Rumor’s Block

Chapter 125: He is Coming

Allspades leaned forward in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees. Lux and Miss Mirror had managed to get all of them here, but it wasn’t until Red Racer and Hawthorne had told their stories that he understood why. Lux was getting ready to talk, but he took his time getting to the center of the group.

“We’ve gotten a dozen reports like yours. With the two of you tossed in, half of them are from solid sources. There is no doubt about it; Eclipse is going to attack. If any of you aren’t willing to fight, this is the only chance you get.”

None of them moved.

“Red’s not staying,” Miss Mirror said. Nobody looked surprised but Red, and she kept him quiet with a look.

Lux’s shoulders grew less rigid, but only a little. “We’re recalling everyone we can and getting all of the shelters ready. We can’t evacuate the city, but we’ll keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Lux’s words echoed through the room. The six of them barely took any space in the gym, and it felt emptier with every word. His voice didn’t waver, and he met the eyes of everyone in the room.

Red Racer looked away in moments. Miss Mirror rested a hand on his shoulder and gave it a gently squeeze.

Nobody could quite tell what Unimportant did, but a wave of uneasiness washed over them, and they could hear his chair squeaking.

Burnout and Hawthorne met his eyes, neither flinched, but flames danced along the tips of Burnouts fingers and the vines of Hawthorne’s suit were shifting.

Allspades let the words sink in. He hadn’t seen what Hawthorne and Red Racer had, but he believed every word. Time was looping back on itself. “Anyone who stays in the city could die.”

“We have a day at most,” Miss Mirror said from behind her brother. “A few hundred, maybe a couple thousand, people who have bolt bags ready, could make it out in time. Everyone else will be caught in a traffic jam or overloading trains. There are nearly 12 million people in this city. An optimistic estimate says we’d lose a quarter of them. The shelters are spaced so that everyone can get to one within an hour of an attack starting and can block anything short of a direct attack from Eclipse.”

Lux took over. “Which means that we need all of you to avoid talking about this to anyone you don’t trust. The moment we lose control of this information, Eclipse will have the advantage. All of you are going to be stationed in this neighborhood, you have good power coverage and know how to work together. Miss Mirror has gone through this before; she’s going to be organizing you and the three neighborhoods bordering yours, and we need to give this same talk to all of them. For now, figure out a shift schedule, two of you need to be awake at all times. We told Hawthorne enough to get you started.”

Lux didn’t give them time to ask questions before he turned on his heel and strode out the door. Miss Mirror followed close behind him.

“Mitch,” she said. “I’m stopping by the apartment on my way back here, if you’re not there I’m ripping every one of your suits to shreds, including the one you’re wearing. That gives you 15 minutes.”

The door shut behind her.

Burnout grabbed a stool and put it in the center of the room, he put his phone on top of it. “They’re gone, Mach.”

“I know that everyone is in costume, but I’m really not Mach anymore,” Tina’s voice came from the speaker. “Thanks for letting me listen in.”

“Hawthorne’s idea?” Allspades asked. Burnout and Hawthorne nodded. “Are you sure you want to be in on this?”

“I can’t do much from here,” Tina said. “But there’s a few mechers who put a lot of effort into hacking the street level cameras around the city; Burnout and I managed to sneak onto their feeds. I can help keep an eye out over the next day.”

Unimportant faded into existence. “what about the rest of us?”

One by one, the group turned to Hawthorne. She didn’t stand up; her back and shoulders slowly lost their stiffness and she half-slumped into her chair. Her headgear retracted into her suit and Allspades got a good look at her face. Deep, dark circles rimmed the bottom of her eyes, and she looked paler than she had last week.  “It keeps getting worse, doesn’t it?”

this is as big as it gets…aliens could invade next week and it would feel like a vacation

“I could go running off to Confluence again,” Allspades said. “Maybe this time, I can go into a club without getting my ass kicked.”

“I’d rather hide in another cave.” Burnout was staring at his hands and flexing his fingers; a small ball of fire danced along them.

“If you find one, tell me so I can hide my suits there.” Red Racer had wrapped his feet around the forelegs of his chair. His eyes were fixed on his lap, and he didn’t look up when spoke. “I wish I could be here with you guys.”

“Mitch,” Hawthorne said. “Rachel’s right. You’re too young for this. So far, the only major threat you fought head on was Frankenstein, and you passed out after getting one hit in.”

“It was a hell of a hit,” Allspades said. “You knocked down a monster that a lot of full grown heroes can’t even hit, but if you tried something like that against Eclipse, you’d be dead before you left the ground. When you’re stronger, you’ll be a force in any fight, but right now, every one of us would be too worried about you to fight.”

Red’s eyes never left his knees. “I know.” His voice was quiet, but everyone heard him.

“I can probably talk your sister into letting you come here,” Tina said. “It’ll get you further from the city, and we’ll both have some company.”

Red managed a half-hearted smile. “Okay.”

“Okay, we’ve wasted too much time already,” Hawthorne’s voice grew sterner, but it grew more tired with every word. “We have three mobile heroes, and two support. Sliders have always been able to tell when Eclipse was emerging into the world for an attack; Unimportant will need to have a line to the rest of us constantly so he can tell us if he feels something. Someone has to be on patrol, and at least one person needs to be awake. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, and there are bunks set up backstage, so we’re going to do six hour shifts. I can-”

“I’ll take the first shift,” Allspades said. “You need to get some sleep.”

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Chapter 124: Shatters

A figure in silver darted between him and the guns just before they fired. His sister walked slowly towards them; the bullets hit her and ricocheted into the ground two feet in front of her. The Elephant’s henchmen ran out of bullets before she’d walked halfway to them.

One by one, they dropped the guns, and feeling slowly returned to Red Racer’s legs. The henchmen dropped to their knees and put their hands behind their heads before she said a word. She placed a hand on each of their heads in turn, and they fell down unconscious one after the other. In less than 4 minutes, all 10 of the henchmen were laying on the floor.

Red jogged over to his sister’s side. She glanced down at him, a frown creasing her face.

“If they surrendered this easily, it’s because The Elephant is long gone already. I need to stay here and wait for the cops to come and pick them up. You should go home.”

“But-”

“Doing as I say is part of the deal. You need to go home and rest.” She glanced sideways at Red and sighed before letting a light smile to form on her face. “I’m sorry, but you froze again. You know you can’t stay out here after that.”

