Hero HQ, Setalite City, 7:37 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
Surprisingly, the group’s first solution had nothing to do with him—and it made him wonder if his ego hadn’t experienced an abnormal growth without him noticing. He’d expected them to suggest using him as bait, much like Alana had with the Deceitful situation.
“You could tell Mara we have her parents here, and they want to meet with her.” Haunt offered blandly. “We know that they’re still alive after all.”
Loren found himself frowning at the suggestion.
“Unless we seek to actually contact her family, and involve them in this situation, let’s stay away from making any false claims.” Seeker said calmly, “It could only end badly if she were to discover that we were using her family to mislead her.”
Mareke didn’t seem like the kind of person to be that concerned with the feelings of an international killer, but Seeker appeared to have a hard stance on family.
“We’ll put it down as option two then,” Mareke said briskly, “If we do intend to go with that idea; We’ll have Seeker fetch them before the battle begins. Any more suggestions?”
Loren noted that Alana was looking at him.
It took him a long moment to realize what she was avoiding saying—and then he sighed. He’d never seen her this restrained before—and he honestly didn’t like it. It was like he had shackled her ability to function at her normal level, too busy trying to consider his own feelings.
Loren spoke up.
“I have a history with Mara,” Loren said quietly, “I could attempt to lure her away.”
“How?” Mareke demanded. “You’ve already described how badly that went the last time you attempted to make contact with her.”
“Loren’s goal was different then,” Alana answered, “He was trying to establish whether or not he had adversely affected the timeline and if she could be recruited away from Epilogue.”
Mareke frowned but accepted it, nodding for Loren to continue.
“Mara has her phone off when Reset and Lecture are trying to contact her, and there is enough time to ask her to follow me elsewhere,” Loren said, thinking about the variables. “Reset and Lecture are scouring the city for her—it’s possible I’ll be spotted with her at some point or more simply that she turns her phone back on.”
“Where the hell could you safely take Mara Melancholia?” Untold said, shaking her head. “This sounds like a really bad idea.”
“She’s already in the city,” Secluded said, rejoining the conversation. “It’s not like moving her a couple of blocks away would drastically change the risks involved.”
“Population density is a consideration,” Mareke corrected, “Moving her to a less populated area could actually lower the risks or at least the amount of people immediately exposed to that risk.”
“I don’t think I could get her to follow me into the suburbs or something. That would be a strange request and highly suspicious.” Loren said slowly, considering. “I can definitely get her to follow me out of the subway.”
“Splitting the enemy forces is an advantage worth considering even without lowering the risks,” Alana spoke. “Fighting Reset and Lecture as individuals is a far more manageable task than together—doubly so when Monstrous is involved.”
Mareke seemed to be considering it, and Loren decided to just ask.
“Who are you anyway?” Loren said, frowning, “I’ve never met you before—not even in the other loops.”
Raindancer kicked him again, but it seemed more opportunistic than an actual reprimand.
“Mareke Safar, Deployment and Structure Officer for the Hero HQ,” Mareke said, frowning. “I’m in control of the teams, the rosters, and deployment for all the heroes at the Setalite branch.”
Loren flinched at the title before he managed to force the feelings associated with it away entirely—that explained why everybody was deferring to the man so heavily, but it still seemed weird for his sudden inclusion here, especially considering he’d never showed up in the past.
“This is the first time you’ve been in one of these meetings,” Loren said eventually, voice flat.
“My presence here is something we will be discussing outside of this meeting,” Mareke said seriously.
Loren’s eyes narrowed at the man, bristling at Mareke’s attempt at holding some kind of authority over him. Before he could tell the man that he would consider it, Untold spoke up.
“If we follow through on that idea,” Untold pushed them back on topic, “How do we split up the other two?”
Loren let it go and focused on the question.
“We don’t need to really split them up because they arrived separately,” Loren said frowning, “Lecture found us at the subway first and then used her phone to call Reset to our location.”
“How long did it take Reset to arrive?” Seeker asked.
“A couple of minutes,” Loren frowned, “He must have been close by.”
