The world spun violently, and he felt the layer of energized wind flaking away from the impact. Loren fought to regain control before he hit the water’s surface and then found himself completely submerged.
He’d spent more than enough time with horrible life-ending injuries that he could say this one could have been far worse. As it was, his arm was sending waves of agony racing across his body, but it was still mostly intact.
The energized wind had managed to reduce most of the impact before breaking, but he was forced to spend precious seconds rebuilding it, painfully holding his arm down at his side and out of the way the entire time.
Loren felt a person move to hover above the water, directly over his position—whoever it was obvious knew exactly where he was, even though the water should have obscured him. He felt out the air around them, and as crude, as It was, the shape of the body revealed it to be a woman.
As Alicia was still on the beach, now in a prone position and unmoving, Salubre was missing entirely, and he’d never even seen where Reset had ended up. He could safely assume that the person tracking him was Untold.
His mind groped for an explanation—if Reset was here, then the three teams they had organized had failed to capture him. Alice had been one of the team members sent after him, along with Iza and Alana.
If she was here, fighting alongside Reset of all people, then they must have somehow lost—something he hadn’t even considered a possibility before. He could imagine very few people who could stand up to a combined assault by Ogre, Wraith, and fucking Untold.
Even Paragon would struggle against those three working together—If they’d failed that takedown, then they might have been unable to get Lecture as well, which could explain why Untold had just attempted to take his arm off at the shoulder.
How had the entire plan they’d come up with to deal with Epilogue failed so badly?
Loren took a deep breath of the energized air he surrounded himself with and then opened his eyes—He moved, heading parallel to the beach, remaining underwater, and Untold followed him above without pause.
He’d personally seen her trade blows with an out-of-control Paragon, and that single hit had been enough to tear through the shield of air he had spent all day practicing. This just wasn’t a fight he could win without going lethal.
Alice was an ally, captured by the enemy. Were the rest of them under Lecture’s influence as well? Was Alana working against him now? Iza? Had Epilogue won completely? Could he even afford to do this in a non-lethal way?
He doubted he could stop Untold if he held back.
“Sorry, Alice,” Loren said quietly.
He reached up with his power, and the energy in the air spiked, a bubble of hardened air flashed into existence around her. Loren pulled all of the air out of it and dragged it down into the—Untold broke through it before it even touched the water.
Loren tried again, double the air layers, but this time she moved before it could encircle her completely, tearing herself out of it and strafing to the side. Loren dragged himself to the side as Untold crashed down into the water, barely missing him—she turned within a second, surging towards him, unfettered by the water.
Untold had been a world-renowned hero for years at this point, and her powers were well documented. Even when she’d fought Paragon above Setalite City, she hadn’t been able to fly; she had relied completely on Seeker catching her with telekinetic platforms. If there had ever been a time to reveal she had been able to fly all along, it would have been then.
Loren was aware that you could improve your powers over time once you unlocked them; he’d had loads of personal experience doing just that—But at what level did absorbing sound to increase your strength, durability and speed turn into flying?
The answer was it didn’t.
He surged upwards out of the water, creating seven flat shields of air behind him—Untold crashed through each of them without stopping, barely slowed. He left an air drill behind him, facing her direction, and this time she veered around it rather than slam into the buzzing white vortex.
Loren used the space to spin in the air to face her, and she came to a stop.
“Since when could you fly, Alice?” Loren said quietly.
Alice lifted her chin, a knowing smile plastered on her face.
“What would you say, I wonder,” Alice said lightly, “If I told you I always could?”
“I’d say bullshit,” Loren said, “I’ve seen you fight Paragon, and you never used it then.”
“At most, you’ve seen me fight the clone, Loren,” Alice laughed, “That’s hardly the same thing—I was never in any danger.”
Loren was starting to realize there was something far more wrong about this encounter than he’d first thought.
“Why are you attacking me?” Loren said, using the time to shore up the strength of his skintight shield.
