“With the Expressions that you have now,” Loren said, eyeing the Cube. “Can we kill her?”
Loren wanted to think that it was possible, but given the fact that she had gone toe to toe with Paragon while the man had hundreds of capes at his back made him think that the Kinetic Cannon might not cut it.
“It is unlikely,” Cube said. “Given the vast nature of her own collection, I would suggest replicating more expressions before the confrontation.”
“Can you replicate my power?” Loren said on a whim.
The Cube seemed to pause, either unsure of what he was asking or perhaps giving it more thought than Loren had thought it might need.
“You mean replicating the cube?” Alicia said hesitantly. “So there would be two of them?”
“What—No, that Cube isn’t actually my expression.” Loren sighed. “It’s just the one I have right now.”
Alicia looked like she wanted more information, and he couldn’t exactly blame her.
“Fascinating,” Cube said, “Given my recent materialization, I was under the impression that I was your original expression.”
“You’re pretty far down that list, if I’m honest,” Loren admitted before hesitating. “Can you see anything that might indicate my actual power? I already know what it does, but I’m curious if you can actually see it.”
Alicia gave him a look of suspicion, and for a moment, Loren felt like he was back in class with Isaac, roleplaying as that one kid who definitely had a girlfriend—she just went to a different school, promise.
“I am the only expression observably attached to your body,” Cube said, “There are, however, indications that expressions have existed prior; Biological machinery that is no longer functional and is alien to the human body is present. Scarring and imperfectly healed damage in notable areas of your brain also suggest the presence of memory-related expressions being used against you.”
Leftover biological machinery? It could have been the pheromone power. The damage in his brain was far more alarming, but he could probably put that down to the Geas he’d used against himself—or even the movement copying power.
The only upside to this savepoint occurring was that he’d kept all those techniques Mongoose had shown him. He’d woken up in Antaeus with that power still running, and once he’d reset, he lost the power to copy and store movements, but the ones that were already ingrained in his body were still very much intact.
He’d trade all those kicks and punches for his friends back in an instant.
“When I was younger, I accidentally used a mental power against myself,” Loren said slowly, “Forced myself to forget all the memories of when I first unlocked my power, it kept running for years afterward until it finally ran out of battery—is that what the damage is from?”
Cube hummed in the air for a moment, considering.
“Location and severity of scarring suggest that it is highly likely,” Cube said. “Not all the damage present is accounted for by this, however.”
Loren just nodded.
“Your power changes?” Alicia said into the silence.
“Sometimes,” Loren admitted. “It’s conditional.”
He didn’t want to speak too much about it, so he left it at that.
“There is an anomaly within you; I find it extremely difficult to remain focused on it,” Cube said, “It is not attached to your physical body in any discernable way but appears to be locked to your body’s position in space.”
“Well, that’s terrifying,” Loren said, frowning. “What is it?”
“Unknown,” Cube said.
“Take a guess, Cube.” Loren pressed.
“It is most likely a gate or a link of some kind.” Cube said, “Attempts to scan the other side fail; my own energy is incapable of passing through the opening without being focused to a dangerous level, and such force would most likely kill you.”
Not exactly something that made him feel any better about the situation—Loren shook his head.
“We’re getting distracted,” Loren sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We were discussing how to kill Alice when she finds us.”
“Correct,” Cube said, “In order to increase our chances against the entity, I suggest finding and replicating more expressions.”
“Where are we now?” Loren ask. “You said this place had a city of some kind? Does it have local heroes?”
Cube hummed again.
“Hanta City, a coastal city that possesses a population of approximately 40,000 people, most of which are directly west of our current position, albeit there are pockets of smaller communities spread all across the island.” Cube said immediately, “News articles, forum posts, and archive footage suggests an approximate superhuman population of 312.5.”
Loren had never heard of the city before, but it didn’t matter; what really mattered was—
“What the hell do you mean, point five?” Loren said, unable to help himself. “Is there half a person running around?”
Alicia looked just as interested.
“Negative,” Cube said, “There is a hero, designated Insectyde, who lost her powers but still routinely patrols the city as a baseline human.”
“Okay, moving past that,” Loren said, “What powers are we looking for? We have the Kinetic Shield and the Environmental Shield for defense, and Alicia’s power for healing—The Kinetic Cannon probably won’t do much to someone as durable as Alice has shown to be in the past.”
“Correct,” Cube said, “Footage suggests that the hero, Untold, is capable of surviving far more force than I can currently generate via the Rapid-Fire Kinetic Cannon.”
Loren wasn’t getting into that argument again.
“Can you try and shortlist some of the capes from Hanta City for us to go find?” Loren asked.
“Performing task,” Cube said. “Please wait.”
He bit his lip for a moment, thinking.
“We also have evasion with the Short-Range Teleportation,” Loren muttered, “Is there a cooldown on using that?”
“Three-second intervals are mandatory between each displacement,” The Cube answered, but it was obvious that most of its focus was on its search. “Power drain is also a concern.”
“Three-second teleports,” Loren mumbled.
