Month: June 2017

Chapter 127: He is Here

The first sign came and went without a word.  A faint breeze rolled out from the sky brushing across the city. Most didn’t even feel it; the few who did welcomed the last of the summer winds in the cooling weather.

The second sign could only be seen from the outside. A dome of glowing shadow grew around the city. Traffic to the city halted in an instant. Planes and trains and cars were diverted within moments. But within the city limits, the world went on unchanged, the sun shined down from the cloudless sky, and people, without a second thought, changed their minds about leaving for a day. Nobody could call in, people who called out remembered conversations that never happened.

Nobody panicked until the third sign. A speck of darkness appeared before the sun, too small to see. It grew slowly, but by the time it covered a quarter of the sun, people were running. Shelters filled one after the other. A few of the less wise tried to go home, believing in the safety that only warm blankets could bring. Only the barest minimum tried to flee the city. They would drive until they ran out of gas, but they would never reach the barrier.

Throughout the city, heroes stared at the black sky. Even the ones who had been warned felt their hears freeze as the darkness grew deeper and larger. Eclipse had never been subtle, but this was on a completely different level from his normal tactics.

The sun would go out in minutes, but the man wouldn’t appear until darkness covered the entire sky.  He appeared as a sphere so black that it stood out even against the empty sky.

If the sky hadn’t been so dark, anyone on the streets would have seen the few flying heroes dot the sky, slowly crowding the area around the sphere, but no one attacked. Eclipse would hide in is shell until he was ready, and nothing would reach him until then.

An hour passed, and then another. The sphere hung motionless through it all. One by one, the less able flyers were forced to land until only a handful of heroes remained in the air.

Burnout hadn’t been forced to land, but he hung only a few feet off the ground, staying close to his friends for as long as he could. His flames glowed as bright as ever, but the darkness seemed to eat it before it traveled more than a foot from him.

Allspades sat on the edge of the roof, with his feet dangling off the edge and his hands resting on the ground behind him. His legs kicked, like a child sitting on a table, but his eyes never left the sphere, and his lips were thin and bloodless.

Hawthorne had stood for the first hour, but she had given up and had pulled a lounger off of a nearby patio. She leaned back idly with her arms crossed behind her head. From a distance, she looked comfortable, even relaxed, but anyone close enough would see the way her fingers dug into her forearms, the way her feet were tensed to spring up the moment something happened.

Unimportant was still standing. He wasn’t pacing, but he bounced from foot to foot like a puppet controlled by shaky hands. He was almost entirely there, as present as he’d forced himself to be at the very first meeting.

They’d been silent since the sun had gone out. When the sphere had appeared, it was like the city had stared holding its breath. Every one of them was just waiting for the moment it exhaled, because until it did, they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t going to scream.

All at once, the air grew lighter.

he’s coming” Unimportant was already fading from existence. “i’ll warn you if I can

Burnout rose into the sky. His armor grew brighter and its flames grew so hot that they had begun turning white.

Hawthorne did not jump up from the lounger like she’d been prepared to do. She rose to her feet smoothly and patted the nonexistent dust from her closthes.

Allspades stayed seated. His legs stopped swinging, but his face didn’t change.

The sound of the sphere cracking filled the air. It wasn’t the sound of an eggshell or of breaking glass. It wasn’t the sound of rending metal or splintering wood. It was too much more than any of those could be. It was the screaming of the city, the screaming of the world, as the sky shattered.

The monster stared down at them. Every hero in the city felt him meet his or her eyes. All of them would describe it differently. It was cold, it was hot, it was painful, it was comforting, it was sad, it was joyous. A thousand words, a thousand feelings, in a single glance. Memories that never were broke into their minds and tried to stuff them so full they would burst. No one died from that glance, but it was that glance that killed so many.

It was the next moment, the moment after they met his eyes, that every every hero would remember the same. Horror. True horror born from the deepest pieces of their hearts. A feeling that went so much deeper than fear that fight and flight stopped being options. The only thing to do was stand and die.

There were tears running down Allspades’ face.  Even after Eclipse had turned away, he didn’t move. His eyes stayed locked on the monster floating before them.

Hawthorne’s suit wouldn’t move. The hardened vines and branches, woven so thin but so dense that they could stop a bullet, could not move without her power. She struggled within, tried to force her will on them, but she didn’t have enough will to make them move.

Unimportant had been forced entirely into the world. If anyone had the strength to look, they would see his face, as clearly as a statue’s.

“If you doubt your resolve, you will always fail.” Burnout’s voice broke through the silence. His eyes were shut tightly, and his entire face was scrunched in pain. But his flames never faltered, they remained as bright and as hot and as solid as ever. The light of his fire overcame the darkness and he rose higher into the sky until it could be seen clearly by everyone.

History would remember the day Eclipse nearly destroyed every hero with a look. But it would also remember that Burnout, The Dragon Knight wreathed in blue fire, struck the first blow.

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Chapter 126: Escape

“Of course; come over whenever you want.”

Will shut the door and the warm smile on his face melted away. He’d thought that his neighbors would stop knocking after the first few days. He’d accepted the well wishes and house warming gifts; he’d been polite but soft-spoken the entire time. None of them should have been interested enough to come back for a second visit.