Red Racer wanted to argue, but the last time he tried, his sister had hidden his suit for a week.

“I’ll see you at home.” He hadn’t meant it to sound as abrupt as it did.

“I’ll pick up something to eat on my way, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Sirens echoed down the street as Red sped off. His fingers dug into the palms of his hands. Normally, it would only take him a few seconds to get home, but he ran up to the roof of the first tall building he could find and stopped.

The roof was mostly loose gravel with a single concrete footpath leading from the stairwell to various air ducts. There was no one up there, and there wasn’t going to be anytime soon.

Red Racer took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The air was crisper up here; cleaner than down in the streets where the filtering zeppelins couldn’t get to it so easily. The Air conditioners hummed all around the rooftop, but there was no other noise. Even the cars on the streets below couldn’t break the silence.

He didn’t want to be angry at Sara for sending him home. But he couldn’t help the tightening in his chest when she gave him an order. Her being right only made it worse.

Red took another breath. He felt the air rattling down to his lungs and shivered. The guns were back, floating beneath his eyelids. He shut his eyes tighter, so tightly that he began to see spots, but he couldn’t make them go away.

He opened his eyes and forced himself to look past the phantoms. He should get home.

“Doing as I say is part of the deal. You need to go home and rest.” Miss Mirror glanced sideways at Red and sighed before letting a light smile to form on her face. “I’m sorry, but you froze again. You know you can’t stay out here after that.”

Red Racer stared blankly at his sister. His face grew cold as the blood slowly drained from it. The henchmen were all lying unconscious on the ground, in the exact same positions he remembered.

“Red?” She turned fully towards him. “Are you okay?”

He barely managed to nod. This couldn’t be real.

“Are you sure? You look like you’re seeing a ghost. Look, wait over by the alley and I’ll go home with you. I’m not sure if you should be running right now.”

Red managed to stumble over to the sidewalk and lean against the building. Sirens echoed down the street.

Something was wrong, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Had he done something? Had he run in some kind of time loop? No…he’d been standing still when it had happened. Or had he? He tried to focus on the memory, but the details had faded away, he knew that time had fun back on itself, but he couldn’t remember where he was when it happened.

He needed to tell his sister. She would know what had happened. Or she would be able to talk to someone.

“Red!”

The shout shook him out of his stupor. HE turned to face his sister. She was hunched over and examining his face.

“I think you might be coming down with something.” She grasped his arm and squeezed it gently. “Come on, you’re not running like that, so I’m gonna have to carry you home. You need to get to bed.”

He didn’t have time to talk before she scooped him up and launched them both into the sky.

“Sis-“ The wind drowned out his voice.

Red glanced below them. He stared at the tallest building on the way home, but could only barely understand why.

Miss Mirror held him close and flew high into the air above the clouds. He felt one of her arms flick below him and her outfit changed colors, easily blending in with the sky.

The dropped quickly, faster then gravity should have pulled them, but they landed on the roof with the grace of ten cats.

Red followed his sister down to their apartment.

“Change into something warm, I’ll grab the thermometer.”

“Rachel, wait.”

She didn’t stop rummaging through the drawers. “Yeah?”

“I’m not sick. I…I saw something weird-eird.”

She stopped rummaging and turned towards him. Her mask had been peeled away and he looked straight into her eyes.  He hadn’t echoed like that in weeks.

“I’m not sure how to explain it, but, things started happening twice.”

“You mean like déjà vu?”

“No. I was already on my way home, and then I was back with you and you said the same thing you just had.”

Rachel stared into his eyes without blinking until he looked away. His gaze landed on her hand, gripping the counter so tightly that it had turned paper-white.

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Chapter 123: Beginning of the End

2 months 29 days after Jaeger’s attack

The robber ran around the corner; he was already taking to the sky, but Hawthorne didn’t make much effort to follow. She clasped her hands together and the sleeves of her suit sprouted vines that grew and wound together.

A flash of blue filled the intersection and the thief arced over the bank he’d been robbing. Hawthorne tossed the vines into the air. The ball of plants smacked the robber as he fell and cocooned him in their grasp.

He landed with a soft thud. Hawthorne lightly tapped the bundle with her foot. She could feel the vines constricting against the thief’s struggles, but they were in no danger of breaking. She set a time limit before they’d fade away; the cops knew how to get through anything she could make, but she never felt right leaving someone tied up if she didn’t know they could get out eventually.A gentle blue light descended behind her. “Cops are almost here. You wanna stick around?”

“I snagged his mask while the bank’s cameras were still on him. Let’s go before-”

Applause and cheers filtered out from the bank.

“Too late,” Burnout said. “Just wave. It’s all it takes and you have to get used to it.”

Hawthorne joined Burnout and waved at the crowd. “I think liked it better when they didn’t know who we were. At least back then it felt like the thank-yous actually meant something. At this rate, we’re going to wind up on the news every time we go on patrol.”

“It’s not nearly that bad. Plus, we did take out Trump and Jaeger; it’s not like we don’t’ deserve some recognition.”

Hawthorne looked to the bank’s roof. There wasn’t anything there, but she nudged Burnout and pointed anyway. He glanced up, and took a second to follow her when she launched herself to the roof.

The sun was setting in the distance. Hawthorne’s arms and legs felt like lead after yet another day of patrol after a full day of work. She took her time walking to the other side of the roof, Burnout hovered just behind her.

“I need to get home,” she said. “Let the others know I may not be coming tomorrow. Work’s not going to be letting up for a while.”

“I’ll tell them. I don’t think anyone will have a problem with it. It’s not like we have a real reason for meeting up anymore.”

Hawthorne shook her head. “We have the only reason we need.”

She leapt away before Burnout could ask her what she meant.

The air was cooling quickly, and the rushing wind soaked into her aching muscles. There was a cat circling on the ledge of the building below her. Its tail was held high in the air and twitching slightly, but it vanished from beneath her before she could get a closer look.

Even with the roots absorbing most of the bow, the pain in her legs grew worse as she landed. She only had another block before she could sneak back to her car, but at this rate she would barely be able to walk in the morning.

Of course they still met up for a reason. She believed that, even if she didn’t understand it. No matter how ready all of them were to commit to being heroes, there was still something missing before they could go out on their own. The others felt it too, even if Burnout had his doubts. They still needed each other’s support, especially after Will vanished.