It was a lot of mobility and combined with his defense, he should be able to navigate the battle, but something to fill in those three seconds of being unable to dodge kill-shots would only make him harder to pin down—He watched the Cube, but the task I was undergoing seemed to be taking a while.
Loren turned his thoughts inwards.
The more he learned about everything that was really happening, the more he realized just how far out of his depth he’d been this entire time. His power had been throwing new, interesting, and in some cases outright bizarre abilities at him since that first death near Hope’s Bridge—he’d conjured a sun in the middle of Setalite City, and he’d turned his best friend into a statue of living gold.
He’d traveled inside mirrors and gone on quests—he’d fallen through the earth and fought the villains in his city head-on, with suits of evolving armor and a thousand invisible hands. Loren’s strength had always been his versatility; he could reach into that bag and pull out a new power after every loss, retrying it all from a different angle…
So how exactly did he kill a being whose sheer breadth of powers made his own single random selection per run look trivial in comparison? Loren felt like a man facing down a god, and he knew by his slowly waning drive that it wouldn’t be long before he grew too tired to keep on dodging the lightning raining down on him.
Strangely enough, the thought reminded him of a conversation he’d had with his dad when he was still a kid.
“You know those religion classes they used to force you to go to at school?” Loren said, feeling a bit nostalgic.
It felt weird to bring it up with a stranger, but the thought was sticking with him now.
“I remember them,” Alicia blinked, surprised, “Do they still do those? Or have they stopped?”
“They aren’t mandatory anymore, but I’m pretty sure they are still around to some degree,” Loren hedged, “Forcibly indoctrinating kids was a little bit too much for most, but your parents can still bully you into it if they wanted to.”
Alicia nodded to show that she was following along.
“When I was—ten? eleven?” Loren guessed, unable to recall the exact date. “We had one of those classes, three grades all packed into one classroom. My mum, who believed, expected me to go to those classes, and I wanted nothing to do with the outcome that would occur if I argued.”
“Both of my parents were like that,” Alicia admitted, seeming to be actively looking for common ground between them. “I was so worried when I first got my powers—they were in the camp that wanted us all to be rounded up and burned at the stake.”
Loren watched her quietly.
“Twenty-five years…” Alicia said quietly before shaking her head. “I suppose I don’t have to worry about my parents finding out anymore.”
They most likely would have been in Ragdim when it was erased.
“My mum didn’t hate them like that,” Loren admitted, rubbing his neck. “But every time dad would come home from work talking about a new Awakened terrorizing the city; she’d always make a point to slip in a comment about them being denied access to the big retirement home in the sky.”
Alicia snorted quietly.
“You don’t need to worry about that—people are a lot more accepting of powers now,” Loren said, “Though there are still a few anti-superhuman groups advocating for removing us from general society.”
Naomi’s laughing face flashed through his vision for a moment—there were a few villains that wanted the same thing.
“Sorry,” Alicia said, shaking her head, “I didn’t mean to derail your story—I was listening; please keep going.”
Loren blinked, having more or less forgotten how the conversation had started.
“Right—” Loren said, a bit sheepish, “So there I was, sitting at my desk, packed into a room with the other two classes, listening to this old man running through the millions of parables he’d apparently been storing up while reading from the same book every day for half a century.”
Loren remembered Isaac making faces at him during the class, trying to get him to laugh.
“I made it home after school, and my dad was home first for once,” Loren continued, “He asked me, most likely on a whim, what I learned at school for the day—he was the kind of man who expected a real answer to a question when he asked, and I was still very much vying for his attention back then so I told him all about it.”
Loren looked over at the shattered window of the house they’d broken into, out onto the trees he could see at the edge of the backyard.
“I remember telling him that I thought god was probably just a man with powers,” Loren said, amused. “It made sense to me at the time—some guy with the ability to call down floods, control animals, and create people? Clearly superpowers—I had it all figured out, of course.”
Alicia smiled slightly.
“After making sure that I would never say that in front of my mother,” Loren said dryly, “He told me that if I thought God was just a man with powers—who did he pray to at night? Who did these false gods that walked the earth, spitting fire and calling down lightning fear?”
Alicia tilted her head slightly, considering the question.
“I told him there must have been a bigger god, sitting in the sky and watching all of them at night,” Loren said, attempting not to cringe.
“That’s basically the exact same premise as before,” Alicia said bemused, “Except humans start with superpowers?”
“Alicia, I am more than aware of that now—thank you.” Loren said, faintly embarrassed, “At the time, I didn’t realize that I was reinventing the wheel; anyway, instead of pointing that very obvious fact out and crushing my argument flat, my dad posed me a question about the world I’d just newly rediscovered.”
Loren had been riding the high of his genius discovery that God was a cape and reveling in the positive attention he was receiving from the usually distant man.
“If there was a more powerful superhuman, up there, waiting in the sky, with powers so strong that they elevated him alone into the status of my newly invented role of ‘bigger god,’” Loren said clearly, doing his best to paint the picture. “Would he be a hero or a villain?”
