Hero HQ, Setalite City, 8:57 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.
Loren took the moment to continue his elevator pitch.
“They are all in Setalite City, preparing for an attack of some kind,” Loren continued, “We know for a fact that they’ve already replaced Paragon with a fake, and Deceitful had plans to kill that fake at the speech tomorrow.”
Iza, who had been valiantly attempting to fit all of this into her world view was once again overwhelmed.
“This is not how you go about convincing someone,” Fracture said, frowning.
Loren didn’t acknowledge the man’s complaint.
“Once she had Paragon’s body, she was going to destroy the city,” Loren explained, “So we took her and Taker down; they are currently in a cell downstairs. Now we need an experienced team of combat-ready capes to take on the rest of them before they hit us back.”
“Is Paragon dead?” Iza managed.
“We don’t know for sure, but all the evidence points to him being in Epilogue’s hands for an unknown period of time—and based on the kinds of things they do,” Loren frowned, “The assumption that he’s dead wouldn’t exactly be a stretch.”
“The idea that Paragon somehow lost—this is insane,” Iza said, shaking her head. “Loren, why are you asking me?”
“Because you’re an S-rank villain, and you live in Setalite City,” Loren said truthfully, forcing himself to stare her down. “You don’t want this city destroyed any more than I do, and you have the power to do something about it—it’s nothing more than that.”
Iza looked away from him.
“What exactly are you asking me to do?” Iza murmured.
Loren closed his eyes for a moment—Mareke had said to get her on their side or get her out of the building. He was probably only supposed to get her to help out during the battle and then vanish—but Loren had a better idea.
“I’m asking you to put the villain stuff behind you, Iza,” Loren said nodding, “Welcome to the Hero HQ.”
Iza stared at him.
“You’re not even part of the Hero HQ!” Fracture said in alarm, “You can’t make that kind of decision—I can’t even do that!”
“Mareke ordered me to get her on our side, and I’m doing that.” Loren said seriously, “You’re just here to make sure I don’t steal anything important—stop being such a wet blanket.”
“That’s absolutely not what he meant!” Fracture said quickly.
“Denied—I don’t trust your judgment on the matter,“ Loren said easily, “You couldn’t even stick to the plan, remember? You were supposed to be the serious one, not the hysterical one.”
Fracture flushed at his complete disregard, but Loren kept up his momentum, not allowing the other man time to recover.
“Who do we talk to about a job application?” Loren continued, opening the door wide. “Actually, I’ll just go down and ask the receptionist for you, hope you have a copy of your resume on hand.”
Loren stepped out of sight and started down the hallway, and Fracture scrambled to catch up.
“Why the hell would I have that on me?” Iza said incredulously, stepping outside with them. “Wait—I haven’t agreed to anything yet—Loren!”
Loren made sure to keep his gaze forward.
“Indecision is a terrible trait,” Loren called back. “You’ll have to work on that—hero.”
“What are you doing?” Mareke said, strained.
“Applying for a job?” Loren said scathingly, rubbing it in the man’s face. “You’re the one who told me to get her on our side—if you’re going senile Mareke, maybe you should step down.”
Mareke bared his teeth, looking like he was about to explode.
“I’m sorry, Sir.” Jane, the receptionist, said hesitantly. “Fracture was with him….”
Fracture rubbed at his masked face, perhaps feeling unfairly blamed for the current situation.
“It’s fine,” Mareke said, forcing his expression blank. “I’ll take care of it from here, Jane. You three come with me, now.”
Loren fell in step behind him, walking just slow enough that the other man had to adjust his pace not to leave them behind.
“Why don’t you guys have applications at the front desk?” Loren wondered. “Jane was looking at me like I was an alien.”
“Because it’s absurd to expect a civilian to reveal their identity in order to enter this building and apply for a job,” Mareke scoffed, sending a scornful look back at him. “If an unknown person were to enter in costume, they wouldn’t make it much further than the counter before someone interceded.”
Loren coughed into his hand, remembering the homunculus loop where he had one of them deliver the envelope through the front door.
“How do you actually apply for a job here then?” Iza frowned.
“There is a website application,” Fracture sighed.
Loren smiled to himself.
“Why should I even consider this ludicrous request?” Mareke said after the silence had grown strained.
“Because it was your idea, idiot—Fracture!” Loren complained, rubbing his arm where the man had punched him. “So this is the violence of the state; how unprofessional.”
Mareke eyed him for a moment, completely unimpressed, but nodded to Fracture—bastards.
“You want my help dealing with Epilogue; that seems like a good enough reason to consider it,” Iza said, seemingly uninvested in the idea.
“Why would a villain want to help us?” Mareke said without pause. “What’s your gain in this mess?”
“I get to stop robbing a different bank every month—” Iza said, her voice turning vaguely amused. “Being able to make money, legally, and without having to continually fight off the Rapid Response Team would be nice.”
Loren smiled; he’d managed to get her to consider it after all.