Loren remained seated as most of those present started to leave in preparation for tomorrow.
Eventually, the door was closed, and until only Wraith, Raindancer, Secluded, Fracture, Tag, and Mareke remained. It had become pretty obvious what Mareke had wanted to discuss, given who stayed in the room and that Loren had been included.
None of the other heroes were speaking to each other, seemingly even more restrained with their boss in the room now that their allies had left.
“Is this the first time we’ve had this discussion?” Mareke asked, frowning.
“I already told you, I’ve never ever met you before today,” Loren sighed. “I think I know what it’s about, though—look, I’m not trying to destroy the Rapid Response Team.”
“I have my doubts,” Mareke said immediately. “In less than two days, we’ve lost three members, and the rest have lost all sense of cohesion—how exactly did this occur?”
Raindancer tapped her foot against his shin, and Loren closed his eyes for a moment, doing his best to avoid going nuclear right off the bat.
“I’m not one of your employees, Mareke.” Loren said tightly, “Keep that in mind—if you want me to tell you anything.”
Mareke frowned but remained silent.
“I’ll explain it to you. If left unattended, Dovetail will murder both Stalk and Piston while they are asleep in their beds, for the reward offered by the insoluble contract.” Loren said eventually, “There’s no way you haven’t already heard this.”
Raindancer crossed her arms, avoiding looking at the others—she had been one of the ones who had disliked how they had handled the Dovetail situation.
“Dovetail is a career hero, with a total of twelve years in service in this very branch.” Mareke said briskly, “You’re expecting me to believe that he just up and decided to throw all of that away for money? When there isn’t a single shred of proof that he has even considered it?”
“I don’t care what you believe, and Dovetail’s actual motivations are his own.” Loren said simply, “The fact is, this is exactly what he’s done, at least a dozen times. If you accept that I have knowledge of the future, you need to decide now whether I’m telling the truth or if I’m lying—there is no halfway.”
Mareke was silent, but his glare said enough.
“It’s not like Dovetail has a spotless record either way,” Tag said, the first person to crack.
Fracture visibly winced as Mareke turned his burning gaze on his teammate.
“It’s true.” Tag defended, “Three years ago—you remember what he did to Sunder? How about when he broke Complexity’s legs a week ago?”
Mareke never had a chance to answer.
“Sunder was a known killer,” Raindancer scoffed. “Complexity is fine now as well—”
“Because we got him fixed afterward!” Tag snapped, “That doesn’t mean it’s okay to cripple someone—”
Loren was reminded of the time she’d put an arrow through his shoulder and attempted to drag him through a wall—this argument was taking a turn. They were more interested in making each other look bad than actually make coherent arguments.
“I didn’t say that,” Raindancer said, annoyed, “I’m just saying that it’s stupid for us to restrict our use of force so much when the other side is trying to murder us.”
Loren couldn’t help but wonder—if Louis had a history of being exceedingly rough with criminals, why weren’t they keeping a better eye on him? Twelve years in a violent profession, and nobody had noticed him slipping?
“Oh, so killing villains in their beds is what a hero should be when unrestricted?” Secluded interjected, “Listen to yourself—just because he’s our friend doesn’t mean we should be justifying his crimes.”
Mareke watched them all with a look that could have frozen fire, but they didn’t even notice.
“We’re back here again, are we?” Raindancer said acidly, “Want to go over how adamantly you backed your fuck buddy—right up until he decided to wink himself out of existence? I’ve got plenty of time.”
Secluded’s face was glowing an angry red, but Mareke stepped in before it could get any worse.
“Enough,” Mareke said coldly.
They fell silent, but Loren had a question of his own.
“How do you evaluate whether or not one of your heroes is stable?” Loren said, uncaring for the icy gaze that fell on him. “Is that something you actually check up on routinely?”
Mareke clearly had no intention of answering.
“We have mandatory, bi-monthly sessions with a team of therapists,” Alana said quietly, “They collate the data and pass on an evaluation.”
