Chapter 84 – Interlude: Wraith

Hero HQ, Setalite City, 9:05 AM.
Thursday, February 24th​, 2022.

Fracture’s presence registered to her suits sensors long before he stepped into the conference room, but almost all of her attention was levied at Seeker. The intuitive flow of information slowed to a crawl as she switched focus onto locating Loren Parker.

“Where did you leave him?” Alana said.

Losing four hours of deliberate focus and all of the enhancements that came with it was irritating in a way very few things were, but she was forced to drop it in favor of the sudden problem that had arisen.

The first thing Alana did was check the tracker she had injected Loren with while he’d been asleep, bringing the associated HUD up onto her helmet’s interior monitor. The initial feeling of sluggishness that always came with a focus change pulled at her mind, but she could already feel it beginning to build up once more.

The tracker was unable to make a connection with her system, either out of range or in a place shielded from electronic signals. The tracker would default to its coding—attempting to remake the connection every four hours before powering down to conserve power.

“At his residence, he said he needed to be alone,” Seeker said, “He was extremely upset by what happened to Monstrous.”

Alana knew that he was no longer in his apartment without even having to check, but she would need to begin investigating there to determine his new location. Alana brought up the video feed provided by the six cameras she had placed inside Loren’s building and played them simultaneously.

Then she called one of the inactive micro-drones to action, sending it through the crack beneath his front door. It flittered between the rooms, looking for movement, heat, or sound, and found nothing at all.

The fact that Seeker had actually left Loren on his own immediately put him at the top of her list of suspects—the fact that he could teleport long distances only increased her suspicion. The fact that he had come back here afterward could be his attempt to deflect suspicion off himself.

The drone returned with what she already knew—the apartment was empty, and Loren was missing. A window opened on her monitor showing the drone’s feed, and she watched the footage back at two times speed in case of machine error.

The video footage from the cameras clearly showed Seeker and Loren appearing outside of his building, almost directly on the front steps—revealing that Seeker knew where Loren lived well enough to be so accurate without a line of sight. The peacekeepers most likely did their own investigation into Loren when he first revealed themselves.

Loren was crying as he ascended his building, head down and hair shadowing his face. Seeker’s claim that he was extremely upset was easy to see.

He climbed the staircase up to his own apartment and let himself in. He locked the door and then moved straight to his bedroom, lying face down on his bed. He stayed there for almost fifteen minutes of unbroken footage, and then each of the six feeds skipped one after another, and suddenly Loren was missing.

Alana paused each of them, found the frame before the skip, noted the time, and then proceeded frame by frame until it skipped. A very obvious pattern appeared as she lined each of the feeds up next to one another.

Exactly two minutes of footage was missing from each of the feed’s, but they were staggered along the timeline at about the same speed you would expect from someone climbing the stairway and then entering his apartment at a walking speed.

Alana muted her suit’s outward speaker, connecting to another line.

“Isometric,” Alana said, voice changer distorting her voice.

“Wraith?” Isometric said, surprised. “Do you need me again?”

“Yes,” Alana said, “I’m marking the location on the map in front of you—it’s Loren Parker’s apartment, he’s missing. Check every inch of the building and report anything that’s out of place; I will be moving there soon.”

“I’m searching now,” Isometric said quickly, and she cut the line.

Threadbreaker was starting to look quite harried, as he’d been attempting to defend his decision to eliminate Mara Melancholia for several minutes now. The rest of the group seemed split on whether or not it was a good outcome, but out of the three objectives, it had been the only one to succeed without any casualties.

“It’s not my fault!” Threadbreaker said defensively. “We took her down—who cares if he’s gone off on his own? Why does it even matter?”

There was no pattern in the footage to suggest that the person had left the building in the same manner. They were either still in the bedroom but hidden from a conventional search, or they’d used a more esoteric method to leave.

Secluded could have managed the first; retreating into her inner world with both Loren and herself would satisfy both the tracker being unable to make a connection and their lack of a visible exit from the room—she did not, however, possess the technical acumen to bypass her security and mess with the cameras.