“That is no longer a consideration—we are aware of your civilian identity, Iza Gracen,” Mareke said flatly, “We know who you interact with, we know where you live, and we know where you sleep—you’re criminal antics are at an end.”
“Dovetail knew where The Crew slept aswell, Mareke.” Loren snapped, unable to help himself. “If you’re trying to remind us that you’re the good guys, you are doing a really shitty job about it.”
Mareke’s mouth curled into a snarl, but Loren wasn’t quite finished.
“Besides that, you only know where she lives because I messed up and told you,” Loren added. “That isn’t a mistake I’m going to make next time.”
Iza watched him with a mixed expression on her face—she was probably pissed he’d been the one to reveal her identity in the first place.
“The more often you use the threat to cut me out of this,” Mareke said coldly. “The less likely I’m going to respond to it in the future.”
Loren’s expression must have changed because Mareke’s eyes narrowed further.
“You won’t respond to it in the future,” Loren said wryly, appreciating the easy dunk. “Because I won’t tell you about it in the past—Ow! Stop hitting me!”
Fracture stared at him with the gaze of a man who was mere seconds away from punching him a third time.
“You’d be forcing me into a corner if you came after me like that,” Iza said, without care. “Feel free to look up my history, I always leave them in one piece afterward, but I don’t have to keep holding back, you know; it’s a courtesy.”
That was an alarming thought, even for him. He’d seen some footage of her battles, and the size she could grow to was terrifying already—learning that was her holding back just made it worse.
“A villain with manners,” Mareke snapped, “Now I really have seen everything.”
They reached the conference room, and Loren wondered how many more times he’d have to see this room today. Alana was already inside, but the rest of the rapid response team were nowhere to be found.
“Thanks,” Iza said, nodding at Alana. “I owe you one.”
Alana ducked her head fractionally, and Mareke grunted in annoyance, taking his seat on the opposite side of the table.
“Sit down; we need to decide exactly how this is going to work,” Mareke frowned, waiting for them to be seated.
Loren groaned into the mattress, enjoying the feeling of the cool material against his skin. It felt like it had been an age since he’d last laid down on his own bed. It felt even longer since he’d had a restful sleep—he wondered if tonight would be any different in that regard.
The headache that had been present almost the entire day had leveled off to some degree, ever-present behind his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, but his mind wouldn’t settle—not exactly unusual for him.
Between the upcoming fight with Epilogue and the sheer amount of mistakes he’d made in the last couple of days—a nice restful sleep was something very distant.
Some of those mistakes had actually led to good outcomes—or informative ones at least, Mathew Kline’s identity as the leak in particular. That had been something he’d been attempting to discover almost since the beginning, and now he was a single loop away from being able to get some answers on that front.
Unfortunately, that was where the mistakes stopped having fortunate outcomes—Loren had caused unnecessary pain to Mongoose, he’d taken his stress out on Alana, ruined the Rapid Response Team, unfairly inflicted Mareke’s presence on everyone, and even doxed Iza Gracen.
Listing them off in his head made him realize just how much pain he could inflict when he stopped actively curating his own actions. When he went off-script, or when he was feeling aimless, it almost always turned out badly.
He simply knew far too much about everyone around him, and it led to a type of casual cruelty that hurt to think in-depth about.
The right thing to do—that’s what he’d said to Mareke earlier. He’d have liked to call It a justification for how he’d handled the Mongoose situation, but it was more apt to call it an excuse. He’d felt morally justified to tell her and that anything that came after wasn’t his problem.
Loren pressed his fingers against his eyes; it was the only thing that seemed to stop the ache.
When exactly did the right thing to do reach its limits, and where was the line? Was honesty still a moral action when it caused far more suffering to a person than ignorance?
Loren had always considered that to be true for him; that if someone withheld information that he deserved to know, that they were taking a stance against him. He wanted autonomy, he wanted to make his own decisions about it, and any action to hinder him here should be treated as hostile.
It should have been simple—not telling a person that their significant other was cheating on them to preserve their current happiness was stripping away their ability to make an informed choice. It was saying that you thought you knew what was best for them; it was robbing them of their autonomy.
A few short months ago, it had been such a significant part of his morality and something he would have never considered changing his mind on. But now it was crumbling, and he wasn’t sure if he should try to fix it.
He didn’t want to see these people suffer; he didn’t want Emma’s brightness turned to pain, and he didn’t want to turn Mongoose into a mess by telling them what Mark had done. Loren didn’t want to be the catalyst for that kind of pain.
When the next loop came around, and he was confronted with it, he didn’t know what he was going to do—The room brightened, and he turned over enough to see his phone screen, the bright white ’10:46 PM,’ glaring back at him.
He titled the screen and unlocked it, a message from Alana.
“It’s not locked,” Loren murmured, knowing she would hear him.
The window lifted, and the black-armored form slipped through the gap noiselessly. He watched her close the window and turn to face him from the corner.
“I apologize for intruding,” Alana said quietly, “I wished to speak with you about our earlier discussion, but you left the HQ before I was free to do so.”
