Chapter 61

Cellblock, Hero HQ, Setalite City, 11:47 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd​, 2022.

“She won’t speak to anyone,” Alana said simply. “It’s highly unlikely that she would speak to you either, but you do have a habit of surprising us.”

“I didn’t think she could talk at all; her mouth was stitched shut the last time I saw her.” Loren said quietly, “I thought we were bringing in Haunt for this?”

“She broke the embedded metal holding her mouth shut when she bit Untold,” Alana nodded, gesturing to the door. “Threadbreaker and Haunt are due here in two hours, but anything we gain now will make it easier in the long run.”

“I don’t even have access to the pheromones anymore,” Loren pointed out awkwardly. “I don’t think I’ll be surprising anyone.”

“I am aware,” Alana said dryly—well, she had set it up after all. “I think you are far more persuasive than you give yourself credit for—keep in mind I haven’t been exposed to those pheromones, so I would consider myself an accurate gauge in this instance.”

“So you want me to get her to talk about what exactly?” Loren mumbled.

“Anything,” Alana said simply, “Once somebody breaks their silence, they are far more likely to open up in summary conversations. Establishing a connection with her now can only benefit us in future interrogations.”

Loren gripped the back of his neck for a moment, uncomfortable. Just getting her to speak to him, it wasn’t like that was wrong, surely? If it was just to get her to open up…

The room looks like the cell he’d been kept in when he’d had the time stop power, and Taker was practically mummified in restraints, mostly designed to keep her claws and teeth away from any of the others.

Loren picked his way up to the cage and stood in front of it; Taker looked up, then went back to looking at the floor. The patterned scales could almost be mistaken for a tattoo, and the yellow skin seemed almost pink without direct sunlight.

Her eyes were glowing, a far more vivid yellow that drew his gaze than anything else about her.

“Hey, Evelynn,” Loren said quietly. “It’s good to see you again.”

Evelynn looked up again, studying him without expression—Loren knew from her perspective she’d never seen him before, so it had probably caused some confusion. They’d place a blanket around her in an attempt at modesty, but it was starting to slip down her gaunt shoulders and exposing her neckline.

Even sitting down, she was intimidatingly tall, and he used his hand to brace himself against the ground as he sat down on the floor. Evelyn Miller was far too thin for someone so physically powerful—stretched to the degree that would have perhaps been cartoonish if it wasn’t so horrifying.

The shape of her face remained remarkably unchanged, and she still looked like the photos he’d seen of her before they’d done this to her. The two sharp and pronounced canines drew his eye for a moment—the metal stitching that had once held her mouth shut was snapped at the corners of her mouth.

“You wouldn’t remember me, but we’ve spoken before.” Loren admitted, “Well, I spoke to you anyway—My name is Loren.”

Evelynn continued to watch him, no longer looking away. Loren studied the black fur that seemed to emerge from her wrists, surrounding them not unlike a lion’s mane. Her legs were hidden beneath the blanket, but he knew there was matching fur around her ankles.

Loren decided to act while he still had her attention.

“I’d just killed Naomi at the time when you caught up to me,” Loren said, squashing the sick feeling building inside him at the memory. “I like to think you and I bonded over that.”

Evelynn twisted slightly, sending the chains and restraints rattling against each other, but her gaze remained locked on his face. He needed to break the silence, to get her to respond to his words in some way.

“That probably doesn’t make much sense to you,” Loren commented, leaning back on his hands.

One of her claws scraped lightly against the ground, drawing his gaze, the ground remained undamaged.

“I can explain it for you if you would like.” Loren wondered. “You’ll have to nod if you’re up for it.”

Loren fell silent, and the two of them stared at each other through the cage. Almost ten seconds passed before Evelynn slowly nodded her head. Loren forced a smile onto his face, feeling awful that he was manipulating her.

“Okay,” Loren nodded back, “I’ll tell you something really interesting, but I’ll need you to do something in return—you’ll need to call me by my name. Sound like a deal, Evelynn?”

There was another long pause before Evelynn ducked her head slightly in agreement. Loren swallowed at her compliance; maybe Alana was right about him after all. He leaned all the way forward until his forehead rested against the bars—lucky for him, there was no current.

“I’m a time traveler,” Loren whispered. “I’ve seen a lot of things that I shouldn’t have, and I can always go back again, you know? That’s how I knew you were in the sewers and where Naomi was hiding.”

Evelynn stared at him, so he kept speaking.

“One of the times I went back, I tracked Naomi down and killed her,” Loren continued, fudging the actual events in the purpose of persuasion, “That’s where I met you—I’m sorry to say that you got hurt pretty badly during the fighting.”

They fell into silence again, and Loren sat back, letting her think about that for a moment.

He tilted his head back enough that he could stare up at the lightbulb on the ceiling above him. For a moment, he wondered if simply observing it might cause it to shatter—Loren had recognized something about himself these last few loops, something that he wasn’t sure how he should feel about it.

He was changing.

If someone had told him at the beginning of this mess, he would have been horrified at some of the things he would go on to do. Treating people, even enemies, without mercy was something he’d never thought himself capable of—breaking Arret’s shoulder was a recent example that immediately came to mind—putting Vapid in the hospital because he hadn’t wanted to let her walk all over him.

Killing Naomi in the middle of a fight. Fighting Reset with the intent to kill because he knew the villain would survive it. Killing Beat while he was helpless in a fit of anger—he’d lost pieces of himself, and it hadn’t been an even process.

His tight grip on his morals had begun to slip, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. It wasn’t always fighting and killing either—he’d begun to lie to people for the sake of speeding things along like he just had with Evelynn. He’d stopped completely explaining things to these living, breathing people because it had grown exhausting, having to catch them all up, again and again.

He’d begun to misrepresent things because he knew it would evoke certain reactions, fast track them towards more useful conversational places. White lies, manipulations, broken promises, to himself and others, all the things he’d hated growing up. Somewhere along the line, he’d begun to use those same methods.

It was even worse because he was able to justify it—To think that for all of his stubbornness, all of his promises, and all of his spiteful adherence to his morals… All of that meant nothing in the face of a reason that had reached the threshold of ‘good enough.’

He’d braced himself to avoid falling, only to dive straight off the cliff anyway.

“To be fair, Naomi’s managed to kill me a few times as well,” Loren allowed because he knew it would draw her interest. “I’m not sure on the exact score, but it’s a few on either side, you know? I’ve got a bunch of stories if you want to hear some, but it’s your turn first.”

Surprisingly enough, Evelynn spoke.

“I am not supposed to speak, Loren,” Evelynn murmured, barely audible.

Evelynn’s voice didn’t rasp or sound at all strange, despite the fact that it had remained unused for so long—it was the voice of a woman and not the amalgamation they’d made her into. It didn’t at all match her appearance.

“I figured it was something like that,” Loren said eventually, “I wouldn’t worry about following those orders right now—I plan on going back again pretty soon, so all of this will be erased. So feel free to ask me anything you want to know—everyone’s going to forget it anyway.”

Another twisted truth, spoken with confidence and aimed to show her that he wasn’t at all worried about consequences.

“If she killed you several times,” Evelynn murmured, “How are you still alive?”

Loren answered, keeping her speaking was the main goal here.

“I’m kind of like that teammate of yours, Reset,” Loren responded. “If I die, I just come back to life again. I’ve also met most of Epilogue, if you were wondering how I knew about him, more than once in the majority of cases. I know how I feel about them, but I’m more curious about how you feel—do you like any of them?”

Evelynn stared at him for a long while.

“Reset,” Evelynn mumbled.

A one-word answer wasn’t the best sign to give her previous sentences.

“Really? I thought you were going to say Mara,” Loren said, genuinely surprised. “Reset seemed a bit angry—maybe he’s not always like that, though.”

Something about his appearance had set the villain off; he’d been almost at ease before Loren had turned around.

“No. He is always angry,” Evelynn murmured. “I understand him.”

Loren wondered what exactly it was about Reset’s anger that made him so relatable to her. Naomi was an incredibly anger person, but it wasn’t like he could expect Evelynn to like her.

“What about Tiamat?” Loren wondered. “Do you like her?”

“No,” Evelynn said flatly.

Another step backward, but the reaction was more potent.

“The Researcher?” Loren pressed.

Evelynn didn’t respond, and her mouth formed into a thin line, lips pressed together tightly. Reset was relatable to her, and there hadn’t been any response he could gauge when he’d mentioned Mara. Tiamat and The Researcher seemed to be off the table entirely; either she was too angry to talk about them or too scared.

“I don’t know enough about either of those last two to have formed an opinion honestly,” Loren admitted, “I’ll run into them eventually though, it’s bound to happen at some point. I guess I’ll have a chat with them then, see if we hit it off.”

“You should avoid them,” Evelynn murmured. “Unless you wish to become like I am.”

That was a piece of information that held some hidden facets—they’d done this to her, something that had already been speculated about to some extent. This was confirmation, though, and it also outlined to some extent what they could expect from them.

“Those two were the ones who did this to you? I’d come to the conclusion that they were the ones who switched Paragon out with the fake, so it makes sense.” Loren said, taking a stab in the dark.

Evelynn just stared at him, eyes glowing—and it took him a moment to understand that she was confused and then what it actually meant.

“You didn’t know about that?” Loren said, surprised. “Naomi didn’t either?”

“No,” Evelynn responded, still staring. “Paragon is gone?”

If she truly didn’t know, what did that mean exactly? Was Epilogue actually not involved in the whole Paragon situation? Or were they the type to compartmentalize their plans? Why would they keep something like that from Evelynn—why would they keep it from Naomi? Her stated goal was to kill the man and take his powers before moving onto the other Peacekeepers—if it had been Tiamat and The Researcher that had switched them out, why wouldn’t they have told her?

“I’ll admit that doesn’t make much sense to me,” Loren said slowly, “Do your teammates not share information or plans with each other?”

There was a small pause before Evelynn started to laugh quietly, and it was filled with so many horrible things Loren probably shouldn’t have called It such.

“You know so much,” Evelynn murmured, “But you don’t know this? Epilogue isn’t a team, Loren.”

Seeing how Lecture and Reset had interacted in the subway had shown him that there was some tension there, obviously, but he’d spent enough time around other teams to know that was pretty much universal—Everyone had bad days, even serial killers.

“You all work together towards shared goals,” Loren said lightly, “That says team to me; dysfunctional doesn’t equate to non-existent.”

Evelynn shook her head, and the heavy blanket slipped off her shoulders entirely, exposing the entirety of her gaunt and still naked form.

“I am pointed in the same direction as the other weapons,” Evelynn said, watching him. “I had a team once, and this is not that.”

Loren nodded in understanding, trying to unpack what that meant exactly. ‘Weapons’ was a loaded term if he’d ever heard one, and it didn’t sound like she was speaking poetically about it. It came across more like a title that had been assigned to her—and possibly the other members.

“I suppose that means Tiamat is the one aiming you?” Loren wondered, paying careful attention to her expression.

“Yes,” Evelynn said tightly.

Then that made her the one that Loren needed to be aimed at; cut off the head, and the body will die held a certain amount of irony given what the woman had named herself—but it should be effective either way.

There was a noise from the door, something heavy and metal striking against concrete, and he took that to indicate it was Alana’s method of informing him that his time was over. Evelynn had clearly heard the noise as well, and it served as a reminder to them both that they didn’t exist in a vacuum; her glowing eyes trailed away from the door and landed back on him, considering.

“Well, she spoke to me,” Loren admitted, shaking his head. “I guess that means my real superpower was making friends with villains all along.”

Alana cupped her armored fingers together on the desktop, knuckles down and thumbs interlocked.

“Yes, It seemed to go well. I apologize for interrupting you; it wasn’t my choice.” Alana apologized, “I had a difficult time getting permission for a complete unknown to speak with her, and that permission was quickly revoked once the information reached those in higher positions—I imagine this was something my other selves must have dealt with to some extent.”

“Yeah, we never spoke about that in the previous loop.” Loren admitted, “I ended up getting assassinated by Naomi before we had a chance to talk about that.”

Alana bowed her head fractionally before removing her hands from the desk, but Loren’s thoughts were pulling away from the current discussion despite himself. He couldn’t help his thoughts looping back around to the fact that in the past, he would have handled that conversation with far more empathy.

Loren hesitated before it all came pouring out of him.

“I’m changing,” Loren said, voicing his concerns. “I knew I would, right from the start. It’s happening in ways that I don’t notice right away, but it’s also getting harder to ignore.”

Alana took the complete topic change in stride and seemed completely unbothered by his expectation that she keep up.

“It is not unusual or even unexpected for situations as difficult as this to have an effect on you,” Alana responded. “Our frame of reference is vastly different, Loren. You are as I have always known you to be, and we only met yesterday. If you were to elaborate, I would be able to give you more constructive feedback.”

He wasn’t at all the same person, and the words were like an unexpected spike to the chest. Once again, he was made aware that all of their previous interactions were entirely one-sided. Alana had forgotten all of the previous struggles they’d gone through, the discussions, the battles, and everything else they’d shared.

He regretted speaking up because now he was confused, hurt, and angry.

“I keep noticing myself doing things that I wouldn’t ever have done before,” Loren murmured, “Taking the quick route when I know I shouldn’t, putting things off to deal with later because I know the other person will forget… It’s just…. Did you know that we used to argue about everything, Alana? Tactics, morality, how to deal with all of this? Now it barely happens anymore…. I just follow your lead—even when I think it’s wrong.”

Alana’s helmet stared back at him, revealing nothing—was she surprised? Had she already come to that conclusion somewhere in the back of her mind? She took a moment too long to respond, and it fed into his growing anger.

“There was a time where you locked me in a room and forced me to watch the death of Setalite City,” Loren said challengingly. “Because I refused to let a single person die, and I kept getting involved, trying to save everyone. Running around like an idiot and dying before the end of the city—it wasn’t the optimal course to take; it was a lesson and a punishment.”

Alana didn’t speak, and they stared at each other, the featureless helmet weathering the mixture of hurt and fury on his face. The silence grew strained, but instead of snapping, it just kept on growing, along with the rest of his bottled-up anger.

“You killed me once, you know?” Loren said, aiming to get some kind of response. 

Wraith vs Wildcard(Homunculus) – Artwork by Jocamecht.

“Put your hand right through my face and out the other side.” Loren continued, “Murdered me out of a mistaken revenge because the pain of losing all of your friends got the better of you—then a few loops later, you turned around and forced me to watch all of mine die in turn.”

“Loren…” Alana said softly, but he was too far in it to stop.

“I have to give you a pass, though, because it’s not the present you that did it, is it?—You’ve hurt me, jailed me, saved me, taught me, killed me—fucked me,” Loren spat, taking an awful pleasure in seeing her flinch, visible even within her armor. “We’ve been through so much, Alana—and you don’t remember any of it. What constructive criticism do you have for me? How am I supposed to feel about this?”

Alana didn’t have a response for him, and the chair clattered backward as he surged to his feet. Loren spun away from her, heading for the door—angry, hurt, and entirely disgusted with himself for taking it out on her.

Another one down my dudes.

We’re getting close to the end of season 2, which probably lands about chapter 70ish, give or take a few chapters. Were also at 180k words, which always blows my mind every time I see it. After this, we’re onto the final season. 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 63 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.

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Chapter 60

Setalite City Hero HQ, 9:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren was the first to return to the meeting room, feeling both out of place while walking around the HQ and having little to contribute in the way of investigating that the others couldn’t. It didn’t help that the cracks were beginning to show, as each of the heroes had begun sniping at each other.

He sat down at the table and placed his head against the dark, reflective material of the tabletop.

The fractured nature of the group was almost entirely his fault—all of the discontents stemmed from the decision to report Dovetail at the start of the loop. Within two hours of being reported, the man was locked in a cell below the HQ, and his team was hit with the first stress point as a long-time member came under scrutiny for planning a cold-blooded murder. A wedge had formed between them—Secluded, Tag, and Fracture had banded together in support of the decision, while Raindancer, and Gradient, opposed it.

The second stress point was revealing what he knew to Mongoose—that had obviously caused a rift between her and Gradient, but further than that, it had resulted in the creation of an Anti-Gradient faction within the Rapid Response Team.

Secluded was clearly aware of what happened between Mongoose and Gradient, given her comments at the previous meeting, and it was entirely unlikely that the others hadn’t found out either, whether from that comment alone or by the fact that Mongoose had apparently left the team.

Those two things had contributed to the current configuration of the loop, and he wondered if there was anything he could do to improve it. Obviously, he could just not tell Mongoose about Gradient, as disgusting as the thought was, if it helped them survive the week…

The alternative and somehow even less attractive of the two options was to not report Dovetail—a terrible choice to make, but there were other ways to handle it. He could advise Alana not to bring him in initially and instead attempt to blackmail the man into inaction, leaving him in a state of not committing murder but also being around to assist his team in the coming fights.

Loren was hesitant to try that for obvious reasons, not the least of which was the moral implications for both of them and the fact that Dovetail would avoid punishment in the process—something that kind of pissed him off, given how the man had acted towards him in the previous loops.

He wasn’t sure what he would do exactly, but it was something to think about later. The main issue for now was—the door opened, and he glanced up.

“He’s nowhere in the building,” Raindancer said, moving to sit at the table. “No sign that he was in that hallway at all actually—the equipment that was on camera is still locked away in the closet, untouched.”

Loren listened quietly and nodded.

“His power clearly isn’t defensive immunity to other powers than,” Loren said in response.

“Yeah,” Raindancer said, “Doesn’t make sense anymore, given what we know.”

“I was thinking about it,” Loren mumbled. “He knew exactly when to disappear to avoid a confrontation, and now we find out that he was never in that hallway to begin with.”

“Mm,” Raindancer said, encouraging him to continue. “I’m listening,”

“Let me think for a minute,” Loren requested, leaning forward onto his elbows and closing his eyes.

“Did you forget to turn your brain on?” Raindancer said, amused. “I hope that’s not a reoccurring problem.”

Loren blew a huff of air out of his nose before turning his thoughts inward.

It was a matter of strategy and desire—People only ever did things they wanted to do or things they received some kind of benefit from doing. So it was a matter of simulating what a person might want or do in a situation.

‘Mathew the Leak’ wanted to mislead them, he wanted to gather information, and he wanted to avoid being caught.

Somehow Mathew had learned that they were going to attempt to apprehend him—Loren’s first thought had been directed, perhaps uncharitably, towards Secluded and Tag having something to do with it. Given their spirited defense of the man, it wasn’t impossible that either of them had warned him in advance.

That thought had changed over the next hour as some of the facts made their way back to him.

Mathew had drawn their eye to a specific part of the building and concealed his real location in the process—well enough to avoid being picked up on a camera in the building or the surrounding ones. He’d somehow known they were watching him in real-time and dropped the fake scene in the hallway the very second they’d gone after him.

Mathew could mess with what they saw, heard, and felt; that much was obvious—the cart had rattled when it was pulled to the side, the wheels failing to catch on the slippery floor; Touch, sound, and visual elements were present. Yet the water had vanished along with the rest of the equipment, which had apparently never left its place in a locked room. So the question was, where was Mathew while they were watching the empty hallway?

Loren knew where he would have been.

“He was in the room with us,” Loren said slowly, opening his eyes. “That’s how he knew what was happening—he was using his power to make us think he was on the other side of the building, but he was here listening to everything that was said.”

Raindancer sat up, alarmed, pressing her finger against her earpiece.