Alana traced the camera skips in reverse and then began accessing each of the cameras with a line of sight on the front of the building. The security camera across the street was missing the same two minutes, and she was quick to find the next in the pattern.

“It matters because Loren is the one who gave us all of this information, Breaker.” Haunt said, speaking quietly. “You heard what they said about his power—he’s going to return to the past now, and you’ve made an enemy out of yourself.”

Alana skipped several blocks, her intuition telling her where the pattern was leading—all the way back into the center of Setalite City East. There were no further camera skips amongst any of the ones in the area; the person had activated the device and began their slow walk to the apartment from the middle of thousands of people celebrating the Evergold Festival.

“I don’t see a problem,” Vapid shrugged, “Two out of three is way better than we expected anyway, right? Threadbreaker took out our target; I’m happy with that.”

The fact that someone had managed to bypass her own security and then edit out the footage in real-time meant that the one responsible had access to technology far above most others. That gave her several more candidates—Artisan could have accomplished it, Complexity could have as well, given enough time while Storyboard would have been able to organize it.

“Our guy didn’t even turn up,” Ogre said, leaning against the wall. “He must have seen through the phone call or saw us before we saw him and fled.”

None of the suspects fit perfectly—Seeker’s culpability was cleared after she’d tracked down his reappearance on top of the HQ and then matched the timecodes—he’d come straight back here afterward and gone nowhere else. Complexity was still locked in a cell downstairs with the rest of Ascent so he could be safely excluded.

“I doubt he wants to see any of us after what Threadbreaker apparently did in the café,” Untold sighed, “He was friends with her, right? Despite the fact that she was a villain?”

Storyboard shouldn’t even be aware that Loren existed, but if he did somehow discover him, Orient could have provided the teleportation needed to leave the room. The problem with Cinematic being the team responsible was they wouldn’t have needed to mess with the cameras to accomplish it; they could have simply appeared in the room with Loren and taken him.

“He seems to make a lot of friends like that,” Ogre said, “If you’ve got any plans to hit me next, we’re going to have a problem, kid.”

Suppose the remnants of Epilogue—Tiamat, The Researcher, and Mathew Kline—had abducted Loren. In that case, Mathew could very well have hidden them while leaving the apartment—perhaps in an attempt to make it look like a teleporter had been involved and deflect further aggressive action onto the other groups within Setalite City while they recovered from the recent losses.

“Why would I hit you?” Threadbreaker said, continuing to act out on his frustrations about their reaction. “Who the heck are you, anyway?”

Alana attempted to call Loren’s phone on a whim, but the drone immediately located the sound emission; it was sitting just out of sight under his pillow.

“Forget it,” Ogre snorted.

As she suspected, a physical investigation of the room would be needed.

“He’s not answering his phone,” Alana voiced for the benefit of the others.

“Is he sleeping?” Untold wondered. “He might have just wanted to get away from all of this—his friend just died after all.”

“Unfortunately, that is not the case.” Alana said, “As of seventeen minutes ago, Loren Parker was taken from his apartment.”

Wraith’s Workshop, Hideout, 3:09 PM.
Friday, February 25th, 2022.

An unknown and quickly fading gas had still been clinging to the interior of Loren’s Apartment when she’d checked; further testing of the substance had discovered it possessed many shared properties with most general anesthetics.

Small areas of disturbed dust revealed a series of woman’s size eight footprints approaching the bed, where an energy signature was also present. In the space where the person had stood, there was a thin layer of material—barely a fraction of a millimeter in width—that had been sheered off the top of the carpet in the same shape as the shoeprint.

The same missing material layer was also present on the bed and pillow where Loren had been lying in the video footage. The dust, lint, hairs, and even the fading gas were entirely missing from those outlines, simply gone.

The events that had taken place while the cameras were out were obvious; Loren had returned to his room, someone had approached the building, entered his apartment, and released an unknown sleeping gas inside. The unknown party had then removed themselves and Loren from the area via a form of matter displacement.