“I thought you might,” Loren managed, forcing himself to sit up.
She didn’t respond, perhaps taking a moment to gather herself. Loren pinched the bridge of his nose, half to hide his face from her and half in an attempt to stifle the headache. Stubborn and neurotic he may be at times, he knew well enough that he owed her an apology.
“Alana, I’m sorry about what I said—and more than that, I’m sorry about how I said it,” Loren said quietly. “I’m having trouble dealing with everything, and I took it out on you when I shouldn’t have.”
“Was anything you said in my office a lie?” Alana said, voice changer in full effect.
Loren shook his head, closing his eyes.
“No, everything I said was true,” Loren admitted, “I’ve been in this loop for a while now; we’ve had a lot of different interactions since I first met you.”
“Different doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to encompass the disparity between killing you and sharing your bed,” Alana said, without shame. “I find it difficult to understand how I could take such drastically different actions—I am not saying you are attempting to mislead me.”
“I know you aren’t—and it was a futon,” Loren murmured, feeling out of sorts. “Everything inside this forever week is on a hair-trigger, and we didn’t know anything at the start. I kept stumbling into dead ends—as in I died, all the time, from literally everything.”
Thinking of all the ways he’d been killed just reminded him of how much Cinematic pissed him off.
“I tried to tell everyone about the bombs a bunch of times in a row,” Loren muttered, “They kept getting set off early—at least now I can put that at the foot of Mathew-fucking-Kline. In one of those loops, you were one of the few survivors of the bombing. I’d made myself the prime suspect in the process of revealing the bombs to the HQ, so you came after me—well, technically, you came after us.”
“Us?” Alana murmured.
“My upstairs neighbor, Emma Young—the two of you are the most common interactions I’ve had through these loops.” Loren admitted, “She’s tied up in this as well; she was the woman Gradient was having an affair with, and we were both at the train station the day Mara Melancholia became Monstrous.”
He realized he’d derailed slightly, his mind not exactly working at its best.
“Long story short, you thought I did it and went looking for me,” Loren mumbled, “We fought, I lost, the end.”
“I think the conclusion deserved more elaboration than that,” Alana said, “But I believe I understand the events that took place—did I also kill Emma Young?”
“Yes,” Loren said quietly. “Anger wasn’t exactly an uncommon reaction towards me in that loop—Crescent did basically the same thing after her team died in their cells, only she destroyed a few city blocks looking for me.”
The two of them fell into silence, and Loren wondered if he shouldn’t have lied to spare her the guilt.
There was a series of muted click noises, and the armor folded back from her torso, then her legs, allowing her to step out of it, leaving her standing in front of the empty suit in a black bodysuit.
Alana reached up and removed the helmet, turning to place it with the rest as the armor closed once more. His power lit up, copying her movements and his headache worsened—of course, It was power-related.
He closed his eyes.
“It is an uncomfortable feeling having a stranger know so much about you,” Alana murmured, turning back to face him. “Particularly about events that other versions of myself have participated in—it feels as though I am at a distinct disadvantage, and I cannot say that I enjoy the feeling.”
Loren tried to simulate how he would feel if their positions were reversed, but he mentally got stuck on the idea of the genius hero Wraith coming to the civilian Loren for assistance for anything—his tired mind failing him entirely.
“Yeah,” Loren muttered, “Sorry.”
“May I sit down?” Alana asked politely.
“Hm?” Loren wondered, “Sure.”
Alana moved to perch on the edge of his bed, and he opened his eyes again, turning to face her; the now hollow suit of armor loomed in the corner, judging them. He waited for her to gather her thoughts.
“There is a particular way two people speak to one another when they first meet,” Alana broke the silence, “An uncertainty exists between them, neither knowing enough about the other to encode their communications appropriately.”
Loren nodded, able to follow along with her thoughts.
“I have noticed it takes many forms, depending on the personality and the experience each of the participant’s command in a social setting.” Alana continued, closing her eyes in thought. “The more successful interactions they have, the more reliable that encoding becomes, with each of them making adjustments, and eventually tailoring both the delivery and the contents of the message to maximize the information exchange.”
“People get to know each other the more they talk,” Loren said wryly, “More news at nine.”
Alana’s eyes opened, already narrowed to slits—her cheeks flushing.
“Since you contacted me, our communication has not followed this pattern,” Alana said slowly, eyeing him. “You know how I will react to something, and you’re able to tailor your communications to me in a way that far outstrips my ability to do the same—and it is in part what contributed to our unfortunate discussion earlier.”
“Yeah,” Loren said quietly. “I remember all of our prior conversations, so I know how to ‘encode’ everything, but you don’t.”
“Exactly,” Alana said, pleased that they’d arrived at the same conclusion. “It is extremely annoying.”
Fanfiction drop and Ameliorate chapter 9 are released today, I’ve been pretty stretched thin, sorry it took a few extra days. 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 66.5 – Fracture Interlude – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 9(NSFW) – Updated