She jumped again, the anticipation of the cold air was enough to keep her moving. There was a cat circling on the ledge of the building below her. Its tail was held high in the air and twitching slightly, but it vanished from beneath her before she could get a closer look.

Maybe they just needed closure. Will had brought them together to decide whether or not they were going to be heroes, and even if they had all decided they were, they had never been able to announce it. They had all just…naturally reached the point where they didn’t have any doubts. It could be, that all they would have needed was for Will to get them together and tell them that they were heroes after all. But they hadn’t even gotten that much from him.

Hawthorne froze.

She had moved in a straight line. It couldn’t have been the same cat. Seeing a few cats and dogs wasn’t that strange, especially with rooftop parks on half the apartments. But the way it moved; the way it’s tail bounced as it walked. It all seemed too strange.

The pain in her legs doubled. She had been on patrol all day, and she was only a block from her car. She would never forgive herself in the morning if she spent another half hour on the streets just because she saw a couple of weird cats.

Hawthorne pulled a seed from her vest. It wasn’t a particularly special seed, but it was one of her own creations. Hawthorne dropped it into a crack on the roof and let it sprout just enough to keep it in place. It would be easy enough to find when she needed it.

She trudged to the other side of the roof. Her car was in the lot just below her.

Her mask unwove from her face around the corner from the lot, where there were no cameras and no people.

She climbed into her car carefully and, not for the first time, wished she’d picked up the version with the massager build into the seat. It would have helped with the soreness; it might have even been worth the fact that she’d probably end up falling asleep with it running instead of going home.

Even the five minute drive home was enough to turn her legs to jelly for the walk up to her apartment. It took her two tries to unlock her apartment door before she was finally able to collapse onto bed.

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MEMOIRS OF THE SECOND AGE 4: Burnout

Unimportant said you’d be coming.  I’d say sorry for the mess, but I don’t exactly clean up the cave for the one week I use it.

I’d really rather stay back here. I don’t look pretty when I’m like this, and I’ve scared people before. Let’s just get the interview going.

You wanted to know about Will, right? The man at both sides of the Second Age.

I think Unimportant got you to the most important part. There isn’t much to tell until Eclipse attacked, and I think you know more than enough about that.

He disappeared for three months after Jaeger attacked. No, wait, he didn’t’ quite disappear. We all saw him once. He’s walk behind us and we’d see him in a reflection, or lock eyes with use from across the street, but he was always gone if by the time we reached him. If it hadn’t happened to all of us, I would have thought I was seeing things.

We couldn’t have meetings without Will, but by then I don’t think there was any way we were going to stop being heroes. I think Will knew that too, or maybe I just feel less abandoned that way.

We’d still meet up every few weeks, and we’d patrol together when we could. It had become a habit at that point, and it’s always better to have someone watching your back.

If I had to be honest, it was the quietest three months of our careers. After Jaeger and Trump, a lot of new heroes showed up. Nobody you’d know, most of them didn’t last long, but a few dozen new heroes looking to prove themselves make for a pretty good fishing net for everyday villains.

I didn’t mind the help. I’d only been able to harden my flames for a few weeks, and I needed the time to practice.

By the end of those three months, I could keep the armor up constantly, and the wings had started looking less and less like they were made of fire. They had started to become the most recognizable part of my outfit.

The others were just as busy. Hawthorne still had her job, Allspades had started teaching classes at the gym, and Unimportant’s crusade had never even stopped. Red had started patrolling with his sister. I don’t think she wanted anyone to get any ideas now that they knew he was Jaeger’s son.

We did have some time to look for Will, but nowhere to start. He’d cleaned out his apartment, he wasn’t going to any of his usual bars, and none of the heroes he used to talk to weekly had heard or seen anything. We even spent a week taking turns camping out on top of the Kalliope hall. He never showed up.

Will was gone. He had grown up under the head of the largest organization of government paid walkers in the world. He knew how to disappear. Nobody who knew his name saw or heard any hint of him for those three months. If things had happened a little differently, then he might have disappeared forever. Maybe it would have been better that way.

We managed to piece some things together later. After that first week where he showed himself to all of us, he dyed his hair. He cut it too, but it was already short enough that he couldn’t do much about that. He started smiling more, not because he was happy, but because it stretched his face in a way we wouldn’t recognize.

At some point he broke his nose. I don’t know if it was on purpose or not, but he let it heal crooked anyway.

We found his new apartment after he died. He must have had a lot more money saved away than we thought, because it was three times as large as his old one and in the part of town with so much money you’d swear it was paved with it. It was, of course, the last place we’d think to look.

There were other touches too, I’m sure, but those were the ones he couldn’t change by the time we saw him.

He had decided to start over. And he was doing a good job of it. His neighbors all seemed to like him, he’d quit drinking, he even got a pet. Or at least he was planning on getting one. He had the food and a litter box, but we never found a cat.

The end of the second age started two weeks before Will died. That’s when the weirdness started, but I’m guessing you have enough reports on that.

-Burnout
Memoirs of the Second Age

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Chapter 122: Unwilling

They were laughing. They were all together for the first time since Frankenstein’s attack, and they were taking the chance to celebrate. It was the kind of thing that most heroes never took the time to do.

Will watched them from a roof across from the hospital. Two of them were in hospital beds, and a third would probably be confined as soon as the nurses realized he’d left his room again. But they were alive; they were safe. They’d taken out a villain who should have killed them all.

And he’d been gone. For nearly two weeks.

It had taken days for the news of Jaeger’s escape to reach the people who needed to know the most. Rachel and Mitchell should have been moved out of the city where Jaeger couldn’t find them. There were at least three heroes near the city with powers that could neutralize Jaeger in the right circumstances. But the information had died before it reached who it needed to.

He hadn’t made his rounds. He’d spent years making sure news made it through the city, but he never realized that he made himself essential. He was supposed to disappear, and instead he’d become just as important as Will Writer as he’d been as Rumor.

Those kids were his responsibility. They never should have been fighting somebody like Jaeger, not when there was another option. He should have been there to stop them, to keep them safe.

“And how far would you have gone?” The voice was loud and clear, but it never touched his ears.

“Stay out of my head, Meister.”

A figure appeared on the roof next to him. Today, he was a walking shadow wearing a green hood held on by a red brooch, but when you weren’t really there, you could look like anything you wanted to.