Which left Alana with engineering a method to reforge the connection to the tracker remotely, and that was what she was now focused on. Every four hours, the tracker would attempt to reconnect, and she had already begun working on bolstering the signal from her end.

She’d already attempted to bridge the connection across half of Setalite City since she had begun, but the power requirements increased the further remote she searched. The fact that she could only try for about ten minutes at a time before the tracker would follow its coding and shut down only frustrated her efforts.

Artisan had offered several pieces of technology that had made the search easier, but the man had his own concerns to deal with, his primary one being completing a more permanent form of stasis to keep the Paragon clone from breaking down until they could figure out an actual solution.

They were hemorrhaging team members with the incarceration of Dovetail and the resignation of both Gradient and Mongoose. Furthermore, another rift had begun to grow within the team; Secluded and Tag on one side, and Raindaner on the other. Fracture was the most levelheaded amongst those that remained, and Alana had left most of the day-to-day running of the team to him while she focused her efforts on locating Loren.

Alana shook her head as she realized she’d been staring at the inside of her helmet for the last minute. The lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on her, but if she slept, she’d have lost all of her enhancements, and it would take hours to build back up to this level.

A global HQ alert opened up on her monitor, and she opened the connection with a tired blink.

“Requesting assistance, all parties to respond,” Fracture managed, followed by the sound of something tearing through the wall of a building. “Crescent is attempting to free Ascent—”

Suburbs, Setalite City West, 6:57 AM.
Saturday, February 26th, 2022.

Loren wasn’t in Setalite City, Arrot City, Saltwall City, or any of the areas surrounding the cities—she’d checked each of them twice, with varying degrees of signal boosting, but nothing indicated he was here. Her search branched out further but without a clue as to where she was left searching each city, one after another.

Crescent’s attack had been completely unexpected, and the only person who was actually at the HQ at the time who even had a chance against her had been in a cell. By the time Alana had arrived, the battle had already concluded, and the entirety of Ascent was free.

Almost everyone who had been present was injured somehow.

Tag had it the worst, with multiple holes in her legs, and Fractures wrist had been broken while attempting to contain Sluggish and Piston. Raindancer had fought her brother to a standstill, but he’d still manage to escape.

The ten-minute window came and passed, with nothing to show of it, and Alana wrenched her helmet off and threw it across the room, angry, tired, and more frustrated than she had been since college.

Suburbs, Setalite City West, 11:09 AM.
Saturday, February 26th, 2022.

“Mongoose is down,” Gradient said, panting. “Cutaway took her leg—how long, Wraith?”

“We’ve arrived; Fracture, secure Mongoose and Gradient—I’ll deal with Cutaway. Ogre attempt to keep Screener from causing any more collateral damage.” Alana spoke, sprinting across the rooftops. “Vapid, you’re on Archetype—you know his abilities?”

“I’ll handle him,” Vapid said.

“Screener does what exactly?” Ogre said, voice calm.

“Telekinetic, at least as strong as Seeker, but without the ability to teleport.” Alana said, “He has a tendency to use wide-area attacks and covers himself in a forcefield.”

“Copy that,” Ogre sighed, “This is going to be a pain in the ass; I can just tell.”

“Threadbreaker, you will be dealing with Beat, don’t let him hit you while he’s covered in energy,” Alana advised.

“Got it!” Threadbreaker said.

“Raindancer, do your best to remove Aperture from the area,” Alana spoke, “Her ability to blind us all at once is one of the biggest threats here.”

Raindancer broke off from them, water trailing her path, and she rocketed across the road.

“Where do you want me, Wraith?” Dovetail said, voice calm.

Alana spared him a glance—the translucent energy that dripped upwards from his body surrounded him. He’d been let out of his cell by Mareke during the Crescent attack and returned to their team without any word on the matter.

“Animate has littered the area with constructs, find him and cut them off at the source,” Alana said, frowning. “Once you’ve dealt with him, deal with Arret.”

