift his gaze as an opponent presented itself.
“Fuck off,” Loren said easily, mirroring Haunt because he knew it would draw a reaction. “I’ve been working on this for months, and you’re the one stumbling into my investigation.”
Threadbreaker started laughing, and Mareke’s features blanked at the response, but his gaze remained firmly locked on Loren’s own.
Lanette kicked him in the shin under the table, and he glared at her.
“Everyone already knows what Monstrous can do,” Loren spoke, eventually, “She’s impervious to most forms of damage. I watched her walk-through hair that had been frozen in time, and it snapped against her skin. When Reset tried the same thing, it split his arm down to the shoulder.”
“Gross,” Threadbreaker said, “Did he die?”
“Breaker,” Haunt said, bored, “Just listen.”
Threadbreaker huffed but sat back in his chair again—Alleviate continued to slowly slump down into her chair, clearly wanting to be anywhere but here.
“We will get to Reset in a moment,” Loren nodded, moving back on topic. “Mara has openly expressed that she doesn’t like fighting or killing. Unfortunately, she is willing to do both to assist her ‘friends,’ and she considers Deceitful one of them. The same can most likely be said for the other known factors as well—that being Reset, Lecture, and Taker.”
“So, she will most likely participate in the fighting this time?” Untold frowned, “You don’t have anyone who can stand up to her—Threadbreaker here isn’t going to cut it.”
Threadbreaker looked upset at being called out by one of the most famous heroes in the world.
“I can totally beat her,” Threadbreaker said confidently. “I’ve hit her before.”
Loren wondered if the kid would still have that kind of blind confidence if he had seen what had happened on the train.
He found himself remembering it, the train filled with hands, and faces, Teeth and eyes, and far too many joints, the feeling of his skin being scooped out, his bones parting under her fingertips—Loren shook his head violently, trying to rid himself of the memory and returned to the present.
He found the others watching him, and he swallowed.
“She can reach outwards from any point of her body, in any direction, and I have no idea what her range is. She filled a train car in under a second with thousands of hands, and all of them were just as impervious as she is.” Loren said flatly, “Even if you get close enough to hit her, you’ll be within range of her counterattack, and unless you can teleport or have some kind of super-speed, you’re going to get hit.”
Threadbreaker did not look convinced, but Haunt seemed to be listening. Seeker spoke up.
“I have firsthand experience in this case,” Seeker said, nodding, “Even with the ability to teleport, you are not guaranteed to evade her. I lost my arm that way once already.”
“Yeah,” Threadbreaker said slowly, “Look, I get it. We can do it though, I know it. Last time she didn’t know I could hurt her, so she didn’t try to stop me; that probably won’t happen again. We just need to keep her attention on somebody else—I can hit her from behind before she even knows I’m there. Seeker should come with us, to be the mobility so I can get back out.”
Untold looked a bit unsure about that one because it meant she would be potentially fighting Paragon without her teammate’s assistance. The problem was they were tying up too many of the heavy hitters dealing with Paragon.
Loren fell silent for a moment as the others argued about combinations. They needed to take Paragon out of the equation with the least number of pieces possible, so they had more options against Epilogue.
“Paragon has long since refused to submit himself to sedation of any kind,” Mareke prompted, apparently thinking along the same lines. “Is this still the case?”
“Yes,” Untold said simply. “He won’t do it—the nano bomb incident has only reinforced his stance.”
Then if they couldn’t force him to sleep through it, the next best thing would be to remove him from play entirely.
“Have Secluded bring Paragon into the inner world,” Loren said eventually, “That free’s up everyone else to fight Epilogue.”
Secluded turned to look at him but maintained the silence.
“Secluded is one of the only other theoretical counters we have against Monstrous,” Alana pointed out, not looking in his direction.
Loren stared straight ahead through the three-seat gap between Threadbreaker and Mareke.
“You could get Seeker to ferry you around, picking them all up—” Threadbreaker laughed, “Make them fight Paragon inside you—that would be hilarious.”
