The temperature spiked, and the entire right side of his body began to burn before the two shields managed to cover him completely. Loren was lifted off the ground, and his back slammed into the alleyway wall as the din of fire and noise washed over him.
The brickwork sagged under the impact, and he began to sink into it before the wall gave way under the forces bearing down on it. He saw glimpses of passing walls, doors, and windows as the bottom floor of the building evaporated around him.
Loren passed through the front wall of the building before hitting the tarmac and being flung up into the air. Everything was a blur of color until his arc began to slow, and for a moment, he could see the sky above—his trajectory changed as he was yanked downwards and to the side, traveling backward at speeds he couldn’t even follow.
What he could follow was the massive dome of light expanding across Hanta City moving almost as fast as they were as it gave chase, mercilessly tearing apart everything it came into contact with. The pain on his right side began to fade as a half-dozen spikes filled with Alicia’s Expression pierced him.
“Cube—” Loren said.
The dome stopped less than a meter away from them, and Cube turned their backward retreat into a wide circle around the perimeter of the still present dome.
“Apologies.” Cube said, “I wasn’t able to shield Alicia in time.”
Loren couldn’t even focus on the words because their speed suddenly tripled, and everything turned into a mess of colors again once more.
“I can’t keep track of anything,” Loren managed, “Give me something so I can see.”
Nigritude’s power begun to crawl up his skin; it rushed up to his chest and towards his neck. The exo-energy was warm to the touch, and he felt his muscles tighten into steel cords beneath his skin.
It swallowed his face, sealing him inside, and then the world sharpened, the details of the buildings they were threading their way through suddenly visible once more. Loren’s head snapped up as the building beside them exploded, and a hand reached through the wall towards them—
The environment changed instantly as Cube jaunted them up into the air; Loren lost sight of the attacker, but the new vantage point showed a clear view of the dome from above. It was dissipating now, fading away unevenly as large areas vanished, and as the side facing them came down, he could see the damage it had caused. Nothing was left standing in the blast zone; the buildings were scattered across the ground in a carpet of loose concrete and steel.
A thin, glowing lance of light flashed upwards from their previous position before suddenly bursting, and then Alice Wroth stood before them in the air.
“Now that is interesting,” Alice said, eyebrow raised. “A physical construct with an Expression of its own?”
She looked exactly as she had the first time he’d made it to the mainland.
“Expressions, rather—That’s clearly the shield that was keeping you trapped, but the owner was already dead if I recall,” Alice said curiously, looking to the air beside her head. “Portals as well, and some kind of solar absorption field?”
Loren didn’t say anything in response, half because he was far too angry and half because the more time she wasted talking, the more time Cube had to steal her power.
“It’s feeding into that black film covering you, most likely a form of augmentation given that you managed to see me coming through that wall,” Alice continued raising an eyebrow, “You’ve been very busy, Loren.”
Loren had to bite back a response that might have restarted the fight immediately if he’d said it aloud.
“It’s been only hours since you would have first awoken,” Alice said, genuinely surprised. “Just how many Expressions did you manage to take in so little time? I’m glad I decided to check in when I did; at your current rate, you may have presented a challenge—in a few months.”
He tried not to let the words get to him, but her complete lack of urgency lent the words an unwavering confidence—even after all the powers they’d managed to take, Alice wasn’t even fazed. She didn’t speak immediately this time, and he said what he thought might get her to continue talking.
“Starsealer,” Loren said quietly.
“Oh! Did I tell you that already, or did you figure it out yourself?” Alice said, amused. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter which; how have you been enjoying your stay in our facility? I hope you appreciate the little mercy we left for you.”
Her choice of wording almost sent him over the edge again, but he managed to swallow the anger back down—it should almost be time.
“You’re definitely not as energetic as I remember—you used to be far more talkative,” Alice observed, tapping a finger against her cheek. “How many times have we had this conversation now, Loren?”
“I’m not about to tell you,” Loren said, voice low.