“Wraith, timeguy says Mathew was in the room with us during the meeting, be advised he could still be around,” Raindancer said seriously. “What? You could have shared that with us already—”

Loren turned his attention to the room as Raindancer complained about Alana’s tendency not to share her deductions. If he was right, it was entirely possible that Mathew was still here, or at least still in the building.

Having a couple of hundred invisible hands right now would make him feel a lot safer.

“Anything else I should be passing on?” Raindancer said, annoyed, hand still to her ear. “You both seem to have a theory on his power—Somebody share it with me?”

Loren hummed quietly to himself, figures that Alana had already worked it out. There had been a furious discussion after he’d first vanished about the nature of his power, and the common theme spoke aloud had been some kind of teleportation due to his abrupt disappearance, but it hadn’t fit properly.

Alana hadn’t mentioned her own theory then either.

“He created a fake but physical scene that worked both in-person and via a camera—either he’s messing with anyone that looks at him and causing some kind of guided hallucination, or he’s leaving a multi-layered illusion over an area before leaving.” Loren said, frowning, “If it’s the first, he could go literally anywhere, and nobody would be able to ever tell because they would fall under the effect as soon as they saw him. The second is probably better for us, so let’s hope it’s that.”

“Why would it be better?” Raindancer prompted. “Not you! I’m talking to timeguy. You had your chance to share with the class.”

Loren could almost imagine Alana’s sad face under the helmet.

“A passive effect doesn’t require him to know that we’re looking for him, and we would get caught in the effect even if we snuck up on him,” Loren murmured before looking up at the ceiling. “I’m not even sure how you could get around that without a power that directly countered it somehow… Scratch that, we could make a big deal out of something secret and lure him to a building that will lockdown after a certain amount of time; once he’s inside, we fill it with gas.”

Raindancer stared at him silently, but he was lost to himself for the moment.

“The multi-layered illusions, on the other hand, would be an active ability that he has to be aware enough of a threat to use,” Loren nodded to himself. “It would still depend on how paranoid he is—if he’s walking around and constantly dropping new illusion fields, it would be difficult but not impossible for one of you to gank him with those annoying darts that Wraith uses.”

“Did you get all that?” Raindancer said, talking to Wraith over the earpiece. “Yeah. How long? Tag didn’t even back us up over the Dovetail thing, you sure you want to trust her with this? I can do it.”

Raindancer removed her hand from her ear.

“I’m on timeguy guard duty until tomorrow,” Raindancer said like she hadn’t just twisted Wraith’s bracers.

“That’s not my name,” Loren said dryly, “Lanette.”

“Doxxed by my comrades, at my own workplace no less,” Raindancer said sadly, “Never thought I’d see the day. Lucky for me, there’s about seventy-three Lanette’s in the phone book—I already checked.”

“I already knew your name long before that,” Loren pointed out, “I was stuck in a cell next to your brother Darius once—had a front-row seat to you breaking him out.”

Lanette looked taken aback as he dropped her brother’s name.

“I don’t have a brother—and for the record, I absolutely would never break a villain out, regardless of their relationship to myself,” Lanette said quickly before swallowing. “Okay, I’m starting to realize that you are a lot more dangerous than I first thought—Loren.”

Loren decided to keep the fact that she was also responsible for killing both him and Emma when she flooded the building under wraps. Instead, he decided on a more lighthearted comment.

“I think that’s how Darius Felt,” Loren said dryly, shattering the last of her false courage. “When you gave him the step-bro treatment in front of his teammates.”

Loren patted himself on the back as her expression turned alarmed once more.

Suburbs, Setalite City, 9:47 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd​, 2022.

“The fact that I had to wake you up speaks volumes of your ability as a bodyguard,” Loren said, amused.

“I’m a light sleeper.” Lanette insisted solemnly. “I would have been up in half a second if anyone tried anything.”

Loren just shook his head.

“So the snoring was just a show to lure an attacker into a false sense of security?” Loren mumbled.

“Exactly,” Lanette agreed.

His attention had fallen back to the handheld monitor Artisan had given him—a series of small drones were streaming a feed to the device in a rotating sequence. He swapped back to the camera that showed a bunch of kids messing around in the nearby park. One girl, shorter than the rest, was trying to join in but was being mostly ignored by the others, while a few adults paid the minimum required attention to the scene.

Eventually, her persistent nature turned the irritation of the other kids into anger, and one of the larger girls pushed her to the ground. Loren found himself watching it on edge, knowing that the girl on the ground was Naomi Low in disguise, and if any of the children had known, they would have run screaming from the park.

A woman that Loren identified as Kallin Dale—the same woman that Naomi would go on to ruthlessly torture and kill—walked past carrying a grocery bag in hand and paused when she spotted the group of children surrounding the downed girl. The parents that had been nearby moved to intercept the group around the same time that Kallin did, and soon the group was dispersed, leaving Kallin alone with the short girl.

They spoke to each other at the edge of the park, Kallin looking concerned before Naomi took her hand, and they left. Loren felt sick watching, knowing that the woman whose only sin was helping a small child walked towards her gruesome death, completely unaware. He switches camera feeds as they left the stationary drone’s field of view and tracked them as they moved towards the Dale residence.

Loren switched cameras until he found the one in the sewers, unnaturally bright and clear given the location—some kind of solution Artisan had come up with to see in the dark. This drone was moving, slowly creeping through the dark, and he could just see the top of Untold’s head at the bottom of the frame—something inhumanly tall strode past ahead of her, gone too quickly to be identified. An alert flashed at the bottom of the monitor, followed by a beep. An overlay appeared, showing a series of yellow dots and a single red one all moving through a labyrinth of transparent blue walls.

“They found Taker,” Lanette said, far more seriously now.

The camera lagged behind as Untold sped up, and before it had even turned the corner, there was a small vibration beneath them. The camera showed Taker on the ground, with each of Untold’s limbs pinning the much taller woman’s own to the ground in a full mount.

There was a moment when it looked like it was already over, and then the two of them blurred—something clipped the camera, sending it spinning away once it had regained control and reorientated itself on its position, there nothing to see, as the ceiling had collapsed.

The comms lit up, and voices started making callouts rapidly.

“Taker is topside; she’s headed further into the city.” Untold grunted, sounding muffled. “I’m down; she managed to bite me—Seeker, pull me out once you’ve wrapped things up.”

“Understood,” Seeker’s calm voice said. “Artisan?”

“Follow the plan.” Artisan said evenly. “I’ll intercept Taker.”

Loren switched camera feeds again until he found Artisans assigned drone; the man was standing in the middle of the street, hands at his sides, looking unconcerned.

“Wraith?” Lanette said into her own comms. “Want us to assist him?”

“No, stay off the field. We are moving on Deceitful now,” Wraith said calmly, “Radio silence, please. Seeker?”

“We are ready.” Seeker said calmly.

Takers form appeared on Artisan’s drone, silently landing on a removalist truck at the end of the street. Two seconds passed as the two stared at each other, and then Taker vanished. The front half of the truck crunched downwards as she kicked off it before reappeared directly in the air in front of him, crouched on something invisible.

The invisible object flickered once, and a tall humanoid figure made from a smooth silver material appeared. An instant later, some kind of forcefield washed down over it again, removing it from sight once more.

Taker was thrown backward, but she kicked her legs up, arcing into a perfect somersault and landing on the road lightly. She turned to look out of frame for a second before something shattered the road beside her and then impacted on her face, sending her tumbling to the side.

The drone moved higher to show more of the street—Taker blurred, and a silver humanoid flashed back into existence before vanishing again, and once more, Taker was hit from the opposite side by something invisible.

“There’s more than one of them,” Loren said in understanding.

Each time the automaton’s appeared, they were perfectly unharmed, and Loren frowned as he tried to figure out what was happening. Was it the invisibility field? It was being canceled every single time they were hit, but the attacks weren’t going through?

Taker seemed to come to the same conclusion; after she managed another hit on one of them, she went after the visible form before it could vanish once more, and she managed two consecutive hits on it before she was intercepted by the others. The invisibility field came down again, but now two sets of claw marks marred the surface of its armored form.

“Taker has discovered a winning strategy,” Artisan said calmly, “Status?”

An automaton landed an invisible attack on the back of Taker’s thin leg, pressing down and shattering the tarmac around them before it was hurled away, missing a leg.

“Still paralyzed,” Untold said, bored. “Hope someone comes and digs me out soon.”

Taker spun suddenly, claws outwards, and three of the automatons appeared, reaching for her. One of them lost its arm, shoulder, and entire lower half as she turned the spin into a downward kick that ended up buried in the road.

“I have Deceitful contained,” Wraith said immediately. “Kallin Dale is safe and has been removed from the battlefield.”

The other two automatons vanished again, and Taker stumbled backward from a strike to her torso before dragging her foot backward and stomping downwards—the one with the missing leg appeared, impaled on her leg and its hand wrapped around her thin ankle.

“Secluded and I are ready to assist,” Seeker said calmly. “On your call.”

The remaining two automatons went down soon after before Taker turned her attention on Artisan. She almost made it to his position before she stopped in mid-air again, and her arms were pulled out to each side.

“Seeker.” Artisan said calmly.

Taker ripped her arms free of the invisible restraints as Seeker, and his passenger appeared on the feed directly behind her. Taker vanished, leaving Secluded standing with her hand outstretched as the now broken silver cables fell to the ground around them.

“I’ve got Taker,” Secluded said, sounding subdued.

“Holy shit,” Lanette said, surprised. “We actually did it?”

“I don’t think we did anything,” Loren commented.

Loren switched through the feeds until he found the one where Untold was still buried and was just in time to watch as the debris started to float upwards and out of sight. The drone followed Untold as she was raised out of the hole and into the light. Seeker’s tall form spent a moment creating a raised barrier around the hole in the road with the debris before the two of them vanished.

“Our objective is complete,” Artisan said calmly. “Wraith?”

“Regroup at the HQ,” Wraith responded. “The cells are ready, but we have no restraints capable of holding Taker for long should she prove persistent; Any assistance you can provide towards that end will be invaluable.”

“Of course.” Artisan agreed.

Chapter 60! We’re getting close to the end of season 2, which probably lands about chapter 70ish, give or take a few chapters. Were also at 180k words, which always blows my mind every time I see it. After this, we’re onto the final season. 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 62 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.

Community Links

Chapter 59

Setalite City Hero HQ, 7:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Before he’d even realized it, Loren had spent the rest of the day at the HQ. Between the training with Mongoose, the meeting with the Peacekeepers, and accompanying Alleviate to Iza’s location, he’d managed to completely lose track of time.

It had been one of the most productive days he’d had in recent memory; even if his optimism was eventually smacked down, and the whole martial arts thing didn’t carry over to the next loop, he would still feel this had gone far better than he’d imagined. A permanent solution to the pheromone situation felt like the invisible pressure that had been slowly crushing him had finally backed off—just a little.

“Well, my job is done here,” Alleviate said before tilting her head. “You’ll probably need me to do this again next time, right?”

Loren dragged himself out of his thoughts enough to answer, glancing over at Iza, who still sat on the bed.

“Yes,” Loren said, “Is there some way I can personally contact you at the start of the loop to get you to help me out with this? I know I have the Peacekeepers code phrase, but being able to call you up individually might prove way more efficient.”

Alleviate scratched her hair before shrugging.

“I’ll give you my number, but I’m really not one for codes and stuff.” Alleviate said, flashing him her contact details on her phone. “Just tell Wraith to pass it on to us with the other stuff, and I’ll drop by.”

Loren took them down to memorize later; as far as temperament went, Alleviate was on the same side of the scale as Emma in a way. Easy-going, laidback, with a take things as they came up attitude.

“When did you first get your powers?” Loren prompted, genuinely curious.

She seemed roughly his age, perhaps a few years his senior.

“Hmm? Oh, I got them during the battle against Starsealer, same as a lot of people,” Alleviate said, looking vaguely haunted. “I was just a normie working at a casino, and the first I’d heard of it was when the building started coming down on top of us during the fight.”

Loren nodded in understanding. It hadn’t been the first nor the last of attacks of that nature, but it had been one of the more notable. Starsealer, Levima, Marrow, and Monstrous were only a few of the tragedies that had happened across the city in recent memory, and he was now in a position to know that they weren’t even the last. Every time something happened on that level, there was a surge of people who awakened powers in response.

“One of the women who was at my table had her arm cut off when the roof came down—then there were bubbles everywhere!” Alleviate said it suddenly, waving her arms up. “I had no idea what was going on, but I was stuck in there for a while, so I figured it out eventually. The woman lived, but she lost most of her arm and then tried to sue me afterward for trying to heal her.”

Loren didn’t know what to say to that, but Iza shifted enough to draw their gaze, and she paused at the sudden attention.

“That’s when I got my powers as well,” Iza admitted, perhaps feeling pressured to explain her reaction. “That entire day was just—I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have just left Setalite after that.”

“I don’t think it’s much better anywhere else,” Loren mumbled, thinking about it all. “Ragrim City is gone now.”

“That was gone years ago,” Iza said archly, “I wouldn’t have gone there—Saltwall maybe?”

“Ah, yes.” Alleviate said, gathering her possessions and nodding to them. “Nothing bad has ever happened there. I’m out, cya!”

Loren snorted, and even Iza shook her head, amused.

“Thanks for fixing us up,” Loren said seriously.

“Don’t worry about it,” Alleviate said easily, brushing it off. “No more sleeping pills!”

Alleviate waved and shut the door behind her as she left, not even waiting for Iza’s own gratitude. Loren realized he was now standing in a small room, completely alone with Iza—he quickly opened the door once more and stepped through.

“I’ve got stuff to figure out for this whole time travel thing,” Loren said in explanation, “Stay safe, alright?”

“Hey, Loren?” Iza said quietly.

“Yes, Iza?” Loren said hesitantly, watching her from the door.

“Did you ever think about me?” Iza said murmured. “After?”

Loren studied her for a long while—the early interactions with her had changed his view on the world fundamentally. It had opened his eyes in many ways, but it had also stripped away what was left of his trust in adults and authority figures.

Loren had spent an uncountable amount of time thinking about her—how ironic was it that she’d spent all that time thinking about him as well.

“All the time,” Loren admitted, quietly shutting the door.

Loren left the room and its occupant behind, thinking about everything. He found himself growing worried despite himself—he likely wouldn’t be able to tell with Alana, given she would be wearing her armor. But everybody else he encountered would be without the filter of the pheromones.

He’d spent years with them there, and suddenly they were gone—would people treat him differently now? Had the personality he’d developed in response to how everyone treated him no longer hold up under social settings? Would his jokes no longer land? Would his words upset those he had grown close to? Would his personality be revealed to be as shallow as he feared in the moments he was left all alone?

The janitor mopping the hallway moved his cleaning cart to the side to let him pass, and he nodded to the man in thanks, unwilling to speak.

He made it down to the next floor and was halfway to Alana’s office before he realized that something had been missing from that exchange. He slowed his pace, lengthening the time it would take him to reach his destination, frowning.

Loren was well aware of the man’s identity—He’d seen the pictures of him before, and he knew that he had yet to be cleared of suspicion and was still under covert investigation. Nothing had been strange about the man’s actions, not really, coincidence perhaps that it had been on the same floor that he was on, but it was the man’s job.

Loren came to a stop outside of Alana’s office.

He played the man’s actions over in his mind again, closing his eyes to concentrate. The janitor had spotted him coming and had leaned back to grab the handle of the cart, pulling it towards him and onto his side of the hallway.

Nothing strange about it—why did it feel like something was missing? The door opened, revealing Alana in her armor.

“Is there a reason you’re standing perfectly still outside my office?” Alana said curiously, “You didn’t knock.”

Loren opened his mouth for a moment and then closed it. He stared at her armored hand, pressed against the door, widening the space slightly.

“Loren?” Alana said, concerned.

“I can’t copy your movements,” Loren said slowly.

“Of course you can’t,” Alana said hesitantly, “You cannot see my body while I am inside my armor; we discovered this earlier today, do you not remember?”

Loren turned to stare at the elevator at the end of the hallway before turning his gaze upward to the ceiling.

“I couldn’t copy the janitor’s movements either,” Loren said strangely. “Mathew Kline has powers.”

The meeting took minutes to organize, and soon they were all standing inside the room. Loren hovered at the edge of the room, doing his best to remain out of the way. Mongoose was noticeable by her complete absence, but Gradient stood by the door with his arms crossed, staring at the ground.

There was a noticeable tension in the room that had nothing to do with the reason for the meeting, and Loren eyed them all warily.

“Wraith?” Tag said, breaking the silence. “What’s the situation?”

Fracture, the last to enter, moved from his place by the door to stand next to her.

“You are all aware we are currently investigating one Mathew Kline for criminal involvement with an unknown outside party. Mathew has now been discovered to possess powers,” Wraith said calmly, watching them. “We do not know what form the powers have taken or how long he has had them.”

Raindancer looked surprised by the topic but relatively uninvested.

“What?” Secluded said flatly, clearly on edge. “The only reason I went along with this was that you said it was to clear him of suspicion. I’ve known Mathew for years—he’s never shown any indication of having powers before.”

“I haven’t known him that long, but I speak to him all the time as well,” Tag added, concerned, “I haven’t seen him do anything suspicious—How do you know he has powers? What’s the rationale?”

“Loren,” Wraith said, not in answer, but as a request.

Loren moved up to join them, hovering at the edge of the group and opposite Gradient, feeling like he was intruding as their collective gaze fell upon him.

“Any movement a person makes that I can clearly see, I can copy perfectly, and it’s a very noticeable sensation.” Loren said in explanation, “I can copy every single person in this room, through your costumes, and through video footage, as long as I have a good visual of your body.”

He wasn’t sure exactly where the line was drawn between full-body latex and full-body armor, but it was there somewhere.

“The only person I’ve seen that I can’t copy is Wraith, and I’m guessing it’s because her armor completely blocks her actual body from sight,” Loren explained, “However, the uniqueness of her ability to frustrate me is no longer unique; When I passed by Mathew Kline earlier, my power didn’t work on him.”

There were some glances tossed about, but they seemed to take the information seriously.

“Loren, could it be that his uniform crosses whatever your threshold is—” Tag tried before realizing how weak the argument was. “No, that doesn’t make sense because it works on full-body costumes—never mind.”

Tag trailed off, but Secluded bounced off the argument, taking a different track.

“Perhaps it’s a defensive power of some kind—something that cancels other powers passively,” Secluded said pointedly, “It may be that Mathew had the power for a while but doesn’t even know it’s there.”

He remembered Secluded’s comments on the man’s ‘well-maintained body’ in the other loop and how he kept himself in shape. It had given him the impression that the two of them had perhaps dated in the past or were even currently involved in some manner.

“You’ve never used your power on him?” Loren wondered.

“Spicy,” Raindancer cut in with a laugh, seemingly unaffected by the building tension.

It was a bit inappropriate to mention that in front of the group, but if he had power like that, he’d definitely have used it to have some fun with a willing partner. Secluded grew flustered at the unexpected comments, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by any of the others.

“I—yes. Okay, I have used my power on him before, and it worked.” Secluded amended, vaguely defensive at being caught arguing in bad faith. “That doesn’t completely discount the idea; it could be an immunity more specifically aligned towards visual powers like your copy ability, or something else entirely—Look, Mathew is a good guy, just because he might have powers doesn’t mean he’s the leak those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.”