There was a beat of silence.
“Yeah,” Secluded said tightly, “Really funny.”
Untold lowered her head to rest on her clasped hands, clearly restraining herself. Haunt reached out and slapped the kid over the back of the head, and he went white, spinning to face her. Loren was starting to figure out why Alleviate didn’t like the kid—holy shit, he couldn’t read a room at all.
“Don’t even think about it!” Threadbreaker said worriedly.
“Behave yourself,” Haunt threatened.
Threadbreaker watched her warily but was sufficiently cowed by the unknown threat, and so Loren answered the rebuttal in turn.
“Secluded has basically the same problem as Threadbreaker; she can’t get close without getting ripped apart,” Loren said quietly, “It is also possible that her power won’t actually work through Mara’s skin in the first place. I witnessed Mara walking around in an area of stopped time like it wasn’t even there… It could work, but if we try it, Secluded would be going in blind, with a fifty percent chance of painful death.”
Alana didn’t respond, and it took him a second to realize why—the earlier argument had rattled her, having what was essentially a stranger tell her all of those things. To know that she was capable of things she had never thought of doing, of killing and everything else he’d unfairly dumped on her.
Her expected counter here would have been to use this loop to determine whether the two powers did interact and then make a better choice the next time. Something the old him would have actively opposed, but now Loren just felt tired. Secluded could make the choice, and he’d learn from it, build on it if it failed.
Loren wondered how much further he could fall.
“Lecture is more simple—short-range vocal body control. If you’re within five meters of her, and you can hear her, it’s too late.” Mareke said eventually after they had exhausted the topic of Monstrous. “Once you’re under the effect, it has a natural lifespan of three hours; we also know that she is able to stack the duration by repeating the command.”
Loren didn’t know that, was there an upper limit? Or could she just repeat a phrase a thousand times?
“She can also cancel the effect,” Loren spoke up, “I was forced to stay still, but her teammate asked her to cancel it.”
“Interesting, but otherwise unactionable information.” Mareke said briskly, “Unless you plan on compelling her to remove the effect—avoiding it entirely is a safer option.”
Loren nodded, not exactly willing to be caught by the woman with the wandering hands a second time.
“A relatively simple method to do so is to wear sound-canceling devices.” Alana continued, “Not something you are usually able to employ when the attack is unexpected, but in this case, we know they will be coming.”
“Fighting without being able to hear isn’t exactly easy either,” Untold added.
“It’s not that hard,” Threadbreaker frowned, watching her. “Untouchable makes everyone practice that all the time.”
“It’s not easy for the untrained,” Untold amended, exasperated. “Not everyone has the same training you do.”
“Oh,” Threadbreaker laughed. “I guess so.”
“Let’s move on,” Mareke said, visibly annoyed. “Tell us about Reset.”
Loren found himself the center of attention again.
“I only fought him briefly,” Loren admitted, “He showed several different unrelated powers, but their mechanism was similar enough to my own to recognize. The overview seems simple enough; He can reset his body to a perfect condition, either on command like he did against Lecture, or automatically on death, and the reset comes with a different power each time.”
“What powers did he showcase during the battle?” Mareke prompted.
“He started our first fight with his whole body on fire, and I attacked him as soon as he got too close.” Loren answered, “I… hit him way too hard; I think I actually killed him.”
Mareke nodded, silently approving the tactic.
“Whether I did or not, his body went blurry for a moment, and then he got back up, perfectly fine—and with an entirely different power.” Loren frowned, thinking about the fight. “He was completely deranged, just running in regardless of the damage he was taking—I’m not sure if that’s his preferred fighting style or I did something to piss him off that I don’t know about.”
“What was the second power he used?” Untold wondered.
“Super strength—he ended up impaling himself on my own power.” Loren answered, “It was pretty obvious by then that he was just going to keep on getting back up, so I tried to retreat—when he resets, anything impaled in him vanishes, so don’t stick your hand inside him or anything.”