“You haven’t figured that out yet?” Alice said, sounding disappointed. “This isn’t our first conversation, is it? How many times have you died inside Antaeus?”
Inside Antaeus? The idea that Morgan had named the prison after the man she’d butchered didn’t even manage to surprise him. The real question was—why did Alice know about that name? Would Morgan really reveal that kind of information to a Peacekeeper, even if they had her temporarily under their control?
It seemed very unlikely.
“One?” Alice said laconically, hovering in the air. “A hundred?”
“Sixty-eight times in total,” Loren said, not wanting to give her any real information. “I must say I’m looking forward to our next meetup.”
“I’ll be sure to dress the part,” Alice laughed.
Alicia’s prone form began to stir, sitting up on the beach.
“Who else did Lecture get?” Loren said quietly.
“You weren’t even aware of Hannah’s death?” Alice raised an eyebrow, “I’m certain that occurred before we captured you.”
Loren had left the earpiece behind, so he hadn’t heard the results of the other teams—Lecture had died as well? Had the Hero HQ always intended on killing them all?
Was Mara’s death planned out in advance as well?
“If Lecture’s dead, why are you working with Morgan?” Loren managed, feeling angry and confused. “Are you still under her control? Where are the others?”
Alice laughed, bringing her hand up to cover her face in an attempt to muffle herself. Loren caught sight of an eye, peeking through her fingers at him, the corner of her mouth turned up.
“Loren, I’m not working with Morgan,” Alice said gently, “She’s working with me.”
Loren stared at her, his confusion slowly turning to a cold fury in his chest. A member of the Peacekeepers was directing the leader of Epilogue? How could that even be possible?
“I saw you when Julian died….” Loren said, failing to understand. “You were crying—he was your friend!”
Loren vividly remembered the scene on the rooftop, where she’d screamed out Julian’s name as the man was reduced to so much meat…
“My friend?” Alice said, stifling a laugh, “Julian was never my friend, Loren. He caused me no end of issues; I was simply playing a part until everything was ready.”
“You’re not Alice,” Loren said, clenching his fist around a handful of the energized wind.
“In a manner of speaking, I am Alice,” Alice said, smiling. “Truthfully, the original Alice has been gone for a long, long time.”
“How long?” Loren managed.
“Years,” Alice smiled, “I found her the day she unlocked her powers—I was a bit desperate at the time—but then again, so was she.”
“Who are you?” Loren demanded.
“You don’t know yet?” Alice said, frowning. “I suppose this must be rather early in the game then.”
Loren struck at her with a spike of energized air. Her hand lanced up and shattered it without effort before more of the spikes began to emerge in the air around him, pointed in her direction. Alice lifted her hand up, inspecting it, and he tensed in preparation.
“Augmented Air? It’s a fairly common power, although you seem rather creative with it given you can’t have had it for more than a few hours,” Alice said, vaguely surprised, “Do you possess an enhanced learning capability with the powers you obtain?”
Loren didn’t answer, feeling like he was being dissected.
“You must, given your sudden proficiency—interesting.” Alice said lightly, “Not something we could discover during our inspection. You possessed the ability to mimic movements and store them last I saw, not something that would reveal such a talent for learning.”
Loren stared at the thing that was pretending to be Alice—her utter disregard for him as a threat simply fed his anger.
“I’m going to kill you,” Loren said quietly. “I’ll come back as many times as it takes.”
“Loren, while I’m sure I’ll have fun watching you try,” Alice said, amused, “I think you should know—you’ve already lost.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Loren snapped.
Alice studied him for a long moment before speaking up.
“All of your allies are dead, and you’re completely on your own now—nobody is coming to save you,” Alice said sympathetically, “It’s just you, in a cell, hoping for a lucky roll of the dice; how long can that anger keep you motivated?”
All of your allies are dead.
“What did you do?” Loren said, his anger twisting into horror.
