“What was that one?” Alice wondered, “It wasn’t destabilization, you made it attack me; control theft? Interesting.”
Loren didn’t reply, just hoping to prolong the break between exchanges for as long as possible. Even after he’d figured out her secret, he still managed to underestimate her completely. Loren, through Cube, had over a dozen different Expressions brought to bear on her, and Alice looked like she was having fun.
Alice had even admitted that she was somehow weaker than she had been when she first arrived on earth—it didn’t feel like it to him. How was he ever supposed to defeat her? Loren couldn’t think of a single power that would allow him to beat her.
If he got an energy attack, she’d move around it; if he got strength or speed, she would decimate the area with gold or drown him in water—if he got some form of elemental power, she’d just walk straight through it unharmed. Loren couldn’t even keep up with her movements without some form of visual enhancement; any power that he got would need that component at a minimum just to target her.
Cube was the only power he’d gotten that the potential for growth like this; that quest power might have been able to accomplish something similar, but it would have been much, much slower—on the scale of weeks and months just to get as far as he had today with Cube.
A single power simply couldn’t deal with Alice upfront; nothing he stumbled on in a reset would be enough to contest her.
What was he supposed to do here?
Try to find somewhere to hide and wait out the loop—it wouldn’t work because she’d found him without even trying. They couldn’t even run away from her because she was keeping up with Cube’s teleportation, and it had already admitted to having power issues.
“Loren,” Cube said, “The replication process is becoming more difficult with each layer.”
Loren swallowed; they couldn’t hide, they couldn’t run, and they couldn’t fight her—all of this was happening too quickly; he needed somewhere away from the city burning behind him, away from the monster standing across from him.
Loren just wanted some time to think.
“Tick, tock—your times running out,” Alice smiled, stepping towards them in the air.
Loren flinched at the choice of words.
“Cube—” Loren tried, and Alice vanished.
They vanished as well, and for almost fifteen seconds, all Loren could see was flashes of the sky from different perspectives, almost as if through the shutter of a camera. Alice’s smiling face haunted each frame, and she was getting closer with every one—The world stopped skipping around as a wall of white lines splayed out in every direction, like a sea urchin standing in the sky.
Alice stopped just outside of it, raising her hand.
It was the same as before, something invisible touched the Kinetic Shield surrounding him, and he was sent spinning backward through the air as it was shunted violently away. How she was even managing to move it when it absorbed Kinetic Energy, he couldn’t understand.
This time when she got close, a wire struck out and touched her hand—Alice blurred as her entire body was spun violently, and then a white shield winked into existence within her arc. Alice’s legs crashed into the edge of the shield, and a splash of red sprayed over the front half of the white energy covering his face as her bottom half was severed from the force.
Loren managed to wipe the shield clean of blood and found her standing in the air unharmed—her body fixing itself within moments, dragging itself back together faster than anything he’d seen even Alicia heal from. He felt his stomach twist at the thought of what had happened to her, and he tried to pull his mind away from Alicia’s fate.
Even if Cube managed to damage her, she would just heal from it; how could he—
Cube displaced them again, but everything about the fight had changed, or perhaps it had always been this way, but he just hadn’t been in the right mindset to notice it. Cube wasn’t attacking as much anymore; there were no more Defense Breaking Lines or Kinetic attacks. It was resorting almost entirely to keeping him shielded and displacing them when she got close.
Loren knew why it had stopped attacking; it was attempting to conserve energy because lethal damage had done nothing to slow her down. Their options were dwindling by the second, and all Loren had managed to accomplish since the fight had begun was getting tens of thousands of people killed.
Every second they remained in conflict, more people were suffering. Loren had never felt further from a hero since this had all begun. He wasn’t preventing deaths by being here; he was adding to them.
“You haven’t spoken up in a while, Loren,” Alice said, lips quirked.
The fighting slowed for a moment; Loren forced himself to speak up so that Cube might have the time to regain some of its declining energy reserves.
“Is the real Alice still in there?” Loren said quietly.
“You never even met the ‘real Alice.’” Alice laughed, “Why would you even care for someone you’ve never shared a single conversation with?”
“Because unlike you,” Loren said, “I’m capable of empathy.”