“Understood,” Dovetail said. “Incoming—”

They split further as a column of fire raged between them, crashing into the top of a house and exploding upwards in a wave of fire.

Alana’s suit caught the energy signature of building electricity before it had even begun to crackle.

Her foot touched down, and she burst forward at twice the speed as the lance of lightning cut through her previous position tearing through multiple rooftops before it dissipated. A flicker of high-speed movement and a long white shape registered on her monitor—her next step angled her on an interception course for her own target.

A wall of water three times at tall as the surrounding buildings crashed surged upwards before crashing down onto the neighborhood. Alana frowned at the collateral damage, this area hadn’t been evacuated yet, and there were people still in their houses.

“Gradient is dead, and Cutaway escaped.” Fracture managed, voice hoarse. “I’m evacuating Mongoose now.”

Alana felt an awful feeling growing at the words, and her speed increased again—the angle would be enough for Cutaway to see and avoid the initial attack; Alana activated the nano-assembler in her right shoulder, sending blackspine’s lancing out.

Cutaway sidestepped as she had predicted but managed to bring his sword up in an arc that split the blackspines as she passed him by. He’d taken three steps towards her before Alana had managed to spin, already sending more blackspines out in every direction.

Alana kicked off, twisting in the air, and Cutaway dashed to the side, unable to remain in close combat as the blackspines grew longer than his sword. She skidded across the roof, digging grooves into it with both feet before turning her slide into a sprint.

Each of her next steps shattered the rooftop, leaving blackspines buried in the mess as she circled him. Cutaway turned with her, the motion calm and unhurried—she used another blackspine to stop her forward momentum and burst forward towards him.

Cutaway took hold of his katana in both hands and leaned forward in preparation.

Alana buried her foot into the rooftop, halting herself as each of the blackspine’s surged upwards in a cage around him, interlocking until a dome surrounded him. Cutaway vanished, a flicker of white light tracing arcs around him as he kept an area around himself free of the reaching spines.

He began making significant progress to one of the sides of the dome, his flickering sword almost invisible now. The frustration of the last week, her building sense of failure, and the pain she was feeling at what he’d done crystalized into a fury she’d rarely felt in her life,

Alana made her decision.

The blackspine that was extended from the foot that she had buried in the roof surged upwards, branching outwards directly underneath him—there was a cry of pain as his footing was compromised, and then the forest of blackspines grew inwards, interlocking through the man as they sought to fill the space inside.

Cutaway died screaming.

Medical Wing, Hero HQ, 7:17 PM.
Sunday, February 27th, 2022.

“You’re not wearing the armor,” Leena mumbled, the painkillers rendering her vague.

Alana swallowed, feeling more lost than she had been since that first decision to become a hero.

“I… I’m sorry it’s taking so long.” Alana managed voice barely a whisper. “Alleviate won’t be here until tomorrow.”

Leena didn’t respond to the assurance that she would be regaining her leg; instead, she turned her gaze back to the ceiling, the movement sluggish.

“Mark came to see me, you know?” Leena murmured, “He came clean about everything, told me that he was quitting the team, and leaving Setalite City.”

Alana closed her eyes and clenched her fingers in the chair as the stinging behind her eyes.

“I didn’t even say anything for the first twenty minutes, just listened as he told me everything they’d done behind my back—he didn’t even try to shift the blame,” Leena said, confused. “As Loren said—the other girl hadn’t even known I existed.”

Alana wondered if anyone had actually told her that Loren was missing—she’d been gone since before it had happened.

“So I sat there, listening to it all, and when he was done, he stood up,” Leena mumbled. “Said that if he’d had the chance to go back and fix things he would have, that ruining what we had was going to be the worst mistake he’d ever make in his life.”

The wet tracks on her cheeks pulled at her attention, and Alana hunched forward, gripping her shirt in an attempt to bite back on the sob that was building up in her.

“After he’d said all of that—it was the strangest thing,” Leena said in wonder, “After everything Mark did, I still wanted him to stay.”

Alana broke, unable to hold it inside any longer.