“Trust me, I’m more than happy to stay out of the mosh-pit you call a brain, but when you think that loudly, you can’t blame people for listening in.”

Will shoved his thoughts beneath a layer of noise, and Meister flickered for a moment.

“That…was rude. And you’re trying to change the subject. When Jaeger came after his son, what would you have done?”

“It wouldn’t have gotten that far.”

Meister snorted. “Even you aren’t that conceited. Jaeger wouldn’t have fallen for any trap you set. He had already taken out the only Council member still in the city, the only runner we thought had a chance with keeping up with him. He couldn’t be tracked. He couldn’t be trapped. He would have found his son. What would you have done?”

Will stared into the hospital room. The nurses had shown up and were trying to get Mitchell to go back to his room. The others were starting to wrap up too. Soon, Burnout and Allspades would be the only ones left in the room.

“It’s my job to keep them safe. I would have done whatever I needed to.”

“Even if it meant revealing yourself to them? To anyone watching? You couldn’t fight subtly against Jaeger. You’d have destroyed everything between you two just to have a chance. And suddenly, Rumor’s back in town. Your name would be on every news reel and headline in the country. So tell me, what would Will Writer do if Rumor couldn’t hide anymore.”

The nurses had finally corralled Mitchell, and the rest of the team was following them out the door.

“Do you see them? Every one of them is still alive. Not because of anything I did, but in spite of what I did. Every choice I’ve made for them has turned out worse than the one before it. And they’ve been hurt, one of them will probably never be further than a few feet form a wheelchair. It’s only a matter of time before one of them dies. And you know what? None of them are even thinking about quitting; not seriously. The trials they’ve faced in the last few months, have made them strong enough to take on Jaeger and come out on top. If I had been there, I would have used my powers, because they will do more good in their lives than I ever will again.

“And then, I would do what Rumor does best. I would disappear. I would go somewhere I could vanish and never look back. Because I couldn’t do anything worse for those kids than staying close to them.”

“You tried that once. You couldn’t stay away.”

The light in the hospital room turned off, and Will finally looked away.

“I didn’t have a good enough reason to.”

Meister’s projection never moved, but it stayed next to Will as he walked for the edge of the roof.

“And what will you do now? Those kids are waiting for you. They spent the days before Jaeger’s attack trying to track you down. They’ll find out you came back, and they’ll be waiting for you.”

Will flooded his mind with noise and Meister vanished. Will didn’t have long; he’d probably be sending Lux over soon.

Will took the stairs anyway. Lux was good at finding him, but Will was better at knowing when he’d be coming.

Meister’s question still lingered in the air. He could go back to his old life. This group didn’t need him anymore; they were heroes, and all of them had realized it by now. But there was always another group; there were kids out there who really did need to quit the job to keep themselves alive. He could wipe the slate; go back to being the person he was before that first meeting.

But those kids had gotten to him. There were heroes out there who needed to quit, and he didn’t think he could convince them anymore.

He couldn’t be that guy again. He couldn’t be Rumor again. He didn’t know who he was going to be tomorrow.

Will Writer walked out of the empty building and climbed into the fist cab.

He never called another meeting.

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Chapter 121: Running Down

Red stumbled, and Jaeger’s next hit forced his feet off the ground. The debris trailing him fell to the ground and didn’t rise again.

Red hit the ground and bounced until he slammed into the far wall. Dust blocked the world from his views.

He let the dust settle on him, but he didn’t move.

Jaeger was faster. Every time they got close to each other, Jaeger go that much faster than him. He had been playing with him the whole time, and it seemed like he was finally done playing. Even if Red got up and ran as fast as he could, he would never catch up.

His eyes were closed, but Red didn’t see darkness. His hands were covered with blood, and he was shaking so much that he couldn’t focus on anything else. Something clicked in his ear.

The guns were back. He couldn’t hold the image back any more, and they swam to the font of his mind like they’d never left. A single gunman was standing in front of him. Red could look straight down the gun’s barrel.

Shadows crept out of the barrel. Long tendrils of blackness slithered through the air, reaching towards him. He wanted to run away, but he couldn’t move. Through the thickening darkness, he could see the gunman preparing to pull the trigger. Red only had one option left.

He opened his eyes, but the image didn’t vanish. Jaeger stood in the middle of the clearing; the faceless man with the gun stood next to him.

Debris orbited Jaeger; even the dust that had settled onto Red was drifting away into his field.

Jaeger stared at Red until the last of the dust drifted away, and then he turned to the heroes he had piled to the side. The gunman turned with him.

Red’s eyes were still trying to move at super speed.  Jaeger strolled over to Red’s friends, but to Red, it looked like he was underwater.

Red’s eyes grew big, and he tried to get to his feet. His heart was racing, but the blood in his veins was crawling. He forgot the fire in his legs as ice started to grow in his chest and his insides grew hollow.

If Jaeger was underwater, then Red was stuck in syrup. Every inch of movement seemed to cost him minutes, and Jaeger grew that much closer to his friends, to his sister.

He finally got his feet beneath him and reached for his power. There was nothing there. His breaths grew shallow and he reached further and further, but the power slid away from him.

Jaeger was close now, he was only steps away from them now. The gunman had stopped moving; he turned and stared at Red. Even though he didn’t have a face, Red knew he was smirking. He turned back away and raised his gun.

Red’s heart stopped. His nails bit into the palms of his hands. The gunman took his time, trailing his weapon across each of the figures lying on the floor. Finally, it rested on his sister.

Red started running. Even without his power, even though he would never make it in time, Red ran straight for Jaeger.

His shoes scuffed the ground. The sound echoed through the battlefield.

Jaeger’s head whipped towards him. For the briefest moment, his eyebrows arched, and his mouth started to form a word.

There was a trickle of power, barely within reach, and Red snatched it up. He ran through the gunman, and the figure slinked into the back of his mind again.

Jaeger finished turning. His shock had turned into a smile. He started to run.

To Jaeger, Red might as well be standing still, but Red’s eyes could still see Jaeger circling to his left. Before their powers clashed, Red grabbed everything he had and shoved it at Jaeger.

Both of them went flying, but this time, Red was ready for it. There was more power there now and Red grabbed everything he could before it vanished again. He landed on his feet and took off.