Just like when Loren was presented with the question, Alicia didn’t have an answer.
“Alicia,” Loren said after they’d fallen into another silence.
“Yes?” Alicia said, watching him.
“You don’t have to stay here with me, you know.” Loren said genuinely, “You’re out of the cage now, and the world is your oyster—Find a local boy to sweep you off your feet, or go and sweep a local girl off hers if you’re less fussed on gender roles.”
“You don’t believe in a god, but you think fairy tales are real?” Alicia mumbled, “The world isn’t that kind, Loren. What happens when I go off on my own, and I step around a corner to find Morgan waiting for me?”
The tragic part of it was that the very second he died fighting the thing that wanted his body, Alicia would end up right back in that tank, with a helmet strapped to her head.
“I can’t even guarantee my own safety—I’m closer to being able to guarantee my death than anything,” Loren said quietly, “If you stay anywhere near me, you’re going to run into Alice, and while Morgan may not join the fight, she’ll be waiting in the aftermath.”
Alicia looked away at that.
“Anywhere would be safer than with me,” Loren added.
“There isn’t going to be anywhere safe,” Alicia mumbled, “They’re destroying cities—Ragdim is gone, and now so is your home—Setalite? How long until they start wiping out the rest?”
Loren didn’t respond because there wasn’t anything he could really say to that.
“At the current pace of one city per twenty-five years,” Cube said, into the silence. “You would have several lifetimes before you had cause to worry about running out of places to live.”
“It was a rhetorical question, Cube,” Alicia mumbled.
“That does not render it unanswerable, Alicia.” Cube said, entirely missing the point. “I have finished collating the data you requested.”
“I’m listening,” Loren said.
“Priority Targets within Hanta City; Gyrate, Marionette, Flicker, Prickpunch, Prudence, Nigritude.” Cube listed off. “Malaise, Flume, Oscillate, Magnitude.”
“I don’t even know what half of those words mean,” Loren admitted, “Did the guy who gives out powers start at the library?”
“There is no guy who gives out powers, Loren,” Cube said.
“Yeah, Loren,” Alicia said, the moment of unexpected cheek catching them both off guard. “Sorry…”
“You don’t have to apologize to me,” Loren said, “It’s time to go—how far away is the first target?”
“Ten minutes by unaided foot travel,” Cube said.
That was far closer than he had considered.
“Good, it will give you plenty of time to explain what each of those people can do,” Loren said, heading for the front door.
“Very well,” Cube agreed, floating along beside him.
Alicia fell in step beside him, and he didn’t bother to dissuade her from following him once more; the door clapped shut behind them, and the three started towards the fence.
“What does the first person do?” Loren guessed.
“Gyrate passively reaps kinetic energy from her surroundings and can harness that stored energy to violently rotate objects on touch.” Cube said.
Not exactly a cursed scroll that kills the enemy when you write their name on the parchment.
“How does that help me kill a god?” Loren frowned, hopping the fence and stepping onto the road.
“My energy reserves are finite, and the passive kinetic absorption will help regenerate those stores.” Cube said, “The more Expressions we intend to use against the entity, the more power consumption will become an issue.”
“Okay, that makes more sense,” Loren admitted.
“Gyrate’s civilian residence is within one hundred meters of our current location.” Cube said, “We should move closer.”
“How close do you need to be?” Loren said quietly.
“Ten meters, with line of sight.” Cube said. “Suggestion, Stealth Field is Available.”
“Use it,” Loren said.
A washed of energy hit him, and when he looked down, he saw a slight ripple in the air—Anyone with enhanced senses or good eyesight would likely realize something invisible was standing where he was, but it was far better than nothing. When he checked, he found that Alicia had been included under the effect, now barely a ripple in the air beside him.
Cube appeared as a series of white lines in the air, and it led him through the trees by the road, the leaves beneath them crunching underfoot. Loren almost ran into the fence before he actually saw it, and he stopped next to it.
“Gyrate found,” Cube said, voice far too loud. “Analysing superhuman.”
Was she in the cubes sight already? He took a step to one side and leaned around a tree—A woman with blonde hair was standing on the back steps of a house, the sliding door open, staring directly at their position.
Her fist was clenched around a small black pistol.
“I know someones there,” Gyrate said seriously, “Let me make this very clear—if you step one foot on my property, I’m going to kill you both.”
Either Cube wasn’t showing up to her senses, or she didn’t consider it a person—the threat was directed at Loren and Alicia.
“Passive Kinetic Absorption replicated,” Cube said, voice still far too loud. “Rotation Manipulation replicated.”
The hand holding the gun jumped up, now pointing at their position.
“Move us back to the road,” Loren said quietly. “Now.”
Loren stumbled as the environment changed, and then when he caught himself, it had changed a second time—they were once more standing by the road.
“Cube,” Loren managed, “Next time, how about you don’t announce our fucking presence for the entire world to hear?”
“Understood,” Cube said.
My sleep schedule is all types of messed up at the moment, but the experiment must continue.
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 80 – Live.
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 10