“I’m so sorry, Leena.” Alana choked out.

“Mm,” Leena mumbled. “So am I.”

Setalite City Hero HQ, 12:53 AM.
Tuesday, February 29th, 2022.

“This meeting is to organize a recovery mission then,” Seeker murmured.

“I was able to reforge a connection to the tracker momentarily before it shorted out,” Alana said, reading the biometrics of everyone in the room. “Loren is currently located in the middle of the southern ocean.”

“The southern ocean?” Secluded said, frowning.

“Is there even anything out there?” Empress wondered.

“Let’s go find out,” Lanette said, leaning forward. “We need to find out if he’s dead or not—if you give me directions, I can start heading there now.”

“Striking out on your own is inefficient even given the potency of your power; we can have Seeker deliver you,” Artisan suggested, watching them. “How much reconnaissance have you performed on the area, Wraith?”

“I’m currently scanning the area, but this information is only half an hour old.” Alana said quietly, “Remote scanning has allowed me to ascertain that there are no structures or vessels present at sea level.”

“An underwater facility?” Alleviate guessed. “Seems like it would be inconvenient given how far away it is.”

“No—we have already established they possess a form of teleportation,” Artisan said calmly, “Wraith, if we were to delay our recovery efforts for perhaps an hour, I could perform a far more detailed scan of the area?”

“Untold will likely be finished with her personal business by then as well,” Seeker said, “We still do not know who is responsible for this; having her on hand to help combat the threat—”

Alana used her remaining arm to drag herself forward, the suit’s enhanced strength managing the task even in its damaged state. Her helmet was intact, but all the monitor could register was a thousand errors.

There was a dropoff that might have once been a window, and she tilted off the edge, spun once, and then smacked into the rubble below on her still armored side. It left her curling up in agony, her ruined side bright with pain.

Something moved in response to her landing, and she managed to turn her head just enough to see.

There was a heavily injured man, kneeling in the mess of the building, with his back to her. He was in the process of painfully turning to look in her direction, and her heart skipped a beat when she saw who it was.

“Loren?” Alana murmured.

The man blurred, and a second later, he stood with an unblemished blue bodysuit, looking as if he’d never been injured. A white oval mask had taken its place on his face, covering it entirely from view. There was something black and angular peeking over both of his shoulders, but she couldn’t see what it was.

Alana’s world was consumed by fire.

The final chapter for Reroll is up on Patreon!

I went ahead and combined the last two chapters of Reroll, so the final chapter is now Chapter 86; it’s been released on Patreon for the S-Rank and EX-Rank tiers. A-Ranks will get it on Friday, 3rd of September. The public readers will see it on the 6th of September. Most of my efforts have gone into story structure work for Contention, so the fanfiction drop is getting pushed back a week or so. 

What else?

Ameliorate chapter 11 is live, Chapter 8/12 of Systematic Soul Sorting has been narrated for the audio book. I’m going to do a proper edit pass on Reroll before formatting it into three books, roughly 90k words a book, and drop them on amazon for anyone that wants to own a copy.

Whew, now stop reading this note and go read the chapter!

If you’re enjoying my work, and you’re tearing out your hair, wondering what you could possibly read with no bi-weekly Reroll to look forward to; Contention, the next free web serial will be making an appearance, most likely the week after Reroll finishes. They are unrelated to each other, but you might find something you like in it. Contention will feature base-building, summoning, survival, magic, monsters, taming, crafting, and a mystery of a world overrun with horrible creatures.

Thank you to all the supporters, on Patreon, on here, and everywhere else, you guys are what is making it possible to keep improving on my passion, and I really appreciate all of you. If you’d like to help support my mission to snap as many elbows as I can get my greasy little mitts on, but aren’t in a place to chip in–you can support me for free as well! Leaving a comment, or a review on any of the other fiction websites I post my content on helps out more than you know. 

Keep on keeping on!

Reroll – Season 3, Chapter 86 – Finale
Ameliorate(NSFW) – Chapter 11