“Dude, you’re a total Mathew simp,” Raindancer accused, grinning. “If he is the leak, then what? Are you going to become his lawyer next? Give him that pro bono because he gave you the prone bone’o—”

“Oh my god,” Secluded said, flushing completely.

Loren did his best not to laugh despite himself, but the battle was hard-fought.

“Shut up, youdumbass.” Tag managed, trying and failing to hide her smile.

“Lanette,” Fracture said, exasperated. “Please try to be serious.”

Raindancer shrugged like she’d done nothing wrong.

“Can we move this along?” Gradient said flatly, the humor unable to penetrate his bad mood. “Is he still in the building?”

“Yes,” Alana said, nodding. “He is still on the medical floor.”

“Share the feed.” Gradient said, without feeling, “See if it was a fluke or if Loren can use his power now.”

Alana turned, and a small black protrusion rose from the shoulder of her suit, projecting a crystal clear image of an upstairs hallway on the wall behind her. Loren stepped forward and watched for a moment—but he still felt nothing. He turned back and made sure his power was working on those in the room with him before trying once more.

“I’m not getting anything from the feed,” Loren admitted. “Can you bring up a second one—this room will work; I can compare the two, see if I get anything from the other one.”

Another protrusion and a second feed appeared—Loren looked between the now-waving Raindancer as she spun to find the camera and Mathew cleaning the hallway. Raindancer’s motions were as clear as day to his copy-sense, and still nothing from Mathew.

“I’m picking up everyone in this room fine, but I’m not getting anything from him,” Loren said honestly. “He definitely has some kind of power.”

“Mathew failed to disclose that he had powers when he joined the hero agency as a member of the support staff. He signed legal documents to that effect when he joined, just like everybody else does.” Gradient said, “That makes him a criminal—we need to take him in now; we can figure out if he’s the leak afterward.”

It was clear that he had already made up his mind on the subject; Raindancer seemed to be on board with it as well, judging by her easy nod of agreement—That wasn’t the case for the others, though.

“Hold on!” Secluded snapped. “We don’t need to rush this, Mark—let’s just talk to him first. We can ask him if he’s willing to undergo some tests to determine what his power is—we don’t need to go in hard on this one.”

The undercurrent of tension that had been hiding in the room revealed itself, no longer content to stay in the shadows.

“And if he isn’t willing to go along with it?” Gradient shot back, “What If he’s aware of his powers, and he is the leak? What if he’s been actively working against us this entire time? We will have lost our advantage over him; the bomb may be gone already, but that doesn’t mean this guy doesn’t have a backup plan—and he’s in on the plan to kill us all; stop treating this so casually.”

“You’re already treating him like he’s the bad guy, without even talking to him first.” Tag said, frowning, “He may still be an innocent.”

“This isn’t the time to argue—” Alana tried, but they ignored her completely.

Gradient’s attempt at maintaining civility vanished entirely.

“Real cute, Skye! That’s what I said to you about Louis, wasn’t it?” Gradient snapped, raising his voice. “How interesting that you didn’t give a shit about it then—what’s so different now? Is it because he’s your friend this time—fuck you.”

Tag flinched but lashed out in return.

“It’s different! We knew that Louis was planning it!” Tag said, shocked, “We have a fucking time traveler feeding us information!”

“That doesn’t mean he was going to do it this time!” Gradient shouted, stepping forward and stabbing his finger at her. “I could have talked to him—made him understand! You all just abandoned Louis for something he hasn’t even done yet! You’re playing at being the fucking thought police—”

“Mark, look—we’re all stressed, but we haven’t abandoned Louis at all; you know we’re seeking rehabilitation.” Fracture said gently, interjecting. “Nobody wants—”

Fuck off, Erin,” Gradient snapped, startling the man, “Always the voice of reason, aren’t you—after everything’s already been dealt with, grow a fucking backbone! You stood there like a coward while our friend was thrown in a cell.”

Fracture looked genuinely hurt.

“He was planning the murder of four people! You’re arguing for leniency for Louis, but here you are, ready to put Mathew in a cell with no proof.” Secluded said furiously, “You’re slipping, Mark—Leena, should have stayed; we can do better than you.

Loren noted the hypocritical nature of her argument but didn’t speak up—if Mathew was the leak, then he was complicit in planning the murder of an entire building full of people and the rest of the city as well.

Leniency, in that case, would be better served for the lesser crime—Dovetail.

“Eloise—” Alana reprimanded, most likely noticing it as well.

She did have time to finished, as Mark spun around on his heel and booted the door open, shattering the locking mechanism—he caught the door on its backswing and looked back at them.

“Bunch of real heroes, aren’t you? Sit here and defend your criminal fuck buddy all you want, Eloise—I’m going to go do our fucking job and stop the guy who is trying to kill everyone in Setalite.” Mark said, absolutely livid. “Then, I’m putting in for reassignment—I’ve had about enough of you fucking hypocrites.”

The door smashed into the frame as he left and swung open again as the lock failed to catch.

Secluded snarled, making for the door, but Alana’s hand clamped down on her shoulder. Loren hadn’t even seen her move; he’d place it more at the feet of his own distraction than her stealth this time.

“Fracture, assist Gradient. Make sure he stays non-lethal.” Alana said icily, “Everyone else, stay where you are.”

Fracture was out the door in under a second, a long rectangle on his back already unfolding in a series of complex motions and taking shape as his energy rifle. There were a few tense moments where Loren expected Alana to disappear into Secluded’s inner realm.

Alana eventually let go of her shoulder, and Secluded stayed still—the clenched fists spoke of great effort.  

“Well shit,” Raindancer said belatedly as the door swung closed again. “That didn’t go well.”

Loren glanced up at the projection on the wall, just in time to see Mathew Kline vanish into thin air, along with all of his cleaning equipment.

“He’s gone,” Loren said belatedly.

Another one down! 

Reroll – Some of the commission character artwork is now up on the wiki; Rapid Response TeamOgreOutplayedSparkliteWildcard. So go check it out. Discord roles for Reroll now available for Patrons as well.

Contention – Been working on a map for the new story, making sure I know where everything is before I start writing. Got some interesting stuff here, slowly figuring out the biome for the island the story begins on. Creatures, resources, etc. 

Reroll – Chapter 61 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.

Community Links

Chapter 58

Setalite City Hero HQ, 4:22 PM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“Iteration,” Alana interjected, “We have refined our strategies against them several times already, across multiple loops, and have eventually been able to capture both Taker and Deceitful—at least for a time.”

Loren nodded; that had indeed been how they’d gotten it.

“That’s where the bigger problem begins,” Loren said, “The rest of Epilogue finds out they’ve been captured and sends a rescue party.”

Untold frowned down at the folder as Artisan drew their attention.

“You’ve circled the train station—” Artisan indicated the spot in question, “Reset, Monstrous, and Lecture were all present. Taker and Deceitful were in the HQ’s custody at this point in time.”

“Yeah,” Loren answered.

“Are we to understand it was Tiamat and The Researcher who freed them?” Artisan prompted.

Loren didn’t know; he’d lost track of several of the members during the fighting. Monstrous had vanished, and the last he’d seen of Lecture was in the subway.

“It’s possible,” Loren admitted, “It might have been Lecture or Monstrous though because both of them vanished while Untold was fighting Reset. Taker and Deceitful were present what had to be only a few minutes later.”

Artisan frowned.

“They were drawn there to find Monstrous; I know that.” Loren continued, “They’d been looking for her for an unknown period of time. So they must find out about what happens to Taker and Deceitful sometime before 7:00 AM.”

There was a beat as they considered the information.

“A missed check-in of some sort,” Alana said calmly, “While Lecture is only capable of physical feats a normal person could accomplish, it’s still possible for her to have made it to the HQ within a range of three minutes.”

“Definitely seems possible,” Untold agreed, expression turning chilly as she read through the last couple of pages. “It’s only a couple of blocks away, and Monstrous could very well have done it in a handful of seconds—longer if she kept to her history of avoiding ‘uneccesary’ deaths.”

Loren dipped his head fractionally to avert his eyes.

“There is little way to decipher who the culprit was in advance,” Artisan said simply, “We can organize a plan to include combating each member and use Seeker to deliver the correct counter to the matching location once we determine it. Shall we table this for now?”

“Simply and clean,” Fracture murmured to himself, loud enough to be heard by the others.

It seemed like Artisan was more interested in the second topic of consideration—and he wasn’t the only one.

“What the hell is this about Paragon?” Untold said, spinning the folder around to show them a block of text. “This is why you didn’t want him here?”

“It’s the most likely possibility given what we know of the situation,” Alana said evenly, “In summary, the Paragon that is walking around is a fake, and his expiration date is around 12:00 PM, Thursday.”

The three members of the Peacekeepers were silent, and tension was weaving its way through the room.

“Why does it still have his powers?” Alleviate said, frowning. “I saw him this morning; his aura is still there—he can fly too.”

“I sparred with him yesterday,” Untold managed, clearly upset. “His strength and speed are unchanged.”

“He still has his powers right up until he melts into a puddle,” Loren said quietly, unwilling to soften the blow. “I watched you and Seeker try and contain him right until the end; you watched it happen.”

“I didn’t watch anything,” Untold shot back, temper rising.

Loren fell silent, not willing to push her any further.

“The nano bomb that was located inside Paragon was functionally inoperable after I gained access to the remote. I was monitoring it the entire time, and we had access to the device itself after his demise.” Alana said into the silence, “My alter has listed the devices described effects, and they do not in any way match Paragon’s liquefication—we know that someone else was responsible.”

Untold flinched at the word ‘liquefication,’ no doubt picturing the man’s horrific end.

“You would have mentioned if there was a weapon or device on-site that could have done such a thing.” Artisan prompted.

“There was nothing, and from what I have understood, you were the one investigating,” Alana said, nodding, and Artisan dipped his head for a moment. “The process wasn’t a fast one, it took several minutes, and the effects weren’t evenly distributed across his body.”

Artisan glanced over at him, and Loren spoke up again.

“At first, he doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. He’s more confused than angry, and he kept asking why he was still ‘here,’” Loren said, frowning. “It was like he expected the bomb to go off—he was waiting for it, and when it didn’t kill him….”

“Why did you decide he was a fake?” Untold said quietly; her eyes were closed. “Why not brainwashed?”

“Brainwashed would explain the confusion, but not the damage. There are not that many people who could cause this level of damage to Paragon,” Artisan interjected, “There was nobody present who could have destroyed his body in this way, and nobody that we currently know could do this and keep up with Paragon’s physical capabilities in a mobile fight. Therefore the effect didn’t come from an external source; it came from inside him. We know it wasn’t from the nano bomb. Thus it came from Paragon’s body.”

“That was the chain of logic we used to arrive there,” Alana said calmly.

That was the logic she had used—Loren had fallen into the answer, intuited it from the information she was focusing on, her tone, and the direction of the discussion.

“There wasn’t anything else in his body?” Alleviate said, attacking the obvious hole in the theory.

Alana didn’t even twitch.

“We determined there were no foreign bodies in his remains that could have done this,” Alana said seriously, “When was the last time you did a medical check-up on Paragon?”

Alleviate slumped back into her chair and threaded her fingers upwards into her hair in thought.

“Two weeks ago,” Artisan answered for her, getting an annoyed glance from the woman in question.

“Yeah,” Alleviate frowned, “There was nothing to show he wasn’t the same as always.”

“Would you be able to tell if he was a perfect duplicate?” Alana said.

“That’s a loaded question,” Alleviate said carelessly, “If he’s a perfect duplicate, then nobody would be able to tell.”

Alana paused for a moment, nonplussed.

“If we can’t tell if he is a fake by a medical check-up,” Loren said slowly, “Then we should attack this from an unexpected angle—Artisan, something like this would take time to do, right? Was there ever a time where Paragon was out of contact for a long time?”

Artisan turned to watch him again.

“Several,” Artisan said, “If we could determine a method to date this more accurately, I could give you a more precise answer.”

“What was the most recent?” Fracture said, speaking up for the first time.

“A month ago,” Artisan said easily, “January 6th to January 9th. He didn’t check in at all during that period.”

“January 6th?” Untold said, frowning, “Didn’t we have a meeting the day before that?”

“Yes,” Artisan said simply.

“Disappearing the day after a meeting he would be expected to attend,” Alana said pointedly, “That’s suspicious on its own. If he was somehow abducted, as ludicrous as the idea of such a thing happening to Paragon is, that timing speaks volumes.”

Loren was watching Untold as the woman grew more and more upset. He couldn’t help but remember her screaming for Julian as the man fell apart.

“You’re trying to tell us that we spent over a month with some kind of fake,” Untold said, tensed. “All the while, Paragon was already rotting in the ground?”

“Untold,” Artisan murmured, “He may still be alive—”

“Don’t—just… don’t,” Untold said tersely, leaning heavily on the table. “Who did this?”

That was the question of the day—Loren wished he had an answer for her.

“Unknown,” Alana said clearly, “The obvious candidate would be Epilogue, given that Deceitful apparently had close enough contact with him to place the nano bomb inside of him.”

“That seems rather clear then.” Alleviate frowned.

“Why would you assassinate someone on the same day they were already going to be killed?” Loren said, pointing out the problem.

“You don’t think she’s simply trying to ensure she is the one who gets his powers?” Alleviate countered. “She has to be the one to kill him for that to happen.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Artisan said calmly, “If it was Epilogue that is responsible and they had access to Paragon for long enough to make a duplicate, why wouldn’t they just let Deceitful kill the original? Or make another duplicate for her to kill? Why would she wait until the speech and risk it all going wrong?”

“She’s known for these public attacks,” Fracture said hesitantly.

“If they had Paragon at their mercy,” Loren said, “There is no reason they couldn’t do both of those, let her get the powers from the original, and then perform the live execution on the clone.”

Untold took a deep breath, attempting to keep herself calm.

“While we do not know what the reasons are, it is possible that Epilogue could have done this,” Alana said calmly, “We do not have a good idea of what Tiamat or The Researcher is truly capable of, but we do know they are capable of creating something like Taker—that level of bioengineering indicates they have the potential skillset to accomplish this.”

“We need to capture one of them, find out if they know anything about it.” Loren murmured, “Either Tiamat or The Researcher.”

“We don’t know where they are—It’s more prudent to target one of the others and retrieve the location from them,” Untold said in agreement, finally having somewhere to direct her anger. “Deceitful and Taker are the best targets given how much you know about their future location; we will assist you.”

“How do you propose we get the information out of them?” Alleviate said, frowning.

“We were already considered bringing in Threadbreaker,” Artisan pointed out, “We can source Haunt for that task—”

“Can’t we find someone else?” Alleviate pleaded. “Why does it have to be those two?”

Alleviate pointed to the sign on the roof, and Loren turned with her when she stepped around the corner.

“We really haven’t spoken before?” Alleviate wondered.

“No,” Loren admitted. “It’s only been the last couple of loops where I’ve been able to work with your group at all.”

“Who haven’t you met yet?” Alleviate said curiously.

“Trendsetter is the only one left.” Loren nodded.

“Figures,” Alleviate rolled her eyes, “He’s too busy to be a hero half the time, at least that’s how he tells it.”

Loren appreciated how easy-going the woman was.

“How long have you been working with the Peacekeepers?” Loren asked in return.

“Uh.” Alleviate nodded her head about for a moment, “Six years? They offered me a spot after I uncrushed Artisans legs.”

Loren cringed at the mental image, thinking about Mark lying dead in the seat of his car and how the crash had savaged his legs. He shook his head and forced the thought away.

“Ah, I see,” Loren said quietly.

The journey to the room was a bit more subdued after that, but Alleviate didn’t seem to pick up on it.

“This is it?” Alleviate wondered, watching him.

“Yeah,” Loren said hesitantly. “Should I wait out here?”

The HQ had multiple facilities inside it, and one of the floors had its own medical wing. Privacy was a big concern for most heroes, and having their information on file at public hospitals had caused problems in the past.

“Nah,” Alleviate said simply, knocking on the door.

“It’s unlocked,” Iza’s voice came out muffled.

Loren couldn’t help but notice that she sounded tense—it was easy to forget that she had only been brought here this morning. Alleviate opened the door and stepped inside, and Loren spotted Iza sitting on the bed opposite the door.

Iza stared at him with wide eyes, and he swallowed, forcing himself not to step out of sight.

“When Wraith said you were here, I didn’t believe it,” Iza admitted, studying him before glancing at the other person present. “You’re from the Peacekeepers…”

“Yeah,” Alleviate said, bemused, “Is that a problem?”

Iza glanced at him again, and he shook his head, trying to indicate that she wasn’t aware of her identity. Loren forced himself to step inside once the silence stretched and shut the door behind him.

“She’s just amazed to be in the presence of such a famous hero,” Loren said lightly.

“Yeah.” Iza said slowly, “What he said.”

Alleviate looked between them several times.

“Well, that wasn’t suspicious at all—whatever,” Alleviate said, taking the visitor’s seat. “Let’s have a look at you both then—try not to move around.”

Loren leaned against the door and watched as small glowing bubbles began to rise from her hands into the air. They moved quickly, floating towards Iza, who stared at them as they collected against the skin of her arm.

“That’s a strange power,” Loren said curiously. “Are they made of water?”

“They aren’t actual bubbles,” Alleviate said easily, “It’s a super-thin forcefield, I get feedback from them, and whatever they intersect, I can mess with.”

The bubbles resting against Iza’s skin started to merge together into larger lumps before retreating from her hands and moving up towards her shoulders.

“I’m not sure I like the sound of ‘mess with,’” Iza murmured, still watching Loren.

Loren watched the bubbles move up her neck to her face, and Iza blinked rapidly as they pressed into the front of her face. The rest of the bubbles changed direction, heading for her head and collecting into a single large bubble around it.

“Found it,” Alleviate said curiously, “It feels completely natural like it was there all along—like it’s supposed to be there. I suppose that’s why none of the others could find it?”

“What do you mean none of the others?” Iza said, frowning now. “I only met Wraith today.”

“Whoops,” Alleviate said distractedly. “Forgot you weren’t in on the secret.”

Loren stared at her in disbelief—one of the most famous heroes in the world was a complete airhead.

“Fast version,” Loren sighed, “I’m stuck in a time loop, I’ve been sending Wraith to bring you here every time, and we send a new healer to try and fix you each loop. We haven’t had much luck with the fixing you part, but we found out what the problem is.”

Iza returned to staring at him again.

“And?” Iza said quietly. “Why can’t I sleep at night? Why does everything I do remind me of you? Why are you stuck in me?”

“Broadly speaking, your brain has been changed,” Alleviate admitted, “Pretty boy over here apparently gives off a scent that attracts women and repels men—you’ve been made extremely susceptible to it.”

Iza watched him like a hawk.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Loren murmured. “My power changes every time I die, and that day at school, I had that power—I didn’t even know what had happened at the time.”

“Why now?” Iza said, a hand fisted in the bedsheet.

“I ran into you recently by accident,” Loren admitted, “Thought I was having a nightmare for a minute—we talked, and I found out what I’d done.”

“Can you fix it?” Iza murmured.

“I already have,” Alleviate said, “I got distracted trying to work out your power—something to do with size control?”

Loren leaned forward in alarm, but Iza didn’t move.

“Yeah, I can control my size—It didn’t work,” Iza said tiredly, staring at him. “I’m still thinking about him.”

Loren winced.