They had the same power. Every time they hit, whatever power they let go of was up for grabs. That was why, even now that Red had managed to push Jaeger back just a little, he still wasn’t moving as fast as he should have been able to.

Red felt a smile grow on his face. Jaeger was still faster than him, but that could change.

Jaeger was moving again, but Red stayed still. His eyes followed Jaeger as the villain circled towards him.

It had worked once.

The ground was shaking beneath them, but neither paid any attention. Neither could afford to focus on anything else.

Jaeger was smiling as he reached Red, but Red flexed his power at the last second. He launched himself at full speed, shoulder first into Jaeger, shoving everything he had into the attack. It wouldn’t have worked on most runners, they would see it coming and be able to adjust, but Jaeger had let Red get the drop on him once before, and he didn’t think it could happen twice.

Red barely slid back, but Jaeger flew across the battlefield before he was able to stop himself.

There was even more power up for grabs now, and Red got over half of it.

He couldn’t stay still and keep all the power he had grabbed. Red Ran straight for Jaeger.

The two of them circled each other, spiraling towards the center of the battlefield.  As they got closer, the pieces of debris following them started to crash into each other. A low grinding began to fill the air as the twin spirals of dust started to grind against each other.

They were almost going the same speed now. When they finally clashed, they froze in place. They were both desperately grabbing at the other’s power, and neither of them was winning.

Jaeger’s fingers curled into a fist and slammed into Red’s face.

The power slipped between the gaps in his grasp and he slammed into the ground. He felt something snap in his arm, and he had to freeze to keep form screaming. The shaking ground reverberated through his arm. He couldn’t focus through the pain.

“You are strong.”

Red looked at Jaeger. The villain’s voice was smooth and oddly comforting. Despite that, Every word sent a shiver down Red’s spine.

“But you do not know your strength. I-“

Red launched himself forward. His feet didn’t even get a chance to hit the ground before he slammed into Jaeger and desperately grabbed all the power he could.

It wasn’t enough; Red hit the ground again, and Jaeger barely moved.

“It seems that you still need to learn patience.”

Red scrambled to his feet. He was good arm was still on the gorund when he sped up and had to fight the rest of his way up while he was running.

They started spiraling again, but this time, Jaeger was faster. The grinding filled the air again. It masked the sound of the shaking ground, but only barely.

There was a shout from somewhere, and plants burst from the ground.

Red jumped; he sailed over the growing plants.

Jaeger was moving too fast. One of the roots sprung up right in front of his foot and he tipped forward.

A glowing figure slammed onto Jaeger’s back, and Red saw his eyes bulging. More importantly, he felt Jaeger’s grip on the power loosening.

Red desperately clawed all of the loose power towards him.

Red landed gently outside the ring of plants. He turned back. Allspades was glowing; and the light was digging into the ground around him.

Jaeger was trying to force Allspades off, but he couldn’t lift him up.

Two more figures floated towards the two.

Burnout was using the armor he’d seen on the news, but it started to fade as chains of fire wrapped around Jaeger’s form.

His sister kept floating towards Jaeger. She landed next to him and collapsed to her knees. She raised her fist and slammed into Jaeger’s head, breaking straight through his power and knocking him out.

The glow vanished from around Allspades, and he collapsed to the side. Burnout was sitting on the ground, but he managed to keep the chains on Jaeger.

A hand rested on his shoulder.

Red met Hawthorne’s eyes, and he knew she was smiling under her helmet.

The two of them walked to his sister’s side, and she immediately pulled him into a hug.

The others were looking at them.

Red felt blood rush to his cheeks, but he smiled and hugged his sister back.

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Chapter 120: Clash

Red Racer barely made it out of the hospital before he started heaving.

He’d never run on an empty stomach. The pulses of his power echoed inside of him, and churned the empty space. The costume his sister had neatly placed into the closet of his hospital room was tight across his chest and made it hard to breathe. He stumbled, but he refused to fall. Red grabbed a hold of his power and forced it to keep him moving.

The air swirled around him and spots began to dance on the side of his vision. There were gunshots echoing in the back of his head. His heart thundered in his ears, but he just ran faster. Dust and trash started trailing behind him, lifting into the air and swirling in the vortex of his wake.

The city blurred past him, but he saw everything.

Almost everyone was staring at their phones or standing outside of bars with their eyes glued to a TV. Some were talking, some were shouting, some were frozen in place. Everyone looked scared.

Most people on the street this time of day were old enough to remember Jaeger thirteen years ago. It wasn’t something they could forget. Red had only read about him online, but the thought of a runner who spent his entire career going after heroes struck a chord in the pit of his stomach.

His parents had gone against Jaeger half a dozen times before they captured him, but they had only sought him out once. Jaeger had come after them time and time again; he’d never been paid and he didn’t hold a grudge, but he kept coming.

Now he was after Red’s sister, he was after Red’s friends, and Red wouldn’t sit on the sidelines. The faceless thing that had been haunting him wouldn’t stop him.

It was a straight shot to the battlefield. Red’s eyes stopped dancing and focused on the figures in front of him. Jaeger was dragging Burnout towards the others. Right now, he was moving at a crawl, but if he sped up, he could kill all three of the long before Red got close.

The steady, slow clacking of a machine gun echoed in his brain. His breath grew ragged and his eyes could only focus on Jaeger’s slowly stalking form. His heart sped up, but the blood in his veins felt like syrup.

Red grabbed his power. It was in him and all around him and there wasn’t enough. Red reached further and tore his power free. The trash in his wake fell to the ground and his ears popped.

Red’s power slammed into Jaeger and for an instant, they both froze mid-air. Red’s hearing returned and he and Jaeger flew apart a loud clap. The wind tore free form their meeting point, picking up the unconscious heroes and carrying the away from the center of the destroyed block.

This wasn’t like Frankenstein, Red was ready to catch himself. He slid backwards, nearly to the edge of the battlefield.

Jaeger clenched his fists and stopped without touching the ground before dropping to his feet.

Jaeger looked straight into Red’s visor, and they both ran.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Jaeger reached for the gravity in the area and pushed himself forward. Across the battlefield, his son did the same.

His smile threatened to split his face in two. The predator had kept his promise. His son had gained the strength that had awakened Jaeger, and now he was standing before him, free to bask in the glory of the hunt.

But first he would have to be tested. And then he would have to be discipline; all children needed to be taught to respect their parents. It was the only way they could learn how to reach the potential their parents saw within them.

