Releasing the two heroes seemed to have garnered some level of goodwill from the stoic man because he didn’t dismiss his words out of hand. Magnitude stepped closer to her teammate, turning her head just enough to keep everyone in view, and the two began to speak in low tones.
Realm leaned over the arm of his throne towards them, able to hear but not offering anything to the conversation, and very quickly, the boy began to grow visibly restless.
“I’ve got two questions; Who is this bodysnatcher?” Realm said, the words practically bursting out. “Who’s the body that got snatched?”
Loren couldn’t help but notice how young he was—his lack of seriousness and the way he remained in his chair despite the otherwise tense atmosphere spoke of an immaturity that Loren could only apply to that of a very young teenager.
“The bodysnatcher is Starsealer,” Loren said, ripping the bandaid off. “And the body it’s inhabiting is Untold.”
Realm scratched his cheek, not at all moved by the earth-shattering reveal—he’d likely been too young to hear about the creature when it had first appeared. Learning about it afterward, through osmosis, just didn’t have the same level of threat involved.
“What?” Magnitude said, her response far more severe, far more engaged. “Starsealer is dead. There’s no way—”
She’d broken off from the conversation with Interstice entirely, and the man spoke up.
“It’s interesting that you’re saying that one of the biggest threats that ever appeared in Setalite City is back in the land of the living,” Interstice said, voice level. “On the exact same day that the city is destroyed, and all of its residents are killed.”
Loren took a moment to guess at the best way forward.
“I’m from Setalite City,” Loren said seriously, “I was born there, and up until a few days ago, I was working with both the Hero HQ and the Peacekeepers.”
“Have you got any proof of that?” Magnitude said, frowning. “These are all just words on a figurative page.”
“I could list off the identities of half their Rapid Response Team—I could reveal the identities of most of the people from Epilogue; who we were trying to capture,” Loren said flatly, one after another, “I could tell you the identities of Paragon and Untold. I could explain the details of the power of the guy who destroyed the city.”
Magnitude looked hesitant, but Interstice spoke up again.
“You could tell us each of those things, and they might even be true individually,” Interstice said, voice steady. “None of that would prove that Untold is currently being controlled by Starsealer.”
The fact that the man was actively disregarding everything he said without even trying to confirm any of it just served to reignite his fading anger. They were stalling, wasting his time digging for more information and waiting out the clock while reinforcements were likely on the way.
“You’re just fishing for more information now,” Loren gritted out, clenching his fist. “I have less than an hour before Untold turns up here and starts pulling out as many powers as she needs to put me down—after that happens, are you going to believe me? Guess what, it’ll be too late.”
“Who is she?” Magnitude said, nodding to Alicia. “What role does she play in this?”
Loren closed his eyes to calm himself.
“My name is Alicia Anderson,” Alicia said quietly.
Magnitude frowned, and Loren knew the name would mean nothing to them, but he might be able to draw the connections for them.
“There is a conspiracy at work here,” Loren said flatly, “It’s been happening since before Ragdim City was erased.”
“What type of conspiracy?” Realm asked, clearly the only one who actually wanted to know.
“Meteor was created by Morgan, the same woman who you know as Tiamat,” Loren said, summarising. “She’s working with Starsealer now, and you’ve seen the results this morning.”
“It’s true,” Alicia said, wringing her hands. “I used to be a part of Meteor; I’ve seen what she did.”
“How could you have been a part of Meteor?” Magnitude said, frowning. “You don’t look a day over twenty—”
“I don’t age,” Alicia murmured. “I know Morgan doesn’t either.”
“So you’re immortal?” Realm said, impressed. “What’s Meteor?”
“Realm.” Magnitude said seriously.
“Sorry,” Realm sighed, sitting back in his throne.
“Why were you in a cell?” Interstice said, watching him.
“Because I was working with the Rapid Response Team to stop Setalite City from getting destroyed,” Loren said, “I failed—obviously, but that was because we didn’t know Untold was the mastermind behind everything; she was sitting there at the table with us when we were planning how to capture them and then feeding the information straight to Tiamat.”
“Assume for a second that I believe you about the existence of a bodysnatcher,” Interstice said, “Why wouldn’t I think that it’s you—You’re asking us to believe it’s one of the most famous heroes in the world.”
“Because, if I was Starsealer,” Loren said, doing his very best to keep his temper, “Why would I still be here talking to you? Why would I have let you go? Why wouldn’t I have just killed all three of you and been done with it?”
“I mean, it looked like Interstice was holding his own against you,” Realm said, shrugging.
“Realm,” Magnitude said flatly.
Realm grunted, clearly displeased with being sidelined in the conversation. The off-handed comment diverted entirely from the contents of his argument and left them all once more at an impasse.