“It did work,” Alleviate denied, “Look—he’s standing in the room with you. You’ve spent almost a decade thinking about him constantly; it’s expected to be a bit preoccupied thinking about him. You’ve cataloged and associated hundreds of things that remind you of him. Your thoughts are a mess, and it’s all tangled up. That’s not something I can fix—you’ll have to figure that part out yourself.”

“Will I be able to sleep?” Iza muttered.

“Yes, although you should stop taking so many sleeping pills,” Alleviate said easily before turning her gaze on him. “Your turn.”

Loren remained where he was as the bubbles began swarming him—they didn’t feel like much at all. There was a small pressure, but with was without pain or distinct sensation—the pressure moving under his skin was even harder to discern.

“You want me to leave or something?” Iza mumbled.

“No, you should stick around.”Loren said quietly, “Wraith said they would send an actual doctor in when we’re done to give you a proper check-up.”

Iza nodded slowly.

“Loren, your body is weird,” Alleviate said, frowning. “There’s some kind of complex energy system—it’s not attached to anything, it feels like it’s only partially here, and it’s overlapping—well, everything.”

The latticework of energy inside him—Loren knew what she was referring to; he had a faint impression of it.

“My power this loop is copying any movements that I see and then being able to use them afterward—as long as it’s physically possible for me to do, anyway,” Loren said, poking one of the bubbles. “That energy field is probably what’s responsible for copying the movements—”

Alleviate sent more bubbles into his eyes, and he blinked at the bizarre feeling.

“No, there’s a higher concentration of energy behind your eyes,” Alleviate interrupted, “That’s what does the copying; the energy field in your body is the mechanism that’s storing the information.”

Loren couldn’t help but be annoyed that she had a better idea of how his power worked than he did.

Pretty rough week overall, but we made it my dudes. Enjoy. First of the month is coming up, so if you do plan on supporting via Patreon, wait until the month is over to avoid getting charged for May and June.

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Reroll – Chapter 60 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.

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Chapter 57

Setalite City Hero HQ, 11:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“As fun as it is to watch you,”  Loren said, attempting to crack his own back. “We’re kind of just covering the same stuff as this point.”

Sitting on the floor for several hours was probably not the best idea he’d ever had.

“Should I be happy that you’re finished stealing everything I know?” Mongoose breathed, running herself through a few last stretches as she warmed down.

“All that exercise pretty much guarantees you’d be happy, given the endorphins involved,” Loren pointed out.

“You want to test it out?” Mongoose snorted before moving to a box in the corner.

“Hell no,” Loren said immediately, “You’re faster, stronger, have better reflexes, and you some kind of bullshit luck aura—nice try, though.”

She pulled out a pair of gloves and tossed them across the room at his feet.

“I won’t use any of that,” Mongoose frowned, “Just knowing the moves isn’t enough. Let’s spar.”

Loren used his trump card.

“Wouldn’t you rather know that thing that makes you get super upset?” Loren dangled, trying to entice her.

“It can wait; get up.” Mongoose denied, frowning.

Loren stared at her aghast before he pushed himself to his feet, resigned to his fate as he struggled to get the gloves on.

“Don’t be too mad when I whoop you,” Loren said bravely, slipping into the exact stance he’d stolen from her.

Mongoose smirked—he sidestepped as she clearly used her bullshit super strength to kick herself into what was clearly a rapidly spinning heel drop and completely impossible to mimic, at least by human standards.

She landed lightly, and he frantically brought his knee up, catching the follow-up leg kick on his shin—

“Holy shit! Ow! Normal humans can’t jump that high! You cheater!” Loren yelped, scrambling away in fear of the third kick, the irony lost on him in his panic. “Stop using your powers—stop going for the same spot! Demon woman!”

Mongoose continued her chain as he backpedaled across the mat. He used his elbow to deflect her strike as she started to use her hands as well. She caught his return punch on the back of her hand—once more blatantly using her super-strength to halt it.

“Dammit, Mongoose!” Loren cried in outrage.

Loren quickly realized the problem with his power and the stolen martial arts—it was true that he knew every single move she was throwing at him and could replicate them perfectly. It was also true that he had absolutely no idea when and where to use them.

So he fell back on the tried and true method that had gotten him through every other super-powered fight in the past—attack.

He used one of the combinations he’d saw her use the most, a series of fast light jabs, and bore down on her—Mongoose deflected and blocked every single one of them without even trying. Loren grunted when his face was turned to the side by the punch she had snuck through his offense and again when she abruptly switched it up, landing a solid kick on his inner thigh that almost buckled his leg.

Desperate times called for desperate measures—Loren used the gymnast’s perfect form to cartwheel past her stretching his leg out towards her in an attempt to kick her in the face on the way past. All he got for his trouble was a front kick to the stomach, which tipped him over backward onto the mat.

He scrambled to his feet.

“This is the strangest thing I have ever seen,” Mongoose snickered. “Your form is perfect, the techniques are fast and precise—but you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s fucking hilarious—what was that cartwheel about?”

Loren flushed. He was glad he hadn’t attempted the backward handstand kick he’d thought about using; she might have kicked him in the dick.

“Most of my fights are long-range and throwing shit at people. The ones that are in close are just me flailing around and trying to beat up the other guy,” Loren defended, “I have no idea how to go about this properly.”

Mongoose settled back into her stance, and Loren was quick to follow—more out of worry she would sneak attack him than anything. How was she still going anyway? She’d been essentially working out for hours on end—she was sweating enough for both of them.

“So now you have the skills, but not the battle experience?” Mongoose said thoughtfully. “The best remedy for that is to just fight a lot, honestly. No time like the present. Ready?”

Loren didn’t like the sound of that.

“No, I’m not ready!” Loren squawked, blocking the strike at his face.

“You suck,” Loren complained, staring up at the ceiling. “Immensely.”

Mongoose tossed her gloves into the box in the corner and yawned—Loren felt the humiliating pain of complete defeat in his soul at the sound; he might well never recover from this.

“You going to tell me why I hit you now?” Mongoose said, frowning again.

“Depends,” Loren admitted. “How likely are you to run off and confront a situation, even if I tell you not to?”

Mongoose leaned against the wall, seemingly giving the question serious thought. Mark and Mongoose having a shouting match wouldn’t cause any loss of life. Not that he could see, but Emma’s safety was a part of the loop he wasn’t willing to sacrifice.

Loren spoke up before she had reached an answer.

“Hypothetical,” Loren said suddenly. “A guy is seeing two women; neither of the women knows about the other one, and it’s been going on for a long time. How do you feel about each party involved? Should either of the women be upset at the other?”

Mongoose straightened up and stared at him from across the room.

“I would say that the guy is a piece of shit, and the two women aren’t at fault,” Mongoose said flatly before pausing. “From an outside perspective, I could see how both of the women would be upset at each other, but it wouldn’t be justified because it wasn’t done deliberately.”

Loren nodded slowly—a perfect answer, really. You could be upset at something without justification; it happened all the time. Mongoose hadn’t acted in the way she had answered back then, however—although there were others factors involved, including how she had found out about it. Mark was alive in this loop, whereas that wasn’t always the case—her anger should have an appropriate target this time.

“And from an inside perspective?” Loren murmured, the message clear. “How would you feel about each party?

Mongoose crossed the room, tugging off her mask as she went, and when he saw her uncovered face for the first time—everything about her face was small, a small nose, mouth, and eyes. Her eye color was a brown that was dark enough that it was approaching black. She was Chinese, if he had to guess her ethnicity, or perhaps Korean at a stretch, and he could just see the tips of some kind of tattoo that ended just below her chin which looked like it circled the rest of her throat.

Mongoose was clearly following along with the story that he had suddenly found himself regretting bringing up—at least judging by the twisted expression of pain and anger that sat far too large on such small features.

“I would be furious at Mark,” Mongoose said shakily, connecting the dots. “How sure are you about this? This isn’t a guess or—”

Loren held his hand up and shook his head.

“I—I’ve seen the outcome of both you and the other woman involved when you found this out before,” Loren said gently, lowering his hand. “I’m as certain as I can be.”

“You’re saying—I can’t address this—” Mongoose said unevenly, blinking rapidly. “Without ruining the loop? I’m supposed to just go on as nothing happened….”

Loren spoke up after she had trailed off.

“You can do whatever you want to do, Mongoose,” Loren said quietly, “Just leave the other girl out of it, alright? If she gets hurt, I’ll reset everything… She didn’t know about any of it, trust me—her reaction tends to be a mirror of your own right now.”

“Why would he….” Mongoose barely managed, openly crying now. “Who is the other girl—what’s her name?”

Loren closed his eyes for a moment.

“I’m not going to tell you that, Mongoose.” Loren said gently, “You’ve gone after her in one of the previous loops. I told you already—”

“I won’t go near her—If she didn’t know, then….” Mongoose said it in a rush, rubbing at her eyes with her palm, her makeup already smudged. “I just—I want to be able to throw her name in his face when I give him back the ring.”

Loren flinched—how had he ever thought this was going to be funny? He felt like jumping off the building to escape his own stupidity.

Emma’s reaction had always been one that was filled with as much energy as fury, insisting on confronting the man even at the expense of any damage to the loops. There had been an element of outrage, and he had thought it was funny that Mark would have to deal with that.

This was entirely different and had pulled everything back into perspective. None of it was something he should have laughed at. Loren stared at Mongoose with a sick feeling in his stomach—Had the two of them been married or engaged? He hadn’t heard anything about a ring in the previous interactions—the conversation between him, Emma, and Mongoose had never gotten that far although there had been a moment that could have been her leading up to it…

“I.. am an idiot,” Loren said quietly, “I should have done this in a better way. I’ll tell you her name, but it’s coming with a caveat. It’s non-negotiable—If you do anything to her, this will be the first and last time I tell you about any of this; her name is Emma.”

Mongoose blew out a shaky breath and used her fingertips to clean up under her eyes. Loren just watched her quietly.

“Sorry,” Loren murmured, but she didn’t reply.

Loren watched her leave, feeling horrible—Mark and his stupid decision had far more people attached to it than he had bothered to think about. Loren wondered if he did the right thing or if he should just stay away from this until he was free of the loops.

Getting involved in the personal lives of others and having to address these things every time… he couldn’t keep doing it.

Loren believed he’d been doing the right thing, that Mongoose and Emma deserved to know what was going on behind their backs. But he just found himself actively opening up a new set of wounds the next time, getting a front-row seat of a terrible moment in their lives.

Loren felt like a great eagle, picking at their wounds and waiting for the cycle to begin anew—he’d never liked the taste of liver.

Paragon’s absence from the room was the first thing Loren noticed. Considering that the discussion was supposed to be centered on the man, it seemed at once wrong and an act of common sense to exclude him.

Only three members of the Peacekeepers were present at the table this time—Artisan, Untold, and who he thought must be Alleviate. Wraith and Fracture were also seated, representing the HQ in the upcoming discussion. It had been a while since he’d seen Fracture, and Loren nodded to the good-natured man as he entered and received a smile in return.

There was a stack of manilla folders on the table; Loren reached out and pulled one of them towards himself.

“You may want to check on Mongoose after this,” Loren said quietly as he took a seat between the two groups. “I told her something very upsetting about Gradient, and there may be some fallout.”

“What happened?” Fracture said, concerned, before halting when Alana raised a hand. “Are they alright?

“Do we need to reschedule this meeting?” Alana said quietly. “Is this something that will affect the general outline of events?”

“No, I don’t think it will change much. Neither of them plays a significant role in the larger problems. Mongoose is present in most of the battles, but Gradient is usually dead by now.” Loren said slowly. “Mongoose promised not to go overboard anyway—I’m taking her word for it.”

“Risky,” Untold said quietly; it came across as a rebuke of sorts.

Loren just nodded in recognition—it was just one more mistake added to the pile.

“Very well,” Alana said slowly. “Now that Loren has arrived let’s move on.”

Artisan seemed to come alive, untangling his hands from in front of his bowed head and clapping them together once.

“Perfect,” Artisan said smoothly. “Nice to see you, Loren—I am, of course, assuming that you’ve met the three of us before?”

The man had a level of charisma to him that was obvious—it wasn’t supernatural, just the skill of a man who’d learned to command attention.

“I’ve met the two of you before. Untold has saved my life several times already—thanks for that, by the way,” Loren confirmed, getting a sharp look from Untold. “Alleviate, I haven’t met before today. Nice to meet you.”

“Hi.” Alleviate chirped. “You too—Wraith told me you’re a walking pheromone factory.”

Alleviate leaned over the desk and snagged one of the folders, the neat pile slide to one side, scattering about messily. Loren winced at the bluntness—that hadn’t been a secret, really, and he had intended on bringing it up to them, but it still pained him to hear it tossed about so casually.

“Sorry, I can’t actually turn it off.” Loren apologized.

“That is why I brought the topic up to discuss,” Alana said calmly. “Alleviate believes she can help you.”

Loren blinked.

“It’s not a belief; I know I can,” Alleviate said confidently. “Want me to take a look?”

Loren stared at her—if she could do it, they potentially had a second person who could remove what he had done to Iza Gracen. The healers they had hired from Insoluble had been capable of detecting the pheromone last he’d heard about it, but he wasn’t up to date on whether they had found someone to actively fix it.

It wouldn’t matter until they had solved the situation in the city entirely, but if they could set up an appointment to get it fixed on the day before the save, then they’d both be free of that problem. It wouldn’t remove any of the trauma Iza, and himself had inadvertently inflicted on each other, but it would be a step forward.

“Yes, I really do,” Loren said quietly. “There’s another person, a woman, who was changed by my power years ago; the effect is much stronger on her. Would it be possible for you to help her as well?”

“Sure—Wraith already told me about her.” Alleviate said, shrugging. “We can take care of both of you after we get this meeting out of the way.”

He couldn’t believe how something so pervasive and life-changing to him could be so mundane for the woman; she barely seemed phased at the idea of fixing him. Loren could remember the discussion he had about this. Alleviate had been an option that Iza hadn’t taken seriously because of their status as hero and villain, respectively.

Loren felt almost energized as the solution had found him instead of the other way around—perhaps his luck was changing after all.

“The entirety of Epilogue is in Setalite City. Deceitful is searching for victims in the suburbs. Taker is hiding in the sewers, following her.” Loren said seriously. “Monstrous is returning to the train station where she awakened her powers. Those are the three whose whereabouts I know for sure.”

Untold sat up straight at the names, taking one of the folders and flipping through it.

“Those are some massive problems,” Untold said, frowning. “It’s hard to believe you have this kind of precise intel on hand like this. How accurate is it, given you’ve already admitted to changing something?”

Mongoose knowing about Gradient shouldn’t change anything Epilogue did; they were entirely unconnected.

“It’s accurate,” Loren said firmly.

“We don’t have anyone who can counter Monstrous—and we aren’t sending Seeker in, not after what happened last time.” Alleviate murmured, hand under her chin. “We’d need to reach out, bring someone in from elsewhere. Could we get the idiot from the Pantheon?”

“Alleviate.” Artisan said reproachfully. “Threadbreaker Is not an idiot; he is just young.”

“What happened last time?” Loren interrupted.

“There are very few people who can hurt Monstrous and even less who can actually defend against her attacks—it’s the effect generated by her skin; nothing mundane we’ve found can bypass it.” Alleviate said distractedly. “Threadbreaker is one of the exceptions to bypassing her skin, but he has no defense at all—pretty much a normal human durability-wise.”

Loren could remember Mara’s skin breaking through the hair he had strung up in the subway—it hadn’t even slowed her down. He was having trouble conceiving of something that would be harder to break than something frozen in time. That wasn’t the only way to deal with an invincible or undamageable enemy, though—he’d kicked enough enemies and NPC’s off cliffs in video games to know that.

“Monstrous tends to hang back in most engagements, rarely getting involved in the fighting, so our standard procedure for dealing with her is to remove her from the battlefield,” Untold said calmly, “Seeker is capable of teleporting others, and it’s proved somewhat effective to have him drop her somewhere outside of the city—that’s no longer an option now.”

“They found some way to stop Seeker from teleporting her?” Loren murmured.

“Yes, and she tore off his arm at the shoulder before he managed to get away—we had to grow a new one to replace it.” Alleviate said, tapping her finger on a picture. “How did you get so much information on Taker? The most we’ve seen of that one is when Deceitful sent us the video of Saltwall City’s mayor.”

Loren did his best not to imagine what that video might have contained.

Some of the commission character artwork is now up on the wiki;
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Reroll – Chapter 59 – Updated
Ameliorate – Chapter 8.

Community Links

Chapter 56

Loren’s Apartment, 9:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“A point in space?” Alana said, interested. “Was there anything within range to help discover where it was?”

“I’m not sure that it was an actual physical place,” Loren admitted. “Or that it corresponds with a location in the real world—it might, but I couldn’t see anything to make it obvious either way.”

Alana continued to loom in the corner, armor glinting.

“What made you choose this power in particular?” Alana said calmly.

He hesitated for a moment, wondering.

“It reminded me of a previous power I’d had,” Loren decided. “But it ended up being different.”

“You could tell enough about it to determine it was similar,” Alana said, frowning. “But not enough to understand what it did?”

Loren leaned back on his chair and scratched the back of his head. How was he supposed to explain what was nothing more than a bunch of unrelated feelings?

“It was nothing more than a bunch of unrelated feelings,” Loren said firmly.

Nailed it.

“Loren,” Alana said reproachfully. “You can do better.”

“What are you, my heavily armored tutor?” Loren mumbled, “Look, each star seemed to correspond with its own power, and they felt distinct enough that I actually picked out a couple of my previous powers.”

Loren took a breath, thinking about how to describe the inner working of the stars that lived somewhere deep inside him.

“Each star was made up of a number of… impressions or aspects. Some of them had repeating elements, like the feeling of Fire, Heat, and growth; I encountered more than a few stars like that.” Loren said slowly. “This power felt like motion, experience, and continuation. I can kind of see how it fits now; I see movements, I convert it into a learned experience and store it.”

“That is remarkably interesting,” Alana said eventually, “You said it was familiar to a previous power?”

“Not in the same way I’m describing now—the other power I actually used, so the feelings I’m attributing to it may have been different from whatever its actual expression was as one of those stars,” Loren said hastily, “Does that make sense? It’s more like I felt those two aspects, Motion, and Experience, and It reminded me of the time I was an unstoppable fighting god who could move as fast as Vapid.”

Alana was quiet after that.

“It’s easy to underestimate just how much you’ve been through,” Alana said eventually, “To hear that you were once on that level is startling. I imagine many other attempts, with different powers held similarities.”

“Yeah,” Loren admitted. “I’ve been strong and weak, but most of the time, it’s somewhere in between—learning to use all of these powers is… it’s fun; I won’t lie about that. It feels like a new puzzle built specifically to challenge me. The real problem is that I’m always mismatched and underprepared for the opposition I end up facing—it’s like a house of cards, I destroy one of the legs, and then I have to contend with a bunch of villains that come tumbling down to kill me.”

“Losing the useful powers to unexpected attacks must be painful at the time,” Alana murmured.

“Painful about sums it up,” Loren said honestly, thinking to all of the times he’d lost those powers. “Usually, the entire experience is painful; losing the powers is just another hit in the chain. “

It was hard for him to appreciate the fun of flying through the air or moving fast enough that the normal laws start to warp around him when his friends were lying in pieces on the ground.

“It usually takes months of experimentation, or even years in edge cases for people to gain a full understanding of their abilities,” Alana said eventually, “The fact that you’re able to discover the main uses within minutes and hours is completely unnatural.”