Jaeger started out slow; slower than his son had hit him before. First, he had to give the boy some confidence. It was only when he tore that down that he could teach him his first lesson.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Red grabbed everything he could. It wouldn’t be as much as he had used to hit Jaeger with, but it was enough to meet Jaeger halfway across the battlefield.

A drumbeat of rushing air reverberated throughout the battlefield. Each time the two of them met, their wakes would force the air and debris to clash around them. Each time they separated, their wakes would mix and clatter until finally separating into two distinct trails.

Their powers never let them touch. They’d clashed a dozen times in the seconds they’d been fighting, and neither of them were scratched.

Jaeger was moving at the same speed as Red. That wasn’t right. Jaeger was one of the fastest men alive. He should have been at least three times faster than Red.

Red desperately grasped for more speed. His legs pumped tirelessly, carrying his power with them and launching him farther with every step.

Jaeger matched him perfectly.

The fight hadn’t even lasted a minute, but Red could feel a fire spreading through his legs. He hadn’t asked anything of them for over a week, and they couldn’t give him what they used to.

Red grabbed even more speed, pulling the power to his legs so that even if they slowed down, he could keep his speed up for just a little longer.

At their next clash, Jaeger swung at him a little too early, and Red slammed into hi. Their wakes collided again, but more debris was following Red.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Jaeger reached for more gravity. He had moed too soon and let the boy get a hit in. It wasn’t a mistake he could repeat if he wanted to teach his son just how much stronger he would become under proper guidance.

The gravity didn’t respond. Jaeger reached again, but there was nothing there to grab.

The boy was coming at him again. Jaeger turned to meet him, but half of his mind was elsewhere.

Stone and metal slammed into each other as their wakes met. Jaeger grabbed for the boy’s collar, but he missed. His son’s tiny fist bruised Jaeger’s forearm.

They separated and Jaeger felt it. The boy had sped up again. He was pulling out more speed than Jaeger had ever expected, and the new bruise would be a constant reminder.

It wouldn’t happen again. Jaeger reached deeper and pulled out enough gravity to match the boy’s new speed.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Red kept reaching for more power, but he couldn’t force himself to go any faster. He had gone faster than this before, but the power wasn’t there for him to grab.

Red reached desperately for it, constantly reaching for more speed.

He clashed with Jaeger again. The grin on his enemy’s face made Red’s frown deepen. He wanted nothing more than to run as far from Jaeger as he could, but he forced himself to keep going. Their wakes slammed into each other and Red felt more power, just barely out of reach. He stretched his powers towards it, grabbing a small handful and adding it to his own speed.

A few ticks of the clock later, and they clashed again. It was impossible, but Jaeger’s grin had grown even wider. He came elbow first for Red’s face. Red flinched away from the blow, and had to slide around Jaeger to keep from being hit.

In that instance where their wakes crashed, Red felt his powers being ripped away from him. He grasped desperate for more speed, but it had vanished

And now Jaeger was moving faster, and his wake had grown larger.

He had stolen some of Red’s speed.

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Chapter 119: Watch

Hawthorne had already left by the time he reached the hospital room. Mach…Tina was still there, staring at the news. The newscasters weren’t talking, but Miss Mirror and Allspades’ names were on the scroll at the bottom, alongside Jaegers.

He forced himself into existence slowly. Tina acknowledged him with a nod.

“John.”

He nodded back, but remained focused on the news.

Allspades had been blown the far side of the damaged block; it wouldn’t take him long to get back, but he would have to unbury himself first.

Jaeger squared off against Miss Mirror. The newscaster was talking now, but her voice was quiet and muffled.

John glanced over at Tina, but his gaze didn’t stop until it landed on Mitch, still sitting on the bed. He saw Tina nod slightly when he did. “What are her chances?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “15 years ago, there were only a few heroes who could take him on. He was faster than any runner at the time, possibly the fastest since walkers were revealed. His powers are gravity based, and the only gravity manipulator around had to put a lot of effort into overpowering him. He had a habit of messing with other people’s powers. He used the wake from his power to make it difficult for them to use.”

Miss Mirror had looked like she was putting up a good fight, but Jaeger was doing something to her now. She was floating but it didn’t look like she was in control.

“Not good then,” John said. “She’s tough, but she’s only been active a few years. She’s never fought someone who could affect her powers.”

Tina’s brow furrowed. She was clutching the wheels on her chair; her knuckles were slowly turning paper white.

“What do they need to know?”

“What?” Tina’s hands didn’t loosen, but the worry had faded from her face for now.

“They’re going to fight him. We can’t fight with them, but we can help.”

Mach slowly nodded. Her eyes closed.

John pulled out his phone and quickly called Burnout. He answered immediately.

“They need to be ready for his wake. Even if he doesn’t touch them, he can hurt them. And if they want even a chance of winning, they have to stop him from moving. Not just his legs, or his arms, they need to keep him as still as possible. They’ll have to trap him somewhere that Hawthorne can wrap him up before he can use his powers.”

Unimportant waited for more, but Mach stopped talking. Her hands were still clutching the wheels, but she was breathing more steadily.

Jaeger jumped over something in his path, breaking the trap he’d caught Miss Mirror in.

The newscaster’s voice finally came through clearly. “Another hero has arrived on the scene. We are getting confirmation on the identity now-”

Tina muted the TV. “She arrived faster than I expected.” She had released her wheels and blood was slowly returning to her hands. “Thank God.”

“Burnout should be right behind her.”

They stared silently at the news, but didn’t turn the sound back on. Hawthorne and Burnout’s names joined the others on the scroll.

John walked to the other side of the bed and sat down. He had had to watch his teammates fight before, but there was always something he could do to help. Against this opponent, with so little time, he was useless. A weight settled on his shoulders and he felt himself sagging into the chair.

“You’re not useless,” Tina said.

John’s eyes slid off the TV and to her.

“I own enough mirrors to know the look.”

“I don’t like sitting around doing nothing.” Tina raised an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t mean-”

“I know you didn’t. I don’t like it either. I used to be able to fight with them. I built the weapon that drove off Frankenstein, and now the best I can do is offer some good advice. I can’t even control the powers I have.”

“So how do you get through it?”

“If you had the powers you needed to help, you would. If I could still walk, I’d be right there beside them.”

“That’s enough?”

