“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.
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.”
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.”
The giant just started walking faster. Will had to jog to keep up with his strides, and was quickly out of breath.
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?”
“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.”
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.”
Will stared at the glowing lines tracing their way across the city. Then he went to sleep.