“Ouch,” Loren said dryly, “Maybe everyone else just sucks? Were you one of those? How long did it take you to figure out your—hold on, I don’t think I’ve ever asked you exactly what your power is.”

Alana shifted slightly, perhaps in surprise. Loren raised his eyebrows high in expectation.

“I’m a rather unique case, in that my power is entirely passive in nature and requires no real training,” Alana said slowly, “It also functions in a way that took me a while to discover its exact specifications. In its most basic form, it is a supernatural intelligence enhancement.”

Pretty much what he had assumed.

“So you’re super smart?” Loren said curiously. “Seems pretty straightforward; if that’s the basic form, what’s beyond that?”

Alana shook her head—potentially endangering her galaxy brain in the process, how reckless.

“As a base, it is a combination of enhanced memory retention, creativity, problem-solving, pattern recognition, bandwidth and the other elements which contribute to ‘intelligence,” Alana said dryly, “Beyond that, the more time I spend in an unbroken period while focusing on an individual data point, problem, or theme, I begin to experience an acceleration in that area in a multitude of ways that is harder to discern, but much more potent.”

Loren thought about that for a moment.

“So as long as you hyperfocus on something, you get continually better at it,” Loren said, his interest piqued. “That’s kind of awesome.”

“I lose the ‘hyperfocus’ benefits after I switch objectives,” Alana clarified, shifting again.

“Yeah,” Loren nodded; he’d been following along. “It’s still awesome. I thought you had the power to lock yourself away in a suit of armor for a while there.”

“That isn’t a power,” Alana let out a burst of static that might have been a huff. “My armor is a result of years of repeated work in specific areas, countless breakthroughs, and combining it all into a single piece of multi-use equipment. Before I became Wraith, I was just a… it doesn’t really matter, I suppose.”

Alana trailed off, shaking her head again.

“Before you became Wraith?” Loren pressed. “I want to know—you can’t just bait me like this.”

Alana moved from the corner to look out the window.

“I wasn’t trying to bait you, Loren.” Alana murmured, “I was a student in robotics and engineering, but I dropped out long before I finished.”

“Were you bad at studying?” Loren joked, “It’s hard to imagine you struggling with coursework—too many parties? Boyfriends? Girlfriends? Was this before you had your powers?”

Alana looked over her shoulder at him quickly before turning back to the window.

“I awakened just before I dropped out,” Alana said, a bit offbeat. “I didn’t struggle with the coursework either; I had something of an affinity for technology, even before. I was struggling with the people I had to interact with on a daily basis, and eventually, I didn’t want to deal with it anymore, so I dropped out.”

Loren winced. Her response had been vague enough that he could clearly see that she didn’t want to talk about the specifics. He tried to picture a much younger Alana, interacting with others in a school setting without her armor or her power.

She was already awkward and did things that were bizarre—like finding herself getting uncomfortable close to study another’s expression at times. She also occasionally said strange things, blunt and rude comments that came off pretty insulting, but it didn’t seem like her intention.

Loren remembered how she had referred to the people who were being killed within Setalite City as ‘units.’ It just seemed like she sometimes failed to understand how others might receive her messages at times and failed to deliver them with the appropriate packaging.

What would she have been like without her powers? Would her struggles with communication have been far more prevalent? Would she have had even more problems picking upon which of her comments came off badly? Loren had noted that she was always very quick to apologize for a mistake when it was brought up, and he could imagine a younger, unpowered Alana having had lots of practice.

“I never really sought out higher education—I could have, I suppose, but I wasn’t in the right mind to do it,” Loren admitted. “I think if I could go back—ironic, I know—I would push myself to get an art degree of some kind.”

While there had been plenty of education and trade systems in place to help those within the facility, university-level studies had been something a bit harder to obtain, and they had costs that weren’t subsidized; with no real earning potential, you had to get your family to pay for it.

Loren had been a spiteful mess at that point—he’d had no intention of going to the man who refused to grant him his freedom and begging for help. Unable to leave on his own will, and the timer to his inevitable freedom moving all too slowly. He’d refused almost all of the things offered, except the internal art programs that let him do the one thing that had kept him going in there.

“If it was anyone but you, I would advise you that nothing was stopping you from going and getting that degree now,” Alana said ironically. “A time loop is probably reason enough to put it off for now.”

Loren rolled his eyes.

“Do you ever regret not weathering the bullshit?” Loren wondered.

“Sometimes,” Alana admitted, “But my current circumstances would neither benefit nor change if I had. The Hero HQ program has no requirement for a degree or high learning—if I was one of the support staff, that might have changed.”

“What is your job in the HQ structure?” Loren wondered. “It feels like a million years ago at this point, but I sought you out originally because you weren’t in on—whatever this is.”

Loren avoided mentioning the fact that she’d proven that by murdering him in revenge.

“I am the team leader for the first Rapid-Response team,” Alana said, turning around to stare at him. “Your lack of knowledge about this is startling—how many loops have you sought my help prior to this?”

Uh oh.

“I never needed to know before!” Loren flushed before attempting to defend himself. “I was a little bit busy trying not to get killed every ten minutes, so sorry if I missed some of the details. I’m not keeping count either way, but I’ll say a dozen or more.”

Alana crossed her arms, the metal clanking.

“You didn’t ask me any of this in a dozen loops?” Alana said, taken aback. “I’m not sure if I should be offended by the lack of interest or impressed by the show of trust given how little you know about me.”

Loren decided to abandon ship before he took on any more water.

“Listen,” Loren said quickly, “I asked you to come here to help me learn Kungfu, not to blast me about my complete lack of thoughtfulness.”

“You asked me to send my greatest warrior,” Alana said dryly. “You should have been more specific as to what exactly you wanted. I fit the role of a warrior in the context of the situation you alluded to, but if you wish for a person to observe as they perform martial arts—The HQ has better and less busy people available.”

Loren opened his mouth and then shut it again.

“Well shit,” Loren said, embarrassed, “Sorry, Alana. I should have taken this more seriously—can you bully someone into helping me? Even though I’m a dumbass?”

“I’ve been helping you for a long time already in spite of it, haven’t I?” Alana said without pause, and he couldn’t almost imagine the smug smile hiding beneath her helmet.

The absolute audacity.

Alana left him within a room in the Setalite City HQ, adorned with a padded floor—obviously for some kind of physical training or practice. He’d sprawled out on the mat, flat on his back and enjoying the material that was so cool to the touch.

With nothing to do but think, Loren had fallen back into his thoughts—he hadn’t mentioned it to Alana, but he was holding out a secret hope.

The aspects of the power he’d chosen had reminded him of one of the others, but it hadn’t been the true reason he’d picked it. Motion and experience were interesting to consider on their own.

From the more literal; experiencing motion; understanding direction, momentum, and acceleration. The gamified; Moving generates experience which could be spent somehow. Or even the esoteric; Moving towards someone creates a connection with them, allow you to experience their thoughts.

He had no proof that those powers existed, but his imagination was robust enough that he could think of them with relative ease give the two aspects.

The real reason he’d chosen this power was continuation—you could consider it in many ways; a connection that remained intact, long-term storage, short-term storage, immortality, longevity, time manipulation, generating an effect as long as an action continued.

Loren was hoping for something a bit more permanent—he knew that at least some powers could pass through loops intact. He’d spent quite a few loops under the influence of the geas he’d set upon himself after all.

The very first moment he’d felt this one, he’d experienced a spark of insight—what if this power was like the geas—what if whatever it did passed through the loops with him.

What if it continued to exist even after a reset?

Loren was drawn out of his thoughts as the door finally opened, and Mongoose stepped into the room. He had to tilt his head back to see her properly from his position on the floor—the hero wore her customary white bodysuit and matching mask.

She wasn’t exactly tall, but she was a few inches off six feet—as with the other times he’d seen, her muscular appearance was what drew his eye. The thin material that made up her costume showed off that Mongoose was in incredible shape, the kind of shape that took years of dedicated, unyielding effort to attain.

Loren had spent plenty of time in gyms, and he’d seen many people of varying levels of fitness, but Mongoose had one of the single most defined set of muscles he’d ever seen. Most of the other times, he’d interacted with the woman he’d spent either running, fighting, or without a moment to spare on her actual appearance.

“Damn,” Loren complained, actually finding himself jealous. “You’re giving me muscular envy—leave some gains for the rest of us, would you?”

“First in, first-served,” Mongoose smirked. “You look like you’ve been half-assing it—no one to blame but yourself, noodle arms.”

Noodle arms!?

“I am going to take extreme pleasure in stealing your hard-earned kungfu,” Loren said seriously, scrambling to his feet. “It will take me mere seconds to learn what you’ve dedicated your life to—you’re resentment shall only fuel my growth.”

“You suck.” Mongoose said, annoyed, “I don’t practice Kungfu—I’m trained in boxing and Taekwondo.”

“What’s the difference between Taekwondo and boxing?” Loren said with faux curiosity. “One kicks peoples, the other punches?”

Mongoose stared at him for several long seconds, completely taken aback. Loren wanted her to know exactly the type of person who was going to yoink her skills.

“I hate you,” Mongoose said eventually, “I hate you so much.”

Loren grinned.

“That’s the spirit,” Loren laughed, “I can feel myself getting stronger already!”

He found a place to get comfortable at the edge of the mat and took up a position to watch her. Mongoose muttered darkly to herself as she began to do some warm-up stretches—Loren burned the routine into his mind, wondering if there would be any problems with learning her movements with their differences in height. He only had a couple of inches on her, but it might be enough to change something.

When Mongoose began striking the air and chaining together punches, he found himself genuinely appreciative of her skill. He wasn’t exactly person trained to identify it, but everything she did looked sharp and completely natural.

He was reminded of how lucky he’d been during the incident in Wraith’s office—she’d needed to cross the entire room to get into range after he’d frozen time, entirely unable to use everything she’d burned into her body through years of training.

There had been the other loop as well, the one with Emma, Vapid, and Mongoose all trying to destroy each other in the stairwell. It was kind of interesting how little her Martial Arts could be utilized in most of the fights he’d seen her in—it wasn’t like you could exchange a series of counters and feints when you were falling through the air, chasing after someone and avoiding electricity.

It was probably an even bigger problem than that as well—without knowing the effects of your opponent’s power, getting into close range could be a death sentence. The same could probably be said for the upper-tier melee combatants, though, as long as their durability was high enough.

If Emma had stopped and attempted to engage Mongoose in a fistfight on level ground—

“Hey, Mongoose,” Loren said slowly. “Wraith told you about the loops yet? You’re not the leak, are you?”

“Yes, I know about the loops; no, I’m not the leak,” Mongoose said, exasperated. “I’ve been cleared of suspicion apparently—Tag is the only hero still currently under investigation. Although, from what I’ve heard, we have a highly suspicious janitor.”

“Mathew Kline is the Janitor—Did you know you backhanded me once?” Loren said pointedly, “Blam! Straight across the face, sent me flipping across a room, totally uncalled for by the way.”

Mongoose actually stopped beating the shit out of what she was probably envisioning as an invisible Loren.

“Really?” Mongoose said, startled. “Why would I do that—well, I know why I would want to—”

“Hilarious,” Loren pouted, “Still stealing all of your martial arts, by the way, don’t forget about that part. You must be pissed off at all times, expressly for my amusement.”

Mongoose went back to running through a sequence of complicated moves that Loren burned into the tracery of deep inside him. It was a process that only required observing, and it left his eyes free to trace the form-fitting nature of her bodysuit.

“Dickhead.” Mongoose snorted, “Why did I hit you?”

Getting Mark into trouble for failing to notify anyone about his choice to open up his relationship was always funny, but throwing Emma in the line of fire wasn’t—she hadn’t done anything wrong.

“I absolutely want to tell you the reason,” Loren admitted slowly. “But I’m going to need someone else to be present when I do, someone who can stop you from messing up my loop. Trust me; I’ve seen it all before—time traveler remember?”

“What could you possibly tell me that would make me want to mess up the time loop?” Mongoose said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, you won’t want to mess it up,” Loren said honestly, “You just won’t care when you start a fight in the middle of the HQ.”

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Chapter 55

Loren’s Apartment, 2:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren opened his eyes and rolled out of bed, avoiding the spray of glass.

Like every other day, he swiped his phone up, delivered the code phrase to Alana, and tacked on a few extras informative pieces of the things he’d picked up since the last update, including the fact that when they’d disarmed the bombs in Arrot using the same methods in Setalite.

Now for the big stuff.

“Something more?” Alana said, unshakeable despite the mountainous burden he’d dumped on her.

“I have it on good authority that the entirety of Epilogue is in Setalite City, not just Taker and Deceitful.” Loren said seriously, “Reset, Lecture, and Monstrous are all confirmed to be here on Thursday; Tiamat and The Researcher are the only ones not accounted for, but it was implied they are here as well.”

Alana was silent for a long while.

“Included in the code phrase was a rationalization that my other self had come to,” Alana said quietly, “Structured, and read in a way that explains that the series of events that occur over the course of your loop is the work of several unaffiliated organizations and individual actors.”

Loren frowned—this was the first time that she’d had taken issue with the code phrase.

“Yeah,” Loren said slowly before rattling off each of the threats. “The Insoluble Contract. Epilogue. Cinematic. Unknown Setalite City and Arrot City bomber who used Artisans designs. Dovetail? Crescent too, I suppose, but she’s just trying to free her team.”

“The Insoluble contract spurs Dovetail and Cinematic to action, and their actions can be considered downstream from it,” Alana said quietly, addressing each one. “Deceitful and Taker have an in-place method, one that is guaranteed to kill Paragon without your interference—it had also been there for an unknown length of time. The bomber in both cities is using designs stolen from Artisan’s private databanks.”

In turn, Loren nodded to each one, making sure it all added up—he wasn’t sure what her issue was.

“Yes to all of that,” Loren confirmed over the phone as each point seemed to be solid. “Deceitful had no idea about the bombs either and almost dies when they go off.”

There was a moment of silence over the line, and he felt his concern growing.

“My alters are wrong,” Alana murmured, almost inaudible. “It’s too much.”

“How?” Loren frowned. “I’m not seeing it, Alana.”

Think, Loren,” Alana insisted, in a sharp burst of noise, and he heard her emphasize the point by audibly tapping herself on the helmet with an armored finer. “Why is all of Epilogue here? Why are Cinematic all in the city? Why are so many heroes and villains appearing all at once? Why are there so many things happening at once?

Loren’s mind started spitting everything he knew out as he tried to reach whatever understanding she had come to.

“I don’t know—each of them has their own reasons, right? Deceitful was here to kill Paragon. Taker was here because she was helping her do it.” Loren said carefully, thinking. “Mara was here because she wanted to watch the trains….”

Loren trailed off; that was pretty weak, wasn’t it? Had she come all the way to Setalite City with the sole purpose to watch the train? Why had she chosen this week to do it? The real answer was he didn’t know why she had chosen it, but he was guessing that the implication here was that she there was a secondary reason for her presence—he just didn’t know what it was.

“Monstrous, Reset, and Lecture at least are here for an unknown reason; they will attack if Taker and Deceitful are captured,” Loren murmured into the phone.

There was another pause.

“Cinematic. Epilogue. Insoluble. All individual actors and organizations chasing their own goals and acting on opportunities presented to them—but what if it was more than that that Loren.” Alana said slowly, “What if the Evergold Festival was a production, and the Insoluble contract was just the invitation that brought in the actors?”

He imagined a stage with all of the known ‘actors’ up there, taking a bow as the curtain closed. Even as the audience lay dead in their seats, killed during the performance—there was no clapping.

“It’s all interconnected, Loren. The Insoluble contract and the Evergold Festival combine to create the first layer of this mess,” Alana said seriously, “The festival is designed to bring everyday people into the larger cities en masse, while the contract is designed to bring the heroes and villains in—as seekers of opportunity.”

Loren ran that thought over in his mind.

The heroes were coming in from everywhere, while the villains would come seeking wealth. People like Dovetail would exist, sprinkled amongst them—heroes turned by the call of greed.

“With the influx of people to the city, the celebration of heroes, and the culture we have—all of the capes would be able to use their civilian identities to blend in,” Loren spoke slowly, remembering pulling Emma through a crowd, dressed in full costume with no one the wiser. “Either to hide from those who were hunting or to seek out targets in turn.”

Alana waited just long enough for him to realize she expected more.

“As long while the festival is still occurring, none of them would look out of place.” Loren said finally, “It was all a trap from the beginning.”

Loren couldn’t believe how obvious it was in hindsight; they’d misconfigured the pieces of the puzzle. Derived the wrong conclusion from the correct pieces—they’d known about the contract from right at the start, but it had seemed so abstracted from the other attacks.

It had become a backdrop to the horrors that were happening because it was an abstraction—you couldn’t feel the visceral hate for a contract, not in the same way that you could for the actual monsters who cut down the people you cared about, right in front of you.

“The explosives are the second layer, set in the two cities most notable for celebrating the Evergold Festival, and as a result the two with the largest populations during this time of the year.” Alana pushed on, voice peeling back the layers. “They are spread out through the city for maximum coverage, in all of the areas with the largest congregation of people. Loren… I made a mistake in attempting to narrow down the individual targets the bomber was going after, to try and categorize who each actor was going after and what motivations drove each of them. I should have been thinking about the larger picture.”

They’d spent time narrowing down the targets of each, come to the conclusion that the bomb under the heroes podium had been there to target the heroes in attendance, not the civilians in the crowd. They’d been asking which group the killer was targeting, heroes or civilians—but it was the wrong question entirely because they weren’t targeting one or the other.

It wasn’t an assassination aimed at the heroes or a bomb to terrorize the crowd; it was a massacre.

“They weren’t targeting the heroes at the podium or the civilians in the crowd,” Loren said in understanding. “They were just trying to kill as many people as possible.”

Why? What was the point of so much senseless death? Naomi’s goal came to mind, to destroy the society that uplifted heroes to a higher status. He could have understood if it had been her—but she hadn’t even known about the bombs; she’d been in the crowd completely unaware, Naomi had almost died there.

Yes. Heroes, villains, and civilians,” Alana said seriously. “The real goal here for the bomber is overall numbers and not the individual strength or value of each unit like I had first assumed.”

Each unit—Loren shook his head at the word. They weren’t attempting to wipe out those with powers so much as they were attempting to wipe out people. Why? How did all of it tie together? Who was the person directing the actors? Who was the one who’d written the script?

“Deceitful and Taker are here for Paragon, but even without their involvement and with the bomb deactivated, he still goes crazy and then melts into a pile of goo,” Loren said quietly, staring at the window. “Somebody we don’t know about has already done something to him obviously—but….”

Loren remembered the man standing on the side of the construct and looking every bit the hero he was supposed to be. He had the calming aura, he had the unquestionable presence, and he had the unyielding strength—but he also remembered exactly what would become of him when the clock struck twelve.

Paragon would begin demanding answers; He would grow violent, and his body would be wracked with pain; he’d lash out at his comrades—at anyone or anything near him. He’d demanded to know why he was still here. It was like he had known the nano bomb was inside him, and he’d expected the bomb to go off.

Loren kicked the table in frustration, sending it skidding across the kitchen floor, completely unable to make sense of everything.

“Paragon knew about the nano bomb inside of him; why would he be waiting for it to explode? Why would he be upset that it didn’t go off?” Loren murmured, clenching his hands together. “Why wouldn’t he just tell someone about it?”