“Your circumstances seem to have stripped you of your good humor, I see,” Alice laughed before tilting her head. “You haven’t immediately attacked me yet either—are you stalling in the hopes that your little box might finish stealing from me?”
Loren felt a wave of unease take him, and he could bring himself to respond—she’d figured it out so quickly, she must have been able to feel what the Cube was doing. Why wasn’t she attempting to getaway?
“Loren, we have a problem,” Cube said.
Loren felt like that was the greatest of understatements.
“Alice is heavily resistant to the replicating process,” Cube said, “Each Expression is shielded, and they are layered beneath one another in a way that forces me to work through them one at a time before moving onto the next—these issues will significantly slow the process.”
Alice started to laugh, and Loren gritted his teeth at the noise.
“Did you think this was the first time I’ve ever dealt with an Expression like this? I’ve dealt with dozens of them,” Alice said giggling, “Loren—your ability to recognize scope is so quaint, but I’ll admit that it’s a failing that most sentients share.”
Stalling was now off the table; their plan had unraveled before it had even begun, and Loren found that he didn’t even care anymore; he just wanted to hurt her.
“I think it’s a failure you share,” Loren said, reaching for something personal. “I bet you thought you knew the scope of Paragon’s power when you first fought him—how did that turn out again? Desperately trying to hold your body together as our entire planet looked on?”
The smile on her face faded away, and for a second Loren thought she was going to attack him.
“Sound Augmentation Replicated,” Cube said.
Alice didn’t even turn to look at it, completely unconcerned that they’d taken one of her powers. The moment dragged on, and then her smile returned, a shade different than before.
“You know, Julian was the first time I’ve ever failed at taking a body?” Alice said, eyes glinting. “I don’t think I need to tell you just how overwhelming the man was, but I think it might surprise you to know that it wasn’t his strength that defeated me that day.”
“Cope harder, Alice.” Loren said, “I’ve seen the video of you getting absolutely destroyed—don’t be a sore loser.”
Alice laughed again.
“I suppose I am something of a sore loser—call it a lack of experience with the subject,” Alice agreed easily, entirely unruffled. “I’ll tell you right now though—even if you had all of Julian’s strength and all of his combat experience, you wouldn’t be able to do what he did that day.”
“Bullshit,” Lore said without pause.
Internally he was shaken at the words—what was he supposed to get from that? That Paragon had done something to kill her that had nothing to do with his strength? Or was she simply messing with him?
“Julian was the most physically capable being I’ve ever fought; I have no shame in admitting that, but we had him contained inside Antaeus for months—an exercise in frustration though it may have eventually been revealed to be,” Alice said, eyes glittering. “Do you really think I don’t have an Expression that could work around his strength, something to cancel it out, or just outright kill him? You don’t extinguish a star by throwing fire at it, Loren.”
Loren fought down the angry flush that was crawling up his neck at the sheer condescension dripping off her every word.
“Then why didn’t you?” Loren managed. “If you could have killed him whenever you wanted—why didn’t you?”
“I didn’t want to kill him, Loren,” Alice said, shaking her head in disappointment. “He was an anomaly, powerful in a way I’ve never seen; killing him would have been a monumental waste.”
“You wanted his body then,” Loren said, “Why didn’t you take it? Why let him destroy you?”
“I tried,” Alice confessed, spreading her arms. “I already told you that it was the first time I’ve ever failed; Julian’s Expression was unique, an outward projection of his soul that surrounded him completely—I’m sure you’ve felt the remnants leaking out around him.”
The remnants? She had to be talking about his Aura of Calm—that had been Julian’s soul?
“I attempted to subsume him as I have countless times before, but I was rebuffed,” Alice said, looking down at her hands. “That failure stripped me of all the potency I had cultivated until that moment.”
Alice seemed lost in memory for a moment.
“Then Julian hit me,” Alice laughed, something approaching fear in her eyes as she recalled it. “A trillion lives over countless millennia, and everything I’d built was simply gone; you’ll never be able to appreciate just how much I lost in that moment of weakness.”
Loren stared at her, unable to even picture the number of lives she had taken.