“No. It’s never enough. It’s barely even a comfort. But I know that I would never forgive myself for not helping if I could. That’s the best I have.”

John didn’t have an answer for that, and Tina didn’t seem ready to give any more.

A blue sphere took up the entire screen. It looked like they were trying to catch Jaeger.

John stared intently at the screen, barely catching the slight movement out of the corner of his eye.

And then the sphere exploded.

“No,” Tina breathed. She bolted upright in her wheelchair and had to catch herself before she fell off.

Jaeger was already charging at Hawthorne.

And then the fight was over. He’d taken out all three of them in moments, and now he was dragging Burnout back to pile them together.

John couldn’t take his eyes off the screen. Even with everything he knew about Jaeger, he never expected the others to lose. They’d taken on a man capable of throwing buildings and using their own blood as a weapon. Compared to that, this should have been easy.

Unimportant started to fade and jumped to his feet.

He ran for the door. He’d never get there in time to stop anything. He wouldn’t even get there in time to see Jaeger leave.

Tina didn’t say anything when he passed. Her eyes were clouded over, and he could see the tears starting to form at their corners. Her hands gripped her wheelchair again, but she made no move to release the brake.

He opened the door, and something blurred past him.

Unimportant and Tina both looked at the now empty bed.

Tina looked back at the news. “He’ll get there in time.”

Unimportant didn’t say anything. He ran out the door and straight for the stairs.

Tina rolled out after him, but didn’t rush. There was nothing else she could do.

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Chapter 118: Thrill of the Hunt

He couldn’t help the toothy grin that stretched his face. There was something special about using one hero as a weapon against another that few things could match. He’d missed the looks of shock, followed by the quick calculating moments where they tried to avoid hurting each other.

The boy stopped dead when he flew into Miss Mirror. There wasn’t even the sound of an impact. He fell from her grasp, dropping the short distance to the ground and climbing to his feet without a hint of discomfort.

Jaeger’s grin vanished. That wasn’t as fun as he’d hoped.

The world blurred by in nearly perfect clarity. The ground and air warped around him as he ran just past the one he’d thrown before coming to a sudden dead stop. The boy tried to keep his ground, but the full force of Jaeger’s wake slammed into him. He tumbled away, not far, but far enough to let Jaeger’s prey come down to the ground.

She didn’t say a word. Her eyes glowed a blue so pale and bright they almost looked silver. They met his and didn’t waver. She wouldn’t be talking yet.

She may as well have been punching through mud. He slid around her fist, but his wake slid off of her like water splitting on a boulder.

Her father had been similar. Gravity had obeyed him more finely than Jaeger could use his weapon; but it had taken him hours to set the trap that robbed Jaeger of his speed. This girl didn’t have his powers, and she didn’t have his skill.

Jaeger ran, circling the girl with ever tightening loops.

The girl’s face twisted, first into confusion, and then into glorious shock. Her eyes narrowed. She tried to take a step towards the circle’s edge, but she couldn’t get any purchase on the ground. She tried to through her weight forward, but ended up cartwheeling in the air. Her skin was starting to flush and she started gasping and clutching at her head.

Jaeger leapt over the branch that grew in his path and came to a dead stop just short of the wall fob lure fire that sprouted in his path. It had happened almost too late for him to react.

The girl collapsed to the ground. Her skin was already returning to normal, but she wouldn’t be getting up until he was ready for her.

More prey had arrived. Three extras; the first boy and a new boy and girl. He had always enjoyed bonus prey, but today he had a goal beyond the hunt, and none of them looked to make good trophies. He couldn’t afford to have fun with these interferences.

The three of them were shouting at each other, but the words were meaningless. None of them were talking about his goal.

The first boy, the strong one, was glowing brightly enough that Jaeger had trouble looking at him.

He leapt for Jaeger. He might as well have walked for all the good it did. Jaeger slammed his elbow into the boy’s sternum, but there was no give in the strike. The boy’s armor blocked his hit and the boy’s weight slammed into Jaeger.

Jaeger’s speed clashed with the glow, and they both stopped dead. Even Jaeger’s wake couldn’t reach the boy.

Blue flames sprouted around the two of them. They started small, but they were soon taller than either of them.

“Now!”

The shout came from outside the dome. The ground rose up around them, cracking as plants grew from the concrete.

The boy leapt backwards; the plants gave him a boost and the flames weakened just enough to let him through.

The plants gripped Jaeger’s legs tightly and the dome of fire closed overhead.

This prey was turning out to be interesting more interesting than he expected. But just because it knew more tricks than he expected, didn’t mean that they were tricks he hadn’t seen already.

Jaeger flexed his power. The cracked street rose around him in a ring and slammed into the ground. The plants around his legs were cut off from their roots and stopped growing. He flexed his power again, and, with a kick, launched himself at the wall of fire.

Jaeger laughed as the fire burst apart at his touch.

The wall vanished behind him. The faint whupping of a helicopter meant that the news had found him again.

“Did you think to trap a hunter? You are just more prey waiting for my fangs. The decision on when they reach you is entirely yours. So which will it be-”

His prey was stunned. He could see the look in their eyes. The inner struggle that all prey went through before the hunt grew fun.

“Fight?”

He blurred forward, stopping just short of the girl in the center.

“Or Flight?”

His wake slammed into her. She skidded back a few feet, before her clothes reached down and buried themselves into the ground to stop her.

She was the plant manipulator, the more dangerous prey.

Her helmet would be made of plants too; she had armored herself well, but he had broken through worse.

Jaeger’s fist struck her in the stomach. There was a loud crack and splinters burst from the new hole in her vest. Her breath was forced form her lungs. He frowned at his lack of control. He hadn’t hit her hard enough to kill. A second layer of armor had kept him from piercing her flesh.

A glowing fist tried to catch him off guard. Jaeger’s head crooked to the side and the fist passed over his shoulder.

The arm came around to try and grab him, but Jaeger ducked beneath it and darted to the side, leaving the girl to collapse onto the ground.

Before she had hit, he was behind the glowing boy and his fist slammed into his head. The glow had been returning from his hand, but there wasn’t enough of it built up to stop his blow completely anymore.

The boy’s head snapped forward, taking the rest of his body with it and slamming into the girl’s helmet. The helmet was crushed from the blow. And there was blood trickling down the back of the boy’s neck.