Had the man wanted to die? Were they interfering with the world’s strongest man and his attempt to punch out early? Was he being controlled by someone? What was the answer here?

“The person flying around wearing his face and using his powers most likely isn’t even Paragon anymore. It might not even be a person at this point; it could be nothing more than a homunculus wearing his body, using his powers, and working with stolen memories. An amalgamation of parts that were simply carrying out its orders.” Alana said seriously, “Its death date is carved in stone, the flesh set to expire—and it’s looking forward to it because when left without a purpose, it breaks down entirely.”

“The Nano bomb was never a real threat here,” Loren said quietly. “Because the real Paragon is already long gone.”

He’d never had a chance to save the man in the first place—Loren just hadn’t realized it until now. All of that hope had been worthless in the end. Even if he succeeded in saving every person in the city, if he prevented all of the horrors and stopped the forces arrayed against them, no matter how well Loren performed, Paragon would never make it out of the loop with him.

The greatest hero in the world had died before the game had even started.

“We can’t do anything to save Paragon; we don’t have any idea when he was swapped with the fake. Refocus your thoughts; the Insoluble contract is the key here, Loren.” Alana said seriously. “Whoever placed it brought all of this together; they drew in the capes and timed it with the festival to bring more civilians. They are most likely responsible for setting the bombs as well—we need to find out who’s name is behind it.”

Loren wished he could just take things in stride as she did—Alana was just built different.

“Isn’t that impossible?” Loren muttered, “I remember asking about it before—you told me people have tried to shut Insoluble down in the past. It just comes back every time, right?”

“Yes, and officially they are still attempting to shut it down, but unofficially, it’s being left alone,” Alana said seriously. “It’s a completely unbiased source of information, as far as anyone can tell. Insoluble does a lot of things, but primarily it collects and sells data on everyone. Civilians, celebrities,heroes, villains, politicians,soldiers, bounty hunters, demons, and everything else.”

“That’s pretty messed up,” Loren said, frowning. “I don’t think the general public would accept something like that—”

“Loren. It’s the way things are; for good or ill, the choice was made by someone far further up the food chain than us,” Alana said simply, directing his attention past the moral argument entirely. “What is important right now is that the system exists and any information that has been traded or sold to them already exists.”

The fact that his personal history was most likely out there for anyone with the application, money to spend, and a passing curiosity was horrible. This was obviously where Alana had been getting her information on him.

“Can we find a way to break into it?” Loren murmured before shaking his head and sitting up straight.

“I will begin preparations immediately, although this entire discussion is indicative of a grave need for an updated code phrase.” Alana said quietly, “If you could speak with me before you reset, I’ll be able to speed up the investigation into Insoluble by passing along any breakthroughs.”

“Thank you, Alana,” Loren said quietly.

“I’ll have a new code for you before the end of the day.”Alana promised, “Have you discovered your secondary power yet?”

“I’m about to find out,” Loren admitted. “Wish me luck.”

Motion, Continuation, and Experience translated into… absolutely nothing Loren could identify.

He’d spent hours doing all manner of things he could think of to generate some kind of response only to be met with a brick wall of nothing. He gave up on his failed attempt at standing on his hands before trying for a risky cartwheel in the space between his bed and the wall and managed to put his heel through the plaster instead.

“Shit.” Loren yelped, yanking his foot out of the wall.

He scrambled up to his feet, eyeing the crack in his wall with wary eyes; he’d remembered them being far easier to do than that.

There was no feeling inside him anywhere to indicated a body part, or a well of energy or anything. No strange sensations, no enhanced strength—Motion, motion, motion. He windmilled his arms around, attempting to generate some kind of arcane force, but nothing happened. Loren dropped down and did a few pushups, but again, nothing happened, and he soon reached his limit of ideas.

He’d been at this for long enough that the sun was coming up, and he’d achieved nothing—to think he could have picked what was most likely the ability to generate ice, cause a snowstorm or spawn an army of snowmen—Ice, cold, and many had been the impression of that last one.

He was starting to think he’d gotten a power he couldn’t use—maybe that’s why it was an automated process, to begin with? Then again, the entire loop he’d gone through as a kid had been ill-matched powers and pain.

Maybe it was learning as it went? It could explain why he was getting more useful abilities now that he was older. A bird passed by the window, illuminated in the early morning light, vanishing before he’d fully registered its passing, and he finally felt something flicker inside of him.

Loren stared down at his hands.

“I have the power to see birds!” Loren said ironically. “Slightly better than nothing, I guess.”

Loren moved over to the window and looked around—he felt the same faint tracery deep within him as he spotted a jogger pass by. The complex pattern grew brighter the longer he watched her, and he then realized what was happening as the exact movements, down to a truly disturbing level, were ferried into his mind.

Without a shadow of a doubt, he knew that he could mimic the exact way she had been running.

“I’m learning her movements,” Loren murmured. “Or it’s some kind of visual understanding of motion, but it only works on other people or animals.”

He watched her until she passed out of sight, and the tracery vanished, his connection to the motion now gone. Loren turned and headed over to his computer and opened up a browser tab, searching for a specific video.

Loren found it, studied the person on screen; he felt the tracery lit up again, and this time he could better tell what it was doing—he’d long since known how to run, on an intrinsic level he didn’t need to be taught.

This new information burned the gymnast’s perfect form into his mind, and he strode back to his bedroom with a confident stride that had never belonged to him. He planted his hands on the ground and then flipped back to his feet in a perfectly smooth motion that left him level with the hole in the wall.

“Huh,” Loren said quietly. “Motion and Experienceis the storage mechanism what is tied to the Continuation aspect? If it wasn’t there, would I keep having to relearn it? Or…”

Another hour of testing had shown him that was exactly what the power did.

It took in everything about physical motion; it allowed him to understand it, on a level that transcended the conscious level. It was stored, somewhere in his mind, in the same place that told him how to move his tongue and to raise his arm or draw in breath without thought.

He was teaching himself how to perform all sorts of things that he couldn’t have possibly done before without the aid of power. The only thing he’d ever felt that surpassed this level of understanding had been the loop where he’d been so fast and so adept at combat that he’d fought off Vapid without her touching him.

As long as he could witness the movements, he could perform them. It didn’t allow him to do anything truly superhuman because his muscles were only as strong as they normally were—but the gap between his cartwheel and the gymnast had been so vast it may as well have been.

Lucky for him, he’d always kept himself in relatively good shape—he felt an abrupt surge in guilt caught him unaware as he realized it had been over a month since he had last gone to the gym. He wouldn’t get anything out of it during the loop, but it still felt like he was cheating.

It worked on people, animals, videos, and even video games—that last one was almost completely useless to him. He didn’t have a single martial arts game on hand, but he did have an old platformer—and he had since discovered that double jumping was impossible to perform in real life despite having copied the motion.

He watched several instructional videos on mixed martial arts—grappling was a confusing mess even if he understood how to do the moves, he had the experience, but he lacked the experience, you know?

All in all, it was one of the weakest powers he’d gotten so far, but there was a sense of giddiness at finally having an answer—hours of work had paid off, kind of. He found his phone and dialed a number.

“Alana,” Loren said solemnly, holding the phone to his ear.

“I’m afraid I haven’t made any significant progress on the code phrase, Loren,” Alana said simply. “Has something come up?”

Had something come up?

“I need to test myself in glorious combat.” Loren insisted, hamming it up. “Send me your greatest fighting man—I wish to crush them beneath my mighty heel.”

There was a beat of silence.

“What?” Alana said blankly, “I imagine you have figured out your current power? What does it do—”

“No time for such silly nonsense, fair maiden,” Loren said, grinning, “Ask my bedroom wall if you must—it attempted to stop my advance and was found wanting. Send me a warrior at once!”

There was a silence that lingered a moment too long and conveyed a lot.

“I was just considering taking a break,” Alana said pointedly, robotic voice reverberating. “I think I can spare a moment of my time to assist you.”

Loren started to sweat a little bit—maybe that fair maiden comment was a bit much?

“Um,” Loren said quickly, dropping the theatrics. “That was a joke, by the way—Alana? Alana?”

THINK, Loren!

Fanfiction drop, and Ameliorate(Patreon) chapter 8 update today! Keep an eye out while I go through and update them all.

I always appreciate any support you guys send my way, seeing all your feedback makes it interesting. If you guys are interested in any of the stuff that I’m currently working on and want to help me put out even more content come check out my Patreon. 

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Chapter 54

Loren’s Apartment, 2:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren touched his throat gently, listening as Emma and Mark did their best to shower him in ceiling dust and glass. He’d forgotten about Naomi in the chaos—the fact that he had chosen the same building she had been hiding in was just—

He turned to look in the direction of the hallway, feeling the pull of something familiar from the other side of his apartment. The longer he focused on it, the more clear the feeling became, and then suddenly, a second perspective snapped into existence.

Loren stared at the hallway, and he stared at the shower stall in his bathroom. The origin of the point of view suggested that he was seeing from the perspective of his mirror.

“Can’t I just get one of the classics?” Loren mumbled, slipping out of bed.

He moved towards the bathroom and stuck his head around the doorway—he couldn’t stop himself from jumping as he saw himself step into the room from the mirror’s perspective. There was a bizarre moment where he was staring at his reflection in the mirror while he was staring at his real self from the mirror.

The strange feeling he’d been getting was much stronger with proximity—despite what almost every single horror movie and video game had taught him, he reached out, touching the surface of the mirror. It rippled outwards, gripping onto him, and then he was pulled bodily into the mirror. Everything went black for a single frame before he was deposited in front of it once more.

Loren stood in his bathroom blinking—nothing had changed.

“As if I’d say that,” Loren grumbled.

He was obviously in the mirror; the question was, what was the point? He stuck his head out into the hallway to check if there were mirror demons about to wreck his shit but found nothing. He picked a marker up off the kitchen bench and flipped it into the air before catching it—he could still touch everything, and belatedly he realized that if he couldn’t, he would have fallen through the floor.

That brought back a nasty memory—He could hear the argument upstairs move towards the door, and he followed, moving to his own doorway. He’d messed around too long—He would need to tell Mark about everything to slow him down and then ring Alana afterward.

“Time to improvise,” Loren said quietly, opening his door and stepping out onto the stairs.

The door upstairs opened, and the two emerged, screaming at each other. Loren moved up the stairs, opening his mouth to interrupt them when he actually caught sight of them for the first time.

Two black silhouettes stood on the stairs, holes in space roughly analogous to their general shapes.

“You’re lucky I even came here at all!” Mark snarled, “Don’t worry, though—it’s the last time! Find your own shit next time!”

Loren reached out and poked the man on the shoulder with his marker, seeing as they were clearly too busy to notice him.

“Hey Mark—” Loren said, annoyed.

The empty hole in space spun around and lashed out—faster than Loren could track. Something passed through his head and out the other side.

“Did you just kick me?” Loren said, offended.

They didn’t even blink—apparently unable to hear him or see him.

“Mark?” Emma said hesitantly.

“There’s something there—whatever it is, it’s invisible,” Mark said forcefully. “Look, there’s a floating pen!”

Loren waggled the marker around in greeting—they clearly couldn’t hear him. He popped the lid off the marker and stepped over to the wall.

It’s trying to communicate!” Emma said, shocked. “Is anyone there? Hello?”

“What the hell is this?” Loren snorted. “Ghost catchers?”

He wrote out a message on the old peeling wallpaper—Peter was going to be pissed.

“Call Wraith; she’s crying?” Emma said hesitantly.

He continued, grinning.

“Cinematic assassinations are coming to kill you, don’t tell anyone but Wraith, or they will know and attack early,” Mark said, frowning, pulling out his phone. “Take me to a mirror so I can talk properly—Emma, let’s go back inside; we can’t do this out here.”

“Oh, a ghost appears, and now you want to stay?” Emma snapped, “Fucking asshole!”

Mark stepped past her towards the door, letting himself back in and blatantly ignoring her fury. Loren followed the two holes in space inside the apartment, listening as Emma verbally railed the man. He followed the strange feeling that he knew to be her mirror back to its source and lifted his marker up as the two of them stopped in the bathroom.

“It’s another message!” Emma said quickly. “I cannot enter the physical realm without the proper ritual.”

Loren did his best not to laugh as Emma read it out loud. He was probably having a little bit too much fun with this power. Mark seemed to be taking his advice and calling Alana.

“Wraith? Are you alright? You aren’t crying, are you?” Mark mumbled into the phone at his ear. “No—it’s just, look, I’ve gotten a tip that Cinematic is active, and I’m one of their targets. It’s kind of a weird situation.”

“If you wish to bring me forth… you must call my name three times,” Emma read out loud, looking worried. “I don’t know your name… Mark, I’m starting to feel like we are summoning a demon—maybe this isn’t a good idea?”

Mark held his hand over the phone receiver for a moment.

“It’s trying to warn us okay? Just work with it.” Mark insisted, brushing her off. “We need to figure out what’s going on here.”

“Fine!” Emma snapped before turning back to the mirror. “I… ghost? Spirit? What’s your name?”

Loren wrote it in the mirror.

“I am not saying that,” Emma said immediately, looking flustered. “This is a joke isn’t it? Who the fuck is this?”

He moved on to drawing a stick figure sticking a fork into a wall socket, and Emma tried to rub it out with her hand, smudging the ink across the mirror.

“How do you even know about that—Stop it!” Emma said, embarrassed. “Fine, I’ll say the stupid name! Bootyslayer911, Bootyslayer911, Bootyslayer911.”

Loren pushed through the mirror and found himself deposited in front of them, still laughing.

“I can’t believe you actually said it,” Loren laughed. “Why are you so gullible, Emma?”

“Loren!” Emma said, outraged.

Hero HQ, Setalite City, 7:12 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

“I don’t know, man.” Loren sighed, “I didn’t make the power okay; it came like this.”

“But how can you pick something up? You’re obviously interacting with the physical world.” Secluded said strangely, “If you can touch things, why can’t anybody touch you? It doesn’t even make sense. Those two things are completely contradictory.”

Loren didn’t have a clue how it worked. It was like a one-way interaction, he could touch things, but he wasn’t really there? Maybe the power was converting his movements into some kind of supernatural force in the real world that nobody could interact with?

Loren shook his head.

“No idea, honestly,” Loren admitted.

“This is truly terrible.” Secluded said bemused, “It’s an affront to powers everywhere—you should be ashamed of yourself for not immediately knowing the answers to my questions.”

“Thanks,” Loren said dryly, rolling his eyes. “Super charitable of you.”

“Can you feel the things you’re touching—can other people feel it? Like is there tactile feedback involved?” Secluded rattled off a bunch of questions. “Does everything have the same level of resistance as normal?”

This had been going for a while now—he could remember the feeling of the marker between his fingers easily enough, and Mark had definitely felt him tap the guy on the shoulder, although that had been with the marker.

“Yes to all of those questions,” Loren said honestly.

Secluded sat back on the chair in disgust.

“I hate it,” Secluded decided, nodding firmly.

“You drag people into an alternate dimension inside you.” Loren said dryly, “Where do you go when you enter it, huh? Explain that.”

“I go inside it,” Secluded said smugly. “Easy.”

Loren blinked at the answer.

“That’s not—where does your body go,” Loren said annoyed, “What’s your anchor to the real world?”

Secluded grinned at his annoyance.

“The space I left behind is the anchor,” Secluded said easily, “It’s a fixed point, I can move around inside my personal dimension as much as I want, but when I leave, I’ll always end up at the same spot I entered.”

That explained why Secluded and Tag had reappeared on the Heroes Podium after the bombs had detonated—at the time, he had wondered why they hadn’t moved to reposition, but apparently, it hadn’t even been possible, really.

It was also a big weakness.

“You can’t cancel your power whenever you want?” Secluded wondered.

Loren shook his head.

“I have to enter or exit through a mirror—but the mirror realm is a replica of the normal world,” Loren said, nodding, “So there’s not exactly a lack of mirrors, but it would be awkward to pop up in someone’s bathroom whenever I wanted to leave.”

“You could carry a hand mirror with you when you enter,” Secluded pointed out, “You said your clothing came with you?”

“Yeah, and it was all invisible just like I was,” Loren nodded. “I wonder if I could exit with a mirror that was under the effect of my power or not, that would be like a second layer deep—actually, I’m pulled physically into it, and I really don’t like the idea of being dragged into a space the size of my hand.”

“Okay yeah,” Secluded winced, “Maybe don’t try the hand mirror one.”

“What does your inner dimension look like?” Loren pressed, honestly curious. “Is it the same as the real world?”

“Not even remotely,” Secluded said smiling, “It’s an endless flat expanse made of perfectly smooth, white stone. There’s some ambient light, but you can’t see where it’s coming from. The stone is malleable—that’s where I get my reputation from; I can make it do basically anything. It forms into whatever I think of, gains colors, textures, and everything else.”

Loren tried to imagine it.

“I kind of want to see it.” Loren admitted. “Can you make living things?”

Secluded glanced away for a moment, looking hesitant.

“I do sometimes,” Secluded admitted, “It works but… while they look real—I can tell they aren’t.”

“Could you make a mirror inside?” Loren wondered. “You could bring me in and I could see if it creates a replica of your dimension—”

“That sounds like a really, really bad idea.” Secluded said honestly, “We should totally try it.”

Secluded stuck her hand out insistently, and Loren snorted before slowly reaching across the table. Secluded snagged his wrist, and the world fell away, twisting in on itself. Loren knelt down to touch the ground, and as Secluded had said, it was smooth.

It was a bit darker than he expected, given the description, and the light source was just as unknowable.

“Well, what do you think?” Secluded said smiling, leaning against a white pillar that had grown out of the ground. “Mines definitely cooler than yours—probably bigger too.”

All in all, it was an endless field of white stone—there was a feeling about the space that he couldn’t help but notice. He’d become so hyperaware of these kinds of odd feelings that he couldn’t help but notice them.

It wasn’t easy to describe it either—it felt like the feeling Loren got when he looked at the hero called Secluded, only much more… real, and pulled into every part of this place.

“I haven’t even shown you mine yet,” Loren pointed out, wincing at the phrasing.

“Oh?” Secluded smirked. “All you boys are the same, huh? A little bit of attention from a beautiful hero, and you are more than ready to shove it in my face.”

Loren rolled his eyes at the jab.

“If I am remembering correctly,” Loren sniped back absentmindedly. “You dragged me into a room and insisted I come inside you.”

There was a rumble through the stone beneath him before Secluded started laughing.

“Holy shit,” Secluded snorted. “Okay, fine, that was a good one—point to you, you’re quick, I’ll give you that.”

Loren pushed himself back to his feet.

“The only ones I have are good ones,” Loren bragged, pretending to miss the obvious ‘quick’ jab.

A mirror began to emerge from the stone, completely white before color began to bleed into it. A moment later, the mirror was standing in front of him. He could feel the moment it developed that same all too familiar feeling all of the real mirrors had, and it flickered to life in his senses.

It felt like everything else in this place.

“Anything?” Secluded said curiously, walking around it to stand beside him.

“I can feel it at least,” Loren admitted. “Don’t get rid of it until I come back out—I don’t really want to get stuck inside.”

He reached out and pressed a finger against the glass—the sensations became clearer; it felt like Loren Parker. His own sense of self spread out within it, bright, real, and endless.

The mirror surged out and gripped him, dragging him inside it, and everything went black.

Loren opened his eyes slowly and sat up—He looked upwards, half expecting to see a shattered lightbulb and his dusty ceiling.