“You’ve destroyed that many lives… but all you can think about is what you lost,” Loren said, genuinely stunned. “You’re a monster, Alice.”
“I suppose from your perspective, I might be,” Alice eyed him, considering. “Now here I am, with all of the Expressions but a fraction of the power—I’m lucky this happened on a world with such a high population, attempting to build myself back up on an empty planet would have been a very difficult task.”
“Self-Levitation Replicated,” Cube said.
A useless power, given what the Cube could already do, and the replication rate was so slow that they would need days to get anywhere. Worse was that this was what it was like when they were both standing still.
“I know you want my Expression,” Loren said, clenching his fist. “If you could just take it whenever you wanted—why put me through all of this?”
“Because your species has already ruined me once,” Alice said, raising her head slightly to look down on him. “This time, I’m going to take what I want in a way that I know can’t fail.”
“Cube,” Loren said quietly. “Kill Alice.”
“Acknowledged,” Cube said, “Engaging.”
Alice blurred forward, moving faster than he could see, even with the Exo-energy boosting his perception to superhuman levels. A series of white spikes flickered into existence, fanning out around them—they vanished from their place, replaced by white streaks of light that bombarded her position.
Cube fired off a series of sparks in every direction—frame by frame; the world changed around him as they appeared at each of them in turn, leaving a forest of white lights behind them each time, all targeting Alice. A coil of orange light surrounded her, and each of the white spikes that hit it winked out of existence on contact, taking chunks of the orange light with it.
More white lines emerged from empty points in space around them, and Alice exploded, a cloud of white energy that passed through all of the attacks and continued towards them. It coalesced back into Alice on the other side, moving twice her previous speed.
Cube was forced to displace them again, and when they reappeared, Loren could see the back of Alice’s head. Her forward momentum vanished as she found herself being pulled inexorably backward against her will.
A wall of white spikes filled the air between them, and she spun, exploding into the light again and passing through the wall. A white plane of energy appeared between her foot and Loren’s face as she perched on the other side of it.
Alice began to shrink, and she looked surprised for an instant before the effect of Contempts power broke, and she began to grow rapidly, returning to her normal size. Something disturbed the air between them before the Kinetic Barrier she was standing on suddenly moved, crashing into Loren.
Loren found himself flipping head over heels before Cube managed to regain control of their descent—everything went black, and when he tried to say something, no sound came out of his mouth. He couldn’t even see his hands—the darkness vanished, and they were no longer where they had been, now hundreds of meters closer to the beach.
Their location wasn’t the only thing that had changed.
A massive sheet of gold stood in the air above the water, hundreds of meters tall and glistening in the sun. The surface of the golden structure rippled like water, and a massive, ridged face with million of teeth pushed its way free of the surface.
Droplets of molten gold the size of cars rained down on the ocean below them, sending gouts of steam up as they broke the surface. An immense hand emerged, gripping the sides of the sheet as it dragged itself further out of the horizontal pool of gold.
Its mouth opened in a silent roar that sent a barrage of gold into Hanta City, shattering buildings under the lasting impacts and leaving streets filled with molten gold. The ocean below couldn’t withstand the force of its voice, surging away and leaving the sand below to weather it.
Alice stood on top of it, hand beneath the surface of the gold.
Cube?” Loren said quietly, still unable to hear his own voice. “ Can we even win this?”
The golden horror abandoned its attempt to leave its pool, instead reaching up and burying its thick fingers into the edge where Alice had been standing above it, swallowing her in the fist of gold. The entire structure fell apart, losing its cohesion and falling down into the churning waters below. The sound that had been missing finally returned, and the hissing of steam rang out below them.
A single blob of gold remained in the air, the precious metal sloughed off of it, revealing Alice standing in the air, unharmed and smiling.
“I do not know,” Cube admitted.
Reroll is now finished on Patreon! Chapter 86, the final chapter will be released here on Monday. The first chapter of Contention is now up on Patreon for the EX-rank.
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 86 – Finale
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 11
Contention – Prelude.