“When you look at me like that, it makes it so very hard to wait….” Alice’s complained before sighing. “I don’t think you’re quite ready yet; you are still far too lively.”
Loren’s attacks lanced through the air towards her without warning, but she swayed to the side, avoiding the rain of spikes by strafing to the right. He followed her path with a raised hand, using it as a focusing tool to generate more and more of them, thinning them out into needle-like shapes because smaller shapes took less concentration to fire off, and he could cover more area.
By the time he’d fired at her current position, she had already moved, and he simply couldn’t move his hand fast enough to keep up with her, the storm of needles falling short and crashing into the water below. Loren spun the other way, starting to fire them in front of her flight path, but she twisted up and over them, circling back towards him.
Alice was far too fast, and the projectile speed just wasn’t enough to catch her; he needed something faster, and judging by how she had crashed through his strongest barriers and broken his arm through the personal shield, he needed something far stronger as well.
A circle of water directly below him shot upwards, thicker around than a car, and slammed into his feet like it was made of concrete. He felt his impact through the shield, and it was probably the only thing that stopped his legs from shattering.
As it was, the pillar continued upwards, and he barely managed to stay on his hands and knees on top of it. He felt Untold racing up the side of the pillar, and before he could even get to his feet, her hand was around his throat.
Alice lifted him up into the air as the pillar of water lost its solidity, falling back to the ocean below. Her fingers were cracking the layer of wind protecting him, and her face was completely unstrained.
Alice was too fast, too strong, and he had no ability to hurt her. That wasn’t even considering the fact that he had seen her fighting at a level so much higher than this already, which meant she was going easy on him. Now she’d shown the ability to fly and to control the water in what was obviously a deliberate parallel to his own current power.
All of your allies are dead.
“Alice, what did you do?” Loren managed.
“I killed them all, of course,” Alice said, raising a thin eyebrow. “It’s kind of what I do.”
“Energy Field Detected,” A voice said politely. “Analysing.”
Loren didn’t move as the mental exhaustion from having spent the entire day concentrating vanished. Its sudden absence was replaced by a terrible clarity, and his mind was stuck on what she’d said…
I killed them all, of course.
Just like that, without him even having a chance to do anything to stop it—it didn’t feel real, her words alone failing to convey the magnitude of what that meant. It felt like her hand had was still wrapped around his throat, and he just lay there, unable to understand what he was feeling.
Would she lie about something like that? If her goal was to destroy his motivation to continue fighting them…
Loren couldn’t help but think it was working.
“Analysis complete,” The voice said. “Kinetic Absorption Field Replicated.”
Loren closed his eyes, paying no attention to the strange voice—he needed to keep his head. Alice was a liar, and until he had proof that she’d done what she said…
“Power Source Detected.” The voice spoke again, “Analysis suggests storage inexhaustible. Location; Twenty Meters north.”
He could try to fix whatever they’d done after the instigators of this mess were dead, and he wasn’t stuck in a cell. Loren would go back in time as he had with Mara—only this time he’d rip them all apart before they ever got the chance to start any of this.
“Detecting Signs of Life near Power Source,” The voice continued, “One signature, superhuman, female, increased proximity required for a more detailed analysis.”
Even if the thing that looked like Alice was telling the truth… The path forward was the same. He needed to get out of Antaeus, and he needed to wipe Alice and Morgan both from the face of the planet.
He’d need to escape first—the last time he’d gone back in time, he had woken up in the exact place his savepoint was located, and, if he managed to do it here, he would most likely appear in an unbreakable room in the middle of the ocean from which he wouldn’t be able to escape without a different power.
“Unsurvivable Terrain Detected,” The voice said, “Pressure exceeds Loren Parker’s ability to withstand without assistance, be advised.”
If he appeared inside Antaeus years in the past, then Morgan would find out about him far earlier—that sounded like a recipe for disaster. Then he needed to escape now, deal with them, and then work on reviving everyone afterward.