“Paragon’s been missing for a few days now, and we know he wasn’t at ground zero,” Interstice said, watching.“How’s does he fit into this?”
“That’s an entire discussion all on its own,” Loren said, shaking his head. “So I’ll give you the short version—he’s most likely been dead for months; what you’ve been seeing is a copy that Tiamat and The Researcher made.”
“I’ve seen him all over the news,” Interstice said, frowning. “He’s made physical appearances all over the world in the last two months—you’re not making any sense.”
“Because you’re not listening to what I’m saying—you’re trying to derive motives instead of taking the words at face value,” Loren snapped, “Ask yourself why I’d make up such a far-fetched story when I could have just left at any time and not told you anything at all!”
“Absurdity might be your go-to strat,” Realm interjected again, “Baffle us with bullshit, you know?”
Magnitude sent him a look that, when combined with the appropriate ‘Expression,’ could have killed the boy, and Loren closed his eyes again, realizing that this wasn’t going to get any better.
“This is taking too long,” Loren said flatly. “Either you believe me, or you don’t; make a decision on your own time. I’m not ready to fight her yet, and I can’t waste any more time here humoring you while it gets worse.”
“You need to calm down; we can work this out, I promise.” Magnitude said, projecting a sympathetic voice. “You know we can’t just let you go—”
“You can’t make us stay,” Alicia mumbled. “You aren’t strong enough.”
“Damn,” Realm said, once more impressed. “That was like a line from a manga—”
“Realm!” Magnitude snapped.
“I’ll leave you with this,” Loren said, “Untold will show up here within the next couple of hours; I can guarantee it. When you see her using a bunch of powers that she shouldn’t have and doing her best to murder me, you better help me kill her—or she’s going to do to everyone what she did to Paragon.”
“Wait,” Magnitude said, “We can still talk—”
“Cube,” Loren said.
The scenery changed instantly as the Cube teleported them into a store and then outside in the car park on the other side of the wall. Twice more, the world changed before they stopped inside an alleyway.
“That went even worse than I expected,” Loren said, frustrated. “Cube, find our next target.”
“Our remaining targets are all currently moving,” Cube said. “One moment.”
“All of them?” Alicia said.
“Prickpunch is currently driving a vehicle back into the city,” Cube said, “Malaise is skateboarding near the beachfront, and Flume has just arrived at the public swimming pool.”
“That’s really invasive,” Alicia said quietly. “How are you actually locating everyone?”
“Each person possesses a telecommunications device, which makes it a simple task to locate their exact position,” Cube said, “Once I have that information, I can sift through the many video recording devices throughout the city to track their position in real-time.”
“Not exactly a proponent of privacy, are you?” Loren murmured.
“If Privacy was their goal,” Cube said, “then they should have made it more difficult for us to access.”
“That’s a terrible argument,” Loren frowned, following the floating cubes lead out of the alleyway. “You could use that to justify any number of terrible things.”
Cube seemed to consider his words.
“If you could provide an example?” Cube said.
Loren sent a glance up to the Cube and thought for a moment.
“If you didn’t want to get stabbed in the face, you should have made it more difficult for me to stab you in the face,” Loren said, waving his hand vaguely. “Acting against those weaker than yourself just because they can’t deter you isn’t something you should be doing Cube—you absolutely need a valid reason that exists outside of ‘they couldn’t stop me.’”
“An interesting rule,” Cube said. “Do all humans adhere to this principle?”
“No,” Loren said flatly, “That’s why it’s such a problem.”
Alicia ducked her head, no doubt making the direct connection to the monster she had followed and the fractured lives that had been left in their wake.
“Tiamat, Starsealer, Marrow, Levima—none of them have a valid reason to justify the things they’ve done,” Loren said quietly. “They only see their desires, and they’ll destroy anyone or anything that gets in their way—they couldn’t be deterred, so they acted out their will on the world.”
“Morgan had a reason,” Alicia mumbled.
The bubblings of anger were still present, just beneath the surface, and he turned a harsh eye towards her.
“You think she has something that justifies the things she has done?” Loren frowned. “I’d love to hear that, Alicia.”
“I’m not—I wasn’t trying to justify it….” Alicia said quickly before trailing off. “It’s just….”
Loren waited, feeling the stirrings of guilt rising and overtaking his anger—he brought his hand up to his face. He was such a mess; everything was becoming too much again; how was he supposed just to take all of this in stride?
“She told us that we were saving the planet,” Alicia said, cradling her wrist. “Stopping all the waste, the pollution, the destruction of habitats, forests, rivers, and lakes—that was her goal; I don’t think she was lying about that.”
Protecting the environment was a good goal, and if it had been anyone else, he’d have been on board with it—but that line ran out the moment your actions started actively harming innocent people.