“Empathy isn’t some magical force that only heroes or saints can reach,” Alice said amused, “I’m quite capable of feeling all the things that Alice could; happiness, sadness, lust—I just don’t let any of it limit me the way you do.”
“I’m not limiting myself,” Loren managed.
“Yes, you are,” Alice said softly, “You spent months trying to save Setalite City; you told all of us that quite freely. Months of time were wasted because you were unwilling to do what you could have done. You failed to stop any of the elements that were at play there because you wanted to stay between the lines society had drawn for you.”
“I’m not like you, Alice,” Loren said, unable to meet her gaze. “I’m not a monster.”
“Aren’t you?” Alice said, a lilting quality in her voice. “How many people just died agonizing deaths because you wanted to play the hero? Because you didn’t stay tucked away in your cell?”
“I didn’t kill them.” Loren gritted out. “You did.”
“I certainly did, but do you think that distinction means much to them?” Alice said, lifting an arm and gesturing towards the city. “Do you think that Alicia, torn apart and with not enough space to put herself back together, cares? How about the child slowly suffocating as the fire burns down the building around her—does she care?”
Loren found himself searching the rubble; he opened his mouth to tell Cube to do something—before he recoiled at the sound of Alice’s quiet laughter.
“You chose to leave your cell, you chose to come here, and you chose to fight me—that was all you,” Alice said gently, “Loren Parker, you are the embodiment of choice—and the thing about choice? It’s almost always paired with regret.”
For the first time in his life, Loren didn’t have an argument to break apart her own; he had no witty remark to discredit her comment or a way to twist it back on her.
Loren had nothing—because the truth was, he had made that choice. He’d decided to keep fighting against her no matter what; he’d made a choice to never give up, and above all of it, he’d chosen to win. This was the cost of those choices; people dying in the thousands as Alice laughed at his efforts to so much as slow her down.
That was the consequence of Loren’s decision to fight against her.
“All those people suffering just so you can have this fleeting moment of resistance, and you aren’t even fighting me anymore,” Alice said, amused, “You’re trading their agony so your box can recover just a little more energy; so that you can run away for a little bit longer—are you sure you aren’t a monster, Loren?”
Loren didn’t have an answer, and he felt himself crumbling under the weight of it all. Alice didn’t wait for him to find balance, and he found himself spinning backward through the air again, far faster than before.
Cube managed to break out of the attack via Displacement, but they were hit a second time, and within seconds they were crashing through an undamaged portion of the city, carving a trench through the buildings.
When they finally came to a stop, half-buried in the road, Loren managed to lift his head.
Alice stood above them in the air with her hand out—hundreds of ancient columns began to emerge from distortions in the air above her. Each was easily as large as the ruined buildings around them, and then they began to fall.
“Cube…” Loren whispered.
Panels of light began to surround them, fanning out from their position and covering as much of the surrounding area as it could manage; the world shook as the columns crashed into the city. One of the pillars hit the shield above them and stopped cold; the shield flared so bright that he had to close his eyes.
When the world stopped shaking, he finally opened his eyes.
The shields were gone, and so was the rest of the city; the columns had buried themselves in the ground and now stood upright, towering over the rubble that remained. Loren pushed himself to his feet and turned to the sound of labored breathing.
Alice was standing on some of the rubble, holding the remains of a woman by her hair. Most of her body was gone below the waist, and the rest of her was covered in so much blood that it made it hard to distinguish anything about her.
“That shield really is something, isn’t it?” Alice said, impressed. “You should have seen Julian trying to break it; it was like staring at the sun.”
Loren barely heard the words; his eyes were locked on the body dangling from her hand. The skin was slowly pulling itself back into place, and her torso was elongating, inch by painful inch as it regenerated.
“I think the three of us are the last ones left here,” Alice said before glancing out at the ocean. “Actually, there’s someone out in the water, but he’s moving away at quite an impressive speed.”
Alicia choked out something that might have been his name, and then Alice reached a handover and tore off the newly grown arm—Alicia gurgled something out in pain, not enough of her left to muster a large enough breath to scream.
“Stop it,” Loren managed, moving towards them. “Fucking stop—Cube!”