“I’ll thank you not to reveal any more of our internal protocols,” Mareke said icily, and Alana fell silent once more. “Let’s move on from Dovetail for now—why did you think driving a wedge between Mongoose and Gradient was an appropriate decision?”
Loren kept his face blank—this was something he did regret, and his foundation was far shakier.
“Mongoose had a right to know that her fiancé was cheating on her.” Loren said flatly, “I didn’t know that she would quit afterward, and I didn’t realize the rest of this team was so close to an implosion that Gradient would leave as well.”
“Did you not stop to consider the consecutive pressures you were bringing to bear on them?” Mareke said scathingly.
Raindancer’s foot bit into his shin again, and he closed his eyes for a moment, unaware that he was outright glaring at the man.
“I’m considering them right now,” Loren said tightly, “Unlike Haunt, I’m not a mind reader. I don’t have a long personal history with anyone on this team; I don’t know their reactions or how they deal with their issues. I made the right choice, not the best one.”
“Consider that if you had waited to inform Mongoose,” Mareke said immediately, twisting the knife. “We would have two additional combat veteran heroes to assist us in the current task.”
This guy was somehow mad dogging him while sitting down, and with a table between them—Loren was started to get genuinely pissed off.
“I’ve seen the advertisements; you’ve got ‘hundreds of heroes, ready to protect the city,’” Loren said forcibly, “Can’t you source a few of those to assist?”
The reply came so fast that Loren thought he was simply contrarian.
“No—there is a reason that these were the members chosen for the Rapid Response Team,” Mareke said condescendingly. “They were the best of the combat-orientated heroes, and now I’m left with the choice to send in less capable heroes as a replacement—ones that haven’t got nearly as much experience.”
Loren barely stopped himself from breaking the shackles of being polite. He forced himself to consider the argument he’d fallen into—He was now somehow asking the man to send inexperienced heroes up against the members of Epilogue, one of which was Monstrous.
This hadn’t been his intention at the start—the man was a damn snake.
“Then source from outside the HQ,” Loren said furiously. “Vapid or Ogre would probably be willing to assist us—Hell Ogre should still be in the medbay; I could go ask her right now if you want.”
For a moment, Mareke looked like he actually couldn’t even—and Loren realized he’d fucked up.
“Are you telling me that an S-rank Villain is currently resting in the medical wing?” Mareke hissed, alarmed. “Wraith?!”
Alana’s armored form slumped back in her chair, helmet tilted upward to stare at the roof, most likely bemoaning the day she’d ever met him.
“Shit.” Loren sighed. “I’m such an idiot.”
“You’re a walking field of landmines, honestly,” Raindancer said, amazed. “Why the hell is Ogre here?”
“Ogre was brought here because she had a power-related affliction,” Alana said plainly, still staring up at the roof. “Alleviate took care of it, and yes, she’s currently resting in the medical wing.”
Mareke stared at her with his mouth open.
“How was it that you were able to organize that without conflict?” Fracture said, impressed. “Ogre is known to be very territorial. Did she approach you?”
“I contacted her,” Wraith said simply. “I have a wealth of information about her due to Loren’s knowledge, and convincing her I could help was a simple task.”
“You allowed an untrained, untrusted civilian to interrogate a member of Epilogue,” Mareke said flatly, “You brought an S-rank villain—one who could destroy the entire building with little effort—into the heart of the HQ. You kept the knowledge of a time traveler, of bombs in the city, of Epilogue’s presence from me.”
Loren swallowed, reminded of how much Alana had actually done for him—it was easy to forget it all when she took care of it in the background. The fact that he’d taken his stress out on her after she’d done all of that.
He’d never been so conflicted before—his life had been so simple before all of this.
“Give me one good reason why you shouldn’t be joining Ogre and Dovetail in a cell?” Mareke threatened.
Alana didn’t say anything in her own defense.
“Because, if Ogre or Wraith ends up in a cell, I’ll make sure you are never included in any of these decisions in the future loops,” Loren said seriously, watching the man. “You’re only here because I fucked up—I’m already wondering If I should even bother contacting you in the next loop. So far, you’ve been more of a hindrance than an asset.”