“It’s a noble goal in principle, but she lost the right to live free when she started killing innocents,” Loren voiced his thoughts. “You just have to look at what she did to you or the countless other lives she’s ruined to see that whatever dream she might have once had is hollow—she’s as much of a monster as her namesake.”
Evelynn Miller may have looked the part of a monster, but Tiamat and The Researcher had been the ones who’d turned her into Taker.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter what we think,” Loren said, forcing everything down and away. “Tiamat obviously thinks her methods are justified, and people have acted on much less than that.
As it turned out, Prickpunch’s daylight identity was that of a policewoman—which was almost as unfortunate as Magnitude’s status as a hero. Worse, she was currently performing a car patrol of the city with her partner.
It made getting close enough to her to copy her power a difficult thing to do without alerting even more people to their presence.
“What does she do?” Alicia asked.
“Prickpunch is capable of emitting a conceptual energy attack; it appears as a straight line of energy that shatters barriers and breaks guards,” Cube said, “It has been shown to work against a wide variety of defenses but doesn’t inflict any actual damage by itself.”
“Can you stop the car somehow?” Loren mumbled, hood up to cover his hair.
“Yes,” Cube said.
A flicker of silver appeared near the back wheel of the police car before the car sagged down at the back left corner. The driver turned the car off onto the side of the road and put it in park before the doors opened.
Loren watched them step out and couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed; They were a beacon of authority that even Loren wouldn’t have messed with when he was younger because fighting with the police as a civilian had no win condition, and despite his many issues, he wasn’t stupid.
The Loren that had once stared up at his ceiling every other night, wondering when his neighbor would just go to sleep, would have never risked it. He’d spent all those years locked away, and with his history, it would have been a one-way ticket back to hell.
“What did you even run over?” Loren said as they passed by the car. “I heard the pop from back there.”
May, according to the name tag, tossed a glance up at him from where she was inspecting the flattened tire.
“Not too sure,” Prickpunch sighed, standing up. “Nothing sticking out of the tire that I can see—suppose it’s better that it happened now while we’re in the city.”
The male partner was leaning against the front passenger door, speaking into a phone quietly.
“True enough, getting a flat out in the sticks would be rough,” Loren agreed. “I’m curious, do police have a tow truck stashed away for this kind of thing, or do you just call up a local one like everyone else?”
Prickpunch looked equal parts amused and annoyed at the question.
“Like some kind of privately operated tow-truck?” Prickpunch said bemused, “Nothing like that here, we carry spares usually, but as it happens, our spare is currently already installed on the front right—we’re gonna get someone to bring us a new one.”
“I’ve played enough video games to know that after dark, the road turns into territory war between the cops and the car clubbers,” Loren said, raising an eyebrow. “That’s the real reason, right? Too many skids? All our tax money is going to pay for your tires, huh?”
“Far too many video games, I’d say,” Prickpunch snorted. “Might have been more fun if that was the case.”
Alicia tapped his palm with the same signal as earlier.
“I bet,” Loren said, feigning a smile. “Hope you get it sorted out soon.”
He tossed a wave at the officer before continuing on his way.
“Mmhm.” Prickpunch sighed, crouching back down near the wheel.
He almost couldn’t believe it had been that easy, and every step he took away from the police car was one spent wondering if he was going to be shot in the back of the head.
“Guard Break Replicated.” Cube said. “We have now accumulated the minimum amount of Expressions for an engagement.”
“You don’t want the last two?” Loren frowned.
“I said no such thing,” Cube said. “I welcome more Expressions; collecting them is one of my primary functions.”
“What are the other ones?” Loren wondered.
“Protecting the host—” Cube said, before pausing. “and taking over the world.”
“Uh-huh,” Loren said dryly. “If you’re going to do that, at least wait until we deal with the existing existential threats before becoming the next one, yeah?”
“I will be patient,” Cube agreed.
The Peacekeeper poll up on RR was pretty evenly spread, with Paragon pulling out in front, Alleviate, Untold, and Artisan following up. I’m interested to see the results of this one as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, the last chapter of Reroll is rapidly approaching us; I’m still tightening the chapters up, and one of the Interludes is now up on Patreon. Chapter 87 is looking like it will be the final.
If you’re enjoying my work, and you’re tearing out your hair, wondering what you could possibly read with no bi-weekly Reroll to look forward to; Contention, the next free web serial will be making an appearance, most likely the week after Reroll finishes. They are unrelated to each other, but you might find something you like in it. Contention will feature base-building, summoning, survival, magic, monsters, taming, crafting, and a mystery of a world overrun with horrible creatures.
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 83 – Interlude Alice.
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 10