Fire tore through the air where Jaeger had just been. This one thought he was safe because he wasn’t on the ground.

Jaeger smiled. He grabbed the strong one’s legs and spun him around. It only took one spin before Jaeger let him go and sent him shooting towards the fire boy faster than he’d thrown him at his first Prey.

He moved to catch his friend, but he couldn’t move fast enough. The two of them collided and the fire boy lost his height. His armor flickered for less than a second, but that was all Jaeger needed.

Jaeger’s fingers clawed into the fire boy’s ankles, and he kept running. The boy tried to fight back, but his flames were dragged away before they could reach Jaeger.

Jaeger slammed straight into a building. His powers kicked in, forcing the wall to part before him. He didn’t grant his passenger the same privilege.

There was a disappointing lack of blood on the boy’s face. He must have kept his helmet on long enough to take the blow for him.

Jaeger dragged him to the others. None of them had died outright.

Originally, he hadn’t planned on killing anyone until he had found his son, but these three had interfered with his hunt. He could not let that go unpunished.

A long sturdy knife appeared from his belt. He could collect some trophies before forcing the tricksters’ daughter into leading him to his son.

He froze.

Gravity had just shifted away from him, but not in the way that the trickster had done.

He searched desperately for the source.

Something small and fast was coming straight for him.

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Chapter 117: Empty

The black suit’s breathing became labored, snapping Will out of his memory. He wasn’t being careful enough; the void liked to play tricks on people’s minds, and it was too easy to lose yourself when there was nothing to pull you back.

Without a doorway open, the void between worlds was shadowless. Will and the black suit had been avoiding looking at each other too closely. Without shadows to define them, faces began to look…off. Will glanced at the anchor, unconscious and slung over his shoulder, and shuddered.

It was hard to say whether they moved through the void, or if it was the other way around. It was hard to say if moving between worlds took hours, or if it was instantaneous. Even sound seemed to behave wrongly in the void; you practically had to shout to be heard a few feet away.

Will hated the void. But then, everyone hated the void. It wasn’t the kind of place a person went to to keep their sanity.

The black suit released a breath and Will looked in his direction, though, not directly at him.

“Got it.”

A pinprick of real light appeared in the air in front of them, returning shadows to the world. Slowly the light grew into a circular doorway. They had reached the next world the anchor had jumped from.

Will let the anchor a shove. He floated gently through the void until the new world’s gravity took ahold and pulled him through the gate. The man flopped to the ground. Will watched his prone form closely.

The dust from his landing flowed around him, eddying around his hands and heads despite the lack of wind.

Will growled. This was the third wrong world they’d tried to take the anchor to.

“No good, then?”

The black suit’s voice was still calm, but even he sounded tired after the constant sliding.

“He must have been sliding between worlds for months before he was dragged there. Can you find his trail?”

The slider held his hand out and the dust around the anchor began to ripple. The swirls slowly started to change into a new pulsating pattern. Eight circles surrounding a larger rounded square. The suit ripped his hand away from the pattern with a sudden breath.

“Did you get it?” The suit said between breaths.

Will closed his eyes, recreating the pattern in his head and letting it ripple out. “1033. Positive.”

“That’s the smallest one yet. Let’s hope it’s the last.”

Will grabbed the anchor and pulled him back into the void.

With a flick of the suit’s wrist, the doorway closed, and the void became shadowless again.

The memories came faster this time.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

“Tread softly. We’ll get you out of here.”

Rumor stared at the guard through his draping hair and the glowing bars. His double had stopped bothering to come along at mealtimes, but this was the first time a guard had tried to talk to him.

“You should be able to see it by now.” The guard was doing his best to go through the motions of delivering Rumor’s meal, but if he wanted to talk he wouldn’t be able to get away with that for long.

Rumor could see it. The world was starting to break. It was the only way he could describe the things he was seeing floating in the air. Rumor didn’t think the others could see it. If they could, they wouldn’t be so calm.

“How long do I have?” Rumor’s voice croaked through his dry throat.

“That depends on you. Your home is waiting.”

The guard couldn’t delay any longer. He slid the food into the cell and latched the slot closed behind it.

Rumor stared at the food and began to eat, nibbling at the loaf of bread.

Home.

The thought of going home had barely crossed his mind since the early days. Without Kaliope, the concept seemed hollow. There wasn’t anything waiting for him at home.

He saw his reflection in the glass of water. He didn’t look like himself anymore. His mouth was almost completely hidden by a beard that covered his entire neck, and his eyes barely peered out from behind his thick hair.

He didn’t recognize himself. It wasn’t just the hair either. His face was smooth beneath the beard. He’d had dimples, laugh lines too, but whether it was the food he’d refused to eat or the months of joyless days, they were gone. His eyes looked darker, deeper, and his skin was pale.

He didn’t know how long he had been here. 90 Books, give or take, but with nothing else to do he didn’t know how long it took him to read one. There was another one on the bed now, but the words blended together when he tried to read it.

The bread was nearly gone. Rumor looked at the other options on the tray; there was a full meal there, but he ignored what was left and finished the water.

He stood up to take his tray back, and his clothes cascaded around him. They’d fit well when he first arrived. Now he barely managed to keep them from failing off. Back home, he never would have let himself get this thin. Rumor needed muscles to do his job. But this world didn’t need him to have muscles.

This world didn’t need him to be Rumor.

But then again, his own world didn’t either. It had managed to continue without him. If it had been destroyed or recycled, he would have been pulled back. It was the way of things. He’d heard more than a few people talk about the sliders being forced back into this world, along with anyone they took with them.

Maybe Rumor didn’t have to go home. Maybe he could afford to lose the muscles and let his powers fall out of practice. Maybe he could throw that blank mask into a lake and never worry about it again.

Maybe he could just be Will.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

A new door opened up and Will pulled himself back to the present. He didn’t say a word before he gave the anchor a push.

The dust rose with the impact and gently settled around him.

“Finally.”

The suit nodded. “We can go home.”

The doorway closed and a new one opened almost instantly.

Will stared at the circle of light. It felt like Home. A smile wormed its way onto his lips.

“How long do you think we’ve been gone?”

The black suit shrugged.

“No more than a couple of weeks. I worked the dilation as best as I could, but they were flowing a lot slower than us.”

Will sighed. “Things can’t have gotten too bad. Thanks for the lift.”

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