A line of white crossed the space between them but fizzled out before it made it the entire way, and the sound of tortured metal rang out beside him. Loren turned and witnessed the Cube jerking in the air before the front panel deformed and was ripped off in a shower of sparks.
“Loren—” Cube managed before it shattered into a hundred pieces.
Loren stumbled, falling to his knees as both the white Kinetic Shield and the Black Exo-Energy covering him dissipated.
“No defense against Magnetism, huh?” Alice said, reaching up again and taking hold of Alicia’s other arm. “That’s a bit of an oversight, wouldn’t you say?”
“Alice, stop,” Loren whispered. “Please.”
Alicia finally managed to scream.
After everything he’d been through, all of the pain, stubbornness, and cold fury—it had all amounted to nothing in the end. He simply couldn’t compete with the level of adversary he’d been matched against.
All he’d ever done was fail, and nothing ever changed.
Loren felt like he had been struggling uphill his entire life—He’d fought for the attention of a man who couldn’t spare enough of it; he’d fought for the freedom that his mother wouldn’t abide by. His mother had locked him away before dying of ill-health, and his dad had buried himself in work to the point where It had actually killed him, all in an attempt to avoid thinking about his insane son.
Even Isaac had deserved better than his weakness; he’d deserved someone who hadn’t given up, someone who could have figured out a way to save him. To push past his anger and reach his friend when he needed him most.
Didn’t It say something that he wasn’t even scraping the bottom of the barrel?
Loren knew that he failed to fix his mistakes at almost every turn, and he knew that he had been unable to save the people to who he’d grown so close. He had the power to redo things infinitely, even if he hadn’t known it at the time. He could have done so much more if only he’d been able to overcome his own self-enforced limitations.
All of the people he’d let down…
Alana deserved better than to die without anyone knowing just how much she had done for all of them and what she had done for him. Raindancer never had the chance to reconcile her differences with her team, and Dovetail would never have to face justice for what he’d planned to do.
Gradient would never have the chance to beg Mongoose for forgiveness, and Mongoose would never have the closure of kicking his ass out onto the street. Fracture and Tag would never again go out on patrol together, and Secluded would never get to have her reckoning with Mathew Kline.
Chloe would never win another tournament, and Iza would never get to experience life without his presence suffocating her every moment. Emma would never again wake him up in the middle of the night with her antics or help him save the city…
Evelynn Miller would always be trapped, the plaything of an immoral man and an immortal woman. Naomi Low would always watch her brother die and decide that the rest of the world needed to burn for it to ever equal out. Mara Melancholia would always be hidden beneath a coat in a subway, remembering the worst day of her life.
Alicia would spend an eternity in a tank, farmed for spare parts, and Alice would always fade away, subsumed by the monster she’d become.
All the things he’d wanted to change, all the people he’d wanted to save. There were others, so many others—heroes, villains, and people who had nothing to do with this, people who’d gone to sleep without ever knowing they wouldn’t wake up.
All things he would never be able to fix, because like everything else in his life, he’d failed.
“That’s the face,” Alice groaned, one hand cupping her face, fingers spread and digging into her skin. “I can always tell, you know? It’s like a color, or a note, or a flavor,and it all clicks into place; I can’t begin to describe the satisfaction—I can’t remember why I ever stopped?”
Loren didn’t say anything in response, studying the shattered remains of the Cube strew about the dirt. Alicia was in a hundred pieces across the clearing, and he could see the faint rise of her torso as it struggled to breathe without lungs. They’d thrown everything they had at her, and she’d waded through it all, unaffected and unbroken.
Alice moved closer and knelt down in front of him, her hands coming up to cup his face.
“It’s perfect,” Alice breathed, lifting his head until he met her gaze.
Loren made a token attempt to move her hands off his face, more out of obligation than anything else, but it failed to make her budge, so he left his hands on her wrists.
“I broke you, Loren Parker.” Alice said, smiling, “And It didn’t even take me a week.”
His eyes were stinging—he wondered if he was crying, and he wondered if he cared. Loren felt that old empty feeling he’d had when he was younger washing up inside, a haze of detachment and complete indifference calling for him.
“Don’t cry,” Alice soothed, “It’s all over now, okay? You just need to say it.”
None of this was worth it anymore—Loren just wanted to sleep.