For the most part, it worked. Most of his neighbors would greet him in the hallway and keep walking. But this woman was persistent. When she found out that he didn’t have a job, she started dropping in when they were the only two on the floor. Worst of all, she didn’t seem to want anything. There was nothing he could do to convince her to leave without destroying the face he had built up those first few days.

The lights in his apartment were always kept dim. Even after the sun finally sank below the lower high-rises, his room remained in twilight. Will picked the glasses off his face and tossed them onto the counter.

The world outside turned dark, but when Will looked out the window, he saw faintly glowing lines tracing their way across the city.

“Oh.”

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WIll stared at the cell door. It had been three days since the guard had spoken to him. He’d be back soon, and even if Will didn’t go home, he needed to get out of this cell. The cracks in the universe had started to cloud his vision until the entire world became a broken mirror.

Will lightly tapped his knuckles on the floor of his cell. With his powers blocked, it would be nearly impossible for him to escape without help.

There was a noise on the other side of the door and Will froze. The walls dampened the noise too much for him to make out what was going on, but this was more noise than he’d ever been able to hear before.

It was time. Will gripped the edge of the bed and pulled himself to his feet.

The door opened, a giant of a man stood there with a guard’s head clutched in each hand. The two guards hung lifelessly a few feet off the floor before he dropped them to the ground without a change in his lifeless face.

“Follow me. Tread softly.” The giant’s voice wasn’t as deep as he’d expected. It weighed on the air like a storm waiting to break and made Will’s skin grow clammy.

The giant turned and ambled down the hallway. Will stayed a few feet behind, hopefully out of reach of the giant’s grasp.

The giant led Will through the sub level, past a dozen unconscious guards.

“Why are you helping me?”

“This universe ended three months ago. It is attempting to vanish and recycle into the nothingness. You are the anchor keeping it here.”

Will wanted to ask more, but they had started going upstairs, and after months in his cell, he couldn’t hold onto his breath long enough to Talk, and the giant wasn’t in a hurry to say more. Each step was a chore, and his legs were already screaming at him to stop. The giant started to pull ahead, and Will forced himself to keep up.

The stairs ended at a blank wall. Will could see the seams of a door, but there was no handle or code panel to open it. The giant didn’t need one; he placed a single massive hand and the wall and pushed.

Will had to cover his ears to block the sound of metal tearing and gears groaning as they broke through their locks and began to turn. The blank door ground open inch by inch.

The moments had let Will regain some breath. “You could just kill me. It has to be easier. Getting me somewhere you can slide me out just gives them a chance to catch us.”

“Do you want me to kill you?”

Will didn’t say anything. He couldn’t see the giant’s face, but his fingers dug into the door.

“We need anchors to live. Only anchors can learn to see the cracks.”

The door finally opened enough for the two of them to get through. Light filtered through the door, but there was no warmth.

“This isn’t sunlight.”

“No.”

The giant stepped through the door and led Will into the night. The cracks should have been harder to see against the black sky, but out here they were surrounded by lines of bright light. The giant started to move quickly into the night.

“We do not have long. He will devour this world if we do not leave.”

“Who?”

The giant just started walking faster. Will had to jog to keep up with his strides, and was quickly out of breath.

“Here.”

The giant snapped his fingers and a third man stood before them in a bright white suit. He met the giant’s eyes and stared at Will.

“It is time to leave.”

He waved his hand and space unfurled. Another earth was easily visible through the other side. The giant placed a hand on Will’s back to scoop him up and toss him through the hole.

The man in the white suit closed the portal behind him as he stepped through. His footsteps clunked across the wooden balcony as he walked to a small table and sat down. He waved a hand at the giant, and the giant disappeared into the building behind them.

“I’m afraid my colleague doesn’t enjoy talking. I’m sure you have questions.”

Will stood up and brushed the dirt out of the remains of his clothes. He half stumbled to the table and had to brace himself against it to sit down. He stared at the man in the white suit through the drapes of his hair. “You rescue anchors to make sure worlds degrade.”

“Yes. If a world degrades enough, Barber will devour it and grow even more powerful.”

“Eclipse is dead. I saw it.”

The man in the white suit shook his head. “He cannot be killed. His existence is too broad. You saw the glowing lines?”

Will nodded.

“That was him; he shines through where the universe grows thin. You saw it through the cracks, but you will see it just as clearly when he returns to your world again.”

The man in the white suit looked into Will’s eyes, but Will wasn’t looking back. His face had lost all expression. “So it was meaningless.”

“Perhaps now you understand why we must do this.”

“I refuse.”

The man in the white suit raised an eyebrow.

“I’m done. I’m not giving up one martyrdom for another.”

The man in the white suit nodded. He did not look surprised, but the neutral lines of his face had turned downwards.

“Very well. I cannot claim to be pleased, but we will not force you. But I will leave you this.” He waved his hand and a small pager dropped into it. “Use this to contact us if you change your mind.”

He waved his hand again and a new portal opened. “This will take you home.”

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Will stared at the glowing lines tracing their way across the city. Then he went to sleep.

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