Instead, he saw an endless field of stars dotting an inky black canvas, bright and sparkling. He looked down and found himself standing on an invisible platform, and beneath it was was nothing but a continuation of blinking lights.

“Where am I?” Loren said, awed by sight. “What is this place?”

That feeling of himself was everywhere, stretching forever away from him in all directions, and everything felt simultaneously within his reach and yet outside his grasp. The countless sparks held countless flavors—and some were more… understandable than others.

“Secluded? Can you hear me?” Loren said quietly, but there was no answer.

He held an arm up in the direction of a particularly bright feeling, studying the skin of his hand and feeling out a distant speck. It felt familiar in a way, and not just because it felt like he did—it felt like a burning fury in his chest, rising and growing hot, uncontainable. Loren closed his eyes as the memories of Hope’s Bridge rose in his mind—the power to birth a sun felt right at home in this place filled with stars.

Was this where his powers came from?

How had he even reached this place—he’d gone into Secluded’s inner dimension and stepped into the mirror within it. He’d expected some weird byplay between their conflicting powers—like that she would be able to mess with him even while he was only half present. That one of their abilities would trump the other—but this was something else.

This was just…

It was a world—or a place, inside himself, like Secluded’s own. The mirror realm reflected the real world, and his power had touched a mirror that was reflecting Secluded’s inner world. Stepping into that mirror had stolen ownership of the reflection somehow.

He closed his eyes and moved his hand across the emptiness in front of him, a million feelings corresponding with a million powers flickering across his mind. Cold and hot and buzzing, a feeling of motion, experience and continuation, a sense of sharpness and a flicker of something too fast for him to understand—all sitting and waiting for him to reach and touch them with his mind.

Loren knew he could pick one, pluck it from the universe to use as he saw fit—but along with it came the understanding that he would begin anew. He would return to the start of the loop, wielding the power he selected here, in this place.

This was the mechanism that allowed him to reset on will, the one that brought him back upon death and the one that selected powers for him—he’d intruded on the automated process that went on deep within himself.

Loren slowly came to the realization that he had died inside Secluded’s dimension, inside the stolen mirror and the realm that Loren had created inside of it—in a place so deep that to return, he would need to pass through this gate manually.

Could he… reach this place again one day?

The ridiculous mixture of conflicting powers that had brought him here was already gone, and the chances of him randomly rolling it again was basically zero. Even if he found it now amongst the stars and chose it—he would be in the exact same position he was in now—forced to select it again. The reality was, he had the chance to select his power for the first time—but if he used it, it would also be the last time he had it.

Loren sat down on the invisible platform and searched the stars.

Without a way to keep track of the time, Loren had long since realized that he could neither map them all nor accurately gauge what they actually did. He knew that the ability to create a sun that he’d had long ago corresponded with a feeling of heat, growth, and power—but already, he’d found three more powers that possessed all of those qualities, some with more.

Heat, growth, and power, and bestowal—its purpose unknown. Heat, growth, power, and scales, a wildly different impression than the first and none of his original power’s familiarity. Direction, momentum, speed, and force, in countless combinations, and each bent in a hyper-specific application.

Heat, and cold and exotic energy of a million flavors, and more.

Whatever he chose, the choice would be blind—and he knew thanks to his repeats that he would most likely have it for less than a week before it was gone. No solution fits every problem, and his familiarity with the events of the Evergold Festival was where his true strength lay.

“Spoiled for choice has never been so relevant.” Loren sighed.

Loren wondered if he could just stay forever in this place, where time didn’t pass, and his rebirth forever waited. The view was incredible, and everything was suffused with a warm, inviting feeling despite his presence in space.

Then he started to laugh—he could never stay here regardless of how nice it felt, not like this anyway.

It was far too lonely.

Loren moved his hand back to where the original sun power had been sitting and then slightly off to one side—there it was. The feeling of motion, experience, and continuation—he had no idea what it would translate into once he woke up, but that was an almost universal concept here.

Any choice he made right now had an equal chance of ending in greatness or despair. There were simply too many choices, and no matter which he picked, there would have always been a better choice or a worse one.

Loren had grown pretty accustomed to dealing with regrets—what was one more?

Lots of power discussion in this chapter, long overdue.

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Chapter 53

Warning: Uncomfortable and unwanted touching in this chapter.

Train Station, Setalite City, 7:06 AM.
Thursday, February 24th​, 2022.

Loren wondered if he hadn’t somehow managed to curse himself with a passive luck debuff along the way. It would go a long way to explaining just how much bullshit seemed to happen to him; at least, he seemed to be getting used to it.

“A massive problem?” Mara said, frowning, “What happened?”

He had a pretty good idea just what the problem was—it wasn’t every day that two members of Epilogue were captured. Loren narrowed his eyes in disgust as Lecture slid her hand across his shoulders, down under his arm to rest on his ribs.

“Can you stop touching me?” Loren said as evenly as he could manage.

The villain didn’t even pause.

“Taker and Deceitful aren’t responding,” Hannah said, frowning. “When we checked their last location, there were signs of a battle. I asked around the neighborhood—there was a fight with the capes from the local HQ.”

Loren tensed as the hand dropped down to his thigh, and he did his absolute best not to lash out as the woman’s hand clenched around his cock. A wave of nausea pushed its way up to his throat as his body betrayed him. It took a force of will not to rip her hand off of him, but he was rapidly reaching the limit of what he was willing to endure in order to listen in to their conversation.

“Where are they now? There’s no way they could have beaten them, surely?” Mara said, frowning as she watched. “Hannah, stop it—”

She’d barely gotten the word out before Hannah turned on her.

“Fuck off, Mara—he clearly likes it,” Hannah snapped, and Mara blew an explosive breath out of her nose but didn’t argue. “And they were beaten somehow—we need to go break them out of the HQ.”

Loren reached the last shred of his patience, but he only got as far as his hand latching around the predatory woman’s wrist before a new voice washed over them from directly behind the bench.

“You two look like you’re having fun,” A muffled voice said hatefully, “Am I the only one doing any fucking work around here?”

“Hello, Reset,” Mara said quietly. “Hannah just told me what happened; when are we going?”

Hannah had turned to look at where his hand was clenched around her arm, face entirely contorted with fury—lucky for him; her attention was soon drawn away from what he had done.

“Now,” Reset said, annoyed, “Get off your ass—and get your hand off that guy’s cock, you fucking rapist.”

Hannah wrenched her hand out of Loren’s grip and spun to face Reset, furious. Loren twisted out of Lecture’s grip, taking three steps away from the bench, watching them warily.

“Why don’t you fucking kill yourself instead?” Hannah snapped, voice laden with purpose.

Reset’s hand flashed up to his own throat as her power took effect; he started to choke under the force of his own grip before his entire body flickered out of focus and then back again. His hand dropped down to his side, and he stared at Lecture from behind his mask, expression unknown.

“Do that again, Lecture,” Reset warned. “I’ll promise you now that you won’t enjoy what happens next.”

There was a tense standoff between them, and Loren used the moment to study the three of them. Almost an entire half of Epilogue in one place—it was a horrible sight. He noted that Mara was still watching him and looking conflicted about what was happening. Hannah was on her feet now, staring over the bench at Reset.

Loren wondered how often arguments like this occurred within the group.

Reset was tall, covered head to toe in a blue bodysuit, and a white porcelain mask adorned his face, no part of his body showing—He was also staring silently at Loren; apparently, the sheer focus was out of character enough that even Hannah turned to follow his gaze despite the tension between them.

You—” Reset said shakily, bringing his arm up between them like a shield. “What is this?”

The other two didn’t seem to have any clue as to what the man was talking about.

“Reset?” Mara said quietly.

“Who is that?” Reset snapped furiously, sidestepping the bench. “Who the fuck is that!?”

Loren watched the man warily—did he know him somehow?

“It’s just some guy,” Hannah said, frowning, turning to check on Loren again. “Mara?”

“His name is Loren,” Mara said hesitantly. “He was the on the train that I told you about years ago.”

Loren felt odd watching Reset’s mental crisis like he was seeing something he shouldn’t be watching, something personal. Mara’s coat had finally started to move as the stress of the situation started to fight against her newly earned control.

Loren…” Reset spat in disgust as if his name was a curse.

Reset’s hands suddenly caught on fire, and the fire quickly began to spread up his forearms—within seconds, his entire body was covered, and the area’s temperature began to rise.

“Reset, stop,” Mara said quickly, coat swaying dangerously. “He’s my friend—Reset!

“He’s your friend?” Reset snapped angrily. “Monsters don’t have friends!”

Mara flinched back, holding her arms across her chest defensively; Loren readied himself to move as Reset began to close the distance between them. The heat of the fire pressed against him, growing worse the closer he came.

“Diplomacy has failed; time to bring in the big guns,” Loren said clearly, loud enough to be heard by everyone. “Sorry, Mara—but could you stay out of this?”

Mara didn’t answer, and then Reset was on him—Hair erupted around Loren, twisting into a moving cocoon of threads and quickly growing. Reset didn’t even slow down, and the hair began to burn away as it came in contact with the flames. A thick, weaved pillar of hair burst forth towards him and crashed into the man’s chest, sending him across the subway before it dissolved into ashes.

The fire went out as Reset slammed into the opposite wall, shattering the tiles. Loren hadn’t been expecting actually to land the hit, and he realized with horror that he had actually killed the man.

Reset flickered out of focus for a moment before he returned, practically exploding out of the debris, perfectly unharmed and alive. He crossed the room with brutish speed, leaving craters in the ground where his feet fell.

Loren lashed out again, sending as many strands of hardened hair forward as he could to block the man’s advance. They shattered beneath his strength, and Loren was forced to lay a path of hair-spears to block his path. Reset leaped off the ground in his anger and then immediately stopped in mid-air, impaled on the sharp spikes.

Loren felt sick as copious amounts of blood splattered around them. He sent hair weaving around his clothing before he lifted himself off the ground, and then like some kind of human puppet, he drew himself across the platform, heading for the stairs.

The hair lashed out to grip a pillar, and he used it to swing himself upwards—that was as far as he got before Reset flickered again, the hair impaling his body vanished, and then time froze.

Loren didn’t understand what was happening for a moment.

He was suspended in mid-air, with hair lancing off in every direction, grasping onto handholds and seeking more. Hannah was completely frozen in mid-air, leaping off the platform to escape the growing fight—her eyes were still moving.

Reset dropped to the ground, unaffected by the strange power. Mara also seemed completely unaffected by it as well, counting grasping limbs reaching outwards, not unlike his own hair had, keeping her away from the battle.

Reset drew himself up from where he had landed and staggered through the countless strands of frozen hair, fighting his way through the mess towards Loren.

“Reset!” Mara cried out from the other side of the platform. “Don’t hurt him!”

Loren felt the more distant strands snap under Mara’s strange body as she moved closer to them.

Reset found the last couple of meters to be completely unpassable—simply too much hair to pass through, and he raged for a moment smashing his arm against it. His arm split down the middle, sliced in two by the unmoving hair, and he flickered again.

Time unfroze, the hair completed its path up the stairs, and then an unseen force gripped the area around him, pulling violently. Loren was dragged slowly back down the stairs towards Reset, turning enough to witness a yawning maw filled with perfectly flat teeth between the man’s hands, sucking everything inside.

The hardened hair dug into the walls, buried itself deep in the concrete, and kept on going; it weaved thick braids around him and fought against the pull, but it was a losing battle. The stairway began to collapse above them from the exchange of forces.

A thick braided cord of hair, tipped with a sharpened point, lanced out of the wall directly behind Reset, having dug a channel through the material.

It wrapped around the man’s heads and dragged him bodily back into the wall with a crack—the eldritch mouth that was attempting to swallow the world vanished, and Reset flickered again before a long, thin, silver tail emerged from his back and cut through the restraining cord of hair with obscene speed.

It blurred around him, cutting the new cords that approached before it could touch him. The man staggered through the concrete blocks that had fallen from the ceiling, and Loren sent a thick cord through the middle of the rubble on the stairs.

“Reset,” Loren said, panting.

Everything was happening so fast, and he’d been holding his breath without awareness. The cord he’d sent upwards made it outside, and then he created a thousand protrusions along its length, growing flattened plates of hardened material at the end of each.

“Shut your fucking mouth!” Reset raged, cutting through the blocks around him in his anger.

Loren forced the plates outwards, crushing the debris against the walls and clearing a path. He dragged himself backward through it, up the stairs, and to freedom closing it behind him as he went.

Reset didn’t even slow down; he cut a path through the falling debris and remaining hair digging his way after him.

Loren barely made it two meters from the entrance when his backup finally arrived, alerted by the phrase he’d said on the platform.

Untold slammed into the road in front of him as Reset lunged out of the shattered stairs. The tip of the silver tail halted inches from her face as she caught hold of it. Untold blurred for a beat, and Reset vanished with an ear-splitting crack as she struck him across the face, burying him back in the mess the entrance had become.

“Loren,” Untold said, frowning. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“Yeah—good seeing you again,” Loren panted, “Thanks for actually coming. Reset isn’t dead, by the way—he comes back with a different power every time he dies.”

“Isn’t that your power?” Untold said, tensing, alarmed.

The similarities between their powers weren’t lost on him, and it made fighting him with lethal intent much easier.

“Similar, but not the same,” Loren said, finally catching his breath. “I go back in time when I die; he just heals back to perfect health. Monstrous is down there as well, so is Lecture.”

“I don’t get it at all—How do you even get wrapped up in something like this?” Untold said quietly, “Was two members of Epilogue not enough for one week? Just how much do you intend to do?”

Unearned praise that was misaimed as far as he was concerned; he’d done nothing to help during that battle.

“I wasn’t the one to take them down,” Loren denied. “I wasn’t even there at the time.”

The rubble shifted again.

“No, but it only happened because of you,” Untold said curtly. “No more talking—he’s back.”

A metal pillar tore out of the ground before branching out into a thousand smaller spikes—Untold didn’t even move as they crashed into her, shattering on her skin—Loren pulled himself up higher to avoid the ones that had been diverted around her. The road erupted into more of the pillars, and they surged up after him as he moved higher—he sent the hardened hair down into the mess and used it to help maneuver away from it.

The sound of screeching metal washed over the area, and half of the metal forest collapsed as Untold crashed through it. She landed feet first against the side of a particularly thick metal upright, holding Reset by the throat—the entire pillar moved from the force, creaking ominously.

Reset flickered and twisted in her grip, leg flicking over her head and curling around Untolds neck. He threw himself backward, dragging her off the pole in the process. He spun once in the air and then tossed her downwards.

Untold vanished under the force of the throw, disappearing into the mess of metal below.

Reset twisted again, finding a foothold on a nearby pole and kicked off—He shot through the air towards him at ludicrous speeds, far more than the kick should have given him, and Loren did his best to bury the man in a deluge of hair.

It couldn’t seem to hold onto the man for more than a moment, slipping away from his skin and destabilized upon touch.

Loren pulled away from him again, using a distant building as a hair hold, but he felt Reset snatch a handful of the hair; a wave of sensation raced across it, and suddenly Loren was moving towards the ground at a breakneck pace.

He curled up as best he could, hair growing around him en mass—there was an awful pressure, and then everything went black.

Loren surged upwards—or at least tried to; he was surrounded on all sides by something. Awakening brought with it awareness, and the massive pillar around him burst into existence in his mind—he’d made so much hair.

A vibration passed through the structure, growing stronger—it was something tearing its way through it, but they were moving slowly, struggling to make much progress. He pushed himself upwards and away from the disturbance, emerging on the side of the building-sized pillar of hair.

He secured himself to the surface of it and stood horizontally on the side of the structure, trying to survey the area.

Far below, he could see fire and water in equal measure, buildings burning, and streets flooding. Something passed beneath him, and the water was pushed to each side of the street as something cut through it. Whatever it had been, the water began to recede, slipping through a gouge in the road that looked far too deep.

Loren had no idea who was even fighting anymore—the person who had originally been moving slowly through the hair had started moving much, much faster. Something glinted in the distance, and then his world shook as a person crashed down feet first into the twisted mass of hair beside him.

Loren stared at the man before it sunk in exactly who he was looking at.

“Paragon,” Loren said quietly.

He was just as large in person as he was the last time he’d seen the man—a verifiable mountain of muscle, dark-skinned and with thick cords of soaking wet dreadlocked hair hanging sideways from his head, dangling towards the ground.

The feeling of tranquilness that he’d briefly felt when the man had been rampaging through the city was present, invading his sense of self and leaving a feeling of calm behind. Loren wondered if the man felt the effects of his own aura or if he was immune.

It also made him wonder how Paragon—how Julian had dealt with the problem they both seemed to share. His was an effect that calmed those who felt it, but it still held the same issues he’d encountered with his own pheromone situation.

“Loren Parker,” Paragon smiled, “I’ve heard a lot about you. When Untold called us in, we didn’t expect this—it has become quite the mess.”

If Untold had called the rest of them in, who else was present? His mind was pulled back to the feeling of calm that was washing over him—he’d become too used to feeling strange or unknown sensations inside him that it stood out.

“Do you ever wonder what it’s like to interact with people without your aura present?” Loren managed.

He was somewhat disorientated to be suddenly finding himself speaking with the most famous person in the world. The question wasn’t at all appropriate for their current situation, but he couldn’t help but ask.

“All the time,” Paragon smiled, sending water flicking down from his hair at the motion. “I wasn’t born with it, so I remember a time when it was very different.”

An earth-shattering crack rang out from far below them as a yellow and black figure, with a splash of purple on their back, ran up the side of a building. A solid black armored figure followed close behind, leaving a series of holes behind after every step.

Taker had managed to escape, and Wraith was here—how had that happened? Where was Mara, or the rapist—uh, Lecture.

“There’s someone inside there, coming towards us,” Loren said, turning to face the mass of hair behind him. “They’re almost here.”

Paragon held a hand to his ear for a moment and said something that he didn’t catch before pausing and taking his hand away.

“It’s Reset—I’ll handle him, try and find somewhere to observe. You’re the greatest advantage we have right now,” Paragon said before smiling again, “The more information you take back with you, the more likely I’m going to survive the week—seems like a good investment for the future to me.”

Loren nodded hesitantly, feeling like the trust that Paragon was placing in him was far too generous. He sent a length of hair lancing out over the city, secured himself to it, and severed the other connections to the larger mass.

It started to rapidly dissolve as Reset broke out of the side, twisting out of the hole he’d made and then cut towards Paragon. Paragon moved backward across the surface, and Reset followed, none of his hits landing cleanly on the larger man. Loren watched them exchanged a series of blurring strikes with each other as they flittered across the diminishing construct.

The structure’s surface evaporated beneath the forces they were generating, and then they passed behind the dying structure and out of sight. Loren puppeteered himself up onto the flat of the roof of a skyscraper and crouched there watching.

The source of the water was evident from here—Raindancer was working to contain the spreading fires. The sheer amount of it brought into question if she was actually doing more damage to the surroundings than the fire was.

He still hadn’t seen Mara anywhere—how had this all become such a mess? Was this because he’d gone to the train station? Or was it going to happen regardless—if he hadn’t been there, Lecture and Reset would have still found Mara. They would have begun whatever breakout attempt they had planned—Untold wouldn’t have been present, though, and Paragon wouldn’t have come.

Maybe this was better than if he hadn’t gone?