Threadbreaker snorted at the phrase, ready to make another interjection but cowered under the haunting look that was sent his way from his white-haired teammate.
“What power did you possess?” Alana said quietly, “Is this erasing aspect of his power conditional in some way?”
“I don’t know for sure. I was controlling my own hair to fight,” Loren answered in turn. “So organic things vanish at least.”
There was a moment of silence before he continued.
“After the hair impaling him vanished, time froze.” Loren frowned, “That’s what I was referring to earlier. The effect was completely indiscriminate. I could see and think, but I couldn’t move—Lecture was frozen in mid-air as well, so it wasn’t just a paralysis effect. He couldn’t get through all the frozen hair, so he had to change powers again.”
“There’s no connection between any of these powers.” Mareke frowned. “Were they effective against you?”
The firepower was probably the most effective, burning the hair away on contact, but he’d had that before the fight had even started.
“I don’t think he was getting powers that countered me if that’s what you’re getting at.” Loren said slowly, “It felt more like it was randomly selected—I might be biased there because that’s how my own power works.”
“Don’t get side-tracked,” Mareke said plainly.
Loren closed his eyes for a moment, both to gather his thoughts and to stop himself from saying something outrageous.
“He blurred again, picking up this horror-movie, blackhole-teeth thing that tried to suck everyone in.” Loren continued, “I managed to knock him down again and escaped the subway. Untold showed up at that point, just in time to save me from the metal-machine tail he’d grown.”
Untold blinked at the sudden attention.
“Don’t look at me,” Untold said, crossing her arms. “I don’t remember any of this crap.”
Loren smiled for a moment before shaking his head.
“After that, Untold killed him several times,” Loren said, nodding, and Untold smirked. “The first power was generating metal pillars and spikes in mass numbers. The second was some kind of… Directional control? Momentum? I’m not sure, he was bouncing around, and anything he touched, he could send in a specific direction at great speed. I got knocked out of the fight after that, so I couldn’t tell you what else he used before I woke up again.”
“He’s easily in S-rank,” Untold said, frowning, “The metal power alone would probably put him there, without even considering the time stop.”
“Yes,” Mareke said slowly, “The time stop is particularly concerning—you said Monstrous was walking around under its effect?”
“We have nothing to counter that combination.” Mareke said gravely, “He could freeze everyone, and Monstrous would be free to pick us off one, by one.”
“If the powers are truly random,” Alana spoke up, “It is extremely unlikely that he will get any of those powers again. Loren’s own ability is enough proof of that.”
Loren scrutinized that thought for a moment—his own power had yet to pick one he’d already had, so it was possible that Reset would get a different power every single time, even compared to the previous loops.
“So, we either enter the battle with the knowledge that we cannot beat that combination of powers,” Lanette piped up for the first time, “Or we enter without the knowledge of what he will use at all—are we fucked?”
Loren kicked her in the shin, purely out of revenge.
“Don’t swear,” Loren said seriously. “You’re making the Hero HQ look bad in front of our international allies.”
“Precisely,” Mareke echoed, “Show some professionalism.”
Raindancer glared at him, and he did his best to keep the smirk off his face.
“The obvious solution is to remove one of the two from the battlefield before they have a chance to use that kind of synergy,” Alana spoke to move the conversation back on track. “Unfortunately, both of them are the hardest ones to contain.”
“Reset could eventually hit on something that would let him escape any kind of containment we come up with,” Loren nodded in agreement, still not looking at her. “Monstrous will just walk straight through it—if it works on her at all.”
“Then we must use methods other than direct combat to achieve our ends.” Seeker said, voice calm and soothing. “If we cannot directly contain or defeat an enemy, we must distract, divert or mislead.”
“Well said,” Mareke said, looking impressed. “The question is, what do we have at our disposal, that would interest Monstrous or Reset enough to distract them from their goals?”
Loren had a feeling that he knew exactly where this was going.
Sorry for the late upload my dudes, rough day. 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 65 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.