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 forced every hero to remember exactly where they were. 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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