Raindancer was busy trying to grind Loren’s toes into the ground through his shoe, and Mareke looked like he wanted to murder someone. The silence dragged on, and the man’s black eyes never left him as he considered the threat.
Loren empathized with Mareke to some extent, being left out of all of this, and finding out that it had happened in numerous past loops, and Wraith had apparently made the decision to exclude him multiple times. Being the one in control of all of these people and then having a twenty-something nobody come in and usurp him.
Loren understood all of that—but goddammit, the man was a giant asshole.
“Wraith, contact Vapid—see if she’s on board,” Mareke said through gritted teeth, “You, go speak with Ogre, either get her on our side or get her the fuck out my building—Fracture, accompany him make sure he doesn’t steal anything important. Raindancer, Secluded, Tag, stick around, were going to talk about your conduct.”
Loren closed his eyes to avoid jumping over the desk and kicking the guy’s ass with his newly trained Kung-fu.
“Very well,” Alana said quietly.
Loren got ready to leave, and Fracture stood up to follow. As he passed behind her chair, he reached out and yanked hard on one of Raindancer’s braids in revenge for his stinging toes.
“Hey!” Raindancer yelped.
“That could have gone better,” Fracture said in resignation.
Loren gripped the back of his neck and attempted to relieve the growing headache—too much stress.
“That’s an understatement,” Loren sighed, “I didn’t realize Wraith hadn’t told anyone who Alleviate was healing.”
“She did, a civilian called Iza Gracen,” Fracture admitted, “We weren’t aware of that was the secret identity of Ogre.”
“Yeah, I suppose it was to avoid grumpy back there from jumping on her about it,” Loren said dryly. “I know not to mention that next time.”
“Is there any special considerations when dealing with her?” Fracture prompted, moving the conversation in a more useful direction. “How can I assist in this negotiation?”
Loren blinked, having not thought about it—he was just going to straight-up ask her. Trying to trick her or something would just go badly. He spotted the door to Iza’s room and stopped outside of it.
“The plans pretty complicated,” Loren said quietly, and Fracture ducked his head down to listen. “Here’s what we’re going to do—”
Loren opened the door—and then immediately closed it.
“Because, of course, you decide to turn up right now—” Iza’s voice said, annoyed, through the door. “Fuck me.”
“That went so much better in my head,” Loren admitted.
“Negotiations have failed then?” Fracture tried lightly. “The plan needs some work.”
“I’m the comedian here,” Loren said, offended. “You’re the serious one—stick to the plan, for god’s sake.”
“I’m decent,” Iza said dryly.
“You didn’t give me a plan!” Fracture argued. “You just—”
Loren opened the door and stepped inside, and clapped his hands together in apology.
“Sorry, I was trying to be dramatic.” Loren said seriously, “I didn’t know you were changing.”
Iza just nodded, looking over his shoulder at Fracture and frowning.
“I really hope this isn’t what I think it is,” Iza commented.
“I’ve come to give you an ultimatum,” Loren nodded, and her lips thinned out. “Either help me beat the shit out of Epilogue tomorrow or go home today—it’s your choice. Fracture will manhandle you out of the building if you do not comply.”
Iza’s frown turned confused halfway through, and Fracture turned to stare at the side of his head in alarm.
“So I can still leave?” Iza said strangely, then more quickly. “You’re asking me to fight Epilogue—so he clearly knows who I am, why am I being allowed to leave?”
“We are now aware that you are Ogre, but that wasn’t the case when you were first brought in.” Fracture admitted, “This situation is complicated—”
“I told them I’d cut them out of my time loop stuff if they ganked you,” Loren said, speeding things along. “Epilogue is going to attack here tomorrow—more specifically, Monstrous, Reset, and Lecture are going to attack. We’ve already captured Taker and Deceitful.”
Iza’s eyes were wide.
Fanfiction drop and Ameliorate chapter 9 are getting pushed back to Friday(25th). 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 66 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.