“You win, Alice,” Loren said, without care. “I give up.”
When he was twelve, Loren had climbed out of his bedroom window and up onto the roof of the house. It had been dark, far past his bedtime, and he knew his mother would have crucified him if she’d known, but he’d done it.
The stars had always affected him—the sheer beauty of those sparkling lights scattered across the night sky.
Watching from his bed through his window had always felt like he was missing something—like the thin glass was stealing something from the experience. Loren wasn’t sure what it could have been exactly, but it was something.
Laying here, like this, with an unobstructed view, just felt different.
All of his worries bled away, and he felt like he was the only one left in the world, that the sky above was just for Loren. He didn’t have to worry about his mom screaming at him or his dad’s frown of disapproval, and he didn’t have to think about what his friend’s parents were doing to Isaac.
It was just him, the cool night air and the comfort of a beautiful night sky watching him from above. He reached up and curled his fingers together as if to take hold of them, but his hand closed on nothing….
Loren opened his eyes, the fading remnants of an old memory clinging to his mind.
He was surrounded by an inky void filled with uncountable stars, and for a moment, he wondered if he wasn’t still dreaming. The link between his childhood act of rebellion and that place inside of him was clear enough for his sleeping mind to blur the lines.
That feeling of warmth was present as well, all around him, near and far; It felt just like it had when he’d first come here. The feeling that should have comforted him washed over him without response, his enforced indifference a shield between him and the light.
He wondered if he could go back to sleep in this place—Loren tilted his head. There was something here that didn’t feel like him, something else. Loren, unsure of exactly when he’d stood up, turned towards the aberration.
Alice stood not five feet from him, without a shred of clothing to cover her; her face was shadowed, and her cheeks were harshly outlined as she watched him from the dark.
“This won’t hold me,” Alice murmured, voice whisper quiet.
For a moment, he wasn’t sure she’d actually spoken at all, the cadence in her voice too far removed from her normal state.
“I don’t understand,” Loren said.
Alice’s skin was chalk white now, far paler than she had been in the real world, and her hands were clenched into fists by her side—but more than anything else about her, the thing that stood out the most was that she was shaking.
“I won,” Alice insisted. “You gave up your body to me; it’s mine.”
Loren knew she was right, he’d given her what she wanted, and now he was dead again.
“I did,” Loren said indifferently. “What happens now?”
Alice watched him, and she took a step forward, foot crashing down onto the invisible platform they were standing on. It rippled like water, but his footing wasn’t disrupted at all, and he simple watched the ripples, wondering what came next.
The ripples, like black water on a lake, settled back to a state of perfect stillness.
“Let me out,” Alice whispered.
“What?” Loren mumbled, watching her approach.
“Let me out of this place!” Alice said, voice shaking.
Loren lifted his arm out of reflex as her hand struck out at him, but he found the motion strangely easy to track; she wasn’t using any of the superhuman speed that they both knew she possessed.
He stared at his own hand, wrapped around her wrist, startled that he had managed to catch it. He reached up and caught the other one that came towards his left eye in a knife-hand. Loren failed to catch the kick that shot up between his legs, barely missing his groin and impacting high on his left thigh.
There was no pain, and it didn’t hurt at all; the force of the kick was only a fraction of the power that should have been there. Loren pushed her away from him in confusion and was alarmed when the motion sent her tumbling backward, crashing into the invisible platform and rolling to a stop.
Alice struggled to get back to her knees, panting and eyes wide with something that shouldn’t have been there.
He could feel the countless stars around him vying for his attention, each one a different shade and carrying the promise of something amazing and something he’d never seen before.
Whatever Alice had done had killed him, but how had he come to be here? How was Alice even here in this place? Where were her uncountable powers and unbearable strength? Why did she look so disturbed?
Let me out of this place!
“You’re stuck in here,” Loren realized through the fog.
Loren felt something sliding past his indifference, and the feeling was spreading quickly. The feelings came back, burning painfully bright against the nothing he’d forced upon himself: the pain, loss, confusion, and misery—the rage and the hate.
“Shut up.” Alice managed, fighting back to her feet.
Loren didn’t move as she approached him again.
“What’s stopping you from leaving?” Loren said.
Alice hissed a word that wasn’t in any language he’d ever heard.