Loren sat up and looked at the smooth black Cube that stayed inexplicably in the air beside him.
“Can you get me out of here?” Loren said quietly, watching it.
“Short-Range Teleportation available,” The Cube said immediately, “Designate location.”
“On the other side of that wall,” Loren said, pointing to the wall he’d drilled through last time.
The light vanished, and he was suddenly in the octagon room, sitting in the dark in the same position he’d previously been in.
“Do you have access to long-range teleportation?” Loren asked, pushing himself to his feet.
“Long-Range Teleportation currently unavailable,” The Cube said, “I must observe this expression to replicate.”
“What ‘expressions’ are currently available?” Loren frowned, moving towards the power room.
“Environmental Shield, Kinetic Absorption Shield,” The Cube listed. “Rapid-Fire Kinetic Cannon, Short-Range Teleportation, Stealth Field.”
“Can you break the door?” Loren asked.
The door shattered inwards as a flash of white light emitted from the Cube, too fast for him to see.
“That was the canon, right?” Loren asked.
“Correct Designation: Rapid-Fire Kinetic Cannon,” The Cube said.
“That’s what I said,” Loren said dryly.
“That was the canon, right?” The Cube said in his own voice, playing back a recording.
“I don’t sound like that,” Loren said, annoyed. “There’s a woman in that tank; we need to help her—she has a helmet on with these needles sticking into her skull.”
“Understood,” Cube said. “Interfacing with Control Module.”
“What the heck is a control module?” Loren frowned.
“The device directly in front of you,” Cube said plainly. “It is responsible for the manual and automatic functions of the facility you currently reside in.”
“There are automatic functions?” Loren mumbled.
“Automated Primary Functions as follows; Container A1: Sever Limbs at Twelve Hour Intervals. Empty Tank at Twelve Hour Intervals. Liquify Collected Items at Twelve Hour Intervals.” Cube said. “System: Power Report at Hourly Intervals. Antaeus Occupancy Report at Hourly Intervals.”
Loren swallowed, sever limbs at twelve-hour intervals?
“Control Established.” Cube said.
The rust-colored water slowly lowered, revealing Alicia’s naked body dangling from the helmet wires, kicking her legs in the rapidly diminishing water. The entire section at the top of the tank lowered until her feet touched the tank’s floor. The protrusions on the helmet split open, and the needles were retracted simultaneously.
“When is the next hourly check for occupancy?” Loren asked.
He watched as the helmet uncoupled, and Alicia took it off her head slowly—The glass container sunk into the floor.
“54 minutes, 59 seconds.” Cube said. “Analysing Superhuman.”
Alicia stared at him and the Cube nervously as it moved closer to her.
“Can you make it send a false report, so nobody knows I’m free?” Loren said.
“False Report is possible,” Cube said, “Be advised, Manual check will discover true status.”
“Is there a log of how often a manual check occurs?” Loren said, frowning, “Also, what’s the time?”
“Current Time: 7:06 AM.” Cube said, “Previous Manual Checks; 6:41 AM, 2:37 AM, 10:06 PM—”
“Stop, I get it.” Loren said, “So we have a couple of hours before someone checks.”
“Regenerative Chemicals Detected,” Cube said, “Replicating Production Mechanism.”
“Who are you?” Alicia said quietly. “Is—is Morgan here?”
Loren closed his eyes.
Fanfiction drop today. Seeking Direction and Just Deserts will be up in a few minutes.
Thank you to all the supporters, on Patreon, on here, and everywhere else, you guys are what is making it possible to keep improving on my passion, and I really appreciate all of you. If you’d like to help support my mission to snap as many elbows as I can get my greasy little mitts on, but aren’t in a place to chip in–you can support me for free as well! Leaving a comment, or a review on any of the other fiction websites I post my content on helps out more than you know.
Keep on keeping on!
Reroll – Season 3, Chapter 77 – Live.
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 10