“Hey! You’re the guy who was on that hair thing!” A woman’s voice said from the roof access, looking terrified as she stepped out into the sun. “What is going on out there?”

Loren checked—a blonde woman in a pantsuit, pale-faced and scared.

“I’m not sure if you really want to know—” Loren said honestly before shaking his head. “Epilogue, the Peacekeepers, and the Setalite City Hero HQ are trying to kill each other—I’d like to say it’s safer inside, but I honestly couldn’t guarantee one of them doesn’t blow up the building.”

The woman moved to the railing and peeked over the edge—and they watched the last of the hair tower crumble to dust.

“What the hell,” The woman said in disbelief, moving to his other side to get a better look. “This fucking city—I can’t even go to work without something crazy happening!”

He knew the feeling—before all this started, he’d just needed to worry about finishing his commissions and winning the tournament. He almost wished he could just go back to that—everything was so much easier then.

Although it hadn’t felt like it at the time, that was probably just the nature of hindsight at work.

“You aren’t wrong—Urk,” Loren choked as something lodged in his throat.

Loren twisted in panic and pain—hair burst into existence, smashing the woman away from him. She rolled across the roof and stopped by the railing, and he fell down onto his knees, grasping at the handle of the knife that was flush against the back of his neck. The woman laughed as she climbed back to her feet, her voice transitioning to a higher range and becoming much more familiar.

He couldn’t stop coughing, and he could feel slick, viscous liquid in his throat that he had no choice but to swallow. Everything was getting darker, and he watched sluggishly as the woman’s blonde hair darkened to black.

3600 words, another meaty chapter.

I always appreciate any support you guys send my way, seeing all your feedback makes it interesting. If you guys are interested in any of the stuff that I’m currently working on and want to help me put out even more content come check out my Patreon. 

Some of the other stuff I’m working on:
Systematic Soul Sorting is still being converted into an audiobook, and 4/12 chapters are currently finished. Narrated by the awesome Mason Born.

Reroll Artbook – Originally I was going to put this all together as a book and put a $5 price tag on it, but I’m considering just placing all of the commissioned sketches and other art, with credits to the artists on the reroll wiki. Too many different sketches with different styles make this a bit difficult to pull it together into a clean package. Individually the art is cool, but it’s just not a cohesive product. I’ve learned a lot from this, next time I attempt something like this for a project I’m going to commission a single artist to complete the entire set.

Two free web novels are still being designed, currently under the names ‘Project C,’ and ‘Project YNG.’ Most of the story structure is done for both, I’m working out the pacing, character interaction, and story outline. Contention will be the first to appear, an Isekai novel with heavy focus on crafting, gathering, survival, magic, monsters, and city building.

YNG won’t appear until I have more time slots free for writing. Another Isekai, with a unique ability, and an amoral character, and his attempt to ‘save’ a world that’s already been subjugated by demons.

Patreon Current Chapters
Reroll – Chapter 55 – Live.
Ameliorate – Chapter 7 – Live

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Chapter 52

Loren’s Apartment, 2:30 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

It was harder than ever to force himself to get out of bed. He made the standard call to Alana to start putting everything into motion almost by rote at this point. This time, he told her exactly what Naomi had told him about the attack—the additional knowledge that Taker was able to track them and ambush them from below would hopefully help turn the tables. He also revealed Raindancers position as Arret and Beat’s target for assassination.

Loren’s own situation was something else entirely—he stared around the room at the ludicrous amount of hair he had grown while he was on the phone. The power shared a lot of internal similarities with how it was controlled as the Hydra-Hands had—there seemed to be a mechanism that allowed him to sense where all of it was at all times, and moving the strands individually was somehow possible despite the mind-bending nature of just how many there were.

He internally pulled back on it, and the mass of hair began to vanish rapidly until he was left with shoulder-length hair. Lengthening and retracting was as simple as the other power had been, and he seemed to be able to move it through space easily enough. Loren attempted to cut the strands to test their strength and found himself breaking the cheap pair of scissors in the process after he focused on hardening it.

He realized belatedly that he hadn’t even gotten his reward for completing the quest loop, seeing as it had finished around the same time as he’d forcibly reset himself to avoid Naomi, and it had been pushed to the back of his mind as he’d spent the entire next loop thinking about his upcoming meeting with Mara.

Damn thing had robbed him blind.

Loren shook his head sullenly before turning his mind back to everything that had happened on the train.

His biggest worry was that something had changed, but he hadn’t been able to identify anything as of yet. Alana was still the same as always, and Emma still lived upstairs. Did that mean that he had managed to reenact the original events on the train successfully?

Or had he acted in a way that might have unknown repercussions on everything—He had no real way to know; Loren had been working off of incomplete knowledge about the events of the train, Emma hadn’t been there for all of it, and asking Mara to describe in detail the worst day of her life was quite possibly the stupidest thing he’d ever thought of.

Loren shook his head.

After he had died, Mara would be left to try and find a way to live with herself and the things she had done. When he had tried to reassure her, to give her something—a pathway forward or a guiding light, he’d reached for the first thing he had thought of.

He’d seen her smile once; when Naomi had appeared at the train station, Mara had been happy to see her—a feeling that Loren couldn’t possibly have shared, but it was one he could understand. It spoke of a tormented girl finding a group that understood her—or at the very least accepted her.

In the original timeline, Loren didn’t know if he had told Mara to seek Epilogue out or if they had recruited her after what had happened. This time, he’d told her to go with them because she had been happy—maybe because he knew what it was like to live a life filled with pain, but he’d seen a way for her to be accepted.

Would that decision change anything? It had been the only thing he could think of at the time; an active goal would help give her a direction to move in, a place to belong, and it might alleviate some of the pain and sorrow for her.

It wasn’t like he could have told her to join the heroes—he could already see just how that would have played out. The heroes had taken off the kid gloves when dealing with her after the first team had been torn apart—he’d seen the footage. Mara wasn’t in control of her actions in the slightest; she would have simply killed more of them.

Loren shook his head—The question he was left with was what he could do now?

Mara had spent three years with Epilogue, would an attempt to remove her from that group—the one that had taken care of her for years, be something she even wanted?

Would it just be Loren forcing his own perspective on her, deciding that she would be better off elsewhere without respecting her autonomy? That wasn’t even considering the audacity of attempting to force Mara Melancholia into doing anything she didn’t want to.

If he tracked her down and asked her to leave, how would she answer? Mara had told him that she disliked hurting people, that killing wasn’t something she enjoyed. Yet, she had still killed people of her own volition; she had still been the one to perform the actions, to cause the pain.

Loren had wanted her to have somewhere she could smile, and it had made sense at the time. His lack of workable and realistic solutions had just fed into the decision. Mara had just been a scared girl whose chances of a normal life had basically ended the moment she’d gained such an uncontrollable power.

Loren wondered if his attempt to steer her in Epilogue’s direction made him just as culpable as she was.

Loren’s Apartment, 2:52 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd​, 2022.

“Wraith?” Loren said quietly as he answered the phone.

“Loren,” Alana said calmly, “You were correct; Taker was hidden in the sewers beneath Naomi’s location.”

“Did you manage to capture them?” Loren said as evenly as he could. “Did anyone die?”

“Nobody died, although several were injured. We did manage to capture them both—although it was much more difficult a task than I originally assumed, even given your warnings.” Alana admitted, “Taker’s sheer strength and variety of powers far exceeds all known information available on her—if we hadn’t managed to surprise her, I think we may well have lost despite our greater numbers and preparations.”

Loren wasn’t surprised—Taker had shown the ability to defeat Wraith on two separate occasions now. The first time Wraith had fought her, it had begun with a stealth attack on Taker, and she had still lost.

“It’s her claws, right?” Loren asked, frowning.

“In part,” Alana said in agreement, “Her abilities are many, and some seem to have strange limitations. Her claws are capable of cutting through hyper durable materials with ease, but when I inspected them afterward, they were completely blunt—further investigation has shown that she deals some form of multiplicative damage specifically to defenses.”

Loren frowned, trying to work through that—it sounded like something from a video game, armor shred, or armor penetration.

“Her level of physical strength, speed, and reflexes still lands her squarely within the s-class and allows her to inflict terrible damage, even with her blunt claws,” Alana said with interest, “She is still capable of creating wounds, scratches, and cuts as long as she is capable of piercing the skin of the target, and that is how she transfers the paralysis effect.”

Loren thought back to Taker’s appearance and the unnaturally tall form she possessed.

“There are other minor abilities apparent, but the real difficulty of engaging her is amplified by the powers she originally possessed as Evelyn Miller.” Alana continued, “She is able to camouflage herself actively and stick unaided to any surface; it makes pinning her down or disengaging from her extremely difficult.”

“So she’s some kind of stealthy, defense-destroying assassin?” Loren wondered. “Why haven’t we heard anything about her in the news before now?”

“I do not think she was… designed to be an assassin. I am actually starting to believe that her name represents her actual role,” Alana said honestly, “She takes her targets under cover of darkness and returns them to Epilogue for reasons that are currently unknown.”

“Experimentation?” Loren said quietly, “It’s what they did to Evelyn after all; maybe they are trying to make more like her?”

“Entirely possible,” Alana agreed. “Deceitful was far easier to contain as we came after them in force. Without Taker available to assist her, it was over rather quickly.”

Loren almost couldn’t believe it had gone correctly—two members of Epilogue captured, and he’d played a part, if remote, in it happening.

“If you were paying attention yesterday, you would have also noticed that the Peacekeepers have managed to find and disarm the explosives in Arrot City.” Alana said, pleased, “I’ve already begun dissembling the ones here in the sewers, and Seeker has stopped by to remove the one beneath our HQ. Should everything go cleanly, there will no longer be a threat within three hours.”

Loren stamped down on the hope that was flaring up but only partially succeeded. Arrot City was safe; Setalite City would be safe in three hours; all they needed to do next was make sure Paragon didn’t die.

“What’s the situation with Paragon?” Loren asked quietly.

“Unknown at present,” Alana said simply, “But I would assume Artisan and Alleviate have been working towards removing the explosive and discovering the cause of the rapid deterioration you described.”

“Gradient and Dovetail?” Loren pressed.

“Gradient is currently doing a remote investigation into Cinematic from a safe location,” Alana said easily, “Dovetail is still cooperating with us and has willingly gone into confinement—I hope to determine whether he can be rehabilitated or not.”

Loren had a hundred more questions, about Iza’s status, about Isometric, about Raindancer—he opened his mouth to ask.

“Loren, rest assured, if anything goes wrong, I will contact you immediately,” Alana said gently, “You should take this time to recuperate and try to relieve some stress.”

Loren brushed his hair back with one of his hands and leaned back into the chair.

“It feels wrong to not be doing something,” Loren murmured, loud enough to be heard through the phone.

“I know the feeling,” Alana admitted.

Loren hesitated for a long while before gathering the courage.

“Alana,” Loren said quietly, but his words were rushed. “In one of the loops, we spent the night together—this was right before I found out about the pheromone thing. I just…”

He found himself searching for a way to ask his question in a way that wouldn’t come off badly, but there was only a beat of silence before she spoke up.

“Are you wondering if I would have had intercourse with you if I hadn’t been exposed to the pheromones?” Alana said curiously.

Loren banged his head on the table in embarrassment as she just said it outright—how could someone who was so intelligent be so blunt—ugh.

“Yes, Alana,” Loren mumbled, throwing himself under the bus. “That’s what I was wondering.”

“Attraction is only one quality amongst many that determine whether or not two people are willing to engage in sexual intercourse with each other, and I do not mindlessly sleep with every person I experience an attraction to.” Alana explained evenly, “I may have trouble relating to people at times, Loren, but if I made the decision to have sex with you, it wasn’t simply because I thought you were pretty—do you really think me such a simple creature that I act on base instincts without considering why?”

Loren was still processing her response, but he shook his head, even knowing she couldn’t see him.

“You know I don’t think of you like that, Alana.” Loren said quietly, “I just… can I even exist—in a morally neutral way if I unconsciously infringe on everyone else I interact with?”

“You have such an interesting way of viewing the world, Loren,” Alana said quietly, “But it’s rooted in an ocean of self-hate.”

Loren pressed his forehead harder into the table—he wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t see the waves.

“Do you find me attractive?” Alana wondered.

“Yes,” Loren admitted, not even having to think about it. “Very much so.”

“Have I infringed on you, now that your attraction to me colors every decision you make?” Alana said, seemingly pleased. “Every single person walking around emanates attractiveness to some degree; all you have to do to pick up on it is to observe them.”

Loren bit his lip at the point, but he didn’t have an easy answer—he recognized it was the same premise, but the difference was one of the levels.

“Does it matter if the sensory organ used to interpret those signals is different?” Alana continued, apparently enjoying the impromptu debate. “If you experience attraction to someone via sight, is it morally different than if you were to experience it from smell? Touch? Taste?”

That brought back some memories.

“I don’t think it’s an equal comparison,” Loren said vaguely, unable to answer with certainty.

The question he knew she would ask after his response was obvious already—Loki’s wager.

“A weak counter,” Alana said, amused, “The only difference between the two is the sensory organ used to interpret it and just how much attraction is experienced. When you are observing someone, at what level does the attraction experienced transition from a level that is ‘good’ to one that is ‘bad?’”

Loren banged his head against the table again several times.

“I can’t answer that. The line is too indistinct,” Loren said weakly. “It has to be different, Alana—I’m forcing others to find me attractive.”

He could clearly remember the mask she had worn when she had stepped into the office that day.

Are you?” Alana said pointedly, “A person cannot control how attractive others find them, and you, Loren, cannot control how attractive others find you. I wonder—did you make a conscious choice to find me attractive?”

Loren considered the question seriously—He had a set of preferences that he liked, but he’d never sat down and decided on them—they were simply an innate part of him. He’d observed things, and the ones he enjoyed became sought after, while those that he didn’t care for fell away.

“No,” Loren admitted, thinking about Alana Paige in her totality. “There was never a choice.”

“So by your own reasoning, I forced you to find me attractive?” Alana said smugly.

Loren ran her words over in his mind before banging his head on the table again.

“Just because I can’t beat you in an argument, Alana,” Loren complained, “Doesn’t mean you’re right.”

Alana actually laughed.

Train Station, Setalite City, 6:52 AM.
Thursday, February 24th​, 2022.

Loren waited, leaning against the stairs and thinking about the discussion he’d had yesterday with Alana. The main point of contention that was stopping him from moving past it was the existence of Iza Gracen—her situation just wasn’t the same as Emma’s or Alana’s.

Using her reasoning that everyone emanated attractiveness fell apart in Iza’s case because his power had physically edited her body to amplify the effect a hundredfold. You didn’t lose culpability for something just because you didn’t mean for it to happen—just one more village he’d avalanched.

There was hope, though, they’d eventually find someone capable of reversing the changes, and once they had, Loren might be able to get them to do the same to him. It would just take careful timing to make the change occur just before a future save point.

It wouldn’t erase the lifetime of pain that he’d inadvertently caused Iza, but it was a start.

A short woman in a long coat walked behind him, face hidden under a fedora. Loren tracked her progress across the room before she sat down at the same place she had during the quest loop. His mind flickered about for a moment, trying to slot this in with all the other pieces of the puzzle.

Mara Melancholia had been here, in Setalite City, in every single loop, and not a single person had noticed that she had returned to the scene of the crime. Loren watched her for a minute, considering—there would be no Naomi to interrupt them this time.

Loren moved towards the bench.

“Hello, Mara,” Loren said quietly, “It’s nice to see you again—sorry it took so long.”

Mara turned and watched him with wide eyes, just like she had in the other loop. He could practically see her shoulders rise as the burden of his death in some part lifted from her conscious.

“I… I came here so many times,” Mara said slowly, “I thought you were lying about being immortal.”

“I’m hurt that you would think so badly of me—I’m still here, aren’t I?” Loren said lightly, sparing her the complete explanation. “How have you been, Mara? I imagine it’s been hard.”

“It’s been very difficult, but I am… surviving.” Mara said quietly, “I was approached by the group you told me about.”

“I’ve seen you with them on the news,” Loren noted, closing his eyes for a moment. “I wondered if I made a mistake by telling you that.”

Mara looked away for a moment before shaking her head.

“I don’t think it was a mistake,” Mara said, shaking her head, “There’s nowhere else I can go; I’ve hurt too many people.”

They sat in silence for a few somber seconds.

“Do you have friends?” Loren asked quietly.

Mara ducked her head for a moment.

“A few,” Mara smiled shyly.

It was the first sign she’d expressed since he had sat down that things had changed—and he noticed that her coat didn’t even rattle. Loren smiled at the sight of her control—she was even better than she had been in the other loop.

Perhaps what he’d said on the train had actually helped in the end.

“I’m glad,” Loren said honestly, “Any chance of steering them onto the path of slightly less evil? I could hook you guys up with some hero buddies if you feel like switching sides?”

“I very much doubt anything like that is possible,” Mara said evasively before hesitating and glancing over at him. “I hope you know that despite being a part of Epilogue… I’ve tried not to hurt people when I can make a choice.”

“I know, Mara,” Loren said simply, “It’s the best I can hope for, I suppose. I also know that Evelyn and Naomi are in the city. The rest of your friends are here too, aren’t they?”

Mara stilled for a second before her eyes widened.

“How did you find that out?” Mara said quietly.

That was confirmation enough—the entirety of Epilogue was in Setalite City. Did they know about the sewer bombs after all? Naomi hadn’t known about them—but it could be one of the other members acting on their own?

“I’m immortal,” Loren said seriously as if that did anything to answer her question. “I know everything.”

“That doesn’t make any sense and has nothing to do with immortality,” Mara said, bemused, before glancing up over his shoulder. “It’s okay; he’s an old friend.”

It took a moment for him to parse the meaning of her words and the fact that she wasn’t speaking to him any longer.

“Really?” A voice drawled, sounding completely at ease. “Now, isn’t that something?”

Loren closed his eyes as the words sent a tingling sensation racing down his spine. The sound of footsteps approached him, and he traced the owner’s spatial position by sound as they dropped down onto the bench between the two of them.

A woman of average height and black hair, cut short in a pixie cut that was swept to one side. The person sprawled out and threw an arm over each of their shoulders—He fought hard not to tense up as the hand-dipped downward, fingers tracing under his shirt and over his collarbone.

This close, he could see that her eyes were green.

“Hannah Bell,” Loren said evenly, turning slightly towards her. “Nice to meet you.”

He moved his shoulder to dislodge her hand, but her grip tightened in warning.

Lecture—I don’t like strangers using my name.” Hannah drawled, finger tracing its way up to his throat and tapping once on his voice box. “Stop moving around.”

Loren found himself suddenly unable to move, and he chose to remain silent as the hand curled slightly around his throat.

Lectures power was well known; if you were within five meters of her position, anything she said was unignorable. She could force you to do just about anything, and nobody had shown the ability to resist her voice.

“Mara, why are you down here hanging out with a boy?” Hannah said, rolling her eyes; she held her phone up to her ear for a moment. “Why the hell did you turn your phone off anyway?”

“I wanted to watch the trains without being interrupted,” Mara said, frowning. “You can let him go now.”

Loren felt the tingle running up his spine fade away, but he stayed perfectly still as the hand squeezed around his throat in warning.

“It was a pain in the ass to track you down, you know? We’ve got a massive problem—” Hannah sighed before switching her attention to the phone. “Reset? I found her; she’s in the subway.”

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Reroll – Chapter 54 – Live.
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