“This place, it’s all me, isn’t it?” Loren murmured, “Were you supposed to end up on the inside like this?”
Loren braced himself against the sudden tackle, barely taking a single step backward before pushing her away again. Alice managed to control her fall this time, sliding to her feet but looking like she was exhausted from that much alone.
“How does it work?” Loren frowned as she approached him again. “You take over the body of someone who’s given up, someone desperate for everything to just stop?”
Alice reached for his throat, and he remained where he was, her grip too weak even to constrict his breathing. Her other hand joined the first, and she let out a violent noise of frustration.
“You take their body,” Loren said, looking down at her. “But then what? You keep it until it dies, or you move on to a new one, with a new stolen power in your collection?”
Alice’s panicked breathing was audible, and her terror was visible; whether he was right about the details or not, it didn’t matter. Because she was still stuck here, she couldn’t leave, and she couldn’t hurt him.
“We’ve switched places, Alice,” Loren said quietly, “Now you’re the prisoner, and I’m the warden.”
“I’ll never be a prisoner,” Alice whispered.
Alice tried to strike him again, but the hit landed against his cheek without any effect.
“Did you know I’ve only managed to come here twice now?” Loren said. “Both times were when my power came into conflict with something else—first when I died inside another person’s Expression, and now when you came inside mine.”
“Let me out,” Alice said, shaking.
“The only time I’ve ever been able to choose my power was when I came here,” Loren said in understanding. “But if you’re stuck here, I’ll be able to come back—you’re the bridge from my body to this place.”
Alice moved closer, her movements lacking the languid nature they’d had in the real world, and the aggression she’d been showing was fading.
“Loren,” Alice said, taking hold of his arms. “Let me out.”
He didn’t bother shaking her off; she couldn’t hurt him here.
“Dismantling everything that you and Morgan have done to the world is going to take a long time, Alice,” Loren said quietly, “But if I do get to come back here and choose my powers? I think I’ll be able to find the time.”
Alice’s grip on his arms shook, and Loren turned his gaze to the stars over her head.
“I’ll leave earth—I’ll leave this galaxy,” Alice said quietly. “You’ll never, ever see me again.”
Years ago, the idea of stripping someone of their autonomy and keeping them locked away in this place would have made him sick, and even as recently as two weeks ago, he would have thrown himself into challenging the morality of it; but Alice had been right, she had broken him, and he wasn’t the same person he used to be.
“Sorry, Alice,” Loren murmured, “I’ll make sure to drop by now and again.”
He pulled at an exceptionally bright star, one that felt like moments, distance, and time; it was as good a place to start as any other.
“You win, Loren,” Alice choked out. “I give up—please don’t leave me in here.”
Loren studied her expression for a long moment; he could see the realization that she was out of options, that her unshakeable confidence had withered, turning to fear and desperation when she realized he would never, ever let her out.
“You were right,” Loren said quietly. “That is satisfying.”
The world fell away, and Loren opened his eyes.
We have reached the finish line my friends, this is the final chapter of Reroll. Coming in at a whopping, 267k words, and 86 chapters. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Loren’s journey. Thank you for all of the comments, advice, and critiques, I’ve learned so much since I began this project, but there’s always more to learn.
Love the ending, or hate it, please leave a review once you’re finished reading the chapter, I’d absolutely love to hear everyone’s thoughts about Reroll as a complete story.
If you’re enjoying my work, and you’re tearing out your hair, wondering what you could possibly read with no bi-weekly Reroll to look forward to; Contention, is now live on my Patreon and will be public on the 13th of September. They are unrelated to each other, but you might find something you like in it. Contention will feature base-building, summoning, survival, magic, monsters, taming, crafting, and a mystery of a world overrun with horrible creatures.
Thank you to all the supporters, on Patreon, on here, and everywhere else, you guys are what is making it possible to keep improving on my passion, and I really appreciate all of you. If you’d like to help support my mission to snap as many elbows as I can get my greasy little mitts on, but aren’t in a place to chip in–you can support me for free as well! Leaving a comment, or a review on any of the other fiction websites I post my content on helps out more than you know.
Keep on keeping on!
Reroll – Complete.
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 11
Contention – Chapter 1.